Weeknote for 8/11/2019

Life maintenance

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My life has been kind of crowded with life maintenance lately. I’m handling it okay, but it’s giving me less time for my projects and for sleep, and it’s been burdening me with extra worry. See the YouTube section below for something that’s been helping me cope.

At work my current batch of ebooks is more intense than usual, so I’ve had to work late a couple of times, and it’s cutting into some of my other activities. That’ll continue through this week.

Car shopping is on hold until after this crunch time at work, but I can say I’ll be looking mainly for a Honda Civic, Mazda 3, or Toyota Corolla. If I can find a hybrid in my price range, I’ll look at that too, probably a Toyota Camry or Prius. I’m planning to pay cash, so my savings will take a hit.

Medical billing is my main worry right now, because I don’t know how tame or wild my costs will end up being. I’m still figuring out my mysterious bill, and another issue has come up in the process, but I’ve recruited our benefit service provider to help me work it out. I’m expecting to make several more phone calls to various parties.

One thing I’m not worried about is my biannual colonoscopy for my ulcerative colitis on Friday. I’m basically a pro at those now. Thursday is prep day, but that’ll start after work.

πŸ™‚

A positive development last week was that I did some cooking. I’d been meaning to carefully plan out a rotation of meals I could cook once a week and take to work for lunch and then a second rotation for dinner, but I got impatient waiting to get around to all that planning, so I just jumped in with the first meal that came to mind. I made beef stew using my dad’s recipe, and it turned out extra delicious, if I do say so myself. I also got a late start and finished cooking at 1 a.m.–oops.

Conceptual modeling

😐

With life maintenance and naps taking up my time and with feeling procrastinatory over the amount of work writing takes, I didn’t get much writing done. So to keep this project from dragging on forever, I’m going to finish up my bullet points and post those. That’s good enough for me, because this essay is mainly a summary and research agenda for my own use.

AI field map

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This week starts the project month of August, and my project this month is an AI field map, where I identify the important people, organizations, events, publications, and so on in the world of AI research. It’ll give me a better foundation for conversations about AI and a better idea of places I’d like to work. If I finish that early, I’ll get back to conceptual modeling research.

Social issues

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I finished the excellent audiobook of While the World Watched, Carolyn Maull McKinstry’s memoirΒ of growing up in Birmingham in the middle of the civil rights movement of the 1960s (here’s an hour-long talk by her on the topic). I appreciated getting an overview of the important events and people of the time and a personal view of what life was like in Black communities, as well as McKinstry’s honest reactions to her circumstances throughout her life and her hopeful outlook. Despite some confusing chronology in a few places, I recommend the book, and I’m grateful she put her experiences and reflections into writing for us.

Video

Movies

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I took an accidental break from my AI movie project because I wasn’t paying attention to my Netflix DVD queue, and I ended up starting what will eventually be some kind of ’80s sci fi project. The movie I watched was The Last Starfighter, which a YouTube video told me was an inspiration for today’s synthwave genre. The movie had less of a Tron-like, synthwave feel to me and more of a light Star Wars feel, largely because of the orchestral score, though I could tell it was trying to stand on its own rather than mimic other movies. Overall I liked it, but I felt it was actually too short and needed more starfighting.

YouTube

😎

In the background of my mindless tasks I’ve been binge listening to a couple of YouTube channels, and they’ve helped buoy me through this stressful time. What helps is hearing their advice for keeping life moving forward and seeing how these ideas have worked for them personally.

  • Thomas Frank, the Uploads playlist, which is everything on his channel. He mainly covers learning and productivity in a bite-size, down-to-earth, and friendly way. Even though I think about this stuff a lot already, I quickly picked up some good tips for managing my time and motivation for applying the principles I knew.
  • Traversy Media, the Developer Discussion playlist. His channel covers tutorials on a wide range of programming topics, mostly related to web development, but this playlist is about the personal and business side of life as a developer, especially as a freelancer. I’ve been looking at freelancing for some extra financial security and to gain experience in the programming topics I want to learn, and his videos make me feel that pushing into new areas of work is doable. I also appreciate his openness about the life challenges he’s faced.

Another channel I could binge along these lines is The Financial Diet, friendly and accessible advice on managing your money.

