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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Archives for: October 2008

Messenger for the Queen


so many fires, so little water

three rolls of an oriental carpet
two red feathers falling off a tree
two flames of a long forgotten pyre
six claws of an ancient dream
one dinosaur bathing in its existence

understanding won't buy you much
wink of insanity may take you further
past the first dance of naked butterflies
casting silky stones of imagination
at the graffiti inside a borrowed freezer

here, an empty bottle for nocturnal stumblers


Fishy Babel

Not all Machine Translation software is created equal. Today, I fed a few fairly simple common sentences to Google ( and Yahoo! ( to see how they'd fare. First, I translated them into a language X and then back into English for comparison. Here are the results.

English originals:

1. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
2. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
3. Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
4. The mouse that has but one hole is quickly taken.
5. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.

Via Portuguese:

1g. It contains your chickens before they're hatched.
1y. Don't counting of its hens before they shocked reverse speed.

2g. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
2y. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

3g. Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
3y. To learn is a treasure that follows its proprietor in all part.

4g. The mouse that has a hole, but is quickly taken.
4y. The rat that has but a puncture is taken quickly.

5g. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.
5y. The concern of frequent to a small thing a great shade.

Via Greek:

1g. Do not count your chickens before they're hatched.
1y. Don't the measure your chickens before that is hatched.

2g. In the land of the blind, one-eyed man is king.
2y. In the ground of blind, the one-eye individual is king.

3g. Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
3y. The learning is a treasure that will follow the householder everywhere.

4g. The mouse has only one hole obtained quickly.
4y. The mouse that they have but a hole is taken fast.

5g. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.
5y. The concern gives often in a small thing a big shade.

Yahoo's Babel Fish is obviously still swimming in some pretty murky semantic waters. On the whole, Google produced much cleaner results even for some exotic languages that Yahoo didn't even list. Most of the sentences were translated correctly, with few minor exceptions.

1g. Do not count your chickens before they are shredded. (Catalan)
2g. Impaired vision, one eye is king in the land. (Japanese)
3g. Learning is a tax that follows its own everywhere (Norwegian)
4g. The mouse that has a hole, but it is quickly adopted (Catalan)
5g. Often worried about a little big balloon (Vietnamese)

Obviously, languages from the far away branches of the linguistic evolutionary tree are more difficult to translate, as can be seen in these examples from Hindi.

1g. Before they are born, do not count your chickens.
2g. Blind, the one person in the land of the eye is king.
3g. Learning that will follow its owner is a treasure everywhere.
4g. But is that a hole is quickly taken from the mouse.
5g. One concern often a small thing makes a big shadow.

The Age of Dinosaurs

We live in the age of Dinosaurs.

In a clear sign that many large corporate behemoths have trouble acclimatizing to the tough economic environment created by the impact of the subprime comet, Bloomberg reported today that "General Electric Co., the biggest U.S. issuer of commercial paper, plans to use the Federal Reserve's new short-term funding facility, throwing its weight behind the central bank's efforts to unlock the credit markets."

So the company that Thomas Alva Edison started as a little manufacturing shop for electrical devices more than a century ago is running out of cash now. According to Wikipedia, not only is it involved in operations involving transmission and distribution of electricity, lighting, industrial automation, medical imaging equipment, motors, railway locomotives, aircraft jet engines, and aviation services, but 50% of their current revenues comes from financial services. Interesting.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the world where companies grow to the point where it is beyond the inherent limits of a human mind to fully comprehend the complexity of their operations. Make no mistake, the captains of these giants will assure you that they hold the rudder firmly in their hands and know where they are going, but recent events show that their sense of orientation is hazy at best. Claiming that they can foresee all the trends and undertows that pertain to their many businesses and make informed decisions is like saying that they can predict the weather in New York City on March 17, 2011. Nearly impossible to put it diplomatically. But General Electric is not the only leviathan that finds itself stifled by its size. Microsoft, JPMorgan, AIG and a host of other corporations have become cretaceous reptiles in their own right.

The problem with economic dinosaurs is that their only concern is growth at any cost. And so they grow and grow and grow some more - to the point where the mere logistics of moving their bodies around prevents them from functioning efficiently. Moreover, when they become "too big to fail", they pose significant risks to the very foundation of the capitalist system, the process of pruning the dysfunctional branches of waning industries. Factor in the cancer of greed and corruption which any overgrown and non-transparent system engenders and you have a recipe for a geological scale disaster.

I wish we lived in a world where small companies did business with each other rather than swallowed each other; where firms focused on their core business and didn't poke their entrepreneurial noses into a pyramid scheme du jour. I wished we lived in a world where small banks would make the loans based on the soundness of underlying ideas rather than the fatness of fees they collect for financing them; where the lenders took the risks of their loan portfolios themselves and managed them with common sense, rather than peddling them as esoteric securities to unastute suckers on the other side of the globe, who might have no idea that the commercial space in this neck of the woods had already been overbuilt. I wish we lived in a world where representatives knew their citizens and the citizens knew their representatives; where slim and local governments would administer the resources and needs of their communities, rather then delegating the job to overblown bureaucratic amoebas in far away places that go into seizure mode any time a major hurricane strikes the land.

I wish we lived in the age of mammals.


Darwinian Cookbook

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then taste must be on the tongue of the gourmet.

