Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bakemonogatari - 2 of ??

- - -
[[My previous blog entry about this anime]] 

This series has such high re-watch value for me... because it encourages endless pondering and rumination about nuances and intentions and the like. It's interesting to entertain the connection between the seemingly random scene insertions and the plot elements, e.g. the characters' dialogues, actions, and thoughts.

The insertions are often highly geometric constructs of street scenes, i.e. residential areas inside a city. Examples include generic apartment windows, playground swings, light rail tracks, power line towers, etc.

I feel like these inserts help set the mood and stimulate the viewers' train of thoughts in various Brownian directions... just as the black and red screens that flash for only a fraction of a second and read "Black (or Red) scene: animation number 'none'"... I have not yet figured out what they mean...

Actually, I think it could be either (1) animators got lazy (2) they're trolling the audience (3) simulating the old flickering film reels (4) black scenes for -_- or @_@ or =_= or ._. moments, and red scenes for O_O or intense bloody moments...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fruity Loops (FL Studio 10) Producer's Edition... random songs

- - -

Songs I recently wrote. I seem to like to write chill and loopy music.

The percussion for this one was a little hard. But I had fun with the sound effects. And the guitar. I totally heart the guitar. My personal favorite part is from 4:08 to the end. The piano part was fun to write too.

The percussion for this one was much easier, because I used the built-in beats! And more fun with the vocal tracks. And more sound effects mwahaha. Plus a nice deep bassline on the piano. What more is there to ask for... just kidding.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

[Bones and Inception references] A dream...

... that was a blend of real and fictional people, complete with a soundtrack of lush strings. I swear I had heard the melody before but I can't place it. So frustrating...

In the dream, I'm an undercover agent trying to catch the perpetrator who kidnaps unsuspecting standardized test takers into an "alternate matrix" and then runs experiments on them. In religious terms, the "alternate matrix" is like... purgatory? Or the bridge between the physical world and the world of the dead, or something like that.

And... I'm working with Brennan and Booth on this case. (I think this is a sign that I watch too much Bones... and Mulder and Scully might have been a better fit for this :-P) They have already rounded up the accomplices outside the luxurious private school building/ castle/ mansion. Now I have to catch the main perp in the act.

However, he can teleport and switch rooms at will, and there is simultaneous testing going on in different rooms... so I remember dashing up and down the spiral stairs that are covered with elegant and ancient-looking carpets and sided with mahogany handles. What a stupid way to catch a teleporter, I know...

All the while I am running around, I keep hearing an ensemble of orchestral strings playing a melody with a overlay of (1) the Happy Birthday song progression Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8, Mvmt 1 (as I remembered hearing from Minority Report) and (2) Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (from Inception). I recall some students are taking solfege tests on the second floor, but they don't notice me when I poke my head in.

I myself have been taking a strange mix of GREs and SATII... marking an obscene number of Scantron ovals... the horror! I have to ask to leave the testing room to go to the restroom, but I put the proctor in a trance while attempting to catch the perp.

Long story short... I did not catch the perp in my dream because the soundtrack got louder and I felt some strange abdominal cramping and woke up just as I saw Booth frantically signalling me from outside the building...

Seriously... is this like fanfic fodder or what...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will not quote MacBeth's soliloquy about sleep...

... living out the title of my blog.

And being an ever-expanding vortex of angst spinning out of control for basically all of November so far...

Trying to solve a many-body problem in finite time is fucking sucking right now...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

FontForge looks like the answer to my restlessness... [NOT]

- - -
Thanks to Fzz's link to a kerning game... that inspired this sudden concentrated exploration into typography :-P Tried my hands at the game and didn't do too badly I suppose.

Although the actual task of designing a font is rather involved!

I tried to install FontForge via Cygwin at first, then found it to be hopelessly and needlessly complicated. And then I realized, doh, I have Ubuntu. And then the installation was just one line -

    sudo apt-get install fontforge python-fontforge 

Admittedly, this is the first time I truly felt that my multi-OS machine has finally found its purpose... to be multi-OS... after the fiasco of trying to install Jacapo in Ubuntu (which is a lot more complicated than a single sudo command)

Maybe I can fiddle with the notion of my own usefulness for awhile. FontForge looks sufficiently complex to sustain my play for at least a few months.

[Edit] I impulsively upgraded my Ubuntu from 10.04 to 11.10 and now FontForge doesn't work anymore. Blerg! At least "Oneiric Ocelot" sounds cool. I wanted the next release to be called "Pensive Pelican" or "Pouncing Panther" or... "Peeing Poodle", which Fzz said was better than "Pooping Poodle" because it could be shortened to "PeePoo". The developers should make that an April Fool's joke or something...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Composers' self-indulgence (?)

- - -
These are the type of songs I usually write. They tend to exhibit looping motifs and certain types of chord progressions that I happen to particularly like.

(1) The same kind of unresolved progression (i-VI7) as in Dido's "Thank You".

  • (2) An example of the Andalusian cadence. You can overlay Turtle's "So Happy Together" on this... assuming they're in the same key of course. Seriously.

