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January 2005 Archives

January 1, 2005

Book: Midnight's Children

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Various quotations in the extended text. This book will stand up well to a second reading, in part because of the quality of writing, and in part because of the non-linearity of Rushdie's writing style. Of course, it might be years before I have the time to read this again ;).

Continue reading "Book: Midnight's Children" »

Book: Invisible Cities

book image

More quotes in the extended entry. Some favorites:

"Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches."

"Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have."

"Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence."

This quote I like because it is actually fairly close to modern understanding of the biology of memory: "Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little."

To quote from Steven Johnson:

For a long time, memory researchers assumed that memories were like volumes stored in a library. When your brain remembered something, it was simply searching through the stacks and then reading aloud from whatever passage it discovered. But some scientists now believe that memories effectively get rewritten every time they're activated, thanks to a process called reconsolidation. To create a synaptic connection between two neurons the associative link that is at the heart of all neuronal learning you need protein synthesis. Studies on rats suggest that if you block protein synthesis during the execution of learned behavior pushing a lever to get food, for instance the learned behavior disappears. It appears that instead of simply recalling a memory that had been forged days or months ago, the brain is forging it all over again, in a new associative context. In a sense, when we remember something, we create a new memory, one that is shaped by the changes that have happened to our brain since the memory last occurred to us.

Update: for actual analysis, go see meta's notes

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January 2, 2005

Caganer Kitsch

I got to start off my day reading this article that links caganers, Christmas, kitsch, Kundera, and Napa (stumbled upon this link after meta brought up Kundera's definition of kitsch). It might help to read more about caganers, or kitsch for that matter.

January 4, 2005

USC #1

Man, I love USC football, but I didn't expect them to absolutely kill Oklahoma. Usually USC builds up the drama with a porous first half defense, but after allowing an early OU touchdown, it became non-stop USC: SI.com - A clear No. 1: USC routs OU 55-19 in Orange Bowl

Book: Eastern Standard Tribe

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I love BoingBoing, I love the EFF, and I love what Cory Doctorow is doing to change the conversation around copyright and compensation by allowing anyone to download his works for free. I also love Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which was the Doctorow's first novel.

With all that praise out of the way, let me know say -- hmm, how should I phrase this -- well, Eastern Standard Tribe sucks. The first chapter promises future cleverness by playing with the relationship between the narrator/protagonist and the reader. The early following chapters also promise an interesting riff on our relationship with the time zone that we live in and how that affects our relationship in the global community. I don't know where I transitioned from eager-cool-what's-next page flipping into eager-just-get-to-the-end page flipping, but somewhere in this short book the story fell flat (maybe this would be better as an even shorter story). Doctorow shows you the beginning, and he shows you the end, and you expect some clever twists inbetween -- instead the books keep marching in a straight line. Also, not to offend my HCI friends out there, but the User Experience angle in the book just doesn't work.

Don't trust what I say: download EST for free, breeze through the first few chapters (it's a light read), and decide for yourself (did I mention it's free?). While you're at it, read Down and Out, whether or not you end up liking EST, because -- did I mention? -- it's free also (and better).

January 5, 2005

Going to...

wv... West Virginia! My Christmas was brief this year (I flew to my Aunt and Uncle's for X-mas day) as I have been saving up vacation to go back East to see my soon-to-be-born nephew. I'm flying out tomorrow night and will be back Monday with adorable photos. The West Virginia Internet is a lot slower and less widespread than our luscious Bay Area Internet, so I expect this blog to go blank in a few days (and I still haven't posted about how I spent the day after Christmas taking photos in a cemetary).

LJ and MT, long lost lovers, reunited at last?

The big rumor in blogland right now is that Six Apart (makers of MovableType, the software featured here an on movabletypo) are buying/have bought LiveJournal. This, naturally, is already starting to raise mixed opinions. I, for one, am happy for the news, for purely selfish reasons. Movabletypo is an attempt to replicate LiveJournal's strongest feature: community -- but it comes nowhere close to what LJ accomplishes, and that is why I am glad Six Apart is buying LJ.

