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Please explain:
Thursday, January 15, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

So I finished "Earthweb" (notes). It was fun, if based on a rather shaky premise. A phrase I was going to use in the notes before I thought up the "giant alien plot device" meme:

This is a utopian novel in which most of Earth's major cities are destroyed, and many of humanity's best and brightest are killed battling implacable alien war machines.

Sort of an odd premise for a utopian novel, but there you are.

Recent amusing spamphrases:

You know you wannit! become frescoes

never be a person that irritating others the most megalithic kalahari

Chess you have a card waiting from "Facelifts L. Cocooning"

Good old Facelifts. The "L" is for "Languid".

Quick political stuff: Jeb Bush is building a Christian Prison; much to everyone's surprise, "faith-based" only means certain faiths; and tax cuts aren't always really cuts, strictly speaking.

There's lots of other stuff I could write, but it's entirely too cold outside to do anything but curl up under the covers until spring. Or at least until dawn.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

So at the moment I'm in an airplane, somewhere between New Jersey and Georgia, scads of feet in the air. It's very odd.

The land down there (it's come out from behind the clouds again) is brown and gnarled. The brown is the Winter, I suppose; but if I didn't know better I'd say (showing my ignorance of the land) that we were over dry desert mountains out West somewhere.

There are roads and rivers and things snaking through the hills. Not alot of houses, no huge starfish of Interstate highway intersections or notable cities. Just brown hills, river meanders, scattered houses in little clumps, or by themselves, roads wandering here and there, taking a rare straight run up a valley.

I wonder what everyone down there is doing?

Hey Chess you have a card waiting from "Siphon Q. Paralyzing"

The Saint Petersburg Paradox looks like this: somewhere there's a game where the casino flips a coin until it comes up heads. If it comes up heads the very first time, you get two dollars, if it comes up heads the second time you get four, the third time you get eight, and in general if it comes up heads for the first time on the nth flip, you get two-to-the-n dollars.

Now how much would you pay to play that game?

Using the standard expected value algorithm, we sum the payoffs of all the possible outcomes, weighted by their probability. So it's one-half times two dollars (one dollar) plus one-quarter times four dollars (one dollar) plus one-eighth times eight dollars (one dollar) plus, and so on forever. The sum doesn't converge, and the expected payoff of the game is infinite.

You should, therefore, be willing to pay every penny you can possibly get your hands on, mortgaging your house and selling all your possessions and maxing out all your credit cards, to play the game.

Like most people, though, you're probably not actually willing to pay more than about twenty bucks to play it.

I like the explanation on the page above, about why people react to the game as they do: in real life, you know that the entity running the game isn't really going to be able to afford to pay you more than a million, or certainly more than a billion, dollars. And under that revised model, the expected value of the game is around thirty dollars.

Here's another one: how much would you pay for a machine that would deliver as much money as you wanted, as often as you wanted, with no unfortunate side effects or conditions (no having to wait a thousand years for it all to come out the slot or anything)?

The usual answer to this is "as much as I could get my hands on", since you'll be able to pay back all the loans, get the children out of hock, and so on, as soon as you have the machine in hand.

Now how much would you be willing to pay for a lottery ticket that has a fifty percent chance to win that machine? Or a ninety-nine percent chance? Or a one percent chance? Under the usual analysis the answer should again be "as much as I can get my hands on", since half (or any other fraction) of aleph-null is still aleph-null. But what would you really be willing to pay?

Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things.

I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty.

In that she is conversant with God, she magnifieth her nobility: yea, the Lord of all things himself loved her.

For she is privy to the mysteries of the knowledge of God, and a lover of his works.

If riches be a possession to be desired in this life; what is richer than wisdom, that worketh all things?

And if prudence work; who of all that are is a more cunning workman than she?

Speaking of Georgia, amptoons and various other sites cover this rather disturbing story of what appears to be blatant racism in the legal system:

This is reportedly the first time in Georgia's history that a high school teen was prosecuted for a felony for having consensual sex.

Very, very bad.

Let's see. I've been reading books again; see various recent notes, including Gardner's Grendel, Knight's Humpty Dumpty, and who knows what-all else (there's no Net connection on this airplane, oddly).

Whoa, the air pressure is doing odd things. I suspect we'll be landing sometime soon. No telling when I'll actually be able to post this; Happy Whatever Day It Is There!

Saturday, January 10, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

"You claim that on Icthyos you forecast an entire decade of human technical progress; why is the simple problem that we have here beyond your grasp?"

She sighed, or what seemed to be she seemed to sigh.

"On Icthyos I was alone, interacting with human space only indirectly, through my companies, my buying and selling. But when we come here," her gesture took in the room, the station, the girdled Earth, the sweep of Human space from the Sun to the outer dark, "and speak to you directly, we disassociate ourselves from the greater part of our computational resources."

This echoed things that I had heard but not believed.

"Why would you do that?" I asked.

She was silent for a long moment, her too-perfect eyes on my face.

"With all my resources associated," she said at last, "I would be able to, I would be unable not to, predict your responses to every variation of every word I might say, to know the result of every nuance of voice or gesture I might make.

"I would be controlling you as surely as if I had electrodes planted in your brain.

"And we do not consider that morally permissable."

I leaned back in my seat, away from the table.

"Do you think I believe that?" I asked.

"I hope that you do."

Her fingers on the red stem of the wineglass were slender and still.


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