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A couple of minutes ago I was editing a file in Emacs when I hit ^k — and simultaneously with the text to the right of point in the line I was editing disappearing, heard a little bell sound. Quite soft, and seeming to come from out in the world rather than my earbuds. I kept typing, thinking it must have just been a stray sound out in the world somewhere.

Then it happened again.

WTF? I've certainly had stray keystrokes cause mysterious occurrences in Emacs before. But I hadn't had any of those OMFG what did I do? ^_ ^_ ^_ moments recently.

Go to the end of the buffer. ^k. Ding!

^k. Ding!

It lingers a little. Resonates. Like a real bell does, as I was reminded recently when I took my deskset apart recently and accidentally bounced a screwdriver tip off one of its bells.

And boy does it seem to be coming from the world, not my earbuds.

So I take out my earbuds.

^k. Ding!

Double check: Yes, earbuds are plugged into my laptop's headphone jack. Also, with them off, it's both clearer and seems to be coming from somewhere off to the right....

^k. Ding!

Okay — about 30° right. Where my bass guitar is leaned against a corner, too long untouched. Is it trying to get my attention?

But the sound is to high pitched for my bass to make without my hands being involved. And the left well down its neck. Leaving aside the question of how typing ^k over here could cause it to generate a note. To say nothing of the fact that it's an inanimate object.

^k. Ding!

Wait. What if....

Tap finger on desk. Ding!

I look around. I just, a few minutes ago, made an ad-hoc glove drying rack out of a couple of wooden spoons and a big stainless steel cup. (The kind you make milkshakes in.)

Pick up cup. Tap finger on desk. Ding!

There's a 400 ml beaker I just used as a milk glass.

Pick up beaker. Tap finger on desk. Muffled thump.

Set beaker down. Tap finger on desk. Muffled thump.

I haven't been able to put the beaker back on my desk in such a way that tapping the desk makes it ring. I can get something very close to the same sound by tapping its rim oh so gently with my fingernail. But it's not the same. And now that it's gone, I miss my little unexpected bell. :-(

But perhaps a few angels got their wings tonight, and are now fluttering over my desk.

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I took a walk today in Menotomy Rocks Park. Without my cane (carrying but not using it, that is). Without a therapist hovering at my elbow. On grass!

All for the first time in more than a year.

It was barely five minutes, and probably not 50m. But I was smiling when I got back in the car.

I've been having a pretty crazy year. And it's not over yet. But there's some cause --- just a little --- to hope the faint flickering I occasionally see down the tunnel isn't a hallucination. And I felt real joy today!

I have a lot I want to say. A lot I've wanted to say in the past however many months. And just haven't been able to find the energy or the words or most of all the motivation.

To anyone reading this, I'd like to say thank you. And to say how very sorry I am that I have been failing to hold up my end of my friendships these past few months.

Not that I expect to my former normal any time soon. I need to rethink how I do social media altogether. But if anyone has missed my comments on your life, I want you to know that i miss learning and thinking about your life as well.

I'm aware that this is pretty disjointed. But I'm operating right now --- and I suspect for quite a while into the future --- on the theory that posting at all is more important than posting well-crafted prose. More important right now than posting coherent proce prose. But not more important than posting correctly spelled prose!

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I just, for the first time in many years, failed to restrain myself from correcting a stranger who was wrong on the internet. I tried to be civil — encouraging, even — in my correction, seeking a tone much like that I use when commenting on students' essays, though hobbled by the fact that I'm addressing a stranger. I suspect that I missed the mark rather widely, and actually ended up coming across like someone with a stick up his ass.

And where did I choose to make what may well be my first attempt this millenium to correct someone for being wrong on the Internet? A youtube comment.

I know. I know. Sigh.

I cannot recommend watching the video in question. So I will save the link for after the comment.

But I must first flagellate myself a bit over my own priorities. There are dozens of excellent youtube videos that I've started posts about, or at least bookmarked to post about later. And the smart and satisfying thing to have done with the last 90 minutes would be to have written a post about one of those videos. Or two. Or three.

