Archive for June, 2009

Safe Arrival

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I woke up at 6:30am to the sound of the phone ringing. Actually my first memory was when I actually saw the phone in the next room, but I was expecting the call. I needed the call. Sleep had been elusive yet I jettisoned it in seconds.

Then the phone stopped ringing. Oh. No!

Whew! It rang again! “Hello?”

It was Sangeeta! They made it safely to her father’s house in Kathmandu, and Saranya was finally sleeping. Apparently Sangeeta’s fears of bad behavior proved unfounded, as several other passengers complimented Saranya on her exemplary behavior during the long trip. She only fussed a couple times because of the difficulty of sleeping on the plane.

What a huge relief! I had been worried in the general sense of having no information and no control. I was up at 1:30am and checking the time in Nepal, thinking surely they’d landed by now. Anything to keep the darkness and solitude at bay, and to keep my mind from enumerating the possible disasters which could have befallen my loved ones.

Now I can rest easy. Well, maybe…

Sangeeta and Saranya go to Nepal

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

The girls left last night from LAX. They called me as soon as they boarded (first ones, thanks to the small child). Saranya was extremely excited about being on an airplane. She had her own video monitor on her own window seat too. Sangeeta’s greatest fear was that Saranya would misbehave on the plane. I can’t wait to find out how it all went. They should be landing tonight.

I’m taking the opportunity to clean the apartment. I’ve already made huge improvements in every room. Originally I thought I’d divide the task into areas, then sub-areas, but instead I’ve been skimming off the obvious tasks, or whatever strikes my fancy. I put old shoes in a box, put old sippy cups in another box, etc. It’s also liberating to not have to ask if I can throw things away! So while I’m walking around the house, whenever I see something that says “I don’t go here”, I either put it where it does go, or in the trash, or on Sangeeta’s desk for her to decide. I’m sure you’re already envisioning a heap of things with a desk underneath, but let me assure you that I have also allotted her two full closets for questionable items. :)

I managed to punch a hole through Saranya’s toy collection that’s big enough to see the carpet underneath. The sheer magnitude of the toy problem is almost unfathomable. I’m going to have to shift them into some living space while I clean one room, then shift them back to do the other room. Some of them might get lost in the process, and all of them will get temporarily organized and packed into as small a physical space as I can manage. And I only have a month to do all this!

Big News

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

I’ve done away with news.mizerai.com. I was using phpnuke to run it, and became unable to maintain it faster than the spammers were creating user accounts and trying to spam my comments, take over my site, etc. Besides, I was really tired of the ugliness of it all.

So now it redirects here. :)

Memory is Pain

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

This idea keeps coming back into my head. It happened again when I read this article on atheist/theist thought processes, especially the bit about how it relates to Cypher from The Matrix.

In the movie, of course Cypher never gets plugged back into the matrix the way he wants. But either way, he no longer has memories of living his renegade life on an outlaw vessel, eating disgusting mush and being miserable all the time. There are actually drugs being used as anesthetics which cause amnesia for the procedure! So if you don’t remember it, did you experience it? You can only infer that it happened. I bet psychologists could implant false memories in you about what had happened. You wouldn’t remember, but you’d come to think of it like something you used to remember. You would believe that things happened, even though they didn’t really happen.

Or did they? Maybe if you believe something with all your heart and with all your soul, then it has to be true! This seems to be the feeling of the deeply religious people I’ve talked to, when they talk about their belief in God. They just know their beliefs are true, because they can feel it as a warm feeling in their hearts.

Then again, some of us believe in something called objective truth. We’re called “scientists” and we explore the world in order to find out what these truths are. Some of us try to find out objective truths about the way our minds work. We’re called “cognitive scientists” and we study cognition, perception, learning, memory, language; basically: intelligence.

Not only do we study it, but we also make computer models to try to make our theories of mental functioning concrete. Then we test those theories, and if we believe that they’re true then we make up elaborate scenarios in order to show them to be true, rather than shining the light of truth on them and jettisoning them if they don’t cast a shadow. But that’s where other cognitive scientists come in: they see our theories as competition to the theories which they fervently believe are true, and will point out the many shortcomings of those competing theories. The way we get around this negative attention is to make our computer programs as unavailable or incomprehensible or unusable as possible, so that other researchers aren’t able to level such criticisms against us without our being able to reply “well, you must not have done it right!”

So much for Objective Truth, huh? When I think about it this way, I can no longer proudly claim that I am a Brain Scientist. I now have to admit that I am a Brain Hacker. I have a hack that seems to work very well in inducing learning, and I’m trying to promote and augment that hack. I’d like to be a scientist one day, though…

Blogging for no good reason

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Anyone reading this blog will notice that I haven’t been sick much lately, so I haven’t been posting anything. Today I’m taking the time to remind my future self what I was thinking about and doing way back in June.

Sangeeta is getting ready to take Saranya to Nepal for a month. She’s got a week left to get everything ready, her car is in the shop with a major intermittent coolant leak that they can’t seem to find, and she just got addicted to Korean soap operas so she spends all day sitting in front of the computer watching them and reading the subtitles.

World of Warcraft is holding less and less of my attention. I still log on every day to do my jewelcrafting daily quest, and sometimes I take a break and do some Argent Tournament stuff. Oh, and I have calendar reminders to check and renew my Mysterious Eggs on 5 different characters. I can do all this while only actually paying attention to the game for as little as 30 minutes per day. The rest of my time I’m either programming, reading about programming, reading literature on human memory models, or studying math/statistics.

I’m the only employee of Insight Learning Technology, Inc. who’s not on vacation. I’m using the time to take cars back and forth for repairs, and to rework, refactor, and modernize all my PLM server code. I had to fake object orientation before, but PHP5 lets me write code the way I’m used to thinking about it. We’ve got at least two big projects coming up this summer, so I’m scrambling to get some of this background work done and tested before I have to focus on deliverables. The hope is that all this will make later projects easier.

I’ve been studying Psychological journals to see what other people have been doing in the field. Phil Pavlik and John Anderson have a nice model that predicts forgetting and recall time, and I think I’d like to adopt a similar model. Our system has a couple of arbitrary parameters, and I need to figure out a system for making them less arbitrary.

Whenever we create a new module for adaptive training, we have to decide what sort of performance reflects sufficient learning that the learner will be able to correctly answer the item (or an item from the same category) after a delay. We also have to determine the parameters that tell us approximately how long to wait after an item is presented before we show it again. Right now, these parameters are arbitrary and independent, but I think we need to come up with a system for not only generating these parameters automatically, but for relating them theoretically. That’s a path we’ve been loathe to tread, but access to funding for research in the field lies down that road, and we need to show our feet thereupon before the monetary gates will be opened to us.

Then there’s math and statistics. I’ve been looking at performance data from an earlier experiment, and trying to find a pattern of accuracy following particular patterns of problem presentation. I guess I need to learn some data mining and regression techniques to figure out the relationships. My lack of statistics background is holding me back, so I think I’m going to try to sit in on some classes next year.

If I still have a job…