Month: August 2010

New Google Service Will Decide For You

“Google is very good at figuring out what text is about. It can pick out ads that are relevant to the content of any Web page, its search engine anticipates the meaning of search terms rather than just finding them in Web sites, and Google’s Chrome browser can tell when you’re visiting a site in a foreign language and helpfully offer to translate.

Now some of that language-processing power is available to everyone in the form of an API that developers can use to have Google distinguish between different categories of text . The service is only available to registered testers and it requires some coding to use, so I’ve built a modest, easy-to-use demonstration…” (Forbes).

The suggestion is to use the demo to distinguish between text in English and French, which is pretty trivial, so I gave it a more difficult challenge. After I had it sample one random paragraph each from Wall Street Journal and the New York Times online content, in 3:3 trials it successfully distinguished the source of further random paragraphs.The implications for categorizing a person’s demographic and sociopolitical niche from their reading choices are clear.

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Peripatetic Pets

An Iarnród Éireann commuter train in the Repub...
“A cat with a hankering for the city lights has been reunited with its owner after taking a trip to Dublin on the DART.

Iarnróid Éireann sent out an appeal via Twitter seeking the owner of the cat, which had been found in Pearse Street train station. Staff took care of the kitty and used CCTV footage to trace where she had begun her journey.

It turned out that the cat had got on at Malahide station and travelled into the city centre. After the rail company sent out its appeal for the cat’s owners, the lucky cat was reunited with her owner Eric Bieci, who thanked everyone involved.

After dodging the fare, Lilou has been issued with a rail card by Iarnród Eireann for any future journeys she wishes to take.” (RTÉ News)

This item grabbed my attention because, more than thirty years ago, I had a very very footloose dog named Sashi. Before I went to medical school, I was living near Harvard Square and one morning he apparently followed the stream of working people who walked down to the Square and got on the Red line, one of the branches of Boston‘s subway system, the MTA or ‘T’. Several hours later, I was called by someone to say that he was wandering the platform at Braintree Station, at the other end of the Red Line. I considered asking them to lend him 50 cents to get back on the T and travel home, but I did in the last analysis drive down to Braintree to pick him up.

At another point, Sashi and I lived in a house further out in the country with a golf course out the back door. After the golfers were gone in the evening, I would let Sashi out to congregate with the other local dogs on the golf course at the summit of the hill. He would come back sedate and satisfied from what I imagined had been several hours of romping in the field. Several months later, I happened to be walking him past the ice cream shop in the center of town, about a half mile away. One of the local skateboard kids who hung out in front of the shop greeted Sashi by name. I asked him how he knew my dog. “How do I know him? He’s here hanging out with us every evening eating our leftovers!”

Sashi also used to swim along with me and friends as we kayaked. Once he got himself stranded on a rock in the Cohasset Rips as the tide was rushing out, prompting my one and only daredevil rescue experience.

Later, during my medical schooling, Sashi ran away from a friend of mine who was boarding him one summer in rural Maryland while I was on a volunteer medical project in Appalachia. When I eventually located him three months later through ads I ran in the Maryland newspapers, he was flown home to me in Boston by the high-powered consultant with whom he had been living, under an assumed name, and gallivanting around the country in his foster owner’s private plane. Footloose indeed!

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Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

English Speaker
What we may think vs. what we must: ‘Whorf, we now know, made many mistakes. The most serious one was to assume that our mother tongue constrains our minds and prevents us from being able to think certain thoughts. The general structure of his arguments was to claim that if a language has no word for a certain concept, then its speakers would not be able to understand this concept. If a language has no future tense, for instance, its speakers would simply not be able to grasp our notion of future time. It seems barely comprehensible that this line of argument could ever have achieved such success, given that so much contrary evidence confronts you wherever you look. When you ask, in perfectly normal English, and in the present tense, “Are you coming tomorrow?” do you feel your grip on the notion of futurity slipping away? Do English speakers who have never heard the German word Schadenfreude find it difficult to understand the concept of relishing someone else’s misfortune? Or think about it this way: If the inventory of ready-made words in your language determined which concepts you were able to understand, how would you ever learn anything new?

