Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-01-18T18:00:00Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com January 18. http://ranprieur.com/#a76a21c3fc77dd82d33aace3b80f87492123fb79 2018-01-18T18:00:00Z January 18. Yesterday on the subreddit, A computer program is writing great, original works of classical music, and here's a short comment thread.

After I posted about this subject a week ago, I thought about quality. What is it? The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about a guy who gets so deep into that question that he goes insane and independently derives Taoism. My latest idea is that quality can be viewed as a message.

This is easy to see with music. Suppose you play a song that sounds great to you, with no thought of whether it sounds good to anyone else. The message is more than "this is what I like" -- the message is the pleasure that you get from listening, and if someone else gets that pleasure, then it's like you've encrypted that feeling in sound, and the listener has decrypted it.

At the other extreme, if you play a song that sounds boring to you, but you know other people will love it, it's like you've hacked their musical quality receptors. It's still a message, but it's less like having a conversation, and more like plugging in a code that makes an ATM spit out cash.

Quality-as-message also works with seemingly objective stuff. A reliable car is higher quality than one that breaks down a lot -- unless you're so rich that repair costs are nothing, and you want to look good and go fast. The makers of those cars, and the buyers, are communicating a value system.

Another example, The Cult of the Costco Surfboard, where a cheap surfboard spawned a subculture based on fun stuff that is not being done with expensive surfboards.

That composing computer is working within the value system of respectable classical music. Over the last few years, I've been getting into "hard listening" -- music that sounds bad at first, but eventually it sounds really good. I'm not saying computers can never do that, but I'd like to see them try.

January 15. http://ranprieur.com/#48e7605d6cd3ccf1c0ee4f02545d4e8fbb89791e 2018-01-15T15:30:04Z January 15. I have no smart ideas today, so I'll do some film reviews. Last night we watched the new Blade Runner, and I loved the dreamy slow pace and the visuals. It was like if Andrei Tarkovsky had a big budget. But I didn't like much else. The story looked promising at first, but it got more and more clunky and finally fell into the rut of a by-the-numbers boss battle and an ending that pretended at emotional depth that it never earned. I didn't have a clear sense of anyone's motivation. The replicant underground is looking for that thing, and so is the evil corporation, but what is the difference in their intentions, and how exactly are they working together? If Jared Leto needs more replicants, why does he keep killing them for no good reason? Why don't the garbage thugs attack the orphanage? And what's up with the bees? Where do they even get nectar in a radioactive dead city? The bees, like everyone in this movie, are not grounded in any ecology -- they're just there to look cool.

Last week we watched the new It, and it's impressively scary, but I just don't like the way Stephen King relentlessly jerks the emotions of the audience with cartoon evil and good. The Harry Potter books are almost as bad. Once I notice that I'm being pushed to feel a certain way, my attention shifts from the characters to the storyteller's lack of subtlety. I mean, you expect a killer sewer clown to be pure evil, but even King's human villains are just scary masks lacking any inner life.

The best horror film of 2017 is Get Out, and I also want to plug my favorite horror screenwriter, Stephen Volk. He wrote a great 2015 miniseries, Midwinter of the Spirit, a brilliant 2011 film, The Awakening, and is best known for the 1992 classic Ghostwatch.

Two of my recent favorites are both action films from 2014. One is John Wick, a fun masterpiece of fight choreography, and the other is Edge of Tomorrow. It's just like Groundhog Day, except that instead of Bill Murray exploring a small town, it's Tom Cruise fighting aliens. Trust me, it's better than you think. Despite good reviews and massive marketing, it underperformed in American theaters, probably because people like me assumed it was stupid, while action audiences found it hard to wrap their heads around.

January 11. http://ranprieur.com/#82415bab6a075e50d8724278abd9b139dd21d713 2018-01-11T23:50:45Z January 11. Bunch o' links. First, Legends of the Ancient Web is a text version of a great talk on the history of radio and what it might tell us about the internet. "In just a few years, radio completes the transition from an eclectic group of participatory amateurs, to a mass audience of passive consumers and a professional class of producers."

Someone has edited Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from minor key to major key, plus some other changes to make it sound more like a pop hit: Nirvirna - Teen Sprite. Of course the original was already a huge hit, so I'm wondering if this version, back in 1991, would have been more or less popular, and more or less influential. This also touches on one of my favorite subjects: how much of artistic quality is subject to logic? Could a sufficiently powerful computer make better music than Mozart or Led Zeppelin?

I think it will turn out that computers are most valuable, not on their own, but serving humans in just the right way. For example: How more than 2500 virtual reality reps helped transform Case Keenum's game. If you don't follow the NFL, Case Keenum has been playing at a level that's unprecedented for a third string quarterback in his first year with a team.

Albert Hoffman tells the story of the first LSD trip. Despite being really careful in the laboratory, he got an accidental dose leading to "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors." Then he intentionally took what he thought was "the smallest quantity that could be expected to produce some effect," which we would now call two or three hits, and tripped even harder.

