Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 8, 2008

Follow-up: Hans Reiser Leads Police to Wife’s Body

Filed under: culture, random — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:00 am

Han Reiser led police to the remains of his wifeI have a post with a bit of background, and link to Wired’s spectacular article about the circumstances surrounding the case.

As it turns out, Sean Sturgeon was a bit of a red herring.

In the end, there really is no nerd defense.  If there was any bias in the Wired article, it was probably too sympathetic to Reiser.  After all, he is a prototypical American nerd, undeniably brilliant, socially awkward, a person who escapes to an alternate, violent, but structured fantasy.  Nevertheless, he murdered someone.  All the sympathy goes to the victim of his crime.

There are acts we cannot undo.  Acts that should have never been committed in the first place.  The only hope now is that he recognizes the horrible cost of his crime and may he spend the rest of his days humbly atoning for this sin.

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April 1, 2008

The Information Conundrum

Filed under: books, culture, random — codesmithy @ 7:56 am

Rachel Donadio had an amusing piece in the New York Times titled “It’s Not You, It’s Your Books.”  Like some people described in the article, I do think that what you read is indicative of tastes, intellectual curiosity, education level, etc. which is probably as good an insight into basic compatibility as any other.  If someone hates “Catch-22”, I would be curious to find out why, since it is one of my favorites.  If they can’t justify it with anything more than “it was stupid” then that would appear to be a show-stopper.

However, dumping someone over Pushkin seems a little bit arbitrary.  There are countless brilliant authors.  Singling one work or author out would seem to cull a great number, but I guess to each their own.

I do have sympathy for the people who suffer the Ayn Rand fans.  The woman is rather polarizing.  Rand provides a complete philosophy and world-view that appeals to certain people.  It provides a theory of everything that these people find compelling.  As far as literature is concerned, it isn’t the best.  That, however, is precisely the point.  It is straight-forward, well-structured, and reassuring.  Her style compliments the industry she lauds.  Rand, in many ways, is supposed to embody the ideal.  The difference between the reality and the fantasy is best paralleled by Rand’s heroines and Rand herself.

Alas, I digress.   The larger point is the information conundrum.  An underlying current of the essay is that more information is now available before two people even meet.  While, this may at first be more efficient, it has its own set of concerns.  One concern is disqualifying information.  By putting too much information out, there will more a chance that a potential date will find something that they will not like even before they technically ask.  Good for the ask-er, not so great for the ask-ee.  Second, people don’t actually know what they are looking for in another person.  Maybe, there is a suitable suitor who has never heard of Pushkin.  Third, people game the system.  The most important piece of information is seldom the one expressed, but rather the ones left out.

Social norms have not adjusted for the vast amounts of information that is now readily available with the barest modicum of digging.  Much of it is just an adjustment in expectations.  Although, if there is one truth it is the difficulty in applying the same standards to ourselves as we apply to other people.  What do you think you look like to an outside observer?

January 1, 2008

Human, All Too Human: Nietzsche

Filed under: environment, random, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:02 am

Google video has a BBC documentary on Friedrich Nietzsche. He is most famous for phrase “God is dead.” I think the exact meaning was missed by those who promote the humorous but vindictive:

Nietzsche: God is Dead.
God: Nietzsche is Dead.

What Nietzsche was predicting was an existential crisis. Certain discoveries, not the least of which being evolution, challenged the need for a supernatural entity to explain the world. God had been an intellectual underpinning of much philosophical thought. Without God, much of what was previously believed was called into question. This upheaval and void is what Nietzsche was concerned with. Is it possible for humanity to have a transcendental purpose without God?

Nietzsche’s answer is focus inward on the so called super-men. This is a theme in Ayn Rand’s work also, where man’s transcendental purpose is industry. I have my own answer, and it is our collective survival as a species. To transform the species from an unstoppable cancer on the planet to one that is sustainable and can co-exist in perpetuity. Although collective survival seems base to begin with it, in the end it may prove to be the most necessary and challenging task, especially in a world with no hope of supernatural intervention.

December 9, 2007

Utopia vs. Democracy

Filed under: culture, politics, random — Tags: , , , , — codesmithy @ 12:10 pm

The Register has an article about the feud between Wikipedia and Overstock.com. The piece is basic stenography for the Overstock.com view of the matter. It laments the horrible elite that have established a form of Web “totalitarianism,” undemocratically rejecting other points of view.

