blog-O-rama archive
december 2002

ann maria bell


just in case you were wondering, hobbits are mac users.

the eye of sauron, on the other hand, runs windows XXX. forget the fairy tale version told in the return of the king, sauron's empire crumbled after palantirs running watchtower express infected entire orc hordes with the pez virus, turning them from an elite fighting force into a multi-level marketing organization created for a single purpose --- to distribute herbal viagra in convenient and collectible plastic dispensers. the so-called battle on the plains of gondor was actually a trial run of their door-to-door sales effort. alas, the blue screen of death awaited sauron's forces just outside the gates of mordor.

more LOTR -- microsoft humor, via richard boulanger.


frodo lives!

rivenelves on their way to the opening of the two towers.


the end of the semester is nigh. as usual, it's going out with a lot of banging and whimpering, not to mention the occasional outpouring of expletives. julie wrote "dirt is dumb" across her belly with a ballpoint pen to protest being chained to her desk all weekend studying soil science. jamie has run out of metaphors to express how much grad school sucks. jamie would also like to mention to her friends, housemates and classmates that although she does in fact feel like crap it doesn't necessarily help to point it out when she looks like crap too. jason recites his list of things to do before the end of the semester like a mantra while he makes breakfast. orelia's term paper on bondage and s & m had lots of references to journal articles written in the 1930's and no juicy details, once again proving the second law of academia: there is no subject so interesting that it cannot be rendered tedious by the inclusion of sufficient footnotes.

on the other side of the lectern, bill taught his last two classes today. students have just started to figure out that the take home exam problems labeled "easy, medium & hard" should really have been labeled "hard, harder & completely fscking ridiculous". fortunately, the teaching evaluations were completed in class before the exam was handed out, so no problem.

for everyone caught in the tractor beam of academics, the semester parses the year into fifteen week intervals, starting with a week of enthusiasm and good intentions and ending with week of nervous exhaustion and caffeine-induced brain seizures. for the rest of us, time oozes along like an advancing slime mold colony, before you know everything in sight is covered. matt's three characters in the online role-playing game "the dark ages of camelot" seem to be enjoying themselves. matt seems to be enjoying himself too --- he's been staying out so late that it's not even early when he gets back. I've been, well, sitting in front of my computer, writing in my blog, trying to stop my virtual astronauts from pissing in the virtual drinking water supply, and checking my email every 2.57 minutes. yes, I know my mail program will do it automatically, but where's the fun in that?

in other news: the second journal article that bill & I (& jim bucklew) wrote on the el farol problem will appear in the March 2003 issue of the IEEE transactions on signal processing. click here to read the abstract or download the paper.


self-referential blog poem

friends just
fill out
the focus their practical
problems and so this sort of
caring for information
on upturned buckets in
6 hours of my costume
before the other
creating an
Era of imported the
university or Your name: &
is an external hard drive, before
you think of a test
drive. it aside from
early in my mother
made or two huge malls on returned a real snow
on the extended DVD of
programs. we had a gay & bill found that
cold and their
home planet. unfortunately, the
painful, at that
multiplies their home planet. unfortunately, as it to
generate this ride check out this sort
of it meets open for
information also,
in the form and last Could
I tried the shore and
who provides free

the blogpoem was created with this webpage and rob's amazing poem generator. I'm not sure how rob's scheme works. bill wrote a program called autopoem that uses a source text and a random seed to generate quasi-nonsensical but very interesting poetry. autopoem starts with a source text and a seed letter or word and then chooses the next letter or word randomly, based on the probabilities that the seed letter or word is followed by another letter or word in the original text. for example, if the letter 't' is followed by the letter 'h' 10% of the time in the source text then there is a 10% chance that the seed of 't' will be followed by an 'h' in autopoem's output. the seed can also be a letter combination like 'th' -- then the next letter is chosen by the how often 'th' is followed by 'e' or 'a' in the source text.

running autopoem with a seed of three letters produces poetry along the lines of "twas brillig and the slithy toves" --- not quite english but close enough for government work. autopoem can also work at the word level: if the seed is 'the' the next word is chosen based on the probability that 'the' is followed by 'hat' or 'car' in the source text. this produces readable but semantically vacuous prose not unlike the papers in academic economics journals that I read in grad school.

über-geeks will recognize that autopoem takes off on the ideas of claude shannon, the founder of information theory. it's currently written in matlab, but maybe one of these decades I'll be able to code it up in a web-friendly language like java or perl.

in the meantime, autopoem is my ace in the hole for next year's NaNoWriMo --- national novel writing month. the goal is to write an entire 50000 word novel in one month (november). according to their website:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

over 6000 people signed up this year, and the organizers were hoping to have at least 1000 'winners' submit 50000 words or more before midnight on november 30 (the winners are listed on the site, but I didn't see a final tally). between project gutenberg and autopoem I figure I'm a shoe-in for next year. I wonder if the contest rules require you to read your own novel before submitting it?


