Archive for October, 2006

Spikes

A small group of students in my program read Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code, also available in paperback here and here. I meant to post this entry long ago. It has become a popular book among neurophysiologists for its formal treatment of neural responses based on probability theory. I started reading it in 2000 or 2001 and then stopped as I got busier. In truth, I still have a little left to read now. The group experience was beneficial in keeping me on track and preventing me from as much glossing over of the more difficult parts as I would have done alone.

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Michael M. on October 29th 2006 in General

Dilbertian defeats dysphonia.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has suffered from spasmodic dysphonia for the past year and a half. Now he has largely recovered. He posted this account on his blog. It was picked up in this story on /. and in this post on Language Log.

It is a moving story, a bit of a tear-jerker when thinking about his family. He regained speech while repeating a nursery rhyme. From my perspective as someone interested in neurobiology and neurology, it is fascinating. He practiced saying the things he could with the hope of retraining or remapping his speech pathways. No tools exist to know exactly what causes this disease in the first place, much less what has happened in Adams’ recovery. I do hope we learn more about his recovery from this normally permanent disease. Along with drawing a great comic strip, Adams may have discovered a new therapy for a debilitating illness.

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Michael M. on October 26th 2006 in General

Kris Kristofferson at the Pageant

I heard Kris Kristofferson play last night at the Pageant. At 70 years old, he sounds and looks good. With only only his voice, Gibson sunburst acoustic guitar and harmonica, he entertained the audience for about two hours with only a short intermission. He performed the big ones that I knew, “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “For The Good Times.” A old song that was new to me was “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Having an interest in mathematics, I knew about Leibniz mainly through the controversy involving him and Newton. I also read part or all of Voltaire‘s Candide. It was a delightful novelty among all the great songs.

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Michael M. on October 26th 2006 in General, Live, Music

John Hodgman at Square Books

John Hodgman will read his new book The Areas of My Expertise Saturday at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. You may recognize him as PC in those Apple Get a Mac commercials or as a resident expert on The Daily Show. Regretably, I will not make it to Oxford until the weekend after. I left this long comment on his blog post about the visit.

Jonathan Coulton will be his accompanying musician. I did not recall the name although he seems to have scored cult success with his song “Code Monkey.” I happened to see the song referenced in this comment attached to the /. story about Weird Al Yankovic. Looking back, I found that the song made Digg. It made /., too. Those stories link to his post about the song. “Code Monkey” is funny and good.

Coulton seems committed to working successfully as a musician without a restrictive contract, and he makes use of some geeky tools. When I tried to stream “Code Monkey,” I noticed that my browser was connecting to a nyud.net address. Coral uses those addresses to cache material under high demand to protect the hosting servers from overload. He uses Creative Commons to license his music. The information pages for his songs have lyrics. In contrast to recently blogged happenings, the one for “Code Monkey” even has chords. His MySpace page allows downloads.

I wish I could make it to the Saturday happening. I cannot think of anybody likely to read this post who might go. Although many people I know well have Oxford connections, there are far fewer who would enjoy the reading and are there now or likely to be there for the game. I am trying to spread the word anyway.

Update October 24: Hodgman responded to comments from me and others.

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Michael M. on October 23rd 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

More Oher

I have a little more news to follow my previous post. NPR‘s All Things Considered had this story a few weeks ago. That eminent medical publication Reader’s Digest has this story available. Finally, this post on Kottke reports that the movie rights have been purchased. In the meantime, Ole Miss football has more problems than Michael Oher, as good as he is, can solve.

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Michael M. on October 23rd 2006 in General, Movies

Lazy Sunday MetroLink

I finally rode the new MetroLink Cross County line to the end on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like the trains and the stations themselves a lot. MetroLink is much improved by this expansion. There is much work to do, however, in connecting it with the surrounding areas. I got off at the Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44, Maplewood-Manchester and Brentwood I-64 stops. I would have exited at Sunnen if I had seen anywhere to go. The Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 station does not seem to be near anything commercial. I had hoped that I would feel close enough to one of the Webster Groves shopping areas to walk easily. I did not. I got on the train and headed back up the line.

