Friday, November 30, 2007

Internet Eye Wash Station #2

Two days in a row complaining about our current regime is at least one too many for me, so I give my gentle readers and myself a little break from that stuff with pictures of pretty girls. To be precise, two pictures of the same pretty girl, Ms. Indira Varma.

Matty Boy, some might ask. What is your obsession with Ms. Varma? She isn't gigantic. She's just another actress.

Don't get on my nerves, hypothetical question asker! The only legal uses of the word "just" in a sentence about Ms. Varma are:

1) Ms. Varma is just about as pretty as pretty girls get.

2) If Ms. Varma were to chance upon this humble blog one day, and a smile played on her lovely lips, it would be right and just.

I don't know where the first picture is from. I think it's a general publicity still, or it may be from her time as a model before she got into acting.

This second picture is from her very first film, Mira Nair's 1996 film Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. Is this a good film, you might ask?

Indira Varma gets naked with Naveen Andrews. You get to decide if that's a good thing or not.

Isn't she pretty in this picture? Doesn't she smell nice?

[psst! Matty Boy! You can't smell people on the Internet, which is probably a good thing in general.]

Use your imagination, hypothetical! How else is she going to smell?

And it's Friday, so let's get to the Random 10.

They Called It Rock Nick Lowe
Clubland Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Sunny Afternoon The Kinks
Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll Ian Dury
English Roundabout XTC
Alice Tom Waits
Don’t Forget to Smile Mose Allison
Particle Man They Might Be Giants
She Said She Said The Beatles
Raspberry Beret Prince

The Brits dominate this week, but we also have visits from Tom Waits at his most wistful, Mose Allison at his most sardonic, They Might Be Giants gettin' all scientific and stuff, and Prince singing about meeting a pretty girl and having sex with her. What are the odds?

Now playing: Prince - Raspberry Beret
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Hugger in Chief

"There's only one person who hugs the mothers and the widows, the wives and the kids upon the death of their loved one. Others hug but having committed the troops, I've got an additional responsibility to hug and that's me and I know what it's like."

George W. Bush, December 11, 2002

Well, that was five years ago, when we only had one war. The hugger in chief, he loves to hug so much, he decided to start another war and make his term in office one long hug fest.

But more than just the hugs, we also get the lies. About a week ago, USA Today had the story of an extra 20,000 brain injuries from our huggable little wars that somehow hadn't been put on the books.

Have 30,000 people been injured in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan? Actually, that's just the official number. It's closer to 50,000.

Are we really near spending half a trillion dollars on these wars, as the counter over at FranIAm's blog reminds us daily? No, that number is a lie, too. Honest accounting would put the cost well over a trillion dollars, with no way of putting a good estimate on the final costs.

How many soldiers and vets have committed suicide? The official numbers, when you can find them, might be lowballing those totals, too. I believe that the numbers of the dead Americans are probably the only accurate numbers we get from these wars, that they can't be hiding dead bodies of Americans who have loved ones at home waiting. Not wanting to be a conspiracy theorist, I now have to wonder if I have instead been naive.

There's only one person who lies to the mothers and the widows, the wives and the kids upon the death of their loved one. Others lie but having committed the troops, Bush has an additional responsibility to lie and that's him and he knows what it's like.

Who do these guys remind me of? It's on the tip of my tongue.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!

I use the phrase above from the DC Comics of the 1960s to describe this week's cover of the allegedly serious political magazine The Economist. When those words appeared on a cover, it was a good bet that the story inside was complete bullshit. This one could take its place over at Superdickery in the section called Stupid Comic Covers.

Bush has said he favors a Palestinian state since he first slunk into office. But he has said a lot of things. This cover wouldn't carry any more weight if it called Bush Mr. Balanced Budget or Mr. Integrity In Government. Instead of paying attention to the words that drip out of this pinhead's mouth like so much shit, let's take a look at how he has spend our money.

Bush hired this creep John Bolton to be a diplomat. Bolton is as suited to diplomacy as Snoop Dog is suited to be a priest. More than just hired, Bush made Bolton a recess appointment when the Senate Democrats, rare on spine this century, decided that they would not approve hiring him as our representative at the United Nations, an institution Bolton openly despises.

Bolton also openly despises making any concessions to the Palestinians. He was a major voice in the conservative chorus that mocked Bill Clinton's peace initiatives at the end of his presidency.

Bolton is currently not working for the president, and if one has to give him points for consistency, he is openly contemptuous of what's going on in Annapolis now as well. Even an day calendar you don't update is right once every seven years.

This woman, of course, is still working for the President, and there may be no Secretary of State with a less impressive record. She can't work out agreements with Dick Cheney, for fuck's sake! As Condi's brilliant chronicler Princess Sparkle Pony has pointed out, the Israelis have invented a new Hebrew word lecondel in "honor" of Miss Rice, meaning to be involved in lots of useless meetings that don't accomplish shit.

