Saturday, March 28, 2009

Packstation awaits

Got an e-mail saying I had a new package at Packstation. Went to the Post Office with my card, typed in my ID, tapped the screen a few times and a yellow door swung open. Sure enough, a package. Took it home: it was Beckett's Letters! Have not had a chance to do more than dip into this, but one thing is terrific: they have published all his letters in French and German in the original, as well as with translation. (If people ask me if I'm fluent in German, I can now say, Well, it's about as good as Beckett's.)

hard not to love

Could hypnosis be a cure for hair loss?

The placebo study for a hair growth drug called Propecia is interesting, because it shows that the brain
The people who took the drug had a success rate of 60% growing hair of at least 100 hairs per square inch.
Those who took the PLACEBO also had excellent results.
40% of the participants who took only a sugar pill grew new hair- of at least 100 hairs per square inch.

This means, that based on belief alone, you can stimulate the follicles to regrow hair.

Hypnosis has no side effects and work well with other programs for hair rejuvenation.
You will learn the methods of going into deep trance, create a new cellular memory in your follicles, stimulate the energetic message in the cells and re-train the follicles to grow hair.
Your subconscious mind will find the "blueprint" for the cellular chemistry when the cells knew how to grow hair, and recreate that cellular chemistry.

(The idea is, you can buy a couple of CDs for $49.)

If I understand the line of reasoning correctly, it would be truer to say that you have a 40% chance of growing new hair of at least 100 hairs per square inch, if by "you" we mean members of a population comparable to that who took part in the experiment. If by "you" we mean members of a population particularly susceptible to the placebo effect you might have a better chance - probably depends on how far the placebo effect these days is triggered by pills and men in white coats. (If your subconscious mind is convinced that hypnosis is total bollocks, on the other hand...) The casual reader might think that those susceptible to the placebo effect would be much more likely to believe that hypnosis would work, but it occurs to me that such people might in fact be exceptionally likely to respond to the trappings of science - the question would then be whether bringing in scientific-sounding terms like "placebo effect", "cellular memory" and "cellular chemistry" would do the business.

The thing that's rather endearing, anyway, is that this is a plug for a product which is, by the seller's own admission, dramatically outperformed by the pill. Awwwwww. (The whole thing here.)

(OK, you may have thought of an objection. Maybe giving someone a pill is simply an ineffectual way of calling the subconscious mind into play; a properly focused technique for making use of the subconscious mind could achieve dramatically better results. OK, could be. I do observe, though, that this is not the line of argument proposed.) [And yes, I'm being lazy, I have not gone into Edit HTML to revert to our in-house font.]

[I was doing research, you understand. I'm writing a book about a hypnotist. HYPNO. Inspired by a case that took place in the early 50s. A man called A A Mason had had considerable success using hypnosis to treat warts. Was walking through a hospital one day when he saw a young man whose arms were covered with, as he thought, warts. Asked the surgeon if he could try hypnosis. The surgeon had been thinking of trying skin grafts; said Go ahead. Mason used hypnosis, focusing in the first instance, I think, on one arm: The skin is becoming very smooth and pliant, the hard skin is falling off, etc.... Came back a week later and a startling improvement had taken place, the skin on the arm was close to normal. The surgeon was, well, thrilled but stunned and not a little exasperated, because, um, these were not actually warts. The patient had a congenital condition, lamellar ichthyosis, which was incurable. Supposedly. Except that, um.... Mason continued to work with the patient over six weeks or so, and the patient achieved a 70% improvement overall. He wrote it up for the BMJ, who published a piece in 1952, and there was a heated correspondence in later issues of the BMJ. Mason then, naturally, attempted to replicate the results, but was unable to do so, inhibited (he thought) by the knowledge that the condition was congenital. Much later he became a psychiatrist and published a "recantation" in which he described this early success as a folie a deux. I have no idea what he thought he meant by this, since the one thing that was incontrovertible was that the boy's condition improved dramatically and that the improvement was still in place a year later, but the cafe in which I am writing wants to kick me out so speculation is idle]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

that clinking clanking sound

Came across the blog of a bookseller in Boulder. Back in December he had a post about trying to cut his orders by 20%. Wrote:

The very first book on the order was the paperback of Scott Spencer's Willing. Boy, this was going to be easier then I thought. Willing is hands down the single worst novel that I have managed to finish this decade. Spencer, who made his reputation writing Endless Love, manages to offend everyone with his idiotic plot of a freelance writer going on a high-end traveling sex tour. I drew a quick yellow line through the title despite the fact we sold four copies of the book in hardback.
Which is presumably why it's harder to be a Houellebecq in America. The thing that's so startling to an American reader, reading French writers, is the freedom from the anxiety to please.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

why isn't life more like Unicode?

It's 12:03pm in Berlin. The sun is shining. Cars whiz up and down Hauptstrasse outside this café. Wherever Randall Munroe may be it is now definitely Wednesday. I'm supposed to be sorting out contractual issues, which ought to mean writing an e-mail and sending it but turns out to mean writing e-mails and putting them in the Drafts Folder and wandering Etherworld in search of solace. A frame of mind in which I naturally turn to XeTeX. The webpage now has screenshots of various multilingual documents, which look awfully nice; I could use XeTeX to typeset a book.

One of the screenshots was of the Arabic version of What is Unicode; went over to the Unicode website to have a look around, and came upon the Last Resort Font:

Last Resort Font

The Last Resort font is a collection of glyphs to represent types of Unicode characters. These glyphs are designed to allow users to recognize that an encoded value is one of the following:

  • a specific type of Unicode character
  • in the Private Use Area (no private agreement exists)
  • unassigned (reserved for future assignment)
  • one of the illegal character codes.
These glyphs are used as the backup of "last resort" to any other font; if the font cannot represent any particular Unicode character, the appropriate "missing" glyph from the Last Resort font is used instead. This provides users with the ability to tell what sort of character it is, and gives them a clue as to what type of font they would need to display the characters correctly. (For more information, see The Unicode Standard, Version 5.0, Section 5.3 Unknown and Missing Characters, pages 155-156.)

Which sounds like the sort of thing we need for daily life. In its absence things go horribly wrong and no one knows why, because unrepresentable characters have no appropriate "missing" glyph.

time warp

The worst thing about living in Germany.

It's now 1.06 am in Berlin.

By OUR time, the Wednesday xkcd should be out.

But it's not.

We simply don't know when we can legitimately check.

What is your time zone, Randall Munroe? What is your time zone?

We in Berlin have borrowed Nahin's book on e to the i pi from the Staatsbibliothek on the strength of your check to Verizon. How can you do this to us, RM? How can you do this? We all live on the same semi-spherical planet, oder?

It's 1.14 am.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

found in translation?

OK, I don't get it.

Every once in a while I check out Wyatt Mason's blog, Sentences, over at Harpers. Mason is consistently happy to talk about books in translation when he is unable to read the original text (anything in German, Yiddish, Greek, Danish, to take a few examples). This is a point of view that I don't really get - if a book in translation strikes me as brilliant, my next step is to try to read at least something of the book in the original language. The first Russian text that I tackled was the beginning of Anna Karenina (I had to see the words of Tolstoy); the first Japanese text was a passage on the name of a cat in Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase; the first Polish text was a story by Stanislaw Lem. I don't know that these were the best books in the language to start with, but these were what I had come across in translation, and I had to see what the writer had written. At the same time, though, I'm always conscious of the precipitous learning curve - the shocking amount of time it takes to read even a couple of paragraphs in the original language of a book one has read in translation, if one dives right in at the deep end. I feel that I have to do it, yes, but I'm not convinced that it's rational.

But. Um. ¿K?

