April Is Separability Month

It is now April! Did you know that April is one of the months in which every compact metric space is separable?

Proof. Let it be April, and let M be a compact metric space. Because M is compact, it is totally bounded, so for all n∈ℕ, we can cover M with finitely many open balls of radius 1/n. The centers of all such balls are a countable set which we can call C. But C is dense, because an arbitrary point p∈M is a limit point of C: an ε-neighborhood of p must contain the center of one the balls in our covering of M with ε/2-balls. Thus M contains a countable dense subset.


$ history | grep freeciv
  605  freeciv
  606  sudo apt-get install freeciv
  607  sudo apt-get remove freeciv
  652  rm -rf ~/.freeciv/
  706  sudo apt-get install freeciv
  722  sudo apt-get remove freeciv
  735  rm -rf ~/.freeciv/
  752  sudo apt-get install freeciv
  754  sudo apt-get remove freeciv
  768  rm -rf ~/.freeciv/
  785  history | grep freeciv

"Give Anything"

As a freshman on my high school's cross country team, our captain told me that to be a good runner, you needed to love pain.

I objected: a great runner could love to race, I said, and endure the pain only for the sake of competing and winning.

It's only fifteen years later (practically one foot in the grave), that I now see that I was wrong and he was right.

You can run out of habit or you can run because Coach would notice if you skip practice, but you cannot run because of the strictly instrumental effect that not-running would have on your goals. Our minds aren't built that way; what is separable conceptually is not separable architecturally.

Ultimately, to not sacrifice the gift, you have to love pain. You have to love life.

Cranberry Bliss!


It's the tenth day of the third November of my life (that I am willing to admit to), and I am determined to wring some sort of high-sounding interpretation out of the cool air and damp sidewalks: perhaps a contrast, something about the events that directly prompt fundamental life changes (on the one hand), and the events that indirectly catalyze fundamental life changes by means of enabling the construction of a legible narrative in which the changes can be plausibly attributed to them (on the other).

Today I am constructing a narrative about my life fundamentally changing because the coffee hegemon has started selling those medicinal (right) cranberry/cream-cheese triangles again. Not that hastening my inevitable horrible cardiac death with dessert bars is like a series arc or anything, but it's a thing I learned today that is salient enough to be repurposed as a trigger, a reminder that the autumn–winter windustrial complex is upon us again, that this is supposed to be my favorite time of year, that there simply is no reason I won't attune myself to perceive nature's cyclic harmonies, then perform every San Francisco software engineer's sacred duty and disrupt the living fuck out of them.


—and the moment or more than a moment when the dam breaks, when the damned break and the void inside their skulls is filled (the atmosphere rushing in quickly, but not so quickly that one couldn't sense its motion) with the terror that is knowledge of the specter of continuity: that there have never been, and can never be, any miracles.

For to be saved is only to be some distance in the initial conditions from being damned, some lesser distance from being half-damned ... some δ-distance from being ε-damned. And the complement of the shadow we cast on the before-time contains its limits.

Some Excuse for a RustConf 2017 Travelogue

(Previously, previously on An Algorithmic Lucidity.)

Wow, has it already been a year since last RustConf?—give or take the exact date of the event sliding a bit between years—and give a month-and-a-half of procrastination before being truly struck by the mounting realization that my opportunity to blog something about it before the opportunity expires has almost—but crucially, not quite—faded into oblivion. And a year-and-a-quarter since my first contribution to the compiler? I've recently moved into the top hundred contributors by commit count, because GitHub's contributors graph page only goes down to a hundred and my life is controlled by what things GitHub happens to provide graphs for.

So in the evening of Wednesday 15 August, I boarded the Amtrak Coast Starlight at Jack London Square station in Oakland for the long pilgrimage north to Portland to visit friend of the blog Sophia and attend this year's RustConf.

The train was nearly three hours late. (More like Slowest Starlight, am I right?)

On Thursday, I convened a Berkeley Slate Star Codex meetup in exile with Sophia and another local.

I don't think I was very well-prepared to take advantage of the conference itself this time around. I attended the Friday "advanced" training session, but the content was mostly the same as last year (I probably should have chosen the Tock session instead), and I don't actually own a laptop (I used "my" employer-owned laptop last year), and trying to make do with my accessorized phone and the playground was not an optimized experience.

Then the day of the conference itself, I overslept (and left my badge at Sophia's house), and had a high-neuroticism day induced by social-media drama that I had inflicted on myself the previous night, which distracted me from the content of the talks and the challenge of actually connecting with people on the hallway track (the most valuable part of any conference).

But, you know, there will be other conferences. Rust isn't going anywhere. And neither am I.

Except, you know, to Portland or wherever for the occasional conference.

At a Party

At a party! A party with the empirical cluster in personspace! I used to treasure these nights, which seemed then to sparkle with the promise of another world, back during the golden age. The atmosphere feels different now. The same scene, with much of the same people and operating at what should be the same frequency, but I can't help but feel that what was once the promise of a grander mode of existence has decayed, in a decade, into the familiar rhythms of the human.