Bush has been called the MBA President and the CEO President, and hiring Karen Hughes to be the face of public diplomacy in the Middle East certainly is the act of a bonehead MBA running a business right into the fucking ground, inventing an idiot new position for a crony unsuited for the task. The people of that region have had to put up with her happy face horseshit (or is it horse faced happy shit?) while seeing the results of pre-emptive war up close and personal. She may have less success in her job than Condi has had in hers, and that's a hard bar to limbo under.

George W. Bush, Mr Palestine? We might as well call him Mr. World Series for his unremarkable tenure as owner of the hapless Texas Rangers.

Now playing: Randy Newman - Political Science
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dumbass Design™: The magicicadas

This cross-eyed critter is a cicada. Many cicada species have a yearly life cycle, but the ones we will discuss here in this installment of Dumbass Design™ are the ones that have the very long larval stage, the 13 year cicadas and the 17 year cicadas, known scientifically as magicicadas.

These critters spend the vast majority of their lives as immobile larvae at a depth of about a foot underground. They live on the root juices of plants. They aren't bothering anybody.

But every 13 to 17 years, they throw a big ass party. Here's what Wikipedia has to say.

The nymphs emerge at an evening when the soil temperature is above 17°C (63°F) and climb to a suitable place on the nearby vegetation to complete their transformation into an adult cicada. They molt one last time and then spend about six days in the leaves waiting for their exoskeleton to harden completely. Just after this final molt, the teneral adults are white, but darken within an hour.

Then the cicadas are ready for action and they start singing. What they are doing more than attracting mates is ringing the dinner bell. They don't bite or sting, and lots of other critters think the cicadas are mighty good eatin'. Any bug eating animal will feast on cicadas for the weeks that they live (and die) above ground. Even leaf eating animals will eat cicadas for a few weeks. The cicadas survival strategy is "You can't eat us all, you sumbitches!" and this is certainly the case. The survivors of the non-stop feast breed, the males are dead within hours of breeding, and the females survive long enough to lay their eggs and long process begins again.

Matty Boy, you might say! What is so Dumbass about this Design? They survive all right. My argument is that they are very susceptible to random natural disaster during their times when they are immobile. A change in the soil during the 13 to 17 years when they live underground might hit the population very hard with no chance to escape. Similarly, if there was a migration of subterranean insectivores, they would be easy pickings. A fire during the six days when they lie below the leaves waiting for the final molt could be devastating. Even after the molt, fires would hit their population a lot harder than predation can, given their numbers.

Just another example of the high risk, low reward lifestyle that we like to call Dumbass Design™.

Now playing: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Waiting In Vain
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cute overload lolz interlude

Yes, turdle, I haz you!

Turdle... TURDEL!!! You stop moving now!!1! I HAZ U!

D'oh! Stop, turdle!


I has Ukraine! Yay!

Now playing: Louis Prima & Keely Smith - I've Got You Under My Skin
via FoxyTunes

A Lotsa 'Splainin' Tribute to The Sopranos

The Sopranos, one of the best shows in television history, is now over. On the theory that a tree is best measured when it's down, I'd like to give my awards in the category of Best Actors in Roles Playing Themselves on this landmark show.

A lot of people showed up on The Sopranos playing themselves. Nancy Sinatra sang a song to a bunch of gangsters in one episode. Her brother Frank Jr. was in on the big poker game, as were football legend Lawrence Taylor and musical embarrassment David Lee Roth. Jon Favreau has a meeting with Chris Moltisanti when Chris first wants to break into the movies. Janeane Garafalo and Sandra Bernhard are also in that episode. Other actors show up as themselves in the shows about the movie Cleaver.

But the winners are Sir Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall in the episode titled Luxury Lounge. These fine actors did a great job in this episode, most especially with obscenities. If you watch the episode on DVD with commentary, writer Matthew Weiner tells us that Miss Bacall's obscenity laden reaction to being robbed was completely ad libbed. ("She swears like a longshoreman." declares Weiner.) Sir Ben's star turn with the epithets comes upon seeing that Moltisanti will be in the first class cabin with him on the flight out of L.A. Sir Ben's personal assistant asks if he would like to take another flight, and Kingsley lets loose with a sound somewhere between the word "fuck!" and the caw of a large raven.

But what makes this particular pairing of wonderful actors a thing of interest here at Lotsa 'Splainin' is the other thing Sir Ben and Miss Bacall have in common.

Gigantic child brides.

He has one. She was one.

Here is a picture of Sir Ben and his lovely fourth wife, aspiring Brazilian actress Daniela Barbosa. At the time of the wedding, she was 32 and he was 63. She is also listed as being slightly taller than he is.

His lovely third wife was also described as statuesque and aristocratic. She described Sir Ben as boring and overbearing during divorce proceedings.

European aristocrats. A category best to be avoided if you ask me.

And then, of course, we go back in history for Bogart and Bacall. He was 45, she was 18, and depending on the listings she was one or two inches taller than he was.

But, Matty Boy, you might say. Look at the picture! She's not taller than he is. Surely you must be mistaken, because pictures don't lie.