  • (3) Here I blatantly ripped off a melody from Dvořák's Cello Concerto. And didn't do much with it.

  • (4) "Turkey trot" vs. Mozart's "Turkish March"... I could not resist.

  • (5) Now, here is something I normally wouldn't write. This was pro bono for an online friend.

  • Goes to show that an amateur composer can afford to be so very self-indulgent yet still unsatisfactory on every level.

    Debussy apparently had a wild temper. One can't really tell from his music... or shall one say, it's because he had wild tempers that he had to write such flowing and calming music? Although his music was probably the most effective pick-up line that started his numerous romantic relationships.

    What about Shostakovich's angsty grunts and ooomphs? Were they disguised primal screams from being denounced and abandoned repeatedly?

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Political correctness in a litigative society

    - - -
    A native South African who teaches history in the U.S. was fired because of making "racist" comments. I'm rather curious about exactly what he said. Probably stemming from a similar type of dark humor as the characters here.

    I wonder if the American psyche is still suffering from a form of mass-cultural PTSD... stemming from many explosive events in the course of an angst-filled history... resulting in such concern and hypersensitivity over issues of being politically correct. This is what happens when people of different colors and creeds are crammed together. With all the good and bad that comes out of it.

    Tsk... people... so obsessed about these things. How depressing. If we were all translucent amorphous informational cloud entities, this would never happen.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    WARNING: Conference trolls, mess with me and you die. :-)

    - - -

    (2:15:22 PM) Me: I have found that conference poster trolls are @$$holes
    (2:15:30 PM) Me: At some point I will screw with them
    (2:15:53 PM) Me: But I'm too much of a rookie right now
    (2:20:09 PM) Friend: It's not a big deal when you're presenting a poster
    (2:20:18 PM) Friend: Just wait until you give a talk and the trolls attack
    (2:20:31 PM) Me: hmm
    (2:20:41 PM) Me: I have not encountered that at that symposium
    (2:20:44 PM) Friend: Chances are it's something personal in any case
    (2:21:04 PM) Me: however, the moderator did introduce one speaker as "beauty and power in the same package"
    (2:21:19 PM) Friend: People challenging your work have a competing work, or more likely they're competing for a share of the same funding pie.
    (2:21:24 PM) Me: because the audience was 2/3 white males over 40
    (2:21:39 PM) Me: and the speaker was a youngish Chinese woman
    (2:21:51 PM) Me: I see... competitors
    (2:21:57 PM) Friend: Haha what is this the 19th century?
    (2:22:03 PM) Me: yes
    (2:22:05 PM) Me: totally
    (2:22:09 PM) Friend: At least physicists don't have the balls to make a comment like that.
    (2:22:32 PM) Me: Although if the competitors don't have valid point, everyone else can see that it's playground squabble
    (2:23:48 PM) Friend: I don't get it was the moderator really old?
    (2:24:07 PM) Friend: I just can't imagine that happening at any conference I go to, it'd be really awkward
    (2:24:30 PM) Me: He was kinda old
    (2:24:35 PM) Me: Not *that* old
    (2:24:38 PM) Me: 50 ish
    (2:24:56 PM) Me: I wonder how many times the speaker got comments like these
    (2:25:10 PM) Me: prolly a few times
    (2:30:18 PM) Friend: Still doesn't seem very appropriate in a professional setting.
    (2:30:24 PM) Friend: Even if it's a real small conference.
    (2:30:35 PM) Friend: Unless the speaker was the moderator's wife or something like that
    (2:30:44 PM) Me: oh hahahahahha
    (2:30:58 PM) Me: That has not been confirmed or denied... :P
    (2:31:04 PM) Friend: Well who knows.
    (2:31:13 PM) Me: indeed
    (2:31:16 PM) Friend: I keep hearing conferences are good places to hook up
    (2:31:26 PM) Me: Even for old ass people?
    (2:31:32 PM) Me: ... especially
    (2:31:35 PM) Me: for old ass people
    (2:32:09 PM) Friend: You have a point
    (2:32:21 PM) Friend: I'm 29 and I'm already starting to lose interest
    (2:33:24 PM) Me: les sighs
    (2:36:08 PM) Friend: I can't imagine what I'd be like when I'm 50
    (2:36:26 PM) Me: I can't either
    (2:36:28 PM) Me: scary thought
    (2:36:34 PM) Me: banish banish
    (2:42:20 PM) Friend: tiger mom :-P
    (2:43:26 PM) Me: Me?? ZOMG
    (2:43:40 PM) Me: I sure hope not

