Applesauce 2017










MIRI Intelligence in Fiction prize winner!

I am excited to announce that I am one of the winners of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute “Intelligence in Fiction” prize!

The prize is given to:

…people who write thoughtful and compelling stories about artificial general intelligenceintelligence amplification, or the AI alignment problem. We’re looking to appreciate and publicize authors who help readers understand intelligence in the sense of general problem-solving ability, as opposed to thinking of intelligence as a parlor trick for memorizing digits of pi, and who help readers intuit that non-human minds can have all sorts of different non-human preferences while still possessing instrumental intelligence.

And the best part is, you can read my winning story, “Human in the Loop” for free!

I wrote this story while I was working on code related to autonomous vehicles. Technically, a lot of the problems are eminently solvable. But what about the ethical problems?

If an automated vehicle had a crash, say, and someone dies, who is responsible? The “driver” who was behind the wheel at the time? The manufacturer who perhaps installed faulty software? The regulatory agency who allowed these vehicles on the road? The software developer who wrote the algorithm? What about in the case of emergent behavior; actions that were not explicitly programmed by anybody but instead emerged organically from an artificial neural network?

I was also frustrated by misunderstandings related to what exactly neural networks are (“My CPU is a neural-net processor; a learning computer.”), and wanted to set the record straight on that.

I am very happy that the people at MIRI enjoyed this one (and that my science was sufficiently rigorous!). It’s so great to find such a perfect audience for a piece of fiction, and this is about as perfect of a fit as you can get.

Baby’s First Amusement Park

I’m a little behind on posting this, but back before school started, Sara and the kids had one last end-of-summer hurrah to Santa’s Village Azoosment Park (and no, before you ask, they really do call themselves an “azoosment park”).

Alas, they went during the day so I was unable to go, but by all accounts a good time was had by all.



Santa’s Village is one of those kind of small, local-ish amusement parks similar to Indiana Beach or Michigan’s Adventure. Not having grown up in Chicago, I have never been to Santa’s Village, but I understand that some parents get a little nostalgic about taking their kids on the same rides they went on when they were little, such as “putting out the fire” on the firetruck:



It wouldn’t have done much for me to go anyway, since I’m not going near any roller coasters. Ollie is the daredevil of the family, and went on some of the big rides with Sara while Evelyn pulled a daddy and stayed firmly rooted to the ground, watching Alex and hoping they wouldn’t die.


The highlight was the X-Treme Elevator. He was excited at first, but when they got to the top Sara said, “Ollie, I think we’ve made a mistake.” “Yeah,” said Ollie.

When they finally got off the ride, Ollie asked the operator, “Did I kick myself in the face? I think I kicked myself in the face.”


For Alex’s part, he seems to take after Oliver more than Evelyn in the sense that he *sobbed and sobbed* that he wasn’t allowed to go on most of the rides.


They did manage to find a few rides that were his speed, so all’s well that ends well.


Being the younger brother

As an oldest child, I didn’t have older siblings to teach me things. Naturally, I set a sterling example for MY brother and sister, but obviously that is not always the case. Lately Alex has picked up things that…well, let’s just say it didn’t take much work to figure out where he’d learned it from.

For one thing, he has been running around with a toy sword, pointing it at people and saying, “pew pew!” Pretty sure he didn’t learn that from Sara and me. He also is prone to sobbing “No fair!” when he doesn’t get his way (okay, that one he *might* have gotten from me).

On the other hand, being the youngest might have advantages. Alex certainly was the easiest of our children to potty train, and I don’t know if that’s because of something about his personality, or if he just has a whole lot of examples to model himself after (and a whole lot of extra people to sit with him and read Little Critter and/or Clifford books over, and over, and over while he’s on the potty…)

It certainly could just be him personally. All of our kids are whip smart. It’s hard for me to remember precisely how smart they were at 20 months, and I remember being impressed by them, but Alex’s language and memory both seem to be well off the charts.

What if he’s the smartest of the three of them? I have to say…the prospect is a little frightening.

Quote Monday wants his big coffee

::Evelyn going upstairs without Alex::
Alex, very angry: “Eva come back here little boy!!”

Evelyn: “Yankee doodle went to…”
Alex: “Town!”
Evelyn: “Riding on a…”
Alex: “Pony!”
Evelyn: “Stuck a feather in his…”
Alex: “Hat!”
Evelyn: “…and called it…”
Alex: “Pepperoni!”

Alex: “Evie, go pee pee at Whole Foods.”
Sara: “Yes, you can go pee pee at Whole Foods.”
Alex: “Noooo, talking to Evie!”

::Sara and I get coffees::
Alex: “Where’s my big coffee?”

Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa Chili

The first Friday of the month is reserved for recipes. You can see additional First Friday Food posts here.

The Reason:

Okay, so I missed that LAST Friday was actually the first Friday of the month. SO SUE ME.

I mentioned last month that I had a fall recipe queued up and ready to go, and this is it. If I were going to a chili cookoff, this is the recipe I would bring. It’s totally chili, and yet it’s totally not chili. Totally unique, and totally wonderful.


The Journey:

Like any good chili, this is mostly just throwing everything in a pot and letting it sit. However, in this case, everything means, like, EVERYTHING.


So, you know, you save on the cooking part, and you pay on the cleaning-up-the-disaster part.

The Verdict:

I think you just have to try this to understand it. I’m not sure words can really capture the strange, yet strangely working combinations of flavor here.

And as a side note, we doubled the recipe to have enough for a 2nd night. Just saying…


The Recipe:

Recipe from The Kitchn.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound dried black beans, rinsed well
  • 1 chipotle chile from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potatoes (2-3 small), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • sour cream, to top (optional)
  • green onions, chopped, to top (optional)
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, to top (optional)
  1. Soak black beans in hot water for several hours (or overnight)
  2. Heat the oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, and coriander and stir. Cook together for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, beans, chipotle pepper, and oregano. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until beans are flavorful and tender, anywhere from 2 – 4 hours (depending on the age of your beans). Even with pre-soaking, we cooked the beans for about 3 hours.
  4. After ~3 hours of cooking, add the sweet potatoes, quinoa, and salt. Place the pot’s lid back on slightly ajar and allow to simmer on low heat until the beans are soft and the sweet potatoes and quinoa are cooked through (about another hour). Add more water if the chili becomes too thick. Serve with sour cream, cilantro, and green onion.

Quote Monday rebels

Evelyn: “When I’m in college…”
::leaning close, voice dropping low::
“…I’m going to eat the Oh’s with the *honey* on them.”

See, my theory is that your children are going to rebel anyway, so you might as well deprive them as much as possible so that their idea of rebelling is eating Honey Nut Cheerios. My only hope is that by the time the learn to hate us, it will be too late! They will already have good habits.

Ollie: “I just want to walk around and see what Chicago looks like at night.”
Me: “Oh, that’s not really a safe time to go wandering around the neighborhood.”
Ollie: “Because of…are there werewolves?”

Me: “Alex, who put all this stuff in my guitar?”
Alex, with no hesitation: “Evie did it.”