Posted in AI, Car, Conceptual modeling, Cooking, Health, Life maintenance, Money, Movies, Productivity, Programming, Social issues, Videos, Weeknotes, Work | 1 Comment

Weeknote for 8/4/2019

Conceptual modeling

😐

I’m mostly done with the outlining, so this week I’ll write the updated essay and hopefully post it by the end of the week, which is the end of this project month.

Life maintenance

😐

I took my car to the insurance’s auto body shop, which decided it was a total loss. The car still drives fine though, so I kept it for a lower payment from the insurance, and now I’m officially car shopping. It’s been 14 years since I’ve bought a car, and last time I did a lot of research, but this time I’m mostly relying on Consumer Reports. Their most useful info is behind a paywall, which usually I don’t like, but for buying a car it feels like a good investment.

Spirituality

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I listened to Hit Hard by Pat and Tammy McLeod, read by the authors, a memoir of coping with ambiguous loss in the form of their son’s brain damage from a football injury. Their story had considerably less poise and more conflict than Colors of Goodbye, so in that way it felt more relatable, and I found myself identifying with Tammy’s perspective and way of coping. But it’s still a hopeful and encouraging story, and it makes me feel a little more like maybe I too could adapt to a hard change like theirs.

Social issues

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My next audiobook is While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry, a memoir of growing up in Birmingham during the civil rights movement of the ’60s. I’m hoping it’ll give me a window on that movement that will help me understand our society’s current struggles.

πŸ˜•

After many years, the alarmism of the Internet has finally eroded my apathy about the environment. I’m not sure how panicked I should be, so I’m just wading into the material and letting the debates clarify things for me. Interesting people I’ve found so far are David Wallace-Wells with his book The Uninhabitable Earth, Jem Bendell with deep adaptation, Michael Shellenberger, and the people at the Climate Feedback website. With this on my mind, it’s odd seeing the mundane ways we spend our lives when this epic emergency is unfolding around us.

With the general life stress I was already feeling this summer, I question my reading choices over the past month or so, but oh well. I’ve been staying emotionally afloat.

Video

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Continuing my AI movie project, I watched Bicentennial Man. I think it’s extremely unlikely that an AI would spontaneously develop recognizable emotions and want to be human, so I don’t think it was great as an AI story. As an exploration of what it means to be human, I found it to be decently thoughtful, in a ’90s sort of way, and I liked the robot costumes, technology props, and set design. I have a new appreciation for Sam Neill, and it was nice to see Lynne Thigpen.

Posted in AI, Car, Conceptual modeling, Movies, Social issues, Spirituality, Weeknotes | 6 Comments

Weeknote for 7/28/2019

Conceptual modeling

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I got over my procrastination hump on the essay update by making a list of my worries and questions and then adding a list of analytical questions to answer in the outline. I’m in the middle of writing summary answers to them, and then I’ll expand on them to create the actual content. I feel I can finish it by my deadline at the end of next week.

Spirituality

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I finished September Vaudrey’s memoir Colors of Goodbye (book trailer, but don’t watch it if you want to let the book unfold the story) about her family’s loss of her daughter. 6/5, amazing book, about as intense as I expected, and if there’s any chance you can handle the subject, one I recommend to everyone (but get the ebook, because the pictures are in color). Having said that, there’s a certain poise to the Vaudreys’ story that not every experience of grief will share, and I think it’s important to remember that both their story and everyone else’s are legitimate. I’m thinking of these kinds of memoirs as incomplete maps of loss that can each locate some of the dangerous whirlpools and some islands of beauty and relief. This one helped me see what kinds of messages and actions matter to the victims in this kind of crisis, and it’s a book I expect I’ll come back to for study.

Next is a similar memoir, Hit Hard by Pat and Tammy McLeod, about their son’s severe disability from brain damage after a football injury.

Movies

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I watched Her, a thoughtful movie about a relationship between a human and his computer’s operating system. It captured the deep ambivalence we’ll surely feel toward AGI and our struggles to adapt to its changing nature, and it was the high point of this AI movie project (which would have been shared by Ex Machina if I hadn’t already seen that one). In spite of the bittersweet ending, the AI’s general trajectory is actually something I would expect and even hope for if I were designing the system, so I couldn’t be too sad.

