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.

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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)

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2015/10/05

Interesting things

So here are some interesting things that have happened lately!

(I mentioned that whole “suddenly being in the U.S. Virgin Islands” thing already, right?)

I was sick for some number of days starting the Thursday after I got back; that is not all that interesting, though.

The other day, when I was standing on a Manhattan street corner fiddling with my phone, a man with wildish white hair and a beard and clothing perhaps a bit down-at-the-heel strode past me, and said not loudly not softly, “Ah, the matrix has got you”.

More recently, walking up 8th Avenue on the way to work, I put a dollar into the cup that a youngish man had put out, along with some packaged cookies and clothes and a skateboard, and somehow we got to talking. ¬†I spent something like twenty minutes talking to him, and he told me that he was a Swiss Guard and a Mason, had taken a vow of poverty, and paid children to read various holy and spiritual works, and he read to me the part of the Koran (in English) that talks about the birth of Jesus, and he read to me a chapter of some epistle or other of Paul (I vaguely think it was Ephesians chapter 4, but reading it now it doesn’t sound the same; maybe it was a different translation, or just the context), and talked about how semen and (I will use his phrase) pussy juice are the most sacred substances (he got a hole all the way through his foot once, climbing a fence looking for a particular skate venue, and the juice healed it right up), and how everyone needs air, water, wisdom, and Woman (or Man, if you go that way), and when you’re depressed you need air, water, tobacco, and weed, and the whole time he was smiling and clearly having a good time. ¬†I asked him if he’d read any Buddhist scripture, and he said yeah man, they’re my favorite!

While we were sitting there talking, two rather unkempt bearded guys sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk of 8th Avenue, a man came out of the little deli or bodega or whatever that is there, and looked at us, and went back inside, and shortly after came out with three sandwich-sized things wrapped in aluminum foil, and asked us if we’d like some sandwiches. ¬†I said I was okay, but my interlocutor said sure he’d eat one, and he’d give the other two to people who needed them. ¬†Which I can’t help but feel was wonderful all around.

(And then when I got into work 20 minutes late I discovered that I was just about to start an on-call shift, but it wasn’t until noon, nearly three hours away, so that was okay.)

And even more recently, having dropped M off on the G train to go to a class in Brooklyn, and riding back and forth between Grand Central and Times Square on the Shuttle just to see what that felt like, I met this amazing couple of little kids, the boy maybe 11 (maybe; I am terrible at estimating ages) who was rapping for tips when the car was full, and otherwise talking and bouncing around and doing pullups on the subway car bars, and asking me why I wasn’t getting off (“waiting for my daughter to text me back and see if I need to be anywhere”, I said, which I was), and his little sister maybe 9 (maybe), who he said a guy who was painting faces in the next car had rudely shoved aside and he’d better not try that again or he (the brother) would do him violence.

So many people!

And there are lots of metal rods with these plastic clamp-things on the ends on at least one platform in Grand Central, which I think are new (click for extra-giant version):

Clamp thing

I find myself not really approving of the plastic in terms of long-term durability, but that may be an irrational prejudice.

So how’s things?

2015/09/24

This present moment is all there is

That’s the phrase / idea / thought / truth / falsehood that I’m currently working on (for some value of “working on”).

It’s especially interesting / challenging because it’s so incompatible (in some sense) with pretty much all of the tools of language, and even of thought, that we have available to bring to bear on it.

Perhaps relatedly, on Tuesday (which was my and Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthdays!) I went for the first time to the Village Zendo, which is a ten-minute subway ride from the office, and treated myself to an hour of zazen (two bells, thirty minutes of sitting, one bell, a few minutes to stretch one’s legs, thirty minutes of sitting, three bells and done).

The space is lovely.

the Village Zendo

Here also is a picture of a pretzel:

pretzel

In other news, most of the team at work and I spent two and two-halves days in St. Thomas (!!!), which is unusual.  Some very random observations:

  • It was prettier, but unbearably hot, when the sun was out. ¬†Mostly while we were there the sun wasn’t out, and it was quite nice (and still quite pretty).
  • Some kayaks are very much like canoes, and much less tippy and all¬†than the kind that you basically wear.
  • During The Season (which had basically just ended) they have like three to five cruise ships a day, adding several thousand (!) to the population of the island.
  • If you are trying to sell a random tourist who is looking at the vendor stalls some illicit substance, you should probably speak loudly enough that they can hear just what the substance is. ¬†Not like there were any police around listening.
  • In St. Thomas, you drive on the left (because of Danish heritage) but use cars with the steering wheel on the left also (because of USAian present). ¬†This is terrifying. ¬†Even for just the passengers.
  • Free Rum Punch in the lobby!
  • Instead of rabbits, say, they have iguanas. ¬†Startlingly large ones!
  • I got a great hat.

And finally in news of other worlds, something for those of my readers who have yet to grok the whole Second Life thing: there is this set of videos / documentaries called the Drax Files, that feature all sorts of ways that Second Life can positively impact Real Life people and things (and they are pretty short!). ¬†I recommend them to all; the latest episode covers a number of people who make movies in SL (“machinima“!).

Fuller coverage and more links over on the secret Second Life weblog.  (The present frame is all there is!)

2015/08/29

Summer 2015

I think I’ve speculated before how long it would take, in a significantly long stretch of leisure, before I had had my fill of utter idleness, and started spontaneously doing other things, thinking new thoughts, writing new things, and generally being creative. Available evidence suggests it’s more than a week. ¬†:)

It’s been a long time since an August hiatus in my weblogging could have meant anything (beyond “it’s a day”) to even the most devoted reader. ¬†But this particular August hiatus, the hiatus that this entry will end once I actually post it, is because we are once again up in Maine, sleeping late, eating lobster, listening to the plashing of the surf, and generally being blissful. ¬†It’s now been sixteen years since we started this Maine-going stuff, and this web-logging stuff; one more year than last year.

