Crab Canon

This week we had to create a sound collage for my computational media class. I didn’t set aside a lot of time to work on it, so it became something of a last-minute project. Today I spent most of my day meeting with bioinformatics folk to discuss herberia and taxa and distributed architectures. I may end up working in a CS research group playing with this (or other) stuff. Anyway, by the time I got home, I only had a few hours to start and finish my project. Luckily, I’ve been toying around with MIDI on my own. So I took a line from J.S. Bach and tried to reconstruct part of his crab canon. (This amounts to reversing, compositing, and normalizing a small bit of data.)

Here’s what I started with.

Two hours later, here’s what I ended up with. True it’s not precisely a crab canon—I prefixed a short introduction before the canon starts proper. But if you played from then on backwards, it would sound exactly the same. That’s right: I one-upped Bach. He thought he was writing a musical palindrome. Unfortunately, he couldn’t reverse the attack and decay of each note. He needed me to come along and help him out with the minor, technical details. There’s no shame in that.

You can even download my project in spiffy MP3 format if you like. I’m just that sort of guy. Giving, courteous, clean.

Crab Canon.mp3

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On Connectives and Language: Some More Robots and Cartoons

After the initial post on my robot/cartoon universe, a few of my friends and I have talked out the system. It turns out that my scheme is too restrictive in its expressiveness. Here I’ve set to free up the system.

No one has argued against the robot/cartoon dichotomy. But some have pointed out that pretends-to-be is too restrictive a connective. It only captures a very narrow (albeit common) relationship between self and self-image. Others have shown me that the connective is, perhaps, too idealistic. Pretends-to-be issues a lot of self-awareness to its referent. To balance out the relationships a little, I’ve decided to add the connective thinks it is to the mix. Thinks-it-is tries to convey whatever the opposite of self-awareness is—I’m loathe to call it self-absorption or self-deception.

Just as the split between robot and cartoon begins to blur when they are connected using a connective (like pretending-to-be), you can see that thinks-it-is is not at odds with pretending-to-be. They compliment each other through their (dual) connectives cartoon and robot. When both connectives appear in a single description, a new, complex meaning emerges from their interaction. However, the new addition complicates the taxonomy in more ways that I had first imagined. You see, pretends-to-be and thinks-it-is do not, as the mathematicians say, associate. And verbal language is not well-suited for these kinds of connectives. Let me show you what I mean.

I have a friend who is most certainly ((a cartoon who thinks it is a robot)-pretending to be a cartoon). Notice how that is not the same thing as (a cartoon who thinks it is-(a robot pretending to be a cartoon)). I’ve tried to demonstrate the difference by grouping with parentheses and hyphens (to show that the phrase wasn’t just a grammatical parenthetical). See what I mean?

Textual language handles the problem with hardly any more finesse. Parentheses and square brackets already have semi-well-defined meanings in English. The curly brace ({) is, and I’m sorry to say this, ugly in most contexts. Perhaps nested less than/greater than sign pairs would do better? My friend is a <<cartoon pretending to be a cartoon> who thinks he’s a cartoon>. Please offer up opinions and suggestions.

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Dialogue and Learning Environments

During the winter session I took a class on dialogue processes. Most people are familiar with debate. We have clubs for this sort of thing after school, after all. In the standard set up, a debate has two or more opposing sides. They bat each other over the head with facts and name-calling until one of them submits and declares a surrender. Dialogue is the opposite of debate. Instead of looking for a product (i.e., winnning), dialogue focuses on a process (i.e., learning). It’s ideal in education because it nicely ties together the sometimes competing interests of knowledge-, student-, and assessment-centered learning environments by a clever structuring of its community base.

I’ve posted the final paper I wrote for this class [late]. It’s short and only very briefly describes my “coffee mug model” for the classroom. Basically, this thing is predicated on the idea that respect is the willingness to learn from another [person or thing].

