Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 4th, 2015

Settlers and explorers vis-à-vis guns

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In the Guide I discuss two mindsets/personality types, settlers and explorers, at some length. In the animal world the personalities are also evident, where they are often terms “shy” and “bold”: the shy/settler is risk-averse and the bold/explorer is risk-tolerant, and every species has a mix, since different circumstances reward one type or the other. And the difference can even be seen in ant colonies, with some colonies being settlers, some being explorers.

Vox has an interesting analysis of the two outlooks and how they are related to gun ownership and gun control. Worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Guns, Mental Health, Science

Big Data’s Mathematical Mysteries

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A very interesting article on trying to find mathematics within Big Data, by Ingrid Daubechies in Quanta:

At a dinner I attended some years ago, the distinguished differential geometer Eugenio Calabi volunteered to me his tongue-in-cheek distinction between pure and applied mathematicians. A pure mathematician, when stuck on the problem under study, often decides to narrow the problem further and so avoid the obstruction. An applied mathematician interprets being stuck as an indication that it is time to learn more mathematics and find better tools.

I have always loved this point of view; it explains how applied mathematicians will always need to make use of the new concepts and structures that are constantly being developed in more foundational mathematics. This is particularly evident today in the ongoing effort to understand “big data” — data sets that are too large or complex to be understood using traditional data-processing techniques.

Our current mathematical understanding of many techniques that are central to the ongoing big-data revolution is inadequate, at best. Consider the simplest case, that of supervised learning, which has been used by companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple to create voice- or image-recognition technologies with a near-human level of accuracy. These systems start with a massive corpus of training samples — millions or billions of images or voice recordings — which are used to train a deep neural network to spot statistical regularities. As in other areas of machine learning, the hope is that computers can churn through enough data to “learn” the task: Instead of being programmed with the detailed steps necessary for the decision process, the computers follow algorithms that gradually lead them to focus on the relevant patterns.

In mathematical terms, these supervised-learning systems are given a large set of inputs and the corresponding outputs; the goal is for a computer to learn the function that will reliably transform a new input into the correct output. To do this, the computer breaks down the mystery function into a number of layers of unknown functions called sigmoid functions. These S-shaped functions look like a street-to-curb transition: a smoothened step from one level to another, where the starting level, the height of the step and the width of the transition region are not determined ahead of time.

Inputs enter the first layer of sigmoid functions, which spits out results that can be combined before being fed into a second layer of sigmoid functions, and so on. This web of resulting functions constitutes the “network” in a neural network. A “deep” one has two or more layers.

Decades ago, researchers proved that these networks are universal, meaning that they can generate all possible functions. Other researchers later proved a number of theoretical results about the unique correspondence between a network and the function it generates. But these results assume networks that can have extremely large numbers of layers and of function nodes within each layer. In practice, neural networks use only two or three layers, and ideally, they are sparsely populated and connected. Because of this limitation, none of the classical results come close to explaining why neural networks and deep learning work as spectacularly well as they do.

It is the guiding principle of many applied mathematicians that if something mathematical works really well, there must be a good underlying mathematical reason for it, and we ought to be able to understand it. In this particular case, it may be that we don’t even have the appropriate mathematical framework to figure it out yet. (Or, if we do, it may have been developed within an area of “pure” mathematics from which it hasn’t yet spread to other mathematical disciplines.)

Another technique used in machine learning is unsupervised learning, which is used to discover hidden connections in large data sets. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a researcher who wants to learn more about human personality types. You’re awarded an extremely generous grant that allows you to give 200,000 people a 500-question personality test, with answers that vary on a scale from one to 10. Eventually you find yourself with 200,000 data points in 500 virtual “dimensions” — one dimension for each of the original questions on the personality quiz. These points, taken together, form a lower-dimensional “surface” in the 500-dimensional space in the same way that a simple plot of elevation across a mountain range creates a two-dimensional surface in three-dimensional space.

What you would like to do, as a researcher, is identify this lower-dimensional surface, thereby reducing the personality portraits of the 200,000 subjects to their essential properties — a task that is similar to finding that two variables suffice to identify any point in the mountain-range surface. Perhaps the personality-test surface can also be described with a simple function, a connection between a number of variables that is significantly smaller than 500. This function is likely to reflect a hidden structure in the data.

