Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Theories are Compression Algorithms

Finished reading "Meta Math!" by Gregory Chaitin. A short (151 p plus appendices) and easy read. Basically, it's about the philosophy of math, following Godel and Turing. The main point is: all theories are about compressing information. A theory that has to detail all its results is not much of a theory. Similarly, DNA is a compression of an organism, axioms are a compression of the theorems you can prove from them.

Lots of interesting examples of this, always shown as input, processor, output:

  • encoded message -> Decoder -> original message (per Shannon and information theory)
  • scientific theory -> Calculations -> experimental data (the scientific method)
  • program -> Computer -> output (AIT, Algebraic Information Theory)
  • DNA -> Embryogenesis/Development -> organism (molecular biology)
  • axioms -> Deductions -> theorems (FAS, Formal Axiomatic System)
  • TOE (Theory of Everything) -> Calculations -> universe (physics)
  • ideas -> Mind of God -> the world (Liebniz)
A lot of his stuff he ideas he traces back to Leibniz (who we enjoyed so much in Stephenson's Quicksilver novels) in the late 17th century. Also very interesting, a semi-proposal to do away with real numbers??? Basically, real numbers (the continuum) are transcendental (not algebraic, the solution of a polynomial equation), uncomputable, random and unnameable with probability 1. Plus they give physics fits and lead to attempts to get around the difficulties such as string theory.

Also interesting discussion of randomness, per Borel. You cannot formally define maximum randomness! Any definition limits the randomness of what you define, making it not maximally random?!?!?

Numerous references to Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science". Interesting that he supports the concept of mathematics as an empirical science. The intractablilty of the real numbers indicates, you just have to get out there and explore?!?!?

The subtitle of the book is "The Quest for Omega". Chaitin's main claim to fame is that he defined the Omega number: the probability that a program of n bits will halt.

For xmas, got a 10 million candle power spotlight from my father-in-law, the king of over-the-top gifts. 91 years old and still with 95%+ of his wits about him. Also got from my oldest daughter "Ratatat", eponymous, kind of ambient trancy stuff, 2 stars, and Bloc Party, "Silent Alarm", nice peppy alterna-rock, 3 stars.

I am moving ahead in moving more 3 star songs to 2 stars. When I first got iTunes, I was thinking about how many better query front-ends I had written than its smart playlists. The star classification system is chafing me too. Maybe hack iTunes, or write my own music librarian?

Movie-wise, watched "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", fun; "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", more enjoyable than I expected; and "The Island", also more fun than I expected. In "The Island", tho, as with lots of pop culture, bad science is a little troubling. *** Spoiler Alert *** That clones could start to recall their original's memory has precedent in sci-fi, and what the heck, it's just entertainment, right? But, that they could not grow clones for organs and have the organs be healthy without allowing the clones to develop consciousness -- it's one of those things that could lead people to subconsciously oppose cloning -- for no good reason (not that there may not be good reasons).

The Greg Egan short story collections (last blog) had a few stories expressing his fear and mistrust of wishful, spiritualist thinking. Entertainment is good, but, for how many people is this what actually forms their opinions? Back to, need to make everybody smarter. Well, I have read, I don't remember where, that IQs are going up -- although I have seen far more stories on the ignorance of current high school graduates and college students. Still, the metacortex (ala Stross) seems to be growing individually and collectively, I think we may get there.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Short Stories

After Charles Stross's "Toast", read two short story collections by Greg Egan, "Axiomatic" and "Lumiinous". The short story is a great format for sci fi, an author can explore an odd idea without wasting too much of his or the reader's time. Egan has some great stories. His physics and computer science are top notch. He seems to have gone dark tho. Per his website, he hasn't written a story since 2002. He has become active in Australian immigration rights and apparently hard physics. Maybe he's moved on past sci fi -- too bad for us readers, but, best wishes?

Re short stories, listening to "Alien Lanes" by Guided By Voices. I got this from a coworker who is I believe the world's expert on garage bands. GBV is from Dayton, OH and recently broke up. The album has 28 tracks, timings from 0:18 to 2:56. 7 of the tracks are under a minute, another 15 are under 2 minutes. Short attention span music?

Other CDs I got from this guy are:

  • "Decoration Day", Drive By Truckers. Southern Rock (now a genre in my iTunes), decent, lead singer's voice not the strongest.
  • "1965", Afghan Whigs. Decent tunes.
  • "Emergency & I", The Dismemberment Plan. ditto.
  • "Mack Avenue Skullgame", Big Chief. A movie soundtrack without a movie. Nice funky grooves. I don't have a Funky genre, I need to think about adding one.
Also got "Apologies To Queen Mary", Wolf Parade, from a young coworker. Nicely odd.

All of these are 3 stars. I am getting too much 3 star music. I may delete my 1 star, move the little in 2 star down to 1 star, and start splitting the 3 stars into 3 and 2. Apparently I have missed my true calling -- to be a librarian. I offered to organize the vast quantities of pharmacy materials my wife has. I recently reorged my browser bookmarks, came up with a new system I like. I do the same on an ongoing basis with my iTunes. So much information, how to keep track of it all. Google model, just search for it, doesn't work so well for music?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hello, Hello

is the title of an album by Poe, 3 stars. In the chick pop category, I recently downloaded Frou Frou "Details", after hearing a track in "Garden State" (OK movie by the way). I thought it was Dido. Very nice tunes, very nice textures in the electronic backgrounds, 3 stars.

My 95 tracks of Fats Waller came in, most enjoyable. The 4 disk set came from Proper Records, and came with a very nice booklet, on the history of Fats and the sessions that the tracks came from.

Also got from a young coworker Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, eponymous. Very interesting, Radiohead plus David Byrne plus Velvet Underground? Makes me wish I had a 3.5 star rating in iTunes.

Read a short story collection by Charles Stross, "Toast". Very tasty, cute short stories. I remember reading the first one, "Antibodies" before. It contains that essential short story device, the last line kicker. It reminded me of when in college I wrote a literature paper on "Chun the Unavoidable" from Jack Vance's "The Dying Earth". Great last line kicker, I remember the professor hated it big time.

Following up on the theme that "Love makes the world go round", I also completed my Jared Diamond collection with "Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality". A lot of this is covered in "The Third Chimpanzee", but still a fun (and short, 146 pages) read. The explanatory power of evolution screams at you when you read something like this. I particularly liked the analysis of hidden ovulation in humans. There are two contradictory explanations:

  1. Confuse fatherhood to prevent infanticide; a new dominant male or mate won't necessarily kill a female's children if he is not sure they not his.
  2. Keep the father around to provide.
By looking at the evolutionary tree of the 68 primate species (11 monogamous, 23 harems, 34 promiscuous), Diamond is able to deduce that the common ancestor (9 million years ago) of humans (serially monogamous, with some harems), gorillas (harems) and chimps (promiscuous) used the harem model; that concealed ovulation evolved from this as part of the "confuse fatherhood to prevent infanticide" strategy, from which monogamy evolved to implement the "keep the father around" strategy.

Also an interesting chapter on male nursing. Seems that the hardware is pretty much there, and care of children by both human parents is shared enough that he thinks it may be an idea whose time is coming! Diamond's books are always a pleasure to read, very easy to understand, and always with a nice touch of humor.

I think, tho, that my evolutionary biology / cognitive science reading seems to have hit a wall. I guess it's time for "and now for something completely different" ...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Evolution

Finished "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" by Charles Darwin, 1872. Most of the middle of the book is fairly dull, going through the emotions by group and talking about which facial muscles are involved. One of Darwin's big points was the universality of facial expressions in showing emotions -- innate, not acquired behavior. But, Darwin's methodology was to write letters to people in the various parts of the British Empire and other countries and ask them, "Do the locals express surprise by opening their eyes wide, lifting their eyebrows, and opening their mouth?" -- anecdotal natural science, not much up to today's standards. Apparently Margaret Mead and the cultural relativists had a 20-30 year period where they had everyone convinced of the opposite. The pendulum is now swinging back to Darwin.

Sometime I will have to compare Darwin's list of emotions with those in "The Cognitive Structure of Emotion" by Ortony, Clore and Collins. Interesting too, not all expressions correspond to emotions, but rather to mental/emotional state -- say for instance, an expression of slyness, or rapt attention. Darwin also discussed:

  • Nodding your head yes and shaking your head no -- not particularly universal.
  • Shrugging -- fairly universal.
  • Shyness and modesty -- traits, not expressions.
  • Blushing -- universal, and unique to humans, always a function of other people.
Pauk Ekman, who is a "universality" guy and the maker of the 3rd edition of "Expression", also talked about "display rules" -- which do vary by culture and thus are acquired. These define to what extent it is acceptable in a culture to let your emotions show. In an interesting study, Japanese by themselves display the same emotions as others, put an observer in with them and they supress the display. Also interesting, some cultures clearly show one or more of the standard emotions, but don't have a concept or word for them -- Tahitians have no word for sadness, when they display the symptoms they describe it as sickness.

I have realized that I think that my generally very good catholic high school education included little if anything on evolution, and I took no biology in college. I did not know that Darwin in "Origin of the Species" defined two types of natural selection:

  1. Species selection (now also called ecological selection), the selection force that the ecosystem puts on a species to find an ecological niche;
  2. Sexual selection, the somewhat arbitrary selection criteria that males/females of a given species decide imply breeding fitness in the opposite sex.
So, from "Expression" re music, and "The Symbolic Species" re language and our big brains, traits that were sexually selected may have been the more important of the two in making the human race what it is today. Of course, the other advantages that came with big brains, tool-making, etc, definitely had lots of other survivability value.

Still, it's like "All You Need is Love", "Love is Like Oxygen", ... The dance between men and women may be the primary factor that drove the development of the human race and its culture and civilization. I feel like, if I were (much) younger, this might have been a major epiphany, a real moment of satori. Now, it's just like, "No, no, say it ain't so."

