February 3rd, 2004


Bleeding Petals

Wally, my cat for the last 6 years or so, died last Saturdayevening, around 10:00. It was likely a heart attack, and I buried himin Schenley park. At least I was there to pet him as he faded..It's sad thinking about it -- he occupied a part of my mind, and evennow when I'm in my apartment, I keep feeling odd that the body liesabout two miles away, under the ground in the woods. Intellectually,I know his body now doesn't have a lot to do with what he meant to me,and the him that I cared about was like the flame, on the candle of hisliving brain... but emotionally, I've confused the pattern for theblocks, and so occasionally I'm preoccupied with the body.. but notso much as yesterday, or the day before.

My laptop is having some hiccups -- there's now a line of dead pixelsgoing down the screen, and the power supply is flakey and sometimessparky. I've contacted Dell -- hopefully warranty will cover both,although I don't think I look forward to maybe doing without mylaptop for awhile.

Trinkets...Ablaut - cool words in english do it. You can too..Learning to read..Of particular interest there is the note that literate native English speakersgenerally have no difficulty with reading new words.Another crazy patent.Some people don't like Verizon.I don't dislike them -- I'm happy with my cell service, and their DSL isn'tbad, it's just not as featureful as I'd like.This isn't far from where my parents live .. ermm.. lived. It's complex. Don't ask.Textbook publishers scheme to rip people off. Someone's been flyering at CMU for a hoax.

Apparently, Kuwait is aiming to move in the direction of France, using theidea that the way to handle religious tension is to prevent people fromsaying things that might be inflammatory. France takes it to anotherlevel, making the overt display of affiliation hidden, at least in schools andpublic buildings. This is a very different approach from the American style,where, temporarily ignoring the 'hate speach' stuff, the faiths are told theymust tolerate any speech that comes their way. In a sense, it's anindividualism versus community thing.

Apparently, at the Snore^H^H^H^Huper Bowl, in the halftime game, JustinTimberlake had a stunt go wrong, and ripped off part of Janet Jackson's shirt,revealing a nipple. If you're like me, it's no big deal, but apparently, theFCC is making a big deal out of it because children might've seen the nipple.Of course, it's being pushed by some 'pro-family' groups who live in a magicland where children don't get spam or mess around on the back of school busses.Apparently, their girls don't ever look at their own body, and their boysare blissfully unaware of human anatomy. Prudes in our government arn'tsatisfied with making a stink, they're talking about thousands of dollarsin fines and revoking licenses. That's one thing that really bugs me --prudishness. Men, barring accident, have a penis, and women, barring accident,have a vagina and breasts. It's not a secret, and the sight of one won't makepeople go blind or get hairy palms. I'd like to think that we're living ina slightly more enlightened, liberal society than theocratic Iran. Sadly,there as well as here, prudishness starts with at least some of the common folk.

Speaking of Iran, on the 20th of this month, their elections are scheduled,and the reformists continue to resign as the conservative forces sit on theirdecision to disqualify most of the reformist candicates. It's absolutelyamazing what's happening over there -- I wonder how stable the system as awhole is right now... Essentially, the conservatives have put their footdown against slow reliberalization of the government, and it remains to beseen if the government can survive the tension..

Speaking of tension, Sharon is in hot water for his moves to withdrawsettlements in Gaza. Of course, the people in the settlements arn't taking itlying down, and are doing their best to fight the actions. Sharon seems tohave a real plan that doesn't rely much on the unstable Palestinian popularand leadership support, and that he has moved the seperation wall to(possibly) better reflect Palestinian settlements and he's actually uprootingcontentious settlements, it seems that he's willing to make the hardestcomprimises to secure a lasting peace. If he can manage it, and peace finallyreaches the area within 20 years or so, it will be an amazing achievement.I may have my own hope for a de-zionized bi-ethnic Israel, but peace, in theend, is more important. Life can only have so much terrible beauty.

Oh, yes, the warning. If you're on windows, run windows update sometime soon --there are some important security fixes for IE.Of course, if you use a better browser, this won't be a concern for you.

A friend invited me to Orkut, Google's version of FriendsterTribe.netI joined.. why not? But it's sad -- things like these are precisely areas whereeconomy of scale is so important. I'm on all three, but everywhere someone Iknow isn't is like a cloud keeping me from seeing as far as I should be able toon these things.

