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Nothing can prepare you for this

Posted by Ben
on 08.27.11

It seems a certain famous performing (also talking) cat was renowned, and well remunerated, for his act in which there figured to no small degree certain characteristic sounds of contented satisfaction (unless it was satisfied contentment) such as most of us are familiar with from our dealings with cats. The act was not exhausted by such things but it was widely believed that he owed a great deal of his success to just that component of his act, so people were quite curious what he thought when it was revealed that another performer had managed (or so it seemed) to figure out precisely how to produce the very sounds (and to produce them in the very manner) that our hero did, and made them into his own act in turn, being, in a word, an imitator, or, in another, a copy—as one might, and some would, but I would never (regarding even the suggestion that I might insulting) put it—cat.

Our hero was unperturbed. "It doesn't matter", he said. "People come to my performances to see my charisma, my style, me. That's something that no one can successfully imitate no matter how great a study they make of it; anyone attempting it would be seen through at once. Given that, it hardly matters if someone copies an element—even a seemingly central element—of my performances, because they can't get the essential part. Nothing else matters." Here he allows himself a scornful smile and continues: "you see, who steals my purrs steals trash."


 

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Once every quadrillion years a statistician gets her deterministic experiment...

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.26.11

It's probably unsurprising that I love this story: A woman who has won multi-million dollar jackpots off the Texas Lottery four times, at odds of one in eighteen septillion, was recently outed as a former math professor with a PhD in statistics from Stanford. Texans are variously attributing her winnings to luck and God, though. Bless their hearts.

via


 

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For the east-coasters

Posted by Ben
on 08.26.11


 

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Say "this is bullshit" if you think this is bullshit

Posted by Ben
on 08.26.11

WHY, I would like to ask, are so many automated phone system deals now driven in the following method?: one speaks aloud (into the "receiveR" of course1) the option one would like to select where formerly one would have pressed "1" or "2" or the like.1 What then ends up happening (certainly more often than not, anyway) is that then the auto-voice says back to you: "it sounds like you said ⌜something that may actually resemble what you said⌝, is that right?" (if you don't get that message the one you get is usually "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand you"). Then you have to say "yes" or "no". Aloud! And so one is reduced to reciting aloud endless strings of numbers or spelling words out or saying one of a number of picked-out-in-advance phrases and the whole thing is not half as efficient as just pressing a key would have been.

I find this incredibly annoying! The only situation where it makes sense is when what you might want to communicate to the system exceeds nine items, but still must be drawn from a predetermined list. (For instance: intersections in a city.) Otherwise there is (as far as I can tell) no advantage; it sacrifices discreteness of input, and, like, quietness and non-ridiculousness of input, for the dubious gee-whizness of talking to a computer, sort of.

1. Let me know what you think of this innovative method of distributing punctuation. It does not seem right to have the question mark after the section of the sentence marked off by the colon expanding on the "way". And it would be horrible to use two sentences.


 

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Gross lessons for today

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.26.11

The other day at an extracurricular event, a student came up and said, "Ma'am, I don't want to offend, but I really need to leave and go lie down."
I said "Sure. What's going on?"
He said "I hurt my ankle."
I looked down, and his ankle was very swollen.
"Shouldn't that be wrapped and iced or something?" I asked.
He said, "It's not sprained or twisted or anything. I had an MRI. They don't know what's going on. They think it's some sort of bite." He showed me the back, near his tendon, and there was a big bruised tennis-ball sized lump.

I had a wave of nausea and told him to go get in bed, no problem, hope you feel better, maybe do some Calculus if you need to pass the time.

Today as he was leaving class, I asked him how his ankle was. He said "Not good" and showed me, and there was blood running down all over the back of his shoe.

I need to remember that sometimes when people seem checked out and unengaged, it's because they have blood pouring out of the back of their ankle. Or emotionally in their heads.


 

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Laugh, smile, cringe

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.26.11

From Chris Y: Top ten jokes selected at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

To me, 2, 3 and 6 are probably good enough to get behind a mic with; 1, 4, 5 and 7 would raise a smile if somebody came out with them spontaneously in a pub; 8, 9 and 10 are the opposite of funny. What do you think?

My favorites are 3, 5 and 7. I'd smile at 1,2,4,6, and possibly 10 if it was told well. 8 and 9 are definitely not funny in any way.


