Caveat: what we see

“I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. We know that all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.” – Giorgio Morandi (Italian painter, 1890-1964)


Natura Morta, oil on canvas, 1956.

Unrelated: what we don’t see…

“‘Why does God not show Himself?’ – ‘Are you worthy?’ – ‘Yes.’ – ‘You are very presumptuous, and thus unworthy.’ – ‘No.’ – ‘Then you are just unworthy.'” – attributed to Pascal


Caveat: юу вэ юу вэ юув

There’s nothing like a bit of Mongolian nationalist heavy metal music to set the mood on a chilly January day.

What I’m listening to right now.

The Hu, “Yuve Yuve Yu.”


Их л удаан идэж уугаад наргиж цэнгээд хачин юм бэ юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эцэг өвгөд Монгол гээд л цээжээ
дэлдэн худлаа орилох нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эргэж буцаад хэлсэн үгэндээ эзэн
болдоггүй андгай өргөдөг нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эцэг эхийн захиж хэлсэн үнэт сургааль
үнэгүй болдог нь юу вэ юу вэ юув, юу вэ юу вэ юув
Ээ дүлзэн сөгд сөгд
Ээ лүндэн бууг бууг, бууг бууг
Дээдсийн заяаг удамлаж төрчихөөд унтаж
хэвтээд сэрдэггүй юм бэ юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дэлхийд ганцхан Монгол гээд л амаа
хаттал худлаа ярьдаг нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дээдсээр амьдрах заяанд төрсөн Монгол
түмэн нэгдэж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дархан Монгол улсаа мандуулж өөд нь татаж
сэргээж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув, юу вэ юу вэ юув
Ээ дүлзэн сөгд сөгд
Ээ лүндэн бууг бууг, бууг бууг
Өвөг дээдсийн өвлөж өгсөн газар
шороог хайрлаж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Өтгөс буурлын захиж хэлсэн үнэт
сургааль худлаа болдог нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Өнө л мөнхөд мандан бадрах чонон
сүлдэт Монгол түмэн тэнгэрийн тамгатай
Хөвчин дэлхийд нэрээ дуурсгах хүмүүн
тахилгат эзэн Чингис нартад залрана, нартад залрана
Ээ хар сүлд сэр сэр
Ээ хаан төр мөнх манд, мөнх манд
Юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Хачин юм бэ
юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Хачин юм бэ
юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Ээ хар сүлд сэр сэр
Ээ хаан төр мөнх манд, мөнх манд


Caveat: Outside? Play?

I ran across these fascinating videos and blog-entries about a linguist / speech pathologist who is training her dog to use “word buttons.” The dog seems to carry on spontaneous conversations with her owners. She pushes the button “outside” the owner says “not now.” She tries again. The owner says “I’m sorry.” And then the dog pushes the button “play.” The owner says “OK. Let’s play.” This seems very close to toddler-level language use.

Here is the link.

As a linguist, I am slightly skeptical that this can be called “language” in any strict sense. But I have also always thought that Chomsky (et al.) and his notion of a specific “language faculty” in the human brain wasn’t necessary. I have long had an intuition that language is just an “emergent property” of the complex neural networks evolution created for the purpose of “being a mammal.” As such, human language is not qualitatively distinct from the language-like behavior of higher mammals. Rather, it is simply a massive scaling-up. This type of animal behavior feels like a confirmation of that intuition.

Caveat: πoetry

I saw this at a blog I read, called JF Ptak Science Books. The guy is a dealer in old and rare books, with an emphasis on books related to the history of science and ideas. He often posts very interesting things.

He found a text of a poem published in 1905, which has an unusual constraint: each word in the poem has the same number of letters as a digit of the number π (3.141592653589793238462643383279), in order.


The poem’s text:

Sir, - I send a rhyme excelling
 3     1   4  1   5       9
In sacred truth and rigid spelling.
 2    6     5    3    5      8
Numerical sprites elucidate
    9        7        9
For me the lexicon's dull weight.
 3  2   3     8       4     6
   If "Nature" gain,
    2    6      4
   Not you complain,
    3   3     8
Tho' Dr. Johnson fulminate. 
 3    2     7       9

Most definitely a bit of oulipisme-avant-le-lettre.

Caveat: Beetling toward the end

The VW corporation is officially retiring the Beetle after 70 years.

Actually, they retired the model once before but then resurrected it in the form of the New Beetle. And in fact the old Beetles lived on in countries like Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, for example, I believe they only stopped manufacturing old Beetles in 2003, while in Brazil, they continued to be made until 2006.

