Sunday, January 30, 2005

Wild Irises

These bloom all over the mountain in the spring.

How to know a song sucks without listening to it

Greetings, aspiring songwriters!

Have a great tune, but lack the time or wit to create meaningful or original lyrics? Fear not!

We've compiled some phrases and rhyming words that are easy to work with, and guaranteed to convey those special sentiments and unique insights that only your music can express!

Having a tough time with your heartfelt swoon inducer? "Love" is such a tough word to rhyme...

Try "Dove" or "Above". Not only will that be totally original, it will let you use a great smilie, as in "like a dove" or "like the sky above"

Other times, you'll want to use a really emotional image. Something that evokes ideas of unbelievable happiness and specialness and just awesomeness. For these occasions, we recommend the phrase "touch the sky". You may then want to rhyme "sky" with the word "high" or "fly". People will be swept away, as, due to your amazing song, they think for the first time about the sky being a bright blue ceiling of some kind, and that if they were lifted, they could reach out and touch it. Then you will forever be known as the person who sings that song that goes "touch the sky".

Or maybe you're writing a tormented song of anguish and rejection? May we suggest completing a rhyme and introducing a unique metaphor by coupling "pain" with "rain"? Rain is depressing, and you feel sad. Get it? It'll totally work, and be awesome at the same time.

Another great idea for rhyming and metaphor use is to speak of relationship difficulties as a "fight" and the tough times you're going through as... You'll never believe this one... "night". I know. Where do I get these?

Perhaps you want to convey intense passion? What better word to modify "desire" than "fire"?

Struggling with direct address? Try rhyming "girl" with "world". No one will notice the "d" on the end of "world" nor that the words, technically, don't rhyme without poor diction, since they'll be too busy being amazed at your originality.

Girls like it when you sing about how pretty they are. Try saying something about her "face" and then, for a surprise twist, rhyme it with "place". They'll never see it coming.

Now see if you can think of some words to go with tears. If you said "fears" or "years", you're a frigging genius.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Turn about is fair play

While the analysis is keen, I'll say just this:

The US has its embedded 'journalists', and the insurgents now have theirs.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The true economic value of Ashlee Simpson

I'm going to write a piece that may offend some people very close to me. I say what I'm about to say not to dash any dreams, but to dissect an important issue facing us all: Why does Ashlee Simpson exist?

Yes, because her parents did it...

I mean: Why is she in the spotlight? At all? Clearly this is not the best entertainment talent in the land. So why would the music industry seize upon and invest in her? Are they blind to the brilliant and talented others that are out there? Do they actually think this girl is entertaining?

No, they think they can use her to sell albums.

The reason for Ashlee is because the music industry isn't about selling music. It's about selling records. They don't sell music, they sell things. They sell music storage containers.

And this is the fundamental problem the industry faces right now: They had a viable business selling containers as long as the containers were the best way to distribute music, and as long as the technology required to produce the containers and place music inside them was expensive to own and operate. As long as records, tapes and CDs require production technology so expensive that only a corporation dedicated to large scale use of the technology can afford it, then the music companies have a way to make money and a reason to exist. They controlled the means of producing the means of distributing music.

Customers thought they were buying music. And they were. But they were also paying for the music storage and distribution system represented by the container, and not just the music inside of it. So the big question is: What's the value of the container and the container-based distribution system, and what's the value of the music?

Hint: In Elizabethan England, actors and minstrels were the carnival folk of the modern era. If your daughter were trying to decide between whoring and being a minstrel, you'd really not know which way to steer her. Ok, I may exaggerate. But just a little.

But in the modern era, musicians and actors are the secret ingredient. An empty entertainment container isn't worth very much. You spend what on a blank CD? 25 to 50 cents? Musicians are valuable to music companies insofar as the musicians create demand for access to music distributed through the distribution system the music companies have created. Musicians create demand for music in containers.

But what if the music didn't have to come in containers? Then we'd start to see two new markets develop: A market for the music itself, and a market for music storage containers. And I'd be very surprised if music is as valuable as it seems to have been in recent economic history. Why? 1) Minstrels 2) Monopolies: There was a lot of monopoly in the old system, and where there’s a monopoly, there’s price gouging. Monopolies charge what they can get away with.

So what’s happening in the new market?

There are new music container companies (iPod), and they’re doing well. The neat thing about the new music container companies: They just sell containers, not music.

And the new music companies sell just music, not the container. I continue to question whether this is actually a viable business: Why pay when the same thing is available for free? I think the future for music is that music files are given away to generate demand for performances, the exact opposite of the recent past. The reason is simple: You can’t control access to the files, you can control access to performances. Charge for what you can control, harness the thing you can’t control.

Of course, this means the days of mega bucks for popular performers is over. I think it also means that old music industry is toast, that the media machine that creates demand for crappy music will die, and that only truly appealing music will rise to the surface. We’ll get better music, heretofore unknown artists will get recognized and paid (though not mega bucks), and consumers will get more for less. Freeing up cash flow to be re-deployed elsewhere in the economy. Ushering in a new era of prosperity. Yay.

So musicians: Embrace the new business model. Give away the album; sell tickets to the concert. You’ll get famous faster, will spark an economic boom that benefits us all, and most importantly, you’ll hasten the demise of Ashlee Simpson, who is currently more famous than you are, with only 1/100th the talent. Hate Ashlee. Free the music…

Cure for winter blahs

In California, these come in February. Take that, Canada!

Why astrology is bullshit

You are 40% Pisces

Thanks to Jess for bringing this to my attention.
Pisces are supposed to be these wussy indecisive cry baby artist types. Not me. I am way too rational to be a pisces. Don't you think I should be at least 50% Pisces, if this crap has anything to do with reality?
If you seek to to redeem this school of thought as having some predictive validity by appealing to my rising sign, be my guest. I'll send you my star chart that I got done online here.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

New and improved word game

I figured out why my old word game didn't take off.

Basically, it was a game of "hey guys, give me a platform for being witty and clever".

And while that's fun for me, that's not fun for you.

So in the new game, I'll provide the "word", and you provide the definition.

I'll choose a winner. Based on whatever definition I like best. My game.

The winner will get the option of posting/ hosting the word game on his/ her blog. The game can continue to travel to the winner's blog. If the winner chooses not to host the game, then the previous host can host a second round. When you host, you must link to the game you won, so we can track the path...

Like a fun blog virus.

The word can't be a real English word. Check the dictionary.

Shall we play?

Word: Espondulate

I'll wait a day or two, then pick a winner.... Have fun!

Boiling Mud, Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic Nat'l Park

The scalding water bubbles up, keeping the ground soupy enough so fat steam bubbles can hiss and fart out of the mud. Makes you forget you're still on Earth. This park is pretty nifty.

