Space oddity

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

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Flirting 101

I don’t know much about flirting, but The Social Issues Research Centre commissioned a report on the subject. Woo-hoo, SIRC! That is my kinda research! (Oh, wait, I drool over research of many kinds… but I digress.)

The tone of the article is odd, half sociological and half DIY. Here’s one piece of welcome advice:

If you are female, the odds are that you are more attractive than you think…

followed by some even more welcome advice:

…so try flirting with some better-looking men.

Teacher’s pet becomes Schrödinger’s cat

This term, I am taking my first class with Legendarily Scary Professor™. So far, she has handed back each of my papers littered with remarks like articulate and good clarity, very thorough. Phew!

Yesterday, we had the midterm, and at the end I walked out with absolutely no notion how I did.

I now find myself in a state of indeterminacy. The prof has not graded them yet, and her faith that I am still the same solid A student is touching. I, however, am breathlessly waiting for her to open the box and report the dead cat.

My brain, how it works, and why you shouldn’t eat it

Out of nowhere, a prof asked, “So, who knows what kuru is?” Mind you, this has nothing to do with our classwork; he just likes to make conversation Jeopardy-style.

I happen to have read an article about kuru several years ago, so I was able to shoot back (or, more honestly, stutter back) “Um, the disease brain-eaters get, right? Human brains? With the, the, the prions?” (I am less than eloquent on the spot, but all the key points are there, my friends.)

But who, having read this once in her life, wouldn’t remember it? Brain-eating cannibals, people.

Let an umbrella be your umbrella

Today the skies (or clouds or atmosphere: I’m not too hot on this weather stuff) are pouring rain, or as our weatherman likes to say, “TROPICAL DOWNPOUR!” Who thought of the umbrella, anyway? Brilliant in its way, but curiously imperfect, if only insofar as I now have a stream of rainwater that had collected in the folds of my semi-furled brolly guttering down my leg and collecting in my naughty-Dutch-girl shoe. Excuse me a moment while I drain my shoe.

Ah, that’s better. Also, here you go.

I, robot

I was sitting in the park yesterday evening, silently giggling at the two little boys frolicking in the clearing before my bench, and rereading Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate:

In the same way, for children to learn about culture they cannot be mere video cameras that passively record sights and sounds. They must be equipped with mental machinery that can extract the beliefs and values underlying other people’s behavior so that the children themselves can become competent members of the culture.

Even the humblest act of learning — imitating the behavior of a parent or a peer — is more complicated than it looks.

A few sentences later, Pinker quotes AI researcher Rodney Brooks on the difficulties of imitative learning. Brooks gives the example of a robot observing a person struggling to open a jar:

The robot then attempts to imitate the action. [But] which parts of the action to be imitated are important (such as turning the lid counter-clockwise) and which aren’t (such as wiping your brow)? How can the robot abstract the knowledge gained from this experience and apply it to a similar situation?

As I read this passage, the two boys abruptly dropped their game of “Blast-off to Outer Space!” and switched to the ever-popular game of “Like Daddy Does.” The younger of the boys picked up a spindly fallen branch and announced “I’m gonna break it like Daddy does!”

The bigger boy immediately followed suit, falling upon an equally reedlike stick. “Me, me, I’m gonna break it like Daddy does!” Their exaggeratedly tortured expressions were caricatures of exertion as each grasped a tiny stick by the ends, pressed the center to a knee, and, muttering cries of exertion and frustration, happily failed to effect a snap.