Anna Koop

April 15, 2011

The Experiencing self vs the Remembering self

Filed under: Research

Just watched a brilliant Ted talk by Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory.

The upshot: there’s a difference between your experiences and your memory of your experience. So much most people know already. But it has ramifications far broader than we realized. Your experience determines your transient happiness or well-being. The story you tell yourself determines your long-term satisfaction. Probably this relates to Seligman’s distinctions in kinds of happiness: the pleasant, engaged, and meaningful life.

He has a simple example in the talk: colonoscopies. Used to be quite painful. Patient A had a quick one that ended on a high-pain note. Patient B had the same high-pain but the treatment went on longer, ending in middling pain. Guess who had a better memory? Patient B. Because the ending is the part that sticks with you. This matches Dan Ariely’s findings that pulling off a bandage slower is better. We remember intensity more than duration.

I’ve been toying lately with the idea that the conscious self (glances around quickly to see if Rich is watching) is more like the story, the construction or projection we make from our experience. This gets tricky to talk about because of course you assume I mean the conscious “I” when I use first or second person. Oh well.

In these terms: we have our sensorimotor experience and our mind makes of that what it will. Part of what our mind makes of our sensorimotor experience is the elaborate explanations for it, including ideas about chairs and tables and “I”. “I” am the remembering self, not the experiencing self. The experiencing self has a transient and dynamic existence. But it does inform the remembering self, of course. They’re just not mapped together exactly.

Something like “I think, therefore I am; my agency experiences, therefore it is.”

So who is the boss? Kahneman makes the point that the experiencing self makes a lot of sacrifices on behalf of the remembering self—three weeks of vacation for a few hours of memories spread over a lifetime? On the other hand, when we pursue pleasure over purpose we’ve flipped those priorities around. So probably the classic: It. Depends.

People probably don’t want to think of themselves as emergent. But being emergent doesn’t mean less real than being constructed directly. Nor less important.

April 4, 2011

The Problem of Knowledge and Data – an abstract draft

Filed under: Research

Iteration eleventybillion of my proposal draft. Comments of all kinds welcome. I think I need to support some of the statements therein and talk up some of the “why”s but I’m not sure how much is needed in the abstract (or if proposal really should have abstracts)

Update: proposal toned down in scope and claims, oddball definition of data disposed of, algorithm component added back (extending what work we have on empirical knowledge representation to identified areas of interest).

No abstract in the new version but I’ll post a summary soon.

The problem of how to represent general knowledge in artificial systems remains unsolved. There have been many different approaches to knowledge representation, but these approaches are difficult to compare. No universally satisfactory solution has been found.

For the first part of my thesis research, I aim to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a broad range of approaches to knowledge representation. I will use an inclusive definition of knowledge as the general, abstract, stable stuff of the mind. This allows me to consider a wide range of knowledge representation: from the logical knowledge bases of good old-fashioned AI to the models of control theorists and discriminative functions of supervised learning. An analysis of knowledge representation that takes such an inclusive stance is rare, as research generally focuses on the fine points of representational detail within a subfield.

I will be investigating the problem of knowledge and data: how the content of knowledge should be related to the data of sensorimotor experience. Existing analyses of knowledge representation frameworks focus on differences in structure and ignore differences in semantics: what the knowledge is meant to represent. I will be comparing knowledge that is concerned with representing objective reality, which is by far the dominant approach in artificial intelligence, to knowledge that is concerned with representing patterns in sensorimotor experience, a relative newcomer in AI.

I hypothesize that both of these approaches to the meaning of knowledge have distinct practical benefits. Knowledge about objective reality lends itself to general, abstract, and stable content, which I have given as definitive characteristics of knowledge. At the same time, knowledge about objective reality seems to require an external source of data for grounding and verification. Knowledge about empirical experience should have an easier task in grounding and verification, being about internally accessible data. However, constructing general, abstract and stable content from the ephemera of sensorimotor signals seems problematic.

Having completed the analysis and clearly identified the strengths and weaknesses of these two semantic approaches, I will propose developing an empirical representation that allows for the construction of general, abstract, and stable concepts. This will build on previous work in my Master’s thesis and provide a strong foundation for the emerging field of empirical knowledge representation.

March 21, 2011


Filed under: Personal

Fact 1. I have more interests and ideas than are possible to follow through on in a lifetime.

