Archive for June, 2005

Sister Lib, PhD

My sister successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, the culmination of her work in the Tucker group in the Department of Chemistry at Mizzou. She earned her doctorate in less than four years! I attended her defense, and she gave a clear, organized presentation. Congratulations to her.

She will begin postdoctoral research with a new professor far, far away later this summer. Having her close for these four years has been a delight. In this modern world, adult siblings often land flung far from one another. I got to see my sister regularly. I will be sad when she leaves.

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Michael M. on June 29th 2005 in General

Rhubarb

A Prairie Home Companion was at the Amphitheater at Mizzou Saturday as part of the Rhubarb Tour. I doubt that the show will be broadcast at a later date, but I do not know. There were no amazing musical guests, but the regulars were all solid.

In “Lives of the Cowboys,” another character approached Garrison Keillor’s and said, “I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.” That line entertained me. There was a crowd singalong of “Red River Valley” at the end, but I did not know enough of the words to participate much.

I went with my sister and a friend. It was good although I was not blown away. I felt as sleepy as ever on the return trip. Fortunately, I was not driving. Unfortunately, my car broke. Fortunately, my car started the next day. Unfortunately, it started only when the magical tow truck driver appeared after hours of trying and waiting. I did not have to have my car towed, but now I do not know how broken it is. The driver’s side lighted mirror was open, which is strange because I do not remember opening it and I rarely use it. I had planned on working that day. I guess I should get the battery checked somewhere.

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Michael M. on June 27th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Frontline

A Broadband Beat-Down” in The New York Times had the news that selected Frontline documentaries can be watched in full. I watched A Jew Among the Germans yesterday. The quality was tolerable. I have not figured out how to save them yet.

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Michael M. on June 26th 2005 in General, Movies

Present tense

I have noticed that the present tense is dominating the language. Is it new? Is the future tense a thing of the past? I tried unsuccessfully to find information on it.

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Michael M. on June 24th 2005 in General

Panis et circenses

Circus Flora‘s Tzigan is terrific. I went tonight and had a great time. This year is the nineteenth, but it was the first time for me. It should have been the fourth. I did not know what I was missing. I had seen the tent this year and in previous years without having much desire to go. Having only been to one circus, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, in my teens, I thought the circus was only much fun for young children. Circus Flora is fun for all ages.

The Flying Wallendas on the wire were exciting and my favorite. They were one of several great acts. It was the best dog and pony show I have seen. The horse acts included amazing Russian riders and a horse whisperer. The Olate Family Canine Capers were delightful and fast. The small live band played well without any “Entrance of the Gladiators.” The St. Louis Arches, local youth acrobats who perform regularly at the everydaycircus in the City Museum, mesh seamlessly with these world famous acts.

The circus will be in Grand Center through the weekend. I highly recommend it, and I plan to go again in subsequent years. Now I want some bread.

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Michael M. on June 23rd 2005 in General

Krump

The Clowning, Wilding-Out Battle Dancers of South Central L.A.” in The New York Times Magazine springs krumping on its world. A friend told me to look into krumping a year or so ago and then sent me a link to this story. The David LaChapelle film Rize will open Friday at the Tivoli. Next weekend probably will be too busy for me to see it then, but I hope to catch it the following week. Rize seems to be an expanded version of Krumped, a short documentary shown at Sundance last year. I watched some clips at IFILM back when I first found out about krumping. I know very little, and I look forward to seeing the new movie.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2005 in General, Movies

Long bike ride

About 6 PM, I felt bored and restless. I spent the weekend with my sister. She had left, and I was just lounging. Then it occurred to me to hop on my bike and see what I could see.

The parks were great. Many neighborhoods around the city have parks. Quite a few are defined by parks. Today I visited Tower Grove, Benton and Lafayette Parks. I tend to think about Forest Park to the exclusion of others because it is very big, very close and very active. It is both my neighborhood park and the major park for the entire region. It is hardly the only good one. The other parks I visited all had people there enjoying them.

I usually have little exposure to immigrants here. Riding along Cherokee east of Grand took me through several international communities. Asian, I think mostly southeast, and Mexican stood out the most. There might have been some African areas, too. They tend to be grouped. One corner had several Mexican businesses. They often intermingle, though, with a store aimed at people from one part of the world next to one aimed at almost antipodal people. I also passed Yemanja Brasil and the Casa Loma Ballroom, places I had heard about, but never seen. I hope to return sometime when more people are about.

