July 31, 2005

More on morality

From a recent dinner with some strident conservatives, I've been kinda perplexed by some contrasts they brought up. They bemoaned the plight of a society that must support "stupid people," with one key example being a relative who always makes poor dating decisions. Paired with this was an almost angry insistence later in the conversation that my, and everyone's, morality was for sale. So, we're all willfully fallible in that which is possibly most important, and yet fallibility in common choices of life--dating, jobs--is unforgivable.

Continue reading "More on morality"
posted by sstrader at 1:59 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (2)

July 30, 2005

It's my keyboard, baby

To celebrate my pending (abbreviated?) unemployment, I just bought a keyboard:

yamaha p90

And a case:

keyboard case

All from Musician's Friend (with a little help from Kabao, thanks!) and for a pretty nice price. Aaaand, the P90 came with a with a free keyboard stand!

posted by sstrader at 8:22 PM in Music | permalink | comments (2)

July 29, 2005

Black is the new black

I'm on an anger jag, and Lady Crumpet isn't helping by pointing out the jackassery going on with the Bush administration and terrorism (excuse me: extremism). Slate also points out the debilitatingly hopeless situation by asking the question Are these guys really this clueless?

posted by sstrader at 1:54 PM in Politics | permalink | comments (2)

Behold: Pure Crap!

Stereogum points to--what should be laughable but has become merely offensive--the videos for R. Kelly's opus "Trapped In The Closet." The comments are sometimes funny, and one commenter links to his earlier and scathing review. I'm sure there're many more out there, but I've been avoiding it recently out of embarrassment for all involved.

Although I'd like to dwell on the inexplicably horrible lyrics, we shouldn't forget that they're laid over some of the most plastic pop-hop around. A string of melismas does not make a good song no matter how skilled the vocalist. At some point, technique becomes tiresome and you really want to hear something actually composed and not just fumbled together with a bunch of expensive production. Are we ready for a backlash--a la IDM where, I believe, techno branched out from a limiting and cliched style--towards more conscientious pop music? Maybe it's impossible in mainstream broadcasting with payola defining the hits.

We need Curtis Mayfield.

posted by sstrader at 12:19 PM in Music | permalink | comments (0)

July 28, 2005

Indonesia, a little late

I got Get Your War On for my b-day (thanks!) and was struck by one particular piece of wonderfully bad taste. Thus:

get your exx on

The last panel. Wow. LaborRights.org has a summary of the background information. Now, you gotta tell me, who in the hands-off-business and the-invisible-hand-will-balance-everything camps can accept the freewheeling immorality of American corporations taking advantage of a foreign country's permissive views of human rights to help bolster that company's stock price? After reading the LaborRights.org summary (please correct it if it's wrong), the phrase fill[ing] up your gas tank with the bones of killed and raped people in order to make your car run doesn't seem so outlandishly sardonic.

That's kinda bad.

posted by sstrader at 9:35 PM in Politics | permalink | comments (0)

July 26, 2005

Out to launch

Rats. I missed it this time.

homernaut

Look out! They're ruffled!!

Continue reading "Out to launch"
posted by sstrader at 10:58 AM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (0)

July 25, 2005

Fabulous

I had first heard of Konfabulator when Apple released a competing product as part of their OS. Now, Yahoo! has purchased it [/.] and I find out--late in the game--that there's a version for Windows (released back on 8 November 2004). Although I haven't yet tried it, I admired the design: a combination of existing open standards to create, combine, and extend existing technology.

posted by sstrader at 10:04 PM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (1)

Torture, again

The discussion came up today: other countries' mistreatment of American prisoners justifies our mistreatment of foreign prisoners as long as we don't go as far as they did. I've avoided considering this position because, to me, it means the end of civilization. To think that we have to be only slightly more moral than the next guy in order to say that we've led a conscientious existence is simply too depressing. How can we support a double-standard of morality and define a double-standard of what we would label, too simplistically, as "evil"? I've avoided considering this, maybe, to avoid realizing that for many it's a generally accepted truth.

And Biden's compelling observation that we act morallly to protect American troops (I commented on favorably here and here) is a cop out. Should the choice of a moral life be simply insurance, protection money paid, so that others will treat you justly? Those who will act with malice will act that way no matter your morals.

