Saturday, June 30, 2007

Washoe and Nim Chimpsky

But they can't actually talk. I mean speak human languages.

Well, not having a human larynx is a big disadvantage. Can you swing like a chimp, leap like a leopard? Compared with them your arms and legs are pathetic.

So why do you claim they can learn to communicate?

Take Washoe. A chimp. She must be 40 years old now. She lives in Washington now, but a couple of researchers taught her some gestures based on American Sign Language.

How many words did she learn?

They say she can reliably use around a couple of hundred signs. More than that, she can make up her own.

Do all language people believe this?

Well, there are disbelievers and sceptics. Notably Herbert Terrace who experimented with teaching language to a chimp called Nim Chimpsky. And he reckoned that Nim only used language pragmatically.


For practical purposes. To get something he wanted.

Meaning humans don't use language to get what they want?

They do. But they also use language to discuss ideas, which hasn't ever been observed among any animal species.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 29, 2007

Asbestos removal

All due care will be taken when asbestos is being removed from the demolition site

How long will the noise from the demolition equipment last?

Between three to four months.

And how many dump trucks per hour will be going up and down the streets?

In principle, no more than four or to six.

Can you promise that they will stop their engines when parked waiting to be filled?

In principle, they will.

And work will be carried out Mondays to Fridays but not weekends?

In principle, work will stop on Sundays. But if there are delays...typhoons, for example....

So basically Takenaka Housing is saying that noise pollution and traffic congestion in the area will last several months, there will be a constant stream of three and four ton trucks shuttling back and forth seven days a week, and there are no guarantees about anyone's safety in the removal of asbestos.

We understand the community's concerns. We will try not to cause too much disruption.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Less is more

You threw away my bottles.

Grandma, I was just cleaning up.

But they were special bottles.

They were just lying around on the floor. You could fall over and hurt yourself. You collect so much stuff.

My bottles.

Think of it this way. Less is more. Less danger, more space.

Old age. That's less and less.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007


You got a what?

An iron.

Doesn't your wife do that?

She goes off to golf three times a week.

these days.

Mind you, I quite enjoy it.

Define enjoy.

Well it's good for my crook back. Saves me me getting up and going to tai chi early in the morning.

Hmm. Reasons we do things.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Eat less, walk more



Kilos. Down from 70.1.


When I reach 67.9 I can go for my annual health check.

They don’t only check your weight.

No but I figure if my weight goes down, then so does my cholesterol.

No connection. Haven’t you heard thin people can be fat on the inside?

I know that, fat surrounding heart and liver. But I feel good when I get the printout back and it shows a low reading on the scales balancing the high fat and LDL readings.

How about, “Eat less, Walk more!

good. I might then weigh less and think more too.

Eat less, weigh less. Walk more, think more. Even catchier?


Monday, June 25, 2007

Citroen CX Pallas

This came in the post for you.

A magazine? From 1980? Hey wait. A road test of a Citroen CX.

Some kind of medicine?

A car. You know. Like we used to have in Saudi Arabia in 1983. Beautiful but eccentric.

Like so many French.

But distinctive. Difficult to mistake it for any other car.

Pity we had to junk it.

Compliance laws protecting Japanese cars. Some things it did very well. The seats were superb. The interior was Starship Galactica. But it wasn’t especially sporty. I remember one reviewer writing something like you have to row pretty hard to keep the speed up on the windy bits. Sort of tongue in cheek writing that predated Jeremy Clarkson. Good choice Zen.

It was good in the desert though.

And they were versatile. There was a stretch version good for carrying newspapers and camera crews.


Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Katharine Graham

Katharine Graham.

I know the name. I actually have her autobiography, Personal History.

For which she won the Pulitzer. Inspiring story; a woman who suddenly had to learn how to function in the corporate world.


Because her husband shot himself. Next day almost she found herself boss of a Washington newspaper.

And she picked up all this by herself?

It was a slow process. She had some good friends. Warren Buffett was her financial mentor. But he came in one day and saw on her table a paper on which was written “Assets on the left, liabilities on the right.” And that was after she had been running the paper for ten years!

