The Grateful Eight

We all have our personal milestones, those marker days that tick off the passing years. July 4th has become a big one for me over the years. I’ve always liked fireworks (and thunder), so the day was always something of a joy. Various personal events over the years give it a bullet list of associations.

At the top of that list, today is my blog anniversary, so I’ve spent all month working on a little something to celebrate:

It’s a virtual 3D room I created with POV-Ray. It’s meant to contain little bits and pieces relevant to, or at least suggestive of, this blog. (As always, click on any image for a big’n.)

The tile floor features octagons to commemorate that this is my blog’s eight-year anniversary. That same floor is a pattern we used in high school when we did Hamlet.

I spent a couple weeks working on that floor. We used sheets of Masonite that we painted. First we taped off a pattern for the white octagons, then we taped off for the black octagons, and finally for the beige squares.

Then we went back over the octagons with large feathers lightly dipped in contrasting paint colors to brush them to make them look like marble.

From a distance it looked amazing, and many guests commented on the floor. I’d spent many days with my face inches away and was deeply acquainted with every flaw and mistake.

It was an important lesson on what people notice compared to what you spend hours agonizing over.

One thing I love about 3D models is that I can put the camera anywhere to take a closer look or show off parts of the model. Above, for instance, a closer look at the bookcase along the “east wall” (both “wall” and “east” are somewhat virtual here).

The electrode on the left is the signature image for my Sidebands posts, and under the window to the right is the post counter used to celebrate the 500- and 800-post mile markers (same 3D model).

The bookshelf is meant to represent all the posts (or at least a lot of writing and reading). Each book is generated randomly in terms of color, height, and width, so I’m not sure how many there actually are.

On top is my model of the TARDIS from Doctor Who.

And there’s an eight ball reflecting my view of future predictions (they’re just a game people play) as well as my tendency to challenge others (putting them “behind the eight ball” so to speak).

Backing up from that view shows the workbench (there’s a closer look below), stools, some wall hangings, and a couple models hanging from the ceiling. (Any proper geek’s room has things hanging from the ceiling.)

There’s something in the lower left corner we’ll take a closer look at below — my tribute to all the discussions about consciousness.

Here’s a closer look at the workbench:

Lots to see here! The Minnesota Twins, of course, and a tiny, tiny part of the Mandelbrot.

The abacus refers to computation and my love of math (as does the Mandelbrot image). The Earth globe because, despite all appearances (and the way it often feels), I actually am an Earthling.

There’s a pile of notes, because I’m always scribbling things on paper.

The iPad is for technology, blogging, streaming TV and movies, browsing the interweb, checking the weather, and reading iBooks. (I don’t play computer games. I just don’t.)

And of course there’s a picture of my pal, Bentley, because she’s so cool, and I just love dogs.

Okay, here’s the bit I hinted at above, two “stacks” of physical reality.

This is a topic for future posts, but the idea is to line up next to each other the layers of physical reality involved in creating a mind. The stack on the left we know works, the one on the right remains to be seen.

The interesting thing is, the only part of these that’s at all controversial is the last jump from Computer to Mind.

A big part of the controversy coming from the non-physical aspects contained with Computer — specifically, the software, the algorithms, that make the computer function.

I’ll get back to this one of these days. In the meantime, if you want a preview, the things I was writing about in this post, at the end of the conversation between JamesOfSeattle and I, are what lead to the above stacks.

Just for grins (because I spent quite a few minutes tuning the pitch and roll of the ship, and because I spent months making the model, a close-up of the (original) Enterprise (Kirk’s ship).

As I’ve said often, much as I grew up loving Star Trek, at the 50-year mark (and I’d been there since day one) I decided I’d had enough Trek.

And lastly, a long shot to reveal the movie set nature of the model (also an homage to my love of TV and movie production and a hint at my past with it).

I suppose we’re all so used to 3D CGI that this isn’t very impressive.

Rightfully so. It isn’t very impressive compared to what artists are doing these days. Part of that is the tool, POV-Ray. It’s possible to create some very cool scenes, make no mistake, but the amount of time one has to invest is considerable (and it takes getting deeply into the tool).

All the above was done with boxes, cylinders, cones, and a few other basic primitive geometric shapes. It’s all a matter of combining them, and using one shape to “carve out” another, that more complex shapes are created.

On one level, it’s really fun seeing what you can create (the Enterprise!), but on another it’s as tedious as hell — I did spend months working on that model. (A lot of art is that way.)

And, bluntly, I’m no artist. I have one weird flaw that everything I design seems chunky with too much free space. I’ve been designing web pages since the early 1990s, and they all look… really crude. Almost like a child’s efforts with crayons or something.

