Shower thoughts of the day

On net, patriotism seems to be an irrational state of mind unless you narrowly define it as "after careful deliberation I've decided that this country best serves the needs of the most people"…but I don't think thats what most people really mean when they're talking about patriotism.

Patriotism seems to usually be used to mean something like one of these:
1. Do not criticize anything about the country I enjoy living in.
2. USA #1, USA #1! (insert whatever country for USA)

Even for more nuanced takes of patriotism, taking the concept of "patriot" as part of your identity seems like it ends up forcing support for ideas and values upon you that you might not have supported if you came at them from a more objective standpoint.

To a first-order approximation, it seems like a mindset that would be a better (by better, I mean more well-being, more happiness, more accurate) substitute for patriotism would be a mindset that:

1.  Acknowledges that for various desired outcomes various countries and systems of government place somewhere on a scale for each desired outcome, while…
2. also acknowledging that different people will have their own preferences for each outcome.

I mean, maybe some people have this sort of mindset in mind when they're talking about patriotism, but from my standpoint it certainly doesn't seem like thats how its actually practiced.

I'm going to talk about subjective confidence.  

A person has some degree of confidence in their knowledge and beliefs called subjective confidence.  It's subjective, in part, because people don't have introspective access to the way their mind has formed it's beliefs.  

I find myself thinking about this subjective confidence pretty often as I offer advice or take actions…which is a good thing I think.  

I might say "I'm 75% confident about my thoughts on patriotism" and what someone might think I'm meaning is that I'm not as confident about that as I am confident that I'm actually in the shower when I'm in the shower but I'm a lot more confident than I would be that I'll get heads when I flip this coin.

But…that's not quite right, even though that might be what I intend to convey when I offer the confidence figure.  As I mentioned before, I don't have introspective access to the algorithms of my mind, so it seems as if I can't really place my confidence-on-patriotism-thoughts effectively on the scale between confidence-I'm-in-the-shower and confidence-I'm-flipping-heads which I can pin down fairly objectively.

Perhaps when I say I'm 75% confident in my thoughts about patriotism, I'm describing a feeling, which is a little worrying, but it's the best I can do.

Maybe "it's the best I can do" is not good enough.  

Sometimes, in what might be my most lucid and introspective moments, I feel like I'm not very confident about many of my more complex beliefs.  During these times my confidence about subjects as simple as is-in-shower or even some more complex beliefs like value-of-rational-thought, don't seem to change, but my confidence in my beliefs about patriotism seem as if they're in a mirage and there's a good argument on the tip of my mind just waiting to destroy what I believe.

During these most lucid and introspective times, what it really seems like is that most of the time when I'm feeling 75% confident about my patriotism beliefs, what I've actually done is taken a relative confidence and made it feel like an absolute confidence.

The weird thing is that, during the majority of the time, even knowing what I really think about that 75% number and how shaky most of my beliefs are…the 75% number still feels right.  I'm perfectly aware of the fact that what I really feel is that there's a good probability of there being a good argument out there just ready to sweep my legs out from under me, and yet the 75% number just feels like the right answer to the question "What's your subjective confidence in your thoughts about patriotism?"

Meteorite older than the Earth found

Curtin University team leader Phil Bland hand-dug the meteorite from a 42-centimetre-deep hole in a remote section of the lake bed just hours before the arrival of heavy rains would have washed away any remaining clues.

"It was an amazing team effort, we got there by the skin of our teeth," Professor Bland said.

"It is older than the Earth itself. It's the oldest rock you'll ever hold in your hand.

"It came to us from beyond the orbit of Mars, so in between Mars and Jupiter."

The three-day operation to find the meteorite involved an aerial spotter, a drone, two researchers on a quad bike and local Aboriginal guides Dean Stuart and Dave Strangways looking in the sticky clay.

‘Older than Earth itself': ancient meteorite found at Lake Eyre
A meteorite estimated to be 4.5 billion years old is dug up by Perth researchers from a remote part of Lake Eyre in outback South Australia.

The most popular book at the UN library, which is for use by diplomats and the like…is…

The most popular book at the UN library, which is for use by diplomats and the like…is how to avoid prosecution for international crimes.


Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes, merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminal drug investigation.

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home
Robert and Addie Harte had to spend $25,000 to find out why a SWAT team mistakenly raided their home.

