January 31, 2005
Klarner, Polya, de Bruijn
Kara Lynn Klarner sent me a scan of a photo of the mathematicians David Klarner, George Polya, and NG de Bruijn. It was taken on the campus of Stanford University in May 1973.
The standard twentieth-century approach to algebra followed the pattern set by van der Waerden's extremely influential 1931 German Springer text Modern Algebra...
We have found a method to automatically extract the meaning of words and phrases from the world-wide-web using Google page counts. The approach is novel in its unrestricted problem domain, simplicity of implementation, and manifestly ontological underpinnings. The world-wide-web is the largest database on earth, and the latent semantic context information entered by millions of independent users averages out to provide automatic meaning of useful quality. We demonstrate positive correlations, evidencing an underlying semantic structure, in both numerical symbol notations and number-name words in a variety of natural languages and contexts. Next, we demonstrate the ability to distinguish between colors and numbers, and to distinguish between 17th century Dutch painters; the ability to understand electrical terms, religious terms, emergency incidents, and we conduct a massive experiment in understanding WordNet categories; the ability to do a simple automatic English-Spanish translation.
Domain name of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, United States Department of the Treasury
[Complete with convenient, downloadable images of the new $50 bill. PDF]
Also: Wikipedia article on the "EURion constellation," or special images on US and Euro notes meant to be detectable by software inside scanners:
Users of recent versions of image editors, such as Adobe Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, discovered that these also refuse to process banknotes. According to an article in Wired magazine, the banknote detection code in these applications, called the Counterfeit Deterrence System (CDS), was designed by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group and supplied to companies such as Adobe as a binary module. However, experiments by Steven J. Murdoch and others showed that this banknote detection code does not rely on the EURion pattern. It detects other features of banknote designs that have yet to be described in public.
[Also: counterfeit detection pen]
Uday Hussein and the Wood Chipper
In the latest issue of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn writes:
Discussing an Iraqi fakir touted by the Bush administration, I recently wrote that "In atrocity stories there are some things that don't ring true, even when dealing with such well-credentialed butchers as Saddam and his sons. Take the story, subsequently identified as one concocted by a Western intelligence agency, that Uday had put some of his victims through a wood chipper. Anyone using these chippers knows the damn things jam if inconvenienced by anything with a diameter larger than a stick of asparagus...
....Uday's chipper, whose origin can probably be traced to a scene in the movie Fargo, just didn't passed muster..."
I was being slightly frivolous about the woodchipper, but the letters poured in.Then one of the letters:
Dear Mr Cockburn, Your fine web piece of Jan 8-9 contains a factual error that you might wish to be aware of. Although the residential, light-commercial, tree-service-type wood chipper might jam if fed a human body (they are designed to chew up brush and limbs), the type used in land clearing (the source of woodchips we use for playground surfacing) and pulp-chip operations would not stutter if fed a regimentone at a time, of course.
And then a pointer to a company called Morbark, which offers this customer testimonial:
One long-time Morbark customer put it this way: "If you're serious about chipping wood or grinding wood, Morbark is the only way to go."
added later (and not for the squeamish): A Darwin Award
Mysterious billboard in San Jose:
Click the photo.
"I see. ICs? What, Chips? What kind of chips?"
I don't think I want to hear more
From today's Palo Alto Daily News:
NO 34-40-2 HEADQUARTERS
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
Washington, DC, 13 September 1990
January 30, 2005
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
(Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).
January 29, 2005
this tls article (PDF) by Ronald Wright: "Fools' Paradise: Easter Island's unlearned lesson."
two responses to the misspelling "becuase"
(1) Dvorak-analytic [blame the mechanism]:
The right hand's trigger-finger loses patience at "U", and enters the stage before the quartet of left-hand letters "B", "E", "C", and "A" can complete their lines. [naturally, I prefer this explanation]
(2) Poetic-emotional [curse the wor(l)d]
link [not too bad, either]
A question posed about online course management systems
However, while more and more faculty and programs have come to rely upon course management systems over the past few years, rapid technology and business changes (mergers, elimination of products, etc.) have brought about a sense of discomfort in the community.
Questions arise: 1) How invested is my institution in one platform? 2) If I put my material in a CMS, can I get it out? 3) What happens if my institution switches systems? 4) How do I share materials between systems? 5) If I have just arrived from an institution that uses a different CMS, how do I use what I have already created? 6) How can my content development work be "future proofed" against CMS changes?
The answer to these questions is as follows
2) probably not.
3) you lose everything.
4) you don't, easily.
5) you can't.
6) don't use a "course management system" for pedagogic material:
WRITE HTML INSTEAD
We've arrived at the answer to the question posed by this paper: Trapped Content Silos.
