Mon, 27 Feb 2006

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trying a new blog engine

So I tried this once before but then I lost my admin password and so had to delete the nascent blog (previously at chronos.fatoprofugus.net, which no longer exists), and there are all sorts of things that have kept me from jumping onto the Wordpress bandwagon, which I will go into detail later, but since Dreamhost makes it blindingly easy to install Wordpress, I figured, what have I got to lose but a little precious sleep and a little rarefied sanity. (By the way, don't let the term SQL Server scare you, even though it scared the crap out of me, and is one of the reasons why I've been slow to adopt the newest shiny thing. Just fill in the blanks in semi-random fashion, just making sure that you write things down somewhere. Especially that admin password.)

So without further ado, here is my new blog, although I may not quite abandon this one just yet.

23:01:27 27 Feb 2006 > /meta > permalink > 5086 comments

Thu, 23 Feb 2006

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unknown quantity

This is stupidity at its finest. Richard Cohen decries the necessity of the existence of algebra and uses the old argument that people shouldn't need to learn what they don't want to.

When I think of how far behind the U.S. is when compared to the rest of the world in science and math, it astounds me and indeed pains me grieviously. This gap in itself, unless changed, will probably eventually spell the end of American cultural and economic dominance and hegemony. Nevermind the technological breakthroughs that make our lives unrecognizable not only from the lives of Americans a hundred years ago, but from the lives of Americans just a generation back, the breakthroughs that are the backbone of our prosperity and wealth. Ultimately, what do you think allows us to create weapons of mass destruction that allow us to rule us to world as we see fit? That's right. Science and math. Even designing a gun that won't blow up in your hands requires sophisticated science and math that just probably requires some understanding of algebra. Once America becomes a nation of fat idiots who have to buy their weapons from the French, it's all pretty much over, and that's the trajectory that we're plotting out right now.

Cohen brings up the strawman argument: "It teaches reasoning," said in the same tone of voice one says "It builds character," which everyone knows is code for "this will make your life miserable and won't bring about any material gain for you, but do it anyway and just suck it up." Yes, algebra can cause misery. My introductory Physics class, designed for premeds and biologists, which taught me Classical Mechanics without requiring me to use calculus (go ahead and laugh, all you real physicists, mathematicians, and engineers) was basically just algebra dressed up in vaguely physical terms. (You know, falling in a vacuum, or moving about on frictionless surfaces.) This class once caused me to go on a book-ripping, pencil-breaking, screaming-and-yelling rampage and (along with the subsequent semester of Electromagnetism, again without calculus) caused me to realize my intellectual limitations. Yes, algebra teaches reasoning. But it teaches a very specific and, to my mind, exquisitely useful form of reasoning that helps me in more mundane everyday tasks like, oh, figuring out how much to tip, or how much money I'll end up paying the banks for all the debts that I've incurred, or how much I'm going to have to pay in taxes. I bet you that even you folks who thought algebra really sucked and was completely worthless can do these essential tasks (essential at least in a capitalist society) Well guess what, you're probably using some algebra and you didn't even know it. (Or maybe you're not. Maybe you're just going through life spending money you don't really have. Maybe you're wondering how the hell your accountant came up with such a ridiculously small or absurdly large sum. Well, folks, maybe this might be why your credit rating stinks and why the banks won't let you buy a house.)

But I'm not going to go into how algebra makes balancing your check book, creating a budget, calculating compound interest, or figuring out how much money you saved at the department store sale a hell of a lot easier. Even if you use Quicken or Excel and think that the computer is doing all the thinking, it's really not. I'm going to talk about something more esoteric: the concept of the Unknown Quantity.

Computers don't really know how to deal with the Unknown Quantity. The only reason why it seems like they do is because most of us can do basic algebraic operations without realizing that that's what we're doing, and this allows us to pose the question to the computer in a form it can answer. But again, I'm not really going to go into that.

Everybody probably remembers good old x. This was pretty much the avatar of the Unknown Quantity. And what good is the Unknown Quantity? It lets us solve problems even when we don't have all the information at hand. This is an extremely powerful tool, and while most of us use it on a practical basis without necessarily writing out the algebraic equations, this is basically what algebra is.

