Friday, July 31, 2009

Random 10, 7/31/09

Sunny Afternoon The Kinks
Bessie Couldn't Help It Hoagy Carmichael And His Orchestra
Selfless Cold and Composed Ben Folds Five
Anapse To Tsigaro 3 Mustaphas 3
If You Want Me Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard
Find Yourself Another Fool Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Something's Gotta a Hold On Me Etta James
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence Gene Pitney
Just a Girl No Doubt
Baubles Bangles & Beads Nina Simone

Here's a Random 10 worthy of the adjective "random". It's even somewhat random what was available on The You Tubes. Why would there be a version of Hoagy Carmichael's Bessie Couldn't Help It? It turns out his hand picked orchestra had some of the best white jazz players in the world, including Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke. It would be a few years before jazz groups began to integrate, when Benny Goodman went to Carnegie Hall with Teddy Wilson.

Let me say a few kind words for the songs not on The You Tubes. All the songs are there, but not by these particular artists. Elvis is covering a soul tune by the not very well-known soul singer Arthur Conley, Nina Simone is doing a version of a song that Miss Peggy Lee made a hit, but Nina's version isn't like anyone else's, and with Nina Simone, that's always the case.

Then there's Anapse To Tsigaro. "Light a cigar and to hell with the world." As far as I can tell, this is the song every Greek orchestra with a mandolin player has to know. There are a boatload of versions on The You Tubes, but not the one by the British world music band 3 Mustaphas 3. I only bought two albums by The Mustaphas, but they can play any type of popular music from anywhere in the world. Balkan music, Nigerian dance songs, Bollywood musical numbers, you name it. My favorite of the albums is Heart of Uncle, the one that contains this tune. You might like it if you still can find it in a record shop, and if not, iTunes has pretty much all the music in the world, doesn't it? Take a 30 second listen and see what you think.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getting a Valentine's card for everyone

It's easy to believe that all the political correctness and self-esteem stuff is a development of the past twenty or thirty years, or at the very earliest it was fostered in the 1970s, but watching re-runs from the second season of the TV show Mad Men, the show brought up a self-esteem enhancing change in society from the early 1960s that I recall distinctly as being true.

The daughter of the Drapers comes home from grade school on Valentine's Day with an armful of cards. Her mother looks at her swag approvingly, but the little girl says that everyone was required to get a card for everybody else. Betty Draper, played by the lovely January Jones dolled up to look like Grace Kelly, takes a puff of her cigarette and says, "Well, that defeats the purpose."

What schools were trying to avoid is what we can now call the Annie Parisse Situation. 24 people have made their opinion known so far on the poll concerning the favorite A.D.A. on Law & Order, and because the poll allows multiple choices, a total of 37 votes have been cast. Who will come in first is still up in the air, but last place looks like it's locked up by... Annie Parisse.

She has one (count 'em) one vote so far.

Let me say here that I didn't vote for Annie Parisse. I don't hate her. I don't reach for the remote control when it becomes clear she's in the episode. I just wouldn't consider her my favorite, and I am obviously not alone.

It's not that I find her unattractive. She has dark hair and complexion and a longish nose. These are attributes she shares with Indira Varma, and if you've read this blog for more than a week, you know how I feel about Indira Varma.

But whatever it is, the arbiter of female beauty in my cluttered little brain is clear. Those two women are not in the same league. I could vote for her because I feel bad about her being so far in last place, but as Betty Draper would say... that would defeat the purpose.

An appreciation of Albert Finney

In the 1960s, a passel of actors from the United Kingdom and Ireland got their start in the movies playing rogues and cads, men who were catnip to the ladies. Actors from the Isles had been having success in Hollywood for generations, and the trend of hiring leading men who were ladies' men from across the pond wasn't new either, whether it was Cary Grant in the 1930s or Richard Burton in the 1950s. But the number of actors from the 1960s who fit that description is remarkable. An incomplete list off the top of my head would include Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Terrence Stamp, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, David McCallum, Alan Bates, Roger Moore and Michael York.

The careers of these actors follow many different paths. As many of them were hired to be younger versions of Richard Burton, it is not surprising that some fell into Burton's bad habits with booze. Some went on to be big film stars while others shone for a short while and faded.

The list is certainly incomplete because I left off Albert Finney. Finney lands the plum role of Tom Jones, the rakish hero from the comic novel by Henry Fielding. But just as he gets his big break playing one of the sexiest characters in English literature, within a decade he is playing Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the unsexiest characters in English literature, and follows that just a few years later with the role of Hercule Poirot, a largely asexual character. Unlike the other actors, Finney put on some weight and accepted being a character actor very easily.

I, for one, am glad he kept working and took on a larger variety of roles. I love his work. The 1970s version of Murder on the Orient Express is like an old friend to me and I've seen it countless times. Orient Express is a combination of two film genres that both contain a lot of cheese, Agatha Christie adaptations and films with all-star casts. Note that two of the actors from the 1960s British cad list are also in the film. Sean Connery, six years Finney's senior, plays the dashing military man in love with the lovely Vanessa Redgrave, while Michael York, six years his junior, plays the handsome European count in love with the luminescent Jacqueline Bisset. They get to play roles reserved for leading man types, while Finney gets the lion's share of the screen time playing the fussy Belgian detective.

I also love Finney's work in Miller's Crossing, an early Coen Brothers movie I reviewed in my very first month as a blogger. He plays an Irish mob boss in some unnamed American town, much of the action filmed in New Orleans. In this movie, Finney does what he does best. He listens. He plays perfectly off of Gabriel Byrne, who is the star of the piece and gets to play scenes cool. But in any film where the hero is cool, you need an actor to play a hothead, to show just how cool the hero is, and the hothead role fell to Jon Polito, a favorite of the Coen Brothers. Finney plays off Polito perfectly as well. As if I didn't love Albert Finney enough already, on the DVD commentary for the film, they show that Finney dressed up in drag to play an extra, one of the scandalized women who exit a ladies room when Byrne's character barges in to talk to a dame who is causing trouble.

