Saturday, July 19, 2003

Great News! 

Oh yeah baby, do the mambo, it's your birthday ...

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The New York Times' fact-checking still leaves something to be desired. 

Ed Rothstein gets a cavity

It's too bad that a prestigious organization like the NYT can't get their facts straight, especially since they've had such a public problem with it in the recent past.

Check this out (registration is required, but it is free.) Rothstein seems to think Cayce's name is Packard which, as anyone who has read even the jacket flap of Pattern Recognition can tell you, is wrong. Maybe Ed should read my review. Better yet, maybe he should actually read the book.

Further, I'm getting pretty tired of this assertion that the mass of humanity is fed up with consumerism and we're all developing some mild version of Cayce's affliction, because it's simply not true. The world is awash in consumerism, marketing, and branding. By and large, not only are folks not averse, they're reveling in it. Sam Wahl wouldn't be the biggest retailer in the world without at least some participation from avid consumers. So there's no use in blaming Wal-Mart for the ugly face of American consumerism, and there's no use blaming Americans for the ugly face of the world's consumerism. The only ones to blame are the consumers, and frankly we're too busy enjoying our consumption to care. Globalization, mass marketing, and the avid consumer are not going away any time soon. Rather than protesting the inherent evil of the system and calling for it's demise, we ought to be reveling in it, and trying to find constructive ways to channel the energy.

Which is what Rothstein is doing, in his way. But damn, is it so hard to get the girl's name right?

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Friday, July 18, 2003

Lab Work 

Exposure to Automobile Exhaust Increases the Risk of Lung Cancer
Boston, MA (AP) – Biologists announced the results of a study today ...

In my respiratory biology laboratory
at the School of Public Health
we do pulmonary research
using rats, hamsters,

(no guinea pigs.)

Not in my lab
but in the building,
cats, mice, albino rabbits,
huddle in the corner of their cages.

In my lab,
we surgically attach radio signal backpacks
with wires that run under the skin
to hamsters
and measure heartbeat remotely.

Hamsters naturally run on wheels
in regular patterns.
We put them on treadmills
with exposure to ozone
and watch the squiggles

on the strip-chart recorder.

In my lab,
we put trachea tubes
in dogs,
put the dogs in cages stacked two by two in a gas chamber
and expose them to sulfur dioxide
until their fur is stained yellow.

We try not to name them.

Test Subject Handling Protocols
indicate that it is less cruel
if the animals are never shown
any affection.
No pound animals,
no ex-pets, are ever used – rather,
the subjects are bred and raised
in a clinical environment –
pre-conditioned for euthanasia.

a brown-spotted springer spaniel,
will bump his head on my leg
to ask for a scratch between his feathered ears.
When the daily exposure is complete,

I pull

trachea tubes are installed in the test subject to ensure that the sample gas is absorbed by lung tissue as opposed to absorption in live mucus membranes, the rate for which is unknown. Absorption rates for test gasses into fur are tabulated in Reference (gg).

Tracheostomy scars spit
yellowish-white phlegm
in coughing dollops
on the tile floor.
Malignant lung tissue samples,

tumors sliced thin and stained red

on slides, don’t look
like Archie.

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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Dying (Still-life) 

© 1988, 2003 W. H. Knott All Rights Reserved
(click the pic to see it big)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Book Review: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson 

Pattern Recognition is Gibson's first novel to take place in the present. Cayce Pollard is a ‘cool hunter’, a marketing consultant with an intuitive skill for trends. In her spare time, she’s also a ‘footagehead’, a participant in an online forum where the topic is a series of enigmatic video clips. The video maker’s identity and purpose are the subject of considerable debate among the footageheads and as their discussion begins to spill over into the ‘real’ world, Cayce is drawn into a search for the video’s creator.

Cayce’s father went missing on September 11th and repeated references to that tragic date firmly grounds the novel circa 2002/2003. Unfortunately, as Gibson moves the chronology of his novels ever closer to the present, the characters and their interaction with technology become less interesting. After all, we're familiar with spam and google and online forums.

The basic premise of this novel was difficult for me to swallow. Cayce's surprisingly (for Gibson) psychic-like ability is due to her lifelong 'allergy' to certain logos and brands. It’s never clear how she makes her distinctive choices, or why the Michelin Man should be worse than Tony the Tiger but somehow, despite an affliction which makes her cut the tags and logos from her clothing, she manages to spend a considerable amount of time out in public, surrounded by the inevitable chorus of signs and branding, without collapsing. That the symptoms of this reaction bear a closer similarity to psychosis than allergy or psychic ability apparently occurred to Gibson, as Cayce has been in therapy. The whole thing struck me as inherently implausible, and kept distracting me throughout. Cayce is continuously submerged in this discussion of media and marketing, globalization and the evolution of culture to the point where it feels more like her ‘allergy’ is simply the manifestation of Gibson’s taste. She just doesn’t feel like she belongs there. How does someone who has a nervous breakdown whenever she sees a Prada handbag manage to make a living evaluating the 'coolness' of consumer goods?

