Caveat: Dogwalking #28 and robot dogs that walk

I continue the dogwalking habit. She has good days and bad days in terms of behavior. This morning was a very bad day – somewhat stressful. I generally let her off her leash for a while, when near our house. Mostly she runs around in circles and explores but always within earshot. This morning, though, she went chasing some waterfowl down the beach and completely disappeared.

I wandered and called her name for 30 minutes, then went back to our house, reported the situation to Arthur, called Mike and Penny to let them know their dog had disappeared, and went off along the road calling the dog’s name and hoping she’d hear me and come to me.

Meanwhile, she showed up at our house right after I’d left again – so Arthur, knowing the dog was “lost,” let her in. But instead of keeping her at our house until I came back, he decided to deliver the dog to Mike and Penny’s. So off they went, though I think honestly the dog would have found her way home without Art’s escort. Of course Art didn’t think to contact me that he’d found the dog. So I’m walking along the beach and the road eastbound, calling for the dog and stressing out. Art is walking west, with the dog, without a care in the world, and he and the dog arrive at Mike and Penny’s and Mike gets the dog back on the leash.

I guess I would have preferred to know what was going on, as I spent another 30 minutes walking up and down the road, calling the dog’s name. But eventually Penny came driving along and found me, to let me know the dog was found.

Here is a picture of the dogless beach.
Meanwhile, I have been watching these videos about a guy building an open-source dog robot. He provides an immense amount of detail. It’s all very interesting. In the specific video below, the 7th in the series, he is refining the dog’s walking style.


Caveat: Hacking as spectator sport

This video intrigued me more than I expected it to. The guy is “hacking” one of those hardware wallets for cryptocurrency. He’s doing it for a fee, at the request of the device’s owner (because he lost his password), so this is “white hat” hacking.

The guy in the video reminds me a lot of my good friend Mark, in certain aspects of not just professional capacity but also personality.

Caveat: Increasingly vague turtles, farther down

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article by Physics and Computer Science blogger, Scott Aaronson, in which he asks: Why is the universe quantum-mechanical?

He requests answers from the public. I wouldn’t dare to presume to participate – I lack knowledge. Nevertheless, I found myself rather quickly forming a thoroughly amateur opinion about it.

My own hypothesis:

If the universe is in fact finite (by definition presumably), its quantum nature simply makes sense. It’s a kind of requirement. A universe governed by classical mechanics suffers a problem of essentially infinite potential precision – what level of precision is necessary to produce all the universe as it is? It’s unbounded, and regresses to infinity at ever-smaller scales. But in a quantum-mechanical universe, there is an upper bound on the amount of information required to “run” it (to run the universe, that is). That’s because only examined values need to be precise – otherwise there are just fuzzy probabilities.

There’s the old joke about the scientist who asks some traditionalist guru about their supposed notion that the world is on the back of a giant turtle. The guru insists, preemptively: “Don’t even ask. It’s turtles all the way down.”

Instead of “turtles all the way down” it’s more like “turtles receding into the distance, until they are only specks, and which when examined through a lens, are really only just specks, or rather, they look like turtles to the best of our ability to resolve the image, but that ability suffers constraints due to the quality of the lens.” The turtles farther down are less precise, until, at some very distant point, they are only notional turtles at best. Consequently, though the “number” of turtles is definitionally infinite, the amount of memory required to store all the turtles is finite, because each one is less precise than the one above it.

I think the universe being quantum-mechanical in nature solves a similar problem that arises in classical mechanics.

Out of 500+ comments, Scott Aaronson succeeds in rebutting my amateur answer somewhere around comment #5:

Responding to comment #2 (which in some broad respects resembles mine), he writes, “Any answer along those lines, it seems to me, immediately crashes and burns once we realize that passing to wavefunctions, far from decreasing our classical simulation cost, has exponentially increased it—the fact famously exploited by quantum computation.”

I’m not sure it completely makes sense. It depends on whether you assume that all the collapsing wave functions must necessarily be collapsing. Isn’t there something in QM that says that the wave functions only collapse when someone looks? Isn’t most of the universe not being looked at, most of the time? Schrödinger’s litter box, and all that…

Caveat: 100 years in the future

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article published in 1922, predicting the future! It told me all about what life would like in 2022. So now I know! The article is here.

