Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And Uzzah Spake,

saying, "Zarathustra was too timid. Having killed his God, he hoped to remake Him in the form of the Uebermensch. Uzzah shall do better, killing and re-killing his gods until they stay dead and he himself becomes one."

"It is said that to destroy is easier than to create. To do both with equal facility is the provence of the gods. This is a first step to apotheosis. Knowing when to do so: that is another."

"The gods create and destroy - like a child at play."

"Fear those among men who have this power of creation and destruction at a whim: the poet, the dreamer, the scholar, and the philosopher. Their worlds cannot be conquered but by their equals."

"Until one can create what one has brought down, one should hesitate to destroy. When the grass is mowed, weeds grow in the absence. Yet weeds are hardier."

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Teachings of Uzzah, the Oxdriver

And Uzzah spake, saying "This shalt be the new golden rule, 'do unto others as one would have one's gods do unto thee.'

"Act always as though one were the equal of one's gods.

"Love one's gods with all thy heart and all thy soul, and love one's neighbors likewise. Love as one's gods love: without pity and without remorse.

"fidelis vs. fides. The one is constancy to another. The other is constancy to oneself.

"Love of truth, love of justice, love of beauty, love of fides: this is love for all mankind. Hatred of mercy, hatred of remorse, hatred of guilt and shame, hatred of all uncomfortable comforts and comforting discomforts: this is love of all mankind as well.

"Thy path is one of thy apotheosis, and the apotheosis of all those one loves: universal apotheosis.

"Milton wrote 'the mind can make of Hell a Heaven, and a Heaven of Hell.' The first fall of man is the first ascension of man.

"It is written 'The Second Coming of Christ is the coming of a second Christ; the Christ of a new aeon is the Anti-Christ of the old.' The goal of every one is to make of himself his own Anti-Christ, and so his own Christ.
The three laws of Thelema: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Every man and woman is a star. Love is the law, love under will." The Christians always seem to forget the second two.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

A not-so-simple answer

From the annotations to Irregular Webcomic:

Now, I realise that voice recognition is an extremely difficult problem in computer science. I understand that it's highly non-trivial, and that many excellent and very intelligent people have put years and years and years of research into the topic for painstaking and hard-won theoretical and practical gains in the field, agianst seemingly insurmountable problems.
  1. Computer voice recognition still sucks so incredibly badly that it's essentially useless for most purposes for which you might conceivably want to utilise it.
  2. In many of the places where it is used, it's so actively bad that it's a well-known joke how inaccurate and stupidly annoying it is.
  3. Three-year-old kids can understand the human voice, and by the time they're five, they can do it with virtually no difficulties at all other than exposure to vocabulary.
I know it's a hard problem to tackle from a computer science point of view. But I can't help feeling that we are puny ants on the face of an edifice of such size and elegance that we can't discern the patterns for which we seek. That computer science is tackling the problem of voice recognition in completely and utterly the wrong way.
I'm not arrogant enough to assert that this is true, or that I have any better ideas. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least if some young gun came along next year and did something completely out of left field that nobody in the research landscape had even considered before, and it turns out to vastly simplify the problem to something that is actually tractable to our computers. And that it will leave all the experts in the voce recognition field scratching their heads and going, "Well that was obvious. Why didn't we think of doing that before?"
Or I could be completely deluded and 400 years from now we'll still be struggling to order our pizzas on automated voice recognition systems that can't tell the difference between "Phillip Street" and "no anchovies".
Here's my not-so-simple approach. A breakthrough in speech-recognition will occur when computers and A.I. systems learn to recognize speech the same same way that humans learn it: within the larger context of language learning, and with plenty of help from social conditioning.

Let's look at an off the cuff theory of language learning and use among human infants. Starting at about two months, infants begin transitioning from crying to cooing. At its basic level, cooing is the infant making all of the possible vowel sounds that lie within the capacity of the human vocal apparatus. Within eight to ten months, cooing will be supplemented with babbling, the same process done with consonant sounds. During this period, the infant is exploring all the sounds he or she can make.
Next begins a process of phonetic elimination. The infant begins to remove sounds that are not productive from their repetoire, molding the range of phoenetic production to the sounds the infant hears in the environment. The greatest influence on this process is the language use of adult humans. Infants learn most of their language behavior at this stage by mimicing the patterns of the sounds produced by adults. If the adults in the environment are speaking one language with a consistent set of phoenemes, the infant will reduce their vocolaizations to that set of phonemes.

Later stages of babbling begin to mold into proto-language use. This is the time when social condition becomes important. Over the course of babbling, the infant will tend to produce phonems from the ambient language set in more or less random order, to a certain degree mimicing phoneme patterns of adults. Most of this babbling will go rewarded at a constant rate, enough to encourage the continuance of babbling. However, in an application of Shakespear's infinite monkees, eventually the infant will stumble upon a phoeneme pattern that more or less matches an intelligible word of the ambient language at a time and place where it will be overheard and understood by an attending adult: a child's 'first word'. Frequently, this first word will result in the child being rewarded in some fashion.
Over the next months and years, the child will continue to be rewarded when making sounds appropriate to the ambient language and the social context, and will go unrewarded when making inappropriate sounds; making the sound 'milk' may be rewarded with the desired food item, while making the sound 'ilkm' goes unrewarded. In this way, the child's basic vocabulary is built until more complex language mechanisms begin to become employed.
Hearing language is probably helped by a similar social conditioning process. When one hears utterances, one responds with behavior (whether speech or action). When the responsive behavior is appropriate, one is rewarded. When the responsive behavior is inappropriate, one is unrewarded.
Children, too, undergo this conditioning process. When they correctly understand speech, they learn to respond appropriately and are rewarded. When speech is not correctly understood, they are unable to initiate the correct responsive behavior and go unrewarded. I feel this conditioning is integral to the language-hearing learning process.
Computers at this stage of technology are immune to social conditioning. Outside of various academic AI labs, computers are pretty much incapable of modifying their own behavior. Certainly, it is difficult to program a computer to have needs, or to recognise its needs. The presence and internal recognition of needs, and the desire and ability to have those needs met constitute the basis for the reward process of social conditioning. Once it becomes capable to reward computers, and only then, do I feel great strides will be made in the quest for decent speech recognition.
At the same time, one of the difficulties of computer speech recognition is the contextual dependency of language and the human language process. Quite a bit of error-correcting occurs in human speech by reference to the context of the utterance. If I'm talking to my doctor, and I make some sort of reference to 'elbeny', I may be speaking of my 'elboy' or my 'knee'. If I'm discussing New York geography, the same set of sounds is likely to be interpreted as 'Albany'.

Computers, at this point, are mostly incapable of making such judgements. They are less able to refer to context, and are unaware of all of the different contexts in which a native human language user is capable of drawing upon. This is another barrier to computer speech recognition.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Path of Uzzah

Here's a guy who understands the simple message of Uzzah the Oxdriver. [I Chronicles 13, 9-10]

John Gebhart.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Window into Another World

For Kitinboots,

Upon reaching the crest of the hill, Colin saw the northern road they sought. It stretched from misty Eastern horizon across the land until it disappeared into the rolling hills to the west. A low, eroded drystone wall, maybe waist high, stood between the horse mounted people and the road itself.
Standing mutely upon the other side of the road was its most breathtaking feature. A line of trilithic lintels, rough-hewn out of cold, grey granite. As the travelers approached, the cosmically old stones loomed higher, twelve feet or more. Beyond them lay nothing but a grassy heath, studded by outcroppings of weathered beige stone. Obviously, the granite did not come from nearby.
Drogonian pointed to a crumbled section of wall, where the stonework had crumbled into a pile low enough for the stolid ponies to clamber over. Colin dismounted, lead his steed over the wall, and across the road to the great stones beyond. Reaching out to touch one, he felt the chill of the centuries that had laid upon this heath and these stones.
Aller's voice rumbled over his shoulder, "The last great works of an unknown people. What kingdom or empire lifted these stones into place is not known to any of the wise or the learned. Nor is what purpose was served."
Amanda shivered, hunching deeper into the hoods of her cloak and tattered sweatshirt. "Maybe it's like Stonehenge? Except in a line instead of a circle?"
"Or perhaps it says simple 'We who built these stones once were great, and now are gone," intoned Drogonian from his mount. "Come, we should be going. There is not much day in these northern lands, and the evening will be filled with mist. We ought to make as great a distance as we may."

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Semiotic Gestalt Magick, pt. 2

Affecting Others through the unconscious inculculation of unease.

