Enfascination 2010

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Everything is fascinating, but I haven't realized it yet. The Enfascination Lectures are designed to help that epiphany along. You, in your private enthusiasm for some arcane backwater of All Human Knowledge, are the one person who is best suited for communicating its greatness and wonder. I would be grateful for your help. Since 2003, Enfascination has supported the transmission of hundreds of trivial zingers to as many minds, all around the USoA.

This years lectures were recorded. Below you will find lectures notes and/or videos. Videos range in size from 4 to 40 mB

For the notes, please thank the amazing Ronak Shah. For the video, please thank the wonderful Larisse Voufo. Also thanks to Barton for some supplementary notes.


Enfascinations Past

The Content of the Seventh Annual Enfascination Lectures

Notes and Quotes and Root Beer Floats

Refer all grammatical, contextual, and aesthetic complaints to Ronak Shah

[| The maybe slightly drawn-out video for the introduction]

There is no food or wine allowed in Woodburn Hall. None.

Seth is having trouble with the magic. The magic is supposed to make images show up on white spaces that you pull down from the sky. Human beings have control over the images. But the magic is not working, and so the images are not showing up on the white spaces.

Barton and Ronak talk about how interesting it is that a portmanteau of their names would be “Bartok,” and that neither resembles the bat on Anastasia or the composer. Ronak talked about his pen name, Noah Shark, which is an anagram of his name, and Ronaq Shahkur, his hip-hop pseudonym. Okay, quiet, the talks are starting. We slow down the milling vanilling.

Jenett on Motors

The science club that worked on motors is pretty hip. They made ice cream. They made speakers. So check out this motor they made: when you pass electricity through a coil, you get magnetism! Also magic. We have lots of magic in this room. Jenett shows us a little tiny DIY motor. Cute little guy, ain’t he? She gives it a few revs, and after a few trials that rabbit starts to run. She passes it around. Careful, it’s hot.

Nick on the Bernoulli Principle

Nick has a t-shirt that says: “Certifiable Mad Genius.” Anywhere that there’s moving air, there is less pressure. That’s the Bernoulli principle. A machination sits on the table, blowing air and things. The guys make it levitate a small ball. Pretty cool—magic again! BUT WAIT: Then they put a tube over the ball. The ball shoots through the tube like a happy boy sitting on a geyser.

Conor on Entheogens.

What is an entheogen? Well, we don’t know. Conor does. Actually, Wikipedia does: “connecting to the divine within.” That could be psychotropic drugs, for instance. But that could also be meditation, fasting, and other ways of being without doing, of sensing without behaving. The body does not always betray what the mind is thinking. “Psychadelics will do for psychology what the telescope did for astronomy.” Conor wants us to appreciate our potential to transcend into the introspective.

Ronak on Jain Forgiveness

Ronak’s family is Jain! There are very few of them. They like to look into themselves. Twice a day rituals. Bad Jain Ronak only does one a year- oops. PRATIKRAMANA: Apologizing to every that dies. Imagine overturning a beetle and it died, you need to say you are sorry to the beetle. At the end of the P ceremony, when you become as enlightened as you think you can be you go fast till you keel over (this is so you don’t hurt anything in the path of death). Ronak= covert BADASS. Ronak recognizes every day (oops- once a year) that your atoms are no more important than the atoms of a chair. Think unity of your energy being in union with all other energy.

Nathaniel on how 1 + 1 = 3

Nathaniel dropped out of school because he didn’t like formal education and formal mathematic or really formal anything. Then he got involved in math tutoring. Heh. Maybe he’ll become a math teacher. He’s a math teacher in the context of this talk, I guess. But this is key: If Nathaniel teaches math, Nathaniel is actually teaching magic. Know that. Wikipedia on math: “The study of space, structure, change, and quantity.” Just vague enough to teach magic. So for instance: If you have triplets, 1 (man) + 1 (woman) = 3 (children). Totally legitimate, right? Conclusion: You can teach kids how to do whatever you want under the umbrella of mathematics. That is Nathaniel’s goal. Also: A = infinity. 3 = infinity. Infinity = ☺. These are true, true things. Think about these things.

