Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:20 PM

Science fictional edition of The Onion: "Cory Doctorow:

The Onion has posted a science fictional edition from the year 2056. There are some fantastic gags here, a few that fall flat -- by and large, though, this is some funny futurism ('Abraham Lincoln's DNA now available over the counter!' '47th Amendment grants iPod Sufferage!')



(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:29 PM
philosophical zombies, guess it was inevitable

Zombies on the web: "There are actually three different kinds of zombies. All of them are like humans in some ways, and all of them are lacking something crucial (something different in each case).

Hollywood zombies. These are found in zombie B-movies...

Haitian zombies. These are found in the voodoo (or vodou) tradition in Haiti...

Philosophical zombies. These are found in philosophical articles on consciousness...

Zombies on the web"

(Via metafilter.com.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:18 PM
living dangerously!!

How long before perishable products pass their prime: "David Pescovitz:
Real Simple provides a useful guide to how long dozens of products last. Some examples:

• Ketchup

Unopened: 1 year (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

Opened or used: 4 to 6 months (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

• Pickles

Unopened: 18 months

Opened: No conclusive data. Discard if slippery or excessively soft.

• Tabasco

5 years, stored in a cool, dry place

• Batteries, alkaline

7 years

• Lipstick

2 years
Link (via MAKE: Blog)"

(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:16 PM
law & disorder
discovered by csi I'm sure

FCC: NBC's "Law and Order" shoot was out of order: "Xeni Jardin:
Boing Boing reader Ralph says,

The FCC has busted NBC for unliscensed radio transmissions. NBC was using transceivers that were broadcasting on New York's public safety frequencies while filming an episode of Law and Order.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:14 PM
Thumb wars

Another thumb-shaped thumbdrive: "Mark Frauenfelder:

 Images Usbfinger 2
Here's a more realistic version of a thumb-shaped thumbdrive, which Cory wrote about last November.
Link (thanks, Bonnie!)"

(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
10:12 PM
minor geek alert

Star Trek pledge of allegiance gets kid suspended: "Cory Doctorow:
A young Star Trek fan was suspended from school for reciting his own version of the Pledge of Allegiance, in which he pledged to the United Federation of Planets. His mom has posted the hilarious story:

'So, anyway. What did he do?' I picked at the hem of my sweatshirt, looked just to the right of her face. I couldn't meet her eyes. I felt nervous. I felt underdressed. I wondered where 8 was.

So she told me what he did. And as she told me, I started to laugh. I didn't laugh a little, either, but I belly-laughed and grabbed my stomach. My son stood with his class this morning, put small right hand over heart, faced the American flag, and recited his own personal pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Federation of Planets, and to the galaxy for which it stands, one universe, under everybody, with liberty and justice for all species.

'Mrs. Jaworski. This isn't humorous. The Pledge is an extremely important and patriotic moment each morning in the classroom. I am ashamed of your son's behavior, and I hope you are, too.'


(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Monday, June 13, 2005
10:07 PM
luv dem monsters

Great cover gallery of old monster mags: "Mark Frauenfelder:

 Monstermags Eerie003
Very nice collection of old monster magazine covers. Eerie was a wonderful black and white comic that featured all the old EC artists. I have a few copies of the very early issues, but not the one with this Frazetta cover.
Link (Thanks, David!) "

(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, June 13, 2005
10:00 PM
sad to say still haven't seen it
been that busy

What confuses a Star Wars prequel fan about the original trilogy: "Cory Doctorow:
Some questions raised by a seven-year-old who'd only seen the Star Wars prequels, on seeing the original trilogy for the first time:

- 'Wow! Is the Death Star done already? I guess that's how you know that a long time has passed.'

- 'Look... Obi-Wan is pretending he doesn't know R2-D2.' (see Hole/No-hole: Why doesn't Obi-Wan remember R2? )...

- 'Is Chewbacca the only Wookiee that survives the Clone Wars?' (with great concern)...

- 'So, does this mean that R2-D2 is really the main character in Star Wars?'


