Ran across a term called blog chalking in my various wanderings. Near as I can figure, you tag your blog with geographical identifiers, plus tags for name and age. Those can then be used by search engines to find blogs of folks living near you, etc.

I _like_ the anonymity of the web, knowing someone just by their material, ideas, and visual presentation. To discover that they lived across the street from me would be depressing, actually. One would hope to interact enough with the people around you to determine that they are interesting people – to discover that you’ve overlooked an amazingly interesting person that geographically close would suggest that 1) either I’m completely dense, or 2) that this person has determined that I’m not interesting. Either way, fairly depressing.

It would be an amazing gift to discover via the web that you’ve found someone whose ideas, etc, are interesting. But life’s too complicated to count on that person being geographically near, or even, in some cases, to _want_ that person to be geographically near. Geographic closeness almost implies that folks ought to meet in person. And who needs one extra thing that one “ought” to do?

As my husband points out in his comment to my last post, I made an error of omission, describing the tree from which Eve ate as the ‘tree of knowledge’, rather than the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I apologize for the misquote. The Word of God is infallible; I am not.

I actually realized my misquote last night, and had shrugged it off as being defensible in the context of my argument. As I looked at last night, self-awareness would inevitably require some sort of understanding of good v. evil to be able to evaluate threats to one’s self, to evaluate decisions within some sort of context. I’m no longer so sure of that argument. True, there’d have to be some knowledge of ‘good outcome’ vs. ‘bad outcome’, but those wouldn’t have to correspond to what we typically think of as good vs. evil. There seems to be a basic understanding of a baseline standard of good that a self-aware computer system might or might not “agree” with. For instance, most moral systems of the world agree that killing is not moral. Now imagine a system that didn’t agree with that tenet. Whether humans believe that tenet from a humanistic point of view (e.g., humans wouldn’t last very long if we went around killing each other off) or from a divine edict point of view (thou shalt not kill), the end result is that there’s benefit to each of us if we don’t go around knocking each other off indiscriminately, and thus whether one agrees with a divine edict, the end result is that we agree that killing is wrong. A computer system might or might not see such benefit, and I think we’d have a hard time proselytizing a computer to recognize divine edict.

I’m no theologian, so my arguments are a mix of limited understanding, limited faith, and some amount of blind acceptance. (Most things in life that we take as true end up being such a mix, unless something’s in our particular area of expertise.) I believe that man was created in God’s image, and that thus the things we take to be fundamentally true and good are those that He values. I also believe that we couldn’t clearly describe those values, that they’ve been muddied in us. “We know it when we see it”, ends up being our descriptor of what’s truly good. If we can’t describe it, then we can’t teach a computer those values and, more importantly, clearly define their applications. So, we couldn’t program a system to have the same value system embedded within us.

That returns me to my argument that man won’t ever be able to create a truly intelligent computer, because that computer won’t know what is good versus what is not good. (Man didn’t have knowledge of evil until he ate of the fruit, so knowledge of evil must not be a condition of intelligence.) Man can’t teach it, so the computer can’t know it.

If we ever create a computer that we believe is intelligent, beware what power we give it or that it can obtain. Hitler was an intelligent person with a values system most folks would say didn’t match what we understand to be good. If we examined his values, I believe we’d find several that were warped (in very significant ways!), but that his core set still resembled our own. Now imagine an ‘intelligent’ creature with a very different value system. If warped values can achieve massive evil, what could missing/incomplete/diluted values do?

Early on, I knew I was going to program computers when I grew up. For our sixth grade graduation, our class sang a song listing the careers we’d have when we grew up, and my poor music teacher had to stuff “computer programmer” into the lyrics. I spent time reading books like Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and a book series about a group called the AI Gang. In these books, robots interacted with humans, and had some manner of intelligence. In the more interesting of the Asimov stories, the robots had some understanding of their own existence, and of how important it was to be aware that they existed. I was certain that by the time I grew up, I’d be working on thinking computers, either building the first ones, or dramatically expanding what a robot could do or understand.

Eventually I realized that the field of artificial intelligence is in a very rudimentary state, at least as contrasted with the idea of self-awareness. (Self-awareness and what that means could be a very long blog entry in and of itself. . . neat topic to grapple with). Working in the field of AI would mean long hours of research with very little reward, as measured against the end goal. So, I bagged the idea of AI work, and instead enjoyed the fruits of systems development and software construction work.

My views on AI have shifted- I no longer believe that truly intelligent computers will ever exist. God blessed man with a gift, and I don’t believe it will ever be in man’s power to create a computer with that same capability (note that man was thrown out of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge). But I do think that in pursuing the boundaries of what we can do, we better appreciate and wonder at the things we will never be able to do.

In that vein, two projects have caught my attention lately. One’s called A.L.I.C.E. . It’s an open-source markup language and bot engine that allows folks to create a free natural language artificial intelligence chat robot. In other words, a computer you can talk with and that would respond appropriately. (Note that I don’t say intelligently, as it has no true understanding, per se, of the conversation.) Wow! Theoretically, in addition to giving appropriate conversational responses, you could tie in system triggers that might even be parameterized with information given from the conversation. So you could tell the computer something, using conversational language, and have it react and cause other things to occur. Have it mine the conversations and their results, and now it has more information with which to inform future conversations. The computer wouldn’t be self-aware, but its future reactions could learn from previous ones.