 

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Ask The Mineshaft: Whither Changing Institutions By Acting Locally?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.26.11

Dear Mineshaft:

I have a Moral Quandary.

I'm in the East Bay and have no car (partly for earthy crunchy reasons). The transit system (BART) is very handy, although not necessary to my actual health and employment. However, BART police shoot people with less repercussion than I think is right. I wish them to change. In fact, I feel that some little fraction of their wrongs adheres to me, while I quietly use the system. It's like being a rich person in an aggressive superpower, writ small.

So what should I do? I'm not sure protesting is going to work to change BART; many more of my acquaintances than I expected disagree with the protests on the grounds that they inconvenience real people (i.e., non-bicyclists who are too poor to commute by taxi) or, alternately, that any disruption of BART causes more anthropogenic CO2 emissions, or that the protests won't change anything. Of course, people always say that until the protests work. I'm not even sure what the change I want in BART enforcement to be, although I am sure that I don't want to employ anyone who confuses his firearm with his taser in a job carrying both.

What successful reforms are suitable precedents? Is there some SPLC equivalent working here that I could help? Or, possibly, does the SPLCe think BART is average or better for systems I have any effect on, and I should direct my efforts elsewhere?

Signed,
In A Quandary, Which Is In A BART Car, Which Is In A Duck

Dear Quandary:

To your exact question, I've got nothing. Worrying about BART police brutality specifically seems off to me, unless they're dramatically different from other Bay Area police. I'd tend to think that focusing on the broader issue would be more productive.

Broadly, what does an individual do to change the system? Damifino -- but if anyone in the comments has any ideas, I'm fascinated.

LB


 

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Also check out the golden mermaid couch.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.25.11

In the ruins of Gadhafi's lair, rebels find album filled with photos of his 'darling' Condoleezza Rice. I think it's reasonable for Rice to feel a little squicked out.

Via Jammies


 

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It Feels Strange Linking Approvingly To William Saletan

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.25.11

But I liked his latest on the Strauss-Kahn prosecution.

I'm not sure that the prosecution did the wrong thing in dropping the case -- the witness's general credibility problems (the asylum application, tax and housing issues) might have made it implausible to get a conviction. But everything that specifically cast doubt on her account of the day Strauss-Kahn raped her seems very weak now. There were two big issues: first that her story of the aftermath changed. Her initial story was that she left the room, went into the hallway, and stayed there. Then, on June 28, prosecutors say that she told them she left the room, went to another room and cleaned it, and then went to the hallway. And her final version, which matches the card key records, is that she went into the other room for just a moment, according to her to get her cleaning supplies.

As Saletan says, the first and third versions are almost the same -- the discrepancy isn't the sort of thing that should create a credibility problem. Her lawyer says that the June 28th version came from a miscommunication with the translator: she had described cleaning the other room before the encounter with DSK, and going back in after, and the translator scrambled the order of events. The prosecution's motion to dismiss argues that blaming it on the translator doesn't work, because her English was good enough that she should have caught the error, but I'm not buying that: talking to people with limited English, IME sequences are exactly the sort of thing that do get scrambled. (And I suppose this shouldn't weigh with me much, but the June 28 version that's established as false, because the card key evidence contradicts it, is the one that makes her look bad: where she went untroubled on about her business and cleaned the next room.)

And the second big thing is the phone call with the guy in prison. When it was initially leaked, we were told that she raised the idea of making a profit off DSK: "She says words to the effect of, 'Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing,' " the official said. The juicy quote from her didn't make it into the prosecution's motion to dismiss, though. Now, what they say is:

But very close in time to these statements, the complainant had a recorded conversation with her incarcerated fiancé, in which the potential for financial recovery in relation to the May 14, 2011 incident was mentioned.

That's an awful lot weaker. And what her lawyer, who's listened to the tape of the call, says, and hasn't been contradicted by the prosecution, is that she gave the same story of the rape to her fiancé that she did to the police, that the fiancé was the one who brought up making money off it, and that the "I know what I'm doing" referred to being safe from repercussions from DSK, not to getting money out of him. If that's accurate, and it's perfectly consistent with the prosecution's current version of the call, it bolsters, rather than damaging, her credibility.

So, overall, I can't really evaluate the wisdom of dropping the case. But I'd certainly give a plaintiff's verdict in a civil case by a preponderance of the evidence standard, unless the evidence is very different from what's come out. And whoever it was in the prosecutor's office who leaked the misleading version of the phone call is an evil sonofabitch who should lose their job.


