Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Getting grumpy about new technology.

I feel about Twitter much the way I feel about hands free cell phones. I'm aware that my grumpiness about the topic isn't going to change how people feel, but looking at it from the from the opposite angle, how people feel about Twitter and blue tooth cell phones is not going to change my grumpiness.

So there!

And then we have Bing. A new search engine from Microsoft. It's better, the ads say. No more nonsense you don't need when searching.

Microsoft wouldn't lie to us, would they?

Well, "lie" is such a strong word. Let's be kind and say that the new software still has some bugs to work out.

Most people who find this blog on searches are still using Google, not surprisingly. But a few referrals have come from Bing.

Someone went to Bing and typed in "Indira Varma" and came to my blog. But the picture associated with my blog, a picture found very far down the list of pictures on Bing, is the lolz you see here. Many of the pictures I have published of Ms. Varma are available when you type in her name at Bing, but they only way to get to my blog is to follow the link with the bionic dog.

Ending on a positive note, when I looked through the available images of Ms. Varma on Bing, I found this publicity still from the London play The Vertical Hour. Obviously, this is an optical illusion. Ms. Varma is not actually head and shoulders taller than her co-star.

Or, given that she is wearing clothing completely exposing the prettiest collarbone the baby Jesus ever invented and looking like she's about seven feet tall, this could have been created from new technology able to turn my dreamy dreams into still photos.

That's new technology that wouldn't make me grumpy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New Poll: Best 1970s sitcom theme, with lyrics

There are a lot of choices in the themes with lyrics division this week. Without lyrics not so much.

All In The Family
The Brady Bunch
The Courtship of Eddie's Father
Good Times
Happy Days
The Jeffersons
Love American Style
The Love Boat
Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Muppet Show
The Partridge Family
Three's Company
Welcome Back Kotter
WKRP in Cincinnati

There were more on the list, but I cut some where I didn't think there was a good choice for listening on You Tube, like Chico and the Man, and songs I never really liked, like Laverne and Shirley. Still, there's fifteen choices here and you can vote for more than one. Voting will close next Sunday.

New poll: Best 1970s sitcom theme, instrumental

Not as many good choices for instrumental sitcom themes in the 1970s. Clearly, the powerful lyricists had terrified the TV industry into submission. What ever the case, here are seven choices of instrumental sitcom themes.

Barney Miller
The Bob Newhart Show
The Odd Couple
Sanford and Son
What's Happening

I was thinking of disqualifying songs from other media, like The Odd Couple and M*A*S*H, which were taken from the movies that were made first. (For the young people, yes it's true. There was a time when a movie would get made, be a success, and producers would create a TV show based on the movie. Strange, but true!)

We think of jingle writing as a lower form of creativity, but some of these are fantastic and some are written by big stars. Sanford and Son is a Quincy Jones composition and What's Happening is the work of Henry Mancini. Those guys and other were definitely not minor leaguers.

The polls are open until next Sunday and you can vote for multiple songs. Heck, it's almost like a democracy or something!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Celebrity deaths do not come in threes.

Someone else died this week who I knew perfectly well before the obituary explained it to me. Like Michael Jackson, celebrity pitchman was only 50 years old when he died. Unlike the Sham Wow guy, I actually had seen Billy Mays ads before he had a brush with the news.

I'm not the only one of my blog buddies who thought this was worth a post. Karen Zipdrive of Pulp Friction also decided his passing was worth a post.

I know this is going to sound both callous and contrarian, but Billy Mays' passing means much more to me right now, in June of 2009, than does Michael Jackson's. Besides his annoying ads for cleaning products, the ad designers at ESPN, who have created some of the funniest ads for over twenty years now, decided to hire Billy Mays as a spokesman for their website, ESPN360.com.

He's done a bunch of ads for them, many of them high-larious, and they have to pull them from the air now.

Damn, but that sucks.

Here's my favorite of the Billy Mays ads for ESPN360.com. I love the way the young woman delivers her great line.

You think you can write comedy that well? I say this with love, gentle reader. I'm thinking you can't.

Enjoy the ad. And as for Billy Mays... Billy, we hardly knew ye.

TV theme songs... your input requested.

Only about a half a day left to express your opinion on the best of the 1960s sitcom theme songs, put in two divisions, with lyrics and without lyrics. Logically, the next polls should be about 1970s sitcom themes, and I currently have lists for both categories. if you can think of any you would like to see added, or dropped for that matter, let me know. There are a lot more in the "with lyrics" category than there are in the "without lyrics" category, but there no rule that both categories have to have the same number of nominees.

Theme songs with lyrics

1. All in the Family
2. The Brady Bunch
3. The Courtship of Eddie's Father
4. Love American Style
5. The Partridge Family
6. Mary Tyler Moore Show
7. WKRP in Cincinnati
8. Welcome Back Kotter
9. Happy Days
10. The Jeffersons
11. Good Times
12. Three's Company
13. Chico and the Man
14. Maude
15. Laverne and Shirley
16. The Muppet Show

Theme songs without lyrics

1. The Odd Couple
2. M*A*S*H
3. Sanford and Son
4. Mork and Mindy
5. What's Happening
6. The Bob Newhart Show
7. Barney Miller
8. Soap

The lists will be put up on Monday. Let your voice be heard.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Good movies and bad advertising.