    (3:16:41 PM) Me: I shall try to get some exercise now I suppose
    (3:16:58 PM) Friend: You should lift weights and get really buff, wouldn't that be cool?
    (3:17:04 PM) Me: I am already hahaha
    (3:17:15 PM) Friend: I mean arnold buff
    (3:17:17 PM) Me: I lift weights when I watch TV
    (3:17:19 PM) Me: oh lol
    (3:17:23 PM) Me: I thought he used roids
    (3:17:29 PM) Friend: That's also an option
    (3:17:34 PM) Me: no roids for me.
    (3:17:38 PM) Friend: You lift weights while watching tv?
    (3:17:41 PM) Me: yes
    (3:17:57 PM) Friend: Like you benchpress 400 lbs?
    (3:18:04 PM) Me: I wish hahaha
    (3:18:11 PM) Friend: That would rule
    (3:18:14 PM) Me: it would
    (3:18:21 PM) Me: and then I would be afraid of no one
    (3:18:36 PM) Me: the conference trolls I can take out in 3 seconds
    (3:18:39 PM) Friend: Then you would get some good introductions at conferences
    (3:18:47 PM) Me: Hell yeah
    (3:19:13 PM) Me: alright time to run up and down stairs.......
    (3:19:14 PM) Friend: You should start wearing a sword and a full suit of armor to conferences
    (3:19:19 PM) Me: HAHAHAHAHAHAHHA
    (3:19:30 PM) Friend: The trolls won't mess with you.
    (3:19:34 PM) Me: Totally awesome
    (3:19:56 PM) Me: Mayhaps I shall try that sometimes
    (3:20:04 PM) Friend: I just learned the other day the main character in metroid is a girl
    (3:20:10 PM) Me: :P
    (3:20:20 PM) Friend: Perhaps a suit like that.
    (3:22:03 PM) Me: booyah
    (3:23:01 PM) Friend:
    (3:23:09 PM) Friend: Yes, this will do
    (3:23:13 PM) Me: hohoh
    (3:23:19 PM) Friend: But a bigger gun
    (3:23:24 PM) Me: pffft
    (3:23:42 PM) Friend: You prefer the sword?
    (3:23:50 PM) Me: yes
    (3:24:11 PM) Me: I like to have slim and deadly weaponry
    (3:24:28 PM) Me: mmmmmmmm
    (3:24:35 PM) Me: okay aerobic workout time
    (3:24:52 PM) Me: stairs on mid-rises
    (3:25:00 PM) Friend:
    (3:25:16 PM) Me: hahaa
    (3:25:22 PM) Friend: Surprisingly most images of girls with swords are also very skimpily dressed
    (3:25:28 PM) Me: no one is ever messing with her
    (3:25:29 PM) Me: lol
    (3:25:31 PM) Friend: Not really appropriate for conference
    (3:25:37 PM) Me: indeed

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Cultural jabs in non-American films

    - - -
    I think "foreign films" sounds decidedly American-centric. It's interesting to observe the cultural nuances from non-Hollywood films. And of course, non-Hollywood almost means non-American...

    [Translated] quotes from Mýrin, a.k.a. Jar City, an Icelandic film:
    "Ever been to Stockholm? Terrible place!"
    "Is that what they teach you in America? Stop being a pussy."
    I have a hard time telling whether that's a friendly poke and shout-out, or the writer/director has some beef with Stockholm or Swedes in general, or many Icelanders have similar beef to pick. But the way the police chief makes fun of the rookie on his team who has (studied?) in America at some point... indicates some nationalist pride perhaps.

    Quotes from Eagle vs. Shark, a New Zealand film:
     "I sell these to the Muslims..." (character holds up a candle of twin towers) "and these to the Yanks." (same character holds up a candle of Bin Laden)
    "Where do you want to go?"
    "Home, I want to go home."
    "Ah, home's horrible. You must want to go somewhere else."
    "Mmm, dunno. Australia?"
    "Nah, not there. My ex-wife lives there."
    "What, is she alive?"
    "Who cares about her, she's a lesbian."
    Okay, the candle example I find rather insensitive actually. But perhaps because I have been conditioned by the distinctively American inhibitory sense of political-correctness. Like not all Muslims are militant, etc. In any event, it's not nice to joke about any incidence of mass murder, IMHO. The lesbian joke, while also not very politically correct, is funny like South Park funny.

    And I don't know if the New Zealanders still feel superior to the Australians because back in the 19th Century, many British elites settled in New Zealand while many British convicts got sent to Australia. Perhaps the older generations still do?

    Maybe it will take an external event of cataclysmic scale in order for all Earthlings to realize that... we are all Earthlings.

    Silly word finder on Facebook...

    - - -
    It should read "Uncover your subconscious thoughts at this particular moment" or something like that.

    Mine were "fool", "broke", and "funny". At least 2 out of 3 right on the dot, I must say...

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Duct tape should hold...

    - - -
    My Doink-it dartboard fell and landed on my synthesizer
    that is covered with pale blue bedsheets too small for my current bed.

    The thud shattered the pale blue illusion of silence
    with reverberations of dissonance from an imaginary time and space.

    The black circular plastic raft still floated on pale blue wrinkly water waves
    like a very symmetric and frozen body bag.

    I wonder why the dartboard fell.
    It was duct-taped to an adjustable metal easel.

    Duct tape should hold.

    Why did the dartboard fall?

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    On conducting (and perhaps parenting, among other things)

    - - -
    Charles Hazlewood - #TEDGlobal "Conducting is like holding a bird in your hand – too tight, you crush it. Too light, it flies away..." (quoted from Sir Colin Davis)

    It's really about the trust. If that is granted, all else follows. (... borrowing from George Orwell again) The lack thereof begets hatred and contempt.