I have owned 5 cars in my life. 3 of them were Beetles (old types). It’s the only car where I was able to take apart and put the engine together successfully. I lived in my Beetle for a summer in 1985.

The first bug I owned had been my mom’s before it was mine. We traveled in it across Canada in 1977. The car was known as “Betsy.”

Here is Betsy in Ontario in the summer of 77.


Later I drove Betsy through 25 states and she died in the town of Normal, Illinois, in late 1985. I sold her to a kid named Derrick for $50.

My second bug had been my grandmother’s, and when she died in the late 80’s I inherited it. That car was known as “Rog.”

I had it with me until I was living in Philadelphia in 1997, when Michelle and I sold it because we were broke. It was a sad.

My third bug I bought when living in L.A. and Burbank in 2000. It was named “Vato,” because it was a very Mexican-seeming bug – it had been “lowered” and had one of those vato-ized, mini steering wheels. But it was a good car.

It caught on fire and died on the 134 Freeway near Glendale, I think, one day when my dad was driving it.


Caveat: Train Canon

I found this video, below, mildly entertaining in a weird way. I suppose I’m not feeling very productive. I’m still in a funk about the residency problem from Univ of Alaska, and meanwhile the stormy weather and my flu-thing are also keeping me from doing much useful otherwise. Recovering from my trip, I guess, and feeling like I shouldn’t have taken the trip in the first place – spending money I don’t really have and accomplishing very little.


Caveat: Click Here

The internet’s first “banner ad” turns 25 years old today. That’s actually kind of surprising. The internet feels like it’s always been there, at some level, but yes, in my own memory, there was a time it did not exist.

Some historians have placed the original “banner ad” on it’s own, 1994-style webpage: here. And you can click through to see the original advertisement, in the original format.

Caveat: Where the eagles roam…

For some reason that I cannot quite explain, I found this linked news article incredibly funny. Apparently some scientists in Russia were using the cellular data networks and small phone-like devices to track eagle migration. They’d attach the devices to the eagles and use the network locations see where the eagles went. It’s a clever idea, and a brilliant repurposing of cellphone technology. However, they ran into a snag when the eagles promptly migrated to Iran and Pakistan, and started running up giant data roaming charges on the scientists’ accounts with their cellphone providers. Silly eagles:

The price per SMS in Kazakhstan was about 15 roubles (18p; 30 US cents), but each SMS from Iran cost 49 roubles. Min [a specific, named eagle] used up the entire tracking budget meant for all the eagles.

Caveat: Like Gideon’s fleece

Under Aldebaran

“The place, my lord, is much like Gideon’s fleece
The second time he laid it on the ground;
For by the will of God it has remained
Bone-dry itself, with water all around.
“Yet as a wheel that’s driven in the ruts,
It has a wet rim where the people clot
Like mud; and though they praise the inner spaces,
When asked to go themselves, They’d rather not.
“The men are brave, contentious, ignorant;
The women very much as one expects.
For their religion, I must be excused,
Having no stomach to observe their sects.
“You must be wary in your conversation;
For, seeing them thumb-high, you might suppose
They recognised their stature, but beware!
Their notion of themselves is grandiose.

-Alec Derwent Hope (Australian poet, 1907-2000)

This poem reminds me a bit in its mood to work by Robinson Jeffers. Clearly he is describing the Australian continent, and the residents’ odd relationship to it.

Caveat: Evidence of Our Life in the Future

I have been reading some, online, these days, about quantum computers. I don’t understand them at all, but I was made curious by the recent news about Google’s new, supposed “quantum supremacy.”

This led me down a garden path of blogs and articles, and one thing that I ran across was this picture, from a 2017 article about an IBM quantum computer.


What happened is I became sidetracked by the aesthetics of the picture, which seemed more within my grasp than the nature of the machine.

The picture looks like illustration from the cover of a science fiction magazine. It does not seem to, in any way, resemble what we think of as a “computer” as they currently exist. It is mysterious and beautiful and abstractly futuristic.


Caveat: Dumptruck (Tonka edition)

This video is here because of the name of this blog. And because I think I had a toy dumptruck like the one shown in the video.

Caveat: Evidence for the Anthropocene

This is pretty interesting. It’s a diagram showing the distribution of biomass by taxon, for the whole Earth.


What really struck me more than anything else is that humans + livestock, in the lower right corner, far outweigh all wild mammals and birds. And humans nearly outweigh their livestock. I never thought that could be true.

