Thursday, February 28, 2008

I don't even know if i can enjoy this sham election now that I know who's going to win.

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

A Legacy for W?

I had this article passed to me today. In it Bob Geldof recounts his time traveling with and interviewing President Bush. In it Geldof is surprisingly charitable with Bush over his policies in Africa. He even points out that Bush's policies (or at least the continuation of Clinton's policies) has had a fairly large impact in the whole of Africa. That is not to say that he gives Bush a pass on everything else. Geldof pointedly contrasts the humanity of Bush's African policy with the inhumanity of the Iraq war. I think in all, this is probably the most generous evaluation of Bush that I've seen to date, that wasn't given by sycophant.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Has the logjam broken?

So I finally finished "I am a Strange Loop". I'd been working my way through it for a while. Don't get me wrong, it is a very fascinating book, but when you only read at bedtime and you only read three or four pages before you fall asleep, you aren't going to be known as the most prodigious reader.

I've now started in on a couple of new books. Usually when I finish one book, I start reading a few at once. The one that holds my attention the best is the one that I stick with. It would appear that "The End of America: Letter to a Young Patriot" by Naomi Wolf has won the battle this time. While I know that it won't help to dispel my image as a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, this book does have some very interesting points. Wolf makes some parallels between the gradual slide into fascism seen by other countries and recent events in our own.

Yes, I know that nearly any parallel drawn between Nazi Germany in polite discussion is almost guaranteed to trigger people's nut case reflex and is more likely to get your point written off as paranoia than get it listened to. Having said that I find myself drawn to Wolf's points. I think Wolf realized this as well and went out of her way to draw relevant examples from the histories of other repressive regimes. When someone connects the dots like this it starts to get a little scary. The problem is that we all have to decide for ourselves if she is really drawing us an accurate picture or if the dots she connects are no more tangible than the dots that we draw in the nights sky to create the constellations. I'm inclined to believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe closer to Wolf's side of the middle though.

In other news, it would appear that the bureaucratic logjam that has surrounded my main project at work seems to have broken in the last couple of days. This has some good and bad consequences. On the good side we will be able to begin the work of making some much needed improvements to the system. On the bad side, the research work that we'd been working on while nobody was looking will get put on hold. Fortunately we'd gotten far enough in our research to produce results and I think that I will be able to parley those results into continued research in this direction.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TED - Apes that write

If this doesn't make you expand what it means to be a person, you are dead on the inside.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TED - Fractals in interesting places.

This one appeals to the math nerd in me.

TED - Stew

Stew is a musician. I just got a chuckle out of this.

TED - Should this guy be the next Secretary of Defense?

This one is both insightful and scary. People actually think this way? At first, I wanted to call him a warmonger but on second thought I'm not actually sure. He has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the subject and I wonder how different things would bee if his plan structure had been adopted prior to our war with Iraq.


Very recently I start seeing a lot of fascinating talks given by some very interesting individuals. It turns out that the majority of the talks were given at a yearly convention called TED. Rather than reiterate what their website already says very well, I will just link to it. I'm going to also post a few of my favorite so far. If you get bored or sick of these... Sorry.

I Am A Strange Loop

For a while I've been reading "I am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter. In this book the author sets out to define what a human soul is without just saying, "It is the part of you that lives on after you die." Why would anyone want to do this? Good question. I think it is a question that he is drawn to for any number of reasons but I suspect it has a lot to do with what seems to be a recurring theme in my thoughts. It is probably no surprise to many/most of you that I am an Atheist/Agnostic/Humanist/etc. From what I can gather Hofstadter falls in this same category. For me not having someone tell me that I have a soul and I that it is on loan from God leaves a big gap in explaining what the hell I am doing here and what I should do next. Hofstadter doesn't really go into the what I should do next, but he does take an interesting swing at trying to figure out what the hell we are doing here.

