6/30/12

death

I had a good friend in high school. Today, my mom tried to call me during work. A bad sign. Shortly after, my sister texted me and said "Mom said so-and-so died". So-and-so is my friend's older brother. I called my mom back a little later. She said "he 'did it' at such-and-such a time". I suspected he had 'done' something. The viewing is tomorrow.. or rather today. In 10 hours.

I love the family. I knew this person fairly well. He taught me one of the most important tools I use when improvising on the piano.

I don't feel anything though.

Yesterday, I was watching America's Got Talent on Hulu. There was this Texan standing on the stage with a guitar. He stuttered when the judges asked him who he was. He said he had served in Afghanistan. A grenade blew up near him, and damaged his brain. "That's why I stutter a little." The guy seemed so humble and contentedly optimistic. His girlfriend -- possibly his wife -- had told him he should audition. He sang really well, without stuttering. I cried during his song. I hadn't cried in a while. I couldn't remember when I had cried last.

I didn't feel anything today. I don't think I'm repressing anything. It may just be that I'm too burnt out to feel.. but I cried yesterday watching America's Got Talent. Maybe I'm too burnt out to process things relevant to my own life.

I don't know. I don't know if I'll go to the viewing. I would need to wake up in 3 hours and catch a plane. I feel like it would take great effort to "be there" emotionally for the family. And I'm burnt out. I feel like it "shouldn't" be relevant that I'm burnt out. But it is.

UPDATE:

I ended up going to the funeral. The funeral was at 10am. I flew out of SFO at 6am. It was good to see the family. I hadn't seen them in seven years or so, but it was easy to reconnect. The funeral was good -- everyone was in remarkably high spirits considering this was a suicide. Mormon funerals in general tend to be pretty positive, and this family in particular has a very positive and accepting outlook on life.

I identify with the person who committed suicide. I identified with him when I knew him seven years ago, and hearing the talks about his life, I identified with him more. I believe that is why I was not saddened by the news. The truth is, it made sense to me, from what I knew of him when I had known him seven years ago. I believe I understood what he was going through. And he was so loving to the people around him all through his life, that nobody seemed to blame him for his choice.

Anyway, I feel like I should let readers know that I'm not planning to commit suicide. But I feel like people should be more open about talking about it. Death and suicide are delicate issues, but I don't think they're helped by not discussing them.

meditation 5

...continued. Seven minutes again. This time I tried to focus more on my breathing, and not on relaxing. My main thoughts while meditating this time:

  • What should I do during the gap between breathing out, and breathing in again? (This thought is a recurring theme.)
  • I keep thinking about my body, trying to keep it straight, as if I'm in a yoga pose of some sort, which is distracting.
  • This is boring.
I think I may be missing something. I think the "trying to keep my body straight" thing may be an issue. I'm not sure meditation is meant to be about keeping my body in line. On the other hand, yoga, which seems similar in my mind to meditation, does seem to involve keeping the body straight, so I'm not sure. Maybe it is time to read something about meditation before my next attempt.

6/28/12

burnout

I'm burnt out. I intended to take a very long vacation after grad school. My mind was all prepared for it. It was a driving force helping me finish my thesis. I was looking forward to it. I had saved up money. I had no obligations. I had no girlfriend.

But then, I got offered a job at oDesk. I tried to avoid it with unreasonable demands, like "I want to work on whatever interests me. I don't want to deal with bureaucracy or applying for money for projects. I want to be able to talk about whatever I do outside the company. I want to be allowed to work remotely when it suits me." But they said "fine". And they offered a great salary, without any negotiation on my part. I would also be working in a new research lab, directly with the CTO of the company. Also, and most importantly, I respected the CTO as a mentor (and he is now a close friend).

So I said "yes".

Anyway, my point is, I'm burnt out, but not because of oDesk.

I'm burnt out because of grad school.. still..

But now it has caught up to me, and I'm losing my creative juices. So soon, I'll be taking a vacation.

I hope. Stuff keeps popping up. I have two family reunions in July, as well as other stuff.. anyway.. if I don't figure it out soon on my own, I think my body will effectively force me into vacation by refusing to do stuff.. so there's that backup plan at least :)

6/26/12

self hypnosis 3

I had another go at listening to the hypnosis relaxation thing here. I felt I was doing pretty well getting relaxed and letting my mind go, though one image came up that was a bit disturbing was that of leeches boring their way into soil, and I took the leeches to be the words of this person, and the soil to be my mind. Now, I didn't feel unrelaxed by this image -- though it kinda seems like it should have had that effect -- but I did worry a bit that maybe this was some sort of anti-body reaction my subconscious was having. I had another similarly themed image later on, with mud and bricks and lego-looking miner people all sliding and marching their way into my head.

Apart from that, I felt I was more relaxed than before. Though I did have an issue with my mouth. I really felt like I needed to swallow, and part of my mind said "don't do it, we can will ourselves not to swallow.. it will be a demonstration that we're really entering a hypnotic state", and the other part said "I'm getting less and less comfortable with this urgent need to swallow, I should probably swallow since it is detracting from the experience." I finally swallow, though involuntarily, as far as I could tell. Anyway, this seems like such a silly issue, yet I'm uncertain about the solution. I'm thinking I should probably just swallow in this case, until I reach a state where I'm really not consciously making decisions (assuming that ever happens), in which case I guess I won't need to decide what to do. I mean, when I sleep, I don't make these sorts of decisions..

There's still the issue of tracking my progress. It would be good to have something measurable, but I feel like I may still have a few fish to fry before crossing that bridge.

meditation 4

Continuing the saga, I tried meditating again today, this time for 7 minutes. Man, 7 minutes is a long time to meditate. I was on the verge of checking my stopwatch near the end to make sure I had actually started it.

This time seemed half-good and half-bad. I kept concentrating on my breathing the whole time, more or less, but my mind never really settled. There were videos playing in my mind the whole time. (For that matter, my eyes are playing tricks on me even now, and I see colorful images in the white areas of my computer monitor. I think this may be from playing Bastion, which has very colorful and vibrant scenery.)

I had a couple thoughts while meditating. One thought was about these scenes not going away, and uncertainty about why that was happening, and thinking about writing that thought here. The other thought was the meta-thought that I shouldn't be thinking about stuff to write here while meditating, coupled with the thought that it is probably still a good idea to log my meditation session in my blog, since it does seem to keep me doing it, and I think it helps me track my progress.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to do next time. I feel like this time was worse in terms of clearing my mind. I did have a moment where I felt like ideas and thought were falling away, and they did literally fall away in the sense that my mind conjured an image of them dropping out of view, but that same sense of my mind conjuring a view at all seemed to be the core problem.

Maybe this isn't a problem? Maybe I should just ignore it and keep concentrating on my breathing? I'm sure I should just keep concentrating on my breathing, I guess I'm more wondering if this is a sign that "I'm do'in it wrong" -- meaning that maybe I'm not concentrating on my breathing "correctly". For instance, maybe I should be "focussed" on my breathing, directing all my attention there. Currently I'm.. hm.. I'm concentrating on my breathing, but also trying to relax I guess. Maybe I shouldn't be trying to relax, but just focussed on my breathing? Hm.. this may be something to try next time.

dance

I had a dance class today. Up until this point, my dance classes have involved my instructor teaching me the steps and rhythms of various ballroom dances, along with west coast swing and hustle. I've enjoyed it, but I've felt a bit stuck. I hate memorizing patterns that other people have come up with.

Today, I took a new direction. I feel like I learn best trying things out myself first, figuring out as much as I can on my own, and then getting just enough instruction to lift me over the obstacles that I get stuck against.

So I asked my teacher to let me try something. I wanted her to just let me improvise, leading her, and to not criticize anything I was doing, or try to correct me, and that I wasn't going to do any particular style of dance, but just improvise freely.

At first it was very awkward. I didn't really know what to do. She suggested doing a Salsa step, and we did that for a bit, but I didn't want to fall into a predefined pattern, so I reverted to trying to make-up footwork on my own. Many things I tried didn't work out, but she persevered and didn't criticize me or tell me what to do, and she was supportive, playing along with the things I tried.

By mid lesson, I was feeling quite a bit more comfortable, and doing something, moving around the floor, and loosely incorporating little bits of stuff I had learned before, but not obeying any of the footwork. By the end, I was much less inhibited, and it was fun.

