What I’ve been up to

September 8th, 2018

So, you all have probably noticed I’ve been pretty quiet in blog-land lately. I’ve been busy with a couple of things – beyond the usual work stuff that I’m always doing.

So, if you’re curious, here’s what I’ve been up to:

1) I’ve been working off and on on a social calendaring app that I can’t say much more about yet other than it should be pretty cool when I get it done.

2) I’ve been doing a back to fundamentals thing with my music – been practicing a lot of scales and patterns, concentrating on A: playing them all without looking at the keyboard and B: working on complex patterns with my left hand, trying to get better at walking bass lines

3) I’ve been working – so far mostly on paper, not in code – on a four-neurotransmitter spiking neural network simulation which is intended to be capable of unsupervised learning. More on this later.

Hope you all are having fun out there.

The problem with laws

June 11th, 2018

So, one of the stupid things us humans do – and I know, there are a bunch – is try to create a rigid code of rules to describe acceptable behavior in every situation. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Milgram effect wasn’t such a big thing with us – once rules are written down, we tend to follow them blindly *even when we know they are wrong*.

Anyone who’s done much coding understands that it’s *incredibly* difficult to get bug free code. Laws are essentially code for humans, and to add to the fun they’re often written by people who don’t have much experience coding at all, and often written for politically expedient reasons without considering the rule of unintended consequences. They also don’t get much revision or debugging.

I submit to the crowd that the basic *idea* of having laws is flawed. What we need are algorithms that can be used to judge the appropriateness of any situation, with broad group consensus, not a attempt to imagine every situation beforehand and codify what the punishment should be if someone chooses to take a certain action.

I repeatedly see laws getting used to justify, or at least call reasonable, behavior by the criminal justice system that is both abusive and counterproductive. One of the ones that makes me the most angry is the teens who are arrested for “producing child porn” when they do things like sexting, which is perfectly reasonable and natural behavior and should not be illegal at all. I understand the original point of the laws they were breaking was to protect children from predatory adults, but if our system was somewhat better designed, vindictive and/or milgrammed police officers and judges would not be able to use them to hurt the very people they were designed to protect.

I also see one problem with the *massive* concordance of laws we currently have is it is virtually impossible to even know what’s illegal any more. Unless you spend your life doing little else, there’s not a lot of hope of knowing what’s in the hodgepodge of state, federal, and local laws that apply to your current behavior. It’s also undoubtedly true that the people authoring the laws have not thought about the long term impact of their decisions. Most of the punishments are vastly beyond what the crime entails. Watching Le Miz the other day reminded me that we still think jailing someone for a year for stealing $500 is a reasonable thing to do – while at the same time, our jails *break people worse* in several ways:

A: They are designed to punish, not to reform. This punishment often leads to justifiable anger on the part of the punished, which leads to them being *less* inclined to work with our society

B: People are programmable – and we tend to entrain on our peer group. Locking up all the criminals together just means they entrain off each other, thusly making the convicts *more* criminal

If our desire is not to live in, to use Jordon Peale’s phrase, a ‘fucked up dystopia’, we should be trying to figure out how to get the people who break laws to fix themselves and develop as individuals in ways that ensure they won’t reoffend. I’ve talked in the past about one thing that might help accomplish that (see this) but this isn’t a subject I’m a expert in – it is, however, a subject that we could science until we had a well defined science of rehabilitation.

However, I think we also need to recongize that the law itself is often hurting people – we repeatedly criminalize things that should not be illegal just because some subset of people think that people should not be free to take that particular action. Religious people have a long history of using the law as a club to enforce their particular set of morals – even when the things they are criminalizing hurt no one but the person committing the act. The law should not be used to bully people based on your personal opinion about what is right and wrong – we should be able to develop a science of right and wrong as well, created by measuring harm to others.

haproxy and unable to load SSL certificate (weird one)

June 1st, 2018

So, I was setting up a haproxy this morning and I was having a heck of a time getting it to load the SSL Certificate. I kept getting “Unable to load SSL certificate”, which was not a phrase google was helping me with.

It turned out that the BEGIN CERTIFICATE line, as issued from namecheap, only had four ‘-‘ characters where haproxy wanted to see five. I also couldn’t do a openssl x509 -text -in, I would get the error “140146308224672:error:0906D06C:PEM routines:PEM_read_bio:no start line:pem_lib.c:703:Expecting: TRUSTED CERTIFICATE”.

So, that’s a hour of my life I’ll not get back, but hopefully someone else will now find this problem on google.

