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Make Your Android Experience Better

This post is a collection of unobvious tricks that make using my Android phone so much more pleasant.

Note: instructions here are based on pure Android, Pixel’s launcher, specifically; they may be different, if your manufacturer is not Google.

Contents

  1. Clock with seconds in the status bar
  2. Better fingerprint unlock
  3. Faster everything by turning off animations
  4. Less distraction by turning off Google Now Feed
  5. Always on “OK Google”
  6. Finger trace
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My Favorite Textbooks

I find most textbooks to be basically unreadable. Worse still, when I google “best X textbook”, I frequently land on a “classic” textbook that feels like it was written by a fucking reptiloid for people with an entirely different from mine intelligence architecture. I hate formalism. I hate long mechanical derivations. I love thinking in pictures. I love intuitive, explainlikeim5 explanations. I believe that examples should precede definitions, not follow them. Finally, I have big troubles with working memory, which might explain most of the preceding stuff.

Thus, a list of my favorite textbooks/educational materials; all of them are either free or available on libgen.

List so far: linear algebra, calculus, multivariable calculus, topology, computation theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics.

(if you feel that your learning style is similar to mine, do share your own favorite texts/materials not on this list!)

Linear algebra

Lecture notes by Vipul Naik. Note: these notes are targeted at social science majors; all Vipul’s course materials, including quizzes and answers to them are here.

Calculus

Calculus by Michael Spivak. Note: you absolutely need somebody to guide you/help with the problems from the book. The Correct™ way to self-study books like this is to email a professor at a local college and ask them if they could help you with stuff you don’t understand and problems (hint: they will be happy to help).

Multivariable calculus

Matec Notes by Alexey Guzey. Note: once I was so angry at the course’s main textbook that I wrote my own set of lecture notes for it; naturally, it has an econ taste to it.

Lecture notes by Vipul Naik. Note: these notes are targeted at social science majors; all Vipul’s course materials, including quizzes and answers to them are here.

Topology

Topology Without Tears by Sidney A. Morris.

Algorithms

Algorithms by Tim Roughgarden. Note: this is a MOOC, not a textbook. But too good not to be included

Computation Theory

Introduction to the Theory of Computation by Michael Sipser. Note: this book was the basis for the Algorithms-2 course I took at the university.

Microeconomics

Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach by Hal Varian.

Macroeconomics

Macroeconomics by Olivier Blanchard.

Econometrics

Introduction to Econometrics by Christopher Dougherty. Note: lmk if you need solutions for it.

Never Update Your Priors

Having ambition is hard.

You want to be famous but you realize that the closest thing you have to a talent is the ability to come up with 4-level-deep-meta-jokes.

You want to become unimaginably rich but you realize that to achieve that you either need 420 iq or utter unscrupulousness and lots and lots of luck.

You want to create great art but you realize that God probably isn’t using your mind and body to communicate with our benighted world.

You want to change the world but you realize that the chances of this happening are about the same of God finally deciding to use your body to communicate with our benighted world.

So you stop trying. Why bother when there’s twitter and videogames. You didn’t want much anyways.

Here’s how not to give up: don’t update on evidence. The problem is the word realize in each of the sentences above.

Every one of them is true and yet it shouldn’t matter. The instinct to update is almost irresistible and any appeal to faith is taken as a personal offence. The problem with not updating on evidence is the possiblity for your model of the world to become completely decoupled from the actual world. The benefit is a sort of a soft wireheading.

In fact, this is why epistemic rationality is not just useless but is actively harmful. If you’re a depressive type, you will systematically update too much on negative information, too little on positive and will give up too early.

There are two ways to avoid this: (1) recursively change the most fundamental patterns of your cognition to either avoid or properly discount the biases, or (2) to believe that you’re special. As in believe in magick. As in believe in God.

Updating on evidence will make you depressed and useless. Having blind faith will probably make you just as useless, but at least you will have a chance.

Three Questions for Russia

This my translation (from Russian) of Andrei Movchan’s facebook post, written in the aftermath of the major opposition protests on June 12, 2017.


Not aiming for an exhaustive list, I’ll ask three, in my opinion, “right” questions:

(1) How is the activity of youth on the streets related to substantive changes in the country? The question is not an idle one; there are ample examples of youth activity in recent history, take 1968, for example.

Only in France, where hundreds of thousands of students took to protests (we—only have thousands for four times the population), who were supported by trade unions (that we do not have) and parliamentary opposition (that in our case supports the authorities), in France, where by that time the opposition leader had been to the second tour of the presidential elections, and the democracy had more than one hundred year long history, protests only resulted in the change of the president during the next election.

