Saturday, December 31, 2016

Understanding the Russian "hacking" meme

The election of Donald Trump as president was a (legal) coup against the military-industrial complex that has dominated the US for decades. The people who have benefited from that dominance are now staging a counter-coup.

In staging a coup like the one we have just seen, the coup leaders, even if moved by genuinely populist concerns, have to enlist the aid of many, many powerful people, in order to resist the counter-coup, or they will fail. The resistance to any such coup will be fierce: there are trillions of dollars at stake here! The leaders of the counter-coup have a multitude of resources at their disposal: they have already corrupted most of the "free press" to act as their toadies, so they can easily spread anti-coup propaganda in national media outlets. They understand psychological manipulation, so they will enlist the aid of many well-meaning but naive people by making them believe they are opposing "racism," or "sexism," or "homophobia." (The last is the most ridiculous: no GOP candidate was ever more gay-friendly than Trump!) And they have many operatives inside the government, so it is easy for them to call on government agencies to declare the recent election somehow illegitimate. After the recount ploy failed, and the electoral college revolt failed, the reigning elite were left with a conspiracy theory: the Russians did it!! (It is hilarious how anyone opposing the idea of this vast Russian conspiracy has been smeared as a "conspiracy theorist"!)

But not everyone in a position of power has been pleased with our continual warfare (benefitting arms dealers), or the looting of the American economy by Wall Street banks. There are many patriotic people, high up in industry, banking, and the military, who deeply oppose these policies.

In appointing cabinet members and other administration officials, it is important that the coup leaders enlist on their side as many sympathetic people with great power as possible. Trump could have appointed plumbers and dock workers and nurses to his cabinet, but then the forces of the counter-coup would have crushed the coup in a few weeks. But by appointing billionaires, Wall Street pros, and former generals, he has established a strong network of resistance to the counter-coup. Each of his appointees will have thousands of important people loyal to him or her who can work to resist the propaganda of the counter-coup.

And the mere fact that someone worked for a Wall Street firm, or served in the military, is no evidence that they favored the bailout of finance by the American taxpayers, or the continual use of the military in conflicts that benefit not American interests but only the arms manufacturers. In fact, finance and the military are both perfectly justifiable institutions: we need banking and defense! And it has made many good-hearted people in both fields sick to see the exploitation undertaken in their name. Hopefully, it is from among these true patriots that Trump has chosen his appointees.

I write this post because the best defense against this counter-coup is a widespread recognition that this is what is going on: the current elite are terrified about losing their privileges, and risking nuclear war with Russia seems to them a small price to pay for their staying on top.

And the Mises moocher

The mathematics lecturer said he was next going to discuss "the Menger sponge."

"Ah," I thought, "he's going to discuss that bloody socialist Wieser! I'll bet he sponged off of Menger all the time!"

But no, it turned out he discussed this:

(Actually named after Carl Menger's son, by the way.)

Don't slight propaganda

My math lecturer just called this:

A "map of England"!

A few of centuries of propaganda can be quite effective!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Market exchange and welfare

I just read an intelligent economist (not an oxymoron, I swear!) claiming that market exchange "guarantees" that in an unfettered free market, goods go to the people with the highest valued use for them.

Sigh. What about the ability to pay?

Let's say we establish a market in human organs, as many libertarians advocate. And further imagine this market is unregulated, something of which they would no doubt approve.

In such a market, there will be many poor people who need kidneys. But imagine that George Soros likes to have a dozen grilled human kidneys for breakfast every day. Poor people in need of a transplant might very well value those kidneys much more highly than Soros (i.e., if we gave them each a billion dollars, they would easily outbid him for them on a free market) -- but they simply lack the funds to compete with his voracious kidney appetite.

It is reasonable to contend that the price we pay for the benefits of free markets is that sometimes rich people get things that poor people need more: perhaps the benefits of a free market outweigh that downside. (By the way, I think that in general, they do, although perhaps not in every case.)

But it is just nonsense, and economic nonsense, at that, to claim that this problem doesn't exist!

The problem with intelligence "arising" from mechanical operations

In the comments on this post, rob argues that a bunch or "circuits" (or neurons, I guess) behaving according to deterministic, mechanical laws is exactly what "gives rise" to intelligence, in humans or computers.

The problem with this view is Occam's razor. Let us consider a door lock. If the lock is set, one can't open the door without a key (at least without breaking it). We can see why this is so on simple, mechanical principles. Now, it just could be that the door "knows" when it is supposed to let people in who don't have the key, and when it shouldn't. But generally we reject any such hypothesis as superfluous: once we understand how the door mechanically does its job, we simply don't need to posit any "knowing": it won't "do any work" in our explanation of when we can get in the house and when we can't.

