Saturday, February 17, 2018

What is Tai Chi?

I went to a screening of "The Professor", the Tai Chi film I wrote about here, and there was an appearance by Ed Young, one of the practice's most illustrious teachers. Young said, interestingly, that he used to be able to explain what Tai Chi is, but no longer can (it reminds me of the old line, usually misattributed to Oscar Wilde, that "I am not young enough to know everything").

I've been mulling it over for a couple of days, and came up with something:
Tai chi is the practice of embodying the natural flow one normally pretends not to be a part of.

Weird Fandom Stuff

I once wrote a posting about Fans which described the various types of weirdness that crop up between admirers and the objects of their admiration. I described one such category this way: you talk to them, it becomes eerily clear that they know almost nothing about you - haven't read a word you've written or listened to a note you've sung. They just recognize your name, and that you're well-known in a field they think is cool.

If it seems crazy that such people would consider themselves fans, take mental stock, yourself. Have you actually read every writer, heard every singer, and viewed the work of every filmmaker for whom you have a fond feeling? I'd bet good money that more than one person has approached Ann Coulter to tell her what fans they are, and to encourage her to keep giving hell to those damned conservatives.
People have trouble believing that this really happens. It seems counterintuitive that a "fan" could know nothing about the person's work. But I spotted an example the other day. I was watching the trailer for a film about pop music in the 60s. The narrator mentioned some of the artists appearing, and the list ended with "....and the incredible Ravi Shankar!"

How many music fans know anything about Indian music, and are in any position to judge Shankar's playing? How many are the least bit aware of his place in the Indian classical music hierarchy? How many could name even a single other Indian sitarist?

Answer: virtually zero. But Shankar's incredible, right? Not because we've spent hours listening to him play and our well-attuned ears have placed him above his peers, but because he's, like, Ravi Shankar! You know...Ravi Shankar, man! That dude! With the sitar! From, like, George Harrison or whatever!

If someone asked you for your favorite Indian musician, you'd probably call out his name. Even if you've never heard more than a few minutes of his playing. Even if you don't know what a raga is. Same thing, I'll bet, for the guy who wrote the trailer deeming him "incredible".

I can't tell you how many times times people back in the day would corner me at parties - having been told my background and vaguely recognizing my name - to discuss trendy restaurants, or places where they can "see and be seen," or to ask what Andrew Zimmer's really like. They'd ask me these things with eager expectation, expecting to hear the real deal, because I was, you know, one of those guys!

Friday, February 16, 2018

More on that Facebook Scam

The latest random Facebook "like" of the obscure posting I'd chosen to "boost" was by one Rajesh Thute, who

1. is apparently not in the United States (Facebook had promised to limit its boosting to this country, but he goes to school in Maharashtra), and

2. recently reported that he's "Started New Job at wark at Facebook V.I.P Account [sic]." And I'd guess from his grammar and spelling that he's not doing particularly high level work. Probably stuff like, oh, say, clicking "like" buttons for a few cents a pop.

Facebook's Bullshit Boost Campaigns

I made this fairly nondescript post to the Facebook page for my app, "Eat Everywhere".

As always, Facebook offered to "boost" the posting for $10. Even though it wasn't carefully constructed, and didn't really work as a standalone sales pitch, I figured what the hell. I've wasted $10 on greater frivolity.

What happened was very interesting. FB claimed the posting was seen by 202 people. It was "liked" by 54: one real human being (who co-edited the app) and 53 ciphers. Many appear not to be English speakers, most couldn't pass a social media Turing test, and none seem like they'd have the remotest interest in the app....and certainly not this chatty vague posting. What's more, Facebook said that they'd confine viewing to USA residents. Uh-uh!

Consider our new fan ‎سیدعباس‎. Here's his account. Does he seem like a fully-fleshed out person to you, much less someone who'd remotely be interested in my app? Continuing down the "like" list, how about Tran Muon, who could not possibly be more sketchily etched, or more unlikely to "like" this posting? What about 陽菜?

Go through a few more, like Brian Omes and Donna Ramirez and Crystalon Cryer, and you'll sense a pattern. They all have friends, but those friends' accounts are equally stillborn, random, and weird. The pattern is consistent: six to ten photos, few or no actual postings, and a few dozen friends who appear to be in comically different movies. Not one is somoene I'd expect to like the app, much less a vague posting about that app.

Throughout this supposed "campaign", there were no new hits to the Eat Everywhere web site, nor downloads of our iOS or Android apps.

I'm assuming most people who buy these $10 boosts are quite happy with a few dozen "likes" - the Mardi Gras beads of social media ("Ditzcoin"?). People engaged in actual business wouldn't be, but, then again, they wouldn't dabble in these micropayment dangles. So Facebook recruits a mixture of fake people (i.e. bots) with fake accounts, real people with fake accounts, and real people with real accounts to push "like" buttons, and the "client" gets the handful of Mardi Gras beads they hoped for.

