Monday, November 30, 2009

The Jackals Of The Press.

The most fun not-really-news story of the weekend is Tiger Woods' car accident outside his home at 2:30 in the morning where his wife "saved" him, getting him out of the car by breaking a window in the back of the Escalade with a 9-iron. The family has issued a public story, sort of, but is a little hesitant to talk to the cops. The alternate story, which has the advantage of being plausible, is that Tiger and his hot blooded Scandinavian wife got into a knock-down drag-out over the story that Tiger has a mistress, reported in the National Enquirer.

If you see a tabloid up near the checkout stand at the supermarket these days, it is owned by American Media Inc. or AMI for short. There was a time when the Star was owned by Rupert Murdoch and was a competitor of the Enquirer. That day is done, as they are now both owned by AMI and Murdoch is out of the supermarket tabloid game in the United States, though he still owns the Sun in the U.K. The famously outlandish Weekly World News was also published by AMI, though it is now only available online. (No link offered.)

The National Enquirer is the flagship publication of this pile of dreck, and over the past decade they can point to some major scoops. They were the first to report on Rush Limbaugh's drug addiction and buying mass quantities of Oxycontin from several different doctors. They got the story right about John Edwards' mistress and love child, just in case you might think they had a one-sided political agenda. Earlier this year, the Enquirer had a headline that Michael Jackson had six months to live. As you can see from the headlines above, the Globe and the Examiner have gone after both Bush and Obama, and Sarah Palin was the Enquirer's cover girl for many weeks during the campaign. About the only thing all the magazines agree about is they don't like Brad and Angelina very much.

Back in the day, the tabloids were not trustworthy. Carol Burnett won a huge settlement from the Enquirer back in the 1980s and their reputation, if any, was badly tarnished. Since then, they have been more careful, but they are still getting stuff wrong. They openly admit to paying sources, a practice widespread in the U.K. which is frowned on by the "reputable" press in the U.S. AMI has been sued several times this decade, several cases getting settled out of court after the proceedings are dragged out as long as the publishers can afford. Most notably in recent years, they had to apologize for slurs against Elizabeth Smart's family and a case brought by the wife of former congressman Gary Condit was settled out of court.

And then there's their record with the "brave last days" alerts, as we used to call them when I was a regular over at alt.obituaries. They were right about Michael Jackson and Patrick Swayze, and of course, eventually they will be right about anyone they say is going to die. But currently, according to the tabloids, both Cher and Oprah have less than three years to live, so be sure to mark your calendars. They often make similar proclamations about anyone who is too fat, like Kirstie Alley, or anyone who is too thin, like Callista Flockhart. The queen of Brave Last Days alerts is Elizabeth Taylor, who has been at death's door more often than the Yankees have won World Series. Rumors persist to this day that she won her first Oscar for the run-of-the-mill potboiler Butterfield 8 because of a sympathy vote due to her poor health at the time being possibly fatal, and that was in 1961.

I don't actually read the tabloids. I have a rule that I'm allowed to look as closely as I want to the covers, but if ink actually gets on my hands, I am unclean and must perform ritual ablutions. I don't know if Tiger Woods is having sex with some big breasted skank from New York City, I just know what has been reported secondhand from the original reports in the Enquirer. The Enquirer and her sister publications can point to some solid scoops in the past decade, but that's only because the rest of the press doesn't show you the multiple steaming piles of crap they got wrong over the same period of time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sweet, Sweet '70s, Part 2: The Rock.

Some people dismiss the 1970s music scene as being inferior to the 1960s. After all, by December 1970, the Beatles had broken up and Jimi Hendrix was dead. Some bands from the 1960s kept going, like the Stones and the Who, but it wasn't the same vibe. Trying to re-invent themselves, a requirement for any act that wanted to be taken seriously after the Beatles, many 1960s acts became very pretentious indeed. It definitely wasn't the Summer of Love anymore, and the drugs were doing they always do, changing people, usually for the worse.

But the 1970s saw several new artists and genres emerge in rock, and I list ten songs here that are either important or my personal favorites or both.

Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin
The first track off the second Led Zeppelin album has the same lyrics as You Need Lovin', written by the greatest songwriter in blues, Willie Dixon. Dixon had to sue to get royalties. But really, this isn't the Beach Boys ripping off Chuck Berry or Pat Boone covering Little Richard. This is the start of the success of a whole new sound, which at the beginning was called hard rock and became known later as heavy metal. The lyrics are the same, but Jimmy Page on guitar has a sound all his own, and Robert Plant isn't just a belter, he can scream on key. The Who had already paved the way for a trio of musicians and a dynamic front man, but Zep went someplace else with it, and their impact is hard to overstate.

Joe The Lion David Bowie
Madonna is given credit with reinventing herself by changing her look every few years. David Bowie beat her to that act by about a decade, and Bowie has the advantage of being one of the best songwriters in pop music over the last fifty years, a claim no one seriously makes about Madge. Whether he was supposed to be Alladin Sane or Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke, Bowie put out some amazing albums in the 1970s, some that are so familiar, they sound like greatest hits albums today.

St. Elmo's Fire Brian Eno
I'm not in love with progressive rock, but I do love Brian Eno. As an artist, he always produces challenging stuff, and he's done some fantastic works as a producer for Talking Heads and U2, among others. Like several of the artists on this list, I wouldn't have heard Eno's work except that Padre Mickey first turned me onto it.

The Needle And The Damage Done Neil Young
I knew about these next three artists before I met the good Padre. I put them together on the list here because they are all great songwriters with less than perfect voices and honestly, not exactly matinee idol looks. I'm not sure any of them would have caught a break in the music business if they broke on the scene in the past twenty years.

Political Science Randy Newman
Of these three, a young Randy Newman might dropped into the 1990s might get a shot in the music business due to family connections. Three of his uncles were film score composers, and so are a couple cousins and a nephew. His early career is almost like a Los Angeles version of the Brill Building writers. He tried and failed as a performer, he wrote a lot of songs other artists recorded and then got a second shot as a performer. He's still one of my favorite songwriters.

Romeo Is Bleeding Tom Waits
Of this particular triumvirate of scruffiness, Our Tom is the scruffiest. For my money, he's also the best songwriter, and that's saying something, because Neil and Randy are not slouches. Waits spent the 1970's trying to bring back a beatnik hipster cool and by his own admission, drinking far too much. This is near the end of the decade and his first great re-invention, the album Swordfishtrombones is still a few years off. Still, I loved Tom through thick and thin.

Blitzkrieg Bop The Ramones
So we have a guitar trio with a dynamic front man. It's just another Led Zeppelin or Who, right?

Oh, hell no.

