Learning To Get Around In Java

Jun. 27th, 2017 06:52 pm
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One of Changeset Consulting's clients is working on modernizing a legacy web application; we're improving both its structural underpinnings and its user interface and outgoing APIs. It is like we are Chief O'Brien in the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, surveying and retrofitting Terok Nor. But that's not a fair comparison; O'Brien has to not only grapple with alien engineering approaches, but with the resentful and deliberate trashing the Cardassians inflicted on the station before handing it over. I haven't seen Stargate Atlantis but perhaps that's a better analogy; with every component of this long-asleep lost city that we resuscitate, a new console or room shimmers to life. Which is pretty rewarding!

The original authors wrote this application in Java. I've never worked on a Java application before, so the last few weeks have been quite an education in the Java ecosystem, in its tools and frameworks and libraries. We're improving the installation and deployment process, so now I'm more familiar with Ant, Gradle, Maven, OpenJDK, JDBC, Hibernate, and WildFly. I've gotten some API documentation in place, so now I know more about Spring and Javadoc.

As I was explaining to a friend this weekend, the overwhelming thing isn't Java as a language. It is a programming language and you can program in it, fine. The overwhelmption is the seemingly endless chain of plugins, platforms, and frameworks, and the mental work to understand what competes with, supersedes, integrates with, or depends on what.

Imagine you come to visit New York City for the first time, and wish to visit a specific address. First you need to work out where it is. But you do not have a map; there is no unified map of the whole place. Surely you can figure this out. Watch out: if someone doesn't tell you what borough an address is in, it's probably in Manhattan, but then again maybe not. There are multiple streets with the same name, and "31st Street and Broadway" in Queens is quite far from "31st Street and Broadway" in Manhattan. The avenue numbers go up westwards in Manhattan, eastwards in Brooklyn, and northwards in Queens. And so on.

You ask around, you see sketches of maps other people have made on their journeys, and eventually you feel pretty confident that you know the rough distance and direction to your destination. Now, how do you get there from your hotel room?

You probably don't want to walk all the way; for one thing, it's illegal and dangerous to walk on the freeways. This is why we have the subway (express and local), and buses (express and local, both privately and publicly run), and government-regulated taxis (street-hailable cabs and private car services), and bike rental, and commuter rail, a funicular/tram, car rental, ferries, and so on. Also there are illegal rideshare/taxi services that lots of people use. You try to learn some nouns and figure out what sort of thing each is, and what's a subset of what.

A MetroCard works on some of these modes and not others, and some transfers from one ride to another cost you nothing, and you can't use an unlimited-ride card twice at the same station or on the same bus within 18 minutes.* You can bring a bike on some MTA-run services but not all, not all the time. There are whole neighborhoods with no subway service, and whole neighborhoods with approximately no street parking. At rush hour the trains get super full. Service changes at night, on the weekend, and on holidays. Cars and buses get stuck behind accidents and parades. People and signs in Manhattan refer to "uptown" and "downtown" as though they are cardinal directions; they often correlate to "north" and "south" but not always. Metro North trains terminate at Grand Central, but Long Island Railroad trains terminate at New York Penn Station, which is named after Pennsylvania because it's where you can catch a train to Pennsylvania,** and there's a Newark Penn Station too but over a crackling loudspeaker those two station names sound very similar so watch out. And so on.

You're lucky; you find a set of cryptic directions, from your hotel to the destination address, based on a five-year-old transit schedule. It suggests you take a bus that does not exist anymore. Sometimes you see descriptions of travel that you think could be feasible as a leg of your journey, and you read what other people have done. They talk about "Penn Station" and "the train" without disambiguating, refer to the subway as "the MTA" even though the MTA also runs other transit, talk about "the 7" without distinguishing local from express, and use "blocks" as a measure of distance even though some blocks are ten times as long as others.

Aaaaagh. And yet: you will make it. You will figure it out. New Yorkers will help you along the way.

The decades-old Java ecosystem feels overwhelming but this application overhaul is like any other task. Things are made of stuff. Human programmers made this thing and human programmers can understand and manipulate it. I'm a human programmer. I made Javadoc do what I wanted it to do, and now the product is better and our users will have more information. And every triumph earns me a skill I can deploy for other customers and groups I care about.

* Just long enough for you to enjoy a little break from the podcast you're making with President Nixon!
** Also see St. Petersburg's Finland Station.

The Seichi Journals: Hitting a Wall

Jun. 27th, 2017 09:26 am
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Posted by Deborah J. Ross

Seichi at the dog park

Sometimes we embark upon a new adventure with all the good will and skill in the world, and it just doesn’t work out. The time may be wrong, or the clash of personalities may be overwhelming, or unforeseen, insurmountable problems may arise. This is as true for adopting a pet as for marriage, employment, or any of a host of other life changes.

