Later On

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

Archive for July 29th, 2022

Umami Exists and MSG is its Messenger

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Jehan writes in Atoms vs Bits:

Umami’s not what you think it is. It’s translated as “savoriness”, but that’s usually misinterpreted as a kind of general descriptor, the way food could be called “filling” or “chewy”. It’s also got a sense of being this subtle and higher-order property of good cooking, brought to us from the mysterious East.

Umami is a molecule. Well, actually a class of molecules that hit mGluR1 receptors (among others) in your mouth so that you get a meaty, savory taste. And it’s not only appreciated by the discerning Japanese, but also by the somewhat less discerning hamsters.[1] It’s a basic taste in the same way the other four are: The particular ingredient has been identified in food and the taste receptor has been identified in your mouth. Some don’t believe in umami, but you still experience it unless you are missing the receptors for some reason, which would constitute a minor disability.

The most significant umami compounds are glutamates, which are the salts of glutamic acid, and in practically everything you enjoy as savory. Most cultures have created a glutamate-rich cooking ingredient that seems absolutely disgusting without an additional “this has glutamates” explanation. These include decomposing fish (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce), decomposing beans (soy sauce, miso), decomposing milk (cheese), and leftover beer-goo.

The way to conceptualize glutamates is to think of a culture that never isolated salt as a cooking ingredient. Salt is straightforward to isolate from seawater or to mine directly, but one could imagine a culture that loves foods such as olives, chips, pickles, and caviar without ever realizing what they really love is salt. Eventually, through trial and error, this culture ends up adding these sorts of ingredients to its savory dishes without ever recognizing the underlying principle.

This is roughly the state of the average Westerner in regards to umami, which results in the strange situation that Western cuisine is to Eastern medicine as Eastern cuisine is to Western medicine. Western medicine identifies the anatomical structure in the body, identifies the compounds which affect that structure, then dose the isolated compound directly to achieve a physiological effect. Eastern medicine has various substantiated or unsubstantiated theories on the physiological effect, and to the extent it has succeeded, it has been through trial and error without a physical understanding of the structures or mechanics.

Many of us are adding foods like Parmesan cheese, anchovies, stock, and tomatoes to food because they improve the taste, without realizing what we’re doing is adding glutamates. More aware chefs and consumers get an intuitive understanding of the principles, though often with some extraneous quirks.

A final more bizarre twist on this metaphor is that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Excellent movie: “The Last Full Measure”

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The Last Full Measure on Netflix now is an excellent movie with an excellent cast. Based on a true story.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 2:19 pm

Reprise of Whole-Food Spicy Avocado-Lime-Cilantro Sauce

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I just made a batch of this recipe, but used a peeled Meyer lemon and a splash of rice vinegar because I had no limes, and a good-sized squirt of Huy Fong Sriracha sauce because I had no hot peppers. I also used 4 Deglet Noor dates because I’m out of Medjool dates. (Dates must be chopped before blending or they jam the blender.)

Still, it tastes very good, and I like using fresh garlic instead of garlic powder and a couple of scallions instead of onion powder. I chop both garlic and scallions to give the blender an assist.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 10:53 am

Cross-pollination among neuroscience, psychology, and AI research yields a foundational understanding of thinking

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Paul S. Rosenbloom, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, University of Southern California, Christian Lebierem, Research Psychologist, Carnegie Mellon University, and John E. Laird, John L. Tishman Professor of Engineering, University of Michigan, write in The Conversation:

Progress in artificial intelligence has enabled the creation of AIs that perform tasks previously thought only possible for humans, such as translating languagesdriving carsplaying board games at world-champion level and extracting the structure of proteins. However, each of these AIs has been designed and exhaustively trained for a single task and has the ability to learn only what’s needed for that specific task.

Recent AIs that produce fluent text, including in conversation with humans, and generate impressive and unique art can give the false impression of a mind at work. But even these are specialized systems that carry out narrowly defined tasks and require massive amounts of training.

It still remains a daunting challenge to combine multiple AIs into one that can learn and perform many different tasks, much less pursue the full breadth of tasks performed by humans or leverage the range of experiences available to humans that reduce the amount of data otherwise required to learn how to perform these tasks. The best current AIs in this respect, such as AlphaZero and Gato, can handle a variety of tasks that fit a single mold, like game-playing. Artificial general intelligence (AGI) that is capable of a breadth of tasks remains elusive.

Ultimately, AGIs need to be able to interact effectively with each other and people in various physical environments and social contexts, integrate the wide varieties of skill and knowledge needed to do so, and learn flexibly and efficiently from these interactions.

Building AGIs comes down to building artificial minds, albeit greatly simplified compared to human minds. And to build an artificial mind, you need to start with a model of cognition.

From human to Artificial General Intelligence

Humans have an almost unbounded set of skills and knowledge, and quickly learn new information without needing to be re-engineered to do so. It is conceivable that an AGI can be built using an approach that is fundamentally different from human intelligence. However, as three longtime researchers in AI and cognitive science, our approach is to draw inspiration and insights from the structure of the human mind. We are working toward AGI by trying to better understand the human mind, and better understand the human mind by working toward AGI.

From research in neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology, we know that the human brain is neither a huge homogeneous set of neurons nor a massive set of task-specific programs that each solves a single problem. Instead, it is a set of regions with different properties that support the basic cognitive capabilities that together form the human mind.

