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News, Updates, & Rants...
Finished reading Learning to Love Data Science by Mike Barlow. Very fluffy book. If you don't already love data science, not sure this book will show you the path towards loving data science... It is a collection of essays on all sorts of "this will be great in the future..." stories, about how data science will change the world, etc. Not a book I'd recommend... unless you're really bored and have nothing else to read.
- Alex; 20160419
Finished reading [Early Release] Fundamentals of Deep Learning: Designing Next-Generation Machine Intelligence Algorithms By Nikhil Buduma. Well, this was definitely not what I expected of a `fundamentals' deep-learning book. And yes, I'm aware that it's only like first 4 chapters or something.
For one, it doesn't actually do anything fundamentally---it uses a library that google recently released---TensorFlow. So all the examples (so far in the book) are using that and only that (and they're in Python!). Also, no mention of the algorithms---just feed this into that library and that's that. Yah, I know it's an early release, but... not coming back to this book once published.
Very disappointed :-/
- Alex; 20160411
My new laptop finally arrived. Lenovo Thinkpad x260. This will replace my old Thinkpad X200. They changed a few things... some for the better. More ram is welcome (16gigs), higher resolution screen (full HD), and some for the worst: the trackpoint button was better positioned in x200. I was hoping the new laptop would be thinner, and ... the body of the laptop is indeed thiner, but the extra battery makes it just as thick as the old laptop... the arrow keys aren't very good (it's hard to touch them and know where your fingers are).
One nice thing is the claimed 21 hours battery life :-) Also, Linux seems to work with everything. Need to have 4.4 kernel---which required manual installation on Linux Mint. But once it's installed, it all just worked (wifi, sound, etc.).
Opened it up and swapped out the SSD for a bigger one... was the hardest to open laptop I've ever had, but I guess it wasn't meant to be user serviceable in the same way that x200 was.
- Alex; 20160405
...and back in NYC!
Happy Square Root Day!
In other news, finished reading The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.
This is a very strange book. It's written by a medical doctor, so definitely not a usual business process book. This book goes over various medical mishaps that happen during medical operations and during flights... the idea is that when procedures get too complicated for individuals, no matter how trained you area, you'll start missing things. For example (book's numbers) about 6% of surgeries forget something inside the patient... Why is one in 16 surgeries "fail" in this way? It's not because they don't know what they should recount all the napkins, etc., after the procedure. It's because there are way too many things to do, and sometimes the stupidest things get missed. Same goes for administering medication at the right times (right before surgery, antibiotics need to be administered no longer than 60 minutes prior to incision---that often gets missed, as the waiting time may be longer than 60 minutes).
So the book highlights that one way medicine deals with complexity was to have more specialization. Like doctors who specialize in only one narrow field, since there's just way too much to know and care about...
Another way of dealing with complexity is to create an outline, a checklist of what needs to happen and when, as a mental guide so that all the important things get done during the procedure. Most of those things aren't stuff that folks don't know, it's things that often get missed because there are a dozen other things that are happening.
I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know there was this many mishaps during surgeries. I'm now a lot more afraid of doctors... It's like every other surgery has some sort of a mistake that causes complications. Most of the mistakes are avoidable, and are usually minor in the grand scheme of things (like not administering medication at the right time, not checking things prior to surgery, etc.)
There's also a lot of stories of airlines having issues... like the Polar route issues and ice-crystals in jet fuel clogging engine fuel intakes... apparently that caused a few near disasters before it was addressed (procedurally---if engine loses power after a polar flight, the natural thing was to step on the gas... which causes more ice crystals to clog the intake----the "checklist" procedure is to ease off the throttle and let the ice crystals melt away and unclog the intake). This is the kind of direct flight I go by from NY to Delhi, so... that part was extra interesting.
All in all, highly recommend this book.
- Alex; 20160404
The primary purpose for this trip was to see Mesa Arch during sunrise. so that's where ended up in the morning. Had to wait for almost two hours for the sunrise, but it was great... Like two dozen other folks there with fancy DSLRs and me taking most pix via cellphone :-)
[Mesa Arch Pix] [Other Albums].
After sunrise, went on a loop hike by Islands In The Sky viewing area, then a short hike to False Kiva, then onto Arches National Park.
[Islands In The Sky pix] [Other Albums].