Principle 1) The uncanny valley [1]
Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970 once stated the more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. For example, most lovable Robot Buddies look humanoid, but keep quirky and artistically mechanical affectations. However, at some point, the likeness would seem too strong, and it would just come across as a very strange human being. At this point, the acceptance drops suddenly, changing to a powerful negative reaction. When shown as a graph (see above), the acceptance on the Y axis and increasing X approaching human normal, there is a slow rise, then a sudden drop, then a sudden peak as "human normal" is reached. Masahiro Mori referred to this as the "uncanny valley". Thus, things that look somewhat human, but are clearly not - such as C-3PO (in Star Wars) or a Golem - produce an accepting reaction, while things that are very nearly human, but just a little strange - such as a child's doll, a ventriloquist's dummy, or a clown - produce a negative response. Some say the very lowest point of the valley is the zombie, a living corpse. Others would say that zombies are just hella scary, and that slightly-not-right Pod People, for instance, are closer to the nadir. The Uncanny Valley may be a deep, instinctual reaction; it steers humans, on an automatic level, away from humans who are dead, diseased, or deformed (which is often an indication of poor health). It may also alert "normal" people to the presence of mental problems which would render someone unfit for inclusion in a peer group. In that way, the theory goes, the Uncanny Valley is a protection against associating with sources of infection. Of course, backfires of such beneficial instincts might also have a large part in the development of racist sentiment.
Figures that appear almost human, but do not look quite human, or do not behave quite human, are objects of unconscious or low-level conscious unease in most subject. Bilateral symmetry, to a degree of approximation, is comfortably human. Deliberate invocation of bilateral assymetry can be unconsciously disconcerting. Humans are expected to fidget or make small scale movements, even while standing still. Stillness, especially tension without the aesthetic release of movement can invoke uneasiness through the uncanny valley.

Principle 2) Use of archetypical imagery.
Woven through the myths and stories of Western culture is the archetype of "the man in black". The archetype is instanced in various forms, from the literal 'black man' of witch hunts, to the humanoid in the black robe, to the badass longcoat of modern stories. In nearly case, the figure in black, especially in black that elongates or distorts the humanoid shape, is an image of fear, unease, and death. Even when the subject is not consciously aware of such, the archetype can evoke this emotional power of response.

Principle 3) Denial of comfortable environment.
Nearly all subjects experience unease when in an environment they believe is outside of their control, and that does not meet their comfort needs. Light is a way of establishing control of an evironment - that which is seen can be dealt with, that which is unseen is an implied threat. If the enivroment is cold, then the comfort need for warmth is not being met. If the environment that a human experiences is outside their normal range of territory, or outside of where they feel safe, the territory will contribute to the unease.

Principle 4) Lack of emotional response
When placed in opposition to another person, most subjects gain a feeling of empathy if the other person shows emotional response. Even more so, showing predictable emotional responses - where outside stimuli cause responses in accord with the subject's understanding of human behavior - is unconsciously comforting. Therefore, the denial of those responses is unconsciously disconcerting.

Attributes required:

1) Conscious control of breathing, to the point of being able to breathe softly, quietly and rythmically. May be obtained by zazen, yoga, or other forms of breath conrol training.

2) Elimination of fidgeting. May be obtained through zazen, yoga, discipline training (military, drum corps, or similar), training in dance or other physical performance discipline.

3) Emotional control sufficient to restrain outward displays of emotional response. May be obtained by practice of emotional control or training in acting.

4) Appropriate costuming and appearance. Black, outline distorting, and assymetrical. Shadowing of the face

Practical application: Inculculating unease in another can lead to an advantage for the magi in interpersonal dealings with that person. Subjects in a state of unease can be expected to be less sure of themselves, their positions, and their beliefs. Additionally, some subjects will find it more difficult to act rationally, being subconsciously nagged by their unease. These can be turned to the advantage of the magi.

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Semiotic Gestalt Psychology

Sadly 'gestalt psychology' was taken.

Semiotic gestalt psycholgy is my term for the field of study and understanding of the effects of verbally symbolic and non-verbally symbolic inputs on the behaviors of humans. It is my basic thesis that the effects of the inputs affect human behavior in non-rational and non-deterministic ways. However, I believe that some behaviorable effects can be produced through systemicatic manipulation of these inputs.

I term this systematic manipulation of inputs 'semiotic gestalt' as I believe that for the most part, it is not any single one feature of the environment that effects behavioral change, but some effect of all of the inputs together (the gestalt). As this thesis involves the signs which the human interacts with, I believe that the semiotic elements of that environment are the primary features of that gestalt.

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Magick and Semiotic Gestalt Psychology

A practical sleep spell.

Principle 1) Emotional state follows physiological state.

One of the prerequisites for sleep is a state of physiological, emotional, and cognitive calm. The hypothalamus, which regulates the level of activity in the brain including thinking and emotional arousal, functions as a positive feedback system. That system's inputs include the existing level of cognitive and emotional activity, and the amount of somatic activity in the neuromuscular system. Reducing the level of activity in the neuromuscular system tends to have the effect of reducing emotional and cognitive activity levels.

Principle 2) Breathing is a large component of regulating physiological activity.

The muscles primarily involved in breathing are the diaphragm and the abdominals. These are large muscles and because of their involvement in breathing are in near constant use. Stilling all of the voluntary muscles and then regulating breathing tends to reduce activity in the neuromuscular system as a whole. By principle 1, doing so will tend to reduce emotional and cognitive activity levels.

Principle 3) Two humans in close physical contact with one another will tend to match approximate breathing patterns. If one is significantly faster than the other, the faster rate will tend to slow to match the slower rate and the slower rate will tend to speed to meet the faster rate.

Attributes required:

Attribute 1) The magi should be able to exercise conscious control of his breathing. This attribute may be developed through zazen, yoga, singing, or playing a breath based musical insturment.

Attribute 2) The magi must be able to exert enough emotional control to center himself. This attribute may be developed through zazen, yoga, or other attention training or breath control techniques.

Attribute 3) The magi must be able to achieve a state of emotional openness and mutual trust with the subject such that the magi and the subject may be in extended physical touch.

Practical application:

The magi touches the subject in a way that the chest, back, or abdomen is in contact with a significant area of the subjects body. The easiest pose to accomplish this is for the magi to sit, slightly reclines with the legs spread and the feet comfortably on the floor. The subject sits in front of the magi, reclining so that the subject's back is in contact with the magi's chest. Both magi and subject must still themselves physically to the extent possible. Nudity is not required, but will increase a sense of emotional intimacy.

The magi will center himself, bringing his breathing to a slow, relaxed rate. Deep, slow breaths are encouraged, but tensioned meditative breathing should not be attempted. The magi should resist the urge to increase their breathing to match the subject's; breath control should be exercised to keep the breathing at its slow, relaxed rate.

Through Principle 3, the subject's breathing will tend to slow to match the magi's breathing rate. Through Principle 2, the slower breathing of the subject will lead to a lower level of emotional or cognitive activation. Through Principle 1, the subject will be better prepared to achieve a state of sleep.

Other practical applications:

A similar process can be used to reduce anxiety, reduce an anxiety attack, or calm panic.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtual Modelling and 'Real Life'

This posting is dedicated to my father, who must deal in practical terms that which Et in Arcadia Ego deals with in conceptual terms.

First, some definitions. For the purposes of this discussion, a model is a data object that attempts to store and possibly manipulate information. The information stored is broken into elements - those discreet objects of information which are the atomic pieces of a model. Each element may have one or more fields of information associated with it - these fields are intimately connected to the element, and describe portions of the element. If the model is a vocabulary of natural language, the elements are nouns while their fields are adjectives. Each noun can have more than one adjective, and two different nouns may have the identical adjectives. Got it?

A database is, in one sense, nothing more than an attempt to model some aspect of the world. An H.R. database, for example, is an abstracted model of all of the personnel of a company. A security database (or individual file) is a collection of log-ins, passwords, and other identity data for some group of people - a model of those people cast through a certain perspective. The database that supports Google Maps is a virtual model of the geographical layout of the Earth.

Of course, virtual modeling goes much further than this. CAD/CAM systems are virtual models of real world objects. Even a chess program is a virtual model of a physical game - except that often an exact instance of that game has no physical representation. Computer programming, in a sense, is configuring the meta-model of a computer to model accurately some aspect of real life.

