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

Simple logic...

I came across these two images while cleaning up my home folder:


They're from some time in 2010, when I was in an argument with a former roommate who is an Objectivist. He was having trouble seeing the issue with the is-ought problem in philosophy, believing it to be solved. The desire to live must have come up, which is part of the base of his philosophy, and he tried to assert it is an objective fact that living creatures desire to live. I gave two counter-examples, thus deductively disproving that assertion. Surely if a desire to live is an is, it cannot so simply be overridden, therefore when it is overridden, that implication's premise must be false. The second image shows that the is-ought problem easily leads to circular reasoning, which is part of why it's a problem to begin with. Circular reasoning is bad in deductive logic!

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Depression from inadequate tooling

This isn't a new phenomenon among programmers, not at all. But it's been striking at me annoyingly heavily over the past few months. When I work on some programming project, if my mind strays to how annoying some of the tools I'm working with are then such thoughts can paralyze me into not working! I'll acquire a moping attitude that with the right tools a task that takes an hour could be done in ten minutes. I'll curse the language for its verbosity, or lack of features from other languages and platforms. This applies to my favorite languages too. I sometimes get sad when I can no longer "feel the hardware" beneath a language -- part of me doesn't want to know, but part of me does, for knowing your hardware is the surest path to optimization. The programs I use daily are annoying slow, and it makes me think whenever I'm writing a program "Does this have to be annoying slow? Is there anything I can do to speed it up?" Sometimes there isn't -- even something that should be as simple and fast as rendering a new tab in Flex is, by nature of Flash, annoying slow. Just what the hell is going on down there? I also get this feeling when I use my Nexus 10 tablet and it does strange and slow things from time to time. How hard can rotating the screen smoothly be? (I've seen apps that clearly do it themselves instead of letting the OS do it and they do it so much better...)

I'm finding it difficult to come up with and use a coping strategy for this. I feel like the best I can do is just to accept my lot at living in such an uncouth age. Sometimes I'll be inspired to make something better, but then I'll get in that same paralysis once I realize that in order to make something better I first have to do it with things that are horrible.

My primary desktop computer has two OSes on it: Gentoo Linux, my primary, and Windows 7, which I use when I want to play certain games, mine litecoins (bitcoins I do on Gentoo), build an EXE for some python program, or something else that requires me to use Windows. Thinking about trying to do productive work on Windows makes me metaphorically sick; I don't understand how millions of people do it. But I do understand somewhat why I find it so distasteful, and I can imagine that people who don't find it so distasteful aren't as phased by it.

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Guided functions

Below is a simplified, conceptual graph of a damped harmonic oscillator (e.g. attach a spring to a wall, attach a ball to the end of the spring, mark that position as 0, tug on the spring, and let it go, measuring the distance (y-axis) from the initial position over time (x-axis)). Maybe a better example would be a pendulum? It's ultimately the same math. In any case, notice that as time increases, the frequency of the oscillations stays the same, but the distance the thing oscillates continues to die down until eventually it is no longer moving. But it does not die down randomly! No, there are invisible guides that predictably decrease the height of the oscillations according to a simple exponential decay formula. Thus one might think of this graph as a guided sine wave: the exponential function guides it to 0, even though the exponential function is not as visible as the blue sinusoidal function. Understand?

e.^(-t*.1) .* sin(pi/3 .* t)

Consider the adage: "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer." Many people believe this! Many people with refrigerators, television, a long life-expectancy where they can actually retire instead of working until death, educated children... in short, many luxuries their very recent impoverished ancestors lived most or all of their lives without! If the poor truly were getting poorer, we should expect to see a systematic decline from wherever one draws the line of "poor". I invite any reader to find such a decline.

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Short cryonics talk slides

(Related post)

I had to perform a persuasive speech for a class last week, I decided to talk about cryonics. Here are my slides if anyone out there is interested. It's really basic information due to time constraints, but it might help you see an outline if you find yourself needing to give a similar short talk and aren't sure what to cover.

Also: it's funny how annoyed I am at myself for having a brain-fail during Q&A that I only realized afterwards. For some reason I said something implying "they" don't actually cut off the head, which is true of CI but not of Alcor unless you pay for full-body. I knew that, I even know what spinal vertebra they cut at! (Useful FAQ on the matter.) But it came out too generalized! Ah well.

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On rape accusations

Making the rounds of tech news buzz is a story about a certain figure publicly being accused of rape and/or sexual abuse. I hope it doesn't escalate and saturate the weekend feeds, it was happily flagged off the HN front page moments ago. Anyway, the way I see it, this is just another case of a phenomenon that's happened many times over the past few years, and I'm sick of watching it unfold yet again, so that's what I'm going to comment on rather than the case in particular.

