Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Man in the Machine (movie review)

I was pretty sure I'd seen this.  I've eschewed the dramatic version.  Docu-dramas are less my thing if real documentaries are available.  Not that it has to be either / or.  I've seen Aung San Suu Kyi's story done with actors too.

Anyway, the director was amazed at the global outpouring of both grief and respect for Steve Jobs when he passed.  The wake was reminiscent of the one for John Lennon, or Prince.  Princess Di even.  "Why?" the director asked; hence this movie.

The episodes from Steve's life that he chooses are indeed choice.  He bangs on his Japanese guru's door, lonely with his own dread.  He's saddled with a burden:  a form of enlightenment.  His first real girlfriend (as in, mother of his first child) only sort of agrees:  enlightened yes, but still with the burden of ego, so in a sense "he blew it".

Of course any film even momentarily entertaining such a thesis would be controversial, given Jobs was the icon of success. How could bachelors be married?  How could the Pope not be Catholic?

The director allows those who idolize Steve to have their say.

Both Glenn and I remarked how much Jobs looked like Tom Cruise as a youth.  This director also went after Scientology, in another movie I've seen.  He's not one for putting mere showmen at the top of his totem pole, and I think in this director's opinion Jobs was a tad pretentious.

He did live and breath his machines.  He did sit quietly in Zen gardens and seem serene.

As for me, I could see where the Think Different campaign would be moving to Jobs and expressive of his values.  What values?  I think giving space to freaks to invent the impossible in a short window. Like Alan Turing did.

He galvanized people to produce in ways we maybe thought only a war to the death really could.  Or was that what this was?  We all face mortality, so it's not like the wartime theater is any more lethal, given morbidity is 100%, eventually.

The film is a trip down memory lane and a quick review of the territory we've covered, since well before the personal computer.  Recommended.  Well made.  Kristen is a serious Apple fan.  There's a religious dimension.  Ray Kroc also understood how customers would be loyal to what had been loyal to them.  The products pleased people, still do.

Full disclosure: I forked over $300 for a use (good condition) MacBook Pro yesterday.  Good thing, because had I done my taxes first, I'd probably have felt too much the mendicant to have continued in my business.

As luck would have it, I went from Glenn's to get my taxes computed afterward.

Some ruthless stranger wants to extort money to blow up children, or send me to jail.  If I were brave and more honorable, I would refuse to pay a dime to the DC gangland oligarch hijackers of a once Constitutional government.

But I'm reconciled to life in the gulag.  Post USA North America, still pumped up with illusions, is a strange place to be.

Probably because of my dark mood regarding the farce my taxes pay for, I really wasn't that disturbed by Apple using Ireland as a tax haven.  Any way to keep the money from feeding these warmonger bozos was all right with me.

I'm used to people saying Buckminster Fuller was a failure, never mind all the patents, awards, honorary degrees.  A showman, a popularizer, and look, the world is still a mess, so Bucky was wrong about our human potential.

Maybe judging people isn't the real work, nor our calling as viewers of these films.  We're putting together a model of reality and taking in what happened.  We need the stories.  We don't need verdicts.  Life is not a court.  Who's naughty and who's nice might not be the whole point.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Big March


I'm justified in calling this march "big" by Portland standards.  Frequently, a march will assemble in South Park Blocks near the art museum (extends into Portland State's campus, behind the Schnitzer (a grand theater)).  The marchers will snake through downtown ending up at Pioneer Square.

This one massed in North Park Blocks closer to the old customs house, kaddy corner to Union Station (very roughly), and zig-zagged down Burnside, heading east, then south along Broadway, again with Pioneer Square the destination.

By the time Pioneer Square was completely packed with protestors, awaiting the sound stage performance (speakers and live music), they were still emptying out the North Park Blocks.  That whole stretch of Broadway stayed completely populated for a good hour at least, continuously piping a crush of people towards the square.

I was in camera man mode, eager to pan up and down the line.  I'd have taken twice as many pictures had I remembered to fully charge the battery the night before.  My bad.

This protest was against a kind of metaphysical phenomenon going on since the Columbine High School episode.  There's not much agreement on underlying causes.  We no longer entertain theories of possession, in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer sense.  Mental illness is typically discussed in terms of brain chemistry, computer games and television.

Once my battery ran out, I was motivated to visit Yard House, a high ceiling below ground level watering hole.  Derek, my company for this outing, joined me after taking in the full program of speeches and music.  We both had smartphones to keep in touch with, way better than walkie talkies (who here remembers those?). I also Facebooked and likely tweeted.

