notable emanations

  • WORM (adj.): Write Once, Read Many (times). A particular use pattern in databases, that allows for faster but less safe NoSQL systems.

  • bitterant (n.): bitter chemical, applied to things like antifreeze to stop children and other animals eating them.

  • bruxism (n.): excessive grinding of teeth. Apparently it is not painful, but still horrendous to me.

  • relevance engineer (n.): A data scientist focussing on search or recommendation. (I note keenly the shifts in terminology which imply any devaluation of the hot and silly coin in my pocket, "data science"; on the recent StackOverflow survey a large chunk of people responded "machine learning specialist".)

  • incentive compatibility: One of the most important ideas in economics, but I never learned the name in 4 years of indifferent study. "I don't agree with him at all, but we are incentive-compatible."

  • to die in harness (v.): Melodramatic version of death in service. It is the official term in Indian government, inherited from the Raj.

  • data room (n.): an exhaustive dump of backroom information about a company. Assets, cap table, contracts, disclosures.

  • metis (n.): nonpropositional knowledge; hunches, feels, heuristics, Simonian bon sens. If intelligence is the trait that leads to knowledge (scientia), phronesis leads to metis. Rationality leads to wins.

  • ganzfeld study (n.): An experiment that tries to detect ESP in a particular science-esque way.

  • gentleman ranker (n.): a disgraced, discharged officer who re-enlists as a private. But see also the case of John Hume Ross.

  • remittance man (n.): a disgraced scion, sent off to Canada or Australia or Morocco, and sent a monthly stipend just so long as he doesn't come back.

  • memory pressure (n.): in distributed systems, the risk introduced by maxing out allocation.

  • data enrichment (n.): just adding more columns. But expensively.


incentive compatibility

We live together: you dislike mess more than you dislike cleaning; I dislike cleaning more than I dislike mess. Mess happens: obligate social grooming rears a silent scowling face.

A current account runs to deficit: cogwheels backlash. I could offer you money for doing my part, if I was stupid; or if you were a different species. As you are this is a grave insult: cleaning you undertake yourself is home-making, comfort behaviour, preening, an act conceived in freedom and ease. Receiving money for it makes you a cleaner: low-status. Offering you money called you low status: I signalled superior wealth. Negotiations sour: you don't hear my offer instead to cook, or do the bins. But we are grown men; there must be a solution.

Yes: I skip the lease under cover of night, free-riding the axle of a Scania bound for the orient. In the morning: notes stuffed under your door.


standard repertoire in computer science

Don Knuth at his home organ

A trained musician knows hundreds of pieces, many of them from "standard repertoire", a list of classics. I'm getting by in a statistical / computer scientific career, despite not being trained per se in either. What's in the computer science / IT / hacker repertory?

Here is a list of things you should be able to use or define by the end of a good computer science undergraduate degree. (Starred are ones which will enhance your life most, whether with hundreds of thousands of pounds, or hundreds of hours, or a larger practical-ethical expansion. Career improving ones are pretty obvious, but in computing the divide between the fascinating or improving, and the employable, is narrower than elsewhere.)

  • Get into DIY, in its grand philosophical sense: create, not just consume.** Portfolio, not resume!
  • Demystification of tech.**
  • ...and thus participation in the defining activity and mindset of the age.*
  • ...and thus scepticism about the many expensive and ludicrous parts of it.**
  • The imaginative leap of non-WYSIWYG working. Real mental modelling.
  • Appreciation of the uniqueness of programming as tool in any inquiry.

  • Hardware assembly and maintenance.*
  • Overcoming your fear of the command line (*nix preferably).
  • Thus scripting to automate dumb (and smart) stuff.*
  • Install, configure, compile Linux.
  • Compile and configure a web server.
  • Compile and configure a DNS daemon.
  • network protocols and socket level programming.
  • monitoring, reporting, fail overs etc.