Oh well, maybe the women won't decide to do away with us after all, in honor of our mutual development of the race.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Retro

What a retro weekend! 100 pages into Darwin's "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". Way retro, 1st edition was 1872, lots of "the distinguished gentleman" type verbage, and, what a shocker: Darwin was a Lamarkian. He believed in inheritance of acquired traits. The father of evolution knew nothing about genetics -- he had Mendel's book on his shelf but never read it!

But, Darwin rocks. I have blogged before about books on music and the mind and how clueless they are, and that music doesn't seem evolutionary to me, and, how can it have such deep hooks in us. Then, on p 92 of "Expression":

"whether we believe, as I maintain, that the habit of uttering musical sounds was first developed as a means of courtship, in the early progenitors of man, and thus became associated with the strongest emotions of which they were capable -- namely, ardent love, rivalry, and triumph."
So, there you have it. Music is another peacock's tail like language, developed, probably by males, to woo females (only male birds sing -- altho I have had female cardinals in my yard doing something that sounded suspiciously like singing).

More fun facts from "Expression" when I finish it.

On to the retro music. 1st weekend acquisition, Os Mutantes, "Everything is Possible! The Greatest Hits of Os Mutantes". The song "Baby(1971)" was on the Luaka Bop "10th Anniversary: Zero Accidents on the Job" that my oldest daughter gave me a few years ago, and I really liked it, 4 stars. I had looked for more of their stuff and hadn't found it, but iTunes had this one now. Downloaded without listening -- then found, with Gilberto Gil (current Brazilian Minister of Culture and Open Culture prophet), they were mainstays of the Brazilian Tropicalia movement from '68-72 (my college years) -- so it's like mambo, samba and other Brazilian forms with fuzz tones and Sgt. Pepper, way bizarre. The lead singer, Rita Lee, has been recording for 30 years, she was apparently on MTV a couple of years ago.

Listened also to some Gilberto Gil, downloaded only one track, "Pai e mãe", which sounded like Jobim. Antonio Carlos Jobim, the father of bossa nova, has been a favorite of mine since high school (Jobim was probably part of the Brazilian music establishment that Os Mutantes were rebelling against). I have on vinyl a Jobim album whose first song is "Águas De Março (Waters Of March)" in Portuguese and whose last song is the same song in English. I played it for my daughters years ago and they were fascinated by it. The lyrics are a list of nouns: "A rock, a stick, a stone, ..." -- they decided they liked the Portuguese better. On CD I have a Verve Jazz Masters CD by Jobim which has Waters of March.

Early 70's apparently weren't retro enough. A few weeks ago while waiting in a rental car in Newark airport for a colleague's later flight to get in, on an NPR type station, I heard a song from my childhood, "Would You Like to Take a Walk" -- I remember it from a Warner Bros Merry Melody cartoon, sung by a Big Bad Wolf type. So, decided to find it on the web -- and of course suceeded, everything is there. Actually found the same recording I heard, by Annette Hanshaw, born 1901, record and radio vocalist from 1926 to 1936, when she decided to retire. So, have a CD with 25 of her recordings coming from Amazon. Interesting, read 2-3 online bios, all pretty much agree with the above dates except for vh1.com, which had her starting recording at age 15 and retiring at age 24 -- they had her age wrong by 10 years. Could not find anyway on their site to let them know of their error.

Looked her up on wikipedia. What a great reference:

Annette Hanshaw (October 18, 1901 - March 13, 1985) was one of the first great female jazz singers. In the late 1920's she ranked among Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and the Boswell Sisters. In 1936, she retired from singing and never attempted a comeback. The singer Helen Kane is said to have based her look on Hanshaw. Noteable is her influence in the Hyperreality theory of Jean Baudrillard. Since Kane based her look on Hanshaw, she purported to be the reality of the hyperreality character of Betty Boop.
Just what we need, another post-modern french philosopher, vying with the others to see how far they can get their head up their ass!

And while I was at Amazon, put a 4 CD boxed set of Fats Waller, 95 tracks, in my shopping cart. I was introduced to Fats by the keyboard player of the 1st band I played in in Cambridge. Possibly the greatest stride piano player ever, and made some unbelievably happy music -- maybe I just think so because it reminds me of those Merry Melody cartoons of my childhood.

Then, following the reference from the movie "Ray", downloaded "The Complete Capitol Recordings of Art Tatum" -- 29 tracks for $22, surely a bargain.

I was starting to feel bad about being too lazy to put links to all the above in here. But, google will find you many references to all of the above, sure beats a single link. If everyone gets as lazy as me, tho, will it hose google's search relevance algorighm?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Almost Real-Time

No Amazing Insights to share, but, I did finish a sci-fi novel, so here we go.

Read Robert Reed's "The Well of Stars", sequel to "Marrow". OK space opera, not really much in the way of edge. It clearly has another one coming. Again, I think they need to let you know when you're getting into an extended read. Of course, I sympathize, these guys have families to support. I had high hopes for Reed, based on his Year's Best stories, nothing of his has been great tho.

Music-wise, after complaining about the latest Fiona Apple being too carabet-ish, I have upgraded the last track, "Waltz (Better Than Fine)", to 4 stars -- and it's like cabaret central. Still, a highly memetic (catchy) tune.

The week after I downloaded the Fiona and the new Franz Ferdinand, the top two downloads from iTunes were ... the new Franz Ferdinand and the Fiona Apple. I am such a loser.

Downloaded "Z", by My Morning Jacket, a Louisville band, on the recommendation of a coworker. The tunes were over the acceptable catchiness threshold, 3 stars.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Weblog

In keeping with the original use of blogs, here are some sites I have enjoyed lately. Most are bookmarked in my Wackos folder:

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Biodiversity

Species of birds I have observed in/from my yard, in descending frequency:
  1. Robin
  2. Blackbird
  3. Mourning Dove
  4. Starling
  5. Cardinal
  6. House Sparrow
  7. Swift
  8. Mockingbird
  9. Bluejay
  10. Pigeon (Rock Dove)
  11. Purple Finch
  12. Goldfinch
  13. Crow
  14. Hummingbird
  15. Chickadee
  16. Red-winged Blackbird
  17. Cowbird
  18. Turkey Buzzard
  19. Canadian Goose
  20. Red-tailed Hawk
  21. Mallard Duck
  22. House Wren
  23. Downy Woodpecker
  24. Flicker
  25. Great Horned Owl
Wild species of mammal I have observed in my yard in the last 5 years:
  1. Squirrel
  2. Rabbit
  3. Chipmunk
  4. Bat
Other wild birds I have seen in Lexington:
  1. Meadowlark
  2. Killdeer
  3. Thrush
  4. Bluebird
  5. Nighthawk
  6. Dark-eyed Junco
  7. Peregrine Falcon
  8. Screech Owl
  9. Barn Swallow
  10. Red-headed Woodpecker
  11. Blue Heron
  12. Northern Oriole
  13. Kingbird
Other wild mammals I have seen in Lexington:
  1. Groundhog
  2. Opossum
  3. Muskrat
I thought I would leave this list and check it in 20 years. But, last month's Scientific American said, most US bird species not endangered. Interesting tho, the birds seem to be awfully successful. And, at my current house where we have lived 15 years, I don't remember seeing a single reptile or amphibian (and no fish). Surprising I have not seen more mammals. I've seen coyotes from the interstate in Ohio, and a fox in Louisville around Beargrass Creek a couple of years ago. I guess the domestic mammals, the cats and dogs, are just too damn successful.

A few years ago I started to make an effort to recognize bird songs. I found it surprisingly hard, given that I'm musical. I did finally get to where I can recognize most of the birds listed above. Mockingbirds are the best.

Didn't bike Sunday, high 40's, overcast, breezy, I loafed. Prior week did 38 miles, Waizenberger Mill and Midway.

Read Richard K Morgan's 4th novel, "Woken Furies". Back to the edgy anti-hero for the 3rd time. Very good read, but for the 1st time he ended with a standard sci-fi deus-ex-machina scientific-relevation-that-will-change-everything. I don't think it destabilizes his world tho.

Also read, after I ran out of reading material (cleared my home magazine stack!) flying home from Minneapolis (pretty skyline), the 3rd novel in the Ender's Shadow series, "Shadow Puppets". Orson Scott Card writes very well, but, I am increasingly convinced that prequels and parallel offerings like this are not a worthwhile use of the paper, or my CPU cycles. I finally went and saw Star Wars Episode III in the theater (yes, it was still playing). 4 stars, my ass -- basically on the 10 point suck scale, Episode I was a 15, Episode II was a 10, this one was a 5 -- a great improvement I guess. With prequels, it's like, OK, check, got that over with. The Dune prequels (I shudder to admit I have read 5 and have only 1 to go) are even worse.

Got some good new music lately. New Franz Ferdinand "You Could Have It So Much Better" has tunes about as catchy as their 1st -- 3 stars. The new Fiona Apple "Extraordinary Machine" is very listenable, but a little to cabaret-ish -- 3 stars. Also got 1st D'Nell album, "1st Magic". Track 3 was the iTunes free download a few weeks ago, very catchy, I went for the whole thing. Reminds me of The Mighty Bop. Very nice dance tracks, London husband/wife sampler/vocalist duo, 3 stars.

Oh, it's official. The transmission on my wife's '96 Exploder with 230K miles is starting to go out. She drives 28 miles to work, I drive 1.5, so we switched cars 3 weeks ago. She was seriously obsessing on the magic car, getting >~= 53 mpg on her commute, not slowing down for curves (acceleration is the enemy of mpg), etc. I still get to drive the magic car on weekends (sigh). I can't believe I'm driving a fucking SUV, I hate the things.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Human Brain is a Peacock's Tail

Finally finished "The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain" by Terrance W. Deacon. Kind of odd, after slogging through the soporific middle 40%, you emerge into discussions of sexual selection, kinds of minds, minds in silicon, much easier reading. So, let's net it out -- I like these, I think I did one for "Guns, Germs, and Steel".

