stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I am furious, just now. Partly at myself, but even more at a company called Trilegiant (aka Protection Plus).

Back in 2004, I received a letter from those people announcing that they would be charging me upwards of $100 to continue their services. I did not recognize the name, and called them to tell them I had not asked for and did not desire their services. It turned out that, in fact, I had asked for those services some years earlier, and they had changed their name. In any case, googling revealed that they had had numerous complaints from customers, and so I was well rid of them.

A couple of days ago, I received another letter from them, announcing that the cost of their services was going up. This time I recognized the name. A few minutes ago, I called them to remind them that I had cancelled their services years ago, and still did not want them. The service operator insisted that I had paid for a three-year membership in 2009, and this was merely a renewal. I rejected the claim, and in any case told him to cancel.

I just checked my records. I did, indeed, pay that bill in 2009. I must have assumed it was something else, something offered by my credit card company itself. I am somewhat mortified to realize that the poor service operator was telling the truth. However, I am incensed that - five years after I dropped their services - they snuck back in.

Fool, me. Villains, them.
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
Today was an exceedingly frustrating day.

I'm still trying to assemble the graphics for the prisms paper. I can create them easily enough. I've overcome one of the major problems with the Mathematica-generated diagrams. I've surmounted several other hurdles. What I haven't been able to do is get all four of the relevant programs - Mathematica, Scientific Workplace, Geometer's Sketchpad, and Inkscape - onto the same page as far as formatting goes. Inkscape takes the output from Mathematica or GSP and produces beautiful .svg files - but SWP doesn't recognize .svg files. SWP wants .eps files, and Inkscape can produce those, but there's a definite dropoff in quality; also, the bleedin' text vanishes. Straight lines - vertical straight lines, not diagonals - from GSP develop a case of the jaggies if I put them directly into SWP. I can't get different but related figures to line up unless I put them into a single graphics file; otherwise, SWP stacks them vertically.

stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Sajak asks:
[S]hould state workers be able to vote in state elections on matters that would benefit them directly? The same question goes for federal workers in federal elections.
He raises the specter of a supposed "conflict of interest".

Screw that noise. As a public employee, I already have significant limitations on my ability to participate in the political process. To suggest that I be barred from certain votes because I might benefit from a particular outcome betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the very concept of election, not to mention democracy itself.

I can think of several vowels I'd like to buy, and consonants to enclose them.

The Worst

Aug. 15th, 2010 11:35 am
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Right Wing News, a conservative blog, recently polled other conservative bloggers to compile a list of the worst Americans in history. The list is, frankly, laughable; if nothing else, the fact that about a third of the twenty-five people named are still alive (and most of those are still politically active) suggests a certain lack of historical perspective.

If I were to compose such a list, I'd probably start with John Calhoun and Andrew Jackson, then turn to a handful of the perpetrators and villains of the Slavers' Revolt: Alexander Stephens, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Henry Wirz certainly, and I could add a few more names without difficulty. I could probably be persuaded to add Presidents Buchanan and Polk to the list as well.

Oddly, there are a few names on their list that I might also include: John Wilkes Booth, perhaps, and possibly Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon - but I suspect my reasons for including those last two are not the same as those of RWN's friends.
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
There is a post I've been thinking about making for some time now, but never got around to.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has said it for me. Thanks, PNH!

Addendum: Scraps (comment #52, para. 2) adds another key point.
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
It's annoying, but forgiveable, when Terry Pratchett does it. Pratchett is, after all, a writer of fantasy, and not someone you would consult on matters of historical fact.

It's more than annoying when James Wimberley, writing at a serious and generally worthwhile political blog, does it in order to make a point about contemporary politics.

I'm talking about making silly statements about the Great Wall of China. The rant is under the cut.

stoutfellow: (Murphy)
Today's Post-Dispatch includes a review by Amy Woods Butler of Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World, a novel about Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss ("two of [Kehlmann's] country's lesser-known prodigies"). In it, there appears the following remarkable assertion: "Both of these geniuses were born in the late 1700s, just as the light of reason had begun to penetrate the murk of fear and superstition in Europe..."

Francis Bacon. René Descartes. John Locke. Thomas Hobbes. David Hume. George Berkeley. Baron de Montesquieu. Denis Diderot. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Baruch Spinoza.

John Milton. Voltaire. Jonathan Swift. Michel de Montaigne.

Newton. Leibniz. Harvey. Gilbert. Boyle. Pascal. Lavoisier. Linnaeus. Leeuwenhoek. Hooke. Galileo. Copernicus. Tycho. Kepler.

