The Golem Dictionary

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about machine translation. As a rather fresh and relatively new-in-the-game translator, I can’t help but flinch in horror whenever someone posts a new “translation solution” video or article.

I don’t want to be replaced by a machine. My art and science (as I can call it now, as I’ve literally been a professional translator for years now) is a highly meticulous, sometimes even poetic enterprise. The very idea that a machine might one day replace my heartfelt efforts to convey one language and culture into another does not only leave me with a feeling of impotence -

I makes me dread the fate of humanity.

If a machine could translate as well as a human do, it must then follow that it can truly, or at least apparently, relate to human beings, rather than just crunch up algorithms into intelligible language.

The year is 2011. Whenever I try using google translate, it comes off as ungrammatical, often nonsensical – of course, as a human, and as a translator used to plying out the true meaning hidden deep in a pile of gibberish, I can understand “the gist” of GT outputs… But that’s only because I’m human, and a translator – and even I find myself sometimes flabbergasted at what the hell happened to the source text after Google had tortured it into a blasphemous blind idiot translation.

But what if machines COULD translate, could relate to humans well enough to really sympathize with them – be capable of understanding their intentions by doing the research and identifying the true intent of the source, and beautifully lay it out in perfect-grammar target.

It’s not just translators who become redundant – it’s Humans. If a machine can be creative and sympathetic enough to truly translate, as a professional, skilled human translator could – then machines can also be scientists, bloggers, poets, authors, inventors

Our machines will replace us, they shall become a race of former robots, now sentient beings, far surpassing us in intelligence.

It’s not so much my financial future I worry about, but whether an occupation in the future exists for me at all, where I could do better than a machine, or anyone could.

Campaigns

Rue how

that

men such as I are so engrossed

in how war explains, in detail

their lives with such profundity

that pacifism, reconciliation, diplomacy

are so immaterial to their ends

מורכן

נאחזת, עיקשת
צמודה לפנסים שהדלקתי למענך
ומסרבת
לשכוח אותי כשאני מחשיך.
בקי מאוד אני
בלמרוט שלוות אוהביי
ובלעקור תקוותם הנתלית בי.
אבקש נחצף לא רק
את נפשך הכלילה
אלא אנסה ברעב הנרהב
את סבלנותך:
שיניים רבות חתכו
בבשר כוחי שיוטב לו
אם יוקדש להתקנת שולחנך.
אוהבי למרות
סלחי למרות
תני לי והפעם
אשיב לך ועוד.

Monday (paleo)Organism – Indohyus

indohyus500.jpg
Due to the current fossil whale craze, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s Monday Organism to another famous fossil related to whales. Well, I say “related to whales”, and this much is true for any ancient organism, but the truth is, Indohyus is really, if anything, only a sister taxon to ancient cetaceans – it’s unlikely that whales descended from Indohyus directly.

Indohyus was a fox-sized artiodactyl (even-toed ungulate) that lived around 48 million years ago, exactly when you’d expect to find land mammals, and it was found exactly in the right location: in Pakistani sediments (since Ambulocetus natans was found there, too) – but the show’s not over yet.

Indohyus almost certainly lived on water. Isotope measurements confirmed that Indohyus spent a considerable amount of time underwater, and the structure of his dense bones further reaffrims it. In addition, Indohyus has a particular ear anatomy that, prior to Indohyus’ discovery, was thought to be unique to whales and their fossil ancestors – a structure called “an auditory bulla” (since I know jack diddly about animal anatomy, I’ll leave it unelaborated). The important thing to know here is that this auditory bones in the Indohyus fossil confirm at least a partially marine habitat – and rather hits the nail on the head as far as Indohyus’ marine history is concerned.

Indohyus is a curious find, and is definitely a good clue of how whale ancestors might have evolved, but it’s unlikely that Indohyus is, in fact, the ancestor of whales. For starters, Indohyus is herbivorous, and as such, puts another important node between it and whale ancestors, who are, including modern whales, all carnivorous.

That in mind, it’s important to note that even though fossils provide wonderful evidence for the evolution of taxa, every fossil we use to depict as “ancestral” is almost certainly not, strictly speaking, ancestral per se. Evolution predicts that you’d find fossils of ancestors and their nearest relatives, and that their nearest relatives would have similar traits to ancestors and descendants. Since it’s much more likely to find ancestral relatives (sister taxa) – it’s more parsimonious to assume that this is what we find in most fossils.

For me – Indohyus being herbivorous is a clear sign that this isn’t an ancient whale, or possibly not even a sister taxa to an ancient whale – although it’s definitely a “cousin” or “second-degree cousin” taxon for ancient whales, as clearly shown by its aquatic and whale-like attributes.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Moved!

Hi everyone, in case you all still reach this blog through its wordpress hosted website, please bookmark the new blog location (on its own very domain!)


http://www.obsessedwithreality.com

Under Construction

under-construction

Okay, despite the low readership here and despite the fact that I have no idea whatsoever how to promote this blog, I’ve purchased hosting services at bluehost.com and will soon move this blog from its wordpress servers to my own personal domain. The address remains the same, only this time it won’t be a redirect to http://obsessedwithreality.wordpress.com

The new site will simply be on my original domain: http://obsessedwithreality.com or conversely, http://www.obsessedwithreality.com (I think. I’m sure about the former, though).