She did give me some suggestions during it, based on things I was trying to do, or things that I accidently almost did, and she showed me how make them work. I felt like these instructions were good. I feel like they'll be even better as I learn more on my own, and run up against problems that she can answer "in context".

Anyway, I'm very excited.

dianetics

I think the usual course of thought when it comes to something like Dianetics or Scientology is simply: that's crazy.

Now, I was born Mormon. A lot of people think Mormonism is crazy. The conventional view from outside Mormonism is: these people believe in multiple wives, they give 10% of their income to the church, they have temples with secret ceremonies that they don't want anyone to know the particulars of -- they're a cult.

I'm not Mormon now, but my family is, and the Mormons I know don't seem radical or crazy. From inside the LDS church, the conventional view is: we believe in God, strong family values, hard work and kindness to our fellow man.

I feel like the conventional view of Scientology is essentially the South Park episode on the subject flashing "this is what Scientologists actually believe" beneath Xenu flying DC-8-like spacecraft to Earth and killing lots of aliens here.

I am not a Scientologist, but I spoke with one today inside a building with a giant "Dianetics" sign situated right across the street from where I work.

My impression from that conversation was: we believe in finding happiness in our own lives, and bettering the human condition for everyone.

UPDATE:

I have some confessions to make to myself about this "dianetics" post above. The purpose of this blog is to sortof lay-down what's on my mind in the most sincere form possible, because I think that's useful for myself to get my ideas, however strange, "on paper" so my mind is free to think clearly.

However, in writing the post above, I was afraid of a couple of things, and ended up revising my post due to these fears. My first fear was that people I know might read this post and think that I "take Dianetics seriously, and don't think it's bat-shit crazy, and don't think it's just a scam to pry money from people." As it turns out, I don't have a strong opinion about that. I know almost nothing about Dianetics or Scientology, even after writing this post.

Second, while talking to the Scientologist guy, I told him that I wasn't from the press, and wasn't planning to write about this or tell people one thing or another about Scientology. What I was trying to convey to him was that I wasn't a "threat", and that he didn't need to be so guarded with me for fear that I would quote him saying something that sounds crazy out of context.

However, I am writing about this, as it turns out, so I lied. I didn't mean to, but I don't think the guy would be offended, and he said he was fine with me talking about it, also.. I don't think many people read this.. so my cognitive dissonance on this issue finally shifted toward: lay it all out, and don't make such promises in the future.

So with that, here are a couple points I wanted to make that were masked by the afore mentioned fears. Each of these points is a nugget of insight that stuck out to me in hearing about scientology from this guy, and also from reading a little on wikipedia. However, note that the guy was very explicit that I shouldn't take his word as truth about Scientology, but that I should instead read a particular book. I did not read that book. So don't assume that anything I say here is "informed". These are just thoughts that went through my head.

Also don't assume I believe anything. I don't believe shit. About anything. Nothing in my mind is certain. Everything is a gradient in a vast network of related ideas and memes and insights, and I'm very liberal about entertaining wacky ideas in search of insights, and even these insights are just food for more thoughts -- my mind doesn't accept them as true.

I guess I worry that people will read stuff in this blog and assume it's what I believe, and then think I'm crazy. The truth is, I am crazy, but not because I believe anything. I am crazy specifically because I don't.

Ugg.. the inner struggle to be more open about my strange beliefs in a semi-public blog. Readers: be kind.

Ok.. onward.

Point Number OneI didn't realize that the book Dianetics itself is apparently a kind of self-help book. I thought it was a sci-fi story. I still haven't read it, so I don't know, but the wikipedia page for it has no "plot" section.

Furthermore, I got the impression that Dianetics might say something I agree with. That thing is roughly this: people tend to keep stuff "bottled up inside", which is bad, and people should instead "face their fears". You might read that and ask: "did Greg learn something from Dianetics, and now he's applying it to his blog writing, by 'facing his fears' about his initial writing of this post?" The answer is "no". It's the other way around. I believe in facing my fears and being honest with myself as a way to free my mind to think about better things, and when I heard this coming from a guy talking about Dianetics, I thought: "Oh.. well I agree with that aspect. How odd."

In fact, the guy gave a pretty good analogy -- totally un-scientific, but very much in line with what I happen to believe -- which goes as follows: Imagine you buy a new computer. It's running great. Then you install some software on it, and visit some websites, and heaven forbid you install Norton anti-virus on it, and before you know it, every time you bootup the machine the quicklaunch bar has 15 icons in it, and 20 spam windows popup on the screen. I've seen this happen. This is what most people think using the computer is like, unless they have a geek in their close social network to cleanup their machine, or they're using a Mac.

Anyway, the point is that the computer is now annoying and slow, but all the stuff slowing it down is sortof "in the background" and people learn to ignore it, and live with the slowness and annoyance. This might be the case with brains. It could be that when we get into various emotional situations, but decide to ignore them and move on, that our subconscious brain does not in fact ignore them, but rather continues to run background processes festering over those emotions.

I feel like my brain works that way. I'll get emotionally hurt, and that feeling stays with me until I "deal" with it, which for me usually consists of correctly identifying exactly where the emotions is coming from. Sometimes this is tricky because a part of my brain is embarrassed to admit to itself the reason if the reason is humiliating. For instance, a previous post talks about me getting sued, and losing. My brain wanted to think "I'm feeling bad because I was screwed over by this guy." That was true, in part, but I also felt bad because I felt like I represented myself poorly in court -- I felt like I could have done better, but failed. (Note that it was small claims court, where lawyers are not allowed to represent you.) Anyway, admitting that to myself took a while, but played a big role in "getting over" that experience -- and it was hard to admit, because I really hated this guy for the pain he had caused me, and it turned out that some of that pain was in fact caused by me to myself.

So again, I don't know how much that all meshes with Dianetics, and I get the impression that there's more to Dianetics that I don't agree with, but I don't really care. I was just surprised to see a glimmer of something I thought was insightful in a place I didn't expect.

Point Number Two: I asked about Scientology's meta-physical beliefs, and whereas South Park kinda makes it sound like people are mainly concerned with alien beings doing crazy stuff, the core metaphysical meme seems more like what I associate with Buddhism -- which I also know practically nothing about. My impression of this idea is roughly:

Spirits exist in a different -- presumably "greater" -- reality than the conventional physical reality, but their attention sortof gets "wrapped up" inside of physical beings, and they forget who they are, like a reader getting lost in the character of a book. The spirit manifests itself as consciousness within a physical being. That is to say, we are spirits, but we think we're just humans. After we die, our spirit may move on to some other physical being, e.g., 'reincarnation'. The goal of religion in this case is to free the spirit from getting all wrapped up in physical beings, so it can go on to explore the presumably greater reality that it is a part of.

I also like this line from the wikipedia page on Scientology, or wherever wikipedia got it from: "The universe has no independent reality, but derives its apparent reality from the fact that most [spirits] agree it exists." I feel like this notion parallels my understanding of the Mormon notion of "faith". Some Mormons believe that God's power is faith -- that's how God makes stuff happen. He believes them. And we too could move mountains if we had enough faith -- or so I've heard.

Anyway, so it's sortof like Scientological spirits are like gods, believing our reality into existence, and then living there. It's like some higher level spirits made World of Warcraft, also known as "our universe", and started playing it, and now those spirits think they really are characters in the WoW instead of being spirits.

Now, I've had some half-baked thoughts along these lines, namely the analogy that consciousness may be similar to what we as humans impart to characters in a story. That's where I got the phrasing above "their attention sortof gets 'wrapped up' ... and they forget who they are, like a reader getting lost in the character of a book". I don't know if either Buddhism or Scientology would agree with that analogy, but that's what "caught my eye" when hearing about Scientology's beliefs, and later, the bit in wikipedia about "the universe has no independent reality" caught my eye in relation to some half-baked thoughts I've had about faith.

6/25/12

juggling

I'm trying to learn how to juggle 5 balls. Actually, I've been trying to learn for a really long time. since High School. maybe even Junior High.

Maybe by tracking my progress here, I can get further. The plan is to update this post when I practice. I'll be recording a number. This number is the number of times that my right hand throws a ball in a juggling attempt. Actually, it will be the maximum over all my attempts during the practice session.