But, hey, I had fun, and that’s what matters.


So,… eight blogging years, 822 posts (plus various pages, and I have other blogs). Some of that’s been tedious, too, but it’s also been fun as hell.

Last year’s anniversary links to various pages that have been successful here, I think I’ll leave that sort of thing for New Year’s posts. It also has links to previous anniversary posts, for whatever that’s worth. (I’m not going to go over the bullet list about all this day means this time, either.)

I’m just gonna go kick back, drink some beers, see if the Twins can take the rubber match against Oakland, and mostly generally not futz around with a 3D model all damn day long!

Stay three-dimensional, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

24 responses to “The Grateful Eight

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Whew! New Year’s, various March birthdays, Solstice, Tau Day, Blog Day…

    But now the coast is clear — nothing to remember to commemorate — until the fall equinox. Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Happy Anniversary, and July 4th! And cool room!

    822 is a lot of posts. I wonder how many words that adds up to. And you have multiple blogs. I have enough keeping one going.

    On Star Trek, I wouldn’t mind having more, if they’d just get out of nostalgic mode and do new stuff. Even Picard, which will move the series chronologically forward, is really nostalgic by returning to an old character. I’ll give it a try, but I’m not optimistic.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks; it was fun to create. There’s more I wanted to do (not happy with the bookcase, for instance), but one reaches the point where enough is enough (and I had to post the post).

      It would be a good time to do a blog extract for backup. I have XSLT and some Python code that processes the XML file in various ways, gives me various reports about the posts and pages I’ve written. I recently wrote some more code to import the posts to an SQLite database. That ought to give me the ability to count words… Hmm….. New project!

      You can have my share of any new Trek. I was horrified when I heard Patrick Stewart was going to reprise the role. I’ve never watched more than that first episode of Discovery (didn’t care for it), and I’m not even watching The Orville anymore. Hard to imagine I’ll give Stewart’s new show any attention, but that’s just my own weariness with it all.

      Kind of as with Game of Thrones. Not at all a statement about the nature of the show, but rather one about my own lack of interest.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Hmmm. I should probably run a backup myself sometime soon. Haven’t done one in a long time.

        I watched Discovery up until they went into the evil mirror universe, and was never able to go any further. All the advertising for season 2 with Spock didn’t help at all. It’s just cheap thrills from nostalgia.

        The one thing hopeful about Picard is that it doesn’t sound like they’re going to pull other characters in from ST:TNG. A lot of people are unhappy about that, but I see it as maybe they’re not going to lean too hard on nostalgia. I know; I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Nothing wrong with optimism, people do create good TV shows. It would be nice to think with Stewart involved the quality and content levels would be high, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “822 is a lot of posts. I wonder how many words that adds up to.”

      You got me wondering, too…

      Posts/Pages: 855
      Total Words: 970,490
      Total Lines: 70,990
      Separate Words Used: 32,465

      Nearly one-million words! (Maybe if I include my other blogs I can get there?)

      I’ve used a lot of different words in those posts, but 3,583 are numbers of some kind. That’s still a lot of words, although the code currently treats “zone” and “zones” and “zone’s” as three words. There are other oddballs. (“du”? Might be an abbreviation — I’m forcing everything to lowercase.)

      The Top Ten Words Used are what one would expect:

      Top Words:
       1:  51,617  "the"
       2:  25,546  "a"
       3:  22,956  "and"
       4:  22,651  "to"
       5:  22,237  "of"
       6:  15,783  "is"
       7:  14,643  "in"
       8:  13,806  "that"
       9:  13,189  "I"
      10:  11,473  "it"

      The list has 40 more,… #50 is “has” (2,347 times).

      I was a little surprised that:

      "computation" (60)
      "computational" (27)
      "computationalism" (32)
      "computationalist" (1)
      "computationalists" (3)
      "computationally" (5)
      "computations" (8)
      "compute" (15)
      "computed" (11)
      "computer" (537)
      "computer's" (10)
      "computerphile" (1)
      "computers" (172)
      "computes" (7)
      "computing" (40)

      I’ve apparently only used the word “computationalist” once?

      Seems like I would have used it more than once, so I need to validate the code to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. But overall the results seem about right, so maybe I’ve just never used the singular form more than once.

      I write long comments, and those are included in the XML file, so I might get around to including those. I need to process tags and categories, first. Including those gives me better search abilities.

      Kind of interesting to know. Synchronicity, too, in that I just did a little envelope math and realized I’ve easily written more than one million lines of code since I first started in 1977.

