Archive for October, 2008

There is no reason to believe that we would have a common point of discussion about science or mathematics with intelligent extra-terrestrial life-forms. Or so says André Kukla in his now not-so-recent (I started writing this a while back) BJPS article, worth reading in full if you’ve access through your institution or someone else’s, & if not then this post offers a poor man’s précis anyway. Myself, I do not agree with Kukla, & raising as he does a slew of innovative arguments against a position I recently held on the grounds of intuition alone, I am moved to sustain it by reasoning instead.



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  1. What do think of replacing the current author list (links to brief summaries of the individuals involved; presently at top of sidebar) with a similar looking list of names that instead link to a page with the posts by that author, perhaps with a couple of recent posts displayed in the bar too (like the one at the bottom of the sidebar now)?
  2. The category cloud is not as cool in practice as it really should be. But it might still be a nice idea for the long-term given that the number of categories is a significant fraction of the number of posts.
  3. Lastly, is it time for a change of site theme?

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Concluding today was the unified World Chess Championship, with the Russian not winning. I’m delighted to see Anand victorious in what must be the most important match of a career noted for inventive play; his is a style I would particularly enjoy emulating, though it is doubtful that my play would not be more greatly improved by studying Kramnik’s style in further depth.

My favourite game in the match was the third, with Anand developing (successfully, I think) a new idea (albeit, on move 17, but that is how things are these days) in the fairly well-trodden Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav, to which Kramnik replied with acumen: in short, the sort of thing we should expect from top-level chess! There was a fair bit of coverage over the web, though given the explosion of the interface between the web and the real world in the last few years, it seems a bit more could be done next time around. Kudos, though, particularly to Dennis Monokroussos, whose coverage both during the matches and in the form of analysis afterward has been informative and enjoyable. I, for one, hope that his plans to develop that writing into a retrospective of the event come to fruition.

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Thirty-second iTunes samples for hour-long minimalist compositions. Thanks, chumps.

Music With Changing Parts

Later on, that is.

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Ah, McSweeney’s:

This brings us to the housing crisis, for which you and you alone, Pamela, are responsible. When you choose a Chance card and Rich Uncle Pennybags orders you to pay taxes on your houses, then, damn it, Pamela, you pay taxes. Instead, you decide you’re not going to pay, because you only have $7 left. It’s just a game, you say. Stop taking it so seriously, you tell me. Well, maybe that’s what the millions of Americans caught in the subprime-mortgage crisis should have done.

Then you offered a solution—that we dole out my money and resume play. When I heard you suggest a redistribution of wealth in front of the children, I thought my head would explode. What type of example are you setting during Monopoly night, Pamela? Next, you’ll encourage Warren to smoke dope. Or Brittany to get a liberal-arts education.

I realize that, since the layoff, I’ve been obsessed with the economic crisis. Admittedly, I’ve been watching too much CNN. Which is, perhaps, what led me to suggest a government bailout of our Monopoly crisis. I figured we needed about 40 Monopoly games to accrue the necessary funds. I don’t know where you thought that kind of liquidity would come from, but I believe you overreacted to my suggestion of going door to door and borrowing all the neighbors’ Monopoly money. Perhaps you’d had too much wine. Or perhaps you are against foreign investment, although I happen to think the Chinese are saving our asses.

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Via O. X. Dive comes the following short feature:


I saw Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes a little while back at the Steve Reich Evening dance performance at the Edinburgh Festival. Another intriguing offering was used as an opener: a drum speaker is placed face up in the centre of the stage with two microphones suspended as pendula above it. The performers draw the microphones toward the horizontal and, after switching them on, let go. They produce two different frequencies of feedback buzz as they pass over the speaker; starting out in phase they diverge based on slight differences in initial conditions and the work lasts until both microphones have returned to rest.

Both this work and the Poème Symphonique test the patience of the audience a little. One has understood the idea after only a short time, and the rest of the piece is spent exploring the aural variations that emerge, which becomes tiresome once one’s concentration is exhausted. G. R. Mamatsashvili, with whom I attended the Steve Reich Evening, lent across to me at one point during the work and remarked, not really whispering, “Berian, they are trying to hypnotise us.” Indeed.

I look forward, therefore, to our one day attending a performance of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2.

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In his sardonically-titled First Person Plural, Paul Bloom (h/t Sullivan) draws my attention to an interesting current in applied identity metaphysics (a.k.a. psychology):

But what’s more exciting, I think, is the emergence of a different perspective on happiness itself. We used to think that the hard part of the question “How can I be happy?” had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another.

He proceeds to rattle off a series of wonderful examples with which I couldn’t identify more:

Examples abound in our own lives. Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, What did he ever do for me? When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before.

Yes, curse you, evening Berian, for your wastrel ways! Also, for your ambitious setting of alarm clocks at 5am; morning Berian has his revenge with the snooze button.

