dialectics and truth-finding

When one is presented with some subject on which there are several viewpoints, and exhorted to look at things “dialectically,” one might ask what this means.

Wikipedia says of classical dialectic that the point is to generate either a refutation of one viewpoint or a synthesis — to reach a better conclusion. But it doesn’t say what form the better conclusion is in. Similarly, it says of Hegelian dialectic that the point is to reach a synthesis by combining the common points of a thesis and an antithesis.

These models of truth-finding appear to be rather limited. Besides the fact that in some sense they are specialized to dual or opposing viewpoints numbering two (or even if we extend it, a finite number), they are restricted to finding truth only in the intersection or union or some other simple-minded method of synthesis. I argue for a more general way to model truth-finding. This is inspired by engineering, as usual.
(Read the article)

on deepness

Cleverbot is a corpus based chatbot capable of producing some natural conversations by using responses from humans.

As you can see it carries on just fine and can fool a casual observer. But the longer you carry on a conversation with it the more apparent that Cleverbot is frustrating to talk to, not so much that it isn’t human — after all, all of the responses are taken from human sources. If it weren’t so good at emulating a human from which you expected more, you wouldn’t be frustrated.

Cleverbot is frustrating in two ways:

  • it isn’t interesting
  • it doesn’t make sense

In other words, it lacks deepness, like a shallow human. Why?
(Read the article)

Google+ and its circles, a user-graph evolution

Eduardo … I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.

When the movie “The Social Network” came out, this line caught my attention. I’m not sure this thesis — let’s call it the “replication thesis” — was what Monsieur Zuckerberg had in mind rather than something the screenwriter came up with, but it makes sense as to what actually undergirds online social platforms of today.

In all likelihood, Zuckerberg did not at first intend Facebook to be more than its namesake — a dorm facebook. Just as, in all likelihood, Twitter was meant as no more than a status message broadcast system, at first. The fact that Facebook became something of a gathering place and Twitter became a “microblogging” service — in essence, taking over functions that used to be conducted in other ways — I think owed something to their use of a “correct” user graph for certain contexts. It was the user graph that allowed, then limited, the range of social functions that people were willing to port over to the online platform. With the undirected graph, Facebook (and clones) modeled something like a big gathering, maybe a party. With the directed graph, Twitter (and clones) modeled something a bit more nuanced, like a groupie-celebrity relationship. (Is it any surprise, then, that celebrities drove the latter’s popularity?)

But I get the sense that neither Facebook nor Twitter truly believes in the replication thesis. They’ve construed their challenge narrowly as one of periodically pushing out new “things you could do,” most of which are nowadays ignored by users, or adding more places at which you could interact, but in the same way. They don’t see that users voluntarily do on a platform only those things that are compatible with their perception of the modeled social space. You can’t push anything on them any more than you can force people to play some game at a party. Yet I see no movement to revisit the user graph and better model real social relationships with all of their complexities. If left unchanged, the inevitable result will be that the range of social functions these platforms support stagnates, and therein should lie their eventual downfall. In fact, that probably solves the supposed “mystery” of Myspace’s decline, too. It is in this context that Google+ arrives.
(Read the article)

over-the-top legalese

I read this in a document today:

All masculine and singular pronouns shall include the feminine, neuter and plural thereof, and vice-versa, wherever the sense of the language so requires.

Windows 7 Math Input Panel!


Somehow the ability to turn handwritten math into MathML escaped my attention as a Windows 7 feature from trying the first beta. Finally! I’ve been waiting for this since forever… Wonder what took so long.

Next up are music notation and graphics in general*. The ultimate goal of a handwriting recognizer is of course similar to that of OCR: to turn one piece of art (for the lack of a better word) rendering to another, text included. Specifically, it should rectify all the rendering to a “typeset” form. It should intelligently recognize a host of objects with its own Visio-like templates: if I draw a resistor, it should pull out a nice schematic rendering of a resistor. If I draw a rectangle, and select “rectify”, it should make a rectangle with straight edges.
(Read the article)

almost dead?

I came across a story today of somebody who avoided a head on collision by moving to the next lane at the last moment, almost by involuntary reaction and without realizing what was going on. The full gravity of the situation always dawns on the survivor slowly, because everything happens so quickly.

This reminds me of my own near death experience. It was in the Bay Area near an airport in the middle of the night, I can’t remember where now. There was a very confusing road division where there were two left turn lanes, and one of them is somehow on top of some kind of surface rail (trolley) track running parallel to the lanes. I couldn’t see clearly at all. The traffic lights were not normal traffic lights, but some kind of symbol for each lane. Anyway, there were no dividers, fences, or barriers of any kind and I somehow ended up half on the tracks waiting for the light to turn green. Then in my rear view mirror, I see the bright lights of a train coming straight behind me. As the train comes ever closer, I get a feeling just like in a dream when something unreal is happening, a feeling of … “wait, this doesn’t make any sense”. So just like you might violently snap out of a dream in cold sweat, I stepped on the gas, ran the red, and moved into the next lane on autopilot, as the train whizzes by not more than a few feet beside me.

No horns, no noise, just a quiet train in the middle of the night. The whole thing still feels like sleepwalking to me and still doesn’t make any sense, but that would have been a terrible way to die.

the market efficiency cult

I actually find market efficiency arguments quite appealing, but when the assumptions are not made clear, the inevitable hand-waving gets to be irritating…

Here’s some random guy’s page. He’s a big proponent of using a total market portfolio: http://homepage.mac.com/j.norstad/finance/total.html

His hand-waving is almost convincing, almost. Okay, “J. Norstad”, let’s take you point by point.
(Read the article)

homophonic characters

In the realm of restricted composition, there is Ernest V. Wright’s Gadsby, which avoids the most common letter ‘e’ in English.

In Chinese, there is this elementary passage which plays on the homophone issue of spoken Mandarin Chinese. Every character in the entire passage is pronounced “shi” (with varying tones), but nevertheless at this level the passage would make no sense if recited. But, written in the Classical Chinese idiom, the passage makes perfect sense when read visually (and isn’t particularly difficult to comprehend even for a modern reader).


This is one demonstration that written Chinese can hold significant semantic content beyond phonetic value, a mechanism that has been key for tying together diverging spoken dialects over a thousand years.