2010
08.22

Note: I’m not a native English speaker, so sorry in advance for any mistake. I’ve tried hard to translate this text into English.

I’ve recently had an interesing discussion about cualitative properties of things. We discussed whether Haiku, those 3-verse minimalist Japanese poems have “something special” or that “special scent” is actually a product of our mind and how we experience the reading of a Haiku.

Qualia are a term used to describe the subjective quality of conscious experience: for example, the reddish color of a rose, or the blue one in the sky. One thing is the word blue and another one is the “sensation of blue” we experiment internally in our mind. Even more, recent neuroscience experiments tend to confirm different people have really different sensations when perceiving the same phenomena. So when both you and me are seeing at the “blue” in the sky, we could be experiencing different “blues” in our minds. Even more, in the extreme case, it may happen that my favorite color was “blue” and yours “red”, but inside our minds we were experiencing the same “color” sensation (and calling the same sensation by different names).

This also applies to every sensation or experience: Is sugar “sweet” or are we who perceive them as such and “make it” sweet? The question about whether qualities are on things or in our minds is not a trivial one; it’s a philosophical debate still unsolved. At the end of past century (oops! :S) I read a book on artificial intelligence which also treated this topic:

Phenol-thio-urea is a substance that tastes intensely bitter to about 75 percent of people and is more or less tasteless to the rest. Is phenol-thio-urea bitter? This is an awkward question for someone who naively believes that a statement like ‘Sugar is sweet’ says something about sugar itself as opposed to the effect that sugar has on us. There is worse to come, though. A person’s response to phenol-thio-urea is genetically determined. This means that if those who find it bitter are – let’s imagine – prevented from having offspring, the substance will become tasteless to one and all after the passage of maybe a dozen generations (like blue eyes could be extinguished if people with blue eyes each generation were prevented from reproducing). Thus, the phenol-thio-urea would be a substance which changes from tasting bitter to most people to be a universally tasteless substance, all this without any change in the chemical or physical properties of the phenol-thio-urea.

Jack Copeland – Artificial Intelligence: a philosophical introduction, Ed. Wiley-Blackwell

So, in other words, there are two opposing schools of thought:

  1. A red flower, is “not really red”. It simply reflects a wavelength and we “see it red” (or gray-reddish if you happen to be daltonic). If you think that way, you or point of view is such of a physicalist: things are the way they are, and we have a subjective experience when observing them. That’s all.
  2. When we see a red flower, that flower “is really red”. The red color comes from a wavelength, but this is something external to our mind that it is on the plant and is part of its physical properties. In this case you are on the school of anti-physicalist, also called dualist.

Considering the above, I think I’m “mostly physicalist”, buy with some objections, since it might happen that some qualia have both mental and physical properties. This philosophical question is far from trivial, as it leads to deeper ones: Do two people have the same internal experience when observing the same phenomena? (reasearch seems to point “no, we don’t”) Will “intelligent machines” in the future have “qualia” experiences?

So what, Do haiku have some special quality (quale) by themselves? Or are they just ink drops on paper (or pixels in your computer screen) and the sensation we have when reading them exist just in our mind? (You can apply question this to every human art, word or creation). Again, this is not a trivial question, because even from the point of view of semiotic and linguistic, a haiku will be more than “ink drops” or “pixels”.

And finally, a Haiku by Yosa Buson (C. XVIII):

autumn rain;
walking in water
on grass

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2010
07.28

Tenerife Lan Party 2010

Like the last year, I attended Tenerife Lan Party. This year I went as participant (unlike visitors, participants are entitled to spend all day long inside the party) 😛 Again, like Qblog I took some pictures, but I mainly focused in Cosplay contests, instead of the Retro computers, like I did the year before.

Since I was a participant, I could also record some tournament finals:

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2010
07.07

Properties in C++

In a previous post I wrote about Python’s elegance and some tips to make your code look even fancier and closer to the English language. I’m currently rather busy programming in C++, a language I have not used for 2 years, and the code certainly looks dirtier. 🙁

Sometimes I want to make a class attribute private, so in order to access it one has to implement a read method and (if needed) a write one. They’re called getter and setter respectively (I’m not very fond of private attributes, by the way). This usually happens when the external representation of the attribute value differs with the internal one.
Read More »

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2010
04.11

Lo primero de todo, si te molesta el fondo negro, cambia al estilo “Pyrmont V2 Light” en el selector de estilos quita la plantilla pinchando en el enlace que hay en la columna de la derecha.

