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Kaj Sotala
Works at Finn Lectura
Attended University of Helsinki
Lives in Helsinki
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Kaj Sotala

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Transcendence movie: everything worked by magic, nothing made any sense whatsoever.
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"Robert Grosseteste was an English philosopher, theologian and statesman during the early 13th century. [...] he describes a cosmological model in which the universe begins with an explosion of light from which matter condenses. The entire universe then forms in nine nested spheres as a result of the coupling between matter and light. [...]

"So an interesting question is how would Grosseteste have modelled the universe had he had access to the same mathematical tools that modern cosmologists possess. [...]

"He says the Universe begins with a Big Bang-like explosion in which light expands in all directions giving matter its three-dimensional nature. Light then draws matter with it as it expands in a sphere. This coupling between light and matter is crucial.

"The expansion eventually stops when matter reaches a minimum density. “As a vacuum is impossible within the Aristotelian framework, there must be a minimum density beyond which matter cannot be rarefied and this sets the boundary of the Universe,” say Bower and co.

"The result is what modern physicists call a phase change but which Grosseteste calls “perfection”. At this minimum density, the perfect state of light-plus-matter cannot undergo any further change and so forms the first celestial sphere of the universe.

"This sphere itself emits light or lumen towards the centre of the universe which also interacts with matter, compressing and rarefying it in the process. This interaction goes on to form other spheres corresponding to the fixed stars, the elements of earth, fire, water and so on.

"This continues until the formation of the ninth sphere corresponding to the Moon, which is not perfect enough to continue to process. The end result is a universe consisting of ten nested spheres.

"The next stage for Bower and co was to formulate this cosmology mathematically. That required them to make some assumptions based on Grosseteste’s description. They assumed, for example, spherical symmetry, that the rarefaction of matter increases with the radius of the universe and that there is no special length scale which implies that the distribution of matter distribution must follow a power law..."
The first attempt to model the 13th century ‘Big Bang’ cosmology of Robert Grosseteste leads to the same fine-tuning pro…
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Kaj Sotala

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The expressions are the best part.
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"A restaurant with three Michelin stars is now trying to up its customer service game by Googling its customers before they arrive. According to a report from Grub Street, an Eleven Madison Park maitre d' performs Internet recon on every guest in the interest of customizing their experiences.

"The maitre d' in question, Justin Roller, says he tries to ascertain things like whether a couple is coming to the restaurant for an anniversary, and if so, which anniversary that is. If it's a birthday, for instance, he wants to wish them "Happy Birthday" when they arrive. He'll scan for photos of the guests in chef's whites or posed with wine glasses, which suggest they might be chefs or sommeliers themselves.

"It goes deeper: if a particular guest appears to hail from Montana, Roller will try to pair up the table with a server who is from Montana. "Same goes for guests who own jazz clubs, who can be paired with a sommelier that happens to be into jazz," writes Grub Street."
It's not the thought that counts; unexpected in-person customization feels icky.
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Now I'm tempted to go. I Google myself pretty regularly and there's not a lot to find both because I don't use my real name and I lock a lot of stuff down.
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Blue 420. Not my login, its a chatroom password, but it works as a handle.
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Kaj Sotala

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A fascinating history of a product that managed to be momentarily successful despite opposition from higher-ups, but then faltered due to that same opposition. Had quite a few chats on AIM, myself...

"AIM was being developed without any approval from AOL executives.

"But if AIM was to be a standalone program, it needed to run off some equipment.

"AIM was sort of the prototypical skunkworks project," Bosco said. “Since it was an unsanctioned project, one of the problems we had was you need to run servers in the data centers.”

"Appelman called in a favor to the head of AOL's data centers, who happened to have some old Hewlett-Packard servers he'd planned to ship back to HP. He agreed to "lose" the machines so the AIM team could use them in an unofficial capacity."
In many ways, AOL Instant Messenger was right in line with the times, just at a company hanging on to a business model that would soon become obsolete.
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This is the only AOL product I used for any length of time. I used it for years after AOL itself was literally laughable. It wasn't until I had spent a couple of years getting comfortable with all the benefits of gmail's chat system that I fully discontinued using AIM.
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"We test how donors respond to new information about a charity’s effectiveness. Freedom from Hunger implemented a test of its direct marketing solicitations, varying letters by whether they include a discussion of their program’s impact as measured by scientific research. The base script, used for both treatment and control, included a standard qualitative story about an individual beneficiary. Adding scientific impact information has no effect on whether someone donates, or how much, in the full sample. However, we find that amongst recent prior donors (those we posit more likely to open the mail and thus notice the treatment), large prior donors increase the likelihood of giving in response to information on aid effectiveness, whereas small prior donors decrease their giving. We motivate the analysis and experiment with a theoretical model that highlights two predictions. First, larger gift amounts, holding education and income constant, is a proxy for altruism giving (as it is associated with giving more to fewer charities) versus warm glow giving (giving less to more charities). Second, those motivated by altruism will respond positively to appeals based on evidence, whereas those motivated by warm glow may respond negatively to appeals based on evidence as it turns off the emotional trigger for giving, or highlights uncertainty in aid effectiveness." 
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"Behavioural economists have tried to explain this kind of prosocial behaviour by assuming that people have an intrinsic motivation to behave fairly towards others, i.e. that they have social preferences. However, there are indeed good reasons to question this assumption.

