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From the introductory lectures on human resources

Posted by Ben
on 09.11.10

… The general formulae which were abstracted by such writers were meant to stand especially as precepts and rules, according to which, particularly in times of degeneration of human resources, right management was meant to be restored. The prescriptions, however, compiled by these physicians of the art had even less assured success than those of physicians whose aim was the restoration of health.

Respecting theories of this kind, I propose merely to mention that, though in detail they contain much that is instructive, yet their remarks were abstracted from a very limited circle of business practices, which passed for the genuinely good ones, but yet always belonged to a but narrow range. And again, such formulae are in part very trivial reflections which in their generality proceed to no establishment of particulars, although this is the matter of chief concern.

The above-mentioned Horatian epistle is full of these reflections, and, therefore, is a book for all men, but one which for this very reason contains much that amounts to nothing, e.g.—

Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci
Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo

"He carries all votes, who has mingled the pleasant and the useful, by at once charming and instructing his reader." This is just like so many copybook headings, e.g. "Stay at home and earn an honest livelihood", which are right enough as generalities, but lack the concrete determinations on which action depends.

A reflection brought on by reading these sentences: “Twitter is a progressive, values-driven company. With clearly defined operating principles (like "Make Things Happen" and "Remove Friction"), we have established alignment between what we want to accomplish and how we are going to accomplish it.” Right! We remove the gap between making things happen and the question how to make things happen with the principle: make things happen!

(A later bullet point writes "shepards" for "shepherds".)


 

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This new yet unapproachable frozen yogurt

Posted by Ben
on 09.11.10

Discussing a self-serve frozen yogurt establishment, one K. S— has this to say:

The first time I walked into Frozen Yo, I noticed how much it was like a buffet, where you load a bunch of crap onto your plate and see what you like best but ultimately end up eating way more than you planned. It just seemed so — American.

Ew, how repulsive! (I refer, of course, to the spaces on either side of the dash.)


 

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Unfogged Was Nicer/Less Nice Back In The Day. Discuss:

Posted by LizardBreath
on 09.11.10

Given that that other thread still seems to be dribbling along and I'm sick of it, anyone who's interested in changes in Unfogged over time should take it here. I'm with those who don't think of Unfogged Classic as having been either kinder and gentler, or more characterized by procedurally just moderation as a method of resolving interpersonal conflicts. On the other hand, it was more entertaining back then, or I was more easily entertained. Are there still more cock jokes to be made?


 

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So Why Are We Letting Them Build Things On Hallowed Ground?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 09.11.10

There's a Sunday Times Magazine article developing Henry Farrell's observation that terrorists tend disproportionately to be engineers. First, this calls into question the whole idea of building anything at the WTC site, unless it can be done without engineering of any sort. I say we need the 9-11 memorial mud hut. Possibly we could stretch a point and allow thatching.

Second, I'd like to hear some poorly supported theories about why this is. Off the cuff, here's one: an engineering education sets you up to believe (accurately) that your hard work and expertise are going to lead you to useful correct answers (in your domain of expertise) that other people can't see because they don't know the same things you do. And compared to other domains of expertise, yours is much more reliable than most: if something goes wrong, it's because you've made an identifiable error in applying the principles you rely on. All the right answers are out there, and can be found by a systematic application of the things you've learned about how things work.

I could see this habit of thinking setting someone up to develop a disproportionate faith in other systems of thought that provide answers to how to fix everything about the world; thinking that sociology, or theology, or whatever your chosen system is can be used to show you the right thing to do to solve a problem in the same way that physics can. So when your theory tells you the right thing to do is blow up an airport, you don't step back and doubt your thought process, you rely on the fact that a logical application of valid principles isn't going to give you a wrong answer.

But this is off-the-cuff bullshit: anyone else got a better idea?


 

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Things that hurt to read

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.10.10

A follow-up to the article about the Koch brothers in the New Yorker, about how they successfully funded the construction of this culture of misinformation. You might as well crawl back under the covers now.


 

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Not that it's going to affect anything I do.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.10.10

It's pretty common for people writing math tests to get their questions from textbooks or off the web. For obvious reasons it would be completely self-defeating to cite our sources. So - I assume - everyone plagiarizes. Is there ever any discussion of protocol in situations like this?


 

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I Can't Say I Told You So, Because I Don't Think I Actually Said It At The Time.

Posted by LizardBreath
on 09.09.10

Does anyone else remember various Republican pundits and such saying, back in 2009 when we were first talking about stimulus, that we couldn't do stimulus with big infrastructure projects because it would take too long to spend the money, and by the time the money got spent everything would be okay and all that infrastructure stimulus would be a waste? I remember thinking at the time, but I don't think I said anywhere, that it didn't seem all that unlikely that the stimulus would still be necessary a year or two out.

Seems as if having put more money into infrastructure projects back in 2009 would actually be looking like a good idea right about now, wouldn't it.


 

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Regarding Equivalency

Posted by Stanley
on 09.09.10

I just overheard on Talk of the Nation some reporter down in Gainesville indicating that an imam from Central Florida was on site at the church of aspiring Qur'an burner Terry Jones, possibly to negotiate a deal that would trade moving Park51 in exchange for Jones not going all Fire Marhsal Bill this weekend. Which just sounded so preposterous, to equate the two things, and yet there it was, just offered up as if such a deal would be a fair and reasonable outcome for Jones's little temper tantrum.