But she was indirectly involved in ousting Richard Nixon.

took courage. Facing down threats from the White House and being advised never to be alone.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

George Dawson


Amazing? 98 you say!

Couldn’t read or write til then. For 98 years, he signed his name using an X.

Why do people sign with an X. I mean I know it’s when they can’t write. But why X?

It represents the signature of one who can’t sign their own name. Disability or whatever. Someone who is illiterate.


It’s legal.

So he got literate, that is, he learned to read and write, at age 98, and published a book at 102 saying life is good.

Those are only the facts. But the feelings! This is a man gone nearly a hundred years and suddenly he can read and sign his name “George Dawson” and even with a little help write a book. And when he says things like, “My first day of school was January 4, 1996. I was ninety-eight years old and I’m still going....I’m up by five-thirty to make my lunch, pack my books, and go over my schoolwork. Books was something missing from my life for so long....I learned to read my ABC’s in two days -- I was in a hurry....Now I am a man that can read.”

Never too late?

Never. George’s story would make anybody feel inspired.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

Edward Said

I started a book on the train tonight. "On Late Style."

The late Edward Said? His last book? Why'd you pick that one? Not an easy read for the ride home.

The title intrigued me.

Juxtapositions again? Late and style? What does it mean?

Something about how a writer or a musician treats their material when they know they're going to die.

There's no time left so they need to hurry to finish their life's work?

Time's running out, yes. But there's also the pulling everything together. The synthesis.

Tidying up? Summarising? Concluding?

He touches on Beethoven, Glenn Gould, some achieve a serene harmony. Others, like Ibsen, get angry or confuse us.

Like Monet's muddy waterlilies?

Said was one who stayed serene. His illness focused his writing. It's a good read.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gianfranco Ferrè

He died on Sunday.


haemmorhage. Only 62.

Why you have an interest in him?

I have a bag of his. Designed by him.

Or by one of his designers.

It has a useful number of pockets. Its zips don’t burst open. The stitching is strong. And the interior is good green cloth.

I thought you didn’t care about brands.

I don’t. To tell the truth, I’m not sure if this is actually genuine. It may be a copy. Like it was made in the factory after 5 PM.

I have no interest in brands.

This man had an interesting career. Qualified as an architect, went into fashion business, worked for Dior, began his own company. Famous for designing clothes with an architectural quality.

So women went around wearing dresses that looked like buildings?


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Boiling frogs

Not true?

If you heat the frog he will get more and more agitated and then try to jump out.

Ah, if he can, you mean.

Precisely. Frogs boil to death because they can’t get out of the container, not because they don't notice.

Still the analogy is a good warning. When it’s getting hot, do something.

Mmm. Before you find you can’t get out.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God and beliefs

Been a swag of books questioning the origins of religion recently.

Such as?

Well, big names like Dawkins, Dennett and Wolpert. They're taking on the big question arguing that there is no scientific evidence that God exists.

Just as there is no evidence for ghosts and flying saucers? How do they account for the millions and billions of believers?

Humans have this need to believe. And believing in a God gets them through the tough times.

If it is so logical that God doesn't exist, why don't more people see the light of logic?

More difficult than you might think. To some people giving up a belief is as difficult as throwing out a favorite possession.

I never have the problem. I throw.

Yeah? When you were small, I know you had this security blanket, right? And you went around clutching it for four or five years until was just a tattered shred. You told me this. And what did you do when your parents finally threw the thing out?

Mm. It was a major trauma. I screamed. I didn't want to let it go.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, June 18, 2007

Le Corbusier and leaks

There was a program on TV on Luco Vijier.


A French architect.

You mean Le Corbusier. Houses like this one?

That's it. That's the one. You're reading this book now?


Uncanny. I see a TV program on him and you are reading a book on the same person. The TV showed him painting pictures in the mornings and designing beauthful houses in the afternoons.

They were often starkly beautiful, he scorned ornamentation, hated Classical form, loved engineers, said houses should be machines for living, protecting their inhabitants against heat, cold, rain, thieves and the inquisitive. But his houses didn't even do that sometimes. The Savoye boy got pneumonia when his bedroom flooded.

