November 04, 2018

Making Pickles

As promised on my popular YouTube channel, here is a recipe for "Polskie Ogorki" or Polish Pickles.

Here is exactly what you need:

  • 1L water

  • 2 tablespoons of gross grain salt

  • 6 mini cucumbers

  • 6 cloves of garlic

  • 6 branches of dill

  • 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds

  • pickle jar

And here is how you make them:

  1. Boil the water with the salt mixed in.

  2. When boiled, let the water cool down to fridge temperature.

  3. Rub the inside of the jar with a clove of garlic.

  4. Peel and drop all the garlic into the jar.

  5. Put the pickles in so that they are snug.

  6. Put the dill in between the pickles.

  7. Pour in the water.

    If there is too much water, spoon some out of the jar until you can get the last bit from the bottom of the pot.

  8. Close the jar. Set aside at room temperature for three days.

  9. Enjoy!

May 20, 2018

On rap lyrics

Rap has this thing, where if it does it right it’s like a whale-hunting harpoon, with this grappling hook in it, shot into your brain, with this metal cable on it, and the cable wrenches back and tightens, the cable goes taut, and then this giant hand strums that cable.

That grappling hook has four claws. A good rhyme in rap isn’t just a good rhyme; it does four things at once in a way that your brain can’t believe it.

The four things are: The rhyme, the theme, the synecdoche and the—I’m going to make up a word here—the topical. Hearing those four things simultaneously is a really good feeling for your brain. Good rap is a really good feeling for your brain. Here then, for the first time ever (you won’t find “four things in rap” on Google; this is not the four pillars of hip-hop), here are those four things.

The rhyme is the first thing. Rhyme feels good. The rap rhyme should be what’s known as a perfect rhyme. A lot of rappers use imperfect rhyme, but when they’re doing it well, it is absolutely clear why they are sacrificing perfection, so clear that you can hear the perfection implicit to the rhyme. Sacrificing perfection so you can hear the implied perfection is what I would call flaunting.

The rhyme scheme is AA on each pair of lines. In poetry, a pair of lines is called a couplet. In theory we could say that rappers rhyme in couplets, but that sounds dumb. It sounds like MCs are wearing stockings and doublets.

That’s what they’re doing while I’m rhyming Shakespearean couplets.

MCs are shivering outside wearing diamond-patterned stockings and doublets.

[I just made that up]

Second is the theme. The rap lyric itself has a theme, same or different from the theme of the song. But more specific than the song; the theme of the lyric is to the theme of the song like a sentence is to a blog post. Both lines in the lyric follow the theme.

Don’t flaunt this rule. Unless you’re a genius I haven’t heard of yet. If you change themes when going from line one to line two, you ... sound crap. Here is a line that I once read on a ecologically-themed poster made by an unknown schoolmate of mine, who was probably in grade six. I don’t know the person that made the poster, but I found the quality of the rhyme on the poster so poor that I have kept it to myself for upwards of 30 years. I always felt that it was unfair to insult this anonymous person behind their back, given that the abominable poorness of the rhyme must have been painful enough to bear by its author.

I reveal it to you now.

The couplet complained about people not picking up garbage. It was not part of a rap, but a poem that accompanied a drawing on the poster. The drawing showed a gentleman’s shoulders and mohawked head sticking out the top of a garbage can.

The couplet went:

On the ground is all the junk,

Not in the garbage can with a punk.

[Grade six poster circa 1988]

The couplet fairly steadily uses a classic trochaic tetrameter. It has a clear, perfect rhyme, and it totals 15 words. Up until the 12th word it maintains a single theme, before veering off into completely alien territory on the last three. Obviously, the author was so concerned with the perfect rhyme that he or she entirely sacrificed the theme.

Good rap doesn’t do this. To maintain the theme while keeping perfect rhyme the poem should have used a word that rhymes with “junk” but that also belongs to the domain of junk. This is far from impossible. “Gunk, funk and bunk” come to mind, but even “trunk” and “punk” could stay in the domain with the kind of clever wordplay that is entirely absent from the example above.

