There's nobody here but us chickens.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I will pay to do your work for you.

Speaker: Luis von Ahn is an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University.
Snippet of Abstract: "Tasks like image recognition are trivial for humans, but continue to challenge even the most sophisticated computer programs. This talk introduces a paradigm for utilizing human processing power to solve problems that computers cannot yet solve. Traditional approaches to solving such problems focus on improving software. I advocate a novel approach: constructively channel human brainpower using computer games."
Awesomeness: Pretty awesome.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Overhead online

On whether university economics skews you politically rightwards:

I never was taught basic economics (Latin and Greek were thought to be much more useful), but the logic of a rightward shift seems pretty straightforward to me.

First, you are taught how to conjugate a verb. That would be Latin 101.

Metella est mater. Quintis est filius et ambulat in hortum. Hic, haec, hoc. (This is all I can remember)

Then you spend the next 5 years learning all the 20,000 exceptions to the rule. That would be real Latin.

Similarly, Econ 101 is for libertarians, while economy is for, huh, real economists. The libertarians never get past the Esperanto-like first grade version of Latin.

They only learn the first bit: how markets work. They never get round to the second, far more frustrating bit: markets don’t work all the time, and can indeed fail disastrously. The invisible hand often needs guidance.

Jasper Emmering at Crooked Timber.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Leaving the test centre at 9am Saturday morning... I can drive - in theory.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Help me out

I've thrown together this image for a manuscript I'm trying to finish up. I'm not entirely happy with it as it stands, so looking for a few pointers.

For those memory-research naive, what does the diagram give you? Are you any more informed about Memory loss? Anything particularly unclear?

For those of you with a bit of a background in this stuff, I'm not sure about the caption coming off of the Event Theta (the little easter egg symbol). PTA extends aft AND before the insult, but I worry that it'd start to look really scruffy if I shoehorn another event in just before and recolour. Also, PTA doesn't really cut it - there are also confusional states and other stuff. Is there a pithier way to get at this?
Also - I guess for anyone - if I added more colour (they want glorious technicolor in their publication), what would be fair candidates? A colleague suggested the PTA-period getting a different colour, but the program I'm using,, although nice (and free) doesn't appear to offer you gradients from one colour into another so it would look a bit blocky and coarse. Could colour certain events... however, in all cases, I would prefer to add colour when it actually means something, and to definitely avoid it when it actively confuses.

Any comments hugely appreciated, folks!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm finally using a reader so now everyone else has to.

Since I'm updating a little more than usual, I thought my world-worn and harried readers may benefit from the benefits of a web reader*. This is an "inbox for the web", meaning that sites you are interested in have their new information plonked into one location for you to check out, much like emails all pour into one location for you to read them (instead of having to check different locations for each person who might send you something). This technology has been around for donkey's years, or at least blog years; Bloglines is a well-known and established provider. I've never quite got my head around it, but recently with Google reloading their version, I thought I'd give it a go. And really, it's dead easy.

Step 1. Go to Google Reader, or a preferred alternative, if you know better. I'll just talk about the Google one, as it's what I know.

Step 2. Get a google account. If you have a gmail email account then I think you already have one; if not, you just give an email and password and you're away.

Step 3. Add subscriptions; that is, the sites you want updates from. You do it by putting information in the text box opened by the add subscription button (genius!). Obvious candidates are news sites - BBC news has a list of their news feeds here, for example - or blogs. I did have a lengthy thing about how to find the right address for the feeds (all blogger blogs are the webaddress plus /atom.xml) but it's even easier than I thought. Just put the basic web address in and in most cases, it'll just find the feed for you.

Step 4. View at leisure. When you come back to your Google Reader page, you can see all the new content that's been added to your favorite sites (not always new comments on posts though, depending on the feed), and as you scroll through to find something enticing, the nice front-end automatically marks everything you pass over as old. You don't get a big inbox to manage, just a quick scroll-through and next time it's all gone.

Step 5. Sharing? Too early a stage to say how useful this is, but one feature is a no-bones proto-blogging feature, in that things you see and find interesting enough to share can be sent to a shared page just by clicking on the share button. Then others can see it and marvel at your powers of discovery and superior (or gloriously bad) taste. I threw a few things on today, and you can peek it. Blogging for people who don't see the point in putting "as the incomparable William T. puts it" before an excerpt, and "indeed." after it.

That's it. Do it and put me on top, and keep on top of the quality.
EDIT: I wanted to say - and make clear that it's not all about me - that thanks to having this in place I know immediately when something internet-worthy has happened to any of my pals. I just got a nudge that Tom has had a bad day, for example. I also have everyone from my friends list on the right in, so when Akin has more baby news, I know it. This is especially handy for keeping up with people who update only occasionally; I have great respect for people who've kept up with my blog given that there have been months where I haven't said a peep, and they've presumably been fruitlessly checking back over that whole time. No more, people, no more!

