dark knowledge

Reading about Geoffrey Hinton, an academic computer scientist who has focused on artificial intelligence (AI), I came across several terms I had never heard.

I’m no scientist but I am aligned with him in believing that we understand little about the brain. We understand so little that the idea of being able to create AI seems rather foolish.

But Hinton’s algorithms might already be behind some aspects of our lives.

I had heard of neural networks (the artificial and biological types) and now I find out that they have been rebranded as “deep learning.” These artificial neural networks sound like sci-fi but if you use mobile devices then you have especially embraced them via Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc.  Their neural nets take all the data we throw at them and make predictions from it. It is big business. (The article points to a company called DeepMind that Google spent $400 million on just to get their memory integration method.  They bought some of Hinton’s time too.)

Does it sound more like The Matrix films or when the Terminator said “My CPU is a neural net processor” than real life? Wait – are you carrying a little “learning computer” in your pocket these days?

Deep learning goes back a ways. Hinton was writing ten years ago about “deep belief networks” which improved themselves as they ran, and that became artificial neural networks, which became deep learning.

I can’t quite imagine life on Google’s campus, and it’s even harder for me to imagine Hinton (who works there half the year) playing with neural nets there and going after what he calls “dark knowledge,” which sounds a bit creepy. It reminds me of some occult studies.

If I watch/listen to him lecture about it, I don’t get frightened, just confused. Machines learning has been a staple of sci-fi for a long time and it still scares most of us.

I’d try reading a Wikipedia entry on dark knowledge, but there isn’t one yet. That’s a bit scary too.

egg moon

The March Full Moon goes by many names including Windy Moon, Sap Moon, Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Oak Moon, Storm Moon, Seed Moon, Maple Moon and Fish Moon. As with the other months, most names are derived from observations of nature and animals in the area.

One name comes from religion: the Lenten Moon. Early American Christian settlers, often used this name for it. In some Christian denominations, Lent is the forty-day-long liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter. The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the desert, where according to the Bible he endured temptation by Satan.

The religious intention of Lent is preparation not only for the events linked to the Passion of Christ and Easter. many Christians associate the season with fasting or giving up something we desire. That practice had a practical purpose in times when the end of winter was a time of sparse supplies anyway.

Many of the Christian holidays were timed to coincide and co-opt pagan holidays. For example, the Resurrection of Jesus is connected to pagan spring seasonal celebrations.

The computation of when Easter falls is based on the old lunar calendar. In 725, Bede wrote, “The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter.” But that rule does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. For example, the astronomical equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, which can fall on 19, 20 or 21 March, while the ecclesiastical date is fixed by convention on 21 March.

The full moon before Easter is often known as the Egg Moon which has a seasonal connection in the laying of eggs by birds and also is carried over to Easter celebrations in the secular sense.

The Lenten Moon is considered to be the last moon of the winter season. Of course, this is all confused by the fact that Easter changes year to year – sometimes in March, sometimes in April. For 2015, Easter is later, falling on April 5.

Spring arrives this year on March 20.

The March Full Moon also comes early this year – also on the fifth day – and so it is unlikely to feel like the end of winter for most people in northern climes.

Pieter Aertsen, The Egg Dance (1557)

Pieter Aertsen, The Egg Dance (1557)


That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate anyway. An egg dance is a traditional Easter game in which eggs are laid on the ground and the goal is to dance among them without damaging them. As a pagan symbol of the rebirth of the Earth in spring, it was adopted by early Christians. The version of egg dancing depicted in the painting by Pieter Aertsen has participants rolling an egg out of a bowl while keeping within a circle drawn by chalk and then flipping the bowl to cover the egg. This had to be done with the feet without touching the other objects placed on the floor.


As someone who has suffered from tinnitus for a few years, I empathize with people who live somewhere that is known to have “the hum.” What is the hum? It is a low-frequency humming or droning sound whose source remains unclear.

This phenomenon, or collection of phenomena, has been reported in numerous places in the United States and beyond. The low-frequency humming, or rumbling, or droning noise is not audible to all people, which makes it harder to track down and harder for some people to believe.

These hums are associated with an area and one famous one is the “Taos Hum” in New Mexico. Though it has received quite a bit of attention, only 2% of the population has the ability of hearing it. Of course, that 2% finds it to be not only irritating but mysterious and frustrating.

I have to admit that my first contact with a hum was from watching a 1998 episode of The X-Files titled “Drive.”  Agent Mulder’s theory is that extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves might explain the Taos Hum.

These “hums” are not the only “unexplained sounds” out there that some people can hear while others can not.

People describe the hum as being comparable to that of a distant diesel engine idling. All of the logical explanations – machinery, household appliances, traffic noise – have been investigated and ruled out. That leaves much room for speculation, fringe science and theories that are psychological to the paranormal. Sure, secret government mind control experiments and underground UFO bases have been listed as possible causes.

