Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Shabat Cat and Mayan Catopocalypse

Report from Jerusalem:

The End of the Mayan World we are dodging by having fled to the Land of Israel: here they use some other obsolete calendar, with no uneventful stretch between Hanukah and Tu Bishvat of year 5773.

I'm happy to report that the Rapture did not swallow Jerusalem, and from the balcony of our room at Beit Belgia the next Mayan cycle was ushered in by City on the Hill glowing golden, awash in glorious morning sunshine.

But the night at Beit Belgia was more eventful. It is sparkling shiny freshly renovated, and whoever won the the contract redid it on the cheap, so the lobby was flooded by the nights rain. We fall asleep to plaintive prayers of the Wailing Shabat Cat who got itself into the ventilation duct traversing guest rooms bathrooms. Whether it was she cat or he cat and whether she had the prayer shawl around her head and not across her shoulders (women get arrested for less at the West Wall) we could not tell, she wailed on much of the night. And in the morning I could smell (I have friends who have to eleven cats too many) the unmistakeable marks of alpha cats marking off their territory in the carpeted hallway. When the happens, only thing to do is to tear down the plaster boards and rip off the carpets, and rebuild the Beit Belgia from the scratch.

Judging by the surly mug of House Speaker Boehner, the New World is till with us as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures

Tripletitios gave me as a present an Argentinian Tshirt with Andes as a ripoff of the iconic cover for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Turns out the original is data observed from a pulsar. Cute, no? (Thanks to Mason for digging this one up).

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Drones: who's doing the thinking here?

Let's think for a moment. You develop a weapon that in a few years will cost no more than a moped, controlled by electronics already built into smart phones. As you are doing it first, you have an advantage over your opponents and you go kill lots of  'collateral' people in places like Pakistan. The military just does it, there is no civilian oversight. The populace loves it because they have seen techno-killings works so well in the movies. So now lots of people out there really really hate you. They are smart, really smart. And they are committed.

How long will it take for one of these things to fly in a target somewhere in US? 

Agence France-Presse is reporting that the Pentagon wants its drones to be more autonomous, so that they can run with little to no assistance from people.
“Before they were blind, deaf and dumb,” Mark Maybury, chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force, told AFP. “Now we’re beginning to make them to see, hear and sense.”

Ronald Arkin, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes that drones will soon be able to kill enemies on their own independently.
“It is not my belief that an unmanned system will be able to be perfectly ethical in the battlefield, but I am convinced that they can perform more ethically than human soldiers are capable of,” Arkin told AFP.
Arkin added that robotic weapons should be designed as “ethical” warriors and that these type of robots could wage war in a more “humane” way.

[...] Earlier this year, Singer wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times about the use of drones. In the piece, entitled “Do Drones Undermine Democracy?” he says the use of drones is “short-circuiting the decision-making process.”
“Without any actual political debate, we have set an enormous precedent, blurring the civilian and military roles in war and circumventing the Constitution’s mandate for authorizing it,” Singer wrote. “Freeing the executive branch to act as it chooses may be appealing to some now, but many future scenarios will be less clear-cut. And each political party will very likely have a different view, depending on who is in the White House.”
There are currently more than 7,000 drones being used in combat.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A gender on the way out

January 2010:
men are a gender on the way out - not very smart, socially autistic, high maintenance, low return. We heard a really cool rap song "Du bist der Weihnacht@mann" at a Gottingen grade school school, sang by a chorus of 8 year old girls. Why were they so good? They had kicked out the boys from the choir, "because they were too lazy." Sounds familiar? This whole gender is on the way out, methinks. It's a disgrace to the species. Women will not have us, even those of us who are female in all ways but the genital, having been raised by single mothers and their girlfriends (alleged fathers only pitching in with an occasional postcard).

If I may be so bold as to quote the introduction to the Pulitzer Prize winning ChaosBook.org, from a letter from Hermann Minkowski to David Hilbert:

"It seems sometimes that through a preoccupation with science, we acquire a firmer hold over the vicissitudes of life and meet them with greater calm, but in reality we have done no more than to find a way to escape from our sorrows."

iPhone owners might seek solace in youtube.com/watch?v=ZBNu6WMfR1k. Requires only one finger. [Warning: those over 48 might experience dizziness and shortness of breath]. The rest of us will have to drown our sorrows in sensitive, chick flicks such as Off the map.

