In other interesting neuroendocrinology news, Alzheimer's may be something like diabetes of the brain. It would be nice to combine research on the two, but so far it's just a largely unsubstantiated theory.

 

Hair's Breadth ( MP3, lyrics) is my first recording on my new used guitar.

It's a twelve string (with only six strings currently) Framus, which is a brand I'd never heard of before seeing this guitar. In the picture, you'll note some holes in the front of the body. That's where the pickup knobs are going to go once I have my soon-to-be professional luthier friend JJ put them in and do some other repairs to it.

I never had a pickup put into my six string Ibanez guitar because I dropped it in Taiwan, ironically while exiting the airport after a long trip spent worrying about my guitar getting damaged on the plane. So now it has an unrepairable dent in the back, and even though it plays fine it seems a waste of money to give it a pickup.

After I get a pickup in the new Framus, I'll just need a mic and I'll be ready to play out somewhere. And then I just need to find somewhere out to play. I recently discovered the Ritual Café in Des Moines, which is unfortunately lacking a website of any sort. It has vegetarian food, wifi, and according to Google, is host a lot of musicians I like. So that's my long-term music goal: get the guitar fixed up, get a mic, and get a gig at the Ritual Café.

Meanwhile, I have a bunch of songs to record. I just figured out how to use Tracktion to do real-time editing or whatever you call it where you twiddle the knobs and sliders while playing through the recording to have different volume or other settings in different parts of the song. So that should improve the quality of recordings a bit. Now I just need to learn how to keep time with a click track. I think I'll Ask MetaFilter about that.

 

The launch of Google Base inspired a bit of armchair quarterbacking about how Google might have done it differently. One suggestion, popular - of course - among the microformats community, was that Google could use microformats to remove the need for submission to their base and leverage the distributed nature of the web.

Personally, I suspect there's just not enough microformatted content out there yet to make it worth Google's cycles parsing it. Lucky for me, my own parsing cycles aren't so valuable. Microformat Base is my attempt at a microformat-based alternative to Google Base. It's slowly crawling the web looking for microformatted content, and adding it to a structured database, searchable by microformat class names. There are plenty of improvements to be made, but it's already functional in the most basic form. You can find several vcards for people named Tantek, for example.

If anyone's interested, it's open source and will eventually be open data in some form or another. I'm not looking to start a new public search engine — just demonstrate that someone with more time and experience than I and maybe an existing web crawler (*cough cough*) could do something like this. I suspect a decent search engine would inspire more microformatting, and may prove the best way to work around the chicken-egg adoption problem microformats currently face. Until someone else builds it better, I'll keep tweaking Microformat Base to that end.

 

Over two years ago I wrote "i don't believe there are currently any newsreaders that allow users to subscribe to an OPML file." Over a year ago, I repeated "i believe there are still no newsreaders that allow users to subscribe to an OPML file." I've mentioned this to NetNewsWire author Brent Simmons three times now. Still no subscribe-able OPML.

But now that Dave Winer mentioned the idea, it's being discussed more widely, and I expect it will be implemented by the third anniversary of when I first mentioned it. Sigh. Trickle-down idea economics. Oh well. Better late than never.

 

I have written before on both autism and synaesthesia, but I didn't realize until reading about autistic savant Daniel Tammet and doing some Wikipedia reading, that synaesthesia is a symptom of autism, which makes me wonder if autism isn't just an extreme form of the general case of people losing certain senses and gaining others. Only with autism, the gained sense is mental rather than sight, touch, taste, smell, or hearing.

Ray Charles is probably the most famous of many musicians who appear to have had an improved sense of sound and music due to a loss of sight. I found one mention of autistism on the anosmia Yahoo group, a study on "Co-Occurrence of Autism and Deafness", and page from the National Institute of Mental Health on "Autism Spectrum Disorders," which seems to suggest some correlation between autism and sense of sight. Autism is listed as one possible of cause of numbness, which is the best word I know of for a lost sense of touch, though I'm sure there's something more technical-sounding. I didn't find anything interesting mentioning both autism and ageusia, which is apparently the word for a lost sense of taste.

