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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 )
College EducationCollapse )

UncategorizedCollapse )

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Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
1:18 pm - St. Anthony is my Bro

Okay, maybe not. I generally don't ask him to pray for me and my car keys. (Mainly because my keys generally are where they're supposed to me — in my pocket, my purse, or the key drawer).

But I was looking for some paperwork I lost a couple weeks ago, and I was about to make a call to get the papers replaced and... I saw this little piece of paper poking out underneath a stack of books.

Anybody who has seen an area where I've lived or worked know that I have multiple stacks of papers & books all over the place. Even in this age of "going digital", I still have my stacks. 

I've been trying to clear away stuff, but even so I've always got paper accumulating and sticky notes all over my desk, and I have found that at the last moment, whatever-it-is pops out at my face.

So, thanks St. Anthony, though I haven't asked for help recently. I figure he's always got my back.

I did wonder how St. Anthony got tasked with this extremely common need. This is one version: 

The reason for invoking St. Anthony’s help in finding lost or stolen things is traced back to an incident in his own life. As the story goes, Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. Besides the value of any book before the invention of printing, the psalter had the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order.

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Sunday, June 30th, 2019
6:50 pm - I like weirdos

Duh, you say. Like likes like.

(putting space so more respectable sentences don't need to be near that one)

But what defines a "weirdo"? It's contextual, obviously, because what people consider "normal" differs by environment.

Two items spurred this: Bon's "Moving Up" ceremony marking the end of 8th grade. And walking up 9th Ave  (going to BarBacon, which I highly recommend.) Both happened last Wednesday — one in the morning, one in the late afternoon.

I do not want to remark on how the kids looked at the end-of-8th grade ceremony, but you know how most kids will look a certain way... and then a few will definitely look & move differently from others. I would rather want to talk about the parents — which again devolves to me. I was wearing one of my dresses, and I can't remember which shoes I was wearing. Probably some slip-ons that I often wear to work. And then I have my hairy legs. And no hair dye, and no makeup. This did not really fit in with the suburban look. I like living out here in "the country", but there aren't really "my folks" near me.

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Monday, June 24th, 2019
12:03 pm - Sitting while I wait for StuMP to come back...

I don't want to use livejournal, but it looks like I'm stuck here for right now. Something's up with my regular website (stump.marypat.org) so I am saving a backup post here.

Yes, it's got the markup I use on my site, and it doesn't work on livejournal. Whatever.


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Thursday, June 20th, 2019
8:45 pm - I am good at lying...and I hate lies

To be fair, I've not felt compelled to lie in a very long time.

(And there is a distinction of hiding info from people where it's none of their business and lying)

Back in 2001, I wrote a little something on lying and bluffing. Here is a key passage:

Back to frequency of lying — something many children do not understand,  though it seems many catch on by adulthood — if you lie a lot, no one will  believe anything that comes out of your mouth (if you're really slick,  you'll use this to your advantage by telling the truth, which you know  no one will believe).  If you lie too much, the power of your lies  diminishes.  However, if you never lie, you never get some of the benefits  of lying (such as avoidance of punishment, or impressing strangers).  How  to balance this?    

In real life, this is a sticky problem, because the payoffs don't  necessarily have a numerical value, and some people are more likely to  believe or disbelieve a lie, depending on what it costs them to be  skeptical (so a tired parent may believe a lie about cleaning your room,  but one who has got a neat streak may check the room right away).  

[Dammit, livejournal. Don't do this to me. I'm just quoting myself.]

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Sunday, May 26th, 2019
5:51 pm - Life Isn't a Game (except when it is)

I'm referring to The Game of Life, of course. Or maybe that other game of life.

What spurred this thought was a variety of game-related items that I saw recently.

First, an xkcd piece:

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Saturday, May 25th, 2019
9:04 am - Enjoying my memory by forgetting

Or something like that.

I've been writing online for a long time.  First, I had my Meep in Manhattan journal on my own website, starting in 1996.  I added my Japan Journal later — it was written in 1994, by hand, in a book I took with me... I plan on editing it together with my photos at some point, for me if nobody else.

In April 2000, I joined livejournal. I'm still here.

In 2003, I joined the actuarial profession, and started writing for it in 2003. I've kept some record of what I've written, but I don't update it as often as I should. Thank goodness I learned to make my own backup of my articles, as the Society of Actuaries keep doing "refreshes" of their website and "losing" old content.  

I used to blog at other people's sites, but those went kerflooey, so Stu built me my own site I've been on since March 2014

So, I'm saying: I've written a lot.

And I've forgotten a lot.

What spurred this is this article, from 2014, which I remember writing... but I didn't remember the content. I mean, I'm reading it and thinking "where did that come from?" I do not remember reading Sir Philip Sydney's Defense of Poesy, but I must have. Hey, it's been five years. I read a lot, too. I don't remember it all.

