Wednesday, October 31, 2001
I'm really excited by the idea of teaching a computer to recognise similarities between images. This is really the next logical step in Internet content searching; all the current image searchers (the ones associated with Google and Alltheweb) use the titles or filenames of images to dig up matching pictures, which is fine as long as the images you want are called something other than 'RX22938.JPG'.

What's on the horizon is a new generation of search engines that literally look at an image and break it down into its constituent elements, and then sifts through a database of other pictures that have been examined in a similar way. For example, if you're looking for a picture of a doughnut, you might get back an image of an inner tube, which is symbolically similar.

The real difficulty lies in teaching a computer to recognise themes. It's not a trivial task, since it demands that the computer be taught to organise its 'view' of the world in a way that's similar to the way we do it.

Right now, this is a first step in that direction-- matching images by hue, contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001
The new direction of the Lego company-- creating toys that depend on long, exhaustingly detailed directions rather than free-form, creative play-- is disturbing. It carries along with it hints of the old saw about how 'kids these days' are less creative and intelligent than those of previous generations. Of course they're not.

It's really refreshing to see someone say this in print.

Thursday, October 25, 2001
About four years ago, Oprah changed reading in the US by coaxing, encouraging, prodding, and goading her massive audience into picking up a few books each year. She banked on the notion that reading could be a social activity-- an old idea that needed updating for the television and Internet generation-- and created a book club that demanded only you (the reader) and the book of choice. Ingenious.

Oprah's remit was/is a tricky one; she has to pick accessible books, stories that her audience will enjoy, while at the same time giving them a bit of a challenge. Anyone who's ever recommended a book to a friend, only to have said friend hate it, understands that choosing something to read is intensely personal. Imagine that task, writ large across several million viewers and you'll have some sense of what Oprah has had to do. Granted, she's made a few strange choices, picking several books in 1998/1999 that all seemed to revolve around independent women in pain. But on balance, she's made bold statements about what 'typical Americans' are capable of reading and understanding. She made readers out of the most unlikely people, transforming book markets and forcing publishers to reimagine their potential audience.

So when Jonathan Franzen's book, 'The Corrections' was selected recently, it appeared that Oprah had made another courageous choice. Franzen's novel is complex and written in an urbane style-- evidently Franzen imagines that this means that a homemaker in Peoria won't be able to understand it. He worried aloud about his novel being branded as 'unsophisticated' with its inclusion in Oprah's Book Club and then apologized for hurting Oprah's feelings when she quite rightly bridled at Franzen's dithering.

It is an astounding conceit to imagine that you've written a book that should only be read by people of particular breeding or culture, assuming that most people won't be able to grasp your 'high-art'.

What is the most hypocritical is Franzen's panic that Oprah's picking 'The Corrections' somehow locates his book in a new territory of 'corporate ownership', when in fact the book was published, marketed, and printed by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, no small press itself.

Any selling out of 'The Corrections' took place long before Oprah got to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2001
Agreed. Strident expats who live in glass houses ought to think before throwing stones.

Thursday, October 18, 2001
Brilliant and biting and probably incomprehensible to half of the people who ought to be getting their hackles up...

Friday, October 12, 2001
I think I'll have a latte instead, thanks.

Thursday, October 11, 2001
From 1992 to 1998, I had a slight problem with a song loop being triggered again and again and again in my head. What's worse is that it was a little snippet of a song that I really didn't like. It would pop up, stentorian, at the most unexpected times, and all I could do is wait for it to go away, which it very often didn't.

I also made the mistake of telling a friend about my musical affliction, which he kindly dealt with by singing the song aloud when I least expected it.

The song? 'Too Legit To Quit' by MC Hammer. I was lucky enough to be spared the rapping, and instead had the disco diva 'Hey Hey' bit going on inside my head.

Now this inter-cranial CD-player phenomenon is being studied. I wonder if they need a case study... Hey hey.

Tuesday, October 09, 2001
I just finished reading 'Kitchen Confidential' by Anthony Bourdain. I loved the perspective he lends to thinking about restaurants and chefs, in particular. But what suprises me is how the reviewers all seem to claim to want to visit either him or his restaurant. Frankly, after reading his book, he's the last guy in the world I'd want to meet. I get the feeling he's not much fun.

Ruch Reichl, on the other hand, well... there's someone I'd invite over for dinner.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001
Little things like this make you realise just how little you know. I got 9/10 correct, but it was harder than it should have been.

Monday, October 01, 2001
Frankly, this is about as much as the book is worth. And that's only because it makes for jaw-dropping reading. Who knew that a person who has ostensibly taken the Hippocratic Oath could, with a clear conscience, recommend that you choke down sticks of butter to lose weight?

Ketosis uber alles?

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