Monday, November 30, 2009

More fun with science

Don't say I never pointed you to anything fun/strange: the alphabet formed from glands (as viewed under a microscope). A font for venting spleen?

(via boing boing)

In simple terms

Just happened to catch a smidge of Science Friday the day after Thanksgiving, when they were covering the IgNobel prizes, to much hilarity. Also included was a couple of "24/7" speeches, in which world experts summarize their fields, first giving a "complete technical description" in 24 seconds, and then following that with a "clear summary than anyone can understand" in 7 words. Great people, entertaining exercise. My favorite was from Paul Krugman. From the NPR transcript, his summary of economics:
Decentralized constrained optimization by maximizing agents with well-defined convex objective functions and/or convex production functions, engaging in exchange and production with free disposal, leads, in the absence of externalities, market power, and other distortions, to convergence on equilibrium characterized by Pareto optimality.
Greedy people, competing, make the world go round.
Even granting the extra word in part II, hilarious, and a bit telling on why experts can get so deep into their heads that they lose track of reality. . .

Quote of the day

ladybug on a leaf
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.
-- Robert Brault
(via a Simple Truths powerpoint show)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Belated post on language acquisition

Well, as noted in my 18-month letter, Speck took her time with starting to talk, holding at some half-dozen words and signs for several months, and then adding just about that many more for the next few. But in mid-October (about 6 weeks after that last missive), everything changed. In a four-week period starting with our trip to Delaware, she added almost a hundred words, in addition to several numbers and about half of the alphabet!

It started slowly enough that we thought we could keep track on paper, but the second side already had twice as many words as the first side -- this included some words being used correctly when we couldn't remember the last time she might have heard them -- and by mid-November we had more or less given up on keeping track, as she started using some in conversation as soon as you offered them.

Anyway, for our own recall and for the interest of a few of our relatives, a little record here:
  • more (first mwa, then moi, then gradually mo, and now mor) -- this has been used as a request and as a statement, almost as soon as added
  • moo
  • blue (boo), followed quickly by pink (pi) and purple (pu, pur)
  • sack (esp. offered at the correct moment in Hippos Go Beserk)
  • socks (sah)
  • bump (in response to speed bumps) -- bup?
  • meow (meeew meeeew)
  • hi (after long absence) -- esp. between two toys
  • eek eek for a mouse
  • whee (clee) for being swung in the air
  • O (favorite letter), followed quickly by Q (coo), B, G, then P,E,I,A,C,D,S...
  • me (but often misapplied to Mom or Dad, as in response to "you want ME to do it?")
  • 8,9,10 (in order, in right place in a sequence)
  • kitty
  • choo choo
Then the headlong rush...

boot, strollertree, dirtsky (ky)
towel, tapeup, downleaves, rice
peanut butter (peeba)hand, forthome, hot
chalk, balleye, hugpast, flip
hotpop, kneewatch, read
on, offPooh, rainseeds (correctly)
hat, slidemoon, yessbye-bye (from gee-gah)
bath, shoestool, seePasha (Pash)
cheese, turtledone, bagbowl, foot
hole, buttonpuzzle (puhh)pig, side
black, hoopwash, fullrun, stop
dark (doh)ride, eatgnaw
roll, foldfingers (a foog)clock (tla, clah)
no, coldjeans, turnJosh, Harry (hay)
bottle (bahbee)neigh, rock (vb.)away (way)
hang (hah), Flopet, flynaaah
circus (sirsah)banana (very unclear)#'s 1-10, except 7
sit, doorpile, wetear, nose, etc.

Still mostly single words but on 11/12 there were two distinct two-word phrases, one being "miss Tsah" (Tsah being the new name for Golden Bear) and the other being a prepositional phrase that I didn't write down in time (maybe "back up"). She also started saying "bye-bye" or just "bye" to people and things being left behind, although just as aggressively as she used to say "gee-gah" to get us out the door when planning fun at Gammy's, etc.... There's plenty more to say about games and personality emerging from all this language, but that's another post. For now, just wow!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Hoping all my readers (and passers-by) are having a little respite from the everyday world, without too much family stress along the way. Remember, both good and bad times are finite, so wallow in the former and let the latter slide on by . . .

hand turkey

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tough luck, poor people

Bigger entities continue to protect the interests of the wealthy while letting the poor pick up the tab (or sniff the fumes):
  • State tax systems contribute to differential tax burdens, with the top brackets paying the lowest percentage of their total incomes when the math is done.

