Sunday, November 06, 2005

This last week

Hi all. I have been verrry busy this last week, but a number of notable things have happened.

I acquired a major advisor for my Master's Thesis by a combination of fast-talking, overpowering genius, sheer charisma, and serendipity: Dr. Nick Flann.

You can see from his web page that he is interested in Autonomous Vehicles and Bioinformatics, which, while not repellent to me, are not the focus of my interest. So why him? A passing reference to learning algorithms in my classical AI class, I guess. He has also mentioned interest in the evolution of the brain (Steven Pinker visited our campus recently and Dr. Flann was all over it; I was at work).

Fortunately, he is interested in the Cyc Knowledge Base. This is essentially a computer-understandable, hierarchical database of common-sense knowledge about the world we live in, with associated logic machines, natural language processing, etc. There is an open source version that I am downloading as we speak. This seems like a good fit for my interest in computers becoming creative: see my earlier meandering post. I was extremely lucky to run into him when I did, as I gather that his interest in Cyc is relatively new.

I got the feeling while we were discussing all this that I sounded a bit wild-eyed, talking about creative computers and ruts of abstractions in the brain. But he did say my project sounded cool and real, which is hard to find in an artificial intelligence topic, so I guess I struck gold. I am open to the future of what I can do here, so it should be interesting to see my topic morph over time. I wonder idly if my work will be too closely tied to this particular technology, or if Cyc is the only game in town for my interest. I suppose I will be learning a lot along the way anyhow.

Bonus: next semester I could take a "readings" class that will help me prepare to use this technology. So, much less homework! I guess we will find out pretty fast how much I enjoy the art of research. But I have high hopes.

It snowed in Logan on Friday night. Sarah and I had just finished watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which I found affecting and well-constructed, except for the somewhat pat resolutions of the interweaving story threads) at midnight, and we stretched and saw the snow outside. It stuck at night and thawed in the morning. But it was quite beautiful for a while there.

On Saturday we went to a great store called Ten Thousand Villages. This is an organization that buys from artisans around the world at living wages, then sells locally. I liked the instruments best, but there were puzzles, clothes, jewelry, sculptures, and one exquisitely carved Chinese box. I couldn't believe how cheap some of it was.

We came home from the store because Alex was tired, but then we found out that our water was cut off. What happened, we pieced together later, was that a person who owned the condo below us (and moved out a while back) had come while we were out and shut off her water. Unfortunately, and bizarrely, our water was connected to hers, so ours was cut off too. For the next six hours, we lived without water. Not as easy as it sounds; I kept saying, "Well, we can have eggs without using water," and "How about tuna fish?", and "Well, I can go without a shower, it's ok," even though I almost never do and it almost never is. There were other problems too. A real estate agent with a key came back and turned on the water at about 10 PM.

Today was a banner day because I made my first recipe by James Beard, the Apostle of American Cooking. It was a braised onion sauce with bowtie pasta. Take half a pound of butter, melt, add 6 medium onions, sliced, and cook till soft and transparent. Add a tablespoon of sugar, simmer for an hour, add 1/4 cup of Madeira (I substituted white wine, so maybe it would taste different), pour over fresh pasta, sprinkle cheese. How do people come up with this stuff? I thought it was great, but Sarah was put off by an excess of onions. So there are lots of leftovers. I can't remember the last time I felt so full.

Back to work! But I am way off my 2-post-per-week average. Maybe this week, maybe next week, I will catch back up.

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