Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcome to the suck, 2008 edition.

Last year during the NFL season, I wrote about the Miami Dolphins chances to have a winless season and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers futility back in their first campaign back in the 1970s. Long story short, the Dolphins won a game and did not finish the season with no wins.

This season, the Detroit Lions did what the Dolphins could not.

0-16. That's shorthand for zero wins and sixteen losses. That's more losses than even the Bucs back in the 1970s, because the season was only fourteen games long back in the day.

As I wrote in the title, welcome to the suck.

Welcoming the Lions to the suck might not be technically necessary, because the Lions have sucked for some time now. In the Super Bowl era, which means the last forty three seasons, the Lions have been in no league championship games. In the 1990s, they were a middle of the pack team, making the playoffs a very respectable six times, but only winning one playoff game. While they were neither bad nor great during that era, they did have one player, running back Barry Sanders, who is fairly ranked as one of the top rushers of all time, both statistically and aesthetically. Sanders rushed for a remarkable 2,053 yards in 1997, and then retired, a move which stunned nearly everyone. When asked in interviews, Sanders said nearly nothing for years, but finally admitted he was disheartened by the culture of losing that the Lions' organization had come to stand for.

Barry had no idea what was coming next. In 2001, the Lions hired Matt Millen, a former player and broadcaster to run the football operations. If we take the Willy Loman way of looking at things, Millen should have been aces. He was not only liked, he was well liked. Sports reporters had nothing bad to say about Matt Millen. He was smart, he was a motivator, things were looking up for the Lions.

Here is the won loss record for the Lions on Matt Millen's watch.

2001: 2-14
2002: 3-13
2003: 5-11
2004: 6-10
2005: 5-11
2006: 3-13
2007: 7-9

Yes, eight seasons of more losses than wins every season. Steadily and consistently, the Lions were worse than mediocre. The fans howled and begging the team ownership, who also run Ford Motor Company and so are used to mediocrity, to fire Millen. At the end of the 2007 season, the fans got their wish.

So how'd that work out for you guys? Oh, yeah. 0-16. Apparently, there are fates worse than having Matt Millen as head of football operations.

Welcome to the suck.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 54: The Truncated Platonic Solids

Last week, we took a look at the Platonic Solids, three dimensional shapes where every face is the same sized regular polygon. About two months ago, we looked at tilings of the plane with regular polygons, but mixing and matching the polygons, like the way square and octagonal linoleum tiles have been used together to make floor or wall patterns for a very long time.

(Boy, I bet you didn't realize you had to take notes to read this blog.)

The shapes we will explore in this post are the truncated Platonic solids. The idea is to take one of the five Platonic solids and shave off a flat surface from each corner, shaving off the same amount from each corner so we get a polygonal cut of the same shape and all the edges are the same length.
The last sentence is easier to type than to understand. Looking at a picture helps. Here in red and yellow with nice shiny silver edges and gold vertices is the truncated tetrahedron. The tetrahedron has four triangular faces, but by shaving off a triangle from each corner, what used to be triangles become the red hexagons, and all the yellow triangles are the faces created by the process of shaving off the original corners.

Slightly harder to visualize is that if we cut deeper into a tetrahedron, the red faces could be the sliced off corner parts and the yellow faces could be what is left of the original tetrahedron's faces.

These next three solids can be thought of as truncated cubes OR truncated octahedra. Recall that the cube and the octahedron are duals of each other, and the act of truncating one can be duplicated by truncating a correct sized version of the other. The first of the shapes is kind of like what most dice look like, where each of the corners is rounded slightly to avoid sharp edges.

Faces on shape #1: Octagons and triangles
Faces on shape #2: Squares and triangles
Faces on shape #3: Hexagons and squares.

We can also truncate dodecahedra (twelve sided polyhedra) and icosahedra (twenty sided polyhedra), and because they too are duals of each other, it depends on your perspective to answer the question which faces are the sliced off parts and which are the original faces.

Faces on shape #1: Decagons and triangles
Faces on shape #2: Pentagons and hexagons

If all the pentagons are given one color and all the hexagons another, the second shape is recognizable as the pattern of leather patches on a soccer ball. If there was a carbon atom at each corner and the edges were the bonds between them, the second shape is also C60, the molecule known either as a fullerene or a buckyball, both names in honor of Buckminister Fuller.

I like these shapes because of their symmetry. This isn't just Matty Boy being weird. Symmetry catches the eye not only of humans but of many species. In math, group theory is the algebraic study of symmetry, and there are many symmetries inside the symmetries. A group theory class in my junior year of college is the reason I changed from an English major to a math major.

Yay, Flags of many Lands™! Yay, Gabon!

Not too go into too great detail, but it appears that in Gabon, you will find at least one of... My People.

Welcome, brother! Or sister, that can happen, too. No judgments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mr. Madison's Mistakes, Part 1

Americans are a proud people, though not always considerate of what Jefferson called "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". Our name says that in spades. We are Americans, but technically there are two continents called the Americas, so everyone from the Canadians in the north to the Chileans in the south could correctly call themselves Americans.

Only not as long as we're around.

It's very common for people from across the political spectrum in our country to call the United States "the greatest country on Earth", again missing the mark of that whole "decent respect" thang. If I were to say I am proud to be male, the greatest gender of all, or proud to be Caucasian, the greatest of the races, the howls of sexism or racism would be universal and the howlers would be correct. No amount of data I could bring to bear on my thesis could change the fact that saying those things is just plain rude. Clearly, jingoism is not as objectionable to people as the previously mentioned isms.

We do have pride in our form of government, and the beloved, nearly sacred document of our nation is the Constitution, a radical re-definition of government compared to the governments of Europe of the day, most notably the government of the United Kingdom, the country from whom we had declared our independence and fought a war to uphold that right. While a lot of people's ideas went into the document, James Madison gets the historical credit as the author of the Constitution. When the Constitution is brought up by writers today, it is as an object of wonder and wisdom, and praise for the document by Americans is nearly as universal as praise for the Koran by Muslims or the Torah by Jews or the New Testament by Christians.

Allow me to get all iconoclastic on all y'all. There are some serious structural flaws in the Constitution, and the amendment process probably ain't gonna fix them.

Flaw #1: The evidence is in. Impeachment doesn't work.

We have a three part government with checks and balances and stuff. Cool! I mean, what other choice did we have?

