Friday, December 30, 2011

I promised not to think about this...

Politics and Economics...

But the low hanging fruit is so over-ripe that I just can't resist.

First. Politics. A couple months ago the IEEE membership magazine, Spectrum, had an extensive article on a small portion of the Afghanistan Follies from the standpoint of a power engineer. It seems that the royal we have sunk around $55 BILLION into winning hearts and minds out there by rebuilding (or perhaps just building) infrastructure that we probably destroyed in the first place. The article describes in excruciating detail how unmitigatedly fubar the power plant portion of that activity is. The author, Glenn Zorpette (Re-engineering Afghanistan, IEEE Spectrum, October 2011) does a good objective reporting job but just can't resist one editorial paragraph towards the end:
As a reporter, I have over the years dug up the occasional isolated and carefully concealed incident suggesting incompetence or wrongdoing. But I've never reported on anything quite like USAID in Afghanistan, where the examples of ineptitude, poor decisions, and apparent impropriety sometimes seemed to come swarming at me like targets in a video game.
Which pretty much sums up the general flow of the article.

From a more global perspective what is interesting is that the USAID behavior described is more in keeping with the political systems nominally "in-charge" in that part of the world, i.e, it's hard to tell if you're looking at incompetence or corruption, both poorly concealed by layers of bureaucracy. Basically Afghanistan has colonized the United States. I think the tightly knit Cheney-Academi (ne Xe Services LLC, ne Blackwater USA, ne Blackwater Worldwide)-Halliburton axis speaks for itself in this respect.

Moving on to Economics then... The author of one of my favorite Santa Fe Institute working papers: W. Brian Arthur, Inductive Reasoning and Bounded Rationality, or The El Farol Problem -- possibly the only economic theory based on bar-hopping behavior -- recently wrote an article for Mckinsey Quarterly about the emerging online economy which was excerpted on Dec 18, 2011, by the S.Fe New Mexican newspaper: Hidden in cyberspace. He waxes with poetic Modernity on the beauties of the new economy while freely admitting that it doesn't really produce much of anything tangible -- place arguments about improved service and efficiency here -- and in fact is reducing the need for human labor. Jobs be disappearing while population be rising:
There's a larger lesson to be drawn from this. The second economy will certainly be the engine of growth and the provider of prosperity for the rest of this century and beyond, but it may not provide jobs, so there may be prosperity without full access for many. This suggests to me that the main challenge of the economy is shifting from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity. The second economy will produce wealth no matter what we do; distributing that wealth has become the main problem.
The problem is by no means insoluble. The good news is that if we do solve it, we may at last have the freedom to invest our energies in creative acts.
What a wonderful Pure Socialist Ideal!! Unfortunately, as the 99% seem to be attesting, the Redistribution of Wealth is not happening for most of the Wealth of Nations.

But Wait! There is a solution! 

Bureaucracy! Since we, as a nation of (d?)rugged individualists, are rather frightened of just giving folks the stuff they need to survive, why don't we instead give them all jobs pushing regulatory compliance paperwork around? Who says work has to be productive to be (economically) rewarding? While incompetence and corruption have a place in any wealth distribution schema, bureaucracy can be our real savior. Open the floodgates of pointless regulation before it's too late!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

AI Class 10 -- My Final Answers...

Thank god it has come to a close. I put my answers in and checked them twice hoping that Santa will be nice. (No you don't get to see them until the window closes -- extended by another day which I am going to ignore.) Since I have put it all behind me, I figure now is the time to complete my whining ...

There are 59 little boxes to be filled in correctly or not, and as I might have expected 16 of those involve using the hated IMPLIES (=>) logical operator -- who's only use I have been able to ferret out is to be able to tell someone he is a liar once you've discovered that fact ( T !=> F). But thanks to a friendly co-student who pointed out the logical equivalents table on page 249 of the (mostly irrelevant to the course) textbook, I now have no fear of the Implications.

As usual there are a couple of just impenetrable questions for which no clarifications seem to be forthcoming. The most amusing of these is on Planning (at this juncture I should mention that I also hate Planning and Scheduling because it brings back PTSD memories of being repeatedly forced to Plan and Schedule un-plan-able R&D tasks in one of my former lives) where we are given a list of Actions with Preconditions and suchlike and a list of possible Resources that we might have at our disposal, then asked which Resource sets will satisfy the Plan. However the voice-over description of the problem seems to interpret one specific Precondition in two ways, either needing exactly X of something or needing at least Y of something else. The amusing part is that all this formal Planning and Scheduling (crap, not to be pejorative or anything) is supposed to remove the ambiguities from the process.

And five (5) more questions about basic geometric optics and cameras -- if you didn't understand it in high-school physics you are not going to get it now -- so I guess they are there to boost the test scores. So I guess I'll probably mis-copy some answer again and fail them.

On the plus side, the first question is about the Tower of Hanoi puzzle which my grandfather made for me and I solved when I was about 10, and only one of those little boxes reeks of ambiguity so I should have a couple of gimme points there. game... I was barely inspired by this class and that mostly by accident. As one of my friends who was auditing it said, it's more of a "Oh, so that's how they do that..." set of disconnected topics than a coherent presentation. This may be necessary in an introductory class, especially one meant to be technical rather than a survey. But it leaves me feeling that I now know a smattering of Artificial Intelligence with an emphasis similar to that of Artificial Ingredients rather than anything about Intelligent Behavior.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bad X Day for Lupe

Sorry I missed the actual day this week due to AIClass issues and basic inattention to detail...

The Mexican-born actress Lupe (Spitfire) Vélez (July 18, 1908 – December 14, 1944), went on to a better world. Velez was quite popular, married to Johnny Weissmuller for a while, and enumerated among her lovers John Gilbert and Gary Cooper. Then her career went sour, she fell victim to money problems and she became pregnant. In the midst of a depression, she decided to end it all. She ordered lots of flowers, had a last meal of her favorite Mexican foods with friends, and then, in a silver evening gown, surrounded by candles and flowers, she lay down upon a couch and swallowed most of a bottle of Seconal. She planned for the authorities to find the elaborate scene and be awed by her stilled beauty. Unfortunately, the spicy food and pills didn't sit well in her stomach. She ran for the bathroom to vomit, slipped on the smooth tiles, jammed her head into the toilet and drowned.
From the "Grim Reaper's Book of Days" by Ed Morrow (Citadel Press)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

AI Class -- Homework 7...argh...again...

Oops, I did it again, Britney... Copied a number off my worksheet incorrectly and missed an easy question. One of the GDM algebra questions I was whinging about last time. But not even an algebra error. Oh well.

