Author Archive | Haystack

Playing for Keeps: AI Enters the World of Online Poker

poker-botsA poker bot able surpass human competitors still has other bots to contend with. Is online gambling poised to become cyperpunk? From Gabriel Dance at The New York Times:

Bryan Taylor, 36, could not shake the feeling that something funny was going on. Three of his most frequent opponents on an online poker site were acting oddly, playing in ways that were so similar it was suspicious.

Mr. Taylor, who started playing poker professionally in 2008, suspected that he was competing against computers — specifically bots, short for robots — that had been programmed to play poker and beat the odds.

And he was right. After an investigation, the site Mr. Taylor frequented, PokerStars, determined that his opponents had been computers masquerading as people and shut them down.

Poker bots are not new, but until recently they were not very good. Humans were better at the nuances of the game — at bluffing, for instance — and could routinely beat the machines.… Read the rest

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The Natural History of the Incorporeal Garage Dragon

dragonSkeptics, believers. Lay down your shotguns and knives. Take a moment to bandage and reload, and I will explain to you why an incorporeal garage dragon means that you should not be fighting. As much.

This strange beast, and its fantastical properties, are described in The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage,” he begins, “…Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.”

You do, but you can’t. The dragon is invisible. You could spread flour on the floor to capture its footprints, but, alas, it also floats. You offer to fetch your infrared camera, but, sadly, its fire is heatless. Perhaps a can of spray paint, then, to make the dragon visible? Oh, right. Incorporeal.

You see where he’s going: “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless,” he writes, “the only sensible approach is to tentatively reject the dragon hypothesis, [but] to be open to future data…”

The garage dragon is a straightforward parable about the scientific value of a non-falsifiable hypothesis, but it contains an important nuance.… Read the rest

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Inside the Skull and Bones Secret Island

DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the American Thousand Islands, located on the St. Lawrence River, Deer Island is owned by the secretive Skull and Bones Society, who have gathered there for untold decades. Widely rumored to operate as a secret cabal, linked variously to the CIA and the Illuminati, the Society’s membership reads like a roster of American power elites: former presidents, CEOs, public intellectuals, a supreme court justice, and other high-level government officials. In his autobiography, bonesman George W. Bush described it as “a secret society; so secret, I can’t say anything more.” It is no wonder, therefore, that the Society maintains a private island to hide its proceedings from the public.

Clues to the Society’s real activities on Deer Island are slowly emerging, however. In 2009, Hunter Walker of Gawker obtained series of leaked photos showing an actual gathering of bonesmen (and boneswomen) on their Deer Island compound. The truth will shock you.… Read the rest

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Physicist Discovers Computer Code Embedded Within the Equations of String Theory

In an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, physicist James Gates describes a digitally-encoded error checking algorithm embedded within the fundamental equations of String Theory:

Gates’s ideas are laid out in more depth in a 2010 article for Physics World. He believes that these theoretical findings, if validated, may be evidence that we live in a simulation. However, if there are algorithms encoded in the fabric of reality, is it not also possible that they might have emerged as a result of some natural selective process–a kind of cosmic DNA, if you will?

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‘Mundus Subterraneus': Arcane, Uncanny, Online

Until recently, if you wanted to leaf through Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus, you had to sneak into a university’s rare book collection at night, Wilbur Whateley-style.  Now the complete work, with its many bizarre and fantastic illustrations, is available at the Internet Archive—enjoy. John Glassie has an excellent piece on it at The Public Domain Review:

Just before Robert Hooke’s rightly famous microscopic observations of everything from the “Edges of Rasors” to “Vine mites” appeared in Micrographia in 1665, the insatiably curious and incredibly prolific Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher published what is in many ways a more spectacular work. Mundus Subterraneus (Underground World), a two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, was intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.” There is an “idea of the earthly sphere that exists in the divine mind,” Kircher proclaimed, and in this book, one of more than thirty on almost as many subjects that he published during his lifetime, he tried to prove that he had grasped it.