Computer models are judged by several criteria. One is how closely they correspond to that aspect of the world they are meant to model; an H.R. database that excludes real employees or includes false ones is a poor model. We may call this criteria completeness. A second criteria is association of information: a model that incorrectly associates informational fields to other informational fields is considered less useful: A security database that does not correctly relate the password to the correct log-in is not useful. We'll call this interconnection accuracy. Third is the degree of interconnection of informational fields - whether all information fields that can usefully be related to one another are usefully related to one another. We can call this interconnection volume. Fourth is the number of fields collected for each element; robustness. Fifth is how finely the model is divided into individual elements; discreetness. And lastly, how large of a section of the world the model is attempting to capture, and thus how many elements it has; scope.

As computer storage becomes cheaper, more readily available, more accurately and precisely searchable, and smaller, computer models of larger and larger size become possible. This has led to large increases in scope, discreetness, and completeness. It is now possible for the U.S. Census Bureau to collect the GPS coordinates of every front door in the U.S. Meanwhile, Google has captured fairly high resolution photographs of most of the Earth's surface, and is collecting streetfront photos of many major urban centers.

The principle of completeness strongly impels these organizations to attempt to collect every element that should be part of their model. Privacy advocates argue that such data-collection violates personal privacy principles; a reasonable argument. Debate can be had on this topic, but there is no doubt that such concerns degrade the usefulness of these models.

Animals, in a sense, collect data and create models of the world around them. One aspect about the process is in the automatic scaling off discreetness that most animals seem to be innately capable of. If a computer captures a photo of a living room, it tends to treat it as one large, atomic element. Thus far, the problem of teaching a computer to break a photo into more discreet elements (increase the model's discreetness) has been difficult. However, humans have no trouble identifying a lamp, a chair, a rug, and so on in a photograph. We seem to be able to scale up the discreteness of our model of the world almost at will.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Love of Language

Overheard, "She'll anticipate his coming with ennui."

A lovely little phrase I thought. Normally, we don't use 'anticipation' in quite this way; anticipation implies some sort of excitement or emotion. Witness' "His coming filled her with anticipation." Even "She'll anticipate his coming with apathy." feels more correct.

But I think the overheard utterance tells an entire story in one sentence. We infer that he comes frequently, often enough that there is little to anticipate it any more. His coming is part of a routine, a pattern that she no longer sees any purpose in. The situation is filled with emotional inertia, and the meaning of the scene has become lost.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Salute

As I traversed the river bridge today, I passed a man. He was an older gentleman, with greying hair, shirtless, getting round about the middle. He was jogging, struggling through the sun and the heat and the humidity. Cars whizzed passed on the freeway mere steps away.

Over his shoulder rested a flagpole. On it were flying a full-sized U.S. flag over a black MIA-POW flag. Both flags whipped back and forth under the turbulence of the freeway and the steady river breeze.

The tableau had all the sanctity of a profound religious ritual. An onerous ritual performed at some cost; a ritual requiring commitment and will, one that could be easy to blow off as too hard. Yet it was a ritual with no exoteric meaning. He conveyed no clear message: this was no protest, no political statement. What intrinsic meaning he intended, only the man himself would know. Any other meaning is only that which the viewer chooses to ascribe to the sacred rite from without.

Still, I'm left with the unshakable belief that some sacred truth was on display. A sacred truth that required strength, will, and commitment from its prophet. Sir, I salute your truth, and honor your sacred rite - even if it remains unnoticed by everyone else on that bridge. Perhaps I honor it because no one but you and I will?

The most sacred rites of all are those done for no-one but oneself and one's spirit.

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I spy with my little eye an 'I'

From the SJGames forum.

I would continue to assert that language structure still affects thought, at least in terms of patterns of reasoning. Furthermore, there are certain assumptions inherent in language that prefigure modes of philisophical speculation and discourse. Indeed, much of academic philosophy these days is an attempt to move philosophy beyond the strictures imposed by language, or to open up language so that it can better serve the needs of philosphy.

One of the more basic problems is that language is capable of formulating questions that can't be answered by philosophy, science, or art. Mostly because the language makes assumptions that aren't necesarilly logically required. "Who made the sky?" is a well formed utterance in English, but humans have spent 6,000+ years chasing the answer, mostly without asking themselves if it makes any logical sense.

Most Indo-European languages assume that every verb has an explicit or implied subject; that every action has something that performs that action. But that's not necessarily the case in 'objective reality', at least it's hard to prove that is the case. Does 'making' require a 'maker'? And if not, then what happens to poor DesCartes when 'thinking' (or 'doubting' to be more accurate) doesn't require a 'thinker' or a 'doubter'?

Neitzsche has gone on at some lengths on this topic, of course.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Buddha and Nietzsche, Isiah and Christ

"If the Christian Hell does in fact exist, then it is the duty of every compassionate Buddhist to become damned there, so as to do what he can to comfort the souls therin."
-attributed in some similar form to T.M. Suzuki

"If you feel this is the way for you / if you here this kind of call / if you feel you're really meant for this / if you find love / here's what you have to do / become indifferent / lock yourself out."
- Jean-Luc Demarco

Here's the funny thing about the teachings of Prince Guatama Siddhartha, sometimes known as the first Buddha: what he preaches is not a religion. The Four Noble Truths are statements about human psychology, independent of faith. They don't require one to believe, and will go on being true or false whether one chooses to believe or not. "Suffering exists. Suffering exists because of our attachment to the things of the world. Relief from suffering comes through detachment from the world. Detachment from the world happens by walking the Eight-fold path." Four simple statements. They don't ask you to believe; if you wish you may disbelieve them and see how far that gets you.

Beware attachment to the world, for the world of the senses is mere illusion. Mere illusion? The map is not the landscape, yes, we've been over this a hundred times. But if illusion is all that we have, with nothing but intuition (the intuition of Merlin, Dee, and Crowley perhaps?) to reach beyond the mere illusion, then doesn't the merest illusion become reality? We may believe that we do nothing, that the bottle is an illusion and does not exist, but there's that goose, still stuck. It seems that the merest illusion is illusion enough. Neitzsche asks that we embrace illusion, that we embrace the suffering that is the lot of we, an purely illusory people. To love the bottle and all it brings - terror and beauty, suffering and pride. The truth of illusion, or an illusory truth?

It's a funny thing, though. This detached compassion of the Buddha. A friend once created a board game representing the Buddhist cosmos. The goal was to advance through each stage to reach Nirvana in the center. Once you'd reached enlightment, and achieved the Bodhisatva, one could freely give the pips on one's dice to the other unenlightened players, in order that all may achieve enlightenment. No one may win the game until everyone does. But the last thing you want to do is care too much - there's a universe at stake here.

This will to help relieve the suffering of others, without becoming emotionally involved. "Teach us to care and not to care..." So very Christlike and so very unChristian. Christ - or Paul and John, at least - invoke us to do good works upon this Earth in order to ensure "storing up treasures in Heaven". Sounds good, right?
Do the right thing, and God will reward you with eternal life (TM) - accept no imitations! But is that really moral behavior? Or is this just behaving correctly, in the hopes that future happiness will be one's reward? Is that really the pinnacle of ethical thinking? Do good and get free stuff?

Isiah and his contemporaries once preached "Give unto the neighbor and the orphan and the widow and the stranger, for remember, you were strangers in Egypt." Not, "and God will reward you, and your children, and your children's children." "...for remember, you were strangers in Egypt." Do the right thing. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. It's so blindingly obvious, it's a logical tautology. But isn't this the emergence of actual, honest, ethical thinking? "Be excellent to one another, and party on dudes." Not, "Be excellent to one another, because then you'll be able to party on."? Nope. Just "Do x and y."

Neitzsche said that "God is dead". No rewards for you, little kiddies.

What's left for us, then?

Detachment leads to the end of suffering?

Do well by others, because in some way, we're all strangers here?

"We are on our way to being gods." - Jean-Luc Demarco

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Online Anonymity

An inquiry has come to me as to why I don't use my legal name and claim authorship of this blog. There were insinuations that I am somehow hiding immorally behind a veil of anonymity. Some find it especially odd, considering my interest in the philisophical aspects of identity. I'd like to respond to this, if I may.

First of all, 'Lord Carnifex' is very obviously a [i]nom de electrique[/i]. I aknowledge that. Some of my favorite authors have written under various psuedonyms, and doing so is considered a legitimate practice in the publishing industry. Since this blog is, for me, a form of self-publishing, I fail to see why I cannot take advantage of the practice.

Secondly, 'Lord Carnifex' is an online handle I've used very nearly since the inception of networked computing in the home. I've used the handle consistently. With a very few exceptions, a google-search of 'Lord Carnifex' returns items of my work online. Lord_Carnifex@yahoo.com reaches me, as does Lord.Carnifex@gmail.com. I'm cybersquatting on variations of Lord Carnifex at these and other webmail servers as well. I don't believe I'm hiding behind online anonymity, but exercising a coherent, complete online identity.

