Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Solution to the Financial Crisis

Henry Paulson announced today that he is lending $800 Billion to himself, to end the financial crisis. Skepticism has been expressed, but Paulson says, "Please give my plan some time. Hey, it might work."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Routine Versus Glasses:

When I go to the health club to swim, I follow a regular routine. It's pretty rare for me to vary from it. What fascinates me is how much my habit militates against my glasses, which spend most of the time in my locker. I'm very near-sighted, but I like to look at what's going on. Without my glasses, my field of interest gets very narrow and boring. Here's what happens in my routine:
ONE: I shower. No glasses here. If they get wet, it will be hard to read through them.
TWO: I sit in the hot tub for ten minutes and read. (Of course I read second-hand cheap, cheap or free books here, the wet heat ruins them.) I wear my glasses, but only because little bits of interesting things happen all over the pool complex. I can read just as well without my glasses here, because sitting in the hot tub makes me tilt my head back to use the bifocal reading portion of the lenses.
THREE: I swim. I used to wear my glasses while swimming. I have wrap-around ear pieces that hold them on. But the first time I swam fifty minutes, I discovered that the chlorinated water is hell on my eyes. Now I wear prescription goggles.
FOUR: I spend five minutes in the steam room. No point to glasses here. I could just set the glasses down beside me, but they would be easy to sit on in the fog.
FIVE: I shower. No glasses.
SIX: I dry off in the sauna. If I had glasses now, I'd have to hold them while I dry. I wouldn't set them on the hot, hot benches.
SEVEN: I weigh myself. The scale readout is above my waist; no glasses needed here.
EIGHT: I dress up, including my glasses.

Was this entry boring? If so: I'm sorry.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blackberry USA:

Columnists are having a lot of fun with their expectation that president-elect Barack Obama's Blackberry will have to be removed from him when he enters office. The democrats won't be like the current administration was, they will play by all the rules for secure, backed-up-and-saved Email, so the Blackberry has to go. Ah, so shortsighted ...

Now it seems to me that R.I.M. could have seen this coming, months ago. They've had all the time in the world to figure out how to harden their Blackberry communications, for certain designated government people, to conform to all the government regulations for presidential email. Their servers can treat certain people specially; they can manufacture a special model for the president and his special contacts to carry. It appears that R.I.M. is missing their chance to become the “President's smart Device.” Four years from now, I expect one of the smart-phone companies to be ready.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should you worry about getting a Pink Slip?

In these dangerous times, many people are losing jobs. TV reporters refer euphemistically to people getting "pink slips." I listened recently to a TV personality who stated that millions of Americans are afraid of getting pink slips. I've been laid off a few times, but I've never seen a pink slip. Do they still exist?

By the way, whatever we call it, I hope you all keep your jobs, or soon find even better ones.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

SixSexMyths SixSexMyths SixSexMyths ...

Digg linked an article called "6 Sex Myths" at This article has a peculiar title (not surprising for because according to them, some of these items are not myths. But I think this is the interesting part:

"Six sex myths" is an awesome tongue-twister. Try saying it fast several times. It ranks up there with Theophilus the thistle twister.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Java Script Helped me a lot yesterday:

Every modern programing language makes it easy to display a message box with a question and a few stock answers (yes, no, cancel, etc.). And this is wrong. Every programming language should make it easy to display a question with the answers appropriate to the question. Programmers get lazy and try to fit the stock answers – somehow – to every situation. That's how I got this awful message box from Mozilla Firefox:

A script on this page may be busy, or it may have stopped responding. Stop the script now or continue to see if the script will complete.
The message box offered me these two alternatives: OK and CANCEL.

I wish my choices had been: STOP and CONTINUE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why am I in bed with Windows?

Last night I suspected I needed to shut my Windows laptop down and reboot, to fix a problem. So I clicked SHUTDOWN and went off to do some other things. I figured I would give the PC a little rest in its "off" mode

I came back an hour later. Windows had not turned the PC off. It wanted to tell me that the MIM program, about which I care not, did not want to stop. So I had to turn it off manually. I then waited ten minutes and finally decided that Windows was not shutting down properly. I had a blue screen, and power was still on. So I pressed the On/Off button. Ten seconds later, power went off. I rebooted. Windows insisted on running a disk check because of the manual shut down. It found no problems, but it took a good eight minutes to check my whole disk.