I now smile the half smile I employ when a polite and earnest student is in error. This still is from the Golden Age of Put Him On A Box Cinema. Women were only taller than men if a visual joke was needed. In all other cases, the guy was standing on a box or the woman might have to walk in a ditch. Monty Python did a skit about this dealing with a production of Scott of the Antarctic.

While I don't have a problem myself with the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, the classic of Put Him On A Box Cinema has to be Boy On A Dolphin, with tiny Alan Ladd and the earthy, enchanting and enormous Sophia Loren. She plays a Greek sponge diver, and the iconic scene is her is a wet shirt coming out of the water. But the scenes between them are hilarious because no box can mask the difference in sheer size between these two people.

Here's a still from the movie demonstrating the problem. While his head is above her head, it looks smaller than her head. (Because It Is!) He's only standing a little behind her, but perspective is not the thing that makes her look bigger than him.

There's a famous scene where Ladd and Clifton Webb are having a conversation, and Webb is about a head taller than Ladd. Sophia Loren enters the scene and suddenly they are all about the same height. She leaves the scene and Ladd is back to being shorter than Webb.

Webb played most of his career with a sneer on his face, but in this case it's hard not think the sneer was about the production values.


The song playing in the background is from the first soundtrack album for The Sopranos series.

Now playing: Frank Sinatra - It Was A Very Good Year
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nick Hornby, essayist

It is my current habit to read a writer into submission. I get one book by a person, and if I like it, I read another and another until I get sick of it. I just finished Philip Roth's The Great American Novel and I am currently sick of Roth.

Let me say the nicest thing I can about Roth right now. Read The Plot Against America. Great novel.

It was a while back that I read as much Nick Hornby as I could. I liked several of his novels, but his books of essays with autobiographical overtones were my favorites. Here are reviews of two of those books.


I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.

Honestly, I'm going to go on for a few more paragraphs, but I can say this right now. If that sentence grabs you, you should read Fever Pitch. If not, I'm sure you'll find something else interesting to do with your time.

Hornby's parents divorce. He and his mum move to London. His father is a bit of a disappointment to the lad, and looking for something to grab his interest, at the age of eleven in 1968 he becomes interested in football. (Yes, I mean soccer for my American readers.) First, interested, then completely obsessed. Like any fan, he picks a team he loves best. Hornby decides to love Arsenal. Arsenal is relatively close to his new home in London, but it might be the nature of the team that is what Hornby is drawn to. Arsenal is despised by the rest of England. Arsenal are a tough, physical team that usually keeps the score low. (His dad, not an Arsenal supporter, complains about the nil-nil draws.)

In some ways, fanhood takes the place of family, and Hornby even becomes a hooligan for a brief period in his late adolescence. (Hornby doesn't look like much of a hooligan; he is small and thin. I had an English friend who was a DJ back in the 1980s. He told me he was also a hooligan. I'm confident I could have kicked both of their asses, maybe at the same time, and I'm a math nerd.)

I am not a very big sports fan, but I do follow the local teams. My heart is probably more tied to the fortunes of the San Francisco Giants than it is to any other team, but when they suck I am able to ignore it, and I feel no particular need to defend some jerk like Barry Bonds when he happens to wear a Giant uniform. I know some people who are more dedicated fans that I am, and Hornby gives me an insight into these folks. More importantly, Hornby is a very good writer, and you can enjoy the rhythm of the words and the pacing of the telling of the tale even if you never plan to buy a ticket to the standing room only section at Highbury.

Hornby the Brit decides to take a job at a San Francisco magazine called The Believer as a book reviewer. He kind of soft soaps the explanation of the people he worked for, but I don't work for them and I'm a Bay Area boy, so let me say that these are the kind of goofballs people think of when they say the word "Californians!" are roll their eyes mockingly. They all dress the same and they have an obsession with positive energy and many other New Age affectations. They form a band called The Polysyllabic Spree, from which Nick nicks the title.

Let's leave them be for the time being and focus on Nick and his writing, shall we?

Each essay in this book focuses on what Nick read than month and what he bought. Some of the books he buys in one month get read and reviewed in later months, some just languish on a bookshelf somewhere. After a few months, the folks from California want Nick to stop giving any negative reviews, so some books on his list show up as on his list as Unnamed Literary Novel or Unnamed Work of Nonfiction to spare the writer's feelings. So for the most part, Nick talks about what he likes about writers. I won't go into too many details, because it's worth reading about how a writer reads. Hornby's essay on Dickens is the best defense of the novelist I have ever read, so much so that I might even dive into a Dickens novel over the next few months.

The Californians didn't want Nick to be so negative, but Nick without snark is a creature nearly without defense. Here's the end of a paragraph he writes about reading the letters of Anton Chekhov, a book he enjoyed, and then reading Janet Malcolm's Reading Chekhov. It may all feel a bit meta when I explain it, but when you read Hornby, the progression is as natural as can be.

He loved the Chekhov and Malcolm writing about Chekhov, but really hits his stride on a point of disagreement with Malcolm.