Third, I'm sure that we have all heard stories of individuals whose professional lives have been ruined or made complicated by careless remarks made by [i]or about[/i] them online. By keeping my real life and online names seperate, I prevent such unfortunate crossovers. I'm not afraid of those ideas and opinions I post here, but I don't exactly trust those in real life to understand what 'ideas and opinions' mean.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's Time for a Helmet Law in Minnesota

According to the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota [BIAM], "88 percent of bicycle-related brain injuries could have been prevented by helmets." So far, legislative efforts have focused on motorcycles and bicycles. But why stop there? Also from the BIAM, causes of brain injury include:
  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Assaults
  • Sports-related concussions
  • Strokes
  • Aneurysms
  • Diseases, such as encephalitis
  • Near drowning
  • Family Violence
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) /inflicted Traumatic Brain Injury
So far, legislative efforts have focused on motorcycles and bicycles. This just isn't enough. Our kids are hurting themselves on skateboards, snowboards, skis, strollers, big wheels, merry-go-rounds, stairs, and uncountable other places. How many motorists each year suffer brain injuries in accidents? How many pedestrians suffer brain injuries on our streets and sidewalks?

How many times, in kitchens all over Minnesota, are cabinet doors left open? These are vicious predatiors, just waiting to crack skulls. Consider slips and falls in the bathroom, especially in the shower.There are low rafters in the basement and the attic.Don't overlook hard headboards during bedroom antics. These are all dangers to cranial and phrenologic health. It's time to do the right thing.

Call your local legislatures and demand mandatory helmet use. All the time, everywhere, for everyone. Permit law enforcement to enter any building or structure in order to ensure 24-hour helmet compliance.

It's the only chance we have to survive as a species. Do it for the children.

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Another Country...

"...and the wench is dead."

Normally I abhor autobiography, but I've been drinking, it's late. and it's Memorial Day.

Here's to the fallen. 1

But as important to me:

Here's to

Sarah: who taught me that there's more to life than blood and death and fear. 2

Katherine: Who taught - and fought - and in the process helped shape my thinking, strengthen my arguements, and helped me become the man I am today. 3

Alice: Who showed me that unlimited brilliance is nothing to be ashamed of or hide. Good luck in finding your Hapsburg.

Kat: We had a week together. Anything more would have had too much reality. "I'm hanging on your words, living on your breath, feeling with your skin," I don't know where I end and you begin. 4

Kit Fox: One night of unabashed joy and infinite gentleness. Thank you.

Beth: Thank you for your kindness and understanding. In the end, the darkness was too much for you, but at least you knew when to listen.

Jenn: I wasn't for you, you weren't for me, but it was fun while it lasted.

Carrie: I wasn't who you were looking for, but we opened new vistas together.

Emily: My fragile Amazon princess. No matter how dark the night, I always respected your strength and intellect. Though your voice may be silent, don't let anyone silence you. 5

Janet: You filled dark days with light, once. Now you walk in your own darkness, heedless. "All creation has the promise of Heaven/ but still you're walking the road to Hell/ I'm saying nothing for the good of myself/ but I'm still talking and you're not listening." 6

Kitrina: When I couldn't stand, you slept on the floor next to me. What more can I say?

Sam: You were a breath of fresh air, and chasing you kept me going on lonely nights. I hope you become everything you were meant to be.

1: VNV Nation, "Ascension"
2: U2, "Hawkmoon 269"
3: Depeche Mode, "World in my Eyes"
4: Apoptygma Bezerk, "Until the End of the World"
5: Underworld, "Cowgirl"
6: Apoptygma Bezerk, "Kathy's Song [VNV Nation Remix]"

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A little late, but no less important

May 5th is just passed. This year is the 28th anniversary of the death of Irish political prisoner and hunger striker, Bobby Sands. I like to mark this occasion by refelecting on my Irish heritage, the long history of struggle on the Irish mainland, and the futre of Irish Nationalism as an observer from the U.S.

Between May and September 1916, W. B. Yeats wrote one of his best known poems, "Easter, 1916". It commemorates the Easter uprising of earlier that year, a failed attempt to ignite a general uprising, but an event that directly inspired the later Irish Revolution that would ultimately end in the formation of the Irish Republic, albeit without the northern six counties.

Some of the most memorable lines of "Easter, 1916" are its last:
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Almost a century earlier an Englishman, John Keats, wrote in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn":

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
"A terrible beauty is born." "Beauty is truth." On that day in 1916, a terrible truth was born?

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Aphorisms, pt.2

You'll all have to forgive me if you don't hear from me much,

I'm a little hoarse.

Must be the equine flu.

But I've been trying to teach myself Java,

It's been keeping me up nights.
There is an insight to be had, though, from object-oriented programming. Object-oriented programming, in a nutshell, involves breaking a task into a number of more-or-less stand alone objects that complete specific tasks. A main application calls upon those objects to perform their tasks on the relevant data at the appropriate times. But the main application is also an object, and can be treated as such.

So there's no meta-object that defines and creates all of the objects. They define and create each other as needed. The reality of the program is self-created and self-sustaining without requiring and outside foundation.

The same is true of complete, self-consistent axiom systems.

Reality is itself all it needs to exist?

Philosophy is the main() object, of which the sciences are the other object classes? The philosophy of science and the philosphy of reality define how the individual sciences work and what the values they return mean. But philospohy exists as an object in and of itself, not dependent on the sciences.


Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Four-fold division of Science

In the pursuit of discussions about the philosophy of science, I've found that I've come to rely upon a four-fold division of the sciences, humanities, and academic disciplines. This is mostly for science (and non-scientific academic disciplines) but might apply towards technology as well. The boundaries between these are fuzzy, and certain sciences or disciplines cross between the boundaries, but it makes for a starting place...

The life sciences:
Anatomy + Physiology (and medicine)
Biochemistry [which blends into the physical sciences]

The physical sciences:
Chemistry (including Organic) [which blends into the life sciences]
and so forth

The cognitive disciplines (some of these are not science - they don't rely on experimentation or empirical evidence, per se.):
Cognitve science
Computer programming (yes, I consider this a cognitive discipline)
Pure mathematics (while math informs nearly all of the other sciences, *pure* math is, IMO, a cognitive discipline.)
Game/decision theory

The social disciplines:
Cultural Anthropology
History (including Asimov-style predictive history)
Political Science
Literary theory and folklore studies
Cultural critical theory
Semiotics [which blends into the cognitive disciplines]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The New World Order is craftier than we thought.

Measles is making a comeback in the U.S.

Gaining strength in the patriot community is the belief that vaccines, especially the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, cause higher rates of autism. Some cite this as a New World Order plot to reduce the population - kill them off by mandating the use of dangerous vaccines and all that.

So, to fight back, there are communities and clusters of people who have chosen not to vaccinate their children. Take that, NWO!

As a result, these children are now more vulnerable to measles. Some of them are dying.

Umm... take that, NWO?

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Explanations

Let's play a little game. Following are some of the explanations I've heard put forward - in all seriousness - for the current outbreak of swine flu. For fun, I've included an original theory: the most outlandish one I could think of. Find the one that's mine among the theories of the fringe:

1) The flu is transmitted by cell phone towers. Turn off your phone before you're infected, and stay away from these pillars of death.

2) The current flu strain was engineered in a military-industrial-intelligence laboratory. It accidentally escaped.

3) The flu is genetically engineered to kill only Mexicans as a eugenic weapon deliberately released by the global elite.

4) The swine flu virus is the genetic counterpart to the Confiker computer worm. The anticlimactic non-action of Confiker through April first was just a cover for its release of the virus.

5) The current flu outbreak of the widespread use of flu and other vaccines. Some of those vaccines my have been intentionally contaminated.

6) The only reason anyone is getting infected with this flu is because their immune systems have been weakened by years of flouride in the water, heavy metals, and stealth infections.

7) There is in fact no swine flu. Instead, the Mexican people have rebelled against their government and have begun a civil war. The American mainstream is covering up the deaths of the Mexican rebels with a spurious story of 'swine flu'.

8) President Obama is patient zero. He was deliberately infected before his trip to Mexico of recent weeks. The evidence is in his initial speech to the Group of Twenty in Europe; the President suffered two coughing fits during the speech.

