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Friday, July 27, 2001

the SFI summer bulletin is pretty cool. there's dynamic learning by cosma rohilla shalizi :)

The Dynamics of Learning project takes computational mechanics in a new direction. Anything people are willing to call an agent has inputs and outputs. In organisms, the inputs are all the senses, and the outputs all the motions of the animal. In machines (say, a mobile robot), the inputs would come from sensors (e.g., cameras, heat detectors, wireless links) and the outputs would go to "effectors\" (e.g., motors in wheels and wireless links). Some mechanism connects them, making an agent into what computer science calls a transducer or a channel with memory. Computational mechanics now has the tools to discover the patterns of intrinsic computation going on in a transducer, including the way it changes its own organization in response to inputs. These tools work even when the transducer is a "learning channel\" and works by building a model of its input--we can do pattern discovery on pattern discoverers!

Using these methods, Crutchfield and his former student Dave Feldman have already calculated how much internal complexity an agent must have in order to adequately model its environment. Excessively simple agents can't grasp all the structure in the environment, and therefore see it as more random than it really is--and the amount of excess randomness depends on the mismatch between the agent's cognitive complexity and the environment's structural complexity.

The next stage of the project will go beyond single-agent learning, to learning and adaptation in multi-agent systems. A collective of agents is like a network of interconnected transducers. Computational mechanics can show how the local behavior of the agents builds up into the global behavior of the network, and can identify the intrinsic computation the collective performs. Given that, the group will begin seeing when the collective can do things that individuals cannot--how an adaptation can be distributed, just as a computation can be. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand collective cognition, the way groups can sometimes solve problems and learn things better than any of their members could.

...particles that compute and the evolutionary dynamics of social organization in insect societies: from behavior to genes and back!

here's a nice sigur ròs concert. it's interspersed with "montraux jazz live," which is kind of annoying but hey, nice concert! (via lautverschiebung)

weird and disjointed
being NOT in its right place
nor as it seemed

there is a coda
but i'll keep it a secret
very hush, hush—shhh

[then carey arrived
and all was right with the world
and everyone in it :]

Thursday, July 26, 2001
i just like stories like this cuz you're like, what!? US farmers working in [the :] Ukraine? plus, i think it'd be cool to go to odessa.

***
U.S. Farmers Plant Roots in Ukraine,
But Have Problems Collecting Debt
By ELIZABETH WEINSTEIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

ODESSA, Ukraine -- Gordon Siebring is barreling down the potholed back roads of the Ukrainian countryside in his beat-up Mercedes, wearing a frown on his face.

When he steps out of the car, the Iowa farmer sees the source of his frustration. A group of sun-beaten farm workers are milling around a John Deere planting drill, muttering in Russian and taking turns tinkering with its massive green frame. In the heart of planting season, the drill should be out in the fields dropping seeds into Ukraine's rich soil. Instead, it's sitting idle.

Mr. Siebring has witnessed this scene before. "Last year I sold a planter up north. They called me, cussing, swearing and telling me it was a piece of junk," he says. "But I know that until I physically put it on the tractor, it's going to sit there. ... Rather than asking me to show them how it works, they call and say they want their money back."

Mr. Siebring, 42 years old, is among a handful of Midwestern farmers who came to do volunteer work on Ukraine's waning collective farm system after communism fell in 1991. The cash-strapped Midwesterners soon discovered they could make additional money growing and selling crops. The fertile, black Ukraine soil, known as chernozem, rents for $10 to $15 per acre, about one-tenth the usual cost in Mr. Siebring's native Albion, Iowa.

But while the soil is some of the best in the world, the tools for farming are inefficient and outdated by Western standards. Local or Russian-made machinery breaks down regularly and many pieces require major engine overhauls after only 10 hours in the field. Spare parts are in short supply and mechanical adjustments must be made regularly. Upkeep on machines is sporadic. For instance, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration, only 31% of grain harvesters were in working condition in 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available.