Posted in AI, Conceptual modeling, Movies, Spirituality, Weeknotes | 2 Comments

Weeknote for 7/21/2019

Site update

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I’m going back to the more restricted template I used early on in these updates with a max of four sentences per topic.

Life maintenance

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To prepare for researching my mystery medical bill, I filed the disorganized pile of papers I’d been accumulating, which had the past year’s medical bills mixed in. I finished that, and now my life feels a little clearer and tidier.

Conceptual modeling

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I got as far as making a general outline. I had a late start, but I also felt a bit underprepared and overwhelmed by this essay. This week I’ll identify the blank spots in my ideas for it and see where that takes me.

Spirituality

😌

I listened to War Story (book trailer), Steven Elliott’s account of his recovery after he’d possibly killed Pat Tillman, fellow Army Ranger and former NFL player, in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan. 5/5: I appreciated his honest and difficult questions and his clarity in identifying the factors that helped him. I was also struck by how well he painted Pat as someone you’d want to know.

Now to get my heart wrung out by September Vaudrey’s Colors of Goodbye.

Fiction

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Last week I made the ebook for my coworker’s first published novel, The Means That Make Us Strangers, a story about the civil rights movement in the ’60s. I’ve added it to my listening queue, where it will nicely complement Carolyn Maull McKinstry’s While the World Watched. Then on Saturday I had a nice time at Christine’s festive and well-attended book launch party.

Posted in Conceptual modeling, Coping, Ebooks, Fiction, Life maintenance, Site updates, Social life, Spirituality, Weeknotes | 1 Comment

Weeknote for 7/14/2019

Site update

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Last week’s very late update reminded me that these weeknotes take me too long to write. I feel like each month’s project is just writing weeknotes and maybe squeezing in my actual project if I have time. So I’m going to think about how I can get them done faster.

Independence Day

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My vacation continued through Monday morning.

Sunday

Sunday after enjoying the US Women’s World Cup win (the rare sports thing I can appreciate), Abbie and I hung out at craft and bookstores until our parents arrived. We went to dinner at our favorite family dining restaurant in the area. My dad and I found it after a long, tiring drive on one of our earliest trips up here for college.

Monday

In the morning we met at a local breakfast place, and then I dropped my car off at the mechanic to look at the damage from the previous week’s accident. Then my family drove me to work, where we said good-bye.

Life maintenance

Last week started with a fuller-than-usual plate of life maintenance concerns. It kinda weighed on my mind. So I made a list of stressors and tasks and then waited to get past them as the week progressed.

Monday

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The police officer at the car accident the week before gave me a motorist report to fill out. It was due in 10 days or I’d get my license suspended or something. Then I went on vacation. I wrote as much as I could while I was away, but for the damage estimate, I needed a knowledgeable person to look at the car. Hence the trip to my mechanic Monday morning. By lunch time he’d determined it’d be hard to fix, and I should have a body shop look at it.

But first I decided to call my insurance company. They started a claim for me and gave me a rough estimate I could put on the form. That took a decently sized weight off my mind.

I debated whether I’d fix this car or replace it. By the end of the week I was leaning toward replace. With all the rust on the underside, this car will only get harder to fix, and next time it might be more than a loose bumper and an out-of-place fuel line.

Tuesday

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Tuesday afternoon I had an appointment with my gastro doctor to lead up to my next colonoscopy. I have one every couple of years to check up on my ulcerative colitis. I’m used to them by now, but my worry is always who I can ask to drive me there and back, since after the procedure I’m too spacey to drive. Jeremy to the rescue! I’d forgotten he took me last year, but a Gmail search reminded me, and he agreed to do it this time too. That’ll be in a month.

Wednesday

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At my regular dental appointment a few weeks ago, they found a small cavity. Wednesday I got it filled. After I got there late and then waited a while for everything to get set up, the actual filling only took about five minutes.

Then they tried to charge me $1,000 … for a root canal and a crown. It turned out there were two Andrews there that day, and I was about to be really nice and pay the other one’s bill! My actual bill was only $47.

