Thursday, March 29, 2007

Facebook Blogger Dilemma

This has been the month of Facebook. Along with millions of others I have signed onto Facebook and now have another reason to strain my eyes for hours in front of the computer screen. I first signed on as Jake Jakob but it doesn't really make sense to use a nom de plume on Facebook if you want to be accessible to people who know you in real life, so I created another account with my real name.

I now have a split personality. On Blogger I'm known as Jake Jakob but that's not exactly my real name. I now have another virtual identity on Facebook that happens to share the same name as my meat-space identity. With that identity I socially connect mostly with people who have been in a physical space with me at some point in time, whereas my friends here on Blogger for the most part have only shared virtual space with me.

I am considering merging my two personae but I've been reluctant to use my real name on Blogger. I'm not sure why. Many of the blogs I read seem to use their meat-space names without incident.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Caveman Chronicles

I had just walked past the police station in my neighbourhood. As I approached an opening to a laneway I noticed that several pigeons scrambled out onto the sidewalk clearly avoiding some danger. I stopped just as I cleared the building to my right as a car came barreling through. It nearly sideswiped me and I was within inches of the driver who did not stop or even slow down as he drove down the ramp and entered the street. As he passed he did not even notice me while he continued an animated discussion on his cell phone which was balanced between his ear and shoulder.

I let out a customary "what the f#@k". This got his attention, he slowed down and gave me a dirty look like I did something wrong. This angered me some more and I let out what was probably another few choice words. He flipped something at me which was not quite his finger but perhaps his whole hand. I walked over to his passenger side window to explain that he had nearly run over my foot and that he needed to stop before driving over a sidewalk and entering the street. He didn't roll down his window and continued to shrug me away while swearing back at which point a feeling came over me with which I am somewhat familiar. It is accompanied by several tell-tale signs: flaring of the nostrils, a deep inhalation that expands the chest, a general tightening of the muscles as the eyes open wide and a growl that begins to be vocalized.

I used to have feelings like this more often in the past. But they have been very infrequent since I've given up caffeine and sugar and aged a little bit. These days their rare emergences can only be induced by the most severe traffic indiscretions, by instances of tortured logic, or by dishonesty. When such madness grips me it is usually in the privacy of my car or in the privacy of my audience with someone very close to me. But today was different. I was on the street in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of the world. Divided by a barrier of glass between me and my desire to communicate to this jerk why I was angry with him, his refusal to allow me my peace lit a match that set the fuse in motion. I clenched my fist and drew back my right hand. Once fully loaded at the apex the spring let loose and a forward motion began a collision course for my fist towards the passenger window of the car directly in front of me.

All of this happens in a fraction of a second and sometime soon after the spring is set off I notice that another familiar but altogether different feeling is taking hold of me: embarrassment. The rage is stopped in its tracks and I am able to pull back the punch. I think this must have emboldened him because he proceeded to get out of the car. He came over to me and we started an exchange that must have looked like one of Billy Martin's run-ins with an umpire. We didn't have enough dust on the street to kick at each others feet but something else occurred. He lifted both of his hands and he slapped them against my chest pushing me back a few inches. He had an advantage of at least 5 years and 50 pounds on me but that didn't play into it at all. I only consider the heft of an opponent to be a disadvantage that will only slow him down. I wasn't scared but my embarrassment was beginning to grow. I had a flash image of us, two grown men, fighting on the street like kids and instead of hitting back I bounced back forward into his face and laughed a little.

He encouraged me to go ahead and hit him back but he was somewhat puzzled by my amusement. Face to face and close enough to guess what we had eaten for lunch I noted the logo of his employer which was emblazoned on his shirt and his windbreaker. I said the following to him: "We're fifty feet from a police station, there are witnesses watching us right now and after nearly running me over you decide it's a good idea to assault me? I also have your license plate number and know where you work. You're one stupid mo#$@%f@3ker". Silence followed as his eyes darted around and he seemed to get an inventory of his surroundings.

Despite having trained in the boxing ring with heavyweights and studied Muy Thai and Jeet Kune Do I have not laid a hand on another human in anger since the 6th grade and my record is still intact. Over those years I have been in dozens of altercations. In each of these cases I would become a frothing menacing tyrant and in every case the other guy would invariably back down. This leaves me wondering what happened today. Why did he take it further and push me like that? Did he sense a weakness from my embarrassment and mistook it for fear? Or am I just getting old and the young lions can sense this and aren't naturally intimidated by me?

