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Wednesday, January 1st, 2025
7:42 am - Thoughts on education
I've been on lj over 12 years now, and I've had lots of thoughts on education [also, I was posting stuff on marypat.org in longer form from 1996 - 2002; I've also written a lot at the Actuarial Outpost on this subject]

So this post is simply to amass posts as I find them, and categorize them. I am defining "education" very broadly here. I may be linking to some friends-locked posts, and will note that when I link. Some of these posts may need to be moved around for better organization.

12 Days of LearningCollapse )

My thoughts for starting schools, business related to educationCollapse )

Responses to Charles MurrayCollapse )

Gifted education/IQ stuffCollapse )

Math educationCollapse )

Online educationCollapse )

Females and math and scienceCollapse )

Actuarial educationCollapse )

UncategorizedCollapse )

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Sunday, October 16th, 2016
4:48 pm - Please Help Claire Berlinski
Some months back, I posted an plea to help Vladimir Bukovsky, a Putin critic who I (and others) think are being targeted with a bogus prosecution in the UK. Bukovsky's trial is in December, and Claire Berlinski plans on traveling there to cover the trial.

Claire has covered Bukovsky already, and here are some samples:

Did Britain Fall into Putin’s Trap in Prosecuting a Russian Dissident? - at the National Review

Vladimir Bukovsky v. The Kremlin, Final Round at Ricochet

The KGB Never Forgets and Never Forgives at Ricochet

A Hidden History of Evil: Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives at City Journal -- from 2010

As you can see from that last link, Berlinski has been covering Vladimir for years, and is not new to the scene.

Berlinski is running a Gofundme campaign to help defray her traveling expenses to develop her latest book project, but as an aside, to help with covering the Bukovsky trial.

Please consider donating. I just threw in a donation myself.

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Thursday, October 13th, 2016
9:45 am - On my one-sided vendettas (vendette?)
So people at work found out this week that I harbor one-sided vendettas/nemeses involving various people. I'm not going to explain how it came up, but it started with my first one-sided vendetta, which was against Marilyn vos Savant.

I have nothing against vos Savant re: the brain teaser column. That was just fine, and some of the brain teasers were interesting.

It was when she wrote this book that I got pissed off: The World's Most Famous Math Problem: The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and Other Mathematical Mysteries. It's an awful book, and you don't have to take my word for it.

Here's the current most-helpful negative review:

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A book about the math that Ms. Vos Savant doesn't understand, December 1, 1997
By Chris
This review is from: The World's Most Famous Math Problem: The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and Other Mathematical Mysteries (Paperback)

Like many of us, there are some elements of mathematics that Ms. Vos Savant doesn't understand. Unfortunately, instead of investigating these subjects or asking questions of experts, the author concludes that there must be something wrong with the mathematics. Although this book purports to be about Wiles's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, it is really a description of all the things that are "wrong" in mathematics, including some comments on Wiles's work. This can make for some entertaining reading, like her argument against the imaginary number i, but it can also be quite annoying, like her incredibly disrespectful comment (under the heading "a possible fatal flaw [in Wiles's proof]") that Wiles ought to check and make sure that his "proof" doesn't also rule out solutions to the equation with exponent 2, since we know that there are solutions in this case. A big plus for this book is the evidence it provides for the relative unimportance of I.Q.

So here are the elements of my one-sided vendettas:
-the person generally doesn't know I exist (not true in the case of at least one of these below, because I've emailed that person and he responded);
-other people also dislike/detest/whatever my targets for the exact same reason, and
- it really annoys me that somebody is paying them to continue doing the stuff that pisses me off.

And I don't do much except bitch about the people... I'm kind of lazy, vendetta-wise. No Rigoletto me.

Here's my list of one-sided vendetta targets:
- Marilyn vos Savant (for the dumbass Fermat book)
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb (for writing stuff that is true, and very unhelpful/unuseful)
- Malcolm Gladwell (for being the most credulous person ever, even if he can tell a good story)
- Carl Bialek (for just writing dumb stuff related to quantitative subjects)
- Matt Yglesias (for just being rock dumb, and the mystery is he's allowed to keep doing whatever he's doing)

There are some two-sided enmities I have out there, but I'm not going to list them. They know who they are. I detest you right back, bucko.

Most of the time, I don't think about these people, but someone reminded me of vos Savant the other day, then somebody else reminded me of Yglesias, so I thought I'd put this down.

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Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
8:47 am - Letters to the WSJ: an intermittent hobby
So in today's facebook memories, this letter to the WSJ in October 2010 came up:

Ms. Sebelius should remember that insurance commissioners not only have to be concerned with consumer protection in terms of premium rates being too high, but also concerned about inadequate reserves leading to insurance company insolvency due to premium rates being too low.

Mary Pat Campbell

Croton Falls, N.Y.

WSJ link.

And here was the original:
I am sure Secretary Sebelius's former colleagues at the NAIC appreciate her saying that at long last, after decades of ineffective regulation by the states, health insurance companies finally will have effective oversight. It's interesting that she would claim to have been ineffective in her prior role as an insurance commissioner herself, as this imbues the citizenry with the confidence that at last she has risen to her sphere of competence in the federal bureaucracy.