The second project is run out of the National Library of Medicine, which runs all sorts of neat projects. The specific project is called WebMIRS. It’s basically a tool for accessing certains sets of medical survey data. Pretty basic data access application, but it has some exciting future goals. Essentially, the folks at NLM are interested in having the application recognize various medically interesting things, such as fused vertebrae or vertebrae with bone spurs, by evaluating the image data in X-rays. So, I could type in a query like, “return all data where the spine has some contusion in vertebrae 4” and the computer would translate that query request into some evaluation of the image data. The human brain makes some sort of qualitative judgement, comparing what it knows of what contusions look like on vertebraes with the picture it’s examining now. But how do we tell a computer to make such a recognition?? We’d be teaching a computer to translate the bits and bytes that make up the image into some picture of what a particular vertebra looks like, and then telling it to compare it to what contusioned vertebrae generally looks like – to have some understanding of the contents and context of a picture. Wow!

Exciting stuff! And all too much for my tired brain to handle right now. . . My own system’s going to retreat to bed and run whatever screensaver/dream that’s currently queued up for me.

We just got back from a Labor Day “vacation” visiting family in Pennsylvania. Our daughter’s 6 1/2 months old, and hadn’t yet been shown off to some of the relatives. Left Thursday. . . got back Tuesday. 6 days. . . 300 miles one way. Too many activities. If this is possible, too many loving relatives. . .

A couple of marketing ideas for new parents and their babies that are vacationing with relatives:
* a baby PalmPilot for managing their schedules
* ear plugs for all members of the household with which the new family is staying
* a diaper bag sized carpet cleaner (our daughter tried a new move called the Roll and Pee this weekend)
* mini Diaper Genies

We had a wonderful time seeing family. . . but I’m glad the trip only occurs a couple of times a year, at least until our daughter’s a bit older. I loved to see her playing with her cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents– just looking forward to when the playing to crying ratio works out a little better in everyone’s favor.

August 12th was my birthday, one of the ones that isn’t quite 30, but sure is too close to keep thinking of 30 as old. More than New Years, birthdays seem like the appropriate day to take stock of the year that’s just passed and to make any necessary resolutions for the year upcoming. New Years just has too much hoopla and champagne surrounding it to take it seriously as a taking stock and making resolutions kind of day. . . noisemakers and champagne bubbles just don’t put one in the right frame of mind to do any serious self-contemplation. But staring down another birthday candle, gazing into the flicker of fire, could put one in the appropriate solemn mood.

Looking at this past year, the big change in life would definitely be my daughter, and all of the sundry life changes she brings. I can’t see topping that kind of change in the upcoming year, or at least, any change that topped it would be unplanned and most likely unpleasant, barring winning the lottery. (Note that I don’t play the lottery, so winning it would most definitely be unplanned.)

Resolved for the upcoming year: to work on contentment. Most resolutions that I’ve ever seen seeked to change something about one’s life situation or themselves. I’m all for goals and continual improvement, etc, but the thing is that the list of resolutions and goals to change should be small, and the list of things one is content with about their life and themselves should be larger. I’m not aware of a list of things about which I’m contented. I’m not discontented, mind you, but I can’t mentally say I’m content with any one particular area of my life. For a goal-oriented person such as myself, that’s a problem, because then there are just too many possible goals distracting me from accomplishing much on any of ’em. So, I need to either decide that I’m absolutely content about some areas, or that I’m temporarily content – so that I can table things until “later iterations”. If I managed to either be absolutely content or temporarily content about everything, then nothing about me would improve except my attitude and outlook on life. Which would be a big enough improvement of itself.

My husband and I have been out of high school for ten years now, and our respective class reunions are fast approaching. I went to pick up tickets to his at the local library tonight. I didn’t go to high school with my husband, but had attended the same middle school (side note: I had a crush on him even then!), so I knew some of the folks in his graduating class. Turns out, one of the folks I knew was manning the ticket table at the library.

Surprisingly, she recognized me. I say surprisingly since I haven’t seen her since middle school and we only knew each other then and weren’t especially close. I’ve always thought that I’m a lot different than I was in high school and before, so it was a bit of a shock to be recognized. In fact, more than a shock, it was bit of an affront to my self-image to be recognized. Who wants to think that they’re recognizable as that same geeky, self-conscious, non-attractive person from high school? You want to go back to reunions as the stunning person who no one can figure out who she is; you want to have “blossomed” into a beauty queen who’s self-confident, accomplished a fair amount, and yet still a humble, likable person.

Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll let those tattooes show – I had figured on keeping ’em covered, but now I’m thinking that I need to do _something_ to show I’m not quite that same person. Hmmm. . . Useless musings. . .