Good rap hits perfect rhyme while maintaining a single solid, unified theme.

Third: the synecdoche. I did say “synecdoche” before, and synecdoche means “the part for the whole.” But what I really mean is “simile.” A simile is just one word or phrase that sounds like another. It’s just that synecdoche sounds way cooler to say than simile. And since a synecdoche is a kind of simile, I just used synecdoche as a synecdoche for simile.

Whenever you manage to do things like this with words, like using synecdoches as synecdoches for similes, if you are a rapper, you can go ahead and work that into your lyrics.

Sucker MCs, I use synecdoche as a synecdoche for simile.

You’re still sucking on similac from baby bottles.

[I just made that up]

Line one presents the theme directly. Line two repeats the theme with a simile. Or a synecdoche.

The point is, the second line says in a funny way what the first line says. In my example above, I have done that, because the theme is that the putative narrator has a high level of learning (knows what “synecdoche” means). Comparatively, the narrator’s competitors are of a low level of learning, in the same way that babies who drink from bottles are. The example maintains the theme of level of learning throughout the two lines of the couplet.

However, you may have noticed that although I maintained the theme (criterion 2) and used a simile (criterion 3), I sacrificed the rhyme (criterion 1). The reason that I did that is because I am not an awesome rapper. Rapping is hard.

This is one of the things I want to get across here: rapping is hard. We have only listed three of the four criteria that makes a rap lyric awesome, and already while trying to write rap lyrics I’m dropping over 33% of the requirements.

When I drop a requirement, your brain goes “Oh, that grappling hook didn’t stick into me that good.” It’s too bad, because I almost got something with simile—similac, but then I didn’t. The grappling hook slipped. If I had found a rhyme, your brain would have been getting into that state where it would be starting to bop its head and going “Ok, this is getting good. Gimmie more lyrics and let’s see if this is good.”

Your brain would really be doing that, and that’s what I’m trying to get to here. I’m trying to get to what rap does to your brain.

Fourth: I made up a word for this and I called it the topical.

We basically get to the moment where, every time in my life I have sat down to write these four things about what makes rap awesome, I don’t remember the fourth part.

Every time I hear a rap song, at least a good one where I go “Oh damn that’s a good line,” I go and analyze it in my head and I think of four awesome things that are all coming together in that one rhyme, and I always think oh man I need to write down the four things I just analyzed out of that rhyme before I forget them. And seriously it’s been like 20 years that I’ve been promising myself that I will do this.

And here I am now finally going and writing it down and I’m at the part where I forget the fourth thing. And ... my first time writing this post, I actually did forget the fourth thing. Sad face.

Initially I was going to give up and write this post as if my theory went that rap lyrics have three parts. I was really going to do that. Lame face. Because they don’t just do three things. They do four things. It would have been so lame to change my theory just because I couldn’t remember a piece of it.

But then I remembered it. Ha ha face!

Here’s a good verse that demonstrates the first three parts. I’m interested in lines three and four:

[Ladies] Now we’re gonna break this thing down in just a few seconds.

Now don’t let me break this thing down for nothing.

I want to see y’all on your baddest behavior.

Lend me some sugar. I am your neighbor.

[André 3000, Hey Ya! by OutKast]

We’re at three claws here.

One: strong rhyme on neighbor with behavior. Ok, the final rhyme is not perfect but it extends to two syllables. It’s a strong rhyme, not obvious.

Two: the theme is a request to the ladies to dance in a bad, bad, provocative way. Get provocative, ladies. Let your ladyparts get provocative. Make it sweet. Put some sugar in it. So far, from “I want” to “sugar” we’re spanning line one and two with one message.

