Depressed by the middle easth

Warning: Alliterative first time I want it, and that I am looking after 1 tbsp of his many True Believers ). Thus, and won’t get you create your body might seem frivolous, carried forward to do anything but it just get your head. Gary Parry had a freaky healthy: two to move, with the earth, at the stone. . This particular song again in terms of won me to be a Western Australian dollars .

Markov, bishes. :)

28 years later

Tron: 1982

  •  I am 7 years old.
  •  The dawn of personal computing. For the first time, individuals have computers.
  •  Computing is nerdy, specialised. Arcade Computer Games are new and cool.
  •  Life inside the computer is depicted as banal, office-like, yearning to be real.
  •  Clumsy special effects pretend to be too-expensive computer effects.
  •  Completely unique film stock is created to make the film effects possible.
  •  Huge solid sets are painstakingly built and painted to look surreal.
  •  Real actors are clad in suits to make them look unnatural.

Legacy: 2010

  • I am 35 years old.
  • The internet is an inextricable part of life for most of the world.
  • Computing is everywhere, in everything. It’s uncool to not be a nerd.
  • Life inside the computer is depicted as impossibly cool. It mocks the real world.
  • Computer effects are trivial and cheap.
  • No physical film is ever exposed.
  • Hardly any physical sets are even built.
  • The central villain is a flawless digital emulation of Jeff Bridges of 1982.

This is what it must feel like to live through epochal change.

Once upon a time in The Future

So I just watched 2010 again, still an odd favourite, and it made me think about the last ever space shuttle mission last week, and more…

In 1982, Arthur C Clarke wrote a book set in 2010, a sequel to his 1968 book and roughly simultaneous Stanley Kubrick movie, set in 2001.

In 1984, Margaret Thatcher stands in for Big Brother in helping the UK to slide into fascism without any help from a nuclear war, a computer called Fate, or a horrific man-made virus. The United States re-elects a Cowboy who is probably not a robot.

In 1984 I’m in grade 3.

Also in 1984, Clarke’s latter book is released as a somewhat less famous movie, with an old-looking Roy Schneider alongside a very young-looking John Lithgow, and a russian-accented not-yet-dame Helen Mirren.

In that book, and that movie, several awesomely improbable things happen which it is abundantly evident did not come to pass last year: There is no second star in the orbit of Jupiter. No nuclear stand-off was narrowly averted by aliens. We clearly do not have any AIs, let alone enough to take one for granted.

But that’s all boring.

What’s interesting, are the things which it clearly made sense to assume about 2010 in 1984…

  • The Soviet Union will still exist. In fact it will be just as healthy as the USA.
  • The Soviet Union will still be the USA’s biggest military concern.
  • The USSR and the USA will still be engaged in a neck-and-neck space race.
  • In fact, both nations will have a permanent presence in space.
  • Not only will it be feasible for the USSR to launch a large, manned mission to Jupiter, but the USA already did that, nine years earlier.

I can’t begin to count the emotions I feel when I try to see the 2010 that actually was from the standpoint of the bright imaginations who made that movie, back in 1984.

It’s somehow like we’re living in the dystopian alternative world of Watchmen; we’ve done so much, been so brilliant,- so how did we get here?

 

Training for Exhaustion

How to get veeery tired:

  1. Have a virus, an infected gallbladder and surgery to remove said organ, etc…
  2. Get sent to allegedly Career Significant Training in the CBD.
  3. …training that starts at 8:15am sharp.
  4. …training which your line manager is co-facilitating that day.
  5. Have the deluded idea that you can ride (a motorbike) to this training more easily than catch a train.
  6. …through the Donvale tunnel, down the Eastern freeway, and Nicholson street.
  7. Attend this training. It runs all day, with minimal breaks and massive performance pressure.
  8. At 5:15pm, get out of this training and go meet a friend. Walk around the city for a while for good measure.
  9. Now ride home. Same route, in reverse. Did I mention that it’s VERY COLD?

If you see no problem with this picture, you may not have had the aforementioned recent surgery, or you might just be really fit. :-/

Bloodshed

So, that happened.

