Archive for April, 2009

The Rarefied Air

Posted in Ranting, Uncategorized on April 20, 2009 by Emlyn

That’s it, I’m really moving into the Cloud.

What am I moving from?

Currently, I have my website at emlynoregan.com . I rewrote it a year or two ago, after an earlier effort some years before that. It’s in C#, asp.net, database is SQL Server 2005. It’s hosted in a virtual host environment at webhost4life.com.

When I built it, it was to be my online home. I have 1 gb of online space, into which went all music and software I wanted to make available. The site has blogging type functionality (lists lists lists), which is used in various ways. Also, it has a secure part allowing me to admin the site, write articles, etc etc. It’s not very web 2.0 though, there’s nowhere for user comments and such. I did build a rudimentary user profile system, and users can sign up to it, but being a logged in user achieves nothing unless you are me.

Since then, the world has changed.

I think the most profound changes of the web 2.0 era are that you can do a lot more on the web, and the free services are no longer crappy substitutes for paid services. Ubiquitous streaming video blows my mind, google‘s alleged ongoing losses from youtube notwithstanding. On the topic of video, who would you trust to retain your online videos safely into the future? Some paid service? Or youtube? The same goes for documents (google docs), email (gmail, yahoo), photos (flickr, picasa), blogs (wordpress.org, blogger.com), etc.

So, the purpose of my site is now no longer relevant. The point was to give me a place to present myself, to blog, to put music and software, to organise music and software properly, and to write web apps where appropriate. Now, though, I’m better off blogging in wordpress.org, much better tools, much more comprehensively set up, probably a lot more reliable than my payed my web host. Music can go in the internet archive, or in youtube, or both, and is much more likely to survive in the long term. Distributable software is better hosted in sourceforge (where the code is usually hosted anyway).

I also have email, documents, photos, and social networking requirements, but they are in the cloud already (gmail, google docs, picasa, facebook, twitter).

All that leaves is “presenting myself” (ie: having emlynoregan.com point at some coherent starting point), organising the various music, software, and blogs, and hosting web apps.

All the presenting and organising would be easily managed with a simplistic site structure. I could almost do it with static pages (and v1 might be just that), although there is enough music, and enough versions of software, that some basic data driven functionality would help (ie: a little catalog).

As to webapps, I never did a lot of that in the past, but I really want to in the future. I’ve been learning Python, and really want to work with it. Also, I’m keen to write some facebook apps, particularly games.

There is another reason that I want to replace my existing site, which is that it is written in c#. I love the language, but the whole Microsoft stack comes with it, and I really want to move away from it. I’ve been solely in that world for most of my professional career, and it’s time to broaden my horizons, especially since I suspect we could see a wholesale shift away from MS in the next five to ten years, a collapse of their network effect. Best to be ready for that.

Where I want to go to is a google app engine based site, written in Python, storing data in the app engine’s data store. All my big distributable content can go into free services as above. The site can use google authentication where auth is necessary, and I can just have simplistic code to let me maintain a catalog of that stuff, and keep basic pages up to date.

With google app engine I can also do web apps, and I can do facebook apps apparently.

The code can all go into a free subversion (svn) service (google code looks like a good contender, or else maybe sourceforge or one of the others). I’m using Ubuntu on my laptop these days, and I’d like to develop directly in it (not in a windows based VM as I have done in the past), but I think that’s easily manageable. I already have Eclipse with PyDev running on it, and I have the google app engine developer sdk going with that, and I’ve managed to get a hello world level of site going, so that stuff all seems to work well.

I think my plan then is:
– Get an extremely basic site going (probably a one page “hello world” site), with my local dev environment sorted out
– Get that into svn somewhere
– Get a workable first site going
– Get all my software and music off my existing site and into free services as above
– Redirect emlynoregan.com to the new site
– Turn off the existing site
– Cheer!

Where’s my body’s Control Panel?

Posted in Ranting, Uncategorized on April 9, 2009 by Emlyn

It occurs to me that if I were to design a robot to do all the things a human does, it’d have a control panel, or administration interface. This is the equivalent of the Settings menu or Properties page in various software. That control panel would likely be internal, operated by the robot’s mind, but it would be there.

I would do this because a general intelligence, being able to think about and plan for the future, can know in advance what capabilities it needs. For example, sometimes it’s good to store fat (because there could be food shortages ahead), so a “Store Fat Mode” would be nice. On the other hand, in modern western society, calories are abundant, and it would be better to stay at a particular desired weight / body shape / etc, so “Maintain Weight Mode” would be more appropriate. Or “Add Muscle mode”, or “Overclocked Metabolism mode”, etc etc. The possibilities are endless.

But humans don’t work that way. Watching “The Biggest Loser” a bit recently (yes that makes me the loser), it strikes me that we have made weight loss into a moral endeavour. “No pain no gain”. We invoke purity/sanctity, the message is “you have sinned, now you must do penance, and only then shall you be rewarded with weight loss”. It’s easy to just accept that, because it plays to our fundamental moral systems, but if you think about it rationally, it’s nuts. What’s really happening with weight gain is that we have a system (our bodies) with a regulatory mechanism adapted to calorie shortage, and no administrative override, no calibration features.

Separately, there’s this idea that we need to “burn off” those calories. It assumes this dumb system where calories go in, get used or stored, and the only way to remove stored calories is to use more than you consume, like we have all the systemic complexity of a bucket. If that were true, then seriously fat people could just not eat for a few weeks, and lose big weight, but it doesn’t work like that. I think what’s really going on is a little of this, but more important is that extreme exercise is communicating to the body “The new normal is massive amounts of physical work, so go into a mode where we can do this”. So the body drops the kilos, adds muscle, etc etc, to adapt to what it is being made to do.

And I guess it follows that the purity/sanctity morality is invoked as motivation to keep up the otherwise very unlikely behaviour of high level exercise.

The corollary of this is, I expect, that if you stop the penitential flagelation of the flesh, the body will change back into its “store fat” mode and you’ll be back to weight gain again.

That’s all by way of example. The point I want to make is that it shouldn’t be this hard. Exercise for weight loss is a hack, it’s tricking the body into doing what you want in an indirect way. If you were designing a human from scratch, it wouldn’t be necessary, you’d just go into Settings, and change metabolic modes.

However, if you were designing (or, heaven forbid, evolving) a body to be inhabited by a non-generally intelligent mind, one that can’t plan forward and can’t do meta analysis on its own goal system, you’d build something exactly like what we humans current are. There would be no possibility of intelligent control, so instead you’d have the body have a range of possible behaviours, and move between them in response to its activity and cues from the environment. Also, you’d have the same thing with the brain itself; emotions/moods/cognitive states would all change, not at the behest of the mind, but according to a pre-programmed regime based on physical and environmental cues.

For all the amazing abilities of our bodies, they are a fundamental mismatch for our minds. Even our mental architecture is a fundamental mismatch for the task of being a general intelligence; most of what we are is targetted at coping with a control system totally unlike what we actually possess.

No wonder it’s so weird being human.

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