synthetic zero


February 28, 2002

Caterina is getting into Finite and Infinite Games, one of my favorite books.

Listening to the All Tomorrow's Parties CD right now. It's an experimental rock (and other stuff) music festival curated by Sonic Youth; they've released a companion CD.

Scott Zimmerle wrote me about one problem with this "submonitions" idea is that for it to work Google has to be able to find the submonitions pages. So, in addition to building these pages, we have to actually link to people's submonitions pages. So... perhaps what we ought to do is link to each others' submonitions pages as we build them, to make sure they get crawled by Google. Here's Scott's submonitions page. Anyone else make one? (I still haven't made one for myself!)

February 27(b), 2002

A few University of Pennsylvania students have started a "Buy the Expos" pledge campaign to try to save the Montreal Expos. They are, mostly, serious. I actually don't really like baseball, as a game, very much, but there's something kind of appealing/funny to me about this idea. If you're interested, make a pledge here. They've received $1.7 million in pledges so far. The magic number is somewhere around $100 million. At the rate they're going they will get there within a couple of months...

Doug refers me to this amazing technique for dramatically improving the speed of factoring, using custom silicon. Essentially this technique cuts the exponential factor by 2/3rds, which is to say that a 1024-bit key can, with this, be factored as fast as a 350-bit key, which means that keys less than 2048 bits can no longer be considered secure. Of course, to use this technique one would need access to the custom silicon in question. Most Internet transations are protected by only 512-bit keys. The original paper.

February 27, 2002

The very talented Melody Owen has a new installation at the PDX Gallery Window Project at 604 NW 12th Avenue here in Portland.

Miranda July will be performing a new performance/video piece at Reed College Thursday night. Unfortunately, I don't know the exact time, but tickets are available at the Reed College Bookstore.

February 25(b), 2002

It's a bit embarrassing when the leader of a tiny, war-ravaged, impoverished nation puts the leaders of much more powerful countries to shame by his statesmanship and maturity.

February 25, 2002

A conversation with David:

(David): Went to Macy's, got the camera, though it was $45--the coupon in the paper was only fro Macy's card holders. Thought I'd get a card, but ultimately didn't. Would've save me 20% but whatever. While there, found a Polo shirt on sale that last time I craved (wasn't discounted then when I bought others). And, my bud, while in the housewares section, found this serving set part of a nice set of dishes with a nice bowl. Normally the bowl + creamer + sugar bowl goes for...$40 or some-such but because the sugar bowl was busted, it was marked down to...$3. I thought it would make a nice replacement for what I eat my cereal in now (though it won't be as easy to toss it around my desk as I do now, but I guess there's a price one pays for progress :-) )

(me): ok

(David): Man, that's all you have to say?

(David): BTW, it is really something how nice it was down at the beach. I realized--I can actually go down and do stuff--read my tech books, even code now, down there rather than here. Amazing!

(me): gd

(David): Good deal, you say? Hadn't seen that before.

(me): no

(David): Then what?

(me): oo

(me): +o

(me): +o

(me): ie

(me): oo

(me): or

(me): +o

(me): +o

(me): ha

(me): ha

(me): cn

(me): yu

(me): rd

(David): ys


February 24, 2002

My friend Atau Tanaka is working on a commission for German radio called Kreatur. add your own contributions to the online part here (click "Allow"):

Kreatur is a being living across the web. It takes on a body of various media: text, sound, image. We can feed it, we can try to touch it, but in the end, it is intangible. It is alive, but it exists nowhere. Its organs are a relational database, its bones are texts from Mary Shelley, Aeschylus, Goethe, La Mettrie, Haraway. The sounds and images are yours.


February 22, 2002

Jonathan Leistiko posts a link to James Randi's website on Invisible City. I find Randi irritating on many levels, myself. First, he claims to be trying to protect the gullible public from charlatans... but most of the folks he attacks are obvious stage performers, clear frauds, magicians like himself --- the kind of people easily fooled by these sorts of people are unlikely to be the sort of folks who will be convinced by someone like James Randi -- he is, to a large degree, preaching to the choir. In other words, he picks easy targets. Furthermore, I get the impression that he is not exactly the most intellectually honest or rigorous person there is.

Randi comes from a world of magicians, tricksters, and the people he unmasks, like Uri Geller or Sylvia Browne, are tricksters as well. He has the expertise to unmask those folks. But the fact is, there are other people out there who come from a totally different world who, in my experience, seem to actually have some bona fide "strange" abilities. I have seen these things, experienced them myself. I don't like to call them "paranormal" --- if they happen, they are just as normal as black body radiation or the Doppler effect. Very smart people (much smarter than James Randi), like Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson or UC Berkeley physicist Henry P. Stapp either believe some of these phenomena occur, or they at least take it seriously enough to give thought to possible physical explanations.

