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15th May 2015

8:18pm: A quote from Plato's Camera, P. M. Churchland, 2012.
"The real issue is whether a vector-coding, Hebbian-updating, activation-space-sculpting, concept-redeploying, world-representing, paradigm-expanding system broadly like ours can reasonably hope to get an increasingly accurate grip on the nature of objective reality." --Paul Churchland, Plato's Camera

27th April 2015

10:39pm: Plato's Camera, again.
So I'm going to complain a little about Paul M. Churchland's 2012 book, just because I'm such a big fan of his.

I just roared through the thing for the first two chapters, but that's because I have the unnatural advantage of having read and reread many of the author's earlier works in years past. The whole thing is five chapters, and I believe the first chapter is shorter than the others: I say this so you will know what I mean when I say I rocketed through a very long chapter 2, and got bogged down in chapter 3.

What happens structurally is this: through to the end of chapter 2, he has been discussing backpropagation learning (a biologically unnatural, but artificially very natural, learning algorithm) and also feedforward neural networks that interpret static phenomena. In chapter 3, he simultaneously begins to introduce both the biologically more natural learning method that might be called Hebbian or something like it, and also at the same time, how recurrent neural networks can perceive and execute processes that unfold in time. And while I was starting to read chapter 3, I was starting to worry about which one he was writing about at any given time, because it was getting hard to keep track.

You've heard of damning with faint praise? I praise PMC with faint criticism.

23rd April 2015

8:41pm: Plato's Camera
So I finally got around to reading Paul Churchland's 2012 opus. I'm getting into the middle of it now, and 100% squee.

15th April 2015

4:23pm: I would like to learn to use a sewing machine.

5th February 2015

10:19pm: Werner Koch and GPG
If the update of Feb. 5, 2015, 8:10 p.m. at the top of is correct, then can we say that the system that finances the production of free software (or even stuff like BSD) is operating properly?

I mean, if you say so, I'm prepared to agree with you, but it does seem awfully precarious, doesn't it?

20th January 2015

1:03pm: Pat Churchland on evopsych
"The bane of evolutionary psychology as a discipline has been a regrettable tendency to announce that some identified behavior was selected for and then to cobble together a story about our Stone Age past to explain why. The problem is that inventions of the imagination, fun and coherent as they may be, do not constitute actual evidence. It is quite another (and more difficult) thing to actually show that there are genes linked to the brain structures that are linked to that specific behavior, as opposed to some other more general behavioral capacity. Generally, evolutionary psychologists do not even try to do this." --Patricia S. Churchland, Touching a Nerve (2013), p. 160.

This follows after a discussion of Dierick and Greenspan's 2006 genetic investigation of aggression in fruit flies and its connection to serotonin levels, in which they bred fruit flies for increased aggressiveness, and then measured changes in allele frequencies. Changes were found in 80 different unrelated loci, none of which was directly implicated in the serotonin system.

25th December 2014

8:25am: I've had an uneasy relationship with the Gregorian date of my birthday since I first became aware of what was going on with it.

With the Elf on the Shelf, I'm done. I don't need to have special birthday nightmares about being monitored by self-driving police googlecars and miniature drones buzzing around above like mosquitoes. I'm divorcing my birthday and from now on any celebrations of the advancement of my age may be done on my half-birthday, June 25, instead.

24th November 2013

3:45am: It was well below 15 degrees Fahrenheit here tonight, but the recent snow (slight and shabby) had been melted or sublimated away and left no ice on the ground. So I rode five miles through the cold on my bicycle just to defy it, and got away with it. My big toes were so cold when I got home, but I just had to wear my warm coat indoors for an hour to warm them up.

I am not a winter biker and have no real intentions of being so, but I can deal with either temperatures like this with no ice under my wheels, or ice under my wheels when the temperature is high enough to be melting it. Tonight was the former, so I rode.

7th November 2013

10:39pm: Minneapolis mayoral election final results
So the final percentages are: Betsy Hodges 48.95%, Mark Andrew 31.44%, exhausted ballots 19.61%.

A clean win, but not the guaranteed over 50% win that some people were promising even though we were only planning to count three choices for each voter.

Exhausted ballots in this case means everyone who voted for at least one person for mayor, but picked neither Hodges nor Andrew with any of their three choices. In an election in which as many rankings are allowed as there are candidates, "exhausted ballots" means ballots cast by people who didn't finish filling out the ballot before casting it. I know it's not really why they call them that, but it's funny to think of people getting exhausted with representative democracy before they get to the bottom of the ballot, and calling it a day.