Continue reading "Torture, again"
posted by sstrader at 9:23 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 24, 2005

Radio On: A Listener's Diary; Vowell, Sarah

I've been picking through this whilst finishing up the Sherlock Holmes collection (see "Sarah Vowell, NPR, and Coldplay" and "Publishing and tuning out"). It's grown on me in a minor way--she's alternately honest and opinionated, although others might reverse just where those labels would be placed. She's the type of rock snob that appreciates only street-wise sincerety and a clear lineage to rock's roots. I agree with her on many points (e.g. the hate-inducing and insipid Grateful Dead) but I'm staunchly anti-originalist when it comes to rock. I feel that the quicker the tyranny of the blues is overthrown, the better. She likes Sonic Youth and Courtney Love (agreed), but hates Stereolab (huh?). I guess difference are good.

And many scarey/familiar observations on conservative idiocy (e.g. Rush's absolutist rants based on lies, or Dole's plea to "ignore the details" of a very detail-laden tax package that benefits the rich) that could be observed unchanged today.

Continue reading "Radio On: A Listener's Diary; Vowell, Sarah"
posted by sstrader at 5:57 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

Artificial culture

Scientists across several European universities are working on creating a simulated computer environment, a la The Sims or the upcoming Spore, whose AI inhabitants will create their own culture and language. Although their intent is to study the basic processes of language and culture, some scientists feel that an artificial environment will only illuminate artificial processes. There's always value with simulations as long as the relationship and bounds of the simulation's rules and those of the real world are understood.

At the very least, the experiment will be interesting as an accomplishment of NLP and AI programming.

Continue reading "Artificial culture"
posted by sstrader at 3:09 PM in Programming | permalink | comments (0)

Monkey brains

Scientists have been injecting human brain cells into monkey fetuses (NEWS.com.au, LiveScience.com, Google News). The resulting animals, if left to grow, could develop self-awareness--or, if as some argue, many animals are already self-aware, they could develop consciouis characteristics more indiscernible from humans.

Last November, I noted that animals were begin engineered to produce more human-like organs. Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future [Amazon] addresses many of these issues and suggests that limits be defined soon so that the "natural" definition of human is not altered.

posted by sstrader at 11:33 AM in Science & Technology | tagged fukuyama | permalink | comments (0)

July 23, 2005

Where was I?

Finished up the DoD certification yesterday at 1:20 (woo-hoo!) and worked until 4:00 with cleanup and documentation. Contract ends on Wed. I was completely burned out from the previous few weeks/weekends of long hours so got home and crashed--which then had me awake reading for several hours in the middle of the night.

Watched In Good Company [IMDB] last night. It had some very nice surprises and avoided most of the cheap, sit-com irony. Its satire of the Business World was more nuanced than most, yet it still went a little too far with the Evil Corporate Merger and the Evil Backstabbing Corporate Climber. The relationships of the main characters--Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlet Johannsen--were perfect.

Jogging!

posted by sstrader at 11:58 AM in Cinema , Where was I? | permalink | comments (0)

Google maps/earth

When did Google Maps add a "hybrid" view that combines the map and satellite views? It's actually much more readable than Google Earth.

Continue reading "Google maps/earth"
posted by sstrader at 5:48 AM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (5)

July 22, 2005

Denouncements

Listening to Reza Aslan talk about his book No God But God [Amazon] on Forum. I had first heard about Aslan when Jon Stewart had him on his show. During this Forum interview, he made an interesting defense of the Islamic community that I hadn't heard before. A caller made the often heard criticism of Muslim leaders saying that they did not speak out against 9/11. Aslan said that, in fact, there was a voluable and wide-spread denouncement immediately after the attack. I had never heard this defense--another good reason to get his book and see what's what.

Continue reading "Denouncements"
posted by sstrader at 3:23 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 21, 2005

Dinner politics

Dinner with the bosses and the DoD reps at a restaurant called Tomas in Norcross. The head chef came from Buckhead Diner, and although the choices were outstanding the results were average. I don't not recommend it, but there were problems. My caprici salad had some slightly unripe tomatoes and the calimari, breaded, didn't have enough spice. Considering all that, the atmosphere and service was very nice and, again, the choices were outstanding.

It was fun hanging out with the crew. We eventually wound our way around to politics, and the resounding tone was one of a plea for everyone to be reasonable. And yet, being surrounded by conservatives, I noticed that they had the same issues as me: the desire to be reasonable is often overridden by the frustration of your political affiliation. In the same breath that you're denigrating the extremists on both sides, you have the urge to paint those on the other side as the more offensive of the two.

