Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death by Scout Niblett, covered by Jens Lekman (SC101)


Beyond Between Good and Evil

January 31, 2012
  • “Adults have to deal with moral grey areas”
  • “I’m not liberal or conservative, I guess I’m somewhere in the middle”
  • “It may be helpful to think of data science and business intelligence as being on two ends of the same spectrum” (source)
  • “On a sliding scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you with life?”
  • “[S]cientific bias…is a model for separating plausible hypotheses from their opposite.” (source)
  • Please rate your attitude toward the following statements from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.
  • How did you like that book, movie, play, album? Please answer anywhere between ★ and ★★★★★.
  • “The truth lies somewhere in between”

People talk about “grey areas” as if [0,1] is so much more sophisticated than {0,1}. I find such rhetoric limiting. After all, the convex combinations of black and white are totally ordered, completely linear, and only one-dimensional! A painting in B&W couldn’t display much variation. (Not that it couldn’t be interesting.) We deal everyday with things more complicated than “a grey area” because the world is 3-D and colour is Lab (3-D nonlinear). Add in texture and smell and you’ve increased the psychological dimensionality manyfold.

The metaphor is insufficiently rich. Adult situations don’t fall on a straight line. Political viewpoints don’t sit neatly next to each other in 1-D. Moral ambiguity is certainly more colourful and convoluted than the path from #000000 to #FFFFFF.

Me, I’m more interested in 2.7-dimensional hornspheres, quartz crystal spires, hot-air balloons with a row of golden rings piercing the spine, and quasi-polar negatively bent inside-out torii-cum-logcabins. Or even just something as “pedestrian” as a mountaintop pine forest, which is already much more intricate than, cough cough, the unit interval [0,1].

So—back to my original point—I think moral ambiguity resembles a cell complex more than a line segment. Real situations—the layered tragedies, ironies, comedies, and lengthy mediocrities that desirous, egocentric humans instinctively generate—have a much more interesting shape than “the span between 0 and 1.”

I guess I shouldn’t be so critical. The people using the grey-area metaphor probably don’t avail themselves of the whimsical thought-gardens in which more exciting shapes live. Sorry there, I was just feeling constricted.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these drawings by Robert Ghrist from his (free) notes on homotopy.

January 30, 2012

visualisation of how the kernel trick makes a non-separable collection of points linearly separable.

I guess the kernel mappings really add a dimension, rather than replacing a dimension, don’t they.

January 29, 2012

Bob Kenny says [great wealth] isn’t always worthy of envy, and is certainly not worth sacrificing one’s life to attain. “If … people … know that getting the $20 million or $200 million won’t necessarily bring them all that they’d hoped for, then maybe they’d concentrate instead on things that would make the world a better place and could help to make them truly happy,” Kenny says. “Don’t work too hard for money, because it isn’t going to get you much if you ignore everything else.”…

[M]oney may ease some worries, but others always remain. “Nobody has the excuse of ‘lack of money’ for not being at peace and living in integrity,” writes one [super-wealthy] survey respondent of his family, with a touch of bitterness. “If they choose to live otherwise, that’s their business.”

If anything, the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us. We can always indulge in the thought that a little more money would make our lives happier—and in many cases it’s true. But…. When the rich man takes his last sip of Château d’Yquem 1959, he tips back the wineglass to find at its bottom an unforeseen melancholy. Like Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, he notes in horror, “I have drunk, and seen the spider.

Graeme West, Secret Fears of the Super-Rich

January 29, 2012
  • the Welsh longbow as Weapon of Mass Destruction
  • stirrups, knights, and heraldic crests
  • Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt
  • the high cost of a plowshare and a team of oxen: That’s why villages happened.
  • horses ≻ oxen
  • legumes + cereals = wealth, surplus, free time, trade
  • Mersenne, Pascal, Ersted, and Bell

And, finally:

  • James Burke asking 40 years ago: What will telecommunications do to us? Will global communication bring peace? Or join us into one culture?

He hadn’t seen twitter or facebook, 2011’s democratic revolts in the Middle East, or art-sharing on tumblr. But I think he’d be happy with the result.

    January 28, 2012

    Death Cream by Sonny & the Sunsets

    January 27, 2012

    It’s not always possible to say A ≻ B or A ≺ B. Sometimes

    • neither A nor B is smaller.        A≹B
    • neither A nor B is more successful.   A≹B
    • neither A nor B is prettier.         A≹B
    • neither A nor B is smarter.        A≹B
    • you don’t love A any more or any less than you love B.   ℒ(A)≹ℒ(B)
    • neither A nor B is tastier.           A≹B
    • neither A nor B is closer.           |A−x| ≹ |B−x|
    • neither A nor B is more fair.        A≹B
    • neither A nor B is better.             A≹B

    I’ve argued this before using posets. And I intend to argue it further later, when I claim that the concept of Pareto superiority was a major step forward in ethics.

    *[The concept of Pareto dominance allows you to make, at least in theory, a valid, fully general comparison between two states of the world. A≻B in full generality iff   a ≻ b   a ∈ A and ∀ b ∈ B, by the individual standards of ∀ .]


    For now, though, I’ll draw some examples of functionals that don’t beat one another. That is, ƒ≹g nor g≹ƒ. (You would probably assume  is 2-symmetric but I’m just stating it for clarity.)

    In this drawing, green wins sometimes and purple wins other times. Is it more important to win the “righthand” cases or the “lefthand” cases? How much better for each scenario? (see integrating kernel) Is it better for the L₂ norm to be higher? Or just for the mass to be greater?

    In this drawing, orange wins sometimes and blue wins other times. Is it more important to win the “interior” cases or the “extremal” cases? How much better for each scenario? (see kernel of integration)


    How about a function that measures the desirability of a particular boyfriend / girlfriend in various scenarios. How about the function g measures boyfriend B in the various scenarios (domain) and the function ƒ measures boyfriend A in the various scenarios. By measures, I mean the function’s codomain is some kind of totally ordered set where it does make sense to talk about better ≻ and worse ≺.

    • ƒ(at dinner) ≻ g(at dinner)
    • ƒ(career) ≺ g(career)
    • ƒ(in bed) ≫ g(in bed)
    • ƒ(with your family) ≺ g(with your family)
    • ƒ(at the beach) ≺ g(at the beach)
    • …and so on…

    So how do you decide whether A≺B or B≺A? Perhaps you have your own priorities sorted so well that you can apply a kernel. Or perhaps AB in the final analysis.

    I could make a comparable list for

    • comparing two houses or apartments (well, this one’s closer to the park, but that one has that cozy breakfast nook),
    • comparing two societies (one where the top marginal tax rate is 41% and one where the top marginal tax rate is 40%),
    • and on and on.

    Sometimes it’s hard to compare. Sometimes — like which of your kids do you love the best — it’s impossible to compare.

    January 27, 2012

    Public art works by Katie Sokoler.

    January 26, 2012

    “They don’t have money for a gym membership. They don’t have money for a 24-hour gym pass. This is a ghetto pass. They work out in the ‘hood. A lot of these guys are creative, because they’ve been incarcerated. They know how to work out with [whatever’s around]. And you know, these guys are just as toned, just as ripped. They look better than some of the cats at any fitness club around the world.”

    January 26, 2012

    Circled #4, oil transfer drawing, 44×30, Glovaski 2009

    via planetaryfolkloreoieouioglovaskicom