Saturday, September 28, 2013

The R.I.A.A is suing the NSA?

You’ve probably noticed that the NSA has been able to tap into the backbone of the internet, to siphon off enormous tubs of data for later analysis. The penny has dropped at the R.I.A.A. We know that people often attach song files to their emails. The NSA is storing our data, which means that NSA files contain scads of illegal copies of copyrighted material.

This reporter had questions for the appropriate R.I.A.A. spokesman. As you can imagine, the central question on the table was: What might the R.I.A.A. gain from such a lawsuit?

The response was not surprising. Current law allows the R.I.A.A to collect $25,000 for each illegal copy, and of course they want their statutory penalties. I wondered how much that might amount to, and I was not surprised: Billions, Trilions, who knows? We’ll find out during Discovery.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Analyzing Random Data:

Before we get to the random data, I wish to share something with you all. Out of the blue, I got a promo email from, a website that offers an editing tool for writers. I am going to test it out on my unfinished novel next week, but I have already used it to test for plagiarism. I’m sure you agree that plagiarism is a rare concern for unpublished authors, but it can happen. That’s why I am happy to copy the following sentence into my blog entry (in exchange for something of value from the people at, and complete that sentence as an advisory to you all, to remember when you are busy writing something new:

"I use Grammarly to check for plagiarism because I hate to discover, when it’s too late, that I’ve plagiarised myself."

The web is buzzing about a phony paper submitted to – and published by - a distinguished Romanian science journal. I am reading the entire paper – bits of it are terribly funny - but I suspect that most of you have better things to do. So I am providing you with one delicious excerpt. Please bear in mind that this phony paper was created to prove that a decent Romanian journal might publish anything. The article is about selecting methods of analysis randomly, in order to analyze random data and get results.

An Excerpt from:

The first experimental results came from 2500 trial runs, and
were not reproducible. The next batch of results come from only 50
trial runs, and were not reproducible. Continuing with this rationale,
the many discontinuities in the graphs point to improved precision
introduced with our decision tree algorithms. Such a hypothesis at
first glance seems unexpected but fell in line with our expectations.
As hypothesized, the final run was sufficiently consistent, which shows
the useful convergence of our heuristics.

Incidentally, scholars are working on a gender-free term to replace "hermeneutics." Their work is so hush-hush, that if you search for himmeneutics or themmeneutics, Google will refer you only to hermeneutics. Try it...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We Need Another Acronym:

I often want to end an email with this unwieldy acronym: NNtRtTeM.
Since no one would know what it means, I have to spell it out:
No Need to Respond to This eMail.

It is often polite and helpful to end an email this way, especially when writing to professional people who, I fear, will be obliged to respond to some information I have sent them out of politeness. They will appreciate my email to them all the more if they do not have to cudgel their brain about how to respond.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Deadly Double Play:

One of the most exciting plays in baseball arises when the runner from first base comes flying into second, hellbent on disrupting the defender who has taken a throw, stepped on the bag and is trying to throw accurately to complete the double play. Collisions at second have caused major injuries. Second basemen and shortstops flinch from these collisions. Their efforts to step clear before making that throw have caused many double plays to misfire.

Perhaps there is an explicit exception somewhere in baseball’s voluminous rulebook, but I doubt it. In fact, these attempts to break up the double play should never happen. They are allowed only because of the excitement they generate. Here’s what should happen: the moment the umpire sees that the runner is trying to interfere with the play, he should call the other player – the batter – out for interference. Why? It should be obvious.

The moment the defender steps on second base, the runner coming from first is out. Once a player is out, he may not try to influence the play. He can’t get in the way. He can’t try to make a throw bounce off his body. So why can he try to mow down the defender who is trying to make a throw?

Baseball can do without these threatened collisions. And perhaps, if there was no threat of being knocked down, the defenders would be more careful to touch second base while holding the baseball (see my previous post). Play ball! But follow the rules, please.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Phoney Double Plays:

You’re probably happy that I haven’t blogged about baseball much this summer, but I’ve seen a lot of double plays this year, and I can no longer remain silent. What really got me was a game highlight, a video of Tampa Bay “almost” making a triple play.

The ball was hit to third base. The third baseman had a great opportunity to touch the base (out #1) and fire to second (out #2), where the second baseman caught the ball, pivoted quickly and threw to first. The throw arrived just too late. And that’s a good thing (or maybe a bad thing?), because if this play had been called a triple play, it might have gotten a little more inspection.

In the video, you can see that the second baseman caught the ball about three feet from the bag, on the third base side. He made no attempt to approach the bag while whirling around to throw to first. There was no out at second! But the umpire called that runner out.

In fact, umpires will call the runner approaching second out at the slightest provocation. It’s more common for the fielder at second to throw and then touch second, or to touch second and leave the base before receiving the ball. But the fielder always gets A for effort.

This is not a new issue in baseball. One of baseball’s foremost cartoonists complained about sloppy double plays in the 1950’s. Today, when we have video replay, so that every fan can see when the umpire is wrong, why don’t the umpires call the force at second accurately? It can’t be that hard.

My next post will be about the OTHER problem with double plays, an issue that annoys me just as much.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Surreal Elevator:

After broadcasting my radio program this morning, I wished to leave the building. The radio station is in the cellar of a building with four above-ground floors. A conventional display shows where the elevator is.  I prefer riding to walking. There are about 25 steps to reach the first floor.

When I approached the elevator, its display said: 1. Great, I thought, I have only one floor to wait. I pressed the button.

The display went blank. Then it displayed:  k

The display went blank. Then it displayed:  v

Have you ever heard of a building with floor "k"? Or floor "v"?  I took the stairs.

Aida500, Where are you?

I have been playing regular Scrabble on my iPad against an excellent opponent, Aida500. The company that operates Scrabble online has suddenly erased all memory of people I have played, making it impossible for me to play Aida500 again. Aida, I told you about my blog address; if you are still checking it, please get in touch. Thanks!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Tobias on Dune: (7) Saving the Worst for Last:

I will mention one aspect of Frank Herbert’s that writing drove me crazy during the audio book. Good writers sometimes Tell you what is happening, and often Show you what is happening. Telling takes fewer words and pages, but Showing is much more dramatic. Poor writers often Tell when they should Show.

In Dune, Herbert’s favorite tic is worse than Telling when Showing is required. Herbert loves to Tell you that character A senses how Character B is behaving. He doesn’t Show us how B behaves; he doesn’t Show A reacting to B; instead, he Tells us what A can Tell about B. For example (I made up this illustration): Jessica could sense that Paul was noticing the strange way their visitors acted.

Near the end of Dune, Herbert reveals something essential – in his opinion – about all of humankind. Paul explains this revelation as the foundation of his ability to seize knowledge of the present and the future: Men are all takers, and women are all givers. Paul breaks through a fundamental barrier, because he’s the only one who can give just as well as he takes.

This categorical separation of men and women into takers and givers did not sit well in 1965. It sounds worse in 2013.