On Urban Review, Steve Patterson is forever complaining about the lack of sidewalks various places around STL. He is absolutely right. From the Brentwood I-64 station, I started by walking to Best Buy in the Brentwood Meridian shopping center. The east station exit put me close to the store, but I had to walk in the street next to it to reach the entrance. Access to the Brentwood Pointe shopping center that houses Dierberg’s is worse. The west exit requires walking way down to the end of the station to a parking lot behind the center. Then there is no sidewalk for getting to the stores. From there, I walked over to the Target in Brentwood Promenade. My route took my through the grass around the Macaroni Grill, down a big hill and across the Target parking lot. I had to be on my toes because several drivers failed to let me cross at the stop sign near Shane and Co. On the way back, I followed an example I had seen earlier and hopped over the fence between the station and Brentwood Pointe rather than taking the long walk. Passing through this station several times, I saw passengers with shopping bags. People clearly want to use this stop for shopping. It needs improvement. The station is in a good spot, but access to the shops is poor. I caught the train back down to the Maplewood-Manchester station and walked to Popeyes. The north side of Manchester needs a sidewalk along there, but walking back on the south side was fine. It should be easy to catch one of the Manchester buses east to Maplewood or west other commercial areas although I did not try.

Overall, I was impressed by the new line. The trains are clean and comfortable. The stations are quite nice. They just need the communities around them to connect better. Little signs from fellow riders, such as carrying shopping bags and jumping a fence, point to areas for improvement. I think it will add to the area. I hope north-south MetroLink routes are not too far in the future, and I look forward to seeing what the Northside-Southside Study finds.

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Michael M. on October 23rd 2006 in General

Living Saint Louis and Henry Hampton

KETC‘s Living St. Louis reported on the Henry Hampton Collection now housed by WashU‘s library. Hampton‘s film company Blackside created Eyes on the Prize and several other notable works. The video is available although the crummy WMV3 format has thwarted my attempts to watch it.

I blogged about the display in the Olin Library stairwell. I finally saw it last Wednesday. It is informative, but rather small. I learned a little more about Hampton’s own participation in the movment, including his presence at the Selma to Montgomery march, an event that inspired his making of Eyes on the Prize. If you happen to take a trip to the library, check it out.

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Michael M. on October 23rd 2006 in General, Movies

Lost children

This story in The New York Times profiles a family coping with raising a mentally ill child. It is frightening. From the little child psychiatry I remember, the diseases, though resembling adult onset problems in their symptoms, are often very different, and medications that are effective in many adults often do not work in children. On a personal note, the story reminds me of a classmate I had in elementary school. I do not feel comfortable writing too much about him, but I remember hearing rumors as a child. He was held back and maybe homeschooled for a while. I still wonder what was wrong and how he is today. I do not think that similar experiences are unfamiliar to many people.

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Michael M. on October 23rd 2006 in General

TAL first podcast

After blogging in anticipation, I listened to This American Life‘s first podcast earlier today. It was a replay of Recordings for Someone. Act One by Jonathan Goldstein features the greatest phone message in the world. It circulated on the Columbia ROLM system around 1990. It really is quite good. I contacted a friend who was there at the time. He told me that several other hilarious message were passed around then. At the end of the episode, Ira Glass introduced the new podcasting scheme. Considering that I heard it while listening to the podcast, parts were a bit redundant.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2006 in General

Björk and Gondry

Waxy Links points to this video for Björk‘s song “Bachelorette” as his favorite. Michel Gondry directed it. He also directed the video for the “Fell in Love with a Girl” by the White Stripes. Browsing his videography, I saw that he also directed a video for Cody ChesnuTT‘s new song “King of the Game.”

I have enjoyed Gondry’s movies with my favorite screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. I count Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as two of my favorite movies. The Science of Sleep, both written and directed by Gondry, is playing at the Tivoli now. I have yet to see it, nor have I read much about it. The trailer I saw several months ago looked good, though. I hope to catch it before it leaves theaters.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2006 in General, Movies, Music, Recorded

Darwin online

Darwin–No, not Darwin–is online. /. had this story about the project several days ago. It has the complete works of Charles Darwin. While I am not especially interested in Darwin as a historical figure, I recognize that he belongs up there Galileo, Newton and Einstein. I intersected with the Galileo Project in college. It is good to see another such project.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2006 in General

Formulaic movies

This New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell profiles Epagogix, a company with a computational movie rating system. Waxy Links pointed me to it with the comment “the problem with their technique is coming up with every possible meaningful variable.” He is right. The article is interesting, but not very good. It is way too long for conveying a simple message. Movie box office performance can be described using numerical modeling. I suppose such an assertion would surprise some, but for me and many others, it is an expectation. The article makes too many alusions to the Scottish Enlightenment with respect to that intellectual rift. The strange part, if the article is to be believed, is how reluctant the movie industry is to employ mathematical modeling for forecasting receipts. Computers are cheap. Movies are expensive.

