Friday, April 30, 2010

Random 10, 4/30/10

I'm Old Fashioned Judy Garland
Old Fashioned Girl Matthew Hubbard
Once In A Lifetime Talking Heads
Down On The Riverbed Los Lobos
Delirious Prince
A Message To You Rudy The Specials
Fell On Black Days Soundgarden
Rock The Casbah The Clash
Your Racist Friend They Might Be Giants
Bald Head Professor Longhair

After an unexpected visit from Judy Garland, the 1980s take over my iTunes. To be technical, there are some songs from the late 1970s and the early 1990s, but the list doesn't stray that far from the time period. Even the Professor Longhair song is from his last album, released in 1980.

I think of the 1960s as being old fashioned, the 1980s not so much. But when my students show they don't really know what an Atari 2600 was and confuse it with the first Nintendo machine, it's time for me to figure out the 1980s are now officially a long time ago.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not the head termite in charge.

I'm working for the 2010 Census. Yes, I'm one of those people who is figuring out which re-education camp you will be sent to when the Islamic Communist takeover of this beloved land of ours is complete.

Okay. Just kidding. The Census is a little sensitive about those sorts of jokes.

I'm sworn to secrecy about a lot of the work. I am allowed to say that I signed an agreement that for a few years, I will not work as a consultant for any party in any trade negotiations with a foreign government.

So, there's another employment page on Craigslist I can avoid.

I'm working in an office as a clerk. Almost everybody there is a temp and I don't even know who exactly in the office has seniority. I know who is above me on the org chart, and I have an idea of who knows what's going on, but the orders change on a regular basis.

I feel like I'm in a nest of social insects, like ants or bees or termites. I am given a task and I'm put someplace with other workers doing the same task. I check to see what they are doing and I do my best to blend in and get the job done. But if their training was incomplete and they aren't dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's they should, I will also blissfully do only part of the assignment and feel like I'm being productive, only to find out a little while later... not so much.

This is a completely different experience from teaching for me. If a department chair asks me to teach a class I've never taught before, I know exactly what to do. I get a syllabus, a check out the assigned textbook, try to find a few other texts to compare and contrast, maybe talk to some other professors about their experiences with the material, and by the time the class starts, I'm ready to go.

As an office worker, I resign myself to the situation that I am not the head termite in charge. I will do what I am asked to do and spot trouble when it I see it and send out the alarm as best I can. I may not know where we are going, but I can look at what other termite colonies have done in the past and take some comfort in the idea that somehow, the job gets done.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 117: Binary trees, part 2: Data structures

Teaching graph theory is nice because you can always draw a picture. A simple example can be drawn on the board and you can go through it step by step and for most students, the ideas sink in.

Teaching graph theory is useful because it is a way to set up problems that computers can solve, so it helps to have an understanding of how the information of a graph will be represented in a computer.

Computers allow programmers to create arrays. An array is a list of data. As the programmer, I can type in "int Tree[100];", and the computer sets aside 100 memory locations of type "int" in a row that are called Tree[0], Tree[1], Tree[2], ... up to Tree[99]. Computers and programmers are used to the idea of starting counting at zero instead of one, but the data structure for a binary tree is easiest if we ignore Tree[0] and start the root of the tree at Tree[1]. We then have the next level, the children of Tree[1] at Tree[2] and Tree[3], the children of tree[2] are at Tree[4] and Tree[5], the children of Tree[3] at Tree[6] and Tree[7], and on and on. This makes for a simple way in computers to find the children of a node and the parent of a node.

Take the position of a node on the list and multiply that number by two to get the left child, and add one more to the left child number to get the right child. For example, the children of Tree[25] are at Tree[50] and Tree[51].

Take the position of a node and divide by two to get the parent position. If the number is odd, ignore the ½ and just use the whole number that remains. (Note: because I asked for "int" memory locations, the computer is forced to ignore the ½ when dividing, so that makes life easy in this particular instance.)

The parent of Tree[51] is Tree[25]. The parent of Tree[25] is Tree[12], whose parent is Tree[6], whose parent is Tree[3], whose parent is the root node Tree[1].

Let's look at the trees from last week and see how a computer would store the information. Whenever we get a node that that has no children, the location on the list should have a number that shows it is empty. On factor trees, we never use the number 0 as a factor, so 0 will be the number we use to show a position is empty.
Tree on the left:
Tree[1] = 300
Tree[2] = 30 || Tree[3] = 10
Tree[4] = 5 || Tree[5] = 6 || Tree[6] = 5 || Tree[7] = 2
Tree[8] = 0 || Tree[9] = 0 || Tree[10] = 3 || Tree[11] = 2 || Tree[12] = 0 ...

Tree on the right:
Tree[1] = 300
Tree[2] = 150 || Tree[3] = 2
Tree[4] = 15 || Tree[5] = 10 || Tree[6] = 0 || Tree[7] = 0
Tree[8] = 3 || Tree[9] = 5 || Tree[10] = 5 || Tree[11] = 2 || Tree[12] = 0 ...

The ellipsis in both lists indicates that all the entries are 0 for the entire rest of the list.

I know this will make sense to anyone who has programmed a computer. I'm not as sure if it makes sense to folks who have never done that task, which can be both enjoyable and frustrating. If you are in that second group, drop a note to tell me how much sense this makes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Documentary Tuesday:
My Kid Could Paint That

Here is the second in my series of reviews of little seen documentaries, Amir Bar-Lev's My Kid Could Paint That. The film follows the story of young Marla Olmstead, who begins painting at the age of 4 and quickly becomes a success, with her paintings selling for a total of well over $300,000. (The film, in contrast, made only $231,574 when in theaters according to Box Office Mojo.) She is profiled on 60 Minutes II and a child psychologist is brought in to look at the art and of film showing Marla working. The psychologist is very skeptical that Marla painted all the work attributed to her and the film becomes a mystery looking into the possibility that Marla's parents perpetrated a fraud. The documentary does not come to a definitive conclusion on the topic, but the conflict makes the story more compelling and the emotions of the people involved often say more than their words.

I highly recommend My Kid Could Paint That as a look not only into the art world but into the human heart, which is not always as pretty and innocent as a clever four year old's paintings.