The TV program didn't go into details. The presenter just talked enthusiastically about how beautful his houses were.

Le Corbusier wasn't the only prima donna architect who was dismissive about details like leaky roofs. Story goes Frank Lloyd Wright got a call from a client about a ceiling leak one night, he just told them to put a bucket under it.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Architecture and integrity

You’ve been insisting on it for years, integrity in building design, maybe I am beginning to understand.

It’s not a difficult concept.

It’s just the use of the word “integrity” that that made it hard.

What do you think it means?

I think you could use other words. Like honest, necessary, functional, practical, minimalist even.

So now you could like a house like this one?

It has a beauty, hmm, maybe it would be OK for camping.

Only short-term? Well, how about something like this?

Looks grand, has atmosphere. Probably quite liveable, gives shelter, protects the occupants.

Those columns don’t hold up the structure, you know. They are just decoration for its own sake.


All these big words. Why don’t people understand just from looking at a building what is good and what is not?

Architecture still needs explaining. Architects need wordsmiths

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 16, 2007


You were up early.

Too right. Lots to do today. Early bird and all that.

Before sunrise?

I saw it. Nice colors. Before 4:00 AM

You'd think they'd adopt a daylight saving system. But they never do.

Won't be long before the government starts citing daylight saving as a factor in global warming.


Labels: , ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Waiting for rain

So will it rain?


Then again, might not.

Can't tell these days. Even the forecasters are apologetic, shrouding their projections with massive amounts of hedging.

So our conclusion is, it might?

But there again, it might not.

Certo, definitely.



Thursday, June 14, 2007


You have to say he was good.

Very good.

Even great.

You know he was one of the first artists to paint shadows not in black or grey but in colors?

Yet some of his pictures look a bit murky grey.

The foggy London series? Maybe the old oil is oxidising. Also he was losing his sight and with it his sense of color.

Did he make money?

Money? Monet? Pots. But not as much as the art collectors nowadays. They do well out of him.

Oh and the print sellers selling copies of his water lilies to Japanese. You know they stopped me from taking a photograph of one their copies


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Donald Trump, germy teachers and eating off the floor

The Apprentice guy…

Famous for saying ‘You’re fired.’

And you know he is also famous for not shaking hands.

Yeah? Scared of bacteria?

And get this, he especially won’t ever shake hands with teachers.

Teachers? They are so dirty?

Well, he apparently said that they have 17,000 germs per square inch on their desks. That's ten times the germ rate of other jobs.

Poor Donald. Wonder what he would say to…eating off the floor?

Probably say 'You’re fired.'

Can he say anything else?

I heard he has other expressions. Ask Rosie O'Donnell.


Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Starbucks logo

You mean, Starbucks sued the Chinese coffee shop simply because their logo was green and white?

So the story goes.

I am suddenly very afraid.


My shirt is green and white.

You could ask them to pay you. For reinforcing their logo.


Or you could ask for a free cup of coffee if you sit for an hour. Tell them its subliminal advertising and would pull people in.

I’m not at all sure a company so into suing would look at that idea.


Labels: ,

Monday, June 11, 2007


Is it posted on lolcats?

Not yet. I’m trying to think of a suitable caption.

How about… oh…

See? It’s not easy.

Any thoughts?

I had thought of something like ‘MY shoulder! SCRAM!

Brief enough and sufficiently authentic for cat language.

Just so. The appropriacy of brevity. Never use two words when one will do.


I think it was Thurber who said something about a picture always being dragged down to the level of its caption.

Thurber also said he was not a cat man, but a dog man, and all felines can tell this at a glance - a sharp, vindictive glance.

Good caption.

Bit long for a cat, though.

Hmm. A mere cat.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fly and cut down a tree

Here’s a way you can fly without feeling guilty about flying.

Guilty about flying?

Don’t you feel guilty about taking a flight?


The effect flying has on global warming.

Ah, a bit. Yes. I don’t fly when I don’t have to.

You really need to attend that conference in Ho Chi Minh?

You think I should attend by videoconference? Like last year? Look.

You’re always saying that. “Look.