In the last 15 years or so, researchers have created a number of tools to probe the geometry of these hidden structures. For example, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Math

Behind ‘King Lear’: The History Revealed

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Very interesting book review by Fintan O’Toole in the NY Review of Books:

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
by James Shapiro
Simon and Schuster, 367 pp., $30.00

Even by its own standards of extremity, King Lear ends on a note of extraordinary bleakness. The audience has just been through the most devastating scene in all of theater: Lear’s entrance with his dead daughter Cordelia in his arms and the words “Howl, howl, howl, howl!” coming from somewhere deep inside him. All is, as Kent puts it, “cheerless, dark, and deadly.”

Albany, the weak, widowed, and childless man who is all that remains of political authority, goes through the ritual end-of-play motions of rewarding the good and punishing the bad, but these motions are self-consciously perfunctory. When he says, “What comfort to this great decay may come/Shall be applied,” we know that the comfort will be small and cold. Albany promises to restore Lear to his abandoned kingship, but the old king utterly ignores the offer of power, and promptly dies.

Albany then tries to appoint Edgar and Kent as joint rulers, but Kent replies that he, too, intends to die shortly. No one, it seems, is willing to perform the necessary theatrical rites of closure, to present even the pretense that order has been restored. And so the only possible ending is the big one. Because the play cannot end, the world must end. In the original version that Shakespeare completed in 1606, the last lines are Albany’s:

The oldest have borne most. We that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Why will the young not live to be old? Because the end of the world is coming. The bad news does not end there. This is not even the Christian apocalypse, in which the bad are damned to Hell and the good ascend into the eternal bliss of Heaven. We’ve just seen a version of that last judgment, with the rather pitiful Albany playing God the Father:

              All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings….

This assurance of just deserts is immediately undercut by one of the most terrifying images of injustice, Lear’s raging at a universe in which dogs, horses, and even rats have life but his daughter will never have any again, in this world or the next: “Never, never, never.” This is why King Lear was so unbearable that it was Nahum Tate’s infamous version, with its happy ending for Lear, Cordelia, and Edgar, that held the stage from 1681 to 1843, and why a critic as discerning as Samuel Johnson supported Tate’s alterations on the grounds that Shakespeare’s ending violates the natural human desire for justice. Johnson admitted to finding the original ending so upsetting that he did not reread it until his duties as an editor of Shakespeare forced him to do so.

This aversion is not unreasonable. King Lear is not apocalyptic, it is far worse. Instead of deserved damnation and merited salvation, there is merely the big fat O, the nothing that haunts the play, the “O, O, O, O!” with which Lear expires. Even Shakespeare seems to have thought twice about this utter annihilation of hope and justice. When he rewrote the play, probably two or three years after its first performance in 1606, he allowed Lear (and the audience) one little moment of merciful illusion. Instead of that terrible “O, O, O, O!,” Lear is permitted to lapse with his dying breath into the fantasy that Cordelia’s dead lips are moving after all. It is as if even Shakespeare, watching his own play, could not quite bear its unyielding ferocity.

That such a play is possible at all is one of the great wonders of human creation. That it was written by a liveried servant of a Calvinist king who devoutly believed in salvation and damnation, and performed at his court, seems almost inexplicable. Or at least it seemed inexplicable before James Shapiro’s wonderfully illuminating The Year of Lear.

Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, published in 2005, broke new ground in the subtlety, vividness, and richness of its explorations of the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and their immediate social and political settings.* He repeats that achievement for 1606, an astonishing year in which Shakespeare finished the first version of King Lear, probably wrote all of Macbeth, and almost certainly wrote and staged Antony and Cleopatra. Shapiro plunges these tragedies back into the whirlpool of plots and plagues, of religious and political anxieties, from which they emerged. He does not drown them in historical detail, but he does bring them before us still wet from their struggle to emerge from the urgent currents of politics and power.

Shapiro has a marvelous ability to use his formidable scholarship, not to pluck out the heart of Shakespeare’s mysteries, but to put the beating heart of the contemporary back into them. His great gift is to make the plays seem at once more comprehensible and more staggering. The better we understand the immediate materials with which Shakespeare was working and the political pressures to which he was responding, the more profoundly we can appreciate the alchemy of his transformations.