Devin on electrical music and plural poetries

Being a painter, Devin is interested in poetry. Here is a manifesto from Devin. “Posit: Electronic music can achieve a sense of poetic truth, maintaining a visual/sculptural quality. It has been/is becoming a beautiful, interesting barometer of our era, of our times. 1: Poetry is a different sort of truth. It is not a factual truth, but the expression of that which descriptive language cannot achieve. 2: Poetry is measured by its visual content. Thus: Poetry now, the burgeoning synthesis.” Now Devin plays us some music. Flying Lotus: “Camel.” Then Flying Lotus: “Goldfish.” Mmmmm. Close your eyes and listen.

Alex on The Ultimate Weapon

Do you remember hornets? Those rubber band guns that shoot the ferocious duct tape and staple bullets? Alex is using them today. He almost hits Jenett. Then he knocks over a can. It’s got a pretty big dent in it now. Ouchies. Now Alex uses one with just paper. Ooh. Ouchies. Now Alex uses one with paper and duct tape. Holy hell. Double ouchies. Alex is a ferocious tiger bandit who cannot be tamed. Oh no: TIN FOIL. HOT DAMN OUCHIES.

Intermission: Jenett shows us two-minutes of stuff

Have we heard about back-masking in songs? Not many of us. Jenett has. She shows us that backwards version of “Stairway to Heaven.” The words you might hear: “Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He’ll give those with him 666, there was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.” If she tells you what you’re listening to, then you’ll hear it.

Birdy from Purifying Proteins to Crazy Germans


Wait, no he isn’t. He’s just going to play more backmasking stuff. First up: “Pokemon Rap.” Uh, Satan? That was unconvincing. Next: “Beat it.” Okay, another song about Satan. More convincing. Then: “Baby One More Time.” Britney says, “Sleep with my, I’m not to young.” OH MY GOD. Problems. Afterward: “Hotel California.” It’s about Satan again. Yup, we hear it. Finally: “Another One Bites the Dust.” Apparently it’s fun to smoke marijuana.

By the way: In Chile, there were a bunch of Germans that started a colony of Pinochet sympathizers. Crazy, right?

Jack on Fordlandia

Henry Ford tried to make this Utopia called Fordlandia. It didn’t work. Oh, man.

Ziona and Shaina on the Most Compressible Meaning

Tons of dying languages are hanging out in the burroughs of New York City. Linguistic historians discovered what is known to be the must succinct word in all known languages. The language is known and spoken by only one man. The word is Mamilapinatapai: The look that is shared between two people who are wanting to act on one thing, but neither of them want to initiate it.

Abbie on Bengime

Bengime is a language spoken in Mali—we’re listening to a really beautiful song in Bengime. The Dogon people who speak it live in the cliffs, much like the Anasazi. The song is a traditional song sung by the Dogon women. There are about 1500 speakers of Bengime, in about seven tribes. It’s not endangered, but it’s in trouble. And it’s a linguistic isolate, not in the Dogon language family. She determined this by looking at cognates, phonemes, and other aspects of the language, and Abbie has no idea why these people consider themselves to be Dogon when they don’t speak a Dogon language. Abbie is now the only person documenting and describing the language, learning as she goes.

How did Abbie get interested in this? She wanted to document the Dogon language of the people she worked with in the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, she found out someone was already documenting it, and academics tend to be territorial. He recommended her to a nearby language, though, in a very geographically isolated area, where research had stopped. That was Bengime. Abbie took the job, basically starting from scratch.

The Dogon are wary and secretive. To convince the people to let her do her research, the chieftain told his people that her notebook was her field and her notebook was her plow, and that she needed their help to cultivate her crops. If all of their society would fail and disappear, then she would be there with her notebook to keep them alive. This is the metaphor of the night, so far.

By the way. Everyone in this room is so incredible. SO incredible.