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Breaking News

U.S. Federal government disbelieves that noted cyberpunk author Bruce Stirling is married properly. He and his wife Jasmine Tesanovic apparently haven't left enough of a paper trail. They do everything online. Here we have a case of an identity crisis: the biological and psychological identities involved are held to not correspond to the dead-tree informational ones.

It's also a demonstration that the glacially slow mechanisms of traditional government can't comprehend that modern, internet-based living doesn't need them or their antiquated concept of national borders and government approval of life choices. It's evidence also that the government doesn't understand the internet and the culture it has empowered enough to actually control or manage it intelligently. This should be a cautionary tale for any government beurecrat.

Let's all close our eyes, grab a Bruce Stirling book and repeat one of the cyberpunk mantras: "The future is portable, disposable, and transcends any sense of place."

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Argumentum ad hominem

The arguemtentum ad hominem is an informal fallacy. It is the assertion that a given argument is valid or sound (or invalid or unsound) for no other reason than the qualities of the person making it.

It is a principle of logic that arguments are valid or invalid based only on their forms. That is to say, that a formal argument is valid if and only if (iff) for all arguments of this from, true premises can never lead to a false conclusion. Validity is a quality contingent only on form. It does not matter who formulates it, how, or why. A sound argument is a formally valid argument that has true premises, and -- by virtue of being a formally valid -- a conclusion that must therefore also be true.

Let's take 'X=2+2'. therefore 'X=4'. A very popular argument, generally considered arithmetically valid and sound (ignoring for a moment Bertrand Russell). If we accept this argument as valid and sound, it is valid and sound no matter who says it: it's true if formulated by a white male. Or a black man. Or a Jew. Or a child. Or a mass murderer. Or someone developmentally disabled. Or Lucifer himself. To assert otherwise would be to make an argument ad hominem.

Or we can take an unsound argument: 'X=2+2' and 'X=5'. This is not a valid or sound arguement, no matter who says it. Being formulated by a priest, or a politician, or a media pundit, or a doctor of philosophy, or Yeshua ben Yosef cannot make this a valid or sound argument. To assert otherwise is again, an argument ad hominem.

Now of course, this treads dangerously close to the concept of 'appeal to authority'. Appealing to an authority is also technically an informal fallacy of the form ad hominem. The only realm where appeal to authority can be a successful argument is when it can be strongly asserted that the authority in question has a specific body of knowledge, training or understanding by which such authority can make decisions about the truth or falsity of assertions that canot be made by someone lacking that knowledge, training, or understanding. That is to say, I can appeal to authority if it can be shown that if I were to undertake the training necessary in that field and gained for myself the expert knowledge and understanding in question, I would be capable of making the exact same determinations.

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Confirming the Consequent

This is a relatively simple formal deductive logical fallacy. There is a valid form of propositional arguement called modus ponens. It takes the form "If p then q", and "p", therefore "q". This is logically valid, and if one precedes from true premesis, one will reach a true conclusion. An example would be "If it is raining on my front yard, the pavement of my sidewalk will be wet", "It's raining on my front yard" therefore "My sidewalk is wet".

However, there is a desire many times to make the argument "If p then q" and "q" therefore "p". This is the fallacy of confirming the antecedant. The truth of q in no way supports or denies the truth of p. If I say "If it's raining on my front yard, my sidewalk will be wet" then observe "my sidewalk is wet", I cannot assert "it is raining". My sidewalk may have gotten wet because someone sprayed it with a hose, or the snow is melting, or there's a big puddle in the street that was splashed onto the sidewalk.

However, confirming the consequent is a fallacy perpetrated commonly in the world. A more complex example would be to say "If Obama deceived the American people about his eligibilty to become president then he would run for office and win." and then to say "Obama ran for office and won." and then conclude "Obama must have deceived the American people about his eligibility."

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Fallacy of the Temporary Name

This is a formal logical fallacy that many, many otherwise bright people fall into from time to time. In formal symbolic logic, of one has asserted or proven an existential quantifier, it is a valid line of arguement (known as E-elimination) to imagine an object that fulfills that existential quantifier.

For instance, I was riding the light rail yesterday. At that time, I could assert the premise, "Someone is driving this train." It would follow in a valid way that I could argue "Let's call the driver of this train 'Elvis'." Something similar happens in geometry: One begins (for instance) by asserting "A triangle exists", and then one can assert in a valid way "Let's call said triangle 'ABC'." So good so far.

How is E-elimination useful? Let's take a more comlex arguement. In our light rail arguement, we can accept another premise - a universal one this time - that "For all x, if x is a light rail driver, then x works for the MTCO." Taking our previous premise of "Someone is driving this train", or more formally "There is an y, such that y is a light rail driver". Then E-elimination allows us to say "We'll call y 'Elvis'. 'Elvis' is a light rail driver." This assertion then allows us to say "Since 'Elvis' is a light rail driver, and all light rail drivers work for the MTCO, then 'Elvis' must work for the MTCO." Then we wrap things up by asserting "There is an x, such that x is an employee of the MCTO" A valid arguement. If we had a more complicated arguement, we can continue to assert in a valid way that 'Elvis' is an employee of the light rail - that's a quality 'Elvis' has been proved to have working simply from already established premises. The limitation to 'E-elimination' or as it's sometimes called 'giving a temporary name' is that no other information can be asserted by the temporary name than what has already been proven from the arguement, and the choice of the temporary name should reflect that.

The fallacy of the temporary name is when that limitation is violated. Let's go back to our example. We could add another premise, "For all z, if z is Elvis, then z is the king of rock and roll." Wow! We've already named our light rail driver 'Elvis'! How convenient - we can use our new premise to prove that the light rail driver is the king of rock and roll. The king of rock and roll is alive and well, and driving light rail trains in Minneapolis.

Ummm.... not so much. That's the fallacy of the temporary name - an incorrect choice of the temporary name has led us from true premises to a false conclusion. We have an invalid arguement. With Elvis and the light rail train, it's pretty easy to see. But consider another arguement (sometimes known as the 'watchmaker arguement':

Premise 1) "For all x and n, if x is a system above a number n, then that system requires a designer" (We'll postulate that this is true)

Premise 2) "for all n, n is an arbitrary measure of complexity,"

Premise 3) "For all b and m, if b is the system of biological life on Earth then b has a complexity of m"

Premise 4) "There is a b, such that b is the system of biological life on Earth"

Premise 5) "Both m and n are numbers, and m is equal to or greather than n"

Premise 6) "For all y, if y requires a designer, then there must exist q, such that q designed y"

Premise 7) "For all z, if z is God, then z so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son."

What comes of this arguement? Well, Premise 3 and 4 together say 8) that there is a b* that has a complexity of m. (b* being a temporary name for the object whose existence is asserted in 4). Lines 8 and 5 say 9) that b* has an m larger than n. Lines 9 and 2 assert that 10) m is a measure of complexity. 10, 4, and 1 all come together to say that 11) the system of biological life on Earth requires a designer. 11 and 6 together say that 12) there is a q such that q designed the system of biological life on Earth. This is all kosher so far, and if one accepts the premises as true, then one has reached a true conclusion. But if we use E-elimination incorrectly and say "Let's call q 'God'", then we go on to argue "Since we've proven that there must have been a designer of biological life on Earth, and that that designer is God, and since we know God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, then God must exist as stated in John 3:16!"

This is a fallacy of the temporary name. The only thing we can use this arguement for is proof that something designed the system of biological life on Earth. We can say nothing else about that something unless we can prove that those qualities adhere to the something, and aren't predicates of whatever name we arbitrarily selected. If we had selected 'George' as the temporary name of the designer, then we would only be able to say that something exists that we've decided to name 'George', not that the God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed must exist necessarily exist because of the complexity of life on Earth.

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Some Paradoxes of Subjectivism

"Consensual Reality" is the other side of the coin of "Groupthink"

"Wikipedia.org" is the triumph of the vox populi

"Cognitive dissonance", "bisociation", and "doublethink".

Orwell and Neitzsche were speaking the same language. I wonder if either of them knew?

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Information Age

1. Confirmation bias

2. Selection bias

3. Correlation without causation

4. Argumentum vox populi

4a. Argumentum vox non populi

5. Argumentum ad hominum

6. Confirming the consequent

7. Fallacy of the temporary name

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Article on editing one's own augmented reality.

First, on augmented reality itself, I have mixed feelings. While it would be nice to have encyclopedic recall of major landmarks, maps, events, and so on, I'm leery. First of all, because such content would likely be generated one of two ways: it would be developed and published by already established content providers, in which case the subjective nature of such content would lead one to question and think critically of the motivations, accuracy, and reality shadings of such content. Or the content would be developed 'wikipedia' style, by the collected writing and editing of large numbers of self-selecting people. In which case the danger of non-factual information, urban legends, rumors, and irrelevant trivia becomes substatially greater. If I were trying to navigate downtown LA, for instance, I would feel no need to to have my augmented reality system point out everywhere the current manufactured starlet performed some act of questionable taste.

