February 2008

2008 02 29
Critical Idiom Shortage

Posted by in: Language, Odds and ends

I am weeping with laughter at this. (I’ve had a margarita, which may explain it partly.)

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2008 02 27

Posted by in: Decrees

It often happens in phone conversations, especially those involving a cell phone, that the connection will be suddenly lost. Both parties to the conversation will then try to call the other back at the same time. Or both will wait for the other to call, because they are trying to avoid calling at the same time. Or both will wait, then call at the same time, then wait, and so on. If they had had some warning, they might have coordinated this ahead of time. But, alas, that’s the problem with suddenly dropped calls.

Therefore, I decree that henceforth the person who initiates the original call shall initiate a new connection in the event of a dropped connection.

I estimate that strict adherence to this rule will save 900 million minutes a year of lost productivity in North America alone.

Howls of outrage (12)

2008 02 26
It’s true, I swear.

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Howls of outrage (2)

2008 02 25

Posted by in: Odds and ends

If you still use a landline, or want to make free long distance calls from your computer, get yourself a GrandCentral number today. They are currently experimenting with a feature that allows you to use your online account to pick which phone you want to use to call one of your contacts, then they ring you, you pick up, and then they connect you to your chosen contact—and they foot the bill. They claim this will be free until they’re out of Beta, and being a Google project now, they’ll probably be in a beta for a long time to come (although who knows, right?).

To use your computer, you can follow these instructions, which are easily adapted for a normal computer using the client you get when you sign up for a Gizmo account. (For those of you uninterested in Grandcentral, watching this video is worth it just to hear this guy say that he’d like to “see that shit happenz.”

Having a Grandcentral number is great if only for the one-time thrill of picking a friend/relative somewhere far away, then getting a number in their area code, and calling them.—-Boy I’m a dork.

OH, YEAH, AND…: GrandCentral is surely useful for all those other features they are actively marketing as flagship features. It’s just that I don’t yet really have a use for those at this point in time.

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2008 02 25
Tomorrow’s Oscar Commentary Today–The DAY OF Edition!!

Posted by in: Movies

Apparently, the Academy is doing this because it snubbed this.

Howls of outrage (9)

2008 02 18
PSA: WordPress’ pretty links

I had a subversion repository and a WordPress installation in the root of our little record label‘s domain. After changing the permalinks in wordpress to “pretty links” (that is, with a custom structure, instead of the ugly url endings like “?p=2228″), I wasn’t able to access subversion.

The “Customize Permalink Structure” page in WordPress’s administration panel really ought to explain two things clearly:

1. Setting up pretty links in wordpress is only possible if you use apache, since it uses .htaccess, which a MS server doesn’t use.

2. Using custom links will screw with .htaccess in such a way as to disable a service like subversion if your repository is in the same root as the wordpress installation.

You can fix the problem in #2 by either editing the .htaccess to add an exception for each repository, or you can just set up your repos in a subdomain. That’s what one of the Dreamhost supports guys told me, and after I chose the latter option, it worked.

Looking back, it was probably stupid to have them both in the same place anyway.

Anyway, that’s what you do, if you find yourself in this situation.

Now, may Google smile on my post and make it useful to others.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2008 02 18
To her, “Davos” means Skiing.

Posted by in: Odds and ends

On Friday I attended a lecture at a medical school concerning the prospects for an amendment to the current patent regime for pharmaceutical drugs. The lecture is an annual memorial lecture in the name of a deceased member of the medical school community. From the look of the living family members who showed up to take center stage and be thanked, I’d say his family was/is filthy rich. One woman, probably in her 60s, maybe 70s, was dressed in an exquisite and immaculately embroidered suit. I was sitting directly behind her, and could spy her periodically leaning over to the gentlement to her right–perhaps her husband–and asking to borrow his pencil, so she could jot down an acronym that she didn’t know.

By the end of the talk, three such acronyms were on her list. First, there was TRIPS (a trade agreement concerning intellectual property rights). Next came QALY (a way of determining the health impact of a given medical intervention). Her final entry on the list? W20.

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2008 02 14
And entirely by coincidence, parts of my brain associated with annoyance are currently showing heightened activity

I share a pet peeve with this dude:

As of this entry, I’m starting my own watch-dog column: newspapers which write inane articles espousing mind/brain duality. The latest offender is, coincidentally, The New York Times, which ran a disappointing article a few days ago called “My Cortex Made Me Buy It.” It describes a recent study in which people sampled “cheap” and “expensive” wines (actually the exact same wines, just marked with different prices).
When they sampled the wines with lower prices, however, the subjects not only liked them less, their brains registered less pleasure from the experience.

It’s important to consider what the alternative was: that subjects reported liking the cheaper wines less, but their brains reported the same amount of pleasure. What would that mean? One possibility is that the participants were lying: they liked both wines the same, but said they liked the more expensive ones more in order to look cultured.

There’s another possibility. Dan Gilbert, who studies happiness, usually does so by simply asking people if they are happy. He doesn’t worry much about people lying. He could use a physiological measure (like a brain scan, as was done in the above study), but he points out that the reason we think a particular part of the brain is related to happiness is because it correlates with people’s self-reports of being happy. Using the brain scan is completely circular. Under this logic, if the brain scans fail to show more pleasure when drinking the expensive wine, it could be because the relevant areas of the brain have been misidentified.