Now I'm curious to see how Cano and Yang will be faring tomorrow in the final count of the City Council votes. There's one other Council election with a non-obvious outcome, but it's in a neighborhood that I'm much less familiar with than Cano's and Yang's, so I hadn't been following it.

6th November 2013

9:48pm: Ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis -- how it's done
In Minneapolis, we're posting round by round results of each round of the RCV vote countdown:

I am finding this really fascinating, and it's actually making me want to take back all the nasty things I said about too many candidates on the ballot, and even the nasty things I said about having only three choices. Although we're far away from the Single Transferable Vote dream, the way we're carrying on the round-by-round count in public is a great tool to educate people about this way of having elections.

Just before I started writing this, they were on round 11. In case you don't already know how it works, they start by counting all the 1st choice votes. The ballots of the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes (undeclared write-ins, in this case) get distributed to the candidates marked as second choice on those ballots. Then the candidate with the next fewest first-choice votes (John Charles Wilson, in this case) loses his ballots to the people marked on them as second choice. Then next lowest-vote-getting candidate (Cyd Gorman, this time), and so on. We'll have lots of exhausted ballots by the end of the count because we only had three chances to vote on a list of 35... if you follow all the numbers they're posting, it'll become clear what this means... but the exhausted ballot problem doesn't seem to be as big as I feared it would be in this election. I'll be very interested in the total count of exhausted ballots by the time Betsy crosses the 50%+1vote threshold, as I expect she will and was a bit worried that no one would, with only three choices to pick for each voter.

When they're done with the mayoral count, I will probably be following the RCV countdown for my ward, the fifth, with equal if not greater interest.

ETA: and speaking of which, here's the general index page to all the city counts:

What's becoming clear to me now, which wasn't clear to me before, is that I would have been perfectly safe marking two sure losers for my first and second choice, and marking Betsy Hodges third. Since I happened to make Hodges my first choice, my vote for her is never going to be transferred away from her, since she came in first place in first-choice votes. If I had ranked two sure losers ahead of her, my vote would have wound up counting for her by the time the counting was over anyway. I find this discovery somewhat liberating. As it happens, I didn't want to use my other choices for any of the other seven "front-runners" (except possibly Woodruff or Samuels) anyway. If I had wanted to, then these considerations would go differently.

29th September 2013

10:28am: Really nice trip to Cherry Grove dark-sky site in southern Goodhue Co last night with jiawen and pameladean. The former showed us M13 in her telescope, and a couple of other really nice globular clusters, M2 and M15, I think, that showed up smaller but apparently brighter (less diffuse) than M13. There were other things going on, but I think I'm more of a binocular and naked-eye stargazer, because I like a wide field of view. Capricornus was near culmination when we started and was as bright and well defined as I've ever seen it. Spent a lot of time staring at Aquarius (usually a couple stars, barely visible) and Pisces (usually invisible) trying to get them to "pop out" as shapes, which neither of them has ever done for me in a real sky. Cetus was near culmination when we finished. I tend to pay attention to southern constellations when I can, because they are so seasonal; I can see the northern ones any season of the year.

Things never seen before: Psi Aqu is three stars and looks vaguely nebulous ("like the Pleiades on a really bad night" --pameladean); multiple stars in Camelopardalis (ordinarily an invisible constellation); jiawen outlined Lacerta for me with the laser pointer (but I still couldn't really distinguish it from the background); enough naked-eye stars inside the Great Square of Pegasus that I couldn't decide what number was the count for them; Mira (Omicron Ceti) through the telescope, well-distinguished from background stars and very red. And, I think we all agreed, the brightest meteor any of us have ever seen, among lots of fainter ones including one I saw with a nice satisfying smoketrail.

13th October 2012

11:42am: moving help
I just reserved a cargo van for Friday, October 26. I have a few items that I will need help getting into the van in Robbinsdale, and getting up the stairs in Harrison (Minneapolis). I'm posting this now so that if a preponderance of people who'd like to help are more likely to be available on Saturday than on Friday evening, I'll still have time to change the reservation. But I need to be out of my old apartment, and it needs to be totally clean, by 5pm on Saturday, so I was hoping to have the moving-of-large-objects done by Friday night so Saturday could be just about cleaning (and getting back all of my deposit).

Let me know if you're interested in helping. I am certainly intending to provide food bribes for those who show up.

