Monthly Archives: February 2017

Book Review – Short Stories by Anton Chekhov

Stephen Fry Presents a Selection of Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories
by Anton Chekhov, read by Stephen Fry

Russia must not have been a very happy place in Chekhov’s time (1860-1904). These stories might just leave you a little depressed. Stephen Fry reading them makes them a little better, but the audiobook was a little funky in its timing – no pauses between the end of one story and start of the next.

Unless you’re a Russian scholar or really appreciate dark humor, you can probably skip this one.

Speed read the news

While I have to slog my way through technical material, I can speed read most news and articles. I’ve tested my reading speed, and I can get through about 400-500 words per minute of non-technical medium-density news. However, if the article is on a busy website, it’s hard to maintain this speed. I’ve started to experiment with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), which flashes the words you are trying to read at you to keep your eyes focused on one spot.

Spritz is an RSVP that speed flashes your article to you, similar to the gif below:

You can install a browser plugin to get your material Spritz’ed to you. Go here to get the plugin, then make an account and set your desired words/minute. Then, when you’re at a website with news/articles to read, just click the Spritzlet link and it will start flashing words for you. I’ve set mine to 425 words/minute to read non-technical material. Play with the speed to find a setting that requires your concentration but does not lose you.

Other speed reading options:
Readsy appears to show like Spritz, but allows you to either paste the material in or attach a .pdf.
-If you like the Spritz format (one red letter that doesn’t move), check here for other options besides Spritzlet and Readsy, including phone apps.
-If you like words being flashed 2-4 words at a time, try copying your material into Spreeder.

Book Review – Superintelligence

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
by Nick Bostrom, 2014

When the book chooses to include a jacket blurb that says “A damn hard read” by the Sunday Telegraph, you know they’re not screwing around. Definitely reads like a lengthy academic paper (260 main text pages). Covers the paths to a machine intelligence takeoff and possible efforts to control or shape such a future. Basically, a super intelligent machine or being will have motivations and capabilities that are hard to control, and if we don’t tackle the control problem before the intelligence takes off, we’re all doomed.

I like the closing paragraphs:

Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct. Superintelligence is a challenge for which we are not ready now and will not be ready for a long time. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.

For a child with an undetonated bomb in its hands, a sesible thing to do would be to put it down gently, quickly back out the room, and contact the nearest adult. Yet what we have here is not one child but many, each with access to an independent trigger mechanism. The chances that we will all find the sese to put down the dangerous stuff seem almost negligible. Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens.

Nor can we attain safety by running away, for the blast of an intelligence explosion would bring down the entire firmament. Nor is there a grown-up in sight.

In this situation, any felling of gee-wiz exhilaration would be out of place. Consternation and fear would be closer to the mark; but the most appropriate attitude may be a bitter determination to be as competent as we can, much as if we were preparing for a difficult exam that will either realize our dreams or obliterate them.

This is not a prescription of fanaticism. The intelligence explosion might still be many decades off in the future. moreover, the challenge we face is, in part, to hold on to our humanity: to maintain our groundedness, common sense, and good-humored decency even in the teeth of this most unnatural and inhuman problem. We need to bring all our human resourcefulness to bear on its solution.

Yet let us not lose track of what is globally significant. Through the fog of everyday trivialities, we can perceive – if but dimly – the essential task of our age. In this book, we have attempted to discern a little more feature in what is otherwise still a relatively amorphous and negatively defined vision – one that presents as our principal moral priority (at least from an impersonal and secular perspective) the reduction of existential risk and the attainment of a civilizational trajectory that leads to a compassionate and jubilant use of humanity’s cosmic endowment.

Links 20170207

Looking forward: We’re probably underestimating how quickly electric vehicles will disrupt the oil market. “Michael Liebreich, the head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, expects oil demand to peak in 2025. The CFO of Royal Dutch Shell agrees — he said the company expects it to peak within five to 15 years. The World Energy Council predicts peak demand in 2030.” … “History has taught us that for new, distributed, consumer-focused technologies, unexpected explosive growth is … to be expected. Big oil companies and investors would do well to prepare.”

Looking backward: Be Your Own Tyrant: John D. Rockefeller’s Keys to Success. Long read, but a great write-up. Good principles for life.

2016-2017 NFL Betting Summary

Loved the first half of the Super Bowl. Still in disbelief about the rest.

The model stunk this year. No other way to say it. Unfortunately. It did much better last year and the year before.

I don’t have a definitive reason yet, or a good postmortem, but my gut says that this was just a weird year. A few teams were great to start the year and then tanked. A few others were terrible to start and then went on a run. Using a model that is just based on the past scores, those sorts of things are going to screw up performance.

Overall Against the Spread: 105-133
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 10-6
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 5-8 (1 push)
Week 6: 7-6 (2 pushes)
Week 7: 3-11 (1 game not bet)
Week 8: 6-7
Week 9: 5-6 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 10: 8-6
Week 11: 7-4 (1 game not bet, 2 pushes)
Week 12: 5-10 (1 push)
Week 13: 4-11
Week 14: 8-8
Week 15: 5-9 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 16: 7-9
Week 17: 7-8 (1 push)
Wild Card: 0-4
Division: 2-2
Conference: 2-0
Super Bowl: 0-1

Research Page Updated

I’ve deleted my old “Projects” page and created a “Research” page which contains my current and past research projects. The page is split into topics of research:
-Energy, my primary research area
-Behavioral, my secondary research area
-Sports, my fun research area
-Other, including any one-off projects
-Old Projects, from undergraduate and Master’s years or from internships