2017/06/19

The things we believe

I believe, for instance, that the government of Saudi Arabia addresses violent extremism basically by paying its violent extremists money, in exchange for them promising to commit their violent extremist acts in places other than Saudi Arabia.

I don’t have any evidence to hand for this, and I would not stake a huge amount on it (although I would stake a small amount), but it is something that I believe. It fits in with my theories of the world, I think I read something somewhere once that said it was true, and it just makes sense to me psychologically, fitting in with the motivations of the parties involved.

Various Trump fans and people with whom I argue on The Twitter believe that, for instance, President Obama treasonously sent one or more planes full of billions of dollars in cash to Iran, under cover of night, for some nefarious reason or other.

Stripped of the “treasonously” and “nefarious” and the implication that it was some private project of Obama’s, this is actually true. Just before the Iran Revolution, Iran had paid some U.S. entity like US$400 Million for some weapons or something, and when the revolution occurred, we just sort of held onto it, without of course supplying the weapons or something. Iran was not happy about this, and had over time gotten the attention of the folks at The Hague about it, and it looked like they might be going to find in Iran’s favor for like US$2 Billion for money and interest. To pre-empt this, and not have to either thumb our noses at The Hague or pay quite that much money, we gave them the $400 Million plus like $1.3 Billion in interest, held back until they released the hostages they were holding.

And it had to be in cash because we’d put into place so many sanctions against Iran that they were cut off from the international banking system, so there was no other way to get money to them. And it was at night (if in fact it was, I dunno) because Iran is like 9 hours ahead of Washington DC, so really it usually is, at one end or the other. Also because you probably want as much security (and obscurity) as possible around the moving of that much cash in any case.

People believe that this was treasonous and nefarious, though, because it fits into their narratives. Primarily, the narrative that President Obama was a Bad Guy, who was trying to Destroy America, and would have Seized All The Guns and Put Patriots Into FEMA Camps if the heroic NRA hadn’t stopped him, so failing that he just gave lots of money to Iran so they could destroy America for him. Or something.

Needless to say, I don’t find this very plausible. If Obama had wanted to destroy America, there were lots of other things he could have done, and didn’t do. Also he just seems like a very smart, beneficent, and cool guy to me. The Saudi government, not so much; they seem like selfish rich people who would not have huge reservations about just bribing their extremists to go elsewhere rather than doing anything more fundamental about them. So the first story fits my narrative, whereas the second doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is any truth of the matter, or that I think I’m just as likely to be wrong as I am to be right. Quite the contrary, I believe that the story I believe is probably true, and the one that they believe is almost certainly false.

But it is interesting to think about how each putative fact does not stand alone, is not believed by itself, due to specific evidence for or against it; but rather exists as a supporting fact in a somewhat-consistent narrative.

And that, perhaps, the right way to try to get to the truth, and/or to get to consensus, is to try to find another narrative that one’s interlocutors also believe, and that the facts up for evaluation fit into differently.

(Note that “You’re an idiot” is a particular claim that will almost never fit into the addressed party’s narratives, and so isn’t much use for finding consensus there, although in some cases a significant fraction of onlookers may agree with it and applaud.)

2017/06/18

Sunday, June 18th

Father’s Day! See this and this. Cards from kids!

I thought I would try writing in this here weblog again, because I like writing.

It’s hard to write stuff, because one doesn’t want to write endlessly about how Donald Trump being President was always a signal that you were reading a probably-cheesy dystopian-alternate-timeline story, and as it turns out, it still is.

But that is such a big thing, that writing about anything else seems like ignoring the Elephant In The Room, if you know what I mean.

As weblogged about previously, I’ve taken part in various marches; the Women’s March, the Not My President’s Day March, the March for Science. Maybe some others I forget. I have a rose (ūüĆĻ) in my Twitter ummm name-thing (not the @-thing, the other thing) because I have joined the Democratic Socialists of America, and I have been all too often debating with Trump fans on Twitter.

This is a challenging thing to do, as one inevitably wants to prevail in debate, and try to convince the interlocutor(s) and even onlookers of at least the plausibility of one’s position, and one also wants to in some sense defend against the inevitable ad hominem attacks. (Or ad Eminem, as WordPress suggests.)

And yet those people are me also, fellow parts of the universal mind and all, fellow fragments of the Big Block, albeit apparently fragments from rather far away, and difficult to enjoy or understand.

Which brings me to what is, for me, the hardest thing about compassion (Compassion). I may have written about this before, but that’s okay.

I have, or think I have, no problem feeling compassion for people who are being mean to me; as long as there’s no dangerous physical assault involved, I can joke with them and try to tease out what they are upset about, and not mind that they have silly ideas because hey we all have silly ideas let’s help each other find better ones.

But what do I do when someone is being mean to someone else? How do I have compassion for the attacker? What form should that compassion take? If I am kind and joke with the attacker, am I normalizing their negative impacts on the victims? It doesn’t feel like a good idea to pal around with Nazis! (Internet or otherwise.) But I still want to express compassion, in some form.

Is punching him in the face in fact the best way to show compassion for not only the people that Richard Spencer helps oppress, but also Spencer himself? Or does one punch him in the face out of compassion for his victims, and then help him bandage up his nose out of compassion for him? Neither one feels quite right. Or maybe both do?

Speaking of Compassion and Oneness, I’ve been playing the game (“game”) Everything, from The Steam, and it’s wonderful. It’s a thing that lets you be all sorts of different things, from a hydrogen atom to a cow to a galaxy (and things off both ends), and that plays numerous Alan Watts discourses while you do it. What could be better!

Also I have been playing The Sims 4 some (see also the Sims 2 Stories, which are mostly back online now, woot!). I sort of skipped The Sims 3 for whatever reason, and now I am playing 4 in sort of vaguely but not really Legacy Challenge style. I started with a single Young Adult sim, Tolerance Boatwhistle, in a huge lot without much money, as required, and I’ve been playing just that one lot, without extending anyone’s life, as required, but I haven’t been keeping score or using the approved trait-picking methods for offspring or anything.

So far Tolerance Boatwhistle married standard sim Liberty Lee and they begat Prudence Boatwhistle (who never had a job, but survived on her paintings, and), who (with the help of standard character Alexander Goth, who has a female voice at least in my game, and who never moved in, but did die on the lot so we have his tombstone and ghost) begat Gladstone Boatwhistle, who married townie or something Hadley (heavens I’ve forgotten her last name), and together begat Consideration Boatwhistle (who became the ultimate Bodybuilder Bro, and) who married Giovanna something (I am terrible with names, aren’t I?), and who together begat Carlton Boatwhistle and his little sister Charity Boatwhistle.

Gladstone and his Hadley just recently died of old age within minutes of each other (the Grim Reaper, who is vaguely a friend of the family by now, didn’t even have time to leave in between), so they will soon be coming in at night to eat food and chat and possess various household objects, and there are just two adults and two elementary school kids on the lot (and six gravestones and therefore potential ghosts), and things are relatively simple.

Too simple, in some sense; the family has enough liquid cash and random income sources that it seems like no one has to actually ever get a job unless it’s required for an aspiration, and everyone’s moods are always pretty high except for a few days after the prior generation dies of old age.

But it’s a very soothing sort of world to spend time in and watch and give little non-urgent instructions to.

I‘ve also been playing WoW a bit, but it’s really boring now and I tend to doze off over it. I’ve tried to start playing No Man’s Sky again, but I dunno meh. Similarly for Spore. And Elite Dangerous’s bizarre controls still keep me from bothering to go back in there.

What else? ¬†Lots of books! And work! And Manhattan and things! But this is getting longish, so I will try to remember how to “post” it.

Thanks for following along! This was fun, I’ll try to do it again soon (“soon”).

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,
2017/02/02

Machinima! Scripting!

As reblogged (“reblogged”) over on the Secret Second Life Weblog, there is a new Second Life machinima out from the impressive (virtual, international) team of Randt and Hoisan (here is Natascha Randt’s weblog entry in German even). Both of them say nice things about me (well, about that Dale person’s) contributions, of which I am (Dale is) quite proud, even though (don’t tell anyone) scripting in Second Life is pretty much always very easy programming.

I should really do a weblog entry sometime about Second Life scripting, because it’s pretty wild. The language it’s done in is a bizarre little thing; the rumor that it was put together over a weekend just to have something working, without much thought, may be true or false, but it certainly feels that way. It’s almost-but-not-quite event-driven, objects are almost-but-not-quite immutable, lists are almost-but-not-quite first-class objects, etc, etc, etc.

And you can tell the built-in functions because they all start with “ll” (el-el, not eleven).

That weblog entry should probably be in the other weblog, though. :)

Besides recommending that you watch the machinima in the first paragraph there (which is very well worth watching!) I will just say here that Second Life is still out there, and still going strong, with constant events, DJs, live music, games, romance an’ drama, shopping (SO MUCH shopping!), building of castles and piloting of vintage airplanes, SF buildings and philosophy discussions lame and non-lame, many strippers on dancepolls, people being dragons and tiny otters and suchlike, and general wild creativity and madness and fun.

There are all sorts of other “VR” and suchlike going on, as the song seems to have come ’round on the guitar again, but I’m not convinced by any of them, including the ones done by Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life. I still strongly believe that enabling users to create content, simply and inside a shared¬†world and without mastering any 3D modeling tools or knowing what a normal map is, is key to why Second Life works, and that all the new efforts centering on geeky 3D goggles and higher resolution displays and giving each creator their own private world, are pretty much entirely missing the point.

I admit I don’t know what to make of, or do about, the fact that the Second Life population has more or less plateau’d in size; but I don’t think anyone else does, either, or that geeky 3D goggles are the thing that’s going to get it to the next ten million users…

So¬†we’ll see!

 

2017/02/01

Denotation and the SCOTUS

So Fuckface von Clownstick has nominated a person for the Supreme Court, to replace ol’ Tony Scalia.

Much of the discussion of this in the world will be about how utterly hypocritical it is of the Republicans to suggest that there is an obligation for the Democrats to not obstruct the confirmation process, given that just the other day they declared it a positive civic duty to obstruct the conformation of¬†Merrick Garland, and that is quite a valid discussion. ¬†But I’m not up to doing any of that here.

Looking into this Gorsuch person a bit, though, I find that (as well as not being¬†Merrick Garland) he is an “originalist” just like ol’ Tony, and perhaps even moreso (if that’s possible). This inspires me to reach into the archives and reprint here, lightly edited for venue, my ancient piece on why “originalist” is a bad name.

By way of introduction, it’s a bad name because everyone believes that it’s the Constitution’s original meaning that’s important; the division is between those who¬†think the original denotation is important, and those who think it’s the original connotation. ¬†(Where “connotation” is used in its technical Philosophy of Language sense, not its informal “fuzzy subjective meaning” sense.)