"Let’s, for example, consider this modified version of the DG: As in the classic DG dictators can decide how to split their $10. After they have made their decision, but right before its implementation, the experimenter intervenes offering the following option: either dictators can go ahead with their decision and divide the amount of money as intended, or they can choose to exit the game without letting the recipient know about the game in the first place. So in fact, this game was not played under perfect information as assumed by the dictator. Pretty sneaky! The experimenter explains that the quiet exit costs $1, thus if they exit they will get $9 and the recipient gets nothing. How do people react? If people were truly motivated to ensure fair distributive outcomes, they should of course not choose the exit option and go for a fair split. But as it turns out, between 28% and 43% of the participants chose the exit option. These participants initially decided to split fairly but as soon as they knew the recipient was not expecting anything, they behaved selfishly. Worse than this, they were even willing to pay money to make sure others will not find out.

"It has been shown that even children at age eight already show such strategic behaviour when it comes to fairness. [...]

"What these studies seem to show is that many people are not really interested in fair outcomes per se. Instead, they seem to be interested in being perceived as fair, while at the same time they primarily care about their own payoff. Nobody wants to be perceived as unfair and unpleasant, even among strangers. Knowing that someone might think you are unfair might be sufficient to elicit a feeling of guilt that one would rather avoid, even if it costs something."
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i'd rather just be good...
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"So yesterday, after twenty-four years of struggle, I sold a novel. [...]

"Let’s be honest: That took perseverance.  I wrote for hours a day, writing on vacation, writing on my birthday, writing when I was recovering from heart surgery.  I went to critique groups to get better feedback.  I networked online so I could find better people to give me feedback.  Out of any given day, you can point to at least an hour and say, “Ferrett put in his 10,000 hours.”

"Except.

"* I was lucky enough to be healthy, so I didn’t have to deal with days torpedoed by chronic pain issues or going to doctors or filling prescriptions. [...]

"* I was lucky enough to have a sedentary, work-at-home job. Yes, some of that’s career choice, but I went to college for seven years on scholarships and my parents’ dime, and they were rich enough to buy a PC back when they were super-expensive so I got familiarized with computers about ten years before the curve.  [...]

"* I was lucky enough to be wealthy enough to go to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop after I got accepted, which costs thousands of dollars. [...]

"It was hard enough getting this damn novel sold.

"It would have been even harder if just a few circumstances had changed in my life.  Maybe impossible.  If I’d had young children and a wife with a job at 7-11, going to Clarion probably wouldn’t have happened.  If I’d been incapacitated by chronic back pain for three hours a day, my writing time would have been affected.  If I’d run with a different set of friends, that whole “Clarion” thing – the event that restarted my career – would have zipped on by.

"I call those privileges.

"And Brad Torgersen (he of the other first novel happydance) said that in the military, privileges are things you earn.  Which may be true.  But I don’t know a better word for those quiet advantages.  “Gifts” don’t seem right, because frankly, me walking around healthy isn’t really a gift, it’s just something I feel most people oughtta have in a sane world.

"But whatever you call them, I acknowledge them.  Yes, I worked hard to break through.  Super-hard.  But despite all that effort I put in, it could have been harder.  And writing is such a challenge to get write, requiring such focus to hone, that I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of writers are white males who come from middle- to upper-class homes. They’ve got a whole societal structure geared around supporting them.

"And again!  Like me, that doesn’t denigrate their effort.  There’s a zillion middle-class white guys, and the majority of them suck at writing because they either don’t care or didn’t put their time into the craft.  Anyone who hauls their ass across this finish line has done something significant.  But there are others who had additional hurdles in front of them on that track, and I think it’s intellectually dishonest to wave that aside.

"I guess that’s why privilege is such a difficult concept to express: it feels contradictory, on some level.  It’s You did do something really difficult, but it could have been harder.  And nobody wants to hear that they had it easier than others… particularly when they fail.  Particularly when “privilege” is not a singular power-up that magically erases all difficulty, but a bunch of small factors that can often cascade into greater things.  Particularly when some people only have certain privileges (a decent income, good physical health) but lack others (like my depressive fugue-states chipping away at my mental health).

"But that doesn’t erase the concept.  And when I look at my achievement?  I’m happy.  I wanted to publish a damn novel, and now I will have, and I put in my 10,000 hours to get here hard-core.

"Yet when I look at society and all the things I’d like to fix, there’s a bunch of people who never got what I did.  I’d like to give it to them, if I can, or just plain make coping with those issues easier.  And I refuse to erase that reality by claiming I’m a self-made man or somesuch.

"I had a lot of help.  I had a lot of advantages.  I did a lot of fucking work.

"Those concepts are not mutually exclusive."
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Kaj Sotala

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"So the "punchline" of the exercise is that you can't actually play the most popular PC game properly until you understand Lagrange multipliers. I'll see you in Multivariable Calculus."
Our students are not fencing in farm fields, cutting wires and folding them, or designing windows, so they are often uninspired by the optimization problems we give them. They seem like something that "someone, somewhere" might use, but the examples feel distant. What are good examples of constrained optimization problems (perhaps not simple!) that today's students might actually encounter in their lives? If your goal is to find problems that are...
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I confess to having made a few spreadsheets for video games in my day...
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Have him in circles
1,863 people
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Work
Employment
  • Finn Lectura
    Software Developer, 2013 - present
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Associate, 2013 - present
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Fellow, 2012 - 2013
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Associate, 2012 - 2012
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Helsinki
Previously
Turku, Finland
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Wrote three non-fiction books
Education
  • University of Helsinki
    Cognitive Science (BA), 2006 - 2011
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