Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How do you cover Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley"?

UPDATE: Douglas Hofstadter contributes to the discussion of this pressing issue! New post coming shortly. Here it is!

When other artists cover Bo Diddley's song "Bo Diddley" should they actually sing the words "Bo Diddley" or should they substitute their own name?

I sort of think they should use their own name. Part of the charm/weirdness of this song is that it's about the singer himself, and that he refers to himself in the third person. If you're singing about somebody else, it changes the whole nature of the song. Here are the lyrics:

Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring,
If that diamond ring don't shine,
He gonna take it to a private eye,
If that private eye can't see
He'd better not take the ring from me.

Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat,
To make his pretty baby a Sunday coat,
Bo Diddley caught a bear cat,
To make his pretty baby a Sunday hat.

Mojo come to my house, ya black cat bone,
Take my baby away from home,
Ugly ole mojo, where ya bin,
Up your house, and gone again.

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley have you heard?
My pretty baby said she wasn't for it.

I suppose you can sing the song pretending that you're Bo Diddley, but it isn't the same thing. Of course it's never exactly the same thing when you cover a song written by someone else. But this song poses a greater dilemma than others. Many songs refer to specific other people ("Johnny Yuma was a rebel..."), but the specific person this song refers to is the singer himself. Part of the shock value of the song is that the singer is referring to himself so blatantly and specifically. If you're just pretending to be Bo Diddley singing about himself, none of that comes through.

The song shifts from third to first person, and back again. This poses another difficulty for those who try to cover the song without changing the lyrics: When Bo Diddley makes this shift, it's clear he's referring to himself in both cases. When someone else makes that shift, it sounds like the subject of the song is shifting back and forth between some character named Bo Diddley and the narrator. Maybe to properly cover the song, other performers should keep the lyrics as they are, but adopt the stage name "Bo Diddley"!

Another problem comes from the overall attitude of the song: If you (assuming you are not Bo Diddley, and given that he passed away this year, that is highly unlikely, unless you followed my suggestion from the previous paragraph) sang the song, keeping the words "Bo Diddley" in the lyrics, it sounds like sort of a tribute to the greatness of this other person, Bo Diddley. And the whole point of the song is that it's a boast about the singer, not a paean to someone else. You can't get this effect unless you use your own name.

Maybe Bo Diddley delibrately wrote the song (and others, such as "Hey Bo Diddley" and "The Story of Bo Diddley") in such a way so that they would be difficult to cover, or rather so that no cover could ever really have the impact of Bo Diddley's versions. Fortunately for those who wish to cover him, there are plenty of Bo Diddley songs that do not have this problem.

Of course, substituting your own name raises another potential problem: "Bo Diddley" is said as a dactyl (BO-did-ley) and if your name isn't a dactyl or couldn't be crammed or stretched into the same metrical space you'd have to alter the rhythm of the lyrics. And much of the power of Bo Diddley's music comes from the driving rhythms. If I were to cover the song, I could use "Zachary" as a decent substitute. Of course the alliteration of the first line would be destroyed. And I'd lose the specificity of having both a first and last name in the lyrics: "Zachary" could be a bunch of people. "Zachary Drake" is me specifically (OK, there are others, but I will fight them in single combat and defeat them. There can be only one!), but it can't possibly be used with out derailing the meter entirely.

And then there's a question of the title of the song: if you substitute your own name for Bo Diddley's in "Bo Diddley", shouldn't you change the title of the song, too? But how will people know which song you're referring to if you change the title? But if you don't change the title, you lose some of the boastful effect of naming the song after yourself. If I were trying to emulate Donald Trump, it would unthinkable to go around naming a bunch of my real estate developments after Donald Trump. The correct thing to do would be to name them after myself! So if I recorded the song "Bo Diddley" on an album, shouldn't the track listing say "Zachary" instead of "Bo Diddley"? Think of the confusion of someone listening to my CD, and seeing the title "Bo Diddley", but not hearing the lyric "Bo Diddley" anywhere in the song! But if someone saw the track title "Zachary", how would they know that it's a cover of Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley"? Maybe a footnote? That just seems weak. Bo Diddley wouldn't require a footnote.

Well, has anyone made the choice I'm advocating? I guess not. Buddy Holly, when he covered the song, chose to sing "Bo Diddley" rather than use his own name:

I wonder if Douglas Hofstadter has ever tackled this problem. It's the sort of thing that would interest him: it's about self-reference, translation, and analogy. I'll email him and ask.

Well, that's enough on that. This whole thing was inspired that my brother Niko gave me a Bo Diddley CD for Christmas. My other Bo Diddley post is here ("Rock-n-roll is autism made infectious.")