However this brings me to preview my post-game analysis. While I have learned a lot of "interesting" things and have some appreciation for the effort the professors put into this, I have a few issues with this class and the medium in general:

  • Technical stuff -- I guess mostly unavoidable, but hey, these guys work for Google man...
    • Crashes and hangups making the videos inaccessible and delaying the homework. Better now but still not perfect;
    • YouTube playback: If you pause the video the headings and controls cover part of the screen so if you want to do a screen grab you have to slip it in while the video is running and the instructor's GDM pen is not waving over the stuff you want to grab. Also if you miss pausing right at the end of the video you have to go back and reload everything. And really annoying, to re-view the Quiz Explanations you have to re-take the Quiz or else learn to maneuver through raw playlists somehow.
  • Online Pedagogy -- The medium is/was not quite ready for Prime Rib...
    •  Sometimes the lesson videos are not clear, and sometimes they are just wrong. If I was in a classroom I could wave my hands around and ask, "What did you really mean there? Did you mean Min but say Max? Or did I mis-apprehend?" Usually the mistakes are corrected with text annotations and the corrections are appearing in a more timely manner, but you just never know. I guess it keeps me on my toes;
    • At the beginning there was NO feedback mechanism. If I had a question or brain-fade on something there was no way to get clarification, except from other students who might be just as clueless. Now there is a forum which some apparently official folks monitor sometimes, so, if I can phrase a question correctly I have a small chance of getting an accurate explanation. Part of the small is that most questions seem to overlap with the Homework or Exam questions and thus can't be answered until after the fact.
    • That homework thing... Jah, I make stupid mistakes. If there was a recourse I could possibly make the point that it was a stupid mistake and get some credit for at least thinking correctly. Of course I still can't figure out why I care about getting a grade anyway.
  • Style -- Some things are just annoying...
    • Definitions. Definitions. Definitions. Especially Partially Observable Stochastic Rationality. I'm still not sure which way the wind blows on some of that because the definitions are, and are admitted to be, a bit arbitrary. The one that still galls me is calling a card draw Partially Observable (rather than Stochastic) because the deck is already shuffled but in an unknown order -- so reshuffle the deck each time, eh? Then being graded on my understanding;
    • I mentioned Professor Thrun's habit of using lecture Quiz questions to introduce the next lesson rather than reinforce the current material. This is supposed to encourage me to think for myself. It doesn't;
    • I also mentioned his delight in tedious arithmetic. I'm really not sure if there is a better way to pound in the concepts. I do understand more of what I'm doing now, so maybe tedium works;
    • I think many explanations would have been clearer if the class was taught by a grad student who was closer to the horrors of learning it for the first time. For me, Logic, Planning, and Particle Filters were explained in a rather high level manner and then Homework or Exam questions asked for specifics and mechanics that were taken for granted.
Anyway, it's continuing to be a learning experience so I guess it's not all bad.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bonbon l'Bubba B'day

Another milestone for the bunny: 7 years and counting:

Is breakfast ready yet?

And his birthday present? A trip to the vet for a checkup.

The good news is he's doing pretty well and got a nice mani-pedi. The bad news? No treats, eat more hay. Just like my doctor...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

AI Class 7 -- Homework is pissing me off...

I find it a little hard to believe, but 1/3 of the current homework questions are about doing basic high-school algebra using equations for stuff that is only peripherally relevant to image processing technology. (Ok. Ok. They are all about cameras and focal lengths and such, and maybe if I hadn't spent years peering through a 4x5 view camera I could get -- positively -- excited about them). I would treat them as gimme-points except I'm likely to make some stupid transposition error and fail them all.

I guess it really is an artificial intelligence test (emphasis mine).

Plus there's a question about image convolution who's answer seems to depend on being able to correctly interpret a mumbled-aside comment in the relevant videos combined with prior-knowledge of how it actually works in the so-called real world (or maybe I'm over-thinking again?) Getting that one wrong will cost me another 1/3 of the total score.

But the real question is: Why do I care?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AI Class 6 -- Game Theory

The Prisoner's Dilemma

Here's the scam: Alice and Bob are arrested and separately offered a plea bargain for testifying against the other. The payoff to each of them is different depending on what the other person does (we call refusing to testify Cooperation and ratting the other out Defection):
  • If both Cooperate, they both get off Scot Free;
  • If both Defect, they split a small penalty;
  • If one Defects and other Cooperates,
        the Defector get's a small reward,
        the Cooperator gets jail time.

This is encoded in the Prisoner's Dilemma payoff matrix:
                    Alice:Defect  Alice:Cooperate
     Bob:Defect     A=-1, B=-1    A=-5, B=1
     Bob:Cooperate  A=1,  B=-5    A=0,  B=0

(Note that this is not a zero-sum game because the payoffs don't add up to zero...but I think that's a different story.)

There are three standard Strategy types in Game Theory:

Dominant  A move that does better than any other, no matter what the other player does. In this case it is Defect because, if Alice Defects she will get -1 (versus -5 for Cooperating) if Bob also Defects, or 1 (versus 0) if he Cooperates.

Equilibrium  Neither player can benefit from making a unilateral switch to a different move. In this case the Equilibrium is Both Defect because, either player will have a worse payoff if they change to Cooperate on their own. This is the Nash Equilibrium, named after John -- A Beautiful Mind -- Crowe...

Pareto Optimum  Both players agree that they are getting the best payoff they can. If either player gets a worse payoff by changing moves it is not an Optimum. Both Cooperate is the Pareto Optimum for Prisoner's Dilemma because they both get 0, but one will get -5 if the other changes to Defect.

So, in general, if Alice doesn't trust Bob and thinks she will never see him again, her best option is to Defect: Even though there is the possibility of getting a slap on the wrist, she doesn't risk getting thrown in the slammer. But if you play this game over and over with the same person, Defecting leads to a worse over-all outcome for both players than Cooperating. Therefore, if you trust your partner to not bail on you, you should both play the Pareto Optimum.

The problem (a talk on this topic is what inspired my GI's Dilemma kinetic sculpture) is this: If you know the number of plays you will be engaging in, it is tempting to Defect on the last play in order to get the reward and a slightly higher over-all payoff. Of course your opponent also knows this, so you need to Defect one play earlier to catch them out. This strategy cascades down through the plays and often makes it impossible to ever play the Pareto Optimum.

The strange thing about this is that it leads to a much worse over-all payoff for both players. And this is what is called Rational in AI...

So my question is, just what exactly is Rational? Is it covering your ass? Or is it getting the best outcome? I wonder if Rational robots would be able to see past the infinite-regression of cascading Mutually Assured Defection to a landscape where Optimal Cooperation was just assumed?

Monday, November 21, 2011

AI Class 6, Midterm Exam: !!100%!!

I guessed right on the Philosophy (both the questions in my previous post were True because in a completely random Environment any Agent behavior is considered Rational -- great to find that out during the Test, eh?), tortured the Logic to death in the correct way, and stumbled in the right direction through the Conditional Independence exercise. Hard to believe but apparently True: What's the Probability of that?

As an after-the-fact proof, here's the Exam and my notes with the answers I decided upon...

AI Class 6, Midterm Exam...ugh

Actually the Midterm is not so bad really...but maybe I should wait until the scores come out before saying that.

It does get off to a rough start with a couple of true/false philosophy of set theory questions:
  • "There exists (at least) one environment in which every agent is rational."
  • "For every agent, there exists (at least) one environment in which the agent is rational."
Which seem to be throwing folks into un-bounded loops. It may be that they are actually Logic questions in Agent/Environment clothing. As I noted before, the word "rational" was only used in the summary of what we learned in lesson one and the only way we would have learned its meaning was by inference. Added to this is the fact that the scope of all possible Agents and Environments is not defined anywhere that I can find: Does it include the empty set? If so, what would be considered "Rational" behavior? I guess we'll find out when the Exam is graded.

Otherwise the questions are pretty well specified and -- again modulo my jumping the gun -- don't require a lot of tedious calculation ala Professor Thrun's video pleasures. But let me just say now, "I hate Logic", so that when I fail all 6 sub-parts of Question 12 I can also say, "I told myself so". I tried to use the demo code's to validate my mental gymnastics and got different answers based on the formatting of the questions. So maybe it's even beyond the abilities of the computer to solve -- or else I should start filing bug reports.

At the half-way mark we finally seem to be getting into interesting territory with Markov Models. This is what I tried to do at SFI those many years ago so maybe I'll come to understand what I was on about then. But in general I think I've discovered an unfortunate truth:

...I don't actually like Artificial Intelligence...

