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So as part of phonetics class we watched a documentary about deafness (no, I'm not entirely sure why this was in phonetics class either) called Sound and Fury, following two related families with deaf children and their discussions about whether or not to get the kids cochlear implants.

Anyway, in the end the deaf parents with the deaf 5 year old girl decided not to get her a cochlear implant, while the deaf 11 month old with the hearing parents from deaf families decided to get him the implant. I can't help feeling that in the end all the justifications and reasoning given came down to wanting their kid to be like them. And I've moved from thinking that it's their kid and they have the right to raise them in their culture to thinking that raising them in your culture is fine but they should probably also get the implants.

Reasons given by the deaf parents (and other people in the deaf community) for not wanting the implant:
* it's unnatural, it will make them like a robot
* it's their body, they should be allowed to make the decision themselves when they're older (except that if you don't learn how to speak relatively young it's basically impossible to learn to speak fluently later)
* you must be ashamed of Deaf culture/you think we're not good enough/the child won't have a Deaf identity/I'm deaf and I did just fine
* it doesn't even work that well (I think the figure was 20% getting good usage out of it, and the kid has to spend a lot of time in hearing environments or they'll fall back on signing too much)
* Deaf culture will go extinct if everyone gets implants

Reasons given by the hearing parents and grandparents for wanting the implant
* The kids should not have to grow up isolated and made fun of or stared at for being deaf
* It's a disability, if your whole family was crippled you would jump on a treatment that fixed it. Why should deafness be any different?
* It will give them access to both the Deaf and hearing world/it will open up more potential choices
* A lot of deaf kids get terrible education; the average reading level of a deaf highschooler is 4th grade (might be partly cos deaf kids are effectively forced to learn a foreign language to read, since sign languages have wildly different syntax and morphology to English, and the phonology is completely untranslateable)

The family who opted to keep their kid implant-free ended up moving to Maryland to live in a much bigger deaf community next to an awesome school for the deaf, where random people in the supermarket and restaurants would often know a bit of sign. One thing the father said as this move was in process really stood out for me as hammering home just how much identity politics plays a role in deafness in the US: "[at our old home] I felt caged in, like they wanted to jail me. Here, I feel comfortable and safe". The grandmother accuses them of trying to escape and of trying to put up a fence, both of which felt apt to me. If the hearing world wants to cage deaf people, then by moving into a deaf community the family is basically just choosing a big enough cage for themselves that they can pretend the walls don't exist.

Also of interest: some of the deaf community did have managerial jobs in hearing workplaces. They relied heavily on email, writing and interpreters, but they got by okay. And the hearing mother, whose parents are both deaf, had a crappy time growing up - she had to get years of speech therapy because her deaf family couldn't provide a speech environment for her to learn from, she had to put up with the other kids making fun of her parents and deaf people constantly, and she spend a lot of her time playing interpreter for her parents.
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Review of Twilight:
Much better than expected
but wouldn't endorse
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Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter

I acquired this book seven or eight years ago, when the awesome lecturer in my first-year compsci course kept telling us what a great book it was and how we should all read it. I then spent the next six  or seven years getting a couple of chapters in before getting distracted (sometimes by the exercises he gives the reader, more often by the constant references to fugues, which give me the urge to go listen to some), then coming back to the book later and deciding that I couldn't remember the first chapters well enough and needed to start over. I finally got through a large chunk of it during the summer. I've now stalled again but this time I don't expect to go back to it anytime soon.

The book is about the nature of mind and computation, with side-excursions into language, music, and lots of other areas. Each chapter is preceded by a Dialogue between Hofstadter's characters of Achilles and the Tortoise (and later some others), with the topic of the Dialogue foreshadowing the material covered in the chapter.  Hofstadter writes like a philosopher, albeit a more interesting one than most. For those who've had the good fortune to never have read a philosophy paper, I mean that his writing style is long-winded and meandering. I get the impression that he's way too impressed with his own writing cleverness for his own good, and would have benefited from an editor making him cut the length in half. Even some of the Dialogues suffer from this.

As for the content... I would have loved this book if I'd read it when I first got it, seven or eight years ago. He does a good job of illustrating Goedel incompleteness, recursion, and most of the other topics in the mind and computation cluster. But I've yet to read anything in GEB which is new to me, because my interest in those topics means that I spent the last several years learning them in more digestable chunks. Overall, my recommendation for this book would be to skim the Dialogues, and then only read the accompanying chapter if the Dialogue shows you some really interesting ideas that you've never encountered before.