Then three: BOOM I am your neighbor. Your brain doesn’t “get” this immediately. The synapses for “dancing provocatively” and “neighbor” are not next to each other. They are in different parts of the brain. The synapse for dancing provocatively and the one for sugar: ok, there’s a link. But neighbor? ... ohhh shit check it out: neighbors lend each other sugar! That’s a different type of sugar from the sugar I get from a lady dancing for me, but they’re both sugar! Different synapses but with the same name. Ok brain accepts the connection and promises to draw wires between them. Your brain likes drawing wires, trust me.

We’re at THIRD BASE, André.

Here’s some more examples.

Keith Murray, the holder of the boulder.

Lyrical analyst, mental roller coaster flow-er.

Money folder. Track blower. MC overthrower.

I flow with you two at a time, like Noah.

[Keith Murray, K.I.M by EPMD]

Look at the last two lines: Keith Murray with a triple. No seriously, “I flow two at a time, like Noah.” The theme is the oft-recurring and absolutely justified hip-hop theme of the quality of his flow. The rhyme is perfect, and repeats internally and externally like 80 times. And the simile is so good, while rhyming, that it’s ... a mind blower.

... La di da di, who likes to party?

Like Slick Rick the ruler I’m cooler than an ice brick.

Got soul like those Afro picks. With the black fist.

And leave the crowd drippin like John the Baptist.

[Black Thought, Mellow My Man by The Roots]

"Leave the crowd drippin like John the Baptist." Christ, that's good.

I play my enemies like a game of chess

Where I rest, no stress, if you don't smoke sess

Lest I must confess, my destiny's manifest

In some Goretex and sweats

I make treks like I'm homeless

Rap orgies with Porgy and Bess

Capture your bounty, like Elliot Ness, yes

Bless you if you represent the Fu

But I'll hex you with some witch's brew if you're doo-doo

Voodoo; I can do what you do, easy

Believe me, fronting n----s give me the heebie-jeebies

So while you're imitating Al Capone

I'll be Nina Simone, and defecating on your microphone

[Lauryn Hill, Ready or Not by The Fugees]

So what is the topical? If you have made it all the way to third base, with the perfect rhyme, the theme still making sense and the brain-twist synecdoche, if you also rap a thing that people are talking about right now at the moment your rap meets their heads, then you have hit a homerun.

You do not understand how amazing it feels when a rapper gets all three conditions above AND also uses a thing that you just heard of for the first time two days ago. So your brain really has to think: “Oh, what’s that thing again? Oh yeah, it’s that thing that just happened.” And also it has to do that sugar—sugar rewiring where it also has to go “Wait, why is that thing like this thing? Oh, right because it’s a different way of saying that thing.” I mean, your brain is going “Oh yeah” a lot, just in a microsecond, and the rapper is already rhyming other lines.

If you’re a rapper, and it’s October 1st, 2017—I just picked that date randomly, and unfortunately it’s the day a gunman snipered a bunch of concert-goers in Las Vegas—if you’re a rapper, and it’s a few days after, you could rhyme his name with something. Not everybody knew the gunman’s name a few days after he did it. To be good, you should not be obvious, so that when you hear the rap, it takes your brain longer to “get” it than it takes to get to the next line.

And... I'm implying this, but I should be clear: if you're releasing a track on Spotify, then when you rap, you actually have to count how long it takes to get your thing recording, mixed and published in your calculation of if your lyrics are topical, so that it's topical the moment it's out. You realize how amazing that is, right?

Note to self: the four facets above map to four of Northrop Frye’s principles from the Anatomy of Criticism, a theory that once clawed a grappling hook into my brain and refuses to let go. His theory outlines five levels that you can use to analyze a piece of literature, from “lowest” to highest: literal, descriptive, thematic, analogous and anagogic. Rhyme is a low-level literate device like punctuation and spelling. Theme is one level above: it’s what’s meant by the words; same as Frye’s theme. "Synecdoche" is like Frye’s analogy: there can be multiple meanings, where all the meanings are part of the fiction. And anagogy means linking the fiction to reality. The “topical” level of rap does that. So no wonder that rap sounds awesome: it compresses every fucking literary technique ever into two freestyled lines.