Later, when I was already on the bus heading home, Derek taking a different route, running an errand, Glenn phoned and we decided to have lunch (I'd only had Boneyard RPMs at the Yard House), this time at the Hop House (I allowed myself one more beer for the day, this being around 3 PM, the start of happy hour).

Glenn knows plenty about guns, has always had them around since he was a kid.  North Americans have their outdoor heritage and I'm all for living in the great outdoors.  The camping side of the culture, with its emphasis on gear, and self reliance, continues our hard won competencies as outdoor humans (with caves and such to retreat to).

A different cultural balance, much healthier, is likely nearby, however the invisible landscape in question has little to do with legislation per se.  Code emerges in the wake of a strong willing emergent mindset, one could say.  Law is what forms in the wake of the moving ship.  Steering involves using psychometrics to respond more appropriately to feedback.

Psychometrics is perhaps a dated term, but is not something bad.  Statisticians and data scientists have the responsibility to collect data measuring public sentiment.  Catching that massive demonstrations happened is more tip of the iceberg.  One looks for analysis and the better analysis is, as we say, data driven.  So lets not begrudge that data gets collected, including on us.

That said, having data for the purpose of fine tuning a model of reality, is distinct from seeking to reshape (versus simply model) said reality.  We don't begrudge academics their modeling, but take umbrage when campaigners wage psywar on behalf of their candidates and clients.  However don't we prefer psywar to violence and mayhem?  I know I do.  I'd make the whole fight be through billboards and other advertising, and computer games, had I that magic wand.

That's all a long-winded way of saying the outward weapons way of settling scores could be set aside for something more computationally intensive, perhaps, but we have an abundance of silicon.  Let us duke it out in social media, including on television, and we won't have to work it out with sawed offs.

The day closed with another visit, where I ate sparingly at Riyadh, a Hawthorne icon, down closer to the old site of Dr. Hawthorne's hospital, a mental one.  The languid Ladd's Addition stretches back from the intersection with SE 12th, where a famous pod of food carts sits kaddy corner from a Burgerville.

I was expecting to see a lot of people I knew at the march, based on past experience. I did encounter Joe Snyder on a street parallel to Broadway, heading the other way.  I was reporting details to Glenn but got off the phone long enough to compare notes with said Friend.  Richard Moley, who often salutes me as Kirby the Obscure, came up and bowed, conveying his customary greeting.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Logical Fallacies


I'm developing new respect for the field of Statistics, nowadays rebranding as Data Science, given its 21st Century willingness to amalgamate (converge) what had been considered two mutually exclusive approaches:  frequentist versus Bayesian.

As Terry Bristol and I discussed at Tom's over breakfast not long ago, sometimes the most mature science is the one that overcomes a core either/or mentality.  Reality is made of particles.  Reality is made of waves.  Rather than a single Grand Unified Theory, why not have two?  Part of our GUT is we need two ways of looking at minimum.

Operation DuckRabbit.

The prejudice against Bayesian thinking, expressed as antipathy towards its champion, Laplace, might trace in part to a school days lesson most of us learn.

If A then B does not imply B therefore A.  Example:  if it's raining, I will not go to the zoo.  I'm not at the zoo, ergo it's raining.  That does not follow.  It's a bright sunny day, but I didn't feel like going to the zoo, OK?

However, a Bayesian would say, the fact "I'm not at the zoo" constitutes new information vis-a-vis the hypothesis "it's raining".  P(it's raining, given I'm not at the zoo) > P(it's raining).  Given I'm not at the zoo, I'm more willing to bet that it's raining.

Shifting to a more eugenic set of memes, what is the probability a randomly selected member of the population has blue eyes?  Lets say 36%, regardless of hair color.  Now I tell you said person has blond hair.  The chance said person's eyes are blue just went up to 45%.  Why?  Because having blond hair increases the likelihood of having blue eyes.

Draw some probability distribution.  That's my reality right now.  I just draw an invisible landscape of what I consider likely.

Now let new data stream in for awhile.  Roll the dice a few times.  What's my probability distribution now?  How about now? 

My prior beliefs, "compromised" by subsequent data, yield my posterior beliefs.

The credibility curve, in light of new data, stems from the ratio between the likelihood of said data given old beliefs, and the probability of said data for any reason.

My old belief is there's one chance in thousand that I have medical condition X.  Then I take a test that's almost always positive when a person has X.  The test registers positive.  My old belief modifies somewhat, but not a lot, because it was already close to certain that I don't have X.