30 September 2012:
Much recent back and forth in New York Times and recent books about the alleged decline of male gender. It's complicated.  Progress of women in US jobs has stalled in the past decade (see statistics here, and a very good county-by-county map here). Today's New York Times:

If the ascent of women has been much exaggerated, so has the descent of men. Men’s irresponsibility and bad behavior is now a stock theme in popular culture. But there has always been a subset of men who engage in crude, coercive and exploitative behavior. What’s different today is that it’s harder for men to get away with such behavior in long-term relationships. Women no longer feel compelled to put up with it and the legal system no longer condones it. The result is that many guys who would have been obnoxious husbands, behaving badly behind closed doors, are now obnoxious singles, trumpeting their bad behavior on YouTube.

Their boorishness may be pathetic, but it’s much less destructive than the masculine misbehavior of yore. Most men are in fact behaving better than ever. Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care. And this change is not confined to highly educated men.

On the Run

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Beijing Arts District 798, Mr Jones?

I'm reputedly in 'fine shape'; In Whattabore DDs conference Roberto classified me as from Pleistocene. Which is kind, that is as recent as 11,700 years ago, he could have had me in Cambrian, half a billion years ago.

I loved Beijing Arts District
798 - there might be lots of SoHo kind of schlock for people with money, but the art there is more vital and inventive than anything in Europe or US. The painters are only 30! When they were born there was no art in China! My totally uniformed and based on nothing guess is that today 20% of China is middle class. Which is only 300 million. NY Times says there are 400 million bloggers. You have to be literate to some extent to be a blogger. Try to find 75 million bloggers in US? 

All in all, I'm blown away by the vitality of Beijing - Americans and Oy-ro-peens have no conception of what is going on in Asia. The Confucian empire is back, courtiers and mandarins are in charge, the most recent crazy Emperor is only an image on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. It is amazing and it is unstoppable, unless the generals fuck it all up, and they get into wars again... Which is always a possibility, the idiocy of generals of peoples armies should not be underestimated.

Erik says: It is a fascinating place, but impossible to understand without knowing the language. You can just scratch a little bit on the surface. In Sweden and Finland it is rather so that people and the government think too much and too positively about China. There are delegations from my university to/from China all the time, with wide-eyed Swedes knowing even less about China than I do pushing "the great East" for all they are worth. Volvo was sold to the Chinese, and Saab almost was also.

The food is fantastic, and I have never in my life met so many happy and optimistic colleagues (not in the US, not in Europe, not in Russia, not anywhere). America in the 40ies and the 50ies at the height of the brain drain must have been something like that.

Katrin says: Shanghai is probably even more amazing. I've never been to a place like this. It combines Paris, London, Venice, and NYC in one place.

"Something is happening here / But you don't know what it is / Do you, Mr Jones?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Foundational SOOCs (Specialized Open Online Courses)

I've been wondering when The Thing will happen in higher education for at least two decades, and that's what my ChaosBook.org is about. Now that Sebastian Thrun has happened, we are in the lemmings mode, every University trying to the same thing. But when the dust settles, there will be only one 'iPhone' left standing, the rest will be crushed in competition.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has come out with solicitation for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) grant proposals. Theirs is a laudable goal:
...Must focus on a high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income/first-generation students...
If my institution decides to enter the fry on the level of introductory undergraduate courses, it should pick only very few - like one 2-semester sequence, taught by lecturers universally known to be exceptional, and these few should be given full technical and organizational support, because either you get it perfect the first time around, or do not attempt it at all. This is no arena for amateurs. And very few courses a suited to MOOCsisation - it is no accident that the first success was a rather straightforward computer course.

For research universities most research training will continue as is, by one-on-one apprenticeships. Though I think there is a market for SOOCs (Specialized Open Online Courses). There have been no resources to develop ChaosBook.org - since I moved to US everything has been done by myself, alone, in free time, so it is woefully technologically primitive - but do I keep meeting graduate students who use it.

I think a nonlemming strategy would be a boutique education approach: create for Coursera.org several high level SOOCs in areas where the institution has particular strengths. They will never be money makers, enrollment will be in hundreds at the best of times, but their advertising value would be high: they would enable us to recruit into our research programs top notch students whose quality we already know through our courses that they have taken.