(via Plastic Bag)"

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005
09:17 PM

Oscar Wilde: "'The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.'"

(Via Motivational Quotes of the Day.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
09:02 PM

Dream Groups / Intramural introspection: "

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Unbeknownst to most of my friends and family, I’m really an action hero. Several times each month, I go on dangerous assignments to exotic locations, where I narrowly escape death, rescue the hostages, recover the stolen chip, round up the bad guys, and generally keep civilization safe from evil. Admirers call me ‘Indiana Joe.’ Of course, it’s no big deal, thanks to my super powers that enable me to dodge bullets, read minds, and fly off into the sunset. When I return from one of my adventures, I can almost hear the fanfare…no, wait, that’s my alarm clock. Sometimes I awake from one of my dreams uncertain of whether it really happened or not, and with a nagging sense that a vital piece of information has been lost—that the dream was trying to tell me something important. When I need to get to the bottom of a dream, I take it to Dreams Group, a small circle of friends that meets monthly for a unique kind of dream analysis.

The Woman of My Dreams

I first became aware of dream groups a number of years ago, when someone made an announcement after a church service that such a group was going to form. At first, I wasn’t even sure what they meant by ‘dreams’—I thought it might have been dreams in the sense of aspirations, rather than the visions that occur while we sleep. Either way, I had plenty to work with, but I had no idea what I’d be getting myself into if I joined. A week later, the group’s leader asked all interested parties to gather for more information. I was still wavering when I saw a very attractive young woman join the group. At that point I immediately determined that I was interested. (I thought the group might be worthwhile too.)

The idea for this group and many others like it came from a book by Jeremy Taylor called Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. Taylor, a respected author and teacher, has been working with dreams and dream groups for decades. His central principle is that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness. Whatever else you may believe about dreams, the assumption our group starts with is that they are a good and useful thing, that they exist in some respect to benefit the dreamer.

Perchance to Dream

It may be helpful to clarify what group dream work is not. First and foremost, it is not simply a matter of guessing or looking up things in dream dictionaries. At the other extreme, it’s also not formal psychoanalysis. Participants in dream groups are simply laypeople who have learned some basic skills—not professional therapists. Finally, it’s not a religious exercise. Someone may, of course, experience religious symbols in dreams, but dream work as such does not presuppose any religious framework for interpretation.

Members are encouraged to write down any dreams they remember as soon as they wake up, then bring them to share in the meetings. Dream work can be very intimate, so all members agree to treat each other’s dreams with respect and discretion—and never to share the content of a meeting outside the group. As a member recounts a dream, the others listen quietly; when the dream is finished, we ask questions only if needed for clarification. Then we begin sharing our thoughts. Although someone may have a strong opinion about what another person’s dream means, only the dreamer can ultimately determine its meaning. In addition, because dreams are abstract and richly suggestive, there’s a strong tendency to read one’s own issues into someone else’s dream. For these reasons, we avoid saying, ‘This is what your dream means.’ If someone has an insight or observation, the language we use is, ‘If it were my dream…’ That way each person can put him or herself in the shoes of the dreamer with impunity, and the person sharing the dream can look at it more objectively too.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of

Taylor discusses numerous principles of dream work at length in his book, but a couple of notions come up with great regularity. For one thing, we assume that a given dream may have many different meanings, which may or may not be deep and profound. My action-adventure dream could mean both that I really enjoyed that James Bond film I just saw, and that I feel some situation in my life needs rescuing. Another postulate is that many or all of the different characters in a dream may represent the dreamer. So if I save the damsel in distress from the evil prince, it could be that my dream is about situations in which I feel helpless, or conversely, cause pain to others—not necessarily my role as the hero.

These ideas, and many more, come into play as we discuss each other’s dreams. Often the person who shared the dream will have an ‘aha’ moment—a sudden realization of the significance of a dream symbol that would not have occurred outside the group setting. Of course, it also sometimes happens that a dream remains entirely inscrutable even after an hour of intense discussion. Even so, the process of sharing and discussing dreams can have a very therapeutic effect.

