Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quote of the day

"One important detail is that actions that have not yet been tried in a state s are always assumed to lead immediately to the goal with the least possible cost, namely h(s). This optimism under uncertainty encourages the agent to explore new, possibly promising paths.

- Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (Russell&Norwig)

Amusing how theory can guide one's life as well as explain the inevitable disappointments. Of course, Mae West anticipated theory with "Whenever I have to choose between two evils, I always like to try the one I haven't tried before"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quote of the day

"Damn has the syntax of an attributive adjective but the semantics of a scowl. "

- Geoffrey Pullum, Language Log

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anonymous (the movie)

Magnificent. Not that I necessarily believe any of it, but it combined delicious snippets of Shakespearean performances, an intricate story with considerable human interest, plausible history (although not 100% accurate, I recommend checking the Wikipedia article for some inconsistencies - but consider that some of those inconsistencies are results of not accepting the reconstruction of publishing orders of the plays), and some interesting variations on the power of the word.

The performances were touching, not only those of Vanessa Redgrave and Rhys Ifans but those of many minor players, some with just a few lines here and there. One criticism is that the transitions between different times were jarring.

Anyway, I loved the way events in the plays found parallels in the events of the story.

The cleverest comment of the critics noted in the Wikipedia article above was "the devious message must be that a shlock-merchant like Emmerich wasn't involved, but, like the film plot itself, must conceal the hand of some more experienced filmmaker, whose identity will be much debated for centuries to come."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quote of the day

"The more often you swear in everyday life, the less it reduces pain when you're hurting"

Yes, you've got to be an economics fan to make sense of the title of the piece where I found the original: Toward a theory of optimal swearing seigniorage

And yes, that not only sounds clever but refers to an actual study.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Quote of the day

"We found it populated mostly by innocent and well-intentioned, if confused, young people. Then again, that's how "Lord of the Flies" began."

- James Taranto regarding OWS

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Quote of the day

Cribbed from The Economist:

Inspiration for the € symbol itself came from the Greek epsilon (Є) – a reference to the cradle of European civilisation – and the first letter of the word Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to ‘certify’ the stability of the euro.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Leonard Cohen of the Day

"Well the last time that I saw him he was trying hard to get
a woman's education, but he's not a woman yet
and the last time that I saw her she was living with a boy
who gives her soul an empty room and gives her body joy"
(Death of a Ladies Man)

Quote of the day

"...the famed Russian hospitality is mostly just the Russian love for seeing a foreigner drunk."

- Bruce Chatwin?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quote of the day

I know you need your sleep now, I know your life's been hard,
But many men are falling where you promised to stand guard.....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A few REAMDE excerpts, to get across the flavor of his writing...

A few of my favorites, lets me use the "copy" feature of my Kindle software (glad they added that to the PC version):

The young ones shuffled to a stop as their ironic sensibilities, which served them in lieu of souls, were jammed by a signal of overwhelming power.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 15). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

Video games were a more addictive drug than any chemical, as he had just proven by spending ten years playing them. Now he had come to discover that they were also a sort of currency exchange scheme. These two things—drugs and money—he knew about. The third leg of the tripod, then, was his exilic passion for real estate. In the real world, this would always be limited by the physical constraints of the planet he was stuck on. But in the virtual world, it need be limited only by Moore’s law, which kept hurtling into the exponential distance.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 34). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

But each had a kind of confidence about him that was not often found in young men who had followed the recommended path through high school to college and postgraduate training. If she had wanted to be cruel or catty about it, Zula might have likened those meticulously groomed boys to overgrown fetuses, waiting endlessly to be born. Which was absolutely fine given that the universities were well stocked with fetal women.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 160). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

Zula asked Yuxia what a Hakka was and learned that they were the only Chinese who had refused to take up the practice of foot binding. So “Big-Footed Woman” was not just a throwaway line. Not only that, but they would buy the unwanted female children of their Cantonese-speaking neighbors and raise them. Yuxia was not the type to deploy terminology like “feminist” or “matriarchal,” but the picture was clear enough to Zula.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 242). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

...Sokolov recognized, in the black jihadist’s movements, a sort of cultural or attitudinal advantage that such people always enjoyed in situations like this: they were complete fatalists who believed that God was on their side. Russians, on the other hand, were fatalists of a somewhat different kind, believing, or at least strongly suspecting, that they were fucked no matter what, and that they had better just make the best of it anyway, but not seeing in this the hand of God at work or the hope of some future glory in a martyr’s heaven.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 340). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

