Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A blast from the past for My People and Our Agenda.
The lolz translation of Charles Beaudelaire's The Giantess.

This is a reprint of a post from March of 2008.

You are forgiven in advance if you do not recall it.

Matty Boy, 'splainer and arbiter of lolz and collector of French filth, has decided to add his expertise to the field of lolz poetry adaptation and translate a poem of Charles Baudelaire into lolz pictures with captions. I have chosen La Géante, which translates into English as The Giantess. It comes from Beaudelaire's most famous collection Les Fleurs du Mal, which translates into lolz as Smutty Thotz. I Gotz Dem.

Matty Boy, how did you come to choose this particular poem to translate?

Oh, please, hypothetical question asker, don't be naive.

La Géante

Du temps que la Nature en sa verve puissante
Concevait chaque jour des enfants monstrueux,

J'eusse aimé vivre auprès d'une jeune géante,
Comme aux pieds d'une reine un chat voluptueux.

J'eusse aimé voir son corps fleurir avec son âme
Et grandir librement dans ses terribles jeux;

Deviner si son coeur couve une sombre flamme
Aux humides brouillards qui nagent dans ses yeux;

Parcourir à loisir ses magnifiques formes;
Ramper sur le versant de ses genoux énormes,

Et parfois en été, quand les soleils malsains,
Lasse, la font s'étendre à travers la campagne,

Dormir nonchalamment à l'ombre de ses seins,
Comme un hameau paisible au pied d'une montagne.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tesselations: Hexagons, squares and triangles at maximum contrast

Two quick ideas for this week. I made the patterns on a table that was too busy, so I pumped the contrast to turn it black.

There's more to come with the hexagons squares and triangles.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The plummet not worth mentioning.

If anything happens to the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, a.k.a The Dow, you'll see on nearly every news website. There was a big drop this week and it was front page on The Huffington Thing, as Princess Sparkle Pony likes to call it.

I looked all over that less than optimal website today, even in the so-called business section, but they don't seem to be noticing that three very important commodities, gold, silver and crude oil, are all plummeting this week. Here's the situation at market close, 2:00 p.m. on Friday.

Gold: $1657.20 an ounce, down from $1812.50 last week, 8.6% drop
Silver: $30.93 an ounce, down from $40.66 last week, 23.9% drop
Crude Oil: $79.98 a barrel, down from $87.92 last week, 9.0% drop

I'm of the opinion that lower crude oil prices are Generally A Good Thing for the world economy. My cause for concern is that all three of these commodities took a dive together just a few months before we found out the whole economy was in the toilet back in 2008.

Maybe this actually deserves the "Sweating the Small Stuff" label. I'm not an economist so I can't be sure. But a big sell-off of all three of these commodities in unison has me worried, and now that you've read it, you can join me in a feeling of unnamed dread.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sweating the small stuff: Born to quant.

I'm about halfway through Moneyball and it's a quick and exciting read. The gift of hindsight shows some of the book's flaws impossible to detect when it was published, most notably how few of the players Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta drafted in 2003 made any splash at all some eight years later. But I am heartened to see Michael Lewis' style of writing catching on. Lewis himself gives props to Bill James, one of the first of the new breed of baseball analysts who call themselves sabermetricians. (SABR stands for the Society of American Baseball Research.) James' annual Baseball Abstracts were the great impetus for the changes in thinking about the game, and besides being a single minded collector of stats, James also knew how to bring the funny when the situation arose. (Example: writing about a heavy hitting and just plain old heavy slugger from last century: "Cecil Fielder acknowledges a weight of 261, leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale.")

