Monday, December 06, 2010

Selene of Alexandria

I just might get this book for free.  If you're interested, try Selene Giveaway .  Just click on the "Selene of Alexandria" link and you'll get a synopsis of this historical fiction set in the time of Hypatia ("SELENE is bright, impulsive, stubborn, and a little spoiled by her father, a city councilor.  Since her mother’s death, she longs to forgo the privileges of her class to become a physician—an impossible dream for upper class girls who never engage in a profession. ").

I enjoyed the author's commentary on the movie Agora (set in the same time), so I'd look forward to reading her work..


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Genocide - what's the big deal?

The question is raised on The Volokh Conspiracy, not for the first time.  Nobody is saying genocide is OK - but there is an obsessive attempt to draw a line between genocide and "mere" mass murder.  If somebody wants to make the point that Stalin was a much nicer guy than Hitler because - despite Stalin maybe* being relatively responsible for more deaths - Stalin's deaths were just murders rather than genocide, I am not going to be especially impressed.  Nor, for that matter, am I going to be impressed with somebody who argues that Hitler is nicer than Stalin because his death-count was lower.  Both Hitler and Stalin were quite bad enough, and the idea of some sort of contest between them is macabre.

The issue came up because of the book Stalin's Genocides, which argues - well, it is pretty clear from the title what it argues.   Apparently, the issue is important from the standpoint of international law because if a country is committing genocide then it is legitimate to interfere, but if a country is only slaughtering millions of its own people without regard to ethnicity (kill all the educated people or all the rich people), then that is an internal matter.   It's pretty clear something is a bit off with international law here, but it's hard to get people to accept a definition that makes their own country guilty.

*I've heard figures going both ways.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chimps gone wild....

They may not be all that great at acquiring human language, but they do pretty well at those obscene gestures.

Quote of the Day

I am not, of course, a believer, but if I were, I’d prefer to imagine a deity occasionally plagued by these thoughts—an agnostic God who sometimes doubts Himself.
 - Julian Sanchez

Monday, September 27, 2010

Things you learn reading Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars"....

Regarding the fittings for urine collection in space suits: "To avoid mishaps caused by embarrassed astronauts opting for L when they are really S, there is no S.  'There is L, XL, and XXL', says Hamilton Sundstrand suit engineer Tom Chase."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Teach like an Egyptian

Saw Agora last night at the Little Theatre.

I'd read a lot about it, and already knew there were some historical inaccuracies (and unfounded plot points, such as crediting her with the discovery of elliptical orbits), but I wasn't much bothered by having the satellite view include the Aswan dam.  It is a story about a leading female intellectual from a time where females where better off staying out of the limelight, blended with religious strife between Christians, Pagans, and Jews.

Hypatia was acted brilliantly, and the movie had quite a few high points.  Overall, I found it dragged in parts, and a few other parts seemed a bit preachy - but I was still impressed and touched.  At the end of the movie, a manly tear welled in the corner of my eye, but I managed to stop it from spilling.

I'd recommend it to anybody fascinated by the subject matter, but not to everybody.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Doctor's Dilemna

Enjoyed the play (newly knighted doctor falls in love with 20-years-younger wife of a sick artist who is a scoundrel - is it best the husband die?).  The director's notes in the program was some frightful twaddle of a paean to socialized medicine.  To be fair, Shaw himself was an unapologetic commie.  He had the intellectual honesty to admit that for his ideal to work, it was understandable and necessary to have people shot when they were shirking their duty, but didn't seem to come to grips with the downside of that concession - apparently the people that would be doing the shooting were all fair, reasonable and altruistic.  Although Shaw mentioned the concept in the play, this was a tangential mention - the play was really about the value of life and the decisions we have to make.  The saving grace of the program notes were luscious photographs, including many of great artists killed by tuberculosis.

Next play, after dinner, is John Bull's Other Island.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Programmers vs. System Administrators (or NOT vs.)

I love this post describing the difference between programmers and system administrators:

Programmers are like vampires. They're frequently up all night, paler than death itself, and generally afraid of being exposed to daylight. Oh yes, and they tend think of themselves (or at least their code) as immortal.

System Administrators are like werewolves. They may look outwardly ordinary, but are incredibly strong, mostly invulnerable to stuff that would kill regular people -- and prone to strange transformations during a moon "outage".

Haven't posted an XKCD for a while....

But I was sharing his work with my brother-in-law David (also known as "Fred", his vanity plate reads "YABADO"), and so:

Original here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Liberatarianism (or Liberaltarianism) is actually doing well?

It doesn't usually feel that way, especially when you look at poll results, but a good case is actually made here.

Now I think that a lot of gains have been made that are actually being lost, but I suppose one should not forget the gains.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Monkey business...

I thought I blogged this before, but it looks like I was only intending to.  I mentioned at a party today a study in which economists found similar behavior to ours in monkeys - areas in which monkeys are not only as irrational as we are in our decisions, they are actually irrational in the same way.

Laurie Santos describes the study in this talk here.  Of course, in order to study how monkeys use money, first they have to be taught to use money in the first place.  And once monkeys understand the value of money, they engage in thievery (as described in the talk above) and even prostitution.