Strawberry Tsunami vs Strawberry Nirvana
Gloria noticed that they're not selling the "Strawberry Tsunami" flavor any more at the Jamba Juice in the Tresidder student union on the Stanford campus. It might have been replaced by something called "Strawberry Nirvana." You can still buy a Strawberry Tsunami in Hawaii. But on another web page for a Concord, CA shopping mall, it looks like "Strawberry Tsunami" and "Strawberry Nirvana" are different drinks.
January 28, 2005
Second Isomorphism Theorem
Note to self:
click me and don't forget me! otherwise you'll write more useless Mathematica
Cheney at Auschwitz
"The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower..."
January 27, 2005
mathematical headache du jour
You'd expect this from google, not amazon. They have a yellow pages service with pictures of the storefronts and some ability to "walk" up and down the street:
January 26, 2005
Fifty Years of Hacks
I'm sorry I missed this talk by Edward Fredkin this afternoon at the Stanford CS dept.
By "Hack" we mean a modest effort that yields a surprisingly big result, the "hacker" is known to very few and the result is hopefully amusing. In this case the hacker always meant well, but...
The Thinking Carpet
It may be thoughtful, but still, it's a bit wordy:
On the one hand, the uniqueness of the 'Thinking Carpet' is going to lie in the invisible, simple and space-saving placement of sensors for the widest variety of functions, functions for which optically visible devices are still being utilised today. In addition, microchips that have been integrated into the flooring, networked with each other and are computer-controlled can register several, even different sensory signals at the same time, and then analyse them correspondingly.
Let the record show that carpets learned to think before they learned to fly.
String Theory better left to mathematicians?
Kenneth Lane, a theoretical high-energy physicist at BU, said [string theory] research is better left to mathematicians.
"String theory is not physics," Lane said. "It's lovely mathematics, but it makes no physics predictions. We're interested in the outcomes of experiments. If all we did was string theory, our experimentalists wouldn't know what to do. That's why it's not popular at BU."
Not surprisingly, some debate has risen among string theorists for what they view as BU's snubbing of a vital discipline.
Cumrun Vafa, a string theorist at Harvard University, said that for a particular faculty member to feel that string theory should be relegated to the mathematics department is wrong.
"To try to categorically deny the existence of a subject is just childish," Vafa said.
January 25, 2005
Chess Players give 'Check' a new meaning
Excerpt: (NYT) JAY BONIN, an international chess master who lives in New York, is one of the busiest players in the country. He takes part in face-to-face tournament matches every week and also regularly participates in games of speed chess at chessclub.com, the Internet Chess Club. He estimated that he has played more than 20,000 games online in the last three or four years.
Mr. Bonin is much more active than most elite players, but he is doing what most serious players have long thought is necessary: playing frequently to stay in peak form. Now, however, because of the widespread availability of databases of games and the growing strength of chess software, such activity may actually be making it easier to beat him.
Mr. Bonin said that he recently lost a tournament game to a weaker player who had not competed in years, but who had sprung a surprise move on him in one of Mr. Bonin's favorite openings.
''The line he played reeked of preparation,'' he said.
[maybe this is why my rating never goes up despite 40,000 games of ICC bullet chess in the last 7 years]
Turing Train Terminal
Nice idea, but it's really just a finite automaton, if I understand it correctly. They need to add the little barrels that the train can pick up and put down on a long track, the "tape."
Chris Ashley: Look, See
An admirable effort to find art in simple blobs of HTML: link
Added later: Here's Ashley's thinking about this technique. This stuff is very nice, I like it a lot. Some excerpts:
The making of any visual arts, or any art for that matter, is always about solving problems. Whether it's how to depict an object, how to use color, how to convey meaning through an image, or even what to make art about, an artist is is alway confronting problems, asking questions about what to do, and posing possible solutions, which leads to more questions and, hopefully, more solutions....
I already knew how to make hand-coded HTML tables, but given the potential complexity of code required to make an image I knew that I could make these drawings fairly quickly in an HTML editor. For all their supposed simplicity, it's not as easy as it looks; the hardest part is, of course, the question of what what to make.
I have found that a weblog can be a very effective work space that, for my purposes, became a studio, gallery, and archive...