I don't know enough (or anything really) about human physiology to even know what I'm looking for. I just have a vague suspicion that there are more connections between autism and sense perceptions than I've heard about previously. Neuroendocrinology appears to be where these two fields of study meet. What I'd really like is someone to read the Journal of Neuroendocrinology, and translate where appropriate into something mere mortals can read.

I'd really like to learn more about how brains and bodies interact, and particularly around the fringes like autism and synaesthesia. But I don't have the time to parse a title, much less a whole article like Inhibition by Lipopolysaccharide of Naloxone-Induced Luteinising Hormone Secretion Is Accompanied by Increases in Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Immunoreactivity in Hypothalamic Paraventricular Neurones in Female Rats. Yes, that's a real article.

I guess what I'm looking for is "Neuroendocrinology for Dummies," but I don't expect that book will be published any time soon.

 

Earlier this month, Phil Rignalda wrote a post titled "Planetary Damage," the damage being that individuals like Danny Ayers don't feel the need to write about things that show up on sites like Planet RDF. I, like Phil, read Danny and Shelley Powers but not Planet RDF, so if Danny or Shelley don't write about something in the world of RDF, I don't read it. Planet sites run the risk of forming closed communities in which the only people reading about a technology are those already using it. And that's one form of planetary damage

I experienced another sort today when something I wrote (which I thought was about screencasts) made its way onto Planet Lisp. My comments on Lisp weren't altogether positive, and that brought the fanboys out to tell me how evil I am for hating Lisp. The thing is, I don't hate Lisp. I don't even care about Lisp. I know next to nothing about Lisp. I certainly don't belong on Planet Lisp. Planet PHP, maybe. Planet JavaScript would be a stretch. But Planet Lisp? That's just ridiculous. In this case, I wish the community were a bit more closed, with the only people writing about a technology being those who are already using it.

 

A friend of mine sent me a link to a 'wrongful life' court case filed by a disabled Australian woman. That alone is interesting enough, but here's my favorite part:

Studdert also cited rulings from foreign courts, including the United States, which addressed the esoteric difficulties of putting a dollar tag on "the value of non existence" as compared to the costs of living with a disability.

How much is non-existence worth? What a great question. Earlier I tried to explain my existentialist leanings. In the future I'll just point to this case. The woman apparently wants to live or she would have killed herself. Yet she's basically putting life itself on trial to demand that someone else take responsibility for her life's unpleasantness. It's an excellent formalism of bad faith. We all blame others for choices we won't bring ourselves to make. But few of us do it so honestly.

One of the random quotes on the front page is from Simone de Beauvoir:

There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.

For this woman, however, life is an accident and, even though she knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation. It will be interesting to see if the Australian High Court agrees.

 

Jon Udell, who basically created the genre of screencasts, once wrote:

Now that it's almost trivial to make and publish short screencasts, can we expose our software-tool-using behavior to one another in ways that provoke imitation, lead to mastery, and spur innovation? It's such a crazy idea that it just might work.

Emphasis added because I just experienced the opposite effect. After watching a screencast demonstrating SLIME, or Superior Lisp Interaction Mode for Emacs, I have a much clearer idea of how much I want to use this technology: not at all.

Granted, I skimmed a lot of the fifty-five minute video on creating a morse code translator (and they say Lisp isn't useful). But when the narrator says, fifty minutes in, "this example is so simple that I can just look at it, and I know exactly what is going on," I think it comes very close to a perfect definition of irony. And then at the end, when he tries to quit and everything goes haywire, it's just pure comedy. I laughed, I cried (almost), but I did not develop any desire whatsoever to imitate what I was watching. Much the opposite.

UPDATE: Please read this post before commenting here. I didn't post myself on Planet Lisp, and I disclaim any implied understanding of or caring about Lisp that goes with showing up there.

 

I very rarely look at people. I've made efforts before to change this behavior, but they never last very long. Now I know why. Cognitive Daily (probably my favorite weblog of late) wrote about an experiment looking into what causes people to look away, which concluded: the reason for looking away is probably simply to reduce the overall cognitive demand and focus on the question.

