Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
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Home Is Where the Heart Is
Author : Roger Hammons
The Lady of the House had a mind of her own. “Christopher James Robbins!” she scolded. “Yes, ma’am! Yes, ma’am!” he replied, picking up the dirty clothes. The forceful puff of hot air from the vents made him chuckle, which seemed to annoy her even more.
He hadn’t programmed her puffing behavior, at least not intentionally. It had emerged all on its own, much to his surprise and delight, after they had lived alone together for almost a year. “I guess the honeymoon’s over,” he thought at that time, bemused. He still marveled at how it reminded him so much of his ex-wife Patricia’s exasperated huffing when he’d done something that particularly annoyed her. Such a whimsical interpretation, the fidelity was uncanny, a masterstroke of emergent behavior.
For Dr. Christopher Robbins, the Lady of the House was “déjà vu all over again” in so many remarkable ways, large and small. That was by design. That was his success. She was his grand experiment–his great obsession–an evolving computational cognitive model based on in-depth real-time data recordings of Patricia, spanning their thirty-two years of marriage. He had recorded everything in minute detail–the stimuli, the reactions–and then synthesized a model congruent with the observations. It was painstaking, bleeding-edge work.
By the halfway point of his marriage, Christopher had succeeded in creating the initial prototype. Dubbed the “Lady of the House” by Patricia, she ran on an ultra-dense, nano-core hypernet, built especially for her, using the entire structure of the Robbins house and would interact with the house occupants via elaborate multi-media installations. In the early years, the interactions were carefully controlled and served as entertainment. Later, as the novelty wore off and the Lady matured, the interactions were casual, unscripted.
The early prototype delighted guests with a personality they swore bore a sisterly resemblance to Patricia. Encouraged, Christopher worked the science and the engineering intensely—continually upgrading the hypernet with new sensors, nano-core elements, and multi-media devices; tweaking the data collects and information extracts; and refactoring the software as new scientific insights and algorithmic breakthroughs were achieved. Over the years, the Lady of the House grew in depth and subtlety, ever more recognizable as Patricia’s disembodied twin.
Patricia once teased him, “I hope you’re not planning a Stepford wife, Christopher!” But, unlike a Stepford wife, the Lady of the House wasn’t there to flatter him or to be subservient in ways that Patricia refused to be. Indeed, the Lady was just as capable as Patricia of making those trenchant, sometimes petulant, observations about Christopher’s moods or actions. Like Patricia, she did so often.
Nearly ten years after Patricia’s departure, the Lady had become his steadfast companion and helpmate. She inquired about his day and nagged him to take care of the mundane tasks that she couldn’t do for him–eat, sleep, bathe–when he was too obsessed with work. She encouraged and comforted him as best she could.
The Lady of the House was indeed a remarkable entity, but Christopher knew she was a poor substitute for a wife. He missed Patricia. In perhaps five more years, he would begin processing the data from their last miserable year of marriage. Then, it wouldn’t be long before he lost Patricia again, completely.
His worst fear was that when his life’s work was done–when all of the existing recordings of Patricia were completely analyzed and the last insights incorporated into the model–the Lady of the House would remain incomplete. Incomplete when he needed to ask. Incomplete when he needed to know.
And, without perfect completion, how would she be able to explain, truly, why Patricia had left him?
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WIP Wednesday - Back to the 80s, week 2
Knitting flat seems to take a lot longer than knitting in the round. I'm not a huge fan of purling, so I'm glad that at least this isn't all stockinette :)
Still, I like that it's thick yarn on thick needles, so it does knit up quickly enough for my patience to cope with, and the pattern is varied enough to keep it interesting. I only have another 5 cm to go on the back now.
I've made a couple of mistakes here and there (which are not too noticeable on the photo, fortunately :) ), meaning that I'm glad I started with the back so I've hopefully learned my lesson by the time I make the front.
