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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Consulting Augur: An Introduction to Decentralized Probability Markets

With all the speculation in the cryptosphere, it is liberating to come across a platform that you can use right here, right now. According to Ben Davidow, Augur is the world's first decentralized prediction market (DPN). It aims to unlock the wisdom of the masses by offering incentives for insider knowledge.  Will Donald Trump win a second term as President?... that is a current question on Augur (probability: 40%). Will there be a big earthquake in Tokyo by April 2019? (probability: 2%.) The theory is, people with secret knowledge, for example Japanese seismologists, will try to exploit their private expertise, and tip off the market. Over time, Augur might answer some of our most profound questions, such as When will AI become self-aware? I would wager never.. but with such an open timeframe, there won't ever be a payday. This is the kind of market I would be ought to stay away from, for reasons that I will shortly explain.


Augur has huge potential, not just in the speculated future, but right now, and that is what attracts me to the platform. That said, the system is still a bit buggy, very much Beta, and counterintuitive for newbies. To begin with, bets are called markets (buying and selling the probability of a certain event). If you want to bet against an event, you sell shares in it (even though you don't own any shares to begin with). Once you wrap your mind around this, it gets a little easier, but there are other problems. The UI can shut down, for days at a time. With some markets it can take a lot of time getting trades through. Cancelling such orders costs more gas (though not as much as it costs to enter or exit a market). Congestion on the Ethereum blockchain can freeze you just when you are about to pounce.


In spite of these obstacles, I persist, because I can see real rewards here. Based on my exchanges so far, I am 93.75% certain that I have found the Holy Grail for bear markets such as these. And since my research has revealed that cryptocurrencies languish in bear markets 75% of their lives, Augur offers me the way to monetize this downtime. Who knows, it could help kickstart the Escape from Oz, a project which has been languishing way too long in my personal bear market... (For the full review of the Augur prediction market, click here.)



Monday, June 4, 2018

The Three Australian Dialects, Explained

Being a young nation, Australia is not endowed with the patchwork of regional dialects found in the United States or Britain. Geography does not influence speech in any meaningful way; one regional dialect covers the entire continent. That said, ethnic and social differences do exist. Apart from the ethnic dialects of immigrants, and fading Aboriginal tongues, there are said to be three sociocultural varieties of Australian English: broad (Ocker), general, and cultivated. As Wikipedia records, "the term 'Ocker' is used both as a noun and adjective for an Australian who speaks and acts in an uncouth manner, using a broad Australian accent." Ocker culture is anti-authoritarian, and anti-intellectual. The intonation is flat with a nasal twang, and rhythms are slower than the general dialect. Speech is peppered with unique idioms, frequent swearing, and colourful terminology... (For my complete observations on the dialects of Australia, click here.)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reawakening the Tiger

I have been reading a few blogs about a trauma intervention called Self Regulation Therapy, or SRT for short, which is based on Peter Levine's book, Waking the Tiger. It sounds similar to CBT, but there is one crucial difference: in SRT the focus is on repressed energy in the body, rather than faulty thinking patterns. It is psychosomatic, rather than just cognitive, or psychological. You could call it psychophysiological, which is rather a long word, and difficult to pronounce. Whatever the name, SRT has resonated with me, because I have been disheartened with CBT for quite some time. Session after session, I have met with K.A. at Your Strengths in Wyong, or Dr Goripati, to receive their wisdom, and pretend that they are actually helping me. They keep stressing that the solutions to my panic attacks are cognitive, I just need to change the way I interpret my thoughts, blah blah blah. They say it over and over again, but I can't get it to work for me. They claim the thought comes first, then the fearful reaction, but in my experience it is the other way round. First I feel anxious, and then I cognize, and catastrophize. It has led me to believe that panic is a symptom of the hindbrain, the reptilian brain... the part of our anatomy that we share with the birds, and the beasts. I notice that whenever I disturb the lorikeets which abound in my parents' garden they shriek instinctively, empty their bowels, and then burst into flight. For them it is the equivalent of encountering a wild lion, but they do it every day, and they never appear to suffer from any mental trauma afterwards... (For my complete observations on SRT and how it may help with panic disorder, click here.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Halfway House (One Mile at a Time)

You know the deal: for years I have been quashed, sunk in quicksand. Since late 2011 I have been barricaded here at Breezy, the House on the Lake; like a convict have I been confined, with only the birds (and my parents) for buddies. Stormboy and his pelican, that has been my plight, stranded 'midst the sandstone scarps. Storms have come and gone, planes streaking across the sky, yet I have been steadfast as the stones, and just as sullen. Much as I yearn to passenger one of those planes which hourly pass by overhead, I remain trapped, saddled by my agoraphobia, and a lack of appropriate funds. It doesn't matter much that I have a job now, and savings are accumulating swiftly... Australia is a huge, expensive country, and I will need an awful lot of cash to traverse it. How much is an open question, the intersection of a number of sliding rules. Basically, the longer I wait, the easier it becomes. But I am so tired of waiting, and I would love to kick things forward, anyway I can. At the moment, any move would be a good one, even one which took me just to the top of the driveway. I would be at least one step on my way, halfway out of my hole. And once my momentum had recovered, that one small step could turn into a second, and then into a third...