Franklin Mieuli 1920-2010

Franklin Mieuli, the San Jose native who became a fixture in Bay Area sports, died this week at the age of 89. Mieuli is best known as the owner of the San Francisco Warriors, who later became the Golden State Warriors when they moved to Oakland. He is pictured here in the center, sitting between coach Al Attles and his best player, Rick Barry. The Warriors have only won one N.B.A. title since moving here from Philadelphia back in the 1960s, and Rick Barry is the only player on that 1974-75 roster who has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Mieuli was known as an eccentric, fond of his loud slacks and his deerstalker cap. He told a story on himself of having the steering wheel of a car fall off and driving from San Jose to San Francisco using a pair of pliers to steer. He made the decision to trade away Wilt Chamberlain from the Warriors line-up because he felt the San Francisco fan base never warmed to the superstar. He was enamored of Barry when the young star was still in college, and made drafting Barry a prime directive. Mieuli was heartbroken when the upstart A.B.A. stole his budding superstar from him, though Barry returned to the Warriors after a few of the A.B.A. teams were merged into the N.B.A. in the early 1970s. While there are many stories of his odd behavior to be told, it was beloved Bay Area sportscaster Hank Greenwald who said of him, "There is no one in this world who puts more effort into being underestimated."

The New York Times thought enough of Mr. Mieuli to print his obituary. The Associated Press did not think him worthy. Shame on the Associated Press.

Best wishes to the friends and family of Franklin Mieuli, from a fan.

Apartheid in the 48th and 51st states.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. People on both the left and right in this country overuse the Nazis as the prime example of evil government. Sometimes its a comparison to the policies of the National Socialists and sometimes a personal comparison to Hitler. Obama gives good speeches, so he must be Hitler. Obama draws big crowds, so he must be Hitler.

Hey, Obama smokes! Obviously, not Hitler! Hitler hated smoking.

The new immigration policy recently signed into law in Arizona is being compared to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Someone smeared a swastika on an Arizona state building using re-fried beans. Nice mixing of symbols, but there are other totalitarian regimes that might be a better fit.

The white folks run Arizona today and they consider themselves the true people, but the brown folks have been there for a longer time. The situation bears a closer resemblance to apartheid as practiced in South Africa. Being brown in public is now officially probable cause and being brown without papers is a crime.

I see no way that this ends well.

There is a similar situation in Israel, policies of apartheid being practiced against the Palestinians. The Jews run Israel today and consider themselves to be the true people of the land, but the Palestinians have been there for a longer time. Land has been given to the Palestinians, but the Jews are doing everything they can to steal it back, using methods whites used to pry Texas away from Mexico back in the 19th Century. Jewish settlements on Palestinian land are protected by the Israelis every bit as jealously as they protect the land their flag flies over legitimately. A series of well-maintained roads criss-cross the West Bank, linking the Jewish settlements to each other. It is a crime for Palestinians to drive these roads, even though they are on Palestinian land. When Jimmy Carter wrote about this, it was even a crime for a Jew to drive a car on these roads with a Palestinian passenger. I don't know if that particular law has been rescinded yet.

When Carter wrote about these appallingly racist policies in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he was labeled an anti-Semite, though technically, both Jews and Palestinians are Semitic. As we see Obama try to rein in the worst of the oppressive policies of the Israelis, you can be sure he will be derided for it, most often by American Jews who get forums in news outlets left, right and center in this country. On the allegedly left-leaning Huffington Post, for example, the people writing against the tougher policy on Israel's apartheid are Alan Dershowitz, Ed Koch and Chuck Schumer.

To these men, I have this to say. You love Israel with all your hearts. You love it more than you love America and more than you love justice. You are Jews, and so you are automatically Israeli citizens should you decide to move there.

Please do so at your soonest convenience.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Vox Populi: What is the best science fiction comedy film?

I haven't had a poll on the blog for a while, so I thought I'd start a new one today. I was thinking about a film recently and I considered calling it "the best science fiction comedy ever". (Hint: it's on the list.) But then I thought, "How many science fiction comedies have there been?" and the answer is quite a few. I decided to choose ten and make it a polling question where you are allowed to vote for more than one. Instead of hunting down pictures from all ten movies, I instead have put this picture from Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, which counts as one of the first science fiction comedies, but to my mind, not in the running for one of the best.

Here's the list.

Sleeper (1973)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
Spaceballs (1987)
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Idiocracy (2006)
Wall-E (2008)

After several helpful suggestions from readers, I narrowed the list down to ten. There were a couple of mentions of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but I made an editorial decision not to include it because I think the TV and radio versions are superior to the film. When I mentioned Sleeper, my friend Jodi countered with Zelig, which I like very much, but I think it might fit better in comedy fantasy.

Several box office hits did not make the list, like Honey I Shrunk The Kids. I argued with myself whether Brazil should count, but I decided it wasn't quite sci-fi and it wasn't quite a comedy. I'm pretty sure someone is going to remind me of a film not on the list and I will do a forehead slap.

In any case, these are the ten choices. You can vote for more than one. Balloting will close next Sunday.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nominations for a Highlight Reel™ category: best science fiction comedy film

Here's an idea for a new Highlight Reel™ poll. What's the best science fiction comedy film of all time? Here are three films I would put on the list.

Groundhog Day
Galaxy Quest

Technically, there are some movies like Tremors that are science fiction movies with laughs, but I'm not certain if I would call it a comedy, maybe because the stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward aren't considered comedy stars. Given how short the list is right now, I am leaning towards including it. There are also some movies that I never saw that would fit the category, like Click and Multiplicity, but unless somebody writes in to say they are worth putting on the list, I'll probably leave them off. I'm thinking that comedy horror films like Sean of the Dead deserve their own category, which I'll put together for early May.

Please put your nominations in the comments and I will put together a list for voting in the next few days.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Congratulations to Hazel Soares. UPDATED

Hazel Soares is going to graduate from Mills College in art history. She is 94 years old. You can read more about her story in today's Chip Johnson column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Besides being a local human interest story, Hazel is the aunt of my friend Jodi Soares. Hazel had a heck of a time getting through math, and Jodi asked me if I'd be willing to help, but we didn't make the connection. In any case, Hazel kept pushing forward and the finish line is now in sight.

Congratulations again to Hazel and everybody in the class of '10.

(Note: In my earlier post, I had her name as Helen. That would just be a mistake in normal situations, but she had a sister named Helen who is no longer with us. I deeply apologize for my blunder.)

Random 10, 4/23/10

Little Wing The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Tempted Squeeze
Maybe We Could Write Letters Matthew Hubbard
You're Laughing At Me Fats Waller
The People's Limousine The Coward Brothers
James K. Polk They Might Be Giants
Time Is Tight Booker T. & the MGs
My Prayer The Platters
Could You Be Loved Bob Marley & The Wailers

This week's Random 10 definitely comes from the iTunes list of an old person, but an old person with good taste. There's zero chance to find that tune from that Hubbard guy on The You Tubes, and the other two missing songs are from two of Mr. Hubbard's main heroes, Fats Waller and Elvis Costello, who when recording with T-Bone Burnett billed themselves as The Coward Brothers. I was close to making the "as good as it gets" call after Time Is Tight, but I do love the Platters, and then it's Bob Marley, so we got all the way to ten this time.

