Analog Computing

Analog computer: AKAT-1 (1959)

Last September I posted the Pancomputation trilogy (parts: I, II & III) which was a follow-up to last spring’s Digital Dualism trilogy (parts: 1, 2 & 3). The first trilogy was a continuation of an exploration of computer modeling I started in 2019. Suffice to say, over the course of writing these posts, my views on what “computing” means evolved and crystalized.

As discussed in the Pancomputation posts the notion of computation is difficult to pin down (many general concepts are because we don’t have even more general concepts to define them with). A pancomputation view sees everything as computing. A computer science view restrictively equates it with a Turing Machine.

I’ve realized my view depends heavily on computational dualism.

The earlier posts (especially the most recent four) explore in detail what I mean by that, but briefly my view is that a computation involves two unrelated layers. There is a physical layer that operates according to the laws of physics, and there is an abstract layer that has only the law imposed by an algorithm.

Anyone who has played a buggy video game and seen “physical” objects impossibly intersecting has seen the lack of physical law that occurs in the abstract layer. In fact, video game designers work hard to create a (fake!) consistent lawful virtual reality, but software is infamously hard to get 100% correct.

All behavior in virtual reality is due to the algorithm and has no connection with the physics of the real world. But the machine running that algorithm is entirely bound by physical law.

That is computational dualism. In my view, without those two layers, it’s not computation, it’s evaluation. (See previous posts for an explanation of the difference.)

What I like about this view is that it includes analog computers as computers. They also have dual layers. On the other hand, analog radios — which have much in common with analog computers — are still not computers because they don’t.

[In contrast, a pancomputation view conflates computation and evaluation and sees both as computation. I’ll note that, while I don’t take that view, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it. It’s a valid, if perhaps a bit useless, choice. (Useless only in that it makes it harder to talk about computing.)]

Here, as kind of a wrap-up of this whole arc, I’ll explore exactly why an analog computer is a computer while a radio is not.

§ §

To begin, let’s consider an actual (if simplistic) electronic analog computer:

Figure 1. A very simple analog computer.

Not all analog computers (or even all digital computers) are electronic. I’ve mentioned that a slide rule is (just barely) a simplistic analog computer. It’s capable of doing a single logarithmic computation. There is a hint of dualism in a slide rule’s scales — physical distances represent logarithms.

Meanwhile, I decided an abacus was not a (digital) computer because all the computation takes place in the user’s head. It’s the user that’s the computer. (Also true with slide rules, but the log scales provide a computational assist the mind cannot.) The abacus is largely a convenient scratch pad.

Figure 1 requires a bit of explaining for those without an electronics background. Fear not, it’s pretty simple.

The jagged shapes (labelled R1, R2,…) are resistors, and they do what their name implies: they resist electricity. Think of them as valves that are never fully open or fully closed. They always allow some electricity through. Their resistance value determines how much.

The two parallel line shapes (labelled C1, C2,…) are capacitors, and again the name is meaningful: they have the capacity to store electricity. Think of them as buckets.

So we have valves and buckets. Think of the electricity as water.

The “lo-Z source” is the input — the “water” comes from the source. The “lo-Z” just means the source can supply whatever is demanded without parching. The “hi-Z sink” is the output. The “hi-Z” just means we only care about the “water pressure” (voltage) — no (or very little) water flows out the output.


So what does this circuit do? Well, that’s the thing. It’s a generalized circuit that could model a number of things.

Basically, water from the source trickles in through the valves to slowly fill the buckets from left to right. Imagine a chain of buckets with small holes so water drains from one bucket to the next. The trickle of water is very small at first, but increases as the bucket fills and has more water trying to exit the hole. The first bucket fills before the second, and so on to the last.

I’ve seen a 2D version of this — a grid of capacitors connected by a mesh of resistors — that modeled a water table. Different values of resistance stood for the permeability of the soil, and different values of capacitance stood for its ability to hold water. In this case, the voltages at each node (labelled V1, V2,…) represented the level of the water table at that point.

The 1D circuit above could represent a signal delay line or the various parasitic effects of a long electrical transmission line. It could also represent heat transfer through a material.