I can't understand, though, why she (Malcolm) thinks that the letters between Chekhov and Olga Knipper "make wonderful reading". I've only read Chekhov's side, but she seems to have reduced the man to mush: "My little doggie", "my dear little dog", "my darling doggie", "Oh, doggie, doggie", "my little dog", "little ginger-haired doggie", "my coltish little doggie", "my lovely little mongrel doggie", "my darling, my perch", "my squiggly one", "dearest little colt", "my incomparable little horse", "my dearest chaffinch" ... For God's sake, pull youself together, man! You're a major cultural figure!


And so ends my Sunday book review. Writing book reports on a Sunday morning is almost like being back in school, especially assuming the report is due early on Monday.

My musical selection is the 13th Floor Elevators which comes from the movie High Fidelity, based on the Hornby novel. I had thought they were a San Jose, California band, but they were from Austin, Texas. Obviously a senior moment. Thanks to Splotchy for catching the error.

Now playing: 13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No cause for panic

It's just a football coach being an amazing pinhead.

"Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event," said University of Alabama football coach Lou Saban said during the opening remarks of his weekly news conference. "It may be 9-11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, or whatever, and that was a catastrophic event."

The catastrophe that Saban is dealing with is Alabama's football team losing to the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Personally, I like the "sort of" and "kind of" and "whatever" the newspapers left in the quote. It reminds us that sports coaches are not rocket scientists. They are very committed people who don't think about much else besides their jobs, to the exclusion of the outside world in the case of Saban, or the exclusion of their families, in the case of Andy Reid a few weeks back.

I'm old enough to remember when Alabama was a powerhouse in college football. Likewise Nebraska and Oklahoma. These schools are facing a lot more competition these days, and they are currently not thriving year in and year out on this more level playing field. Even more startling is Notre Dame, which is not on a more level playing field, having cut a separate TV deal to make sure their games are televised nationally on NBC every week.

And Notre Dame really sucks right now.

Still, we all deal with loss and catastrophe in our own ways. Nick Saban's version of comfort food is sticking his foot in his mouth.

MMmmmmm, toe jam! That's good eatin'.

Now playing: David Bowie - I'm Afraid Of Americans
via FoxyTunes

Friday, November 23, 2007

Are all mathematicians crazy?

Yay, Central America!
Yay, Costa Rica!
Yay, Flags of many lands™!

When answering the question which is the title of this post, there are two possible answers.

Answer 1: "All mathematicians? All? No, not all mathematicians are crazy."

Answer 2: "Define crazy."

This Rasputin lookin' mofo is Grigori Perelman, known to his friends, if any, as Grisha. Grisha is currently unemployed and lives at home with his mom in Saint Petersburg, Russia. A few years back, Grisha gave a talk and published a paper that proved the Poincaré Conjecture was true, and gained worldwide fame in the math community, as well as some headlines out in the real world.

The Poincaré Conjecture is a big damn deal in math. Henri Poincaré, who would be a consensus pick among mathematicians as one of the ten greatest of all time, made this conjecture over a century ago. Lots of smart folks thought a long time about how to prove the statement true.

Grisha actually did it.

Here comes the crazy part. Solving the Poincaré Conjecture comes with a prize of... $1,000,000! (Put your pinky finger to your mouth like Dr. Evil if you feel so inclined.)

Grisha doesn't want it.

Separate from that cash, Grisha has been awarded the Fields Medal, equivalent to the Nobel Prize in math, which also comes with a nice clump of cash. (There is no Nobel Prize in math.)

Grisha doesn't want it.

Maybe his mama could talk some sense into this boy. But taking a look at this Rasputin lookin' mofo, if she could talk sense into him, she'd probably start by not dressin' him funny anymore.

Matty Boy, can you 'splain the Poincaré Conjecture to your gentle readers, some of whom have serious issues with the math?

Let's give it a shot.

In the picture above, we have three different objects, a sphere, a torus and a Klein bottle. We are going to consider only the surface of each, which we can think of as a two dimensional thing in a three dimensional world.

The sphere is the easiest of these. It splits the three dimensional world into three parts: the inside of the sphere, (known as a ball), the skin of the sphere and the outside.

A torus is the next easiest. There is an inside, the skin and the outside, but there's the "hole in the middle", which makes a torus different from a sphere in mathematically important ways.

Then we have the physically impossible model that is the Klein bottle. It can be thought of as two Möbius strips glued together along their respective edges. It has to pass through itself in three dimensions without their actually being a hole, which is the impossible part. It has no inside or outside, just like a Möbius strip doesn't have two sides. Mathematicians call a shape like the Klein bottle non-orientable.

Now we get back to the conjecture. All the things up there are two dimensional things embedded in three dimensions. Poincaré was looking at a category of three dimensional objects embedded in four dimensions, and he speculated that all the things in the category were "like" the sphere is in three dimensions. Nice and orientable, no holes like a torus. As simple as things can get in four dimensions.

Lots of people tried to prove it.

Grisha did it.

Now if we just get him to pick up that pile of money with his name on it.