The trouble is, so far in this very basic class, AI is being used to find simple -- validated -- solutions to fairly complicated problems, generally using the excruciatingly tedious iterated algorithms for which computers were invented. But what I'm interested in is getting Complex results from Simple systems. And that is my working definition of Complex: it is not Complicated for that very Simple reason.

But I guess it's a good thing to torture myself with the Complicated for a while so I know what I'm not missing....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Now for a little change of pace...

We had our first significant snowfall last night. Not much and mostly melted off by now...but...up in the hills, in our Urban Wildland Interface Zone, things get pretty dicey pretty quick because there's no direct sunlight until summer.

So... Around noon today someone coming down the hill managed to drive off the road. By off-roading I mean down a steep embankment end-over-end for at least 100 yards, coming to rest -- fortunately -- on his wheels about 100 yards from another -- fortunately -- more accessible road. Unfortunately the vehicle was not visible through the dense vegetation from either vantage, but -- fortunately again -- the guy he hit on his way down was able to point out where it happened.

Photo: Tom Chilton -- Hondo VFD

 After about a half-hour of hiking around and yelling to each other we found the car and patient, who, thanks to modern vehicle restraint systems was not seriously injured and had better vital signs then me. Our medics packaged him up on a backboard in a stokes litter and we belayed him down the rest of the embankment that he hadn't managed to negotiate with his vehicle and onto a Big Wheel. The Big Wheel is exactly that, a Big Wheel with a bunch of handles onto which you strap a litter, so 4 or 6 folks can hump a patient out of some god-forsaken location (we used it this summer to get a guy having a heart attack an hour into a National Forest trail back to civilization-such-as-it-is because the chopper couldn't find anywhere to land).

We loaded the patient into a City of Santa Fe Med unit -- our County guys were busy and probably kicking themselves for missing the fun -- and shipped him off to the Horsepiddle. I'll bet the City guys were happy about the Big Wheel thing, but they are too professionally pre-occupied to thank mere volunteers.

Way better than doing homework, to which I must now return...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Local Color IV -- NM state division

Tourists Visit N.M. for The Beaches?

That's the title of today's ABQ Journal article about re-branding New Mexico to attract more tourists' money. Our new Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson spent eight months of state funding doing focus groups with folks from elsewhere, only to discover that they might like our beaches if they weren't so boring. So we have some new principle brands to tout (underlining is mine):
The focus groups were used to help develop the basic principles to build the brand from, she said. The five the state decided on are authenticity, discovery, connection and adventure. Others, like “from the earth” were discarded based on feedback from the groups.
Even though we have a high percentage of sciency types around here, mathematical accuracy is not on our list...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Naturally Stupid II

GDMIT, GDMIT, GDMIT...I got 87% on the last AI Class homework because I mis-copied one number which threw off the Linear Regression calculations -- I did all the work right, just got the wrong results.

If this was not the automated educational automat of the future I could probably go to the professor and plead my case and maybe even get half credit for being dumb but not stupid. Instead I need to learn to act more like a computer and not make mistakes.

That being said, if you want to see how I managed to get the hard parts of Homework 3 correct, get the spreadsheet here. Note that I've corrected the mistaken regression number so the calculation matches what the computers at Stanford believe.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Modest Proposal, III

For the Tate Modern Turbine Hall... Just in case I get the commission, and my expected MacArthur:

Polish the floor and let two Roomba robots loose in the space. I might have to modify the 'bots to have "people sensors" -- presuming that they don't already, this is part of the research leading up to the installation -- such that they would be attracted to the crowds but also try to keep a discrete distance, thus showing signs of distress if cornered. Braitenberg in Service of the Arts!

And I bet the sound would be great if you could silence the hoi-polloi.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Naturally Artificial Intelligence

To illustrate the Abstraction issue I raised in Learning....Slowly, here are a couple of examples from my study of probability. To lay the groundwork, there are three basic operations OR, AND, and GIVEN and for the most part they are defined in terms of each other in a tight little tautology -- see my terminology summary here. Every time I tried to figure out what they _really_ did I ended up in some kind of sink-hole-loop. This was exacerbated by the only two fully worked problems in the AIMA textbook where the behavior of OR and AND distinctly diverged from the definitions.

So I tortured myself for about a week with: "What are they trying to tell me?" Then I took a couple of showers...

The first problem was OR. The definition summed up a set of values and subtracted the AND of those values, but the book example just summed a buncha things and was done with it. After the first shower I realized that the AND part was there to eliminate double-counting of certain values and that "they" has silently elided it because "they" had also silently elided the actual double count that would have been subtracted out. A little note to that effect would have saved me a week's worry....maybe.

The second problem was AND. The definition shows a product of values, i.e., multiplying them all. The book example showed a sum... Well, WTF?! I went around and around on that and complained to anyone who showed any semblance of interest -- where such interest died fairly quickly with no positive results. During the second shower it occurred to me that I had only seen addition in one other place in this whole mess, and that was in calculating the Total Probability of a set of variables. Since probabilities were usually specified as Conditionals -- the probability that X is true GIVEN that Y is known to be true -- this involved multiplying a buncha values (one for each variable of interest) which were "conditioned" on Y being true, then multiplying a buncha different values, conditioned on Y being false, and then SUMMING the results... Eureka! That's what the (fkrs) were doing in the book: The values they were working with came from a table where all the multiplying had already been done, so all they had to do was add them up. Jeez, maybe just another little note would have been in order? Or maybe I wasn't supposed to be looking at it so closely?

So...The point is, my (slightly) Intelligent Behavior was the result of hot, no, it was the result of having a higher level view of the problem and seeing patterns that were not apparent in the details. This is what I'm trying to call Abstraction. Of course this "ability" is probably the result of billions-and-billions of mindless iterations in some very low level neural processing, just like looking at a map integrates a huge amount of visual information with a huge amount of "common sense" information to come up with a route. And this is what Krakauer was trying to get at in his talks: What we really want to call Intelligence is so far and above what our poor little machines are doing these days that the scales need to be re-calibrated all the way down.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Local Color III -- only in the SouthWest...

Police responded to a stabbing call at 1:21 a.m. Wednesday in ... southwest Santa Fe.

Deputy Kurt Whyte arrived at the apartment where he says he found the 48-year-old male stabbing victim, "bleeding heavily from his head and right wrist area."

Chavez, who police say admitted stabbing the man with a kitchen knife, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a household member with a deadly weapon, battery upon a peace officer, assault upon a peace officer and resisting or evading a police officer. She remained jailed late Wednesday in lieu of a $5,000 surety bond... Her boyfriend, meanwhile, remained hospitalized late Wednesday but was in stable condition...

Santa Fe County Sheriff's deputies took the 60-year-old [Chavez] directly to jail after they say she repeatedly stabbed her boyfriend Wednesday after arguing during a game of Monopoly.

Police say both Chavez and her boyfriend appeared to be intoxicated.

Friday, October 28, 2011

AI Class 3, Learning...Slowly

Well. I survived last week's class and got 100% on the homework!! Part of this was due to a sudden realization that the demo code I had been so assiduously analyzing actually contained the skeleton of a system for answering three of the questions. And part was dumb luck, tempered with reason of course. The realization part happened after I had worked out the problems on my own, but I used the software to validate my answers -- which were, amazingly but truly, correct.

