It’s time for another edition of Friday Notes, a dump of miscellaneous bits and ends. (Or do I mean odds and pieces? Odd bits and end pieces? Whatever. Stuff that doesn’t rate a blog post on its own, so it gets roped into a package deal along with other stray thoughts that wandered by.)
There’s no theme this time, the notes are pretty random. Past editions have picked the low-hanging fruit, and the pace has slowed. I’ve managed to whittle away a good bit of the pile.
Maybe some day no more notes and my blog will be totally in real time!
This happened back in August: I was sitting in my living room when motion outside my porch doors caught my eye. Three deer walking past. I do live in a city with lots of wooded sections that deer inhabit, and I’ve seen them wandering around the edges of my neighborhood.
But since I moved here in 2003 I’ve never seen them wander through the block-long grassy lane between condo structures here. Those porch doors of mine look out across maybe 15-20 yards of grass to the next structure.
To the left, the lane extends past another set of structures and ends at the suburban road that runs past the complex. To the right, the lane ends in an open area where people play with their dogs (often using this grassy lane to get there). Beyond that is a small road that runs through the complex and then another line of condo structures.
My point is that deer wandering along that lane is weird. First time I’ve seen that in 18 years here. (Whoa! Eighteen years. Time does fly.)
The story gets funnier. A short while later I saw a small dog running, as though chasing the deer, but from very far behind. I had just enough time to wonder about the dog when a woman running after him followed. It was a funny little parade outside my porch door.
Little things like that keep us fascinated by life. You never know what you’ll see next (if you keep your eyes open).
An old college friend who still lives out in California and I were reminiscing about a Mexican restaurant we used to frequent, El Coyote. Back in the day, at least among a certain crowd, it was the second trendiest Mexican joint in Hollywood. (The trendiest is Lucy’s El Adobe on Melrose.)
I pulled up Google Maps, and it’s still there:
It was a great place. The waiters were either middle-aged Mexican mother types in Spanish dresses or the more common young gay Hollywood male waiter types. Both were a lot of fun, although the former often didn’t have much English.
The place showed signs of having rooms added on over time. Often the host led you and your party on a long winding path to some remote room. The interior was dark and best described as Tijuana Tacky, right down to (I kid you not) lots of those pictures painted on black velvet. (None of Elvis, though, if I recall correctly.) The pictures were in heavy ornate wooden frames with lots of little seashells glued to them. Then they were spray-painted. Gold. It was glorious!)
The food was mostly Tex-Mex but the menu leaned into some more authentic Mexican dishes. It was good and inexpensive, but most Mexican places in Los Angeles are. They’re as common as gas stations, and nearly all of them are quite good (or at least passable).
What made El Coyote stand out (other than the décor and waitrons) was the equally inexpensive, but very potent, double margaritas. It’s where I learned to drink them on the rocks. It took me years to duplicate their recipe.
Did you know that the Windows Calculator — the one that comes with Windows — is a graphing calculator? I didn’t either until I read about it as a Windows Tip in some Windows Secrets article (not as visual as Victoria’s but still interesting).
Select the menu in the upper left, then select Graphing on the menu. You’ll get an empty graph. Click the button in the upper right to go back and forth between the graph and the functions it displays.
You can enter your formulas in plain text. Use the ^ symbol for exponents. Use parentheses to group things as required. (A little experimentation will make it pretty clear.)
It’s a handy thing to have if you just want to see what the curve of some equation looks like. That’s a need I’m sure we’ve all experienced from time to time. (Back in the day this would have made my calculus homework a joy!)
Speaking of math, the topic of entropy keeps popping in posts and videos. It got me thinking more deeply about my CD collection analogy for it, and I realized it’s harder to quantify the entropy than I’d realized. It’s even possible putting a concrete number to a given microstate might not just be hard, but NP-hard (which currently means “effectively impossible”).
I’m still researching this, so I won’t get into the specifics or the math here, but the difficulty arises because the microstates of a sorted collection are permutations of that collection. Quantifying the entropy of a permutation is much harder than for, say, a bit string or unordered collection (such as gas molecules or atoms).