Monday, December 29, 2008

Social Work in a recession

A social worker laments:
As I contemplate how to pry a few dollars from these systems designed to humiliate and degrade my clients, already struggling with being social outcasts, chronic illness, drug addiction and mental illness I sigh audibly. I read of billion dollar bailouts and disappearing pallettes of cash as I ponder how to help a family with $400.00 so they will not be homeless in three days. I am so very tired.
We are not very caring as a nation. I want that to change. And as for stimulating the economy: nobody spends money faster than someone who needs to pay the rent to avoid getting kicked out of their home. The bank bailout has been severely hampered by the fact that the banks are often just sitting on the funds and not telling anyone what they're doing with them.

Our priorities are completely out of whack, and our politics barely begins to address our needs as a nation. Obama, as far as I can tell, is only a small step in the right direction. Must there be massive suffering for there to be change?

Humans: buggy software running on crappy hardware in a shitty environment. I am very very very fortunate to be as well situated as I am.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The birthday boy

Once upon a time there was a little boy. The little boy loved his birthday because he didn't have to do any chores and he got lots of presents and everyone did nice things for him. The little boy loved his birthday so much that he tricked God into making it his birthday every day. The little boy was so happy: every day was his birthday and he lived happily like a prince. But the little boy died of old age in less than three months, and God was like "Ha ha ha ha!"

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's my birthday!

I'm 35 years old today. If anything, I feel I've aged more than one year this year: I started a full time job for the first time in over 7 years, and we discovered that Quinn had fragile X syndrome. It's been very hard, but I think we've all grown a lot. One bit of evidence I offer for this is that the holidays have actually not been particularly difficult for us this year. Once you've been trained in caring-for-special-needs-kids boot camp, other sorts of domestic obligations do not loom as large.

I got some great presents, and I have a surprise outing this afternoon, and steak dinner tonight. Yum!

Thanks so much to my wonderful wife Sarah and all my family for contributing to birthday wonderfulness!

Quinn with Grandma Cathie

South Park Christmas: Jesus vs. Santa Claus

One of the first South Park cartoons ever. Still one of the best.

Best Tom Friedman parody evah

"The Datsun and the Shoe Tree":

I was changing planes at the new airport in Jakarta the other day, on the way to Stockholm from Vladivostok. Three young Bangladeshi boys sat in the passenger lounge, watching The Power Rangers on satellite TV. Their mother--garbed in the traditional sari--talked to her cousin, a migrant worker who sold German-designed Walkman knockoffs in Hong Kong, on a shiny new Samsung cell phone. Sitting to one side of them was a young Chinese émigré on his way to Toronto to work for a software company, and on the other a business-suited Rastafarian making a connection to Bratislava. Meanwhile, a couple of Tuareg tribesmen sat cross-legged in front of the ticket counter, cooking yams over a flaming mound of ticket stubs.

What's my point? I don't actually have one--but opening my columns with strings of clichéd cultural juxtapositions really cuts down my workload.
via liberal on Balloon Juice. I've actually enjoyed reading Friedman, but after he told us we need "another six months" in Iraq one too many times, I've become rather annoyed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Obama's not Muslim, he's a Unitarian Universalist

We have proof:

The Obamas attended a private memorial service for Madelyn Dunham, who lived in a modest apartment here and died of cancer at age 86 two days before the presidential election.

The service was held at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, a two-story house converted into a place of worship. The service was closed to the media.

Wrapping paper is more fun than presents

Quinn opens a present

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nannybot will save us!

Some people might be creeped out by this:

Babysitting robots, once the province of speculative fiction, are on the market. They make conversation, recognize faces and keep track of kids. They're not a replacement for TV or games, but for personal care — and some researchers worry that kids will be harmed.

"If you leave a small child in front of the TV, you have to keep popping in to make sure they're OK. But these are so safe that people will eventually leave their children in the care of robots," said Noel Sharkey, a University of Sheffield roboticist.

But I welcome it. Here's a dirty little parenting secret that isn't a secret to anyone who actually does the work of parenting: a lot of the work of childcare is dull, tedious, and unfulfilling. And dull, tedious, and unfulfilling work is exactly what robots are for. Our current practice of using exploitable immigrant labor instead of robots rests on a foundation of economic systemic inequality, and I don't want my access to cheap labor to have such morally tainted preconditions.

With robots, solving the problem of poverty won't deprive us of cheap labor. Which should make goverments and powerful people more willing to address the issue of poverty. Of course, the existence of robots capable of doing work would pose an enormous economic threat to workers who could be replaced by them. I think the proper solution is probably more socialism: as robots replace more and more people, the resulting efficiencies lead to more profits which are taxed and then directed towards social programs. Yes, you can train people to do the jobs that the robots can't do, but frankly the robots are getting smarter a lot faster than we are, and probably within a hundred years there won't be anything robots can't do better than humans (unless technological progress grinds to a halt due to civilizational collapse or there's some unforseen limit to the relentless onrush superior technology). I may be a few decades off, but in historical terms this isn't much time at all.