The American farmers soon realized that to make money farming would mean updating the old equipment in the region. At first glance, it seemed easy -- and potentially profitable: There were scores of used machines lying dormant in the U.S. that would fill a need in the rural Ukraine oblasts, or states. They scoured U.S. machinery lots and auctions and found a plethora of cheap 1970s and '80s equipment already set for working massive fields like those found in Ukraine.

But Mr. Siebring and his counterparts discovered that their simple idea was also fraught with problems. For starters, they had to introduce new technology to farmers who had used inefficient, Russian-made equipment for years. And although local farmers said they desperately needed the equipment, banks either didn't provide credit or offered it at interest rates as high as 80%. The sky-high rates drove potential clients away.

To make matters worse, many farmers accustomed to generous state aid under the Soviet system simply didn't pay off debt. Kentucky farmer Joseph Parker, who farms 15,000 acres in Kherson oblast, says the few equipment buyers he established in the late 1990s never made their payments on time, even if they had bank credit. The situation got so bad that he quit the machinery business in 1996 to focus on farming land he rents. "Even though we had a good markup on equipment, we lost money just in collecting the debt," Mr. Parker sighs. "Those things were very difficult for a Western man to understand."

In 1997, Mr. Siebring also learned hard lessons about doing business in Ukraine after a local worker stole a huge portion of his profits, and several core U.S. investors pulled out of payment agreements. He filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy and vowed to find business partners he could trust both at home and abroad.

Today, Mr. Siebring, his Ukrainian partner, Vladimir Perchikly, and a small group of solid investors have learned ways to minimize their losses on imported equipment. They don't ship more machinery than they know will sell, and they require significant down payments on larger machines. Clients pay with credit, crop profits, or through barter agreements using a portion of the crop as payment. In recent months, interest rates have dipped as low as 30%.

In a typical transaction on a John Deere corn planter, Mr. Siebring receives a 25% down payment. Back home, he purchases the planter at auction for about $4,500, breaks it down and ships it to Ukraine from his Iowa-based company, Siebring Export. Once it arrives at Odessa's Black Sea port, the planter is rebuilt, repainted and resold to the client by Messrs. Siebring and Perchikly's jointly-owned Ukrainian company, GVA Iowa. The final $10,000 sales price includes shipping costs, spare parts, labor, customs duties, taxes and a 20-25% markup.

For the few clients who can afford the machines, the purchase is paying off. Farming with used U.S. equipment is "like comparing a Lada to a Mercedes," says Anatoly Labunsky, president of the private agricultural company, Energo Resource. "When we first started, we bought self-propelled sprayers, and within one season they returned the money we spent on them," he says proudly.

Farm Manager Svetlana Ivanova says while the imported machines may seem old to American farmers, it's a boon for Ukranians. "The equipment we have now is more precise, we get better results ... and we have hope for an on-time crop," says the platinum blonde from her dank office headquarters in Mykolaiv oblast.

The neat rows of crops are also signs of a subtler benefit the Western machines bring to rural communities: a renewed work ethic. Once farm workers get over their initial fear of using a Western planter or cultivator, they'll "work doggedly" to get the most of it in the fields, Mr. Siebring explains.

In Ukraine, a single John Deere planter might cover 1,000 acres in a season. In the U.S., "you might plant a 300-acre farm with it and think you need a bigger planter," Mr. Siebring says, chuckling.

Rural villagers, who primarily rely on private gardens to feed their families, also see a difference in surrounding fields. Federovka village resident Maria Sheplenko says the Western machines remind her things are gradually getting better. "It's good to see the fields planted now," she says, her weathered face brightening into a smile. "Before, there was nothing but weeds in the fields."

Write to Elizabeth Weinstein at elizabeth.weinstein@wsj.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2001
the do-it-yourself supercomputer

Two points close to each other in this data space have, by definition, similar characteristics and thus are classified in the same ecoregion. Geographic proximity is not a factor in this kind of classification; for example, if two mountaintops have very similar environments, their points in the data space are very close to each other, even if the mountaintops are actually thousands of miles apart.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001
re:no, no, he's not a moron...