There is a graffiti wall along the river that goes for several miles. Some works are good. A recurring event called Superfest seems to be responsible. The Lowlife Guide to St. Louis, generally a great site, also mentions it. The graffiti end at some Air Force installation that is part of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It appears to be the Geospatial Sciences Division. I do not know what happens there, but it involves high walls and barbed wire.

I started out on Washington leaving downtown. I switched over to Locust after hearing music. There was a rap event in the street on Locust near Cardinal. I only stopped in the street for a minute or so to listen. Several people were rapping live over beats. I could not figure out what was happening. Maybe I should have asked. The building on the southwest corner of Compton and Locust has a blue glow. I do not know why, but a sign promised things to come. The sign with stleye.com printed on it was striking and mysterious.

Boredom turned into wonder. My cyclocross bicycle, still quite new, served me well. It was great for urban exploration. It is fast enough for me on the streets, and it performed well on unpaved surfaces. I like plaques and monuments, and it was easy to ride the bike through the grass to read them. Gravel runs along much of the graffiti wall, and the bike was good there, too. My bike legs, although nothing special as I am reminded when riding around other cyclists, are finally good enough to do what I want. I kept a pace that I enjoyed, admittedly not fast or constant, for about three hours and only felt a little discomfort around one Achilles tendon at the end. A few motorists were rude, either honking or passing too near me, but they were definitely exceptions. The Bike St. Louis routes were generally good, but I felt comfortable riding on other streets, too. With a minimum of care in route selection, Saint Louis provides plenty of fun riding. I should go again soon.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2005 in General

Triumph

Waxy Links led to me to the treasure Triumph vs the Michael Jackson Supporters. It gets much better about halfway through. I have The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and I find it hilarious. This latest segment is up there with the excellent one at the Star Wars Episode II opening. Check out other Triumph videos from IFILM.

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Michael M. on June 15th 2005 in General

Pledge week stinks

I just sat down to watch some PBS shows I had queued with MythTV. Instead of a Frontline on invaders from Wal-Mars, there was Judy Garland singing duets and poisoning my television. It was worse than the Good Times virus. A rotten looking documentary replaced a Nova episode on population. Instead of Austin City Limits, there was a lame John Denver concert. KETC really trots out the garbage. Is the expectation that people donate to eliminate these horrors from the airwaves?

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Michael M. on June 14th 2005 in General

International onomatopoeia

Waxy Links featured bzzzpeek. It has onomatopoeia from around the world. Hearing children imitate sounds from the world using the sounds of their own languages is fascinating.

Update June 9: “Barks Are Local; Meows Are Global” is running in The New York Times about the site.

Update June 15: NPR had a story about the site on Weekend Edition Saturday.

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Michael M. on June 7th 2005 in General

Music for Robots

I do not frequent any music blogs, excepting one, but “Little-Known Bands Get Lift Through Word-of-Blog” in The New York Times led me to a good one and a good band. One of the bloggers at music (for robots) posted about the Hysterics, a teenage band in Brooklyn fronted by one of his students. Check out the followup post, too. MTV then featured the band. I downloaded the two songs from the blog, and they are really good. I think of Elliott Smith and the Beatles while listening.

By the way, MTV was created by a Mississippian, as were so many cornerstones of culture. He spoke at the first or second graduation of my high school. I wish I had been there.

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Michael M. on June 6th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Popeyes versus Bojangles’

Don’t Bee Leave The Tripe, a post on blog Thighs Wide Shut, pits Popeyes against Bojangles’. I must warn you that the site is not safe for work. It may offend people with gentler sensibilities. A friend who went to Duke, located in the heart of Bojangles’ territory, tells me that it is great. It might be. I never lived anywhere that had one nearby. I hope to never live anywhere without a Popeyes nearby. I am an unrepentant shill for Popeyes. I must point out one inaccuracy in the post. Popeyes, although not named for him, did use Popeye the Sailor in the past. Little Nicky had it right. I hope to eat at Super Popeyes sometime when I am back down home.

From a hilarious review at Beliefnet comes this quote.