The dynamics involved are general and universal enough that the circuit can model a number of physical systems. Different values to the resistors and capacitors alter the dynamics to match different contexts.

That is analog computation in a nutshell. A physical system that models a phenomena representing some real world (or even imagined) behavior. That’s the dualism of computation.

Also note the generality of the circuit. The physical behavior of the electronics is mapped to some real-world physical behavior, but is general enough to apply to myriad different such behaviors. That’s what the dualism allows. Note also the sense of an external map that translates the voltages to something meaningful (water table level, heat, etc).

In digital computers, it’s the flow of numbers that is general and universal enough to represent a wide variety of real-world situations. Digital computers are game-changers because the flow of numbers is even more general and universal than electronic circuitry. Digital computers are vastly more flexible.

§ §

In contrast, consider an analog radio:

Figure 2. A “superhet” analog AM radio.

In most radios the circuitry is complex enough that a schematic would just be confusing. The block diagram of Figure 2 is all we need, plus it makes the overall vague similarity clear. There is a one-dimensional path (left-to-right) of signal flow.

Along that path there is considerable processing of that signal. Each block in Figure 2 represents a somewhat sophisticated circuit that does something important in turning an RF signal into an audio program.

As noted in the diagram, some of that involves amplifying — making the signal stronger. Ideally such amplification only amplifies; it shouldn’t distort or alter. The filter stages do what their name implies, they remove undesired parts of the signal (like other radio stations). The mixer also does what its name implies, it mixes two signals together. The demodulator removes the high-frequency radio signal leaving the audio program.

All of which is a bit more sophisticated than the simple analog computer of Figure 1, so the temptation to think of a radio as “computing” the audio is strong. Under a pancomputation view, it is. (Under the same view planets and satellites “compute” their orbits.)

Under a computational dualism view, however, a radio is just a physical device capable of evaluating and processing radio signals. Crucially, that’s all it can do. It’s not modeling some other real-world phenomenon. It doesn’t stand for or represent anything but what it is. There’s no external map.

Radios just do what they do, and that’s all they do.


There is such a thing as “digital” radio, which can have two meanings. It usually refers to a digital broadcast (such as in satellite radio or as in broadcast TV starting around the year 2000). Among circuit-heads it can also refer to the radio receiver using a digital computer to do much of the signal processing. Many modern radios do have digital computers inside them. (The one in your car, almost certainly.)

But being run by an embedded computer does not a computer make. Your microwave is also (rather obviously, I hope) not itself a computer, but it almost certainly is run by one. Many of our devices are (my furnace, my washer/dryer, my TV, my iPod, etc).

As I mentioned above (and here), digital computers have been major game-changers because of their generality and universality. They are, after all, Universal Turing Machines. If it can be computed, they can compute it.

§ §

The main point here is that signal processing is not computing, at least not under a computation dualism view.

The more general notion of information processing depends a lot on the nature of the information. Digital information processing — real-world values mapped to numbers — comes closest to computation, and almost certainly uses computation to process the information. The actual flow of information may not constitute computation itself, though. (There are some specific situations where it could.)

My iPod, for example, stores musical in a digital format and uses an embedded computer to turn that into the music I hear on my walks. But I wouldn’t consider that flow of information itself computation any more than I do a radio.

For me it all boils down to whether the physical machine is implementing an abstract layer that has no connection to that machine. Actual digital computers — the ones we buy from computer stores — in fact have multiple layers. For instance, the notion of bits, logical ones and zeros, is an abstraction implemented by the physical layer of transistors and voltages.

Grouping those into bytes or words and providing logical and arithmetic operations for them is another layer. The CPU and its instruction set is yet another layer on top of those. The actual algorithm the computer is running is therefore highly abstracted.

In fact, a fundamental notion in digital computing is the complete decoupling of the physical implementation and the computational abstraction. The causality of the two have no real connection.

§ §

I’ve been chewing on this for years because I’ve had the same question that’s plagued many: what, really, is computation?

Should we take a pancomputation view and treat computing as nothing special? Or is it the game-changer it seems to have been? Why do we easily agree my Dell laptop is a real computer and equally easily agree (most of us) a rock is not? What are we sensing there?