While in Mexico, which is much more similar to us, the protesters were shot and the next elections were won by the person who was universally blamed for the shootings. The scenario was repeated in China in 1989—there protest only lead to the toughening of the regime.

Could it be that we often witness the protests on the breaking point of the system not because they caused it, but because they are a side-effect of the circumstances that lead to the change of the political regime, and for the same reason—frequently witness “blank” protests that lead to nothing? If so, then the initiation of the protests is the “cargo-cult” of the revolution—a senseless hope that one consequence (protests) would lead to another consequence (change of power) without a common cause.

I should note that the reasons for changes of power are rather well studied and include a massive crisis of the elites (most often), significant economic changes, the fall in the approval ratings of those in power greatly below 50%, catastrophic changes due to, for example, large military failures, and so on; nothing of this sort is happening in Russia at present or will happen anytime soon.

(2) If we suppose (for a moment) that the youth (and older people, who joined them) will be able to significantly change the political situation in Russia with street action (well, suppose Navalny succeeds in taking millions to the streets; suppose OMON [riot police] refuses to disperse them; suppose the students take the Mayor’s office or even the Kremlin), then in which direction will this political situation change?

That is not an idle question either—the experience of the Revolution of 1917 indicates that it is being prepared by one group of people, carried out by another, and the power is taken by the third. Most of the countries that have experienced a “social” revolution, including the modern Ukraine, share an analogous experience. What is the probability that the result will be

a. the rise to power of a military regime, which will violently quell the unrest? There are good reasons to consider this scenario—Russia’s security agencies’ elites are very well developed and consolidated; there are quite a few proponents of a “firm hand” among the millitary, and adjacent to them civil leaders; Russia’s population is absolutely not ready for the armed resistance, while the regional disunity and high level of aggression in the society allow to suppress foci of discontent with the help of other regions’ military units; and so on.

b. the rise to power of ultra-left, pro-communist, and quasi-nationalistic forces that de facto enjoy the greatest support of the population today, with the consequent “Chávezian” scenario? This is quite likely as well—Hugo Chávez came to power in 1998 in Venezuela under three slogans: “Victory over Corruption”; “Equal Opportunity for All Political Forces”; “Significant Growth in the Living Standards of the Poor” (compare this to the political program of Alexei Navalny). Communists, LDPR [a nationalist/populist party], Navalny, and the ultra-left are supported by more than 50% of the Russian population, so it’s not clear why during the change of power it’s not the left populists that will get it and then dominate the Duma after the elections.

(3) As we have seen from the numerous examples—1825 in Saint-Petersburg, 1989 in Beijing, and 2012 in Moscow—are the best-known to us, if the protests don’t lead to the change of power, they lead to the toughening of the regime.

So, suppose, magically, the street action did result in the change of power. Suppose that neither communists, nor nationalists, nor the military (or FSB) got the power and that no palace coups happenedbut the supporters of all the good came to power—liberal democrats, westernizers, humanists, advocating peace, progress, and prosperity, based on the European model.

And so—against the backdrop of the general euphoria, a question—what are they going to do? That’s true—not much money is left in the treasury. There is nobody to pay taxes, and it’s not like anybody was going to pay them anyway—it’s our tradition not to pay, unless you are going to be put in jail for this.

People are aggressively awaiting universal and weighty handouts—while, in fact, there nothing to hand out at all. By custom, the previous authorities have taken all their assets out of the country, and their example was followed by ten thousand major officials and state and private businessmen—just in case; the state banks have discovered a hole of the size of half the budget in their accounts, people are storming the branches, dollar exchange rate is 200 [currently it’s 60], because the Russians know for sure—only dollars in cash can save one from the revolution.

Enterprises that depend on imported components are halted due to the devalvation; this includes the agriculture as well, since we import seeds, fertilizers, and crop protection.

The army and the security forces are disoriented and demand financial guarantees; lower ranks are already starting to disband and create gangs, with active support from the upper ranks; showdowns and racket are spreading like storm throughout the country.

Republics where authorities are stronger vehemently demand sovereignity up to independence, since they can’t plunder the region and receive subsidies from the center anymore. Some republics simultaneously lament that, unless they receive immediate financial support, they will be swept by islamic terrorists, and threaten that their own terrorists will come to Moscow to sort everything out. Other declare that if the former ones receive any money, then they will refuse to transfer any money to Moscow.