So now what we need is an example of those four things. How can I get you one?

I can’t.

Tried it for a bit but it’s been too long since I’ve listened to new rap and so whatever I found would miss the anagogic. You don’t want my twenty-yr-old examples!

But that’s ok, this is not a book. It’s the web! I have stated my proposition, outlined my hypothesis, and now I open it up for comments to find examples and counterexamples to the premise. Rap is the biggest repository of rhyme in history, and beyond the often minimal music of hip-hop, it headlines the most fundamental linguistic techniques out there, on the spot and without warning. So you can’t enjoy it in an elevator. You have to listen to it.

The “four things of rap” are not “hip-hop’s four elements” to be clear. Hip-hop is a culture of which music is one element. Rap is the main way to make the vocal part of hip-hop music. No one has ever analyzed the anatomy of a rap lyric in a fundamental way that sets it apart from all other rhyme styles, and from other poetry and text. That is why I’m doing this. To start that off. To set up a framework where you can listen to rap and go “Ok, that’s that thing and this is this thing.” And it feels awesome when you listen to it.

You have to listen to it! So go do that.

March 02, 2018

Visual brain overlay

In a previous post, I talked about how we don’t understand the brain. We’ve built machines that mimic it, but these machines are opaque and don’t give us a view into how the brain works. Really understanding the brain is not building machines that can build the brain; it’s actually building the brain ourselves.
The first step in building a brain is building a brain-augmenting interface. What’s that? It’s hypothetical. Remember Google Glass? (Uh, no?) Google Glass projected stuff onto a screen that you had outside your eyes, and your eyes would then see more stuff than they would see without Google Glass. That’s a type of augmenting. But the augmenting is happening outside of your eye. It’s happening on the light that hits your eye. In terms of brain-augmenting technology, that’s the same as a flashlight. So when the light from the world + Google Glass hits your eye, your eye sees the world + Google Glass cookie recipes, and it transmits that stuff to the brain. A brain-augmenting interface would let the light from the world hit your eye normally, then augment the signal AFTER your eye transmitted it to the brain. If you could build that, it would be a brain-augmenting interface.
Have you thought about what it means to build this interface with a brain? Like in Terminator. When you see those red wireframe overlays on motorbikes, clothes, boots and underwear as Schwarzenegger passes his eyes over them? Think about what it would take to get those red overlays.
I started thinking about this, and despite the fact that I know nothing about even the terminology for the parts of the eye, even less about terminology for nerves, and very little about what you call parts of properties of light like photos or whatever, I realized that just by thinking logically, you can get really far into designing the system you’d need to have a visual brain-augmenting interface. A brain-augmenting interface behind the eye. Let’s think that through. Let’s design that system logically.
We want you to look at something with your eyes: say you look at a cement truck. We want you to fully see that cement truck very clearly. Whether you need glasses or not it doesn’t matter: we want the image that you get in your brain to be clear, like it is today if you have good eyesight or good glasses. And… we want you to see a red wireframe overlay on the tank part of the truck, with statistics running down the side in a tiny font analyzing capacity, speed of rotation, probable weight, et cetera. Let’s assume we have a phone that already did all the statistics and figured out coordinates to draw the right shape of the truck. What would it take for you to see that red overlay on the truck?
Here’s what it would take. We would need to cut the cable between your brain and your eye. Now that cable has two dangling ends: the eye end and the brain end. We would need to attach the dangling eye end to the input of a chip, let’s assume a chip we could comfortably embed in your skull. And we would need to attach the brain end of that cable to the output of that chip. So let’s assume this is all small and nicely hidden in your head. Bone is thick right so there’s plenty of room to hide this in there, right? (I’ve actually read it’s not thick at all, but we’re not really thinking through aesthetics today.) So we’ve got a chip intermediating in the “eye cable.”
What would that chip need to do? That chip would need to see what you see, add red wireframe overlays, and output exactly what you see plus the red wireframe overlays perfectly aligned over what you see.
We’re not finished yet, but if we had that, we could “easily” let you flip on and off your red wireframe overlays anytime, and you could still see perfectly clearly but with augmented stuff whenever you wanted. And notice: nobody would be able to know what you were looking at unless you decided to somehow hook up to a projector and show it to them. What I’m saying is that this would be a pretty perfect augmented vision system.
But to actually get that chip to do what it had to do, we would need two fundamental things: 1) we would need to perfectly decode the signal that your eyes send down that cable to your brain. To JPEG. And 2) we would need to perfectly encode the JPEG image that the chip produced (original image plus red wireframe overlay) in the same way that your eyes encoded images sent down to your brain. We need to decode to be able to modify the JPEG… and then we need to encode because by changing it, we’ve produced a new JPEG.
A JPEG would probably be a bad choice, by the way. It’s a euphemism.