Well, we could have made a parliamentary government without a monarch, which is a very common practice today. But back in the late 1700's, the "without a monarch" idea was pretty radical, and the Founding Fathers decided to make a non-monarch monarch out of the presidency, a position of leadership that would last four years, which would give some sense of stability without the inevitability of open-ended rule by one faction.

There was an obvious problem compared to the parliamentary system. What if we elected a bad president? In a parliamentary system, there is the vote of no confidence to remove a government, and new elections can be called within weeks of a party's inability to keep even its own members happy, at which point the people can decide to vote for change or keep the party in power. The founders, and to simplify things let's put the credit or blame on Madison, came up with the idea of impeachment, a way for the legislature to remove the president without waiting for another election.

Well, here's the thing. We've been at it for 200 years and we have impeached two presidents and neither was removed from office, and neither should have been. Once and only once, the threat of impeachment did the job of removing a president from office who had committed high crimes and misdemeanors, and that only worked because Richard Nixon listened to reason from people in his own party.

Let me repeat that. The Republic was saved because Richard Nixon listened to reason.

On the other hand, we have had several instances of presidents clearly, directly and openly spitting on the Constitution and the legislative branch doing absolutely nothing about it.

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a political act, not a true constitutional crisis. Lincoln's "Team of Rivals" concept is much praised at the moment, but in 1864 he decided to change vice presidents and put in Johnson, who was not a Republican but a Unionist, a Southerner who stayed loyal to the Union. Of course, Johnson comes to power when Lincoln is assassinated by Southern sympathizers, and Lincoln's "malice towards none and charity to all" words are not the marching orders anymore. The Radical Republicans, in charge of both houses by wide margins, try to hamstring Johnson in every way imaginable. Johnson made mistakes, without doubt, but the Congress passed a unconstitutional law over his veto and impeached him when he broke that law. Congress made a law that Johnson could not fire any of Lincoln's cabinet without congressional authority, a law that would be found unconstitutional itself when it was finally tested sixty years after the fact, and when Johnson relieved Secretary of War Stanton, the House voted articles of impeachment. The Senate did not remove him from office, but the two thirds majority was missed by only a single vote. Johnson did not have a vice president, so had he been removed, the Speaker of the House would have been president.

Li'l Jimmy Madison kind of missed the conflicts of interest inherent in this whole impeachment process, especially since when presidential elections first started, the vice-president was the prize given to the runner up in the election.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton did not include Clinton breaking some new-fangled law, since lying under oath has been a crime for some time, but it did include the Republican dominated Supreme Court deciding that a civil case could be brought against a sitting president, which was a break with previous law. But what was the actual point of the impeachment? If he had been removed, what would have been the result? President Al Gore, sharer of most of Bill Clinton's political convictions, but without a penis that is jabbering at his brain 24/7.

Not all penises are created equal.

While the two impeachments of presidents the House has successfully passed went nowhere, there have been several presidents who fully deserved impeachment and removal, but got neither. The two most egregious cases were Andrew Jackson, not Johnson, and George W. Bush.

Jackson, the guy on the twenty dollar bill, openly ignored a decision by the Supreme Court, whose decisions are supposed to be the law of the land. If I may use a 19th term to describe a 19th Century concept, many presidents including Jefferson were in favor of Indian Removal, moving Native American peoples from their ancestral lands to places on the other side of the Mississippi. Jackson's presidency saw the start of removing the Five Civilized Tribes from their homelands in the Southeast to the Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma. The most civilized of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, acted as much like white folks as is humanly possible. When the government tried to take their land, they took the government to court.

The Cherokee won the case, and won the right to stay on their land. Andrew Jackson ignored the court decision and continued the process of removing them from their land anyway. His political fallout from breaking the law of the land was... zero. The human cost was not zero. The relocation of The Five Civilized Tribes is known today as the Trail of Tears, and it is as shameful an act in our history as the Bataan Death March is a stain on Japanese history.

George W. Bush's crimes against our constitution are even greater. Under his misrule, the United States now tortures prisoners, had (and may still have) an archipelago of secret prisons in foreign lands and spies on its own citizens. The Congress, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, did nothing. This is because impeachment is not about legality, but politics, and completely controlled by the whim of the House leadership, whether a hot-headed and weak thinking bomb thrower like Newt Gingrich, or a pathetic and bloated figurehead like Dennis Hastert, or a spineless and corrupt jellyfish like Nancy Pelosi.

An article in the latest Vanity Fair asks former Bush officials about the Bush legacy, and unlike the self-serving comments the press has reported from Laura Bush and Condi Rice in recent days, some of the people who worked for this president are honest enough to see that Bush was a political corpse after the response to Hurricane Katrina was correctly perceived as a failure of government at every level, most especially the federal.

If we had a parliamentary system, he would not have survived a vote of no confidence after Katrina and we would have been spared his miserable leadership for at least three of the last eight years. Instead, we have a constitutional system that has no effective way to remove an ineffective leader or a leader unwilling to obey any law, and the next president is left with a much more daunting task of damage control because of our governmental system's flaws, codified in our beloved constitution.

Wednesday math, tomorrow. Mr. Madison's Mistakes, Part 2 on Thursday.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nine of my favorite Atari 2600 games and one, not so much.

Flipping channels this weekend, there were a bunch of ads and TV shows that made positive references to the Atari 2600 video game system, also known as the Atari Video Console System or VCS. I wrote games for the VCS, three of which were released to the public, but in listing my favorite games to play for the system, none of mine make the cut. Here's my list, given in alphabetical order, with some "insider info".

Title: Basketball
Company: Atari
Designer: Alan Miller

This is a nearly perfect example of what made the 2600 both great and lame. This was one of the early cartridges that had to be written in 2,048 bytes, better known as 2K. The graphics are incredibly primitive, but the game play is remarkably addictive, and it's even fun to play against the computer.

Title: Demon Attack
Company: Imagic
Designer: Rob Fulop

This style of game was either called a shoot 'em up or a slide and shoot, and for my money, Demon Attack is the best of the lot, with Steve Cartright's Megamania running a close second. Rob did a beautiful job fine tuning this game, and the "wave after challenging wave" of bad guys actually got challenging very darn early.

Title: Freeway
Company: Activision
Designer: David Crane

This one is the not so much. David Crane produced an incredible number of video game hits, but I never got into any of his game designs. This is the one I played most often, but even so, not that often. This does not keep Mr. Crane up at night, because... how shall I put this delicately? David Crane has a very healthy self-image.