In honor of Grisha, today's Random 10 starts from a non-random point on a song by Tom Lehrer, and ends with a non-random bonus track by Prince.


Lobachevsky Tom Lehrer
Stardust Hoagy Carmichael
Just One Cornetto Pookiesnackenburger
The Weight The Band
Only Love Can Break a Heart Gene Pitney
After You’ve Gone Django Reinhardt
Po’ Lazarus James Carter & The Prisoners
Sweet Dreams Eurythmics
It Didn’t Turn Out That Way Mose Allison
Let Down Radiohead
non random bonus track: Money Don't Matter 2 Night Prince

Now playing: Prince - Money Don't Matter 2 Night
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Welcome to visitors from Barbados!
Yet another addition to the Flags of many lands™!

I always mention any new visitor from some previously unseen exotic locale, but the pie chart to the left, which I call The Puking Pacman, shows the true nature of the visitor pattern here at Lotsa 'Splainin'. The substantial majority of my readers are from the good old U.S.A., and to all of them I wish a happy Thanksgiving spent with friends and family.

Special thanks to my comment gang, including dguzman, Karla, Padre Mickey, FranIAm, I Splotchy, Commander Other, Dr. Monkerstien, DistributorCap, Zoey & Me, cdp, Hyfler/Rosner, sfmike and jolie. Heck, it's Thanksgiving! I'll even wish the best to no_slappz and jeff gannon.

While I'm counting my blessings, I'd also like to mention some of the things I have discovered only since I started writing this daily foolishness back on April Fools Day.

I have only been visiting I Can Has Cheezburger? for a little while, but now it's a daily routine. The pussycat pictures I purloin from there has made this blog one of the top ten Google choices for lolz cats on the whole friggin' internet. Go figure.

While I don't visit daily, the website Superdickery is also a great place for a little comic pick me up. It not only shows many informative examples of Superman being an incredible dick, it also does a great service in debunking the persistent rumor that Batman and Robin are gay.

No, wait... that's not right. What's the opposite of debunk? Oh, yeah. They do the great service of adding to the scurrilous rumor that Batman and Robin are gay.

Happy Turkey Day to all my gringo buddies. May all your football teams be victorious and all your relatives non-annoying.*

*Yes, I know I'm asking for the impossible.

Now playing: Portrait - Be Thankful for What You've Got
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mock not the supermodel

Less than two weeks ago, Matty Boy, investment advisor to the stars*, noted that the Canadian dollar had been going great guns since the beginning of the year vis-a-vis the post-Greenspan Greenback. At about the same time, it was leaked that Gisele Bündchen, Brazilian supermodel and consort to Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, would only take work if paid in Euros, not dollars. Here is what has happened to the three currencies that are currently trading for more than a buck each, and how much they have risen against the dollar since New Year's.

Canadian dollar: was up 25.6%, now up 19.3%
Euro: was up 13.0%, now up 14.2%
British pound: was up 6.2%, now up 4.1%

Yes, Matty Boy may be able to discern what has happened in the past, but a quick flash of Ms. Bündchen's golden hind can make things happen in the present! Gold, silver and the Dow Jones have also taken hits since the supermodel has spoken. The evidence is strong**.

Still, the investment ideas of one very attractive young woman does change the entire world. There is still crude oil, the truly addictive substance of the world's economy.

Crude oil was up 70.6% for the year. It's now up 74.6%. This is less than two weeks later.

* Gotta say it again. Matty Boy knows no stars, and no one takes his investment advice. Boy's crazy, I'm tellin' ya!

** No causation can be inferred.

Now playing: Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Girls Talk
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday Math, Vol. 5: The arithmetic of a clock

On an analog clock, we can't tell the difference between 9:30 in the morning and 9:30 at night. Twelve hours from now, the clock will be in the same position it is in right now. In math we call this modulo arithmetic, in this particular case, it is modulo 12, written in shorthand as mod 12.

The idea of mod 12 is that all the numbers from negative infinity to infinity are put into 12 categories. Two numbers a and b are in the same category if a - b is a multiple of 12. Let me give a shorthand list with ellipses of some of the categories.

0 (mod 12) = {..., -24, -12, 0, 12, 24, 36, ...}
1 (mod 12) = {..., -23, -11, 1, 13, 25, 37, ...}
2 (mod 12) = {..., -22, -10, 2, 14, 26, 38, ...}
10 (mod 12) = {..., -14, -2, 10, 22, 34, 46, ...}
11 (mod 12) = {..., -13, -1, 11, 23, 35, 47, ...}

The category 11(mod 12) states that the clock 11 hours from now will look the same as it did 1 hour prior to now, or 13 hours prior, or 23 hours from now, or 35 hours from now, etc. If I take two elements from the category, say 47 and -1, we have that 47 - (-1) = 47+1 = 48, and 48 is evenly divisible by 12. If I put the numbers in the opposite order, -1 - 47 = -48, which is still evenly divisible by 12.