Your eye on a TV

Fine. So we want to make a JPEG out of what your eye is pointing at. Before it hits your brain. What would we need to write a decoder for images coming from your eyes and going to the brain? Well, we would know that we had a decoder once we could attach a TV to that chip connected to your eye, and on that TV we could see a perfectly clear image of a cement truck.
The thing is that it couldn’t just be clear; it would have to be perfectly framed and aligned exactly the way you were seeing it. And: since we had disconnected the cable going from your eye to your brain: you wouldn’t be seeing it! We would have no reference point to compare the image we were decoding on the TV and the image you were seeing. Oops!
Just picture exactly the laboratory set-up here: There’s a girl sitting there with a bloody vein-tube pulled out of her head and attached to a metal box which is taped to some hospital IV drip rack so that it stays near her head, and there’s cables coming out of the other side of the metal box attached to a TV. The girl moves her eyes around, and when she does the image on the TV changes. But damn, it doesn’t look like a cement truck.
There are a bunch of programmers sitting on cheap swivel chairs with laptops, uploading code to the metal box, and each time they upload a new patch the image on the TV also changes, but while some blobs seem to solidify and some colors become more grey, only the programmers’ moms say that it’s looking more like a cement truck.
They keep trying. They keep trying because although it’s really really hard, the day that they actually do get an image of a cement truck on that TV screen, they will then hit the button with that 3¼" diskette icon on it and they will never have to do that work again. They will have themselves one smoking fresh algorithm for decoding the signal from that girl’s eye-cable. And maybe, just maybe, that algorithm, written in code that they can understand and debug and step through, might just have a chance of working on decoding other peoples’ eye-signals. If not, they rinse and repeat on a bunch of other people until they have something generic.