One year, I was at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show and was wandering the floor with Rob Fulop when we ran into David Crane. He had his usual look of superior disdain on his face as he looked at the new competition. Mario Bros. style games, known generically as platform games, were all the rage that year, and Dave turned to us and said "You know, with Pitfall, I invented the platform game."

With a look of concern, I asked, "Dave, did we forget to thank you?"

I kept a straight face. Rob laughed like a hyena.

Title: Kaboom!
Company: Activision
Designer: Larry Kaplan

The vast majority of 2600 games used the joystick as the controller, but there was a secondary controller called the paddle, which had a twisting dial and a button. It was the controller for Pong and Breakout, but my vote for best paddle game was Larry Kaplan's Kaboom! Larry had an on-again, off-again relationship with Activision, but that does not diminish the fact that his finest hour was very fine indeed.

Title: Othello™
Company: Atari
Designer: Ed Logg

There are many candidates for best designer of video games, but if I were to cast my vote for best programmer of video games, that would be Ed Logg. He only worked on the Atari 2600 a few times in his career, and most of his work was on coin-op games, like the vector graphics classic Asteroids. I give him big props for making a version of Othello™ that had a very good computer opponent at the most difficult level. Not easy to do in as little code as we were allowed. Also, making the board, which looks clunky to us today, was another great piece of clever programming.

Title: River Raid
Company: Activision
Designer: Carol Shaw

There was a coin-op game called Scramble, known as a horizontal scroller, that was released before River Raid came out, which could be called a vertical scroller. Coin-op systems, while not as limited as the home systems, were still limited, and the only difference is that when the video screen was put in a coin-op console, they could rotate the screen 90 degrees, so left-right to the viewer was actually up-down to the hardware. Be that as it may, this is the best vertical scrolling game for the system, challenging and well-tuned.

Title: Skiing
Company: Activision
Designer: Bob Whitehead

The game was as simple as can be, but the game play was still challenging, and there was a trick you had to use messing with a switch on the console to get the best possible times.

I do not have a good estimate of how many hours of my life were spent playing this game, but it probably rivals the amount of time I've taken understanding the difference between the Lebesgue integral and Riemann-Stieltjes integral.

Title: Stampede
Company: Activision
Designer: Bob Whitehead

Whatever amount of time I frittered away at Skiing, double that amount and that's the time I spent playing Stampede. I have some small pride that Bob Whitehead asked me to play test the Intellivision version, which was not as challenging as the Atari 2600 version. I know this because at a difficult level, I was able to keep playing while taking a tape out of my Walkman, turning it over and restarting it. I would never have had that much time playing the Atari.

Title: Tennis
Company: Activision
Designer: Alan Miller

The look of Tennis is much nicer than Basketball, but that improvement would still not impress modern video game players. What I would ask of them is this. Take the controls and beat the computer player. That is still a challenge and the game play is what made the best 2600 games still some of the finest video games ever developed.

Or so says an old Atari 2600 developer.

Title: Tetris™
Company: Tengen
Designer: Ed Logg

The original game of Tetris™ is the brain child of Alexey Pajitnov, a dirty, rotten, no-good Commie. The coin-op version was programmed for the company Tengen by Ed Logg, American patriot. Tengen also thought they had the right to make the video console version and Ed Logg wrote that as well, but the lawyers stepped in and put the kibosh on that, which is a shame. The screenshot here is from the Nintendo. Ed's 2600 version is another example of why I think he was the best programmer to ever get his paws on an Atari 2600 programming manual.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands! Yay, Azerbaijan!

Azerbaijan is so small on my map of Asia, I wasn't even aware it was still missing from my list. Why did an Azerbaijani stop by? Gigantic child brides!

Yes, I love to give the people what they want, because it's better to give than to receive, even on the not so major holiday alluded to in Padre Mickey's post today.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top Ten Cover Albums

Taking a page from my blog buddy DistributorcapNY, today I am going to do a music post. DCap usually takes on a musical genre and gets all encyclopedic on its bad self, but I'm taking a different tack. I put forward here a list of my ten favorite cover albums of all time.

I define "cover album" to mean when an artist or artists known primarily for recording "their own music" does an album of other people's music. For the most part, this means singer/songwriters decided to skip the songwriting duties for one project, but not always.

#10 Rocknroll, John Lennon
. This album's story is the impetus for putting this list together. In an interview, John Lennon admitted that part of the song Come Together was built on a chord progression from the Chuck Berry tune You Can't Catch Me, and Lennon had also lifted one line of lyrics "Here come old flat top." Morris Levy, the lawyer who owned the rights to the Chuck Berry tune, decided to sue Lennon, but instead of asking for residuals from Come Together, Levy wanted Lennon to record three songs from his catalog. Lennon at the time had bigger legal fish to fry, what with the U.S. government trying to deport him. He looked through Levy's catalog and found that a lot of the tunes he loved to play back when he was a kid were there, and he put out this album of rock tunes primarily before the heyday of the Beatles, including the Chuck Berry tune at the center of the controversy.

#9 Perfectly Frank Tony Bennett
This is one of two albums on the list where the artist is not known largely as a songwriter, but instead a singer who decides to make a tribute to another singer.

On this album, Tony Bennett records tunes that are most readily associated with Frank Sinatra.

It is a matter of taste, but I like Bennett's voice better than I like Sinatra's.

It is a matter of arithmetic to say that Bennett has had a longer career than the late Sinatra and kept his voice in shape for a much longer time than many singers have been able.

It is a matter of common sense to say that Tony Bennett is a nicer human being than Frank Sinatra.

Thanks for all the music, Mr. Bennett.

#8 Moondog Matinee The Band
Sometimes The Band is classified as Southern rock, though the line-up had only one southerner, singer/drummer Levon Helm, and the rest of the group were Canadians. They were originally the back-up band for Ronnie Hawkins, then struck out on their own, then backed up the newly electrified Bob Dylan, which caused no end of concern for Dylan's folk music fans. Though they were very proficient musicians and wrote most of their own songs, except for several covers of Dylan tunes, they did have a love of the raw hillbilly harmonies of true old timey artists like the Stanley Brothers.

I bought every album The Band recorded as soon as it came out, and I loved this one just as much as I loved their original stuff. Side one started with the great hit of Clarence "Frogman" Henry, I Ain't Got No Home, included a ripping version of Elvis Presley's Mystery Train and an instrumental Third Man Theme. The second side ends with a tune I hadn't heard for years when the album came out, but that I still love to this day, Sam Cooke's posthumously released classic A Change Is Gonna Come.