      It amounts to just under 24,000 lines per year (or just under 2,000 lines per month). I write way more code than that. It’s been a consistent hobby and I wrote a lot of code when I was working.

      No wonder my fingers are so tired! 😮

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        That is interesting. You might find it amusing to note that you’ve written more words than are in the Bible (about 780k according to Google, although the exact count depends on the translation).

        And 32,000 is a pretty huge vocabulary! I read somewhere that our vocabulary steadily increases as we get older. It’s one of the reasons young people struggle to be articulative.

        And languages overall seem to get more vocabulary over time. Limitations in vocabulary often make early philosophical writing seem less sophisticated than it is. When Thales says everything has souls, does he mean that in anything like the concept we form when reading those words? Or is he talking about forces?

        “Seems like I would have used it more than once,”

        Perhaps, although memory always plays tricks on us. I remember William Shatner once pointing out that he never said the words “Beam me up Scotty” in the original series. But the phrase resonates with us because it seems to sum up a lot of conversations whose detail we no longer remember.

        Strangely enough, although I spent a lot of time as a programmer, I don’t recall writing that much original code. I was pretty lazy and creative at finding ways to minimize the amount of straight code I produced to meet a goal, although I’m sure if someone ran a statistic it would be much higher than I’m remembering.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “…you’ve written more words than are in the Bible…”

        And that’s just on this blog. I’ve been writing since high school and did a lot of writing at work (tech docs, user docs, reports, proposals, etc). Add in those million+ lines of code,…

        But we can also get some big numbers thinking about how many steps we’ve taken since birth, or how many heartbeats or breaths. I kind of get a kick out of having lived in eleven different places during my life. (I wonder how many gallons of soda I’ve consumed in my life!)

        “I read somewhere that our vocabulary steadily increases as we get older.”

        Makes sense. Those of us who are avid readers get a benefit, too, I think, depending on the reading material, obviously. I’ve always loved Up Goer Five on xkcd.

        There is also that I’ve always loved wyrds. 🙂

        “Limitations in vocabulary often make early philosophical writing seem less sophisticated than it is.”

        That’s a very good point. Plato seems to suffer from that. What did he really mean?!

        “I remember William Shatner once pointing out that he never said the words ‘Beam me up Scotty’ in the original series.”

        Heh, yeah, that was a fun way of finding out how well someone really knew their Trek. It makes sense we’d remember it that way: He was usually talking to Scotty and always used the words “beam” and “up” (but usually “beam us up”). It’s almost like one of those semantic vectors: imprecise, but closer to the truth than to any other (semantic) truth (that is, concept).

        “I was pretty lazy and creative at finding ways to minimize the amount of straight code I produced to meet a goal,”

        There is something to be said for not re-inventing the wheel.

        You didn’t say how you avoided writing code, but many I’ve worked with did it by importing a lot of libraries — in some cases, third-party libraries of uncertain pedigree. It can work out if you trust the code, but it makes me uncomfortable (at least with corporate code writing) when I’m using an unknown programmer’s code that I can’t see.

        And sometimes it’s just so wasteful that it offends my depression-era parents programming me to avoid wasting anything. I had a programmer once import a fairly large Java library just to use the CSV parser it contained. And it was an unvetted third-party library she’d picked up off the interweb rather than spend, what, an hour (?) coding a CSV parser.

        (Or, better yet, having one she’d written ages ago, tested to death over time, tweaked to perfection, and capable of just dropping into any code she wrote that needed one. One mark of the true pro coder is they come with their own library, their own toolkit.)

        Not to go off on you, but that was always a sore point with me. Half a dozen libraries, each for some small part of what they contained. Made the resulting JAR file sets huge.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I like the xkcd thing too where he sticks to the 500 most common words. Except when I’m reading about something I actually don’t yet understand, I do like getting the official names of things.

        You probably would have hated dealing with my applications. I was pretty aggressive finding code or functionality that I could borrow, buy, or steal to save time. I was pretty good about documenting what I added and where I got it (if only for my own later needs). If it wasn’t from a well recognized open source project or product, I also made sure I understood the code well enough to know what it did.

        If it makes you feel any better, I’m getting poetic payback of a sort as a manager. Most of those libraries in old apps weren’t put in with a tool like Maven, so it’s difficult to know what’s even out there, and most developers don’t document worth a damn. Many of the libraries now have security vulnerabilities and other issues. And occasionally upgrades to underlying architecture break their functionality. It’s a mess.

        On the other hand, some of the developers did build their own libraries. The problem is that their libraries have bugs and vulnerabilities too, and only they understand them well enough to fix them. (Everyone thinks their own code is self documenting. Maintenance programmers rarely agree.) As a manager, I find that situation worse.