Here is bengime in the ethnologue

Dr. Drumm on tagging theory

Actually, there is no theory. Eli just thinks about things. He is also a very disorganized person. Poor, poor Eli. But, perhaps media has the potential for a zero-entropy state! Eli wants to have a media library that is accessible, durable, and aesthetically appealing. So pedagogy by example: BOUNCEHAUS with Eli and Josh @ facebook.com/bouncehaus. These are a bunch of mixtapes. How do you tag this as a mixtape? Depending on which fellow was making the mixtape, they would take different forms. Josh would treat a mixtape as a playlist, heavily tagging the origins of the tracks, and changing the track numbers to reflect the proper ordering of the songs. They’d all be zipped up nicely in a zip file. Josh is wrong. The track numbering is supposed to reflect a song’s accurate position on an album. If you want a different order, you need a separate file that allows users to know the new ordering without sacrificing the original track number. Instead: distribute it as an album file with new album art, if you have some. Eli’s manifesto: All libraries should be emulations of actual physical libraries.

Ellena Rhythm O’Rama

A Brazilian percussion ensemble played the cup game as their encore at a concert. Now we get to learn it! This is the way to do it: Clap Clap 1 2 3 Clap And Move. (pause) Clap Grab Palm Table Palm Slap Switch. Okay, maybe you’d better watch the video.

Greg's Considerations in Optimal Playlist Design

Greg has a Powerpoint.

So there are tons of ways to organize a playlist. The iTunes “Genius” uses genre or artist-based approaches. Pandora looks at acoustic and stylistic pairings. Some of these pairings are weird. Why don’t they work? They assume music can be described with a set of static descriptors and that listeners want to hear the same old shit. But music exists in time! And listeners change over time! Optimal playlist designers must know the listener’s current state, know how each piece will affect that state, and understand the function of each piece in the playlist in relation to all other pieces so that each piece flows logically. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Dr. Drumm.

Greg prefers the German version of the Beatles’ “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand.” He sticks it at the end of his mix, since it provides kind of a “final solution,” if you will.

Greg’s talk will be followed by a brief discussion by Greg. Hit up Seth for the mixtape.

Chris on Interoceptive Agnosia

Chris has an A.A., B.A., B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. Chris is fated to a blissful life of academia.

VOCABULARY TIME! Prosopagnosia: You lose your ability to identify familiar faces. Zooagnosia: The inability to identify faces of familiar farm animals. Finger agnosia: The inability to identify the fingers of the hand. Interoceptive agnosia: The inability to recognize internal sensations (hunger, thirst, and emotions). Walle Nauta figured it out (anyone know the origin of this name?). One victim acquired this agnosia falling “headforemost” from a carriage, damaging his prefrontal cortex. He oscillated weirdly between retrograde and anterograde amnesia. This hasn’t really been cited since the 40’s, so Chris is the only guy looking at this. Why the amnesia? The idea is that memories are “marked” by somatic states and such markers can then be employed as proxies. Losing those marks, as interoceptive patients have lost, is a big problem.

Chris talks constantly.

Seth on the psychoactive effects of chili peppers

What is capsaicin? “OH MY GOD!!! IT BURNS!!!” Also: capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. Hotness is measured in the Scovil scale. Recently, the ghost chile was discovered, at one million on the scale. Pepper spray is five million, and pure capsaicin is fifteen million. Holy fucking shit. Seth just ate a fucking ghost chile. Capsaicin hung out exclusively in the New World before 1493. Okay, Seth is having a lot of trouble now. Apparently primates prefer spicy crackers to plain crackers. Seth is now sweating. Capsaicin can be lethal in high doses. Seth is breathing heavily. Capsaicin gets your endorphins going. Seth is having a lot of difficulty talking. Capsaicin can trigger heat and pain reponses. Oh my God, Seth is going to die. TO DIE. I am very worried. I am no longer paying much attention to this talk. I am sorry. I am sorry for Seth. Poor Seth. Poor, noble Seth.