 

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Apparently, there are cows. And tinctures.

Posted by Stanley
on 08.24.11

I ran into a middle school classmate yesterday, and, after asking him what he's been up to, I was greeted with a question I sure as heck didn't see coming: "Have you ever heard of the term 'intentional community'?"


 

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A theory of first days in class

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.24.11

It's a cliche in teaching that being a good teacher isn't synonymous with being a popular teacher, and yet we're human and it's nice when your students like you. So "I hope they like me" is at least somewhere on most teachers' minds, on the first day, because things go smoothly when people like you. Most teachers would agree that the students can start hating you when the first grades come back, but it's nice if they like you on the first day.

I'm going to assert that this is inverted: it's more important on the first day for the student to feel like you like them. Like, genuinely and individually. It's impossible to make it individual in a big class, but singling out as many individuals as possible, and connecting with them, will leave the rest feeling like you generally like students and their foibles.

Basically, all people want to be liked, so meeting that need in your students will go further than tending to that need in yourself. And when I say "go further", I mean get them engaged and invested in your class.


 

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Did Someone Say We Hadn't Had A Gender Thread In A While?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.24.11

A good friend who'd been unhappily single for a long time just met a guy she's getting serious about, and in talking with her about her dating experiences, I came up with a generalization about men and women that I don't think I've heard before. (As of now, I'm not attached to its validity. Let me argue about it for a while, and it'll be the Revealed Truth.)

Women have standards, men have targets.

To explain what I'm thinking there, as a wild generalization, if you see a man who's having trouble finding a partner, generally you can figure out what's going on. Good reasons -- he's crazy in some sort of undesirable way, or without meaning to, he's actively avoiding getting close to women he might be interested in. Less good reasons -- he's short, or broke or something. But if you lined up a bunch of men in their their thirties and forties, and split them into men who were coupled up (or who were usually, in their lifespan, coupled up, even if single right then) and men who were mostly single, the coupled-up guys would be generally more desirable on a set of fairly simple standards: ability to interact pleasantly in ordinary social situations, capacity to support themselves financially, generally being functional. Women, in evaluating possible romantic partners, rule guys out on the basis of a broadly shared set of fairly objective standards (some of which I disapprove of -- the point isn't that they're perfect standards, just that they're commonly shared).

And once a guy gets past that set of minimum standards, most women are fairly open to the unexpected: obsessive chess player? That's interesting. Kind of into New Age shaman kind of stuff? Not my thing, but I can work with it. Not what I'd think of as 'my type' physically? If the guy is working out for me otherwise, my type's flexible. A different kind of personality than I'd encountered before? If I'm enjoying the time together, I can be open to different kinds of things. And so the outcome is that a guy with nothing 'wrong' with him (by this set of imperfect standards) is probably not going to have a terribly hard time finding partners as an adult. (Everyone has trouble as an adolescent.)

Men, on the other hand, seem to be much more likely to be looking for some specific woman, and judging possibilities on the basis of their resemblance to the ideal, without paying attention to minimum standards in areas that aren't important to that image. Ogged was very clear about this sort of thing: no one who wasn't a slim-hipped, outdoorsy tomboyish type with multiple graduate degrees who wouldn't make him go camping, spoke English as a first language and was dripping with mental whateveriness need apply. And for someone who matched that search image, he'd probably have been reasonably flexible about her being an ax murderer.

This works out so that giant flaws aren't romantically disqualifying for women in the same way they are for men -- if you line up single women next to coupled-up women, the single women aren't obviously less functional than the coupled-up women. What determines whether a woman finds a partner is if she manages to run into a man she likes, and who meets her minimum standards, who was already looking for, e.g., a mousy, shy, but acid-tongued-when-you-get-to-know-her, woman with long straight hair, thick legs, and a slightly heavy-but-hourglassy build. This ends up being hard on unusual women -- even if they're unusual in ways that you'd think would be desirable, the odder they are, the less likely they are to run into a man who was looking for a woman just like that.

This is not an argument that either men or women are less reasonable or that either women or men have it harder -- both ways of conducting a search for a partner can be reasonable or inhumane. And of course it's not universal -- nothing's true of all men or all women. But it does seem to explain some things about how the dating experience works for grownups -- does it ring true to anyone else?