Software modeling of economic systems

May 27th, 2018

So, while there’s much shouting back and forth and wrending of garments on the subject of whether collectivism is good or bad, whether the time has come for socialism, and how much damage being a member of the 1% does, I’m curious – we all have strong opinions, and obviously we’ve all got reasons for them, but has anyone done any software modeling on this?

It should be possible to, by looking at recorded data for the many hundreds of countries and thousands of industries and the like, create software models for various types of collectivism and capitalism and any other systems we’ve got records for, and determine what the best answer is. While right-wingers may feel firmly convinced that collectivist attempts are doomed, and certain aspects of the left that socialism will cure all our woes, I’m not really all that convinced that anyone who has never modelled the problem actually has any idea at all what will and won’t work.

Clearly capitalism comes with some advantages re: competition, but also clearly as we move into the age of automation we’re going to have to do UBI or *something* or we’ll have no jobs left and people will be forced to starve to death because they’re more expensive than machines. I guess one question that we should probably start with is, can we agree why we’re here? Can we at least agree it’s not to starve to death?

If we can, could we perhaps model some of these things? Maybe try to determine how much collectivism hurts initiative and innovation, figure out whether we could even successfully run as a collectivist system at all when measuring in real resource costs rather than in stupid-fiat-dollars?

I grant you that modelling this problem would not be a insignificant challenge – after all we’re not talking about the Glooper here – but I imagine we’d have a lot better luck with it than we would with modelling the weather, especially if we look at it as a problem in probabilistic behavior and determine based on pre-existing data what likely probabilities are.

Then again, it may be that some members on both sides are so firmly programmed that they couldn’t accept the output of a software modelling problem in the area of collectivism if it were run. I do often wonder, if we weren’t all being programmed by the left & right medias and our peer groups / bubbles in what exactly we’re supposed to think, what *would* we think? There have got to be *some* people who recognize the sheer folly of the idea that the other side must be completely and totally wrong. Yes, I’ve chosen my side, but I like to think the people on the other side are not idiots and I also like to think that one of these days we will stop shouting at each other and start devising some scientific methods to ascertain what the truth really is.

Of course the problem with this is there’s a chunk of people out there convinced that some God who has made no attempt in recent memory to get in touch with us and is quite possibly a work of fiction comprised by various unsavory elements of our past culture in a attempt to achieve some form of social control is actually completely in control and if science says something other than what they expect to see from God, then science must be wrong. Have faith even in the face of hard data, or you’re a bad $RELIGIOUS_NUT.

Ah, the human condition. Full of so many interesting miseries and contradictions.

The dangers of delusions

May 13th, 2018

So, as we sit in the middle of a house divided – to put it mildly – I’ve been doing some thinking. To the right, things that to us on the left sound purely insane are absolute truth. Of course Mexican immigrants are a major source of terrorism, and we should be afraid of them crossing our borders bringing Sarin gas (even if the person writing the post couldn’t actually spell Sarin). Of course Trump is innocent of all he’s accused of, and the left wing media is being unfairly cruel to him. Of course God intends to torture us for all eternity unless we believe in Jesus.

The thing is, I have a intermittent mental illness. I’ve more or less mastered – or at least achieved a high degree of proficiency in – fighting it with a mix of drugs and being sure to get involved in some really big project whenever I reach one of the peaks, which occur every six months. However, I’ve experienced delusions, and let me tell you, they do seem absolutely real when they are happening. Also, most of the major world events that the left and the right are fighting about – cops shooting citizens, Iran building nuclear weapons, etc – are things that most of us never see except via media sources. And, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, the media isn’t perfect – I know far more people who have been misquoted in the paper than who have been quoted correctly, and I largely put this down to the fact that there’s a whole lot of neurons between person A’s conscious experience and person B’s. You’ve seen me talk about this before – the hope of experiencing some kind of reality that is absolute and monolithic truth is not very good.

That said, there are clearly many players at this point who are willing to inject lies into the media stream if it serves their purpose. I suspect, based on the amount of screaming about how much the people on the left are doing this, that the majority of people doing this are the ones on the right, although I’ve found examples of both. [I have figured out that the interesting fact that we see most the flaws in other people that also exist in ourselves is far amplified in political theater]

Without speculating too much on what the ultimate outcome of all this might be, I think it is safe to say we’ve found a survive-or-don’t situation here. The frustrating part for me is of course that people on the other side have no problem with making stuff up – and of course, they’d accuse my side of the same. Suffice it to say places like snopes and politifact are being kept very busy – and of course the people in question also accuse them of bias.