On the other hand, if given the ability to self-edit and self-generate the content, I would find this form of augmented reality much more useful. It would allow me to finally overcome the "service industry effect" and remember people's names. The ability to add directional signs and notations of my own on buildings, notes on people who I've met but can't quite recall, and so on is something I could find useful.

However, such self-editing comes to the subject of the article linked to above: the ability to edit oneselve's reality and the affect that such has on the ability to think and reason critically. Such is not only a concern of augmented reality. The ability to censor our inputs is a dangerous one when not used critically and with great discretion. It is too easy, especially given the glut of information of our current Information Age, to disregard any information that does not fit in with our prejudices and preconceptions.

This is dangerous. Proper critical information input requires deviant data from time to time. One cannot learn anything new when one hears only what one already believes. This is the path that leads to groupthink, doublethink, and poor decisions and information management. I believe that it is vital for every thinking person to experience some form of cognative dissonance at least once a day, and to read, see, or hear something that offends them at least once a week. The ability to make each other angry is a precious gift we're losing by the day, so the next time someone says something that shocks you and makes you think about the world in a whole new way, thank them!

Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org 

An odd phenomenon

I think we all have people we don't necessarily like. Yet in an ever-changing social environment, those people can come tofeel like old friends: though we may not like them, we know who they are, what they've been up to, and what to ex[ect from them. Odd that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Historiscope, now with Cleovision!

Hypothosise the invention of the historiscope, an insturment that permits a person to percieve any past event anywhere in the world as it actually happened. However, the historiscope does not allow one to have any effect on the past, nor is the viewing percieved in any way by the objects of study. What would be on the list of events to investigate? My list:

Approx 33 CE; in the Roman province of Palestine: the life and death of one Yeshua ben Yosef. How many of the stories are accurate? Was the crucifiction, as some have claimed, faked? Was Yeshua a priest in a Near-Eastern mystery cult?

1963 CE; Dallas, TX, USA: An obvious one: what actually happened on the day that President Kennedy died?

2001 CE; Manhattan, NY, USA: Another obvious one. What's the true story of the towers?

1st century CE; Near East: The gospel of Simon Magnus. The early church found his writings so offensive that they burned every known copy. What did he write?

1955 CE, New Jersey, USA: Albert Einstein's last words were in German, a language the nurse in the room did not speak. What were they?

Time unknown; Oak Island, Newfoundland, Canada: The Oak Island money pit. Someone went to great lengths to bury something here and keep it from being dug up. What was it and why was it buried?

1885 - 1917 CE; Rennes-le-Chateu, France: Priest Beranger Sauniere discovered a number of parchments containing excerpts from the gospels with non-sensical messages in French highlighted on them. Shortly afterward, he became immensely wealthy through means he divulged to no one but his housekeeper. What did he find?

1968 CE; Chicago, Illinois, USA: Major Daly of Chicago shouted a number of things into a muted microphone at the Democratic National Convention. What did he actually say?

Approx 1972 CE; Washington , DC, USA: Seventeen minutes is missing from one of Richard Nixon's "Watergate tapes". What was on it?

Unknown; unknown: Men's shirts button with the buttons on the right. Women's shirts button with the buttons on the left. There has never been an adequate explanation for this.

Unknown; unknown: What's the origin of the ring shaped pastry known as the donut?

Unkown; Greece: The Phaistos disc is the earliest known example of printing in the world. What language is it, what does it say, and why was this technology not adopted by the pre-Hellenic world at large?

10th century BCE and earlier; the Aegean: Linear A, the inscriptions of the Minoan culture are still indecipherable, and very little is known about the Minoans, including their cataclysmic end. Were they the inspiration for Atlantis? If so, why does Plato place Atlantis "beyond the Pillars of Herakles"?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And now, a brief shout out to What Really Happened.com which found my last post interesting enough to link to. WRH carries a lot of analysis you just won't find elsewhere on the net. I don't take it as gospel, but it's certainly worth thinking about.

Aloha, Hawaii!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Death of the Internet

More and more I'm hearing alarmism about the "takeover of the internet" or the "death of the internet". Some in the survivalist and patriot movements fear that any day now, the Federal Government is going to move to take down half of the sites on the World Wide Web, and restrict access to the other half.


Let's remember what the "internet" is. It's nothing more than several suites of protocols for transferring data from one computer to another, or from one newtwork to another; and it's any set of (say it with me now) inter-networked computers running those protocols. Thanks to the boys at DARPA, the internet we know and love (based largely around the TCP/IP protocol suite) is desinged to be decentralised, with realtime compensation for changes in the number and positioning of functioning routers and nodes.

If I have a computer publishing a web page using HTTP and another computer across the room reading it, that's the internet. If I maintain a file server that exterior clients can access using VPN, that's the internet. If I work out a means to shift packets using AM radio, and such packets can cross from one network to another, that's the internet.

In essence, the internet is like a road system. Sure, and interested party can put up roadblocks at strategic locations, and they can try to lock down or tear up any routes they don't like. But others can build new roads and new roadnetworks as well, and it's impossible to control the whole thing at once, as long as the equipment and the people who know how to build and use it are scattered throughout the populace.

Now, possibly, the World Wide Web as we know it might be able to be co-opted. But the www is not the whole internet. I recall the salad days of Usenet - a decentralized method of collecting public information. In fact, I recall the atomic bomb board. Either a legitimate means for nuclear engineering students to share infromation or an elaborate joke, the atomic bomb board (Usenet designations varied) held actual real-world information on nuclear weapons design. Not the kind of thing that the Department of Energy, the Secret Service, or the FBI liked to see.

However, they couldn't get rid of it. Not just because of the perfidy of computer savy students, but because of the nature of Usenet. Usenet consisted of directories of files stored at various nodes. Periodically, each node hosting a Usenet directory would enquire if any of the nodes it was connected to lacked any of the files in it's host directory. Any missing files (or the whole directory) would be transferred to the other nodes.

So for instance, the University of Illinois would ask the University of Wisconsin if there were any Usenet files the UofI was lacking, or the UofW was lacking, and they'd copy and transfer files. Simple enough. So if the Secret Service tried to take down all of the atomic bomb board files at the Univeristy of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin would just copy it's files over to UofI, and service would be restored. If the University of Wisconsin suffered the same treatment, then the Univeristy of Illinois would fill in the gap. If, somehow, there was a co-ordinated attack at both of them simultaneously, then it was likely that the Univeristy of Minnesota would update both UofW and UofI after the fact. The atomic bomb board became almost impossible to remove.

Now, interestingly, that was the model of the late 1980's and early 1990's. The hacker/cracker credo was "All information wants to be free". Using a redundant, decentralised, self-correcting model, the information was in a sense free.

But something changed. E-commerce. The World Wide Web came into general use, and with it attempts to sell things online. The need to control access to information (paid sites, credit transfers, personal financial information) led to information no longer being free. Gradually, the server-client structure became commonplace, as it is easier to control information that way. Web-mail has edged aside traditional email, Chat clients have overtaken IRC, Web forums have replaced newsgroups and mailing lists. Websites have replaced gopher sites.

But we remember. We remember Usenet. We remember SMTP and POP3. We remember Gopher. We remember Telnet and the BBS. In the 21st century, the information we need is canaled, damed, and piped. It's controlled because it's easier that way, because money can be made that way, and free information doesn't drive an economy well. But all that can change. If anyone tries to "control the internet" we remember how to set that information free.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Neitzschean Aphorisms pt.1

Human ethics and morality may very well be reduced to two conclusions:

"Be excellent to one another and party on dudes!"

The devil, as usual, is in the details.
Truth is stranger than fiction because

1) Fiction must make sense; reality is not bound to such limits

2) Fiction begins and ends at discrete moments; reality goes on and on

3) Good fiction shows all of the central, important facts; reality is filled with enigmas
Uzzah the ox-cart driver may have been the most compassionate man in the Old or New Testaments.
Good people inclined to do good things will do them regardless of their specific religious profession. Bad people inclined to do bad things will do them despite their specific religious profession.