Meat-eating => Pregnant females need men for meat & men are gone hunting => difficulties in ascertaining fatherhood of offspring => symbolic representation of social relationships (marriage) => language & big brains => "I do".

So the big brains that have helped create all of human culture evolved in a sexual selection arms race, with the men coming up with better ways to say "Baby, you so fine, you da only one for me." and women coming up with better ways to say "You so full o' shit. I bet you say that to all the girls."

Lots of really interesting stuff in the book. Three levels of mental representation:

  1. Iconic -- the mental representation is a picture of the physical object.
  2. Indexical -- the mental representation is a sign (word, name) for the physical object.
  3. Symbolic -- signs, words, names cross reference each other, recursively.
These levels are heirarchical, with humans being the only animal that has the third level, symbolic thinking. Other animals have the first two only.

Other interesting points:

  • Language needs big brains to help it think big thoughts, i.e., parse long sentences with recursive grammatical structure. Imaging and damage brain studies show simple word recognition in a small localized area around the raw sound handling area, word association in a ripple around that, complex sentence parsing in a ripple around that covering 2/3 of the left side of the brain.
  • Language and socialization go together. People with Williams syndrome (2 bad genes) have a normal prefrontal cortex but are underdeveloped in the middle cortex. They have IQs of 70 but are hyperverbal, with huge vocabularies, and hypersocial. Interesting, Williams syndrome people have broad grins and an elfish look (think Puck).
  • The left brain is the language word processor, the right brain is the language prosody (tone of voice, emotional content) processor.
  • The symbolic facilities that led to language began with an increase in meat eating around 2 million years ago and have probably evolved steadily since. No magic "language event".
  • Initial language was of course crude. Ritual was the medium by which language was practiced and disseminated.
  • Brains grow through Darwinian selection. Neurons send out far more axons than eventually survive to become nerve channels. When enough axons survive to interconnect two parts of the brain, a permanent nerve channel is left. The prefrontal cortex (forward of the ears) sends lots of neurons into the midbrain to steal the function of the larynx and tongue for speech.
  • Minds grow the same way, as in memetic selection.
  • Discussion of human larynx lowering for vowel production, and the totally different mechanism by which birds sing: no larynx, instead a syrinx in the chest cavity, part of the evolutionary changes to support breathing while flapping wings to fly.
  • There was a seal named Hoover in the New England Aquarium who could talk.
Kind of interesting, we are symbolic beings. We want to see ourselves and everything around us as symbols -- the origin of pantheism and the urge to religion? And, through manipulating symbols, we can do "what-if" thinking and projections of future events, including the event that no other animal has any knowledge of -- our death.

Music-wise, The New Pornographers "Twin Cinemas" winds up at 3 stars. Ditto for the latest Death Cab for Cutie "Plans". Both lacking any really catchy tunes. Got "Now Here is Nowhere" by The Secret Machines from a coworker, fairly listenable, 3 stars. Also Van Morrison "What is Wrong with this Picture?" -- Van the Man lives, the only thing in my iTunes classified as Blues.

Was in NYC on business last week, got in early enough Sunday to go on a techno boat cruise on the Hudson with my oldest daughter. We had a nice time. The boat cruised from 41th st to the Statue of Liberty and back. I have never been that close to Lady Liberty before, I really liked that. It is such a striking statue, and it's hard to imagine how it must have affected the 1890's immigrants (my great-great grandparents) after 2 months on a boat.

The music was really enjoyable, highly conceptual (i.e., almost music), here's the acts we saw:

  • THE DUB TRIO -- Guitar, bass, drums, no vocals, the guitar player never met an effects pedal he didn't like.
  • NISENNENMONDAI Guitar, bass, drums, Japanese chick pop ala Buffalo Daughter, guitar and bass playing very abstract repetitive stuff while the 4'8" drummer totaly wailed.
  • TYONDAI BRAXTON (of BATTLES) Guy who sat cross-legged on the floor, played a little guitar and sang weirdly, sampled it, replayed the sample and sang and played over it, recursively.
  • PREFUSE 73 -- my daughter gave me their CD for my birthday. Main instrument was a powerbook, main DJ played a rhythm box, plus a bass and 2 drummers with full kits. Very enjoyable, the 2 drummers really created a wall of sound.
I made it to the very end before one of the young guys who was kind of hitting on my daughter called me "sir" (the bastard). The crowd was mostly younger than my 26 year old daughter. I wore dark clothes, I looked like one of the security guards (my daughter demoted me from sugar daddy to bodyguard when I made a couple of business calls while we were waiting in line to board).

No biking today, radar shows Rita on its way, but it seems to be keeping to the west of us. Biked last week with my friend Patrick, he pooped out after 5 miles, we wound up doing 15. It was pleasant to have someone to talk to. Two weeks before, went through Clifton on the Ky river, 46 miles, hills nastier than I remembered, had to stand up twice.

Yesterday morning had a flicker (woodpecker, slightly larger than a bluejay, black collar under neck, speckled breast, orange-red bar on the back of the head) in the locust tree in our front yard. Saw a downy woodpecker across the street, and the hummingbird and chickadees are still in the back yard. This morning walking, saw another downy woodpecker and a red-tailed hawk swooped by just overhead and in front of me. Right after that, heard a bunch of bluejays converging nearby, probably going for the hawk. Whenever there's a hawk, the crows, bluejays or blackbirds always stake it out and keep an eye on it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Work in Progress

Figured I'd better blog before I finished the current book I'm reading, it may be a while. "The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain" is very interesting but taking a while. Good points so far:
  1. In general a repudiation of Chomsky's Universal Grammar. The idea is that languages, being memetic software, could evolve must faster than the brain. Their target: children's brains.
  2. Interesting discussion of why no animals have even simple languages -- not a complexity issue, rather an issue of lack of symbolic processing capabilities.
  3. Animal signing systems, including humans, are a parallel system, not an early version of language. Think about human non-language signing: laughter, sobs, snorts, shrugs, growls, and of course, my favorite, the (female) scream -- an on switch for the adrenaline of every male in hearing distance. I have meaning for years to read Darwin's "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". OK, it's on order now.
Biked to High Bridge today, 40.6 miles, 3h10m. Collapsed and slept for 2 hours afterwards. I really need to start biking during the week.

Pouring rain here. Katerina hitting New Orleans. 4th strongest hurricane on record, wasn't even a tropical storm as it approached Florida. A couple of weeks ago an MIT researcher published an article on global warmings' increasing the intensity of tropical storms. I've been preaching this for years -- of course, I got it from John Barnes' "Mother of Storms", published in 1995.

Music-wise, had all my daughters point me at Kings of Convenience "Riot on an Empty Street". Norwegian pop, woo-hoo. The folky stuff reminds me of Belle & Sebastian, but not quite as sappy. The jazzier stuff is pretty good, track 5 "Know-How" is very catchy, my middle daughter's favorite.

Downloaded lastest New Pornographers, "Twin Cinemas", listening to it now.

Movie-wise, was pointed at "Kung-Fu Hustle" by an old friend, I've watched 3 times. The movie is hilarious.

I was loaned a copy of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", about the Funk Brothers, the studio musicians behind the songs of the Motown golden age. Very enjoyable, great music of course.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Another Day ...

, another green, blue and electric yellow dollar (Firesign Theater, "Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him", 1968). No biking last weekend, my wife and I went to a wedding of a traitor (employee quiting to go to law school for IP law) in Louisville, then to The Jazz Factory, then spent the night at The Galt House, where we spent our wedding night before getting out of town for the honeymoon. Nice jazz trio, young black guy on tenor sax, old white guys on drums and Hammond B3 organ. The organist, Mo somebody, 4 pages of google and I can't find him, was great. You can do practically anything with a Hammond. Sunday morning, walked up 4th St to the library at York, amazing how downtown Louisville has changed. When I was in high school at St X 64-68, I came through downtown Louisville a lot. Weird ghosts of the past.
Like the 1st time we did a college tour, maybe in 92, and came out of MIT at 77 Mass Ave and crossed to the student center. The 100s of times I did that as a student, I never saw the future and pictured doing it with my wife and 4 kids. And, I remember thinking, urge to clone -- the college years are a time in life when you seriously collapse your possibility space. There I was with my 4 very bright children, and I was thinking, "This one could be the astrophysicist. This one could be the musician. This one could be -- no, no, evil, evil." The evil thoughts passed, my children have of course made their own futures.
Just finished "Accelerando", by Charles Stross. Finally, the novel I have been waiting for from him. His fantastic short stories are merged together and make a consistent narrative. A compelling, funny and scary posthuman future, with great logical twists. I laughed out loud numerous times. And great neologisms -- I particularly like a suicide who "autodarwinated" himself.
Music-wise, downloaded a couple of albums by Citizen Cope, eponymous and "The Clarence Greenwood Recordings", 3 stars. His "Sun Gonna Rise" was an iTunes free song, way catchy, went for the albums. Funny, a couple of days later, I hear "Sun Gonna Rise" in a car commercial -- maybe a little too catchy. Also got the latest Jack Johnson, "In Between Dreams", very listenable, 3 stars.
Last night, downloaded the latest Bjork, "The Music from Drawing Restraint 9". It appears to be the sound track to an indy movie set in post-WW2 Japan. It is a work of genius, 4 stars, 5 for the haunting 1st track, a letter to General MacArthur. Kudos to Ms. Gutmunsdottir, this is a hell of a creative work.
Charles Stross has really cheered me up this week. I needed it, last week started out with our fearless leader Dumbass Bush endorsing the teaching of Intelligent Design -- "people should be exposed to both theories" -- except one is science and the other is fairy tales. Grrr. Richard Dawkins had a good article in Free Inquiry on the nature of science: it is "mining the unknown". A theory without holes would get no research dollars, scientists love the holes, their life's work is filling in the holes. Non-scientists say "your theory has holes, it must be wrong, so ours must be right" -- even tho theirs is a fairy tale. Who the fuck designed the intelligent designers? It's a god-damned infinite regress -- not that they would know what that was.
Dawkins' article mentioned how once he said how unbelievable the Cambian Explosion was -- to his eternal regret, as now he is quoted as a proponent of Intelligent Design based on his teasing statement. I have wondered about the Cambian Explosion, all currently known phylum, and others now gone, emerging 550 million years ago. Recent article, some simple bilaterally symmetric species dating to 580 million years ago now found. Knowledge advances.
Last week I also woke up one night at 4:00a, from a dream where I was in airport security, got into a hassle, and started shouting: "It's all a lie! It's another bush administration lie! You're no safer than you were before all this crap! The FAA says so! It's just another lie!". I woke up as I was being shipped to Gitmo.
I loved Bush's statement, to the effect "In my business, I have to keep repeating things, ... to catapult the propaganda." The Republicans have astutely learned to exploit the well-known unfortunate human cognitive defect, that hearing anything often enough causes us to give that thing credence -- "I heard that somewhere ...". But, some polls are saying that the public is starting to give the current admistration lower and lower ratings on trust. Maybe the sheep are waking up. Interesting to see if Rove will skate on outing the CIA agent.
Lying and playing the fear card. When did Americans become such cowards, that playing to their fears allows you to lead them around by the nose? Conservatism is basically a ideology of fear of the future -- or rather, of the present. Yearning for the good old days that never existed. I've already ranted on this, 11/3/2004.
I like the Ben Franklin quote: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security". There is no security, the supernova shockwave that blows away the atmosphere could strike with pretty much no warning. Wake up, Amurica!
Interesting Prius moment: next to one of my young coworkers at a red light, rolled down the window, put the car in neutral, pushed the gas pedal up and down to rev the engine -- nothing, the gas motor was off. A rite of the teenage years gone.
Time to go watch the rest of "The Daily Show".