The Ramones turned rock and roll upside down, and not a minute too soon. They were loud, the music was fast, there was almost no change from one song to the next in terms of tempo or dynamics. Some wag said the Ramones took three chord music back to its one and a half chord roots. But this is where punk rock starts, and without punk, rock would have swirled down a self-indulgent drain a long time ago.

Pretty Vacant The Sex Pistols
The Ramones went to the U.K. and the guys in the audiences got the point. There are a boatload of stories about bands listening to the Ramones having a revelation, and the Pistols are the same. Acts as diverse and non-threatening as Level 42 and Huey Lewis & The News said they got the idea to be rock stars watching the Sex Pistols. You didn't have to play like Jimmy Page or scream on key like Robert Plant or even dress up funny like David Bowie to get on stage and do this.

Police And Thieves The Clash
The Clash called themselves The Only Band That Matters back in the day, and for the self-importance of that statement entails, they had a point. They could bring the energy like the Ramones or the Pistols, but they showed a little more musicianship and had a strong political point of view. Most punk bands were doing their own material almost exclusively early on, but the Clash covered this reggae tune by Junior Murvin, and also took a shot at I Fought The Law. They wrote great rockers and strong anthems, and they borrowed successfully from reggae and rap. Sadly, like with the Ramones, drugs took their toll on the band, but they leave behind an amazing legacy.

Watching the Detectives Elvis Costello
I leave my favorite to the last. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Elvis said he wrote Watching The Detectives after listening to The Clash's first album for most of a weekend back when he was still a wannabe. He said he hated the album at first, but after several listenings he got into it, and when it was over, he had this song. This is not his band the Attractions behind him, but it is the first time he works with keyboard artist Steve Nieve.

One of my favorite stories about Watching The Detectives comes from an interviewer asking Elvis about several rumors that swirled around his career. One rumor was that Stevie Wonder had settled out of court after it was found he ripped off Watching The Detectives in his 1980 song Master Blaster. The One True Living Elvis laughed and said it wasn't true. "If any of Bob Marley's living relatives want to sue both of us, I think they've got a pretty good case."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Sweet, Sweet '70s, Part 1: The Funk.

At Thanksgiving, we were playing Apples 2 Apples, the party game where people choose nouns that should match an adjective the judge randomly selects. When I was judge the first time, the word was sweet, and among the nouns I had to choose from was "The 1970s". It was among the final nouns I was thinking of choosing, when one of the other players said, "The 70s weren't sweet. The 60s were sweet."

Allow me to retort.

Music in the 1970s underwent several interesting revolutions. One of the problems was that music was heading off in so many directions that you couldn't hear nearly everything just listening to one radio station the way you could in the 1960s, and some great artists weren't getting much radio play at all. But there was amazing stuff going on, even if young people weren't in 100% agreement about it.

This first set of ten songs explores the directions soul music took in the decade, both the smooth and the rough.

Let's Get It On Marvin Gaye
The Motown business model of a band of singers backed by unnamed musicians and songwriters who weren't performing artists was not working as well in the 1970s. Fortunately for the label, they had two superstars who wrote their own tunes and had their careers expand in the new decade, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. While Marvin famously got political in some songs, sometimes you have to sing about the sweet, sweet love, and no one did it like Marvin Gaye.

I Want You Back The Jackson Five
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Very few bands in history had as good a debut single as I Want You Back. This song is a throwback to the Motown 1960s style, where the band is just singers, the true musicians are hidden and the songwriters nearly anonymous. But when that first hook hits on the bassline, none of that matters. I Want You Back is as great a pop song as has ever been recorded.

For The Love Of Money The O'Jays
The Motown business model of offstage stars wasn't dead yet, and in the 1970s the greatest off-stage stars were Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the songwriting and production team behind the stars at Philadelphia International Records, known by most as just The Philly Soul sound. Whether it was The O'Jays or Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes or Billy Paul, it was Gamble and Huff behind the scenes, and they had the magic touch.

Get Up Offa That Thing James Brown
Okay, here is someone who is not behind the scenes. Mr. James Brown was first tabbed by producers back in the 1950s as the next Jackie Wilson, but he didn't have anything like Wilson's vocal range. What he did have was excitement and talent and revolutionary ways of tearing the music down and building it back up again. Listen as he calls out K.C. and the Sunshine Band and The Ohio Players in this song. They were hitmakers, but they were not the Godfather, and they never would be.

That would be Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, the man who brought you Get Up Offa That Thing... Mr. James Brown.

Come And Get Your Love Redbone
Redbone is a local nickname for people with both Chicano and Native American heritage and the band Redbone was formed by two brothers of that ethnicity, Patrick and Lolly Vasquez. This was their only Top Ten hit, but their name will live forever.

The World Is A Ghetto War
This is a brilliant slow groove, with wonderful harmonies and dynamics, but it hits hard with the central message.

Don't you know, that it's true
That for me and for you
The World Is A Ghetto.

Time Tough Toots & the Maytals
By the 1970s, the funk had traveled around the world and was coming back to America in new forms, including reggae. Bob Marley was the great ambassador, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Toots Hibbert and his band the Maytals, and this simple groove.

The Hustle Van McCoy
Disco gets a bad rap for a lot of the silliness of the 1970s, but tell me that bass and drums aren't doing their jobs?

Lady Marmalade LaBelle
And when you say bad things about disco, aren't you saying bad things about Miss Patti LaBelle?

You know you shouldn't do that, because you know it's wrong.

You know you shouldn't do it because I will hunt you down and find you.

Say nothing bad about Miss Patti.

Tell Me Something Good Chaka Khan and Rufus
There are many Khans through history. There's Genghis and Kublai. There's Nusrat Fateh Ali. Back in the middle of the 20th Century, the best squash player in the world had the last name Khan for a few generations.

Then there's Chaka Khan, who bestrides all Khans like the mighty colossus she is.

The Khans are a proud people and they might not accept this judgment.

What she's
What she's got
What she's got will
What she's got will knock
What she's got will knock your
What she's got will knock your PRIDE
What she's got will knock your pride aside.

Tomorrow: The Sweet, Sweet '70s rock out.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Last month, I was in San Francisco on an errand, getting a favor from blog buddy Mike Strickland of Civic Center, and after we took care of the errand we went to a nice little restaurant for lunch. We were talking about this and that, and I brought up that I was going watch some early episodes of Kojak just to see how they held up. Mike recommended that if I wanted to watch an old TV series, I should try the first season of Combat! I was a little surprised at the recommendation, but in the first season, nearly one third of the episodes were directed by Robert Altman, so I put the discs on my Netflix list and soon enough they began arriving in the mail.

Combat! is not a well-remembered show for many. Some people my age or even older do not recall it, and because it was only sporadically shown in re-runs, friends younger than I am aren't even aware of its existence. It aired on ABC in the early 1960's, when that was the third most important network out of three. The show lasted five seasons and had 156 episodes.