When last I wrote, we had adopted Seichi, a 4 year old German Shepherd Dog, likely purebred, from a local shelter. She was young and bouncy, but intelligent and eager to please. She’d just been spayed, too. For the first few days, Seichi was subdued. Then both the delightful and exasperating aspects of her personality began to emerge. Playfulness, yes. Smarts by the bushel. House manners… not so much.

Very shortly, we realized she wasn’t potty trained. Three accidents (all on carpets that now must be professionally cleaned) later, we embarked upon a puppy protocol. Seichi, to her credit, got with the program very fast and had no more accidents. Meanwhile, it was bare floors and gates all around.

The real deal-breaker came when we had to admit she was not only not cat-safe, she wasn’t cat-workable (the difference is whether the dog can learn to leave indoor cats alone). We set up our usual procedures for introducing her to the house and the cats (initially behind closed doors, then her in crate/cats loose, then baby gate barricades so they could gradually smell and see one another, then supervised cat-on-tree approaches. At first, all seemed to be going well. The various species sniffed where the other had been and regarded each other curiously from a distance. We put Shakir up on the cat tree, out of reach, and let Seichi approach. A little hissing ensued. Seichi’s response — to continue to stare, which is threatening in both cat-speak and dog-speak — clued us that she had not had previous experience living with cats. We kept an eye on them to see if they’d work it out. Several things emerged: one was that Seichi continued predatory behavior even when Shakir was giving very clear “back-off” signals (growling, yowling, hissing, pupils dilated, ears flattened). If he swiped at her with claws extended, she’d jump away, but then come right back. Worse yet was that any movement on his part would engage her prey drive. 

Most German Shepherd dogs have high prey drive. It’s been bred into them. Something moves, especially something small and fast, and the need to chase it hijacks their brains. It’s also one of the things that makes throwing a ball for them or many dog sports so much fun. But it also makes living with cats problematic. We’d been lucky in having a series of cat-workable GSDs. Okay had high prey drive but he’d grown up with cats. Strange cats encountered outdoors were at risk, as were squirrels and the like. (He once caught a skunk, but that’s another story.) Tajji, on the other hand, had been bred to have a low prey drive; you don’t want a seeing eye dog taking off after a squirrel. She had also likely been exposed to cats as part of her puppy fosterage, and she sailed through our cat introduction so successfully it wasn’t long before she and Shakir were cuddling.

In the case of Seichi, however, it soon became clear that unless we wanted to keep the cats behind closed doors all the time, we were risking a mauled or dead cat. Deal-breaker.

Seichi also had worrisome attention-seeking behaviors. We noticed her tendency to nip at clothing. This escalated into mouthing hands, arms, even attempting to chew on a thigh. When given gentle correction or being pushed gently away, she’d become frantic and escalate the behavior alarmingly. Sometimes simply turning our back on her would be enough, but not always. She also needed to be watched every minute or she’d engage in destructive behavior (like pulling the meditation cushions off the sofa and trying to remove their stuffing — this only took a couple of minutes’ inattention).

Our experience with her was a parade of might-have-beens. If we had been younger and had more time to devote to socializing her (she was really a puppy in a 4 year old’s body). It there had not been the serious risk to the cats, we might have been more willing to work on the other issues. And a big one for me was realizing that I have recovered from my PTSD as well as I have by structuring my daily schedule and environment to support my stability. For example, it’s important that I exercise every morning and meditate every night, both of which were interrupted by the need to supervise Seichi (or crate her multiple times a day plus all night).

So, as lovely and loving as she was, we came to the conclusion she wasn’t the right dog for us. Or we, as older adults, weren’t the right people for her. The local GSD rescue organization couldn’t take her due to overload, but we talked to the folks at the (no-kill) shelter and decided it was best to return her there with a report on her personality and our observations of her problems and wonderful aspects.

Our cats are slowly coming back into their own after being shut away (or terrorized on the cat tree), remarkably affectionate. I’m letting myself settle and really take the time before contemplating whether I can handle another dog. I hope so, but I’m wary of pressuring myself to agree to something without being sure it is the right thing for me. This was the second dog that disrupted my self-care to the point I felt destabilized and concerned about my mental health, so I need to pay attention to how I got there. And that will take time.

Life is full of experiments, some of which work out beyond our wildest hopes. And others don’t.

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If you could stand on the surface of the newly discovered Earth-sized exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, what would you see? If you could stand on the surface of the newly discovered Earth-sized exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, what would you see?