Taking in all the beauty of hell

Water isn't really supposed to be that color. Or temperature.

The sulfur and water and heat air react to form... Anyone? Anyone?


AKA Sulfuric Acid, which is rapidly disolving the surrounding stone. Literally disolving a pit into the side of the mountain. Cool, huh? And if you really, really like the smell of hard-boiled eggs that have beenleft in the sun to rot for three days, you'll really love this place.

Seriously, it's worth the smell to see it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why W is so brilliant

"I believe that a free society is a peaceful society" - George W. Bush

Hello George! Thanks for reading my Blog!

Today, we're going to learn about two things. They might help you out in your job.

The first thing is called LOGIC. It's an amazing tool for this thing we like to call "rational decision making". You might like to try it. The portion of logic we're going to learn about is a special kind of statement called a "Conditional".

The basic form of a conditional is "If A, then B".

Let's use an example you'll understand, to make this idea clear to you.

Let's consider the statement "If it's a kitty cat, it's fuzzy"

This statement can be true or false. How can we tell if the statement is false? We look for examples, and see if they fit the statement.

Do you remember Socks? Socks was Bill Clinton's kitty cat. Socks was fuzzy. And this is consistent with our statement. A is true, and B is true, so "if A then B" is not disproven. That last part with the letters requires abstract thinking, George. So if I lost ya, don't worry.

What about Dick Cheney? He's not a kitty cat, but he is fuzzy. Does this make our statement false? No. The presence of fuzzy things that aren't kitty cats doesn't disprove our statement that if it's a kitty, it is fuzzy. If A is false and B is true, then "if A then B" is still true.

What about zoom zoom airplanes? Zoom zoom airplanes aren't kitty cats, and they're not fuzzy. Do zoom zoom airplanes make our statement false? No, because if things that aren't kitty cats aren't fuzzy, it can still be true that kitty cats are fuzzy. If A is false and B is false, "If A, then B" is still true.

But what about Mr. Bigglesworth? Is Mr. Bigglesworth a kitty? Is he fuzzy? Ah! So he's an example of a kitty that's not fuzzy, and this disproves our theory that "if it's a kitty, it's fuzzy". If A is true and B is false, then "If A, then B" is false.

I hope you enjoyed our talk about kitties, George.

The second thing I want to talk about is called CONFIRMATION BIAS. It's the psychological tendency of people to look only for examples and information that confirm their assumptions. People have this amazing ability to ignore things that don't fit with what they want to believe. You don't know any silly people like that, do you George?

Let's combine our two lessons for the day into a game I'd like to call "Name that country"

Can you think of some societies that are Free and Peaceful? Switzerland! Iceland! Canada!

Can you think of some societies that are Not Free, but Peaceful? Singapore!

Can you think of some societies that are Not Free and Not Peaceful? Nazi Germany! Stalin's USSR! Pinochet's Chile!

Now, the extra special bonus round. Be careful George! If we can think of an example of a country that is Free but NOT Peaceful, it will prove your statement false...

Think hard George... A society that's Free, but NOT Peaceful.

I'll give you a hint.

From late 2001 to late 2003, this country averaged exactly one invasion of another country per year!

This country's government actively pursues policies to allow torture, and refuses to abide by the Geneva convention!

Still not sure?

Finish this sentence: "I am the President of..."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Reality TV

I was originally going to write a post on why 62% of the people in my county are ignorant luddite hippies. But I'll be writing that one tomorrow.

Today I blog surfed my way to a site that had posted videos of much of the Iraq violence that American news sensibilities won't show. I can't vouch first hand for what has been shown on TV in Europe or the rest of the world, but I know anecdotally and from my time there that they show more of the gory details on the news than we do. Went an event is horrific, they show the horror.

In American movies, if a bunch of people are going to get killed, directors employ many techniques to desensitize us to the violence. The armies under the control of James Bond bad guys dress alike, and often have their faces covered or obscured. Bad guy armies in epic pics are often helmeted and faceless as well. Look at most of the cops in The Matrix. We see no faces, we don't see them as fully human. We don't empathize; we don't mind seeing them die.

So most of the violence we see as Americans is stylized, diluted impact stuff. We never see real violence. We don't see real people suffering actual terrible fates in all their terror. And I think this has a lot to do with why we're comfortable with glorified ideas about war. Our pork chops don't look like pigs. Our chickens have no feathers, heads or feet. Little meat maxis in the bottom of the trays, so out meat remains bloodless. We contract out the messy, terrible violent aspects of our lives in our culture, which happens out of view, and hence see only the cellophane wrapped, approved for US TV versions. Dead people are in coffins, not lying in the street with their severed heads placed atop their now still backs while the blood still flows out.

So I chose to view some of the videos. Not out of any adolescent fascination with the taboo, but out of a sense of responsibility as a citizen. I need to see what's happening. I need to see who's doing the killing. I need to see who's doing the dying.

Disturbing is an understatement. You watch a person's last minutes. You wonder how terrifying it must be to be the one who's shot in the head second. You hear and feel the fate of the one next to you, and in that instant, know your fate. Beheadings aren't neat, tidy, quick or painless. There's gurgling, but no screaming.

And what to think? The masked folks who choose to pick off the least defended, least militarized periphery of the invasion effort and slaughter them publicly for maximum psychological impact: Are they acting irrationally? Direct military engagement of a technological and financial power that's developmentally decades ahead of you is suicide. If you have two pawns and your opponent has two rooks, you don't attack. You play to drag it out, and hope to win on time. You play to frustrate and annoy and to prolong the inevitable as long as possible. It's savage, it's terrible, and it's the right tactic. And could be anticipated. Don't get me wrong: I don't think these guys are brave. Hacking off the head of a bound and blindfolded fat 60 year old with the help of three other guys doesn't take any kind of courage or honor or cleverness. It requires coldness and indifference and a failure to see "the enemy" as fully human. But so does putting a bullet in the head of an old man who may still be alive, just as a precaution.

If it's cowardice to kill a helpless person, is it cowardice to kill from a distance? From hundreds of yards away, from thousands of feet in the air, from the security of elevation in the chain of command?

I feel bad for all involved. I feel bad for the dehumanization that's being perpetrated by all sides. I didn't vote to start it, and I didn't vote to perpetuate it.

Anyway, I watched it. It was terrible. So I'm still human.

Will writes a great piece on the administration's lip service to the "value of human life".

Georgia O'Keefe with a digital camera

Sometimes a flower is not just a flower.

Updated (November 8, 2005): Hi there! It seems this image is really popular on google image search. I'm glad folks like it! If you care to borrow it, feel free, but, if you do, please do me a favor and:
  1. Source where you got it (
  2. Shoot me an e-mail and just tell me what you're doing with it (Ken_is_a_verb at yahoo dot com)

Part of my goal of the blog is to connect with people from around the world. I only ask for a reference and a thank you note, and you're free to enjoy.