June 25, 2012 - 7 times (twice in a row)
June 28, 2012 - 17 times
June 29, 2012 - 8 times

July 2, 2012 - 13 times
July 3, 2012 - 9 times
July 4, 2012 - 18 times
July 5, 2012 - 15 times

Dec 27, 2012 - 21 times



6/24/12

being wrong

I hypothesise that there's a meme going around that says: "It's bad to be wrong. Only say things that are right." I think this is bad.

A friend was mentioning a recent result which is a retraction of a slightly less recent result suggesting that neutrinos could travel faster than light. Apparently there was some call for the head of this experiment to resign, and he did.

What folly, I say. Not of this guy, but of his peers, and us, to shun him this way.

If we restrict ourselves to only publishing and talking about things that are 100% certain to be correct, first, we'll publish and talk about nothing. It kills me that the end of that article quotes this guy saying "Now we are 100% sure that the speed of light is the speed of neutrinos." Really? After all that, you're now 100% sure of something? I feel fine being pretty damned sure of something, but never 100% certain.

Second, if we restrict ourselves to only publishing and talking about things that we're so sure about that we're willing to bet our careers on them, then we'll publish and talk about practically nothing. And the things we do talk about will take us inch by inch, slower and slower, toward some local maximum that we're pretty close to already.

I feel like the path toward breakthroughs in science involves wrongness. Wrongness, conversation, refinement, more wrongness, and eventually astounding rightness of a superior kind to our current rightness -- and even that is worthy of being questioned, because it too is probably wrong.

the bottom of infinity

There appear to be many infinities. There's countable infinity, and uncountable infinity, and many infinities larger than that. It is unclear to me how many sorts of infinities there are. Presumably there are an infinite number of sorts of infinities, but what sort of infinity of sorts of infinities? Anyway, lots of them.

And it seems that our universe is at the bottom of this stack. Why should that be?

One possibility: Perhaps we're at the only possible place in this stack. Perhaps all the higher order infinities don't really exist, but are rather just annoying theoretical constructs. In fact, perhaps no infinities exist, and our universe is finite, with a finite amount of stuff, and a finit number of possible quantum states that stuff can be in. Or maybe only the somewhat comprehensible infinities exist, like countable, and maybe uncountable.

Another half-baked possibility: Perhaps we're not at the bottom. Perhaps the stack continues down. Beneath us is "nothing". Beneath that is "a place where not even 'nothing' can exist". Beneath that is "a place where not even 'a place where not even nothing can exist' can exist". And so on.

6/23/12

the complete persepolis

My friend ordered a book, which was delivered to my appartement because his place doesn't accept packages. It's been sitting on my floor the past few days, and I glanced inside. It had pictures. It appeared to be some sort of graphic novel.

Today, I read it, cover to cover, over the past six hours.

Perhaps my problem with "input" is that when I find good input, I consume it all at once.

6/22/12

input

It's Friday. I've eaten ice cream, which I do every Friday, but usually I eat it while watching something.

These days, I feel harder and harder pressed to find something good to watch. When I start a movie, I feel like I know what will happen. It's been hard to find good new music as well, though music lasts longer for me than movies, since I can re-listen to music, whereas I generally can't re-watch TV shows, or re-read books.

I guess this is just a rant. I'm sure I'm wrong. But I feel like people aren't willing to take risks. Media artists fall back to the monetary lure of mass appeal, or so it seems. Everything is smoothed out such that it appeals to everyone, but not very much to anyone.

There was a string of good indie games recently. I played Braid, World of Goo and Limbo.

I just don't know where to get good input these days. I feel starved.

meditation 3

Continuing my thread of meditation posts, I meditated again today, again for 5 minutes.

My current method is to sit in some sort of lotus position, close my eyes, and concentrate on my breathing. Other thoughts did enter my mind on this occasion, but I did a better job not attending to them. I remember one image of a white sheet, with something breaking through the sheet, sortof like a scene in Edward Scissorhands where you are looking at something, and suddenly there are scissors penetrating through it toward the viewer. In this scene, the thing was some sort of fancy batmobile style car. I knew what it was, even though I couldn't "see" it yet. Anyway, I stopped attending to the image before it progressed very far.

I had some other thoughts, which I forget now. One thought I had was that as I progress, I may have less and less to write about here. We'll see.

Toward the end, I felt I had entered a pretty good state of not thinking about anything, except my breath. This time, I didn't have much of an issue with the slow breathing problem, with long pauses between breaths. I'm not sure if this was because my breathing never got that slow, or if my mind had managed to find something in my lungs to attend to while they weren't actually doing anything.

Another thought that crept in a bit was noticing other parts of my body, like my legs and back, which were being "exercised" a bit to maintain the lotus position. However, this didn't seem like a problem somehow. That is, it seemed like I was noticing these things, but not attending to them. And somehow, I've gotten the impression that meditation is about "being aware", though I haven't resolved how that meshes with the idea of "clearing the mind of thought", but I think they may be mutually compatible.

self hypnosis 2

I tried self hypnosis again today. Previously, I was worried about being woken up "harshly" with my computer saying "good" -- which was a word I chose specifically because I thought it would not be harsh, and semantically it is not harsh, but the word itself is abrupt -- so I tried some other words and settled on "hoo", which the mac voice synthesizer can say pretty softly.

The timer was again set for 10 minutes. I started with relaxing my body again. This time, I really ran into problems with my face. I mentioned before that there appear to be two relaxed states: one with the eyes closed tightly, and one with the eyes closed loosely. The loose version seems like it is relaxing the muscles more, but has a tendency to let my eyes open -- maybe it would help if I dimmed the lights so that didn't matter. Also, I feel like if I relax my mouth too much I'll drool.. I'm not sure what the best thing to do with that is. How relaxed does my face need to be to be hypnotized? I feel like I've seen people become hypnotized in a chair, which seems like it must mean that enough of their muscles are engaged for them to remain sitting, without falling out of the chair. Of course, in the instance I'm thinking about, which was a stage hypnosis show, the people did clump over in their seats, and I'm not entirely sure that any muscles were in use.

Anyway, I stopped early because I figured I was thinking about it too much, and that it might be better to listen to a hypnosis script. I'll need to decide whether to download such a script, or have my computer speak one to me..


It's about 12 minutes long. It was pretty relaxing. I didn't know what he was going to say, so my mind was a bit "on alert" during the whole thing, watching out for things like "you'll want to buy such and such from me," but he didn't do that. The guy's voice was pretty good, with an English accent of some sort.

He said to let my body feel light as a feather.. my body didn't really feel light. But I did get pretty relaxed. I noticed the state of my face toward the end, which I hadn't been thinking about too much during it, and it was in a state close to drooling, so I worry that to really "go under" I may need to drool. Alas.

It's hard to know how hypnotized I was, if at all, during this session. I'm sortof hoping that I'll feel something like "oh, this is weird." I feel like I've read reports of people feeling weird; some combination of feeling like their body is big like a balloon, or super heavy, and their mind being far away from their body, detached. I didn't feel any of that this time.. I don't think.

Anyway, I feel like it might be good to have a metric of some sort in order to track my progress.


meditation 2

I tried meditating again today, again for 5 minutes. I focussed on my breathing again. I had some thoughts near the beginning, though it's difficult to remember them now, which is perhaps a good sign, since one of the thoughts was about it not being a good idea to pay too much meta-attention to myself for this blog post, because that would distract from the meditation itself.

Still, I do remember some other thoughts: first, I remember sortof seeing my breathing in different ways.. I mean, I was focussing on the feeling that breathing produces, but even that manifests itself in my mind in something analogous to an 'image', and I experienced perhaps three different viewpoints of that image. The first was from the high-hand side looking down, as if my breathing was taking place in my chest -- which of course it is -- but the feeling of air coming in and out is more in my mouth, and yet those feelings 'appeared' to be in my chest. This is the view I had during my previous attempt as well. The other view was also from the right-hand side, but mentally placing my breath closer to my actual mouth, and the third view was sortof looking straight forward from the back of my brain to my mouth.

At some point into the meditation, my breathing slowed down again like before, and I was casting around for something to concentrate on during the pause before the next breath. I decided to focus on my heart. This worked fairly well, although it was a bit faint; that is, it was difficult to feel exactly when my heart was beating.