Then the laptop came up and desired me to install some windows updates. I checked them out to decide what to do, knowing that if I took the updates, I would probably have to reboot again. After I rejected these updates, Adobe Flash and my anti-virus program both requested updates. Oh, F*** them! I just wanted to do some work.

Hey, thanks for listening!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google Image search:

I occasionally use Google's Image Search, but for me, it's mostly a curiosity. However, I just used it to solve a serious problem. For the jewish holiday of Sukkot, we build a Sukkah, a temporary structure, to eat in, and -- maybe -- to live in, for a week. The structure consists of aluminum poles (8 and 12 feet long) held together by three-way pipe joints. Several of my joints are "frozen" -- the holding screws cannot be coaxed to turn -- so I decided to buy some more.

Web sites that specialize in sukkah materials will sell the joints to me for $15 apiece. I suspected that was much too pricey, so I went to an enormous hardware store to find my joints. At the hardware store, I discovered that what I want are not plumbing joints and not electriccal joints, and not normal hardware store products. My only hope was to find them on the web. I did a series of image searches. I needed to find a picture of the joints I wanted, because I had no idea who might sell them, or what to call them.

The winning search was: pipe structural fittings "allen wrench" .
(I might have used "joints" but I did not think of that.) The picture popped up at The Diamond Aluminum Company, which sells these joints and the same pipes for do-it-yourself construction projects.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My best playlist ever:

Most Tuesday mornings, I produce a classical music program on WPRB radio from 6 to 8:30 a.m. (Eastern time). You can hear me all over the world. We are on the air at 103.3 FM in much of central Jersey (etc.), but also: You can catch us online at, where we offer three easy to record (and even time-shift) audio streams.

I try to put together programs with a lot of variety, good music and good performances. Sometimes I feel that I have created an exceptional playlist. But election day was different: I'm sure I produced my best playlist ever, and now, I'm going to tell you all about it.

My great challenge, which I was unable to solve for days, was: what is classical election day music? I had no idea. But Tuesday morning at 5:20 a.m., I found a theme for my program. No matter who you wanted to win, you felt great pain at the thought of loss; you wanted revenge on the other guys; and you dreamed of unalloyed victory. So that's what it says right in my playlist: WHOEVER WINS: THE PAIN! THE VICTORY!! THE REVENGE!!! I selected music for pain, for pure vengefulness, and for the delight of victory. Here's what I played:

Overture: la forze del destino (Verdi): Fate and vengeance personified in music.

Dissonance quartet, k. 465 in C, 1st mvt (Mozart): Those dissonances were great for the theme of pain.

Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner): On to victory!

der Freischutz, overture (Weber): That free-shot, the bullet that will go wherever it is aimed; great for revenge.

Vallee d'Obermann (Liszt): This music personifies despair. Great for the pain theme.

A song: Ich grolle nicht, from dichterliebe (Schumann): Some of the words: I'm not complaining, even if my heart breaks.

Don Giovanni, overture (Mozart): Revenge!

Funeral march: 1st mvt of symphony #5 (Mahler): The pain.

Requiem, excerpts (Verdi): I played the 'Dies Irae' (day of wrath, day of anger!) and lacrymosa. I used an explosive performance, in which the vengeance of 'dies irae' jumps out of your speakers: The philharmonia orchestra and chorus, conducted by carlo maria giulini .

The Anfortas Wound, from Harmonielehre (John Adams): After a long period of agonizing writer's block, Adams wrote the first movement of his Harmonielehre. After that, he wanted to depict the pain of his writer's block, and he chose to illustrate in sound, the pain of being pierced in the testicles. Very appropriate for my program.

Don Giovanni, cenar teco m'invistasti'. D.G. descends into hell (Mozart):Revenge. I got a little carried away here. I told my listeners that near the end of this music, they would hear the wails of the election loser as he descended into hell. But of course, it was only Don Giovanni wailing. Sorry about that.

A song: Belsatzar, op. 57 (poem by Heine, music by Schumann): Belshazzar curses God, and he doesn't get away with it.

After all that, I felt it was time for a little healing, so I concluded the program with the last movement of Beethoven's 9th.

Please feel free to re-create his program whenever you need it.

Save Energy: Burn Leaves!

Now that I've got your attention, I want to ask: how much energy do we waste by burning leaves? In my little town, I've watched leaf blowers push leaves off of streets and out of parking lots. The blowers burn gasoline of course. Why is it necessary to waste gas to tidy nature up in this way? We have laws limiting the use of water on lawns; why not limit the use of leaf blowers to actual necessity? Many leaves decompose just fine when left on their own.