If you don't want to watch the whole video, the Freakonomics guys describe the same experiment here, including:
Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quote of the day

"The world's worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities."
 - Robert Baker, quoted in "Whole Earth Discipline"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote of the day

Unfortunately for the atmosphere, environmentalists stopped carbon-free nuclear power cold in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States and Europe (except for France, which fortunately responded to the '73 oil crisis by building a power grid that was quickly 80 percent nuclear).  Greens caused gigatons of carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere from the coal and gas burning that went ahead instead of nuclear.  I was part of that, too, and I apologize.

--- Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto

Monday, August 02, 2010

MR brings home the headline bacon.....

Indeed, these two are more than worthy:

Monkeys hate flying squirrels, report monkey-annoyance experts

Mongolian neo-Nazis: Anti-Chinese sentiment fuels rise of ultra-nationalism

Click through above for details such as
Their right hands rise to black-clad chests and flash out in salute to their nation: "Sieg heil!" They praise Hitler's devotion to ethnic purity.

But with their high cheekbones, dark eyes and brown skin, they are hardly the Third Reich's Aryan ideal. A new strain of Nazism has found an unlikely home: Mongolia.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Glad I wasn't coaching North Korean kids.....

Apparently losing is very bad:
The broadcast of live games had been banned to avoid national embarrassment, but after the spirited 2-1 defeat to Brazil, state television made the Portugal game its first live sports broadcast ever. Following ideological criticism, the players were then allegedly forced to blame the coach for their defeats.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

The living Buddha and benefits fraud....

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be a celebrity. Records showed that Sogen Kato was, at 111 years, the oldest man in Tokyo. But when officials went to visit him in order to congratulate him, they found (after some resistance from his relatives) only his mummified body. Apparently he had been dead 30 years while his checks were still being cashed.
Mr Kato's relatives told police that he had "confined himself in his room more than 30 years ago and became a living Buddha," according to a report by Jiji Press.

But the family had received 9.5 million yen ($109,000: £70,000) in widower's pension payments via Mr Kato's bank account since his wife died six years ago, and some of the money had recently been withdrawn.

The pension fund had long been unable to contact Mr Kato.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Things you didn't know about men and women.....

If this sounds odd (excerpt):
Given that men are, on average, physically weaker than women: It's hard to see how they're going to win wars without troops, and survive walking the streets without alpha females willing to protect them. Among alpha females, chivalry is dead. If beta females are chivalrous, so what? Even if beta females had the courage to pull a rapist off of her victim, would she have the fortitude? Considering that the beta female wouldn't even be physically fit enough to join the U.S. Army, it's hard to imagine her stopping a wolf pack.

it has been regendered. HT Prettier Than Napoleon

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life as an adventure

Tyler Cowen from Marginal Revolution ponders one of his favorite philosophers (just follow the link, boys and girls) who compares literary adventures (where the main characters often follow a path that has been mapped out for them by either a living guide or a trail of clues) with real life careers.

His Robin Hanson quote is worth quoting again:
If you want life paths that quickly and reliably reveal your skills, like leveling up in video games, you want artificial worlds like schools, sporting leagues, and corporate fast tracks. You might call such lives adventures, but really they pretty much the opposite. If you insist instead on adventuring for real, achieving things of real and large consequence against great real obstacles, well then learn to see the glorious nobility of those who try well yet fail.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Those exotic Antarctican accents really turn me on!

If you've heard about the recent spy case, the Russians were able to divert suspicion by pretending to have Belgian accents (if you follow the link, there'll be a bit of a rant on how we are not only disadvantaged here in not knowing foreign languages, we are provincially ignorant of the outside world). One spy even convinced a college friend she was from Antarctica (although she came clean later and told her she was actually from Russia - some spy)!

Now Quebec ... THAT makes sense.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

My tiny contribution to Australian linguistics....

An example of liberty measles.

Quote of the day

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.
- internet wisdom forwarded to me by John Wurtenberg that didn't use the word "hell"

Friday, July 02, 2010

Dialog of the day

You'll have to follow the HT to see how
As an aside, I cannot refrain from relating another anecdote, which is told of Gore Vidal. In a TV interview he was asked: "Was your first sexual experience with a man or with a woman?" To which he replied: "I was too polite to ask."
fits into the Kagan confirmation hearings.

"Ae day whan he wis striddlin his cuddie doun the brae"

Perhaps translating Chinese into Scots is a sign that somebody has too much time on his hands, but I found myself oddly fascinated.

It's been a while since I put up an XKCD....

...and they are always so, so good.....

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quote of the day

"The difficult thing with quotes on the internet is verifying them" - Abraham Lincoln

Jocelyn is home!

Picked her up this morning, not much in the way of dead time in the process. When I got there - just to drop things off - she was just away getting x-rays. Just as they were explaining that, she was wheeled in. From there on in, it was signing papers, putting on clothes, packing things up, and getting the car from the garage to load her in.

After that, the focus was on getting her some Abbot's Frozen Yogurt on the way home. The first place was sort of closed - not open until noon. The second location Jocelyn remembered was no longer there. But the third - next to the amusement park and the lake, and not strictly on the way home - was the payoff.

Now she is safely home, and I am off to work. Erich will keep the patient under observation.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quote of the day

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

- Molly Ringle, 2010 Bulwer-Lytton winner, HT MR

Hospital liveblogging

I'm in the waiting room now. Should be with J in pre-op when she is prepped.