The people who I have seen demonstrate some of these abilities have never heard of James Randi. They aren't magicians. They don't go on talk shows, they don't make money with "psychic abilities," and in most cases they rarely even talk about this stuff.

I was just discussing this with some acquaintances and I recalled a particular incident which stands out in my mind just now. I used to practice this martial art called Shintaido, and to end class we'd all sit in a circle in seiza position. Anyway, one time we were sitting there, eyes closed, and I felt this "flow" going from left to right through my body. It was very strong, so much so that when we finished I got up and said "what the hell was that!?" --- a number of other people made a similar comment at the same time. Note that we weren't expecting that; we hadn't talked about it. We asked our teacher about it and he said that he had been imagining a circular river of energy flowing counter-clockwise around the circle --- the same direction we had all felt the "flow", left to right through our bodies.

February 21, 2002

On the upcoming execution of an innocent man in Missouri, David notes from this web page the following note:

If you would like to help correct this injustice, contact Missouri Governor Bob Holden, Room 216 State Capitol, Jefferson City, Missouri, 65102, 573-751-3222, and urge him to pardon Joe Amrine.
This is not about the death penalty; it is about stopping the execution of an almost certainly innocent man. Whether or not there are circumstances under which the death penalty ought to be exercised is a separate question; but this case is a perfectly clear case where it absolutely should not be.

Among the many excellent points raised in the article on the corporation as a command economy via Lopati that I linked to yesterday is the very important idea that the corporation, as a planned economy ironically much like the Soviet Union in its internal form, is more efficient in the United States primarily due to the existence of a number of external pressures, including both market pressure and government oversight. Unfettered corporations that turned into monopolies would be structurally nearly identical to the system that failed so utterly in the Soviet Union. This is not to say that planned economies never work: corporations have their place, but they must exist in relationship to feedback mechanisms provided by the market and government oversight in order to remain efficient.

February 20, 2002

As I wrote about before, there is an eerie similarity between corporations and the Communist (i.e., state capitalist) state... Lopati sends me this link about corporations as a command economy. Now, an appeals court has struck down the FCC's rules limiting the consolidation of ownership of media, which, if it is upheld, will pave the way for even more consolidation, i.e., centralization, i.e., Communism-i-zation of our information sources. Thankfully the Internet at least provides an alternative, but this is truly a blow against competition and diversity, hallmarks of democratic capitalism. Information is the one thing that needs to remain multifaceted; it is the most important aspect to maintaining the strength of a democratic republic. It's so amusing/sad/scary that "conservatives" in our society fail to realize that by striking down rules intended to maintain competition we move our civilization ever closer to the failed architecture of the Soviet state. So-called "left" and so-called "right" are completely confusing and internally self-contradictory ideological systems. The real political debate is between those who believe in sophisticated evolutionary optimization of complex systems and those who believe in dogmatic prescriptions, whether that be allowing corporations to do whatever they want, or turning the government into a corporation. For a market economy to work, consumers have to have choice, and to some degree this has to be enforced by representative government. A democratic republic needs to have popular control over corporate entities, which is to say, to restrain their tendency to consolidate, otherwise we will lose our choice, lose the natural effectiveness of the market, and lose our freedoms.

February 19 (b), 2002

Missouri set to execute an innocent man. If the governor fails to grant a pardon in this case, he is guilty of cold-blooded murder.

February 19, 2002

The thing that is pernicious about the computer is that it always seems to demand interaction. It seems to suck in input. When I was in college, however, I found that whenever I tried to figure anything out by fiddling around, writing equations down on paper before I really understood the problem, I never seemed to get anywhere... but if I just allowed myself the patience to figure things out in my head first, without writing anything down, everything went smoothly. The process of writing it down always went almost automatically once I had given myself the time beforehand to work it out in my mind. Writing something down prematurely, however, always seemed to derail me. There is a lot to be said for staring into space, sitting down and working things out without recording aynything for a while, even partial results.

February 18, 2002

Curry (specifically Turmeric) may help to prevent Alzheimer's:

The finding may help to explain why rates of Alzheimer's are much lower among the elderly in India than in their Western peers. Previous studies have found that Alzheimer's affects just 1% of people over the age of 65 living in some Indian villages.

David points out that Babelfish added Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to its list of languages that it will translate, last year.

