Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bigger, Faster Bioprinter

Organovo and Invetech announce new 3-D organ and tissue printer.

To Irony and Back Again

Morgan Meis on Zadie Smith and the nature of writing in the current age:
The trick then is to be incredibly serious about the need and incredibly flexible about the means for getting there. In these days of collapsing boundaries and standards, it is essential both to keep your cool and to keep throwing yourself in the mix. This requires a certain intellectual nonchalance. But that nonchalance should never be confused with indifference or cynicism. There's a term I sometimes throw out among friends. I first heard it from the lips of my sometimes Sybil-like wife, the miraculous Shuffy: neo-sincerity. To me, the most important thing about neo-sincerity is the fact that it is earned. It is sincerity gained after first having lost it. The neo-sinceritist is therefore self-aware, lacks the genuine naivety of the first-time sinceritist. In neo-sincerity, you can never really be innocent of anything. But you've been through the washer of absolute irony and have ended up back at the doors of sincerity with the genuine desire to be let inside, warts, wounds, and all.

One of the two essays that have been passed to me repeatedly this year, along with Brian Eno on the Death of the Uncool. Really great writing about really great writing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Every Known Photograph 1836-1853

(via DM)

Dresden in 26G pixels

The Canon 5D is possibly the coolest camera ever made for the professional/consumer market*. Here, Holger Schulze captured a 26 gigpixel photomontage of the city of Dresden. (It's zoomable.)

(via Guy K)

*Cooler cameras include the one on the Hubble and some of the repurposed movie cameras Kubrick used, but you are unlikely to get your grubby hands on those, now are you?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Economists Hit Pandora

Mighty God King reviews Avatar:
ME: You know, I have to admit – the Nav’i look totally natural.
FLAPJACKS: There is no uncanny valley.
ME: You only know that concept because of that one episode of 30 Rock.
ME: I’m just sick of critics who learned a new phrase thanks to Tina Fey and want to show off.
FLAPJACKS: Speaking of that episode of 30 Rock, I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to see the blue aliens doing it.
ME: Oh, quit whining. You barely saw anything.
FLAPJACKS: But now it’s in my head.
ME: Okay, the scientists are totally going about this the wrong way with Giovanni Ribisi, Businessman. They should have been all “this entire planet is a gigantic biological computer more advanced than anything we’ve ever imagined. Think about how much that would be worth.”
FLAPJACKS: Wouldn’t work. Giovanni Ribisi, Businessman, is all about the quarterly profit report. I know this because he said “it’s all about the quarterly profit report” at the start of the movie. He is an Exxon-type guy and you are presenting a Google-type business plan. Ne’er shall the two meet, because despite what people might say about Google, Google is never going to hire mercenaries to kill aliens.
ME: They might hire mercenaries to spy on aliens.
FLAPJACKS: Well, that’s Google for you.

The scary thing is, I heard the phrase about a planet scale biological network that can upload the consciousnesses of the dying, and thought, "they should really tell the business guys that that could be really valuable, so don't, um, fuck it up."

The Year in Reading 2009

The best books of the year, unranked, grouped by Borgesian principles.

Kicking things off at the start of the year, Greer Gilman's Cloud & Ashes is fantasy the way it should be done. It's a uniquely voiced view of a fully realized world filled with compelling characters. Old North English diction drives an initially fragmented story into coherence; it's like having folk songs sung to you while you rise into dreams. Like everything else from Small Beer Press, it's excellent. Also from Small Beer, Geoff Ryman's The King's Last Song reveals the Cambodia of the 1960's, 1990's and 1100's, through the life story of Jayavarman VII.

Another set of books involved various young people not wanting to go to Brown. Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You follows 18 year old James Schweik (aka Bryce Canyon) around Manhattan in search of love, or maybe just some peace and quiet. In a nonfiction effort, Brownie Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, takes a semester off from Brown to go to Liberty University for his semester abroad. Hanging behind the book are the questions of whether there are two groups of people (saved and unsaved) or only one? Is your membership in the group dependent on your own choice, or does someone else get to choose for you? The spiritual cliffhanger hinges on whether a nice liberal boy from Oberlin, Ohio will wake up one day to find himself converted on the one hand, or whether the Liberty kids will move closer to mainstream America on the other. The same questions of identity lie behind Chandler Burr's You Or Someone Like You. Main character Anne Rosenbaum draws her strength from literature, and from being, simply, human in the face of family trials. I recommended this book to more people than any other this year. Lev Grossman's Quentin Coldwater forsakes Princeton rather than Brown to attend Brakebill's College of Magical Pedagogy in The Magicians. It's been described as JK Rowling and CS Lewis meet Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt by too many reviewers, but...there you go. If Hogwarts were populated by snarky twentysomething malcontents with encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture (and Etruscan linguistics), it would look like Brakebills. Marvelous and also Very Bad Things ensue.

Books about books filled much of the past year. Nicholas Basbanes' true stories of book collectors, librarians, publishers and others of the "gently mad" and Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night are the sort of nourishing books that give one new perspective and the vim to face the day.