We have a number of books lying around, as always, and we may list them later on in the traditional way. ¬†But this decade (and I expect I’ve noted this down before) there are many books and book-like things inside of smallish and flattish silicon-based devices here and there, and those are good hooks for writing down things also.

On this Nexus 5 or Something Cellular Telephone that I have here, for instance, when you hit the little square button thing area, it goes to a view that shows a big scrolling Rolodex-like display of all of the roughly six zillion things that the phone is in some way aware of me doing.  Some of them are open just in case I want to go back and look at them later; so I can write those down in the weblog here, with clever observations on life and the universe more or less related to them, and then I can close them in my phone, and that will be good if only because then I can find the non-closed ones more easily.

Let’s see what we got, here on Tuesday night of the vacation week.

  • Twitter. ¬†Well, that’s Twitter (where I exist as my Second Life persona for historical reasons), so we’ll just close that. ¬†(I could write about how and why I use Twitter, and what effect it is having on the global unconscious, but instead I will just recommend the feed of A Bear).
  • Instagram, where I exist as the name of this very weblog, and where you can see various pictures, some of them from Maine (and one of them being a selfie with Felicia Day, because she did a booksigning at work which was extremely cool; she says that lots of people around her are playing Final Fantasy XIV (or perhaps 14) these days); we’ll close that, too.
  • Chrome. ¬†That has eleventy-seven tabs of its own active inside it (because I configured things that way somehow sometime), so we’ll leave that open for now.
  • A search result for “soft shell lobster“, because we were getting lobster at the usual place, and they had both kinds and I didn’t know the difference. ¬†The little boy and I shared a pair of soft-shelled (with corn on the cob); they were delicious. ¬†And ethically troubling. ¬†As usual.
  • The Wi-Fi settings control, because the marina right next to the Lobster Warf has a friendly open signal.
  • GMail, because I was checking my email. ¬†We’ll close that. ¬†It was mostly spam. ¬†(Does the Clinton campaign really think I would be extremely psyched at the idea of flying out to some random place to have lunch with Hilary? ¬†I mean… no.)
  • A search result for “tom collins ingredients“, because the little daughter was urging alcohol on us at the Warf, and I asked for a Tom Collins, and apparently this is an Obscure Old Person Drink or something, and the little daughter wasn’t sure the bartender would know what that was, so I looked it up.
  • An instance of Maps along with the search result for “google location history” that spawned it, because I was mildly curious when we’d gotten there. ¬†This was also very useful the other day when we were in town, and we couldn’t remember how long it’d been since we’d parked in the “2 Hour Parking” place, and I remembered the extremely useful Google Location History aka Google Maps Timeline; try it yourself!
  • An instance of Hangouts, ’cause we’ve all been IMing each other and sending around photos and stuff in the modern unWired manner, and this has mostly been working even though they are all Apple-ish and I am on Android.
  • Search results for “weather linekin” and “seagulls sleep”, from being down on the dock lifeguarding while the little boy, and then also the little girl, swam about in the apparently-not-incredibly-freezing water, and it rained a little and we wondered where seagulls sleep.
  • Another instance of GMail; that’s weird. ¬†We’ll close that (and everything else we’re mentioning except for Chrome, so far).
  • Google Play Music, because I was playing some music. ¬†(Have you seen the Airhorn version of “Take On Me”? ¬†It is ossum. ¬†Although it is a YouTube thing, not a Google Play Music thing.)
  • An instance of the 2048 app, where I got up to 4096 (and a 2048 and a 1024), which is pretty good, but only 74424 points and far short of my Personal Best of 103964.
  • Some more weather results; it’s been foggy, cloudy, and/or raining for much of this Maine vacation so far, but that’s okay!
  • A search result on “ofay”, which turns out to be a (derogatory) slang word for white person, which I looked up because I am reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, which I got for fifty cents at the Friends of the Library book sale, and which is an impressive and significant book that everyone should read (because of and despite issues of misogyny and homophobia, and it being from the 60’s, when the issue of race was different from and similar to how it is today).
  • A search result on “noetic” because the little daughter asked what it means, because it is in a book she is reading about Jewish panentheism. ¬†(Also it is reminiscent of the title of Lower Dens‘ second album, and they are a favorite of hers.)
  • News and Weather, because as well as the weather I was mildly interested in the Stock Market Crash and subsequent recovery (someone made an obscene amount of money on that).
  • A search result on Chris Lovdjieff, who appears in Soul on Ice, and who is known to the web for nothing much else as far as I discovered.
  • A search result on Windows 10 Browser, I forget exactly why. ¬†I am interested to see that it is supposed to have collaborative annotation features, which sounds interesting. ¬†It has also been tried many times before, and never caught on; it will be interesting to see if it does this time. ¬†If the new browser does it in some open way that other browsers can join in on, it might. ¬†But, well, haha…
  • A search result on “i like beer sing”, which was a typo for “i like beer song“, but Google found the song¬†I was looking for anyway. ¬†I played this for the amusement of the family while we were having a lovely dinner of wine and cheese from Eventide¬†and clam chowder from the Warf, out on the porch overlooking the bay, yesterday evening I think it was.
  • Search results on “coffee” and “the red cup” because we were looking for a place to have coffee in town, but the Red Cup was closed for the day already.
  • A “Sign In To Network” page, because the WiFi network here is a Linksys Smart Something with a silly portal login page that wants the password typed in again more often than one would really expect. ¬†While I am here, though, I will brag that when we discovered that the WiFi covered only one small bit of one side of the rental house, I deployed a clever range extender (possibly not that one, but one very like it at least) so that now it covers nearly (but not entirely) the whole house.
  • Search results on “eldridge cleaver’s lawyer” and “fsm 1960’s”, again from Soul on Ice. ¬†It turns out that in the 60’s, “FSM” stood for “Free Speech Movement“, not “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.
  • A search result on “Melismas intro“, because in the cool art store in town, they were playing a track from this, and I liked it, and noticing that the album could be bought for slightly less than I had in my Google Play account (entirely thanks to answering questions about myself in Google Opinion Rewards), I took that as a sign and whimsically bought it.
  • Some random uninteresting search results, and yet another instance of GMail (that’s weird), and Netflix (where I have been binge-watching among other things ancient episodes of Columbo¬†from the 70’s which are wonderfully retro).