They have wireless everywhere here, yay.

Update [14:08]: Now in pre-op. Jocelyn has a splint/cast on one arm, and the other is intubated. She still manages to read her Kindle. Lady next to her bed is very upset because her man's operation has been canceled.

Update [15:38]: Still in pre-op, things are a bit backed up. Upset lady ended up missing her cellphone, minor panic, after a bit they found it on the floor on our side of the curtain.

Update [15:51]: I know everybody wants to see pictures of the wife smiling, but I don't want her whacking me with that heavy cast of hers.

Update [16:48]: STILL waiting. They gave me a $5 bonus voucher for the cafeteria to show they care. Jocelyn, however, hasn't had any food since midnight (she went to bed early but set the alarm clock to 23:30 to get some food in just before the deadline) and is beginning to rate orange on the Cannibalism Threat Indicator System"

Update [18:58]: STILL waiting, but at least in a different place. Jocelyn has signed the doctor's consent form, had the IV she had in for 5 hours removed (it was getting painful) and will soon have another IV in. We've met with the anesthesiologist, and she figures we'll get started any minute now - just after the cafeteria service closes and I can't use my food vouchers anymore. Asked whether she had a message to her sisters, she said "No, I just wanna get this show on the road!"

Update [19:50]: Made it to the cafeteria while there was still hot food available. The surrender of the glasses (they wanted her to keep the glasses as long as possible so she could sign stuff) has taken place. The anesthesiologists have wheeled her away. I'm sure people would rather have details on the patient - so would I - but all I can offer is detail on the dinner - two slices of pizza, one veggie (broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, I think even artichokes) one pepperoni. Parfait. Coke. Will blog again when I hear anything.

Update [20:40]: Family Waiting Room at Strong - where I just heard the operation is complete, went well, two pins are holding the bones in a good position, and Jocelyn is awake already and I should be able to see her in half an hour.

Update [22:23]: Everything still good, was just overoptimistic about being able to see Jocelyn quickly. Should be soon, though.

Update [23:26]: Got to see the patient-bunny. Unfortunately, this operation hurt, she was feeling quite miserable. She won't be going home tonight, I can pick her up in the morning. I saw her in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) and they just wheeled her to a patient room a moment ago - I'm blogging while they are making her comfortable there. She's getting some meds now that got the pain down to bearable. They'll probably be kicking me out soon, it sounded at first like I was only going to get to see her for a few minutes but I've been with her almost an hour.

New day, new topic!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Whores and Holes - two great things that go great together

But they don't sound THAT much alike....unless they are black, and you are the NAACP.

If you're not going to click on the links to get the full story (and you should), Hallmark recalled an audio card with an astronomical theme (which included "black holes") because somebody in the NAACP thought it sounded like "black whores". You can judge for yourself if you follow the links.

Don't cry over spilt milk - build storage tanks....

As though the EPA didn't have anything better to do, they were threatening to apply rules meant for oil spills to milk:
The EPA regulations state that “milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria ...”

Unfortunately, Marginal Revolution didn't post this until weeks after it was announced that this would not be the case.

Vuvuzela virtuoso visiting Eastman Theatre?

Seems unlikely, but clearly so far the biggest winner at the World Cup is this delightful little instrument - and the biggest losers are those condemned to have to hear it unwillingly. Perhaps, as with garlic, the solution is "If you can't beat them, join them."

Now we can not only see any web site to the background of vuvuzela sounds, youtube has added a gadget (soccer ball shaped) that lets you mix the audio of the clip with the appropriate sounds.

Another loser would be astrology, after France rather convincingly showed that it is NOT useful when selecting your soccer team.

Update: the horror!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Women in literature - the early years

I've been reading Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, a book about language history. A passage in it reminded me of a gurl friend of mine, who takes an interest in early female authors - although this one is well before the medieval times that interest her.

Akkadian bilingualism would have become common in the elite, and one can see evidence of this at the highest level, since Sargon's daughter Enheduanna is supposed to have composed two cycles of Sumerian hymns, and the most famous (to Innanna) has been found in some fifty copies.

This participation by women, especially princesses and priestesses, in Sumerian literature was not uncommon. They wrote funeral hymns, letters and especially love songs.

Thy city lifts its hand like a cripple, O my lord Shu-Sin
It lies at they feet like a lion-cub, O son of Shulgi,
O my god, the wine-maid has sweet wine to give,
Like her date-wine sweet is her vulva, sweet is her wine.....

(in background here, Sargon and his daughter were not Sumerian, they were Akkadian - and their language was not at all closely related, although they adopted the Sumerian cuneiform writing system for their own language and kept Sumerian culture alive)

Does anybody have any cunnilingus reference that pre-date this?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Coyote's public service announcement....

...needs to be widely distributed:

(Coyote, who is all about public service, here)

The excitement of chess

This xkcd comic turned out to be inspirational.

I sort of wanted to try it, too, but some went further than just wanting.

Quote of the Day

"The referee's should have been wearing pink in the match where the German striker was given two yellows."
- An Australian co-gamer

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My goal this week.... to use the word "invidious" in a sentence without sounding like an utter plonker.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'd love to know the story behind this....