OK. Well, listen. Could it be just another fad? This tree hugging thing? Certainly it is devastating to the planet to lose its rainforests and the biodiversity that these shelter, but just saying if you take a flight, plant a tree?

Only put you back ten quid.

There’s man of science, Govindasamy Bala, who argues that planting trees in certain temperate areas, like Wales, would accelerate global warming, while cutting down trees in certain areas could help reduce it.

Hmm, knotty problem.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Why was Dolly called Dolly?

You have to ask?

The mop of woolly hair that made her look like Dolly Parton?

Actually, no. It was other attributes of Dolly Parton’s anatomy.

You mean…?

Yes. Dolly the sheep was cloned from mammary cells taken from the udder of a six-year old sheep.

When was it she died?

2003. February. Aged six. Most sheep live to 11 to 12 years in a sheltered environment, which she was in.

She died cause she was a clone?

They don’t know. Cause of death a progressive lung disease, common among sheep, particularly the farm where she came from. She seemed to be aging quicker than normal sheep but some researchers suggested this could be because her donor was already six years old when genetic material used to breed Dolly was extracted.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 8, 2007

leopard cat Ashera

Soooo cute.

A leopard cat.

What does he eat?

Cat food. And can be walked on a leash. So it says.

So it says?

Well, this is all I've been able to find on it. There was a video on yahoo yesterday, but it's not accessible today. Why did the story disappear so quickly? I got curious and did a little digging.


Well the guy who marketed these things, for 22K a pop...

Twenty-two thousand? Dollars? Per cat?

Per cat. He has a history of running up debts and scarpering, did time in Britain for fraud, started some hi-tech companies that went bust, fired employees without paying them, now he's into cats, exotic ones.
Highly priced.

Is that the cat? It looks somewhat leopard-like but... 22K? When you can get a shelter cat for for free, a Siamese for a few hundred and a Bengal for 3K.

You read comments on cat blogs and they are flaming him. No wonder he's dropped off the net. And no wonder I can't google an image of him.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Anagrams and names

Do you remember me?

Of course I remember you. (lie) er, Nadia (guessing wildly).


Diana. Of course. (thinking fast)You see, it’s the way we store words in memory. They sometimes get mixed up. Nadia is an anagram of Diana.

You never knew anyone called Nadia?

Never. (lie)

Hmm. Where are you going?

I think I have a meeting. Not sure so I’m going there to find out. You going to this building too?

This one or that one. Not sure.

In this weather, nothing is certain.

What’s an anagram?

Mixed up letters, like you get in games like Scrabble and Boggle. Names often get jumbled. Like Anna and Nana, Katrin and Trinka, Hyacinth and Cynthia.

Sounds a bit biased. Aren’t there any male names anagrammed?

Oh sure. Nigel can be Elgin, Noam can be Mona, and get this, Lloyd can be Dolly.


Never mind.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

global warming

What is this TV show? CO2 is the sole cause of climate crisis?


But climate change is much more complicated than simply CO2 issues. There's nitrogen, mercury...

Stop trying to ruin the evening.

OK. Sorry. It's just that it annoys me when TV shows try to turn a serious, very complicated issue into a game show, an entertainment, simply to attract more viewers.

It's not an entertainment. It's serious. You don't care about the environment.

I do care. It's just that when you read Nature articles instead of watching these, these oversimplified, overdramatized game shows in the name of global warming consciousness raising, I get a little irritated.

But it might help some people to think about the environment a bit more. Turn off lights. Use a car less.

And buy fewer shoes.


But no one is sure if we are headed for global warming or an ice age. There is no consensus on what we face or how to deal with it.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Podcasting for language learning

What I did, was I listened to 200 language learning podcasts and this is my conclusion. There are no good language learning podcasts.


Not one. Sorry to be so negative. But I did a thorough search, sampled half a dozen lessons of all the major producers on iTunes. My conclusion: podcasting is not suitable for learning languages.

, back up there a little.Don't we have a conflict of form and content?

Form? Content?

For example, I learn Italian over the radio. Education channel six mornings a week. Good lessons. Lezione una, lezione due. Big fat Italian lady booming 'Bellissimo' frequently. Lot of fun. It could equally well be delivered as a podcast. Effective lesson. Great content. Nothing to do with the delivery method.
Motorcycle or van. Good pizza tastes the same.

