From the archives: November 2008

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Wednesday Book Club: Wonder Boys

Wednesday, 26 November 2008 — 11:08pm | Book Club, Literature, Michael Chabon

This week’s selection: Wonder Boys (1995) by Michael Chabon.

In brief: Chabon’s sophomore novel is the literary equivalent of a warm bath. A comic contemporary adventure about the existential crises of novelists, it fits snugly in the naturalistic mould of modern literature about the here and now, albeit with a few extra helpings of wackiness. It meanders here and there, and its lightheartedness assures you that none of the characters are ever in much danger; however, Chabon’s lucid style keeps the story at least as fluid as his recent dips into genre, if not more so. It’s not high-concept, but it’s fun.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on Wonder Boys, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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A habit of last-minute implosion

Monday, 24 November 2008 — 12:36am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

I competed in another Edmonton local tournament this weekend. My 5-1 (+381) record in the top division is much too flattering; more than one victory capitalized on my advantage over my opponents in both word knowledge and the ability to see bingos. For all the challenges I won, I allowed more phonies than I am willing to admit, and there is no question that my defensive play wouldn’t have held up very long against the level of competition I usually face.

Nevertheless, I was relieved, if not entirely satisfied, to be undefeated after the first five games. I might even have begun to believe, much to my own detriment, that neither studying nor practicing since the Calgary tournament in mid-October wasn’t such a boneheaded idea after all. Sitting in first place with 5-0 (+479) ahead of the nearest challenger’s 4-1 (+293), I had first place in the bag as long as I didn’t lose by over 93 points.

Naturally, I made just about every possible mistake—the usual culprits, too: mixing up my 3-to-4 hooks (which I should know cold by now), not giving myself enough time to work out the endgame math, trying to play my way out of hopeless racks instead of exchanging—and lost by 98.

I wonder, sometimes, if I have the mental fortitude to play this bloody game. It’s been one long and steady decline since New Orleans in 2004. (2004!)

Not much happening on the bingo front, either: SATIRES, HERNIAE, TESSERa, ERASUrE, OVERlAIN, SARSNET, FACADES, VERiTAS, STRiATe.

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A LIFE in pictures

Thursday, 20 November 2008 — 1:06pm

Like everyone else on the Internet, I’ve been perusing Google’s archive of images from LIFE. The photograph above is of Winston Churchill visiting the troops in 1939. Churchill’s name is one of the most fruitful search terms I’ve tried thus far: there’s Churchill savouring a cigar at Chartwell, Churchill and Nixon, a gallery’s worth of the Grand Alliance at Yalta, posters for the 1945 General Election, and more.

A handful of other finds:

The collection isn’t limited to photographs: you can find portraits, illustrations, magazine covers, and early daguerrotypes. At some point, though, you should get back to work.

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Nick’s Café, typealyzed

Thursday, 20 November 2008 — 10:57am | Computing

So I just punched my blog into Typealyzer, a text-analysis tool that classifies its input in accordance with the 16 psychometric pigeonholes of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Holy crap is it good:

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

INTJ – The Scientists

The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it – often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be pshysically hesitant to try new things. [Is that psychically or physically, or both? — ed.]

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communcating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use conrete examples. Since they are extremly good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

Typealyzer is still in beta, but you can try it out on your favourite online publications. Keep in mind that it is an analysis of the text, not the person—or to look at it another way, an inferred reading of the writer’s persona through the text. For bonus points, try it on group blogs.

I wish the wacky minds behind it would disclose more about their algorithms beyond the layman’s summary in the FAQ. I’d like to know how much tuning they did, if any, to categorize the texts that they used as a statistical corpus. I’m also curious about what specific factors, if any, they tried to model and weight; syntactic structure is a no-brainer, but I wonder if they considered the use of personal pronouns, sentence/word lengths (akin to the Flesch-Kincaid formula but deployed to different ends), abstractness of vocabulary, or any number of other factors that are often revealing of style—especially when you consider the metrics displayed on the brain-activity map the program outputs along with the Myers-Briggs type.

I think it would be conceptually impossible to produce an absolute, generative parametrization of style (for reasons I won’t get into here), but a statistical analysis like this one—and the strength of its correlation to our intuitive estimations—could go a long way towards a better formal understanding of that elusive quality we call “writer’s voice”. My computational linguistics nerves are all atingle.

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Wednesday Book Club: The Gunslinger

Wednesday, 19 November 2008 — 12:04am | Book Club, Literature

This week’s selection: The Gunslinger (1982) by Stephen King.

In brief: The first volume of The Dark Tower is an ambiguous gothic western laced with pretensions of genre-crossing, multiverse-spanning fantasy. The concept is promising, but the execution is an incoherent mess. If the rest of the seven-book series is anything like this plodding trudge through a sandbox of unrelated metaphors, consider me completely incurious.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Gunslinger, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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A Link to the Past (older posts) »