Thursday, February 15, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
So I'm going to be busy installing Wordpress and then trying to import all of the posts here. Everything I've read about importing from the new version of Blogger (which I'm using) tells me it will be a nightmare. But I'm masochistic when it comes to tech.
I'll post the new site here when it's completed. In the meantime, posting will probably not pick up until tomorrow or Friday.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
And as I read it, I wonder why. I ponder this every time I read one of his books.His inconsistency is what's so maddening. Some of it is good, but some of it very, very bad. He almost approaches Dan Brown levels of poor writing. Except his prose is not quite as purple, and his plotting is a little tighter.
Where a more accomplished writer might use adjectives and carefully constructed sentences to describe a small hand launched missile arcing through the air, Matthew Reilly sees no need when the following will suffice:
I swear to God, italics and all that is how missile launching is presented in his book. Oh, and he doesn't limit the exclamation point to just missile launches. Now, having exclamations appear in a character who under stress or excited is OK. But he uses it in the narrator's voice; a third-person voice that should be a detached, objective reporter of events. Exclamatory narrative is peppered quite regularly throughout his books. It's like a bad high school creative writing assignment. Like this sentence/paragraph:
A giant square-shaped block of granite --its shape filling the slipway perfectly and its leading face covered in vicious spikes --was coming down the slipway, coming directly toward them!
See what I mean about the exclamation point? And what's with the em dashes? Are they really necessary?
Yet, here I am reading it. Because there are some sections he does quite well. Such as the weird convoluted ancient mysteries that seem to be ubiquitous in these kind of guilty pleasure books. It's somewhat plausible in the whole "thriller writer rules of science" kind of way. And his info-dumps are pretty good and presented in a mostly non-distracting way. But he's no James Rollins (Sandstorm rocks. Hard.). There's an author who manages to write a weird plot with fairly decent, well rounded characters, and a narrative voice that sounds authoritative, yet still manages to raise a level of suspense without resorting to exclamatory sentences.
But, at least it isn't Dan Brown. He of the recycled plot. He writes the same damn book over and over and over. Oh, he occasionally changes up the gender of the protagonist. But still...
Of course the fact that I'm reading yet another Matthew Reilly book means that of course I'll read the next Dan Brown opus.
I just realized I'm insane.
Friday, February 09, 2007
But I digress.
One science report claims that thought-reading machines may not be too far off.
A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person's brain and read their intentions before they act.
The research breaks controversial new ground in scientists' ability to probe people's minds and eavesdrop on their thoughts, and raises serious ethical issues over how brain-reading technology may be used in the future.
My first thought? Puh-leaze.
I'm sure this is either case of wild optimism from the scientists, shoddy reporting from the Guardian (not the Guardian!), or a combination of both. In this case I'm going with a reporter that doesn't quite understand what he was told. If you really read the article, most of the fine grained "reading" seems to be with machines that have been specifically tuned to a specific brain. I doubt they can ever tune a machine with general rules and still be able to pull any meaningful information out a random population.
There is more application as a diagnostic tool. Or as a device to facilitate mind-machine interfaces such as those being developed for artificial limbs. And, as with any new tool, there will be ethical concerns to be dealt with. The sheer invasiveness of such a device would be one such concern. But the subtext of the article appears to be some kind of general thought reading machine that can predict crime is just over the horizon. And I'm at a loss as to how the reporter could reach this conclusion.
Well, not really. I'm sure that part of it he understood, part of it he didn't, and some of it he extrapolated using movie-science (i.e. nonsense).
A study that is able to predict a subject's choice of adding or subtracting two numbers is a far cry from being able to read intentions in general. What this study says is that they can read the intentions of someone in a rigidly defined situation with only two possible outcomes, and I'm guessing only after extensively tuning the machine to each individual's particular brain.
This is way too specific a technique for any kind of general crime-prevention tool. Not only does it need to be tuned, they have to know what exactly they are looking for. And I'm betting while it may never be impossible, it seems it would be so highly improbable that it may as well be considered impossible.
There is no "alphabet of the synapses" where they can observe a person's synaptic activity and look up what it means in some lexicon. Because no one person's brain works exactly like another's. A large part of this is because there's a mini-evolutionary war that occurs when your nervous system is developing. Proto nerves are in competition to become either synapses or glial cells. Due to the trillions of cells involved, no one brain develops in quite the same way as any other.
