living computation / Dave Ackley

High order bits

Where to begin? This is officially the second outing but last timeliving computation :: I hate writing feels more like a throat-clearing rant. What should I say first?

A progressive JPEG’ You can click through for more info. Here’s an example—but these days images load fast enough that seeing the coarser initial images might be tough: image file has a complete low-resolution view at the beginning, that doesn’t take much space and can be displayed before the whole image is available, and it’s often enough to tell you whether you want to look closer—whether it’s a face, or probably not a car, or an outdoor scene… The details that flesh it out and polish it come along later.

If two humans knew nothing of each other, what brief statement about one would convey the most and most useful information to the other, in the shortest space and time? What disconnected fact would most help the recipient guess who they’re dealing with, where the encounter is likely to go, and whether they’re likely to be interested in going along?

Here’s one: I’m 47.

Forty-seven years old as I write this. Yikes. I can just feel it splittingThat’s sooooooo old!

Just another trailing edge boomer; I remember 47.

Young whippersnapper thinks he knows anything—thinks I’d say ‘whippersnapper’, sheesh.
the audience.

That’s a hypothetical audience, of course, an imaginary one, hastening to their Back buttons in my mental ‘world model’—that machinery in my head, and yours, where we run simulations of situations, possible actions, possible results. ‘Computing the audience’ is a rather common thing in my head, it turns out, for good and bad; I think I usually do it too much—Dammit, don’t split the audience! bong bong bong—except where it’s important.

If one’s megalohypothetical audience starts out as everybody everywhere, well then splitting it some is inevitable; expecting to split it is freedom to speak, freedom to be specific, freedom to geek out. The bold road splits the audience over and over along different dimensionsSaturday Night Live sketch: “Gay Communist Gun Club” until you get, not simply minced audience, but a new unity in which what has boiled off is not the people themselves but their adherence to ultimately inconsequential aspects of what they are.

Good work if you can get it.

I was 47 years old when I wrote this.
How old were you, when you read it?

The ‘high order bit’ of a binary number is the one that carries the most weight, the one written farthest to the left. Changing the high order bit changes the value of the number more than changing any other bit.

The very concept of high order bit implies a decision has already been made about how big the number can be. The binary numbers 11111 × 8+1 × 4+1 × 2+1 × 1 = 15 and 0011110 × 32+0 × 16+
1 × 8+1 × 4+1 × 2+1 × 1 = 15
both equal 15 in decimal, but their high order bits are different. Flip the high order bit on 1111, you get ‘0111’ or ‘111’ or 7 in decimal, but do the same for 001111 you get ‘101111’, which is definitely somethingOh, come on, can’t you guess? bigger (if not obviously better) than 7. The box you put around the number impacts the meaning of the high-order bit.

Lots of boxes one might pick to frame the high order bit of human communication. Hell, the fact I picked age might say more to you than what my age actually is: You can’t say one thing without saying two things.Feel free to recurse, if you can find a suitable crank…

I couldn’t not consider: I’m male, but was almost embarrassed it crossed my mind. GeekAcademic… same thing: True, but so far from definitive.

For me, a strong candidate high order bit was: It is the year 2004 as I write this. Really, that might say everything about me that some transhuman futuro-roboto reader might care to know, in a thousand years. Didn’t go with it, obviously, but pleased myself for thinking big. That you could be speaking immortal words to a distant future rapt and breathless is the wonderful hopeful delusion of authorship.

Uncomfortable revealing my age, my anything; afraid of being wrongly pegged.

Pah, come on: Afraid of being rightly pegged; how dare anyone think they know me.

I hate being typical but I love being loved.

Forty-seven, long since ran out of verses in The Circle Game. My self-image years behind in most ways; can admit that but still still still feel young. Even where I’m a bog-standard dime-a-dozen 47—say, realizing I already need to have my eyes checked again—I can’t have that represent me, can’t have it be me.

But that’s the point: In the high order bit game it’s not like there’s anyonething that could avoid that. Whatever little factoid’s first out the door, whatever sets the impression, is going to deceive as well as inform… the audience will always split; be brave.

In our fractured instant focus group time-division multitasked infotainucation megacorporate World Of Lost Todays®, all super size servings of bite size deep fried idea nuggets and high fructose story strips, well, the exalted high order bit is a disease. A disease, but the cure obvious: More bitsdrink them all together, more bits, then we feel better. The truth will out, the truth will pile up, if I just Keep going. If we just keep going.

I am not a number!

I am many numbers.

Judge me by it as you will, but of all the numbers I am, I say age goes first. We are exchanging bits here, via a rough communications protocol. And there’s ample experience in computation and communications suggesting that for robust, long-lasting protocols, there are just a few key facts that should be transmitted very early on.

47 is my version number.

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09 Jun 2004
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