This is the poster from the Stephen Frears movie Dirty Pretty Things. Is Audrey Tatou a dirty thing or a pretty thing, or possibly both?

That's the thing. This is a poster of Audrey Tatou, but this isn't her character from the movie. She plays a very shy and timid hotel maid from Turkey working without a visa in London.

The letters of different fonts on different colored swatches of paper make it look like the movie might be about blackmail. Not really. It's about the army of foreign born people who do all the dirty jobs that make it possible for a city like London to exist.

The star of the movie, the protagonist who moves the action forward and who gets most of the screen is my adopted actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. He plays a man without a visa working multiple jobs to survive, trying to hide a secret from his past in his home country.

Also featured in the movie is Sophie Okonedo, who plays the hooker with a heart of gold part. Oddly, she is the only character who sounds like she has a British accent. Ms. Okonedo got an Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda opposite Don Cheadle. She's very good in both parts, and the roles are very different. She's the only character with lines who seems to be from the United Kingdom, though maybe they meant her to be West Indian. We know she can do an accent other than her true British accent, but not in this movie. That was a strange choice.

She's also damned adorable, not that I would notice.

Who am I kidding? I notice that all the time.

Still, I liked the film though the ad campaign was completely clueless.

Here's another movie I liked with an odd ad campaign. This poster for the 1996 Czech movie Kolya does a good job of show what it's about, especially the tag line about "the ultimate bachelor has finally met his match". It's the story of a man in his fifties who has to take care of a little boy through a strange set of circumstances.

The bad advertising is the girl in the dress. If you go to the movie waiting for the important scene with the girl in the dress, you will be disappointed. We see her in one scene for a few seconds. The main characters are driving somewhere, and we see her from the window of the car. She has no lines.

Do you remember Cool Hand Luke? Do you remember the girl who washed the car? If you saw it, of course you do. The car wash girl got about ten times as much screen time as the girl in the dress did in Kolya. I looked online and none of the posters for Cool Hand Luke include a picture of the girl, who was played by the starlet Joy Harmon.

I bring this up because when Kolya had small print ads in the newspapers, the picture was cropped so all you saw was the girl. Not the man and the boy, the true stars of the movie, the pretty girl you see for a few seconds.

Good movies, but bad advertising. With all the money they spend on this stuff, you'd think they could do a better job.

How long must I wait for you?

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case concerning the election results between Al Franken and the whining loser Norm Coleman on June 1. That's twenty business days ago.

The reports from those oral arguments made it sound like the judges were mainly asking questions of Coleman's lawyers, and most of those questions when translated from legalese can be stated in the form "What are you, retarded?" Coleman's legal requests were short on specifics and if they were being argued on Law and Order, the opposing council would call them "a fishing expedition".

Hey, it's Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. Maybe they like fishing expeditions up there. Maybe that explains waiting a full month to make a decision that people with actual jobs could make in about two weeks. Rumors surfaced on June 17 that the ruling would be handed down the next day, but no such luck.

Republicans are terrified of one party rule. I understand their feelings. They had one party rule for a while this decade, and the results weren't good. But the American public has spoken and given the Democrats solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and control of the White House. Moreover, there's a difference between one party Republican rule and one party Democratic rule. There actually are moderate Democrats and conservative Democrats. Right now, the people who pass for moderate Republicans would have been called conservative Republicans back in the 1980's, and those who are called conservative Republicans now would have been called loons. The Republicans are big on party unity, but they achieved that by shrinking their party, not growing it.

Minnesota Supreme Court, the correct number of senators is 100. Sooo, you're actually gonna do your jobs some time in the near future, yah? Oh, that'd be terrific, you betcha.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Before it all went bad.

In many ways, Michael Jackson got what he wanted. Friends and family members talk about how he wanted Thriller to be the most successful album of all time.

Mission accomplished.

He wanted to be the wealthiest man in show business. He called himself The King of Pop. He married Elvis Presley's only daughter.

He wanted to be Elvis, and sadly he got the whole package. He was hugely successful, he descended into parody though he still had his loyal fans, and he died way too young in a creepy seclusion.

Let me also say this. I like Michael Jackson's music much more than I liked Elvis Presley's. There are two Elvis Presley songs I can listen to.

Trying to Get to You and Blue Moon of Kentucky.

For me, that's what he sounded like before it all went bad.

I like some of Michael's stuff on and after Thriller, but Thriller was the beginning of the end. From my perspective, it wasn't the most successful album of all time. It was Chapter One in the book The Events Leading To His Death. I was watching Michael Jackson videos on MTV last night, and the thing that comes through most clearly is the huge wellspring of stupid and misplaced anger once he became the biggest star in the world.

Here are some songs from the time before it all went bad.

ABC Not my favorite J5 song, but still a great groove.

I'll Be There A sweet song from a sweet kid.

Ben The rock critic Robert Christgau considers this the biggest mistake of Jackson's career, the love song to a rat. Christgau is wrong. I'm all about listening to the music, and this is a lovely song.

