Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's news to me…not!

Take a complex problem that requires expertise in accounting, law, economics, politics and interpersonal relations and ask some people who have never studied it what they think. This could be any news organization in the country. It just happens to be the Boston Globe.
What is the purpose here?

1. To solve the problem
2. To show that the problem is actually quite simple
3. To show that our elected officials are incompetent especially compared to the average person
4. To mobilize those who are "fed up"
5. To warn of impending disaster

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pink Floyd in Libya

In the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly, there's a short article on 22-year-old former engineering student, Abdulfatah Shaka. He fights for the Libyan rebels, carries an RPG, plays guitar and loves Pink Floyd. Libyan Rebels: A Sound Track. One moment he's clearing out sniper's nests and the next in the lull of the battle he's joined other members of his unit playing and singing.

He tells the story of how in the dead of night, “When it got really quiet, we’d play guitar and sing ‘Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb?’ The snipers would get furious and start shooting everywhere.”

I remember the scene in the movie Patton when Patton's Third Army is on the road to Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne. When Colonel Bell tells Patton that General McAuliffe's response to the German surrender demand was, "Nuts," Patton laughs and says, "Keep them moving, colonel. A man that eloquent has to be saved."

Perhaps, the same is true of Shaka, and why we should be supporting the Libyan rebels. A man that eloquent has to be saved.

Pictures at an Exposition - 10

Have some fun with this one. Remember we are looking for a caption, an explanation, or just a few words of apology. The prize this time is dental floss for a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I want my Lion CD

Two acrobats play a game of tennis on the side of a Madrid skyscraper on the Paseo de la Castellana as part of a promotion for the city's ATP Masters 1000 tennis open to be played between 1 and 8 May.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'm a doctor, not a ….

We knew that the iPhone was just a cheap imitation of Star Trek's communicator, but now it turns out it is also a medical Tricorder.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Where to Live

If you plan on visiting or moving to another city, you may want to consider Mercer's (a consulting firm) ranking of the most expensive cities (for visitors/expatriates) for 2011. There were 214 cities examined.

If you think New York is expensive, try Luanda, Angola where you'd pay $28 for a CD and about $20 for a club sandwich and a soda.

The Most Expensive Cities
1. Luanda, Angola (for the 2nd straight year)
2. Tokyo, Japan
3. N'Djamena, Chad
4. Moscow, Russia
5. Geneva, Switzerland
6. Osaka, Japan
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Singapore
9. Hong Kong
10. Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Most Affordable Cities
1. Karachi, Pakistan
2. Managua, Nicaragua
3. La Paz, Bolivia
4. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
5. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
6. Islamabad, Pakistan
7. Tegucigalpa, Honduras
8. Tunis, Tunisia
9. Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
10. Nouakchott, Mauritania

New York is the priciest U.S. city and ranked 32nd.
Pittsburgh was ranked 177th so it is the 38th most affordable city.
Mercer and Economist Intelligence Unit also ranks cities as Most Livable. Pittsburgh ranked 29th which, of course, is first in the United States. However, ranked right below us at number 30 is Honolulu, so it would help if we could get an ocean.

The trends, the trendier, and the trendiest

There is good reason not to raise taxes on the extremely wealthy even if it means bringing the government and the economy of this great nation to its knee-pads. Their children could be deprived of that great American tradition, summer camp.

As the NYT reports, the current trend is to take your child to camp by private jet. It saves time, if not gas.
For decades, parents in the Northeast who sent their children to summer camp faced the same arduous logistics of traveling long distances to remote towns in Maine, New Hampshire and upstate New York to pick up their children or to attend parents’ visiting day.

Now, even as the economy limps along, more of the nation’s wealthier families are cutting out the car ride and chartering planes to fly to summer camps. One private jet broker, Todd Rome of Blue Star Jets, said his summer-camp business had jumped 30 percent over the last year.
However, there are always those one step ahead:
But some parents have already tired of this private-plane status infiltrating the simpler world of summer camp. Nancy Chemtob, a divorce lawyer, made several summer trips to Maine in the past decade, where her children attended camp.

“It’s a crazy world out there,” she added. She now sends her children to camp in Europe.
But then, of course, there are the participants of this blog.

Renée will be heading to Guatamala to do volunteer work for her summer camp experience.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Ta-Nehisi Coates relates this: "It's like that moment when you hear about a horrible crime, and they're about to flash the perp's flick across the screen and you think, 'Don't be black Don't be black Don't be black PLEASE!Don't be black!!'"