If a book is in a language I know well, it would strike me as completely mad to read it in translation. I can't imagine reading a translation of a French author in English - what conceivable reason could I have for doing so? Mason has translated Rimbaud and Montaigne into English; I assume he is competent in French; what conceivable reason could he have for reading French writers in English translation? He now says of Grégoire Bouillier's L'invité mystère: I had no idea who Michel Leiris was in 2004 when I read the book for the first time. I had occasion to reread the Bouillier the other day and liked it even more than I had back then. I’ve never bothered to grab the French version, trusting fully Stein’s English.

A few months ago Horace Engdahl, secretary of the Nobel commitee, complained of the provincialism of American writers; he complained that American writers were cut off because too little was translated into English. This was really rather odd, because all American high school students are required to study a foreign language to graduate; in theory, at least, anyone with a high school diploma should be able to read books in a language other than English. Anyone who goes to Paris will be struck by the wealth of writers from the Arab world who have been translated into French; a visitor to Berlin will be struck by the Eastern European writers who have been translated into German. Anyone who has studied French or German at school need not wait for an American publisher to do the decent thing and commission a translation; three years of high school language study should enable the traveller to pick up all kinds of books.

I can't say that this scenario strikes me as especially realistic. No. But. Um. When an acclaimed American translator of Rimbaud and Montaigne is content to read an English translation of a French writer, I'm um, um, um. Words fail me.


Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism can be pre-ordered on Amazon for the staggeringly paltry price of £7.49, £2.50 less than the cover price of £9.99. After the launch date of April 24 the book can be ordered for ten quidish. Commodity fetishists to a person, Paperpools have already put in their pre-order (ja, Mark Liberman, we lurrrrve singular they) despite the wealth of Hatherley commentary available online.

Seriously. I'm dealing with contractual horrors, so not very clever. But this looks like a wonderful book. OH is one of my reasons for clinging to modal realism (there REALLY ARE worlds in which persons genetically identical to me are that smart) ; persons not genetically identical to me, it seems, may yet be that smart (nurture, nurture) if exposed at a sufficiently early age to MM.


To my mind, and faithful to Frost, these three Frank Bascombe novels, along with everything else I’ve ever written, have been largely born out of fortuity. First, I fortuitously decided I wanted to write a book. I then collected a lot of seemingly random and what seemed like significant things out of the world, things I wanted to make fit into my prospective book—events, memories, snippets of what someone said, places, names of places, ideas—all, again, conveyed in language (sometimes just words I liked and wanted to put into play). After that, I set about trying to intuit that unruly language into a linear shape that was clear enough to make a reader temporarily give up disbelief and suppose that herein lies a provoking world with interesting people in it. And I did this with the certainty that even if I were working straight from life, and was trying to deliver perfect facsimiles of people directly to the page, the truth is that the instant one puts pen to paper, fidelity to fact—or to one’s original intention or even to sensation itself—almost always goes flying out the window. This is because language is an independent agent different from sensation, and tends to find its own loyalties in whimsy, context, the time of day, the author’s mood, sometimes even maybe the old original intention—but many times not. Martin Amis once wrote that literature “is a disinterested use of words. You need to have nothing riding on the outcome.” Another way of saying that is: The blue Bic pen glides along the page, and surprising things always spill out of it.

Richard Ford in Bookforum on the Frank Bascombe trilogy, the rest here.

survival analysis using R

Survival Analysis

A great many studies in statistics deal with deaths or with failures of components: they involve the numbers of deaths, the iming of death, or the risks of death to which different classes of individuals are exposed. The analysis of survival data is a major focus of the statistics business (see Kalbfleisch and Prentice, 1980; Miller, 1981; Fleming and Harrington 1991), for which R supports a wide range of tools. The main theme of this chapter is the analysis of data that take the form of measurements of the time to death, or the time to failure of a component. Up to now, we have dealt with mortality data by considering the proportion of individuals that were dead at a given time. In this chapter each individual is followed until it dies, then the time of death is recorded (this will be the response variable). Individuals that survive tothe end of the experiment will die at an unknown time in the future; they are said to be censored (as explained below).

from Michael Crawley's The R Book (currently available in hardback on Amazon for a mere $88, 20% off the cover price of $110)

wie es eigentlich ist

If you measure the same thing twice you will get two different answers. If you measure the same thing on different occasions you will get different answers because the thing will have aged. If you measure different individuals, they will differ for both genetic and environmental reasons (nature and nurture). Heterogeneity is universal: spatial heterogeneity means that places always differ and temporal heterogeneity means that times always differ.

