Jun 302023

I am looking at images of nearly 4000 year old clay tablets.

Clay tablets like Si.427, depicting a survey of land. And incidentally, also demonstrating the use of the theorem of Pythagoras well over a thousand years before Pythagoras was born.

If only I had a time machine… To witness how these people lived. How they laughed, how they cried. They studied, the learned, they applied what they knew. They built a magnificent civilization. They loved and they hated, they offered sacrifices and committed betrayals. They had fun, they enjoyed a good meal, they entertained. They lived.

And we know so little about them. What did they do for fun? What were they talking about at the dinner table? What were their hopes for their children? What did they know about the world? What were their trades? How did they pass on their knowledge to others? Did they travel? Did they enjoy a day of rest at the beach?

All gone. An entire civilization, that was routinely using artifacts with precision diagrams like this tablet. All gone and almost completely forgotten, other than these bits and pieces, these fragments.

It’s humbling.

 Posted by at 11:40 pm
Jun 262023

The next time (it happens often) I hear someone complain about scientific ‘orthodoxy’ that is used to ‘stop innovation’ and prevent ‘new entrants from entering’ the field (or equivalent words), I’ll remind them that these were exactly the words used by Stockton Rush, defending the design of his ill-fated submersible Titan.

Of course the consequences are far less deadly when the subject is purely theoretical, like fundamental particle physics or general relativity. But that does not validate nonsensical arguments.

Orthodoxy is adherence to tradition or faith. Science and engineering are about testable and tested knowledge, which is the exact opposite. What folks like Stockton describe as orthodoxy is simply knowledge that they do not possess (maybe because it takes too much of an effort to learn) or knowledge they purposefully ignore because it contradicts their preconceptions or expectations.

My condolences to the families of Rush and his passengers on Titan. But foolishness has its consequences. Sometimes deadly ones.

 Posted by at 10:33 am
Jun 252023

Here is a bit of history of which I was not aware: The window tax.

Back in the 18th, 19th century in many jurisdictions around the world, buildings, especially rental properties, were taxed by the number of windows that they sported.

The advantage of this tax was that it was easy to assess: the assessor just had to walk around the building and count.

The unfortunate reality, namely that the tax most disproportionately affected the poorest of the poor? Well, eventually these taxes were repealed but I wonder how many generations grew up in windowless rooms.

 Posted by at 2:26 am
Jun 082023

Glad I am not a politician or public personality as I am about to commit what would amount to political suicide, a’la J. K. Rowling.

The reason? This health warning by The Weather Network, that truly blew my fuse:

Middle line of the red warning at the bottom. That list of folks at high risk:

“[…] older adults, children, pregnant people, and people who work outdoors […]”

Pregnant “people”??? Seriously, why not pregnant primates? Pregnant mammals? Pregnant vertebrates?

Let me not mince words. This is virtue signaling at its worst, pandering to a loud, obnoxious group of “alphabet soup activists”, claiming to, but not really representing gays, lesbians and others who simply just want to live a life in dignity, respected as human beings, enjoying what should really be the inalienable right of every human being on this planet, to be left alone, to be allowed to live a life to the fullest in the company of those they love.

The biggest irony of all? Even as conservatives in many corners of the world, especially here in North America, are busy turning the fictitious country of Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale into actual reality, what these activists do is no less harmful to women. Their agenda amounts to little more than the idea that “men are better than women at everything, including being women,” as someone recently put it on Quora.

Dear Weather Network, dear Environment Canada (if that’s where the text of the warning came from): Let this serve as a friendly reminder that the English language has a perfectly serviceable word to describe those members of the species homo sapiens who are biologically capable of becoming pregnant: they are called women. Check your dictionaries, it’s there.

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Jun 052023

I have written before about my fascinating experiments probing the limits of what our AI friends like GPT and Claude can do. I also wrote about my concerns about their impact on society. And, of course, I wrote about how they can serve as invaluable assistants in software development.

But I am becoming dependent on them (there’s no other way to describe it) in so many other ways.

Take just the last half hour or so. I was responding to some e-mails.

  • Reacting to an e-mail in which someone inquired about the physics of supersymmetry, I double-checked with the AI to make sure that I do not grossly misrepresent the basic principles behind a supersymmetric field theory;
  • Responding to a German-language e-mail, after I composed a reply I asked the AI to help clean it up, as my German is rusty, my grammar is atrocious (or maybe not that atrocious, the AI actually complimented me, but then again, the AI can be excessively polite);
  • In a discussion about our condominium’s budget, I quickly asked the AI for Canada’s current year-on-year inflation; with my extension that allows it to access Google, the AI was able to find the answer faster than I would have with a manually executed Google search.

All this took place in the past 30 minutes. And sure, I could have done all of the above without the AI. I have textbooks on supersymmetry. I could have asked Google Translate for a German translation or take my German text, translate it back to English and then back to German again. And I could have done a Google search for the inflation rate myself.

But all of that would have taken longer, and would have been significantly more frustrating than doing what I actually did: ask my somewhat dumb, often naive, but almost all-knowing AI assistant.

The image below is DALL-E’s response to the prompt, “welcome to tomorrow”.

 Posted by at 8:20 pm