Making noise, not getting anywhere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jigsaw Pieces

cheverly station


The park and ride parking lot is almost empty, the bar is up and a big sign asks me to hold the SmarTrip (!) card to the post to exit the lot, so I do. Seconds later I realize that today is Sunday, and that parking is free on Sundays, but the fee has already been extracted anyway. Have a nice day, sucker.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Der heilige Andreas

bolinas lagoon

Der Andreasgraben kreuzt die Berge von Santa Cruz in nordwestlicher Richtung, schneidet die Halbinsel, an deren Spitze San Francisco liegt, und verläuft dann etliche Dutzend Meilen im Pazifik. Von den Flanken von Mount Tamalpais aus kann man das abrupte Ende der nordatlantischen Platte und den Beginn der pazifischen am scharf verlaufenden Kontrast der Wasserfarben erkennen, dunkelblau glimmt die Tiefsee.

Das Erdbeben von 1906, in dessen Folge die Stadt abbrannte, hatte sein Epizentrum ein weiteres Stück nördlich, wo der Graben wieder über Land verläuft und Point Reyes von Festland trennt. Das Beben von 1989, bei dem die Bay Bridge einstürzte, hatte sein Epizentrum in den Bergen von Santa Cruz.

Das nächste grosse Beben wird aber nicht im Andreasgraben sondern im Haywardgraben stattfinden, der hier in Berkeley am Ostende des Campus verläuft. Letzte Nacht um neun wackelte unser Haus, Stufe 2,4 meldete die Erdbebenwacht. Mein viertes Beben hier.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


on my way

The Society for Neuroscience announces it's most prominent speaker at this year's meeting, plus a few special considerations:

"Special security procedures will be in effect, as directed by the U.S. State Department Office of Diplomatic Security, which provides security for the Dalai Lama when he is in the United States. We have been advised that each registrant attending the lecture will have to be screened by walking through a metal detector prior to entering Hall D, and will have to remove metal objects from their pockets and bags prior to passing through the metal detector."

"For security reasons, the State Department asks that you not approach the podium or the microphones during the lecture. Those attendees in Hall D will be given cards when passing through the security check."

"Beginning at 2 p.m., traffic flow within the convention center will change in preparation for the lecture."

The title of the lecture is "The Neuroscience of Meditation". Feel calm already?

The Joys of Computing

When at 9:30pm the dreaded poster is finally taking shape, to be printed out early the next day, and a fuzzy feeling of happy relaxation invades the bodily cavities, for the body's owner is to go home soon, and when then just seconds later, upon pressing the oft used keystroke combination of CTRL-SHIFT-LEFT in order to mark a word that is to be taken out of the beautiful composition of the poster, for it to become even more beautiful, Illustrator suddenly and quite unexpectedly vanishes without a peep, an error message or indeed any sign of distress other than its complete and utter diappearance, the contrast between the mentioned feeling of fuzzyness and the ensuing shock is not alleviated by the discovery that neither saved versions nor temporary files exist and the work of the last four hours is lost.

But when, four hours later, the very same keystroke (which, I hasten to add, did work just as intended many, many times in the four hours preceding this second incident) produces the very same result, the realization that in spite of knowing of this grave danger once again no intermediate versions have been saved, the feeling of anger toward the material world, the quality of which was of such at the first incident that a visible dent in the wall testifies silently, is replaced by one of personal inadequacy and general hopelessness.

Unfortunately, the fact that when the same thing happens yet another time the following day, a version of the file has been saved just seconds before, does not compensate with a feeling of joyful elation that can rival either of the previous evenings unpleasant cognitive events. Most unfair, that.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Deceptive Imagery

The first thing I noticed when seeing this shot of Bush during his recent visit to Argentina were the rolled up sleeves, maybe because they're so blatantly obvious, maybe because I was primed by the recently leaked email correspondence of then FEMA director Michael Brown, where he was advised to roll up his sleeves to appear more hardworking, while people in the hurrican's wake were struggling to stay alive.