Waiting

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Speaking of mysterious $1,000 bills (really closer to $2,000), I’d gotten one from the pharmacy that handles my UC medication. Another mental weight to interfere with my vacation. But the more I look into it, the less suspicious it seems, so now my main question is if the manufacturer’s discount program can reduce it.

πŸ™‚

Although it was less pressing than my other life maintenance concerns, I wanted to get my cleaning schedule set up. At the end of the week I finished recreating the Clean My Space table as a spreadsheet, so now I just need to fill it in with my intended routine.

And that wraps up my month of life maintenance!

Conceptual modeling

😎

This month’s project is a major update to my conceptual modeling essay based on my thinking and research over the past year. It’ll prepare for the more detailed work on this method that I’ll do in later sprints.

This project is a big deal for me. I see conceptual modeling research as a major subgoal of my life mission of exploring mental and relational potential. I’ve been thinking about it for many years. In fact, even if I never get very far in my career mission of contributing to artificial intelligence, if I do get somewhere with defining a system of conceptual modeling, I think I’ll feel content with my life. So if you see me spending a lot of project months on it in the future, that’s why.

Spirituality

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I finished Preemptive Love by Jeremy Courtney. 5/5. It’s about the author’s philosophy of “Love first, ask questions later.” I thought the story would be sentimental, but it was way heavier than I expected. I recommend it.

After that was Breaking Cover by Michele Assad, which I zipped through. Also 5/5. Very compelling. Overall it was about how the difficult assignments God gives you (in her case, an undercover CIA job in very tough countries) can prepare you for higher purposes he has in mind. A major subtheme was empowerment: You can do more than you think, and you can turn others’ assumptions about you into an advantage.

These two books reminded me of the first principle of improv theater I learned from the book Improv Wisdom: “Yes, and.” When someone makes a suggestion, instead of rejecting it out of hand, embrace it and take it further.

But they also reminded me of survivorship bias. Courtney and Assad took risks and succeeded, but was it only because they were trusting God? Surely they had natural traits and acquired skills that gave them an edge. Their stories left me wondering what can be said about the people in similar situations who don’t succeed. Do those stories tell us anything about taking risks?

Next on my list is War Story by Steven Elliott.

TV

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I finished Jessica Jones season 2. Another 5/5. I liked this season even more than the first one. Both dealt with deep themes and desperate situations, and Jessica’s sarcasm is always entertaining. But this season felt more serious to me, maybe because the villain wasn’t cracking jokes.

Now I’m on season 2 of Dark. Wonderful. Philosophical. Confusing. I’m relying on a couple of Reddit posts to help me sort out all the character relationships.

Posted in Car, Career, Conceptual modeling, Health, Holidays, Money, Site updates, Spirituality, TV, Weeknotes | 2 Comments

Weeknote for 7/7/2019

It’s a record! 8 days–a new personal best on lateness.

Independence Day

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Last week (technically the week before at this point) we had a little family reunion at my brother’s place in Wisconsin for the 4th of July. My place was on my sister’s way there, so she stayed overnight before we drove the rest of the way together. Our parents drove up from Texas.

Tuesday

I took the afternoon off to finish getting ready for my sister’s visit. She was arriving that evening.

πŸ˜•

On the way to the store to pick up some things for her stay, I got rear ended by a car that got rear ended by someone else. No one was hurt, but our cars were all damaged. For me the main damage was my rear bumper, which popped out of the wheel well on each side. I need to get it fixed before it falls off and causes another accident. The problem is my car is old and stays outside, so the bottom is really rusty and hard to fix. So I might be buying another car a year or two early. But I couldn’t take care of any of that until I got back the next week.

πŸ™‚

Abbie arrived safely. After she got settled, we ate a dinner of frozen lasagna while watching Big Hero 6. More on that in the Movies section.

Before this month’s life maintenance project, my overnight guests had to use my sleeping bag or my huge comforter for a bed. Happily, I now had a sofa bed. I also got all my boxes moved out of the living room, added a towel bar to my bathroom, and did some way overdue cleaning. So now my apartment is much more presentable.

Wednesday

πŸ™‚

We weren’t leaving till mid-afternoon, so I spent the morning on more chores to spruce up the apartment. For one thing, I had to wash the sheets I’d bought for the sofa bed because they smelled weird.

