misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

Archive for the 'Affiliates and Friends of HRSFANS' Category

HRSFAlum Academia hits Pop Culture

A shout-out to HRSFAN Aaron J. Dinkin, linguist of the dialectological variety, who appeared as a Major Quoted Someone for Slate last month in an article on the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS aka NCS).

The article is raising awareness of some recent (~our lifetime) re-jiggering of “linguistic turf” for short vowels (cat, cot, caught, &c.), which seems to be radiating outward from areas like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit &c. The write-up is fun, and Aaron sounds in his element.

I like the content of the article, but am not sure where the tone is coming from. Aaron, Emily, and anyone else with opinions and/or data, please chime in:

  • Why does the introductory expert, William Labov, explicitly present the NCS as a PROBLEM? It’s kind of cool to be catching systematic pronunciation change in the act — especially if it may truly be as big a vowel shift as we’ve seen (heard) in the past millennium. And it’s not like Northeast/Midwesterners feel like we can’t understand or be understood by others. Is this actually an aesthetic judgment? I think most of us already feel English vowels are dead ugly, and don’t care except (possibly) in an operatic context.
  • Are the experiments described as supporting lack of self-awareness on the part of NCS speakers (Preston, Niedzielski) presented accurately? Neither seem damning to me. How is “flipping a mental coin” for cat v. cot in isolation — if in one’s own pronunciation they are homonyms — different from flipping a mental coin for to v. two v. too in isolation?

Why to read, when not to read

The other month, a to-be-commended HRSFalum asked through HRSFANS-discuss for good books to bring on a long vacation, imposing only constraints that they be in-print (reasonably available) mass-market PBs. As one might expect, this generated an excellent recommendations list (which someone really ought to collate for the HRSFANS wiki—shoot, I volunteered again, didn’t I?), if rather heavy on SF/F and historical fiction with SF/F elements. But there’s nice range to the discussions, as well; and a bit of back-and-forth amongst the recommenders.

One day into the discussion, Tony cautioned:

His Majesty’s Dragon, like Name of the Wind, Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and Vlad Taltos are all unfinished series, and I’d really recommend reading the GREAT books on this list that are DONE before reading ones we don’t know how they turn out.

This seems to involve a bit of legerdemain in categorization, comparing “unfinished series” to “books … that are DONE.” A series pretty much by definition comprises several books completed in their own right (or at least to the extent that individual publishing is deemed warranted). His Majesty’s Dragon is done, as are five successor novels: the author is not yet done with all stories she intends to set in the Temeraire universe, but why should her artistic and/or business decision in our reality handicap the readability of books already available?

Even if the intent is to recommend complete series (such as The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) over ongoing ones (from the barely-begun City of a Hundred Rows through the apparently-still-kicking Song of Ice and Fire all the way to, I suppose, Wheel of Time?), why should the expected number of additional related books be a more compelling reason against or for reading volume 1 (or 5) than the qualities of the specific volume in question?

And how does this square with Tony’s own list of recommendations, emailed to the thread the previous day, including “Hyperion by Dan Simmons (only read the first book!)”? Once a reader knows how a set of related books “turns out,” s/he can choose only the “GREAT” one, but that same reader should hold off reading a GREAT book that might yet have good, bad and/or indifferent successors?

Please allow me only barely to mention the undead series, completed by their creators for good or bad and re-animated in subsequent decades (Dune being probably the most extreme example—in this aspect as in others—but with the Foundation books an arguably even weirder case, since they were re-animated first by Asimov himself and then again by his estate!).

I say, read any given book on its own terms. As I’ve written before, if it is a GREAT book there will obviously be further stories to tell, but that does not mean you need feel any duty to seek out any more of those stories, or to believe any related stories just because the same person (or an anointed successor) wrote them.


The Daniel Bartlett Memorial Mathematics Lectures

I just ran across this description of the Daniel Bartlett Memorial Mathematics Lectures. Hosted at the University of Arizona, they honor Dan Bartlett ’03, a HRSFAlum who passed away in 2006.

This isn’t particularly timely, I realize, but I thought others might be interested to know about it regardless. While news of Dan’s death did percolate through the alumni community, I at least had not heard any specifics in connection with it. The linked page includes a very nice section about Dan.

The lectures themselves are apparently designed to inform a general audience about higher mathematics, and are held annually at the University of Arizona (Dan was studying Algebraic Geometry at the UA math department at the time of his death). The next one will apparently be held this fall, and information about it can be found here.