Fact 2. The more signs of those interests and ideas that I have scattered about on my computer and physical environment, the more often the “what if” and “I want to . . .” trains of thought are set off.

Conclusion: I should clean up before trying to work. And maybe try to keep the number of projects out and about down to a dull roar?

March 19, 2011

The Mythical Writer

Filed under: Personal

I have had impossibly high standards for writing, and I’m only just starting to realize this.

I love writing and have loved it for as long as I could do it. Yet for most of my years I would only count certain kinds of writing as Writing, the kind of Writing that makes you a Writer. Letters didn’t count. Journals definitely didn’t count, or only when they were written for some future grandchild to discover and use to explore a lost yesteryear. Notes on things I was learning didn’t count. When the internet came around, Usenet and then forum posts didn’t count. School assignments—certainly not. None of these were Writing. Doing these things with pleasure did not make me a writer, let alone a Writer.

Things I thought would count: poems, although I had an obligation not to inflict more bad poetry on the world. Stories, especially (only?) the eventually publishable kind—and these would require good ideas and excellent writing and well-formed thought and perfection in many other ways. Articles if they were written for publication—requiring good ideas and thorough research and reams of proposals. Blogging if you were very serious about it, building up a readership and posting daily with carefully edited and thoughtful articles on a specific topic—and what did I know? And did I want the pressure?

In grad school, I started to think more seriously about non-fiction writing as Writing, and that academic papers could maybe count, although a textbook would clearly be better. And anyway, I wasn’t a real paper-writer until I was first author and really owned the topic. And paper-writing isn’t real writing, because have you read the average academic paper? Clearly not written by a wordsmith. An academic paper is about getting the ideas and information across, not Writing. Thinking of it as Writing would just mean I was wasting time and energy that should be spent on Communication.

My Master’s thesis? Not real writing, because everybody has to do it.

So in spite of regularly spending a huge portion of my free (and work) time writing, I steadfastly refused to see it as Writing. This meant I must be either self-destructive or deluded—how could I think of myself as a lover of writing and call myself a writer when I didn’t write?

In retrospect, it’s pretty embarrassing that it’s only in the last year I’ve realized that I’ve been writing all along. It has always snuck in there one way or another.

So, Writer/writer and “real” writing be damned, the important thing is that I am writing. A lot. And I adore it.

March 11, 2011

Geeking out over meditation — SleepPhones and NatureSpace

Filed under: Personal

My birthday present from my sister Sarah came today last week: SleepPhone Headphones from ThinkGeek. They are everything I hoped for—comfy, not too warm, good sound without blocking too much noise (but you can always ramp up the white noise generator when you *want* to block noise). Perfect for sleeping while away at conferences and might even be good great for sleeping at home.

Okay, since my initial enthusiasm, they have only gotten better. The addition of the NatureSpace iPhone app and a bunch of their tracks—the best relaxation trick since podcasts (if not diaphragmatic breathing).

The thing about the NatureSpace tracks is that they use the stereo sound, not just to route sound to both the headphones, but to make it feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the thunderstorm, or relaxing in front of the campfire (realistic campfire sounds—no mean feat!), or lying on the grass in a mountain meadow.

I’ve been forcing people to listen to the tracks because they’re that awesome. I knew about NatureSpace before, but only having earbuds I couldn’t make it work. Some of the tracks sound fine on speakers, but right at your ears is much better. The addition of soft headphones, so you can lie on your side or leave them on for hours without your ears getting sore, is just fantastic.

I’m listening to thunder tracks and cheerful birdsongs while writing, and for relaxing the campfire, the lake at night (complete with loon call, of course) and the burbling creek (Moosejaw Creek is the proper bubbly one, the others are more of the river/waterfall variety, although awesome if that’s what you want to be imagining).

I must get Joel his own soft headphones, I think. He wasn’t thrilled about them for audiotracks or music, but for nature sounds he’s all over it. My sister has added them to her wishlist too.

I have to add—the headphones look incredibly dorky. So I’m sticking to my earbuds when out and about (also, I love the mike/button on the Apple earbuds). But at home they’re getting tonnes of use. Simple genius!

ETA: I contacted NatureSpace over a little issue (that turned out to be an Apple bug) and they got back to me immediately, with info on how to fix it. How great is that?

March 9, 2011

A pox on all your semantics!

