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Month: February 2021

Listening to Black voices

Listening to Black voices

Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first black woman to graduate from the Harvard Medical School, was a profound and prophetic woman. She is famous for addressing congress, her own medical profession, and culture at large. In one visit to congress, she laid out her feelings quite clearly:

I am at once a physician, a citizen and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have the right to live.

Who were these expendable human lives? The unborn – and as time has shown – especially African American unborn. When Roe v. Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973, Dr. Jefferson was outraged. She saw the decision not only as a direct assault upon the unborn, but also upon the ethics of her profession. She later told the U.S. Congress that the decision “gave my profession an almost unlimited license to kill.”

Her words have proved prophetic – especially for African Americans. The CDC reports that 619,591 abortions occured in 2018 (most recent data) and has a breakdown that has stayed fairly consistent year over year:

Abortion rate (per 1000 women of same ethnic group)110335158213
Latest CDC data

This means that Black women are 3 times more likely to have their children aborted than whites, double that of hispanic women, and around 30% higher than all other minorities. Not only that, but these numbers mean that abortion deaths for African Americans far exceeds those via cancer, violent crime, heart disease, AIDS, police, and accidents. This is an astounding number – and is so bad in some areas of the US (such more black children are aborted than born alive. This data isn’t disputed nor are they anomalies, they’ve been consistently true for decades now.

This is also true even after you control for income and compare with all other ethnic minorities that experience discrimination – but still have much lower abortion rates. A fact that even the press struggles to find answers for, and some groups try to hide by saying the overall percentage of black abortions is less than white women (completely ignoring the fact that the black population in the US is more than 3 times smaller).

So, if you are interested in saving black lives – then the biggest silencer of their voices is abortion. This should make us want to ask some hard questions about policy, players, and the groups, that appear to be targeting unborn black lives – more than any other minority.

Ice Hotel Sweden

Ice Hotel Sweden

The world’s first and largest hotel built out of snow and ice. Icehotel Winter is reincarnated every winter for the last three decades, every year with brand new art to experience. During an intense period during November and early December every year, the empty space on the riverbank turns into a magnificent hotel made of ice and snow.

Portland Winter Light Festvial 2021

Portland Winter Light Festvial 2021

The Portland Winter Light Festival has been growing every year. What started as a very humble collection of eccentric artists has become a ever growing event.

Unfortunately, half of this year’s event occurred during our big snowstorm – the very weekend I was hoping to go out so I missed most of it. Bummer. However a few folks posted some video of this year’s event:

Also, here’s some collected photos from the event over the last few years to enjoy


Software that lands you on the moon

Software that lands you on the moon

I had the rare treat to see an Apollo DSKY control pad used to control the lunar landing computer a few years back. I always wanted to know how it worked.

I can wonder no more, because Robert Wills introduces the amazing hardware and software that made up the Apollo Guidance Computer, walks you through the actual landing procedure step-by-step, and talks about the pioneering design principles that were used to make the landing software robust against any failure. He also explains the problems that occurred during the Apollo 11 landing, and shows you how the Apollo Guidance Computer played its part in saving the mission.

If you feel that isn’t cool enough – why not go download the software and look at the original printouts yourself?

If you want more information about the computer programming language, algorithms, and entire trip tour, watch this:

Finally, a early NASA technician managed to come across a pile of salvage that he recognized as old Apollo equipment. He bought the 2 tons of materials and in the following years, realized he had an actual Apollo guidance computer (likely used in the lab for testing/etc) and then got it working again!


He just recently did another talk on the topic with updated details

Update 2:

Another great program that shows off the Apollo computers operating and being manufactured.

1965 MIT Science Reporter television program featured the Apollo guidance computer and navigation equipment. Scientists and engineers Eldon Hall, Ramon Alonzo and Albert Hopkins (of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory) and Jack Poundstone (Raytheon Space Division in Waltham MA) explain and demonstrate key features of the instruments, and detail project challenges such as controlling the trajectory of the spacecraft, the operation of the onboard telescope, and the computer construction and its memory.

Buffalo Bill’s house from Silence of the Lambs becomes a B&B

Buffalo Bill’s house from Silence of the Lambs becomes a B&B

The real-life house that was used as Buffalo Bill’s residence in the movie “Silence of the Lambs” is about to become a B&B.

The dimly lit, wallpapered house, where Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine, inset) skins his victims in “Silence of the Lambs,” has sold for $290,000.

New York theatrical art director Chris Rowan purchased the home for $290,000 on January 28 and plans to convert it into a quaint bed and breakfast. The investment comes as the movie “Silence of the Lambs” turns 30 and a spinoff called “Clarice” begins on CBS.

Besides some minor renovations to handle guests, the most important renovation will be the infamous well in the basement where Hollywood’s original psychopathic killer traps his victims. 

The filmmakers shot the basement scenes off-site (the house doesn’t actually have a creepy hole in the basement) but the new owner reportedly plans to add one to give guests the full Buffalo Bill experience.

See and read more here:

Playing Hookie Online

Playing Hookie Online

Mike Piccolo’s 8 year old niece managed to play virtual hookie for 3 weeks. What started as an apparent glitch turned out to be a clever bit of deception by the niece.

The trick? She discovered that the more times you enter the incorrect password on Zoom, the longer your account is locked. Also, the message when your account is locked is the same as if you enter a wrong password.

No word on the punishment, but she seems to have a future in data security.