But. if she could cast her mind back to those dark days when she was held thrall by the Kansan health conglomerate, she might remember that insurance commissioners not only have to be concerned with consumer protections in terms of premium rates being too high, but worried about inadequate reserves leading to insurance company insolvency due to premium rates being too low.

But, ah, being part of the federal machine means not worrying about such piddly things. Let them eat high fiber cake if they can't find insurance coverage at any price.

-Mary Pat Campbell
Croton Falls, NY

Yeah, that was quite a carve down from the bitchy original. Contrast this to this recent letter from me.

When I got to the end of “The Sinister Side of Cash” (Review, Aug. 27), I felt like I was in a Scooby-Doo episode, with the demasked villain proclaiming, “I would have been able to get monetary policy to work if it weren’t for those pesky kids and their cash!” It is farcical watching various central bankers persist in their failed strategies regarding negative interest rates without the subsequent desired results. As with Marxists claiming that true communism has never been tried, it looks like the current excuse for these bankers is that their strategy won’t work until cash is obliterated.

Mary Pat Campbell

Croton Falls, N.Y.

As I read through Rogoff's piece from last weekend, "The Sinister Side of Cash", I wondered what it was all about...until I got to the end.

I felt like I was in a Scooby Doo episode, with the de-masked villain proclaiming "I would have been able to get monetary policy to work...if it weren't for those pesky kids and their cash!"

It's getting to be quite a farce watching various central bankers proclaim negative interest rates without subsequent desired results, and then persisting in their failed strategies. As with Marxists claiming that true communism has never been tried, it looks like the current excuse for these bankers is that their strategy won't work until cash is obliterated.

I'm sure even after cash is removed in the eurozone and other negative rate regimes, the intended results will not transpire.

What will the excuse be then? Climate change?

- Mary Pat Campbell
Croton Falls, NY

Indeed, I generally managed to get letters in the WSJ because of my snottiness, so it surprises me when that's the part they cut.

We had a little discussion at the Actuarial Outpost at the time.

In trying to get at my letter at the WSJ page, I dug up this recent piece on insurers lobbying state regulators. I am not the least bit surprised.

Anyway, this is my hobby. Sending snotty letters to the WSJ. I don't do it every day (mainly because I just read the WSJ at the library...I mean, I read WSJ articles related to work during the week, but those aren't the ones that bring out my natural bitchiness.)

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
12:30 pm - Elegy for the Ex-Hot
(no, it's not for me)

I'm not going to link to the piece(s) that have been making me think about this, because I'm always embarrassed for the writer (and usually never make it all the way to the end of the piece).

This is the genre of woman-essay where a woman complains that she magically became invisible when she hit some age between 35 and 55. Sometimes, they'll pick a specific number. Sometimes it's just generically middle age.

Now, most people who never got a bunch of positive attention from strangers might wonder what the hell these women are talking about. That's because most of us never were hot (meaning really attractive to large swaths of the population, thereby generally getting good reactions from all sorts of people.)

I assume these writers know the reason they're not getting the attention any more. No, it's not misogyny. It's just that they're in the bin with most people - what made people look/react has gone away.

It is definitely different for a person who had something, and now it's gone, versus being somebody who never had it to begin with. Most of us will end up losing many things over our lives, and most of the time we just have to move on to something else. Or just sit there remembering it, because we know it won't be coming back.

And some people can write about that loss and how it feels, whatever it was that got lost. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has written a good essay about losing one's beauty, but I haven't found it yet (link in comments! I'm not snide - I bet some exist. I just tend to read about history, not personal experience) And I'm not talking about a person writing about somebody else losing their beauty (which I definitely have read plenty of), but someone writing of their own loss in a compelling way.

But it's not enjoyable when the person pretends they don't know something had been lost. And why it's gone. Come on, y'all, you're better than that. Possibly.

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Wednesday, October 5th, 2016
11:31 am - The fun of old books (and introductions)
I will write about introductions, forewords, prologue, and whatever else front matter is shoved at the beginning of books. I used to not read them, and now I pretty much always do.

So, sure, I've got too many physical books, but I've got even more public domain e-books downloaded (well. come on. They're free!) So I've just started on Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome and his introductory bit is a hoot and a half. Rather than respond to what he wrote, I'm just copying the bits I found choicest here. Everything so far is from the preface (oooh, the one I forgot above).

His theory, which in his own days attracted little or no notice, was revived in the present generation by Niebuhr, a man who would have been the first writer of his time, if his talent for communicating truths had borne any proportion to his talent for investigating them.

OOOOOOH, shade throwing!

Okay, I'll have some reactions.

Eighty years ago England possessed only one tattered copy of Childe Waters and Sir Cauline, and Spain only one tattered copy of the noble poem of the Cid. The snuff of a candle, or a mischievous dog, might in a moment have deprived the world forever of any of those fine compositions.

And yet, in the digital age, we can never get rid of 50 Shades of Gray.

``Where,'' Cicero mournfully asks, ``are those old verses now?''
``Would,'' exclaims Cicero, ``that we still had the old ballads of which Cato speaks!''

Keep in mind, we also "lost" a bunch of shitty rhymes as well, so count our blessings.

among the Greeks, and indeed, in his time among the Romans also, the morals of singing boys were in no high repute.