The incident deescalated greatly at this point and became somewhat bizarre. He hung his head and agreed it was pretty stupid but claimed plaintively that I had "scared him by coming out of nowhere and swearing at him". I reiterated what he did wrong and asked him why I shouldn't walk into the police station and report the assault, to which he replied that he was having a really bad day. We stood there in silence for probably a good minute. I broke the silence by saying how embarrassing this all was to which he voiced his agreement. I told him I would have hit him back hard if I wasn't so embarrassed. Then I shook my head and walked away.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday at St. Stephen's

the sand leaks out

minute per minute

it mixes with ashes and dust

this hole in her soul

she tries to fill

with cigarettes and Jesus

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Language is Open Source

Shakespeare was a super-contributor to our wiki.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recent Viewings

Breach - I saw this for Chris Cooper. He pulls off another creepy/compelling character role as he did in American Beauty and in Adaptation (one of my all-time favourites). Ostensibly a spy thriller but really it's about a gifted and conflicted man who somehow reconciles deep religion, sexual perversity and the selling of state secrets to the Russians.

Fido - My cousin E is an ESL student so when I go to a movie with him we have to choose movies he can follow easily, so no My Dinner With Andre. I do have a thing for Zombie movies especially if they're funny (intentionally that is). This one is not as funny as Shaun of the Dead but not a bad effort.

300 - We snuck in to see this one after Fido. My cousin also likes movies in which many people are killed (strange for such a friendly guy) and many people are killed here indeed. The whole thing is preposterous, ridiculously historically inaccurate and seems to be a cartoonish exhibition of a homo-erotic parade of one washboard set of abs after another. Frank Miller's Sin City is better if you like this comic book stuff.

Last King of Scotland - Oscar loves spitting, spewing and yelling and if you don't believe me then I'll take a flamethrower to this place.

The Lives of Others - German film about a couple being bugged by the East German Secret Police in the seventies. Sure, there's some European seriousness here but efficiently oppressing your citizenry is a serious business.

The Namesake - That guy from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle here in a serious role. Not bad, a little weepy. Dramatic use of the name Gogol.

Notes on a Scandal - British tale of a creepy girl-crush by Dame Judi Dench on the cute Cate Blanchett. Boy-student on woman-teacher sex scenes also prominently on display!

The Queen - Another British movie. I know that it's employed as a way to highlight the person of the Queen but I still think there was too much about the death of Diana.

Smoking Aces - A whole slew of people are killed in Las Vegas by a series of eccentric assassins (a cousin E special).
Zodiac - A much better choice of a movie where a lot of people get killed. The story of the hunt to catch the Zodiac Killer set in 1970's San Francisco. The latest movie by the director of 7even. It's pretty good for what it is (read: perhaps not as good as everybody says).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Passages From An Unfinished Novel II

Back by popular demand (OK, two readers have asked for more).

From a work in progress described as your typical quantum physics, boxing, time-travel, psychological, mind-fuck love-story so common to the genre that I call Sci-Psy-Phi-Fi.

The jab makes contact and Vito is about to unleash his combination when Ziggy senses this and moves even closer so that Vito cannot swing. The victim clutches the abuser in a clinch. Given another context this could be interpreted as an act of affection. As sweat channels down the centres of their bare chests these men seem to be friends in intimate embrace, their eyes closed, deeply inhaling and exhaling in a momentary respite from their heretofore pangs of loneliness.

The mouse which has been bashed around by a cat will eventually decide to run into the belly of its tormentor in order to win a fleeting moment of peace. The cat, happy to oblige, will sit staring ahead as the mouse pants in relief - confused by a comfort not unlike that of its mother's suckling belly - thinking that it is safe from harm. Seeing this in snapshot one might think that it's just a manipulated mis-en-scene for a cute poster found in the jarringly cluttered locker of a schoolgirl or for the pastel images of Heaven on Earth peddled by those clean but unstylishly dressed people who ask general questions and hand out pamphlets at your door on early weekend mornings.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Emergent Intelligence

An iron atom has certain properties that we can describe. A large collection of iron atoms crowded together in a 10 kilo hunk of iron has certain further properties we can describe on a more macro level. Likewise, a carbon atom has certain properties and a large matrix of them crowded tightly in a 1 karat diamond has yet further and distinct properties. If we mix a little carbon with some iron in a specific way we can end up with steel which has a whole set of different emergent properties.

A popular example is to show how the combination of two poisonous atoms like Sodium and Chlorine combine to create Sodium Chloride which is vital to human life. So by grouping together different elemental parts we end up with totally different things with different features and more complex conglomerations can come together to make such materials as plastics and other building materials.

A tree is a very complex conglomeration indeed. In a tree the matrix of atoms come together in such a way as to make discussion of the atoms mostly moot. When something attains a level of complexity as does a tree or any other living thing we assign it a whole other level of being complete with a whole new set of properties that we can describe. We can then appreciate a tree in a variety of other ways as a living thing and can more fittingly attribute such complex estimations as vigor and beauty.