When I talk about 11(mod 12), I chose 11 as the representative of the set. It's standard in math to choose the representative in modulo n as a number between 0 and n-1, but I also could have called the set -1(mod 12) or 23(mod 12). Any member of the set can be chosen as the representative. For example, when we think of the minute hand by itself, we are dealing with modulo 60, where the only valid numbers are from 0 seconds to 59 seconds, and at 60 seconds it wraps back around to 0. When dealing with hours, instead of going from 0 to 11, we go from 1 to 12. The decision in mod n to count from 0 to n-1 or 1 to n is an arbitrary one. In fact, our way of doing things on the clock is a little confusing.

10 am + 1 hour = 11 am
11 am + 1 hour = 12 pm
12 pm + 1 hour = 1 pm

When we go from the 11th hour to the 12th hour, we also switch the am and pm. To be consistent, it would make more sense to use 0 instead of 12, much in the same way as we count from 0 to 59, then wrap back around to 0 when counting minutes or seconds in modulo 60.

10 am + 1 hour = 11 am
11 am + 1 hour = 0 pm
0 pm + 1 hour = 1 pm

Modulo arithmetic is an important part of group theory. Instead of an infinite number of numbers, mod 12 has only 12 numbers, so addition mod 12 is a finite group. All the integers, positive and negative, are a set known in math as Z, which is the first letter in zahlen, the German word for number. When we deal with modulo arithmetic, we write Z12 or Z7 or Z60, where the number after the Z tells us when to wrap around.

Besides finite groups and infinite groups, another distinction is between abelian groups and non-abelian groups. In an abelian group, a+b always equals b+a. In non abelian groups, this isn't always true. When dealing with the category of groups that are both finite and abelian, ny such group can be written as a combination of modulo arithmetic groups. The combination method is called Cartesian product. If you remember learning about x and y coordinates on the plane, written as (x, y), that is an example of a two dimensional Cartesian product. In math we can also have three dimensions or even more if we see fit. For example, if we have a finite abelian group with eight elements, the possibilities are:

Z8 - This is the set {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7} with addition, and the rule of wrapping around.
For instance, 7+5=12 in regular addition, but 12 is too big, and by subtracting 8, we get 12 is equivalent to 4(mod 8), so 7+5= 4(mod 8).

Z4 x Z2 - In this group, we have pairs of numbers where the first number is from {0, 1, 2, 3} and the second number is from {0, 1}. The elements of this group are { (0, 0), (1, 0), (2, 0), (3, 0), (0, 1), (1, 1), (2, 1), (3, 1)}.
(3, 1)+(2, 0) = (3+2, 1+0) = (5, 1), but because 5 is too big for mod 4, the answer is
(3, 1)+(2, 0) = (1, 1) in Z4 x Z2.

Z2 x Z2 x Z2 - Think of Z2 as being like even (0) and odd (1), where odd+odd=even, so we write this as 1+1=0(mod 2).
All the rest of the addition is as we would expect: 0+0=0, 1+0=1, 0+ 1=1.
Here we have ordered triplets of numbers, every number either 0 or 1, so the set is as follows: {(0, 0, 0), (0, 0, 1), (0, 1, 0), (0, 1, 1), (1, 0, 0), (1, 0, 1), (1, 1, 0), (1, 1, 1)}.

The basic 'splainin' about finite groups is relatively straightforward, but the more advanced stuff includes the most common methods of cryptography used today, using modulo arithmetic by a number n which is the product of two huge prime numbers, each of them somewhere between 20 or 40 digits long.

Now playing: The Chieftains - Past Three O'Clock
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Once again, The Soviets

If you ask many Americans how the Soviet system fell, they will tell you it was the will and determination of Ronald Reagan that brought the corrupt system to its knees. This is a problem with many Americans. They believe that if the United States is dancing, it must be leading.

Here is another explanation.

Support for the Soviet Army was never in question. The unimaginable price paid by the Soviet solider in World War II cemented the idea that the army was responsible for the preservation of the way of life for all the people. So what if most of the recent uses of the army had been to quell rebellions in client states? They were still the brave heroes of the republic.

No matter how bad the economy was, there was always money for the military.

But then, the Soviets decided to invade a troublesome client state in Asia. This country was no more of an actual threat to the national security than any of the other client states invaded in recent years, but authority had to be maintained.

But unlike other countries invaded by the Soviet Army, this small Asian nation resisted. Some of the resistance was local, some was foreign fighters. Some of the funding came from the true enemies of the Soviet state, but the manpower was a force that barely met the requirements needed to be called ragtag.

The Soviets sent in their own people to be in charge. They also propped up local puppet governments. These people were completely incompetent and corrupt, but that didn't stop the buffoonish leaders back home from heaping praise upon them.

The army did what was asked of them. They didn't lose battles, largely because there weren't many battles in the traditional sense of the word after the first few weeks. It was just that they never put out the fire, they never brought real normal life back to the invaded country. They were hardly to blame for this. The job of making political progress is always outside the army's jurisdiction.

But whatever the reasons for inability to achieve victory, the army paid the price.