Reports of the Taos Hum go back more than 20 years. Researchers at the University of New Mexico set up sensitive equipment in the homes of some of the people who claimed to hear the hum but nothing unusual was detected. Each “hearer” described it as compared to a different frequency between 32 Hz and 80 Hz and similar results have been found in an British study.

Hearers are both male and female, with middle-aged people being more likely to hear it.

Though hearers can move away from the hum and not hear it (so it’s not tinnitus) they can’t block it with earplugs. It is often described as vibrating within their bodies.

There is now a World Hum Database and Mapping Project (and a blog with updates) that started in 2012 to build detailed mappings of hum locations and to provide a database of Hum-related data for professional and independent researchers. I looked on their map and found reports all around my part of the country.

cabin in winter

All this snow and cold weather has me home and indoors more than usual. Not a bad thing to skip out on work and errands. It’s great doing nothing for a few days. Kind of like being in standby mode. Not shut down; not hibernate.

I probably have spent too much time on the computer this week. I watched a few movies and caught up on DVR shows. I tried to get up to date on reading – magazines (yes, I still subscribe), a novel, some poetry).

img-benchI ate too much and didn’t exercise enough. I didn’t walk as much as I wanted to. I only got out once to the woods.  I wanted to draw and paint again. I wanted to do some photography.

But I didn’t.

Some crap going on in my life lately that has also made me avoid people.

You can attribute some of this to “winter blues.”  Some people call it “cabin fever.”  Winter is prime time for sadness and for SAD, which I seem to write about and slip into every year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which people who have “normal” mental health throughout most of the year, seem to experience depressive symptoms in the winter.

I think I need to get outside. I need more sunlight. I need to walk. I need to feed the cold.

Then I’m coming home, making some strong tea. I’m going to create something. Drawing, painting, or poem.

What the beast of depression tells you to do – stay home, avoid people, eat junk food, drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke and sleep excessively – is what you must not do.

You have to force yourself to do the opposite, and if you do, it will get easier.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape
– the loneliness of it – the dead feeling of winter.
Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.”
― Andrew Wyeth

Winter solitude-
in a world of one color
the sound of the wind.
― Bashō

“Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”
― Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”
― T.S. Eliot

“Wisdom comes with winters”
― Oscar Wilde

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”
― Dave Barry

“When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. That’s my middle-west – not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby



The Google Doodle decided it is the Year of the Sheep

Today is Chinese New Year which is the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It is estimated that almost 3 billion trips will be made across China as people make the journey home to celebrate with their families.

This celebration, known as chun yun, is the longest national holiday in China, spanning a total of fifteen days. Day one is the most important day but the first three days of the new year are a statutory holiday and many people will be off for the first 6 days.

Yes, China has been using the same Gregorian calendar we use here in Paradelle since 1912, but the ancient Chinese lunar calendar is what creates this New Year.

In that lunar calendar, the New Year is changeable and  falls on the second New Moon after winter solstice. That puts it somewhere between January 21 and  February 19.

2014 was the Year of the Horse (though the lunar year is not always comparable to our January-December calendar year) and that has ended but this new year is a bit unusual because you may see it named the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Sheep. The confusion is because the Chinese character “yang” can be translated in colloquial Chinese as either sheep or goat.  I’m reading that in France, it is being called the Year of the Goat. In America, sheep has favor. In China, they are less concerned with the distinction.

I read at the end of 2014 that some people in China were concerned about births and marriages occurring in a sheep year as it was a “bad year.” The common impression is that sheep are meek, doltish “followers.”  Some of this seems to come from the late Qing dynasty (late 19th century)  when the Empress Dowager Cixi and several other high officials were despised. They all happened to be born in the Year of the Sheep/Goat and so it becamse associated with a negative spin. Followers of the Chinese zodiac say that all 12 signs are auspicious, so don’t worry.


black moon

A Romantic view of a Black Moon.

There is a  New Moon today and it is the closest (as in perigee which occurs 7.6 hours after the full part) New Moon of the year. That means that it can be considered a “supermoon. ” But it can also be considered a Black Moon which is a term we don’t hear as often. It sounds like something from the world of pagans and witchcraft.

A Black Moon is a seasonal name applied to the third of four new moons in the current season. What can you expect to see in the sky?  I’m sorry to say almost nothing. Though it might be artistically or Romantically portrayed as a literal black moon, that’s not the true view.

When a Full Moon supermoon is out all night, it looks brighter than your average full moon. Unfortunately for viewing purposes, a New Moon supermoon is only out during the daytime hours and so is hidden by the sunlight.

But now YOU know that it’s there today. Take a look up in the sky and say hello anyway. The Moon gets lonely too.

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