The Bernoulli brothers. Leonhard Euler.

Hugo Grotius. François Quesnay. The Marquis de Condorcet. Adam freaking Smith.

Take me now, Lord.


Sep. 14th, 2006 12:53 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
What the hell was that?

:deep breath:

Earlier this morning, while I was on line, AutoUpdate let me know it had finished downloading some updates; I gave it the go-ahead to install them. When it finished, it warned that the computer would have to be restarted to complete the installation. I told it to wait.

I began composing another Top Ten post. One of the listed songs was Joni Mitchell's "Carey"; I decided to listen to it again to clarify my thoughts. It wasn't on the current playlist, but no matter. I listened for a bit, then stopped it and moved to delete it from the playlist. (It had automatically added itself when I asked to play it.) At this point three things happened roughly simultaneously.

1) Jukebox did something, I don't know what, to the playlist. Maybe it shuffled it; at any rate, suddenly it was playing from the beginning, but the beginning wasn't what it had been. This momentarily confused and distracted me.

2) Jukebox also decided, as it sometimes does, that it wanted to contact the Internet. I don't know why it does this, and I don't know how to make it not do this. I whipped the cursor down to the "Cancel" button and clicked.

3) AutoUpdate decided to ask again whether I wanted to restart. The dialogue box popped up right on top of Jukebox's dialogue box; the "OK" button was right where the other "Cancel" button had been.

BOOM! LiveJournal post gone. Jukebox shutting down. Computer shutting down. Computer operator screaming "YOU BASTARD!" at computer (or at AutoUpdate, or at somebody or something).

:deep calming breath:

stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
This is completely insane.

George Soros, a major figure in Democratic fundraising, is a member of one group attempting to buy the Washington Nationals baseball franchise. Several Republican congressmen are threatening dire legislative consequences for Major League Baseball should his group succeed. As one of them said, "from a fan's perspective, who needs the politics?"

It is worth noting that, in 1989, the son of the President of the United States was the leading member of a group which purchased the Texas Rangers. (Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?)

More than a dozen present and former big-league owners were major fundraisers for the Bush campaign last year.

Who the hell do these people think they are?

Addendum: One of the other groups bidding for the Nationals includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell and one-time Nixon aide Fred Malek.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
A few words of advice for those who want me to give them money, gratis or in exchange for goods and services:

  • Sending me a letter whose envelope does not identify the sender is not likely to win my goodwill. Placing the name of your organization on the flap is only marginally acceptable.

  • The words "Please Do Not Discard", placed on the envelope, are counterproductive.

  • If you put coins, pencils, mailing labels, or cheap bric-a-brac in the envelope, I will accept the gift. This is, however, more likely to hurt than help your chances with me.

  • If you choose to call me at home, be advised that I have caller ID, and will not respond to "TOLL FREE CALL", much less to "UNKNOWN CALLER". Such labels as "OUTREACH ASSOC", though somewhat intriguing, are also insufficiently informative.

  • In calling me, you are intruding on my privacy. If I pick up the phone, I expect, as a courtesy, that there will be a human being on the other end. I do not talk or listen to robots. Having one person monitoring several lines at once is not sufficient; if my "Hello" is not answered in less than one second, I will hang up.

  • I do not own a car. I do not drive. I have never entered, nor ever shall enter, a drawing in which the chief prize is an automobile or truck. No one who knows me will ever do so on my behalf, either. If you tell me that someone did, you are wrong, either factually or ethically, and possibly both. Consider yourself lucky, in that case, if I do no more than hang up.

  • The fact that I bought a book by Bill O'Reilly for my niece (at her request) one Christmas does not imply that I am interested in buying books by Anne Coulter, nor that I will of my own choice give money to the Republican National Committee or any organization allied to it.

  • "No" means "No". "No" said twice means "Time to quit." "How many times must I say no?" means "Get the hell off my phone line."

Have a nice day.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
The following is addressed to the designers of cereal boxes everywhere, but especially to those associated with Post's Great Grains line.

  1. It is unwise to require manual dexterity of your customers at an early hour. Thus, the inner lining should be so designed as to tear easily and evenly, along the top and the top alone. If it tears raggedly or in unexpected directions, the effective pouring cross-section is relatively small. Some of the cereal will become trapped in pockets of liner, to be dislodged only with difficulty. In addition, a significant amount of cereal will be diverted to the side. Some of this will spill. Some of the rest will, when the box is restored to the upright position, slip between the box and the liner, there to grow stale. This is especially bad if the cereal is sticky to any significant degree.

