This is just a general FYI. I’m going to being updating the instance of the WordPress app that supports this blog. Since all sorts of things can go wrong with that process I figured I should put the word out. If you hear of a major city being destroyed it probably stems from an error in this updating process.
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I was sitting at breakfast today, having great thoughts, and an interesting question came to mind. The moons of other planets have names. Does our moon have a name?
I’ve mentioned that I’ve taken two trips to Morocco in recent years. One of the things I’ve seen there and have always meant to blog about is the utter chaos that is traffic. Cars and mopeds zip past each other and pedestrians (and donkeys and cats), always seeming a second away from a collision. People race their vehicles through alleyways with barely an inch on each side. Even if you, as a pedestrian, get a walk signal at a light, cars turning right can still turn and it’s your job to stay out of the way. The only other place I’ve seen with traffic that dangerous is Juarez, Mexico.
Here’s a great little video demonstrating this:
However, despite the cacophony, accidents are still rare*. On my most recent trip to Morocco I started to pay attention to why this is. One reason, I think, is that people are much better focusing on not where other vehicles are, but where they are going to be. They’re essentially applying the logic behind the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Moroccan drivers are aware of where all the other vehicles are going to be in the next five seconds and steer accordingly.
* In Casablanca, I did once come across a crowd gathered around a man who’d been injured by a vehicle.
Of course, there’s one major difference between Moroccan and American and European drivers. In Morocco – a Muslim country – drivers are overwhelmingly male. (I don’t think I ever saw a female driver there.) Women are famously challenged when it comes to spatial perception which, obviously, is oft used in driving. It’s possible that driving in 1st world countries is so cautious because we need to accommodate the weakest drivers on the road e.g. women. Moroccans have no such limitation.
Ha! Just wanted to get the chicks worked up there. There’s actually a lot of evidence that women have less accidents than men, though one could debate whether that’s due to better driving skills or just more caution.
UPDATE: Here’s another crazy Morocco traffic video:
Time magazine (it’s a famous mag you may have heard of) notes that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is pulling some of his music from Spotify. Essentially he feels he’s getting gyp’d by the streaming service (as many do.) This section in the article caught my eye.
Reports from acts like Damon Krukowski of Damon and Naomi, folk artist Erin McKeown and cellist Zoe Keating indicate that independent acts make around half a cent per song stream on Spotify. That’s a pittance compared with the 7¢ to 10¢ an artist can expect to earn from a song download on iTunes and even further removed from what artists earn from physical CD sales.
However, that’s a something of an apples to oranges comparison. A single stream on Spotify covers a single listen whereas if you download a song you can listen as often as you want. Crunching the numbers here and it seems 20+ listens of a download would actually mean the artist is getting paid less than they would were the listener launching Spotify for each listen.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that downloads on iTunes do not cost 7-10¢ – they’re generally around a dollar. So where is the rest of the money going? According to this the label gets the big cut, Apple gets a about a third and the rest goes to the artist.
Without getting into a debate about the fairness of these numbers, I can’t see how this can be a sustainable model to encourage the creation of music. I think right now there are still a lot of people creating music because of the “glamour” associated with it (myself included.) But if musicians are eventually understood to be idiots doing a lot of hard work for nothing, that glamour will fade.
As a side point here: I actually dug up some of Radiohead’s music on Spotify last night. (The band’s music is still there; Yorke only pulled some solo and side band material.) I’ve never really dug them despite the fact that many herald them as the Jesus Christ of music. I listened to some selections from their “OK, Computer” album and… it wasn’t bad. Not the greatest thing ever, but certainly something I’d listen to again.
You see are certain amount of conversation in futurist circles about the idea of people living forever by uploading their brains into a computer. The idea is that if the brain is “simply” a collection of (albeit very complex) circuits sending signals to each other (these circuits are the neurons and collections of neurons linked in the brain) then we should be able to map out a person’s neural circuitry and replicate it with virtual circuitry in a computer. The makes sense if you believe that your self— your personality/character –– is a result of the specific structure of your neural connections (and there’s a lot of evidence to support that view.) The virtual circuitry of the computer brain would not decay the way our human “meat circuitry” does and thus people could live forever.
The problem I’ve always had with this theory is that it sounds more like cloning than uploading consciousness. I could be sitting here in my body and maybe you duplicate all the complex circuitry of my brain but you end up only with a virtual brain that thinks exactly like me. My consciousness is still stuck here in my decaying (though quite beautiful) body.