Texts from last night is supposedly a collection of odd text messages people have received. Not all that different, except for tech level, from Overheard In New York.

Sometimes one of these brief excerpts really leaves you wondering about the story behind it. This one, for example:
My vagina has become a graveyard for my brother's friendships

My best guess is that she has had relationships with friends of her brother's.

Hating BP "before it was cool"

Katherine Mangu-Ward gloats a bit here, about an article she wrote in 2006:

For an example of a company apparently trying to single-handedly save the planet through expensive public relations alone, one needn't look farther than the corporate darling of serious environmentalists and greenish consumers alike: BP

BP is first among many companies that have opted to do their environmental penance in the glare of the spotlight. British Petroleum (recently rechristened BP, following KFC's model in removing unsavory words from its brand name) has been much ballyhooed for its commitment to the environment. Most of the ballyhooing is being done by BP itself.

A gas and oil company with $225 billion in revenue, BP is part of an industry that will keep environmental advocacy groups in business for as long at it exists. Yet these days BP is styling itself "Beyond Petroleum" and declaring that it's "thinking outside the barrel." BP's Environmental Team has crafted an elaborate advertising campaign and rebranding effort, recently expanded to the Web. Its goal: to convince the world that a company that sucks dead dinosaurs out of the earth, turns them into gasoline, and delivers that gas to SUVs can also be environmentally friendly enough to use a green and yellow sunburst (or is it a flower?) as its logo....

One might be forgiven for wondering how BP is managing to take in hundreds of billions in oil and gas revenue, apparently in its spare time.

I've never been a big fan of finding scapegoats, but in this case it seems like there was some definite negligence involved. Of course, we'd all like to think this isn't a necessary cost of our need for energy....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gladiator graveyard

Pretty cool, a burial found in York appears to be of at least 80 gladiators, all young men with especially well developed right arms in good condition, not counting the decapitation and lion bites.

HT Archeaoblog, which in another post sets the record for blogging about the earliest shoes. As they point out, even the Manolo puts his foot in on that one!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Smile - people will wonder what you're up to....

...or apparently, they'll at least figure you're not trying to start a fight. Maybe that's why The Virginian emphasized you have to "smile when you say that."

The little quiz linked to in the link is short and kind of fun - i got 14 out of 20, for the record.

Personality of the week: builder and book burner

Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang

Started the (first version of the) great wall and destroyed (almost all) the literature.

Quote of the day

"Politicians are not magic. The less they do, the better."
- John Stossel

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quote of the day

"You cannot stand what I've become
you much prefer the gentleman I was before -
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control,
I didn't even know there was a war...."
- Leonard Cohen

Sunday, May 23, 2010

As much as I hate to tolerate assault....

...sometimes I actually find myself cheerleading it.

Almost makes one want to draw Muhammed!

I'll deal with it somehow....

A new study purports to show that exposure to beautiful women is bad for men's health. By some strange circumstance, I am still alive today. This is anectodal counter-evidence at best, but I must agree with the source that this study is suspect. The criticisms are not only funny but right on the mark.

Hat tip Skepchiks.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Quote of the day

(in response to "I thought you were honest")
"That's a common misperception. I just hate people."
- Alice from Dilbert

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not a cause I support.....

...but it IS kind of funny.

I guess putting some kind of boundary to vandalism seems almost worthy, unless you are a chicken concerned about being misunderstood.

Trivia of the day

Maltese is the only semitic language normally written in a Latin alphabet.
- Language Log

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is it just how submissive the little dears are, then?

I am generally open minded, but for the longest time I have believed that the two areas in which women were simply inferior to men were weightlifting and chess. I concluded the latter back in my chess playing days when I was perusing the ratings tables in Chess Life & Review. If I had been a woman, my rating would have placed me in the top ten women in the United States. As a man, I wasn't even in the top thousand. That doesn't mean NO women could beat me, but it does suggest amazingly few...and there were many men in the "no woman could beat me" category. Yes, I'm sure that women are not encouraged to play chess as much as men are (not that a "nerd" reputation is all THAT prized even among men), but the difference just seemed SO extreme there had to be some sort of biological factor.

Now I see this study. In short: no. Now I'm not saying this study (42 pairs of various skill levels) completely dispels my notion - how many of those pairs were tournament level players? - but it certainly weakens my case...and it would provide another explanatory mechanism if women just like to lose (to a guy - the women apparently played harder if they THOUGHT they were playing against another woman).

Any of you girls want to help me out lifting this heavy package?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

OK, I understand....

Courtesy of Marginal Revolution, which also points out that California is the seventh most risky debtor in the world (Venezuela, Argentina, Pakistan, Greece, Ukraine and the Emirate of Dubai are even worse), explains the mathematics of CDOs so YOU can understand it, and how to give somebody crabs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The man who mooned Spitzer

I've linked to Coyote before, but never realized that the crowning accomplishment of his life actually occurred back in his student days, and while he continues to soar it is too much to hope he could ever reach those heights again: mooning Spitzer.

(the link also has mild relevance to the Supreme Court nomination)

Planetary news

Despite losing one of its stripes, Jupiter will remain a planet.

Even if Pluto gained one, it still wouldn't be.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Apartment dwelling woes....