OK, back to the topic of robot nannies: If robots could do some of those things like changing diapers and preventing Quinn from yanking the lights off the Christmas tree, I'd be able to spend more time playing, talking, wrestling, and doing cool stuff with Quinn. Or maybe I'd just blog more. Hmm. Maybe all those tedious tasks are good, because they force us to spend lots of time doing stuff with our children. And maybe that's good. Maybe instead of "robot nanny", the paradigm should be "robot parent helper": a robot that hangs around with you and your children and makes childcare more fun for both parent and adult.

Now I don't think the robots in this article (or this longer one) are actually capable of providing childcare. They are just sophisticated entertainment devices for now. They can't even clean up a spill or provide food, much less change a diaper or tell if a child is sick and call you. That will be a few decades off. So I don't think the human vs. nanny dilemma has arrived yet. But it's coming soon.

But here's a thought: all of these articles are predicated on the assumtion that spending time with a human caregiver is better than spending time with a robot. But once we can make an adequate nannybot, it would only be a short period of time before a nannybot that could kick your ass at parenting emerged: an infinitely patient construct that could read your child better than you, instantly download the best child development research into its brain, never had to go to the bathroom, never got bored with repetitive entertainments, never lost its temper (unless it felt it needed to in order to socialize the child correctly), could instantly diagnose every known malady and administer proper treatment.

Pretty soon, raising your own child would be like growing your own food: fun as a hobby, but not anything anyone sane would actually depend on to survive.

In the bigger picture, we must ask: What is humanity going to do with itself when its own creations render it completely obsolete? This may not happen in my lifetime. But soon, soon, soon. In the meantime, back to work.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa Claus is for Sadistic Parents

Amanda Marcotte has an interesting thought I hadn't considered before:
I can safely say that I think Santa is for adults, and specifically for making universal the pleasure of lying to children because they’ll believe anything you say. Not all of us are skilled bullshitters who can come up with cockamamie stories on the fly, like Calvin’s dad, or my dad, who told us that Parmesan cheese was made up from ground-up dirty sweat socks. Santa democratizes the process of exploiting child credulity so that any adult, no matter how unimaginative, can participate.
She concludes:
None of this is to say that I strenuously object to Santa. I’m not a parent, and it’s not my place to say one way or another if you choose to engage in what is a relatively harmless tradition. But I do think that I’d like the whole thing a lot more if people quit spinning self-serving tales about how Santa is there for the kiddies. I realize that parental sadism is not P.C., and so in order to engage in it, parents have to convince themselves and others that it’s for the kids’ own good. But I say fuck that. Parents wipe asses, give time-outs, worry about nutrition, lose sleep, and get kid germs. Parents deserve a little payback. Santa may not be great for kids, but it’s great for parents, and that’s reason enough in my eyes. Just so long as the parents admit it. Not everything in this world has to be for the children, and people who think that everything in the entire world should be sculpted around the raising of children to be good people are, at best, tedious bores and many of them run the risk of writing tedious letters to the FCC because Bono said “fuck” at the Grammys. Perhaps having a little fun with the kids at the expense of the child’s credulity isn’t the worst thing in the world. What’s bothersome to me is playing it off as something it’s not.
It's worth reading the whole thing.

We're not teaching Quinn to believe explicitly in Santa Claus. We'll tell him the stories, and our Christmas card has a picture of Quinn with Santa. But we're not going to practice active deception.

Please Don't Divorce Us

The "Please Don't Divorce..." picture project from the Courage Campaign.

If we had been this direct and unashamed in the anti-Prop 8 campaign, it might not have passed. Instead, all the anti-Prop 8 ads acted like they were ashamed to talk about same sex people loving each other. But that's the whole point. You don't get to vote on someone's marriage. Especially if it already exists.

Alas, some think otherwise:

Infamous prosecutor Ken Starr has filed a legal brief -- on behalf of the "Yes on 8" campaign -- to nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California between May and November of 2008.

It's time to put a face to Ken Starr's shameful legal proceedings. To put a face to the 18,000 couples facing forcible divorce. To put a face to marriage equality. Because, gay or straight, YOU are the face of the Marriage Equality Movement.

I'm going to give Courage Campaign a small donation. This is something I want to be on the right side of.

