Friday, February 28, 2014

Complexity for Dummies

You can download the following paper at my page.

A Primer on Self-Organization:
With some tabletop physics you can do at home


Entropy and Self-Organization on the Table Top
Chasing Molecules
Call the Plumber
Meanwhile, on the Table Top
Beyond Entropy: Phase Space and Attractors
So, what ABOUT entropy, phase spaces, and attractors?

Abstract: Concepts of self-organization and complexity originating in statistical mechanics have proven useful in many disciplines. This paper gives an informal development of basic concepts of entropy, irreversibility, phase space, and self-organization using a bit of table-top physics anyone can observe. I placed ink droplets into a tumbler of water and photographed the evolution of this system over four hours. Vertical convention cells (self-organization) had appeared by eight (8) minutes but were almost gone by two (2) hours and twenty (20) minutes.

Thinking About the Cosmos is Strange


I’ve recently gotten in touch with David Porush, a friend from graduate school back in the Jurassic era, and have been reading some of his thoughts about the Talmud, digital tech, and telepathy – you can find some of this online under the heading of MS Scars. I’ve only been reading around in David’s stuff, and I’ve been reading in some files he sent to me, so what I’ve been reading may not be there at MS Scars.

The point, however, is that David’s work is quite different from mine. His study is religious, whereas mine is secular. But there is a sympathy between us and David assures me that some of my recent pluralistic explorations (prompted by my encounter with Latour) resonate with him – e.g. The Living Cosmos.

It’s that resonance that I find striking, and reassuring. He’s working through the Talmud, Derrida, neuroscience, cyberpunk, digital tech and who knows what else and I’m working through, I don’t know, cognitive science, cultural evolution, Latour and who knows what else. Somehow we end up thinking similar thoughts about the Cosmos.


Is it THAT THAT is what the Cosmos is?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are We There Yet? David Porush on Virtual Futures, from 1995

My old graduate school buddy speaking at the University of Warwick:

This statement, from the Vimeo abstract, is worth thinking about in the current intellectual context: "...Porush's Law: The advent of the human brain on the stage of the universe makes nature obsolete." That nature is an obsolete notion is a commonplace these days, at least in certain regions of the intellectual world; but it wasn't so common in 1995. What's particularly interesting is Porush's reason for sending nature to the showers, "the advent of the human brain on the stage of the universe."

The advent of the human brain on the stage of the universe.

Yes! That's what makes "nature" obsolete. I do think Porush is right about that. Has anyone else seen that?

The spatial/dimensional sense of temporal pronouns

Language Log has an interesting post on the metaphorical underpinnings of pronoun usage for time. Mark Liberman sets it up:
Last night at dinner, several Americans and a Canadian got into a discussion with an Irishman and an Australian about weekends. Since all of the participants were linguists, the discussion centered on prepositions: Were we having dinner on a weekend in February or at a weekend in February? The North Americans voted for "on", a choice that the Irishman found preposterous. "A weekend," he observed, "is not a surface."

But he was forced to admit that the appropriate usage is on Saturday, not at Saturday, and on Sunday, not at Sunday. "So," countered one of the Americans, "Saturday is a surface, and Sunday is a surface, but their combination is not a surface?"
At the moment the post has attracted 72 comments, though I've only read the first dozen or so. I particularly like this suggestion by Lllessur Llihgdots:
I think the divisions are more or less correct but it might be more coherent to formulate it in terms of 1D, 2D, or 3D perspectives ("at", "on" and "in", respectively) as it seems a bit less ad hoc. (I see Coby Lubliner has also mentioned in a previous comment.) The temporal sense echoes the underlying physical distinctions in the originals, e.g., "at the corner", "on the corner","in the corner".

"At" marks a 1D point in physical terms, e.g., "at Shinjuku Station" when viewed from a suitably abstracted view, while "in Shinjuku Station" when zoomed in. This extends to time with uses like “at 9”, “at the age of 20”, “at midnight” etc. The notable exception might be considered “at night”, which doesn’t seem to indicate a precise time though this may be a historical anomaly and perhaps a truncated version of “nightfall”. In the temporal extension of the underlying metaphor, "at" is used in reference to a point in a timeline. In the case of UK usage, "at" is used true to the literal meaning of "week-end" as being the point at the end of the week timeline.

"On" might be considered 2D and used in a planar sense. Since the notion of days is dependent on a calendar and a place-holder (at least figuratively), it would make sense to use "on" in this context. This usage is most likely reinforced by the physical spaces provided on calendars and in diaries. The US usage seems a correction towards the dominant metaphor of counter days rather than the timeline model sense rubbed from the word through use. This is probably strengthened by the "content" metaphor of the weekend days and the use of "on" in those senses, e.g., "On Human Nature", etc. (I would suggest that the content and “continuous motion” uses of “on” with words like trip, journey, vacation, picnic, mission, etc. are extensions of the underlying planar metaphor.)