Whew, and that’s just the beginning.

This is a notably short and fragmented way of writing down things!  Which is perhaps appropriate for the modern age, and for the first thing on the list up there having been the Twitter and all.

One doesn’t have to bother thinking up unifying themes and following them to a logical conclusion or anything!

Books are more unified that way; longer, and in some sense fewer of them.

I’m reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, from the used book sale, as I mentioned. ¬†Also reading Jessamyn West’s “The Life I Really Lived”, which came with the house here (and that I’d therefore better finish this week, come to think of it). ¬†I picked it up because I recognized the name of that Jessamyn West from having read this Jessamyn West¬†since the early days of the Web Logs, and her having mentioned her namesake (namesake? something like that) once or thrice.

It’s a good book, although like Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” (or at least the adaptation I recently read) and for that matter quite a few other works, significant parts of the theme can be summarized as “people sure used to be weird about sex”.

Just now I’ve been typing this while sitting around with the family watching the first season of Pokemon on the Netflix, which is great nostalgic fun (James’ voice is so different!). ¬†And there is an odd fog horn or something hooting periodically outside. ¬†And the plashing of the surf.

I think I may go to bed soon, and write more of this tomorrow and/or after. ¬†(Tomorrow we are going to Portland to put the little daughter on a short-range airplane to head home because she is so busy, and to bop around in Portland, but in the evening we will be back here.) ¬†Sleep well and so on! ¬†Not that you’ll be pausing for a night between paragraphs while reading this. ¬†Unless you want to of course!

Dot dot dot.

Now it is Wednesday night, back at the rental house by the foggy bay, after a long day in Portland starting from dropping the little daughter off at the Portland Jetport (whose terminal seems unnecessarily long by a factor of about five), and including buying yet more books at Longfellow Books¬†because of course one didn’t have enough books yet.

The two I bought: “Sherlock Homes: Fact or Fiction?” by T. S. Blakeney, and “The Two of Them” by Joanna Russ. ¬†Both shortish, both used, both somewhat odd, both two dollars.

(Well, for clarity, each two dollars. ¬†It’s funny I had to make that clarification only there. ¬†If I had said they were “both under 200 pages”, would you have thought I might mean their lengths added together totaled less than that? ¬†Probably not. ¬†But the price seems at least ambiguous. ¬†Perhaps because we think of a set of books as having a salient total price, but don’t normally think of a set of books as having a salient total length? ¬†Although we do think the latter in some circumstances, and even there I think the “both” form doesn’t achieve ambiguity for word-length. ¬†Odd.)

My phone is over there well beyond my reach, having its electrons moved further from its positively-charged bits, so I won’t go back to commenting on the still-incredibly-many unclosed tab-like-things quite yet. ¬†I will just write words (2000 of them already so far, says the helpful modern WordPress editor control thing), for the pleasure of writing them and perhaps of reading them later, and perhaps for your pleasure, even you who aren’t me, at some point. ¬†(The little boy mentioned the other day that he’d been reading through my old weblog accounts of previous Maine summers; this was unspeakably gratifying.)

I haven’t read any old ones myself (this time, yet, recently). ¬†Even last years’ seems mysterious to me, in that I don’t remember what I said at all. ¬†Presumably I mentioned having made the Big Change Of Employers, because that was even more recent than it is now. ¬†It still feels quite recent, both because nearly-two years is rather an eyeblink compared to nearly-thirty-four, and because the learning curve at New Employer¬†is, if not dauntingly steep after the first few weeks, always dauntingly high. ¬†Everything is always in motion, always either not-done-yet or old-and-deprecated (or both); the wry internal slogan “some documentation may be out of date” is funny because it is so often (despite a deep and sincere institutional respect for documentation) such an understatement.

I understand from Twitter that the stock market has been bouncing up and down alarmingly (or perhaps uninterestingly), and that people have been killing each other and themselves in awful and distressing ways.  I feel permitted, by being on vacation, to find out less about these things that I might normally.

Dot dot dot.

Now it is Thursday morning!  The little boy and I are considering, in a relaxed sort of way, taking one of the touristy Cruises around the Bay.

Is it bay-side air, or water-side air, or Maine air, or just vacation air, that feels so sweet and soft and beguiling?

I have here a CD called “Swamped” by Johnnie Mac, bought from the artist himself for five dollars (plus a dollar tip dropped into his bag before I noticed that I had a five and he was selling CDs for that), where he was busking on the street in Portland.

So now I have to find something with a CD ripper to make it into usable music with.  :)

Portland elicited a number of dollar bills from the pocket where I keep dollar bills normally for the buskers and the apparently needy and/or homeless of Manhattan.  The street people in Portland are like the ones in Manhattan, but I think markedly whiter; perhaps street people of color, being less likely to have ancestral ties to the area, tend to move the heck out of Maine, to somewhere warmer.  Or other more complex reasons.

