May 01, 2007

Slothful Reading Update

I have been too lazy busy to update the book recommendations sidebar. The last three months should preceed this post, and April's recommendations follow it. Some TV shows on DVD are now included, since a lot of my time for reading fiction has gone into watching them; I suspect my taste in video is even less trustworthy than my taste in books, but why not?

Posted by crshalizi at May 01, 2007 15:40 | | permanent link

Posted by crshalizi at May 01, 2007 15:40 | | permanent link

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, April 2007

Ingrid D. Rowland, The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery
Or: how a teenager got out of being shipped off to law school by forging ancient Etruscan writings, sparking a scholarly controversy that was to some extent a rehash of the Galileo affair. Briskly and amusingly told, with no great pretense that it was ever anything other than a brazen forgery — I won't spoil some of the jokes by pointing out some of the evidence of just how brazen. Thanks to John "reprieved" Burke for recommending this!
Jane Haddam, Glass Houses
Serial killers, pedophiles, bookkeepers...
C. J. Box, Trophy Hunt
Animal mutilation and energy booms in Saddlestring, Wyoming. Some bits made me wonder if Box had read Warren Ellis's Atmospherics (still, for my money, the best relation of the cattle mutilation myth).
Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Part I: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution
When I think about it, I realize a truly substantial proportion of my basic knowledge of the world derives from reading Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guides and Cartoon History of the Universe; this is a worthy continuation of the latter.
Peter Hedström, Dissecting the Social: On the Principles of Analytical Sociology
Will get its own review. In the meanwhile: right on, brother, right on.
Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant
Short devotional work presenting Wills's interpretation of the gospels. Wills has no interest in recovering the historical Jesus, and explicitly says that he finds such a project pointless; he is interested in the Jesus of his faith, as presented by the gospels vouchsafed to him by the Catholic tradition. (Presumably this is why, for instance, he uses only the canonical books of the New Testament, and assumes that they tell a consistent story.) Fair enough, if he wants to do that, though not at all convincing to someone without a prior committment to that tradition. But then I utterly fail to see how he can square this with rejection of, in no particular order, papal authority, bishops, priests, and even (I think) the mass? Well, he says, I don't see any justification for this in the text. But that same tradition which guarantees the text for him also comes down on their side. And a Jesus who founded a Church with bishops and priests performing miracles of transubstantiation would be very different from the Jesus he wants...
Battlestar Galactica [0; 1; 2; 2.5]
Yes, it really is based on that appalling old TV show. Yes, it really is as good as everyone says.
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Shadow and Cast in Courtlight
Fantasy novels with detective-story elements; the kind of thing which would appeal to those who like P. C. Hodgell, though it is not as good as her books. There is a weird emphasis here on names, writing (a --- you should excuse the expression --- literal body of inscription is a central part of the story, along with the magical struggle to control the reading of that text), and, near the climax, the autonomous power of language itself; this tempts me to postulate some kind of run-in with post-structuralism in Sagara's past (and I'd even say not a happy one, given her heroine's attitude towards teachers), but really anyone who comes to this looking for specifically Derridean high fantasy would be disappointed. (Not that I can think of anyone who would, now that Chun the Unavoidable is no longer among us.)

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted by crshalizi at May 01, 2007 15:40 | | permanent link

April 30, 2007

Let Me Be Among the First to Welcome Our Six-Pedaled Floral Robotic Overlords

From this week's Carnegie Mellon 8 1/2 x 11 News (emphasis added):

Carnegie Mellon researchers have developed a series of robots that are simple enough for almost anyone to build with off-the-shelf parts, but are sophisticated machines that wirelessly connect to the Internet. The robots can take many forms, from a three-wheeled model with a mounted camera that people could use to monitor their home while they're away to a robotic, six-pedaled flower that can open and close based on moods. The robots can be customized and their ability to wirelessly link to the Internet allows users to control and monitor their robots' actions from any Internet-connected computer in the world.

I realize this is a typo for "six-petaled", but the mere fact that I couldn't be immediately sure has brightened my day. The vision of mobile fields of flowers, pedaling in unison to follow the sun over the hills and valleys of western Pennsylvania, may yet come to pass...

Oh yeah --- here's the link to Telepresence Robot Kit website.

Update: Thanks to Alex Mallet for pointing out my typo; I believe at least one is required, thermodynamically, when making fun of someone else's.


Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 15:20 | | permanent link

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, February 2007

Phil Rickman, The Remains of an Altar
Julia Spencer-Fleming, All Mortal Flesh
Having earlier commented on Rickman and Spencer-Fleming's series, and even on the similarities between them, I find I have little to add, except that these are both good, and that I think the latter has brought her series to a satisfying --- if unconventional and less than happy --- conclusion. (Oh, and Rickman's diathesis for geeking out about music in his novels is not, actually, out of control here, despite what the dust-jacket made me fear.)

I did actually manage to read more than two books this month; but a lot of them were mediocre even by my standards, and one of them was Ethier and Kurtz's Markov Processes, plugged this time last year.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 14:54 | | permanent link

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, March 2007

Homicide [1 and 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; omnibus collection]
At its best, which was frequent, simply some of the best story-telling I've ever encountered. Season 6 drags a bit — the dialogue is not quite so good, and there is too much soap-opera among the detectives — but season 7 picks up a bit, especially towards the end, and the final episode is, I think, a brilliant ending.
C. J. Box, Winterkill
Paranoid militia idiots vs. trigger-happy government idiots in deepest Wyoming, as seen by Box's recurring character, the admirable if none-too-bright game warden Joe Pickett. The ending is very unhappy.
Greg Keyes, The Briar King
Another beginning-of-a-vast-fantasy-saga novel. The world is interesting, and, unlike Erikson below, I do need to find out what happens next...
Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon
Lap-breaker military fantasy. I picked this up in Brussels on September 10th, 2001, and, well, lost track of it for a while. Above-average writing, but the first volume in a series which is still uncompleted. Not sure I want to commit myself to following the saga — and I feel no real compulsion to find out what happens next, which says something in itself.
Bernard E. Harcourt, Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age
See Review: Harcourt contra divinationem.
I will definitely include this material the next time I teach data mining.
Stanislaw Lem, The Invincible
Man versus --- well, that would be a spoiler, actually --- in an alien desert. I feel OK, however, in saying that the self-organization of cellular slime molds is a key insight.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 14:54 | | permanent link

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, January 2007

Langston Hughes, A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia
This new edition (ISBN 9967-23-555-1) was printed for David Mikosz in Bishkek in 2006; it reprints the first edition (Leningrad: Foreign Worker's Cooperative Publishing House, 1934), with a preface by Mikosz, and end-notes giving the hand-written corrections in Hughes's personal copy, now at Yale. (These are almost all improvements.) This is by no means Hughes's best writing (even with the corrections), and it is painfully clear that the author was naive about the Soviet system. (The happy collective farmers! The fraternal solidarity of the Russian and Turkmen peoples!) But it also conveys why an American in 1934 might have wanted to believe in the Soviets — especially a black American. Only recommended to those with a special interest in Hughes, the history of Central Asia, or, pardon the phrase, fellow travelers.
Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern Worl
Well-told rendition of the story of John Snow, the Broad Street pump, and the discovery that cholera is transmitted by fecal contamination of water. The distinctive feature of Johnson's version is his setting it in the larger story of the history of cities, waste disposal, and the evolution of disease, which are all more fascinating than you might expect. The last chapter, however, in which Johnson jumps from the 19th century to the 21st, has only the most tentative connection to any of the foregoing, and with a little editing could have been printed on its own in Wired or something of that ilk; for all I know it was. For some grousing about this book by a historian of medicine, see here.
Paul Embrechts and Makoto Maejima, Selfsimilar Processes
Compact (99 pp. + references), highly selective primer on self-similar stochastic processes, their characterization, uses, and a little bit of their statistical inference. Stochastic processes are self-similar when time and space can be re-scaled in ways which leave the distribution invariant (rather leaving particular realizations invariant). They are good on connections between self-similarity and long-range dependence, not quite so good on how self-similarity relates to heavy tails. (To be fair, the latter is a more complicated topic, because, e.g., there are Gaussian self-similar processes.) The implied reader has some knowledge of measure-theoretic probability, the Wiener process, Itô integrals, and Lévy and stable distributions — it's pitched at applied probabilists rather than, say, physicists. (Someone who took my course would know all of these prerequisites except the stuff on stable distributions, so I need to add them.) Many proofs are abbreviated or referred to the literature in their entirety; those they do give are generally nice.
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Academic Publishing System Dept.: This book consists, as I said, of about a hundred pages of text, including computer-generated figures, plus references and an index. In other words, it's only slightly more elaborate than a long review paper at It is also sturdily bound, which is useful. However, it lists for over $40, and a generous price on printing from the archive (paper, ink, bandwidth, staples, time) is 4 cents a page. I do not see an extra 30 cents per page of value being supplied by the publisher, or even the publisher and the binder together.
Patricia A. McKillip, Solstice Wood
A sequel, of sorts, to Winter Rose, but also a rare venture into early twenty-first century America. Less ornate prose than usual, but still more Elfland than Poughkeepsie (to use an old line of Le Guin's).