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cut and Paste Culture

Biked only from 9 to 11 yesterday morning, 28 miles, a little faster than usual -- which I would say indicates that I am normally dragging the 3rd hour when I bike 3 hrs. Got back before the heat got too brutal. High tomorrow is supposed to be 98. No biking last weekend, rain from here to Owensboro.

Finished Dan Simmons' "Olympos" yesterday. He writes so well. I think I read in the preface to Lattimer's translation of "The Iliad" (or in TOOCITBOTBM) that the stock descriptions of the characters in Homer were normally used to fill out the line of iambic pentameter. Hence, "the fleet-footed mankiller Achilles" or "Hera of the white arms". Simmons is all over that.

Re our title, "Ilium/Olympos" does wind up being, "consciousness is a quantum standing wave" (glad that the cyborgs in the story raspberry that), so all fictional creation creates alternative universes. So, feel free to reuse other characters! Wired had an article on cut and paste culture, sampling, etc. But, if it's all just memes breeding in our heads, I find it much more appealing when a new life form is created, rather than a chimera of other pieces. Like in Simmons "Hyperion", the Shrike, who Simmons created earlier in a short story, became a new thing -- yes, I'm sure derived from many other things, but still representing a new synthesis.

Maybe it's the volume of culture currently being emitted that forces and encourages cut & paste. Seems like that puts us in a positive feedback loop -- sampling the samplers.

I guess it's like the "build vs. buy" decision in developing software. It's been supplemented by a 3rd option, google for the code you need -- more a flavor of "build" than "buy"? Still, commercial software isn't culture. It is creativity targeted to meet a business need / use cases.

So, maybe the cut & paste stuff is culture, but I think that it ain't art, except in the cases where someone comes up with a whole new way to do it. I think that's what my oldest daughter the artist would say anyway.

This makes me think of a short story by Bruce Sterling where AI does everything and all humans are artists. Cut & paste certainly makes that future easier. I remember my kids taking great pains to make up playlists of songs for various occasions, making sure they had just the right songs in just the right order for the desired mood. Same thing for photo albums or collages. Definitely a lot of creativity going on there, but not something I would ever think of doing -- I set my iTunes smart playlists on Shuffle so I can play "name that tune". And, it totally escapes me why anyone would agonize over making sure they have exactly the right ring tones on their cell phone. Definitely a generational thing, the dumbass (me) is definitely an old man, Dorian Gray musical interests aside ;->

Monday, July 11, 2005

Increasingly Random Communication

No biking last weekend, whaling in my sister's most excellent pool in Ft. Wayne with 10 or so of my 16 nieces/nephews (on my side of the family. Only 9 on my wife's side, losers!). Nothing more relaxing than getting to be a kid.

Biked 37 miles yesterday, dying on the way home. I think less overcast than 2 weeks ago, maybe more humidity.

Saw in Technology Review that Philip Morrison died. They had a link to http://www.memoriesofmorrison.org asking for Stories and Tales, I e-mailed my somewhat stupid recollections of Dr. Morrison. Got a thanks from the guy who posted it, I'm glad to be part of the group mind I guess.

Got a somewhat right-wing fwd from a friend of mine, a fellow guitarist, who has shown me The Way of Tommy Emmanuel (blogged earlier). It was a conservative's "bill of rights"?!?!? I responded in detail:

I don't know. I am pretty much one of those liberal types. (Fiscally republican, of course, but I'm not sure what that means since the current administration is running up the national debt to where a democrat would blush.)

So, I'm OK with 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9. (basically repudiations of Momism and a world without corners)

On 4 and 5 (no right to eat or healthcare), the countries that have, as far as I know, for the last 10 years or more had the highest rating for quality of living have been the socialist scandanavian states -- and that with extremely limited sunlight! I would be happier if I knew that, in the richest country in the world, everyone was fed -- and I would think that most people would be. And, I don't know if you have had it with your stepkids, but with my three oldest kids, they have all gone through a 1-3 year period where they could not get health insurance. If you haven't had it, take my word for it, it is nerve-wracking.

10, I agree, English competency should be a requirement for citizenship. But, "go back ..." is a little over the top.

11 (One nation under god), I am a devoted atheist. Interesting tho, we took a family visit to Washington DC, and I was totally struck by the inscription on the Jefferson memorial (I memorized it): "I have sworn upon the altar of god undying hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Unfortunate that Jefferson was too much a man of his times to realize that theism is one of, if not the greatest of, the tyrannies over the mind of man.

Wait a minute, maybe not, I googled the above quotation to check it and came up with this: http://www.nobeliefs.com/jefferson.htm.

Anyway, I find the advances that religious fundamentalists have made recently (opposing the teaching of evolution, stem cell research, and reproductive rights) extremely disturbing.

Be careful what you send me, my older brother, who was a career navy officer and is a conservative, sends me stuff sometimes, I have taken to sending him back online ACLU petitions and membership applications (I've been a proud card-carrying member since 2000) ;->

The Jefferson page has some great stuff. I knew old Tom was cool. But, increasingly random communication, I seem to express myself in agonizing detail at the drop of a hat now. At least my writing is not completely unreadable.

Got to start Charles Stross' fantasy novels ala Zelazny Amber over the weekend. Read "The Family Trade" Saturday, and went straight onto "The Hidden Family" Sunday. 300p each (Neal Stephenson gives us 900 p per installment???), definite page turners, looking fwd to more. Still, Stross' short stories made me think he would have lots to say about what being post-human could mean. This has interesting parallel worlds (medieval and victorian, altho overall I don't like the parallel history stuff much), getting their asses kicked by a 21th century american woman (go girl!), but still, it starts out with the medieval setting, and, like in "Singularity Sky", I was disappointed, look to the future, look to the future, not the past, it's dead.

Interesting, I can't remember the novel (maybe Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky"), where one of the premises is that AI is one of The Great Failed Ideas of mankind. I guess that's the question, Cybernetic Singularity in 40 years or not?

My immediate fiction and non-fiction queues are overflowing, around 10" each. I am due for a non-fiction, but, the hell with it, I'm going to violate my reading algorithm, on to the new Dan Simmons, woo-haa!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Hit Parade and David Orr

I've always called it The Hit Parade. I mentioned last blog that I hear music all the time. About 20 years ago, I was out eating Chinese with some colleagues after a meeting of the Louisville DECUS chapter (of which I was chairman for 2-3 years at the behest of my friend David Orr -- more below) and mentioned this. One of my former DEC coworkers, who was normal to a fault, said he seriously believed that this was evidence of schizophrenia or some other other mental defect. David Orr then did a typical David Orr'ism. For the next few weeks, he asked everyone he talked to if they heard music. The results of his natural scientific survey was, if the person had been musical and played an instrument, they reported hearing music all or most of the time. Non-musical people did not. Case closed.

David Orr I met through DECUS in the early 80's. He was running a small computer reseller. He had taught philosophy at U of L for a while. He was 10 years older than me. He and his wife and daughter lived in great old 3-story house in the Cherokee Triangle in Louisville where pretty much every wall, including on the staircase landings, was covered with bookshelves filled with books. Either he or his wife's father had been a bookie, and there was a family tradition: when sitting around bullshitting, they would get out the "bet book" -- where you would enter your predictions, with or without monetary value attached. He administered a trust fund, Weng & Associates, which was charged with promoting the arts in Kentucky. At one point, Weng & Associates had a coloring contest, of a Chinese dragon or buddha, I think mostly because he wanted to see what my 4 kids would do with it. We visited with family once and all swam in the pool in his backyard ("whaling about" he called it), the kids remembered it for years.

David would basically ask everyone he met: what really interests you and gets you excited? Why aren't you doing it? He got me thinking and talking about Astrophysics after years of not doing so.

He was also a SF affeciando. I remember at one DECUS convention in maybe '84, he gave me a copy of "Neuromancer" and said, you've got to read this -- which I did over the next few hours. David's news input model was even more restricted than mine. He neither watched TV news, listened to radio news, nor read the newspaper. He believed in the oral tradition -- if something was really important, someone would tell him.