Since there is no evidence that any language forbids its speakers to think anything, we must look in an entirely different direction to discover how our mother tongue really does shape our experience of the world. Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.’ (NY Times Magazine)

Not-So-Merry Go Round

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 06:  Attorney Mark Ger...
Chris Brown

Yesterday I received a warning email from my ISP, Verizon, saying that I was accused of copyright violation. The RIAA had complained that someone at my address had downloaded a rap song by Chris Brown illegally. The event is logged, with the time (UTC) of the offense, the complainant, and the name of the allegedly downloaded material:

2010-08-23 01:59:08 RIAA Take You Down

The only problem is that none of my family listen to Chris Brown and no one here has downloaded that song. We were out of town and not on the net at the time of the alleged infraction. Our wireless network here at home is secure and no one outside my family has access.

So I called the copyright violation dept. of Verizon (actually, probably someone in a call center somewhere in the Philippines ) to complain. Three phone calls and a total of 45 minutes on hold later, they said that they could not remove an alleged infraction from my record, only advise me how to prevent recurrences (remove P2P software from my computer, secure the wireless network, etc.). I can understand their point; anyone could swear that they did not commit the download of which they stand accused.

What I want to know is whether I am at risk of being sued by the RIAA. Verizon’s FAQ on copyright violation says that they will not provide the name of the subscriber who committed the infraction to the RIAA unless subject to a subpoena or court order.

Anyone have a sense of whether I have any further recourse?

Housekeeping

Recently, several people have offered to buy links on FmH to their services or products. In case it wasn’t already clear, this will serve as a reminder that links here are never sold. Offering to pay me to link to you is a sure way to get me to disregard anything you might have to offer.

An end to psychiatric drug development?

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease
Is Pharma Running Out of Brainy Ideas? “On 4 February, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced that it planned to pull the plug on drug discovery in some areas of neuroscience, including pain and depression. A few weeks later, news came that AstraZeneca was closing research facilities in the United States and Europe and ceasing drug-discovery work in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. These cutbacks by two of the top players in drug development for disorders of the central nervous system have raised concerns that the pharmaceutical industry is pulling out, or at least pulling back, in this area. In direct response to the cuts at GSK and AstraZeneca, the Institute of Medicine Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders organized a meeting in late June that brought together leaders from government, academia, and private foundations to take stock. But the biggest problem, researchers say, is that there is almost nothing in the pipeline that gives any hope for a transformation in the treatment of mental illness. That’s worrying, they say, because the need for better treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders is vast. Hundreds of millions of people are afflicted worldwide. Yet for some common disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, no truly effective treatments exist; for others, like depression, the existing drugs have limited efficacy and substantial side effects.” ( Science)

R.I.P. Abbey Lincoln

Abbey Lincoln in concert, 1992

Bold and Introspective Jazz Singer Dies at 80:  “Abbey Lincoln, a singer whose dramatic vocal command and tersely poetic songs made her a singular figure in jazz, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 80 and lived on the Upper West Side.

…Long recognized as one of jazz’s most arresting and uncompromising singers, …[h]er singing style was unique, a combined result of bold projection and expressive restraint. Because of her ability to inhabit the emotional dimensions of a song, she was often likened to Billie Holiday, her chief influence. But Ms. Lincoln had a deeper register and a darker tone, and her way with phrasing was more declarative.” (NYTimes.com obituary)

Temporary Reprieve, but Wolves Remain in Danger

Kodiak, a 13-year-old captive North American w...
“On August 5, 2010, in response to an Earthjustice lawsuit, a federal judge reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for northern Rockies gray wolves.