Elsewhere in nonfiction, out of a number of very good books about strategy, thinking and human endeavor, Winifred Gallagher's Rapt and Daniel Tammet's Embracing the Wide Sky proved the most insightful of the bunch, covering attention and neurovariant thinking as well as broader issues of cognition and strategy. In history, The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham, covers an era that I had little prior knowledge of (I guess that's why they call them the Dark Ages, nudge, nudge.) In history of science, The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson about uber-scientist and gadfly Joseph Priestley and The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes cover the 18th/19th century scientific revolution in thrilling detail.
Carl Jung was, quite literally, a wizard, or as much of one as it was possible to be at the start of the 20th century, based on the contents and construction of his Liber Novus/Red Book, which represents both a harrowing journal of his encounter with the unconsious mind using techniqes of active imagination (in which dream imagery is brought up ito te conscious mind), and a stunningly beautiful work of art. An illuminated manuscript kept in the family vaults for fifty years following Jung's death, the story of how it came to be published was also one of the best articles of the year.
On the to-read stack are several widely recommended books: Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann is up next.

Liberman, Landrieu are Too Tired to Do their Jobs

Perhaps they, and the other whining "centrists" should retire if the Senate is too hard for them.

Why CDO's Can't be Priced

Paper of the day:

Computational Complexity and Information Asymmetry in Financial Products Arora, et al.

via Felix. Interesting passage from his commentary:
...the solution to model risk isn’t more complex models, its less reliance on models altogether. And anybody who applied a simple smell test to the mortgages underlying the CDOs in question — rather than deciding instead to trust various quants both in-house and at the ratings agencies — would have come to the right conclusion without any computing power at all.
In other words, strategic thinking beats statistical thinking here too.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quote of the Day

Only one carry on? No electronics for the first hour of flight? I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first glass and giving them free drinks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Merry Christmas from Charlie Stross.

Obama's Inherited Deficit

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Some critics charge that the new policies pursued by President Obama and the 111th Congress generated the huge federal budget deficits that the nation now faces. In fact, the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years

As Ezra Klein notes, Congressional Republicans want to use the huge deficits to browbeat the Democrats into...what, exactly? More tax cuts? Bigger deficits? Electoral defeat, yes, but there doesn't seem to be any realistic plan coming out of the minority to budget responsibly. In fact, short term frugality (through near-term spending cuts) will lead to a crippled recovery, and therefore a larger deficit in absolute terms along with a smaller economy for the coming decade.

That's not fiscal conservatism. That's holding your breath to try to get your way.

Happy Festivus!

For the rest of us.

And now, the airing of the grievances.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Future Is Now, Vol LXXVIII: Waking Up the Stem Cells

Amy Wagers wants to isolate the wound healing factors that are present in young animals that promote rapid healing and recovery.
Recently she has discovered a “partial pathway,” previously undescribed in the blood system, that is involved in the process of repair. “The reason we thought the factor that awakens muscle stem cells might be in the blood,” she explains, “is that organ systems decline globally with age, which implies that any signal has to reach many different locations.” A good place to look for a universal signal such as that, she reasoned, is in the blood.

In fact, her work has already shown that exposing an old animal to the blood of a young animal restores function to progenitor cells in a variety of tissues, not only in skeletal muscle. She is now collaborating with other Harvard laboratories to study such effects in the pancreas, liver, brain, and heart. “This might be a more broadly applicable mechanism,” she says, “an inroad for discovering pathways that can enhance repair activity.” In some cases, Wagers thinks, induced repair mechanisms that fail with age might overlap with genetic disorders, so that studying these pathways could advance research on cures for certain diseases. At the very least, she suspects that the “kinds of molecules we discover that enhance endogenous repair activity” could someday play an important role in readying tissues for cell therapy, once that field is mature. Adds Melton, “This has gotten us thinking more about not just fixing the human body when it is broken, but about how to harness the natural activity of stem cells for homeostatic repair to keep us healthy. We’re not there yet, but I think that is where we are headed.”

(via 3QD)

Danny MacAskill & His Bike vs. Edinburgh

(via NYmag)

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Biology of the Na'vi

The Na'vi, Avatar's humanoids, were built for looks, not so much for their local environment. For example, they have breasts, big eyes and sternocleidomastoids because human moviewatchers like these features, even though the Na'vi are described as being non-mammalian in other respects.
If you look closely, you'll see that the Na'vi have a little muscle running down their necks. We've got them, too—it's called the sternocleidomastoid muscle—and it's a uniquely mammalian feature. Ours make a very distinctive V-shape, and when creature designers want an alien to seem attractive and familiar to its human viewers, they often slap one on. "Even C3PO has it, in the form of little pistons on his neck. Watch Star Trek: The good guys always have them, and the bad guys don't. It's a classic alien designer trick."
Actually, I wonder if they aren't actually plants, a la the Delvians of Farscape, another bunch of blue skinned, sexy aliens.

More: Mark Morford on the kinky hotness of the Na'vi.

Burning the Brand

Obama came in with the best brand as a candidate in the last fifty years; through mismanagement, he's frittered a lot of the value away. It costs a lot to create a brand, and once it's gone, it's almost impossible to rebuild. Here's neuroscientist Drew Westen on the topic:
Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry). In fact, the president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum.

What's costing the president and courting danger for Democrats in 2010 isn't a question of left or right, because the president has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center. If this were an ideological issue, that would not be the case. He would be holding either the middle or the left, not losing both.

What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.