January 24, 2005
Steve Martin on Johnny Carson
Your Nebraskan pragmatismand knowledge of the magician's trickstilted you toward the sciences, especially astronomy. (Maybe this is why the occultists, future predictors, spoon-benders or mind readers on your show never left without having been challenged.) You knew how to treat everyone, from the pompous actor to the nervous actress, and which to give the appropriate kindness. You enjoyed the unflappable grannies who knitted log-cabin quilts, as well as the Vegas pros who machine-gunned the audience into hysterical fits. You were host to writers, children, intellectuals and nitwits and served them all well, and served the audience by your curiosity and tolerance. You gave each guest the benefit of the doubt, and in this way you exemplified an American ideal: you're nuts but you're welcome here.
A story in Alphabet
A creepy ABC book from 1894 meant to sell "Hood's Sarsaparilla," a patent medicine. [Duke rare books collection, "Emergence of Advertising in America"]
palmology [the study of fruit, or palms? perhaps both, perhaps neither? it's not in the dictionary. but palmistry is.]
Palmolive-y [like Palmolive. "You're soaking in it."]
I can't see images like this without immediately trying to find a visual pun, joke, or caption. But nothing particularly good comes to mind for this one. And there has to be a good one. But what is it?
A dangerously addictive Google search leading to long hours of click-click-clicking
I'm having too much fun with this
Name This Tune, via melodic contour search
as the "Parsons code" for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and it got it immediately.
Create your own Windows error message dialog
create your own (via boingboing)
January 23, 2005
January 22, 2005
Time magazine woman of the year, 1952
Who is it?
[I stared at it for about 5 minutes before giving up. Then I felt stupid I couldnt guess the answer. I was set up for failure by looking at other old Time magazine covers such as this one, featuring now-completely-forgotten figures such as "Frances Pinay" [shouldn't that be Antoine Pinay? I'm no French historianah, I see now, that's France's Pinay!!]. Anywayclick the photo for the answer]
January 21, 2005
what the heck is cosmic wimpout?
Postscript to how to play:
For many this is just the beginning. The game is ever changing and open to new rules and interpretations so the Guiding Light was developed. The Guiding Light says any new rule may be added at any time provided all players agree. The proposed new rule may go into effect the next time the situation occurs.
Some players practice Cosmic Cube Control. Energizing your cubes contributes to the fun; some say it's a necessary ritual to ensure unfailing tesseract compliance.
Most players agree that hesitation is a bad idea... so roll, already!
January 20, 2005
I looked at the paper immediately previous to mine with the 91A46 (Combinatorial Games) Math Subject Classification code. It was submitted in October 2004 and happens to end with the sentence
There is no analog in misere play to the Sprague-Grundy-Theory: for any two impartial games G and H without reversible options which are different in form, there is another impartial game K such that the winners of G + K and H + K are different; see [ONAG, Chapter 12].
Ah, not anymore, gentlemen, not anymore!
NYT #1 bestseller
``I'd rather spend the afternoon coughing up blood than reading Amber Frey's book,'' said Gracie Garcia, 65, who owns an antique store in Gilroy. ``It embarrasses me for my country and my people. It's so irrelevant and disgusting.''
article (mercury news)
THANE: It's hard to imagine, who would buy Amber Frey's book? Let's see, amongst people we know, who would it be?
GLORIA: [Mentions someone who shall remain nameless].
THANE: Maybe. Well, let's say, for example, that you bought it. I'd have a look at it, certainly...mmm...well, yes, maybe I would read it....hmmmm....I wonder how much it is at Borders? Maybe
The new Ford sin.
Or is it pronounced "sinus"?
Enter the SYNUS concept vehicle, a mobile techno sanctuary sculpted in urban armor and inspired by the popular B-cars of congested international hotspots. Short and slim for easy city maneuvering, it looks bank-vault tough on the outside - with intimidating and outrageous styling that even features a vault-style spinner handle in back with deadbolt door latching. When parked and placed in secure mode, SYNUS deploys protective shutters over the windshield and side glass...
The "the popular B-cars of congested international hotspots"? WTF?
Ever since that slogan, "The Ford Probe. Drive it Home," they've been trying to outdo themselves. It might be fun to drive a car that looks like a partly-rendered computer-generated graphic. Maybe you paint it yourself?
The 2nd Terminator
A banner at the CNN web site:
That's a truly scary graphic, expertly produced. It reminds me an ad for a Schwarzenegger movie, or one of those "Friday the 13th" sequels. Around the "U-R-A" inside "inauguration," the color lightens up mysteriously, as if the whole banner is about to explode into flames.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) RFC3261.
dynamicsoft, acquired by Cisco in Sept 2004. Hmmm.
January 19, 2005
nofollow? I no follow.
I don't think this is a good solution to comment spam. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why a legimate blog commenter should be able to post a robot-followable URL in a blog's comment thread. Just because comment spammers post URLs doesn't mean *I* shouldn't be able to unless I'm a "friend" or have provided some other authentication information.