Some more Android Rolodex tabs (I may be opening new ones faster than I’m recording and closing them):

  • “Settings” and “Phone” and search results for “cruises boothbay harbor” because we looked up some cruises and called one of them about reservations and left a message, so I turned up the ring volume on my phone in case they call back. But probably I will just call them again soon.
  • Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, and GMail again, as usual. ¬†Also YouTube, where I was watching this McWhopper thing. ¬†For some reason. ¬†(Actually lots of interesting analysis to be done on that little brand interaction, if you’re into such things.)
  • Search results on “over at the frankenstein place“, because some phrase involving light went by, and the song got stuck in my head, and then I had to play it for everyone.
  • Search results on “what is the Methodist method“, because we passed like the East Boothbay Methodist Church and¬†I was curious. ¬†(Turns out it’s a John Wesley thing; “Holy Club”, eh?)
  • Search results on “who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop”, because I wanted to see if asking that question by voice of my phone would elicit any snarky Siri-like remarks. ¬†It didn’t. ¬†Hey, come to think of it, let’s try Siri herself on that question! ¬†Well, she sends it to Wolfram Alpha (???) which responds with but a single pointer to the song; a weak pass (my phone did of course a full Google search, and came back with a variety of links to choose from).
  • Google Keep, where I had a grocery list (we stopped by Hannaford¬†on the way home from Portland last night and bought everything on it; so I suppose it’s still there, just empty; imagine how many empty grocery lists there are out there!).

Dot dot dot!

The little boy and I went out on a sailing cruise, while M (not a big boat person) enjoyed town.  The cruise was great, the quiet of the sails and the water, just the two of us and a family of three and the Captain and a deckhand.

And the phone is upstairs charging again, and I’ve been lazing about long enough after we got back to the house that it is getting on dinner time. ¬†So nice and lazy. ¬†I think I will read more of West for a bit; she is good.

(Oh, and I guess I haven’t mentioned? ¬†That Mysterious Illness that I had the other week? ¬†The final verdict, not definite but at least plausible, based on the eventual discovery of both Escherichia coli and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron in my blood, was diverticulitis with septicemia (i.e. there was a little hole in my intestine somewhere, and some gut bacteria leaked over into my bloodstream), which is relatively life-threatening compared to most routine daily events. ¬†So I am even more grateful than usual for M deciding I ought to get to the ER, for antibiotics, and for continued life in general.)

So now it is Thursday evening, after dinner, and we’re sitting around talking about what to do tomorrow (nothing, for instance, or the beach), and listening to a very miscellaneous Bandcamp track found while searching on “little shop of horace”, “little shop of horus”, and so on. ¬†Very idyllic!

And now it is Thursday evening after a walk down to the end of the road (house for sale on 1.5 acres and 600+ feet of shoreline, just under a million and a half US$, which is lots of money, but less than a medium-size condo in Chelsea, which is only a piece of a building, and has no shoreline at all). ¬†I have showered the tar off the soles of my feet (from road repairs that I blithely walked over barefoot), and am about to lose myself in West’s story again. ¬†Lovely evening.

Dot dot dot.

And now Friday morning. ¬†I could have written here, instead of this entire entry, just “the secret of being on a floating dock in a quiet bay with the full moon above”. ¬†But then I wouldn’t have gotten any phone tabs at all closed.

Jessamyn West is still very good. ¬†I may not finish the book while we’re here, because I keep napping, and playing SimCity BuildIt, and occasionally writing in the weblog here. ¬†I hope I remember in that case to leave this instance of the book behind, and to get one of my own.

I see that last year I mostly posted some pictures. ¬†I’ve taken some pictures this year, but for whatever reason I amn’t posting any here. ¬†I might still, you never know.

We are thinking, the little boy and I, about going to the beach today, the last full day of the week. ¬†It’s a bit cold for the beach really, and it’s lovely and relaxing here. ¬†But we still might. ¬†What time is it now? Just gone noon.

Sometime a little after dawn some loud grackling birds woke me up, and I went down the old cement steps (inlaid with decorative stones and shells) down to the sand.  The tide was out, and it was beautiful.  Then I went back to bed for a few hours.

This is being an extremely long entry! ¬†Maybe I should post it as a Part I and a Part II, so y’all could digest it in multiple smaller pieces. ¬†Or I could not do that. ¬†:)

And now (dot dot dot) Friday evening, lovely and cool, almost cold in the wind.  No going to the beach happened, but the little boy and I went swimming (and walking, the tide being out) in the bay off of the dock; very refreshing.

The long drive home tomorrow!

And now (a last set of dots) we are home and the little daughter is with us again, and we are looking at old photographs and generally being happy and domestic. ¬†I will put an appropriate picture at the end here, and post this now (probably without proofreading the last bits, ’cause I am tired).

Happy year!

Evening on Linekin Bay

2015/08/02

American Express is weird

Alternate Title: chaos reigns.

So I got a hardcopy made-of-atoms letter via the United States Postal Service back in like May, on American Express letterhead, saying that with respect to American Express account number ending in nnnn (nnnn being the four digits that my AmEx card does in fact end in), they didn’t have my birthdate, and I should call the number on the back of the card and give it to them.

Seemed legit enough, given that they said to call the number on the back of the card, so a mere three months later when I found the letter again, I called them.  The nice lady with the Bangalore accent had no idea why I would have gotten such a letter.  And then it got weird.

Nice lady: What is your date of birth, sir?