At some point during the experience I do recall thinking 'this is very peaceful', and I thought that perhaps there is some legitimacy to the idea of quieting the mind as an end in itself. I'm not totally convinced of this yet, since I'm not sure what the effects are on the rest of my life -- I guess I'm hoping that one possible benefit of meditation may be sortof pressing the 'reset' button on my brain, which I suppose sleep is supposed to do, but sleep doesn't always do a good job of it.

Anyway, we'll see where this goes.

6/21/12

interview game

This is another past experiment. The idea was to have people interview each other, and assess each other's English skills. You would wait for someone to chat with, then you'd chat with them for 10 minutes, and then you would rate their English ability using the smiley slider.

This interface was used for a 1 hour pilot experiment where 3 oDesk people, including myself, interviewed 10 or so oDesk contractors, and they also interviewed each other.


I think the 10 minute time was too long. Apart from that, I'm not sure why this experiment faded away, and nothing more was done with it. I think my energies went into Talent Court shortly after this.

heniac

While going through my old Google App Engine apps and killing them, I stumbled across an old project, and thought I'd take a screenshot to remember it by. The project was called HENIAC (Human - ENIAC). The idea was that there would be a pool of assistants standing by at all hours of the day, and you could create a new chat session, and then "summon" one of them by clicking the "summon to current session" button.

To incentivize having a worker online at all times, workers were paid 20% of their normal hourly wage just to be available. Or rather, when you're available, you would be in a queue, and the person at the head of this queue would be making 20% of their wage, while the next person in line would only be making 10%, then 5%, and so on.. so if the queue already has a few people in it, you might not bother to join.

You could also reserve time at the bottom. If you reserved an hour, then you would automatically be bumped up to the top of the queue during that hour, so you could reserve time and know that you would be paid at least 20% of your wage during that time, even if there was no work.


So what happened with HENIAC? Well, the main problem was that people didn't use it. Here are some speculations about why:
  • Our pool of people were not expert enough for the sorts of tasks people would want to hire them for.
  • Many "personal admin" type tasks were hampered by not wanting to give passwords and such to this pool.
  • People felt uncomfortable telling these people what to do -- one person mentioned that he always felt like he was apologizing before asking for something to be done because he knew that the thing he wanted done was very boring (which is why he was asking someone to do it in the first place).
  • Related to this, this same person felt a bit uncomfortable with the social interactions that seemed necessary before and after asking for something to be done, e.g., he felt like he should say "hi, how are you?" rather than start straight in with "do X".
  • Because people were not using the system very often, our pool of people were not always there. They would often mark themselves as available, but then essentially leave their computer, assuming nobody would ask them for work, so when people would ask for work, the system would ask each person on the queue, and nobody would respond. This wouldn't happen all the time, but I've seen it happen, and I think the fact that it could happen decreased confidence in availability, leading in a vicious cycle to less use.


starting self hypnosis

Along with trying out meditation, no reason not to try out self-hypnosis as well I suppose. I've actually been trying this for a while in various ways without much success (some sortof successes.. I guess I can write about what happened at some point..)

In any case, I hadn't been writing about my experiences, or doing things very systematically, so I thought I'd try doing so.

I decided to try for 10 minutes. Now, the first step in hypnosis, as far as I can gather, is relaxing. So I lied down on a foam mat, and started counting down from 10 to 1, saying to myself stuff like "with each number, relax.. letting go.. more and more with each number.." and I would say numbers, 10, 9, 8, and kindof think about my limbs and try to "let go" of them.. at some point I started thinking about sortof massaging my whole body mentally, wiggling everything around.. somehow I associate mashing everything up and kneading it with relaxing.. the association may just be with massaging, but I feel like I do that with my mind too when I'm trying to relax, I try to sortof mash my thoughts around every which way. But I wasn't doing that yet in this attempt, I was focussing on mentally mashing up my body, trying to relax my limbs.

And then I got to thinking about my timer, which was counting down 10 minutes, and I got to worrying about the annoying sound it was going to make after that time. Somehow this was not a big concern while meditating.. I haven't quite figured out what the difference is there.

Anyway, after 4 minutes I finally quit because I was worrying too much about the timer to get more relaxed.

So I tried again using a script that has the Mac's built in voice synthesis speak to me. It waits 10 minutes, and then tells me "good, you have done well, the 10 minutes are up". Unfortunately it's still a bit disturbing to hear "good.." all of a sudden, but I didn't know that until the 10 minutes were up, but it may be an issue for next time.

This time, I think I did ok relaxing my muscles, though I was sitting down this time in front of my computer (I'm not sure whether it's better to relax sitting or lying down). As my muscles got more relaxed, there are some things that happen which I haven't figured out the right thing to do about. First, my eyes seem to have two relaxed states: one is sortof tightly closed, and one is loosely closed, and I feel like they alternate. I feel like the loosely closed state is more relaxed from the point of view of my muscles, but somehow the tightly closed state is more relaxed for my mind.. as if my mind can concentrate better on relaxing in the tightly closed state. At any rate, I decided to not worry about this, and then I started thinking about relaxing myself mentally.

Now, I'm pretty tightly wound mentally, I think. I think a lot, and even while I'm trying to relax I'm watching myself relax and thinking about that (and of course knowing I'm going to write a blog post doesn't help with that, and I tried to forget about that.. we'll see how that goes in the future).

Anyway, I feel like I hit a sortof wall. My mental image was of a hollow rock, like a geode, and I couldn't penetrate it. I tried sortof prying it apart, and I tried "relaxing" through it somehow. Eventually the image changed to a capped steel cylinder, which I also couldn't break through at first, though eventually it opened and I was sucked into it. However, I didn't feel very much more relaxed when this happened, so I'm not sure the "victory sequence" of breaking into the thing was generated from the same part of my brain that was manifesting the impenetrable object to begin with -- though the impenetrable object could have just been me thinking that my subconscious mind has some barrier that is hard to break into.. hard to know.

In any case, then the "alarm" went off and I heard "good", which like I said was a bit alarming, so maybe I need to turn the volume down more on it, or perhaps have my computer start playing relaxing music.

starting meditation

I decided to start exploring meditation. I've experimented a bit with it in the past, though I haven't gotten very far. For that matter, I've experimented a bit with self hypnosis as well, and haven't gotten that to work either. Though, I'm not sure how to know for sure whether either of these is "working".

In any case, today I decided to meditate for 5 minutes, trying to clear my mind. I read somewhere that the point of meditation is to clear the mind -- I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a place to start.

So I sat in my living room floor, in my best approximation of a "lotus" position, and tried to concentrate on my breathing. My mind quickly shot around to other things, and was a bit restless and bored. I kept trying to actively release control of my mind, letting it go where it would, but this did not seem to counteract the restlessness. I gave up and looked at my clock: I had only 2 more minutes to go.

So, I tried again, resetting the timer for 5 minutes. This time I decided to keep my focus on my breath. I felt my breath in, and I felt my breath out, and I would sortof imagine some imagery to go along with this -- I didn't decide to imagine imagery to go along with it, that's just how my brain interpreted the idea of "concentrating on my breath".

After a bit, I had a pretty disturbing thought. I spike was coming toward me, and piercing through my head. I kept concentrating on my breath. I wasn't afraid of the thought. It was a bit disgusting, and I assume whoever reads this will interpret it as such, but for me it was sortof like seeing a disturbing video but not paying attention to it. I had the thought at the time "this is a test my mind is playing on me, to try and direct my attention away from my breath." Anyway, the spike then started slicing down my body, and eventually the thought went away.

Then a thought came, "I should write my experience down! And what better place than the metameaninglessness blog?" This thought was very exciting, because I thought it would be a good way to keep up the practice of meditating, since I would sortof have a "checkbox" for when I did it, and I could see how it went and reflect on it.. which all seemed good.

Of course, then I thought: this is distracting me from thinking about breathing, so I decided I would probably remember to write about my experience, so I needn't worry about that, and I should continue concentrating on my breath.

A bit later, my breathing got slower, and I noticed a longer pause between breaths. This pause was a bit difficult because I wasn't sure what to do with my mind during the pause. I kept just waiting for the next breath to start.