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 14:54 | | permanent link


Let Me Be Among the First to Welcome Our Six-Pedaled Floral Robotic Overlords
Spring Cleaning of Late Summer Bookmark Cleaning
The Complaints Choir of Helsinki
Felix Lupercalia
Absolutely Regular
Piracy and Peer Production
Two Links on Scientific Programming
Go Outside and Play, Why Don't You?
Zadig, or, The Book of Fate
Brunch in the Ruins
Topping from Below
Corners Bumped
Reasons to Be Cheerful: Higher Primates Issue
Snowclones in May!
A Last Night in the October Country
Destroy All Bookmarks!
Structure and Dynamics (On the Economic Geography of Gilgamesh)
Thursday Sloth Blogging
Slack from the Past
And You May Say to Yourself, "This Is Not My Beautiful Blog!"
Saturday Sibling Blogging
Happy Hogswatchnight!
Debugging Early on a Saturday Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom Blogging
Let No One Else's Work Evade Your Eyes
Yet More Political Data Analysis (or: "There you go, bringing class into it again")
Friday Cat Blogging (Science Geek Edition: Special Complex Networks Issue)
Balkan Chronicles
Shrill, Shrill, Shrill (with a Will)
The Circular Ruins
Speaking Truth to Power About Weblogs, or, How Not to Draw a Straight Line
One Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Warblogging
Assorted Reading
Someone Has Found a Way to Make Money from the Internet!
Hidden Connections; or, Flying Saucers, Conspiracies and Prehistoric Tibet
America's Finest News Source
More Assorted Reading
Assorted Reading
A Remarkable Likeness
Giving People What They Want
"If you loved me, you'd kill yourselves today"
Yet Another Blogroll Update
Notorious C.H.O.
Today's snippets
Nelson Minar
Passing it along
Assorted Reading
Fear and Loathing in Professional Sports
A Fish, a Barrel, and ...
When Did They Get a Blog? Dept.

Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 11:10 | | permanent link

Tao on Structure and Randomness

Terence Tao is posting the text of his lectures on "Structure and Randomness" (part I on number theory and Fourier analysis; part II on combinatorial number theory, graph theory, ergodic theory and "ergodic graphs"; and part III on partial differential equations). It's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a truly accomplished pure mathematician. Most striking to me is how Tao completely avoids rounding up any of the usual suspects --- Paul Erdös and Mark Kac's work on statistical independence in number theory*, statistical mechanics, Kolmogorov complexity, etc. --- while still finding fascinating things to say about, e.g., Wick rotation. All three posts, I guess I should say, are for mathematically mature audiences only.

Tao's earlier post on Why global regularity for Navier-Stokes is hard is also very worth reading.

*: Kac's beautiful little book on Statistical Independence in Probability, Analysis and Number Theory is still in print (ISBN 978-0-88385-025-1, $21.95), but the publisher, the Mathematical Association of America, makes it impossible to actually link to its catalogue page. The best I can do is refer to the page for the series in which it is published.

Mathematics; Enigmas of Chance

Posted by crshalizi at April 30, 2007 11:10 | | permanent link

April 26, 2007

Lecture Notes on Stochastic Processes (Advanced Probability II), Spring 2007

Since the first lecture of my class coincided with the first non-trivial snow-fall of the winter, talk of the "spring" semester seems like a cruel joke, but there you go. One of my New Year's resolutions was to leave the notes as nearly alone as possible, so they will largely follow last year's, but with typo corrections, a few occasional improvements, more examples, and some pictures (not, I dare say, enough).

Update, 26 April 2007: The link at the end of this list to complete set of notes now goes to the complete notes, including chapters yet to be covered by the lectures.

This page will be updated with new lecture notes as the semester goes on. If you want an RSS feed, this should do it.

