Summer in USA (3)

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Tuesday, 17th July 2012

We meet the other Outpost inhabitants. In the morning we go together for a bagel, and then to the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) site. I hoped to learn about some interesting things CFAR is working on, but... at the moment they are working on the minicamp. Lecturers are testing their lessons on volunteers. So we listen to the previews of two lectures, but then we decide that we don't want to hear the same lectures twice.

So when our attempts to be useful failed, we go to look around the city. We walk around the Berkeley university campus, and then find a big shop with many interesting things. (Out of curiosity I buy a bottle of sake, but I postpone drinking it until I forget it unopened at the minicamp.) Barbara has some experience with American bread, so she is looking for one that does not contain too much sugar. Americans are able to put sugar in anything. Luckily, in a shop large enough you can find even such exotic goods as bread without sugar, if you know where to look.

This large shop also has an area where customers can sit down and eat. There we meet with Luke Muehlhauser, director of the Singularity Institute (SI). We talk about many things. Luke is familiar with history of the Austria-Hungary, so we give him some fresh news about what happens in our part of the world. He asks how much are scientists rewarded, financially and socially, in Slovakia. Well... we told him the truth. Seems to me that he was suggesting us to move to San Francisco Bay Area.

(SI is a non-profit organization founded in 2000. It is concerned with possible consequences of creating an artificial intelligence smarter than human; especially one that would be able to further improve itself. You can find more about this topic on Luke's page „Facing the Singularity“. Since 2006 SI co-organizes the annual „Singularity Summit“. Part of reasoning about the artificial intelligence was also exploring how human intelligence works, whether there are rules of rational thinking, and whether those rules can be taught. This topic is interesting also for people not interested in artificial intelligence and programming; which is why in 2012 a part of SI became CFAR, an independent organization concerned with human rationality. The Rationality Minicamp is part of CFAR agenda, although both organizations participated in making it.)

In the evening we are brough to the Outpost by Cat. It is a person full of energy, always saying „awesome!“, and she immediately won Barbara's heart by praising her dress. Cat travels around the world and helps in various organizations, often just for food and accomodation. Otherwise she lives from her savings as a former teacher in Taiwan. She is visibly enthusiastic about her work.

Wednesday, 18th July 2012

Today we want to look around Berkeley. Unlike in San Francisco, there are no outstanding tourist attractions here. Berkely is a calm little town full of small houses, with a few shops and something more in the center. Anna recommends us to go see the beach. So we walk to the nearby city Albany. (By the way, „Albany“ is a very popular name here; there are more than 20 cities with this name in USA.) On the way there I buy a genuine American donut; exactly the kind that Homer Simpson eats. ;-)

Stop stealing our stuff! Bazaar

There is foreland in the sea in Albany. On the left side of the road there is a parking lot; some people are camping there, some of them play in the cold water. On the right side there is a fence, and behind it some water birds play in the water. The road is surrounded by stones and broken concrete blocks, and chipmunks are running over them. Later we find colorful mosaics and strange sculptures made of wire and other garbage. On the far end of the foreland there is a homeless colony, so we quickly turn back. It's probably not the part of the beach we were supposed to go, but we are already rather tired, so we return to Berkeley.

Birds on Albany beach Chipmunk

Mosaic Wire sculpture Mosaic

On the way back we finally find an ATM that accepts Barbara's credit card. Great! We paid all our big expenses online, and we also took enough pocket money, but we still relied on having a Visa card as a backup in case that something happens. However, unembossed Visa cards work only in some American shops, and until now we haven't found one despite trying all the time. We put a big mark in our maps for the ATM.

Lychee Lychee tree

Cauliflower tree Cauliflower tree, zoomed

Later afternoon we stop again at CFAR, and then refill our food reserves in the large shop. I was shopping without Barbara's oversight, which was a big mistake. What I wanted to buy: fish with cream. What was written on the box: fish with cream. What was really inside: sugar and fish and sugar and cream and sugar. Barbara just nodded and said: of course.

In the evening Nisan organized a Berkeley LessWrong fans meetup, so we visited him. They were testing some web page where users can enter various philosophical statements and arguments, and then rate their correctness. Following those ratings, computer can find the most convincing chain of arguments for a given statement. (For example if users rate as correct arguments: „A is true“, „if A then B“, and „if B then C“; the computer can find and display this chain of arguments when you ask it about C. Similarly, it could display the most convincing chain of arguments against C.) We tried the page for a while, but then we were too tired, so we returned to the Outpost.

Thursday, 19th July 2012

The morning started with a philosophical debate whether plants have feeling too, and how can we know whether they do or don't. Then we realized we have the last chance to see San Fancisco and everything we did not see during the first two days.

Unlike the first days, when we simply chose a direction and everything on the way was new for us, today we wanted to look at the few specific things in different parts of the town. So we used the mass transit. The bus stops have information which buses stop there, and during which part of the day; but they don't write how frequently. So we waited half an hour for bus number 71, then we gave up and used the bus number 5 instead. That one had a stop the the corner of every street. So when we finally got to the beach, we felt that by foot we would have been already there for a long time, and we would have also seen a few interesting things on the way there. We also realized we need to significantly reduce our plans for today.

Bird on the beach Wind mill

We looked at the gardens and wind mills in the western end of the Golden Gate Park. We walked on the beach sand. Then we decided to see the Golden Gate Bridge again, but there was not reasonable bus connection between these two places; and we did not want to risk a longer version of our previous experience. So we walked by foot along the western coast. Finally it appeared that the northwestern coast is very nice. A sinuous path with a view on sea, surrounded by various trees and flowers. But it was also a very long path, and when we finally got to the bridge, the sun was going down.

Northwestern coast View from the bridge

Together in front of the bridge Viliam on the bridge Barbara on the bridge

On the way back we walk through the Japanese neighborhood, but we did not find anything special there; perhaps just a bit higher density of sushi restaurants compared with the rest of San Francisco.

Friday, 20th July 2012

We meet with Alicorn and go to lunch together. Alicorn wrote two novels, „Luminosity“ and „Radiance“, fan-fiction remakes of the vampire series „Twilight“. Unlike typical fan fictions, these novels are not additions, but a complete rewrite of the original. In other words, to fully enjoy reading them you do not have to read the original. They are better than the original! Unlike the original, the protagonist Bella is not borderline retarded, but she thinks intelligently and strategically. Instead of the infinite dreaming of Edward's beautiful eyes, Edward's beautiful ears, Edward's beautiful nose etc. we have a more complex plot, more interesting characters, and more intense conflicts among the vampires. Of course the antagonists are also smarter and faster reacting than in the original (otherwise it would be all piece of cake for the new Bella), so they give the protagonists hard time. Heartily recommended! Alicorn also writes some other stuff, but I did not read that yet.


In the afternoon Barbara gets a haircut and then at the CFAR site we gradually meet the other coming minicamp participants. In the evening we travel to the place where it happens: Westmister Retreat.