The plight of the undemocratic ruling elite of Wikipedia is hardly unique. Other sites, such as Digg and Slashdot, have had similar problems in their short histories, whether it be in the realm of criticism or potential legal issues. Wikipedia’s situation is more precarious than others because unlike other sites, where everyone can say their peace and there is no need for resolution, Wikipedia entries force people to agree on one version. In this respect, the discussion is as important, if not more important, than the end result. However, Wikipedia’s challenge is unique because not everyone plays by the rules: intellectual honesty, openness to other points of view, due diligence to be informed, etc.

One of the things that has impressed me about “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” by Stephen Kinzer is how effective the United States was in exploiting openness in some of the governments we helped overthrow, particularly Iran, Guatemala, and Chile. All three were democracies. Fidel Castro used to taunt the United States by declaring: “Cuba is not Guatemala!” (pg. 206) Given the United States’ ability to overthrow other governments, one cannot help but conclude that Cuba’s closed society under Castro helped it resist the outside influence of the United States in ways more open societies could not.

The sobering conclusion is that democracy and an open society it requires are not utopias. However much I endorse egalitarian ideas, I also have to respect the fact it might require undemocratic means to defend them. These ruling cliques might be a necessary defense mechanism to protect the site from abuse. The legitimate question is not whether it is necessary to empower people with special privileges, but rather how are privileges determined, how do we determine who to empower, and what oversight is there to ensure those powers are being used properly? The flawed assumption of the ruling clique is that they are doing “good” or they know what is “best.” The assumption of “good intentions” must always be forcefully challenged.

The relevant point is that better implementation of egalitarian ideas would not fill the world with people that I like such as, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman or Noam Chomsky, to name a few. I would also have to accept a world with Alex Jones and his followers in it.

For example, Ron Paul is currently one of the biggest recipients of a grassroots movement. What do his supporters deliver to help his campaign (besides a lot of cash)? A blimp. It brings a smile to my face, but I don’t think it is something that Dr. Paul asked for. However, his anything goes libertarianism is a perfect match for the innovative supporters that took it upon themselves to help him get elected. At the rate that the Republican front-runners keep on self-destructing, I would say he has as good a chance as anyone at this point. (If Dr. Paul does get the Republican nomination, I can’t wait to see the Republican national convention.)

In short, democracy is not a way to obtain the result that one agrees with. So, if you have a poll to name a whale and are expecting some name that matches your sensibilities such as: Anahi, Kaimana, Shanti, Suzuki, Aurora or Humphrey. Don’t be surprised if the result turns out to be: Mr. Splashy Pants. Empowering certain people may be necessary to protect the system from abuse from illegitimate influence, however there is always a persistent internal danger that those who are empowered will also use their power illegitimately against members of the community. Therefore, the most dangerous person to empower is a utopianist or a fundamentalist. Such people are, by definition, incapable of seeing the downsides to their agenda, or properly understanding why people do not agree with their point of view.  Unfortunately, fundamentalism is far too easy a trap for anyone to fall into, and that is why it is important to have a blimp or a whale named Mr. Splashy Pants to remind us.

December 1, 2007

The Spell of Delusion

Filed under: culture, politics, random — Tags: — codesmithy @ 1:37 pm

The video above is a fight between a supposed kiai master and another martial artist. Kiai is term for “uniting spirit energy” or “concentrated spirit.” In practical martial arts, kiai may be a useful concept. When attempting to break a board with one’s bare hand, it may more useful to be concentrating on technique and what needs to be done mechanically rather than say, how much one’s hand may hurt afterwards. However, the kiai master has taken what may be a useful concept and taken it to an irrational, delusional extreme. He’s used a legitimate concept and claims to perfected to such a degree that it has given him mystical, god-like powers. Who can doubt him? He claims a 200-0 record and offers $5,000 to any challenger that can defeat him. A lack of challengers willing to claim this lucrative prize is proof of the kiai master’s formidableness. That is until a skilled opponent takes him up on his challenge.