Me: [gives date of birth]

Lady: Thank you, sir, I will just put you on hold for a moment here…

Me: [on hold for not too terribly long, but surprised I would be on hold at all]

Lady: Okay, sir, what you need to do is mail or Fax us a copy of your birth certificate or other legal document showing your date of birth.

Me: Um, no I don’t. ¬†Why would I need to do that? ¬†You’ve never asked me to do that before!

Lady: It’s for a security measure.

Me: No, it’s not. ¬†Making me send a copy of my birth certificate to some number is the opposite of security.

Lady: Well, sir…

Me: What will happen if I don’t do it? ¬† Because I don’t want to.

Lady: Just a moment, sir, I’ll have to put you on hold briefly again.

Me: [on hold while she no doubt finds the same clueless supervisor who told her to make me Fax them my birth certificate]

Lady: Sir, you have only the one account with us, is that correct?

Me: Yes.

Lady: In the letter that you got, did it show the correct last five [sic] digits of your account number?

Me: Let’s see, I think so, yes, the correct last four digits.

Lady: [typing, muttered conversation in the background] Okay, sir, it’s all right, we have your birthdate as [my birthdate] so it’s all fine.

Me: Okay, thank you!

Lady: Just one more thing sir, I want to check if… [typing]

Me: [surprised I am still on the phone] Yes?

Lady: I see you don’t have Membership Rewards activated on this account, sir. ¬†It’s a no-cost program that lets you earn…

Me: Sorry, I didn’t call to be sold anything, thanks for your time!

I’m guessing that some random data-validation program hiccuped and sent me the letter more or less by accident, and then the phone support person and the supervisor were equally clueless about why I was calling, and the supervisor fell back on something in some manual that says that if a customer needs to legally prove their age for some reason, they have to Fax in a legal document, etc.

If I were (even) more cynical, I would guess that they just send these letters out at random to get people to call and get persuaded to sign up for Membership Rewards. ¬†But if that were the case I would have thought they would have just accepted my birth date to start with, and not gone through the unpleasant “Fax us your legal documents” part.

Internet Research reveals that¬†I’m not the only one. ¬†I bet there is a bug recently open somewhere in their tracking system that says “Spurious birth-date letters sent to customers”, but it’s really low priority to track down and fix…

2015/07/10

Not a good comparison

97

My mind is like the Autumn moon
Shining clean and clear in the green pool.
No, that’s not a good comparison.
Tell me, how shall I explain?

Han Shan, Cold Mountain (trans. Burton Watson)

I dreamed last night (or I probably did; see below) that I was with some people, and we were laughing about someone who claimed that they’d been officially declared Enlightened by some mystical Teacher, and someone asked me, hey, you’re all into that Zen stuff, I’d think you’d take this more seriously?

And I nodded and said something like:

You know, except for a few annoying [something] sects, it’s not like you go to your teacher and show how you’ve progressed and eventually the teacher says “okay good, you’re enlightened now”. ¬†They might say “okay, keep going” or “okay, here’s what you should work on next” or even like “okay, I think you are ready to teach some students of your own”, but never “okay, you’re enlightened”, that would be just…

and I shook my head and laughed.

(Where the [something] was some Japanese or Chinese word, maybe kensho, or RInzai (no offense to any Rinzai folk in the waking world), or some dream-word entirely, but there was a word there.)

The reason I say above there that I probably dreamed this last night is that it’s like the most literal, ordinary, realistic, unadorned dream I can recall having had, so it’s not by any means impossible that it wasn’t a dream at all, but actually happened sometime recently, and I’ve just lost track of the actual time and place and details and who was there and what that missing word was and all.

It all sort of blurs together, amirite?

So I say to you,
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:

Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.

ol’ Buddha, the Diamond Sutra (right at the end there)

2015/07/08

Medical Science Baffled!

Last week The Employer was very generous, saying “sure, take Thursday and Friday off!”, and also “Visit the Whitney on us!”, both of which we did, and the new Whitney isn’t bad, has some great views, shows off art pretty well (given that “putting lots of art in a building with labels so people can walk through and look at it” isn’t a great way of showing off art, although it’s at least convenient), and is only moderately ugly itself, as a building seen from the outside. The neighborhood right around it is hoppin’, and I am wondering how much of that is due to the museum showing up, and how much was pre-existingly hoppin’.

Then there was resting on Friday, and on Saturday we went out with two other families and sundry relations and hangers-on to a performance of The Arabian Nights by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at (ummmm) Bromdiggers (no) Boscobel (that’s it), and that was great (if not strictly-speaking Shakespeare). The company is always energetic and celebratory, and the productions well-done, and since it was the Fourth of July and they’re been through this before they took a second intermission when the fireworks started going off across the river, so we all had a nice half-hour or whatever watching at least three different shows (the ones from West Point were closest and therefore biggest), and then the rest of the performance. (People never applaud for long enough at the ends of these! I always want to go backstage and apologize to the cast and crew.)

On Sunday morning I went and got a dozen bagels and some cream cheese at the bagel store, and we took them down to The Lake, and other people brought other things, and we had a good time eating and talking and being nostalgic about how we used to do this all the time back when the kids were small, and being amazed by how large the kids are, and how engaged and/or married some of them are, and how adorable the tiny grandchild is (not mine, but the neighborhood’s first, so sort of community property, and sooo adorable). Then when it was time we drove the little boy to the train station for going back to Boston, and had probably rather too large but very yummy burritos from Moe’s (“Welcome to Moe’s!”), and came home.

And I took a shower and sat down and started shivering uncontrollably and having a 103°F fever, and we spent the rest of the night in the local Emergency Room.

