October 31, 2009

Fun for amateurs

I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking — which is fun only for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling. Nothing is fun when you have to do it — over and over, again and again — or else you'll be evicted, and that gets old.
Sometime in the summer I had two women ask for test prep classes, one for TOEFL and the other for IELTS. On a whim I said I'd teach former for free and I charged the latter my normal fee. Both women were [are] attractive and smart, although the TOEFL one turned out to be more motivated and hard-working, but that may've been because she had to earn her class with homework.

What happened happened very quickly - I realized that I enjoyed teaching the free class far more than the paid one. Doing it for free was fun, there was no pressure, and I was happy when things went over time. It was an interesting experiment, which I continue now by doing some work for free if the person seems like they'll make it worthwhile. Otherwise, I take the money and do the work, but this is a tiny part of my income compared to the editing + reading, hardly enough to keep me in beer. I'd rather keep teaching as a hobby than a living.

Anyway, Isabella, the student in question, is taking her TOEFL this weekend, so an online thanks for the interesting classes and a wish of good luck for Sunday.

October 29, 2009

Patterns emerging from granular matter

Patterns emerge from a rotating tube filled with colored balls of different sizes. Very cool that there are still mysterious things happening with simple objects at the macroscopic scale.

It's just a coincidence, because they used white and orange balls in the video, but it reminded me of the Turing patterns [below] in this post [which is mostly Rudy Rucker].

I've been sick a few days and even slower / more stupid than usual, sweating heavily and dragging myself through dull files. But today the recovery is taking hold, and with the gathering strength other patterns are also emerging in my life, but that's all stuff for another time.

More from Wired on the above

October 24, 2009

A millionaire artist

hugh macleod, read the post

A post a little while back that was just a link to a piece by someone else called Throw in the Towel, about when to give up your dream of being a screenwriter, although it applies well to various other [but by no means all, or even the majority of] creative pursuits with the potential to become paying gigs.

A similar article from another, more hopeful angle, that runs through all the ways to lose again and notes that you can still find yourself if you're doing it for pleasure rather than success - i.e., don't quit the day job.

Hugh MacLeod, who runs a wine business and draws on business cards, has written 40 ideas on how to become more creative. Here's the bullet points for the first 10:
1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours.

3. Put the hours in.

4. If your biz plan depends on you sud­denly being “dis­co­ve­red” by some big shot, your plan will pro­bably fail.

5. You are res­pon­si­ble for your own expe­rience.

6. Ever­yone is born crea­tive; ever­yone is given a box of cra­yons in kin­der­gar­ten.

7. Keep your day job.

8. Com­pa­nies that squelch crea­ti­vity can no lon­ger com­pete with com­pa­nies that cham­pion crea­ti­vity.

9. Every­body has their own pri­vate Mount Eve­rest they were put on this earth to climb.

10. The more talen­ted some­body is, the less they need the props.

A lot more here [actually 25% of the full book].

October 23, 2009

Dominance, Politics, and Physiology

monkey trouble
Via Boing Boing:
Political elections are dominance competitions. When men win a dominance competition, their testosterone levels rise or remain stable to resist a circadian decline; and when they lose, their testosterone levels fall. However, it is unknown whether this pattern of testosterone change extends beyond interpersonal competitions to the vicarious experience of winning or losing in the context of political elections. Women's testosterone responses to dominance competition outcomes are understudied, and to date, a clear pattern of testosterone changes in response to winning and losing dominance competitions has not emerged.

Methodology/Principal Findings
The present study investigated voters' testosterone responses to the outcome of the 2008 United States Presidential election. 183 participants provided multiple saliva samples before and after the winner was announced on Election Night. The results show that male Barack Obama voters (winners) had stable post-outcome testosterone levels, whereas testosterone levels dropped in male John McCain and Robert Barr voters (losers). There were no significant effects in female voters.

The findings indicate that male voters exhibit biological responses to the realignment of a country's dominance hierarchy as if they participated in an interpersonal dominance contest.
Dominance, Politics, and Physiology: Voters' Testosterone Changes on the Night of the 2008 United States Presidential Election [full paper]

October 22, 2009

Another post like this

I've got to stop starting drinking so early that by the time others show up I'm a mad dog full of bullshit and misplaced enthusiasms, wrong about almost everything. But when a void opens up it's hard not rush in there headfirst and reckless, because the movement is fun, and I like the taste of beer.

Still, it'd be great not to feel the need to write a post like this every few weeks.

Waves trapped in maze-like grooves

The icons depict the shape of the energy-trapping ridges on the disc at the center and the edges - via arXiv.org

It's not really a pocket black hole, despite the headlines- it doesn't attract mass, and when it says light in the following quote what it really means is microwave frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, not actual visible light:
....this simple metal disc uses the geometry of 60 concentric rings of meta-materials to lock up light for good. The meta-material "resonators" that make up the rings affect the magnetic properties of passing light, bending the beams into the center of the disc, and trapping them in the etched maze-like grooves.

