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User Journal

Journal Journal: On - Scene I

I knocked on the door - there was some shouting, muted by distance or intervening walls, in a language or manner that was not at the moment intelligible. It could have been a reply, or a command - or, however strange this might seem, a pained complaint. It could have been anything, for I did not know who or what would be found here. Some information pertaining to the thing I sought had led me up the rickety stairs to this wind-ravaged attic apartment. The man, if indeed man he was, had been spoken of as holding the knowledge, the essence of the thing - or perhaps the thing itself. But presently my line of thought was interrupted as a leering face, with a strangely blank stare and hair that strayed in all directions at once, appeared at the space revealed after the sudden and particularly noiseless opening of the front door.

The strangely unemotional face showed no traces of surprise, though its otherwise blank stare seemed to conceal a great deal of primitive curiosity. Suppressing a certain feeling of nervousness that had slowly built up in me during the long, silent moment at the threshold, I managed to utter something concerning the purpose of my visit. The peculiar rubbery features of the stranger wrapped into a hideously contorted face as he pulled his lip backs in a grotesque grin. He explained in an elaborate manner that I would not be worthy of his master's attention and that they are currently performing an eldritch ritual that requires their full attention thus I would not be able to gain admittance at this time.

The servant, for I now could clearly perceive that this must be the unclean servant of the man I was seeking, had scarcely finished his servant when a few short, sharp syllabi were issued with undeniable authority from a room within. The servant's face became a mask of comic annoyance as he opened the rickety door for me, thus permitting my entrance. As I stepped through the threshold, the creature leaned forward and whispered to my ear in a theatrically confidential manner that the master was not so well these days. My investigative look as to what exactly he meant provoked merely a blank stare and a faint retraction of the lips in what may or may not have constituted a smile.

As we walked through the dimly lit corridor, illuminated only by a flickering neon light, I took the opportunity to observe the interior of the man's lodgings. Nothing, save the servant's presence indicated to occult activities having ever taken place within, yet, as we approached the curtained, closed door at the end, a feeling of dread arose within me. The creature opened the door, revealing a bearded figure within, seated comfortably in a luxurious couch and poring over a deck of ordinary cards that were arranged in rows in the table in front of him. He cursed under his breath as he pulled a card from the deck, slamming it furiously upon the table.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Dead gods and the afterlife

Recently, I was talking with a Muslim, who was explaining to me that the fact that he does not drink alcohol is due to his religion. Then we had the obligatory discussion about god and it was made clear to me that people believe in god because they expect to be rewarded in the afterlife.

I find this attitude strange. The man did have a firm belief that all the religions of the world shared this common attribute of punishment and reward in the afterlife. It is also true that most religions nowadays impose absurd restrictions upon their subjects, such as what they should eat and how. Sometimes they even govern the nature of their sexual relationships and even their education! This had not been true for all religions all the time. (There is repository of articles in the University of Oslo, that provides a lot of details)

I mentioned to the man that people in ancient Greece, although they had many gods, they did not believe that they would be rewarded after death. Rather, that they would forever afterwards dwell in Hades and lead the dreary, awful existence of the dead. Only Heroes would be able to go to Mount Olympus with the gods, and the Heroes were but few - they were the exception. He refused to believe that men could believe in gods without hope of reward. What was a god for in that case?

My argument is that although at those times the gods did not offer anything for after death (as everyone knew that after death you are, well, dead or in Hades, which is worse than just being dead for you are alone) - they also did not require anything from men, apart from sacrifices and prayer. Some particular worships actually included great feasts and partying as praise for the god. Hardly a bad way to perform your ceremonial duties. Also, gods were meant to be continuously interfering with everyday life. You please a god, he might return the favour. But then again, as gods were like men, he might not.

Indeed, men were made in the image of gods - all having in common the well-known moral deficiencies of our race. There was treachery and deceipt, theft and murder among them as was there among men. So, although there was the element of worship and respect,faith and trust did not usually exist in the relations of men and gods.

It still does not exist today. People might say that they trust this or that god, but who may believe them?

Who may believe that someone that does not even trust his fellow man would trust an entity that one is not even sure exists?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Presentation

Well, after wasting a whole week I finally gave a presentation to my fellow workers about some stupid shit I was doing. It turned out surprisingly good, but now I have to go back to real work again. Also, it was the first real presentation I had done for a long time.