In 2009, the Obama administration decided to pursue the Bush-era policy of removing the wolves from the endangered species list. Wolves were delisted on May 4, 2009, and more than two hundred were killed in fall hunts in Montana and Idaho as a result.

For years, Earthjustice has gone to court to ensure that wolves can recover from the brink of extinction in the U.S. Although this latest victory has blocked the planned fall 2010 wolf hunts, the fight to protect gray wolves is not over yet. Learn about the complex story of the wolves and the efforts to save them in an interactive timeline.”  (Earthjustice)

Lucky’s Monologue from Waiting for Godot

Mehdi Bajestani, as Lucky, (from a production ...

Lucky is a slave to the character Pozzo. Lucky is unique in a play where most of the characters talk incessantly: he only utters two sentences (one of which, this monologue, is more than seven hundred words long ). The monologue is prompted by Pozzo when the tramps ask him to make Lucky “think”. He asks them to give him his hat: when Lucky wears his hat, he is capable of thinking. The monologue is long, rambling logorrhea, and does not have any apparent end; it is only stopped when Vladimir takes the hat back. Within the gibberish Lucky makes comments on the arbitrary nature of God, man’s tendency to pine and fade away, and towards the end, the decaying state of the earth. His ramblings may be loosely based around the theories of the Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley (Wikipedia)

Lucky: “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast heaven to hell so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per head since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per head approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and than the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold on sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations) tennis… the stones… so calm… Cunard… unfinished…” — Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Is Lucky’s Monologue Poetry? thanks to Rich)

The Circle of Caveats

Hoi An - Japanese Covered Bridge

In the comments to my previous post, Brian Hayes pointed me to reporter Robert Neuworth’s ‘circle of caveats’, which deserves to be elevated to the front page:

“We must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth. Because, as they say, it is the exception that proves the rule. Of course, rules are made to be broken and so, in this case, we must make allowances. For the time being, all we can state with certainty is that, given this set of assumptions, all things will be equal. Context is everything. Thus, this is not the final word on the subject. And yet, because of the foregoing doubts, we must be doubly sure. So, in light of current developments and taking stock of all our cultural preconceptions, the conclusion is neither obvious nor buried. It is conditioned by the very factors that condition us all. Beneath all this lies the substratum of unreason, which itself provides the basis for all knowledge. And lest we make too much of this, we must avoid the temptation of turning to speculation, to specious imagining, as it were. We must steer clear of that pathway at all costs—or at least in most instances. In that eventuality, the two sides are further apart than ever. And yet they are closer and closer. Bridging that gap is our task here, and yet we must be careful: a bridge built on quicksand will sink in a snap. It is best to avoid such constructions. Considering the preceding, we must put aside all pretense. The answer lies in the dispassionate pursuit of the truth, wherever that takes us. We must not fail to mention that, generally and in specific, the road is long and hard. Suppositions must be avoided and, conversely and in equal proportion, we cannot avoid them. A house of cards will not sink in the sand but a slight wind will blow it down. The situation, then, is perilous. However, we must press on. Indeed, it is only through that propulsion, that forward seeking movement, that we will find, ultimately (or penultimately), in the worst or best possible case scenarios, that unmistakable aura of glacial impenetrability. Then, and only then, given the parameters outlined above, will there be enough data to suggest a course of action (and its equal and opposite reaction) leading us to a state of wide-eyed suspicion. To put it simply: on or about or perhaps with or above all. Needless to say, this does not always hold true. Sometimes, it is true, it is untrue, depending on circumstances and freak accidents and natural disasters and acts of God. Next to nothing is inessential. We arrive, then, at the central conundrum—-and we must be very careful with words here so as not to state more than we actually know. To recapitulate: given the current state of knowledge, taking into account our biases, and rolling with the punches, we can draw one almost inescapable conclusion from our diverse and disparate researches into our subject. To wit: we must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth.”

And delving further into Neuworth’s weblog, I found this poignant reflection on the passing of author David Markson. Worth your while.