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Posted by News Editor

No Perfect Magic by Patricia RiceNo Perfect Magic
Unexpected Magic Book 6
by Patricia Rice

Will Ives, the bastard son of the late marquess, is as strong, handsome, and smart as his brothers, but he has no interest in society or book learning. His unique gift for training highly-prized rescue dogs is all he needs. His peace is shattered the day the beautiful but eccentric Lady Aurelia demands his help in finding a child no one knows is missing.

The daughter of a duke, Lady Aurelia has everything: wealth, beauty, and a family known for their good works. Unfortunately, afflicted with hyper-acute hearing, she spends most of her time cringing in her room. She wants nothing more than to please her father and make a good match, but how can she when every dinner, tea, and ball is pure torture?

When a child only she can hear cries for help, Aurelia must find a way to turn her affliction into the gift it is, before it’s too late. Will, in turn, must overcome his reluctance to work with a lady who makes him feel inadequate in all ways but one.

With the reluctant aid of Will and his dogs, the pair sets out on an unusual journey that will surely lead to heartbreak–or a love against all reason.

The Unexpected Magic series:

Magic in the Stars
Whisper of Magic
Theory of Magic
Aura of Magic
Chemistry of Magic
No Perfect Magic

Download an Ebook Sample:

EPUB MOBI

 

Buy No Perfect Magic at BVC Ebookstore

 

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Waiting

Jun. 27th, 2017 12:30 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Waiting is never fun.

We left Vancouver well over an hour late because the plane had a slight mechanical problem which needed fixing before take off. So it was dark when we landed, Joe needed to wait for a shuttle to take him to the car, the shuttle wasn't accessible so I had to wait in a different spot not knowing when he'd be arriving. I wasn't in a bad mood, but I was tired. My face, at rest, looks angry. My face when I'm tired makes me look very severe. I know that. People leave me alone as a result. I'm got with that.

So, I was surprised to be spoken to.

A girl of maybe 12 or 13 was standing beside me looking at me intently. She was with her mother, who like me, was watching an unending flow of cars for one she recognized. I looked over to her, not quite hearing what she said, "Pardon me?" I asked.

"It's not OK you know," she said.

I didn't know what she was talking about. "I'm sorry, what's not OK?" She paused, took a breath and said, "The way people stare at you, it's not OK." I was flabbergasted. Partly because I hadn't been noticing others noticing me, I was just looking for our car in the long line up of cars coming to the pick up area of the airport. I looked around and did notice the occasional stare or two. I didn't know what to say to her.

"People sometimes stare and me and my mom, and it's not OK." She was quietly adamant. She and her mother were both people of colour and I could imagine exactly what she was talking about. I was sorry that she had had the experience of 'othering' that comes with being stared at.

I measured my words. My first response had been, "I'm used to it," but that had been when she first spoke. I was not going to say to a child that hurtful behaviour becomes the norm and that one grows accustomed to it. I simply wasn't going to say it. I couldn't.

So, I just said, "Yes, it's wrong. People know better." She nodded her head, "Good, so you know," she said.

I nodded my head and we both fell back into waiting.
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Posted by Mark Liberman

David Crisp, "Gianforte: Congress’ newest misdemeanor", Last Best News 6/25/2017:

In case you were wondering whether Greg Gianforte will ever live down his body slam of a reporter for the Guardian, here’s a clue.

The Associated Press reported last week that Gianforte drew boos from the Republican side of the aisle during his brief speech following his swearing in as Montana’s representative in the U.S. House. The murmurs apparently had nothing to do with misdemeanor assault but came in response to Gianforte’s call to “drain the swamp” and for a bill denying pay to members of Congress if they fail to balance the budget.

But what’s really interesting is the C-SPAN transcript of Gianforte’s swearing in. The transcripts, according to a FAQ at the C-SPAN website, are drawn from the closed captioning that scrolls on the screen during sessions of Congress. The transcripts are included on the website to help visitors find the video they want, not to provide an accurate record of the actual speeches.

But they can nevertheless be revealing. On the tape, House Speaker Paul Ryan swears in Gianforte, then says, “Congratulations, you are now a member of the 115th Congress.” On the transcript, Ryan says, “Congratulations, you are now misdemeanor of the 115th Congress.”

Here's the audio:

And here's a screenshot of the relevant segment of the captioning, which actually says "CONGRATULATIONS, ARE YOU NOW MISDEMEANOR OF THE 115TH CONGRESS":

 

Alienization

Jun. 26th, 2017 08:59 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Joe and I did something that we never thought we'd do yesterday. We went shopping for a basketball. There are hoops outside the front of our house that are there for community use and we thought that maybe the girls would like to use them, therefore, the ball. We went into a store that sold them and faced a wall, a mighty wall, of basketballs. The first ones we picked up cost a fortune, I didn't know what to expect price wise but wow.

