Thursday, August 30, 2007

Proprioceptive Illusion

The Lexington Herald-Leader ran a story last Thursday or Friday on an article in Nature in which an out-of-body experience was induced in test subjects by showing them images of themselves on VR goggles and touching the subject's back with a stick. The subjects reported they felt that their consciousness was in the image they were looking at. Out-of-body experiences had previously been induced by electrodes in the brain.

We have known about optical illusions for years. More recently we have added cognitive illusions (see for example "Inevitable Illusions", Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, blogged here); and moral illusions (see "The Blank Slate", Stephen Pinker, blogged here).

I think we can now characterize the "out-of-body experience" as a proprioceptive illusion (not sure if that is the correct adjectival form of the noun proprioception, our sense of where our body is) -- and not as evidence for the existence of a soul separate from the body, as is often done.

BTW, last blog I mentioned playing at the last Old Farts' Jam at Lynagh's. I meant to meantion that one of our young developers who hangs out at Lynagh's regularly sent an e-mail to most of development trying to get people out for my final performance there. Attendees showing up, 0. :-(

Played last night (softly) at Coffee Island, in the former sight of The Kentucky Arcade, my son's erstwhile favorite video game hangout. It was fun, very laid back.

Next week, we start up at O'Neil's Irish Pub, Wednesdays from 5-9. Nice place, nice stage, medium sized dance floor. Haven't decided yet how early I want to try and get out there.

Reading the latest Year's Best. Just read a great story by Benjamin Rosenbaum, "The House Beyond Your Sky". Per his web site, it's up for Hugo. Great computational cosmology, great stuff, one to keep an eye on.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Trip to the Great North

So, we vacated to Canada, le Provence de Quebec to be exact, from 8/12 to 8/19. Flew from Louisville to Montreal on Sunday, stayed there until Thursday. Mostly did tourist foo, Botanical Garden very nice, the Olympic stadium tower. Ate lots of good french food -- sweetbreads and a rack of lamb rubbed in rosemary the 1st night, magnifique. Thursday our oldest daughter flew in from NYC and we took the train to Quebec City (3 hours), stayed there until Saturday, took the train back, then flew home Monday after our Sunday flight was cancelled (thanks United). Quebec City we didn't like as well, pretty much solid tourists, with the big historical point of interest that they seemed obsessed with being the loss of the city to the British in 1759.

So our summer vacation to the north to escape the heat was successful again. I think it may have gotten to 80 1 day in Montreal, and Quebec didn't get over 75, while it was close to 100 down here. So of course, we got rained on in Quebec Friday evening when the temperature was around 60 and I caught a cold, that I am just now about completely over. Hoisted on my own petard.

On the way to Montreal, I finished "This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession", by Daniel J. Levitin. He is a former record producer/engineer who is now a researcher at McGill U (in Montreal!) into the cognitive science of music. An OK book, good analysis of the components and evolutionary basis of music, lots of fun factiods (FFTKAT) re why the music of some modern pop artists such as The Beatles, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell are so appealing. The web site for the book has song samples and other stuff. One interesting thing that I will research further was his statement that starting times of sounds/notes are discernable by the brain at the level of a few milliseconds. Everything I have seen prior to this has said that the lowest level of time that the brain/consciousness can process is 50 milliseconds / 20 hertz (movies run at 24 frames/second) -- so an interval an order of magnitude below that is definitely worth investigating.

This is the third book on music/mind I have read, much better than the other two, but still, I was glad when this book was over -- not really that much new there. 3 stars.

After that read "Thirteen" by Richard K. Morgan, his 5th novel. Aside from some pacing problems in its 550 pages, a very good read. But, very depressing. Morgan is a Scot. The novel is set in ~2105. The northeast states and the west coast have split from the US in the mid 21st century, leaving the rest as a country known popularly as Jesusland. It's main characteristics are its poor education system, legislated morality, and its willingness to do dirty jobs for cheap, and its suspension of the rule of law, habeus corpus, etc. The truth hurts, don't it? 4 stars.

I never watch The Daily Show any more. It's just not funny any more, the idiocy has gone on far too long. And even with the Bushies in increasingly severe disarray, the democrats seem to remain clueless. Sigh ...

After that I read the new William Gibson, "Spook Country", very good, very much in the vein of "Pattern Recognition", which I thought was his best book since "Neuromancer" in 1984, 4 stars.

Last Wednesday was the last blues jam at Lynagh's, they were ready for a change after 15 months of the Old Farts Blues Jam. Many guitarists there, they were kind of rushing people through, my 3 went OK, considering I still had the damn cold. I'm supposed to be taking the pedal steel to some coffee place for some low volume acoustic type stuff this Wednesday, we'll see how that goes.

