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Showing posts from 2017

Been reading, Q2 2017

‘Fall’ (2012) by Victoria Reichelt. I can only really evaluate the truth of a book if it is on a topic I already know about. But books on topics I know about already are not nearly as worth reading as ones on new topics.

So, to maximise nonfiction, I need to know if a book is accurate before I read it. (Or, better, I need to know where exactly it is inaccurate.) This could be got using extremely detailed reviews by extremely involved experts - but they themselves would be wasting their time reading things they already know about. And reviews are generally too brief for this, even in academic journals or dedicated blogs; they gesture at one or two mistakes as a way of casting inductive aspersions on the whole. So what I really need is a wiki for errors and dishonesties, to spread out the Augean doings of journalists and average authors.

I don't read much fiction because I prefer reading people who know things. (That looks like a dreadful slander on novelists, but consider: …

notable bit buckets

bit bucket (n.): 1) Figurative location wherein all lost data resides; data heaven; 2) a null device or placeholder bitstream, for removing useless data: e.g. '/dev/null' on Linux; 3) an IT product by the giant meta-IT company Atlassian; 4) Literal location underneath the front hopper of a 1960s computer, which collected the used bits of punch cards. Here is the bit bucket for the (60 year!) CosRay experiment in McMurdo Antarctic Research Station:
rainbow bridge (post-Christian n.): A Heaven for nonhumans, particularly pets. So named in a clickbait prose poem of the 1990s. I have seen this used sincerely for the afterlife in general, hence "post-Christian": I said in my heart, “Concerning the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” /
For what happens to the sons of men happens also to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, fo…

the private and social

I paid tuition for the first time today. (£500 on a Bayesian modelling course.) So ends twenty-one years of perfectly gratuitous education. 1995 - 2002: Mediocre primary. Times tables, insect and tadpole lifecycles, forced sports, the globe, the War, playground torture. I remember them running out of maths resources for me in my last year. The world's end. I built Meccano towers instead.
2002 - 2008: Scottish generalism: that is, a weak grounding in everything. Excellent banal German vocabulary, which has stuck with me. Bad maths instruction, merely algorithmic, but going up to complex numbers and basic optimisation. Ordinary literature (Shakespeare, 'Of Mice and Men', 'Handmaid's Tale', Coleridge, MacCaig). Keyboards, saxophone, anacrusis and William Walton. World War I and the Clearances. Memorising Ohm's law and the Krebs cycle. Pissing about with acrylic all afternoon with Radio 1 on. Hundreds of hours doodling mindlessly. I experimented on my peers, gett…


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 appropriation.

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 m…

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…

notable notches on the bedpost of liiiife

to red team (US military v.): to attack your own side, to test the soundness of their defence. See also pentest.

rah (UK n.) or Rah-Rah (US n.): brash upper-class young man. A preppy boor.

the Real Book (70s, US n.): illicit book of jazz scores, including melody lines, photocopied by generations of American music students. A phenomenal playlist. The biggest jazz sheet book ever.

manel (n.): Man panel; public speaking session with no women. (Not including the chair, for some reason.) People are angry about this, because they take manels to constitute a claim that no women know anything about the topic. This is a bit strong.

government name (US gang n.): birth name; source of embarrassment for thugs with edgy nicknames. See also (UK) Sunday name: "Aye, ma name's Bet - oh bit ma Sunday name's Elizabeth.".

the note (cinema n.): the impression a character gives in their first scene, setting the tone for them. By analogy with a tuning fork. Hard to google.

nasty little probl…

notable thought vectors

thought vector (ML n.): digital representation of an idea; a series of numbers produced by embedding e.g. the words "cow", "heifer", and "Aberdeen Angus" in several languages, but also (speculative) alltheseimages.

if you can convert each sentence in a document into a vector, then you can take that sequence of vectors and [try to model] natural reasoning. And that was something that old fashioned AI could never do.

If we can read every English document on the web, and turn each sentence into a thought vector, you've got plenty of data for training a system that can reason like people do. (Now, you might not want it to reason like people do, but at least we can see what they would think.)

What I think is going to happen over the next few years is this ability to turn sentences into thought vectors is going to rapidly change the level at which we can understand documents.
A big ass deal.

Of course, it is not computationally possible to deal with t…


My nation is a dress uniform, like all nations. Distinctive, colourful, old, mass-produced. Six sizes too big. If I wear it I am legible to you, you I haven't met. It veils me when I meet you and don't want to be met by you. It lives in the cupboard (I don't have to meet many people).