So it's nice to go back to things I have forgotten, and the words remind me. Sometimes photos do that for people, too, but so many people take so many pictures now (it's so easy), that it is difficult to go back. And without the words, one can forget what it meant.

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Tuesday, April 16th, 2019
7:07 pm - Just Because I Don't Post Means All is Well

I don't post on livejournal as much as I used to, because I have facebook, twitter, and most specifically, my own blog for political-related stuff.

But for serious personal stuff, I still use livejournal.

So, I've had a few conversations lately, and I think some people don't understand.

Stu has terminal cancer. As in, he will have it til he dies. Maybe the cancer will kill him, maybe his treatment will kill him, or perhaps a meteorite will hit him.

We are using that terminology now, because many are misinterpreting what we say when we say Stu has metastatic cancer.

Given the current state of treatment, this cancer is not curable. There are all sorts of incurable conditions out there, with varying survival curves. 

While Stu is doing better than at his hardest hit of infusion chemo, he still has cancer, he still is dying (to be fair, we all are dying), and no, he is nowhere near what he used to be only 5 years ago. I know too much about how this sort of progression can go, looking at actuarial stats from other sources. Stu is now on tablet chemo until either the chemo or the cancer kills him (or, the aforementioned meteorite). Perhaps at some point, the tablet chemo hasn't knocked back the cancer enough, and it will take over, and he can go quickly.

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Friday, April 5th, 2019
9:30 pm - I like people

As they are.

People are...confused, annoying, self-involved, and more. 

What propelled me into saying this is thinking of my years living in NYC. To love NYC, you really need to love people. And I mean, people in the ways they actually behave. Many people can't stand this sort of thing.  

But I do love it. People are very entertaining. And, if they're not actively trying to kill you, it can be quite enjoyable.

Even in the nasty city, most people are self-involved and are not trying to kill you. On purpose.

There are little communities in the big city, and I found some of these little bubbles. They're not what you expect. I had bubbles at NYU, in my co-op, and, strangely, in the people at GCT at rush hour. That came after I left NYC as my abode, but many people in GCT recognized me. I made it so that I was recognizable. I was the crazy young-ish lady with the big hats and the walking stick.  I collapsed a few times in GCT, once going to a hospital, and I was always treated well. It's not merely white chick privilege, but "oh, we know her" privilege. Because I was not young (merely young-ish), and I certainly wasn't hot.

I've not been in the NYC circle in a long time.

My circle is now Hartford, CT, tho I live in NY.

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Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
7:41 pm - Enjoying myself

I'm going to be quite oblique here... and if you think you were related to what I'm posting now........ YOU ARE.

I know I have written about this before, but not all y'all may have seen this before.  We did one of those exercises that is imposed on kids in school back when I was in 5th grade.  We were to develop a coat of arms (I seriously don't remember what I incorporated into that), and also a motto to go over that emblem.  My motto was "ENJOY LIFE".

There have been multiple impediments to that motto for me, since I was 11, some of which I caused. But I have done pretty well in enjoying life, as best I can.

I have been involved in various projects of late, which portend to be very successful in our goals and I am doing a personal jig. 

Every one of us does our little bit, and it makes me glow when I see we are getting close to our shared goal. 

Most of us will be anonymous to history, but who really cares. There are a few people who require their personal stamps & recognition on results; but I think many of us just want to see our desired result achieved. 

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Sunday, March 24th, 2019
9:33 am - I hate spring

Ugh, and I hate the "new" livejournal editor. But I'll give it another chance (hey Russians... please don't put my dates into Russian)

Anyway, spring is here, and while it may be time for skittles and beer, what it's definitely time for is allergies. And feeling tired.

To begin with, I hate Daylight Saving Time. I do not get along with sunlight unless it's supercold. Sunlight makes me tired.

Then there's stuff starting to grow and bloom, and obviously, my system hates things having sex on my face.  KEEP IT TO YOURSELF, GRASS!

Here are my seasons rated from favorite to hated:

1. winter (I can breathe! I can think!)

2. fall (oooh, pretty leaves)

3. summer (I stay inside, and most stuff isn't pollenating)

4. spring (AGH I CAN'T BREATHE)

Bah.  I need to move to someplace without a spring, so I would assume that's either very high latitudes.... or equatorial. But I love winter, so equatorial is right out.

Assuming Antarctica is disqualified, where should I move?

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Thursday, March 14th, 2019
2:16 pm - Rebuilding my blogroll
The outage at facebook yesterday reminded me that I used to spend about just as much time on the internet pre-facebook as I do now, but that I spent my time at vastly different sites.

My "blogroll" used to be very long, and then it dwindled away to about 5 sites. That's sad.