The person most connected to the show in people's minds is Vic Morrow, who played Sgt. Saunders. Morrow's first screen role was in The Blackboard Jungle, the 1950's movie about juvenile delinquents. After that, he did a lot of movie and TV work, and Combat! was his next big break.

Not to be cruel to the rest of the cast, but Morrow really does stand out. As Robert Altman put it, "Vic gave great exhaust." His character's main two emotions were haunted and dead tired. Of all the rest of the cast, the only guy for me who is really believable as a front line infantryman is Dick Peabody as Pvt. Littlejohn.

Sadly, Vic Morrow is best remembered today for dying on the set of The Twilight Zone Movie, killed in a scene when a helicopter crashed. Another piece of trivia I didn't know about Morrow until doing the research for this post is that he is the father of Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Rick Jason was the other star of the show, playing Lt. Hanley. In an unusual move, the credits each week were different. Sometimes it said "Starring Rick Jason and Vic Morrow" and other times it was "Starring Vic Morrow and Rick Jason". While Morrow was by no means ugly, Rick Jason was the kind of tall, dark and handsome actor who often gets stuck in soap operas. There are shows where Lt. Hanley gets a special assignment away from the rest of the cast, and not all these special assignments are particularly believable. Jason did as well as he could with the material, but in general, the episodes that focus on Hanley aren't as good as the ones that focus on Saunders.

For a trivia buff like me, a lot of the fun is in the guest stars and bit players that show up, people you know from movies and other TV shows. In the first season, there were single episode appearances by Keenan Wynn and Tab Hunter, while there were uncredited actors who actually got lines like Walter Koenig and Tom Skerritt. Altman hired his buddy Ted Knight to play German soldiers in several episodes because Knight actually spoke some German.

The biggest surprise for me was that in the first season, comedian Shecky Greene was a semi-regular, playing the goldbrick Braddock. The episode that guest starred Wynn and featured Koenig and Skerritt was actually a showcase for Shecky Greene.

Altman was fired at the end of the first season for making an episode the network considered too bleak. Shecky quit because he couldn't afford the hobby of a network TV show when he was pulling down $150,000 a week in Vegas.

I'm enjoying the first season of Combat! The shows are pretty well written, the Altman episodes always have a few camera shots that are much better than you would expect on a network TV show and there are often guest stars and cameos you might recall from 1960's shows that are better remembered now, like The Twilight Zone or Star Trek. If your Netflix list is getting low, give the first season of Combat! a try.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Being thankful.

For a lot of people, this is going to be a scaled back Thanksgiving, and likely a scaled back holiday season in general. Counting your blessings may be a shorter list than it was a year or two ago. But here's one thing I'm thankful for.

For the first time this century, the clown with the fake turkey who liked to dress up like a soldier is not the President of the United States, and that is a very good thing.

I'm also thankful I'm not Barack Obama. He's got the hardest job in the world even under normal circumstances, and these aren't normal circumstances. He came into office with a major financial crash and two wars that aren't going to be "won" by any traditional definition of that word. People are either whining about what he's doing or whining about what he's not doing, and he doesn't have a cheering section the way George W. Bush had Fox News and the idiot end of the conservative wing of the party.

That said, some of the greatest presidents got dealt the worst hands when they stepped into office. Lincoln's election was the last straw that started the Civil War, but the seeds of it had been growing for decades. F.D.R. came into office with The Great Depression already underway, and he really didn't solve it until World War II began. Truman had the end of the war to deal with, though it was nearly over and we were the only ones with The Bomb, Eisenhower had to fix the mess in Korea. On the minus side, both L.B.J.'s and Nixon's legacies are marred by the eventual bad end to Vietnam, a war that was already underway when they took their respective oaths of office, though L.B.J. gets plenty of the blame for turning it into a major fiasco.

Best wishes to all my friends and family this holiday, and to all my readers out their in blogland. Here's hoping for a great long weekend and better days ahead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 98: Patterns in the prime numbers

You may recall from a long ago math class that a prime is a positive whole number greater than 1 that can only be evenly divided by itself and 1. In older math books, 1 was listed as a prime, but at some time in the 20th Century it was decided that 1 was a special case and it was called a unit and would be separate from the primes. This means 2 is the smallest prime number and the only even prime number, since every other even number is divisible by 2.

If we divide an odd number by 4, the remainder will either be 1 or 3. This means any odd number must either be of the form 4k+1 or 4k+3. Here are the starts of the two lists on the positive side.

4k+1 = {1, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37, ...}
4k+3 = {3, 7, 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, 31, 35, 39, ...}

Any prime number bigger than 2 has to be in one of these two lists. The early primes on the two lists are marked in bold and red. There has been a proof that there are infinitely many primes since the time of Euclid. It's a more recent proof that there are infinitely many primes in each of our subcategories 4k+1 and 4k+3.

The primes show up somewhat randomly. There are long stretches of consecutive numbers that contain no primes and there are also many instances of two consecutive odd numbers both being prime, like 29 and 31 or 41 and 43. These pairs are called twin primes. It is still unknown if there are infinitely many pairs of twin primes.

Here's an unusual fact about the primes of the form 4k+1. All of them can be written as the sum of two perfect squares. Here are some early examples.

5 = 4+1 = 2^2 + 1^2
13 = 9+4 = 3^2 + 2^2
17 = 16+1 = 4^2 + 1^2
29 = 25+4 = 5^2 + 2^2

Notice that this isn't true for any old number of the form 4k+1. 21 is not the sum of two perfect squares, while 25, which isn't prime, is 3^2 + 4^2 = 9 + 16. So it's hit and miss if the number isn't prime, but it works every time with the 4k+1 primes. Fermat made the statement of the theorem back in the 1600's, but gave no proof. The first proof written down in the 1700's was by My Favorite Lenny, Leonhard Euler. It's just crazy how many things in math were first done by Euler. His proof was complicated and some simpler proofs, or at least shorter ones, have been proved since.

Next week: Something we don't know about the primes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy trails, Carl!

You may have already heard through less reliable news sources that Carl Kasell, the newsreader on Morning Edition for the past thirty years, has decided to retire from that job. Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do has done the legwork, and these preliminary reports are in fact true.

Mr. Kasell is now 75 years old and has earned his rest.

Answering the next most important question, Carl is NOT retiring from his job as announcer on Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me. When that happens, it's a sign of the apocalypse.

Stay tuned for further details.

And, oh, by the way, Mr. Kasell... all us faceless listeners out in radioland love you and wish you the best.

Coming soon to a theater near you.

This Sunday, I went out to see Pirate Radio with a gaggle of family and friends. The movie itself was light and entertaining (more on that later this week), but two of the most memorable moments of the afternoon were two very different movie trailers.