 

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No really, on the veldt.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.11

If I think about life on the veldt, it seems like it would require a lot of low-level vigilance: watch the toddlers, be ready to spring in case something bad happens. Watch the horizon, be ready to spring if something bad appears. Etc. Stay faintly aware and vigilant when traipsing around and foraging.

I find faint vigilance totally exhausting and unpleasant. Sometimes I wonder how people in the midst of gang violence or drug violence handle the stress of it all. I wonder why we didn't evolve to be better at that sort of thing.

Or, maybe it was idyllic and relaxing. Who the hell knows.


 

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Process of elimination

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.11

I'm instituting discussion questions in my Calculus class, and in my head I call them "Digestion Questions", because they've been served the material during lecture, and now they are digesting it.

And because the process completes itself all over the exam.


 

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The math of fashion

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.11

For the average person, clothes look roughly normal if they were bought within the last ten years. Then there's a lagging window of 10-15 years ago where clothes look extraordinarily ugly. Then, further past that, the clothes look goofy and silly. In other words, I'm saying that people are currently more likely to chuckle at a picture of themselves from 1988, and feel genuine embarrassment over a picture of themselves from 1998 (if they are the sort who gets embarrassed over unflattering pictures of themselves.)

I bet this is the uncanny valley phenomenon, just in fashion instead of robots, and using distance into the past as the axis of approximation to what looks normal. The clothes that the cast wears on Seinfeld are ugly, whereas the clothes that the Huxtables wear on The Cosby Show have phased out of ugly, and landed in goofy.


 

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A question about High and Low

Posted by Ben
on 08.22.11

At the beginning of the movie, Gondo owns 28% of the shoe company, and he's got 50 million yen at his disposal to make a payment for an additional 19%—the full cost of which will be 150 million yen. That would make his 28% worth 221 million yen. The ransom is 30 million yen, so he's got 20 million left over from that.

Once he decides to pay the ransom, he already knows that he's through at the shoe company. So why can't he pay off his creditors?


 

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In? Out? Yes, it was both.

Posted by Stanley
on 08.22.11

I have a series of potential posts noted last week during my West Coast travels, but they're looking increasingly kind of lame. Better throw one up before it's completely dead to me!

So, yeah, I'm not an ideal candidate for the lauded In-N-Out experience, what with the vegetarianism and all. Still, I found their "grilled cheese, animal-style" to be quite serviceable, especially after a long day of driving with lackluster meals along the way.

But the real story behind the In-N-Out-vs.-Five-Guys (and whoever else is in the running) wars, is that In-N-Out's french fries totally fucking suck ass.

Like, big time.


 

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Heavy Meddle

Posted by Stanley
on 08.22.11

I'm totally shocked:

[…] new revelations in long-running political scandals under former president Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally throughout his eight-year tenure, have implicated American aid, and possibly U.S. officials, in egregious abuses of power and illegal actions by the Colombian government under the guise of fighting terrorism and drug smuggling.

American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe's political opponents and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials.

Also, something-something, mumble-mumble, Libya.


 

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Euphemisms

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.11

There is an apartment complex in town with signs proclaiming "Active Adult Lifestyle!" I'm pretty sure that means either sexually active, or old and not very active anymore. I'm pretty sure they're not advertising for exhausted parents who are holding down three jobs and getting five hours of sleep every night and inviting hard-luck cases to crash on their couch until they get their feet on the ground.


 

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And then it cost less than five dollars.

Posted by Stanley
on 08.21.11

I'm way behind on reading comments, but I suppose I can share with you a wonderful magnet, spotted at the DFW airport:

alamo.jpg


 

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W. begins to become history

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.21.11

Sunday Question for Liberals

What if any liberal criticism of George W. Bush, perhaps one that you believed in at the time, now in retrospect seems to have been unfair or a cheep shot? Anything?

Of the answers in the comments, the one that I could agree with is:

I would say Bush has gotten too much grief for Katrina. He didn't handle it well, but it was handled poorly on many levels, not just by him and not just at the federal level.

I'd add "and it long preceded his presidency."

I do not feel quite as rageful at Bush as I used to. I would have been unable to contemplate this question two years ago. Some of it is now directed at Obama, some at Congress or Wall Street, etc, but it's almost like since we've had an opportunity to change directions, and we've totally squandered it, I can't single him out in anger quite the same way anymore.


 

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