The previous one I had done, I only wasted 30mins to make some bullet-point crap. Now I had to do all those figures and plan my talk. Very bad. And people actually asked my questions! What nerve!

User Journal

Journal Journal: 2003 came too fast

It is 2003. It came too fast. I checked my computer - it was not overclocked, so it hadn't been that. Besides, the house was freezing and snow was coming in through the chimney. Chimneys are covered, i thought, so this should not be hapenning. Another large lump of snow fell wetly in the ashes and I heard a metallic clattering and heavy footsteps on the roof. Or maybe not.

I looked at the stove and the coffe was ready. Finally. After all this time. It takes great patience and skill to properly brew coffee in the arabic manner (also known as turkish and greek in turkey and greece respectively) - unfortunately, during the 10 days in which I was absent from my home, the coffee brewed but I had overlooked the fact that water evaporates. Only a sticky residue, resembling caked mud, remained at the bottom of the "Briki". Two lonesome worms were wriggling against its unwielding surface.

I entered my bedroom. It was bad. Very bad. I opened the small closet and grabbing the shovel I ventured to dig until I could reveal the bed. But that did not work, as - where could I throw the piles of snow that I would dig? So I went back to the closet and picked up the vacuum cleaner. I put it on maximum, despite the prominent warning that was on the power dial. My mother had put it on many years ago, but the writing had faded. Still, I was doubting whether it actually referred to the using the machine to suck snow. After all, snow is not a liquid. Not at these temperatures. But still, I was unsure.

Postponing my plan, I went to turn on the heat and I left to do some shopping. When I returned, I found my neighbours from the lower floor banging on my door furiously and spitting while cursing in French. Already the wet steps in the landing had warned me of the high probability that a catatrophe had already taken place. The wooden floorboards did not do a good job in keeping the water out of their apartment. Thinking quickly, I dashed backwards to the attic window over the roof and entered my apartment.

Armed with 4 pieces of 16-meter long rope, a Soublaki and Scuba-Diving equipment, I set off for the mountains. Things already seemed to be taking a turn for the worse even before I was accosted by the terribly deformed locals of the shadowy mountains. My cellphone rang. It said 'GF' on the screen. And the battery gave out just then. She'd probably think I hung up on her. Nothing could save me.. not distance, nor cold - or even desperate pleas and calls for forgiveness... this required a plan. A good plan.
I unwrapped the cold, stale souvlaki and ate it thoughtfully.

The Media

Journal Journal: Terror-journalists wreck havoc at my workplace

Imagine a hypothetical non-english TV network having footage of a certain well-known figure, but it is not certain whether the voice belongs to this figure or not. What better option, then, than to find some research group with experience in speaker verification and get them to have an 'expert opinion' on the matter. Unfortunately, things start to get out of hand when researchers sentences are taken out of quote, numbers are misinterpreted or pulled out of thin air, and when worldwide TV networks get a hold of the story second or third hand and publish completely false information.

Here is the story behind the story: there was some Bin Laden footage. 20 old tapes, verified to be the man himself. A french network also had the latest tape with BL threatening to kill and stuff and since the CIA had declared that the voice in the latter tape belonged to BL, they wanted to verify it for themsleves.

So, they approached a lot of major research institutes in france in order for them to verify the speaker's identity using standard speeker verification techniques. They all declined... but the journos kept on trying until they knocked the door of my own research institute. We agreed to look at their data and set up a standard experiment, similar to that which we use for authentication systems in banks.

When we had the results, some local journalists came and asked questions. The asnwer was this:

1) There was not enough data (only 20 examples)
2) The unknown sample was classified as an impostor, but with a very low confidence.
3) The conclusion is that it is not possible to say whether the sample voice belonged to the man or not.

Those facts were reported accurately in the local press.

Next day, the people that did those experiments were gone because they had other things to do. The french network and other, worldwide networks came to take a piece of the action but failed. Instead, they magnled stories, and the worst bit was when the BBC reported that the data corresponded to an impostor "with 95% confidence". I assume they got this number from a quote that said "in general, these methods have a 5% error", which has nothing at all to do with the confidence when looking at this particular data. They also selectively used quotes and mis-translated the interview (which was in french)...

I guess all those other institutes were wise to decline the french channel's offer of this database for testing. You never know what can happen with journalists..... argh....... death...