La Polémica

La semana pasada salió publicado en menéame por primera vez un artículo de este blog, lo que aumentó casi 10 veces el número de visitas del mismo durante ese día (no me gano la vida con el blog, pero si me interesa que lo visiten, que me lean, que me escuchen, del mismo modo que yo hago con el resto); no estoy en menéame, y si buscas a lo largo de este blog, sabrás por qué. Sin embargo, pese a que el tema del artículo era sobre las dificultades de emprender un negocio en España, varios comentarios hicieron referencia a los colores empleados en el blog. Algunos de ellos, me criticaron con cierta dureza por usar letras blancas sobre fondo negro, como dando a entender que era una obviedad que el usar un fondo oscuro resultaba molesto y hasta dañino para la vista.

En este momento estoy escribiendo usando letras negras sobre fondo blanco. Tengo los ojos regañados, y cierto dolor de cabeza. Con fondo negro no tengo ese problema. ¿Entonces, qué es mejor? ¿Fondo blanco o fondo negro?
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2010
04.04

O de por qué no se emprende en España

Los proyectos empresariales, llamados también start-ups o empresas semilla, se las ven y se las desean para ver la luz en nuestro país. Mucho se ha hablado de que en España no hay espíritu emprendedor y otras gilipolleces (yo mismo, aunque ahora no tengo nada montado, tengo espíritu emprendedor), y que los españoles no queremos correr riesgos.

Yo diría más bien que esa sería una de las causas, pero que hay otras mucho más simples. España no es como los otros países, eso lo tenemos todos claro, pero no sólo en lo económico, político o cultural, sino en la corrupción, las trabas sociales, el obstruccionismo burocrático o el analfabetismo tecnológico de su clase política. Algunas webs tienen clasificaciones de países según la facilidad de apertura de negocio y España, como es de imaginar, no sale bien parada. España queda por debajo de Perú, Nigeria, Líbano o Zimbawe (también habría que ver los criterios utilizados).

¿Y qué es lo que dificulta tanto emprender en España? Vamos por partes (como las integrales en cálculo matemático): Read More »

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2010
03.03

These last three weeks have been really stressful for me due to various reasons. Anyway, I managed to get some spare time to do something funny, like the self-replicating script posted in the previous entry.

Sometimes, when we’re working on a problem, we need to denote a variable with an uknown value. C and SQL uses NULL for this purpose, while Lisp uses nil and Python have None. Let’s look python closer: sometimes, None really means none. But there are some cases we need another semantic interpretation. For example, I like to work with the unknown value, which means something different to none (None) which I use for different a purpose. We can do this:

This works because in python, Classes are also objects. The is operator only returns True if two objects are the same instance. Even better, the is operator allows an interesting syntax when used with not:

This not only enhances (IMHO) code legibility, it also make comments useless: the code is the comment itself.

Finally, this idea can be also used to define your own Infinitum value:

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2010
02.10

Reading an article linked from Barrapunto (a Spanish Slashdot-like site) entitled Reflections on Trusting Trust it came into my attention the paragraph about self-reproducing programs. The author of the article, Ken Thomson says:

More precisely stated, the problem is to write a source program that, when compiled and executed, will produce as output an exact copy of its source. If you have never done this, I urge you to try it on your own. The discovery of how to do it is a revelation that far surpasses any benefit obtained by being told how to do it.

I’ve never tried to code such a thing, so I put my shoulder to the wheel and try this exercise in python. After a few minutes, I got this solution. It’s not the shortest (especially considering it reproduces the shebang and the coding lines), but it works. As Mr. Thomson says, it’s a very interesting exercise. Here’s the code:

Save it as prog1.py, and then execute python prog1.py.
Even better, try python prog1.py > prog2.py and then python prog2.py > prog3.py and so on.

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