The solution to Comment Spam is for Six Apart or whoever else wants to provide blog comment tools to embed a graphical challenge code to be typed in by the person who is submitting the comment. That would stop robots cold, and it's not too hard to implement. In fact, it's kind of fun to implement stuff like that.
I'm too lazy to see if someone has had the same idea. I'm sure someone has.
January 18, 2005
Some imperatives from The Many Faces of Go
Also some questions
Xerox Candy Bar
you're just a copy
of all the candy bars
I've ever eaten.
"Drop the cube. Now!!"
suggested title for one painting: 6.626068 x 10-34 m2 kg / s
I felt like a complete plonker
I felt like a complete plonker when I arrived in Phuket a week ago. I had no plan, didn't know where I was, didn't know where the disaster had struck, nothing. All I had was a big, green bag full of clothes that my kids wanted to donate. We'd all felt so terrible when we saw what the tsunami had done, especially after we had had such a great Christmas with lots of presents and food. I didn't have any work on for a few weeks, so, after a bit of umming and aahing, I thought, "Sod it, it's time to do something." I bought a ticket on January 2 and flew off the next morning...
link (the guardian)
January 17, 2005
The Chinese Word for Jade
Overheard at the Asian Art Museum yesterday:
PERSON: That doesn't look like jade, it looks like some other kind of carved rock.
GUIDE: You need to remember the Chinese word for jade is Yu, which means any type of hard rock.
PERSON: But what did they call jade?
PERSON: They must have had some word for jade, you know, this kind of stone, kind of greenish, like this one, right here.
GUIDE: (Exasperated). The Chinese word for jade is Yu, which means any kind of hard rock.
PERSON: (Gives up). Oh.
A first course in modular forms
Maybe this is the book I can finally read on this subject without having four other books open:
A First Course in Modular Forms is written for beginning graduate students and advanced undergraduates. It does not require background in algebraic number theory or algebraic geometry, and it contains exercises throughout...
A pogo stick that launches you 5 feet into the air.
It's like bouncing on a trampoline...
Don't let someone land on your foot.
January 16, 2005
I went to Froogle to see if some items I've always wanted to buy might be available.
1) The Disappearing Suit. There were plenty of suggestions for this, most prominently the following:
It looks like it sort of works, if you happen to be standing in front of a bunch of dead vines. I think I would like to see how it performs in other settings before committing to a purchase.
2) The Anti Gravity Device: This vest was prominent amongst the suggested items:
It certainly looks cool, and corresponds roughly to what I had in mind in color and styling. But does it really work?
3) The Future Predictor. I was expecting a software solution, and found one.
4) The Smart Pill. This leads to a lot of books about vitamins. How do I buy the pills?
Virtual Mr Toad's Wild Ride
An article at Boing Boing says that
When Walt Disney World's Mr Toad ride shut down to make way for a Pooh ride, diehard fans were heartbroken. One fan set out to recreate the entire ride as a 3D computer-generated environment...
But I can report that Mr Toad's ride was still at Disneyland (OK, they're talking about Disneyworld, I see), as of spring 2004. But is the ride at Disneyland gone now, too?
It's the only ride at Disneyland I like. Here's an excerpt from the VR project:
And what an experience! What made the ride so unbelievably special? It's hard to describe. Each side took you completely out of reality, sending you instantly into another world. Part of the appeal was that, unlike other Disney attractions, the movie this ride was based on wasn't well known, so part of the fun was to try and figure out what the ride was all about. For many kids growing up in the 1970's and early 1980's, Mr. Toad was the first "thrill ride" they experienced. And it was the only ride at Disney with a naked lady, the only ride that sent you hurtling head-on into an oncoming train, and the only ride where you ended up in hell at the end!
January 15, 2005
Titan vs Santa Barbara
Not quite visible in either photo is the campus of the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Added later: I thought the Titan photo (top) looked exactly like the view you get from a Southwest airlines flight from SFO into LAX. Now I look at this page at the European Space Agency, and find this description of the top photo:
[This image was] taken from an altitude of about 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) and a resolution of about 20 meters (about 65 feet) per pixel. The images were taken by the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer, one of two NASA instruments on the probe.
So I spent awhile looking for a photo that captured the view of Santa Barbara I had in mind, but found only satellite images (such as the one I put below the Titan photo). In any case, it's 5 miles up = 26,000 feet, cruising altitude.