Wadda you listening to?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Free speech gives me a headache sometimes.

I published this picture earlier this week and wrote the tagline "She'll probably step on you if you sass back."


Also, completely impossible situation. Giant women do not exist ergo, giant women cannot step on you and crush you.

My People are not all the same. There are a lot of different sub-interests. I know from going to the websites devoted to this stuff that some guys like the idea of being eaten alive or crushed under foot. It's not my particular brand, but again, it's a fantasy that has to remain a fantasy due to annoying stuff like physics and physiology. I know that there are people who sell videos of women stepping on grapes or eating Gummi bears and pretending they are torturing tiny men instead. The video for the song Miserable by Lit ends with a giant Pam Anderson eating all the tiny band members. It was played for laughs and of course, it was all special effects.

Fantasy. Nobody hurt. Not my cup of tea, but live and let live.

Sadly, tragically, for some people this is not enough. There are videos available on the Internet of women in high heels killing small animals by crushing them. Many of them are made in Japan. Sometimes it's mice killed. In the video this still is taken from, a kitten is killed.

Let me be clear. I am appalled. Like any right thinking individual, I find this extremely disgusting. If I it was in my power to throw some people off the list of My People, any crush fan that buys a video where any animal is killed would be banned for life, but I'm just an unofficial spokesperson and not an absolute monarch.

When authorities found out about this, they acted responsibly and banned such videos from being sold on the grounds of animal cruelty. I hate the term "common sense", but it's obvious it applies here. Killing small defenseless animals for other people's sexual gratification is a mode of commerce that localities should be able to ban. The sexual gratification part makes it a hot button issue, but the criminal part is the animal cruelty. No brainer.

Not so fast. The Supreme Court has decided 8-1 that stepping on a kitten and killing it slowly under a high heel is protected free speech. The one dissenter was Samuel Alito, and let me say as someone who agrees with the judge on next to nothing that I thank him for this.

Years ago, it was decided that taking your clothes off for money was protected free speech. I can understand the people who were upset by this, but no one came to actual physical harm in the act of a woman at a strip club. What happens after and what happens to the neighborhood, I'm willing to admit it's a different story. It seemed like a weird ruling, but I thought it was kind of funny. I'm not laughing now.

If I were a person prone to paranoia, I'd have to think that the Supreme Court is trying to make the public hate the First Amendment. I don't have much love in my heart or understanding in my mind for the eight idiots who made this ruling, no matter who nominated them to the bench. I hope someone can fashion a law that will stand up to judicial scrutiny that keeps this disgusting and cruel filth illegal, because as long as there is a buck to be made doing awful things, there will be someone who needs a buck who will be willing to do them.

In the words of my friend Victor Manjarrez, "We don't deserve to survive as a species."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 116: Binary trees, part 1: Factor trees

The word "graph" has many different meanings in math. This is common in English usage, but in math we try to avoid it. It's called overloading a symbol and the effort to stop doing it is about as old as computer science, which means in terms of math history, it's like it happened yesterday.

A graph can be a bar chart or a pie chart, a graphing calculator will draw sine waves and lines and parabolas and such, but when used in the phrase "graph theory", we are talking about the mathematical version of connect the dots, where the dots are called nodes (or sometimes vertices) and the lines connecting them are called edges. There have been several earlier posts in the Wednesday math series about graph theory, most recently about minimal spanning trees back in June of last year.

A graph can represent many different things. It could be a flowchart of a computer program or a transportation grid. In chemistry class, the representation of a molecule is a graph, where each atom is shown as a node and the bonds are the edges. We are going to look at directed trees, which means a minimally connected graph that has one special node designated as the root. Given that we use the words tree and root, it would be nice if we stayed consistent with the metaphor and put the root at the bottom, but it's very common to go the other way around and put the root node at the top, not unlike an org chart.

A binary tree means that every node has a maximum of two nodes directly below it. Some nodes have no nodes below them, and they are called leaves or external nodes. The nodes directly below are often called children, and the node above the parent, which extends the metaphor of tree to family tree.

When teaching divisibility, students now are taught to make factor trees. For example, if we want to find all the factors of 300, we find two numbers larger than 1 to multiply together to 300. In the example on the left, we use 30 and 10. On the right, the pair of numbers was 150 and 2. We continue to do this splitting function on any number that isn't a prime until all the leaves(represented as circles in this picture, to differentiate them from the internal nodes drawn as squares) are filled with prime numbers, which cannot be split into a product of two numbers greater than 1. The two trees are clearly different, but what they have in common is they have the same number of leaves and the same list of numbers inside those leaves, though possibly in a different order. Those numbers when multiplied together are called the prime factorization of 300, which is 2×2×3×5×5, or 2²×3×5².

Over the next few weeks, I'll be bringing up many problems very different from one another that use binary trees as their solutions.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just trying to help.


If you speak English, go with "A. F. yacht'll yo kettle."

Accent on the A. It's about six or seven syllables, depending on how long you linger on the "ll" sound, which is the sound at the end of the word "Seattle".

Glad to be of assistance.

Documentary Tuesday:
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

Ten years ago, the phrase "little seen documentary" was completely redundant. Documentaries are made on shoe string budgets compared to feature films and usually play in small art houses only in major cities if they can find any distribution beyond the film festival circuit. In the last decade, the budgets of documentaries have not increased dramatically but the upside for success is now very different. A successful documentary like Fahrenheit 9/11 or March of the Penguins can bring in box office success that big budget films would be happy to see.

I'm instituting a new feature here at Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do called Documentary Tuesday, where I will review documentaries I have seen and enjoyed that did not get a big audience in the theaters. I have set the bar for "little seen" at less than one million dollars in ticket sales. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 made $268,431 in the theaters, so it definitely qualifies.

In 1968, when Harvard met Yale for their big rivalry game late in the season, both teams had perfect records, no losses and no ties. Even with this seemingly equal success, Yale was ranked in the Top 20 teams in the country, a rarity for an Ivy League team, and was heavily favored to win. The movie was made in 2008, and combines footage from the TV broadcast of the game, interviews with the players 40 years after the fact and photos and newsreels from the era to explain the context of the game. The film works as a sports movie and as a historical document showing a moment in time that still has significance to this day.