By the time (noon) I got to Arches National Park, there was a huge line of cars trying to get in... So decided to skip and go elsewhere. Not far from there (about 6 miles up the road) there's a Moab Giants dinosaur park---so spent an hour or so there---I wouldn't make it a primary destination of a trip, but if you have a few hours to kill, this is definitely worth visiting. Had a T-Rex burger for lunch :-)
[Moab Giants pix] [Other Albums].
Then a slow drive to Salt Lake City---the flight is at midnight, so drove very slowly, stopping by everywhere, etc.
- Alex; 20160403
Landed in Salt Lake City, and rented a cheapo car. Apparently the flight was delayed quite a bit---which I didn't even notice (I passed out in the window seat, and only woke up when the airplane landed). The airplane took off three hours late, and JetBlue gave everyone a $25 credit towards future flights.
Set out towards Canyonlands, Needles. The idea is to do a huge loop somewhere around there, hitting all the major attractions, etc.
Got to Elephant Hill (that's 3miles or so via dirt road) sometime around 9am, and set out towards Druid Arch. Past Druid Arch, via Joint Trail to Devil's Kitchen, then via Cyclone Canyon to Confluence point, then (since was getting a bit late, and I ran out of water) via dirt-road back to Elephant Hill.
Returned just after sunset---didn't even use a headlamp :-)
[Canyonlands Hike] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160402
Happy Fools Day!
...and in other news, flying out to Utah.
- Alex; 20160401
Finished reading Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel. Wow, this guy is sure full of himself. First off, the book is well written, and does have a lot of very good points. You could even say it's inspirational. But the vibes are just... bad. Like really really bad.
For example, when you read Warren Buffett, you learn stuff, and even his business attitudes make a lot of sense, and he doesn't come off like an ass. Thiel does.
Here's just one example... Thiel says everyone should dedicate themselves 100% to make their startup a success... like, no lavish salaries, no contractors ('cause they're not dedicated enough), no part-timers, mostly everyone compensated with equity sharing of some sort, everyone has skin in the game, etc. All this sounds great in theory---like if you work for Facebook during its first year... you work on something you believe in, something that might change the world (from your perspective), and then economics rewards you greatly.
But then Thiel himself goes on to say that in *his* selected list of startups (his own VC fund!), those startups that passed all of his red-flag tests (that he lists in the book), etc., just about all of them fail. The VC fund is lucky if *one* startup succeeds... The fund that had Facebook, just about all other startups failed, and profits from Facebook covered all the failures in that fund.
So in other words, he himself selects failures. OK, that's no so bad, after all, he funds startups, and nobody is perfect, etc., but then... none of those vast majority of startups make anyone rich, and the employees are compensated with t-shirts and worthless stock! It's like he's saying, yah, go on, believe in the startup, build the future, change the world, get paid in t-shirts and stock, and I know for a fact that 99% of you will be out of business in a year.
Sure it works out great for like 1% that *luckily* (not skillfully) happen to be in a right company that goes IPO and they make it big... and then write books about how skillful they were in being in the right statup at the right moment in history...
That's pretty much it... in order to succeed, you gotta skillfully be in the right place at the right time with the right idea, and have enough money to make stuff happen. Then your chances of success are pretty high. But if you happen to land a job that pays you with t-shirts and sodas, there's a 99% chance you'll lose your shirt within a year, no matter how dedicated you are or revolutionary your ideas are.
- Alex; 20160325
I130 filed :-)
- Alex; 20160317
Did taxes today. Apparently I underpaid, and under-expensed... urgh. Oh, and I really don't like Obamacare :-/
But eh, it's good to get that over with :-)
- Alex; 20160316
Happy PI day!
This is the 2nd time I arrive in the US on PI day... first one was in 1980s. This time I arrive married... :-)
Though my wife is still in India :-/
Out of the 15 hour flight, I must've slept for 13 hours. Passed out as soon as I sat down, and woke up only for meals.
On way out of airplane, a passenger got arrested right out of the airplane. Apparently they got drunk and peed all over (and screamed at flight attendants). So there was much commotion on the flight that I slept through...
- Alex; 20160314
Driving back to airport :-/ This trip was tooo short.
Had dinner at Amrik Sukhdev Dhaba. Pretty nice place...
- Alex; 20160313
Doing a day trip to Shimla. It's cold, rainy, and yet wondefully amazing...
We did a hike all the way to Jakhu temple (the one next to the 108 foot statue of Hanuman). It was great. Got totally soaked, and were freezing the rest of the day, but it was worth it.