The foreign ambassadors (the ones from the West), declare courteously that they’re extremely sorry for new Russia, but that the money can only be given “after …”, which is followed by a long list, starting, of course, with Crimea, continuing with an offer for that unjustly privatized to be renationalized and subsequently privatized by the right global corporations, and ending with the demand to give up the seat at UN’s Security Council and for nuclear disarmament (no complaints here–they’re not idiots to step on the same rake twice). Absent that, they can only deliver humanitarian aid—they don’t know what to do with their food, anyway. On attempts to bargain the ambassadors from the West will say “Guarantee that you’ll be able to hold the power at least for several years”.

The ambassadors from the East will even be ready to give some money, but on conditions that will make those posed by the ambassadors from the West look favorable.

All of this—during the raging pursuit of power by the security forces, communists, half a dozen teams of officials, several governors, several barely distinguishable from them bandits, the church, several promiment businessmen (including those who returned from exile), during the seething demonstrations and small revolts (and we did allow demonstrations, didn’t we?), assets capture by people and by bandits, capture of houses by those with equity in them, capture of markets by the those primordially Russian, capture of banks by depositors, etc.

All against the background of our narcotic television completely falling apart, and every part of which now violently campaigning for their own, or for the one who payed last, or even just slinging mud at everyone, because it’s more dramatic this way.

So—this is the power. And what are we going to do now?

Julian Jaynes and the Ancient Tablets

1.

Achilles is furious at Agamemnon for threatening to take from him the fruits of war that Achilles justly earned with his sword. He is so furious, in fact, that before he knows it, his hand is already on the hilt of his sword and he is ready to kill the King. Then, something very special happens: Athena herself comes down from Olympus and, seen only by Achilles, tells him (Homer, 1974):

Here is my promise, and it will be kept:
winnings three times as rich, in due season,
you shall have in requital for his arrogance.
But hold your hand. Obey.”

Thus, Achiless begins a tirade denouncing Agamemnon in the strongest possible words, although returning the sword into the scabbard—however angry he may be, he can’t disobey the Godess.

We could interpret this scene as a sort of a poetic instrument, where the need for Athena signifies the scale of emotions felt by Achilles; in his classic The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Julian Jaynes rejects this trivial explanation and offers an another hypothesis: Athena was, in a sense, present there, seen, indeed, only by Achiless, by the virtue of being hallucinated by him. Without her voice, commanding him not to act on the impulse, he would have killed Agamemnon with no remorse.

This sequence offers us an insight into the working of the mind of people of ancient civilizations, for according to Jaynes they experienced reality in an extremely different fashion than we do—well, or didn’t experience it: he tells us that they “did not have subjectivity as do we; [they] had no awareness of [their] awareness of the world, no internal mind-space to introspect upon”: their mind—the Bicameral Mind—was split between the automaton part—incapable of adequately engaging in any novel or complex situation, and the “god” part—auditory and visual hallucinations that were obeyed immediately and did allow people to engage in novel and complex situations. In the scene above it was of course Athena taking the role of the god part.

At first, this theory seems downright outrageous and you may wonder why on Earth did I call this book “classic”. But it does have more than three thousand citations; and reading on, seeing the evidence not only from ancient Greece, but also from ancient Egypt, Babylon, and even the Inca, one starts to vacillate.

I will be honest with you: by the end of the seventh chapter I was utterly convinced that Jaynes was basically right.

I love n+1's profile of Jaynes and his theory: There Is Only Awe [2k words].

2.

Thinking a bit more about this, though, the Bicameral Mind theory is almost trivially, comically false. For example, while even some animals can engage in short-term deception, based on the immediate behavioral reward, the bicameral mind fundamentally lacks the faculty for long-term deception (Jaynes, 2000, p. 219):

[Treachery] is impossible for an animal or for a bicameral man. Long-term deceit requires the invention of an analog self [i.e. a model of self] that can ‘do’ or ‘be’ something quite different from what the person actually does or is, as seen by his associates.

In light of this, coups d’état seem to be strongly incompatible with the bicameral mind, since they usually require gaining the trust of the ruler before conspiring against him and trying to overthrow him. This intuition is explicitly confirmed by Jaynes just a few pages later (pp. 227-228).

The earliest coup d’état I could find was that against Yahdun-Lim—king of Mari (an ancient Mesopotamian city), who was killed around 1796 BC, apparently, by his own son, who succeeded him and was himself assasinated two years later (Pitard, 2001, p. 39; Liverani, 2013, p. 226).

