Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Window-washing robot

This tethered robot washes the glass on the pyramids at the Louvre. So cool. I wonder if they use it to clear snow, as well.

This post's theme word: rimy, "covered with frost."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No underwear

Prohibited pictograms on the top of l'Arc du Triomphe. Can you guess their meanings? I've got "no food," "no smoking," "no camera tripods," and "no cell phone usage." That last one? Take a guess.

Really. Look at it.

We finally decided that it means, "no sunbathing." But maybe not. It's not very clear.

This post's theme word: grig, "a cricket or grasshopper," or "a small or young eel," or "a lively or lighthearted person." That grig is sunbathing on the top of l'Arc du Triomphe!

... in my hand

I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand.
I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand.
I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand!

Taken from the top of l'Arc du Triomphe.

This post's theme word: purlicue, "the space between the extended forefinger and thumb," or "a flourish or curl at the end of a handwritten word (a.k.a. "curlicue")," or "a discourse, especially its summarizing part."

View of the Louvre

A view of the Louvre (across the river) from the hotel balcony/fire escape.

This post's theme word: trammel, "something that limits or hinders," or "a fishing net having three layers," or "an instrument for drawing ellipses," or "a shackle used in training a horse to amble," or "an instrument for gauging and aligning parts of a machine," or "a hook for hanging a pot or a kettle over a fire," or "to restrain or hinder."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Paris sunset

Eiffel tower!
A bridge near Notre Dame.

This post's theme word: halcyon, "idyllically calm, peaceful, tranquil, happy."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jewish cemetery

When they ran out of space, they would just add another layer of soil and bury more people above the former burials. Tombstones were moved up, not buried, when the level was raised -- hence the shark-teeth-like amassing of tombstones pictured here.

An interesting place to study erosion.

This post's theme word: yardang, "an elongated ridge formed by wind erosion, often resembling the keel of an upside down ship."

Post office

Lovely. Uncrowded, with a clear take-a-number-and-wait-to-be-called system. Beautiful. Also, open seven days a week from 2am to midnight!

This post's theme word: martinet, "a strict disciplinarian."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scary marionette

Scary but wonderful. Each claw/foot had a separate string to manipulate it.

This post's theme word: dicephalous, "having two heads."

Albino peacock

Albino peacock!

This post's theme word: sorrel, "a light reddish-brown color; a horse of this color," or the salad green with a sharp-sour taste.

Decoration ideas

Decoration ideas for my castle, when I design one.

This post's theme word: mug's game, "a foolish or futile activity."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charles bridge

The Charles bridge, as shot from the next bridge north.

This post's theme word: clou, "a major point of interest, or a central idea." The Charles bridge is a major tourist attraction, though it is similar to the (many) other nearby bridges. It has some extra statues.


Cobblestones are everywhere. Very pretty, but punishing to drag a wheeled suitcase over. This photo is a self-portrait by M.; the upper-right foot is mine.

This post's theme word: tessera, "a small piece of stone, glass, or tile used to make a mosaic."

Astronomical clock

The astronomical clock. Having seen it several days in a row, I still couldn't figure out all the data its various dials and hands convey.

This post's theme word: cathect, "to focus one's emotional or mental energy on something."

Math institute

This is the mathematical institute. It is a beautiful building. So many windows! So much natural light! ... and noise. Plus, they were doing construction in the courtyard that consisted of jackhammering apart stone/concrete blocks, in 30 second increments, every 5 minutes.

This post's related word: borborygmus, "a rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Prague castle

This is Prague castle, from a distance, blurrily, at night. I never did get to see inside it.

This post's theme word: micropsia, "a defect of vision in which objects appear smaller than normal."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

View from near the castle

A view south-east from the castle grounds, over the prettiest part of Prague.

This post's theme word: coetaneous, "having the same age; contemporary." The buildings are all done in the same style; I'd guess that they are coetaneous.

Roll of newspaper

We arrived too late; the castle was closed for the day. But we did get to walk (briefly) around its grounds, and admire it from the outside. This statue ornaments one side of the main entrance gate. I think it is one man beating another with a newspaper, though I suspect that I am mistaken.

This post's theme word: vituperate, "to scold."