        Overall, the industry is moving more and more to SaaS and other canned solutions, so the problem is gradually becoming sidelined. And we’re looking at moving each application into its own virtual container so it stands alone in terms of code dependencies. (Dependencies between apps is a whole other matter.) Wasteful in terms of computer resources, but more efficient in people time, which is why we have the computers in the first place. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Except when I’m reading about something I actually don’t yet understand, I do like getting the official names of things.”

        Mos def! It depresses me the attitude some have about technical jargon — that it’s somehow meant to be exclusionary. Nothing could be further from the truth! The jargon is actually the key to inclusion.

        The only exclusionary thing is the requirement to do the work of learning the words.

        I know people who can tell me who batted first in the sixth inning of the 1947 World Series. I know people who can see a passing car two blocks away and identify the make, model, year, and engine. (Both of which astonish me.)

        So I have no pity for those who can’t learn a few words. 🙂

        “You probably would have hated dealing with my applications.”

        Sounds like you made the right efforts, though (the vetting and documenting). I might have been a bit askance of code bloat or dependencies, but it sounds like you wrote code with an eye on future maintenance.

        The key ethic I tried to pound into the heads of coders was: Code is for humans! Write for people!

        I used to preach the idea of treating the writing like you would the writing of a letter (I saw a lot of value in the ideas behind “literary programming”). Treat the code as a message to someone — very often your future self who has forgotten what you had in mind here.

        I learned that lesson in an unforgettable way once. I was reusing a piece of code I’d written a while back and stumbled across two nearly identical functions right next to each other. (One aspect of my approach to literary coding was to treat placement of code blocks as another form of information about the program. Where things were in the source said something about the code.)

        Looking at those two functions, I saw they could be combined and parameterized. So I did that. Hooray, more efficient, right? Except that the code stopped working.

        Turned out there needed to be two separate nearly identical functions, but the reason wasn’t obvious looking at the functions.

        So I had to recreate the original code and then write a prominent comment explaining why there were two such similar functions and to please leave them alone in the future! Taught me the importance of documenting anything unusual in the code.

        As you say, for your own sake if nothing else.

        “Overall, the industry is moving more and more to SaaS and other canned solutions, so the problem is gradually becoming sidelined.”

        I have a “told you so” story about that; there can be a downside to having third parties control your stuff.

        A group I worked for moved to a hosted solution for CRM (Customer Relations Management), something we’d previously done in-house. It was more or less the same software provided and supported by the same vendor, and much cheaper than running local instances of large databases. (I worked for an international corporation.)

        It worked… okay enough. The in-house version had special web downloads that made users browsers into fairly sophisticated UIs (far beyond normal web browser abilities), whereas the online version just used normal browser capabilities.

        And there were network-related issues, of course, but all-in-all The Company saved a lot of money.

        But then came a time they wanted to do big data analysis over all the dozens of instances they’d spawned (because creating new ones was so easy online that everyone wanted their own). Then they found it was hard to get their hands on that data.

        (There was a web services API for data access. A very buggy one I had to harass them to fix. I had to force down their throats (oh, so many emails) that they were in violation of important XML and XSD standards. Working with them was a pain. They never admitted to the obvious network issues on their side.)

        In the last month before I retired (and had moved on from that group), they came to me to ask if I could help them pull their data — they’d determined to move it all back in-house.

        Just their luck, I’d foreseen the problem long ago and built a toolkit for extracting data. (It was actually something I’d built for our clients to do reporting and analysis on their individual data, but I’d seen the potential future need and added capabilities to that toolkit. Essentially, they were able to make SQL-like queries against that remote data.)

        I’ve slowly come to accept some things I “own” aren’t in my possession, but I don’t care for the idea at all. I was reading about how Microsoft decided to leave the ebook business, which means all ebooks people bought from them will stop working! (MS is going to offer store credit, but what good is that?)

        If Apple were to do that, I’d be very, very angry. They could potentially destroy half my music library and a lot of ebooks. The DRM stuff means even owning the bits isn’t enough.

        “Wasteful in terms of computer resources, but more efficient in people time, which is why we have the computers in the first place.”

        Oh, you bet! One of my key personal ethics is that computers work for me, not the reverse. I always take it as great personal offense when dealing with software that can’t accommodate my full first name.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On SaaS situation, a lot depends on what’s put into the contract. The problem is that business people, who are usually the ones doing the contract, have no idea what to actually put in there. So we end up with situations like we ran into earlier this year where a vendor we were moving away from satisfied their obligation to provide our data by giving us a tar file with 4000 MySQL tables. No documentation and tables with terse meaningless names. Luckily it wasn’t a system where the data was that crucial, but still.