"The question" in the experiment is one asked by a conversation partner, as it is for most people, who tend to look away mostly when considering an answer. I'm almost always looking away because I'm almost always thinking about something. I'm not saying I look away because I'm smarter than most people (though I am - and so are you most likely); I just think with more concentration, more constantly than most people (I think).

Sometimes this is a good thing, but it's not something I know how to control. I put as much thought into the answer to a rhetorical question as I do into a real problem, not because I don't realize it's rhetorical, but because I don't have an off switch for thinking. Sometimes less thinking would be better.

I think most of my music comes from answers to questions no one asked me. Which is good - I like my music. On the other hand, it makes it difficult for me to record music, especially with complicated recording tools. Bias Peak and Pro Tools are probably great recording software, but I can't play a song while looking at all those buttons. There's too much going on to keep my attention on recording. I want something simple, like Audicity, which doesn't tempt me to think when I should be playing. And even that has too much to think about. I'd like recording software that made the screen go black while recording.

And the same is true of looking at people. There's too much going on in a face to keep my attention on the question. I could look at a cartoon all day and think about something, but people are too interesting, and if I start looking at them, I'll start thinking about something, and then I have to stop looking at them or I'll lose my thoughts and never answer the questions.

I gather most people don't care so much about all these questions. And maybe they're right. Today at work I asked someone "if you hire a siamese twin, do you have to pay both of them?" (Yeah, I know, "conjoined twin," but that's not what I said.) That's not a question most people think to ask.

And that's just what made it past my filter. I spent a few minutes today thinking about how web browsers communicate a cancelled authentication attempt back to servers, and why Safari doesn't seem to do this, and whether anyone has submitted this as a bug report, or whether it is in a spec somewhere that this should happen. I didn't ask anyone else these questions because I know they are neither interesting nor amusing to most people. These aren't questions most people spend time thinking about. Instead, they spend time looking at people's faces.

Is looking at people more important than all these questions? That's a question I'll have to think about some more.

 

I've never watched much I Love Lucy. It was before my time. But I had a vague idea who Lucille Ball was. What I didn't know until just a few minutes ago, when PBS informed me, was that she divorced Desi Arnaz and bought his share of Desilu Productions, making her the first female head of a major Hollywood Studio. Under her leadership, the studio produced a lot of forgettable shows, but it was also home to the original Star Trek.

I Love Lucy ran 180 episodes. Star Trek spawned 6 different series of 726 episodes, ten movies, books, video games, an entire subculture, and it's not over yet. Star Trek has been wildly successful. A temporary page on Wikipedia, not yet included into the main article on Star Trek, gives a history of Star Trek in which Lucille Ball was pivotal to the series making it past a pilot:

NBC rejects the pilot as being too cerebral for 1965 television audiences. However, they like the concept enough to allow Roddenberry to film a second pilot. (This needs to be checked, but I believe "Inside Star Trek" indicates that the decision was the result of Lucille Ball playing hardball with the network regarding other Desilu productions and therefore championing Trek.)

If this is all true, it's especially odd that everyone knows Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy, but hardly anyone knows of her role in the much more successful Star Trek series.

 

What I like most about the web is how the anarchy of it all encourages niche groups that never would have formed otherwise. The most common example, I think, is the gay teen in Idaho who might have killed himself if not for some online gay teen community.

On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps, is Conservative Veggie: "for the veggie who's right." Discussion topics include "What Do You Think Of Alito's Investment in Slaughterhouses?" "Vitamin D 3," "Churches are Ignoring the Plight of Animals," and simply "Guns." I just love how the people have almost nothing in common beyond being vegetarian and voting Republican.

 

One of my pet peeves is declarations of what words mean, especially when such declarations dispute conventional wisdom. If most people think a word means something, that's what it means.

This morning Cory Doctorow was apparently in a bad mood, unleashing such scathing grade school recess-worthy rants as Westchester proposes stupid no-open-WiFi law -- stupid! As a general rule, if you find yourself using the word "stupid" twice in the same headline, you should probably wait until you've regained enough mindfulness to come up with a decent synonym before posting. (Dumb, moronic, idiotic, dense, ... there's no shortage.