Like all efforts at futurism, it had its hits and misses. I like the use of the term “kinephone” – by which the author means something like television. No inkling of the universal information and communication device in each of our pockets, now. On the other hand, this sentence is quite perceptive and interesting (bearing mind the context – in 1922, the women’s vote was 3 years old, and very fresh in people’s minds):

…[I]t is unlikely that women will have achieved equality with men. Cautious feminists such as myself realize that things go slowly and that a brief hundred years will not wipe out the effects on women of 30,000 years of slavery.

In other news, I went to see the doctor today. For the first time since moving back to the United States in the summer of 2018, I had a doctor’s appointment of my own (as opposed to being a drag-along for Arthur’s doctors’ appointments). It was a general health checkup, not related to any specific ailment or concern. I had been told by my diagnostic oncologist, Dr Cho, in 2018, that “maybe after about 3 years” I should see a doctor as a follow-up to the cancer surgery. It’s been 3 1/2 years, but I just decided I should at least be “on record” at the local healthcare provider, and see what the doctor had to say after a short prodding / checking, along with review of relevant medical history (such as I could report – obviously he doesn’t have access to the Korean National Cancer Centers records).

The doctor took a look in my mouth, prodded my neck, asked some questions, and together we opted against a CAT scan (which I was hoping to opt against, given the hassle and cost). He seemed to agree with Dr Cho’s reported assessment from 2018: any cancer at this point will be a “new” one, as opposed to a follow-on to (metastasis of) the previous one.

So we’ll continue to assert, as I have been, that I am cancer-free, with the caveat (really, a caveat?) that biologically, none of us are truly cancer-free.
picture[daily log: walking, 3km; dogwalking, 3.5km]

Caveat: never gonna be easy

The whole vaccination thing… is quite dispiriting. The unexpectedly high number of people I interact with who are vaccine-reluctant seems like a summary of our current cultural atmosphere of distrust in institutions and distrust in science. And yet that distrust also often seems legitimate and justified. We are evolving from what sociologists call a “high trust society” to a “low trust society.” Typically, the low trust societies, with their opaque social norms, struggle to advance, and often result in so-called “failed states.”

My own perspective is: trust, whether in individuals and personal relationships, or in society more broadly, often requires a leap of faith. One must simply decide to trust in something because it’s the right thing to do. I guess that’s my approach. Your views may differ.

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article about a new, more low-tech approach to developing another COVID vaccine. It can be found here. The main point seems to be – a lot of money and effort was expended with all the high-tech vaccines, but ultimately this drove up the price and lowered the worldwide rate of vaccination, especially in lower-income countries (where most humans are). Taking a more low-tech approach could have saved many lives, and could have advanced the cause of achieving herd immunity. That’s fine, but as a counterpoint, it still seems to me that the “rate of confirmed deaths” points to institutional failures, and not a failure of vaccination regimes, specifically. This is the graph I check most often, here. Why are equally-wealthy and developed countries like the US and South Korea so different? And, yet, wait… perhaps now they are converging?

Caveat: the aliens within

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article about how cancer cells grow nanotubes and use them to suck mitochondria out of immune cells, like little teeny-tiny vampires. The article can be found here.

The “aliens within” are our body’s own cells. Sometimes they go rogue, and become cancer cells, which are definitely alien.
picture[daily log: walking, 1.5km]

Caveat: Might just be a SQL hack

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article about using a commercial relational database to process large (very large) linear algebra problems. These type of linear algebra problems, often with 1000’s of dimensions (rows x columns) in matrices, are typically found in running neuron-net simulations such as are used in contemporary machine-learning algorithms (the type of of tools behind the magic of e.g. google translate).

The article can be found here. I suppose the reason I read it at all is because I used to work with relational databases, and I have a vague but slightly comprehensible memory of the principles of linear algebra, it being one the few advanced math topics I actually mastered before my college math-major career crashed and burned in 1984. I don’t claim any deep understanding, but I liked the idea of hacking a relational database to do this other type of work – it definitely feels like a kind of “hack” – but a useful one that could end up making large neural-net algorithms more manageable, which opens the way for new, more complex machine-learning applications. Useful hacks often become state-of-the-art for the following generation of programmers, and get grandfathered into important processes, languages and applications. The whole thing just sort of hovers there on edge of understanding, which seems to be where I generally situate my technical reading, these days.

Meanwhile, I saw no notable tree today.

picture[daily log: ice-walking, 2km]

Caveat: The piano speaks

I found this online.

This guy used data from a voice recording of a person speaking to figure out which combination of piano keys (i.e. complex “chords”) would best reproduce each point in the wave form of the speech. Generally these are too many keys, needing to be pressed too rapidly in sequence, for a human pianist to do this. So he used a mechanical piano-playing device to reproduce the speech. It’s just on the edge of comprehensibility. Quite eerie.