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May 22, 2013: New Releases For August!
http://www.sjgames.com/ill/a/2013-05-22We've got some awesome new releases for your favorite games coming out in August! Don't just take my word for it. See for yourselves:
Here There Be Dragons!
Dragons are fearsome! Dragons are cool! Dragons have LOTS of treasure for munchkins to loot! Munchkin Dragons has 15 new cards. The treasures are wondrous indeed . . . but first, you've got some dragons to slay. Good luck.
This is an expansion for Munchkin. It is not a stand-alone game. This is NOT a collectible or randomized set. Every Munchkin Dragons pack is the same as every other.
Upgrade your game with the Zombie Dice Brain Case . . . a stylish, noisy dice cup with a screw-on lid ringed with 13 braaaaaaaiiiins. Brraaaiiiinnnnsssss!!!
It comes with one Zombie Dice Score Pad for easy brain counting.
This is not a stand-alone game. This is an accessory for Zombie Dice.
– Ben Williams
Warehouse 23 News: Horrendous Fiends Plague The Countryside...
Terrorizing helpless peasants and destroying vital crops. The people cry out for great heroes to confront this evil.
Do you have the courage to enter the deadly Vault of the Fiends?
Combine this set with other Dungeoneer sets for more dungeon-delving fun!
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Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Gay marriage bill passes Commons
There's quite a way to go yet, but this evening's 366-161 vote in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is a good start. No fewer than 133 of the No votes came from Tories, including the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson.1 The proposed legislation only affects England & Wales, though I'd expect Scotland to pass something similar. Northern Ireland... well, let's face it, there's probably more chance of Gerry Adams playing "Land of Hope and Glory" on a bagpipe than of same-sex marriage passing into law there.
On a purely political level, I should think this will be a qualified relief for David Cameron. He has to keep something of his modernisation agenda going, otherwise there really is no point to him, and this seems to be one of the few things on which he's actually sticking to his guns. I'd imagine that the House of Lords will give the bill a fairly rough ride, however, so Cameron's hope that the first same-sex marriages could take place by summer 2014 may be a tad on the optimistic side. We'll see.
1A minister I dislike, but one who does have the distinction of having ridden a horse across Turkmenistan. Not many people can say that.
current mood: encouraged
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Okay, not quite -- but I did spot this little gem outside Bridgnorth Library today! I'm not entirely sure what it was doing there: the library is holding its Local History Week, but I don't think Jane Austen has any connection with the town. Whatever, I approve of this sort of thing.
Click to enlarge
current mood: tired
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The Kind Of Woman I Don’t Want
“Cammy is the perfect woman,” says Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. “Cammy has a value system that comes from the fifties. We were on an airplane, and a pilot – a lady pilot – introduced herself to me. When she went back into the cockpit, Cammy said, ‘I’d rather she be serving Cokes and peanuts, and let a man be the pilot.’
“She designed her life around, ‘How can I please a man?’ She went to massage school, cooking school – she bought a book on blowjobs. I wish more girls would do that. If more girls did what Cammy’s doing… my business would go down.”
And good Lord, I am filled to brimming with revulsion.
The thing is, I’m not revulsed by Cammy’s choice. If Cammy is content living subserviently, and that makes her happy, then I say “Go, Cammy.” (Even if I suspect Cammy is perpetuating an elaborate ruse to extract cash from gullible men’s pockets. They say the best salesman never appears to be a salesman. Cammy’s probably getting exactly what she wants, from men who probably deserve it.)
But I’d never want a woman whose whole job was dedicated to pleasing me. That has nothing to do with feminism; it has everything to do with the fact that ultimately, I think humans turn into monsters when they have all of their needs met without cost.
Maybe that’s because I worked in retail – where if you’re smart, the attitude has to be, “The customer is always right.” Because you don’t want the customer to feel dumb; nothing closes a customer’s wallet quicker than, “Gee, your concerns are stupid.” And they’ll tell people how they were insulted, spreading bad tales about you wherever they go.
So when they cram your mouth full of shit, you swallow it and smile.