Now let's say we add some biometric feature to the door: the owner can still get in by fingerprint if he forgot his key. Would we say the door "knows" it's the owner? Again, not likely: we'd likely say we'd just added a new mechanism, i.e., we now have a more sophisticated machine. The positing of an "intelligent door" still fails the test of Occam's razor: having explained the operation of the door on strictly mechanical grounds, there is just no need to add in a dollop of intelligence that has no effect whatsoever on what happens.

And so we have a proof by induction: if a machine (even a biological machine) with n mechanisms can be fully explained mechanically, and we add the n + 1th mechanism that is also understandable on purely mechanical grounds, then the new machine is also fully explained mechanically. No piling on of circuits upon circuits ever justifies the adding in of a new element, "intelligence," that is something non-mechanical. If it is true that even human beings are "just circuits," behaving mechanistically, than "the human mind" is just a ghost, and you don't really "decide" if an idea is true or not: some circuits simply did what they do accoding to mechanical laws, and the outcome spit out of your mouth, with no room for whether you "think" a proposition is "true" to have any influence at all on what you say.

And that is something recognized by honest materialists such as Alex Rosenberg, who claim that ideas like "belief" are without meaning, and that consciousness is an illusion. (Although who is suffering from this illusion is not clear.)

Now, if we want to re-define intelligence as "a really slick mechanical contraption," then OK, but surely then Windows NT or Photoshop qualifies as "intelligent." But most AI enthusiasts want to have their cake and eat it too: they will, when pressed, admit that what goes on in any computer is entirely mechanical, but they still want to claim that, say, Watson, "has now achieved real intelligence!"

This is pure mystification.

Chipping away at the illusion

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learning assembly: the cure for AI delusions?

I am searching for an assembly language simulator for I can teach my Operating Systems students how processes work at the CPU level. In the course of doing so, I came across this site, and found:
10110000 01100001

The first few bits (10110) are an instruction to copy a value into a register. The next three digits (000) identify the register which the value will be copied into. The rest of it (01100001) is the value which is to be copied.

Of course 10110 is meaningless, and the computer doesn't "know" that it means "copy the value." The processor is designed so that the series of electrical impulses represented by 10110 (on-off-on-on-off) causes the desired result. This is part of what is meant by "mechanical."
Yesiree. Maybe if all of the AI true believers had to program in assembly for a month, they'd all realize, "Oh yeah, it's just a bunch of circuits performing that exact mechanical operations I set up for them to perform."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The poverty of experts

When I first began programming on UNIX, in the late 1980s, the computer press was filled with stories about how "old-fashioned" UNIX was, and how its death was imminent.

Nearly 30 years later, between Linux, MacOS, iOS, Android, and other UNIX variants, UNIX-based systems completely dominate the operating system market.

The "experts" were computer journalists, with no "skin in the game." They had never actually tried programming on a UNIX-based machine and also on any of its rivals. They had no idea that the geniuses at Bell Labs had created the ultimate IDE, and that the inherent superiority of the way of developing software that they had pioneered would only become clearer as the years passed.

Do not trust "experts" with no skin in the game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The OS Song

FIFOs and LIFOs and core device drivers

IPC, RPC, threading and scheduling

Memory-mapped files, filled up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things!

When the disk breaks

When the RAM fails

When I'm feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don't feel so bad

Monday, December 26, 2016

Operating Systems,

the web site, is being born.

"That's Medieval!"

The great conceit of our time is that by being"modern" we are smarter than all humans who came before us. This belief is most often adopted by people abysmally ignorant of the past, and what people were like in the past. And this myth has been embraced for little more reason than that we modern people have been told it is true by someone who seemed smart, and it flatters our egos.

Ironically, it is this extreme willingness to adopt a self-flattering belief, based on no evidence, that shows that "moderns," on average, may be the stupidest people who have ever walked the earth. And that makes sense: no people so stupid could have survived as hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers.  It is only our great wealth and the mind-numbing tasks by which it is today possible to make a living that permit so many zombies to survive. Is it possible to imagine an aboriginal hunter so dull-witted as to deliberately block off his own hearing, restrict his own vision to within a few inches of his face, and then go off for a walk into the dangerous jungle?