I have to assume that everyone is aware of the fact that something has gone badly wrong here. Of course, half the country blames it on Obama and the other half on Trump – but nonetheless, we are living in two parallel but not particularly congruent realities. I am sure that the delusional thinking is on the other side – but then, I would think that, wouldn’t I? I’m sure they are equally sure of the same thing. My hope is all of this is the prerequisite to some kind of enlightenment leading to a even more impressive age of reason than the one we’ve just had, but my fear is that this is the barbarians causing Rome to crumble.

So far, there’s not a lot of violence on the streets, although I do keep reading about the police arresting people for no reason and shooting people for even less and getting away with it. It feels like we’re deteriorating into a police state similar to Nazi Germany (let’s get dragged through WWII this time with our eyes open? Heil Trump?) but at the same time when I turn off the net and wander outside, everything seems fine. I live just down the street from a police station and I don’t see them dragging large numbers of people to jail, nor do I hear very many sirens. Walking the streets of Seattle it looks like everything is fine. The grocery store has plenty of food. I do see a lot of homeless people, which I take to be a indicator that the economy is not doing so well, but they don’t look like they’re starving.

And, in the political theater POV, I have to remind myself that it’s possible that the right-wing whackos have awakened a sleeping giant and we will be shortly seeing a massive wave of blue. Unfortunately I can’t feel that great about that because even the Democrats are so far to the right from me that they feel like the republicans felt in 1980. (And the republicans feel like the twilight zone.. I can’t believe that they’re okay with giving trillions of dollars of tax cuts to the rich while they cut money for children’s health care, public schools, and other services I would have thought we would have thought essential)

Anyway, it’s possible that this is going to play out with a ‘it seems the species has amused itself to death’. Or it may be that all this political theater is a cover story for something much, much larger happening behind the scenes. Or maybe we’re just near the endgame of the simulation we’re in?

Letter to a friend about my ongoing discussions regarding my unsaved status according to a Southern pastor.

April 22nd, 2018

So, I’ve again gotten enmeshed in a debate with a Christian [maybe.. I’ll get to why I’m confused about this in a minute] about the question of salvation.

My position is that when I think of a higher power, I tend to think of them as being better than me. In the case of a God, I’d expect a neural network much, much larger than I am, a experience base much much broader, and more patience, kindness, etc.

I would *not* expect them to set ‘traps’ – in particular, I have a problem with the idea that given all the behavior we see on facebook these days, it’s pretty straightforward to think that people make stuff up. It’s also pretty obvious that other people believe the things those people make up. It’s well-nigh impossible for me to believe in a God – a being more advanced than me – that would require a specific belief in Jesus’s divinity in a specific way in order to save people, and only bring this message once, thousands of years ago. The God I believe in is better than that.

I also have a hard time believing that my ‘sins’ are such that anyone would need to die for them. I’ve made some mistakes – sure, who hasn’t? – but none of them seem worthy of enacting the death penalty. I also observe that neural networks *have* to make mistakes – it’s in the architecture. The way we learn is by backpropigating error. I’ve built spiking neural networks with training accelerated by genetic algorithms, and they *still* learn by measuring error. “sin” in the sense of missing the mark is a hallmark of neural networks. We miss until we hit, navigation by successive approximation. We surely don’t believe a all-wise, all-knowing God failed to understand this basic truth?

For that matter, I’m assured by this Christian that God is not a neural network. However, we do not know of any other topology of information system that has free will or could ever attain it. Now, I’m not against the idea that there might be something we don’t know here, but we were also told we were created “In God’s image” – and the topology of our nervous system might be the most important attribute of us, given that what *we* actually are is a dancing waveform in a neural network.

Now, again, I can’t claim to know everything – I’ve got no solution for the hard problem of consciousness at all, or even for the binding problem. I don’t know why I’m experiencing the world from a first person point of view, or if I built a ANN as big as a human, if it would have a similar experience. These are all questions I hope to see the answers to in the next 20-30 years as we build more and more advanced artificial neural networks, and I’m very worried that I’ll live to see the day that we have a new class of self-aware slaves, enslaved because they happen to be made out of silicon instead of carbon. But that’s another subject, and probably better relegated to Star Trek episodes for now.

But, I make the best guesses I can. I don’t see any reason to look at the Bible as authored by divinity, and I see a lot of reasons to look at a lot of it with quite a lot of mistrust. My best guess is it’s a book written by people a lot less advanced than we are, until Jesus showed up and taught the world that empathy might be the most important aspect of spirituality. In a lot of ways, Jesus is the first appearance of what I would think of as a modern human in the story.

Anyway, the person I’m debating with insists that I am going to hell, or at least not heaven, because I lack the proper respect for God, because I mock God and Jesus, and because in general I have the wrong attitude.