Certain traits of the conventional martial artist are useful recognize. First of all, he started off cautious. He didn’t know what the kiai master actual skill was, so he defended himself and observed. The kiai master could have been very skilled in spite of the theater he usually displayed. After the conventional martial artist was sufficiently convinced that the kiai master did not know what he was doing, the pounding began. The kiai master did not know how to react when his arm got grabbed, nor had the technique, or reactions necessary to avoid that eventuality.

In the end, it is clear who had a firmer grasp on reality. However, the important point is not only peril of delusional thinking, but also how it invites disaster. If the kiai master were not so convinced of his mystical powers, it is unclear why he would have gotten into a match with a black-belt. It could be that he painted himself into a corner and just followed it through to the logical conclusion at every step because he didn’t see how he could derail it. Maybe he believed he actually had a chance, or would luck out. But, the reason for the match was to test the kiai master’s bold claims. It wasn’t just that he lost a fight, he was instrumental in setting up the fight at every stage. The standard practice is to insert some disagreeable terms such as the $1 million Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenge.

In order to disprove the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads, I will ultimately need you to provide the following:

1) The journal you maintained during your service in Vietnam.
2) Your military record, specifically your service records for the years 1971-1978, and copies of all movies and tapes made during your service.

This is known as welching on a bet, or moving the goal-posts. However in the kiai master’s case, it would have avoided two punches and a kick to the face.

Delusion is a peculiar problem in a liberal democracy, namely, what if the majority of people are under the influence of a delusion that is counterproductive to progress, fails to address problems, or quite possibly openly invites disaster?

Rousseau argued that actual freedom is obtained by submitting to the “general will.” A true citizen is not free to do as one pleases, but what one would do according to framework of rational inquiry and moral precepts such as equality and the rule of law. Clearly, the masses do not produce better results if their opinions are uniformed, arrived at incorrectly, biased, etc. There are perfectly valid disagreements even if all parties subscribe to “general will” principles. However, the underlying problem is that it is difficult to get agreement merely on the principles, or at least, honest adherence. If the necessary preconditions are ignored, democracy will not produce better results than any other form of government, and quite possibly will perform worse.

Therefore, delusion is actually a cancer of democracy that must be fought without crossing over into oppression in order to fully unlock the true human potential. It calls for a paradoxical combination of conviction and humility, certainty and doubt. Failure to do so can lead to a collective disaster similar to what the kiai master experienced.

July 15, 2007

Incorrect Mathematical Proofs

Filed under: math, random — codesmithy @ 2:37 am

Digg ran a story that showed an fallacious proof that 1 = 2 using complex numbers. This is a rehash of the 0 = 1 fallacy. Which goes something like this.

  1. a = b
  2. a – b = 0 (subtract both sides by b)
  3. (a – b)/(a – b) = 0 / (a-b) (divide both sides by a – b)
  4. 1 = 0 (simplify)

Although there tends to be some steps in between to mask the a – b step. Since a and b are equal, we are clearly dividing by zero producing the nonsensical result. The divide by 0 is a common caveat that might be forgotten in the factor and divide rule, especially when it is masked by unknowns.

In more advanced math, more seeming oddities can sometimes arise. Such as the following proof, posted in the thread discussion.

  1. e^(pi * i) + 1 = 0
  2. e^(pi * i) = -1 (subtract 1)
  3. e^(pi * i) * e^(pi * i) = 1 (square both sides)
  4. ln e^(2 * pi * i) = ln 1 (take the ln of both sides)
  5. 2 * pi * i = 0 (simplify)

Every thing is fine up to step 5. Although, it looks fairly innocuous. Because ln is usually defined as ln y = x where y = e^x, so it would seem that ln e^x would be x, by definition. Although, the way we evaluate e^(y) changes slightly when y is complex. Namely, e^(a + b * i) = e^a * cos(b) + e^a * sin(b) * i. Therefore, the ln must take this into account, the proper definition for complex numbers is ln(e^a * cos(b) + e^a * sin(b) * i) = a + b * i. In short, we can’t leave the i in the exponent when dealing with complex numbers and taking the ln.

Using the correct definition, we evaluate e^(2 * pi * i) = 1 * cos(2*pi) + 1 * sin(2 * pi) * i = 1 + 0i = 1. ln 1 = 0, where we reach the correct solution.