[for the next installment, click here]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The UGLY BEAUTY

KA-nevolim: The UGLY BEAUTY
(from my Karlovac friend Zvonimir - sad and beautiful)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Martin Amis, "Looking in the mirror now"

You have to love Martin Amis. Here is Richard Tull, the protagonist of "The Information":
 
"Looking in the mirror now, on the morning of his fortieth birthday, Richard felt that no one deserved the face he had. No one in the history of the planet. There was nothing on the planet it was that bad to do. What happened? What have you done, man? His hair, scattered over his crown in assorted folds and clumps, looked as though it had just concluded a course of prolonged (and futile) chemotherapy. Then the eyes, each of them perched on its little blood-rimmed beer gut. If the eyes were the window to the soul, then the window was a windscreen, after a transcontinental drive; and his cough sounded like a wiper on the dry glass. These days he smoked and drank largely to solace himself for what drinking and smoking had done to him-but smoking and drinking had done a lot to him, so he drank and smoked a lot. He experimented, furthermore, with pretty well any other drug he could get his hands on. His teeth were all chipped pottery and prewar jet glue. At each given moment, whatever he was doing, at least two of his limbs were immovably numb. Up and down his body there were whisperedrumors of pain. In fact, physically, at all times, he felt epiphanically tragic. His doctor had died four years ago ("Unfortunately I am terminally ill."); and that, in Richard's mature opinion, was definitely that. He had a large and lucent lump on the back of his neck. This he treated himself, by the following means: he kept his hair long to keep it hidden. If you went up to Richard Tull and told him he was in Denial, he would deny it. But not hotly.

None of this altered the fact that he had to take the vacuum cleaner in. [...]

By the time he had grappled the vacuum cleaner out of its sentry box Richard had long been weeping with self-pity and rage. He was getting good at crying. If women were right, then you needed to cry about three or four times a day. Women cried at the oddest times: when they won beauty contests, for instance (and when they lost them too, probably: later on). If Richard won a beauty contest-would he cry? Can we see him there, on stage, with his bouquet, his swimsuit and his sash, and with all his mother coming into his eyes?

By the time he got the vacuum cleaner out of the apartment and onto the stairs Richard was wondering if he had ever suffered so. This, surely, is how we account for the darkness and the helpless melancholy of twentieth-century literature. These writers, these dreamers and seekers, stood huddled like shivering foundlings on the cliffs of a strange new world: one with no servants in it. On the stairs and landings there were bikes leaning everywhere, and also shackled to the walls-and to the ceiling. He lived in a beehive of bikers.

By the time he got the vacuum cleaner down into the hall Richard was sure that Samuel Beckett, at some vulnerable time in his life, had been obliged to take a vacuum cleaner in. Celine, too, and perhaps Kafka-if they had vacuum cleaners then. Richard gave himself a loud breather while he looked through his mail. His mail he no longer feared. The worst was over. Why should a man fear his mail, when, not long ago, he had received a solicitor's letter from his own solicitor? When, rather less recently, in response to a request for more freelance work, he had been summarily fired, through the post, by his own literary agent? When he was being sued (for advances paid on unwritten books) by both his ex-publishers?"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

to read, books about Venice


Cara writes: "Maybe Norwich for straight history. Jan Morris for wonderful writing. Mary McCarthy for being Mary McCarthy. Joseph Brodsky for a completely singular book on Venice by a completely singular mind."

Matteo Casini writes: "The book by Crouzet-Pavan is a good book in between scholarship and the larger public. Two books I always loved are Ruskin and Pemble, Venice rediscovered. The classical guide for all secrets of Venice is Lorenzetti. (Cara: "smallish type and long, but critical"). I heard good things about the revised edition of Jan Morris and Crowley's account on the Venetian Empire."

Predrag has
but is undisciplined about reading them. So far, finished only Berendt - it is deliriously hilarious, Italy is Italy, but Venice is clearly still another level.

Cara writes: "Dream of Venice by Charles Christopher. J.G. Links is okay. There is an intriguing book (almost a novel) but actually based on family documents that were found. Very pleasurable. I thought the Berendt book was the biggest piece of junk I have ever read about Venice. Sorry. I know you enjoyed it but please do not take one iota of it seriously as a portrait of Venice. The Venetians were furious at him, and not because he was spot on. Quite the opposite. I think he was desperate to get another book out after all the years that had passed Since Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and did this miserably forced and false book."