After years of thought and guessing, I think it turns out to be fairly simple. A computer has dual layers, the concrete and the abstract. Without both, it ain’t computing.

Stay analog, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

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

25 responses to “Analog Computing

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FWIW, as I’ve mentioned before, the topic of computation is mostly orthogonal to the topic of computationalism on at least three counts:

    Firstly, we have no knowledge of what computer models of the physical brain will produce. With computer models of, for instance, hearts or kidneys, we’d expect them to produce results that closely match the behavior of the actual organs. Brains are a more complicated proposition — we don’t know what level of detail is required in the model — but it’s not at all unreasonable to imagine a brain model would produce results that match the real thing. (I’ve written elsewhere about what might happen instead and won’t go into it here.)

    Secondly, if one takes the tack that mind is dual to brain, then brains would have the dual layers of computation. That would, however, seem contrary to a basic tenet of neuroscience, that mind is just what brains do and neural correlates to thought are meaningful. Further, if mind truly was dual, that implies brains could do something else instead of creating a mind.

    Thirdly, one can simply take the pancomputation view and consider everything computation of some kind. There’s no question brains process signals. They are, at very least, similar to radios that way, and if one considers radios to be computing then so do brains.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    A technical aside about resistors with regard to the analogy to valves that are never fully closed or open. One might take the view that an extremely high resistance represents a closed valve, and zero resistance represents a fully open valve. The former simply isn’t true; the latter is arguable but dubious (IMO).

    No matter how high the resistance is, some tiny trickle of current will flow (assuming a voltage difference across the resistor). Thus, resistors are valves that can never fully close.

    A resistor with zero resistance is called a wire, not a resistor. 🙂 Further, even wire has some tiny amount of resistance, so there’s really no such thing as zero resistance (until we get into superconductor — that’s what makes them special; truly zero resistance). Thus, I would argue, resistors are valves that can never fully open.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    The issue I see with using a different word like “evaluation” for what neurons do is it seems like the device I’m typing this on does evaluation too, which just brings us back to the main bone of contention. And I’m sure someone would take issue with the word “evaluation” the same way people do with “computation” and “information processing”.

    I sometimes think we might have been better off if we’d stuck with something like Charles Babbage’s initial name: “difference engine”, but maybe something more snappy like “differentiator”. It recognizes that we’re talking about systems that can be in an enormous number of different causal states, as opposed to a radio which can be in far fewer (albeit still many due to inputs like station and volume dialing).

    I’ve noticed some neuroscientists have started using “inference” as an alternate phrase. (“Active inference” by Friston for the free energy principle.) But again, my laptop does inference. 😜

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Can you elaborate a little on “evaluation” applying equally to neurons and your laptop? How so?

      Absolutely there are definitional issues here. That’s why I’ve taken pains to elaborate on what I mean by “evaluation” and “computation” — but the words aren’t as important as the ideas behind them. Stated without the terminology, I’ve been trying to distinguish between what I see as two different classes of information processing. That distinguishing characteristic is the dualism inherent in one class but not the other. Very significantly, I think, natural systems are not dual, but intelligence-created systems — via algorithms — can be. (If brains are indeed dual, they’d be the only natural system I can think of that is.)

      I think it’s hard to compare the number of causal states between digital and analog devices. What constitutes a causal state in an analog system (like a radio)? Is every voltage difference a causal state? If so, a radio would have a huge number of such states. In contrast, a very simple CPU system (like one running a vending machine) might have a comparatively small number of states.

      I’m not clear on neuroscientists using “inference” as an alternative phrase to … ?? Also, when you say your laptop does inference, do you mean its concrete layers or its abstract ones? Are you referring to the physical mechanism or the software?

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        The first time I recall you using the “evaluation” label was in response to me seeing selective and recurrent propagation of signals as indicative of computation, which is what I thought you meant by your use of it here. If not, maybe you could elaborate on what you do mean by it?

        I think there’s always the raw physicality of whatever system we’re considering, and then its functional role in whatever environment it’s embedded in, which is how I see the dualism you’re discussing. Drawing a line between natural systems and engineered ones seems to overlook the power of evolution.

