Planning on Being Stupid?

It seems I’m planning on being stupid. Alas, I am not alone. On a grand cultural and political level, it often seems that stupidity is not always spontaneous, but rather many people plan and then execute being stupid. Examples include borrowing vast sums for degrees that will in no way aide you in making the vast sums you’ll need to pay back the loans. At no point in the process did the thought arise that this might not be a good idea? Politics presents many such examples: this time, the panic-driven government action will result in a solution to whatever (largely ginned up) crisis is being hard-sold today; this time, the various police institutions can/cannot be trusted more than anybody else; this time, our loyalty will be repaid by something other than the claim that the other guys would have done worse.

At some point, after enough repetitions, enough time to think it over, enough examples of the outcomes, one would almost have to conclude that either people are really, actively blind in a truly scary way or that the continued hope that, this time, the results will be different is, effectively, a plan of sorts. Perhaps these options are not mutually exclusive nor exhaustive…

But I digress. This is all about ME! And how stupid I’m planning to be.

At the moment, the plan is as follows: As soon as I get home, throw on some work clothes and head out front to work on prepping the forms for a small concrete pour (maybe 8 cubic feet) that is the next step in the Front Yard Improvement Project that was begun, oh, 3 years ago? If I can get it ready tonight, maybe I can pour this weekend when my teenage son will be available to help. He helped me pour the last somewhat larger stage:

IMG_3892
The concrete underlay for the ramp up to the front door, last year’s May/Junes project. David helped a lot, hefting bags, adding water, just doing stuff. He’s a year older and bigger this year, too. So I’ll get him to help this weekend when he gets back from a week’s camping.

This current step requires a bunch of hands-and-knees work measuring, laying out, hammering in stakes, laying in some rebar, as well as some digging (very little at this point). With luck and not counting the inevitable run(s) to the hardware store, maybe 3 hours of work? I tend to overestimate my efficiency, so – 4?

For many years, I’ve done stuff like this. Today, however:

  • it’s near 100F outside;
  • I’m 60 years old;
  • In possibly related news, my hands, back and knees have about a 2 hr limit on stuff like this. Any more than that, and I’ll pay for the next several days.

Why now, why not put it off? You might prudently ask.

These are the days, for next 2 months, where it is light enough after work to do anything. If I can get the forms & rebar done, I can pour concrete this weekend, then start in laying bricks in the evenings when I come home during the week. This stretch is nice and straight and orderly, so that I can mix a bag of mortar, put in 20-30 bricks in a couple hours, clean up and be in before dark. Do that a couple times a week for a few weeks, and I’m done.

Besides, been putting it off all spring. Truth is, I’ve been not feeling well. This has been going on for months or years, depending on how you want to count it. Think it has something to do with the array of blood pressure meds I’m on, but I’m not sure. Went through the whole stress test/EKG/bloodwork etc. maybe 9 or 10 months ago, and they seem to think I was fine. Yet, here I am, dragging around, falling asleep in the middle of the day, getting woolly-headed (a particularly discouraging thing for a guy who lives in his own head as much as I do), feeling generally weak and tired. Tasks both physical and mental that I used to throw myself at now seem to wear me out promptly or too difficult to even try.

However: Never give up! Never surrender!

So I think I’ll try, again, to muscle through it and see how it goes. Put on a hat, bring a big pitcher of water, and do it. Wish me luck.

It should be more like 90F by the time I get started. Balmy!

 

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Update of the Random Sort

Last night, the lovely Mrs. YardsaleoftheMind and I went out for dinner. This is not all that remarkable in and of itself, but there’s a story:

A few months ago, we arranged an anniversary getaway to a cabin at Elim Grove attached to Raymond’s Bakery, in Cazadero near where the Russian River enters the Pacific. We highly recommend it if you find yourself looking for a B&B among the redwoods only a couple hours from San Francisco. Our dear son thought he’d send us out to dinner, so he searched for nearby restaurants, and set us up with reservations at El Paseo in Mill Valley

This was a lovely and kind thought. However, while Mill Valley is not all that far from Cazadero as the crow flies, it’s over an hour away as the car drives. Our dear son, who has not driven that area, would not know this.

I did not check this out before we left. So, after having driven the couple hours up to the cabin, we find out there’s no practical way to make it back down to Mill Valley that evening for dinner. We had to postpone it. Until yesterday evening.

The 40 mile drive from Concord to Mill Valley takes anywhere from just under an hour to an hour and a half or more depending on traffic. Bay Area traffic can be and often is evil, so we left in plenty of time to spare. And got there in a little over an hour.