If the filmmakers sold their souls, it wasn’t to the Devil: “Little Nicky” features some of the most appallingly blatant product placements of all time: Popeyes Chicken is repeatedly upheld as a symbol of all that is right on earth, while Diet Coke shows up in heaven, and when Nicky needs to prove he can perform an act of evil, he transforms a Coke to a Pepsi. Maybe hell is a place where all the gags have been bought and paid for. Maybe we’re already there.

Popeyes is not subtle. I will give the reviewer that much. In an interview, actor Allen Covert, who played Todd, claimed that the products featured were not promotions. The daft Extra interviewer asked, “Why didn’t you pick KFC instead of Popeyes?” First, it is Kentucky Fried Chicken no matter what some marketroids say. Second, Popeyes is awesome.

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Michael M. on June 6th 2005 in General

Lingua nova

Stanley Fish describes a cool class project in “Devoid of Content,” an op-ed piece in The New York Times. He assigns groups in his freshman writing courses the task of creating a new language with a vocabulary and grammar. According to him, this approach of emphasizing structure over content leads to better thought and writing. I often got bored with writing assignments in college because I knew well that I had nothing especially good or fresh to write. The papers were only signifiers of having read and pondered the works we studied. I knew someone who invented his own written language although I only heard about it secondhand. It seems like an entertaining way to learn grammar. Imagining the results reminds me of “A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling.” I consider the op-ed a good companion to last weekend’s To the Best of Our Knowledge that I blogged.

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Michael M. on June 5th 2005 in General

Dinosaur burner

I had the idea to start calling automobiles and other petroleum fueled devices by the slightly inaccurate “dinosaur burners.” I do not remember hearing or reading the phrase. Did I coin it? Googling reveals that the answer is negative. There are only 21 hits, though. I do not feel too unoriginal. A post on Boing Boing about statistically improbable phrases (SIPs) recently introduced at Amazon.com and Sinclair Oil probably provided some inspiration. Chaining works based on SIPs is a new fad.

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Michael M. on June 5th 2005 in General

New Yorker archive DVD set

I have complained about The New Yorker before, but I applaud the decision to release a DVD archive of past issues. See “80 Years of The New Yorker to Be Offered in Disc Form” in The New York Times. The magazine should make all older content freely available on the web. I doubt that it generates much revenue, and if web advertising can cover the computer costs, it could provide income. Thanks to Waxy Links for the notice.

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Michael M. on June 5th 2005 in General

New York Times science rodeo

In Search of Answers From the Great Brains of Cornell” is a fun article from The New York Times on the study of brains, a subject dear to me. Barbara Finlay curates the Wilder Brain Collection in the Department of Psychology at Cornell. It was created at a time when brain collecting seemed a good way to uncover the mysteries of brains. The article then turns to the currently hot field of consciousness studies. Roger Penrose is a strange choice. He believes that the brain relies on as yet unknown physical laws because it performs operations that computers cannot. His views are not well received among many neurobiologists. He spoke mostly about his ideas for new physics in the President’s Lecture Series when I was in college. I missed having him as a professor there by a few years. Christof Koch‘s ideas on consciousness are also speculative. They do not call for additional physics, though, and Koch is an active and well known neurobiologist. I have barely read any of his consciousness work. I just skimmed this article from 1997, and his views must have changed since. I do know that he advocates the experimental approach of searching for neural correlates of consciousness and that he is very famliar with the current science.

One mission of the Wilder Brain Institute is exposing young students to brains. A unit in the neuroscience curriculum of the Young Scientist Program at Washington University School of Medicine provides similar opportunities to STL students. A couple of friends run it, and I have been out to Gateway Middle School a couple of times. Showing actual brains to the students and seeing their reactions can be quite entertaining.

Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution” documents the conflicted state of affairs in the American understanding of biology. The Discovery Institute gave money to the Smithsonian and then the Smithsonian let the Discovery Institute show a movie in a Smithsonian theater. The Discovery Institute is emphasizing the Smithsonian connection in its promotion of the event. Smithsonians officials are now denying endorsement of the views.

Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes” reports on a controversial study. It reminded me of something on NPR several years ago. I think it was this story on Morning Edition, but it could have been this one or this one. The Ashkenazim were relatively genetically isolated for centuries, and the isolation makes some genetic studies more feasible. It also makes some members of a population understandably skittish because they were subject to ghoulish experiments often aimed at painting them as inferior, and it encourages the perception of Ashkenazim as particularly likely to have genetic diseases in general. Many populations have genetic diseases that are more prevalent among them than the general population, but which diseases varies. The research I know does not substantiate the view that the Ashkenazim are more likely to have genetic diseases in general, only that there are some genetic diseases that are prevalent. Even if the Ashkenazim are not particularly likely to carry genetic diseases, this research may make diseases especially prevalent among them easier to identify and subsequently discriminate against.