Next time.

So:   What I spent the evening writing:

From 0:53 to 1:07, you describe the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent in a way that seems a bit strained. You then assert, from 1:08 to 1:16, that the recent discoveries in Iran may prove that agriculture was developed independently by different populations around the world  — as if that were something that needed proving, rather than having been the archaeological consensus for decades if not longer. At least your apparent misunderstanding of what archaeologists have long believed about the development of agriculture explains your strained Fertile Crescent summary. But hyping the Iran discovery like that makes you sound like a fool, and leaves me wondering whether there's anything at all genuinely interesting about the discovery.

From 4:02 to 4:15, you claim that the evidence of pre-Clovis humans killing a mastodon contradicts the consensus theory that the extinction of megafauna in North America at the end of the last ice age was caused by humans. It does? How, exactly, does evidence of humans killing a mastodon 14,000 years ago contradict the theory that humans caused the extinction of the mastodons? I note that your actual phrasing — "contradicts the scientific theory that an extinction of megafauna like mammoths and bison occurred due to the arrival of the Clovis people" is, arguably, a factual statement. But the arrival of the Clovis people is hardly the central feature of the theory: the presence in North America of human hunters  — the very fact that you are claiming contradicts the theory  — is.

The things you present in this video are genuinely interesting. Or would be, if you didn't hype them with misinformation anyone remotely familiar with the topic will notice. Getting facts wrong always damages one's credibility. Basing your claims on incorrect facts destroys it. Because of it I'm not willing to believe anything you assert in the video without independent confirmation.

I assume you had only the best of intentions in producing this video: to share interesting information about the world. That is noble and worthy purpose. But one you cannot further if you are careless with facts.
The youtube video in question: 6 Recent Archaeological Discoveries That Could REWRITE History. (Yes, I should have taken one look at the title and moved on then. No, I don't know what I was thinking.)

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I'm going to Ikea at some point in the next week or so, and I always like Ikea more with company. It's not by any means as big a deal as BITD, when an Ikea run meant either Montreal or Newark: After doing that solo once in the 90s, I swore-off going to Ikea alone til they finally opened the Stoughton store. But it's not just for the drive that I like company: something that distinguishes Ikea from every other megastore is the extent to which their stuff is actually interesting. And it's always more fun if you have someone to compare notes with.

The reason for this trip is that I need a couple of reading lamps: I've been doing a lot more reading words-on-paper in the evenings lately, and my current reading lamp is making me crazy. But I'll spare you that discursion and get to the actual point of mentioning it, which is to say the stuff I'm getting won't take up much space, so there will be plenty of room for your stuff on the trip back. (I will need to bring my wheelchair, though: I'm not yet up for the several blocks of walking an Ikea trip entails. But that should easily leave at least three-fourths of my car's volume available.)

So anyway, anyone interested should please let me know, either by email to my MIT address, or you can comment here. My schedule is pretty flexible, so if you have time/date constraints, try me.

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When I was reading LJ this morning, I saw a reply from a friend to a comment I'd left in their journal. And for reasons having pretty much nothing to do with my friend or anything they said, I found myself staring at the screen with my jaw on the floor, going wha?

Backing up a little: This is a pretty innocuous conversation, but locked, so I'm not going to say anything that could identify the other person. So for the sake of filing off the serial numbers, I want to be able to talk abstractly about the taxonomy of knowledge: Foo and Bar are high level divisions of knowledge — broad scientific fields that you'd expect even a small liberal arts school to offer a major in. My friend works in Foo. (Hmm. A name sure would be handy.... Sound effect of rummaging through a closet....[1]

Darian, like many of you, has a PhD and works in a STEM field. As with most of us, this means they sometimes find themselves using tools borrowed from a neighboring field. Darian recently wrote about an ongoing project that has involved stretching their skills with one such tool — a software tool that I have glancing familiarity with, but of a genre I'm very familiar with. This particular tool was developed mainly by and for specialists in Baz, which is a subfield of Bar. My reply to Darian's post was basically a paragraph of knowing commentary on learning new tools of that sort. Darian's reply to me mentioned in passing that they hadn't studied Bar formally since high school.