What is fascinating is how he eventually comes to the point of saying that we don't really have a soul and our concept of identity (our "I" itself) is merely an illusion or at best a convenient shorthand for the collection of chaos that we perceive as ourselves. That we are in effect just a very fascinating pattern of atoms that has become organized enough to perceive the pattern in itself. I find that idea to be both awesome and scary. Awesome to think about the amazingly complex collection of patterns that must go into making the "I" that we speak of when we make the statement "cogito ergo sum". Do I really need to need to go into why it is scary? Hey if the thought that you are a figment of your own imagination doesn't scare you, then you've got bigger existential balls that I do. Rather than ramble on and on, let me leave you with one of the passage with which he finishes the book.

You and I are mirages who perceive themselves, and the sole magical machinery behind the scenes is perception -- the triggering, by huge flows of raw data, of a tiny set of symbols that stand for abstract regularities in the world. When perception at arbitrarily high levels of abstraction enters the world of physics and when feedback loops galore come into play, then "which" eventually turns into "who". What would once have been brusquely labeled "mechanical" and reflexively discarded as a candidate for consciousness has to be reconsidered.

We human beings are macroscopic structures in a universe whose laws reside at the microscopic level. As survival-seeking beings, we are driven to seek efficient explanations that make reference only to entities at our own level. We therefore draw conceptual boundaries around entities that we easily perceive, and in so doing we carve out what seems to us to be reality. The "I" we create for each of us is a quintessential example of such a perceived or invented reality, and it does such a good job of explaining our behavior that it becomes the hub around which the rest of the world seems to rotate. But this "I" notion is just a shorthand for a vast mass of seething and churning of which we are necessarily unaware.

Sometimes, when my leg goes to sleep (as we put it in English) and I feel a thousand pins and needles tingling inside it, I say to myself, "Aha! So this is what being alive really is! I'm getting a rare glimpse of how complex I truly am!" (In French, on says that one has "ants in one's leg", and the cartoon character Dennis the Menace once remarked that he had "ginger ale in his leg" -- two unforgettable metaphors for this odd yet universal sensation.) Of course we can never com close to experiencing the full tingling complexity of what we truly are, since we have, to take just one typical example, six billion trillion (that is, six thousand million million million) copies of the hemoglobin molecule rushing about helter-skelter through our veins at all moments, and in each second of our lives, 400 trillion of them are destroyed while another 400 trillion are created. Numbers like these are way beyond human comprehension.

But our own unfathomability is a lucky thing for us! Just as we might shrivel up and die if we could truly grasp how minuscule we are in comparison to the vast universe we live in, so we might also explode in fear and shock if we were privy to the unimaginably frantic goings-on inside our bodies. We live in a state of blessed ignorance, but it is also a state of marvelous enlightenment, for it involves floating in a universe of mid-level categories of our won creation -- categories that function incredibly well as survival enhancers.

Have you ever heard nihilism expressed in such gentle and human terms? If you get a chance I'd recomend this book. Even if you know you will never agree with his viewpoint, there are some very striking and poignant moments to be found inside.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Oh no!!! The Squirrels are comming for me.

So I'm a pretty heavy sleeper. I don't often remember dreams and when I do they are usually only very vague flashes. Last night was an exception.

You know those times when you jerk awake because your body feels like it is falling? That's not really what is happening in your dreams. You are actually being attacked by rabid squirrels.

Last night I dreamt that I was walking through a yard somewhere. As I walked I approached a tree. In the branch of the tree was a cute little squirrel. As I approached the branch, the squirrel jumped down and ran toward me. Just as the clearly rabid squirrel reached me I jerked awake. I was then left disoriented and checking the sheets of the bed for squirrels.

So there you have it. Categorical proof that when you jerk awake from sleep you are actually being attacked by squirrels in your dreams. If you talk to J. you will find that I do this quite often and it isn't always squirrels but for now I'm convinced that it is the squirrels that wake me up at night.