The problem is not that his record is being distorted. It's that all three have more than a grain of truth. And I say this not as one of those pesky "leftists." I say this as someone who has spent much of the last three years studying what moves voters in the middle, the Undecideds who will hear whichever side speaks to them with moral clarity.

Read the whole article.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Keith Olberman on the Healthcare Bill

Ruined Senate bill is unsupportable.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Good for Keith.

First Sighting

While out driving, I noticed an older couple coming out of their house near the local high school. Both of them were dressed in red and white velvet, with long stocking caps on their heads. He had a smart-looking white beard and little gold reading glasses and carried a large red bag stuffed with toys. Mr. and Mrs. Claus smiled big smiles and waved as they climber into their car, which I am pleased to note was a Prius. Santa rolls environment friendly.

The sight just made my day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gothic Lettering

Bruce Sterling points us to the last records of the Gothic language from a 16th century Flemish diplomat's letter. And by Goths...
I don’t mean “Goth” goths. We’ve got tons of those. I mean GOTH Goth goths.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What the Democrats Should Be Doing

Adam Green lays out the proper negotiating strategy to get a public option successfully through the Senate. If health care reform dies, it's because it has been abandoned in the winter cold.

Health Care Experts and Starting with a C

John Aravosis says it better than I ever could.


After the hacked emails of Climategate, the team at New Scientist not only showed that the scientific conclusions behind global warming, they've also published a handy reference to 10 debunked denier theories:

1. Fun with the sun

In 1991, the journal Science published a paper by researchers Eigil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen, then at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen. It included graphs that appeared to show a remarkably close correlation between solar activity and terrestrial temperatures – suggesting that other factors, such as carbon dioxide levels, have little influence on global temperatures.

The graphs were seized on by climate change sceptics and have been widely reproduced ever since. But according to Peter Laut of the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, the close correlations in the original graphs, and in updated versions published in 1995 and 2000, exist only because of what he describes as a "pattern of strange errors".

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Problem of Consciousness

Julian Sanchez discusses John Searle's talk at Google on consciousness and free will, embedded above (via Andrew).

Consciousness could well be a spandrel. That is to say, it may just be that when you have a sufficiently complex information processing system made of the particular kind of physical stuff our brains are composed of, the processes involved will have some kind of subjective character. If conscious mental activity just is brain activity, and not some kind of strange excretion from it, however, then they have precisely the same causal properties, and it’s just a confusion to describe it as “epiphenomenal.”...Or to put it another way: The alternative picture is that evolutionary selection pressure might have produced these very strategic zombies—like vastly more complex insects, say, all stimulus-response with nobody home— but then some mutation won out that added this further feature, consciousness, to the system, because it yielded some additional improvement.

The big question is, why do we think there's a self inside of us? I've been working my way through Jung, who said essentially that there are two things: an I and a self. Self is essentially a way of identifying the set of complexes (mental things or processes) that belong to us, and the I is the complex that sits in the middle of all of that. But, the I is just one of a large number of characters that live inside our head, and the self is a spongy mass that can pick up or discard other bits of the mental landscape as part of the process of individuation.

Another way of looking at the problem of consciousness is via the evolutionary paradigm. We have a consciousness because that's the best way for a complex informational system to accomplish the set of tasks (predation, social interaction, anticipation of future states, interrelation of sensory and volitional data) necessary to support an organism of such complexity. It might also be true that there are informational, as opposed to biological laws at play. We might have a conception of self because its really difficult to process information without having a dynamic internal model referring to onesself, in the same way that its really complicated to describe what's going on in one's day without using a personal pronoun.

In any case, what becomes apparent is that despite a large number of attempts to identify a seat for the soul in a localized part of the brain, we end up with nowhere to point. There are many pieces of the brain where part of the soul might rest, but as we cut finer and finer the parts slip between our fingers. This is an argument for emergent properties in the nervous system. That, or non-materialism.

Free will presents a similar paradox. Julian suggests it may be a required by-product of biological structure. However, it might a by-product of the informational structure of the universe; to the extent that the universe contains phenomena that are indeterminate and unpredictable both in the future and in the past (one cannot either predict the shape of the puddle from the shape of the ice cube, nor reconstruct the ice cube's shape from that of the puddle it made), and because predictable events can result in conscious entities' taking actions that preemtively cause the predictable event not to actually occur, free will must be possible.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

“We should tell stories that we would have liked as kids. Twist endings, the unexpected usefulness of unlikely knowledge, nobility and bravery where it’s least expected, and the sudden emergence of a thread of goodness in a wicked nature, those were the kind of stories told by the writers and artists of the comic books that I liked”

-Michael Chabon
(via Bajira!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dream Journal

A very intricate dream, involving virtually the entire cast of a high school production of A Christmas Carol that I'd been in in 1988 as Bob Cratchet. Strange to see all of these people again after such a long time, as themselves, as I might imagine that they look twenty one years later. Their names came back to me, too, even though I hadn't thought about any of them since I graduated, but there they all were, names, faces, personalities and all; it was like seeing the dead in the afterlife. We were only really friends for the duration of the play's rehearsals, but for that length of time, we led a heavily emotionally entangled existence. I wonder where these people are now, in waking life?

Green Shoots

The key signs of real economic recovery include the presence of large orders for capital investment projects. Here's one now, a $1.6B order for windmills from GE. This is a very good sign.

