An Incomplete Education

Aug 21

Long time gone

Well, I’m sure that most of the audience that I have earned has forgotten about me. But, hey, life is what happens when you are making other plans. Posts inbound.

Jun 20

“People who are struggling to make the actual world conform to some imaginary one are rarely prepared to accept the compromises, the negotiations, and the quest for common ground that make for functional politics, and the result is the stalemate between entrenched factions that pervades politics on nearly all levels today.” — The Archdruid Report: What Actually Happens

May 24

… but words can make me believe I deserve it.


(Xkcd)[], of course.

May 21

I’ve been lucky to work with a few remarkably talented, truely creative people. Most of them have two problems:

  1. Promoting their art.
  2. Not understanding how really good they are.

The reason for #2 is this. Essentially, creative people surround themselves with really wonderful examples of their art. The musician that listens to The Beatles, Beethoven, and Biggie Smalls all day. Or the cartoonist that picks up his dog-eared copy of Maus for the 400th time. And the painter that moons away at each gallery of the Met, wishing she could capture the light just like El Greco or Turner.

Part of it is that you only get see how very good the masters are. You never get to see Van Gogh struggle with, and then give up on shadows. (Well, you can, if you visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam).

Instead, you’ve got your twenty page short story, and you compare it to Hemingway, when what you should be comparing it to is Dan Brown. Seriously, that’s a funny article. Read it.

Artists surround themselves with beauty, because they have a killer sense of taste. But that taste can be bitter and self-defeating.

Sometime, they need to spend some time with crap.

Apr 26

A great teacher once told me, “Great teachers will unhesitatingly sacrifice the truth to teach the Truth.”

Apr 25

The shrinking cage

I’ve been trying to find something meaningful to write—a ‘why’—in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and of course there are none that are meaningful to me.

The similarity of Fundamentalism across distant times and places and cultures is striking; there must be a similar structure of thought undergirding all of these strains.

The older bomber, Tamerlan, entered music school but abruptly left. Why? Music wasn’t compatible with Islam.

Tamerlan loved music and, a few years ago, he sent Khozhugov a song he’d composed in English and Russian. He said he was about to start music school.

Six weeks later, the two men spoke on the phone. Khozhugov asked how school was going.

"I quit," Tamerlan said.

"Why did you quit?" Khozhugov asked. "You just started."

"Music is not really supported in Islam," he replied.

"Who told you that?"

I have visited souks, khans, and the markets of the Middle East. It is trivially easy to find a music dealer in any of them. I assure you that there is a long tradition of music in Morocco, pop stars rocking Cairo, and jazz in Beirut. Turkish guitar is complex and layered. Arab beats are banging.

And yet, without even knowing what sort of a Fundamentalist a person is, you can probably guess that they believe that music, singing, dancing, acting, drinking, nudity, sex, and sensuality are all forbidden1.

That there can exist a diet that is not simply unhealthy, or forbidden, but genuinely evil. Why is this so common? How can it be that love is verboten?

I’ve a hypothesis.

These things all stir parts of us that are not entirely rational, and therefore not governable by reason alone: the heart, the body, a soul. There is no ‘reason’ to dance. You can map the logic of music, but the actual act of making music has nothing of logic in it. It is common for jazz musicians to disappear into their set. Actors pantomime and absorb the feelings and thoughts of something that is outside themselves: their character, their audience.

We do it for the feeling. For the expression. These things all give names to the nameless. And a nameless thing is beyond the control of the rational mind.

The last moment you have power over these things is the judgement to accept them (or not). So the most possible power your conscious mind can have over this is to say ‘no’. Otherwise, you abandon your critical, reasoning, and judging mind to some extent.

This all hinges on judgement, a perennial favorite among Fundamentalists of all stripes. Judgement seems to give power, but it also entraps. Can you imagine a life without music? With diversion? Without flying kites? All for a feeling of control?

The Fundamentalist sees much in the world that is not divine.

The more you try to hold this focus of mind, the more it escapes you, like squeezed water through you fingers. A woman stirs your loins, so you yell at her to stop being a slut. A book causes you to question, and so it burns in the fire. You catch your toes tapping, so the music is silenced.

Fundamentalism fails to accept that we are more than mind. It posits a stark world of good and bad that steadily shrinks as more and more things get tossed onto the ‘bad’ pile.

It must seem as though the world becomes more manageable as it shrinks, and it does. Prisons are straightforward like that.

Late edition: Jain Clergy supporting terrorism.

  1. Violence and stimulants (caffeine, tobacco, khat) being the common exceptions. 

Apr 24

The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.


Apr 18

TPM is hiring an entry level news writer:

You need to be a news omnivore or rather a news carnivore because doing the job right requires a keen eye for a TPM story and the ability to pounce quickly — so a news Velociraptor not a Stegosaurus.

Let me tell you why this is great writing. In one sentence, you get the idea of how the job will feel and a sense of the narrative you’ll develop there.

A lot of people (especially college grads) don’t know if they are cautious, or adventurous, or capable of making quick, good decisions. But this gives you a sense of the feel.

I’d bet this’ll get much better matches than the standard, “Entry level position at a fast-paced environment” stuff you see.

theyre after me lucky charms, jamtastik: quierosonreir: rayquayza: ...

Apr 17

Moore’s law applied to life

Moore’s law is an old engineering prediction: that a CPU’s information processing ability will double every two years.

What would happen if we looked at life as an information processing … process? And then looked backwards? This:

It’s from an (arxiv)[] paper. What researchers found was that if you assume life to be an information processing entity, than it has origins of about 10 billion years ago, 5 billion years before the Sun formed, and 6 billion before our very own Earth.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong. The 10 billion year estimate puts the origin of life at around when there when the interesting elements were first being spread by the death of the first generation of stars.1

But, I think they forget their starting point:

They say there is good evidence that bacterial spores can be rejuvenated after many millions of years, perhaps stored in ice.

Once you start to look at life as an information processing entity, you can go back a lot further than bacteria, or even DNA. The simplest biological information processing units are proteins.

Each protein is set to recognize a single molecule (or family of related molecules), merge with it, transform it, release it, and then get ready for the next encounter. Flawlessly and neigh endlessly, each protein recognizes information (that’s a yes|no!) and then transforms it. Boom — computation. The simplest proteins are made of CHON (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen) and have no trouble existing in interstellar space or comets. If the authors are going to redefine what life is, then they need to broaden their horizons a bit more.

I can buy that proteins go back 10 billion years ago. A cloud or soup of CHON will produce them through Brownian motion, and they’ll start computing the moment they hit something they ‘recognize’. The longer they go on computing, the more evolved and stable the whole system will become.

I feel like this is good work. It provides a really good answer to Fermi’s Paradox.

  1. The first stars were made of hydrogen, helium, and lithium. As they burned, these atoms fused into heavier and heavier elements. Those elements were released into the cosmos when those stars went nova.