        It is true that the function of evolved systems tend to be much more complex and multifaceted than designed ones, and their functional role can expand, contract, and shift due to adaptive pressures. So feathers, which began as thermal insulation, became useful as an aid to flight, or the hippocampus, which began as a navigation system, expanded into an episodic memory consolidator. Of course, a hammer can be used as a weapon in a pinch, so it’s not only evolved systems in which this can happen.

        For the number of causal states, I think it comes down to their functional effects, which again depend on their interaction with the environment.

        I’m not sure what to add about neuroscientists using the word “inference”. On my laptop, or any other system, I’m referring to its functional role, whether designed or evolved. It makes inferences all the time, like concluding I’m an authorized user by analyzing my face in the webcam, or concluding which key is being struck on the keyboard.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        This post is the last of a seven-post arc (two trilogies and an epilogue) that’s all about the difference I’m making between evaluation and computation. For me, that difference boils down to there being causally unrelated dual layers (what I call computational dualism). As far as I know, you skipped the middle five posts, so it’s understandable you might not be quite on the same page as these posts.

        This post in general might help. I define computation, calculation, and evaluation, about halfway-ish down the post. The section that begins with, “Before we get too deep into that, at this point it makes sense to define three important terms: computation, calculation, and evaluation.” I’ll reiterate that the labels themselves aren’t important, but the different classes of information processing the definitions attempt to pick out are.

        In particular, you’re misunderstanding what I mean by (computational) dualism. You mentioned feathers. They have physical properties that make them effective insulation, no doubt why evolution selected them out as useful. In creatures with wings they also turn out to be excellent flight control surfaces, again because of their physical properties. They function as what they are in virtue of those properties. The key point here is that they don’t represent or stand for some other completely unrelated system. They are only a physical system doing what it does; nothing else.

        In contrast, I believe you’re familiar with Greg Egan’s aliens, the Wang’s Carpets? Those would be a case of a natural evolved physical system implementing a causally unrelated abstract system. But other than Egan’s science fiction, I know of no natural system that is dual in this way. (Frankly, as cool as the concept is, it’s hard to imagine an evolutionary path for a Wang’s Carpet.)

        In obviously computational systems (such as a laptop), the dualism is equally obvious and, in fact, is the basis of the Church-Turing theorem.

        I’ll note that complexity or having multiple physical functions is not a relevant criteria here. The distinguishing characteristic is whether a physical system implements an unrelated abstract system that requires an external map to make any sense of. And it isn’t so much that I’m drawing a line between natural systems and intelligence-created ones, but that I’m seeing one. Algorithms seem to be strictly a product of intelligence.

        I think you’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by causal states, perhaps with some examples? I’m not getting what you’re trying to say. The human body, for instance, would seem to have a vast number of causal states, but I know of genuinely computational systems with a small number. I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing the value of counting causal states. As I mentioned last comment, in analog systems, I’m not even sure how to pick them out.

        Regarding inference, I think you effectively answered my question: inference is a high-level function. In your laptop, it’s due to the software. Can I assume neuroscientists also use it as a high-level concept? Or do individual neurons infer? (I’m not quite sure why it came up in the first place. What is the application?)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Wyrd, I fear you might see this reply as miserly. Not trying to short shift you. My enthusiasm for this topic just isn’t what yours is, and we’re probably getting to the limits of mine.

        Skimming that section of your other post, I’m not really following your description of “evaluation”. The comment about water seeking a level implies something very basic, like energy flowing to its lowest stable state. That seems under-descriptive of what happens in neurons, at least to me. It seems like something that happens everywhere, including in my laptop.

        Yeah, I fear I just don’t buy the way you describe these “completely unrelated” systems. That phrase just doesn’t compute (no pun intended) for me, as it hasn’t on our previous rounds. Maybe I just don’t get it yet.

        For causal states, again noting the importance of functional roles, I had something like Chalmers’ CSA in mind.

        I’ve seen “inference” used at different levels, including at a single neuron. I only mentioned it as another alternative label I’ve seen used.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        This pattern of starting a disputative dialog and then leaving it hanging is really frustrating, Mike. I see it as bad faith. Why start a dispute in the first place if you’re not willing to participate?