"In", in keeping with the underlying physical metaphor, is 3D and so describes times whose relations are surrounding the reference point.
John Lawler offers this:
Way back in the 1960s, when I taught ESL, I used to tell students that the size of the time period controlled the preposition: big periods used in: in a week/ten years/the next century, small periods used at: at 2:53/noon, and periods in between, especially named ones, used on: on Wednesday/the weekend/. This was serviceable, if weird.

Later I learned, via the late Chuck Fillmore's Deixis Lectures, that there is a lot more involved.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gojira, What's Hidden from the Audience, and Why

Note: This post assumes some familiarity with Gojira. If you aren’t familiar with the film, this post should give you the necessary background.
For every story there is the story itself and there is the way the story is told. In the case of Gojira, the 1954 Japanese film, I’m interested how the story was told; in particular, I’m interested in things that were kept from the audience, at least for a while. In the opening scene, Gojira attacks a boat at sea, but we don’t actually see Gojira. Gojira doesn’t appear on screen until about 20 minutes into the film, which is about 96 minutes long. Why not? How would the film be different if he had appeared in that first scene?

That’s one case. There’s another.

A bit over a third of the way through the film Prof. Yamane’s daughter, Emiko, takes a reporter to see Dr. Serizawa, a scientist to whom she has been betrothed since she was a child. During that visit Serizawa shows her his laboratory, but we don’t see what happens there, though we find out in a flashback later in the film. Why did Honda, the director, initially keep that information from us?

Let’s examine these cases in order.

Why Hide Gojira?

By the time we finally see Gojira he’s attacked several ships and has also attacked Odo Island, killing people, cows, and pigs, and destroying several houses. For the audience there is no mystery about what is happening; the movie, after all, is called Gojira and they know it is about a monster. If they’ve seen the trailer, they know what the monster looks like. If Honda is keeping the audience from seeing Gojira, it cannot be because there is anything secret about him.

Why then, does he not show us Gojira from the beginning?

For one thing, there is a difference between knowing that a particular monster is doing these things, and even knowing what the monster looks like, and actually seeing it (and hearing it). Just what that difference is, and how to talk about it, that’s not obvious to me. But there is a difference.

Given that difference, the fact that Honda is, in effect, allowing the audience to pretend ignorance, is more or less equivalent to putting us in the same position with respect to Gojira most of the people depicted in the film are in. They don’t know what is causing this destruction. In particular, that is the case for Professor Yamane, his daughter Emiko, and Ogata, her boyfriend.

We don’t see Gojira until they do. They are on Odo Island to research an attack that had recently happened there. Gojira appears over a hill:

5 gojira roars.jpg

People start running, of course, and Emiko trips and falls. Ogata comes to her aid and they embrace, briefly, affirming what we learned in the second scene of the film, that they have been dating. No one else in the film sees this. Note that at this point in the film we do not know that Emiko has been betrothed to Serizawa. Though Serizawa has appeared in the film; it was only briefly and not in a way that identified him. He was just a one-eyed man on the dock as the research party departed for Odo Island:

2 serizawa

The appearance of Gojira is thus timed so as to create an association between Gojira and the relationship Ogata and Emiko have. We learned that something was going on between them in the second scene, in Ogata’s office after Gojira’s initial attack. When Ogata comes to her aid as she is scared by Gojira, that reinforces our sense of the relationship between them.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

buddha mind


bird in flight


Living Handbook of Narratology

Published on line by the Hamburg University Press, HERE.
The living handbook of narratology (LHN) is based on the Handbook of Narratology, first published by Walter de Gruyter in 2009. As an open access publication, it makes available all of the 32 articles contained in the original print version—and more: the LHN offers the additional functionality of electronic publishing including full text search facility, one-click-export of reference data and digital humanities tools for text analysis.

The LHN continuously expands its original content base by adding new articles on concepts and theories fundamental to narratology and to the study of narrative in general. The LHN is published in a WiKi system and offers narratologists registered to do so the opportunity to comment on existing articles, suggest additions or corrections and submit new articles to the editors.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This is your brain on jazz

Science Daily: from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the laboratory of Charles Limb:
The brains of jazz musicians engrossed in spontaneous, improvisational musical conversation showed robust activation of brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax, which are used to interpret the structure of phrases and sentences. But this musical conversation shut down brain areas linked to semantics -- those that process the meaning of spoken language, according to results of a novel study.
Citation for original paper:
Gabriel F. Donnay, Summer K. Rankin, Monica Lopez-Gonzalez, Patpong Jiradejvong, Charles J. Limb. Neural Substrates of Interactive Musical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of ‘Trading Fours’ in Jazz. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (2): e88665 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088665

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fortress America

A NYTimes op-ed points out that a substantial part of the American economy is devoted to guard labor:
The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.
This seems to be associated with the rise in economic inequality:
But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it, and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho and New Hampshire.