With time to kill, we walked around beautiful, quaint and well-moneyed Mill Valley, a old city nestled in the Marin hills, beloved by hippies, former hippies and would-be hippies with money. That odd and frankly crazy blend of wealth and counter-culture that characterizes much of California’s self image is nowhere better expressed than here. Just as the hippies aged into the Greed is Good crowd on Wall Street in the 80s while somehow still imagining that they were not The Man to whom they had lately imagined they were sticking it, elderly boomers with millions grab will grab an organic frozen yogurt here and browse the boutiques for natural hemp clothing and handmade South American art. Their high priced lawyers will be engaged to sue to prevent some other resident’s latest act of architectural self-expression interfering with the view. And so on, after the manner of their kind. But it sure is beautiful and quaint – great place to stoll and grab dinner!

As we headed up Blythe (one of the main drags) we spotted an enormous, ugly church, which I immediately would have bet money on being Catholic. Sadly, I was right.

This picture of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is very flattering. Built in 1968. The 60s live in Mill Valley in many ways.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways, it is always good to keep in mind. We walked up and tried the door – locked. As we walked around the building, we tried the various side doors. Finally, on the far left, the last door was open! We went inside to look around.

One woman knelt in the middle section of pews, but otherwise the church was empty. Coming in at a weird angle far off to one side, it took me a minute to notice the monstrance atop the tabernacle – Adoration was in progress! All the sudden, that became a very beautiful church!

We knelt and prayed for a bit, then took a look around. I walked past the lady in the pews, who smiled and whispered, asking how I knew Adoration was being held – I told her we didn’t know, just lucked into it. She said they were doing an all night Adoration.

As we left, another woman was arriving. God bless them – and I’m sure He does! – for being there for Him. How beautiful that these parishioners keep this devotion.

As we headed out, I noticed the epiphany chalk inscription above the door of what appeared to be the rectory. Cool! So, whatever the architectural and artistic limitation, the people at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel seem intent on keeping the faith. God bless them all!

We descended down to our dinner. El Paseo is heavy on the quaint in keeping with Mill Valley city ordinances no doubt, set back from the street accessible via a brick passage and pateo and ensconced in an old brick building. Sammy Hagar, who you might have heard of and who fits in marvelously with the overall 60s sort of vibe of Mill Valley, bought and renovated the restaurant some years ago. I honored him by refusing to drive 55 on our way there and back.

All in all, a lovely evening was had by my beloved and me. The food and service were excellent, and Mill Valley is still beautiful. Our son’s kind deed was finally realized.

Flash Fiction: CH 7

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6

(One last installment before taking this private-ish, since I’m not getting to anything else…)

The alien me looked at me, his look of surprise no doubt mirroring exactly my own. He soon dropped his eyes and looked at himself, raising and slowly rotating his arms and  opening and closing his hands.

“They would not understand.” The team was talking, with an odd note of talking to itself.

Alien me started checking out the equipment, jumping up and down, doing a couple deep knee bends.

“After we infiltrated, we were able to convince the aliens that we were what they consider a similar life form.” Alien me was bending in ways that made me uncomfortable. “They viewed you, however, as raw material.”

Now alien me was stretching and bending in a simply impossible manner. I winced sympathetically at what had to be broken bones. The sort of startled expression never left its face.

“So we had to tell them about you, so they would believe us that you, too, were not a mere resource to be exploited.”

Alien me finally stopped its contortion routine, and returned to a standing posture normal for a human.

I relaxed a little. “It clearly saw me. It saw enough to understand I am intelligent.” I had been under a lot of stress, to put it mildly, and such things should not be possible, but I thought I heard a suppressed guffaw in the team’s voice.

“We have much more information about you, Commander, than that. We had access to all the files collected when Command put you back together physically and mentally before we joined you. We used that information along with our own findings over the previous 6 months to disassemble and reassemble you when you were being destroyed in the tunnel.”

The alien me began to change, elongating to about 3 meters high. Still standing atop the sand dune, the form became what a human would identify as feminine, with long yellow-blonde hair hanging to the ground.

“We had to share that information to keep them from destroying you.”

The new alien form began to repeat the routine, examining herself slowly, rotating her very human like arms and closing and opening her 6-fingered hands.

“So, you convinced them that I am a high enough life form to spare? Thanks. What do we do now? Arrange a cultural exchange?”

