Sun, 1 Jan 2023

New Year New Fear

— SjG @ 11:03 am

I thought I’d update this VPS from Ubuntu 20.04.5 LTS to Ubuntu 22.04.1 LTS. I ran do-release-upgrade which gave all the appropriate warnings and stuff, and proceeded to upgrade. This VPS is hosted on Linode, so there’s a local Ubuntu mirror — the download is blindingly fast.

The do-release-upgrade process appears to run in a Unix screen window. Unfortunately, that interacted poorly with the terminal I was using, so any time I moved my mouse, it spewed control characters as input. That was bad when it was prompting … something? … probably about my nonstandard sshd configuration.

Anyway, Linode provides a web-based console access, so I was eventually able to fix the broken sshd, PHP, and Apache configurations. Only about two hours of downtime. Not bad for New Year’s Day.

Fri, 9 Dec 2022


— SjG @ 4:01 pm

Like many others, I’ve been playing around with ChatGPT, the OpenAI chatbot. It’s really good at certain things. It does make some weird mistakes in highly technical things, and it has weird contradictions (e.g., when I ask it “when is Hanukkah?” it gives me the Hebrew date and the Gregorian date for this year. When I ask it “what year is it?” the response is that it doesn’t have that kind of contextual information.)

Here’s a sample conversation:

Me: how do spiders know how dense to make their webs?

ChatGPT: Spiders have a natural instinct to spin webs of a certain density, based on their species and the environment they live in. For example, some species of spiders live in dense forests, where their webs need to be strong and sturdy to catch prey. Other species live in more open areas, where their webs can be less dense and still be effective at catching prey. Over time, spiders have evolved to spin webs of the optimal density for their specific habitat and hunting needs.

Me: are spiders conscious of the density they need to weave?

ChatGPT: It is unlikely that spiders are consciously aware of the density they need to weave into their webs. Spiders have a natural instinct to spin webs of a certain density based on their species and environment, and this behavior is likely controlled by their brains and nervous system. However, this does not necessarily mean that spiders are consciously aware of the density of their webs in the same way that humans are aware of their own thoughts and actions.

Me: why do you think spiders are not consciously aware?

ChatGPT: As a large language model trained by OpenAI, I don’t have the ability to know the inner workings of a spider’s mind or consciousness. It is impossible for me to know for certain whether or not spiders are consciously aware of the density of their webs. However, it is generally believed that insects and other arthropods do not have the same level of consciousness as humans and other mammals. This is because their brains are much simpler and less developed than the brains of mammals, and they are not capable of experiencing the same range of thoughts and emotions. While spiders are able to perform complex behaviors, such as spinning webs, it is unlikely that they do so with the same level of consciousness as humans.

Me: how would you test for consciousness?

ChatGPT: There is no definitive way to test for consciousness in any organism, including humans. Consciousness is a complex and poorly understood phenomenon, and scientists and philosophers have been debating its nature for centuries. In general, consciousness is thought to involve an awareness of one’s own thoughts and surroundings, as well as the ability to experience and respond to stimuli in the environment.

Me: there are crows in my tree that seem to like to play and they recognize me.

ChatGPT: Crows are highly intelligent birds, and they are known for their ability to learn, adapt, and solve problems. It is not surprising that the crows in your tree recognize you and appear to enjoy playing. Crows are social animals, and they are known to form strong bonds with other members of their group, including other crows and even humans. It is possible that the crows in your tree see you as a part of their group and enjoy interacting with you. If you would like to encourage the crows to continue visiting your tree, you could try offering them food, such as seeds or nuts, to attract them. You could also try to engage with them by making noises or gestures to get their attention. Just be sure to approach them carefully and respect their space, as crows can be protective of their territory.

Me: the crows seem a lot more conscious than some people I interact with.

ChatGPT: It is difficult to compare the level of consciousness between different species, as consciousness is a complex and poorly understood phenomenon. However, it is generally believed that crows, as well as other birds and mammals, have a certain level of consciousness that allows them to be aware of their surroundings and experience thoughts and emotions. It is also possible that the crows you are observing are exhibiting behaviors that suggest a high level of intelligence and problem-solving ability, which may appear to be similar to consciousness in humans. However, it is important to remember that the level of consciousness in any species is difficult to determine and can vary among individuals.

Me: a crow learns to speak english. tell me a story of what happens next.

ChatGPT: One day, a crow in a small town in the United States learns to speak English. At first, the other crows in the town are amazed and curious about this new development. They gather around the speaking crow to listen to it, and some even try to mimic its sounds. The speaking crow becomes somewhat of a local celebrity, and people in the town start to take notice.

