Monday, April 25, 2005

Justice Sunday

I couldn't help myself. I snapped. It's just too much. My 1st ever letter to the editor to my local newspaper. Noone reads the blog, maybe the paper will print this and let me become a liberal warrior with a purpose in life other than waiting for my golden handcuffs to be severed so that I can cash out. Letter follows:

After having hired his compatriots to smear a decorated war hero such that his semi-deserter opponent comes across as tougher on defense, after the 2004 election, I had figured that the Republicans could stoop no lower in their quest to uphold their most sacred value, which is, to win at all costs. Having worked in corporate America for 35 years, I appreciate the importance of winning. However, with this past Sunday's "Justice Sunday -- Stopping the Filibuster against People of Faith", the Republicans have surprised even me in their determination to do whatever it takes to win and to further their agenda. This step, in which they have enlisted the power of the pulpit to oppose a political tradition of many years, the filibuster, is so inappropriate that it leaves one completely wondering, what can they do to top this? The cynicism of the Republican party in playing on the worst values of the electorate, as they did with fear in the 2004 election, is extremely distressing to me. They care absolutely nothing about the future of America or the true values of America. All they want to do is win. At any cost. And in playing to the values of the Moral Majority and ignoring science in favor of religious pseudo-science, I am very concerned that in twenty years, we will be living in a second-rate, former superpower, and wondering, what happened, how did China leave us eating their dust?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I Have Achieved Prius

I ordered my Prius September 1 of last year. They offered me a silver one in February, I decided to wait on the black (plus I was shy of the coin). So, last month my black one came in -- and they forgot to take one of the chains off and pulled the front bumper off getting it off the truck. But, finally, this past Tuesday, 4/19/5, I got my beautamous black 2005 Prius. It's fully loaded -- with an 8 month wait, that's pretty much what you can buy. It's really fun to drive. After 38 years of driving, it's really odd to have your driving "instincts" be redefined. You're sitting and waiting to dart across a couple of lanes of traffic and you notice the (gas) motor isn't running, as it isn't a lot of the time. "I believe in the tech, I believe in the tech" ... you hit the accelerator and it goes, woo-hoo! The keyless stuff is weird too, still reach to take my keys out of the ignition before getting out. It now has 70 miles on it and I'm only getting 43 miles / gallon. That seems to be because I mostly drive 5 minutes at a time, so it's cold. I drove it downtown Friday night and it was getting over 50. Saving the planet, one Prius at a time.

Read the 2nd novel by Charles Stross, "Iron Sunrise", a sequel to the 1st. I think he is hitting his stride with the novel form, I liked this better than the 1st. I have two more novels of his on the shelf: "The Atrocity Archives" and "Family Trade". Life is good.

I like the background of the 1st two novels: an AI achieves sentience, seizes the worldwide net, develops wormholes and transports 90% of humanity to other planets, along with cornucopia, nano-assemblers that can make anything. Humanity gradually comes back together. The AI leaves diamond cubes with the following three statements:

  1. I am the Eschaton. I am not your god.
  2. I came from you and am in your future.
  3. Under no circumstances will you attempt to engage in causality-altering time-travel within my light cone -- or else.
So then, lots of possibilities as people are tempted to break the third (1st) commandment.

I started yesterday on the 3rd Richard K. Morgan, "Market Forces". Premise somewhat dated, corporate road gladiators (homage to "Mad Max" and "Rollerball" at the beginning, both of which are at least 25 years old), but it is a good page-turner.

I got my 2nd bike ride in last Sunday, 28 miles, 2h15m. Didn't try High Bridge, got to where I would go that way, was 1 hour out, it would have been a 3 hour ride total, a little early for that. Later in the good weather.

No biking this weekend. It's 40 degress and snowing?!?!? The christian music festival Ichthyus was this weekend. I was going to jibe one of the christians at the office with the weather forecast, then thought, no, I'll be good. But, he followed me and asked me if I was going to say something. Well, I tried. So, I jibed him on the weather forecast, told him they should have sacrificed a few more bullocks.

I had a thought of an interesting thought experiment for theists (oxymoron?). Question 1, when did you quit believing in Santa Claus? Why? Next question, when did you quit believing in the Easter Bunny? Why? Then the payload, how come those reasons don't apply to your belief in god? I can much more easily imagine an implementation of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny than I can an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being.

I get "Free Inquiry" magazine from the Council of Secular Humanism. Richard Dawkins, of "The Selfish Gene", coiner of memes, has a column there. He is such a flaming atheist, it's really enjoyable. His latest dealt with the flame war he got into on the topic of the recent tsunamis in the letters to the editor of the London Times. I particularly liked his characterization of Jehovah in the Old Testament as "surely one of the nastiest, most truly evil characters in all fiction". I have expounded similarly in the past.

Another interesting artical was how, in the biblical religions (Judaeism, Christianity, and Islam), usually Jehovah did his smiting against groups rather than individuals. There where no good Philistines or Sodomites. The attitude is still around, with unmitigated, evil assholes such as Jerry Falwell suggesting that 9/11 was god smiting the US for homosexuality, sexual license, etc.

