Eliza-san Sushi

A friend posted an article from the New York Times on Kura, a sushi chain that uses sushi-making robots. This of course got me thinking about how I like to sit at the sushi bar and have a conversation with the sushi chef. How might that go with a robot? I fired up ELIZA (M-x doctor) and…

I am the sushi chef. Please, describe your problems.


Can you elaborate on that?

Good evening

Why do you say good evening?

I would like to have some sushi for dinner.

What makes you believe i might want to have this sushi dinner?

I was hoping you would make me a sushi dinner.

Earlier you said
i would like to have this sushi dinner?


I would appreciate it if you would continue.

What would you recommend?

Maybe your life has something to do with this.

It’s true, I am often indecisive. I really love sushi!

Perhaps you could tell me about your relationship with sushi.

Well, it started when I was in high school.

Talk about your school.

I took four years of Japanese. Koukou de yon nen kurai benkyou
shimashita. Demo zen zen wasuremashita.

Is it because of your plans that you say demo zen zen wasuremashita?

Well, I have always wanted to learn again.

You mentioned that
i would like to have this sushi dinner?

Yes, I am very hungry. What fish is fresh today?

Perhaps the people you hang around with have something to do with this.

Maybe a mackerel temaki?

Are you sure that
maybe a mackerel temaki?

Is the mackerel good?

Do you really think you love sushi?


Go on, don’t be afraid.

I really do.

Is it because of problems at school that you are going through all this?

I’m done with school, thank goodness.

Does it bother you that your grades could improve?

Too late for that now.

I need a little more detail please.

How about salmon skin?

Is it because of any hobbies you have that you say
how about salmon skin?

What, like Silence of the Lambs?

Earlier you said
i would like to have this sushi dinner?

Yes, I’ll have the omakase.

How do you reconcile hangups you have?


A new scam?

I received a scam email recently asking me if I wanted to “take up a job” for a few months while someone is goes on leave. The salary is not huge but pretty decent ($3.5k/month + some sort of commission) and I’m instructed to contact someone in Taiwan to make the arrangements. I assume the next step is that I will give them my bank account etc (for direct deposit), which then will get cleared out.

This seems like a particularly pernicious type of internet fraud because it doesn’t involve egregious amounts of money (vs. Nigerian bank scams) and there is so much unemployment in the US right now that people would be happy to take that job for 3 months.

Is this a new kind of scam? It seems different from the “work from home and make $70k” things I’ve seen before.


Apparently I spend half my time reading Crooked Timber.

Žižek gets a lashing for his lazy contrarianism.

A great piece by Michael Bérubé on the Sokal hoax and its aftermath.

Scott Aaronson thinks people should vote to cut funding for quantum computing via YouCut. Why? Because “seeing my own favorite research topics attacked on the floor of the House” would be hilarious (and it would too!).

Marc Lelarge has a new paper up on diffusion and cascade effects in random networks. Fun reading for the break, assuming I can get time.

Some new ways of measuring impact factors.

The top retractions of 2010

This is a bit of a pessimistic list, but here are the top science/scientist retractions in 2010. This reminds me of a pretty interesting New Yorker article I just read on the difficulty in reproducing scientific results. The lingering feeling after reading that article is that we need better statistics than just blindly applying chi-square tests and blah blah blah.

What are your favorite LaTeX macros?

I have quite a few collaborative writing projects going on in parallel now. One side-benefit of collaborating is that you learn neat LaTeX macros that your co-authors have developed that end up saving lots of time (or making the TeX equations more readable). Some people invent a whole set of macros for each paper (so that the macros stand for semantic concepts like “input variable”), but I do that mainly for small stuff, like different epsilons. What I do have are macros for are

  • font types and weights : using \mathrm{}, \mathcal{}, etc. is for the birds
  • functions : KL-divergence, mutual information, conditional mutual information etc. I get in trouble sometimes because I use the I(X \wedge Y) instead of I(X; Y) for mutual information, but we can change that in the macro!
  • norms, inner products : these are just functions anyway
  • epsilons : this helps keep different epsilons clearer, actually, and makes debugging proofs a little simpler.

I somehow never get around to making macros like \cX for \mathcal{X}, but maybe that would make my life easier. The nice thing about macros for functions is you can put in auto-sizing delimiters in the macro, saving some \left and \right‘s. What are your favorite things to make into macros?


The Voice of the T announcements (h/t Erin). Features a special guest appearance by not-me.

Videos from the 2010 Kailath Lecture and Colloquium have been posted (h/t Pulkit Grover).

The Supreme Court issued a 4-4 per curiam decision affirming (pdf) the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision in Costco vs. Omega. Basically Omega sells its watches cheaper abroad, and Costco was re-importing them from a reseller to give the discount to US customers. This was a copyright violation, says Omega, and the Ninth Circuit reverse the lower court decision in favor of Costco. Why does this matter? As I mentioned earlier, a decision for Costco would let resellers sell cheap textbooks in the US. When I was in Delhi I picked up a copy of Feller Vol. 1 (the Vol. 2 was a little beat up so I decided to get it another time) for Rs. 400 (under 10 bucks), a savings of over $120 from the price on Amazon. Admittedly, it’s softcover and the paper is not quite as nice, but the way publishers gouge people on technical books is astonishing.

Wiener on control versus learning

I’ve seen this quote excerpted in parts before, but not the whole thing:

I repeat, feedback is a method for controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of its past performance. If these results are merely used as numerical data for the criticism of the system and its regulation, we have the simple feedback of the control engineers. If, however, the information which proceeds backward from the performance is able to change the general method and pattern of performance, we have a process which may well be called learning.
– Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings

It is a strange distinction Wiener is trying to make here. First, Wiener tries to make “numerical data” a simple special case, and equates control as the manipulation of numerical data. However, he doesn’t contrast numbers with something else (presumably non-numerical) which can “change the general method and pattern.” Taking it from the other direction, he implies that mere control engineering cannot accomplish “learning.” That is, from numerical data and “criticism of the system” we cannot change how the system works. By Wiener’s lights, pretty much all of the work in mathematical control and machine learning would be classified as control.

I am, of course, missing the context in which Wiener was writing. But I’m not sure what I’m missing. For example, at the time a “control engineer” may have been more of a regulator, so in the first case Wiener may be referring to putting a human in the loop. In the book he makes a distinction between data and algorithms (the “taping”) which has been fuzzed up by computer science. If this distinction leads to drawing a line between control and learning, then is there a distinction between control and learning?