A fraught topic, for some reason. No particular language is indispensable, but there are at least 10 important axes to understand.
  • For development speed: Python or Ruby
  • For execution speed: C or Rust or Go
  • For portability: Java or C or bash
  • For nostalgia or ritual: C
  • For elegance: Haskell
  • For puzzles: Prolog or uKanren

  • An Algol ("C-like"): Java or C#
  • A Lisp: Racket or Scheme
  • An ML: F# or Haskell

  • For data abstraction (Assembly or anything)
  • For class abstraction (C# or Java)
  • For type abstraction (Python or Javascript)
  • For functional abstraction (Haskell)
  • For syntactic abstraction (Scheme)
  • For implementation abstraction (SQL or Prolog)
  • For processor abstraction (Erlang or Go)

  • Standard web markup: HTML/CSS/XML/JSON
  • Markdown for rapid writing.
  • Regex for fast text manipulation.*
  • LaTeX for beautiful technical writing.
  • A version control system.

  • Theory of computation. (Why are Turing, Shannon, von Neumann among the greatest thinkers of the past hundred years?)
  • Theory of computational complexity.

  • hash table
  • linked lists
  • trees
  • directed and undirected graphs
  • binary search trees

  • compiler, linker, interpreter: use and theory of
  • virtual memory and paging.
  • kernel mode vs. user mode
  • threading
  • synchronization primitives
  • platform internals: disassemblers, decompilers, debuggers...
  • The entire programming stack:
    • hardware (CPU + Memory + Cache + Interrupts + microcode)
    • binary code, assembly
    • static and dynamic linking
    • JIT compilation
    • garbage collection, heap, stack, memory addressing

  • number theory for crypto
  • automata
  • formal grammars

  • The Nature of Computation
  • Code Complete 2
  • Don't Make me Think
  • Design Patterns
  • Peopleware,
  • Programming Pearls,
  • The Pragmatic Programmer,
  • Mythical Man month
  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs,
  • Art of Computer Programming
  • Hacker's Delight

to be led out

You start to learn something. You don't know what to google. You don't know the luminaries. You don't know what are stupid questions. You don't know which are the good books, and they are all £90. You might not know a good book when you saw it, except that it seems to make sense to you, where others are demeaning slammed doors. You don't know enough to just get started and incrementally improve at any rate at all.

Education is artificial enclosures and screens on this terrifying commons: ignore those cliffs, forget that vertiginous sky, stay in here, you will be safe to get strong, here is a nice story. StackExchange is a chain of lifeboats on the open sea of research, vanishing to the horizon.

Most educated people never leave the enclosures, and mistake the limits of the curriculum for the limits of the world. (In this way, it's possible that the American general education philosophy - so admirable, so civic - could narrow minds.) In economics this "101ism" is particularly pernicious, since even honest specialists, those operating well beyond the screen, can't communicate their technical results to the media, so almost all discourse takes place inside the fake, narrow enclosure, with endless fruitless illiberal results.

In fields where it's impossible to know if you have gone astray - everything except the formal sciences - the work feels nicer but is sadder, considered on a proper timescale, of centuries. There it is almost inevitable that lives will be ploughed into the soil and merge with the stream of decomposing misguided theses. In the formal sciences this is only very likely.


notable labiodentals

  • E/N site (n.): An "Everything/Nothing" site. (As in, "means everything to the person who's writing it, and nothing to everyone else".) The 90s word for blog.

  • Greek life (US n.): Amusing Ivy League slang for the frat / sorority system. Gives rise to excellent shite like this:
    ...After nearly three decades of operating in the shadows, the Greek organizations could find themselves under the University's regulatory oversight or banished altogether, President Tilghman said May 5.

    "At the moment I am keeping an open mind about all options," including retaining the University's existing policy of non-recognition, Tilghman said in an e-mail to PAW. One way to ban Greek life, she said, would be to require matriculating students to pledge not to join fraternities or sororities...

  • decompensation (medical n.): a system's eventual failure (after adapting to a disorder). Something Greek about it.

  • cadastral (n.): by taxable value; used exclusively for official maps. Wolfish.

  • usufructuary (n.): the holder of a usufruct, a legal right to gain from another person's property; they have the right to use (usus) the property and enjoy its fruits (fructus). I love this, it's like a five-year-old's version of Latin.

  • empennage (n.): Aeroplane tail assembly.

  • Quack Miranda (US adj.): The stock text that bogus alternative medicine and health foods to duck legal responsibility for their passive espionage against medicine and dietetics, a la the mandatory Miranda rights:
    These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  • data turking: generating labelled data via a low-pay artificial artificial intelligence platform.