There was a note of – sorrow? pity? in the team’s reply. “We made them understand that you were not separable from us, and that we were unwilling to lose you.”

The alien woman was looking at her hands. She slowly brought them up to her face. She began to weep.

“When we disassembled and reassembled you, for a time we became the substrate for your consciousness. We did not mean to intrude, but we had no choice if we were to save you. In some ways, we now know you better than you know yourself.”

The alien woman had fallen to her knees on the sand, hands still over her eyes, still weeping. I could see her body move with each sob.

“We let them feel – our emotions. Your emotions. How you wanted to live, but were willing to die.”

She sat on her heels, her long yellow hair veiling her and swirling about on the sand.

“The aliens understood. They remembered. And they disassembled their form.”

The woman fell to the ground, still wracked by sobs.

“They felt remorse.”

 

Throwin’ Down the Boodog. Seriously.

My compulsive surfing of YouTube turned up this wonderful video of some real Mongolians preparing and eating the classic Mongolian delicacy boodog with the enthusiasm appropriate to such a feast. As previously discussed on this here blog, first, you kill the goat:

goat

The only tragedy from the non-goat perspective is that the dish is not pronounced Boo Dog, but rather, as you can hear on the video below, something more like buh-dig.

After watching the preparation and the party in the yurt, and seeing how it turned out, I’m thinking it’s not half as bad as it sounds: goat meat roasted in the goat’s own skin using hot rocks on the inside and a blowtorch on the outside.

Burning goat hair. That’s gotta smell – not good? But you end up with roasted goat with vegetables in a broth – sounds like dinner, and the people in the video seemed to like it just fine.

I did notice, however, a lot a vodka drunk straight from the bottle. We will generously assume it’s just traditional Mongol celebration drinking and not a necessary aide to getting the boodog down.

Anyway, I here repeat my call to use “Throwin’ Down the Boodog!” as the ultimate call to par-tay! Because boodog!

Since Youngest Son is off to a week of camping tomorrow early, we will be throwing down the Father’s Day boodog this evening. Since suburban Contra Costa County is woefully short goats, we will be throwing down with barbecued burgers, corn, guacamole and watermelon, and either some beer or margaritas.

So what do you think? Would you eagerly attend a real Mongolian barbecue to get a little of that boodog action?

Writing Update 6/15/2018

First off, again, thanks so much to my beta readers. I think I’ll have time this weekend to read and respond. I am so grateful for each of you taking the time to read and comment.

I will revise the Rock, and see what possible venues there may be for it, and suck it up and send it out. So far, I only have 1 rejection letter in my collection. That will not do!

Then I’ll pick out another story, and send  it out, if you all are game.

Image result for classic 50s sci fiNext, the flash fiction has now stopped being flash fiction, in the sense that instead of each ‘chapter’ merely being me answering the question: what happens next? I’ve started to think out 3-4 chapters ahead. (If you think there have been plot twists so far, ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet!). Since I’m setting up an epic ending in my head at least, I’d maybe better just write the thing as a story instead of doling it out as faux flash fiction….

OK? I’d be very flattered if anyone was disappointed…. If I go this route, I’ll do my best to finish the story and make it available to anyone who want to be a beta reader.

Finally, I’m actually considering, or perhaps more accurately, fantasizing about, taking 6 months off in order to write the long-imagined book on American Catholic Education. But I’m 60, and there’s hardly a guarantee I’d be able to find an appropriate job in 6 months if I did so. I – we, really, this is a family decision – am still half a decade at least away from being able to retire with any security. If I did this, I’d need all the things I currently lack: discipline, focus, rigor, emotional toughness.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate your prayers on this.

 

Flash Fiction: CH 6

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5

The leading edge of the wave that was the blob broke against the wall behind which was the room sheltering me. I was still looking at the scene from the view the team provided me, above and outside. Not sure how the team was doing it. Did they send a contingent, configured as a drone, just to provide me a suitable view? Not likely. More likely, they’d assembled a perspective they thought I could deal with from the mass of data millions of units provided, even though none of them actually held that perspective. They’re trying to tell me the truth through a visual story that’s technically a lie. The team probably doesn’t see it that way. Yet another philosophical discussion for later.

Suddenly, I was dropped back into my own head, and found myself in darkness, curled up against a wall behind the barrier the team had thrown up. I felt a shock through the barrier, a rumble through the floor and heard a swirling sound, like sand and water tossed by a big wave.

Some finger of the wave that had been the alien blob had entered the hole and filled the room. After a moment, I could hear the motion calm, then a sound like the sea withdrawing from the beach. After a few seconds of silence, the team disassembled the barrier. I was able to stand and walk back to the opening outside.

