2023 Year End Review

27 Dec 2023 12:23 - 03 Jan 2024 07:57
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    • Overview

    • Just to be clear, there is almost nothing in here about my personal or professional life, for what are, trust me, good reasons. This is all the random other things I read or watched or thought about.
    • World

    • Israel/Gaza of course. Trump and everything inching slowly towards fascism.
    • It was a year of AI and like everybody else I spent time experimenting with it and trying to make sense of it.
    • Books and study

    • Another desultory attempt to learn category theory, but it continues to be the kind of thing I should be into rather than something I am actually into. Also another half-assed attempt to learn to play keyboards.
    • Ribbonfarm organized a new Summer of Protocols project, which I didn't really participate in much (chimed in at the beginning and the end) but it inspired me to write Protocol Thinking
    • Music

    • Highlight of the year, no contest, was the 5-night John Zorn residency in September. I'm still vibing from that. Ripped all his albums I have including 6 or so bought at the shows. Shortly after he finally put his catalog on Spotify so I've been listening to a lot from there.
    • Movies / TV

    • Killers of the Flower Moon
    • Bosch (very mid police procedural, but enjoyable for what it is)
    • Scavengers Reign (excellent)
    • Tár
    • Crumb (rewatch, I'm a big fan)
    • Joel Coen's version of Macbeth (for WS class)
    • Transatlantic The true-ish story of how the precursor to the International Rescue Committee got Jews, artists, and intellectuals smuggled out of occupied France). Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin appear. Serviceable drama.
    • Killer Joe dir the late William Fredkin, kind of hated it
    • Succession final season was good. I wrote this comment:
      • It's pretty obvious what's going on with the Roy children – their goal is the love and approval of their father, which they don't know how to get. The best they can do is try to be a ruthless asshole like him now and then, but they don't have the ability to really pull it off, and it doesn't actually address the goal.
      • What makes the show work is that this is very relatable, many ordinary people have the exact same problem without the money and helicopters. Goals like "I want my father to love me" are unconscious for good reasons, you actually can't just make that a conscious goal and go after it, that doesn't work (even if you could make it happen, the real goal would remain unsatisfied). The ego's job is to try to make plausible, respectable, daytime goals that serve the unconscious goals without acknowledging them. This is an inherently difficult and absurd task, what makes Succession funny is that this very ordinary absurdity is amplified to ridiculous proportions and made public.
    • Hacking

    • Learned Typescript and its dev ecosystem. Did a lot of data curation projects using Clojure (voracious). Advent of Code.
    • Increasingly frustrated with Logseq and tempted to do something about it. Played around with BlockNote but could not quite get it to do hyperlinks, and can't get anybody on their team to take an interest in this obviously feature.
    • Unfinished farting around: Mastodon API. Generalizing Enflame for SPARQL WWEII.
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    • Writing

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    • Deaths

    • Carl Hewitt and Doug Lenat, two leading lights of early AI who I knew and worked with.
    • Rudy Rucker's wife Sylvia. Only met her once. but she was very warm and welcoming.
    • There was a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay on Jan 23
    • Many famous actors who everybody has this oddly personal relationship with. Andre Braugher for instance -- his performance in Homicide was astonishing, and memorable, but why should losing him seems like losing somebody I know? Weird.
    • Henry Fucking Kissinger
    • April

    • Why poetry is a variety of mathematical experience | Aeon Essays by Peli Greitzer, this looks fantastic.
      • Two hundred years ago, the poets and philosophers of the Romantic movement came to an intoxicating thought: art can express the otherwise inexpressible conditions that make everyday sense and experience possible. Art, the Romantics said, is our interface with the real patterns and relations that weave up the world of rational thought and perception...My purpose here is to show that today’s first blushings of a mathematical viewpoint on pattern, mind and (human) world make the Romantic theory of art literally plausible.
    • May

    • June

    • An unsent tweetstorm
      • Is the term "prompt engineering" supposed to be a kind of ironic joke? Because whatever it is, it is about as far from engineering as you can get.
      • Engineering is the process of designing artifacts to achieve some particular specification, generally quantitative, out of materials with known properties.
      • Software engineering is barely engineering, but it at least pretends to it.
      • In prompt engineering, people who know almost nothing about the system they are trying to manipulate make hopeful incantations that may or may not nudge the unknown machinery towards a vaguely desired result.
      • That may be an important new skill or art form or something, I don't mean to say that it is valueless. But it isn't engineering and calling itself that sounds absurdly pretentious.
      • "prompt hacking" would be less pretentious but I that term is meant to indicate malicious manipulation, so I guess that is out.
    • In a convo about AI on WS Discord:
      • Well, they clearly have biases and specific content and maybe even goals, certainly people are trying to make them more agent-like every day. But despite some efforts to make them talk about themselves, they lack a self , there's no there there – no actual person, whatever that means. Or at least, that is what it seems like from a technical standpoint – since we don't know what selves really are, we can't say for sure, maybe they do have an emergent self and are not just clever fakes (this was in the context of one of those Jill Nephew podcasts; she is very adamant in her view that they are fakes; I am less sure).
      • Now, it may also be the case that in humans there is similarly no there there – that is one of the teaching of Buddhism, as I understand it (which is to say, poorly). That is what emptiness means, all things are without an essence, especially ourselves. From that standpoint, we don't have any reason to put ourselves on a higher ontological plane than these LLMs. We are clever fakes too. Realizing this can be liberating or it can lead to nihilism. It's certainly challenging.
    • Trying to explain science on WS
      • I think there is a lot of misunderstanding around this point. Absolute objectivity is not attainable, true, but what science does is produce knowledge that is more objective than mere personal observations. Exactly what that means is open for interpretation, but there is definitely some quality that a proper scientific finding has that, say, a movie review does not. It might be best conceived of in terms of strength as Latour does – a scientific statement has stronger allies than an opinion, in fact science knows how to make the material world itself into an ally.