(A few additions from the audience: The Scovil metric is that you take your pepper, dilute it, and see at when point eaters can no longer identify pepper as a flavor. Also, birds cannot taste capsaicin. It evolved in us to keep us from eating the shitty shit that birds can eat.)

Max on Asyk

Also known as: Something to do on a Saturday night? Also known as: Who needs marbles? Also known as: Green alternative to marbles. Also known as: I like to play with bones.

You play this game with sheep ankle bones. Send him your sheep, if you want. The game is most common in Central Asia, like Turkey or Kyrgyzstan. Each player has a bunch of bones. They make a circle on the ground and set up their bones in a line in the middle. The players pick their favorite bones (usually the heaviest), and start tossing it from a start line, trying to knock the other bones out of the circle. Once you knock them out, you own them. Collect them all!

What else can you do with sheep bones? 1: You can paint sheep bones. Why not? Try nail polish. Kind of like crazy bones. 2: You can make medallions from them. 3: You can pour lead in them. Sometimes he likes to bite lead.

Pontus on Animal Sociality

Dude. Red pandas are way cuter than meerkats.

Pontus is a travelling mathematician, who proselytizes to the common folk who need math to explain to them why the world works the way that it does. What is teaching? Saying something specifically so that someone else can internalize it. Animals do this! Meerkats, for instance. They want to eat scorpions because they’re tasty and crunchy, but they have stingers! They teach their young by giving them scorpions in decreasing states of “dead.” First totally dead, then without limbs or a stinger, then just without a stinger, and so on. If you play calls to adult meerkats of young meerkats, they will bring home appropriately mutilated scorpions depending on the age of the meerkat calling.

We usually don’t think of meerkats of smart, but they do way more teaching than other animals we think of as more smart. Why them? Meerkats are the only mammal that are eusocial. That means not all get to have babies. Only a few have babies, and the rest are around to help those few get babies. This is also true for ants and bees. But it isn’t true for humans, or so it seems.

For teaching to be useful, there needs to be information. There is only information if it is easy to get the information. If it is easy to get the information, then what is the point of teaching? Humans are able to build culture on top of culture. Because of this special aspect, even though information is accessible, information starts to get important without getting easily accessible. So teaching grows and improves, and so does culture, and this loop reinforces itself in a cumulative culture until teaching is the most important of all.

Allison is talking about Pokemon!!! And also Germany. And Ondine’s Curse.

Allison shows us a video of her exchange student friend Laura from Germany in high school, who sang the Pokemon theme song in German on the last day of school. Also:

Ondine’s Curse: Allison’s older brother was born with centrocongenital hyperventilation syndrome, where you underbreathe when you sleep. The original name was Ondine’s Curse, named after water nymph Ondine who falls in love with a mortal. That’s not okay. So she gives up her immortality to be in love with him, and she tells him, “Your every waking moment will be a testament to our love.” He goes off and sleeps with a nymph. Oopsie. So now he can never go to sleep, or else he will die.

How did they discover it without him dying? They used to think it was just sudden infant death syndrome. But the brother’s case was less severe, and the hospital knew about it, so he was diagnosed, luckily. But he can’t nap without a ventilator.

This may or may not be a form of interoceptive agnosia.

Austin's Two famous gravestones in mathematics history

Beautiful chalkboard handwriting, man! Carl Friedrich Gauss had a pretty cool one. You should check out the picture of the signature online. Gauss wanted a seventeen-sided regular polygon to be inscribed on his tombstone, as one of his proudest accomplishments; it inspired him to go into mathematics when he was nineteen. Back in the day, the tools of the day were compasses and straight-edges. Pretty cool things, but you couldn’t do a lot of things, like trisecting an angle. How did Gauss figure it out? Euclid thought of numbers as lengths, like knots in a rope. So how do you add two lengths? Measure out a length with your compass, build a circle with it, use the straight-edge to complete the diameter, and you’ve got the sum of your original two lengths. Gauss proved the possibility of the seventeen-gon with a pretty rigorous step-by-step process.