Finally we found a ball that was inside our price range and just as we picked it up a clerk came over to help. He spoke to Joe asking if he could help. Joe shook his head, we'd made the decision after all, and I spoke up. "We want this ball just to shoot hoops out the front of our place, is this the kind of ball that does that?" He looked at me oddly and I said, "Well there are so many balls here of so many prices, I wanted to know if this one had the 'neighbourhood hoops' feature." 

He nodded and said,"YOU want a basketball?"

I looked at him, he was young. I don't expect that kind of stuff from someone so young. He looked like he was in high school. Don't disabled kids go to high school, don't they play ball?" I don't know the answer to that question in his case. But even if they didn't isn't he aware, even slightly, of wheelchair sports. But maybe he didn't mean the wheelchair, maybe he meant my weight. I don't know but even if he did, why wouldn't a fat person want to throw a ball, is he thinking that it would get in the way of eating a cake or something. Any fat person knows that there is virtually nothing that can't be done while eating a snack. Shit.

"YOU want a basketball?"

It's another instance where I became 'alienized' by someone. Made so different from humanity that any hint of humanity is shocking. But there I was being fully human in front of him and there he was looking like he would have a story to tell that no one would ever believe.

Yeah, I want a basketball, how freaking freaky is that?

"The Real Threat of AI"

Jun. 26th, 2017 12:39 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Kai-Fu Lee has an interesting opinion piece in yesterday's NYT: –"The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence":

What worries you about the coming world of artificial intelligence?

Too often the answer to this question resembles the plot of a sci-fi thriller. People worry that developments in A.I. will bring about the “singularity” — that point in history when A.I. surpasses human intelligence, leading to an unimaginable revolution in human affairs. Or they wonder whether instead of our controlling artificial intelligence, it will control us, turning us, in effect, into cyborgs.

These are interesting issues to contemplate, but they are not pressing. They concern situations that may not arise for hundreds of years, if ever. […]

This doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. On the contrary, the A.I. products that now exist are improving faster than most people realize and promise to radically transform our world, not always for the better. They are only tools, not a competing form of intelligence. But they will reshape what work means and how wealth is created, leading to unprecedented economic inequalities and even altering the global balance of power.

Read the whole thing — and then compare it to Norbert Wiener's expression of very similar concerns in 1950, discussed in "AI panics", 11/27/2016, and "Intellectual automation", 3/7/2011.

Wiener's warnings were certainly premature. Kai-Fu Lee has a more plausible case to make, though it's possible that the climb is going to be somewhat steeper and slower than he suggests it will be.

But as both Wiener and Lee explain, the eventual social and political consequences will be profound. Kai-Fu is conditionally optimistic, though his meta-Keynesian prescriptions may strike some as naive:

One way or another, we are going to have to start thinking about how to minimize the looming A.I.-fueled gap between the haves and the have-nots, both within and between nations. Or to put the matter more optimistically: A.I. is presenting us with an opportunity to rethink economic inequality on a global scale. These challenges are too far-ranging in their effects for any nation to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

It's not clear why the global 0.01% should be any more benevolent than it it now — Norbert Wiener put it this way:

Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many industries-possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an industrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally.

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very far in that direction.

And both current events and recent history suggest that large groups of motivated people with simple weapons are not easily overcome by superior technology. So whatever the ultimate outcome, we may get there after we relive years like 18111848, 1871, 1905, 1917, 1949, 1965, …

Wonder Woman: A Very Short Review

Jun. 26th, 2017 07:06 am
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Posted by Brenda Clough

by Brenda W. Clough

My son and I agree that the super hero movie is now become formulaic. You need your origin narrative. Your superhero debut. Your major conflict, ideally involving saving the world. It’s as rigid a formula as the Western.

It’s about due for a shakeup IMO. We don’t get it with Wonder Woman, because DC is not where you go to for innovation, But as any romance writer will tell you, there’s a reason why formulas exist. And this movie does show why, by demonstrating the excellence of the old tropes. Her Amazon heritage and upbringing on Themiscyra, the arrival of Steve Trevor and the move to Man’s World, all there. The battle with Ares is very nice, tying together her innocence (a new and welcome addition to the mythos) and the Amazon mission which dates back to William Moulton Marston’s original conception of the character.

