01.27.08

robobait: lsof

Posted in robobait at 1:32 pm by ducky

About once every six months, I ask myself, “What process has this file open?”  (Usually it’s related to “why isn’t my sound playing?)

There is a Linux command-line utility that will tell me which processes have which files open, but it always takes me a little while to find it again.  How do I find its name?  What do I search for?  “process file open”?  “which program is using which file”?

So.  The utility is named “lsof” (list open files).   Now maybe next time it won’t take so long to find it.

01.24.08

$7B is a lot of money

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:02 pm by ducky

What I don’t undertsand is how you could ring up losses of seven billion (that’s billion-with-a-B) dollars and not siphon some off for yourself?

If you see that you are going to lose that much money, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will be in an enormous amount of trouble afterwards.  Probably the only way you have a prayer of getting out of it is to divert a large chunk of that to yourself and use the money to make yourself invisible.

Maybe this fraudster had read about Leeson, knew that Leeson ultimately got caught, and figured that running was futile.  Maybe he figured that he had lost so much that he was guaranteed to get caught and go to jail; if he took money, then maybe his sentence would be longer.

01.22.08

obsequious computing?

Posted in Technology trends at 1:35 pm by ducky

I just read a preprint of a paper that talks about a feature that gives the user unprompted feedback on the user’s work. This reminded me of Clippy, which people absolutely hated.

Why did people hate Clippy so much? I think it was a status issue. Your computer — which presumably is low-status compared to you — was having the temerity to tell you what to do. We humans have a hard enough time receiving criticism from above us. I believe that criticism from below can infuriate people, especially if there is no way to punish the subordinate for the insubordination.

Larissa Tieden’s research says that people presume that high-status people do good things, and low-status people do bad things.

Thus, I think it would be good to design software that is not just user-friendly, but obsequious. Instead of “Error 39 — bad input”, it should say, “I’m sorry, I’m not smart enough to understand the input that you gave me.” Instead of “You would do better if you do X”, it should say, “Sorry to bother you, but I noticed that you are doing Y. You might find you have better luck if you do X.”

(And if you think people don’t treat computers like they do people, go read The Media Equation. Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass’ research is really fascinating.)

01.19.08

Western medicine

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 9:11 pm by ducky

Western medicine is amazingly good in some ways. They can sometimes cure things you didn’t even know were wrong with you.

The docs discovered my mom’s PMP on a CAT scan they did looking at what they think was diverticulitis, an annoying but generally easy to treat disease. I believe that she is totally recovered thanks to that early diagnosis. Me, I went to the doctor because I had a bump on my arm, and they ended up checking me out for cancer. (It wasn’t, but it could have been.)

I went to the doctor for three pretty innocuous things. I might not have gone if there were only one, but three together pushed me over some sort of tipping point.

  • The most important thing was that a bump on my arm — which the docs had told me was fine but to keep an eye on — looked different. The skin around it was peeling slightly.
  • One was that my urine output didn’t seem as “forceful” as it should. My brother-in-law had had fibroids in his urinary tract, and the thought crossed my mind that I might have something similar.
  • The last one was so trivial that I honestly can’t remember what it was.

They said my bump was infected slightly. They said that when the infection died down, they could take it off if I wanted. I did and they did.

They seemed far more interested in my urine output, and that ended up causing a cascade of diagnostic tests which culminated in them taking out a polyp six weeks ago. While it turned out to be nothing, there was a non-zero chance that it could have been cancer, where early detection probably would have saved my life.

And that underperforming urine stream?  That thing which seemed too trivial for a visit to the doctor on its own?  It got robust again all on its own.

I am just astounded at how random life is. In only a slightly different version of the universe, I could be saying, “A bump on my arm saved my life.”

the brain is really strange

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 8:22 pm by ducky

The brain is really strange. Or maybe I should say, “my brain is really strange”.