These capabilities include perception and action; short-term memory for what is relevant in the current situation; long-term memories for skills, experience and knowledge; reasoning and decision making; emotion and motivation; and learning new skills and knowledge from the full range of what a person perceives and experiences.

Instead of focusing on specific capabilities in isolation, AI pioneer Allen Newell in 1990 suggested developing Unified Theories of Cognition that integrate all aspects of human thought. Researchers have been able to build software programs called cognitive architectures that embody such theories, making it possible to test and refine them.

Cognitive architectures are grounded in multiple scientific fields with distinct perspectives. Neuroscience focuses on the organization of the human brain, cognitive psychology on human behavior in controlled experiments, and artificial intelligence on useful capabilities.

The Common Model of Cognition

We have been involved in the development of three cognitive architectures: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 10:08 am

A major publishing lawsuit would cement surveillance into the future of libraries

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One problem with corporations is that, though legally treated as persons, they lack some essential attributes of personhood, such as empathy, a moral compass, and any sense of the public good (since their sole focus is private gain). As corporations accumulate wealth, they also become more powerful, and they use that power exclusively to benefit themselves (aka increase shareholder value without regard of the impact on employees, customers, and community). This results in monetization and degradation of the commons and of daily life.

Lia Holland and Jordyn Paul-Slater write in Fast Company:

Amid the inflection point of library digitization, publishing corporations want to reduce and redefine the role that libraries play in our society. Their suit seeks to halt loans of legally purchased and scanned books, cementing a future of extortionate and opaque licensing agreements and Netflix-like platforms to replace library cards with credit cards. If successful, they will erode the public’s last great venue to access information free from corporate or government surveillance. This dire threat to the privacy and safety of readers has gone largely unnoticed.

Big Tech monopolies like Amazon and its Kindle e-reader shamelessly collect and store data on readers. They do this in order to exploit readers’ interests and habits for advertising and to gain an advantage in the market—but that same data can be shared with law enforcement or bounty hunters to prosecute people exploring topics such as abortion or gender affirming healthcare. Libraries, on the other hand, have a centuries-old practice of vigorously defending the privacy of their readers. Even the Oklahoma library system that recently threatened librarians if they so much as “use the word abortion” is still doubling down on providing better anonymity for patrons. The function of a library is antithetical to the prerogatives of surveillance capitalism.

Today, libraries generally are blocked from purchasing and owning digital books—and readers are in a similar boat. Instead, publishers offer only high-cost licenses for which libraries rely on emergency funds and may only be able to afford the most popular works. These costs put libraries at a disadvantage in serving traditionally marginalized communities, including particularly young, disabled, rural, and low income readers who may rely on e-books. Already, public schools bound by state law to protect the data of their students are having to pay $27 per digital copy of Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl each year. Publishers are sending a clear message that privacy will be a premium feature if they have their way.

This lawsuit is a digital book burning to end libraries’ most viable avenue to loan and preserve diverse, surveillance-free digital books: scanning the books themselves. If libraries do not own or control the systems for accessing digital books, or can only afford digital books with a “let our corporation surveil your patrons” discount, people who rely on digital books from libraries are much more likely to be surveilled than those privileged enough to travel to check out a paper book.

But it is not only readers whose opportunities are on the chopping block. If publishers are able to charge more money for a smaller list of books, authors will be in a more dire position for publishing opportunities, making an already exclusive and white industry even less hospitable for diverse and emerging authors. To be published at all, even more authors will be forced to turn to Amazon’s extractive self-publishing e-book and audiobook monopoly. To access those books, readers already have to pay both in dollars and in data.

Surveillance endangers traditionally marginalized people the most, and publishing urgently needs to confront this blind spot. The authors listed in the suit appear to be about 90% white, 60% male, and 17% deceased. While it would be ludicrous to blame deceased authors for not speaking out, the others have been resoundingly complicit: allowing publishing companies, associations, and other institutions to outrageously claim that the existence of libraries in the digital age harms their intellectual property and smear librarians as “mouthpieces” for Big Tech.

Authors listed in the suit include James S. A. Corey, best known for The ExpanseA Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly as well as multiple titles by Lemony Snicket are also listed. Sarah Crossan’s YA novel Resist, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven are also among titles the Internet Archive is being sued for owning and loaning. Ironically, Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath is also among publishing giants’ arsenal.

This lawsuit illustrates a new level of unabashed greed from publishing corporations and their shareholders, swathed in a record-profits-fueled PR campaign using inadequately compensated authors as human shields. Not only will

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 9:58 am

Hubble v. Webb leather-themed shave

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Hubble v. Webb

A very fine shave this morning, beginning with the excellent lather that my Rooney butterscotch Emilion brought forth from Wholly Kaw’s Project Leather, which does indeed boast a leather lather fragrance.

The razor this morning is the RazoRock Game Changer .68-P. (I misidentified the .84-P in an earlier post as the .68-P. Apologies for that, and this morning’s razor really is the .68-P, as you will see in a close inspection of the photo.)

Three passes left my face perfectly smooth and ready for a splash of Geo. W. Trumper’s Spanish Leather aftershave (with two squirts of Hydrating Gel mixed in).

The tea this morning is Murchie’s No. 22: “a superb blend of green Gunpowder and Jasmine, as well as Keemun and Ceylon black teas. All the flavour of our world famous No. 10 Blend, with a touch of bergamot to brighten the flavour and Ceylon to strengthen the brew. With slightly more pronounced citrus and floral tones than No. 10, this makes a great cup of tea.”

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 8:58 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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