Forty Pig & Whistles
From an article in the Economist on Britain's newly liberal drink licensing laws:
Britain's cities are already among the booziest in the world, and worry is that they will become more alcohol-sodden once the old restrictions are done away with. The new act addresses some fears by giving local authorities more powers to move against troublesome pubs. But as Andrew McNeill, director of the Institute for Alcohol Studies, and independent think-tank, puts it, "It's not that the Pig & Whistle is badly managed. The problem is that there are 40 Pig & Whistles in a tiny area."
Looks like there's one on Geary in SF.
January 14, 2005
Princeton Univ Press book
Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions
Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders
January 13, 2005
My tax dollars at work
From an article at CNN, "FBI may scrap $170 million computer system."
One official said that "next time" the FBI would seek a modular system in which capabilities can be added or changed to the existing structure.
Sounds like a good idea.
Quality of Life
Days after the screening, he is doing a "Quality of Life" walking tour in the Mission with Smith, pointing out the various film spots. He notes a second-story wall above Valencia that was used as a set for the film's most powerful scene, in which Laine pours out his anguish in the all-night-long execution of a huge and extraordinary work of art.
"That was my design," he says modestly. "It was designed loosely on Picasso's 'Burial of Casagemas' painting, but I put a crown on the body, since in graffiti parlance, a 'king' is an artist. That mural really was done all night long. And you can still see the outline on the wall; all that's left are the lines where we buffed it out."
A paper at the arxiv by Federico Ardila and Richard P Stanley.
January 12, 2005
University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group
Added later: I had spent some time a few months ago looking around on the Internet for a good poker program for Texas Hold'Em, but the wild popularity of this game made it hard to find the good stuff amongst all the lame gambling sites. But the "Poker Research Group" had a pointer to poki-poker.com, and I've just bought their program and installed it. It's a very nice program I think. It certainly has all the attributes I was looking for, including a good description of the probabilities of winning, pot odds, and other statistics during play. Also it has some nice robots to place against.
Looks like he's busy typing at his computer, right now.
I spent a few minutes looking at logs for the machine that hosts this web site and found quite a few script kiddie hack attempts:
Failed password for illegal user god from 220.127.116.11 port 50160 ssh2
Received disconnect from 18.104.22.168: 11: Bye Bye
input_userauth_request: illegal user barbara
Failed password for illegal user barbara from 22.214.171.124 port 50169 ssh2
Received disconnect from 126.96.36.199: 11: Bye Bye
Received disconnect from 188.8.131.52: 11: Bye Bye
input_userauth_request: illegal user larisa
Failed password for illegal user larisa from 184.108.40.206 port 50209 ssh2
Received disconnect from 220.127.116.11: 11: Bye Bye
input_userauth_request: illegal user shell
Failed password for illegal user shell from 18.104.22.168 port 50220 ssh2
Received disconnect from 22.214.171.124: 11: Bye Bye
input_userauth_request: illegal user jane
Failed password for illegal user jane from 126.96.36.199 port 50229 ssh2
Received disconnect from 188.8.131.52: 11: Bye Bye
input_userauth_request: illegal user dog
Failed password for illegal user dog from 184.108.40.206 port 50235 ssh2
Received disconnect from 220.127.116.11: 11: Bye Bye
That's right: neither god, nor even dog, is allowed to log in without the proper authentication credentials. Sorry kids.
Topanga Canyon Road
A twenty-five foot rock that rolled down a hill to block a road in Southern CA. (via boingboing)
January 11, 2005
The Buffalo Commons
In 1987, as part of their famous, controversial proposal for a "Buffalo Commons," Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper of Rutgers University showed that hundreds of counties in the American West still have less than a sparse 6 persons per square mile -- the density standard Frederick Jackson Turner used to declare the American Frontier closed in 1893. Many have less than 2 persons per square mile!The [United States] frontier never came close to disappearing, and in fact has expanded in recent years. The 1980 Census showed 388 frontier counties west of the Mississippi. The 1990 Census shows 397 counties in frontier status, and the 2000 Census shows even more. Most of this frontier expansion is in the Great Plains. Kansas actually has more land in frontier counties than it did in 1890.
Sothe idea is to put hundreds of thousands of Buffalo in there, and let them stampede. It's a great idea, and would eventually become the greatest thing to see in the entire natural world. In particular, it would make the high plains of the United States and Canada into one of the world's great tourist destinations.
Finding the regret
The Big Empty
With an interesting B/W photo of Norman Mailer. Excerpt:
To win this war [against corporations] will take, at least, 50 years and a profound revolution in America. We'll have to get away from manipulation. What we've got now is a species of economic, political, and spiritual brainwashing, vastly superior to the old Soviets, who were endlessly crude in their attempts. Our governmental and corporate leaders are much more subtle. I remember years ago when my son was around 15, he wore a shirt that said Stussy on it. And I said, "Not only do you spend money to buy the shirt, but you also advertise the company that sold it to you." And he said, "Dad, you just don't get it." All right, he was right, I didn't get it.