Eventually, more than ten years after the first Soviet troops arrived in the small Asian nation, they left, brought home by new leaders that did not send them in. Never having securing victory, they were seen by the world as being defeated. The cost paid in human life, though dear, was a tiny fraction of the sacrifice of World War II. The cost paid in money to fight assymmetrical warfare was very high, and the demoralized army was no longer the political force in the country it once had been, and the nation's economy suffered even more than usual. Leaders who spoke of another way won the day, but they were unable to keep on top of the reforms they tried to implement, and the Soviet Union collapsed.

I ask again: How could these crooked cretins, once defeated, ever make a comeback?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Icons and chameleons

This weekend, I went to Berkeley with friends to see the new Coen Brothers film No Country For Old Men. Here is the preview.

The stars of the movie are Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, though the protagonist is played by Josh Brolin, the son of Mr. Barbra Streisand. What got me to thinking about this post is the different acting styles and career choices of the actors involved, most particularly Jones vis-a-vis three of the actors playing character roles.

Jones is a icon. You see Tommy Lee Jones and you know what to expect to some degree. This is not to say he doesn't change from role to role, but his changes are more like variations on a theme. Jones' decision is the way of American actors for many generations, most especially the biggest stars. When you went to a Humphrey Bogart movie, you knew what to expect. Likewise Henry Fonda or John Wayne or countless others. Not a knock on their acting abilities, because they all had commanding screen presences. It's like Charles Bronson once said: "I'd love to read a script one day, and there's a scene of me in a tuxedo, drinking champagne and leaning against the mantelpiece. But I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen."

In contrast, we have these three actors from the film.

Playing Jones' deputy is Garret Dillahunt. The picture of him above is from the first season of Deadwood, where he played Jack MacColl, the murderer of Bill Hickok. The producers of the show liked him so much they brought him back in the second season to play a completely different pivotal role as the advance man for the tycoon George Hearst. Dillahunt has the kind of good looks that would usually be cast in leading man roles; he could easily be playing Dr. McDreamy if that's what he wanted. But he often plays darker roles, as he did twice on Deadwood. In No Country For Old Men, he plays against type as a loyal good guy, out of makeup made to ugly him up or lots of facial hair to hide behind.

There is a brief scene in the movie, part of it in the trailer, where a businessman hires a character outside the law, played by Woody Harrelson, to hunt down the main bad guy, played by Bardem. The businessman is played by Stephen Root. His most famous role is as the strange guy Milton in Office Space, who has an obsession with a beloved red Swingline stapler. The Coen Brothers have worked with him before, when he played the blind radio station man in O Brother Where Art Thou. He was also the billionaire radio station owner Jimmy James in the TV show News Radio with Dave Foley and the late Phil Hartman. He doesn't always go for the strange make-up, but he clearly has the range to do it and creates some very memorable characters, even if not all of the public will remember his name.

I knew I'd seen Kelly MacDonald before somewhere as I watched No Country. She was so natural as this south Texas girl, I searched my mind for other movies and TV shows about the south, or the dusty desert Southwest. I could have searched forever and found nothing. Her most memorable role is from Gosford Park, where she looked very much the same, facially and in terms of hairstyle. In the picture above, she is both literally and figuratively in Dame Maggie Smith's shadow. She played Smith's Scottish maid Mary, who is the sleuth who figures out the murder mystery in the film. The Scottish accent was not put on. Ms. MacDonald is Scottish. The chameleon act for this movie is sounding like a Texas girl. I've said it before but it bears repeating. Dialect coaches today are simply amazing, and the actors who have a good ear for accents can be nearly anyone they want to be.

As for No Country, I liked the movie very much, but be warned ahead of time that this isn't a Coen Brothers comedy. This is more like their first film Blood Simple than it is like their more famous and funnier films. There are a few funny lines, but this is really a violent thriller. A lot of violence happens on screen and even more just barely off screen. It's somewhat related to Fargo, but Bardem's character is even scarier than Peter Stormare's, the partner of Steve Buscemi who puts him in the wood chipper.

Now playing: Ray Charles - You Don't Know Me
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Soviets

I'm too young to have memories of the Nazis in power. When I was a kid, these were the bad guys. The Soviets. Old, fat, ugly, ruthless, intellectually inbred son of bitches who didn't give a shit how bad the lives of the people were as long as they held onto the reigns of power.

How could vicious fucks like these, once defeated, ever make a comeback?

The flaws of the Soviet system were as numerous as fish in the sea, but near the top of the list was the unfunny joke that they called their justice system.

Our justice system, of course, is the envy of the world, what with all the rights the Constitution provides us.

You can be thrown in jail with no charges. Ask Barry Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson. Ask Bay Area blogger Josh Wolf. Ask Clinton associate Susan McDougal.

With enough money and fame, you can commit murder and get off. Ask Phil Spector. Ask Robert Blake. Ask O.J. Simpson. Or better yet, don't ask these vicious lying motherfuckers anything. Their smirking words mean nothing.

You can be found guilty and barely see the inside of a cell.