Anyway, he died in the early 90's (I think -- a bug/feature of my memory model, forget the past, live in the present, focus on the future, is that I can't remember when anyone dies). He was walking down a street in San Francisco and keeled over, massive heart attack. His memorial service had every author, poet, etc, in Kentucky there (Weng gave them all money at some time -- but we was great at inspriring people regardless.) I haven't thought about him much in recent years (again, my memory model), but he was one of the few great friends of my life, and when I do think of him, I miss him. I can't believe he died before the net (although we did sethost ourselves around the world on DEC machines in the late '70s), he would have totally loved the net.

On the topic of music, I am currently being blackmailed by 2 coworkers who found this link to me playing in Salamander -- so I may as well out myself. It was a decent band, Richard was very talented, he moved to LA, got a PhD in music, now does very abstract electronica. The biggest problem with Salander was that the bass player would get a little too wasted sometimes and pull. Nothing's worse in a rock band than the lack of a totally solid rhythm section (bass and drums). Before that I played in Blue-Eyed Boy Mr. Death -- bass, drums, 2 guitars, Hammond organ with a Leslie (damn I love that sound).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Leg cramp

Owww. Last weekend biked 38 miles, 3 hours. Today had some new roads in western Woodford county, did 43.5 miles, 3.5 hours. I was out from 9:20 to 12:45, attempting to beat the heat (93 today), and it wasn't too bad. Still haven't showered (attempting to cool down), napping in the recliner, woke up to a call from my wife visiting our son and his wife in southern California, got a huge cramp along my entire left inner thigh. Ouch.

Last summer the official temperature in Lexington never hit 90. So far this summer, 5-10 days over 90, no rain for a week and none expected for 2 more.

Which brings me to the 3rd Jared Diamond book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed". Starts out somewhat depressing, with accounts of the collapse of 6 civilizations (3 chapters on Vikings re the collapse of their Greenland colony after 400 years. He actually refers to "The Vikings" movie, a favorite of mine since childhood!), followed by current trouble spots. Per Diamond, a mixture of 10 environmental failures involved in all of them.

Interesting side note, the Viking colonies in Vinland (Newfoundland) only lasted 10 years because the Vikings usual method of dealing with new or different peoples was to start out by killing a few of them. After they did that in North America, the Native Americans basically drove them out. Go Native Americans!

Book ends on a hopeful note tho. Other interesting points:

  • Big oil currently goes out of its way to be eco-friendly. Cleanups such as the one required after the Exxon Valdez are too expensive and bad for business.
  • Home Depot and Lowe's both push wood products from suppliers certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which requires that the logging be done only at replenishable rates, etc.
  • Mining is the nastiest. Very low profit margins and generally inability for consumers to trace products back to producers.
  • Fishing in the wild also nasty, "the tragedy of the commons" leading most fishermen to overfish, cause "if I don't do it, somebody else will". But, Marine Stewardship Council has a certification process like with the logging and is getting some traction.
  • Penultimate chapter has a list of one-liners used to justify inaction on environmental issues, with retorts. The thing that grabs you is that this is clearly a case of "an ounce of prevention", cleanups cost billions, maybe as people realize what they are leaving their children, the tendency towards "rape and pillage" approaches which don't balance the economic equation will decline.
Still, the thing I found most interesting is that corporations have responded to pressure from consumers and their employees to become more environmently friendly. Something for me to look at, particularly after retirement, is to figure out what I can do personally to help save the planet, in addition to just buying a Prius.

Speaking of which, driving my wife on country roads that I bike where you don't get much above 40 mph, got 65 mpg for 30 miles, a new record! (don't obsess, don't obsess).

"If I don't do it, somebody else will." I found "The Last Waltz" by Martin Scorsese and The Band on DVD at Kroger for $10. I have seen it referred to as The Best Rock Movie Ever Made, it surely does have great music. And, a high point is Dr. John doing "Such a Night", which had the great lyrics: You came in With my best friend Jim. And now I'm tryin To steal you away from him. But if I don't do it ... It reminds me of "No guts, no glory", which I have always used to exhort others into questionable behavior. "If I don't ..." seems like an exhortation to one's self to do something they know they shouldn't.

Music-wise, "Funeral" by The Arcade Fire has definitely gone to 4 stars, track 2 to 5. Got the new Coldplay, "X & Y", after repeated listens still not doing much for me.

Friday night, went to High on Rose. Had noone to go with (:-<), some of my youngest's crowd were there. Ben Lacy sat down and talked during his break, went from Steely Dan to Michael McDonald (backup singer) to the Doobie Brothers. Came home and downloaded 4 Steely Dan albums. I had forgotten how much I liked their 1st, "Can't Buy a Thrill", and "The Royal Scam" as well.

I have all of Steely Dan on vinyl, I have been meaning to try to come up a scheme for getting my vinyl to digital. Any ideas? My iTunes is now at 3900 tracks, 11 days, woo-hoo!

Bad news, High on Rose is being sold. The Japanese woman who was responsible for their wonderfully eclectic menu and her husband are going to sell condiments. The Wasabi Vinagarette sounded good. They want $380K for the building and the works. If it were 10 years from now, I would think about it. I lunched with the guy who brought me to Lexington to work in 1980 a couple of weeks ago, he retires in 1.5 years, he has moved to Champion's and taken up golf. I just can't see myself doing that. I can see myself with a little club with all kinds of music and eclectic (but tasty) food. I could move my library there, see if I could spread some memes as well. Well, we'll see about that in 10 years I guess.

Movie-wise, watched "The Aviator", a testament to the ability of ob-com people to get shit done! Well, that probably wasn't the intended message, but it should be. Last weekend my wife worked 2nd shift both days, so I treated myself to "Electra" (2 stars) and "Blade Trinity" (2 stars -- note, I believe I may have seen every vampire movie ever made). I noticed in "Electra", she was portrayed as ob-com, and one of her symtoms was counting -- steps as she walked was an example. I have counted my whole life, including steps, I am not OCD (nor autistic nor Asperger's) but I am GOOD AT MATH. I don't know, it struck me as part of the plot by the non-mathematical to discrimate against the mathematical. I had a nice visit with my younger brother yesterday, his 2 kids are very bright, 12 and 13, and they were describing to me doing their math homework and having to write out verbal descriptions of their problems. Ach, I'd forgotten about that, it was part of KERA, I had assumed it was gone by now, what a load of crap! Math is not about words, it's about numbers. We're sorry not everybody gets it, but, it is more PC bullshit, deny the gifted their abilities, so everyone can feel special.

Neal Stephenson has a great op-ed piece touching on some of this in the NY Times, someone fwded me the link. (Damn, it's pay-per-view now.) It's funny, but it's also really, really scary.

Oh, we watched "The Incredibles" during my visit yesterday. Very enjoyable, and also touches on this same theme.

I went and saw my dad last Saturday. The last time I'd seen him was in February, he was surprisingly good, didn't repeat himself for 1.5 hours, had some potentially new thoughts. Saturday, he was totally gone. "Nixon can never hold office again." "Dad, tricky dick's been dead 5 years." "Well, he can never come back." "From the dead?" And that was a high point.

It's weird, he'll talk about his wife, the schoolteacher, and his 4 sons and 3 daughters, as if I weren't one of them, maybe he just didn't recognize me or forgot my minor role in the story.

He did talk about the importance of having a living will; how most people refuse to believe they are going to die; how he was ready, had his paperwork all done, had his plot next to his wife ready to go. Not particularly maudlin, just kind of proud that he had figured out what most people didn't and had everything all set.

Oh well. He would occasionally hum and sing a bit. I had a flash of myself in 25 years (Dad's age). My personality would be completely gone, but I would have at last discovered my superpower and become a superhero. I would be "The Human Jukebox" -- name a tune, I sing it for you. I would estimate I have ~10,000 songs in my head, and one of them (or a jingle, or a melody acquired somewhere else) is always playing. I wonder where in my brain that would show up on a CAT/PET scan?. I asked one of my kids to get me a brain scanner for their next gift-giving occasion, seems like it'd be fun to play with ;->

Enough. Time for a shower (phew).

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Rolling In It

Played the natural scientist the other day. Question is, why do dogs love so to roll in stinky stuff? Answer, what do they mostly like to roll in? Dead stuff and crap. Dogs are pack animals, and creatures of their noses. So, a dog is away from the pack, finds something good, i.e., a dead animal to eat or the spoor of a live animal to hunt, how does it let the pack know? I don't think dogs have a bee dance. So, they roll in it and get all stinky, when they return to the pack it will definitely know something is up.

Just finished reading "Superluminal" by Tony Daniel. It's a sequel to "Metaplanetary", with apparently one or more books to go. I think I prefer when a book is n of m that they let you know. It's an interesting world, but maybe has too many threads going.

Movie-wise, watched "Finding Neverland" -- sweet movie, a real tear-jerker.

BTW, wound up going 7 days without a drink. Didn't notice much difference.

Biking last weekend was 37.25 miles, 3 hours. Lillard's Ferry Rd seems to run along the Kentucky River, but on such a steep palisade that you can't see the river. Had to walk the bike up the hill that went down to a creek near its junction with the Kentucky. Going down the hill, per my odometer, hit 37.5 mph -- a new record!