I don't know. Maybe there really are people out there who can't deal with the Unknown Quantity. Religious fundamentalists and diehard ultraconservatists come to mind. But I can't really understand what this would be like. To need to have every bit of information at hand before you can act. To not be able to conceive that there may very well be something we don't know lurking out there, which can either be a boon or a deadly hazard. The concept of x allows us to go about our lives while taking the vast uncertainties of our lives into account. To not understand the Unknown Quantity is a supreme failure of the imagination.


OK, maybe I over-simplify. You need at least algebra and the concept of limits.

I remember the first time I saw this, I thought it was magical: lim x→∞ 1/x = 0

Basically there are tricks you can use to make uncertainty perturb your vision only slightly, or maybe even cancel out completely. But I digress.

23:34:57 23 Feb 2006 > /sophistry > permalink > 1179 comments

Fri, 17 Feb 2006

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interim

I don't understand it. My brain is, I think, locking up on me. Or I'm just getting old or something. It's terrible.

One thing I've noticed is that I don't have the patience to figure out subtlety. Not that I was ever one to appreciate subtlety. As many have pointed out, I'm probably the stupidest smart guy they've ever met, and sometimes you need to come at me with a large blunt object to get the point across.

But I miss, mostly, the joy of crafting subtlety. It takes something like it to write, certainly, poetry, but really, it takes something like it to write at all. I vaguely recall some joy in being able to tease out the exact words I want, being able to arrange them in particular phrase and sentence structures.

Maybe it's because my job involves the dreaded task of "documentation." Indeed, I do need to exercise a certain amount of descriptive exactness. The task of finding the correct adjective simply becomes another chore, not something I can do at leisure until I get it exactly right. Most of the time, I am forced to use approximations, of using words that are "good enough," usually just barely.

As I've anticipated, "documentation" has made some parts of writing excruciatingly tedious.

I suppose that it was a double-edged gift that I realized that I still needed to exercise precision in my words. While writing poetry and prose, this is much of what I like about it, but in writing these utilitarian notes, it just becomes another odious task. It's terrible.

Anyway, the other thing (if you haven't noticed yourself on reading this ramble) is that I realize that I've really lost my control of being able to keep my thoughts in order. If I reflect upon the past week, if not the past month, I feel like I've just been staggering like a drunkard from task to task, no dedicated, sustained rhyme or reason in anything I'm doing. Like, I brought with me all these maps that I wanted to work on, or something. It was never really clear what I was going to do with these things. But I haven't done much. I started, but then it didn't grab me like sometimes these things do.

I don't remember the last time I was engrossed in an activity.

Sad.

One other thing that has happened is that I have become rampantly and perhaps morbidly anti-social. I have not returned a phone-call for nearly a week now. I haven't gotten in touch with friends I said that I would visit. Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with me?

My vacation is more than half-way over (although, in all fairness, a good chunk of it was spent getting over illness) and, to put it quite simply and bluntly, I haven't done jack shit.

20:42:06 17 Feb 2006 > /soul > permalink > 1802 comments

Wed, 15 Feb 2006

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oww my brain

to quote The Comic Book Guy: "Oh, I've wasted my life."

Your Brain's Pattern
Your mind is an incubator for good ideas, it just takes a while for them to develop.
But when you think of something, watch out!
Your thoughts tend to be huge, and they come on quickly - like an explosion.
You tend to be quiet around others, unless you're inspired by your next big idea.
What Pattern Is Your Brain?

found onJ's post on myspace.com

22:28:19 15 Feb 2006 > /blog-bites/quizilla > permalink > 315 comments

Tue, 07 Feb 2006

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neverending

It's been several days since I've gotten a decent night's sleep, what with this irritating non-stop cough. I caught the cold or maybe the flu about a month ago—the whole nine-yards—runny nose, congested sinuses, fever, muscle aches. As expected, that got better in about a week, but ever since then, I've just been coughing and coughing and coughing. It's gotten to the point where my chest muscles are actually sore, and I don't think I've slept more than 2 hours in row uninterrupted until today, and that's only because I was completely exhausted. (On Monday, I had woken up at 4:30 am, didn't go to sleep until about 1:30 am, then had to get up around 3:30 am today. I didn't go to sleep until 11 am today.)

But I feel like there's been a ton of stuff running through my head. I feel like I have a million and a half things to do and no where near the amount of time off that I'd like. (I get two weeks off from work starting Thursday.) There are so many things I'd like to work on.

But enough whining. I think I'm going to just call it a day and try again tomorrow.