Games

Journal Journal: Interactive Fiction

Finally this year I resolved to try my hand on writing some Interactive Fiction. IF is basically just a fancy name for text-adventure games - and here you might think: What is so interesting about text-adventures? Why waste time programming one? I am not sure myself, but this is how I attempt to justify it:

It is partly nostalgia, I guess, since I had enjoyed playing text-adventure games. Plus, on my linux box, there aren't a whole lot of graphical adventure games available. So, one day I went to the IF archive and grabbed some of the games that had won past IF competitions. As it turned out, the new games were extremely good, imaginative and in some of them the writing was much better than what you get in most novels. After spending a few months playing all the games that seemed interesting, I got a copy of Inform and started hacking away.

Now - what opportunities one has when creating interactive fiction? I though that since I was doing AI research, I might try and apply my knowledge towards creating intelligent agents to interact with the user. Alas, there are some specific problems with doing that in IF, which I mention in this article

So I was left with the task to create a normal interactive fiction game. Which meant I had to write text. A lot of it. Alright, you might think that creating text is not hard, but even this little journal entry is hard to be made into a coherent whole. It is probably less time consuming than creating graphics, 3d models, textures, realistic game engines and so on - but it still is quite hard.

The real problem with IF is that you want to give the player as much freedom as possible, while being at the same time able to drive the plot towards your goal. This relates to the problem of intelligent agents, but also to how to write the actual text. You will need to write text for every thing that the player might try and you want it to look professional. It is no good having a series of responses of the style. "You hit Frank. Frank clutches his stomach. Frank tries to hit you. You duck.", for a sequence of actions. Even though it does provide freedom, such a thing looks bad. You would normally want a flowing description of events, that does not look like it is machine-generated.

To a lesser extend, the same problem occurs with room descriptions. You have to be conscise, not mentioning everything present in a mechanistic way, while making every location uniquely identifiable and memorable. Overflowing amounts of text are usually not a good idea.

It is good to see how much someone can improve on their writing after having written only a few pages of text - if one has appropriate feedback.

I still have a long way to go though. Now that I look at this journal entry I think it sux.

User Journal

Journal Journal: work rant

I hate developing over someone else's code... and that particular code is Torch (www.torch.ch) - a machine learning library. Well, kind of.

I hate re-writing code if I can help it, but sometimes... bah... there is no way around and Torch has its own fast-but-not-very-versatile linked list class which is more like an extended-array kind of thing. This are not made much easier, considering that the linked-list access code is replicated across ALL of the Torch source. How about using a macro or something?

So this week, I had to do the following things, which... unfortunately I have been unable to integrate into the main library yet:

- Completed an experimental set on the letters database using the online RL-gated MLP mixture.
- Compiled necessary bibliographical references for report.
- Created a bufferred data container class and a FIFO (linked-list) class, with tags, hashing and data IDs.
- Used the linked list classes to create a data-format conversion program from arbitrary tag-named arrays to torch-formated numerical arrays.
- Fortunately the new classes were quite useful in creating a margin-distribution estimator for classifiers... although the measurer class still does not integrate nicely with online learning

Hm... hope I have everything working by monday... got a NIPS2002 deadline on 1st of July. And I have to go swimming at some nice baeach.,

User Journal

Journal Journal: Everyone's little pet project

The last few months had been ... strange. Floundering through masses of partially-comrehensible scientific papers, spending long hours chatting on IRC, reading news, trying to get involved into little projects, writing music.. etc....

The thing is, what I have noticed about myself and about the 'scene' in general, is that one tends to work on a particular little 'pet' project for a significant amount of time (2-3 weeks) - and then abandon it. Occassionally some efforts are made to invite other people to join in, but the work so far is so insubstantial, poorly designed, etc, that it is impossible for anyone to take tabs at it.

A good example is my own work here at IDIAP, where I am pretty much free to do whatever I want - well, so far I've started half a dozen different projects in the last 6 months, and none of them is bearing any fruit - Either that, or I lack the patience to develop my systems far enough..

On the other hand, I notice some people that develop a system for many years, on and off, but never release the source into the community (yeah, their pet project.. but still..) - A good example of this would be AWeb, an old amiga browser, whose source has recently been released. Now - since development on that browser had stopped 4-5 years ago, one cannot help but wonder why the author did not release it sooner. Perhaps he was still making money out of it? I doubt it, considering the state of the Amiga at the time..

And I also need a decent 'puter to run my programs into .. hm... argh... and switzerland is nice, but WHERE IS THE SEA?

Whom computers would destroy, they must first drive mad.

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