Full Disclosure: I HATE it when somebody turns on a leaf blower, while I'm trying to record my novel.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How Detectable is Voting Fraud?

Today's timely posting is by a guest author, JG Fellow.

Today, we are holding elections. On November 5th, we will likely be debating the existence of fraud. I believe that we have the tools demonstrate the likelihood that such fraud has taken place. Throughout the elections, via, I have watched the results of every single state and national poll. I have been struck by the stability of the results over the last two weeks. To be sure, two polls of the same state may vary, but there are few states where the projected winner is uncertain.

Based on this wealth of data, we know what to expect on November 4th, but we are, by no means, certain to get it. Pollsters occasionally miss biases, or run in herds. We witnessed this in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary this year. But New Hampshire stood out as an exception. Most state's primary results followed the pre-election polling.

So how do we evaluate those results that differ from our expectations? How can we tell the fraudulent from the unexpected? By examining the results at the voting precinct level. It is certainly possible to falsify election results. But while it is possible to lie, it is very difficult to lie well. It is incredibly difficult to generate a fake set of data that continues to look real upon scrutiny. How do I know this? Experience.

Both professionally and personally, I have performed hundreds of Monte Carlo simulations. This is a process whereby you define some rules and roll some dice. If I roll a 6, David Ortiz hits a home run. If I roll a 1, unemployment rises. I have simulated baseball, basketball, football, car accidents, occupational injuries and even terrorist activity. The tragedy of my experience is that I can always find some level on which my generated data fails to replicate reality. While my hitters may meet my expectations, Mariano Rivera ends up as an average pitcher. While the average cost of a car accident is correct, the chance of a $10,000,000 car accident is too high. The first, second and third test of my data may look reasonable, but there will always be a fourth, fifth or sixth.

I have faith in my fellow Americans, and even more faith in checks and balances. But most important, I have faith that such fraudulence could not be done in secret. I would urge major news outlets to work with statisticians to validate the reasonability of the outcome of this election, and I look forward to today with no fear that a crime shall go unwitnessed.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Somebody Else's Risk (2):

Ender left a good comment on my post about Somebody Else's Risk. There's an interesting counter-argument to my posting: you could say that since I believe myself a good programmer, I SHOULD take on these life-risk programs, because I will do them better than the other guy. At the time, I instinctively mistrusted this argument. After the many years that have passed since then, I think I know why. It's the nature of computer products that every good one is duplicated many times. People rush to fill every perceived niche to overflowing, whether it's an operating system, blogging software, or an email system. Each time I decide to take the risk of writing software where people's lives are at risk, I am ADDING one more approach to all the others. I'm not doing it instead of someone else, and there's little risk that the software I contribute to will be so good that it chases all the inferior ones away. And the bugs I leave in my software may affect some unlucky person.

Writing software, or doing any work, where the quality affects people's lives, is simply a grave responsibility that has to be taken seriously.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Supernatural Cleaning Methods:

Joyce Wadler has written a delightful piece in the New York Times about getting ghosts out of houses, called Supernatural Cleaning Methods. As you read it, I think you will suspect that you are enjoying it almost as much as the editor who wrote the subheadings.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

She wanted a divorce:

When I was twelve, I read a thin book of funny letters that people had written to lawyers. I remember exactly one letter from this book. Unlike everything else in it, this one caught my attention enough to make it come back to me, every dozen years or so:

I want a divorce. I'm not sure my husband is the father of my children.

Well, duh. Who could be that dumb? At age twelve, I knew the facts of life better than she did. Now why did this letter stick in my mind? Setting aside the possibility that the entire book was fiction – a possibility that never occurred to me in my youth – the letter always bothered me. There had to be some other explanation. Nobody is that dumb.

Perhaps the letter kept coming back to me as a demand that I must solve its puzzle. Well, I think I've solved it. The only fault of the woman who wrote the letter is that she did not have the capability of expression by writing*. I will explain by rewriting her letter, and then I will explicate. I'm adding exactly one word:

I want a divorce. I'm not sure my husband is only the father of my children.

In other words, the woman suspects that her husband is also the father of other women's children. Definitely grounds for divorce! I feel much better now.

* By the way, in 1974, when I needed to hire a hardware designer, I read many resumes, including one that ended thus: I also have the capability of expression by writing. We didn't hire him, even though he was able to design hardware.