Commit treason and get charged with obstruction of justice: No jail time.

Driving drunk and possession of cocaine: 84 minutes in jail.

Multiple drunk driving convictions and driving without a license: Nearly three weeks in jail. But to be fair, Paris Hilton is a special case. Nobody really likes her.

And then there's the guys who aren't even charged with anything, and you have to be a crazy conspiracy theorist to think they've done anything wrong.

Yes, shame on you! I know what you're thinking! Shame!

And on top of all these unfunny jokes, we have a secret gulag system, where prisoners without names are being tortured by American civil servants. Your tax dollars at work.

I ask again.

How could vicious fucks like these, once defeated, ever make a comeback?

Now playing: The Clash - Clampdown
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mina Millett 1955-2006

A year ago this week, my dear friend Mina Millett died at the age of 51. Her husband David was kind enough to send me this photo from one of their many trips they took together, this one to San Simeon in southern California.

The cause was cancer. I don't want to focus on her death, but on her life, and the wonderful good fortune I had to know her and be her friend. I knew Mina for 21 years. I have so many memories of her, I could write posts until New Years and still not scratch the surface. Mina was a wonderful person. She was smart and kind, funny and generous, lovely and amazing. I introduced Mina to many of my family and friends, and several of them joined me at her memorial service. I wanted to get up and speak at the service, but I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep control of my sorrow. Her friend and former roommate Christopher Walkey ran the memorial service, and he did a beautiful job.

So many of my friends and family who knew Mina said the same thing about her. They told me how gracious she was, what a pleasure it was to be around her, how welcome she made folks feel when they visited her home. She had many wonderful qualities, but I remember her sense of humor and quick wit most of all.


Mina was the one who first dubbed Tara and Anne Dresbach, the daughters of my friends Michael and Mona Dresbach, the Dres-babies. Now the Dres-babies have babies, so Miss Evelyn Mobley is technically a Dres-baby-baby.


Mina introduced me to the concept of the most vital unit of currency, the BARTable dollar. This means a dollar bill that will be accepted by a vending machine, most important to her as a commuter who used our local mass transit system BART.


Trivial Pursuit question: What strikes the Statue of Liberty 142 times a year?
Mina's answer: Air Florida.


One of her two masters degrees was in theatre, where she learned many things I never knew, toiling away in the mathematics mines. She taught me these alternate lyrics to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", which I have never forgotten.

They asked me how I knew
Raccoon shit was bluuuuuuuuuuuue,
I of course replied,
Raccoon shit is dyed.
It's not blue inside.


Mina was raised in Los Angeles, and though she studied in Boston and Minneapolis before settling down in San Francisco, she kept a Southern Californian idea of what a nice day is. If it wasn't sunny and at least 72 degrees F., Mina found it intolerably cold. "The dogs are sticking to the sidewalks." she would say.

Me: It's not that cold.

Mina: It's freezing!

Me: It's 64 degrees!

Mina: Twice freezing is still freezing.


Many years ago, we were making plans to see a movie and I was flipping through the paper to see what looked good. "I hear there's a new Bette Midler movie." said Mina.

"Yeah, there is. I know you like Bette Midler, but I don't think we want to see this one. It's called Stella."

"Oh, my God." said Mina. "This isn't a remake of Stella Dallas, is it?"

"This is why I value our friendship. There are so many things I don't have to explain to you."


For those who never knew Mina, no explanation of how wonderful she was truly does her justice. For those who did know her, no explanation from me is necessary. All of us who knew her miss her very much, her husband David most of all. I'm very thankful that David and I remain friends, and especially thankful that Mina Millett was my friend for 21 wonderful years.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One of my all time favorite flags, now in the Matty Boy database

Someone from Saint Lucia visited today, so I get to add this beautifully geometric flag to my list of Flags Of Many Lands™! Also, this means I have my second "Saint" country, so St. Vincent won't be all lonely anymore.

Years ago when I was still in the video game biz, I was working on a decathlon game, and we were going to make it possible to choose what colors your athlete could wear, and I lobbied hard for the addition of Saint Lucia, just because making a uniform out of this flag pattern would be so cool. I argued that Star Trek fans would chose it because it looks like the Federation insignia. Sadly, I was voted down.

Nobody listens to Matty Boy! (sniff.)

Not so random, not exactly 10

This week, the "random" 10 will be songs from my collection on my computer sung by pretty girls, or lovely women, to be more precise. And there is a bonus eleventh track, so the list is not really random or 10, but you get the idea.

Stupid Girl Garbage

Just a Girl No Doubt

Walking On Broken Glass Annie Lennox

For The Stars Anne Sophie Von Otter

Get The Party Started Pink

We The Roches

When She Loved Me Sarah McLachlan

Is it a Crime? Sade

For Your Eyes Only Sheena Easton

Baby Won’t You Please Come Home? Louis Prima & Keely Smith

Bonus track: Logozo Angélique Kidjo

Now playing: Angélique Kidjo - Logozo
via FoxyTunes