I'm pretty sore on how the coverage is going in the national media on issues regarding Islam. But as long as there's going to be a silly national-media buzz around it, can someone point me to a blog or news site that's saying intelligent things about stories such as these? It would make my head hurt slightly less.


 

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Profiles in Courage Stubbornness

Posted by Stanley
on 09.08.10

So, I attended a big(-ish) arena concert tonight (yeah, it was Lady Gaga; totes fabulous, by the by), and I faced major pushback from cow-orkers on my plan to bike to the concert. Pleas of, "No! You'll be hit by a car!" and "Are you insane?!"

The route from my house to the concert was about 2.8 miles, well within the same burg I call home, and, despite containing a few hairy busy-street spots, easily within the capacities of someone who's biked around town with some regularity and who's donning the requisite safety gear. (I wear a helmet and use flashing lights on the bike at night.)

Those who protested my plan all live in outlying neighborhoods where bike riding would be admittedly more nerve-wracking. But still, I was really surprised by the fear-mongering and felt vindicated as I breezed past the post-concert traffic snarl and onwards towards home.

To generalize, perhaps uncharitably, people have pretty goofy ideas about what's accessible by bike.


 

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There's a party in my uterus!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.08.10

The types of girls who go before a judge to ask for a bypass from the parental notification law to get an abortion, in Alaska. Interesting read, although it gets preachy, especially near the end. Basically not surprising, but the degree to which the law can fuck you over is alternately mind-boggling and infuriating.


 

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'Rithmetic.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.07.10

In my lower level classes, I start the semester by telling them that in one week, they will have a test over the material that they need to know cold for the upcoming semester. In the past, I gave them the exact test, over formulas and vocabulary, and told them that it was pass/fail with an 80% cut-off to pass. Results were consistently dismal and I've complained before on Unfogged. Basically, 1/3 of the class always failed.

This semester, in Calculus II, I decided not to give them the exact test ahead of time, just to shake things up. Instead it would have simple actual problems from Calculus 1 to solve on it. I gave them the list of topics on the first day of class.

The results are in. Average: 45.15 69. Distribution: ridiculously bimodal. 10 A/Bs, 1 C, 2Ds, and 7 Fs.

My theory is that this is yet another unintended consequence of all this standardized testing: you're taught each skill in isolation, and you're taught to recognize the question that will test that skill. You're not asked to synthesize material from different contexts. The kids get very adept at purging information from the previous lesson so that it doesn't clutter their mind for the current lesson.

So they do not retain anything worth shit once the semester ends. (Who knows, maybe I'm kidding myself that things were different pre-standardized testing. Probably it was just wildly varying.)

A related, common complaint of faculty members is that students are doggedly unwilling to transfer knowledge or concepts laterally between classes. Here, I think we instructors are unwittingly accomplices, because we work so hard to create classes where everyone is on equal footing and has the same shot at an A. If you design a class where students must synthesize between classes, then their performance will vary based on which classes they've had. You're either embarking on a complicated past-course tracking system or you end up making the course flexible, which is great for learning, but terrible for assigning grades that everyone agrees are fair.

I'm sympathetic, but good lord, I just want them to know the basic material from Cal 1. I'm going to let them take a different test, outside of class, and recover up to half the points they've missed, to see if I can get them to look over that material one more time.


 

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Fashion backwards

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.07.10

Georgia mayor to sign baggy pants ban. Either fashion passes through the medium which is Georgia at a rate of 100 miles per decade, or there is a group of people in Atlanta who began sagging in 1993, since got well-paying jobs and are raising their families, and are now buying homes in the exurbs, which have consumed this little hick town, and - like me - they still dress as though they were teenagers, on the weekends.

"We've gotten several complaints from citizens saying the folks with britches down below their buttocks was offensive, and wasn't there something we could do about it," Best said.

It's not racist if you genuinely don't like something that anyone might do. Sometimes old white Texans have rather saggy pants. Unrelatedly, this pair of comments always cracked me up:

Sifu Tweety, 4/17/08: "I'll tell you what I don't like about Obama: rap isn't music. It's just yelling!"
Apostropher, 3 comments later: "I don't like the way he's always wearing his pants down below his butt when I see him at the mall."


 

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USian Music

Posted by Stanley
on 09.06.10

This is probably relevant to the recent Egypt thread. Or not. I don't know. It's Labor Day. I was told there would be no work:


 

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Remind her gently

Posted by Ben
on 09.05.10

Indeed. Language Log explains that the three lines of Chinese translate as, respectively, "gentle reminder", "exercise class in session", and "do not disturb". It turns out that the "fuck" comes from the first symbol on the second line:

Cāo 操 basically means "to grasp, hold, operate, control, manipulate," but it also has the very general meaning of "make an effort to do" and the more specific connotation of "exercise," which is the intended meaning here, hence "exercise class." However, cāo 操 also has the vulgar meaning of "to fuck," which is what leads to the mischief here.

I, however, having a more poetic soul than Victor Mair has, immediately assumed that "fuck" was an unintentionally cacophemistic rendering of "gentle reminder".


 

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