Time magazine is doing a cover story on autism: The Secrets of Autism. Some numbers from the article… “Not long ago, autism was assumed to be comparatively rare, affecting as few as 1 in 10,000 people. The latest studies, however, suggest that as many as 1 in 150 kids age 10 and younger may be affected by autism or a related disorder — a total of nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. alone.” My son is one of those children; I wrote about him on this site last year. Autism is so baffling, so difficult to treat, that I am at a loss sometimes even to talk about it. But I want you to know this fact about me — if the only thing we can do is talk about it, then I will talk. Someday we’ll do more.
Botox parties represent an amazing amount of cultural convergence. Botox, or botulism toxin, is generally bad news. It kills by paralyzing important muscles, like the diaphragm and the heart. But a teeny-tiny squirt injected just above your eyebrows can wipe out muscle-induced wrinkles by paralyzing the associated squinty muscles. A little creepy, but you can sure see the motivation. Here comes the convergence: socialites in LA are throwing tupperware-like botox parties. I read about it in the Minneapolis paper this week, which means it’s headed to a suburb near you sooner than you think. The edgy-artsy set has been doing piercing parties (navels, nipples, netherbits) for some time, and heroin chic has been waxing and waning. Now anyone with wrinkles, cash, and a few friends can have fabulous tastefully-catered doctor-chaperoned fun with needles. It’s safe, cosmetically enhancing, and slightly wicked with its dark-n-spicy overtones of drugs, piercing, and sex. What’s not to like? Look for body modification parties to go mainstream.
While I was at CHI, I finished Word Freak, subtitled Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. It’s a good read, filled with an obligingly weird cast of characters. Having seen it recommened on peterme.com, I bought it for my wife, our reigning in-house champion (I knew I was really getting it for myself). There is something deeply appealing about a bruising, trash-talking pro tour for Scrabble heads. The author, Stefan Fatsis, goes native and eventually becomes an expert player himself as he tells his story. I like the part where he’s talking to the former world champ, Joel Sherman, who’s complaining that Scrabble should be more popular than chess, because it’s more accessible. Millions of people could watch, he whines. “Watch what?” replies Fatsis, “watch you play TREHALA, and then run for their dictionaries?”
Come to think of it, web coverage, with appropriate links to reference sources, might just make that dream come true. I’d watch. By the way, Joel Sherman has the very first review posted for the book on the Amazon page. As long as you’re at it, cruise over to the 2001 World Championship site and see what all the fuss is about (or not, depending on how you look at it). Here’s the winning grid. Ever heard of a VOZHD?
The Google API is showing up everywhere, even in MATLAB. Check out Matt Simoneau’s new Google Toolbox and use Google’s SOAP interface to pull data into MATLAB as a structure.
So all the kids are talking about Google Answers, the new service from Google that lets people post questions and that get answered for a fee. I’ll be interested to see if they can make it work… they’re amazingly ambitious and do a good job with most of the stuff they tackle. Anyway, I was surprised at how many people were willing to pay money for things that take 30 seconds to find on the web. For instance, what is the unit of measure for pain? Somebody offered to pay you $10 to figure that out. Ten dollars! Go to Google and type “unit measure pain” and see how long it takes you to answer that one. Okay, I’ll tell you: a dol is the unit of pain. The great irony to me is that people who post questions like this have already managed to find the Google web site. They just couldn’t go the last step and type in a search query. I want to know if ten dollars really changed hands on this one.
Here’s a fun article at Salon about people who write game modifications, or mods: Triumph of the mod. Once again, the gaming industry is leading the way for the rest of us. Simulation, real-time graphics, UI design, and now software process and practice. The incredible game-playing and game-building rush makes people devote insane amounts of energy to games. As one modder says, in reference to the pros, We’re better than those guys, and we’re just a group of dudes! All true. I suppose if you’re going to lose large chunks of your life to a computer game, you’re better off writing code than just playing. At least you end up with something to show for it.
The Soda Constructor was a web hit ages ago; I thought sure it would be an overnight fad. But this thing has legs (literally). The zoo page lets people add their own models, and while some of the results are silly, others are fascinating. It’s very clear the simple model they put together captures a deep biological buglike essence. This has to be how insects work. Go look.
Wanna get the lowdown on computer game addiction? Don’t read the dry reportage on CNET. Visit the front lines and read the discussion at the gaming site ShackNews. I thought all the gameboys were going to slam the psychologist loser-heads who would dare suggest that games are addictive. But some of the posts were refreshingly confessional, as with this quote: I remember sitting at my computer playing Quake, having to piss so bad my legs were shaking, having not showered for a couple days, and refusing my wife’s sexual advances, then dreaming of Quake at night.
See the John Lynch Artist Portfolio at absolutearts.com. John, a painter from Berkeley, California, was originally featured here at our very Star Chamber web site, where you can still see his gallery. Congrats, John, on the new site! Actually, I’m a little puzzled by the fact that they seem to be offering for sale a painting that I own (Blue Door). I hope nobody’s going to sneak into our house and repossess it.