Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Operation: Help Me With My Thesis - episode 1

Well, here we go. In about nine months, assuming everything goes well, I will be the proud bearer of one Master's Degree in software engineering. And it's time to start thinking about... (cue the sinister music) the Master's Thesis. It's not due until November, but I've seen hollow-eyed fellow students rushing to get it done in their last few months while simultaneously studying for finals and doing class projects. Based on the stress levels I've already experienced, this is not for me, so I need a topic and a start ASAP.

Here's my plan. I really liked my course in data mining, so much that I've been planning for a while to ask Dr. Ghosh to be my adviser. He says he's very busy through the summer, but we can meet in May and get me started. So basically, that's how long I have to really start fleshing out an idea for a project that involves data mining... something.

As I've mentioned before, I'm very interested in the whole Web 2.0 paradigm. People-powered encyclopedias. People-powered politics. People-powered news. People organizing the internet. And oh yeah, blogs. All those blogs.

All those people are generating literally tons of data, which I'm sure needs to be mined in some new way that hasn't been tried before, to figure out some new and surprising bit of internet psychology. I don't know what that is yet. My idea right goes something like this.

Step 1: Web 2.0
Step 2: Data mining
Step 4: A completed master's thesis

I think I may be missing a step, so help me out! What could be more fitting than to ask for a people-powered topic? Post a comment, leave a suggestion. If you know people who do work in web 2.0 or mining or are even interested in those topics, please mail them a link to this post. The future of the free world may depend on it!

Well, not really. But I'd sure like to graduate.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What is objective reality?

Over on The Motley Fool atheist board, someone recently posted the question: "Could somebody please explain the term 'objective reality' to me?"

We don't view the world as it really is; we interpret it with our senses and filter it through existing patterns in our brains. For instance, when I think that I see a blue racquetball, I am not really perceiving the ball directly. White light is striking the surface of that ball, all the wavelengths are absorbed except for those that we recognize at the color blue, and then the light bounces back to the surface of our eyes. The cells in our eyes transmit the pattern of photons back to our brain, which then looks at the pattern of light and dark shading, interprets the slightly different information from each eye to estimate distance, and then creates sort of a computer simulated model of a ball. Your brain tells you "That's a blue ball!" and that's what you think you see.

But senses can be fooled or misled, and your brain's program can screw up and misinterpret what it's reading. Then you can get a false impression of what you are seeing in the world.

Furthermore, you interpret a lot of things based on your memories of things that have happened to you in the past. If you see or hear about something that conflicts with the world model that was already in your head, you might reject the new information or file it wrong in your memory, because your brain doesn't like to completely reorganize its existing patterns every time it sees something a bit odd.

So there's a "real world" out there, outside your brain; and then there's the "virtual world" that has been built inside your brain. The real and the virtual world never match up completely, but they can correspond to a greater or lesser degree. When you see a blue ball, you can be pretty confident that there really is a ball and it really has the property of being blue. The color blue is not really a "thing"; it is just a word that we use to label light at a certain wavelength. But there really is light, and it really has different wavelengths, and it really does bounce off of things like balls to show you the color blue.

When we talk about "objective reality", we are talking about the world that's really there, unfiltered, outside your mind. Our beliefs do not change the world, except to the extent that they lead to actions that alter reality. So I can, if I try hard enough, go around all day sincerely believing things like "That blue ball is actually an orange artichoke" or "There's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day" or "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." But if those things are not correct statements about the real world, then no amount of belief will change that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I'm a cowboy;on a steel horse I ride

Fine. Every other blogger is hyping this stupid test, so why shouldn't I?

Cowboy Lawman

You scored 6 Honor, 7 Justice, 7 Adventure, and 3 Individuality!

You don't just want to explore the open plains, you want to tame it. You're a person with scruples and the steel nerves to back them up. You'd fit well with gunslingers like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. You're a Cowboy Lawman.

Wear your star and sixgun proud, Marshall. You're gonna do just fine!