    I admit it is very very difficult for me to completely trust another. But I guess there're still safeguards that keep me from degenerating into a sociopathic criminal...

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Associative Musical Visual Intelligence

    - - -

    Take the quiz here. I thought the analogy between musical phrases and geometrical shapes is interesting but has room for interpretation. I got one question "wrong" out of twenty. I also had to listen to each one 2-3 times. So meh. Although I suspect the average score would be significantly lower if they don't have the replay button. I wonder if they take into account how many times something is replayed or how fast the tasks are completed.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Narrative shot [003]

    - - -
    (Warning: angst.)

    Radiating waves of self-hatred, insidious as hydrofluoric acid on skin, were slowly corroding his tattered skeleton of rationality. He slammed the porcelain onto the table and felt the shards digging into his hand, followed by an explosive sensation in maniacal glory. Possessed by a demonic impulse, he proceeded to hurl everything through the 7th-floor glass window, tearing apart the room and his every muscle fiber, all while roaring like the death of a magnificent beast.   

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    On comedic personas

    - - -
    The guys - Alec Baldwin, Jim Carrey, Zach Galifianakis, Robin Williams
    The gals - Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Betty White

    I think these comedians represent a good part of the humor style spectrum, ranging from goofy to witty spiced with some crass, with their own idiosyncratic inflections. The guys tend to be either suave (witty) or slapstick (goofy), or both (Robin Williams seems to do both pretty well). The gals are mostly clever (witty) and sometimes goofy, but in a different way than the guys. Somehow it's more acceptable for guys to flaunt themselves than for gals... hmm.

    Granted, their style has a lot to do with their native personalities. Whereas Baldwin fits nicely in a boardroom or 007-type scene, I cannot picture him in a tutu (i.e. Carrey's Black Swan parody) or entertaining pre-schoolers (i.e. Galifianakis). Williams is more of a chameleon in this sense because he acts out the "fool" archetype much of the time but also being serious simultaneously, i.e. Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, etc.

    The gals tend to stay true to how they are in real life, I think. We have a self-deprecating geek, an in-your-face no-nonsense go-getter, and a mild-yet-snarky grandma. Their gigs mostly center on these character types and it's difficult to imagine them playing something else. Fey's style is somewhat similar to Galifianakis' in that they often make fun of themselves. I find this rather endearing (probably many people too). This is in part due to my cultural upbringing, but I must say it's the safest strategy in this contemporary atmosphere that is super-charged with political-correctness.

    Tangentially related... the Comedian from Watchmen is not funny "hahaha", but funny "I'm gonna make your life a joke". See how this archetype works better in a guy?

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Solmire MIDI to MP3 online converter

    - - -
    It's rather fun to experiment with all the sound fonts and channels for my numerous MIDI song clips. They take on various textures. Just like typography...

    The MIDIs were generated via Hyperscore, though the tunes themselves were written quite a while ago...

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Classy sample of spam from a mailing list

    - - -
    "I am desperately searching for eager victims - postdocs or PhD students - mine or other supervisors' - to make my workhorses and to plunder ideas from. I am a dirty Hun who seethes from jealousy out of every pore. I cannot do research myself because I'm narrow-minded, rigid-brained, and petty. Therefore, I have to recruit desperate scientists from anywhere in the world and then manage (harangue) them into submission. 
    The smarter you are relative to me, the more I will hate you. If you complain, you will be threatened by my gang of goons - faculty and administration are all allied with me in order to achieve our clan's goal of world domination which has eluded us for the last century or so. The reward for taking up this Faustian bargain with me is good renumeration - but if you start to complain or expose the secret of my incompetence to others, especially outsiders, then you will be let go as we cannot tolerate traitors within our ranks. ALL credit for your work will go to me and my gang of inbred dullards, not to you. 
    We are ruthless gangsters who recruit legitimate scientists from all over the world to do our work because we cannot do any of it ourselves - due to severe brain rigidity brought about by centuries of inbreeding the traits of blind obedience, robotization, and general dullness. The techniques which we employ to keep these victims productive is nagging, threats and psychological abuse, facilitated by the university's administration. Eventually, the victims give up all credit for their research to us. I have no conscience since I am a psychopath. I am entitled to success because supremacy is my birthright."

    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    Homogeneous and heterogeneous speaker-audience interactions

    - - -
    One thing I noticed in the myriad of talks this past week was that the speakers' gender and ethnicity correlate with those of the audience members who asked them questions at the end of their talks. Not surprisingly, guys asked significantly more questions than gals, regardless of who was presenting.

    Perhaps this is a good argument of why we need educators from as many different backgrounds as possible... in order to encourage participation from a diverse group...?

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Interdisciplinary approach to the energy issues

    - - -
    Met students from all different fields of science, economics, business, and law. [Insert "synergy" here]

    Really got a comprehensive view of how to solve the energy problems, although a lot more breadth than depth. Lots of brief talks (engineers/scientists thought were too non-technical and some MBA/law students thought were too technical). I learned more about carbon capture & sequestration, geothermal powers, wind turbines, aviation and automotive research, etc. On the non-science side, there's carbon tax, cap & trade, behavioral economics, and that McKinsey greenhouse gas abatement cost graph...

