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.

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The Meme's Tale

This past Sunday, my Viennese friend Michael Lorenz posted the following on his Facebook account (the account is currently inactive on unrelated grounds):

I'm sure some of my readers, even if they don't know German, will immediately recognize this from the English phrases alone. It is a satire of cliches in scientific writing that has been circulating for many years.  Like most memes of this sort, its origin is vague, and I couldn't quite place where I'd first seen it.

We were surprised when a mutual friend and his partner, a scientist, reacted extremely negatively to Michael's post, apparently taking it as a serious and scurrilous slur on scientists, and even going so far as to recommend that Michael delete it. My perplexity over this reaction prompted me to investigate the background of the piece.

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17 June 2010

Daily Digest, 17.06.2010

The "Happy Birthday Dad!" Edition

Today is my Dad's birthday, and so I'll start with a couple of items in his honor. My Dad is the source of my math-geek genes, so it's appropriate to begin with prime numbers:

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Cats and Blogs, part 2

Unfortunately, even as I was preparing yesterday's cat post, the most important cat event of the day was taking place: the live streaming of Devo's Something for Everybody Cat Listening Party, during which Devo's new album, which was released yesterday, was played to a room full of cats.

Fortunately, the videos are available online.

So this gives me the excuse to post photos of a few more cats that I neglected unjustly yesterday.

Taffy, aka "The Taffinator," who lives with my adult student Carol and her family:

Figaro, who lives with Robin and his family:

And another picture of my sister's cat Hermione, here justifiably admiring herself in a mirror:

And a picture I meant to include yesterday, but forgot; a statue of Behemoth, from Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, on a wall in Kiev.

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Daily Digest, 16.06.2010

Today: Compulsive hoarding (no, the article is not about me); two waves of migration from East Asia to the Americas?; rewiring the adult mouse brain; assessing a man's upper-body strength from his voice; lightning strikes massive Jesus statue; sex robots; dancers who don't get out enough; silencing vuvuzelas; an impossible goal; not not seeing Hitchens.  And lots of free articles!
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15 June 2010

Daily Digest, 15.06.2010

Today: Life is stranger than fiction; oxytocin drives aggression toward outgroups perceived as threats; how many genes in a grape?; more on autism genes; Uta Frith on autism and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on the Friths, the mind, and the brain; a new Nova show on the "hobbit"; why you should use R; Eco vs Panebianco; if you give me your phone number now, we could look back in 30 years and call this "our song"; Beethoven's 9th and the first modern police state.
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Cats and Blogs

As we all know, the fast, secure, and uninterrupted distribution of cute kitty pictures is the core function of the Internet, predating even its function as the principal conduit for porn. The recognition of the crucial social bonding function of kitty stories (at that time still text-based) during times of national emergency was one of the most important motivations behind the original development of ARPANET. Sir Tim Berners-Lee has acknowledged that the "Eureka" moment in his invention of the Web was his realization in 1989 that his colleagues at CERN really really needed to see a really cute picture of Dinah sleeping on his terminal keyboard. Even the Queen, normally a stern Corgi stalwart, was overheard to whisper to Sir Tim, as she laid the sword of knighthood upon his shoulder in 2004, "that was soooooo cute!" Berners-Lee went on in early 1990 to invent the CatCam, thus laying claim as the true inventor of the "webcam," a distinction long unjustly accorded the Trojan Room coffee pot.

Cats continue to be the most important driving force behind new technologies. Using the fortune he made from his famous invention, the Kurzweil Meowmaster, a device for translating Felinese into any one of 157 world languages, Ray Kurzweil has established a research institute in Wellesley, where the best and brightest of today's young scientists are kept busy 24/7 working toward what Kurzweil has called "The Felix Point," when all the world's kitties, past and present, will become digitally immortal, which means they will live forever (or until the heat death of the Universe, whichever comes first).

And of course we're all eagerly awaiting the long rumored iCat from Apple.

In other cat news:

A kitten with two faces is born in South Carolina:

Because I'm spending this week sitting cats, the Mighty Zeus and the elegant Miss Lucy, I dedicate this post to them.

Lucy and Zeus in their native habitat (the home of the lovely K):

And finally so they won't feel unjustly neglected, here are pictures of some other important cats of my acquaintance. (Are there any unimportant cats? And can a cat ever be justly neglected? Seems self-contradictory.):

Kayla (who lives with my friends Dr. Mike and Ani)

And Hermione (who lives with my sister)

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Flashblock for Firefox

Last night, Dr. Mike told me about Flashblock, an add-on for Firefox that blocks Flash elements on web pages, allowing you selectively to run those you actually want to see.  It does the same job that the beloved ClickToFlash does in Safari.

After a Firefox crash last night, almost certainly Flash related (my browser crashes are nearly always Flash related), which came at the end of a day in which I continually ran into otiose Flash warning screens when opening webpage "Snapshots" in Zotero, and then this morning dealing with a dreadful "melting and dripping" Flash ad at the top of the ScienceDaily page that was nearly impossible to turn off (hitting "Close" either reset the ad animation, or took me to the page of the advertised product), it was a relief and delight to install Flashblock.