Pin-Ups David Bowie. John Lennon was a little hesitant about putting out a cover album because several other artists of the time had done the same thing recently, including Bryan Ferry and David Bowie.

Bowie recorded mainly music from the British Invasion on this album from 1973, including one Syd Barrett song, two by Pete Townsend and one by Ray Davies. Besides the naked head and shoulders of Bowie and the model Twiggy, the most enduring thing from the album was the single Sorrow. Bowie's version is much better known today than the original done by the McCoys.

Just to re-iterate that what the Beatles had done with the line "Here come old flat-top" is not the definition of musical plagiarism, the Beatles also borrowed the line "with your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue" from Sorrow and incorporated it in It's All Too Much, found on the Yellow Submarine track.

Artists do this all the time.

#6 Deadicated various artists
. This album is unique on the list, but comes from a common genre. Someone decides to make a tribute album to a band or songwriter and invites a passel of artists to contribute tunes to the project. Often the proceeds are donated to charity. So it was with Deadicated, a tribute album to the Grateful Dead, with proceeds donated to rainforest protection. The albums starts strong, putting my choice for best rock and roll band still working Los Lobos ripping through Bertha. Other artists include Elvis Costello singing Ship of Fools, The Indigo Girls doing great harmonies on Uncle John's Band, and my two favorite male country singers since the era of Johnny Cash, Lyle Lovett sweetly singing an acoustic version of Friend of the Devil and Dwight Yoakam tearing the fenders and hood off of Truckin'.

Deadicated is out of print, and a much sought after prize by Deadhead vinylheads the world 'round.

#5 Kojak Variety Elvis Costello. One of my students this past semester asked me if I were on a desert island and could listen to only one artist for the rest of my life, who would it be? Her choice was Talking Heads. My choice would be Elvis Costello. Elvis recorded this cover tune album and left it on the shelf for a while, but released it when the market seemed nearly flooded with bootleg recordings of the songs.

The Band put The Third Man Theme on their cover album as kind of a curve ball. Elvis, on the other hand, has an album nearly entirely of curve balls and sliders. The best known tune might be The Very Thought of You, the only song not from the rock era, a throwback to the days when Elvis' dad Ross McManus played in the big bands. The next best known tune is Days, a Ray Davies tune that has also been recorded by the late Kirsty MacColl. Elvis covers Mose Allison, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Willie Dixon and Jesse Winchester, and even when he records songs from Bob Dylan, Bacharach and David, Holland/Dozier/Holland and Randy Newman, he pulls out some of the most obscure songs from their catalogs.

It's not my favorite Elvis album, but I can still put the CD in the player and enjoy it.

#4 Labour of Love UB40
. This year, lead singer and founder Ali Campbell retired from UB40 after thirty years. Until this retirement, the band had the same eight man lineup since 1978. That is nearly unprecedented in rock history. The Four Tops had the same four guys until Levi Stubbs died, but keeping four guys together is a little easier than keeping eight guys together. Good on ya, UB40!

This album, for all practical purposes, redefined the band. UB40 started as a mixed race, reggae influenced and politically motivated band from Birmingham, with political songs including Food For Thought, Sardonicus, I'm Not Fooled So Easily and King. But all their previous successes were completely overshadowed commercially by their cover of the Neil Diamond tune Red Red Wine. Like with Bowie's version of Sorrow, the cover is so much more popular than the original that many don't know the original version at all. Since then, every number one hit UB40 has had has been a cover, like I Got You Babe, with guest vocalist Chrissie Hynde, the Elvis Presley ballad I Can't Help Falling In Love and the Motown hit The Way You Do The Things You Do.

#3 Mystery Lady Etta James. Etta James was famous as a belter of songs in her heyday. In the new movie Cadillac Records, Beyonce Knowles plays Etta James and re-records some of her tunes. Just like with Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, the celluloid copy only makes you long for the original.

Etta recorded her own tribute to Billie Holiday in 1994, Mystery Lady, with much more satisfying results. Etta met Billie when she was young and Miss Holiday was near the end of her career, and she never forgot it. On this record, Etta is backed by a septet lead by Cedar Walton on piano, and they lead off with Don't Explain, a heartbreaking ballad of co-dependency with lyrics by Billie herself. The album is all ballads, and some of the strongest are also some of the saddest, including You've Changed, (I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over and I'll Be Seeing You.

#2 Pop Pop Rickie Lee Jones. Rickie Lee Jones got her start in the music business known as Tom Waits' girlfriend, and there was an attempt to label her as the female Tom Waits early on, but both of these artists are much too fiercely independent to be labeled as anything but their own unique selves.

Jones recorded Pop Pop in 1991, with production help from David Was of Was (Not Was). Several musicians back her up, most notably guitar hero Robben Ford playing an acoustic nylon stringed guitar, the incomparable Charlie Haden on bass and Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon. (Side 'splainin': Yes, a bandoneon is a honkin' big accordion. And yes, only cool people play it.) This line-up can be heard on the first song, the priceless standard from the American songbook My One and Only Love. Most of this album, like Mystery Lady, is filled with songs from the jazz/pop era, though it does also include Jimi Hendrix's Up From the Skies and the Marty Balin ballad first recorded by Jefferson Airplane, Comin' Back to Me. Both Pop Pop and Mystery Lady could be classified as nice rainy day music.

#1 Acid Eaters Ramones! Earlier, I wrote that Los Lobos are the best rock and roll band still working. This is because the Ramones are not still working, with several members now deceased. Matty Boy is of the opinion that the Ramones were and are the greatest rock and roll band in history.

You may disagree. This is America. You have the right to be wrong.

Acid Eaters is not rainy day music. It's TURN IT UP LOUD music. The first song is Journey to the Center of the Mind by the Amboy Dukes, written by Ted Nugent. Clearly, the song is chosen out of respect for the artists that recorded the original.

There's also a little Long Island glue sniffing smack talk going on. Like Ted... this is what it sounds like if you PLAY IT FAST AND LOUD.


For me, there are several songs on Acid Eaters that I can no longer listen to the original versions of anymore. They're just too damn slow. John Fogerty's Have You Ever Seen The Rain never sounded like this when Creedence played it. Likewise Jefferson Airplane's Somebody to Love.