I chose to write this piece because I have just finished watching Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, a recent crime thriller starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers involved in a robbery gone bad. Finney plays their father, and once again, he is great in every scene. He doesn't need lines, just time on camera. Whether it's a close-up or Finney listening to another actor or a scene where he is an old man no one will pay attention to, he never plays a false note. He's one of the most skilled film actors of the last fifty years.

I haven't seen everything Finney has ever done. I'll leave it to my readers to tell me how he was as Daddy Warbucks in Annie, for example. I just wanted to take a few minutes to write down my opinion that however good a movie is, it's a little bit better when Albert Finney is in it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 81: Degrees of Freedom

The standard way a math problem is asked is to give a certain amount of information and ask the student to supply information that hasn't been explicitly given, but that can be deduced. For example, if we have the equation p + q = 1, giving the value of either variable is sufficient to find the other. Similarly, in the equation Area = 1/2(Base x Height), any two out of three variable values given is enough to suss out the third. In the first situation, we would say there are two pieces of information and one degree of freedom. In the area formula, there are three pieces of information and two degrees of freedom. In both, there are n pieces of information and n-1 degrees of freedom.

The degrees of freedom in a problem is not always n-1. Consider a contingency table, a grid of numbers in rows and columns that includes a last row and a bottom column of sums. Here is a 2x2 contingency table, for example.




The grid has nine positions, but clearly enough if the values of the four variables are given, the other five sums are easily determined. In fact, if an instructor gives out numbers and the student is allowed to fill in the quantities that can be figured out step by step, there are four degrees of freedom in this table. For example, the following table could be filled out using addition and subtraction.




So a contingency table adds an extra row and an extra column but the degrees of freedom will always be the number of elements of the original grid without the added parts.

Some problems don't always have a fixed degree of freedom. Take Sudoku, for example. Sometimes, the easy problems actually give you information you could have figured out by yourself, and even two difficult problems might not have the same quantity of filled in symbols.

Let me give two simple examples using 4x4 Sudoku. The rules are these. There are four symbols, A, B, C and D, and each symbol must appear in every row and every column, as well as in every 2x2 grid in each corner, shown here by giving the corners different colors, black, green, red and blue.

Here is a 4x4 Sudoku with seven degrees of freedom. If any information was taken away, there would not be a unique answer.

A B C _
C _ A _
D _ B _
_ _ _ _

On the other hand it is possible to produce a 4x4 Sudoku with four degrees of freedom. Here is an example of that.

A _ _ _
_ _ B _
D _ _ _
_ _ _ C

Degrees of freedom is a concept used in a lot of parts of math. Most students first see it in statistics.

Answers in the comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nerdiness meets mathiness meets an icon of My People.

Some nerdy British types have made a t-shirt filled with silhouettes of movie monsters to show the relative sizes, from smallest to largest lined up from left to right, starting with the evil doll Chucky and finishing with the monster from Cloverfield. (Click here to read how much I hated Cloverfield and in the comments, you'll see how many of my readers were glad for the warning.)

The shirt is available through this website, with prices quoted in pounds.

I bring this up because in the middle of the list of monsters, marked in a red rectangle is the Fifty Foot Woman, showing her to be much taller than the robots from Transformers, as well as towering over both a T-Rex and the original King Kong, but considerably shorter than Mr. Stay-Puft from Ghostbusters and Godzilla, which here is given the correct Japanese spelling Gojira, a lovely nerdy touch.

These numbers would be completely correct if the Fifty Foot Woman were in fact fifty feet tall. In the original movie, that might have been a good estimate of her size, but then there is the famous poster, the image that is used in the silhouette on the t-shirt. Just how tall is she here?

If we compare her height to the car in her hand, fifty feet might be a reasonable estimate, but the artist couldn't leave well enough alone and decided to have her straddle a six lane freeway, complete with railing and a center divider.

Let's start with how far apart her feet should be in the position. Measure out four feet. If you stand with your feet about forty eight inches apart, this is the semi-comfortable distance for straddling. Five feet apart is very hard and if your heels are six feet apart, you are doing the splits.

So what would measure four feet to us is six lanes of freeway to her. A slim freeway lane is about eighteen feet across and a generous one is twenty. This means the distance across is at least one hundred feet and more likely about one hundred twenty. Doing some simple ratios, this means the woman in the picture is at least one hundred twenty feet tall and more likely over one hundred fifty feet, which would put her eye to eye with Godzilla. Also, the car in her hand is like a Sherman tank in comparison to the cars on the freeway below her, and the fact that it is closer to us is not enough to make up for this size difference.

I put this up because it has been more than two months since I have written an actual honest to Lenny giant woman post, and I know from my Sitemeter stats that My People stop by regularly, hoping that I will throw them a bone.

Have faith, My Brothers and Sisters! I have not abandoned you!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Medieval tech support

My sister Jenny sent this to me, and it hit me just right today after a day of teaching.

Teaching isn't really like this, is it, Matty Boy?

Hypothetical question asker, it depends on the day when you ask.

And to be fair, sometimes we make the manual tougher to use than we thought.

New Poll: Favorite A.D.A. on Law & Order

Okay, it's been a while, so let's have a new poll. Who is your favorite A.D.A. on the original version of the long time TV drama and re-run staple Law & Order?

In the real world A.D.A. stands for Assistant District Attorney, but we all know that on the show, it stands for Attractive District Attorney. I was going to state the question of the poll "Who's the hottest Babe D.A. on Law & Order?", but I felt that put Richard Brooks at too much of a disadvantage.

Heck, there may be some who think Richard Brooks is a babe. No judgments. On such matters, I can be very open minded.

Here's the list in chronological order.

Richard Brooks.

Back when the show started, there were less commercials per hour than there are now, so when the episodes from back in the day are shown, TNT either has to speed them up or cut scenes. Sometimes this means good scenes are on the cutting room floor, and those are often scenes between lawyers that aren't in the courtroom.

This means less Richard Brooks, which is a shame. I liked his work.

Jill Hennessy.

The first Babe D.A. She was kind of a perky, liberal college girl all grown up, and I'll admit having a crush on her. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Carey Lowell.