        For whatever it may be worth,…

        You are correct, evaluation is something very basic, and lowest-energy stable state is exactly on point. Neurons are much more complicated than a soap bubble or water system (for that matter, so is a superhet radio), but the same lowest-energy stable state physics is in play in all the pieces. All physical systems work this way.

        The causal disconnect between physical and abstract layers is just a restatement of Church-Turing that I’ve generalized to include analog systems. (It’s less restrictive because there’s no Turing Machine equivalence in play.) If you dispute this dualism, you’re disputing Church-Turing. All I’ve done is put its generalization at the center of my definition of computation.

        I’ve written about Chalmers’s CSA notion and found it problematic, but okay. I don’t see how that provides any meaning to counting the number of states other than as an indication of the complexity of the system. As I wrote previously, because genuinely computational systems (actual von Neumann architectures) can have a few, many, or tons, of states, I don’t understand the value of counting number of states. It’s not a determining criteria of computation as far as I can tell. (A side note: to even be a state does imply a functional role, so that qualification is perhaps redundant.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I promise I’m not trying to frustrate you Wyrd. I said I’d give commenting on these topics another shot, and so felt obligated to try on this post. Clearly I should have skipped this one anyway. Sorry.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I truly am mystified as to why discussing these things is such a challenge. Mike, is it possible you’re reacting to substantive challenge to your opinions the same way you did as a Catholic? You wrote a post a while back about scrutinizing the things that challenge, but I never seem to be able to get you to do that on these topics. What’s really going on here?

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Ok Wyrd, I’ll tell you what is going on here, at least from my perspective.

        Am I just protecting my opinion? Not consciously, but none of us can rule out unconscious motivations. I do often read material or listen to talks on alternatives to computationalism. Most of the more plausible ones, such as embodied cognition, aren’t really alternatives so much as addendums. Like most of the cognitive science community, I’ll drop computationalism when there’s a more explanatory alternative. But ruling it (or any theory) out with carefully chosen definitions has never seemed like a meaningful exercise to me, which is why I have little enthusiasm for this particular debate.

        More generally, you appear to have a strong need for certain propositions to be false, computationalism and the Everett MWI currently seeming the most prominent. I suspect that’s why you keep posting on these topics, iterating over the same arguments. Your statements on these subjects often have emotional provocations. It takes a lot of effort on my part not to react to those and have the discussion heat up. It’s an effort I often fail at. I find the effort wearing and the failures singularly unpleasant, which was why I was avoiding these discussions.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That’s the honest feedback I was hoping for! Thank you and yay!

        Let me begin by repeating something I’ve said before: I’m a flamboyant and emotional person. If I say something you find provocative, triggering, or offensive, please call me on it right then and there! When it comes to intellectual discussions I have extremely thick skin, and come from a tradition of passionate debaters. I simply am not aware sometimes of the effect I can have on others. (I think I’ve also mentioned it’s possible I’m somewhere on the spectrum.) I do sometimes need a little feedback. If you do call me on when you find me objectionable, I think you’ll find me more than willing to apologize and course correct. (If you just walk away, I am left unaware.)

        I’d also like to say that computationalism is a topic I lost interest in over a year ago. I explored it in various posts, clarified my opinions, and said what I have to say. The first comment I added to this post says explicitly that these seven posts are not related to that topic. It isn’t something I have much interest in anymore.

        I protest strongly that I have never in my life needed any intellectual proposition to be false (or true). My only drive is an abiding interest in reality. The MWI fascinates me for reasons I’ll devote a paragraph below to (feel free to skip it). As far as computationalism, I’ve never suggested anything more than skepticism. The truth on that is so far in our future that I see it as an open question. (What’s nice is that we will eventually answer that question. I don’t know if we ever will with the MWI.)

        re MWI: What fascinates me so is the cult-like status it has. Scott Aaronson’s post about how all interpretations of QM are just crutches put perfect words to what I’ve always vaguely felt. QM is such a hodge-podge and a mystery, that I find it hard to take any interpretation very seriously. But when I run into the naked evangelism of a Sean Carroll I’m fascinated. The sheer unwillingness of some of its converts to even consider it might be false fascinates me. I’m fascinated by how the espoused dogmas of the MWI, upon close examination, just aren’t true. For instance, the idea that the MWI takes the simple idea of the Schrödinger equation without need for any new physics isn’t true. The MWI needs to recover the Born rule and explain the physical coincidence of fermions. That requires some new physics. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, it genuinely fascinates me.