Apparently unrelated storylines are introduced for the mechanics of plot, then dropped, never to really be expanded or explained. The nebulous connections made throughout the book are hardly justified and nearly as much space was devoted to the fruitless relationship with the mother listening for voices in the white noise at the end of tapes as was to the far more interesting glimpses of culture and the real relationships that are beginning to appear in Gibson’s work almost for the first time. The peripheral characters are the most interesting aspect of this novel. Gibson’s people are beginning to have real friends as opposed to lovers or relatives.

Gibson can still write those fantastically poetic sentences that have defined his lyrical style, as in this drug-induced hallucination Cayce has of the Michelin Man: “But there are skulls atop the sideboard, and as she’s opening her mouth to tell Dorotea about them, she sees Bibendum himself behind the bar, the rolls of his pallid, rubbery flesh like the folds of a partially deflated blimp, greasy and vile.” But just as I was warming to the aesthetics of the thing, it was crushed by a neat Hollywood-type ending.

Gibson conveniently avoids the need to explain artistic genius by crediting it to an artistic idiot savant, much as in Count Zero, where credit is given to an idiot savant artificial intelligence. It works in Count Zero as a suggestion for the genesis of intelligent and aesthetic machines from a decaying technology. It falls flat in Pattern Recognition, not just because we've seen a more elaborate version before, but because the idiot savant is just an idiot savant and an accidental one at that. The ending is insufficient, it reveals the book for what it really is: a thin retread of Marly's search for the boxmaker in Count Zero that lacks the vision of Gibson's earlier works.

Wait for the paperback.

Pattern Recognition
William Gibson
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York 2003

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Yeah, ok, that's a stupid question for a blog. New poll. Hmmm ...

In William Gibson's newest novel "Pattern Recognition", isn't the search for the maker of the footage just a cheap retread of Marly's search for the boxmaker in "Count Zero"?

Click to either Agree or Disagree

Results tomorrow. I'll try to get my review of "Pattern Recognition" done as well, so stay tuned, both of you.

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Which begs the question, is the universe infinite?


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In a universe of infinite proportions, all things will come to pass. It's not that anything can happen, it's that everything will.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Question of the Day: Wave Motion In Water 

Came home last night and found C studying for an Earth Science class, the unit on oceans. Her book was open to a series of pictures, a cartoon, of a boat's motion as it was passed by an ocean wave. The picture showed the boat tracing a clockwise circular path (with wave motion from left to right.) This immediately seemed wrong to me--a transverse wave such as the sinusoidal ocean wave transmits motion perpendicular to the wave path, not along the wave path--the boat should just go up and down. I spent some time with my nose in the physics book without coming up with a satisfactory explanation for the alleged circular motion. After several hours spent contemplating various combinations of vectors, I resorted to 'ask the group' among the folks at work. This was not such a long shot as it might seem ... they're engineers, mostly mechanical, who specialize in fluid systems. Finally, H, one of the few (shudder) chemEs, found, this site, which had a great animation:

and a simple explanation. Basically, waves in water are both transverse and longitudinal waves, not just transverse (e.g. sinusoidal.) The lesson? Start with just one bad assumption among a whole bunch of good assumptions, mix in a few facts, and you too can spend a whole evening trying to make the model work out.

"Facts, schmacts. You can prove anything that's even remotely true with facts." -Homer Simpson

(And I don't want to hear any complaints if all this just seems like a thin excuse to link to that mesmerizing gif ... just sit back, relax, and watch the blue dot ... you're getting sleepy ... focus on the blue dot ... your eyes are closing ... )

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Is it even worth a passing notice that this page only exists as a time specific collection of code, with data stored at a reasonably large number of diverse locations being displayed in a time-sensitive array of photons?

What the hell is this thing we've wrought?

OK, you're right, it's not worth noticing. So the inevitable conclusion must be that, as we generally disdain poetry about poetry, it's all about the content. Well, I have some content fer ya' pal ... I'm no Gallagher, but an umbrella is probably advised.

And don't forget to stop and smell the photons.

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Wyatt Hellekin Knott 

A century he’d be, if not for leaps,
instead he’s just now reached maturity.

The twenty-ninth of February, born
at night, the year was nineteen-hundred two.
A storm from sea engulfed the point at Brest
and lightning struck the church in vain; he came.

At first, his folks were lost for what to do,
aghast at jutting fangs and hoary toes.
The Doctor called him ‘mongoloid’. The Priest,
he signed the cross and cursed the boy in tongues.
Though only minutes old, the child was calm.
He looked about the apse and spoke: "I know
the roots of fate and synonyms for truth;
a lexicon for generations lost
in revolutions fought to save the night."
His mother cried to see what she had wrought.
Her tears became the 'source prenom': the stain
her son would bear, and thus was Wyatt named.
His father sighed and added Hellekin,
to give the boy a lovers heart, allure.
The Priest let out a scream: "Mon Dieu! You fiends!
Just look what you have done: they’ll call him Why!"

"That’s the thing," laughed his dad, "our last name’s Knott."

(C) 2003 WHK All Rights Reserved

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Fiction is faster than life.

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