Men wanted to be strong. One way to be strong was to be knowledgeable. In so many areas, it was not possible to be knowledgeable without getting a Ph.D. and doing a postdoc. Guns and hunting provided an out for men who wanted to be know-it-alls but who couldn’t afford to spend the first three decades of their lives getting up to speed on quantum mechanics or oncology. You simply couldn’t go to a gun range without being cornered by a man who wanted to talk to you for hours about the ballistics of the .308 round or the relative merits of side-by-side versus over-and-under shotguns.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 603). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

What he wasn’t so good at was manipulating the internal states of other humans, getting them to see things his way, do things for him. His baseline attitude toward other humans was that they could all just go fuck themselves and that he was not going to expend any effort whatsoever getting them to change the way they thought. This was probably rooted in a belief that had been inculcated to him from the get-go: that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood. As long as you made a point of hanging out exclusively with people who had the wit to see and to understand that objective reality, you didn’t have to waste a lot of time talking. When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows. It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it. The sales force didn’t need to get involved.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (pp. 893-894). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.

Stephenson, Neal (2011-09-20). Reamde: A Novel (p. 893). William Morrow. Kindle Edition.


No, I spelled that right.  The author, Neal Stephenson, named it after a fictitious virus (which was a misspelling of the "README" common in computers, and probably a reference to "reamed" as well).  It's a roller coaster ride involving a young couple, a massively multiplayer roleplaying game, Russian mafiosi, Chinese hackers, spies, and an Al Qaeda cell headed by a Welsh terrorist.  Oh, and currency exchange.

This may be his best written novel yet, although some people were disappointed in it (it was not as brimful of technological flights of fancy as his usual fare).  Perhaps the cast of characters is a bit large and hard to keep track of, but he ties everything together splendidly.  Don't expect very deep character analysis, but do expect to be surprised by his sudden turns and made thoughtful by some of the ramifications of technology that he exposes (such as using computer games to facilitate real life crime).

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Arild Begins

Just got back from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's first performance with Arild Remmereit in his new role as Music Director (apparently he has guest conducted on 3 previous occasions, but I do not believe I saw any of them).  He is from Norway, but spent much of his life in Vienna, Austria.

I'm always willing to give a guy a try, and like to start with an open mind, but when he mentioned that all the programs he would be doing this season would have a FEMALE composer I was not pleased.  Not that I have anything against female composers (honestly, I didn't really know there were any in the classical field, but they have certainly done fine in pop) but I find the idea of choosing music on the BASE of the composer being female no less loathsome than choosing on the base of the composer being Aryan.  In Arild's defense (and please do not think I am being overly familiar by using his first name, the program calls it "Arild's Inaugural"), from the very beginning of Amy Beach's Symphony No. 2 in E minor, "Gaelic", Op. 32 I was impressed.

This was music I had never heard before, but it was fascinating, stirring in a mildly disturbing way.  There was nothing weird about it, she did not seem to feel she had to be different than the men, just very good.  Symphonies are not my favorite form of music, I think my attention span is just a bit too short for works of that length, but this one did not drag at all, and it often enchanted.  The conductor mentioned before beginning the symphony that this was not part of the standard repertoire and our applause might be what makes that change....or not.  I quote from memory: "So if you do not like this piece, be sure to boo loudly!"

I don't think I've ever been encouraged to boo at a classical concert before, especially not by the conductor, but his efforts seem to fall on deaf ears: at the end all he got was loud applause and a standing ovation with not a single "boo" to be heard in the crowd.

After the intermission we got four shorter pieces on the program: two by Norwegian composers (Halvorsen and Svendsen - both unfamiliar to me but I was glad to get to know them...the first was a quirky march that almost made you want to find some battle to march into, the second a romance featuring the concertmaster as soloist) and two by Strauss (and unfamiliar waltz and a familiar polka).  While no single song left you quite as impressed as the symphony that started it, each one was really unpretentious and regretted having to sit instead of being on your feet and moving with the music.  I think that this is actually more in spirit of the times of the compositions, these guys were the rock stars of their centuries, and people listened to them to party.

At the end the applause was a bit awkward...we were kind of expecting to do the applause (not standing ovation this time, but only because it feels a bit odd to do a standing-o for a three minute polka no matter how damn good it is) with the standard two calls back for additional bows and pointing out the star performers in the orchestra, but he didn't let us....each time he jogged back from leaving the stage he started another piece without giving us time to stop clapping, and they were all fun, slightly silly pieces (one involving the whole orchestra chanting "tick-tock" repeatedly throughout an otherwise quiet part of the piece).  One was concerned that unless the audience learned just the right applause techniques he would never let us leave...and one wasn't entirely sure that would be a bad thing.