No comment necessary.

Thus what to Horace appeared to be the first faint dawn of Roman literature appeared to Næ.vius to be its hopeless setting. In truth, one literature was setting, and another dawning.

Guys, the Roman literature still may not have been that good. Let us consider that. People talk about the great songwriting of the past, and if you start reading some of those songs from the 20s... Oh, good, Cracked has a list for me. Wait, that's not exactly what I had in mind. Anyway, here's an example: a whole bunch of songs by Wodehouse, and I bet we wouldn't miss a single one of them.

That this fine romance, the details of which are so full of poetical truth, and so utterly destitute of all show of historical truth, came originally from some lay which had often been sung with great applause at banquets is in the highest degree probable.

So this is where Macaulay is getting to the heart: this isn't history, he says. This is supposed to be about telling really good stories, and in particular, stories that have plots/characters the intended audience likes. He explains how there are two different tellings of the same actual historical event, and that one version would be preferred by certain groups and the other version by others, related to how closely tied the people were to the "historical" characters.

The great majority of readers suppose that the device by which Elfleda was substituted for her young mistress, the artifice by which Athelwold obtained the hand of Elfrida, the detection of that artifice, the hunting party, and the vengeance of the amorous king, are things about which there is no more doubt than about the execution of Anne Boleyn, or the slitting of Sir John Coventry's nose.

What a sentence. I want to buy that sentence a drink.

William does indeed tell both the stories; but he gives us distinct notice that he does not warrant their truth, and that they rest on no better authority than that of ballads.

Again, emphasizing that these ballads aren't about literal history, necessarily.

The ballads perished; the chronicle remained. A great historian, some centuries after the ballads had been altogether forgotten, consulted the chronicle. He was struck by the lively coloring of these ancient fictions: he transferred them to his pages; and thus we find inserted, as unquestionable facts, in a narrative which is likely to last as long as the English tongue, the inventions of some minstrel whose works were probably never committed to writing, whose name is buried in oblivion, and whose dialect has become obsolete.

And Macaulay doesn't care. Yes, he keeps warning people that what he writes is fictional and is intended to be.

Some Spanish writers have labored to show, by an examination of dates and circumstances, that this story is untrue. Such confutation was surely not needed; for the narrative is on the face of it a romance.

For crying out loud, there's no Troy! Oh wait. There is.

Then it was found that every interesting circumstance of the story of the heirs of Carrion was derived by the eloquent Jesuit from a song of which he had never heard, and which was composed by a minstrel whose very name had been long forgotten.

It's fine to enjoy the Shakespearean King plays without having to take them for history, ffs.

To reverse that process, to transform some portions of early Roman history back into the poetry out of which they were made, is the object of this work.

Note to critics: this is fiction. I'm taking history to start with, or even half-remembered tales, and turning them into poems. Don't bitch at me that it couldn't have happened that way! I don't care!

To these imaginary poets must be ascribed some blunders which are so obvious that is unnecessary to point them out. The real blunder would have been to represent these old poets as deeply versed in general history, and studious of chronological accuracy.
To portray a Roman of the age of Camillus or Curius as superior to national antipathies, as mourning over the devastation and slaughter by which empire and triumphs were to be won, as looking on human suffering with the sympathy of Howard, or as treating conquered enemies with the delicacy of the Black Prince, would be to violate all dramatic propriety.

I don't want to hear about what assholes the Romans were, critics. I know. I'm having fun! Let me have my fun!

t would have been obviously improper to mimic the manner of any particular age or country. Something has been borrowed, however, from our own old ballads, and more from Sir Walter Scott, the great restorer of our ballad-poetry. To the Iliad still greater obligations are due; and those obligations have been contracted with the less hesitation, because there is reason to believe that some of the old Latin minstrels really had recourse to that inexhaustible store of poetical images.

I'm culturally appropriating all over the place. I don't care! It's fun!

It would have been easy to swell this little volume to a very considerable bulk, by appending notes filled with quotations; but to a learned reader such notes are not necessary; for an unlearned reader they would have little interest; and the judgment passed both by the learned and by the unlearned on a work of the imagination will always depend much more on the general character and spirit of such a work than on minute details.

Go suck it, pedants. Fun! Stories! I want brave Horatius at the bridge! Make your unread tomes of historical details elsewhere!

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Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
10:21 am - Letting go.... of books
I have too many books.

Yes, yes, I know. I've always had too many books, except for an extremely brief period in childhood, soon after which I was allowed access to my Dad's books, and I was back to too many books.

That said, it's like I'm entering a 12-step program with far fewer steps. I've admitted I have too many books. And now I will reduce their number. And I've found a really satisfying way of doing it.

To begin with, there really are only a small circle of authors I re-read. Niven/Pournelle, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, Tolkein, Asimov, Wodehouse, Dickens, Austen, Jasper Fforde, and probably single books from specific people. Most of the others really are one-and-done. Pretty much everything I have in heavy re-read mode I read til the book falls apart anyway, so that's a way of getting rid of a book.

So I have been dipping into my old paperback pile and systematically destroying the books while I read them...

...just a moment, I see my prior two posts titled letting go were: Letting go of 2015 and More letting go - being in the moment. I think Letting Go will be my theme til I hit my peak age (which I've decided is 50, so I've got more than 7 years to let this shit go).