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Allow Me to Shake My Cane at You

It’s the 1980’s and a little boy is browsing his parents’ library. Nikola Tesla is a “Man out of Time.” The Illuminati are managing the stagecraft of history. Antiquated diagrams posit a hollow Earth, concealing its own internal sun and refugee Nazi army–and who built the pyramids, now?

Next door, where the grandparents live, Bob Larson is exorcising demons from those unwary teenagers who have haplessly dabbled in D&D and heavy metal. A well-organized conspiracy is hiding the truth of Satanic ritual sacrifice, while the Antichrist is waiting in the wings to implant 666 chips into the palms of all but the most faithful Christians. Ouija boards are serious business and, with a sharp eye and a handy camera, you just might be the one to prove the existence of UFOs. To borrow a phrase; nothing is true, and everything is permitted.

Conspicuously absent are: Absurd rants against the scientific method, comparing the peer-review process to the persecution of Galileo.… Read the rest

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Inside the Deep Web

Chris 73 (CC)

Shawn Wasson at The News Junkie describes his journey into the other Internet:

The Internet has evolved quite a bit since I first logged on to CompuServe in 1994. I’d spent a few years tooling around on BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) connections throughout the country at that point and the most visible portions of a forming World Wide Web were quite innocent in appearance. But as I ramped up my father’s 4600 baud modem and looked around at the fringes of online existence, I unknowingly caught a glimpse at the Web’s early underbelly. From there, pornography, craziness and illegal activities were easily accessible. There weren’t many people logging on so, naturally, there weren’t many people to police this new digital space. Eventually, as AOL, Prodigy and other ISPs became more mainstream, the more nefarious outlets vanished into the shadows. But where did it all go? I recently took a plunge into the ‘Deep Web,’ a sub-surface area of the Internet not indexed by search engines and only available to those on the forefront of technology, namely people connected to the Tor Network.

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Queen Rat: Victorian London’s Sewer Succubus

Toshers were scavengers who explored the vast, ancient sewers of Victorian London in search of lost coins and salvage, but even greater rewards awaited those fortunate enough to encounter the legendary Queen Rat. As Mike Dash of Smithsonian Magazine reports:

…A second myth, far more eagerly believed, told of the existence (Jacqueline Simpson and Jennifer Westwood record) “of a mysterious, luck-bringing Queen Rat”:

This was a supernatural creature whose true appearance was that of a rat; she would follow the toshers about, invisibly, as they worked, and when she saw one that she fancied she would turn into a sexy-looking woman and accost him. If he gave her a night to remember, she would give him luck in his work; he would be sure to find plenty of money and valuables. He would not necessarily guess who she was, for though the Queen Rat did have certain peculiarities in her human form (her eyes reflected light like an animal’s, and she had claws on her toes), he probably would not notice them while making love in some dark corner.

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The Exegesis Of Philip K. Dick

Philip K DickPhilip K. Dick’s innovative science fiction is best-known for its portrayal of characters trapped in Gnostic false realities which they may unravel by way of divine or god-like helpers, mystical experiences, and active paranoia. As his career progressed, his novels became increasingly bizarre—and increasingly autobiographical. By the time he died in 1982, he had come to regard his collected work not as the production of his own fertile imagination, but as a kind of Scripture; the novelization of essential truths revealed to him in a series of visionary experiences with a higher intelligence.

A new window into the intense process of dizzying introspection by which Dick struggled to explicate his mystical experiences has recently opened with the publication of a 900-page collection of his private papers. As Daniel Karder of The Guardian puts it, “…if you want to know what it’s like to have your world dissolve, and then try to rebuild it while suffering mental invasions from God, Asklepios or whomever, you should read The Exegesis:” 

Philip K Dick rewired my brain when I was a mere lad, after I plucked Clans of the Alphane Moon at random from a shelf in my local library.

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