Soon after this, the 5 minute timer went off, and I got up and wrote this post.

6/20/12

head shot

They took pictures of us at work. Here's mine. I like the orange, though I wonder if it makes me look like I'm a prison inmate.


6/19/12

faith

We can't know anything -- we can't be absolutely certain of anything. Hence, even if there is an objective reality, we have no way of knowing about it, so there doesn't need to be an objective reality, so why bother having one? Perhaps everything that we perceive as existing is merely believed to exist. Not by human per se, since we didn't exist until recently, but by.. god.

But Occam's razor: it is simpler for there to be an objective reality. Much simpler than a God!

Well, objective reality doesn't seem to include consciousness. That needs to come from somewhere. That's the only thing a conscious entity needs in order to explain its existence. Let "god" just be a word referring to the source of consciousness. We haven't got a clue how it can exist, or where it comes from, but we're conscious, so..


Isn't it simpler to believe that consciousness arises from the vast computational complexity of the brain?

Um.. it is not clear. There is no mechanism within the constructs of computational theory for consciousness, and there is no mechanism within the known mechanisms of physics for consciousness. You might say that our brains happen to house a special as-yet-unknown physical and/or computational construct that accounts for consciousness, but that is a very odd -- not simple -- explanation, since nothing that humans do seems beyond the abilities of a purely computational brain executed on conventional well understood physical hardware. So it would be very odd for such a construct to happen to be in our brains, despite a lack of need for it.

So, where are you claiming consciousness comes from then?

Well, perhaps this "god" is conscious of everything in the universe that it believes exists, and perhaps humans get a disproportionally high amount of attention since they are so interesting, compared to asteroids and open space. In this view, our perceived consciousness would actually exist within god as it is observing and understanding the activity of our brain.

Hm.. well, if you're right, that our brains could do what they do without consciousness, then wouldn't that activity include writing blog posts like this about consciousness, despite not actually being conscious?

I suppose it would. And that does seem strange. Of course, it would be difficult to observe this actually happening within some universe without being so aware of what was going on -- for instance, being able to speak the language, which would include being intimately aware of how these beings perceived their universe -- that we would practically be gods in our powers of observation over that universe. Hence, it may not be possible to observe the "odd" behavior you are talking about without allowing for the sort of god I'm talking about.

Do you really believe this? This is crazy.

I don't really believe anything at all.

environment

The world is so small. My mind is so influenced by the environment around it. Why am I in this apartment? Why am I not in nature, looking at a wide open space?

I tried an electronic cigarette today. I tried it hours ago, but I can feel the taste of the smoke in my mouth even now. It tastes good.

The truth, the object, the goal, the something, the window, the recognition, the point, the meaning, the way, the path, the peak, the scenery itself, the garden, the grass.. everything is acknowledgement of everything. Honestly putting everything in it's place, noticing it for what it is, or what it appears to be, observation. Observation.. is that really all?

What of a goal? What of want? I have them.. I can acknowledge my wants. Is that all there is to them?

images







doodles

6/18/12

random rant related to self-help

This is the age of minds. Of consciousness. Of controlling our own minds. Of self-help. Of taking self-help seriously. There is too much information, too much change, etc, for an ordinary human brain. It's not a matter of getting old, not just a matter.. I think my brain is as spry as ever, but the problems it faces now are getting larger. Soon they'll be too big. I need to figure out how to deal with that. I need to figure out where I fit in.

What are the right goals to have in this environment? What is the right way to stay sane? What does it mean to stay sane?

These are some tools I use:

- Writing thoughts. Like this. Just writing what's on my mind. Being very honest about what's on my mind. That is one thing that is so tragic about today's society, is that we're so private. There are meme's like "Too Much Information". People say things like "don't burden ME with that", and it sounds cool, like they're being cool, and it's the stupid person who's saying too much about what's no their mind. But I think we have got that turned around. We should all be "burdening" each other with what's on our minds, and trying to make sense of it. That's real information, not just social grooming.

- Writing "unsent" letters. I read this in a book somewhere, maybe Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The idea is, if you're in a relationship with someone, having difficulty, you might have a lot of anger towards them. And you might like to tell them all of this. But, the idea is to instead write it in a letter AND NOT SEND IT. Hopefully just writing it all out is enough -- that's the idea anyway.

- Accepting everything. Accepting sounds like thinking everything is good, or everything is true. That's not what I mean. More like, acknowledging everything. Thinking that everything could be true, and being ok with it if it were true. Related to this are things like forgiveness, But also accepting that I hate someone, if I do hate someone. Accepting things seems to change them, and make bad things go away.

- Face what seems to be true, no matter how bleak. I fell from the Mormon church, away from having an afterlife, into a world of death possibly being the end of everything for me. And I had to accept that, but I believe I'm in a richer more meaningful world now, with even larger potential happiness. Though, it didn't always seem so. And, frankly, I could be wrong, or hiding from the truth. Still, I generally find that facing bleak fears reveals a rosy rainbow on the other side that is even better than the former reality would have been without the fear in the first place. Or something like that.

Things I've tried:

- Being positive. I get into little manic episodes of positivity and think, wow, if I could just remain positive, I could do anything. But, I fail to remain positive. I simply can't seem to sustain it. I'm not sure it's possible. I'm not even sure it's actually a good idea.

note to self: scrollbars in HTML

getting scrollbars to work inside of divs in HTML seems difficult sometimes. A trick to get around this is to put that stuff in an iFrame. Of course, iFrames seem like they'd take a while to load, and separate the code, BUT, we can really load a dummy iFrame with nothing in it (as long as it's in the same domain), and programmatically place stuff into it from the outside frame.

hypnosis

mental techniques to try:

  • Pretent that I am the person speaking. Focus my conscious energy on believing that I am the speaker, speaking to my subconscious mind, and my body.
  • Focus my conscious attention on something else -- something that doesn't require much thought -- and allowing the words to enter my mind without any resistance. Letting my conscious thoughts and imagery be influenced by the words, without really paying much attention.
  • Focus on believing the speaker. Really try to fervently believe everything that is said.


6/16/12

leaving the church

Here are a few of the things that pushed me away from the Mormon church during High School.

The Brain

I was in Academic Decathlon, and one of the subjects that year was "The Brain". I read a number of articles about the brain, and it seemed to me that there was a very strong connection between the physical activity of the brain, and our subjective experience. This seemed at odds with the idea of a "spirit" in the Mormon faith. Specifically, it didn't seem like the spirit had any purpose. Everything we did and experienced seemed fully explainable by the brain. In addition to that, it seemed like in order for us to "live on" after we died, our spirits would need to essentially replicate everything that happened in our brain (since our brain would be decaying somewhere), and this seemed redundant.

I remember reading one article that gave me some hope. This article talked about microtubules in the brain, claiming that they acted as small quantum computers in some way -- and it seemed to me like there might be some tenuous connection between the Mormon "spirit" and quantum mechanics, since quantum mechanics was sufficiently mysterious to act as a scape goat. However, it seemed like this was the only guy claiming any such quantum effects in the brain, and as I learned more about quantum mechanics, it seemed like less and less of a mysterious scape goat.

Friends

My two best friends in Junior High and High School were not Mormon, and I never felt right trying to tell them that they should become Mormon. They seemed very happy: they had a good family, and good parents. I didn't feel like Mormonism had anything to offer them in terms of happiness. I suppose I should have thought "wouldn't they benefit from knowing 'the truth'?", but I didn't think that. Or rather, it seemed to me a bit weird to claim that I knew the truth and they didn't, since why should my belief be better than theirs just because I believed it? I'm sure I was also just self-conscious of being a salesman for the church. Anyway, it bothered me that the Mormon church would place my friends in a less-than-ideal eternal afterlife.

Feeling the Spirit vs Understanding Something

I really wanted to know whether God existed. I had been thinking a lot about the upcoming prospect of going on a mission, which would involve preaching the gospel for a couple of years. I believed strongly in the faith myself, but before I committed to convincing other people about it, I wanted to be more certain.

One day at school, I prayed about this issue. It was during seminary, which is like Sunday school during the week. I prayed very hard.. very very hard, and very fervently. And I got an answer. I was overcome with the spirit. I cried, and I was certain I had gotten my answer from God.