I wonder how far we are from quality algorithmic art generation. Rather than characterizing and clustering movies or songs, when will we routinely listen to computationally generated music. I never studied enough to know exactly what a Markov chain is, but I know that it involves generation of new random data based on previous examples. I have returned to the Postmodern Essay Generator once in a while for years. None of the current music generators is dominating the Top 40, though, and I have never read about serious random fiction generation.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2006 in General, Movies, Music

Single pixels

/. had this post about a single pixel camera created at my alma mater. The post refers to them as “scientists.” The post linked to calls them “physicists.” They work in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where I took one class and should have taken more. There I found this story and the site for the research group. It seems to be a very different approach to imaging. The image is bounced of a micromirror array and then imaged by a single pixel detector. I think the micromirror array effectively acts as an image mask, and then they use fancy mathematics to estimate the original image from the masks and the corresponding detector readings. It reminds me of structured illumination in microscopy although I know too little about them to understand whether they really have much to do with one another.

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Michael M. on October 21st 2006 in General

Nuclear prokaryotes

Microbiology is fascinating. In another life, I might have studied it professionally. Many people worry about how humans are affecting the earth, and biodiversity usually means animals and plants. Prokaryotes have tremendous influence on the biosphere. The dawn of photosynthesis topped the tumult of any meteor impact. They are extremely diverse. From a biochemical perspective, eukaryotes all rely on very similar processes for energy generation while there is terrific diversity among prokaryotes. This post on /. about bacteria living deep below the surface of the earth reports on one new to me. Unlike familiar life, their main energy source is not the sun. They live on the remains of some long gone star.

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Michael M. on October 21st 2006 in General

Eyes on my hometown

I watched the last installment in the first block of the Eyes on the Prize airing on the PBS series American Experience. The series is fantastic, and I enjoyed seeing it again. This time, I recorded it. The $375 DVD set being out of my budget, my personal DVD set will do well.

“Mississippi: Is This America?” was the first of the last pair. It covered the events of the 1964 summer, Freedom Summer. While really not that long before my birth, I grew up in the same place and a different world. I still find it fascinating that my home was a place of such injustice, tumult and heroism.

Several things grabbed me. One was “Green Onions” recorded in 1962 by integrated soul group Booker T. & the M.G.’s. A fife and drum piece also stood out. I cannot find credits for the music, however. I wrote asking for more information about it.

The interview with Hodding Carter III also got me thinking. Hodding Carter II wrote So the Heffners Left McComb, a short book about how a middle class white family was forced out of my hometown because they befriended civil rights workers. I blogged about the book and the Statement of Principles published not long after.

McComb was heading for disaster. The Klan was bombing African-American homes and churches. The society was headed toward dissolution. The white leadership came up with a few statements decrying the violence. My favorite part is

There is only one responsible stance we can take: and that is for equal treatment under the law for all citizens regardless of race, creed, position or wealth; for making our protests within the framework of the law; and for obeying the laws of the land regardless of our personal feelings. Certain of these laws may be contrary to our traditions, customs or beliefs, but as God-fearing men and women, and as citizens of the United States, we see no other honorable course to follow.

When I learn about the civil rights era, the recalcitrance of whites frustrates me. They should have figured out that changes were happening whether or not they wanted them, and they should have found ways to minimize the suffering. Instead, they fought and destroyed. In battling to preserve the bad elements of the culture, they harmed good ones. The class divisions within white society added to the problem. Financially comfortable whites engaged in violence far less than the poor. At the same time, they held power to curtail the mayhem, yet they did not.

Here in the Statement of Principles, I see that at least one white community did realize the best way through the transition, and it was in my hometown. The realization took them far longer than it should have, and the implementation took more time. McComb schools were not integrated for about six more years. Its existence, however, helps me make more sense of my childhood. White flight from the schools was the exception in McComb when I started school although that thoughtful approach to education has since faded there.

As planned, I did go to the library, and I found the Statement of Principles in the November 17, 1964 edition of the Enterprise-Journal. I had thought about scanning it and posting it here without ever doing it. Then I found McComb Legacies, a site produced by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss. The institute has outreach programs for several other towns as well.