[Shimla trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160312
So... getting married to Suneli.
Arrived at the Deputy Commissioner's (DC) office in Ambala (India) at around 9am... and then wait wait wait and more wait. It seems they had to prepare the forms right on the spot---with typewritten (yah, typewriters!) forms having passport-style photos of everyone involved glued in (and multiple copies of those too!).
Then wait wait and more wait... then the one-toothed lawyer (not kidding, he really did have only 1 tooth) said he cannot be witness since he doesn't know us well enough (!!!that's the dude that prepared all the paperwork!!!) so had to scramble to find another witness (and another lawyer---who turned out to be an actual human being, very cool guy!). Luckily family friend was available to witness such a historic occasion.
About three hours of waiting and waiting and worrying that the DC might just drive off (there was a car waiting for DC to take him to another town), we finally got to see the DC, and very unceremoniously he signed the `certificate of marriage', and that was it... took like 5 seconds.
And then he refused to take the candy, saying he doesn't eat sweets :-/
But YEY, that process is finally over, and we're married!
- Alex; 20160311
Flying out to India... :-)
- Alex; 20160309
Finished reading Data Science from Scratch: First Principles with Python by Joel Grus. Yah, it uses Python (urgh), but besides that, it's actually quite an enjoyable book to read. The examles (yes, they're in Python) are pretty easy to pickup, even if you're not a python person (like myself). It has a very good intro sections on math, stats, etc., and has actual working examples of simpler algorithms. Very practical book---the theme of the book is that you're hired as a data scientist and you jump from problem to problem to solve stuff---pretty neat setup.
I think this will be the book I'd recommend to anyone interested in actually doing data science---yes, it's in Python, but, eh, there aren't that many data science with Perl books :-/
One bad part about this book is... Python, and not enough SQL. There is a chapter on SQL, but I kinda feel that 99% of the time folks should really be doing SQL instead of writing procedural code :-/
- Alex; 20160307
Went to Harriman State Park for a walk. Did the usual loop around red-triangle to Appalachian trail to red-circle back to red-triangle trail. Pretty chilly, and yet enjoyable hike.
[Harriman trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160306
Finished reading The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. This is the first thing I've read by Hemingway (yah, I visited his house with mutant six-toed cats, but never got around to reading anything by him until now). Well, this short-story (it's a pretty quick read) is nice... very well written, engaging, visual, and captures your attention.
Also, I now hate sharks. Damn sharks.
- Alex; 20160303
Finished reading Optimized C++ by Kurt Guntheroth (pre-print release). It's surprisingly very good and informattive---goes over important points such as keeping things in cache, avoiding certian library operations/data structures, such as incorrectly using std::string objects, and all sorts of tips on using map/vector (e.g. using fixed width character arrays as map keys instead of strings). Highly recommend, even for non-C++ programmers.
- Alex; 20160302
Finished reading Thoughtful Machine Learning: A Test-Driven Approach by Matthew Kirk. Not sure why all the bad reviews on amazon, but this book is pretty good---definitely above average `machine learning' book. Yes, it uses Ruby. And yes, there are mistakes in the book, and yes, it doesn't actually talk about the implementations of algorithms (e.g. for pretty much everything, it uses a library---so, no, there's no explanation how SVM works, there's just a call to the library...). There's fairly readable code for trivial algorithms (such as kNN, naive bayes, etc.,) but for the most part, I'd call this book non-technical. It's a good place to get your feet wet though.
The theme of this book is pretty unique---that machine learning algorithms need to be tested. Often it's just as trivial as doing cross validation, etc., but I've never seen a book focus much at all on this critical part of the process.
- Alex; 20160229
Mnt.Marcy snowshoeing weekend. There wasn't that much snow for most of the trail---crampons would've done much better overall, but, eh. The summit had some pretty high cold winds... Did the usual `loop' trail, starting at Adirondacks Loj, going to Marcy Dam, Colden Dam, Mnt.Marcy summit, then back across the mountain to Marcy Dam and the Loj... hike takes around 10 hours, with sections walking across the frozen Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake. That's the best loop in that area---amazing in winter and summer :-)
[Mnt.Marcy trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160227
Got old passport in the mail---ready to travel anywhere now :-)
- Alex; 20160225
While riding the E train from work this evening, some dude who was sitting next to me exploded. As in threw up. All over. No, not on the floor, but literally all over... the crowded train. Did I mention he was sitting next to me? :-/ Had to stand in the train for like 15 minutes with all..eewwww... stuff dripping from me. I really wish there was a place to wash up in the subway :-/
- Alex; 20160224
Got a new US passport card... (separate mailing :-/
- Alex; 20160222
Finished reading (EARLY RELEASE) Data Science with Java Practical Methods for Scientists and Engineers By Michael R. Brzustowicz.