Don't Stop Till You Get Enough and Rock With You Here are two from Off The Wall, his first solo album. It's very much an album from the disco age, but the leadership of Quincy Jones gives it just the right level of production.

While I admit it's odd to end a tribute to a dead guy with someone singing a cover version of my favorite song of his, here is the British singer KT Tunstall doing a completely stripped down version of I Want You Back. While the Jackson Five version is still my favorite recording Michael Jackson was ever involved in, it's great to hear this song away from all the production. Ms. Tunstall is young enough that when she grew up, there was always a Michael Jackson, and her version is clearly the tribute of a fan.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Everyone's entitled to an opinion.

So far, the voting for favorite theme songs for 60s sitcoms is very, very close. Not surprisingly, with as many good choices as there are, there is no clear cut leader. Get Smart and The Addams Family are the leaders in the no lyrics and lyrics division, respectively, but there are plenty of songs within a vote or two of the lead.

Yay, freedom of choice!

But here's the thing. The theme for The Patty Duke Show has one vote. And it's my vote.

Click on the link and listen to the lyrics. "One pair of matching bookends, different as night and day." How can you not love that line?

Given that I know some of my regular readers are just as immature as I am, I thought there would be some love for "A hot dog makes her lose control". But so far, I, like the cheese, stand alone expressing my love for The Patty Duke Show theme song.

It costs you nothing but a second of your time! You can make an old man happy! Or, a middle aged man happy. Whatever.

It's a free country, at least until Obama and his socialist puppet masters open up the re-education camps. You can do what you want. But nobody else loves this song? I find it hard to believe.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted without comment.

Though you can comment if you like.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 77: Twelve positions, two generating moves, first example

Consider a regular hexagonal tile that has two sides. If you are putting such tiles into a pattern on the floor or on a counter-top, they will fit together nicely, like the pattern of a honeycomb in a beehive. Any tile you place down in a particular position will fit, but if you make marks to distinguish the corners from one another, there are twelve different positions for the tile that all fit equally well. I've numbered the "original position" with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, starting with the 1 in the rightmost position and the numbers ordered counter-clockwise. If we think about this like a Rubik's Cube puzzle, albeit a really easy one, we can get from the original position to any other position by applying two generating moves in some specific order.

The first generating move is turning the tile 60 degrees. If I want to turn it farther than that, I can do the 60 degree turn twice (120 degrees) or three times (180 degrees) or four times (240 degrees) or five times (300 degrees). If I do the turn six times, we come back to the original position, so the 60 degree turn is said to have order 6.

The second generating move is to flip the tile over. There are actually six different ways to flip the tile over and still have the top and bottom edges remain horizontal, but we can pick any of the six and generate the others by flipping once then using the 60 degree rotation. I chose the flip that sends the leftmost corner to the rightmost corner as the generator. If we flip, then immediately flip again, we come back to the original position, so the flip has order 2.

A flip followed by a turn does not give us the same result as a turn followed by a flip. The study of all the ways these moves can interact with one another is an example of group theory, which is the mathematical distillation of the concept of symmetry. Because I have only a master's degree and not a doctorate, I teach lower division math classes, currently exclusively. Sadly, the introduction to group theory is a junior level collegiate math course, so I will probably never get to start a class by saying "Let G be a group, and H a subgroup of G." I would be very happy to teach this material someday, because it's really lovely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The No Research Zone

I don't watch Fox News much, and I've never made it all the way through The O'Reilly Factor. You might think it's because I disagree with him politically and I don't want my precious world view shattered. Actually, it has more to do with how valuable my time is and I don't want to waste it listening to a pinhead.

I thought I'd give it a shot this evening, see how the top show on Fox News would cover the stories of the day, particularly on Iran.

On comes the show, O'Reilly points at the camera and tells us we are in The No Spin Zone. Yes, just the unvarnished truth from Bill O'Reilly.

O'Reilly starts his talking points. We've had trouble from two members of The Axis Of Evil this week, North Korea and Iran. Okay, I think, fair enough. We haven't had trouble from Saddam's Iraq, he says, because it no longer exists.

How many car bombings in a week does it take for this guy to pay attention? Iraq is also trouble, and the world still expects us to fix it, whether Saddam is still around or not.

O'Reilly then shows video of a young woman bleeding on a Tehran street without giving the story any context. "We don't what happened to her." he says.

Yeah, we do, Bill. She died. Her name is Neda Agha-Soltan. She was 27 and she was shot by Basij militia. She was a block away from the protest and killers shot her in what is being described as a drive-by shooting. Hers has become the face of Iranian martyrdom. The regime is not allowing any funeral demonstrations in her honor. I found this out partly because I had already watched MSNBC earlier in the day, and also doing some research online, including a link from Fox News.

I understand that people have a need to have their world views confirmed, but how about a little actual skill at disseminating information? Is that too much to ask? Apparently, for Bill O'Reilly, it is too much to ask.

And I still haven't made it all the way through one of his shows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lose weight now on the amazing dinosaur diet!