Anyway, I'm re-reading Vamps and Tramps by Camille Paglia. I used to be a lot more into Paglia (as can be seen at my defunct Paglia shrine (having seen the Paglia press clippings, etc, at the end of Vamps and Tramps, I don't feel the need to update the shrine. Paglia seems to already have people she pays for this service. I already do too much free stuff.)

I did a few Hillary Clinton-related excerpts from the book -- remember it was published in 1994. So.

Anyway, it's very satisfying pulling out pages as I read them. Makes it easier to find my place, and then the book is definitely gone by the time I finish reading.

I pulled out about 50 pages that are nothing but Paglia's media mentions from the late 80s/early 90s. Jeez. That was fun to recycle.

There's some good stuff in the book, but as mentioned in the blog post, the copy wasn't that good to begin with (I picked it up from some remnant bin at the library or thrift shop for a quarter or less). It is amusing to me to re-read such pieces as "The Nursery-School Campus: The Corrupting of the Humanities in the U.S." from 1992. Lots of the pieces are still relevant today, but it sounds like she has a new book coming out next year, so I can read what she has to say now, as opposed to 25+ years ago.

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Monday, September 26th, 2016
9:57 am - Who ever told you that you were smart? Or an elite? Or an authority?
I've been sitting on this draft, and might as well let rip now. I'm feeling pretty good (meaning physically) for the moment, which I find a better time to rant than when I'm in pain. [as I just want to swear at everybody, which is not the most persuasive of methods]

What originally kicked off this rant was seeing this post by one of my many one-sided nemeses (meaning, I have a grudge against them, and they have no idea this "relationship" exists) Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Intellectual Yet Idiot. Here's an excerpt:

More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver. Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some other such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.
The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges; if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general); when in the UK, he goes to literary festivals; he drinks red wine with steak (never white); he used to believe that fat was harmful and has now completely reversed; he takes statins because his doctor told him to do so; he fails to understand ergodicity and when explained to him, he forgets about it soon later; he doesn’t use Yiddish words even when talking business; he studies grammar before speaking a language; he has a cousin who worked with someone who knows the Queen; he has never read Frederic Dard, Libanius Antiochus, Michael Oakeshot, John Gray, Amianus Marcellinus, Ibn Battuta, Saadiah Gaon, or Joseph De Maistre; he has never gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs); he doesn’t know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba; he doesn’t know that there is no difference between “pseudointellectual” and “intellectual” in the absence of skin in the game; has mentioned quantum mechanics at least twice in the past five years in conversations that had nothing to do with physics.

He knows at any point in time what his words or actions are doing to his reputation.

Wow, Taleb is as incoherent as me when blogging. I've read others of his posts. Yes, they all come off this oddly. I guess he really is heavily edited in his books.

But here's his point -- we're often heard that the U.S. is anti-intellectual. What it definitely is is anti-ignorant-people-posing-as-experts. You know, "intellectuals". It's a pose. I'm not saying these people are stupid [though some are... looking at you Matt Yglesias], just that these people don't know much of anything to depth and/or breadth. Or, if they do know such things, they are expounding on areas outside of that expertise. I really don't want to hear a mathematician's concept of politics as it should be, for example.

Obviously, having been in math grad school at one point, I definitely got to hear that.

But in many cases, I see some intellectual lazybones pretending they're super-smart because they went to the right schools, have the right opinions, tweet the right things, block the right people, etc. I mean, if you're going to act superior, you need to actually have something behind it, or people who are not part of your circle will actually treat you with contempt.

This takes me back to my old post: Charles Murray response: teaching wisdom

Here are some important lessons, some of which are explicitly noted by Murray:
1. Smart people did nothing to merit their intelligence
2. Being smart does not mean you're better than other people
3. One needs to have some humility over one's intellectual abilities
4. One needs to appreciate the work done by others
5. To excel in anything you have to work really hard

Maybe this is a subset of #5 and #3, and perhaps Murray didn't address it, but I've got a new point:

#6: Being smart isn't the same as knowing anything useful or correct.

I've met so many highly-educated idiots, I really have to wonder.

And looking up Matt Yglesias, I see he has the right connections, etc. Too bad nobody told him that it helps looking things up when you don't actually know anything about a subject. You would think they'd have told them that in Dalton, because obviously the philosophy department at Harvard didn't help. If you want a sampling of MattY's many flubs, this is a good place to start. Most of MattY's stupid stuff is political, but the one I linked isn't. Here's another.

I don't want to pick on him in particular (but it's so much =fun=). There's all sorts of examples once you start looking for them. Especially at Vox (what was it about B players hiring C players?)

Anyway, I get a bit tired hearing about "anti-intellectualism" when the sorts of intellectuals being served up are the likes of Vox-splainers. Even not-so-smart people can recognize bullshitters.

It's amazing what one can produce when one never has to worry about checking facts.

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Thursday, September 15th, 2016
7:06 am - Why are You Telling Me This?
I want to keep ragging on the Devil Wears Prada (the book, not the movie), just because there was so much that annoyed me about it (mind you, I've only gotten 25% the way in, and have pretty much decided to stop there. I will explain another time...yes, there will be a third post bitching about this book.)