The original estimate for time to be spent on the class was a glib 1-10 hours a week -- it's not clear if that included watching all the video lessons which are at least 2 hours a shot -- and maybe some go-getter StanfooFrosh with all their god-given brain cells still intact could do it. Me? I'd say 50 hours last week trying to intuit the inner workings of Probability...

This week -- Machine Learning -- I got off easy. After only three days I believe I'm done. Or else I've missed something really important. Those days include time spent shuttling around finding working internet connections -- because my usually-fairly-almost reliable LCWireless coop took a big poop right after the videos were posted on Tuesday -- and summarizing the lessons for an online study group which meets Thursday evenings. In the course of the summary I discovered that I had developed a simplified method for working the hard parts of the homework (which I _might_ reveal after entries are closed next week). In keeping with standard practice only the first of the two lessons had any relevance to the homework. So now I'm living with the sneaking fear that the exams will cover the missing lessons.

As has been pointed out a number of times: Why do I care about my grade? I dunno. Knee jerk reaction to jerks I guess.

Moving on to the philosophy portion of our time here together....One thing I've noticed about the class so far is that it makes heavy use of exactly what computers are good at: Mindless Iteration.

First we had Search which is just opening doors and walking down hallways until you stumble upon that which you were seeking. Admittedly there are some shortcuts. And even some automated ways to discover the shortcuts. But it's really just wandering around in a big field without your glasses.

Then there was my bugaboo, Probability. This boils down to multiplying and adding big lists of small numbers. Over and over. It's something that Professor Sebastian seems to pride himself on being able to do, but god help me, that's why we have computers isn't it? Of course one does need to be able to set up the problem and understand the necessary transformations -- and the results, which are in many cases "not obvious" -- but that's Systems Analysis.

And this week, Machine Learning. Many of the problems presented make big use of Probability so it goes without saying that there's a lot of repeated number crunching. Moving on to Regression and Clustering, to para-quote: "Often there are no closed form solutions so you have to use iteration." All manner of try-try-again-until-you-succeed perseverationist algorithms are put to use. Gradient Descent is just bumbling-around-in-a-field search with a proviso that one always bumbles down hill. And we haven't even addressed non-local minima yet.

So my question: Is this Intelligent behavior? In one respect, once a computer finds a way to do something we used to pride ourselves on, we always diss it by saying, "Well, that's not _really_ intelligent after all now is it?" But in another respect I think number-crunching may be going about it wrongly. In the map problem used to introduce different types of searching the question was how to get from Arad to Bucharest -- which is probably easier if you are in Romania  A human would look at the map, squint their eyes for a couple seconds, and then go, "Yah shure, we gotta go through Rimnicu." The computer however tries all the the "less intelligent" versions it even goes the wrong direction, just to, you know, see...and then finally pretends that it has discovered a route.

What the computer does is wander around in the field until it trips on the solution, but what the human does is some kind of integration and abstraction of the data. I think this ability to Abstract is at the core of intelligence. We may get to some bits of that in this class but it's gonna be some rough iterations.

Friday, October 21, 2011

AI Class 2, Probably

(I realized my numbering scheme for these posts is bad, so I'm going to use AI Class N, where N is the week.)

Anyway... Week 2 and counting with 10% of the class under my belt.

I missed one question on the first homework -- after receiving actual clarifications-from-on-high vis the ambiguities, some of which were significantly different from the assumptions I was making. What I missed is the idea that, for an environment to be "Completely Observable" requires that the agent use no memory of previous states. Which, IMHO, is a little strange, since it was pointed out that chess and checkers need one bit of memory to determine who's turn it is next...But there's no point in arguing with two-dimensional-video-professors, so I guess I will Just Let It Go.

Now well into Week 2: Probability: Our two new video-Lessons were posted a day late due to crashes in the homework system from the previous week AND after three mostly full time days I'm still only half finished. So I am calculating the priority of my posterior, i.e.: it is kicking my asp. I suspect that my chance of completing the class is 1/N as weeks progress. Fortunately it seems that the homework only requires the absorption of the first of the two Lessons, and that only one of the six questions requires the full-press-calculations that the prof -- Sebastian Thrun -- so gleefully dragged us all through. Repeatedly.

As per established process the first Lesson was a (long) set of short videos each explaining a concept, followed by a quick quiz question. And in keeping with tradition, most of the quizzes were used to introduce the next section rather than reviewing and using what was covered in the current one. Sometimes a quiz introduced new notation and concepts with no explanation. I finally realized that entering random answers would move things along so I could get to the point. Occasionally a question could be answered by grinding through the material at hand, so that does make the occasional correct answer a thrilling Thank God! moment.

We now return to our original programming: Unit 4 -- Probabilistic Inference. Oy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Local Color II

Form the Eldorado Police Blotter....

"Victim reported that while on vacation an unknown person has twice made entry into the residence by unknown means and stole $5000.00 in cash and placed erotic items on a bed. No damage was reported to the residence and nothing else appeared to be disturbed."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

AI Class III, Homework I

Well, we finally got it, and it's not so scary, just a little vague... They posted a set of  seven short videos each posing a question with a multi-choice or small numeric answer. Unfortunately there are some ambiguities about the constraints and exact definitions in some of the problems. There are a couple useful discussion threads on the Reddit AICLASS site which are wrangling about the specifics:

I have distilled and posted the Week 1 Homework questions and options, along with comments about the ambiguities encountered (mine and others from the reddit threads). Stay tuned for answers next week...

To get to the bottom of it we're really gonna just have to wait until we get clarification from on high. We hope we do anyway. As someone in those threads pointed out, this is the kind of stuff one would ask the TA or Prof if one were having a two-way class like experience.

<IMHO mode="I could be wrong about this">
One thing that has come up in general is how to deal with the basic Environment class definitions:

  • Fully vs Partially Observable
  • Deterministic vs Stochastic
  • Discrete vs Continuous
  • Benign vs Adversarial           
All those definitions tend to be fairly good black and white approximations but have little gray areas. Folks seem to be getting hung up in the gray.

For Instance: one homework question asks if coin flips are Partially Observable and if they are Stochastic or not. There seems to be some confusion about the scope of Observability, e.g., if you don't know the future is the system Fully Observable? Or from a different tack, "If you don't know how your Adversary is going to respond, is it Partially Observable or even Stochastic?"

Because I think that being Fully Observable covers just the current system state and doesn't preclude being uncertain about future states, in this context I would say: "Do we know the entire result after each action is performed, or is there still ambiguity in the current state of the system?"

There's also confusion about Discrete vs Continuous. The questions are more philosophical than practical, such as "Can one even have a Continuous representation of a system?" or "Since the result of a coin flip is dependent on exactly how it is flipped, isn't that Continuous?" I say, lighten up a bit...If you've got something that can take any real-number value, it's Continuous. But if it can only take a sub-set of values, it's Discrete. So the result of a coin flip is ??? -- maybe I'll answer next week, eh?

And there was a funny mis-apprehension on the Unit-1 quiz that asked if a robot car driving in a "real" environment was Adversarial. The given answer was No -- admittedly with a little joshing around. I think this is because the instructors live in Palo Alto and only have to deal with Volvo-Soccer-Mom's passive aggressive driving, rather than in New Mexico where every drunk wants to be in your lane.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

AI Class II

Ok then. They got the Search lessons up. And are promising to post a homework assignment by about 4 hours ago... Also the quiz-post-refusal thing seems to have been a server loading problem and I didn't have any trouble posting answers today. So still a bit behind the curve here, but moving in the right direction.