If you want to put a pin in my blog map, that'd be nice, too.



Sunday, January 23, 2005

Oprah cont'd

What do you think of my odds of being heard?

Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2005 01:02:48 -0600 (CST)
From: ""
To: ken_is_a_verb
Subject: has received your e-mail

Dear Kenneth,
Thank you for your e-mail! Your message is important to us.
Unfortunately, due to the volume of e-mail messages we receive every day, we
cannot guarantee that you'll receive a personal response. Feel free to
check out our Frequently Asked Questions for additional help.
Thanks again for writing to us!
The Staff

FAQ? I guess lots of folks are telling her she's exploitative. Guess I didn't need to.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Playboy channel? No. Give me TLC!

Hottest women on TV: TLC.

We all know Paige Davis is Fine. Fine Fine. And cute. And has no fear of power tools.

And Genevieve... So curvy. So sweet. Such a good designer. And she likes to go barefoot.

But I have a new crush. Jenn from 10 years younger. She looks a little alternative. Like a punk rock pixie. And she's no BS... And she's cute. And she has purple hair.

Why Blogger is Lying

I quote:

"Stats collection has been temporarily turned off, so you will not see your post count increasing on your dashboard or profile. We plan to restore this functionality in the short term but have needed to stop collecting the information for now in order to stabilize the database servers."

How 'bout we give the servers some prozac or ritalin or lithium or something and get back to counting every word I write? Goddam new age sensitive technology hippies...


Confruzzled: adj 1.Feeling ambivalent about unrequited desire for an animal.

"When Fido neglected Jane after his initial enthusiastic crotch sniffing, she felt confruzzled"

Middle English "confusen" "frustraten"; Modern English "fuzzy"

Word submitted by Caloovy

Friday, January 21, 2005

My New Game

Ok, fans, here's the game:

Give me a typo or made up word, and I will give you a definition.

For example: From an IM conversation with a friend:


kletch: (v) To drive a manual transmission poorly
from the yiddish for "to complain" and the English "clutch"

Wanna play?

Secret Word

Not conforming is pretty
important to me, so there's
no way I'm going to play
juvenile games with words just to
amuse some anonymous stranger.

Black, Blue, White, Red

When the crab apples blossom, they're all flowers

Why Oprah Winfrey is Evil

Well, perhaps not evil in the same way that Bob Barker or Jenny Jones is evil. But she's certainly not as good as she'd like us to believe. Here's why:

I had the opportunity to see one of her shows last year, and it was deeply troubling. A quick synopsis:

Oprah is playing fairy godmother to ordinary folk through her "wildest dreams" show.

The recipient du jour of Oprah's largesse is Bernadette, a woman who works at Starbucks 7 days a week to support her own 3-4 kids and her brother's 3-4 kids, whom she has taken in because her brother is a heroin (or some other pretty serious drug, can't quite recall) addict. So I'll just say right now: Bernadette is clearly a saint, and clearly deserves and needs a little help. I'm not taking issue with that.

What's Oprah's solution? Well, first she needs us to feel for Bernadette. So cue the piano music... The voice over tells us what I just told you. But all the while we're treated to the slow motion shots of Bernadette off to work at Starbucks, and shots of Bernadette's current living quarters: Busted up furniture, boxes everywhere, not enough beds for all the kids. The montage basically screaming "Look at her poverty. Look how poor she is. Look at what her kids don't have." Cut back to the studio shot. Bernadette is in tears. So are her kids. How humiliating that must have been.

So now we get the solution. Oprah takes the kids on a Toys R Us shopping spree. Somewhere in the $15-$20 thousand dollar range. Now this is great. The kids are happy. They've got toys. Oprah's hoping they choose books. They chose play stations. And bikes. Good for the kids. The Toys R Us basically shuts down for the hour or so so the kids can do the shopping spree.

And I'll begin the theme you're about to see here: Was this generosity? Did Oprah cover the toys? What do you want to bet Toys R US did? Why? $20k worth of stuff and one hour of lost sales from one location on a weekday mid morning is a very, very, very small price to pay for the halo that you just bought to go over your company's head right at the outset of the holiday shopping season. And Oprah's middle class house wife audience -- your target customer -- just saw the whole thing. Toys for poor kids: $20,000. Lost sales $10,000. Value of making the entire Oprah audience think you deserve their Christmas toy budget: Many millions of dollars. So was it nice? Yup. Did Toys R Us benefit financially? Oh hell yeah.

And the show goes on. Sears gives Bernadette new appliances. Walter E Smith gives her furniture. And the big grand finale: Oprah is gonna buy Bernadette a house. The audience freaks.

Now again: This woman deserves it all, and I'm not taking issue. But the these firms I'm sure furnished the goods and services to the show at no cost to Oprah, for just the promotion value. There's still a link on the Oprah site so the companies can get credit for the donation. Again, the economics of the free advertising to Oprah's audience right before Christmas is more than worth the value of what was furnished.

All through this, we're getting shots of Bernadette and her kids. And their reactions. And it's touching, it truly is. This person who's lived in poverty for so long is having all this material wealth provided for her. Why? Because she's a good person. Oh, and incidentally because it makes for GREAT TV. Thoroughly compelling stuff, this "lifting people out of poverty". Thank God for poor people who can be moved to tears by appliances from Sears, or it'd be hard to keep these ratings up.

And one really has to ask: Has Oprah really improved Bernadette's life? Is life improvement about having things? "My life sucked, but then I got cool stuff, and now my life is great?" Mid life crisis: Buy sports car, be happy. That seems to be the answer after all! Our culture of consumption is, in fact, enlightened! Now that I have a washer, I don't mind working 7 days a week! Now that the kids have toys, they don't mind having no father figure at home, nor do they care that their mom and dad are on drugs and that they must live with their aunt in a bad neighborhood! Will Bernadette be able to afford the taxes and insurance on her new home? Who cares?! That requires thinking about the future. We're American! 'nuff said.

A real solution: Get Bernadette some job skills and education so that she can become a better provider. Of course, that takes years instead of days to do, and isn't as entertaining. But teaching this woman to fish will put her and her kids in a much better place. Maybe get her brother into rehab. Maybe get him some education and skills, too. Show him some a path to joy other than drugs. Nah, that's tough. Shopping spree!

Sending Bernadette back to Starbucks with lots of new stuff is a band-aid solution for a cancerous problem: Poverty is the problem of not being equipped to provide for yourself, of being stuck in a cycle of just getting by and not getting ahead. When the toys break, when the washer needs a plumber, when the house needs a new roof, how will Bernadette deal with that with her 7 days at Starbucks and 7 kids at home balance sheet?

