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Showing posts from June, 2017


I see the term "high-powered people" quite a lot, and realise I don't know what it means.

A trivial gloss of it is "powerful" (but it's more useful as marker of a tendency toward power). So another trivial one would be "having characteristics that bring success (in organisational life)".

What characteristics are those? Intelligence, motivation, charm and leadership spangles, tolerance of long hours, self-esteem, appetite for money or status or ascent. Or else sociopathy, narcissism, risk-taking, obsessiveness, 'the sterility that waits on practicality'.

Well, I don't have most of those things. Insofar as I know what I want from life, I want to know things, to make things more knowable, and to do good. (A lot of good, like 30,000 QALYs of good. That's not average: if we grant parents benevolent aims, then raising two kids is like 40 - 140 QALYs, if you and they are unusually lucky with genetics and peers. And that's about the…

notable notarikonim

thicc or thique (hip-hop adj.): curvaceous; in particular, callipygian. I thought this might be satirical, but no, it is well-attested in the literature.
parietal hours (from the Latin n.): "walled hours": times of the day that American college students were allowed members of the opposite sex in the dorm. About 25 hours a week, at 60s Radcliffe.
aborning (US adv.): while being born. e.g. I NEARLY DIED ABORNING; I WASN'T TO GET OFF SO EASILY
frass (US n.): Insect droppings. Compare Jamaican raas?
shotgun parser (n.): an ad hoc input recognizer, split into many pieces, across all layers, with parsing interspersed with processing logic, often reading Turing-complete data formats. Very insecure, predictably and by default. Unfortunately, this antipattern is the standard way of reading input, used in 99% of programs, simply because it is very very easy to do. "Shotgun parser" is the enemy of the Langsec people, who demand regular and context-free protocols.
sophont (sci…

Hitler's Uranium Club (1996) by Heisenberg, Hahn, Harteck, Wirtz et al

There are few, if any, other instances in recorded history where we have the conversations of leading figures as they complete one era, come to terms with it, and prepare their strategy for the next. It is as though these men were lifted out of history at a crucial turning point—from the age of conventional weapons to the nuclear era — placed within a timeless container and told to discuss their past and future as the recorders roll.
— Jeremy Bernstein

Astonishingly dramatic; also as pure as primary sources get. The result of months of secret eavesdropping on the German nuclear scientists, including after they hear of Hiroshima. Innocent of the microphones, the men concede their ignorance without ego, their character without any obfuscating propriety. (There are still two impurities: their words are both transcribed and translated by strangers. The physicists speak to us here in full sentences, with little of the fragmentariness and repetition of real speech. And it takes someone …

Einstein (2007) by Walter Isaacson

Physics becomes in those years the greatest collective work of art of the twentieth century. - Jacob Bronowski
What to say about the stereotypically great? Start by scrubbing off the accumulated century of journalism and appropriations.

Einstein's scientific achievements:
A model of Brownian motion: the decisive argument for the existence of atoms. His model enabled experimental confirmation of Dalton's theory, after a hundred years of denial or instrumentalism.An elementary particle, the photon. The atomic hypothesis applied even to light.A law for the photoelectric effect, implying a quantum theory of all EM radiation. (A realist about quanta, unlike Planck.)So also lots of pieces of the "old" quantum theory.A theory of light and so space and time, special relativity.A physical constraint on metaphysics: no absolute time.A fairly consequential law, mass-energy equivalenceA flawed but progressive theory of heat capacity, the Einstein theory of solidsA better method…

philosophy machines

I got a temp job in an official statistics department at the age of 23. Somehow; while I was nominally educated (economics & philosophy), I'd never written any code, never simulated anything, never calculated a PDF, and never actually analysed more than 50 rows of data.

Most notably, I'd never heard of principal components analysis (nor any unsupervised learning, tools with which one can discover the 'joints' of nature without really putting one's mental framework into the mix).

We (they) built a PCA model of childhood poverty, letting the algorithm find the most important parts of the phenomenon, making them fall right out of the data, heedless of the Marxism or Malthusianism or indeed mindlessness of the modellers. Despite my tiresome anti-realism and anti-quantoid convictions, I could see the philosophical implications were huge. So here I am.

notable largely from Cormac

to live within PRISM (pej. v.): to spend your time on the public web, i.e. within full view of government intrusion.
Scalish (programming adj.): Of code written in good Scala style. See also Pythonic, Ruby Way, maybe Rustic.
nostrification (German n.): the conversion of degrees granted elsewhere into local terms.
ravioli code (programming n.): marked by overzealous encapsulation. See also spaghetti code, marked by heavy coupling and no interfaces.
rescission (legal n.): revoking of a contract; repealing of a law. Used in casual conversation by Ruth Davidson. Easy to work out apriori ("re", again, "sciss", separate/broken) but still new.
merkledag (n.): Merkle directed acyclic graph: a particular hash-linked data structure suitable for massively decentralised work. This word denotes the logical plan used by instances of the Interplanetary Filesystem. (All IPFS addresses are merkle hashes, links between which form a graph.)
Stench gas (n.): some extremely smelly substance …

a cruel metric for mathematical knowledge

You could quantify your knowledge of maths by giving the year of development of the most recent theory you have mastered. (One's "theory year".) In mechanics, I have covered Lagrangians quite well, so my mechanics year is 1783.*

Aggregate scores are much less meaningful, but I am inclined to be brutal and set one's overall theory year as the oldest year among your knowledge of the big trunk branches (geometry, algebra, Analysis, number theory, combinatorics, groups, logic...).

My mate Johnny points out a couple of problems here:
Most mathematicians are so specialised that they'd have a TY of 2013 for one thing and 1800 for everything else. Your metric shouldn't have a low score for the greatest actual proponents.
Response: theory year was made for omniscients, not for man.
Mathematics itself gnaws at your concept: for Category theory promises to make all areas equivalent. So one very high TY, + 1945 in topology could theoretically give you an overall very…