Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Outskirting Disaster

Sometimes, the world is appallingly, amazingly small. While looking through archives of mini-conferences my research group at CMU throws yearly, I found that one of the two heads of the research group in which I worked (well, volunteered, because I never bothered turning in the timesheets) came to talk here shortly before I made it into town. This in turn reminds me of some conversations I had about philosophy and psychology with both heads -- one of the things I've been grateful for in academia is that I've had the opportunity to work with some brilliant people. This is slightly more unusual than finding that a light acquaintence here (CMU Undergrad) has ties with an old, stronger acquaintence in Columbus.

I've been taking some longish walks through the woods recently, sitting in the darkness and feeling very alone (which is pleasant when I need it). I keep thinking about here and Boston, and how this is like yet another desire for two incompatible things -- it's easy, when one's in a place that's really great for one of those things, to forget it's there and branch out for the other. Doing that partly acts as a reminder that both exist, and that can be unpleasant. I love the parks in Pittsburgh -- I love that in a quick walk from my home, I can get someplace that feels like there's no civilisation around. Giving that up will be hard -- Boston is a large city and is nothing like things here. Could I be happy living in a large city? I need to think about this, because I do love what I feel is a more vibrant culture there. The culture here may be feeling a bit stale, with my life becoming kind of static, but the nature part never gets old. There's no principled way to decide between the areas -- it's "serving two masters". Can I be happy without being within walking distance of nature? Can I be happy staying here? Decisions... decisions... but I think I should probably go. At the very least, I should visit more, get a better feel for the area, and see how I feel about what wilderness opportunities are actually near any neighbourhoods I would see as suitable for living (e.g. are there any parks that are near any neighbourhoods that are also near MIT?).

Last night, I went gaming with some friends, and this marks another end of summer and another departure of the youngest brother in the J/R and G/E circle. This is kind of strange to me, especially given that G/E are likely to head out to Greece in a year or so. Everything, absolutely everything is in slow flux, and this is kind of scary to me. I think that this is because the nature of human intelligence evolved from finding ways to reduce situations into simple models which can be used to manipulate situations to provide minimal intellectual input and recieve a fixed maximal gain. We lack the capacity to integrate larger datasets without dropping data, and so we do our best to drop the right data, but anything larger is bound to bring discomfort in some flavour. Directly optimising life for happiness is such a task (although indirectly optimising life by optimising the self for what makes one happy may be doable).

This is turning into one of those all-day entries, paragraph-by-paragraph adding over breaks in the day. I wonder if people using other blog software have those kinds of entries -- I suppose lj users sometimes update recent entries to elaborate on things, but this has a cost with regards to how friendslists work. I suppose I pay that too..

I picked up an interesting historical footnote at the free book table in Baker -- a 1968 book about recursion in programming (Recursive Techniques in Programming by DW Barron). I like seeing the arguments presented like a ship in a storm, now viewed through shards of time from comparitively calm waters. I'm also reminded how shockingly modern Algol-68 feels -- as much as I know it's not the case, I can't help but thinking of the programming languages of the time as being much more primitive than they were. Anyhow, I'm looking forward to making my way through the book... On the topic itself, I don't think recursion is as controversial today as it was then, for a few reasons. First, we've deconstructed, with modern compilers, recursion from a deeply meaningful form into a lighter syntactic sugar than it was. Second, we've delegated to recursion a few specific tasks it's great at (sorting is the classic example), where by and large it's considered an essential tool of the trade. Finally, recursion has been pared away from some of the other ideas that it was once pared with that are now, by and large, discarded (e.g. reverse polish notation). I unsure if we've given up anything interesting in the years between -- the flow of memes in the field of computer science has always been lively. This is probably because the natural convergence of the field is quite low (reminds me of Pratchett's "reality quotient" joke idea).

I'm interested in the recent ceasefire in Lebanon -- I am concerned that Hezbollah is not completely eradicated, but if troops are in place long-term to protect the border and if further rockets are not launched, all is good. I wonder, given the ideological commitments made by Hezbollah, if that's sustainable. At the same time, underlying tensions in the area are likely to remain high for the forseeable future. I'm trying, without much success, to seek out arguments for ceasefire that make much sense to me -- it seems so simple to me that Hezbollah is not an organisation that should not be permitted to exist, and to view them as a destabilising force that threatens progress (as I define it). I'm quite far, perspectivewise, from any equivocation.

I'm not good at telling when I'm stressed from internal cues, but the telltale signs are there in abundance.

Tags: work

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