But I liked this the best:
The small businessman is always taking his chances. He leads an existential life. He's gambling that his wit, his energy, and his ideas of what will work in the marketplace will be successful. He can be a sonofabitch, but at least he's out there in the middle of life. He could be creating something that's awful, but at least, he's taking chances...
Rettir, or Sheep Sorting
These two buildings in Iceland look like someone caught them, just as they were trying to sneak across the street.
Harmonious in mind and mouth
Excerpt from a police training program:
We know that 98 percent of the altercations between police and civilians begin with mind and mouth disharmony. The way we are inclined to talk naturally, therefore, must be wrong. Words that flow easily from the lips will usually be wrong because we work the underbelly of society, people at their worst. We are not hired to express our feelings; we are hired to solve problems. Verbal Judo is the opposite of natural language, it is tactical language, or language shaped to achieve a professional goal.
More at Verbal Judo
Somehow this paragraph, and the idea of police officers deploying Verbal Judo, reminded me of Wittgenstein. So I flipped open Philosophical Investigations, I and found this:
68. If I tell someone"Stand roughly here"may not this explanation work perfectly? And cannot every other one fail too?
But isn't it an inexact explanation? Yeswhy shouldn't we call it "inexact"? Only let us understand what "inexact" means. For it does not mean "unusable." And let us consider what we call an "exact" explanation in contrast with this one. Perhaps something like drawing a chalk line around an area? Here it strikes us at once that the line has breadth. So a colour-edge would be more exact. But has this exactness still got a function here: isn't the engine idling?
There you've got itthe sobriety test, chalk outline, and the idling engine. It's a philosophical police traffic stop.
January 10, 2005
It's dangerous, nasty and there is only ever one winner. Small wonder Extreme Arguing is so addictive...
link (the guardian)
If you liked that one, here's a Google search that leads to lots of good reading: barbara ellen observer
"We're going to be able to write DNA. What do we want to say?"
Chatting with the New Mayor
Cole, David, and Mrs. Lindsay chat with Palo Alto mayor-elect Jim Burch, shortly before his inauguration tonight in the City Council chambers. I sat a few rows back because the best seats were saved for the kids.
The Chicken Little Logic Headache
From the NYT, 7 January 2005, "Heavy Rains in West Begin Chasing Its Drought," by By Dean E. Murphy:
Persistent wet weather across much of the West has done something remarkable to the scientists and water officials who fret about the region's five-year-old drought: They feel a lot less like Chicken Little.
"This is the kind of sky we like to see fall," Herbert R. Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said in a telephone interview from Phoenix. "In rain - not us running around wringing our hands and screaming because of lack of water."
Soless like Chicken Little in that they were warning about important things that needed to happen, but that now that it has rained, they don't need to warn anymore? But that's not less like Chicken Little, that's not Chicken Little to any degree, since the essence of Chicken Littlehood is warning about things that aren't going to happen, and no one should care whether they happen.
Or what? This is the CHICKEN LITTLE LOGIC HEADACHE.
[Note to self: don't think about this anymore. It's been three days already.]
The Salvador Option
Here's some more scary thinking about Iraq and what to do about the big mess there. The natural thing to do after a big failure is to "declare success," then pack up the old kit bags and smile, smile, smile. And that's obviously what has to happen in the long termthe US will have no military presence to speak of in Iraq. But I doubt too many people in Chimpdom have come around to that way of thinking. Yet. In the meantime, there's the "Salvador Option":
The U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a successdespite the deaths of innocent civilians...
Well, I'm still a little surprised
THE SCENE: A spelling bee. A KID approaches a microphone on the stage. A JUDGE looks down at his word list.
KID: Achievruh? Language of origin?
KID: Achievruh? Could you repeat the word please?
KID: Okay, "Achiever." ACHIEVER
JUDGE: (Rings bell). NEXT!
The new ISBN
Why is January 1, 2005 important?
That's the date that the Uniform Code Council has established as the "sunrise date" for U.S. retailers to join the rest of the world in using a full 13-digit EAN in place of the current US 12-digit UPC...
From an article describing the decision of the Los Angeles Times to drop the comic "Garfield":
Gene Weingarten, a humor columnist for The Washington Post and Washington Post Writers Group, praised the Times decision during his weekly washingtonpost.com chat yesterday. He said the paper displayed "the kind of cojones missing in too many places" and described "Garfield" as "a strip produced by a committee, devoid of originality, devoid of guts, a strip cynically DESIGNED to be inoffensive and bad, on the theory that public tastes are insipid.
