Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I have been thinking frequently about who I am, and about whether who I am has changed over the years, and if so, how.

One thing I keep returning to is this feeling that I am losing myself, or that my self is somehow diminishing over time. What I mean is, I feel more and more that I am what I do, and what I see and feel, and the people I interact with - mainly Jingping (not that I think I am Jingping, no) - and the random thoughts that run through my mind when I'm away from things to do or people to interact with.

This isn't necessarily a problem. I don't mind being my thoughts, or being an interaction with my wife, or being the work that I do, or the procrastination that I put between myself and my work. These things, or parallel things, are what I think we all are. But parceling your self into these discrete components makes them identifiable, and subject to direct analysis, which can reveal things in stark detail that you realize you just don't like. There are some specific features that bother me.

When I was younger, I spent a large portion of my free time writing. I wrote stories, essays on my thinking, letters, etc. I did this because I wanted to. Now, I write because I have to - I do research, and I have to write about it to sustain my personal profession. There is always work to do, and when I feel willing to write, I feel I have to apply this will to work, not fun. So, I almost never write for fun anymore. Even worse, I realize that I distract myself from this sort of unease by reading what others have written. It's as though I'm replacing parts of myself with parts of other people.

Also, over the years, I more and more began to think of my self expression as excessive, or pretentious, or useless, and so I suppressed it. I think that my entire character is suppressed. This has not had the result of simply bottling up my character, but instead I think that in some ways I am withering away - I feel that even if I tried to go back to my old ways, of writing out my thoughts regularly, there would be less to write. This is why I am writing this entry, which even as I write it feels excessive, pretentious, and useless. I feel like I have to get a ball rolling, though.

Another thing that bothers me is what I think about. We all have recurring thoughts that irritate us, things that we don't want to think about but that we do anyways. Some of these things are fine at a high level, because they are features of our lives. But other things - news, politics, etc., I find myself repeatedly going through these internal monologues, not daily but frequently, on topics like the American military, US history, religion, politics. Why? I tell myself that I don't care about these things, or I try not to care - I have no effect on them, and they seem to have no effect on me. I feel infected. I want to think about my life, my wife, my work, about things I enjoy. I'm not a politician or a columnist - why do I obsess over these sorts of things? I have not figured this out. I do get a strong feeling that these sorts of thoughts erode my self - they are not me, they are other people, other places. They make me forget who I am.

I am not bothered by thinking about sex or violence, or obsessing about the aesthetics of the Green Line tunnels, or wanting to see if someone sent me an email or a Facebook message, or my shabby piano playing. These are aspects of my life, they are fine in themselves - some of these things may specifically implicate odd aspects of my personality, but so what?

Conclusions: I still exist, but I have doubts about the vitality of my existence. I have suppressed myself too much, and the empty spaces in my mind are more and more taken up with irrelevant puzzles. I'm thinking that a solution may be to do something like this regularly, do more writing for fun, try to be more expressive with other people, stop always trying to hide myself from the outside.

Friday, August 26, 2011

hypothetical question

Okay, so let's say you run the following experiment:

You want to compare different states of adaptation. The yardstick you're going to use to compare them is is a matching function. You have two stimuli, x and y, and you're going to assume that the associated matching function - your matching function model - is simple, like y = mx + b. You want to know how those function parameters, m and b, vary when the adaptation state changes.

To do the experiment, you keep one adaptation state constant in all conditions. You can do this because you have two stimuli, and you can adapt them separately. So, you have two adaptors, X and Y. You keep adaptor X the same in all conditions, but you vary adaptor Y. Since X doesn't change, you can then compare the effects of Y across conditions. Adaptor X is your baseline.

Within a subject, this design is fine. You can take your xy data from different X conditions and plot them on the same axes. You look at how the data for X1 differs from X2, for example. You fit your model to the X1 and X2 data, and find that mX1 is higher than mX2. You repeat the experiment with another subject and find the same pattern - the m values are different across subjects, but you see the same relative difference between mX1 and mX2 for every subject you test. You average the results together to show that mX1 is higher than mX2. This constitutes a result of your study.

But then...

You start to look at the individual data, at how the m values vary so much across individual subjects, but that within-subject difference is always there. You think, something is covarying between these two things, what could it be? Why is it that whatever value mX2 takes for a particular subject, mX1 is always higher?

Then you realize: Y. mX1 and mX2 might not vary at all, at least not to the extent that they appear to. Maybe its mY that's varying.

Look at that model from the point of view of Y. Then you have x = (mY)y + (bY). Turn it around, and you get y = (1/(mY))x + (bY)/(mY). This means that mX is inversely proportional to mY, so that measured values of mX1 and mX2 will be similarly affected by differences, across individual subjects, in the value of mY.

Well, this led somewhere, anyways.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

zipper trucks

Yesterday I learned about the existence of zipper machines. We were driving back from Foxboro and there were all these little movable barriers on the interstate; I might have said something about them, and Matt explained that they were moved every day by big, slow-moving machines. I couldn't believe it, but you could see that the barriers were all linked together with springed, metal joints. I came home and looked it up, and found that link, and some youtube videos. I have to see one of these things in action...

Also, my poem output was way up over the last few weeks (like, above zero per week). They're all in drains like google or weekly report or facebook, so for posterity let's put them here. For my birthday, I made a haiku:
thirty-two years down
won't pick up another bit
for as many more

I thought that was clever.

Then, Murf decided to institute a Thursday google+ rhyme circle. Murf started with:
"i'm a serial gangsta, so don't you be hatin';
these rhymes are coming at you - 9600 baud ratin'.
i'm a cereal gangsta, pouring as smooth as silk
all o'er these fruity pebbles some quality soy milk."

I responded with:
why's your baud so slow, must be messin' with your flow
don't hate, i got infinite bit rate,
symbols at the speed of light
like nuclear fission, constant information transmission,
a meltdown, crossin' synapses,
no lapses, my latency's good, it's understood 'cause i drink real milk
fortified, omega-3,
carbon chain, developin' my brain, got to sustain that spike train"

I was proud of that. Then one night this week I generated this for facebook:
no frogs,
no crickets,
no bugs at all. 
just air conditioners, 
and echoes of air conditioners. 
no, wait, 
i hear something- 
i hear a bug. 
what is it? 
what is it?"

That was kind of lame, but it was accurate. Then yesterday the Thursday rhyme circle was late. Murf began:
Subjective speckle, what do you say?
650nm class IIIA
Black spots moving as I'm delighted;
Not in my same direction means I'm near-sighted."

And I responded with this:
myopia, that's some shit
some negative lenses would fix it
stimulatin' those long wavelength cones
seein' red, thinkin' about homophones

I am such a genius.