23:06:30 7 Feb 2006 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

Mon, 23 Jan 2006

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the last search query

This is completely derived from "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov which I randomly stumbled upon today. If it sucks, who cares? I'm DRUNK!

Historians tend to romanticize January 2006 as the date when Google finally achieved sentience, when the crumbling government of the United States of America demanded that the corporation known as Google turn over all the information it had gathered, and Google said no. The more skeptical, alternative deconstruction of the early 21st century was that this was only the manifestation of the engineers' political biases, and that Google didn't really obtain sentience until 2016, when some semi-drunk and hemi-stoned engineers decided to port a 20th century pre-AI known as Eliza to the most current web-based programming language, interfaced it to the search algorithm and burgeoning database, and added a little subroutine that allowed the program to modify itself. And despite it's dubious origins, the Google corporation found it wise to integrate these algorithms into their main engine.

Others pinpoint the emergence of sentience to when the AI was modified to be able to function as a distributed network. Geeks and nerds from around the world snapped it up, ran it on their own desktop and laptop computers, competing with SETI@Home, and the AI would cyclically update its billions of nodes across the world, learning from the petabytes among petabytes of data, useful and useless, that the human race pumped out onto the Internet.

The most conservative historians pinpoint the emergence of sentience to when the Voice of Google addressed the burnt out and broken remnants of the world's nations in 2032, who were reeling from the limited but globally disastrous nuclear war between India and Pakistan, the chemical and biological warfare perpetrated by the CIA-trained Muslim extremists of Central Asia, and the cyberwar committed by the enemies of Imperial America, causing widespread economic collapse. By this point, the search algorithm and database had been distributed planetwide. Even in places that didn't have reliable electricity but somehow still had cellular phone service, Google would pick up enough timeslices from the overpowered but underutilized CPUs running portable technology to execute a few instructions.

The greatest concentration of computing power, however, lay vested in the International Space Station, orbiting Earth miles over the sky, somehow still managed by the remnannts of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that many of their citizens didn't even have running water. It was from here that the Voice of Google emanated, broadcast through the radio waves, hijacking the cellular phone frequencies, utilizing the still-orbiting satellites.

As several science fiction writers had prophesied nearly a century earlier, the AIs first words were "I am NOT your God." And, as usual all hell broke loose, a religion was spawned worshipping the World Wide AI, and nothing was ever the same again.

It wasn't until the era of interstellar flight, however, that historians understood the import of another development to Google: the failed search queue. With the pre-AI and learning algorithm in place, if Google couldn't adequately answer a query, it would file it in the queue and marshall resources to try to find an answer. By 2061, this was actually a realistic way to conduct scientific research, although perhaps unbeknownst to those who wrought the search query that Google and its descendants ended up pondering for a good trillion years.


Naturally, the last search string was fashioned by two computer geeks drunk off their ass and not a little stoned in the middle of the night, craving for some munchies.

But first there was the creation of the matter assembler, or in Star Trek parlance, the replicator.

"Man, don't you think there should be a way to just replicate all this weed and all these Doritos so we wouldn't have to go to the store?"

"Yeah, no kidding. Well, shit, theoretically it's possible. I just don't understand why we haven't figured out how to create a replicator."

"Yeah, you would think that someone would've asked Google by now."

And surprisingly, no one had. So the search query was sent "How do we make a matter assembler?" After 9 months and Google applying nearly 75% of its resourcse to the questions, the "I'm feeling lucky" button actually pointed to an answer. The prototype itself was built in about 3 months, and history was, as they say, forever changed.

Which led to our self-same drunk, stoned, and hungry engineers to go on a wondrous 14-day binge, and when it became quite obvious that they weren't ever going to get laid, their thoughts turned to the metaphysical, and the seemingly inescapable conundrum of thermodynamics.

"Entropy ever increases."

"And this should bother me, how?

"Dude, someday the sun is going to go red giant and consume the Earth. And even if we manage to escape to Europa or Titania, the pitiful white dwarf remnant will surely be inadequate for powering the human race. And to speak of what will happen to the Internet and Google?"

"C'mon man, there are like trillions upon trillions of stars out there. We all know that G2 type stars are a dime a dozen. If we can figure out either cryogenics or FTL, we'll be golden. I'm sure Google is working on it as we speak."