To see Shakespeare as a court official working to please his political masters is not to reduce him to the level of functionary or propagandist. It is to marvel anew at the ways in which he could use even such humbling demands as sources of imaginative energy. Though it may be incidental to his purpose, Shapiro effectively overturns the Romantic conception of the artist as the champion of freedom over necessity. We begin to see a Shakespeare for whom the distinction between freedom and necessity is scarcely relevant. Here is Shakespeare as an opportunist in every sense, a political operator taking advantage of a shift in power and a voracious artist for whom the need to please new masters is not a restriction but a creative stimulus.

In April 1603, James VI of Scotland, then just thirty-six, began his long ride from Edinburgh to London, where he would succeed the childless Elizabeth I as James I of England. This was an unlikely event: Henry VIII had gone to the considerable trouble of breaking with Rome and marrying six wives in order to secure the future of his Tudor dynasty. Yet it was Henry’s sister Margaret, who married into the Scottish Stuarts, whose descendants would rule in seventeenth-century Britain. The irony was surely not lost on Shakespeare. Macbeth also goes to a lot of a trouble to create a dynasty but it is Banquo’s heirs who will reign.

For Shakespeare, James’s arrival was double-edged. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Books

U.S. First Shields Its Torturers and War Criminals From Prosecution, Now Officially Honors Them

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

As vice president, Dick Cheney was a prime architect of the worldwide torture regime implemented by the U.S. government (which extended far beyond waterboarding), as well as the invasion and destruction of Iraq, which caused the deaths of at least 500,000 people andmore likely over a million. As such, he is one of the planet’s most notorious war criminals.

President Obama made the decision in early 2009 to block the Justice Department from criminally investigating and prosecuting Cheney and his fellow torturers, as well as to protect them from foreign investigations and even civil liability sought by torture victims. Obama did that notwithstanding a campaign decree that even top Bush officials are subject to the rule of law and, more importantly, notwithstanding a treaty signed in 1984 by Ronald Reagan requiring that all signatory states criminally prosecute their own torturers. Obama’s immunizing Bush-era torturers converted torture from a global taboo and decades-old crime into a reasonable, debatable policy question, which is why so many GOP candidates are nowopenly suggesting its use.

But now, the Obama administration has moved from legally protecting Bush-era war criminals to honoring and gushing over them in public. Yesterday, the House of Representatives unveiled a marble bust of former Vice President Cheney, which — until a person of conscience vandalizes or destroys it — will reside in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol.

At the unveiling ceremony, Cheney was, in the playful words of NPR, “lightly roasted” — as though he’s some sort of grumpy though beloved avuncular stand-up comic. Along with George W. Bush, one of the speakers in attendance was Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke movingly of Cheney’s kind and generous soul: . . .

Continue reading.

The column concludes:

It is a long-standing trope among self-flattering Westerners and their allies that a key difference between “us” and “them” (Muslim radicals) is that “they” honor and memorialize their terrorists and celebrate them as “martyrs” while we scorn and prosecute our own.

Yesterday, the U.S. government unambiguously signaled to the world that not only does it regard itself as entirely exempt from the laws of wars, the principal Nuremberg prohibition against aggressive invasions, and global prohibitions on torture (something that has been self-evident for many years), but believes that the official perpetrators should be honored and memorialized provided they engage in these crimes on behalf of the U.S. government. That’s a message that most of the U.S. media and thus large parts of the American population will not hear, but much of the world will hear it quite loudly and clearly. How could they not?

In other news, U.S. officials this week conceded that a man kept in a cage for 13 years at Guantánamo, the now 37-year-old Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, was there due to “mistaken identity.” As Joe Biden said yesterday, “I actually like Dick Cheney.”

I have to say that this gives me the creeps. It will be a stain on Obama’s legacy.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 11:56 am

A video of pure joy

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From Motherboard, by Clinton Nguyen:

When Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin landed its first reusable rocket on the November 23, a whole army of scientists was in the audience, just watching the thing lose altitude. As you’ll see here, they were positively ecstatic by the time the rocket came down successfully.

The company released this video today showing 400 scientists at Blue Origin’s headquarters watching the company’s reusable rocket gently landing back onto its launch pad in West Texas. They go absolutely bonkers. Who wouldn’t? They beat Elon Musk at his game—though they did use a lighter and shorter ship that’s easier to stick a landing on—and that’s certainly a cause for celebration.

It’s a throwback to the celebration from NASA’s Curiosity Rover too, if you remember that from 2012. Now I’m getting a little emotional.

