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Silent as:
Wednesday, July 3, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So does lack of sleep give anyone (else) olfactory hallucinations? I was smelling this bizarro musty smell on and off all yesterday (I had to leave my office at one point), and on one else seemed to smell it.

Found unaccountably in the referer log: apparently, it lights up.

But enough of the serious stuff.

Here's a readable and interesting Reason links page about the Pledge of A. Lots of viral meme complexes in the news recently: "Under God", and school vouchers, and that whole big Israel / Palestine thing. Not to mention questions about what significance we should attach to the fact that Certain Bad Guys belong to a Certain Religion.

Lileks seems to want to claim that "Western culture" is better than "Arab culture". He points out that some Arab guys did something that killed a little girl, and that some other Arab guys (apparently) expressed the opinion that it was a good thing. He points out that no Western leader said it was a good thing. (He doesn't show a picture of an Iraqi child, or quote Madeline Albright saying "we think it's worth it".)

I agree with most of Lileks' specifics: the things he says are bad I generally agree are bad, the things he says are good I generally agree are good. But I think it's wrong to couch it as "Western Culture" versus "Arab Culture". Both of those phrases encompass a huge collection of meme complexes; Lileks has selected some bad ones from the "Arab" part, contrasted with some good ones from the "Western" part.

I like meme complexes that encourage truth, and freedom, and rationality, and kindness. I dislike meme complexes that encourage hierarchies of power, unthinking obedience, subservience to an imaginary friend in the sky. One could try to do a weighted sum of the different kinds of complexes present in the meta-complexes most naturally called "Arab" and "Western", and come out with some comparative goodness number. Maybe "Western" would come out ahead of "Arab" in that comparison (or, especially if you looked over the longer course of history, maybe it wouldn't).

But that's really beside the point.

Reason and truth and freedom and kindness are good. Unreason and falsehood and involuntary servitude and meanness are bad. "Western culture is superior to Arab culture", on the other hand, is fuzzy and ambiguous and overgeneralized, and has connotations that make you sound like an asshole.

So let's keep it simple, I say.

Monday, July 1, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

"Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression."

Look for these people to be declared enemy combatants any day now. Similarly for furrin newspapers that print their words.

From NTK, something they quite accurately describe as "World's Funniest IRC". See the wired youth of tomorrow saying incredibly silly things! Marvel at their obsessive interest in fellatio!

Another reference to the DTPA, thanks to Considered Harmful.

If I seem a little distracted lately? It's probably because I've somehow started playing Alpha Centauri again? Which is probably a really bad idea?

I said to the little daughter the other day: "hey, we have this network in the house now, we should be able to play some multi-player games!" Alpha Centauri was the first one she thought of, and although the multi-player support seems sort of wonky and prone to crashes, we got enough of a taste of it to get us both back to playing the one-player version more than we should.

(At least she hasn't mentioned Doom Deathmatch yet.)

I told M at about 10:30 that I'd just stay up a little longer to do a few things I hadn't done, a few moves of Alpha Centauri, a brief weblog posting. And then just as I was about to save and quit the U.N. faction attacked a Morganite base that I (the University) just happened to have a unit sitting in, which leads to an automatic state of war, and it was during a communications blackout so I couldn't negotiate a peace, and a few turns later the Spartans (with whom I'm unfortunately sharing a continent) declared war on me also just to be annoying (although they're also at war with the U.N.), and it's taken me until now (nearly 2am) to get back at peace with both of them. Whew!

So now I'm finally off to bed.

Sunday, June 30, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Oh good, my dog found the chainsaw.

That's my favorite line from Lilo and Stitch, which me and the kids went out and saw last night on a last-minute whim ("hurry, hurry, the movie starts at seven-twenty, you've got two minutes to get dressed!"). It was fun, you should see it.

(It also provides more evidence for my theory about why some people learn to draw; Lilo's big sister Nani is vraiment what y'all Generation Q types call "a hottie"; since when are Disney cartoonists allowed to draw those sexy little curves on either side of the belly-button?)

I keep pronouncing Lilo's name "Lilo", but M and the kids insist that it's "Lilo". I don't actually remember how they pronounced it in the movie. Probably "Lilo".

Before the feature, there was a trailer for Treasure Planet, which looks like a rousing space-pirate movie. I wonder if we'll see it? (I wonder if sentences starting with "I wonder" really ought to end in question marks?)

The little daughter would like me to write:

I'm Clavis,
Clavis the hillbilly hobo!

so there you are.

The DTPA has now been mentioned in Kip Manley's weblog, and (in a related event) in a comment to a story on Plastic.com. A kind and skillful reader has also sent a Spanish translation, which I should be posting in some form shortly. Keep the publicity machine grinding!

Does anyone know the verse to Big Rock Candy Mountain that includes the line "You can go to lunch in your underwear"? I have evidence from two little kids (one here in the room and one on the Web) that it exists, but I can't find it.

Saturday, June 29, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Stuck in my head:

Let's go smurfin' now,
Ev'rybody's learnin' how,
Come on a smurfari with me!

Hideous, eh? Nothing exactly like it in Google, although a variant of the same vicious meme has been reported once before.

Last weekend one of the people who used to live in this house was up visiting, and she confirmed that they got Star the Cat a really long time ago, when she (the person, not the cat) was like six. She's twenty-six now, so Star is around twenty, which is pretty amazing.

But Star has now vanished; no one's seem him for four or five days despite some searching, and we're pretty worried. He's been looking last-legsish for a few weeks, but also refusing to just sit in a corner and rest; he insists on being outside. Figuring that he won't live forever even if kept inside, we've been letting him out. But now he hasn't come back. Maybe, we all tell ourselves, he was picked up as a stray by someone who really loves ancient cats, and they're taking good care of him.

Fingers crossed.

I've been enjoying large chunks of the new kind of book that I describe in this weblog entry. He still hasn't revolutionized science for me, and he's still annoying, but there's also some good stuff.

One interesting insight he has is that, in at least some systems that show sensitive dependence on initial conditions, you can find a numerical representation for the state of the system such that all that's really happening is that the dynamics of the system are reading off in a straightforward way less and less significant (i.e. further and further after the decimal point) digits of the initial condition. So smaller and smaller initial differences gradually show up and get amplified.

This probably isn't what's happening in all such systems, since for instance the right kind of cellular automaton can show sensitive dependence on initial conditions, but it seems unlikely that there's some numerical representation of the initial state such that the dynamics just read off less and less significant digits. What else might be going on, and whether any given system (a previously-known formal one or one found in nature) is of one kind or another, are interesting open questions.

But the above description of the insight is my rational reconstruction of what Wolfram actually says, which is that in all the systems with sensitive dependence on initial conditions that anyone prior to him has ever studied, all that's happening is a reading off of less and less significant digits of the initial conditions, and only with the coming of his new kind of science has any really interesting sensitive dependence on initial conditions been discovered.

This is what continues to make the book so annoying: rather than saying "here's some cool stuff that I've found, and how it relates to previous discoveries in the field", he's obsessed with showing how there were no previous discoveries in the field, and it's all him him him. In the main text of the book he cites almost no prior work; in the notes he cites considerable prior work, but only to dismiss it as having missed the point.



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