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If Vericon were 12 days long (according to Tony)

The following post was written by Tony, and is posted here at his behest:

In anticipation of vericon TWELVE, in 2012, which is TWELVE months from now, I wrote a song: The Twelve Days of VeriCon:

On the twelfth day of Vericon my hrsfa gave to me…
Twelve Friends a greeting
Eleven Creatures Tapping
Ten Boards of Gaming
Nine Authors Signing
Eight Alums Carousing
Seven Movie mockers
Six Larps late-running
Five Viral Memes
Four Cosplay teams
Three Common rooms
Two Burdicks runs
One And a ConChair in a Tizzy
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Bored Now?

Dennis Clark has made a new social networking tool. At his request, I reproduce his introduction to it, below:

Hey all,

I’ve just finished making something I really want to show you all.

Since leaving college, I’ve missed HRSFA-Social pretty hard. It was just totally great when you were feeling bored to be able to send one email and summon a bunch of people to come hang out while not feeling like you were spamming the entire world with your lack of cool. In this spirit, I present:

Named after everyone’s favorite Vamp Willow utterance, BoredNow is a cross between a realtime HRSFA-Social and the WoW dungeon finder — it’s an attempt to solve the ludicrious problem that it’s easier to organize a group of your friends to do something in a video game than it is in real life. I’m hoping that fellow HRSFANS at Vericon will find it useful for organizing pickup games and going out to eat and maybe for some things I haven’t thought of yet.

Right now, I have a realtime chat feature working along with the ability to join a pickup group and a randomized activity picker that will choose a game for you based on the number of people in your group and the amount of time you all have available. There’s much more to come, but I wanted to see if anybody liked the idea in general before building things that nobody wants.

I’m trying to spend the time between now and Friday developing a mobile website in addition to the desktop one (and maybe just one more feature), along with making sure that my server doesn’t fall over. If you’d like to help me out, I’d love it if:

1) You just came by the site. I’m new at this whole webhosting thing and for various reasons I’m running on a server I configured myself. I’d love to get some load so I can fix anything I can pre-Vericon.

2) You added some more activity ideas. Right now I have about six games in the database, which is essentially enough to make sure that the feature works but nothing more. I have a submission form up for anything you suggest, and after you do I’ll give the additions a cursory review and toss them right in the mix.

3) You told me what you think. Is this the worst idea ever ever ever? Please let me know before I waste any more time! Bug reports, feature requests, love notes, hate notes, whatever. There’s a comment form up (and you all have my email) so it’s easy to inform me about the depths of your fury.

4) Last, of course, I’m pretty much trundling around boston until vericon with nothing to do but work on this. I’m up for anything people want to do as long as I can stay within wifi range in case the server blows up. You know how to get in contact 😉

So thanks for listening, sorry for the spam, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you all think.

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Kevin on Tor about Watson on Jeopardy

Kevin Gold has got two very thought-provoking articles on the jeopardy match-up between human jeopardy champions and IBM’s AI “Watson”, up on Tor’s website. Check them out here and here.

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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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Because friends want friends to eat good food

HRSFANS supporting HRSFANS, especially those in greater Boston, should know that two HRSFANS are soon to open a restaurant, called “Journeyman,” in Somerville.

I don’t want to say too much more at this time, although many HRSFANS will be able to guess which two people I’m talking about.  I’m certain it’s going to be good.  In the past their cooking has been described as second in Boston only to L’Espalier (in print, no less!).

I encourage all interested parties to follow their blog (feed) and try them out after their expected open in late May 2010.

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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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HRSFAN achievement: Rush or Relax?

Jessica Hammer ’99 and her research team recently won a grant to design iPhone games that will help people stop smoking.  The grant speaks for itself:

The game is intended to be an alternative to smoking with the goal of reducing or eliminating tobacco use in players’ lives. The game involves breathing into a microphone to control gameplay, and is coupled with sound, color, images, challenges and feedback to mimic the stimulant and relaxant effects of smoking. The design elements within the game result in two modes of play (“Rush” and “Relax”). These will be tested for their stimulant and relaxation effects through emotional response and physiological (EEG, heart rate, galvanic skin response) measures, and compared to subjects after smoking or who play the game in lieu of smoking. If successful, the game will emulate the effects of smoking as a replacement therapy for smokers who want to quit. It will do so by allowing smokers who crave the physiological effects of smoking to reach for this five-minute game rather than for a cigarette.

I think it’s a great idea.  Although I also thought about this, and it creeped me out.  (Spoiler alert for that link, if you read beyond the first page or so.)

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