This test tracked 4 variables. How the score compared to the other people's:
Higher than 26% on Ninjinuity
Higher than 83% on Knightlyness
Higher than 55% on Cowboiosity
Higher than 11% on Piratical Bent

Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Which My Loserdom Is Sadly Exposed

For those of you who knew me in the days when I was "all fired up" about ridiculing/exposing Amway, here's a LONG overdue commentary.

You wouldn't know it to look at my page, but I still get email about Amway several times every week. I gave up updating the mail page around 2000. Although I made some half-hearted attempts to go through and HTML-ize my mail a few times since then, the problem isn't formatting the mails for the web... it's going through every single piece of mail and stripping out the names to protect their identities. After eleven years of seeing these emails, they do start to get repetitive. A bit more than half of them say "Thanks so much for saving me from a mistake!" or "Right on! Amway sucks!" The other half respectfully dissent by letting me know that I'm a pathetic loser and will never amount to anything.

I know that many of these people pour their hearts into the mail they've written to me, but I've read those words a great many times already, and I'm no longer that motivated to read it all twice. Occasionally I'll reply to one when the mood strikes, but rarely. Sorry, emailers. One of these days, I suppose I really should install a guest book or something so they can write their own messages.

Update: Good idea, past self! I took your advice and created a Perils of Amway Guestbook. Knock yourselves out, folks.

But this letter from "Binoy" really takes the cake, and I thought it would be a terrible thing not to share it.

Subject: Hi plz read - Binoy

i can understand ur situation cos i was der but den i decided i woud rather make money than give xcuses for my own shortcommings
Jus bcos u faild dosnt mean everyone fails u idiot

if john cestena recomends dis business den u gotta have sume nuts loose.

i earn a hell lot than i ever cud and so do 17 of my downlines. u should hav seen the poverty that they hav been lifted from.

if u want money get in make some and den talk.
quiters never win dude.
u r jus cryin bcos u wer un successful.
a lot of people are cos u don hav wat it takes to be rich u re jus a sore looser
if it was a bogus den it coudnt hav survived for 47 years.
wud u rather make money or complain.
i can understand ur situation cos i was der but den i decided i woud rather make money than give xcuses for my own shortcommings

Oh, there are sooo many things to enjoy about this letter. I mean, I hate to shoot at fish in a barrel, but this wildly successful businessman does appear to be functionally illiterate. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume from his interesting name that English is not his native language. However, I'm not so sure that is the case because I don't think I've ever seen foreigners make such heavy use of internet slang like "u r." Or say "dude."

Another thing that amuses me about this letter is the reference to John Sestina -- whom Binoy must respect very much to so creatively mangle the spelling of his name. John Sestina was the "big shot" who Amway was waving around as their street cred eleven years ago. Am I to understand that in all that time, they have not found one single new financial guy to endorse them? That's the worst track record I ever heard of. Even the creationists are constantly being joined by new "scientist" voices.

How well known is John Sestina these days? Well, my google search provides these hits on the name:

  1. John Sestina's company's web site.
  2. An anti-Amway page
  3. Another anti-Amway page
  4. John Sestina's book on Amazon
  5. My anti-Amway page
  6. A citysearch page for John Sestina's company
  7. A page where you can purchase and download John Sestina's tapes.

That's all there is on page one. Searching Google News today yields one hit that has the word "John" and talks about the sestina form of poetry, whatever that is. No reference to the world famous investment guy. I have nothing against John; I'm sure he's a fine financial advisor and all, but based on my search, I am pretty well convinced that he is known first and foremost as an Amway shill, far beyond being known for anything else. And again... they couldn't find a new spokesman after eleven years???

The last thing I wanted to highlight about this letter was "if it was a bogus den it coudnt hav survived for 47 years." Awww gee, you're right, I can't think of one single other enterprise that promises to deliver great wealth, fails to provide it for any but a very few people, and has lasted for more than a few decades. Nope, not one.