last night's dream: I was in a play, a play with a really cool set design where ice skates stood in for birds and the actors all wore crazy costumes. unfortunately, as I was picking up my costume before the performance I realized that I didn't know any of my lines. in fact, I hadn't read the script. I had only been to one or two rehearsals. and the show started in five minutes. I ran to the theater and the other actors were already warming up. I really wanted to be in the play but I didn't even know where my script was.

interpretation: I have finally recovered from being a professor.

about two weeks before I officially got my phd I had my first "class starts in ten minutes and I haven't prepared my lecture and come to think of it I don't speak french either" dream, which replaced the "the exam is tomorrow and I haven't been to class all semester and come to think of it I didn't actually graduate from junior high school" dream, which seems to have been replaced by last night's "the play starts in five minutes and I don't know my lines and come to think of it I haven't even read the script" dream. glad to see that I'm making some kind of psychological progress here.


bill & I went out to picnic point with a digital tape recorder and camera to record the ice chimes. it was much windier --- the ice had broken into smaller, darker chunks and the sound of the waves and the wind was much louder than the ice. on the downwind side of the point the newly forming ice sheet sounded like a chorus of underwater aliens singing about their home planet. unfortunately, the rechargable batteries didn't last long in the 20 degree weather. the photos look good and I took some 30 second movies of the ice and waves --- the ice makes the waves seem more solid, slower moving. very cool.


ice has begun to form on the lake proper. today the wind broke up the newly formed ice sheets and drove them against the shore and each other, creating an ethereal soundscape of glassy ice chimes and deep underwater echoes. the water is blue with cold, washing over the ice floes in thin sheets and reflecting the pastel winter sky. stalacicles of ice grow off of tree branches at the lake's edge. flocks of canadian and white geese rest in the sun on the edge of the ice where it meets open water.

existence. wow.


the ice fishermen were out on the inlet at brittingham park today, dragging their equipment onto the ice with large plastic sleds, sitting on upturned buckets in their blaze orange snowsuits. because ice fishermen are ipso facto insane I was not tempted to try taking a shortcut across the ice. I also saw a very large, very furry rat foraging in the park --- no photos because my digital camera is set up to start shooting an animated short composed entirely of baby lima beans. really. here's what the outside world looks like in wisconsin in the winter.

another week of cold and the outdoor ice skating at madison's parks will open for the season.


live and let live.

that's the slogan for world AIDS day this year. as the international pandemic rages on, the focus is not on the sobering worldwide statistics nor on the painful, at times gruesome, individual experiences of aids, but rather on the social and cultural reality of AIDS --- the stigma and alienation suffered by people living with HIV and AIDS that multiplies their practical problems and their emotional burdens., an international aids charity, has an excellent essay on the stigma and discrimination faced by both people living with HIV and AIDS, and by the groups at greatest risk for HIV infection. here's an excerpt:

Stigma is a powerful tool of social control. Stigma can be used to marginalize, exclude and exercise power over individuals who show certain characteristics. While the societal rejection of certain social groups (e.g. 'homosexuals, injecting drug users, sex workers') may predate HIV/AIDS, the disease has, in many cases, reinforced this stigma. By blaming certain individuals or groups, society can excuse itself from the responsibility of caring for and looking after such populations. This is seen not only in the manner in which 'outsider' groups are often blamed for bringing HIV into a country, but also in how such groups are denied access to the services and treatment they need. (...)
From early in the AIDS epidemic a series of powerful images were used that reinforced and legitimised stigmatisation.
  • HIV/AIDS as punishment (e.g. for immoral behaviour)
  • HIV/AIDS as a crime (e.g. in relation to innocent and guilty victims)
  • HIV/AIDS as war (e.g. in relation to a virus which need to be fought)
  • HIV/AIDS as horror (e.g. in which infected people are demonised and feared)
  • HIV/AIDS as otherness (in which the disease is an affliction of those set apart)
Together with the widespread belief that HIV/AIDS is shameful, these images represent 'ready-made' but inaccurate explanations that provide a powerful basis for both stigma and discrimination. These stereotypes also enable some people to deny that they personally are likely to be infected or affected.

I did the california aids ride from san francisco to los angeles in 2000 with my friends and former officemates at NASA Ames, steve and andrew. 2500 cyclists, 400 crew members, and who know how many port-o-potties traveling 270 miles in 6 days as part of a weird but inspiring caravan---what a long strange trip that was! the event is now sponsored directly by the two beneficiaries, the san francisco AIDS foundation and the L.A. gay & lesbian center. for information on this year's ride check out AIDS/LifeCycle 2.

I read abraham vergehese's my own country: a doctor's story to get a feel for tennessee before moving there in 1996. vergehese's engaging and heartfelt account of an immigrant doctor dealing with the first wave of HIV infections in rural johnson city, tennessee records the fear and uncertainty that swept in with the epidemic.

as I was looking for good links related to AIDS and HIV, I found that link and think is organizing a campaign to have people around the world focus their weblogs and journals on AIDS/HIV for world AIDS day. been there, done that.

live and let live. sounds like a good slogan for everyday to me.

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