But anyway, in the middle of this mood, Cory decided to play language police. In particular, Cory is pretty sure he knows what that word "WiFi" means:

The article's great, though inexplicably, the reporter feel sthe need to point out that WiFi is "short for wireless fidelity." Of course, this isn't true...

Fairly certain I'd seen WiFi defined as "wireless fidelity," I consulted Google, which offers ten defintions for "WiFi." Half of those offer the phrase "wireless fidelity" as the meaning of "WiFi." So I wrote in to point out that despite what Cory might want the word to mean, the reporter in question was actually offering a definition in common use, certainly not inexplicable. (I do not think that word means what he thinks it means.)

Apparently other people wrote similar comments, so Cory posted an update:

30,000 or so people have written in to quibble over whether WiFi stands for wireless fidelity.

And he went on to post another paragraph about why these people are wrong. But he's missing the point. It doesn't matter what you want a word to mean, or even what a word should mean. A word means whatever it can successfully communicate. If half the internet thinks "WiFi" means "wireless fidelity" then that's what it means. Cory can post updates for months, but the meaning of the word will still be found in its actual use. Because that's how communication works.

"Quibble" is a good word, because that's what Cory has done here. That's all anyone can do when they see a good word go bad. However much we might like to, we simply can't force the world to adopt our own definitions. I'm amazed that Cory, a professional writer, doesn't realize this.

 

I'm releasing my music under a Creative Commons license, which means you don't need to ask me to copy it, and you can even republish it, provided you're not selling it and you mention where it came from so others can copy it too. Last night I watched a short video by Nate Harrison on the "amen break". It's not really worth watching, but it's worth listening to. The amen break is a drum loop you've probably heard. For some reason, it's an incredibly popular beat to loop behind a wide variety of music. But it's form a song that wasn't especially popular.

I've been meaning to add license information to my music for a while, and haven't mostly because I can't license Los Vivos' or JJ's music, and the Creative Commons embedded license system is designed to do an entire work all in one shot. So I could either add it to the page, or add it to each individual track, which would take a while. But whatever. Anyone who's interested can figure it out form the CC logo and link above my music.

My previous interaction with Creative Commons has been all donation-purchases. I made a donation in exchange for an autographed copy of the Future of Ideas. And then I made another donation in exchange for a shirt that says "your failed business model is not my problem." A long time ago I bought a shirt that says "I'm the little sister," because I like to spread gender confusion in my free time, and many people would ask me what it means. It was a good conversation piece. I expected the "your failed business model is not my problem" shirt to serve the same purpose, but no one ever asks me what it means. It's a nice shirt anyway.

For my book and shirt, I think I've given about $40 to Creative Commons. So yesterday I received an envelope from Creative Commons. Inside were three pieces of paper asking me for more money. The envelope was stamped with 37 cent postage. So they spent about 40 cents to send a letter to me rather than emailing me for free. This would be silly enough for a standard non-profit, but Creative Commons exists entirely on the internet, is of interest mostly to tech-savvy people, and can probably reach as many, if not more, potential donors via email than mail.

But don't let the pointless tree killing keep you from sharing my music on BitTorrent, or whatever you kids are using these days.

 

I was looking at my server logs, trying to figure out what happened to overload my database this morning, and unfortunately (or fortunately?), I didn't see anything odd, so I've turned the database viewer back on for now.

What I did see, though, was a reversi game being played out in the logs. Because the reversi game sends the entire board in the query string, the entire game shows up in the log, which makes an interesting visualization (you'll need to scroll to see it all):

I intend to some day redo the reversi game with more of a split between client and server, to make it possible to play across sites. At the same time, I'll probably hide more of the moving parts behind the curtain, so games will no longer be visualized in my logs. But it's interesting to look at for now. Looks like X won the game.

 

I had some sort of trouble with the database earlier today, and I'm assuming some sort of bot got into the database viewer, ignoring the robots.txt instructions to stay out, which overloaded the database. Until I can figure out a way to throttle database access, I've taken down the database viewer.