Some of my friends have had difficulties with their neighbors when they lived in apartments (yes, I'm thinking of YOU, professor!), but at least none have ever complained to me about being kept awake by exorcisms.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things gone terribly wrong

"You shoot two dogs in front of a seven year old--who could have been killed by a stray round, and at the very least will carry this hideous recollection to the grave. And why? For misdemeanor pot possession?"

- Megan McArdle

Friday, May 07, 2010

Quote of the day

"Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you're supposed to assume they might be cops?"
- Megan McArdle's Quote of the Year, by unnamed commenter.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Remind me to never be the first one who falls asleep in this crowd"

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, riffs on the news that a Chinese man who "died after his friends inserted a live eel into his rectum as a practical joke when the man was asleep". What cards!

As he phrased it, "With friends like that, who needs enemas?"

You must consider daughter-cattle ratios

Always, in my ignorance, somewhat preferred shorter girs, but it turns out tall girls fetch more cattle.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"Slip and fall down carefully" article on Chinglish, via MR.
The menus of local restaurants might present such delectables as “fried enema,” “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as “The Jew’s Ear Juice.”

The same link collection also takes us to this:

That zooming in bit especially frosts me.....

This article on "Top 10 things Hollywood thinks computers can do" hits a couple of my pet peeves. As you can tell, my single biggest irritation has been that in almost any movie you can take a grainy security video frame and "enhance" it to see a bacterium on the skin of an intruder. The other one is about guessing passwords, although for me it hasn't been just the EASE of guessing, it also has been how there often seems to be some sort of special hone-in-on-the-password interface that computers are equipped with.

Monday, May 03, 2010

OK, I'll play along....

...with this game:

First thing I ever ordered from Amazon -
April 5, 1999 - Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (Agatha Raisin Mysteries, No. 8)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Quote of the Day

To cure political correctness, we must commit to being more intellectually shameless.
- Dave Marney, commenting to the Volokh Conspiracy

Bitch-slapping the educated

Language Log had a couple of interesting items recently (granted, not much different than saying "The sun rose this morning!")

One was about "begging the question", a phrase more often used these days to mean "raising the question" than what it used to mean, which was something like "assuming your conclusions" or "arguing in a circle". Anybody employing the more common usage is liable to be corrected by some pedant who wants you to know he knows the "correct" usage, but this item goes into the whole history of the item. The recommendation is just to avoid using the phrase completely to deprive pedants of their target.

The other is another rant directed at Strunk and White, which I've always enjoyed because I've been irritated myself by editors that take their mostly useless advice far more seriously than either Strunk OR White did.

Interesting point for entrepeneurs

MR points to an item by Paul Atkins that indicated Apple Computers was considered too risky to do an IPO in some states.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stories from my life

A guy with whom I'm playing an online computer game commented to me: "As a programmer you already know, there is no such thing as a "random" glitch".

There may be a cause, but things can look pretty random. I had to fly down to North Carolina once because a system we had written for a large company (controlling vending machines that took credit cards) started randomly charging customers $0 for some of the purchases (which were NOT $0).

I remember the flight well, because I had a cold and the cabin was unpressurized, and I arrived weak and pale with blood trickling out of my ears after some of the worst pain I've ever experienced. The guy in charge of the computer that was running my program whom I was rushing to see was unable to see me at first because an Ebay auction on some collectible was in the end stages, but finally I got to see the system.

After hours of comparing my input logs to the output we were generating, and trying to figure out HOW my program could possibly produce such nonsense - and running the program in a test mode with the same input to try to reproduce the problem - I was ready to tear my hair out.

I wrote a quick test program that did simple arithmetic and logged the output. It worked fine. I went to my hotel room in despair and left it running.

The next day, I checked the output log of the test program and found that for several minute-long periods the computer would add 1 and 1 and arrive at 0.

The computer they were using to run my program was really a collection of a large set of processing units, and processes could be run by any one of these - when my process was run on a defective unit, it produced defective results.

When I asked them how this could possibly have been going on undetected, they explained that the system ran diagnostics continuously, but the results were sent to a display that was itself no longer working, so they hadn't checked in months. Probably higher priority Ebay auctions.

Our president explained to me that it would be bad for company relations if I killed anybody. In retrospect, it might have been worth it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One of the downsides of not having gay marriage....

...that I've heard described has been that married couples get fewer restrictions when visiting each other in a health care situation. But I never quite thought that a couple that was not married would be separated like THIS.

"According to the suit, when Harold, Greene’s partner of 20 years, fell ill, the county refused to let Greene visit him in the hospital, despite the couple’s meticulous efforts to name one another in their wills, powers of attorney, and medical directive documents."

One wonders whether even if there HAD been a marriage whether things would have gone any better...but in any case, it is shocking that this sort of thing could be going on even nowadays.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A soul is a terrible thing to waste....

....but to promise it in exchange for a computer game is pretty reasonable.

The April Fool's joke made the point that nobody actually reads those online agreements. Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

Quote of the day

Blonde chick to friend: So I ran into that guy and confronted him. I was like, "why didn't you say hi to me last Friday? I know you saw me, but you didn't say anything. Listen, if you're going to sleep with me Thursday night, you can't just not say hi to me on Friday. I know it's common for a lot of businessmen to sleep with prostitutes and then ignore them the next day when they see them on the street, but they pay them. If you're going to ignore me, fine... but I expect a check in the mail."
- Overheard in New York

How happy is happy enough?