When I first heard about the tragedy in Norway, the media still didn't have a suspect, and I confess that I found myself thinking, "Don't be Muslim, don't be Muslim, please don't be Muslim."

Well, it turned out that the one perpetrator they have in custody is not Muslim but in fact hates Muslims and opposes immigration and multiculturalism. It's strange, but that ended up providing little solace for me. The fact is: Anders Behring Breivik's actions say no more about fundamentalist Christians than an attack by a Muslim would have said about Islam. As any statistician will tell you, one person is rarely a valid statistical sample. I'm not sure that there is anything we can conclude from this episode except that in a world of seven billion people, some are unstable and, at the wrong moment, will do horrible things.

Quote of the Day

I trust that a graduate student some day will write a doctoral essay on the influence of the Munich analogy on the subsequent history of the twentieth century. Perhaps in the end he will conclude that the multitude of errors committed in the name of Munich may exceed the original error of 1938.
Arthur M Schlesinger Jr

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 9

Please provide some sort of exposition. For the prize I will buy a CD of Apple's latest operating system, Lion.


Second season starts Oct 16th-

Kill Math

Math continues to become more important in describing our world. As Richard Feynman said about people looking for the right book to explain principles of physics, "This one is pretty good. Maybe if I got that one, I will understand." Well, he says you just can't. Mathematics is the language of the universe.

But most of us are not expert mathematicians. Even Einstein, though incredibly intuitive, recognized he needed help with mathematics and sought young, talented colleagues who could help him with the math. As Katie and Sean know, we grasp mathematical symbols and concepts with varying speed and ability.

Bret Victor is a former Apple designer who left since he has "zero interest in helping people look through photos and listen to music." He is interested in designing a better UI for mathematics.
Have you ever tried multiplying roman numerals? It’s incredibly, ridiculously difficult. That’s why, before the 14th century, everyone thought that multiplication was an incredibly difficult concept, and only for the mathematical elite. Then arabic numerals came along, with their nice place values, and we discovered that even seven-year-olds can handle multiplication just fine. There was nothing difficult about the concept of multiplication -- the problem was that numbers, at the time, had a bad user interface.
He is interested in math reform. His project is called Kill Math. He is NOT interested in math educational reform.
If I had to guess why "math reform" is misinterpreted as "math education reform", I would speculate that school is the only contact that most people have had with math. Like school-physics or school-chemistry, math is seen as a subject that is taught, not a tool that is used. People don't actually use math-beyond-arithmetic in their lives, just like they don't use the inverse-square law or the periodic table.

Which is the premise of this project, of course -- people don't use math. But everyone seems to believe, if only math were taught better, they would use it! And my position (and the entire point of the project) is: No. Teach the current mathematical notation and methods any way you want -- they will still be unusable. They are unusable in the same way that any bad user interface is unusable -- they don't show the user what he needs to see, they don't match how the user wants to think, they don't show the user what actions he can take.

Interactive Exploration of a Dynamical System from Bret Victor.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An uninteresting post

The NYT has 18 audio statements from 18-22 year-old New Yorkers concerning gay marriage. There is nothing interesting about it as they all express the thoughts you have heard from 18-22 year olds that you know. But for someone who forms their opinion about people from TV or the internet, rather than from personal experience, it might be very interesting.

[Hmm…I guess the irony is on me. Here is the media report conforming to my personal experience, so maybe there's no disconnect after all.]

Pictures at an Exposition - 8

This one is not so crazy, but more of a news worthy current event. Well, the explanation I felt was crazy. The prize is a bobblehead doll of Echo from Echo and the Bunnymen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Analysts as useless slugs

Apple (not Computer) once again played demolition derby with all predictions of their fiscal results by posting 3rd quarter results of $7.31 billion in profit on $28.57 billion in sales and $7.79 earning per share (EPS). The only hope of balancing our federal budget is Apple's taxes. This is the 1,144th time Apple has out performed all predictions especially their own guidance (which was a ludicrous $23 billion in revenue and $5.03 EPS).

