Zachary Pitcher


HackLodge Log 6

January 9, 2020

This morning I woke up from a lucid dream, the first I’ve ever had. In the dream, I was on the second floor of a house I didn’t recognize and there were two girls that were apparently from my high school. One of them was reading a book and I was looking over her shoulder but she was tall so I was also looking under her armpit. It was around this time that I realized that I was dreaming, but surprisingly, I didn’t wake up right away. At that point, everything became extremely vivid and I could tell that I was in a weird house. I decided that I’d test out to make sure it was a lucid dream, so instead of walking down the stairs, I floated down the stairs. It was dinnertime, so I sat down to eat with the family that was there, but it wasn’t necessarily mine. And shortly after, I woke up to the sound of people talking down the hall. I knew it would be pointless to try to get back into the dream since I was already pretty conscious, so I just started getting out of bed.

I was feeling kind of lethargic this morning, so I decided to go for a run to mix it up and hopefully get some adrenaline back. I only ran a few blocks and turned a couple corners before I realized that it was too cold and I had to poop, both of which were pretty good reasons to turn back. As I was jogging back, I glimpsed Cynthia and Brian through the window of the burrito shop, so I stopped abruptly and went in to chat with them / help them carry the food back to the house.

While I was there, I noticed one of the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling was swinging back and forth, so I figured someone must have bumped it. As I was adjusting it, I felt a breeze on my hands and I realized that the chandelier was swinging at the forced resonant frequency due to the wind blowing past it. Naturally, after correcting it, the chandelier eventually went back to swinging at full strength after only 15 seconds. I thought that was pretty interesting, and something to watch out for if I ever design a kitchen or something: don’t place the chandeliers or lamps where the air conditioning / fan will be blowing on them. Otherwise I’d have a permanently swinging chandelier which is both irritating and dangerous.

Brian cleared a couple of my misconceptions about Redux / React, and along with the help of Catherine I fixed up the backend of my webapp so the bugs that were happening yesterday are fixed. I started on the frontend, but it still mostly looks like OptionsCalc with a few changes. Tomorrow, my plan is to throw the frontend together so the main part of the webapp looks like what I want it to look like in the end. Then I will spend the rest of hacklodge cleaning up the backend. I think the primary tangible technical outcome of hacklodge for me will be a better understanding of the backend, because Catherine did most of the backend for OptionsCalc and my skills in that area are still pretty weak. By spending more time focusing on that, I can more easily hack together dynamic webapps in the future.

Oh yeah, Catherine is back! She and I chatted for a while at Boba Me today, and we got the most sugary “no sugar” boba I’ve ever had. We discussed some of the things we were talking about yesterday, and how much better we both feel about them today. We resolved to do more creative stuff and document it better. Since we both have cameras, we could make little vlogs and put them up on YouTube for people / our future selves to see. This will also help us feel like there’s a tangible outcome to some of our more creative pursuits. For example, Catherine could write music and put it up, and maybe I could sing for some of it. And I could write short stories or do my animated graphic novel idea, and post updates on it. That conversation made me really excited about doing creative stuff again, and now I can’t wait to get back to MIT so I can do more of that in the mornings. It feels really great to be excited about working on this stuff again; for a while I was less motivated to work on creative things, but I think writing this blog and going through hacklodge again has sparked my imagination again!

After chatting with Catherine, everyone gathered to give our second round of demos. It seemed like some people were almost done with their projects, but a lot of people are in the same boat as me and have basically just made the backend of their apps. Needless to say, my demo was pretty unimpressive because I basically just had a button that increments the user’s score by one whenever you click it. But it represents much more than that, because that wouldn’t be possible if the backend was still messed up like it was before.

Later, Catherine and I were talking to Nicholas, Brian, and Justin about consciousness and neural networks, you know the usual nerdy stuff. One of the things that I realized during that conversation was that I think a neural network that you can say is “conscious” is actually not that far off. Consider a single neural network that can perform a certain task, like piloting an airplane. Now imagine that you had 10,000 different neural networks that were similarly trained to perform certain other tasks, including classification tasks, motor skills tasks, and computation tasks. I think if you connected them all to one another and made a macro-neural network, you’d have something that would begin to exhibit some even more complex emergent properties that start to look like a consciousness. We couldn’t come up with a clear transition between something that is and isn’t conscious, but I think the larger and more complicated the properties of this macro-neural network became, the harder it would be to distinguish from a conscious being.

Nicholas had two interesting examples that sent us down fun tangents in the conversation. The first was an earthworm, the animal with the “dumbest” brain, that a group managed to simulate by analzing all of the neural and muscular connections in its body. After modeling everything, their fake earthworm actually started to move in response to stimuli, proving that the neural network model that they used was sufficiently close to real neural connections that they had similar emergent behavior when you copy the nodes and connections. We were discussing whether this would hold for other small organisms like bees and ants, and how far you could take this research. Could you make a fake human by copying all of the muscles and neurons? I don’t think so, because there are so many environmental conditions that affect the way a human behaves, so another layer of connections would have to also be simulated to capture the full extent of human behavior. But maybe you could get the body to walk or run in a QWOP-like stimulation simulation.

The second thing Nicholas brought up was that Native Americans in the Kree tribe traditionally use boiled and smushed moose brains as soap to wash and prepare leather hides. He was saying that no one on the internet seems to realize that brains can be used as soap, and he wasn’t able to figure out exactly why that was the case. He said what he did know was that to make soap by the hot process you need fat and an alkali base, and water. But then I said, wait, that’s exactly what’s inside a brain! The Ca^2+ and Na^+ ions that the neurons use to communicate act as Lewis bases and the connective tissue in the brain is a large source of fat, so by beating up a moose brain and boiling it, you essentially perform a crude hot process to make soap. Then the Native Americans would pour it over the hide and lather it up, creating a ton of bubbles that are enough to clean the hide. We made several memes about how we were all just walking soap containers, and we died laughing when some people in the comments said that “[they] do it differently because they completely obliterate the moose brain before boiling it”, which was just such an absurd sentence that we couldn’t handle it.

What a great day! This is what hacklodge is all about for me.