Well, if you're not there yet, Badakesuyo tweets how to move in the right direction.

How gay is gay enough?

In a bizarre development, 3 athletes ruled insufficiently gay are suing to have the determination overturned, as well as reinstatement of their standing and money damages.
At one point during the proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, one of the plaintiffs was told: "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Learning Icelandic is like getting a tattoo on your arse: it’s time consuming, painful, and you rarely get a chance to show it off."
- via Language Log

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't try this at home!

MR always has the best links, and this one to "20 Homemade Things That Shouldn’t Be Home-Made" is well worth a look. The scaffolding and the child seat are especially cringe-inducing.

Other recent posts and links by MR include hiring an evil clown to stalk your children, porn magazines for the blind, the fact that a fat "freak" of the past who toured the world because of his size would look unexceptional today, John Cleese explaining the advantages of extremism, and a look-back at last years "hard" words from the New York Times (Maybe next year's will be out soon?).

Not to mention an interesting look at the unexpected directions causality can take.

Update: And, of course, unconventional but respectable names for beer.

Cliff Notes for Movies!

Via Prettier Than Napoleon, who used "ALIENS: An unplanned pregnancy leads to complications." as her post title, Uncomfortable Plot Summaries tells you everything you need to know about the movies, but you might not recognize the movie without thinking a bit.

My three favorites:

BATMAN: Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: Mel Gibson fulfills fantasy of showing a Jew beaten to a bloody pulp and killed on-screen.
TWILIGHT: Girl gives up college for stalker.

King Kong Theory - book review

A short read, and I recommend it - an interesting view on rape, pornography, prostitution, and gender roles from a woman who has had experience with all of these. Her name is Virginie Despentes, and she writes "as one of the leftovers, one of those weirdos, the ones who shave their heads, those who don't know how to dress, those who worry that they stink...", and for "men who don't want to protect, men who would like to be protective but don't know where to start, men who don't know how to fight, those who cry easily...." The translation from the French was obviously done by a Brit, where "pissed" means "drunk" rather than "angry", and "fag" means "cigarette".

She was raped by three men while she was hitchhiking with another woman. Part of her concern afterward was how unmentionable it was:
The few times - mostly very pissed - when I have wanted to tell this story, have I used the word? Never. The few times I have attempted to talk about it, I'd skirted around the word "rape": "assaulted", "mixed up", "in a tight corner", "hassled"....whatever. As long as the aggression is not called "rape", the attack loses its specificity, can be compared with other attacks, like getting mugged, picked up by the cops, held for questioning, beaten. This short-sighted strategy does have advantages, because as soon as you name your rape as a rape, the women-controlling mechanisms suddenly swing into action: do you want everyone to know what happened to you? Do you want everyone to see you as a woman who has been subject to that? And in any case you must be a total slut to have escaped alive. Any woman who values her dignity would rather die.

Beyond the actual fact of the rape, she felt oppressed because she felt that society would place a greater importance on "the thrusts of those three idiots" than on her fear for her very survival. Not until four years later, when she read an interview with Camille Paglia, did she appreciate her own strength. She doesn't remember the exact words, but Paglia said something like "It's an inevitable danger, a danger that women need to take into account and run the risk of encountering, if they want to leave their homes and move around freely. If it happens to you then pick yourself up, dust yourself down and move on. If that's too scary for you, then you'd better stay at home with Mummy and manicure your nails." Her reaction was negative at first, but when it sunk in, "For the first time, someone was valuing the ability to get over it, instead of lying down obligingly in the anthology of trauma. Someone was devaluing rape, its impact and consequences. This did not invalidate any part of what happened, or efface anything of what we learnt that night."

Later she worked for a while as a prostitute, which she rated as an overall positive experience - the biggest negatives were the expectation of society: "I am not trying to argue that in any conditions, and for any woman, this kind of work is innocuous. But with the modern-day economic world being what it is - cold and pitiless warfare - banning the practice of prostitution within an appropriate legal framework is actively preventing the female class from making a decent living and turning a profit from its very stigmatisation."

Her take on pornography is also pro-sex and anti-society: "Pornography hits the blind corner of reason. It directly addresses our primitive fantasies, bypassing words and thought, The hard-on or wetness comes first; wondering why follows on behind. Self-censorship reactions are shaken. Porn images don't give us any choice: here's what turns you on, here's what makes you respond. Porn shows us the buttons to press to turn ourselves on. And that is porn's greatest strength, its almost mystical dimension. And also what literally horrifies the anti-porn crusaders. They reject being told directly about their own desire, reject being made to know things about themselves that they have chosen to suppress and ignore."

While I don't always agree with her beliefs (she ascribes almost all our constraints to our society, and I believe that there is a biological component to all this that she seems to reject), she is willing to look at facts and feelings straight on. An honest look like that is worth sharing.

And if you buy it from this link, I'd actually earn a few pennies:

Quote of the day

"Iceland's last wish: to have its ashes scattered all over Europe"
- a tweet

Update: Do you know how to pronounce that glacier? Apparently nobody else outside of iceland does, either!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The perils of superstition....

