Entries from April 2009 ↓

Mathematics are pretty

I just uploaded several fractal videos to YouTube on behalf of a colleague who works on OpenCog with me: Linas Vepstas.

The interior measure of the circle map, with the parameters and values as explained here:

Polylogarithm function (more info):

Of poisonous people and memes

When we interact with people, our mind models them. Thus, as a consequence we also end up modelling other people’s beliefs, which in turn can potentially affect our beliefs. I don’t believe that the contextual belief systems of humans (self vs. other) is absolutely isolated – if you are surrounded by contrary beliefs long enough, they could slowly seep into your unconsciousness. Which leads me to wonder if this might have some relation to Stockholm Syndrome? With perhaps stress priming the mind to accept new beliefs more fluidly than usual, in order to allow humans to adapt and survive, even in unpleasant scenarios. Peer pressure and conformity bias might be otherways in which other people’s beliefs can unintentionally alter our own. Of particular interest are the experiments where all but one of the participants in a group are told to lie about observing a phenomenon and the the other, whom are making a decision purely on what they see, tend to agree with the rest of the group. Even when they are later asked about their decision, and told that the other participants were told to lie, generally the one will still swear they saw the phenomenon anyway (see the Solomon Asch study of social conformity).

There are lots of self-help articles and books that tell you to surround yourself with inspiring and positive people and avoid people who are stuck in a life of negative thought, or otherwise are poisonous to people’s happiness. And from the above, it makes sense that negativity is actually contagious. Let alone whether we have empathic tendencies, and mirror their feelings, just mirroring their viewpoint of the world would transfer those beliefs. I certainly don’t want to argue we should all become heartless isolationists, because compassion for other people is always important. But in the end, you are responsible for your own happiness over others (although not at the cost of others, through causing unnecessary harm) and to that end, I think it’s important to sometimes check whether the negativity of others is morphing your beliefs and outlook on the world.

This spread of belief occurs for small chunks of knowledge, and through modelling others at a personal level, but also occurs for larger concepts and ideas. Memes are particularly adapted to play to parts of the human condition so that they get actively spread by us. Things like quizzes that tell us how we fit in the world or appeal to our narcissism and ego, telling us we are unique in some way and that help to define our identity, are particularly virulent. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, as I’ve wasted plenty of time finding out I used to have a “pool boy” dating personality, that at some stage I was 45% pure, and that I am simultaneously a dozen historical figures. They also promote participation – which would arguably work better to promote the spread of the meme over a purely academic piece of knowledge or trivia. Tests that are also related in the attention sphere of Pop culture, the contents of which are themselves memes, piggy-back on the success of other ideas and memes.

Face the facts!

Billboard at bus stop: “Smoking causes 5000 deaths a year in New Zealand. Face the facts!”

What about aging – which is currently inescapably and is what really kills most people? Smoking just accelerates the accumulation of cell damage. Why limit ourselves to aging that’s caused by one particular vice? Breathing causes oxidative damage, and caloric restriction increases longevity. Should we also make billboards that say “Hyperventilation and eating more calories than necessary cause X deaths a year. Face the facts!”.

According to Wikipedia, New Zealand has a 7 in 1000 death rate. That’s 0.7 % or just over 30,000 (going by the current population figures as shown on Wikipedia). I find the attribution of 5000 of these being “caused” purely by smoking a slight exaggeration, but without them citing their sources, they could really make up any number they like.

Alternatively, I think it’d be more amusing to have a billboard that said either:

  • “Entropy marches relentlessly on! Face the facts!”
  • “You’re going to die! Face the facts!”

But y’know, SmokeFree New Zealand would probably change their marketing director if that happened. 😉

The phenomenom of spread

Here’s an adapted extract from part of my original thesis. I removed this in the end, since it wasn’t directly relevant to the spread of invasive species and the thesis was already too long. This text does however link several different fields that are interested in the spread of something, and I find connections across scientific fields interesting because these days they are rife with fertile research directions.

The seminal works of R. H. Fisher (1937) described the propagation and diffusion of advantageous alleles in a population, and a lot of current theory on spread and dispersal has it’s root in population genetics.

Recent work on the spread of humans, with heredity between individuals, have indicated that certain mutations are either maintained with low frequencies at their origin or are propagated along wave fronts. If these mutations are tracked then it is possible to establish their origin (Ibrahim, 2004).

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A pile of pills

So in the interests of sharing, and keeping a record for future reference, here is my current supplement stack:

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Memory enhancement software

Last year I read about the “formula for genius”, by Dr Piotr Wozniak. I found it very interesting and changed my view on the relation between memory and intelligence. In the past I’d written off the memorisation of facts as being relatively unintelligent (not least because it was boring), and with the internet and personal wikis there was no longer any need to remember trivial information. However, if your brain has access internally to a larger amount of knowledge, it’s able to draw more abstractions, generalise better and find new connections. Which makes sense in hind sight, if you don’t have that knowledge in your mind, how are you going to draw comparisons with new knowledge?