The elusive castle

We searched for the castle, with a rough idea of where it was. The directions we got from a helpful, if not-English-speaking passerby, were "walk uphill." As this photo shows, we still had a way to go -- the pointier spire is the cathedral inside the castle. The statue here seems to be showing us the way.

This post's theme word: chouse, "to cheat or trick" or "to drive or herd in a rough manner." I mean mostly the latter sense, here: we choused towards the castle.

Possible Pope location

This is the square where, on Saturday, I will see a convoy of cars drive by that might possibly include the Pope.

This post's theme word: adiaphorism, "tolerance or indifference, especially in the matters of religion."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Curved road

A curved, sloping road in Prague. Part of my photo-documentation of getting lost. I had no map, but managed to find my way. Eventually.

This post's theme word: pingo, "a mound or hill of soil-covered ice in permafrost, pushed up by the pressure of water seeping in."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prague's candy-colored buildings

The buildings come in candy-colors.

This post's theme word: karst, "an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinks, etc."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Midnight sourdough

There is a sourdough bread recipe that came to me highly recommended. Last week I made the starter, and today the time had come to make the bread, which I started when I came home. It took longer to rise than I (or the recipe) expected, both times, and so here I am, baking bread in the middle of the night. Absolutely not hungry for it, though it does smell nice. I hope that all the sleepers who smell the wafting fragrance of my baking bread are having nice associative dreams.

Baking in the middle of the night is not too bad. It's quiet, and there's a lot of waiting involved, so I'm working my inbox down to zero, completing tasks on my increasingly-urgent "to do" list, and blogging. No one is awake to interrupt me. If it weren't for the fact that this is discombobulating my sleep schedule in ways I don't want to contemplate, I'd like it.

Bonus: waking up to nearly-freshly-baked bread.

[Update: bread done. I set off the smoke detector by burning crumbs on the pan, and now everyone in the building probably hates me.]

This post's theme word: bap, "a soft, round bread roll."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why can't we all just get along? (copyright edition)

I just watched this lecture by Lawrence Lessig.* It inspires me to do good out in the world. Maybe I should have gone to law school? I like to write and I'm killer at logic puzzles; being a lawyer might really agree with me. And I care about all the enormously, outrageously bad things that are happening in the way that we -- a society, a species -- treat ideas.

Why can't we all just get along? Why do court cases take so long? (And how dramatically different would the entire world be if the US had a time-limit on court cases?) Why is it so hard to get people to do the right thing?**

I have trouble believing that there is some Recording Industry Executive sitting up in his mountain retreat, stroking a cat in his lap, and ordering his minions to go forth, and shower the fuel of money upon their army of lawyers. Why is this the way things work? Perhaps it's a gradual accumulation of small negative decisions which leads to this massively evil, broken system. The RIE needs to make a payment on his yacht, so he has an underling sign a new artist, so... and the lawyer can charge $100 more per hour if he works for the RIE's company, and... so on and so forth.

How can I help? Perhaps I can help devise a more realistic model of this profit-corporation-courts-makers model, and then a game-theoretic strategy where it is in the interests of all parties to be nice. Then the next step is to change the entire political/social system to conform to the rules of my game.***

So I can't really help, or at least I feel that I can't really help, and this feeling will cause me to fail to help. sigh

*Via *Emergent Chaos*, who has some interesting thoughts on the term "non-commercial." More on Creative Commons' research project into "non-commercial" via Boingboing.
** I know that it is more complicated than just "do the right thing," because people have different opinions of what "the right thing" is. That just makes me more frustrated.
***Oh, algorithmic mechanism design, how I love you.

This post's theme word: quodlibet, "a subtle argument, especially on a theological or philosophical issue" or "a musical medley: a whimsical combination of popular tunes." As in, "we had a quodlibet about whether the quodlibet was legal."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Some combination of the weather, an uptick in mosquito population, chlorine, and soap/lotion is making my skin itch all over. It feels like ants are crawling across my body. This is the worst my "biggest organ of the body" has ever been. I can't figure out how to make it stop -- my usual fallbacks of udder cream* and lotion aren't working. In fact, all variations of the Lila-controllable factors make no difference.

I think I am allergic to summer.