This particular fallacy is possibly because of the nature of the sin and cos evaluation, it is fairly trivial to prove e^(a + b * i) = e^(a + (2 * pi * k + b) * i) where k is an integer, which this particular fallacious proof was exploiting in a hidden way. Since, everyone would recognize e^(2 * pi * i) = e^0, ln e^0 = 0.

July 3, 2007

Computers Can’t Beat Humans at Go (yet), So What?

Filed under: culture, programming, random — codesmithy @ 8:52 am

Times Online had an article about computers, currently, can’t beat humans at Go. I hate the tone of the article; the subtle arrogance. After Gary Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, it marked an achievement. Not one man over a machine, but a team of men’s ingenious designs against one man. The machine was just an instrument of no escape. It calculated with mathematical precision, each possible move, considered every possibility, until it used the rules that the programmers decided to conclude what move had the best chance of victory. I’m sure another team of people sat down and decided to come up with a program that could defeat Deep Blue, they could.

The point is, that the attempt to defeat one of the greatest chess minds alive with a device, is a societal achievement, not the machine’s. The fact that the machines could toss aside amateurs years before, seems of no consequence.  If the achievement was solely for the machine, we would remove silly constraints on time. I mean, a computer could play a single game of Go or chess for 100’s of years, where as I doubt a human would care to. The other fact is $1,000,000 is not a lot of money. That would probably buy, at most, one Ph.D. in Computer Science for 10 years. How long do people learn Go for, before they become competent players?  How much do the professional Go players earn collectively?

Invariably, the problem isn’t with computer, and it is certainly not because it lacks

adaptation to uncertainty, intuition, wisdom, the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and a sense of mortality

Pattern recognition is fundamentally a hard problem.  But, our brains are adept at handling it.  Unfortunately, our system is also far from perfect, in that we are hard wired to see faces and patterns, which is why we get potato chips that apparently look like Elvis to Jesus.  Teaching a computer to recognize this garbage as a face would be deemed unacceptable, however we seem to be perfectly happy with human imperfections.

As another example, there was a time when I was in a 3-D modeling program, and I was looking at a head model.  I was inside the model.  Something I can usually easily discern.  But, the problem was that this was a face.  So my brain was flipping it for me, causing me to be utterly confused.  Optical illusions are a collection of all types of tricks to get the brain to see things that aren’t really there.  Do we blame the computer for not having these flaws?

If we ultimately are going to create an Artificial Intelligence, it would sad to handicap it with all of our imperfections.  Nor should we applaud the fact that there are a few things, that by evolution, we are good at doing but unable to explain.  Our mechanisms for detecting faces and general pattern recognition took thousands if not millions of years to develop.  To fault our ability to design a machine in the last 50 that can do a better job than the most sophisticated parts of the brain is not giving our evolution enough credit and placing too much heed to our collective intellect.

That said, to applaud the inability of a computer to do something is to applaud our ignorance, our impatience, our superstition, and our hubris.  It is revel in the Dark Ages of humanity.  It is to rail against progress, achievement and the collective human intellect.  It is for these reasons I find the undertones of the article so despicable.

July 2, 2007

iPhone Speculation

Filed under: capitalism, random — codesmithy @ 9:00 am

I was amused at the story of a woman who tried to purchase all the iPhones at an AT&T Store.  I am not surprised that she tried it, since the game is usually not to open the package, and just return it to the store if it doesn’t sell.

However, there were multiple factors working against her.  First, there were planned to be 3 million units at launch.  Meaning, demand was very unlikely to exceed supply.  Secondly, the iPhone was released in the middle of summer.  Although, there are people who are willing to pay a lot of money for the device, the time that speculation usually goes through the roof is for Christmas.  It is unlikely, even if she did buy out the entire store, that she would have made back the $800 she paid to the first guy in line.  The thing that makes the speculation market go through the roof is the proximity to Christmas.  If it is “the” gift to give for that particular year, then the price goes up as people desperately try to acquire one before the Christmas deadline, usually for some one else.  It is the selflessness that is a significant part of the pay any price mentality, which is really the sweet-spot of speculation.  The iPhone does not exist in that demographic as of yet.  She would have had to sold them, literally on the day of purchase.