But Jaynes writes that the first evidence of modern consciousness dates around 1300 BC and calls Hammurabi, who lived in 18th century BC, “bicameral Hammurabi”. With timings this off, most of the evidence presented by Jaynes comes crashing down.

But we’re not finished yet.

3.

A curious fact about the ancient Middle East is the preponderance of clay tablets from the first writing civilizations that were saved through the millenia for us to read. Jaynes uses clay tablets freely to bolster his argument and, even though the correctness of his Bicameral Mind theory is now out of the way, he prompted me to read the number of ancient letters much larger than I’m willing to admit; some of them were rather fun (Heimpel, 2003, p. 251):

[In the quotation below, curly braces enclose damaged sections and all emphasis is mine]

To My Star speak! Inibšina (says), “Some time ago, the pederast Šelebum gave me a directive, and I wrote you. Now one shock-head of {Dagan} of Terqa {came} and spoke to me {as} follows: She (said), ‘The peace offers of the {Ešnunakean} are deceit. Water runs below chaff. And I will collect him (the Ešnunakean) in the net that I knot. I will erase his city. And his wealth, which is from old, I will cause to be utterly defiled.’ This she said to me. Now guard yourself! Do not enter inside the city without extispicy! I heard the following: ‘He scintillates all by himself.’ Do not scintillate all by yourself!”

That tablet was addressed to Zimri-Lim—another king of Mari, who ruled from about 1775 to 1761 BC, and who was the grandson of Yahdun-Lim we are already familiar with, by his sister.

Or take this letter (Oppenheim, 1967, p. 92):

Tell the Lady Zinû: Iddin-Sin sends the following message:

May the gods Šamaš, Marduk, and Ilabrat keep you forever in good health for my sake.

From year to year, the clothes of the (young) gentlemen here become better, but you let my clothes get worse from year to year. Indeed, you persisted(?) in making my clothes poorer and more scanty. At a time when in our house wool is used up like bread, you have made me poor clothes. The son of Adad-iddinam, whose father is only an assistant of my father, (has) two new sets of clothes [break] while you fuss even about a single set of clothes for me. In spite of the fact that you bore me and his mother only adopted him, his mother loves him, while you, you do not love me!

I love these two tablets in particular for the metaphors used. The first one reads:

Water runs below chaff. And I will collect him (the Ešnunakean) in the net that I knot.

and the second one:

in our house wool is used up like bread.

Jaynes is captivated by metaphors (p. 48):

Let us speak of metaphor. The most fascinating property of language is its capacity to make metaphors. But what an understatement! For metaphor is not a mere extra trick of language, as it is so often slighted in the old schoolbooks on composition; it is the very constitutive ground of language.

and by the ways metaphors operate at every level of our description of consciousness (p. 55):

Subjective conscious mind is an analog [i.e. a map] of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioral processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like mathematics, it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.

Consider the language we use to describe conscious processes. The most prominent group of words used to describe mental events are visual. We ‘see’ solutions to problems, the best of which may be ‘brilliant’, and the person ‘brighter’ and ’clearheaded’ as opposed to ‘dull’, ‘fuzzy-minded’, or ‘obscure’ solutions. These words are all metaphors and the mind-space to which they apply is a metaphor of actual space. In it we can ‘approach’ a problem, perhaps from some ‘viewpoint’, and ‘grapple’ with its difficulties, or seize together or ‘com-prehend’ parts of a problem, and so on, using metaphors of behavior to invent things to do in this metaphored mind-space.

4.

In conclusion, even though Jaynes’ main bicameralism claim does not hold up to scrutiny (but it could probably be reformulated as a claim about the proportion of people who had hallucinations being large in the past and small today), the book is worth reading just for the chapter on the interrelation between metaphor and consciousness, for the original reading of Iliad, and for the narrative that Jaynes maintains throughout. The Breakdown may be wrong, but it’s definitely good aesthetic: 7 clay tablets out of 10.


Thanks to Ann Taranina and Chris Beiser for reading early drafts of this post.

References

Heimpel, Wolfgang. Letters to the King of Mari: A New Translation, with Historical Introduction, Notes, and Commentary. Eisenbrauns, 2003.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Anchor Press, 1974.

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Liverani, Mario. The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy. Routledge, 2013.

Oppenheim, A. Leo. Letters from Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Pitard, Wayne T. “Before Israel: Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age”. In Coogan, Michael David. The Oxford History of the Biblical World (revised ed.). Oxford University Press, 2001.