So I'm looking for some blogs (or blog-ish) places to go to.

I will eventually rebuild my blogroll, but curious if there are ones y'all recommend.

Ideas? I'm not putting in topics at this point, because I am curious as to what other people are interested in.

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Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
4:36 pm - Dickens, serial publication, and middles (story series)
Yeah, I suppose I should use tags. Whatever.

Anyway, this is about stories, but it's about the middle of stories. I could take or leave good beginnings. I am extremely particular about endings.

But middles?

I can wallow in the middle of stories so much, which is why I like so many long books: Brothers Karamazov, Crime & Punishment, any of the Dickens oeuvre... love them all.

I especially love Dickens, who gives me such large middles to loll about in. The books of his I like the least are the ones with almost no middle to speak of, like A Tale of Two Cities. The world isn't large enough in those books. I like the big rambling ones, like Our Mutual Friend or Martin Chuzzlewit (and I skip over most of the American bits, because it's bitter crap because Dickens was pissed at copyright piracy... but it still leaves loads of middle).

Mind you, middles of stories is not merely hanging out and looking around. Stuff happens, things move, you learn stuff about characters, you get all sort of character interactions (sometimes, though, I think Dickens was being self-indulgent in having a couple of characters who really have no business interacting "fortuitously" collide... he didn't do it too often, but it's pretty clear when it isn't well-motivated, such as Flora Finching looking in to Mr. Dorrit, going on about something or other... she had no business looking him up.) Interesting things are going on, and mysteries deepen (or lighten somewhat).

Now, to be sure, one can have too much middle, in that you aren't getting enough plot/character payoffs along the way to keep interested... or, even worse, you stop caring about characters that you used to care about (GRRM, I'm looking at you. I would be fine if they ALL die at this point. (I'm referring to the book series, and it's not just about it taking him forever to finish the damn books... it's that last couple of books really exasperated me that I stopped caring about everybody.)) Or not giving you any characters you really care about to begin with. Hell, I will never read War and Peace again... for all I love middles, it was very difficult to like any of the characters other than Pierre, and even he was a tough slog at times. I was shouting "Napoleon, invade Russia already!!!" at several points (and also wanted a few characters to die more rapidly.)

This is something I like about Dickens - not only that he gives you these large middles, but that he is fairly good at pacing -- sending away some characters for a while (so you can wonder about them) and moving the focus around. Most of this came from the serial form of publication -- Dickens knew that he had to bring certain characters back with certain frequency if he wanted readers to buy the next issue, but he couldn't make the characters too cheap. I have read some huge more recent novels (such as Neal Stephenson's tomes), and the pacing doesn't quite work, I think, because the structure is often chronological, and does not necessarily lead to pacing character appearances as well. Dickens would have some chapters non-consecutive in time, if you were following different characters -- often because specific groups of characters were physically separated, so it didn't quite matter to have their storylines line up on the page.

But another thing Dickens kept in mind was that he had to keep reminding people of the characters, the action, etc. "Last week in The Old Curiosity Shop...."

Some writers of large novels may not have as good a feel for that (esp. if they don't have good editors) - if you want the middle to be sustained, you need to realize people can hold only so much memory of the story for so long, even if they're blasting through the book (like binge-reading JK Rowling).

But I tend to pick the good authors, and the ones who can really write gargantuan novels are my favorite authors currently. Yes, I still love Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie, and other shorter-novel folks.

But give me a big middle to live in. I could stay there forever.

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Tuesday, March 12th, 2019
5:41 pm - On genre, stories, and Neil Gaiman (story series, part 4 of many)
I am listening through the audiobook version of Neil Gaiman's collection of essays, speeches, etc., and one really stuck out to me - a speech he gave on genre (titled: "The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography"... there's not much porn in it, but he mentions an academic work that explained how the porn genre worked... and he saw that was how genre worked in general.)

Here is Gaiman and Ishiguro talking genre, which is where he restates the idea:

NG I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel; or a novel with cowboys in it and a cowboy novel. I have a mad theory that I started evolving when I read a book called Hard Core by Linda Williams, a film professor in California. It was one of the first books analysing hardcore pornography as a film genre.

She said that in order to make sense of it, you need to think of musicals, because the plot in a musical exists to stop all of the songs from happening at once, and to get you from song to song. You need the song where the heroine pines for what she does not have, you need the songs where the whole chorus is doing something rousing and upbeat, and you need the song when the lovers get together and, after all the vicissitudes, triumph.

I thought, “That’s actually a way to view all literary genres,” because there are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy. If it was a cowboy novel, we’d need the fight in the saloon; we’d need the bad guy to come riding into town and the good guy to be waiting for him. A novel that happens to be set in the Old West doesn’t actually need to deliver any of those things – though it would leave readers of genre cowboy fiction feeling peculiarly disappointed, because they have not got the moments of specific satisfaction.