My son assures me that moving her origin from WW2 to WW1 was to get the character away from Captain America’s resolutely WW2 origins. I got no problem with it — clearly the first World War was a good moment for an Amazon to appear and try to end mankind’s war. And this neatly demonstrates her immortality — she hasn’t aged a day in a hundred years. My complaint is, if you’re going to be historical, then do it. Steve Trevor doesn’t look or speak like an American who must have been born in the 1890s. This is the more annoying because they knew how to get it right. All of Trevor’s team of misfits sound right; their very existence (a motley crew of multinationals) is a tip of the hat to ‘Over There’ adventures of the period.

Another much-noted novelty is the all-around excellence of how a female protagonist is handled. There’s no gratuitous T & A (although that brass bustier must be horribly uncomfortable, especially under the arms). Diana has full agency and is in complete control of her decisions. And oh! Etta Candy! The chubby girl is here at last! No, this is an excellent superhero movie, and since the form seems to dominate the summer movie, let them be good movies, like this one.

 

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No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin

Jun. 26th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by News Editor

 

No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le GuinBVC mirrors founding member Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog. We are happy to report that selected blog posts will appear in No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters.

Review:

Barbara’s Picks, Nov./Dec. 2017, by Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal. “Le Guin here collects the best essays from her blog, a new medium for her that fits her pointedly glistening writing.”

 

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"One big Donald Trump AIDS"

Jun. 25th, 2017 02:34 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

As I've observed several times over the years, automatic speech recognition is getting better and better, to the point where some experts can plausibly advance claims of "achieving human parity". It's not hard to create material where humans still win, but in a lot of ordinary-life recordings, the machines do an excellent job.

Just like human listeners, computer ASR algorithms combine "bottom-up" information about the audio with "top-down" information about the context — both the local word-sequence context and various layers of broader context. In general, the machines are more dependent than humans are on the top-down information, in the sense that their performance on (even carefully-pronounced) jabberwocky or word salad is generally rather poor.

But recently I've been noting some cases where an ASR system unexpectedly fails to take account of what seem like some obvious local word-sequence likelihoods. To check my impression that such events are fairly common, I picked a random youtube video from YouTube's welcome page — Bill Maher's 6/23/2017 monologue — and fetched the "auto-generated" closed captions.


Here's an example that combines impressive overall performance with one weird mistake:

5:07 Mitch McConnell says he wants a vote
5:10 before the 4th of July when Trump voters
5:13 traditionally blow their hands off
5:19 oh the fourth of July hey summers here
5:24 boy it was real Beach weather in Phoenix
5:26 the other day did you see that it was
5:28 122 122 plains could not take off hey
5:34 climate deniers
5:36 if melting IceCaps and rising oceans and
5:40 pandemics aren't enough to scare you not
5:42 being able to leave Phoenix that should
5:50 work

I'll give the machine a pass on "summers" instead of "summer's", and we can ignore the issue of "oh" vs. "ah", and forgive the hallucinated "work" at the end — but "plains could not take off"? In Psalm 114:4 the mountains skipped like rams, but not even then did the plains take off.

A bit later:

6:32 but speaking of solar Donald Trump broke
6:36 some news at the rally that the wall you
6:39 know the wall between us and Mexico it's
6:41 going to have solar panels on he said it
6:43 was his idea solar battles okay so the
6:47 wall which is never going to be built
6:49 which Mexico is never going to be paying
6:52 for which now has imaginary so propels
6:56 on because if it's one big Donald Trump
6:59 AIDS it's fake news

So the system got "solar panels" right the first time, but then heard "solar battles" and "so propels". In fairness, Maher kind of garbles the last one into something like "solar pels":

But still, I don't think anyone in the audience heard "so propels".

And then at the end, "if it's one thing Donald Trump hates it's fake news" get turned into "if it's one big Donald Trump AIDS it's fake news":

In that case, I don't hear any acoustic phonetic excuses. And surely "one thing Donald Trump hates" is a priori a more probable word string than "one big Donald Trump AIDS"…

I don't know which generation of ASR Google is using to generate YouTube captions. But it's possible that this sort of thing is an example of the sometimes-peculiar behavior of RNN language models.

Blending People

Jun. 25th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Steven Popkes

(Picture from here.)

Human beings are biased towards themselves.

We then to think of the world as reflections of ourselves. We project our nature on our pets, our automobiles, our weapons, the landscape and fictional entities. Sometimes I think we are incapable of separating ourselves from the world.

But we force three qualities together that are completely separable because they are bound together in us. These qualities are sentienceconsciousness and intelligence.

Let me define my terms.

Sentience is the ability to feel and experience. It is the capacity to suffer and feel joy. Consciousness is the ability to be aware of ourselves as an entity. While sentience allows us to suffer, it is consciousness that determines that we are suffering as opposed to anyone else.

Which leaves intelligence as the ability to learn, retain knowledge and apply that knowledge. It is the ability to perceive the relationships between things.

