Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions and the Crystalization of Desire

Let's talk about resolutions.

It's a list. A list of desires, to be exact. To look at it, what one does when writing a list of resolutions is essentially, putting one's desires to ink. I want to lose weight, I want to have a lower, I want to read 12 good books- I want, I want. And barring the case where one's resolutions are forced by another hand (in which case it still a desire, merely not yours), it does appear that resolutions are, at the heart of it, a crystallization of want and desire.

Typically we discourage people from having a heart full of desire. Two reasons, greed is bad, and we don't like to remind people how dissatisfied they actually are with their lives. What's so special about resolutions?

It is that we are both the recipient and the sender. Perhaps obviously, we list resolutions not in the vain hope that somehow they will come true (ha! false premise here), but to remind ourselves to act such that they come true.

Or at least, I hope that's what we're doing. It does lead us to think along certain lines, though. Let's be honest, most resolutions fail. Could this be related to the state of mind when writing the resolution?

Perhaps people that draft resolutions while thinking only of their desires would fail. This is good to have, this is good to be. Perhaps those resolutions that are realized are expressed in terms of the costs to be paid. This is good to do, this is good to work for.

In the end, for the resolution to be resolved, we need to have resolve.

Imagination and the Importance of Being Bored

The times where most ideas come to me are the times where I am bored without recourse. On the commute, while having meals, and even when taking stools; all these times seem extraordinarily productive.

Ironically it is difficult to think of anything when in front of a computer. There are too many options to satiate a restless mind. Even with force of will, imagination does not flow naturally, for the very force of will imposes an unnatural tax on the fountain of ideas.

The best times are naturally when no other options present themselves, where the best refuge is one's mind. Perhaps a prison cell devoid of things would be the perfect place for the muse.

It is thus a pity that many have sought to occupy themselves with inferior means when on the commute, whether by music, or by new-spangled toys, or by books. They suffer none but their chances of dreaming.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Half of the World is Below Average

Actually, it is incorrect to say that half of the world is below average. This confuses the statistical notions of average and median.

It is more correct to say that half of the world is below median.

What an entirely pedantic and useless correction.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Problems with Friends

A is a friend of B if and only if B is a friend of A.

Problem 1:
There are N people in the world, N > 1. Is it possible for everyone to have a unique number of friends?

A person is popular if none of his friends have more friends than him.
A person is a loner if none of his friends have less friends than him.

Problem 2:
In general, are there more loners or popular people?

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Inconsequential Take on WikiLeaks

A disclaimer: All that follows is my own useless and unresearched thoughts on WikiLeaks.

Let us first set aside the ethics debate about WikiLeaks, for it will mire us. Instead, I ask the question, if I am an entity interested in my own gain, how is it possible to utilize the current state of affairs to my own advantage?

The current state of affairs is, of course, the great attention paid by the media on the interesting revelations provided by WikiLeaks. A number of them are shocking, even. The nature of such news provokes a limited response from the agencies exposed in such disclosures; limited denials, claims that such information is confidential and obtained illegally, or weak distractions pointing to the potential dangers caused by the disclosure. Sometimes there is no official comment, an attempt to bury the issue.

Such official responses do not help to clarify the exposed information. Understandable, considering that it is a PR disaster and the best response is often to distance oneself from it and hope that it is forgotten. Unfortunately, this very response may be exploited for the propagation of false, and possibly malicious, information.

I believe it is possible to create some fake "revelation" and "disclose" it online, possibly spread by social media. Not difficult, just a tweet or a Facebook post linking to a page discussing the newest "leak", supported by perhaps one or two links to similarly crafted pages of equal veracity. I doubt that anyone performs any serious fact checking, since the confidential nature of the disclosures prevents verification. After a few rounds of amplification on the nets, more analysis and posts discussing the leak will appear, eventually forming a self-perpetuating network of "facts" surrounding the leak. It is even possible to pull the original sources offline after a while, claiming that they were removed due to "intervention", which would further add an aura of authenticity to the whole charade.

I'm not claiming that doing this is good, of course. I'm just saying it could be done. Perhaps it has already.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Google AI Challenge

For the past month or so I've been participating in the Google AI Challenge. The contest itself is quite interesting; you're supposed to write an AI to play a game similar to Galcon, and your bot will be pitted against other bots.

Now, the game is not quite as abstract, because what you're doing is moving ships around and attacking or defending; you can sort of explain or rationalize each move, or imagine some flavor or dramatic backstory to it. I find this to be good because you can actually do pretty well with heuristics or relatively simple decision rules.

Let me spend some time crowing about my bot, which I think did pretty well (446/4617 entries, or 90th percentile). To be honest, it's not all that elegant, being cobbled together from many generations of bots. The core algorithm is simple to describe: For each turn, each planet sends all (all!) its ships to attack a suitable target, which is determined by its distance, growth rate, owner, and number of defenders. There's also a simple defence algorithm in place to assist planets that are under siege, and a routine to expand optimally during the first turn. Surprisingly it did quite well, though I don't forsee it evolving further due to its limiting framework.

You can review some of the final matches at the bot's history page. Just click on "View Game" to view a game.