Science proves you're stupid#

It looks like the brain has an automatic timer, a wound spring pushing an emotional impulse to choose. We didn't evolve to know the world, but to make the most statistically efficient decision given limited data and time. Without impulse to close the deal, no decision is possible with pure reason. With enough thought, every possibility can be made to appear equally valid. Reason is a tool to serve impulse, not the thing that provokes decision. You can reason your way to any conclusion you want. Wanting is the key. […]

[C]ognitive science demonstrates that you're not bright enough to realize what a clusterfuck your life is, because you're wired to tell yourself a coherent story after the fact. Microsecond by microsecond, your neocortex spins a story that says: "I meant to do that." Your conscious mind thinks its Sherlock Holmes, but really it's Maxwell Smart, tripping through life and weaving coherent excuses to maintain the illusion of control.

Is god an alien mathematician?#

An awesome conversation between Ben Goertzel and Hugo de Garis, two of my favorites in this space.

de Garis:

This "mathematical principle" is closely analogous to the "anthropic principle" in the sense that our particular universe design seems so fantastically a priori improbable. One is virtually forced to accept it has been designed. The so called "designer" traditionally was conceived of as a theity, but now that we humans can imagine [artificial intellects], we have a new way to imagine the designer, i.e. as an artificial intellect, and hence compatible with our deeply held scientific principles. I guess what I'm saying is "artilectual deism is compatible with science", whereas "traditional theism is simply pre-scientific garbage."

Nick Szabo on "The Singularity"#

We humans have huge informational bottlenecks between each other, but these hardly compare to the bottlenecks between ourselves and the hyperidiot/hypersavant aliens in our midst, our computers. […]

That's not to say that many of the wide variety of techniques that go under the rubric "AI" are not or will not be highly useful, and may even lead to accelerated economic growth as computers help make themselves smarter. But these will turn into S-curves as they approach physical limits and the idea that this growth or these many and varied intelligences are in any nontrivial way "singular" is very wrong.

The video-game programmer saving our 21st-century souls#

[Jason] Rohrer is trying to make art in a medium that most people don't even think is capable of art. He can create this space of pure freedom, as artists have done in the past — isolation, introspection, ascetic poverty. But ultimately he has to send these works out into the world, and people have to respond to them. And right now the audience doesn't know what to do with them.

Relatedly, how is it that I've never played his third game, Passage?

Our desperate, 250-year-long search for a gender-neutral pronoun#

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony and fifty other women registered to vote in Rochester, New York, and got into all kinds of hot water. Anthony was arrested and freed on bail, at which point she took to the lecture halls to rail against sexist pronouns:

[I]t is urged [that] the use of the masculine pronouns he, his, and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma...

"There is no she, or her, or hers, in the tax laws," concluded Anthony, blasting her opponents to smithereens. "The same is true of all the criminal laws."

QuickCursor#

QuickCursor brings your favorite text editor to any app with a global keyboard shortcut. Unlike manually copying and pasting between apps, QuickCursor automates the entire process to save you time.

This app is just all kinds of awesome, and works with nearly everything (including, for example, comment fields in web pages). I love it. (Realize though that every time you save within your editor the system clipboard is overwritten, and that you can't edit in an app that doesn't support the ODB Editor protocol.)

Kinect hacked to control Street Fighter IV#

Ever wanted to throw fireballs from you hands? Now you can. This setup uses a combination of FAAST for Kinect input and GlovePIE for the chuck and scripting of special moves.

The books I read in 2010

January 18, 2011

Everyone knows I'm a Kindle nut, and in the last year I've read quite a few books on the device(s). If you follow me on Twitter, then you've already seen me link to most of these as I've long been in the habit of tweeting links to books as I finish them.

After browsing this list, if there's a book you think would interest me, please let me know, or just gift it to me.  ;)  (Relatedly, you also may want to have a look at my book wish list.)

★★★★★

★★★★☆

★★★☆☆

★★☆☆☆

Currently, I'm reading the following books:

"Send to Kindle" extension for Chrome#

You guys know I follow these solutions like a hawk, and this probably is the best one I've come across so far. It's fast, accurate and requires just a single click--it can't be made any simpler. I worry though that, as with similar services, scaling may be a problem as its popularity grows.