To outsiders, there hardly seems a nickel's difference between Harvard and Yale. Those are the schools that the rich kids on the East Coast attend, the people who expect to run the country in the future because their daddies run the country right now. The movie makes the case that Harvard vs. Yale that year was part of the class struggle. Instead of being a battle of Massachusetts vs. Connecticut, the film shows the Harvard team had a lot of students from all over the country, many of them working class kids on scholarships. In reality, both teams did. The Harvard coach is portrayed as being detached and the players nearly ran the team themselves. In contrast, the Yale coach Carmen Cozza is given credit by all the players as a great leader of young men.

While many scholarship players are featured, the schools still were and are places of privilege. Though neither is interviewed for the film, Al Gore was at Harvard in 1968 and George W. Bush was at Yale the same year. Both are mentioned, Gore more than Bush because Gore's roommate Tommy Lee Jones was a guard on the Harvard team and is interviewed for the film. The film is filled with brushes with celebrity. Yale's quarterback Brian Dowling, who had never played on a losing team in a football game since he was in the seventh grade, was the ultimate Big Man On Campus, and a cartoon in the Yale newspaper had a character named B.D. that was obviously patterned on him. The strip is written by an undergrad named Garry Trudeau, and to this day, B.D. is a character in Doonesbury, Trudeau's continuation of his collegiate efforts. It's rare that Ivy League players make it on to the pros, but Yale had a running back named Calvin Hill who would have a long and successful career with the Dallas Cowboys. If that weren't enough, one of the Yale players was dating a pretty Vassar undergrad named Meryl Streep.

It's hard to "give away" the end of a movie that tells you the final score of the game in advance, but there is still an excitement that rivals any movie that has an invincible hero. You go to a James Bond movie knowing he will defeat the bad guy, you just don't know exactly how. In the game, Yale outplayed Harvard and built up an early lead, and the Harvard coach benched the quarterback and put in a second stringer Frank Champi, who got his team back in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Yale still leads 29-13, so some simple math says that Harvard needs to score 16 points to tie, two touchdowns and two two-point conversions. All these plays happened in the last minute of the game, an improbable finish that rivals 'the Heidi game' played by the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders or the famous multi-lateral play that ended the Cal-Stanford game in 1982.

Even people with only a minimal interest in football can enjoy Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29. It's fascinating to listen to men late in their lives recalling their glory days, to remember what it was like in 1968, a time of major social upheaval on many different fronts, from the war and the assassinations to the students occupying university offices, from the civil rights struggle to beginnings of women's lib.

And, oh yeah. There's footage of one heck of an entertaining football game that keeps the narrative moving forward.

If you have Netflix and your computer is set up to use the account, you can download the movie for free. I give it my highest recommendation for anyone who finds any of the topics mentioned here of any interest.

Monday, April 19, 2010

People send me stuff, Part 2

Yesterday I put up a post about friends and family who are not among My People sending me pictures of giant women. Today the post is about what I get from friends who are among My People.

Steve was one of the first people I met from the community of giantess admirers, and our friendship goes back nearly twenty years. This week, he sent me a link to this You Tube video of Dan Meyer, a California high school math teacher discussing the need to change the math curriculum to emphasize patient problem solving. The presentation is twelve minutes long and I liked it very much.

I know what you are thinking, gentle reader. "Twelve whole minutes of a guy talking about math? Can't you give us a lesson in patient problem solving that's faster?"

It's worth our time to think about the education process, and given my particular point of view, the teaching of math is one of the most important parts. Dan's talk is worth twelve minutes of your time. He talks about Deadwood and Two And A Half Men if that's any added incentive.

Thanks again to my friend Steve for sending this to me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

People send me stuff, Part 1

This blog was barely six months old when I admitted I had a thing for giant women. I had friends and family who knew about this quirk from a long time before I was a blogger. I also actually made close personal friends based on this mutual interest through the Internets. Some of them I met nearly twenty years ago now, and I jokingly call them My People and our interest, Our Agenda.

I haven't made this blog All About Giantesses. There are actually plenty of websites devoted to that topic, but I do bring it up from time to time. To me, the interesting thing is how many of my friends and family will find stuff on the net of interest to My People and send it to me even though technically they are not among My People, but instead friends who share some other interest, like math or music, or family, with whom I share genetic material, blood and love.

Some examples.

I went to grad school with my pal Jeremy, who sometimes sends messages under the name 47th Problem of Euclid. He recently took a trip to Norway, and while in Oslo he put pictures on his Facebook page from Vigeland Park, an 80 acre park devoted to the bronze and stone statues of Gustav Vigeland. Vigeland's work includes many massive nude sculptures, including this stone titaness on all fours with her braid in her mouth like a gag. (Note: the object that looks like it is sprouting from her head is actually an obelisk far behind her.)

The people around her give some idea of the scale of the statue, and she is so large that we cannot see the children playing on top of her, riding her like a very large pony.

If I had made this trip with Jeremy to Norway (a seriously unlikely prospect given my general broke-assesed-ness), the first sentence I would want to learn in Norwegian would be...

Yo, kiddies! Tick, tock, tick! There are other people waiting to get on this ride, know what I mean?

This is not the first giantess picture my close personal bud Padre Mickey has sent me. He has no personal interest in the Big Girls, but her does search the Interwebs for wacky album covers, and this one has a giant woman vibe to it.

We can see that there are two snow bunnies resting their heads on weird contraptions, but tricks of perspective make the ladies in the foreground look like sleeping titanesses, who when awoken will be filled with a terrible resolve and turn the tiny town below them into toothpicks and kindling.

I have to say, this picture makes it look like the gal-gantua on the right is sleeping right on top of the only road out of town. I may love giant women but please! Good manners are never out of style, even if you are 500 feet tall.

And last but not least, here's a giantess collage sent to me by my adorable niece Holly Smith-Smith. Her particular interest is in fashion, and flipping through an old copy of the American fashion magazine Allure, she found this picture from a photo essay called Bodzilla!, which featured supermodels bursting out of billboards to tower over a helpless New York City that trembled beneath their stylish and stupendous stilettos.

This particular colossus is Linda Evangelista, dressed in a leather jumpsuit designed by Theirry Mugler.

Twenty years ago, Ms. Evangelista's most famous quote was "I don't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day". If she was actually this size, the raw materials for her outfit would cost at least that much, so her extravagant demands seem much more reasonable, don't they?

Say yes. She'll probably step on you if you sass back.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I knew the day would come, I just didn't think it would be this soon.