Which is unusual!

I am finally feeling pretty normal today, which is I think Wednesday. I am taking two kinds of antibiotics, one for each gramness of possible bacteria, and finally not having to take anything for fever (because I don’t have any). The ER’s theory is pneumonia, only without any symptoms actually involving lungs. My internist was favoring gall bladder (due to observing Murphy’s Sign, which makes me think of the Yellow Sign, of which the less said the better), but a nice lady took pictures of my insides with sound-waves, and apparently my gall bladder is just fine. Personally I favor food poisoning due to cream cheese left out in the sun too long or something, but presumably the analysis of my blood by Medical Science didn’t suggest that.

So now I am feeling mostly better but still housebound, and not wanting to (say) work seriously on work stuff for fear of overtiring and relapsing, and I was therefore going quietly mad for things to do, and it occurred to me that I could write things down in my weblog!

And here they are! The things, that is. Written down. Should there be a picture? What would it be of, though?

2015/06/28

So many all sorts of things!

This is another of those posts that starts out all meta, noting how long it’s been since I posted last (and in fact meta-meta, since I’m talking about being meta (and in fact…)).

So much has been occurring! ¬†I’m sure there was some stuff longer ago that I could mention that I’m forgetting, but¬†we went to foreign countries! ¬†Which is not a thing we do very often.

First M and I went to “England” for a week (“London”, in particular). ¬†Here is a picture of Buckingham Palace:

Buckingham Palace

and if that doesn’t give you the full flavor of the experience :) M has done a great thorough set of writeups¬†on every day of the whole thing (with perhaps more stress on yarn and fabric, and less stress on random blurry things, than a hypothetical similar series here might have offered).

Then after that, M went back home, and I went to “Dublin”, in “Ireland”, on business. ¬†Here is Ireland (it is green):

Ireland

All I saw was Dublin, mostly the “Silicon Docks” area and the part of downtown in front of Trinity Library, and the 20-minute walk between them. ¬†But it was cool. ¬†I was there entirely by accident on Bloomsday, and saw some people dressed all memorably, although I was not forward enough to take pictures of them.

Another notable fact is that a vast alien mothership has landed in the middle of the city, and apparently there is some mind-control field that prevents anyone but me from seeing it.  Here is a picture (although if the mind-control lasers have gotten to you also, you may just see an ordinary little line of Irish flats):

Giant alien mothership, Dublin

(Not Photoshopped, promise!)  So that was notable.  Various random things:

  • We stayed in a tiny flat off of a garage off a a mews just North of Hyde Park, which was pretty awesome.
  • There was a local pub right on the corner, The Mitre, which was very genuine (in the sense that for instance if you just wander in as an American there’s no clue what you’re actually supposed to do in terms of sitting down, obtaining goods and services, and so on), and (once we figured it out) had good Guinness and Fish-and-Chips, and all like that.
  • We saw All The Things, Big Ben, the Eye (from below, we didn’t go up in it), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Tower, the East End, big famous stores and shopping streets and things whose names I’ve forgotten (see link to M above who covers these things coherently).
  • The Underground is great, if confusing compared to say the NYC Subway. ¬†When you land at Heathrow, they will make it Very Very Easy to buy a ticket into London on the Heathrow Express, which is very convenient and fast, but costs basically infinitely more than the Piccadilly line in the normal underground.
  • The Underground is not great in that figuring out how to pay for things is Incredibly Baffling. ¬†Again the NYC Subway is a model of simplicity here: you get a Metrocard of any kind at all, and you pay either nothing (if you have an unlimited card) or $2.75 to get into the subway system. ¬†And that’s it! ¬†In the Underground you can buy either a ticket or an “Oyster” card, and the “Oyster” card can have a TravelCard “on” it in some logical sense, and there is a deposit associated with the card that you can get back only after the card has expired, and you can get it back from a machine if it’s under a certain amount, and otherwise you have to take it to a hidden office in the London Sewers that is open only alternate Wednesdays in February. ¬†Your Oyster card is charged (or not) both when you enter the system and when you leave; if you don’t have enough money on it to leave, you can still leave, but you can’t enter again until you “top up” the extra amount from when you left. ¬†They have people stationed at every set of payment machines, who attempt to explain to tourists and Londoners alike how much it will probably cost them to do various things, but those people seem only slightly less baffled than the people they are advising.
  • Although you aren’t supposed to take pictures in Westminster Abbey (for reasons I can’t really understand), my phone¬†seems to have accidentally gone off a few times, and I have some pictures of M’s feet standing on various famous names in Poet’s Corner.
  • Lots of other stuff.
  • The last day, when I’d dropped M off at Heathrow and had a couple of hours to get to London City Airport (the London Docklands is a really interesting area!), I went and sat in Hyde Park in one of the folding chairs that are all over the place, and as it was raining lightly (we had great luck with the weather, that was the only rainy bit) I put my umbrella up over me, and just sat there watching people go by for awhile. ¬†That was nice.
  • After awhile of that, there was this very loud noise out in the street of chanting and marching and things, and eventually this roused me and I went up to the street and there were all of these Hare Krishna folks marching and singing and dancing and conveying a big colorful float, and a smaller float with a loudspeaker, and satellite folks going among the people on the sidewalk giving out literature and taking donations. ¬†They were, it seems, going to Trafalgar Square for an annual vegetarian feast and festival.
  • So I ended up with a Hare Krishna book and have read much of it. ¬†It starts out well, with good basic spiritual insights about the world and stuff, but then goes off the rails (as so many do) about how true knowledge can be obtained by chanting certain words, and we should believe specific things because the Vedic Literature says it, and anyone who believes otherwise are Lower Than The Beasts and blah blah blah. ¬†Which was sort of sad.
  • And many many other things.