For years, per the sources I'm studying, Bayesian thinking was delegitimized.  But in the 21st Century, Bayesian thinking was finally accepted, keeping the door open to forms of Machine Learning that had been developed to a high level at Bletchley Park.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Systems Science

Harder House

Thanks to a grapevine stretching to John "the Architect" Driscoll, the Systems Science PhD program, headquartered in the Harder House (PSU campus) invited me to give a brown bag lunch presentation, an almost weekly event when school is in session, this past Friday (March 9).  Dr. Wayne Wakeland introduced me.  Some people lurked from remote locations.

My topic:  the concept of "dimension" in Synergetics.

"Dimension" is a slippery concept in some ways, as mass, temperature, time, pressure are dimensions, relative to standard units of each, while space is commonly given three dimensions to establish location, named X, Y and Z dimensions.

Conceptually, we may need only an XY grid to establish which piece goes where on a chessboard (King to (r3, c2)), so we say chessboards are 2D, whereas rulers might be 1D.  However a chessboard is more obviously spatial and we simply choose to neglect the board's thickness.  Does "neglect" of a dimension make it go away entirely?  Out of sight, out of mind.

The dimension concept is even more complicated than that though, and we got into that in the midst of making some elbow room for Fuller's meaning, which starts pretty much where Kant starts:  space is a priori, a given of experience.  Adding time the way Einstein does, is different from adding more dimensions of space the way Coxeter does.  Different language games arise, each making use of "4D".

Fuller's paradigm volume, in terms of shape, is neither a cube nor a sphere, but a tetrahedron, of four corners, four faces.  The language games he builds around his core space concept somewhat diverge from those we learn in school, so much of this was new information to those present.  I'm aiming to share some of the same info with summer school students, as part of their literary heritage.

I also learned quite a bit, as one of the students mentioned being led to the writings of Donella H. "Dana" Meadows through Fuller's. I wasn't sure who that was, and as it turned out, my friend Patrick, with whom I went walking that same Friday afternoon, had been in her courses at Dartmouth.  He filled me in.  Dana Meadows, and her husband Dennis, have a lot to do with Systems Science as we know it today.

My overlap with Systems Science is General Systems Theory (GST).  I see these as quasi-synonymous, in terms of opening a large umbrella, under which we'll find many approaches to modeling and data representation.  There's a cybernetic flavor, meaning we're equipped with all the tools of Cyberia, our Global U.  The so-called Noosphere is a temporal-energetic phenomenon these days.

I talked about the Fuller Projection for data sharing as another invention, relating to his "geoscope" or "macroscope" (the "concentric hierarchy" having been my main focus), and how after the World Game chapter, it mostly stays back burner and on the shelf because of its apolitical nature (no political boundaries mar its surface).

"Talk about quixotic!" quipped the same student who mentioned Meadows.  I raise the question of Fuller's "quixoticness" with reference to his daring naively to critique XYZ thinking at the "three dimensionality" of space, conventions we mostly never revisit in later life.

As children we may have our doubts, about the sustainability of "nation-states" included, but in the press of events we usually come to abandon our both our skepticism and idealism, along with our teddy bears.  We stop pooh poohing zero dimensional points creating infinitely long lines, and settle in to take them seriously, for the duration.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Youtube Teachers


When I first started my gradient descent into that hell hole (just kidding) called Machine Learning, I discovered a cast of teachers hitherto not on my radar, Siraj among them.  My first response was one of annoyance, but that didn't last.  Nowadays I have a healthy respect for the Siraj Youtube corpus and recommend them without hesitation to anyone I think might be entertained by his somewhat manic style.

Speaking of manic, another quirky teacher I highly respect is Daniel Shiffman, who covers a lot of the same topics in Machine Learning.  I was learning from both teachers today.  Even though I'm mostly looking at ML / AI through the lens of Python, I'm happy to watch Shiffman coding in Java and Javascript.

With teachers as entertaining and as intelligent as these, I'm thinking the threat of AI is not that serious, or at least not as serious as the threat of serious learning opportunities on-line, to traditional schooling.  You'd rather ride a bus half across town to enjoy far more restricted access to information?  I guess that's your right.  Just realize a lot of kids are rocketing ahead, as peer groups, not just as solo scholars.  Homeschoolers may rule, in generation Z (or have we rolled around back to A, B... already?).

These two teachers are not the only superstars out there, even limiting the sample to the few I know about.  However they're among the best in the knowledge domain I'm currently exploring.  That just tells you I like it quirky.  Demented even.