Grey Matter


A wandering woman in Spain
Sought limericks to help her stay sane,
But they curled in her cortex
And formed a verse vortex
That drained the remains of her brain.

Running scared of copyright laws

A wonderful YouTube video has been taken down.

Rainer Hersch has posted a 1996 comedy routine in which he plays a piano using sticks. The sticks have been made so that they press certain piano keys to play chords. A similar (and much funnier) skit entitled Rachmaninov Had Big Hands, performed by Igudesman and Joo, has been taken down (at the time of writing), apparently at the request of Hersch, judging by his comments. So now, the link says "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by a third party." All the rest of the Igudesman and Joo videos are still there, but sadly the Rach is no more.

I watched Hersch's routine. In this case there is no copyright infringement, since one can't copyright ideas. There is no copied dialog or music. The only things the performances had in common were the use of chord bars on a piano for comedic effect. Even the idea of using chord bars to press the notes of a piano was patented in 1934, so Hersch has no ownership of that concept and his claims of plagiarism are hollow.

Nevertheless, he's managed to get a hilarious little video taken down.

Update: Yay! It's back.

(Hmmm... the page and comments are there with no copyright block but the video's not loading in my browser.)

Update (16th April): and now we can see it again.

Searle's Pointless Room

I see long discussions on John Searl's Chinese Room thought experiement, and I still fail to see why anyone should spend time on it. The experiment tells us nothing.

In essence, the experiment has us force a human to perform a menial, mindless role in a larger machine. The role of identifying symbols, processing them according to rules and transferring the results to the outside world is something we already know a computer can do--mindlessly. So why would we expect a human performing those actions to have to understand anything in order to play that role?

Searle's experiment purports to comment on the Turing test and whether any machine can exhibit understanding, but all he's illustrated is that you can subdivide a large intelligent system into smaller ones that perform according to fixed rules and have no understanding of what they manipulate. Any surprise there? Having split the apparently intelligent room into a thinking part (the reference/algorithm) and a purely mechanical communication part (the man in the room), Searle focusses on the tediously boring and obviously unintelligent part. The man is a distraction: "Ooh look, there's a man in there, but he doesn't understand any of the symbols!"

I wish Searle had spent more of his time on the thinking part rather than misleading people with pointless arguments focussed on mechanical processes.

Server Up Again

And after one long weekend, the OEDILF server is up again. It was very sweet of Australia to arrange to have the Labour Day long weekend just when I needed the time.

Things I have learned:

  • Just because a backup procedure works when you first test it, doesn't mean that it will keep working a year later as your database grows.
  • Some programmers think that the end of an incomplete export file is the only place to publish the fact that the export terminated early.
  • An untested backup is not a reliable backup.
  • Linux is like religion. They all look alike on the surface, but each schism has its own variation of the canon.
  • It's a bad idea to let a shell get between your password and the application that needs it -- when your password contains non-alphnumeric characters.
  • Simple installations with simple reconfigurations take vastly more time than you ever thought they could.
  • Programs that provide an automatic version upgrade don't always upgrade all the necessary parts of their schemata.

I'd say that life was slowing down again, but having just had an 8am to 9:30pm day at work, I think I'll reserve my judgment.

OEDILF server down for a while

The OEDILF server is going to be having diagnostic tests run on it for the next few hours. Sorry for the interruption.

Update: Hard disk replaced. Reinstallation progressing. Discussion and limericks.

Update: The OEDILF forum is back running again.

Arrr! Me daughter's birthday

Dearest daughter, from me and yer mum,
May yer birthday be comfortably numb,
And yer friends have the grace
To keep out o' yer face
While ye'r mournin' the end o' the rum.

IED = Idiocy Exploiting Device

Chicken Licken looks up at the skies
And finds Mooninites: bombs in disguise!
How safe do you feel
When the guys at the wheel
Are too frightened to open their eyes?

For Kicks, a Cinquain

I'm not
I sit on the table,
Waiting for the tendon hammer--
To blame.

This came out of some thoughts that ran through my mind as I was reading a discussion of moral agency in Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves. I initially envisaged it as something around sonnet length, but the concept boiled right down to a snapshot of self-delusion.

According to QANTAS

"Whether made verbally or on a T-shirt, comments with the potential to offend other customers or threaten the security of a Qantas group aircraft will not be tolerated."
-Qantas spokesman

Since the T-shirt describes Bush as the World's #1 Terrorist, it's true that it has the potential to offend other customers, but was this really the clause that blocked boarding, or was it the potential to threaten the security of a Qantas group aircraft? Exactly what would happen if the World's #1 Terrorist knew that Qantas was aiding and abetting a promulgator of anti-Bush sentiments? Perhaps the people at Qantas realize how dangerous that would be.

Scenes from an Imaginary Romance

I'm a regular reader of xkcd, a web comic of quirky, geeky, romantic fun. It's one of the pages that regularly makes me smile. In just such a quirky, geeky, romantic mood, I decided to write some poems (i.e. frivolous verse), which I'll call Scenes from an Imaginary Romance.

Getting to know you

Because the day was frustrating,
because the evening was balmy,
because the restaurant was already packed,
because the next street would be lively,
because the lane was a quicker route,
because the shadows concealed,
because the addiction compelled,
because the knife craved cash or blood,
I saw more to you than I ever expected,
and a junkie clutched his groin.

It doesn't take much

Even without music-manipulated emotions
or pheromone-spiced senses
or dopamine-powered perceptions,
a single moment's synchrony
can taste like destiny...
Damn your statistics! This was meant to be.

Up close

Binocular reflections warp a room I thought I knew:
your floor distorted, walls non-parallel, ceiling quirked,
curved curtains and TV both reframing an obtuse world,
a coffee table inclined to agree,
and a gravity well sofa.
Was I wrong to look so deeply?

Night Stray

It's after 1am; the concert's done
and neon keeps the empty street alive.
Break step, walk backwards, shuffle, spin and sing,
and relive all the best lines of the night,
then wonder why she signals me to hush.

I freeze mid step, a classic cartoon pose,
then turn to where she gazes. It's a cat,
coquetting down the catwalk of the street
bewitching with that vain mesmeric tail.

Follow. Let the creature lead the way.
Ignore the bounds of privacy. The night
gives license to explore, to find the place
of perfect pleasure only cats can know.

And now it's 6am; I'm feeling cold,
despite the sleeping girlfriend in my arms
(and friendly cat against my thigh). A man
is just about to open his back door,
and ask me why the hell
we're rolling in his celery garden.

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