Monday, July 24, 2006


Full-contact reading

When I read I lean on the desk. I’ve tried other arrangements but none work as well. However, the desk is hard, and I put a lot of weight on my elbows; this has always presented a problem for me. Today I bought elbow pads from Dick’s Sports. (Yes, Dick’s Sports.) I came home and read with them, and the experiment so far looks very successful. In fact, now that I have them, I’m discovering other situations where they might be useful, such as when I type. Maybe I’ll just never take them off.

Then again, my cousin did that with sports-goggle glasses, and looked so geeky that even I was uncomfortable.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Jazz is like paint-by-numbers

I just realized this. I feel deflated.

Of course, the degrees of freedom left to the artist by a paint-by-numbers product are not insignificant. You’re free to fill in the provided structure however you’d like, even including disregarding the suggested colors and boundaries. And in a sense any art form is paint-by-number to some extent: always, some parameters (e.g. “people will use tools to make noise,” or “there will be actors on a stage talking to each other”) are not consciously decided by the author, but instead simply assumed.

Still, I feel deflated.

Friday, July 21, 2006


A hack for someone to write

In the old Nintendo game called Contra, one could punch in a certain secret code (up up down down left right left right select start) to get secret powers, like invincibility. Someone should put that feature into Yahoo! Mail, so that nothing you sent could ruin your reputation.

(No, I don’t have any sudden reason to want that. I just think it would be cool.)

Friday, July 07, 2006


Don’t give them hands

There are two fears that arise commonly in discussions of artificial intelligence: that the AI could put us all out of work, and that it could turn against us. We could avoid both possibilities if we scrupulously restricted the output devices of AIs to include only printers, computer monitors, and stuff like that. Then the artificially intelligent could only put us out of jobs that require thought, and they could only take over mankind if they convinced humans to help them do it.

Of course, it might not be possible for intelligence to arise without constant feedback from a manipulable world. If not, we would have to create the AIs in a virtual physical reality (where they could have all the hands they wanted), and only later introduce them to the real world.

Deciding which output devices should be considered safe might be tricky. For instance, if it were possible through the proper combination of radio signals to, say, take control of an airplane, then radio transmission would not qualify as a “safe” form of output. Ditto the internet.

(Isaac Asimov proposed a different leash: Simply program the machines to work in the best interests of humankind. I think that would be great, if only it were possible.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Did I just sell my mom's car to the Mob?

The car has been advertised on craigslist for $700. A Maurice calls today, declares that he just got to LA from New York and needs a car fast, but he can't do $700. Offers 5; I say no. Offers 6 in cash tonight; I say yes.

I scramble around for a couple hours figuring out what paperwork I'm obligated to subject him and myself to, and realize I can't sell my mom's car without having her signature on the papers. She's not around. When the buyer calls back (private number) I explain to him that we can proceed with the transaction tonight, but if so he'll have to wait for the papers in the mail. He sounds uncomfortable, and says "Truthfully, I'm buying it for a friend of mine. I'll have to call you back about that."

Three minutes later he calls back. "The guy I'm buying it for is my brother-in-law; he's in the car with me. [Did I ASK for an explanation?] He seems to be willing to go ahead with whatever's needed to make the deal go through."

They should be pulling up any minute. Earlier I was worrying about getting counterfeited. Now I'm thinking that not getting whacked would be par for the course, so I will not insist on driving somewhere to get a money order.

Besides, if it's counterfeit I'll get to rat them out to the Secret Service.

Wait. They know where my mom lives. I guess I can't talk.


When they show up they're four guys (I was expecting two) in their late twenties, all Italian. They claim to be "theater hands", but they're not fairy goofballs like the theater hands I've known. They tend to punch one another as they talk. I'm paid in old, wrinkled hundred dollar bills.

[The next day]

The bills were real!

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