It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called "meta-materials", which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks. Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.
Fabricating a device that captures optical wavelengths in the same way will not be easy, as visible light has a wavelength orders of magnitude smaller than that of microwave radiation. This will require the etched structures to be correspondingly smaller

Cui is confident that they can do it. "I expect that our demonstration of the optical black hole will be available by the end of 2009," he says.

Such a device could be used to harvest solar energy in places where the light is too diffuse for mirrors to concentrate it onto a solar cell. An optical black hole would suck it all in and direct it at a solar cell sitting at the core. "If that works, you will no longer require these huge parabolic mirrors to collect light," says Evgenii Narimanov [who, with Alexander Kildishev, both of Purdue University, came up with the idea behind the design].
It was made in China and looks like an old coin, nothing special, but to someone like me, who doesn't quite get the device or it's implications, it's full of ancient cool. Exactly what you'd want from a piece of alien tech.

October 21, 2009

Our partner in death

As AEG president Randy Phillips said after [Michael] Jackson's death: "He was our partner in life and now he's our partner in death."

October 20, 2009

Sex in time

So imagine the edge of a huge lake, where, for whatever reason, the original community of animals tended to move clockwise. Let's say there's a hill that ends in sharp drop just where the dark gray meets the bright white line, above. So, we have a species breeding at the bright white spot, and as it moves around the lake small, local changes occur. Longer / shorter legs, variations in coloration, and so on, but all [obviously] just a slight genetic difference on average from the animals next door. At every point in the circle, a community is basically indistinguishable from its immediate neighbors, and any individual could belong to either of its neighboring groups. Interbreeding is not a problem, and can extend in both directions some way beyond the neighbors. In practical terms, for creatures of a small size and with a lake of a large size - interbreeding occurs without limits.

But stepping back and looking at the image as a whole, by the time the circle is complete the last two neighboring communities, on either side of the hill / cliff, are quite distinct - different species, despite the fact they are connected by an unbroken chain of communities who can happily mix and breed with their neighbors. This is why the idea of 'species' is not as simple as it seems, either at a point in time, or, more to my purpose, over a very long period of time

My purpose is that if all the 'species' ever extant where brought back to life there could be one unbroken chain of fucking going right back to the first creatures that invented sex. I don't know what to do with this idea, but it seems to be a passion killer.

October 19, 2009

Reduced labor costs and improved productivity

Great video, part 1, of ABB robots doing precision tricks with soda cans. You see them doing 'human things' at ridiculous speeds.

Some time later, the same test, but with three robots rather than two.

ABB have a lot of great looking machines to replace human labor, all of which are very reliable and are ideal for operating in confined spaces and dangerous conditions. I like the pancake stacker, below, but there are many more to see if interested. Sooner or later the different strands of robots are going to become more integrated, and then things'll get really interesting.

Jamming skin enabled locomotion

No robot posts in a while.

Here's one called the first steps of a robot based on jamming skin enabled locomotion, with the tech clearly explained. It's a flexible shape-shifting robot.

A few more details / links here.

October 18, 2009

Traces of thought

A computer simulation of the upper layer of a rat brain neocortical column. Dr. Pablo de Heras Ciechomski/Visualbiotech

These images, and their captions, come from an article introducing a project to simulate part of a rat's brain, to be scaled up to a whole brain and later put into a robot with legs. Excerpts below, full link at the bottom.
In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows.
This is Blue Brain. The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind.
The first phase of the project—“the feasibility phase”—is coming to a close. The skeptics, for the most part, have been proven wrong. It took less than two years for the Blue Brain supercomputer to accurately simulate a neocortical column, which is a tiny slice of brain containing approximately 10,000 neurons, with about 30 million synaptic connections between them.
In fact, the model is so successful that its biggest restrictions are now technological. “We have already shown that the model can scale up,” Markram says. “What is holding us back now are the computers.” The numbers speak for themselves. Markram estimates that in order to accurately simulate the trillion synapses in the human brain, you’d need to be able to process about 500 petabytes of data (peta being a million billion, or 10 to the fifteenth power). That’s about 200 times more information than is stored on all of Google’s servers.
“There’s no reason why you can’t get inside Blue Brain,” Markram says. “Once we can model a brain, we should be able to model what every brain makes. We should be able to experience the experiences of another mind.”
“There is nothing inherently mysterious about the mind or anything it makes,” Markram says. “Consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cells. If you can precisely model that information, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to generate a conscious mind.”
Full article at seedmagazine.com

An entire neocortical column lights up with electrical activity. Modeled on a two-week-old rodent brain, this 0.5 mm by 2 mm slice is the basic computational unit of the brain and contains about 10,000 neurons. Visualbiotech.