    Fun tours to local habitats and companies and labs...

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    [Fudgy Science Episode 003] A Markov chain of my daily activities

    - - -
    Here's a diagram showing what I do on a high level.  

    An arrow pointing from A to B, with a number N at the origin of the arrow, indicates that if I'm found in State A at a given time, there is a probability of N that I would be found in State B about 30 minutes later.

    If you find a prettier Markov chain, please show me where it is.

    More detailed description of the states, with steady states (expected time spent per day) according to Markov chain matrix calculations...

    Biological housekeeping (~9.226 hrs)
    • Sleeping
    • Anything directly related to eating
    • Grooming, e.g. showering (why yes)
    • etc...
    Work-related activities (~7.122 hrs)
    • Setting up simulations and running them, i.e. babysitting
    • Looking up papers and reading them
    • Visualizing data
    • Analyzing data
    • Research meetings
    • Making PowerPoint presentations
    • Watching online lectures
    • etc...
    Intellectual entertainment (~3.428 hrs)
    • Reading "layman" books about quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, sociology, history, culture, religion, etc.
    • Watching documentaries
    • Writing nerdy poetry
    • Writing sci-fi
    • etc...
    Instinctual entertainment (~2.519 hrs)
    • Reading manga & watching anime 
    • Reading sci-fi
    • Hulu surfing
    • Biking in quasi-Brownian motion
    • Shooting darts
    • Making (mostly) abstract art
    • Fiddling with music synthesizer
    • Listening to certain songs in loop
    • etc...
    Socialization (~ 1.705 hrs)
    • Talking to people online or offline
    • Hanging out, etc...
    Yeah... C'est la vie

    Adding a dash of imagination to photos

    - - -
    Befunky is a neat web app that adds artistic effects to photos. I was playing around and it was pretty fun. All hail computer graphics and signal processing algorithms!

    Gonna play with FotoSketcher too. This one needs an installation. (Don't we love obvious misspelling in product names...) The sample gallery doesn't have people, so I wonder how that might turn out.

    Narrative shot [002]

    - - -
    She found the blueprints rolled up inside a thin fiberglass rod. It glinted iridescent against her flashlight of white LEDs. A rush of possibilities whirled through her head. She clenched her jaw and bit her tongue to squelch out the bubbling vortex, which turned out to be harder than expected. No time to think about that right now. Need to melt back into the liquid obsidian night so that this new information can emerge into the celestine light of day.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    A splendid solution to current social ires

    - - -
    During lunch with some labmates today, I proposed legalizing marijuana to be more eco-friendly and create more jobs, generate more revenues, etc. New businesses would be established, aaaand... also alleviate the overcrowding in many jails. I mean, if tobacco is legal, why can't marijuana be too :-P Everyone liked my idea (ha ha ha ha ha) except for the resident hard-liner who opposes all legalization of drugs. Oh well. 

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Please Understand Me by Keirsey & Bates

    - - -
    There was a revisit of the Jungian temperament types, and derivatives thereof, but this time with an emphasized intention of understanding others... and just maybe develop some kind of unifying theory. I know people don't fall neatly into these bins, but instead behave more like weighted sliders along various scales. I may have one "dominant" type but also have significant characteristics of another type.

    However, it is helpful to learn more about the personality archetypes as corner data points, so to speak. Makes interpolation somewhat easier, but not really. It's like predicting chemical reactions with complicated materials...

    ... because these intrinsic types could be affected by environmental factors in all sorts of ways.

    The references to Greek mythology are interesting, i.e. Dionysus (Artemis), Apollo (Persephone), Prometheus (Athena) & Epimetheus (Hestia). Perhaps I shall initiate a comprehensive (or selectively highlighted) study of mythologies from different cultures at some point...

    As I was reading the book, I tried to pay attention to the various dynamics as different types interact. The description better illuminated certain aspects of my life, as I took the extrospective approach rather than my usual introspection. And perhaps it will help me to relate to other people better. My SO said that I've been improving, so there is hope haha.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011

    The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

    - - -
    The first 1/3 of the book reads like an expansive and poly-sourced mega blog entry. Not in a pejorative sense! I live for well-informed blog entries. :-P Just lots of editorializing involved.

    Dr. Sagan provides many compelling points to debunk the UFO theories (e.g. NSA secrecy during the Cold War) or alien abductions (e.g. sleep paralysis, suggestive and mildly schizophrenic people). But I was a little taken aback by his accusatory tone. Perhaps it stemmed from the frustration of dealing with this ignoramus-masses issue for many years. And his failing health at that time... the book was published in 1995.

    Last page of the alien chapter:
    Despite this apparent variety of extraterrestrials, the UFO abduction syndrome portrays, it seems to me, a banal Universe. The form of the supposed aliens is marked by a failure of the imagination and a preoccupation with human concerns.
    I had to ROFL at that one. After all, the purported aliens seemed remarkably concerned with terrestrial affairs like environmental damage and global epidemics. And some of them even look similar to the local denizens. Annnnd... these aliens "knew nothing about Fermat's Last Theorem or Goldbach's Conjecture". (That's because they never went to math camp!!)

