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Showing posts from 2017

What I learned this year

These 500 words. The name (干煸四季豆) of my favourite Chinese dish, which I have been missing for years. The horrifying extent of the 'access abyss' between needed and actual pain relief among the global poor. Peano arithmetic can reason about Turing machines. 'Nonprogrammable' calculators are programmable. That Robin Hanson reads my blog. That Bohmian mechanics is a physically and philosophically plausible account of QM, passed over because it doesn't break any giant paradigms like the others do. That lifting weights at home is a kind of exercise I will actually do, voluntarily and even joyously. That OpenPhil have a workable, plausible algorithm for averaging over moral theories. The Spark cluster processing framework, in and out. That pomace oil is 1/10th the cost of olive oil and tastes about as good. Quite a lot about machine learning. Quite a lot about PDEs, vector calculus. Quit…

what I said to you in 2017

Been reading, Q4 2017

Young Woman Reading (Ines) (1909) by Boccioni

1/5: Do not read.4/5: Read with care.2/5: Do not finish.4*/5: Read agape.3/5: Skim.5/5: Read again3*/5: Devour.


The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975) and The Compass Rose (1982) by Ursula K LeGuin.

Magnificent genre-breaking genre exemplification. She is to science fiction what the Elizabethans were to bawdy comedy. Aside from the two hippie stories, and the four fear-of-psychometrics stories, these will not age. Ranking of the stories here.


On the Origin of Species: Illustrated Edition (2008) by Charles Darwin, ed. David Quammen.

Very beautiful. Filled with sketches, portraits, maps and suggestive remarks from the diaries. Particularly good if, like me, you've struggled with the plaintext. Keys: Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings…

notable psycho booms

psycho-boom (心理热潮) (n.): recent rapid, enthusiastic import of psychiatric concepts and treatments in China. Excellent stuff. Except, unfortunately, psychoanalysis has stolen a march on the cognitive/biological approach, and is enjoying a lucrative afterlife, following its much-deserved death in the West. American psychoanalytic institutes often have trouble finding willing patients; Chinese programs have the opposite problem. When Beijing University held a series of lectures on Carl Jung a few years ago, it could admit only a quarter of the people who wanted to attend.
scènes à faire (legal n.): something too simple or cliched to be copyrightable. e.g. rooftop showdown, the millenial whoop.
to get winstoned (underground UK v.): to cut one's septum on one of the new plastic £10 notes, which have Churchill's face on them.
bomb (underground UK n.): a paper case to deliver powder to the stomach.
sac (chess v.): to sacrifice
Quadrilateral (international n.): Potential anti-China blo…

Notes on Banks' Culture, #1

Ordinary morality holds that saving one life from one dramatic hazard once is the supreme act: people who have done it are proud about it for the rest of their lives. Call epic morality, any system for which that's the minimum unit regarded.

What larger things could you aim at? It could just be life-saving on a grand scale, or timescale: like working on a project which is unlikely to complete in your lifetime. Then there are things like ending death, ending suffering, aligning the general AI's values with ours, using our full cosmic endowment and more. In Banks' utopia, sketched out in the ten Culture novels, all of these projects except the last are complete.

Epic morality provides a firm and serious meaning to the lives of those conducting it. It is a fine substitute for theism: the naturalisation of heaven. And there's the problem: if we finish our epic projects, which in these stories the Culture is at risk of doing, then philosophy and groundlessness will rush…

CLOSURE (2010-3) by why the lucky stiff

CLOSURE (2010) by _why.

This is a wilfully glitchy, difficult, intense bundle of handwritten sketches about unspecifiable loss, faltering ambition, unchecked and uncaught exceptions. About why he doesn't program any more. It is autobiographical but most of it is probably not literally true.