Yah, I know it's an early release, but there's like no content in this book... zero. You learn how to open files, how to read files, how to write files, etc. In Java. And then that's it. The topic list looks damn impressive, but most of them are just place holders for more detailed chapters. (so skip this early release).
- Alex; 20160219
Got a newly renewed passport :-)
- Alex; 20160218
Finished reading Physics for Animators by Michele Bousquet.
I wasn't expecting much, and it turned out to be a pretty neat book. It doesn't dwell on `animation' aspect at all---just a down to earth description of physics.
- Alex; 20160217
If day 2 was not planned, then day 3 was up in the air until I started driving. I was off to Death Valley, but when driving out of Yosemite decided on vising Lake Tahoe---so drove there instead.
There are parts around Lake Tahoe that have VERY deep snow. Higher than the car. Good thing it didn't snow while I was there.
Did a loop around the lake, and back to SF... to visit Mystery Spot.
Mystery Spot was all booked, and there were 20 or so folks ahead of me on the waiting list... so... urgh.
Off to the airport to get back into NYC.
- Alex; 20160215
I didn't plan this trip at all. Just booked airline tickets a few days before, and that's it. So mostly spontaneously decided to drive to Yosemite National Park---avoiding highway 120 (as I hear that's closed).
About 9 hours (and a sleepless night) of driving, got to Yosemite almost at sunrise. Got an amazing parking spot---right by the Yosemite Falls trailhead! Napped for a few hours, and then headed up the trail... About two hours later, was walking in knee deep snow on top of Yosemite Falls. Weather cleared up---it was warm and sunny most of the day.
I didn't expect the snowy hike experience---it was amazingly nice. I did pack microspikes, just in case---and they came in very handy (it's very slippery up there).
[Yosemite trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160214
Landed in SF. Rented a cheap car, which turned out new (with 34 miles on it). The plan is to drive to Redwoods national park... about 30 miles north of Eureka. From there, do some `new' hike I haven't done before.
About a 6-hour drive later, arrived in Redwoods visitor center. They recommended Rhododendron Trail (from visitor center) and then West Ridge Trail to the coast, and loop back via James Irvine trail... I've done parts of this before, but never done the whole Rhododendron which was a treat.
It's long, and VERY secluded. Followed up by West Ridge, which probably only gets a few hikers a month---it didn't look like anyone has been there in a long while. All in all, I got exactly what I wanted out of this hike... to be all alone among those trees for an entire day. Got back to car just as the sun was setting.
[Redwoods trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160213
Flying out to San Francisco...
- Alex; 20160212
Finished reading Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die by Eric Siegel.
Very good book. Has very little actual detail, but I don't think this book is meant for detail. It discusses problems and approaches from the 30000 foot level of business, and I think succeeds at doing that. If you wanna get a grasp of what predictive analytics is all about, and don't wanna get bogged down reading a dense machine learning book, then this fluffy book might be it.
- Alex; 20160211
Renewing US passport. Sent it in for expedited processing.
- Alex; 20160208
Finished reading Machine Learning: Hands-On for Developers and Technical Professionals by Jason Bell.
There are definitely good intentions from the author to make this complicated field approachable---but the treatment of some of these problems is very superficial. A bit too much hand-waving for a techy book for my taste. There are much better books on the subject with a lot more details.
- Alex; 20160205
And back in NYC...
...and off to work, and school :-)
- Alex; 20160201
Woke up early, got Taj Mahal tickets, and off we go. Quick-walked through everything---there isn't really much to see there. Yah, it's nice... but it's a tomb(!). There were very few people there (we didn't have to wait in line anywhere).
Back to hotel for breakfast, and checkout.
Then off to visit Agra Fort. There are some really nice places there.
Still have plenty of time till the train back to Delhi, so... walked around Arga... apparently once you get out of the touristy areas, it's a pretty dingy place overall.
The train ride back to Delhi...eh, there was no concept of tickets or reserved seats. The train was packed. Like very very packed.
In Delhi, met up Suneli's parents, had dinner and off to airport.