If you take a close look at the culinary business, you will realize we are all victims of the dogma of totalitarian cuisines. Whether you like French or Thai, there is always someone else at the driving wheel of the synthetic process. But why should we leave it to the chefs to decide what combination of flavors and spices best tickles our taste buds? After all, our appetite sensors are different from theirs.

Our cutting boards need a revolution. Away with the dictatorship of cookbooks! Let's take hints from the evolution. After emerging from the primordial soup, life went through myriad random mutations. Not all of them were equally viable, of course, but those that made sense prevailed. I would like to suggest adopting the same paradigm in the kitchen.

Imagine the thrill of being in the driver's seat of the culinary evolution. Why stumble through the carefully measured spoonfuls and half cups of the gustatory dogma when you can freely experiment and let your own senses decide how to prune the evolutionary tree of your kitchen creations. Not to mention the blast of trailblazing itself, never knowing whether mixing two exotic cheeses would result in an explosion, in a new dairy based life-form or just in a really really bad tasting pizza.

The basic idea of the Darwinian cooking is this: toss a few random ingredients together, taste judiciously and keep only the combos that you like. Pretty simple, isn't it? To give you a feel how Darwinian cooking works in practice, here are three examples. Just remember that I am the anticook, so don't take them too literally. It is the principle that counts.

1. Darwinian Spread. For this one you will need a grater with some serious stamina. The base for the spread are sardines - I usually use Norwegian sardines in olive oil - but in the spirit of free love, feel free to use any oceanic critters. The recipe is trivial. First, empty a couple of cans of sardines into a mixing bowl and mash them into a paste like substance. Then assemble things you would like to eat and grate away. The list of my favorite gratees includes pickles, small cucumbers, carrots, onions and Jarlsberg cheese. The most important ingredient though is a raw potato. You may find it strange - but it gives the spread very unusual filamental texture. You can skip on any of the above ingredients, but not on the potato. Happy spreading!

2. Darwinian Soup. For the base of this soup I use Ramen noodles as they are cheap and come with a variety of attendant spice packets already. The rest is pretty much up for grabs, but the magical ingredient here is leeks. I usually put in some shiitake mushrooms first, and after they start boiling, I add the minced leeks, and at the end the noodles. I usually put them in after I turn the stove off, because then the noodles stay relatively crisp. When the soup cools off, I sprinkle some parsley flakes over it.

3. Darwinian Stir-fry. This is my favorite Darwinian dish - which I also call Refrigerator Medley, although it could be just as easily dubbed Chop'n'Fry. You can literally open the fridge, chop whatever random articles capture your fancy and fry them to perfection. But over the time I learned that the Medley is best rendered in the following progression. First, slice lean beef meat into thin noodles and fry them until you think they will be reasonably safe to eat. Then slice a potato into equally thin noodles, lower the heat a bit and throw them into the mix. The rest is kind of heat optional. It is mostly veggies - and those I like as crunchy as possible, whether it is peppers, water chestnuts, carrots, onions or sweet peas. So kick that refrigerator door open and treat yourself to a chopping spree. Mix well with the hot stuff in the frying pan. You can also spice it up with freshly milled Provence Herbs, especially if you are a francophone.

Finally, I would like to mention that any of the three recipes above can be greatly enhanced by adding a dash of Chiu Chow Chily Oil, which you can get at any Asian Food Market. But that of course is strictly optional - this is Darwinian cooking we are talking about, and if you'd rather smother everything in Kikkoman sauce, be my guest.

Remember that your taste buds are unique; don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

New York Time Exchange

Today I chatted with one of my friends over the Internet and she started the session with a little commiseration plea: "are you also bored?".

That really puzzled me. The last time I was bored was when I was about 11 and had to sit straight through excruciatingly long 90 minutes of my relatives squabbling over the quality of cardigan vests or some such adult matter. Ever since then I managed to avoid the stifling embrace of the shapeless gray jelly monster known to its vassals as boredom.

I am not even sure how you can be technically bored on this amazingly perplexing planet. On Mars or Venus, maybe. If my domicile ended with "Earth Colony, Mars 22102", I would consider succumbing to boredom as a reasonable alternative to hitting red rocks with brown rocks, twiddling the hoses of my spacesuit or to studying the effects of lesser gravity on the bodybuilding regimen. But Earth is the boredom antithesis - just imagine all the books to read, all the beehives to extract honey from, all the exotic flowers to plant, all the wines to sample, all the sports to play, all the puzzles to solve, all the mountain trails to hike, all the languages to learn, all the asses to kick, all the postage stamps to collect...

And yet - many people are genuinely bored. So I have a little business proposition. Why don't the people who are bored sell their extra time to those who would actually have use for it. I wish I could study the history of the Spanish Civil War, build ships in a bottle or learn how to fix cars, but there is just no way to squeeze that into the 24 hour cycle I have been allotted. If I could get a few extra hours here and there that would not count towards my daily quota, I'd be quite willing to pay at least $100 for them, and I am sure many other people would be too.

And if the idea caught on, maybe we could establish a New York Time Exchange where the terminally bored people would sell their extra time to the highest bidder. I am sure they wouldn't mind an extra source of income.

Wouldn't life be so much more efficient if we could just violate the laws of physics a bit?


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