A documentary from France called Babies is scheduled to be released early next year. While I have no idea how good the whole film will be, the coming attraction was absolutely amazing. It's like a high end nature documentary, but instead of pointing the camera at penguins or meerkats or sharks, the camera is aimed at four babies from around the world and the camera just rolls. In the trailer, there was no voiceover and minimal musical cues. You just watch one of four babies doing what babies do. From what I've read online, the trailer premiered during showings of Where The Wild Things Are and made a huge splash. Director Thomas Balmès finished this film in 2008 and it took a while for him to get a worldwide distribution deal, but this has a real chance to be the sleeper indie movie hit of 2010.

If the ninety minute version has an emotional pull as strong as the three minute trailer, it will trigger maternal instincts in anyone who watches it.

This movie could make Chuck Norris lactate.

So what does an audience who just spent three minutes oohing and ahhing at babies want to see next? How about the bleakest post-apocalyptic nightmare ever?

Also showing on Sunday afternoon was the trailer for The Road, a film based on the book by Cormac McCarthy and starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall. Several actors from HBO series are also featured, including Molly Parker and Garret Dillahunt from Deadwood and Michael K. Williams from The Wire. There is a lot of buzz about this movie and the release was timed for Oscar consideration.

The film answers the question, just how bad will the post-apocalyptic world be? Will it be like The Road Warrior or A Boy And His Dog or The Day After? The answer is no, it won't be nearly as cheerful or upbeat as those movies.

After watching this three minutes of hopeless violence and senseless cruelty, I turned to my friend Jodi and said, "Yeah, there going to be showing this as a double bill with Babies."*

*More in the first comment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fantasy football update - week 11

I'll admit it. Mistakes were made. By people who I know personally.

Technically, by people who live in my one room apartment, if you want to get picky.

Nearly every decision I made this week was wrong. With the exception of Jacoby Jones, a player I benched who actually got zero points, anyone I had on my bench would have been an improvement on any person I put in the game. Right now, my two no-brainers are QB Tom Brady and RB Thomas Jones. Past the Two Toms, it's a bunch of coin tosses and I got them all wrong.

And, oh yeah, the Mutant Mercenaries still won by a comfortable margin. This is what happens when you play the worst team in the league.

This week was a bellwether for my blood relatives. For the first time this season in the eleventh week, my brother and my nephew and I all won our games. Yay! My brother whipped his future daughter-in-law and my nephew won in the last two minutes of the last game of the week due to a strong performance from running back Chris Johnson in the closest game of the week, with the second best team in the league beating the third best.

Yay, blood relatives! Yay, me!

I am currently in the final playoff spot, and the teams that trail are at least one game behind with only two games left. If I win both games, I'm in. Anything else and my fate is very uncertain.

Ooh, exciting!

False alarms and close shaves.

The process of assigning classes for the next semester is almost at an end. With the shrinking budget, the people with tenure and on tenure track get first dibs, and those of us who are adjuncts get to fight for the scraps. When the assignments first came out, I was given one 5 unit class. The cut-off for getting a deal on health insurance is 6 units. I went into squeaky wheel mode, and was rewarded with another 3 unit class, bringing my total to 8. It's not perfect, it doesn't cover my expenses, but it's a start, and given the budget mess, it's as good as I can expect.

I got my official assignment letter in the mail on Saturday. One 3 unit class. I sent off an e-mail to the department chair asking if the 5 unit class promised to me had been canceled or given to someone else. I got an e-mail reply early Monday morning that this was a clerical error and I'm supposed to teach 8 units this next term, barring either of my classes not having enough enrollment.

So I dodged a bullet and nothing worse happened to me than spending a Sunday in a foul mood, but others are in the position of just 3 units or just 5 units next term. If, like me, they don't have any work at another school, they seriously have to look at the option of going on unemployment instead. At 3 units, I would be making about $200 a week before taxes. I can double that on unemployment, so even at 5 units, weighing the option of unemployment instead of employment would still be in effect. I'm not sure the penny wise and pound foolish Republicans realize that all these teachers on the public payroll that are being squeezed out will still be cashing checks from the state without the state getting any work out of them.

I can agree with the wisdom of a super majority to pass a budget bill, but a two-thirds super majority is insane. If something isn't done to bring it down to 55% or so, California will remain ungovernable for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Random 10+1, 11/22/09

China Girl David Bowie
Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy Glen Hansard
Your Mind Is On Vacation Mose Allison
Family Snapshot Peter Gabriel
My Freeze Ray Neil Patrick Harris
Chi Vuol La Zingarella (Paisiello) Cecilia Bartoli
Ain't Misbehavin' Fats Waller
Get On The Good Foot James Brown
Three Little Maids From School Are We Shirley Henderson, Dorothy Atkinson and Cathy Sara
Your Good Thing (Is About To End) Mable John
Special bonus track and video:
Walking the Dog Rufus Thomas

Okay, this is random! Also, it's a little weird to get Family Snapshot from Peter Gabriel on a November 22, but there you are and that's why this is the picture I included. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is still running through my head months after I first heard it, and so I'm happy NPH shows up to sing the first song. (The sub-title for my blog is a lyric from So They Say, the song that opens the third act.) And this list is all over the place. David Bowie, Mose Allison, Cecilia Bartoli, Fats Waller, James Brown and Gilbert and Sullivan. Where else do you get a Random 10 like this?

I'll tell you, hypothetical question asker. No place else.

It was a little disappointing that Mable John's version of Your Good Thing (Is About To End) wasn't up on The You Tubes, so I went for one song more and PAYDIRT! The Rufus Thomas video is so stunning, I embedded it instead of making you click on it to go The You Tubes. Nobody but Rufus Thomas could possibly wear that outfit. It's amazing!

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New post at The Smirking Chimp, 11/21/09

I've put up a new post over at The Smirking Chimp about the poll this week that said 52% of Republicans believe that ACORN stole the election for Barack Obama. My point is not "Jeez, Republicans are stupid and paranoid", but instead "Jeez, this company uses incredibly bad polling techniques." It would be nice if it started a conversation about the news media's use of unreliable polls.

There's a job I could do. Mathematical ombudsman for a news organization. I wonder if there are any takers.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Why are people fat? People are fat because they take in more calories than they need for their particular activity level and metabolism. There's more to eating than just calories, but as a professor of mine used to say, for a gross oversimplification, at least it's correct on the basic facts.

Americans are getting fatter. Much, much fatter. The Center for Disease Control has a color-coded time series of maps of the U.S. showing the percentage of people in the state who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30, which is the official cut-off point for obesity, for the years 1985 to 2008. I present a few snapshots of the bad news here.

1988: Here we are 20 years ago. There are a lot of states that don't even bother to report this data back then. Are they embarrassed? More likely, they aren't convinced it's a serious problem.