πŸ™„

Since Abbie had very long drives on this trip already, I offered to drive between Illinois and Wisconsin. Our trip was uneventful, except that we meant to avoid tolls, and then I made a wrong turn and didn’t avoid them. So later I had to go to the Illinois toll website and reconstruct our route so I could pay them. Thankfully Google Maps creepily tracks your location so you can do things like that.

πŸ™‚

Dinner was at a local bar and grill near my brother’s place. It was good but greasier than I was ready for. Lunch had been at a local Mexican place near my place, so it was a day of local dining.

Thursday

πŸ€“

Thursday morning I did a little research to clear up some questions I had about the holiday. How did the colonists win the Revolution against such odds? Why did the allies help? Why did the colonies want independence in the first place? Why is independence day July 4?Β Why do we celebrate with fireworks? Very enlightening.

😎

After a late breakfast, we rented a paddleboat and circled a few times around the bay near Michael’s home. It was midday, which would’ve been a mistake except that there were lots of clouds and a nice breeze. The boat place has more than just paddleboats, and we passed by kayaks, groups of paddleboards, and a swimmer with a bright pink float tied on. Some of the paddleboarders had their dogs with them standing or lying on the board.

😐

At night we drove to a country club for fireworks. It was a mixed experience. The golf course was nice but a little too hilly for comfort. While we waited for darkness, we were snacked on by Wisconsin’s aggressive mosquitos, which seemed to think bug spray was an appetizer. But I did enjoy hearing the chatter of the other visitors around us.

Finally the warning firework was fired, and after a trickle of intro bursts, the show got started. It was a lot like the shows I was used to at home. We were close enough to feel the booms. But after what I took to be the mid-show climax, the pace trickled off again, as if they were having technical problems. People started leaving, and we joined them.

Friday

πŸ€“

Friday we stopped by Michael’s office at his new job, and then it was off to rural Wisconsin for lunch and a museum.

The museum was The House on the Rock, the massive curiosities collection of the late Alex Jordan, who I had never heard of. But my brother’s description sold me on it immediately, and I felt a kinship with this collector before we even arrived. By the end my opinion hadn’t changed, as overwhelmed and tired as I felt. There’s a corner of my mind that, if you blew it up into a person and a half, would be an Alex Jordan. I even bought both the books at the gift shop–a biography and a museum guide–for inspiration in my home (and life) design.

Being there reminded me of a quote I vaguely remembered from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods about roadside attractions as places of power. Only after we’d finished our tour did I remember that the scene in the book was about the very place we were visiting. I was so shocked by the mental connection that I let out a sudden “Oh!” and startled my sister. Later I found out the American Gods TV series filmed those scenes on location, which makes me more interested in watching it.

Saturday

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Saturday we had lunch with a family friend in the area, Abbie’s math teacher from high school. It was good to catch up and hear about her current work teaching computer science.

πŸ€”

In the afternoon we hung out downtown drinking bubble tea and looking at stationery and books. The area had the kind of hipster vibe I can kind of distantly appreciate online, but I found that actually being there made me uneasy. I felt a little too out of place. I think this just means I need to spend a bunch of time in Wicker Park.

That night I drove Abbie back to my place. We managed to avoid the tolls this time. It’s kind of fun driving down country roads. I should do it more often.

Movies

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Big Hero 6 was part of my AI movie project. I was half asleep for the final boss fight (because of tiredness, not boredom), but when I was alert, the movie was entertaining, though maybe formulaic. The main AI-related insight I took from it was the reminder that a lot of what we value about a person comes from our awareness of their memories and from the traits shaped by their experiences. So if you wipe an AI’s memories and restart it from its original state, it’s like the old AI has died. It’s a loss. Unless, of course, the AI was evil.

Posted in Apartment, Car, Holidays, Life maintenance, Movies, Social life, Weeknotes | 2 Comments

Weeknote for 6/30/2019

Life maintenance

πŸ™‚

My sofa came a day early on Wednesday. I thought I’d have to lug it up from the lobby, but somehow they delivered it right to my apartment door. Through a fair amount of struggle, I assembled it that evening. Then my rug came on Friday. Much easier to set up. So at last my living room is taking shape. I was even able to use the quilt my mom made me years ago to reinforce my color scheme. She tells me the pattern is a triple Irish chain.