The surgery that I mentioned in my last posting was to remove a tiny little uterine polyp. While polyps are almost always benign, I knew that uterine cancer was really nasty. (The Wikipedia article on uterine cancer seems to indicate that it’s usually only nasty if you are post-menopause, but I didn’t read that article until I researched this posting.)

So five months ago, when their diagnostics first surfaced the possibility of a polyp, I could have been really freaked out about it. Fortunately, I am really good at denial for health/safety issues: I once hid away a fear of heights, I was unfazed by a good friend’s 7 cm breast cancer tumour, and I took my mother’s PMP in stride.

Unfortunately, I am not good at denial when it comes to bureaucracy. I was actually quite anxious about the bureaucratic aspect of the prospect of uterine cancer. I was worried that if I got cancer, I would be disqualified from getting Canadian Permanent Residency. I’d have to leave Canada when I graduated, and that would put me in the US without health insurance and with a history of cancer. This seemed absolutely horrible to me.

Intellectually, I realized that it was rather stranger to be worried about losing a visa than about losing my life, but that’s how my brain worked.

Perhaps partly this is because I have seen a lot of friends and family have really seriously hugely awful bad things happen to them, and almost all of them pulled through. The friend who had that 7cm breast cancer tumour five years ago is not just alive but very active. Mom had surgery that required 40 stitches and is — as far as anyone can tell — completely recovered. A high school friend got multiple meyeloma, which is one of the deadliest, deadliest forms of cancer there is. One friend got throat cancer three years ago and is still talking.   Another friend got leukemia, was in remission for three years, and has been fighting again for about two years. Even cousin Ellen was in remission for three years after (criminally) late treatment of her breast cancer.

On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of snafus with paperwork. Constantly. All the time. (Like how the Canadian government couldn’t figure out for the longest time that I spell “Kaitlin” with a “K” and not a “C”!) So in some ways, it is easier for me to believe that bureaucracies would destroy me than that cancer would destroy me.

01.18.08

nausea or euphoria? hmm…

Posted in Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 10:56 pm by ducky

I had minor surgery recently that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to.  It required a general anesthetic, and in my two previous experiences with general anesthetic, I had real trouble with nausea. I basically woke up, rolled over, and threw up.

This time, however, when I woke up, I had no nausea at all.  I felt surprisingly good, and was actually even chatty when I woke up.  I continued to be chatty and happy and only a little tired for the next few hours.

In fact, on the drive home, at one point, Jim remarked, “Honey, you’re high!”  Surprised, I took stock, and had to agree.  I can’t actually speak from experience — I don’t drink, and I have never taken any controlled substances that weren’t prescribed.  But I could tell that I was in some kind of an altered state: I was gregarious, garrulous, and euphoric.  (For those of you who know me, I should say more gregarious and more garrulous.)

What was going on?

One of the nice things about living at Green College is that there are people who can answer just about any question.  Chris, one of the med students here, explained that anesthesiologists usually use usually a mixture of IV and gaseous drugs to knock people out.  Sometimes, the gas can diffuse into the tissues  surgery at the time of application and then come out later.  (He said that about one percent of patients pass out again in the recovery room!)

One of the gases that they commonly use is nitrous oxide.  So basically, I was high on laughing gas!  It only lasted a few hours, but was much more pleasant than the throwing up I usually do.

01.17.08

Sita Sings The Blues

Posted in Art, Random thoughts at 10:08 pm by ducky

A friend of mine from high school, cartoonist Nina Paley, has finished an animated feature film called Sita Sings The Blues. It’s a retelling of a classic Indian myth called the Ramayana, but with a few Western twists.

Sita For those of you who have never met me, I am not exactly voluptuous. Most of my life, “string bean” was accurate. Now I’m kind of a string bean with a pot belly. Sita, on the other hand, is one voluptuous babe, see image at right.

Sita has been accepted by a Berlin film festival, which is good news. However, the Berlinale only accepts films that are on celluloid, and it costs a pile of money to make such a physical artifact. So Nina is soliciting donations/loans in order to make a print.