This is one issue where I really wish Obama was fighting for us. But he isn't. In fact, he invited a guy who excludes homosexuals from his church to give the invocation at his inauguration. There's been a groundswell of anguish surrounding this. (Though there's some hope: Rick Warren had a phone conversation with Melissa Etheridge and his church has apparently removed the gay-excluding language from its website.) I am hopeful that Obama will do other things for equality, like repeal the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy the military has and push for repeal of the horribly named Defense of Marriage Act. But we need to hold him accountable. Just because the better candidate won this November doesn't mean we can stop working, working, working.

Hey: Wouldn't it be cool if Rick Warren used Obama's inauguration as an occasion to tell the nation and the world that he's had a change of heart on the issue of the nature of homosexuality, and that he now supports gay marriage? That would totally be teh awesome. C'mon, Pastor Warren. Take a look at those photos. Aren't those the sorts of people you want in your church? Can't the spirit of Christian love wash away those old ways now that our understanding of homosexuality has changed? Give it chance.

A portrait of Detroit

I don't normally link to The Weekly Standard, it being way off the cliff in terms of its right-wing politics. But this portrait of ruined Detroit is extremely moving:

Wilcox drives me all over the city, pointing out missed urban-planning opportunities and eyesores. He takes me downtown to what the locals call "Skyscraper Graveyard," where the clock seems to have stopped in the Art Deco period and high-rise after high-rise sits empty. He points out the landmark Book Tower, a 38-story building finished in 1926, which he says is now vacant except for Bookies Tavern on the first floor. Wilcox's lawyer told him he'd been "the last tenant there. He had to downsize. People are too broke to sue people. He's now switching to bankruptcy law to try to save his house."

I come to think of Wilcox as the curator of a museum that's been overturned and looted. The prize of his collection, or what could have been his collection, is the detailed production notes he found written in Marvin Gaye's own hand for the legendary What's Going On album. He found them, along with other treasures from artist itineraries to expense accounts, in the Motown Center, which housed the label, then sat empty for 30 years, until it was knocked down in 2006 to make way for Super Bowl parking. Wilcox witnessed the demolition, which was typical of Detroit's callous disregard for its own history: "Motown letterhead was blowing down the road."

I don't think it's a good idea to have a society where free-market capitalism is the dominant ideology, and then pursue policies that put the market value of human beings so low. It's either got to be more socialism, or the market has to be set up in such a way that human beings are actually valuable.

Question: what policy changes could the federal government make that would raise the market value of the American human being? Raise the minimum wage? Make the tax code more progressive? Better funding of education? Health care not tied to employment? Domestic investment to stimulate the economy and encourage future growth? These are all liberal solutions. Are there conservative solutions to the problems of Detroit, and the problem of poverty more generally? (Lower taxes? More strict law enforcement? Tighter immigration control? Less strict environmental regulation? These aren't the solutions I naturally reach for or think are right, but if some of these things could work...)

To this liberal, it looks like the scales of society need to be tipped much more in favor of the typical human being. To do this would probably require progressive government intervention, but maybe there are other ways of doing it. Probably any solution that had a real impact on the market value of an average American would appear "radical" in the current political context. And more and more I'm coming to believe that the current political context is a huge part of the problem.

We'll see what Obama does. But he seems content to operate within the "comfort zone" of political thinking, and that may cripple him. If he's going to do what he's promised (get out of Iraq, reform health care, stimulate the economy, etc.), he's going to have to defeat some powerful groups of people who have a lot of ability to control what is considered "serious", "sensible", "prudent", etc. I hope he has the cunning to do so, and that he won't be afraid to fight when fighting is what's necessary.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Was it just a product placement?

Sales of the model of shoe thrown at Bush have gone through the roof:
The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.

The brown, thick-soled “Model 271” may soon be renamed “The Bush Shoe” or “Bye-Bye Bush,” Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.

“We’ve been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy,” he said. “We’ve even hired an agency to look at television advertising.”

I hope Muntadar al-Zeidi, the journalist who threw the shoes, is getting a cut of the sales. After all, he's the one responsible for popularizing them.

Maybe I should throw one of my company's brain-computer interface headsets at him. It's not on sale yet, but we could always use the publicity.

Petition to appoint a special prosecutor for war crimes

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I signed it. I'm not sure how much good it will do. Every fiber of Washington D.C. culture will be against it. But that culture needs to change.

If we just let this stuff stand, the Republicans will do it again once they are in power. Or Obama may decide that he is free to commit the same sort of crimes, since Bush got away with it.

There must be pressure against this. Too many people are willing to turn away when the victims of torture are from another place, speak a different language, or have a different religion. And people are afraid. And people think it shows "toughness" to throw aside our moral principles and our knowledge of what actually works when faced with a threat. It does not.

Sometimes I despair at human nature. It's so hard to give a damn about other people with whom we don't identify. I guess that's why we have laws, and that's why we need to uphold them.

