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I really want this (an auto reply loop) to happen one day. I imagine it'd start with an automated reminder...


can't touch this

Sometime last week I got into a discussion spurred by Guantanamo issues about the nature of culpability. Our legal system is crutched on intent, which I think is a good thing, but it also makes things much more complicated. What if you run over a little boy because he ran out into the street and you couldn't stop in time? How about if you run over a little boy while drunk? And if you run over a little boy because he keeps smashing your windows and knocking over your mailbox? Very different.

With that in mind, tack on the additional complexity of responsibility to authority figures. If a kid steals a candy bar because his dad tells him to, who is guilty? The kid might have wanted to steal the candy bar anyway, but we can't bank on knowing if he wanted to or not. Alternatively, the kid might have been scared of his dad beating him if he didn't. The law needs to be generally applicable and do the right thing for both cases.

Children aside, what if the case is that of a man obeying a policeman, his boss, or the president? Or, just for kicks, a religious leader? Authority figures are just as fallible as the rest of us. And people vary greatly in their levels of obedience, morality, trust, and fear. Imagine a lawyer committing perjury to gain $300k. How about because he'd lose his job if he didn't? Now imagine a lawyer committing the same perjury because someone with extensive influence threatened to kill his wife and daughter. A person with a strong sense of morality, little fear, and trust in the legal system would turn themselves in before it got to that point. But someone with strong senses of obedience (to the person with extensive influence) and fear might get stuck with the perjury. Should we be legally responsible for being spineless? To some extent, I think so. The question is, what extent?

Obviously things need to be taken on a case by case basis. People tend to be surprisingly good at reading other people. Imagine the kind of kid that wanted to take the candy bar. And now imagine the kind that was just afraid of his dad. They'd look different, act different, sound different. There are always clues, though sometimes hidden under layers of sociopathic acting. It's just scary how good that acting can be sometimes.


dasher (dancer, prancer, and vixen?)

Buried within slashdot comments on an article about a brain-computer interface was a suggestion to user dasher for input since the input is "simply up and down." Up and down is all well and good, but since dasher's speed advantage is based on analog input, and brain readers being not-so-good at that, it would take a while to iterate through all the options. Dasher-style prediction seems fine by me, but at that point the user should be focusing on choosing between letters instead of thinking "up" or "down." My criticisms are not with dasher, but with the way the commenter presented its use in this application. I think it'd work well with an eyetracker, but that's not a computer-brain interface.

Anyway, the up-side to all of this is that I was introduced to dasher at all, and wanted to try and get it to work on my laptop. It only has a beta version for OS X, but I decided to be adventurous.

I learned when they say beta, they really mean it. Dasher crashed possibly a dozen times before I got it to work long enough in order to actually see how it felt. And the feelings were only lukewarm. Maybe not even that. Maybe more like the temperature of a shirt left on the floor at night...that you have to put on in the morning right after you get out of your really warm bed.

Dasher uses a grid input you control with a mouse, stylus, etc. Right is "continue with this selection", left is "go back", and the magnitude indicates how fast. Up and down are used for selection of letters, some being enlarged predictively for easier selection. The left/right portion of the grid is excellent and works in a helpful way to select letters. The up/down is a disaster.

The predictive enlargement tends to crowd out letters that one might actually want. Not every time I select a t do I want it to be followed by an h and an e. Sorry, dasher, tis true. The main problem, however, is the very nature of our alphabet. The standard ABCD... is really totally arbitrary. I know librarians who still mutter the grade school songs when sorting books. It just isn't intutive. We don't think "now I want an l, which is between k and m." There is no really good way to sort our letters. I think that the problem of alphabetical organization is an interesting one worth pursuing further. I need to hunt down a linguist.

Personally, I think in terms of phonemes, which translate into letters based on experiential knowledge. If dasher stopped trying to be a glorified keyboard input it might actually get somewhere. But so long as there is a button that gives me an a, why on earth would I ever use a mouse? I mean, really.


touch wood

Pamela Blotner is the amazing instructor for a figure sculpture class that I'm taking. She works in all sorts of mediums: wood, felt, and clay, to name a few.