        Anyway, bottom line, I think the trick to navigating a rousing discussion is being willing to provide course correction feedback. I’ve called you any number of times on your (I’ve always assumed) unconscious phrasing. You absolutely should return the favor!

        One thing I find super helpful is hearing, in replies, an understanding of my position. It’s something I always try to provide so the other party can tell if I’m on the right wavelength. I have a sense one thing that derails our debates is my inability to tell if you’ve understood my position. Agreement is nice, but I’ve never required it. Understanding, however, it critical. (Otherwise we’re just talking past each other.) The only way I can know if someone understands my position is when I hear it reflected back. I, in turn, have a need to understand the nature of disagreement, hence some of the probing questions. I just want to understand.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks for this reply. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ll see what I can do on feedback.

        BTW, just watched episode 17 of Trigun with Vash as a kid and the spaceships, which changes my whole conception of the series. I was gradually getting the idea that this was some kind of post apocalyptic setting, but this episode confirmed it, and also explained why everyone is on this planet. My only gripes are they took a long time to get to this and then dumped a lot of info in one episode.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        😀 The key to understanding me is that I’m an aging hippie with a peace, love, crank the tunes, and pass me another beer, ethic. And an utter fascination with reality and the intelligences that inhabit it. That my basic nature seems to piss off a lot of people is a life-long heartbreak for me. My misanthropy is a reaction to that rejection.

        Ha, yeah, Trigun, as so many do, changes the whole picture late in the game. I’m not sure if you’re up to the point of knowing Vash’s true nature, so I won’t say more until you’ve finished.

        Tonight I’ve been watching on Hulu Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid , which, as the title suggests, is a 13-episode sequel to the original (which Hulu doesn’t have). It’s apparently another franchise anime. It’s a modern-day mobile suit story. Here they call them AS units (Armor Slave), and it’s somewhat like Ghost in the Shell in that they’re a special peace-keeping unit. Kind of engaging and cute. If I can stay awake, I’ll finish up the last five episodes tonight.

        I finished Fullmetal Alchemist, but by the 51st episode I was pretty down on the series. Didn’t like Ed or Al. And I mentioned the pacing, repetition and other storytelling issues. Overall I kinda have to give it a Meh! rating. I don’t imagine I’ll be giving FA:B a try any time soon. Too much other anime to explore. (I’m especially derisive about the big reveal in the last three episodes. That really didn’t work for me, and it kinda ruined the magical aspects by making the story more SF-y. Parallel worlds. [sigh])

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ll keep the hippie thing in mind. Coming from a business and southern background, it pays to remember our communication styles and ways of relating might be different.

        I got a hint of Vash’s true nature in an earlier episode when he put a hole in the moon. Then the show had several mostly mundane episodes, which I found annoying. My beef with this show is it goes too long between reveals. It might be different if the heavy western motif worked better for me.

        I’ve seen Fullmetal Panic while skimming a number of times. Each time, when reading the description, I hit “high school” and my interest plunges. But if you’re enjoying it, maybe I’ll check it out.

        That’s too bad with Fullmetal Alchemist. Brotherhood is faster paced and has a different ending, but if you don’t like Ed and Al, it may not be your cup of tea.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Funny how I don’t really think of you as a Southerner, but, yes, good point, we do seem to have significantly different backgrounds. For me, not just the aging hippie thing, but I was a theatre arts guy in high school and had a filmmaking/TV production major in college. (The irony is that the computer science minor I added because of my hobby interests turned out to be the basis of my career.)