And that does tie in with the opera and kung fu post, but only a little bit.

The point is that if you don't have particular things in it, the reader feels cheated. For genre, it's specific elements particular to that genre. For example, if it's a mystery genre piece, you better damn well have the solution at the end. And that the solution might be a little surprising to be really satisfying.

Mind you, Agatha Christie fooled me a few times about what genre I was reading. When I read the ABC Murders, I thought she was writing suspense/thriller, and that the point wasn't figuring out who did it, but how Poirot would finally catch up with him. (She tricked me. Yes, this as spoilery as I will get for Christie, because as old as her books are, not everybody is like me in re-reading mysteries that I damn well know the solution to. That's for another time. Christie frickin built the canonical Mystery genre, so be told.)

I do read a lot of genre fiction - mystery, scifi, fantasy, historical fiction, fanfic, and any combo of these, along with "comic" slapped on the front. I've read comic scifi mysteries, historical fiction mysteries, comic fantasy, comic fanfic fantasy, etc. But the point is that one has particular expectations for the shape of the story once you determine its genre.

This is why I hate Death Comes to Pemberley so much. I had never read PD James before, but my understanding is that she is solid as a mystery writer. Okay. But what she sucks at is being a historical fiction mystery writer...or, rather, a historical fiction fanfic writer, which is what she was doing. (I call "fanfic" when you're using another author's fictional world... it's not the quality of the writing I mean, but that you're taking a fictional world that a specific author created (not you) and putting new stories into it.) It was awful. I was so disgusted with it, if I had bought a hardcover of it, I would have thrown it across the room. But alas, I had borrowed a CD of it from the library.

[There really needs to be a physically satisfying way to deride books that one does not own, akin to throwing it against the wall. Merely returning it to the library is not satisfying enough.]

I also read non-genre fiction, though that tends to be more "classics" than recent fiction.

Anyway, one needs to not insult the reader. If you are writing in a genre, or people are expecting a particular genre conventions... you can twist them a bit, but if you take the story in a direction the genre doesn't go, either make it clear to start with you're not working in that genre or you finesse it in a way that will delight the reader (like Christie & the ABC Murders).

Similarly for movie/TV adaptations of those stories. I don't mind if screenwriters change details of the stories... but dammit, you have got to keep to the feel of the work at the very least. If you want to change the genre of the story, make it clear -- Jane Austen as a teen comedy (Clueless) is great. It's not really the exact same story as Emma, but it has taken major elements and adapted it to the genre it was put into.

You can set the same story (Gaiman gave the example of Sleeping Beauty, turned into a medical thriller) in multiple genres... but you need to realize which elements need to be there.

Story is separate from genre, which is the interesting thing from Gaiman's essays. He knows story very, very well. That's why I enjoy him as a writer. But I don't follow him into every genre he has dealt with (not currently, at least). The story is the chain of events, the A -> B -> C. But the flavor, the setting, the set pieces, the elements can be adapted.

Terry Pratchett took a lot of fairy tales and classic stories and put them into a comic(ish) fantasy re-telling, with elements of urban police procedural, mysteries, and more. (RIP - he died 4 years ago today)... but what is even more amusing is he took the stories and changed where they went, which was just fine.

Genre is kind of a particular set of conventions, but the story can go so many ways. That's fun.

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Sunday, March 3rd, 2019
6:59 pm - On operas and kung fu movies (not story series)
This is not about stories... I'm breaking out of my series for a moment. Or, I should say this is almost a complementary take.

First, I want to link to this post about yesterday's opera performance at the Met Opera. You don't have to read the whole thing (or any of it)... I just want you to note how many exclamation points occur in the text. That's it. And I'm not picking on that poster -- she's just the most extreme of the reviews that got posted yesterday and today over yesterday's performance (which I hope I will get access to on my On Demand subscription... more below). It's why I love being part of that group... and why I love opera. When it's perfect... it hits you right in the heart and it's difficult not to gush.

So, supposedly, the story of an opera or a kung fu movie is important to pay attention to.....

....bah. No.

What I love about both opera and kung fu is that the "storyline", such as it is, is not really important. Nobody cares. Verdi is one of the most important opera composers out there... and some of his primary operas have plots that make no sense whatsoever. While Mozart is marginally better in plot logic for his main operas, there still are multiple absurdities. In both the case of Mozart and Verdi, the fault lies not in the composers, but that they used others' plays with insane plots to build their operas.

And nobody gives a damn.