    But Dr. Sagan should have given these people a break because the general public really doesn't have the combined technical and imaginative prowess of astronomers. :-P
    Not a single being presented in all these accounts is as astonishing as a cockatoo would be if you had never before beheld a bird. Any protozoology or bacteriology or mycology textbook is filled with wonders that far outshine the most exotic descriptions of the alien abductionists.
    The believers take the common elements in their stories as tokens of verisimilitude, rather than as evidence that they have contrived their stories out of a shared culture and biology.
     Indeed, if there's actually extraterrestrial life forms, they're most likely microscopic.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    Doink-it darts & Mighty Tyvek wallet

    - - -
    Was wandering around the shops today... I guess now I feel restless if I'm indoor all day. Must still be in vacation mode :-P

    Could not stop myself from getting a dart board anymore. These magnetic darts are cute with stentor-like tails. And they go DOINK when they hit the board. Right now I have the board mounted on my easel. Splendid multi-purpose use...

    Also got the graph paper version of the Mighty wallet. Suits my techie and artsy temperament perfectly. I didn't know about this Tyvek material until today. Light and waterproof and tear-proof.. I should have gotten this a long time ago! Like in undergrad... 

    I also got some other tidbits too...

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Circular 180-degree rotational symmetry...

    ... is totally awesome. Wheeee!! And the crater-lake blue, ohhhh. Puurrrrrrr... I heart the rotational symmetry! Like a Julia set. Shiny.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    What unspeakables happened to Douglas Coupland...

    ... that compelled him to write with such a giant psychedelic squirming teratoma of disdain for contemporary society? (Okay, I empathize)

    He's a master of spinning absurdist scenarios into a coherent and dark lore of what is dysfunctional in the modern world. His metaphors are almost, dare I say, Picasso-like? I think that's the most refreshing aspect of his writing. It speaks to my stretched-over-the-elastic-limit pseudo-intellectual ethos. I can read his books when I'm anywhere from 30% to 80% awake, preferably in a shroud of disillusionment.

    I read Player One, Generation A, and JPod (reverse chronological order of when he published them) In all three books, the story would center around a quintet or sextet of characters thrust into an epic adventure against their will. Despite seemingly very different from one another (different walks of life, different parts of the world, different upbringings), they are united first by their bizarre circumstances and gradually come to the realization that they are more alike than they have thought. That they are all equally screwed over, but somehow things work out. More or less.

    There's a stronger autobiographical presence in JPod than in Player One or Generation A in that there is one main narrator and more of the characters are connected to him than others. Later in JPod, however, the narrator's work life and home life become unwittingly stirred into a peanut butter and wasabi mix. Perhaps Coupland has felt like that at some point in his life. I can only speculate...

    There's also a lot of stream-of-consciousness in JPod which many other readers have found distracting, not to mention random typographical feats like the word "ramen" in size-7 (?) Helvetica repeated for one whole page, or the first ~50,000 digits of pi, or random Chinese characters. I personally loved the "ramen" page. Hit rather close to home.

    Perhaps these are meant to be subliminal bombardment of modern culture? Or the author got lazy? In any event, I found this somewhat amusing. The digits of pi though is rather overdone and a waste of ink. ~200 digits would be adequate. :-P

    I might give his earlier books a read, although I have gotten a pretty good idea what to expect. He seems to alternate between rambling stream-of-consciousness (JPod) and intricate story weaving (Player One) and somewhere in between (Generation A). I can empathize too, even though the longest (fan)fiction I've ever written is barely 6,000 words. Or was it less than that? Oh well. So I understand that everyone has more inspired days than others. I'm still a fan.

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    (Unsubmitted) questions to Tina Fey on "Ask Tina"

    - - -
    (1) As a writer (i.e. content generator), where do you find inspirations, or how do you get inspired? Especially during down times like an epic writer's block?

    (2) (Not a question) I totally dig the shout-out to grad students in your 30 Rock episode with the adoption agent.

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    Gin no Saji (銀の匙, Silver Spoon, a manga series by Arakawa Hiromu, with reference to Dan Pink's Drive)

    - - -

    It certainly feels refreshing to see a manga series that doesn't have the usual medley of gratuitous violence, complicated and/or explicit romantic entanglements, and/or (psychotic/delusional) characters either with or without magical powers. On some level, I identify with Hachiken, the main lead of Gin no Saji, who is from the city and therefore an outsider at an agricultural trade high school. He's also somewhat adrift on the sea of life without a landmark of destination in sight.

    All of Hachiken's classmates seem pretty set in life. They have decided to follow a specific trade in some type of farming or animal husbandry, often take over the family farm. A subset of them dream of playing professional sports in order to make more money and support the family business. On the one hand, these youngsters are following a tradition in what they are born into, what they are familiar with. On the other hand, these trades demand a lot of physical and mental stamina, as well as a strong intrinsic motivation. Like Hachiken before he enrolls at the school, I really have no idea what it actually takes to wake up before dawn and clean the stables and milk the cows and harvest the eggs and... butcher the animals.

