Tuesday, August 2, 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really didn't know what to expect, and was surprised how much I liked this little book. It paints a real picture of the time and the role of one pretty unusual man, Bashō, in evolving this form of poetry.
The book has a way of connecting the past to the present. Here the author is talking about "renga" writing in 17th century Japan:
"As with Dungeons and Dragons a few years ago, or Worlds of War and Second Life today, linked verse brought its practitioners into an interactive community that was continually and rapidly evolving. Hovering somewhere between art-form and competition, renga writing provided both a party and a playing field in which intelligence, knowledge, and ingenuity might be put to the test. Add to this mix some of street rap’s boundary-pushing language, and, finally, the video images of You-Tube. Now imagine the possibility that a “high art” form of very brief films might emerge from You-Tube, primarily out of one extraordinarily talented young film-maker’s creations and influence. In the realm of 17th-century Japanese haiku, that person was Basho."
There are some very interesting renditions of concepts hard to capture in the English language, such as "sabi". And the poetry itself, then, takes on a whole different feeling. Some of it is quite funny:
while there are blossoms
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Computing the Quick & Dirty Index (QDI)
Here’s how to get a semi objective estimate of the difficulty of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle based on the first 50 on line solvers (So, this can be done within 10- 90 minutes of the puzzle posting):
On the Applet, Select: “First” (Not Fastest)
At the 5 min mark, note Number of People who have completed the puzzle= N1
At the 10 min mark, note Number of People who have completed the puzzle= N2
At the 15 min mark, note Number of People who have completed the puzzle= N3
Note the Time it takes 50 people to complete the puzzle: T
QDI= T/ N1+ N2+N3
Example: A Tuesday Puzzle
At 5 min: 12 people have done it- N1= 12
At 10 min: 28 people have done it- N2=28*
At 15 min: 40 people have done it- N3=40*
It took 22 minutes for 50 people to complete the puzzle, so T= 22
QDI: 22/12+28+40 = 22/80
*NB: N2 and N3 are the actual numbers of completers as you read them from the list at each point, NOT the incremental number since the last reading!
Predicting Difficulty with the Quick & Dirty Index (QDI)
E= Easy EM= Easy-Medium M=Medium MC= Medium- Challenging C= Challenging
Monday** E: <0.15 EM:0.15-0.2 M:0.2-0.3 MC: 0.3-0.4 C: >0.4
Tuesday: E: <0.10 EM:0.1-0.14 M:0.15-0.2 MC: 0.2-0.3 C: >0.3
Wednesday E: <0.20 EM:0.2-0.25 M:0.25-0.3 MC: 0.3-0.39 C: >0.4
Thursday E: <0.40 EM:0.4-0.6 M:0.6-0.9 MC: 0.9-1.4 C: >1.4
Friday E: <1.0 EM:1.0-2.5 M:2.5-3.5 MC: 3.5-7.0 C: >7.0
Saturday E: <4.0 EM:4.0-5.0 M:5.0 -7.0 MC: 7.0-11.0 C: >11.0
** Since Monday posts at 6pm on Sundays, the scores are not comparable to the rest of the week (it looks like a Wednesday). Fewer people get on line to solve it at dinnertime (or earlier) relative to later in the evening. Also, in truth, the best index for Monday is how many people finish in the first 5 minutes. A scale for this is in progress...
Validating the Quick & Dirty Index (QDI)
QDI is being validating with the information posted by sanfranman based on computing the median time for the entire population of solvers and the 100 fastest solvers on any given day. Agreement rate is 80-90%, depending on how you squint at it.
Big CAVEAT re the Quick & Dirty Index (QDI)
If something major is going on in the world during that first 15 min-1 hour after posting, then the QDI is not valid (Earthquake, World Series, Oscars, etc.)
Similarly, the time of day that the puzzle posts is relevant. Since Mondays post at 6pm Eastern on a Sunday evening, fewer people solve during the first few minutes than on Tuesday at 10pm. So, comparisons to assess difficulty are run within a given day of the week, not between days.
Why have a Quick & Dirty Index (QDI)?
My original trigger was a comment someone made to sanfranman on Rex’s blog, saying that his data are not valid because anyone can cheat and do the puzzle on line after having solved it off line, artificially skewing the data. I responded by saying that while this is true (and some numbers that get posted seem unbelievable) the data appear generally consistent with subjective experience, day of the week, and Rex's ratings, suggesting that the percentage of people who cheat is minimal.
I also said that a good way to gauge difficulty while minimizing the impact of cheating is to look very early on after the puzzle has posted. If someone had completed the puzzle at 2.5 min. after it posted the odds of that person having cheated are essentially non-existent- That time would be higher on Saturdays, but again, if someone posted at 8 min. it would be unlikely that they had cheated.
That led me to my efforts to monitor early postings. While looking at the number of completers at 5 minutes after 10 pm is informative on a Tuesday, it is useless on a Saturday, since hardly anyone ever finishes at 5 minutes. Hence the sampling at 5,10,15 minutes, and then having a constant index of how long it takes the first 50 to complete. The latter number is quite informative but it misses some of the dynamics of whether a lot of that got accomplished rapidly or slowly. The QDI is a poor man’s way of getting a sense of rate.