This blog is now in its third year. My other blog It's News 2 Them™ is not yet four months old yet. But on April 16, the younger sibling had a slightly better day than the elder for the very first time.

This slightly confusing bar chart at the left is about visits and page views. The gray and cyan bars which look like filter tip cigarettes are the visits and page views for the baby blog, respectively, while the taller bars in yellow and red are the visit and page views representing the number of visitors per day at this blog.

Hi, daily visitor! Nice to see you.

But this Friday, instead of the grey and blue bar chart being dwarfed by the yellow and red, there were both more visits to the Other Blog 443 to 427, and more page views, 664 to 613.

While not a dominant victory for the younger website, it does give an idea of how fast it is growing. Of course, I know it makes sense. This blog is about whatever I want to write about. The other blog is about the troubles and heartbreaks of famous people. It has a much larger natural audience, and when The Google lets enough people know that it exists, It's News 2 Them™ will be the more popular of the two blogs I write every day and this blog, my beloved first baby, will be The Other Blog, at least in terms of visitor popularity.

They grow up so fast. I just didn't expect the younger one to grow like Topsy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Random 10, 4/16/10

Go Now The Moody Blues
Stupid Girl Garbage
Men Called Uncle Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Rider In The Rain Randy Newman
She Said She Said The Beatles
Fallen From The Sky Glen Hansard
Veteran's Day Matthew Hubbard

I stand by each and every song on this list. Great, great, great stuff.

Songwriters? How about The One True Elvis, Randy, John and Paul, Mr. Tom Waits and Miss Nina Simone?

As Gene Hackman said in Hoosiers, "That's my team out on the court."

No disrespect to Denny Laine singing the hell out of a Bessie Banks song, or Glen Hansard's strong use of a simple drum machine, or the Eurythmics' great hit right out of the blocks.

Hell, even that Matthew Hubbard guy could write a catchy tune.

But what would be the featured tune of this Random 10?

Hypothetical question asker, I think this picture speaks for itself.

Especially after I added the captions.

He can do that? Yes, he can!

Ever since health care reform has passed, everywhere you look, our president is getting stuff done. He's going to get another Supreme Court nominee, he's signed a nuclear treaty with the Russians, the Ukrainians have decided to give up their stockpiles weapons grade nuclear material, the list goes on and on.

On the domestic policy side, he signed an executive order that will allow anyone staying in a hospital to designate their own visitor list and who will help make medical decisions.

Reaction #1: Yay!

Reaction #2: You couldn't do that already?

The move is being presented as a victory for same sex couples, but it's actually a victory for everybody. The Tea Party jerks love the word "freedom" so much, they should take a good look, because this is real freedom, and it's the government stepping in helping people by over-ruling an unelected bureaucracy with power.

Over at the Huffington Post, you can always expect some right wing trolls on any topic, but they really don't have an argument here, and nobody does. I'm single and not gay, and if I'm in the hospital, the decision as to who can visit should belong to me, not be limited to my blood relatives by some hospital administrator. (No disrespect to my blood relatives. Happy to have visits from them should the situation arise.)

Thank you, Mr. President, for this humane and common sense change. It's been a long time coming.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the unlikely event of first contact with an alien civilization...

Click on the thing on the left to make it big enough to read, because you might want to think this whole thing through a little.

These helpful instructions were sent to me by my friend Ken Rose, and the author is some guy who gives his email as ian(at)union(dot)io.

While I realize that a nice humorous situation is not the best time to bring up big philosophical issues, when I write "Oh me of little faith" up at the top of my blog, I ain't just whistlin' Dixie. The whole idea of Jesus returning in glory to judge the living and the dead? Not buyin' it. But also, contact with alien cultures? I don't think that's in the cards, either.

The idea of alien races is the great faith of people who read science fiction. For me, while I don't think we've figured everything out yet, I think Einstein has done the math right and faster than light travel isn't in the cards. That means space travel takes a lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng time to get to even the next solar system, and who knows if there are any useful planets there?

Right now, there is a kerfuffle about NASA funding. I don't have a dog in this fight. If they could say "Hey! Here's a lovely spot! It's got water and it's got some breathable gas with nice levels of oxygen!", I'd be like all "Dude, let's pack up and go! Like now, dude, let's get a move on!" But nobody has shown us that place, so I'm not convinced even in the great hope for the future subscribed to by many nerds I respect.

So what, Matty Boy? You think were just doomed?

Well, hypothetical question asker, if you are talking about the long term... yeah, pretty much. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 115: Josiah Gibbs

The 20th Century has rightfully been called the American Century. After World War II, there was no question to our position as a superpower in the world, and beyond military power, Americans had great influence in industry, the arts and sciences and education as well.

In the 19th Century, not so much. We were a long way away from Europe and Europe was the happening place. Even in the English speaking world, the United Kingdom was the pre-eminent power and we were still a struggling former colony.

In American history classes, we give a special place to the American inventors like Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Thomas Edison and Samuel Morse. There were also important inventors in Europe from the same era, but they were not just tinkerers but theorists. For example, it's only Americans that think Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. There was a working telegraphic system at the University of Gottingen in what is now Germany four years before Morse got his telegraph working. The designers were the great mathematician Carl Gauss and his partner Wilhelm Weber. Morse deserves credit for the code named after him, but the mechanical device itself was developed by others, and anyone in the sciences in Europe at the time would have known about it.

The title of first important American theoretical physicist belongs to Josiah Willard Gibbs. He was the first American to get a Ph.D. in engineering, which he was awarded after completing his studies at Yale. Being at the top of his field in a backwater town, he went to Europe to continue his studies, where he worked with the chemist and mathematician Kirchhoff and the physician turned physicist Von Helmholtz. After three years in Europe, he returned to New Haven and took a position at Yale, where he would remain for the rest of his career.

On the theoretical side, Gibbs' best work were papers explaining the effects of thermodynamics in physical chemistry. In math, the Gibbs phenomenon is named after him, which states that a Fourier series approximation of a function will have small errors at the end points. There is also the Gibbs phase rule, a physical state called Gibbs free energy and the Gibbsian example.

His published papers at first garnered only a little attention in Europe, largely because they were published in English. Once translated into German, he began to gain the attention he deserved. His first great supporter in Europe was the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. When the papers only existed written in English, it may have been Maxwell alone who knew both enough English and enough math to appreciate them. While America was a backwater former colony of England at the time, even being in Britain was a handicap for serious physicists of the day, since most of the important work was being published in German or French.

