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May. 23rd, 2015



At my new employer, I have no office: I have a desk, a computer, a chair, and enough room for maybe half a dozen books. And people tend to move from one desk location to another every few months, so they're not encouraged to put down too many roots.

So today I went to my University office (for the first time in months) and spent six hours triaging books: discard, leave with the department, or take home. Somewhat to my surprise, the three categories turned out almost exactly equal in size.

This exercise entailed throwing out a lot of proceedings for theoretical-CS conferences I attended and was very interested in at the time, but I realistically haven't done any TCS research in fifteen years. And if I did somehow get back into TCS, it would be easier to find the papers on-line than in a printed volume anyway. But throwing out the proceedings (except the few in which I had papers) carries an air of finality.

My research for the past fifteen years has been mostly in CS Education, so I had three shelves of proceedings from CSE conferences. I kept the ones in which I had papers, and left the rest to the department, on the theory that somebody on the CS faculty will be interested in them. Again, leaving this stuff is a final acknowledgment that (a) my research in CSE will be limited if I'm not in a classroom regularly, and (b) a lot of this stuff is on-line anyway.

I threw out most textbooks older than 5-10 years, except a couple of "classics" and those of which I have particularly fond memories. I left recent textbooks to the department, as above.

Still, I have five good-sized boxes of books in the car for which I haven't found homes in the house yet.

May. 20th, 2015


Nothing new under the sun

When I was about about four years old and my mother was teaching me math, she mentioned at one point that numbers could be divided into "even" and "odd", and that even numbers were those you could get by doubling another number. I thought it was really cool that there could be different kinds of numbers that had their own names, and I resolved to make up my own: "even even numbers", which were even more even than regular even numbers. They were the numbers you could get by nothing but doubling over and over again: 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.

Decades later, I read in Isidore's Etymologies:

Numbers are divided into even and odd numbers. Even numbers are subdivided into these categories: evenly even, evenly odd, and oddly even.... An evenly even number is one that is divided equally into even numbers until it reaches the indivisible unity, as, for example, 64 has 32 at its midpoint; 32 has 16, 16 has 8, 8 has 4, 4 has 2, 2, has 1, which is an indivisible singularity. An evenly odd number is one that can undergo a division into equal parts, but then its parts cannot immediately be evenly dissected, like 6, 10, 38, 50. As soon as you divide this kind of number, you run into a number that you cannot cut evenly. An oddly even number is one whose parts can be divided equally, but the division does not go to the point of one, like 24.

(From The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, transl. by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof, ISBN 978-0-521-83749-1, Cambridge University Press 2006.)

OK, so Isidore beat me out by 1350 years....
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May. 13th, 2015

devil duck

dream journal

I was watching a classic black-and-white film starring Jimmy Stewart. I'd seen it before, of course, and every scene carried resonances of discussing that scene with shalmestere on previous viewings, or what critics had said about that scene. But something else was going on, as though I were watching it on a crowded airplane, and I was frustrated that I couldn't pay the film the attention it deserved.

Remember the famous opening scene in the restaurant, where Jimmy's character, having finished his meal alone, signs something for the waitress [while watching, I remembered pointing out to shalmestere that he didn't have a credit card, as they hadn't been invented yet, but just ran a tab]. You see, through Jimmy's character's eyes, the lines of figures he's working on. Cut to a close-up of the front of a man's shirt, then back to the figures, then the shirt, then the figures, then the shirt, then pull back to reveal the manager looming angrily over Jimmy. The figures, then nothing where the manager was, then the figures, then a different shirt, then pull back to reveal the gorilla of a security guard who's about to pound Jimmy to a pulp.

Anyway, there's another famous scene in which the lady of the house comes home and starts puttering around, her black maid all but invisible in the background... but suddenly the maid becomes visible and comes into focus, a warning that something is very wrong.

A later scene where Jimmy's on the run from the bad guys... I've lost that one, the way dreams evaporate when you wake up.

Apr. 21st, 2015

devil duck

dream journal

shalmestere had left some pieces of paper lying around for me to see. I picked one up and concluded it was a recipe, written in 19th-century English, for compost -- in the gardening sense, not the preserved-root-vegetables sense. In fact, looking at the others, I realized there were at least a dozen different recipes for varietal composts, presumably for different garden conditions. And each one ended with a series of "if" statements and a list of book titles. At length I realized that the "if" statements were actually conditional-compilation directives (if the C preprocessor had been based on 19th-century English), and the book titles, all by the same 20th-century female author, were effectively include directives: if you ran the whole thing as a script, you would get the full text of all her novels, with the compost recipe inserted at all and only those places where it was appropriate to the setting.

Apr. 12th, 2015

devil duck

dream journal

shalmestere and I were at a Broadway musical. As people milled around in the entrance hall before finding their seats, the all-black cast came out to warm up the crowd. The innamorata sang a song about herself as an actress (not her character in the show) and how she'd gotten here, and the innamorato actor did a song listing all his faults, each of which the rest of the cast spun into something positive, to his evident annoyance and embarrassment.

And that's all I remember.

