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Archived Posts for August 2010

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
Aug 10

The strange thing about bedbugs

The NY Times had an article on bedbugs today which made the “Most Viewed” list. Bedbugs actually disappeared for most of last century, and then reappeared in the 90s.

But bedbugs, despite the ick factor, are clean.

Actually it is safer to say that no one has proved they aren’t, said Jerome Goddard, a Mississippi State entomologist.

But not for lack of trying. South African researchers have fed them blood with the AIDS virus, but the virus died. They have shown that bugs can retain hepatitis B virus for weeks, but when they bite chimpanzees, the infection does not take. Brazilian researchers have come closest, getting bedbugs to transfer the Chagas parasite from a wild mouse to lab mice.

“Someday, somebody may come along with a better experiment,” Dr. Goddard said.

  7:38pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Gmail Priority inbox is what I've been waiting for: http://bit.ly/bGTQ3K I once tried to setup Outlook that way w/ filters/groups but failed

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Aug 10

Email customs

Signs you’re dealing with an American lawyer: mixed punctuation (use of commas or colons in conjunction with salutations and commas with valedictions, letters in abbreviations separated by periods); use of “Best”, “Best regards”, “Sincerely”, “Yours truly” as valedictions.

Signs you’re dealing with a British/ANZ lawyer: open punctuation (no commas used after salutations and valedictions, abbreviations don’t have fullstops); use of “Regards”, “Kind regards”, and “Yours sincerely/faithfully” as valedictions.

However, the choice of valediction is more indicative than the punctuation style used.

  10:47pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

The patent system is broken

Larry Downes writes about Paul Allen’s recent patent suits in When a Patent Troll is an Enigma. He also has a great summary about what is so wrong and broken about the patent system.

The result has been the creation of a shadow patent examination process through litigation. The grant of a patent is no longer the final step, in other words. The de facto examination really takes place when the holder tries to enforce the patent against an alleged infringer, and the defendant claims invalidity of the patent as a defense. When such cases go to trial, which they rarely do, a jury of laymen are then tasked with doing the work avoided by the patent examiner.

In effect, the patent office has outsourced its job to the judiciary and in particular to a jury of non-experts. If nothing else, that is a feature of the modern system that absolutely no one is happy with, or in any event that no one can justify.

It also needs to be emphasized that patent infringement (as opposed to copyright infringement), need not and indeed rarely does include any suggestion of “theft” or other hint of immoral conduct. Most patent infringers do not copy the work of another inventor—they create their own innovation independently, often completely unaware of the existence of the relevant patents or pending applications. The broader the patents that are granted, of course, the more likely coincidental or seemingly “innocent” infringements are to occur. From a legal standpoint, however, ignorance of existing patents is no defense.

  8:50pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Aug 10

You gotta need it, first


  8:57pm  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Languages shaping worldviews

Another fascinating article (adapted from this upcoming book) about how our language affects our worldview.

In recent years, various experiments have shown that grammatical genders can shape the feelings and associations of speakers toward objects around them. In the 1990s, for example, psychologists compared associations between speakers of German and Spanish. There are many inanimate nouns whose genders in the two languages are reversed. A German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; and the same goes for clocks, apartments, forks, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, violins, the sun, the world and love. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage. When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed.

And another example:

In order to speak a language like Guugu Yimithirr, you need to know where the cardinal directions are at each and every moment of your waking life. You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people around you are saying. Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Regardless of visibility conditions, regardless of whether they are in thick forest or on an open plain, whether outside or indoors or even in caves, whether stationary or moving, they have a spot-on sense of direction. They don’t look at the sun and pause for a moment of calculation before they say, “There’s an ant just north of your foot.” They simply feel where north, south, west and east are, just as people with perfect pitch feel what each note is without having to calculate intervals. There is a wealth of stories about what to us may seem like incredible feats of orientation but for speakers of geographic languages are just a matter of course. One report relates how a speaker of Tzeltal from southern Mexico was blindfolded and spun around more than 20 times in a darkened house. Still blindfolded and dizzy, he pointed without hesitation at the geographic directions.

  8:10pm  •  Culture  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 
Aug 10

  stuloh Another great hot day. I sure took awhile for summer to arrive.

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Aug 10

Lost Without Translation – Observations on Tokyo

The local train from Narita International Airport was quiet. Some of the Japanese around me were intently fixated on their phones, fingers darting in response to some e-mail or game. The rest had assumed their other default train position: heads slumped forward in languorous slumber, as the endless Tokyo suburbia rolled by the window on a steamy summer’s day.

(Click here for selected trip photos)

Signs in the compartment reminded commuters not to speak on phones while traveling. I turned to Aya and remarked that it was strange to discriminate between people conversing on the train – like her and I were doing – and those using a phone. She just shrugged and agreed.

The Japanese are well-known for their reserved politeness – a necessary survival mechanism, it is said, because they live in such densely populated conditions. I have my doubts. Hong Kong is perhaps even more densely crammed, and reserved politeness is not something the sharp and opinionated Cantonese are known for. Neither was the Tokyo megapolis always a concrete jungle teeming with 30 million inhabitants – the single most productive area on the globe. Somehow over the years, the Japanese have preserved the quiet village attitude portrayed monochromatically in Kurosawa’s samurai-era films, with eyes lowered, going about their business in mute among the steel and concrete.

