Saturday, January 30, 2010


As opposed to last semester, this semester involves only a minor amount of psychology, which is comparable only to The Bible in its classification as good news.

Post-Cognitivist Seminar:

Basically everything in cognitive science that the psychologists don't want to talk about.  Big themes include embodiment, joint action, affordance, subjective experience, enaction, ecological psychology, and blogs.  This one's lead by our trusty course director Fred.  I get the vague impression that most academics over 50 would scoff at the endeavor, while more of the ones under 40 might be in the "oh neat" group.  We impressionable students, however, have agreed on a collective "huh?"  Oh yeah, grades?  Nope.  If we blog we pass...not a joke.  I'll cross-post my musings here so expect some seriously smart stuff.

Connectionism and Dynamical Systems:

Also taught by Fred, but this time less out of left-field more on the math.  For those in the know, connectionism is the greater community of neural network models.  They can model tons of stuff, very well, very magically, very obtusely.  Some people have philosophical problems with the approach, but most of them don't know are stuck in the 50's.  Connectionist models are notably more neurally plausible than traditional, programmatic models, but very quickly leave the idea of a neuron behind.  Allegedly we needn't know how to progam...but I'm planning on changing that.  We're beginning using this software package:  (Unzip and run the .jar.  If you can't do that, install java and try again.)  It was partly modified by Fred himself and, according to him, is one very few pedagogically useful connectionist simulators.  There's a web-applet version too, though Fred wasn't if it would work from off-campus.

Cognitive Modeling:

This is the more technical follow-up to first-semester's Cognitive Psychology, taught by my research advisor's old buddy, Fintan.  The big project is this: we're given a spreadsheet of data from an experiment and we need to come with a model that predicts the results.  Everyone gets the same data, so we get to critique eachother's models.  I plan on describing mine as "ground-breaking", "breath-taking", if not downright "awe-inspiring."

Philosophy of Mind:

I'm the only one in our class that's excited for this one.  It's taught by a few different professors in the giant philosophy department.  Topics including dualism, embodiment, science, souls, language, consciousness, minutia, and dementia.  The format: read, talk, read, talk, write.

For the curious: last semester went fine.  My GPA was .3 points higher than my graduating GPA for undergrad.  This means that I am 7.5% smarter than I used to be.  In a classic ecopsychological critique, however, it may mean that UCD is 7.5% dumber than PLU.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Introducing the Emerald Shadow

Here's my new bicycle:

Recall the bush bike's original form:

The whole process was longer than expected...mostly due to stripping and painting.  Some things to note:
- The chrome fork.  I couldn't use the stock fork with "industry standard" 700c wheels because even "extra long reach" caliper brakes wouldn't reach the rim.  This was a bummer because I spent upwards of two hours filing the axle eyelets to fit a modern axle.  Oh well.  The chrome one looks nice and was inexpensive.
- The chain.  Another unforeseen bummer.  The chain I ordered online wasn't long enough.  Yeesh.  And because my local bike shop only carries half-link chains I had to get one of those.  It's funny looking, but reportedly stronger.  We'll see.
- Only one brake, and no, it's not a fixed gear, just a single speed.  A rear brake won't work for the same reason the stock fork wouldn't work.  Now I've read, heard, and had explained to me by a physics professor, that the majority of braking is done by your front brakes.  So that's fine.  And I've never gone over the handle-bars either, which Lord Sheldon says rarely happens.  So I'm thinking we're ok.  We'll see.
- The brake lever.  It's one these cross-style "interrupters" which are great, small, torquefull, and versatile, but they don't give you the hood-of-the-brake riding position for drop handle-bars.  Thus, I'm reduced to the tight / upright or low / back-pain-inducing positions.  We'll see.
- The paint isn't quite as shiny or tough as I'd hoped.  Oh well.
- The frame provide less rake than I'm used to.  Means we're less stable, but "better" at if that's ever a problem.  But it also means that the front wheel bumps my toes sometimes.  Oh well.

Overall, I'm very happy with it.  The gearing is a bit higher than my previous bike which means I work harder and go faster...which aligns perfectly with my life-theme...  It's wonderfully smooth, startlingly silent, and as comfortable as I'd expected.  For those interested, here's the inventory:

Frame: 1978 Raleigh Tourist (SL-1?), lugged steel
Fork: BBB chromed steel
Handle-bars: Nitto's smallest track drops
Wheels: Sun CR18 36-spoke
Hubs: Origin track flip-flops
Crank-set: Sugino 67.5m w/ 46-tooth chain-ring
Pedals: MKS urban track
Free-cog: Shimano 16-tooth
Brake Caliper: Cane Creek SCR-3
Brake Lever: Cane Creek Crosstop
Stem: BBB's cheap MTB version
"Seat": WTB speed
Seat-post: some BMX thing
Chain: BBB half-link BMX chain
"Tyres": 700x25 Continental Gatorskin Ultras

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How-to: Paint a Bike

First off: I have never painted a bike before.
Second off: I'm not restoring anything but function--I'm just painting it.