When it comes to my physical type, Carey Lowell comes the closest. Very tall, beautiful face, great figure. Also, in real life she was married to Richard Gere, so I'm sure she's... open minded.

Her character was a little more hard edged than Jill Hennessy's, and maybe (not much of a spoiler alert) I just didn't completely forgive the producers for killing off Hennessy's character. Still, she fills out a business suit reeeeeeal nice.

Angie Harmon.

Beautiful face, nice figure, smoky voice.

Kinda creepy character played by an actress with creepy politics.

Elisabeth Röhm.

Years ago, when I was trying unsuccessfully to learn German, my instructor would pronounce a word with an umlaut over the o or the u, I would try to repeat the sound and then I would be told I was wrong. So, whenever I see her name, I pronounce it Elisabeth Ruuuuhhhhm!, somewhere between the sound of an engine revving and some low animal noise.

It works on several different levels.

Annie Parisse.

Annie Parisse is one of several regulars on the show that appeared on Law & Order in an earlier episode playing a completely different character. This is also true of S. Epatha Merkerson and Jerry Orbach.

Like with Carey Lowell, I may hold a slight grudge against the producers that clouds my judgment, since the show got rid of Elisabeth Ruuuuhhhhm! and kept Fred Thompson.

Alana De La Garza.

I haven't seen many episodes with Alana De La Garza. I never got in the habit of watching new episodes of Law & Order on NBC. When I had cable, I kind of liked seeing that a new episode was starting on TNT, seeing how fast I could recognize it or not recognize it as the case might be, and decide in the first five minutes if I was going to watch something new to me or stick around to watch an old one I liked.

Still, she's pretty cute. Heck, they all are.

Polling will be open until next Sunday. You can vote for several favorites. Let your opinion, if any, be known.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The 51st state, according to Sitemeter

According to the Sitemeter statistics, the blog gets a lot of visitors from outside the United States. If we ignore the Unknown category, the Internet service providers that are able to hide their country of origin from the Sitemeter software, there are visitors from around the globe showing up here at all hours of the day and night. If I check the pie chart at around sun up on the West Coast, the slice of the pie for the U.S. of A. can easily be less than 50%, though at around dinner time, it's common that the last 100 visitors include around 70% Yanks or more.

As I've said before, a lot of visitors find the blog because they are searching for images I've put up in the past or are hunting down topics I've written about previously. Whether it's giant women or the Pythagorean Theorem or the ever popular Alice the Snorg Girl, folks from around the globe are searching the Internet for something and they end up here.

Go figure.

Besides the pie chart, Sitemeter also has an actual list of countries of origin of the last 100 visitors. There was a strange discrepancy when this pie chart was made. The list included four visits from The Islamic Republic of Iran, though Iran does not show up on the pie chart. I went back to the list to make a quick count, and the Iranian visits were not lumped in with the Unknown category, but instead added the the United States total.

Very odd.

I get a lot of visits from places Americans would consider "repressive regimes", including Iran, Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, China and others. Many of these visitors are looking for The Big Girls. (Welcome, brothers!) Oddly enough, I get a lot more visitors from the countries I just listed than I get from "liberated" Iraq or Afghanistan.

If we can take these statistics as meaning anything, and if I was teaching my statistics class I would say they can't be trusted because of self-selection bias, I would list three countries as the most restrictive to their Internet users, countries that have never sent a visitor here, even though neighbors of theirs who have about the same wealth level and population size have sent many.

There are three Flags of Many Lands™ I have yet to see that I attribute to repressive governments instead of relative poverty or small population.

North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This birther stuff 'splained up good!

I really haven't paid much attention to the whole Obama birth certificate kerfuffle. I have some solid excuses. The best of these excuses are that I have a job and I'm not insane. But yesterday, after I finished the grading I had to do and updated some class related blogs, I decided to wander around the internets for a while to see what I could dig up.

The crux of the problem is that Hawaii went to paperless documentation back in 2001, so Barack Obama's original birth certificate may no longer exist, and some people are unconvinced by the paperwork that now stands in its place. Obama's Kenyan grandmother stated in an recorded interview that he was born in Kenya, though she recanted that later in the same interview. Guess which part the birthers like to listen to?

There have been lawsuits, but so far have gone nowhere because they have no standing. I'm not a lawyer, but the idea of "no standing" means those who brought the case could not prove how they were injured. For example, if I wanted to have Dick Cheney arrested for assault and reckless endangerment while intoxicated for that time he shot his hunting buddy in the face, I wouldn't be able to because I lack standing. I'm not his hunting buddy and it wasn't my face that got shot.

If you want to see what Jon Stewart makes of the birther controversy, click on the link.

Very funny.

There are some people trying to get famous on the back of the birther movement, but there are some already famous people among their ranks. Alan Keyes says he has standing because he got his ass whupped in the Senate race against Obama. Gold hucksters Pat Boone and Gordon Liddy are on record as not believing Obama is an American citizen. (Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars, can't recommend gold. $1000 an ounce looks like a strong psychological barrier, and it's currently at about $950.) Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney's boring non-gay daughter, also thinks the crazy people have a point. If you watch the Jon Stewart piece, you'll see that Latin-Loopy Lou Dobbs (he's loopy about Latins, he's not actually Latin himself) is still convinced the controversy "won't go away" because questions haven't been answered, even though the questions were answered on his show by his stand-in host Kitty Pilgrim.

You know how I ask you to boycott Fox News sponsors? The Southern Poverty Law Center wants Latin-Loopy Lou Dobbs' ass fired. They seem to think CNN is an actual news organization with integrity. This isn't the first time Lou has quoted allegations from zany fringe right wing websites as "facts" on his TV show.

We'll see how that plays out.

I went around the internets looking for something I could deal with: numbers. World Net Daily, a far-right wing website who are heavily invested in the birther controversy, commissioned a pollster to ask people questions about Obama's birth certificate. The guy they hired put together a questionnaire that would get laughed out of any legitimate polling organization, but according to his data, 62 out of 790 respondents said they were "troubled" by the "unanswered questions" around Obama's birthplace and his legitimate right to be president. If we accept the poll as validly produced, and that's a big if, this means the margin of error for 95% confidence is that about 5.9% to 9.7% of Americans believe this crap.