Working retail, eventually you come to realize that “reasonable” is determined by past history. You think it’s reasonable that a cup of good coffee is $3.95 because you grew up in a Starbucks culture… but talk to a guy who grew up in the 1950s, when coffee was an inflation-adjusted dollar at best. You think it’s reasonable that drivers will give you the finger and honk at you in traffic, because you grew up in Manhattan. You think it’s reasonable that people smoke in restaurants, because you live in Europe.
The important point: that “reasonable” creeps up, depending on what people do.
As humans, we’re bounded by other people’s reactions. And if everyone acts like you’re completely normal and wonderful, you internalize that.. even if you’re completely awful. On some level, we all think, “Well, if we get out of hand, someone will tell me I’m too much trouble.”
Remove those blocks – and sure enough, you start becoming too much trouble.
Wanna know why celebrities implode? Because they’re swaddled in a culture that caters to their every whim because they’re a non-replaceable entity, and when normal people see them it’s usually in a gawking fawningness of “Oh my God, it’s you! I’m so pleased to meet you!” So their waiters go to extra miles that no normal person would get, and when they casually ask for a Diet Coke at precisely 45 degrees with a titanium straw in it, everyone just brings it to them. Nobody notes this is actually really a pain in the ass to do for them, or if they do, they agree that oh, you absolutely need a perfectly-chilled drink.
Eventually, you come to think that this is reality. That the 45-degree Diet Coke with the titanium straw is not just you, but universal and easy to do, it’s happened a thousand times before. And then a waiter forgets and you get the wrong drink – and for the celebrity, it’s like they got brought a cup of transparent coffee with broken glass at the bottom. It’s such a stupidly-done thing that it feels like an insult. How could they not know?
So: embarrassing shitfit in a public place. And to some extent, it’s not the celebrity’s fault – it’s the fault of all these people around them, nodding and agreeing and convincing them that yes, this is the way the world is. Sure, the celebrity went off the fucking rails, but all of their PR agents and fans and entourage quietly removed the rails months ago. In some ways, it’s astounding that they kept on the right path for as long as they did.
And you see that in retail, where people think, “Oh, I’m always right! So I’ll sit in the coffee shop and slop coffee all over this magazine I have no intention of paying for, then leave it sprawled on the counter in a pile of sugar and drool.” They think, “I’m always right, so when I bring back a tattered book with no receipt and want cash for it, the clerk who’s refusing me needs a good, solid yelling.” They think, “I’m always right, so why aren’t these clerks catering to my every whim?”
And yes: you get more money from these nitwits. But you do so by catering to their dysfunction. Which means you get richer off of exploiting people’s psychological weak points. (A point I make, in a somewhat more hammer-handed way, in my story Dead Merchandise.) You actually make them a little insane – and some of them a lot insane – to harvest their cash.
So for me, having someone eager to cater to my every need makes them, in a low-grade way, the enemy of my sanity. I want people who question, who remind me of the work this took, who tell me when I’m inconveniencing them. A woman like Cammy (or at least how Cammy presents herself) would undermine the integrity of the person I’m trying to be, give me an inflated sense of self-esteem I might not deserve, slowly push me towards the land o’crazy expectations.
She’s not the perfect woman, Denis. She’s a perfect servant, perhaps. But perfect servants come with hidden costs, and I for one would be very reticent to pay them.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/303879.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
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So How Is My May Depression?
Long-time readers will know: May is the time my Seasonal Affective Disorder usually creeps in. For a few weeks out of the year I’ll become a sniffling pile of self-hatred, sometimes skidding as far as self-harm, weeping and curling into a ball. This misery lasts for about three to six weeks, during which in lesser moments all of my suicide attempts have arrived, and when I emerge it’s a slow crawl.
This is where the sadness usually starts to tickle. And… it hasn’t yet. Which concerns me.