A final alternative possibility is that the participants’ immaterial souls liked the expensive wine better, but their brains didn’t register a difference.

The Times piece discussed none of this.

(See original for links).

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2008 02 14
Special day

Posted by in: Anecdotal

It’s that special day of the year when Spencer, that lucky duck, gets to kill two birds with one stone by celebrating both Anne’s birthday and Valentine’s day at the same time.

So! Congratulations to Spencer, and many happy returns.

Howls of outrage (2)

2008 02 12
How working at a game store combines with grad school angst

Posted by in: Academia, Games, Philosophy

Last night, I had a dream about Bertrand Russell.

I was still at my Canadian university. He was visiting, trying to get an offer there so he could go negotiate with his home university (not intending to come to Canada, just making everyone spend a bunch of money and time so he could get a raise). He was stalking magisterially about the common room, and someone introduced him to me and it became my job to entertain him for a little while. He sat down and asked, “So, do you have any puzzles?” – meaning logic puzzles or philosophical puzzles that he could work on.

Guilt and horror. Oh crap, I haven’t been thinking about this stuff well enough to have anything good to say to him… yet more evidence that I shouldn’t be in philosophy. Is he giving me a look of withering disapproval? I can’t bear to look. Scanning the bookshelf in hopes of finding inspiration.

Then it came to me: we could play a strategically interesting boardgame. He would be entertained and I would be off the hook. What board game best suits the situation? It should be short, a perfect information game, and a game where I have a chance.

I took down Hey That’s My Fish (in which penguins compete to eat the most fish – it is actually a very short strategic game, very fun) and started to set it up. Then the dream ended, so we’ll never know whether I beat Bertrand Russell in Hey that’s my Fish.

Howls of outrage (4)

2008 02 06
Yours for a low, low price

Posted by in: Jazz, Music

I noticed recently that 4inObjects‘s CD, released in 2006, is now selling for surely-irresistibly low prices on Amazon’s Marketplace (i.e., listed by private sellers on Amazon). Some of the CDs listed there seem to be offered in the original wrapping. I suppose this is what happens when you have a mass mailing: some of those CDs will reach weary music reviewers who decide that it’s better for them to sell the CD immediately, unopened, than to listen to it. Oh well.

Anyway. It’s good! Here’s the first track, written by Yoon, which sounds to me like it’s about an obsessive love affair with someone who is just no good. I assume that the song does not refer to me.

Howls of outrage (2)

2008 02 06
My morning encounter

Posted by in: Odds and ends

This morning, my Venezuelan barber–who has pictures up of South American revolutionaries, furnishes a library of Verso books for his customers to borrow, and who in the first minute of my being there of pushed into my hand a transcript of a recent episode of Democracy Now that ran down the list of each Democratic candidate’s warmongering foreign policy team–told me that he’s voting for Hillary (1) because any woman who forgives her cheating husband has got something special, (2) because it’s time for America to elect a woman, and (3) because America is not ready to elect a Black candidate and so Obama’s campaign is “the biggest fairy tale.”

The willingness of this ostensibly perceptive critic of US foreign policy to be a full throated Hillary supporter was, to me, surprising. But more surprising was the adoption of Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line to describe Obama’s chances (as opposed to using it, as Bill did, to describe his stance on the war throughout the year). Indeed, while I was appalled at Bill Clinton’s attempt to paint Obama as basically identical to Hillary on the war, I was also surprised that the media frenzy that ensued concerned the allegation that Bill had been referring to Obama’s candidacy, rather than his stance on the war. I just couldn’t figure out why anyone thought that that was what Bill was saying, even if he was in fact saying something misleading and underhanded. (I just love how Bill and his establishment crowd demanded that Obama hew to the party’s pro-war line in the 2004 campaign, and then used Obama’s political concession and party fealty against him in 2007. Wouldn’t expect anything less from the Clintons.) Anyway, I wonder just how many people have, like my barber, embraced Bill’s description of Obama’s candidacy under the interpretation that Bill was keen publicly to dispel (if not also keen to have linger in the political air).

In the end, as he was dusting the hair off my nose, he told me that he “loved Nixon, voted for Reagan, and for Bush Daddy.” I didn’t quite know what to say, so I gave him too large a tip and skedaddled.

Howls of outrage (3)

2008 02 05

Can you believe that there was a time when people felt obliged to make this point about John McCain?

(And what the hell was up with my conceding anything about personal integrity? I take it back, of course.)

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2008 02 04
Moral of the story

Posted by in: Anecdotal

No matter how lame that facial hair was, after you’ve shaved it off you will find yourself staring into the bathroom mirror, looking at the face of a little boy.

Howls of outrage (2)

2008 02 01
Bleg, or, phleg: Aristotle, catharsis, porn

It’s a philosophy-bleg!

My colleague is teaching Aristotle on catharsis this afternoon. The cartoon view of catharsis is that drama (or just? mainly? tragedy) is useful because it allows us to purge our harmful emotions by getting emotionally wrought over a fictional situation. My colleague is wondering whether Aristotle could say pornography is useful for purging the bad emotion (or, excess emotion?) of lust, or whether Aristotle would be required to say that porn is bad because it forms bad habits. So, Aristotle: for or against porn?

I told him I knew the man for this job, and then I thought other people might be interested too so I’m posting this rather than emailing you, CY.

Howls of outrage (9)