  2. The lining should be firmly attached to the bottom of the box. If it is not so attached, the liner will slip bodily from the box rather than disgorging its contents. This encourages the customer to squeeze the box, with unpredictable consequences, or to shake it, with predictable consequences. The results may be entertaining to any small children, pets, or bystanders present, but participating adults are less likely to be amused. Note, again, the first sentence of the previous point.

  3. The lining should not be attached to the box at any point other than the bottom. Further, the attachment should be such that a simple tug will detach the lining. This makes it easy to remove the lining, preparatory to collapsing the box for recycling. Other attachment schemes induce frustration. Again, see the first sentence of the first point.

Thank you for your time and attention.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
If there is anything essentially trivial that is still capable of driving me into spluttering, impotent fury, it is this: web pages that disable the "back" button. Here I am, peacefully browsing; I click on a link from one of my favorite pages, look at the material, attempt to return - and am frozen in place.

Three times in the last hour.

If I ever run amok, something like this will trigger it.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
While I was in California, my sister E. gave me one of those little desk calendars - you know the kind, "Word of the Day" or "Thought of the Day" or the like. This one is entitled "Well, Duh! Our Stupid World and Welcome to It". Now, quite a few of the entries are very funny, but there's one that just bugs me.

Here's the text:
Government by the Idiots
In 1977, the Smithsonian Institution bankrolled development of a dictionary of Tzotzil, a language spoken by only 120,000 poor farmers in southern Mexico, nearly none of whom could read or write - and, therefore, didn't have much use for a dictionary. If the government had simply given the farmers the $89,000 it spent on the dictionary they didn't need, they wouldn't have been so poor.

The authors appear to have a little difficulty with arithmetic. $89,000 divided among 120,000 poor farmers would give each of them the munificent amount of $.74. Yeah, that's a wonderful step towards relieving their poverty.

But there's a larger error involved here. The dictionary in question was never intended for use by the Tzotzil; like all dictionaries of this sort, it was written for the benefit of linguists and anthropologists wishing to study the Tzotzil culture before it degrades further under the pressures of poverty and encroachment by the surrounding Mexican-Spanish culture. There are literally thousands of languages in imminent or long-term danger of extinction, and linguists are racing to gather what information they can before they go under. (There are also efforts to preserve or revive some of those languages, but that's an uphill road.) This is a perfectly appropriate use of Smithsonian funds, in keeping with its mandate from the government.

I have read of an incident at a Congressional hearing on funding of the National Science Foundation. A Congressman (or perhaps a Senator, I don't recall) pointed to an item which had been budgeted for research into "complex analysis", and drawled that perhaps it would have been cheaper if they had settled for simple analysis. Eyeroll. "Analysis" is a cover term for those branches of mathematics which are descended from calculus; complex analysis is simply the application of the techniques of calculus to the complex numbers, as contrasted with, for example, real analysis. (In point of fact, complex analysis is in some respects simpler than real analysis.) Of course, the costs of studying these subjects are about the same...

Again, back in the late '70s or early '80s I saw a newspaper column by the then-famous muckraker Jack Anderson. He was complaining about government waste, and pointed to a paper which had been written with government support. The paper, he said, came to a certain remarkable conclusion, which he quoted. The statement quoted was, indeed, trivial-seeming. However, it happens that the paper was on the mathematical subject known as knot theory, which I know a little bit about - and I recognized the "conclusion" as being one of the fundamental definitions in that subject. It took me a while to realize what error Anderson had made, but it's a natural one. Anderson was a journalist, trained in the rhetorical conventions of that field - and every journalist knows that you put your main point in the first paragraph; the rest of the article or column is devoted to details and elaborations. But the rhetorical conventions of mathematics are different: you begin with such things as a statement of the problem and the fundamental definitions you're going to work with. The meat of the work - the real conclusion - appears later. No wonder Anderson missed the point!

This sort of thing galls me. It is so easy to mock legitimate scientific inquiry, especially if you have no comprehension of what is actually being done and why. Those are the real DUH! moments, as far as I'm concerned.


Nov. 29th, 2004 02:08 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Okay, I'm sitting at home with a mild cold. There's still a fair amount of food in the house, but I feel like having something large, filling, and unhealthy. So I called Domino's. (This is not an invitation to debate my choice of pizza parlor. From where I sit, if I can't get Giordano's, it really doesn't matter which cut-rate outfit I deal with.)