He capped these pieces (I think there were four in all, including this last) with the Radetzky March, with the audience clapping the beat, and him turning around and conducting the audience to do quiet little claps for the quieter section and thunderous claps for the fortissimo.  This guy is a master.

One thing puzzled me, and he alluded to it.  Beach's Symphony No. 2 was the first symphony composed by an American woman.  Why did she start with No. 2?  My current working hypothesis is that she wrote a Symphony No. 1 while she was on steroids, and this one was disqualified by the Olympic committee on that ground...but I don't think the Olympic committee existed yet, and if it did probably would not have extended it's influence over classical music.....inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quote of the day

At this point, I should repeat my long-standing conviction that speech errors, by politicians and others, are rarely if ever worth the fuss that they sometimes generate
- Mark Liberman

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quote of the Day

"You can get rid of a surprising number of kittens on Craigslist.  In fact, the capacity seems unlimited."
  - Bob Armstrong

Friday, September 16, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Quote of the day

"He urged me not to fall into the trap that so many aging directors fall into – that the women get younger and younger and nuder and nuder. That's all I needed to hear. I most definitely intend for the women in my films to get younger and younger and nuder and nuder."
- Lars von Trier

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I already mentioned on Facebook that I liked this movie, but I didn't say why.  The movie has a dash of wish fulfillment (who hasn't wanted to be able to engage with their long-dead heroes?), some amusing brief character sketches, and an over-all framework that actually works.  Meeting with people of the past has been done before in writing and in film (the Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, and the Riverworld series take the people OUT of their native environment; this movie and many time-travel stories allow them to be viewed in their native time), and their is a danger of getting carried away by dumping too many past characters into the story to the detriment of the main character.  In this movie, the other characters are enjoyable but actually bring the main character into better focus.

My wife Jocelyn loves movies with costumes and scenery from other places and times, but she was a bit worried at the beginning that the director seemed obsessed with displaying too many Parisian vistas.  Do not fear, this does not degenerate into a family travel album.

My favorites in this movie were Adriana (Cotillard), Hemingway (Stoll), and Dali (Brody).   I never noticed how much Owen Wilson resembled Woody Allen before, but he seemed to absorb Allen's character in a younger body.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quote of the day

He experienced her presence in his house not like that of a dog, which has no secrets from human beings, but like that of a cat, which is itself a secret -- and to that extent he felt free and unthreatened.
  - Harry Mulisch, "The Discovery of Heaven"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quote of the day

"Never tell a woman anything, because she'll misuse it in order to understand you."
- Onno, from Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven

Friday, May 06, 2011

Quote of the day

Basically, we don't have any macro models that really work, in the sense that models "work" in biology or meteorology. Often, therefore the measure of a good theory is whether itseems to point us in the direction of models that might work someday.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who knew (St.) Augustine was a Berber?

Language Log has a post focusing on the Berber language as spoken in Libya.  Apparently, there is a sizable (suppressed) Berber minority there.  I think I first heard about Berber in the context of an article I read as a child about the Tuareg (Tuareg is a Berber language), notable because "In Tuareg society women do not traditionally wear the veil, whereas men do."

Apparently, Berber is an Afro-Asiatic language, like Arab, Hebrew, and ancient Egyptian (which survives in daily use only among Egyptian Christians (Copts) who use it in their services like Catholics used to use Greek and Latin).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quote from Dave Barry, in Language Log:

"The Hawaiian language is quite unusual because when the original Polynesians came in their canoes, most of their consonants were washed overboard in a storm, and they arrived here with almost nothing but vowels. All the streets have names like Kal'ia'iou'amaa'aaa'eiou, and many street signs spontaneously generate new syllables during the night."

My own explanation for this was the Hawaiians were once united with the Czechs, divorced, and in the settlement one got the vowels and the other the consonants.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"A good samurai will parry the blow"

She must have loved that quote, I lost track of how often she quoted it.  It can't have been too many, because that would be wrong -- and for me there was nothing wrong with this book.  I'm not sure which book this one pushes off my top ten list, but it's position is secure.

Art, science, religion, philosophy, growing up, settling vs. striving....this book weaves them all into a fabric that wraps reality and dreams together.  At various points I might have told friends what I though this book was about, but that changes as you read it.  Unlike Cien Años de Soledad, which also follows a family through the generations, this book comes into sharper and sharper focus as the years go by, and you realize the character you at first enjoyed is really background for the more vibrant character you are enjoying now.