Continue reading "Dinner politics"
posted by sstrader at 10:34 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

Publishing and tuning out

Another entry from Sarah Vowell's book Radio On. She's listening to NPR's show "Soundprint" with Gary Covina and Ira Glass (remember, this is 11 years ago):

Continue reading "Publishing and tuning out"
posted by sstrader at 12:18 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 20, 2005

That old house, part 2

The Designer Finals show on HGTV that remodeled our friends' living room will finally air on August 6th. Look for: time-lapsed magic, Lisa looking exasperated as she pulls up carpet tacks, and lots of furious painting near the end. Excelsior!

posted by sstrader at 10:07 AM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Attempting to eliminate email spam

Around a month ago, I got fed up with email spam (only a month ago?) and decided to do what I should have been doing for a while and begin responding to the opt-out options that were available. It had seemed easier to just delete them in bulk, but the bulk got too bulky, so I decided to see what SOP would achieve.

Continue reading "Attempting to eliminate email spam"
posted by sstrader at 2:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (1)

July 17, 2005

Rawk!

Lisa & friends went to the 99x Weezer, et al. show last night. I was a-workin' late, so I met up with them at the end of the evening at North Highland Pub. Anyway, sounds like I missed a great show and VIP tickets from a friend who works at 99x. Free beer and a crowd-free viewing experience. And was there really some guy who climbed on top of a lamp post for the show?

Anyway, anyway, here's a humorous Weezer video, for "We Are All On Drugs," that they created from the remains of a Grim Reaper video [via Stereogum]. Silly and good for you.

posted by sstrader at 1:57 PM in Music | permalink | comments (1)

July 15, 2005

Where was I?

Had a good interview this morning. Well, it seemed good in my mind, but then look who's telling me that. What's weird is that I interviewed with these people before and (obviously) didn't get the job. This time around, many of the same people were at the table a-grillin' me about threads and such. Best line from the interview:

Them: If you disagreed with someone on a design issue, what would you do about it.

Me: I'd form an alliance.

Maybe that's why I'm not getting hired.

The contract's up in a week (which is nice) and I'm in major crunch mode with some major last-minute features (which is etc.), so I'll be in the office another weekend (etc. etc.). And my Web server was on the fritz most of the day for some reason or another. At least that meant no spam! It's the simple things in life.

Dinner at Nan tonight! We had planned to go there for the anniversary, but got kiboshed by an ice storm of all things. An ice storm. In Atlanta. I can't make this shit up. Anyway, I don't see another ice storm on the horizon, so we'll see what's what.

posted by sstrader at 6:03 PM in Where was I? | permalink | comments (2)

July 14, 2005

Assumptions

On News and Notes yesterday, I heard about a study by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer. In that segment Fryer spoke about the results of his studies on the relationship between social popularity and "acting white," and on the relationship between uncommon black names (I think "Loquetia" was an example) and economic success.

I love studies on our basic assumptions. Even when they reaffirm common knowledge or "home-spun wisdom," they are valuable because of their validation. So often, common knowledge is just plain wrong, so validation of such information is more valuable than, say, validation of a theory on superstrings. Maybe not that valuable, but still pretty valuable.

Anyway, Fryer looked at high school friend networks and compared grades with popularity ("An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'"). He found that black students kept a consistent popularity with grade increases up to a point. After that, their popularity went down. He labeled this as two audience signaling tension and pointed out that it is not related to race. As students try to achieve academic success in order to achieve economic success, they distance themselves from their peer group. Instead of focusing on friendships, they focus on a different environment and necessarily spend less time with friends. The higher achieving students are not being isolated because of their grades but because of friendship jealousies.

In the analysis of the affect of odd names on economic success, he compared apples to apples by tracking people from equivalent social settings. He found that a person's name had no correlation with their economic success. Oddly, he never explained why more black women than men have odd names.

posted by sstrader at 11:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

Quick thought on emotional responses

Instead of being viewed as emotionally cold, the glib and mocking sentimentality of the meta-narrative should be viewed more as a way to defuse sentimentality that is too often faked. People aware of their awareness Act more consciously and, in effect, cheapen the emotion. Meta-narrative immediately re-examines an emotional moment in order to acknowledge the awareness but not necessarily to nullify the emotion.

100 years or 500 years ago, people were equally self-aware yet not so reactive to the conscious Acting. Why do we respond differently?

posted by sstrader at 10:24 AM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 13, 2005

Shuttle

At around 2:00 PM EDT today, news sites began reporting that the mission has been scrubbed. Aww. Mason IMed me after he got it from a friend at the launch site. NASA TV had been silent for a while. NASA TV said the cancellation was due to a failed eco-sensor; news reports are saying faulty fuel-tank sensor. I'm assuming they're the same thing.

