Tuesday, October 29, 2002

New Age religions make me laugh hard. I can understand believing in a supreme being and unversal codes of ethics and all, but why go to the trouble of making up your own religion, unless you plan on turning it into a pyramid scheme, like L. Ron did. Roberta-Margaret Wiggins channels Songee, which could have been a profitable enterprise if she hadn't broken one of the primal laws of webpublishing: "no first-person pet pages" - observe Colin and Elroy. "Wedge" has a much better grasp of reality, witnessed by his choosing a "Star Wars" name and publishing his favorite communication spells:

"To Communicate With Others
Write a letter to a distant friend (or whoever you wish to call you) as if you were going to mail it. Next light a blazing hot fire and throw the letter into it firmly visualising the person's face. You should receive a reply soon."

Here's an idea, "Wedge:"

"To Communicate With Others
Write a letter to a distant friend (or whoever you wish to call you) as if you were going to mail it. Next mail it. You should receive a reply soon."

Meanwhile, Heather Firth is channelling a 12-year old boy.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Last week I posted a link to Lost in Translation, by Carl Tashian, which uses a PERL script to repeatedly submit text entries to AltaVista's Babelfish until the translations have completely corrupted the text. At the time I posted it, it seemed just another humorous diversion, but now I see it as a demonstration of the dialectic nature of all languages that is a humorous diversion.

When I first got to the site, I was immediately reminded of the old Monty Python Hungarian Phrasebook Sketch, and giggled when one of the translations converted "nipples" to "nozzles." I quickly learned that some of the translation dictionary databases at Babelfish have errors(!). Using the example above, the Spanish translation for "nipple" was a word not found in any of the Spanish dictionaries I searched, including Babelfish's, since it was unable to translate the word back into English. I found that if I instead entered the phrase, "Oooh, my pezón explodes with delight," the final output, "Oooh, nipple of the mine blows for above with the pleasure" was much more satisfying.

The usual problems of article usage and noun genders of European languages are compounded in my second language, German, by Babelfish's insistence on formality: in German, the informal, "you", du, dich, dir, is obvious, while the formal, "you", Sie, Ihr, is the same as the pronouns for "she" and "they". The result being that sentences with "you" are often converted to "they". Add to this an attempt to tone down verbs, and "you love me" becomes "they appreciate."

The greatest bottleneck, historically as well as at Babelfish, appears to be translating Portuguese into Spanish. Many sentences migrate through the script unharmed until reaching one or the other of the Iberian languages, where the Hungarian Phrasebook takes over. I thought an obvious test, and one of the first things learned in most languages including Latin, would be "I love you." This faired as well as expected with the old stand-by's appearing in each language, until the Spanish converts this simplest admission of tenderness into the Inquisitional, "Master to him." In keeping with Monty Python, this should be followed by a couple in a romantic setting with the man whispering to the woman, "master to him," as she blushes and Michael Palin bursts through the door in red vestments...

Then I thought, "hey, I wonder if it does music, too?" So, I entered Beethoven's Fifth:

da da da dum
da da da dum

The French would have nothing to do with the oppressive feel of the tune, and gave it a galloping rhythm:

dum de da de da de da de dum de da de da de da

The German translator on hand was apparently Bavarian, since he interpreted this as a polka:

dum von da von da von da von dum von da von da von da

The Italian brings it back to Beethoven, but alas, it's the Minuet in G:

dum da là da là da là del dum da là da là da là

The Iberians are all lyricists at heart, and make it a poem:

Of one of here,
of here, of here,
of that it is of one,
of here, of here, of here.

I did a bit more testing and found that one of my personal favorites is the mistranslation of "I like spaghetti better than manicotti." No, the other pastas don't work...

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Escher's trickery revealed!
Friend and fellow "blogger" Ned Gulley found Andrew Lipson's LEGO™ interpretations of Escher's prints, including "Ascending and Descending." In trying to copy the print in three dimensions, Lipson found that the picture was of a spiral and not a circuit, and that the circuity was only apparent from a specific point of view. I guess the real trick is that Escher didn't build the model before carving his woodblock, so he had to mentally envision the spiral and the correct vantage to give the illusion of infinite stairs. Certainly more clever than all that fish becoming birds business. Here are some Escher quotes from Jon's "Daily Escher" calendar:

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order."

"I have sometimes heard painters say that they work 'for themselves,' but I think they would soon have painted their fill if they lived on a desert island."

"I'm starting to speak a language which is understood by very few people."

"The other day I gave a lecture to a Rotary Club in Hilversum... The audience included three medics who had made their diagnosis of my 'case' by the end of the lecture - obsessional neurosis. I suggested to my publisher that he use this as a title, but he said no."

