Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream

We had a great time at the Cal Shakes performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream this afternoon. Contrary to silly Merc "where are my fairies?" review, we felt that this cheeky reconstruction was better paced than a traditional rendering, and it brought out better the sharp edges of love that are sometimes gilded by fairy light. Doug Hara as a Puck bubbling with physical humor, Danny Scheie as a full-of-himself Bottom, and Lindsey Gates as a sharply snippy Helena were my favorites, but the whole cast did a great job in keeping the play moving and entangling humor, fear, and sexual tension.

Thanks to Brad DeLong for the blogged recommendation.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Localization of emotion perception in the brain of fish

Localization of emotion perception in the brain of fish: This is beautiful work, showing that certain areas in the brain of mature Atlantic Salmon 'light up' when the animal is asked to categorize the emotions expressed by a set of (human) faces:

More amazing still is the fact that the fish performed this task while dead. (Via Language Log).

Read the whole thing. Some great comments too, and links to related material. Don't laugh too hard at fMIR misinterpretations, we are all susceptible to wishful thinking and to reading too much into laboriously collected data, and all statistical analyses of complex data use simplifications that could get us in trouble.

Someone better at comedy than me might have a go at translating the Monty Python dead parrot pet shop sketch into a dead salmon sketch at a neuroimaging conference. At least "pining for the fjords" would be just right already.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The laws of conditional probability are false

The laws of conditional probability are false: This is all standard physics. Consider the two-slit experiment [...] In standard probability theory, the whole idea of conditioning is that you have a single joint distribution sitting out there--possibly there are parts that are unobserved or even unobservable (as in much of psychometrics)--but you can treat it as a fixed object that you can observe through conditioning (the six blind men and the elephant). Once you abandon the idea of a single joint distribution, I think you've moved beyond conditional probability as we usually know it.

As I noted in a comment to the original posting, the work of Chris Fuchs and his collaborators gives intriguing ways out from the apparent contradiction between conditional probability and quantum mechanics. Fuchs's latest paper on the subject is Quantum-Bayesian Coherence.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For Alan Turing, a real apology for once

For Alan Turing, a real apology for once: In an age where (as Language Log has often had occasion to remark) many purported public apologies are just mealy-mouthed expressions of regret [...] it is good to see a genuine and direct apology for once, addressed (though more than half a century too late) to a man who deserved admiration, gratitude, and respect, but was instead hounded to death. The UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has released a statement regarding the treatment of Alan Turing in the early 1950s, and the operative words are:
on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.
(Via Language Log)

If you read the whole Downing Street statement, you might feel a twinge of regret that Turing's other gigantic contributions to humanity beyond cracking Enigma were not mentioned, but the apology is nevertheless strong and poignant, and Gordon Brown deserves praise for saying clearly what had been unsaid for so long by those in power. Thank you.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Data and metadata: Together again

Data and metadata: Together again: Terry Jones has an excellent post that lists the problems introduced by maintaining a hard distinction between metadata and data. [...] This is all very squishy and messy because the distinction is, as Terry says, artificial. It comes from thinking about experience as content that gets processed, as if we worked the way computers do. More exactly, it comes from thinking about experience as a set of Experience Atoms that then have to be assembled; metadata are the labels that tell you that Atom A goes into Atom Z. But experience is far more like language than like particle physics or Ikea assembly instructions. And that’s for a very good reason: linguistic creatures’ experience cannot be understood apart from language. Language doesn’t neatly separate into content and meta-content. It all comes together and it’s all intertwingled. Language is so very non-atomic that it makes atoms realize how lonely they’ve been.

Or, as Zellig Harris argued, natural language is its own metalanguage.

I spoke recently at a VLDB panel where I really wanted to come at the issues from this point of view, but I felt that it would sound way too abstract to a database audience. Maybe I shouldn't have chickened out, but you can't demolish a deeply vested set of assumptions in just seven minutes...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Agnès Varda and Georges Brassens

Just came back from the delicious Les plages d'Agnès. Varda lived on a boat in Sète as a child, so she could not avoid including a snippet of Sète native Georges Brassens's Supplique pour être enterré sur la plage de Sète, maybe my favorite among his songs.