Mostly, it's a geeky way to keep amused until real data are in :)
Friday, November 20, 2009
I truly did not expect the response I got. By the time I boarded the next plane, Rex himself had sent me a personal e-mail expressing his support and several of the Rexites had included words of support in their posts. When I arrived in Aleppo, I was no longer able to see the blog-- as far as I can tell, all of Blogger is blocked in Syria. But several friends from Rex' blog communicated with me by e-mail with good wishes. And the wonderful Andrea wrote to tell me that there were many comments on the blog expressing support!
During the ensuing week, as my dad lay comatose, I struggled to no avail with the medical system, trying to explain that my father had a living will in the US, and had requested to be allowed to die naturally should he be hit by a catastrophic illness. This was deemed inhumane... and with several tubes inserted into him, my father eventually awoke, paralyzed and unable to communicate except for an occasional word. And in spite of some motor improvements, he remained in this highly debilitated state two weeks later, as I embarked on my journey home to the US.
As I fight sadness, deep anxiety about his suffering and an overwhelming sense of helplessness about the entire experience, there are two forces that give me solace-- abundant evidence of the great love and respect in which my father is held, and the amazing support I received, not only from family and old friends, but from my newly found community of friends from Rexville!
Throughout my absence, several members of that community commented on Rex's blog, left a comment on my blog, sent me e-mails or sent a note via Andrea. I will not name names, lest I forget someone, but I am so immeasurably grateful to everyone! And Andrea-- what a first class human being she is! She wrote repeatedly and managed to be supportive and entertaining at once-- in the midst of my mess, she made me smile and even laugh on several occasions!
One evening, during a gathering with various cousins and other relatives in Aleppo, I tried to explain about Rexville. My relatives were amazed. The younger ones are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, so at least they understood the idea of a web-based community, but the older ones were greatly confused! " You mean you've never met these people in person?"... Well, no, except for Andrea... "Oh, so she's your friend and introduced you to these people who are her friends?"... Well, she is my friend, but I met her through the blog as well... "And you mostly discuss the puzzle? What do you find to discuss?"... You'd be surprised!... "And they're all just being nice to you, just to be nice?"... Well, yes, they're a wonderful bunch of people!... "Americans are amazing!"
I never take for granted the community that Rex has created-- I find it fascinating. But my efforts at depicting it to my relatives highlighted for me what a truly remarkable phenomenon it represents. It was hard to explain how, starting from the shared experience of solving a given puzzle and then reading Rex's thoughts about it, emerged a mesh of interconnections, an intellectual and social bond amongst virtual strangers. A bond that seems so ephemeral and yet managed to reach me half way around the world, and lift my spirits in one of my darkest moments.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
But, sadly, there is trouble in Rexville ...
Earlier this week (Tuesday), a past member of this community, Evil Doug (ED), posted explaining why he had chosen to stay away from the blog following a public conflict with Rex. Most of us of course knew the history, but ED's reappearance created a stir and revealed some underlying tensions. That night, I was taking the red eye from SF to NY and found myself thinking about this forum all the way across country. For me, the contrast was particularly striking — negative emotions were swirling on the blog. Yet, the night before, I had finally met, in the flesh, my first Rexville denizen ---Andrea Carla Michaels no less! It was an amazing experience and I felt incredibly grateful to Rex for it. When I was finally able to post on Wednesday, I chose to focus on this more positive experience and not to comment on the ED situation, hoping that we could get past it.
But we don’t seem to be able to… I’m sure there are a lot of individuals reasons—those who feel that ED was wrongly accused by Rex of being a racist; those who disagree with Rex’s style of showing displeasure; those who have themselves been rebuffed by Rex, or those who fear they might be some day and are steeling themselves against it. I myself stayed away for a while after the conflict happened-- I needed to evaluate how I really felt about Rexville. I came to realize that my main reason for being unhappy was a sense of disappointment-- in a perfect world, Rexville should be a community that tolerates dissent and handles it with respect and civility. Implicit in that expectation is that our founder, Rex, would set that tone.
But then I realized that I was projecting something onto this place, and onto Rex, that was of my own making. Indeed, what I was asking from him may be close to impossible. The secret ingredient that turned us into a real community is that Rex is truthful about what he thinks and what he FEELS. We’re not only seeing his intellectual side. This is what invites the greater engagement on our part, the sharing of knowledge but also the broader sharing of our own feelings and emotions. And as a real person, Rex has emotions-- “the troublemakers” as the Dalai Lama calls them. Showing emotions in public is a risky business, which is why so many ancient cultures put a lot of energy into controlling their expression. Emotions are contagious—while positive ones are fun to witness, negative emotions are highly unpleasant to watch, and there is an evolutionary adaptive value in these social reactions. Yet, we really don’t know each other as humans until we witness each other’s emotional reactions, and incorporate that information into the fabric of our relationships. Rex, in choosing to be truthful about both his ideas and his gut reactions, has simultaneously achieved both ends-- created the remarkable, vibrant and authentic world which we inhabit, and left himself exposed. That takes more courage, more faith in people's ability to understand and accept, more inner strength than I think I could muster.