On the other hand, I can still listen to the Who's version of Substitute just as easily as the Ramones' version, maybe because Pete Townsend is on both of them. Also, there are some songs, like the Rolling Stones' Out of Time, that the Ramones decided not to play at RamonesSpeed™ and RamonesVolume™. Long Island's Finest still tear those songs up.

I did not agonize over the exact positions of these albums listed on the top ten. You may find there are cover albums you love that didn't make the list. The only position I would not change on this list is the Ramones are Number One!

You may disagree. This is America. You have the right to be wrong.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Did somebody break the Internets? Just askin'.

It's a fair question, hypothetical question asker, and there is data to back up the claim, though a complete 'splainin' may not be forthcoming.

As I have written before, I am nearly as fascinated by the statistics of my blog as I am in the blog itself. The general trend in readership here at Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do has been on the upswing over time, but in the second half of December, there have been a lot less readers than there were in the first half of the month. I wondered if the shift was a sign of disenchantment with my prose stylings or part of a web-wide trend, one which will hopefully reverse in the near future.

I visited some of my blog buddies who use the Site Meter software to keep track of their stats and make the information available to the public. I took the day by day info of visits (the bar height in yellow) and page views (the extra bar height in red) for November 25 through December 25 for my own blog and five others. I scrubbed away names and the scale for the bar charts, because I was interested in each blog's popularity over time of the past month, not their relative popularity to each other.

While the blogs in question cover a lot of different topics and styles of blogging, publishing this data in a real statistical context would not be considered kosher, because this would be a convenience sampling.

Looking at the data, there are some common trends, though some of the six fail to show some of the signs.

The Christmas Day abandonment: For every blog except Blog #3, Christmas Day is the lowest readership day of the sample, and in Blog #3, it's the second lowest day. It's almost as though people are stepping away from their computers on December 25 to spend time with their family and friends. This is just speculation on my part based on a small sample. I'm sure a government funded survey using a much larger sample could be undertaken to check this crackpot hypothesis.

The mid-month spike: I have no single 'splainin' for the mid-month spike, but you will notice in blogs #1 through #4 all have a day or two around December 15 when readership increased significantly then fell back to normal. The two big news stories of the time period were the shoe thrower in Iraq and Blagojevich being arrested, but not all of these blogs covered these stories. Blog #5 has the steadiest readership, with no one day showing massively more readers than any other. Blog #6 has a cyclical pattern, but it doesn't perfectly follow a seven day trend.

The late month slump: Like the Christmas Day abandonment, every blog on the list has a period just before Christmas were readership is down compared to late November and early December. The least affected blog in the late month is Blog #4. If we remove the big two day spike on December 15 and 16, it could be argued Blog #4 has an even steadier readership than Blog #5. Could it be that folks for some unspecified time period before December 25th are away from their computers more, preparing for some festivity that will take place on December 25th? Again, this is just a crackpot theory based on a small sample and one researcher's wild imagination. More study is certainly warranted before readers start throwing this factoid tidbit around at cocktail parties.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Random 10, 12/26

Suite for Orchestra #2 in B Minor, Badinerie (J.S. Bach) New Bach Collegium Musicum
Nostalgia The Buzzcocks
Imagination is a Powerful Deceiver Elvis Costello
Love is Here and Now You're Gone Diana Ross & the Supremes
In the Jailhouse Now Tim Blake Nelson
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) Jimi Hendrix Experience
Deadbeat Club The B-52's
Walk the Dinosaur Was (Not Was)
Family Snapshot Peter Gabriel
It Never Was You Teresa Stratas

Truth in advertising alert! No Bollywood songs on the list. (The picture is from Om Shanti Om from 2007. If you want a nice Indian film, avoid Slumdog Millionaire and rent Om Shanti Om.)

A nice solid eight of ten songs on the list can be found on the You Tubes.

The Bach that leads off and the Kurt Weill tune that finishes the list keep it from being the standard 1960s vs. 1980s list that shows up so often on my random iTunes selections. To be fair, there's also Tim Blake Nelson from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. He was the only one of the lead actors who was actually singing the song where he is shown to be the lead singer, not counting blues musician Chris Thomas King as Tommy. Tim Blake Nelson deserved the best supporting actor nod that year, but he wasn't even nominated. Theft!

The best known tune on the list is Diana Ross and the Supremes singing yet another fantastic pop song from Holland/Dozier/Holland. Someone posited that romantic comedies are the ruin of many relationships, what with the unreasonable expectations they create, but for me, this lets pop songs off the hook too easily. No one wrote catchy, danceable three minute long slices of human sadness like Holland/Dozier/Holland, and some of their best became huge hits for the Supremes. As Miss Ross speaks in this one:

You closed the door to your heart and turned the key,
Locked your love away from me. (Uh!)

It's easy to mock, but these songs deserved to be hits. It's the hidden costs people seem unwilling to explore.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Ike's Birthday.

A few weeks back, some astronomers with a cool computer program that can simulate the night sky for any evening in the past few thousand years made minor news by reporting that the best candidate for the Christmas star was in June of 2 B.C., when Venus and Jupiter would have been right on top of one another. Some folks have used this to say "Haw, haw, Christians! You got it wrong!"

Former Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson may have an album entitled Jesus Was a Capricorn, but actual biblical scholars, like my pal Padre Mickey, have long understood December 25 is the day of the mass celebrating Christ's birth, not an accurate choice for the actual anniversary of his birth. The choice of a day near the Winter Solstice was an effort to compete with the dominant religions of the day, religions we now lump together and call pagan.

As for people actually born on Christmas day, let us take a moment in this joyous season to remember a not particularly joyful man. Born on Christmas Day in 1642, raised by a man not his father, died a virgin, probably at least mildly autistic, Isaac Newton had little to recommend himself in terms of a winning personality. He was just smarter than the rest of us.

A lot smarter.

If Jesus had his cousin John the Baptist to be his harbinger, Newton had Galileo, who died the same year Newton was born. Galileo asked questions he could not answer, nor could anyone properly answer until someone invented the methods of calculus. Others get full or partial credit for discovering some of the methods of calculus, including Archimedes and his method of exhaustion, the Japanese mathematician Seki, and two contemporaries of Newton, his teacher Isaac Barrow and his rival Gottfreid Leibniz. But more than his mathematical genius, Newton had insights into the workings of the physical world that would be unmatched until Einstein. Newton came up with the math that explains gravity, the laws of motion and the nature of light. It is widely accepted that Newton had all these great insights working alone on his stepfather's farm between 1666 and 1669, after Cambridge was closed to prevent the spread of plague.