The problem with the denotationist position can I think be highlighted by a very small thought experiment: the denotationist is obliged to hold that if we were to hold a Constitutional Convention today, and replace the entire text of the document with an exact copy of itself, the resulting document would be very different than the current one, and a very different set of things would be allowed and prohibited and so on.

And that seems just silly. (Menard’s example notwithstanding.)

But anyway, here is the original post, in the context of Scalia and 2005 rather than Gorsuch and 2017, but Truth is Timeless.


 

One of the cool things that Audible does is make certain ‘public interest’ type audio programs available for free. I don’t know if they do this out the goodness of their heart or their ad budget, or if someone pays them to do it, but it’s cool anyway.

One of the free things they have is a talk that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave on the subject of Constitutional Interpretation, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last March. (Due to Audible’s bizarre site design I can’t figure out how to give you a pointer to it that will work, but if you search on “Scalia” you’ll probably find it. Although it’s free, I dunno if you can get it if you don’t have an Audible account.)

I’m a bit more than halfway through it, and it’s interesting. I’ve previously expressed the opinion that J. Scalia is a fascist theocratic loon, and I’ve teased him for his defense of state laws against masturbation in his Lawrence¬†dissent; what I’ve heard so far doesn’t make me any more comfortable having him on the high court, but it does give me some additional insight into his character and legal thinking.

Scalia doesn’t like to be called a “strict constructionist”; he prefers “originalist”. His idea is that the words of the Constitution meant something when they were adopted, and that it’s that meaning that we must follow today. And when he says “meaning” he isn’t thinking of the general meaning or connotation of the words; he’s thinking of the very specific denotation of the words: the exact specifics of what they were thought to mean at the time.

So since when the 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 no one thought that “equal protection” included the right of women to vote, it required a further amendment to give them that right. Scalia says that nowadays we would have done it on 14th amendment grounds instead, and he clearly thinks that that’s a bad thing.

[2017 Note: In fact even back in 1868, lots of people thought that “equal protection” did in fact include the right of women to vote; something that rather heavily undermines Scalia’s point. The fact that when talking about this stuff he apparently never mentioned¬†Minor v. Happersett¬†or the various controversies and demonstrations around it, was one more thing that lowered my opinion of his intellectual integrity.]

Since “originalist” doesn’t strike me as a neutral term (when was the last time you saw “unoriginal” used as a compliment?), let me refer to Scalia’s position as “denotationist”; the words of the Constitution (or any other law) must be interpreted as having the same denotation, as picking out the same parts of the world, as they had when adopted.

(At the extreme denotationist position, if the Constitution had said that the number of Justices on the Supreme Court should be equal to the number of planets around the Sun, then the proper number of Justices would be seven, since that’s what people thought the words denoted at the time. I’m not suggesting that Scalia would actually carry the idea this far, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.)

So what’s the alternative to denotationalism? In this lecture Scalia claims that the only alternative is to consider the Constitution not a legal document at all, but just sort of an “exhortation”. He claims that he’s asked all sorts of people at law schools what principle they propose in place of his, and none have had an answer.

This strikes me as baffling, since the answer is so obvious. Rather than interpreting the words of the Constitution according to what they meant when adopted, we should interpret them according to what they mean now. If we’ve discovered since 1789 that there are really nine planets, or since 1868 that equal protection does mean the ability to vote regardless of gender, then that’s what the Constitution should be read as saying.

(Jim points out a possible circularity here, so let me say explicitly that the view I’m outlining here isn’t the tautological “the Constitution means today whatever it means today”; I mean something more like “the words in the Constitution mean today whatever the same words mean outside the Constitution today”. Modulo politically irrelevant typographical shifts and so on.)

I’d like to call this alternate view “connotational”, in contrast to Scalia’s denotationalism. And it seems to me highly unlikely that no one has ever suggested it to Scalia, or that he wouldn’t have thought of it himself for that matter. Scalia seems to have an enormous blind spot where differing opinions are concerned; not only does he disagree with non-denotational views of Constitutional interpretation, he doesn’t even see those views. At one point in the speech he says that he would have decided a certain case in a certain way based on the original meaning (“meaning”) of some words in the Constitution, whereas the court actually decided the other way, “based on — well, I don’t know what!”

He’s obviously a smart guy, but apparently there’s a filter between the part of his mind that is sharp enough to understand arguments on both sides of an issue and the part that consciously notices those arguments. (Jim points out that Scalia wouldn’t be the only one with this problem.)

Another possibility is that Scalia is simply a propagandist, and that pretending that the other side has no argument at all is just a rhetorical device that he likes to use. That’d be a pity.

So anyway. The denotationist view says that when the Constitution uses phrases like “due process” or “equal protection” or “freedom of speech”, we should consider those phrases to be convenient shorthands for whatever set of things people thought they meant when the words were adopted. If it wouldn’t make the Constitution implausibly long, we could replace each one with a list of all the things that people at that time thought the words referred to.

The connotationist view, on the other hand, says that “due process” means the processes that are due, the proceedings that are appropriate, and if our opinion about what is appropriate has changed since 1798, it’s our current¬†opinions that count. Similarly, “equal protection” means protection that is equal, and if people in 1868 didn’t notice that disenfranchising half the country didn’t constitute equal protection, so much the worse for them; our current government should be guided by our current understanding.

(Now in practical terms it’s nice that we have the 19th amendment there making it explicit; but I do think that a 14th amendment case for female suffrage should in principle have had a very good chance of success.)

So Scalia’s basic theory isn’t particularly inconsistent or anything; I just strongly disagree with it. His inability to acknowledge the very existence of alternative theories is a flaw, and not one that makes me fond of him.

What else? Scalia’s theory leads him to say some odd (or at least odd to me) things about the Constitution’s role in protecting minorities. At one point he says that protecting minorities from the whim of the majority is one of the most important things that the Constitution does. But because he’s a denotationist he sees it as protecting only those particular minorities that¬†the Framers would have wanted to protect¬†(or that the adopters of later amendments would have). So Catholics, for instance, are protected (hem, hem), but not people who want to make love to people of the same gender.

(Sidenote: Scalia always refers to male-male sex as “homosexual sodomy”; a little subliminal reminder that the Lord has destroyed whole cities over the issue; ref “theocratic” supra.)

The equal protection clause can’t allow people of the same gender to marry, because when the clause was adopted people didn’t think it meant that. A connotationist can say that we’ve decided since then that equal protection really does mean that; but Scalia doesn’t even consider that as a possibility. It’s not simply wrong, it’s just not on his radar at all.

If we want to provide equal protection or due process or freedom of speech outside the original denotation of those terms, he says, what we have to do is persuade our fellow citizens to enact the appropriate legislation or Constitutional amendments. Which is to say, if we want to protect a minority that wasn’t popular back in 1789, we have to persuade the majority to play nice. Which of course seems completely wrong to me, given the whole “Constitution protecting the rights of minorities” thing.

The Framers were large-minded folks; I think that when they said “due process” or “freedom of speech”, they didn’t just mean the things that those words meant in the 18th century, but that they meant whatever those words might turn out to mean as the species matured.

Hm, I’ll bet we might even be able to find some writing of the Framers that say that! I wonder what Scalia would do then…


 

And that’s that¬†reprint from 2005; May 16th, 2005 specifically. There were at least a couple more weblog entries on this general subject, based on reader comments and other events of the day and so on, but that’s enough for now for here.

Maybe I should find some of Gorsuch’s writing, and see if he’s usefully interpreted as a denotationist (with an inability to even conceive of connotationism) like Scalia, or if he’s different in some interesting way.

But probably I’ll just get caught up in von Clownstick’s steady assault on the very idea of democracy, instead…

2017/01/22

#womensmarchonnyc

I went to the Women’s March on NYC, and it was amazing! ¬†Some¬†stories and¬†pictures and thoughts here.

(First off, I know there aren’t solely positive things related to the march; there’s the “where was all this enthusiasm on voting day?” thought, and the “where were all these people at the Black Lives Matter marches?” thought, and the “don’t be so smug about how peaceful it all was; it’s mostly because so many of the marchers were white!” thought, and those all have merit, but I don’t have anything deep to say about them, and I’m mostly going to talk just about my experience here, and not try to draw any Big Conclusions. ¬†Overall I think it was great, to whatever extent there are problematic ties.)

Here are a bazillion photos (and some videos!) that I took, in a Google Photos Album thing that I hope that link lets you get to and all.

I drove to Croton-Harmon and took Metro North in, as I always do. (The little boy was at work, img_20170121_094108and M is not good with crowds, and the little daughter bizarrely lives in Manhattan now, so it was just me travelling.)

The station had various small groups of women and other people, wearing lots of pink and examining the train schedules and carrying signs. One woman was still knitting a Pussy Hat out of screaming pink yarn; I don’t know if she expected to get it done on the train ride or not!

Saturday morning trains into the City are usually pretty empty, but this one (the 9:45 express, I think it was) was about 10 minutes late, and when it did arrive it was already pretty much packed.  Most of the people were on the way to the March, and when a new pussy-hatted group passed by in the aisle, already-seated marchers would cheer.

I ended up riding in the vestibule between cars (which is always, non-ironically, fun), and even that was packed!

Here we areimg_20170121_104838 arriving at Grand Central; lots of us! Can’t see the entire crowdstream because of the awesome Pussy Bites Back sign, but hey, it’s an awesome sign.

Pussy in its various forms and meanings was definitely a Big Theme of the march.  Lots of cat images (and hats), quite a few uterus images, and a significant (though smaller) number of vagina images, pretty much all of which made me happy.  (Keeping in mind, at the same time, that not all people, or even all women, have cats, or uteruses, or vaginas.)

One of the chants (and I’ll say more about the chants, I’m sure) that I think I heard only once, was a nice simple call-and-response of “Pussy!” “Power!” “Pussy!” “Power!”, led by a woman standing on some piece of civic infrastructure by the side of the march; after the chant ended (with the usual loud Wooting), I heard the male person standing up there with her say “That was great!”.

I went out of Grand Central (see the album linked above for some photos from there; it wasn’t as packed because people were arriving and then as quickly streaming off toward various gathering places for the march, but the crowd was still impressive), and turned East on 42nd Street, intending to head for 46th and 2nd, where the DSA was supposed to be meeting up.

On the way I realized that with my “Resist.” tee shirt covered by my scarf and flannel overshirt and hoodie I wasn’t very visible as a marcher, and I wanted to be (should have planned farther ahead and commissioned my own ping pussy hat from M!). ¬†And Lo and Behold there were enterprising NYC street vendors selling Hello Kitty ear muffs in bright pastel colors, so I got one. Admire my tiny-eyed revolutionary look!
img_20170121_105719_822
Laugh if you will :) but I got many compliments on these earmuffs throughout the day.