However, I was recently musing on a thought experiment described in Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works.” Let’s say you have a functioning conscious brain sitting around somewhere. Let’s say you replace one neuron in that brain with a metal wire that sends electrical signals in the same way as the neuron it’s replacing (this may be an impossibility right off the bat but stick with me here.) Then you replace a 100 more neurons in the same way. Then a 1000 more etc. until you’ve replaced all the brain neurons with wire counterparts. Would during this process the brain’s consciousness move from meat circuitry to wire? Or would it get lost in the process?
I don’t know and nobody does. But it might work.
However I suspect one error here is the idea of thinking of consciousness as a force or spirit that can be transferred from one shell (e.g. brain or set of circuits) to another. We are presuming that our own consciousness or self is, at the very least, continuously inhabiting our own brains (at least until we go to sleep or get knocked out.) But I wonder if it’s more a situation where our consciousness continually rises out of our current brain state from moment to moment and because we have access to memories we have a sense of a continuing self? In which case that self is something of an illusion. (This is certainly not my idea; it’s the crux of the book “The User Illusion.”)
In effect I’m saying, not only can we not move our consciousness from one shell to another, we can’t even maintain it in a single shell. It’s only because if the fact that our consciousness semi-reliably arises out of our brain in a familiar condition that we have the sense of continuity.
I dunno. This gives me a headache.
Should have formally announced this earlier but I’m on vacation and won’t be posting much until I get back in later June. Kiss a cat!
Recently, I was musing on the idea that admiration for struggle is built into the core of American and perhaps all western culture (and maybe cultures beyond that.) If we feel something arose out of great struggle we value it more than if it was born by an easy process. In a way, that’s rather backwards – we ought to admire people who managed to create things easily and efficiently as that is the model we would presumably want to follow.
So, I was in church yesterday – something I rarely do but in this case they were performing a piece of music I wanted to hear – and at one point the Pastor read from The poem “Ulysses” by Alfred Tennyson. This particular passage stood out:
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Fundamentally, we have an old man in final years, his strength declining but he’s still striving, still seeking, still finding, not yielding! Still struggling. I heard this and thought, “Geeez, that’s not how I want to spend my final years. I’d rather take it easy on a barcalounger with a couple of Mai Tais and watch old Seinfelds.” Why do we have to equate accomplishment with never-ending struggle, with being unyielding?
Certainly, if you go into past human history, I think there was a lot of legitimate struggle. You could run out of food and have to travel the barren lands in search of new meals. You could be attacked by hoards of pygmies who would enslave your children and impregnate your women with their tiny demon seed. But in case you’ve missed it, there’s not much of that happening now. These days, people are struggling to get their kids to baseball practice or their Power Point presentation online. Why don’t we relax a bit?
Here’s a story ready made for movies if there ever was one.
A former Red Army soldier who went missing in action (MIA) in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been found alive almost 33 years after he was rescued by Afghan tribesmen.
Now living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a traditional healer in the Shinand District of Afghanistan, the former Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov, an ethnic Uzbek, was tracked down by a team from Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a nonprofit, Moscow-based organization that leads the search for the former Soviet Union’s MIAs in Afghanistan.
“He received a heavy wound to the head in the course of a battle in Shanind district in September 1980 when he was picked up by local residents,” the organization said in a statement posted on its website. “He now leads a semi-nomadic life with the people who sheltered him.”
I was commenting a while back on the idea that drones – of the same sort we are using in Afghanistan and Pakistan – could fall into the hands of drug cartels in Mexico and we could see them flying into border states. Weapons technology has become so democratized that even non-state actors (e.g cartels, terrorist orgs, Boy Scouts) can access it.
But it’s not just drones. Amidst all the talk of gun control, this Wired article makes the point that guns, including assault weapons, can now be printed via 3-D printers. The difficulties of regulating or banning such devices are obvious.
I think we’re clearly headed into an era where technology is going to be beyond the reach of governments. You want to create a bio-virus that can wipe out a metropolis? The instructions and technology will be out there regardless of the illegality.
The best thing to do is to start cannibalizing your neighbors now – before they come for you.
You may have heard that a meteor broke apart into tiny pieces and hit a Russian town. Hundreds of injuries are reported.
There is little discussion about whether a strange greenish gas is being emitted from the meteor craters. And little musing as to whether metallic tripod devices have been seen rising from the meteor pits with lasers blasting.
I’m not saying this is happening, I’m saying we don’t know. Because the “media” refuses to investigate.