A dog takes its loyalty to the grave in Brazil#

A dog takes its loyalty to the grave in Brazil

A dog, "Leao", sits for a second consecutive day, next to the grave of her owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who died in the week's catastrophic landslides in Brazil…

If this doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you may need to see someone.

Kindle Lending Club#

When you submit a borrow request on KindleLendingClub.com, our system attempts to match your request with a lender. When a member loans you a Kindle book, you then receive an e-mail notification that allows you to download the eBook to your Kindle…

Yes! My request has been fulfilled!

How did the NES Zapper work?#

[In Duck Hunt, when] you point at a duck and pull the trigger, the computer in the NES blacks out the screen and the Zapper diode begins reception. Then, the computer flashes a solid white block around the targets you're supposed to be shooting at. The photodiode in the Zapper detects the change in light intensity and tells the computer that it's pointed at a lit target block -- in others words, you should get a point because you hit a target.

A cleaner, simpler RSS feed

January 15, 2011

I've long wanted to modify the way my "link posts" show up in the RSS feed; effectively, I wanted to go from the "DoubleTitle" to the "Out and About." For years my link posts have been presented in the RSS feed like this:

Title of RSS item (links to the permalink on my site)
Repeated title (links to the content I'm discussing)
Excerpt/Commentary (if any)

Now, those posts should look like this:

Title of RSS item (links to the content I'm discussing)
Excerpt/Commentary (if any)
 (links to the permalink on my site)

Obviously then the main reason for the change was to remove the double title, which, even with seasoned readers, sometimes could cause confusion (and I've always hated how it looked). While there are a few plugins available to enable WordPress to handle this sort of thing, I decided to go it alone because I generally shy away from using plugins I didn't write. (Yeah, it's probably a control thing… and an I'll-sleep-better-at-night thing.)

The modifications really weren't too bad. I just added a custom field to hold the content link, and, where applicable, modified the relevant theme files to use the custom field instead of the permalink. Because I have thousands of link posts using the now-old style, and because I didn't want to immediately walk through and change each of them to the new style (there's just no way to automate it), I added some code to the singles and archives templates to take care of both the old and the new styles, so that link posts display the same regardless of how they were saved on the backend.

With respect to the index page, I changed all of the link posts now appearing there to the new style (and modified index.php to display them correctly) so that the new/old-style check isn't required going forward. The same goes for the RSS template.

I think I've taken care of everything, but if something looks/feels wonky, please let me know.

Use FlexTime, LaunchBar, Spaces and AppleScript to get things done

January 13, 2011

As of late I've had a terrible time concentrating, on anything. So, I did what any self-respecting computer geek can't help but do, and rationalized further procrastination by telling myself I was going to create a new, usable workflow. The end result of this little productivity tangent is a combination of FlexTime, LaunchBar, Spaces and AppleScript, and does the following when set in motion:

  1. Gives you 15 seconds to move into the Space where you're going to work.
  2. Disables, after those 15 seconds have elapsed, your ability to switch between Spaces.
  3. Lets you work in your chosen Space for 20 minutes.
  4. Displays (using LaunchBar), after 20 minutes, "TAKE A BREAK!" in large type across the width of your monitor, and restores your ability to switch between Spaces.
  5. Lets you do whatever you want for 5 minutes.
  6. Displays, after 5 minutes, "TIME TO WORK!" (and then the steps repeat).

The whole thing is driven by a FlexTime routine (see the two images below), which consists of two activities that I call "Work" and "Play." The "Work" activity launches a first AppleScript when the activity starts, and a second AppleScript when the activity finishes, at which point the "Play" activity takes over and simply counts down some predetermined amount of time before the "Work" activity begins again. The routine repeats until you pause it.