Just as it is in our macro level ecosystems, so it is in your brain. Nature does not use the ideal model for a situation. It uses the first model that survives. The one that is "good enough". Take the human eye. It most definitely is not the ideal model for an organ that processes the visual spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Hell, there's a blind spot right in the center of our vision where the optic nerve enters the orb. But it's good enough (and the binocular aspect of our visual field helps compensate). It has contributed to our survival and perpetuation as a species, therefore there is no longer environmental pressure to find a better ocular organ. But you can bet your ass if that little spot caused problems, it would have been bred out of existence long before we developed these big brains of ours.
Now, due to our DNA, every brain has the same essential starting blueprint and overall structure. But there are pressures at work as well and the brain is, essentially, a closed environment. Think of the brain as a ecosystem with trillions of little denizens. It is constantly searching for ways to accomplish tasks "well enough". If a certain pattern of firings or cell configurations produces a desired result that pattern will be used again. And again. Until is becomes more-or-less "hard wired". There is no optimization involved. The result is what matters, not the method used to get that result.
What I'm getting to is that different people end up with different thought patterns and physical structures. To be sure, the meta-functions may be located in the same generalized areas of the brain. Language in Broca's Area, sight in the Visual Cortex. But the specific instantiations and pathways of thought are most likely unique for each person.
And to top it all off, how fine a resolution does this machine have. Say there a million synapses firing in a specific sequence are involved in making the decision to murder someone. Now, what if these same million synapses fire in the same sequence but have been appended by, say, 25 other synapses, and prepended by another 10 or so. But now this represents the intention to buy a cup of coffee. Can this hypothetical machine detect a .0025% delta in brain activity that represents two wildly different intentions?
Of course all this could be moot anyway, depending on whether the brain is deterministic in nature or not. If it is, then perhaps, with the correct tuning for an individual, this could be used as a sort of general "reading" device. But I doubt it could ever be used as a Minority Report style pre-crime detector.
And if the brain operates on a quantum level, then all bets are off. Will the subject be aware of observation or not? Will the observers be aware of what they are observing? Will the quantum states of the observers brains affect the states of the observed? Quantum mechanics tells us yes. If the brain exists as a set of potentials and probabilities, true observation of the brain at a level that the article alludes to will be as impossible as trying to simultaneously measure an electron's position and angular momentum (can't be done).
Basically, is the act of thinking about how I think, somehow, at some level, altering how I think at that particular time?
Shit like this keeps me up at night.
So what do I think (heh) of this? I think the best that will come out of this, in terms of law enforcement, is an extremely accurate lie-detector. Lying is more or less understood in terms of gross brain activity for most people. Pathologic liars and others with sociopathic tendencies will still slip the net. But it will be much better than this bio-feedback voodoo that's in use now.
But reading intentions and specific thoughts? Very, very doubtful.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
On Nov. 21, narcotics officers went to Johnston's home in southwest Atlanta to execute a "no knock" search warrant. Johnston was killed and the three officers were injured in an ensuing shootout.
No-knock warrants are frequently issued so police can get inside before suspects can destroy or dispose of drugs. When the officers kicked in the door, the elderly woman apparently fired five shots from her own revolver.
Her friends and family members contended Johnston, who kept the gun for her protection, was a feeble and frightened woman who rarely ventured outside after dark. And they say that she was never involved in any drug activity. Her family says she was 92, while authorities say she was 88.
And now, via Instapundit, there's a new development. At least one of the officers involved looks like he may be charged with felony murder.
Now, as a general rule I am against the so-called no-knock warrants. The entire premise seems slightly flawed. Currently, they are granted when there is a reasonably high suspicion that easily destroyed or eliminated evidence will be destroyed or eliminated during the seconds it take the police to announce themselves and secure a situation.
I'm not sure that's enough of a reason to skirt the fine edge of public safety and the 4th Amendment. Clear and imminent danger to the public, sure. The deadly, short term kind, like guns and bombs and whatnot. Not the more ephemeral and gradual danger of drugs. To explode violently and swiftly into a home, simply so Joe Drug Dealer doesn't flush his stash seems to be almost recklessly irresponsible.
To be sure, this is tool. Albeit a dangerous tool. The more it's utilized, the more likely that tool may cause a problem. You may have hammered a nail or two in your life and never hit anything other than the nail. But ask a professional cabinet maker, or a woodworker, how many times a hammer has smashed a thumb or a chisel has gouged a hand (hell, ask my dad, an avid hobbyist). Over thousands of uses, eventually probability catches up.