For this post, I'm going to bitch about the writing style.

What's funny is that an actual fiction writer makes the point I want to make while I'm thinking of this:

Bill blinked from where he sat at his desk, looking across him at the red spires dotting the desert landscape outside the office window. “My writer’s group said I needed more description and sense of place,” he said. “But then when I put in description, they told me I had stopped the action and given them indigestible infodumps.”

“Ah,” Mike said. “Did you?”

“Perhaps a tadbit, but dang it all, man, how is one supposed to convey things like new technology without a ten paragraph break explaining the history and how it works?”

“It is difficult,” Mike said, as he scooped up the three precious coffee beans from Earth and shoved them in the little door atop the coffee maker, to allow the replicator to do its thing. “But do you really need the history? After all, most of the time, do you pause to think of the history of your shaver, or how Earth people used to scrape their faces with blades before inventing the exfulicator every morning?”

“No, but… I feel like I’m just spinning bull–” He paused, as Mike, the proper weight of replicated beans having been achieved, turned on the grinder. Why the damn thing couldn’t recreate beans already ground, Bill would never know. Even when the scientists explained. “Anyway, I feel like I’m just talking mid-air if I don’t give details.”

“People don’t want details,” Mike said. “I’ve noticed that. Except very rarely, to give a sense of time and place.” He squinted out the window at the landscape. Three hundred years after terraforming, Mars was if anything redder as the oxygen rich atmosphere instantly oxidized any exposed iron. He grabbed a mug from the wall. It came from Earth and said “Visit the Sahara Ocean resort.” He had no clue what it meant, never having been on Earth, but the picture of lush green landscape and a cartoony ocean filled with fish made a contrast to the desert outside.

You can finish the post here. I don't want to give away the end.

Well, damn, Sarah, where am I supposed to go from here?

Oh right, tell you what line it was that really pushed me over the edge about the Prada book. It was saying that the first-person-narrator's mother was stirring her tea with a spoon.

That was it.

FFS, it's fine to tell me she's stirring tea, but why tell me it was with a spoon? You need to tell me only if it's going to be different from what I expect.

As I write this specific paragraph (this post was built up over time, doncha know, like fine, handcrafted artisinal Word documents), I am sitting at my desk with a cup of Mandarin Orange Spice Tea. Why is this important, do you ask? (probably you haven't even gotten this far.) Well, I noticed yesterday that the K-cup box in our big K-cup box matrix (truly something to behold - 3 rows up and 5 boxes across in each row, stacked up and usually stable) that was labeled Mandarin Orange Spice had nothing but English Breakfast Tea in it.

Or seemingly did.

I like both English Breakfast and Mandarin Orange Spice, but sometimes I want a fruity tea with no caffeine and sometimes I want strong black tea dammit. I hate sticking my hand in a box, assuming it's labeled properly, while I'm looking at the CNBC feed on the huge flatscreen TV, and shoving the K-cup into the machine... it's all very automatic... and then I take a sip and WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

Once, expecting Green Tea, I ended up with Chai. I was pissed.

I also just dumped out the Chai and made coffee instead.

Okay, sorry, so here's what I did about an hour ago (I think...where does time go?). I actually fished around in the box and found a Mandarin Orange Spice tea k-cup. Then while that was being spewed out the Kuerig nozzle, I pulled all the English Breakfast cups out of the box and shoved them into the English Breakfast box, which is right next to it. There was an extra cup and I just set it on the counter, and there were only 5 Mandarin Orange Spice cups in that box.

There's more to this boring story (such as how the k-cups had gotten mixed up like that, which I have a pretty good idea about), but you see that the point is people have expectations and if they are thwarted they get annoyed.

By mentioning that damn spoon, I was thrown off: "What else was she going to be stirring it with?" If she was stirring the tea with her finger, there could be a tale there, such as the tea had gone cold and she was just fiddling with her drink. If she was stirring the tea with a plastic spoon, it could mean they're at a cafe, or maybe something happened that all the spoons were currently in the dishwasher or SOMETHING. If it were a silver spoon, I'd wonder what was wrong with the woman.

It's Chekov's teaspoon. It's not so much that it will be plot-crucial, but mention a detail only if it actually adds something. Some kind of dimension. Some story. If it's what's already assumed to be going on.... why did you mention it?

Once that spoon got stuck in my craw (metaphorically), I kept noticing these issues. And while yes, some of it is flabby writing to begin with, I kept thinking -- dammit, an editor should have fixed this!

But a good editor is hard to find.

So let's hear it for the excellent editors!

And boo to the editor who left in the unnecessary spoon. (Unless said editor had tried her best in cleaning up the text and had just collapsed from exhaustion. Oh honey, have some tea. Stir it with whatever you like.)

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
12:03 pm - What I Learned from MST3K
Well, I've learned a lot of obscure trivia, but that's not what I mean.

(Also, if you're not familiar with MST3K, check out their YouTube channel. The annotated full episodes work only on computers, not mobile devices, just as an FYI. I =finally= get some of the jokes!)

I'm not even talking about what I learned about comedy/pacing/repeats (Watch out for snakes!) or even building a fan community.

I mean what I learned about making movies.