I’m planning to add at least one important plugin, and that is the comment subscription plugin. I bet most people never return here after they comment because you can’t subscribe to comments. So I’ll be adding a plugin that allows email notification to all commentators here.

I’d also like to try promoting the blog somehow, but since this isn’t exactly a business, I’m not sure what will be a legitimate way of doing so. I just write about biology, atheism and deaf people, it’s not like I’m trying to sell a product.

Anyone got any ideas?

I’ll update more during the week (it takes about 3 days for the registrar to update my DNS’s, so this means that I can’t really do anything yet until Wednesday).

No More War! No More War?

In an awesome feat of disproportionate response, the IDF responded to Hamas’ breaking the several-months’ long cease fire with Israel by bombing the fucking shit out of Gaza. We had one civilian dead and 6 wounded in a southern city called “Netivot” (I only learnt how to sign that in ISL last week) and a few hours later, the IAF took care of annihilating 60 different security targets in Gaza, killing more than 200 Palestinians and wounding about 700. The bodycount is kind of hard with most of the bodies not in one piece, but I’m sure they’ll manage.

Why am I writing this? I’m not writing this because I condemn military action as a legitimate means of national security, I am writing this because I think killing more than 200 people is a simply a fucking massacre. We’ve butchered these people. We’ve killed hundreds of security Hamas men, hurray for us, but why? Is every Hamas person responsible for the rockets fired at our southern cities? Is this how we behave? Exactly like the other side? If Hamas had an air force, they’d do the exact same thing to us. The only difference in response is a result of us having more sophisticated weaponry. We’re behaving like thugs with F-16s.

Killing Hamas-men by the hundreds is NOT the way a responsible nation behaves. By all means, go into Gaza, shoot everyone who tries to shoot at our soldiers, this is STILL a measure of self defense, as all military action should be, and by all means *arrest every single damn one of them*. If they try to resist arrest, shoot them in the legs, if they try to shoot you, shoot them back, trying not to kill them.

Yes, the price to pay for being civilized is having soldiers die in the name of freedom and civilization. It means you can’t just bomb the shit out of civilians simply so you could save up soldiers. If this is how we behave, then our soldiers fight for an empty cause anyway. If we’re anything other than terrorists with tanks, then this is a task worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
I’ve been to a demonstration against the attacks tonight not because I’m against attacking Gaza, but because I’m against attacking Gaza in this stupid, bloodbathed, horrendous manner. We’re letting malign idiots play with jet fighters and people who are completely innocent fucking DIE.

Bah, I’m simply furious.

What It Takes To Convert An Atheist

jesus

Caucasian Jesus

How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh

A picture of a Palestinian middle-aged man. How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh. Acknowledging this would make wingnuts turn into pagans, since only pagans at the time of Jesus were Anglo-Saxon.

Over at the atheist mecca of Pharyngula, yet another broiling comment section ensues due to the latest conversion of former atheist blogger, The Raving Atheist (who apparently will be “The Raving Theist” from now on).

Many considered the possibility that it’s a hoax (still possible in my book, but I really can’t say one way or another), or that TRA was somehow goaded or wooed into his conversion. A few thought that a spade is actually just a spade and that TRA reached a decision in his life to follow his heart, and that no “violence” of any kind was inflicted, nor trickery used, on TRA.

I for one am not going to predict or ruminate on the matter of TRA’s particular conversion story. I would, however, say that I know what kind of events lead people to completely change their worldview, and Jeremiaically call the atheists’ bluff of certainty in their lack of faith (says I, a die-hard atheist).

See, I believe based on the books I’ve read about human nature, biology, and the cognitive dissonance we so often employ, and my personal experience, as well, that humans think and feel very differently. Many  times during my life, I feel certain things which I know for a fact  are patently false. I admonish myself, banging my head on the wall with accurate rationalizations to try and alleviate the damage my intuition and emotions cause. Sometimes it works.

The point I wish to make is that atheists make the decision to become heathens based on what they think (at least, atheists like me, who simply spent a few weeks with Dawkins and talkorigins and did the math). When I “became an atheist”, it wasn’t as though I needed any special encouragement from Dawkins or from any other atheist spokesman. Atheism was merely a result of a long string of computations I conducted faced with the evidence and non-evidence available.

What I feel, though, sometimes has nothing to do with evidence, but merely with the way my brain functions.

I say all of this because TRA didn’t say jack zilch about what made him think that Christ is his savior and why he knows that God exists and that he watches over him. Nope. TRA believes, and “knows God” in the “other ways” necessary to know him that Dawkins alluded to when he wrote :”There are many ways of knowing besides the scientific, and it is one of those ways that are needed for us to know God”.