Why on Earth does their promotions department think that it's a good idea to blast your ear with advertisements for the company you have already chosen to buy from? Complete with double-be-damned doorbell?

I am aware, mind you, of the possible inconsistency between the second paragraph and the end of the first.
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
Today in calculus I introduced the definition of the derivative of a function, and worked several examples. One of my students then asked whether, if they knew how to just read off the derivative without using the definition, they could do so on the test.

I responded at length.

I talked about the difference between learning to push symbols around and learning to think in a particular way.

I talked about the difference between being able to drive a car and being able to fix one.

I talked about the difference between trained seals and human beings.

I don't know how many, if any, of them understood my drift. There were a few grins, but I think they may have had more to do with my use of the word "hardass".

Now, I don't really agree with Robert Heinlein's famous list of Things Every Human Ought To Be Able To Do. I don't regard an inability to differentiate functions as a disqualifier from the human race. However, if you take Calculus I from me, you will learn about derivatives from the ground up, and you will by God learn to compute them from the definition.

That is all.


Jun. 15th, 2004 06:35 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
I don't like arguing about politics. I don't like arguing at all. But some of the stories that are trickling out of Washington are forcing me to break silence.

Recently, it has been revealed that lawyers in the Department of Justice and the office of the Counsel to the President, at the administration's request, have discussed the permissibility and advisability of the use of torture in the war on terror, and that these lawyers have affirmed that, in the present crisis, it is both permissible and advisable. Repugnant though I find this, it is not the reason for this post. What disturbs me - what frightens me - is the underlying argument presented in these memos.

Historical note: in the Roman Republic, there was a set procedure for dealing with the gravest of dangers. It consisted of assigning absolute and unfettered power to a single individual, for a period of six months or until the crisis was resolved, whichever was shorter. The title given to this individual was dictator.

One of the memos asserts that the President, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to set aside any law and any treaty commitment if he deems it necessary, and only he can judge that necessity. It is not uncommon for the President to reach for additional power in time of crisis. Lincoln did; Wilson did; Franklin Roosevelt did. But each recognized that he was reaching, and that he would be held accountable for it. This memo appears to deny that accountability - to assert, in short, that the Commander-in-Chief is above the law. (At one point, the memo suggests that the federal law barring torture - a law implementing one of the Geneva Conventions, a convention that was signed by President Reagan - was an unconstitutional limit on the authority of the Commander-in-Chief.)

That is not the Presidency that I learned about in school; it is not the Presidency described by the Constitution; and it is not an office compatible with our claim to be a free people.

Historical note, cont.: In the latter days of the Roman Republic, Lucius Cornelius Sulla had himself named dictator, but without the customary time limit. He held the office for three years before retiring; he died less than a year later. A generation later, Julius Caesar, embroiled in civil war with Pompey, had himself proclaimed dictator for a ten-year period; two years later, having defeated his rival, he was named dictator in perpetuity. Soon after, he was assassinated, triggering another round of civil war. When the war ended, the Roman Republic was dead, and the Empire had been born.

The war on terror is not like other wars. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, it was clear that the Civil War was over. When the Japanese government signed the articles of surrender aboard the USS Missouri, World War II was over. I can see no plausible circumstances under which anyone could confidently say that the war on terror is over.

We have government lawyers claiming that the President is entitled, under certain circumstances, to dictatorial powers, and that the current crisis justifies his doing so - a crisis with no foreseeable end. This combination frightens me, and so I have broken silence. This administration cannot be trusted to uphold the Republic as we have known it; and this is not an assertion I would have made under any previous administration, no matter how much I disagreed with its policies.

I do not know what to do.


Jun. 4th, 2004 09:29 am
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
As to the current discussion of dating on the LMB list: I do wish that, if people are going to use pretentious and strained metaphors drawn from mathematics, they would at least get the math right! (I'm ignoring questions of the applicability, or even the meaning, of said metaphors, and questions of elementary courtesy as well...)


Apr. 12th, 2004 08:05 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
There are only four programs on network TV that I currently watch. (Wonderfalls was a fifth, but that bird has flown.) Is it really too much to ask that the local stations air them as scheduled?

I hate the St. Louis Blues, suddenly.

Fortunately, my sister Ellen lives two timezones down from me and regularly tapes all of her shows, Everwood and The Gilmore Girls among them. My viewing of the two will be delayed somewhat, but not as much it would have been.



stoutfellow: Joker (Default)

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