Monday, August 31, 2009

No love for J.J. Abrams

Any poll on an internet website has what is known in the statistics biz as self-selection bias, so it cannot be relied upon to reflect the views of the general public.

What can be said is that the refined and sophisticated people who regularly read Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do either can't be bothered registering an opinion about the TV career of writer J.J. Abrams or if they do, most dislike his work intensely.

Did I mention the readers of this blog are refined and sophisticated? Yes, I believe I did.

Random 10+1, 8/30/09

[BTW, I'm going to be doing Random 10 posts on Monday until the end of the year due to my work schedule. For Friday Random 10 lists, go visit Padre Mickey.]

Dimming Of The Day Bonnie Raitt
Castles Made Of Sand Jimi Hendrix Experience
Baby I Need Your Loving The Four Tops
You Can't Hurry Love Diana Ross & The Supremes
Lucky Ball and Chain They Might Be Giants
Bad Girl Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Only You Yaz
The Seventh Son Mose Allison
They All Laughed Fred Astaire
Brick Ben Folds Five

I got all grumpy in the comments section over at Padre Mickey's for someone posting a Random 10 with no song recorded after Nixon left office, but I barely did better myself this week. Even the first artists on the list who started recording after I left high school, They Might Be Giants, sound an awful lot like Rick Nelson during his country period on this track. I do still love the Yaz tune, one of the best things to come out of syntho-pop and I like the change-up triple play at the end, Mose to Fred to Ben.

Bonus Track: Under Pressure Queen and David Bowie

I felt the Ben Folds tune was good, but I wanted to quit with a song with a little more beat, so in come Freddie and David and that great bass line. Someone should sample that and make a rap tune. It could be a hit even if the guy can't rap.

Oops, too late.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Stat Boy Rule

There has been talk of the return of the Fairness Doctrine, in which the government asked radio stations as part of their license to use the airwaves owned by the public and leased to the corporations to air opposing viewpoints. Personally, I don't think it would work. Things have gotten to such a state of polarity that no station could stay in business airing Rush Limbaugh in the morning and Rachel Maddow in the afternoon.

Here is my counter-proposal: The Stat Boy Rule, which is to say, real time ombudsmen. The ESPN show Pardon the Interruption has two hosts, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, yapping about sports and stating their opinions for a half hour, and at the end they hand off to Tony Reali, a.k.a. Stat Boy, who corrects the factual errors, not from his encyclopedic knowledge base, which I'm sure he has to some extent, but from that real-time encyclopedia we all have at our fingertips, the internet.

The law I would like to see would go something like this. If a show wants to be categorized as a news show, it promises some amount of time, say one minute every half hour, to correct any statements that are just the babblings of the hosts. Any show that opts out of the real time ombudsman program gets this boilerplate announcement at the top of every half hour.

This is a show of opinion and not fact. Nothing said here is promised to be true. When offered the chance to have an ombudsman to verify the claims made on this show, the producers decided against it. This show is broadcast for entertainment purposes and not for information.

I don't know how many dittoheads would be wakened from their slumbers by such an announcement every half hour, but I would assume it would be more than a few.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Frank "The Tank" Summers update - Pre-season game 3

The Steelers have now played three pre-season games, but former Laney back Frank Summers has only played in one. The official reason this week is a hamstring injury.

The next and last pre-season is on Thursday, and by Sept. 5 the roster will be trimmed down to 53. Keep a good thought for our Frank.

Mortality amenable to health care

I've already written a few posts advocating for an improved health care system in this country, but it's important and worth repeating. If you have scads of money, the system takes pretty good care of you, Glenn Beck's nightmare of early 2008 not withstanding. (I get the feeling Beck actually was given pretty good care and he's just a whiner who can't stand pain, which is sometimes unavoidable in the recuperation process.) But for people who don't have scads of money, the system doesn't work very well and it lets a lot of people down completely, even fatally.

Blog buddy Zoey & Me, author of the very pretty Cat In The Bag blog, did a post yesterday linking to data from The Commonwealth Fund, a private organization who state flat out in their charter that their goal is to improve health care access for the poor, minorities, children and the elderly in this country.

You know, commie fascist Muslim lesbian tree-huggers from Kenya.

Okay, now that I have the snark out of my system, let's look at the numbers. The observational study dealt with mortality amenable to health care, which they define as people dying before the age of 75 from stuff that a better health care system would be working towards preventing, like complications from diabetes, treatable cancers and cardiovascular diseases. They decided on a list of nineteen "industrialized" nations, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a cross-section of Europe that didn't live under Soviet rule during the Cold War. Left off the Western European list were Belgium, Switzerland and the postage stamp countries. Industrialized Asian nations like South Korea or Taiwan were not included.

They measured mortality amenable to health care in these countries in 1997-1998, then came back five years later to see if there was improvement.

There most certainly was improvement, across the board. The problem for Americans is that we improved least of all, and we fell from 15th of 19 on the list to dead last in those five years. Countries that were not doing well like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal and Finland got their acts together in a big way and flew past us like we were standing still. We improved by 4.3% over those five years, but the next worst improvement was the Swedes, who did 6.8% better. This meant the Swedes fell from 5th place to 9th place. The weighted average of improvement for the other eighteen nations on the list was 15.0%, so in effect we were standing still.

What would it mean for us to go from dead last in our league to being in the top ten? What if instead of 110 deaths amenable to health care per 100,000, we could trim that down to 84 and tie with Greece for tenth place on this list? (Quick aside from an old coot: It's still strange for me to see Greece and Portugal counted as industrialized nations. When I was growing up, they were tourist destinations with nice weather that grew grapes and olives.)

Improving by 26 per 100,000 is the same proportion as 78,000 per 300,000,000. If the study is counting the whole population and we could do as well as the Greeks, 78,000 Americans that will die this year could be saved instead.