Caveat: It’s a cold world

This is interesting. There’s a new thing being tested (invented): it’s called a negative illumination diode. It generates electricity in a way similar to the way a photovoltaic cell does, but instead of generating current from the incoming photons (from e.g. the sun), it generates electricity from the outgoing photons. Outgoing photons, you ask? There are always outgoing photons, on earth, because space is cold and the earth radiates heat (infrared photons) from all its surfaces, including from the diode in question. See here.


Caveat: your legacy, written in blood and dead magic

What I’m listening to right now.

Xiuhtezcatl, “Magic”


Magic and song and the sound of a drum
From the sea to the sky to the land
Feel the sun on my skin
I'm at one with the wind
Elements in the palm of my hand (x2)

I feel this change, where has the magic gone
I feel it less and less with each breath I draw
No longer taste it in the water, or hear it in the wind
It's fading like the music as the record stops spinning
It's no longer in your eyes, hoping it's only in disguise
Replaced by hunger for everything I despise
Tipping the scales, we losing balance, we moving mountains
Drillin the shale we're choosing profit we soak the canvas
Taste the poison whenever the wind blows
Wage war people suffering while we kill the planet
I lost my innocence sooner than most
Watching our world die something I couldn't control
And I couldn't have known, that I'd never turn back
Now what I carry is something that no one could understand
My generation's losing sight of the magic I feel
Plagued by insecurities, slit wrists, bottles of pills
Forgot the beauty of life, tell yourselves you'd rather die
Then use every time you fell as a step towards the sky
I took all of my tears, I took all of my pain
Turned it into poetry and lyrics that gave me my name
With Every battle I fight
And every song that I write
Every time my ego collides with the passion inside
Every star on the canvas every word every line
Is in hope to restore magic I can no longer find

Magic and song and the sound of a drum
From the sea to the sky to the land
Feel the sun on my skin
I'm at one with the wind
Elements in the palm of my hand (x2)

It's all in the trees
All in the wind
Reaching the seas
Washing my sins away
Change within
I feel
I know myself
But now these days are strange and nights are cold
And people afraid to move forward
Deliver the truth in your word
When you grab the moment
Grab the mic, they all gon' listen, homie
Seeing the vision
Slowly with consistence things prevail
A Shovel and pail, I'm digging a well
If you couldn't tell, I'm talking for real
I know you feel, that's never a fail
Only the pen
You just need the peace
It's all in-your G
Just focus your Chi
If we can just focus then we can control it
Don't come from the lotus than I won't condone it
Magic is secret, and mine's on the lowest
My keys are sacred so I cannot show ‘em
I'm growin'
I'm glowin'
I'm all the way (all the way)
Up in the atmosphere far away (far away)
Land that I walk on a part of me
Master had once ripped my ancestor's hearts away
So I love properly
Magic in the motherland, I been havin' fun with then
Elevating with my friends: Legacy
I just hope that all these pages make it through the phases
All these changes coming got me going crazy (crazy)
Got to hold on to my magic that's what made me (x2)
Can't you see that this is magic in the making
Got to hold on to my magic that's what made me

Magic and song and the sound of a drum
From the sea to the sky to the land
Feel the sun on my skin
I'm at one with the wind
Elements in the palm of my hand (x2)

This is your legacy, written in blood and dead magic
You want it all, but you know that you can't have it
All that you have was stolen from someone else
From a future generation that's inheriting hell
This is your legacy, written in tears and lost magic
In pursuit of knowledge we've lost understanding
You see great cities I see empires falling
Our hearts encased in glass caskets of concrete
We build machines that explore what the stars mean
But nothing digital will ever match a heartbeat
We take it back
Repair a broken legacy
Return this magic determine our own destiny

Caveat: Not Just America

In fact, the incarceration of children whose parents are in violation of rules about migration is a global problem. I was recently impressed by some discussion of the growing problem in my erstwhile home, South Korea, where it is normally an untouchable subject.

You can read about it here. The below video is included on that site.

irreversible effects of immigration detention on children (full version) from APIL Korea on Vimeo.

My important point is that the recent outrage among some parts of the US population about this issue is in fact quite narrow and parochial. This is a global problem and the US is at best a minor violator. That doesn’t excuse it. Rather, I think this core problem of child punishment for parental behavior is key to understanding why migration restriction regimes are on par with chattel slavery in ethical terms.

Caveat: what spills out?

Below is a story circulating as a meme online – attribution is unclear to me.

You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you or shakes your arm, making you spill your coffee everywhere.

Why did you spill the coffee?

“Well, because someone bumped into me, of course!”

Wrong answer – you spilled your coffee because there was coffee in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea.