Those numbers sound believable to me. I'd say that you can find at least 5% of Americans, and sometimes a whole lot more, who will believe any nonsense you can come up with.

I'm not just talking about who killed JFK or why the untouched 47-storey tall building 7 of the World Trade Center complex also collapsed on September 11. I'm talking about people who believe we didn't land on the moon, that Elvis Presley is still alive and Paul McCartney is still dead. (As Padre Mickey quipped many years ago, this would explain why so much the music of Wings sucked so bad.)

I was just a kid when the "Paul is dead" conspiracy was popular. I was a big Beatles fan, so I didn't want it to be true, but I remember the creepy feeling of "OMG, what if it's true?" I wasn't invested in believing he was dead, but the feeling was strange and oddly compelling. I wasn't even nearly an adult at the time, so I can be excused for being gullible. On the other hand, I wasn't a kid when I saw that Orson Welles narrated cheesy documentary about Nostradamus, but I had the same feeling. I then bought the Quatrains of Nostradamus and my fears turned into boredom and incredulity.

There is no question that some of the birther movement's staying power comes from sore loser right wingers. Obama's race is also clearly part of the equation. But I ask my readers to think for a moment if there have ever been any conspiracy theories that they have accepted, even if for only a little while.

I myself was skeptical about Sarah Palin being the mother of Trig last year. I found the story of her taking a long flight from Texas to Seattle to Anchorage after her water broke, then a drive to Wasilla as being incredibly risky to the baby. I found the story of her being back at work three days after the premature birth horribly callous.

But I now fully admit that I was wrong about Sarah Palin not being Trig's mom. The story makes sense now. She is callous, and more than a little stupid. Moreover, her idea of "being back at work" meant that she could be contacted by phone, not necessarily that she went back into the office in Juneau. Now that we have the more easily verified explanations of Sarah Palin being vain, stupid and lazy, the more complex conspiracies are much harder for me to believe.

In closing, let me say this. You, too, can get a clean, close shave with Occam's Razor.

Try one today!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Random 10, 7/24/09

Till There Was You The Beatles
I Got The Feeling James Brown
Lonesome Suzie The Band
I'm Gonna Love You Too Blondie
Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday William Bell
Just One Luck Doris Troy
Foolish Ways Madder Rose
Expert Rites Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet
Don't Go Yaz
Journey To The Center Of The Mind The Ramones

As often happens, the Random 10 is a debate on the topic of whether Matty Boy is merely elderly or incredibly ancient. It's Sixties Pop vs. Eighties Punk/New Wave here at Lotsa 'Splainin', and the 1960's win. The slightly more modern rockers even wave the white flag at the end, with Long Island's Finest doing a cover of a 1960's psychedelic tune.

Seven of ten, not bad odds. The You Tubes is still very slim on music from William Bell, though interestingly, there are covers of his tunes and people in the comments wonder if the originals can be found. Glad to see I'm not the only one who knows about William Bell, a truly under-rated soul singer on the Stax/Volt label.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lazy blogging for July 2009.

Busy day full of grading and class preparation.

No time to be clever, if that's what you call what I do every day.

Indira Varma's collarbone.

Melissa Theuriau's eyes and smile.

Julie Newmar's legs.

A significant improvement on me trying to be clever, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 80: Implication

Logic has been considered a part of philosophy for several thousand years. In the mid 1800's, a group of English mathematicians took it upon themselves to turn logic into a part of the mathematical field, foremost among them being George Boole, Augustus DeMorgan and Charles Dodgson, known better by his pen name Lewis Carroll. In mathematical logic, the variables like P and Q stand in for statements like "The moon is made of green cheese." or "It's Tuesday." or "The door is open." A statement can either be true (T) or false (F). There are modern extensions of logic where statements can be somewhere between true and false, and this field is called fuzzy logic. Regular logic is tricky enough, so let's stick to that for the time being.

Once we have statements, logic starts dealing with compound statements. The simplest logical operators are AND (denoted with a ^) and OR (denoted with a v). The compound statement "P AND Q" is only true is both P and Q are true, while "P OR Q" is true unless both P is false and Q is false.

Then there's implication, stated either as "P IMPLIES Q" or "IF P, THEN Q". Implication has been a very important concept in logic ever since the Greeks started talking about Socrates being a man and all men being mortal, but it's a little trickier than AND or OR.

The first statement in an implication is the premise. If the premise of an implication is false, the entire implication is considered to be true, the only way for an implication to be false is for the premise to be true while the conclusion is false.

This is an odd idea, but let's think of it in terms of a law like the legal age to buy alcohol. We can think of the law as "Buying alcohol IMPLIES you are 21 years or older." There are four possible situations, three of them legal and one illegal.

You buy alcohol AND you are 21 years or older (legal.)
You buy alcohol AND you are NOT 21 years or older (illegal.)
You do NOT buy alcohol AND you are 21 years or older (legal.)
You do NOT buy alcohol AND you are NOT 21 years or older (legal.)

If you don't buy alcohol, the premise of the implication is false and the entire implication is true. There is no way to break this law if you never buy alcohol. The only illegal situation is for the premise to be true, in this case, buying alcohol, and the conclusion to be false, being less than 21 years old.

While this can be explained to most people's satisfaction relatively easily, implication can make logic something of a hornet's nest. One of the important concepts in logic is the tautology, a compound statement that is always true. The simplest tautology is "P OR NOT P", which is to say, either the moon is made of green cheese or the moon is not made of green cheese. It has to be one way or the other, so we can't go wrong with this statement, it's always true. The next simplest tautology is reverse implication, "P IMPLIES Q OR Q IMPLIES P". Because implication works the same as "NOT P OR Q", reverse implication can be translated at "P OR NOT P OR Q OR NOT Q", and it's always true.

But it doesn't sound always true.

It's raining implies it's Tuesday or it's Tuesday implies it's raining.

I'm a man implies I'm a woman or I'm a woman implies I'm a man.