Sometimes it seems that people take religion as an excuse not to have to think anymore, to have a set of rules to follow, when it should be the exact opposite. Choosing to be religious should be a commitment to thoughtfulness and introspection and constant reflection on one's actions.

Monday, July 23, 2001
something is happening. we just have to agree what it is. (via haddock, w/ apologies to f. dostoevsky :)

What would it mean for you and me to know there are inconceivably many yous and mes living out all possible histories? Surely, there is no point in making any choices for the better if all possible outcomes happen? We might as well stay in bed or commit suicide.

Deutsch does not agree. In fact, he thinks it could make real choice possible. In classical physics, he says, there is no such thing as "if"; the future is determined absolutely by the past. So there can be no free will. In the multiverse, however, there are alternatives; the quantum possibilities really happen. Free will might have a sensible definition, Deutsch thinks, because the alternatives don't have to occur within equally large slices of the multiverse. "By making good choices, doing the right thing, we thicken the stack of universes in which versions of us live reasonable lives," he says. "When you succeed, all the copies of you who made the same decision succeed too. What you do for the better increases the portion of the multiverse where good things happen."

Friday, July 20, 2001
watched the arrival the other day. what a weird movie. also watched scanners!

oh, and there was a guy i saw on tv last nite who stood up for seven years and then rolled across india.

site redesign brought to you by jupiter's circumpolar jetstreams (75 degrees north to 75 degrees south latitudes).

Thursday, July 19, 2001
i'm a little search bot
down and out
click me over
and pull me out (inspired by the erection)

saw this .sig on slashdot yesterday :)
)( my buttcheeks, muah!

found a discarded bottle of red bull by the floodwall this morning on the way to work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001
faking it by michael lewis (via plastic)

One privilege of adolescence is that you can treat everything around you as normal, because you have nothing to compare it with, and Marcus appeared to be taking full advantage of it. To Marcus, it was normal that you could punch a few buttons into a machine and read what a man who was executed by the state this morning had eaten last night. It was normal that the only signs of life outside his house were the people floating down from the sky and into the field out back. It was normal that his parents had named his identical twin brother Marc. Marc and Marcus. And it was normal that he now spent most of the time he was not in school on the Internet, giving legal advice to grown-ups.

narrative psychology by kevin murray (via nettime)

When narrative is incorporated into social psychology, with emphasis more on the individual’s relation to the group, the central question becomes one of agency. It’s most direct correlate in literary theory is the relationship between the teller and his or her audience. Chambers (1984) offers an analysis of texts as acts of seduction which attempt to elicit the reader’s desire the principle desire being to gain knowledge that is withheld in the narration. In social psychology, the question is more how an individual relates to his or her own story with less emphasis on the actual scene of the telling.

One of the first outlines of narrative psychology explored the link between a life and the story that is told about it. Kotre (1984) speculated on the presence of ’archetypal stories’ which place individual lives in the context of collective meanings. Rather than any formal analysis of narrative, Kotre focused his study on ’the personal and social dynamics of stories’ (p. 264). He claimed that certain stories had a generative potential which enables individuals to overcome life crises such as old age. Though it is an important beginning to narrative psychology, what Kotre overlooks is the individuals who for reasons such as race or gender might lack a collective story which gives their life purpose.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001
carey sends a radio station from 'ze frrench garl' at work (direct ram: 2 is classical and 1 is talk i think)

also a dispatch from our correspondent in the field :)

Yesterday I climbed a mountain. Mt. Hood. From the bottom of Meadows to just below the peak. On a whim. In a t-shirt. At the end I walked a narrow vein of ash and rock rising between two immense bowls of ice and dirt, each funnelling wind up to the crest forming a chaotic front where I stood. I went as far as can be gotten without rock climbing equipment, just below the peak. To the place where the mountain makes its own clouds that whip around the peak and curl off into the sky. And I sat against a rock, three miles closer to space, and I looked down on the clouds and watched the earth
curve.