While watching a crime show the other day, I was struck by a hilarious example of our modern narcissism. "Sophisticated" moderns are likely to get a good chuckle out of medieval legal procedures such as trial by ordeal. But in a thousand years, some historian will be writing, "In the so-called 'Middle Ages,' procedures such as trial by ordeal at least held out the possibility of getting verdicts correct. But by 2000, the human mental state had become so debased that it was actually believed that trials could be made more reliable by inviting people into the courtroom who were professionally skilled at lying; confusing and hypnotizing others to alter their reports of what they saw; hiding, faking, and blocking the use of evidence; and exploiting obscure technicalities in their vast and incomprehensible occult texts they called 'law,' and basically putting them in charge of trials. These shamans were highly respected and paid for their magic, and were called lawyers."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

AWKward? Perhaps...

Just wrote my first awk script in a dozen years.

Here you go.

If you don't know awk, it is a very useful tool in a programmer's arsenal, and you ought to learn it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Test Your Knowledge of Algorithms

Try my final exam for this past semester.

I like alcoholic beverages

However, I don't think it is a good idea to allow unlimited amounts of alcoholic beverages to be poured down my gullet every night.

I also like immigrants.* However...

The idea that anyone who wants reasonable control of immigration is a "xenophobe" is every bit as sensible as the idea that someone who does not want to engage in unlimited consumption of alcohol every night is an "alcoholaphobe."

* For instance, I happened to have a party at my apartment tonight: 13 out of 15 attendees were immigrants.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Chipping away at the illusion

Another "Hate Crime" Bites the Dust

I called this one the day the story came out in November. It was obvious that burning a black church and painting "Vote Trump" on the wall, right before the election, was the worst Trump campaign ad ever, but a great Clinton campaign ad.

"Cui bono?" folks, "Cui bono?"!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Loss of knowledge

"An animated world, divine intervention, the 'openness' of the soul's life are not preconceptions or errors or results of a superficial approach, but clearly recognizable components of this [Homeric] experience of the world, and their elimination constitutes an elimination of important knowledge." -- Paul Feyerabend, Philosophy of Nature, p. 90.

Yogi Berra understood rationalism perfectly

"In theory, theory and practice are the same. But in practice, they are different."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Next AI Task: Teach Watson ">"

The Weather Channel site now boats that its site uses Watson.

Watson apparently doesn't know that if it is 20 degrees at this very moment, the low for the day can't possibly be 26.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More philosophical nonsense from Adams

As I keep repeating, I've learned a lot from Scott Adams on persuasion. But every time he tries philosophy, he babbles nonsense. Consider:

"As a hypnotist, I doubt any of us can see reality for what it is. My worldview is that we were in one kind of illusion before and some of us moved to another. When it comes to understanding reality, the best we can do is pick a version that does a good job predicting."

This makes no sense whatsoever: if we are always living in an illusion, than we have no possibility whatsoever of determining what "version" does "a good job predicting"!

Because whatever we perceive as having happened according to our illusions' predictions is also, itself, an illusion!

So Adams is suggesting we can test an illusion against another illusion and by doing so, refine our understanding of reality!

Graphics Software Bleg

What is the best (best = 1 / cost * features) software out there (for a Mac, or online) for generating graphics of the sort one might find in a mathematics or computer science textbook?

Right now I am cobbling things together with Python graphics packages plus post-editing with Acorn, but I'm sure I can do much better.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Greedy, greedy, greedy...

Of course Zeus existed (and exists)

"The gods are there. To side with the Greeks in recognizing and acknowledging this as an accepted fact is the first requirement for an understanding of their beliefs and culture. Our knowledge that they are there rests on a perception, be it internal or external, and be the respective gods perceived directly are only via the recognizable effects" (Wilamovitz-Moellendorff, quoted in Feyerabend, Philosophy of Nature, p. 71).

Quite so: if you tried telling a Greek in 600 BC that Dionysus does not exist, he would simply think you must have never gotten drunk or even been around people getting drunk. One could perceive the god entering into oneself, or the others drinking, and feel one's own (or their) enthusiasm (the entering in of a god). Similarly with Aphrodite: the Greek would ask how you could possibly avoid feeling her presence when you fall for some pretty young thing?

It is interesting to note in this regard that scripture certainly does not deny the existence of the multitude of gods. No, it instructs us not to worship them; i.e., the enthusiasm they bring about in us is to be rejected when it conflicts with our worship of the One God.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

If mothers can't kill their own children...

then sex will be less fun! And nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of that!

What is "hate"?

Apparently, if you don't want your country to become Muslim, that qualifies.

If only Charles Martel had known this, he could have turned Europe over to Islam 1300 years ago!

Fake neuro-social-evolutionary-bio-psycho-science

Robert Cialdini's Pre-suasion, despite its touting by Scott Adams, is just OK. It has a number of good tips, and some nice stories, but the whole thing could have been a forty-page pamphlet or e-book. (As it is, the book ends at page 233, and the last 180 pages are references, notes, and the index.)