The fattest states around have between 10% and 14% of their citizens reported as obese, and that list includes California. There are a bunch of states where the obesity rate is under 10%, including very populous states like Texas and New York. Even if we just consider this data from the states that reported, it's hard mathematically to get a national rate we can state with confidence. The maximum probably couldn't be higher than 12%, and it might even be 10% or less, depending on how skinny the skinniest states are.

1994: This is the first year when every state reported the numbers to the CDC, though it might be that Rhode Island didn't report. The story has changed significantly. Now, "the skinny states" have between 10% to 14% obesity rates, and the fat states are between 15% to 19%. In the six years since the last map was drawn, nearly every state got noticeably fatter, most especially Texas, which went from one of the skinniest to one of the fattest. States like California and Florida stayed relatively stable in the 10% to 14% range, but no state got significantly skinnier in that six year span.

2008: Jump ahead 14 years, and everything has gone to hell. Colorado stands alone as the skinniest state in the union, having an obesity rate between 15% and 19%. Back in 1994, that was the rate for the fattest states. A huge swath of the center of the country is now between 25% to 29% and some Southern states and West Virginia are over 30%. The CDC gives the percentages for each state to the nearest tenth of a percent on their website, and using a weighted average, we can say with some confidence that 26.1% of Americans are currently obese.

What the hell happened in 20 years? Being fat is certainly a matter of personal responsibility. The food industry would like you to believe that personal responsibility is the beginning and end of the story. For a gross over-simplification, it is at least correct on the basic facts. Let's look at the two main parts of the problem, not enough exercise and too many calories, and see if we can spot what made the huge difference of doubling the obesity rate in the span of just twenty years.

Too little exercise: What's the big difference between 1988 to 2008?

Are Americans working too hard? Not that much harder than they were working in 1988.

Is it TV? In 1988, TV had already been wasting people's time for at least three decades. Cable TV may have made it a little more effective of a time waster, but it can't account for the huge change.

Videogames? This is a more likely culprit. Videogames in 1988 were still pretty much aimed at kids, now a lot more adults play them than back in the day. The technological improvement from the Nintendo to the modern systems is much greater that the technological change in television over the same span.

The Internet? Bingo. In 1988, the Internet is still DARPAnet for all intents and purposes. Today it is a time vampire that rivals TV and videogames combined.

(By the way, gentle reader, you are not currently wasting time. You are reading my informative and entertaining blog. Obviously, anyone can see the difference.)

Too much food: Why are we taking in too many calories? Why is it so much worse in the space of 20 years?

There are several trends in the American lifestyle that can account for this. There are a lot more families that rely on two paychecks, and there are a lot more people like me who live alone. Without someone staying at home, finding the time to cook meals from scratch is getting harder and harder, and the American food industry has come to the rescue, in the form of fast food and microwaveable food and convenient snacks that don't have to be cooked at all. In terms of vital nutrients, these convenient foods are generally lacking. In terms of calories per dollar, they are an incredible bargain.

A lot of this bargain is because of government policies of subsidizing certain sectors of the food industry, most especially corn. This excess of corn becomes feed for animals who don't normally eat corn, like cattle and even fish raised in factory farm conditions, and these animals become fatter, partly from diet and partly from lack of exercise, not unlike teh Americans that will eventually eat them. Corn is also turned into high fructose syrup, which is added to the vast majority of convenient foods.

Humans are biologically hard-wired to like the tastes of fat, sugar and salt. In nature, these were not the easiest foods to get. In the modern world, it's a snap to get any of these, sometimes all three in a convenient package that give you a lot of calories for your shopping dollar. For one specific example, I was looking to see if there was a somewhat healthy food that could give you as many calories for the same cost as a Snickers bar. Because of a particular bargain at Trader Joe's, the 19 cent bananas, four bananas is very close to the same calories per dollar as a Snickers bar.

Of course, eating four bananas at a single sitting is an act of gluttony, while eating a single Snickers bar is a tasty treat, because Snickers Really Satisfies™. Though, if it satisfies, why are they packaging a new gigantic size Snickers bar often available near the checkout stand? Shouldn't more of something that "satisfies" be technically too much?

(Going in the opposite direction, Mars puts the little Snickers and Milky Way bars that you give out at Halloween into bags and calls then "fun sized". As my friend Jodi once said picking up one of the tiny little things, "Where's the fun in that?")

In terms of the cost of food stuffs, the American food industry is delivering a bargain, and if time is money, they are giving us great savings there as well. But if we add in the hidden costs of what the American diet is doing to the health of the nation, it becomes clear that what they are doing is not out of the goodness of their hearts, and all these bargains really aren't any favor at all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ken Ober, Dead or Canadian?

As of Sunday, dead.

Ken was the host of the late 1980s game show Remote Control. More recently, he has been a producer of shows including Mind of Mencia and The New Adventures of Old Christine. According to his agent, he was showing flu symptoms on Saturday, but the cause of death has not been established. He was 52.

Among his co-stars on Remote Control were Denis Leary and Colin Quinn, both of whom are inexplicably still alive.

Best wishes to his family and friends, from a fan.

Making the crazy people of Oakland just a little bit crazier.

Living in the Bay Area, I've seen outdoor advertising in languages other than English for several decades. When you think about billboards and signs on buses and the like, what are they? A simple to understand picture, a sentence and a half of text at the most, and a product. What's to understand?

For my gentle readers who do not read Spanish, lemme 'splain the ad above.

Beer = Breasts = Watching Sports.

If anyone really needed that help to understand this ad, I have to say that a career in advanced semiotics is probably not in the cards.

On the other hand, we have this ad, which I have seen at several BART stations and on bus stops, with text in Chinese except for the (B) in the middle of the screen. I don't read Chinese and there aren't any English translations of it posted in non-Asian neighborhoods. More than that, the image is vague and intentionally disturbing.

On the billboards, but not in this version found on the web, there is a URL that explains it. It's an ad from Bristol Myers Squibb recommending that people get tested for Chronic Hepatitis B, also known as CHB, a disease very rare in the United States but endemic in China. The ads target recent immigrants who may have limited English skills. There's no need to warn Americans yet, but since it is transmittable by bodily fluids and the main source of human trafficking in this part of the country is whores from Asia, there may come a time when the rest of us will need to know about this disease as well.

In the Lake Merritt neighborhood of Oakland, the ad is also targeting crazy people who don't read Chinese. The Lake Merritt BART station is a hangout for street people, and I have seen several of the regulars have animated conversations with the oblivious Chinese guy or the sneaky snake or maybe both.

To the person who designed this ad, congratulations! You wanted to make a disturbing image and you succeeded. But it's also disturbing the already disturbed, and those of us who live in the neighborhood really didn't need that, thanks all the same.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 97: The Birthday Problem

Let's say you have a classroom with 30 people. What is the probability that at least two people in that group share a birthday? On first glance, most people will think the answer is somewhere around 30/365, or about 1 chance in 12, an unlikely occurrence. The real probability is about 73% that there will be a birthday in common and only 27% that everyone will have a unique birthday. The probability of a birthday in common is a 50-50 proposition if the classroom has only 23 people.