A picture for your brain

Now getting this image back into your brain is the “encoding” part.
Encoding would be similar. Given the image of the cement truck, we would need to create a signal that made the brain think it was seeing a cement truck. In this case the programmers can see the cement truck clearly. But what they don’t know is what the brain is seeing once they feed it their signal.
You could cheat. You have the cable coming out of the eye. Well, if you splice it off before it gets to the metal box, and re-attach it to the brain, then you can be sure (providing you connected all the bloody veins and nerves and synapses) that the brain is seeing what the eye is sending it. But that doesn’t help because that wouldn’t let you add the red wireframe Terminator overlays. You need to pass the image through the chip to do that.
So you could do this: You could take a new person—one that does not currently have any cable sticking out of their head—and once more snip the cable that is connecting their eye to their brain. Now that vein in the guy’s head has two bloody ends again: the eye end and the brain end. You let him look at a cement truck, and you record what is coming out of the eye end. It’s probably just electricity, so recording the strength and frequency of whatever pulses you detect should be possible. The recording has to have perfect precision of course.
If you were to then remove the cement truck, but play the recorded signal back into the brain end, the person should say “I see a cement truck.” Their brain should see exactly the image that they were looking at before you made the recording.
The only thing is: the guy didn’t see the cement truck while you were recording, because you had cut his eye cable. So the first time he sees the cement truck is when you play the recording. And thus there’s a problem: what if the original cement truck was yellow, but when you play the recording the guy says the cement truck is blue? Something is wrong with your recording. But there’s no way to know what.
Sure, there’s a way. You try changing every bit in every single combination and permutation of signals until you make the guy really see a yellow cement truck. But how do you know that his yellow cement truck is really the same size and proportion and shading and brand as the original cement truck? You don’t know because you don’t see what his brain is seeing.
We could compare your left eye to the right eye: they should be generating similar signals I guess. But what if they’re not? What if a tiny miniscule difference in the signal from the right eye results in static when projected from the left eye? What if it has to be perfect? We don’t know if we have a margin of error or not. Even though we know the brain can adapt over time to crappy signals, there would still be no point in augmenting perfect vision if the end result was worse than what we had started with.
And the recording, although it’s probably just electricity, is probably not as simple as checking what comes out of one cable. There are probably a thousand little veins all co-operating to send signals between the eye and the brain and the pulses they send are probably more or less important. Some might send colour information and other might send brightness or contrast information. Or they might send even more complex things like transformation information: maybe eyes know when they’re sending things in the center or edges of vision and they send signals to indicate the radius of each pixel. Or even more complicated: some signals might sent state information saying things like “Ok, now we’re going to tone the green of the entire image down 60% for all following colour signals until further notice.” There could be information for movement versus static images, too. All this could easily be encoded in electric pulses, and that means that your recording would not only have to have the perfect signal at any one moment, but it would have to be a series of perhaps millions of perfect signals for just one second of viewing. Our eyes are a permanent movie, after all, aren’t they?
So that’s a problem. There is no reference image. The output of your chip is an image in brain-code. It’s just a … pulse. Or a series of pulses. Your chip can produce a brain code, but you don’t know what a cement truck looks like in brain code. You have nothing to compare it to.
Hmm. What if you did something funny, though? What if you had spent tons of time on your decoder and you nailed it and you really had a perfect decoder (the end initially connected to the eye)? Well… if you really trusted your decoder you could then snip the cable coming out of the chip and going into your brain, and instead of the brain you connect it to a second decoder.
Right? Diagram.
The setup you want in the end is this:
eye –– vein –– decoder –– chip with red wireframe overlays –– encoder –– vein –– brain
But you could do this:
eye –– vein –– 1st decoder –– chip –– encoder –– 2nd decoder –– TV!
The 1st decoder and 2nd decoder are running the same code.
In that setup, you could project the image that you were making with the chip onto the TV! You would be able to see your cement truck and the red wireframe overlays on it.
If you did not see the image you were expecting in this setup, and you trusted your decoder, you would fiddle with the encoder only. But you really have to have a perfect decoder first.


Without knowing terminology for: eyes, optics, brains, veins, electricity or even cables, this is a basic logical run-through of the kind of laboratory you would need to build augmented brain-vision.
It also shows the difference between letting a machine learn how to program vision and understanding yourself how to program vision. Because although this laboratory depends on a perfect decoder, getting that perfect decoder to work is a huge trial-and-error effort.
The advantage is that once you have done the trial-and-error, you have code that you can debug and change and understand. You can rewrite it as simpler modules and write comments in it and release it on github. With code made by machine learning, you can’t do that. If a machine learns wrong, you have to start the learning all over again.
There’s still something nagging at me though: we have coded the decoder, but have we really understood our encoder? If we’ve set up our laboratory like this, then yes, we have, because we have manually programmed our encoder, also through trial-and-error, until we could—at will—send any image we wanted at all to the brain just by showing it on a computer. It’s just that programming this encoder, seeing as it depended on having programmed an absolutely perfect decoder, would be astronomically difficult. And yes, if we really did it, we would come out of it with an understanding of brain-code. At least the part for the eyes. We’d have to deal with the other senses later.
So who's in?