Caveat: A Tragicomic Tale of Automotive Endurance in Four Parts

Sometimes (not really that often) I watch strange things on youtube.

This guy bought a Toyota Hilux pickup truck directly from Japan (they are difficult to buy in the US because they are subject an exorbitant tariff known obscurely as the “Chicken Tax”). Hiluxes are famous throughout the world as being the most durable mass-production vehicles available, and are well-regarded by terrorists and irregular militaries for use as troop transports and improvisational gun-mount vehicles.

This guy decided to test that famed durability through maximized destructive behavior, and he filmed the whole thing. In the climax, 4th video, he drops the Hilux from a helicopter from 10000 feet up. Needless to say, despite the vehicle’s durability, this proves an insurmountable challenge, and given the extensive bonding had formed during the preceding challenges, tears are shed.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.


Caveat: Multi-pronged therapeutic approach to memory loss and cognition problems

Given what I live with, with Arthur, every day, I have developed a strong, amateur-medical interest in memory loss issues and possible treatments.

This article I found was very interesting – it’s a bit jargon-dense but I have enough background in biology and biochemistry that it’s not complete gobbledy-gook for me:

Essentially, the researchers have decided to take a full-on “lifestyle modification” approach to treating early-stage Alzheimer’s and had substantial success at the anecdotal level. They point to next steps in research. Although they often use “AD” and “Alzheimer’s” to refer to the target problem, they seem to have had plenty of success with people suffering cognitive and memory problems who have NOT been explicitly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I considered this paragraph to be the core, best summary of the findings and direction of the research cited.

The therapeutic system described in this report derives from basic studies of the role of APP signaling and proteolysis in plasticity, and the imbalance in this receptor proteolysis that reproducibly occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. There are numerous physiological parameters that feed into this balance, such as hormones, trophic factors, glucose metabolism, inflammatory mediators, ApoE genetic status, sleep-related factors, exercise-related factors, and many others; therefore, the therapeutic system is designed to reverse the self-reinforcing (i.e., prionic) signaling imbalance that we have hypothesized to mediate Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology.


Caveat: the clockwork programmer

The field of computer programming is not immune from the coming automation-of-everything.

In this video, some guys demonstrate the current state-of-the-art in computer programs that are able to write computer programs. Which sounds weird and tautological. But it’s kind of cool to watch.

At the end, they use their computer programming computer program to use Microsoft Word, which long ago became too complicated for humans to use effectively anyway. So now… they have made a program that can operate Microsoft Word in response to your instructions. Progress!

This quote is relevant, and I like it a lot, by one of my favorite contemporary bloggers:

“Computers are just going to get better and better at stuff, and at some point probably they’ll be as good as humans at various things, and if you ask them if they’re self-aware they’ll give some answer consistent with their programming, which for all I know is what we do too.” – Scott Alexander


Caveat: Tree #844

This tree (it is a cladistic tree diagram) demonstrates that “tree” is a false category. Learn more at the blog where I found it: there’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically).
I don’t often mention (because it’s rarely relevant) the fact that I was only one course short of a botany minor in college. And despite that, I’m terrible at identifying plants. I was better at the biochemistry and cladistics stuff.
picture[daily log: walking, 3km; banging and sawing, 4hr]

Caveat: Just the Vax

Arthur received the Moderna vaccine at SEARHC Clinic in Klawock today. Per Mike and Penny (neighbors-down-the-road), who also received the vaccine a few days ago, there will be some cold/flu-like symptoms of fairly moderate intensity over the next few days. From the literature:

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA, under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in individuals 18 years of age and older. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Anyway, the distribution here on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska is prioritized by age, descending. It may be weeks or even months before I am eligible, since I am younger and lower priority.
This fills me with optimism, however, with respect to the Coronavirus situation. I despair at the prevalence of antivaxxers here in my region (impressionistically, they may even approach the majority, here). I affirm my belief in science and in the general good intentions of people and organizations – even “evil” organizations like pharmaceutical companies.
“Never attribute to malice that which is more simply explained by stupidity.”

Caveat: Deepfake Presidents Saying Bad Raps

“Deepfake” refers to the emergent art of digitally creating completely artificial video or audio, using AI (artificially intelligent) networks, to simulate real people. The quality of computer graphical animation is at such a level that it is possible to do this, now. You can make your own audio or video of people doing things they never really did, which is indistinguishable from real audio or video recordings.
Someone recently made a rerecording of NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police,” a classic hip hop song from 1999. But instead of the original artists’ voices, they’ve used Deepfake simulations of 6 famous presidents’ voices.
I find this entertaining and eerie.