78,000 per year is like having a 9/11 sized attack every two weeks. It's not happening in one single place, there's no sexy image of a plane crashing into a building that can be repeated ad nauseum. The situation is that about 200 Americans a day dying before the age of 75 that would live instead if our health care system was as good as the Greek health care system. If we really got serious and tried keeping up with the Japanese or Aussies or the Spanish, we'd be saving about 300 people a day.

Part of the American problem is we still think we're the greatest country on earth. Nearly all of us have families that came from someplace else. Except for the people brought here as slaves, like the Africans centuries ago or the foreign girls that work in the massage parlors today, Americans share a story that our families came here to make a better life for themselves.

That story is still true to an extent, especially for the legal and illegal immigrants from other parts of our continent. Things are better here than they are in most of Mexico, or Honduras or Guatemala or El Salvador. But Europe and Japan, who trailed far behind the United States for decades after World War II as their much deeper wounds took time to heal, they don't look to America as the promised land anymore. America is the land of the greedy rich people and the fat poor people, and the only glue that holds the widening gap between rich and poor together is a strong tendency towards stupidity.

I have no illusions that stupidity will be eradicated in my lifetime. I have a sneaking suspicion that intelligence is a recessive gene, which means the stupid will always be with us. But even the dim can be motivated by pride, and national pride most of all. Do we really want to be worse than the Greeks and the Portuguese? Do we feel good when the Belgians kick our ass?

Things can turn around in this country, but we need a wake-up call for it to happen. If I may, let me use a sports analogy. When professionals were allowed to compete in the Olympic games basketball tournament in 1992, we sent a group of NBA players to represent the United States known as The Dream Team, and there was zero chance that team was going to lose. Less that ten years later, our professional all-star teams were losing to the rest of the world, not even getting a medal in the 2002 world championships and barely getting the bronze in Athens in 2004, winning five and losing three. Realizing the effort that was being put in was not enough, the U.S. men's basketball team returned to dominance, winning the world championship in 2006 in Japan and Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.

So we can be the best in the world, then suck miserably, then return to prominence, but only if we know the situation. The big problem in this country is that we don't know had bad our ass is being kicked by the rest of the world when it comes to quality of life.

This is what happens when stupidity reaches a level so great, people can't even realize they are stupid.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Yesterday I wrote that I'm a three sigma nerd. The more I think about it, I might have been at one time, but my advanced age is holding me back. A perfect example of this is me raving about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog now instead of last summer when it was released or last Christmas when it was released on DVD.

During the writer's strike, Joss Whedon wrote this musical story of a superhero and aspiring super-villain in a love triangle with a girl who crusades for the homeless. It was written with the intention of being an internet musical. A big part of the writer's strike was about how writers would be compensated for stuff that was available on the internet, and Whedon has shown that his fan base can go just as nuts for something available on the web as something broadcast on TV or shown on movie screens.

If you just want to watch it, it's free on Hulu. If you find some of the tunes get stuck in your head, you can buy the soundtrack on iTunes or get the video there so you can watch it without commercial interruption.

But for the true nerd, getting the DVD is the only option. Whedon understands his fan base, and the DVD is filled with great extra features, including Commentary! The Musical, where the stars of the show, including Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion, sing songs about the process of making the musical, as do writers Joss, Jed and Zack Whedon and lyricist Maurissa Tancharoen, who played the pivotal role of Groupie No. 1.

As good as the songs are from musical itself, there are some great tunes in Commentary! Among my favorites is the trio by Nate, Neil and Jed, who might have had some friction during the shoot, but they bonded over playing the phone app game Ninja Ropes Extreme, and their truce is memorialized in the hauntingly beautiful ballad Ninja Ropes.

Seriously. Hauntingly beautiful.

Joss gets a song in which he bites the hand that feeds him, a philosophical musing about the nature of art commentary itself called Heart(Broken). He makes a good point that Homer didn't have to write The Making of The Odyssey or release the deleted scenes on extra scrolls the year after his epic went big.

And what about the back story of Groupie No. 3? Steve Berg gets a solo that ends the commentary musical, appropriately entitled Steve's Song.

I am not so much of a nerd that I don't realize this blog post is done by a struggling math teacher asking his readers to put more money in the pocket of a millionaire, but Joss Whedon is a special millionaire in my book, and I don't mean special needs. He created something really good with Dr. Horrible, and I know many of my readers are part of the semi-obsessive fan base Whedon has, deserves and (at least sometimes) enjoys.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Who wants to live forever?" asks Freddie Mercury.

This magazine was in the free stuff rack at the Laney library. Obviously, it's free because it's old, late 2005, but it still presented information that was new to me.

The quote has an obvious meaning to people as nerdy as I am, but the other 99.87% of the population might not understand the significance. (Yeah, I'm a three sigma nerd.)

Martha Stewart is the last Highlander. I mean, you can't even cut off her head with a sword anymore.

As a plot twist, I have to say... I did not see that coming.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 85: Carl Friedrich Gauss, Genius And Jerk

In the book Men of Mathematics, author E.T. Bell begins the chapter on Carl Friedrich Gauss with this sentence. "Archimedes, Newton and Gauss, these three, are in a class by themselves among the great mathematicians, and it is not for ordinary mortals to attempt to range them in order of merit."

That's an interesting list. Bell first published in 1937, and now, more than seven decades later, the general consensus on the great mathematicians, puts at least four people that category, including my close personal mathematical bud Leonhard Euler, and there are those who would also add names from the era after Gauss like David Hilbert, Henri Poincaré, John Von Neumann and Andrey Kolmogorov.

Where did the original list of three come from?