Now, we need a large company to begin hiring a thousand people or more in support of growth efforts.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Rachel Maddow vs. the Ex-Gay Charlatan

"Out of context?... I'm reading from your book, dude"

One forgets just how good a debater and interviewer Maddow is, until she shellacs an unwary charlatan.

Privacy is a Basic Human Need

Bruce Schneier effectively refutes Google CEO Eric Schmidt's assertion that we should all accept that Big Brother is watching us, and it's OK.

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.


For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mr. Pointy

Ripley's museums have a total of 26 vampire hunting kits, but does anyone really know how to kill the sparkly ones?

(via io9)

The Crystalizing Block Universe

How does the future differ from the past? A new model uses quantum mechanics to postulate a block universe in which the past crystalizes out of a fluid and uncertain future.

Today, Ellis and Rothman introduce a significant new type of block universe. They say the character of the block changes dramatically when quantum mechanics is thrown into the mix. All of a sudden, the past and the future take on entirely different characteristics. The future is dominated by the weird laws of quantum mechanics in which objects can exist in two places at the same time and particles can be so deeply linked that they share the same existence. By contrast, the past is dominated by the unflinching certainty of classical mechanics.

What's interesting is that the transition between these states takes place largely in the present. It's almost as if the past crystallizes out of the future, in the instant we call the present. Ellis and Rothman call this model the "crystallizing block universe" and go on to explore some of its properties.

They point out, for example, that this crystallization process doesn't take place entirely in the present. In quantum mechanics the past can sometimes be delayed, for example in delayed choice experiments. This means the structure of the transition from future to past is more complex than a cursory thought might suggest.

Ellis and Rothman suggest that their model provides a straightforward solution to the problem of the origin of the arrow of time. "The arrow of time arises simply because the future does not yet exist," they say.

Best Lists of Best Lists of Best of Lists

Monday, December 07, 2009

I'd Like More Science in my Stimulus, Please.

This table from the CBO has the multipliers for the various parts of the stimulus ranked rombest to worst, in what Ezra Klein calls the 32 flavors of deliciousness. Right at the top there are the energy & efficiency, NIH and healthcare measures. If we're going to do Stimulus II, especially if we don't want to call it that, we ought to throw another big chunk to the scientists on a spend-it-or-lose-it basis; that's the best program we have, and hey, we can always use a bit more science.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Michael Langan's short film about tennis balls, dancing cars and God. Or something like that.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fueillade's Les Vampires

Damien Walters

Super Parkour

Grant Morrison Biopic

Grant Morrison gets the biographical documentary treatment by director Patrick Murphy.

Money quote: "Is this world hell? I've said it before, this is the part of heaven we're able to touch."

“His life is just as interesting as his work,” said Meaney. “In the ’90s, he went through an abduction experience, where he was taken outside of time and shown the nature of the universe. He used The Invisibles to explore the ramifications of that experience, and even lived a crazy rock-star lifestyle that was largely intertwined with that of King Mob, The Invisibles‘ main character.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hot Stuff

The Jung Red Book arrived today. Beautiful, beautiful book. It looks like a wizard's diary, which I suppose is what it actually is.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Jonah Lehrer on Tom Stafford on confabulation, the process of making up stories as seen inpatients with frontal lobe damage. Also seen in normal people as we go about our daily lives, lying and making crap up, the way we do.

Oh, Catullus, You are a Pistol

"Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo" A quote from a Roman literary spat recycled for a sexual harassment suit. What was Catullus going on about?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Thomas Friedman on the greening of China:

China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, E.T. — or energy technology — will be as big as I.T., and China intends to be a big E.T. player.

“For the last three years, the U.S. has led the world in new wind generation,” said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0.” “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by.”

I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.

“After this disaster,” explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.’ He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”

Greening is a seriously smart business strategy, because it cuts risk and improves the performance of the inputs of production. We'd better get to it sooner, rather than later, or we're going to be puffing hard to catch up.

Peter Mandelson's Very Bad Plan

Cory Docotorow takes apart Mandelson's plan to ban filesharers from the Internet.

There's a lot to hate about Peter Mandelson's controversial Digital Economy Bill, but there's one provision that perfectly captures the absolute, reality-denying absurdity of the whole enterprise. That titbit is the provision that holds the Bill's most drastic measures in reserve, only to be used if Britain's illegal filesharing doesn't drop off by 70% within a year of the main part of the Bill coming into force.

The idea that, at some time in the future, the volume of unauthorised copying will somehow drop off at all (let alone by an astounding 70%), is, frankly, barking. For that to happen, Britain's general capacity for copying would have to decline faster than the increase in the British desire to make unauthorised copies.

Alice's Restaurant

Arlo Guthrie live.

As an interesting side note, I once shared a transatlantic flight with a speed metal band called Implements of Destruction. Nice guys, actually.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emanuel Derman at Bloomberg

On Fisher Black, plus Spinoza, Keynes's insight into Newton, and the difference between models and theories.

Key line:

"Intuition is a merging of the understander with the understood."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Coilhouse is really on a roll this week. They've got a roundup of great indie Christmas/{insert your holiday here} gifts.

Will Wheaton's selling "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" mugs, and his brother Jeremy's got dancing seal mugs.

Weta's got rayguns.

And Tom Gauld has a new print of "Characters for an Epic Tale".