Division 1 football games lead to increase in sexual assault

This paper considers the degree to which events that intensify partying increase sexual assault. Estimates are based on panel data from campus and local law-enforcement agencies and an identification strategy that exploits plausibly random variation in the timing of Division 1 football games. The estimates indicate that these events increase daily reports of rape with 17-24 year old victims by 28 percent. The effects are driven largely by 17-24 year old offenders and by offenders unknown to the victim, but we also find significant effects on incidents involving offenders of other ages and on incidents involving offenders known to the victim.

College Party Culture and Sexual Assault

In case you weren't aware, PayPal is still a horrible company

Nevermind that it was PayPal’s lack of any modern authentication methods that led to this mess. Also, let’s forget for the moment that there are a half-dozen services online that let customers create fake but realistic looking scans of all types of documents, including utility bills, passports, driver’s licenses, bank statements, etc. This is the ultimate and most sophisticated customer authentication system that PayPal has: Send us a copy of your driver’s license.

2016 Reality: Lazy Authentication Still the Norm — Krebs on Security
My PayPal account was hacked on Christmas Eve. The perpetrator tried to further stir up trouble by sending my PayPal funds to a hacker gang tied to the jihadist militant group ISIS. Although the intruder failed to siphon any funds, the successful takeover of the account speaks volumes about why …

Wikipedia sucks for science according to John Timmer


Most entries, but not all. Disturbingly, all of the worst entries I have ever read have been in the sciences. Wander off the big ideas in the sciences, and you're likely to run into entries that are excessively technical and provide almost no context, making them effectively incomprehensible.

This failure is a minor problem for Wikipedia, as most of the entries people rely on are fine. But I'd argue that it's a significant problem for science. The problematic entries reinforce the popular impression that science is impossible to understand and isn't for most people—they make science seem elitist. And that's an impression that we as a society really can't afford.

Read article here:

(The images G+ pulled for this article sucked, so I found my own Wikipedia failure image)

Robot that uses propellers for motivation…which means it can drive on walls.…

Robot that uses propellers for motivation…which means it can drive on walls.

Scott Alexander recently reminded me of a great post by Scott Alexander where Scott…

Scott Alexander recently reminded me of a great post by Scott Alexander where Scott Alexander said:

According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup
[Content warning: Politics, religion, social justice, spoilers for “The Secret of Father Brown”. This isn’t especially original to me and I don’t claim anything more than to…

> [Q:] Do you think we can actually get to generalized AI?

Reshared post from +Kaj Sotala

> [Q:] Do you think we can actually get to generalized AI?

> [A:] I think to get to superintelligence we might currently be missing differences of a “kind,” in the sense that we won’t get there by just making our current systems better. But fundamentally there’s nothing preventing us getting to human-like intelligence and beyond.

> To me, it’s mostly a question of “when,” rather than “if.”

> I don’t think we need to simulate the human brain to get to human-like intelligence; we can zoom out and approximate how it works. I think there’s a more straightforward path. For example, some recent work shows that ConvNet* activations are very similar to the human visual cortex’s IT area activation, without mimicking how neurons actually work.

> [*SF: ConvNet, or convolutional network, is a type of artificial neural network topology tailored to visual tasks first developed by Yann LeCun in the 1990s. IT is the inferior temporal cortex, which processes complex object features.]

> So it seems to me that with ConvNets we’ve almost checked off large parts of the visual cortex, which is somewhere around 30% of the cortex, and the rest of the cortex maybe doesn’t look all that different. So I don’t see how over a timescale of several decades we can’t make good progress on checking off the rest.

> Another point is that we don’t necessarily have to be worried about human-level AI. I consider chimp-level AI to be equally scary, because going from chimp to humans took nature only a blink of an eye on evolutionary time scales, and I suspect that might be the case in our own work as well. Similarly, my feeling is that once we get to that level it will be easy to overshoot and get to superintelligence.

> On a positive note though, what gives me solace is that when you look at our field historically, the image of AI research progressing with a series of unexpected “eureka” breakthroughs is wrong. There is no historical precedent for such moments; instead we’re seeing a lot of fast and accelerating, but still incremental progress. So let's put this wonderful technology to good use in our society while also keeping a watchful eye on how it all develops.

Inside OpenAI: Will Transparency Protect Us From Artificial Intelligence Run Amok? – Singularity HUB
Last Friday at the Neural Information and Processing Systems conference in Montreal, Canada, a team of artificial intelligence luminaries announced OpenAI, a non-profit company set to change the world of… read more