The passing of Dr Matrix

Back when Scientific American was worth my money, the first feature that got my attention every month was Martin Gardner’s “Mathematical Games,” where I learned such arcane arts as tangrams and polyominos. Gardner retired from the magazine in 1981, aged sixty-seven, and more or less dropped out of my consciousness until about five years ago, his return accompanied by the exclamation, “Holy flurking schnitt, the smartest man on earth lives in Norman?

Which he did, starting around 2002; his son James is a professor of educational psychology at OU. Gardner was a skeptic, in the Randian (James, not Ayn) sense, and wrote extensively on pseudoscience; unlike several of his questioning colleagues, he was a theist. Dr Irving Joshua Matrix (apparently Bush) was a regular visitor to “Mathematical Games,” and according to legend, was killed in some sort of conflict with Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, whom I thought had been iced by someone else entirely.

Gardner, of course, would never have approved of this sort of rambling, disjointed prose, especially if it was about him. Perhaps, though, he might have appreciated this remembrance by old friend James Randi:

Martin Gardner has died. I have dreaded to type those words, and Martin would not have wanted to know that I’m so devastated at what I knew — day to day — had to happen very soon. I’m glad to report that his passing was painless and quick. That man was one of my giants, a very long-time friend of some 50 years or so. He was a delight, a very bright spot in my firmament, one to whom I could always turn to with a question or an idea, with any strange notion I could invent, and with any complaint or comment I could come up with.

Martin Gardner’s next birthday would have been his 96th; ninety-six, he might have pointed out, was octagonal and untouchable. If only it had been reachable.

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Keep your labels to yourself

Especially political and/or ideological labels, says Adam Gurri:

[F]unctionally, calling someone a “libertarian” or “conservative” is really just people’s ways of sorting out what kinds of responses they should expect from particular people on particular topics. That’s fine; that’s a perfectly natural process that we all rely on heavily well beyond the scope of politics and philosophy.

It might be idealistic, but I simply prefer to think of myself as an unlabeled man.

These days, one does well to remain an unlibeled man, given what appears to be a vast increase in public outrage:

The blogosphere, it sometimes seems, is one sustained howl of rage, the state of nature converted into html coding. TV is trying to catch up.

It seems like every week it’s The End Of The World As We Know It. And eventually it will be. But do the math: out of scores of potential TEOTWAWKIs, exactly one of them is the genuine article. Faced with a whole flock of Chickens Little, my advice is to double down.

Or, in the words of Marx:

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Digits of arguable significance

In Forbes, Joel Kotkin sings the praises of Houston, Texas:

Over the past decade Houston’s population has grown by 24% — five times the rate of San Francisco, Boston and New York. In that time it has attracted 244,000 new residents from other parts of the U.S., while older cities experienced high rates of out-migration. It is even catching up on foreign immigration, enjoying a rate comparable with New York’s and roughly 50% higher than that of Boston or Chicago.

So what does Houston have that these other cities lack? Opportunity. Between 2000 and 2009 Houston’s employment grew by 260,000. Greater New York City — with nearly three times the population of Houston — has added only 96,000 jobs. The Chicago area has lost 258,000 jobs, San Francisco 217,000, Los Angeles 168,000 and Boston 100,004.

That Boston figure seems strangely specific. I’m guessing the Red Sox are sending a few guys down to Pawtucket.

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Renew, the end is at hand

Whatever the state of the economy, apparently there’s always money to be made by scaring domain owners into something unnecessary or worse. A Web consultant reports on a variation on this theme:

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a couple customers contact me with questions regarding a letter they received from Domain Registry of America. The document looks like a very official invoice. It says that if you act now, you can renew your Website’s domain registration and SAVE MONEY! This gets me so angry. I do not like companies trying to FOOL my customers!

Apparently these guys sift through the Whois database, which is open to the public, and then send in their pitch to anyone approaching the expiration date. A one-year renewal costs … what, thirty American dollars? You can beat that price by half, or better, without even breathing hard. (I have a domain — not this one — to renew next month; it will cost me $9.95.)

I object in principle to anything that looks like an invoice but isn’t, even if it says “This is not a bill” somewhere in the text. Resellers of magazine subscriptions used to do that, and probably still do.

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I do hope she’s comfortable

Today’s Meredith Vieira, sitting as no News Babe has ever, to my knowledge, sat:

Meredith Vieira

There may be a clue in the time stamp: at 8:55 (Eastern), she’s ready to leave. (The show goes on for two hours more, but without her.) And that’s a perfectly respectable set of gams, but a highly-unusual deployment, at least for network television.

I suppose this makes me a Knight Who Says “Knee.”

(Picture snagged by SceptreX42 at SuperiorPics.)

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Now just imagine the pudding

Getting something wrong in the first sentence is generally not a good sign, as demonstrated by the usually detail-oriented Katherine Mangu-Ward in this piece:

The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long.