And here comes to a question about education. Can you create a Matty Boy or are his kind born that way? The heroes of many of Lewis's books are a breed now known as quantatative analysts or quants. I jumped into programming when I was a lad, but I probably would have been better as a math analyst. Gathering sets of data and analyzing them comes to me completely naturally. Some people love doing that and others don't. Some can only do it on one subject (Bill James admits to no interest in numbers unrelated to baseball) but others do it about most of the things they can think of. Henri Poincaré, sometimes called The Last Universalist of mathematics and easily in any good list of the best ten mathematicians of all time, incessantly collected data sets on everything. Joseph Fourier collected number about his favorite topic, heat, and from it derived the differential equations that explain the phenomenon. Isaac Newton actually spent more time studying the Bible and alchemy than he did studying math or what we call modern physics, and it was clear he was using his stunning number sense in doing so, though he never published any of his findings in either field, instead leaving some of his thoughts in letters to friends we can read now. He probably left the religion alone because some of his ideas were heretical and heresy could still get you in big trouble - like dead - back in his day. I expect he didn't publish anything on alchemy because he didn't make any breakthroughs the way he did in math and physics, largely because it was a dry well and there were no breakthroughs to be had.

I gather numbers all the time. I'd call it "obsessively", but I have other habits that deserve to be called obsessive more than my love of numbers. Even the silly gossip blog is really an excuse to look at the supermarket rags numerically. I also spent a few seasons gathering data on football to see if I could make sense of it better than the current stat systems do. One of my ideas was to split the football team into separate squads and give credit where credit is due when points are scored, which also means blame where blame is due when points are allowed. My system was completely at odds with the modern favorite statistical game of fantasy football, since I was looking at teams rather than individuals, but I was recently heartened to see that Yahoo! has changed how defenses are measured in fantasy football and no longer blames them for points scored from turnovers like fumbles and interceptions run back by the other defense That is a small part of the system I called the Split Point System.

I did this simple quant work on football because I didn't see anyone else doing it. Reading some ideas from how quants work in baseball, (there are a LOT more people doing interesting work in baseball stats compared to football stats) I could see how to turn the Split Point System into a much better and more refined piece of work.

I'm not sure anyone actually creates a mathematician. It's like showing Edmund Hillary a mountain or giving Elvis Presley a guitar. There are things they don't know when they start, but the stage is pretty much set. I certainly still give a lot of credit to my favorite instructors like Ted Tracewell and Stu Smith, but no matter how many twists and turns my life takes, I always come back to math, and I likely always will.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sweating the small stuff: Measuring students and teachers.

Reading Moneyball, I've been thinking about how we measure students and teachers and my general feeling is we are going about most of it in a completely wrong-headed method.

At Laney, the big new thing is Standard Learning Outcomes in every math class. I think this is a fairly good system, especially because the amount of material is about half a quiz by my way of doing things. Teachers of a class have some input into what the allegedly important topics are, though in one class I teach regularly, Math For Liberal Arts, a topic I usually don't even cover was the SLO. This class is somewhat amorphously defined, so it's not that surprising that this would occur. In other classes like trigonometry or the algebra sequence, the SLO topics are things I would say are the core of the class.

For me, I almost never teach the same class twice. I'm always trying to learn new ways to present material, and often there are "standard" topics I think have reached their expiration date and new material that makes a strong case for being part of the core curriculum. For example, in statistics, the old school way of doing this was table look-up. Nowadays, a high end calculators and spreadsheet programs make table look-up obsolete. The z-score is now an unneeded middle step between a normally distributed data set and a percentile, which is a shame because z-scores really help define what it is we are trying to do.

I think of both teaching and learning as art forms. Being a person of strong opinions, I have my own ideas about what is good and what is bad, but I haven't come up with standardized tests for what I like. What is it exactly we are supposed to do? Should students become better citizens or better workers or better thinkers? Are we there to instill a love of learning? If so, I can certainly point to successes in my career, but I can honestly point to some failures as well.

It's a thorny problem and I clearly do not have the brilliant solution. I understand the desire to measure teachers and students, but most of the methods we have come up with so far, like the time honored but flawed boxscore in baseball, are doing more harm than good in my opinion.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sweating the small stuff: A mathematician reads Moneyball.

