Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the eye of the beholder

A new study that will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal indicates that Americans and Asians pay attention to different things when they look at a scene. Americans tend to look more at objects in the foreground, while Asians will take in the background.

The researchers think it shows a difference in culture and thought processes:
"These results suggest previously reported cultural differences in thought processes may be related to variations in what people focus on as they view a scene, the researchers said. They speculated that these variations may reflect greater importance of context and social interrelationships in East Asian culture compared with Western culture."
Wow. Who would have thunk it? Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. We didn't know that Americans and Asians thought differently, right?

I really hate it when researchers make overreaching conclusions on basic data. To connect thought processes (which are extremely complex) to the way the eye travels on a couple of pictures is specious at best. Sure, the eye connects to the brain, but it's the interpretation of what it sees that makes a difference in thought processes. What the eye looks at is only a very small portion of it. It would have been more interesting to try to determine, based on specific cultural differences, what these subjects would look at in a picture. That would have been much more revealing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Excuses, excuses

"Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday."

This excuse is part of a collection of excuses at Strange Places garnered from the Office of Educational Assessment at the University of Washington. My favorite:
"Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part."
Obviously, some parents need to go back to English composition 101.

I also like 101 reasons why fingers are better (than what -- or who, you can guess).

Okay, I'm feeling silly today. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

US Politics are weirder than fiction

Yep. Not only is it possible to predict senatorial race results 70% of the time simply by quickly looking at the candidates' faces, now actors are entering the field in droves.

The latest in the actor-driven politics in the US is: Christopher Walken for president. Not only is he using the power of photography to appear suitably presidential (as far as I'm concerned, he looks more like a Capone look-alike than a president-- maybe he should read the article above) but he's also touting some backyard philosophy that attempts to sound profound, but sounds just plain stupid, like:
"If you want to learn how to build a house, build a house. Don't ask anybody, just build a house."
Ah, yes. The old trial-and-error bit. Let's not consult experts. Let's not take advice from more knowledgeable people than us. Let's make our own mistakes, which, by the way, were made by others before us, but we'll ignore that. We have the right to screw up all on our own.

Mr. Walken is also in favour of stem-cell research because he met Christopher Reeves (gee, another actor). How deep. I'm not diminishing Reeves courage. All I'm saying is that there is more to the issue than wanting someone to walk again.

And then there are the last words on his site's page about his own politics:
"We appreciate the great response you've sent us, interested in more information about Christopher Walken's policies and platform. Please have patience as he puts his ideas into words, and as soon as they're available, we'll put them here. Thank you for your support."

You mean to tell me he still doesn't know why he's running for president? What he wants to do for the country? Mr. Walken must be a method actor. He must have infused himself in the role of president, believed himself to be the president, dressed himself as president. Therefore, he could be the president. No need to think.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Declaration of Revocation by John Cleese

"To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories.

Except Utah, which she does not fancy."

In typical Cleese-esque humour (notice the "British" spelling), the Declaration of Revocation is a satire on the cultural differences between the US and UK, although most of it could apply to the rest of the English-speaking world.

Some of my favourite parts:

  • "You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium." Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

    The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour'; skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters.

    You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' (pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise."

    You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to re-spell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation.

    Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary." Using the same thirty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "uhh", "like", and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.

    Look up "interspersed."

    There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary, then you won't have to use bad language as often.

  • "The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling "beer" is not actually beer at all, it is lager . From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer," and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager." The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine." This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in the Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion."

Monday, August 01, 2005

2005 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Every year, the English Department of San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants must submit the beginning sentence of the worst possible novel. The contest originated from the following sentence, which Bulwer-Lytton himself wrote in 1830:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
This year's grand winner is Dan McKay of Fargo ND:
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
Kevin Hogg, of Cranbrook, BC, is the winner of the "Dark and Stormy Night" genre:
"It was a dark and stormy night, although technically it wasn't black or anything -- more of a gravy color like the spine of the 1969 Scribner's Sons edition of "A Farewell to Arms," and, truth be told, the storm didn't sound any more fierce than the opening to Leon Russell's 1975 classic, "Back to the Island."
My favorite in Glen Lawrie's entry for Romance:
Billy Bob gushed like a broken water main about his new love: "She's got long, beautiful, drain-clogging hair, more curves than an under-the-sink water trap, and she moves with the ease of a motorized toilet snake through a four-inch sewer line, but what she sees in me, a simple plumber, I'll never know."
(We won't either)

For more winners of the contest, go to the 2005 Results page.

Thanks to Ed Willet for pointing me to them.