Chapter 24: Birkhoff's Ergodic Theorem (4 May)
The almost-sure or individual ergodic theorem of Birkhoff: if the system is asymptotically mean stationary, then, with probability 1, the time average of every well-behaved observable converges to its expectation.
Chapter 23: Ergodic Properties (26 April and 1 May)
Ideological remarks on ergodic theory. Dynamical systems and their invariants; connections to Markov processes. Ergodic properties of functions and ergodic limits. Asymptotic mean stationarity.
Chapter 22: Spectral Analysis and Mean-Square Ergodicity (12--24 April)
"White noise" as a linear functional; its description as a generalized stochastic process (mean zero, uncorrelated, Gaussian) and equivalence to the Ito integral. Spectral representation of stochastic processes, especially weakly stationary ones, or, random Fourier transforms. The Wiener-Khinchin theorem linking the spectrum to the autocorrelation function. How the white noise lost its color. Our first ergodic theorem: convergence of time averages in mean square. A first proof assuming rapid decay of correlations. A stronger second proof based on the spectral representation.
Chapter 21: A First Look at Small-Noise Limits of Stochastic Differential Equations (10 April)
SDEs defined by adding a small amount of white noise to ODEs. Solutions of the SDEs converge in distribution on the solutions of the ODE as the noise goes to zero (via Feller properties). An exponential upper bound on the probability of given magnitude of deviation between the solutions. Preview of coming attractions in large deviations theory.
Chapter 20: More on Stochastic Differential Equations (29 March and 1 April)
Solutions of SDEs are Feller diffusions (as they solve martingale problems). The Kolmogorov "forward" and "backward" equations, for the evolution of the probability density and the observables, respectively. Examples of the forward or Fokker-Planck equation and its solution.
Chapter 19: Stochastc Integrals and Stochastic Differential Equations (20--29 March)
Rigorous approach to stochastic integrals, after Ito. Ito integrals of "elementary" processes; extension to a wider class of integrands via approximation. Ito's isometry. Some simple but instructive examples. Ito processes. Ito's formula for change of variables. Stratonovich integrals (briefly). Representation of nice martingales as Ito integrals. Stochastic differential equations: existence and uniqueness of solutions. A more realistic model of Brownian motion, leading to a stochastic differential equation (the Langevin equation) and Ornstein-Uhlenbeck processes.
Chapter 18: Preview of Stochastic Integrals (8 March)
Why we want stochastic integrals. A heuristic approach via Euler's method (the Euler-Bernstein scheme).
Chapter 17: Diffusions and the Wiener Process (6 March)
Definition of diffusions. The Wiener process as the prototypical diffusion. Resume of the Wiener process's properties. Wiener processes with respect to arbitrary filtrations. Gaussian processes. Wiener measure. Non-dfferentiability of almost-all continuous functions.
Chapter 16: Convergence of Random Walks (27 February and 1 March)
The Wiener process as a Feller process. Continuous-time random walks. Convergence of random walks to the Wiener process via the Feller-process machinery; via direct use of the theorems on weak convergence.
Chapter 15: Convergence of Feller Processes (27 February)
Weak convergence of stochastic processes; hints as to the Skorokhod topology on cadlag functions; necessary and sufficient, and merely sufficient, conditions for convergence in distribution of cadlag processes. Convergence in distribution of Feller processes. Convergence of discrete-time Markov processes on Feller processes. Convergence of Markov processes on ordinary differential equations.
Chapter 14: Feller Processes (22 February)