Filed under: Research

I am working on the proposal, draft 0.97885, and have been stricken by the horrible conviction that a word I have been using rather extensively should not be used at all. It’s one of those perfectly good English words whose dictionary definition(s) mean more or less what I want it to, but the technical overlay I want is contraindicated by the technical overlay it has in other fields.

In other words:
I do not think it means what you think it means
However, I think it might be very much like grounding in that nobody thinks it means what they think it means, i.e.: it’s used in many different ways.

This is not something I should be worrying about right now. I should be worrying about getting to draft 1.0.

March 2, 2011

…whose margin fades forever and forever when I move

Filed under: Research

That untravel’d country is, at this moment, the elusive complete draft. Beginning to end. No stopping for rough outlines or incomplete thoughts or external review or sentence finessing.

This is not a new goal, but I mean it this time. It’s a new framing that I hope will resolve some of the issues I’ve gotten hung up on in previous half-drafts (I have definitely thought that before).

…Push off, and sitting well in order
smite the sounding keyboard; for my purpose holds
to write beyond the intro, and the past
of all the AI stars, before I die.

It may be that the prose will bog us down.
It may be we shall touch the Final Section
and see the great conclusion, which we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
we are not now that draft which in old days
moved theme and statement, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic arts,
Made weak by time and repetition, but strong in will
To write, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

ETA: Joel pointed out that this could be taken as overwrought abuse of one of my favourite poems of all time. The abuse I’ll cop to. I deny all wrought-ness. I was smirking the whole time and have witnesses. MacArthur Park, it ain’t. I’ll never have that recipe agaaaaaaaaaain! Oh nooooooooo!

February 25, 2011

New Thesis Focus

Filed under: Research

I’m used to thinking of computing science theses being primarily: pose an algorithm, test the algorithm, analyze results. With some leeway, of course, but I’ve been trying to twist my research question into this framework: posing a way of using predictions for conceptual knowledge, testing the use . . .

And there we run into the first difficulty. I have a learning algorithm, that’s fine. But testing how well something does for conceptual knowledge? Turns out that’s an ill-defined question. How the tests are run is heavily influenced by assumptions about the nature of knowledge, and there is very little cross-communication between different approaches.

Thus a shift in my thesis topic.

I’m still interested in the use of predictions for conceptual knowledge, what I’ve been calling my empirical knowledge representation. But for my thesis, I need to do some thorough groundwork first.

Rob (from ASC, super helpful) used the phrase “comparing, analyzing, and synthesizing different approaches”. That’s what I need to do. I need to lay out some of the old stand-bys and new upstarts in front of me and say “look, you agree on this! And you disagree on this, because of this different emphasis or that assumption. But we can still be friends, because we both care about this similar result!”

In other words, my computing science thesis has turned into a particularly tricky kind of humanities thesis. But would it ever be helpful to succeed at this task, to bring some clarity to the murky waters of knowledge representation ACROSS ideologies.

And I will still have math formulas and experimental implementation. I’m not that far gone. But I’m tired of brushing over this lack of clarity. Let’s do some science, right at the root of the problem.

February 15, 2011

My Collections

Filed under: Collections

There are two tangible things I collect (knowledge and hobbies are more difficult to quantify): rocks and spindles. Very high tech for a computer scientist.

I’ve been wanting to keep better track of my rock collection for ages. I don’t particularly like keeping them in sealed boxes with the paper labels, but having the information is great, plus when my mom picks up a rock from the pavement by the pyramids I would like to remember which one. So. The life-long goal of cataloguing the rocks online begins. I also get to learn more about rocks and minerals in the process, which is always a win.

Putting the spindle collection online has a more selfish motivation. Besides wanting to share pictures and reviews with whoever cares enough to search for the relevant terms (I love the internet), it’s part of an effort to point out that really truly, family members, if you get me a spindle I will love it. If you really want to make sure it fills a gap, you can check (because like all obsessions, there are more details in spindle buying than you can imagine!). But, if you like it, I will too. This is at least partly about the shiny, and it’s not like there are that many inferior spindle makers looking to get rich quick off a shoddy product.

Spindle Collection Overview

Filed under: Spindles

Eventually these links will point to dedicated posts and I’ll have more detailed reviews of each, but I thought I would throw this up now. This is the current state of my spindle collection.