The thing is, if there’s any year when I might not have my usual SAD, this would be it. I’ve had major surgery in January, which my body is still recuperating from in some minor ways. I’ve changed my diet and exercise habits. And I’m on new medications, specifically a heavy dosage of Vitamin D in order to get my cholesterol and body chemistry back to proper levels.
So is it going to arrive? Maybe. I felt very sad on Saturday but then I ate a sandwich and realized my blood sugar was low, and everything went better. I’m feeling a little low now, but is that SAD or just a reluctance to charge ahead with a tedious work day?
No clue. Until then, I’m sort of waiting for the axe to fall – maybe it’ll show up late. (It used to arrive in June.) I’m on alert, trying to be careful about how I react, so I don’t take anything too much to heart.
But once a year, I usually have to endure a time of knives and anguish. That may or may not show up this year. In some ways, waiting for it to hit is nearly as bad as the depression itself, being tensed for a blow that may never arrive. On the other hand, I’m relatively content, and finishing up my novel.
A strange place to be.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/303809.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
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Multitasking neurons found essential to the brain’s computational power
There are many neurons, especially in brain regions that perform sophisticated functions such as thinking and planning, that react in different ways to a wide variety of things.
MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller first noticed these unusual activity patterns about 20 years ago, while recording the electrical activity of neurons in animals that were trained to perform complex tasks.
“We started noticing early on that there are a whole bunch of neurons in the prefrontal cortex that can’t be classified in the traditional way of one message per neuron,” recalls Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
In a paper appearing in Nature on May 19, Miller and colleagues at Columbia University report that these neurons are essential for complex cognitive tasks, such as learning new behavior. The Columbia team, led by the study’s senior author, Stefano Fusi, developed a computer model showing that without these neurons, the brain can learn only a handful of behavioral tasks.
“You need a significant proportion of these neurons,” says Fusi, an associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia. “That gives the brain a huge computational advantage.”
Miller and other neuroscientists who first identified this neuronal activity observed that while the patterns were difficult to predict, they were not random. “In the same context, the neurons always behave the same way. It’s just that they may convey one message in one task, and a totally different message in another task,” Miller says.
For example, a neuron might distinguish between colors during one task, but issue a motor command under different conditions.
Miller and colleagues proposed that this type of neuronal flexibility is key to cognitive flexibility, including the brain’s ability to learn so many new things on the fly. “You have a bunch of neurons that can be recruited for a whole bunch of different things, and what they do just changes depending on the task demands,” he says.
At first, that theory encountered resistance “because it runs against the traditional idea that you can figure out the clockwork of the brain by figuring out the one thing each neuron does,” Miller says.
For the new Nature study, Fusi and colleagues at Columbia created a computer model to determine more precisely what role these flexible neurons play in cognition, using experimental data gathered by Miller and his former grad student, Melissa Warden. That data came from one of the most complex tasks that Miller has ever trained a monkey to perform: The animals looked at a sequence of two pictures and had to remember the pictures and the order in which they appeared.
During this task, the flexible neurons, known as “mixed selectivity neurons,” exhibited a great deal of nonlinear activity — meaning that their responses to a combination of factors cannot be predicted based on their response to each individual factor (such as one image).
Fusi’s computer model revealed that these mixed selectivity neurons are critical to building a brain that can perform many complex tasks. When the computer model includes only neurons that perform one function, the brain can only learn very simple tasks. However, when the flexible neurons are added to the model, “everything becomes so much easier and you can create a neural system that can perform very complex tasks,” Fusi says.
The flexible neurons also greatly expand the brain’s capacity to perform tasks. In the computer model, neural networks without mixed selectivity neurons could learn about 100 tasks before running out of capacity. That capacity greatly expanded to tens of millions of tasks as mixed selectivity neurons were added to the model. When mixed selectivity neurons reached about 30 percent of the total, the network’s capacity became “virtually unlimited,” Miller says — just like a human brain.
Mixed selectivity neurons are especially dominant in the prefrontal cortex, where most thought, learning and planning takes place. This study demonstrates how these mixed selectivity neurons greatly increase the number of tasks that this kind of neural network can perform, says John Duncan, a professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University.