I am sometimes concerned that some of my friends put too much faith into romantic little oddities such as astrology. But at least they don't usually perform human sacrifices in order to improve their product, although I suppose one should admire the dedication....

"Living with crazy buttocks"

In a previous year's "Oddest Book Title" contest, the winner was the title above. This year it is “Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes”.


Towards a richer vocabulary.....

Isn't that what they called it in the Readers' Digest? Anyway, I don't think they had
prostidude a male prostitute

If you follow the link to Language Log, you will also learn why you might enjoy "warmed spring salad greens with prostitutes".

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quote of the day

"Applying for my first job, I realized I had to be creative in listing my few qualifications. Asked about additional schooling and training, I answered truthfully that I had spent three years in computer programming classes. I got the job. I had neglected to mention that I took the same course for three years before I passed."
- Chi Flat Iron

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Linked by the captivating Penelope Trunk...

... who was herself linked by the legendary MR.

Although her link is about pig sex, so what with that and bouncing nude, it is probably a very good thing I am not actively trying to shape a personal "brand".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Best idea EVER.....

Marginal Revolution points out the service every man should have...appropriately enough called Manpacks.

Yes, you too can have socks and underwear delivered to you on a regular schedule now, to avoid that all-too-familiar nothing-in-the-drawer-without-holes-in-it syndrome.

The question is: now that this is available, will men continue to get married?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Quote of the Day

"That's a husband's FUNCTION!"

-- me, responding to a protest about mussing my wife's lipstick

Credited for bouncing nude.....

Pointed out an interesting case where a spellchecker caused some confusing to some linguistics professors whose blog I enjoy (and whose books I have bought), and got credited for the pointer. Thrilled!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Church-based pornography

As though Africa didn't have enough problems, there is a movement to make homosexuality a capital crime with previous convictions (also for offenses involving minors or being HIV positive).

What makes this especially newsworthy is that a minister promoting this bill actually tried to persuade people by showing gay porn in his church.

Apparently, g-d indeed works in mysterious ways.

Quote of the Day

"My reputation as a ladies' man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone."
— Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quote of the day

"I'm a miracle of thermodynamics! I'm both extremely hot and extremely cool at the same time!"
- Overheard in New York

Monday, February 22, 2010

Health R&D

Interesting graph suggesting our non-military government research spending is VERY heavy on health compared to that of other countries.

Quote of the day

"When we show a friend a city one has already visited, we feel the same pride as when we point out a woman whose lover we have been."
- Alexandre Dumas, pere (from "The Count of Monte Cristo")

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"...he couldn't stop thinking about one day resuming his daily regimen of sexual intercourse with random women who look vaguely like his wife, only skankier."
The Onion

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quote of the day

"Mammograms are very uncomfortable, and of course, you don't want to shoot any more radiation into yourself than necessary, so women should have been excited by the news that you probably don't need one until you're fifty. Instead they were outraged. Since this was about spending other peoples' money, naturally we want the right to spend as much of it as possible, even if it's not very useful."
- Megan McArdle

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Hagging in the Marriage Market

This post modeling how a small change in sex ratios (20:20 -> 19:20) can have large effects on what people might do to hook up is interesting, even though I'm pretty sure lifetime companion decisions aren't actually made that way.

Although I'm not sure the way we do it actually gives better results.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Webinar on Twitter on Vokle

...was given by Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist.

From my point of view it was a bit chaotic, but then I pretty much
only use Twitter to update my Facebook status - so maybe a good bit
was over my head.

I got a clue about "@", which I'd seen before but didn't understand.

Also a pointer to a couple of services, such as Buzzom, not that I'm
likely to use it.

Best advice: don't be boring. But I already knew that.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The deadliest mittens.....

A couple of years ago, somebody I didn't know walked up to me in a bar and asked "What can you tell me about the Soviet-Finnish war?"

An unusual greeting, and all I could think of on the spur of the moment was "I believe that is when the Finns invented the biathlon, except that they used Russians as the targets."

He grinned and explained that a girl he knew had said he could ask me a question on any topic he could think of and I'd come up with an answer (not true - he just got lucky).

Recently I saw an article explaining the success of one of these early biathlon practitioners, Simo Häyhä, who reportedly took down about 800 Soviets. I'm sure there was more to his success than just his mittens, but it is interesting to think they were a contributing factor.

An excerpt of an excerpt:
One of the reasons Häyhä was so successful, believe it or not, was because of his mitten ensemble. They consisted of three layers: the bottom layer was an incredibly finely knitted tight-fitting glove made of handspun yarn, finer than commercial woolen knits could be found at that time. The second layer was a fingerless mitt that stopped short of the base of his fingers, while covering his wrist and the first joint of his thumb. The outer layer was made of heavy, thick wool, in a technique unique to scandinavia called nålbinding, which was looped rather than knitted. This nålbinded mitten, in addition to being virtually impervious to cold, also had a split in it for his trigger finger, so he could fire his rifle without taking them off.

The underglove was fine enough that he could reload his rifle without taking THAT off, drastically reducing the amount of time that his hands had to be exposed to the cold. And if he did have to do maintenance on his rifle that required the underglove to come off, he could put the wrist-covering mitt back on; because that covered the pulse point in his wrist, it kept his blood warmer longer and kept feeling in his fingers.