Six U.S. Presidents (Speech Synthesis), “Fuck Tha Police” (rap by N.W.A.).

“Right about now, N.W.A. court is in full effect
Judge Dre presiding
In the case of N.W.A. vs. the Police Department
Prosecuting attorneys are: MC Ren, Ice Cube
And Eazy motherfuckin’ E”
“Order, order, order
Ice Cube, take the motherfuckin’ stand
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth
And nothin’ but the truth so help your black ass?”
“You god damn right!”
“Well, won’t you tell everybody what the fuck you gotta say?”
Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, ’cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beatin’ on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fuckin’ with me ’cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics
You’d rather see, me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rollin’ in a Benz-o
Beat a police out of shape
And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape
To tape off the scene of the slaughter
Still gettin’ swoll off bread and water
I don’t know if they fags or what
Search a nigga down, and grabbin’ his nuts
And on the other hand, without a gun they can’t get none
But don’t let it be a black and a white one
‘Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showin’ out for the white cop
Ice Cube will swarm
On any motherfucker in a blue uniform
Just ’cause I’m from the CPT
Punk police are afraid of me!
Huh, a young nigga on the warpath
And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dyin’ in L.A.
Yo Dre, I got somethin’ to say
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the Police
“Example of scene one”
“Pull your god damn ass over right now”
“Aww shit, now what the fuck you pullin’ me over for?”
“‘Cause I feel like it!
Just sit your ass on the curb and shut the fuck up”
“Man, fuck this shit”
“Aight, smart ass, I’m takin’ your black ass to jail!”
“MC Ren, will you please give your testimony
To the jury about this fucked up incident?”
Fuck the police and Ren said it with authority
Because the niggas on the street is a majority
A gang, is with whoever I’m steppin’
And the motherfuckin’ weapon is kept in
A stash box, for the so-called law
Wishin’ Ren was a nigga that they never saw
Lights start flashin’ behind me
But they’re scared of a nigga so they mace me to blind me
But that shit don’t work, I just laugh
Because it gives ’em a hint, not to step in my path
For police, I’m sayin, “Fuck you, punk!”
Readin’ my rights and shit, it’s all junk
Pullin’ out a silly club, so you stand
With a fake-ass badge and a gun in your hand
But take off the gun so you can see what’s up
And we’ll go at it, punk, and I’ma fuck you up!
Make you think I’ma kick your ass
But drop your gat, and Ren’s gonna blast
I’m sneaky as fuck when it comes to crime
But I’m a smoke ’em now and not next time
Smoke any motherfucker that sweats me
Or any asshole that threatens me
I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope
Takin’ out a cop or two, they can’t cope with me
The motherfuckin’ villain that’s mad
With potential to get bad as fuck
So I’ma turn it around
Put in my clip, yo, and this is the sound
Yeah, somethin’ like that
But it all depends on the size of the gat
Takin’ out a police would make my day
But a nigga like Ren don’t give a fuck to say
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the Police
“Yeah man, what you need?”
“Police, open now”
“Aww shit”
“We have a warrant for Eazy-E’s arrest
Get down and put your hands up where I can see ’em”
“What the fuck did I do, man, what did I do?”
“Just shut the fuck up
And get your motherfuckin’ ass on the floor”
“But I didn’t do shit”
“Man, just shut the fuck up!”
“Eazy-E, won’t you step up to the stand
And tell the jury how you feel about this bullshit?”
I’m tired of the motherfuckin’ jackin’
Sweatin’ my gang, while I’m chillin’ in the shack, and
Shinin’ the light in my face, and for what?
Maybe it’s because I kick so much butt
I kick ass, or maybe ’cause I blast
On a stupid-assed nigga when I’m playin’ with the trigger
Of an Uzi or an AK
‘Cause the police always got somethin’ stupid to say
They put out my picture with silence
‘Cause my identity by itself causes violence
The E with the criminal behavior
Yeah, I’m a gangsta, but still I got flavor
Without a gun and a badge, what do ya got?
A sucker in a uniform waitin’ to get shot
By me or another nigga
And with a gat it don’t matter if he’s smaller or bigger
(Size ain’t shit, he’s from the old school, fool)
And as you all know, E’s here to rule
Whenever I’m rollin’, keep lookin’ in the mirror
And ears on cue, yo, so I can hear a
Dumb motherfucker with a gun
And if I’m rollin’ off the 8, he’ll be the one
That I take out, and then get away
While I’m drivin’ off laughin’, this is what I’ll say
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the Police
“The verdict
The jury has found you guilty of being a redneck
White bread, chicken shit motherfucker”
“But wait, that’s a lie!
That’s a god damn lie!”
“Get him out of here!”
“I want justice!”
“Get him the fuck out my face!”
“I want justice!”
“Out, right now!”
“Fuck you, you black motherfuckers!”
Fuck the police
Fuck the police
Fuck the police