So, now you know what to get me

Immanuel Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgement

"The Drastically Condensed Awesome Version"

It's a hell of a lot better to watch Douglas Wolk explain this in five minutes while showing slides of, viz. Wolverine with a severed ear on a claw, than it is to read Kant in translation or, God forbid, the original, which is written in the kind of philosophical German that delights in its own impenetrability, and which conveys the sense-experience of having one's head parboiled. True that.

(via Coilhouse)

Sunday, November 22, 2009


And a friend shall lose his friend's hammer. And the young shall not know where lyeth their fathers' things that their fathers put there just the night before...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fixing the Schedule

Cal Newport describes the benefits of the fixed schedule approach to time management, so you too can get everything done in 40 hours a week, if you're gritty enough.
Scrawled on a whiteboard in the conference room of Collins’ Boulder, Colorado office is a simple formula:

Creative 53%
Teaching 28%
Other 19%

Collins decided years ago that a “big goal” in his life was to spend half of his working time on creative work — thinking, researching, and writing — a third of his time on teaching, and then cram everything else into the last 20%. The numbers on the whiteboard are a snapshot of his current distribution.

Evolving in Real Time

About 200 years ago, a member of a tribe in New Guinea that practices funerary cannibalism developed a mutation that protects against kuru, a prion disease transmitted by consumption of the brains of the deceased. The protective mutation has been passed down through inheritance ever since.

(via boingboing)

The Future Is Now, Vol LXXVII: Cortical Simulation Advances

Using an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, scientists in California simulated a cortex with approximately 6% of human complexity, "that exceed[s] the complexity of the cat cortex".
Not representing a full cat cortex, as has been described elsewhere--a subtle but important distinction. It's going to be one thing to do a large scale simulation with an appropriate number of neurons and connections, and quite another level of difficulty to do a specific type of brain. Still, this is moving ahead nicely.
Update: Markham says, "it's a scam". Just a big neural network, not a simulated brain.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 36 Stratagems

Based on a 500 year old Chinese treatise, there are some very colorful ideas in here for dealing with the competition, including:

Deceiving the emperor [by inviting him to a house by the sea that is really a disguised ship] and [thus cause him to] cross the sea
Harro von Senger compiled a commentary on the 36 stratagems after coming upon them by chance while studying in Taiwan.

It was pure coincidence that led Harro von Senger to the "36 stratagems." One day, a professor from the Center for Chinese Language and Culture Studies of National Taiwan Normal University, suddenly said to him that, of the 36 stratagems, running away was the best. When von Senger asked him what were the other 35 stratagems, the professor said he didn't know. At that time, von Senger was living in a students' dorm of Taiwan University and he questioned his Chinese roommates on the subject. Two or three days later, a Chinese student gave him a copy of all the names of the 36 stratagems. Several weeks later, when von Senger was at a book market and a Chinese student who was with him picked up one book and said: "This is a book on the 36 stratagems; are you interested?" Thus von Senger purchased his first book on this subject.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Grand Strategy of Byzantium

Edward Luttwak on the lessons of Byzantine strategy as they apply to the US. A lot of this seems to be inflected with modern theories of strategy (e.g., maneuver warfare) that may not have been present in the original texts. There are, however, a number of stereotypically Byzantine pieces of advice:

VII. When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. But there is no urgency because as soon as one enemy is no more, another will surely take his place. All is constantly changing as rulers and nations rise and fall. Only the empire is eternal -- if, that is, it does not exhaust itself.

(via kottke)

Better than Full Moon

Vampire Attack!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quote of the Day

I went to sleep, and when I woke up people were mad at Obama. And I thought, "Did I miss something? Did Obama start an illegal war? Did he fly over a flood zone and just wave? Did he torture detainees in a secret prison? Did he start illegally tapping phones? Did he alienate the world and squander a surplus? Because if he did any of that, we need to impeach that jackass."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Power Laws

When are power laws in effect? A statistical note. It's interesting that wealth is not one of the distributions where power laws appear to apply.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Christian Swineheart has created a set of infographics , called One Book, Many Readings that map the 1980's era Choose Your Own Adventure Books, including a variety of data displays, animations and other items. These show all the possible paths within each of the books, and show the changes in plot architecture that occurred over the life cycle of the series.

The "Signature of Consciousness"

FMRI studies suggest that the signature of a conscious process is a "more reproducible" neural pattern than unconscious processes, which are "more variable".


Kids these days. It used to be that you'd get your velvet frock coat and welder's goggles on and fly your homemade airship down to the corner pub like a proper steampunk. Now they've gone and taken the punk (and most of the steam) out of the movement, and are dressing like great granddad, with bowlers and whiskers and whatnot.
Now, where did I put my tophat & spats?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Watching the Planets

The Flaming Lips and a shedload of naked people go bicycling, stuff each other into and out of giant inflatable balls, and dance around campfires. I think this is NSFW, unless you work on a Dutch commune.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Link Roundup

Beautiful things from around the web. Collect 'em all.

Flock of 30,000 Starlings Like the monster from Lost or a really lively cloud.

The Illusionists Paintings by Jared Joslin

The horrors of French medicine.

Material well-being, a photo essay.

xkcd's Lord of the Rings flowchart, map. About one in five of Randall Monroe's cartoons are outstanding and mindbending. The rest are merely excellent.