I know I’ve been in situations when I know that the person who’s taking to me is much more knowledgeable than I am, that I should pay attention to what he’s saying, but that because I don’t respect the guy, I just can’t learn from him. In the classroom, I think that learning from another person is respect, by definition. Think about it. How many times do opposing viewpoints talk right passed each other? The reason is because they’re not willing to learn from the other. Chances are paying attention to your opponent can help out your cause. Sometimes, you might find that there really isn’t any conflict at all. Instead, it’s all perceived (rather than real) conflict. Golly, communication is powerful stuff.

I still owe you guys a post about assumptions. Consider this the beginning of it.

Also, if you have the time, please come to Seven Old Ladies get lost in the loo tomorrow nigth at Blanchard’s Tavern (turn down your volume before you follow the link). For those of you who don’t know it—and be ashamed if you don’t—Blanchard’s Tavern is one of the few bars around here that tries (really, really hard) to stay honest to its 18th century foundings. They serve things like loganberry wine and Brunswick stew. (You can check out the full menu for yourself.) And they’re a steal at only $3 each.

Tomorrow’s event is going to be raucous—the volunteers who run this thing promised me. So come on down. Bring a canned good or expect to donate $1 to the local food pantry. We’ll sip on General Washington coffee and sing along to old sea shanties. And if you can’t make it tomorrow, you can show up any Saturday. Every Saturday.

Do it.

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I’ve spent part of tonight cataloguing my books. This is only the beginning. I need to differentiate among books I own, I’ve read, I’d like to own, and books I’d like to read. Also, I needed to figure out a work-around for the Library Thing blog widget since the Law School server doesn’t allow me to execute scripts. (First pass hack shown below.)

Computer Science: Brining Families Together

For my birthday/Christmas—they’re essentially one and the same—I received what is perhaps the most wonderful card game ever. Apples to Apples is a group adventure in forced classification, and its parallels to data mining techniques are vivid, fun, and revealing. Its power is so subtle that my sister almost didn’t realize just how much of her bedroom practices she had revealed in a single card. My dad caught it, though. Let’s hold back a moment. You need to know how to play the game first.

There are two kinds of cards: red apple cards—each player holds seven of these at all times—and green apple cards, which stay in the middle. Both cards have a single word printed on each of them. The red cards have nouns like The Godfather or exorcism. The green cards get adjectives like scenic or cold. Like the name suggests, the gist of the game is to match Apple to Apple.

Each round one person reveals a green apple card. This person is the judge for the round. He gets to choose which person comes up with the best pair. Let’s pretend the word for this round is ‘flirtatious.’ Everyone else looks in her hand of seven red cards and picks the one which is the most flirtatious. Here’s a list of the seven cards in my hand:

  • The Olympics
  • Plane Crashes
  • The Ozone Layer
  • The Opera
  • Gossip
  • Fast Food
  • Family Reunions

I select the ozone layer card because that little strumpet has been trying to get everyone to pay attention to it since the early 90s and I’m sick of it. I place my card face-down so that the judge doesn’t know which card is mine—we want at least to feign impartiality, right? Everyone else does the same. We mix up the cards and the judge chooses which card is most flirtatious. Someone else had the KKK. The judge, because he’s nuts, chooses that one. That was DJ’s card, so he gets the point for the round. Now someone else takes her turn as judge and we continue like that until things get out of hand and we stop. The player with the greatest number of green apple cards at the end wins.

It’s really neat to see the sort of patterns that develop after a couple of rounds have passed. People learn to “play to the judge.” We like to have the judge talk through his choice so that we can get a sense of the convoluted thought processes our friends have. Each round is training. People pick up what works with whom and why others don’t. Strategies emerge. Battles ensue. Complex word associations form. You get the idea.