I made my way toward 46th and 2nd as the crowd gradually thickened, and only when I was very close did I realize that (a) it mattered a whole lot which of the four corners of that intersection they’d intended, and (b) I was not actually going to be able to find the DSA area, if any, as it was getting impossible to move.

img_20170121_113116

In fact it was pretty much almost impossible to move for over an hour, and no one knew quite what was going on, but it was still very convivial and positive. One older woman felt light-headed and sat down on the sidewalk, and we around her carefully made sure that she was not stepped on by the crowd, and that when she tried to get up but still felt bad, someone summoned a dayglo-vested march volunteer, who was able to push a path though the crowd to get her to somewhere more comfortable to sit.

Now and then a snake of people intent on moving in some particular direction or other for some reason would pass through near me, and sometimes I would move a few spaces by joining the tail-end of the train.  I had a vague notion of heading up toward 48th Street, where it might be less crowded, and looking for the Quakers who were supposedly meeting there, or even skirting the crowd and looking for the Buddhists on 39th, but it was becoming clear that that was unlikely to be feasible.

Also now and then someone would pull themselves up onto the little footing two or three feet off the ground offered by a nearby lamp-post, and announce that they couldn’t see anything in particular happening from up there, either.

In retrospect, I think what was going on was that people were speaking and stuff over at the rally area on I dunno maybe 47th between 1st and 2nd, but only a few thousand people could actually here them, and us over at the intersection on 2nd could hear only occasional cheering, which we always hoped was the march starting, but probably wasn’t.

Eventually I followed enough little trains of people to reach a clearer place (whew!) and breath a bit, and climb up onto a a wide place in a wall and get a better view of where I’d been. ¬†Here is that intersection, from I think 47th Street between 2nd and 3rd (but closer to 2nd), looking at the 47th Street and 2nd Avenue intersection shortly before, or maybe shortly after, the marching proper began:

img_20170121_131722

There is a small marching band perhaps off the edge of the picture to the right, and the rally and speeches and stuff are happening out of sight in the distance center left.

While trapped in the waiting crowd I saw the only thing at all resembling a counter-protest that dayimg_20170121_141643. ¬†You can’t really see it in this picture very well, and I’m too lazy to do any post-processing to make it easier :) but if you move your eye up the center of the three columns of windows on the brown building-face slightly to the left of center there, you’ll see a small bright dot which is an American flag draped out an apartment window, and if you enlarge the picture or squint hard, you may see on the upper part of the window a little blue sign with something white on it.

We theorized down in the crowd there that it might be a Trump sign.  The people in that apartment would stick their heads out occasionally, and the crowd below would all whoop.  Of course we also all whooped whenever anyone stuck their head out any other window and someone noticed, and any time we heard a vehicle honk somewhere, and any time we heard cheering coming from the rally area, so it was a low bar.  :) As counter-protests go, anyway, it was very mild and polite.  As far as we could tell from the ground anyway.

I strolled down 47th to 3rd Avenue, enjoying the ability to like swing my arms, and discovered that that part of 3rd Avenue was closed as well, I guess because people bored with waiting had been marching along it, and the NYPD was just trying to reopen it. ¬†I found a little sandwich place that wasn’t jammed with hungry marchers, and got myself a sandwich and juice for lunch and a little coffee for after, and sat in a little park and ate.

Somewhere in there I’d picked up an abandoned NYCLU “Dissent is Patriotic” sign (typical of my to have a meta-sign about the protest itself rather than about specific things we were protesting!) and someone had offered me a rainbow-heart sticker which I’d stuck on, so here is my picnic.

img_20170121_135749

When I’d finished eating and strolled back toward the intersection, it looked like people were actually moving! ¬†So I got myself into the crowd, and in probably less than another hour :) the various streams of people coming together had merged into one, and we were actually marching! ¬†At a detectable pace!

There is a picture of me actually marching. ¬†I don’t know who the img_20170121_144916young woman next to me, or pretty much anyone in any of these pictures, is, but we were all marching together, which was excellent.

We marched (in the sense of walking very slowly while carrying signs and now and then chanting and whooping) down 2nd Avenue, from 47th Street to 42nd street.  This took awhile!

There were lots of great signs, and great chants. There were some great little kids in a restaurant with big glass windows on the second floor of some building, who put up supportive signs facing out their window at us.

We chanted “Black Lives Matter”, and “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go”, and “Show me what Democracy looks like!” / “This is what Democracy looks like!” (my favorite call-and-response, I think, great rhythm to it), and this wonderful one where the women would do “My body, my choice!” and the men would respond “Her body, her choice!”, and the Soprano / Tenor sort of alternation was really moving.

(Late in the march the possibly-inebriated folks with the “Trump hates puppies” signs tried to get a “Trump hates puppies” chant going, but it didn’t really take.)

The turn onto 42nd¬†was slow; I suspect there was another stream of people entering from East on 42nd¬†or South on 2nd. But the view on 42nd Street was amazing. ¬†I didn’t capture a great picture of it, but all of 42nd from 2nd to 5th was wall-to-wall marchers, and it was a Thing.

img_20170121_154635

That gives some idea: the bridge just visible in the distance center is the Park Avenue “viaduct” right at Grand Central, and the march stretches to it, and beyond into the vanishing distance to Fifth. Pretty amazing!

Here is the march passing under the bridge quite some time later. The bridge itself was lined with people cheering at the march, holding up signs and hanging banners in support, and so on.

img_20170121_162804

And then we continued, and continued, and continued. :)

Under the bridge, past Vanderbilt, across Madison, and to 5th Avenue, where we turned North toward the Fortress of Evil — ehrm, that is, Trump Tower.

img_20170121_164038

img_20170121_165222

img_20170121_165525img_20170121_171544I was getting pretty tired by this time, and it turns out it’s harder to walk really slowly than to walk at an ordinary pace.

Interestingly, as we went up 5th, there were barricades between the marchers in the street and the onlookers and random other folks on the sidewalks (including the much-photographed “sync up our periods” lady above), and the sidewalks were comparatively uncrowded. The barricades paused at the intersections, and had openings here and there between intersections. (I don’t think this was true on 42nd street, where there were a few pointless-looking barricades just scattered here and there, and the march was pretty much wall-to-wall.)

So on 5th, if one got sufficiently tired of walking slowly in the gathering dusk, one could slip off of the street onto the sidewalk at a pause or break in the barricades, and walk along at a faster pace for a big (still carrying one’s sign, wearing one’s earmuffs, whooping, etc), and then slip back into the march a short-block later.

That was nice!

Somewhere in there, maybe 46th Street or so on the way up 5th Avenue, the police came in and held back the marchers a few feet ahead of me, and stretched blue tape across the street. ¬†(Big black smiling cop sidestepped back and forth on the other side of the tape, making the point that while he couldn’t actually stop us if we insisted on continuing to walk, he would in a friendly way try to; or something.)

It turned out they were doing this because some people in cars wanted to cross the road!

Ha ha ha, can you imagine?

The blue tape let maybe a few dozen cards and trucks and buses go by, some of them taking pictures out the window, and we whooped at them. A marcher near me claimed that at least one was a taxi with at least one passenger in it, and we speculated how long they’d been sitting there trying to cross 5th, with the meter running. Silly autos!

After not very long at all really, they took the tape away again and we whooped and marched quickly up the several yards to where the rest of the march had advanced to in the interim.

And then at 54th Street there was a guy with a megaphone (videoūüďĻ) thanking us for coming out and saying that this is what Democracy is all about, and also telling us that 5th Avenue was blocked off at 55th Street, and this was therefore the end of the march, and we were not going to get to Trump Tower tonight, so we should go away now, or if we really wanted to we could go up one more block and then go away.

He was wearing an EMS jacket and a hat with a logo, and there were some people with march volunteer vests by him.  When I stopped megaphoning I asked him who he was,  and he said he was just a regular guy with a megaphone, and I asked if he was EMS, and he said he was with some neighborhood ambulance (I think?) service, and just one of the volunteers tonight.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if NYPD hadn’t asked him, directly or indirectly, to be there doing that, so that they wouldn’t have to.)

Pretty much everybody wanted to continue, so we got up to 55th Street, where the stream was splitting east and west and people were grumbling somewhat and looking past the police barricades in the direction of the Tower. ¬†The chant turned into a very rousing version of “Welcome to your first day, we won’t go away, welcome to your first day, we won’t go away” (more videoūüďĻ).

However, we were nice, and didn’t make trouble for the police, and the march more or less ended there, at a row of march volunteers (directly in contact with the marchers) and a barricade, and a row of police (not so much directly in contact with the marchers), police cars, and another barricade, and so on.

img_20170121_181214

Here is a symbolic picture of a single Guardian of Order, making sure that ordinary citizens cannot get too close to the seat of power of the person they are protesting:

img_20170121_181737

(Of course said person was probably not around his NYC stronghold anyway, being busy off in Washington DC disgracing himself utterly.)

I went and stood by the outer barricade next to the rightmost volunteer for awhile, watching the people and taking pictures and chanting and whooping, vaguely speculating about how it would go if the crowd decided to go to Trump Tower after all, and helpfully helping open and close the opening in the barricade that the police were using to let authorized people in and out of the outer security layer.

Eventually I stopped doing that, and walked East a bit along 55th Street, looking at the amazing variety of signs that people had left leaning against the barricades and spread out on the street.  So much wit and passion and creativity! There is talk of someone making like a coffeetable book of photos of signs, proceeds to benefit Planned Parenthood or something; I hope that comes to be. Here are just a few of mine; more in the album linked above.

Soooo many!

I wandered back to 5th Avenue itself, and the tail of the march had arrived and left, and there was a row of shiny NYPC motorcycles slowly coming up.  The police started clearing people from the intersection, and I slipped over to the West side of it, to see what was up over there. They moved barricades around some, amid a bit confusion about exactly what they were doing and who ought to be moved where and stuff. (I asked one NYPD if we were supposed to be like going somewhere else instead, and he just smiled and shrugged.)

Eventually they moved everyone out of 5th Avenue and reopened that and cars started flowing again, to much whooping (videoūüďĻ). Then they urged everyone on 42nd near 5th to get onto the sidewalks, and started putting up new barricades stuff. Eventually half a dozen of them walked along 42nd toward 6th, side by side, each holding a barricade at waist level, to sort of push back anyone still in the street. It was more an expression of intent rather than an actual pushing, though, since there weren’t very many people in the street anyway, and it would have been trivial to just get into the sidewalk as they went by and then step into the street again (at least one person did, to no obvious effect).