There are some slips, probably mostly on my part. Like the quiz question about whether a Depth First Search is guaranteed to find a goal and be complete. I forgot to remember that the lecturer mentioned that we were dealing with an infinite depth search tree for this particular incident. So, more minus-quiz points for me. Gotta hang onto every word apparently.

<Edit mode="stew">
Overnight I realized that there were two (my count) examples of lapses in pedagogical technique in the first week's videos -- three if you count not defining Rationality but then including it in the summary slide for Unit 1.

First is the Depth First Search question above. I replayed the lesson -- unit 2.20 -- and he does say  "...lets move .... to infinite trees..." 20 seconds before completion of the quiz question presentation. So I should have remembered it. But, if he had repeated the infinite tree condition at the end of the question I might have caught on to what he was getting at.

The second was in unit 2.31. He describes the simple "Vacuum World" environment and calculates the number of states in a two position system by writing 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. This is the correct number but not the right calculation, and -- my excuse for failing the quiz at the end of the next unit -- when the system is scaled up with more positions one needs to use the right calculation, which is: 2 x 2^2 (notice that 2 is one of two values where this is equivalent to the previous multiplication, ?maybe three if zero^zero is a number?). This is because there are X possible conditions for N positions -- every position can be either clean or dirty -- so the total number of environmental states is X^N, not X*N. I merrily went along with the multiplication paradigm when it came to scaling up to 10 positions and multiplied 2 times 10 instead of raising 2 to the 10th power. Again I might have caught on, and had a better understanding of the issue, if it had been treated more rigorously in the introductory case.

In a different example they present the idea that you can use an estimated-cost-to-goal value to guide a search in fruitful directions. This is called an "Heuristic". However they never defined the word but just started using it in the middle of describing some algorithms. Lucky me, I'd already read the Book so I knew. Just like the "Rationality" thing in Unit 1...

Have an online study group meeting tomorrow (Weds) night in which we are supposed to discuss homework confusions (among others). So I hope we get the homework in time...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Artificial Intelligence, Class I

This is gonna might be painful...

The Stanford AI class started today with the posting of a few introductory video instruction units. Most of these "Unit 1" vids were a camera on a writing pad making a few notes with a voice-over, and each concluded with a little "quiz" implemented as a javascript overlay on the video. On the plus side the videos are edited so there's not a lot of hemming and hawing (compared to the Khan Academy math lectures which are information packed but drag along as the presenter erases and re-writes his mistakes). On the minus side:
  1. The first set of quizzes were setup so as to lead into the next lesson and had nothing to do with what was covered in the actual video;
  2. The quiz answer system balked at about 2/3 to 3/4 of my responses and just refused to post them;
  3. The final set of videos and quizzes were concerned with an attempt to translate a Chinese Menu. If one already knows the ideograms one could tell them apart in the low rez video, but as an added insult the little quiz boxes obscured parts of the elements one was supposed to recognize and check off:

So I'm batting 62% on Chinese translation. Fortunately the inline quizzes don't count toward your grade. I just hope the real questions are not so well obscured.

Of a little more concern to me is:
  • First -- The videos ended with these Introduction to AI bits that were mostly information free, even thought the schedule for the online class says day one also covers "Search" and has a homework assignment. In contrast the schedule for the real class has three days of lectures and a programming assignment(!?)
  • Second -- The last Summary video listed the things that were covered. The last on the list was "Rationality" which was not mentioned in any of the lessons -- that I remember seeing. It is a key concept in their approach and is covered in some depth in Chapter 2 of the text book, where there are some probing exercise questions based on the definition.
So there's some slips between cup and lip in getting this thing off the ground...We'll stay tuna-ed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Artificial Intelligence -- back to

Now that I seem to be in recovery from yesterday's post -- and past the 48 hour brain damage danger zone --  lets get back to pursuing more edifying subjects.

I signed up to take the Artificial Intelligence class being offered online (as an experiment in monetizing the extended educational experience) by Stanford University. Anyone can join -- at least until it starts next week -- and over 130 THOUSAND folks have. So it oughta be interesting.

To try to get a flavor of what I've gotten myself into I started reading the book and looking through the demo code. I'm posting my notes for all to wonder at. The book is pretty well written but the questions at the end of each chapter seem to be from the Advanced, not the Introductory, class, as they refer to topics that are only barely mentioned in the text. Given that I dropped out of more CS classes than I completed, 35 years ago, I'm having trouble groking the required level of "proof" and "show that" requested. Hopefully the video lectures and actual homework assignments will be a bit more illuminating.

Looking at the code takes me right back to the days of trying to understand the work of my professional peers with advanced degrees. I posit that the sets ComputerScientist and SoftwareEngineer are Almost Disjoint. Therefore what looks like a really swell algorithm in a text book may need a bit of patching for the real world. I try to address some of these "issues" in my notes on specific code blocks. My natural tendency is to re-write everything I come across -- Hi Brian -- so I have to be careful. And bite my tongue.

In any case I can always drop down a notch to the Basic level which has no feedback requirements and just go along for the ride. But for now I hope to keep posting what may be useful information...don't touch that dial.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Natural Stupidity (not Artificial Intelligence)

Did a Faceplant from a Firetruck yesterday. Fortunately it was during a training so everything could grind to a halt while they prepped me for the required ambulance ride to the ER...

my own work

after they were finished

later that day

24 hours in

We were pulling the supply hose from the roof bed of the tanker when it got hung up someplace. So I climbed up a couple steps on the back of the truck to see what was what. I pulled. Nada. I pulled real-way-more harder and the hose gave way suddenly causing me to lose my grip -- as if I hadn't already -- and fly off the steps. I performed a perfect three point landing in the gravel on my hands and face. Did the Klingon modifications to my face as shown, stained my neck, and compressed both wrists, but only bruised one palm.

I was not wearing my helmet, which might have protected my face at the expense of breaking my neck, so I guess inattention to detail is sometimes useful.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

¿Artificial? Intelligence

Last week my friend David Krakauer presented three lectures on Intelligence -- c.f. Cognitive Ubiquity -- in the SFI Ulam Lecture series. I thought the slides were online someplace but I can't find them; however the videos should be posted at sometime soon. He made some good, and some arguable, points and was quite entertaining in the process.

One of the good points is that what we call intelligence, if we can even define it, goes much deeper than the human cortex. He showed a video clip of a white blood cell "chasing" a bacterium through a forest of red cells where the white cell appeared to be behaving quite smartly in it's search-and-destroy mission. He then made the point that the low level components of computerized artificial intelligence have none of the characteristics of that "simple" white cell, e.g.: NAND gates don't adapt.

I think this is not an apt comparison. Where transistors are atoms, NAND gates are more comparable to simple molecules. Large Scale Integrated circuits -- memory chips and the like -- might measure up to the capabilities of a complex organic molecule, and micro-controllers could be compared to one or two neurons. To support my claim I present you with three series-connected neurons: Each neuron might (conservatively) have 1000 synapses which gives the whole system one-billion possible binary states. Show me a microchip that does that. Then realize that there are about 1011 neurons in the human brain and another (hand-waving-estimate) 1010 elsewhere in the body.

This is the scale of the problem we have.

But Wait! There's More!

Getting back to the hand-waving-estimate thing... A year or so ago I tried, unsuccessfully, to estimate the Shannon Information content of our nervous system in order to have a reasonable retort when folks asked me why my robots behaved so stupidly. I was not successful because I found it almost impossible to get good estimates of three -- to me -- important values:
  1. The number of Sensor Inputs;
  2. The number of Motor Outputs;
  3. The resolution of a "Synaptic Connection".
I did dig up swagish values for the number of Inputs, and finally settled on the number of muscles as a stand-in for the Output count. But I could not get anyone to hazard a guess at #3 -- no one seems to know how much you can vary a synaptic connection weight: the putative mechanism for learning and adaption. Everywhere I asked I got some run-around about how it doesn't really work that way or other long-circuit "I don't know". As a geek this was surprising because some of the first things one wants to know about a computer program are how much input and output and what resolution, accuracy, and speed is required.

