Saturday, June 21, 2003

A Trip to the Met

I drove my oldest daughter back to New York City last Saturday. She has moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the East Village in Manhattan and has more room than before and wanted to take some stuff back. We had a high-speed blowout just west of Allentown, PA, with her driving. She did great, got us off the road, then I got to change the tire with semis whizzing by 10 inches away.

Sunday, we had a nice outdoor brunch and then went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had not been there (nor ridden the NYC subways) for 30 years. I had forgotten what a fantastic museum that is.

It is really great going to museums with Erica, who is an artist. She had wanted to see an exhibit of photography by Charles Sheeler. Lots of urban and industrial shots, but focusing on small parts rather than the whole. I learned from this, that doing that, focusing on a small part rather than what we would normally perceive as the whole image, is a flavor of found art. There was also a series of nudes of his 50ish, somewhat overweight wife -- but 6" by 10" sections or very odd angles. Some of them looked like dunes on Mars -- they could have been anything.

We next looked at the statuary court, with the Rodin Burghers bronze. Unbelievable, bronze with eyes that seem to be looking back at you.

Next stop, Oceania and Asmat (New Guinea) ancestor poles. These things were really scary. They are beautifully complex, with human figures one atop the other. From the top person, this thing projects -- the soul, phallus, you couldn't tell what -- a web with a person at the apex. The cards said, the Asmat did not believe in natural death, except in the very young or old. All other death was caused by rival tribes headhunting or sorcerers. When you got down a few tribe members, you would have a big ceremony and carve one of these. If you were down three tribe members, then you left three alcoves or spaces in the carving for the shrunken heads of the enemy tribes you would take to even the score. These things really were haunting -- these people were not running the same software that I am.

We then hit the Impressionists -- unbelievable, a room of Cezanne's, 2 rooms of Renoirs, etc. Then we headed for the modern section. We weren't there long before I knew it was time to go. My brain was starting to hurt. Two hours is about all I can do -- good art really is capable of delivering a psychic shock.

I was somewhat relieved that the next day my mind seemed to be working fine. When I first saw the movie "Brazil", my mind didn't work right for the next couple of days. After I got back from 5 days in France in late March, the French language thread I was running also made my mind feel distinctly different. It really seems like there should be techniques to tweak our software, far more effectively than drugs, meditation, or the other techniques we have. What would those be?

Monday, June 09, 2003

Matrix Reloaded

Saw "Matrix Reloaded" yesterday on my birthday. I had heard some bad reviews from my kids, I was pleasantly suprised. Some of the scenes seem to drag out, but I really enjoyed the software land aspects of it -- that's where I live a lot of the time. So, the Matrix is on version 6.n, and it is time for v7.0, and they have to do a fairly complete reboot for each version. I liked the software only entities -- the Oracle, the Merovingian and his pals -- self-modifying or code-creating utilities from v2 or 3 of the matrix who had escaped deletion.

I believe in strong AI, which posits that mind can be instantiated in hardware other than the human brain (More on this in the future.) Matrix Reloaded takes that for granted, and is a major step past Matrix 1, which was more that humans could plug into VR (Virtual Reality).

I had intended to have more reviews of AI and cognitive science books here as I read them -- but -- haven't read that many lately. Overwork is the main factor, plus my son got me reading the George R.R. Martin "A Game of Thrones" and "A Clash of Kings". I don't read much fantasy anymore, but these are good escapist fare, and are written for adults. But -- 9 narrative threads, 1800 pages, no way he can wrap this in a third (fourth? fifth? ...) book.

Rule of thumb for the standard modern novel: minimum 100 pages per narrative thread. A couple of William Gibson's mid-career books violate this (too short by 100 pages are so) -- I formulated this when I noticed that the novels seemed "sketchy".

Saturday, June 07, 2003

My Three Best Blasphemies

Whew, code is frozen or at least slushy. I worked 270 hours in May. I'm getting too old for this shit. Still, lots of good code in the can is always satifying.

I feel like I've lost my "train of blog", so, now for something completely different.

I was raised religious (Catholic altar boy, but no molestations that I remember) and was really into it. At about 14, I decided it didn't work and quit going to church, etc. In my college years, I read up a lot on other religions, mysticism, etc. I'm now a militant atheist. I didn't used to be so militant, but it seems like the christians are trying so hard to ram their crap down everyone else's throat that we've got to fight back. "Creation Science" (an oxymoron) in the schools, legislated morality, annoying blue laws (no buying beer on Sunday) here in Lexington. You're not supposed to discuss religion and politics, screw it. The only thing bad about arguing with christians is that they don't have any good arguments.

My kids are all (but one) pretty much atheist. They have remarked about how in discussions with theistic friends, how sad it is when that person's religious beliefs kick in and part of their minds shut down. My youngest told me a couple of months ago, trying to believe in god for her would be like trying to believe in Santa Claus -- very silly.

Anyway, on to my three best blasphemies. The first two are from around 10 years ago, the latest just a couple of months ago.

  1. Around Easter, someone in the office was espousing the power of prayer, miracles happen, blah, blah, blah. My response was "Well, I have been fairly lucky, no major tragedies, maybe if something serious were to happen to one of my kids, I'd be down on my knees trying to suck god's dick like you are." Hopefully at this point, I don't think I would be.
  2. A few weeks after that, someone else was talking about the power of god, jehovah in particular. I told him "I have it on reliable authority that jehovah is being butt-fucked by the easter bunny anytime the bunny feels like it." There was some serious scattering for cover to avoid the lightning after that one.
  3. This past Easter (seems like a good time for blasphemy ;->) I don't remember what triggered it or who I delivered this to, but I came up with: "They discovered the Lost Gospel of Mary Magdalene. It's a tell-all, and one of the things she reveals is that Jesus only had a 4 inch dick."
I knock on wood against the jinx, I loved the Greek tragedies where one of the major character flaws was hubris before the gods, but give me Ulysses every time. Ten years of sailing is worth telling the gods off.

I wonder about the future of religion. Will the race outgrow the need? In the US, the megachurches are more like country or social clubs than religions. Religion as a behavior control mechanism is pretty dead in the US (but thriving in Islamic countries!). Yah, it's harder to live without someone telling you there are easy answers and that you don't have to die. But, to use religion as an opiate for the masses goes way beyond my level of cynicism. Engineering religions like the Bene Gesserit in Dune seems evil. The right thing to do is, make everyone smarter and fix the bad stuff in their heads.