The way people adapt after a few rounds of the game is basically the same way an artificial neural network (NN) learns. It has some training data. In this case, the training data are the red cards. The problem is to match the right red card with a specified green card. In general an expert will figure out what the right pairings are. The NN will come up with a guess, which is a lot like picked a red card. Then the expert will tell the neural net whether it got the answer right or wrong—in this case, whether it selected the right card or not. In our game, the judge tells us what went wrong during the talk aloud portion of judging. Maybe he thought that only living things could be flirtatious. Perhaps the more bizarre, the better in the judge’s mind. Whatever the case, talking through the solution gives us an opportunity to revise our plan of attack. Next time, we’ll weight one sort of connection over another.

Neural nets do the same thing. They look at the expert’s answer and its answer and compare the difference to calculate the error. The nets use the error to readjust the internal weights so that chance of getting the right answer is better next time. When a net is good at getting a proper response on the training set, then it’s ready to tackle new data that doesn’t yet have a right answer. Apples to Apples is a game that is built around the same premises used to train a neural net. And it’s remarkably fun. But how do we get beyond training; when do we get to have a shot at untamed data? Well, we came up with some new rules.

In this version of the game, the set-up is the same. One person judges against a green card, the rest offer up a matching red card. This time, though, the judge has to guess whose card is which. After playing with the normal rules, you should have a feeling for what sort of answer each person is likely to give. Now you have to work backwards. If you can successfully match a card with a person you get that point. But should you guess wrong, the person who successfully dodged identification gets a point. So, you stand to get a lot of points if you’re the judge. If you’re not, you still could earn one more. And over time, that’s the way to go.

So how did my sister embarrass herself? Well, I was the judge and the word was ‘dirty.’ I said, “Maybe this says a little too much about me, but I’m going to pick ‘handcuffs.’ Whose is it?”

It was my sister’s card. Seeing that, my dad asked, “Janice?”

She floundered a bit. “Well, I like,” she started. The room immediately fell silent. She had the floor. Realizing what she had begun to say, she grasped for words. “At school we were talking, and…”

I cut her off quickly. “Can somebody pass me a cookie?” I asked loudly to DJ, who broke into laughter.

Who knew that computer science could bring a family together like that?

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I’m starting to think that there’s something to fortune cookies. Tonight after the HGLC mixer, a few of us ended up at the Kong. I ordered the dun-dun noodles and ate them with a pair of chopsticks to show that I hold a functional understanding and demonstrated appreciation for another culture. After the meal my fortune read:

Come back later…I am sleeping. (yes, cookies need their sleep, too.)

Lucky Numbers: 28, 33, 46,5, 15, 2

About a year ago I received two fortune cookies, in a row, both of which were empty. At least this one had the decency to tell me it was skipping out on me. Still I can’t help but feel a little let down.

Book Reviews

Since I started a new job and classes at just about the exact same time, I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. Because my boss took the day off, I can put a whole day’s worth of work into this thing—the problem is, though, I’m out of the blog zone and I’m not sure how to get back in. When DJ and I play tennis, the one who lost the point has to sprint around the court. At first, the loser of a single point continued to lose several points. Running made it hard to concentrate on the game. But as we played on, we got better. The interpoint sprints actually honed our mental and physical stamina. I don’t know of an analogous blogging exercise.

So, without any prepared material, I write on. Hoping that you’ll keep reading. And while I haven’t been writing lately, I have been reading. In the past week I’ve started four books. You’ll see that three of them fall into an obvious theme. Maybe you can guess it by the first’s title:

Social Learning and Cognition, by Rosenthal and Zimmerman, was written in 1978. I don’t know how much of the book is still current, but what they say seems to make sense. Like the other books I’ll mention, I haven’t made it very far: I’m only in the first chapter. To be fair, this one only has three, individually long chapters. Basically, social learning combines information processing—which came about once people began that quest for artificial intelligence—with a behavioral twist. As far as I can tell, this sort of thing has been applied mostly to criminology. What I’m reading smacks of Vygotsky, who, due to political barriers, never made it big in the West. Bandura, the guy who sort pioneered this sort of thing, applied his work most closely to violent behavior. Hence the trajectory towards criminology. However, just about anyone—folks in public service, education, corporate training, and community building at large—should know about this stuff. We learn from each other all the time.