        I think the intent, in a lot of anime, is to create suspense by dangling hints or cutting away from scenes at crucial moments. I found the latter irritating in FA. It creates suspense, sure, but it also breaks the narrative flow in what often seems an awkward unwelcome way. I think that when tricks like that become formulaic rather than organic, it stands out as bothersome. (It felt really formulaic in FA. Damn near every action scene, they’d cut away at a key point.) What got me through Trigun was liking the characters, so I didn’t mind the mundane eps as much.

        I suppose sometimes they just need to fill out a season.

        Finished Full Metal Panic! last night. Good pacing up to the last three eps. (Again, maybe trying to fill out the season.) Those bogged down because there was no big final reveal, so no more exposition needed and nothing really going on except the final showdown. The ending kinda goes on and on a bit. Prior to that, the main character goes into a fugue state which I also found a little irritating (“Get over it, dude!”), but that aside I enjoyed it. The high school aspect is somewhat secondary. The primary story involves a quasi-military unit called Mithril — they acknowledge they’re named after a fictional metal. They have a submarine, aircraft, weapons, and mobile suits. They’re non-national (but based in Japan) and maybe somewhat like the UN peace-keeping forces.

        The season I watched was called The Second Raid which, as far as I can tell, was just a cute way of naming the second season (there were no “raids” I saw). There were references to things that had happened before, but nothing really depended on having seen it. (No doubt some things would have made more sense or had more backstory.) The main character is a high school age trained killer who has been installed in a high school to protect another high school age character who is special. He also rides their most powerful armor suit when called away for action.

        The story was a lot sexier than most anime, but at the same time didn’t have that quasi-Playboy teenage boy vector most Shonen does. It’s possible teenage gals would enjoy the series as it has some strong female characters. It’s not without its dark elements, but also has some smiles along the way.

        I may someday circle back to FA:B if I ever run out of other anime to try. It’s always worth seeing widely acknowledged classics.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m definitely not a typical southerner, so I can see it being easy to forget.

        Creating suspense is usually the goal with fiction. It’s what keeps audiences engaged. But it can be generated with cheap tricks that, if used too often, become obvious and annoying. Sounds like that’s what happened with FA. The ones that drive me nuts are pointless dangers, where a character, for no good reason, wanders close to a ledge or other hazardous location, or takes forever to get on an escape plane or ship that’s just about to leave.

        If you keep audiences in suspense too long, with no payoffs, they get impatient. At least unless you’re giving them something satisfying in the meantime. For many, Trigun’s western stories probably scratch that itch. For some reason, the old timey feel isn’t working for me: the revolvers, specific 19th century attire, etc. But I’m definitely going to finish the series at this point.

        On filling out a season, yeah they had one of those lame recap episodes, something that made sense in an era of broadcast TV when the old episodes weren’t readily accessible. I almost skipped it but it had just enough new info mixed in that I couldn’t. At least it only lasted 20 minutes.

        Thanks for the Fullmetal Panic! description. Not really drawing me in, but worth keeping in mind.

        Yeah, since FA gave you such a bad taste, probably not worth trying FA:B for a while. It will inevitably have a lot of the same material in the early episodes, and the associations would likely turn you off right now.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You mean you don’t have one of those rolling coal trucks? 😀

        Totally agree about cheap tricks. Include the pointless “jump scare” (oh, it was just a cat) in many horror movies. Yeah, all those tricks to make the audience edgy just make me irritated. I guess it’s one of the dangers of becoming familiar with storytelling.

        Meryl and Millie, for me, were part of the fun of Trigun, and they helped get me through the mundane stuff waiting for more exposition. (That recap episode, IIRC, is Meryl’s report back to the insurance company.) And that giant gun of Millie’s is kinda funny.

        One design element of the series that really caught my eye was those power plants with the giant light bulbs. I kept wondering what those were all about. Turns out they’re kind of central to the story.

        I’m trying to decide if I should next watch Neon Genesis on Netflix or Black Cat on Hulu…

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I have to say Trigun has gotten a lot better in the last few episodes. Just got through with the battle on the ship floating in the sky. Feels much more sci-fi now. And then there was the being in the light bulb and Vash’s obvious affinity with them. I would have gotten further tonight but we had a problem at work. Probably finish tomorrow or Saturday.