Similarly, if you've watched any kung fu movies, so much of the supposed "plot" is almost nonexistent. There is a master or a father, who is humiliated and/or killed, and one must enact vengeance. That does not require a lot of build up. And then there are the weirder ones. To be sure, maybe it made more sense in the original Chinese culture, but given that the plots of operas in European cultures don't make sense to Europeans (even at the time), I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese (no matter which Chinese subculture) also didn't make much sense of the plots. That wasn't the point.

So here's the point of both: most of the people who really love either opera or kung fu movies really just love moments in the productions. For all that people say that you should watch the whole thing... frankly, even those of us who are into it realize that we just want specific moments to watch.

Nobody watches kung fu movies for their stories... and same for operas. We want to see the sublimity.... for kung fu movies, it's the fight scenes. For operas, it's often specific arias... but even some ensemble scenes. (And damn, Mozart is the best of all ensemble opera composers... Verdi did very well in Falstaff, but he did not come close to Marriage of Figaro).

So ... I will admit how I watch these.

When I put on kung fu movies... I would go do stuff, wander out of the room, and ask Stu to call me back in for the substantive bits... that is: the fight scenes.

Luckily, for operas, given I have an actual Met Opera online subscription, the operas are cut up into numbers (no matter the opera). So. I actually go to the scenes I want to watch. Yes, I will watch a full production (Falstaff by Verdi, as mentioned earlier, actually is a coherent whole... but most operas are not). But for each of my favorite operas, there are specific scenes, arias, choruses, whatever, I will check.

As I wrote on a Patreon site recently:

A little confession - for every recorded performance of [Don Giovanni], I go straight to the banquet/dragging the Don to hell scene. Because if they screw that up, I'm going to be so angry, it's going to destroy the whole thing for me.

The reason I do this: I had the misfortune to watch a live-streamed production where that scene was so screwed up that I said: "I'M NOT GOING TO ALLOW MYSELF TO BE SNOOKERED"

Also, the Don being dragged to hell has to be the most satisfying moment in opera for me.

Also.. because that's really the only part of the opera I want to watch. There is beautiful (and funny) music in the rest of the opera, but dear lord, that ending piece....Mozart was the master, and there is no denying. [The person I'm "patronizing" agreed with me on that score. You can join me: Dr. Robert Greenberg]

Here, have one of my favorite versions of that moment in opera:

Oh what the hell, let me not be stingy, here's another:

Anyway, here is my point: while many of us do like a narrative string, sometimes it's really about a perfect moment, whether the rest of the narrative exists. I can watch an awesome kung fu sequence without the paper-thin plot to enjoy it:

Yes, there are stories that one hangs around those moments of sublimity - but really, those perfect moments are what it's all about.

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Friday, March 1st, 2019
4:01 pm - On physics and stories (three of many)
This one is going to be a bit weird.

I was thinking more about the characters in Pratchett and the stories they tell themselves. The stories are a way to anticipate what will happen next, but it's also a way of feeling anchored in the world.

Which takes me to physics.

The normal way people are taught physics (if they're taught it), is starting with Newtonian mechanics. It's fairly straightforward -- force diagrams, force = mass * acceleration, etc. It's a clear cause-effect chain and then you figure out all these beautiful equations (or not-so-beautiful) and you may have ODEs, but it all eventually works out. Then maybe you learn electromagnetism, using wave equations, and those are cool, too. It's still cause-effect, definite answer, yadda yadda. This happens, and then that happens, and you know where everything is, how fast it's going and all that.

Then you get to quantum.

What is this stuff?!?!

Now, I actually loved quantum physics the first time I ran into it, mainly because it didn't disturb me that the universe was weirder than I would have thought. Indeed, that was something my dad told me multiple times. I would often wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and I'd find dad was up getting a snack, or had never gone to bed, and he'd talk to me about how he thought the universe worked. And he'd always say: "The universe is stranger than we can imagine."

I can imagine quite a lot of things, but I believe he was correct.

So I was delighted to find out that the universe wasn't a bunch of clockwork. This was fun!

That said, I have not been on board with every quantum reality interpretation. I will come back to that in a moment.

What really appealed to me that the solutions were probability distributions (which may explain why I'm very happy being an actuary). It didn't bug me that there was necessarily a clear cause-effect with 100% probability. I understand many interpretations, such as "well, things are just really complicated, so we can only estimate outcomes via a probability distribution, but it really is that mechanical cause-effect (100%) all the time, there's just "hidden variables". But that doesn't work.

Other interpretations I find aesthetically displeasing - I really don't like the many worlds interpretation. I have all sorts of issues with the consciousness theory (even if you throw in God, but let's not start down that path.)

I favor the old Copenhagen interpretation, which I simplify as: "That's just the way the world works." The shorthand often given is "there is no deep reality"... but I'm more of a mind that "this is a good second approximation". This is just how the world is.

