Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

06
May
13

The biggest possible number

This article is great. I understand like 5% of it and its still great. 

http://www.scottaaronson.com/writings/bignumbers.html

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04
May
13

Philosophy on bathroom stalls

Never thought I would write that title, but I was over at buzzfeed, indulging the juvenile proscratinator in me, and I looked at this. It’s pretty funny, but more importantly, there is actually philosophical value to this piece of vandalism. Written on a bathroom stall was the following:

Things I Hate

1. Vandalism

2. Irony

3. Lists

Whoever came up with this is pretty smart, because there are multiple layers of self-reference, recursion, and meta-statements. In fact, I’m not sure how to characterize them all.

Number 1 creates irony by introducing a contrast between the communication of a message (that the person hates vandalism) with the form of that message (a message on a bathroom stall, which is vandalism). Number 1 would not be out of the ordinary if it were written on government form or a school test.

Number 2 is meta-irony. If one sees something ironic, one can draw attention to it by labeling it as irony, “hey, that’s ironic,” and 2 is like that (we just saw irony with the vandalism case) but it’s better than that. Because the person is putting irony on a list of things that he hates, but previously just created, there is further irony. Does the fact that the person uses the word “irony” ironically, introduce further irony? Is it of a different type then what went before? One could say that 2 not only points out the irony of (1), but also exemplifies irony by itself.

Number 3 is an example of the same pattern. The person is writing a list in writing 3, just as he was vandalizing in writing 1. This similarity between 1 and 3 makes me think that 2 is the special one in this list. The person has somehow created an environment in which pointing out irony is itself ironic. Quite an achievement.

What if the inscription on the stall was

Things I hate

1. vandalism

2. ironic lists

3. self reference

Would this make 2 somehow more self-referential then before? I’m not sure what to think.

31
Mar
13

I met an Iranian General

I took megabus* from San Francisco to LA. But we stopped in San Jose. A man got in and sat next to me. I ignored him.

Later, we talked, and I wondered about his accent. Still later I asked if he wanted some of my water. He didn’t. Then he turned the vents down a little.

Finally, he told me he was visiting this country from his native land. I asked where that was. He said, somewhat uncomfortable, “Iran.” We kept talking. I found out he was in the Iranian military. Ok fine. He said he flew Chinook helicopters. Alright, pretty sweet. He told me he retired as a Brigadier general. haha. I couldn’t believe it.

America is an egotistical nation in this way: time after time, polls, data, and reports tell us that we’re doing something badly. Or worse than before. For instance, we find out that we’re falling behind in math and science. But public sentiment is unconcerned. This is America! We don’t do things badly. Yet, what always puffs our ego is talking to people from other countries, and this guy did that for me. He told me how much he loved America. He trained in America (there were no flight schools in Iran), then he moved back to Iran, but never forgot America. All of his family members live her and he tries to come here as much as possible. He wants to get a green card, but it will be hard because he’s from Iran. He doesn’t care though. He loves America.

I tell him that the schools in America aren’t what they used to be. He tells me he loves our religious freedom. I tell him college is expensive, he tells me his grandson is an electrical engineer at Stanford and that it’s worth every penny. Wherever I see room for growth or change, he tells me what a wonderful country we’ve built. It feels good. It really does. It’s deceptive, but it does feel really good.

It makes me laugh to think that we have trouble getting behind the idea that it should be easy for people to come to america and study math and science, and then live here when they’re done. I won’t claim that such people love America more than some Americans, that would be heresy. But these people, by and large, seem to love America in a way that some native-born American cannot quite appreciate first-hand.

This general had broken english, and I told him about “the immigrant mentality.” The idea that with hard work, one can make it in America. He knew this phrase and agreed. He said that he told his grandson and other family members that education was most important. That they should work, study, and take advantage of all America has to offer. It was very inspiring. It may be proud to be an American, and it made me more optimistic about the future. Last, it made me think that we really need to welcome people who want to come here.

It’s like school. You can’t make kids want to be in class, and a corollary; those who want to be in class usually do much better than those who don’t. I want to be around people who want to be in America.

*Megabus claims to have wi-fi. That is laughable. Most people know that it is laughable. I could create better wi-fi if molded tin-foil to take signals out of the air.

