Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Slashdot has an entry today on people protesting Wikipedia's notability restriction -- i.e., people are getting pissed off about having their Wikipedia entries deleted because the content is not "notable" enough. Recall that this is what happened to the IS Group entry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tecno Brega

If you want to see the future of popular music, and the death rattle of its domination by clueless record companies, check out this article from Aside from the joy of the music itself and the excitement of a business model that puts money into the pockets of artists for a change, there's the fun of seeing the spiraling absurdity of the victimization complaints made by the recording industry. For example, the article quotes "Brazil's Anti-Piracy Association" as claiming a loss of two million jobs per year for the Brazilian economy. Of course, modern journalists rarely bother to check numbers, but if they had, the CNN writers would've noticed that, with a labor force of around 82 million in 2003, two million jobs would represent nearly 2.5% of the entire labor force put out of work by "piracy". Or, with unemployment at around 10% per year, the claim is that nearly a quarter of the unemployed can blame their problems on copyright violation!

There's a documentary about the Tecno Brega phenomenon and related copyright/culture issues here.

Whereof Pascal Cannot be Translated

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait {pas / point}."
--Blaise Pascal

(ne...point is apparently an old-fashiondy version of ne...pas, I didn't find any mention of connotations other than that)
The heart has [its] reasons
{which / that} reason [itself]
{cannot/does not/can't/is not equipped to}
{understand/explain/recognize/comprehend/know [of]}
knows not [of]
whereof reason knows nothing

--Steve and Google

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Food Will Kill You

Today's New York Times has a bittersweet article about New York "kosher-style" delicatessens, a restaurant genre that refuses to die. Those of us who grew up in New York (or any major American city) during or before the 1970's will remember the wonderful food you could get at these places: chopped liver, pickled herring, smoked whitefish, matzoh-ball soup, overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, kishka, and (non-dairy) noodle kugel for dessert. (The only thing I refused to try was tongue.) With all the NIH-grant-motivated food fascism we get these days, it's nice to be reminded of a time when people ate great-tasting, skillfully-prepared food for the deep pleasure and cultural continuity it provided. Levine's Deli, in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, was where my family would go when we visited my grandmother. Levine's was supposedly burned down by a boxer over a love triangle – a classic Bronx story. If you didn't finish your meal, one of the ancient waiters who worked there would inevitably ask, "Whassa matta? Ya didn' like it?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nearly a Treat

Check out Jerry Fodor's Why Pigs Don't Fly in this week's London Review of Books. It's telling that the (second?) greatest modern proponent of 19th-Century-style psychological positivism quotes Wagner, instead of the more obvious Pink Floyd, in this otherwise enjoyable article on the spandrels debate. Adaptationism is dogma, as you can see by the third question in this Massachusetts high-school science exam (hat tip: Philip Greenspun's blog). Fodor's annoyance with the hunter-gatherer explanation for everything reminds me of Andy Clark's Natural Born Cyborgs, which makes a related point: most of us haven't been hunting or gathering for a very long time now, and we seem to be doing pretty well.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Workshop: Where Does Syntax Come From?

"Where Does Syntax Come From? Have We All Been Wrong?" is a workshop to be held all day this Friday (Oct 19) at MIT.
The impetus for this workshop, borrowing from a recent review by Yang in TICS (2004), is that "Recent demonstrations of statistical learning in infants have reinvigorated the innateness versus learning debate in language acquisition," particularly regarding syntax. We aim to reexamine this issue in a single forum from the computational, cognitive, and formal linguistics perspectives. Our intent is to examine recent applications of statistical learning theory to language acquisition.
Details from Fred Hapgood's link.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Again with the Recursion!

IS Group meeting

The next IS Group meeting with take place on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007, at the home of Mark Tiede in Madison, Connecticut. We will gather at 6:00 pm for a pre-meeting dinner.

Theme: Again with the Recursion!

Many issues went unexplored at the last IS group meeting and Elliot Saltzman felt that it would be useful to go over certain of these in greater detail. An example is recursion. Thus, our next meeting will be a more detailed discussion of recursion.


Suggested readings include: Other possibilities include
  • A recent paper by Michael Corballis, The Uniqueness of Human Recursive Thinking (subscription required), American Scientist, Volume 95, No. 3, May-June 2007, 240-248.

  • A draft manuscript by Simon Levy on modeling recursion in cognitive neuroscience. Please contact Simon if you'd like a copy.

Supplementary Readings:

This is up to you. Mark Tiede has suggested taking a look at The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher.


Simon has suggested Tears of the Black Tiger. Mark has suggested Hot Fuzz.



Monday, October 8, 2007


After downloading the Python Image Library I was disappointed to find yet another use of the "standard" image-processing example of 1972 Playboy centerfold Lenna (a.k.a. Lena) in their directory of sample images.

Sadly, Lena herself apparently encourages these losers. The image is supposedly a good test case, though there are certainly plenty of other, better ones. And it is of course highly doubtful that the kind of men who use the image will ever get the kind of look she's giving in the picture, from anyone who looks like her at least.

To me the whole thing shows how hopelessly clueless most computer scientists and engineers still are about culture and gender issues – naughty boys giggling over Daddy's porn stash, and feeling compelled to show their treasure to their students and colleagues. And we wonder why there aren't more women these fields.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Trivial + Banal + Lame = Important

Clay Shirky gave a fascinating presentation today (Oct. 3, 2007) at a meeting of the Yale Information Society Project at the Yale Law School. A lot of what he talked about will be covered in his book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations" that is due to appear in February 2008. Clay teaches at NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he works on the overlap of social and communications networks. The title of Clay's presentation was "Social Tools In Political Contexts." From his abstract:
"One of the challenges to the innovationist view of technology (tool designers pour 'innovation' into tools, which is then extracted by the users) are the way tools are adapted to local contexts. The current explosion in social tools offers an alternate view that might be called diffusionist, where local context helps determine not just the utility of social tools, but actually alters their political context. We ... look at three case studies of such diffusionism -- the use of 'flash mobs' by Belarusian protesters, the use of Twitter by Egyptian activists, and the use of flower delivery services as a protest movement against US immigration policy."
Clay touched on many topics, including: LOL cats, Google Maps, EFF, Tunisian Prison Maps, PledgeBank, information cascades, David Isenberg ("The Rise of the Stupid Network"), collective action, ICQ, GlobalVoices, Genevieve Bell (Intel anthropologist), Burmese bloggers, etc. See his Wikipedia page for more information.

Heads Across the Water

IS needs a cuter acronym... like PPIG. This high-powered University of Edinburgh reading group appears to be run by Andy Clark, whose wonderful Natural Born Cyborgs I vaguely recall we were supposed to read at an IS meeting a few years ago. We are not worthy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Any bigger and I'd be in the circus

While we're on the topic of obscenity, I want to start an informal contest for most amusing spam subject header. Like a lot of people I get dozens of spams per day, the most recent having to do with increasing the size of my penis, but nearly all of them are by non-English-speaking drones who are just copying and pasting text from phrasebooks and from each other. So when a spammer comes up with something original and funny, I think it's worth posting. If that's not enough justification, consider the phrase Any [comparative-modifier] and [future-or-conditional-sentence] as an example of a grammatical construction of the sort that has regained currency in the linguistics literature.

What the F***?

Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, has an article called "What the F***? Why we curse" in the Oct. 8, 2007 issue of The New Republic (pp. 24-29). This article is adapted from his new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, which was reviewed on Sep. 23, 2007 by William Saletan in an article called "The Double Thinker" in The New York Times Book Review, and on Sep. 27, 2007 by Colin McGinn in an article called "How You Think" in The New York Review of Books.