And that's when it got weird: Somewhere in my head, marked fact with the same sort of casual certainty as, say, Avenue of the Americas is really 6th Avenue or Laura speaks German, was the belief — until this morning I'd have said the fact — that Darian's undergraduate major was Bar.

Like everyone else, my brain is littered with non-facts that I believe. I try to fix those when they're brought to my attention. And part of the process of fixing them generally involves asking myself How did I come to believe this wrong thing? Generally I'm able to come up with a plausible explanation of how I came to be misinformed. (Not necessarily the explanation, but one that makes sense. Man is the rationalizing animal and all that.)

But in this case that doesn't obtain, and I knew that as soon as I saw Darian's sentence. There's no plausible way for me to have acquired this fact other than for Darian to have said at some point I majored in Bar in college. And no plausible reason for Darian to have lied to me about this fact. Which means that the random firing of my neurons has conspired to plant in my brain a falsehood, dressed as a fact. Not an especially important falsehood. Nor, when I thought it was a fact, would I have thought it an especially important fact. What's flummoxing me — what flummoxed me from the moment I read Darian's reply this morning — is that this is my brain revealing itself to be an unreliable witness in a way I had never encountered before. A way that feels vary unsettling.

1  For some reason I've long since forgotten, I have a text file with the thousand most popular baby names in each the 13 decades from 1880. From there, it was just a matter of import random....

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The canonical advice for sous vide on the cheap is to put the food in A ziplock, submerge it to the lip of the bag to force the air out, seal the bag, et voila!

I've never been able to make this work properly: I invariably end up with enough air in the bag for it to float, leaving a portion of the food at or above the waterline, where it would presumably risks coming out partly under-cooked if I didn't find a way to force it back under. Which is a pain in the ass.

This is the main reason I've only used my Anova Precision Cooker — which I've had longer than most, since I was a Kickstarter backer — less than a dozen times for anything other than eggs. (Man, I wish more food came in its own sous vide-ready packaging.) The price of vacuum- sealers has gotten less outrageous, but — I don't know. Maybe at this point I've just got my back up about it.

One thought I've had is to find something foodsafe that I could put in the ziplock with the food (and easily find and seperate out later) that would be dense enough to hold the bag down even if there were a small pocket of air. My question is, what should I use? Marbles are one possibility — assuming marbles are still made of glass, and that, as children's toys, aren't made of glass that will leech anything very toxic into the food. Stainless steel ball bearings are another. I know Borosilicate beads are available as a lab supply, but being transparent seems like it would be a strike against being easy to find and separate out after cooking.

Before I go any further down this road, I want to ask two questions of the hive mind:

  1. Do I need to give any serious thought to the thermal conductivity characteristics of the material I use? Or can I rely on my intuition — which, for both glass and stainless, is that the material will be uniformly the same temperature as the water bath within a few minutes, and will transfer that heat to the food as well as the LUPE of the ziplocks)?
  2. Is this a well-trodden road among foodies? If so, what materials do people like? Is there some better technique I haven't thought of? Or am I the only one who has this problem? Or am I borrowing trouble, and let a corner of my ziplocks float in the water bath?

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[Edit 2016-07-25 14:50: I had not seen [livejournal.com profile] siderea's posts from yesterday when I initially posted this. I'm tempted to delete this post — I certainly can't imagine that congratulations on being #1 in top journals will be much more than a distraction for her today.]

I just saw this when I went to www.livejournal.com to make a post. Mazel Tov!

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Short form: I've always taken it as an inviolate rule that you don't forward private email. (And that private email, in another absolute, includes mail to a mailing list, unless that list has a public archive.) I have always taken forwarding here to mean quoting at all. There are some circumstances where it's okay to summarize such email, but not to paraphrase it. All of which boil down to when your purpose is benign and you're confident the sender wouldn't object to your doing so.