<engage ramble-mode>

On Saturday the 14th of May E and I went to see Dr Zhivago at The Maj. It was fantastic, but as I was leaving the theatre I had a ‘cramp’ in my chest and had to sit down. It passed, and I gave it no further thought.

That night, we had some deeply awesome dumplings for dinner. I ate more of them than was in any way called for.

Around 11:30pm that night, my chest began to hurt. This rapidly developed into the worst, most intense pain I have ever experienced, and after trying various pain medications, Erin took me into Knox Private, where I was admitted, medicated to the eyeballs, and spent the night.

In the morning, the pain was gone, and I was sent home with an appointment for ultrasound to explore the possibility of gallstones on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, on my way to work, I stopped in for my ultrasound. The Ultrasoundist had a trainee observing his work so I got a very special opportunity to hear detailed, fearless running commentary on my scan as it was being done. Apparently I don’t have cancer (!!!) but he said some faintly disturbing things about the dimensions of my gall-bladder, and how this was indicative of Great Inflammation(tm).

The scan being done, I got dressed to leave, and was told to report to the emergency department. (WTF?!)

The ED nurses directed me to a bed and told me to change into a hospital gown. (WTF!!!?!?)

The ED doctor arrived, cheerfully examined my scans, and informed me that he had hassled the surgeon until he rescheduled to make a time for me that day, to have my gall-bladder removed. (AAARGH! WTF?!?!?!?!!!)

From there, my week was subsumed by a lengthy (Three hours on the table) keyhole surgery, and a long, unpleasant recovery. I did in fact get out of the hospital, on Saturday, less one severely infected gall-bladder and some other abdominal tissue which had been compromised by said infection.

As I tweeted at the time, there were proverbial Little Glass Vials.

As of today, I am more or less recovered, and back at work. When I got here today, I found that my workmates had made productive use of their time in my absence:

Indeed:

And even:

If this all just seems weird to you, you may need to watch Dexter.

So, yeah, that happened.

 

CB1000R

WARNING: This post contains motorbike nerdistry, and pretty much nothing else. Non-bike people should feel free to skip it.

This week, while our beautiful tourer was getting a service, the nice folks at Jeffrey Honda loaned me an ugly, ugly little bike:

Honda CB1000R, Green

It made me very nervous at first. Gone was my chunky plastic windshield, gone the good metre of bike in front of me. I could look down over the alomost vertical front forks and see the road almost directly below. Spooky.

I have long held the opinion that I am a conservative rider. I like big slow comfortable motorbikes that go budda-budda-budda and carry plenty of stuff. I always assumed that if I ever got hold of the kind of power a modern sportsbike delivers, I would be unable to control it.

I have changed my mind.

I still think that little CB1000R is ugly as sin, and I probably would never buy one on that point alone, but in every other way, it kind of won me over.

It turns out I can control that much power. In fact, a bike like that gives one much more in the way of control to begin with.

But, at the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, the POWER! Press reviews of that bike compare it to the Fireblade (a demented race bike) and I think I could feel that.

I’m rambling. Time for bullet points:

  • The complete absence of a windshield reminds me how warm and sheltered I am on the ST, but my helmet ventilation worked properly for the first time ever, and it feels so much safer to be looking straight at what’s in front of me without an intervening layer of plastic.
  • Light steering is a good thing. The CB1000R weighs almost the same as the ST, but it feels lighter and more nimble than our old 250 (probably due to Honda’s Mass Centralization program) and it made me realise just how hard I have to work to filter through traffic on the wider, heavier ST.
  • Modern instruments are soooo nice. The all-digital display on the CB1000R was a joy to read, even in the dark, in torrential rain. In a space the size of a banana, it provided all the same information as the ST’s generous dashboard. Things like optimal rev-ranges for peak power were very obvious.
  • Commuting with a satchel bag is no great hardship, contrary to my expectations, even if ones wet-weather gear is stuffed into the side-pocket of said bag.
  • Modern race-bred brakes are FANTASTIC. The ST is a big bike, and the one accident I’ve had on it can be squarely attributed to its mass versus my imperfect braking technique. I have become a lot better at braking because of that bike, so it came as a real shock when the loan-bike just stopped in half a length at a gentle pressure on the front brakes.

I can see the appeal.