Apparently, Europe has actual Joke political parties.The interesting thing is, in regional elections where there's only one realcandicate, and they're unpopular, the existence of joke parties has causedthe larger political parties to withdraw their candicate to avoid thehumiliation to losing to one of these guys.

Slightly less jokingly, Britain also has a party called the BNP that runson a racist platform, advocating deporting foreigners and lamenting theexistance of 'half-breeds'. Scary, although I guess there're peoplelik that everywhere.

Take a look at this URL: http://www.scott.aq/Guess where that country code is for? Hint: It's not New Zealand.

Want to hear an astronomer rant about bad astronomy? I knew you did.

Incidentally, here's a review of my awesome, but old, Cellphone.

Darwin day's coming up, on the 3rd.


Plants with Legs

I just finished watching The Happiness of the Katakuris, a very strange,but very good film. Some reviewers called it a "Comedy-Horror Musical". It alsohas some claymation scenes, and it's strange and touching too. I've never seenanother film like it. In a strange way, it's helped me deal with Wally's death..Anyhow, if you don't mind subtitles, it's a film worth seeing, and if you canspeak any Japanese, even better. I may be slightly biased -- I like strangefilms (Beetlejuice being one of my favourites), speak a little bit ofJapanese, and tend to like musicals. Still, I'm recommending it to most peopleI know.

Right now, I'm reading a bit on Supersymmetry.

Today in class, we reviewed an experiment on the role of phonology in writtenword recognition (particularly priming). Basically, the specimens were exposedto various types of priming for short words, and their reaction times were measured in ANOVA tests between phonology-specific, letter-specific, and someother effects. One of the things that's interesting is that, to rule outletter-specific priming, they primed with capitals, and the actual tests wereperformed on lowercase words. It's interesting that, in written languages thatlack lower-case forms of orthography, this step could not be performed. Indeed,although the focus was on phonology, it makes me wonder about orthographicpriming and recognition in two languages that I know a little bit about --Japanese (which I speak a bit of) and Hebrew (which I don't, but may learnsomeday). Both languages lack a lower-case, but that's incidental to theinteresting effect -- Hebrew has most of its vowels either interpolated fromcontext (cn y rd ths?) or sometimes written with marks beneath the consonantswhich are written. Japanese has its letters either representing aconsonant-vowel pair, a bare vowel, or "n". So, a Japanese person would beNI-HO-N-SA-I (I don't want to bother figuring out how to make those charactersin my BLOG -- just look at this)Anyhow, not shown on that chart are two modifiers that can be applied to mostof the characters -- a quote character and a circle, both of which appear inthe upper right area of the letter. They both cause a consonant shift, soKI with a quote turns into GI. I'm interested if, in both languages, themodified character would prime for the unmodified (or in hebrew, differently-voweled) character, and if so, if the priming would be as strong asthe same-version letter. Priming in hebrew when the vowels are not marked mustbe very strange -- perhaps when learning the language, priming is not as muchof a use and is done less. Things are even more interesting in Arabic, whichis related to Hebrew, but also has word-positional forms of letters -- I wonderif all forms prime to all forms, to specific forms, and generally how thatworks. English grammar apparently makes heavier demands on certain languagecentres, and as a result, lesions to those areas affects English more than itaffects speakers of other languages. I wonder if each language has a kind of'signature' as to how it uses various areas of the brain.. It would be veryamusing if people who get certain kinds of lesions are told they can livea fuller life learning another language and moving to a new country.Speaking of non-surgery ways to treat things caused by brain lesions, Iwould love to see, for people with Prosopagnosia (damage to face-recognitionspecialized centres of the brain), portable computers, and LCD glasses, beingused to 'tag' people, using the recent work in face-recognition done forsecurity purposes. Remember upside-down glasses and the studies showing peoplecan adapt to them and attain full function in a matter of weeks recievingentirely upside-down input? Perhaps altered glasses for people with damage tothe vision-processing systems could scoot damage from those fields in withundamaged areas, and people could adapt and attain nearly full visualfunctionality again.

Anyhow, I'm demoing some code for work tomorrow. Time to go home and make sureit's ready to go.