*that is, RSS. But ignore the acronyms if you, like me, find them full of dangerous magic.

Beyond words

Unbearably sad.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thoughts about homelessness in London

Not profound ones, mind, just things that have atruck me recently.

1. From the top floor of the number 59 on my way from work I witnessed a homeless guy grudgingly empty his can of superlager into a drain under the impassive eye of a policeman/community support officer.
Granted, I didn't catch the whole scene - the guy might have been spraying the pinstriped backs of London's great and good with frothy brew - but assuming he was doing what most people do with alcohol, drinking it, for whose purpose is he prevented from doing so? Mine? I'm definitely aware of the impact that large-scale vagrancy has on a local environment, living in King's Cross, but I hardly think confiscating cans of lager gets us anywhere better. For the homeless fellow? Now, I'm under no illusion that life on the streets is fun and games and bonhomie, but surely we're not in the position of making decisions about responsible drinking and leisure activities for someone with a bagfull of possessions and a dearth of options?

2. On another day, at the end of my route, I passed yet another London Lite/London paper vendor (for those who don't know, these are free evening papers which are being agressively shifted off to punters in a war for control of the market). I almost didn't realise that's who it was, as they were almost exactly in the spot of the local big issue seller, who, sure enough, was standing plaintively opposite offering his charity paper you have to pay for to folk who were having free papers thrust upon them. Now, this comparison was particularly acute, but it's got to symbolise a wider trend. I'm not a big fan of the Issue - it can have some pretty good content but I tend to pick up my magaziney info (reviews, news pieces) online - but I would make an impulse buy if I was in a good mood and I had a journey ahead of me to fill. I imagine I'm not alone. With the agressive hawking of free (if utterly banal) content, I neither need more reading material nor desire another street transaction. I imagine I'm not alone in that either. The Issue is going to be squeezed by this. This seems to point at a problem with market solutions to social problems - the market is intrinsically callous, and indifferent to whether innocent bystanders get shot in a turf war. And whereas a failed venture isn't the end of the world for a larger company, pushing the disadvantaged beyond a viable honest living is going to see them make other choices right now, rather than waiting to voice their displeasure at a stakeholders' meeting.

3. As an addendum (this post was sitting in blorgatory the last few days) today I got approached by a homeless guy who asked to speak to me and then said "don't run away! Why is everyone scared of me!"
Which, in my opinion, is quite an affective way of getting someone to be a little scared of them.
I did immediately, and fluidly, say "I'm not scared of you, mate" with a incredulous chuckle in my voice... but after I chucked him some scrilla and walked off I did get the sense of a bit of a near miss.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jefferson Airplane with swords

The first ever versus- person fighting game had vector- graphic characters fighting over a printed, very psychedelic landscape.

Apparently the game was pretty poor, but the image is striking.

See Wikipedia for a rundown.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gig lowdown

Went to see Neko Case on Wednesday. Neko does what I hesitate to call - because I got a glimpse of her contract rider sitting on the sound stage, and it made it clear that under no circumstances should the words appear on any promotional material - but hey, that's what it is, country/folk steeped music with a particularly modern compositional bent and idiosyncratic subject matter. Oh, she has a tremendous voice, and puts it to use. Check out Hold on Hold on, playing here, or Deep Red Bells, here; I highly rate both albums that birthed them. It was certainly a good show, although I think the set was stronger when I saw them back at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

M Ward supported, and I need to urgently recommend this guy. I got my hands on Transfiguration of Vincent recently but only allowed it to dent my consciousness, but seeing him live was an electric experience. Part eccentric showman, part troubadour, and part wounded artist, his songs are recklessly inventive but allow the music of ages to breathe through them. Tremendous stuff and I have indeed suscribed to his newsletter!

AllMusic review of M Ward.
AllMusic review of Neko Case, and reviews of albums Fox Confessor.... and Blacklisted at trendier-than-thou music portal Pitchfork.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

November uprisings

Whoops! Looks like National Write a Novel Month has begun, and I didn't tell anyone! (Well, I didn't know.)

It's a nice idea, and although I have no intention of doing it myself, it's spurred me to try and write a little more on this little blog. For this post, my purpose is simple - everyone who reads this should think about a creative aim that they've been putting off: knit that hat for little nephew, make that list of greatest songs, write that letter to the editors, redraft your story, write a story, update your blog, draw something.

Now do it.

Seriously, this coming week, starting with the heaps of free minutes the weekend offers, get it done. Then, if it's done, do something else. In this little microcosm of the world, November is get something creative done month. I will keep you posted of my attempts; promise.

EDIT: Bloody Hell! So my decree goes double now. Get something creative done in the next 3 days, and then give the month a good going over.