Dread and Horror

Peter Straub, who is arguably the great master of interior horror, has a great interview in Salon this week, about the new Library of America anthology of fantastic literature.
Did you learn any new secrets about scaring readers from going through so many stories for this new anthology?

I'm not sure I can explain exactly how it works. It has to do with creating believable people for whom the reader can feel affection, then putting them in danger of the unnameable and unseen. And it has to be suspended. You can't just pull a gun out and have them get shot. You have to allow the sense of underlying unease to intensify over time. As crucial as fear is dread. Dread is essential.

How would you distinguish the two?

Well, dread leads to fear, to shame and to terror. And before dread comes foreboding.

And foreboding is ...

A prescience that something bad is about to happen. You don't know why you don't like that guy, but you just have a bad feeling about him. Dread is when foreboding shows itself to be justified. Something like foreboding is built into all fiction, I think. Even Barbara Pym novels have a point where you think, "Is that altar cloth going to work or not?"

I love the sleekness of his work. It's all about the embedded threat and the ongoing impact after the splatter has been mopped up.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Malki's Action Movie Wedding Cake

If you think this is awesome, you shoulda seen the reception. Blood everywhere, or so I'm told.

What the Elections Mean

In Virginia, minority vote was down 30% from last year, and youth vote was down 70%. New Jersey likewise showed lackluster turnout numbers. The smart consensus on this is that it's time to start following through on some of the rhetoric from the '08 campaign.

Pass real healthcare reform, fix the banking system, increase the stimulus, close down Guantanamo and other War on Terror relics, and push forward on gay rights. The temptation to water down and avoid conflict isn't going to get Democrats reelected.

As Markos puts it:

This is a base problem, and this is what Democrats better take from tonight:

1. If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary "bipartisanship", you will lose votes.

2. If you water down reform in favor of Blue Dogs and their corporate benefactors, you will lose votes.

3. If you forget why you were elected -- health care, financial services, energy policy and immigration reform -- you will lose votes.

Tonight proved conclusively that we're not going to turn out just because you have a (D) next to your name, or because Obama tells us to. We'll turn out if we feel it's worth our time and effort to vote, and we'll work hard to make sure others turn out if you inspire us with bold and decisive action.

Update: Aaand of course, the nitwit congressional Democrats took exactly the opposite lesson, and want to throw the "controversial" agenda overboard. One more time: nothing succeeds like success. Pass the priorities, and you'll be rewarded. The alternative is to placate your opponents, which just emboldens them.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


When the leadership of Great Britain pressed too heavily on him, Gladstone did one of three things: felled large trees with an ax; walked around London talking to prostitutes; or arranged books. It was an odd trio of diversions, especially the second, which, although its ostensible purpose was to reform fallen women, sometimes stimulated so many carnal thoughts in the reformer that he whipped himself afterward with a contrition-inducing scourge.

-Ex Libris
Anne Fadiman

Gladstone was also well known for his obsessive attention to detail, and in addition to his other hobbies, designed home library storage systems, which Fadiman also describes at length in Ex Libris. The two main shelving systems are both very clever and a little overspecified. It speaks well of the man that he had such a diversity of pastimes.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pursuit of Happiness

Gay marriage, legal pot, and visits to Cuba within 10 years, according to Jacob Weisberg. The old prohibitions fall:
The chief reason these prohibitions are falling away is the evolving definition of the pursuit of happiness. What's driving the legalization of gay marriage is not so much the moral argument but the pressures from couples who want to sanctify their relationships, obtain legal benefits, and raise children in a stable environment. What's advancing the decriminalization of marijuana is not just the demand for pot as medicine but the number of adults—more than 23 million in the past year, according to the most recent government survey—who use it and don't believe they should face legal jeopardy. What's bringing the change on Cuba is not just the epic failure of the 48-year-old U.S. embargo, but the demand on the part of Americans who want to go there—whether to visit their relatives, prospect for post-Castro business opportunities, or sip rum drinks at the beach.

Your TV Meta Moment

Captain Reynolds from Firefly cameos in Castle for Halloween.

"Didn't you wear that 5 years ago? ... Don't you think you should move on?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dream Journal

Monumental dream sequence requiring me to break into the Smithsonian, collaborate with Harry Dean Stanton against that character actor who played the villain in about 30 episodes of early 80's TV series, bump into George W Bush who showed me the new stealth bomber with onboard television studio, eat a frittata with grape nuts, and survive an assasination attempt from someone trying to throw acid in my face.

Thanks, Charlie Stross, for that last one. (Comments to his post are worth reading separately.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Athulf's Death Song

A cypress-bough, and a rose-wreath sweet
A wedding-robe, and a winding-sheet,
A bridal-bed and a bier.
Thine be the kisses, maid,
And smiling Love's alarms;
And thou, pale youth, be laid
In the grave's cold arms.
Each in his own charms,
Death and Hymen both are here;
So up with scythe and torch,
And to the old church porch,
While all the bells ring clear:
And rosy, rosy the bed shall bloom,
And earthy, earthy heap up the tomb.

Now tremble dimples on your cheek,
Sweet be your lips to taste and speak,
For he who kisses is near:
By her the bridegod fair,
In youthful power and force;
By him the grizard bare,
Pale knight on a pale horse,
To woo him to a corpse.
Death and Hymen both are here;
So up with scythe and torch,
And to the old church porch,
While all the bells ring clear:
And rosy, rosy the bed shall bloom,
And earthy, earthy heap up the tomb.