Of course, about 10 minutes later as I was walking out of the seminary building, I began to doubt my experience. I thought, how can I know that the feeling came from God? Maybe I just wanted to feel something so badly that my brain kindof snapped. I wasn't sure.

Later that day, I was in physics class. We were learning about sound, and about the resonance of organ pipes, and how this related to the speed of sound in air, and a sin curve. It made sense. Things clicked in my mind and I understood.

This feeling of understanding was also very powerful and very positive, and it did not carry with it an ominous sense of doubt -- not that I was sure my understanding was correct, but rather it made sense. It was somehow more tangible and lasting than the feeling of the spirt I had experienced before.

In any case, I decided in this moment that what I needed in order to remain Mormon was a similar understanding of the Mormon faith. That is, I needed it to make sense. Unfortunately, approaching the religion from this angle was the biggest death nail in my faith. It never made sense to me.

car crash

Shortly before I graduated from undergrad, I was in small car wreck. I was pulling into the pump at a gas station, and someone backed into my car from the side. They were presumably backing up as part of a 3-point turn so they could exit the gas station.

I finished pulling into the pump, and this guy pulled into a parking space somewhere. Then we talked. I told him I was sorry about what happened, and we exchanged insurance information. I didn't plan to call his insurance company because I didn't care much about this car, and it seemed like it would increase his rates.

The next day, I realized I had given him the wrong insurance information. I called him up, and gave him the correct information. However, on the phone, he seemed to think that I had hit his car. I disagreed about this, but I was going to let the insurance company handle it.

Later, I got a call from my insurance company about it. I told them that the guy backed into my car, so they decided not to pay him.

Later still, I got "served" a letter saying I was being sued in small claims court for the cost of this guy's bumper repair: $500. This meant I needed to show up in court without a lawyer and defend myself in front of a small claims judge. I also needed to file something with the court. I decided to counter sue, since this could be taken care of the same day, and I was upset with him. I got a quote from an auto-repair shop for my bumper -- which was literally held onto my car with duct tape at this point -- for $1000.

The trial date arrived. I was prepared. I had diagrams showing the gas station, and where we both were. I had also done debate in High School.

It started with him. He gave his speech saying what he thought happened. He mentioned that I had given him the wrong insurance information, and that I had apologized after the accidence, evidence of my evilness, and my guilt. When it came time for me to speak, he interrupted me constantly, which was apparently within the rules of small claims court. My main argument was that I couldn't physically hit his car the way he claimed. My car would need to have travelled sideways.

The judge ruled in his favor. I hand delivered $500 to his house. He told me that he had done me a favor my filing in small claims court, because otherwise I would be paying lots of lawyer fees. This incident is the only negative thing on my credit report, but it was enough to deny me a credit card 6 years later.

Anyway, it was upsetting.

ultima online

For a while in Junior High, I played a game called Ultima Online. This was my first experience with a massively multiplayer online game. I believe it was one of the first such games.

My Name

My character was named Xomn. I had wanted my character to be named Xymn, which is a word I made up that I thought was cool, because it had no vowels, and because it began with an X. However, I used Xymn as my username to log into the game, and I heard it was dangerous to use the same name as a character name since then people could try to hack into your account. So, I used Xomn, which was appealing because it included the phrase "om", which I had positive connotations with for some reason -- I thought it meant "perfection".

My character was an old man. Not sure why. I think because I had recently read -- no, not Lord of the Rings -- The Sword of Shannara, and I liked the character Allanon, who was a mysterious old wizard, like Gandalf, but I hadn't read the Lord of the Rings.

First Goal: Taming Dragons

The game was very open ended. You could develop a large variety of skills, including magic, sword fighting, and the ability to forge weapons. I liked the animal taming skill. You could tame animals in the world, and tell them what to do. This was pretty useless at first, since the main thing you would want an animal to do for you is kill a monster, and most animals are pretty weak. Also, you couldn't tame monsters. That is, except dragons.

After many many real world hours of playing the game, I finally had enough animal taming skill to tame dragons. I recall a blend of swet and elation the first time I saw "This animal appears to have accepted you as master" appear above a dragon's head. At this point, I could start making real money by taking my dragon to go kill the most powerful monsters in the game.

Second Goal: Buying and Selling Rare Objects

When I had a moderate amount of wealth, I discovered that killing monsters was a pretty inefficient way to gain money. Each kill gave about the same payoff. Growth was linear.

However, the game had a sort of economy around rare objects. These were objects that were in limited supply for some reason. Some of these objects were essentially bugs, where the game accidentally let someone put a piece of decoration from some shop into their bag.

The idea was simple: buy low, and sell high. The strategy was to look around at other people buying and selling rare items to get a sense for what the price should be. Then, when I saw someone selling something valuable for too little, I would buy it, and sell it elsewhere for more. Sometimes people would have an item which seemed rare, and makeup some story about how they needed cash, and so they were willing to part with this very rare item for less than it's value. Opportunities like this were risky, since the person might be lying, and the item might in fact be common. I got fooled sometimes, but overall I made money.

On a side note: I was selling a potted plant one time. A very rare item. Someone offered to buy it, but they claimed that their money was at their house. The thing is, if someone is in your house, you are allowed to kill them without penalty. I knew this. So I said "sure", and we went to his house. He said we needed to go upstairs, which I did. There, his friend appeared, and they killed me. However, all he found on my corpse was a bag containing a bag containing a bag containing a bag. I remember walking away as a ghost and seeing him say something to his friend like "&%#@! he didn't bring the plant!" It felt good.

Third Goal: Showing Off

At some point, I had enough money to cover all of my day-to-day costs forever. At this point, I started being more social, hanging out around town, with my dragons. I also rode a nightmare, which is a very rare black horse which happens to be as powerful as a dragon.

One day I was hanging around a bank, which is where people would usually hang out around town, and an evil person walked by. The game lets you know when people are evil by making their name grey instead of blue. It is perfectly ok to attack grey people without becoming evil yourself. This is the game's mechanic for allowing player-vs-player activity. If you attack someone, you become grey, and they are allowed to retaliate without becoming grey themselves.

This person would run by the bank every so often, luring people with his greyness. I had seen people like this before. They were generally very powerful players, pretending to be petty thieves. People would attack them, and lose.

I decided to fetch a couple dragons. A brought them to the bank, and made them both invisible. When the grey person came around again, I told them both to attack him.

Now, this story doesn't end well, for me. The thing is, dragons are good at attacking other monsters, who naively stand there and try to fight, but this guy teleported onto the roof of a nearby house. Then he started casting poison spells on my dragons, which is the most effective attack against a dragon. You'd think the dragons could fly up to him, or breathe fire up to him, but the dragons of Ultima Online were not programmed that well -- in fact, knowing their programmatic weaknesses made it possible to tame dragons in the first place, without getting killed.

Anyway, it was all I could do to get my dragons back to the stables, where they would be safe. I think I lost one of them. I may have died myself. I forget. I remember it was humiliating though.

Fourth Goal: Getting a House

The most expensive item you could buy in Ultima Online was a house. Houses would cost about what they would cost in real life: over 100,000 gold pieces. The thing is, you needed to find a place to put the house, and by the time I had enough money to buy a house, there was no place to put it. The only way to buy a house was to buy it from someone else, which was even more expensive, since people generally wanted to keep their homes.

At some point, the housing situation got so bad in the game that the developers decided to open up some new land. In preparation for this, they put a freeze on building new houses for a while. Now, some houses were very old, and their owners had moved on from playing Ultima Online. After a while, these houses would disappear, opening space for someone else to place a house, except that nobody was allowed to place new houses until a certain date.

That date came, and I was prepared with a couple of house locations where I would try to place my house. However, the server was so overwhelmed that day that I couldn't log on, and when I finally could log on, all the house locations I had scoped out were taken.

Fifth Goal: Selling Account

When I failed to get a house, my interest in the game plummeted. I decided to sell my account. I had heard of people doing this, and I thought my account had something to offer. The animal taming skill in particular was worth a lot, since it took many real world hours to acquire it. Also, I had a nightmare, which was extremely rare as well as awesome, being a horse you could ride that was as powerful as a dragon.

I posted pictures of my account on ebay, showing my animal taming skill, my dragons and nightmare, and how much money I had. I also showed an item I owned which would allow me to change my hair-style once. This was also a rare item. I figured a buyer might find it useful so they wouldn't need to look like an old man with a ridiculously long beard.

