Sunday, November 22, 2009

Uncany Valley explored

Remember the uncanny valley? Monkey's have it too:
New findings published in PNAS this September are putting some long-overdue experimental rigor behind the uncanny valley. Last spring at Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute, Asif Ghazanfar developed a computer model of a macaque monkey designed to interact with real macaques. But the monkeys weren’t fooled. Further testing revealed that, much to Ghazanfar’s surprise, his model was eliciting an uncanny valley response from the monkeys. It was the first time scientists had ever observed such a response in a non-human species.
The article is a pretty good history of the notion of the uncanny valley and various explanations for it. I didn't know Freud wrote about the uncanny, but it's not surprising.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Texas constitution forbids all marriage, or anything like it

"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

-The Texas Constitution

Oops. In an effort to prohibit gay marriage or domestic partnerships, it appears as though Texans have abolished marriage. I don't know why people are just discovering this now, since it happened a while ago. But it is pretty funny.

Term of the Day: "The Wingularity"

Wingularity, the: the point at which the insanity from the far right and those controlling the Republican Party [continues] to grow exponentially until it reaches an unsustainable weight and collapses upon itself. This is also known as the Purity Spiral, wherein the density of wingnut increases compared to mainstream conservatives to the point of pure wingnut. As the ratio rises, this creates a phenomenon wherein no logic or sanity can penetrate or escape. When rightwing argument has become completely inaccessible to the uninitiated, it has reached the Wingularity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Empire blobs!

A visual representation of 4 colonial empires (British, French, Spanish, Portuguese) from 1800-2010. (HT: Pablo via email.)

Visualizing empires decline from Pedro M Cruz on Vimeo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Abortions for me, but not for thee

Atrios:

Shocked

Hey, Politico finds a nut.

The Republican National Committee's health insurance plan covers elective abortion – a procedure the party's own platform calls "a fundamental assault on innocent human life."

Federal Election Commission Records show the RNC purchases its insurance from Cigna. Two sales agents for the company said that the RNC's policy covers elective abortion.


Monday, November 09, 2009

The Stupak amendment: As much about class as about choice

So sad. Using poor women who get pregnant as a political punching bag. So much work to do.


The Stupak amendment: As much about class as about choice

Rep. Bart Stupak's amendment did not make abortion illegal. And it did not block the federal government from subsidizing abortion. All it did was block it from subsidizing abortion for poorer women.



Stupak's amendment stated that the public option cannot provide abortion coverage, and that no insurer participating on the exchange can provide abortion coverage to anyone receiving subsidies. But as Rep. Jim Cooper points out in the interview below, the biggest federal subsidy for private insurance coverage is untouched by Stupak's amendment. It's the $250 billion the government spends each year making employer-sponsored health-care insurance tax-free.



That money, however, subsidizes the insurance of 157 million Americans, many of them quite affluent. Imagine if Stupak had attempted to expand his amendment to their coverage. It would, after all, have been the same principle: Federal policy should not subsidize insurance that offers abortion coverage. But it would have failed in an instant. That group is too large, and too affluent, and too politically powerful for Congress to dare to touch their access to reproductive services. But the poorer women who will be using subsidies on the exchange proved a much easier target. In substance, this amendment was as much about class as it was about choice.



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

I'm represented in congress by an atheist Unitarian!

I didn't realize this, but now that I live in Alameda, my congressperson is Pete Stark (D-CA 13). Rep. Stark is the proud recipient of Internal Monologue's Atheist of the Day award back in May 2007, and is a fellow Unitarian. (Apparently, my wife mentioned this to me a while back, but I forgot.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Jon Stewart parodies Glenn Beck

This is frickin' hilarious. A cut above the usual high standards for a Daily Show/Colbert Report clip, and a tour-de-force performance by Jon Stewart:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Zac leaps to the defense of Dungeons & Dragons yet again

I regard it as one of my moral duties to respond whenever I see players of Dungeons & Dragons used as some sort of rhetorical shorthand for immaturity or social ineptitude. In this thread on Rod Dreher's blog, he asks "Why are there no old Randians?" A commenter responds:

For the same reason there are no old Dungeons and Dragons players - eventually they find someone to date and what with the new experience of intimate human contact and socialization, their previous hobby sort of falls by the wayside.

Except, as Sharon noted above, when two hobbyists hook up and reinforce each other.

To which I responded:

I must, once again, correct some notions about the players of Dungeons & Dragons. I'm 35, married, have a 3-year-old son, and I play D&D regularly. Most of the people I play with are in similar situations. While many people did stop playing Dungeons & Dragons after its fadish burst of mainstream popularity in the mid-1980's, I think D&D's retention rate is reasonably high. I bet proportionally more people stop playing soccer when they "grow up" than stop playing Dungeons & Dragons. My role-playing hobby continued merrily through my first kiss, my first girlfriend, my wedding, the birth of my son, and numerous other markers of social maturity. And none of the people involved in those milestones were gamers. D&D it isn't something I do because I don't have other options. Of course, the way I play D&D now is different than when I played when I was 8, just as the books I read are different now. But Dungeons & Dragons was rich enough to "bring with me" into maturity.

From the discussion here, it seems that Randian philosophy has a harder time surviving the transition to full adulthood, because unlike D&D, it seems incompatible with the feeling of compassion and a sense of responsibility towards others. But perhaps there are some things there worth carrying forward; I don't know her work well enough to say.

Shorter version: Please don't use Dungeons & Dragons as shorthand for social ineptitude or something that all mature people ought to throw aside.

So there. It just seems very out-of-touch to me to mock geekiness. It is so mainstream now. World of Warcraft has bajillions of people playing it, and it is, at heart, very similar to online Dungeons & Dragons (or rather a subset of Dungeons & Dragons, plus a lot of online community dynamics.)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Right wingers throw NY-23 to the Democrats

The right wing managed to chase the Republican nominee out of the race, thus throwing a usually reliable Republican seat to the Democrats. Let us hope they do this a lot in 2010. The Republican civil war continues. They did pick up governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and the Maine gay marriage vote looks like it may go the wrong way. Washington state kept its civil unions by a very narrow margin.

What does this mean for 2010 and2012? Pretty much nuthin'.