I spent a very sweaty Saturday evening moving my boxed books into a stifling storage room. The storage bins here are pretty small, so now for the rest of my living room junk my bedroom is doubling as a storage space. I have a feeling my next decluttering will be sooner rather than later.

I’m still working on my cleaning schedule. It’s taking a little time because I’m working from Melissa Maker’s book Clean My Space, and I’m converting its schedule chart to a spreadsheet.

Fiction

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I finished The Contract by John Powell and Gwen Plano. It’s a political thriller with an interesting framing device. Heaven is intervening in a global political emergency, and the protagonists are two souls the heavenly authorities send to work through human bodies on earth. It sounds apocalyptic, like a left-leaning Left Behind, but I’m not sure the Second Coming will be involved.

Although I felt the story took a long time to get all the pieces in place (half the book), once the main action started, it carried me along. When I got to the end and found out there was a sequel, the story had intrigued me enough that I bought it and started listening right away.

The sequel is The Choice, which was only by Gwen Plano. It turns out this series is hers, and Powell was only helping. Since the first book introduced the scenario, this one could launch straight into the interesting parts.

This series reminds me that “interesting” is a relative term, because I’m sure someone who’s more into romance would like the first half of The Contract more than I did, and people who are bored by research would probably be watching the clock at many points in The Choice. I think you’d call this story a police procedural. But it was just the kind of “boring” I can get into.

Since this series came right after I’d read Robert McKee’s Story, I paid attention to its use of conflict and “the gap” (between expectation and result). For being thrillers, these stories had less conflict and confusion and failure than I expected. Other than some key plot points, most of the events seemed to flow smoothly, the characters got along, and they got what they wanted. But I didn’t mind too much, because it fed the part of me that thrives on good will and cooperation.

There will be a final book in the series, so I’m looking forward to that.

Movies

πŸ€”

Over the weekend I continued my AI movie theme with Chappie. I’d heard it wasn’t great, and certainly I had to work to suspend my disbelief, but I ended up liking it more than I expected. David Ovienmhada captures some of the difficulty I had, and it’s the main reason I find this movie valuable. Ovienmhada notes that the movie’s AI doesn’t emerge from a “clean room” setting, such as a tech company or government lab. I’m already used to imagining that a general AI could pop up anywhere in a range of contexts. But what I wasn’t considering was an AI training environment that might be as random and foreign to me as a gang of criminals.

Chappie isn’t an orderly, well-mannered, Star Trek AI. He means well, but he’s a product of his rough upbringing, and he’s catching up to the humans around him the whole time. It’s basically a robot coming-of-age story, and apart from what’s probably a typical movie structure, it’s messy. Understanding and accepting it means my mind has some territory to expand into, and I welcome it.

Nature

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It’s official. This is my favorite place I’ve lived since college. On Wednesday just before I put together my sofa, I was sitting in the kitchen and spotted something on the ground outside.

After that the rabbit hopped away from the burrow toward the building, and a third rabbit hopped out of the bushes and joined it. I think that’s the most rabbits I’ve seen in person at once. What other woodland neighbors will I find here?

Posted in Apartment, Fiction, Life maintenance, Movies, Nature, Weeknotes | 1 Comment

Weeknote for 6/23/2019

Coding project generator

πŸ™‚

Version 1 is done. The most important thing I’ve learned from this sprint is that it’s harder to create a general tool abstractly on its own, when you can only speculate about what it should do and how. It’s easier when you build it in the context of immediate needs. So instead of spending further months focused on this project, I’ll develop it alongside the programming projects that use it.

Life maintenance

😐

I forced myself out of procrastination and ordered a sofa and then an area rug to go with it. FedEx is just going to plunk the sofa down in the lobby or something, so hopefully I can get someone to help me drag it up to my apartment. That’s supposed to happen Thursday.

This week I’ll finishing organizing my books and set up a preliminary cleaning schedule.

Writing

😎

I finished Story by Robert McKee. I feel enlightened, and it’s affecting how I look at the stories I come across, a valuable stone in my path to understanding narrative. Two points that have especially stuck with me are that (1) a character reveals their character through the decisions they make under stress, which is brought about by conflict, and (2) the purpose of each segment of the plot (a scene, sequence, or act) is to create a change in the charge (positive or negative) of one or more values related to the story’s theme, such as the prosperity of a character or the status of a relationship.

