Thursday, December 28, 2006

I thought this was a desi aunty monopoly

'Pianist! Oh, that's one of the words they just love, almost as much as doctor, Doctor. And residency. And best of all, his own office. He opened his own office in Livingston. Do you remember Seymour Schmuck, Alex?" she asks me, or Aaron Putz or Howard Shlong, or some yo-yo I am supposed to have known in grade school twenty-five years ago, and of whom I have no recollection whatsoever. "Well, I met his mother on the street today, and she told me that Seymour is now the biggest brain surgeon in the entire Western Hemisphere. He owns six different split-level ranch-type houses made all of fieldstone in Livingston, and belongs to the boards of eleven synagogues, all brand-new and design by Marc Kugel, and last year with his wife and his two little daughters, who are so beautiful that they should be in college - he took them all to Europe for an eighty-million-dollar tour of seven thousand countries, some of them you never even heard of, that they made just to honor Seymour, and on top of that, he's so important, Seymour, that in every single city in Europe that they visited he was asked by the mayor himself to stop and do an impossible operation on a brain in hospitals that they also built for him right on the spot, and - listen to this - where they pumped into the operating room during the operation the theme song from Exodus so everybody should know what religion he is - and that's how big your friend Seymour is today! And how happy he makes his parents!"
- Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In case you have forgotten how exquisitely funny it is, or if you are wondering what I am doing up blogging at 5am, I discovered an hour ago that someone recently uploaded the first four episodes of Yes, Minister to youtube.

Another short clip, from Yes Prime Minister, where Sir Humphrey explains Britain's defence policy.

My favourite quote from the series:

"They like activity. It is their substitute for achievement."

I must be special, to need neither ;) .

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday morning 4am


Good night, world. See you at 11.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tough week ahead.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Truth about George

George: Are you a philosopher?
I: Yes.
George :I am too.
I: What do you philosophize about?
George :I like kittens.
I: How about puppies?
George :Puppies are tasty.
I: Are they more tasty than kittens?
George :No. Humans are more intelligent.
I: Do you eat humans?
George :Yes.
I: Does that make you a cannibal?
George :No it makes me what I am.
I: And what are you?
George :Human.
I: So am I. What a coincidence. Do you like Shakespeare?
George :Yes, but some people do not like Shakespeare.
I: And do you like opera?
George :Not really.
I: Which is your favourite play by Shakespeare?
George : None, you talk to people that see Shakespeare? Aren't they on skivacations all the time?
I: Maybe skivacations is where secret cabals meet to watch Shakespeare.
George : No. I mean. You do not answer my questions.
I: I mention a lot of things that I don't even know of.
George :Yes, we humans are not perfect.

So, did he pass the Turing Test ?

For people who are not into machines for intelligent conversation, George is a chat robot with a famously snarky sense of humor, that won the Loebner award in 2005, for coming closest to passing the Turing Test. He almost did with me, above, but then an anaphor did not resolve, and the conversation went rapidly downhill. But still, in my experience with chatbots, this is the best conversation I have ever had.

George is available online for chat 24 hours a day, so is his cousin Joan, who won the 2006 Loebner award. But be warned, there are over a 100 people chatting with them at any given time, and you will not be spoilt for attention. First, there is a short wait time after each sentence, and also they maintain no memory of what you said a sentence ago(not that they can't do it, but with so many people talking to them at the same time, it is probably too much trouble). So conversations are more fun if each of your sentences stands independently by itself.

The way George works is different from most chatbots. It remembers smart things other people said to it. When you say something it searches its memory for smart things people said when it had said something similar to your current statement. In turn, it will remember all the things you say to it, and use them later, so you'll be training it as you talk.

As Maugham said (and I quote ;) ), quotation is a serviceable substitution for wit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Another connect

More trivia. Less nerdy than usual.

Who connects, the fifteenth Poet Laureate of England, the 'first American hero', the only character to appear in all M*A*S*H* episodes, and the first detective story.

Hint: Think British-born Oscar winner leading male.

Answer: Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis, son of Cecil Day-Lewis, the fifteenth Poet Laureate of England, famously played Hawkeye/Natty Bumppo in The Last of the Mohicans, the movie based on James Fennimore Cooper's novel. The tagline of the movie was the first American hero. Alan Alda's character Hawkeye in M*A*S*H* supposedly got that name because Cooper's famous novel was the only book his father ever read. The movie's director Michael Mann felt the audience would snicker at the name Natty Bumppo. So Day-Lewis' name was changed to Nathaniel Poe. Poe, of course, is credited with writing the first detective story(ok, this one is a slight stretch, but I wanted four :) ).

Related Trivia: Cecil Day-Lewis had strong communist leaning and fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He also wrote seventeen successful crime novels under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, when he initially couldn't make a living as a poet.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

In the beginning was the nerd

"Sir: In your otherwise beautiful poem 'The Vision of Sin', there is a verse which reads - 'Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born.' It must be manifest that if this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill...I would suggest that in the next edition of your poem you have it read - 'Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born'...The actual figure is so long I cannot get it onto a line, but the believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry."

- Charles Babbage (letter to Lord Tennyson)

From Doron Swade's The Cogwheel Brain.

The book does not clarify this, but I certainly hope to God he was kidding. Though it would surprise no one if the 'father' of computer engineering was a nerd.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

First day at school

First day at school
the large boy
hurled my ball
with amazing skill
high over the roof

soaring out of sight
out of my prosaic life

I gave him
my admiration

As others have done
when their respect
honour hope and lives
have been hurled
triumphantly out of sight

- Michael Ivens(1914-2001)

First day at school, I was accosted by two kids on my way back home, who made fun of me and the stupid little briefcase-like steel box I used to carry to school(I never understood why I used to carry that back then, and not a school bag like everyone else). The box had its purposes: I gave their heads a solid smack each with the box and executed a quick exit while they lay flat on the ground bawling their throats out.

That is the first memory I have of being uncommonly pleased with myself.

Friday, December 01, 2006

'Research ! A mere excuse for idleness; it has never achieved, and will never achieve any results of the slightest value.'

- Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893)
(English theologian, master of Balliol College, Oxford)

Someone got it right ;) .