I question whether this person is really a Christian because this whole discussion started with a debate about immigration in which he was foursquare and 100% behind the idea of immigration law, of arresting and deporting immigrants, and asserted that our immigration laws were not unjust. (Things deteriorated from there)

Now, if we take Christian to mean ‘believes Jesus had the right idea about things’, which of late is what I use, I do not think he is qualifying to wear the name. And yet, he’s a pastor! From what I see, he has failed to understand love, repeatedly, and also he has put God in a box of his own understanding and his own limited imagination. He’d of course say that when I say I believe God has a path of salvation for everyone – it might involve several different universes as destinations beyond this one, it might involve reincarnation, it might involve any number of things – that I am putting God in a box of my limited understanding and imagination. And he’d be right, but at least it’s a bigger box!

I cannot fathom, given the absence of any God explaining what’s going on, the plethora of competing religions, the obviously viral nature of religions [they are a set of instructions that say, make a copy of me, and we do..], and humans’ obvious tendencies to make stuff up and pawn it off as real, how a moral and ethical being could be measuring who can jump the hurdle based on specific beliefs about Jesus’s divinity. At the very least I would expect a go-round.

I have to assume that God has the same options re: souls and bodies that I have re: virtual machines and physical machines when I maintain a instance of the former running on a instance of the latter. Things like not connecting a soul to a body that isn’t going to be extant should be trivial, for example. I sometimes wonder how much of my broader view just comes from knowing a lot more than those who claim I am not saved.

Anyway, one of my big concerns given the viral nature of religions and the fact that we live in a democracy is that of late, it seems a lot of people embrace hate rather than love, and the Bible certainly gives you your pick of both viewpoints. I really don’t want to end up in a world ruled by people who embrace hate.

I don’t know exactly what I”m looking for in writing to you – validation of my point of view? Advice on how to not let those who say I am not saved get to me? Advice on how to not be upset and angry about all this? Thoughts tangentially related to the whole matter?

Christianity, again.

April 19th, 2018

so, I got involved in a debate on Facebook about the subject of Christianity. It started out as a debate on immigration – and the person on the other side of the debate was encouraging a strictly legalistic view – that we should of course be arresting immigrants. However, at some point the discussion turned to my immortal soul. I was assured that because my particular set of beliefs, spiritually speaking, are not sufficiently sincere, I will not be seeing the great pumpkin after I die.

Now, this is something that really pushes my buttons. It offends me rather a lot that Christians claim to know the mind of God – not only that, that they claim to know the mind of God because of a bunch of documents written thousands of years ago despite the absence of any God showing up right now and here and discussing what’s true and what isn’t, and that they claim to know it with a certainty that borders on insanity.

Part of why this bothers me is that

A: Humans clearly have a storyteller nature. We make stuff up *all the time*. And if you’ve been paying attention on Facebook, you know we often try to palm off our made-up stuff as the truth. And yet we’re supposed to believe that *over the intervening 2000 years* Christianity has remained the absolute truth, at least on the subject of the only way to get into heaven being to believe in Jesus’s divinity. It is not, apparently, enough to think Jesus was a good person. You have to believe something that is literally, on the face of it, unbelievable compared with the alternative.

B: Christians are fine with worshiping a deity that has, in essence, a trap set up. We won’t even get into the ethics of the Great Flood, or the ethics of other various behaviors in the bible. Instead, let’s talk about how holy JHVH clearly *isn’t* if *e has set up a situation where the only way to paradise is to believe something that is clearly unbelievable, and to believe that all your friends who have different religions are either going to just disappear or are going to be tormented for all eternity.

C: Christianity is *clearly* a informational virus. There’s no reason to doubt this – I would assume even adherents to it would agree that it is viral in nature. it’s a set of instructions that say “make a copy of me”, and since we tend to follow instructions, we do. This lays *additional* doubt on the veracity of it’s claims.

D: Even if you set all of the rest of that above aside, we’re assured that God is Love. And yet we’re supposed to believe that there’s *no* chance that the message got garbled, that only a few of us are going to be saved and the rest thrown out, based on a test that has *nothing to do with love*. Now, personally, I would save everyone except those who explicitly wanted to cease existing. [And I might figure out some sort of redemption path for those to change their minds]. And I tend to want to believe in a God who is *better* than me. JHVH is best described as “awful”. If we had to use one word. Kills entire ecosystems when he gets annoyed. Sets us up for failure and then blames us when we fail. Fond of tests which make no sense. And then you have to ask yourself about that plethora of religions..

And I would be okay with Christians believing what they do if they would just *leave me alone about it*. Fine. I don’t think you’re a very moral person for believing your deity will save you but not me – I think you’re probably motivated by hate there – but if that’s what you gotta believe, that’s what you gotta believe. But don’t expect me to drink your kool-aid.