I have no idea what Six Apart will actually do with their new addition, but I hope it will revolve around fixing the fundamental flaw with MovableType/TypeKey-based blogs, which is that it is a great tool for building pulpits, but a terrible tool for building communities.

I also hope to get rid of this nonsense that I have to create a separate LJ "syndicated feed" separate from my LJ user account in order for this blog to be displayed within LJ. I hope this acquisition means that they will erase the distinction between the two so that LJ people can add this blog as a friend, leave comments, etc... and not feel that they have left the LJ community to do so.

Perhaps this will also be the way to add community features to MovableType -- instead of trying to make MovableType a tool that you can build communities on top of, allow LiveJournal to integrate MovableType users into it's communities (i.e. making LJ the platform on which communities are built).

January 11, 2005

Neuro fuzzy

Plenty of news to report, which I may get to tomorrow, but for now, enjoy the latest and greatest in AI technology, the super "neuro fuzzy" rice cooker:

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Good days

I just finished reading Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight. It has a passage where the autistic main character (Christopher) talks about counting cars on the way to school: if he sees four red cars in a row, it's a Very Good Day, if he sees five it's a Super Good Day, but if he sees four yellow cars it's a Very Bad Day. The teacher asks him why -- when every other behavior of his is so rational -- he has such an illogical manner of judging what sort of day it will be. Christopher points out that his way of judging days is no different from other people who look out the window in the morning, see a sunny sky, and decide that it will be a good day -- what does the weather matter when they are going to spend all day inside the office anyway?

This is a roundabout way of me announcing that on the way to Caltrain today, I was walking east towards a clear sky with the sun shining, while rain sprinkled from grey clouds above, and behind me there was a beautiful double rainbow behind me, as if to say, I had a very good weekend, I will have a brief spell of Bad Day as I catch up on work, but the rest of my day will be a Super Good Day.

Best SSIDs

Slashdot | Best Wireless SSID's You Have Seen?

Hmm, my personal favorites (b/c I was there when they were chosen) are "Network Not Found" and "Network Disabled". I was in a meeting where we were instructing someone how to connect to our wireless network, and the Windows status message popped up saying, "Connected to 'Network Not Found'," at which point he said, "It's not working."

January 12, 2005

RIP: WHFS

I remember WHFS fondly, mostly because of the yearly HFStivals that allowed me to hone the art of the moshing and crowd surfing, while testing the limits of dehydration.
WHFS Abruptly Changes Format (washingtonpost.com)

Uncle kwc

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There are many ways this past weekend can be summarized. First, let me start at the end of my story and say that I am now a proud uncle. He's a big guy -- 10 pounds, 2 ounces, 23" -- and he's already got a head full of black hair and brown eyes, so it hardly seems like he was just born.

Everything turned out great this weekend, though it's not to say everything went to plan. On a states-travelled basis, my planned itinerary was:

California
Pennsylvania
West Virginia
Pennsylvania
California

As a result of unforeseen events, my actual travel ended up being:

California
Pennsylvania
Virginia
Pennsylvania
West Virginia
Pennsylvania
West Virginia
Pennsylvania
California

When I was boarding the redeye plane out to Pittsburgh, I thought I was in a bit of luck as my sister had already been checked into the hospital and they had started inducing labor. When I arrived in Pittsburg, I got a voicemail message from my dad saying that they were sending my sister home (to be readmitted on Monday), that the inducing had not worked. The general reaction was, "they can do that?" We had assumed that inducing labor, even if "induce" is a weak term, was generally a one-way process, one that resulted in the mother holding the baby. The notion that they could un-induce (reduce?) was a new concept. My personal reaction had an additional element of "b-b-but, I'm only out here until Monday! They can't send her home! I want to see my nephew now!" My sister, of course, had the worst of it, as it meant yet another day that she would have to spend in the hospital going through contractions.

