Stumbled across 24th August 2013

The much-vaunted Hyperloop looks really cool, if it could ever be built: But it may be a bit too half-baked: I love a good visualisation: I laughed pretty much constantly through this piece of bureaucracy-hacking: This is a problem with the Internet of Things as well as with mind-computer interfaces: Wow - it’s possible to represent words as vectors so that vector(‘Paris’) - vector(‘France’) + vector(‘Italy’) results in a vector that is very close to vector(‘Rome’): https://code.

How to punt in Cambridge

When in Cambridge… The river is always full of beginners and professional puntists. The beginners veer all over the place, getting very wet, while the professionals zip between them, somehow managing to avoid collision by the width of an otter’s hair. The worst attempt by a beginner I’ve ever seen at punting was an attempt to use the pole rather like an oar, without ever touching the bottom of the river with it.

My experiences with flow

I’m in the middle of reading Flow, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and so far, I love it. It describes the “flow state” of consciousness, that state of “everything is irrelevant except for the task at hand” in which time flies past without your noticing, and you don’t notice hunger or thirst or people moving around you. Flow can be induced when performing a difficult task which lies within your abilities, where immediate feedback is provided.

Thinking styles

All the way back into primary school (ages 4 to 11 years old, in case a non-Brit is reading this), we have been told repeatedly that “people learn things in different ways”. There were two years in primary school when I had a teacher who was very into Six Thinking Hats (leading to the worst outbreak of headlice I’ve ever encountered) and mind maps. I never understood mind maps, and whenever we were told to create a mind map, I’d make mine as linear and boxy as possible, out of simple frustration with the pointless task of making a picture of something that I already had perfectly well-set-out in my mind.

Stumbled across 11th August 2013

A thousand times this: A possible fix for the “economic problem of democracy”: A fascinating look at privacy online, how we’re not built for privacy, and how tribal cultures attain privacy: I’m all for healthy competition and so forth, but do we really want such massive phones? This is the kind of thing that I never quite have the courage or the morals to do: http://www.

New computer setup

Editor’s note: this is a snapshot of life in 2013-08-04. My setup has changed substantially since then. In case I ever have to get a new computer (or, indeed, in case anyone else is interested), I hereby present the (updating) list of applications and so forth that I would immediately install to get a computer up to usability. Browser: Firefox with Ghostery, HTTPS Everywhere, and NoScript (and remember to turn on Do Not Track…) Mail client: Thunderbird with Enigmail Messaging client: Adium on Mac, and possibly Pidgin for others - I’ve never used a non-Mac chat client.

Stumbled across 4th August 2013

An ad developer has misgivings: Hint for dealing with some automated phone helplines - swear at them and they’ll put you through to a human: The future is coming: A large collection of replacements for various PRISM-vulnerable services: Some people think in a really rather interesting way: The joys of a memoryless distribution: An impressive photograph: largest photo cached A fair chunk of the “1910’s predicted Year 2000 technologies” has been invented: http://www.

On to-do lists as direction in life

Getting Things Done has gathered something of a cult following [archived due to link rot] since its inception. As a way of getting things done, it’s pretty good - separate tasks out into small bits on your to-do list so that you have mental room free to consider the bigger picture. However, there’s a certain aspect of to-do lists that I’ve not really seen mentioned before, and which I find to be really helpful.

Stumbled across 29th July 2013

Hehe: Wow - light trapped for a full minute: The importance of a consistent utility function: Obama promised to be friendly to whistleblowers, and has quietly removed said promise: I wholeheartedly agree with this site: Good post on belief-in-belief: Huh. A strange system, the US medical system: Very much this - about how the media has lost the plot about PRISMgate: Aaand my faith in humanity is once again shattered: http://i.


I have recently discovered the game of Agricola, a board game involving using resources (family members, stone, etc) to build a thriving farm. The game is turn-based, with the possible actions each turn being severely limited. This makes the game be in large part about optimising under constraint (the foundation of any good game). However, during gameplay I also detected a certain resonance between Agricola and the game of Magic: The Gathering, beyond the usual “constrained optimisation” theme.

Stumbled across 24th July 2013

This is something I will try at some point, probably when I get back to uni: This was fun: Hah - stupid copyright owners: The government’s got around to allowing the testing of driverless cars: An insightful comic about getting to sleep: Roll on the cheap and easy satellites: A bunch of interesting sciency things, including a new application of zapping current through the brain: https://arstechnica.