Although, from her perspective, she had nothing to lose.  Maybe those factors were working against her but, if she had the capital, it would not have hurt to try.  Obviously, the limit of one per customer effectively killed her plan.

Which is the problem with speculation, since the item has a value that doesn’t depreciate quickly, you drive the price up the demand curve by artificially manipulating the demand and supply, gaming the system.  The other alternative is to make the customer pay a restocking fee upon return, so simply returning them to the store is not a zero loss proposition for the speculator.  However, that scheme punishes some legitimate cases also, so it might be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.  That said, it is nice to see that chicanery of this kind punished rather than rewarded, even if it is as trivial of a matter as a gadget.

July 1, 2007

Hans Reiser

Filed under: culture, random — codesmithy @ 7:21 am

Hans Reiser is a programmer that created a journaling file-system named after himself, reiserfs, for Linux. When I first learned of Reiserfs, it was a few years ago when I was still dabbling with alternative operating systems. My understanding was that Reiserfs gives Linux much of the functionality that was available in BeOS file system and there were a couple of competitors in the space: ext3, JFS, and XFS.

I was put off at the time because it was a separate patch, so you’d have to download the patch, track down the patch matched your version of the linux kernel source, recompile the kernel, and then install it. Then cross your fingers that your system wouldn’t die a hard death causing the need to reinstall the old kernel.

So there is the arcana of technology, a person that one has heard of, but didn’t pay much attention too.  Then comes the story that Hans Reiser was accused of murdering his wife. The circumstances around the case are truly bizarre. From the eccentric personality of Reiser himself, advocating exposing his children to violent forms of media, to his wife, a doctor, and Russian bride, to his “friend” Sean Sturgeon who was having an affair with Reiser’s wife, an admitted murderer of eight people, bisexual [added for descriptive not pejorative reasons] with a penchant for bondage and sadomasochism, the case is truly bizarre.

The most damning evidence against Reiser is the front passenger seat was recently removed his mother’s Honda CRX, which he had borrowed during the time around when his wife disappeared and was seemingly was trying to hide.

It was fascinating read, but I won’t venture a guess to his guilt or innocence. I don’t think all the twists are over in the case.

June 24, 2007

Sublime (Raw Feed): Tangental Review

Filed under: film, music, random — codesmithy @ 11:25 pm

I watched Sublime. The film was OK in and of itself. I wanted to like it more than I did, but the script had all the subtly of a sledgehammer. Some subtly and tact is required to be a thinking-man’s horror movie which it had a pretense of being (see “The Filmmakers’ POV” by Erik Jendersen, who was the writer for the film). It literally had just enough political edge to it to piss everyone off. The liberals for the babble of how they are really afraid of the world. Conservatives for suggesting that a persistent-vegetative state might be a living mental hell. George Grieves fears are so cookie-cutter in some ways, the character ends up feeling wooden (how is that for mixing metaphors?). Although, it could merely be that the fears themselves were not properly developed, which is the typical problem with B budget movies: great ideas ruined by awful execution, often caused by taking too much for granted.

Here is the trailer for the film.

Now, I happened to like the music in the trailer quite a bit. Unfortunately, I had a hard-time tracking it down. When I actually rented the film it was relatively easy since all I had to do was watch the credits. Although, before I rented it, I tried my usual scheme for tracking down songs that I only know a piece of. It failed miserably in this particular case. One, it is hard to make out the actual lyrics with the dialog going. As it turned out, I couldn’t discern the right lyrics, although even if I had, it wouldn’t have helped me, since they don’t seem to be posted online (at least, to a place where google will find them). Sublime, is unfortunately, also the name of a popular band which polluted the results using the actual name of the film. The CD that the songs are actually on isn’t called the “sublime soundtrack.” So after hours of searching online, I had little help. After I watched the film, it gave me the essential information: “Bird York.” The music in the trailer actually turns out to be two songs, but the majority of it is “Go With It” by Bird York on the album “Go With It – songs from Sublime.” As for an additional bit of trivia, Bird York is also known as Kathleen York, who plays Jennifer Grieves in the film (George Grieves’ Wife).

I guess I need to add “songs from X” or “music from X” when searching.

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