Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Learning a new language when older is like learning Dvorak

Once upon a time I learned Dvorak -- or rather, I memorized the key layout so that I could touch type (type without looking at the keyboard or a reference picture). I was initially attracted by the promises of higher-than-qwerty speeds once you mastered it. But my typing speed dropped to something like 15-20 WPM, and wasn't getting faster very quickly, I was fighting my muscle memory at every turn. Before I learned to touch type in 7th grade, I was actually pretty fast with finger-pecking (around 20-30 WPM). My normal typing speed post-7th grade has been around 85-110 WPM depending on focus and context, which is already pretty fast.

Dropping down to about 20% my normal speed turned out to be intolerable. I ditched Dvorak and didn't try to improve, and have since forgotten the layout. I've told myself, if I ever develop RSI symptoms, I'll go back to it (since supposedly it helps with that, which I can believe) but so far my hands have been healthy in that respect. Besides, for absolute speed, I'm more interested in one day trying to learn stenography. I've got a spare n-key rollover keyboard to attach the big keys to when I eventually try it.

I had the thought that this sense of intolerableness compared to what you know and are used to can be related to learning a foreign language, especially as an adult, especially trying to do it on your own. When I speak (or especially when I write) I'm used to expressing myself in certain ways, with longer sentences, more complex grammar, and varied vocabulary. Getting to anywhere near an equivalent level in a foreign language takes time. But that time has to be spent on expressing yourself in simpler ways, of being willing to look kind of stupid as you say things in weird ways (or childish ways, or in some languages in other-gender ways) or ask about meanings and for slower speech. Until you get to a point where you can pickup new vocabulary in the target language, and not have to reference an English dictionary every time, picking up vocab is also a lot more difficult than in every day life.

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Quasi or Pseudo?

Explaining why I've been calling myself "quasi-retired" again, instead of "pseudo-retired", there's a subtle difference in these two words.

As an American my dictionary of choice is Merriam-Webster. For quasi, it says: "having some resemblance usually by possession of certain attributes". For pseudo, it says: "being apparently rather than actually as stated; sham; spurious".

It's really just a matter of degree. We could model this with fuzzy set theory. If I'm quasi-retired, that means I have possession of certain attributes normally associated with being actually retired. Chief of those is not having a job. Other commonalities are not actually looking for a job, not intending to look for a job for the indefinite future, and not financially needing a job for the indefinite future.

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Oath of Non-Allegiance

Came again across Alistair Cockburn's Oath of Non-Allegiance.

I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation.

I'm in. Nice logo too.

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Globals in Lisp

I've been reading posts from Claus Brod's blog lately after having discovered him while tracking down the claim on Creo Elements using Lisp. He's got some interesting thoughts! It's also fun to see someone who I'd bet is pretty close to a programming god (CAD stuff seems up there in the hardcore tier to me) ponder such low level and trivial details like globals in Lisp.

As I write more software in Lisp I can feel my opinions converging on the matter in terms of a preferred style, but as yet I am undecided. So let me instead just spitball some thoughts.

First, globals in Lisp aren't actually global in the same way they are in C, because we have namespaces/packages. This immediately lowers their level of "evilness" in my book. Similarly Lisp's form of goto is a labeled goto, rather than a "move the PC to any address and continue executing" goto, and thus is also less evil than archaic mantras suggest.

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Thoughts on Writings on Lisp

As a Lisp poser I've spent many more hours reading things about Lisp than programming in Lisp. I use "about" pretty loosely here: sometimes it's just things written by important people in the Lisp community (living and dead) that aren't necessarily about Lisp directly.

So this post is mainly setup for me to accumulate some random references I find myself repeatedly referring to over the years. They're not necessarily the best or most important, my goal isn't to be anything approaching exhaustive either, the main inclusion criteria is whether I've linked the thing more than once to others. I've attached some off-the-cuff commentary to each thing, but much of it is just ranting. If anyone else finds this post at all valuable I'll be surprised!

I'll attempt to incrementally update this blog post over time.

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Negative definitions can be useful

Some things are hard, perhaps "impossible", to define, and some properties are hard to demonstrate. The one I was thinking of just now was "consciousness". If someone tells you, "demonstrate to me that you are conscious", what can you do? We don't even fully know what conscious means, how can we demonstrate it?

We can work at it instead with progressive narrowing, either in the positive or negative case. We can all agree some random rock is not conscious, that excludes a lot of the possibility space. Are trees? No? That excludes even more and prevents an easy "has DNA" filter. I do have an easy filter though: I would tentatively accept a simple statement of "I am conscious" as strong demonstration of consciousness, and failure to do so a strong indicator of lacking consciousness. This rules out most animals, which, fine, and also rules out brain damaged humans who don't seem to comprehend speech let alone produce it, again, fine.

There's the interesting edge case of when a computer program says the same, is it conscious? No in general, I argue, because for most programs a programmer could go in and easily have it say whatever the programmer wants. Ok, it's a more sophisticated program like GPT3, and suppose it said that? GPT3 is rather complex, you can't easily go in and edit its output to be whatever for an input. So is it conscious? No again, but admittedly this can be considered breaking my filter and so I'd have to use a different criteria to rule it out. (The related negative "Thinking is what computers can't do yet" works well and it narrows year by year.) Still, it's a useful filter in most cases! Besides, I don't want to rule out consciousness from silicon anyway since even if somehow AIs can never have it, human ems surely would. At that far point, the filter can still be useful, for instance it would accept the character Data as conscious simply because he declared himself to be so and there's no easy way to make him as-a-program declare otherwise.

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Recent Site Downtime

Sorry for the recent downtime. Did a big system update of my server, then left it overnight and didn't check it until recently. Apache crashed because it was trying to load multiple PHP versions at the same time, and the new update to PHP 8 broke a few things. (__autoload is no more, and using curly braces for string indexing is no more. And my config now lives in /etc/php/apache2-php8.0 instead of 7.4, so I had to port over my settings for sendmail_path, upload_max_filesize, and error_log.) Everything should be fixed now, at least here.

One more point in favor of rewriting away from PHP...

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