Below is a piece called Baba Yaga, and for those that know my penchant for Russian folk tales, this strikes a happy chord. For those who aren't familiar with Baba Yaga, she is a witch figure who sweeps away her tracks with a birch broom. I love the varying complexity and the use of a human-like hand to give the work a little bit of symbolism without hitting the viewer over the head.

In addition to liking her art, I really like Pamela's teaching style. After working for a while, she gives each artist a chance to explain what they do or don't like about their own work, and then she and others can comment. It's a very positive experience and I still learn a lot.


tax day tea party

I just had to salute the tax day tea party. I didn't know about it in time to participate myself, but the fact that it happened made me really happy. I like the general shift in the republican party. It'll be nice for people who don't agree with big government to at least have more of a voice. I mean, ideally, the Libertarian party would stand on its own, but as long as we're talking ideals, I'll take sovereignty of a small tropical nation.


chocolate festival!

This past Wednesday (Tax Day), there was a chocolate festival at work. Twelve local chocolatiers/vendors came and gave samples and sold their goods. Needless to say, I went home with a lighter wallet and a fuller belly. And some newly generated opinions.
Alegio Chocolates: very pretty truffles, but expensive
Barlovento Chocolates: equally pretty truffles, half the price, amazing flavors. Theirs is the chocolate pictured.
Charles Chocolates: pretty, tasty, and have a good variety of products
Chocolatier Blue, Edible Love Chocolates, Lyla's Chocolates: I don't have any recollections, but they might have been some of the overcrowded booths.
Go To Chocolates: A very distinct aesthetic: twine, maps, etc. I bought a bit of fudge syrup from them, thick and dark. I now need some Häagen-Dazs.
Recchiuti Confections: Another pretty. My only other particular memory was of their chocolate covered hazelnuts. Yum.
San Francisco Chocolate Factory: The most commercial of the vendors, selling lots of different types and brands.
Shokolaat: The names for their flavors are a little obscure, so I was more hesitant than I would have liked. I only tried one of theirs, the London Fog Lifter, and it was incredible. I'm now a fan of salted chocolate.
Tcho: The deal with these guys is that they don't add anything to their chocolate for flavor, they just select the beans and tailor the process to be "nutty" or "fruity." The result is good, but subtle flavors.
The Xocolate Bar: I encountered these guys near one of my favorite bookstores, long before the festival. They do lots of zany chocolate sculptures. Their smaller chocolates are very tasty as is their gelato.


botanical bonds

My college's campus being an arboretum, I got used to having fairly friendly plants around. I would see a plant I didn't know, and swagger up to it and introduce myself. In response, the plant would generally sway a little or rustle its leaves at me, saying, "Pleasure to meet you. I can't talk, but there's a sign just over there that will tell you my name." And so it was that I became acquainted with most of the plants on campus, and developed a few very close friends.

Graduating threw me into the clutches of the cruel real world. One had to be introduced to plants by someone who already knew them. Luckily, the SF Botanical Garden has been proved to be an amazing support group. Additionally, this week I found the equivalent of a plant networking tool, where I can meet new plants online! At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony.


stupid ovals

I strongly dislike those oval bumper stickers with obscure abbreviations. I mean, who decided AQ stands for Antarctica? Certainly nobody sane. I've just stopped trying to figure out what they mean and assume that they're making a reference I don't get.

So this morning, my roomie and I saw one of these stickers with a VT on it. Both of us had the same first association--"visiting teaching." Churchy. But we knew it probably didn't stand for that, so we kept guessing. My favorite two were Vernicious Tripe and Vernacular Tentacles, the latter being very fun to say. I was sad when it was pointed out that VT stands for Vermont. I like Vermont and all, but it was very anticlimactic.


the turn of a friendly card

As much as I love games, I tend to always be behind in finding out what the good ones are. Last night I spent playing games with a crowd who are much more up-to-date than I am, and learned about some good games.

Pandemic - A cooperative game in which the players attempt to cure diseases and prevent outbreaks.
Puerto Rico - I knew about this game before, but it was my first time actually playing it. My biggest problem with it is that people always forget the rules and it takes a while to explain. It's a long game, which can be either good or bad, depending on how much time you have. Generally, lots of fun, though.
Agricola - A farming/economic game that scales very well--equally good for 1 or 5 players. I need to own this game, but it's rather expensive. 04/24/09 Update: Impulse bought the game. Totally worth it.