In human beings, these are all mixed up. We are thinking, feeling beings that are aware of ourselves. Consequently, we blend these things when we think about things other than human beings. Bacteria, fungi, ants and bees function intelligently. Are they sentient? Are they conscious? Rats are sentient and demonstrably intelligent. Are they conscious?

Working with vertebrates, we start to see a difference between them regarding these qualities. That tetra has some intelligence– intelligence is, in some ways, more easily demonstrable than the other two qualities. We have mechanisms we can use to test it. How can we test consciousness and sentience?

We can create avoidance situations for even lower animals– a grid with an electric shock. The animal is shocked, behaves as if it find the experience is unpleasant, and moves off the grid. If a planaria exhibits the same behavior, is it sentient? Does it suffer?

In vertebrates, we can make an association based on how like us the animal is. Dogs and cats are clearly sentient and conscious. They can apparently model other animals’ behavior and change their own accordingly. It is, therefore, reasonable to presume if they can model other animal behaviors they can model their own– a prerequisite, I think, for consciousness.

Anybody who’s seen a dog suffer knows they’re sentient.

But when we drop down to frogs, are they conscious? The electric shock test still holds so we can intuit they might have sentience. They exhibit some intelligence in their interactions with the world– not much, but some. But are they conscious? Does that green frog over there know who it is? I suspect not.

Do ants and flies? Is suspect that not only are ants and flies not conscious but they maybe non-sentient as well. Ants might flee a noxious substance but do they do it out of pain or is this an avoidance circuit of some sort, devoid of actual feeling?

These are important questions as we start to create truly intelligent systems. I think consciousness derives from the mechanism in the brain that models the behavior of other agents. One way– perhaps the only way earth organisms have created– is to model oneself as interacting with those agents. I suspect here– the modeling of oneself– is the origin of the little homunculus inside that is consciousness.

It is a common trope in SF that systems of sufficient complexity become conscious. Sometimes they become sentient as well. Neither of these propositions is inevitable or even likely. I think consciousness in organisms was selected for just like any other phenotype. Therefore, it derives from an organism’s heritage and has value that is then supported at significant cost. The human brain uses up to 20% of the calories absorbed by the organism. It is unreasonable for that 20% to be preserved if it is merely a parasitical accident.

We must be prepared for artificial intelligences that have no consciousness or sentience. Or AIs that have only consciousness. Or have only sentience. Humans in their design select for intelligent systems. We like smart cars, phones and airplanes.

The Human Brain Project has, as part of its research, the full simulation of human brains in silicon. Other animals will also be modeled. Is a rat modeled in silicon sentient? Does it suffer?

I think that’s likely.

Is a human brain modeled in silicon conscious? I think that’s likely as well.

In 2014, the K supercomputer was used to model 1 second of human brain activity. It took 40 minutes and modeled only 1% of the actual neuron and synapse population. What is 1% of a human being? Is it enough to experience consciousness and sentience? Was that one second an eternity of pain for the equivalent of a severely coginitively impared human being?

Forget our moral obligations to an AI, what are our moral obligations to a simulated human being? A simulated dog?

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The Reluctant Traveler is Still Home

Jun. 25th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Jill Zeller

(Warning! Scary pictures not appropriate for entomophobics)

My husband and I think of ourselves as fairly knowledgeable organic gardeners. When considering a topic for this blog, I thought I would write about bugs. However when I browsed through our small library of gardening books, I found a gap. We don’t have even one good book about bugs.

Any recommendations?

I suspect everyone knows about ladybugs, praying mantis, lacewings and nematodes. And adorable little pollinators.

Mason Bee

Yellow Bumble Bee

But I want to write about another group, maybe not so popular with people in general.

Wasps. Spiders. Dragonflies.

Let’s talk about wasps. This is a huge family of insects, my Field Guide to Insects and Spiders in North America tells me. (At least we have this one book). I mean there’s a lot. They belong to the order Hymenoptera (nice name for a character in a fantasy novel, I think—the Wasp Queen). Their relations are ants and bees. The book describes hymentopteran anatomy in great detail, and I won’t do that here, but at one point the book says that, outside of termites who are not in the family, hymenopterans are the “only truly social insects”.

Maybe that’s why my husband and I like them.

From childhood I was taught to not be afraid of “bees”, a name people use for any buzzing, flying insect that looks rather gold or yellow and is not a fly. The credo was, “don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.” Anyone who has been stung by a yellow jacket or a bald-faced hornet, as I have, learns a healthy respect for their personal space.

