Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Of things to come...

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; 
And give us not to think so far away 
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here 
All simply in the springing of the year. 

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; 
And make us happy in the happy bees, 
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. 

And make us happy in the darting bird 
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, 
And off a blossom in mid air stands still. 

For this is love and nothing else is love, 
The which it is reserved for God above 
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

--Robert Frost

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Garth: Look, we don't know nothing about children, so if you need something... Hub: [interrupts] -find it yourself. Better yet: learn to do with out.

Typographical Art by swesomesauceexp
Hub: We're fix'in to die anytime, so if we kick off in the middle of the night, you're on your own: So I watched one of my favorite movies again for the umpteenth time this weekend, Second Hand Lions (2003). Two old men, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine), have lived adventurous and interesting lives. In their later years they have taken to sitting on a porch in Texas and shooting shot-guns at traveling salesmen while sipping tea surrounded by a pack of adorably lounging and watchful dogs. Their disaster of an opportunist niece drops off her young teen child, Walter, as she heads west to con out an existence, and hoping her son can sniff out a reported fortune of hidden cash in the McCann brothers possession. Her son, the focus of the film, is an innocent, just trying to find a place to find some support. It is a sweet, exciting, schmaltzy, satisfying, humorous, family film; just quirky enough to make it light, and just poignant enough to offer real lessons about relationships, this film hits a sweet spot with me despite a lower Rotten Tomatoes score of 59, an Ebert score of 3/4, and an IMDB rating of 7.6/10. [90% of Google users like the film though.] The following is a bit of script that I particularly like:

WALTER (Haley Joel Osment)
Those stories, about you, about Africa: they're true. Aren't they?

HUB (Robert Duvall)
It doesn't matter....

It does too! Around my mom I hear so many lies I don't know what to believe in....

Dammit, if you want to believe in something, believe in it! Just because something isn't true, that's no reason you can't believe in it!

Walter blinks, confused. Hub SIGHS....

HUB (Cont'd)
There's a long speech I give to young men. Sounds like you need to hear a piece of it....


Some times the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, virtue, and courage mean everything; that money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. That true love never dies.

Walter's eyes are wet. Perhaps, so are Hub's.

HUB (Cont'd)
Doesn't matter if they're true or not. A man should believe in those things anyway. Because they are the things worth believing in.

Walter thinks, finally nods: he understands. They both watch moonlight ripple the water, both lost in thought.

That was a good speech.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

"Like an antelope in headlights."

America, we have a problem: We have issues with race in America. We have a race problem, for sure. It's part of our fabric, and although we strive to improve, we clearly have this problem, still, and have since our beginnings. We have "racists," and people who are "race-conscious," and people who try to be "race blind;" we have folks who are ignorant and behave in a way that projects that ignorance in ways that create conflict, and we have folks who are just driven by a much more base values/beliefs that promote hate, and anger, and fear, and, and, and...

Am I allowed to draw attention to how we should pay less attention?: While I cannot profess to know how to fix our four-hundred year problem, I do know that sometimes when we try to fix a thing, in all our good intentions, we over focus on that thing and it spawns its own new set of problems. Part of what I suspect will help us deal with some of our race issues, and I am hesitant to even weigh on of this subject, is to merely be more mindful of what we take for granted as "normal"...

Q. What color is Marge Simpson? A. Yellow: A student who was watching a Japanese anime film in my classroom asked why most of the characters looked white if it was a movie about Japan. I had not thought they looked particularly one thing or another, but understood where the question came from. I had heard it before and not had, nor looked for, a good answer. So I googled it. I came across a blog that I found well written that mentioned an anecdotal study where Japanese students were asked what ethnicity these same "Western" looking characters were. The Japanese students replied that the anime characters looked Japanese. BB chat rooms are filled with similar discussions, many of concluding with statements that they just look "anime," neither white nor Asian. The premise is that we often attribute what our "normal" is to a neutral subject. The thing that is normal is not focused on too much, nor is it ignored. It just is. Allow me to offer a different analogy that might transfer...