Well, hypothetical question asker, it came from... Carl Friedrich Gauss, indirectly.

Gauss said the three greatest mathematicians were Archimedes, Newton and Eisenstein. No, not Einstein, Eisenstein. (Einstein wasn't born until a generation after Gauss' death.) Eisenstein was one of Gauss' pupils late in the great man's life, and Eisenstein's first work is on elliptic curves, an important field to this day. But Eisenstein died young, so most mathematicians today wouldn't put him in the top three, and probably not even in the top ten. The list got changed over time, Eisenstein's name erased and his better known mentor's name put in his place.

It sounds modest of Gauss to give so much credit to Eisenstein, but I think he really wanted to put his own name on the list, but was slightly embarrassed to do so. Gauss belongs there, no doubt, but I subscribe to him these ulterior motives because Gauss was a dick.

I mean, not at Superman levels of dickishness, but for a real person, there are a lot of stories from his life that show very dickish tendencies.

Here's one from his early life. In early 1801, a Sicilian astronomer named Giuseppe Piazzi saw a dwarf planet through his telescope, about half the radius of Pluto but in a much closer orbit, and tracked the object's movement for about forty days. He named the rock after Ceres, the Roman goddess who was the favored protectress of Sicily back in the day. But after forty days, Piazzi lost track of Ceres and couldn't get it back in sight.

Into the story comes 24 year old Gauss. With a remarkable insight, he realizes that the few sightings made by Piazzi could be used to predict where Ceres should be, but the method to make good on the prediction would take solving a system of seventeen equations in seventeen variables. And so, he does it, and he sends his results off to some German astronomers, who re-locate Ceres in late 1801, and Gauss is an international celebrity.

When people ask how he made his prediction, he wouldn't tell them. Some accused him of sorcery. Clearly, this was a more superstitious time. Someone should have accused him of dickery.

Okay, that's young Gauss. How about old Gauss? Well, hypothetical, he's still a genius and still a jerk.

You might dimly remember from geometry class that Euclid starts his work with five postulates. The fifth postulate, known as the parallel hypothesis, could not be proven as a theorem, though many people tried throughout history. Its statement, that there is exactly one parallel line to a given line that passes through a given point not on the line, is so intuitive that the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant makes a proclamation that it must be true, largely because Kant is so super smart and he is willing to hold his breath until his face turns blue if anyone disagrees with him. Other mathematicians slightly better than Kant work at creating a geometry where the fifth postulate isn't true, including Farkas Bolyai, a student of Gauss', who passes on his obsession to his son, János. It's János who makes the progress that finds a consistent system, meaning no internal contradictions, where the parallel postulate does not hold, the first breakthrough step in creating the field now known as non Euclidean geometry. Farkas is so proud of his son that he sends the younger man's work to his old professor Gauss. Gauss writes back that he already knew everything János wrote and that it was kind of obvious.

The jerk.

There are two catches here. Non Euclidean geometry may have been kind of obvious to Gauss, but Gauss is a freaking genius. Even I don't deny this. I am here to proclaim his jerkitude, but I'm not idiot enough to say it cancels out his massive smart guy-ness. The second catch is that Gauss may have known this, but he never published it. He had made the decision that he didn't want to get into a pissing match with the ghost of Immanuel Kant, who was still a big damn deal in the world of German intellectual thought.

Let me conclude by saying that any list of great mathematicians that leaves off Gauss is clearly incomplete. But as I hear more stories from the great man's life, I become more and more convinced that I will never have a man crush on Gauss the way I love Lenny Euler.

That's just the way I roll.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Daily posts, right?

I had an idea for a post early today, but not enough time this morning. Now, with plenty of time in the afternoon, I find that the insightful essay I wanted to write was lacking a point.

Massive fail!

So instead, just to keep up the contractual obligation, I give you the noble rodent begging his cohorts to leave him behind in the valiant effort to save the group.

Tomorrow is another day, and I have a math post set up about Carl Friedrich Gauss, genius and jerk.

Can't miss material!

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Highlight Reel™: Best show for writer/producer J.J. Abrams

Time for another Highlight Reel™! This time it's J.J. Abrams, whose most famous works are the TV shows he created, Felicity, Alias, Lost and Fringe. He's also written some movies and produced others, but I'm going to leave off the latest Star Trek movie just because I feel like it and exclude Cloverfield because I'm feeling generous and don't want to get an aneurysm bringing out the big ugly stick on that movie a second time.

If my opinion were the only one that mattered, I'd call him the poor man's Joss Whedon, but his shows are more popular than Whedon's, so technically he's the rich man's Joss Whedon. It takes all kinds to make a world.

Voting will be open until next Monday morning. One vote per customer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Frank the Tank update, pre-season week two, and a new feature

Here are two words no man ever wants to see in the same sentence: groin injury.

Former Laney running back Frank The Tank Summers missed the Steelers second pre-season game with that combination of words I will not type a second time in one post.

Here's two more words a football player trying to get on a team never want to see typed in the same sentence: undrafted rookie.

Frank looked good on blocks in the first game, but the guy he was blocking for was undrafted rookie Isaac Redman, who scored two touchdowns in the first pre-season game. Redman's line in the second game was not as impressive, but at least he suited up.

Here's hoping Frank can bounce back for the game next Saturday against the Bills.

My nephew Adam has invited me to join a fantasy football league. The draft is this evening. This means I now can obsess over the stats of players I barely realized existed on teams I normally wouldn't watch on TV.

So, besides following the fate of Frank the Tank playing Reality Football throughout the season, you will also be regaled with tales of the exploits of the Mutant Mercenaries, a start-up franchise in the CantonBulldogs09 fantasy football league on Yahoo!

