Grave frettage!

Over the past 24 hours I have acquired what appears to be carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand: numbness, sharp, shooting pains, the whole bit. My current state led me to wonder.. what will become of me if I can’t type?

This brought me to George Perec’s masterpiece, La Disparition (“The Void”), a French novel written in entirety without the vowel e, and subsequently translated into English by Gilbert Adair, also avoiding e‘s. A short excerpt can be found here.

So of course I began trying to write using only the words available to my left hand. After about 10 minutes of complete frustration, I realized that Perec’s book was cake compared to this task. He only gave up one letter!

In possibly my last act as a two-handed typist, I wrote a perl script to parse an English word list into left-handed words, to help me in my new life. While I was at it, I went ahead and made the right hand version as well (for those with the opposite strain infliction). As it turns out, it’s much better to lose the left than the right:

carpal tunnel lefty’s dictionary (2061 words)

carpal tunnel righty’s dictionary (517 words)

Become a millionaire, get straight A’s

A team of MIT students under the direction of a quirky math professor moonlight as blackjack sharks, pulling a profit for investors by academically outwitting casinos. This has been a rumor I’ve heard on and off for the past three years; sometimes rumors are true, and they turn out to be bigger than you ever would have expected. This story is the subject of a new biography by Ben Mezrich to be released shortly.

For some reason the hype surrounding this book slipped past me. It’s the type of story that lingers in the air after someone has told it, a story about some nerdy kids no one would expect to have a social life, much less two or three consisting of invented identities and illegal behavior. And the best part, of course, is that they get away with it. A recent article in Wired by the author outlines the book, and left me asking for much, much more. [via b3ta]

Wired: Hacking Las Vegas

Amazon: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six Mit Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

I hope you understand me

The esteemed cognitive scientist Roger Schank always used the quirkiest examples to describe natural language. The characters of his world (typically John, Mary or Bob) were always shooting up herion or smuggling marijuana across the border. One day, someone at a talk probed him about his choices:

“So Roger, why do you always use such weird and offensive examples in your books?”

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.. what examples exactly?”

“John shoots up heroin. Bob strikes Mary. Sally kills her mother… the list is endless!”

“Well, they must be good examples if you can remember them all…”

Members of the Washington University band Science Groove are using a similar technique to preach their research. In their own words, they “have something to prove: science and music can be integrated in a manner that can get right-brained individuals excited about science and shake scientific types out of their left brain and onto the dance floor.”

When I found this page, I lauged endlessly at the silly science lyrics. Afer a few minutes, I found myself humming along. Then it hit me: OMG! I’m singing a research presentation! Here’s a little sample:

The title of my talk is

“Distribution theory

For the sibling recurrence risk ratio.”

My name is Do Peterson.

I hope you understand me

While I explain the recurrence risk ratio.

Now I can’t get the damned Sibling Recurrence Risk Ratio out of my head. I’d love to show up to a talk with the opening line, “I hope no one minds if I bust a flow during my talk this afternoon…” [via b3ta]

Weeks go by..

Whenever I get the development bug, I tend to go into social remission. I can’t believe that an entire week disappeared without a post, but judging by the amount of ground that has been gained behind the scenes with Blogdex, it’s not that surprising. I think people will be happy.

That’s one way to solve the problem…

In an attempt to put movie piraters to bay, the digital cinema company Cinea has just won a $2 million NIST grant to develop technologies that disrupt the taping process within movie theaters:

The company “will modify the timing and modulation of the light used to create the displayed image such that frame-based capture by recording devices is distorted,” according to an abstract for the winning NIST grant application. “Any copies made from these devices will show the disruptive pattern.”

In an interview, Schumann compared the process with distortions that appear in videotaped images of computer screens, which may show lines that are invisible to the naked eye. Rather than produce accidental disturbances, he said, Cinea plans to create specific disturbances that it can control.

Depending on the level of control that Schumann is descriping, here’s my alternative solution: instead of distorting the image, place non-obscuring advertisements. People will find a way to illegally distribute American movies to millions of people worldwide. This way, they’ll be generating revenue for American companies.

CNET: Jamming camcorders in movie theaters

UPDATE: from a resident Media Lab professor:

I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but most
digital-cinema proposals already contain a similar idea — not for
disrupting camcorder copies per se but rather for watermarking them
with the ID of a theatre and the show time. The idea is that theatres
that could be shown to be the source of a lot of bootlegs would be
denied movies by distributors.

Ad hoc structures in space

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of technology are working on methods for assembing arbitrary structures in space using only debris and electromagnetic waves:

Komerath and his students have calculated that it would be feasible to use waves to move objects with diameters smaller than five per cent of the radiation’s wavelength. Light can move nanoparticles for example, while microwaves – and audible sound waves – can shift objects millimetres or centimetres across.

But the heavy lifting would be left to radio waves. Given a few months to do the job, Komerath says they should be able to assemble rocks, brick-sized or bigger, into any given shape. Later in October he will discuss his idea at a conference in Atlanta for NASA’s Institute of Advanced Concepts – a think tank of the 88-member Universities Space Research Association.

If only my apartment was an airless vacuum, I could program my radio transmitters to pick up my dirty clothes and dishes, shoot the dust off of my furniture, and pull the dirt off of my carpet.

New Scientist: Radio waves could construct buildings in space


Beware! The following link will infect your computer with a magic virus, sweeping you away to enchanted lands under the auspices of the one and only David Copperfield.

Beware! The following link will take you on a mystical journey through the outer realms of your conciousness, returning you safely to your seat, but with heightened levels of awareness.

NOPE! It’s just the crappest celebrity website EVER! And as a little piece of advice, it’s NEVER over. [via b3ta]

Tornado of Fire