Don’t Sneer at Your Ancestors

A reddit thread on magic. I don’t actually believe that our ancestors were as smart as we are now. For one, we (many of us) have access to years of cheap education. For two, it’s easy to get books from the library on any subject or find references on the Internet. So we have the advantage being exposed to many more ideas. Plus, we don’t have to worry about lead (fun fact, Roman aqueducts used lead in their construction).

However, I firmly believe that we are made on the same template as our ancestors. There’s nothing magically more enlightened about our brains, it’s all education and culture change. Transporting your infant self back into some farming village, you’d end up about the same in terms of intelligence outcomes as any other child.

There’s an easy arrogance when we don’t understand how someone could believe a thing that we find trivially stupid. The only good antidote I’ve yet found is to fundamentally intuit that this personal lack of understanding shows a lack of contextual information which will lead to a more charitable explanation once received.

Optimal Gossip With Direct Addressing

You had my attention with ‘gossip’ but throw in ‘optimal’ and I’ll have to read you.

Haeupler and Malkhi put together a very clever algorithm for disseminating information in a general network. It terminates in O(log log n) rounds with only O(log n) bits sent per node with a high probability of success. An included proof does show that this is optimal by some probabilistic argument.

The technique is composed from five phases. At any given time, the nodes are partitioned into groups, each under a given leader. The size of these groups are tightly controlled. Under the initial phase there is a brief burst of explosive random growth. Groups that fail to achieve sufficient size during this phase are decommissioned so they won’t add to the total algorithm cost. Groups that are too large are split up so that all groups surviving fall into a predictable size range. Groups are then merged by probabilistically activating only a few at a time. Finally, there is a burst of recruitment that pulls in all remaining unmerged nodes. The randomness and the deactivations prevent waste and the partitioning into single-leader groups allows the explosive growth to continue throughout.

As you read, the warnings start to appear in the corner of your mind.

  • The algorithm efficiency is measured in number of synchronous rounds? Well, partial synchrony is a pain to account for in your formulas, who wants to read all that extra notation, and it probably works out much the same.
  • Assuming the network is a complete graph for convenience? A robust transport protocol isn’t a terrible assumption and if you’re already living in a synchronous world then you’ve ditched questions of in-order arrival. Nevermind that a generic graph is not guaranteed to have a O(log log n) diameter.
  • UUIDs for every process? Your system is not to big that you can’t afford strong consistency when creating new nodes. Probably.
  • Global knowledge of the number of process involved in the algorithm? I don’t actually remember how much this calculation costs. Hopefully nothing compared to the complexity of the title algorithm.

The worst warning comes from the use of leaders. The authors claim in their abstract that the algorithm is robust to failures. However, well timed failures of leaders should be able to break the algorithm since they don’t employ any consensus algorithm to create leaders but instead lean on the uuids. Maybe the use of randomness saves them and maybe it doesn’t. It turns out that they’re making a weaker claim that they are robust to nodes failing at the very beginning, before the algorithm starts. This amounts to being robust to an inaccurate guess of the cluster size and doesn’t impress me. Seems to be tacked on as paper padding.

There’s certainly elements of interest here – the bookkeeping is clean and the phases are well-constructed. It’s not completely thought through though.

Happiness is Flow

Can you buy happiness? Any number of proverbs will tell you that money is not enough and there are certainly plenty of historical anecdotes of rich people who found bad ends. Yet intuition suggests that this is absurd! So many problems are caused by a lack of money from the stress of insecurity to untreated health issues that worsen over time. These are hurts that the rich don’t suffer so if they’re not happy then perhaps its that they don’t know how to use their money well. Dunn, Gilbert, and Wilson are here to offer those guidelines. In “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right” they come up with eight. These are in the paper’s abstract so let’s just look at them up front.

  1. buy more experiences and fewer material goods
  2. use their money to benefit others rather than themselves
  3. buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones
  4. eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance
  5. delay consumption
  6. consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives
  7. beware of comparison shopping
  8. pay close attention to the happiness of others.

