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Friday, May 24, 2019

Introducing the Schwa, the Upside Down e

There are 44 basic sounds in the English language, represented by 26 letters of the alphabet. Of these, 23 are vowels, which is quite a lot more than in some other European languages, like Spanish, or Italian.

Because of the mismatch between the number of phonemes in English and the number of letters used to represent them, there are often difficulties in trying to spell English words phonetically. This is actually one of the biggest complaints of non-native speakers when they learn English.

To overcome this problem, phonetic symbols were developed to represent the natural sounds of English in a comprehensive scientific way. The International Phonetic Association has created a system that describes the phonemes which can be used not only in English, but any language in the world (even Klingon, or Sindarin!)... (For more on the schwa and other 43 English phonemes, click here.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Consulting Augur: An Introduction to Decentralized Probability Markets

With all the speculation in the cryptosphere, it is liberating to come across a platform that you can use right here, right now. According to Ben Davidow, Augur is the world's first decentralized prediction market (DPN). It aims to unlock the wisdom of the masses by offering incentives for insider knowledge.  Will Donald Trump win a second term as President?... that is a current question on Augur (probability: 40%). Will there be a big earthquake in Tokyo by April 2019? (probability: 2%.) The theory is, people with secret knowledge, for example Japanese seismologists, will try to exploit their private expertise, and tip off the market. Over time, Augur might answer some of our most profound questions, such as When will AI become self-aware? I would wager never.. but with such an open timeframe, there won't ever be a payday. This is the kind of market I would be ought to stay away from, for reasons that I will shortly explain.

Augur has huge potential, not just in the speculated future, but right now, and that is what attracts me to the platform. That said, the system is still a bit buggy, very much Beta, and counterintuitive for newbies. To begin with, bets are called markets (buying and selling the probability of a certain event). If you want to bet against an event, you sell shares in it (even though you don't own any shares to begin with). Once you wrap your mind around this, it gets a little easier, but there are other problems. The UI can shut down, for days at a time. With some markets it can take a lot of time getting trades through. Cancelling such orders costs more gas (though not as much as it costs to enter or exit a market). Congestion on the Ethereum blockchain can freeze you just when you are about to pounce.

In spite of these obstacles, I persist, because I can see real rewards here. Based on my exchanges so far, I am 93.75% certain that I have found the Holy Grail for bear markets such as these. And since my research has revealed that cryptocurrencies languish in bear markets 75% of their lives, Augur offers me the way to monetize this downtime. Who knows, it could help kickstart the Escape from Oz, a project which has been languishing way too long in my personal bear market... (For the full review of the Augur prediction market, click here.)

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Three Australian Dialects, Explained

Being a young nation, Australia is not endowed with the patchwork of regional dialects found in the United States or Britain. Geography does not influence speech in any meaningful way; one regional dialect covers the entire continent. That said, ethnic and social differences do exist. Apart from the ethnic dialects of immigrants, and fading Aboriginal tongues, there are said to be three sociocultural varieties of Australian English: broad (Ocker), general, and cultivated. As Wikipedia records, "the term 'Ocker' is used both as a noun and adjective for an Australian who speaks and acts in an uncouth manner, using a broad Australian accent." Ocker culture is anti-authoritarian, and anti-intellectual. The intonation is flat with a nasal twang, and rhythms are slower than the general dialect. Speech is peppered with unique idioms, frequent swearing, and colourful terminology... (For my complete observations on the dialects of Australia, click here.)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reawakening the Tiger

I have been reading a few blogs about a trauma intervention called Self Regulation Therapy, or SRT for short, which is based on Peter Levine's book, Waking the Tiger. It sounds similar to CBT, but there is one crucial difference: in SRT the focus is on repressed energy in the body, rather than faulty thinking patterns. It is psychosomatic, rather than just cognitive, or psychological. You could call it psychophysiological, which is rather a long word, and difficult to pronounce. Whatever the name, SRT has resonated with me, because I have been disheartened with CBT for quite some time. Session after session, I have met with K.A. at Your Strengths in Wyong, or Dr Goripati, to receive their wisdom, and pretend that they are actually helping me. They keep stressing that the solutions to my panic attacks are cognitive, I just need to change the way I interpret my thoughts, blah blah blah. They say it over and over again, but I can't get it to work for me. They claim the thought comes first, then the fearful reaction, but in my experience it is the other way round. First I feel anxious, and then I cognize, and catastrophize. It has led me to believe that panic is a symptom of the hindbrain, the reptilian brain... the part of our anatomy that we share with the birds, and the beasts. I notice that whenever I disturb the lorikeets which abound in my parents' garden they shriek instinctively, empty their bowels, and then burst into flight. For them it is the equivalent of encountering a wild lion, but they do it every day, and they never appear to suffer from any mental trauma afterwards... (For my complete observations on SRT and how it may help with panic disorder, click here.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Halfway House (One Mile at a Time)

You know the deal: for years I have been quashed, sunk in quicksand. Since late 2011 I have been barricaded here at Breezy, the House on the Lake; like a convict have I been confined, with only the birds (and my parents) for buddies. Stormboy and his pelican, that has been my plight, stranded 'midst the sandstone scarps. Storms have come and gone, planes streaking across the sky, yet I have been steadfast as the stones, and just as sullen. Much as I yearn to passenger one of those planes which hourly pass by overhead, I remain trapped, saddled by my agoraphobia, and a lack of appropriate funds. It doesn't matter much that I have a job now, and savings are accumulating swiftly... Australia is a huge, expensive country, and I will need an awful lot of cash to traverse it. How much is an open question, the intersection of a number of sliding rules. Basically, the longer I wait, the easier it becomes. But I am so tired of waiting, and I would love to kick things forward, anyway I can. At the moment, any move would be a good one, even one which took me just to the top of the driveway. I would be at least one step on my way, halfway out of my hole. And once my momentum had recovered, that one small step could turn into a second, and then into a third...

