Thursday, May 23, 2013

Give me Immunity ...

An I.R.S. manager appeared before an investigative congressional committee yesterday and took the fifth amendment, refusing to testify.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950's know that taking the fifth can be the right way to deal with congress. I imagined this particular I.R.S. manager declaiming, "Give me immunity, or give me death!"

Fortunately, it hasn't come to that.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oklahomans Are Rational:

After that dread, mile-wide tornado leveled homes and towns in Oklahoma, people are asking why every town in the so-called “tornado belt” (about half the United States) is not required to have a Safe Room where people can try to hide out from monster storms. Such a building requirement would add a lot to the cost of homes, but wouldn’t it save enough lives to be worth it?

There are many cases where we want people to act rationally about a remote threat, and it takes a lot of analysis to understand that the people have already voted, and their actions are already rational. To illustrate the tornado-belt situation, I want to remind you of another building requirement:

In much of Israel, every home was required to have a Safe Room that people could stay in during a SCUD Missile attack. The government provided many citizens with gas masks to wear in the Safe Room. The Safe Rom requirement added cost to building requirements. It must have raised the rent of countless apartments. Israel’s citizen’s accepted this requirement. Were they acting more rationally than Oklahomans?

For Israel, the Safe Room represented a patriotic duty. Its people were saying to the missile firers, You can do some damage, but you’ll hardly main or kill anyone. The Safe Rooms were a duty of pride.

If Oklahoma were to require Safe Rooms in every building, I think they would be sending a different message to Oklahomans: A tornado may come and destroy your home, level your town and leave you with nothing. But you are more likely to survive. That is not a patriotic message. It is a message of despair. I think that anyone who lives in the tornado belt hopes to be spared. Malevolent as they are, tornadoes attack only a small percentage of the population. People do not plan to be desperate, at a considerable extra cost.

If there was a tornado-defusing machine that sucked the force out of any nearby tornado, I suspect that many Oklahomans would be happy to pay extra taxes to have one near their home. That would be a positive message of defiance.

Friday, May 17, 2013

When "One thing at a time" does not apply:

The New York Times published a short piece in the Science Times of April 16. Titled “Flights may get rougher as CO2 builds up,” the text worried that forty years from now, air will be more turbulent, making our flights through the sky rougher. I thought the writer had shown a remarkable lack of imagination. I wrote to the Times and, silly me, I thought they would publish my observation:

When analyzing the future, it is a great mistake to assume that only one thing will change. Forty years from now, if our commercial planes bear any resemblance to the jets of today, they will likely be equipped with sophisticated air turbulence sensors and computer-driven engines that can make micro-adjustments to air pressure shifts. Thus our future flights are likely to be less turbulent, regardless of changes to the atmosphere.

After two days of banqueting, my weight rose to 219.0. I expect to lose one pound quickly, and thus I will hold the seven pounds I have lost since last November. But gosh, I want to lose some more weight, soon.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pieces of Hardware must look out for each other? A charming story...

I think this is a charming story, and I hope you will agree. Every month, I completely discharge my iPad 2, and then recharge it to 100%. I understand that this procedure helps the iPad software control the battery and extend its life.

Today was the day. I completely discharged my iPad. Then, when it was somewhat recharged, I turned it on. My iPad displayed the login screen with a notification:

Recharge my Electric Razor.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


I got interested in the Mets game last night because of the pitching. Their new phenom faced 28 batters in nine innings, yielding no walks and one barely-a hit. The game ended in the bottom of the tenth as follows:

Ike Davis singles. The next batter bunts him to second. A pinch hitter lines a hit to right and Davis scores.

Sounds like the Met’s fine manager made a few obvious decisions in the tenth to ion the game. But there’s more to it than that. Ike Davis is a very slow runner. I’m sure he could run the bases faster than I, but that’s not saying much. His slow running could have meant he was unable to score from second on that hit. Worse, what if he came lumbering around third determined to score, and collided with the catcher, risking another season-ending injury?

A good bunt can move any runner from first to second. But what if the bunt was barely okay?

The Mets used twelve players in this game. They had a whole bunch of guys on the bench, some more expendable than Davis and all of them faster. It’s worth noting that their manager did not substitute a pinch runner for Davis. Why didn’t he do it? I’m afraid I know the answer.
Terry Collins was well aware of the Mets’ nefarious ways. I’m sure he was thinking far ahead. Like this:

Suppose the score is nothing to nothing in the twelfth inning. We’ll need Davis’s bat.
And suppose the score is nothing to nothing in the fifteenth inning. We’ll still need Davis’s bat.
And suppose the score is nothing to nothing in the seventeenth inning. We’ll still need Davis’s bat.
Suppose the score is nothing to nothing in the nineteenth inning... I better leave him in the game.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

I can't empty my pockets!