A friend has invited me to the opening night of Moneyball this upcoming Friday evening and lent me Michael Lewis' book to read. I'm not as keen on it as I was on his more recent book The Big Short, and this is because I know more about baseball history than I know about Wall Street today. Still, Lewis is an exciting writer and baseball is so interesting, even a book with flaws can be endlessly entertaining.

Let me be immodest for a moment. Lewis can appreciate math and I can actually understand it. If we compare math to its nearest (and superior) rival, he's a music critic who can write well and I'm a musician who can write legibly. It's Frank Rich vs. Salieri. It's more fun to read Rich (and Lewis), but Salieri (and I) have some inside information the other guys don't have.

No brag. Just fact.

With Moneyball, Lewis didn't start out with the intention of canonizing Billy Beane, the general manger of the dirt cheap but competitive Oakland Athletics, but that's how the book reads. In an afterword, Lewis explains that baseball insiders hate Beane for the book, not Lewis. Some of them think Beane wrote the book himself.

No one with a brain ever said baseball insiders had big brains.

And that's the point of Moneyball, much like it is the point of The Big Short and The Blind Side and most of Lewis' best-selling non-fiction. Insiders in the systems he studies don't really understand the system, and the outsiders who make honest scientific attempts to understand are widely despised.

There's the obvious and compelling core of every best-seller Michael Lewis has ever written.

Consider Billy Beane, the hero of this story. It is very common in Hollywood versions of "true stories" that the movie star is way prettier than the person being protrayed. I submit that Brad Pitt might be a little prettier than Billy Beane, but he's way too small. Young Billy Beane was a freaking Winklevoss twin, 6'4" tall, lean and supremely talented. Scouts salivate when they see a high schooler like Billy Beane.

Some may actually do more than salivate in private. I have no proof of this, but it is the strong subtext of the first few chapters of Moneyball.

Billy Beane knew the scouts of baseball didn't know shit. His best evidence was that they fought like bobcats over Billy Beane. When he became available for the baseball draft, it was either him or another Southern Californian, Darryl Strawberry, that HAD to be the first round pick that year. Strawberry became an honest to Pete baseball superstar until drugs brought him down.

Drugs weren't Beane's downfall. It was pride instead.

Beane could have played football or basketball, but he chose baseball. Beane hated to fail and hated even more to be shown up in public, and that is a nearly impossible character trait to overcome.

After they are drafted, Strawberry rises and Beane sinks, and the scouts and the best baseball minds are at a loss to know why. Beane gets violently upset when he fails, and he cannot turn this rage into positive action. Strawberry becomes a star in short order, but Beane bounces around, finally becoming roommates with Lenny Dykstra, a prospect with a tiny percentage of the promise Beane has.

The thing is, Dykstra has the small talent combined with the attitude of Babe Ruth. He ignored his failures like they didn't happen and reveled in his successes. Beane's attitude of hating failure is more like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, but not quite at their godlike levels of talent.

Williams and DiMaggio truly hated to strike out, and they changed their way of batting to avoid it. Beane couldn't figure out how to avoid strikeouts and still to be feared at the plate. Had either Teddy Ballgame (good nickname) or Joltin' Joe (very inaccurate nickname) had the same "I don't give a shit" attitude about looking bad at the plate that Babe Ruth had, they might have made a serious run at the career home run record.

Neither did. Joe DiMaggio ended his illustrious career with 361 home runs, barely half of Ruth's 714. Williams, who missed prime seasons due to being a Marine pilot in both WW II and the Korean War, hit a home run in his last at bat, which brought his to a still remarkable 521 for his career.

Back to our main story.

Billy Beane, the failed Adonis, is still a baseball insider, but he listens to the baseball outsiders, the guys who think the statistics have been accurate but useless since the late 1850s.

Not a typo. 1850s. Before the American Civil War when players were not allowed to wear gloves.

I love that Lewis blames Henry Chadwick, a cricket fan from the 1850s, for inventing the "modern" baseball boxscore. There's actually a lot of math of that era that is still considered modern. The difference is that mathematical logic, group theory and quadratic reciprocity are still paying dividends, while the baseball box score is getting in the way of progress.