[Arga trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160131
Woke up feeling much better. Good thing I packed my backpack full of medicine (most of which apparently expired---I don't repack that medicine bag often). But eh, fever appears to be mostly gone.
Today is travel to Arga day. Got a sleeper train there and back, so could stretch out and relax during the very very long ride.
Arrived in Arga in the evening. Got a hotel literally next door to Taj Mahal (perhaps a 30 second walk to the entrance). Even the ticket booth is farther!
Too late to visit Taj Mahal tonight (they open/close at sunrise/sunset). There are no preset hours apparently.
Went out and about around Agra... got dinner. Since the hotel is right next to taj mahal, the cab dropped us off about half a mile away, and we had to walk to the hotel in the dark. Pretty neat :-)
- Alex; 20160130
Day of the ring ceremony (engagement ceremony).
Suneli and I dressed up (I got a kurta pajama, she got a sari and got her hands painted, hair made up, way-too-much-makeup done, etc.).
I probably got a cold after the Ganga bath---so pretty sick with high fever... but, eh, it's all good.
Priest showed up and did the ceremony; each of us wore the rings, ate stuff, etc.
Shortly afterwards I went to bed and passed out, probably from the fever.
It's worth noting that 1/29 is a special day: it's like my 2nd birthday. This is the day that I woke up in snow on top of Mauna Loa---having slept in snow in a windbreaker during a snowstorm. I could've just as easily not woken up, ever. So doing this ceremony on 1/29 is kinda neat... Yet-another-chapter in my life.
- Alex; 20160129
Traveling to Amritsar to visit a buncha places.
Kind of weird, but this is the first town where we had trouble renting a hotel room. Most hotels didn't wanna have anything to do with us (they all said they only rent to families).
First place on the list: Wagah border to see the BSF parade. Pretty amazing!
Then to Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). This is a pretty amazing place---really enjoy the rhythmic music. The food was great (especially when hungry).
[Amritsar trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160128
Visiting the marriage lawyer day---getting papers signed, etc.
Apparently there are no computers, and everything (all the paperwork) is still typed on an actual typewriter.
The process is VERY involved apparently. First you do notice of marriage, which hangs outside of court room for 30 days, and copies of which are sent all over (including the newspaper). [yep, my name and address showed up in the print copy of The Tribune].
- Alex; 20160127
It's cold, but... took a dip in the ganga river... (right next to cremated human bones).
Then trip to Ram Jhula...
Then back to the train station...
[Haridwar trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160126
Have an appointment with US Embassy this morning; apparently I need to get a `no objections' letter noterized with them in order for marriage thing to proceed.
Today is travel to Haridwar day, to take a bath in the Ganga river.
Took a sleeper bus from New Delhi, that took forever to get out of Delhi... whole trip took way longer than planned, arriving in Haridwar pretty late at night.
- Alex; 20160125
Visited Lotus Temple. Pretty amazing architecture. It's made out of concrete, yet so thin.
Then off to Qutb complex.
Then to Red Fort, which was unfortunately closed :-/
Stopped by Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib temple, pretty amazing.
Then to Akshardham, which is the most amazing temple I've ever seen. The light show was pretty nice.
The security to get into Akshardham was over the top. Took like an hour to get throgh (no cameras, no cell phones, etc., and the guard touches folks in private places).
[New Delhi trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160124
Off on a trip to New Delhi.
Met Suneli's friend, and saw India Gate (from a distance).
- Alex; 20160123
Now that Suneli and I are getting married, we went to get stuff setup (get paperwork started with lawyer, get rings, etc.).
- Alex; 20160122
Getting used to the houseboat cold. There's ice on the ground in the morning.
Morning trip to: Muja Gund Ghat. Boring place to visit in the winter, probably very beautiful in the summer.
And back to Srinagar airport, where there was more security than I've ever seen in ANY airport. They went through the contents of my backpack multiple times. Even took my lighter, and questioned the amount of cash I had with me. It was just rediculous.
And back to Ambala. Talked to Suneli's parents, who are very supportive of the marrige idea :-)
[Kashmir trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160121
The houseboat doesn't feel all that bad in the evening---but by morning, it's pretty damn cold. This is certainly a summer trip place.