Here’s the video:

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 11:53 am

Posted in Technology, Video

Greatest Go Game series: Go Seigen vs Fujisawa Kuranosuke – 1953

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The video has a commentary, and it’s quite good. Go Seigen, a Chinese national who moved to Japan and resided there, is acclaimed as the greatest Go player of the 20th Century. The video is good if you know Go:

One of the most famous of Go games is the game shown below, in which Shusaku (1829-1862) made the famous “ear-reddening move.” Shusaku, known as “The Invincible,” was just 17 years old and in this game played again Gennan Inseki, much higher-ranked and in his late 40’s. A number of Go professionals were watching the game, and at one point they agreed that Gennan was winning, but another on-looker, a doctor who knew little of Go, said that he though Shusaku would win. When asked why, the doctor said that when Shusaku made a particular move in the middle game, Gennan’s ears turned red, a sign of shock. And indeed Shusaku won. (Shusaku’s games are collected in a book titled Invincible. This game is the fourteenth game in the book.)

The video below shows the famous game with the ear-reddening move, with a good commentary in which the commentator reponds to questions scrolling up on the right side of the screen. The video is from a series in this format from a KGS study group.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 11:26 am

Posted in Games, Go, Video

Brief and easy introduction to Forth, my favorite programming language

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Full disclosure: I don’t in fact know many programming languages. I’ve used 1401 Autocoder (an assembly language) and the compiled languages FORTRAN, APL, and Forth, and just a little Pascal. (No C or C++, the languages my son favors.) I’m somewhat in the position of someone recommending a razor as the best he’s ever used, and then it turns out he’s used only one other razor. I have no experience, for example, with ALGOL, LISP or SNOBOL (StriNg Oriented and symBOlic Language) and many others.

Still, I did a fair amount of programming in Forth, and I found it fun and increasing productive, since you write a program by adding commands to the language, and in time your added commands provide a lot of power in dealing with the problems/situations that you typically encounter in your application area. Forth is a very compact language: Forth programs after compilation are generally smaller than assembly language programs on the same processor, so Forth continues to be used when RAM is limited, as for microprocessors.

Nick Morgan provides an easy and interactive introduction to Forth. The stack in Forth is a pushdown stack, so that a new entry is on the top of the stack, but in the screen display it can look as though the top of the stack is at the bottom. He does label the top of the stack, but the screen display as you enter a sequence of numbers might be a little misleading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 10:12 am

Posted in Software

Interesting series on how to draw

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Learning to draw is a good idea because it is, in effect, learning to see, and to see what is actually there rather than using the kind of mental shorthand for seeing, in which you see only enough to get the idea and then stop looking.

Stephen Farthing was the Ruskin Master of Drawing at the University of Oxford from 1990 – 2000.  He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1998 and an Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall in 2000 and since 2005 he has been the Rootstein Hopkins Research Professor of Drawing at the University of the Arts, London.

Here is a series of 8 brief videos he made for a brief course in drawing:

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 9:58 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Education

A reader-suggested Frankenrazor plus Meißner Tremonia’s Strong ‘n’ Scottish

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SOTD 4 Dec 2015

The Vie-Long horsehair brush shown has an olivewood handle. It made a very nice lather, one with a strong smokey fragrance: Strong ‘n’ Scottish indeed. (I think two apostrophes are needed: the first denoting the omitted initial “a” and the second standing in for the omitted terminal “d.” Obviously, Meißner Tremonia doesn’t see it that way.)

The razor pairing—a UFO handle and the Feather AS-D2 head—was suggested by Rupert Bizzell in a comment yesterday. He uses a Weber Bulldog handle, but the idea is much the same as in my combination: a thicker handle with more heft. And it does make a pleasant difference and a good chnge.

Three passes to perfect smoothness, and then a splash of Bathhouse Soapery’s interesting splash. The ingredients:

Organic Aloe Leaf Juice, Organic Lavender, Organic Bilberry Extract, Organic Sugar Cane Extract, Organic Sugar Maple Extract, Organic Orange Fruit Extract, Organic Lemon Extract, Organic Cranberry Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Malic Acid (from apples), Tartaric Acid (from grapes), Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Vegetable Glycerin, Black Willowbark Extract, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid

This may be the source of this aftershave, sold in bulk to companies that will decant it, perhaps add a fragrance, and resell it under their own label, as Bathhouse did. However, Bathhouse seems to have discontinued it. But at the link you can half a gallon of it for $27, which seems a good price. You could then decant some into small bottles for gifts.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2015 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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