One thing particularly annoying in the book is its regular, phony invocations of neuro-this and evolutionary that. For instance, "kin selection" is invoked in a section on why being like people whom you are trying to persuade is a good idea. But it does absolutely no work: everyone knows that "blood is thicker than water," and evolution is conjured up to give a fake veneer of science to this commonplace knowledge. Every time neurology is brought up, it is the same: none of it does any work. This name-dropping plays the same role that mentioning "Oh, and the Pope likes it" would have played in an astronomical argument in 1300.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Comparative advantage: a partial truth

I believe I mentioned that I am sitting in on Nassim Nicholas Taleb's lectures on "Strange Risk" this fall. He brought up a slide on things we could throw out once we properly took account of volatility, and one of them was Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage.

That prompted a question from me as to what he meant. I thought the answer was interesting: once we take price volatility into account, it would be foolish to "obey" the law of comparative advantage to slavishly. Why?

Well, he explained, imagine you are France, and you produce only wine (your comparative advantage) and export it in exchange for everything else you need. What happens if, say, everywhere you are exporting to falls under Sharia Law? Or you are Saudi Arabia, in reality producing pretty much only oil, and some great new source of clean energy is developed?

If your nation has hyper-specialized in one good, and the market for that good collapses, your nation is in deep trouble.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Worst computer analogy ever?

Because basically, every single thing said on the computer side of the analogy is false:

"These concepts have been previously primed for influence. By analogy, think of almost any computer program you use. It is likely to contain transfer links [Transfer links? WTH?] that you need to click twice: once to ready the link and once to launch it. [Double-clicking is a single mouse gesture: from the program's point of view: the program just receives notice that the user double-clicked. There are not two phases, one during which the "transfer link" could be "readied," whatever the hell that would mean.] But the program also likely contains links that launch with just one click [that's because the programmer triggered the event associated with the link on a single-click mouse event, and not a double-click], because they have already been readied -- that is, hyperlinked ['hyperlink' just means links within hypertext: nothing to do with 'prefetching'] to the desired information. The effect of hyperlinking to a location has been labeled by web browser engineers as 'prefetching it.'" -- Pre-suasion, Robert Cialdini, p. 140.

It looks to me as though Cialdini simply wrote down how he imagined computers work, without bothering to check a single thing in the entire passage above.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pizza, pizza, get your piping hot pizza!

I had paid little attention to the "Pizzagate scandal" until a few days ago, when certain people forced it onto my radar.

As a trained researcher, I know not to pay too much attention either to the people who accept such stories uncritically, or to the people who reject them uncritically. A trained researcher does not "believe" or "disbelieve" his sources: he interrogates those sources and treats them as evidence of events that have occurred, and not as descriptions of events that have occurred.

So, for instance, no one should take the wild conspiracy theories emerging from the darker corners of the Internet at face value. Nor should anyone take an uncritical piece of garbage like this at face value. Amy Davidson basically declares there is not even any point in trying to figure out why the conspiracy theorists believe what they do: the conspiracy theory arose from nothing at all, and focuses on the things it does for no reason whatsoever.

But even completely false accusations are formed the way they are for some reason, and someone actually doing anything that could be called "journalism," rather than "smug dismissalism," would try to see if she can understand why.

Well, I took a few minutes off from my other work to see what I could turn up. One element of the conspiracy theory is that a band that has played at the pizza place, Heavy Breathing, is somehow involved with the scandal. Members of the band have received death threats, something that should not be happening even if they are the leading sex traffickers in the world.

But Comet Ping Pong, if they have music at all, probably have various bands in. Why would the conspiracy theorists focus on this one?

So, off to the band's web site. There I was met by an anus staring me in the face, and was immediately given the finger. I found a number of recordings of their songs, which seemed to be focused on sexual hedonism, dark magic rituals, sadomasochism, and other unsavory topics.

And then I found this. (I am going to describe what I am seeing in case the band yanks the image down.) The first thing that struck me was that anyone over eight or nine years old would look at the image of the young boy holding an extremely phallic object up to his open mouth as a little bit... suggestive? If I were the band, and an artist brought me this drawing for my website, I would immediately say, "What the hell is that? It looks like a young boy practicing fellatio!"

"But... I didn't mean anything by it!"

"Whether you did or not, get it the hell out of the drawing that is going to go on my band's website!"

The song's title is "All the children," and the image posted to go with this song also depicts a couple of children... crawling around. "That's all they are doing," I told myself, "just crawling. Don't jump to conclusions."

So next I played the song. Some of the lyrics I just can't decipher, but the ones I can are: "I want to take it up their way, push it," which are repeated many times.