Um, no. The milspec [pdf] that governs brownies — and oatmeal cookies! — is indeed 26 pages long, but what we think of as the “recipe” is a single section that covers less than three pages. Everything else is just definitions and legalese.

And besides:

Through hard experience the Pentagon has discovered that means detailed contracts and specifications. Having to go such a route undoubtedly adds cost to each individual item, but it lowers cost in the long run by avoiding issues such as having to destroy a million MREs because they aren’t shelf stable… The reason the specs are written in such stilted language, a source of Ms Mangu-Ward’s ire, is because it is a contract and lawyers will shred anything with any sort of ambiguity, which then adds cost again.

Having eaten a few MCIs in my day — chronologically, the MCI falls between the old C-ration and the newer MRE, though the “C-ration” designation persisted well into the MCI era — I am compelled to point out that there’s a lot to be said for infernal consistency.

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We’ve all wanted to do this

But it takes LeeAnn, the love child of Gidget and Genghis Khan, actually to pull it off:

Once upon a time, before such behavior would get you shot, I stopped my car dead in the middle of the road and got out and tapped on the stunned-by-my-behavior tailgater’s window, and when he rolled it down I asked, “Are you a proctologist? Because you’ve been up my ass for the last five miles.” Then I smiled and got back in my car and left.

It was highly unlikely, I suspect, that the tailgater would have had the presence of mind to present her with a bill for, um, an out-of-office visit.

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System uptime notes

So far as I can tell, we had no downtime on this site yesterday. Explanation here.

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What’s all this brewhaha?

Why, it’s Stacy McCain, explaining the principles of product placement:

While you’re reading this blog, by the way, be sure to enjoy a cold refreshing Corona Extra™ beer.

As my blogger friends know, I don’t actually drink beer, but I always make a point of having a delicious Corona beer in my hand when I’m photographed at a party, because I’m trying to get a product-placement deal with the Mexican beer cartel.

So far, I have not been able to persuade the manufacturers of Corona that making me their officially sponsored right-wing blogger would be good for business, and Anheuser-Busch also nixed my pitch, which is why I stopped drinking pretending to drink Budweiser.

Some readers may be asking themselves, “Is it legal for Stacy to pimp himself out to advertisers so shamelessly? Couldn’t he be arrested for that?”

Not to worry, dear readers. I have consulted the nation’s finest legal mind, Professor Glenn Reynolds, who informs me that I am perfectly within my rights.

Heh. Indeed.®

(Another three point eight cents for the Instant Man. I hope the FTC is happy.)

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Tenners, anyone?

Have you ever wondered why the PIN on ATM cards is exactly four digits? The truth of the matter, from the man who built the very first machine:

The first automatic teller machine, now known as ATMs, was installed at a branch of Barclays Plc in a north London suburb on June 27, 1967.

Plastic bank cards had not been invented yet, so [John] Shepherd-Barron’s machine used special checks that were chemically coded. Customers placed the checks in a drawer, and after entering a personal identification number, a second drawer would spring open with a 10 pound note.

Shepherd-Barron originally planned to make personal identification numbers six digits long, but cut the number to four after his wife Caroline complained that six was too many.

“Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard,” he told the BBC.

(Via Fark.)

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Quote of the week

A personal ad from a self-described “exceptionally mediocre guy” in the District of Columbia:

So I read an article about George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen the other day. In it, he expounds on the advantages of living in DC vice other major cities, one of which is the dating scene. Yes, the DC dating scene. According to Cowen, cities like LA and New York have an over-class of exceptionally high status men who suck all the best women into their romantic orbit. But DC’s high status males are all politicians, who, unlike the bankers and movies stars found elsewhere, can’t afford to be seen strutting around with a new starlet every weekend. In Washington, you “only” need be a lobbyist or a lawyer to pull some major high-end tail.

Only a lobbyist or a lawyer! Jesus Christ, is there any hope for me? I guess I should be thankful; if I lived in New York, I’d be forced to date the hideously disfigured or refugees from failed states or something, while Goldman Sachs executives collateralize various debt obligations atop a mound of writhing supermodels.

Not that I’m bitter or anything. I just have a good idea of where I fall in the dating spectrum: I’m a solid B. Sure, maybe I’m a B+ on a good day, but I’m also easily a C- on bad one, like when I wake up hungover on a Sunday morning and I’m overdue for a haircut and I decide to spend the whole day lounging around pantless watching Kurosawa movies. In the dating world, I’m USDA Select. I’m CNN, JC Penney, Hershey’s chocolate, Tom Petty, an acceptance letter from University of Maryland … you get the point. In a word, mediocre. Even in DC, the world capital of low standards, I’m doomed to die alone unless I get myself into law school somehow.

It would never occur to me to give dating advice — or, for that matter, to take dating advice — but I can see the redeeming social value in some of those C-minus Sundays.

Of course, it may just be that men in D.C. don’t know how to ask women out.

(Found while browsing TJICistan.)