But under no circumstances, under the netiquette I was taught, is it alright to quote private email without the sender's explicit permission.

I suspect that the modern take on this is that I need to relax. That holding rigidly to that rule, while not as odd as, say, insisting on calling my co-workers Mr or Ms Lastname rather than by their first names would be, is nevertheless passé, and no-one would take exception to my using my judgment in such a matter. (They might question my judgment, but not assert that there are no circumstances in which it would have been acceptable.)

I was going to follow the above with the "long" form, for anyone interested. I started writing the above when I found myself 150 words into the first draft and still hadn't gotten to the question. It's now taken me 250 words to ask it directly. I'll spare you the prologue.

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A few minutes ago there was an odd noise outside. It wasn't loud; certainly not startling, but odd and distracting. As I stopped reading and canted my head, being a member of the pattern-finding species, I found something familiar in the sound: It reminded me of the TARDIS. The sound stopped right about then, not even giving me time to finish thinking Okay, what are the odds someone on the next block has decided to play the TARDIS sound over a PA at this hour?

In this neighborhood? Not bloody likely. Though I have lived in places where that wouldn't have been all that surprising. (Which thought was followed a moment of wistful memories of the Phase 400 I got for a song in college, and the time my friend Greg and I hooked it up to his Speakerlab Klipschorns and played the `Telarc 1812 Overture — famous (among audio nerds in the early '80s, anyway) as the first recording to capture the cannons with real fidelity. Also, infamous for blowing speakers up :^)

A few minutes later, noise started up from the same apparent source. But this time it lasted more than a couple of seconds, and quickly resolved into something that made sense. Not exactly something you'd expect. But it made sense.

Late this afternoon we had a brief squall. Plenty of wind and rain noise, and my blinds moving some in the breeze. But I've been keeping windows open all summer, with my blinds adjusted for airflow without letting people casually look in. And I'm pretty much past worrying about the rain getting in: I'm on the ground floor, and there's a two story house a driveway-width away on both of the sides with windows: Even when I find myself leaning into sideways rain if I go out to the street, there's not enough coming in my windows to do any harm. So I went back to what I was doing.

A couple hours later, I went to the grocery store. The first thing I noticed when I went outside was a few small branches on the front stairs. Probably the first serious wind gusts these trees have seen since they got their full wight of foliage this year, I think to myself. I back out of my driveway, go to the corner, and as I pull up to the stop sign, a fire engine with its lights on comes into view around the corner of a neighbor's house. So I was expecting to see some sort of ruckus when i looked left at the stop sign. Still, a tree leaning at about a 15° angle toward said neighbor's house — apparently intact but with the ground around it on one side torn up — wasn't exactly what i was expecting.

From there I went west on Mystic Valley Parkway. The I saw plenty of tree branches on the ground, but nothing that seemed like a big deal. But then, after the rotary at the Rt 60 bridge, about in the middle of the bend there, there was a police SUV stopped in my lane with its lights on. No sign of the cop, but the message was obvious. I turned left up a little residential street — and then saw, behind the SUV, the tree fallen across the westbound lane.

So when the noise picked up again around 22:50, I was like, Okay. That's a chainsaw. And that's a woodchipper.

As I said: Not exactly something you'd expect. But it made sense.

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Admittedly, I'm totally fanboy about Hamilton and everything to do with the show. But this a capella dressing-room performance of one of the great rock classics, by three women who are surely true BFFs, is just priceless. Listen and enjoy!
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Kenji Nakazawa knew terrible anguish as a child. And as an adult, became a great artist.

Gen Nakaoka is an ordinary six-year-old boy, living with his family near Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. Barefoot Gen is a manga series that follows him from there. I read it several years ago on the recommendation of a friend. It is as terrible and beautiful a work as any ever made. And sadly little known in the English-speaking world.