So let's look at the winners and losers here:

Sponsors: Winners: Got halos for their brands and reached massive audience with huge purchasing power for a tiny tiny cost.

Oprah: Major winner: She comes off as sensitive, generous and kind, gets a fantastically compelling show, high ratings, future ad revenue, and spent pretty darn little out of her own pocket to get there.

Bernadette: Short term winner, long term neutral: She gets a brand new set for her same old life.

Bottom line: Oprah exploited a poor woman's misery for entertainment value while providing no enduring benefits to the woman she exploited. Meanwhile, she and her coporate sponsors reap huge returns on tiny expenditures.

Oprah: Giving poor people things isn't the answer to poverty. Raising poor people's capacity to provide for themselves is. But learning new skills isn't very entertaining. And it takes a while. So if it's truly the thought that counts, if the motive matters, then Oprah and her sponsors are crafty, but not kind.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why is Blogger lying?

I looked at my blogger profile and it says I've only made 7 posts and written lest than 2000 words. Why won't the stats refresh? How Do I make them do that? I want credit! I want validation! I don't want people to think I'm a slacker when they hit my profile... Help?

"Bring 'em on?"

Was this what you had in mind, George?

My name is the (First) LORD!

I'm no feminist. But I am a fully modern Gen-X guy, and I have to ask:

Who gives a fuck what Laura Bush was wearing?

Eventually, I'll explain why these sentiments are related.

Let's imagine a magical land in which I am married to the president-elect. No I'm not gay. I'm imagining a female president.

It could happen.

Would there be a story about the dress that I wore to the inauguration? Probably. But if I were to wear the formal men's attire of the day, would that be a news story?

And what would they call me? The male compliment to "Lady" is "Lord".

"First Lord"

*Best Samuel L Jackson voice a white boy can muster*

"And you will know my name is the LORD when I lay my vengeance upon thee!"

School prayer: "We're not praying, we're having imaginary conversation time with the President's husband".

That'll teach the right wingers to vote for some women. They might get away with school prayer.

Of course, I think the whole dress thing is part of our innate human desire to have both male and female symbolic figures. Catholicism has practically raised Mary's status to that of unofficial goddess. We need Laura to be some idealized female thing. And as we learned from Hillary, the first Lady should be proper, homey, read books to kids, bake cookies, and have no opinions on important matters, cuz that's just not what we want out of a first Lady, as a culture.

So I wonder if the same would be true of a First (my name is the) Lord?

(I'm now hoping our First Lord is a black dude. That would kick ass. He could pull it off. Oprah for President...)

Would I have to keep my mouth shut? Read books to kindergarteners? Talk about my decorating plans for the White House? "Yeah, I'm gonna get a plasma TV and a play station, and a bar with a tap. The Joint Chiefs will come over and it'll be awesome. I dunno what's up with all these curtains. They suck."

Ostensibly, I will have been clever before the election. I may have even had some opinions on important things. Will I, too, have to suddenly become arm candy for my spouse?

My Point: We should only keep in place traditions for the first spouse that we'd keep irrespective of the first spouse's gender. And while it may have been tradition, we have to ask what our traditions and ceremonies signal about our culture and values. After all, the whole inauguration ritual is a great big culture creation mechanism. (If you're an anthropologist, be my guest to comment on the role of ceremony and ritual in culture here). So we need to change the ritual, ceremony, tradition to reflect our new values. If we really believe one doesn't need a penis to be president (we seem to have waived the brains qualification already), then we should begin transforming our institutions such that they recognize that the first spouse might some day be a man.

Unless we expect the first female president to be a Lesbian.

In which case, carry on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Angry Bread

Do you think I like being this way?

Loaves can't go on indefinitely, ya know. They have to have ends. And therefore, a slice has to be an end slice. I'm a frigging requirement. Without me, there'd be no bread at all.

So why do you discriminate against me? I'm made of the same stuff as all the other slices.

Yeah, I'm darker. Yeah, I'm crustier. So what?

How do you think I feel, each time you open the bag and reach inside. You reach for me. Then you reach right on past me, to the non-end pieces.

And you leave me there. Like some kind of offensive lineman for the un-crusty bread. I face the air. I get stale so the other pieces don't have to. Meanwhile, all the softies in the middle stay fresh and squishy.

And this then just serves as some further justification for rejecting me. Now I'm stale.

Well you're the one who let me get stale, so screw you.

Some days, I'd be happy just to be a crouton or stuffing. But no, even that's too much to ask. You'd rather take soft pieces, make them get stale, and use them before you'd use me.

When I'm left there, with just the other end piece, and the bag never opens again, and the mold comes, and you just toss us into the trash -- That's when I know. That's when I know what you really think.


Sunset in Santorini

The lights are the city at the northern tip of the crecent

Blue & White

Lots of up and down when you build a city into the side of a volcanic crater

National Geographic photo

City spilling into the crater

Soft edges

Sometimes a cylindrical building is just a cylindrical building.

"I don't believe in averages"

Dude 1: The average Californian gets 11.6* inches of rain per year

Dude 2: That's bullshit.

Dude 1:

Dude 2:

Dude 1: The national weather service measures these things and publishes their findings. Unless you want to take issue with the national weather service you have to believe me.

Dude 2: Sacramento gets less rain

Dude 1: Sure

Dude 2: Santa Rosa gets more rain. Using an average for the state is meaningless. Averages mask variation within sub-populations. There's more to how much rain you get than being Californian. Rainfall in California has a large standard deviation. There's lots of variation. Since the standard deviation is large, you can't use the average.

Dude 1: The standard deviation and the average are two different statistics with two different applications. I didn't say that all Californians get the same amount of rain. I said that the average Californian gets a certain amount. If all we know about a person is that he or she is in California, then our best guess of the rain that person gets is the average rainfall for all Californians. It won't be right for everyone, but the average error for all our guesses should be zero if we guess the average. Just because the average isn't predictive in all cases, or off by a lot in some cases, doesn't change the fact that the average Californian will see a certain amount of rain. The predictive accuracy of a mean as measured by its standard deviation doesn't change its validity as the most probable value for any population member. Just like the best guess on a coin flip is 50% heads, 50% tails. It's the most accurate guess.

Dude 2: If things are different you can't average them together.

Dude 1: What, like Joules and kilograms?

Dude 2: No, like if your grades are better than mine, the class average is meaningless.

Dude 1: It tells the teacher how the class, as a group, is doing.

Dude 2: Averages mean every student has the same grades, which is false, so they are meaningless. You can't use averages.

Dude 1: This is pointless.

Dude 2: I have the last word. So I'm right.