Outside of us travelling about wildly, other things have happened that you may have heard of from other sources:

  • omg #LoveWins. ¬†What a world!
  • And Tony Scalia has completely jumped the shark; I really ought to write a weblog entry about that. ¬†Ages ago I used to grudgingly admire him for at least being consistent and mostly rational, if from odious underlying assumptions and principles. ¬†Awhile after that I wrote about how I’d become disenchanted, noting that his not even acknowledging the possibility of (rather obvious) alternate views was either oblivious or hypocritical of him. ¬†And now he seems like just a frothing loony. ¬†(And given the “applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery” in his latest, one has to wonder who in the world he hangs out with.)
  • Also ObamaCare is still legal and all, which seems good (I am such a Progressive these days!).
  • The Republicans continue to be the Party of Crazy. ¬†I still think we will probably get a Clinton vs. Bush in 2016, with a close Electoral College and a Democratic popular vote. ¬†But Jeb has been pandering to the loonies more than I would have expected, and I’m not sure what that means. ¬†(Trump! ¬†Christie! ¬†hahaha!)

Other things I would like to write about someday:

  • All of these tabs that I have open on my phone and in Chrome (both to talk about them, and to write them down for myself so I can close some of them!),
  • The Monty Hall Paradox thing, for which I have what I think is a very insightful observation that doesn’t seem to have been made much, that explains why it generates so much strong feeling and all.

But not tonight!  :)  In fact I think I will post this without even a thorough proofread; enjoy the typos!

2015/03/27

Gin and Juice: Summary

Good that old Wikipedia versions never die.

Summary

The song begins with a sound effect of a human urinating, followed by an interlude in which an unknown male is speaking, denouncing one of his associates for either committing maternal-sodomy in the immediate vicinity or for having bad breath, it remains unclear which. The unknown male requests some bubblegum, presumably to remedy the situation.

We are then introduced to the narrator with the nom de plume of Snoop Dogg as he discusses the exigencies of his life; his hometown of Long Beach, California, is very dramatic. He finds the will to create his unique musical style amidst all this drama, and does so daily. He then entreats the listener (affectionately called a ‚Äúg‚ÄĚ) to enjoy his tale in said musical style.

Snoop Dogg’s tale starts at 2 am in his domicile, where a party has been taking place and is able to continue late into the night due to the temporary absence of his mother. Women are copulating in his living room, presumably in a lesbian fashion, and intend to do so until 6 am, when they will depart. Snoop Dogg and his associates decide to join the sapphic women. Ever-prepared, they pull condoms out of their pockets before turning off the lights and shutting the doors behind them.

After making it clear that his regard for the females does not involve love, Snoop Dogg and his associates decide that the use of one ounce of marijuana would be a fitting commemoration of the casual polyamorous scenario. Rather than go into details of what is taking place behind closed doors, he tells the listeners (affectionately called ‚Äúmotherfuckas‚ÄĚ) to reminisce of revelry in general, preferably while bouncing.

The said revelry consists of the chorus line and the subject of the song title: cruising down the street, smoking marijuana, and sipping on gin and an unnamed juice. The unnamed juice is likely of citrus origin, though the properties of gin are agreeable to all fruit juices.

It is possible that the previous scene, and the upcoming scenes, are projected memories of the narrators told in the present tense. Mr. Dogg then attempts a palindrome about his constant preoccupation with pecuniary matters.

In another memory, Snoop Dogg has procured a bottle of Seagrams brand gin and is intent on consuming it himself, but his associates have worked up a thirst as well. They present their empty cups for Mr. Dogg to fill, but have not offered any payment for the alcohol. Snoop Dogg is angry at the prospect of sharing his alcoholic beverage without reasonable compensation, as these requests happen all too often. He acknowledges their requests, but reminds them that his needs come first.

Snoop Dogg quickly diffuses the situation by reminding the listener that he is very good at cultivating music that captivates his listeners. He wants to know, ‚ÄúWho listens to the words that I speak?‚ÄĚ This is most likely a rhetorical question. We do not learn if he ever does share the Seagrams.

Snoop Dogg leaves the party with his beverage to the middle of the street, presumably because his house party has grown beyond the bounds of his yard. He meets a young lady named Sadie who had previously formed a romantic attachment with one of his associates. He flirts with the young lady, but does not expect physical contact because the weather has remained a sultry 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As she initiates physical contact with his testicles, the heat becomes too much. Snoop tells Sadie to refrain from palpating his scrotum and informs her she should not make further contact with that part of him. He says ‚Äúat ease‚ÄĚ, likely to calm down Sadie, but also in an attempt to relax all involved. Snoop Dogg then runs off to engage in an act of mobbing with his associates (affectionately called the ‚ÄúDog Pound‚ÄĚ) in order to cool off and feel a breeze. He urges all to do the same.

We return to the chorus narration, where Snoop Dogg continues to consume marijuana and gin and juice while cruising in a vehicle. He is still concerned about his financial situation, again stated palindromically.

The narrator then recalls a memory that happened later in the same day, presumably at the house party. His friend, Dr. Dre, pays Snoop Dogg a visit, presenting him with several bottles of Tanqueray brand gin and a very well-endowed joint of marijuana. The marijuana is of a strength colloquially described as lethal, which he cleverly alludes to through a reference to the bubonic plague. The combination of drugs proves too intoxicating for Snoop Dogg, and he is forced to imbibe less vivaciously, but he refuses to stop altogether. Snoop Dre then introduces Snoop Dogg to some women who he has brought from a neighboring city in Los Angeles. Snoop Dogg makes his intent to bed (or cot) the women clear, but warns them beforehand that he does not intend to make them climax nor remain near them after copulation has occurred because he does not love them. Women whom he does not love are referred to as ‚Äúhoes‚ÄĚ, the etymological origin of which is unclear, but is in no way related to the garden tool.