My sister has three kids, all are currently in Zoom classes. Mysteriously one day, my niece’s zoom stopped working. She went and told my sister who tried for over an hour to get her logged back in but could not. She figured it was a weird glitch.

Day 5: Issue continues. After hours on the phone with Zoom tech support the techs are completely stumped. They say that the account was locked at some point but my sister knows there has been hundreds of login attempts from multiple locations so that makes sense. (or does it?)

Day 6: Again, same issue with Zoom. The teacher recreates the whole zoom classroom from scratch. All thirty students have to update their calendar invites, re-login, etc. “This has to work, right??” Nope.

Day 7: Multiple calls to the principle finally gets the schools computer teacher to come out to the house to try and debug the issue on site. No luck.

The rest of week 2: My sister has essentially given up on Zoom class for her and is now having to fully homeschool her. “At least I get to help you around the house” my niece says innocently. What a sweetheart.

Week 3: Now my sister is not even trying to have her attend school and is doing one on one homeschool. The rest of the time, my niece is helping out her siblings with their school (or playing if my sister is too busy to make sure she isn’t)

Yesterday: My sister sent my niece back to her friend’s house where the problem seems to be happening less often. They sign her in and Zoom which seems to be working well for a while. Her friend happens to walk around the corner and sees my niece log out of Zoom!

My sister’s friend is on to the con at this point. She now secretly watches from the other room where my niece cannot see her. After about an hour on Zoom, my niece can’t take it anymore and executes the con to escape the boredom.

My sister’s friend watches as my niece logs out, then repeatedly types in the wrong password to her account about 20 times. What my niece had figured out is that when you log in with an incorrect password, Zoom will lock your account for a set amount of time.

The more times you do this, the longer the wait period for you to get back into Zoom. She also noticed that the error that is presented to a user when they are locked is “Incorrect password” and not “your account has been locked”

Ramanujan Machine and AI-enhanced automated research

Ramanujan Machine and AI-enhanced automated research

Mathematicians are a fascinating breed. They look at problems and new fields of study for discoveries and then plug away on a single problem or set of problems for amazing amounts of time. They do this by attacking the problems from every direction using every mathematical tool they have. They use intuition and experience to find patterns, similarities to other problems, and even brute force methods. The goal is to seek out patterns, make sense of those patterns by stating conjectures, and then prove those conjectures into theorems. This often takes mathematicians years or decades – if they ever solve it at all. If nothing else, mathematicians are a persistently curious lot.

The Ramanujan Machine

With all this potential tedium, is there a way to speed some of this up? Could one automate some of the work? AI algorithms are amazing at pattern matching, so what if we use machine learning to start the ball rolling? Enter the Ramanujan Machine – after the famous Indian mathematician that saw patterns where others did not (and had no less than 2 movies made about him). This kind of software may be transformative to how mathematics is done – and some are raising questions about what it means for the field.

The concern is that the Ramanujan Machine does much more than just pattern match. The machine consists of a set of algorithms that seek out conjectures, or mathematical conclusions that are likely true but have not been proved. Researchers have already used machine learning to turn conjectures into theorems on a limited basis — a process called automated theorem proving. The goal of the Ramanujan Machine is more ambitious. It tries to identify promising conjectures in the first place.

The algorithms in the Ramanujan Machine scan large numbers of potential equations in search of patterns that might indicate the existence of formulas to express them. The programs first scan a limited number of digits, perhaps five or 10, and then record any matches and expand upon those to see if the patterns repeat further. When a promising pattern appears, the conjecture is then available for an attempt at a proof.

So far, the Ramanujan Machine has generated more than 100 intriguing conjectures so far – and several dozen have been proved. 

Epistemological questions

The question for the field is now: what does this tool mean for us.

I have already written about the problem of scientific discovery and Epistomology. Machines can now pattern match and come up with equations and descriptions that can describe physical realities, but at what point can we say that we ‘know’ something?

If a machine observes a system and spits out an answer/mathematical description, we often do not know how it arrived at that answer. Can we really say we ‘know’ a thing and are accurately describing it? Without understanding the interplay of the underlying principles that got us to that answer, it might only hold for that set of inputs.

Some would argue, that’s how we’ve always done science. Despite our best efforts, science pushes ever forward and sometimes refutes past theories. We have seen this most dramatically in medical discoveries and regularly in the fields of cosmology and quantum mechanics. However, in mathematics, this is not so. Proven theorems have held for millennium.

So where does this leave us

Honestly, I think software like the Ramanujan machine is the next logical step in mathematics and pure sciences. Just like the calculator became a tool that helped transform math 100 years ago, AI enhanced pattern matching is a next logical tool in the toolbox. Instead of relying on intuition and years of grunt work, it’s unbiased and methodical approach could help us see patterns we have missed, and do it massively faster. After all, correctly formulated mathematical proofs are proofs no matter what the source was.

While it likely cannot replace a well-trained expert, it certainly could help augment their efforts. Speeding up our rate of discoveries by orders of magnitude sounds like a very solid contribution to me.

Try out the machine here:

Read more here:

See more here:

Or even download the code here:

Pizza in a Cup and other movie foods

Pizza in a Cup and other movie foods

Meet a man that re-creates foods from TV and movies. Angle food cake from Groundhogs Day, Bachelor Chow from Futurama, Macaroons from the Mandalorian, and many others.

Today he tackles Pizza in a Cup from the movie The Jerk.