Clarificiations on initial states and distributions of Markov processes; Markov families, the probability kernel from initial states to paths. Definition of Feller processes and its physical motivations; reformulation in terms of semi-groups; unique correspondence between Feller processes and their generators. Attributes of Feller processes: cadlag sample paths, strong Markov property, Dynkin's formula.
Chapter 13: Strongly Markovian Processes and Martingale Problems (20 February)
The strong Markov property is being Markovian even at random times. An example of how a Markov process can fail to be strongly Markovian. The concept of a "martingale problem". Relationship between solutions of martingale problems and strong Markov processes.
Chapter 12: Generators (15 February)
The generators of the semi-groups associated with Markov processes: analogy with exponential functions, how to find generators starting from semi-groups, some uses of generators for solving differential equations, Laplace transforms and resolvents. Hille-Yosida theorem on building semi-groups from generators.
Chapter 11: Examples of Markov Processes (13 February)
The logistic map as an example of turning nonlinear, deterministic dynamical systems into linear Markov operators. The Wiener process as an example of finding the transition kernels and time-evolution operators. Generalization of the Wiener process example to other processes with stationary and independent increments, and connections to limiting distributions of sums of IID random variables.
Chapter 10: Two Views of Markov Processes (8 February)
Markov sequences as transformations of noise; transducers. Markov processes as collections of operators: Markov operator semi-groups evolve the distribution of states, and their adjoint operators evolve the "observables", the bounded measurable functions of the state. Some functional-analytic facts about conjugate spaces and adjoint operators.
Chapter 9: Markov Processes (6 February)
Definition and meaning of the Markov property. Transition probability kernels. Existence of Markov processes with specified transitions. Invariant distributions. Dependence of the Markov property on filtrations.
Chapter 8: More on Continuity (1 February)
Existence of separable modifications of a stochastic process (in detail). Idea of measurable modifications. Conditions for the existence of measurable, cadlag and continuous modifications.
Chapter 7: Continuity (1 February)
Kinds of continuity for stochastic processes. Versions and modifications of stochastic processes. Benefits of continuous sample paths, and an example of the impossibility of deducing them from the finite dimensional distributions alone. Separable random functions.
Chapter 6: Random Times and Recurrence (30 January)
Reminders about filtrations and stopping times. Waiting times of various sorts, especially recurrence times. Poincaré and Kac recurrence theorems. "The eternal return of the same" and its statistical applications.
Chapter 5: Stationarity and Dynamics (25 January)
Strong, weak, and conditional stationarity. Stationarity as shift-invariance. Measure-preserving transformations and stationary processes.
Chapter 4: One-Parameter Processes (23 January)
One-parameter processes; examples thereof. Representation of one-parameter processes in terms of shift operators.
Chapter 3: Building Infinite Processes by Recursive Conditioning (23 January)
Probability kernels and regular conditional probabilities. Theorem of Ionescu Tuclea on constructing processes from regular conditional distributions.
Chapter 2: Building Infinite Processes from Finite-Dimensional Distributions (18 January)
Finite-dimensional distributions of a process. Theorems of Daniell and Kolmogorov on extending finite-dimensional distributions to infinite-dimensional ones.
Chapter 1: Stochastic Processes and Random Functions (16 January)
Stochastic processes as indexed collections of random variables and as random functions. Sample paths and constraints on them. Examples.
Including a running list of all definitions, lemmas, theorems, corollaries, examples and exercises to date.
Confined to works explicitly cited.
The entire set of notes