If you cannot tell the difference in the results of any of these interpretations by any sort of experiment, they're really all the same theory, and it's up to aesthetics/philosophy for you to choose. But imagine that it does require something fundamentally probabilistic that there could be some sort of free will that allows you to choose.

And that comes back to stories.

Because physics gave us a story of A -> B -> C... and then we got the more complicated A -> probabilistic distribution of B_{alpha}s -> potentially higher-dimension distribution of C_{alpha,beta}s. We can anticipate likelihoods, but the results can be quite different, depending.

Of course, in most of what we look at, Newtonian physics operates just fine. Generally, we're not having to factor in quantum (or even relativistic) effects. Isn't it interesting that that's the case? I wonder how that happens.

But what it really tells us is that we're not actually stuck in a story of the Great Watchmaker, where the initial conditions were put in at the Big Bang... and the rest follows as A -> B -> C.

I think about the philosophy of probability quite a bit. I think I should read Charles Sanders Peirce, as he had profound influence on the actuarial profession, not to mention the development of the philosophy of probability.

I believe in free will (obviously, with constraints - we are all limited as human - but that some things we are able to choose)...and I think that probabilistic reality has a hand in it. It's kind of hazy, but I like the probabilistic world.

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Thursday, February 28th, 2019
11:55 am - On stories and Terry Pratchett (second of many)
Terry Pratchett is all about stories. (Yes, he died in 2015. But his stories still live, and he lives through them.)

He pretty explicitly states this in many of his novels, through the voice of characters, even. Many of his plots look like they're following a specific, well-known story... and then it goes a bit wrong. He's re-used: Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Phantom of the Opera, Pied Piper of Hamelin, etc.

I've been running through multiple of Pratchett's "juveniles", which are difficult to distinguish from his non-juveniles, frankly, other than ... I guess, a child is usually the central character in the "juveniles".

I will address only two, one from very early in his career, but published posthumously as a book, and the other from later.

First, the Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories, which is a series of unrelated short stories when Pratchett was a teenager and published at the paper he worked at. I believe the stories were aimed at children, and the stories are told in an extremely straightforward manner, with plenty of humor that kids would enjoy. It reminded me of the stories my dad used to make up for us in the evening. Many of them didn't have much of a point, but they were fun along the way.

A slew of the stories are set in a Welsh town, and doing it like a Wild West story (and it is the Wild West! In Wales! I had to look up the town name -- Llandanffwnfafegettupagogo) -- instead of cowboys and rustlers there are shepherds and sheep stealers, instead of the marshall on his horse, you have a very British bobby on his bike (indeed, everybody rides bikes), instead of a shootout between rival posses, you've got warring ice cream truck guys.

There was a story about a country gnome who goes to the big city, finds a colony of gnomes living in a department store, and then they have to escape because the humans have discovered them (but think it's rats or mice causing trouble.) There's a story of a troll who loses his prize fire opal off his crown, chasing it throughout a world peopled (-cough-) with nymphs, dryads, and naiads (who happen to not be like you would think) down to the center of the earth, at which point the Hercules/Atlas story is replayed... and then they end up on the Moon.

It's just story for the sake of story. There are no morals (not per se), just funny stuff happening, and it's a clear chain of events A -> B -> C. There's a beginning, middle, and an end. While I like middles of stories a lot (which is why I enjoy Dickens so much), I do like there to be a beginning and an end as well (Dickens is excellent in those, too).

Right now, I'm listening to the audiobook of the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, which is a take on the Pied Piper of Hamelin... but quite a bit darker. Maurice is a talking cat, and his educated rodents are a bunch of talking rats. There's a stupid-looking kid who plays the piper.

In the book, Pratchett explains that this is a story about stories, especially since one of the characters, Malicia, is the granddaughter/grandniece of the Grim Sisters (not to be confused with the Grimm brothers). Malicia keeps trying to fit events into a story in her mind, though she stops that by the end, because the story she makes up sometimes works... and many times doesn't. It's a pretty dark story, in terms of what happens with the rats...just like the aforementioned Grimm Fairy Tales (if you've ever read the non-Disney originals.)

In many ways Pratchett says that the stories we tell ourselves are how we are human... but we can also create woe by trying to shoehorn people and events into a story we want. We don't always get the story we want. And it doesn't do to try to treat people as non-player characters (as it were) in your own story.

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Sunday, February 24th, 2019
4:51 pm - On stories and Bohemian Rhapsody (first of many)
So... I had in mind a post that was going to be about stories... and Dickens and the Yorkshire Schools, and Terry Pratchett, and Shakespeare and the Broadway show Hamilton and the movie Amadeus....

well, it's a big topic, isn't it?

So let me start with what really set me off: the movie Bohemian Rhapsody and one of those clickbait pieces going through the misleading aspects of the movie (such as: Freddie Mercury didn't get his HIV diagnosis til a year after Live Aid).