Day trip to Gulmarg. Walked around, made snow angels, walked to cable car, and took it all the way up Apharwat Peak. Day spent mostly walking about in snow :-)
- Alex; 20160120
These houseboats are probably warn in the summer. In winter, you can see your breath while inside. There's like no heating at all, and the bucket-bath boiler is not working---`showing' (bucketing) with ice cold water isn't fun :-/
Day trip to Pahalgam. What an amazing place. Horseback riding up that mountain was amazing---the mini-Switzerland is just beautiful (don't have a baseline, since I've yet to visit the real-Switzerland).
Now a bit on the personal side: I've been hanging out with Suneli these last few days, and she's perfect! So asked her to marry me, and she accepted (!!!). Suddenly the whole trip is very different.
Called up Air India to extend trip by another week---suddenly lots of things to do and too little time to do them.
- Alex; 20160119
Flying from Chandigarh International Airport to Srinagar.
Got the `Robin Hood' house boat :-)
Did the lake tour, with every single other boat rowing towards us to try to sell us stuff. One boat had BBQ corn (they actually bbq it right on the boat!), so got that :-)
Walked out and about at night by the river/lake.
- Alex; 20160118
Trip to Chandigarh.
On road to Chandigarh noticed Zoo (ChattBir Zoo), and stopped by there. Saw elephants, tigers, big-behind monkeys, etc. Pretty entertaining.
Then car-camel-bike-eletric-ride to Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Amazing place---everything really is made out of broken stuff.
Then off to Sukhna Lake. Boat ride and a long walk.
Saw the sun-fade (was waiting for sunset, but it never did) from the lake :-)
[Chandigarh trip pix] [Other Albums].
- Alex; 20160117
Landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport... Huge crowd. Took about two h ours to get through border control---customs just walked through.
Met Suneli, my companion for this trip.
Took the metro to the train station, and was exactly 10 minutes late to catch the train to Ambala. Almost two hours later, got on another train, also to Ambala.
Meals on wheels was great (train dinner :-)
Got to Ambala very late.
- Alex; 20160116
Flying out to India...
- Alex; 20160115
Finished reading Bayesian Reasoning and Machine Learning by David Barber.
Amazing start, but falls flat somewhere in the middle. The basics are very well covered, but there's no discussion of sampling, etc. The only way to make probabilistic reasoning practically efficient is to sample the integrals... the book doesn't appear to touch on that at all.
- Alex; 20160110
While jogging around the park tonight, noticed a shooting star (meteor). This is in a NYC city-lit sky from Queens... (around 8pm, EST) didn't hear anything, just light streaked in the sky (never seen it in the city before, so I'm assuming it must've been something big).
Wow: North Korea says it successfully conducts hydrogen bomb test. Well, there's that. I wonder what architecture they used (e.g. layered approach vs x-ray implosion, etc.).
Finished reading An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind by Ian Glynn. Surprisingly good... very much in line with A Neurocomputational Perspective
The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science and The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain
by Paul M. Churchland, and Fundamentals of Sensation and Perception by Michael Levine. In other words, the brain is a computational machine that is understandable (and study-able) in some sense---it's not magic, and structure and chemistry defines how we think and percieve the world.
In other news, finally got around to submitting grades. Finally done with school for the semester.
- Alex; 20160105
Hopefully managed to renew profphreak.com. It was registered with Yahoo Small Business, which apparently doesn't exist anymore---it is now ``Aabaco''. Anyways, apparently this new entity Aabaco still relies on Yahoo user ids to move the old yahoo account to their own new account... and like yahoo small business, my yahoo account doesn't exist either. At leaset it didn't exist until I called them up and sat in wait queue for a bit. Now I have my yahoo email back, and it has 18000 emails, all spam. I don't even know how to just erase-all... it only lets me select a page at a time... :-/
- Alex; 20160104
Happy New Year!
- Alex; 20160101
...and back in NYC. Much later than I expected. I often arrive at 5-7AM, this time my flight landed at 9-something :-/
- Alex; 20151228
After spending the last few days frozen, was looking forward to the legendary hot place like Death Valley... so I get here, and it's freezing. I've been there multiple times, in any times of the year, and it's very been this cold. On drive to the racetrack, the external temperature read out 12F, and it really felt that way.
Anyways, the purpose for this whole trip was to spend a day at The Racetrack, to see Sailing Stones. To get there requires a 4WD car with some clearance. Last time I went I was driving a small pickup truck, this time it's on a big Toyota Sequoya---it's not the best car for this, since it's kinda wide (when cars need to pass each other, it often gets interesting)---a perfect car would've been a Toyota 4Runner, or a Jeep.