(Why does the Berlinale require celluloid when DVDs are higher quality? My guess is either that theatres don’t have the equipment to display DVDs or that they use the financial barrier to weed out the entrants who aren’t really serious.)

Nina is in my tribe, so I’m lending her some money. As a perk to people who loan her money, she’s giving them each a credit in the film — you know, the names that scroll by at the end. She said she would let me have whatever credit I wanted. (I presume there are some limits in taste, decency, and common sense. For example, it would be really insensitive of me if I asked for the credit of “Mohammed”, and stupid of her if she complied.)

“Snake wrangler” was one credit idea she came up with. Jim and I had fun thinking up possible credits: “Best Boy”, “Head Gripper”, “Pixel Casting Director”, “Fire Control Technician”, “Assistant to Sita’s Assistant”, and so on.

The credit that we finally came up with? “Sita Body Double”.

01.13.08

interesting article on morality

Posted in Politics, Random thoughts at 11:36 pm by ducky

I recommend this interesting New York Times article on morality by Steven Pinker.

The first highlight is that there are about five main components to morality: don’t harm others, be fair, support your in-group, respect authority, and be clean/pure.

The second highlight, for me, is that liberals and conservatives place different weights on the values:

The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.

This passage reminds me of both George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, which discusses different value weightings by liberals and conservatives, and The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, which posits that people have generally the same values but different value priorities. Those are also good books and worth a read.

expressiveness of Esperanto

Posted in Random thoughts at 11:14 am by ducky

Every once in a while I will see people who don’t speak Esperanto comment on how, since it is not a natural language, it is not as expressive.

With all due respect, I don’t think those people know what they are talking about. I have studied five natural languages (French, German, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish) and in my opinion, Esperanto is more expressive than any of them.

  • In Esperanto, not only are there very few (sixteen) formal rules, but also very few informal rules. For example, there is no formal rule saying whether you have to put adjectives before the noun or after. You could imagine that a social convention would evolve to put them one place or another, but in fact there is not. It is perfectly okay to put the words pretty much wherever you want them. It’s even rather seen as creative to do non-standard things while staying inside the rules! This means that there are very few things that you are not allowed to say, so the universe of things that you can say is bigger.
  • Verbing nouns is discouraged in English. In Esperanto, it is totally fine to verb nouns. (In fact, words have no part of speech until you put an ending on them, so it almost doesn’t make sense to talk about changing the part of speech.)
  • Esperanto allows compound words, meaning you can stick something like “zoo” and “keeper” to make “zookeeper”. This is different from French, where you are not allowed to smush words together; you have to say “the keeper of the zoo”.
  • Esperanto has a rich set of affixes that can get tossed into the mix, too.
    • In English, there are some words that end in “ery” to mean “place of” (bakery, penitentiary, tannery), but you can’t put that ending on most words. Carwashery, punishmentery, shoery, miseryery, jogery, and sleepery are all words that are not legal (and in fact look laughable) in English, but whose Esperanto equivalents would look and sound just fine.
    • The “mal” prefix (meaning “opposite”) is particularly useful for nuance. It allows you to easily distinguish between neutral negation (using the word for not, “ne”) and a more active negation using “mal”. In English, you can say “I don’t like X” or “I dislike X”, but both carry the connotation that you dislike X. In Esperanto, “mi ne ŝhatas” is distinctly different from “mi malŝatas”. “Mi ne ŝatas X” means that I am neutral about it: I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it. “Mi malŝatas X” means that I dislike it, which you could translate as “I hate X”, but that would be too strong. To express hatred, you would put the enlarging suffix on it: “me malŝategas X.”

      There are words in English for the opposite of liking (dislike or hate), but there are not opposites for most words. For example, there is no word for the opposite of sitting. You might wish to distinguish between a neutral not-sitting (I happen to be standing, lying, walking, whatever, not that important) and anti-sitting (I am actively avoiding sitting, perhaps because my bottom is sore). In English, you can get the idea across, but it is convoluted. In Esperanto, you can express the difference easily with “mal” and “ne”.