        I know what you mean about the Microsoft ebook situation. If Amazon ever does that, virtually everything I’ve read in the last 10 years will go away. I can only hope there’s a large enough population that something would be done.

        On the other hand, I never go back to the vast majority of the stuff I read. There are maybe a dozen books that I do, which wouldn’t be that much of tragedy if I had to rebuy them in some other format. Still, it would piss me off nonetheless.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “The problem is that business people, who are usually the ones doing the contract,”

        Indeed! And all ours saw were bottom-line dollar signs.

        “…a tar file with 4000 MySQL tables.”

        Yikes! Also, ouch!

        “On the other hand, I never go back to the vast majority of the stuff I read.”

        Good point. True for me with most movies and TV shows, too.

        I re-read Pratchett’s Discworld series every few years or so (it’s that good). I’ve been through the Spenser series a few times, maybe four. (Think the last one was it; the relationship has begun to pale.) The last decade or so I’ve been re-reading a lot of books in my library.

        There is something to be said, from a storytelling point of view, for revisiting. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t get everything the first time around, especially with better (i.e. more complex and rich) works. It can take several readings for the structure and nuance to really gel.

        Lately I’m more interested in new material, and more interested in non-fiction at the moment. I’ve been looking into volcanoes, which fascinate me, and I’d like to learn more about weather systems. (I read the “Scientific Report” in my weather app. It’s clearly written by a meteorologist and about half of it goes over my head. I’d like to understand the whole thing.) I’d also like to finally figure out tensors — they’re required for General Relativity (and many other things). Special Relativity was pretty easy, but GR is a much harder more mathematical nut to crack.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I used to reread stuff a lot more when I was younger. I remember going through parts of Lord of the Rings multiple times. But for fiction, it’s very rare now. If I do go back these days, it’s to learn something about storytelling technique rather than re-experience the story.

        Although there’s probably something to be said for revisiting books I read as a teenager or earlier. Much of that material though, probably wouldn’t be nearly as good for me today as it was back then. I have no interest, for instance, in reading franchise books (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc). I read a lot of those in my younger days.

        I do go back to non-fiction a lot, but it tends to be a select number of books. Although it is nice to have quick access to the others when I need it. Particularly as a blogger where the conversations sometime veer into relevant topics.

        The math for SR is definitely easier. I understand it. There’s no hope for me with GR. I’d have to firm up too much foundational material to even begin. It’ll have to be Brian Greene’s or Sean Carroll’s dumbed down versions for me.

        The only science I’ve gotten to the point where I can read the actual papers is neuroscience, and even there I have limits. When they descend into organic chemistry I’m mostly done.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I have no interest, for instance, in reading franchise books (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc).”

        Oh, totally! I’ve got a whole shelf of Star Trek books. Those original novels. Time for most of them to go to the library. (Last week I dropped off all my Star Trek DVDs. Everything except for Voyager, which I never liked, or the last few movies.)

        I’m slightly embarrassed I read some of them once. The ones that are a bit too much like tip-toeing through someone’s personal Trek fantasy. That new crewman who saves the day…

        “There’s no hope for me with GR.”

        May well end that way for me, too. Tensors have been elusive. But I finally did get quaternions, so maybe there’s hope.

        “The only science I’ve gotten to the point where I can read the actual papers is neuroscience”

        Heh, that’s one reason I’ve found volcanology and meteorology so interesting. I can understand everything in the actual literature. Quantum physics is hard to follow once the math kicks in, and chemistry was never my strongest science, either.

        I keep trying to read Peter Woit’s Quantum Theory, Groups and Representations: An Introduction, but after the first couple of chapters my head starts spinning. It may be that QFT will remain as out of reach as GR, damn it.

        (But I think it’s good for my brain to keep trying.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It just hit me that I used “computer” 537 times! 😀

        (And the plural 172 times.)

  • J Ryan

    LOVE this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rung2diotimasladder

    “I suppose we’re all so used to 3D CGI that this isn’t very impressive.”

    I’m impressed. I wouldn’t even know where to begin, especially since I don’t even know what CGI stands for.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      My bad! Especially since it has two current definitions.

      In this context it means Computer Generated Images. It’s a broad term that applies to any image a computer creates through math or modeling. (It generally does not apply to manipulation of existing images unless the process is so extreme as to create an entirely new image.)

      For some reason, it’s not much used in fractal generation, also it certainly applies. It seems to be more reserved for rending of “life-like” scenes.

      (It also means Common Gateway Interface, which is the protocol used by dynamic web pages to receive a request from your browser and generate a dynamic page for it to display.)

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