The Garage.. aka the Halfway House (Australia, 2017)

A few months ago, my Mum decided to convert the garage, which sits on the top of the hill, into a granny flat. Well, it might be just a granny flat for her, but under my stewardship it could inflate into a pod, a Halfway House no less. Within a few months weeks days, I will be relocating up there, and living by myself. Even if it was my Mum's idea, I should not be too suspicious. For better or worse, I will soon have my own place, for the first time in six years! 

An empty space (Australia, 2017)
Granted, it is never going to be as nifty as my Shinozaki digs, with its programmable bath and explosive water pressure, but it promises to be nice, nonetheless. The days of watching my parent's British chatshows and murder mysteries are coming to an end, and that alone is something to savour, whether I end up with a wall-screen TV or not.



Insert window here (Australia, 2017)
My Mum has ordered an air-conditioner, courtesy of Kelvinator, and a kitchen where I can cook spaghetti carbonara (if I ever learn how!) Even as I type the kitchen is coming together, sink and drawers, red tiles on the walls, and a bench where I can remotely teach. I can look down at Breezy at the bottom of the hill, and contemplate how far I have come.



Kitchen in the works, in the Halfway House (Australia, 2017)
It is just a few short steps from there to the top of the hill, but for me at least, it will be an Armstrongian leap. Once I move in I will be able to order Indian food from The Entrance, and watch Viceland in the early hours of the morning. It will be as great a step forward as getting off Work for the Dole, or of getting off the dole itself. It will be like having an Absence every day of the year! And as the old expression goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart grow stronger.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Asakusa Food: 11 of the Most Fabulous Restaurants and Cafes!

When I first arrived in Asakusa, money was too tight to mention. I had overextended myself in Sumatra and Singapore on the way to Japan, and I was also having trouble accessing my credit. Finding work in Tokyo hadn't proved too difficult, but getting paid was. Fortunately, I was staying in one of the cheapest places in Asakusa, with a master of austerity. The proprietor pointed out plenty of local bargains, for example the infamous beef bowl round the corner (¥280 for the regular size). There was an Ethiopian guy at the ryokan who was hardbudgeting, eating every meal at Yoshinoya, or occasionally picking up a cutpriced bento box. I might have been short of cash, but I wasn't quite that desperate yet... I supplemented my diet with Mos Burger and sushi... (For the full review of the Asakusa dining scene, click here.)


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Cracking the Code

For many years, JavaScript evaded me. I wanted it for my website, I could see its potential for my life, but I just couldn't wrap my head around how it worked. It was a fruit I couldn't reach, a nut that wouldn't crack. I made a promising debut in the biz, you might say: I grew up with a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and learned BASIC at an early age. I even programmed a video game in Year 10 Computer Studies, a racing car simulation with sprite and treacherous track. That was in the age of the Commodore 64. When the Internet arrived, half a decade later, I fancied that it could provide the platform for a new kind of literature, an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style of fiction. I started to write a novel which I hoped would be like the magic book from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: a device that was more storyteller than mere story, bespoke but bewilderingly cutting-edge, an intuitive, intelligent machine. HTML was cool and easy to pick up, but it wasn't interactive enough for my goal. I soon realized that only JavaScript could deliver the desired dynamism. Unfortunately, computer languages had evolved since my TA forays, and this new lingo looked a hell lot more complicated than BASIC. What is it with these functions, attributes and elements? I remember asking myself, frustrated; what does object-oriented mean? Looking back, I can see that I had succumbed to the same misconception that scuppered my efforts to learn German in Year 11: I did not appreciate that every language has its own grammar. As language leaners know, grammar is the hardest part. Master the grammar, and the rest will follow.  


This breakthrough was 20 years in the making, but something miraculous has happened in the past few months... I suddenly get JavaScript! Of course, these days I no longer write fiction... I suppose you could say that fiction writes me. Life is a code (Baudrillard), a narrative (Lacan), and JavaScript is the interface which enables me to read this code, one line at a time...