According to a scientific paper published in the Journal of Zoology and summarized in The Daily Mail, math mistakes have caused scientists to overstate how much many of the famous large dinosaurs actually weighed. The apatosaurus, which was called the brontosaurus when I was learning about this stuff several decades ago, has had his estimated weight shrink from about 38 metric tons to a svelte, some might say anorexic, 18 metric tons.

This guy pictured here is not an apatosaurus (I still hate typing that after all these years), but a diplodocus. When I was a kid, the diplodocus was thought to be the longest dinosaur and the brachiosaurus the heaviest, though now there are fossils of a creature bigger than either called the supersaurus.

The diplodocus was about 90 feet long, with half of his length in his tail. No human being was alive when the dinosaurs roamed the earth (or, if a creationist should stumble on this blog, Jesus never talked about the dinosaurs he rode in any of his parables), but it is widely assumed this plant eating dinosaur used his very long tail as a defensive weapon against predators. The estimated weight of the diplodocus has been downgraded from 5.5 metric tons to 4 metric tons. To give that some perspective using living land mammals, the African elephant is about 25 feet long and 4 metric tons is on the low end of the weights of adult males.

Speaking of stuff that used to be true but isn't now, did you know that elephants aren't pachyderms anymore? The word "pachyderm" means thick skinned, and was used to classify the elephants, rhinos and hippos in the same basic category, but better evidence now shows they aren't closely related at all.

Darn those scientists and their pesky obsession with better understanding the world!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One more new poll: Best 1960s sitcom theme instrumental

Here's another lucky eleven choices, 1960's sitcom themes without lyrics.

The Andy Griffith Show
Captain Kangaroo
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Get Smart
Hogan's Heroes
I Dream of Jeannie
Leave It To Beaver
The Munsters
My Three Sons
That Girl

This leaves out a lot of great tunes. I dropped The Bullwinkle Show and Gomer Pyle USMC from the list to put in My Three Sons and Captain Kangaroo. I know the Captain isn't technically a sitcom, but that's a great theme song and it deserves to be on the list.

A lot of these are very memorable and you won't need to click on them to remember them, but I recommend a click on That Girl. The theme by the late Earl Hagen is a beautiful arrangement. I love the pizzicato strings.

For anyone who might ask if it's Dick York or Dick Sargent on the Bewitched link, please. I'm not a philistine.

New poll: Best 1960s sitcom theme with lyrics

I watched more sitcoms than action shows growing up, and I remembered so many themes that I'm splitting it up into decades and with and without lyrics. The first heat is the 1960s sitcoms with lyrics. We have 11 candidates and you can vote for more than one. Remember that the vote is about the theme song, not about the show.

The Addams Family
The Beverly Hillbillies
Car 54 Where Are You?
F Troop
The Flintstones
Gilligan's Island
Green Acres
The Monkees
Mr. Ed
The Patty Duke Show
Petticoat Junction

What is available on The You Tubes is always a crazy crap shoot. Every one of these songs is on the popular website except the version with lyrics of Green Acres. The video I link to is a little baby bouncing up and down to the closing theme. I also found a few of the theme songs with plugs for the commercials included. Remember, kids, just because you vote for The Beverly Hillibillies theme song doesn't mean you have to smoke Winstons.

I also loved the tag line to the included Ivory Liquid ad at the end of the Petticoat Junction theme song: So pure, so white, so mild.

Sounds like the person the Republicans wish Obama had nominated to the Supreme Court.

Here are the tunes that just missed the cut:

The Jetsons
My Mother the Car
It's About Time
The Real McCoys

Don't forget to vote on the action theme songs if you haven't already. The sixties sitcoms without lyrics are going up later this evening.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A little camera experiment

So I took my cool new camera with me as I ran errands this morning, going shopping over at Trader Joe's. Eventually, I'll start taking pictures of people, but for now it's birds and buildings.

I stood on a little hill in one of the many parks that dot Lake Merritt, and thought I would try my luck at taking several pictures that could be spliced together for a panoramic view. The white building on the far left is the courthouse, the large building just to the left of the street sign is the Kaiser Center.

Here's the second half of the panorama. Anyone can see where the pictures are spliced together because I'm using a really basic Paint program to do the splicing. Soon, I'm going to upgrade the computer I use to hook up to the Internet, trading out my laptop and using a newer desktop instead. That computer has PhotoShop, and my cropping and color balancing should get better.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Visits to the cheese shop.

Last weekend, my dad and I went to see Monty Python's Spamalot, the Broadway musical now touring the country. It is kinda sorta based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though it also takes some bits from other parts of the Python oeuvre, like the song Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life from Life of Brian, and a re-working of the fish slapping dance, a favorite of Padre Mickey's. Eric Idle of Monty Python wrote the book, and the rest of the Pythons merely cash the check for the use of the group's name. The two Terrys, Jones and Gilliam, aren't that keen on it. Michael Palin and John Cleese are kinder in their assessment. Graham Chapman stubbornly remains dead, and so has not been available for comment.