When we look across advanced industrialized countries, we see the same pattern: the more inequality, the more guard labor. As the graph shows, the United States leads in both.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A bunch of my photos in a video loop

Marriage in America, 3 Phases

Eli J. Finkel, writing in the NYTimes:
Throughout America’s history, its populace has experienced three distinct models of marriage, as scholars like the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin and the historian Stephanie Coontz have chronicled. In the era of the institutional marriage, from the nation’s founding until around 1850, the prevalence of individual farming households meant that the main requirements Americans had for their marriage revolved around things like food production, shelter and protection from violence. To be sure, Americans were pleased if they experienced an emotional connection with their spouse, but such affinities were perquisites of a well-functioning marriage rather than its central purpose.

In the era of the companionate marriage, from roughly 1850 until 1965, American marriage increasingly centered around intimate needs such as to love, to be loved and to experience a fulfilling sex life. This era overlapped with the shift from rural to urban life. Men increasingly engaged in wage labor outside of the home, which amplified the extent to which the two sexes occupied distinct social spheres. As the nation became wealthier and its social institutions became stronger, Americans had the luxury of looking to marriage primarily for love and companionship.

Since around 1965, we have been living in the era of the self-expressive marriage. Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth. Fueled by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, they have come to view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment. “You make me want to be a better man,” from the 1997 movie “As Good as It Gets,” could serve as this era’s marriage ideal. In the words of the sociologist Robert N. Bellah, love has become, in good part, “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Big Banks Going Bonkers, Aiming for World Domination?

Matt Tabbi in the Rolling Stone:
But banks aren't just buying stuff, they're buying whole industrial processes. They're buying oil that's still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they're also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kitty Kat Alley


The homogenization of the world's cultures is ramping up

Regional costume is vanishing from the planet, kept alive at the opening ceremony of each new Olympics and on the it’s-a-small-world ride at Disneyland. Increasingly it is a small world in style terms, one in which traditional garments like saris, dhotis, lungis, kimonos and sarongs are on their way out, jeans having become as inevitable a uniform of daily life in Delhi or Dublin as in Dubuque.

With rare exceptions (the hand-knit Bad Christmas sweaters devised by Polo Ralph Lauren for the United States team, and already selling on eBay for thousands; the knit logo caps like those worn by the Canadians that left no doubt about national affiliation; the traditional Bermuda shorts on a one-member Bermuda team), the current Olympics are a perfect reflection of style homogenization. Without the curious space-maidens, in their go-go boots, spatula headdresses and carrying rings-of-Saturn signs identifying the national teams, a viewer last week would have had little luck differentiating one country from the next.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

How to stick it to tech talent

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”
And so forth:
In the geopolitics of Silicon Valley tech power, Adobe was no match for a corporate superpower like Apple. Inequality of the sort we’re experiencing today affects everyone in ways we haven’t even thought of — whether it’s Jobs bullying slightly lesser executives into joining an illegal wage-theft pact, or the tens of thousands of workers whose wages were artificially lowered, transferred into higher corporate earnings, and higher compensations for those already richest and most powerful to begin with.

Over the next two years, as the tech industry entered another frothing bubble, the secret wage-theft pact which began with Apple, Google and Pixar expanded to include Intuit and Intel. The secret agreements were based on relationships, and those relationships were forged in Silicon Valley’s incestuous boards of directors, which in the past has been recognized mostly as a problem for shareholders and corporate governance advocates, rather than for the tens of thousands of employees whose wages and lives are viscerally affected by their clubby backroom deals.

Classic Olympic Tourists?

The di Silvestris have taken a less direct path. Without giving a precise date, di Silvestri said that he and Angelica had first visited Dominica “years ago” and that they had financed developmental and humanitarian projects on the island. He did not provide specifics on the projects but said he and his wife had done philanthropic work internationally in education, health and athletics.

“It’s a beautiful country; we fell in love with it, and the people are great, and we wanted to help them in some way,” he said. “These countries, they need assistance, so we did. We acted the best we could at the time, made a financial contribution to the country that went to different projects, and in return they granted us citizenship.”

Di Silvestri said that he and Angelica also hold Italian citizenship and that he holds United States citizenship.

Bill Mallon, an Olympic historian from the United States, called the di Silvestris “classic Olympic tourists.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

Art as investment: Flipping the hot young things

The commodification of art continues apace.
Kazakina's article asserts that with the rise of hot, young art stars like Oscar Murillo and Lucien Smith, whose prices have risen 3,000 percent in the last two years, more collectors are snapping up young artists for inflated amounts in hopes of flipping them. This new trend, she writes, "may be a sign that the contemporary art market is taking on characteristics of a financial bubble." (There's that word again!)