*Fictitious number for allegorical purposes

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Nine Year Old On Speed

Whether or not he's parodying my self pitiful crap from a few posts ago, he's hilarious. And perhaps not entirely stable. But hey, that's half the fun. I blogrolled him.

"I don't believe in probability"

I think it's my purpose in life to kill off crappy ideas before they poison too many weak and vulnerable minds. Sort of a flu shot for bad reasoning. If I discover crap being spread, I put a stop to it, or I at least don't let it float by uncontested. Kind of why I like The Daily Show.

Some defenses of spreading terrible reasoning that I'd leave alone, out of charity and good will:

"I didn't think about it, I just passed it along"
"I thought the terrible reasoning was obviously flawed; I spread it to be funny in an ironic way"
"I am too dim to figure these things out on my own"

Some defenses of spreading terrible reasoning that I can't accept:

"I don't believe in probability"

The reason I can't accept this defense is because it's defending crappy reasoning with more crappy reasoning, which, being naughty in my sight, I must snuff.

Let's consider an example.

"Since there is no such thing as an average coin flip, we can't say anything about flipping coins than involves using the idea of an average coin flip."

The premise is certainly true. Since the expected value of a coin flip is 50% heads, 50% tails, there's no such thing (at least on a standard coin) as a result that is average. I'll even grant that I've never seen an average coin flip. And while there are some people of average age, and average annual income (assuming we round to some level of accuracy), there aren't folks of average gender. Well there may be, I suppose, but that's complicated. So we'll stick to coins.

So the premise is true (no such thing as an average coin flip), but does the conclusion follow? Is it true that since there are no average coin flips, all reasoning based on the idea of an average coin flip is flawed?

Let's find out.

Let's say I offer a bet. To play, one must put up $1000. I flip a fair coin 100 times. If the number of "Heads" results is between 40 and 60, inclusive, I pay the player $2000. If not, I keep the $1000. And one can play as many times as one wants, and we settle up when one is done playing.

Should one play?

If we decide to deny the existence of probabilistic reasoning, then we really can't answer that question with anything more than a gut emotional response.

Of course, if we're rational folks with a grasp of probability and math, or at least know someone who is, we can figure this out. But it requires us to accept one little thing:

Using the notion of an average coin flip can lead to valid conclusions.

If we accept this idea, then we discover that the expected number of "Heads" is equal to

(Number of flips) * (Average number of heads per flip) = 50

To figure out the odds of getting a number between 40 and 60, we can either use the cumulative binomial probability distribution function (BINOMDIST in Excel), or we can use the idea of a standard deviation.

Standard deviation of the binomial random variable = (Yikes! More "average coin flips"! ) =
((Number of flips) * (Average number of heads per flip)* (Average number of tails per flip))^1/2 = (100*.5*.5)^1/2 = 5

So when we want to know what the odds are of getting a result within 2 standard deviations (50-40, 60-50 = 10, 10/5 = 2), we can use a standard Z table to figure out that there's a 95.4% chance of getting such a result.

So the average game (no such thing as average games?) pays $2000 95% of the time, and pays $0 5% of the, so the game, on average, pays one $1900 to play. And it costs one only $1000 to play. Should one play?

Well, if one doesn't believe in any of this "average coin flip" and "average game" and "average American" nonsense (as one shouldn't, cuz, heck, has anyone ever seen an average coin flip? And one either wins or loses, one doesn't 95% win), then one really can't know what to do. But if one understands that the idea of an average coin flip, auto accident, voter, stock market outcome, American, etc. Is a valid concept in probabilistic reasoning, then one can make some money on the game.

And this perfectly sound bit of thinking, along with our confidence in the readily available data from the CDC, is what lets us say things like:

"The average American is 11.6 times more likely to die from a gun than from a medical mistake."

We can be done now, or the free thinking lessons can continue.

Oh, the line was back there some place?

Well my coach beat the crap out of us this morning. We did one of my favorite workouts: 500m intervals, 2 min rest.

Now, when I do this one on my own, I usually do 10 of them, and my rule of thumb is that if you can do 10 at or below a pace, you can do 2k at that pace. This morning, the order of the day was 6 x 500. So I picked a pace I thought I could handle for a "shorter" workout and went for it. Long story short, I picked an "optimistic" pace.

It's generally a bad sign when you have two pieces to go and you're looking around to know where the trash can is, and trying to figure out how fast you'd be able to get to it.

I wimped out on my last two and broke pace. I went sub 1:40 for the first 4, then 1:43 ish for the last two. If I'd had any guts I've had held pace and hurled. But I didn't want to hurl. Kind of like crying: Hurling is intrinsically not fun.

I suppose there's no way to get faster without suffering, but that work out is hard enough to do on its own, let alone first thing in the morning. Asleep, heart rate: 55. 30 minutes later, last piece, heart rate: 187.

Heart: "WTF are you doing to me? I can make you die, you know. Be nice."

So my legs are fried but I have a nice exhaustion/ endorphine induced calm going today.

I guess I should be happy. Anyone who went faster than I did also outweighs me by about 25 pounds. So I continue to triumph in the power/ weight ratio game.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Ain't fungus pretty?

Also taken in Muir Woods. Probably can't see the detail at this resolution, but you can see the gills on the undersides of the fungi. The light actually goes through them... Cool little things growing in the moist dark.

Are you not Entertained?

My first thought was to express my vast disappointment in my audience. My favorite posts seem to get the fewest responses. My dumb little half questions and pretty pictures evoke the most response.

But I thought about it.

1) Maybe it's me? Maybe it's just not that interesting, or it's too subtle, or no one has a damn clue what I'm alluding to or why it's supposed to be funny or clever. Or maybe they know exactly what I'm alluding to, and just don't find it funny or clever? Maybe I need some feedback so the stuff works for people. Like a stand up honing his material. Maybe I'm not that amusing.

2) Maybe I shouldn't care. For whom do I blog? Myself or others? If I blog for myself, then why should I care whether I get a reaction? Like art created for burning man: I should create for the sake of creating, and maintain detachment from the creation, such that I can let it be destroyed. I enjoyed writing it, and now that it's written... I don't mind deleting it? I do mind, though. I say it myself in my little profile thing: I aim to connect with other people.

So I suppose when my favorite things fail to evoke reactions - of any kind, I am disappointed that I'm not connecting on my most favored levels. I suppose we all just want people to "get" us.

Ah well.

I shall continue anyway.

I have an idea for a book. It's different form the ideas I told my brother about. I think it could do well. I'm going to go do some research tomorrow.

Of course, I won't quit my day job.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Why Gun Nuts Need Math Lessons

Why oh why do innumerate dittoheads try to persuade people of anything?