I was also intrigued by his learning software SuperMemo, but it looks like it’s become outdated, and more specifically it’s confined to windows and isn’t open source (meaning I can’t easily modify it if it doesn’t work the way that’s right for me). Thus, I went looking for some new learning software and came across JMemorize and Mnemosyne.

Both are based on the Leitner principle (proposed by the German psychologist Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s) which is described on jMemorize’s about page:

“The basic idea is to divide the cards into different decks depending on the difficulty they present to you. This is done by repetitive quizzes in which you try to answer the question out of your mind. Every time you know the correct answer to a card, it is put on the next higher card deck. If you fail at a card, it is put back to the starting deck.”

I ended up using Mnemosyne for the following reasons:

  • it is written in gtk
  • supports pictures, sounds, and 3 sided cards
  • it also is a research project, allowing you to optionally submit your learning to their server (not the content of the cards, just your performance through time).

Plus it’s in ubuntu so you can just type the following to install it:

sudo apt-get install mnemosyne

So far I’ve been using Mnemosyne for 8 or so months. I’ve learnt the periodic table as a test (Ialways found chemistry my downfall in school due to it mostly being memorisation). I’ve also learnt the French words for dates and body parts, and now I’m learning Spanish (in a more concrete way than just random words, including phrases and the various parts of speech). So far there are 2700 facts, which for the most part I can recall relatively easily.

Another method of memorisation specifically for numbers is the Major memory system. There is a perl script for helping using this system here.

Navel gazing from the past…

I’ve going back through some draft posts which I never published. Here’s one from way back last year some time. I should note that I don’t really believe I have Asperger’s or anything like that. I also now believe that “breadth of ideas” is a natural consequence of the parallel nature of the brain. But, being the hoarder and preservationist of digital information that I am, I couldn’t just delete this… so here it is.

In the past I’ve read about aspects of Asperger’s syndrome and in the past have wondered if I’ve got some small inclination towards it. I function reasonably well now though, but this is only through years of practice and working on the things the are traditionally deficient in someone with the syndrome. On deeper reading of the wikipedia article, it’s more likely that they are simply surface similarities. I certainly learnt a lot from being in intimate relationships and am constantly trying to improve (and maintain) my social abilities, but the fact is that I taught myself to look people in the eye while holding a conversation, to exhibit confidence instead of trepidation and to use my empathy to feel what others feel (instead of shutting it out of my head due to it being overwhelming).
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A birthday gift

My friend Seth just bought me the domain ferrouswheel.com as a belated birthday present. Which is awesome, but is actually more than that, because once ferrouswheel.com came up I was offered the domain from Digital Caucus Inc for $US 99 a few weeks ago – a lot more than a normal registration. Although I’d heard about Domain Tasting and Kiting, I didn’t put 2+2 together because I was just excited about the potential of getting the domain (yeah, I’m a geek!). Seth, however, is far more on to it and he checked the domain out to find out that the domain was actually free now and registered it for me. Thank you!

And as a karmic return, I suggest you check out his company’s Firefox plugin Interclue. It’s been featured on the Firefox recommended plugins page and gives you a preview of links before you decide to click on them. It’s alot better than those web based pop-ups that try and preview pages for you.

Telling stories and priming the mind

As a kid, and even in the first few years of University, I used to have trouble understanding why things needed to be explained in detail. Essays were difficult because I’d take the point I was trying to make and think of it like a logic problem:

This interesting fact and this analysis, thus this is the point.

Except that made for very short essays that were no where near the word limit.

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There’s currently a billboard up around the Basin Reserve that says “Vacant”, indicating that it’s for hire. It also has a picture of Paris Hilton, which I find mildly discomforting. It’s all very well having trashy magazines with Celebrity slander, even if it’s just fostering unhealthy human behaviour (where the only option for people envious of others lifestyles is to pick them apart so that they can say those celebrities don’t have it so great after all… instead of actually going out and doing something about changing their lives). It’s another thing to plaster a giant billboard with a celebrity face and suggestively indicate there is nothing going on in their head.

As much as some people might not like it, Paris Hilton is actually pretty intelligent with an IQ in the upper quartile from the last I read – although I’m missing references for it – she’s fostered the ditzy blond image because it caters to a greater section of society, and thus the better to sell her brand. People in general don’t like to feel inferior or dumb (see the above paragraph about picking apart celebrity lives) so why would Paris try to convince people otherwise? I wouldn’t be surprised if the billboard company was paying her to put her image on the billboard (otherwise that Wellington company is potentially in for a world of hurt). I’m not saying I’d personally sell my identity as stupid so that I could make money, but you’ve got to give it to the girl for convincing most the world of her visage of stupidity… so much so that she’s associated with the word “vacant” on billboards half way around the world.