The Garage.. aka the Halfway House (Australia, 2017)

A few months ago, my Mum decided to convert the garage, which sits on the top of the hill, into a granny flat. Well, it might be just a granny flat for her, but under my stewardship it could inflate into a pod, a Halfway House no less. Within a few months weeks days, I will be relocating up there, and living by myself. Even if it was my Mum's idea, I should not be too suspicious. For better or worse, I will soon have my own place, for the first time in six years! 

An empty space (Australia, 2017)
Granted, it is never going to be as nifty as my Shinozaki digs, with its programmable bath and explosive water pressure, but it promises to be nice, nonetheless. The days of watching my parent's British chatshows and murder mysteries are coming to an end, and that alone is something to savour, whether I end up with a wall-screen TV or not.

Insert window here (Australia, 2017)
My Mum has ordered an air-conditioner, courtesy of Kelvinator, and a kitchen where I can cook spaghetti carbonara (if I ever learn how!) Even as I type the kitchen is coming together, sink and drawers, red tiles on the walls, and a bench where I can remotely teach. I can look down at Breezy at the bottom of the hill, and contemplate how far I have come.

Kitchen in the works, in the Halfway House (Australia, 2017)
It is just a few short steps from there to the top of the hill, but for me at least, it will be an Armstrongian leap. Once I move in I will be able to order Indian food from The Entrance, and watch Viceland in the early hours of the morning. It will be as great a step forward as getting off Work for the Dole, or of getting off the dole itself. It will be like having an Absence every day of the year! And as the old expression goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart grow stronger.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Asakusa Food: 11 of the Most Fabulous Restaurants and Cafes!

When I first arrived in Asakusa, money was too tight to mention. I had overextended myself in Sumatra and Singapore on the way to Japan, and I was also having trouble accessing my credit. Finding work in Tokyo hadn't proved too difficult, but getting paid was. Fortunately, I was staying in one of the cheapest places in Asakusa, with a master of austerity. The proprietor pointed out plenty of local bargains, for example the infamous beef bowl round the corner (¥280 for the regular size). There was an Ethiopian guy at the ryokan who was hardbudgeting, eating every meal at Yoshinoya, or occasionally picking up a cutpriced bento box. I might have been short of cash, but I wasn't quite that desperate yet... I supplemented my diet with Mos Burger and sushi... (For the full review of the Asakusa dining scene, click here.)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Cracking the Code

For many years, JavaScript evaded me. I wanted it for my website, I could see its potential for my life, but I just couldn't wrap my head around how it worked. It was a fruit I couldn't reach, a nut that wouldn't crack. I made a promising debut in the biz, you might say: I grew up with a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and learned BASIC at an early age. I even programmed a video game in Year 10 Computer Studies, a racing car simulation with sprite and treacherous track. That was in the age of the Commodore 64. When the Internet arrived, half a decade later, I fancied that it could provide the platform for a new kind of literature, an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style of fiction. I started to write a novel which I hoped would be like the magic book from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: a device that was more storyteller than mere story, bespoke but bewilderingly cuttingedge, an intuitive, intelligent machine. HTML was cool and easy to pick up, but it wasn't interactive enough for my goal. I soon realized that only JavaScript could deliver the desired dynamism. Unfortunately, computer languages had evolved since my TA forays, and this new lingo looked a hell lot more complicated than BASIC. What is it with these functions, attributes and elements? I remember asking myself, frustrated; what does object-oriented mean? Looking back, I can see that I had succumbed to the same misconception that scuppered my efforts to learn German in Year 11: I did not appreciate that every language has its own grammar. As language leaners know, grammar is the hardest part. Master the grammar, and the rest will follow.  

This breakthrough was 20 years in the making, but something miraculous has happened in the past few months... I suddenly get JavaScript! Of course, these days I no longer write fiction... I suppose you could say that fiction writes me. Life is a code (Baudrillard), a narrative (Lacan), and JavaScript is the interface which enables me to read this code, one line at a time...

We all have algorithms running in our minds at any time, unfathomable routines, an endless chain of signification (to put it in Lacanese). Functions waiting to be triggered, like samskaras lurking in the murk. The first step is to codify what it already there, conscious and unconscious, constructive and destructive. Then you can set about reprogramming yourself. Currently JavaScript can predict how far I can drive from home, estimate my tax due  (var taxdue = taxableIncome * .19;), and even tell me when it is time to move out. Piece by piece, my personal assistant is taking shape. The Grand Algorithm is here!

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