In Chadwick's original system, a base on balls is an error on the pitcher. Like other errors, it does not count positively towards the batter's numbers, but unlike errors, it now counts as zero instead of negative. It never occurred to him that it might be a skill of the batter to avoid bad pitches and only swing at good ones.

Some people cry in the wilderness that baseball is being mismeasured. It isn't until the 1970s that a guy named Bill James actually has the stick-to-it-iveness to shout this every year, at first to an audience of less than 100 people reading his self-published book.

In Lewis' mind, this is the beginning of baseball's salvation.

More on that tomorrow.

Tesselations: A new pattern of hexagons, squares and triangles

Hexagons, square and triangles can make another more regular pattern, but this one works as well. The difference between this one and the other can be seen when you look at the hexagons. Yellow hexagons have a green square on each edge, while the green hexagons are surrounded by alternating triangles and squares.

I also made this small example using three colors, but the intricacy of the pattern make adding more colors a little problematic. I will return to this when I find a good color scheme with more than two colors.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sweating the small stuff: Some thoughts on math education.

Computers and calculators are changing the education process significantly. Any student who types a paper has a spell checker and probably a grammar checker, but that's no promise they'll get everything right, especially when it comes to homonyms and such, like their, there and they're.

In math, some things that seem very simple to anyone who is even a little proficient can be struggles for students in pre-algebra and beginning algebra classes. A perfect example is writing a fraction problem like

3/5 = ________

and having many students give the answer 1.666666667, which is the correct calculator answer to 5/3. It seem "obvious" to me that small/big must be a number less than 1, but a lot of students try to turn it into a division problem and mix up the divisor and the dividend.

I'm going to be doing some other short posts on gaps in math education many students have. I don't do this to deride the students, it's just that somewhere along the line something relatively simple slipped through the cracks. I don't have the solution for how to fix this, but I do want to acknowledge these problems exist.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Borrowing from other writers.
Also known as stealing from the best.

Mark Hatfield died last month. he was a Republican senator from Oregon. Your typical pro-social services, pro-education, pro-civil rights, anti-defense buildup Republican.

In other words, an extinct kind of Republican.

My friend Amelia wrote his obituary for our deadpool page. It's pretty terrific from top to bottom, but if you don't have the extra minute to read the whole thing, here are the last few lines.


Visko Hatfield sat down with his father a few months ago as his health grew more fragile, he said. At the time, Visko asked what he could do for him.

"You need to save a life," said his father, who lived a life of public service.

"Whose life should I save?" Visko asked.

Hatfield's answer: "The first one you can."

Tesselations: Variations of lineoleum

Ocatgons and squares are a standard tiling pattern using linoleum. I'm sure everyone has seen these many times.

Often, the octagons are all one color and the squares are another single color.

In this version, there are two colors of octagons and the same two colors of squares.

Now, two colors of octagons and a third color for all the squares.

And finally, three colors of octagons and a fourth color for all the squares.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Debt briefly meets The Big Ugly Stick.

The Debt is a recent release that has been doing better at the box office than expected. It stars Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain playing the same woman at different ages. Besides the cast mentioned in the ad above, there's also Ciaran Hinds in a pivotal role and it's directed by John Madden, best known for Shakespeare in Love and Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown, two very charming and funny films from the late 1990s.

This movie is torture porn. It has no charm or humor. If someone you know wants to see it and says something like "I've heard good things and I really like Helen Mirren," you should reply with "You wouldn't like watching Helen Mirren getting tortured. Matty Boy hit this movie with The Big Ugly Stick, a level of bad review he only takes out on special occasions."

For a brief rundown, the previous Big Ugly Stick movies so far are:
Never see any of these movies. Your time is too valuable. The only one that has even a few redeeming qualities is The Ghost Writer. You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Build a better box corner and change the world.