Because as everyone knows, I don't obsess over long lists of meaningless statistics nearly enough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A small Egyptian god

Yesterday, I was allowed into the presence of a small Egyptian god whose priests and supplicants have decided to address by the respectful name of Tiger. When I arrived, Tiger was waiting with godlike patience for an acolyte with the position humans call "cleaning woman" to construct the perfect altar at which a god can be worshiped and adored. This "cleaning woman", a cheerful human named Cindy, has an Egyptian god of her own, though none dare claim to be as majestic as Tiger, and so she understands the correct level of deference to be shown the divine who walk the earth.

As you can see, a perfect throne has majesty and symmetry. It can also double as a hidey hole, you know, just in case a god feels like retreating from the constant adulation of lesser beings.

Some lesser beings are very skilled at adulation, and a god will allow them in his presence. As we can see in this picture, Tiger is very petite for a god, which may be due to being only a few months on this physical plane. Tiger does not have the big head or eyes that gods have in that larval stage when humans call them "kittens", and it seems likely Tiger will never grow so large that he will be able to kill and devour humans as meals, as his name obviously implies. But only the most foolish of humans would mistake this lack in physical stature for a lack of divinity which must command respect and fealty.

I thank both Tiger and his head priest sfmike for allowing me to meet his worship. I apologize humbly for not turning off the flash on my new camera, as I sometimes forget to do. In the last picture, we can see that a god's eyes are truly as dark as the sky at night, instead of shining like the sun as they do in the first two pictures.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Random 10: 8/21/09

One Love/People Get Ready Bob Marley & The Wailers
Can Blue Men Sing The Whites? Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
Stardust Hoagy Carmichael
My Guy Mary Wells
You Don't Have To Say You Love Me Dusty Springfield
Such A Scream Tom Waits
Cigarette Ben Folds Five
Tramp Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
Stranger In The House Elvis Costello and George Jones
Come Away With Me Norah Jones

Ten for ten! First time since April. I cheated a little by putting in the version of Stranger In The House by Elvis and George Jones, but that was one of Mr. Costello's first great triumphs in show business, singing with his idol. Later on, Elvis would work with Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Annie Sophie Von Otter, Brian Eno and many more, but his venture into country music gave him his first chances at collaboration with established stars.

As a piano player, I like the Ben Folds song a lot, a simple little finger exercise with a hard to sing tune put on top of it. We close with Norah Jones, who for me is close to the pinnacle of adorability, with a lovely tune she wrote.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

A convincing but meaningless victory

There's no shortage of people on the right in this country saying stupid stuff right now. Repeating the death panel stuff, comparing Obama to Hitler, the birth certificate conspiracy theories, the list goes on and on, and so far there seems to be no price to be paid for voicing any opinion. The sole exception appears to be Glenn Beck.

Beck is an odd bird. Commentators left, right and center live on righteous indignation, but Beck gets weirdly emotional on camera. This isn't like Walter Cronkite choking up at the news of President Kennedy's death or giving out a little chuckle of boyish enthusiasm when we landed on the moon. Beck isn't that good an actor, and he usually gets worked up over dangers he merely imagines rather than major events in the real world.

Add to that the fact that Beck says things so stupid, even other people on Fox News sometimes take notice. He was with a panel of people when he said that Obama is a racist with a deep seated hatred of white people. Someone else on the panel noted how many of the people Obama works with that are white and moments later Beck was saying "I didn't mean Obama hates white people."

In other words, Beck was just having a bout of verbal diarrhea. Stupid stuff, but immediately recanted when another human being called him on it.

But that wasn't the end of it. Beck went home and thought about what he said, having a long conversation with the evil pixies inside his brain. On his radio show, he stood by the original statement.

Obama hates white people.

In effect, Beck said, "Yes, this is the shit that I shat, and I now stand proudly beside it."

James Rucker, founder of, who blogs at several websites including the Huffington Post, sprang into action. He started a petition that asked advertisers to stop putting their spots on Beck's show. This protest gained immediate success and the successes kept coming. Among the advertisers who decided not to air their ads during the time Beck is on Fox News include Ally Bank, a subsidiary of GMAC Financial Services, ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, RadioShack, Men’s Wearhouse, State Farm, Sargento, LexisNexis-owned, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, CVS, Best Buy, Travelocity, Broadview Security, Allergan, Re-Bath and Wal-Mart.

The thing is, this changes the bottom line at Fox News by the sum of zero. These companies still advertise on Fox News, they just air those ads during the twenty two hours every weekday when Glenn Beck's show isn't aired.

I am still convinced the real problem is the calls to violence from the media today, and the lion's share come from Fox News. We need to put pressure on advertisers to stop advertising on the channel and to publicize their split from the network. On MSNBC, Don Imus got removed from the air for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed ho's". What caused the real ruckus there was people who work at MSNBC who didn't want to be associated with crap like that, including Keith Olbermann among others according to some published reports. From what we can see, Fox News is filled from head to toe with whores who don't care with whom they are associated. The closest thing we have seen to a person with conscience on the air at Fox News is Shep Smith, and when he says anything different from the company line, the hate mail pours in.

I ask you once again to boycott Fox News advertisers and send them letters and e-mails letting them know why. I hope the rhetoric can be toned down before there are more dead bodies. Human nature being what it is, I get the sinking feeling more violence is inevitable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Adorable kitteh-ness levels... dangerously low!

For those of you who are not getting your minimum daily requirement of adorable kitteh-ness on the internets, click on the following link to see the newest arrival at the home of blog buddy sfmike.