These rules are drawn from a variety of studies over ‘representative’ populations of North Americans. So feel free to apply your skepticism of meta-studies. Feel free to adjust for the distortions of Canadian and US culture. And don’t assume that I’ve done any work to check that this paper represents any kind of scientific consensus.

Divided attention is the enemy. I don’t know that entering flow is necessary for happiness but apathy will be anathema. Passion is correlated and aimless drifting is counterproductive.

I can’t remember where I first read that money originated not as a proxy for bartering but as a marker of a lack of debt. Very like a pension in a way. This suggests that the primary purpose of money is to ward off uncertainty. Fear of unknown change is certainly going to get in the way of your hedonism.

How easily we adjust to our changed circumstances. This suggests investing in a large quantity of good things is wise. Don’t settle with what you have but keep forcing (controlled) changes.

Remember our peak-end rule of pain. The intensity of the experience is the average of the highest point and the final point. So choose the longer, less powerful pain when possible.

I encourage you to read the article yourself. These points are not all obvious.

Who Cares About Men’s Rights?

Thing of Things

[HISTORICAL NOTE: This is the blog post that led to the founding of my Very First Feminism Blog (tear drips from eye). It also led someone to call me an “Auschwitz pussy” in the comments, which TO THIS DAY is my favorite insult I have ever been called and an eternal source of joy within my heart. Auschwitz pussy. Gosh.]

I do.

I care about every boy that was ever called a fag or a pussy or a sissy for being emotional, or sensitive, or unathletic, or just not manly enough. I care about the boys who are afraid they’ll lose their manhood if they admit they like boys that way. I care a whole fuckload about the ones, gay and straight and other, who commit suicide about it.

I care about the three-year-old that just wants a doll. I care about the fourteen-year-old who just wants a pair of high heels…

View original post 1,726 more words

Plot Bunny Farm (2)

More great things from the plot bunny farm!

A whimsical post referencing wind turned me on to the fun that is a lackadaisical lexicon. Though it would not suffer from more cats.

Whenever I despair of training myself to write, a bit of encouragement comes.

When it comes to words, are you using enough of the good ones? Are you following your rules of language?

In related language news, deBoer reminds us of Winograd’s dilemma and the peculiarities of English.

Maps Again

Maps! When I was a child, my second favorite atlas showed maps of the nations and kingdoms of the world in their historical context. As you flipped through the pages, you’d see the passage of time and the ebb and flow of borders. Now you can have the exact same experience for free online.

Also, wind! My favorite bit of weather. On those few rare occasions that I take a vacation, I love to stand on the sea shore or a bluff to feel the wind. It has so many signatures. Will it be a caress or the full body hug of a storm? My experience sailing taught me to respect the wind because if it abandons you or decides to up its strength, you’d better be prepared. Would love to move somewhere with actual wind and perhaps these maps will help me.,wind,2015-02-03-00,51.502,0.132,6


What have we learned from Adolph Reed so far?

  • Change within a democracy comes as a result of many people joining for common purpose. This unity requires extensive work and organization and is not cheap. The success of an individual can be a result of an organizational effort but does not indicate any success for the larger group of people in the movement. Trickle-down does not work no matter what the cause. Making your struggle about the success of the elite in your movement (Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg) will be less effective than fighting the structure that produces the elite/common bifurcation.
  • The elite in power are motivated to shrink the voting pool in their system. Their ideal is a small group of decision-makers, a larger group of voters who simply ratify the decisions, and the rest of the population forming a willing labor force for carrying out these decisions. In theory, the three groups are identical in a liberal-democracy. In cynical theory, the second and third groups are identical in a liberal-democracy. If you believe you’re in the first group, your incentive is to shrink the size of the second group (less work for you to keep the coalition in line) while keeping the third group as large as possible.

On an object level, I’ve gained a bit of skepticism toward claims that we should celebrate individual achievement as a political act.