It is said a prophet is little known in his own land, and that was certainly the case with Gibbs. There was no one in the United States anywhere near his level in theoretical physics at the time. When Maxwell traveled to the Philadelphia to accept membership into the American Philosophical Society in 1875, he was met by the luminaries and august members of the organization and thrown a party befitting a great man crossing the ocean to visit his colonial colleagues. His first question after shaking hands all around was "Where's Gibbs?" The Yanks in Philadelphia had no idea they had someone at the same level as Maxwell living not 200 miles to the north in New Haven.

Gibbs' name has not been forgotten. When the Post Office put together a series of stamps to honor great American scientists in 2005, the four people so honored were John Von Neumann, the only immigrant in the group, Richard Feynman, Barbara McLintock and Josiah Willard Gibbs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Attention! April Fools' is supposed to last a day, not a month!

In today's Huffington Post, there is a story entitled Exploring Exotic Deep-Sea Fish. Many of the fish I recognize are native to the reefs, which is NOT the deep sea and for reasons that are unclear, a few pictures were thrown in that are clearly hoaxes.

The article says this is called a frilled shark and it's one of those "living fossils", a species that has survived an incredibly long time. Obviously, this is a special effect from some cheezy movie on the Syfy channel. It was probably called something like SharkAcuda or AnacondaLamprey and starred either Larry Drake or F. Murray Abraham. I didn't see it, you didn't see it, and we are better off for the lack of experience.

This is supposed to be a gulf toadfish. It's obviously a muppet.

C'mon, HuffPo! I didn't just fall off the turnip truck!

Monday, April 12, 2010

He just wants his country back!

"I also know Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety. The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming."

Meet Don Blankenship, just another humble American patriot trying to take his country back. He's the owner of the mine where 29 workers just died. He's also a major financial contributor to the Tea Party and a member in good standing of the Chamber of Commerce who actively promote the idea that there's no such thing as global warming.

Some people might not recognize it, but I actually do try to moderate my voice when I write here. I don't call the people out in the street "teabaggers". They used to call themselves that but they figured out the sexual connotation, so I will use the title they prefer and call them the Tea Party. But seriously, the people who work in the mines have to realize that they do not share common purpose with the scumbags who cut corners and kill their workers.

Scum like Don Blankenship and his ilk have a lot more in common with Jefferson Davis and John Wilkes Booth than they do with Paul Revere and John Hancock. Critics on the right might say that I support class warfare. When this is the other side, I would say the two options are we fight back and there's class warfare, or we don't fight back and it's just class genocide.

R.I.P. Arthur Mercante, Sr., 1920-2010

Arthur Mercante, Sr., the legendary boxing referee who was the third man in the ring for over 140 title fights in his career, including the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971, died on Saturday at his home in Westbury, New York, at the age of 90. The Associated Press has not given him a mention, but the New York Times has produced a great obituary, written by Richard Goldstein.

It's hard to describe how big a cultural event the first Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden was. Boxing has lost so much popularity and status in the 39 years since, it's extremely unlikely there will ever be another title fight as important. Both fighters were undefeated, and Ali had been away from the ring for three years after being stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted into the Army. Frazier was the champion and Ali the challenger. To give some idea of the level of spectacle, Frank Sinatra wanted to get as close to the action as possible, so he asked Life Magazine to hire him as a photographer for the evening and the editors agreed.

Worried about the possibility of bookies getting to the ref, the referee was not chosen until the day of the fight, when three refs were sequestered for the day, not allowed to speak to anyone. It was Mercante who was chosen. He was paid $500 for his evening's work.

There are a lot of great still photos from that evening, but almost none of them include Mercante, except the picture above where he leads Frazier to the neutral corner after the fight's only knockdown in the 15th round. As the saying goes, that evening, Mercante let them fight.

Another remarkable championship fight that had Mercante as the third man in the ring was the first Frazier-Foreman duel, when George knocked Joe down six times in the first two rounds, an unbelievably dominant victory for the contender against a great champion. This fight is famous for Howard Cosell's repeated call of "Down goes Frazier!"

I don't want to turn this blog into the obituaries, but it is surprising to me that the Associated Press could miss this one, and I'm glad to see the New York Times do such a good job commemorating the man's life. Best wishes to the family and friends of Arthur Mercante, Sr. I won't say I'm a "fan" of a referee, but there's no question that Mercante was as good as it gets at his profession and an important witness to history.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Season Three of Mad Men: The quibbles (SPOILER ALERT!)

As I said in yesterday's post, I liked the third season of Mad Men a lot. I thought it was a big improvement over the second season. Even so, there were some story lines I didn't like and some that I thought didn't make sense. These complaints are small compared to the positives, but I bring them up anyway.

(Important plot points of season three now discussed. Avert your eyes if you haven't watched yet and want to be surprised.)

Mother of mercy, is this the end of Salvatore Romano? The answer to that question looks like a "yes", and that's too bad.

Sal was a great character. Played by openly gay actor Bryan Batt, it's as plain as day to modern audiences that Sal is gay, but nobody at Sterling Cooper can make the connection. Sometimes it was played for laughs in a quiet way. There's a scene where beautiful young Betty Draper is shocked that a movie entitled The Best of Everything would think that Joan Crawford is any competition for beautiful young Suzy Parker. Don casually mentions that Sal loves Joan Crawford. Sal also has a scene where he savages what Loretta Young wore on her show the night before. Nobody bats an eye.

The reason they gave that Sal had to be fired makes perfect sense. The guy from Lucky Strike is mad at him and that account is worth a lot more than an art director, even a good one.

Even so, I wanted to see where they were going to go with his story. And after the ridiculously handsome Jon Hamm, Bryan Batt was the best looking guy in a very good looking cast. This is a show that knows that eye candy is important.

Somebody loses a foot, somebody gots to GO! Okay, the John Deere scene. It was great. Just like the scene where Fred Rumsen was found having peed himself, it feels like a true anecdote dressed up to be made part of the story.

Also, let's consider the real world. John Deere decided to sign off on this plot twist. That took some guts on their part to have their product portrayed in a bad light.

The only thing is, if it happened, someone would have to take the fall for it, and the best bet would be the incompetent Lois who was driving the damn thing. Ken Cosgrove, who first drove the tractor into the office before the party where everybody was drunk, might have to take the brunt as well, but Lois and Ken are still on the staff at the end of the season, and that's just not right.

Did Roger Sterling get a mulligan on his heart attack? Roger had the heart attack a while back and there were a few episodes that showed him as frail. He was supposed to stop smoking and cut back on drinking. In the third season, he seems to smoke or drink or both in nearly every scene.