I learned this one day in our back garden, a chunk of flat land behind our house just south of Seattle, bordering the Duwamish River. We’d planted a small orchard of mostly quince, comice pear, apricots and medlars. One lovely summer day I was in the orchard battling one of our enemy plants—bindweed—when I felt a sharp burn on my wrist above my garden glove. I froze, then saw, hovering roughly 12 inches from my face, floating back and forth, a buzzing flying insect. Then, in the gloom of the quince tree, glued to branches and leaves, the biggest wasp next I had ever seen. The size of a basketball.

 

I obeyed the warnings and left immediately.

No one chased me. It was enough that I had left the vicinity.

The Internet told me these were bald-faced hornets, who are not really hornets and related to yellow jackets. It made me ask what is the difference between a wasp and a hornet? If a yellow jacket is a wasp, then who is a hornet? The New Oxford American Dictionary was not helpful, showing an example of a bald-faced hornet in the definition of hornet. It also told me that a wasp is a social stinging insect.

Back to the Internet.

As you might think, there’s a lot of information on the Internet. YouTube provided a clue: hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Hornets are the biggest guys, and this group includes, depending on which expert you listen to, yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets. Their sting is the worst too.

(Caution. Scary picture follows)

And I learned even more, shortly after my encounter with the bald-faced scout. We’d heard from other organic gardening friends that there was this guy who would come to your home and capture the hornets to sell to serum-makers, suppliers of antidotes to insect stings in people with extreme hypersensitivity to wasp stings. I don’t mean these are people super nervous around wasps—a lot of people are—but some people have overwhelming histamine releases to an insect sting, enough to jeopardize their lives.

I finally got him on the phone, and he proceeded to talk me out of destroying the nest.

“Just think what an abundance of insect life you have in your garden, enough to support a giant colony like that. You don’t use pesticides. Everyone benefits!”

He also said he had all the bald-faced hornet venom he needed that year.

So we stayed out of the orchard that summer. As the venom-guy had predicted, the hornets disappeared when cold weather came. As did the yellow jackets living in the ground near our house in one of our driveways (the one we rarely use, fortunately).

I respect the credo of live and let live. The hornets probably came back for a while, always building their mega paper nest in a different location. What saddens me now is that, in the years since that bald-faced scout warned me away, I think the hornets are gone. Seattle is under extreme-growth pressure, and our once rural-ish neighborhood on the Duwamish is slowly disappearing under concrete and massive homes.

And people who spray.

I say, all you hornets and wasps—come on over. The orchard is still here. The quince still grow and we even have peaches now. And we don’t spray. At least, that’s something.

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Again and Again (A Pride Day Post)

Jun. 25th, 2017 12:30 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Image result for rainbow flag in a fist
Image description: a graphic design of a fist with the fingers being different colours of the rainbow. (I don't know who owns this art, if it's use here is unacceptable, please let me know and I will take it down.)


I met a man

At a dinner party.

Who got very quiet

When I answered his question.

What do you do for a living? he asked.

I told him, with pride, what I did

"I am a behaviour therapist," I said.

"Oh," was all he said

before he left the table.

The host got up

and followed his friend

out of the room.

He came back and asked

"What did you say to him?"

I told him about

our brief conversation.

"Oh, no!" he said,

"Oh, no!"

His friend

had been

involuntarily

admitted

to a

psychiatric

facility

for

behavioural

conversion

therapy.

It involved

using

shocks

for

punishment

at

any

sign

of

arousal

to

pictures

of

men.

They

put

a

gauge

around

his

penis

and

showed

him

male

images

and

shocked

him

and

shocked

him

and

shocked

him

if his body

responded.

Again

and again

they

burned

his

flesh.

He was left

scarred

body

and

mind

by

people who do

what I do.

That I wouldn't

didn't matter.

All that mattered

was that

someone had.

He left

the party.

The seat

beside

me

stayed

vacant.

I sat

silenced

unit it was time

to go.

That

man

one

day,

when I

ran

into him

at a

parade,

told

me

it

took

years

but

that

pride

had

begun

to

heal

his

wounds.

But,

he told me,

sometimes

when

he

makes

love

to

his

husband,

he

can

smell

the

light

scent

of

the

flesh

on

his

arm

being

burnt

by

one

shock

after

another.

I wouldn't ever

do that.

But it's been

done.

And

ultimately

that's

all that

matters.

Take

warning

those

who

wield

and

misuse

power.

Pride

will,

one day,

bring

you

down.

Renewal of the race / nation

Jun. 25th, 2017 02:53 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Jamil Anderlini in the Financial Times (6/21/17), "The dark side of China’s national renewal", writes:

To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.

But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.

That is certainly how it is interpreted in China. The concept technically includes all 56 official ethnicities, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Koreans, but is almost universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.