Like big eyed children attending their first circus: How do you identify a "country mouse" visiting the city for the first time? They are always looking up. We city mice (rats if you will), do not forget the buildings are there, and we even look at them from time to time, but it is not the gawking, staring-up-while-walking-into-things type of looking. I still appreciate awesome rooflines and architectures, but the height of buildings does not amaze me, nor freak me out. I like them as part of a normal "landscape" of cities. The country mouse often feels overwhelmed by the pressing skyline, or is enthalwed by it such that it becomes a distraction of just expeicneing the city in a free-flow way. Only after spending some meaningful time in a city does that person become more open to cities as just one more type of space where people live. In fact, over time it's the individual city cultures and towns', and villages' that take on unique identities, rather than being "types" to be separated and categorized...

I grew up on TV from the 70s and the 80s. It's only just now starting to get better: So part of the solution for our "race" problems is for the normalization of "race" (what a bonehead misnomer  "race" is by the way). I remember watching Friends, a story about six white kids who worked (did they actually work?) and lived in New York City. They owned lots of nice things in their large apartments, and hung out in a coffee shop all day. They were pretty funny to watch, but I was always distracted by how everyone was white. It didn't seem normal. And then there was Martin, same problem. Or All in the Family, or Different Strokes... So many shows seemed to either loudly ignore race or trumpet its presence in stereotypical ways, each in their own way exasperating the problem of normalization. (Or was that never a goal?) Survivor was a show I enjoyed watching until they chose tribes by skin color. How messed up is that, unless the sensationalism was the whole point... oh yeah, ratings and controversy makes for great television (sarcasm implied)...

Hollywood and their ideas about what will sell: And then there are our superheroes movies. Overwhelmingly white despite 100s of characters of color over the last seven decades of comic book writing.
John Stewart debuted in Green Lantern vol. 2 #87 (December 1971/January 1972) when artist Neal Adams came up with the idea of a substitute Green Lantern. The decision to make the character black resulted from a conversation between Adams and editor Julius Schwartz, in which Adams recounts saying that given the racial makeup of the world's population, "we ought to have a black Green Lantern, not because we’re liberals, but because it just makes sense."[1] The character was DC's first black superhero.[1]
There were screams of "Green Lantern cannot be black!" by folks who felt a character that had been white since 1940 could not somehow be different. Why not! It seems so stupid that it makes my head hurt. Enter Black Panther...

Black Panther 2018: The less said by me at this point the better. I need more time to properly review this film that has defied Hollywood conventional wisdom about race. In has become a phenomenon. It has cleared a billion dollars at the box office in under 3 weeks (3/4 billion in the US alone).  It is flooding entertainment and financial news and my social media feeds have been touting its awesomeness since day one. It is a movie with a predominately black cast, set predominately in Africa (with side trips to the US and South Korea), and written by black screenwriters. It could have been a racially polarizing film; in fact polarizing race features in much of the plot line, yet I did not feel the film polarizes at all. It is exactly the sort of normalizing I could have hoped for in anticipation of its release. I have yet to fully digest it, but for a guy who is maxed out on superhero movies this one is a Ten, ranking with the Batman trilogy as my favorite in the genre. But somehow I spent much of the film recognizing the skyline so to speak, but not gawking, head turned upward to the sky. Despite being an action superhero movie, it was refreshingly not as formulaic as some much from Marvel and DC in recent years, and I cannot wait to see it again...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός...

ερωτήσεις: So today I am asking questions. I am interested in Artificial Intelligence. I am interested in Mind. I am interested in Soul. I am interested in Creation. I am interested in "Man's" need for Gods, and the problematic need Gods have for us. (I suspect the later logical construction is a failure of our own, in writing our thoughts about the former... but that truly is not the subject for my questions today.) Mind you, I am not going to argue for the equation of Machines and Humans, I am interested in the differences... one being deliberately created by the other... (Perhaps a side question: Was the Creator created?) But for starters, let me take it back to the basics, switches...