The thing is - I went through the list (and there was more than one piece on the historical accuracies)... but this is why it was a feature film and not a documentary. It was to tell a story.

Of course, there were scenes that were overdramatized. And, yes, Mike Myers line re: Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) was an obvious joke and was probably not said... but the part about it being too long was said. It was known.

I have my own opinion of the main messages of the movie... it was definitely focused primarily on Freddie Mercury, and specifically his ambition. Freddie in the movie explicitly says Queen wouldn't have gotten to where it was without him pushing everybody else, taking risks, etc. And yes, there was stuff about his personal life, but the main thrust I saw there was not about homosexuality or promiscuity or any of that -- it was how profoundly lonely he was.

But the pinnacle of the movie, of course, was the Live Aid scene. And it's really all about that -- the music, and the joy it brings to people (in large groups).

Me: the only reason the movie got nominated for awards is the Live Aid scene
Stu: So?
Me: that ain't a complaint, just an observation

They don't really show the whole set, but only one song is skipped... and it's exactly the song you -would- omit. Yes, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was a hit, but it's a different energy level from all the other songs.

Here's the full recording from the real performance:

But what is really awesome in the movie is more talking through some of the choices in putting songs together, like Another One Bites the Dust or We Will Rock You -- deliberate choices to get more audience participation.

I liked similar aspects of the movie Amadeus. Anybody who knew anything about Mozart knew that a lot of the "drama" in the movie, such as it was, was utter bullshit. Salieri and Mozart were on good terms. Salieri had a solid career, and Mozart wasn't really a threat to Salieri in terms of money, etc. Salieri was very successful in his time. Also, Mozart may have liked low jokes, but he was not a total buffoon. He was quite competent in "adulting" as our current terminology goes.

But the parts that were good, were talking about the music of Mozart itself.

Forget about talking... it was showing the music:

That is my single favorite moment in opera... as I mentioned in an opera group recently, any time I get access to a new performance of Don Giovanni, I fast forward to that scene to see how they played it. Because if they screw that up (and I've seen some REALLY screwed up "statue drags the Don to hell" performances), I will be so angry I cannot stand the rest of the production, no matter how good.

Anyway, back to the story. The whole point of the movie is that Live Aid performance. The various threads in the movie - Freddie's alienation from others, Freddie's ambition, the other band members' talents (and frustrations), the risks taken and the highs and lows - come together at that point, and the energy of the ginormous crowd in Wembley Stadium, and those watching it on TV... I don't remember watching it myself - given it was in July, and I was 11, almost definitely I was hanging out at the local creek, digging up rocks. Or maybe I was on my dad's PC programming. We had one main TV, and I didn't control it, especially not on the weekends.

I don't care about the rest of it -- in many great stories, there's only one bit that really matters. In The Odyssey, the best bit is when Odysseus has pulled back on his bow, and let fly through the axe handles... and then goes onto slaughter the "suitors" who have been harassing his faithful wife Penelope for years. That's a Crowning Moment of Awesome if ever there was one.

Many stories don't have that one moment of perfection... and definitely not a moment of awesome that lasts a good percentage of the story.

You place that perfect moment near the end of your story, and you're gold. All the weaknesses earlier in the story? Nobody cares.

Everybody will remember that moment of awesome, as it's the last thing they come away with (usually it can't be the very last thing... you need to take some time while people are still on that perfection high, and you need them to be able to recover. Like having a cooldown time when you do intense cardio.)

What I find interesting is what was left out of the story - there are the things I -really- love: Queen's involvement with both Flash Gordon and Highlander (that one was a year after Live Aid, so okay)-- I love both films, and it's mainly the music (but also the visuals) that do it. But they didn't fit into the story of Bohemian Rhapsody. It's like those of us who were disappointed that Peter Jackson couldn't fit in Tom Bombadil or the Scouring of the Shire... but neither really work in a movie treatment. It's more for those of us wallowing in epic novels.

I'm not expecting any docudrama on Queen doing soundtracks... because the soundtracks can stand for them all.

Humans are all about stories, and many of us have different sorts of stories we prefer.

I prefer stories of joy -- and Bohemian Rhapsody fills me with joy. It's life, it's enthusiasm (as in -- possessed by a god in the greek sense), and it's human creation of beauty.

I love it.

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Saturday, February 16th, 2019
11:57 am - RIP, Bob Going, aka The Judge
This last week, Robert Going died. I first met him here, on livejournal, I'm pretty sure. This is his livejournal, but he pretty much moved over to facebook in the last five years.

I've been digging through my livejournal to try to figure out exactly when I ran into him... I think I met him via the catholicism group on livejournal, but given how many people in catholicism I knew in other ways... I'm not quite sure.