Anyways, when I got there, I was the only one there for a few hours. Got to walk around the whole lake (something I've been meaning to do for a while---last time I just drove from one end to the other). Walking on that lake is something amazing... you can literally close eyes, keep on walking for a few minutes, then open eyes, and feel disoriented that you're still walking in the "same" spot (distances don't change much). It's weird.
And yes, there are rocks that `move'. It's like they have a purpose---they don't all move in the same direction... and perhaps there's some selection going on, as the rocks that hit the sides of the lake, never made it onto the middle of the lake unless they're `good' at moving.
Anyways, it's an amazing place to just be at.
There's still enough time in the day to do one more day hike: Golden Canyon is it. So went on a loop that took me into sunset...leaving barely enough time to drive to Badwater.
The return flight was delayed (by like 2 hours), so instead of running to airport decided to visit the Popeyes at Excalibur in Las Vegas. Parked at Luxor, walked to Excalibur to get Popeyes, and back---very purpose driven casino trip :-)
[The Racetrack pix].
[Golden Canyon Loop hike pix].
- Alex; 20151227
On the website for Zion National Park, they said they're open 24/7/365 days a year, etc., no roads are closed, etc... And true to that, they were open. But the roads were all icy. Very slippy.
The plan was to do a big hike, and some minor ones. Apparently the few interesting hikes I wanted to do require technical gear (the narrows apparently requires a full wet suit), so decided to go for Angel's Landing and call it a day (still half frozen from previous night's grand canyon walk :-)
The approach to Angel's Landing... very icy and a ton of tourists. Hundreds. So up and up I go, and once chains start, very few foot steps.
Then it got pretty crazy (even by my standards)---climbing that crazy thing in winter...it's a crazy hike in summer time, but with all slippery things, it's just crazy. Anyways, apparently when I got to the summit, I was the only one there... and it's highly likely nobody was there before that on that day (no fresh tracks in snow).
So in retrospect, this really was the craziest hike I've ever done. Pretty close to me solo-ing Mnt.Washington one winter... There's no way to do this hike without those chains---as it was the primary way to pull oneself up the mountain. Most of the hike was spent on all fours, holding onto the chain with arms, and trying to get some semblance of traction with boots.
Nothing really beats that hike... but decided to go for a walk to the Narrows (river side walk). Very slippery and touristy.
Next stop: The Gun Store in Vegas. I wanted to shoot a grenade launcher and the 1911 machine gun. Unfortunately, the machine gun was in `maintenance' (which I suspect they won't fix anytime soon), and the grenade launcher uses fake grenades... the bang and recoil are supposedly identical. Got their `pick any 3' packages, so went with a grenade launcher, desert eagle pistol, and a P90 (those weird machine guns they use in Stargate.SG1).
The desert eagle... heavy and amazing boom and recoil. Not something you'd carry around unless you wanna frighten people. Strangely accurate (at least my shooting at very close range hit all the spots I was aiming at). The P90 had surprisingly little recoil, 1 shot is just amazingly simple---in full auto it goes around a bit, so holding it on target is kinda hard---but way easier than AK47. No wonder the SGC (Stargate Command) uses these :-)
Next stop: Death Valley.
[Snowy Angel's Landing hike pix]
- Alex; 20151226
Got to Vegas, and... it's cold! I don't believe I've ever seen it that cold.
Upgraded my cheap rental to a Toyota Sequoia---one of the plans for this trip is to drive out to The Racetrack, so need a 4WD for that. (and that was the only one that remotely resembles a good SUV... the other choice was a Rav4, and... that's just bad for offroading).
Went to Walmart to get supplies... and it's closed. Yep. They closed a friggin walmart! (due to Christmas, my guess). Then went to Popeyes, and that was closed too---so was left dinnerless and snackless (had to get stuff from gas station).
On drive from Vegas to Grand Canyon it started snowing pretty heavily... good thing I got 4WD! The temperatures are rediculously low there---it was seriously uncomfortable napping in the truck without an engine running.
Started hike pretty early---7am-ish or so. The rim trail is all snowy... not deep snow, but still snowy, and very very cold. The South Kaibab trail has snow, but little ice, the Bright Angel trail has actual ice... so the Kaibab is the one to use in winter (learned that the hard way two years ago). Anyways, down the South Kaibab...