Because everything varies, finding that things vary is simply not interesting. We need a way of discriminating between variation that is scientifically interesting, and variation that just reflects background heterogeneity. That is why we need statistics. It is what this whole book is about.

The key concept is the amount of variation that we would expect to ocur by chance alone, when nothing scientifically intersting was going on...

....when nothing really is going on, then we want to know this. It makes life much simpler if we can be reasonably sure that there is no relationship between y and x. Some students think that 'the only good result is a significant result'. They feel that their study has somehow failed if it shows that 'A has no significant effect on B'. This is an understandable failing of human nature, but it is not good science. The point is that we want to know the truth one way or the other.

from Statistics: An Introduction using R, by Michael J. Crawley, a book which it is already impossible not to love.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

books tomorrow, books yesterday

My books used to be distributed as follows: 10% chez moi. 5% in my mother's house in Chevy Chase (where they ended up after a disastrous spell in New York). 40% in my ex-husband's basement in Leeds. 40% in storage in London.

The 40% in London were the only ones off-site that I could do anything about, so from time to time I would visit my storage unit in Bow and try to reduce the number that had to be brought from London to Berlin. At one point I went through boxes and filled a suitcase with rejects (I think I had ended up somehow with three copies of DeLillo's White Noise, for instance, and the copy in Berlin (acquired because the other two were in storage) was all I really needed); I then took the suitcase to my local Idea Store (formerly known as the library). I explained to a member of staff that I would like to donate books. She was appalled. She then said, Well, she would take a look - taking pity on me because I had dragged this heavy suitcase over.

We went to a conference room and opened the suitcase; she explained apologetically that "they" would not like having a lot of books come in. But she looked through the books, and she thought there were many that readers might like, that she herself might like, and perhaps, she said, the main branch in Bethnal Green might take some, so she agreed to accept them.

Today I read:

Expenditure on books in our libraries is below 8% of the total public library funds, and in inner London that figure is just 5.7% (across the country, councils spend just 1.6% of their funding on children's books; several councils, Hackney and Doncaster among them, spend less than 1%). As a consequence, many libraries now have extremely poor book stocks. In 1996/7 there were 92.3m books available for lending in the UK; in 2007/8 that figure fell to 75.8m. The result of this is that fewer people borrow books – at some councils the number of book loans to adults has fallen below 2.5 a year – at which point it is very easy for a council to claim a library is poorly used and should be closed down.

Rachel Cooke on British libraries here.

(Cooke has actually visited my local Idea Store!)

where will it all begin

James Harkin in the Observer on cyber-realism in film

Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film The Killing follows a prickly collection of gangsters as they plan to rob a racetrack of millions of dollars. The way that it follows them, however, was considered most unusual at the time. Right from the outset the film shifts to and fro between the multiple different points of view of its protagonists, and leaps back and forth in time to tell the story. Its circuitous structure deliberately plays around with linear chronology, as if throwing out pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and forcing the viewer to put them back together again. At test screenings, the reaction of audiences was disappointing, and their chief gripe was its confusing structure. In the end studio executives became convinced that audiences wouldn't have the patience for it, and The Killing was quietly buried.

The Killing was one of the first films to use nonlinear, multi-perspectival storytelling in the mainstream cinema. Forty years after it bombed, however, there began to appear a slew of films that looked very much like it. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) can be seen as an early example of the form. Hammering together as it does three completely different stories in a resolutely non-chronological order, Pulp Fiction is now considered to have been at least partly inspired by The Killing. The films were aimed at different audiences in different periods, but both aimed to zigzag around the truth and confuse the viewer into engaging more fully with the story. Explaining the thrill he gets from telling stories in cryptic, nonlinear fashion, Tarantino has claimed that he finds it fun "to watch an audience in some ways chase after a movie". But whereas Kubrick's film died a death, Pulp Fiction cleaned up. Why?