Instead of heading to the rental car counter to get a car to drive to West Virginia with, I turned around and went back into the airport to buy tickets to fly to DC, as no baby meant no mom/dad/dog travelling to West Virginia, and, so, a couple hours later I found myself stepping off a plane in Virginia, several hours east of my original planned destination.

Visiting with the parents went well, though there was a touch of disappointment that I was not going to be able to see my nephew, as I would have to extend my trip by two or even three more days. I had a return ticket to Pittsburgh on Saturday, though, so at least I would be able to see my sister with her big belly.

As my dad drove me to the airport early Saturday morning, disappointment disappeared -- my sister called to say that the baby was on the way, and with a fortunate choice of return ticket it turns out that I would be arriving for the birth after all. I had to pickup my mom at the Pittsburgh airport later that day, so I missed the first couple hours of my nephew's life, but I got to spend plenty of time with him, my sister, and my brother-in-law the rest of that day and the next, taking tons of photos (300+), and watching my nephew change: sneezing, hiccuping, crying, and farting -- all the things that made him more and more human in my eyes.

January 13, 2005

Talk: A Theory of Neocortex

A Theory of Neocortex and its Implications for Machine Intelligence Jeff Hawkins Founder Palm Computing, Handspring Director, Redwood Neurosciences Institute Author of On Intelligence http://www.onintelligence.org

Continue reading "Talk: A Theory of Neocortex" »

Book: A Partly Cloudly Patriot

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I've been blazing through the humor essay books because their fairly ideal for airline travel -- small, consumable during a brief layover or allowing you the victory of completing an essay before being overcome by the need to pass-out.

I've been blazing through Sarah Vowell's This American Life shows after having listened to her talking about her father's homemade cannon. The shows are a good preface to the book, as they give a good ear from her pacing and style.

Given my recent trips in and out of Pittsburg, I'll share this one quote, with the rest of the quotes in the extended entry:

I remember how at home I felt, the first time I left. The gallery sent me east to learn from the master at Graham Arader's Pennsylvania headquarters. Getting off the plane from San Francisco at the Philadelphia airport, I was taken aback. I realized I had been living under quarantine in some euthanized, J. Crew catalog parallel universe of healthy good looks. Because, in Philadelphia, I was pleasantly suprised to see old people, average people, even ugly people, ambling around in dumb T-shirts and home perms. And if that wasn't relief enough, the weather was terrible and the coffee was dreck. The nice thing about Philadelphia is that no one has moved there to find the good life for over two hundred years. I went home to California feeling like the prettiest, most upbeat overachiever in the world.

Continue reading "Book: A Partly Cloudly Patriot" »

January 14, 2005

Another chapter

Tufte has posted one of his ugly evidence chapters from his upcoming Beautiful Evidence book:

Ask E.T.: Corrupt Techniques in Evidence Presentations: New Chapter from Beautiful Evidence

January 17, 2005

Movie: Million Dollar Baby

Short, two-sentence review in the extended entry.

Continue reading "Movie: Million Dollar Baby" »

January 19, 2005

Density

Michael Wolf's Hong Kong skyscraper photos are fit for a Koyannisqatsi remake.

CNN just keeps cranking these out

Yesterday's CNN headline of Bush: Better human intelligence needed was fun in the "Haha Bush is stupid" meme, but I still prefer today's more ironic Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider headline.

January 20, 2005

Zen Ocean

I've already posted the bad, so here's a theme that's actually rather cool (watch the diver as you scroll): css Zen Ocean

January 21, 2005

A comparison

photo photo

January 24, 2005

TiVoToGo: It's here

My TiVo informed me yesterday that it's downloaded the update that lets me give TiVoToGo a go. My once productive Caltrain/BART trips full of book reading and work-related programming will now be filled with Daily Show, Lost, and Alias.

Bunnicula

honeyfields bunnies are evil! EVIL!

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more evil bunnies in the extended entry

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January 25, 2005

TiVoToGo: First Impressions

My grand first impression of TiVoToGo: Great, but it's not TiVo.