6th December 2011

9:16pm: astrophysical metallicity and Fermi's paradox
This was inspired by mle292's post today in response to today's Livejournal poll of the day.

Of course there's life on other planets, somewhere, but that doesn't get us very far to dealing with Fermi's famous "paradox".

The question I've been trying to get an answer to requires some explanation, and I explain it because I've despaired of just looking it up on google or wikipedia or whatnot after having tried several times. (I have yet to try buying rounds in a hotel bar at an astrophysicist's convention... that might possibly work.)

Right after the Big Bang, 13 billion years ago or so, there was not much other than hydrogen (75% by moles) and helium (25%). All the atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, etc, had to be laboriously built up within the cores of stars and then scattered forth (by gentle processes such as the misnomered planetary nebulae, or by spectacular explosions) into the universe. This took some time. Astronomers call these things that are neither hydrogen or helium METALS, one and all, to the confusion of chemists, and the gradually increasing property of the universe I'm talking about here is called "metallicity" by the astrophysicists. ("Metal" comes from a Greek word meaning "sought for" or "to be searched for", so it's not as crazy as it seems.)

So my question is, just how fast does the metallicity of the universe increase in the early days. We take for granted that the metallicity of the universe 4.6 billion years ago had increased enough for all the carbon, silicon, oxygen, nitrogen and so forth that we have on Earth to have formed, but during the nine-odd billion years that passed before the formation of the Solar System, perhaps there just wasn't enough of the 'metallic' (in the astrophysical sense) stuff formed yet to produce much in the way of life?

I bring this up because I've read many discussions of the Fermi paradox that seem to think life has been springing up spontaneously all over the place for billions of years before the Solar System ever formed, discussions that do not register the fact that the metallicity of the universe is a changing quantity that began at approximately zero.

And nowhere have I been able to find a bald statement, or even a definitely ventured guess, as to what the rate of increase is, or as to whether that rate of increase may have been changing over time.

If the rate has been increasing over time since the Big Bang, then there's a real possibility that not long before the formation of the Solar System, there just wasn't enough carbon and oxygen and whatnot scattered around to make up planets conducive to the formation of life. Or not enough silicon and iron to form terrestrial planets, or many other possibilities. Then it seems a lot more plausible that we just might happen to be the first technological* species on the block (well, in our galaxy). And that would go a long way toward making the Fermi paradox somewhat less puzzling and mysterious.

* By "technology" here, I mean electronic computers, space travel, gene splicing, and that sort of thing.

8th October 2011

12:29am: The Beach Boys. "Surf's Up". If you've never heard the song, listen to it.

2nd September 2011

9:40pm: scifi about AI
Some months ago I mentioned Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Since then, I've read Greg Egan's Zendegi. Egan's work deals with many of the same sorts of potential future problems that Chiang's work does. Together, the two works of fiction give us a wider view of problems that we all may be facing very soon than most of the nonfiction speculation about such topics has done hitherto.
9:29pm: Rick Perry gives me the heebie jeebies.

3rd August 2011

10:38pm: Signal Boost: Return of the DDoS
Originally posted by deathpixie at Signal Boost: Return of the DDoS
For those wanting to know more about the recent DDoS attacks, yes, it looks like it was the Russian government trying to shut down the dissidents again.

As I said last time, while it's frustrating not to have access, LJ is a lot more than a social network platform. From the article:

"LiveJournal isn’t just a social network. It’s also a platform for organizing civic action. Dozens of network projects and groups mobilize people to solve specific problems — from defending the rights of political prisoners to saving endangered historic architecture in Moscow."

So while I know many are considering the move over to Dreamwidth and other such sites, supporting LJ is a way we can help support those who use it for more than a writing/roleplaying/social venue.

Also, as a FYI, LJ is giving paid users effected by the outage two weeks of paid time as compensation.

26th December 2010

1:18pm: two things make a post
1) I had a wonderful birthday, starting out with Pamela and her family, and then ending up at a lovely party thrown by my housemate Beth. It was a delightful surprise to see Lynn and Victor visiting from out of town.

2) I just read Ted Chiang's new novella, /The Lifecycle of Software Objects/, and it may be the best near-future science fiction dealing with artificial intelligence that I've ever read. Basically, it takes the stance that real AIs are going to need to be raised the way children are raised, which is going to be strange and difficult when the first generation of them are initially going to be sold (and treated) as something a lot more like pets. Chiang writes about the transition that this implies, and deals with a huge (for such a short work of fiction) number of serious issues very skillfully.

