Welcome to the first issue of my newsletter.
Here are a few interesting links to lighten the mood and dish up some food for thought during these crazy times.
Shane Wighton leads the engineering team @ FormLabs (they make awesome 3D printers.) When his creations pass the “at least sort of interesting” test, he shares them with the world in his blog. To keep that blog functional, he’s incentivized to keep working on cool stuff.
Recently, he wanted to know if it were possible to improve upon the design of the basketball hoop backboard.
Is it possible to construct a hoop where the ball always goes in?
Using a Monte Carlo simulation, he calculated probabilities for missed shots at different trajectories, then using the missed shot percentage as a loss function, he calculated the optimal curvature for a backboard, and built the thing.
Apparently, yes, it is. You can create a basketball hoop that reflects the ball through the net from most angles using a parabolic backboard: https://youtu.be/vtN4tkvcBMA
With the gym being closed amid physical distancing recommendations, I’ve taken up jumping rope a few times a week. As there’s a subreddit for just about everything, https://reddit.com/r/jumprope recommended one particular brand and weight as being easier for beginners to time since the revolutions are slower and easier to feel.
I grabbed the basic, ball-bearing jump rope from Rx Smart Gear with a height-specific 3.4oz weighted cable. https://www.rxsmartgear.com/rx-jump-ropes/
RockMyRun has been a cool app during these workouts, which allows users to specify BPM targets for their workouts. Their premium upgrade pitch is pretty clever – New users begin with a fully functioning version of the app, however, the full feature set is soon removed, requiring a small monthly subscription-fee to regain access.
I’m trying two new services this month – Buttondown, which created this very email you’re reading now. And, DistroKid which I used to distribute a video game music single for Rubble Bubble to Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Youtube music, TikTok, etc.
Both of these were super quick + easy to set up and use. If you’re looking to publish a small newsletter or a few songs, check them out.
Here’s a first look at Rubble Bubble in action:
Similar to RockMyRun, Rubble Bubble offers a full version of the game to new players, until a demo expires. They can then continue using a limited feature set, or upgrade via In-App purchase.
I have a few free promo codes left for the iOS version, just email me if you’re interested in grabbing a copy.
“Solve intelligence”, and then use that to solve everything else.” -DeepMind company mission.
Lex Fridman of the Artificial Intelligence Podcast recently started a paper reading club, I invite you to join: https://discord.gg/lex-ai – (Think Two-Minute Papers meets the Joe Rogan Experience.)
For this week’s discussion, the group revisited Alan Turing’s seminal paper from 1950, Computing Machinery and Intelligence.
During a discussion, a challenge came up for data compression.
The Hutter Prize:
The goal is to take a 1Gb file (enwik9 - an English XML subset of Wikipedia) and get it down under 116Mb. If you can pull this off, there’s a $5,000 reward with your name on it.
My best attempt using an off-the-shelf compressor got it to ~135Mb. My best attempt with a naive dictionary-based approach clocked in closer to a weak 900Mb archive. There is some true wizardry needed to achieve meaningful levels of compression.
The motivation behind the prize has an unexpected twist, in that it’s using data compression as a surrogate marker for machine intelligence (basically, Season 6 of Silicon Valley irl.) Higher levels of compression require a better representation of deeper patterns, reaching for a lower bound in which a maximally compressed file becomes indistinguishable from random noise.
This prize is a way to reward the development of more-intelligent machines down the path toward artificial general intelligence.
It’s interesting to consider that a piece of software, digitally representing a true artificial general intelligence agent would essentially encode this agent as a large number in some storage medium. This would mean that there may be numbers which, in a fairly literal sense, can awaken when read – actual magic!
A fun puzzle from the interwebs.
That’s it for now!
I leave you with a joke from Mitch Hedberg:
“I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I’m gonna put pins into all the locations that I’ve traveled to. But first, I’m gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down.”
Tw | Ig | Li | Yt | Md | Gh