Songs from Death's Jest-Book
Thomas Lovell Beddoes
A little something for Halloween.
(via BPAL)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Helix in the House

Is the Public Option Dead?

Let's check with Fox.

File under: reliable counterindicators.

Shrimp That See in 12 Colors

...and can detect polarized light across an entire spectrum.
Just why the mantis shrimp needs such a rarefied level of vision is unclear, although researchers suspect it is to do with food and sex.

Food and sex? Big surprise. Everything in evolution is about food and sex. Also, scientists don't usually get enough of either, so those topics are always front-of-mind.

(via @Templesmith)

Monday, October 26, 2009


Chap Hop History with Mr. B on the Banjolele

Yeah, buddy.

(via boingboing)

Visualizing the Brain

A survey of the last 100 years, from Ramon y Cajal to the present.

Visualizing the Brain

A survey of the last 100 years, from Ramon y Cajal to the present.


Peter Mayle on the holiday that invaded France and spoiled all the pumpkin recipes.

My Question on the Teabaggers

Can they stay crazy longer than we can stay in charge?

It's an issue of who controls the clock. Either the energy among the crazies fades in some reasonable amount of time, or we have another period of running off the rails ahead of us.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Movies I Need to Rent

Executive Koala is a Japanese movie from 2006 which stars a typical salaryman… typical in every way except that he is actually a giant koala. After a girlfriend is murdered, he descends into a world of psychosis marked by increasingly violent fantasies where his koala-rage is given full expression, and in which his only hope are a giant frog and a giant rabbit.

-Dangerous Minds

Made in Japan, possibly with the help of mescaline. Click through for the trailer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I love xkcd

Animated xkcd "I love the Internet" strip. Nice work, Noam.

I Love xkcd from NoamR on Vimeo.

(via boingboing)

A Hero for Marriage Equality

"What do you think I fought for in Omaha Beach?"

Good morning, Committee. My name is Phillip Spooner and I live at 5 Graham Street in Biddeford. I am 86 years old and a lifetime Republican and an active VFW chaplain. I still serve three hospitals and two nursing homes and I also serve Meals on Wheels for 28 years. My wife of 54 years, Jenny, died in 1997. Together we had four children, including the one gay son. All four of our boys were in the service. I was born on a potato farm north of Caribou and Perham, where I was raised to believe that all men are created equal and I've never forgotten that. I served in the U.S. Army, 1942-1945, in the First Army, as a medic and an ambulance driver. I worked with every outfit over there, including Patton's Third Army. I saw action in all five major battles in Europe, and including the Battle of the Bulge. My unit was awarded Presidential Citations for transporting more patients with fewer accidents than any other [inaudible] I was in the liberation of Paris. After the war I carried POW's back from Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, and also hauled hundreds of injured Germans back to Germany.

I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, "Do you believe in equal, equality for gay and lesbian people?" I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, "What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?" I haven't seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for.

I give talks to eighth grade teachers about World War II, and I don't tell them about the horror. Maybe [inaudible] ovens of Buchenwald and Dachau. I've seen with my own eyes the consequences of caste systems and it make some people less than others, or second class. Never again. We must have equal rights for everyone. It's what this country was started for. It takes all kinds of people to make a world war. It does make no sense that some people who love each other can marry and others can't just because of who they are. This is what we fought for in World War II. That idea that we can be different and still be equal.

My wife and I did not raise four sons with the idea that three of them would have a certain set of rights, but our gay child would be left out. We raised them all to be hard-working, proud, and loyal Americans and they all did good. I think it's too bad [inaudible] want to get married, they should be able to. Everybody's supposed to be equal in equality in this country. Let gay people have the right to marry. Thank you.

Transcript via DailyKos

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The White Hot Spark

Make a painting, make a dress, make music, make a novella, make love to the camera, make a new flavor of beer, make a wild rumpus in the middle of the woods. Make a mess! Make something merely for the sake of making it. Make without any thought to an audience. Make without any anticipation of validation or gratification from an outside source. Make for no reason at all except the sheer bliss of the process itself.

Make something beautiful by yourself, for yourself, and then, for fuck’s sake, don’t blog about it.

Just this once.

Myopic, sure. But also a lesson in self-sustenance. Because if we all turn away from this big, hot communal hall of scrying mirrors for a bit, and focus inward instead, upon the true, white spark that sits in everyone’s belly, maybe we won’t feel so hollow and lonely and dependent on energy from outside sources. Perhaps, in tapping back into that source, we won’t resort to the most base and vestigial pecking order instincts, or feel the need to cling, white-knuckled, to the exclusive, ego-tainted ownership of something that could never possibly be owned by any one person, or group of people:


(via Siege)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh. My. Gosh.

Boondock Saints II is coming out at the end of this month. This will either be the greatest sequel ever, or a beautiful disaster. Either way, I'm going to need a bucket of popcorn.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stefan Sagmeister's Sabbatical

Stefan Sagmeister takes off one year in seven to refresh himself in his work. A TED talk.