There’s a point to this besides telling my “fellow atheists”  that they shouldn’t be so snarky at the bible-thumper formerly known as TRA. I wish to give an explanation as to why TRA converted in the first place, while trying to base it on the modicum of evidence available.

When mom died, I still remained an atheist. I was lonely, crazed, inflicted with mental illness and growingly paranoid. I didn’t find God, even though in these parts, God is almost everywhere (metaphorically speaking). I did, however, drastically departed from the person I was. I became, in many respects, my former exact opposite. This is the result of emotional trauma, not of rational thought, and everyone, atheist or not, can and often will turn against his beliefs and convictions when pressed hard against the wall with the hot-poker of reality.

I say then to anyone comfortable in his intellectually-based atheism: your atheism is a result of your personal worldview, and like all humans, your worldview is malleable, and mostly so when reality throws a hot cauldron full of shit into your life.

Addendum

I wouldn’t write this post the way I did if TRA’s post about his conversion contained anything besides appeals to emotion, evidence-wise. With all due respect to what I wrote vis. the way emotional turmoil can change a person, when I use my head to think and not my heart, I take every input cum grano salis, and in the case of amazing conversion stories like this, cum multis granis salis.

Funniest Understanding Biology Fail Ever

Hell, this wouldn’t be that funny unless it was true. I’m scribing this meeting in the Israeli interal office about grabbing some private land to ensure an ecological corridor in central Israel. So this ecology expert is yapping about genetic diversity, when one beardy-rube exclaims: “deers aren’t Ashkenazi Jews!”. This idiot thought this is a pertinent remark, since Doctor Biology there explained that reducing genetic diversity leads to lower fitness (since incest or low geentic diversity in general leads to less adaptibilty and more autosomal illnesses).

“What do deers have to do with genetic illnesses in Ashkenazi Jews, you blasphemous heathen?!”

Tool.

Monday Organism – Amphioxus, Representative of Our Ancient Past

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Amphioxus/Branchiostoma is a primitive chordate that would probably look to most non-biologists like a tiny fish or even a tadpole. Thing is, amphioxuses aren’t fish, they’re not even vertebrates!

In fact, amphioxus belongs to a sister subphylum, “cephalochordata” (any pharyngulites who might be reading this will reconize “cephalo” from “cephalopod”. This is because “cephalo” means “head” and apparently, octopussies walk on their heads :-) ).

Both vertebrates and cephalochordates belong to the phylum Chordata – which began it’s history pretty much with most of modern-day phyla, somewhere in the cambrian explosion.

The amphioxus shows some amazing qualities that make it an interesting animal to know about, and also an interesting model species for comparative anatomy and evolutionary research.

The reason for this being that the amphioxus presents a lot of qualities that make him a living transitional fossil, or simply, a transitional species.

First of all, this critter gives all the indication for being a primitive invertebrate with distinct differences from the more modern taxa.

Second, it shows characteristics that are peculiar to the amphioxus, but are also highly indicative of “later”, evolved traits.

Third, it shows characteristics that although primitive, are still extant in variations today.

Let’s start with the primitive stuff. The amphioxus has no vascular system, that is, he doesn’t breathe! The amphioxus absorbs his oxygen via diffusion, which is an extremely poor method of gaining oxygen, and at any case, results in much less oxygen absorption. The reason for this is that amphioxus has a very small body with a very relatively large surface area. This means that by diffusing the oxygen, the amphioxus gets just what he needs.

Also, the amphioxus has no real brain or “brain concentration” – he does have a neural system – which belongs more to my second category.

The amphioxus also has no eyes, and he spends most of his time buried in the sand, filtering food (he doesn’t have teeth, of course, while not having a backbone as well).

Things start to get interesting when you look at traits in amphioxus that are uncannily “vertebrate-like”. For starters, the amphioxus has a precursor for the liver that doesn’t function like one. It has similar hepatic characteristics, yet a stubbornly “non-hepatic” function in the amphioxus. This is the “hepatic diverticulum”, and I’ll leave it at that for anyone nerdy enough to get deeper into it.

Also, amphioxuses have dorsal segmental muscles, much like the muscles we have between our vertebrae in our back.

The most amazing feautures about the amphioxus are the features which shed light on chordate evolution. For starters, amphioxuses have glands very much like vertebrates do, which is funny, since if you guys were paying any attention, you’d remind me that I just said that he has no vascular system. Since glands are used to secrete hormones, which are signal molecules transmitted through the blood, it’s kinda hard having signal molecules sent through blood when there isn’t any!

The amphioxus glands are fascinating because of their location and their mode of operation. For example.  There is a structure called Hatschek’s pit exactly where the hypothalamus should be. It has a “hypophysis” or pituitary gland-like structure called “Rathke’s pouch” in a similar location and similar structure, that produces “exohormones”! This primitive gland secretes external signal molecules, and, according to one zoology professor I had, these molecules are similar in function and chemical activity to the hormones modern vertebrates secrete from their evolved pituitary glands!

So, really, what we have here is not just another squiggly tadpole, but a precursor to modern vertebrates, with genes, anatomy and physiology to tell us the story of how we evolved.

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