Inspired by the geek clients that Lisa's company is doing work for, I'm watching NASA TV in anticipation of the launch today at 3:51 PM EDT (it's really been 2-1/2 years?). I remember watching NASA TV early on in Internet streaming days. They broadcast extended camera shots of the rotating Earth from earlier shuttle trips, and I would leave RealPlayer up in a small window alway-on-top as I'd spend late nights at one-company-or-another writing code. It was kindof peaceful and completely silent, and I'd imagine that it was happening real-time. Me looking at my screen looking at the world--like how it feels with Google Earth now.

shuttle

Their official site for this launch has all the low-down, including a countdown clock so that you can do the 10-9-8-7-6-thing at home!

Continue reading "Shuttle"
posted by sstrader at 10:40 AM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (1)

July 12, 2005

Pseudolanguage and its discontents

A lessthaninteresting /. thread recently discussed the banality of corporate speak--yeah, I know, it's like pointing out that Charlie Brown said "good grief" in today's strip--but the interesting part was a poster's link to a George Orwell essay titled "Politics and the English Language". Like Chomsky, Orwell is a linguist with a passion for its role in politics. The advice in "Politics" is, simply, to simplify your language and think about what you're saying. Fewer words are generally better and dead metaphors reveal a lack of thought. These rules are easy to understand but difficult to adhere to, so it's always good to re-read good writers as they tear apart bad language.

Continue reading "Pseudolanguage and its discontents"
posted by sstrader at 12:16 PM in Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

Huh?

What happened? I think I just blacked out for a few days.

posted by sstrader at 11:04 AM in Misc | permalink | comments (0)

July 7, 2005

Ugly

Another newspaper article on home PC users and their trials with spyware/malware. Terrifying. And a commenter posted to a detailed experiment testing what methods are used to capture individuals' computers. More terrifying. The author of the article put together a test machine and jumped on the Internets to see what's what. He followed some Yahoo searches to look for games and almost immediately aquired a trojan. Check out the details of how it happened. If you're not careful, you could be next.

After reading about some of the geeks that were helpless to accidental infections (wipe, re-image), I didn't feel so bad about not being able to help a friend with her infected computer.

posted by sstrader at 8:23 PM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (0)

Wide eyed

William Gibson has an essay in Wired titled "God's Little Toys" as part of a larger feature called "Remix Planet". In it, the writers extoll the importance, and sheer cultural primacy, of collage and repurposing. Gibson:

Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, audience is as antique a term as record, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical. The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital.

I'm extremely suspicious of most assertions that attempt to say that our current society is unique in this way or that from earlier eras. The assertion that we're a "remix culture" is no different. Here are some of the points provided as proof of our uniqueness (from Gibson's article and others):

Continue reading "Wide eyed"
posted by sstrader at 3:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

London town

Following new stories all day. Bush sounding alternately like a war propagandist (I was most impressed by the resolve of all the [G8] leaders in the room.) and a hippie (We will ... spread an ideology of hope and compassion to overwhelm their ideology of hate.). Weird. Also: Americans should stop acting like egotistical martyrs who can teach the British how to deal with such a situation. It is we who are the newcomers to those who have had violence perpetrated on their home soil. On vigilance, a British representative pointed out the many attacks before today that were stopped, saying that "the terrorists only need to be lucky once, we need to be lucky a thousand times."

Today, we are all Londoners.

posted by sstrader at 2:21 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

July 6, 2005

Hack the Earth

Google has provided the schema for the XML of Google Earth data files [via /.]. Their code site points to GE's documentation and a tutorial. Woot.

Continue reading "Hack the Earth"
posted by sstrader at 2:52 PM in Programming | permalink | comments (0)

July 5, 2005

past the barber and gymnasium...

Heard yet another person denigrate the choice of getting a tattoo (useless disclosure: I don't have a tattoo). The most recent argument I heard was, like the previous ones, that what looks interesting on a young, smooth body will look faded and ugly on an old, wrinkled, fleshy body. Few bodies at 60 or 70 are going to be all that lookable anyway, with or without a tattoo, and a dragon or heart or dagger or flower is unlikely to ever look dated. They'll just always look tattoo-ey. It's not like people are tattooing zoot suits or bell-bottoms on themselves.

posted by sstrader at 1:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (2)

July 4, 2005

Deep Impact hitting Temple 1

temple 1

A fun story I haven't been following enough, the Deep Impact satellite rammed into the Temple 1 comet at 6:52 UTC today (fireworks!). /. points to a movie of the impact from the point of view of the satellite. Extremely cool. They also have a highly useful discussion on the amount of energy that was released from the impact:

1 tonne of TNT = 4.184 x 10^9 joule = 4.184 Gigajoules/tonne
19/4.184 ~ 4.5 tonnes TNT
...
1 Kcal = 4186 J
1 Snickers contains 280 Kcal = 1172080 J = 0.00117208 GJ
19 / 0.00117208 ~ 16210.5 Snickers
So the amount of energy released is the equivalent of about 16.2 Megasnickers.