Both sfmike and ¡Karlacita! have told me I should get a cat, and these pictures of domestic feline bliss are pushing me closer to a final decision.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 84: Pick's Theorem

Consider the Cartesian coordinate system, where we give every point on the plane a pair of numbers based on moving left or right from a point we arbitrarily designate the origin, the x coordinate, and then turning 90 degrees and moving up or down, the y coordinate. The points where both x and y are integer values are called lattice points. If you have graph paper, the lattice points would be where the grid lines intersect. In the picture on the left, the lines are left out and only the lattice points remain.

If I want to find the area of a polygon whose corners are all lattice points, one way to do it would be the slice the shape into triangles and find the each triangle area by means of determinants. A quicker way is as follows.

1. Count the number of lattice points on the interior, call that number I.
2. Count the number of lattice points on the perimeter, call that number P, and divide P by 2.
3. The area is I + P/2 - 1.

That's easy, yes?

In this example, there are 39 interior lattice points and 14 perimeter points, so the area is 39 + 14/2 - 1 = 45 square units. Any shape like this will either have a whole number for the area or a whole number plus one half.

I didn't find out about Pick's Theorem until I was a graduate student, but it's not a difficult idea or even that difficult to prove. It's just one of those things that doesn't fit perfectly into any class in the curriculum. It could find its way into a geometry course, but it hasn't yet at most schools.

Yay, Pick's Theorem!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blogger summit in Santa Rosa

Longtime blog buddy dguzman, whom I first encountered on the World Wide Web as a fellow commenter on Princess Sparkle Pony, recently moved to Northern California with her roommate Matty (no relation), so it was clear that a summit meeting had to follow. She lives up in Rohnert Park, which is close to where my sister ¡Karlacita! lives, so I drove up and the three of us had lunch together, though I ordered off the breakfast menu, just to be difficult.

We had lunch in Santa Rosa at the East West Restaurant, and a good time was had by all. Many were the topics of conversation, from the nuts and bolts of blogging to Joss Whedon to the state of higher edumacation to the nature of the sunlight of California.

Here is the Large Silverback Blogger, native to California, welcoming the more nomadic breed Blogista Dguzman to the sunny climes.

Do you see the profiles of ¡Karlacita! and dguzman, or do you see the silhouette of a vase? Careful, gentle reader, for the eyes can deceive!

While there were no spirits stronger than water with lemon slices were imbibed at the lunch, it may have been ¡Karlacita!'s natural whimsy or perhaps fumes from the denizens of the park across the street from the restaurant that caused the ghost of Hermione Gingold as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn to inhabit my sister for a few minutes, and she insisted that we take artistic pictures of an uplifting nature.

One grecian urn!

To see more pictures of this uplifting artistic style, visit Delia's blog, why don'tcha?

Thanks to both my lunchtime companions. I had a great time.

Everyday technology

My grandmother was born before the Wright Brothers took their first flight and she lived to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I've often used those milestones to give myself an idea of the speed of progress in the 20th Century. This weekend, I got to thinking not about the huge and miraculous technological advances of our era, but the everyday things we grew up with, many of which were unknown in our parents' time or even in the time of people just a few years older than we are. I asked several family members these three questions.

1. What technology do you remember being "always around" that wasn't around when your parents were kids?

2. What technology do you remember when it was introduced when you were a kid?

3. What not necessarily new technology do you remember seeing for the first time?


My father was born the year Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, so talkies were the standard by the time he knew what a movie was and silent films were shown in theaters only in "nostalgia" showings. The amazing yet everyday advances he remembers from his youth include Technicolor movies, automatic transmissions and power windows in cars, clothes dryers and air conditioning.

My older brother Michael remembers when the family did not have a television. He wasn't yet in kindergarten when we got our first, so my recollection that TV was "always around" is accurate. He also remembers riding in a car that had no seat beats and taking the ferry to Marin County before the construction of the San Rafael Bridge. He recalls that Grandpa Hubbard was the first person he knew that owned a microwave oven, and my dad's brother Uncle Bill owned both a Polaroid camera and a stereo record player before we did. His memory of the record player includes being forced to listen to Mitch Miller.

For me, TV is just a thing that was always there, but I do recall our first color set. I don't want it to seem like I spent all my time watching TV, but I also recall when we went from five TV stations on VHF to about ten or so with the new UHF receiver. I also recall stereo vs. mono record players and the Polaroid camera. While it wasn't new technology, I distinctly remember when the Goodyear blimp first came to town and how fascinating it was to watch something that big and that slow fly at such low altitude. I was a senior in high school when the first rich kid could afford a hand held calculator. It cost $350, ate up batteries like nobody's business and had about the same computing power as a calculator that costs about $5 now.

For my younger sister Karlacita!, color TV was always a part of her memory. She remembers the introduction of 8-track cassettes and videotape players. Her son was five when his father got him his first video game console, which Karlacita! considered a pointless extravagance.

Let me ask my readers the same three questions and invite them to put answers in the comments.

1. What technology do you remember being "always around" that wasn't around when your parents were kids?

2. What technology do you remember when it was introduced when you were a kid?

3. What not necessarily new technology do you remember seeing for the first time?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The hard-scrabble existence of My People, B.I. (Before Internets)

I've been thinking about technology this weekend, the stuff that was "always there" when we grew up and the stuff we remember when it was first introduced. I don't have any kids, but some of my nieces and nephews are parents, and their kids, two generations separated from me, and not going to remember a time when there weren't cell phones and there wasn't the internets. More than just the internet of bulletin boards and user groups, they are going to always know about Google, Facebook and YouTube. Even though those specific websites may fade away, something like them is going to be with us forever, barring some apocalyptic nightmare that throws us into the world of Mad Max or the Terminator.

Let us consider what life was like B.I. (Before Internets) for My People, the men and women who like the idea of giant women and/or shrunken men.

A lot.

