Reverse-Engineering Persona

January 24, 2010

If you’ve ever had to write an essay about something seemingly meaningless, you probably know how this works. You pick a thought (the more unlikely the better), connect everything to it (the less obvious the connections the better), and make sure to overlook anything that goes against your “theory.” Does this projection of meaning onto chaos sound like what art critics do?

All is well until you start believing your own words. That is what happened to me, and I am open-sourcing some of them here, for the whole world to point and laugh and maybe even plagiarize. This story is about Bergman’s Persona and a certain Andalusian Dog, so if you haven’t seen those species yet, come back later.

Persona: the metafilm

An unwanted child, an insecure man, an arrogant genius, Ingmar Bergman directed what could very well be the most cryptic movie ever made. Persona is painted in two layers: a foreground that makes sense on a background that mystifies. The upper stratum is Alma’s story of self-acceptance, of coming to terms with her dark side. The backdrop is Bergman’s meditation on cinematography.

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Quick Linux Tip: Remap “Back” Key to Win Key

January 22, 2010

Thinkpad keyboards are the best laptop keyboards I’ve seen. The function keys are placed in groups of four, with gaps, like on a full-size keyboard. The arrow keys are located lower than the rest of the keys, for easy tactile identification. And best of all, the Insert, Delete, Home, End, and Page Up/Down keys are grouped in the familiar 2×3 box pattern one would expect to see on a desktop keyboard.

The only thing I’m missing is a right Windows key (technically a Super key). A lot of handy Amarok shortcuts use the Win key, such as Win+O for displaying the OSD, or Win+P for firing up the playlist. I’ve also set Win+Plus and Win+Minus to change the volume. With only a left Win key, all of the above-mentioned shortcuts require two hands. So what can I do?

I can remap the “back” key (XF86Back) located above the left arrow key to act as a right Win key. (The back key itself is not that useful — in most sensible applications, one can use Backspace for that purpose.)

First, I open up xev and press the key to find its keycode: 166. Then I use xmodmap to test the changes live:

xmodmap -e “keycode 166 = Super_R”

Finally, I save the setting in my ~/.Xmodmap:

keycode 166 = Super_R

Mission accomplished.

The Singularity Is Near

January 17, 2010

I first stumbled upon Ray Kurzweil’s website some years ago. It immediately turned me off with words like “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.” It sounded like one of those “How to be happy and get everything you want” books, which rarely accomplish anything but big bucks for the author, and disappointment for the suckers who buy them.

I’ve read The Singularity Is Near now, and my opinion about the book is mixed. I don’t remember what made me look it up in the first place — but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Kurzweil argues that evolution is an exponential process, and that each new paradigm opens the door towards a faster development of the next one. As evidence, he shows logarithmic plots such as this:

singularity countdown

If this were plotted linearly, most of the “interesting” events (like Homo Sapiens, cities, and the Internet) would be grouped together in a small chunk of recent time, compared to the time it took for life before that to evolve.

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