The show not only makes fun of the Arthurian legend, it takes many shots at Broadway and Broadway musicals. The "big star" of the show is John O'Hurley as King Arthur, and the big voice (no ironic quotation marks) is Merle Dandridge as the Lady of the Lake. The original Python cast was noticeably thin on females, except for Carol Cleveland and sometimes Connie Booth, the future ex Mrs. John Cleese, but this is a Broadway show, so you gotta have the honeys. There are plenty of song and dance numbers, and the female dancers in the touring cast include many young women who used to be Radio City Rockettes. They have maintained their standards when it comes to female hotness.

Among the things that had to be ridiculed from Broadway musicals are the many costume changes, the expensive sets, and of course, it wouldn't be a Broadway show without that special song, The Song That Goes Like This. You may enjoy this song, and then again, this song may make it so you can never listen to Susan Boyle again.

I expected silliness and I was not disappointed. The old Python material holds up very well and the new stuff also had me laughing.

Is it truly cheese if the people making it know it's cheese while it's being made? That is a question for philosophers, and not a humble mathematician such as myself.

Then there's Outlander, the massively expensive movie from last year that pretty much went straight to video. Here are the bare bones of the plot. Space aliens look like us because Earth is an abandoned seed planet. Actually, aliens look like James Caviezel, except for the ones that don't. His spaceship crashes in a Norweigian lake in the 8th Century A.D., but there was also a ravenous monster on the ship. So it's up to the Outlander and a band of brave vikings to kill the huge unstoppable beast.

I rented this not expecting much. It's actually better than I expected. It's not as good as the Korean monster movie The Host, but very few monster movies are. It's many orders of magnitude better than Cloverfield, a movie I shouldn't bring up because thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise and I start pacing the room and talking too loud to myself.

It's cheese, but it's better cheese than I expected. Two of the "big stars" in the cast are John Hurt and Ron Perlman, who are both signs of quality cheesy movies nowadays. You might think this is a contradiction, but I promise you it's not. Signs of poor quality cheesy movies nowadays include John Rhys-Davies and F. Murray Abraham, whose career has taken a plummet few Oscar winners can match. And yes, I'm including Jon Voight and Liza Minnelli on that list.

And then there's The Legend of the Seeker, the cheesy TV show I started watching in the middle of the first season and watched straight through to the end. It's currently in re-runs, so I get to catch up with the early episodes I missed.

There's more to the show than just the creamy complexion and cute little freckles and laced up bosom of Bridget Regan, but it does promise to show us all those things every program, and I am a sucker for all of that. And Ms. Regan is clearly all of that and a bag of chips.

Matty Boy, you're a sucker for that? Aren't you also a sucker for collarbones belonging to Indira Varma? Incredibly long legs? Rear ends that look gooooood walking away? Redheads? Giant women? Melissa Theuriau?

Wouldn't it be simpler to say you're a sap for pretty women and leave it at that?

You know, hypothetical question asker, sometimes you really get carried away with the attitude.

I just wanted to say that for the record, because I'm not actually disagreeing with the point you made.

Random 10, 6/19/09

Clint Eastwood Gorillaz
Please Call Me Baby Tom Waits
Bluebird Buffalo Springfield
Marie Provost Nick Lowe
I'm Gonna Love You Too Blondie
What'd I Say Ray Charles
Driftin' Eric Clapton
Oliver's Army Elvis Costello & the Attractions
I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) Ella Fitzgerald
Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now Fats Waller

It was about two year ago that I mentioned the top three artists on my iTunes list by number of tunes, Fats Waller, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. For the first time in a long time, all three show up on the same Friday list. The You Tubes doesn't consider this an important event, as only the Elvis tune is available by the original artist. I chose several live versions of the songs on the list, including a medley by Ella of I Got It Bad and Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me. As much as I love Ella, my favorite version of Do Nothing... is by Mose Allison.

As for "obscure artists", I'm gonna say there are none on this list. If you don't know them, it's your fault and not mine. The only artist on the list that doesn't scream "this copy of iTunes is owned by an old person" is Gorillaz, who recorded the song Clint Eastwood in 2001. All the rest of the tunes are somewhere between kinda old and incredibly ancient.

REMINDER: Only a few hours to put in your opinion on the career of Mr. T on our Highlight Reel™ poll this week. This new vote is showing a plurality of votes for "He's always good, fool!", but the voting is close and the two A-Team categories put together slightly out-poll the Always Good option.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two unrelated topics

I've written a new post over at The Smirking Chimp entitled The Bitter Divorce of Cause and Effect. Just a few random thoughts strung together about how oil prices could drop from $140 a barrel to $35 a barrel in the space of six months, then rise to over $70 a barrel in the next six months during a worldwide economic downturn.

Any takers on rampant speculation? Has someone got some better 'splainin'?

And Mr. T is here to remind you that you have until Friday morning to express your opinion on the Highlight Reel™ for his career. Much like his fellow thespian Emma Thompson before him, the current consensus is that he's always good (fool!), but with Ms. Thompson, other choices ran far behind, while the voters are more evenly split on their view the best work of the many chained one.