What you need:

A Bike: Namely a 78' Raleigh Tourist.
Paint stripper.  I'm using the not drip, gel stuff.  Allegedly easier, better, and smellier.
Filler primer: Spray on primer that claims to fill cracks.  My local bike-shop said this stuff is important and hard to screw up.
Primer: Sticks to the filler under-coat, and the paint over-coat.
Paint: I think automotive spray-paint is the way to go, but I've heard other hilarious ideas like "grill paint", and "aviation paint".  I'm going with a dark(er?) green.
Gloss coat: Actually important if you're worried about chips (and you should be) or water sticking to it (and you should be).  It'll look prettier, which isn't always good, but it's nonetheless important.
Sand-paper, wire-brush (big and small), and a paint brush.

1) Take off everything that can be taken off of the frame.  This includes the veritable bottom bracket and the infamous head-set, in addition to the brakes, stem, seat-post, "derailer", etc...

2) Strip that sucker.  I used some gel stuff and a paint brush.  It was messy and smelly, and took three tries to get 95% of the paint off.  One more try might have helped, but I wasn't really in the mood.

3) Filler primer: Now that you've stripped the dirt, rust, paint, and the inner lining of your lungs, you're ready to spray.  Just spray the filler-primer on like spray paint.  Once it's fully dried, sand it down with low-grit sand-paper.  Watch out, I realized after spraying this stuff, that the entire room get a bit of yellow dust on it, which was easily wiped up with a towel.

4) Primer.  Same idea, but you don't have to sand it down afterward.  I'm going for two coats.  Let them dry before applying subsequent coats.

5) Paint.  Same as primer, but this time be careful to be even.  I used just one coat, per the instructions on the paint can.

6) Gloss: One coat worked for me.  And like in all things: be liberal.  Interestingly, this dulled the paint a little bit.  Oh well.

7) Don't touch it, take it outside, or even assemble the bike much less ride it: you might scratch the paint.




Filler Primer:



Coated (complete):

As you can see, it turned out pretty well.  There are a few, unpictured, glitches like the the underneath the bottom bracket, and the underside of one of the seat stays.  But overall, I'm very happy.  Anyone really interested, I used Range Rover's "Highland Green."  It's darker than the pictures make it look, but nonetheless pretty.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Book Reviews

Sorry for the hiatus.  First it was classes, then exams, then not exams, then painting a bike (pictures soon), and now this: book reviews.

1) The Jungle, by Comrade Sinclair: 1.5 / 5

Ok, I abhorred Ayn Rand's Fountainhead because it just a giant capitalist bowling pin wielded to inflict the blunt force trauma of "objectivism."  Likewise, The Jungle was a socialist two-by-four inducing a particularly vegetarian head-wound.  What I liked was the sense that Sinclair was reporting on injustice, which is exactly what he was doing.  What I didn't like was that the character was lifeless, alone (not lonely), and blended in seamlessly with the unbelievable predictability of the repressed proletariat.  Protagonist Jurgis does nothing but suffer, which would be fine, were it not happening in a vacuum--and not a literary vacuum of oppression-by-Adam-Smith--just a vacuum of mediocre writing.  What gets me a plot-line soap-box is why in the world Jurgis didn't continue to be a hobo!  My guess is that Upton needed to present a valiant, duty-bound person before they become a socialist champion.  Cheap trick Sinclair, but I suppose about half us vegetarians owe it in part to you.

2) Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett: 3.5 / 5

Despite the lie of a title, Dennett has a gift for academic synergy.  He begins by laying out a "heterophenomenological" framework of anti-cartesian cognitive introspection.  What does that mean?  Well, that's what the book is about.  The big deal: Cartesian duality (mind vs. body) is false.  Thus, the Cartesian theatre (the one in our head where we unconsciously direct what we become conscious of) is also false.  Instead, Dennett gives us his reputed theory of Multiple Drafts where our consciousness is our ability (or rather, our inability to refrain from) abstracting sensori-motor input into iterative categories which we simultaneously recall, update, and project onto our experienced lives.  What struck me interesting were the similarities between a) massively parallel connectionist architectures (neural networks), and b) Douglas Hofstadter's theory of Strange Loops.  Surprisingly, Dennett's model is neurally plausible (ie. it "maps" well to known functions of the brain.)  Also, it's surprisingly respectful of deep philosophical debates like subjective experience, other minds, and free will.  What's lacking, in the book at least, is an evolutionary picture.  I thought it deserved a couple chapters about how assuming purposeful design of the brain is what lead to the Cartesian problems in the first place.  Dennett, good friends with High Priest Dawkins, seems altogether shy about evolution's lack of intent, which potentially makes consciousness a side effect of otherwise naturally selected, useful brain-functions.  Ground rule double invoked for lack of trying...otherwise could have been a home-run.

3) Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro: 2.5 / 5

Ishiguro, author of Remains of the Day and one of my personal favorites, Never Let me Go, has a new book, Nocturnes.  It's a set of five, loosely interwoven short stories about musicians and sunset.  Wonderful prose.  Great scenery.  Plot-lines were dry and the characters were unfortunately boring.  A couple cheap tricks (like reconstructive surgery, fame, fortune, and communism) adorn the five stories, but they end were they start: nowhere interesting.  Ishiguro has what I've found to be an unrivaled style of clarity that let's his characters live in our minds, but Nocturnes doesn't live up to past efforts.  My prescription is for Ishi to stay far away from short-stories: the long ones let the characters be characters, the short ones just feel a little cheap.  Well worth the time, especially for fans of earlier work, but I got the feeling Kaz was fulfilling a contract more than writing a book.