The 95 stories, each brutally truncated: ACCIDENT.pdf, ACCOUNTS.pdf, AMANDA.pdf, ATTEMPT.pdf, AWAKEN.pdf, BIBLICAL.pdf, BLANK.pdf, BOOMS.pdf, BRICKS.pdf, BURN.pdf, BUSTS.pdf, CAPRICE.pdf, CLOWNS.pdf, CONFLICTING.pdf, CORRUPTION.pdf, DELIRIUM.pdf, DESOLEE.pdf, DISCLAIMER.pdf, ELEVENTH.pdf, EXPERTS.pdf, EYES.pdf, FALLEN.pdf, FAREWELL.pdf, FIGHTS.pdf, FIRELESS.pdf, FLIPPED.pdf, FOOLS.pdf, FORGIVABLE.pdf, FRIGHTS.pdf, GAIMAN.pdf, GINGERBREAD.pdf, HELLOYES.pdf, HERBERT.pdf, HO.pdf, HOLES.pdf, HOMEWORK.pdf, IDEAS.pdf, IDOLATRY.pdf, IMPERSON.pdf, INVESTMENT.pdf, ITISUS.pdf, JERKS.pdf, JUXT.pdf, KIDS.pdf, LEAPS.pdf, LEVELS.pdf, LOGICAL.pdf, LOOKUP.pd…

notable unborn widows

exercise intolerance (medical n.): Collapsing after minor physical effort. Marker of severe heart disease or CFS. Might this be a less-heralded advantage of doing regular exercise: a canary in the mine?
degan (n.): death-free vegan; vegan who will eat cultured meat. Coined here, no traction yet.
degen (thieves' cant n.): sword
capacity discipline (airline n.): Overbooking, downsizing, outsourcing, just-in-time arrivals. Using fewer planes to maintain prices, while enforcing this monopoly with state violence if necessary.
plasmon (physics n.): the quantum of plasma oscillation; the as-if smallest unit of change in the free electron gas.
exciton (condensed matter n.): Way of describing a paired electron/ electron hole as if they were a particle. First-ever unambigious sighting, the other day.
goniometer (physics n.): Device for measuring or creating precise angles
psychrometrics (engineering): the study of gas-vapor mixes. Air conditioning science.
button man (Mob n.): enforcer; muscle…

Ranking all of Le Guin's fiction

[work in progress]

NOVELSThe Left Hand of Darkness (1969)Tales of Earthsea (1998).Tehanu (1990).The Farthest Shore (1972).A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). Sometimes described as most suitable for children, but I read it at 26 and felt no deficiency of tone or .The Dispossessed (1979). Lathe of Heaven (1971). Grand psychedelic indictment of utilitarianism. Endorsement of psychoanalysis and Daoist woo. I don't care, it's amazing.The Other Wind (2001).The Tombs of Atuan (1970).
STORIESThings or The End (1970). Beautiful study of apocalypse and mass psychosis. Planting an apple-tree. I gasped. Romance: 5/5.The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas (1973). Intuition pump for utilitarianism. Details about this toy society are added one by one, and your mood darkens. She condemns it but not loudly. I'm afraid I think she is a coward, but I appreciate her clarity. If you walk away from Omelas you must believe in banning reproduction immediately. Romance: 1/5.Two Delays on the Northern Line (19…

notable nae naes

reversal (medical n.): the eventual withdrawal of a treatment used without sufficient evidence, when it is found to be null or harmful. There must soon be a reversal on heart stents to relieve pain following a shocking null result; millions of invasive surgeries, presumably hundreds of deaths.
booter (retrocomputing n.): 1) software executed at boot, from a bootable disk, not through an OS. Some early games did this, remarkably.
2) Web service that will thoroughly DDoS your target for a few bucks. The record-breaking attack on Krebs was through one of these.
assurance contract (economics n.): Legal instrument for decentralised funding of public goods. Think Kickstarter for climate change, roads, and schools.
pilpul (Hebrew n.): pepper; sharp analysis. The method used by scholars to resolve contradictions in the Talmud or different halakhic judgments. See also retconning, logic-chopping, splitting hairs, red herring.
arruginated (nonword adj.): Bit of inspired nonsense i…

notable inosculation

access abyss (global health n.): The gigantic difference in access to pain relief across the world: most of the world's opiates are consumed by the richest fraction of the population. Hundreds of millions die without any pain relief at all. A complete travesty, especially given how cheap they are. Intensification of "gap", the usual economics word for disparity.
fictitious force (physics n.): A force which only arises when considering motion between a non-inertial frame and an inertial one. (e.g. the Earth's frame and the Sun's.) We say the sun goes round the earth, despite the licence to say either given by Galilean relativity, because saying the opposite produces four extra awkward forces in the equations. The argument goes through, ultimately, by Occam's razor, and by computational convenience.
co-rumination (psychology n.): excessive discussion of one's problems and picking of scabs within friendships. Can make negativity reinforce negative affe…