The rest here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

stop beckett

When, in 1984, The Times asked Samuel Beckett for his New Year’s resolutions and hopes, he responded with a brief telegram: “resolutions colon zero stop period hopes colon zero stop beckett”.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Telegraph on Beckett's letters, the rest here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

OH on my old neighbourhood

Owen Hatherley on Tower Bridge:

Well-known Venturite architect comments on the curious puritanism of the common critiques of this gigantic castle on the Thames - terms like sham, pastiche, faux, and the general belief that there is something wrong with fantasy and illusion in architecture. These are all very good points, and there is something enormously knee-jerk about the dismissal of these sort of Victorian (ooh I almost wrote 'monstrosities') structures. The problem for me, though, is what kind of fantasy something like Tower Bridge represents. By encasing its then extremely advanced technology in twin turrets slathered in ickily Mad King Ludwig detail, Tower Bridge's fantasy doesn't seem like something genuinely fantastical or surprising, but as a sort of built emblem of what happened to British capitalism in the closing decades of the 19th century. That is, the collective, cross-class consensual hallucination that the most urbanised, most technologically advanced country in the world was actually a sleepy, rural backwater, one where 'an Englishman's home is his castle', and where a nation which then oppressed a large chunk of the globe was imagined to be mild-mannered, keeping itself to itself.

the rest here

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking at Data course

Courtesy of Flowing Data:

Hadley Wickham (creator of the R package ggplot2) will be giving a 2-day course in Washington, DC, Looking at Data, on 30 and 31 July. Day 1: Static graphics; Day 2: Dynamic and interactive graphics. $295 for one day, $550 for both, $100 per day for students. Full details here.

Morrrrrrrrrre R

Kevin Connolly, author of the terrific Excel plot on language learning, has just send me a link to a MetaFilter page, Rrrrrgh, with many links previously unknown to me. There's Kickstarting R from Jim Lemon on the R site:

Kickstarting R was initially compiled to help new users by requesting accounts of "... things that drove you crazy the first time you used R"....

Concluding that most of the introductions for beginners cover this well,

I decided to concentrate on providing a few solutions for tasks that new users would be likely to face. The reader I have in mind is one who has just installed R and is asked to produce the usual listing of descriptive stats and plots from a data file that is in an arbitrary format. A simple job, if you already know how to use R. I hope that this revision will be even better at helping new users get started.

So for readers who have some data and have been wondering whether they could use R to play around with it, this could be just the ticket.

There's Revolutions (a blog with "news about R, statistics, and the world of open source from the staff of REvolution Computing"). There's the blog OneRTipaDay. And many many more. (Also a link to, a customized version of Google for those who want to search for R-related sites; typing "R" into the vanilla Google search field produces, as you can probably imagine, mixed results.)

Checking out OneRTipaDay, I discover that the NYT actually ran a piece on R back in January (how did I miss this?) - a piece with photos of Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka, who released the first version of R back in 1996. The whole thing here.

Thanks, Kevin!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Oulipo in NY, an event sponsored by the French Embassy:

The Oulipo, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, is a collective of writers and mathematicians founded in 1960 by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau. Since its creation, the Oulipo group explores alternative ways of writing fiction and poetry, by using patterns and constraints often inspired from mathematical models, but always in a playful spirit. Its members include Marcel Bénabou, Anne Garréta, Hervé Le Tellier, Ian Monk, Jacques Roubaud, and American author Harry Mathews, all of whom will be in New York for three days of readings, lectures, writing workshops and book signings. Jacques Roubaud will be presenting the recently published English translation of his book La boucle (The Loop).