It works.  Get it.  The only downside is that it blocks linked videos in my blog posts.  But I can live with that.  All you have to do is click on them, and they'll load.
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14 June 2010

Daily Digest, 14.06.2010

Today: How to know when a mouse is in pain; does music study help middle school students learn algebra?; corporations will do whatever the law allows; why are most academics leftist but non-egalitarian?; U.S. considers deporting "illegal" Harvard student who has lived in U.S. since age of 4; Orwell self-edits.
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What Singing Looks Like

I've been meaning to post this for several days. It is a real-time MRI of the vocal tract of two vocalists: a soprano and an emcee/beatboxer.

The video is posted at vimeo by Krishna Nayak, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, where he is associated with SPAN, the Speech Production and Articulation kNowledge Group.  (Good to know that my alma mater produces something besides corrupt sports teams and unemployed musicologists.)  This video was first presented at a conference in 2006.

the diva and the emcee from Krishna Nayak on Vimeo.

I find the video fascinating and enlightening, vastly more so than the static and rather poorly executed line drawings or blurry black and white photographs that one typically finds in books of vocal pedagogy. This video vividly demonstrates what voice teachers have long known: vowels that are readily distinguishable in a singer's lower register become essentially indistinguishable in the upper register.  Also note how far forward the tongue is on the Italian consonants—something one constantly tells English-speaking voice students, but a moving picture is worth at least a thousand words.

The SPAN site has (so far as I can see) only one other video clip of a singer: a much smaller and shorter one of a soprano singing "Ave Maria."

I note that the SPAN group seems not to include any musicians.  Hey guys, I'm available.

I haven't had the time to do more than a cursory search of the literature on MRIs of singers, but I did run across the following article: Matthias Echternach, et al. (2008), "Vocal tract and register changes analysed by real-time MRI in male professional singers—a pilot study," in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology. The article is behind a paywall....actually it's in a paybunker, where it costs (I am not making this up), €69.00 (around $83.68) from informaworld. The article is 7 pages (pp. 67-73), and the pdf is ~262 KB.  That comes to $11.95 per pdf page, or 32 cents per kilobyte.

In a separate post, I'll be starting a contest for more most outrageous article price, but I think I may already have won.

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13 June 2010

Weekend Roundup, 12-13 June 2010

This Weekend: Air Canada breaks lute; psychopaths explained; John Hawks on Koobi Fora; Quick Links.
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Closed Access Summary, 6 to 13 June 2010

"Closed Access" is the nearly universal practice among publishers of scientific and scholarly journals of charging prohibitively high prices for electronic access to single copies of the articles they publish: the dreaded "paywall." For more on the concept of "Closed Access," in the context of my personal experience as a scholar without a current institutional affiliation, see my post from 6 June 2010.

The big news of the week is the threatened boycott by the University of California system of the Nature Publishing Group for proposing next year to quadruple the rate it charges the UC systems for subscriptions and licenses to its journals. I mentioned this story when it first broke this past Wednesday (9 June). In the meantime there have been a number of stories and developments which I will report on tomorrow.

Here is the summary of articles that I have referred to this week that are behind paywalls. This week, in addition to the date, title, journal, and price, I also list the publisher or distributor of the electronic version of each article, in order to begin to develop an idea of the various pricing strategies.

07.06.2010 "Reversal of hippocampal neuronal maturation by serotogenic antidepressants," PNAS PNAS $10.00
09.06.2010 "Age-related multi-year associations in female humpback whales," Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Springer $34.00

"Are snake populations in widespread decline?," Biology Letters Royal Society Publishing $33.00

"Comparative safety of antidepressant agents for children and adolescents regarding suicidal acts," Pediatrics Pediatrics $12.00

"The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people," Nature Nature Publishing Group $32.00

"Direct Recordings of Pitch Responses from Human Auditory Cortex," Current Biology ScienceDirect $31.50
10.06.2010 "Is criminal behavior a central component of psychopathy? Conceptual directions for resolving the debate," Psychological Assessement APA PscyNET $11.95

"Scientific Publishing: A Chilling Effect," Science Science $15.00

"Male genital representation in paleolithic art: erection and circumcision before history," Urology Elsevier $31.50
11.06.2010 "Leonardo da Vinci, the founding father of ichnology," PALAIOS SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology $15.00

"Testosterone decreases trust in socially naïve humans," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PNAS $10.00

"New evidence for a 67,000-year-old human presence at Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines,"Journal of Human Evolution ScienceDirect $19.95
13.06.2010 "Altered connections on the road to psychopathy," Molecular Psychiatry Nature Publishing Group $32.00

"Ancient ocean on Mars supported by global distribution of deltas and valleys," Nature Geoscience Nature Publishing Group $18.00

 Total: $305.90

 Cumulative Total: $593.30

There are 14 items this week from 10 different publishers or distributors. The mean is lower than last week:  $21.85, as opposed to $28.74.