So on this day of joy and togetherness, remember for a moment a guy with no family of his own and few friends, who did not bring us the message that God loves us. He brought us the message that what God hath wrought hath rules, and if we work at it hard enough, we can discover those rules and bring about miracles and wonders of our own.

And while your at it, have a nice celebration in honor of the baby Jesus as well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 53: The Platonic Solids

A few weeks back, I did a post about tiling the plane with regular polygons. A regular polygon is defined as all sides the same length and all angles the same measure, like a square or a triangle where all the angles are 60 degrees. Given any number of sides n, a regular polygon can be constructed, and the formula for the equal angle measure is (180 - n/360) degrees.

Can this idea be generalized to three dimensional objects? Yes, hypothetical question asker, it can.

In three dimensions, we need faces to be the same size and shape and edges to be the same length. The shapes that meet these criteria are called the Platonic Solids. These are solids that really like you, but... not in that way.

Okay, no they aren't. Just a little math joke.

Our buddy Plato was all about the idea of ideal objects, and the simplicity of how these three dimensional shapes are defined makes them ideal. Unlike regular polygons, of which there are infinitely many types, there are only five types of regular polyhedra, which is the plural of polyhedron. Besides the idea of same shaped faces and same length edges, we also have the rule that the same number of faces have to meet at each corner.

Given all those restrictions, the number of options is five. Here's the roll call.

Face shape: Triangle.
Number of faces:4
Number of corners: 4

Face shape: Square.
Number of faces: 6
Number of corners: 8

Face shape: Triangle.
Number of faces: 8
Number of corners: 6

Face shape: Pentagon.
Number of faces: 12
Number of corners: 20

Face shape: Triangle.
Number of faces: 20
Number of corners: 12

In the picture and in my color coded fact lists, the solids have naturally linked relationships. The number of faces on a cube is the number of corners on an octahedron, and vice versa. If you put a dot in the exact middle of every cube face and linked those dots together with straight lines, you would get an octahedron, and vice versa. The 12-sided and 20-sided solids have the same relationship, and the tetrahedron stands alone. Connect the dots in the middle of each face of a tetrahedron and you get a smaller tetrahedron.

The name for this relationship in math is duality. The cube is the octahedron's dual, the icosahedron and dodecahedron are duals of each other, and the tetrahedron stands alone, because it is its own dual.

There is another "simple" relationship between the Platonic Solids, and that is between the tetrahedron and the octahedron. If you wanted to make a tetrahedron that was twice as tall as another tetrahedron, you would need four copies of the original tetrahedron stacked up as shown, but you would be missing a shape in the middle. The missing middle shape is an octahedron. Since the twice as tall tetrahedron is three dimensional, it has eight times the volume of the original tetrahedron, because eight is two cubed. We used four tetrahedra to mark the corners, the octahedron must have the volume of four tetrahedra of equal side length, since four plus four equals eight.

If you have the right materials, it's fun constructing platonic solids. Using toothpicks and clay, with small dots of clay as the connective tissue at the corners, the only shape that is rigid is the simplest, the all-triangle tetrahedon. The cube and other shapes will bend under the weight of the materials. This idea was covered in an earlier post about making things rigid.

In the comments, Lockwood mentioned there is also a simple relationship between the cube and the tetrahedron. If you pick any corner of a cube and connect it to the corners diagonal to it across the faces of the cube, those four corners define a regular tetrahedron. I nicked this diagram from Antonio Gutierrez which shows both shapes separately and then combines them. The volume of the inscribed tetrahedron is one third the volume of the cube that contains it.

Thanks to Lockwood for pointing this out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The limits of an audience's endurance.

The new film Slumdog Millionaire is getting great reviews and critical acclaim. Set in India, much of it in Mumbai, it is not actually a Bollywood movie, instead directed by Danny Boyle, best known for Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish junkies, and 28 Days Later, a stylish zombie movie from a few years back.

If you haven't seen it yet, the question you should ask yourself is this. How much pain, cruelty and physical humiliation are you willing to see characters you are rooting for be subjected to? Does that equation change if the characters so subjected are children?

Matty Boy is not completely naive. All drama is about characters in jeopardy. But in Slumdog Millionaire, though some of the jeopardy is emotional, director Boyle highlights that emotional jeopardy and pain with lots and lots of physical jeopardy and pain. Torture, beatings and physical disfiguration feel like about half the screen time of the film, and another quarter of the film is watching little kids grow up in filth and squalor.

You should know the truth about this movie going into it, because the way its being sold is that it is about a beautiful girl in a yellow dress, played by model turned actress Frieda Pinto in her first onscreen performance. Back in May, I wrote a film review of 21 which discussed the idea of instant lust object, where I wrote that Kate Bosworth didn't really fit the bill very well and Ursula Andress in Doctor No was near the head of the class. Indian films use the instant lust object plot device about as often as they use spectacular song and dance numbers, which is to say in nearly every film. Like scores of actresses from India or of Indian ancestry, Ms. Pinto is astonishingly gorgeous, and if the still camera lens loves her, the moving camera lens worships her as unto a goddess.

Not to give too much of the film away, but the ads for the film won't tell you. You do get to look at a very, very pretty girl for a few minutes when you go to see Slumdog Millionaire and there is a happy ending after a fashion, but you pay for it not only at the box office, but in having to endure scene after scene of disgusting physical degradation of innocent characters, many of them small children.

Monday, December 22, 2008

He can't be the enemy. He doesn't even wear a tie.

Here's something I have in common with the novelist Jane Smiley: Last week, Joe Biden asked me for money, too.

Unlike Ms. Smiley, I didn't send the Obama campaign the legal limit, just more than I could afford, given my situation now. I worked for these people for free, and what did that get me? I mean, other than spam my gmail account doesn't recognize as spam?

Apparently, so far, not a heck of a lot.

I got an e-mail from the Obama campaign telling me I was invited to the inauguration, but upon closer reading, the e-mail said I was in line to win a lottery that would give me an invitation to the inauguration. Thanks, anyway, I can't make it. I don't have the money to fly across country and I can't afford to take the time off work.

Rick Warren, on the other hand, got a real invitation, and he can afford to re-schedule stuff to make time to show up. He also gets to stand on stage and speak to the crowd.

Rick Warren is one of those people who supposedly "disagrees without being disagreeable". You know, the folks who don't actually hate Obama when they call him a baby killer and compare abortion to the Holocaust. One of the folks who want to strip away rights legally granted to their fellow citizens, but don't actually hate those fellow citizens, because Warren gives them donuts and water when they show up to protest.