It was a lonely existence. One of us might very well wonder if there was anyone else in the world that felt the way we felt. Finding images or stories was relatively rare, and movies or TV shows rarer still. In the era before videotape and DVDs, stories and images were superior to TV and films, because you could actually keep a collection of magazines and books.

I wrote a post about the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson about a year ago, with a few pictures from the turn of the 20th Century showing women in the stage of courtship as having the upper hand by portraying them as giantesses. My friend The Curator, one of My People who is about my age, has made some remarkable finds in old books and magazines published long before we were born. The photo above is from Vogue in 1948, celebrating the 75th birthday of Gibson's widow, who was also the original model for the Gibson Girl. Society women in New York were going to dress in costume and get their hair made up to look like Gibson Girls well after the fashion had changed. The woman with the hatpin is Mrs. William Paley, wife of the president of CBS and over her shoulder is Mrs. George Abbott, wife of the legendary Broadway icon and also known as the actress Mary Sinclair. On the left is Miss Wendy Burden and on the right is Mrs. Philip Isles.

The little guy begging for his life is not named. He's probably toast anyway, so the name isn't important. The photographer is the stalwart of Vogue from this era, Horst P. Horst, known simply as Horst.

This image has been around for as long as I've been alive, but I hadn't seen it until last week. Nowadays, it only takes one person to find something like this, scan it, put it up on the web and everybody can find it. The Curator does a great job of cataloging his finds over at the Giantess Shrine. His work isn't the complete list of all mentions of giantesses in the media, it never can be, but it's a good place to start any search for such stuff.

While I have often questioned the wisdom of being the semi-public face of My People and Our Agenda, keeping the smutty thotz down to a PG or maybe PG-13 level of explicitness so the blog stays Almost Suitable For Work, I have been rewarded with several blog buddies sharing images they have found that would interest My People, whether they have any inclinations in that regard or not. For example, Dr. Zaius put up a post with this picture from the back cover of a MAD Magazine from the late 1960's.

Technically, Dr. Zaius can't be one of My People since he is a super-intelligent ape from the future, but given his detailed knowledge of the career of starlet Joy Harmon, he may have some of My People's tendencies in latent form.

Also sharing an image of interest to the hearty band of weirdos I hang out with is the author of Cat In The Bag, a really nice photo blog I check out on a regular basis. Thanks to the human half of Zoey & Me for finding this and posting it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wealth inequality

Wealth inequality has always been with us. Sometimes it is pronounced and sometimes much less so. Right now, it's as bad as it has been in over one hundred years.

The top 10% of the richest people in the country control about 49.7% of the nation's wealth. This would mean that there are about 30,000,000 people in the top bracket who are on average about nine times richer than the the average person in the bottom 270,000,000.

But as Chris Rock puts it, there's rich and then there's wealthy. While the top 10% has about half the nation's wealth, the top 0.01% controls 6% of the wealth. That's 30,000 people out of 300,000,000 with about one dollar out of every sixteen in circulation. These ultra-rich people have on average over $1,000 for every dollar a person in the bottom 90% have. If we add in everybody who isn't in the top ten thousandth, the income discrepancy is still over $600 per super-rich person for every dollar controlled by people in the bottom 99.99%.

These are the people who are truly behind the lower tax policies of the Republicans, using "small business owners" as human shields for any attempt to raise taxes on the higher income brackets. Given the American belief that anyone can strike it rich, they will always be able to find useful idiots like Joe The Plumber who has never been able to sniff the higher income bracket, but still thinks he needs protection from any upper income tax hike.

Tax policies are only a small part of massive wealth re-distribution of the past twenty years. Deregulation has also been a big part of the money being squeezed out of the hands of working people and into the hands of the producers of products that the public is addicted to. Whether it's cable TV or gas or financial services or prescription drugs, industries can be sure their campaign contributions will get them a "fair hearing" from politicians on both sides of the aisle. The prices of these commodities far outstrip the Consumer Price Index, and much of the money in the hands of the 30,000 people sitting on one sixteenth of this great nation's wealth is due to them controlling not only the product, but the government who could regulate the commodity if it saw fit, though it rarely does.

Socialist is the favorite angry epithet fit for mixed company that the Republican "base" throws around at Obama. Seriously, they have no clue. Bernie Sanders is a Socialist. Dennis Kucinich, my congressperson Barbara Lee, maybe a few other Democrats could be fairly called socialists. Obama and his crowd are moderates. I'm not much on predicting, but I would be very surprised to see the wealth controlled by the top .01% of the people shrink down to the levels we saw in the 1980's. The game is way too complicated and way too rigged to be made fair by this crowd of appeasers to the interests who brought the financial system crashing down last year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Art and Commerce in Santa Barbara 1

[With apologies to SFMike of Civic Center for stealing his style of blogging for these two posts. It felt like the sort of thing he might do if he visited Santa Barbara, though he would have done it much, much better. Go to his blog and you'll see what I mean.]

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is located in a stately two-story building on State Street, the pricey shopping district in town. There are currently two shows running at the museum, the mis-titled Corot in California and the optimistically titled Brett Weston: Out of the Shadows.

The 19th Century landscape French landscape artist Corot never made it to California, but the show is instead a collection of several of his paintings that belong to museums from around the state.

Brett Weston is the son of Edward Weston, famous for photos of nudes and bell peppers. The elder Weston never made a living at photography, while his son did, but the judgment of history goes against the younger man. This is somewhat similar to the situation of Johann Sebastian Bach, an organist and choirmaster all his life, and his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel, who became a successful court musician and wrote God Save The King.

Sometimes history gets it right.

Santa Barbara's museum is small, but it has many lovely pieces from a variety of eras and locations. The Roman statuary here is on display near the entrance.

Much of the most famous works on display are from the 19th and 20th Century French artists such as Monet and Marc Chagall, whose work is seen here.