I didn't expect much for my $10. But would it have been so tough for FB to zero in on, say, food lovers, when the app's title is so easily parsable to their algorithms? If not, I guess I understand why they can't simply play straight and show 202 real people. 202 actual people will not yield any tangible result. 202 people would not be offering me these 53 Ditzcoins. I mean, one could offer a bona fide update from Jesus Christ himself to 202 random people without drawing more than a single "like" or two....if even that.

But I don't understand how the hell they get away with this. It's so incredibly flagrant!

See followup here

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

SIGA Back From the Dead

I sold off most of my shares of SIGA years ago. The company produced a cure - not a vaccine - for all pox viruses, including weaponized varieties. There are no side effects and the government has already begun stockpiling it. But the history has been almost unbelievably star-crossed, with lawsuits and political shenanigans and reputation sabotage. I bought in at $3 and saw it shoot to $15 before it settled in for a multi-year slumber in the $1s and $2s.

I learned, expensively, that great science and a desperately-needed product with no real competition doesn't necessarily translate to stock market jackpot. Here is my first posting (of many), from June, 2008.

I did hold onto some shares as a long shot. If any of you bought along with me, and held on, congrats: the price touched $5.75 today. A new contract solicitation from the government has been created and will soon be posted, and it looks like there will finally be FDA approval this year (which might unlock foreign sales). They have also finally clawed their way back to the threshold for NASDAQ re-listing. That's a confluence of three pretty happy prospects, and while I'm way too bitter to pronounce the outlook "rosy", the worst appears to be over.

The one advantage we regular people have over super-fast, super-tapped-in, computer-enhanced traders is that we can wait years and years. We don't need to be constantly hitting home runs to sweeten our balance sheets. And, who knows, this long wait may pay off sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #10

Monday, February 12, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 101,000 google search results, a small increase over last week's 92,800.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Pinball Nirvana: FunHouse

There's this place in Greenpoint Brooklyn called Sunshine Laundromat ("Air conditioned and free WiFi for your cleansing pleasure"). After you walk past the rows of washers and driers, if you push in on the drier wall at the back of the store, you'll enter an inner sanctum with cool bar (great beer!) and lots of classic pinball on beautifully-maintained machines. It's amazing.

The best machine of all is out front, however, in the laundromat. I'd never before heard of FunHouse, a loopy Williams machine from the 1990's featuring a heckling animatronic head named Rudy, but I fell instantly in love. It was designed by Pat Lawlor, who also did the famed and wonderful Adams Family machine (which can be played in the inner sanctum).

Here's a personal YouTube tour of FunHouse, part of the landmark “My Pinball Collection” series:

Read comments/reviews on the game from pinball nerds, and check out this inside info about how they put insane work into having Rudy assign each player a nickname, so he could heckle every one personally.

If you can't get to Greenpoint (and can't find a FunHouse at your local pinball parlor - most towns these days have one, by the way), you can play a terrific simulation of this and lots of other great pinball machines - including Adams Family - on all mobile computers and gaming systems courtesy of the Pinball arcade app. If you figure emulated pinball's got to be lame, you're wrong. They've nailed the physics and gameplay experience. It's a marvel.

FunHouse is great pinball, but the music is what puts it over the top. It was composed by a guy named Chris Granner. Below you can hear the score, but a lot of the brilliance is in how music interacts with gameplay. I’ve never seen/heard anything like it.

Courtesy of Granner's web site:

Funhouse soundtrack #1
Funhouse soundtrack #2
Funhouse soundtrack #3
Funhouse soundtrack #4
Funhouse soundtrack #5

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Green M&M Fallacy

Chowhound opened in July, 1997, and by that fall, it was described as having gone irredeemably downhill by several of our regulars. As the community had grown to 150 or so users, more and more stupid postings by stupid people had appeared, and I was told that they were ruining everything.

The same complaint was heard throughout our eight subsequent years of steep growth. And it completely mystified me, because the smart/stupid ratio hadn't budged. Sure, there were more stupid postings, overall, but we were enjoying a profusion of terrific reports from myriad expert food scouts uncovering massive deliciousness everywhere. How was this ruination?

At some point I had an epiphany, and understood what was going on. I dubbed it the Green M&M Fallacy.

If you hate green M&Ms, you'll prefer a small bowl to a large one, because more M&Ms means more of those nasty greens. Even if you greatly enjoy all the other M&M colors, and would presumably want tons of them, green hatred sharply overrides M&M love as quantities increase. Even if the ratio remains the same. In fact, even if the ratio improves. Mo M&Ms mo problems!