Anyway, I put together a cheat sheet of what I found: here. And just so you don't have to follow -- and make sense of -- that link, here's the chase:

    Input:          10^8 eye sensors; 10^7 touch, hearing, taste, and smell
      Sight:         5*10^6 cones + 1.3*10^8 rods ~= 1.4*10^8 sensors
      Touch:        (swag) 3*10^6 sensors
      Hearing:    8.8*10^2 sensor neurons
      Taste:        (swag) 1*10^6 sensors
      Smell:        1.2*10^6 sensors
    Output:       Estimate, 300-700 muscles in a human body

I also guessed at 8 bits -- for convenience -- of synaptic weight, and put the neural firing rate at 50 per second, with each synapse doing a scale and each neuron doing a sum operation. That gave me, for the brain only:

  • 7*10^14 bytes or 5.6 petaBit of state
  • 3.5*10^16 or 35 petaFlop/second of calculation
-- This is the scale of the problem we have --

It is also interesting to note that the number of touch sensors is in the same order of magnitude as the number of cones in the eye. Until now, much of the interest in neural signal processing has been in the visual cortex. But the motor cortex may have as many inputs and probably many more outputs. The visual system is pretty good at linear algebra, but the motor system solves simultaneous differential equations each time you toss a wad of paper at the trash can. So literally putting a robot out in the field may be a very fruitful line of research after all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dreamtime Encounter

Had a little run-in with a Succubus last night...

A figure appeared to me disguised as a college guidance councilor "helping" me find the location of classroom number 98 on a campus map in the student handbook. Of course, I couldn't find "campus map" in the index. I was making an attempt at "map, campus" when it attacked me. I was startled awake while simultaneously kissing and strangling the being.

I guess I can count myself fortunate that it was not this one:


Monday, August 22, 2011

Engaging Community

...Lets not say I don't try.

I entered and just dropped off a re-vamped Anemone (click for details) at the Santa Fe Arts Commission annual (non-)poster competition:
Anemone, NM

in which I can pretty much guarantee no one has ever seen anything like. The grand opening and prize announcement is at the Santa Fe Community Gallery - 201 West Marcy Street - this Friday, August 26, 2011 from 5pm - 7pm. Bt|B2

I have also applied to show in various venues and/or be an Arfist in Residence during the ISEA conference in ABQ next year. And am putzing along on making a proposal to put Big Barbie in the Railyard Art Project, as well as making up a page to gauge interest in the finishment of March Time once and for all Time.

But probably, it's not that simple...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Humming Along

If y'all happens to be in the B.Area next Friday Aug 26, visit the civic center post office for a hummingbird mural opening by Johanna Poethig and bird music by, amongst ..., Chris Brown and Tim Perkis. We don't seem to be having anything like that here in the other white S.F. Just the usual runup to Injun Market:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Restating the Obvious

A year, or two, later I hereby re-submit my proposal for the Dada Centennial. Go here and maybe add to the fun:

What if, for the 100th anniversary of Dada in 2015, we did something completely different? Still, of course, shocking to the burghers, who now expect amusing shouts and excursions from Dadaistas. But hasn't that already been done? None of that neo-wheeo stuff we've all seen before, but rather, something in keeping with the intent of the original.
What would it be?
Your mission, should you decide to accept, is to figure that out. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Almost Shaking

Mr. Hand make progress. Putting off the electronics for as long as possible:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lazy Reposting....

Just to keep this one-sided conversation in play, found these two gems at Dangerous Minds:

Because most folks confuse me with Eeyore.

And Star Trek went where I'd never been before.
[8/7/11 -- darnit, had to re-find/post the images because something went wrong somewhere....]

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seeing Violet

Last month I got into a pointlessly circular -- what other kind are there I guess, eh? -- online "discussion" about how one sees the spectral color violet: Since it is out there beyond blue, what sort of sensory signals are we interpreting in order to believe that we see a distinctive color? The "discussion" became so circular that I began to think that I had actually never seen real violet, and sans spectrometer or even a diffraction grating it may be that I will never know.

Subsequent to the referencing of a Nature paper as evidence of something or other about the actual spectral sensitivities of human retinal cones, the "discussion" made a small side-trip into my standard whinge about the wall of pay-for-play scientific journalism. I did finally extort the referenced paper, and a few others, from someone-with-access and found that none of them answered any of the questions very well. As usual. But worse they don't seem to agree amongst themselves.

The problem is that spectral-violet -- which I am going to somewhat arbitrarily define as a "color" with a wavelength below 400nm -- falls outside of the gamut of all common color reproduction methods so it cannot be viewed on a screen or in print. To exacerbate the issue, the non-spectral purples and magentas are often confused with violet, even in nomenclature, such that folks often say, "Sure, violet is blue with a bit of red in it."

To start with I went off looking for a good plot of the spectral response of the cones of the human retina. The obvious one was from the wiki Color Vision page:
 (note: I replaced the missing wiki image 7/28/13...)

But it has a linear vertical scale AND the levels are normalized such that one cannot judge relative sensitivity. It also uses the scientifically accurate but completely confusing labeling: S,M,L for Short, Medium, and Long wavelength rather than just coming out and saying Blue, Green, and Red like anyone talking about it would. It does show the more-or-less center points of the sensitivities to be around:
  • blue(S) 440 nm
  • green(M) 540 nm
  • red(L) 570 nm
Since what I'm interested in is the response right at the origin of that graph I need more detail in the tails. So I found some -- actually a lot of -- log plots at the Color and Vision Research Laboratory at University College London:

Unfortunately most of these are also normalized, and also seem to have had some CIE post-processing applied -- if one can make sense out of the accompanying information. But at the bottom of the list there are a couple that look like they aren't normalized, e.g., the Smith & Pokorny (1975) (also subject to post-processing per the notes, but may be good enough for me):

Modulo the journal accessibility problem, I did make a number of passes at finding actual papers that might be the source for this data. I found two by Stockman, etal (one for the M&L cones (1993) and another for the S cones (1999) but I'm not sure how to match-up the vertical scales). And an earlier one by Wald (1964)  that has all three in one plot but has the sensitivities and curve shapes jumbled up compared to every other example (get back to me if you make sense of any of it, ok?):

Then I moved on to color reproduction starting at the wiki CIE 1931 color space page which (attempts to) explain those lovely "color tongue" diagrams on which one can plot various primary sets to indicate the relative gamuts. This one shows the "CIE RGB primaries" forming the lower triangle which are at:
  • blue 435.8 nm
  • green 546.1 nm
  • red 700 nm 
I have also taken the liberty of marking the position of the SML cone center sensitivities on this in white for reference. Interesting to note that the nominal red sensor is actually more like yellow in our scheme of things:

For comparison, here's wiki's sRGB space which is around-and-about what one can display on a computer screen:

Note that the colors on all these images are fake, since anything outside of the marked triangles cannot be imitated by mixing the apex colors.  Also notice that spectral-violet falls off the bottom of the tongue at the lower left corner, and can only be reproduced using an emitter of less than 400nm light. Which no one has.

The next thing that occurred to me is: "How do we distinguish all those blue-greens at the top of the tongue if our green sensor is so far down the curve?"