A smallish number of people were still standing on the corner, chanting away, including one rather manic young white guy with a buzzcut who was jumping up and down and pumping his fist in a worrying manner, and a person next to him in a Guy Fawkes mask (the only mask I recall seeing in the march). But neither of them proved to be obviously agents provocateurs or Black Bloc folks, at least not while I was there.

So we chanted “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.!” for awhile (videoūüďĻ, with me doing just the “No Trump!” part because hoarse by that time), and they moved barricades more so that we could stand in a little area on the edge of the street and walking people could walk on the sidewalk. ¬†42nd Street got fully reopened at some point in there.

I asked another NYPD officer if things were now back to about how they usually were, or if this was still post-march stuff.

“We’ll have to see,” he said, roughly, “it’s just Day One!”

“Oh,” I said, “that’s true, but hasn’t the sidewalk been blocked off and stuff near Trump Tower for awhile now?”

“Yeah,” he said, “but nothing like this,” nodding generally toward the still-chanting people.

So that was interesting.

Eventually I decided that was sort of over, so I went out of the barricaded area and walked around. Nearby was the only property damage I saw all night:

img_20170121_193837

Not at all clear it happened during the March, though; them bus signs are always getting broken off by one thing and another.

Next I wandered over to 42nd and 6th or somewhere, and got a Ham and Cheese and Egg crepe and some water for dinner from a cart guy.

And that’s pretty much the end of the March story for this posting.

img_20170121_224658I texted the little daughter and we had some coffee and dessert, and eventually a sleepy me headed back home on ol’ Metro North.

It was a great time, and I’m glad that I went.

One march, even one day of marches enormous enough to really annoy Certain Thin-Skinned Narcissists,¬†won’t solve our problems by any means (and boy do we have problems omg don’t get me started), but I am somewhat hopeful that it will give people a taste of activism, and a feeling of hope, and ideas about solidarity and involvement, and that as a result things will not be as bad as they would have been otherwise.

And for me personally, being in the City, being with literally hundreds of thousands of like-minded people in the City, expressing support for liberty, equality, justice, love, and all that sort of good thing, and expressing opposition to lies, oppression, sexism, racism, hatred, inequality, and like that, was a really, really good time.

 

 

2017/01/03

The Google Interview: Python isn’t special

I’m gonna depart somewhat from my usual practice here today, and talk about something that more or less normal people might be interested in :) and talk more explicitly than usual about The Employer. ¬†I will also put in an odious subhead, to help normal people find it; regular readers are invited to read it ironically:

How to Ace that All-Important Google Coding Interview

Note that this isn’t actually about how to ace that all-important Google coding interview, but it might help some people do better on it.

First, some credentials: I’m a SWE (SoftWare Engineer) at Google’s New York City office (Google NYC). I do candidate interviews, both for interns and full-time applicants, both on the phone and in person. Many of these are the archetypal Google coding interview, where you come in and say Hi, and then the interviewer gives you a little problem to write the code for a solution to, in basically the language of your choice.

(Not all Google interviews are like this, but if you’re applying for a job at Google that involves coding in any way, some of your interviews will be like this; likely even most of them will.)

One thing I’ve noticed recently, and that this weblog entry is about, is that people tend to pick Python as the language to do their interview coding in, even if they aren’t actually fluent in Python.

I don’t know why anyone would do this, but I’ve heard the same thing anecdotally from other interviewers, and just the other day I had a candidate tell me that while e was actually more fluent in C++, e was going to do the interview problem in Python because it was “more appropriate for the interview context” or other words to that effect. ¬†(It turned out eir Python was not all that good, and that fact did not improve how the interview went.)

Maybe there is a page out there on Quora, or LinkedIn, or the vast ecosystem of How to Ace that All-Important Google Coding Interview links, that encourages everyone to do it in Python.  Maybe there are even recruiters who suggest it as a good language for the interview if you are fluent in it, and some people falsely assume that they are fluent because they know about the colons and indentation conventions.

Maybe the thought, the meme, is that since Python is supposedly good for quickly developing short one-off programs, and that’s pretty much what you’re doing during a code interview, Python should be good for code interviews.

Here’s the thing, though: Python is good for quickly developing short one-off programs only if you’re actually fluent in Python. Otherwise, you will do better using whatever language you are in fact fluent in.

(Ideally one of the Official Google Languages, which are, in alphabetical order and lower case: c++, go, java, javascript, and python; and also including any other language specifically mentioned in a job listing you’re applying for, if any. ¬†If you can absolutely rock the interviewer’s socks in Haskell or Oberon or LISP or something, I’d say go for that, too, but only if you can really rock their socks, not if you just think you can; and those are hard to tell apart from the inside. So maybe play it safe.)

What does it mean to be actually fluent in Python? ¬†As above, it’s not just knowing the basic syntax with the colons and indenting and all. ¬†Before using Python for an interview, rather than your actual preferred language, you should be sure:

  • You are comfortable writing Python code, and have done a significant amount,
  • You know what __init__ does,
  • Writing “self” in the right places (and not in the wrong ones) comes naturally,
  • You know what “self” is for,
  • You know that it doesn’t actually need to be spelled “self”,
  • You know why it always is, despite not needing to be,
  • You know how to code a list comprehension, and¬†do it naturally when appropriate,
  • You know that range() only operates on integers, and what do to about this,
  • You know how to compensate for method parameters being untyped,
  • You could add two or three more things to this list with a bit of thought.

And yeah, that is a relatively high bar; you want to show off your problem analysis and design and coding skills, and you don’t want your unfamiliarity with your chosen tool to get in the way of doing that.

In general I’d say just always go with your preferred language (from the Official List, with caveats as above). ¬†But if you’re convinced that the interview will really go better in Python, check yourself against the list above. ¬†And then consider using your preferred language anyway, one more time.

The above is solely the opinion of the author, and in no way an official position of his employer, or anyone else. Google has some pretty good advice on this general subject that you’d be well-advised to look at; see for instance https://careers.google.com/how-we-hire/interview/.

2017/01/02

January Second

So yesterday we made 144 dumplings (or 145, or possibly 143, or even 146); this seems like a small number! ¬†The Records are surprisingly spotty in recent years, but apparently we made 203 in 2013 (I don’t recall noticing the coincidence before)and 159 in 2012. ¬†Older records are currently inaccessible because of the whole “I’m not entirely sure who it was that used to be hosting my personal websites, but they’ve stopped” situation.

I ought to do something about that sometime.

Anyway, although they were gross (haha!), the dumplings were as always delicious. Possibly even more delicious than sometimes, due to every last spoonful of an entire jar of Hoisin Sauce going into the mix, which it’s possible we don’t always do.

I finished The Throwback Special, which the little daughter gave me for Solstice, and Said Things about it on The GoodReads:

The Throwback Special
(4/5 stars)

A relatively mundane (if odd) event, told in often sparkling, lovely, mordant, satirical, effulgent, ironic, occasionally entirely over-the-top prose. The characters constantly overthink everything, and the author overthinks on top of that, so every event is garlanded with emotion, dilemma, philosophy, elation, dread. It is funny, silly, deep, insightful.

You will annoy those around you by reading sentences aloud.

and I did in fact annoy (and/or amuse) those around me by reading sentences aloud, and also sent the little daughter random texts like

Tommy’s face looked weird because he was doing exercises to strengthen his pelvic floor.

which is in fact a quote from the book.

Oh, and Happy New Year!¬†Here is my Second Life New Year Card, whose sentiments apply to all y’all RL (as we say) persons as well. ¬†Kindness and compassion, kindness and compassion.

(The people in the picture are, as is traditional, both me.  I have never lured M into Second Life; I suspect she thinks it is weird.)

Back to work tomorrow!  Which, despite involving getting up entirely too early and spending hours away from home and all, I am in various ways looking forward too; still loving Google, and the commute, and the City.

Now to choose another book to read.  And to continue mostly not playing WoW!

 

 

 

 

2017/01/01

January First

I keep meaning to start this weblog entry about how I’m going to play WoW less and write in my weblog more, but it’s tempting to play WoW instead.

Why is that?

That is probably my main New Year’s Resolution. I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, ’cause y’know. ¬†But that’d be a good one to try, anyway

I have a couple of max-level characters in WoW Legion now; my Demon Hunter (whose only concern is whether she can get enough enemies to attack her at once that her victory over them isn’t boringly trivial), and ol’ Spennix the Rogue (whose main concern is whether she has enough run-away abilities off cooldown to avoid dying yet again).

(And the Demon Hunter’s next major task is to gather 80 (eighty) of something that sometimes (once in awhile) drops from the very last boss in a dungeon. ¬†So yeah.)

My Official 2017 Comic Frame and Aspirational Resolution is of course:

caphitshitler
for the obvious reasons.

I’ve even joined the DSA, along with a zillion other Twitter liberals; we’ll see if I manage to do more / other than sending them money and posting anti-Nazi memes.

2017 is sure to be interesting in one or more ways. After 2016, I have no confidence whatever in my ability to make predictions about the future (that’s the hardest kind!) that are any more specific than that.

I should probably Resolve to do Twitter less as well. Twitter is a pretty good thing, really; I’ve encountered lots of interesting people, learned lots of stuff. ¬†It’s my main source of news now. But I spend an absurd amount of time reading it and Liking and Retweeting things; a less absurd amount might be good.

I should sit more, too. And maybe work on my irrational (irrational?) dislike for the word “meditation”. :)

I’ve been doing Quora a bit. At first I was impressed by the quality of the questions and answers; over time I’ve gotten a little less impressed, and wonder how good a use of time it really is; but I did write this, of possible interest:

Why do you practice Zen?

So when you ask a Zen question, you’re likely to get a Zen story. :)

This student is sitting meditating, and one of those annoying Masters comes by and says, ‚ÄúWhy are you meditating?‚ÄĚ. And the student says ‚ÄúSo that I may become an enlightened Buddha.‚ÄĚ (Or for that matter ‚ÄúTo save sentient beings‚ÄĚ, or really any sort of aspirational statement at all.)

The Master nods, and picks up a floor tile, and starts polishing it with a corner of his robe.

The student (perhaps sensing he is in a story) says, ‚ÄúWhy are you polishing that floor tile, Master?‚ÄĚ.

The master says, ‚ÄúTo make it into a mirror.‚ÄĚ

The student says, ‚ÄúBut Master, no amount of polishing will ‚ÄĒ oh, I get it, very funny, very funny,‚ÄĚ and goes back to meditating.

Or, alternately, how much do we really know about why we do anything?

I meditate because it seems like a cool thing to do. Because it is the practice of the Buddha Ancestors. Because lots of really interesting people meditate. Because when I was small, I would have these moments when I sort of lost track of which was the world and which was me (‚ÄúI just don‚Äôt see how I am me,‚ÄĚ I summarized it), and meditation is the best way I‚Äôve found to sort of get back to that feeling again.