Much of the work that caught my eye was from modern artists I hadn't heard of before, including this 1943 work by the American artist Kay Sage entitled Second Song.

I also liked this disc of cast polyester by Fred Eversley, which is flat on one side and has what appears to be a parabolic indentation on the other. Besides the aesthetics of it, it reminded me of something Ken Rose told me about how the mirrors even bigger than Mt. Palomar's 200 inch mirror are cast in spinning kilns that naturally create an indentation to one side, which means less glass wasted in the process of making a perfectly smooth parabolic surface.

The second floor was reserved for the museum's collection of Asian art. The collection is much, much smaller than the sprawling Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, but there were some lovely pieces, including this colorful Tibetan sand painting.

I was very glad I visited and recommend it to anyone planning going to Santa Barbara in the future.

Art and Commerce In Santa Barbara 2

State Street in Santa Barbara is one of the major tourist destinations in the very pretty city, several blocks filled with restaurants and boutique shops. There are also small side alleys off the street where you can find... restaurants and boutique shops.

Sharp eyed readers may be able to detect a pattern.

[Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!]

State Street ends at the beach, and this dolphin statue stands at the front of a long pier also filled with restaurants and shops.

On the pier, there was a display of the twelve flags that have flown over parts of California during her history.

[Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!]

These include flags flown by Russian traders, Argentinian and English privateers, the Mexican Empire and the Republic of Mexico, and some pissed off white people who decided they didn't like Mexicans very much and started their own "Bear Republic".

Of course, we've progressed far beyond that sort of blind prejudice and such ignorant action born of fear and distrust could never happen now.

I want to thank Alan Ponder, my host in Santa Barbara, for taking time off work and showing me around his city once again for the second time in as many years. As with Ken Rose and his family down in San Diego, part of my pleasure of my brief vacations is the chance for a change of scenery, but much more of the enjoyment is the pleasure of their company.

Again, my thanks to my gracious hosts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Frank "The Tank" Summers update - pre-season week 1

A former student of mine, running back and special teams player Frank "The Tank" Summers, played his first game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in pre-season. I will have an update on Frank for as long as he stays with the Steelers, and I hope for his sake and the sake of his family that I will have as many updates as I have had Wednesday Math posts.

The line: 2 carries, 3 yards, no receptions

Not a good sign, but here's a quote from a rabid fan, ManOf Steel9423 on the Steelers' message board.

Frank Summers - He didn't have many opportunities to run the ball and didn't look overly impressive when he did, but did you see his lead blocks on the two Redman TDs?? He was also a maniac on the coverage unit...Carey Davis beware...

I didn't see the game myself, I'll try to get to a local sports bar at least for the second half of future Steelers pre-season games. When I saw Frank play against community college level competition, Frank liked to hit people, and people fall down go BOOM! when he does. Apparently, people at the professional level can also fall down go BOOM!

Best wishes, Frank. Some of us in the heart of Raider Nation are rooting for you.

Les Paul 1915-2009

Life is unfair. Some are richer and some poorer. Some are blessed with beauty and others, not so much.

And then there are the titanic talents, the people who do lots of things a whole lot better than the mere mortals that surround them.

That would describe Les Paul, who passed away on Thursday.

He is credited with inventing the solid body electric guitar. He made huge advancements in the field of sound recording, including overdubbing, multi-track recording, delay and phasing effects.

So okay, he's a cool nerd.

He was also just about the cleanest sounding electric guitarist ever. He and his wife Mary Ford cut huge hit records more than fifty years ago. Here's Les and Mary being interviewed by Alistair Cooke, I assume on the show Omnibus, and then playing their great hit, How High The Moon.

Thank the gods for creating the titans, and thank the titans who share the secrets of fire and mathematics and music and physics with the rest of us, titans like Prometheus and Les Paul.

Rest in peace, Mr. Paul. You will always be a wonder of the world.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Please boycott Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal trashing the health care plan now working its way through Congress.

This, of course, is his perfect right. When you are an old hippie turned multi-millionaire, you often decide that libertarianism is just peachy keen. Nolan Bushnell, the old reprobate that started Atari with other people's money and other people's talent, thought free love, legalized pot and tax cuts on the highest income levels were the best things in life.

Mr. Mackey thinks the real way to improve America's health is eating naturally grown foods that are lower in fat. The kind you can buy at Whole Foods Market, provided you can get a second mortgage on your home, and good luck with that in this housing market.

He can say what he wants. You can buy where you want. I recommend you buy your healthy produce at other stores or at farmer's markets or anywhere that doesn't put cash into the pocket of the Ayn Rand loving grease weasel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 83: Gray codes

If you have two on-off switches, there are four possible configurations.

on on
on off
off on
off off

To save on typing, mathematicians will often use two symbols to represent on and off, usually 1 for on and 0 for off, like so.


Is there a 'natural' order for the list of configurations? It depends on what the configurations represent. If we consider the two symbols an alphabet, we could put the configurations in 'alphabetical' order. Since the 'alphabets' used often don't resemble what most people consider to be the alphabet, the phrase used is lexicological order. If we say 0 comes before 1, the lexicological order would be as follows.


Another way to think of the patterns is to go back to the idea of switches. Let's see if we can make every pattern with the rule that successive patterns in our order only differ by a single switch, either a 1 becoming a 0 or vice versa. The changed switches in each pattern will be in bold and red, and we will start with 00, which means both switches off.


This order for the patterns is called a Gray code, named for the Bell Labs engineer Frank Gray who got the patent for the concept back in 1947. He is not the very first person to come up with the idea. The Frenchman Émile Baudot used this idea in regards to telegraphy and received the Medal of the Legion of Honor for it in 1878.