However, after delighting me with this introduction, Bloom for some reason decides to insist that all this is tied to the relationship between personality and time: over short time scales, he says, we intuitively see our personalities as reasonably persistant, but over decades we generally think of ourselves as different people (cf. what I wrote about people on Sydney trains). He’s not completely wrong, but of course there are loads of exceptions. Here is how I would describe it in the preferred nomenclature: the first derivative of personality with respect to time is a partial derivative; the full derivative is with respect to ‘circumstance’, which is of course time-dependent, or, as I would rather have it though of, t is a function of c and not the other way around.

I’m not always opposed to getting out of bed at 5 in the morning; I am generally opposed to getting out of bed when I’ve just been asleep for a long while and the covers are nice and warm, regardless of what time of day it is. I concede, though, that time is a rather more tangible variable than circumstance.

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So I am thinking that Steve Reich’s Electric Guitar Phase would be a great mobile ringtone, especially if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t answer their phone without it ringing for about fifteen minutes.

Electric Guitar Phase Fragment I

No, seriously, what I actually mean is that it would make a good ringtone if the phone picked a random starting point during the work each time the phone rang. Of course this could work with any song, but EGP is an especially good example because it relatively glacial rate-of-variation draws attention to temporal location more obviously than the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure. Here’s another snap from near the three-minute mark (n.b. the difference in phase and also the exciting introduction of another guitar!):

Electric Guitar Phase Fragment II

Obviously, the phone needs to pick a point more than, say, twenty seconds from the end of the piece and perhaps there is a way to select particularly complete regions, e.g. by starting at a point where the waveform is close to silent (representing a pre- or post-chorus break, or the end of a motif, or something like that).

Maybe phones do this already? I am not ahead of the curve on this particular matter.

Also: Terry Riley’s The Book of Abbeyozzud is really superb; especially La Muerte en Medias Caladas Negras.

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Mind you, it doesn’t have much competition because I’ve spent an hour-and-a-half writing its m-script.

Clusters out to z~1.5 in the COSMOS field (markers, with lighter colours depicting objects at higher redshift) circumscribed at their virial radii (dashed lines); it is apparent that more massive clusters are systematically detected at lower redshift. At back, the density field of the random cluster catalogue used as the areal selection function of the COSMOS-XMM survey.

Figure 2: Clusters out to z~1.5 in the COSMOS field (markers, with lighter colours depicting objects at higher redshift) circumscribed at their virial radii (dashed lines); it is apparent that more massive clusters are systematically detected at lower redshift. At back, the density field of the random cluster catalogue used as the areal selection function of the COSMOS-XMM survey.


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When I decided to get my motorbike licence a few years ago, one of the reasons for doing so was the cost. Bikes (new or used) are cheaper than cars and use less petrol. Being on an APA at the time, price was a compelling issue. Other advantages include sexiness, fun, less environmental impact (relative to cars) and parking. Disadvantages include the big one (safety – the frequency of accident deaths per rider is about 20times that for cars), reduced capacity for luggage and passengers, and being exposed to the weather.

My Bike

My Bike

My bike is a Honda CBF250, a small, “sensible” commuter, which I bought new in June 2007, for $6000 on road. At the time, a friend warned me that a bike was “not an economical choice” because you also need to pay for more frequent servicing, extra stuff (clothing, helmets, etc), more frequent tyre replacements and so on. So I thought I’d do the numbers. Each day I ride to Liz’s house to pick her up, then into Usyd and finally UNSW. In the evening the trip is reversed. Overall that’s 80km per day.

Here are the numbers. At the top is my working, at the bottom are the results in dollars per week.

400km per week = 1 tank (13L) per week = $20 per week
6000km per service, one every 15 weeks, costing on average ~$300
Other repairs. In 17 months I’ve spent (new tyre, brake pads,
speedo cable, new chain) ~$500
Clothing etc: Helmet + clothing, replacing every few years: say $1000 per 3 years
Extras (oil, chain lube, degreaser, covers): ~ $100 per year
Rego + Green slip $400/year
Insurance $700/year

Per Week:

Petrol $20
Servicing $20
Repairs $7
Clothing & Equipment $8
Registration $7
Insurance $13

Total $75
Total – Insurance $62

Since I have no insurance (I have enough money saved to pay for any plausible costs), the ongoing cost of the bike is about $62 per week. How does this compare to cars? Favourably I presume (you can double or triple the petrol consumption right away). But the real surprise is how well motorcycling compares to the public transport options.

UNSW is awkward to reach from western Sydney by public transport. It requires a train and a bus. A weekly adult train ticket is about $33, and the bus ticket for the week is about $25. That’s $58 all up, almost the bike total. Adding Liz’s student weekly train to Usyd makes it $74, more expensive than the bike.

In conclusion, motorcycling is, in terms of costs, significantly cheaper than a car and competitive with public transport. At least, if you buy a cheap bike with a small engine. And yes, I know I didn’t factor in hospital bills. I try to do everything I can (besides quitting) to reduce the chance of that happening.

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