Also to save sentient beings.

And to make a mirror out of this floor tile. :)

Again largely thanks to Twitter, I’ve become very aware of my privilege, and of what that means. I can rest and just not think about discrimination and injustice and oppression for awhile, pretty much any time I want, because their effects are not right there in my face unless I go out looking for them. I’m grateful for this, but also want to figure out how to be effective at making the world a freer and juster place even though it’s not forced upon me.

I have fallen even more in love with New York City in the past year. I want to spend more time walking randomly, more time in Brooklyn (and even maybe boroughs that aren’t Manhattan or Brooklyn!), more time out of, and in, Chelsea (or is it Meatpacking?). I want to go to BAM, I want to go to Birdland, and to little music clubs that aren’t Birdland. I want to talk to more people.

Have I mentioned that I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel in 2016? I finished it with like twelve minutes to spare, Pacific time, in November, which was a first. I think it’s online somewhere, let’s see…

The Mercy of Fate

In a fancy Google Doc this year, rather than a flat text file (ooohhh!).  I remember very little about large chunks of it, which were written very very late at night. Or at least what felt like very very late at night to these ancient bones.

All various good people died in 2016, and an awful pathological narcissist was somehow elected President of the United States. But probably you know about those things, and I don’t feel like I have much original to add on those subjects at this point.

Today we are going to make New Years Dumplings, as is extremely traditional!  The little daughter is here, but needs to sleep before she is functional enough to help.  M and the little boy and I are sitting around doing more or less normal Sunday Morning things, except for no bagels because The Bagel Store is not answering their phone and therefore we have concluded they are probably not open because it is New Years Day.

Tuesday (day after tomorrow, apparently!) I go back to work, after a nice long year-end vacation. I’m looking forward to that in various ways; still loving work and even the commute, and of course being in Manhattan with all of its energy and infinite variety. ¬†Maybe tomorrow I will connect my little Chromebook to work, and get a head start on the email backlog.

Maybe today I will go into Second Life and take my usual pictures for a New Years card and a new profile picture.

Maybe I will also play WoW.  Just a little?  :)

2016/09/05

A slightly unique post

So apparently I come here every three or four months, to complain about things (often AI hype; omg don’t get me started on the latest “Watson” ad campaign owch).

Today I’m going to complain about this common English-prescriptivist notion, which I randomly encountered recently on a page that I won’t bother linking to because it was just like so many others, that it’s Very Bad Usage, and even Incorrect, to use adverbs of degree or comparison with the word “unique”. You can’t, this notion says, say “very unique” or “more unique”, for instance.

This is because, the notion says, uniqueness is an all-or-nothing concept; something is either unique or it isn’t, so there aren’t degrees or meaningful comparatives.

And this is just wrong.

Every physical object is unique, if you look hard enough, as is every situation. There has never been a bottle of hair shampoo with exactly this many molecules in it and a label exactly this many hundredths of degrees askew. There has never been an evening with exactly this number of fireflies in all of the yards for ten miles all around.

Even an electron, which is about as close as we get in this physics to something that’s exactly the same as a bunch of other things (all other electrons), has a unique position (and/or momentum and/or combination of the two).¬†¬†If you want to be all quantum and deny that an electron has a single definite position, you’ll still grant that it has some sort of probability-function over a set of space-time coordinates, and that that function is different from the function corresponding to all other electrons.

So if everything is unique, why is the word “unique” useful? Exactly because some things are more unique than others: unique in more ways, or unique in more important ways. This tract house here is unique because although it’s identical to its neighbors in most ways, no other house in the county has an inverted horseshoe with Mickey Mouse’s face on it (a souvenir of Disneythingie) over the door. But compared to the house on the corner, which sits on top of a fifty-foot tower and can be reached only by a long spiral staircase, and which inside contains only one large room, which the inhabitants variably divide into sections as the mood strikes them, using bedsheets suspended on hooks from the ceiling, the tract house isn’t really unique at all. ¬†The tower house, being very unique, is much more unique than the Disney-horseshoe one.

And that makes perfect sense.

So away with this simplistic “you can’t say ‘very unique’ or ‘more unique'” rule; it’s silly. The terms have perfectly reasonable meanings, which they communicate clearly to any competent speaker. ¬†I don’t know where this idea started, and I’m insufficiently motivated to look it up, but I suspect that it’s one of those ways of showing that you’re a certain sort of card-carrying language maven, like the bit about not splitting infinitives.

Which isn’t to say that there are never better alternatives. If you really want to talk about general statistical properties, “more unusual” or “very unusual” might be better. Hauling out the bigger gun of “unique” is best done when you want to say that there isn’t anywhere a thing that’s the same as this one in the relevant sense, rather than just saying that things like that are comparatively rare. ¬†And so “really amazingly¬†unique” is best reserved when you really want to say that, in a particularly important and relevant sense, that the thing has properties (really, and amazingly) that nothing else has; not just that it’s sort of odd.

Thus ends the meta-prescriptivist lecture o’ the day (week? month?). ¬†:)

 

 

 

 

 

2016/05/29

One or more network protocols are missing!

I want to write a random woolgathering post about how all various things are happening in the world and thoughts are occurring in the mind of the Ultimate Ground of Being and all, but right now I’m going to write about a Microsoft Windows thing, because well there it is right there.

There are many places on the Internets where people are asking or complaining or telling about an error message like “One or more network protocols are missing from this computer” and/or the associated “Windows sockets registry entries required for network connectivity are missing”, presented by various different “Microsoft Windows” operating systems, often but not always after making some change to the system (like being fooled into upgrading to Windows 10, for instance), and finding that networking isn’t working (haha!) through one or more channels through which it ought to be.

In my case it happened after I put a nice little Ethernet splitter in the basement¬†(between the house modem-thing (cable or phone company or something I always forget) and the little boy’s room where the PS/4 or 5 or 7 is, which is there because the WiFi doesn’t really reach quite to that end of the house) and ran another Ethernet cable from that into the Maid’s Room (we don’t actually have a maid, but maybe someone did once), and plugged the end of that cable into an Ethernet-to-USB adapter, and that into a USB port on this laptop here, because really the WiFi doesn’t reach all that well into the Maid’s Room either, at least not if I’m lying comfortably back on the little bed there ’cause I’m staying up late in WoW or Second Life or whatever.

Anyway! After doing all of that plugging, Windows saw that it had an Ethernet connection, but it couldn’t get to the Internet through it, and the reasons that it gave were the (misleading, erroneous, and generally unhelpful) messages above, there. The little boy’s PS/whatever worked fine, even after replugging of things to make sure it wasn’t a bad port on the splitter or something, so I suspected Windows.

After trying all various suggestions that I found on the Internets (via the WiFi connection, while not lying back too far) and the YouTubes (why do people make videos of things that could just as easily be written down?), involving resetting things and restarting things, none of which worked, I clicked down into more menus in Windows, and found what the problem was in my case.

All modern client computers (that is, everything but servers managed by professional IT persons and their close equivalents) these days get their IP addresses assigned by asking the network for a conveniently-free one. But clicking down into the “Properties” of the “TCP/IP V4” or whatever thing listed under the Ethernet connection in the “Change settings of this connection” in the “Network Connections” section of the Windows Configuration maze, I found that the “Use the following IP address” box was checked, and that there was no IP address following it.

Checking “Obtain an IP address automatically” instead (and also “Obtain DNS server addresses automatically”, which also wasn’t checked) fixed the networking problem pretty much instantly. Something that had nothing whatever to do with missing network protocols, or Windows Socket registry entries, and that apparently, despite being blindingly obvious in retrospect, none of the various “Troubleshooters” that I’d run on the way there had thought to do.

Pheh!

tl;dr: If you have the “One or more network protocols are missing” and/or “Windows sockets registry entries required for network connectivity are missing” problems on your Windows computer, drill down into the TCP/IP properties of the network connection in question, and make sure “Obtain an IP address automatically” and “Obtain DNS server addresses automatically” are checked. (Unless for some reason you don’t want them to be, in which case make sure that the proper IP addresses are in fact filled in!)

And Windows’ error messages and troubleshooters are really very bad.

2016/03/25

No, we still don’t have conversational AI

Yeah, yeah, here I am being annoyed by more or less this same thing again. Everyone needs a hobby. :)

This time it’s a number of things I’ve seen lately that say or imply that we now have AI that can carry on a convincing conversation, that knows what it’s saying, and like that.

First, we have this extremely creepy thing:

It is wrong on so very many levels (“Hot” Robot??). In the linguistic and AI wrongnesses, virtually everything that “she” says in the video is clearly just text-to-speech running on some pre-written text; we don’t have software smart enough to come up with “I feel like I can be a good partner to humans — an ambassador”, let alone to say it and mean it, for any useful sense of “mean it”.

And then at the end, for whatever reason, the robot is hooked up to the¬†typical “AIML” sort of silliness that I have ranted about here before (in archives that are currently offline; have to get that fixed sometime), and also over on the Secret Secondlife Weblog (see the “MyCyberTwin” section of this post, say), and hilarity ensues.

The reporter says “do you want to destroy humans?”, and the “AI” software notices that this matches its template “do you want to X”, and it plays the hardcoded response (perhaps chosen at random from a small set) “okay, I will X”.

And so now we have an “AI” saying “I will destroy humans”, and lots and lots of hits.

But in fact this robot, and the software running it, doesn’t know what humans are, doesn’t know what it means to destroy something, and for that matter doesn’t know what “I will” means. Let alone “I”. Or anything else. All it’s doing is recognizing words in speech, matching the words against a look-up table, and playing a canned response. It is just as determined to destroy humans as is a coffee tin with two googly eyes and a “destroy humans” sign pasted onto it.

Which brings us to “Everything you know about artificial intelligence is wrong“, which is structured as a series of “It’s a myth that X, because it might not be true that X” paragraphs (suggesting that the author hasn’t thought very hard about the meaning of “myth), but which for our purposes is mostly interesting because it bit me with this sentence:

We already have computers that match or exceed human capacities in games like chess and Go, stock market trading, and conversations.

Chess and Go, yes (yay, employer!); stock market trading and especially conversations, not so much.

Following the “conversations” link, we come to the story of “Eugene Goostman”, a program which is said to have “passed the Turing Test” last year by convincing more than 30% of judges that it was a human.

30% seems like a pretty low bar, but after looking at an actual transcript of the program’s conversation, I’m amazed it scored above zero. The judges must have been very incompetent, very stoned, or (most likely) very motivated to have a program pass the test (because that would be cool, eh?).