Years ago I was fascinated by garments like the Scott E-vest, that offer lots of extra pockets, even electronically-aware pockets. I came to my senses, concluding that I should never wear any such clothing. It's hard enough to check four pants pockets and one shirt pocket every night. And I'm not that good at checking, either. That's why I'm guilty of laundering money. How could I possibly check sixteen pockets?

I own a few cargo pants today. They have those pockets-below-the-front-pants-pockets that I never seem to need. Whenever I feel my front pants pockets to see if they are empty, I decide they aren't, and dip my fingers in. And what do I find? Those pockets are empty, but I can feel the button for the lower pocket through the upper pocket. These mistakes do ensure that I won't leave coins in those front pockets by mistake...

While I'm at it, I'd like to mention one more pocket that some of my pants have. I call it the Oh-My-God-I've-lost-my-keys pocket. It is a great idea: a small pocket inside the front pocket for change. Fifty years ago, this change pocket was very small. You reached into it carefully with narrowed second and third fingers. Modern technology, I guess, has made it possible to widen the "change" pocket, so that I can slip my hand in there by mistake, and of course that means I feel no keys. The keys nestle just below in the real pocket, and I can't hear them, but they probably cry "April Fool" while I wonder frantically how I lost them.

I promised a diet update whenever my weight stopped bouncing between 218 and 219. This morning I weighed 214.8. That looks great, but I've recently been too sick to snack. I will fight hard to resist my physical desire to regain that weight, and I hope to work out a compromise with myself.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Logical Weakness in Fitzgerald's Gatsby:

The website NewspaperAlum has a fascinating piece about how the critics of 1925 perceived Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. For many years after its publication, Gatsby was not recognized as the Great American Novel, and you can read some critiques at this webpage that are both perceptive and nonperceptive.

I am fascinated by Elizabeth Wharton’s letter to Fitzgerald, quoted on this webpage as follows:
To make Gatsby really Great, you ought to have given us his early career (not from the cradle-but from his visit to the yacht, if not before) instead of a short resume of it. That would have situated him & made his final tragedy a tragedy instead of a ``fait divers'' for the morning papers.''

Wharton singled out a great logical weakness in this novel. I wonder if Fitzgerald was aware of it. Fitzgerald paints Gatsby as a man who has reinvented himself. He is not to be trusted about his own image and background, for there’s no way to know where reality gives way to his self-invention. Nonetheless, near the book’s end, Gatsby tells Nick where he came from, and we are expected to swallow this self-history: hook, line and sinker.

Dear Shelby Lyman, you missed Mate in One:

Shelby Lyman’s May 5, 2013 Sunday Chess column has “White to Play” for this problem:
White(5): Rg8, Bh5, Nd3, Kg3, g4
Black(5): Rh7, Bd7, Nc6, Kh6, c7 .
His solution is mate in two: 1. g5ch, Kxh5; 2. Nf4 mate.

Most of us would prefer the simpler: Rg6 mate.

Shelby! Check your problems!!!!

Masking Passwords:

Slashdot reports that the Fedora 19 release will not mask passwords, in accordance with a recommendation that Bruce Schneier made, that he has since, perhaps, recanted. It is very clear to most of us that not seeing the passwords we type leads to frustrating errors, and rarely improves security. As we continue to argue about masking passwords, I would like to add an obvious alternative that is not on the table. Our current choices are:

  1. Mask passwords
  2. Show passwords
  3. Briefly show the last password letter typed, a practice that Bruce Schneier seems to like. But how about this:
  4. Add an “unmask” button to the left of a password field.

Those of us who have struggled with laptop keyboards that get stuck in unusual shift modes would be happy to have this alternative. Those of us who type passwords into tiny phones and iPods – seriously, who is monitoring what we type there – will also be delighted. (On phones and small devices, the gesture to unmask a password might be: pound the screen with your fist.)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

I am allergic to Lilac Flowers:

I am allergic to lilacs. Year after year when they bloom in central Jersey I get all the head-and-throat symptoms of an allergic reaction, and that time is right now. I told a friend I had never heard of this allergy, but I looked it up on the web, and I'm not alone. Donna Daniels puts it very well, right here.

I am miserable. Loratidine (generic Claritin) will help, but Loratidine will also rob me of some sleep.