It's really tough to make a good movie, and also what constitutes an enjoyable movie can differ.

Some of the movies the MSTies riff on are enjoyable without riffs. I find the Russo-Finnish films to be fun - great production values, loads of music, traditional tales, and yeah, it's a little goofy but it's still entertaining. Just like my enjoyment of the Adventures of Pluto Nash -- I think it's a fun movie. No, I'm not going to argue it's a great movie (or even an artistically good one), but I do find it really enjoyable. The Hercules movies are also pretty good, not to mention Gamera.

But the main thing I notice, because Joike & the bots invariably point it out, is the craftsmanship needed to make a solid movie. At the very least, you need to be able to tell a story. It's not exactly fair to pick on the "movies" where producers took a TV series and edited it to make "movies". At least the Master Ninja and Fugitive Alien "movies" seem to make some sense, but I have no frigging clue what was going on in Mighty Jack. But again, those were crafted as TV series originally, not self-contained movies.

The example I have in mind is Monster-a-Go-Go, which again, I have no clue what the plot is supposed to be. The infamous ending:

As if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, there was no trail! There was no giant, no monster, no thing called "Douglas" to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage, who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness! With the telegram, one cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas, rescued, alive, well, and of normal size, some eight thousand miles away in a lifeboat, with no memory of where he has been, or how he was separated from his capsule! Then who, or what, has landed here? Is it here yet? Or has the cosmic switch been pulled? Case in point: The line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically thin! You have witnessed the line being shaved even thinner! But is the menace with us? Or is the monster gone?

Don't worry, it's not a spoiler per se. Because I still have no clue what this means. It's okay to have ambiguous plots/endings/etc. But your audience needs to get some sort of sense out of what you made!

I was put to mind of this, because I bailed partly through an audiobook for the Devil Wears Prada this morning, which I'm sure was just fine as a movie, and could probably do okay as a written book (because I can read faster than the reader speaks), but just could not hold my attention as an audiobook. It's okay to drop the audience into your story in media res, but ffs, something interesting needs to be happening! An argument between Achilles and Agamemnon due to a plague in the Greeks' camp? Interesting! Fighting goblins? Interesting! Trying to negotiate Manhattan traffic with a stick shift... could be interesting if you could make me care. That you're running errands for somebody doesn't make me care. Heinlein wrote a short story on a company for running errands (really, solving problems) and that is my favorite Heinlein story ever (yes, even more than And He Built a Crooked House.) [alas all the General Services I'm getting are government agencies, which is kind of a drag] I'm sure the author is doing just fine without my sniping (just as Anna Wintour is also probably doing just fine), but I keep seeing how it could have been made better.


She did finish the book and put it out there. I don't think her sequel did quite as well, which might be related to the lack of craftsmanship I noticed all over the place. Kind of like the problem with Lucas and Star Wars. But I digress.

My point: it's not necessarily simple to put together a story and make it work, even on a basic level. Making good art, whether movies, books, paintings, musicals, etc., is tough and it's hard enough that somebody even put together a completed work and put it in front of the public.

So, congrats to those who even tried and failed at it.

But man, those guys who made Monster-a-Go-Go didn't try at all. Shame on you people.

VIDEO: [Monster A-Go Go] SPOILER ALERT! The biggest F*** you ending in b-movie history!

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Sunday, September 11th, 2016
4:53 pm - Only the good bits
I have a subscription to Met Opera on Demand, and I use the hell out of it. There are audio recordings going back to at leats the 1930s, and HD video recordings from the last season (seriously, check out the Pearl Fishers)

But the thing is, sometimes I feel like shit and just want the good bits.

None of my avenues for accessing my subscription includes me doing a playlist of my fave arias (I have sent messages to management on this at least twice, btw), so I've got to have a bigger idea of the "good bits" if I don't want to be flipping through the remote too rapidly.

So I'm left with two extended pieces from Mozart operas: the finale to act two of Marriage of Figaro (I usually start at the point where Susanna comes out of the closet (literally) to get the solo to trio, etc)....and what I'm going through right now: the very end of Don Giovanni.

It's the last scene, with Leporello directing other servants to set out a banquet. At a punch, I start at the point where the statue shows up.

This is how I know whether it's worth watching the whole production: if they flub this, I don't want to see/hear the rest.

One production, they had the Don just drop dead from a heart attack, without getting the literal dragging to hell.

Look, I don't mind modernizing operas, but DAMMIT THE DON GOES TO HELL and not in some figurative sense. It's important. Also, I don't want the statue as an inanimate object on stage with the singer obscured. THAT STATUE WALKS. Again, it's important. Sure, all of this can be a drug-induced dream of the Don (or Leporello), but the whole walking statue & dragging to hell are very important points.

It's like a Hamlet where Hamlet doesn't actually die. That would suck.

Anyway, I'm only watching good ones right now. Sam Raimi as the Don and Kurt Moll as the Commendatore/Statue is my fave of this bunch. Partly, bc Raimi is so hot.

As an aside, the Don's hair is also important.