OK, now I definitely don't see those kids just crawling anymore. When you name your song "All the children," sing over and over that you want to "take it up their way" with all these children, and show children down and their hands and knees... no, they no longer look like they are just crawling.

This most certainly does not "prove" that there is a pedophile ring associated with this pizza place. Since fortunately there are very few pedophile rings, I think it still leaves it very unlikely that there is a pedophile ring associated with Comet Ping Pong.

Here is what I find more likely: what we have are some garden-variety degenerates, who thought it would be very amusing to "Épater la bourgeoisie" with a song expressing a longing for anal sex with children. Unfortunately for them, some people did not "get the joke."

The death threats are awful, and should stop. But treating evil as an amusing joke with which sophisticates can snicker at rubes with traditional morals is also a terrible idea, and it can come back to haunt you.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Voice recognition oddities

Two words I can't get Apple's voice recognition software to recognize when I say them:

  1. Than: I always get "then," unless I really consciously stress the difference, in which case I get "van."
  2. Will: This comes out as "we'll." This one is especially puzzling to me: if I listen to myself say the word "will," my pronunciation of the vowel doesn't sound very much like a long-e to me.


I got some pushback on my piece on ethno-nationalism from people who said, "No, an ethnicity must be characterized by a common bloodline!" Oddly, this pushback came both from racists who wanted to exclude non-whites from being "true Americans" and from their critics.

First of all, racists define ethnicity as being identical (almost identical?) to bloodline. So what? We now have to turn to racists for our word definitions?

But more importantly, if we define things that way, there pretty much are no nations for the racial-nationalists to "preserve." Consider England: Far from all being descended from a common bloodline, the English people are descended from Picts, Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norman French and more. Two of the most prominent Englishmen of the 19th century, Ricardo and Disraeli, were the descendants of Portuguese and Italian Jews, respectively, and yet both were clearly English. James Callaghan was of Irish and Jewish descent and like Disraeli became Prime Minister.
Idris Elba is pretty obviously English, in a way I never could be, despite my being genetically closer to the average resident of England than he is.

Similarly, the Spanish are Iberians, Lusitanians, Celts, Romans, Germans, Moors and more. The Italian people are made up of "bloodlines" of Celts, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Lombards, Moors, and so on. The idea that to be ethnically Italian means to be descended from some common ancestor along with all other Italians is stupid, unless we want to run that bloodline back to Adam and Eve.

If racial-nationalists are looking for some "pure bloodline" around which to found a nation, they are in for a long search.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Philosophy of Nature

I am currently reviewing Paul Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature for The British Journal for the History of Philosophy. Feyerabend worked on this book in the 1970s, but it was only released this year.

This promises to be a wonderful review experience, since Feyerabend was a brilliant man, and in this work he reviews the "philosophy of nature" from the Stone Age to Bohm.

And here is my first quote of note from the work:

"The assumption that humans of the Stone or Bronze Age would have had only the most primitive knowledge of nature may be flattering to our progressivist self-image. But it has little plausibility since Stone Age humans were already fully developed members of the species Homo sapiens, and it is incompatible with recent research. The environmental and societal problems that the early Homo sapiens had to face were incomparably greater than the challenges facing our contemporary scientists. These problems has to be solved with the most primitive means, often without any division of labor or specialized skills, and the solutions arrived at indicate a level of intelligence and sensitivity that is clearly not inferior to ours." -- pp. 5-6

My book reviews

I've assembled a partial list.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump's Tremendous Trolling

Trump just riled up a bunch of his opponents with his tweet about "taking away the citizenship" of anyone who burned the flag.

Of course this is absurd: he's not going to do anything like that: he's trolling.

A friend recognized this, and said Trump's trolling is "Not nice."

This is an understanding of politics as a big kindergarten classroom: If you're just nice to Johnny and let him play with your truck, he will let you play with his.

Unfortunately, real politics is nothing like kindergarten: the new prince, as Machiavelli taught us, must consolidate his rule. If he is overly "nice," his foes will see it as a sign of weakness and oppose him all the more fiercely. And as Machiavelli noted, to be "nice" and fail to establish one's rule is really not nice at all, since civil unrest and ultimately civil war result, and they are very not nice.

So Trump trolled those claiming "Trump is not my president," and got just the reaction he wanted: televised shots of Trump's opponents burning the American flag. Across the nation, the image that will stick with people is: those opposed to Trump hate America. (I'm not saying this makes sense, I'm saying that's the emotional impact of the images.)

Machiavelli would have recommended rounding up the protesters and having them executed. By contrast, Trump's technique of tweet-trolling them into political oblivion is nice indeed.

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...