Enigmas of Chance; Corrupting the Young

Posted by crshalizi at April 26, 2007 17:43 | | permanent link

April 08, 2007

The Reason for the Season

Today, of all days in the year, it is important to keep constantly in our minds the message and the meaning of the story of Our Lord; a message which has the most tremendous, one may even say awful, significance for the fate of every member of the human race; a message which, if only they would grasp it, would utterly transform the way they saw the world and their place in it. It is a message so powerful, so overwhelming, that most of us hide from it; we seek the false comfort of the distractions and petty views of the mundane — false comfort, for though we may not be interested in Him, He is interested in us. We refuse to put together all that we know of Him and face up to its implications; to acknowledge the utter inadequacy of all human action and merit in the face of His might and knowledge and plans. It has pleased Him to make what the world calls "wisdom" into folly, and to ensure that true wisdom shall be found in what the world calls folly and madness. What is this mind-shattering message that we would rather flee into ignorance and darkness than admit into our consciousness with all its power? Just this:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.


Posted by crshalizi at April 08, 2007 19:31 | | permanent link

Enigmas of Chance

Probability theory, random processes, statistical inference and machine learning

Tao on Structure and Randomness
Glory and $1500 a Month (VIGRE-funded Summer Undergraduate Research in Statistics at Carnegie Mellon)
Eigenfactor (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Academic Publishing System? Dept.)
"Statistical Methods for Modeling Dynamic Systems" Workshop
Armchair Conference-Blogging
Lecture Notes on Stochastic Processes (Advanced Probability II), Spring 2007
Absolutely Regular
Statistical Communication
Notes on "A Likelihood approach to Analysis of Network Data"
Again with the Statistics 754, Stochastic Processes
I Taught Him Everything He Knows
Data Mining (36-350) Lecture Notes, Weeks 4--7
"The Invisible Academy: Non-Linear Effects of Linear Learning"
Arrrrgh! Owwwwwww! Noooooooooo! (A Remark on Power Laws)
A Triumph of Socialist Realism
Data Mining (36-350) Lecture Notes, Weeks 1--3
Glory and $500 (VIGRE-funded Undergraduate Research in Statistics at Carnegie Mellon)
Frederick Mosteller Is Dead
The Awful Turkish Language
Statistical Arbitrage in the Sky
Problems in the Doctrine of Chances
The Absorbing Boundary
Friday Cat Blogging (Measure-Zero Exception to the Hiatus Issue of Non-Science-Geek Edition)
Statistical Network Analysis: Call for Papers
Graphs, Trees, Materialism, Fishing
Lecture Notes on Stochastic Processes (Advanced Probability II, 36-754)
"Experimental Reasoning, Reliability, Objectivity, Rationality": The Names Men Give to Their Mistakes
Statistics 754, Stochastic Processes (Advanced Probability II)
Gauss Is Not Mocked
Will There Be a Text in My Class?
A Thought I Have No Time to Pursue
Schooled by Selection
Our New Filtering Techniques Are Unstoppable!
Exponential Families and Hybridity (Why Oh Why Can't Physicists Learn Better Probability and Statistics, Part N)
The Little Grey Cells Get Their Act Together
This Is Your Brain on Statistical Complexity (This Week at the Complex Systems Colloquium)
Heard About Detroit, Heard About Pittsburgh PA
E Pluribus Unum (This Week at the Complex Systems Colloquium)
Why Oh Why Can't Physicists Learn Better Probability and Statistics?
Convex Risk Exegesis
Yet More Political Data Analysis (or: "There you go, bringing class into it again")
Boreal Sloth
Decided and Divided Americas
How to Change the World
Friday Cat Blogging (It Always Pays to Read the Annals of Improbable Research Carefully Issue of Science Geek Edition)
Paradox! Stone-Cold Paradox! Get It Before It's Warm!
Booze, Sex, and Death (This Week at the Complex Systems Colloquium: Dying, Lost in the Crowd Blues Edition)
William Dembski and the Discovery Institute, Renewing Science and Culture by Re-Inventing the Wheel
Speaking Truth to Power About Weblogs, or, How Not to Draw a Straight Line
Monday Exam Blogging
One Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Warblogging
"Now Barabbas was a publisher"
More Assorted Reading
Learning Your Way Around Gödel's Theorem
Political Factors
Intermittent Finds in Complex Systems and Stuff, No. 1
The Art of Noise
On a Talk by Persi Diaconis
Small Worlds and Morbid Amusements
What's Right with That Picture?
Try It, and Let's See What Happens, or, Great Minds

Posted by crshalizi at April 08, 2007 19:29 | | permanent link

Spring Cleaning of Late Summer Bookmark Cleaning

Attention conservation notice: I wrote the following in late August, trying to clear out my stuff-to-blog bookmarks folder. For reasons I don't remember, I left it aside then, and only ran across it again now. I haven't updated anything, just checked that none of the links have rotted. You've probably already seen any which you would have found interesting.

Jack Balkin has put the full text of his 1998 book Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology on-line for free. This is a really good book, where Balkin makes a serious attempt to tackle two huge problems, namely how we manage to have shared cultural meanings, and how culture can help produce injustice. The tools he uses are the idea of memes (in a broad sense, compatible with say Sperber's critiques), along with some more experimentally-grounded psychology. I think he succeeds, but what he ends up with is 190-proof liberal evolutionary naturalism, which is mostly what I believe anyway. (He doesn't make much of the way he's recapitulating both the origins of American pragmatism in evolutionary and psychological science, e.g. this, and its outcome in a liberal social philosophy, but I can't imagine it's escaped his notice.) What's really curious, though, is that Balkin does all of this while suffering from a mild strain of the French Disease (he does teach at Yale), so that he appeals to Lyotard and Foucault in the course of defending motherhood, apple pie, and even the flag. Straightforward appeals to not let over-simplified stereotypes of group differences blind us to the reality of individual diversity therefore get prefaced by elaborate Derrida-for-beginners deconstructions of all binary oppositions. I suspect that Balkin has thus managed to write a book which will irritate almost all of its prospective readers — some with "naive scientism", and others with "postmodern bullshit" — but is nonetheless actually very good and worth reading. And, now, free. [This is the short version of the review which has been sitting, in draft form, on my hard-disk since the fall of 2000.]

