Weekly Head Voices #146: You too can learn Kung Fu.

This post covers the period Monday June 11 to Sunday June 17. Read it to become rich, yawn at Lisp and Emacs, yearn to run free on the wide open plains and to learn Kung Fu. Not ambitious at all.

Front door nearby De Waal Park, in Cape Town. Photo taken on Sunday by GOU#1, age 12.

Social Democracy FTW

It turns out that your chances of becoming rich are the greatest if you had the good fortune to have been born in one of the Nordic social democracies, such as Norway, Sweden or Denmark.

The US trails these countries, at position 13, in terms of per capita individuals with net worth over $30 million.

Being a proponent of social democracy as the most humane form of currently practical human government, and often infuriating conservatives   by pointing out that many crucial aspects of social democracies can be described as socialistic, I really enjoyed the linked TEDx talk by Norwegian Harald Eia.

This material will serve me well as the source of future mischief.

Paradigms of AI Programming in Common Lisp

I am currently working my way through “Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp”, Peter Norvig’s famous 1992 book an artificial intelligence. Although modern AI has been transformed almost unrecognisably since then (THANKS DEEP LEARNING! Norvig’s PAIP retrospective) the way in which Norvig uses Lisp to model and solve real-world problems is inspiring and quite foundational.

It’s not only that though.

My inconvenient but uncontrollable infatuation with Common Lisp also seems to be pulling the strings. I should study a real language which is not 60 years old, like Rust or something.

What attracts me about Common Lisp is the liberated and pragmatic way in which it enables one to mix functional, object-oriented and procedural programming, and, perhaps most importantly, how it was designed from the ground up for iterative and interactive programming.

Tweak the defun, eval the defun, watch the system adapt. This is what I always imagined programming would be like. Except for the Lisps, it really turned out perhaps a bit more boring than it really needs to be.

interleave-mode for working through PDF books

For the fellow Emacs users, I also wanted to mention the utility of interleave-mode for working through such a programming book, if you can find it in PDF format.

In my Emacs I have the PDF on the left, and my interleave-mode-linked orgfile on the right. On any page of the PDF I hit the i-button to add a note in the orgfile, where I can of course insert and execute live code snippets.

The sections in the orgfile remain linked to the correct pages of the PDF.

For programming books this is an amazing combination. For studying other books, having your orgfile notes linked will probably also be quite useful.

On the topic of note-taking: This past week, on Friday June 15 (I made a note of that), I was able to help a colleague solve a technical problem by searching for and retrieving an org-file note, including detailed configuration settings, that I made on May 13, 2014.

Ether as currency

Although I acquired a small amount of the Ether cryptocurrency for the first time in July of 2016, I’ve never had the opportunity to actually transact with it.

Up to now, it has functioned solely as a pretty volatile store of value.

On Saturday, I used some ether for the first time to straight-up buy something on the internet, which was a pretty exciting but in practice an uneventful procedure, fortunately.

The vendor used a payment processor which presented me with an address and corresponding QR code. I scanned the QR code with the relevant mobile app (Luno in this case), paid the requested amount, and waited for a few minutes for it to be multiply confirmed by the blockchain. The sending fee was about 0.04% of the transaction.

Barefoot-style running update

On Sunday I went for a long(ish) run, bringing my total on the Luna sandals to just over 200km.

My feet, ankles and calves are much stronger than they used to be, but the barefoot conversion is clearly still has some ways to go. I have to take at the very least two rest days (instead of one) between runs to give my feet some extra time to recover.

What I have recently started doing, is that instead of trying to micro-manage my form (put your foot down like this, bend your ankle like that, let your achilles tendon shoot back like this, and so on), I am following the advice of some new random person on reddit/r/BarefootRunning who gave the advice, often echoed elsewhere by barefoot-runners, to try and maintain a cadence (steps-per-minute) of at least 180.

That sounds pretty high for a normal person like me, but it turns out that when I do that, and I try at the same time to run as silently as possible (I often just APPEAR right beside someone, hehe), my legs and feet figure out their elastic bio-kinematics all by themselves.

As yet another random reddit expert (I wish I could find the post) quipped:

You can’t overthink proprioception.

(that’s a running nerd joke)

I know Kung Fu

Do you remember this scene from The Matrix (1999)?

The other day at the Old People Reunion, friend T. Monster, a highly capable pragmatist but also backyard theoretician, talked about how often it happened these days that you had to deal with some DIY issue, tapped or spoke the question into youtube, watched a video or two, and then fixed the issue like a pro.

This, along with my recent pseudo-expert repair of a number of stripped cabinet hinge screw holes with tooth picks and cold glue (this works, I kid you not), made me think that, although The Matrix version was perhaps far more spectacular, we in fact now find ourselves in a real, shared reality where a large subset of skills can be acquired a la carte.