I can hear the squeak, squeak, squeak of the rocking chair. My husband’s rocking our daughter to sleep, and the rocker’s got a squeak. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping on a bottle, tucked into dad’s arm: that’s how she goes to sleep most nights. I know she’s finally dropped off when the chair stops squeaking. She’ll need to take a can of WD-40 to work with her, when she’s old enough to have a desk job. Any chair that squeaks is apt to put her right out.

“Because I said so. . .”. I hated those words as a kid. Such power they had! What was the rebuttal? Of course my mother had the power to say them, and of course I had no power to counter.

This weekend I was in a mother-ish position. My daughter’s only five months old, so I haven’t yet had to use that dreaded phrase on her. But I was out camping with a group of girls from our church, and some of them wanted to go exploring away from our campground. They had a plan – they’d keep a walkie talkie with them and give one to an adult. I wasn’t satisfied – I’m a pessimist at heart when it comes to other folks’ kids in my care, and I’d much rather them not be out wandering without some sort of adult supervision. Walkie talkies just don’t cut it.

So, I said no. And they started to argue, these 12 year old adventurers. I never used the phrase “Because I said so” in its exact form, but I could suddenly understand its usefulness. My reasoning, though it held lots of weight with me, held no weight to a group of girls convinced that a national park held little or no dangers. Me, I think of snakes, bears, twisted ankles, other unfriendly adventurers who’d take advantage of a wandering young lady. They, they think that the risk of those dangers is small and that the walkie talkies would let someone know they were in danger. I’m not going to convince them, and they’re not going to convince me. . . we’re at an impasse. The only way to break it is to pull out the “Because I said so” card.

I hated the phrase as a kid, and can see why these girls would just as equally hate it being applied to them. But, darn, it’s useful!

I’m a software engineer, and a darn good one. I love working with customers, designing systems to meet their needs, and then building systems that exceed what they expected. (“You mean you’ve already thought ahead to what I might need here, and have made it easy/cheaper to add this functionality?” “You mean I shouldn’t expect the beta period to be bug-ridden?” “You’re actually on time/on budget with my project?”)

Lately those talents have had to lie dormant. We had our first child a few months ago, and since I was nursing, it made sense for me to be the one to stay home with our child, rather than my husband staying home. There was pretty much no other reason – we do basically the same thing, could live on either one of our salaries, neither one of us is by nature a child abuser. . .
So, my husband is at work. I’m at home. Now I’m looking for part-time computer software work. You’d think that that’s a unicorn or some other mythic creature. The general reaction has been the same: there’s really no part-time work to be had in software development.

The impact on me has been near total discouragement. I like what I do and don’t enjoy the idea of giving it up. But think of the impact of this phenomenon on women in computing. . . women in software have no real choice but to put their children into day care. Those of us that want to spend at least some of their earliest most formative years with our children need to step away from software development. And need I mention that the four or five years it’ll take my child to get to school is a lifetime in software engineering?? Folks with four or five years experience in an area are considered senior, because that’s usually as long as that particular technology has been around. The technologies that I work with will either not exist or will have evolved into something similar in name only to what’s there now (think VB.NET vs. VB).

Sure, I can keep up in the trade journals, buy the latest geek books, try things out on our home computer, even pick up a degree or a certification or two. But as any employer (or employee, if they’re truthful) will tell you, that just doesn’t measure up to real-world experience. If I’m able to get back in (and that’s a big if), I’ll be at the bottom rung of the expertise ladder again, worth very little to a potential employer, as compared to where I’d be if I’d spent those five years in the field, even on a part-time basis. It’s as if the bottom just dropped out on my career, just about negating everything I’ve done/learned/earned to date. I’ve spoken with other women who’ve gone through this same thing, and the basic conclusion has been that it’s too hard to get back in, and just not worth it to start back at the bottom again, proving yourself all over again.

Just think of all those women who’ve gone down that same greased chute. And then wonder why there are so few women in IT. Maybe we got in and then got dumped out. Or maybe we’re advising our daughters/friends to choose careers more conducive to concentrating on your child for a while.

Folks keep telling me that these years go so fast, that I should savor my child’s development while I can, and focus again on my career once my child goes to school. Wonderful advice for some fields – but a seeming near death knell for a software development career.

There are lots of places on the web based around the idea of images. Sites that seek to impress you with flashy graphics and effects, or images that draw you in, enticing you to spend time or money. This site won’t attempt to accomplish that through images – as you can see, my ability to make beautiful websites is, shall we say, less than impressive. Hopefully, two things will occur. One, this lil’ piece of the web will be interesting to someone (at least me), regardless of its lack of visual attraction. Two, I’ll in some way absorb some creative karma and evolve this area into a visually beautiful venue. (“Visually beautiful venue”? What a load of horse manure!) In the meantime, this’ll serve as an outlet for the ideas and thoughts that are languishing for lack of expression. None are guaranteed to have any value to anyone but me. And looking back at them, I’ll probably decide a fair number of ’em didn’t have any value, period. Feel free to comment, influence my postings, just generally interact. The web’s good for more things than buying stuff, catching up on news, and other less interactive (and often less socially redeeming) things.