“Whatever is inside the cup is what will spill out.”

Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which WILL happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled.

“So, we ask ourselves…., “What’s inside my cup?”

When life gets tough, what spills over?

Joy, gratefulness, peace, and humility?

Or, anger, bitterness, harsh words, and reactions.

You choose!

Today, let’s work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation, kindness, gentleness, and love for others!

Caveat: There, in the calm of some Platonic dream

This poem, below, was not written by a human being, as best I understand. It was written by one of those new “learning algorithm” AIs (Artificial Intelligences), where you give the AI a large pile of “training data” (i.e. in this case, a vast corpus of human-written poetry) and then say, more or less, “OK, give me a new one like that.” It works similarly to the way google-translate manages to make sense out of changing one language to another, without actually understanding a damn thing. It’s statistics, writ large.

Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
Or, fancy-like, in some mirage she lies,
Majestic yet majestic, and of seems
The image of the unconquerable skies.

Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
—Or, fancy-like, in some majestic cell,
Where lordly seraphs strew their balmy dreams
On the still night, or in their golden shell.

There, in the calm of some Platonic dream,
Sits she, and views the unclouded moon arise
Like a fair lady full of realms divine;

And, all at once, a stony face and bright
Glittering in moonlight, like the noon-tints of a night.

I found it, and other AI-generated poetry, on the slatestarcodex blog.

All very interesting.


Caveat: from aboard the M/V Malaspina

Here I am, sailing from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert.

I’m on a phone signal… between mountains drifting down among islands.

Pictures from earlier in the day (mostly from the Hollis-to-Ketchikan ferry).











Here is a somewhat random quote that struck me as relevant to my new lifestyle among many retirees on Prince of Wales Island:

One way to find out if you’re old is to fall down in front of a lot of people. If they laugh, you’re still young. If they panic and start running toward you, you’re old.

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: a big solving, indeed

It is reported that Seoul has been saved from anihilation. The below is apparently an utterly true transcript.

Dramatis personae: the new space emperor, Kanye West, Jim Brown.

"MR. BROWN: And I like North Korea.

THE PRESIDENT: I like North Korea too.

MR. BROWN: (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Yeah. Well, he’s — turned out to be good. Dialogue. We had a little dialogue. And Secretary of State just came back — Mike. He just came back from North Korea. We had very good meetings, and we’ll meet again. But we’re doing good. No more nuclear testing. No more missiles going up. No more nothing. And it’s — that was headed to war. That was headed to war.

MR. BROWN: Yeah. I mean, it was — to me, it seemed like that.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. It was so close. We spoke — I spoke to President Obama. I will tell you, that was headed to war. And now it’s going to be — I believe it’s going to work out very well.

MR. WEST: You stopped the war —

THE PRESIDENT: We really stopped the war. Saved millions of lives. You know, Seoul has 30 million people. You don’t realize how big. Thirty million people who are right near the border; 30 miles off the border. Millions of people would have been killed. And I will say, Chairman Kim has been really good. Really good. And we’ve made a lot of progress.

That’s nice that you say that, because that’s a big — that’s a big thing. These folks were covering — they were covering North Korea not — I think not very promisingly. And there were a lot of problems. President Obama said that was his biggest problem. And I don’t say anything is solved —

MR. WEST: You, day one, solved one of the biggest problems.


MR. WEST: We solved one of the biggest problems.

THE PRESIDENT: It was a big solving. And not solved yet, but I think we’re along — I think we’re on the way."

(h/t The Rude Pundit)

[daily log: walking, 4km; tromping, 350m]

Caveat: Oh deer, a drum solo

This made me laugh a lot. Plus, I like that old song.

Arthur and I went shopping in town today. I also made progress on constructing my storage facility. Finally, we saw a bear cross the road during our afternoon walk.

The bear did not play a drum solo, however. Sometimes the wildlife lets you down, I guess.

[daily log: walking, 4km]

Caveat: A Cube For Me

I had trouble with Rubik's Cubes, when I was young and they first appeared.

I felt I should be good at doing one – it was my teenage ego, maybe, thinking, "I'm smart, I should do this."

But I didn't enjoy trying to solve it. It's not that different from my relationship with all kinds of puzzles and intellectually demanding games, like sudoku or chess. I feel like I should like them, but I really don't like them at all.

Eventually, I successfully solved a Rubik's Cube. Once.

I considered that I'd done my duty, and haven't touched one since.

Here, finally, is a Rubik's Cube that I can fully enjoy and support.

[daily log: walking, 4km]