Caveats

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book.

Do not use if you have ever had an allergic reaction to this product or any of its ingredients.
Failure to follow all instructions and warnings can result in serious injury.
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Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this weblog.
Caution: Dates on calendar are closer than they appear.
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May be used as flotation device in case of emergency.
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Anything you say can and will be used against you.
Satisfaction guaranteed; return for full refund.
Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
All questions answered, all answers questioned.
Objects on screen are closer than they appear.
If condition persists, consult your physician.
Detach and include upper portion with payment.
Nutritional need is not established in humans.
Caution: do not swallow. May cause irritation.
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Product is sold by weight and not by volume.
In emergency, break glass, pull down handle.
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Use only in well-ventilated areas.
Do not exceed recommended dosage.
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No shirt, no shoes, no service.
Void where prohibited by law.
You break it, you’ve bought it.
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Keep out of reach of children.
Part of a daily balanced diet.
First pull up, then pull down.
Apply only to affected areas.
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Close cover before striking.
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Viewer discretion advised.
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Honk if you can read this.
No purchase is necessary.
More taste, less filling.
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Wash hands after using.
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Consume responsibly.
Ignore this notice.
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No preservatives.
No trespassing.
No exit.

Other thoughts?

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to the press...
Reagan’s director of OMB David Stockman in a New York Times op-ed piece: “If there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.” (New York Times )

Feeding Dementia Patients With Dignity

leukoaraiosis : Magnetic resonance imaging (T2...
“…[F]eeding tubes do not necessarily prolong life in patients with advanced dementia, and …surveys indicate that a vast majority of nursing home residents say they would rather die than live with a feeding tube.

But medical orders like “no artificial hydration and nutrition” — used to indicate that the patient should not be given a feeding tube — are often interpreted as “do not feed.” And few people can tolerate the idea that a loved one may be starving to death.

Comfort feeding offers another alternative.” (NYTimes.com)

My Life in Therapy

Dream work according Sigmund Freud
Dream work according to Freud
Daphne Merkin: “To this day, I’m not sure that I am in possession of substantially greater self-knowledge than someone who has never been inside a therapist’s office. What I do know, aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present in ways we can’t begin to imagine, is a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity for reframing your life story, becomes — how should I put this? — addictive. Projection. Repression. Acting out. Defenses. Secondary compensation. Transference. Even in these quick-fix, medicated times, when people are more likely to look to Wellbutrin and life coaches than to the mystique-surrounded, intangible promise of psychoanalysis, these words speak to me with all the charged power of poetry, scattering light into opaque depths, interpreting that which lies beneath awareness. Whether they do so rightly or wrongly is almost beside the point.”   (New York Times Magazine)

Have You Seen David Mow?

Police Search For Missing City Heights Man: This 56 y/o San Diego man, who has been missing without a trace since July 22, is the fiance of a friend and co-worker of mine. There has been no sign of his car (2005 Silver Envoy with California plate number 5LJV959), no activity on his cellphone or financial accounts. He had an unexplained episode of loss of consciousness in the past and a recurrence is feared. Can you spread the word, thanks? Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call his niece Kim DeMars at 404-966-7161  or SDPD Detective Mo Parga at 619-531-2277. (KGTV San Diego)

Morph-osaurs

Triceratops

How shape-shifting dinosaurs deceived us: “Dinosaurs were shape-shifters. Their skulls underwent extreme changes throughout their lives, growing larger, sprouting horns then reabsorbing them, and changing shape so radically that different stages look to us like different species.

This discovery comes from a study of the iconic dinosaur triceratops and its close relative torosaurus. Their skulls are markedly different but are actually from the very same species, argue John Scannella and Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.” (New Scientist)

No Big Bang?

Prevailing model of the origin and expansion o...

“A new cosmology successfully explains the accelerating expansion of the universe without dark energy; but only if the universe has no beginning and no end.”  Technology Review