Caveat: Tensegrity

How did I not know about these fascinatingly engineered doohickeys?
They use tension on flexible pieces in balance to create an illusion of “hovering.”
This guy built a stool suspended, from below, with lengths of chain. Interesting.

And here is a video showing how you can build one with Legos.


Caveat: Powers of Ten

Here’s an interesting thing. This guy made a gear reduction gadget – like a car’s transmission. It seems small and reasonable enough on first glance. But it’s not. Here’s his gadget.

Each gear reduces by a power of 10 from the previous gear. Since there are 100 gears, that means that the slowest gear spins 10100 slower than the first gear. (10100 is the number called googol). Just watching the gadget, it appears the fastest gear is spinning about once every 4 seconds. The slowest gear, therefore, would spin once every 4×10-100 seconds. If there are about 3.15×107 seconds per year, and approximately 1.3×1010 (13 billion) years since the beginning of the universe, the age of the universe is about 4×1017 seconds. So… there would be about 1083 “age of universe” units of time before the slowest gear makes a full turn. That’s 1093 years, i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. Actually, I just googled “how long until heat death of universe” I got “10100 years if protons all decay”. That works out nicely: the slowest gear would almost complete one turn before the universe dies.
I had an interesting thought, though. What if we attached the motor to the other end. It would need a lot of torque: more torque than there is energy in the universe. I was thinking about how many gears would get the spin speed up to relativistic speeds. It’s very few gears. At one turn every four seconds, the rim speed is about 0.0785 m/s (7.85×10-2 m/s). Since the speed of light is about 3×109 m/s, by the 12th gear the rim speed would exceed the speed of light under classical rules. So if one could actually get a motor with a enough torque to spin the gadget from the slow end, the 12th gear would become a supermassive black hole (in the sense that relativistic speeds increase mass toward infinity) and who knows about the gears beyond that?
This gadget is interesting, because if fits the potential for all these “bigger than the universe” numbers into an analogue device that fits on a table. I like thinking about it. I’m just speculating a bit – so forgive any errors in calculation – at such astronomical scales a few orders of magnitude one way or the other don’t impact the tone of the speculation much anyway.

Caveat: using the free wifi at Starbucks

I have in my life gone to Starbucks mostly to use the free wifi.
This was especially true before I went to Korea in 2007. Starbucks rolled out their free wifi quite early relative to other businesses, so I remember using the free wifi at Starbucks while on various trips in the mid 2000’s.
Apparently, using the free wifi at Starbucks is still a thing in 2019. And apparently the FBI does it, too.
This article (link) on the emptywheel blog describes how the FBI used the Starbucks free wifi to download leaked documents about CIA hacking. Interagency cyberwarfare conducted over the airwaves while enjoying a nice nonfat soy latte.