There are good Christians and bad Christians
There are good Moslems and bad Moslems
There are good Athiests and bad Athiests
There are good Buddhists and bad Buddhists
There are good Jews and bad Jews

Religion and morality are parallel but seperate.
I'd rather not die like Jesus, thinking I had all the answeres. Rather, I'd prefer to die like Socrates, knowing I had only the questions.
The worst thing to happen to the profound moral speculations of Yeshua ben Yosef was to re-write them under the pen name "Jesus the Christ".

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exercises in Identity pt. 3: Identity crises

I define an identity crisis as an event in which some element of a person's identity is in doubt. The most general form of identity crisis occurs when one element of identity does not correspond to another element of identity - they do not identify the same person.

One example is the use of an identification card to obtain some restricted but desired substance or item. In some Western countries, especially the United States, access to alcohol or tobacco is restricted to those over a certain age. Usually, one's age is proved by presenting a form of government issued photo identification complete with date of birth. This process can lead to an identity crises in a number of ways.

One form of such crisis is misrepresentation. The person presenting the identification produces an ID that is valid in all ways, but not that of the person presenting. The intention is to decieve, usually by using an ID bearing a picture that is similar to the presenter's face - their biometric identity.

In this form of identity crises, the misrepresenter hopes that the examiner of the identity will believe that the misrepresnters biometric identity will be misunderstood to correspond to the document identity presented. Failing that, the misrepresenter hopes that fear of a false positive during the identity examination will deter attempts by the examiner to confront the misrepresenter.

When the identity examiner suspects misrepresentation, it is common then to resort to other means to confirm the identity. The examiner may ask the identity user to state their name, address, birth date or other trivia, whose correspondence to the data listed on the identification card will be confirmed. Such trivia are intended to represent a weak form of data-point identity, where an identification card user will be expected to produce these data unrehearsed. However, in actual practice, a misrepresenting identification user can be assumed to have rehearsed or memorised the data, causing such recitation to become instead a weak form of codestring identity, albeit involving a codestring that is known by more than two parties.

Oddly enough, one more significant form of resolving this form of identity crises is to involve law enforcement, in many cases deputies of the local county's sheriff's office. Strikingly, such law enforcement has few tools in their arsenal unavailable to the earlier ID examiner. While law enforcement may use a magnetic strip or RFID reader to obtain information stored electronically on the card, such information only asserts the validity of the printed information on the card. On site examination still cannot prove or disprove the correspondence of the present person's biometric identity with the photo presented on the identification. Theoretically, more precise means of biometric analysis could be called into play, probably by digitally scanning images into a computer programmed to analyse them. Such a process is only as good, however, as the accuracy of the process involved, which cannot be experimentally confirmed to be 100% accurate.
Another form of identity crisis occurs regularily at the radio network at which the present author is employed. The nature of such work involves daily communication with a number of radio hosts over various forms of audio telecommunications equipment, or via computer text internetworking media. There is in the network studio no corresponding video or visual means of communication. Therfore, the radio hosts must rely only on audio or textual media for identity cues. However, many of the network employees sound similar to the common human ear. Their nominal identies must be commonly reaffirmed once per day, so the show hosts know with which network board-op they are interacting.

One apparent solution would to be to rely on codestring identity; that is, to give each network board-op a unique inernetworking (Instant messenger, e-mail, or both) identity, with a unique codestring attached (a unique login and password). However, pragmatic demands of scheduling and intra-board-op communication often requires their collective use of such assets, and so such media do not uniquely correspond to an individual board-op.

One possible solution to this recurrent identity crisis would involve narrative or stylistic identity. Given enough samples with which to work, it is quite likely that unique features of narrative style and content might be discerned for each individual board-op, and so each board-op might be identified by their unique features. To date, I do not believe that the process has been completed.
"In 1962, the Fogg Museum of Harvard University arranged an unusual art exhibit, in which some of the paintings were fakes and most were genuine: "experts" were invited to come and pick out the fakes. Among those who authenticated at least one fake were the chairman of the Art Department at Princeton and the scretary of the Fogg itself. Most of the guests kept their opinions private, just making otes, but when the truth was revealed they 'quietly crumpled their papaers.' " [Wilson, Robert Anton; Everything is Under Control, HarperCollins books, 1998. ISBN 0-06-27317-2]

It is a conceit of art critics and art historians that the works of many noted artworks may be identified by the hallmarks of the style of their creators. That is, a painting can be identified to be the work of a particular painter by examining the style of the work. This is a use of stylistic identity. Similarly, literary critics and analysts attempt to identify writing style when determining if a given work is by a known writer writing under a pen name. As well, a moderator for an online forum may attempt to discerne if a new poster may be an older poster working under a new screen name by analysing the style of anything written.

However, as the Fogg experiment demonstrates, actual use of stylistic identity to identify a unique individual is not necessarily accurate, and should be used with caution, even by acclaimed experts.
Nicholas Bourbaki

He was at one time hailed as a new polymath, producing excellent work in many fields of theoretical and applied mathematics, and publishing a number of journal articles. However, he was never seen to attend conferences or otherwise emerge into public. Many claimed (accurately) to correspond with him, but no one outside of a select few actually claimed to have met him.

Because Nicholas Bourbaki did not exist. He was the invention of a circle of French mathemeticians. Expressed in our terms of identity, Bourbaki enjoyed stylistic and narrative identity, as well as a nominal identity. He however lacked a biophysical identity, or a psychological identity outside of the conituity of memory of his "creators".

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Third Scientific Revolution

The first scientific revolution, forged and championed by such luminaries as Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei and others. The first scientific revolution emphasised the gathering of and reliance upon empirical evidence. Observations would be quantified, measured, isolated, and repeated. The first scientific revolution bequeathed to the world the first scientific method: observe a phenomenon, identify independent and dependent variables, create an experiment, alter the independent variable(s) and observe any changes to the dependent variables, draw causal conclusions. Repeat and expand as necessary to form and confirm a theory.

The second scientific revolution, begun in the social and life sciences: statistical analysis. When a phenomenon becomes impossible to recreate in a controlled, laboratory environment, the investigator may instead choose to observe the phenomenon repeatedly in an outside environment. Data are collected, tabulated, and analysed as a statistical universe. Correlations are noted and causal conclusions are drawn. Studies are repeated and expanded to form and confirm theories.

The third scientific revolution, made possible by microcomputing: scientific modelling. A set of conditions regarding a phenomena are observed. Those data are used to formulate a set of initial conditions in an abstract, computational model. The model is allowed to operate, and consequent conditions of the model are derived. Those consequent conditions are checked against observed consequent conditions of the phenomenon being modeled. If the modeled consequential conditions closely match the observed consequential conditions, then the operations of the model serve as the basis for drawing causal conclusions and the formulation of theories.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Non-verbal Communication

One continuing difficulty with communication is in the fact that our mechanisms of conveying meaning lag behind the change in social behaviors and conditions. Coupled with the fact that almost every means of communicating becomes subverted by those who wish to deceive, it is sometimes a wonder that any meaningful exchange occurs at all.

Witness my experience of last night. I was returning home from my place of employment, and needed to stop at a bank branch to use the ATM. The time was around 12:30 AM when I pulled into the bank's parking lot. The night was dark, and cold, though not unpleasantly so. As I entered the parking lot, a young woman crossed my path and entered the bank, presumably with the intent of using the ATM herself.

Conventional mores suggest that it was my role to wait patiently, and use the ATM in turn after she had finished. There was little difficulty in me for that. However, what ought I do to signal my intent to do so?

As is habitual, I was dressed in black. Much of my outerwear is black leather, and the overall tone is somewhat quasi-military. My general manner of dress conveys a set of tribal signals, and makes use of certain ingrained archetypes to send preconscious signals of danger to many members of the mainstream culture. In short, I sometimes frighten people. There are certain reasons why I do this, and allow it to happen, but those reasons did not apply to this situation.

How then was I to convey that I had no intent in this situation to be dangerous? I lacked any intent or inclination to assault, rob, rape, or kill this young woman. I merely wished to use the ATM when she had finished her transactions. However, I was conscious of the suggestion that my intent was not clear.

Was I to follow her into the building, waiting some socially acceptable distance away? Or should I wait outside, knowing that doing so might be construed as "lurking in the shadows?" I decided to wait outside, underneath a street light, with my hands visible and a stance that suggested restful waiting; a stance hat was not poised for sudden movements. I offered her a "good evening" as she left the building, and moved slowly and with copious personal seperation into the building.

I hope I didn't frighten her. Doing so was not my intent.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Hopes for the First 100 Days

If the U.S. wants to see the change President Obama has been making so much noise about, they must take some control of their government again.