This argument has a hole so big, you can drive a truck through it. I lack the time to tear the whole thing apart, so I'll just tear the heart out of it. Shamefully, it's all over the Internet.

See if you can spot the problem with the following. Pay close attention. There will be a hint. Like Blue's Clues for gun nuts.

"Guns cause fewer ACCIDENTAL deaths than doctors do, and since we aren't going to illegalize doctors, we shouldn't illegalize guns."

Now, the numbers from the CDC do in fact back up some of this rather shitty reasoning. For the sake of argument, let's look at 2002, a typical year known neither for exceptional physician negligence nor exceptional gun-nuttery.

Unintentional firearm deaths in US in 2002: 762.
Deaths from adverse effects of medical care in US in 2002 (regardless of intent): 2596.

How counter-intuitive! My impression of nurses as "not deadly" and guns as "deadly" must be totally wrong! What could be the problem here? I dunno. We added up all the times a gun killed a person by ACCIDENT. What are we missing... Maybe...


Let's see... How many of those are there?

All firearm deaths in 2002: 30,242.

Wow, an extra 29,480 intentional deaths from guns. People use guns to kill people? You're kidding? Maybe that's why I think guns are more dangerous than doctors?

So let's check in with our scoreboard:

Guns (all intents): 30,242
Doctors (all intents): 2596

Now, ironically, the Gun Nut's conclusion (Doctors more deadly than guns) leads to some interesting consequences. For example, since the killing power of a physician has been "demonstrated" to be so much greater than that of a gun, perhaps the gun nut would be in favor of changing our military spending to acquire more MDs and fewer M-16's?

The argument then goes on to do some crappy probabilistic reasoning with bad numbers. I will fix that.

First, there aren't 700,000 physicians in the US, there are 856,187

But this doesn't matter. It's not just deaths from doctors included in the 2596, it's deaths from medical care. So the real number to look at is the number of medical care workers in the US. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 12,900,000 people.

So for the 12,900,000 people who could cause a death by medicine, we have only 2596 deaths. Deaths from health care per worker in healthcare: .0002

Now I tried to find an accurate number of gun owners in the US, but came up short. If anyone can find a credible source, I'll gladly insert your number in here.

But if we take the gigantic 80,000,000 number, and the 30242 deaths, we get .0004 deaths by guns per gun owner.

And for the gun nuts: .0004 is twice as many as .0002.

Of course, if we want to figure out which is more likely to kill you, we don't need to do all this dividing by the number of people crap.

Guns deaths 2002 (all intents): 30,242
Medical care deaths 2002 (all intents): 2596

30242 / 2596 = 11.6

So if you're an average American, you're about 11 times more likely to die from a gun than from receiving health care.

Please, Gun Nuts: Stick to loud yelling and shooting things. Using reason to advance your cause is not a strategy that harnesses your comparative strengths.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Since HelloPhotoKitty asked 4 more....

For HelloPhotoKitty... Electric Fucia?

These are a succulent called "Ice plant" (I think) that tend to bloom in the spring (March) around here. They can only survive in places without winter, since a good freeze would pop all their cell walls and they'd then thaw into green mush. Having grown up in places with actual winter, they were new for me. They seem impervious to exhaust, oil, rubber, gasoline, dog piss and trampling, and require no irrigation. So they're all over the roadside. Brilliant stretches of them.

The purple on the green does something funky to your eye. They have an electricity to the color. Plus I like taking pictures of flowers. My pathetic digital homage to Georgia.

Pin the Blog on the Body

Clever blogger is having a "guess who this is a picture of" contest...

I like it.

This is very scary

I'm ready for my stint on the Sunday morning talk circuit...

Check this out (.zip of html) or this (.ppt)

I suggest the .ppt if you have it installed.

A Critique of Pure Ice Cream

Dude 2: That didn't end well.

Dude 1: That didn't start well

Dude 2: Do Over?

Dude 1: K

Dude 2: You shouldn't kill any toddlers, and neither should I

Dude 1:

Dude 2: If you try to kill any, I must try to stop you

Dude 1: Sucks to be me

Dude 2: Guess so

Dude 1: You shouldn't eat any chocolate ice cream, and neither should I

Dude 2:

Dude 1: If you try to eat any, I must try to stop you

Dude 2: Sucks to be me

Dude 1: Guess so

Dude 2: I'm gonna go ban some books

Dude 1: I'm gonna go liberate some lab animals

Dude 2: Later.

Dude 1: Later.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Crying is fun

I remain unable to understand why women find bawling to have entertainment value.

Secretly, they like pain? Kinky...

Dialogues Concerning Natural Ice Cream

Dude 1: Chocolate ice cream is wrong.

Dude 2: You mean you don't like Chocolate?

Dude 1: No, I mean you shouldn't have any, and neither should I.

Dude 2: What right do you have to tell me how to live my life?

Dude 1: Ok, go ahead.

Dude 2: Killing toddlers for fun is wrong.

Dude 1: You mean you don't like killing toddlers?

Dude 2: No, I mean you shouldn't kill any, and neither should I.

Dude 1: What right do you have to tell me how to live my life?

Dude 2: Ok, go ahead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A trecherous nerd I am

Every day, the insurgents in Iraq remind me more and more of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Don't blame me. He made me think it.

How I Saved the world

Actually, how I added blog links. As requested by Hellophotokitty.

I'm going to use "{}" characters instead of "<>" characters, so this actually shows up. Actual code uses <> for {}.

At the end of my template code, there were some things that looked like this:

{h2 class="sidebar-title"}

Which seemed to me to be the place in the template for making sidebar thingies, so I inserted the following after one of the sidebars...

{h2 class="sidebar-title"}Blogs Of Interest{/h2}

{BR}{a href=""} Life or something like it{/a}{/BR}
{BR}{a href=""}Larva Life{/a}{/BR}

Color key

What shows up
Here comes a New Sidebar, and this is it's title...
Here comes a thing after which draw a line
Here comes a thing after which do a line break
URL to link the following text to

Why The Kents and TR are cool

My Muir Woods photo, also inspired by NewMexiKen's post

You have no idea until you see it in person

My Grand Canyon photo... Inspired by NewMexiKen's posts

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Thank God

Was happy to hear that this bill got shot down.

I'm sure it was well intentioned (probably thought it would do something about newborn abandonment... Though I don't see how the bill would fix that...), but it sure seemed terrible. The last thing folks need at such a tough moment is to have to notify the cops?!?! Makes you wonder how many people saw the bill and didn't realize or say, "dude, this is gonna piss off a lot of people".

Why feminists drive me nuts

I'd have commented, but clearly, this blogger wants the dialogue to be a monologue.

I'd refer to my sneetches post to address some of this.