Let's say that one of every 10,000 of these raids results in an innocent death. That's fairly long odds. I mean how many of these are done a year? Well, last year it is estimated that over 50,000 of these warrants were executed. With those kind of numbers, even the longest odds no longer seem so long.
Now, admittedly, I did pull the 1-in-10,000 stat out of my ass for purely illustrative purposes (not the 50,000 warrants, that's actually true). But my point still remains. With a large enough number of trials even a low probability event is guaranteed to occur. The use of these types of warrants are on the rise. From 3,000 in 1981 to over 50,000 in 2006. Not only is that alarming in and of itself, but if the rate continues on its meteoric rise it promises to be a recipe for even more disaster.
Even with all of that, I'm usually willing to give the police some slack in these situations. Sometimes bad shit happens and there is not a thing you can do about it.
However, in this particular case the situation appears to have been created by the police in the first place. And not only that, but built on a foundation of lies and fabrications.
Now, this is an "if", seeing as how no indictment has been handed down as yet. And if Nifong has taught us anything, it's not to discount that ever important "if".
If, as it is appearing to turn out, this officer (and perhaps others) was culpable, did betray the public's trust, did in fact set stage that got this woman murdered by officers of the law...
I can only hope our justice system shows as much mercy.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The January Chippy Awards
It's time for the January Chippy Awards. It the award presented to those whom I'd most like to feed feet first into a wood chipper. While all nominees are worthy of mulching, only one can be awarded the Golden Bag of Sawdust and go directly to the head of the line.
Again, thanks must go forth to my research team, consisting of Anne. Her tireless efforts make these awards possible.
As always, we first present the honorable mentions. While not quite deserving a session with the chipper, they nonetheless deserve some recognition.
- The babies are not varmints award. This pustular excuse for a human being is given 50 close range shots from a BB gun to the testicles.
- The older women are intimidating award. He gets to have his cell-mate pimp him out for 3 cigarettes and a shot of toilet moonshine.
- The stupid-ass, moronic defense argument award. I'm thinking castration, lobotomy, and amputation of the hands. Of course the lobotomy comes last so he can enjoy the other two procedures.
Now we come to the main category. While all are worthy of being reduced to compost, only one can jump to the head of the line. So here are the runners-up.
First we have the Who You Know Won't Help You award:
Logan, 60, is engaged to Judge Joyce Broffitt and records show he used her as a reference when he got his job in the sheriff's department's records and identification office about six years ago. He is on paid leave while the case is pending.
The rape charge was filed when the girl picked Logan out of a photo lineup, police spokesman Vince Higgins said.
Police began an assault investigation after the girl complained of pain while at school. She told the school staff she had sex with a man several times and watched him have sex with her mother, who also faces criminal charges.
Don't worry, while he may not be bumped up in line, he will be given a pain he can complain about, before being converted into a form-factor that can be easily carried in garbage bags. Like say a mallet to the balls.
Our second, and final, runner-up gets the Honor Thy Wife award:
The couple went on a canoe trip down a canal on Saturday and pulled ashore near some trees, when he began raping her and taping it with a video camera, Buggs said. He tied her to a tree, where she hung naked for several hours, her toes grazing the ground.
He struck her with the side of a hunting knife blade, leaving bruises, then raped her again, Buggs said.
It appeared the man was following a computer printout describing the crime in detail that was found at the scene, Buggs said.
I'd say this Martin Scorsese wanna-be should be the star in a gay snuff film, but then we'd miss out on the joy it would give his wife (I'm assuming now ex-wife) to press the button as he's fed to the chipper.
Hmm, decisions, decisions...
And now, I present to you the winner of the Golden Bag of Sawdust:
Doctors said the boy had suffered cardiac arrest and had bruises on his feet, legs, knees, arms, head and back, as well as a cut on his neck — and many of the injuries appeared old and consistent with severe child abuse.
Santa Magdalena Campos, 44, later confessed to police that she became upset when the boy soiled his underwear.
She said she took him to a bathroom and started punching him in the back and the buttocks. She also pushed him, causing his head to strike the edge of a door, police said.
Did it ever run through this evil bitch's head that perhaps he shat himself because he was terrified? Well, I have the perfect award for her. In preparation for the being put in the hopper for the wood chipper, I think a little tenderizing is in order. What we do, is get one of those cranes with the wrecking ball, replace the ball with her, and start whacking away. I figure having maybe 30%-40% of her bones turned into splinters is fine.
The rest of her skeletal system can be reduced to meal when she's fed to the chipper.