Some books call this The Birthday Paradox, but that's an incorrect use of the word. In math, a paradox is a logical conundrum where false implies true and vice versa, the kind of thing Jim Kirk used to use to blow up computers. This is just a counterintuitive result, which is a different kettle of fish.

When I teach this material, I always start with "I will bet anyone a nickel that there are at least two people in the room that share a birthday." I ask if there are any takers. If there are, I say "Never bet with a math teacher in a situation like this. The probability will always be against you."

Figuring out the probability of "at least two people share a birthday" is tricky if you want to do it directly. It could be exactly two people with the same birthday, or it could be two pairs of people sharing two separate days or three people on the same day or any of many other combinations. The complementary event is "no one shares a birthday". This is a much more easily defined and computed. The technique is to find the probability of no one sharing, then subtract that number from 1 to get the probability of at least two sharing.

If the group has only one person, it is impossible to get two people to share a birthday. Any day of the 365 choices will work perfectly well. (I always ask if there was anyone born on February 29, just to be on the safe side. I don't think I've had anybody answer yes to that question yet.) If there are two people, then the second person can be born on any of 364 days that will not match the birthday of the first person. As we add people, each person added has a slightly lower chance of being unique and a slightly higher chance of matching one of the people already in the group. The probability of no matches in a group of k people is the fraction

365/365 * 364/365 * 363/365 * ... * (366 - k)/365

On a scientific calculator, there will be a choice in the Probability menu named nPr. The easier way to write this problem is

nPr(365, k)/365^k

(Note: different calculators write the nPr function in different ways. A TI-89 writes it with parentheses. Other Texas Instruments calculators will input this function as 365 nPr k.)

One of the challenges with probability is that though a probability is always going to be a number between 0 and 1, we often get a very large number being divided by an even larger number to get a probability and some calculators will give you an error when you input the formula. A TI-83 will balk at the formula when k = 40. Excel will stop giving an answer when k = 121. The mighty TI-89, on the other hand, will give an answer even when k = 365.

The easiest way to get around this overflow problem is to use the spreadsheet to create the fractions 365/365, 364/365, 363/365, etc. then multiply all these together. That way, neither the numerator or the denominator gets too big for program.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another milestone.

Back in late September, I put up a post where I remarked that the blog was "on pace" to get the 200,000th visitor of all time before Halloween and the 100,000th visitor in 2009 before Thanksgiving. Both of those predictions came true, the second one this morning.

Granted, 200,000 visitors in two and a half years isn't nearly as impressive as Dr. Zaius getting his millionth (!) visitor last month, but I'll take my milestones where and when I can get them, thanks very much.

Visitor 100,000 this year was from Houston, Texas, and given his Google proclivities, I assume he is one of My People. He was looking for "Gulliver's Travels Giantess". Though I post this a little late, here is a picture of Ted Danson and Kate Maberly from the the 1996 TV mini-series version of Gulliver's Travels.

The next movies of interest to My People and Our Agenda will be coming out next year, Tim Burton's version of Alice In Wonderland with an Alice who is a young woman instead of a little girl, and a comedy version of Gulliver's Travels starring Jack Black.

Fantasy football update - Week 10

A good week for the Mutant Mercenaries, but a bad week for my blood relatives. The computer predicted a close game between my nephew and me, where he should have won by .01 points. But his team underperformed and mine overperformed, and the Mercenaries won 217.20-181.46. This completes the rock-paper-scissors trilogy in the family, where Adam beat Michael who beat me, but I beat Adam. The Mercenaries are at 5-5 and still holding on to the last position in the playoffs by a small tiebreaker amount. Adam's team, KennyPowersIsGod, is at 6-4 and currently in fifth place in the league.

My brother Michael lost the closest game of the week, 194.48-190.42, bringing his record to 3-7. Even if his team wins all three games remaining, he will need a lot of other stuff to happen for him to make the playoffs. Adam's fiance Liz lost for the first time, bringing her record to 9-1, tied for first place and assured a spot in the playoffs.

My opponent next week is the only team without a win, the 0-10 Bradshaw's Hairline. While the computer predicts a comfortable win for the Mercenaries, nothing can be taken for granted. To stay in the playoff hunt, we need at least two out of three wins in the last three weeks, and sweeping the last three games would make the chances much better.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It's not fair to say young people are stupid, but a lot of young people are blissfully unaware of the concept of consequences. This has been true since the dawn of time, but now in the modern age, anyone paying any attention at all can see what scandals do to people's reputations.

Actually, maybe that's the problem. Britney Spears still gets to make records and videos. Lindsay Lohan is still making movies. Paris Hilton is still... doing whatever it is that makes people want to pay attention to Paris Hilton. Maybe there aren't any consequences.

Into this murky morass, enter Carrie Prejean, Christian martyr. She became "famous" when she voiced her opposition to gay marriage at the Miss USA pageant. So she was in a pissing match with bitchy gay gossip diva Perez Hilton, yet another counter-example to the idea of consequences ending careers, and she would have the high ground of upholding morality.

Any hack writer knows how this will end, right?

Of course nude pictures showed up. How could they not? But this is the 21st Century, and still photography is so 1983. Now, there are sex tapes, stuff she sent to a previous boyfriend. She tried to get them stopped by saying she was 17 when she made them. The boyfriend says she was 20, so that ploy didn't work. In her defense, she does not have any partners in the sex tape. But even though the wrapper she is holding is obviously for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, that not what she's got in there, and that leads to the trouble.

Sarah Palin does not have the luxury of saying she was young and stupid and suffering through a youthful indiscretion. She wrote her book Going Rogue - An American Life at the age of 44, or to be more precise, she worked with a ghost writer, with Palin saying what she wanted to say and the writer turning it into at least partially understandable prose.

She doesn't seem to understand that the act of going rogue is not a good thing. It's completely expected that she would state her political beliefs, trash those who disagree with her and gloss over her failures and claim that some of them are actually victories, largest among those being the pipeline that is still just a plan. The less expected parts of the book are the attacks on the McCain staffers, the people who by her account got her into all the trouble she experienced during the campaign.

Palin seems as blissfully unaware of the facts of life as a young woman half her age. She may not have to work with Steve Schmidt ever again, but she's going to have to work with somebody like him if she ever plans to have a political career. She may have a point that she was mishandled, but it's time to realize the buck stops with her. Dukakis looked like an idiot riding around in the tank, but he didn't throw the organizer of that photo-op under the tank publicly. Sometimes you have to show some character and take responsibility for your own mistakes. McCain has done so, not even willing to state the obvious that Palin on the ticket helped energize the base and helped to lose the election.