I did dig through my email, and the first one I can find from him to me is from 2006. This is why I don't delete email - I have a record of my conversations with many people I never met in person, but befriended online. I did meet the Judge and his wife once, in person -- it was at a church in NYC (I believe it was at Fr. Rutler's previous parish, which was near where I worked in Midtown East.)

I wasn't close to Bob, but we had a great time just chatting about Catholicism and then just a few ephemeral things. He liked needling me about the Red Sox (he was a Sox fan, and I was a Mets fan), and he would send me links he knew I would like. He used to do it in email, and then in Facebook messenger.

Here is a fairly representative sample:

And he supported me and Stu with prayer, and let me know:

This was our last chat:

I have so many online friends that I chat with in a similar manner, many of whom I will never see in person, and some of whom I don't even know what they look like... and may never know.

I did get to meet Bob in person once, but even if I never had, it wouldn't have made a difference.

I loved the lazy way we shared ideas - if you look at time/date stamps, usually one would make a remark, and a day or two would elapse before we'd respond. I talked literature, Catholicism, and sometimes even opera with him (more that he knew I was into opera, and he'd send me some stuff).

I will miss our discussions, lazy as they were.

I bought his books in the past...but I forget where my copies are. So I'm going to re-buy them, so I can feel like I'm chatting with him again.

I especially loved this one: Where Do We Find Such Men?

That book is about men who came from his town of Amsterdam, NY (which I have yet to visit), who served in World War II, giving profiles of each one. I remember his individual posts on the people who had served.

I didn't realize he had a followup book: Honor Roll: The World War II Dead of Amsterdam, NY

Covering those from Amsterdam, NY who died in the war.

An article remembers Bob's dedication to local history:

AMSTERDAM -- Robert Neil Going loved history, especially when it pertained to World War II and Montgomery County.

A Troy native who moved to Amsterdam as a young boy, Going died Wednesday at Albany Medical Center following a stroke on Feb. 2. He was 67. A Bishop Scully High School graduate who went on to the University at Albany and Albany Law School, Going was a former assistant district attorney for Montgomery County, as well as a City Court and Family Court judge.

Going wrote two books on Amsterdam's history: "Honor Roll: The World War II Dead of Amsterdam, N.Y.," and, "Where Do We Find Such Men." Michael Cinquanti, another Amsterdam historian with two books to his credit, said Going was the man he contacted when he had a question that could not be answered.

"Our paths crossed because of our interest in local history, and he was the guy who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the city of Amsterdam," Cinquanti said of Going. "He was my go-to guy. He would know who the mayor was during a particular time period, and he would also know who ran for alderman and the many people who have represented different wards in the city. He knew all about our city government and its system."

Cinquanti said Going's two books on World War II and how it affected Amsterdam residents were must-reads for lovers of local history.

"He talked to so many families and people about their loved ones and the contribution they made during the war," said Cinquanti. "It really was a wonderful book about veterans. It touched a lot of people, and I don't think there are too many cities the size of Amsterdam that had a source available to them like Bob. He was amazing."

I am very much into this sort of history -- the detail, and the specificity of locality. Both Stu & I have gotten very much into Croton Falls history, though we're not from here, but this is our home now.

I will so miss Bob's stories, but I will not miss his prayers, as I know he will continue to pray for us. And we will pray for him and his family.

RIP, Judge.

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Friday, February 8th, 2019
11:35 am - Sitting in my comfy zone
Right now, I'm on a conference call regarding a research project tracking mortality rates by cause of death (and projecting in the future). There's some really cool graphs (can't share til it's published - probably later this year)

Yesterday, I did an internal presentation on improving data visualization for telling your story.

Tomorrow, I'm going to do a blog post to fix up the graphs in a financial report for a town in California. Because the current graphs annoy me.

In my commute, I'm listening to an audiobook version of Nicholas Nickleby -- it's Blackstone Audio - both Blackstone Audio & Tantor Media have never done me wrong for audiobooks.

At home last night, I fell asleep on what is essentially Stu's bed -- he sleeps downstairs on a really nice sleeper couch we got from IKEA (he has difficulty going up and down stairs, and doesn't want to risk falling down the stairs given his cancer treatments). I usually sleep upstairs, especially because I wake up so early and don't want to disturb Stu. So, I had gotten a CD/DVD set of a Depeche Mode live and Stu put the DVD on to watch... and I just fell asleep within a couple minutes. And when I fall asleep... I snore. But Stu said that whenever he sang along with Dave, I stopped snoring. I may try that again tonight. :)

Anyway, I've been in my comfy zone, which is just fine by me. I have had a lot of face/shoulder/neck pain this last week, and having all this comfy stuff helps me put my mind off the pain.

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