Car Troubles

Last spring, during one of our long drives I was stupid enough to bump into the car in front of us, at low speed. Luckily, there was not much damage, but our car's front was compressed a centimeter or two, such that the left headlight no longer was properly attached.

Since it's an older car and not the kind of damage that affected operation, I just let it be and did nothing much. But now it was time for an inspection so I had another look yesterday. After thinking for a few minutes, I found a spot on the light casing that could hold a screw, such that it works as an attachment for a strong zip tie. This, in turn, now pulls the light into place and secures it. I love zip ties.

This morning, the car (2009 Toyota Yaris) passed the inspection with flying colours - yay! Now it is ready to be sold. The replacement will be a Nissan Note, which is the right compromise between a city-traffic and long trips, that our electric is not meant for.

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Brussels - Uppsala By Car

Today at lunchtime we arrived back at our place in the forest outside Uppsala, Sweden, after driving all day yesterday and since early morning today. From Brussels the drive is over 1600km and takes over 18 hours without breaks. But since the whole point of driving instead of flying is to get our dog from one place to the other, we do stop regularly.

Some years ago we did this trip in a single day, starting very early and arriving around midnight. Even with two drivers switching every second hour, the final hours were a real pain; alone as I did it once, it is no fun at all. So we started booking a dog-friendly hotel located such that we arrive at dinner time and have around five hours of driving left the next morning. This is much more comfortable and arriving by noon means losing less than half the day - which we would otherwise have lost recovering anyway.

This was the 18th time we took this drive, usually we spend long summers and new years in Sweden, the rest in Brussels. There are rarely any major hassles in such a trip through five countries. Once we got stuck in a storm though, on the way down when both the ferries and bridges to and from Denmark had to close. Waiting out a storm near the sea at night in a shaking car sure was an unwelcome adventure. But this time all went smoothly.

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Computation Outside The Nervous System

This presentation is quite mind-blowing. The full title is What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System and it shows almost incredible results of what happens when you influence the communication between cells, notably not neurons. Limb regeneration, double-headed worms, memory remaining after the brain was cut off!

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Call me old-fashioned. but I prefer RSS-feeds to any other way of reading the web. An open, de-centralized and automatic way of gathering the latest things from various sources, and presenting them in a consistent, ad-free and readable formatting of my own choice, without generating a shit-load of metadata for some platform - what more is there to want?

In recent years, I've been running Tiny Tiny RSS on a small rented v-server and it does the job. There is an App as well.

The one area where RSS has not fallen out of fashion yet, are podcasts. I sure hope that the diverse landscape of content and players (I use DoggCatcher) does not fall prey to the lures of platformization any time soon.

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Autumn leaves falling, close to Umeå, September 2007.



A few things I just read, watched or listened to, and found well worth the time.

Arsenic and Old Lace, a 1944 dark comedy with Cary Grant.

A Blogging Style Guide, entertaining.

I still recommend you go read Simler & Hanson's Elephant in the Brain. Another review.

Scott Alexander reviews a book about the mind and points toward Global Workspace Theory, which makes quite a bit of intuitive sense to me.

The latest Sam Harris podcast with Deeyah Khan is definitely one of his best conversations to date. On how neo-nazis and jihadists are similar, and how we need to do better in treating them, among other things.

Does money make you mean? Yes, it does.

Gollum Brexit. Brilliant!

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The Latest Homebrews

It's been over a year since I last wrote about homebrewing. Well, I guess I was rather doing than talking about it. The number of batches has been steadily increasing, the latest #35 is a red Pale Ale with lots of Ekuanot hops. Overall I've been following the seasonal styles tradition, meaning that I brewed a few lagers last winter (Helles, Dunkles and a very good strong Schwarzbier), some wheat beers in summer (both Bavarian and Belgian Wit), and Pale Ales and Stouts in between. My clones of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (SNPA) and of the Chimay Red Belgian Dubbel came out very nicely. Next up are lagers again, starting with a Bohemian Pilsner.

With two years into the hobby, it makes sense to add up some numbers. I've now brewed 988 liters of beer with an average strength of 5.5% alc/vol and average batch size of 28 liters, where the size has been increasing over time once I figured out that you can dilute wort after boiling to make more of a weaker beer. This suits me well since I prefer highly drinkable beers to the show-off super-strong ones.

Summing up my order history on the relevant webshops for ingredients and equipment, I arrive at 1200 EUR. Adding another 200 for things unaccounted for, I get 71¢ per half-liter-bottle, which I usually use. This is about 75% of the price for the very cheapest beer that you can find in Swedish alcohol monopoly shops, and about a fifth of what a SNPA sets you back there.

Contrary to many other hobbies, I can therefore safely claim to actually having saved money with it. Although this was not the initial intention and still is far subordinate to the joy of making drinking my own beers, I like that homebrewing is not a money-sink for me. I'm sure it can be that, and is for some, but I've been following my usual rule of buying less and only very modestly upgraded the equipment. For example, I still use the same 30L-kettle for mash and boil as for the very first batch.

I also built a magnetic stir plate from scrap material that I had lying around. This is useful when harvesting yeast from bottles and to increse the cell count to get an adequate pitch rate for a batch.


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A few months ago I started baking bread, because good German-style bread is often difficult to get abroad. This one is a sour-dough bread from today, no yeast, just dark rye and some wheat flour, salt and water.

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On Consciousness

The other day I listened to Sean Carroll talking to David Chalmers about consciousness, among other related things. I won't summarize it here, go listen for yourself or read the transcript.

What I will do is shortly write down where I stand on some of these questions. Not because I think I have anything new to say, but to clarify it for myself and have a reference to see if I change my mind in the future.

Is there a "hard problem" of consciousness? I am not totally convinced. Maybe subjective experience is just what it feels like to have a brain that continuously hallucinates and updates a model of its body and the world around it. (Which reminds me that I should read more by Anil Seth.) I don't think this justifies calling consciousness an "illusion" though.

Dualism? No. Even if "property dualism" might not directly contradict the physical world, I find it much more of a stretch to assume some new fundamental property of matter than to just admit that we don't yet understand how matter makes minds.

Emergence. I am ambiguous about that term. Yes, it can be abused as a handwavy "magical" process that explains nothing. But it makes sense to have models of the world that work att different levels of description, as longs as the higher-level ones can, in principle, be reduced to and understood in terms of the more fundametal models.

Are philosophical zombies conceivable? I don't think so. An entity cannot behave the same way as a conscious being without a sophisticated mental model of itself and the world, and if subjective experience comes along with these, then there are no zombies.

Do we live in a simulation? Probably, but this makes surprisingly litte difference. Randomness in quantum mechanics and a finite observable universe? Very convenient ways to save calculation effort. Still, we want to understand as much as possible of how it all works and since the rules seem to be consistent throughout, without the gods intervening, it does not matter at all for every-day life, how the universe came about. Which is not to deny that the answer to this is ultimately interesting.

Addendum, 2018-12-14: By coincindence it turned out that, when I after a few months pause took up listening to Eliezer Yudkowsky's From AI to Zombies again, I had left it right at the beginning of the zombies chapter. Now that I am through it and its follow-ups, I cannot do much more than agree with Eliezer, since I found the reasoning convincing and couldn't have said it anywhere close to equally well.

In summary: While one might find the philosophical zombies conceivable, they are not in fact logically possible.

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