I think the account sold for $220. I got the money in cash, in an envelope. I then removed my parent's credit card information, and e-mailed the username and password for the account to the buyer. Oddly enough, $220 is about how much money was paid for the $10 monthly subscription over the two years I played it. Of course, that money was paid by my parents. I'm not sure my parents thought about that, because they let me keep the money.

stories about programming

First Program

When I was 8 or so, my dad taught me how to program. We didn't have a computer, but he told me some BASIC commands. I was captivated by the idea. I wrote my first program on graph paper. Each square had space for exactly 2 letters. This seemed very computerish to me.

The program was a math game. You could choose which sort of problems you wanted to do: addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Once you chose, it would give you a random math problem of that sort, and ask for your answer. Then it would tell you if you were right or wrong.

That week, I got the opportunity to type my program into an Apple 2e at my uncles house. I typed in all the commands, and it ran perfectly the first time. I was hooked.

The Idea of a Model

I was impressed by a 3d maze game I played. You could only look exactly north, south, east or west, and the maze was designed such that no matter where you were or where you looked, it always looked like you were looking down a hallway with passages branching off like open doors.

I decided to recreate this game. The first thing I did was draw a maze on graph paper. I designed it such that the view from any position would have the same property of looking like a hallway with passages leading off at various points.

Then I started manually drawing the view from each location in each direction, with the idea that I would add code after each view to take you to the appropriate next viewport depending on which direction you pressed.

This turned out to be a lot of work, and I was about to give up when my dad gave me an idea: "instead of drawing the views manually, why don't you store the location of all the walls in some variable, and then have the program figure out what the view should look like from where you're standing?" This insight was like magic, flipping a huge switch in my brain. This may be one of the most important lessons I ever learned in programming.

opposites


Opposites are often thought of in pairs, like black & white, up & down, good & bad. We can make this a bit more general by introducing shades of grey. However, I often find it useful to include something opposite to both of the opposites, e.g., black, white and clear. In the case of up and down, the grey value would be "level", and the third value would be "nowhere". In the case of good and bad, the grey value would be "neutral", and the third value is something I don't know the word for.

This has come up in my thoughts in a few places.

When thinking about the Liar paradox -- "this sentence is false" -- we want to assign it a truth value that is neither True nor False. I suppose it could make sense to think of it as being half-true and half-false. However, the Liar paradox is analogous to a function in a program which calls itself recursively, and returns the opposite of that recursive call. In this case, we wouldn't say that the liar function half-returns-true and half-returns-false, but rather that it never returns at all.

Another place this has come up is in religion. People often ask, are you religious, or atheist? If you say you're neither, then they respond: ahh, you're agnostic! But agnosticism is like grey. It is somewhere between black and white, not sure which way it wants to go. I'm not agnostic. I'm a non-theist. To me, the question is not "is there a God?", but rather, "what is the nature of reality?" I don't know enough about the nature of reality to know whether the question of whether there is a God even makes sense.

how are you feeling?

When people ask me this question these days, I stumble. I'm not sure what to say. I'm not sure what it means. I don't know what metric to use. My traditional notions of good and bad have been challenged, and I'm now a bit lost.

I know this state sounds "bad", but again, I don't know what that means.

6/13/12

lessons from 5th grade

Math

My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Lee, was one of my best teachers ever. He held some competitions for the school. One competition involved math. Specifically, multiplication. We would flip over a sheet of multiplication problems, and read off the answers as fast as we could. He would time how long it took -- I think we were disqualified if we missed any. Anyway, I broke the school record in this competition, and I was very proud of it.

Since then, I happen to remember the multiplication table for numbers less than 12, but I've decided that using a calculator is better for this sort of math. And I've felt justified in thinking this, as opposed to feeling sour grapes, because I was the best in my school at memorizing math, so nobody could tell me I hated it because I sucked at it.


Running

My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Lee, ran a different sort of competition as well. Running. He lined everyone in my class up, and we all ran a short distance (maybe 30 feet?). I ran my hardest, and I really felt like I was going fast.. but I came in last.

I learned that I could feel like I was doing something well, but still suck at it.

some stories from childhood

Stiches

When I was young, I would jump on the trampoline. My uncle had built a huge rectangular one, which is the bounciest sort, but also somewhat dangerous. The danger was compounded by the fact that there was no cover on the metal rim. Anyway, my older sister bounced me one time (or I stole her bounce), and I went really high, lost control, and my head came down on the rim.

I could tell I was bleeding a lot, and I was really worried that I had poked out my eye. I felt around where my eye should be, and I couldn't find it -- it was there, I think I was feeling my forehead. Anyway, I screamed a lot, and my older sister took me home so my mom could drive me off to get stitches in my forehead.

I didn't jump on that trampoline for some time. Maybe a couple weeks.

And then I was back, and I was playing a game called 'cat and mouse'. It involved racing between corners of the trampoline. I dived for one corner, missed, and my head collided with that metal rim.

This time, I knew what had to be done. I didn't scream at all. I walked myself home to my mom so she could drive me off to get stitches in my forehead.


Holes In The Sky

I was a bit afraid of the fireworks at the 4th of July. I recall thinking they were beautiful, but also scary and loud. And I thought that they must damage the sky. In fact, I always wanted to go back to the place where the fireworks had been the previous night, so I could see the black holes in the sky left over from the fireworks. I got a chance to go back one time, and there were no holes. Alas.


Dragon

My uncle would tell horror stories. I didn't believe them, but he was very good at telling them, and I would always listen. One of his stories involved a dragon that lived in a hole near his house. I had walked by that hole many times during the day, and I didn't think there was a dragon there, and I told him so. Of course, this was at night, and he walked me out there to that hole. And I chickened out just before we got to the hole. I told him I didn't want to see, and ran off.

6/12/12

losing control

outside wondering
alone
outside of reality
outside of make believe 
I found myself dead
killed long ago
by me 
I cannot kill myself now
I lack the will
I lack control

I hear voices, in the future: "That is a very sad existential poem. Are you ok?"

I'm ok
the poem is a metaphor

"A metaphor for what? Please explain. I'm worried about you."

I'm not sure what it means exactly

"Listen, you should see someone. Feel free to call me anytime. We love you!"

thanks
I know you love me

we died long ago
we killed ourselves 
we cannot kill ourselves now
we lack the will
we lack control

unforgivable

I was brought up as a Mormon, and I was very serious about religion. I didn't just go along with it because my family was Mormon. I really believed God existed.

Now, sinning is a barrier to the best eternal life available in the Mormon religion, and I wanted the best. Of course, everyone sins, but we could ask for forgiveness, and I would do so routinely.

However, there was one sin I read about for which there was no forgiveness, which is denying the Holy Ghost. I was very afraid of committing this sin. It seemed like I might accidentally do it in my mind. I might think the phrase: "I deny the Holy Ghost."

Now people would try to say "Oh, no, you really need to know that God exists before you can deny him in an unforgivable way," but I felt like I knew God existed, sortof. In any case, this did not seem like something to risk leaving to human interpretation of scripture.

The fear grew and for perhaps a week during Junior High School, my mind was almost entirely consumed with trying to make sure I didn't deny the Holy Ghost.

Eventually a fuse broke in my mind, and I figured the fear was worse than hell, so I allowed myself to think the phrase: "I deny the Holy Ghost."

At this point, I was still very much a believer, but this is one of a number of events that led me away from the Mormon faith.

Recently, I met someone who also went through a similar ordeal. They too were very religious growing up, and had now completely fallen away. The idea came up that making denial of the Holy Ghost into an unforgivable sin is a very powerful protection mechanism for the religious meme -- if you want to think about religion as a meme. It essentially says, the more you believe the religion is true, the worse it will be for you if you leave it. However, in both of our cases, it had backfired, causing a fear so intense that it overshadowed the benefits offered by the religion.

dimension of interpretation


This is a crazy idea. The idea is that maybe consciousness is a dimension, like space* or time. Here are some armchair philosophy thoughts along these lines:

When I watch the movie, the characters of the movie "come alive" inside my head. The characters are really just bits representing a sequence of images, but I interpret them as characters in a story, with thoughts and feelings. But those thoughts and feelings only really exist inside my head. So in some sense, the characters in the movie are conscious, but only because I'm watching and interpreting them. The film itself is not conscious. Maybe we are only conscious because we are being watched and interpreted by a higher-level being that is simulating our universe, and watching the results very closely.