Moving on to a third example of consequences, this time in the world of sports. One of the great things about sports is that trying to spin a loss into a win is close to impossible, and often, the person responsible for a close loss is easy for the world to see.

Last night, the New England Patriots were doing everything right in a road game against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. The Pats were ahead 31-14 in the 4th quarter, and even with a major surge, the score was still 34-28 when the Colts scored with 2:23 left on the clock and they had to give the ball back to the Patriots.

The Pats didn't get a first down. These things happen. It was 4th and 2 on the 28 yard line with a little more than two minutes, and any coach with a lick of sense would simply punt, forcing the Colts to score a touchdown on a field about 70 yards long with time running out.

The set of coaches with a lick of sense obviously does not include Patriots' coach Bill Belichick. He went for it on 4th and 2 and came up short. The Colts got the ball back and scored easily, and when they were done there was no time for the Pats to come back.

So here's the thing. Carrie Prejean lost her crown. Sarah Palin lost the vice presidency. Bill Belichick's team lost a close game last night that they could have won. Only in the world of sports is there no one defending a person who obviously doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!
Yay, Myanmar!

I previously listed Myanmar among the regimes too repressive to let their citizens wander around the net and find an odd site like this, a list that still includes Cuba and North Korea. The visitor appears to be from a government Internet service provider in Rangoon.

Does anyone know the penalty for goofing off on the job in Myanmar? Is it death or just a public flogging?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Random 10, 11/15/09

So They Say Ensemble
99 Problems Jay-Z
When You're Mind's Made Up Glenn Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Raspberry Beret Prince
Breaking Us In Two Joe Jackson
Rockin' In The Free World Neil Young
The Worst Pies In London Angela Lansbury
Bluebird Buffalo Springfield
September Gurls Big Star
Town Called Malice The Jam

The Random 10 started out on my Purchased list instead of the regular list, so we start with a song from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, then to Jay-Z and then to a song from Once. After three shots from the 21st Century, we go back to the standard iTunes list from an old person.

Nice to hear from The Jam and Joe Jackson. Neil Young shows up twice, though the Buffalo Springfield song is written and sung by Stephen Stills. Rockin' In The Free World is recorded more than twenty years after Neil started in the business, and that raggedy old bastid can still rock it. Angela Lansbury shows up as a major change-up from the rock stuff, but that isn't always bad, is it?

The only way I went ten for ten on The You Tubes is by finding a version of Raspberry Beret that Prince's record company hasn't scrubbed away. It's two girls in their kitchen dancing like goofballs while the song plays. It sounds like someone is also watching TV in the living room. I think it's pretty cute.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Three good cops.

I've been watching old TV shows on Netflix and Hulu. It's enjoyable on several levels. I like to see how well the shows hold up, it's interesting to see how much slower paced the plots were back in the day, and it's always fun when you recognize some guest star. One show I have been re-watching from the beginning is Kojak. I wanted to see when it sank into self-parody (pretty early), but I also wanted to see if it was still fun to watch, and it is. For example, the guest star on the first episode is Harvey Keitel before he hit it big. David Proval, who later plays a very scary hood on The Sopranos, plays a cop who gets shot.

Watching Kojak got me on a compare and contrast kick with what came before it and what came after.

Sgt. Joe Friday. The signature role of Jack Webb's career, Dragnet's great realistic touch was showing police work as mundane and painstaking. Friday is diligent, he is honest, he follows the chain of command, he is the complete opposite of trigger happy. We know next to nothing about his personal life, except that he sometimes socializes with his partner, Bill Gannon. There are work shows and there are shows about personal lives, and Dragnet is all about the work.

Of course, while police work often is mundane and painstaking, Dragnet was also an officially sanctioned propaganda tool of the Los Angeles Police Department, which has been home to its share of trigger happy and dishonest cops since before my dad was born. Dragnet did bear some resemblance to the lives of most detectives, but it also didn't mention even the possibility of bad apples on the force, let alone a rotten chain of command.

Lt. Theo Kojak. As a series, Kojak does not try to be realistic. The most real touches are that the squad room is dingy and Kojak's car is a beat up, rust colored sedan, and that sometimes, there are stories about bad cops. Much like Jack Webb and Friday, Telly Savalas and Kojak are linked forever, so much so that people might forget how often Savalas played violent criminals or hotheads earlier in his career.

Kojak is cool and dapper. He's a good cop, because dammit, he cares! He's a man's man, he's a ladies man, he's the smartest guy in the room. He isn't Sherlock Holmes, who was pretty much a one man forensics lab before the invention of the forensics lab. Kojak has hunches and his hunches are always right.

Possibly the biggest contrast between Joe Friday and Theo Kojak is their relationship with the chain of command. Friday is a firm believer in the chain of command. Kojak believes in the chain of command going down, but going up... not so much. He gets orders and ignores them. The situation is so bad that the scenes with his captain, played by Dan Frazer, seem more like stuff written for a hen-pecked husband and domineering wife or an ineffective father of a stubborn child.

On the other hand, the chain of command going down, in Kojak's N.Y.P.D., being a lieutenant is not a desk job like it is for lieutenants on Law & Order. He's always up in everybody's business. The detectives under him can't go to the bathroom without his say so. He's out interviewing, he's the first on the scene after the beat cop, he's on stakeouts and breaks in on the bad guys, guns blazing when necessary.

Det. Jimmy McNulty. It's not fair to compare The Wire to other TV shows, but here goes anyway. Like Kojak, a lot of the cops on the show get to be the smartest guy in the room sometimes. McNulty is first in line here, because he is the first cop to realize that it's the Avon Barksdale crew that is dropping the most bodies and controlling the most territory, which is the impetus for the first season of the show. He's not dapper like Kojak and his partner Bunk is, but Bunk's relationship with the chain of command is not a complete train wreck. This is the main reason I'm going to compare McNulty to Kojak.

In so many ways, McNulty is the reality of what would happen to Theo Kojak. Being a man's man means he's a drunk. As a ladies' man, he is forever unfaithful to the women in his life. McNulty tries to be cool, but he has two boys at home. He mentions the Ramones and they roll their eyes at him like he's a dinosaur.

The smartest guy in the room can be a serious irritant to the second smartest guy in the room, or sometimes McNulty is the second smartest guy and just doesn't realize it. As for McNulty caring about the job, he is told more than once "That was your first mistake, Jimmy. You gave a fuck when it wasn't your turn."

But it's McNulty's complete lack of respect for the chain of command upwards that makes him most like Kojak, and in reality, a guy who can't be trusted to follow orders would not get a chance to climb the ladder, no matter how many commendations or how good his clearance rate was. In anything like the real world, there would be no Lt. Kojak. He'd be stuck at detective, and if got a little too smart and bucked the chain of command too obviously, he might end up riding the boat like Jimmy did.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Losing patience with The Huffington Post

I browse the left-leaning Internet newspaper The Huffington Post every day. Usually, I just scan the headlines, but the headline writers often get the story very wrong. Here are two examples from the past few days.