I could use something like that in Rochester even when I'm not in a mood to kill people!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Quote of the day

“It’s hard to believe President Obama’s now been in office for a year. And you know, it’s incredible. He took something that was in terrible, terrible shape and he brought it back from the brink of disaster: The Republican Party."

Jay Leno, courtesy of the Volokh Conspiracy

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quote of the day - how to become a great poet

I wrote notes to women so as to have them. They began to show them around and soon people started calling it poetry. When it didn't work with women, I appealed to God.
- Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quote of the day

Lies were also categorised as to whether they were self-oriented or other-oriented with men telling more self-oriented lies than women. Overall, though, men and women told about the same number of lies, contrary to the popular conception that men are bigger liars than women.
- Feldman et al

All science aside, men are still more likely to lie about the size of their sexual organs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quote of the Day

But Lady Gaga is a more or less average-to-petite young woman, and she totally rocks the weird fashion. She makes me want to run around in a PVC bodysuit with a rooster hood, or no pants with giant hoof-heels, or whatever weird thing you can imagine. She is really inspiring.
- Prettier Than Napoleon

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chess versus poker

I stopped playing chess on a regular basis a long, long time ago.

When I DO play abstract strategy games, I usually play go.

Once upon a time, though, I was a serious player: a member of the United States Chess Federation (USCF), a player in tournaments, even a (losing) contender for the run-off to challenge for the championship of the US Virgin Islands.

Of the many world chess championships, many have been spectacular failures. There have been lunatics, apparatchiks, and monomaniacs (of course, being a monomaniac might be a prerequisite for being the world's best at almost ANYTHING). One that I've admired, though, has been Kasparov, who wrote this article about chess and computers:
erhaps chess is the wrong game for the times. Poker is now everywhere, as amateurs dream of winning millions and being on television for playing a card game whose complexities can be detailed on a single piece of paper. But while chess is a 100 percent information game—both players are aware of all the data all the time—and therefore directly susceptible to computing power, poker has hidden cards and variable stakes, creating critical roles for chance, bluffing, and risk management.

These might seem to be aspects of poker based entirely on human psychology and therefore invulnerable to computer incursion. A machine can trivially calculate the odds of every hand, but what to make of an opponent with poor odds making a large bet? And yet the computers are advancing here as well. Jonathan Schaeffer, the inventor of the checkers-solving program, has moved on to poker and his digital players are performing better and better against strong humans—with obvious implications for online gambling sites.

Perhaps the current trend of many chess professionals taking up the more lucrative pastime of poker is not a wholly negative one. It may not be too late for humans to relearn how to take risks in order to innovate and thereby maintain the advanced lifestyles we enjoy. And if it takes a poker-playing supercomputer to remind us that we can't enjoy the rewards without taking the risks, so be it.

HT, again, MR!

Most useless dating advice of the month

I rather enjoyed this article, but there was a glaring omission.

The article describes how men's dance moves were judged by women, and "women gave the highest attractiveness ratings to men with the highest levels of prenatal testosterone." So if you're a guy, and you want to glitter underneath that disco ball, just make sure you are exposed to plenty of testosterone while you are still in the womb.

In case you're wondering, yes, I had a high level of prenatal testosterone (PT). The way they determine this is to compare the length of your index finger to that of your ring finger. If your ring finger is longer, high level of PT. The bigger the disparity, the higher the PT.

Interestingly, and I have no idea what this means - if anything, the difference is greater on my right hand than my left: 1/2 a fingernail compared to 1/4 a fingernail.

Fun article, but couldn't they have given the poor male readers at least ONE dance move guaranteed to look good?


Friday, January 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

And if you ever become devout pray for me if I am dead. I am asking several of my friends to do that. I had expected to become devout myself but it has not come.
- Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the day

"The way to interpret his intentions is not by his words but by his entrails."
- myself, in reference to a rather duplicitous player

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quote of the day

"As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door."

-- Fareed Zakaria, via MR


A bit late on this - but if you're wondering where to donate, Professor Cowen has advice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quote of the day

"A Shanghai hospital cultivated and reintroduced human brain tissue in 2002 after taking a sample from the end of a chopstick implanted in a patient's frontal lobe following a disagreement at a restaurant."

HT Marginal Revolution

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

You have a splendid rank. I don't want you to have any more rank. It might go to your head. Oh, darling, I'm awfully glad you're not conceited. I'd have married you even if you were conceited but it's very restful to have a husband who's not conceited.

A Farewell To Arms (Hemingway)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Quote of the day

"I want to tell you I used a calm voice, but I worry I used a psycho, calm-before-the-storm voice."
- Penelope Trunk

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Really hitting where it hurts.....

Pretty much the same week we had the underwear bomber, the coffee machine at work failed. This turned out to be failure from ordinary wear and tear rather than sabotage by extremists, but it DID make me think...

The security around coffee machines is so much less intense than we see around airports, and America is so dependent on its caffeine of its productivity - wouldn't it make more sense for terrorists to strike at the coffee machines instead, leaving American workers bleary?

Also, it has the (inexplicable) advantage of not being seen as a capital crime!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Quote of the Day

There's no such thing as a "pretty good" alligator wrestler.

- Book title