I only have one response to such public accusations. I think it's a moderate response that should probably be adopted by others, because I don't see a saner way to approach such news. My response is: shut up or show your solid evidence.

Rape is a serious matter. It's a bad thing, it should be punished. Physical assault as well. Here's the catch: if you, the so-called victim, spend more than a second wondering "was that really rape/abuse?" then no, it wasn't, and you've lost any right to claim so in the future. Especially if you wait days, weeks, or months before mentioning it. If you have just been raped or abused, call the fucking cops. This goes for male-victim-rape or male-victim-abuse too, by the way. If this somehow isn't already ingrained into the public consciousness, it needs to become so pronto.

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On plagiarism

I'm not a fan of copyright. Plagiarism is like a worse form of copyright in terms of when infringement is activated, and its particular characteristics are where things could head if the movement toward less copyright fails. Right now plagiarism only has teeth because of its potential to ruin academic careers--if it had penalties similar to copyright infringement, this world would suck a lot. Am I against plagiarism penalties? "Don't spread the plague", as it were? No. I don't think plagiarism is entirely evil and schools who are active against it generally do better than otherwise. I think the the US school system's attitudes towards plagiarism need to change, but the status quo is better than eliminating caring about plagiarism altogether. I think in India much of the incompetence associated with their university graduates can be attributed to the rampant plagiarism of the students who feel like it's okay and disinterested reactions of the professors, as well as a cultural issue of being superior to your peers (some of whom may be in a higher caste!) in terms of productive work and accomplishment.

I had one incident in my academic history, in high school, where the teacher called my home and talked to my mom, who relayed the teacher's desire for me to come in to discuss a one-page paper she claimed I plagiarized. I was disturbed because I had not intentionally plagiarized, and I think the teacher knew that, so she cleared up for me what she interpreted as plagiarism so that I could avoid it and redo the assignment. I honestly don't remember the details of the assignment, I think it was something about researching some instrument and explaining very basic properties of how they worked, what sound waves they generated, and so on. I was uninterested in the original paper and the subject it was supposed to be about, but I wrote it up. I went to Wikipedia, listed it as my only source, read the article and a couple related articles, then regurgitated the important points in my own words. Is this not research? Apparently not. This bugged me and still bugs me to this day, so much so that when I try and write any "research" paper where plagiarism could be an issue, I write about what I already know, and write it "from memory" as it were, then hunt down references afterwards. I have a broad knowledge base compared to my peers so generally this works out, assignments are done quickly, and I can get back to real research and thought that doesn't require me to write a paper listing every idea that's not mine. I have no original ideas, after all. Everything I've created is just a remix. (Sometimes I'm not even aware of equivalent ideas, i.e. I :came up" with them "independently", but I think that speaks to the easiness with which such an idea can be formed by remixing and extrapolating from common knowledge.)

Research papers are funny things. In English, essays are really legal arguments where you argue opinions. They have utility in letting students exercise their creativity in a structured way, form their own opinions, argue for their own opinions and against others or responses, and so on. Research papers (at the 10th grade level at least) have less direct utility to the student. Really they're just a lazy way for the teacher to say "show me you spent some time learning about this thing or something of your choice." Real academic papers with abstracts and such have high utility in their content, but they even have some utility in the references list. The list isn't so much useful in showing some professor or journal editor that the author knows he didn't rediscover knowledge that's been around for decades or even hundreds of years, or to show the author has read about the subject, or to show the author knows how to paraphrase and quote correctly, but their usefulness is in adding a paper trail of important works within the subject for newcomers to follow and learn from if they don't understand your paper or want to learn what you learned that motivated you discovering, researching, or building whatever the content of your paper is about.

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Sci-Fi and actually alien aliens

This was a final essay for a sci-fi class last semester that I thought I'd share. The tl;dr is that I'm sad there aren't more creative approaches to aliens in sci-fi, but it's understandable why that's the case and why things probably aren't going to change in the near future.

On the nature of reasoning with mathematical models about the real world, E.T. Jaynes in his book Probability Theory: The Logic of Science asserts ``Anyone who believes that he is proving things about the real world, is a victim of the mind projection fallacy.'' (My emphasis.) In his experience with English speakers, there's an ``almost universal tendency to disguise epistemological statements by putting them into a grammatical form which suggests to the unwary an ontological statement.'' He was most concerned about people treating their internal states-of-mind as an external fundamental truth about reality, but it generalizes--e.g. the fallacy underlies philosophical confusions about sound in a forest. He insists that probability is a state of mind representing one's absence of perfect information; reality itself is never uncertain.

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