He's not really just a younger, slicker version of Jerry Falwell. Look! He doesn't even wear a tie. How can you call someone an agent of intolerance when he doesn't even wear a tie?

Rick Warren is against homosexuality for the same reasons he's against pedophilia and polygamy and incest.

Okay, Rick, define pedophilia. There is no age of consent in the Bible. There are rites of passage into manhood that are given to boys of twelve and thirteen. Some religious people like Jerry Falwell, the miserable dead bastard you physically resemble, are very happy to say anything bad that happens to us as a people or a nation is because we've rejected God. Maybe God is annoyed because we have decided adulthood should start at sixteen or eighteen or twenty one.

After all, who died and made us God?

No need to define incest, it's right there in the Bible. Lot and his daughters are not immediately punished by God for incest, though their descendants, the Moabites and Ammonites, are considered unclean for ten generations by the other Hebrews. Talk about blaming the victims and holding a grudge.

Sex with angels? God's on the case, and a couple of cities have gots to go.

Sex with your daughters? That's more of an administrative thing, and God can leave it to the rabbis.

Polygamy? Not a problem, not at all. King Solomon the polygamist is famed for his wisdom and gets a few books to tell his story in his own words.

So Rick Warren's ideas of equally bad sexual situations are just that: Rick Warren's ideas. Not God's, not the Bible's. Things Rick Warren thinks are icky because he's a guy who grew up in a society that defined those things as icky. I grew up in this society, too, and I think some of them are icky. I don't pretend my decisions are biblically based. In general, I reserve my judgments based on participants being consenting adults and if they produce offspring, taking care of those offspring.

But Rick Warren, the jackass best selling author, gets a real invitation to the inauguration. Matty Boy, the broke-ass West Coast mofo blogger who actually put his time and money into getting Barack Obama elected 44th President of the United States, he gets what broke-ass mofos always get.

Thanks a lot and better luck next time.

Well, Mr. President-elect, best of luck with the celebration. Right now, most of the things you are doing are ceremonial or preparation for the real job of governing. But please remember this. Those of us who helped to get you elected really do want to see a change from the practices of government we have seen for the last eight years.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who doesn't like a good "RAIDERS SUCK!" joke?

For those of my readers who pay only slight attention to professional football, or those who can't be bothered with the details of teams who play home games west of the Rockies, here is a brief summary.

Last century, The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders were a pretty good football team, and some seasons they were actually great.

This century, the Oakland Raiders suck.

But even a bad team can have some entertainment value, by being the butts of jokes. Here are some of my favorite "RAIDERS SUCK!" jokes.

The Oakland Police are cracking down on speeders heading into town :
For the first offense, they give you two R
aiders tickets.
If you get stopped a second time, they make you use them.

Q. What do you call 47 millionaires around a TV watching the Super Bowl?
A. The
Oakland Raiders .

Q. What do the
Raiders and Rick Warren have in common?
A. They both can make 90,000 people stand up and yell 'Jesus Christ'.

Q. How do you keep the
Oakland Raiders out of your yard?
A. Put up a goal post.

Q. Where do you go in
Oakland in case of a tornado?
A. To the
Coliseum - they never have a touchdown there!

Q. What do you call
an Oakland Raider with a Super Bowl ring?
A. A thief.

Q. Why does George W. Bush want to send Raider QB Jamarcus Russell to Venezuela?
A. The CIA are convinced he's the only American who can overthrow Hugo Chavez.

Q. What's the difference between the R
aiders and a dollar bill?
A. You can still get four quarters out of a dollar bill.

Q. What do the R
aiders and possums have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Add your favorite "OUR TEAMS SUCK!" jokes in the comments, won't you?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obituary madness.

There's the old saying about people dying in groups of threes. How about groups of sixes? Should we just count that as two groups of threes?

Here's the AP obituary list for today. There are four names here I know without any prompting. Majel Barrett, Star Trek actress and widow of Gene Roddenberry. Paul Weyrich, conservative activist. Sam Bottoms, actor. Dave Smith, former All-Star relief pitcher.

The last two guys were both 53. Damn. Guess which birthday I'm celebrating ten days from now.

And two guys getting solo obits. W. Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, dead at 95, and Mike "Mad Dog" Bell, dead at 37.

Mike Bell is the guy on the left, pictured with his little brothers Chris and Mark. Chris made the movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster, a documentary released this year I reviewed last month and recommend whole-heartedly. I'm not a wrestling fan, but I found the story of the family very compelling. Of all the famous and semi-famous deaths reported today, this is the one that makes me feel like a lost a relative.

Best wishes to Mad Dog's friends and family, from a fan of his little brother's movie.

Random 10, 12/19

L-Y Tom Lehrer
Spiderwebs No Doubt
When You're Mind's Made Up Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Town Cryer Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Little Red Corvette Prince
Get Ready The Temptations
Out of Time The Ramones
No Woman No Cry Bob Marley & the Wailers
I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues Mose Allison
Hey Ya Outkast

As promised, this week's Random 10 would start at the non-random point of Tom Lehrer's song about adverbs from the 1970s show The Electric Company. We got a lot of songs available on The You Tubes, except for the Prince classic which is only available on the Chinese knock off of The You Tubes. The two songs missing from this week's list are the Ramones covering a Rolling Stones tune, from the greatest cover album of all time Acid Eaters, and Mose Allison singing a Duke Ellington tune.

I've already commented that young people are not going to understand the line "Shake it like a Polaroid picture" from the great dance tune Hey Ya by Outkast, but when Andre 3000 says "All you Beyonces and Lucy Lius... Get out on the floor... You know what to do." I'm confident the young people will understand that reference for some time to come.

Y.S.I. Tuesday

Three T.G.I. Friday's restaurants on the Peninsula closed their doors as of last Tuesday, according to this story in the San Jose Mercury News. Folks had jobs there on Monday, but Tuesday saw the doors shuttered in San Bruno, San Mateo and Cupertino. No word on whether the waiters would be allowed to keep their mandated pieces of flair. The company clearly own the suspenders, according to lawyers.

Other restaurants in the chain are still open, but if you have coupons, I'd redeem them as soon as possible.

Because it might be T.G.I. Friday's, but in the Bay Area, it's You're Screwed It's Tuesday.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fun with foreign currency.