[The popular notion of entropy as “disorder” isn’t a bad one, but it requires some explaining and examples. One can also view it as a “gap in knowledge” between different descriptions of a system. For example, the temperature and pressure of a gas (two numbers) versus information about position and momentum of each gas molecule (lots of numbers).]
The requirement is: given some permutation of an ordered collection, its entropy is the minimum number of moves necessary to restore the collection to order. Coming up with a number isn’t hard — bubble sort the permutation and count the moves. That provides a number, but it won’t be anywhere near the minimum number required. That’s what’s apparently NP-hard.
Grist for another mill. Thinking about entropy generated a side thought: The definition of entropy has itself suffered entropy. It has become more chaotic and diffuse as more and more accounts and metaphors of it exist in the popular consciousness. That’s not ironic; that’s the second law of thermodynamics in action. (It also illustrates quantum decoherence.)
I saw Dune (2021). Meh. I found it slow and full of itself. About halfway through I realized how much film time was devoted to people walking. (My subtitle for the film is, Dune: People Walking.)
My guess is that, in time, this film won’t be any more of a treasured classic compared to its source text than The Hobbit is compared to its text. An even better comparison: Blade Runner (1982) is a film classic. Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which was Villeneuve’s last film, I’d guess also is destined to be forgotten.
I’ll get into this in more detail another time, but as stories modern films usually suck. They’re little more than amusement park rides with a shallow narrative playing second fiddle. They’re about sensation, not narrative. (This is why those seeing the film in IMAX find it so enthralling.) Villeneuve’s films are a lot more substantial than most; I’ll give him that easily. I really liked Arrival (2016).
Grist for yet another mill; my note is about the book and the story. Which I like enough to have read several times over the decades. Both my hardcover and softcover copies are pretty beat up. None of the sequels ever really grabbed me, though, and Herbert’s other work really never grabbed me. The contrast between Dune and his other work led some to think he hadn’t actually written the book. (Shakespeare has a similar problem regarding all his work.)
Seeing the posts and comments, I think Dune (1965), is one of those books, like Lord of the Rings (1954) and many others, that people discover at a younger age and, because they are such substantial surprising works, take to in a big life-long way. For me that was Star Trek, starting in 1966 when it first aired.
But I’ve been reading science fiction almost as long as I’ve been reading, and it seems that life-long diet provides some buffering against any one text grabbing me big time. I’ve taken bits and pieces (and odds and ends) from all the worthy texts, but hitched my wagon to none. (Except Star Trek, kinda, but I got over it after 50 years.)
Lastly, I’ve been watching video talks by theoretical physicist Chiara Marletto, who has been making the rounds promoting Constructor Theory. Until now I’d heard it mentioned, looked at its Wiki entry,… and thought, ya, whatever.
Then I stumbled on a video talk by Scott Aaronson that sounded interesting, On the Hardness of Detecting Macroscopic Superpositions. That video was part of a recent conference, On the Shoulders of Everett, which turned out to have a number of other interesting videos. One of those was by Marletto (being a colleague of David Deutsch, who was also there, she takes the MWI as the correct theory). Her talk wasn’t about MWI at all, though, it was about Constructor Theory.
Which led to watching a number of other video talks she gave. (I confess to being totally smitten.) She gives essentially the same talk in each, so the material is becoming somewhat familiar. The idea is interesting, and I’m sure I’ll post about it once I’ve given it some thought. At this point, I wonder about the generality and universality implied by the program. At such high levels of abstraction, is it possible to make anything other than trivially true statements? I wonder about the value.
I also question the justification for the line from universal computer to universal constructor. I have a strong “so what” sense about that, too. Firstly, it’s already kind of there if we want to make one; secondly, it’s not what computing is for.
I’ll note, too, that this theory goes back to 2012, and I’ve found some old videos of Marletto giving essentially the same talk. It seems the program hasn’t moved forward much in nine years. Marletto’s media blitz seems to be, at least in part, a bid for funds — she’s made off-the-cuff remarks about the general difficulty of funding in several videos.
Still, it’s an interesting approach, and if fruitful might play a role in moving fundamental physics beyond its current logjam.
Stay constructing, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.