Those last two statements are 100% true, regardless of what day it is or if it's raining or not or in the second case, the gender of the speaker. They work because if one of the statements is false, it is the premise in an implication which must be true, and with an OR statement, one true part is enough. The other possibility is that both statements are true, and then the reverse implication is fine as well.

We are lead to believe that logic is the way the mind is supposed to work if operating properly. I teach my students that logic is a game with rules, and you have to learn the rules, even if sometimes it creates always true statements that don't sound like they make sense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We need a public health care option, and now.

Please call your congresscitters and tell them we need a public health care system. Do it for yourself, do it for your family. Do it for that crazy blogger Matty Boy.

Public health care won't be perfect. You will definitely hear nightmare stories if it gets passed. There will people telling you the "I know a guy" stories for sure. It may even happen that you will be that guy. But under the mercies of private health care, I have been that guy. I have been working steadily most of my life, and whether or not I have had health care has been a crap shoot. Especially now that I teach, it's been touch and go, and when I have needed help and not had health care, it's put me in debt that I have had a hard time crawling out from under.

If we leave the anecdotal horror stories of private and public health care systems behind, and likewise the stories of the low cost miracles people have experienced when they got sick in Canada or Italy or some place like that, we have the general statistics of our system. In general statistics, we are pathetic. Comparing us to other prosperous countries like Japan, Canada and the democracies of Western Europe is a sick joke. In that league, we are dead last in keeping our babies alive once they are born. We are dead last in life expectancy. We are number one in preventable health problems like obesity. The league we compete against in those statistics is filled with countries like Croatia and Slovenia. We are almost as good as countries still struggling with coming out from under communism and Soviet oppression.

We accept for some reason that we should spend more money on our military than all the other countries in the world combined. We accept that we should have more people in prison per capita than any other country in the world. Those are public dollars we are willing to spend. Why shouldn't we spend money to end the nightmare of thousands of working Americans each year falling into bankruptcy because of one unexpected illness? Some of those working Americans who get in this miserable situation actually have private health care, but just not enough when the going gets tough.

The Republicans stand proudly against a public option. This is why they are a minority party. This is one of those 70% to 30% issues where they give voice to the 30%. It's not always the same 30% exactly, but it's like when Bush thought the government had to step in to save Terry Schiavo, a stupid stunt that cost the Republicans no money, only their dignity and credibility.

The public option will cost money. We need to keep the government accountable and stop the longterm slide into debt that over the past thirty years has only gotten worse when the Republicans have been in charge. This is money worth spending. This is what the Constitution is talking about in that little phrase "promote the general welfare".

We need to stop being the stupid Americans with the big foam fingers chanting "We're Number One!" when in fact, we're number thirty seven and struggling to keep up with countries like Poland.

We can do better. We can afford it. All we need is the political will.

Monday, July 20, 2009


There was a memorial in Kenwood for my mom yesterday at my brother Michael's house. My dad drove me up from the Bay Area. Other family members in attendance were Michael's wife Janelle, Michael's son Joshua, with his wife Joanne and their son Calvin, my sister Karla and her family, husband Tino, Tino's dad and Karla's son Eli. Karla brought the members of a choir she conducts and several people who have helped take care of mom and others over the past few years were there as well. Thanks to everyone who attended and to those who couldn't be there in person but were there in spirit.

Karla handed out folders of keepsakes mom had collected over the years to give to her kids and grandkids. Among the souvenirs in mine was this photo from 1948, seven years before I was born, when my mom worked as a model. Back then, a family newspaper didn't give a second thought about publishing the name and address of a model in the newspaper, and while she looks all grown up, she was sixteen at the time.

It was a different world.

Mom liked it when I sang old fashioned songs, so since this picture comes from seven years before I was born, let me choose a song from seven years before my mom was born. The Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein tune Who? is from the musical Sunny, which was a big hit back in 1925. I searched around on The YouTubes, but I didn't like the versions available, so I'll just publish the lyrics. If you know the song, feel free to sing along.

Who... stole my heart away?
Who... makes me dream all day?
Dreams I know can never come true.
Seems as though I'll ever be blue.
Who... means my happiness?
Who... would I answer yes
To?... Well, you ought to know who.
No one but you.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Okay, so just how big a jerk is Powers Boothe?

Well, hypothetical question asker, I'm not in show business and I've never met the man, but reading between the lines, I'm guessing he is a huge, gaping sphincter.

Now that I am without cable TV, I decided to spend some of the money I'm saving every month by not sending any to those creeps at Comcast. I bought the second season of Deadwood and watched the first two episodes last night. The first episode had two different commentary tracks. The first track was with the male stars of the show, Tim Olyphant and Ian McShane, who play Seth Bullock and Al Swearingen, respectively. Being men, they made merciless fun of themselves, each other and nearly everyone in the cast. To be fair, they were actually very nice about the female cast members, except that Olyphant and McShane are neither of them very tall, so they made some fun of Anna Gunn, the actress hired to play Bullock's wife in the second season, who is nearly as tall as Olyphant or possibly taller. In the scenes with her, Olyphant's comments were along the lines of "I must have been standing on a box. She must have been walking in a ditch."

Except when there were scenes with Powers Boothe, about whom they said... nothing.

The second commentary track was with Molly Parker and Anna Gunn. Being women, they were nice about nearly everyone in the cast and nice to each other. Molly and Anna commiserated about the uncomfortable costumes and how difficult life must have been for women back in the day. They talked about the rampant sexism of the 19th Century and that some of those attitudes exist even to this day.

They agreed on the continued existence of rampant sexism when Powers Boothe was on screen. I'm sure it was just coincidence.

Okay, I'll stop being coy. I don't think it was coincidence at all.

Let me repeat. I've never met the man and have no first hand experience. He may be a lovely person and very gracious to his fans. But I get the feeling he didn't make many friends on the set of Deadwood, and in general, it sounds like it was a very friendly set.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Working together.

Jeff Sessions is a senator from Alabama. His full name is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. You know, Jefferson like Jefferson Davis, Beauregard like General Beauregard?