        I haven’t heard of Black Cat before. Sounds kind of interesting.

        No way I’m getting to 50 posts this year, much less 100.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I also enjoyed the spaceship sequence. I definitely like the more SF-ish anime. Yes, Vash’s affinity for them, indeed.

        Watched the first episode of Black Cat. Modern day urban setting, which I like. Very stylized presentation, and that first episode was kinda confusing. The main character, Sven, is a “sweeper” — apparently a bounty hunter or something. He has a “vision eye” that can give him glimpses of the near future. 24 episodes.

        My post rate is way down this year, too, compared to 2020 or 2019 (160 and 177, respectively). OTOH, it was only 74 in 2018, so I’m ahead of that year. (At least I should hit 1000 reguar posts, so there’s that I guess.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I just noticed that, according to WordPress, this post is my 100th this year.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FWIW: If you ever are up for a debate, I’d be interested in hashing out why, strictly in the context of computation, the physical/abstract duality of computation doesn’t work for you. At least in digital computing, that seems undeniable to me.

  • Sideband #75: Electronic Shortcuts | Logos con carne

    […] but I think it was something in one of the Lee Smolin books I read recently. My recent post, Analog Computing, brought the idea to mind again, because analog computers often use op amps. I was reminded yet […]

  • headbirths

    Here’s a few quick thoughts from me. I’m not really convinced by the dual layers argument.

    1) Where do FPGAs fit into your digital dualism?
    Imagine an implementation of a CPU+RAM in an FPGA. The CPU’s program is in a serial flash connected to the FPGA. The FPGA configuration is in another serial flash. And then there is another FPGA which implements exactly the same function but it has embedded flash both for configuration and usage.
    What’s concrete and what’s abstract?

    2) There are the three Cs: Computation, Communication and Control.

    Communication) a Software Defined Radio contains a processor running software but the function is ultimately equivalent to just a piece of wire. What information goes in at one end of the link is (hopefully) exactly what comes out at the other end. It is in the same category as an analog radio.

    Control) microwave, washine machine etc. Input request goes through to some physical output that changes something physical (and there may be closed-loop feedback sensors involved).

    Computation) involve some transformation/processing/combining of information.

    3) A play on words: Babbage’s ‘Difference Engine’ is colloquially ‘something that makes a difference’ to the information it receives.

    4) Neuroscientists ‘Inference’ translated to electronic stuff: sensors/transducers provide some information stream
    e.g. audio samples at 40kHz. Some CPU then runs some DSP algorithms to work out *what it is that caused the particular set of samples*. e.g.
    someone saying ‘Hello Siri’, footsteps or whatever (
    The CPU is trying to *infer* what is *out there*. In this engineering context, it is more likely to be called ‘classification’.
    In both neuroscience and engineering, it is generally *integrating* a lot of *information* (a tantalizing pair of words).

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I’m not really convinced by the dual layers argument.”

      Do you dispute that it exists, or that it has meaning in defining computation?

      “Where do FPGAs fit into your digital dualism?”

      There is a hardware layer acting according to physics. You didn’t say what the device was doing, but presumably it’s doing something useful, and whatever it’s implementing is a virtual model (as far as the FPGA is concerned) not related to the physics of the FPGA. So, there is a physical device and whatever virtual reality it’s implementing.

      “Software Defined Radio contains a processor running software but the function is ultimately equivalent to just a piece of wire.”

      You answered this yourself. Some hardware+software is implementing the virtual reality of a wire.

      “…microwave, washine machine etc.”

      Again, a hardware+software combination implementing a virtual reality of whatever machine they’re controlling.

      “…involve some transformation/processing/combining of information.”

      Yes, absolutely. But I don’t follow the relevance.

      “A play on words:…”

      Pretty words! What do they mean?

      “Some CPU then runs some DSP algorithms…”

      And again I have to confess I’m sorry, but I don’t follow your point. The hardware+software combo implements some virtual reality. The “inferences” it makes mean nothing to the flow of numbers, but map to something meaningful (“Hello Siri” and what that implies).

      In all cases I see the dual layers of computation because these examples are all (clearly) instances of computer-driven hardware.

And what do you think?

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