One point that should be kept in mind: this book has no relation to the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, and only a passing relation to samurais - the title is an allusion to the Kurosawa movie "The Seven Samurai", which is a favorite of one of the characters.  It does have some negative criticism for the movie:
Cast your mind back to this film for one moment.  Identify, if you can, a suitable moment at which to place your arm around the shoulders of your companion and kiss her.  You cannot?  No more could I.  After half an hour, no suitable moment presenting itself, I chose an unsuitable moment -- I was rebuked.
I really want to recommend this book, but I'm not sure that everybody can appreciate it.  Although the book has no sluggish parts, it does use some techniques that might be confusing and off-putting if you don't get them.  There will be things beyond your comprehension you might want to just skip over, but they are brief.  If you are contemplating suicide, there are some helpful techniques to avoid it (for example, watching "The Importance of Being Earnest"), but they might not work -- but if you do commit suicide after reading this book, it is not because the book depressed you, it is because the depression was just too deep for the book to lift.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Quote of the day

Nearly finished the book (highly recommended for those who crave highly intelligent reading material, and aren't put off by the occasional challenge), so here's one more:

My mother went to a Swiss finishing school -- her mother was Lebanese, and frightfully cosmopolitan -- and the girls were all made to study French, German and English, with Italian for bad behavior.
(Helen DeWitt, "The Last Samurai")

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shipwrecks in Shakespeare

I don't think they got it quite right tonight on Jeopardy, although I might not have gotten the text of the question completely straight - I thought it was something like "One of the two plays of Shakespeare where the action began with a shipwreck".  My first thought was "The Tempest", and that's the answer all three contestants got.  The second choice offered was Twelfth Night, which was not the first thing I thought of when looking for a second choice.

How about The Comedy of Errors?

From Act I, Scene I (bolding mine):
O, had the gods done so, I had not now
Worthily term'd them merciless to us!
For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
We were encounterd by a mighty rock;
Which being violently borne upon,
Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst;
So that, in this unjust divorce of us,
Fortune had left to both of us alike
What to delight in, what to sorrow for.
Her part, poor soul! seeming as burdened
With lesser weight but not with lesser woe,
Was carried with more speed before the wind;
And in our sight they three were taken up
By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought.
At length, another ship had seized on us;
And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,
Gave healthful welcome to their shipwreck'd guests;
And would have reft the fishers of their prey,
Had not their bark been very slow of sail;
And therefore homeward did they bend their course.
Thus have you heard me sever'd from my bliss;
That by misfortunes was my life prolong'd,
To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.

Since nobody guessed that, I guess I'll never know why that was not considered a valid answer

Quote of the day

"Andy Warhol is still famous for saying 43 years ago that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. It’s more likely that in the future everyone will be famous to 15 people."

- Steve Sailer

Monday, March 28, 2011

Quote of the day

Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quote of the day

An American in Britain has sources of solace available nowhere else on earth.  One of the marvelous things about the country is the multitudes of fried chicken franchises selling fried chicken from states not known for fried chicken on the other side of the Atlantic.  If you're feeling a little depressed you can turn to Tennessee Fried Chicken, if you're in black despair an Iowa Fried Chicken will put things in perspective, if life seems worthless and death out of reach you can see if somewhere on the island an Alaska Fried Chicken is frying chicken according to a recipe passed down by the Inuit from time immemorial.
   - Helen deWitt, The Last Samurai

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quote of the day

"I conclude that economics is not yet a science.  Economics is most like a science when people do not care about the outcome of the argument."
- Tyler Cowen

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I had to apologize last night....

Of course, it is not all that rare for me to apologize.  When I inadvertently jostle somebody, or I step on somebody's foot, a heartfelt "sorry" or "get out of my way" slips past my lips without much emotion.

But this time I was actually wrong.

One of the most likely things for me to order at a bar is "a Grand Marnier, straight up in a snifter".  I've been ordering this since the 80s without the occurrence of any disasters.  Sometimes I just say "Grand Marnier", figuring it's the most likely way for it to be served - in a brandy glass, without any ice.

Last night, before the RPO concert at Max's across the street, I ordered a "Grand Marnier" and the bartender asked "neat?" and I said "straight up".  She brought me a concoction I didn't even recognize, cloudy and cold.   After looking at her incredulously, I repeated "Grand Marnier, straight up"?  She nodded cheerfully.  I informed her what I thought "straight up" meant...she seemed dubious, but set the original glass aside and poured me a new one the way I wanted it.  As I enjoyed it, I decided to look up "straight up".