From riches to poverty: a story

Here's a diary from kktlaw on DailyKos called "From $350K per year to $0: How I am Living (Happily) on Welfare":

I am unable to work. I can't drive due to the leg and arm injuries. I can hardly type, so this diary is a stretch with only one hand. I can't read books or newspapers because that requires use of both arms. (I listen to a lot of music.) I receive $760 per month on which to live (social security disability income.) This used to be my golf club dues. Or my entertainment budget. Or my car payment. (Car has been repossessed so I don't have to worry about that one any longer.)

The $760 per month is now my total income! So, how can I live happily being totally disabled and poor? Well, first of all, I know it sounds trite but I'm really grateful and happy to be alive. The work load I undertook before, with a serious incurable disease, was stupid and irresponsible. The total disability due to the Panama fall brought me abruptly to my senses that being alive was far more important than making money.

Read it all. Admire her for her strength, and be grateful, grateful, grateful for what we have.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Intrade has Franken at 77% likely to win

When there's lots of crazy stuff going on, Intrade can be a useful shorthand for determining the conventional wisdom on an outcome. Right now, they have Coleman at 23% likely to win. The price has been extremely volatile in recent days, though.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quinn looks at daddy after being dropped off at school

Term of the Day: teratoma

Here's the Wikipedia definition of teratoma:
A teratoma is a kind of tumor (neoplasm). Definitive diagnosis of a teratoma is based on its histology: a teratoma is a tumor with tissue or organ components resembling normal derivatives of all three germ layers. Rarely, not all three germ layers are identifiable. The tissues of a teratoma, although normal in themselves, may be quite different from surrounding tissues, and may be highly inappropriate, even grotesque: teratomas have been reported to contain hair, teeth, bone and very rarely more complex organs such as eyeball, torso, and hand.
Emphasis added. It's of course the latter type that get all the attention. This ABC news story might be about a teratoma:

A doctor in Colorado found a surprise when removing what he thought was a benign growth from a newborn's brain. Instead of a microscopic tumor, out popped a tiny foot, partially formed hand, a thigh and another partially formed foot.
"It would be a shock to even the most experienced pathologist cutting into a tumor to see this," Dr. Paul Grabb told the ABC affiliate KMGH.

Grabb said he could not tell whether the miniature limbs were from a benign stem cell tumor called a teratoma or the remnants of an identical twin that did not split off and survive, a condition called fetus in fetu [Wikipedia].

"It looked like the breach delivery of a baby, coming out of the brain," Grabb told The Associated Press. "To find a perfectly formed structure is extremely unique, unusual, borderline unheard of."

(HT: Silvia Bunge via Facebook)

If you want to squick yourself out, do a Google image search of teratoma or look at this series of "medical marvels" images from ABC.

I'm traumatized. To calm myself down, I think I'm going to read a bunch of Stephen King stories and watch a bunch of horror movies.

Now my wife is scaring me by saying that she has taratomas and that they're going to come out and get me. Save me.

My state's budget process is broken

The California budget process is completely messed up. As far as I can tell, this is because of two things:
  1. Any budget requires 2/3 of the legislature to pass. This makes it easy for a wacky minority to hold the process hostage.
  2. Due to Prop 13, any tax increase also requires a 2/3 majority to pass. Of course, it doesn't take a 2/3 majority to lower taxes or to increase spending. So during good times, the legislature hands out the goodies with abandon, but when revenues dip they can't compensate with revenue increases. So they usually resort to gimmickry to avoid drastic spending cuts (that in a recession would further worsen the economy).
Question: why can't states go into debt the way the federal government can go into debt? Maybe that power would be used unwisely, but it might also be a good tool for avoiding this kind of crisis.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

WTF?!?!? Rick Warren to give invocation at Obama's inauguration?

Why is Obama chosing this guy to give the invocation at his inauguration? I know Obama isn't the great progressive hope we on the left want him to be, but this is a pretty big "fuck you" to the left. I hope this is some sort of political ju-jitsu where he's delibrately pissing off the left on symbolic issues to somehow build capital to fight the right on substantive issues, but I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Latest Fed program: Free Money!

If you're willing to lend money at an interest rate between 0.0% and 0.25%, you're basically giving it away. Let's hope this helps (and doesn't create another bubble somewhere in the process).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twittering in utero

It's never too early to start, kid. This device sends pre-natal kicks to Twitter. If it works, that could actually be useful. Instead of sending the kicks to Twitter, they could be sent to some medical logging service that would trigger an alert if kicks started happening with insufficient frequency.

Bush is a war criminal

Even a die-hard anti-Bush person like me has trouble really letting it sink in that Bush is a war criminal. But the SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY makes pretty clear that "Senior Officials" authorized torture. Sullivan and Greenwald are reacting appropriately. But few others seem to care. I can understand: we don't want to think that we allowed this to happen. The impulse is to turn away. But we can't.