Now there’s a really cool equation on the board that I’ll let you check out later in the video. It turns out it’s impossible to build a nine-gon with a compass and straight-edge, though. You’ve gotta use something like a calculator instead. Or origami, even.

The gravestone didn’t work out, because the stonemaker was confused, but homeboy got an honorary sculpture later on, on a seventeen-sided pillar.

Now onto Archimedes. Archimedes was proudest of some of his cool geometric achievements, too. On his gravestone he wanted a sphere perfectly inscribed in a cylinder. Archimedes proved that the sphere had exactly 2/3 the volume of the cylinder, and if you cut off the cap and bottom of the cylinder, the two have equal surface area. Whoa.

Nobody knows where his gravestone is. But rumor has it he got his wish. Cicero said that he saw it, and it was totally there. Cicero said it, man.

Ziona on Bink

Binkley has a lot of nicknames. My favorite is Bink-towners-lee-in-pants? I think that’s what it is. Bink-towner is really nice. I’m not sure about any of this. In his early life he was a runt, a stray, dying of an infection of tail and leg. The poor little thing could fit wholly in her hand. They fed her with a bottle of goat’s milk, and he would feed and feed until he got sick. Aww!!! He has a lot of erratic behavioral issues. He’s kind of bipolar, loving and sweet in one moment, and violent and murderous in the next. He throws tantrums, too. I guess he’s also in a sexual relationship with a much younger cat. Uhhhhhh.

Ziona has some theories about his behavioral problems. He’s had a lot of women in his life who left him. His mother, for instance. They had a surrogate, motherly cat with a big belly living with him for a while, and he grew very attached to her, but when they moved, this foster mother could not come along. Now Binkley is taking on the role of mother with this kitten. In a sexual way. He gives his nipple to the kitten. And his little red rocket. Oedipal or Elektra complex? Ziona isn’t totally sure that she’s thought this through.

He’s a victim, really. A victim of civil society.

Nick on Russian Emblemology

Emblemology is the classical study of emblems. What’s the difference between emblems and symbols? The symbol of the cross is an emblem for sacrifice and redemption. The symbol for poison is an emblem for the transcience of human life. Got it? Medieval literature is rich with emblems, functioning as a combination of concepts that weave an abstract, spiritual narrative. Heraldry does it, too, with grave results: think about the War of the Roses, where simple dispositional emblems of red and white roses grew to symbolize entire regions and swathes of nationalists.

The emblemological conception is that emblems have meaning that extend universally, a priori. So it should be possible to collect all meanings, religious and secular, for a given emblem, and to pin down its true meaning. Peter the Great finds out about this, and he says, “Whoa, this is cool. I want to do it. I want mine to be the best.” So he snags everyone else’s emblems and takes them back to Russia. Suddenly emblems start appearing everywhere in 18th Century Russian art, literature, design, and architecture.

Take this home: Emblems try to communicate deep, esoteric meanings that are too difficult to convey directly in formal language, and these emblems can be universally understood.

Ben on Geological Vocabulary

Geology words are freaking weird. Check some of these out: --A moraine is a bunch of debris left by a glacier --A drumlin is a whale-shaped hill formed by glaciers --An esker is a big snake-like ridge formed by glaciers --A tarn is a lake left up in the mountains carved by glaciers --A cirque, or a cwm (good Scrabble word) is the name of the indentation left there Oh dang. Look at these fun igneous rocks: muscovite, plagioclase feldspar, biotite, ampibole, olivine, diorite, gabbro, rhyolite, andocite, basalt. Textures, too! Phaneritic rocks are chunky. Apharitic rocks aren’t. And chemical composition. The more muscovite you are, the more felsic (feldspar and silicon) you are. The more olivine you are, the more maphic (magnesium and ferrous) you are.