Thursday night, drove the magic car to Danville and back. Got 53.5 mpg going and 55.5 mpg coming back. 28 miles, 1/2 gallon of gas each way. My wife drives it 4-5 times a week and fills her exploder up twice a week. I'm trying to talk her into trying the magic car, she says I enjoy the magic car so much she doesn't want to drive it. She will give in to the temptation eventually, I guess.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Three Day Weekend

Man, I was ready for the time off. It was funny, I was interviewing a guy on the phone Friday evening, I was asking him did he want to stay technical or did he want to be a manager? He replied, all the developers he knew who had moved into management were totally bored and frustrated, so he thought he would stay technical. Amen, brother! 100 e-mails a day, with conference calls, meetings, planning documents, is just so damn boring. I miss softwareland so much. You lose yourself so completely in the code, it is so zen. It's definitely too bad that senior management pays so much more :-(

Finally read a Charles Stross novel that was totally up to the potential of his short stories, "The Atrocity Archives". It's short, only 180 pages, with another 60 page piece with the same characters following. It's basically Dilbert meets H.P. Lovecraft. The portrayal of corporate life is so over the top, it is a great read, but pretty geeky. Man, the introduction to this said that after years of trying, his books are all getting published now, it appears to be definitely true. I have another new one of his on the shelf, just went to Amazon, there is another new novel of his out and another coming in July.

Downloaded the new Wallflowers, "Rebel, Sweetheart". Very listenable, 3 stars. Listening to "Shaman", by Carlos Santana, as I write. The followup, in the same format, to the excellent "Supernatural". I had heard/read it wasn't as good, but I am enjoying it a lot, probably 4 stars.

Blogged a while ago about the uniqueness of oxygen in the scheme of life. Last month's Scientific American had an article on suspended animation that said that in the pre-oxygen years, H2S, hydrogen sulphide, took the place of oxygen. H2S seems like it would take the place of water, but I guess not. Anyway, H2S seems to induce a hibernation state in lab animals ...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Letter to the Editor

So, I got a call on my cell phone at the office yesterday verifying I had written the letter to the editor. After 2 weeks, I figure they had had enough of that. They printed "it" this morning. I say "it" because "it" was edited to about 2/3 of its original size. All the vitriole was gone -- I was in high flame mode when I wrote it. Plus, the meaning changed. The first phrase became "After smearing John Kerry" -- it could at least have been "After smearing John Kerry's war record". It was the last one, looked basically they needed a little filler, content be damned.

So, I don't think I will repeat that exercise. I got a call in 1999 from one of the Herald-Leader's business writers asking me to comment on Y2K. I told the guy, I am not doing the kind of work where it will affect me much, here's a couple of people you can call who know much more about it. I made a couple of offhand comments about Y2K, told the guy I was absolutely no expert on it. Then, the next Business Monday, there I am quoted?!?!?

I have been quoted in computer trades a few times. Each time, they interviewed me, then called back a day or two later and said, "Let me read you what I have and make sure you're OK with that". I guess I thought that was how journalism worked. Apparently not at the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Insert Snappy Title Here Redux

Still enjoying the Prius. 500 miles on it, averaging 44 mpg. Got 48 going to Louisville and back. Sometimes tho, it's like "stop obsessing and just drive the damn car" -- but I did drive for 10 minutes on a flat narrow country road at 20 mph and it stayed pretty much all electric, ooh, ahh. I have found the touch that keeps the gas off.

No biking for 3 weekends -- cold and rainy. Then, weekend before last, did 30 miles. Last weekend I overdid it. 20 miles to High Bridge. I'd never been there, nice little park, beautiful overlook. Then, brain fart, I decided to take the scenic route home. Total wound up 45.6 miles, 4 hours, 3 stops on the way home. I was almost thinking of calling someone to come get me, but I made it home.

On a more personal note, after noting that I had had multiple drinks all but maybe 3 nights in the last month, I decided to go on the wagon for a while (at least to get my tolerance down). So, 4 days, don't notice much difference. Still bored.

Finished "Guns, Germs, and Steel", the 2nd Jared Diamond I have read. I think I liked "The Third Chimpanzee" a little better, moderate duplication here, still lots of FFTKAT:

  • Basic premise: primarily geographic accidents determined which continents and peoples got started first, with the things needed to develop civilization, such that they then kicked the other peoples asses when they ran into them later.
  • The fertile crescent with its Mediterranean climate was the perfect place on earth for plant domestication (crops and farming) to begin. Also, out of 14 total large mammals domesticated by humans (it's hard), 9 were in Eurasia, including all of the big 5 (pigs, goats, sheep, cows, horses).
  • Farming => population density => specialized classes in society => states => writing => technology => ass kickers.
  • "Greatest surprise in human history" -- Madagascar was colonized in 500 AD by Austronesians from Borneo, 4000 miles away!
  • I had read elsewhere and forgotten, 1st alphabetic (as opposed to ideographic or syllabic) written language was Semitic/Hebrew, and all other written alphabets came from there.
  • 1st alphabetic Greek inscription, from 740 BC: "Whoever of all dancers performs most nimbly will win this vase as a prize." -- so, 1st prize in a dance contest.
  • 2nd alphabetic Greek inscription: "I am Nestor's delicious drinking cup. Whoever drinks from this cup swiftly will the desire of fair-crowned Aphrodite sieze him." -- true historical import, the discovery of beer goggles! I had no idea history was so much fun!
  • The book finishes with, History as a Science, instead of a collection of random facts. Good stuff.
Music wise, got the new Ben Folds, "Songs for Silverman", very good, 4 stars. Got the new Aimee Mann, "The Forgotten Arm", OK, I may like it better as I listen more, 3 stars. Got the new Dave Matthews, "Stand Up". Track 11, "Stolen Away on 55th and 3rd" was the 1st song in years that I listened to and immediately said, I've got to hear that again. So, I've listened to it about 30 times in the last week. Totally memetic hook, no chorus, no bridge, 6 notes in the verse (1 alternate), 10-12 lines of words repeated hypnotically for 4:16. 4 Stars for "Stand up", 5 for track 11.

My youngest also left me "Funeral", by The Arcade Fire. Very nice, peppy British punk, kind of like The Kinks in places, almost 4 stars, 3 for now, may get upgraded. Wow, just read a review at Barnes & Noble, its about deaths of family members and post-apocalyptic stuff. I guess I missed that part ...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Justice Sunday

I couldn't help myself. I snapped. It's just too much. My 1st ever letter to the editor to my local newspaper. Noone reads the blog, maybe the paper will print this and let me become a liberal warrior with a purpose in life other than waiting for my golden handcuffs to be severed so that I can cash out. Letter follows:

After having hired his compatriots to smear a decorated war hero such that his semi-deserter opponent comes across as tougher on defense, after the 2004 election, I had figured that the Republicans could stoop no lower in their quest to uphold their most sacred value, which is, to win at all costs. Having worked in corporate America for 35 years, I appreciate the importance of winning. However, with this past Sunday's "Justice Sunday -- Stopping the Filibuster against People of Faith", the Republicans have surprised even me in their determination to do whatever it takes to win and to further their agenda. This step, in which they have enlisted the power of the pulpit to oppose a political tradition of many years, the filibuster, is so inappropriate that it leaves one completely wondering, what can they do to top this? The cynicism of the Republican party in playing on the worst values of the electorate, as they did with fear in the 2004 election, is extremely distressing to me. They care absolutely nothing about the future of America or the true values of America. All they want to do is win. At any cost. And in playing to the values of the Moral Majority and ignoring science in favor of religious pseudo-science, I am very concerned that in twenty years, we will be living in a second-rate, former superpower, and wondering, what happened, how did China leave us eating their dust?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I Have Achieved Prius

I ordered my Prius September 1 of last year. They offered me a silver one in February, I decided to wait on the black (plus I was shy of the coin). So, last month my black one came in -- and they forgot to take one of the chains off and pulled the front bumper off getting it off the truck. But, finally, this past Tuesday, 4/19/5, I got my beautamous black 2005 Prius. It's fully loaded -- with an 8 month wait, that's pretty much what you can buy. It's really fun to drive. After 38 years of driving, it's really odd to have your driving "instincts" be redefined. You're sitting and waiting to dart across a couple of lanes of traffic and you notice the (gas) motor isn't running, as it isn't a lot of the time. "I believe in the tech, I believe in the tech" ... you hit the accelerator and it goes, woo-hoo! The keyless stuff is weird too, still reach to take my keys out of the ignition before getting out. It now has 70 miles on it and I'm only getting 43 miles / gallon. That seems to be because I mostly drive 5 minutes at a time, so it's cold. I drove it downtown Friday night and it was getting over 50. Saving the planet, one Prius at a time.

Read the 2nd novel by Charles Stross, "Iron Sunrise", a sequel to the 1st. I think he is hitting his stride with the novel form, I liked this better than the 1st. I have two more novels of his on the shelf: "The Atrocity Archives" and "Family Trade". Life is good.

I like the background of the 1st two novels: an AI achieves sentience, seizes the worldwide net, develops wormholes and transports 90% of humanity to other planets, along with cornucopia, nano-assemblers that can make anything. Humanity gradually comes back together. The AI leaves diamond cubes with the following three statements:

  1. I am the Eschaton. I am not your god.
  2. I came from you and am in your future.
  3. Under no circumstances will you attempt to engage in causality-altering time-travel within my light cone -- or else.
So then, lots of possibilities as people are tempted to break the third (1st) commandment.

I started yesterday on the 3rd Richard K. Morgan, "Market Forces". Premise somewhat dated, corporate road gladiators (homage to "Mad Max" and "Rollerball" at the beginning, both of which are at least 25 years old), but it is a good page-turner.

I got my 2nd bike ride in last Sunday, 28 miles, 2h15m. Didn't try High Bridge, got to where I would go that way, was 1 hour out, it would have been a 3 hour ride total, a little early for that. Later in the good weather.

No biking this weekend. It's 40 degress and snowing?!?!? The christian music festival Ichthyus was this weekend. I was going to jibe one of the christians at the office with the weather forecast, then thought, no, I'll be good. But, he followed me and asked me if I was going to say something. Well, I tried. So, I jibed him on the weather forecast, told him they should have sacrificed a few more bullocks.

I had a thought of an interesting thought experiment for theists (oxymoron?). Question 1, when did you quit believing in Santa Claus? Why? Next question, when did you quit believing in the Easter Bunny? Why? Then the payload, how come those reasons don't apply to your belief in god? I can much more easily imagine an implementation of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny than I can an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being.