He's a Southern white guy and he thinks that's pretty cool, even if the rest of us don't. 23 years ago, he was appointed to be a federal judge by Ronald Reagan, but he didn't get the job. He had made a few jokes, like he thought the Ku Klux Klan was not so bad until he learned some of them smoked marijuana.

I'm sure that was hilarious in context. I guess you had to be there.

So now he gets to question Sonia Sottomayor about her "wise Latina" comments, and he gets to be the bad white guy beating up on the nice Puerto Rican lady who rose from humble beginnings.

Bad, bad Senator Sessions!

And then he made some comment about crack cocaine, so we got to make fun of him.

Ha, ha, stupid Senator Sessions!

When he was talking about that "crack cocaine thing", what he was talking about was reducing the penalties for selling crack. Like many drugs when they are unknown to the general public, crack was put forward as the worst thing in the world, and penalties for crack were made far more severe than penalties for the same amount of regular cocaine. The consequence of this is overcrowding of prisons, something people on both sides of the aisle are starting to see as a real cost of governing problem and both Republicans and Democrats are trying to do something about it.

Also, crack cocaine is demographically a "black drug", while regular cocaine is more of a "white drug", so this adds to the over-representation of African Americans in our prison population.

Jeff Sessions is doing something that will decrease the burden on the African American community. Let's give him some credit for that.

While Sessions may have thought two decades ago that pot was the bad thing the Klan did while the rest of it was okay, other politicians, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor who wants to pay people like me with IOUs, are actually discussing the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, again to look at the possibility of reducing the costs of governing and in this case, possibly increasing the tax base.

Democrats and Republicans have serious differences on many issues. On most of those issues, I agree with the Democrats, except where I think the Democrats are too soft. As my friend Padre Mickey has joked, I'm registered as a Democrat because in California, Sandinistas can't vote in the primaries.

In the Padre's defense, it was a hilarious joke in context. Maybe you had to be there.

But that said, we still have to live and work together, and if we can start to make the drug laws in this country make more sense, with Republicans and Democrats working together, that will be a major step in the right direction.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Random 10, 7/17/09

Motel Matches Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Gia Il Sole Dal Gange (A. Scarlatti) Cecilia Bartoli
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off Fred Astaire
The KKK Took My Baby Away The Ramones
Pencil Rain They Might Be Giants
I Shot The Sheriff Bob Marley & The Wailers
Sweet and Slow Fats Waller
Venus Kissed The Moon Christine Lavin
Caldonia Louis Jordan
The Guns of Brixton The Clash

Only Bob Marley and The Clash actually sing about police brutality this week, but Elvis sings about a small time hood and an alibi and Joey Ramone is less than happy with the job law enforcement is doing find the killers of his baby. Cecilia Bartoli is singing about the sun on the Ganges River, They Might Be Giants wax poetic about the SATs, and everybody else is singing about love.

Have a nice weekend, and don't go messing with Five-Oh.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things are definitely moving...

and from the look of things, they are moving in the right direction.

For the first few months of the new administration and Congress, the question was when are we going to see a difference from the past few years.

We've got the answer. July will be different. Really different.

We have a Supreme Court nominee who isn't a member of the Federalist Society, that weird fringe group that believes the president should have way more authority than the Constitution grants.

There's a climate change bill and a health care bill.

Heck, there's 100 senators, 60 of whom caucus with the Democrats and one is named Al Franken!

Republicans, who have earned their status as a super minority, are talking about Sarah Palin as a leader and listening to Pat Buchanan, who thinks it makes sense to insult the growing constituency of Hispanics to score some points with "the base".

Seriously, does no one notice that the Republican base is shrinking? All these wedge issues are chipping away at the base, not adding conservative Democrats and independents to the cause. More than that, the demographics mean that the Republicans will still be able to rule backwater areas like Oklahoma and Utah, but any place with a few actual cities are turning away from the policies.

We still have to see an exit strategy from Iraq. We need some real political progress in the theocratic backwaters that are supposed to be on our side, like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

What the hell, let's go nuts and hope for political progress in theocratic backwaters like Oklahoma and Utah while we're at it!

But I have to say, I'm starting to have some hope, and that's a big change from the years 2001 to 2008.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 79: Twelve positions, two generating moves, third and last example

There are three different non-abelian groups with twelve elements. What this means in English is that there are puzzles with twelve different positions and moves to change from position to position, but with some kinds of moves, doing Move A first and Move B second does not give the same result as Move B first followed by Move A.

The first two puzzles were based on a hexagonal tile that could be flipped over to put the bottom side up, which is a completely different puzzle than the symmetries of a tetrahedron. The last non-abelian group is called T, for reasons unknown to me. I'm a little proud of the fact that I took the generating moves and turned into an object, since I'd never seen what puzzle the group T is supposed to represent.

The generating moves of this puzzle are 1) spin a gear 120 degrees and 2) turn the entire square 90 degrees. Doing this we can put any of the twelve letters from A through K in the upper left hand corner, and the letter in that position determines all the rest of the letters' positions. What makes this non-abelian is that turning a green gear clockwise makes the red gears next to it turn counter clockwise.

This is another way to represent T. Starting at any grey dot, making a black move, then a red move will put you at a dot different from making a red move first then a black move. For instance, starting in upper left, black-red sends you to the front row of the upper right, while red-black sends you to the upper right middle row.

This is a completely different set-up based on the hexagonal tile group D6. Notice that the black moves travel clockwise on the inside hexagon and counter-clockwise on the outside hexagon. This is what makes black-red different from red-black.
And the final generating diagram is of the symmetries of the tetrahedron, also known as A4. Here the black arrows form counter clockwise moves around on of the four triangles, while the red moves send you from one triangle to another.

I know some of my regular readers will have a hard time not dozing off reading this post. I may just be writing this for myself and a select few others, and I probably haven't done a good job of explaining the beauty of group theory, which of course deals with much more exotic puzzles than just these three simple objects that can be put in twelve different positions. For example, a Rubik's cube is solved by group theoretical operations. But this is the part of math that turned me from a computer science major to an honest to Lenny math major all those years ago, when I was introduced to the topic by the late, great Ted Tracewell.