I think the answer to that is in looking at the relative responses of each cone when exposed to the spectral stimulus, compared to an attempted "synthesizing" stimulus. In this diagram I have marked 520nm (from the tip of the tongue) as the target and indicated the peak sensitivities of each cone in the relevant color:

By comparing the ratios of "activations" between the 520 line and the combination of 440 and 540 lines, I think we can see that the RED signal ratio may be much higher for a synthesized color. This will tend to de-saturate the reproduced color as compared to its spectral "equivalent", so reproduced colors will be "pulled" in to the center of the triangle.  But through the offices of the gradual fall off in response of the red and green cones, spectral colors will invoke a uniquely distinguishable response.

Given the above, it then appears that spectral-violet is formed by an identical, low, response from each cone, as compared to the actual blue stimulus further to the right in the spectrum.

So that's my story to which I stick until I find someone who can explain it to me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Talk to the -- Moving -- Hand

More progress. All the bits move. Amazing, no?

Still need to make a stand and mount the arm motor so it can swing up and down...And of course the control electronics...I'm also going to need a full-on arc welder power supply to run the finger solenoids, but can reuse it in other projects after I find a place to store this one.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Modest Proposal, II

Now that chatroulette seems to have run it's course I think it's time to update the paradigm a bit. I propose cliqueRoulette at, of course,

It would do much the same thing, pseudo-randomly connecting folks to one-another while allowing them to accept or reject the connections. However the great advance would be to make it more like High School by adding user defined tags, or cliques, which one can use to filter the connections. Each user would have a score for each clique that they have accessed. The score would be based on how long you remain connected to other members of the clique. While connected one can communicate until a Goodbye is sent, thus tacitly accepting the opposite member, or hit the Reject button and move on. The time to the Goodbye would add to your score and a Reject, when sent unilaterally, would subtract. Members with higher scores would be preferentially connected to each other, but some randomness would allow interlopers to intercede and perhaps gain traction. Higher scores might also translate into less advertising, faster connections, or some other more tangible rewards.

As an example, let's say there's a "boobs" clique. By playing nice you could increase your score thus making it more likely that you will score. The idea may need to be extended to allow for sub-classes like Producers, Consumers, Lurkers, Muttonheads, and etc...But you get the idea and can probably take over the implementation from here.

Send me a link when it's working.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another Not Nopera!

Last night, through the offices of a couple friends with a spare ticket, I was able to take in the Santa Fe Opera's Vivaldi/Sellar's Griselda, including of course, the usual sushi-pre-tailgate extravaganza. Half of the fine seats in the mid-balcony where we were sitting were empty, possibly due to this opening night review published in our daily local news-rag:  Premiere of Vivaldi Opera Misfires.

.... OK? Back? ....

It is my personal belief -- knowing basically-jack-all about opera but something about theater -- that the reviewer either saw an off-night or is off himself. There are kernels of truth in many of his quibbles so I tend to believe the latter. But I would reverse just about every one of his opinions:

  • The singing -- although a bit variable -- was quite fine throughout. I thought the King and Queen took a while to warm up but came though in the end. Amanda Majeski's Ottone was not "shrill" but the hit of the show. To extend an olive branch, I agree -- and double down -- that Isabel Leonard's Costanza was fabulous.
  • The music was balanced and easy to listen to -- one could make a case for the entire 101 Strings catalog being simply the working out of Baroque permutations.  The guest appearance of two French horns towards the end of the first act was a pleasing counterpoint to all the strings'n'things.
  • The costumes -- perhaps a bit over-the-top, but hey dude, it's OPERA -- worked well to distinguish the characters' personalities. Griselda's native blanket brought her down to S.Fe earth from her royal loftiness and Costanza's quinceañera dress played well to her child-bride innocence. That dress was well used by the lighting in a number of cases -- did anyone notice that her back-lit shadow looked like a Pawn shuttling around the Kings and Queens? If anything, the Southwest references were quite honorable "Coals to Newcastle".
  • The lighting was dramatic and -- usually -- well paced and placed. There were points I would have tweaked, say a tiny bit of fill when the characters were kept in the dark of their own thoughts, a widening of a spot here and there to hold focus, or some blocking changes to backup the drama. But it worked. Sometimes fantastically.
  • The set comprised a green floor, one -- bumped up to two for the penultimate Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire scene -- movable chair, and two secret service goons who provided all the backdrop one really needed. So I found the actual Gronk backdrop -- a mashup of Dali, Miro, Grotz, Rousseau, and some miscellaneous household objects -- to be superfluous. Perhaps the director was trying to emulate Merce Cunningham Style but missed the point that the individual ostensibly un-related elements need to be intrinsically interesting in and of themselves?
  • The staging. Well, given the minimalist setting, the staging did somewhat over-rely on the flooring. Which is actually fine if you are in the balcony, but maybe those lucky souls in the orchestra seats couldn't always see the cast "rolling about" upon it?  It is also my humble opinion that Sellars tends to bludgeon the dramatic bits somewhat more heavily than necessary. E.g., the final lights-out on re-Queened Griselda still sweeping the floor just seemed out of place.

Which brings me to the N.Mex'ans central complaint: "When opera people argue about whether directors have gone too far...", Baroque opera should be their touch-stone.  It was Experimental Musical Theater. This one in particular may have been the first to employ both a composer and a librettist. Performances were melded from bits and pieces to fit the capabilities and preferences of those involved. Nothing was Set-in-Stone.

Now, of course, it Should-Never-Be-Turned. When funding for The Arts is divied up it's always the Symphony and the Opera, and maybe Shakespeare in the Park, that get the big bucks. But they are not The Arts. They are History. The Arts are a living, growing, groping, thing. Thus I feel impelled to applaud Peter Sellars and the Santa Fe Opera for busting out of the envelope.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Las Conches Endgame?

Here's what it looked like from my place on the evening of July 15:

The plume, at the southern end of the fire in the map below, is about due west and Los Alamos is just off the right edge of the photo -- which may give some idea of scale and relative position. Also, for scale, the burned area in this map is about 230 square miles....

I think much of the smoke we've seen since Friday is from back-burns meeting up with the real fire. On Monday S.Fe county is sending one of Hondo's brush trucks with a "foreign" (not of Hondo) crew up to help with mopup.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Local Color I

July 13, 2011 -- The Santa Fe Police Department is investigating the following reports:

• Alma Patricia Villegas-Rodriguez, 38, 6251 Airport Road, was arrested Tuesday at Super 8 Motel, 3425 Cerrillos Road, and charged with disorderly conduct. Witnesses said Villegas-Rodriguez was angry, and was kicking and yelling at a plastic bag in the parking lot.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Talk to the Hand

Some more progress on Mr. Hand. Got a finger to move under its own power, sorta. But have to wait for materials from far flung parts of the USofA in order to figure out the wrist motion before I can complete the assembly and discover that it isn't going to actually work right.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pie in the Sky

Ended up on the wrong end of a coconut creme pie at a birthday party yesterday:

But not as bad as Bill Gates:
And a better outcome too:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not Nopera

Went to see Faust at the S.Fe Opera on Weds night. Did the sushi-tailgate thing aforehand, and then carried through with actually going to the performance rather than No-pera-ing it. They pulled out most of the stops on this one and even included the "ballet" section at the end which was originally added because the French had to have dancing girls somewhere in any show they attended. This made the whole thing last over three (3!) hours which was about an hour too long for the boy-meets-devil-meets-girl-loses-everything story. But fun anyway.

