April 18th, 2007

Semiformalishmaybe

Papers and Depth

When I was an undergrad, I (naturally) had to write a lot of papers. Because I like writing (as the 1786 entries in my BLOG currently might hint), this generally didn't bother me, but I was often frustrated when specific paper topics were given because they were usually dull, vague, or ritual. Some of the paper topics for this Hitchcock class are a perfect example - "compare two films" is hardly a good use of anyone's time. Fortunately, not all of them are bad, and now that (today) my Hitchcock DVDs have arrived, I can get started. Hurrah. I am amused to read the box art gushing about H being a genius, although after a semester's worth of watching his films and talking about them (and reading interviews with him), I think I've come to agree with the evaluation. Given all the neuroses and fetishes H gives life to on screen, I wonder what kind of a person he was like to be around in real life...

The election of the next French President is in its initial stages. Given how long French Presidents tend to last, chances are this will shape European politics for quite some time to come. The BBC provides some "person on the street" commentary on people running - here's who's who (no, I only know *some* of this from memory - I had to look some of it up):Collapse )

I heard that Bill Cosby is coming to speak at CMU for an upcoming graduation ceremony. I've enjoyed seeing Cosby live each of the times I've done it, at least partly because I respect Bill Cosby as a cultural figure. There's a lot that he does beyond being a comedian that most people haven't heard of. For an interesting (and controversial) speech he gave on problems in the African-American subculture in the United States, see The Pound Cake Speech. His criticisms are valid, to a certain extent, to American culture in general - while I don't think his emphasis on religion as a cure for cultural/social decay is one that I'd care to see enacted (I'd rather have liberalism and liberal philosophy combined with strong social values), this speech is important for all Americans. While the African-American subculture may be in deeper trouble than many other segments of society, the same problematic attitudes are present in many other subcultures as well. Hopefully I'll be able to see his upcoming speech as well - I'm sure he'll have interesting (and/or funny) things to say.

News:Collapse )

For those of us who played Super Mario Brothers, this video will make your head explode. If any of you care to work some magic and save it for me as a FLV or MPEG, you will be my hero for some period of time.

Semiformalishmaybe

Building for Cultural Fluids

A few days ago, Google Spreadsheets did not have the ability to do charts, which greatly limited its usefulness. Now it does, and once I'm comfortable with it (and have checked to see if it supports the range of spreadsheet functions some of them use), I'll see if I can interest any of my coworkers. This is really exciting - right now, being the CS geek, I'm the only one in my research group that uses a webpage to organise/present my data for the group. I've been interested in moving people away from the "mail files back and forth" mentality - having prepackaged easy tools like this to manage collaboration will help a lot. I've whipped up several databases/CGI apps for custom tasks, which has also helped.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation on KOL with someone whose main language was Portugese (Brasilian) who was asking if the game had been translated. KOL, both by nature of it having a lot of text and a lot of the game being based on humour and wordplay, would be really difficult and time-consuming to translate to another language (although someone might be able to cobble something together with Greasemonkey). As I thought about it, I began to wonder if it's a good idea anyhow - one of the current things about the KOL community is that it can largely assume universal communicability - everyone playing the game presumably already speaks English, and there's a fairly large community based around the game. I worry that if it were translated into a dozen languages, that might hamper the feeling of community, and that if it were to be translated officially, it would probably be best to have completely separate communities and servers with their own malls and the like. It might be a good idea to write an opensource version of the KOL server software and let the content be wildly different, although this might also harm the community by some sense as people leave in droves to several smaller communities. This might be a bit like how it would probably be harmful if people had a way to leave with small groups of friends to their own planet - below a certain population density, culture, technology, and science kind of fall apart, and I think often being around other people helps people who don't really know what's good for them (which is probably all of us to some extent).

I don't know if comparisons to how I think of language and society in politics should mix with this. Is monolingualism something to strive for? In the United States, the issue seems to align fairly squarely along party lines (for English speakers, anyhow), although when I talk with people from other parts of the world on politics, I find a lot more variety in who thinks what (along with actual positions). In practice, I find myself strongly opposed to Ebonics (at least partly because it's not in my view properly a language, and is often used as an excuse not to learn *a* language with defined syntax and spelling) but open to teaching/use as a main tongue of Spanish and French in parts of the United States where they have heavy usage. Does it hurt the United States to lose presumed communicability? Quite possibly, especially as regions come about where English is not learned to reasonable fluency. I don't know if I've thought about this enough - it may be that my not minding is partly because I like languages rather than out of some argument for the good of society or for human happiness. If I did decide that universal English fluency in the United States should be mandatory, I certainly wouldn't like the company that'd put me in as an American with that position. I do like English as a language (despite its difficulty) - it's like a lovable mutt (Yiddish is one of the few languages I like more than English on this front), but I really wouldn't mind if in the end some other language became the lingua franca of the United States in the next 50 years..

I've been keeping my eye on CMU job openings in Qatar again.. amusingly, if I wait long enough here in Pgh, I'm sure something will come up again. Maybe I should wait on that - I'm not exactly looking forward to losing my current (cool) job, and if I did end up doing CMU-Q for awhile, there'd be a lot of other stuff that comes with being a CMUPerson that'd continue. I've also heard rumours of CMU opening a campus in Saudi Arabia and later some in other places, which might be interesting... I also have a friend who's spent the last few years doing PeaceCorps in Azerbaijan coming back to Pittsburgh (to do grad studies at CMU!) at the end of the summer - it'd suck to miss out completely on hanging out with her. That said, I kind of wonder how much longer I really want to stick around here. Oh well, this kind of thinking will probably be with me for quite some time. Where to live, what kind of career to have, these are questions that I never really seem to have answered (maybe they never will be).