Ah, now I see.

Also from /.: a GIF animation of the impact from the Lowell Observatory; and from the NASA site, what Hubble saw.

Continue reading "Deep Impact hitting Temple 1"
posted by sstrader at 12:34 PM in Science & Technology | permalink | comments (0)

Mental representations

A recent Cornell study moves further towards a weakening of the computational model of the mind. My most in-depth study of this subject was from May 2003 while reading Stephen W. Horst's Symbols, Computation, and Intentionality. The book was published in 1996 and in it he criticized the computational model. I'm certainly not in the scene, but I really didn't think that the computational model had that strong a following anymore.

Anyway, the Cornell methods reminded me of some recent observations of my own behaviour. In their study, students were given the name of an object and had to point to it from a pair of images. Sometimes the non-correct object would have a name that sounded distinct from the correct object; sometimes the names would sound similar. The study found that students took a measurably longer time to point to the correct object when the names sounded similar ('candle' and 'candy' were more difficult to differentiate than 'candle' and 'jacket'). Over the past several months, I've noticed an odd pattern in how I mistype letters on the keyboard. While my mistypes will often be from swapped letters ('teh'), there are a considerable number of occations when I'll mistype similar looking letters. So, I'd type 'q' for 'g' or 'p' for 'b'. The mistakes involve different fingers and/or different hands and so have nothing to do with the mechanics of typing.

This is all very unscientific (how many times do I mistype unrelated, non-similar keys?), but interesting w/r/t the Cornell study. The arbitrary linguistic label for an object can affect our visual recognition of that object, just as the arbitrary visual representation of a letter/sound can affect our recognition of it. Equally interesting: the Cornell study may support similar linguistic games used in the analysis of dreams.

The author of the study is Michael J. Spivey. I swear I've heard that name before but can't find the reference right now.

Continue reading "Mental representations"
posted by sstrader at 12:27 AM in Language & Literature | permalink | comments (1)

July 1, 2005

Intransigence

Classic.

Krusty: About the Ribwich: there aren't gonna be any more. The animal we made them from is now extinct.
Homer: The pig?
Otto: The cow?
Krusty: You're waaay off. Think smaller. Think more legs. People, we went through something magical together. And it's not important who got rich off of whom or who was exposed to tainted what...

I've mocked late-era Simpson's quite a bit, but they have some good lines. And this episode--for sheer referential fun--parodies Requiem for a Dream [IMDB].

Continue reading "Intransigence"
posted by sstrader at 8:47 PM in Misc | permalink | comments (2)

So tired

This commencement speech by David Foster Wallace made a timely appearance today on Blogdex.

I woke up slightlly hung-over this morning after a fancified dinner out with friends and had the worn-out, world-weariness that often accompanies a draining evening of manic mood. Sometimes I'm tired of feeling as if I'm constantly running. And tired of always trying to shoot a few meters in front of my current position. It's not as if I work too much or achieve too much or even that I'm constantly busy. It's just that every nowandthen the number of spinning plates manifests itself and I think about how many I've broken already and am waiting for the whatever. The inevitable. I suspect that it's a not uncommon feeling that hits everybody when they're at their weakest.

And I thought about what it is like for someone to have their beliefs crushed or at least abandoned. Any beliefs. And those beliefs could be Completely True or Completely False and Ugly, but there's a type of experience where the abandonment doesn't mark a growth but instead a chopping off and the person is never the same. In mourning. Not that I've had my "beliefs crushed," mind you, but it's an interesting psychology and sortof goes hand-in-hand with the spinning plates. As you struggle to achieve whatever it is you're trying to achieve, and trying to achieve it because it's part of your belief system or whatever, you could eventually at some point invalidate that belief system. (Coincidentally, I had to re-write a small section of code today after realizing that: it sucked. This was, however, a "growth" type of thing and not one of those "chopping off" types of things.)

Anyway, DFW speaks a little on these subjects and others.

posted by sstrader at 3:42 PM in Misc | tagged david foster wallace | permalink | comments (0)