Suspended spindles, Top Whorl:
Tabachek Deluxe in Purpleheart and Hickory, 40.0g/1.41oz.
Tabachek Delux in Pear and Imbuya, 47.0g/1.66oz
Houndesign Laceweight in Pau Amarillo
Ask the Bellwether starter spindles The Bellwether Spinde page
Zebisis Designs in Labrodorite and Black Rosewood, 24.8g/.87oz. 1 5/8”/40mm whorl, 10 1/2”/26.5cm shaft. Etsy listing
Spanish Peacock Top Whorl in Australian Cypress and hard Maple, 2 1/8” whorl, 8” shaft. Etsy listing
Spanish Peacock Top Whorl Snowflake in Holly and Cocobolo, 3” rim 10” shaft. Etsy listing
Grizzly Mountain Arts Mini Rim-Weighted in Thuya Burl and Cocobolo, 31g/1.1oz. 2” diameter whorl and 7 3/4” shaft. Etsy listing
Bosworth Maxi in Quarter-sawn Red Oak and birch, 49g/1.75oz. 9 1/4” shaft. Maxi Spindle Page

Suspended spindles, Turkish:
Jenkins Turkish Standard in Beeswing Nara (and maple?), 2oz. Turkish Standard page
Threads Through Time Medium Turkish in Tulipwood and Bloodwood, 1.6oz. 6 4” whorl, 3/4” length. Etsy listing
Jenkins Kuchulu in Marblewood and Kingwood (#167), 10 g.. Turkish Kuchulu page

Suspended spindles, other:
Forrester Akha

Supported Spindles:
Tabachek Tibetan in Ash
Takhli from Celeigh wool

Spindlemaker wishlist:

Spindles by Sourkraut – New Zealand silversmith and word turner. She started making spindles fairly recently and has the most beautiful organic shapes.
I love the whorl shape on this one. And I want to get a Silver Inlay spindle. Or one of the gem-flower ones, or . . .

Bosworth Spindles – Incredible workhorses with smooth and lasting spin. I have a maxi but want more sizes. It is probably not possible to have too many of these ones.

Jenkins – Still want a Meadowlark/Jay and possible a Aegean.

IST Crafts – Ian from the Isle of Wight makes beautiful spindles. Sharon at Golden Willow in Regina stocks them too. I’m particularly curious about his teeny Turkish spindles, although I hear great things about his other ones as well.

Gripping Yarn – Lisa is the queen of supported spindles. She has developed her own hybrid spindle, the Rose, which is a blend of Russian and French styles. I would love to get one of hers some day.

Golding – Ah, the Golding Ringspindles. These are sweet. Now, I’m not saying I need a Swan Lake or anything, but a Tsunami or Solid would be perfectly reasonable. Someday I’ll see a Golding Spinning Wheel in person and that will be a sight to behold.

Jeri Brock Woodworks – the scroll work on these is fantastic. Someday, for sure.

Trindleman – these are just nifty and have a very different feel. He’s now making them with interchangeable beads, too, so you can fit different weights on the same shaft. I spun one at Olds and it was really nice.

Autumn Hollow Farms – this is purely for the beautiful combination of wood and stone. I like the inlay and I hear they spin well.

Wood and stone are my first loves, but there are some really interesting spindles made out of other materials. Top of my wishlist are:

Petlyn Alpaca – an Australian maker that has metal spindles. They run a little heavier than what I see most commonly but I think I like it that way. I love the Paisley designs, and dyed fibre can look beautiful through the spokes.

Wildcraft Resin Spindles – again, the clear resin lets you watch the fibre cop build up. Beautiful. I especially love the ones with flowers and leaves embedded in them.

Tilt-a-whorl – These are really skillfully up-cycled spindles. I like the rainbow ones, and he’s also started making some teensy ones that I really want to try.

Know that the Spindle Candy group on Ravelry is almost entirely responsible for this addiction (check out the flickr spinoff). And Spindle Lore is to blame for the next section.

Spindle type wishlist:

Phang – rhymes more with song than fang, but still looks entirely like a vampire stake. Gripping Yarn version, Phang in action.

Navajo Spindles – crazy different from other supported spindles. Maybe should wait until I have a bigger apartment, but these spindles are for making bulkier yarn. The shaft is 3 feet. Bristlecone Artisan Heirlooms has some lovely ones. Video of a Navajo Spindle in action. Longer video about Clara Sherman, a Navajo weaver

Bulgarian, French — more to come soon.

© Anna Koop & Joel Koop