The obituary of Norman Horowitz also caught my attention. He was a designer of the pyrolytic release experiment of the Viking Mars exploration program. It provided evidence against photosynthetic organisms’ living in the Martian topsoil. Only the labeled release experiment provided positive indications of life. Its results were later interpreted as negative although Gilbert Levin, one of its designers, disagrees. I personally believe that life on Mars is quite likely although I expect only rather boring microbes. Any Martian microbe would be exciting, though. There are people who study similar questions at WashU in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. A friend’s boyfriend works in that department although he studies Martian water rather than life. I have talked to him about Mars a time or two, and if I meet more people from that department, I definitely will seek their opinions. Future Martian life experiments may be problematic. According to an article linked in a /. post, we may have pansperminated (my term, gifted to the world, but subject to Creative Commons licensing) Mars.

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Michael M. on June 5th 2005 in General

Rasslin’

To the Best of Our Knowledge had a program about professional wrestling this weekend. I found it entertaining. The last segments was on Mexican masked wrestling.

South Broadway Athletic Club has MMWA-SICW professional wrestling. Wrestlers include the Amish Warrior and El Uno Loco. Professional wrestling may be the cure for modern ills. Gladiatorial battles have always been popular, and I see the current fascination with reality television and, to a lesser degree, celebrity gossip as modern parallels. Since professional wrestling provides similar emotional engagement without the troublesome reality, I see it as a superior alternative.

I talked to somebody last night who had gone. She said that one of the wrestlers had clearly made his own costume and that the whole experience is terrific. A friend shared similar sentiments a few months ago, yet I still have not gone. The next show will be June 18.

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Michael M. on June 5th 2005 in General

Improv Everywhere

A post over at Barlow Farms introduced me to Improv Everywhere through their Best Gig Ever, a performance in which they cheered rabidly for a band called Ghosts of Pasha. It initially seemed funny. I enjoyed the flash mob fad a few years ago and even participated once. Absurd humor is good by me. If you know me, ask me to tell you a joke I made up as a real life demonstration. Then I heard more about the group in act two of Mind Games, a great episode of This American Life. What should be silly harmless mayhem is often deceitful, reckless and cruel. The strangest part is how little insight or concern the man interviewed from Improv Everywhere seems to have despite repeated problems. My memory was jogged when Waxy Links featured the group’s fake U2 concert mission recently. It is less directly cruel than some of the other missions.

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Michael M. on June 4th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Waxy video bonanza

Beware the large size of the movies. Blogger Barrester embedded a video for “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy, the band noted for exemplary work in molecular biology, in this post. It features him in all the roles. Waxy Links picked it up and mirrored the video.

Also from Waxy come this filmstrip on a little boy who yells too much, a startling parachute stunt video and an utterly amazing animation created from famous films.

The Internet Archive has some good freely available movies although downloading is not working for me right now. I found it via a post on the blog of local writer Julia Smillie.

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Michael M. on June 4th 2005 in General, Movies, Music, Recorded

Andrew Bird

I went to Andrew Bird‘s concert at Off Broadway last night. I and most of the people I knew there were impressed when he opened for Magnetic Fields at the Pageant last year. It was a great show. I had never seen Off Broadway so full. Bird played violin, guitar and xylophone, all performed by himself, and he sang and whistled. For many songs, he began by electronically recording loops that he then played other tracks over them to build up rich arrangements, especially considering that he played all the parts on the spot. “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” is an especially catchy song.

On the nerd front, he delivered. He mentioned reading an article that a friend sent about birdsong and neural plasticity. He really liked the word “plasticity.” Zebra finches silently rehearse their songs while sleeping. Dan Margoliash, probably the lead investigator behind the article he mentioned, spoke in April at the student-organized seminar of the Program in Neuroscience in April. The crossing of normally separate parts of my life excited me. In addition to referencing plasticity, he sang one about palindromes, if only fake ones, and a scientist song.

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Michael M. on June 4th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.