We (I guess I mean the Obama administration) should appoint a special prosecutor to determine if crimes have been committed. Or maybe the incoming attorney general could do so. If what I'm reading in that Sentate report (and what other people are saying about it) is true, crimes have been committed at the highest levels.

The partisan right will scream "witch hunt" of course. But it seems as though the facts point pretty strongly to guilt.

Internal Monologue scoops The Onion

I just want to point out that I was onto the CIA's plot to kill Castro via old age before The Onion radio network picked up the story. Of course, a Google search reveals I am not the first to uncover this.

HT: Grishnash, who pointed this out to me via email.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reading images out of your brain

From NewScientist: Brain scanning can now extract information directly from the brain: the subject read the word "neuron" at the top, and software working with the brain scan images reconstructed the word (below) (Image: Neuron/Cell Press)

Dude, this is way cool:

Now Yukiyasu Kamitani at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan has gone a step further: his team has used an image of brain activity taken in a functional MRI scanner to recreate a black-and-white image from scratch.

"By analysing the brain signals when someone is seeing an image, we can reconstruct that image," says Kamitani.

This means that the mind reading isn't limited to a selection of existing images, but could potentially be used to "read off" anything that someone was thinking of, without prior knowledge of what that might be.

"It's absolutely amazing, it really is a very significant step forward," says John-Dylan Haynes of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.

(HT: Jay Jonesuu on the Emotivated Facebook group.) Too bad Emotiv's headset can't do this yet.

Let the bible define marriage...

...and this is what we might end up with:

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

Iraqi journalist throws his shoes at Bush

What does throwing your shoe at someone mean in Iraqi culture? It's not a compliment:
Iraqis had begun tearing down portraits of Saddam and throwing shoes -- a grave insult in the Arab world -- and chipping away at the base of the statue with sledgehammers after a column of Marines advanced into the square Wednesday afternoon.
(HT: Yglesias) How about Bush appoints Obama secretary of state, the senate confirms him in a special session, and then Bush and Cheney resign and Obama becomes president right now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The legendary "No Brown M&Ms" clause revealed at last

The Smoking Gun has at long last obtained the holy grail of outlandish contract rider clauses:
Here's a justification that I was unaware of:
While the underlined rider entry has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M's were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance--lighting, staging, security, ticketing--may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.
Snopes has a slightly different version, quoting David Lee Roth. According to Roth, the "no brown M&Ms" stipulation was buried among various technical requirements about electrical and structural requirements. Maybe different riders were used, or maybe Roth misremembered. (Given the amount of booze specified in the rider, I wouldn't be surprised.) But the story is substantially the same.

I think that it's a good idea to put something like that in a contract document that you're not sure is going to be read in sufficient detail. It reminds me of the copyright traps that some maps and reference works include to help reveal plagiarism.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quinn walked all the way...

...from our house to the El Cerrito Plaza, about one and a half blocks. This has been a goal of ours for a long time.

Pandora Radio

If you haven't tried Pandora Radio yet, it's pretty cool for listening to music at your computer. It's free and you create custom radio stations centered around songs or artists. Lots of media services (like iTunes and NetFlix) have this sort of thing. But getting stuff free is always nice.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The best cartoon subprime primer ever

Here it is:

HT: Grishnash via email

Lots of Christmas carols were written by Jewish people

I did not know this.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's sort of like "Hot or Not"...

...except it's for questions you want to put to Obama. Presumably, he'll do something with the ones that percolate to the top.

Vampire legend inspired by rabies?

Some interesting parallels:

For starters, not only people, but dogs, wolves, and bats -- animals traditionally associated with vampires -- can be infected with the rabies virus. Because the virus affects the limbic system, part of the brain that influences aggressive and sexual behavior, people with rabies tend to be aggressive, may attempt to bite others, and are "hypersexual," he writes. Since rabies also affects the hypothalamus, part of the brain that controls sleep, many patients suffer from insomnia, and are up and about in the middle of the night.

Rabies causes hypersensitivity to strong stimuli, as well, so patients are often repelled by light, by bright things -- such as mirrors, and by strong odors -- including the smell of garlic. Rabies victims may vomit blood, Gomez-Alonso explains. And since the disease causes hydrophobia, or aversion to water, they do not swallow their saliva, which can froth at their mouths, flecked with blood.

The disease can also cause facial spasms, in which the lips jerk back over the teeth, in an animal-like snarl. Moreover, rabies is more common among men than women, as is vampirism, at least according to most vampire tales. Finally, rabies, like vampirism, can be transmitted via a bite, Gomez-Alonso writes. The infection, however, can also be transmitted via a scratch or across mucus membranes. Consequently, it can be contracted during sex with an infected partner, or by inhaling air in caves heavily populated by infected bats.