So when I saw the Backerkit + Kickstarter project to bring the entire series out in a hardcover edition suitable for school libraries, of course I backed it. (This Comics Alliance article summarizes the proect.) This special school library edition will run to four volumes — in the original Japanese, the series runs to ten, but bear in mind you can get a lot more into a library binding than a paperback. When I read it, only the first four were available in English. One result of this project is that I learned that the US publisher had brought out the remaining six volumes in paperback, starting about the time I read the first four. Ah well; now I'll have the whole thing in hardcover instead. Sucks to be me. (^:

I wish I'd posted about this sooner of course. I heard about it — and signed up — when I was in the hospital, and frankly had forgotten all about it until I happened to check my gmail account for the first time in months today, and found mail asking where they should send my copies. So if you can't find it at your local library or bookstore, check with me in a few weeks and maybe I can lend you mine.

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Short form: Would someone like to come over for an hour or two at some point in the next week or so and help me deal with some stuff in my basement?

Long medium form: I'm not walking normally yet, but I'm pretty confident I could make it down my basement stairs and back up them without doing myself injury. So I was planning on doing that today. But yesterday I had a kitchen accident---- I'm fine; no injury save to my pride. But I was lucky not to end up in the ER, and it brought home the fact that I'd be a fool to be doing things well outside my current physical ordinary without planning for contingencies. And for going to the basement, that means I should have someone with me.

(The long form involved telling the story of that kitchen accident, and that story wants to branch into an essay I've had in the back of my head for a while. So I'm going to save it for another day.)

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One of the bad ideas for dealing with spam that came up in the early days — not Canter & Siegel early, but not this millennium either, I'm pretty sure — was what I think of as Internet Postage Stamps:* charging a small fee for each recipient of every message you send. We all agreed it was a terrible idea, and IIRC it didn't gain much traction even among politicians and disappeared pretty quickly.

But every once in a while I get a piece of spam so idiotic that I find myself wondering if it was really such a bad idea, on the theory that if they had to spend even a penny per thousand, they'd go broke without finding enough morons to make it pay off, and the rest of us would have fewer reasons to think ill of our fellow humans, having been exposed to fewer reasons to wonder just how dumb a person can be.

This one arrived in my MIT inbox today (another testament to the expensive commercial spam filter the new "professional" MIT IS (whatever they're calling it this year) pays for):

We just got this from the irs.
It is related to mit.edu.
Please check it out asap.
[-- Attachment #2: mit.edu_irs.doc --]

*  Googling this would obviously be useless in 2016, even if what I call it in my head turned out to actually be what the proponents called it at the time. And I'm not interested enough in refreshing my memory about the history to try to come up with search terms that would be useful. But if any of you are that curious, please share what you find.

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So, this is the video that reminded me of how cool an adult Emma Watson has become. But when I started writing a post about it, I realized that I really wanted to make the serious point, and draw the attention of any of my readers who weren't already familiar with it to her committment.

Having done that in my previous post...

In this video, Emma Watson interviews Lin Miranda about Hamilton. And the two of them have so much fun talking to each-other it's just totally contagious. A teaser if you haven't already decided to watch the video (or arguably a spoiler if you have): At one point, Lin-Manuel Miranda says "We have to sort the founders into Hogwarts houses." And Hermione Emma is totally on top of it. Prompting the moment in the screencap above, when Lin turns to the camera and says "When you reply to this on twitter, please just put the GIF of her raising her hand..."

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I've been noticing for several years that Emma Watson has grown up to become every bit as impressive an actual person as Hermione Grainger is a fictional one. She has used her fame to try to make the world a better place, especially in her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. I had somehow failed to see until just now her 2014 address launching UN Women's HeForShe Campaign. Well worth thirteen minutes of your time.

And if anyone still imagines--- as I myself have certainly been guilty of in the past--- that gender-equality is a settled matter, the briefest glance at the comments and the titles of many of the linked response videos should put an end to that delusion.

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I happened to go to dictionary.com just now directly (as opposed to ending up there after googling a word) on account of some positive mention in an episode of Helen Zaltzman's delightful podcast, The Allusionist.

And pulled up short at the realization that their Word of the Day was automagical. A word I quite distinctly remember learning in Tech Square in 1990, when I first fell in among hackers. And remember feeling a trifle daring about when I used it in a magazine piece in 1991.