  • WAR file (n.): Web application ARchive. A Java thing. (I came across `server.war` at work.)

  • ATR (corporate abstract n.): authority to recruit

  • strats (corporate adj.): quant development. Originally a Goldman Sachs term, copied fast. Original contraction isn't defined anywhere, but "strategies".

  • quantoid (adj.): pejorative term for 'quantitative' among (innumerate?) sociologists.
    Also 2) The side of a linear differential equation which is faced by a zero.

See also this list of words Nabokov dug up or invented.


great algorithms reference

From an off-hand comment by Gwern:
Fast, simple, general - a good statistical method lets you choose one; a great method lets you choose two.

Fast Simple General
Y* Y
Neural nets

* Simple to interpret results, not to build well.

London on £25 a day

  • £0.02 : earplugs
  • £16: room in a flatshare with 3 others in far East London.
  • £1.50 : power smoothie breakfast
  • £3 : Tesco lunch
  • £1.50 : Peter Special dinner
  • £1 : Misc (toiletries, friends, whatevs)
  • £0.40 : supplements (amortized)
  • £0.40 : bike maintenance (2 x 6 miles per day commute is hard on it) (amortized)
  • £0.30 : charity shop clothes (amortized)
  • £0.20 : internet
  • £0.00 : council tax (included in rent)
  • £0.00 : library books
  • £0.10 : electricity
  • £0.00 : heating. it's London.

This isn't a minimal per diem - you could live in a car, or benefit from nepotism of some sort - but pretty optimal in 4D nutrition/comfort/employability/thrift space.


slingshot akrasia

Everything on this site was written in the glow and shadow of other things I should have been doing.

This is a further great benefit of work, formal study, and love alike: they pressurise my life. They give me a structure to defy and be inspired by, a gravity assist. I am happiest when laden with obligations, when the set of tasks that is my life flies just out of control, when deadlines tighten. I haven't crunched the data yet (that is, modelled my output vs my obligations) but I am 80% confident that taking on more improves mood and productivity, up to some threshold I haven't found yet.

(To give this vague grandiosity some substance: I'm currently working full-time in a technical field that is new to me, finishing a part-time maths degree, in an intense long-distance relationship, working on four or five software side projects, completing two longish MOOC specialisations, and reading three books.)


I often wonder what kind of person I would be if I had been protected from the cold wind of fate by the screen of wealth... to reach the tawdry heights of being a good assistant book-keeper in a job that is about as demanding as an afternoon nap and offers a salary that gives me just enough to live on.

I know that, had that past existed, I would not now be capable of writing these pages, which, though few, I would undoubtedly have only day-dreamed, given more comfortable circumstances. For banality is a form of intelligence, and reality, especially if it is brutish and rough, forms a natural complement to the soul. Much of what I feel and think I owe to my work as a book-keeper since the former exists as a negation of and flight from the latter.
– Fernando Pessoa

It is just his pipe dream, a vulgar folly he retains simply to prove to himself that men are still men and not the keys of a piano; it is a folly threatened so completely by these laws of nature, that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar. And that is not all: even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then one would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain one's point...

I believe in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!
– Dostoevsky

But the struggle against Plato -- the struggle against the ecclesiastical oppression of millenniums of Christianity... produced in Europe a magnificent tension of soul, such as had not existed anywhere previously; with such a tensely strained bow one can now aim at the furthest goals... we, who are neither Jesuits, nor democrats, nor even sufficiently Germans, we good Europeans, and free, very free spirits -- we have it still, all the distress of spirit and all the tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the duty, and, who knows? The goal to aim at...
– Nietzsche

I have papers to grade, a grant proposal to review, drafts of dissertations to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination...

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, such as gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they find the time. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because accomplishing these tasks is a way of not doing something more important.

If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important...

Doing those tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, you can become a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this approach ignores the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be, by definition, the most important. And the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is the way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being...

The second step in the art of structured procrastination is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list. The ideal projects have two characteristics -- they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't), and they seem awfully important (but really aren't). Luckily, life abounds with such tasks. At universities, the vast majority of tasks fall into those two categories, and I'm sure the same is true for most other institutions...