The term "qualia" refers to subjective experience. It is unclear why qualia exists at all. Why can't humans just do what they do like machines, without actually experiencing anything? Perhaps the answer is that they do, and the qualia we feel is really inside the mind of a higher entity watching and interpreting a human machine.

Of course, this experience may only go in one direction, like watching a movie, nothing that the watcher does will impact the sequence of events in the film. Similarly, perhaps qualia cannot impact our lives, and that is why it is impossible to express our subjective experience -- if we could, then the mechanical notion of the universe would be violated since some states of the universe would depend on what an observer did while watching them progress**.

This may also speak to debates about whether our subjective experiences of something like "redness" are the same. In this theory, they wouldn't necessarily be the same, any more than the subjective experience of reading a book varies from reader to reader.

This theory would also suggest a concrete sense in which "we are all the same", since we may all be watched and interpreted by the same higher-level entity. In fact, that entity wouldn't even need to watch everyone at the same time. The entity could write out the bits of our universe, from the big bang to whenever, into a giant book, and read different parts of it at different times.

On the other hand, the theory has a hole. The higher-level entity watching us could only be conscious itself if it was also being watched by an even higher-level entity. And that progression of higher and higher level entities would need to go on forever, and even then, it would not answer the question of where consciousness comes from.

So, not a great theory. But food for thought.

* I act as if space is a single dimension, whereas we usually think of it as three. But one could imagine writing out a three dimensional state of our universe onto the single dimensional tape of a turing machine. In this case, the time dimension would refer to changes that the turing machine makes to the tape, and not necessarily our common notion of time -- since our conventional notions of space and time are not quite orthogonal anyway, according to Einstein.

** I'm not referring to the quantum sense of observation. As far as I'm aware, all of quantum mechanics can be packaged up into a probabilistic turing machine, without requiring a "consciousness dimension".

6/11/12

monty hall blunder

I asked turkers to solve the Monty Hall problem. I phrased it like this:

Imagine there is a prize in one of three boxes. You chose one of the boxes, and then someone opens one of the other two boxes, revealing nothing inside. You then switch your guess to the other unopened box. What percent chance do you have of this being the box with the prize?
The problem is that, in this scenario, it is unknown whether the person revealing the empty box had any chance of revealing a box with a prize, since presumably if they had opened a box with the prize, they wouldn't have let me switch my guess to that box.

If they might have revealed a box with the prize, then the probability breaks down this way: there's a 1/3 chance that I chose the right box, and they reveal an empty box; there's a 1/3 chance that I chose the wrong box, and they reveal an empty box; and there's a 1/3 chance that I chose the wrong box, and they reveal the prize (and don't let me change my guess). Hence, if they reveal an empty box, then there is a 50% chance that the prize is in each of the remaining boxes.

If they never reveal the box with the prize, then the probability breaks down this way: there's a 1/3 chance that I chose the right box, and they reveal an empty box; and there's a 2/3 chance that I chose the wrong box, and they reveal an empty box, meaning that the prize is in the remaining box.

So I've asked turkers again, which this phrasing:

Imagine a game with a prize in one of three boxes. The game works like this: you choose a box, the host reveals an empty box that you didn't choose, and then you have a chance to switch your guess to the remaining box. What percent chance do you have of getting the prize if you switch to the remaining box?
I'm not totally satisfied with this phrasing either. Though, I suspect the outcome on turk will be the same, since I think people typically only get this problem right if they've heard it before, and if they've heard it before, I think they'll assume it's the correct version of the problem, without reading it carefully.

I'm also curious, of the people who have heard it before, how many would believe that it matters whether the host was definitely going to show an empty box, since if the host does show an empty box, it seems equivalent to a host that was definitely going to show an empty box -- especially since we're just asking about a particular instance of the game.

Monty Hall on MTurk


[UPDATE: My phrasing of the problem to turkers is poor. I believe it is important to the problem that the player knows that they'll always be shown an empty box that they didn't choose after making their first guess. If the host opens one of the two remaining boxes randomly, possibly revealing the prize, then I think the odds are in fact 50% of getting the prize by switching your guess. My phrasing does not make this clear. Alas.]

I asked 100 turkers to answer the Monty Hall problem. Most of them got it wrong. However, similar to the baysean truth serum post, I also asked turkers to say how they thought other people would answer it, and this showed some promise of helping identify the correct answer.

The exact question was this:
Imagine there is a prize in one of three boxes. You chose one of the boxes, and then someone opens one of the other two boxes, revealing nothing inside. You then switch your guess to the other unopened box.
What percent chance do you have of this being the box with the prize? [    ]%
What answer do you think most other people will give? [    ]%
58 people answered 50%, whereas the correct answer is two thirds. The next most common answer was 100%. (You can see the raw results here.)

However, if we only look at people who correctly predicted how most other people would answer, i.e., people who answered 50% for the second question, then we get 48 people saying 50%, and the next most common answer is 66%. Three people provided this answer, and 4 more people provided answers like 66.66%, 60% and 65%.

Hence, it seems like the baysean truth serum idea may hold promise for extracting the correct answer from a crowd for tricky questions where most people get it wrong. At least, it may give us good reason to investigate a non-majority answer.

Background:

This idea came up while talking with Christopher Lin at the University of Washington about Mechanical Turk experiments. He was interested in the problem of getting a correct answer from a crowd when the majority of people provide the wrong answer, e.g., when a problem is tricky, and most people fall for the trick. Yu-An Sun has done some work on this, suggesting the idea of asking for answers in one pass, and then asking people to select from those answers in another pass. The idea is that people may not be tricked as easily if they have options to chose from, since seeing the correct answer may in some way unveil the trick.

I mentioned a similar problem: how do you know if people are lying when it comes to subjective questions, where there is no ground truth at all? I said that the only traction I've encountered for that problem is the bayesian truth serum trick of asking two questions: "what is your opinion?" and "what do you think most other people's opinion will be?".

Christopher then suggested applying this to the brain teaser problem: asking people for their answer on a brain teaser, and also asking them how they think other people will answer it. The idea being that maybe you can identify the "correct minority" if they're answering with some other answer, but correctly predicting the way in which most people will get it wrong, i.e., showing that they are aware of the trick that most people will fall prey to.

6/10/12

no copyrights?

If we don't have copyrights, how will we have big-budget movies?

Answer one: Are big-budget movies really that great? They have high-production value, but the stories are often rehashed.

Answer two: Perhaps Kickstarter is the answer. This is, if people want new art to be created, they can pay for it before hand. Could this work at the scale of big-budget films? Maybe..

ideas are to people as X is to Y

I had previously been trying to say that ideas are to people as animals are to plants. In this analogy, I would say that ideas are like eggs that hatch in the protection provided by people-plants.

Now I'm thinking a better analogy might be: ideas are to people as plants are to land. In this analogy, I would say that ideas are like seeds that grow in people-land.

One related idea I've been working with is the notion that ideas and memes have the appearance of "hatching" or "growing" inside a person's mind, such that the person has the perception that the idea is "their's", when really the idea was like a seed that probably grew in many people's minds, and was specifically designed to grow just like that in any suitable soil. In this theory, one would argue that the reason people perceive ideas as being their own is really a trick of the idea itself, because ideas that people think are their own idea are more likely to survive and reproduce.

With that said, by the same analogy, the idea that grows or hatches in someone's mind is probably unique, in the sense that a baby born is generally unique from it's brothers and sisters, though they are all likely to be the same species. Also, there is always the chance of mutations, meaning that someone's version of an idea might be different in a way that was unintended by the meme-DNA that was growing in someone's mind.

This idea is also connected to the "copyrights and patents are bad" idea in that it suggests that people don't really own the ideas that they try to patent. I think it applies to copyrights to, meaning that people don't really own the 'art' that they create, though this is more tenuous, since it's generally the artistic artifact itself that is copyrighted, and not the 'idea' underlying the art. Still, I think copyrights hurt humanity by planting seeds in brains that are disallowed from growing in certain ways.