Monday, July 16, 2001
WEB du bois' application for membership in the communist party USA

judging WEB du bois

talk with WEB du bois november 1965

deciphering the thought of WEB du bois a thematic approach

du bois, WEB 1903. the souls of black folk

WEB du bois and double-consciousness

Sunday, July 15, 2001

hey, did you know platypi are venomous?

The earliest experimental studies on the venom were conducted by Sir Charles Martin and Dr Frank Tidswell towards the end of the 19th century (Martin and Tidswell, 1895). They expressed secretion from excised crural glands and found that it produced localised swelling and tenderness when injected subcutaneously into a rabbit. When three rabbits were injected intravenously, a rapid fall in blood pressure, respiratory distress, including "expiratory convulsions", and death followed. Post-mortem examination revealed that two animals probably died from extensive intravascular coagulation. However, blood from the remaining animal, in which the material was injected more slowly (and which died somewhat later than the others), exhibited no signs of clotting in vessels. In fact a sample of this animal's blood was found to clot abnormally slowly. Martin and Tidswell concluded that the effects of the venom on blood pressure, coagulation and tissue oedema were analogous to those produced by Australian Snake venoms.

crikey!

Professor Philip Kuchel, from Sydney University, says there are at least 25 components in the platypus venom, including a protein that lowers blood pressure causing shock, digestive enzymes called hyaluronidases and peptidases that dissolve body tissue helping the poison to spread, and a protein that increases blood-flow to the spur site causing severe swelling. The slight acidity of the venom adds further sting.

But the special ingredient in platypus venom that accounts for its outstanding pain-inducing qualities is thought to act directly on nerve cells that register pain, called nocioceptors. Greg de Plater, who discovered the compound recently at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, says it works a bit like capsacin (the active ingredient in chillies that makes them taste hot) by stimulating electrical activity in the pain cells.

Saturday, July 14, 2001
funny flash-toons! (via um, metafilter, boingboing and sensible erection, respectively :)

Friday, July 13, 2001
precision (via most-viewed)

He said he envisioned future uses for the new clock in regulating precise orbits for satellites, deep-space navigation and linking together spacecraft. ``You need very precise navigational tools for this,'' Diddams added.

Diddams said the clock exists as components in two of his agencies laboratories in Boulder. ``It's not neatly packaged up in a box that says 'NIST All-Optical Clock.' An outsider would have no idea that it was a clock. We don't have a display on it that says 11 p.m. or whatever.'' [the NIST rocks :]

fusion (via ghost rocket)

So they fitted sensors to detect the imperfections - some as weak as the Earth's magnetic field - and then corrected them with arrays of magnets in the cavity controlled via feedback loops.

"It takes very little power because the errors are about one part in a thousand," says Ronald Stambaugh of General Atomics. The team found that the spinning plasma did not slow down and they could ramp up the pressure to twice the previous limit, quadrupling the rate of fusion. [rock on!]

Thursday, July 12, 2001
here're some sounds from around the net :

definitely check out desperado :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2001
almost finished with quarantine, which kicks so much ass. the only story i know of where the force of the narrative is being made aware of the paths not taken. well maybe ethan frome i guess :) note the transition from disillusionment and despair to acceptance and openness to possibility :

As for the stars, they were never ours to lose; the truth is we've lost nothing but the illusion of their proximity. -- p. 23

I stare up at the sky, and fight down a wave of vertigo. The truth is, The Bubble has never confined us; it's merely rendered our confinement visible. The shock was not one of limitation; the shock was being forced to confront the alternative, the infinite freedom beyond. -- p. 254

like uh, the truth does set us free. and this from an impermeable barrier that encloses the solar system (a literary device), the bubble. take away the stars and what have you, if there's nothing out there? in the words of modest mouse, "the stars are projectors, yeah / projectin' our minds down to this planet earth."

btw, i heard this dance mix to only time (by enya :) on the radio which really sucked! but it was kinda cool cuz i guess people were calling in and stuff and asking, who was that? and i was like that when i first heard orinoco flow.

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