The Martian (a micro-review)

I watched The Martian on TV last night. I missed it when it was in the theaters. It was gorgeous on the big screen, I am sure, but finances and other commitments conspired to keep me from seeing it there. It was a rare thing, a film that captured the spirit and the patina of the original book. Sure, there were things left out but it inspired most of the same feelings that the book did. Now that I’ve seen the movie I understand that much of the renewed enthusiasm for Mars missions are traceable to this movie. I can never thank Riddley Scott enough for sharing this marvelous vision of a possible near future with us. I suspect the actual Mars missions will look somewhat different from what we saw in this movie but their very existence may be thanks to it.

Ethical Concerns About Digital Super-Intelligence (AI)

I saw a TED talk by Nick Bostrum the other day that has haunted me. It was about the impending emergence of a digital super-intelligence. This is often called Artificial Intelligence but since we don’t have a rigorous definition of intelligence or an objective criteria for determining what constitutes a natural intelligence I prefer the term digital super-intelligence.

The problem is, we are setting up the conditions for this super-intelligence to emerge but we will have virtually no control over it when it does. There has been talk of developing guidelines for ensuring that it will share our values but I can’t see how that is possible, especially since there are so many different sets of values and we can’t seem to come to any agreement on which of them are fundamental and which are secondary.

I don’t have any answers yet. I don’t know if I ever will. But I am sincerely concerned that we are going to let this genie out of the bottle and things will change extremely fast and not necessarily for the benefit of mankind. I think this is potentially much more dangerous than experimenting with creating human beings from scratch in the lab. And make no mistake, I’m not advocating that either.

What is clear is that we need to focus more intensely on the ethics of the science that we are doing. The catch-22 is that we can’t just arbitrarily ban these activities. Someone is going to pursue them whether they are banned or not. The best thing we can do is entice our sharpest minds to think about these difficult issues and try to come up with some viable plan of action when these digital super-intelligences emerge from the computer science laboratories as they most certainly will.

Turning Over Another New Leaf

I should be working on the book tonight but I’m procrastinating. I will put some time in on it after I write this post. I was inspired today to commit to blogging daily. I’ve even figured out a way that I can make it happen. I will spend some of the time in the morning when I’m writing my 1000 words to write a blog post. That will leave me some of my words for journal type stuff and the rest for a blog post. That means the blog posts will be around 500-750 words. That’s not a bad length for a blog post. See you tomorrow and good night.

Tuesday Ramble

I am happy that I am finally getting some readers for my blog. I guess Facebook is good for something after all. I wish that Facebook would respect hyperlinks though. I often use them like footnotes so that I don’t have to stop and explain myself in the middle of a story. Since Facebook only allows a single link and apparently WordPress uses that one to link back to your WordPress blog, I don’t have that option.

I’ve been thinking about how to adapt my style to be less dependent on hyperlinks. I’m not really going to use footnotes. That would be a little bit too stilted. I tried putting URLs in parenthesis but Facebook cuts them out as well. I’ll keep trying experiments until I find something that works. Luckily I haven’t felt the need to hyperlink anything today.

I have been waiting for a check in the mail. I still have Christmas shopping to do. I’m afraid the check may have been lost. It’s not that I can’t get a replacement check, just that it will put a severe crimp in my holiday celebration if it doesn’t get her soon. I have been hanging around the house all week waiting for the mail to come. I have been getting stuff done around the house but it wasn’t how I planned to spend this week.

This post has been a bit of a ramble. I have been trying to write cohesive posts but my mind is not very cohesive today. I am going to wrap up this post and then go play my lovely new guitar. That is the best therapy for cohesion that I can think of. (of which I can think?) Sometimes you have to throw grammar out the window and write the way you talk.

A Philosophical Ramble (tl;dr?)

I read a blog post that my friend Dave Winer wrote. (By the way, go read it or else this post won’t make much sense to you.) At least I consider him my friend. I don’t really know him. We haven’t sat down face to face and talked. But I feel like I know him. I have read his blog for fifteen or twenty years, it’s been long enough that I don’t remember exactly how long. I have benignly stalked him on the internet. I was curious to find out more about this person that wrote so engagingly and had so many interests similar to mind.

I discovered that we were almost the same age. His birthday is a month or so before mine. We grew up in the same era. He grew up in New York, Michigan, and Silicon Valley, as far as I’ve been able to determine from reading his writing and what the bibliographical information that I’ve been able to dig up on him says. On the other hand, I grew up in Paducah, KY, Carbondale, IL and Huntsville, AL. Even so, we apparently have many things in common, e.g. programming, liberal politics, and an interest in communications.

But I don’t really know him. I would like to know him better. But when you get right down to it, nobody ever really knows anyone. The best you can expect is that the people around you know some part of you. We tend to think that people are the same from moment to moment when actually we are constantly¬†evolving, becoming someone else. The person that someone comes to know becomes someone else. Or do they?

I think, I am myself but the very concept of self is questionable. Am I, myself, the same person that I perceived myself to be ten minutes ago? How about an hour ago? A day, a week, a month? Who were all those people? What happened to them? Are they still a part of who I am now? If I forget something that happened to me, do I lose a part of myself? These are profound questions. If I struggle to know myself, how can I expect that anyone else can know me?