Given this transcript, it’s painfully obvious that “Goostman” is just running that same stupid AIML / MyCyberTwin pattern-matching algorithm that was very cool in 1965 when Weizenbaum wrote ELIZA, but which is only painful now; anyone taking any output from this kind of program seriously, or announcing it as any sort of breakthrough in anything, just has no clue what they are talking about (or are cynically lying for clicks).

Which makes it almost refreshing (not to mention the schadenfreude) to be able to mention a spectacular “conversational AI” failure that was apparently not driven by the usual AIML lookup-table.

Specifically, Microsoft’s recent Tay debacle, in which a highly-imitative conversation bot was put up on Twitter and began imitating the worst of human online behavior. In a way, Twitter was a brilliant choice of task: expectations for coherence on Twitter are low to start with, and interactions are short and often formulaic. But given that Tay appears (appeared?) to operate mostly by straight-up mimicry, the team behind it must either have had very limited knowledge of what Twitter is actually like, or have expected exactly this outcome and the resulting publicity (I’m such a cynic!).

But the most amusing part for me is that Microsoft now has to firmly emphasize that its software has no idea what it’s talking about, and doesn’t mean what it says, and that when it seems to suggest genocide or deny the reality of the Holocaust, it’s just parroting back what others have said to it, with no intelligence or understanding.

Which is basically my point. :)

For those who have tuned in only recently, I’m a Strong AI guy; I think there’s no reason we can’t eventually make a computer that can carry on a real conversation, and that understands and means what it says. So when John Searle comes up with circular arguments that computers can’t think because they don’t have the causal powers of the brain, or says that he knows his dog is conscious because it has deep brown eyes and adorable floppy ears, I am similarly annoyed.

I think the only thing standing in the way of our making intelligent software is that we have no idea how to do that. And that’s something we can fix! But in the meantime, can we stop pretending that trivial pattern-matching “conversation” is in any way interesting?

P.S. When I tweeted (“tweeted”) to Tay, she ignored the content of my “tweet”, and replied lyrically “er mer gerd erm der berst ert commenting on pics. SEND ONE TO ME!”. When I sent her a lovely picture of a brightly-colored banana slug, as one does, she responded “THIS IS NOT MERELY A PHOTOGRAPH THIS IS AN ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE”.

I was not impressed.

2016/02/10

Understanding anything in a matter of minutes!

I don’t know why there is so much snake-oil and hype in AI, and in all those¬†fields that are¬†AI hiding under another name,¬†like for instance “Cognitive”.

Maybe I am just cynical? Maybe there is no more snake-oil in AI than in any other area, and I’ve just looked into it more. (There’s certainly snake-oil in anti-virus, and in philosophy of mind, and… Hm…)

But anyway! The thing I want to complain about this time¬†is the whole “Cognitive” thing, and in particular this “Decoding the debates ‚Äď a cognitive approach” article that showed up as a Promoted Tweet or something this morning in The Twitters.

I was at IBM Research when the whole Cognitive Computing thing was conceived. Although I wasn’t involved with it, I went to some of the seminars and information sessions and teas and stuff, and was unimpressed.

They had various smart (or smart-looking) people appear on screens and talk about how Cognitive systems can do all sorts of smart things, by being smart and working like brains and stuff, without any actual substantive material about why this particular attempt to make systems smarter was going to work any better than any prior attempts.

The “cognitive approach” revealed in the article is to see which distinctive words the various candidates used during the debates, draw Venn diagrams showing how Rs used some words and Ds used some other words, and they both used some of the same words.

Then you can read news articles found by searching for candidates’ names and some of those words, and you will understand the debates.

The very last capping sentence of the story is:

It makes understanding anything in a matter of minutes.

(which is, notably, not strictly-speaking an English sentence; apparently “anything” doesn’t include, say, the art of proofreading).

If we make a reasonable attempt to fix this sentence, and come up with, say, “It makes understanding anything possible in a matter of minutes”, we come up with something that is, obviously, untrue. So utterly untrue as to insult the reader’s intelligence, in fact.

Understanding anything in a matter of minutes? Really? I mean, really? A little textual analysis and web searching is going to lead to understanding of the nature of consciousness, the paradox of free will, the joy and heartache of love, the puzzle of the human condition, the causes of poverty, in minutes? Things that have eluded all of us for centuries, and that no one on Earth has ever understood, are going to be mastered in minutes using the amazing Watson APIs?

No, of course not, that would be idiotic to suggest. But it’s what the words there say.

Is it even plausible to argue that reading a few articles found by looking up D keywords and R keywords and Both keywords, will even give someone a basic understanding of the issues in these debates, in a matter of minutes?

No, clearly it isn’t. If I happen to find an article in my search that happens to give me a little basic understanding of something, it will because I happened to find a good article, not because of anything “cognitive” that came out of the keyword-listing.

Does this approach work well for anything at all? Well, if it did, it seems natural that this article would link to a live example, that the reader could interact with, and come to some understanding of something in a few minutes.

Given that it doesn’t link to anything like that, we can conclude that in fact it doesn’t work well, for anything at all.

Maybe we fixed the sentence wrong.

It makes understanding anything in a matter of minutes no less unlikely than ever.

There ya go.

Sigh.

File under “snake-oil”.

2016/02/04

Story straight

My personal websites, davidchess dot com and all, which are hosted somewhere in like England by friends-of-friends who stopped billing me in maybe 2010, seem to be down currently; but I have located a local copy, and have been looking nostalgically through it at random. Here is a piece of microfiction from March 2008 that I had entirely forgotten…

“So you know what you’re going to say?”

Chervais looked down at the squat form, sitting behind the piled shapes that served for a desk, sucking at a damp cigar.

“I was thinking I could just tell the truth.”

There was an explosion from somewhere outside, and the gondola rocked sickeningly for a moment. Chervais imagined the view outside, the gondola suspended like a parasite from the vast flock of harnessed geese, the bulbous airplanes that flew by now and then in slow irrational dogfights, the oddly glowing ground over which they passed, trees in the shape of nightmare reaching toward the starless sky.

The other grabbed at the desk automatically, and looked up.

“First, no one would believe you,” he stubbed the cigar on some component of the desk, which grudgingly caught fire, “and second, it’s not allowed.”

“I don’t think you have any way to enforce that.”

The big bloodshot eye rolled in its socket. “That’s a dangerous thing to assume.”

Chervais sighed and looked down at his hand, colorless and insubstantial. “All right,” he said, “first I became aware of myself floating upward, then I turned and saw my body lying on the bed.”

The other just nodded, the eye staring.

“Then there was this intense light, and I found myself moving toward it –”

“The calmness,” the other cut in.

“Right, right, there was this great feeling of calm, and I was moving up this tunnel toward the light, and there was this ethereal music and a great feeling of,” he made a sound, involuntarily, with his mouth, “of love, and a gentle voice, telling me I had to return.”

The squat cyclops grunted. “Ya still got some work to do on attitude, but I like that ‘ethereal’. Keep it up.”

Somewhere outside there was another explosion, as a cargo helicopter full of cheese plummeted from the sky.

2016/01/31

Nothing happens when you’re offended; except when it does

I’m afraid I’m going to be political again; comes of hanging out¬†in social media too much in a U.S. election season.

The other day on the Face Book, someone posted some version of this:

along with a little essay about political correctness, and how trigger warnings are censorship, and how kids these days are so thin-skinned that no one can say anything anymore, and so on.

I posted a comment disagreeing, and got (and this is very unusual for me) two different people that I like and respect texting me privately in the Face Book (which I always forget is even a thing) expressing surprise at my opinion.

I’ve been thinking about how to write down my thoughts on these subjects for some time, but without actually doing it. So I thought maybe I’d start with just the basic message of the video clip itself: that when you’re offended, it doesn’t mean anything, and nothing happens.

To first order, I agree with this. The mere fact that I’m offended by something doesn’t in itself mean anything.

But depending on why I’m offended, it may be a sign of something that is meaningful.

The implication of “when you’re offended, nothing happens”, and a thing that the comic up there says more or less right out, is that if someone’s offended, they should just suck it up, sit down, and shut up about it.

But that’s wrong. Words mean things. Words build things up, and wear things down. Structural oppression exists, and words are part of the structure. Sitting down and shutting up does not help us get to a more just society.

If enough people are offended by casual references to some stereotypical negative property of some oppressed group, and refuse to sit down and shut up, and other people stop making those references as often, a little bit of the structure of that oppression has been lifted.

If I’m offended because some comedian punches down for laughs, and I give that comedian poor reviews and recommend that people avoid him, maybe he, or his colleagues, will look for laughs somewhere else.

Or if I’m offended because people are no longer deferring to me because I belong to some privileged group, or because structural oppression that favors me is being questioned, and I complain about that, I both tend to look like an idiot, and to shed light on the privilege and oppression that I’m upset about losing, and even that helps us along toward justice.

If I’m offended because someone said “shit” instead of “poo”, well, probably I should sit down and shut up about it. ¬†:)

So it depends. But also it matters.

Because sometimes, even often, people take offense because of the way they are impacted by injustices in society.

And that’s not nothing.

Maybe sometime in the future: Trigger Warnings, Why the Kids are Alright, and so on.

2015/12/24

Also, I’m a progressive

We covered religion the other year, and I’ve been thinking about (and even writing a little about) politics, so now I will try to define myself politically here. To some extent I’m making this up as I go along, so I reserve the right to say next week “I just realized that what I said in paragraph 12 was completely wrong”, but until I say that you can assume it’s accurate. :)

I’m a progressive (I might write “Progressive” if that wasn’t a heavily-advertised insurance company or whatever). Which, for me, means that I believe most basically:

  1. The current distribution of wealth and power in society is currently significantly, and undesirably, unfair,
  2. That unfairness favors (and disfavors) pretty much the same people it always has; in most of the West, that’s people who are more (or less) similar to a tall healthy straight white protestant man from a rich family, with conventionally handsome features and a deep (but not too deep) voice, and so on,
  3. That there is a significant role for the government in reducing the level of that unfairness.

Point (1) differentiates me from people who think that the current distribution actually is fair, or that whether or not it’s fair doesn’t matter (or even that unfair is good). Certain capitalists perhaps most obviously.

Point (2) differentiates me from people who think that the distribution is unfair, but that it’s unfair in favor of women, minorities, etc. Certain Tea Party types, “Men’s Rights Advocates”, and so on.

And Point (3) differentiates me from people who think that, even if there is an unfair distribution, it’s the government’s fault, and if only we had less government, or no government, or government stayed out of the redistribution business, things would get better. Some libertarians (and Libertarians), minarchists, anarchists, voluntaryists, and so on.

I was once a member of that latter group to some extent, as I’ve at least hinted at before, but have yet to see a convincing argument that we can actually get to a better place without significant government involvement, lovely as it might be if we could, and as problematic as government involvement pretty much invariably is.