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Yeah, boy! That sniper means business, if you know a good opportunity when you see it: like Reverend Sunshine does.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Well, my first blog. And it doesn't hurt as much as my mother told me. Hemingway? My ass. Oops. can I say that on... umm... the blog? While I'm back home in London from a little Shakespearian tour of Ireland I'm filming a little pilot I co-wrote - so here's a picture of my ass.
-sorry I can't seem to upload a picture of my bum. Butt if you're interested you could go here.
PS. I was wondering if the sniper in our Nation's Capital takes requests?
Lost in Translation:

Babelfish esteem with Alta Vista, but the relative handle nonsyntactic of the exaggerated rigidity some material problems; special after certain circulation of the translation. Carl Tashian gives to the occasion he to him stops to follow the process with some returns for you are laughing you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Chubby Arkansas mom forces daughter to eat deep fried Twinkie in attempt to make South the most obscenely obese place on the planet. Baptist pastor James "Joe" Elroy (back to camera) hopes to combat his declining membership by increasing the size of each Churchgoer: "after shunning women and science, we gotta fill those pews any way we can." Historians expect Second Civil War when corpulent South becomes dependent on Northern production of Insulin.

Friday, October 11, 2002

As I do my weekly perusal of AlbinoBlacksheep, I'm happy to see that there haven't been any more of those damned stare-at-the-picture-and-then-someone-screams posts, which all of the copycats thought were sooooo original. On the other hand, to make up for this, there have been some flashes of just someone screaming over poor animation. These are almost as annoying, so I'll post a couple (WARNING: for maximum annoyance during the viewing of these animations, do not adjust the volume beforehand. Annoyance can be eliminated through intoxication):

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

It looks like this "blog" will be expanding as two new members, Messrs. Jones and Lewis, have joined the team. I've mentioned Alex Jones in past posts, but will add here that he will be posting messages one-handed, since losing the other in a horrible dryer-riding accident. Walter Lewis is performing with the Expanded Hemingway Company, who show us the humor that should have been in the all-too-short works of Ernest Hemingway. If I'm forgetting something, gentlemen, please feel free to correct me.

While we wait for a response, I'll take this opportunity to clear out some links that have been sitting in my inbox for a while. First is Infectious Awareables, who sell neckties with patterns influenced by various pathogens and diseases. A bit too much electric blue for my tastes, but some are kinda nice looking. Next is the follow-up to some of the Gerry Anderson/Conrad Cthulhu stuff I posted a while back, it's The Skaro Toy Museum: a collection of marketing devices and merchandizing from the long-running "Doctor Who" television series that we (St. Louisans) used to watch and scoff every Sunday night back in the '80's. Finally, two sites to compare and contrast: Mumford Micro Systems and P.W.B. Electronics. Bryan Mumford refers to himself as "The Crackpot Inventor," yet has some really fun looking gadgets on his site. Peter Belt appears to be absolutely serious about his "devices," which are little more than magic markers and mylar.

Monday, October 07, 2002

Today the Nobel Committee announced the prize in Physiology and Medicine - this year's winners uncovered the role of apoptosis (programmed cell death) during development by studying the development of a nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans or C. elegans as we all call it. I mention this because one of the three laureates, Sydney Brenner, should have won the prize back in the sixties when he was the first person to identify and characterize the stop codons. In the 70's he got tired of bacteriophage and started the field of C. elegans genetics. Talk about your lifetime achievement.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

It must be Dispelling Eastern Philosophies Month at Nature Publishing Co.; after disproving out-of-body experiences two weeks ago, this week they published an article on Zen gardening, replacing centuries of Feng Shui with simple Graph Theory. The article is simple enough: researches at Kyoto University used computer modelling to study a Zen garden created 500 years ago, considered perfect by Zen masters. The researchers found that the various rocks positioned throughout the rectangular gravel bed created lines of symmetry between them that formed the shape of a tree. The irony being that for the past 500 years, people have been trying to explain the garden in terms of the rocks themselves; just as Feng Shui arranges rooms and buildings based on the items contained within. This has truly been an instance of not seeing the forest for the trees: the rocks and items are meaningless, except insofar as they define the spaces between them. While the Kyoto researchers interpret the lines as a tree - probably because of their own naturalistic biases - it is more accurate from the subconscious perspective to interpret them as paths. Our brains, like those of all vertebrates, evolved from simpler ganglia whose sole functions were to direct and coordinate locomotion. The simplest lamprey brains take in visual and olfactory cues and direct the muscles how to move to react to those cues. It is fundamental to our subconscious interpretation of the world to look for the paths between the obstacles. Western architects have known (some of them anyway) for years of the importance of not just spaces but the flow, or procession, through those spaces. The Zen garden is the ultimate example of procession: while we think it's showing us obstacles, it's really showing us the paths between them.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Some time over the past year, the biotech suppliers stopped using t-shirts as promotional tools and began offering free samples instead. This has been both a curse and a blessing, as it has all but stagnated my summer/bedtime wardrobe but driven me to find new t-shirts elsewhere. Yesterday I happened upon this offering from T-shirt Hell: WWJD... for a Klondike Bar?. Would he dress up like a clown?!

Actually, I'm saving up for my Official Rock Paper Scissors T-shirts, which are all must-haves.