New Caelifera

New Caelifera

modern methow cabin

Book: The Engelbart Hypothesis

Summary: The late Doug Engelbart was the inventor of the mouse, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He is the creator of “The Mother of All Demos”, a 1968 demo that included hypertext, teleconferencing, word processing, hypermedia, and, yes, the mouse. The 1968 demo was so amazing that he was accused of faking the whole thing.

“The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart” by Valerie Landau, Eileen Clegg, and, yes, Douglas Engelbart, is an interview of Engelbart followed by a series of short pieces by luminaries who knew and were motivated by Engelbart’s vision (Alan Kay and Vint Cerf among others.) The interviews cover a lot of Engelbart’s thoughts on machines augmenting the human intellect and enabling groups of humans to achieve more than they could individually. If you’ve read Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Engelbart’s famous whitepaper which ended up leading to the mother of all demos, there is a lot that is presented along those lines. There is also a lot of biographical material here of interest, for example the story about his talk that perhaps indirectly led to Moore’s work on Moore’s law. All in all a fine introduction to these ideas and emphasizes how much the human part of the story motivated Engelbart. The second half interviews give perspective on how others have taken what Engelbart conceived and moved it to the ‘real world’.

Rating: Read Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. If you find that fascinating, you’ll love this book. Note: the Kindle version of the book has some severe formatting problems. These problems don’t make it totally unreadable but there are footnotes/asides that need to be un-winded from the main flow of the text.

Speculative: Out speculating one of the greatest speculators of the twentieth century seems like a huge task. One of the central original ideas of Engelbart’s augmentation strategy was to work towards augmenting programmers. There are a lot of reasons that this was a great starting point, but ever since I can remember reading about this I’ve wondered what sorts of tools I would use to augment doing theoretical physics. When I try to take apart what I am doing when thinking about a theory problem, it is amazing how much of it is just involved in creating the structures to conceptualize the problem. Each new problem, at least for me, leads to a new domain specific language for the problem. Frustratingly some of the components of this step should be handled more adeptly by a computer. Some people do this by resorting to tools like Mathematica to “play” with examples. But it feels like there is a missing tool which is not so tightly coupled to our math notation, but is both geometric and automatic. Somewhere between a CAD and Mathematica it feels like there is a space for visualized mathematics that a theorist could use to think through their problems (I will admit that I am a geometry guy, not an algebraist. When I meet one the later my mind can barely grasp how they are thinking. Likely they have a tool they would like too.)

admin February 5, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: The Sports Gene

Summary: In grad school a small group of friends would often debate “Nature versus Nurture” over beers. Thing is, I could never remember which side I wanted to defend and so had to make my arguments “flexible”. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein feels like that argument restricted to the world of extreme athletic ability. Epstein wants to understand what makes elite athletes and what role genetics plays in these extraordinary athletes. How much does practice matter (are there naturals)? Are there specific genes that one can point to or is it a confluence of multiple genes or does genetics play no role? More difficult, what about regional effects like certain Kenyans being amazing long distance runners? Epstein romps through a large number of sports trying to flexibly suss out the answer to the role of genetics in athletics.

Rating: Worth your time if you like sports. Causality is difficult in this field, and at times Epstein drops back on a data machine gun with anecdotal grenades (those this data and these anecdotes are mostly interesting.) At other times he is careful to not push the causality bar too far. Even in cases like the distinction between woman and men in sports convincing evidence is surprising hard to come by. Discussion of the variance of the 10,000 hour rule was my favorite part (along with observations about why baseball hitters are good: hint it is not reaction time!)

Speculation: Thinking about the difficulty of experiments in this field: will there someday be advertisements in magazines “Couples: Participate in a Study Identifying Genes for Long Distance Running?”

admin February 1, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Superforecasting

After realizing how few book I read last year, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to read more.  As a way to help me keep it up I’ve decided it would be fun to add “reviews” for each of the books I’ve read.  Of course, I’m bad at reviews so I’m taking a slightly different approach, giving a brief summary and then describing the crazy ideas I had while reading the book.

Summary: Suppose I told you that I ran a study where I had experts and monkeys try to predict the price of a stock a month in the future.  My findings where that monkeys were no better than experts.  What would you say?  Would you give up any idea of predicting the price?  What if I then told you that there was a group in my study, monkeys raised on vegetarian diets, who did perform better than the experts and overall proportion of experts?  Would this change your mind about the predictability of stock priced?  What if I had told you instead that the subgroup that outperformed were had instead of being vegetarian monkeys, they were Harvard educated monkeys?

Superforecasting: The Art and Sciences of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner considers these questions for expert predicting world events.  Previous research by these and other researchers had showed that self described experts were no better, on average, to other groups of people.  But this of course does not mean that there aren’t subgroups of people in these studies who might actually be reproducibly good at predictions.  Superforecasting is the story of such a group.

Rating: Worth the time! Assuming you buy the methodology, some ideas for the characteristics of becoming a better predictor.

Speculation: In 8th grade I had a teacher who, like Babe Ruth point his bat to the bleachers, predicted both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tienanmen square revolt.  Imagine you had the ability to predict macro political changes, but instead of like my teacher, the predictions pointed to a world you did not want to see.  How could your psyche with stand this?  What is the psychological toll of seeing the future but being unable to impact it enough?

admin January 31, 2016 1 Comment Permalink

Books of 2015

Another slow year on reading. I would like to blame work, but my inability to avoid reading random stuff on the Internet is to blame. I definitely recommend “Governing the Commons”, it’s wonkish but gives an interesting view on a middle way for common goods. (Note that the links below are affiliate links meaning if you click on them and buy items then Amazon gives me $.)

Nonfiction

Fiction

admin January 2, 2016 1 Comment Permalink

Pictures from Turkey Day

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Night Balloon Glow

Night Balloon Glow

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From a hike up Lewis Butte.

From a hike up Lewis Butte.

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Skaters on Riser lake.

Skaters on Riser lake.

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Sledding towards infinity.

Sledding towards infinity.

Protector of her domain

Protector of her domain

admin December 4, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

admin December 4, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

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admin September 28, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

Address Sign

We needed an address sign for the entrance to our driveway. So first comes design:
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Then comes implementation:
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Letters have arrived and next comes install!

admin September 27, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

admin April 5, 2015 1 Comment Permalink