Category archives for: miscellanea

In an attempt to at least try and get to know my theremin a bit better, I caved and bought Carolina Eyck's The Art of Playing the Theremin. I mean, her instructional videos on YouTube are great, but they don't really give you a proper sense of how to move your fingers when playing a tune. Her book, on the other hand, does.

It's probably obvious to everyone else in the world, and I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but it turns out that you have to know how to read sheet music in order to fully benefit from the book. Crazy, right?

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I am an unapologetic Downton Abbey fan. The series is full of memorable scenes, but one in particular has stuck with me. Daisy, one of the scullery maids, is asked if she turned on the electric lights in one of the rooms and she replies "No. I daren't".

It seems like such a minor, throwaway line, but I feel like it succinctly captures how the uninitiated must have felt about electricity back then. Daisy is downright afraid of it. Steam and fire are very direct and literal sources of energy, but electricity is much more abstract. You never see the electricity moving or burning, even as the motor spins or the lamp shines.

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I saw Blade Runner 2049 recently. I have some (not very original) thoughts to share. Spoilers ahead.

The original Blade Runner only really caught my attention in my adult years. Unlike, say, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Superman, it was not one of my "childhood movies". I saw it once when I was very young, found it boring and weird, and then promptly forgot about it until I was made to watch it sometime in my 20's or 30's with my eyes fully open.

Once I did, though...wow. That movie drips atmosphere. I'd be lying if I said it's one of my favourite movies of all time - I feel like that kind of designation is less about the movie itself and more about my frame of mind at the time I see it - but it's definitely up there as one of the movies I admire most from a visual standpoint. It's still beautiful 35 years later.

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There's an Irish joke that runs as follows:

A journalist, researching for an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in a war-torn area of Belfast. One of his potential informants leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously cross-examined the journalist: "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" the Irishman asked.

"Neither," replied the journalist; "I'm an atheist."

The Irishman, not content with this answer, put a further question: "Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?

This joke resonates with me. I think it's both funny and profound. Funny for obvious reasons, and profound because it succinctly illuminates the importance people attach to labels.

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If you're in the tech industry, or you're just generally interested in technology, chances are you've heard of the Turing test. It's usually billed as a litmus test for intelligence in machines. The idea, in its most basic form, is simple. A judge converses with two subjects, one of which is human and one of which is a machine, via some sort of mechanism that hides the physical characteristics of the subjects. If the judge cannot tell the human from the machine, we say that the machine is intelligent. Simple as that.

The Turing test has been a major source of controversy in Philosophy of Mind circles, but the irony is that Turing intended it to be a way of sidestepping debate. In his view, asking whether a machine could think was about as useful as asking whether a submarine could swim; the answer, of course, completely depends on what you mean by "machine" and "think". These are questions with very subjective answers, so instead of going down that particular rabbit hole, he came up with his test. He thought it was a reasonable one for a very good reason: we use it to judge the intelligence of other people every single day. One judges the intelligence of another person based on conversations with said person. There's no other way to do it; you don't get to peer into their brains to watch the gears move. Why shouldn't machines be subject to the same treatment?

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I just finished a book called The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher. It's pretty awesome if you're interested in a) how grammar evolves over time and b) how the very notion of grammar (verb tenses, prepositions, etc.) emerges in the first place.

The author describes, for example, the Latin case system, where nouns can have different endings depending on what role the noun is playing in the sentence. You say "cactus", for example, if it's used as a subject, but you use "cactum" if it's used as an object.

This was the first time I'd ever heard of such a thing. It means that you can pretty much place the words in your sentence in whatever order you like, without changing the meaning, because the subject and the object are identified, not by word order, as in English, but by the endings on the word. Cool. Insanely difficult, but cool. Apparently Russians still do it. They have my sympathy.

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I once got into a relatively lively email debate with a friend of mine concerning the nature of free will. One of us argued that we had it and the other argued that we didn't. The exchange ended when he sent me an email explaining that he was agitated and losing sleep over the matter.

My life is weird sometimes.

People hear that story and often assume that my friend was the one who believed in free will and that I was one who didn't but in reality the reverse was true. I believed in free will; my friend did not.

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For a long time I've been trying to gauge my personal feelings about this building:

This is the old Canada Malting factory. It's in the heart of Saint Henri, in Montreal, next to the McAuslan brewery on Notre Dame, right on the Lachine canal. I live about a 20 minute walk away. It's huge, intimidating, in extreme disrepair and very well-graffitied. It's been abandoned for decades.

Ferreting out my reaction is not as easy as one might imagine. Introspection, at the best of times, is a tricky business.

But, hey, I can try. My immediate reaction is to be in awe. It looks like something out of a dystopian future - like there's been some horrific war, or we've run out of oil, or the Machines or the Apes or the Party have taken over. You vaguely expect Mel Gibson to show up on a motorbike.

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I'm addicted to a site called tvtropes.org. It's basically a catalogue of various literary and artistic devices used in various forms of media (books, movies, TV). It's fun because the site gives names to practices that you already recognize but haven't bothered to identify in any specific way. Examples include Genre Blindness, which explains the tendency of Bond villains to reveal their entire master plan to the spy rather than just shooting him, and Lampshading, which is an attempt to diffuse an obvious plot hole by having a character draw attention to it.

Another one of these articles is called "Darker and Edgier", which describes a "a Tone Shift that seeks to make a work of fiction 'more adult'." This should be familiar to anyone who has seen a recent superhero or science fiction movie. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, for example, is a grittier version of Tim Burton's Batman - which is itself a much grittier version of the awesome campfest that was the 1960's Batman TV show. Battlestar Galactica is another notorious example - it's a remake of the campy 1970's TV show and is, at times, extremely depressing.

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How exactly am I supposed to react when I hear about the particularly brutal gang rape and murder of a 23 year old medical student in India?

There is, of course, the obvious stuff. There's horror, sadness, and anger mixed together. There's also a certain amount of incredulity. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and I have a hard time imagining that anyone is capable of this kind of thing.

If I'm honest with myself, there's a kind of smugness too, because you think that sort of thing doesn't really happen here. And, to be fair, it doesn't - at least, not on the scale on which it happens in certain other parts of the world. I think it's fairly non-controversial to say that being a woman in Canada or the U.S. is safer than being a woman in India.

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