Of course we can just cut down the tree and lower its complexity a great deal by reducing it to wood or make paper out of it. But when combined with steel, glass, plastics and other materials it can all come together to become the Toronto-Dominion Centre as designed by Mies van de Rohe, something I drove past a few days ago and marveled at how it manages to be so perfectly proportioned and beautiful. Here is a thing that celebrates simplicity while hiding its enormous complexity of design and function.

The most puzzling complex system of all is the brain of a highly evolved animal such as the human. It is not just the complexity of materials required to comprise a neuron that baffles but also the enormous complexity with which these neurons are organized. Once organized in such a matrix of atoms within cells within neurons this conglomeration has the category-busting feature of being aware of itself. Some will argue that consciousness is simply an emergent property of the complex system of the brain.

When you combine a grouping of human brains and discuss the properties that result what you end up with are disciplines like Sociology or Economics that attempt to describe the properties of large groupings of humans behaving independently but in a more complex system that begins to take on properties of its own. The internet allows the most efficient way to combine large groupings of human brains. The result is a bursting throbbing mash of information that may be displaying a feature set of its own that is likely too complex for us to see without the use of simpler metaphors.

The future progression of this trend will be greatly influenced by the mixing of human intelligence with the machine intelligence that we have been busy increasing in complexity. The internet is a precursor to what will become a vast array of information residing in a complex system made of human and artificial intelligence. What will result is anyone's guess. The emergent properties of such complex systems are perhaps as intelligible to us now as the brain is intelligible to a single brain cell.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Free Stuff

It's proving difficult to give something away on the Internets. A couple of days ago I offered a free subscription to a pretty GOOD Magazine to the first five people to comment on my last blog posting. The proceeds will be going directly to a charity of the recipient's choice.

So far I have had only 2 takers. Please take me up on the offer. You don't have to give it forward. Just allow me to do my share of giving and you can do your share of reading.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Business for Good

We know that most print publications don't make much money from subscriptions. It's just a way to get more audited eyeballs looking at their content on a regular basis. This allows them to charge what they do for advertising which is where the meat of the money comes from. What if you could increase the number of eyeballs while also doing some good for the world?

Good Magazine is a print publication that focuses on issues around design, media, culture etc. They have hit upon an interesting way to increase readership. They charge $20 for a six month subscription but they will donate 100% of that money to your choice from a dozen different worthy causes hoping to raise $1Million.

My friend Michael offered to buy subscriptions as a gift for the first five people to leave a comment on his blog. I accepted his offer. I will now carry forward the gift and offer a free subscription to the first five people who comment on this posting.

Let me know which organization you would like to support with your gift.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Getting to Know the Real You

I host a discussion group/salon/think tank once a month at my house. This past meeting we discussed how mediating communication technologies are changing social relationships. It was hit upon early that the idea of mediation in communication may imply that there is some form of communication that is not mediated so therefore immediate.

Face-to-face interaction is thought to be the most immediate form of communication since there is no layer between you and your interlocutor through which your discussion is filtered or altered. There is no telephone, fax machine, email software, chat software or other platform through which you are talking so it is said that face-to-face is immediate.

I am of the opinion that every experience is mediated if not by external technological filters then through other filters. These layers of mediation may be such things as your body or your culture. If you observe teenagers at a social gathering they seem to communicate not just through words and ideas but through gestures, fashion sense, sexual tension as well as cultural affiliations some would say to the exclusion or at least the demotion of ideas and words.

A highly intelligent, sensitive and kind teenager can be cruelly left out of the social game if they are not exhibiting a few of these other intangible filters through which they send out their signals. Those who have met people online have suggested that they get to know someone more intimately that way. So what is going on here? How does adding another layer get you closer to "the real person".

The quick answer is that there is no "real person" at the core of a human being. The person is a jumble or basket of thoughts, ideas, events, experiences, body features, opinions etc. and we can only experience and get to know another through layers of mediation, be they technological, cultural or physical. When you get to know someone through their online persona what you are doing is removing several layers of mediation and inserting another. It just happens that this technological layer emphasizes words and ideas over other signals and it is the realm of words and ideas that most will agree are paramount to understanding what it is that makes a specific person who they are.

People often complain that they become involved in a sad series of relationships with others who seem in retrospect to have been completely wrong for them. Perhaps these people are jumping the gun and judging a potential mate without proper emphasis on the features that they would admit to being more important than those that are immediately apparent. There is no privileged perspective from which to see "the real person" but there can be a matter of emphasis. If you choose to emphasize ideas and words as being deal-breakers then there is probably no better way to meet a potential mate than through technologically mediated communication.