HT: Mad Latinist via email.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My commute

Why did I see so many helicopters hovering over the Bay Bridge entrance?

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

Joe the Plumber throws McCain under the bus

Joe Wurzelbacher lashed out at former GOP presidential nominee John McCain Tuesday, the man who made Wurzelbacher famous as “Joe the Plumber.”

Wurzelbacher told conservative radio host Glenn Beck that he felt “dirty” after “being on the campaign trail and seeing some of the things that take place.”
Of course, he likes Palin:
While Wurzelbacher was critical of McCain during the interview, he had nothing but praise for his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “Sarah Palin is absolutely the real deal,” he said.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Second Life cuddling ends real world marriage

This is a fun little soap opera with threads in both Second Life and "first life". Here's a snippet:
Disgusted, Taylor ended Laura Skye's relationship with Barmy but chose to stay with Pollard in real life. In an effort to test his commitment, Taylor hired a private investigator on Second Life named Markie Macdonald. Macdonald hatched a plan whereby a female avatar flirted with Barmy in an effort to lure him to her cyber-bed. Instead of succumbing to temptation, Barmy spoke of his strong feelings for Laura Skye.
HT: George Gonzales via Facebook.

The brandwidth of Hello Kitty

When Douglas Coupland wrote in Generation X that Hello Kitty had surprisingly large brandwidth, did he imagine that it could go as far as this:

The 30-bed Hau Sheng Hospital in Yuanlin in central Taiwan is reportedly the world's first Hello Kitty themed medical establishment.

From blankets and birth certificates to cots and uniforms worn by staff, every aspect of the Hello Kitty hospital is emblazoned with the feline motif.

Patients are welcomed by a statue of Hello Kitty dressed in a doctor's uniform, before travelling in a Hello Kitty elevator to a pink examination room with Hello Kitty posters on the wall.

HT: punky the cat. Somehow, this embodies a certain idea I have about Japan.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Quinn & Sarah sledding

The city of Martinez creates a short artificial sledding run as a
fundraiser. Here's Sarah & Quinn after a successful run.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Quinn shops for Christmas trees

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Glitter ball boy

Quinn at Tumble & Tea

Quote of the Day

Henry Blodget:
So what can we learn from all this? In the words of the great investor Jeremy Grantham, who saw this collapse coming and has seen just about everything else in his four-decade career: “We will learn an enormous amount in a very short time, quite a bit in the medium term, and absolutely nothing in the long term.” Of course, to paraphrase Keynes, in the long term, you and I will be dead.
via Sullivan. Human nature in a nutshell, really. Until we can change our essential nature, we're doomed to blunder from avoidable crisis to avoidable crisis. But even though we will soon have the power to change our essential natures, will blunderers like us be wise enough to do so constructively?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Depressing thought of the day

George W. Bush is still President of the United States of America. Fortunately, Jon Stewart is still mocking him mercilessly.

Photo caption contest

Photo stolen from Sullivan

My entry: Senator rips latex mask of GM CEO's face, revealing him to be conservative activist Grover Norquist.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Doom and Gloom!

I just started reading the blog Calculated Risk. A lot of bloggers have praised it for incisive reports on the current economic troubles. It did NOT cheer me up. Nuthin' but doom and gloom. Here's a sampling of post titles:

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index Plunges in November

More Bad Employment News

Chrysler sales off 47%

GM Sales Off 41%

GM Sales Off 41%

Credit Crisis Indicators

Mortgage Delinquency Rate to Rise Sharply in 2009

Paulson Speaks, Market Crashes

It just goes on and on. (For an explanation of what the heck the A2/P2 spread is, see here.)

On an even sadder note, one of the primary bloggers at Calculated Risk recently passed away. Tanta was beloved by many and even the mainstream media has taken note of her passing. So sad.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Great gay marriage video

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

This video features Allison Janney (C.J. Craig on West Wing) John C. Reilly, and Jack Black. If more stuff like this had gotten oxygen before the election, Prop 8 may have gone down to defeat. Internal Monologue is as guilty as other sources in being more Obama focused than Prop 8 focused, but I do recall advising my readers to shift their activism away from Obama and towards influencing close congressional races and defeating Prop 8. Given how close the Franken/Coleman senate race in Minnesota is, I wish I had followed such advice earlier. Of course, I'm also very glad Obama won decisively and convincingly.