Related post: Other substrates

October 16, 2009

You could have been quite another

Ken Mogi is a brain scientist and writer whose stated aim is to solve the mind-body problem. He's not that famous outside of Japan, but very famous inside, with many popular books and TV appearances. My wife loves him.

This year he began to blog regularly in English, and his English has improved a lot. I like his blog because the entries are short and often there are small mistakes or strange uses, but they don't obscure the meaning. The real talent lies in saying a difficult thing in a simple way.
I usually take a morning stroll to a convenience store nearby, and pick up some morning goods. For the last couple of days, I have walked on to the park, and dashed up the hill that flanks the woods.

It is just a little deviation, which makes all the difference. In life, you turn 90 degrees and run from your path of everyday, and then you discover a new scenery.

It is not that difficult. All you have to do is to identify an unsearched domain. And then you delve into it. Even for a very brief time.

Within a moment the storm of contingency would rage. The conviction that you are here for no reason. You taste the throbbing sensation of knowing you could have been quite another, while loving and embracing the here and now.
Ken Mogi, Deviation
This is also the thrill of being a dilettante – no real deep knowledge of anything, but a vast field of shallowness that’s able to warp at many points and achieve connection and communion – an interesting kind of ignorance, the best that I can hope for.

October 15, 2009

Out of my head on percodan and hate

Reading Nick Tosches' Dean Martin biography. I can't believe that Jerry Lewis is still alive. I'd love to ask him some questions.

A popular idea about Buddy Love [see clip above] is that he was Lewis' take on Martin - but far more credible to me (who knows almost nothing about it) is an idea I've read in a few places that Buddy = Jerry 'in real life', off stage, turned off and taken off the monkey suit.

October 14, 2009

Devil on a leash

david hockney, rainy night on bridlington promenade
David Hockney's iPhone Passion

Alcohol sedates the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which decides if something is a good idea or not. This effect seems to be particularly pronounced in me, not aided by the fact that even when sober I have some of the worst ideas out there.

But this is good: a free eight-song preview download of Tom Waits' upcoming live album, Glitter & Doom.

October 12, 2009

Good trip

- sing sang sung [HD video won't embed, but much better, here]

Team DNA

Image of a fractal globule by Leonid A. Mirny and Maxim Imakaev
"We've long known that on a small scale, DNA is a double helix," says co-first author Erez Lieberman-Aiden, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology and a researcher at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in the laboratory of Eric Lander at the Broad Institute. "But if the double helix didn't fold further, the genome in each cell would be two meters long. Scientists have not really understood how the double helix folds to fit into the nucleus of a human cell, which is only about a hundredth of a millimeter in diameter. This new approach enabled us to probe exactly that question."
3-D Structure Of Human Genome: Fractal Globule Architecture Packs Two Meters Of DNA Into Each Cell, ScienceDaily

Life is awesome.

October 10, 2009

Other substrates

Order-3 heptakis heptagonal tiling by Claudio Rocchini
When and only when such a loop arises in the brain or in any other substrate, is a person - a unique new "I" - brought into being. Moreover, the more self-referentially rich such a loop is, the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise. Yes, shocking though this might sound, consciousness is not an on/off phenomenon, but admits of degrees, grades, shades. To put it more bluntly, there are bigger souls and smaller souls.
Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach, P-6,

October 09, 2009

Other approaches to being alive

Reading Damned to Fame, on and off, a biography of Samuel Beckett, and BS Johnson is mentioned nowhere, although Beckett is a significant character is his story.

Writing and writers hold such a precious place in the imaginations of people who like to read fiction, so the idea that there's little actual spiritual comfort / joy in the process and the outcome, and that success, even in the limited terms of being published / recognized may not be enough is hard to swallow. In short, a fulfilling life can exist outside the production and consumption of fiction.

I've got too many books on the go, at least one in every space where I might want to read in the house. Beckett is in the little used dining room, while Dino, Nick Tosches' biography of Dean Martin, gets far more attention in the downstairs bathroom. Two men whose lives had little in common, except a fondness for drinking and bars. There are many approaches to being alive.

Return of the demon dog

Blood's a Rover has just been published, but I'll wait and order it for Xmas. I'm excited, as the first two parts blew things apart and created a world to inhabit.

I also like James Ellroy the man a lot, because he seems committed and delivers. Below is a great interview with him from earlier this year with a very game Sarah Weinman. It's available in one part at her site [link in name], bit she's suggested that it's up for a limited time only, so I'll host it here until cease and desist. Ellroy's sharing the stage with Colin Harrison, who I don't know, but they make a good study in contrasts. The audio is a little poor

I think I sometimes get like Ellroy when I go out and meet people and get drunk, a kind of lunatic intensity applied to broadly indefensible positions. I can't complain about this, as there's no arguing with their experience - How I appear to be is the reality of how I am to others.