courtesy words without borders, which has the timetable


Dearest William,

. . . I mean (in response to what you write me of your having read the Golden B[owl]) to try to produce some uncanny form of thing, in fiction, that will gratify you, as Brother — but let me say, dear William, that I shall greatly be humiliated if you do like it, and thereby lump it, in your affection, with things, of the current age, that I have heard you express admiration for and that I would sooner descend to a dishonoured grave than have written. Still I will write you your book, on that two-and-two-make-four system on which all the awful truck that surrounds us is produced, and then descend to my dishonoured grave — taking up the art of the slate pencil instead of, longer, the art of the brush (vide my lecture on Balzac). But it is, seriously, too late at night, and I am too tired, for me to express myself on this question — beyond saying that I’m always sorry when I hear of your reading anything of mine, and always hope you won’t — you seem to me so constitutionally unable to “enjoy” it, and so condemned to look at it from a point of view remotely alien to mine in writing it, and to the conditions out of which, as mine, it has inevitably sprung — so that all the intentions that have been its main reason for being (with me) appear never to have reached you at all — and you appear even to assume that the life, the elements forming its subject-matter, deviate from felicity in not having an impossible analogy with the life in Cambridge. ...

quoted on The Second Pass, the rest here

contract theory

Ultimately though the single most limiting factor on deal negotiations is each side's willingness to actually read and understand the terms of the contract that don't interest them, and I don't see how this website would ever change that.

commenter on marginal revolution on making deals online

Truer words never spoken. My old publishers' attitude: as long as we put the contract in a drawer without looking at it, we can do anything we want!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I decided to ride my bike to the gym the other day; it wasn't locked up outside. 'Oh,' I thought, 'it must have been stolen.' It was only at this point that I realised how much I had always disliked it, and what a relief it was to have it taken off my hands.

Walked to the gym. Half an hour or so later I suddenly seemed to remember riding the bike to Cafe Kleisther days? weeks? earlier and locking it up outside Kleistpark U-Bahn. Went down to Kleistpark after the gym. Sure enough the bike was there, with an empty Burger King bag in its basket. Went to Kleisther for a coffee and forgot the bike again. Now that I've remembered it again I might go and pick it up.

It's not really safe to ride it if I have books in my head and am also dealing with a lot of Cheshire cats (normal publishing people). If I have to think through a book, and if people make nice noises and I am suddenly left with a lot of grins hanging in the air, there isn't enough mental capacity left to stay out of traffic accidents. So then I just end up walking the bike for miles, or leaving it at home.

I woke up this morning and thought how good it would be to stay in bed; how many bad things could have been avoided if I had taken the simple precaution of staying in bed. How many e-mails had better remained unwritten, unsent; &c. I had spent much of yesterday, though, installing MS Office 2007 , R 2.8 and a couple of packages on my netbook, as well as activating my one year's free subscription to Inference for R; I had also downloaded all the documentation onto my Mac so I could read it on a separate screen while manoeuvring around the tiny screen of the netbook. So if I got out of bed I could try out Inference for R.

Got up. The netbook is, needless to say, not my weapon of choice for playing around with a plug-in for Word and Excel that lets the happy user incorporate R code into Office documents, but the old Sony Vaio would not install Office 2007 without some extra Windows Service Packs that I had no way of downloading, 2C2E. I set up an array of laptops on the desk and start working through the QuickStart documentation.

Well, what can I say? I worked through various examples in the uniformly excellent documentation; sure enough, various Word and Excel files obligingly did nice things with R. I then reached a point at which an example incorporated a plot in Lattice: one followed instructions, and there it was, a beautiful Lattice plot right in the middle of a Word document! Exactly what I had always wanted!

Exactly what I needed for my Guggenheim project!

I shall probably have more to say about this when I've had time to work through some of my own examples; can only comment at this point that it is really not very common to start out on new software with the feeling that one can get straight to work on a project whose problems it solves, without putting in who knows how many hours getting the thing to work.