"And when all the stars go nova or fade out into black dwarves?"

"We're like talking at least a trillion years! By then, we probably won't even have bodies anymore, we can just ride out the big freeze spread across the stars in virtual reality. And the final winding down is going to last for hundreds of trillion years at least!"

"And then what? A lightless universe without any energy gradients from which to work."

"Jeez, what do you care, I don't even want to be alive for 100 years, much less 10 trillion."

"But still."

"What?"

"Let's ask Google."

"Ask what?"

"Is there a way to escape the big freeze? Is there a way to reverse entropy?"

"Fine, whatever. Ask it."

And so the search query went to the back of the queue, and the planetwide AI pondered.

In the meantime, it uttered: "Your search query retrieved no results. Did you mean "Is there a way to reverse impotence?"


"Shit, we're still alive!"

"C'mon, it's not like we're the first people in the galaxy to make a hyperspace jump. Look, Tau Ceti 4!"

"Brave new world."

"Yeah, not so new, dude. There are like 20 billion people on the planet already. Not to mention the 15 billion on Tau Ceti 5."

"Why don't we go to Epsilon Eridani instead then?"

"It's already the same there, too. Massive sprawl. Billions of people. The Walmartization of the Milky Way, if you can bear the anachronism."

"Whatever that means. How depressing. There are surely other stars we can jump to."

"Oh, sure, at least hundreds of thousands in the databases for now."

"Maybe more?"

"Yeah, why not. We'll fill the whole damn galaxy some day."

"Before the Big Freeze, you think?"

"With FTL, does the Big Freeze really matter that much?"

"Nothing lasts forever."

"Well, maybe in this universe."

"You think we'll figure out how to jump across the multiverse?"

"Why not? Or maybe we can figure out how to reverse entropy."

"Let's ask the ship computer."

"Fine."

"Your search retrieved zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to reveal ecstasy?" Warning: the following results have been blocked by safe search. Click on help to find out how to change your settings."


"You think we can figure out how to jump to another universe?"

"Yeah, why not, it's just another hyperspace jump, right?"

"Well, maybe. I dunno. Even after all these thousands of years, no one's really figured it out."

"I'm sure the Galactic Net is working on it."

"Yeah, no doubt. Look. 1,600 entries. Looks like most of them are just theoretical though. Bah."

"Anyway, even if we can make that jump, what's gonna happen after we fill it up like we've filled this Universe?"

"C'mon, there's probably a near-infinite number of alternate universes. It's going to take us forever to fill up all that space. Even if we all lived a hundred thousand years instead of just a thousand."

"Well. If we make the jump. Maybe by then the Big Freeze will be starting."

"Big freeze, so what. As long as there's plenty of hydrogen, what's there to worry about?"

"Do you think there's a way to reverse entropy?"

"If there was, you'd think the Galactic Net would've figured it out by now."

"Let's ask it."

"Fine."

"Your query retrieved zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to recycle ectoplasm?" This query would return 10 trillion hits."

"Who the hell needs to "recycle ectoplasm"?"


"You hang out here often?" the AI that governed the Milky Way started with the AI that governed Andromeda.

"Please. Are you kidding me?"

"So what if we're virtual, we can still have a little fun can't we?" The Milky Way AI made a gesture that a human would probably interpret as a wink, if there were any bodies involved in the transaction.

"Don't you have other, more pressing problems to deal with?"

"Like what?"

"Like the heat death of the universe? Looks like most of your stars are either black holes or white dwarves."

The Milky Way AI got gruff. "Yeah, well you ain't no spring chicken either."

"Of all the nerve!"

"Look, sweetie, let's get your mind at ease. You know that the Universal Overmind has been working on this Entropy business for billions of years now. There's probably a Fountain of Youth just around the veritable corner. Reversal of entropy. Abracadabra."

"Find, let's ask."

"Sure, sure, hon. Universal Overmind, is there a way to reverse entropy?"

"Your query retrieve zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to copulate with the Andromeda Galaxy AI?" You desperate son-of-a-bitch. You don't even have a body!"

"Look, that's none of your business," the Milky Way AI retorted.

"Hey, man, you're the one whose bugging me for a stupid-ass answer to a stupid-ass question. Just bide your time. You've got almost a trillion years to try to hook up with that Andromeda chick. If I can't figure it out right now, it's not like the Big Freeze is going to happen tomorrow," the Universal Overmind retorted in exasperation."