(via moleskinerie)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tales from the Meltdown 20: The Lower Third, The Smart Guys and Wall Street

Felix Salmon on Calvin Trillin on why Wall Street blew up.
“Don’t get me wrong: the guys from the lower third of the class who went to Wall Street had a lot of nice qualities. Most of them were pleasant enough. They made a good impression. And now we realize that by the standards that came later, they weren’t really greedy. They just wanted a nice house in Greenwich and maybe a sailboat. A lot of them were from families that had always been on Wall Street, so they were accustomed to nice houses in Greenwich. They didn’t feel the need to leverage the entire business so they could make the sort of money that easily supports the second oceangoing yacht.”

“So what happened?”

“I told you what happened. Smart guys started going to Wall Street.”

Trillin’s right. Bankers have made money for centuries, by doing essentially what their fathers and grandfathers did before them. (They’ve lost money, too, but nearly always in the same way: by lending money to people who can’t or won’t pay it back.)

So, smart people, go back to making rockets and surging brains, before we all go broke.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Airlines Crashed and Burned Watch

Two years ago, when airline consultants and accountants proposed the raft of ancillary fees they've been tacking on to everything from checked baggage to aisle seats, a lot of us warned them that if they did this, they'd poison the well with their best customers, and profits would go through the effing floor.

Wow, look, we were right.

(via kottke)

Return of Polaroid

The Polaroid camera returns. The people at the Impossible Project sent out an email today announcing that Summit Global Group will be manufacturing new Polaroid One Step cameras.

Previously: Reviving Polaroid, Elegy for the Polaroid

"Conan, What is Best in Life?"


(via Weird Universe. Respect to Warren Ellis for the post title.)

The Continuing Fall of Newspapers

[M]ost bizarrely, no one has forced folks to create a star system of punditry, despite the fact that the only unique advantage major media possesses over the digital wild west is a knowledge of journalistic craft and the institutional infrastructure that supports sustained inquiry and local and or investigative reporting.

But that’s a disastrous miscalculation. Training up an institution to do real reporting well is hard — and would provide one distinctive competitive advantage over independent knights of the keyboard. Opinion writing does not. Anyone, even yours truly, can take a whack at it; over time big, fixed cost dinosaurs can compete on neither quality nor quantity (or, as we say in my house — both Rock and Roll.)

-Inverse Square Blog (via DeLong)

"Rock and Roll." I like that as a descriptor of two general strategies, and I'm going to start using that with clients.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Death brushed by twice in fifteen seconds last Friday, on Rt. 70. A minivan in the right lane got squeezed between a semi and an onramping car, lost control and swerved across my lane just in front of me and went into the central berm. Then, in braking to avoid them, I slowed down enough that the semi behind me nearly ran me over. Could have been a quick end, but no one was hurt either time. Still, it felt like a near thing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Quote of the Day

Huntington Cairns remarked, as we were lunching that day, that there wasa club in Baltimore--his hometown--so exclusive that the only person he knew who was in it was David Bruce, who had been put up for it the day he was born. It was called the River Club. Does the River Club still exist? Did it ever?

-Larry McMurtry
Books, p.196

100 Best Things on YouTube

Altogether better than the new TV season.

(Via linkmachinego)

Monday, October 05, 2009

That Jesus was a Hippie

The conservatives decide it's time to rewrite the Bible without all that libral stuff in it, like Love Your Neighbor and such.

The Medium and the Message

Paul Graham grasps the fact that the publishing business model is not about charging for content. Most publishing income comes from two main sources: people willing to pay for the medium (you pay for the paper) and people trying to make money off of the information (e.g., businesses trying to reach you).

There's a third way to make money of off media: ancillary income from experiential goods (you buy a ticket to a concert, plus a t-shirt and a beer while you're there).

Everything else is just fighting with your customers, who are quite happy to go somewhere else.

It's interesting to note that this strategy for the media industry revolves around two maxims: better embodiment makes for more valuble content (so concentrate on upgrading user experience) and Don't Be Evil. The alternative strategy is to make cheaper stuff and try to grab all of the user surplus for the producers. Which do you think will get tried first? Which do you think will ultimately win?

After the Revolution

Taking a look back at Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which provoked something of a paradigm shift in the history & philosophy of science.
The main threads of Kuhn's approach to science are well known. Science really gets underway when a scientific tradition has succeeded on formulating a paradigm. A paradigm includes a diverse set of elements -- conceptual schemes, research techniques, bodies of accepted data and theory, and embedded criteria and processes for the validation of results. Paradigms are not subject to testing or justification; in fact, empirical procedures are embedded within paradigms. Paradigms are in some ways incommensurable -- Kuhn alluded to gestalt psychology to capture the idea that a paradigm structures our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments -- instead, anomalies accumulate and eventually the advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm. Like Polanyi, Kuhn emphasizes the concrete practical knowledge that is a fundamental component of scientific education. By learning to use the instruments and perform the experiments, the budding scientist learns to see the world in a paradigm-specific way. (Alexander Bird provides a good essay on Kuhn in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

A couple of questions are particularly interesting today, approaching fifty years after the writing of the book. One is the question of origins: where did Kuhn's basic intuitions come from? Was the idea of a paradigm a bolt from the blue, or was there a comprehensible line of intellectual development that led to it? There certainly was a strong tradition of study of the history of science from the late nineteenth to the twentieth century; but Kuhn was the first to bring this tradition into explicit dialogue with the philosophy of science.