TiVo is, above all things, a UI for watching TV: predictive fast forwarding, a great remote, simple menus, saving your paused location, etc...

TiVoToGo, on the other hand, is a mechanism for transferring recordings of TV shows onto your laptop. There is no TiVo UI. In every way, shape, and form, it reminds you that you are using a Windows PC, from the look-and-feel of the application, to the fact that the movies are played using Windows Media Player; you are made aware that each TV recording is a file on disk, and the TiVo program even lets you know up front how large these files are. Most annoyingly, in keeping with the Windows PC experience, there is even a window that pops up that asks you for your password everytime you want to play a show.

It's not that I won't like TiVoToGo; I am quite certain that I will enjoy it very much. In addition to being able to time-shift, I am now able to space-shift my TV watching. I don't have to worry about clearing off my TiVo some random night because it's running out of space. I can even shift recordings that I have been saving for a long time over to my PC for long-term storage.

I am disappointed, though, because without the TiVo "experience," it doesn't stack up very well against the alternatives. If I download the TV shows off of BitTorrent (getting a little harder to find a site that hasn't been taken down these days...), I have these advantages: * higher video quality at much smaller file size * quicker transfer speeds (I can use my faster 802.11g connection, instead of the 802.11b connection that TiVo requires for wireless) * no annoying password prompt * can store recordings anywhere, rather than just in My Documents\My TiVo Recordings

There are some disadvantages, such as having to try harder to track down less popular recordings, or the occassional super-slow BitTorrent download, or not having the list of recordings already narrowed down to those that you've selected on your TiVo, but if I am going to have a "Windows PC experience" rather than the "TiVo experience," I'd like to at least get control and versatility: there are already several recordings that I was going to transfer to my desktop that I nixed because it would be more efficient to just get them off BitTorrent.

It's sad to think that Microsoft's own Media Center probably wipes the floor with TiVo when it comes to PC playback.

Video search

Google Video Search

I'm glad that someone is finally deploying this. I saw demos of programs that could do the video segmenting and indexing based on scene transitions and closed caption text in 1996-7 and I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing ever. Now, with Google's search capabilities and UI touches it seems like this can be a good complement to other searches (e.g. Google News). It also appears that they may eventually provide video clips -- I find that in recent years as I've transitioned to more and more online news viewing, I've been missing the video aspect, and video search (with actual clips) can combine the instant accessibility of online news with the richness of the moving image.

January 26, 2005

New Years Resolutions

Bush: Speech Sets 'Bold New Goal,' Not New Policies (washingtonpost.com)

Elaborating for the first time on the foreign policy implications of his inaugural address, President Bush today called his vision for world democracy "a bold new goal for the future" but not a policy change entailing any immediate new demands on foreign states

I like how Bush's inauguration speech is weaker than a New Year's resolution. Most people at least try to go into the gym for a week or two before giving up on their "goals."

January 27, 2005

Awesome snooze button

Awesome alarm clock from a researcher at Ivrea

Flickr by color

If I was more artistically inclined I could put this to good use: Select Flickr photos by color/brightness (maybe be like the author and make something like this or this)

News photos

I've been collecting some news photos from the past week, thought I'd post them here.

Houses made of snow:

24storm-1.jpg 01-27-05.snow2.jpg

Little boom:

01-27-05.iceberg.jpg

Remembrance:

01-27-05.aush.jpg 01-27-05.aush.2.jpg

On Being

A discussion on thinking in your native language vs. abstract concepts somehow segued into a discussion of Heidegger (or, more specifically, his abuse of the term dasein/being). Apparently, even to a German/linguist and her philosopher husband, H-dog is still unintelligible. We did make an important discovery, though: after discussing how it was important in German academia to be completely unintelligible in your writings in order to garner respect, my coworker Susanne stumbled upon the key to German intellectual stardom:

susanne: mein dasein muss nicht immer hier sein sondern kann auch unabh´┐Żngig existieren
me: babelfish: "my existence must separate not always here its can exist also independently"
susanne: about as comprehensible
susanne: see, babelfish is PERFECT for translating heidegger!
me: thumbs up
susanne: in fact, you can become a famous german academic
me: translating heidegger for the masses
susanne: by writing in English and using babelfish to produce obfuscated German :)
susanne: if someone studies long enough, they might have a chance to reverse-engineer babelfish and figure out what you must have meant :)
me: ah, you are much wiser than i
susanne: always assuming you didn't just input gobbledygook to begin with ;-)
me: ah, but then my work would be eternal
susanne: true - people would still study it 2000 years from now :)
susanne: I think we have a plan
susanne: what field do you want to become eternally famous in?
me: ideally i would want to be rich AND famous
me: but i'm not sure how being an unintelligible german intellectual gets me both
...
susanne: German full profs get paid fairly well
susanne: and more interestingly, they don't have to do any work
susanne: and get a ton of respect
susanne: so you can be a little king or dictator who comes in only a few hours a week or whenever you feel like bossing everyone around
me: hmm, as long as there's Internet access i would be free to keep publishing endlesly
me: i would be prolifically unintelligible
...
susanne: it's self-perpetuating - you'd produce so much output that by the time someone's decided that one of your pieces is unintelligible and not worth bothering, you have 10 other publications :)
...
me: i could then just say, "ah, but you haven't read this work which clarifies everything"

January 31, 2005

Sore

My friend Al called me Sunday morning at 9am to do a bike ride. This was a big deal for me as: * I was actually excited to be woken up at 9am * It would be my first real bike ride in over a year

The weather was perfect -- blue skies, but a bit of coldness to the air that kept us cool. We went through Los Altos Hills area along Elena/Altamont/Moody/etc, which somehow managed to survived, be it through a combination of poor adjustments on Al's new bike or very generous summit restbreaks. Today and tomorrow I'm sure I'll be working out more of the soreness.

I'm hoping to get a nice Tamrac backpack for my camera and take it back through some of the trails -- there are plenty of scenic views, interesting homes, and horsies to take photos of. Many of the homes feel so anachronistic being so close to the Bay Area sprawl: shabby barns, tiny homes on huge lots, quaint homes next to palatial estates. Back in Virginia I would probably pass them by without a second thought, but here they feel so exceptional.

Found a use for my new GPS receiver

gps tronYou know, I could actually see myself playing this if I had the proper equipment (need bluetooth + proper cellphone): GPS:: Tron

Links to round out the morning

Feeds, feeds, and more feeds

I've added some new feeds for those that prefer consuming this site in feed form. I've been eyeing feedburner for awhile, and it seems like they've managed to keep adding improvements to what, at its heart, is a very simple idea. I've taken this as a good sign for the service, so I've finally given into the luxury of having my blog, flickr, del.icio.us accounts all aggregated into a single feed. Rather than force you all to consume every bit of content I create, I have created four separate feeds that you can subscribe to depending on your tastes:

Ooopsy

It turns out that I've been doing too good of a job blocking comment spam and had inadvertently disabled all comments on this site. If you have commented in the past two weeks or so your comment probably went into the vapor (sorry).

Talk: Simon Singh, The Big Bang

Simon Singh Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe www.simonsingh.net

Singh gave a great talk on his book, The Big Bang. It was very easy to see how he could be so successful in writing popular science books. Who would have thought to use a backwards Led Zeppelin clip to explain how two competing scientific theories might both find support within a set of empirical data? Singh had a great ability throughout the talk to take a history and a scientific theory which are both dry and complicated, and make them both humorous and understandable, whether it be by analogy or by finding that Willow-esque nerd humor -- in discussing Fritz Zwicky's tired light theory, he brought up Zwicky's favorite insult: 'spherical bastard' (looks like a bastard no matter what direction you look at him). I appreciate that anecdote enough that you shouldn't be surprised if I refer to you as a 'spherical bastard' the next time you see me.

More notes in the extended.

Continue reading "Talk: Simon Singh, The Big Bang" »