The second book I’m reading for class. In fact, I found Social Learning only because it was near Uncommon Genius on the shelf. The author, Shekerjian, tries to figure out what creativity is through interviews with forty of MacArthur fellows: those men and women given a cool half mil from what has been popularly dubbed the “genius award.” Sadly, she didn’t interview the two MacArthur fellows I know. To be fair, Zaldarriaga, the guy who co-taught a course on cosmology I took last year, neither knows me nor had received the award before the time of this book’s publication. It’s an enjoyable read. Don’t expect any research, though. Sheekerjian warns you from the outset that her book isn’t rigorous investigation of creative thought. The anecdotes are apt and her writing is smooth. Her analysis falls into same linear model of thought as much of the research literature on creativity, though. Pick it up if you have a short flight and you’re bored.

The last book hasn’t been published yet. The Emotion Machine is Marvin Minsky’s soon to be released follow up to Society of Mind. If you can’t wait until November to read it, you can find a draft online on his personal website, though I’m not sure for how much longer. Minsky, who you can tell is a trained mathematician by his style, gives a very easy introduction into the basics of artificial intelligence, which, by the way, doesn’t preclude its telling us something about human intelligence along the way. Minsky writes in a semi-dialogue form, injecting objections and commentary by invented philosopher, student, and citizen characters. They move along the discussion in an informal way which hides its unusual directness. If you had to choose among these three, you should probably choose this one.

The fourth book, which I only started about an hour ago, is Sakurai’s Modern Quantum Mechanics. I started this one based on a recommendation of one of my college roommates, who’s gone on to do her PhD in physics. She says that everyone agrees, Sakurai’s exposition is wonderfully clear though advanced. I guess they use this in a graduate-level QM course either at Harvard or MIT. (She cross-registers a lot.) Being an undergraduate mathematician, I missed out on quantum mechanics. As a high schooler, I thought that it would be my ultimate achievement. In the meantime, my dad has started spending a lot of money on some heinous line of products based on the study of so-called biophotons. This ever-authoritative Wikipedia entry sums it up nicely:

The field of biophoton related study also appears to have recently become rife with new age, complementary and alternative medicine, and quantum mysticism claims from those wishing to exploit such clams [sic] for financial benefit. Numerous claims are even made that by “harnessing the energy of biophotons” that supposed natural cures for cancer are guaranteed. Mainstream medicine and science strongly reject these claims as outright fraud and a dangerous diversion from actual medical treatment for someone who is suffering from such disease.

I figure if I can master the basics of QM, maybe I can have my dad ask questions that will confuse his prophets—because that’s what this has become. He defends these guys as if they were his gods.—and demonstrate that they’re just out to get his money. Even if that’s not your aim, you should read Sakurai, especially if you have a strong background in linear algebra (including Fourier analysis).

Burning to Know

Being one of those loathesome Johnnies-come-lately to that hateful though catchy brand of alternative emo-pop à la the Killers and Modest Mouse, I only just discovered that This Fire by Franz Ferdinand is a tribute to the Great Fire of Rome, which began in the areas surrounding the Circus Maximus and continued to rage for six days only to rekindle again for another three. While word on the street blames Nero, the deranged emperor who is said to have fiddled while the wild conflagration razed his city to the street, the song’s refrain, “This fire is out of control. We’re going to burn this city. Burn this city,” speaks to a more contemporary point of view.

The lyrics are meant to channel the Christians whom many modern German scholars now think started and supported the flames. Small fires were commonplace in Rome during the hot summer months, especially in the poorer neighborhoods. Yet, in the affluent parts of town, where the politicians lived, such house fires were hard to come by. Powered by divine vengeance and justified by prophecy, these early Christians set about bringing what they felt to be the Apocalypse, setting the stage for the Second Coming. Hence, they would wanted this fire to be “out of control.” And so, they were “going to burn this city,” and bid us all to “Burn this city”—except in Latin. Truly, this is one of those too rare moments when good scholarship and popular art walk hand and hand. It is my hope that we can expect more music like this to come.

