App Academy Diary, Week Three

Monday 30 September 2013— Today's assessment was implementing Crazy Eights in accordance with the given RSpec tests. In the afternoon, I worked with Dan Quan on exercises from the SQL Zoo, which varied wildly in difficulty.

Tuesday 1 October 2013— Today I worked with A. J. Gregory again, this time on a cute Ruby program for interacting with a database. A few remarks follow. The first remark: I much prefer the %Q syntax for multiline strings over heredocs. The second remark: it turns out that using string interpolation to compose database queries is very bad, because it leaves you vulnerable to SQL-injection attacks. The third, and final, remark: you shouldn't name any of your Ruby classes "Data," because apparently this name is already used by a regrettably exposed implementation detail of the interpreter itself.

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App Academy Diary, Week Two

Monday 23 September 2013— I rewrote most of the tic-tac-toe game yesterday; information-theoretically speaking, the board state is only 9 lg 3 ≈ 14.26 bits, but for better or for worse, I resisted the temptation to represent it as a two-character string. Still (still!) didn't get the AI working, though. Today was our first assessment: way too easy, I thought; we were given about an hour, and I finished in under half that. Then we had a lecture/Q&A period which I thought was too long, which covered the solutions to the assessment and default hash values. Why does anyone think lectures are a good idea? I'll confess to hanging out in the back and reading a little bit from A Farewell to Alms, which I bought on a whim on Saturday at Half-Price Books (which is a nice store, although you have to wonder whose idea it was to stock so many copies of Elliptic Partial Differential Equations and Quasiconformal Mappings in the Plane). At lunch I bought coffee and food at Starbucks and spent a little more time trying to debug the tic-tac-toe AI—still to no avail, but I'll get there eventually! (Tic-tac-toe itself is dross, but it's really important to get minimax right, because it should generalize to other games without too much trouble, and we're doing chess later this week.) Speaking of games on grids, today's project was to clone Minesweeper. I worked with Jeff Fiddler, who is the Jeff from Nevada (and not the other Jeff who tried to teach math in high schools but was frustrated with the overemphasis on standardized tests). It went really well; we used pretty Unicode symbols and even got around to implementing a cursor interface (which is way better than making the user enter coordinates)!

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App Academy Diary, Week One

Monday 16 September 2013— For the next couple months, I'm going to be engrossed in an intensive web development course offered by App Academy; it's pretty great! Part of the routine is to write end-of-day blogposts describing what we've learned; I guess we were "supposed" to start a Tumblr specifically for these, but that's dumb because I already have a blog, so I think I'll just put my updates here (updating the post throughout the week). Today was the first day! App Academy puts a lot of focus on pair programming: you have two people at a workstation; only the "driver" types, while the "navigator" offers direction (and then you switch roles). Today I was paired with Chris Evans, who is a nice guy who knows way more math than me! Today our task was a bunch of fairly straightfoward Ruby exercises: monkeypatch the Array class to do this-and-such, make a playable Tower of Hanoi game, that sort of thing. The most challenging one was part 15 of Test First Ruby: write a method that accepts integers and returns a string describing the number in words (so e.g. 259123 becomes "two hundred fifty nine thousand one hundred twenty three"). Chris and I finished the most important stuff on time and started working on the bonus project about solving mazes, but we didn't get too far with that in the time remaining.

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All Vows

"Avinu Malkeinu, we have sinned against you! Avinu Malkeinu, forgive us, bless us, grant us atonement!"

"Why do you bother? You're not a child. You've studied the history of our world. You should know that there's no one to grant you atonement."

"You don't know that! Science doesn't know everything. You can't prove that there's no Higher Power."

"As you say. But if there is a Higher Power, It clearly hasn't concerned Itself with the operation of the moral law."

"In this world."

"Yes, in this world. But surely it is this world that we must concerned with, for if there is a next world, we are too ignorant to speak of it."

"That is why it is also a teaching of my people that this is also a time for us to forgive each other for the wrongs we have committed in the past year, as well as seeking reconciliation with haShem."

"And you anticipate the same thing being necessary next year?"

"I don't understand. How could it not be necessary?"

"'Knock, knock.'"

Engineering Selection

This whole business of being alive used to seem so much simpler and less morally ambiguous before I realized that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must, that it has always been thus and could not have been otherwise. The other day I was reading Luke Muehlhauser's interview with Steve Hsu, and Hsu says:

Let me add that, in my opinion, each society has to decide for itself (e.g. through democratic process) whether it wants to legalize or forbid activities that amount to genetic engineering. Intelligent people can reasonably disagree as to whether such activity is wise.

There was once a time in my youth when I would have objected with principled transhumanist/libertarian fervor against the suggestion that the glorious potential of designer babies might be suppressed by the tyranny of the majority.

I don't have (those kinds of) principles anymore. Nor faith that freedom to enhance will inevitably turn out to be for the best. These days, my thoughts are more attuned to practical concerns. Oh, I'm sure he's just saying that because it sounds nice and deferential to contemporary political sensibilities and he doesn't want to catch any more flak than he does already. Obviously, the societies than forbid it are just going to get crushed under the boot of history.

Think about it. The arrival of Europeans in North America didn't go very well for the people who were already here—and that was just a matter of mere guns, germs, and steel (in Jared Diamond's immortal phrase). What happens to our precious concept of democratic process when someone has the option to mass-produce von Neumann-level intellects to design the next generation of superguns, ultragerms, and adamantium-unobtanium alloy?

True Inclusiveness

"Even after racism, sexism, and speciesism have been eradicated, the work of social justice won't be done. We still live in a viciously existence-biased Society, which cruelly disregards the interests of possible creatures just because they happen to not have been created yet!"

"'Creatures'?—I see you're still mired in the insidious grip of of organism privilege! What about all the possible qualia-bearing processes like orgasmium or paperclip-manufacturing nanoware, which don't factorize into distinct entities? My friend, I say there will be no justice until Society's sphere of moral concern extends to all possible computations in inverse proportion to their complexity!"


"Oh, I'm so nervous! What if I ... ? What if they ... ? Oh, what ever shall I do?"

"I keep telling you, man, you're making things way too complicated. Just think about what outcome you want, predict which behaviors will lead to which outcomes, and then perform the corresponding behavior."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

Quotations II

Just keep telling yourself: if they haven't started questioning what society tells them yet, then maybe they are not the one for you.

—"Pick-up Lines for Feminists" by Lesley Kartali

So, so what
I'm still a rock star
I got my rock moves
And I don't need you
And guess what
I'm having more fun
And now that we’re done
I'm gonna show you tonight
I'm alright
I'm just fine

—"So What" by Pink

The cheaper people are to model, the larger the groups that can be modeled well enough to cooperate with them.

Michael Vassar

Lyrics to the Song About Having Sinned

I'm going to do it the dark way
I'm going to do it in my way
I'm going to quietly sulk
And write things on the wall
And always be lonely

I will try to do my share
Sorting papers in my lair
But don't ask me to come play
'Cause I'll ask you to go away

I'm going to go on with living
Observing, loving, and giving
And I will never know joy
Nor being annoyed
Knowing that I've sinned
Knowing that I've sinned

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