Mar. 29th, 2015

devil duck

So that's Episcopalian for "fire and brimstone"

Palm Sunday service, just after hearing a lesson about Pilate and the high priests, puts a lot of emphasis on religious leaders manipulating governmental leaders and mobs to accomplish their own ends, and cowardly politicians deflecting blame from themselves by saying "it's the will of the people!"

Or as shalmestere put it, "a veritable symphony of dog-whistles."

Mar. 28th, 2015

devil duck

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, unclear on so many concepts....

I'm sure most of you have heard about this by now, but here's a Daily Kos link that includes the Congresswoman's video response to the oceans of pro-Obamacare comments she got in response to her Facebook call for Obamacare horror stories.  Apparently out of the hundreds of comments, she couldn't find even one that told the story she wanted to tell, so she cribbed some from a Republican Party web site.

Quotes from Congresswoman Rodgers on ObamacareCollapse )

After selecting four data points that support her desired conclusion (and weren't even in the original data set) and ignoring hundreds that don't, she turns her keen analytical skills to the Federal budget.

"American families all across this country balance their money to pay the bills, so they can afford the co-pays at the doctor's office and send their kids to school.  Families have to prioritize; they have to save; they have to live within their means.  The Federal government needs to do likewise."

No, that doesn"t workCollapse )

"Freedom of religion restoration"

So the State of Indiana just passed the "Freedom of Religion Restoration Act", which (IIUC) says essentially "No person or business shall be compelled to serve any customer if doing so would violate the person or business's religious beliefs," and similar laws are under discussion in numerous other states and the U.S. Congress.  The law is, of course, intended to allow (and even encourage) restaurants and caterers to refuse service to homosexuals, and pharmacists to refuse to sell contraceptives and abortifacients.  It also means a male Moslem taxi-driver isn't obligated to pick up an un-veiled, or even just unaccompanied, woman.  For that matter, combined with the long-standing (and justified) reluctance of the courts to decide what is and isn't a "legitimate" religion, it could easily mean a fireman isn't obligated to put out the fire at the house of ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}, a doctor or paramedic isn't obligated to save the life of ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}, etc.

Realistically, I think in the most egregious cases (firemen and doctors above), the internal standards of the profession would forbid what the law allows.  Jews and Moslems probably won't take much advantage of it because of fear of backlash; it's really intended to authorize the already-established majority to discriminate against minorities.  Businesses in large, cosmopolitan cities probably won't take much advantage of it because they'll alienate some of the customers they are willing to serve.  The real purpose of the law is symbolic, to give the religious-Republican base an adrenaline rush and reassure them that they, not the faggots or the Jews or whatever, are the real oppressed minority.  But in a small town without a lot of competition, it could make ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}s' lives difficult in lots of petty ways, thus further enouraging ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}s to move out of small towns into more-tolerant cities, making the country even more politically polarized than it already is.

[ETA: It just occurred to me to wonder: does the law apply to on-duty government employees?  If so, one can imagine an election worker refusing to give a ballot to a ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}, or a police officer refusing to answer a call from ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}, or a public defender refusing to defend a ${CATEGORY_OF_SINNER}....]

A similar law was defeated recently in Arizona when a Democratic state legislator successfully added an amendment saying "if you want to take advantage of this law, you have to post a publicly-visible sign at your place of business saying what categories of people you won't serve."  Which seems entirely reasonable -- if you have such strongly-held religious views, you should be willing to state them publicly, not only to the people you're refusing service -- and, even if the law had passed, probably would have prevented it from being invoked except in the most reactionary backwaters of the state.  But one could make a religious-freedom argument against such an amendment: "why should I be compelled to tell everyone my religious views?  Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

I mentioned the law at work, and one of my colleagues replied "if the government can force you to do business with somebody that you don't want to do business with, isn't that a form of slavery?"  And he has a point: business transactions are supposed to be voluntary on both sides.  But that reasoning would apply to any anti-discrimination law that affects the private sector.  Putting in the "religion" part is a dog-whistle, saying this is really aimed at allowing right-thinking red-blooded straight Christian Americans to discriminate against gays and non-Christians.  And if, after a few years, there's a move to take out the "religion" part and say simply "No person or business shall be compelled to serve any customer," returning to the days of "No Negroes will be seated at the counter," "We do not rent to Jews," "No Irish need apply," etc, then from a certain bigoted point of view, so much the better.

Mar. 20th, 2015

devil duck

The deed is done, the die is cast.

I just informed my University that I'm staying at Google and resigning my academic position.
<LawrenceOfArabia>It's going to be fun.</LawrenceOfArabia>

Mar. 19th, 2015

devil duck

Terry Pratchett and the Reaper

Thanks to la_peregrina, this entertaining and thought-provoking talk from the late Sir Terry:

It has come to my attention that my first attempt to post this screwed up people's friends feeds, because LJ has some odd interpretations of HTML.  You know how
<html-tag params></html-tag>
is supposed to be equivalent to
<html-tag params/>
at least since HTML 4 or so? Not in LJ-land, it isn't....

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