This is how James Ellroy appears to be:

Finally, here's the demon dog himself doing a straight to camera promo for the book in hi-def.

October 08, 2009

Singularity summit '09

Good summary / impressions of the 2009 Singularity Summit by Razib Khan at Gene Expression.

Summit site here.

Confessions of a mask

The theory of self-deception was foreshadowed by the sociologist Erving Goffman in his 1959 book The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, which disputed the romantic notion that behind the masks we show other people is the one true self. No, said Goffman; it's masks all the way down. Many discoveries in the ensuing decades have borne him out.
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p264

October 07, 2009

Human universals

A list of human universals, originally compiled by Donald E. Brown, and which is also the Appendix of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, which I'll be ripping off for the next few weeks.

Here's the first 20 items:
  • abstraction in speech & thought
  • actions under self-control distinguished from those not under control
  • aesthetics
  • affection expressed and felt
  • age grades
  • age statuses
  • age terms
  • ambivalence
  • anthropomorphization
  • anticipation
  • antonyms
  • attachment
  • baby talk
  • belief in supernatural/religion
  • beliefs, false
  • beliefs about death
  • beliefs about disease
  • beliefs about fortune and misfortune
  • binary cognitive distinctions
  • biological mother and social mother normally the same person

October 05, 2009

Children, foreigners and retarded adults

Speech addressed to different categories of listeners was examined in a study in which undergraduate women taught a block design task to either a 6-year-old child, a retarded adult, a peer who spoke English as a second language (foreigner), or a peer who was an unimpaired native speaker of English. The speech addressed to children differed from the speech addressed to native adults along every major dimension that emerged in this study: It was clearer, simpler, and more attention maintaining, and it included longer pauses. Speech addressed to retarded adults was similar in numerous ways to the speech addressed to 6-year-olds; in some ways (e.g., repetitiveness), it was even more babyish. However, speech to the retarded adults did differ in timing from the other styles of speaking in that it included fewer and somewhat shorter pauses. Speech addressed to foreigners was more repetitive than speech addressed to native speakers, but in all other ways it was very similar. There was some evidence that speakers fine-tuned their communications to the level of cognitive and linguistic sophistication of their particular listener; for example, speakers addressing the more sophisticated foreigners (relative to those addressing the less sophisticated foreigners) used speech that included fewer devices for clarifying, simplifying, and maintaining the listeners' attention. We discuss the hypothesis that baby talk (the speech addressed to children) is a prototypical special speech register from which other special registers are derived.
DePaulo. B., Coleman. L. (1986). Talking to Children, Foreigners, and Retarded Adults. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 (5), 945-959.

Local optimum

All plans are contingent, and there's little point in striving for the global optimum and then brooding on failure when a local one will do.

I used to tell my (mostly female) students, Don't worry about Mr Right, look for Mr Right Now.

I no longer teach in any real capacity.

October 04, 2009

Rare post on Taiwan

my beautiful home [click for huge]

Have no idea how I take the passage below, but living in Taiwan, and with the shadow of China growing bigger by the day, these issues are starting to become more pressing. I start from the position that the China problem is intractable, which means there's no clear first or second step, other than a hope for federalism rather than outright conquest.
To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal human rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
This can be rewritten as follows:
To affirm that Chinese people thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are Chinese values or one Chinese nation. It is to deny that these values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Chinese values are not an ideal constitution for a single regime, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
But that probably doesn't have much use in this context.

October 03, 2009

39.5 = 51%

In six months I'll be 40, which is exciting because it's a) better than the alternative, and b) I should be getting there in better condition - by all metrics - than I ever would have thought possible from the ages of 0 - 35, possibly even later. Life expectancy for a 40-yr old British male is 77.

Not having kids, and not hanging out with folk who do, it's easy to forget about aging. There are few external things of consequence that I see changing in anything other than a cyclical way. The seasons come and go, the years pass, but having dropped out of fashion and popular music, everything pretty much stays the same aside from the constant parade of techno-novelty that's now so ingrained as to just be how things are. The point is, I don't have a kid who not long ago was a mewling infant and is now autonomous and who'll soon be a little adult. In this way I've fallen slightly out of time.

So I was a little shocked the other night when I went for a bowl of ramen and sat across from a mother and her son, about 10 yrs old. Now I plan to live a long time. In all my accounting I aim for 90+, although looking at my family I'm only likely to get 80 or so. Still, I exercise and try and eat right, because good health is always good, and hard-living loses much of it's romance well before middle age, crisis binges notwithstanding. So, if I make it to 90 this kid will be 60, and he'll still have me beat, and I'll die first, while everyone else goes on living.

I looked at the kid and took it as a challenge.