There is another, completely different form of expressiveness where Esperanto totally excels: the ability to learn the language well enough to express yourself in it. In some sense, it doesn’t matter how expressive some constructs of a language are if you can’t master those constructs. After seven semesters equivalent of college French, I wasn’t able to express myself as well as a 9 year old native speaker. In Esperanto, you can get fluent much, much faster. (In natural languages, you spend an enormous amount of effort learning the things you are not allowed to say. In Esperanto, zero.)

The only thing that I can see as a “problem” is that it might be harder to be ambiguous in Esperanto. In English, because the structure of the language makes nuance more cumbersome to express, it is perhaps easier to be ambiguous. (Does “I don’t like it” mean dislike or neutrality?) I see this as a feature in Esperanto, not a bug: I would rather have to put effort into being ambiguous and have clarity be easy than the reverse.

I will admit that Esperanto is pretty useless from a tourist perspective, but it is absolutely fantastic from a pedagogical perspective — much like LISP. The chances of being able to get a job programming in LISP are only slightly higher than your chance of being able to order in Esperanto in a restaurant, but learning either will help you understand languages in that domain (computer or human) much better than learning most other languages in that domain.

Also note that studying a natural language is pretty worthless from anything but a tourist perspective. Nobody in France speaks Beginning French.

Disclaimer: I haven’t spoken much Esperanto in 30 years. This post is based on my memories of a summer of Esperanto when I was 12, including a week at an Esperanto summer camp.

01.12.08

funny statistics?

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, University life at 11:30 pm by ducky

Last night, my beloved husband and I went to see Zarqa Nawaz (the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie) speak at our local gorgeous performing arts hall.

Her talk was wonderful and funny and thought-provoking — I’m really glad I went.

One of the points that she made was that when a Muslim does something bad, there are cries about how this is just one more example of how Islam as a religion is repressive/bad/evil/ugly/whatever, but nobody tars Christianity or white culture if someone white does something bad. One thing that she mentioned was that the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the US was homicide, but that nobody talks about how US culture is brutal to women

I was shocked by the statistic. But thinking about that this morning, I started to wonder about how meaningful that statistic was. What else are pregnant women going to die of?

  • If a woman is pregnant, she’s not going to be old, so she is much less likely to die from diseases of old age. Pregnant women probably don’t die of heart disease very often.
  • If a young woman has some nasty illness, she’s probably not going to be pregnant. Either her body won’t have the resources to get pregnant, or she’ll have the baby and take steps to not get pregnant again, or the illness (or medications) will cause her to lose the baby.
  • Pregnant women usually don’t put themselves in dangerous situations. Women generally don’t hang out in war zones, mine coal, drive trucks, or enter motorcycle races once they find out they are pregnant. (And before they find out they are pregnant, they might also get missed by the statistics.)

While yes, it is bad that homicide is the leading cause of pregnant women in the US, I’d like to see how it compares to US women of childbearing age who are not pregnant, to US men of the same age, and the same numbers for different countries.

I did a little digging, and found some stats at the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and some stats at the US Bureau of Justice (BOJ):

  • Black women were more than three times as likely to be murdered than white women.
  • Women were more than 11 times as likely to be murdered by a man they knew than by a stranger (VPC).
  • When the woman knew her murderer, 60% of the time, it was an intimate or ex-intimate according to VPC.  However, according to the Bureau of Justice, about a third of women were killed by their intimates.  (Maybe the difference is due to different classification of “intimates”.  VPC includes ex-intimates.)
  • Only about three percent of male victims are killed by their intimates (BOJ).
  • In 90% of the cases where the race of both victim and murderer were know, the woman was killed by men of a different race!!! (BOJ)
  • The number of women killed by their intimates in the US was pretty stable for 20 years, and then started falling in 1993.  It’s at its lowest point ever right now. (BOJ)
  • The number of men killed by their intimates in the US has been falling steadily and dramatically for the past 30 years. (BOJ)