29th May 2010

11:23am: Wiscon
For the second year in a row, it was my privilege to help the Tiptree Bake Sale fairy do the two-hour set up for the Tiptree Bake Sale. I'm having a fabulous time at Wiscon.

15th March 2010

4:48am: I had heard about snow-mold before, from my dear sweetie Pamela, but I had never actually seen it lain out naked on the grass by the melting snow before today, when I saw it all over.

I had heard it described (after the first description of it I ever really listened to) as a cosmetic defect of lawns. But to me it was beautiful evidence that fungi are ingenious, and can find ways of making a living in niches that I had never imagined many years after I first thought I understood what fungi were capable of doing.

Snow-mold is a beautiful, beautiful thing, as far as I'm concerned. As far as the cosmetic defect on your lawn, I'm going to be watching to see whether or not, as I expect, a few days of direct sun or even just rain will clear it away. It's not as if you have to DO anything about it other than admire it.

17th February 2010

7:05pm: I got to be helpful to strangers.
So on the way home from work today, after crossing a street, I noticed halfway down the block a young man panting and pushing on a car. So I shouted out to ask if he needed help. He said he did (sorta). Apparently a young woman had run full on into the mountain of snow next to the entrance of the driveway and the car was stuck. First we tried to see if two pushing could do the job that one could not do, and then I noticed that the young woman at the wheel had her steering wheel full the *wrong* way, so that her front wheels were reversing directly into the plow ridge. I explained, and then just shouted directions, to turn the front wheels the right way, and then the young man and I easily pushed the car into a more motile position.

Then I shook hands with the young man and he thanked me and I went on my way. I feel a little weird that we didn't exchange names or anything, but then they didn't ask for mine, and I guess I get to feel even more virtuous about an anonymous good turn than a named one. And besides, I can brag about it on LJ anyway, so hey!

11th December 2009

1:22am: Snow is nice; ice, not so much.
I am not ashamed to say that I do not like the snow. When I feel it under my feet, my fingers get all twitchy to grab a shovel to remove it from any place that I may be walking upon. It's not that I hate the snow so much, it's that I hate the ice that it forms when unshoveled and left to be tramped upon by feet like mine, when it turns into sheets of ice. For feet like mine to tramp upon later in the winter.

Folks, if you have public sidewalks covered with snow in front of the property you are responsible for, please shovel them. Because it won't do me any good for my fingers to get itchy for a snow shovel if your snow has already been tramped down to ice.

19th October 2009

2:33pm: Convivial was wonderful, especially the Brother Seamus concert. I'm suddenly distraught that I don't actually own any Ween albums.

14th July 2009

4:41pm: recent reading: gorging on Egan
So I happened across a hardback copy of Incandescence that the local public library was retiring from its shelves. ("So soon?" I thought, as I took it to the register to buy it. "Egan's fans in Minnesota must buy all their stuff off the internet and have no truck with deadtree public libraries.")

It was fantastic, and after I raved about it some, my sweetie lent me copies of Distress, which I had yet to read, Diaspora, which I had tried to read before but bounced off because I was going through a hard period in my life, and Permutation City, which I had read over a decade ago, but the rereading of which I thought would make it easier for me to get my head into Diaspora.

Distress and Diaspora were even more amazing than Incandescence. In fact, when I finished Diaspora, I immediately began to reread it, and didn't put it down until I had reread the first two chapters and part of the third (it was very late). I can't remember the last time I've done this with a book, or even been tempted to do it: I think I might have been tempted after reading some Niven & Pournelle paperback when I was a teenager.

I just checked the records, and I'm surprised that Distress didn't make the short-list for the Tiptree award in 1996. In fact, I'm surprised that Russell's The Sparrow beat it out to win that year. I loved The Sparrow, mind you, but not only is it not as good a novel as Distress, it also doesn't address the focus of the Tiptree award (fiction "that expands or explores our understanding of gender") as directly as Distress does.

I'm also a little stunned that Diaspora didn't even make the long-list in its year. (1998? I couldn't find it on It's the most ambitious and amazing science fiction novel I have ever read. It's just what Egan's early career led me to hope for, and I feel foolish for having ignored it for ten years. The first half of it alone is more ambitious than the most ambitious sf novel I'd imagined ever reading. Okay, I'll stop squeeing now. It's really good, though. If you haven't read it yet, you ought to. Distress too.
Current Mood: impressed

23rd May 2009

3:36pm: Having a wonderful time at Wiscon!
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