The infamous fire began at night on July 19, 64 A.D, a date which held great weight within then nascent, splintered, and exceedingly superstitious Christendom. [So much has changed since then.] Each year a core of my friends, a rotating cast of spectators, and I purchase fireworks and duel with Roman candles in the woods to commemorate the event and American independence [from Rome, of course].

But then again, maybe I made it up.

It’s been a long week, after all.

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History Table, Week Two.

At the Old Library Luncheon I was challenged though indirectly by David Slavitt to attend Leverett’s History Table. Not being one to turn down a double dog dare, this was good enough. And so, I’ve cleared my Friday schedule to accomodate History Table.

Now the name is something of a misnomer. We do sometimes discuss history, but only as a matter of course. You see, the regulars at History Table are, themselves, history. Last week Dan Aaron established only two degrees of separation between me and Presbytarian divine preacher Lyman Beecher. This week we learnt that Slavitt, once upon a time as a movie critic, was kissed by Marilyn Monroe. Jay Hooke asked, pointedly, “Where?”

For the most part, History Table is a secret meeting of a few distinguished, old, and mostly balding white men who like to talk about how disgusting their inferiors are and how terribly difficult it is to be so superior to them. I am told that subsequent meetings may include guest speakers, one of whom may have even had a woman’s name. Whether this is the case is not especially clear.

I may have exaggerated ever so slightly. Today’s conversation was monopolized and well rehearsed. At least I had heard it before, at the Old Library Luncheon, certainly. Everyone there is very quick. Jay got me out of a small, potentially embarrassing situation.

When I arrived, and late, I was greeted by a new face. I thought he said his name was Richard, but I can’t find him in the Senior Common Room directory under that. In any event, he asked me which history classes I was taking. But I haven’t taken any history classes at Harvard, I admitted. Funny thing, why else would I sneak into this secret club? Slavitt, he’s quick, immediately noted that all people my age think the world was created two weeks last Tuesday — a comment which eerily echoed something I had said the night before while ranting about intelligent design at dinner — and that nothing mattered before there was Starbucks and wi-fi. I couldn’t decide whether to tell him that I don’t drink coffee. Luckily Jay is a bit quicker than me. “Ah,” he said, “but you know a thing or two about the Big Bang.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I only know about very ancient history.”

Dan laughed; Slavitt smiled and I was in.

After lunch, I called John Boller at UChicago. He’s going to call me back. What with talking to Hubert Bray a few weeks back, I’m starting to feel connected with the larger math community. Perhaps I’ll even work up the courage to email Schoen later today. In the meanwhile, I’m cleaning the room so that I can sit for a very long time thinking about and writing my thesis. Only seven weeks to go.

It is the Age of Aquarius.

Life moves awfully quickly, especially nowadays. Starting Friday, things have buzzed straight through at a blindingly fast pace. A quick recap of events:

Friday — Michelle, Tracy, and I hit up Diesel Cafe, Davis. A bunch of men with hair longer than the women in the group show up and discuss action figures and anime only loudly enough for me to speculate that they were discussing actions figures and anime. I had over the keys to my since deceased car and long time friend the Stratus to my dad. He hands them, presumably, over to the Special Olympics donation representative. I watch the Sox at Tracy’s, followed by the Italian Job and Snatch. The Italian Job, while worse in all individual catagories, is, in my mind, better over-all, proving once again that the whole is not always the sum of its parts. (cf. gestalt.)