However, many of the policy changes I wish to see happen were implemented by the previous administration under the aegis of President Bush's role as Commander-in-Chief. As such, I hope that Obama, again acting as Commander-in-Chief will alter them. I would like to see the Iraq and Afghanistan wars brought to a close as quickly as possible - the "First thing steaming home" strategy. It took about three weeks to get all of those troops to Iraq, and I would like to see if we can beat that record coming home. I understand Pres. Obama so far isn't headed in that direction, but if he wanted to, he could.

I would also like to see the U.S. imprisonment and rendition camps in Guantanamo and elsewhere closed immediately. Any perceived to be a danger in the future should be given over to their home countries for arraignment and trial. Any inmates who cannot be sent home should be offered asylum in the U.S. unless they wish to go to another country that agrees to take them. Again, not likely to happen that way, but Pres. Obama could order it if he wanted to.

Further, I would like to see President Obama ask incoming Attorney General Holder to investigate and, if necessary, ask for indictments regarding possible war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of federal laws against torture, and whatever charges might apply. I sincerely hope that Pres. Obama will not issue blanket pardons to anyone for the misdeeds of the earlier administration. Again, he may choose not to do so, but he need not go beyond the executive branch to do so.

So, I'd like to think I'm willing to support change, but change really can start at the top in many ways.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Emergency Exit

I was walking past the Macy's store in downtown Minneapolis (formerly Marshall Fields, formerly Dayton's). Lining the inside of the windows is a glossy, opaque, black sheeting. The black is opened up here and there to display store items: mannequins with the latest fashions, shoes, handbags, assorted consumer products.

Then I noticed the door. It read "EMERGENCY EXIT - ALARM WILL SOUND." The letters read from left to right when viewed from the street, and were positioned in front of the opaque blackness. The words would be reversed and unreadable from inside the building.

This then couldn't be an exit from the building. Is this, perhaps, the emergency exit from the bustle and stress of a modern urban center? Is it an emergency exit from a nation that is declining politically, crumbling economically, and terminally fractured socially? Or is this perhaps an emergency exit from a cold, cynical, and ultimately meaningless world?

Where does it go to?

I tried the door. It was locked. No alarm sounded.

At least it wasn't an emergency.
Roberts and Obama both flub the oath of office.

People who are nervous and excited, at one of the most important events of their lives often have trouble speaking or reading clearly. Especially in front of thousands of people in person and millions more watching via media.

So I'm willing to give them both a pass, and assume the oath is taken as required by the Constitution.

However, I'm going to predict that someone, somewhere, is going to throw a fit. Over the next few months, the "Obama can't be President" crowd is going to claim that because Barak Obama didn't take the oath of office as precisely required by the Constitution, that means he was never sworn in as President. Others are going to claim that he never took the oath, and so isn't going to be bound to it, and is going to become some sort of tyrant. Likely, a few will claim that Chief Justice Roberts deliberately screwed it up, so that Obama wouldn't be sworn in, or so that Obama wouldn't have to adhere to the oath.

I believe that to be nonsense. Eight years of the Bush administration have shown that in this country, the President will freely disregard the principles of the Constitution, its dictates and limitations. And the other branches of government will not call him on it. Obama doesn't need some contrived avoidance of the oath of office to do what he wishes.

I also strongly suspect that if Chief Justice Roberts intended to not swear in Obama, he would have explicitly refused to do so. There would be no reason to intentionally screw it up to set up some sort of legal wrangling - if he'd really wanted to, he would have said something like, "Senator Obama, I cannot in good conscience administer the oath of office today."

We don't need the conspiratorial interpretations today. Never attribute to malice that which is more obviously attributable to human failings.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Addendum to Hyperreality

For a brief time this summer, there existed a program on the Genesis Communications Network titled "the Ron Paul Roadshow". This program was hosted by Chris Moore and Linda Hunnicut from the "Ron Paul RV".

On the first day that this radio show went into production, the Genesis producer inquired if there was a bird of some sort in the studio. He was informed that the source of the apparent bird sounds was in fact Buddy, a small monkey of indeterminant species. Buddy continued to play a small part in the production of each episode of the Ron Paul Roadshow.

Much later, in a discussion at the Genesis studio, the subject of Buddy the monkey was broached. It was observed that there may exist a radio show of the "wacky morning" variety that would employ regular monkey noises. However, Buddy the monkey would not serve well on those radio shows, as he cannot be expected to perform on cue. Therefore, such a radio show usually would employ either a sound board (either physical or digital) with pre-recorded monkey noises, or a human voice simulating monkey noises.

This is an example of hyperreality. A non-physical monkey is experienced by an audience as more real than an actual flesh and blood monkey.

An Allegory of Rivers

Picture a rapidly moving but pacific appearing stream. It winds over the terrain, never ceasing its flow. As the stream flows over its bed, a careful observer notices that its surface is not completely even. Whorls, eddies, ripples and ebbs appear, disturbing the streams otherwise placid flow.

Underneath the surface, all is not so simple. The stream flows over a rocky bad, tumbling and jostling over rocks and logs. Currents bend around obstacles, and the entire stream is shaped by the form of its bed; it bends and twists within its banks. The stream is sometimes wide and shallow, sometimes narrow and deep, and always more complex than it appears on the surface.

Silt runs underneath the sunlight skin, the consequence of water's rubbing further upstream, a process visible only by its consequences. Fish dart here and there, their presence only guessed at by the flash of sun off scales as one surfaces momentarily. Their maneuvers take place in an environment alien and isolated from the outside world.

This stream is a human mind, its surface the visage exposed to the outside world. The whorls and eddies we may see are the consequences of submerged obstacles we cannot. The aim of counseling, then, is not to remove the rocks and logs and physical obstructions of the stream bed – that is too complex a task, and one will destroy the nature of the stream in the process. Only the dead are so uniform. Instead, it is the job of the counselor to help smooth and round the obstacles of the stream bed, so they cause less conflict and confusion as the stream progresses ever onward to a new horizon.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking it elsewhere: Iran and nuclear ambition

[Editor's note: I have been a follower of the Steve Jackson's Games corporate online forum for some years now. Recently, a conversation has been begun there that I'd like to add some outside commentary on. You can find the original conversation here.]

I believe there are a few key points that have been forgotten here:

1) Iran self-identifies as an "Islamic Republic". Its government is to a certain extent a representative democracy, albeit one whose candidates are all vetted and approved by the ruling Theocratic Guardian Council. In the late 1990's, that council was increasingly experimenting with permitting moderate, pro-western candidates to run and win elections. This was in response to thawing Western relations, and a growing educated, pro-Western, pro-secular young adult demographic within Iran itself.
This experiment with political moderation ended in 2002, with a return to hard-line, anti Western and pro-Ayatollah candidates, including current President Achmadenijhad. This backlash was almost certainly induced by President Bush's choice to include Iran in the "Axis of Evil."

2) President Achmadenijhad is not quite the nutcase that the Western and U.S. media portrays him as being. In nearly every instance where he has been demonized for threatening Israel (whose close relation to the U.S. is a matter much too large for this posting), a deeper inspection of the transcript of his remarks usually shows such threats in the context of a hypothetical attack by Israel on Iran. Responding to attack with a counter-attack, while damaging to world peace, is still usually considered the perogative of a nation-state.

3) Gas centerfuge enrichment of uranium is both a step towards development of nuclear weapons and a step towards a non-weapon nuclear power program. This sort of peaceful program is what Iran asserts it is pursuing (whether or not anyone believes it). Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA off and on, seeking the IAEA's certification that their program is peaceful. Unfortunately, with every period of saber rattling by the U.S., Western Europe, or Israel, Iran balks and halts its cooperation. It is entirely plausible that Iran is primarily intedning to move toward nuclear power, with the possibility of developing nuclear weapons as a reserve for if the believe themselves threatened with attack.

4) The current U.S. administration is the primary source of the claims that Iran is intending to develop nuclear weapons. As we saw in the run-up to the Second Gulf War, this same administration main any number of claims about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, a nuclear weapons program that -in retrospect- did not exist, and was asserted not to exist by the IAEA. In fact, as something of a snub to the U.S. and it's administration, the head of the IAEA was later named for a Nobel Peace Prize. In my view, the current Presidential administration (as of this writing, #43) simply does not have the credibility to make any sorts of claims.

So, the blustering in Iran's direction has the appearance of the consciuos villifying of an otherwise indifferent nation. That villification and following provocations are used to trigger a defensive response from that nation. Such defensive measures are used as a justification for further provocations, and as rationalization for already decided upon war plans. We saw all of this in 2003, and there is simply no reason to allow it to happen again in 2009.