The song ends with a repetition of the chorus one more time, where some spontaneous words are uttered after the title verse (a slang word phonetically spelled BEE-OTCH). Mr Dogg’s mental preoccupation with fiscal matters is restated multiple times, likely in attempt to finally make a palindrome, but never succeeding.

2015/02/24

A priest and a rabbi walk into a stupa…

So I had lunch with my friend the Rabbi the other day (yesterday, actually, how time flies), and she told me this Joke (paraphrased):

A couple of little Jewish kids come home from school, and they are all like, “Daddy, our Catholic friends were talking about this Trinity, and the Father and the Son and the something-or-other else, and what’s up with all that?”.

And the father sighs, and says, “Okay kids, sit down, this is important.”

“We are Jews.

“There is one God, unitary and indivisible,

“and we don’t believe in him!”

I thought this was funny. :) As was her observation that atheism is a major branch of Judaism.

Later on I told this joke to a Catholic from the Midwestern U.S. (to whom no offense at all). The joke, to say the very least, did not resonate.

I guess there aren’t any atheist Catholics? And probably no atheist Christians, even?

(Or Catholic atheists or Christian atheists. Would that be different?)

On the other hand, there are atheist Jews and/or Jewish atheists (the Wikipedia page is currently proposed for deletion, but it’s there, and of course there’s the joke and all).

And there are definitely atheist Buddhists (or Buddhist atheists?). There is reason to think (although I can never find the right sutra) that ol’ Buddha himself was more or less an agnostic (of the “we have more important stuff to think about here on Earth than that” school, like my Mom was).

So there’s that.

Probably I mostly just wanted to write down the joke. :)

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2015/02/06

Warum ich ein Schicksal bin

(That is, “Why I am a Destiny”; it’s the title of one of the sections of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo; other sections have names like “Why I am so smart”, “Why I write such good books”, and so on. Interesting guy, ol’ Neitzsche.)

The Invisible Masters have been using me a little more blatantly than usual lately. I wrote about the cute older couple with cellphones the other day, and now I have another story this morning.

The doors between cars on Metro North are a test of both brain and brawn. They have four handles, one of which actually unlatches the door so it can be opened, and the other three of which are deadbolts that lock the door closed (which is kinda puzzling to me, because they have handles on both sides of the door, and so can’t be used to actually lock anyone out, but whatevs). And they have very strong hinge-springs.

So a typical person wanting to open a door may turn one of the wrong handles, locking the door, and then maybe try the right handle, but the door is locked so it doesn’t work. And even if they do figure out the right positions of the four handles, they still have to be strong enough to get the door open.

This morning I was on the usual train to work, sitting in my usual seat in my private office at the conductor’s end of the car. It’s a nice seat, with a little extra privacy and space, and inter alia allows one to become well-versed in how the door works, and help people with it now and then.

This young and rather grumpy-looking woman came up to the door this morning, somewhere south of Ossining, and fiddled with the handles and vainly tugged at the door. I reached over and opened the door for her, and she stepped through and struggled vainly with the door to the next car.

“How many stops does this train make?” she asked, stepping back into my office.

“Nothing between Ossining and Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, how many other stops.”

“None; it’s an express.”

Sighing, “I think I’m on the wrong train.”

“You should talk to the conductor, he can… be helpful.” I said, although I figured that meant he could tell her what train to get at Grand Central to get back up to whatever station she was headed for.

“Yeah, but he’s,” she nodded toward the next car, “and that door’s locked.”

So I disentangled from the Internet and extracted myself from my phone, and opened both doors for her, and felt virtuous.

But here is the Schicksal part: not too long later, a bell rang, and the train rolled to a stop at Yonkers. Out the window I saw the woman looking around, and then going through an open door into the train across the platform. And the Express rolled on.

I had no idea they would do that. :)

2015/02/04

I am just an ego with feet

I have to tell this heartwarming story because it reflects well on me (and therefore might make up for a bit of oogling of Beyonc√© Knowles’ bosom, and of (hitherto) unspoken thoughts of the general form “we should just freaking nuke [annoying region] and have done with it”), and because it makes me smile, and so might make you smile (and thereby make up for some more oogling and imagined nuking).

When you come up from the S into Grand Central, just past the turnstiles, there is this area which is sometimes interesting, where the Puppy Guy hangs out, and there was this guy selling “How To Pick Up Women On The Subway” books the other week, and so on. So when I come up that way, I tend to look around.

(Not that I don’t look around at other times also. Looking around is good.)

Yesterday on the way home the only obvious unusual thing in that area was this older gentleman talking rather loudly into his cellphone, saying “just past the turnstiles, yeah, no I don’t need to go back in, just look to the left and you’ll see me…”, and I thought okay and continued on.

And a few yards along there was this smallish older woman, cute and slightly hunched forward over her own cellphone not particularly looking around, saying “but I am past the turnstiles, yes, but I don’t see you…”.

So I boldly leaned over slightly and gently turned her toward the abovementioned gentleman, and pointed in his direction with an outstretched arm, and she said “oh!” and started moving in that direction, slowed considerably by the streams of people she had to cut across to reach him.

And I couldn’t resist looking back to make sure it was all working right, and she was about halfway to him, and he had looked up, and was saying into his cellphone, “Oh, there you are!”.

So that was nice. :)

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