So you think my conclusion is flawed?

I didn't say that. Quite possibly all the lessons you listened to were bad. I simply suggest that you keep the genre, language lesson, language teaching, separate from the form, the delivery. It's not the technology that's to blame for poor language lessons.

So we could argue that podcasting's not to blame. It''s those early bandwagoners, the early adopters who don't always do the best job.

.The early bird may catch the worm but the early worm gets eaten.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 4, 2007

Web 2.0 graphic metaphors

Can anyone tell me what is the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0?

There's no difference. It's all hype.

They had to reinvent the web to attract all the investors back who got burned in the dotcom crash.

Web 2.0 is more collaborative and participatory than Web 1.0.

Ping Pong. Jason and Ken love a good conspiracy and there could be an element of
truth in their views. But there's a lot of talk about the sharing notion. Tim O'Reilly gets millions of hits on his article detailing all the differences he sees between Web 1.0 and 2.0. And there's many metaphors in his analysis, too. Like his describing big presences on the web as being the head and the lots of little presences as being the long tail. Like in a comet. But I wonder if we can extend describing the web by using pictures. Here's one of a gear design of web functions, here's a poster design of all the companies, there's something like a board game which is a mix of apps and applets, and mother of all modern metaphors, there is a cloud of Web 2.0 buzzwords.

Interesting approach. Especially since the pictures themselves are not just metaphors. What the picture is of is also a metaphor.

Yes, it 's as if there are layers of metaphors, cascading from text through metaphors and splashing out on the page as a graphic mashup.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Timing a presentation

I don’t like these overhead lights that obliterate the screen. That’s why I’ve taken out the fluorescent tube.

And using it as a pointer?

They didn’t give us any chalk, let alone a fancy red laser pointer. I’m a can-do guy, hence this. Anyway, as I was saying, the 70s were an age of reductionism, the 80s were years of constructivism, now we are in the age of aquarius, connecting with everyone, student to student, teacher to student…

What are your thoughts on the impact of technology on learning?

Early adopters thrive, last 10% never get it, forget them.

Excuse me…

Omigod, is that the time? This is only slide 24. I - I’ve got 98 slides. Okay, I’ll jump ahead. Here we go. Slide 95. Black boxes. In this end, out the other.
That’s it. We’ve reached wrap up time. Any questions? No? Thanks for listening. Lunch. Oh, anyone like to help me put these fluorescent tubes back in their sockets?

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Academic language

In the first part of the talk I will deal with the first bits. As the argument progresses details will be given. And at the end, there will be a conclusion.

Excuse me, could I just ask what is the question we are dealing with here?

That will become clearer as the talk progresses and I will come to that presently. It has been found that a lot of issues have not been fully analyzed. This leads to some rather unsatisfactory assumptions being made relating to the underlying theory.

Would you mind giving us some specific examples?

Certainly. On the one hand, there are those who support the view that there are only weak links between the various factors, while on the other hand, there are researchers who believe that there are indeed crucial links between the significant components.

What is your own personal view on this?

Some people think that I am in one camp, others are strongly convinced that I am on the other side, but I am not sure myself where I stand on this issue.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 1, 2007

White Rabbit again

Did you say white rabbit this morning?

Oops. As usual I forgot, I always forget.

This is what I use to help me remember. I put him on the table before I go to bed. I wake up, and bingo, there he is tucking into a plate of whatever. And I go, “White Rabbit, what are you doing!

Maybe there is a correlation between stupidity and laziness and a lack of imagination with you.

Oh, come on, Bro, lighten up. Everyone knows it’s just a silly superstition but it helps bring a little fun into the day. A little nonsense may be just the thing to kick off a new month and get us through it.

I think Bro is paraphrasing James Cooper who said ignorance and superstition have a close mathematical relation. But Goethe maintained that superstition is the poetry of life.

Bah. Humbug. Go ahead. Get romantic over rabbits. They're still no more than
grey cetaceans.

Ooh! I wonder who got out of bed on the wrong side this morning, then?

Labels: ,