I've had the same feeling for years"Garfield" is not only bad, it's almost always incredibly bad.
Now: what can be done about Ziggy?
January 09, 2005
Eric H Lenneberg
When I buy used books via Alibris or Amazon, they sometimes arrive with the previous owner's "Ex Libris" stickers attached, or some other interesting information, sometimes even papers stuck in the middle of the book.
I bought a copy of a 1968 book edited by Michael A. Arbib called "Algebraic Theory of Machines, Languages, and Semigroups" a couple of weeks ago. Inside its cover, I found a sticker for someone named Eric H Lenneberg, and also a stamp, "Department of Psychology, Uris Hall, Cornell University."
Here's what one web page has to say:
Eric H[einz] Lenneberg (1921 - 1975) was a linguist who pioneered ideas on language acquisition and cognitive psychology [and] more generally about innateness. He was born in Duesseldorf, Germany. As a jew, he left Germany because of Nazi terrorism. As a professor in psychology, he worket at the Harvard Medical School and at the University of Michigan in Ann Harbor.
His 1964 paper "The Capacity of Language Acquisition" sets forth the seminal arguments picked up later by Noam Chomsky and popularized by Steven Pinker in his book, "The Language Instinct".
Here's a link with a great photo of him, in black and white (all great photos are black and white).
January 08, 2005
People lie, numbers don't
The new CBS TV show numb3rs has the catchphrase "People lie, numbers don't."
I've known quite a few numbers who told me fibs, or at least grossly misrepresented themselves in the context of the "strong law for small numbers." The strong law is encapsulated in Richard Guy's observation that "There are not enough small numbers to satisfy all the demands placed on them."
As a result, the hard-pressed small numbers, particularly when they gather together, end up telling a lot of lies to unsuspecting mathematicians. Three is a big liar, but probably not as bad two, though, and certainly not so bad as 1, the biggest liar of them all.
Gloria came back today from her cross country ski trip with (Poetry Slam Champion) Kim two days early, to avoid the heavy snow now falling in the Sierras. That means the return of the little doggly-woggly will come a bit earlier than I hoped forright now, she's at dog camp, running around in the rain. Gloria might pick her up tomorrow.
The cats are in for a bit of surprise too, having made themselves comfortable downstairs again, absent the dog.
January 07, 2005
definition (via Gerard 't Hooft, who thoughtfully explains the apostrophe. I'm also encouraged that I must be on the right track, collecting misspellings of my own name, just the way 't hooft does for his own). It's clearly a case of two great minds, hitting on the same concept. I don't begrudge him his honors.
Charles Dickens 
From American Notes (pg 268 or so in that web version):
"You carry," says the stranger, "this jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life. By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies, it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage, who, in their every act, disgrace your Institutions and your people's choice. It has rendered you so fickle, and so given to change, that your inconstancy has passed into a proverb; for you no sooner set up an idol firmly than you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments: and this because, directly you reward a benefactor, or a public servant, you distrust him, merely because he is rewarded; and immediately apply yourselves to find out, either that you have been too bountiful in your acknowledgments, or he remiss in his deserts. Any man who attains a high place among you, from the President downwards, may date his downfall from that moment; for any printed lie that any notorious villain pens, although it militate directly against the character and conduct of a life, appeals at once to your distrust, and is believed. You will strain at a gnat in the way of trustfulness and confidence, however fairly won and well deserved; but you will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and mean suspicions. Is this well, think you, or likely to elevate the character of the governors or the governed among you?"
The answer is invariably the same: "There's freedom of opinion here, you know. Every man thinks for himself, and we are not to be easily overreached. That's how our people come to be suspicious."
Another prominent feature is the love of "smart" dealing: which gilds over many a swindle and gross breach of trust; many a defalcation, public and private; and enables many a knave to hold his head up with the best, who well deserves a halter: though it has not been without its retributive operation, for this smartness has done more in a few years to impair the public credit, and to cripple the public resources, than dull honesty, however rash, could have effected in a century. The merits of a broken speculation, or a bankruptcy, or of a successful scoundrel, are not gauged by its or his observance of the golden rule, "Do as you would be done by," but are considered with reference to their smartness. I recollect, on both occasions of our passing that ill-fated Cairo on the Mississippi, remarking on the bad effects such gross deceits must have, when they exploded, in generating a want of confidence abroad, and discouraging foreign investment: but I was given to understand that this was a very smart scheme, by which a deal of money had been made: and that its smartest feature was, that they forgot these things abroad in a very short time, and speculated again as freely as ever. The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: "Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-so should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous and odious means, and, notwithstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?" "Yes, sir." "A convicted liar?" "Yes, sir." "He has been kicked, and cuffed, and caned?" "Yes, sir." "And he is utterly dishonourable, debased, and profligate?" "Yes, sir." "In the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?" "Well, sir, he is a smart man."