Caveat: a Lamarckian fantasy

I did something unexpected over the last two days: I read a novel.
For whatever reason, I don’t read much fiction anymore. I used to read it continuously. But over time my reading diet has become more and more focused on non-fiction. I mostly read history, philosophy, sociology, and what is sometimes called “cultural criticism,” which subsumes things like literary theory, postmodern cultural analysis, etc. And it remains the case that I read at least several new wikipedia articles every single day. As an utterly random example – I happen to have a tab on my phone’s browser open to a fragment of WWII history, at the moment: the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Anyway, in fact, I think it’s safe to say this was the first novel I’ve read in at least two years.
But it’s a bit of a “cheat,” actually. The novel is one I read before. Maybe a bit over 30 years ago, when I read a novel every few days.
The novel I read is Dune Messiah, by Frank Herbert.
Why did I (re-)read this book?
As has been mentioned, Arthur and I have a custom of watching television for a few hours each evening. We don’t have “broadcast TV” here (whatever that even is, anymore), nor cable, nor any of those many internet subscription TV services like Netflix that dominate the modern media markets. Arthur keeps and constantly expands a library of DVD series and movies, which he rips onto a plethora of external multi-terabyte harddrives, shared through the “My Library” functionality of his MacBooks’ iTunes application. It’s a pretty expansive library.
So over a few nights starting last week, we watched the 3-part Dune TV miniseries from the year 2000. With respect to the show, I can say that I may have seen it before – the aesthetics of it were vaguely familiar. In some ways it’s an impressive production for a non-blockbuster-level TV production. The costuming and some of the set design is excellent, capturing the the exoticism of the novel, while the acting is inconsistent, and the special effects are often alarmingly jarring – special effects rarely age well due to the rapid changes and advances in that domain. Overall, as a sci-fi adaptation, I’ve seen both worse and better.
But of course I’m more interested in commenting on the Dune books. Having just watched the TV show, which was an adaptation of only the first book in the series, I was walking past my collection of books and there it was, sitting on the shelf: the second book in the series. So I took it down and started reading. Perhaps curious, with the mileau and characters fresh in my mind, as to how it played out.
And I read it straight through.
I had been expecting to find that the Dune books had not aged well. Certainly, my memory of them had not aged well. I recalled them as impressive at the time I read them as a teenager, but pretentious and implausible in retrospect.
In fact, in actually reading the book, it’s better than I imagined, while nevertheless allowing my retrospective criticism to stand unchallenged.
The novels were always famous for being philosophically “deep” and for being quite innovative in their view of possible futures for humanity. They deserve that. And I think some of their “predictions” (although really, being set in a 10000+ years future, “predictions” is probably a bad standard to apply) have actually aged remarkably well.
The books are best viewed as a collection of philosophical aphorisms bound together by an implausible plot but strung along with compelling characters. Being much more conscious of the “craft” of writing than I was as a youth, I see how the books are stitched together, now – more than I did then. I speculate that Herbert wrote his aphorisms first and added the plot as best he could around them. I might be wrong, but it has some of that flavor to it.
Some of the philosophy has aged very well. I read glimpses of some of my most respected more contemporary philosophers: Gilles Deleuze, Frederic Jameson, etc. Yet much of what they wrote came after the Dune books. Was this type of thinking merely “in the air” of the 1960s and 70s? Perhaps so.
One of the more notable things about the Dune books that I have for a long time felt aged very poorly is the aspect that might be termed “Lamarckian fantasy.” I just invented that term, but I use it to refer to the dominant themes of “genetic memory” in those books. Characters have access to the lives and memories of their ancestors via some kind of transcendental genetic transmission. Shockingly, the relatively new, burgeoning field of epigenetics may be rendering this type of fantasy a kind of reality, though not in exactly the way Herbert envisioned. Recently, a study showed, for example, that laboratory mice are able to “inherit” behavioral traits acquired by their parents, even when raised entirely separately (in isolation) from those parents. The presumed mechanism for the transmission of these traits is via hormonal load passed from mother to child at fertilization, influencing epigenetic factors in neuron development. This is essentially a return to Lamarckian thinking, supposedly discredited since Darwin. And suddenly, therefore, Herbert’s concept of inherited memories has a new, scientifically plausible mechanism. One wonders….
This is much more of a book review than I am normally inclined to write. I suppose just the shock of having actually read a novel motivated me. And the fact that I had what I felt to be a genuine insight into how Herbert’s masterpiece series might have anticipated more than he realized, if not quite in the way he envisioned.

Caveat: debate-o-matic

One of the subjects that I taught to my students in Korea that I considered most valuable, both for the English skills it engendered as well as for general thinking ability, was debate.
I was the “debate teacher,” and I was well-known for even turning lessons otherwise structured into impromptu debates. The kids mostly seemed to get something out of it.
So now… they’re trying to make an AI (artificial intelligence) that can do debate – in the same way that we have machines now that play chess or baduk (“go”), that diagnose medical conditions or explore other planets. This is just another small step.
I watched this video.

I am both disappointed and impressed. This is often the case when confronting these odd black boxes that computer engineers are constructing these days. They can seem preternaturally smart and eerily stupid at the same time. The AI participating in this debate clearly had a lot of facts to hand, and was reasonably competent at marshaling them in a well-structured argument. But it missed the key thrust of its human opponent’s argument, and thus its rebuttal almost failed to make sense. I was somewhat annoyed that the moderators, who spent time afterward discussing what they’d just done, failed to bring this up.

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: 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: 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.

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