Despite all the insight, there’s still more path to go, and I’m left with questions. Do McKee’s guidelines really cover all the kinds of stories worth telling? And how do these guidelines change exactly when it comes to other media, such as novels and comics? He touches on some of the differences, but I’m sure there’s much more to say.

For now I’m putting the writing books on hold to listen to some actual stories, starting with The Contract by John Howell and Gwen Plano.

Movies

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Monday I finished watching A.I. Artificial Intelligence. (It took a few days. I was distractible.) I had mixed feelings about it. It seemed like two different movies. The first act was sweet and heartwrenching. The second changed tone and turned into an adventure, but it clearly continued the story. But then the third act took a strange turn that seemed to drop the earlier story. But really it was a long, and in my opinion contrived, setup for the final stretch that was meant to tie up the story in a particular way. It just felt clumsy to me. Still, I liked the movie well enough, and Haley Joel Osment was brilliant. I’d managed to go all this time without actually seeing any of his work.

Saturday I watched Upgrade. As I’d hoped, I liked it better than the similarly premised Venom. Upgrade was more serious and ultimately more alien, despite the lack of tentacles. It was a decent take on the control problem, the question of how to keep a superintelligent AI from harming humanity. The movie made a real effort to be logical, which I appreciate in an AI story. It’s easy to get those wrong. Not that we know how events around a superintelligent AI would go, but with a lot of these stories I feel the writer has made the AI character too human for no reason. An AI wouldn’t act like a normal human by default. We’d have to make it that way on purpose, or at least equip and motivate it to learn to act human, and that should at least be part of the backstory.

Posted in Apartment, Coding project generator, Life maintenance, Movies, Weeknotes, Writing | Leave a comment

Weeknote for 6/16/2019

Coding project generator

😐

I almost finished it, but I had to extend my deadline a little. I’ll write about it next week.

Life maintenance

😐

This week starts a new project month: Sol, the extra month in the middle of the International Fixed Calendar. This month my project is a miscellaneous assortment of life maintenance tasks, mainly continuing to set up my apartment and setting up routines for cleaning and cooking. There are no real deadlines on these things, so I’ll do however much I can fit into four weeks.

Futurism

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Tuesday my futurism group met to discuss the book Program or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff. I had mixed feelings about the book. Overall I think it’s a decent conversation starter, but it’s too vague and cursory as a set of advice on its own.

My main beef was with the last chapter, which shares its title with the book. Here’s a 6-minute video summary and a half-hour interview. He says that in the computer age, programming is the new writing, the latest advancement in media skill. The masses need to learn this skill so they won’t be at the mercy of the elites who already have it.

I agree that:

  • Everyone should learn that we aren’t limited to the software we’re given. Software is designed by people, and it can work differently than the way they’ve made it. Learning to program can give you a first-hand knowledge of this fact. That knowledge can help free your mind from the software ecosystem we live in.
  • The basics of programming are easy to learn. One place to start might be MIT’s Scratch lessons.
  • There are useful automation tools that don’t require advanced skill. For example, the website IFTTT. The Automators podcast gives a lot of pointers.

But I also disagree because:

  • Merely knowing how to program won’t be enough to free people. They need to have a creative mind and the kind of critical, sociological perspective of people like Rushkoff. So he needs to be clearer about the programs he expects people to create, especially since “software” covers so much territory.
  • Making software that’s usable and safe is hard, at least when it’s open to the Internet. It takes a lot of dedication to careful thought and testing. I imagine a world where everyone dashes off quick programs from day to day, and all those programs quickly get hacked. Data breaches become a feature of everyday life.
  • What people need are options, software they can choose when they want to leave Facebook or whatever. Not everyone has to take on the role of creating those options. And there are already many alternatives. For example, here are alternatives to Twitter.
  • The mere existence of alternative software isn’t enough. People need to use it. After all, everyone’s on Facebook because that’s where everyone else is. So there’s the business question of how we can build the popularity of these other networks and tools.