Some people find the obituaries morbid, but I often find out fascinating stuff there. Keith W. Tantlinger died last month at the age of 92. His invention of a box corner that led to containers that could be loaded into stacks on large ships is essential to the globalization of commerce, for good or for ill, often for both. This technological advancement means that shipping costs for ocean voyages covering thousands of miles add only pennies to the cost of goods from China or Australia across the Pacific, or from Europe to the eastern U.S. and those containers can then be put on trucks or trains and moved long distances on land at relatively low costs. Click on the link to read his New York Times obituary.

The credit for the 1958 picture of Mr. Tantlinger is from Pan-Atlantic/Maersk, his former employers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mr. Hubbard's Neighborhood:
The new road on the south side of Lake Merritt

There's a lot of construction taking place in my neighborhood. The first project started well over a year ago, the redesign of the road that borders the south side of Lake Merritt, the stretch where 12th Street turns into East 12th Street and 14th Street turns into International Blvd., formerly known as East 14th.

Due to superstitions, there is no 13th Street.

No matter what they call it, East 14th Street or International has had its share of bad luck.

This is a shot from my corner of 2nd Street and East 12th looking toward downtown, the first thing completed in this build, a temporary road that lets drivers get from downtown to the district known as Eastlake, my neighborhood.

This had the effect of widening East 12th and making the corner where I live a traffic nightmare. Until they put up a three way stoplight, no one knew what to do and there were a lot of accidents. Now, a new way to get from Eastlake to Downtown is available, but it's also causing accidents as well. If that red car was going straight, it would lead down to the next picture's location.

Here is the start of the current maze with traffic coming from and heading to downtown, about a half block away from my apartment building. The overpass in the middle of the picture now has both a pedestrian lane and a car lane, but that is just temporary until the road and sidewalk nearest the lake are rebuilt.

Across from the lake is the Kaiser Auditorium, which hasn't been used for several years. Part of the idea of this new road is to have easy pedestrian access from the Auditorium side to the lakeside.

This is not as much of a Road to Nowhere as it may sound. The newly redesigned Oakland Museum is next to the Auditorium, and Laney College is right behind it. Plenty of chickens need to cross this road, and we'd prefer not playing chicken with eight lanes of high speed traffic.

I took this picture by taking an about face from the position from the point of view of the picture above. In about a month, the construction workers have quickly torn up the road and sidewalk nearest the lake.

This sign explains to people coming from the downtown side what they have to do if they want to head toward Eastlake.

The first couple hundred yards of the new pedestrian path is ridiculously thin, especially because it is used by walkers, runners, cyclists and skateboarders.

As a local, I consider easy pedestrian access to the lake from my side of the street A Good Thing. Technically, there always was pedestrian access. Somewhere in that pile of rubble were the entrances to two thin tunnels that went under the eight lanes of busy traffic that used to be the connection from 12th Street to East 12th Street.

I'm not afraid of walking around my neighborhood but I never used those tunnels and I never saw them used. They were dank and stinky and I think even any muggers would have been worried about the rats.

It's all supposed to be done in a half a year or so. I'll report back then.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Penrose patterns #11a, #11b and #11c :
Two Stars in two colors

Two Stars in Purple & Yellow

Two Stars in Blue & Purple

Two Stars in Yellow & Blue
Date: 4 September 2011
Type: Pattern
Number of tiles: 330
Color breakdown: 165 of one color, 165 of another color
Shape breakdown: 210 kites, 120 darts
Kosher Penrose tiling rules: no

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not so random 1:
Marvin & Tammi one time.

From time to time, I practice the ancient Japanese martial art of... karaoke.

I have been known to sing Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. People have commented favorably, and perhaps more to the point, when I ask people to get up to dance, they get up and dance.

But even if I could find someone to sing Tammi's part, I could never get drunk enough to sing this one, because this version is perfect. Way too many of the people who made it great are gone now. Nickolas Ashford the co-writer, Marvin and Tammi, of course, and the amazing bass player James Jamerson. All it has to do is start with the back-up singers whispering "You're all... I need... to get by.... A-ahh...", and I am transported.

Pop songs don't get better. This is the Word of the Lord.