Some may take longer than a few minutes, but it still is pretty amazing how far YouTube has managed to democratise so many different forms of modern Kung Fu.

 

 

Weekly Head Voices #138: Born to run.

I am currently in a place with no to extremely little internet. Just getting the photo above uploaded was an adventure.

I briefly debated breaking my current WHV posting streak due to exceptional circumstances, but decided against it, at least for now.

Anyways, I might have no internet, but the scenery here is phenomenal.

(It later turned out that just getting this blog post uploaded on Sunday evening was not going to happen.)

Sometimes focus falls and slips into Emacs

During the past week I had a fairly difficult technical puzzle to deal with. It’s one of those puzzles that can only be solved with multiple days of research and concerted focus.

It’s funny how my mind manages to sort of slip away when faced with these sorts of puzzles where the solution, if it even exists (this is probably the main reason for the continual slippage), seems to be weeks away, instead of a few hours or days.

It’s like a usually sharp(ish) knife which simply refuses to bite into the thing that I so desperately want to cut with it.

In my specific case, especially later in the afternoons when prefrontal cortex is long-gone, mindlessly drinking its beer while staring into space somewhere, or even later in the evenings when everyone else is also drinking beer while staring into space, I wake up to find myself working on some obscure Emacs hack.

This week, primary thought slippage resulted in:

  • Hooking up my emacs, via helm-for-files with mdfind (the command-line interface to spotlight) on macOS and the tracker file indexer on Linux. This means that with a simple press of the C-x c o keys, I can instantly open any file in Emacs which is already open somewhere, which I’ve recently worked on, whose filename faintly resembles what I’m typing, whose contents (or tags) faintly resembles what I’m typing, no matter where that file is hiding in the hundreds of gigabytes on my SSD.
  • My efforts getting the above working for Linux are now part of helm, via the wonderful system of github pull requests.
  • Setting up Emacs dired to do rsync-based network copying in the background, which culminated in a github contribution which will hopefully also find its way into the main repository soon. (I do most of my serious file management in Emacs dired. You should try it.)

The Running People

I finally bought Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

In between travelling and other activities, I was not able put this book down.

As I was reading the final pages on Sunday morning, I had trouble keeping my eyes dry. I had connected with the story and all of its nested stories on so many levels.

One strand of the story makes the case that humans, or more specifically homo sapiens, had evolved to run its prey down on the savannah.

We are able to cool ourselves down during running thanks to being mostly hairless and sweaty, whereas an antelope is not able to pant while galloping, and has no choice but to stop.

So the trick is simple: We can run fast enough to keep a galloping antelope in sight. Eventually it will lose the battle, overheat and collapse.

This is what homo sapiens did for millions of years for food. Homo neanderthalensis, our intelligent and stronger competition who used to dominate during colder times, had no chance.

McDougall connects with a number of scientists and sports trainers to flesh out this part of the story. Below is an interesting (and related) video about Prof Daniel Liebermann and his work on the evolutionary biology and biomechanics of barefoot running:

(Being internet-deprived, I’m not currently able to find one of the cited Nature papers discussing other elements of our biology underlining our running heritage. Remind me in the comments so I can update this later.)

Another strand of the story is about the Tarahumara of Mexico, also
known as Rarámuri
, or The Running People, a legendary tribe of natural super athletes who are masters of avoiding other humans (due to past persecution and other shenanigans) and of running 30 miles in the mountains, in sandals.

Even more intriguing than their home-made sandals, is that they run throughout their healthy lives with joy and exuberance.

The final strand I want to mention here, is McDougall’s personal journey from injury-prone runner all the way to finally taking part in the very first edition of a gruelling 50 mile trail race (the centre-piece of the story I would argue), together with the world’s best ultra marathoners and the Taramuhara in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.

For a large part of this journey, he and a number of other key actors are propelled along by Caballo Blanco, the White Horse, a supernaturally gifted runner who lived off the land in the Copper Canyons, and one of the few foreigners who seemed to be completely accepted by the Taramuhara.

Caballo is the one who managed to bring together, for the first time, the Taramuhara and the best ultra-marathoners in the small town of Urque for this humanity-affirming 50 mile trail run. He did so from his stone hut in the middle of nowhere, from where he would have to run for 30 miles to the closest settlement that had a telephone line that he could use.

Often that line was down.

Caballo passed away in 2012, shortly after the first Copper Canyon race. Shortly after, the race was officially dubbed the Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco.

Right after I put the book down, I put on my shoes and went for a run
up the mountain-side and in the valley over here. On the balls of my feet as they landed right under me, really small steps, straight back, trying my best to float over the earth, just like the running people in the book.

I could not help but smile for most of the way.