Since the new crisis was announced back in mid-September, the U.S. dollar has been gaining in strength against most currencies except the yen and the price of crude oil has plummeted. It is fairly common that the value of the dollar and the price of oil go in opposite directions, but right now both are going down simultaneously.

Now that the Japanese central bank is ready to step in and stop the massive growth in the value of the yen, which makes their exports more expensive to buy, one of the most interesting currency situations is the relative values of European currencies. Since mid-September, the Swiss franc, the euro and the British pound have all taken hits against the dollar, but over the past few weeks, parts of that trend have changed. The Swiss franc and the euro are making a comeback, while the pound is still tumbling. Right now, a euro is worth about 94 British pence, the highest value the new currency has ever reached vis-a-vis the venerated British pound. The Swiss franc, which started the year at near parity with the Aussie dollar and well below the Canadian dollar, now completely outstrips the other two. A Canadian dollar is now worth less than 89 Swiss centimes, while the Aussie dollar can be had for less than three quarters of a Swiss franc. The Swiss franc is not at its high water mark against the greenback this year, since it had a brief time of being worth more than a buck, but it's currently at about 94 cents American and the trend has been up.

No one can say where the market is going for sure, but whatever has been considered "normal" for the past few decades, it isn't going there. All we can hope for is some new equilibrium point, but we haven't reached it yet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Your mileage may vary.

We love The Google, don't we? Most of my blog buddies are using The Google's blog software, we Google stuff all the time, we gladly use The Google Maps.

So when I kid, it's all in fun, right?

I look up City College of San Francisco. It's out by Balboa Park, far from downtown but very close to a BART station called... Balboa Park! Great for the car-free Matty Boy! Yay!

So I ask for directions from the BART station to the college. 4.1 miles.

That can't be right. The whole city of San Francisco fits in a 7 mile by 7 mile square. But then I look at the car directions.

Leave the BART station, get on the 280 freeway, drive about a mile and a half out of your way, turn around and get on the same freeway heading back, get off at the exit where you entered, drive to the college. 4.1 miles.

Okay, how about walking? 0.4 miles. Nobody walking is going to be idiot enough to get on the freeway when the whole thing is about a six minute walk, tops.

Anybody else experience such a goofy glitch on The Google? This is the first time I've seen it go so bad, which I why I mention it.

I kid. I kid because I love. Don't turn off my e-mail account, please.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 52: The Tomb of Archimedes

Last week, we left the story of Archimedes with the great man being killed by a Roman soldier. The end, right?

Not quite. Marcellus, the Roman general who conquered the Sicilian city-state of Syracuse, was famous enough in his day to warrant a biography, and in his biography the story of the death of Archimedes is recounted. Marcellus had commanded his troops to find Archimedes alive and bring him back to Marcellus, so that the general might get a chance to learn some of the secret weapons Archimedes had designed.

Marcellus felt bad about his troops killing Archimedes, and took it upon himself to make sure Archimedes was given a proper burial and a grand tomb. Archimedes had a request that one of his discoveries be the crowning glory of his tomb, a sphere fit snugly inside a cylinder that is the same height as the sphere, as is pictured above. Think of a racquetball inside a can where the ball has no wiggle room and the can is exactly the height of the ball.

(We know Marcellus did this not just because it is recounted in his biography, but another historian Cicero has a story of visiting Syracuse centuries later and searching for Archimedes' tomb, only to find it neglected and in need of repair.)

Here are the three things Archimedes figured out about the ball and the cylinder.

1. The ball has exactly two thirds the volume of the cylinder, if the cylinder were empty and closed on top and bottom.

2. The ball and the inside of the cylinder have exactly the same surface area.

3. If you slice the cylinder and ball parallel to the flat surface on which the cylinder stands, making a new shorter cylinder and some sliced section of a ball, the inside of the new shorter cylinder and the outside of the ball slice also have exactly the same surface area.

Last night, I had a little Eureka! moment working on a math problem and I blogged about it. This thing Archimedes did was also a moment of discovery, but far more brilliant than mine. All I did was use some knowledge I had already learned years ago and applied it correctly to a new problem. The methods Archimedes used to figure out all these things were entirely his own, and those ideas were the same ideas Isaac Newton would re-discover and turn into the calculus nearly 2,000 years later.

If Archimedes had been the leader of an academy like Euclid or Pythagoras, human civilization might be thousands of years more advanced than it is, because that's how far ahead of his time he was.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'm in the complete graphs, solvin' yur problemz

So this is how math works. You get a problem, you fiddle with it, you hope something you know fits, though you never know for sure when something will fit. Because the problem was made up out of whole cloth, sometimes from a real life situation, sometimes as an extension of another math problem, you can't even be sure there is an answer.

The problem a friend asked me to solve was about 36 people put at tables of six each, which I wrote about on Sunday. I haven't solved it. I have solved 9 people at tables of 3 each, 16 people at tables of 4 each, 25 people at tables of 5 each, and oddly enough, 49 people at tables of 7 each.

I may have just gotten lucky with 16 people split into groups of 4. But the prime numbers, not lucky. As a mathematician, and when you prove something, you know when you get it, and it feels really good.

For any prime p no matter how big, you can split p squared into p tables of p each over p+1 evenings so that everybody in the group will sit at a table with everyone else exactly once. It may not work for non-primes, but it will always work for primes.

I'm solvin' yur problemz, 'cuz that's how I roll.

The tallest nationality in the world.

Currently, the tallest nationality in the world are the Dutch. If I recall correctly, there were a few decades after WW II when the Americans held that distinction, but as with a lot of quality of life statistics, we used to be Number One, but now, not so much.

The Dutch, thoughtful socialists that they are, are running ads recommending careers that might be of interest to some of their tall young people. Here, a helpful young colossus has a job taking care of senior citizens.

She seems nice. Maybe I could ask her out for a cup of coffee after work. I'm not sure I could afford a cup of coffee her size, though.

I'll ask if we could go Dutch treat. Couldn't hurt.

Another career that might fit the lifestyle of some of the vertically blessed young Netherlanders would be working in traffic safety.

As long as she doesn't flick her finger and send that bicyclist on a one way trip to Belgium.

So why aren't Americans the tallest people in the world anymore?

It might be that some of our taller young people are engaged in hobbies that are hazardous to their health and the health of others.

Just sayin'.

First two pictures are actually from a Dutch career planning ad campaign. The third is from one of My People, a collage artist who goes by the initials JR.