Met with Heather Fenby's friend Amy tonight, she's teaching English literature at PSU. The conversation came around to feminism and technology, which I mentioned a while ago, when I hypothesized that there was a closer connection between the rise of feminism and the rise of household appliances than we often consider. Amy mentioned the 1900 House, a BBC-produced reality TV show in which a modern family was asked to live in a house fitted with the technology, clothing, etc., of a house circa 1900. The wife had to spend three days a week dealing with clothes-washing alone. The house itself was constantly filling with dust, because the stove was so dirty it generated huge amounts of airborne particulates, so she had to spend a considerable amount of time cleaning the house --- without a vacuum cleaner. She ended up having no free time whatsoever. Although it offended her sensibilities, she finally broke down and hired a maid... and the maid became increasingly frustrated with her life as well. As a result of these experiences both of them got very interested in feminism, and the wife started going to the library and reading books on the subject. She realized that her freedom to spend time learning about feminism was directly related to her exploitation of the labor-time of her maid.

February 17, 2002

Hey, Japanese people! Listen to this, because it might just hold the seeds of a revolutionary change that you guys really need. Well, perhaps that is somewhat hyperbolic, but anyway, I have some really important things to say.

Why listen to me? I am a Japanese-American. I don't even really speak Japanese (well, a little). But my father was born in Japan and came here when he was ten, so he is fluent in both cultures. So in a way I was raised with Japanese culture, yet in English. I see Japan from an outside perspective, and sometimes it is easier to see certain things from the outside. Furthermore, I am from a samurai family, but since my family came here from Japan almost sixty years ago, I have a connection to the old samurai culture that many people in Japan itself don't really have a direct experience of, except in movies. I am, in many ways, an anachronism. I have studied and practiced Zen and Japanese (and other) martial arts for many years as well.

What I have to say is this: Japanese need to really reexamine the last 150 years or so, very carefully. Most Japanese do not study the Meiji period and beyond, where it came from, what happened, what went wrong. There seem to be only two views: the left-wing view, and the right-wing view. BOTH VIEWS ARE WRONG. Both views are, ironically, products of attempts by the Japanese government to supplant traditional Japanese culture with a Westernized version of Japanese culture.

It is a myth that the militarists were somehow engaged in an extension of the samurai tradition. This myth is WRONG. As that link explains, "The connection between Japan's modern and premodern military traditions is thin--it is certainly nowhere near as strong or direct as government propagandists, militarists, Imperial Army officers, and some post-war historians have wished to believe." The militarists talked about bushido, but they did not understand the true samurai spirit. They did not practice it. My great grandfather, the direct line descendant of the second son of Emperor Seiwa, understood that what the Imperial Army was trying to do was lunacy. It was not at all what samurai had lived and died for. He sent our family to America because he did not want us to die fighting in such an un-Japanese, un-samurai-like war. The great founder of Aikido, Ueshiba-sensei, also from a samurai family, and someone who was, interestingly, a right-wing worshipper of the Emperor, was so disgusted by what the Imperial Army was doing that he retired to the country once he realized what kind of idiots were in charge of the army. Ueshiba understood the true meaning of the warrior spirit:

The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter - it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.

The reason I bring this up is that many Japanese are torn between wanting to come to terms with the war and a feeling of pride in Japanese culture. Right-wing people do not want to denigrate our great traditions, and left- wing people do not want to make excuses for what we did during the war. However, Japanese need to realize that we should be proud of our great culture, but the war did not represent our traditional culture at work, but rather a perversion of that culture. The militarists were not promoting traditional Japanese values or samurai spirit; they were selling propaganda, while the true samurai such as my great-grandfather or Ueshiba-sensei were horrified by what was occurring.

In other words: Japan can go forward AND come to terms with the mistakes made during the war AND retain a sense of connection with our great cultural heritage. To reject the militarists is not to reject traditional Japanese culture --- to the contrary. What the militarists were doing was against the core Japanese culture.

Furthermore, Japanese culture is not about conformity, just going along with tradition. This is just on the surface. Underneath, the old philosophies, like Zen, do not teach mere conformity, but rather they teach a postmodern flexibility of mind. Zen, like everything else, must adapt to change, but the whole point of Zen is to be ready for change. Not to be overly attached to anything. The point of tradition is to respect the lessons of the past, but it doesn't mean blind acceptance of the status quo. Even some Zen masters who have deep realization but who have not fully integrated their realization with society have failed to fully understand the implications of this point. The reason Zen monasteries are traditional and strict is to make it easier for people to free their minds. It is not because being traditional and strict are inherently good things in general. If something doesn't need changing, no need to change it. But if there is a reason, change it immediately: without hesitation.

It is time for Japanese to reclaim their true traditional culture and remake it once again for a postmodern future. Time to wake up! Wake up!

February 16, 2002

Another step towards building a working quantum computer: experimental demonstration of a quantum bit protected from decoherence noise.

Heather Anne Halpert's sister Jane has just started a online literary magazine.

My friend Tiffany Lee Brown, editrix of Signum and proprietor of Corporate Collapse Records, has started a weblog.


february (part 1)