Saturday — Time to wake up. Tracy and I head back, replete with clean laundry, to Leverett. She teaches me about transfer tickets, cutting my bus fair, effectively, in half. We sit in relative isolation from each other until about 6pm when I decide to walk to Dunkies for a strawberry frosted donut with sprinkles. Upon arrival, I am taken by the limited time only pumpkin donut, however, I am not swayed and take a strawberry frosted. Hours later DJ arrives, demands an Xbox, which necessitates a trip back to Tracy’s. We fetch the gaming console only to return to Leverett. We play Soul Caliber II until 4 am. At that time, DJ and I start on Sonic and Tails. I play as Tails. By 6 am, Abby calls me. It’s time to move. Luckily, DJ and I were just about the finish the game.

Sunday — After the end credits of Sonic, Abby and I move her stuff to Davis in Dave the painter’s truck, as provided to me by Jean. We hit up Tosci’s for coffee, Irish breakfast tea, a scone, a muffin, and a cinnamon twist. It is there that I take off and forget my Sox cap, something I had found by chance only hours before.

I nap from 10 am until 1:21 pm, a palindrome. Eventually DJ, Tracy, and I make it the South Shore. The Walgreens is sold out of ninety-nine cent eggs, forcing a trip to the Stop & Shop down the street out of us. We purchase a dozen eggs, two pounds of low-grade bacon, and a loaf of white bread. We proceed to my father’s appartment, which we find empty. Thinking ahead, I unlock the door with the key which I had put on my key ring immediately before departure rather than breaking the door down by force. There within I assume the role of cook. DJ took three eggs; Tracy, two; and I took two myself. All were served over easy. We only ate about three-quarters of a pound of bacon. We used all but one of the remaining eggs on French toast. I added sugar and vanilla extract to the egg batter. There was no cinnamon, ground or stick, as far as I could see.

Tracy and DJ watched a production of the opera adaptation of Little Prince on WGBH while I cooked. After a short visit down the street to see Trisha and sons Kyle and Luke, we were off to Pembroke. There we swam in a lake until full sunset. Tracy lost her ring. But, by that time the light was too faint for a successful recovery despite our best efforts.

Knowing that I had to watch Robert Monday morning at 9pm, we opted for the 10:10 pm showing of the 40 Year Old Virgin rather than the 9:40 pm showing, as it afforded us more time to watch Forrest Gump and eat cereal.

The movie was much, much, much more exceedingly enjoyable that one might’ve thought based on the commercials. All three of us were out of time with the rest of the audience and laughed during what were otherwise silent moments, the most flagrant example of which came after Cal said to Dave, “You know how I can tell that you’re gay? Because you listen to Coldplay.” Perhaps everyone else in the theater really likes Coldplay and hates that he’s gay. It is hard to know, however, since correlation is not causation.

We returned, threw out some trash, and parted. I went to bed closer to 3 am than to 2 am.

Monday — I spent most of my time with Robert; we watched the Incredibles, played soccer, bean bag toss, went to Tommy’s for sausage pizza and lemonade, and watched the Sox (both Red and White), and played ping pong. By this time Michelle had returned from Maine, and Verena, from the Cape. We dined at Cambridge Common, an adult-ish type bar and restaurant. They have a fairly good selection of beer, 24 on tap and a rotating selection of Dogfish Head and Brooklyn. Michelle, worn from travel, got on the T for Jamaica Plain. Verena and I took a quick survey of her room in Perkins before we headed back up Mass Ave for Temple Bar. The drinks were precisely one dollar more expensive then they ought to’ve been. Two drinks later it was near to 1 am. I went to bed at about 2 am.

Tuesday — Today is Emma’s birthday. To celebrate Vere, Emma, Liz Wood, and I are going out to dinner. Liz and Emma do not know each other. But Vere and I know them both. I feel that this balances the company. After dinner, Liz and I will meet up with Amit. He will trade his knowledge of Php for my knowledge of LaTeX. We will end the night with some turtle cheesecake from Grendel’s, or, possibly, apple caramel pie from Hoffa’s.