This is a natural consequence of scaling. For example, it explains why rural people are often scornful toward urban life. If you're from a small town in Kansas, and spend an afternoon sightseeing around Manhattan, you'll encounter a dozen openly rude people, two or three doors will not be held open for you, and there'll be instances of drunkenness, foul language, and people saying unkind things to one other. That's more bad behavior and nastiness than you'd see an an entire year back home, so it's understandable that this might be seen as a hellscape. The 6,000 other people you passed, who are quietly thoughtful and kind-hearted, don't register. (Nor does the fact that those 6,000 have made a deliberate decision to be virtuous, party to none of the pressures on small town inhabitants to behave civilly.)

This same fallacy is seen in single-issue politics. That's when a certain contingent - gun owners, pro-choice activists, etc. - are so absorbed by their issue that they support and vote for candidates strictly on that basis. If gay rights is your thing, to the exclusion of other societal concerns, you might have deemed Barack Obama a brutally repressive president for having supported gay marriage only late in his second term, somewhat behind the fast-changing national sentiment. There were political reasons for his delay, but, viewed from single issue tunnel vision, there is no acceptable excuse. At a national scale, the fallout from any delay, any half-measure, is multiplied by many millions. Whenever a president pauses to sip from his coffee mug, he might be wrecking a life or two. But, of course, it's fallacious to look at it this way. You've got to consider the whole.

The Green M&M Fallacy isn't always a fallacy. None of us would eat nine carrots in a single serving, but if you drink carrot juice, that's exactly what you're doing. So even if your carrots contain safe amounts of pesticide on a normal per-portion basis, carrot juice, over time, can be downright dangerous (when juicing or nut buttering, always pay up for organic!). You're not just aggregating vitamins, you're also aggregating the bad stuff. Scaling creates absolute problems above and beyond proportionality.

I've never seen another writer point out Green M&M Fallacy....until today. In his beautifully written New Yorker essay on paper jams(!), Joshua Rothman describes this bane of all offices as

"...a quintessential modern problem — a trivial consequence of an otherwise efficient technology that’s been made monumentally annoying by the scale on which that technology has been adopted."

Cereal Update

Rice Chex are downhill, but Corn Chex are absolutely killing it. So corny!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Subject Time is NOT Time!

Yesterday, I wrote about a quandry:
When I listen to an actual piano smash, and pick out, say, "Ode to Joy", that happens over time. I can effortlessly speed it up or slow it down (which I suspect is a clue!), but the experience doesn't download instantly; it plays out internally over time, just as if the notes were individually played rather than tuned/framed. And if time exists, then change does happen, which unravels the whole observation and re-burdens us with the kludge that is time. It's a problem!

Can subjective shifts be construed as taking place outside time? Is time necessarily object-related? I suspect I need real math and physics to pin this down (or, perhaps, another few years stewing on the issue).

Time passes while you're thinking, for sure. Cognition is a physical process, involving chemical reactions and energy. But perceptual framing happens behind cognition. It's deeper. There's no judgement or calculation or tabulation or taxonomy involved. It's an utterly neutral shifting of the focus of attention. Does it happen in time?
I was just being dumb (it happens a lot).

Perceptual framing is instant. It can expand from microbe to Milky Way without the slightest latency. Whenever there is latency (e.g. reframing from Depressed Rumination World back to Worldworld…..or from Worldworld to Absolute Reality - aka enlightenment - World, which many people strain to access), it's just because certain framings/tunings become habitual, making alternatives slow-budging. But once we do make the flip, it always happens instantly.

The instant-on solidity of framing is seen by considering the optical illusion below. You can see either faces or a chalice, but not both simultaneously. A given framing is quite solid - the possible framings never interact with each other. Until we relax ("let go"!) enough to develop easier control of the reframing, one or the other image might stubbornly endure. But the transition, when it happens, is instant, no? No fade, no blur. If you'll pay careful attention, you'll notice that the reframing is positively otherworldly. It's not like thought, it's not like a movie's not quite like anything else.

The optical illusion is like a fragmentary piano smash. The options (in this case, only two) pre-exist, and perceptual framing "in here" makes a choice, yielding the impression of change "out there".

Since there's no latency, even at vast scale, perceptual framing happens faster than light speed. This means it's outside time - indeed, outside this universe, whose rules preclude anything faster than light. And this checks out. If framing "traverses" (for lack of a better term) the multiverse, it must occur beyond all worlds (for a personal sense of this beyond-ness, consider, once again, The Fan).

Reframing happens outside time, because time is a concept deduced from Worldworld in order to describe Worldworld. Framing is beyond concept, and beyond worlds. It's a neutral shutter, and shutter speed "in here" does not/can not correlate with time passage as we conceive it "out there" (which is, for instance, why we can effortlessly speed up or slow down the tempo of "Ode to Joy" within a piano smash).

Not perfect, but close....

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