For a show that prides itself on actions having consequences, the non-aftermath of the John Deere episode and Roger's no cost return to bad habits don't feel right in terms of the writing.

Peggy and Duck? Yuck. Having Peggy and Duck hook up isn't illogical, given the assumption that Peggy is always falling for the wrong guy. I just didn't buy it. I saw the second half of season three first, so now that I've seen it from beginning to end, I expected things to make more sense, but this is the relationship that I still can't fathom.


Again, let me say it. Quibbles. Mad Men is still an interesting show and now that I have a Mac and iTunes TV shows work just fine, I'll probably go ahead and subscribe to the show when season four becomes available, just so I can hold my own at the water cooler with a co-worker at Mills who also loves the show. I am often not a loyal TV viewer, but I like the change in direction promised in the next year, even though it means some interesting characters are going to have to go by the wayside.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Season Three of Mad Men: A few of my favorite things (SPOILER ALERT!)

I've just finished watching Season 3 of Mad Men on DVD, and overall, I liked it very much, much more than I liked Season 2. Today, I'm going to review several of the things I liked most about the season and tomorrow, I'm going to put all my quibbles and gripes into a separate post. The positives far out-number the negatives.

As I said in the title, I will be discussing important plot points of the show, so if you haven't seen it yet and you think you might like to, the rest of this post will ruin some surprises for you.

The return of Don Draper, world's greatest cad: Don Draper is obviously the center of the show, and if his year isn't good, the whole show suffers. In season 2, he spent a lot of time cheating on his wife with Bobbie Barrett, a woman who wasn't even close to being in his league. That whole relationship didn't make much sense, because Don likes the chase and it was Bobbie who threw herself at him.

This year's major conquest is Miss Farrell, the school teacher, played by the lovely Abigail Spencer. (Really, using the adjective "lovely" when talking about the Mad Men cast is like using the adjective "tall" when describing someone in the NBA. It's much more of a surprise when a major cast member isn't lovely, and that goes for the guys as well.) If I may put myself forward as the a typical male viewer of the show, this is what I want. Don Draper is supposed to be a slightly more believable James Bond, but without the firearm. Fabulous babes are supposed to fall into his orbit and he is supposed to bed them. When you look and act like Jon Hamm and they dress you in those impeccably tailored suits, it shouldn't be that hard to do.

Meet Pete Campbell, real human being: In the very first show, Pete Campbell was more like a plot device than a real character. He was there to be hated and that didn't change much in the first two seasons. No matter how morally ambiguous Don Draper's character is, compared to Pete Campbell, he has all virtues. Played by Vincent Kartheiser using the pout and sneer that served him so well on the TV show Angel for several seasons, Pete is the spoiled rich kid stuck in middle management who thinks himself a failure, compared to the successful self-made man that Don presents to the world.

This year, while he still commits some vile acts including cheating on his faithful wife Trudy, played by the lovely Allison Brie, we also start seeing Pete actually being good at his job. Also, after cheating, we see him being contrite and we see Trudy as a real asset for his career. It's probably too late to turn Pete Campbell into a saint, or as close to a saint as anyone on this show can claim to be, but it was nice to see him have some successes and make himself useful instead of always complaining and not seeming to be much help around the firm except for his family connections.

Bye, bye, Birdie. I'll be glad to see you go.: Can I write "played by the lovely" one more time? Oh yes, at least once more.

Betty Draper, played by the lovely January Jones, is easily my least favorite character on the show. She is a complete drip. She finally figured out the big secret Don has been hiding from her for all these years and she is planning to divorce him.

Thank you, writers of Mad Men! Get the hell rid of this millstone. Of course, the character is not going to go away. What I like about the show is that almost all of the things that happen make sense in terms of what the characters should do, given their motivations and the standards of the day. When the show began, a divorced woman was added to the cast and the general reaction was shock and surprise. Now, several characters have gone through divorce and the stigma is slowly going away. That is an important part of the culture of the early sixties.

There's still plenty more twists and turns, but I'd like to see what Don would do if he was free to make fresh mistakes instead of being tied to a woman who doesn't love him.

The return of Joan: Again, the writers of Mad Men develop story lines that make sense for the characters involved. Joan Holloway, played by the stunning Christina Hendricks, was a brilliant office manager, but if she was going to live in the manner in which she wanted to become accustomed, she had no real choice but to marry well. A bright and capable young woman like her should be able to find a good catch, which she does when she marries a surgeon, played by the lovely Sam Page. Because it's a drama and things aren't supposed to go well, her best laid plan gangs agley, as Robbie Burns would write. Still, she's Joan and she doesn't mope. She moves forward and she makes the best of the situation and it opens the door for her to continue to be a part of the show, which is a big win for fans like me, by which I mean heterosexual males.

Though I have no right to speak for them, I think even homosexual males can like her. Joan is a fabulous bitch.


Other good things about Season 3: The start of the new agency, Conrad Hilton, Peggy smoking marijuana, the way the Kennedy assassination was handled. I'm sure there are other things I liked that I've forgotten for the time being.

Tomorrow: some quibbles with the writing and a sensible story line that still makes me sad.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Random 10, 4/9/10

O Cessate Di Piagarmi (A. Scarlatti) Cecila Bartoli
Birdhouse In Your Soul They Might Be Giants
Elevator Operator Little Richard
Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday William Bell
Collins Cave Dave Alvin
We Don't Care Kanye West
She's Got You Patsy Cline
Nothing But Flowers Talking Heads

If I were to recommend a single clip on The You Tubes, it would have to be Miss Patsy singing her great hit live. I love her voice so much.

I was a little surprised that Little Richard's song wasn't up on the website. As for William Bell, it's interesting how many versions of this song are there, how almost everybody mentions that the are covering the great William Bell, but Bell's version is conspicuously absent. He's a forgotten star of sixties soul music, but a lot of musicians know who he is, so that's a good start.

Wadda you listenin' to?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Confederate History Month

Bob McDonnell, Republican governor of Virginia, issued a statement proclaiming April Confederate History Month. His first proclamation made no mention of slavery and this caused protest, even from some of his ardent backers. His later statement corrected this oversight, but it also included that ever popular weasel language "if any Virginian was offended, I apologize to them." This creepy non-apology implies that it is just the thin skinned who might dislike this sort of thing. This is the "fair and balanced" view that there are always two sides and each side should be heard.

This is wrong. Sometimes one side is completely in the wrong, and pretending that slavery is just an insignificant issue when dealing with the Civil War is completely wrong.

So I am going to write a post for Confederate History Month, not as a Virginian but as an American and not just about the four year act of treason the South committed, but the causes and consequences of this dark period in American history.