I realize, of course, that if a public person just behaves naturally, the resulting image will be anything close to honest. But doesn't it seem odd that it is accepted, or indeed expected, of trusted public figures to be deliberately deceptive about themselves and mislead everybody?

And because I just finished it, I'll throw in a little anecdote from de Waal's book (see below). One day the then alpha male of the chimpanzee colony at Arnhem Zoo was challenged. He stood up very manly to the threat and showed no weakness. But after he had won, when he turned away and his face wasn't visible to his rival any more, he immediately expressed his insecurity and fear in a wide, anxious grin. But who would compare Bush to a chimp, really?

Steaming Monkeys

Yesterday a neurophysiologist gave a talk here at Berkeley, on their usual subject of the correlation of electrical activity of a neuron in Macaque cortex with some thing or another. While the audience walked in, the speaker had a short movie of a wild Macaque sitting contently in a hot spring with snows all around, probably shot at Jigokudani. The movie's tranquility and meditative mood seemed strangely at odds with the boring work experimental animals usually have to endure. Maybe the strangely beautiful closing sequence of Aguirre, where Kinski's mad explorer chases monkeys around a doomed raft would be a better metaphor.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Frans de Waal - Chimpanzee Politics

Ein Klassiker der Primatenforschung, und faszinierender Einblick in die seelische Verfassung unserer nächsten Verwandten. Ein Gutteil dieser Faszination speist sich daraus, dass trotz aller Parallelen zu menschlichem Verhalten die Gefühlswelt und das Verhalten der Schimpansen von anderen Prinzipien regiert werden als unsere, die Tiere uns aber ähnlich genug sind, dass wir ihnen die dem äusseren Verhalten entsprechenden menschlichen Regungen unterstellen. Eine Lektion nicht nur in Primatenpsychologie, sondern auch in den Mechanismen, durch die unsere Vorurteile unsere Wahrnehmung gestalten; vermutlich sind diese aber ohnehin Teil jener.

Eine der rührendsten Anekdoten des Buches erzählt vom Moment im Frühjahr, in dem die den Winter über im Primatengebäude verstauten Schimpansen die unsichtbare Klappe ins Freie sich am Ende des Ganges öffnen hören, und sofort in lautes Geschrei, aufgeregte Sprünge und Umarmungen ausbrechen.

Jigsaw Pieces


Netflix, the company that revolutionized DVD renting, just settled a class action lawsuit brought by one of their customers. The lawyers the cutomer hired argued that Netflix' advertising was misleading. Netflix denied, but agreed to pay $2000 to the claimant, give every member of the class, i.e. every customer, a free month of upgraded service. Not noteworthy? Wait for the punchline. The lawyers get $2.5 MILLION for their efforts. And, to add insult to injury, the "free" upgrade will continue as paid service unless cancelled. The only way to get out of this abomination of a lawsuit is by sending a mailed letter to a San Francisco court. More here.

A young woman in Tucson, Arizona, tried to find emergency contraception. It took three days to find a store that carried it at all, and they then wouldn't give it to her, citing religious and moral objections.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Networking, Not Working?


I'm growing increasingly weary of people linking to Amazon for books they want to recommend. Shouldn't there be a website where people can search books online and then order them at their neighbourhood independent bookstore? does this for german books, but a quick search unearthed nothing similar for the american market. The closest match I could find was, but that's not a catalog at all, just a store directory. Does this really not exist yet?

On a Monkey's Back


One of Frans de Waal's objectives in publishing his Chimpanzee Politics in 1982 was to destroy the notion that only us humans are capable of complex social behaviour and congition, and that we are not so special after all. It was, I believe, mainly advocating a recasting of social human psychology in terms of primate behaviour.

Read today, though, it has an opposite effect on me, and throws the personality of the apes into sharp focus. I don't read so much that we are apes, but that these animals are people, and the fact that they are kept in enclosures, that their habitats are being destroyed, and that we humans have taken full control over their fate without accepting the responsibility for it, gives this book a very melancholy undercurrent. And the fact that chimps are scheming, power hungry bastards, doesn't change that one bit.