The cumulative total for 24 articles from 28 May to 13 June 200 is $593.30, with a mean price per pdf of $24.72.

Several of the articles that I've referred to have been published online in advance of print publication, and not all of these have final page counts. It would be interesting, however, to begin to track the cost per page of those that do have final page counts, and I may begin to do this.

I have been referring in my posts to Open Access articles whenever I run across them, and there have been a few.  However, I was mistaken about one set of articles. The colloquium papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "In the light of evolution IV: The human condition,"  are not free for download. One can only read the papers for free online. However, one must pay to download the pdfs.
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World Cup, Day 2

So the big news from yesterday, of course, is that I watched about 15 minutes of the first half of Nigeria vs. Argentina. (I also heard something about the U.S. tying some pretty well-known team, but obviously my news trumps this.) This week I'm cat-sitting the magnificent Zeus and the svelte (or the now at least somewhat less soccer-ball-shaped) Miss Lucy, and their human, the lovely K, has satellite TV.

I think this may be my first visual experience of a World Cup match ever.  I was very impressed by Maradona's suit.  And he seems to have adopted his style of running up and down the boundary of the field from NBA basketball coaches (who also often have nice suits).

Let's see, what else.  Oh yes, the Argentine goalkeeper was really cute and has hair most women would die for.

And I can actually begin to see why people find it fascinating to watch the matches (no, really).

Oh wait, who won? (I have to look this up.....)

Argentina won, 1-0.

This must account for Maradona's expression here (via Michael Lorenz).

I missed that part.

For those of you who (like me), are clueless about which countries are playing, and which country is in which division, the  "World Cup Preview" by Jeff Blum at n+1 will be helpful. Some quotes to give you the flavor:

On the one hand I feel like I should root against Mexico because they are our main soccer rival and every time the US plays in Mexico the Mexican fans throw stuff at the American players. On the other hand, they mainly throw stuff at Landon Donovan, who once peed on a Mexican field.
Argentina has the world’s best player in Lionel Messi, and lots of other talent. They also have a coach, the legendary Diego Maradona, who is bat-shit crazy. Maradona recently had his stomach stapled because after he quit using coke he got super-fat. When Argentina qualified for the World Cup, he held perhaps the greatest press conference in the history of sport, during which he repeatedly told the Argentine press to (in my very rough translation), “Suck it and keep on sucking it” (Que la chupen y sigan chupando). The next day he apologized to all the women in the world who heard him say these things, especially his mother, but pointedly not to the journalists he had repeatedly insulted. He recently had two (2) luxury bidets installed in his hotel room.
The best of the second-rate European teams. They keep mentioning how they are proud that this is their first World Cup as independent Serbia, as they used to compete as Yugoslavia and then later as Serbia and Montenegro. Their fans are really scary and hardcore and some of their players are too,  especially Nemanja Vidic, who looks and acts like a Soviet bad guy in an ’80s Bond film.
For a Scandinavian team, the Danes are exciting to watch.
Japan is not very good at soccer, but it has the world’s highest average life expectancy.
Brazil games are the ideal moment to expound upon the role of the attacking fullback in the modern game, and the revolution in tactics this has brought about. Fullback used to be where you stuck players not good enough to play anywhere else, so no good players developed into fullbacks. Then coaches figured out that if you had a quick, skillful fullback he could attack as well as fulfill his defensive duties. Now all good teams rely on fullbacks who can overlap and join the attack to great effect, and often play without the traditional wide midfield players.
It is a little known fact (it seldom came up in academic job interviews) that football was my main sport in junior high and high school. In fact I lettered in it twice (which is now difficult to prove, because some jerk later stole my letter jacket).

Except, of course, we had to call it "soccer," because "football" had been co-opted by the dim beefy guys who played American football (and that team was coached by the headmaster, so that gave them additional incentive to play it).

Of course, the cool kids—the intellectual non-conformists whose hair lapped over their ears—all played soccer. Although for some reason, the girls didn't seem fully to realize how much cooler we were.

And I was, for most of my brief career, a defender (fullback). And in those distant days, we played 5 3 2, instead of something sensible like 4 2 4, so I had really a lot to do.

But in one of the seasons that I lettered, I was the only defender that season to score a goal. So I was ahead of the curve (so to speak).

(And we'll overlook the fact that at the time I was subbing as a midfielder, and I was so astonished to see the open goal in front of me, that I nearly forgot to kick the ball into it.)
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Supernatural piano

I'm pondering what a "Supernatural piano" might be. The kind of pianos they have in heaven? A ghost piano? A piano that plays itself? (No wait, they already have those, and this one may well do it too.)

And that child's hand position really leaves something to be desired (look closely). Who's his teacher? Better to send him to me right away, before it's too late.

Child and teacher playing RG-1F in living room
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