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

These are the first two books of what Rothfuss promises will only be a trilogy. The fantasy series starts in the present day, where Kote the innkeeper lives in a quiet village, while a war goes on somewhere far away and there are rumours of monsters and strange creatures being seen nearby. A chronicler comes in, forces Kote to admit his identity as the legendary Kvothe, and gets him to tell his story, so that it can be recorded for posterity. The bulk of each book then follows Kvothe's retelling of his past, with occasional interludes to the present day. Kvothe, we learn, is both extremely clever and very dextrous. He learns music, acting, and general social skills from his extended family, the Edema Ruh (read: Gypsy equivalents, but without the criminal aspects), magic from the University he eventually ends up in, swordwork from a warrior race, and lovemaking from one of the Fae. Lest you think that Kvothe is completely without flaw, he's also arrogant, proud, impatient, and sometimes far too clever for his own good. He also spends a ridiculous amount of time mooning over his ladylove, a mysterious woman who seems to be calling herself a different name every time he sees her and alternately welcomes him and pushes him away.

Patrick Rothfuss is an amazing writer, tying together the present-day narrative, the retelling in the past, and lots of stories, songs, and legends recounted by various characters at various points. Unlike Lord of the Rings, where the poems and songs were distractions from the narrative, nothing that Rothfuss writes is completely irrelevant; but he also manages to avoid Checkhov's Gun syndrome since he doesn't go out of his way to point at any of the foreshadowing but instead lets it do double-duty as world-building background and possible foreshadowing. The story is character-driven, with a large cast of memorable characters, some of whom are awesome and some of whom I wanted to punch in the face for being so vivdly annoying. There's also more plot than you can shake a stick at, but it sneaks up on you rather than being given centre stage - you feel like you're reading about the day to day life of Kvothe the student, and suddenly you realise that if you connect all these background points, there's lots of stuff going on or potentially going on in all the different time periods that he describes.

I would recommend the books to everyone who likes fiction. I got through each book in a couple of days, despite their being large enough to clobber a mugger with.
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Session Six: Knowledge Revolution

Bill Gates was the guest curator for this session. By this point everyone at Bondi was also a bit more awake - after each talk, people actually applauded, as opposed to the earlier talks where we sat there quietly and still half-asleep the whole time.
more talks )
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Yesterday I woke up at 4am to go to the TEDxSydney live broadcast event of TEDxLong Beach. For anyone who's been living under a rock, TED is an organisation whose tagline is "ideas worth spreading". Their basic mode of operation is to get people who have done interesting things or have interesting ideas, and get them to explain it to an audience with the aid of a slideshow. And then they upload high quality recordings of those talks to their website and let people watch them for free. Oh and they also have the TED prize, which involves giving some money and a nifty sculpture to someone who is awesome, who then makes a a wish for that money to be spent towards, and then random people from the audience, who are themselves usually influential, amplify that wish by offering extra money or contacts or whatever.

Anyway, so the TEDxLong Beach event was staged in four sessions throughout the day, with the first starting at 3:30am Sydney time. I did not make it to that session, unsurprisingly. I did however make it to the other three, and thought it might be worthwhile to write my impressions up for those poor friends of mine with jobs who couldn't take the day off to listen to a bunch of people monologuing about how to change the world. I'll be writing up each session in a separate post, partly because my sleep cycle is still shot to hell and I'm ready to fall into a bed at any moment, partly because I'm terrible at finishing long posts, and partly because I saw at least twelve different talks and that's a bit too much information to read in a single sitting. I'll be using this post to put links in to the session posts as I get them done.

Part 1

Part 2

Bonus review of Deb Roy (cognitive neuroscientist, one of the earlier speakers) from Wired
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So, a group of us nine-strong went to Paradoxe last night, where you pay $56 to choose two entrees, a main, and a dessert from a banquet menu. Now, there were two vegetarians in our group and neither the second entree or the mains had a vegetarian option. One of our vegetarians noticed this quickly and asked one of the waiters about it, who assured him it was fine and he could be accommodated. But when it came time to order, we got a different waiter. She just barely tolerated Anton's mentioning of his vegetarianness, as he'd already brought it up. But when Sam said that he also wanted a vegetarian option for his main, she spat the dummy. "TWO vegetarians?! Why didn't you tell us when you booked that there would be two vegetarians?! Who made the booking?!" Mike explained that since they didn't have a menu online he hadn't known that there were no vegetarian options, but she was clearly still indignant that we dared to bring vegetarians into her restaurant. Sam tried to placate her by saying that he could have the fish main after all* leading her to go "oh so you can eat it?! Are you sure?" as if he was just messing with her to make her life difficult.