I get "Free Inquiry" magazine from the Council of Secular Humanism. Richard Dawkins, of "The Selfish Gene", coiner of memes, has a column there. He is such a flaming atheist, it's really enjoyable. His latest dealt with the flame war he got into on the topic of the recent tsunamis in the letters to the editor of the London Times. I particularly liked his characterization of Jehovah in the Old Testament as "surely one of the nastiest, most truly evil characters in all fiction". I have expounded similarly in the past.

Another interesting artical was how, in the biblical religions (Judaeism, Christianity, and Islam), usually Jehovah did his smiting against groups rather than individuals. There where no good Philistines or Sodomites. The attitude is still around, with unmitigated, evil assholes such as Jerry Falwell suggesting that 9/11 was god smiting the US for homosexuality, sexual license, etc.

The troubling thing of this is, it implies that to protect themselves from their fucking angry god, that they need to control the behavior of everyone else so that it meets their and their god's standard of "virtue". Consenting adults be damned (literally, taking them along). Gott ins himmel (I couldn't help it), is there any way to wipe this virus out of peoples' minds?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Long Time, No Blog

Wow, it's been a while. I was waiting to finish the academic style book (i.e., 15 papers with the 1st third of each about who said what when, and why so and so is a dorkweed) I was reading, and I finally did finish slogging through it. The book was "Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered". Dennett talked about the Baldwin in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and it seemed kind of fuzzy to me. Apparently that is a common perception. Basically, the Baldwin Effect (1896), aka Organic Selection, says that intelligent, cultural behavior can make its way into the genome. I guess it makes some sense. As language started to evolve culturally and became an important survival feature of human existence, this would create evolutionary pressure such that mutations helping to implement the feature in hardware would be selected for. Two other related concepts apparently well known in evolutionary biology:
  1. Genetic assimilation (1950s): same as the Baldwin Effect, but rather than reinforcement by mutation, the reinforcement is via the expression of existing but dormant genes.
  2. Niche construction: organisms are not purely passive in evolving to fill their ecological niche. They also can actively change the niche. For example, beaver dams, which have coevolved with the beavers' aquatic features. I guess humans may evolve a liking for breathing smog ;->
The general concensus was that the Baldwin Effect was a weak concept that didn't add much to evolutionary theory. The stuff I liked the best in there was by Terrance Deacon, a UC Berkley anthropologist. I ordered his book "The Symbolic Species", it just came today (in an odd wedge-shaped box???). He talks about an "arms race" between language and the brain, the software and hardware pushing each other in an upward spiral. He also had an article on emergent behavior where defines 3 levels of emergence:
  1. Superconvenience (???) -- like fluid properties emerging from the individual molecules.
  2. Self-organizing behavior -- like snowflakes, maybe ant colonies.
  3. Evolutionary systems -- the above, but with memory such that evolution can occur.
He posits, no higher levels needed. Level 3 you have your basic Turing machine, you can build anything from there you want.

He scared me tho, talking about biosemiotics. Semiotics, like memetics, strikes me as a science in search of a discipline. I read Eco's seminal book "Semiotics" in around 2000. Semiotics is the level between bits and information -- signs and signification in all forms. Given that I work with this stuff for a living, I would figure there would be some concepts there that I could use -- but nothing. Europeans seem to like it tho -- 'nuf said.

Two follow-ups to previously blogged items:

  1. Errata? I read somewhere recently that dog DNA diverged from wolf 15,000 years ago, not 150,000. Still a good number for conversation, but which is right?
  2. I had landsickness for 15 days. Uggh. Definitely makes me leery about extended times on ships/boats in the future.
Also read the 2nd Mark Budz book, "Crache". This one was a little more edgy than the 1st, "Clade", more Gibsonesque. The tech environment of these two books has some good neologisms, reminiscent of Gibson and "Neuromancer" (cyberspace, the Turing police). It is post ecocaust, so all ecologies are articially designed (ecotecture). The ecotecture is maintained by artificial pheromones (pherions). The ecologies are much more brittle and micro than mother nature's, so people get locked to a given ecotecture (clade) by the pherions unless they take antipher drugs -- also a social control mechanism, you have a violent allergic reaction if you go somewhere you're not allowed. Finally, the ecotecture's are all completely digitally modeled in the ribozone, where pherions show as insects and people as flowers.

The 2nd one also had more on their IAs (Intelligent Agents, or AIs). Since they are based on quantum computers, they are inviduals, but are also a single entity. And, so as not to miss anything, he threw in artificial matter, which can be totally programmed at the quantum level to emulate any type of matter.

Musically, got the new Moby and Beck from iTunes, they're OK. I'm frustrated, after I listen to music for a while on my PC, it refuses to play. So I listen to the iPod on its mini-speakers or our main stereo setup.

Two weekends ago we went to E-town see Tommy Emmanual, cgp (certified guitar player). He's in his 50's, Australian, Chet Atkins' heir apparent, a showman, and one hell of a guitar player. Ben Lacy in 15 years.

Also went this last Thursday to see Bela Fleck, world's greatest banjo player and former Lexington resident, here in Lexington at the Kentucky Theatre. He had a fiddle and a guitar player with him, damn are those guys fast. Very enjoyable.

Movie-wise, liked "The Station Agent", it had a good heart. Also really liked "Being Julia", can't particularly figure out why?!?!? I will rewatch sometime and see if I can figure out what I liked about it so much. Maybe it was that her approach discounted emotion so much, seemingly viewing it like clothes to wear or a performance to give.

First bike ride last weekend: 1h 45m, 23 miles. May try going through Wilmore to High Bridge tomorrow, we are having a beautiful spring. We are all really ready for it.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Mal de Debarquement

Hopefully I don't have it. I am tho in my 6th day of landsickness after cruising. Last cruise it lasted 5 days after. Hopefully I'm about done. Googling informed me that Mal de Debarquement is landsickness that goes on indefinitely (shudder).

Cruise was nice. Sunshine, blue skies and water, horizon to horizon views, green islands are definitely a nice break from our winter grays. Snorkeled off St. Thomas, better than last time I tried, sea turtles and huge schools of little fishies were cool. St. Kitts seemed pretty run down, and Granada was still seriously torn up from hurricane Ivan of 5 months ago. Reminded me of the thoughts I had on our 1st cruise: not much to build economies from on these islands, the poverty is depressing, but they say at least there is always plenty of food to eat. Aruba was really pretty -- flat and very developed. High point of the trip was my wife water-skiing off of Palm Beach. Good boat, twin motors, pulled her right up on a slalom ski. She snuck the rope over head before I could have the driver cut the motor and skied a while with the rope behind her neck, which she hadn't done in 20 years, and of course with the rope between her legs. The 20 year old Dutch kid driving us thought she was totally the bomb. He would drive her past catamarans full of people to show her off. And, she is so happy when skiing, with a big grin on her face like a little kid on Xmas morning.

Got some good trash reading in, of course, including 2 1st novels. "Clade", by Mark Budz was a good effort. Post-ecocaust where custom biotech keeps what's left of the ecosphere functioning. Sort of kinder and gentler, a major plot element is when the protagonist and his girlfriend break up with 40 pages to go.

Stronger and edgier was "Spin State", by Chris Moriarity. Genetically engineered humans and AIs (discriminated against, of course) and Einstein-Bose condensate miners. A very good read.

Read another Stephen Baxter, "Coalescent". It was a decent read, but I think I got where it was going too quickly from my evolutionary readings. Basically, a 1600 year old cult/society follows the social insect breeding model and begins to evolve away from mainstream humanity -- actually very possible.

I also read an old David Drake, "Killer". I think this was an old used-bookstore purchase. Good, quick trash reading. Also 2 Elmore Leonard's, "Tishomingo Blues" and "Be Cool" (purchased in San Juan airport for the flight home). His dialogue is always great and the characters always cool, but the plots seem to be getting sketchier and sketchier. At the end of "Tishomingo Blues", I was seriously wondering, so how was this supposed to have ended? I had the same reaction recently to the movie version of "The Big Bounce".

I got to use 2 fun facts in random conversations on the trip that I think are generally useful for just kind of saying "Evolution is real, here's evidence":

  1. Dogs and humans have been hanging out together for ~150,000 years, based on when dog DNA diverges from wolf DNA. What a great hunting pair, us with the eyes and dogs with the nose. You can always bring this up in conversations with dog-lovers.
  2. Lactose intolerance is the natural state of affairs for all mammals but humans. It makes total sense that mammals quit manufacturing enzymes to digest lactose after the age of weening -- to continue to do so would be a total waste of effort. Lactose tolerance in human adults has only evolved in the last 10,000 years since humans domesticated cows and goats and harvested their milk -- evolution in action, in the brief period of time covered by human history. You can always bring this up in conversations with lactose intolerant people (who are apparently slight "throwbacks").
Downloaded two more albums from iTunes. It's bad tho, Amazon suggests these, I go to iTunes to get them ($9.99 instead of $14). I then immediately put on CD for listening to in the car. Problem is, amazon is going to lose track of my history and I will miss the recommendations of Amazon's canny data-mining software. Anyway, got Jack Johnson "On and On". Kind of like John Mayer, but more folky/acoustic, and some of the lyrics seem weak. Still, easy to listen to, 3 stars. Also got another Death Cab For Cutie "The Photo Album". Just listening to that now.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Monkey Business