  • Big corporate entities like Comcast aren't happy with their near-monopolies, deregulation, and general ability to screw their customers; now they want to prevent local governments from acting to overcome the digital divide (i.e., making the wired world more accessible to lower-income folks). "Their argument is that in areas where they serve, there are no unserved or underserved communities." Surely you jest!!
I don't think you have to be paranoid to think that some of these things need rectifying. Government-industrial complex, be gone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Baby silliness

Hate to keep this one to myself: Speck demonstrates her somersault (requiring slight parental assistance) -- very cute. Apologies that we felt the need to film this in a diaper. Sigh.

19 months here, which means I'm a bit behind...

Crazy notions

Wait, now people think we should start paying for our wars?!?!? What next, responsibility for our own decisions? Rationality in the face of evidence? The mind reels...

(via Alas, a blog)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday link-dump

Have been piling up things I want to blog, while simultaneously running a time debt at work and at home. A couple of personal posts will be forthcoming, but meantime here are a bunch of things that each deserve a whole blog post but aren't going to get them...
  • Here's a short and sobering video of ACLU interviews with Gitmo detainees who were held for several years and then released without charges or explanations. Oh, our lost national purpose!

  • Three things about football helmets (from the lighthearted to the serious):
    1. Some of the helmets need some serious redesign from the graphical effectiveness point of view.
    2. This New Yorker article has sapped much of my enjoyment of Sunday afternoon football games: Offensive Play tracks the degree of lasting injury and brain-damage done to the average player (especially lineman) and wonders how we justify our acceptance of this gladiatorial combat (which the author compares to dogfighting in its brutality).
    3. Following on those revelations, another author asks whether we should do away with helmets in order to make players more cautious and remove some of the daily battering that their heads are subjected to.

  • More on how great it is to be a woman today:
    1. A writer and editor notes that popular fiction about women tends to be dismissed as "chick lit," while similar stories with male protagonists (and authors) tend to be seen as universal in their lessons and appeal. Women are just so... different. (via Medley)
    2. Katha Pollitt at the Nation asks the Democrats we all worked so hard to elect, Whose Team Is It, Anyway? when they say that the only way to pass healthcare reform is to abandon the health and freedoms of women. Time for somebody else to "take one for the team."

  • For fans of The Wire, a little trip through some great moments and characters: The 100 best quotes from The Wire.

  • A ten-year-old takes a principled stand, refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance until gays really share the liberties and justices of the rest of us... (and no, neither he nor any family members have a direct personal stake in the issue)

  • Science blows my mind: slow-motion video of water drops show that they bounce on the water surface (often several times) before being absorbed. Very cool.
    wireless ginko
  • Finally, a little lightness in honor of fall: many clever concepts illustrated with leaves. Kicks and giggles.
    (via kottke)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holy crap!

News in my day that may change the shape of plans for the next year or two. Hard to know how to take it in. I refer you to this chick for best approximation...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quote of the day

stacked stonesThe cardinal can sing; the wind can move the ironwood trees delicately; a child can ask a wise question -- and where is your center? How can you respond?
- Robert Aitken
Encouraging Words
(via whiskey river)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I've rather been wondering this

Rather than allowing the [health care] debate to center around what features of women's health we care about enough to fund, why not address male vanity treatments like viagra and hair replacement? Put your money where your mouths are, boys.

Edit: more here (via Atrios).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't say I didn't warn you

Totally addictive: Cloud of Atlases is a bunch of maps with the legends removed, so that you have to figure out what kind of feature (natural, sociological, etc.) is being represented. Just kept getting drawn along . . .

(via kottke)

Fall color

What could be more fun than introducing a toddler to her first pile of leaves? Run, dig, throw, burrow, dive -- a total hoot for all concerned. I think this one afternoon might cancel out the entire first month of desperate exhaustion . . .

leaves2 = Speck in a dotty coat, happily seated in a pile of leaves
One happy kid, just over 20 months old.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The taste of sight

Back in my days as a neuroscientist, I used to particularly love the studies (usually in ferrets) that involved rerouting input from one modality to another -- i.e., directing auditory nerve fibers into the visual cortex to see whether the structures and maps that they made would look more like a visual map or a usual auditory map (see, e.g., this). The experiments told us something about what parts of brain structure are "inherent" versus "induced" (and thus what sorts of cues to look for) -- but we knew nothing about what the ferrets experienced when they were exposed to sound or light stimuli, which is clearly where the visceral interest of such experiments comes from.

thoughtsWas thus very primed to appreciate these new studies with crossing the sensory map, as by giving visual data to an electrode array on the tongue, or allowing novel information (say, the location of magnetic north) to be sensed by the body. Here we get some report of what the experience was like for the subjects, and it's pretty fascinating -- gives one a sense of the plasticity of the human brain and of our experience. I imagine that much of the motivation for the scientists involves coming up with "workarounds" for people with sensory deficits, but I look forward to explorations of the basic science as well, especially for information about where in the brain the new information is processed (e.g., is visual-to-tongue information processed by visual cortex, or by the physical sensation map of the tongue, or somewhere else?)... [I may be an ex-neuroscientist by job description, but never by interest!!]