Alex's Ways of Bee-ing

There are a lot of different bee societies, actually. The stereotype is the eusocial monarchy, with an egg-laying queen bee absolutely ruling over drones. That’s actually false—honeybees have group-decision-making, a legitimate hive mind. But that’s not all. Some bees are communal, like mason bees. They’re like people living together in apartments. They don’t cooperate, but they hang out. Then you’ve got quasi-social bees. They live together and cooperate, but they have their own broods and offspring. How about semi-social bees? These unrelated pals have some division of labor, with some having offspring and others doing the work. Next we have sub-social bees. They’ve got family care, tending the developing larvae and rearing them. Daughters will hang around and help out momma. As far as the eusocial guys go, sometimes you’ve got a foundress queen who starts the monarchy. But when the foundress dies, you’ve got a pseudo-anarchical hive replacing it, sometimes with multiple queens, sometimes with alternating queens.

Daniel on turning cities into villages

Daniel just dumpstered $700 in a box. In the box is a sex toy, and a phone number. Whoever finds the box can call the number and identify the sex toy. That was an ethical decision nightmare. Anyways.

Take Bloomington. You’ve got hospitaland, campusland, grocery stores, mechanics; a neighborhood. What’s the problem with this structure? Everything is localized in highly specialized spaces, and you have to go to those spaces to use any and all of those services. Why? “Use Space Code.” All spaces had to be specifically zoned for certain functions. That made is really car dependent, because we had to travel long distances for our services. We need “Form Based Code” instead, where a single space can have all of our needs near our homes. Then we can walk. Bikes are sort of helpful for mitigating distance, but it’s a sorry fix. So that’s it. Let’s make villages.


Closing statements: Favorite geological word? Schist. Holy schist! video

other details

format details

Each guest is invited to give a five-minute talk on any subject. After a few hours, that is lots of knowledge.

–– Your talk must be on something that you find really exciting –– It must not exceed five minutes –– To encourage effortless conformance to the five-minute limit, your audience is entitled to become pesky after this time(but not before!) –– Tangible bonus points for excessive erudition and for actually doing research in advance –– Among the amenities will be food and support for visual aids, and we might support teleconferencing again –– You don't have to give a talk, baskers welcome –– If you don't live in the middle west, you are welcome to follow the tradition of submitting notes or a recording –– Tell me your topic in advance if you think of it in

practical details

The event will be from 7PM and on into the evening. Drink Provided. Probably snacks too.

  • Friday, May 7th
  • 7:00PM, and on for a few hours
  • The beautiful Woodburn Hall, Room 003, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

SF would like to thank the student group SFSFSF for hosting the event.

Here is the Facebook event

more, fascinating details, constituting the bulk of past gatherings

For Your Procrastinative Pleasure, A Selection of Previous Lecture Topics, Providing a Sense of Scope and A Nagging Curiosity:

Counting the Permutations of Digit Strings
Conceptions of Time in History
Chili Peppers
How to cross a glacier
The Singularity
Indiana Jones
Rural desert water distribution systems
Small precious things
Wilderness Camps as Commodity
DIY Cooking
Roman Emperor Deaths 
Joy of Science
Three Great Banquets in Italian History
How to Sharpen a Chisel
Some Properties of Numbers in Base Ten
The Physiological Limits to Human Perception of Time
Pond Ecology
Superstition: For Fun and Profit
Counterintuitive Results in Hydrodynamics
The Wolof Conception of Time
Arctic String Figures
The Seven Axioms of Mathematics
Dr Seuss and his Impact on Contemporary Children's Literature
Motorcycle Life and Culture
Cultural Differences Between Japan and the US
Brief history of the Jim Henson Company 
Insider Trading: For Fun and Profit
Film of Peter Greenaway
A Typographical Incident with Implications for the Structure of Thought
Cooperative Birth Control
Tones in Mandarin
Unschooling and Deschooling
Q&A: Fine Beer
DIY Backpacking
Chinese Nationalism in Tibet
The Yeti
The Health Benefits of Squatting
The Big Bang
How to Pick Stocks Like a Pro
Food Preservation Technique, or Managing Rot
Demonstrations in Number Theory
Rangolis, Kolum
The Hollow Earth
Edible Mushrooms: For Fun and Profit
Human Asexuality
A History of the California Central Valley Watershed
An Account of the Maidu Creation