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What did Brown do for you?

First, from Campbell Brown’s statement upon her departure from CNN:

I knew on the day that I accepted my job at CNN that a ratings victory at 8pm was going to be a formidable challenge. As I have been told over and over, this is the toughest timeslot in cable news. That is obviously due to the incredible talents of my 8pm competitors. I have also always marveled whenever a television anchor says that he or she pays no attention to ratings. I’m pretty sure the last time any anchor could honestly ignore ratings was well before I was born. Of course I pay attention to ratings. And simply put, the ratings for my program are not where I would like them to be. It is largely for this reason that I am stepping down.

Campbell BrownBrown’s program, for part of its run, was titled Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull. I didn’t watch much of it, and judging by the ratings, neither did anyone else. Still, she’s a lot easier on the eyes than either of the competing bloviators, and at least one commentator has argued that she should have made better use of this fact:

I mean have you seen her legs? And after she had her little one she’s looking better than ever. Look, everyone knows CNN’s biased and that’s been quite obvious during this election with their constant pushing of Senator Clinton, who’s not going to beat Senator Obama for the Democratic Primary. Why not just take off the venir of being unbiased and let it all hang out like Fox does.

That was two years ago. Has he changed his mind? Not even:

Some readers got angry with my assertion at the time, but I pressed the point. Fox News was getting away with that strategy, mixing sexy female anchors with an edgy, opinionated take on the news. CNN resisted my claim, and also failed to emphasize the iReport format, but that’s another blog post.

Now CNN’s ratings slide is worse and Campbell Brown’s gone.

Is it sad that Campbell Brown’s legs may have saved her show? Yeah, it is. But the bottom line in television is viewers, time, and money. The key to success is to make people stop and watch for whatever reason. High-minded views on news and society are fine if they work; in this case they don’t.

And I’d be willing to bet that there are a lot of people who watch Fox News with the sound off, too.

Meanwhile, a reader of National Review Online floats a rumor:

Is there any remote chance that she is clearing the decks to run against Kirstin Gillibrand for US Senate? Her husband Dan Senor came close to declaring and then decided otherwise. “Gee, we have all this research and stuff, Honey, why don’t you do it?” I have no idea if she’s even a Republican (closet?), but the filing deadline is in July and name recognition should not be a problem.

Were she a closet Republican, it might explain much about her failure to gain any traction at CNN. Or it might not. (Do we give them the benefit of the doubt? Your call.)

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I wonder if I’ve cheesed off Andrew Ian Dodge. He’s titled this week’s Carnival of the Vanities “Have no clue what # CoTV”.

Assuming I’ve counted correctly, it’s the 374th, as in on March 10th of this year, 3M Company paid its 374th consecutive quarterly dividend. That’s a lot of Scotch Tape.

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Not ready for primary time

A Woman of Interest makes a scene at a polling place during a closed primary:

“D or R?”

WoI huffily replied, “I am an Independent!”

Poll Attendant politely explained things … and told WoI to come back in November to vote in the General. This was clearly unacceptable, and WoI proceeded to throw an epic bitch fit — beyond hissy and well into conniption; her rights were being abrogated, the polling attendants were criminals, the Judge of Elections was a shithead (which actually, he is — but that’s irrelevant to her situation) and the police that were summoned were fascists! She was going to file a complaint with the county, state and federal authorities, the UN, the Hague and possibly the Reptile Overlords from Alpha Seti VI.

For five points: D or R?

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Are you experienced?

Aw, come on, it’s only a quarter.

Experienced Cone Thread

(Seen at Oddly Specific.)

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Strangled by a vine

A letter to the editor of the Oklahoman about four years ago asked why we couldn’t get ethanol for fuels — as distinguished from ethanol for cocktails — out of kudzu.

Local ruminants might be unhappy at the prospect, but large-scale removal and processing of kudzu might do wonders for the South’s air quality:

Kudzu, an invasive vine that is spreading across the southeastern United States and northward, is a major contributor to large-scale increases of the pollutant surface ozone, according to a U.Va. study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kudzu, a leafy vine native to Japan and southeastern China, produces the chemicals isoprene and nitric oxide, which, when combined with nitrogen in the air, form ozone, an air pollutant that causes significant health problems for humans. Ozone also hinders the growth of many kinds of plants, including crop vegetation.

“We found that this chemical reaction caused by kudzu leads to about a 50 percent increase in the number of days each year in which ozone levels exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency deems as unhealthy,” said study co-author Manuel Lerdau, a University of Virginia professor of environmental sciences and biology. “This increase in ozone completely overcomes the reductions in ozone realized from automobile pollution control legislation.”

Ozone being O3, you might wonder how any nitrogen figures into the mix at all. Actually, it’s the usual reaction of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides in the presence of lots of sunlight.

Note to the Environmental Protection Agency: Why are you wasting time on carbon dioxide when you’ve got a real villain to pursue?

(Via Fishersville Mike.)

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