(via kottke)

Not pulling punches

From Wired: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. I hate to be judgemental, but, um, yeah.

(via Medley)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Baby bits

You know, I started to post some obligatory Halloween pics, but then I just didn't really want to. Speck was a dinosaur this year, with green stegosaurus spines down her back, but the photos feel more documentary than actually cute. Meh. Perhaps more fun, she got to decorate a pumpkin with all kinds of spooky stickers at a local playground's Halloween party (which made up well for the fact that our carved jack-o-lantern succumbed to mold and other disgusting decay several days before the holiday itself). But, you know, cuteness is what we need, not topicality!

So here are some cute baby pics to cure your post-election blahs (all from around 20 months). I'll start with one dinosaur-themed one just as a token gesture toward the costume of the year...

baby looking out from a fake dinosaur egg (dino_egg_crop)
A sober face in dramatic lighting, but it's all crawling and play...

Speck in a skirt, looking into teh distance (bus_stop_lean2)
This one has a sort of classical feel (1920's curls?). It's Speck's imitation/embodiment of how a commuter leans against the bus stop while waiting.

Speck's head on Daddy's shoulder, flirting with the camera over top of a book (reading2)
Blurry but cute, Speck leaning on Daddy as they read a book...
(She's become a little bit of a snuggler in the last month or so. yay!)

Hometown news

I grew up in a Midwestern city that was a mix of liberal intellectuals -- generally involved with either the many colleges there or the pharmaceutical industry -- and pretty conservative types of Christians. I haven't lived there in a long time, so I don't have an adult perspective on which strain tends to win out politically, but I was certainly heartened to see that they struck a blow for equality yesterday (in a clearly low-turnout election, but still). Go, team!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Things that amaze me

  • That we continue to spend so much on defense, and that nobody really even discusses it anymore. Why this war, how many troops there, but not Do We Need This Much? A crime.

  • Similarly, how much medicine costs in the US -- not country-wide insurance, but per visit, procedure, test, pill, etc. Another thing we tend not to talk about (because the market cures all ills!)...

  • The prevalence of poverty, especially the statistic that half of all children will be on food stamps at some point -- and 90% of black children!!! I... we... the mind reels.

  • Wacky news from science: a new ocean being born in real time! (As Medley says, Are they allowed to do that?!)

Still an hour left

Election Day today! Races are big in some places, small in others, but part of the job of Citizen wherever you are!

Love-style reminder to vote

Twitter silly of the day

I hate paying bills... Son, don't say "me too." I didn't say that looking to relate to you. I said it instead of "go away".
- shitmydadsays

Monday, November 02, 2009

Poem of the day

Choosing to Think of It

Today, ten thousand people will die
and their small replacements will bring joy
and this will make sense to someone
removed from any sense of loss.
I, too, will die a little and carry on,
doing some paperwork, driving myself
home. The sky is simply overcast,
nothing is any less than it was
yesterday or the day before. In short,
there's no reason or every reason
why I'm choosing to think of this now.
dried weedsThe short-lived holiness
true lovers know, making them unaccountable
except to spirit and themselves - suddenly
I want to be that insufferable and selfish,
that sharpened and tuned.
I'm going to think of what it means
to be an animal crossing a highway,
to be a human without a useful prayer
setting off on one of those journeys
we humans take. I don't expect anything
to change. I just want to be filled up
a little more with what exists,
tipped toward the laughter which understands
I'm nothing and all there is.
By evening, the promised storm
will arrive. A few in small boats
will be taken by surprise.
There will be survivors, and even they will die.
- Stephen Dunn
(via whiskey river)

What is and isn't news

Many journalists seem consternated by the White House's challenging Fox for the bias in its news coverage, as though They Could Be Next. I'm sorry, but Fox is more than quantitatively different from other network and cable organizations -- it isn't just biased, it (1) fakes its own news events (funding the "Tea Partyers," for example), (2) circulates GOP talking points without critique or context, and (3) reports the crazed ideas of its commentators as things that "are being said," as though any sane person elsewhere might be discussing such notions. Analogies with MSNBC just don't fly.

Anyway, I think that Rafe is onto something when he says that the Whitehouse is bothering to make statements about Fox's problems to put the other networks on notice that they shouldn't view such Fox-generated fluff as real news.
That’s the reason behind the White House is calling Fox News out — they can afford for Fox News to be what it is, but they don’t want the New York Times or CNN to factor the priorities of Fox News into their own editorial judgement.
Indeed. The insider-driven nature of contemporary news coverage is bad enough just because of the goldfish-bowl culture of DC journalists, without their getting sucked into the fake news business by the bottom feeders among them.