Why People Walked Differently in Medieval Times. Basically they came down on the balls of their feet because their shoes weren't good enough to come down on their heels. It's funny that we've now gone full circle, and I wear really good shoes that encourage me to come down on the balls of my feet to protect my leg joints.

Finally, some good news: Britain's Next Megaproject: A Coast-to-Coast Forest.

January 9. http://ranprieur.com/#c7c5d75d49af9a43745dfe445f1f2ccf7014d8cf 2018-01-09T21:30:52Z January 9. Thinking more about yesterday's subject, there's an old cliche in collapsism, "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." The message is obvious: stop caring about the ship and get people on lifeboats. The tricky thing is mapping the metaphor.

I used to think the ship was the entire modern way of life, the iceberg was technological unsustainability, and the lifeboats were low-tech subsistence kills. Now I think the ship is a whole fleet of nation-states, the iceberg is psychological unsustainability, the sinking may take centuries, and there will be many kinds of lifeboats, some of them not yet even knowable.

So that means it's not yet time to abandon the ship. We can still work within the system to make a better world -- it's just that the system is no longer the thing that finds the solutions. At best, it's the thing that moderates the transition, that keeps people alive and sane to find solutions too flexible for bureaucracy, and doesn't get too much in their way.

January 8. http://ranprieur.com/#22c951548a2c0a264a335c1e097429f3b2c1159b 2018-01-08T20:20:33Z January 8. Losing Faith in the State, Some Mexican Towns Quietly Break Away. You might guess this is a good thing, but if you read the article, these independent city-states are mostly terrible places to live, and they're all unstable.

The Hacker News comment thread links to this article, The Twin Insurgency, which argues that states are threatened from below by crime gangs, and from above by the global elite. The most interesting idea is that hardly anyone is trying to change the world by taking over the government. Instead, everyone is trying to carve out zones where they get the benefits of the state without the costs.

Lately I've been watching lots of nature documentaries, so now I'm seeing all the old institutions as giant dead animals on which predators and scavengers gather to feast. I don't see how this is not going to get worse. And I find that I've lost the urge to tell a compelling story: to blame it all on one thing, or to offer a solution. I used to see human society as a sandbox, where it makes sense to talk about what we can do to change it. Now I see it as a landslide, an unfolding disaster where we're only trying to survive.

January 5. http://ranprieur.com/#66cfe0c74e03a9293adc6e4f969f78f5c2630cbd 2018-01-05T17:50:10Z January 5. I haven't had any interesting thoughts lately, but here's a great bit I just read in Alasdair Gray's novel Lanark:

God, you see, is a word. It is the word for everything not speaking when someone says 'I think.' And by Propper's Law of Inverse Exclusion (which enables a flea in a matchbox to declare itself jailor of the universe) every single 'I think' has intimate knowledge of the surface of what it is not. But as every thinker reflects a different surface of what he isn't, and as God is our word for the whole, it follows that all agreement about God is based on misunderstanding.

January 3. http://ranprieur.com/#82b03c30cb98b0929a747845d8d7162886cfd93a 2018-01-03T15:30:58Z January 3. For the new year, some links about changing times:

Do civilisations collapse? It's a long article with a main point that's easy to summarize: States collapse, while cultures adapt and survive.

Why Teens Aren't Partying Anymore. The article is all about social media, but the smarter Hacker News comment thread looks at other factors like an increasingly restrictive culture.

French chef gives up a Michelin star. At first I'm thinking this is about the vanishing middle class. But when I read about the expense and waste that's required for even a single Michelin star, I'm thinking the upper class needs to vanish too.

Chess's New Best Player Is A Fearless, Swashbuckling Algorithm:

Unlike other top programs, which receive extensive input and fine-tuning from programmers and chess masters, drawing on the wealth of accumulated human chess knowledge, AlphaZero is exclusively self-taught. It learned to play solely by playing against itself, over and over and over... But maybe it's more illustrative to say that AlphaZero played like neither a human nor a computer, but like an alien.

January 1, 2018. http://ranprieur.com/#b0c80de5765180bb44166b2b9711c194fad44964 2018-01-01T13:10:46Z January 1, 2018. Instead of new year's resolutions, I call them "points of emphasis" because that way no amount of failure is discouraging. Last night I decided on three: 1) to notice unnecessary muscle tension and relax it; 2) to put more attention on my gut; 3) to make a mental note of where I put something down that I'll need to find later.

These are all about metacognition, about building an internal perspective that can manage where my attention is and what it's doing. Last night, walking around (on drugs) I was thinking: with enough metacognitive stamina, I could do fun experiments, like walk for ten minutes with attention on footsoles and peripheral vision, or sit by the stream and focus on that sound and the moon. Meditation books are all about focusing on the breath, but that's like a safety net, or a ladder, to get to focusing on things that are more interesting.

Also, here's Leigh Ann's playlist of her favorite songs of 2017. I don't have a Spotify account, so here's a simple txt file with a list of the songs, including three that are not on Spotify, including maybe the catchiest, Ty Segall - Thank You Mr K.