As of 7:10 pm EDT on Friday night (the time of this writing), it is apparent that John McCain has won the debate.  See the back story.


Paul Krugman…

“You’ve heard there are no atheists in foxholes.  There are no libertarians in financial crises, either.”

Three have died already.  This is yet another failure of unregulated markets.  Considering all the tainted pet food and lead-filled toys that caused a scare last year, maybe the Chinese are finally going to realize that they’ll have to regulate their products better.  You can’t just let the private sector “police itself.”

And the Dow has dropped another 250 points as of this writing.  The federal government has agreed to loan AIG $85 billion.  If AIG can’t recover and pay that back (plus interest), the fed gets 80% of the company.

When will the idealogues learn?  We’ve seen this before, in 1928 and 1987.  Those who won’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Obama on the financial crisis

“What we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed. And I am running for president of the United States because the dreams of the American people must not be endangered any more.

“It’s time for a government that is fighting for you — not ignoring you, or fighting against you.

“If you want to understand the difference between how Senator McCain and I would govern as president, you can start by taking a look at how we’ve responded to this crisis. Because Senator McCain’s approach was the same as the Bush Administration’s: support ideological policies that made the crisis more likely; do nothing as the crisis hits; and then scramble as the whole thing unravels. Now, my approach has been to try to prevent this turmoil from occurring in the first place.

“In February of 2006, I introduced legislation to stop mortgage transactions that promoted fraud, risk or abuse. A year later, before the crisis hit, I warned Secretary Paulson at the Treasury and Chairman Bernanke at the Fed about the risks of mounting foreclosures and urged them to bring together all the stakeholders to find solutions to the subprime mortgage meltdown. Senator McCain did nothing.

“This March, in the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout, I called for a new, 21st-century regulatory framework to restore accountability, transparency, and trust in our financial markets. Just a few weeks earlier, Senator McCain made it clear where he stands, [saying] ‘I’m always for less regulation,’ and referred to himself as ‘fundamentally a deregulator.’

“Now this is what happens when you confuse the free market with a free license to let special interests take whatever they can get, however they can get it.”

Actually, there is no confusion.  Any “free” market is a license for special interests and power brokers to take whatever they can get.  Freedom from regulation always makes that possible.

Approximating analog with digital

Future technological advances may allow us to instantiate high-resolution models of our mindbrains on machine substrate, or even create de novo persons.  Critics point out, quite rightly, that machines are digital while mindbrains are analog.  From this insight, they conclude that machines won’t be able to recreate the detailed processing of neural wetware.

However, the critics miss the fundamental fact that we can approximate analog processing with high resolution digital processing.  Nature already does it.

Genes are discrete (digital) while phenotypes are continuous (analog).  Continuous traits can be approximated with a large number of genes that each contribute a small amount to the outcome, or by one gene with a large number of alleles that each tweak the outcome by a small amount.  A continuous phenotype, such as the spectrum of adult human heights, is determined by a set of discrete genes.  Even if we controlled for all other influences on human height and looked at a single hypothetical gene that controls growth hormone output, we can see that, by implementing a large number of alleles, each one resulting in slightly more or less growth hormone output, a continuous spectrum can be approximated.   If adult human height ranges over, say, one meter, and our gene has 1000 alleles, than we can specify height with millimeter precision.  If our gene has a million alleles, than we can specify height with micrometer precision, and so on.  (Of course, in reality, genes merely produce organisms whose traits are differentially influenced by environment, and environmental influence is analog.)

The brain is actually analog and digital.  Synaptic firing is digital, and synaptic organization allows for signal processing through logical operations much the same way that transistors do.  But the events that aggregate to induce synapse firing are continuously additive or subtractive.  They are analog.  This is what the critics are talking about.

If approximating analog events is possible with digital events, then we only need to achieve a sufficently high resolution digital model of pre-synaptic events to produce accurate models of neural processing at any arbitrary level of organization.  Nothing makes this physically impossible.  It’s all a matter of having the technology and money to do it.

Putting things in perspective

“If climate change is a hoax, it’s the greatest hoax ever perpetrated, because everything we do to respond will make us more efficient, more productive, more entrepreneurial, more competitive, [and] more respected [in the world].”

— David Friedman, author of The World is Flat, and Hot, Flat and Crowded.

Google Chrome running on Linux

So, Google released it’s web browser, Chrome, to much fanfare last week.  Right now, only a Windows version is available, but the WINE developers worked quickly to release a patch that allows Linux users to run Chrome.  Here’s the proof:

The directions are available from Ubuntu Geek.

I already used Chrome on my Windows XP computer at work.  It’s ok.  Nothing spectacular.  Sure, it isolates tabs as separate processes so it won’t crash completely, but how often does Firefox crash?  For me, extremely rarely.  It’s also supposed to be faster, but we’re talking about shaving milliseconds off rendering time.  If you are a human being, you won’t notice the difference.  All of the major browsers render in a reasonably timely manner, as far as I can tell.  Chrome also, at this point, doesn’t have extensions that my web browsing experience depends on: Adblock Plus, Element Hiding Helper, Better Gmail 2, etc.

I think I’ll stick with Firefox for now.

Also, the release of Google Chrome has sparked a lot of discussion and debate on Ubuntu Forums.  Imagine what the reaction would be if they ever released a much-mythologized operating system?