As I found myself missing everyone and yearning to return, I needed to remind myself of a couple of points. First, that conflicts are dyadic. In the case of the interaction with Evil Doug, there was a long history between him and Rex. I would guess that each side feels the other guy started it. But in the end, there are cases where people simply don’t get along. As important to me is that I’ve seen both ED and Rex try to make things work for a while, and I respected them a great deal for it. But the situation was always, to use a scientific term, metastable --“a state of equilibrium susceptible to fall into lower-energy states with only slight interaction”—as it did when the final conflict emerged.
Second, and this echoes the opinion expressed by Orange: this is a truly unusual circumstance. Humans know one good way to deal with insurmountable differences—they stay away from each other if at all possible. Regardless of who is right or wrong, the opportunity for conflict diminishes and emotions fade. But what is the protocol here? The truth is, Rexville represents the kind of hybrid that only the internet can generate, one never before encountered by humans-- simultaneously personal territory and public forum…
As is the case with all human emotions, the answers are not easy because emotional perspective is, by definition, personal and constricted. But this mini journey clarified something for me: This forum is unique and its very essence is defined by Rex-- his thoughts and his feelings. If, for some reason, I am unable to deal with that totality, I should simply walk away. Rex of course can choose to take the feedback he is hearing and do with it as he wishes. As for me, I am here with more realistic expectations, coupled with a greater appreciation of what what Rex does to make this happen and keep it alive.
Never for a moment do I underestimate how much heart Rex puts into creating this place for himself and for all of us-- and therefore how much integrity and courage it takes to let the discussion about it, and him, play out. If ever I saw evidence of a principled belief in free speech, this would be it. And in this way, Rexville even surpasses the ideal intellectual cafe of my youth.
Friday, August 22, 2008
I N T E R L E A G U E P L A Y
A S A N A L T E R N A T I V E
T H R O N E S X E N R I C O S
A U E R X R A K E S X M A T H
S T R A G G L E D X T E N T A
X X X S L E E P X M A S T E D
R I C X U N S T R I P X E S E
E M O T E S X M E S I O X X X
P A L O S X M A D E A N E S T
I G O R X C E N T R X E N T O
P I S T O L A X R A D I O E R
I N S U R A N C E B R O K E R
N E A R E S T R E L A T I V E
G R E E N H O U S E G A S E S
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Only half his friends called him crazy
The rest thought he was, may be, lazy
Wanting to figure out human traits
By watching flies run or hide, love or hate.
His students created hermaphroditic flies,
And peered into the depths of their complex eyes.
They gently mutated them into a fate
Of chronic sluggishness or hyperkinetic state.
When Proxmire nominated him for a fleece of gold,
He called him “Rutabaga” and continued being bold.
But when the Grubers undertook their neuroscience venture,
He accepted with pride and recounted his adventures
And told of a menagerie of creatures flawed,
The tardy, the stuck, the dunce, the easily awed…
And now on a summer day, when I swat a fly,
I am sure to think: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.
Friday, July 11, 2008
The dish itself has no sugar, but syrup is added at the end. So, it’s possible to control the degree of sweetness as a function of taste.
Kanafeh can be reheated, although there are rarely any leftovers.
Kanafeh, sometimes also called Katayif or Kadaif or Kataifi (etc) is also known as “Shredded Fillo” or “Shredded Wheat” Pastry. The very thin, vermicelli-like threads are usually woven into skeins. When kept sealed they are soft and can be shredded readily by hand.
Kanafeh is sold in Middle Eastern or Greek stores (e.g. Sahadi Fine Foods in Brooklyn_ or can be ordered on line (e.g, http://sahadifinefoods.com/ or http://parthenonfood.com/ or http://www.minosimports.com/filo%20dough.html). These boxes can be stored in the freezer.
Cheese: Optimally one needs Nabulsi Cheese (from Nablus, a city in the West Bank). The dessert is often called Nabulsieh or “from Nablus” as both the cheese and the dough were perfected there. Nabulsi cheese is a white sheep or goat milk cheese, with a very mild yet slightly tangy taste and it melts beautifully and becomes elastic. The closest commonly available cheese in the US is Halloumi cheese, but that is too salty and the texture is not quite right. So, absent the Nabusi cheese, one can use Ricota, which does not duplicate the texture but approximates the taste.
• ½ lb Kanafeh
• 15 oz whole milk Ricota Cheese
• 1.5 stick of unsalted butter, melted
Shred Kanafeh by hand to pull apart all the threads. The idea is to take a tight skein and turn it in to a light fluffy pile. Quick, fun and therapeutic.
Line a pie pan, with ½ the shredded dough. Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the butter. Add Ricotta Cheese and smooth into a layer. Add second half of the dough on top and add remainder of the butter.
Bake at 350 for ~40 min. The dough will turn golden brown. Add syrup and serve hot.
• 2 cups of sugar
• 1 cup of water
Boil in saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Then decrease temperature and continue cooking for ~ 4-5 minutes until it thickens. Let it cool. Can add a few drops of rose water.