Meera Nanda gives a progressive Indian perspective on American affirmative action, in the context of the debate on "reservation for backward castes". (Via Nanopolitan.) — Has anyone done a systematic comparison of the Indian caste system and the American racial system? It seems to obvious to have been left alone...

Charlie Stross contemplates the future, and sees a world whose constitution was written by Gary Gygax. It's not pretty to imagine how this will intersect with the economy of phishing.

Michael Bérubé has his head split open by Yeats. (I predicted Jonathan Goodwin's response, but not publicly, so that doesn't count.)

Elif Shafak writes about having a novel which is charged with the crime of insulting Turkishness:

The fictional Armenian characters in my latest novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, are blamed for defaming and belittling Turkishness. Thus for instance, a character named Auntie Varsenig is in trouble now for saying the following on page 57:
"Tell me how many Turks ever learned Armenian. None! Why did our mothers learn their language and not vice versa? Isn't it clear who has dominated whom? Only a handful of Turks come from Central Asia, right, and then the next thing you know they are everywhere! What happened to the millions of Armenians who were already there? Assimilated! Massacred! Orphaned! Deported! And then forgotten! How can you give your flesh and blood daughter to those who are responsible for our being so few and in so much pain today? Mesrop Mashtots would turn in his grave!"
Similarly, another character, Dikran Stamboulian, is in dire straits now for saying the following:
"What will that innocent lamb tell her friends when she grows up? My father is Barsam Tchakhmakhchian, my great-uncle is Dikran Stamboulian, his father is Varvant Istanboluian, my name is Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, all my family tree has been Something Somethingian, and I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives in the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915, but I myself have been brainwashed to deny the genocide because I was raised by some Turk named Mustapha! What kind of a joke is that ... Ah, marnim khalasim!"
As much as I believe in their vivacity, my Armenian fictional characters cannot go to court to be tried under Article 301. Instead of them, my Turkish publisher, Semi Sökmen, and I, will be there when the time comes. It will be a long legal battle from then on, and certainly a hassle and cause of stress. But, we Turkish writers are not pitiful or forlorn victims unable to go out into the street for fear of nationalist assault. After all, we do know, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that a similar clash of opinions between the progressive-minded and the close-minded xenophobes is under way almost everywhere and the world is not a safe planet anymore.
Commenting on this idiocy, Walter Jon Williams (one of my favorite authors) takes a break from blogging a fascinating account of a trip to Turkey (now at part eleven and counting) to write "I would say something like, 'In solidarity with our literary siblings, let us all insult Turkishness together,' except that I happen to like Turkishness. It's just shithead Turkish politicians I despise."

Not-unrelated, the Editors call for the rectification of names.

The Sarong Theorem archive is "an electronic archive of images of people proving theorems while wearing sarongs."

Ilya Nemenman has put his bibliography file online, with rather uninhibited remarks on the papers concerned. Since Nemenman is very smart, this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in scientific applications of information theory, and should be emulated.

Nothing is eternal dep't: old sand in the Taklimakan Desert; old rocks in the the Sierra Nevada.

Giant ground sloths in Iowa.

Gary Farber reads about crackpot Nazi science so you don't have to! (Unless you find that sort of thing amusing, of course.) — Amygdala, by the way, is one of the most consistently interesting, and broad-ranging, weblogs I've found; Gary really does blog about almost everything three to six months before everybody else does. Since contributions really do help keep him on the air, it's a good idea to follow the links at the top of each page and contribute a little, if you can.

I have far, far too many links to arresting images and off-beat ideas from Geoff Manaugh's consistently-delightful BLDGBLOG, which is poised somplace near the triple point of photography, urbanism and architecture. Without pretending that these are the best, here the ones in my folder: Mount St. Helens of Glass; When Landscapes Sing; or, London Instrument; Where Cathedrals Go to Die; The Knot Driver; the Mine, the Rivers, the Caves and Drainscaping Nevada's Gold; The Scrap Lung; Famous Hulls of the Alaskan Sea; Silt; Optometric Metropolis; Urban Diptychs; The Hedge-Bridge; Landscapes Undone; Euclidean Agriculture; A Mars Supreme; glowing Oceans; Cities of Amorphous Carbonia; Earth Surface Machine; The Architecture of Spam; Seal Silo.


Posted by crshalizi at April 08, 2007 18:37 | | permanent link

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