notable benefits of clergy

geofence (tech n.): a virtual boundary that lets software respond when its device enters or leaves a particular area. e.g. disabling wi-fi, e.g. sending an alert. My engineering lecturer claimed that the DoD disabled his car with one of these.
Stingray (policing n.): phone snooper; IMSI-catcher. Emulates a real phone tower to locate and identify nearby phones. In common use in large US cities.
Moravec's paradox (AI n.): the surprising fact that abstract cognition has proved much easier to emulate in AI than has basic, instinctive visual and motor processing. Haut en bas.
slamming (white-collar crime n./v.): taking control of a phone owner's account without permission. Done by actual companies, somehow.
benefit of clergy (medieval n.): right to be tried by the Church instead of the magistrate; effectively, the right to not be executed for your crimes. Originally only granted to clerics, hence the name, but eventually to anyone who could read.
skurf (sp…

notable is what it is, am what I am, will be will be boys

Half-Mourning (Victorian n.): The final stage of the Decent two-year grieving period, in which the widow is allowed to hear hats again and can start to work bland colours (grey, lilac, lavender) into her clothing.
Game recognizes game (black proverb): Takes one to know one; great minds think alike. Self-aggrandising compliment.
healthspan (n.): the length of time in which you are healthy. Healthspan is the proper target of medicine, but has been sidelined in favour of raw longevity for a century.
bare stick (光棍) (Chinese n.): Single man. (Some suggest that this is a dick joke, but this is likely to be denied by locals.) Name of the annual Valentine's Day / orgy of consumerism, on November 11th (chosen because 11/11 has a lot of single 1s in it).
exploitable (n.): a meme template with blank space for you to speak your branes in.
manhwa (만화)(Korean n.): manga.
brohoof (internet n.): A high-five between two bronies, men who watch the show My Little Pony.

notable [redacted for your sake]

twenny nug (channish n.): 20 (chicken) nuggets.
skiff (US military n.): Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Airgapped, maximal security computer installation.
class-struggle face (阶级斗争脸) (Maoist n.): the fixed frown-grimace suitable for intimidating black elements. A risque joke at Mao's expense. I make this face at work when I don't want to be bothered. (I work in an open plan.)
black money (Indian n.): Money from the black market, untaxed: perhaps trillions in total.
twice exceptional (US pedagogy adj.): both disabled and gifted. (“being gifted and being disabled are surprisingly similar: isolating, mystifying, petrifying.”)
nasheed (Arabic n.): religious song, canonically a'capella, but these days they add a bunch of overdubs and comps and stuff. Searching for them can get you put on A Watchlist.
grand truth (ML n.): The underlying distribution; the population. I think it's probably a malapropism for ground truth. Coined by Tsypkin (1971) …

notable nicenesses

niceness (UNIX n.): inverse process priority. a job with a high niceness is very kind to the users of your system (i.e., it runs at low priority), while a job with little niceness utilises more of the CPU
TPTB (internet n.): The Powers That Be. You can hear the conspiratorial hiss.
skeuomorph (pej. design n.): an object which retains the look and metaphors of its predecessors even though it does not need to:
cultural fluency (culture war n.): Mandatory ideological re-education on campus (see also sensitivity training). Very useful, not as guide to actually ethical conduct, but as primer on what inadvertent words are likely to incite a mob.
stemwinder (US n.): A rousing speech, especially by a politician.
spavined (posh adj.): bony, particularly of horses; wasted.
neuclidean(maths adj.): noneuclidean for impatient people.
landsat (science n.): The oldest satellite mapping project: 45 years of continuous imagery.
interocular trauma test (stats n.): draw…

notable rolfing

sentinel organ (medical n.): a part of the body particularly sensitive to some medical insult (pathogen, toxin, mutation). Canary in the mine. Has been used of the brain, liver, thyroid, mammaries.
toxicant (medical n.): toxic substance. Hypernym of toxin, which is supposed to be "naturally produced toxicant". Language being what it is, people actually use "toxin" as the hypernym and "toxicant" as "artificial, industrial toxin".
the walking well (medical collective n.): Medical jargon for healthy people. But particularly malingerers: people going to the GP with nothing wrong. Term is a shibboleth for the speaker being an allied practitioner.
apodization (signal processing n.): applying a function to a signal to change its shape, in particular tapering out the extreme values to zero, in particular improving the focus of an optical system by manipulating its input-intensity profile. Literally "de-footing". Used to produce the bokeh effect…