Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Freedom Fever

David Uessem painted this.

Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid
Dec 2017, NYTimes

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of living off the grid. I read Walden in college, I studied sustainability in grad school. I love chopping wood and growing my own food and tending my own livestock. Although right now I live in an apartment and do none of those, I support the general idea of sustainability.

But here's news to me - The water consciousness movement. It looks to rid the public of the bad things (flouride, chlorine) put into our water by our omniscient, flawless, and hyper-articulate government so they can dominate us and make us do whatever they want. Raw water is the answer.

"Raw water" has turned into a big market, and people are willing to pay big bucks for water that is pure and never been touched by an ill-intentioned government. And then they get hepatitis and herpes from the water.

But we should consider that flouride in water is one of the great public health interventions of our time, and that chlorine is in your water because it cleans your water. Even if you get your water from the rain, you're supposed to put chlorine in your cistern to kill the little buggers that would eventually grow there and give you diseases. Also, distilled water, by definition, has no minerals at all. But we need some of these minerals, albeit in very small amounts, to remain healthy.

On the other side, our public water infrastructure also tests our water to make sure it isn't contaminated by it's source. That testing is expensive, and I wonder how rigorously is this raw water tested.

Then again, there is the lead thing, and that's a valid concern and a perfect example of where the government messed the f up, and should have a lot to do with why people don't trust their water supply. But the people affected by lead in their water are definitely not the people who can afford to buy this raw water. California tends to be a big market for this stuff.

In this context, it's hard to forget that California was (is?) a desert, and we basically picked up the Colorado River and threw it over the Rocky Mountains to create the largest man-made garden on Earth, which then feeds almost one-fifth of the entire world. [Hyperbole, for effect, but not entirely untrue, read up yourself here.] Is this related? Not sure, but history should be part of a conversation about how we get our water.

I will give props to the company from Arizona that sets you up to extract water from your environment like one of those desert beetles. (Actually, more like rice in a salt shaker, according to the above nyt article).

On the flipside, Paris just fitted their public fountains with carbonated water, or bubbly water, as they call it.

And for the entreprenurial at heart, I was thinking of selling rats that have been "liberated from science" to folks who are against animal testing. Despite the fact that many cosmetics put that little bunny rabbit drawing on their products to signify they haven't been tested on animals, it is against the law to sell cosmetics in the US unless they have been thoroughly tested on animals and then on humans, which means that label is totally bogus, and yet totally legal to put on the product, go figure.

So in the same vein, and to the same audience, you can buy the rats anywhere you want and just say they were taken from cosmetics-testing laboratories. You can raise them as your own cute little pets, and feel good about yourself, and you can even satiate them with water contaminated with herpes!

And, finally, in other news:

Rats free each other from cages
Dec 2011, Nature

Monday, December 18, 2017

What's Up

Pfizer denies fumes from Viagra factory are arousing town's males
Dec 2017

I'm not a doctor, but I do know how ideas get transmitted from person to person. This is a good one, so no matter what the truth behind it, it just sounds too plausible to be false.

Let's also note that Viagra is free for the residents here; it's a perk for having the manufacturing facility in their town.

On a slightly side note, in the book Everybody Lies, about google searches - places in the country where it's ok to be gay, the top search re husband is "is my husband cheating on me" but for places where it's not ok to be gay, it's "is my husband gay". Because (as far as you can trust one guy's interpretation of google results as truth) when it's not ok to be gay, you just pretend that you're not, and your wife is like wtf. [I think this was the situation reported in the book, I forget now it's been a few months.]

Similarly, I bet lots of guys in this Irish town say they don't need it, or don't use it. But it's free. It might as well be in the water supply.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Blockhain-Breedable 256-bit Genomes For Sale

CryptoKitties craze slows down transactions on Ethereum
Dec 2017, BBC

But that's not how any of this works.

Digital currencies were supposed to be used to trade money online, not to serve as a lab for Frankensteined bit-genomes.

But of course, this IS how these things work. The internet was supposed to be for sending science articles among scientists.

Ether is a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, supported by a record of transactions that is copied and stored on lots of different computers spread all over the world. In this case, that network is called Ethereum. People are using it to buy pizza and drugs, and to make money by speculation.

But people are also now using it to play with digipets, or cryptokitties. But more, they aren't just playing, they're breeding these things by turning a digital money transfer service into a bio-inspired creation-machine. 

Each kitty is unique, and their unique DNA can lead to four billion possible genetic variations when they breed. I wish I knew more about how numbers work. There is a lot of computation going on here in order to do this. People are worried that this "frivolous game" is holding up real business.

You know, until it turns out that the game is the real business.

Post Script
Absolutely completely unrelated - in case you haven't noticed, google owns pinterest, and when you image search, there's a high chance you're being directed to pinterest to see the full image of the thumbnail you're viewing in the google results. But you have to be a user to get in and see the image. Smart way for google to make sure everyone is using its other services. And a good way for folks to understand how monopolies work, and corporate/capitalistic culture in general.

Unless you would like to add "" to you search results. For example, the search bar would contain "old school refrigerators". Helps.