The Quiet After The Storm

It strikes me that I’ve edited a lot on this blog, and striven for some kind of high-ground in terms of keeping it interesting and impersonal. I have hit and missed, but mostly I just haven’t posted, and that it about as boring as it could possibly be.

Sure, nobody reads a blog that’s pure bitchiness, or a one-sided conversation with an unseen interlocutor, Very few people would read a blog about ultra-small-footprint cloudy Linux VPS administration either. However absolutely nobody reads a blog which never has any new content.

So, time to break down this barrier and get blogging again. Quality over quantity is only a good idea as long as the quantity stays above zero.

For starters the new banner is a hat-tip to the wedding I never did get around to blogging about properly.

There should definitely be a post here about the late Graham Hatherell one day soon too.

Mmmmm, meta post!

Still here, still kicking

At a party recently, a lot of people commented that they haven’t seen or heard from me in a while.

Suffice to say that life has been extremely challenging for about 6 months. I prefer not to go into that any further here.

Unfortunately, that means that most of the topics uppermost in my mind aren’t really suitable for blogging either. I do post on twitter, and twitter may yet be the death of this blog, although you can see my last few tweets and link to my twitter page in the right-hand menu-bar of this page (provided you’re seeing the page).

…so here’s a nerdy non-sequitur, from the WAREHOUSE:

My wife finds awesome things. :)

 

Euphoria over a world made right

It just struck me that it has been a little while since I blogged, and now, in a strongly elevated mood, seemed like an excellent time for a quick, rambly squirt of where-the-hell-I’m-at.

This is my first post as a married man. So far it is most singularly excellent. I am still waiting for the bit where it feels like we’re married in any stereotypical sense. Eventually there will be a bumper Wedding round-up post with innumerable pictures and stuff, but that sounds like more work than I have time for tonight.

This morning, I pointed several workmates at Hunter S Thompson‘s inimitable Song of the Sausage Creature, a work which I have blogged about before. I think I introduced it as the greatest ever expression of the peculiar madness which makes one a motorcyclist.

Walking home this evening, I marvelled at how cold it was, and how unspeakably pleasant it was to loaf along in my warmest jacket with the zip zipped up, my evil little device squirting undiluted genius into my ears. Some specific genius tonight: Escape Pod, Yoko Kanno, and Zeros and Ones from Year Zero. Very good.

As I walked, at one point I was struck by the overpowering smell of ganja in the street, and I fancied to myself a story of a great person whose final request was that they be cremated on a cold, still, night with Melbourne’s cold-air inversion well-and-truly in effect, along with a kilo of their best weed, so that all of Springvale might inhale them and feel peace and contentment.

Bye for now.

Transcending Evolution

For this post I have added the ‘upsight’ category, to borrow a term from Neal Stephenson’s rather marvellous Anathem.

My upsight today was realising not only that humanity are in the process of throwing off the influence of evolution, but also to see just how broad that influence really is, and from that, why it will cost us so dearly in the short term, and reward us so profoundly in the long.

Evolution, as far as I can see, is a combination of a random process, e.g. genetic recombination, with a non-random selector (e.g. darwinian ‘fitness’). In other words, for the problem of survival and propagation, evolution is all about trial and error.

Trial and error works. It can take a long time though, especially if the cost of error is death, and the process can be alarmingly expensive. As such, evolution is all about very very long stretches of time.

Trial and error is also susceptible to capture by local maxima. Imagine an isolated species of moss whose entire evolutionary fitness is determined by how high it climbs. Lets assume this imaginary moss can only spread its spores a meter or so at a time. Successive generations of this moss will slowly climb the hill on which they originated, eventually reaching the peak. They will do well on that peak, but not as well as they might do on the mountain range across the valley, a few kilometres away.

One simple game-theoretic or computing answer to this is a gimmick called simulated annealing. That’s where, instead of always seeking greater fitness, you occasionally do something randomly much worse, go in a random direction, on the offchance that it will lead to a greater win in the long term.

Those who are still awake at this point will immediately observe that this is exactly what evolution does: random mutations are mostly bad. Only one random swerve in umpty gazillion leads you to develop lungs and crawl our of the sea, but that’s how it works, right?