Nowhere is this politeness reflected more visibly than in store service. From the ubiquitous irasshaimase greeting, to comping a meal if a strand of hair is found in food, the level of service is not driven by the promise of tips (since none are usually expected, or indeed accepted) but ingrained culturally. It is almost a form of self-flagellation, for none of these courtesies are expected to be returned by the customer. Greetings and thank yous go unanswered. A simple arigatou is considered excessive when receiving change back from a cashier. A friend remarked that he once inquired in a clothing store for a product, and the store clerk made a great show of looking literally high and low for a t-shirt they clearly didn’t have. For what gain?

On my first night there, I followed my hosts in Tokyo, Christoph and Aya, out to Ebisu. They were in Ebisu because they wanted to buy a bike off Craigslist from a Frenchman. It was an electrically-assisted bike, which gives you a burst of speed with every peddle to help you on your way. Naturally, it was manufactured by one of the gigantic Japanese keiretsus for just the domestic market. The only problem was getting it back home, because bikes aren’t allowed on the trains and we had come by train.

Christoph is a tall, lanky German lawyer whom I had met at Stanford. Fluent in Japanese and, on a good day, three other languages, he held a doctorate and two master’s degrees. But today, he was going to play the dumb, clueless gaijin. Aya wheeled the bike over to Christoph and told him to pretend to only know English – or even better, only German. Surely, the confused stationmaster would let him through rather than have to deal with an indignant foreigner.

Aya and I walked through the gates. Christoph trailed us, but as he passed by the stationmaster’s window, the stationmaster stuck out his arm and waved Christoph down. We turned around to see the stationmaster pointing down at the bike and then making a cross with his two index fingers which he waved vigorously up at the towering German. Christoph was momentarily flummoxed, and I could see him trying to decide what language to reply in. He started to object in English, but it was clear the stationmaster was having none of it. Switching to plan B, Christoph abruptly swapped to Japanese. The stationmaster, to his credit, didn’t flinch, and now had free reign to express in no uncertain terms that bikes were not permitted and he needed to turn around now.

» Continue reading whole article »

  8:00am  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (3)  • 
Aug 10

200 yards, across a lake, to hit a gong

And here’s 310 yard par 3. The tee has an elevation of 640 yards (585 m) above the green. They’re remarkably accurate.

  1:08pm  •  Sports  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Aug 10

  stuloh Looks like we're following the UK with their hung Parliament. Minchin is crowing now.

  7:13am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh What the... the ALP has really been punished by the electorate. Can't say they didn't deserve it.

  6:57am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Love the ABC. Live streaming video feed of election coverage, available globally: http://bit.ly/aFgvnx

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Aug 10

  stuloh Driving into SF is like driving into Mordor. Those black clouds hanging over the city are mean-lookin'.

  11:53pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh I guess it's "Firedrill Friday"...

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  stuloh Tokyo = density of HK, orderliness of Singapore. Then times 10. And my email inboxes are getting out of control after only 3 days away.

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Aug 10

  stuloh is SFO-NRT. Excited!

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Aug 10

How to cut a bagel into interlocking pieces

  11:36pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Starcraft 2 rant

I have purchased every one of Blizzard’s PC games, and this is the first one from Blizzard I’ve played where I feel they’ve made a major misstep. Actually, multiple missteps. Following hot on the heels of the Real ID debacle (from which they sheepishly backed down), the net is steadily filling with complaints about Starcraft 2. Coming a decade after SC1, SC2 has been many years in the making. The game is essentially SC1 with better graphics. The feel of gameplay, the hotkeys, the tactics, all of it were instantly familiar to me, and it’s been over 5 years since I last played SC1. If that was all it was, that would still be okay. It would be an outstanding game.

But SC2 has two very significant shortcomings – all of which imply that Blizzard is becoming increasingly focused on making money, rather than being nice to their up-to-now very loyal fanbase.

The first issue is the single player campaign. It’s 26 missions long (including 1 hidden bonus mission), and starts off with Raynor going after Mengsk while the Zerg invade again. The campaign is played almost entirely as Terran, with a few Protoss missions thrown in. Unfortunately, the plot is lack-lustre. It’s disjointed, lacks much emotional involvement, and is incomplete. It’s obviously setting up for expansion packs, but this storyline is so incomplete that it seems they’re not even trying to hide the fact that they’re trying to commercialize the shit out of the franchise. When you put it next to a game like Mass Effect, which has an epic storyline, the lack of quality is even more stark (not to mention the similarities between the Zerg/Rachni Xel’naga/Reaper storylines).

The second and biggest issue is battle.net. Truth be told, the single player side of SC2 is merely a sideshow. When the Koreans got a hold of SC1, they effectively turned it into a multiplayer game. However, Blizzard removed four things from multiplayer mode that used to be in SC1: LAN support, chatrooms, the ability to play without an internet connection, and worst of all, the ability to play with anyone around the world.

I can live without LAN support, although it baffles me why that was removed. I have no idea why they removed chatrooms – if you want to chat with people after a match, there’s no easy way to find them. If you’re going to run and control the online multiplayer community – then why are you taking the communal aspects out of it?!

The worst thing they did was to region-lock the game. WHY? Blizzard claims that it’s to ensure that people get the best multiplayer experience, and the only way to do that is to play people in the same region as you so as to minimize lag. This is ridiculously patriarchal. And to add insult to injury, their official line is: if you’re in America and want to play Asians, you need to buy a second copy of the game. What the hell. So now I have absolutely no way to play SC2 with my friends in Australia without forking over another $60.

  2:18pm  •  Computing  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

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