If this just worked for patterns with two switches, the idea wouldn't be very valuable, but no matter how many on/off switches you have, you can make a Gray code that will go through every possible configuration. Instead of solving the puzzle over and over again, we can build a Gray code for three switches by using the Gray code for two switches.

Step 1: Take the Gray code for n switches (in this case n = 2) and write it down forwards, then make a second copy in reverse order. (Note: a Gray code in reverse order is still a Gray code, as just one switch will be changed.) The second half will be in red.


Step 2: Put a 0 behind the first half patterns and a 1 behind the second half patterns. The places where the switch has been made will be marked in bold and red.


Notice that the last pattern in the list, 001, is just one switch away from 000, the first pattern in the list. Gray codes "wrap around", which means that you can start from any pattern of switches and use the methods of Gray code construction to cycle through all the patterns.

While the uses in telegraphy are now somewhat obsolete, Gray codes are used in computer science as the way to orient switches when constructing Karnaugh maps, a fun little puzzle that helps to optimize the construction of computer circuits. Both Gray codes and Karnaugh maps are topics in a class called discrete math, a survey course of topics useful in computer science that don't fall into the curriculum that culminates with calculus, linear algebra and differential equations, which was the math that all the "hard sciences" used before computer science came along.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The indoor critters of the Rose household.

I spent the past few days enjoying the hospitality of the Rose family, my longtime friends Ken and Mishell and their kids, Coral, Nick and Nate. I'm just getting used to photoblogging, so I'm graduating from buildings to animals, and will eventually get to taking pictures of people. (I took pictures of people at the wedding under the influence of alcohol, so that doesn't quite count.)

The eldest of teh Rose kittehs, the dark and mysterious Brain, spends his time away from the others, watching, plotting, sharing his secret plans with his only true friend, the green kitteh toy.

And then there is Bug, a regal beast. What kind of people would give such a lovely creature a disrespectful name?

Bug loves affection, or at least the concept of affection. Here, Bug was lying on the bed in the guest room, demanding acknowledgement from the interloping guest. After a few scratches behind the ear, Bug moved away from the affection. Both parties held their ground, but when the visitor got closer to continue the petting, Bug bolted from the room.

He bugged. Hence the name.

The slightly cross-eyed Siamese is T.J., short for Toejam. T.J. will roll over by standing up and falling backward, at which time he will expect a display of affection for this trick I've never seen any other cat perform.

The very pretty redhead is the youngster Houdini a.k.a. Dini. Dini has a purr like a tribble. At first I thought he might have some tribble DNA in his background, but my latest hypothesis is that he's just a skilled impressionist.~

Dini is getting older, but he is still assumed to be prime suspect if any evidence of feline mischief is found.~

So unfair. Or is it?

Coral's boyfriend brought over a wobbly two day old lamb to the house as a visitor. Much was the oohing and awwing over the little one by the human contingent of the Rose household. Houdini took on this attitude that seemed to ask, "That's like a wildebeest, right? I'm supposed to hunt this guy, yeah?"~

No injuries were reported.~

Thanks again to all the Roses for their hospitality during my stay.

Heroic engineering

About 30 miles northeast of the seaside town of Carlsbad, the peak of Mount Palomar rises a mile above sea level. For California, this is a long distance between the first coastal mountains and the sea, and the local plant life of scrub and chaparral is accustomed to a dry climate. While the land to the west is San Diego County, home of some of the best weather in the world, the mountains take for themselves the last of the ocean moisture, and to the east lies the start of the great desert of the southwest.
Mount Palomar is most famous for the Mount Palomar Observatory, a privately held temple of science that is affiliated with the California Institute of Technology, known usually as Caltech, situated many miles north in Pasadena.

The observatory was built between the wars, in an age of heroic engineering. Taller buildings, longer bridges, bigger versions of everything, including telescopes, were goals that seemed natural to attain, and often were taken to the limits of the knowledge and techniques of the engineers of the day. George Hale is given credit as the father of the great observatories of southern California, both Palomar and Mount Wilson, and he gets the singular honor of having the telescope itself named after him, the mighty and magnificent Hale Telescope with its 200 inch mirror, at the time the largest in the world.

The huge structure must be mobile to allow the telescope to point to anywhere in the sky, and these clean metal wheels behind glass are as large as the steel wheels on locomotives.

There were several illustrations with captions that explained the workings of the machine.

And then there was the machine itself, both massive and precise. My digital camera, programmed to recognize faces, mistook the astronomer's cage at the top of the telescope for the face of a giant robot.

We arrived just a few minutes late for the guided tour, which you can see here up on the catwalk that circumnavigates the dome. The guide was talking about the most recent controversy that made it to the public's attention, the re-categorization of Pluto from a planet to a planetoid.

There are more telescopes on the peak of Palomar that just the Hale. In 2003, the 48 inch Samuel Oschin telescope was instrumental in discovering Sedna, a planetoid about half the size of Pluto and currently about twice as far away from the sun. All things that orbit the sun have elliptical paths, but Sedna's is much more severely elliptical that any planet's orbit. It takes about ten and a half millennia to complete an orbit, and it is currently very close to its perihelion, the closest point from the sun that the orbit achieves, and even that is far outside the orbit of Neptune, the most distant of the true planets.

During the construction of the observatory, the 200 inch mirror was one of the last things put in place. The engineers needed something roughly the size and shape of the mirror to put in the mechanism to make sure it could be moved around and aimed properly, so they had this massive round slab of concrete made to be the stand-in for the mirror.
Two full grown men stood on the concrete slab to give an idea of scale. The young fellow on the right is Nick Rose, son of Ken and Mishell Rose, my gracious hosts on the first leg of my Southland vacation this year. The fellow on the left says he has something to do with this blog, but no independent verification of his claim could be found.