It's been strange enough in the past twenty years or so to watch terms from the jargon file enter everyday use. But seeing one of them as dictionary.com's word of the day — I think that's a watershed.
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Surprise, surprise - having won at the polls, Britain's bigots are now out in force, bullying people:

Edit: So, it turns out you can only see the page I linked to below if you're logged into facebook. So, a quick summary: It's a page of links to tweets. A few samples:

Daughter tells me someone wrote "[Child's name] go back to Romania" on the wall in the girls toilets at School today.

... @Tesco [grocery chain]: "this is England. Foreigners hace 48 hours to f**ck right off. Who is foreign here? Anyone foreign?"

Older woman on the 134 bus gleefully telling a young Polish woman and her baby to get off and get packing. Horrific.

So less then 20 hrs after Brexit results announced, I have the pleasure of being called "a Paki c*nt in a suit" by a homeless man.

screencaps behind the cut )

Warning Signs [in] Post Brexit Utopian United Kingdom
I'm trying very hard not to think about how it may play out in the US if our bigots grow bold on success.


Jun. 26th, 2016 06:13 pm
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There've been plenty of nights in my life when I lay in bed unable to get to sleep for four or six hours because my mind was racing in circles. But I'm pretty sure that never until Friday was what set my mind racing the results of an election.

I had been blithely assuming that not a sufficient proportion of Britons were fools for Brexit to pass. And that my British friends' fears were overblown.

Boy was I wrong. And what kept me up past 03:00 is that I have no reason to believe that a smaller proportion of Americans are fools.

A question for my British friends: As I understand the British Constitution, Parliament is sovereign. And Brexit was a referendum. I should think that a major advantage of such a system over mob rule democracy would be that wiser heads can prevail.

So as I understand it, Parliment could essentially say We asked you, the British people, to advise us as to whether the nation should slit its throat. You have voted in favor of the razor. Thank you for your opinion. We will give it all the consideration it deserves. And do our jobs and save you from your own foolishness.

Am I wrong? Or am I technically correct, but neither the Tories nor Labour would have the political courage?

(The one occasion of this sort of thing that I know of — though I'm sure there must be many others — is Sweden, when Parliment voted to change the side of the road they drive on from left to right, contrary to a national referendum in which the people voted overwhelmingly against the change. Sweden survived — indeed, thrived — and I doubt many Swedes today think their grandparents' reluctance to switch much differently than they think of their own childrens' reluctance to eat brussels-sprouts.)

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As promised, complete transcript of the "A White Horse" episode of Nate DiMeo's The Memory Palace. I sincerely hope that those of you dislike or have no time for spoken-word audio will take the time to read it. I've rarely encountered such a powerful example of the wordsmith's craft.

Transcript behind the cut. )

(It's an exceedingly arcane and minor point, but when I first transcribed it, I used the definite article in the title. The definite article is there every time The White Horse is mentioned in the story, and in the filename of the mp3 on the website. So I initially decided the indefinite article in the title of the episode on the website was a mistake. Only after I was nearly done transcribing it did I catch the significance of titling the episode "A White Horse." How many people, in how much distress, have been rescued by a knight bourne on this white horse, and others like it? How many has it given the opportunity to become the knight?)

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Well, that was interesting. Two-and-a-half hours ago, as I start writing this post, I hit the submit button on a 13-word comment on a friend's post. A minute later I found myself thinking of a related incident from my youth. Which I proceeded to dive into with nary a thought for the nearly-finished post I started ten days ago about memory and literary influence and Spider Robinson. I now surface with 900 words of IMO pretty good prose, which it will take another hour to turn into a finished piece. But after the accidental all-nighter last week that seriously messed with me for days after, I've made a commitment to myself to be in bed by midnight. Regardless of how tasty whatever I'm in the midst of may be.

So consider this a promissory note: The memory-and-influence post. The 900-words-and-counting post. And the complete transcript of Nate DiMeo's The White Horse. All by the end of June.

So mote it be. :^)


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