Some other games I enjoy are Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Medici vs. Strozzi, Modern Art, SET, Ricochet Robots, Labyrinth, and TEG. And, of course, chess and go.


animal impulse

One of my favorite artists is Beth Cavener Stichter. I was introduced to her by my ceramics professor in college, and now regularly reference her sculptures. As her artistic statement indicates, she aims to show human psychology in animal form, which she does amazingly well. I'm going to blab on about the things I like about her figures, but I highly suggest you just go take a look at the gallery on her webpage.

I love the gesture in her figures--that's how she achieves most of the psychology. The image I have posted is of a sculpture called "i am no one." In this piece in particular, there's a beautiful contrast between arches and angles. I also like that one foot is curled close while the other is splayed; it plays up the retraction very well.

She also teases at proportion. For example, many of her rabbits have huge hind feet, which reads well because rabbits hop, and it seems natural. And you know what they say about rabbits with big feet... In all seriousness, I'm not sure of the exact psychological reaction she wants the proportions to induce, whether they make the figure look more human or cartoonish, or just make the viewer question their inherent perceptions of animals.

Two smaller things, which I think contribute a great deal to the quality of Stichter's work: texture and materials. The surfaces of the sculptures are surreally organic. Because most of the animals she chooses to sculpt have fur, she creates a texture that suggests fur without letting it overwhelm the piece, which fur could easily do. By way of materials, I like that she'll use antique hooks, rope, and other odds and ends in her pieces in addition to the stoneware itself.

Seeing her work makes me want to sculpt more, which I'm working on. I wonder if she works from live animals at all, or if she did at one point. Probably. Maybe I need to get myself a pet rabbit. Heh heh. Or a goat.


the obscurity obstacle, or the peculiar problem of privacy

No new news: the internet is big. So if you want to stalk someone online, it might not be the easiest gig. And a lot of people depend on this vastness for their privacy. A google of someone's name, first and last, is bound to get you millions of hits. Add in their school or employer, and you narrow it down to tens of thousands. It's only when you know their particular discipline, specialty, or some other odd keyword that will guarantee you the right results. And it's only like a 90% satisfaction guarantee because they might not have anything posted. Again, nothing earth shattering.

The interesting part is not the state of the internet, but what to do about one's own privacy. I'd categorize internet usage into three tiers of security: those who don't want themselves or their work to be found, those who want a fairly anonymous existence, and those that want people to know about them and their work. There are valid reasons for each approach.

Those who desire complete security could include people working on funded research, on a patent, or on something devious. They could just want their existence or work to be completely secure out of principle--it's a legitimate desire. Anybody who would fit into this category would find this discussion fairly inane.

Those that want the world to know everything about them and their doings most often includes businesses that depend on circulation and teenagers, or other lonely individuals. The more you put out there, the more is found, but even (or especially) in this category, discretion is essential.

But for the rest of us, I'd say simple security through obscurity is fine. Unsearchable obscurity is even more secure. Needing to know a url is analogous to needing to know a password. It all depends on your desire to be found. Regardless of whether or not you want something found, taking care in what you do or post is the best security.


statistically probable luck

Let's assume for a moment that everyone is equally lucky--that everyone's net luck sums to a neutral, being neither positive nor negative. That said, if someone did everything in their power to have bad luck for a week, it is probable that the next week they would have relatively decent luck, to balance it out. In this world, instead of knocking on wood, finding four leaf clovers, and bedecking oneself with tokens of luck far in advance, one would do this as close as possible to an anticipated event where good luck was required. And far in advance, one would be walking under ladders, dealing with black cats, and possibly breaking mirrors, depending on how much foresight one had.

Sadly, luck is not so predictable. And gratefully, not so neutral. I feel like I have amazing luck--I found 12 four leaf clovers in an hour once, and there haven't been any negative repercussions.



I have tried in vain to keep to any particular subject when blogging, so I'm resolving myself to having attention deficits and proceeding to post whatever and whenever I want to. I know that I have problems completing or continuing things when there are no real consequences, so I'm still betting that I'll get over the idea of a blog in the next month and forget to post things, but acknowledging that in the beginning makes me feel so much better. It's all about freedom--of action or inaction.