The stain of slavery and the founding of our nation: Most of the presidents of the United States before the Civil War owned slaves. Some of the non-slave owners had very clean hands, most notably John Adams and John Quincy Adams. It should also be noted they were the only one-term presidents among the first seven, all the rest slave owners.

At least one slave owner, Martin Van Buren, had a major change of heart and became an abolitionist late in his political career. The worst offenders were the richest men, Washington and Jefferson. The three presidents just prior to Lincoln did not own slaves, the northerners Pierce, Fillmore and Buchanan. But they were pathetically weak presidents who made the inevitable war that much worse by their inaction.

The leaders of the Confederacy were fools and the Bible makes that clear: Jesus states in Luke 14:31: "What king, marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king marching upon him with twenty thousand troops?" The situation at the beginning of the war was even worse than this, because the South fired first with an inferior force. Maybe they thought God was on their side. Perhaps they thought their generals as clever as Julius Caesar, who won several battles in the Roman Civil War with smaller armies than those who opposed him.

But this turned out not to be a war merely of battles but a war of attrition, and after Lincoln had run out of idiots to lead the Union Army and installed Grant, the bloody and vicious conclusion was an inevitability as long as the president did not waver in his resolution to restore the Union.

Turning bloody war into uneasy peace: The modern view of history is that though wars end, they often sow the seeds for the next war. Though he was killed by unrepentant traitors only months after the war's end, Lincoln set forward a policy of restoring the Union that worked, though the hard feelings and divisions last to this day. In my lifetime, the uneasiness between Northerners and Southerners has waned considerably, but the violent civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s were like low level warfare continuation of the Civil War that had ended some ninety years before the Montgomery Bus boycott.

From the end of the war to the end of the 19th Century, every presidential election was a political re-enactment of the war. Republicans then were not like Republicans now, except that that shared the trait of being bold. It was common for Republican politicians to "wave the bloody shirt", to remind voters that everyone who had been a traitor to his country was a registered Democrat. The polarization of politics today is tame compared to American politics after the Civil War. Many historians claim that the first event after 1865 that brought Americans together as Americans was the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana in 1898.

The great political inversion: For generations after the Civil War, the Democrats were the party of the South and the Republicans the party of the North. Glenn Beck, a weak historian with a relatively large audience, believes all evil in this land can be laid at the door of progressivism, and he includes Teddy Roosevelt in his list of villains. (Beck, an obvious buffoon, also thinks Thomas Paine, the most socialist leaning figure of the Revolutionary era, would be on Beck's side if Paine were alive today.) T.R. was definitely a Progressive, and his leaving the Republicans to start his own party is an important step in the Republican Party's move to the right. His cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Democrat, and F.D.R.'s administration is a bellwether moment in the Democratic Party's shift to the left. But even in F.D.R.'s time, the Democratic coalition included the southern Democrats who resisted all efforts to give full de facto citizenship rights to the descendants of slaves.

The civil rights movement made a new breed of Democrats in the South, though credit should be given to Dwight Eisenhower for sending Federal troops to Little Rock, the kind of action that would strike fear into the hearts of the weak minded Tea Party people today. It was Richard Nixon, easily the cleverest Republican president of my lifetime, who made the inversion complete with the Southern strategy. Many of the unrepentant racists of the South, people who were always welcome to air their grievances in the pages of William F. Buckley's National Review, were welcomed into the Republican Party after they realized they would have no seat at the table in the new Democratic Party. A disgusting racist like Richard Russell of Georgia, who died in 1971, would remain a Democrat until the day he died, but those who survived either became Republicans like Strom Thurmond or independents like George Wallace.

I am all in favor of teaching Confederate history, the history of traitors and idiots, both the idiots at the top of the food chain that started a war they couldn't win and the useful idiots at the bottom of the food chain who gave up their lives in the hundreds of thousands to preserve the right to own slaves, a right they would never be able to exercise because they were dirt poor. Virginia in particular should remember their special place in the Confederacy, because it was their Slave Codes of 1705 that allowed the grotesque inequality of wealth that made the bloody conflagration inevitable. Perhaps learning a little Confederate history, the buffoonish people in the Tea Party will realize they are more the descendants the cowardly traitor John Wilkes Booth than they are the heirs to John Hancock.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 114: Vectors and dimension

An ordered list of numbers is called a vector. How many numbers are on the list is called the dimension of the vector. Let's take, for example, a list of numerical information about a pitcher in baseball. Among the relevant numbers that might be listed are height, weight, age, wins, losses, earned run average (ERA), innings pitched, runs allowed, hits allowed, the number of strikeouts, walks, complete games and saves. Since there are thirteen categories in which we can put numbers, this would be a 13-dimensional vector.

In common parlance, "dimension" deals with three directions which are perpendicular to one another, let's call them length, width and height, usually written in a math context as x, y and z. If I have a physical object like a book, I can say it's 11.5" tall, 8" wide and 2" thick, which describes it when it's standing up. If I lay it flat, now it's 2" tall, 8" wide and 11.5" thick, which is to say the x and z dimensions have switched places. It's still the same book and the important measurements haven't changed. The surface area of the front cover is still 11.5 × 8 square inches, or 92 in.² The volume is still 11.5 × 8 × 2 cubic inches, or 184 in.³. Properties like this that don't change even when the object is moved are called invariants, and any time a mathematical model has an invariant, there's a very good chance it is connected to some physical property in an important way.

It's been more than 100 years since Einstein popularized the idea that time is the fourth dimension, but it doesn't exactly work the way the other dimensions do. We are allowed to move objects in the three dimensions, changing the height for the length or transformations with even trickier math, but we can't interchange time with the other three. If we compare it to the vector of information about the pitcher we started with, we aren't allowed to switch wins for losses or number of strikeouts with innings pitched and say that we are still talking about the same pitcher's stats. Given that we are mortals who live our lives at speeds nowhere near the speed of light, time is the dimension with the least amount of freedom. We move forward in time not backward, and we can do almost nothing to change the pace at which time moves. The ideas of string theory say there may be other physical dimensions, but they are ultra-microscopic loops also can't be swapped with the three dimensions our senses can actually detect.

Multidimensional math is a "real thing", in that it solves problems that can be stated and that correspond to things in the real world. Linear programming problems can have as many dimensions as are needed, which is to say vectors with many entries, not unlike our pitcher's stats. But physical problems where we actually get to swap dimensions like height, width and length and keep some important information invariant are much rarer, and the vast majority of those problems don't stretch beyond the three physical dimensions we can experience.