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Thursday, September 8th, 2016
9:54 am - Happy Happy Joy Joy
I saw this recent comic from The Oatmeal, and I couldn't get past the second part.

ooooh shinyCollapse )

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Monday, September 5th, 2016
3:16 pm - You Need to Live A Little Before Examining Your Life
In that prior post, I got to that WaPo "think piece" via Althouse, where she writes:

1. Why are they 18 years old? Why not mature a little by doing something valuable or stupid for a few years? Start hemorrhaging money after you know yourself well enough to decide what you want to do in life.

There are 3 other items, but I don't care about them.

blah di blahCollapse )

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11:17 am - Some of Us Have Got to Work...and Convince Others to Hire Us
Two stories, both abbreviated.

blah blah blahCollapse )

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Thursday, September 1st, 2016
2:40 pm - Enjoying abnormalities
I just finished reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, an early book by Oliver Sacks. Yes, it says 1998, and that's the date of that edition, but the first edition was in 1970... before I was born. And it shows.

I do find it interesting that all the old, now-disapproved, clinical terminology is there: moron, simpletons, Home for the Defective, etc. I like having that historical window.

There was a point where I thought I might be able to pick up new vocabulary -- one of the reason I enjoyed reading William Buckley, Alexander Cockburn, Chris Hitchens, etc. was that in each piece from them I'd learn at least two new words that I might actually be able to use for my own purposes at another time. Or at least just enjoy the mouthfeel of the oddities.

So I started marking up words and phrases in Sacks's book... until I realized everything I was marking were just clinical terms, and not of much use.

For example, the phrase "ictal pleasure" showed up, and I thought I had run across one of those lapidary exemplars that Buckley liked so well.


All it meant was that the people enjoyed the results of their particular epileptic seizures. "Ictal" just means relating to a seizure, etc.. He could have just have easily written about people enjoying their temporal lobe seizures, which some do.

Alas, I have no physiological/mental abnormalities I particularly enjoy. But I do have a son who has his own abnormalities, as demonstrated in the following picture:

We have all sorts of series of letters, numbers, characters, logos, etc. all over our walls. If you look closely, not only will you see normal ABCs, you'll see a greek alphabet, emojis, and punctuation. That's D's bedroom. In the dining room, he's written out some kana -- primarily katakana it looks like. D loves symbols and replicating them.


On the walls of our house.

In Sharpie.

So yes, I would say it seems he's enjoying himself.

He will also do it on paper

But it seems his preferred canvas is our walls.

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Monday, August 29th, 2016
10:46 am - Sitting on the Porch
I am not one much for the outdoors.

I do not like bright sunlight (a summer spent in Vancouver was about my favoritest summer weather ever). I dislike beaches. I hate bugs. I do like being out on the water, in a rowboat or something like that, but that requires equipment, prep, etc.

I do not enjoy messing with wildlife of any sort. I prefer my nature via videos.

I do like mountains. I love shade. I love to sit and read and just chill. Literally. I like the cold. I hate heat. That's why I moved up north, partly.

So I'm big on porch sitting.

Now, you might think I'd like a big rocking chair, but no. It jostles one's drink too much, even if the drink is in a bottle. Just regular old chairs on the porch, looking out over this:

I've not been sitting out on the porch much, because of the heat and bugs issue. But it looks like the weather is turning, so porch sitting it is. I've got a huge backlog of books to get through.

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Sunday, August 21st, 2016
8:03 pm - Physical therapy, try 2
So my pain... I don't know what to say about it other than it's always there, except when it's even more there.

It seems the origin of the problem, going back to 2010, is postural in nature. I've been trying to avoid surgery/drugs/shots for the pain, because if it's structural in nature, I don't want to mask the pain.... I could be making things worse while blissfully unaware of the damage I'm doing.

So my neurologist has recommended a new course of PT (my first try was 5 years ago -- I've been doing those exercises all along, as well as the ones from the chiropractors... which are essentially the same.) I got me a new set of exercises to do, but I've not been able to do them this weekend, because the pain gets only worse and worse. And these aren't extreme stretches by any means.

But the one plus of the new PT place are their heated ultrasound massages. OH YES. GIMME MORE OF THAT.

Not sure if it helps the problem, but it feels good. Just trying to feel good, for a few moments, is a win in my book.

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Monday, August 8th, 2016
12:56 pm - Most boring jobs
I saw this discussion at Althouse about most boring jobs:

BBC collects descriptions of the most boring jobs... and the jobs are interestingly boring, but I was surprised that they all involve repetitive physical motions. When I think of boring jobs, I think of jobs that draw on the mind.

I'm sure the boringly boring jobs were not selected for the piece. There's only so much one can talk about working as a stocker at Walmart.

In many of the jobs being bitched about, the main problem was they were pointless, meaningless, or futile:

I worked for weeks unpacking small cereal bars from large boxes and then repackaging the same cereal bars into smaller boxes. Pointless. Jude Connor

After I left school I got a summer job patrolling a stretch of canal in Burnley to stop people falling in. Problem was, the canal was drained, with hardly an inch of water in it. Following that, I worked in a factory tearing off strips of Sellotape from the tops of flattened cardboard boxes. Simon Mitchell, Sheffield
Sticking labels on animal food bags. There were three types: cattle, pig or sheep. Every few days you would switch between the types and get to stick on a different label. I actually started looking forward to a change of label. Nick, Hove
I once spent six months stapling 400 reports every day. Just stapling, every day. One of many boring jobs. Yawn! Suzy Wild

I once had a temp job which consisted of taking staples out of pieces of paper. I lasted only one morning. Mari, Kent

Those last two were a nice juxtaposition.