McComb Legacies has the Statement of Principles. There are interviews with several McComb civil rights leaders and figures of the era. It brings a facet to light that was largely hidden by the time I came along. Along with the statement, the site has this PDF of the signers. They include parents and grandparents of childhood friends, neighbors, the doctor who delivered me, endower of a WashU professorship in cardiothoracic surgery and Bobby Lounge‘s parents.

On the other side, I do not want to let the white experience take an unfair share of attention. Black folks made the movement happen. They had help, but the biggest help came from themselves. McComb Legacies includes several interviews with local leaders. Along with the big leaders, my town had some African-American leaders of its own, as did many little towns. I am happy to learn more about them.

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Michael M. on October 17th 2006 in General

Mathematical fame

ShingTung Yau has been at the center of recent controversy in the world of mathematics surrounding the proof of the Poincaré conjecture. It has spilled into the popular press. I blogged about it two times. He may have contributed to the recent proof in a substantive way or not. It really is hard to tell. This profile in The New York Times adds another angle on the battles.

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Michael M. on October 17th 2006 in General

Shaw Nature

I went to the Harvest Festival at the Shaw Nature Reserve with a few friends this past Sunday. It is part of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Other friends in the Grass Pack played. Although rain threatened, it was a great day. There was good food and good music. Hayrides, animals and other activites pleased children of all ages.

That place is beautiful. Much of it is dedicated to preserving the prairie habitat. Years ago, much of this area must have existed as prairie land. Where are the trees? How did the grass grow taller than most humans? Having grown up in the woods, it is a very unusual environment. It would be a great place to visit periodically throughout the year to observe the seasons. On the drive, the vistas of the changing leaves were great, too. The changes of the seasons in Missouri are striking, and they deserve more attention than they receive. I do not know why I had not gone before.

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Michael M. on October 16th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Folk School Showcase Thursday

The Folk School will have a showcase concert at the Schlafly Tap Room this Thursday night from 7 to 10. The concert will feature students from music classes. I played at the one last spring. This time, I will play with the Ensemble I class. My parts include vocal harmony and a short fiddle solo on “The Old Home Place.” Local professionals the Grass Pack, Ranger Dave and Swing De Ville will play, too, interspersed among us amateurs. Justin Branum of Swing De Ville is my current teacher, and he is a great fiddler. The Grass Pack includes my former teacher and two school friends. It should be fun for both the audience and the performers, and it supports a local cultural institution that keeps the old music alive and provides an excellent hobby to all comers.

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Michael M. on October 16th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Voting in Mississippi

This article in The New York Times tells a strange Mississippi tale of voter discrimination. This time, African-American politicos stand accused of denying voting rights to whites. It seems a little surprising, but not at all in other ways. I have no privileged knowledge of the case covered, but corruption is not the exclusive territory of any particular racial group.

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Michael M. on October 15th 2006 in General

This Life podcast

Starting Monday, This American Life will podcast. I found out through a pointer to this post via Waxy Links. The podcast rules still look very restrictive. Each episode will stay up for only a week before going into the archive. The archive is designed to force use of a Flash player.

The news is rumbling across the web. I saw this BoingBoing post about it. The interesting background story is that several people created their own podcasts of the show that simply pointed to shows located on TAL servers. TAL requested that they stop, and one unofficial podcast was taken down as was another. STL blogger DiatribeR also posted on the news, too.

As I blogged, I downloaded and transcoded archived episodes a while back. I wrote a script to retrieve the Real Audio files and then to convert them to mp3 and AAC. Transcoding has some obvious drawbacks, however. This helpful comment from that old post told me that I could have downloaded mp3s. Each episode was available as http://audio.wbez.org/tal/[EPISODENUMBER].mp3. Links with that format no longer work. They must have been the ones the homebrewed podcasts used.

The TAL website now offers archived episodes through a Flash player rather than using Real. Looking at the HTML source, I could tell that the player relied on mp3 files streamed to it. I could not figure out the URIs for the mp3 files, though. I could have used a packet sniffer, but a web search is easier. I found this helpful post. The mp3s are available at URIs with the amusing format http://audio.thisamericanlife.org/jomamashouse/ismymamashouse/[EPISODENUMBER].mp3.

I wrote another two scripts. They, too, require BASH and wget. With the simplest hack, cURL should work just as well. I have run them on OS X, but being very basic, they should work on many platforms. With them, I now have 318 episodes of This American Life. The archive spans two DVDs. They are available to friends, as are the scripts. Since I subscribed to the podcast, new episodes should be added to my library automatically. Now I just have to get into the habit of listening to the show more often.

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Michael M. on October 15th 2006 in General

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