18 June 2010

Daily Digest, 18.06.2010

Today: xkcd on interdisciplinarity; a (good) Jeopardy!-playing computer; Carl Zimmer's Tangled Bank; what plastic does to animals; orangutan gestures carry intentional meaning; John Gray on sci-fi; Muhal Richard Abrams; Marx reconsidered; all vuvuzelas, all the time.

xkcd on interdisciplinarity (don't miss the mouse-over).

A fascinating piece by Clive Thompson in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine on IBM's Watson, a computer that can, at least some of the time, beat very high-level human players in Jeopardy!  This is much more difficult than getting a computer to beat Kasparov in chess, which is why it took longer to get to this point. The "sifting of competing answers" approach used by the computer is quite similar to an emerging view of the way the brain works.

Carl Zimmer is justifiably proud of the glowing review in the journal Evolution of his book The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, which I'm eager to see and which sounds like it might make a good text for a non-specialist class. Unfortunately this 3-page review costs $29.95 from Wiley Interscience.

And you didn't believe me when I kept telling you that current pricing policies by for-profit publishers of scientific journals are utterly batshit insane.

For the environmentally conscious and concerned among my readers (that's all of you, right?), a must-read summary by Sarah Stephen at Our Gossamer Planet of the recent state of research on the impact of plastics on fauna. Not a happy read, but a necessary one.

A press release at Science Daily describes a new study showing that orangutan gestures carry "specific intentional meanings."  The article is E. A. Cartmill and R. W. Byrne (2010), "Semantics of primate gestures: intentional meanings of orangutan gestures," Animal Cognition. So far as I have been able to determine, the article is not yet available at the journal site (at Springer Link).

I sometimes have secretly thought that perhaps John Gray should write less and ponder more.  But he makes several thought-provoking points in an essay in the New Statesman on science fiction. He misses a lot, too, and the sci-fi fans among my readers (hi you two) are unlikely to agree with his conclusion:
If science fiction is no longer a viable form, it is because the humanist assumptions that underpinned it are no longer credible even as fictions.
If science fiction is "no longer a viable form," I guess I must not have liked and been moved by Oryx and Crake after all. Silly me.

Another little-known fact about me is my background (way back) in free and avant-garde jazz, particularly as a (not very good) trumpeter in the Cecil Taylor Black Music Ensemble at Antioch College when he was in residence there, far back in the previous century. And this part of me seems to be bubbling to the surface again (along with all those other parts that were long buried under a steaming heap of musicology).

Thanks to the recommendation of Dr. Mike a few months ago, I started following the site Destination: OUT.  (If you don't know where "out" is, then you're way, way "in."  Just keep chanting to yourself: "Wynton is not the future of jazz.  Wynton is not the future of jazz..." and there may be hope for you yet.)

The site periodically has posts resurrecting (and offering extended audio samples from) neglected or forgotten "outside" music from the past.  Today's post is on the pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, whose work I've long been planning to get to know.  This is a good introduction.

n+1 reposts an article from last fall re-evaluating Marx:  "On your Marx: Neoliberalism on the rocks."  Hmmmm, maybe there's something to this Marx guy after all.

A site that promises to add constant vuvuzela to your web-browsing experience.  I....um....haven't tried it. But please feel free to let me know if it works! (And remember: it's not my fault if it does.)
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