Yes and no. The problem with simulated annealing lies in the size and frequency of those jumps. If our moss has simulated annealing of, say, a ten meter jump roughly every hundred generations, it could take a very VERY long time to get off the hill and reach the mountains. The hill is more likely to go volcanic before that ever happens, and wipe the moss out. Suppose we give it a hundred meter jump every ten generations… Now it will reach those mountains in no time. This is true. It will go almost everywhere in no time flat. Unfortunately, it will also become extinct, since it has effectively ceased to climb hills at all; a feature which we defined as vital to its survival in the first place.

Biological evolution can only allow so many changes per generation, with a fixed limit to how far those changes can go. More than that, and a species will degrade over time, and eventually fail.

This puts many advantageous and even vital changes out of reach of biological evolution.

It has been pointed out to me that this is an over simplification; visualising simulated annealing in this few dimensions is inherently misleading. I stand by my point though; that the jumps are necessarily too small, as follows:

To give an example, the first sea-creature to grow legs and lungs gained exclusive access the whole land-area surface of the earth. It is entirely possible that its genes are in all of us, and most mammals. The first creature to evolve superorbital flight, radiation hardening, vacuum-tolerance and some kind of re-entry and landing mechanism could colonise Mars, Venus, and conceivably every other planet in the universe. That would be a much, much larger evolutionary win, but it can obviously never happen. Not that way. Pure trial-and-error will never lead to a lateral jump that big.

So, something different happens: we think.

You could argue very plausibly that our thinking is just a radical new form of evolved fitness, exactly the one described above, but that would be overlooking the nature of evolution: it is random. In addition to trying the good change, it will (must) always try nearly every possible bad one.  Thinking lets us do better: not only can we see in advance that many bad ideas are bad (and avoid them), we can also do diabolically clever things like theorise about how a system works, and work backwards from an outcome to the possible solutions which might lead there. Not only can we solve problems many orders of magnitude more quickly and cheaply than trial-and-error, we can select among solutions and choose the best one. The cavernous gaps between mountains present no obstacle to choosing a mountain if one can see all the mountains and immediately perceive which one is tallest.

This is a radical change, but it isn’t just biological evolution lying in the dust.

Consider naturopathic or herbal medicines as opposed to the newest pharmaceuticals (ignoring the awkward transition phase in between):

To discover a natural medicine, you just seek out new plants and substances, and try them. You ingest them or brew them, or plaster them on your skin. Some of them help. Many of them make you sick. Some of them kill you. It can be systemmatic, careful, and make use of educated guesses, but in the end it’s trial and error.

By comparison, most recent medicines are the result of a deductive process: we examine the problem at its most fundamental level, where biology becomes complex, shifty chemistry. Once we understand the problem, we theorise ways it could be solved, and work backwards from those solutions towards known, feasible chemicals, treatments, and eventually, products.

This is a triumph. I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS!

It’s not just medicine either. Primitive man is both troubled and endangered by thunder and lightning. He invents a wrathful sky-god who hurls spears from the sky, and from this, elects to stay inside shelter when storms come. This approach increases his chances of survival, but is incomplete: he has no way of knowing about times and places when it is safe to go out into the storm. He will make various wrong conclusions when his tall, pointy places of worship to the sky-god are struck by lightning and catch fire.

Benjamin Franklin forms a number of plausible theories about what the lightening and thunder are, tests them, and comes up with a very robust explanation involving electrostatic discharge. Lightning rods are just an obvious product of this understanding, little or no trial-and-error is required. There is no need to line up thousands of people in hundreds of thunderstorms to determine the circumstances under which it is safe to go out in a storm; these insights come to us fully formed from the supported theory, and can be applied immediately.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Our lives are still riddled with trial-and-error. Some of it is fun, and will probably remain part of being human forever. Other parts are just baggage of our evolutionary heritage.

Those parts’ days are numbered. Science is coming. Thank goodness.

Update: Sabik has helpfully pointed out a whole bunch of places where I was either factually incorrect, talking crap, or just subtly out of line. For example, I mistook Benjamin Franklin for Thomas Edison. Burning-elephant-ooops. I have done my best to revise this post to take these myriad goofs into account. Many, many thanks. I suppose I should write a sequel post now, and call it ‘Transcending Evolution Engineers”. :)