δυάδικος: A switch can either be on or off (what role does variable switches play here? I am not sure yet.) We make switches. I can use a series of switches to create more combinations of complexity of on and off and can even attribute meaning to the various outcomes: on=Yes, off=No and I use a more complex set of values: integers-to-letters, and use a system for integers-to-switches, then 011110010110010101110011 can literally (and symbolically) be yes (albeit with no emphasis)... Give me enough switches and I can communicate very complex ideas. And I can employ logic to develop option-trees, conditionals, operators, etc... If x then y, else z. I can nest these options into very intricate series of possibilities, and with large amounts of observable data, create a machine with abilities to... well... I could make an  interactive illusion of sorts...

ψευδαίσθηση: Can I teach my machine to ask questions when facial recognition software observes a strained look on my face? Can I teach my machine to speak a question of concern If my temperature indicates a chemical change in my brain that is linked to sorrow? Can I teach my machine to "like" solving puzzles and develop the ability to create new code in its algorithms when presented with a new challenge that allows for the synthesis of older solutions into something effective (and therefore new)? The illusion could be made to seem quite real...

ο άνθρωπος: My brain is not made of switches. My option-trees are not simple logic, but are formed by far more experiences and feelings and personality and events than a computer program could even process... ... ... BUT perhaps I am just a measure of complexity... a superior illusion. Perhaps it is just about scope... If I made a machine with a billion billion switches such that it could not be distinguished from a person when interacted through a terminal... and then raise that number of switches to the power of a billion, could I make something so complex that it simulates a wide spectrum of inputs to create a seemingly (to my limited brain) infinite amount of subtle end results? Can I create lenses with the ability discern objects, and create code to attach meaning, and create algorithms to approximate preference, and processes of code based upon outcome such that the program can learn to "like" or "dislike" certain objects, and furthermore allow for the change of that designation "like/dislike" with loops back on the initial preference, based upon further algorithms of experience? Where does the programmed nature of a thing become indistinguishable from me?

"There is nothing more human than the will to survive.": I watched ex machina this weekend, Alex Garland's cinematic rendition of a Turing test variant, where programmer Caleb Smith must decide if an AI named Ava has consciousness. Caleb has been hired by his boss, Nathan, to spend a week interacting with Ava then report back to her creator his finsdings In the next scene, Caleb has been exposed by Nathan for having developed an affinity for Ava: an achievement of brilliant god-like creation...

NATHAN (CONT’D): You feel stupid. But you shouldn’t. Proving an AI is exactly as problematic as you said it was.

CALEB: What was the real test?



NATHAN (CONT’D): Ava was a mouse in a mousetrap. And I gave her one way out. To escape, she would have to use imagination, sexuality, self-awareness, empathy, manipulation - and she did. If that isn’t AI, what the fuck is?

I cannot reveal more, because although the film is not a "spoiler," the nature of Ava's awareness/or not is clearly part of the fun of watching, much like watching the use of language in Denis Villeneuve's The Arrival, a film about first contacts with alien life...  

συμπόνια: So how is Ava different from me? Does she actually have empathy, or does she know how to approximate it? If she creatively uses empathy as a means of manipulation, is that different from a child saying "I'm sorry" to sooth a parent's anger in order to affect a better outcome than feelings of guilt and having anxiety over worry about acceptance? (How tied to empathy is compassion, and is compassion a variant of love and how could a program ever know that?) Why are the bullied so often, empathetic; and why are the the bullies so often, not? While I know I am not switches, I also know that I am who I am, because of the myriad of events and conditions that I have experienced... ... ... and I imagine now, this morning, that I am intellectually in a sort of mousetrap of my own... 

So at some point, I have to ask the question that has been on my mind from the start: "With ever increasingly complexity, and as the number of programmed variables and options exceed the limits of my intellectual and emotional capacity, does the Illusion become Real?"

And the Buddhist-me over in the corner laughs at the programmer-me who spends his time thinking thusly...