We got through the first entree without any issues (there was an onion soup, which was fine for the vegetarians), but when we got to the second entree... "Mushrooms without bacon", she sniffed, placing Anton's plate in front of him, adding "I hope that you enjoy it" snidely. "Bon appetit!". And she walked off, neglecting to notice that poor Sam didn't have any entree at all, let alone the vegetarian one he'd requested. We called her or one of the other waiters back and got this fixed. Between the entrees and the main we were informed that unfortunately they didn't have enough creme brulee for everyone who'd ordered one, and so one of us would have to change. Then after dessert, everyone requested coffee except Rufina and I, who went for tea. The tea arrived in cute little teapots perched on top of each saucer with the teabag wrapped around the handle and already resting in the water. Rufina and I quickly made a discovery: our water was cold. We got this fixed by attracting the attention of one of the friendly waiters, then sat around talking until 11, when we were booted out because the restaurant was closing.

The actual food got mixed reviews up and down the table; I was personally impressed by my duck main and apple tart dessert, enjoyed my asparagus entree but disliked my quail one. The onion soup was apparently oversalted, the fish main was decent but nothing mindblowing, the creme brulee was more of a creme caramel. Between the entrees and main we were served this awesome citrus/ginger sorbet.

So that was my first experience eating real French food at a real French restaurant. Pity it was accompanied by real French attitude. I certainly don't think we got value for money in terms of food and service, so I would definitely not recommend it.

*His vegetarianism is based on not causing animals pain, so animals like oysters (which have no central nervous system) are fine, fish are borderline, and land animals are right out
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The plot is decent but manages to fall short of epic despite the usual "topple the world order to save it from evil" stuff, the characters start out incredibly annoying but eventually get less so (with the exception of Vanille, who has both the most annoying voice and the most annoying dialogue I've ever seen. Also my current lack of hatred for the characters might just be simple exposure). The mid to end part of the game where you're allowed to run around and do all the cool stuff is... disappointing. The world only has 5 or 6 (albeit large) areas to run around in, the only sidequest/minigame things you can do are bounty hunting (to be specific, killing monsters. No "retrieve my purse I left it in that lake" kind of thing) and treasure hunting from the back of a chocobo. There are no people anywhere that you can interact with, and the monsters all fit into a relatively small number of templates such as 'flan', 'behemoths', 'flying dragon thingies'. The graphics are gorgeous, the music is highly disappointing. The combat system has swapped in micromanaging your characters for micromanaging your party tactics, and the score you get from the battle (which fuels your "do awesome stuff meter" and includes summons) is dependent on finishing the battle as fast as possible, so it turns into something of a reflex-based/button-mashing experience. I personally enjoyed the combat as switching between party tactics is something of an art form, but it's not friendly towards people who like to have time to plan.

Overall, the game ends up being pretty average. The plot is disappointingly short, the world, usually a star exhibit in its own right, is physically large but conceptually tiny. I'm increasingly coming away from my gaming sessions with the feeling that they spent all the development money on graphics and voice acting, but forgot to develop the content to go with it. The end result is an interactive movie that's fine as long as you don't want to do anything outside of combat or gawking at the pretty scenery.
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The Crow

I'm not sure what I expected going in to this movie, knowing mostly that the star died during filming (conspiracy theories ahoy!), that it's very gothy and that it has cult status for many.
The Crow starts off at a crime scene, where we see that a goth couple was murdered a day before their wedding on Halloween. A year later the guy from the couple gets out of his grave, paints his face Joker-style, and gets revenge on the people who killed him and his girlfriend. On the way he plays rock music on the roof above his apartment, discovers that he's invincible, and has a crow constantly directing him and helping him out. There's also a little girl that he and his girlfriend used to take care of who functions as a Symbol of Innocence throughout the movie, and the cop we first saw in the opening scene who turns out to have a heart of gold. On the villain side we have T-Bird and his gang of psychopathic misfits, and the big boss, who is a hot long-haired Anarchist Goth and has a big scary-looking black dude working for him as well as a weird Asian girl who really likes eyes and who spouts off cryptic and mystical stuff.

I think that either the movie hasn't aged gracefully, or else it was intended as a sort of self-parody, because The Crow isn't just goth, it's Goth, so much so that it's difficult to take it seriously. The Goth stereotypes and symbolism are constant and heavy-handed, including but not limited to: Undead Goth's rooftop guitar solos, the ever-present crow following him around, the fact that there was a petition to kick the goth couple out of their apartment before they got murdered because No One Understood Them,  the way that Undead Goth repeatedly tells other characters that they should give up their drug/smoking habits because it's unhealthy for them, the little girl as an obvious Symbol of Innocence in an otherwise uniformly dark setting, the constant rain and moody atmospheric lighting..
The funny thing is that despite the imagery being so overblown, it pretty much works. Well, I was drawn in.