The plan is to go down to the river, walk about six miles or so to Ribbon Falls, relax a bit, then walk back... for a nice day-long-hike.
After a few thousand feet down, the temperatures became comfortable---enough to walk without the jacket. Down in the canyon, there's green grass and all. It's actually not *that* bad there at all. It gets chilly at night, but during the day, it's very bearable.
Got to Ribbon Falls, took some pix, and it started to snow (!) in the canyon. So imagine comfy temperatures, no wind, and snow (probably blowing over the top of the canyon). The snow pretty much went on until I got out of there close to midnight.
Stopped by Phantom ranch, and it too is closed (for Christmas). Ate literally everything I had---I thought I brought more than enough food, but perhaps the cold temperatures just burned through stuff quicker? Had to settle on caffeine gum for ``energy'' :-/
On way up, once the sun completely disappeared, the temperatures dropped. By a lot. probably single digits. The snow became crispy---like you're walking on it, and it makes that weird sound that it only does when it's very cold. Don't think I was prepared for these kinds of temperatures... So the ``problem'' in winter is the Grand Canyon bus doesn't run, so once at the top, there's still a 2 mile walk to the parking lot... and that was at the summit in those rediculous temperatures.
Got to car, warmed up, and realized I had nothing to eat (well, except caffeine gum). So off to find food I go... except everything is closed :-/
The next place on the list is Zion National Park, but the grand canyon rim road is closed (probably snow), so had to go all the way around, via Flagstaff, which added like two hours to the trip :-/
[Ribbon Falls hike pix]
- Alex; 20151225
Eh. Physicists [try to] figure out how to retrieve information from a black hole. ``...how all of the information trapped in a black hole leaks out as the black hole "evaporates." Many theorists think that must happen, but they don't know how.''
In other words, Hawking radiation (the method by which black holes evaporate) somehow extracts information---but the mechanism is completely unknown. Here's a short brief on how Hawking radiation works: we know nothing can get out of the event horizon---that's a given. Space is filled with virtual particle pairs (matter and anti-matter), that come into existence and disappear before anyone notices. Well, right near the event horizon, the black hole notices.
Crazy Thoughts: I speculate that virtual particles occur when two light photons hit each other just right---photons supposedly don't interact with other photons... yet when an electron hits a positron, they annihilate each other sending two gamma rays in opposite directions... this must be reversible... two gamma rays coming together just right and creating an electron/positron pair---but if that's true, then photons interact with other photons? Using less energetic light should also work, etc. Anyways...
A pair of virtual particles shows up right near the event horizon (it doesn't really matter which one is matter or antimatter, there's no negative mass [that we know of], so that part doesn't matter :-). One of the pair falls into the black hole, the other particle appears to be speeding out of the black hole (while in reality it was never in the black hole---its partner particle fell in).
How is it that the black hole ``evaporates'' when a particle falls into it? Shouldn't it grow? That has to do with energy of the combined system (black hole and virtual particle). The virtual particle outside the event horizon has more energy than that same particle inside the black hole---so as the particle falls in, the combined system actually loses energy, and therefore mass. That mass conveniently appears to be carried away by the particle flying away from the black hole. Thus, Hawking radiation---initiated by completely random virtual particles---and is made up of particles that were never inside the black hole to begin with---yet somehow they must carry away information that is from the inside the black hole.
And that's the problem. Originally Hawking said that information that falls into a black hole is lost... this caused a lot of commotion, and yet nobody [yet] figured out exactly how the information gets out via Hawking radiation.
More Crazy Thoughts: Here's how it actually works: everyone always assumes that we can throw information (light) into a black hole and it always fall in... What if it doesn't? Well, if it doesn't, then the virtual particle pair just disappears... and nothing happens. But whenever Hawking radiation happens, we know that one of the particles of the virtual pair fell in.
Now think of a polarized filter: when we shine light through a polarized filter, only half makes it through. What happens to the other half? It doesn't get through. Now imagine the surface of the black hole being like a gigantic polarization filter... virtual pairs that form at the event horizon, if one of the pairs does not fall in due to this black-hole polarization, nothing happens. If one of the random virtual pair particles happens to be correctly polarized to make it through, then its partner will speed away from the black hole---carrying away the location and polarization information.
So... that's how information makes it out.
In other news, Merry Christmas! ...and I'm flying out to Las Vegas tonight :-)
- Alex; 20151224
- Alex; 20151223
Yey, classes ended :-)
- Alex; 20151222
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