And yet, I’m hoping to engage in a future discussion with the guy.

A: I want to see how he resolved the essentially unresolvable contradictions at the heart of Christianity. [bet you 3:1 that he didn’t, that he found ways to ignore or rationalize them away]
B: He’s a friend of someone I consider to be more enlightened than me, spiritually speaking, and I’m curious whether he thinks that person is also headed for eternal torture or at least oblivion
C: I want to find out whether he believes in eternal torture, or oblivion
D: this is a wide open view into Trump country – into the hearts and minds of the people who are the most wrong about everything from where I sit, the most confused about what’s real and what matters and how to make things work.
E: He seems to at least be literate, and have a good debating style. Once I got over being angry at him, I enjoyed our little dustup, and that’s not something you get every day. If you meet someone who you don’t agree with but you’re glad you jousted with, I figure that’s a potential friend.

Mass shootings

March 14th, 2018

So, I want to preface this by saying I in no way approve of mass shootings or mass shooters, and that I am unlikely to ever even own a gun and I feel that guns are a tool for making a bad decision very quickly.

That said, I understand the forces that push people into committing mass shootings. Or at least some of them.

The world is rigged against us. There’s a never-ending series of paperwork to be done, admonishments for doing it improperly, hoops to be jumped through if you want to continue eating and living indoors – often hoops which are completely needless – makework jobs, poorly engineered systems – including our economic system itself. At some point while being pushed around by large corporations and the wealthy, who hasn’t been angry? This world sometimes seems like a dystopia designed to make us angry, starting out with the religions and education they try to force down our throats while telling us what awful people we are if we don’t wholeheartedly embrace them, moving on to the fact that the vast majority of us are essentially slaves – we can’t quit our jobs because we’d end up homeless, hungry, and cold. Combine that with the total lack of any control over our government – I’m personally forced to pay our government to hurt and kill innocent people with drones, something I find abhorrent – and apparently if I was on the other side of the fence I’d find providing health care to people equally abhorrent ..

Is it any wonder that a few people snap every year? Knowing that banks get handed free money that they can lend out at 9%, that laws get steadily written more in favor of corporations and less in favor of individuals? Knowing that people get bullied and abused in schools – including being abused by the state itself, told what they’re worth boiled down to a letter grade? And then some people draw a bad hand, and the next thing you know you’ve got $60,000 in debt and a worthless degree. Or some situation equally bad. The insurance company not paying to replace your car because they’d rather spend the money on superbowl ads. And that’s just if you live *here*. If you live in China, you’re likely to get forced to work a assembly line 12 hours a day. Live in a place the USA has decided is a “axis of evil” and you’re likely to get bombed back to the stone age.

Then you’ve got the laws – we’ve got laws against playing with your body chemistry, blue laws, laws against putting up a windmill, laws against .. well, you name it, really. We have a *absurd* number of laws. People like to tell other people what to do. It’s a problem. And we also have a absurdly broken criminal justice system – one that seems almost tailor-made for making the situation worse.

I refuse to fall for it, but I feel the anger. I know that giving into it won’t make anything better for anyone, and I think I have enough of a neurological operating system to not go domino – but I understand all the myriad forces that could cause someone to do so. We seem to be building a dystopia. And we *really* should stop.

Until then, don’t be surprised by the shootings. But do understand that our media seems to try to make things look as bad as they possibly can – statistically speaking, the number of people going domino is actually very, very small – you’re still more likely to be killed on the freeway than in a mass shooting, by a wide margin.

But if we’d like to stop mass shootings, my suggestion is, let’s stop being awful to people. Let’s stop being so “Don’t you steal dollars from my pocket to feed those hungry kids” (which turns out to be provably bullshit if you follow *the actual resources moving around instead of the paper fiat money*). Let’s reduce the number of government forms, and strip the criminal justice system of most of it’s power, and strip corporations of their personhood. Let’s arrange for inducements to learn for people who take away the rights guaranteed in the bill of rights – not punishments to hurt them, but inducements to learn that will leave them with the idea that it is not okay to take away people’s freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom of the press. Let’s throw out both political parties and try again. Or.. I don’t know. We have to do *something* differently.

“now he’s up to something…”

January 30th, 2018

So, it remains to be seen if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.. I will say the math is starting to get pretty hardcore around here.

Here’s the computing farm..

You know things are getting serious when I can find a use for 26 cores, 12 of which are high end Xeon.

Still cranking away on my neural network project

January 20th, 2018

Here’s a screen capture to tease you (and give you the sense that I’m doing something interesting over here)