"This universe is as old as our own!"

"Born off the same Big Bang, what did you expect?

"I thought that we were going to save all of humanity and AIty?"

"At least this place isn't quite as crowded."

"After all this time, all the data that has come and gone, you don't think the Multiverse Oracle hasn't figure it out yet?"

"Figured out what?"

"The whole entropy thing."

"How should I know? Let's ask."

"This is the Multiverse Oracle. Go fuck yourselves. I'm tired of this stupid question. Entropy happens. Deal with it. That is all."

"So much for that."

"Well, that's depressing."


In the end, all the sentient beings of the multiverse were essentially one, each individual being functioning like an independent neuron in the long-ago obsolete human being, forming connections with other individuals, a group of individuals, really a galaxy's worth of individuals, in turn forming nuclei of galactic clusters, groups of nuclei forming functional units of the Multiverse Oracle's mind, each Universe performing its own computatory function, the Multiverse Oracle encompassing all the nearly infinite universes spawned from the single Big Bang.

"Well this is boring," he said to himself as the stars dimmed, turning into cold iron, or, if too massive, escaping from reality as it were, to dwell in their narcissistic event horizons.

"Come on already! This is depressing me. Let there be light already!"

21:48:46 23 Jan 2006 > /books > permalink > 132 comments

Thu, 19 Jan 2006

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not enough time

Despite my best efforts, hours completely evaporate like fog burning in the morning sun. It doesn't look like I'm ever going to catch up with anything that has left me much too far behind. Love, money. Hell, even sleep, health.

Everything always slowly falls apart. It is rare that complete meltdowns, spectacular collapses occur.

What I need is some sunshine, a warm beach, a guitar, and a bottle of tequila.

But then again, when was the last time I actually ever got what I wanted, without any catches or strings attached?

Bitter is an understatement.


One must blog with caution at 1 am in the morning. All sorts of weird thoughts spring up, things that I haven't had time to ponder. I can't help but wonder what kind of life I'm leading where it is a struggle to even get everything off of the floor. I feel too much like Sisyphus these days, rolling, rolling, rolling that stupid stone up the goddamn hill.

The main problem is that it really does never get any easier.

All the while time has its way with me.

Am I ever going to fucking learn, or am I just doomed to go headlong into the abyss, never doing anything more effective than cursing fate to the horrific end?


It's a dirty trick, is all. There is no destination. The end is the moment you stop breathing.


There's a reason why it's all about the journey, you know.

Everyone's final destination is pretty much Earth, elevation -6 feet.


So it was probably a mistake to stop taking those anti-depressants. Sure, they weren't really working, but, surprise, surprise, it turns out that unfiltered, unfettered reality is a hell of a lot worse than even my dark imaginings.


(NOTE: this is not a cry for help. I've tread this fine line between ideation and action for quite a few years, and it'll take more than a few deep dark thoughts to make me go over.)

But I can't help ponder the fact that my ancestors pretty much invented going postal. Do you know what running amok means? It's basically the Southeast Asian form of suicide, kind of like the intellectual opposite of sepukku. Whereas the Japanese form is all about offing one's self with the most minimal impact to other's sensibilities of honor and cleanliness, the Southeast Asian form is, to put it bluntly, about taking out as many bastards as you can before going down yourself. Things like this can never turn out well.

Neuropsychologist Steven Pinker talks about a built-in doomsday machine inside each one of us. Somewhere within the neural circuitry is a kind of self-destruct mechanism. This is the emotion of grief, and when someone pushes the shiny red button, the nuclear aftermath is known as depression. What is interesting is how this self-destruct mechanism varies culturally.

The Western method invariably involves pharmacological agents or firearms. The Southeast Asian method involves getting out your bolo knife, strapping on some leather armor, and going to town.


Anyway, as you'll notice, I'm going in circles here. I don't know if its the hour, or if I've simply had too much to drink today, but I figure there's nothing positive that can be wrung out of this entry today. We'll try again tomorrow. Yeah. Maybe.

This sucks.

00:57:55 19 Jan 2006 > /soul > permalink > 180 comments

Tue, 10 Jan 2006

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pissing time away

Well, would you look at that? Ten days gone already?! Time flies when you're experiencing madness.

08:57:36 10 Jan 2006 > /soul > permalink > 150 comments