Way back in the day, the Oakland A's signed a little Dominican outfielder named Luis Polonia, 5'8", 150 pounds soaking wet, during the era when the A's were fielding enormous hulking monsters like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson and others. Polonia wore two modest gold chains around his neck, and someone in the clubhouse called them his "Mr. T starter set".

That still makes me laugh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The signs of Eastlake

My neighborhood is known as Eastlake, though it might make more sense geographically to call it Southlake. In Northern California, any place called Southlake could be mistaken for South Lake Tahoe, which is hundreds of miles inland, so Eastlake avoids that confusion.

This is my favorite Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood. I will leave it to grammarians keener than I am to decide if a valley can possess a restaurant.

This is my favorite pho shop.

This place is only open four days a week from noon until six, but if you like nice juicy ribs that fall off the bone, this is the place for you.

I have never actually patronized Segway of Oakland, but I'm glad it's part of the neighborhood. It gives me some whimsical hope in the oddness of capitalism.

The Parkway. It's been several months, but this sign still makes me sad.

The white knight, the paladin. Righter of wrongs. Have gun, will travel. What kind of business would use this simple neon sign as its logo?

In Eastlake, a laundromat would. Have washers and dryers, conveniently located.

There are many bars and restaurants in the neighborhood, but La Estrellita is the only true bar and grill I've found so far. Two entrances, one to a big bar with pool tables, the other to a Mexican restaurant. This is my favorite place in walking distance to grab a beer and watch a sporting event. It's a Mexican joint, so free chips and salsa are standard, and they make a good pico de gallo and an excellent salsa verde. Besides the bargains of happy hour, any hour they are open you can get a 20 ounce frosty mug of draft beer for $3.50, my favorite being the German brew Radeberger Pilsner. Such a deal!

I'm not much of a tequila drinker, but they have a very serious tequila menu as well.

And last but not least, the cornerstone of Eastlake, the Merritt Bakery. When my parents were courting many moons ago, he worked at a dairy, and so could get milk really cheap. My future mom and dad and their pals Marge and Charlie, also soon to wed, would get together on Friday nights to a sumptuous meal of all the Merritt Bakery donuts any person could ever wish for, washed down with reasonably priced milk fresh from a local dairy.

Their cookies and cakes are still terrific. Go get a treat if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 76: Minimal spanning trees

The word "graph" has two meanings in math. The most common usage is any pictoral representation of numerical stuff, like pie charts and histograms, or a line drawing that corresponds to an equation, like a line or a parabola, or a jagged line that tracks some variable over time, like a stock market plot.

When mathematicians talk about "graph theory", it means dots connected by lines as in the pictures below, though technically the dots are called vertices and the lines are called edges. Earlier Wednesday Math posts have dealt with graph theory, most notably the Road Coloring Problem, the way to check if a structure is rigid, and the Traveling Salesman Problem, one of the difficult problems in the category known as NP-complete.

One type of graph is called a weighted graph, where numbers are associated with the edges. Usually the number are positive, but not always, and they can represent distances or costs or capacities or any of a number other concepts, so the word "weight" is used instead of "length". For example, if the numbers in this graph were lengths, these shouldn't be straight lines. Notice the 5, 2 and 1 weights, marked in boxes at the top of the graph. If I wanted to travel from the middle top point to the point just to the right, going down first and then up would be a short cut, 2+1=3 instead of the "straight line" distance of 5, and from last week's post about the triangle inequality, we aren't supposed to have short cuts.

Let's assume instead that the numbers represent costs in this case. Our challenge is to find a subset of edges that connect every vertex to every other vertex for the lowest cost. This problem is called the minimal spanning tree.

Like many problems in math, there is more than one correct way to solve this problem and there may be more than one correct answer. The two most famous methods are called Prim's Algorithm and Kruskal's Algorithm, both named for guys who worked at Bell Labs back in the 1950's. Both are called "greedy algorithms", where the way to get the best answer for the final problem is to take the best option at every step of the method.

One of the minimal spanning trees for this graph is shown in red lines. Note that some cheap edges aren't used, like many of the edges with cost equal to 4, while the edge with cost equal to 7, marked in a red circle in the lower right hand has to be used, because that is the cheapest way to connect the lower right hand vertex to the rest of the graph. The only other choice is the edge with cost 8.

In this graph, there are two different sets of edges that can do the same job of connecting everything for the same cost. Since the cost is "minimal", that is the part of the solution that cannot change, but the two edges with cost 3 marked in boxes are interchangable. If we remove the edge at the top and replace it with the edge in the middle, we still have total connectivity at the lowest possible price.

Finding the number of different minimal spanning trees is Matty Boy's personal contribution to higher mathematics. I came up with a method for doing this, though it isn't the only one. As of a few years ago, my method was being taught at Stanford by Persi Diaconis, a well-known name in statistics and math, who I met at a few local math conferences.

Finding alternate minimal spanning trees can be useful in a really big graph, like the connections between computer nodes that make up the internet. If different users are making use of different minimal spanning trees at the same time, this can cut down on traffic congestion and make the internet faster for everybody while keeping costs low. Because these are greedy algorithms, the problem of finding minimal spanning trees can be solved very quickly on a fast computer, even for a very big instance of the problem, like a graph the size of the entire internet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adolescent angst, both imaginary and real

So I rented Twilight, just to see what's popular with the young people nowadays. I've seen a lot of people ragging on it, and of course others love it, so I watched it myself and ...