    Hachiken gets asked many times that all-encompassing inevitable question, "What do you want to be? What is your dream?" To which he would reply, "I... don't really... have one..." He very likely has followed a prescribed path that supposedly leads to a contrived and canned definition of success. Like a perverse version of E.T. following a trail of Hershey's.

    Ahh, the artificial construct of being number-one. When people are conditioned in an environment filled with numerical differentiators and zero-sum games, their intrinsic motivation soon withers and dies. (Read Dan Pink's Drive for more elaboration on this idea.)

    Over the course of the seasons, Hachiken's experience at the agricultural school has opened his eyes in ways that a regular city high school would not. Perhaps he will eventually find some kind of purpose in life.

    Speaking for myself, a perversely conventional definition of an educational "success" story. Is it a success story if I don't feel much like one?

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    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Ship of Fool by William Trowbridge

    - - -
    Wonder what drew me to pick up this little anthology from the myriad of lineups on the library bookshelves. Was it the white-on-black text on the book's spine? The petite size? The ohh-so-shiny gloss suggestive of a published year coincident with the current calendar year? I'd go with all three. After all, the mind draws from a lifetime of associations when making split-second choices. Like what books to read over the next few weeks... The intriguing intro on the back cover merely confirmed my intuition that this would be a good read by my dictionary. 

    (The title is not to be confused with the ship of fools, which is an allegory of civilization. Although the concepts are loosely related.)

    This is a collection of poems about the fool archetype. Imagine a combination of Yiddish comic characters "schlemiel" and "schlimazel", where the former is "a bungler who's always accidentally breaking and spilling things on people", while the latter is "a sad sack who's always getting his stuff broken and spilled on him". Trowbridge's Fool is both.

    Reminds me of comic characters whom Robin Williams and Jim Carrey played in movies. Or Forrest Gump. And perhaps the Fool is not so foolish after all.

    After all, Cupid's fool of a peon calls himself "a flyboy from the infantry of love".

    I mean, everyone has been a fool at some point. Perhaps the Fool speaks to that primal curiosity, the (blind?) courage to believe that the world is still beautiful, or the (naïve?) earnestness to try and make it so.

    Despite being (seen as) perpetually awkward. Nevertheless, he deserves some applause for trying. To help. To live. To love.

    To be.

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    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Once upon a random research meeting

    - - -

    I opened the door to the small conference room.

    Jokester Grad Student: Speaking of women.

    [Chuckles from the group]

    Me: Huh? What's going on... Can you recap please?

    Jokester: We were talking about how there aren't enough women at Cal Tech.

    Me: Oh really. [Facetiously] Like 10%?

    [More chuckles]

    Male REU Student: 10% [ROFL]

    Jokester: More like 28%... I mean, how was it for you?

    Me: So the overall is half and half. But some majors are 25%, 15%, and others are like 80%. You can probably guess which ones...

    Postdoc: Women's studies?

    Jokester: Biology?

    Me: Yeah.

    Jokester: It's those fuzzy mice.

    Me: [Raised eyebrows] And killing them.

    [Loud laughter from the group]

    Jokester: What does this say about women?!

    Me: [Deadpan] Don't mess with them.

    [More laughter]

    Female REU Student: Well-played.

    Me: Har har har.

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    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Flesch-Kincaid readability test HACK

    - - -

    I recently enabled this option inside MS Word's spelling and grammar check. It's an amusing metric that measures the approximately minimal reading comprehension ability needed to understand a certain passage of text.

    So my entry about Copenhagen the play has an index of about 11, which means that an average 11th grader (high school junior) should be able to understand it. This somewhat abstruse entry from Fractal Ontology has an index of about 19. That probably requires one of those liberal arts college education hmm (and a real Ph.D., i.e. in philosophy while at it)

    I think one example where this test wouldn't be accurate might be something like "The dog barks arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf-arf and the cat goes meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow." This has a score of 38 according to this calculator. Which would mean that one needs to complete 38 years of schooling to understand that, oops. Perhaps a heuristic that breaks up hyphenated words might be helpful here.

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    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Once-in-a-blue-moon relatively-pleasant dream

    - - -
    I was wandering around the Stata Center, which looked different from the real one. It was internally circular and the rooms were bigger. There was also one giant general purpose room...

    I saw people I know from high school & undergrad whom I don't think know each other. They were engaged in a strange team-building activity inside the general purpose room, building Rube-Goldberg type devices. There were about 5 or 6 competing teams, and I saw them trying to hold down a spring (looked like it had a high spring constant k) hanging from each of the ceiling lights... for perhaps about 30 seconds. The mayhem that ensued was somewhat ridiculous. Screams and cheers and people piling on each other in awkward positions.

    Meanwhile, I was circling around the food areas and came across an ice cream dispenser with 5 flavors: green tea, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and mint. (Seriously I think I must secretly want all ice cream dispensers to have those flavors...) I had a green tea one, strawberry mixed with vanilla, mint mixed with vanilla.