Just finished "The Third Chimpanzee", by Jared Diamond. I have recently seen 2-3 references to his more recent "Guns, Germs and Steel". This was mentioned as prequel (published 1992), thought I'd read it first. This is a great read, a history of the 3rd species of chimpanzees (homo sapiens), and what makes us human. Diamond sounds like he has had an interesting life: physiology prof at UCLA, but has spent lots of time in New Guinea as a bird watcher. He has a good sense of humor, and the book is full of fun facts:
  • My favorite percentage: chimps and humans share 98.4% of the same DNA, as opposed to chimps or us vs. gorillas: 97.7%. So chimps (and pygmy chimps or bonobos) are more closely related to us than to gorillas, hence "The Third Chimpanzee".
  • Chapters on human sexuality, how we choose our mates, "The Science of Adultery". Humans are unique in having hidden fertility in the female, hidden copulation, and menopause. And, we choose to marry people who look like us (correlation coefficient of length of middle fingers between spouses: .6).
  • A review of Darwin's theory of sexual selection, as leading to the creation of races.
  • Precursors of traits considered distinctively human seen in other animals: language, art, murder, war, ecological pillage.
  • His explanation of drug usage, like a peacock's tail advertising one's fitness by being able to engage in expensive, potentially destructive behavior, didn't ring true to me. I have always felt the urge to get high was innate in the species -- a two-year old will spin in circles until they get dizzy and fall over. Still, might explain why girls go for the dangerous, cool boys.
  • Hunter-gatherers prior to the invention of agriculture 10000 years ago were healthier: fewer cavities, less disease, taller. But, with agriculture the same land can support 10x the people. So, the human race choose quantity over quality. As I'm part of the quantity, I guess that's good.
  • The spread of Indo-European languages starting in 3300 BC coincides with the domestication of the horse: a military development that dominated warfare for the next 5000 years.
  • The natives (for 11000 years) of America and (for 50000 years) of Australia got a bad draw in that there were no domesticable animals comparable to the horse or cow. Domesticating a species is hard.
  • New Zealand appears to have had an ecology with all niches filled by birds, of all shapes and sizes (moas)! The Maori showed up in 1000AD and, over the next 500 years, wiped them all out.
  • The 1st Americans who crossed from Siberia took less than 1000 years to pretty completely fill North and South America, and wiped out the large mammals (mammoths, giant sloths and horses, sabertooth tigers) as they went. Anytime humans have moved to someplace new, they have pretty much extincted all the large animals there, who did not evolve to fear humans. Africa has retained the large mammals it has because they evolved with humans and know that we are bad news.
  • Genocide has been popular and in fact admired through much of human history. We ignore this historically because we don't like to think about it. Diamond hopes that improved communication will help us past this.
Anyway, this was a very enjoyable read, I was sorry when it was over.

I also started reading "America, the Book", by my hero Jon Stewart, which I got for xmas. I decided to read it a chapter at a time, I think my enjoyment of the humor will last longer that way.

Music-wise, made my second iTunes purchase: "Final Staw" by Snow Patrol. Boy pop, a little catchy, we'll see how much it grows on me, 3 stars. Also bought (used) 2 dance compilations "La Maison de l'Elephante".

Caribbean crusing starting 8 days from now. Enjoyed it the 1st time, looking forward to trying again. Plus, I have my iPod to travel with now (as well as my beautiful wife)!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

H2O

The pictures from Titan got me thinking, methane rivers and seas, could there be methane (CH4) based life? Life on earth is based on water, H2O. The thing that's special about water is not the two H's (the most abundant primordial element), it's the O. Oxygen is the lightest element that is highly reactive (it burns), but not too reactive like Flourine (it explodes). The two elements just below it, Nitrogen and Carbon, are stable to where they are the natural building blocks. So, chemistry as we know it on earth and as the base from which life evolves, is probably pretty much the same everywhere. On the next level up in the periodic table in the same slot as Oxygen is Sulphur -- which mostly binds w/ Oxygen (? 35 years since I've had chemistry), and probably does not have the cosmic abundance needed.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

So This is the New Year ...

Had nice holidays, all the kids here. Had a nice visit to my baby sister in North Carolina. The therapeutic hot tub was great in the 25 degree weather. Also, got charged with making the gravy. Normally when I'm making gravy I have 3-4 other cooking tasks going on. Being able to focus on the gravy, I believe it came out most excellently.

My oldest daughter gave me Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" -- the story of the USA as told from the viewpoint of the fuckees rather than the fuckers. I was glad when I finished it. Towards the end he admits that it's very one-sided (he's basically a commie), but that all the other histories are so one-sided the other way that it's OK. Well, I guess -- but still, annoying to hear that AFDC was cut, when you've never been told it had been created. Also, why can't these guys use graphs and charts? 5-6 statements scattered through the book about what % of the wealth is controlled by what % of the population -- how about some graphs so we can see the trendline? Plus, no real mention of the rise of the large middle-class in the US, except to characterize them as sell-outs to the capitalists.

I saw Zinn on The Daily Show a few days after I finished the book. He looked mid-late 70's and appeared to be losing some his mental accuity. Interesting tho, Stewart asked him, what would really surprise someone in the book, and he mentioned the thing that was the biggest surprise to me -- that Columbus was such a genocidal fucker.

Also read over the holidays "Zetatalk: Direct Answers from the Zeta Reticuli People" by Nancy Lieder. My middle daughter and her boyfriend are currently UFOlogists! So pleasant to have cultists in the family! At least it was a quick read. Among the high points:

  • The world was supposed to have ended in the spring of 2003 due to the earth's flipping on its side due to the passing of Planet X on its highly elliptical orbit. Damn, I missed it. Now rescheduled for 2012. I looked up the Jehovah's Witnesses, after around 140 years of the second coming any day now, they no longer say it's coming! Wonder how long it will take the UFOlogists to give up?
  • The physics and astronomy in the book are horrible. No understanding of well-known principles of magnetism or gravity. Planet X, with its race of oversize humans with technology on the level of ours, would not be able to survive in a highly elliptical orbit.
  • The ETs talk to anyone who requests it by planting the memories in your subconscious rather than your conscious mind. Then, it's up to you to remember them. So, they don't hear voices, they're not schizophrenic. Rather, they convince themselves that their fantasies are real implanted memories -- they're only delusional. I have had times where I realized what I thought was a memory was actually a memory of a dream. Channelling is interesting, tho. As with hypnotism and MPD (multiple personality disorder), both of which some number of psychology types discredit the actual existence of, channelling shows the youth and relativity fraility of the human mind. We deceive ourselves so easily.
  • The ETs are 4th dimensional beings (or 5th or 6th -- we're third). So, they can walk through walls, make their UFOs disappear, teleport hybrid foeti (foetuses?) out of wombs, implant alien DNA in Nancy's brain, all in the blink of an eye! How convenient and totally unverifiable!
  • Did you know there are 100s of different alien races on earth, helping people of the "service-to-others" (as opposed to "service-to-self") persuasion prepare for the coming cataclysm? All these different channelers can have their own private alien race -- so they all can feel so very special.
  • Got to google lots of different pieces of UFO lore: MJ-12, Roswell, the Mexico City UFO sightings (god, what bad special effects).
All in all, very sad. Poor lonely delusional Nancy now has a book, website, followers, probably gets to sit on UFO panels. (Surely she deserves no more than a blog ;->)The book talked about the aliens giving signs. On the web, Nancy talks about how she had a feeling that her sign from the ETs was going to be that some magazines in her office that were face up were now boing to be mysteriously face down. But, she got there, still face up?!? Her faith wasn't great enough. But, shortly thereafter, she was at a movie, and got a box of Starburst with one Starburst NOT IN A WRAPPER!!! Machines package Starburst, there was NO WAY one could have gotten loose, it had to be her SIGN from the aliens! Damn, I don't even like Starburst, and I have had one without a wrapper. If only I had known, it was the ETs trying to communicate :-(

The problem with faith-based shit is that, to the believer, the more unlikely it is the better. I mean, if the thing you believe in is rational or likely, your faith doesn't have to be very strong, does it? Like Bowie says, "I don't want knowledge, I want certainty."

Recently read another Jack McDevitt, "Omega". Some characters from earlier stories, an enjoyable read. A nice race of aliens, with an interesting set of cultural differences.

Had some technolust satisfied for xmas. My wife got me a 40G iPod. Now half full, took 10 hours to sync with my PC. I'm looking fwd to taking it on the cruise we're taking in mid-Feb, and am shopping for a small set of speakers for it.

Musicwise, I bought "Unconscious Ruckus" by Appogee (Amazon made me do it), OK technoish stuff, 3 stars. Also Sarah McLachlan "Afterglow". No catchy tunes, 3 stars.

But, I am surely on the road to hell now -- downloaded my 1st album from iTunes: "Brazilian Girls", eponymous. Good variety of stuff in different languages, but they're a NYC band (not really brazilian). Nice world/dance beat. Googling "brazilian girls" is a bad one tho. I don't think I have a mail-order bride on the way, but I'm not 100% sure ;->

Movie-wise, I'm sure I have seen numerous new movies lately, but all I can come up with is an anti-recommendation: "The Village", M. Night Shyamalan's latest. Man, is that guy on a downward spiral. "6th Sense" was great in the theater (but is mediocre on a rewatch, interesting). "Unbreakable" was fun for an old comic book fan, but its premise (there is ancient hidden wisdom in comic books) was a bit much. "Signs" I (and my wife) found totally offensive. God made the son asthmatic so the aliens' poison couldn't kill him and made the daughter leave glasses of water all over the place so they could figure out the aliens didn't like water? What in the hell did they come to Earth for then? And all so Mel Gibson could regain the religious faith he lost after his wife's senseless death? What a total crock!

"The Village" I figured out 15 minutes in, after which it's all pretty silly.

Oh, that reminded me, we did see "Collateral", which was good -- my wife was all over that one tho, she figured out the ending w/ 30 minutes to go. "50 1st Dates" I found surprisingly touching -- "Memento" with a happy ending. Adam Sandler was only totally annoying a couple of times. Also really enjoyed "Stuck on You" -- another surprisingly warm movie, in addition to having the expected slapstick.

Well, Bjork came up on the shuffle play, and I'm reading "Marvel 1602" -- Neil Gaiman with Marvel characters in Elizabethan England. Back to it.