My old friend Slaphead, aka Diana Probus, whose blog I linked to recently, died yesterday morning, apparently of complications/side effects of chemotherapy. Her blog went silent June 16, and one of her online friends was kind enough to give me the news. She was 50.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The End of Hippiedom

So got back from my walk, it is so damn muggy. I forgot to take a hat and the sun came out half way through, probably have a red nose tomorrow, hopefully not a red scalp. I took my shirt off. Not too many people out, hopefully no young children were traumatized by The Great White Whale ("Big as a mountain and white as the show, it's Moby Dick!"). I still tan on my trunk, but the 1st thing that happens after exposure to sun is that the hair on my chest all turns bright shiny white. I don't seem to tan at all from the knees down, I think from my 12 years of refereeing soccer and having a soccer tan from wearing knee socks.

So got home, needed to cool off before showering so I did another post (2 in 1 day!), somehow got my Blogger cookies/state screwed up by changing a setting, lost the post. Grrr. I've cooled off enough to shower now, but will try to recreate this while it's still fresh in my mind.

Anyway, there are some of my raps that I have been forgetting for years to add to this blog. Some have made it, like My Greatest Blasphemies, others haven't. So I had a good idea to help me remember these. Whenever I think of one, I e-mail it to myself at my home account, where I blog from. I have for years used the inbox of my e-mail as my todo list, both at work and at home. An e-mail that requires action, a response, or more thought stays in the inbox until it is processed (or it times out), at which point it is filed in an appropriate folder or deleted/archived. Crazy that I just thought to send e-mails to myself when I need to remember to do something. But, ain't having an exocortex great!

During most of my Cambridge/Boston years 1968-1974 I was a hippie. In high school, I had a friend, who was generally regarded as our token beatnik, who turned me on to Herman Hesse, "Steppenwolf", "Siddhartha", "The Bead Game" and other similar literature, and to Mississippi Delta blues. He also wanted to turn me on to smoking pot, but in the stupefying naivete of my youth ("the weenie factor" -- I graduated high school just before I turned 17), I didn't realize this until years later. He later was a Louisville blues singer for years.

I started playing music in around 1965. When I got to MIT in the fall of 1968, I had a great collection of psychedelic music and my heros were Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and The Grateful Dead. It took a very short time for the hippie contingent of my living group and me to realize we were kindred spirits. So I lived various aspects of the hippie lifestyle until I moved back to Jeffersonville in 1974 (but city hippie rather than country hippie).

So my contention is that Woodstock, in the summer of 1969, was the beginning of the end of the hippie movement. My bass player at the time went, I was working as a welder at JeffBoat to make money for college, I didn't go.

Woodstock was three days of great music, great drugs, and great fellowship, with lots of free love going around -- and Nothing Happened. Back then, we really thought that we could Change Things, in potentially magical ways. So with all the great vibes of Woodstock, Something should have happened:

  • the mother ship should have landed and taken on some passengers, or
  • a group mind should have formed, or
  • superpowers like telepathy and levitation should have manifested.
But, aside from the usual births, deaths, and dancing, Nothing Happened. And this was the beginning of the end of hippiedom.

I think that the one lasting legacy of the hippie movement was the birth of the environmental movement. Hippies were its parents.

Rainy Day, Dream Away

Looks like I am rained out from biking again -- it just started raining pretty steady, around 9am. Checked the radar, it should last 30-60 minutes. So I'll go for a walk when it's done. Meanwhile, might as well blog.

I wasn't going to bike far anyway, maybe 30 miles. We're back to low 90s and humid as hell. We were at a party last night, sitting on a deck at 10:30pm and sweat is rolling off me.

Actual title of this entry was going to be "The Birds and the Bees". Main point re the birds is, they fight all the time, as long as they are within 1 size class of the other bird. So robins, cardinals, and mockingbirds get territorial on each other, both within and without of their species, but ignore sparrows. Blackbirds will gang up and try to drive a crow away. And when there's a hawk around, both crows and blackbirds will put 1-3 sentries keeping tabs on the hawk. They will also mess with it when it's in flight.

I enjoy watching my bird bath and 3 bird feeders. Here's some anecdotes / natural science.