The Orbit/Stabiliser Theorem

The Orbit/Stabiliser Theorem is a simple theorem in group theory. Thanks to Tim Gowers for the proof I outline here - I find it much more intuitive than the proof that was presented in lectures, and it involves equivalence relations (which I think are wonderful things). Theorem: \(\vert {g(x), g \in G} \vert \times \vert {g \in G: g(x) = x} \vert = \vert G \vert\). Proof: We fix an element \(x \in G\), and define two equivalence relations: \(g \sim h\) iff \(g(x) = h(x)\), and \(g \cdot h\) if \(h^{-1} g \in \text{Stab}_G(x)\), where \(\text{Stab}_G(k) = {g \in G: g(k) = k}\).

On Shakespeare

I’ve now seen two Shakespeare plays at the Globe - once in person, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and once with a one-year-and-eighty-mile gap between viewing and performance (through the Globe On Screen project), to see Twelfth Night. Both times the plays were excellent. Both were comedies, and both were laugh-out-loud funny. The performance of Twelfth Night, then, was beamed into a local-ish cinema for our viewing pleasure. (Definitely more comfortable than the seating at the Globe, although I am reliably informed that if you go to the Globe, you really have to be a groundling, standing at the front next to the stage, in order to get the proper experience.

My objection to the One Logical Leap view

A large chunk of the reason why changing someone’s mind is so difficult is the fact that our deeply-held beliefs seem so obviously true to us, and we find it hard to understand why those beliefs aren’t obvious to others. Example: A: A god exists - look around you; everything you see is so obviously created, not stumbled upon! B: No, that’s rubbish - look around you, everything you see is easily explained by understood processes!

Prerequisites for hypothetical situations

Usually when I discover (or, more rarely, think up) a thought experiment about a moral point, and discuss it with an arbitrary person whom I will (for convenience) call Kim, the conversation usually goes like this: Me: {Interesting scenario} - what do you think? Kim: I would just {avoids point of scenario by nitpicking} Me: You know what I meant. {applies easy fix to scenario to prevent nitpick} Kim: Well then, I’d {avoids point of scenario by raising unrelated moral issue}

The Multiple Drafts view of consciousness

I’ve been reading one of Daniel Dennett’s books, Consciousness Explained. Aside from the fact that the author has an incredible beard and is therefore correct on all matters, he can also write a very cogent book. In Consciousness Explained, Dennett outlines what he calls the Multiple Drafts approach to explaining consciousness; this blog post is my attempt to summarise that view in a couple of short analogies. Dennett starts off by providing evidence that our time-perception is somewhat malleable: we can interpret two dots of different colours (appearing separated by a short distance in time and space) as a single moving dot that changes colour abruptly at some point.

Stumbled across 13th July 2013

This is really quite heartwarming: Interesting article on current trends in fiction: A ridiculous reason for a rocket to explode: A very information-dense way of storing data long-term: (compare which is much less information-dense but much more easily decoded in the event of being discovered after the collapse of civilisation) A cool thing to do with a Raspberry Pi and a microwave: I really want one of these - I think I might order one: http://www.

A framework for discussing "pricelessness"

Sometimes some people argue that certain things are “priceless” - that is, worth an infinite amount of money to them. I posit that what this really means is that it would take work and uncomfortable imagination to evaluate the worth of that thing to them. The example that triggered this framework was my evaluation of how much my sense of smell was worth to me. (It was late at night and I couldn’t get to sleep, so I just let my mind wander around for a bit.

Imre Leader Appreciation Society

There was once a small website devoted to noting the more interesting quotes from our more idiosyncratic lecturers. It has sadly vanished from the web - although after some detective work, I found a copy floating around on one of Amazon’s servers, and I have cached the whole site using WebCite. The entrance to the retirement home of the Imre Leader Appreciation Society is now this very website.

Stumbled across 9th July 2013

Being bored over the summer holiday, I decided that I would document the cool things I ran across on the Internet. Over the last week, there have been many of these. If I see anything particularly amazing, it’ll go in one of these aggregation posts. Neurons are surprisingly beautiful: A rather neat and very short story: A bit less short but just as good a short story: https://qntm.