I didn't hate it.

Okay, the "being a young girl in love is like being with a vampire" metaphor isn't exactly new, but Edward and Bella aren't Angel and Buffy. Bella has absolutely zero chance of kicking Edward's ass. She is completely dependent on him staying hopelessly and ridiculously in love with her.

What I liked about the movie is the presentation of the painful shyness of sensitive adolescents, most especially Bella, but also several of her friends. I don't see that much of that in my community college students, but I have tutored high school kids, and sometimes I see a little of that with them.

Switching over to real life angst of the young, Keisha Castle-Hughes was the star of the 2002 movie Whale Rider, and she was nominated for the Acamedy Award for Best Actress, so she took the trip from New Zealand to Hollywood to attend the ceremony.

Doesn't she look nice in that dress? Aren't there about a half a hundred actresses who could learn a thing or two about dressing attractively at an award show from this young lady?

Yes and yes, hypothetical question asker. Now let me get on with the story.

So Keisha is on the red carpet, and a pair of the roving red carpet vultures are asking her the questions reserved for the "fish out of water" nominees. How is she enjoying Hollywood? Is she excited? Is there anyone special she would like to meet?

Of course, she's having fun. Yes, she's excited. And as for who she would like to meet, she gives the answer most preferred by 12 year old girls for about the past twenty years.

Johnny Depp.

So the red carpet is over and the show will start in just a few minutes, and the red carpet host turns it over to one of the roving vultures who is in the auditorium. He finds Keisha, gets her out of her seat, takes her over a few aisles and introduces her to...

Johnny Depp.

And let me give mad props to Johnny Depp. If you ever get a chance to meet your hero and that person is as gracious to you as Johnny Depp was to Keisha Castle-Hughes, you, my friend, are way ahead of the game. He shook her hand and gave her a little Hollywood hug, and he was just the perfect amount of complimentary to her as a colleague. He had seen the movie, she was wonderful, he was a big fan, he wished her the best of luck.

She smiled and she giggled a little. She said "Pleased to meet you" and "Thank you very much" and "Goodbye" as she went back to her seat. The red carpet vulture walked her back, and said "A young star has her dream come true. How do you feel, Keisha?"

And in perfect honesty, she said to the vulture, "Oh, you're a dead man."

And nothing else.

This was not a dream come true. This was so much emotion that she was close to physically ill. Those of us who are old enough to have experienced most emotions multiple times have a hard time remembering what it was like to be that excited for the first time. If it was even a little bit fun, it's a very sickening kind of fun.

If you have a good enough memory, you can really appreciate not being an adolescent anymore.

Gigantic? Check. Child? Double check. Bride?

Hmmm... not so much.

Salman Rushdie, four times married, most recently to the tall, dark and young Padma Lahkshmi, is back on the dating scene. Having learned his lesson, he is currently dating Broadway actress Pia Glenn, who is taller, darker and younger than the previously mentioned Padma.

Tale of the tape? Six inch height difference.

Tale of the calendar? Twenty nine year age difference.

Is this the part where I make that tsk tsk sound, clucking my tongue disapprovingly?

Some of you may have come in late to this party. That's not how I roll. Good on ya, Sir Salman.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, American Samoa!

Not one new flag in ten weeks, and now two in the space of four days. It's a random old world, ain't it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time for a boycott. Are you in?

It was eleven months ago when a 58 year old man shot up a Unitarian church because he wanted to kill as many liberals as possible. He really wanted to kill all the people in Bernie Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, but that wasn't feasible, so he took a gun and a lot of ammo into a church where one of his ex-wives was a parishioner and started shooting during a play being put on by the kids. He killed two people before he was stopped.

This, of course, was just an isolated incident. So was the 51 year old man killing Dr. George Tiller and the 88 year old man killing a guard at the Holocaust Museum.

Except they are starting to feel less isolated and more like people being amped to act on hatred fueled by what I can only describe as crazy talk all over the media, especially on radio and TV. The most regular carrier of the crazies on TV is Fox News.

You might think this is just lefty jibber jabber, but something said by Fox News reporter Shepard Smith has made me think it's time to do something. Smith reads the e-mail the viewers of Fox send in, and he says it's getting worse and he's concerned.

Smith isn't just another water carrier for all things right wing. During Katrina, he reported from a bridge that connected American soil to American soil, only one side of the bridge was where the flooding was and the other side was the escape to dry land. The National Guard stood at the bridge and did not let people in the flooded area leave. Smith got visibly upset on camera, and when Sean Hannity told him he was lacking perspective, he in essence told Hannity to shove his perspective up his most easily available sphincter.

Blog buddy Karen Zipdrive proposed a boycott of the advertisers of Fox News. She put a list on her website and I will repeat it below. Fox News has the right to say what they want on the air, though the FCC can control content somewhat. We as citizens have the right to call on our fellow citizens to boycott businesses who do things we don't agree with. No one's First Amendment rights are even close to being violated. Fox News is also in business, and until that business suffers, we can't expect to see any movement from them, no matter how many dead bodies pile up.