Matt Taibbi on McCain's campaign

Some great writing in this Rolling Stone piece, "Requiem for a Maverick" by Matt Taibbi:
Election night at the Biltmore in Arizona is a hilariously dismal scene, like a funeral for a family member nobody liked, who died owing everyone money. The rats here are already bailing off the ship with lightning speed, like L.A. Dodgers fans leaving a playoff game to catch the latest episode of Entourage. The exodus, in fact, begins about eight seconds into John McCain's concession speech, which incidentally starts off on the classiest of notes: with the remaining crowd cursing the name of the new president.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

U.S. plot to kill Castro via old age nearing fruition

That's an Onion headline I just made up.

It would be funnier if they didn't have nukes

I'm sure recent events won't help end this conflict:

Volatile India-Pakistan Standoff Enters 11,680th Day

Contrary to this video, I don't think we can rely on plate tectonics will solve the India-Pakistan dispute. The plate India is on is heading north, not southeast. It's that motion that is scrunching up the Himalayas.

A pessimistic take on the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace

This is pretty depressing. It's an Aaron David Miller article outlining the difficulties facing any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement:
What's changed is that a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians may no longer be possible. I choose my words carefully here. Varying kinds of accommodations cease fires, informal cooperation and temporary arrangements may still be possible. But an agreement now or perhaps for the foreseeable future that revolves conclusively the four core issues (borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security) isn't.
He gives three reasons: First, the parties are too far apart on core identity issues (Jerusalem, return of Palestinians). Second, the Palestinians don't have control of all their armed factions, so even if there was a comprehensive agreement, it could be broken by Hamas or another group interested in sabotaging the process. Third, the current generation of Israeli leadership lacks the "founder cred" and moral stature to make the concessions that most believe would be necessary to get a comprehensive agreement. For example, I imagine any comprehensive agreement would require forcibly evicting lots of Israeli settlers from land conceded to a Palestinian state. And though many people seem to think this is necessary, my sense is that it is very difficult to do politically.

Secretary of State Clinton will have her work cut our for her. She may have to broker Palestinian peace before she can broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, just so there can be a coherent entity to make peace with. Or maybe Israel will have to make separate peaces with various Palestinian factions. I don't know a lot about these issues, and I don't know what the U.S. can do policy-wise to help this process along. I'll be interested to hear what Clinton proposes in these areas.

A lot of folks seem to think that solving this problem is the key to resolving other issues in the Middle East. But I'm not so sure. Won't the various Iraqi factions still have all their differences even if Israel and future Palestine can get along? Won't Iran's theocracy still pursue its interests? Yes, this conflict is a flashpoint and a rallying cry. But I'm skeptical that solving it will be the "key" to issues like the Turkey's issues with Kurds in northern Iraq, or the re-rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the pirates operating out of Somalia.

To look on the brighter side, historically many problems seem totally intractable until one day they aren't. I'm thinking about Northern Ireland, the Cold War, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Renaissance Europe, and racism in the United States. Many of these problems still exist, of course. But they no longer seem as hopeless or intractable as they once did. I don't expect Israeli-Palestinian issues to magically go away. But we should be ready to sieze on any opportunity for these problems to become manageable.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Touchy touchy touchy

When I hear stories like the one in this article about the Turkish government banning YouTube because of a few anti-Attaturk videos, my contempt for humanity meter goes through the roof, and I'm tempted to say all sorts of disrespectful things just to watch people's heads explode.

There is no right not to be offended. There are things on the Internet that will piss off you, your government, your religion, your sports team, your ethnicity. There's plenty out there that pisses me off. But I don't go clamoring for my goverment to block this or that site to protect my oh-so-delicate sensibilities. What's legal and acceptable in one place is illegal and unacceptable in another. The best solution is to not care, or to put up your own content showing how stupid/immoral/offensive the other content is.

The world is getting smaller all the time, and we're all going to have to get better about caring less about what other people are doing and saying, or there's going to be trouble. Or rather, we're going to have to get wiser about what we do care about what other people are doing and saying.

Tuna going away

This is sad. I guess that I should reduce or eliminate my consumption until tuna can be fished sustainably or farmed without depleting the wild population:
No one is concerned that we're on the verge of eating cows into extinction. We have managed to transform cows into a sort of plant: We can, given sufficient land and nutrients, grow virtually as many of them as we'd like. This is true with certain types of fish, too. Farmed salmon has its problems, but fundamentally, we know how to make lots of it. Not so with bluefin tuna and a variety of other wild fishes, where the question is whether current consumption patterns might lead to the fish's wholesale extinction. The problem, for now, is that no one knows how to breed bluefish tuna in captivity. They take about 12 years to reach sexual maturity, and they don't like to breed outside their natural habitat. Bluefin tuna are nevertheless farmed, but that means capturing them in the wild and then fattening them in captivity to speed their path to the market. Which depletes the stock of adult bluefins able to reproduce. So for now, farming tuna does not mean growing them, as it does with salmon and cows. Which is not to say scientists aren't trying.