Just to tackle one of the many silly points she raises: The reason women are targeted is because women do most of the buying, and most of the worrying about health. I won't get into a chicken and egg discussion about whether marketing causes worry or worry attracts marketing. But go to any health site. Any. Most of the ads will be targeted at women (color schemes, images, story lines). Why? Sites know that 66%-90% of their visitors (depending on the site and its focus) are women. Same goes for Banana Republic (not being accused of subjugating their target market): 90% of its best customers are women, so the ads speak to women. It's basic business, not some subversive conspiracy cooked up by white dudes during our secret "how to keep control of the world" meetings that we hold in the whites only men's room.

The fact of the matter is that women still do most of the consumer spending in the US economy, so the person who will chose to put your product in the cart is most likey a woman. So ya better talk to her. If anything, the attention reflects the true financial power that women have over household expenditures.

And this is why feminists (generally) drive me nuts: "The big bad world is being mean to poor little us, it's not our fault, you did this to us. Oh, but we're powerful."

Either you're empowered, and your circumstances are your own responsibility, or you're powerless, and it's someone else's fault. Can't have it both ways.

She sounds like a baby boomer. Gen X has largely put this crap behind them.

Cliques & Cults

This is fascinating.

I guess it encourages me that even folks in the most insular sects are questioning. I cheer for skeptics of all kinds.

I feel for the guy. Not that 13 years of Catholic school & life is the same as living as an Orthodox Jew in NYC, but I get how tough it can be to say "ya know, I just don't buy this crap".

Then comes the hard part: Does being a member of a faith mean you must buy into it hook line and sinker? Or can you truly be a member and disagree?

My take: Depends on the faith. Churches that say "you gotta drink the Kool-Aid, or you're not in good standing" chose to exclude folks who don't buy in. So if it takes 2 to tango, if both member and church must agree on member's status, then you can't have your faith and hate it too.

Member: I want to be a part of this, and make it better

Church: You think I'm fat?

Member: I didn't say that, I just said I think you could be better

Church: Get out

If on the other hand, the faith in question is some ultra-tolerant new age happiness cult, you can probably disagree and still be a member.

Member: You are flawed

Church: Dude, that's fine. I still want your money & soul.

Member: Ok, you have cool parties

The question in that case, though, is WTF are you a member of, exactly? Faiths, and most organizations, have creeds/ statements of principles to define who they are and who they are not. And if your belief system is so loosey goosey that you'll take pretty much any one, membership, and identity through membership, get pretty meaningless.

Person 1: I got into Unitarian Universalist

Person 2: She's a slut

Person 1: Well, at least it was good for me

I think there's lots of evidence to suggest that insofar as an institution insists on members drinking the Kool-Aid, the institution is doomed to be unable to adapt, and hence unable to survive and reproduce. Look at Menonites, Orthodox Jews, and the French language. Flip side, check out political parties, and the English language. If you adapt and change, you grow and find new users. If you cling to the old ways and insist the outside world adapt to you, you wither and die.

Ideas and cultures are subject to the same evolutionary forces as critters. Adapt or die off.

I impress myself

I figured out how to hack my template and add a litte sidebar in which I can link to other blogs.

Aside from the excessive line spacing, which I lacked the patience to conquer completely, it seems to be working.

There must be an easier way to create the thing so that I can edit it without having to republish the whole blog?

As a non-programmer, I'm terribly pleased with myself.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Even more apocalyptic

We just got a round of hail. Size of small peas. Pretty noisy, little ice peas hitting the window.

Severe weather by northern California standards...

EEeek! Fascists...

I really thought the "love it or leave it" folks had goose stepped back into their caves. Apparently not.

"I will DEFEND the CONSTITUTION of AMERICA, and any of you COMMIE LIBERALS who say anything BAD about it, will be SHOT."

"And I will USE my genuine revolutionary war musket to shoot you, as secured to me by the Second amendment. And I will use this pesky amendment number one for wadding paper. Goddam noisy hippies. Running around saying what they think. What do they think this is, the USSR?"

I exaggerate. But only a very little.

Folks, if your ideas are self evidently superior, then you need not fear folks shouting out weaker and different ones. Unless you think the masses are stupid sheep, which remains a distinct possibility. But if you'd rather the opposition shut up and go away, than give you a chance to engage them on the merits of their arguments, it's a good sign that the opposition is onto something.

If the Democrats in congress hadn't all decided to abdicate their responsibility as a check against totalitarianism in the chicken-little like post 9/11 stampede of frightened ungulates that America became (home of the brave, my ass), folks like Moore wouldn't have much of an audience. But since the elected opposition has wussied out, the un-elected opposition has to do something.

If Moore didn't love America, he's sure got the means to leave and live elsewhere. And since he still lives here, we have to think that he likes something about the country. I don't always agree with the guy and his tactics, but I do believe he wants to make the country better.

Apocalyptic Rain

It's really raining hard. Right when tides are at their annual peak. And it's gonna keep raining like this for a few days.

While my place won't get flooded, flooding at critical places (like on 101 where it gets close to the bay) will really curtail my ability to get around.

Good news is that this is probably snow in Tahoe. Bad news is that I won't have any time to go there until next week.

Check out the Weather here.

This is cool

INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
Free Jung Word Test (similar to Myers-Briggs)
personality tests by

I find that my results vary depending on my mood. My I can get close to an E, and my J can get close to a P. But I'm always always NT. My dream job has always been Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Frigging technology....

Well, on the advice of one of my first commenters, I added Haloscan commenting to my blog.

Unfortuneately, my laziness and unabiding confidence in technology led me to let Haloscan update the template code automatically. While this was effective in adding the desired features to the blog, it also caused me to lose all the comments posted by all previous visitors. And this makes me sad. Like my first blog friends all got killed. Like when you start an aquarium and all your little fish die. So sad.

Perhaps the loss of comments was inevitable if I was to make the installation. But still, my sincere apologies to all commenters. I really did value your contributions...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Why hippies need science lessons

I've been on a real rant tear lately, but what the heck. Things happen in 3's. So after this rant, I'll have to post something non-rant. But since I have one more to go...

I can't take it anymore. Organic. Let's define that word, shall we? Organic chemistry refers to the branch of chemistry that deals with carbon-based molecules and their reactions and properties. TNT (Trinitrotoluene - a really cool looking molecule - bilateral symmetry, benzene ring, lots of double bonds..) is organic. So is petroleum (it's a soup of many different organic molecules... Made out of the long dead carbon-based leftovers of living things...). Plastic, polyester, soap, and most pesticides: all organic. At least, scientifically speaking, ORGANIC.

"That's nice, science boy, but normal humans don't use that word that way, and it's not fair to expect every day people to use an every day word with specific meanings in one technical context correctly."

