I'm Not Sure What to Call this Blog Yet

Cicada 3301

posted Mar 11, 2014, 11:23 AM by Vikas Shah

I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I post an update on what I've been up to the last few months.  Mainly, working on the Cicada 3301 problem (and clinical anesthesia).
"Cicada 3301 is a name given to an anonymous organization that on three occasions has posted a set of complex puzzles, purportedly to recruit capable cryptanalysts from the public...  [This] round is ongoing following confirmation of a fresh clue posted on Twitter on 5 January 2014....  The puzzles focused heavily on data security, cryptography, and steganography."
Working on the puzzle was an entertaining distraction for me in January and early February.  After installing an IRC program and lurking for a bit in the chatrooms devoted to solving the puzzles, I started to work some of the puzzles myself.  This in turn required me to exercise some very rusty Linux skills in order to have a platform on which to easily install or compile some of the programs commonly used in the puzzles e.g. gpg, tor, outguess, stegdetect as well as a place to quickly write and compile one-off scripts for analysis.  The "solving community" found in the IRC channels and on the wikia have now been waiting for a month with "darkweb" onion hidden services activated and programmed to recieve file uploads with clues to the next step.
Just as interesting were the sidelights I followed while learning about things like hidden services (available on Tor and I2P, cultural awareness rising due to things like Silk Road and references in House of Cards), cryptocurrencies (recently increased media attention due to the Mt. Gox debacle and the possible discovery of the inventor of Bitcoin), and extremely cheap virtual private servers available at e.g. Low End Box.  What I'll ever do with any of this information is unclear to me, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Universe within

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:56 AM by Vikas Shah

This annoyingly cliched phrase has been bouncing around in my head nonstop lately.  Impending fatherhood has caused me to start thinking again about what consciousness is and how it develops.  I'm excited to meet and help along this tiny new creature in the universe, emphasis on new.

Spherical computation? Collisional computation?

posted Dec 30, 2013, 8:46 PM by Vikas Shah

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I will argue is a a fundamental problem facing traditional computational approaches in solving some of the really interesting problems (e.g. for me the neurobiological basis for consciousness, but also protein folding/drug design, factoring large numbers, etc), namely that traditional linear approaches to solving problems one micro-computation at a time will never model a protein or a brain.

While thinking/Googling/doodling about the question I hit upon a couple of interesting articles: Low-Power Chips to Model a Billion Neurons and The CIA and Jeff Bezos Bet on Quantum Computing.

Logicization of mathematics and the development of modern digital computers have obviously allowed powerful investigations.  The Furber article pulls together some of the most salient pieces of information that demonstrate that all of this firepower is dwarfed by the firepower of the brain and also starts to get to the how of it - namely parallelization.

However, I'm not sure that building the model suggested by Furber is the right approach.  Getting rid of "the expectation of deterministic operation" is important, but even if you're getting the "right" outputs (accurately modeling a system) you may not understand how you achieved that result.  Put it another way: if we have a situation where (a) we've built a system "empirically, not just following the theory" (either in the form of a quantum computer or with massively parallelized analog circuits) and  (b) it can solve the problems that we pose to it, I ask: do we understand the system any better for having built the model?

The answer, I suppose, is that once you have a model, you can start poking and picking at it.  But it is likely that a model system of sufficient complexity to recapitulate the entire system under study just brings you back around to the same problem you started out with.  Or, more likely still, that you'll never actually get the system to do anything meaningful because you don't know how to set the initial state conditions out of an impossibly large set of state spaces to choose from.

Quantum computers offer the theoretical possibility of exploring this vast state space, if and when such computers are invented.  (Reading about quantum computers veered me off to the Church–Turing thesis, which has the amusing property of being " 'a somewhat vague intuitive one'.  Thus, the thesis, although it has near-universal acceptance, cannot be formally proven.")

Well, I'm on OB call tonight and I keep getting interrupted, so I'll get back to this at some point soon.  But I'm pretty happy with what I've laid out so far.

On your marks...

posted Dec 22, 2013, 12:17 PM by Vikas Shah

Today is the 22nd of December, a Sunday, and I'm sitting around the house sick as a dog.  Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking about the position I've found myself in at age 37.  In truth, there's very little I can complain about.  I love my wife, I love my house, we've got a little girl on the way...  The problem is that I'm not really loving the thing I spend the vast majority of my time doing - anesthesia - on a daily basis.  I do love it when I get what I'm going to call a big win - the kind of case that's really hard and where, at the end of the day, I *know* I've helped save a life.  Apart from that, the day-in day-out is feeling like a bit of a grind.  Just so we're all clear, I'm under no illusion that this is anything but a First World Problem, and I really *really* have no business complaining.

Anyway, having ditched the academic route for a private practice gig which was just sold out from underneath me, I'm trying to figure out the next steps I need to take in order to be fulfilled and happy in my professional life as well as my personal life.  The blog is a vehicle for hashing out some ideas, and also a mechanism to practice writing.  I think I'd enjoy writing, but I've never felt exceptionally good about anything I've written.  In fact, most of it is hashed together and kludgy.  On the other hand, I haven't really spent a lot of time practicing my writing.  Call this blog the first steps towards that 10,000 hours you need to get really good at something.  (Or so says Malcolm Gladwell.)

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