We all have algorithms running in our minds at any time, unfathomable routines, an endless chain of signification (to put it in Lacanese). Functions waiting to be triggered, like samskaras lurking in the murk. The first step is to codify what it already there, conscious and unconscious, constructive and destructive. Then you can set about reprogramming yourself. Currently JavaScript can predict how far I can drive from home, estimate my tax due  (var taxdue = taxableIncome * .19;), and even tell me when it is time to move out. Piece by piece, my personal assistant is taking shape. The Grand Algorithm is here!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bracing for the Jump (Take Two)

The quickening of Capricorn continues, and quite surprisingly I find myself working at a steady job, saving cash, and rolling to a 9-5 routine (but let's call it a 09-22 roulette instead). The Hard Native nightmare is coming to a close, and a Soft International morning is rousing all around me, radiant gold and fringed with birdsong. For the first time in years I feel like I am back in the saddle, finally able to spur my stallions into speed. Shangri-La is looming, and while it might seem a lonely place from this angle, it is nonetheless lightyears more agreeable than the limbo I have been locked inside for so long, that Cold Buddhist Hell of Immobility. Hell is warming up, and as the ice thaws, the contradictions of the Lake Haven Age emerge in their sordid gore, mammoths marooned in the muck, samskaras scorched into the sediment. It just goes to show that I was indeed in a Yin phase back then, a Shiva stage if you must... now Yin is yielding to Yang, Shiva shifting to Shakti, and suddenly the future is not just a futile fantasy, but a reality which must soon be lived. To quote an old song: the time to hesitate is through. But have I been mired in the mud so long that my wings refuse to fly? I know from experience that freedom is a habit, and muscles can waste from underuse...

On May 26 the Travel Fund passed the magic milestone of $4000. In former times this would have been reason enough to trigger a migration movement, a Jump into a brand new life. My original plan, fleshed out in 2011, was to fly to Cambodia, which I'd discovered was the cheapest nation in the region, and then just glide around for a while, propelled by affiliate advertising. Smoke some ganja perhaps aloft the ruins of Angkor Wat, shoot pool with beer gals and gangstas, strafe the straits of Vang Vieng. Play the Indochinese dating game. That was the plan, but then I lost my AdSense, and then my world collapsed. Even if I had the money for an airline ticket, I would not have been able to board the plane. I wouldn't have even made it to the bloody airport! Confined to a box, I decided to find freedom within that box, chasing the macrocosm in the microcosm. It worked, almost too well: I regained my sanity within that straitjacket, but in the process, alas, I misplaced my wanderlust. Since that time, I have spent every single day at my parents' house, on the shore of Budgewoi Lake, on the NSW Central Coast. Every day, and every single night, held captive... well, every single night, captive, except one. And that night is the subject of this account.


Rear shot of the Bridge View Motel, at Gorokan (Australia, 2015)
The Grand Algorithm contends: when one has been in the same place too long, inertia develops. Inertia is to vagabondism, of course, what rust is to iron, or fear is to Mind... it is the Mind Killer. Right now, inertia is the habit I need to break, the momentum I must quickly reverse. Indochina is out of the question this year, I get that; Sydney is too hard, too; but soon I will have the funds and the fortitude to conquer them both, and it is vital for me to get back into shape. For this reason on June 10 I packed my tiny rucksack with pills and a Samsung tablet and leaving my Mum and Dad watching murder mysteries at their home, walked up to the Bridge View Motel situated at the end of the street. My goal was to spend the night in that motel, monitoring my anxiety, and getting a taste for the Vagabondist voyage which will presently commence. You might call it a dress rehearsal, a trial run. I was feeling kind of weird as I made my way up Malvina Parade, suffering mild separation anxiety. Contrary to expectations, this wasn't typical agoraphobia that I was down with, just run-of-the-mill scepticism. I was doubtful, in other words, about the wisdom of this whole experiment, and worried that I had made a mistake by heading out here. The ground was soggy as I walked, and grassseeds clung to my trouser legs.  At reception I purchased a room with my credit card, and was presented the key to my door. The friendly owners had assigned me a downstairs room, right on the main road, positioned just behind the swimming pool. I was a little concerned about the location, and what isolation hid behind that door. As soon as I opened the door and inhaled that classic hotel aroma, my fears faded. All of a sudden I knew that I was on a holiday, 2km from home. And I thought to myself, rejoicingly: Why have I left it so long?


Plenty of room to stretch out in my cosy space (Australia, 2015)
There was a Bible by the bedside, little bars of soap in the bathroom, and soft pillows on the bed.


Too cold for a swim just yet, but the view looks nice (Australia, 2015)
There was a dead cockroach in the corner but, hey, that was better than a live one.


Freedom in the box: Stan Grant interviews Dr Cornel West, famous dissident, on Awaken, NITV (Australia, 2015)
After settling myself in and taking a short nap, I strolled over the road to drink a few beers at Wallarah Bay Recreation Club, our local establishment. I had some overpriced carbonara, then retreated "home", to consume a few beers more, in the freedom of my hotel room. I pumped up the aircon, and flicked through the channels on the TV. It felt refreshingly cool to be in control, setting the agenda, instead of being hostage to my Mum and Dad's viewing habits. Sadly, the cable library promised at the Bridge View did not prove to be as extensive as I had expected. It basically consisted of two sports channels featuring badminton and the like, and two lame movie channels. Free-to-air NITV turned out to be the best thing on. I watched some program about land rights in South Australia, an Aboriginal graveyard being excavated to make way for the railway. Observing this documentary, I felt distressingly aware of the size of this land, the huge continent I am fated soon to cross.

But do I have the guts to actually cross it?

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