  • Of the birds that use the main bird feeder, the pecking order is: blackbirds, bluejays, cardinals. Doves eat but don't seem to get involved. We also have a lovely pair of chickadees that the other birds seem to ignore. They fly almost like hummingbirds.
  • I had thought robins didn't use the feeder (worm eaters), but there was one eating there yesterday.
  • The main feeder and bath are between an aristocrat pear and a crabapple tree near the house. I cut most of a branch on the crabapple that the squirrels (3) were using for fast access to the main bird feeder. Our hummingbird feeder (none this year or last) hangs from it and the vibration of the squirrels' passing sloshes the liquid out of the hummingbird feeder. After I cut it, I noticed a chipmunk (chipmunks climb trees!) going up the pear over to the crabapple, all around the crabapple, back to the pear -- I had destroyed his access to the bird feeder. So then he climbs the pole the feeder's on -- the squirrels do this and then just swarm over the lip of 6 x 12 inch base of the feeder -- and leaps backwards along the long dimension of the base; attempts to grab the edge; fails and falls to the ground (5 feet). Then back up the pole again, another leap in the direction 180 degrees from the first, with the same result. Then back up the pole, reach the edge in the shorter direction directly, without leaping, and easily pulls itself over. So why did it try twice leaping 6 inches before reaching 3? Almost like its route searching algorithm was random, which I wouldn't think was the case ...
  • The birds don't mess with the the squirrels on the feeder. I thought maybe rodents got a pass, but a bluejay got territorial with the chipmunk when it was in the tree, so it's probably the size thing.
  • Cardinals seem to be fairly timid, but I did see a female cardinal dominating a bluejay briefly. I also saw a male cardinal fly up and side with a female when a bluejay was dominating the female.
  • The bluejays and chickadees fly to the feeder, get a piece of food, and fly back to a branch to eat it. The doves, blackbirds, cardinals, and robins eat at the feeder.
  • The goldfinches currently have the thistle seed feeder to themselves. I guess that shows the advantage of have an unusual food be part of the definition of your ecological niche.
BTW, I am adding another blog link: that of an old friend/WRA of mine. She was affectionately known as "slaphead" when she worked for me ~15 years ago because she was such a smartass you wanted to slap her upside the head -- my kind of person.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Politically Incorrect?

Subtitle, sometimes I just can't tell anymore.

Anyway, I'm coming home from Lynagh's (Wednesday jam is every other week now, this is the off week, but I seem compelled to go nonetheless -- old fart's jam has been replaced by the internationally renowned guitarist, the inimitable Ben Lacy). I'm stopped at the corner of Huguelet and Limestone, coming out of the UK campus. I particularly noticed tonight what I notice whenever I'm stopped there: the pedestrian (don't)walk traffic signals talk continuously (walk now, don't walk, but maybe much more???). I had presumed that this was for the visually impaired. But, if there are no visually impaired around, this amounts to:

  1. noise pollution;
  2. a waste of the energy to generate the sound (love the earth, at least sound is much cheaper than light);
  3. a waste of information (I have always wondered, if you put your turn signal on when no one is behind you, does it really blink?).

So here's the politically incorrect part -- or maybe this is just a good idea. How about if all the manufacturers of visually-impaired people's canes and seeing-eye-dog harnesses started implanting an RFID chip in their product that says, "Anonymous blind person approaching". Then the damned traffic signal could shut the fuck up unless its vocal services were actually useful.

This of course raises privacy and security issues. A predator (or government) who enjoyed preying on the visually impaired could build a locator that would find victims. 'Course, the cane and/or dog might have already given them away.

Speaking of the mark of the beast, I have for the last 5-10 years been saying that as soon as I can get my cell phone / PDA / PC implanted behind my left ear, I'm going for it. But, these devices need an absolute physical on/off switch so you can go dark if you need to.

Hmmm, probably can't work. The RAM would probably need at least a trickle of bio-electricity to keep functioning, and that would certainly be traceable. Oh well ... who needs privacy anyway? The MySpace generation sure doesn't worry about it. I think it was the Wired article 2 months ago on Go Naked that said something to the effect that the MySpace generation would never trust anyone who wasn't willing to bare their innermost secrets on their page.

Still driving home from Lynaghs, on S. Broadway, I have in the left lane motorcyclists. 1st 2, serious "Outlaws KY" colors and serious tats, scary motorcycle dudes. A group of motorcycles has been the wolf pack of the automotive world ever since Marlon Brando and "The Wild One".

Next a big guy with good tats and a big biker woman riding behind him.

Next a big guy with no tats or colors and big not-so-biker woman riding behind him.

Next a big woman driving herself.

I thought that was the end of it, I thought, man, how the biker gangs have fallen, that group looked like it was nearing the end of its life cycle. But then, after 3-4 cars, another 4 bikers, basically average joes, average tats, standard tee-shirts. So the "Outlaws KY" will lead the way but now basically ride with anyone? Some kind of sociobiology going on here, I have no idea what.