And here are some ideas, in no particular order but just as they occur to me, that the three basic things imply for me, not in the sense of logical implication, but in the sense of “also this too”.

privilegePrivilege is a thing.¬†If you haven’t run into the term before, here’s a good introduction (not that I necessarily agree with everything it says, but it’s a good statement of the concept). In each sense in which a characteristic of mine is one that society tends to favor, I’m privileged. I have white privilege, male privilege, upper-middle-class privilege. I don’t have right-handed privilege, or mental-health privilege (although I do have “generally functional mental health” privilege; it’s a subtle thing I might talk about someday too).

For me a big¬†thing about privilege is that if a person has it in a characteristic, then the way that society favors that characteristic (and disfavors the opposite) is likely to be relatively invisible to¬†them. When a white person says “well, I don’t see much racism in society these days”, that’s white privilege, and a response of “check your privilege” is entirely appropriate (at least in content; in tone it may or may not be the best way to get them to think about it better).

People who dislike the concept of privilege tend to dislike it because they see it, or claim that they see it, as a claim that white people have no problems, or that every man has more power in society than any woman, or various other false claims.

(I remember once unfollowing someone somewhere who generally posted wise things, but then one day went on a long rant about how they would instantly block anyone who used the term “privilege”, because we all have our own problems. Which was such a misunderstanding, and had so much anger behind it, that I didn’t really want to be there anymore, or to put the energy into trying to help, since presumably he would have instantly blocked me if I had).

Feminism is good. I’m either a feminist or a feminist ally, depending on whether you think males can be feminists. (I’m perfectly happy with either label, and demanding that women include me in the category without having actually lived as a women would be male privilege talking; see above.)

Being a feminist follows almost immediately from (1) and (2) above; if there’s an undesirably unfair distribution of power that favors men, it would be good to make it fairer, by directing more to women. Because of (3) I’m not, say, an anarcha-feminist, at least not in the practical sense: while it might be greatly helpful to women if we had a society entirely based on voluntary associations, no one has shown me how a society like that would actually be sustainable if actual humans were allowed in.

So I’m a feminist who believes in, say, non-discrimination laws.

Radicalism. I call myself a progressive, rather than a radical. This is for basically Beatles reasons (interpreting the lyrics non-ironically); revolutions are dangerous and nasty and often end up with some new-but-still-awful regime in place, and we’re getting better all the time, little by little, slow but sure, and so on.

I also realize that this may be for instance my upper-middle-class privilege talking, and that had I lived a harder life, I might well have different feelings about radicals and the desirability of revolution, and where I myself should be putting my energy.

The size of government. As I noted somewhere at some time, but can’t be bothered to find, questions of the size of government, which are so important to small-government folks like most libertarians, are relatively uninteresting to me. Within relatively wide margins, the question isn’t “does this proposal involve increasing or decreasing the size of the government?”; it’s “does this proposal make the distribution of power in society more, or less, fair?” and/or “does this tend to empower the powerless, or the already-powerful?”.

The American Political Parties. Eew. I am not a registered member of either one. As everyone in the UK and Europe knows, the US has no major left-wing party; we just have a center-right party, the Democrats, and a hard-right (and this year total loony) party, the Republicans. The hard right is pretty much the opposite of progressive; they believe that the current distribution of power and wealth is good, that if anything it’s women and minorities and the poor and so on who get unfair advantages, that it’s really the interests of the powerful that matter, and that government should stay out of the economy as much as possible.

The center-right is a bit more reasonable, and think that while the interests of business always come first, it is in fact often in the true interests of business that individual people have some rights, are not completely impoverished, are generally happy, and so on.

So I do tend to vote for Democratic candidates; but I’m not a member of their party. The last party I actually belonged to was the Libertarians; see above.

(I think Bernie Sanders is in fact¬†a progressive, and that’s a good thing. That the Democratic Party would let him campaign for their nomination for President is good, too; I don’t think they’ll let him win it, though.)

Occupy. Heck, yeah! I think the Occupy movement was, and is, a good thing. I resist the suggestion that they failed; as far as I can see they did a great service in turning the narrative away from the Tea Party’s “The government should spend less money!” which implicitly urged just giving the government to the most powerful, and toward the issue of Income Inequality, which is a much more progressive thing to talk about (and which Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and finally even Hillary Clinton are continuing to talk about, and which is resonating with lots of people in a cheering way).

And that’s it for now, I think. It’s good to get this written down, as it was with the religion stuff.

Happy Socially Just Solstice to all!  :)

 

 

2015/12/14

Consciousness and the Verbal Bias

I have been privileged lately to be part of a little informal group that meets (twice now, I think) in a Chinese restaurant on the West Side and (more often but more diffusely) in email, and talks about the mysteries (or otherwise) of consciousness (whatever that is).

There is me, and Steve who used to have a weblog a million years ago, and some smart folks from Columbia University. We are all amateurs (although Steve threatens to lure in a professional philosopher in some capacity), but that may be a Good Thing.

(Extremely long-time readers of this weblog in its various incarnations, if there are any, may recall the ancient Problems of Consciousness pages that Steve and I did. Highly related!)

books

Here is a pile of books.

As we’ve talked about these things, I have for some reason found myself increasingly attracted to the “we are just passengers” approach to consciousness. Not so much as something to believe, but as something to think about.

The idea behind this approach (which may or may not be the same thing as “epiphenominalism”) is that while subjective experience reflects what happens in the objective (or “physical” or “natural” or whathaveyou) world, it does not influence it in any way.

Subjective experience (and therefore “us”, if we identify with our subjective experiences) is just a passenger, an observer, and to the extent that we feel like we are making decisions and carrying them out, we are just mistaken. Either we are so constituted that we always (or almost always) decide to do that thing that our bodies were going to do anyway, or (perhaps more likely) we actually “decide” what to do a few milliseconds after our bodies do it; we make up stories quickly and retroactively to explain why we “decided” to do that.

What if this were true? We’d no longer have to worry about¬†how the subjective realm has effects on the objective (it doesn’t). We may still have to worry about how subjective experience finds out what is happening in the objective world, but that’s always been the easier part; we can probably even say that well it just does, which is roughly what we say to someone who worries about why masses experience gravitational attraction.

We don’t really have to worry about Other Minds any more, either! ¬†Or rather, we will be nicely justified in giving up on that entirely! ¬†No way I’m going to be able to determine anything like objectively whether you, or any other physical system, has subjective experience, since subjective experience causes no discernible (or indiscernible) effects in the objective world; so I don’t need to feel guilty about not actually knowing, but just being content with whatever working hypothesis seems to result in the best parties and so on.

One puzzle that seems to remain in the We Are Just Passengers (perhaps better called the I Am Just A Passenger) theory, is why it should be the case that some of the things that my body says seem to reflect so accurately what I subjectively experience. If I have no effect on the objective world, why should this part of the objective world (the things my body says, writes in weblogs, etc) in fact correspond so well to how it feels to be me?

I started out thinking that it would be really interesting to see a theory about that: that would explain why objective biological bodies would tend to commit speech-acts that describe subjective experience, without that explanation including actual subjective experience anywhere in the causal chain.

Then like yesterday or something I had what may or may not be an insight: if a version of the Passenger theory can hold¬†that I make my “decisions” by quickly rationalizing to myself the things that I (“subconsciously”) observe my body doing, why can’t it also hold¬†that some significant part of what I “experience” is similarly made up just after the fact, as I retroactively experience (or remember experiencing) things corresponding to what I perceive my body saying (where “saying” here includes whatever unvoiced but subvocalized inner narration-acts occur).

That is, how certain are we (am I) that we (where each “we” identifies with our individual subjective experience) actually cause the speech-acts that our bodies carry out? I don’t see any reason we should be particularly infallible about that, at least any more than we should be infallible about causing our bodies to do other things, like buying chicken instead of turkey, or going to the opera.

We have a bias toward verbal behaviors, I will suggest, and tend to assume (without, I will suggest, any really very good reason) that verbal behaviors reflect the contents of subjective experience more or better than other kinds of behaviors do.

Of the¬†various studies that have been done suggesting that our bodies start to do things before “we” have actually “decided” to do them, I recall (without actually going back and looking, because yolo) that the experimenters more or less assumed that verbal behaviors reflected the activity of subjective consciousness, whereas other body behaviors (and neural firings and so on) reflected mere physical stuff. ¬†But why assume that?

In the extremely surreal and fascinating phenomenon of blindsight, a person will (for instance) claim verbally not to be able to see anything to the right, but will pretty reliably catch (or avoid) a ball tossed from the right side.

This is pretty much universally described as a case where our bodies¬†can react to something (the ball from the right) that we don’t have conscious awareness of.

But why is this the right description? One thing the body does (the catching or avoiding) indicates awareness of the ball, and another thing the body does (the saying “no, I can’t see anything on that side”) indicates a lack of awareness.

Why do we assume that the verbal act reflects the contents of subjective awareness, and the other behavior doesn’t?

If someone couldn’t speak, but could catch a ball, we would generally not hesitate to say that they had subjective awareness of the ball.

But if the person does speak, and says things about their subjective awareness, we take that saying as overriding the non-verbal behaviors.

Could we be wrong?

The two main other kinds of things that might be happening are: that the person has subjective awareness of the ball, but for some reason the speech parts of his body insist on denying the fact; or that there are two subjective consciousnesses here, and one (associated with the speech behaviors) is not aware of the ball, but the other (associated with the catching or avoiding) is.

The first of these seems weird because we aren’t used to thinking about verbal behaviors (at least from people) happening without consciousness. The second seems weird because we aren’t used to thinking (outside of split-brain cases) of two consciousnesses associated with the same person.

(Would it be terribly frustrating to be the non-verbal consciousness in the second case? Aware of the ball, catching the ball, experiencing those things, but unable to speak when asked about it, and unable to stop the bizarrely traitorous speech organs from denying it. Or maybe that consciousness is more deeply non-verbal, and doesn’t understand and/or doesn’t have any particular desire to respond to, the questions being asked.)

Hm, where did all of that get us? I think I’ve written down pretty much what I wanted to capture: the idea that even our own speech acts might be, not things uniquely caused by our subjective consciousnesses, but simply more things that happen in the world that might or might not have any particular causal connection to subjectivity. ¬†And that, perhaps consequent to that, that when we are developing theories about what other consciousnesses there might be out there in the world, we should watch ourselves for unwarranted bias toward speech acts over other behaviors.

Perhaps we can develop some good theory about why speech acts are in fact special in these ways, but I don’t have one at the moment, and I don’t know if anyone else has seen a need for one and written down any words in that direction. ¬†(If you do, please let me know!)

