Damien Sullivan's Indiana Ramble

8 Sep 2004

I'm going for a joint PhD in computer and cognitive science here at Indiana University, working under the aegis of Douglas Hofstadter and the FARG/CRCC. My current thesis-type goals are extending Metacat, making it smarter, more self-aware, maybe creative. My life-motivation goals are creating full, science-fictional, Turing-Test crushing AI. Or figuring out how humans thing. Ideally, both. It's a distant goal, but it's nice to have a dream.

I entered IU in fall 2002, and started a web page which turned into an intermittent 'blog'. Eh, I prefer journal. Anyway, I've decided to hit the reset button. It's Dr. Seuss's birthday today, so I should have made some rhyme for this. But if I do that'll have to be late.

Pictures from June 2003: close up and the setting, the highest point in Tennessee, the name of which I forget. They both look a lot better (lighter) in xv than in my Solaris Mozilla.

My occasional alternative news page

My original web page at Caltech.

  • Republicans spying on Democrats in Congress.
  • Reading John Holt's How Children Fail: "To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid."

    "We ask children to do for most of a day what few adults are able to do even for an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn't interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any... Yet children have far less awareness of and control of their attention than we do."

  • Eve Tushnet on "socialization" and home schooling.
  • "The new Pentagon papers"
  • Link to a few nice graphs of political axes.
  • Someone's attempt at listing more than 2 political axes, for once. Conservative/revolutionary, liberal/autocrat, idealist/realist, equal/inequal. I don't know that I agree with it all but it's a start.
  • Plunkett charging falsely convicted Britons for the expenses of locking them up.
  • New book! What Do I Do Monday?, by John Holt. Advice on what teachers could actually do in thier classrooms. Mostly lots of measuring, at least as a starting point. Using a stopwatch and asking people to say when they think a minute has gone by. Measuring heights and its change over time. Weight discrimination (i.e. holding two weights and saying which is heavier) and how that changes for different weights, or after different trials. Exercises the kids can do to burn off energy usefully, a couple of which I just tried and found hard. Color discriminations. Heart rate, blood pressure, and galvanic skin response measurements; he didn't use the word biofeedback, but he described it.
  • The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher by John Taylor Gatto. Goes with my John Holt craze.
  • Christian theocracy advocates in America, "dominion theology", "theonomy", and "Christion Reconstructionism". Racist, anti-democratic, advocates of stoning for breaking laws in Leviticus. Weekly Planet and Public Eye. They would turn the US into a less free society than theocratic Iran, which lets women vote and be elected to the legislature and have careers. Many also like to operate by stealth, a "Christian" fifth column. Also Reason We're talking Christian Taliban, here.

    Public Eye quotes Garry Wills: " By contrast, mainstream historian Garry Wills sees no mistake. In his book Under God: Religion and American Politics, he concludes that the framers stitched together ideas from "constitutional monarchies, ancient republics, and modern leagues. . . .but we [the US] invented nothing, except disestablishment. . . . No other government in the history of the world had launched itself without the help of officially recognized gods and their state connected ministers." Disestablishment was the clear and unambiguous choice of the framers of the Constitution, most of whom were also serious Christians."

    Disestablishment as the American invention. That's pretty cool. Wills is specifically talking about Article VI of the Constitution: "3. The senators and representatives before-mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the sev- eral states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this consti- tution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Myers-Briggs vs. Keirsey
  • In the meantime, the Guardian says: "The fact that the Pentagon pulled the fighting force most equipped for hunting down Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan in March 2002 in order to pre- position it for Iraq cannot be denied.

    Fifth Group Special Forces were a rare breed in the US military: they spoke Arabic, Pastun and Dari. They had been in Afghanistan for half a year, had developed a network of local sources and alliances, and believed that they were closing in on bin Laden. Without warning, they were then given the task of tracking down Saddam."

    Condoleeza Rice responds to Richard Clarke's charges that Bush went after Iraq at the expense of fighting actual terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, by attacking Clarke's character on TV, while refusing to testify under public oath.

    The LA Times says "To understand the White House response, insiders and observers alike say that it's important to recognize that the most cherished value in the Bush administration is loyalty. As a result, Rice and others are reacting to Clarke's disloyalty, not to the substance of his criticism."

  • Lies about pot -- debunks the claims that marijuana today is 30 times strong than it used to be.
  • Against School -- John Taylor Gatto.
  • The USDA rejected a plan by Creekstone Farms to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, as required by Japan for imports. Get that: the USDA is preventing someone from testing for a deadly disease. Assuming the test itself is harmless, it's probably because of fears people will get skeptical about other beef. Don't you feel protected by your government? Don't you wonder why the government has the power to block someone from testing their own product? The Secretary of Agriculture (Ann Veneman) is a former lobbyist for the beef industry. Mmm, regulatory capture.
  • 26 Apr 2004: I finished Words and Women today, the mid-1970s attack on sexist language in English. I found it pretty interesting, and still relevant. Of course I was introduced to taking these concerns seriously by Hofstadter's essays in Metamagical Themas, and the ongoing attack on 'guy' as the new male-as-faux-generic replacement for 'man'. For the record, I favor use of 'they' as a third person indefinite pronoun; something which has been in use since Shakespeare's time is not an ugly neologism. But Swift and Miller mention 'thon', short for "that one", which was coined by Charles Converse in 1859 and showed up in a dictionary in 1959. They also make the point that these concerns are the opposite of Orwellian Newspeak, which was designd to reduce precision and scope of thought; attempts to remove sexist language are trying to increase the precision of English. Switching generic singular sentences to plurals in order to cope with our lack of a generic singular pronoun often increase precision in two ways: the male as default is removed, and so is the implication that a single person stands in for a whole group. Instead of "the baby... he..." we can get "many babies... they". Or "most babies", or "all babies", as appropriate.
  • New take on Columbine
  • Powell's aides speak out
  • Reuters article on Greenpeace -- the organization, not individuals responsible -- being prosecuted for sailor mongering, with a 19th century law which was used twice before, last in 1890. Free speech and selective law enforcement issues, and why is Bush defending illegal trade in mahogany?
  • "Semen warrior tribes"
  • Bigger isn't better -- study suggests that car safetly matters a lot more than car weight, even to driver safety, and that SUVs are in fact not particularly safe, even for their own drivers.
  • US newspaper hierarchy
  • 21 May 2004: I watched "Emma" Friday, with Gwyneth Paltrow. It was pretty good. Fairly good to the book, as far as I can recall; no doubt lots of details got dropped, but the essential bits seemed there without intrusion. I think the book was more subtle; I recall getting sucked into the image of elegant Emma Woodhouse. I think even "Clueless" has Cher seeming competent in her own ditzy way. Paltrow's teenage (allegedly 22, I was told Paltrow was 18 or 19) Emma was more clearly naive and oblivious. Though it's been a while since I read _Emma_ or saw clueless so the comparison isn't fair.
  • Dan Moniz points me to this 1970 essay by Marvin Minsky, "Form and Content in Computer Science". The first third is computer science stuff, but the latter two thirds are on math education, and the disconnect between set theoretic formalisms and practical understanding. He seems to hope that computer people can contribute their experience with debugging processes to the task of education -- e.g. helping in debugging people's mental models.
  • Defense of transhumanism
  • How not to buy happiness
  • A better political quiz
  • My reviews of The Postman and The Carpet People. And of Otherness