20
Mar
13

Cooperative Hunting

I’ve been trying to figure out whether species that are not as advanced as primates are able to represent the behavior of another organism as directed toward a goal. This is a big step and its different than being SENSITIVE to the goals of other organisms. Ants in a colony are sensitive to the behavior of the ant next to them, but the question is can any species represent another organism as pursuing goal. 

I thought that a place to start might be in coordinated predation situations in which the hunting animals have to represent escape routes of prey or represent the prey as pursuing shelter, etc. I don’t think I found any convincing examples, but I did see the article. Apparently some Groupers recruit moray eels to help them hunt. They then go and hunt together! 

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0040431

09
Feb
13

Why do stewardesses call trash “service items”

I was listening to a podcast from the Moth, and on it was a woman who used to be a stewardess (maybe still is?).

She said that when she was being trained, she was told to say “service items” instead of trash. The reason was that some angry flight attendants would go up to people and ostensibly ask for their trash by saying “your trash” as in “would you please give me your trash.” However, “your trash” which is homophonically ambiguous with “you’re trash” and many attendants would intentionally try to evoke the latter meaning.

Isn’t that a gem?

09
Feb
13

My gun control bible

For now, this article is my gun control bible. It appears to be from a person who is honest in his biases, earnest in his attempt to give context and fair air to both sides, and even knows a little bit about what he’s talking about. I broadly agree with his prescriptions and I hope this piece sparks a better dialogue. I especially liked how he tried to explain what the value is that gun owners see in their guns and how it constitutes an activity that deserves some prima facie respect, because people find value in it in a complex way.

It’s really great.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/liberals-with-guns/273002/

*It’s interesting, because most people talk about how the fact that America already has a lot of guns is a big problem. We have so many in circulation, the thought goes, that we can’t reduce gun crime without draconian measures. That’s true, but the other way to look at it should be that bc there are so many guns out there, we cannot fall prey to tyranny very easily. The citizens are too well armed. What we can do though is pass laws that make the redistribution of those guns to criminals more difficult. This is why background checks seem like a slam dunk. Under an extreme background check regime, it seems that any citizen with an honest history could get a gun and anyone without such a history would have to work much harder to get one. Everyone wins.

02
Feb
13

Advertising and Journalism

It’s common to be concerned with the media these days. It seems to many that it’s just not informative, or not concerned with the truth. Or perhaps we just don’t trust it or rely on it and us not trusting the media has made it impossible for it to investigate serious stories. 

Whatever the problem is, people have noticed that media has become much more like entertainment. This is something that I think is a very real and very prevalent fact about media. “News” content has become more designed to excite and amuse. Just go to buzzfeed.com if you don’t believe me, though of course it’s a little disingenuous for me to pretend that buzzfeed is a news source. 

I wonder what the connection between making news entertaining and journalistic ethics. I have not had enough time to read about this, so I’m in the dark, but here are my intuitions. On the one hand, I have this intuition that journalism is less and less a profession with conventions and standards of conduct and excellent. In one way, this might be good, since citizens can now participate in generating information for others without a potentially uninviting expertism serving as a barrier. On the other hand, should be worried that hoaxes like Manti Te’o (sp?) are becoming more and more common because the journalistic standards of “publications of repute” are degrading? 

The other intuition I have though is that it’s naive to think that journalists ever really obeyed a code of conduct that was particularly public spirited. Yellow journalism is my example of this. Also, newspapers in old presidential races used to, I believe, just make things up completely. 

But something is bugging me about the modern media environment, and I happened on this article today, which didn’t ease my anxiety. I found this article on the Atlantic.com’s site where it was flagged as affiliate (i.e., advertiser content) but it was still included in a section called “around the web” and this isn’t like buzzfeed’s strategy of making advertisements fit right in with normal content. But that’s the problem. What is “normal” content? If there are people out there who are just writing promotional pieces for corporations and newspapers are putting those articles in sections that are only half-concealed areas for “articles” that are in fact advertisements with paragraph stops, then it seems that the power of media will again be undermined because our trust in media will again be undermined. 

If consumers of information have a harder and harder time telling what is real, it seems that they will have to fight harder to learn things and will be easier targets for those organizations which can make their chosen message easy to stumble upon. 

I have the feeling that I’m not being very clear, and perhaps I’m being alarmist about nothing. Maybe the new media environment will make it more and more possible for an “honest” media company to flourish. One that, you know, at least checks to see if the people that it writes stories about are even real.