And in the meantime, perhaps not assuming that speech-acts are special can help us reach some interesting places we would not otherwise have reached, or avoid some puzzles that would otherwise have puzzled us.

 

2015/11/07

The dreams of my cellphone

So my cellphone of course has predictive input, as cellphones do, where it guesses three words that you might be planning to type, and displays them so you can choose one if you want (or just keep typing otherwise).

And one fun thing is that even if you haven’t typed anything yet, it will still predict what you might be going to type, because why not. ¬†And once you choose a word it will suggest the three words that you might want next, and so on.

So you can drive the predictive model forwards without input, by just (for instance) picking the first suggested word repeatedly, until say you get into a loop.  And at the moment if you do that with my phone, you get this:

If the user to be in touch and I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

and then it loops I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

And if you choose the second, middle, one over and over you get:

I am not sure if you have any questions or concerns please please please please please.

in which it is notable that the second suggestion after “please” is “please”. ¬†:)

Repeatedly choosing the third one gives this:

The first week and then the following file and then the following file.

and then the following file and then the following file.

Choosing the first then second then third, then first then second then third:

If you want me to be in the future of the day and I have to be able and willing I would like the one that you have any further information please do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest and relaxation and then delete it immediately by return mail to you by the way you could send you the best time for the first one is in a few minutes ago and he said he will have to do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest.

A still more complex pattern, one-one-two I think it was, produced this still more substantial chunk of text:

If the reader is not the named recipient only for use by others or forwarding of any action taken in reliance upon the contents to anyone else who might be a great day of school and the other day I can do to get a new email address is the best of my life is a good day for me know what you are hereby notified with the site and the rest is fine with the following link if I can get the chance of the individual sender and destroy all electronic mail message by mistake please immediately by return to me know what I can get the chance of the individual sender.

You are hereby notified!

I don’t know if any of the prediction there is learned from my own writing, although it doesn’t seem likely. ¬†I don’t write about named recipients much, or in fact at all. ¬†So most likely it has been trained on some standard body of text (including some legalese!) and either it doesn’t change that with experience, or my own writing patterns (I don’t write all that much on the phone after all) haven’t provided it with enough information to change the model substantially.

The rest is fine!

2015/11/04

Demographic substitution does not preserve truth

When I was in kid-school, a Social Studies teacher pointed out to us that there was no entry in the index of our textbook for “Women’s history” or “Women” in general.

I flipped through it and raised my hand, and said that hey, there was nothing for “Men’s history” or “Men”, either!

This is because I was a smug little shit who didn’t have the first clue how the world actually works.

(I like to think that this is a bit less true now.)

The teacher more or less adored me just because I was smart and (usually) well-behaved, and rather than giving me the smack-down I really needed, she (I vaguely recall) just said something like “It’s not the same thing”.

Which is entirely correct.

It’s easy to see why we might expect statements about one group to have the same status (truth, objectionability, etc.) as the same statements applied to another group. ¬†In many contexts, there is basic fairness involved. ¬†“Women should be able to participate in government” and “Men should be able to participate in government” are both true. ¬†“Men¬†should not be jerks” and also “Women should not be jerks”. ¬†Or simple fact: “Most white people have toes”, and “Most people of color¬†have toes”.

On the other hand, a few moments of thought reveals lots of statements for which this doesn’t work. ¬†“Most pregnant people are women” is true; but “Most pregnant people are men” is false. ¬†“Until comparatively recently, the law considered women to be essentially property” is true; but “Until comparatively recently, the law considered men to be essentially property” is false. ¬†“Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se” is pretty clearly true, but “Western society grants extensive privilege to disabled women per se” is implausible at best.

So far these examples are all of “ought” statements that survive under demographic substitution, and some “is” statements that don’t. ¬†But in any plausible morality, situated “ought” statements are implied by “is” statements about their situation; their context.

A very strong case could be made, for instance, that “Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se”, and “Mainstream study of history has been from a heavily male-oriented perspective” are both true, and that as a result “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about women in the index of this history textbook” can be true, while “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about men in the index of this history textbook” is silly (because, as I vaguely recall my Social Studies teacher pointing out, the whole book is about that).

More significantly (and I imagine more controversially, although perhaps not among y’all weblog readers), there are sets of “is” statements that don’t survive demographic substitution, from which we can conclude that for instance “Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is true, whereas “Men, white people, and straight people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is not. Or in shorter words, Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as¬†Men’s Rights and White Power.

And I am happy to have written that down, because I’ve had the argument rattling around inchoate in my head for some years.

Now there are a significant number of people posting things on the Internet who would claim that that the concluding¬†sentence, that¬†Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as¬†Men’s Rights and White Power,¬†is just obviously false, and unfair, and sexist / racist, and so on. Some of them are, I imagine,¬†smug little shits who don’t have the first clue how the world actually works; some others are just doing a good imitation. ¬†To avoid the argument that we would use to get to the conclusion, they would either deny some of the initial “is” statements (denying that there is currently structural oppression of women or people of color, for instance), or deny in one way or the other that those¬†statements¬†imply the conclusion.

Or, perhaps more commonly, they would just repeat that the concluding sentence is sexist / racist, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, because fairness, and so on. ¬†Because, that is, demographic substitution ought to preserve the truth of “ought” statements, and saying that it doesn’t is sexist / racist / etc.

What finally pushed me over the edge to write this down was some Twitter discussion of this rather baffling story on the often-odious “Breitbart” site, by the often-odious Milo somebody. ¬†It’s still not clear to me what the intent of the story is, aside from a general suspicion that it’s supposed to be humorous in some way (I do like the part where someone asks what direction they’re driving, and someone else looks at the GPS and says “up”; that’s funny!). ¬†But at least some of the Milo supporters in the Twitter thread that I foolishly walked into, thought that it was obviously a parody of feminist claims that various aspects of technology are gendered against women.

The argument would be, I guess, something like “I have written this piece claiming that an aspect¬†of technology is anti-male, and the piece is silly; therefore other pieces, claiming that other aspects of techhnology are anti-female, are also silly.” ¬†Or, perhaps more charitably, “See how silly this claim that a technology is anti-male is; claims that technologies are anti-female are similar to it, and are just as silly!”.

And this brought to mind some sort of claim like “It’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of women, because it’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of men, and demographic substitution preserves silliness!”.

But (whatever other additional things might or might not be going on in the case), demographic substitution doesn’t preserve silliness. ¬†Or various other properties.

So there we are!

2015/10/21

“All Ravens are Black” — a meta-investigation

Technique 1

Observe a sufficiently large number of ravens, and determine whether any are non-black.

Examples 1

Raven 1 – black
Raven 2 – black
Raven 3 – black
. . .
Raven N – black

Technique 2

Observe a sufficiently large number of non-black entities, and determine whether any are ravens.

Examples 2

White Snowball 1 – not a raven
Red Pepper 1 – not a raven
Brown Bag 1 – not a raven
White Snowball 2 – not a raven
. . .
Yellow Yield Sign N – not a raven

Observations

It may be necessary to make significantly more observations in technique 2 for the same degree of confidence.

On the other hand, it will be significantly easier to find appropriate entities for observation in technique 2.

When stating the results of technique 2, it is good practice (although not strictly required) to observe a single raven*.  If this is not done, the statement of results should include, for clarity of communication, the statement that the observations made do not establish that any ravens in fact exist.

* Note that it is not necessary to observe the color of the raven in this case.

Tags: , ,
2015/10/06

Gang aft agley

I have slowly come to the theory that other people plan (and make plans, and have plans, and do planning, and so on) in ways that (quantitatively and perhaps even qualitatively) I don’t.

I tend to operate by occasionally looking around to see where I am (in the broad sense), and then doing whatever seems appropriate.

Other people (some? many? most?) seem to tend to have a sort of prediction, in more or less fine detail, of what is going to happen in the next N minutes (for N anywhere from smallish to quite largish), and put quite a bit of mental effort into polishing that prediction, and comparing it to what is actually happening, or what seems likely to happen, or what they would like to happen, and so on.

Or perhaps the¬†prediction is what they would like to happen (from among the most plausible alternatives?), and they compare it to what is likely to happen? ¬†I’m not clear on the details.

At one level this seems like a lot of effort, to me, given how hard it is to predict stuff. ¬†We (the culture that the planners and I share) have sayings about this; the “gang aft agley” one, and “life is what happens when you’re making other plans”, and so on. ¬†Given that we know it doesn’t work, and that it takes effort, well…

On the other hand I’m sure that at some level I do it, too, at least in that “doing whatever seems appropriate” probably is somewhat driven by doing what seems most likely to lead to desirable future situations, and that might be seen as a kind of prediction.

Also there are some times when there is a complicated multi-step process sort of thing, and I have to like remember all of the steps in order to get to some desirable end through the process.  When that happens, I tend to write the list down, because otherwise I will forget.  Sometimes I forget anyway.

It’s certainly easier to fit the unplanned approach into the “this present instant is all that exists” idea that I’m working with. Since this present instant is all that exists, all that one can do is notice the present instant, and do something based on it. But if one is a planner, many of the things that exist in this present instant, and that one can be aware of (and even identify with, which is where I might claim some of the trouble arises), are plans; plans as ideas, as mental constructs, as expectations and desires and even fears, as worries. ¬†And then one does things based not only on what is true in the actual world right now, but also based on what one imagines or expects or hopes or fears is true, or might (or might not) become true.

Not that I don’t do that. ¬†It would be (what?) overly dramatic of me to claim that what I do is never driven by hopes or fears or expectations about the present or future. ¬†It’s pretty hard to describe anything significant that anyone does without some sort of reference to those things, at least indirectly.

So it’s either that I’m just more or less ignorant of my own plans and expectations and hopes and fears (where “I” here means the conscious entity that currently has control of my typing), or it’s that I actually have fewer of those things and/or am less impacted (by which I mean either effected or affected, I can never remember) by them. ¬†Or, quite plausibly, both.

I do think about what’s likely to happen in the not-too-distant (or even in the distant) future, but generally it’s more like a daydream than a plan. ¬†Speculative fiction, so to speak.

Boats, Spuyten DuyvilAnd¬†that’s perhaps why I can occasionally be found, say, driving in entirely in the wrong direction in the morning (toward the place I worked for the 33 years before 2013, say), or standing on the platform at the 72nd Street C station, not entirely sure how I got there or exactly where I ought to be going next. ¬†But enjoying the flow of cars or faces going past, and the light on the boats in the river.

This is coming out sort of “look how admirably spontaneous and adorably absent-minded I am because of my Buddha-like wisdom”, I realize. ¬†This was not my initial intent! ¬†:) ¬†There are probably all various advantages to making and having and following plans, and I probably do it even more or less just as much as anyone else.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way!

(Then there are these “beliefs” that people apparently “have”… hee hee)

Tags: ,