Has the promise been fulfilled? My disquieting sense of something missing to be attributed to one of the standard heuristics and biases?—hedonic adaptation. Have I grown—and then what am I to make of the exact relative ordering of the automatically returned question-completions old, up, and the empty word? But it stretches credulity to suggest that the true topography of the moral universe would put what I want to call "the golden age" in the past.

As always, I should have rehearsed. People's perceptions of party protocol are predictable, the popular precession of preambles and progress reports—excuse me. What I mean is that there is a limited selection of questions people ask new and old friends at a party, a finite and small repertoire of introductions and catching-ups, and if you know the questions in advance, you would think it would be a matter of the common courtesy of optimizing everyone's experience to prepare answers in advance. It's not just a matter of winning a greater share of the zero-sum component of the party. (Although there is that, which is why both members of the An Algorithmic Lucidity readership are presently gearing up their text editors for the inevitable Well-actually-it-should-be-constant-sum comment. Alright, guys, I was asking for that one—or I might as well have been, up to a positive affine transformation.) It's a matter of the commons. You want to impress at a party, but to parties worth impressing.

Only I never think to rehearse, and my social performance tonight is wild, all over the map, depending on where the bravery spinner is pointing at this particular moment and whether my cache is cold. I manipulate the flow of one conversation deftly with fine rudder movements ("I see my reputation has preceded me"); in another, beyond misplay, I'm a rock ("Um. Stuff").

Resting in a corner away from the crowd, it's these stretches of boredom and wistfulness in the night here at the center of the world that cannot be forgiven, each passing second of seeing marred with not wanting to see, the meaning of these past months' morning sloth and slovenliness, always to be forsworn and always to be repeated, when I meant, I meant—Amenta? I meant to do that, I could claim, but it's not clear that I would be in any way more redeemable if the wastefulness of my abyss had been entirely accidental—or at least not just a matter of simple cowardice.

Do I dare / Disturb the universe? Few remember the face of the man who answered "No"—and ceased to exist.

A woman of wisdom tells me: the thing-that-creates is smarter than the thing-than the thing-that-judges. And all I can do is hope that that's enough.

For science! At a party!

Trade Secret

"The key to retail success is low prices."

"And you make up for that by selling a lot more stuff?"

"Oh, wow, I hadn't thought of that," she said, with seemingly genuine surprise. "Actually, we make up for it by low wages." She patted his arm. "But your idea might work, too—in theory."

I Meant to Do That

I quit my dayjob a few months ago. I said I was taking a sabbatical from my programming career to work on my own projects: there's a lot of math that I've been wanting to learn properly for a long time (game theory, Bayesian networks/structual causal models, analysis), and there's a lot of writing that I fear I must do (although for branding and market-segmentation purposes, I'm pretending that's someone else's story).

I have made some progress on these goals, but—as one would have predicted from an Outside (i.e., No Fun) View model trained on my historical behavior during periods of underemployment- or school-holiday-induced freedom—it's been disappointingly slow on a day-to-day level: it is easier to let an hour blur by in daydreams or low-quality internet reading than it is to actually study or actually write, and a day is only made of so many hours.

My dominant emotions surrounding this observation are guilt and shame. Guilt: that I'm failing my moral responsibility to be intellectually productive, a duty owed to the human spirit and maybe even the Bayes-structure itself. Shame: that a hypothetical adversary could use the fact of my slothfulness as evidence against my beauty, that the failure to live up to the promise of my ideals could be construed to deny or disparage the ideal itself.

Well, I do have a moral responsibility to be intellectually productive which is owed to the human spirit; this cannot be doubted. But I've been wondering lately if it might be better to let go of the shame and even most of the guilt. This not because shame and guilt can't be useful emotions, but rather that I might be thought of as having outgrown them.

I think the shame is born of insecurity: I spent a lot of years resenting school and resenting a culture that didn't have a concept of intellectual life or paths to economic success outside of school, resulting in a desperate need to prove myself: if I don't create given the time and freedom to do so, couldn't pawns of the system use it as ammunition to sneer at me and proclaim that no one can possibly do anything worthwhile without a teacher to command them to do it? And if I don't create, would they even be wrong?

Having something to prove was a useful motivation—it drove me to learn math, at least, to an extent that's probably hard to motivate without a status gradient at work. But now, at age 29—thanks to the software industry for a niche where my talents are economically legible, thanks to the aspiring-rationalist subculture for a community where I feel respected—I think I've exited the world I resented. Whatever I had to prove, I've either proved it by now or have extracted myself from the need to please any doubters.

What, then, should take the place of a desperate need to prove one's value as a source of motivation? What is to be the new emotional reaction to observations of slow progress, if not shame and horror and fear at what my enemies would make of this?

Shame creates an incentive to deny or minimize the culpable action, to distort the map of what actually happened in order to protect oneself: "I didn't do that; it's not what it looks like." I think I would prefer to draw on sources of motivation that don't have this property, that can accept the reality of what actually happened without pain ...


Ayn Rand said that a Spanish proverb said that God said, "Take what you want, and pay for it."

But instructions from God would be redundant. Matter does not obey physical law out of fear of punishment or a sense of moral duty; what we call a "law" is a characterization of that which exists. So too with this.