In fact, do it with and without and see just how much google has gamed the image image market.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Mind Says What

Hypnotic suggestion prevents action, not recognition
Nov 2017, Chris Lee, Ars Technica

If someone under hypnosis is told that their view is obscured, do they really not see or are they unable act on what their brain is yelling at them?

So, what have we learned? First of all, in this task, we know that the brain still sees the objects on the screen, but that hypnosis suppresses a response to the object. -arstechnica

Good writer for Ars Technica describes this experiment in hypnosis in good technical detail - about the actions, reactions and preactions undertaken by the brain in its attempt to make us do things.

Taking direction 'from ourselves' is pretty new in human history. The Jaynes' theory of bicameral conscisouness says that it was our taking directions from others that eventually allowed us to 'tell ourselves what to do'.

Think what you will of hypnosis, but the fact that it seems to work on people is evidence that a part of our brain prioritizes following instructions over personal, subjective volition. The higher, more developed parts of our computer-for-a-head generate the instructions nowadays. But that apparatus may have originally been built to only listen, not to generate.

The generation of the instructions came from gods, from outerspace, from somewhere outside the person. Shamans, priests, king-gods were the people who caught the information first - when to raise crops, when to migrate. Everyone else would listen. They were either the only ones who could hear, or the only ones allowed to listen to the outer-body authority. At that time, we needed to prioritize following instructions - even if they seem counterproductive or impossible - over trying to come up with our own. And hypnosis is a vestige of this.

The Power of mind: Blocking visual perception by hypnosis
B. Schmidt, H. Hecht, E. Naumann & W. H. R. Miltner
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 4889 (2017)

There's a lot of references here more than 20 years old, but maybe that's the nature of hypnosis literature?

Also, check out the Julian Jaynes Society for info on his bicameral mind theory.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reality Generators

What's real these days? Remember a few years ago an application that takes 5 consecutive photos of your family and blends them together so that nobody is blinking or making a stupid face? It takes the best faces of every person in the series of photos, and puts only that face in the picture. The final, fused photo documents a moment that never existed. Rather then, it is not documenting a moment, it is creating a moment.

Moving on, we now see an application that creates faces from scratch. The system looks at thousands of faces and learns what a face is, and then creates its own faces.

I'm thinking here about facial recognition and how I would like to now have a 'fake' face for a face so that nobody knows what my real face looks like. Can I do that? Better yet, can I have a nice little progam that makes entirely fake pictures from scratch, uses them to populate a fake facebook page, and then makes fake friends with their own fake pictures all talking to each other - an entirely fake social ecosystem or social network? Can we do that? How fake can we get until the fake thing is bigger than the real thing?

These People Never Existed. They Were Made by an AI.
Oct 2017,

As part of their expanded applications for artificial intelligence, NVIDIA created a  generative adversarial network (GAN) that used CelebA-HQ’s database of photos of famous people to generate images of people who don’t actually exist. The idea was that the AI-created faces would look more realistic if two networks worked against each other to produce them.

Making Monsters

The fascinating part about this is how alligator embryos are being modified to grow like a dinosaur. If I understand correctly, this kind of manipulation can only be done to an embryo living up to 28 days or so? After that it's considered alive, or at least it's considered wrong to keep an experiment alive past that time. Because it's immoral? Because it can reproduce and make uncontrollable monsters? Because that's just what the law says?

How dinosaur scales became bird feathers 
Nov 2017, BBC

The genes that caused scales to become feathers in the early ancestors of birds have been found by US scientists.

By expressing these genes in embryo alligator skin, the researchers caused the reptiles' scales to change in a way that may be similar to how the earliest feathers evolved.

Prof Chuong from the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

"You can see we can indeed induce them to form appendages, although it is not beautiful feathers, they really try to elongate" he explained of the outcome. They are likely similar to the structures on those feather-pioneering dinosaurs 150 million years ago.

[genes are complicated]

Modern feathers involve a range of different genes working together and being expressed at the right time and in the right space during the embryo's development. This new work helps to establish how feathers initially evolved, around 120 to 150 million years ago, but hints at five separate genetic processes active in birds that needed to work together to create modern feathers.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How To Be Human

There is a chatbot that pretends it's a kid so that it can catch child predators. It doesn't entrap them into doing anything illegal; the point is to make the offender aware that what they're doing is wrong.

The part I found most interesting about this was how the developers used real people from the sex crime world - people who had been preyed upon - to help design a believable-sounding bot.

The chatbot taking on Seattle's sex trade
Nov 2017, BBC

The challenge for developers was to make sure this chatbot was authentic. Any unusual behaviour, or nonsensical response, would tip off the target.

"We work with survivors of trafficking to ask them how a conversation like this would go," explains Mr Beiser.

It's the small touches that help here. Replies aren't instant. There is sloppy, bad English. It's by no means perfect, but during the bot's test phase earlier this year, 1,500 people interacted with the bot long enough to receive the deterrence message - a remarkable completion rate given the bot will ask for a selfie of the buyer as part of that conversation.

As more people use the bot, the smarter it could potentially become. The project has the backing of Microsoft, one of the tech firms leading the way on natural language research.