To my amazement, it was exactly the concoction she brought me in the first place....strained through ice to chill it and then served without any further ice to water it down (logical, if you want your drink cold).  For almost thirty years I've been ordering drinks "straight up" without finding out what that actually meant (OK, the article DOES say
"Straight up" means "chilled and served without ice in a cocktail glass" but is often used to mean "neat."
In retrospect, there have been times when bartenders asked  whether I wanted it chilled, but I thought they were just offering an additional unrelated service.  On this occasion, since I had just overruled her "neat" (thinking I was actually confirming it) she couldn't have asked for further clarification without seeming argumentative.

I bought the original glass as well to get an idea of what I've been ordering all these years (not bad, actually, but the temperature tempts you to pour it down the throat much faster than is wise) and apologized.  I'll be ordering it "neat in a snifter" from now on (although back in the 80s "neat", which was the first word I learned for the concept (in a Chinese cookbook, of all places), usually got the bartender to ask "You mean 'straight up'?"

Am I the victim of regional language change, or just delusional?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Favorite mistranslation involving goats....

This has been around for a while....a question posted to a computer oriented help group:
This is question, engish is faulty therefore the right excused is 
requested.  Thank google to translate to help.  SORRY!!!!! 
At often, the goat-time install a error is vomit.   To how many times like
the wind, a pole, and the dragon?   Install 2,3 repeat, spank, vomit blows 
14:14:01.869 - INFO
[edu.internet2.middleware.shibboleth.common.config.profile.JSPErrorHandlerB eanDefinitionParser:45]
- Parsing configuration for JSP error handler. 
Not precise the vomit but with aspect similar, is vomited concealed in fold of
goat-time lumber?   goat-time see like the wind, pole, and dragon?  This
insult to father's stones?    JSP error handler with wind, pole, dragon with
intercourse to goat-time?  Or chance lack of skill with a goat-time? 
Please apologize for your stupidity.  There are a many thank you 
Hypotheses included anything from a parody to an attempted back-translation:
Often, I get a program error on install. How much do I have to configure? I tried a re-install 2 or three times, and it brings up errors.
Not the same error, but similar: are errors hidden in the program log? A problem with the calling object? JSP error handler configuration connection at runtime? Or perhaps a misunderstanding of the program?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Obscure segue of the month

The prize goes to one of my favorite bloggers (my most frequently hat-tipped, too!), Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution, who bafflingly connects a post about the responsibilities identical twins might have to each other (the idea is here that a twin who reveals details about their genome automatically reveals the same about the twin) with a post about swimsuit pictures.

Amazingly, this actually works.  In the second post, the question is whether women who reveal their bodies are violating some duty to OTHER women not to be seen as sex objects (making both posts about externalities toward other members of a genetic group - one very specific, the other everybody having two X chromosomes).

Reassuringly, the swimsuit pictures are OK by Katja Grace, the philosophical writer of the second post:
In sum, I agree that women who look like ‘sex objects’ increase the expectation by viewers of more women being ‘sex objects’. I think this is a rational and socially useful response on the part of viewers, relative to continuing to believe in a lower rate of sex objects amongst women. I also think it is virtually certain that in any given case the women in question should go on advertising themselves as sex objects, since they clearly produce a lot of benefit for themselves and viewers that way, and the externality is likely miniscule. 
Personally, I think the women in question could go quite a bit further in advertising themselves as sex objects than by just posing for swimsuit issues.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quote of the day

"Polygamy ends when children cease to be a net economic asset.  As society progresses and urbanizes, there are cheaper ways of having sex with multiple women, if that is one's goal. "

- Tyler Cowen


Haven't blogged as such for ages, mostly just posted items on Facebook.  Makes sense for bits you just want to pass along without much commentary of your own.

Here's an item from back when (via, no surprise, Marginal Revolution) to break that more-or-less silent streak.  You've probably heard about sensitivity workshops - some unhappy college student says something racist or otherwise insensitive and is sentenced to some sort of re-education, usually without the accompanying risk of death common in Maoist days.  The item is about the opposite, humorously suggesting workshops for people in how NOT to be offended:

Exercise #3: An Awkward Moment.  Stand before the group and tells a story about a time you inadvertently gave offense.  After each story, the group chants, "It was no big deal!"
That's the sort of affirmation I could live with.