The most interesting thing about Zhonghua minzu is that it very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland.

“The Chinese race is a big family and feelings of love for the motherland, passion for the homeland, are infused in the blood of every single person with Chinese ancestry,” asserted Chinese premier Li Keqiang in a recent speech.

This is a highly perceptive, and troubling, article that merits reading in its entirety.

In this post, I will focus on some key terms.

First of all, front and center, what is this mínzú 民族?  It can mean lots of things:  nation, nationality, people, ethnic group, race, volk.  This is not the first time that mínzú 民族 has erupted on the international stage.  One of the most notable instances was four years ago, emanating right here from the University of Pennsylvania.  The incident is well recounted by R.L.G. in "Johnson" at The Economist (5/21/13), "Of nations, peoples, countries and mínzú:  Differing terms for ethnicity, citizenship and group belonging ruffle feathers":

DID Joe Biden insult China?  The American vice-president has a habit of sticking his foot into his mouth, and in this case, the recent graduation speech he gave at the University of Pennsylvania inspired a viral rant by a "disappointed" Chinese student at Penn, Zhang Tianpu. What was Mr Biden's sin? Was it Mr Biden's suggestion that creative thought is stifled in China?

You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.

No, that wasn't it.

The source of the insult is a surprising one: Mr Biden called China a "great nation", and a "nation" repeatedly after that. Victor Mair, the resident sinologist at the Language Log blog, translates Mr Zhang's complaint.

In this sentence, "You CANNOT think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy", he used the word "nation". This is what really infuriated me, because in English "nation" indicates "race, ethnicity", which is different from "country, state". "Country, state" perhaps places more emphasis on the notion of the entirety of the country, even to the point of referring to the idea of government.

Mr Mair explains:

The weakness in Zhang's reasoning lies mainly in his confusion over the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族…. [M]ínzú 民族 can mean "ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation".  Coming from the English side, we must keep in mind that "nation" can be translated into Chinese as guó 国 ("country"), guójiā 国家 ("country"), guódù 国度 ("country; state"), bāng 邦 ("state"), and, yes, mínzú 民族 ("ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation").

It is clear that, when Biden said "China is a great nation", he was respectfully referring to the country as a whole.  Yet the sensitivity to questions of ethnicity in China, especially with regard to the shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("ethnic / national minorities"), e.g., Uyghurs, Tibetans, and scores of others, caused Zhang to take umbrage over something that the Vice President never intended.

In a later post about smartphone zombies, Cant. dai1tau4 zuk6 / MSM dītóu zú 低頭族 (“head-down tribe”), "Tribes" (3/10/15), I wrote:

The first word I think of when I see 族 as a suffix is Mandarin mínzú, Japanese minzoku 民族 (“nation; nationality; people”), which is formed from 民 (“people; subjects; civilians”) + 族 (“family clan; ethnic group; tribe”).  The term is a neologism coined in the late 19th century by Japanese thinkers to match the Western (especially German) concept of “nation”.

… I have assembled a large amount of material concerning the absence of mínzú / minzoku 民族 as a lexical item corresponding to “nation” in China before it was introduced from Meiji [1868-1912] Japan.

When we prefix mínzú 民族 with shǎoshù 少数 ("few; small number; minority"), we have shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minority; national minority; ethnic minority").  Here it gets really tricky, because, as Anderlini points out in his article, there are officially 56 ethnic groups (mínzú 民族) in China, of which 55 are shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minorities; national minorities; ethnic minorities; ethnic groups"), with the 56th being the dominant, majority (over 90%) Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group").  Consequently, when Chinese politicians talk about the blood of the Chinese race, it's important to know whether they are are referring to Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group"), Zhōnghuá mínzú 中华民族 ("Chinese nation / people", where Zhōnghuá 中华 is understood as "Central cultural florescence"), or something else.  In each case, we need to judge carefully whether they meant to include all the ethnicities within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world, or whether they were referring specifically to individuals of Han ethnicity within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world.  Often, for politicians, as for poets, ambiguity is desirable, or at least convenient.

There are no less than half a dozen other words for "(the) people" that are in common use in Mandarin.  I won't go into all of them here, but will mention only one:  rénmín 人民, as in rénmínbì 人民币 ("RMB; people's currency") and Rénmín rìbào 人民日报 ("People's Daily").  This term, rénmín 人民, does not get involved with race, ethnicity, nation, and so on, but emphasizes the population as a whole.

As for "Zhongguo / China", that too is a huge can of worms, for which see this incisive paper by Arif Dirlik:

"Born in Translation: 'China' in the Making of 'Zhongguo'"

[h.t. John Rohsenow, Bill Bishop]

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