In the style of [ profile] lotusvine , I give The Crow 3 out of 5 goth stereotypes

The Age of the Five, by Trudi Canavan

I'm a moderate to big fan of Trudi Canavan. She writes stories about strong female characters who kick ass on their own merits while tending to fall in love with male characters who are in a position of power over them. Rawr. She also creates well-realised worlds that are changed by the actions of her protagonists. In fact, I was enjoying her strong female protagonists so much that I didn't notice that they're practically the same character until someone mentioned the name 'David Eddings' in connection with Trudi Canavan*. Having said that, I still really enjoy her books, I just expect that in another trilogy or two I'll have had enough of that particular story.
Onto the trilogy itself: Auraya is kind and empathetic and strongly magically Gifted and loves the gods. These traits lead her to be chosen as one of the five White, the supreme leaders of the continent who get to hear the gods directly and read the thoughts of everyone else using the magic given to them by the gods, who are the only gods still alive after the Age of the Many.   All is relatively well until they get invaded by the Pentadrians, who believe in a different set of gods and think that the gods of the White aren't real. The other main players in the world are the Immortals, who are immensely powerfully Gifted people (who are immortal, yes) who have to live in hiding because the gods will kill them if they get a chance, although the reasons for this aren't made completely clear until near the end of the trilogy. As events occur it becomes apparent that Auraya is more powerful than anyone suspected and that the world (and the gods) are far more complicated than she ever knew. At the end she's the pivotal part of a world-changing event, and then lives happily ever after except for the people who hate her guts for enacting the world-changing event, especially this one particular character who's presented as an adversary of Auraya but never really gets any good screen time or satisfying resolution. Sequel bait? Could be.

*For those not in the know, David Eddings is moderately skilled at writing the same story with the same characters over and over again with only minor name/role changes. It's an enjoyable story, but I got sick of it and jumped off the bandwagon after the first two big series and the first standalone after that.

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Because I'm bored but not yet bored enough to go do anything really constructive :p

Brisingr, by Christopher Paolini

The latest in the Eragon trilogy series. It's been so long since I read the first two that it was largly an exercise in remembering who the characters were and what the heck was going on and stuff. As such, I feel like I can't do a proper review. Instead I will rely on arbitrary point scores to point out what I did and didn't like. +10 points for turning into more than just a Star Wars clone. -30 points for turning from a trilogy into a four-parter. +20 for decent characterisation, especially Eragon, although I found myself wanting to slap the leader of the rebel forces for being such a control freak.  -40 for really horribly done foreshadowing near the end that led to a really predictable outcome about 10 pages later. +20 for Elva, the not-so-little girl cursed by Eragon to help everyone else (the resolution of that subplot is pretty cool imho). -20 for having dragons sound so retarded when he's narrating from their point of view. +10 for narrating from dragon point of view at all, so that we get to see what Saphira thinks about events.
Summary: It wasn't bad, it wasn't brilliant. At this point I'm still reading because I'm invested, rather than because I particularly enjoy Paolini's writing/plotting/characters.

Megarace 3: Nanotech Disaster, PS2

I picked this racing title up sometime around the Christmas/New Year period, hoping that it would be like Wipeout. Instead I got one of the worst gaming experiences I've ever encountered. It's completely single-player (in a battle-racing game). The track isn't distinctive enough against the background, leading to me frequently bouncing off the walls purely because I couldn't see the track clearly. There's no sense of friction or speed while you're racing. Inertia only rarely comes in when you deliberately choose a vehicle with lousy handling. The Arcade mode is so easy that at one point I crashed 3 times in a row and was still comfortably in the lead when I finally got back into the race. I can't comment on the Career Mode because it's mysteriously greyed out and nothing I do seems to unlock it (and I refuse to look online, because this should be basic). Your racer can switch between using it's energy for attack, defense or speed but to switch between them you have to press the direction stick, leading to many accidental changes of module. Furthermore, they don't even use most of the regular buttons so it's not like they couldn't have located it there.
Summary: This game fails on just about every level it's possible for a game to fail on. I'm sorry that I paid for it at all, and now have no idea how I'm going to offload it.

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It had little to no plot but so much sheer style and fun that I found myself not minding


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