Twilight had come. In the gloam I could see faint blue light forming ribbons which weaved their way slowly toward me. The vast floor of the ruins was buried under what looked like sickly yellow sand. Dim blue dots were scattered across the dune. Some moved to join the ribbons, but some blinked out.

dune 2

 

The river of blue stopped about 10 meters from me, and formed itself into a mass about the size of a jet pack. After a minute more, no more ribbons formed. Any blue lights remaining on the dune blinked out.

The darkness defeated my unaided eyes. The visor enhanced the failing light. The team, or whatever part of it made up that meter-tall mass, faded from blue into gray.

“We apologize, Commander.”

“For what?”

“When we tried to communicate with the aliens, we could not make them understand why we needed to live.”

“So – you’re sorry you killed them?” Man, in 6 months of training, we never got this deep. I was hoping the team was OK, just having a little moment.

“We didn’t kill them.”

I spread my arms, gesturing at the massive pile of yellow sand. I shrugged, and gestured again, palms to the sky.

And froze. A faint yellow glow lit the middle of the pile. As I watched, yellow threads arose from the sand, intertwined, and formed a shape. A human shape. A familiar human shape.

Me.

“We are sorry. We had to tell them about you.”

AI-yai-yai.

Henry Kissinger (yes, he’s still alive – 95 yrs old. His dad made it to 95 and his mom to 98, I think, so he may be with us even longer.) has opined that we’ve got to do something about AI:

Henry Kissinger: Will artificial intelligence mean the end of the Enlightenment?

Two thoughts: Like Hank himself, it seems the Enlightenment is, surprisingly, still kicking. Also: End the Enlightenment? Where’s the parade and party being held? Oh wait – Hank thinks that would be a bad thing. Hmmm.

Onward: Dr. K opines:

“What would be the impact on history of self-learning machines —machines that acquired knowledge by processes particular to themselves, and applied that knowledge to ends for which there may be no category of human understanding? Would these machines learn to communicate with one another? [quick hint: apparently, they do] How would choices be made among emerging options? Was it possible that human history might go the way of the Incas, faced with a Spanish culture incomprehensible and even awe-inspiring to them?”

Note: this moment of introspection was brought about by the development of a program that can play Go way better than people. Little background: Anybody can write a program to play tic-tac-toe, as the rules are clear, simple and very, very limiting: there are only 9 squares, so there will never be more than 9 options for any one move, and no more than 9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1 possible moves. A simple program can exhaust all possible moves, dictate the next move in all possible scenarios, and thus guarantee whatever outcome the game allows and the programmer wants – win or draw, in practice.

Chess, on the other hand, is much harder game, with an effectively inexhaustible number of possible moves and configurations. People have been writing chess playing programs for decades, and, a few decades ago, managed to come up with programs sophisticated enough to beat any human chess player. Grossly put, they work by a combination of heuristics used to whittle choices down to more plausible moves (any chess game contains the possibility of any number of seemingly nonsensical moves), simply brute-force playing out of possible good choices for some number of moves ahead, and refinement of algorithms based on outcomes to improve the heuristics. Since you can set two machines to play each other, or one machine to play itself, for as long or as many games as you like, the possibility arises – and seems to have taken place – that, by playing millions more games than any human could ever play, measuring the outcomes, and refining their rules for picking ‘good’ moves, computers can program themselves – can learn, as enthusiasts enthusiastically anthropomorphize – to become better chess players than any human being.

Go presents yet another level of difficulty, and it was theorized not too many years ago to not be susceptible to such brute-force solutions. A Go master can study a board mid-game, and tell you which side has the stronger position, but, legendarily, cannot provide any sort of coherent reason why that side holds an advantage. The next master, examining the same board, would, it was said, reach the same conclusion, but be able to offer no better reasons why.

At least, that was the story. Because of the even greater number of possible moves and the difficulty mid-game of assessing which side held the stronger position, it was thought that Go would not fall to machines any time soon, at least, if they used the same sort of logic used to create the chess playing programs.

Evidently, this was incorrect. So now Go has suffered the same fate as chess: the best players are not players, but machines with programs that have run through millions and millions of possible games, measured the results, programmed themselves to follow paths that generate the desired results, and so now cannot be defeated by mere mortals. (1)

But of course, the claim isn’t that AI is mastering games where the rules clearly define both all possible moves and outcomes, but rather is being applied to other fields as well.