One interesting bit in the staging makes me wonder exactly who is tweaking whom. In the Marguerite-goes-to-church scene, Mephistopheles is the priest playing the organ. She takes her baby into the confessional and ole-Meph sets up in the ajoining compartment. He slowly creeps through the screen between the sections and pulls the baby out of her arms. Then the entire congregation turns out to be wearing red demon masks. It's incredibly creepy good... But... Is this little bit of stage-craft specified in the original or left to the reader? It basically sets up the Catholic Church as the Great Satan. If it is original I would more expect it from the Protestant Germans, not the Catholic French. If it's Santa Fe's Own, then maybe the local catholic population is too poor to attend the opera? Considering the brouhaha over the topless angel Guadalupe collage at the Folk Museum a few years ago you'd think someone would notice.

Two thumbs up. M-bob says check it out at SRO prices.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Fire Stuff

Tom Ashcraft over at sent me this time-lapse video from the first night of the Las Conches fire. It's from just east of Eldroado (a few miles down the road from me) and he says it was shot with a standard lens -- not a telephoto -- but it seems up pretty close when compared to my previously posted deck photos. I musta missed the big overture...

And now for something completely...

Well, probably not different but at least not fire related...

I'm making a robot hand out of copper pipe. As is typical for Santa Fe I had to import a good portion of the art supplies from elsewhere -- We have a metal recycler and a couple of construction materials vendors here, but they don't really provide the level of supply to which I had become accustomed.

Here's some fingers:

The palm portion is in process as we speak. I will probably stall out after I get it assembled, but the idea is to have it articulate on an arm so you can shake hands with a robot. It would have a people detector and a speach synth to try to get folks to cooperate and berate them when they don't. I should do it with Arduinos and MaxMSP but I think I'm just too stupid to learn how, so I'll probably re-invent it all for myself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All Along the Watchtower

Last night everyone in the greater Santa Fe area had a devilish view of three or four Las Conches ridgelines happily burning away. One way to the south above Cochiti and the others behind and above Los Alamos. That and concentrated fire-truck patrols seems to have put a damper on private aerial fireworks displays down here, so we had no real incidents with which to deal -- in my district, Hondo, the guys mostly drove around to get different and better views of the burning ridges to the west. There was apparently one rough moment elsewhere in the county when an off duty State Police Personage refused to stop celebrating -- who do you call then, the FBI?

Anyway here's today's map showing growth to the north. Some theories have it running until it gets to Abiquiu, quite a bit further north. And, based on yesterday's personal communications, it is also still burning down the canyons of Santa Clara, destroying most of the watershed for the Pueblo. Hopefully they will be able to recover in a timely manner:

Here is a map from the night of July 3rd which shows the daily size increase. Very impressive:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pacheco Fire -- the ignored eldest child

So what's happened to the Pacheco Fire during all this excitement about Las Conches? Fortunately not much of the bad seems to be fairly contained and -- weather willing -- not spreading. Incident Command is being transferred to local authorities which means that it's mostly grunt work, a LOT of grunt work, left to do. I found this June 26 satellite image of the two fires on NASA's Earth Observatory. I didn't realize that they are directly across the Rio Grande from each other:

(NASA doesn't seem to put images on this site in a timely manner so you can't use it to track reality, but they are instructive none-the-less).

Getting back to Las Conches, it too seems to be in the wind-down phase. No fat ladies are singing (outside of the opera house) yet, but Los Alamos and LANL are off evacuation notice. Yesterday an actual good map was posted and I grabbed a copy in case it got disappeared. Unfortunately it's embeded in a pdf document as small strips of image so you'll just have to download it and look at it as best you can: By comparing that map to the usual-schmutzy one from July 2 23:00 posted this morning you can get an idea of what's been affected and where -- it is hoped -- it will all end:


A Little Exegesis

A number of people have asked me, "How come they don't just fill up every airplane and drown the thing right away?" The problem is, you can't get enough water in the air to have any real effect. Let's just say that it would take a storm dumping 1" of rain in an hour to knock-down a square-mile of burning forest -- I'm just grabbing those numbers out of an orifice, but I think they're in the right ballpark. That storm would deliver around 18 million gallons of water. Most firefighting air tankers carry 3000 gallons or less, so you would need to execute 6000 drops in an hour to have the same effect. Thus air drops are generally used on small spot fires or to create containment lines with retardant.

Which brings me to a small lecture on wildfire fighting. The Fire Tetrahedron shows that you need four things for a fire to burn: Air, Fuel, Heat, and Chemistry. To stop the fire you need to interrupt continuity in one or more of those. For a structure fire you have a failrly well contained but very hot fire. You can deliver 10 or 20,000 gallons of water in an hour and basically drown it -- the water cools it off and to some extent limits the fuel's access to air. In a big wildland fire there's no way to cool it off, so the only thing you can do is limit it's access to fuel. This is called "cutting line" around the fire. We have to make a break in the continuity of fuel using natural barriers like ridge-tops and rivers as well as man-made roads, bull-dozed strips, and, very often, hand-dug trenches.

The three things of interest in a widlfire are: Fuel, Weather, and Topology. With heavy fuels -- big trees with jungle-like understory -- it's very hard to break the continuity. Windy, especially hot and dry, weather drives the fire and causes "spotting" -- embers blown far from the fire front which ignite new "spot fires" that can expand and spot some more. Rough terrain makes it very hard to access to cut-line and, since fire likes to travel up, the second worst place to be (the worst being IN the fire) is up-wind and up-hill -- which is exactly where you need to be in order to stop the main fire's progress and knock out those small spot fires. That's why these things take so long to get under control.

For Las Conches, it looks like really concentrated work saved the Pajarito Ski lodge buildings and, with some added weather luck, kept the fire from spreading into inhabited parts of Los Alamos. But that's using over 1000 people on only a small part of the fire-line.

Personal interest aside: I grew up near the SoCal air tanker base which this guy visited: Cal Fire Airtankers at Hemet-Ryan,CA so I well remember them flying overhead all day long during the summer.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1 and Counting

Today's map. The brown areas are the expansion over the last day mostly to the north and into Santa Clara land. The rain helped a bit, but is predicted to dry out by this afternoon. I found this on!/NMFireInfo/lasconchasfire, posted by someone from LANL but not on the inciweb site (yet?):

The Las Conches Fire is now the largest wildfire on record in New Mexico. But we have a contender. The Donaldson Fire, down south of the other Hondo, NM,  is racking up the tall-grass acreage at close to 80,000 today.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Las Conches June 30

Another small-n-schmutzy map from the forest service. More growth to the north and it's spread onto sacred Santa Clara tribal land:

The ominous black fingers around Los Alamos are the past Cerro Grande fire boundaries, so actually a good thing as that area was recently burned out and less likely to go full bore again.

Having the first cats-n-dogs rain here at EarthSchip right now, so maybe relief is on the way.

I mycells spent all day at the Toyota dealership waiting for Bubba-San's brake$$ to be fixed, so again all work and no play for the dull boy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Las Conches June 29

New day, new map. For some reason they have this posted on NMFireInfo in a tiny little ever-changing window so you can't recognize anything and it changes to a slightly different version before you realize you don't know what it means. I found that if you "View Image" and then hack off the excess from the jpg URL you get a bigger map. This for instance (click for more):

Looks like it's still sneaking up on LANL and almost has the Pajarito Ski Area surrounded, but grew more to the north and south. Right now I can see a goodly plume from what must be the Bandelier burn on the south-east side. And the wind seems to be picking up from the west again

We'll just see.