I Have a Dream Today

Dream groups can have many different forms, and their structure can vary depending on how many people are involved, where the meetings take place, and how well the members know each other. The members of my group are quite comfortable with each other, and we have chosen to meet monthly, in a different person’s home each time. We begin with a potluck meal, and while we’re eating we take turns talking about the significant events in our lives. This is quite important, as it gives us a context to evaluate the significance of dream images. We also usually spend a short time discussing ‘meta-dream’ issues—things like methods for improving dream recall, the phenomenon of lucid dreaming, or insights from a book one of us has read.

Next we take a moment to center ourselves and mark the transition from ordinary discussion into dream work. Each person then very briefly shares a recent dream, and we determine who has a dream they’d like to examine in detail. Time permitting, we discuss two or three of these dreams using the principles from Taylor’s book and the ‘if it were my dream…’ language. We finish with another simple centering exercise to mark the end of our dream discussion.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

Our meetings are not uniformly successful in revealing the inner workings of our minds, but more often than not, we all leave feeling we’ve learned a great deal more about ourselves and each other. During my first year in a dream group, I developed deep relationships with the other members—including that attractive young woman, whom I later married. And I acquired not only valuable introspective skills, but also some very good habits of deferential and attentive listening. But leaving aside all the touchy-feely stuff, the bottom line is that it is seriously fun. There are very few things I’d rather do than attend a Dreams Group meeting.

Some scientists believe dreams are nothing more than residue from the brain’s ‘garbage collection’ process as information is tranferred into long-term memory. Others hold, somewhat more charitably, that dreams are the mechanism the brain uses to unconsciously work through issues that could not be dealt with in waking life. And then, of course, some people have a more mystical take on dreams, declaring that they are a direct communication channel to God, the collective unconscious, a ‘higher wisdom,’ or whatever. Unlike my biblical namesake, I don’t pretend to any supernatural gifts when it comes to interpreting dreams, and I don’t have much of an opinion about either their neurological or metaphysical basis. All I can say is that after working on my dreams in groups, I feel I understand myself better. That dreams can accomplish this is enough for me.—JK

More Information...

This article is also available as an audio recording! By signing up for a one-year subscription to Interesting Thing of the Day for just $10, you’ll get full access to each daily article as a podcast, plus the option to receive the articles by email. (To hear sample recordings, visit our Audio page.)

cover art

The canonical book about working on dreams in groups is Jeremy Taylor’s Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams to Tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious (1992). Taylor also has an earlier book, Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams (1984), and a newer book, The Living Labyrinth: Exploring Universal Themes in Myths, Dreams, and the Symbolism of Waking Life (1998), which includes an updated discussion of the nature of dreams and a much more in-depth discussion of dream symbolism—but only a brief section about group dream work.

For more information on Jeremy Taylor, visit his Web site.

If you’re interested in Carl Jung’s theories of dream interpretation, an excellent guide is Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice by James A. Hall. To learn more about Jung himself, read Deirdre Bair’s Jung: A Biography—or go straight to the source: Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

cover art

And if you dream about being an action hero, as I do, you’re sure to appreciate The Action Hero’s Handbook by David Borgenicht and Joe Borgenicht or The Action Heroine’s Handbook by Jennifer Worick and Joe Borgenicht.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day

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(Via Interesting Thing of the Day.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
09:00 PM

Coin Tossing / Putting a new spin on randomness: "

In high school, I read Tom Stoppard’s 1967 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a hilarious take on the lives of two minor (and more or less interchangeable) characters from Hamlet. A lot of the dialog has to do with the philosophical question of destiny. At the beginning of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are tossing coins, and incredibly, 100 consecutive spins come up heads until a ‘lucky’ toss finally comes up tails. This nicely illustrates the futility of the characters’ actions and also puts them squarely in some alternative reality—we all know that in the real world, coin tosses are random and couldn’t possibly come up heads 100 times in a row. We depend on this fact; otherwise, all the bets and disagreements that have been settled by this simple selection mechanism must be in doubt.

