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Author Archive

Calling all female mad scientists

A friend recently asked on her blog what fictional characters we (her readers) relate to. Two that immediately came to mind for me were Helen Narbonic (from Narbonic) and Agatha Clay (from Girl Genius). Both are female mad scientists from webcomics, which got me wondering what other female mad scientists I might be missing out on. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s List of mad scientists confirms how male-dominated this field is. Though I admittedly only skimmed it, I didn’t see any female mad scientists on the list whose names I recognized other than the above two. Nor have I been able to come up with others off the top of my head (though maybe that’s just due to poor memory/lack of imagination). So, readers, help me out. What other female mad scientists are out there?

(By the way, if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend both Narbonic and Girl Genius. Narbonic is rather slow getting started, but the story and the art both improve tremendously.)


Four Revolutions

At the intersection of current affairs and computational linguistics, Language Log’s Philip Resnik has written a thought-provoking piece about how events in Egypt are fueling a shift in computational linguistics. He calls it the “social media revolution”, and main idea is that whereas current computation techniques are good at dealing with large, clean data sets (such as newspaper text, which comes in complete sentences, is edited, etc.), future techniques will need to deal with large *messy* data sets such as Twitter posts. In fact, the shift is well underway, and he discusses some of currently relevant applications. It’s a great window into the cutting edge in natural language processing.

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Calciate the Vote!

[The following email was sent on November 4th. The webmaster apologizes for forgetting to post it to the blog until just now. You have one week left to vote.]

The HRSFAns constitution calls for an election “The Election Chair
shall announce a date and time for counting ballots in November, and
shall distribute ballots to all dues-paying members of HRSFA, no fewer
than four weeks before the election.”

Well I am announcing an election with ballots due by Friday December
3, 29 days from now.

Send your ballots to

Remember your candidates are:

– Thomas Lotze ‘01

– Elisabeth Cohen ‘06

– Emily Morgan ‘07

It’s a turning point election for HRSFAns really, and I fear we are in
for a campaign season of mud-slinging, extremist base-mobilizing, and
last minute bribery. At least I’m hoping so.

Reminder: Only the votes of dues paying members shall count for this
election. In this case, “dues paying” just means:
1) Fill out our survey:

This is the required portion of renewing your membership! It only
takes five to ten minutes, but it’s very valuable, as it lets us know
how you feel about what HRSFANS is and could be doing.

2) Pay ~~OPTIONAL~~ membership dues.
Suggested dues are:
$23 standard dues (for the Illuminati)
$11 for recent graduates (in the last two years), or other who need a
reduced rate (for Bilbo)
$42 for those who can afford it (for Douglas Adams)

Remember, if no one votes, then we have to have a 4 hour election
meeting at the winter party.

Tony Vila
Michael VonKorff
Election Co-Chairs

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Take a look at this gorgeous photo series from The Boston Globe, featuring “balloons of all shapes, sizes and purposes – ranging from a child’s toy to a football-field-sized research instrument”. It’s such a simple theme, but so beautifully executed.

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Unusual bookshelves

If you’re looking for ways to spice up your book storage, here are two fun ideas from Lifehacker:

For the gravity defying, there’s an Invisible Floating Bookshelf:

Or if you’re just out to confuse people, try the Inverted Bookshelf:

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International Pillow Fight Day

This Saturday, April 3rd, is International Pillow Fight Day! In cities all around the world, people will gather for massive public pillow fights. The facebook event for my local pillow fight in San Diego has over 5000 attendees registered. I can’t wait!

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Vericon this weekend

Vericon is this weekend!

Vericon is a science-fiction, fantasy, gaming, and anime convention featuring many events and distinguished guest speakers. It has been held annually at Harvard University since 2001. The tenth Vericon will take place on Friday-Sunday, March 19-21, 2010. The convention is sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association (HRSFA), an undergraduate student group.

This year’s Guest of Honor is Timothy Zahn. It’s guaranteed to be a great Con, so if you’re in the Boston area–or can get there in the next 24 hours–I highly recommend you check it out!

In addition to all of the wonderful Vericon events, we have two HRSFANS events planned for the weekend: Saturday night Non-Cons, and Sunday lunch. See the hrsfans-announce email list for more information.

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National Grammar Day

To the dismay of linguists everywhere, it is once again National Grammar Day. Yes, you read that right: dismay. As my colleague Gabe explains on his blog Motivated Grammar:

My problem with National Grammar Day (and most popular grammarians in general) is that it suggests that the best part of studying language is the heady rush of telling people that they shouldn’t say something. But if you really study language, you know that there’s so much more to it than that. Each time March 4th comes and goes, we’re missing an opportunity to show people how wonderful the field of linguistics is.

Gabe goes on to describe a couple of papers that got him interested in linguists, and then proceeds to celebrate National Grammar Day by debunking ten common myths about grammar. So rather than giving into the “better than thou” spirit of the day, go read Motivated Grammar and learn something new and inspiring about language.


Adventures in India

HRSFANS member Neil S. has just returned from a trip to visit his family in rural India, and has a really interesting blog post with photos from and thoughts about his adventures. I particularly enjoyed hearing Neil’s perspective on life there because he’s simultaneously part of the family, and an observer from modern urban America. Plus it’s full of great photos:

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On Facebook and Twitter

danah boyd is a researcher specializing in social issues surrounding new technology, particularly social networking. In a recent blog post, she discusses differences in the cultures of Facebook and Twitter status updates. She points out that despite their superificial similarities, these two networks have different norms with respect to the directionality of communication:

Facebook’s social graph is undirected. What this means is that if I want to be Friends with you on Facebook, you have to agree that we are indeed Friends. Reciprocity is an essential cultural practice in Facebook… Twitter, on the other hand, is fundamentally set up to support directionality. I can follow you without you following me.

She goes on to discuss how these differences in directionality affect the way we present ourselves and the cultural norms that develop on these two different networking services. (Read the full post.)

I found it really interesting to read boyd’s analysis, as it matches up well with my own experience with the two sites, but in ways that I had never been consciously aware of. More generally, I’m really excited about the fact that people are taking social networking and other new media seriously as a subject for research. There is a tendency among some to dismiss these services as all the same, and as poor substitutes for “real” face-to-face interactions. In highlighting the ways in which social norms can develop around new media, boyd’s research also demonstrates the unique role that social networking can play in our lives–not replacing but rather augmenting our other forms of social interaction.

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