It's usually nice to own it - something to don when surrounded by notional barbarians, to set myself apart in my different barbarism. Though often people point to it, saying that I am my frock coat, or that I'm wearing my frock coat when I'm not wearing it. This isn't fun, as no forced game is fun. At least my coat isn't caked in shit and blood, like yours. (Like all coats, it is caked in shit and blood, but at least mine isn't on the outside.)

Like all regiments, my regiment thinks it is special: not many people have these coats. But wearing any coat makes you less rare: you leave your kingdom singly for a low foothold on Leviathan.

No one will spit on my coat…

thole thule

Pale rulered ceiling low.
The fog a second sky at ten paces.
Your breath a third foglet.
You'd review harshly a film ending
among this melodramatic a cloud chamber,
lazy with meteorological ellipsis.

Away, you forget endmost
Grampian, the uniformity and wall-eyed mist.
Back, grey cries for colour: quayside tattoos,
neon dye, Jäger. Colour isn't given.

Nae thermo, nae sae dynamic. (Ootsides, onywauy.)
Folk thole the grey reef lang enou,
puddle in the sea, hoovering
at livid macroeconomic cracks.
Abdy oxidates, no white-het but blue.
A'hin blurs. A'hin levels. A'hin mixes. A'hin cools.

notable signage, postage, and oral topiary

incel (n.): involuntary celibate. Tends to be used by terribly bitter people. Ozy Frantz is trying to reclaim the term, since the problem is a real one.
foofaraw (West US n.): pomp, fuss, ruckus.
sinter (metallurgy v.): to fuse things into a solid without heating them to liquefaction. Think making a vicious snowball out of powder. Useful for ultra-high-melting-point things like tungsten.
zero-rating (telecomms n.): Offering free mobile data, usually for very limited things like app stores or Facebook. A good form of price discrimination - but legislators oftenban it in the name of net neutrality, creating equality by running among fields with a running chainsaw. Common in the developing world - best of all, for Wikipedia.
dead mileage (n.): non-profitable movement of commercial vehicles, for maintenance or live placement.
to deadhead (v.): to travel, as staff, using dead mileage.
data sleaze (n.): customer data obtained secretly by businesses, secretly sold on. Almost all 'free' se…

How many hours have I spent on maths?

(or, rather, How many hours have I spent explicitly doing maths?) Formal education Preschool. 300 hours of counting?
Primary school. (4? per week * 40 weeks x 7 years) = 1100
Secondary school (6 years)
S1+S2: (3? per week * 40 weeks * 2) + homework (80), revision (40) = 360
Standard Grade: (3? per week * 40 weeks * 2) + homework (160), revision (50) = 450
Higher Maths: (3 per week * 40) + homework (100), revision (100) = 320
Physics: (2 * 40 * 1) + home (50) + revision (50) = 180
Chemistry: (2 * 40 * 1) + home (50) + revision (50) = 180
=~ 1800
Higher education
Economics = (4 hours * 24 weeks * 4 years) + homework (200) + revision (200) + thesis (100) = 900
Cryptography = 100
Half a BSc in Maths = 16 hours per assignment x 23 assignments + (60 hours study x 4 courses) = 600
~ 1600
~ 5000 hours.

My own writing hasn't been very mathematical so far. But I've done a bunch of recreational bits and warmup pieces, and read books like GEB and Chaos.
~ 200 h…

notable nah

threeper (US n.): A 'Three Percenter', member of a post-Obama movement of private militias. Mostly hunting Mexicans along the border and fuming about what Alex Jones tells them about the government. 'Obama as globalist', 'blue hats invading', 'sheeple', 'chemtrails': it's all in there.
screecham (Shetland n.): whisky. See also skreigh, from 'shriek'.
Terminus (Lt. proper n.): Roman god of boundaries. This made me laugh: His statue was merely a stone or post stuck in the ground to distinguish between properties..
kindness sandwich (Lt. proper n.): Gentle criticism, tempered by putting the corrective inbetween two compliments. See also bumblebee nickname ("Cute, but it stings.")
AFOL (n.): Adult Fan of Lego.
veg (gamer pej. adj.): vegetative; of wasting time on games. To veg out is established British slang, but the adjectival form is new to me: "You've got a really veg profile."
egofag (4chan pej. n.): An attention-…