When I wrote about rock, paper, scissors tournaments, I made a passing reference to my favorite ‘binary random number generator,’ a coin toss. A reader sent me a note saying that wasn’t quite accurate—coin tosses are not truly random. Talk about shaking the foundations of my faith. What insidious conspiracy could be behind this astonishing claim? Or could it simply be that a bunch of statisticians had entirely too much time on their hands?

To Err Is Human

Common sense tells us that a coin toss is random because we have no way to predict its outcome. We don’t know how many times a coin will spin in the air before landing, and we have no way of controlling the number of spins precisely; ergo, the outcome must be random. And casual observations bear this out: if you flip a coin 20 times, it will usually come up heads about half of the time. Random numbers being random, it may not be exactly 10 heads and 10 tails, but the larger your sample size, the closer you’ll get to a 50:50 ratio.

However, it turns out that when it comes to humans tossing coins, it really is a matter of uncertainty and inaccuracy rather than true randomness. Two Stanford University professors, mathematician Joseph Keller and statistician Persi Diaconis, have done extensive research and experimentation regarding coin tosses. Keller showed mathematically that the only way to obtain a truly random coin toss is to make sure it spins around its exact geometrical axis, something no human could do with the necessary precision. And even then, one would have to assume that the number of spins in any given toss was random. After all, coins, like everything else, must obey the laws of physics. Therefore, if you tossed a coin exactly the same way twice—taking into account velocity, angle, air resistance, and other physical variables—it would have to land exactly the same way both times. Diaconis had a machine built that does exactly that, and it can faithfully deliver 100 heads or 100 tails in a row by taking all the human variability out of the picture.

Of course, the effectiveness of the machine is based on the coin’s starting position. Given the number of spins its mechanism creates for every coin toss, the coin will end up on whichever side was up when it started. (Had the machine been designed to use a little more force or a little less, the coin would have ended up on the opposite side each time.) Diaconis wondered if even for humans with our built-in randomizing flaws, there might be a similar bias—a statistical likelihood that a given initial condition will make a given final condition occur more frequently. He used a high-speed camera to capture coin tosses and then performed a geometrical analysis of the images. His conclusion was that for coins flipped and then caught on the back of the hand, there is a bias: they’re slightly more likely to end up on whatever side they started on. But that’s slightly, as in a 51% chance rather than a truly random 50% chance. So for all practical purposes, a coin toss is basically random.

One of the things Diaconis observed, which accounts for part of this bias, is that sometimes coins don’t actually flip all the way over in the air, even though they appear to. A combination of spin and wobble can produce the optical illusion that the coin is flipping when in fact the same side remains up the entire time it’s in the air. If that happens just once out of 100 times, there’s your 51%. But this bias applies only when the coin is caught in midair. If the coin is allowed to hit the ground, other variables come into play, and the likelihood of a different result increases. (So the coin tosses that begin football games, for example, probably do not show any preference for landing on the side that was facing up initially.)

Mint Condition

There’s yet another aspect to the randomness of a coin toss: bias built into a coin itself. We assume that coins are evenly weighted, but some have more raised material on one side than the other, making that side slightly heavier. The usual example is the U.S. penny; the side with Lincoln’s portrait has more metal than the tails side. This difference is too small to change the outcome when the coin is being flipped through the air, but it can be seen if the coin simply falls over on a table. According to Diaconis, a penny spinning on its edge will land tails up 80% of the time. However, another writer, Ivars Peterson at Science News, claimed something a bit different: A penny balanced on its edge (but not spinning) will fall over heads up most of the time, whereas a spinning penny will (as Diaconis suggested) land tails up more often. You know where this is going, of course: I had to try it myself.