I scratch myself in my sleep until my skin is raw. I've trimmed my nails down to nothing and sleep in full-coverage pajamas to prevent this, but still. It's not pleasant. I spend my waking time either freezing in my overly air-conditioned office, or focusing on not itching the itches.

G. joked that this is a common symptom of withdrawal. Hah hah. I'm suddenly very sympathetic with addicts. And also extra-convinced not to become one.

Please, may I have winter now?

*As used on real cows! Very soothing.

This post's theme word: formication, "the sensation of insects crawling on the skin."

Dreams III

Last night I had to make a huge pancake, maybe 30 or 40 pounds of batter. And for some dream-logic reason, I had to make it as one single pancake, in a griddle bigger than a bathtub, across two full stovetops. It was a logistical nightmare! Also, how on earth could I flip such a beast?

This dream probably arose from all my cooking planning this week. I'm leading the Hot Yam! in a delicious Indian-themed lunch. Thursday, 12 noon, at the ISC. Be there or be sadly malnourished. Pictures to follow.

This post's theme word: gavage, "the administration of food or drugs by force, typically through a tube leading down the throat to the stomach."

Monday, September 7, 2009

More dreams

Last night I dreamt I was starting school at a new university, and as my "whimsy sport of the year" I was trying out for cheerleading. (Yikes, I know.) The cheerleading tryouts involved a week of putting on the intolerably girly/revealing cheerleading uniforms and then swimming laps for hours. It was weird. And when I went home at the end of the day, an old boyfriend was there and didn't understand when I tried to explain that it's the future now, and I have a new boyfriend. Weird.

Last week, I dreamt I was wading in a creekbed, trying to catch tiny fish with my bare hands. My cousins, parents, and some grandparents were there. We were very hungry, but we couldn't catch any fish because they were too fast. We needed tools, and we had none. A little bit upstream, some restaurant employees had big ceramic tools and were catching fish by the barrel-full.

The night before, I was invited to cook dinner for President Obama, but when he arrived he said he wasn't hungry. He said it really politely, but I could tell that he just didn't like my food.

Although the dreams are interesting, let's hope that this hot weather breaks and I can go back to my usual OCD dreams: travelling through a maze, visualizing air currents around a launching space shuttle, etc.

This post's theme word: stenotopic, "able to adapt to only a small range of environmental conditions."

VK couple's testing -- insecure protocol!

Friday's XKCD comic dealt with the question "How can I tell if my internet relationship is real, or just a chatbot?"

The VK couple's testing page was realized and announced in a follow-up blog post. As I understand it, you and your significant other go to this website. At the top, there's a [presumably unique] test ID. At the bottom, there's a "partner's link." So you send your partner the link, and you both reveal the letters/numbers you see, and you are each reassured of the other's non-bot status.

But here's the problem. If the bot is chatting with "thousands of connections at once," then it could just send your link to one of them and have them read it, passing the answer back to you. This breaks the security of the system, as no matter how you set it up, one person has to send a link to another person. This is a weak point, as a chatbot can use two real people to verify its own "real person" status.

VK couple's testing is interesting, but needs a more secure protocol.

[Update: I browsed the comments of the blog post, and many people pointed out the same vulnerability. One suggested fix for this insecure hole is to have the form require the names of both parties, a "signature" of sorts. This reduces the likelihood of failure, but since names are not unique, the bot could still set up an insecurity by mimicking the name of another real person, who it uses to solve the captcha. Likewise, timestamped tests make it harder, but not impossible, to break the protocol.]

This post's theme word: nugatory, "of little value; trifling" or "having no force; ineffective."

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Tuesday was very quiet -- little traffic, few people on the streets. Or so it seemed to me. The auditory environment as I walked to work made me feel like there were cotton balls or earplugs in my ears. It stayed like that all day; the sun shone down on a muted world. My quiet office. The dampened traffic. Even ambient machinery noises (air ducts, elevators) were oddly quiet (and also just at the cusp-of-hearing, too-loud, like the high-pitched sound that televisions make).

Wednesday, everything was back to normal. Weird. I had independent confirmation, though, that Tuesday was quiet. Eerily so.

This post's theme word: anechoic, "tending to deaden sound."