I write this in his honor. After my grandmother, he's one of the first people I was close to that died, and I still miss him to this day. As the commenter Lockwood wrote when he sent condolences for my mom, the difficult emotions don't really go away, you just get used to them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

AutoTune the news #6

If you haven't seen this yet, it's really good. Who knew John Boehner was a Backstreet Kid? The best parts are Hell, No! and Wake Up Dead. These aren't just good pop tunes, these are smash hits!

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yeah, Eritrea!

Some Eritrean wanted to know about the Pythagorean Theorem, and this is as good a place as any to find out.

It's getting harder to find countries who haven't stopped by yet, but I'm still waiting for visitors from Ethiopia and Djibouti, neighbors of Eritrea.

Contrary to popular belief, I do have standards.

The true definition of child bride is not just that the man is older than is wife, but that the wife is underage. Tom Cruise has a gigantic child bride in Katie Holmes by the Matty Boy definition. This is nothing like Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 14 year old cousin, an actual child bride situation by the legal definition. She was not gigantic, but a little impressionable girl that Lewis could control, which set a pattern through his entire life.

I did once, and only once, put in a picture of Anna Nicole Smith and the doddering old man she married in a gigantic child bride post that had a bunch of pictures, but other than that, the biggest age difference I can find in my gigantic child bride posts is about thirty years, which to my mind means "old enough to be her father." Unless you're a redneck living in Alaska, I'm going to define an eighteen year difference as "old enough to be her father", and doubling that would put the "old enough to be her grandfather" criterion starting at about thirty six year's difference.

And then there's the guy not pictured here. It's a small blessing that a man in his eighties has decided he only needs a harem of three young women instead of the seven he had earlier this decade. A man needs to know his limits. But I just hate looking at him with them. The oldest of the women he hangs around with right now is 24 and the youngest is 19, last time I checked. That means the age difference is about sixty years, and he's old enough to be their great grandfather.


Some might say I'm just jealous. Strictly speaking, since I'm not in a relationship, I could be jealous of any man who has just one partner, regardless of her age or size relative to him. But that's not how I roll. It's just looking at this geezer and his replaceable part harem is a really depressing reminder that some old men are swine and some young women are mercenaries.

I kind of already knew that and don't need it rubbed in my face, thanks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Synergistic business practices and other powerful emetics

Like many users of the Interwebs, I have fallen into habits, some of them not so good. I visit The Huffington Post nearly every day to see what they think the headlines are. They have some good bloggers, most notably Harry Shearer who writes about his hometown of New Orleans and the cartoonist David Rees, whose weekly animated cartoon Get Your War On was one of my favorite things to watch during last years' election.

Like any big website, there are ads, but these are only sometimes obnoxious. After the banner headlines at the top, the Post is split into three columns, the left is for bloggers, the middle for "hard news" and the right for "soft news", usually about show business. The rule about the left column being for bloggers is hard and fast. The split between hard news and soft news in the other two columns... not so much.

What I noticed is the number of soft news stories that just happen to involve actors whose movies are about to open at a theater near you. Last month, nearly every day there was some story about Shia LaBeouf, the male star of the Transformers sequel, or a set of pictures of Megan Fox, his very hot female co-star. When the movie finally arrived in theaters, suddenly the Huffington Post was full of stories about Sacha Baron Cohen and his character Bruno. Now that movie is in theaters, and HuffPo is full of stories about the stars of the next Harry Potter film, most of the stories centering on what a lovely young woman Emily Watson has grown up to be.

Maybe the Huffington Post is just good at spotting trends, but it's much more likely money is changing hands, and it's disgusting to watch. It won't change my mind about what movies I'll see this summer. I couldn't be dragged bound and gagged into a theater playing Transformers or Bruno, but I will go see the next Harry Potter, because I have friends who will gladly attend with me.

I think I have to find a new place to get the headlines.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Do it and you're a daisy.

For the first time since I've put these silly opinion polls up, a plurality of visitors to this blog thinks an actor has a Highlight Reel™, and I heartily concur.

As good as Val Kilmer has been throughout his career, and he has a lot of good roles, his portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone is the best thing in a mighty good Western, and is likely the best role of his career.

Like any good western, it features a manly cast of manly men. To give you an idea, Billy Bob Thornton plays a greasy little punk who talks big but is easily slapped around. Among the less slappable actors are Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, John Corbett, Paul Ben-Victor, Bill Paxton and Terry O'Quinn. Frank Stallone plays a possibly slappable guy, Jason Preistley plays a possibly gay guy and Billy Zane plays a way too pretty actor, but he show some stones. Normal folk like you and me, gentle reader, wouldn't want to get on the bad side of anyone in this cast.

But it's Kilmer who steals the show. Among his great lines are:

"I'm your huckleberry."

"Do it and you're a daisy."

"Ed Bailey, are we cross?"

"My apologies, Wyatt. You're a rock."

There's a scene late in the film where an obviously sick Doc Holliday is part of the posse chasing down the last of the criminal organization known as The Cowboys. One of the ex-Cowboys has joined the group.

Greasy former outlaw: Why are you doing this, Holliday?
Doc: Wyatt Earp is my friend.
Greasy former outlaw: I got lots of friends.
Doc: I don't.

Let me congratulate the other voters who have given the first Highlight Reel™ to the excellent Val Kilmer in Tombstone. I also voted this his best work.

As for your taste, well... that was a peach.

Please boycott the sponsors of Fox News.

A few weeks ago, blog buddy Karen Zipdrive put up a post listing the general sponsors of the Fox News Channel and asking her readers to boycott these companies. A few days later, I did the same. Here is the list, which will also be on my sidebar, at the top or near it.

Crest Whitestrips ...|||... Delphi ...|||... Mercedes Benz ...|||... Comcast ...|||... Subaru
GMC Suv's ...|||... Best Buy ...|||... Travelocity ...|||... Capzasin ...|||... New Phase
Orbitz ...|||... ...|||... ...|||... Dawn ...|||... Toyota ...|||... Centrum
Nextel ...|||... ...|||... Gold Bond ...|||... Aspercreme ...|||...
American Express ...|||... Holiday Inn Express ...|||... M Professional ...|||...