Here's the list of regular sponsors of Fox News. As Karen asked, can you do without these products?

Crest Whitestrips
Mercedes Benz
GMC Suv's
Best Buy
New Phase
Gold Bond
American Express
Holiday Inn Express
M Professional

I am a customer of only one of these companies, Comcast Cable. Given my current circumstances, I may not be in a situation where I can use a dish in my apartment, and this will effectively mean no TV reception where I live. I'm pretty sure Comcast has a cable monopoly in this area, but I will do some research.

It's a sacrifice, but not a huge one. When I look at my phone/internet service from Earthlink versus TV from Comcast for about the same price, it's no contest as to which is the better value. I think it's time to pull the plug on cable again and to let them know why.

Like my blog subtitle says, we have to stop wishing people dead in public forums. We also need to calm down all the Hitler and Nazi references. People are still going to say these things, but there's no reason why they have to have a forum on TV or radio. There are plenty of other ways to make our points politically other than wishing people dead or comparing them to people that had to be killed to be silenced and stopped. If the employers of the right wing blowhards feel no responsibility about keeping sanity on the public airwaves, maybe their sponsors can be convinced.

So, I'm going to be without TV again for a while. I'll still have Netflix and I can watch stuff online if I can find it, but my conscience tells me I have to tell Comcast to take a hike, and I have to let them know why.

What's your position on this?

Getting a link from the Big Boys

The website Crooks and Liars linked to the Mr. T Hightlight Reel™ poll, but the link went up after the poll went down. I am reopening the poll because the traffic is like crazy go nuts!

For new visitors, a Milk Carton™ means you think some work of the actor is not only their best, but also effectively their last before slipping into obscurity.

New poll: Best TV theme song for an action show

The poll for the Highlight Reel for Mr. T is winding down, and a large plurality believe his career so far has been jibber jabber. Let's change gears. This week's poll is for favorite TV theme song for action shows, which include cop shows, detective shows, westerns, spy dramas, what have you. Here are eleven choices, listed from oldest to most recent. There are links to youtube if you don't know some of the songs, or have just forgotten them. If you know them, there's a good chance you haven't forgotten them. Most are very catchy.

Dragnet As a cop show, it really wasn't an action show, much in the same way Law & Order isn't an action show. But those first notes put it on the list.

Peter Gunn This is Henry Mancini at his coolest, and Henry was pretty damn cool.

Bonanza Music by David Rose. Lyrics exist, but your life is better if you never hear them. Both my brother Michael and Namaste Nancy voted that this be on the list, and here it is.

Rawhide Music by Dmitri Tiomkin, sung by Frankie Laine. It's my personal favorite of the western themes. He-yaaaaa!

Secret Agent Sung by the very under-rated Johnny Rivers.

Spider-Man This one is on the list because it was nominated by Karlacita! It tells a great story in one minute and one second.

Mission: Impossible The video is from the 1988 version of the show. I chose it because it has the best sound quality. This is the cool of Henry Mancini taken to its logically cool conclusion by Lalo Schifrin. This tune and Brubeck's Take Five are the most natural sounding songs in 5/4 that I know.

Hawaii 5-0 Another great late sixties action theme.

The Rockford Files I like this one, but besides that, I felt like I had to include at least one tune by Mike Post, who wrote about a jillion TV themes.

Miami Vice Here's a theme written by Jan Hammer with almost no recognizable tune. It's all about the rhythm and that 1980's synthesizer feel.

Venture Brothers (closing) The Venture Brothers is my favorite show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim by a considerable distance, and the music of J.G. Thirlwell is a big reason why.

It's possible to vote for more than one theme and I'm going to leave the voting open for a little more than a week. In a perfect world, people could recommend other theme songs and I could add them to the list, but once votes are cast, I'm not allowed to change the list. If I ran my own website, that's one of the first things I'd change.

UPDATE: If you have any favorite action show theme songs that aren't on the list, post a comment. Next week, the leading vote getters from this list of ten will be pitted against favorites from the commenters.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A plea from a pensive Mr. T

Here is Mr. T. He is being thoughtful. He is being soulful.

He is doing his best trying not to think of the readers of this blog as brie-eating, chardonnay-drinking, NPR listening fools who think that his entire career is jibber jabber.

There is less than a day to express your opinion about the Highlight Reel™ for the film career of Mr. T. Of course, this is an internet poll, and therefore completely anonymous, but if you look in his eyes, I think you can see that Mr. T is vexed over the benighted situation so many readers of this blog find themselves in.

To put it more directly, Mr. T feels pity for you.


UPDATE: Welcome to those who are visiting from Crooks and Liars. The poll is back open and you can vote for your favorite work of Mr. T, including the choices "He's always good" and "It's all jibber jabber", which translates to he's never good. You can also choose The A-Team as his Milk Carton™, if you think it is his best work and effectively his last.

Drink your milk! Stay in school! No mentioning mommas when snapping the Daily Dozens!