As word of the speaking crow spreads, people from all over the country come to see it. Some bring gifts and treats for the crow, while others try to communicate with it. The crow becomes the star attraction at the local park, where people come to see it and listen to it speak.

Over time, the speaking crow becomes more and more confident in its ability to communicate with humans. It starts to learn more words and phrases, and it even starts to hold short conversations with people. The crow becomes so good at speaking English that it is featured on the local news, and people from all over the world start to take notice.

Eventually, the speaking crow becomes a global sensation, with people from all corners of the world coming to see it and listen to it speak. The crow becomes a symbol of the intelligence and adaptability of birds, and it inspires other crows and birds to try to learn to speak as well. The speaking crow becomes a beloved and iconic figure, remembered for its ability to bridge the gap between humans and animals.

(“Conversation” from 9 December 2022 on the OpenAI ChatGPT beta chat system)

Mon, 5 Dec 2022

Cloudy Thoughts

— SjG @ 4:23 pm

In another life, I would have been a nephologist (or more general meteorologist). I have always found clouds, fogs, and mists fascinating.

Cirrus clouds

When I go walking, I tend to look at the sky and wonder exactly what’s going on up there. Are the boundaries of the clouds I’m seeing some threshold of a gradient of temperature, pressure, or moisture content? Why are the patterns the way they are?

One can often see distinct wave action in the atmosphere, but sometimes there will be high-frequency patterns that collide in unexpected ways. There may be different conditions at different altitudes, but in some cases the patterns seem to be at the same altitude.

At least three patterns; two at the same apparent height

There are also interesting effects when one layer of clouds (or a contrail) casts distinct shadows on another layer of clouds.

Contrail shadow

Some cloud patterns look a lot like convection in reverse.

Upside-down sunset convection

And then there are mysterious places where the conditions just change. For example, the contrail in the picture below. Does it end at some kind of invisible thermocline?

Encyclopedia Brown and the case of the Vanishing Contrail

There are a lot of resources for cloud classification and identification online, but I haven’t found as much about the whys of the structure. Some types of cloud structures make intuitive sense. Cumulus clouds sort of look like what you’d imagine a rising bubble of wetter air would. The ripple patterns you sometimes see in altocumulus clouds look like wave action. The elongated wispy patterns of cirrus clouds make some sense if you imagine the wind stretching out a mass of cloud. But why would there be the filaments? The guides I’ve found online just take it for granted. Similarly, the globular altocumulus structure is regarded as a matter of definition.

What’s going on in there?

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Wed, 30 Nov 2022


— SjG @ 3:00 pm

My go-to vector illustration product, Affinity Designer, recently released version 2 to much hype. I’ve been having fun creating geometric knot-work doodles with it in the evenings when I’m too tired to read or do productive work.

I’m contemplating creating some video tutorials on some of the techniques. I don’t know how much interest there is in the world for that, but there’s only one way to find out!

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Sun, 6 Nov 2022

Daylight Savings / Standard Time

— SjG @ 8:13 pm

We’re all sick of switching the clocks. We’re all tired of the argument over whether it’s better to wake up or go home in the dark during the winter months. I propose we chuck it all. Instead, we can each declare our own time zone.

For me, 6:45AM will be defined as the moment the sun rises. All my clocks will be calibrated on that basis.

You can declare your own time zone. You could choose to be UTC minus 7 hours, say. So how would we ever agree on a time to do anything?

Naturally, technology comes to the rescue as it does in all possible things. Each personal time zone will have associated with it a 64-bit number; the first 32 bits will map to the algorithm in use (sunrise/set, offset of UTC, etc.), and the second 32 bits will be data (e.g., coordinates and minutes after sunrise or hours offset). When scheduling with another person, one will merely say something like “let’s meet at 9AM 62c8179014da91e0042e74adc5e21485808faa6c” to which they’ll reply “oh, ok, that’s around 7:45AM 06d7c6a02a43c7d42dc67ac53874228209a349dc for me.”

Naturally, all of our phones, virtual assistants, and other devices will implement one version or another of this system. I can already foresee that the NIST standard will be implemented with proprietary extensions by Apple, and Android devices will support NIST standard 1.5 in a non-backwards-compatible way. Microsoft, of course, will license the Apple extensions, but only support about 30% of them.

Because of the beautiful and elegant simplicity of this system, programmers will no longer be driven to drink by the idea of time zones or daylight savings time. Instead, they will rejoice, download the libraries from GitHub, and everything will fall apart splendidly.

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