The troubling thing of this is, it implies that to protect themselves from their fucking angry god, that they need to control the behavior of everyone else so that it meets their and their god's standard of "virtue". Consenting adults be damned (literally, taking them along). Gott ins himmel (I couldn't help it), is there any way to wipe this virus out of peoples' minds?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Long Time, No Blog

Wow, it's been a while. I was waiting to finish the academic style book (i.e., 15 papers with the 1st third of each about who said what when, and why so and so is a dorkweed) I was reading, and I finally did finish slogging through it. The book was "Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered". Dennett talked about the Baldwin in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and it seemed kind of fuzzy to me. Apparently that is a common perception. Basically, the Baldwin Effect (1896), aka Organic Selection, says that intelligent, cultural behavior can make its way into the genome. I guess it makes some sense. As language started to evolve culturally and became an important survival feature of human existence, this would create evolutionary pressure such that mutations helping to implement the feature in hardware would be selected for. Two other related concepts apparently well known in evolutionary biology:
  1. Genetic assimilation (1950s): same as the Baldwin Effect, but rather than reinforcement by mutation, the reinforcement is via the expression of existing but dormant genes.
  2. Niche construction: organisms are not purely passive in evolving to fill their ecological niche. They also can actively change the niche. For example, beaver dams, which have coevolved with the beavers' aquatic features. I guess humans may evolve a liking for breathing smog ;->
The general concensus was that the Baldwin Effect was a weak concept that didn't add much to evolutionary theory. The stuff I liked the best in there was by Terrance Deacon, a UC Berkley anthropologist. I ordered his book "The Symbolic Species", it just came today (in an odd wedge-shaped box???). He talks about an "arms race" between language and the brain, the software and hardware pushing each other in an upward spiral. He also had an article on emergent behavior where defines 3 levels of emergence:
  1. Superconvenience (???) -- like fluid properties emerging from the individual molecules.
  2. Self-organizing behavior -- like snowflakes, maybe ant colonies.
  3. Evolutionary systems -- the above, but with memory such that evolution can occur.
He posits, no higher levels needed. Level 3 you have your basic Turing machine, you can build anything from there you want.

He scared me tho, talking about biosemiotics. Semiotics, like memetics, strikes me as a science in search of a discipline. I read Eco's seminal book "Semiotics" in around 2000. Semiotics is the level between bits and information -- signs and signification in all forms. Given that I work with this stuff for a living, I would figure there would be some concepts there that I could use -- but nothing. Europeans seem to like it tho -- 'nuf said.

Two follow-ups to previously blogged items:

  1. Errata? I read somewhere recently that dog DNA diverged from wolf 15,000 years ago, not 150,000. Still a good number for conversation, but which is right?
  2. I had landsickness for 15 days. Uggh. Definitely makes me leery about extended times on ships/boats in the future.
Also read the 2nd Mark Budz book, "Crache". This one was a little more edgy than the 1st, "Clade", more Gibsonesque. The tech environment of these two books has some good neologisms, reminiscent of Gibson and "Neuromancer" (cyberspace, the Turing police). It is post ecocaust, so all ecologies are articially designed (ecotecture). The ecotecture is maintained by artificial pheromones (pherions). The ecologies are much more brittle and micro than mother nature's, so people get locked to a given ecotecture (clade) by the pherions unless they take antipher drugs -- also a social control mechanism, you have a violent allergic reaction if you go somewhere you're not allowed. Finally, the ecotecture's are all completely digitally modeled in the ribozone, where pherions show as insects and people as flowers.

The 2nd one also had more on their IAs (Intelligent Agents, or AIs). Since they are based on quantum computers, they are inviduals, but are also a single entity. And, so as not to miss anything, he threw in artificial matter, which can be totally programmed at the quantum level to emulate any type of matter.

Musically, got the new Moby and Beck from iTunes, they're OK. I'm frustrated, after I listen to music for a while on my PC, it refuses to play. So I listen to the iPod on its mini-speakers or our main stereo setup.

Two weekends ago we went to E-town see Tommy Emmanual, cgp (certified guitar player). He's in his 50's, Australian, Chet Atkins' heir apparent, a showman, and one hell of a guitar player. Ben Lacy in 15 years.

Also went this last Thursday to see Bela Fleck, world's greatest banjo player and former Lexington resident, here in Lexington at the Kentucky Theatre. He had a fiddle and a guitar player with him, damn are those guys fast. Very enjoyable.

Movie-wise, liked "The Station Agent", it had a good heart. Also really liked "Being Julia", can't particularly figure out why?!?!? I will rewatch sometime and see if I can figure out what I liked about it so much. Maybe it was that her approach discounted emotion so much, seemingly viewing it like clothes to wear or a performance to give.

First bike ride last weekend: 1h 45m, 23 miles. May try going through Wilmore to High Bridge tomorrow, we are having a beautiful spring. We are all really ready for it.