At this point, the observant reader may feel that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is, in effect, constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly... what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the effects of another?
– John Perry

The best circumstance for writing, I realized... were those in which the world was constantly knocking at your door; in such circumstances, the work you were engaged in generated a kind of pressure, a force to keep the world at bay. Whereas here, on Alonissos, there was nothing to keep at bay, there was no incentive to generate any pressure within the work, and so the surrounding emptiness invaded and dissipated, overwhelmed you with inertia. All you could do was look at the sea and the sky and after a couple of days you could scarcely be bothered to do that.
– Geoff Dyer

[After months of doing only my main goal] I took on a job doing closed captioning because I found it [made for] an easier time writing. Just something about talking to people and watching weird media made the writing a lot easier. My new theory of self was that you can't write well unless you have a little strife in your life. I worked at the closed captioning job for 4-6 months and by then I was making enough money on the site to responsibly quit my job.

The problem was I didn't want to quit my job and have readership fall off because I couldn't write, so my crazy idea was to go back to school. I thought, it'd to be this weird environment, with younger people, and that would be good. At some point I switched over to physics because I thought it was really neat, and the comics improved and got more geeky and were a higher quality.
– Zach Weiner

it is not unless I have a formal obligation to defy that I create anything. Worked out a mechanism for why; call it the pinctadan itch:

1. I am fundamentally childish and require a steady stream of variety. 2. Having a job regularises my week: without extra effort, all days resemble each other. 3. Intolerable resentment ensues. I am forced to produce sparks to satisfy my basic drives.

What can you do? You can vary your surroundings or you can vary the furnishings of your mind. In fact three of the most common broad ways of living divide right down this line - bohemianism (artists, students, hipsters), 'grown-up' professionalism, and nerd culture (which straddles the line).

Work precludes variety in your external surroundings from day to day; so you have to
internalise variety. Bohemian life precludes all sorts of things, but it does let you sample any part of reality which does not require any money or power (insofar as your Couchsurfing and Workaway rep is good)...
– me a while back

I don't know if this is ridiculous or platitudinous: I really think this "slingshot akrasia" (structured procrastination) is a central fact of my psychology. (It is somehow related to how great I feel when I don't have to go to a party, to my sadly efficient approach to my grades, to how giving work to a busy person is a good way of getting it done quicker, i.e. an implausible linear increase of output with increasing things to do.)

It is possible that the grand narration above is delusional, and that the only actual content here is "A lot of people work better under pressure".


entrée Noûs

  1. The brain is constructed entirely of ingested matter.
  2. Knowledge inheres in the brain.*
  3. So knowledge inheres in (metabolised) food.
  4. Food, like all matter, is noumenal, of the external world.
  5. So the mind inheres in the external world.
  6. So there is no metaphysical barrier between mind and world.**
  7. So there is no high-level puzzle about knowledge.***

* Yes, not just in the brain, but this suffices.

** Clearly this does not defeat the radical sceptic in her original, Cartesian internalist problematic. But the best candidate for a philosophical fact is: nothing can. Their simple, hard-reset reply is just: "it's an epistemic barrier, not a metaphysical one".

*** All this leaves to solve are the smaller titanic mysteries of consciousness, phenomenal binding, meaning, apriority, most of the highly unfinished fields neuroscience, cognitive science, behavioural genetics ...


notable denoters

  • Advanced Persistent Threat (infosec n.): In cybersecurity, the worst foe. These people are 'Advanced' relative to a script kiddie or a skilled troll. Better funded, more patient, able and willing to try several different avenues of attack. A state actor (or a corporate black operator in a cyberpunk book). They will get in: the question is if you notice, and how much damage they do when they do.
    A conventional hacker or criminal isn't interested in any particular target. He wants a thousand credit card numbers for fraud, or to break into an account and turn it into a zombie, or whatever. Security against this sort of attacker is relative; as long as you're more secure than almost everyone else, the attackers will go after other people, not you. An APT is different; it's an attacker who -- for whatever reason -- wants to attack you. Against this sort of attacker, the absolute level of your security is what's important. It doesn't matter how secure you are compared to your peers; all that matters is whether you're secure enough to keep him out.

  • polycule (n.): polyamorous molecule. Just a cute word for any poly relationship structure.

  • metamour (n.): Your partner's partner.

  • permtractor (UK n.): permanent contractor: someone who works at a company for an extended period of time without being an employee. For tax reasons, or avoiding granting employee rights. The Revenoo apparently classes it as "disguised employment".