Friday, March 6, 2009

the eternal flaneur

Peter, how many become "too many", and for whom? I can assure you I read at least one book per week, and I listen to music and write every day, besides working as an economist for more than 8 hours and wasting (well, I read meanwhile...) 2 hours and a half coming and going. Let's say I see an average of two to three films per day, which can seem too many but for me is less than half what I saw when I was many years younger. On the other hand, I feel any film loses context if you don't watch and rewatch a lot of them. No use to see only recent releases, if you don't compare and measure them with films from the past, as it would not have much sense to see only films made before 1968 (I know people who do that). To go on a diet of supposed masterpieces would be equally senseless: how do you know they are outstanding without knowing the average production from which they stand out or diverge? Compulsive? Might be, although I try to go about it quietly, and I have not anymore the urge I felt when I had to see "all Minnelli" or "all Hawks" or "all Godard", I've seen already most of what survives, I know no one is able anymore to see everything, and I'm still curious about things made anywhere anytime. So that's it.
Miguel Marías

found here

alien alert

a reader writes

Thought you might like to know in case of future nuts like myself asking you about how to work in the UK--as of, I think, summer 2008 international students in the UK can, after getting whatever degree, obtain a work permit for up to I believe 24 months. Does not count towards citizenship time, but the goal is to switch to another visa option after some time working.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


The deadline for the National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship has been extended from March 5 to March 17. If you're eligible I'm guessing you'll know; if you thought you'd missed the deadline you now know it ain't so.


I get an email from Ben Hinchliffe asking if I would be interested in a year's free trial of Inference for R, a plug-in which allows you to haul whatever it is you've been doing in R into Microsoft Office.

Fresh from the Ed Park meltdown (2C2E) I've been thinking that what I should do is go back to the States to live with my mother and get a job at Waffle House: 1. I love Waffle House; 2. There are 4 Waffle Houses in Frederick, Maryland, not far from my mother's home in Leisureworld; 3. Leisureworld always conjures up a combination of the Stepford Wives and Westworld, a film in which Yul Brynner runs amok as a robot cowboy; but 4. There are 4 Waffle Houses within striking distance, how bad can it be? 5. TAR ART RAT says his grandfather lives in Leisureworld and is having a rare old time.

I then read an article in the New Yorker about DFW's last book, a book about someone who works at the IRS. For DFW, this was the ultimate in boredom; he was trying to grapple with the concept of a life in which grace was found in the heart of boredom. I want to argue with him: DFW, you just don't get it. You don't know what it's like to have a quote-unquote job where the work you put in writing a text is nothing, the thing that pays the bills is the work you add to this nichts-an-sich by charming and waiting and charming and waiting and charming. What would that be like, to turn up and put in 8 hours' work and get paid for the 8 hours' work, instead of putting in 3000 hours' work and not getting paid because you could only add a paltry month of charming and waiting and charming instead of the three years that were industry standard? (I know what it's like, obviously; this is what makes Waffle House look so good.) I go to the IRS website to check out employment opportunities; that sounds so good, that sounds so good.

But all this time Inference for R has been lurking at the back of my mind. According to Ben Hinchliffe, it works on Windows, Microsoft Office 2003 Professional, Microsoft Office 2007 all versions. I only have the Home/Student edition of Office (for PC and Mac); I normally use a Mac; but if I pick up a copy of Office 2007 I can try this out! I remember seeing a cheap copy at Saturn; I take the 204 bus to Kurfurstendamm, pick up Office 2007, head home, stop off at this café.

The battery in my laptop is about to die.

Last seen wandering vaguely
Quite of her own accord


Owen Hatherley in the New Statesman on the film unit of the General Post Office:

Although they were very different from each other in their style of work, both men favoured an unstable combination of wild experiment and sober realism. Here, after a decade of tradition­alist torpor, modernist aesthetics finally entered British public life with the anglicisation of Weimar Germany’s innovations (the great animator Lotte Reiniger was hired by the GPO) and the Soviet directors’ fierce, fast-cut polemic. Audiences were either non-paying and captive, with the films being distributed to public bodies, or, more rarely, paying customers, with the films acting as shorts before the main feature at the cinema. Curiously, the unit’s greatest success in theatres, Harry Watt’s North Sea, is a straight­forward drama-documentary, duller to contemporary eyes than the experiments in realist and surrealist montage.