    And then a current labmate was commenting amusedly on my mixing the flavors.

    At least I know where the ice cream dispenser came about... I was at a food truck festival the night before and was watching one of my friend's friends eat a tall stack of ice cream balls on a cone. I was already full, but that cone sure looked tasty...

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    The disadvantages of an elite education

    -  -  -
    This article by William Deresiewicz has probably been cited N = too many times ad nauseum. But that's only because many people read it and resonated with the message.

    Number and label games are much easier to play than the nebulous and mystical exercise of self-reflection. Like jamming round pegs into square holes. In my case, it's an amorphous peg.
    The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you.
    Oh is that ever so true. In my case, also add to the overwhelming inhibition factor of making small talk in general. Some days are better than others, but still. I can only imagine how I'd fare trying to talk to someone who doesn't have a scholarly background in some type of science or engineering or art or music. Like how I was at a loud bar trying to make conversation with a law school student. Utter and complete disaster that was. At least I was in a large group.
    The second disadvantage is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth.
    Hahahaha... for me that only lasted until end of high school. I did not have a traditional Ivy education during undergrad, but it was definitely very elite. And demanded a lot of self-initiative, which was pretty dead in me for reasons too complicated to go into right now. I froze in the headlights when I was in place where I really had to ponder concepts long and hard and work things out and struggle through dead ends in order to properly learn. I did not learn how to fail gracefully.
    If you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual.
    Deresiewicz means that the system discourages self-motivated inquiries about the world. In that sense, I feel like perhaps I still retain some of that ability. I devour books and media about subjects that relate to my "job" to various degrees, from closely related to barely so. Even seemingly completely unrelated. I don't know whether this will help my earning potential in any significant way. With the world the way it is now, most likely not...

    But I'll keep feeding my brain because it's one of the very few things that actually alleviates my ever-persistent existential crisis.

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    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Revealing water’s secrets - MIT News Office

    Revealing water’s secrets - MIT News Office

    Water is an interesting substance indeed - I mean, ice floats in water... what other material's solid form floats in its liquid form?

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    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Existential meetings in space and time

    - - -
    me: how're things?

    friend: Hi,
    Things are.
    I'm trying to write a paper.

    me: Things are indeed

    friend: How are things there?
    Are-ing, too?

    me: yes
    just realized I have a 9am meeting
    which I thought was at 10

    friend: That's sad.
    Even if people are well up and out by 9:00, nothing should be scheduled until 10:00 or later.
    The French seem to abide by that.
    Still, if you are working then, you don't have to schedule meetings then.

    me: the nanofab people seem to be... early
    actually, they start early and often end late
    It's a "fab user" meeting

    friend: A user meeting?!?!

    me: If I schedule something, it's almost always 1pm or 2pm or 3pm.

    friend: Those should not happen at least until 3:00.
    There's just something about building invisible things that makes one immune to time.

    me: yes

    friend: Yes.
    I suspect that if you get used to not being able to perceive three spatial dimensions, then you also become numb to the fourth dimension.

    me: ahahaha

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    Friday, July 29, 2011

    Exodus from the sensory-deprived suburbia (videos)

    - - -
    An interesting kinetic sculpture (Double Excentric Gyratory) near the UN Plaza. It moves with the wind.

    Panoramic view from the Yerba Buena Garden.

    A bunch of random students dressed up in random costumes with a hodgepodge of marching band and orchestra instruments.

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    Exodus from the sensory-deprived suburbia (photos)

    - - -
    Next time I'll ride the bus... probably westward. 

     UN Plaza. Note the seagulls on the left of the fountain. There were many pigeons too.

    UN Plaza & SF City Hall. The statue on the left is Simon Bolivar, and the (higher one) on the right is Founder's Statue. The tents were a multi-cultural market selling trinkets and various souvenirs. And seagull on the bottom left.

    Supreme Court of California. That crane might have been around there for awhile...

    Another shot of the City Hall...

     Asian Art Museum

    Random road light (corner of McAllister & Larkin)

    Random chimney (same corner as above)

    Urban safari indeed.

    Back at UN Plaza. 


    Orpheum Theater (currently showing Billy Elliot)

    I wandered southwest down Market Street for a while, and the vibe got progressively more sketchy. I was gonna take a picture of an abandoned church at corner of Howard & 10th Avenue, but decided not to look like a stupid tourist.

    On Market Street near the UN Plaza. They were soda cans turned into butterflies.

    Interesting graffiti across from the SF AIDS Center.

    Inside Westfield Mall. Forgot what store this was...

    Westfield Mall. The Nordstrom is really really big.

    Someone playing the piano. He did a nice jazzy rendition of The Sound of Music. :-)

    Man, almost a perfect shot of the 180-degree rotational symmetry.

    St. Patrick's Church near SFMOMA and the Yerba Buena Garden.

     Waterfall in the Yerba Buena Garden, Metreon in the background.

    The waterfall is so very serene.

    Apparently, there was a convention about the Subway franchise at Moscone West...

    Squashed road cone hanging from the trolley line on 4th Street...

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