To my mind, if a boycott doesn't actually change the buying patterns of the people boycotting, it doesn't really count. I decided to pull the plug on Comcast cable, the only product on this list which I actually use. I'm going to miss having TV, but there are other options like Hulu and other websites, and I can rent stuff on Netflix.

Here is the e-mail I sent to Comcast.

I am canceling my Comcast account. You advertise on Fox News Channel, which contributes to a climate that accepts political murder, including the death of Dr. George Tiller. Fox will not change their ways until advertisers start taking their business elsewhere.

I am advocating the boycott of all Fox News general advertisers, including your company.

They sent back a form letter saying that my letter would be forwarded to through the proper channels. There is a strong possibility no one at Comcast will ever see it, though once when I wrote a Comcast Sucks post, there was a reply in the comments from someone from the company.

Again, people are getting killed because of the political hatred in this country, and the ones that make the news are right wingers killing liberals. While it isn't murder being advocated, Brain Kilmeade, one of the pinheads on the Fox morning show was yapping about a report that said married people are less likely to get Alzheimer's than single folks, and he said it didn't count in the U.S. because we intermarry "with other races and species", so our blood isn't pure like the Finns or the Swedes. His example was that in this country, the Irish marry the Italians. The last time I checked, they both count as the same race, and I'm rock solid certain they are the same species.

I think even people who work on Fox News are the same species as the rest of us, though if they aren't, that would explain a lot.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Working the kinks out of the system.

Being old and a programmer in a previous lifetime, I can say that I was hating on Bill Gates and Microsoft back when most of y'all couldn't pick the guy out of a line-up. It's been about thirty years now since gigantic IBM tapped tiny Microsoft to write the operating system for their soon to be released personal computers. There were personal computers already on the market that had better hardware than the first IBM PC. I have heard many hardware guys from several different companies from back in the day say that the internal workings of the Atari 800 was the best and fastest hardware of its day, better than Apple or Commodore or IBM, but the IBM name was impossible to beat, and the guys who wrote the crap software bundled with that trusted name in hardware were going to be filthy rich regardless of whether they were actually competent at their jobs or not.

Which they weren't.

We used to joke that using any Microsoft product whose version number was less than 3.0 was just asking for trouble. The software was buggy and unintuitive and slow. In the 1980s, "innovation" at Microsoft was stealing ideas from smaller competitors, most notably Apple and their more intuitive software for the Macintosh.

Of course, that was long ago. The folks running Microsoft today aren't the people from back in the day. Bill Gates is long gone from the day to day operation of Microsoft. New people who weren't even born when Gates and crew started the company are writing the code now.

But the early versions of their software? They still suck.

Submitted for your disapproval: Bing, the new search engine.

My bad. The new and first decision engine. You may have seen the ads. Bing isn't going to give you all the nonsense you don't need when you search. It's better than that other search engine. You know, the one that 95% of computer users turn to every day. (Statistic made up on the spot, but probably close to accurate, given how people find this blog.)

Well, I have fooled around with Bing a little, and I don't find it a significant improvement on Google or Ask. I still like to check my blog's stats on sitemeter a few times a day, and on a recent check of referrals, two people stumbled on my blog through Bing.

One person was searching "Harry Potter forhead", spelled exactly like that. Another was looking for "scary clown faces". I did a quick, inside my brain search for what posts I had written about either of those topics and came up blank.

Bing thinks this picture of Jesus belongs on both those searches. Not at the very top of the list, mind you, but close enough to the top that two people came to my blog to see what I had to say about what they were looking for.

It's Jesus, it's Harry Potter's forhead, it's a scary clown face. Like a lot of great artwork, it's open to multiple interpretations.

Especially if the interpreter is a crap piece of barely tested beta software.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Four for mom and one for Mina

My mom Kara was cremated yesterday. She wanted no memorial service, but she wanted folks to sing during the time. I was teaching class and found out the exact time only later, so no singing from me at the appointed time, unfortunately. My sister Karlacita! sent a list of songs that she and mom chose for the occasion, and I've added a few choices of my own. None of the songs I've chosen is perfect, but then again, neither am I.

The Waters of Babylon David LaMotte

This song was chosen by Karla, and it is the closest to perfect of all the selections. She gave a link to the version from Mad Men, where the beautiful song is played as we watch a dialog free montage of the ridiculously beautiful cast, including Rosemary DeWitt, Jon Hamm, Maggie Siff, January Jones, Christina Hendricks and Jon Slattery. (Yes, the guys are ridiculously beautiful, too.) Embedding of that is disabled, so I chose this version of David LaMotte singing a round with himself using one of those echo machines I know instill avarice in my baby sister.

What'll I Do Bearly

My first choice is almost perfect. It's one of the greatest songs Irving Berlin ever wrote, which makes it one of the greatest songs ever written by anyone. It's about lost love, so it fits the mood. The only flaw is the line "wondering who's kissing you", but ignoring that, the lyric fits my mood almost precisely. There were a lot of versions on You Tube, but this was my favorite for being the best of the simplest. This guy is a German singer, he looks a little ragged but he has a lovely voice and excellent taste, so he is the one I most identify with, if I may be a little immodest.

Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father Randy Newman

Here the imperfection is obvious in the title, as we have the wrong gender of the missing parent. Still, it's a lovely tune. There's a version sung by Linda Ronstadt, whose voice is much prettier than Newman's, but I love the strings behind Newman in this version.

I Am Weary, Let Me Rest The Cox Family

The flaw here is that the song is about a child dying in the arms of her mother, which is of course the other way around from what happened this week for me and mine. But I love the sound of the Cox family, especially lead singer Suzanne. When singing together, my family can sound pretty good on occasion as well.

Put Your Records On Corinne Bailey Rae

This perky tune is probably not a sad song for the rest of the planet, but I first heard it and saw the video a few months after my friend Mina Millett died. Ms. Rae looks like Mina when she was young, and to think of how few summers were allotted to Mina still hurts me.

Every few months I listen to this to see if I can get through the whole thing without crying. Obviously, not yet.

Have a good weekend and thanks to everyone who has sent me their condolences and best wishes.