One headline read Secret Service Motorcade Kills Pedestrian. What actually happened was cars being driven by the Secret Service killed someone, but not while they were in a motorcade. The cars are assigned to the group protecting Joe Biden, but Biden was not being escorted anywhere when it happened.

The accident happened at 3 a.m. This raises several interesting questions.

1. Does the Secret Service often drive around at 3 a.m., and if so, what are they doing?
2. What is a pedestrian doing at 3 a.m.? I don't want to sound like I'm blaming the victim here, especially since I am both an early riser and I travel either by foot or by bicycle when I'm not on a commuter train. But even given all those facts, if I'm up at 3 a.m., I'm almost never a pedestrian at that hour.

A second headline screw-up made it sound like the New York 23 special election for the House seat was on the verge of being overturned. In fact, a standard has shrunk Bill Owens lead over Doug Hoffman from about 5,000 votes to about 3,000 with some absentee ballots yet to be counted. The number of absentee ballots was first reported as 10,000, but now that's down to about 5,600, and many were cast before Dede Scozzafava puller out of the race. Hoffman would have to win those votes in a major landslide, and even Hoffman's spokesman Rob Ryan is quoted as saying, "It's not something I would place a bet on."

I don't want to wish anyone with a job ill will in this economy, but I'd be very happy to see the person currently writing headlines at The Huffington Post replaced with someone competent.

Sending out a CQ to two of My People

Two folks on my blog buddy list are collage makers who specialize in work of interest to Our People, insidiously advancing Our Agenda with art. It's been a while since I've heard from either of them.

Trinket last published a collage in early October.

Undersquid's last collage was in early July, celebrating Canada Day.

(Note: Neither of these collages is the most recent work of either artist, just good representative samples of their work.)

Anybody out there? Are you receiving transmissions?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grumpy old guy finds something else to whine about

I don't like Thursday Night Football. I'll admit, I'm not a crazy obsessed fan, so I'm not the target market. But as a grumpy old traditionalist, I think Thursday pro football should mean Thanksgiving Day football, which means the Lions are at home and the Cowboys are at home and no other game after that. Now, there are three Turkey Day games, the last one aired on the NFL Network.


I'd like to say the game is unfair to the players, but there isn't a hell of a lot of "fair" in football. When regular Thursday night games were added to the schedule a few years back, there were complaints by sportswriters of lackluster games, but last year, a lot of the Thursday games were high scoring and close, like 34-30 or 34-31. I don't know if this was because of quality offensive play or shoddy defensive play, because I almost never watch Thursday Night Football.

Thursday Night Football is shown on the NFL Network. Last time I checked, it was a premium channel. While I like watching pro football and I enjoy seeing highlights of games recently played, there is nothing I dislike more than listening to people yap about games that haven't been played yet.

As Johnny Unitas used to say, "Talk is cheap. Let's play football."

(Unitas reference used to show my credentials as a grumpy old guy.)

If a local team is playing and the game isn't blacked out because of poor ticket sales, some local channel will carry the game. UHF Channel 44, which is Cable Channel 12 on most cable boxes in the Bay Area, will be carrying the 49ers-Bears game tonight. I will see some of the game because La Estrellita, a local bar and grill, is having a board game night tonight and they will be showing the game on TV as well.

So let's review, shall we? Thursday Night Football is unfair exploitation of workers so that an otherwise useless premium cable channel can have 24 hours of watchable original programming IN AN ENTIRE YEAR. That's right, there are eight games on the NFL Network in a season, and the rest is just meaningless yapping.

And in conclusion, let me quote my fellow Grumpy Old Guy Padre Mickey and say, "All you kids get the hell off my lawn!"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 96: repeating patterns in decimals

Nowadays, people tend to like decimals more than fractions, largely because calculators give answers in decimals. Each system has its advantages. If two numbers are in decimal form, it's very easy to tell which one is bigger. That isn't always the case for numbers in fractional form. The advantages of fractional form are precision and compactness.

The difference between rational numbers and irrational numbers in decimal form is that eventually, a rational number will repeat some finite pattern of digits over and over forever. In standard math notation, we put a line over the repeated part, but that's hard to do in the editor for Blogger, so instead, I'm going to write the repeated part in red. For the fraction 1/2, the repeated part is a zero, so usually, we just write .5, but it's also correct to write .50 or .500 or even .50, with an infinite number of zeros after the 5. The repeated pattern is one digit long.

If we have a fraction, can we know how long the repeated pattern will be? Let's look at the fractions 1/2 to 1/13.

1/2 = .50
1/3 = .3
1/4 = .250
1/5 = .20
1/6 = .16
1/7 = .142857
1/8 = .1250
1/9 = .1
1/10 = .10
1/11 = .09
1/12 = .083
1/13 = .076923

As we can see, the repeated decimal pattern is only one digit long for many of these fractions, except for 1/7, 1/11 and 1/13. As you might guess, the thing 7, 11 and 13 have in common is that they are prime.

This question delves into number theory, and it was Carl Friedrich Gauss, genius and jerk, who figured out the basics. If p is a prime number, then 1/p will have a repeating pattern of length at most p-1. If the pattern isn't as long as possible, the pattern length will have to divide p-1.

Let's report on the primes on the list.

2: 2-1 = 1. The length of the repeating pattern has to be 1.
3: 3-1 = 2. The length of the repeating pattern has to be 1 or 2. In base 10, the length is 1.
5: 5-1 = 4. The length of the repeating pattern has to be 1 or 2 or 4. In base 10, the length is 1.
7: 7-1 = 6. The length of the repeating pattern has to be 1 or 2 or 3 or 6. In base 10, the length is 6.
11: 11-1 = 10. The length of the repeating pattern has to be 1 or 2 or 5 or 10. In base 10, the length is 2.
13: 13-1 = 12. The length of the repeating pattern has to be of length 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 12. In base 10, the length is 6.

Some primes have the longest pattern possible. The pattern for 1/17 repeats every 16 digits.

1/17 = .0588235294117647

Some are remarkably tidy. 1/37, which could have a pattern 36 digits long, has a pattern that repeats in 3 digits.

1/37 = .027

On the other hand 1/1369, where 1369 = 37*37, has a pattern that is 3*37 = 111 digits long. I'm not printing that one out, if it's all the same to you.

If we dealt in bases other than base 10, the digit representations change and so do their lengths, but not the rules about primes and the length of the pattern for 1/p having a length that divides p-1.

Having called Gauss a jerk a few months back, I want to re-iterate that he is clearly a genius first and a jerk second.