After hearing this speech, Mr. Kissinger started to study the subject more thoroughly and learned that artificial intelligence goes far beyond automation. AI programs don’t deal only with the rationalization and improvement of means, they are also capable of establishing their own objectives, making judgments about the future and of improving themselves on the basis of their analysis of the data they acquire. This realization only caused Mr. Kissinger’s concerns to grow:

“How is consciousness to be defined in a world of machines that reduce human experience to mathematical data, interpreted by their own memories? Who is responsible for the actions of AI? How should liability be determined for their mistakes? Can a legal system designed by humans keep pace with activities produced by an AI capable of outthinking and potentially outmaneuvering them?”

“Capable of establishing their own objectives” Um, what? They are programs, run on computers, according to the rules of computers. It happens all the time that following the rule set, which is understood to be necessarily imperfect in accordance with Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, computer programs will do unexpected things (although I’d bet user error, especially on the part of the people who wrote the programming languages involved, is a much bigger player in such unexpected results than Godel).

I can easily imagine that a sophisticated (read: too large to be understood by anyone and thus likely to be full of errors invisible to anyone) program might, following one set of instructions, create another set of instructions to comply with some pre existing limitation or goal that may or may not be completely defined in itself. But I’d like to see the case where a manufacturing analysis AI, for example, sets an objective such as ‘become a tulip farmer’ and starts ordering overalls and gardening spades off Amazon. Which is exactly the kind of thing a person would do, but not the kind of thing one would expect a machine to do.

On to the Enlightenment, and Hank’s concerns:

“The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy. AI developers, as inexperienced in politics and philosophy as I am in technology, should ask themselves some of the questions I have raised here in order to build answers into their engineering efforts. This much is certain: If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late.”

Anyway, go watch the videos at the bottom of the article linked above. What you see are exactly the problem Dr. K is worried about – “AI developers, as inexperienced in politics and philosophy as I am in technology” – although in a more basic and relevant context. The engineer in the videos keeps saying that they wrote a program that, without any human intervention and without any priming of the pump using existing human-played games of Go, *programmed itself* from this tabla rasa point to become the (machine) Master of (human) Masters!

When, philosophically and logically, that’s not what happened at all! The rules of the game, made up by humans and vetted over centuries by humans, contain within themselves everything which could be called the game of Go in its logical form. Thus, by playing out games under those rules, the machine is not learning something new and even less creating ex nihilo – it is much more like a clock keeping time than a human exploring the possibilities of a game.

The key point is that the rules are something, and something essential. They are the formal cause of the game. The game does not exist without them. No physical manifestation of the game is the game without being a manifestation of the rules. This is exactly the kind of sophomore-level philosophy the developers behind this program can almost be guaranteed to be lacking.

(Aside: this is also what is lacking in the supposed ‘universe simply arose from nothing at the Big Bang’ argument made by New Atheists. The marvelous and vast array of rules governing even the most basic particles and their interactions must be considered ‘nothing’ for this argument to make sense. The further difficulty arises from mistaking cause for temporal cause rather than logical cause, where the lack of a ‘before’ is claimed to invalidate all claims of causality – but that’s another topic.)

The starry-eyes developers now hope to apply the algorithms written for their Go program to other areas, since they are not dependent on Go, but were written as a general solution. A general solution, I hasten (and they do not hasten) to add: with rules, procedures and outcomes as clearly and completely defined as those governing the game of Go.

Unlike Dr. Kissinger, I am not one bit sorry to see the Enlightenment, a vicious and destructive myth with a high body count and even higher level of propaganda to this day, die ASAP. I also differ in what I fear, and I think my reality-based fears are in fact connected with why I’d be happy to see the Enlightenment in the dustbin of History (hey, that’s catchy!): What’s more likely to happen is that men, enamoured of their new toy, will proceed to insist that life really is whatever they can reduce to a set of rules a machine can follow. That’s the dystopian nightmare, in which the machines merely act out the delusions of the likes of Zuckerberg.  It’s the delusions we should fear, more than the tools this generation of rootless, self-righteous zealots dream of using to enforce them.

  1. There was a period, in the 1980s if I’m remembering correctly, where the best chess playing programs could be defeated if the human opponent merely pursued a strategy of irrational but nonfatal moves: the programs, presented repeatedly with moves that defied the programs’ heuristics, would break. But that was a brief Star Trek moment in the otherwise inexorable march forward of machines conquering all tasks that can be fully defined by rules, or at least getting better at them than any human can.