Sunday, March 30, 2008

Strong AI

Strong AI: While we can recognize an intuitive path to the goals of strong-AI (a self-aware intelligence machine) through the simulation of the human brain in a very literal sense, it is more appropriate to think of the brain itself as an implementational detail. What is more interesting is to capture the fundamental truths of intelligence and self-awareness abstractly and then implement them in an appropriate manner with the tools at hand. The big difference here is that this approach leads to a deeper understanding of intelligence. (Via Data Mining.)

The assumptions in both forks of this alternative totally miss biology. First, there is no reason to believe that there is a meaningful boundary between the brain and the rest of the body that allows a brain to be simulated in isolation. Second, there is a deep essentialism in its use of terms like "intelligence" and "self-awareness" as abstract functions independent of biological embodiment. We know so little about even the most basic cognitive functions that debating these two views of strong AI is like debating space travel one thousand years before Newton.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sol Mountain 2008

I've finally got around to sorting through the pictures I took at Sol Mountain early March. The trip started with 60 cm of new snow, and continued with cold and often sunny weather for most of the week. A few of the pictures show the sensitive state of some of the snowpack, but we were still able to ski steep, deep, and sometimes wide open slopes for much of this fantastic trip. I didn't get my camera out much in the first couple of days because I was too busy climbing, but others did and I hope we'll have some good pictures from them at some point.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Study: Warming Threatens Lake Tahoe's Pristine Waters

Study: Warming Threatens Lake Tahoe's Pristine Waters: Climate change is altering water circulation in Lake Tahoe to extent that the lake's fabled cobalt blue waters may turn a murky green within a decade, a study finds. (Via Wired News.)

TahoeNahuel Huapi

That would be an environmental and esthetic disaster beyond accounting. Tahoe and Nahuel Huapi are twin jewels of the last glaciation, deep blue shades surrounded by white and dark green that remind us of the stunning world that we evolved into but are now undoing.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Ever since I started skiing in the backcountry, I've been on Fritschi bindings. They got me into the sport, and I didn't have many complaints. Serious backcountry skiers kept telling me that Fritschis are heavy and have an unnatural walking mode, both of which waste energy on tour. But the fiddly aspects of the alternative, Dynafit bindings, and the fact that I finally had very good boots that worked both inbounds and in the backcountry, made me procrastinate. But seeing again the efficiency of Dynafit gear in my recent week in Canada, and the good reviews of recent Dynafit-compatible boots, broke the logjam. I stopped at the Backcountry in Truckee last weekend and I picked up the new setup today: Dynafit Zzero 4 C-TF boots, Dynafit Vertical ST bindings, and Karhu Jak BC 100 skis. So light! Skinning up to Castle Peak was like no skinning I've ever done: the stride was so natural, and the connection between foot and ski so efficient, that it felt like a walk in the park. Skiing down on corn on top of sun crust was smoother also because of the firm and low connection between boot and ski. The new skis are so light and fat that they are deflected more easily than my other stiff and narrower skis, but the boot and binding make up much of the difference. I love this new setup.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Theodore Vail is spinning in his grave

This is not Mr. Vail's AT&T:
In 1907, Vail returned to what was essentially his previous job, though now the company was known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, or AT&T. AT&T was in some trouble because its phone patents had expired and other small companies were getting into the business. Suddenly, AT&T had competition. Vail solved this problem in three ways. First, he decided AT&T must have the very best phone system available: he committed the company to building a long-distance system that would cross the entire US. To do this he knew he would have to invest in scientific research, and he encouraged the development of AT&Ts own laboratory, Bell Labs. Second, he cooperated with the competitors, leasing them the use of AT&T's phone lines. Third, he managed to convince the public and the government that the best possible phone system was one that could provide "universal service" around the country -- in essence, the best phone system would come from a monopoly like AT&T.
I discovered today that when I canceled the DSL service that at&t/SBC was unable to provide to my new residence, after two weeks of frustration and confusion, they decided to cancel POTS service too. As of yesterday. Without notice. Does this company actually want me as a customer?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

USENIX to make all its conference proceedings freely available

USENIX to make all its conference proceedings freely available: Free, as in software. [...] Unfortunately, other major technical societies that sponsor conferences and journals still cling to the antiquated notion, rooted in a rapidly-disappearing print-based publishing economy, that they naturally "own" the writings that volunteer authors, editors and reviewers produce. These organizations, which insist on copyright control as a condition of publication, argue that the sale of conference proceedings and journal subscriptions provides an essential revenue stream that subsidizes their other good works. But this income, however well it might be used, has evolved into an ill-gotten windfall. [...] Organizations devoted to computing research should recognize this not-so-new reality better than anyone. It's time for ACM and IEEE to follow USENIX's leadership in making scientific papers freely available to all comers. Please join me in urging them to do so. (Via Matt Blaze's Exhaustive Search.)

Hear, hear! Well done, USENIX.

Fractal Wrongness

Fractal Wrongness: [...]

Funny Pictures

Doesn't that perfectly describe your experience arguing with creationists, intelligent design proponents, crystal healers, holocaust deniers, global warming deniers, and 9/11-truthers? (Via Recursivity.)

I'd have preferred the title to be simply: Wrong at any scale.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Real service

While the big service providers like at&t and Amazon repeatedly fail me, the very small service provider at Sol Mountain Touring, with a bit of help from 60 cm of fresh powder, gave me and a dozen others a fantastic week of backcountry ski touring that kept us safe and got us to some of the best powder skiing I ever experienced. More details later when I have enough bandwidth from the monopolies to upload my pictures.

Is service failure the 21st century invariant?

Steve recommended Toumani Diabaté's latest album Mondé Variations. Being a Diabaté fan away from a good independent CD store, I rushed to find it on Amazon MP3. It was there, and I downloaded the small album download seed .amz file. I double-clicked on it, the Amazon downloader started, but then I had to pause the downloader because the net were I was (the Monashee backcountry) was just too slow for the download. I had got no tracks at that point. I resumed the download when I returned to faster net. But the downloader claimed that the tracks could not be downloaded. After several go-rounds with Amazon customer service in which they were unable to fix the problem, I asked for my money back.

The question is, does anybody in consumer services care any longer about reliability? I would be willing to pay CD prices (higher than what Amazon MP3 charges) for a solid, high-quality download service. No such luck.

Broadband? What broadband?

You'd think that in Palo Alto, this most wired of towns, it would be easy to get high-speed internet. Not a chance. After the embarrassing failures of both at&t's and Comcast's online ordering systems, we used the phone to call at&t (née SBC) to get POTS and DSL to our Palo Alto home. What should have been a trivial process turned into a comedy of errors (like giving us a business number and having to backtrack to a residential number, making Ana waste countless hours with halfwitted service representatives). This was all supposedly fixed and DSL service should have been on from 8 pm today. Of course not. After 45 minutes with technical support, they concluded that I have to call provisioning during business hours tomorrow, because there's some mysterious notation in our order record that suggests the provisioning is not finished. I will call them, most likely to cancel their DSL service.

In the meanwhile, I give thanks to T-Mobile for a not too slow EDGE network around here, which I'm using to get internet until the telecom monopolies deign to give me some wired bits.