I would argue that face-to-face communication employs much more bandwith than present forms of online communication. This is precisely why robots and artificial intelligences can't yet come close to the processing required to adequately mimic human interaction. By communicating online we lower the bandwith significantly to emphasize what may be more important to you. Of course an online meeting of the minds will not necessarily translate into a successful "first-life" relationship if the so-called chemistry isn't there, but it can lay an important groundwork from which to proceed.

It seems to have worked for these two.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Who's on First?

The BBC conducted a poll to see which nations people perceived to have the most negative influence on the world.

Here is the resulting list:
Israel - 56%
Iran - 56%
USA - 51%
N. Korea - 48%

Now compare these two articles reporting the results. Big Brother lives!

BBC Online
Iranian News Agency

P.S. Canada was viewed most positively.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stillborn Postings

Remembering the past and envisioning the future occur in the same area of the brain.

Asimo the robot creeps people out only because he's so human-like.

The copper penny represents 1 cent of value but contains 3 cents worth of copper.

"We played good tonight." The adverb is endangered in America. Good grammar is for pussies or Englishmen.

Dictators use the framework of religion to move people in ways they're used to being moved.

With our excessive consumption levels we have all become fat savages.

It's sad that we have to justify biodiversity by pointing out that if a species were to become extinct we might miss out on a novel way to exploit it.

An ancient society with a zero footprint would have left no record of ever having been here.

Telescopes and televisions are time travel machines.

Digital clocks don't adequately reflect the physical events that mark the passage of time.

Canada should consider making a leveraged buyout of America.

Most frequently asked question when giving a DNA sample - "are you going to clone me?"

The most wonderful things in the Universe are those that are difficult to quantify.

We don't need to go away we just need to find a better balance. Rehab not euthanasia.

The emperor has no clothes. Russia, China and Iran now realize this.

Jesus-figures and other prophets are hackers who have entered the simulation.

So what's behind that next deeper level? It's turtles all the way down.

The fastest growing motorcycle producer is an open source collaboration in China.

Birth rates for girls are even lower in the wealthiest parts of Punjab because they can afford ultrasounds.

America is setting a bad example for Capitalism because they are forgetting Liberalism.

Binging behaviour is embedded in religious festivals like Mardi Gras which are based on more ancient feast and famine cycles.

Incompleteness theorem: So because you decide you can't know everything you decide that you know everything.

Second Life, afterlife, get a first life.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Books I'm Reading (for quite sometime now)

I don't read or write enough. I have been reading the Globe and Mail six days a week in addition to the Sunday NY Times. Since I am not bound to any schedule but am mainly steered by the swerves of my random desires I found myself reading the papers for about two hours each day before anything else was tackled. Hours more are spent on the internets linking from blogs to links to wikipedia entries to videos to still more news sites. I don't watch much TV, about an hour per day while I'm eating at which time I may watch the Daily Show or yet more news, a documentary or the rare basketball game or boxing.

For someone who claims to want to be a writer I have read very little of other authors. When I was younger I had the stupid and naive notion that reading too many novels would unduly influence me and I would be unable to develop my own unique voice. That was a mistake. I now realize the importance of immersion. I hope it's not too late.

I have started several books but I haven't finished many lately. I resolve to read more good writers. I really have no excuse since I canceled my newspaper subscriptions this week and there are two small independent bookstores immediately beside my house. Here is a list of readings in progress:

Milan Kundera - The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts
A book about writing novels by a great writer of novels.

Milan Kundera - The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I saw the film nearly twenty years ago but had never read the book.

Orhan Pamuk - Istanbul: Memories and the City
He is the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and here he writes about the history of streets and neighbourhoods of which I am distantly familiar having lived there for 5 years.

Lawrence Lessig - Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity
An engaging book by a lawyer about intellectual property and the internets.

Lee Smolin - The Trouble With Physics
Director of the nearby Perimeter Institute in Waterloo writing about his misgivings about String Theory.

Jurgen Habermas - The Philosphical Discourse of Modernity
I read this stuff during my PhD research but am now reading it more charitably having found new respect for such left of center thinking.

Richard Healey - The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
Another re-reading now that I have more patience.

Elliot et al - Relations, Transformations, and Statistics
A grade 13 textbook it is hoped will help me with the book above.

Primo Levi - The Monkey's Wrench
When I described by own novel writing (in progress) to someone they suggested I read Primo Levi. I just bought the book today from my neighbour the bookseller and do not yet see the connection.

Chris Mathers - Crime School: Money Laundering
A friend wrote this. He spent twenty years undercover working with drug lords and organized crime. He is also the father of two members of Hostage Life (see below).