H. L. Mencken 
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
January 06, 2005
Wow, Costco has everything
Marc points out this.
Thankfully none of them has my name on it.
I feel sorry for all those people named Charles.
January 05, 2005
Stanford Women's Basketball tickets
Owen's "Kindergarten Luck" is holding into the first gradehe won two court-level seats for the yesterday's Stanford women's basketball game. We sat right in front of the press photographers, who knelt in front us with their enviable lenses.
I tried to take photos but knew from previous experience that I wouldn't be able to take any in focus with no flash. You need a big lens for that. A super-macho lens, in fact. Got to get me one of those, clearly. AnywayI switched to the Lensbabies gadget and got some nice impressionistic shots with that thing, which you hand-focus by pushing on the elastic thingy that the lens is mounted on.
"Blur? I embrace the blur."
Too lazy to post the photos on the blog.
Ike Cosse: Bad Decision
From a good review by Gordon Baxter of Ike Cosse's Cold-blooded world:
The basic driving rhythm guitar and wailing harp of "Bad Decision" make it the pick of the tracks. It is a very simple tune, which points out that "Sometimes you gotta pay for the bad decisions in life," regardless of how big or small the decision is...
Chinesische Klaviermusik fuer Kinder
Playing through them, I thoughthey! this does sound Chinese.
Why the surprise?
January 04, 2005
What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
January 03, 2005
The Big Beat 
There is one question:
Who (or what) is H. D.?
You may open your booklets and begin now.
Cultural Topology: an Introduction to Postmodern Mathematics
Goofy, but still interesting. At least I read it through. That's saying something.
Added later: OKmaybe I didn't read every word. I liked this:
In Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971), Heisenberg tells the story of his battle with tremendous hay fever that forced him to leave his studies with Max Born in May 1925. He traveled to Heligoland, hoping the sea air would ease his swollen face. Sitting on his balcony, he mused, "I had ample opportunity to reflect on Bohr's remark that part of infinity seems to lie within the grasp of those who look across the sea"(60)
In an inexplicable moment of weakness, I bought one of these.
I've taken a bunch of photos, but how to "send" them? Neither my "service provider" nor other possibly relevant "vendors" are much help here, including the Motorola web site itself. I'm wondering, hmmm, is the phone supposed to dial my ISP, login in, and mail the photos? Some deeply sarcophagized configuration screensuncovered only because I, like the great Italian antiquities plunderer of the 19th century, Giovanni Belzoni, am blessed with the skill of uncovering essential items no matter how much muck and sand is piled on top of themseem to suggest that that is indeed how it should work. Or does it send the bits over some weird phone protocol, then email it to me? Or is it supposed to work over Bluetooth? The graphics-overloaded, information-poor document that came with the phone sheds absolutely no light on these questions. It is called the "manual."
"Ah, yes, I'm simply lacking software, perhaps for my computer," I thought. But no, Motorola hasn't shipped it yet. It's "coming soon."
It's a phone that takes a good thirty seconds to regain consciousness after having been turned off. It also has a really stupid set of icons, and weird navigation, as I've already hinted. Yet everyone seems to like the phone online. "They can't ship them fast enough." I can think of a place to ship it.
format c: versus rm -Rf /
I know that "format c:" and "rm -Rf /" aren't equivalent, but they usually are interchangeable punchlines to jokes...
Read more for the destruction of two perfectly good operating system installations...
Uovo di Colombo
In Italian, a "Unovo di Colombo" is a simple, obvious idea that doesn't occur to the person who could use it most.
I think it should be "Uovo di Colombo," instead?
Anyway, I looked for "Egg of Columbus" and found this tangram-like puzzle from the 19th century (maybe it is a Sam Loyd creation?). I also found this Tesla electrical gadget, which seems to be a levitation trick, or at least some way to demonstrate the properties of alternating current?
Someone else, writing about the origin of the term:
It recalls the story of the egg of Columbus, according to which Columbus, attending a banquet in Spain, showed how an egg could be made to stand on its end without support by cracking the shell.
January 02, 2005
A losing $48 million California lottery ticket
06 16 24 42 47 with "Mega" 04.
"Good luck," the 7-11 cashier said as he handed me the ticket.
Winning numbers in the 1 Jan 2005 draw:
25 34 35 41 42 with "Mega" 18.
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