I took 10 pennies and balanced them carefully on their edges. I then banged on the table (per Peterson’s instructions) and noted the results. I repeated this procedure nine more times, just to be thorough. This experiment bore out Peterson’s prediction: the coins came up heads 64% of the time (and in two trials, all 10 came up heads). Then I tried spinning all 10 pennies, one at a time. Again, after noting the results, I tried nine more trials with each of the pennies. This time, my results differed dramatically from what both Diaconis and Peterson had predicted: the pennies came up heads 54% of the time. Of course, my table may not have been perfectly flat or perfectly level, and my pennies may have had imperfections too. But then, that’s the whole point of a coin toss: not knowing all those minute variables that may affect the outcome.

Interestingly, in the course of this test, there were four consecutive trials in which the results were five heads, five tails. That was what I found truly amazing: it seemed inconceivable that the results could be perfectly random. What are the chances? Although mathematics may say ‘close to 100%,’ common sense says otherwise. In any case, I’ve learned two valuable and contradictory lessons. First, given human imperfections, coin tosses are random enough for all practical purposes. And second, always call heads.—JK

More Information...

This article is also available as an audio recording! By signing up for a one-year subscription to Interesting Thing of the Day for just $10, you’ll get full access to each daily article as a podcast, plus the option to receive the articles by email. (To hear sample recordings, visit our Audio page.)

Thanks to reader Kevin Lepard for suggesting today’s topic!

Sites that discuss the randomness of coin tosses (particularly the work of Keller and Diaconis) include:

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(Via Interesting Thing of the Day.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
06:03 PM

Replica bones, skeletons and fossils for sale: "Cory Doctorow:

BoneClones is a retailer that sells replicas of modern and antique bones, including ancient, bad-ass prehistoric bears like the one shown here. Intended (and priced) for institutional use, these would make killer home decor elements.


(Thanks, Betsy!)

Update: Stefan Jones sez, 'Bizarro toy, glassware, and gadget house American Science & Surplus offers a limited range of animal skulls, plus replica human skeletons, at very good prices. I had one of their coyote skulls in my cubicle for a while.'"

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
05:47 PM

Cluckin' Chicken SNL parody: "Mark Frauenfelder:

 Images Animation Tv Broadcast Snl Antv Snl 07 A
Patrick Fitzgerald says: 'In a strange synchronicity, your recent posts 'Creepy character logo: Rubio's Pesky' and 'The Least Adorable Pet: Miracle Mike The Headless Chicken' brought to mind a hilarious commercial parody from Saturday Night Live in 1992.

'Written by Robert 'Triumph the Insult Comic Dog' Smigel, it featured a corporate mascot for the 'Cluckin' Chicken' restaurant: a chicken who gets his head chopped off. The severed chicken head continues to sing the praises of the restaurant, going so far as taking a bite of his own roasted body and declaring 'mmm! I'm delicious,' until at last he expires from loss of blood.

'Unable to find but available on SNL 25th Aniversary DVD.' Link

Reader comment: Steve Portigal says: 'Here's the sketch in question. A helpful word is 'Autophagia' - the biting of one's own flesh. Link"

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
05:53 PM

Crappy Bootleg packaging du jour: "Xeni Jardin:

The illicit hits keep coming from our newly-launched 'Crappy Bootleg DVD Covers' photo pool on flickr. Shown here, a bootleg of Planet of The Apes starring, um, Traci Lords. This box art submitted by NekoFever wins Best Crappy Bootleg DVD Of The Week Prize for the largest number of stolen references to other totally unrelated films. Also, it has the awesomest movie tagline evar -- PLANET OF THE APES: WHERE RULE IS BROKE!

Link to this cover, and link to pool."

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
05:49 PM

Web Zen: movie zen: "Xeni Jardin:

working title

who's on first (video store mix)


stop quoting these movies

super 8

surf movie posters

pimpadelic wonderland

movie of the week

church of ed wood


10 types of villians

girls with guns


fast film

web zen home, web zen store, (Thanks, Frank)."

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, June 10, 2005
05:42 PM
not dead yet??

In his upcoming memoir, former Sen. Jesse...: "

In his upcoming memoir, former Sen. Jesse Helms acknowledges he was wrong about the AIDS epidemic but believes integration was forced before its time by 'outside agitators who had their own agendas.'



(Via blog.)