FlexTime Work
FlexTime Play

When I first decided I was going to create this, my immediate thought was to simply disable Spaces for the duration of the "Work" segment and then re-enable it for the duration of the "Play" segment, but I quickly remembered that when you disable Spaces, the Spaces you're currently using disappear and all of your open applications get sucked into a single Space (i.e., your ‘main,' and now only desktop). If this is the type of functionality you want (I can't see why you would), then the below AppleScript is all you need; it just toggles Spaces on/off each time it's run.

tell application "System Events"
    tell spaces preferences
        tell spaces preferences
            if ((spaces enabled) is true) then
                set spaces enabled to false
            else
                set spaces enabled to true
        end tell
    end tell
end tell

After realizing that that wasn't what I wanted, my next thought was that I could completely disable Expose, but after digging around the OS I'm fairly certain that you actually can't disable it. However, you obviously can simply remove the ability for it to be invoked (via mouse clicks, hot corners, keyboard shortcuts, etc.), and so that's exactly what I did. (Relatedly, be sure to check the "Enable access for assistive devices" checkbox in the "Universal Access" pane of your System Preferences.)

To get this whole thing working, you'll first want to create two AppleScripts, one for each of the following two sets of code. You can call them whatever you like; I saved mine as time_to_work and take_a_break, respectively. Once the two AppleScripts are saved, all that's left to do is to create a FlexTime routine that looks like the one shown in the above two images.

using terms from application "FlexTime"
    on HandleFlexTimeCue(myDocument, myRoutine)
        tell application "LaunchBar"
            display in large type "TIME TO WORK!" as text
            delay 15
        end tell
        tell application "System Events"
            activate
            tell expose preferences
                set properties of the bottom right screen corner to
                    {activity:none}
                tell spaces preferences
                    set key modifiers of arrow key modifiers to {none}
                    set key modifiers of numbers key modifiers to {none}
                end tell
            end tell
        end tell
        tell application "System Preferences" to quit
    end HandleFlexTimeCue
end using terms from
using terms from application "FlexTime"
    on HandleFlexTimeCue(myDocument, myRoutine)
        tell application "LaunchBar"
            display in large type "TAKE A BREAK!" as text
            delay 3
        end tell
        tell application "System Events"
            activate
            tell expose preferences
                set properties of the bottom right screen corner to
                    {activity:show spaces}
                tell spaces preferences
                    set key modifiers of arrow key modifiers to {option}
                    set key modifiers of numbers key modifiers to {option}
                end tell
            end tell
        end tell
        tell application "System Preferences" to quit
    end HandleFlexTimeCue
end using terms from

(Note that the "set properties" lines in the examples above should be just a single line; I've broken them into two lines for presentation purposes only. Note further that your Spaces settings may be a bit different than mine, and so you'll want to make sure the values used in the above scripts are in line with how you use the utility (e.g., I use the bottom right corner of my screen to invoke Spaces).)

Now, get some damn work done!

Quora's sweet, sweet email settings

January 12, 2011
Quora's email settings

At first blush it may seem that this many options flies in the face of my minimalist sensibilities, but in fact this is exactly the kind of granularity I prefer, and wish all services let me drill down this deep. As far as I'm concerned, it's better to spend a few minutes taming this beast up front and getting things exactly as you'd like them, than to be annoyed constantly by something you can't turn off, modify, etc.

(Relatedly, and like a lot of people recently, I'm quite addicted to Quora.)

Charles Baxter looks at The Life of P. T. Barnum#

He knew that spiritual peacefulness, a calm in the soul (we would also call it "self-possession"), was largely missing in the American experience and that this absence derived, as he notes, from "a practicalness which is not commendable." […]

Barnum knew that America was a nation of believers who, thanks to their pragmatism, didn't actually believe in much of anything, although they said that they did. This cultural setup created a variety of believers without anything to believe in, a vacancy that he filled with wonders in his American Museum, housing dioramas, cameleopards, and a miniature model of Niagara Falls with real water.

Mirror-image cells could transform science--or kill us all#

Theoretically, a cell could be based on "wrong-handed" molecules. Its biochemistry would work just like ours--DNA to RNA to proteins--but it would be completely incompatible with earthly life, its chiral twin. And now, thanks to recent advances in genomics, cell membrane science, and synthetic biology, an ambitious researcher could go beyond theory and build it from the ground up. The tools are here (well, almost here) to make mirror life from scratch.