But I see Althouse's point: the worst job I ever had from a tedium point of view was part of a volunteering job at Holly Hill Hospital in Raleigh. To begin with, they had me tri-folding brochures. I got pretty good at that, and the great part is that one's conscious brain doesn't have to engage. It was a purely physical process, so I could daydream about other stuff while folding brochures.

But then, they noticed I was good at detail. And they had me going through the mailing list of donors (which was a huge printout...dot matrix... on those huge pieces of paper with the green/white areas) - I had the current list, and updates from another printout. It was tedious, and while it had meaning [making sure you keep in touch with donors is super-important for such orgs], it engaged just enough of my brain that I couldn't think about other stuff and get the job done.

So I cast about to find any way to get assigned to a different job, therefore I lied about knowing Aldus Pagemaker when I overheard others having a difficult time redoing the org chart. Playing with Pagemaker was fun, and I got to do interesting stuff like help design the brochures the next set of volunteers would be folding.

Anyway, I do tend to give interns very tedious jobs...and this is pretty common in many office jobs like mine, because interns just don't know enough and won't learn fast enough (usually) in the few weeks we have them to do something that requires a lot of background knowledge. In my case, I have the intern go through the annual statements of hundreds of insurance companies, look for one specific small piece of info, and note whether it changed from the prior year. [Most won't have] At a prior company, the interns were given historical mortality tables as they were in a database, and had to check against the published numbers from actuarial journals. Both of these are extremely tedious, but it doesn't take much knowledge to be able to do them.

And they're actually important.

It is simpler to explain the mortality table example -- there were two interns working on that, and I asked them if anybody told them why we wanted them to work on this. They said no. (They may have been humoring me, or wanting a break from looking at the tables. But I wouldn't be surprised if nobody told them.)

The reason why is that many insurers, especially smaller ones, were dependent on this database resource, and did not have the resources to check that the tables are correct. This affects not only their pricing but also their reserving. The reserving aspect is because the reserves for a life insurance policy is determined at date of issue, not current mortality tables. So even though some of these tables were decades old, I assured them that there were people out there who use those tables, and would implement any fixes they made.

The worst kind of job is the kind where you're being asked to do something tedious and boring... and nobody even uses it. What's the point?

That's why I tell interns and newbies what I'm using their work product before. In the case of the intern project I have, in prior iterations, it's helped my company win new business. That's pretty damn important.

It's still a boring job, though.

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Saturday, August 6th, 2016
1:23 pm - Idiosyncratic pronunciation
I'm trying to collect examples of idiosyncratic pronunciation -- when a specific individual has a non-standard way of pronouncing a certain word or related words.

I'm not talking about "nukular" for "nuclear" - that's a pronunciation that lots of people do. I'm looking for just odd/off/etc. pronunciations. And I'm not looking for the cutesy-type childhood mispronunciations. I'm looking for someone who consistently uses a nonstandard pronunciation compared to other people with their language/accent/dialect.

Sometimes, it comes from someone who has to use a word (like an actor or book-reader), who didn't choose the word, and is pronouncing the word the best they can. The quintessential example here is Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future saying "jigawatt" for "gigawatt".

Sometimes, it's a deliberate choice, like Winston Churchill's choice to pronounce Nazi as "nazee" as opposed to "nat-see".

What's setting me off is the odd pronunciations of lecturers I'm listening to on CD. In one case, I think it was an idiosyncrasy or just a brain fart. But in the other, he was obviously deliberately doing it, and I found it highly pretentious: pronouncing "hegemony" and "intelligentsia" with hard Gs. WTF, dude. This ain't Latin class. These are lectures on the French Revolution.

Any examples y'all can think of?

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Monday, August 1st, 2016
8:28 am - Pokemon Go Stories
I don't play Pokemon Go. I don't have a smartphone, I have a really dumb phone I use for emergencies. If I can find it. Usually, I use somebody else's phone.

I never played a Pokemon game. I never collected cards.

But I love Pokemon. I watched the cartoon series, and then stopped watching once they went beyond the original 150 (151? 152?).

So I know all the Pokemon in Pokemon Go, and I'm getting a kick out of people's pics and stories. I had been gathering a bunch up, but this piece from The Bloggess I got in my weekly digest makes me want to divest myself of the stories:

Today I was at my shrink’s office and I told her that I’d found a new tool that’s seemed to help with my anxiety and agoraphobia and she was like, “Is it PokemonGo?” and I screamed “IT IS POKEMONGO! WHAT THE FUCK?” and she was like, “What level are you? Let’s trade tips.” And then we did. Because apparently this super embarrassing thing I was going to admit is helping lots of people because it sort of forces you to get out of the house to play and suddenly you’re at the park at midnight and there’s a live possum next to you. That’s a bad example but it’s going to happen. Get ready.

So here are the stories I've amassed thus far:

Many of these stories (and more to come...and actuaries exchanging screenshots of their Pokemon and talking about the best Pokestops in Manhattan) are on this thread in the Actuarial Outpost.

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