Maybe. Maybe it's unfair to expect people to understand these things. But then let me ask, what is the "ORGANIC" of which every day people, and specifically communal farmers and upper middle class white soccer moms, speak? I do think it's reasonable to expect people to use a word to mean SOMETHING that's clearly definable. The scientific definition of organic is clear. I'm open to an alternate clear vernacular definition... But is there one?

If we take "organic" to mean "occurring in nature", this doesn't clarify much. Petroleum occurs in nature. So do DDT, latex and TNT, actually, which are created by a very interesting animal called Homo sapiens. This natural/ unnatural definition just transfers the discussion to the issue of whether humans are "natural". Western culture (and some Eastern ones, too, I'd bet) has drawn this division between humans and other living things. (Adam and Eve. God made Nature, and put Man into Nature and gave him dominion over Nature, to screw it up as he saw fit) Many native folks and cultures don't draw this distinction, brother bear. So "natural" is a fuzzy. It doesn't clear up "organic". It just begs cultural assumptions. I can still call DDT organic. I'm sure the local farming commune would disagree...

So what's "organic"? If we say it's "stuff made without relying on man made substances for fertilizer or pest control", that sounds a heck of a lot better. Of course, then we have to ask whether compost is a man made substance. And whether irrigation provides man made rain. Now don't get me wrong: When I garden, I use compost and water and that's about it, save some miracle grow to get my seeds off to a healthy start. But I'm not asking questions about whehter composting is good, but about what the hell "Organic" means. Back to compost: If we argue that compost really isn't man-made, since we just put a bunch of naturally occurring stuff together under the right conditions and let nature take its course, we could use the same description for many substances created in the lab: "We just brought the right naturally occurring substances together under the right circumstances, and let nature take its course. Now I have some TNT. Let's go use this organic substance to organically harvest some taters and organically control the size of that prarie dog colony."

So by the above definition, the only truly organic produce would be non-cultivated. And by this notion, the stuff in the supermarket labeled "organic" doesn't actually qualify.

I think I've made my case. People use "organic" at worst wrong, and at best in an ambiguous and hence meaningless way. So, please, hippies: Let's find a new word, or use the words we have correctly? Please?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tsunami of crap

Why, oh Why do we have local TV news? And what in God's name do they think they're doing covering a Tsunami that hit ASIA? Guys, hint: If you have to take an AIRPLANE to cover the story, it's probably a) not 'local" and b) beyond your poor power to add insight. Which brings me to me second point:

Why, oh Why do the local news people insist on covering the number of Americans and Eurpoeans killed by this thing? Dozens of thousands of local people (meaning people who lived in the areas hit by the Tsunami, not people who live here locally who happened to be there on vacation) were killed, and we have to tally the rich Westerners? Clearly, this is beacuse of one of two things, possibly both: Those covering the story suffer from the "gee, there are so many of them there brown people, what's a few dozen thousand? Doesn't seem like much of a story to me" problem. Or they think (more likely) that the only way their audience will care is if the story covers how people like their audience members were impacted. Based on my rant of yesterday, maybe the news people are right on this. Afterall, Growing up Gotti. But I doubt it. I think it's more about the fact that the news people are too lazy to try to tell a more complex story. The "how some white people's vacation got ruined" story is a slam dunk next to tackling the complexity of "This is where Sri Lanka is. These are Sri Lankans. This is what their life is like. This is what the tsunami did to them." The latter, for example, would require more than 120 seconds to fully communicate, as well as footage not readily available from the AP. So perhaps what we have is laziness disguised as cultural arrogance.
Yes, Yes, the local news folk are trying to find a "local angle" on the big news story of the day, so their only choice, IF they are to cover the story is to do the culturally insentive thing. I'd rather see them stick to local car wrecks, high school sports, and tomorrow's weather.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Didn't anyone read "The Sneetches"?

Aside from its anti-discrimination lesson, the image of the sneetches lining up to go through the star-putter-on-er machine and then right into the star-taker-off-er machine and then back to the first was burnt into my brain as a 4 year old. Didn't the Sneetches see it was dumb to pay for something to be done, then pay for it to be undone, and then re-done?

Yet we have nicorette and nicotine, Big Macs and Jenny Craig, tanning beds and plastic surgeons, all in harmonic co-existence, while the weak willed and simple minded are fleeced at every turn. I'd really like to believe that people, as a whole, aren't total idiots. But the evidence doesn't seem to support that hypothesis.

Maybe I can come up with an "herbal" remedy that makes you thin, beautiful, smart, rich and popular. For only $29.99.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Jim & Jenni looking fantastic
Posted by Ken

Things I'm thinking about

So I think I've made several big mistakes in my life. One of them was not getting enough computer science so that I can program stuff I think would be cool.

My cousin showed me some really cool stuff he's doing in his Ph.D program, involving making self-generating ambient music from some pretty nifty algorithms. So that set my head running. I think it's a nifty idea, to hook up music output to variables in an ongoing dynamic process. But I was more interested in the algortihm than the application (though making music sure is cool).

I spent a hunk of time today looking into complex systems. Basically, it's a whole field of study devoted to learning what we can from the simple notion that a system of agents with very simple rules can actually exhibit pretty complex behavior. Think ants: many tiny brains, each with a pretty simple program, major major stuff accomplished. They've only been around for hundreds of millions of years, with little tampering by evolution, so it seems mother nature thinks she's got a "keeper" when it comes to ants. And crocodiles and sharks. And beetles.

Anyway, now my head's a-buzz with the idea that massive models could be used bi-derectionally: Program some agents, see what they do. Or see what a system does, then check out the agents' programs. I'm thinking the latter is cool: If one used some kind of dynamic programming of the agents and agent variables (like a neural net or some other goal seeking function) and one had some stats that one wanted the sytem to hit (let's say we're modeling traffic, and we want ave commute times to match ave observed commute times) we could make the system tell us what our agents' programs must be. Granted, there are probably many possible solutions of agent programs that generate the same total system behavior. But it might be nice to see where the solutions lie. Are there lots of selfish drivers? Are we driving too fast? Is it because we all try to get to work between 8 & 9?

Basically, my thought is that when trying to understand a system, we should come at it from 2 directions simultatenously: Program agents as accurately as possible, and optimize agent programs so sytem is as accurate as possible. I think the exercise would be instructive.

I wish there was some cool software to download and play with that lets you play with complex systems. I already have game of life.

In other news, I'm confident I've come up with a way to do the amazon recommendation thing. I've got an approach for creating a single ranking stat for individual products given the many-to-many relationships involved. I'm not sure about whether it could be calc'd in real time, but it could be done in batches. It's some pretty basic vector stuff, so maybe it could be done in RT.

My blog needs more photos.