Conventional wisdom has it that the Film Unit, and the British documentary movement in which it played a central part, were products of a middle-class obsession with mythologising the working class and “improving” its taste, luring workers away from Hollywood escapism.

Though this is not the whole story – Len Lye, its most extreme experimentalist, was from a poor family in New Zealand and had left school at 13 – it is undeniably the case that most Film Unit employees, such as Wright and Auden, were from upper-middle-class Oxbridge stock. One work that shows the GPO’s class paternalism at its most blatant is Evelyn Spice’s Job in a Million, where an underdeveloped working-class youth is nurtured by the GPO as an apprentice. Even though the poor here are never patronised, and speak eloquently in their own accents, it is rather unnerving to see line upon line of neat proletarian boys in shiny uniforms being trained by benevolent patricians. Yet why this should be considered more dubious than today’s depiction of the working class as dirty, stupid, racist and violent (from How Clean Is Your House? and the BBC’s White season to Guy Ritchie’s prole-face fantasies) is a mystery. Certainly, the postal workers’ unions supported the Film Unit more actively than did the GPO’s wary bureaucracy.

the rest here

let x = x

Andrew Gelman drew my attention to his latest post on different kinds of suspense. Wrote a looooooooong comment which turned out to have missed much that was key. Meanwhile things have gone horribly wrong between the editor formerly known as Mr Whitelist (Ed Park) and me. 2C2E.

Moving right along.

A friend who is a professional classicist tells me by e-mail that he was sent a promotional flyer about Lectrix a while back.

Anyway, it went ahead, and a couple of years ago I received an advance flyer about it, which gave a sample line with examples of their discussion and commentary - the sample line being Aeneid 9.9.  In order to demonstrate the value of their "dictionary/parser", they highlighted the word "sedemque" - and informed us that this came from "sedo, sedare, sedaui, sedatum: settle, allay; restrain; calm down", and the "parser" box accordingly parsed it as "sedemque: verb subjunctive present active 1st sing."

Now, anyone with a minimal knowledge of Latin can see that the word is not a verb, but a noun - from sedes, of course. But whoever had done the dictionary/parser did not have a minimal knowledge of Latin. I investigated further, and discovered that what they had done was simply stick "sedem" through a computer translator, and the computer came up with it being part of the word "sedare". I told X, in some amusement, and he contacted CUP, who explained that their computer dictionary wasn't yet complete, but that it would be complete before the final product went on sale; they also implied that the problem was that the word was "ambiguous", and that this ambiguity would be reflected in the final version. But this seemed to me to show the flaw in the whole enterprise, because "sedemque" in Aeneid 9.9 is not ambiguous at all if one actually knows Latin, instead of simply running word-forms through a computer.
So, well, hm. Note that the Perseus project, which also provides links to dictionary entries and grammatical help, is free (link in sidebar). It may be that Lectrix was substantially improved after the trial run. My guess is that this is what went on behind the scenes: people who actually knew the languages said you couldn't provide grammatical guidance using computer programs of the quality then available; a computer programmer who didn't know the languages said Piece of cake; and the rest is history. And a trial subscription to Lectrix is not available to individuals, because anyone who checked it out and found this level of elucidation of "sedemque" would decamp.

Languagehat had a post a couple of days ago on his bafflement over the verb " imitere" in the opening lines of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita. To a classicist, unsurprisingly, it's obvious what the verb is; LH went to the PDF commentary provided by the author, and all was revealed. This is, obviously, what someone who subscribes to a service like Lectrix is looking for; if I were eligible for a trial subscription I could see whether they're now providing it.