Writing

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Last week I got through Design for How People Learn, and I started Story by Robert McKee. Even though I haven’t finished McKee’s book yet, it’s already my favorite of this batch. Very thought provoking and practical. Thank you, Linda, for recommending it.

Linda commented on last week’s post with a question: What do I look for in a writing craft book? I jotted down some thoughts.

  • An author who’s informed by long, broad experience.
  • Endorsements by friends or by the subject’s authorities or by the book’s popularity.
  • Depth rather than superficial techniques. Insights that go beyond the basics. I do need the basics, but after that I need more. I also prefer writers who care about the art of writing and not just how to appeal to the market. But I get that a working writer needs that kind of info to make a living.
  • Thorough coverage of its topic.
  • Citations of evidence. This could be scientific evidence about what works for readers, or it could be analysis of a wide range of examples.
  • Organization that lends itself to procedures and checklists. In my view this is a big part of what makes a book practical.
  • Examples of what to do and what not to do, with suggestions for fixing the bad examples.
  • Writing that follows its own advice.
  • Recommendations for further reading on the book’s topics.
  • Exercises are a plus, especially progressions of them, even though I always put them off when I’m just getting through the book. I value them when I decide it’s time to practice. I have whole books of writing prompts.

Great examples of these qualities are Joshua Schimel’s Writing Science and Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn.

Music

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My worship played last Sunday. Since I’d finished my survey of our patches in MainStage, I picked a few new ones to try out that weekend, mainly a flute and a dulcimer. I think it worked okay, but I need to practice the styles I have in mind. I also need to ask for feedback on whether what I’m playing sounds good, since I’m still learning how to fit synth into the band.

Posted in Books, Coding project generator, Futurism, Life maintenance, Music, Programming, Weeknotes, Worship performing, Writing | 1 Comment

Weeknote for 6/9/2019

Coding project generator

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I did nothing on this last week. Hopefully I can make some progress this week on the most important features. Then whatever I have at that point will be version 1.0.

Movies

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I finished watching The Beyond, written and directed by Hasraf Dulull. Judging from this podcast interview, he’s a sensation among filmmakers for coming to directing from an accomplished career in visual effects. Well, I don’t know much about making films, but I do have opinions on this one.

The main thing I learned from this movie is that bad writing can overshadow decent acting. The film is framed as a documentary about how an international space agency handled an anomaly. It’s an interesting concept, but I think that’s what ruined it for me. When I see a space documentary, it turns out I expect the content to be realistic. What The Beyond gave me was naturalistic acting that conveyed content that was jarringly unrealistic. It made the characters’ sincerity feel ridiculous.

I actually don’t want to spoil the movie with examples, because I felt morbidly compelled to watch the whole thing, and I wish you the same dubious pleasure. I even want to watch the director’s later movie to see what that’s like. Does that make The Beyond so bad it’s good?

But yeah, I don’t want to be too harsh. It was his first feature-length film, his budget was low, he wasn’t used to writing, and his work will improve. It had some nice visual effects. The script’s awkwardness just made for a very interesting viewing experience.

Writing

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Last week I listened to Writing to Be Understood by Anne Janzer, You’ve Got 8 Seconds by Paul Hellman, and Writing Science by Joshua Schimel. The first two were good but short, and their ideas are already blurring in my mind. I’ll need to go back and study them to make use of their advice. Schimel’s book feels more distinct to me, partly because his advice was a little less familiar and partly because of the careful and repetitive way he worked through the ideas.

I have several more writing books on my current list, but the ones I’ve finished so far help me sharpen the writing questions I have. Writing advice is generally not hard to understand, so to fill my mental gaps what I want are catalogs of examples. For example, a key tool for explaining things is analogy. Janzer points her readers to Metamia, an online database of analogies.

Nature

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Sunday when I was showing Tim the second bird’s nest, which I’m pretty sure is sparrows, we noticed the robins’ nest was empty. Only a week before, the babies were babies. I did notice over the week they were looking more like normal birds with feathers, but I thought they’d stick around a couple more weeks. They grow up fast!

I think the upper corner of a balcony is a common spot for nests. Looking around the apartment complex, I see that a lot of those areas have grass poking out between the beams.

Posted in Coding project generator, Movies, Nature, Weeknotes, Writing | 1 Comment