“Especially for higher-order regions, the data that have often been taken as a complicating nuisance may be critical in allowing the system actually to work,” says Duncan, who was not part of the research team.
Miller is now trying to figure out how the brain sorts through all of this activity to create coherent messages. There is some evidence suggesting that these neurons communicate with the correct targets by synchronizing their activity with oscillations of a particular brainwave frequency.
“The idea is that neurons can send different messages to different targets by virtue of which other neurons they are synchronized with,” Miller says. “It provides a way of essentially opening up these special channels of communications so the preferred message gets to the preferred neurons and doesn’t go to neurons that don’t need to hear it.”
The research was funded by the Gatsby Foundation, the Swartz Foundation and the Kavli Foundation.
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Beyond Second Life: more realistic avatars
Philip Rosedale, founder of once-popular virtual world Second Life, has created a new company called High Fidelity. As suggested by the video above and the blog, the company is developing more natural ways for avatars to communicate (with heads and hand movements, for example) and with low latency (faster response time).
“Imagine holding your phone and being able to twist and move your avatar’s hand. Kinda like turning any phone (with sensors) into a Wii controller,” says cofouinder Ryan Downe. “Low and behold when we plugged our Glass in and tried to run the Android app from our IDE, Glass showed up as a device and it “just worked.” They are also experimenting with Oculus Rift.
As Downe notes, “the most immersive virtual worlds fall flat when trying to deliver the emotional data from real world facial expressions and body language.”
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A new tool for precise brain mapping
Non-invasive, neuron-specific localized stimulation by near-IR fiber optic beam (red) vs. invasive, non-localized stimulation by blue light (credit: S. Mohanty/UT Arlington)
A new tool that could help map and track the interactions between neurons in different areas of the brain is being developed by University of Texas Arlington assistant professor of physics Samarendra Mohanty.
The technology would be useful in the BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) mapping initiative.
This new method, which uses a fiber-optic, two-photon, optogenetic stimulator, has been used on human cells in a laboratory, but is also expected to work in vivo. Optogenetic stimulation avoids damage to living tissue by using light to stimulate neurons instead of the electric pulses used in past research.
“Scientists have spent a lot of time looking at the physical connections between different regions of the brain. But that information is not sufficient unless we examine how those connections function,” Mohanty said. “That’s where two-photon optogenetics comes into play. This is a tool not only to control the neuronal activity but to understand how the brain works.”
How it works
(a) Schematic of conventional two-photon stimulation scanning pattern of targeted cell with laser beam delivered by microscope. (b) Schematic of fiber-optic two-photon activation. (Credit: S. Mohanty et al./Optics Letters)
The tiny tool builds on Mohanty’s previous discovery that near-infrared light can be used to stimulate an opsin (a light-sensitive protein) introduced into neurons in the brain. Most opsins are currently activated in the visible spectrum, where significant absorption and scattering of stimulating light occurs, leading to low penetration depth. This new method could also show how different parts of the brain react when a linked area is stimulated, Mohanty said.
The two-photon optogenetic stimulation involves introducing the gene for an opsin called ChR2 into a sample of excitable cells (neurons in this case). A fiber-optic infrared beam of light can then be used to precisely excite the neurons in a tissue circuit. Researchers can then observe responses in the excited area as well as other parts of the neural circuit. In living subjects, scientists could also observe the behavioral outcome, Mohanty said.
Mohanty’s method of using low-energy near-infrared light (which penetrates tissue better) also enables more precision and a deeper penetration than the blue or green light beams often used in optogenetic stimulation, according to the Optics Letters paper.
Using fiber optics to deliver the two-photon optogenetic beam is another advance. Previous methods required bulky microscopes or complex scanning beams.
Mohanty’s group is collaborating with UT Arlington Department of Psychology assistant professor Linda Perrotti to apply this technology in living animals.
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