  • SLOP (n.): self-selected listener opinion poll. Perhaps the lowest grade of survey evidence, but rhetorically powerful because we are idiots.

  • PTO (corporate n.): Paid Time Off; HR system which does not distinguish holidays, sick leave, and "personal days". Sounds good, but obvious perversities crop up one uniform cap applied to all: if you get ill after a long holiday, you have to work through it?

  • cotton ceiling (n.): putative exclusion of trans women from high status places in women's lib. Apparently has been presented very foolishly: the original post seemed to shame lesbians for not having sex with trans women. (But, if we had to throw out every concept that was ever used stupidly...)

  • force de frappe (Fr. n.): Strike force: the French nuclear deterrent. Once involved serious land launch capability: but who would want to be next to a Pluton or a Hades?

  • acheteur (Fr n.): Buyer. But it could be anything, just so long as it was grand, high in gravitas and dignite.

  • sqeuclidean (adj. or n.): The squared Euclidean (space). Easier to implement on computers.


data science

If you think academic social science is bad, you should see what goes on in corporations.


Done in February 2017

  • Sat an IQ test. Pride: 1, irrationally *
  • Maths assignment #5, Jacobians and Fourier analysis. Pride: 3.
  • Started making SymPy uni notes. Pride: 4
  • Big idea: an Age of Em visualisation. Pride:
  • Wrote about learning but not internalising. Pride: 3.
  • Wrote a snarky little bit about the qualitative and quantitative. Pride: 1
  • Wrote about Pi and Tau. Pride: 2.
  • Wrote again about the maximum wage. Pride: 1
  • Fixed the pipeline (not my job) with bash and long hours. Pride: 3.

* I once argued with a gay friend about what I saw as misuse of the concept "pride" in world Pride events. You should only be proud of things you have actually done, not just proud of who you are.** I insisted that the broader concept they're looking for - in conducting an intentional, public valuation to counter ancient and systematic degradation - is "esteem".

In the general population, I argued, this confusion is one cause of the vast and hollow parade of achievement-free self-promotion and celebrity, as evidenced by e.g. Instagram. I opined that there was no reason to think that LGBT people would escape this corrosion if the distinction between earned pride and unearned esteem were not popularly upheld.

I further offered three resolutions to the contradiction of a Pride march:
  1. Make it clearer that the pride is due to being out, still a very brave action in most of the world.
    Alternatively, proud of having survived a homophobic upbringing.
  2. Reject the very strong evidence of a genetic influence on orientation, and suggest that all instances of nonheterosexuality are chosen.
  3. Change it to "Esteem".

She replied, "Nah, we'll just alter the usage of 'pride', cos 'esteem' doesn't sound as good".
And I said, "Och, ok."

** Sigh, yes, except insofar as you actually have invented your present self, which is a non-negligible amount for any functioning adult.

notable Worten sind Taten

  • nut 'graph or nut graf (n.): That ugly, mise-en-scene opening paragraph in every news article ever. Tries to answer who, what, why, when, where in two sentences.

  • vanity shingle (US pej. n.): a small film production company founded by a celebrity for projects starring themselves. Incorporates shingle: archaic metonym for a small company, via the chalked signboard showing its name outside; or the set clapperboard?

  • bomb-ass: exemplary; highly laudable; successful, op. cit.

  • gaggle (US n.): an off-camera press conference with the White House Spokesman. Fairly routine, but recently made sinister by selectivity.

  • to calque (v.): to translate word for word, or to give an etymology, instead of actual contextual usage. e.g. this clumsy note from Arrival.

  • garnishment (US n.): an ongoing, court-ordered deduction from your wages. To pay fines or debts. Something about the sound is sinister.

  • erfi (n): the imaginary error function. One day I might stop encountering conventional maths symbols I have never seen before.

  • overdimensionality (n.): property of a dataset: having an excessive number of features given available computations. A tight shibboleth for data scientist or Gnostic Muslim.

  • to handfast (Anglo-Saxon v.): to pledge; to contractually sign.

  • handfasting (n.): 1) C15th Scotland: a marriage, not necessarily permanent by design; 2) appropriations of the latter by hippies (e.g. Jim Morrison).