When someone writes a kind piece about the aspects of you that they remember, it is to be cherished. They are not eulogizing you. You are not dead yet. They are telling the things that they know about you, the things that you have shown them of the self you were when they knew you. I understand the desire to be known for who you have become. But does that mean you should deny who you have been?

By the way, Dave, I have been following your new work. I’ve been learning from you. I was as blown away by Electron as you were. Thanks for the tip. I was working on a single page web app written in Javascript that I moved over to Electron when I saw how easy it was to do. I haven’t¬†followed your work as closely lately as I did for a while. But I’m back reading your posts daily now. I’m even blogging regularly myself.

I don’t know what my Facebook followers are going to thing about this post (both of them :-)). Maybe they’ll think a little bit about identity and friendship the way you have incited me to do. Thanks for your presence in the world, the work you do, and the part of you that I have come to know. I can hope for more but I will treasure all that you give us.

A Word or Two Before I Call It a Day

Today was a busy day. I was on my own and I got most of the things on my TODO list done. I am so tired I can barely think but I made a commitment to blog every day so I’m going to write something.

It has been a while since I so single-mindedly worked on a project like this. I organized the stuff that we have stashed in our spare bedroom so that I could vacuum the carpet and then shampoo it. When I finished that, I assembled two plant shelf units for my wife to use in her plant business. I also made lunch for myself and went to the store for dog food.

It doesn’t sound like I did much but it filled my day. I was planning to spend some time building a radio kit that has been riding around in my pocket for several weeks now. I don’t think I could keep my eyes open to read the instructions much less solder. At least you can’t burn yourself while writing a blog.

Electron is Awesome

I finally got the current version of Netlog, my program to help me create logs of the ARES Training Net, moved over from being a web app to being a desktop app in the electron framework. I had to require jquery and schedule the init function to be run 100 microseconds in the future instead of depending on the apparently non-existent onReady event of the document. Figuring this out took me several minutes but it really wasn’t that difficult at all. I suspect that getting it to run as an app on windows and linux will be even easier. I wouldn’t be surprised if getting it to run on Android and iOS wasn’t fairly easy as well.

I suspect there will be a bunch of applications that work this way in the near future. I might even get them to let me write an app in Coffeescript at work. I doubt it. It’s a little bit too free wheeling for the corporate environment. I guess that’s my main problem. I’m too much of a rebel to excel in the corporate environment.

I spent all of my time yesterday learning about photon and electron and forgot about writing my blog post. Well, in the spirit of moving on, here is my blog post for today. Tomorrow is another day. I hope I can get my momentum back and post again tomorrow.

Pondering Blogs and Blogging

I have missed a couple of days posting here but I am not going to let that discourage me. I am determined to continue making blog posts as frequently as possible. I am writing them for two reasons. First, I am posting to become more proficient at expressing myself in writing. I find that when I write my thoughts down, I can more easily examine them and evaluate them.

The second reason I am writing is to share my thoughts with others. I have noticed that there are a few people that have subscribed to my blog. They get notified when I make a new post. I can only assume that at least some of them read what I’ve written. I’ve also set up a utility that copies my blog posts to Facebook. I’m sure that I get a few readers there on occasion.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If you have read this far, take a moment to make a comment, whether here or on Facebook. Let me know what you like about my blog. Let me know what you don’t like. I don’t guarantee to change what I post but I’m certainly interested in what you think.

If you’ve got something you’d like to discuss at length, set up your own blog, make a post, and share the link in the comments here. Establishing a conversation is another goal of my blog. I know, I said there was only two reasons but now we’ve both learned something.

A New Writing Process

I wrote a blog post last summer about discovering a process for writing that worked for me. It was lengthy and a little bit rambling but the essence of it is reproduced here.

Fargo changes the game. Instead of writing from the outline, I expand the outline until it becomes the piece. This is a much more transparent way to proceed from ideas to end product. In fact, I can’t imagine writing any other way now.

Like Fargo itself, the new process is simpler and more effective. The self similarity is in itself pleasing to me. I think I’ll stop now while this post is still simple and to the point.

A Day Without Fargo

I survived. I got quite a bit accomplished. I also found a bunch of times that I wanted to jot something down and I had to use some other tool besides Fargo. I guess that’s when you realize that you really have embraced a tool, when you miss it when you don’t have access to it.

I came home for lunch but I didn’t have time to do anything more than eat and visit with Pam for a minute before it was time to go back to work. I wanted to keep up my pattern of blogging every day. I am approaching this blog post the way that I approach writing my morning words. That is, I start writing about the first thing on my mind and I keep writing until some arbitrary criteria has been met. For my morning words, it is having written 750 words. For a blog post I don’t know yet.

I need to start thinking about things to blog about and spend some time organizing my thoughts on a given topic before I just dive in and start writing. At least that’s how I think it ought to be done. I seem to be doing fairly well writing a draft this way. Maybe I’m demanding too much of myself. Maybe I just need to write and see what happens. I’m not saying I shouldn’t revise what I’ve written and make sure that it is what I intended to say, just that there is nothing wrong with the way I’ve been doing things.