I typically listen to Apple's Earnings Conference Calls as Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO, and the usual cast of characters play hide-and-seek with the analysts. By the third call/question I am bored silly, but the same thing goes on quarter after quarter. If I were an analyst, my question would be:

Congratulations Peter on a great quarter! (Years ago this was the way they started, but I guess they got bored with that.) So, Peter, for the 1,144th straight time you severely underestimated your revenue and EPS. As a matter of fact even though your department had all the financial information, your estimate was worse than any analyst and we are idiots, as you can tell by the questions this afternoon. My question is, 'Who is responsible for your guidance and why haven't they been fired?'

At least you might get a laugh which is more than what they get now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

King Triton as Optimus Prime

Sean's Victory

While Sean was the real winner in my book…

14-year-old Jo Guest, from Wolverhampton, came out on top in the women's race. The unusual event has been celebrated for centuries and is thought to have its roots in a heathen festival to celebrate the return of spring. The last time cheese rolling was staged in 2009 more than 15,000 people turned up as spectators. But this year a plan was hatched to move the date of the racing to June and to make it a two-day festival. Those plans were scrapped after it was revealed that people would be charged up to £20 to attend.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Binding of Isaac and the Myth of Sisyphus

[I wrote this awhile back and was waiting for a good time to post it. I spectacularly found that time today in an NYT article I will reference at the end.]

We all know the story of Isaac when God tested Abraham and told him to take "thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest," up to the mountain top and prepare him as an offering to God. But when Abraham obeyed all of God's commands, an angel appeared.
And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
The passage is disturbing enough that alternative interpretations have been offered throughout the years. But, let's face it, the main theme is doing the will of God even when it doesn't seem reasonable.

Compare that to Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus
It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife.
But when Sisyphus returned he enjoyed the stones and water and sun so much he refused to go back to infernal darkness and he lived many more years until the gods became so angry with him that he was condemned to roll his rock for eternity.

Surprisingly, Sisyphus was condemned for an action that began with his repudiation of obedience contrary to human love, while Abraham was blessed for his acceptance of that same obedience.


Someone else has been thinking of this theme and presented it with much more detail in this Opinionator article in the New York Times.

After you finish the article, I have a comment on Anat Biletzki's conclusions and definition of religion.

[I'll wait]

While she and I both would find more meaning in Sisyphus than Isaac, I take something from both the religious and the philosophic view point. She may call that contradictory; I'll call it inclusive. But I will agree with her that it does make a difference in your motives.

Her definition of religion (Religion is a system of myth and ritual; it is a communal system of propositional attitudes — beliefs, hopes, fears, desires — that are related to superhuman agents) is a decent one if she left out the "superhuman agents". Not only is it unnecessary, but it harkens to the abhorrent notion that god is a super human. It is not as good as the one we unofficially adopted—the eternal struggle for meaning. It is because of that definition that I can embrace the philosophic human love of Sisyphus and recognize the unfathomable mystery of Isaac.

Quote of the Day

This is not a real quote. It is a quote from Wikipedia, but I found it so incredible that I had to share it. The entry is for Ryan Newman, the NASCAR driver who recently won a race in New Hampshire. According to Wikipedia:
Newman graduated from Purdue University in 2001 with a B.S. in vehicle structure engineering. He is the only active NASCAR driver to have a college degree.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Well is the game called great

Last night we fêted Bastille Day and the highlight, as always, was Pete's game. This year it was a version of Family Feud with questions about the French Revolution. We had to match the most popular answers from a 'survey says!' French poll in 1989. It was great fun with Clément reading the answers in French to everyone's confusion. Personally, I love this stuff, but not everyone does. To that end let me try to express a little bit about my love of games, why I try to include them wherever I go (including this site), and our tradition with games.

Games cover an enormous playing field, but there are few key elements of a game.

1. A game is fun. Everyone from Wittgenstein to Roger Caillois (
Les jeux et les homes) choose this characteristic foremost. It must entertain. If it's not fun, there is something wrong with the game, or you.

2. There are rules. Oh how we love to play with this one! In fact, along with Calvin and Hobbes, I would say we have brought creating game rules to the level of a game itself. I could say a lot about rules, but in the interest of brevity, I'll only mention a few thoughts.

It seems to me that often people don't like games because they don't like 'arbitrary' rules. I find that people who believe with conviction in certain rules of life, do not like to suspend them—even for a game. I say this lovingly, because the best example I know is my mother. She continually says she hates games and (while that's not totally true) it's because she lives by a very discipline set of rules which, incidentally, have served her well. It's not that she can't have fun. It's just that her view of the world is too rigid and unchanging to allow her to suspend those rules without effort.

On the other hand is Chesterton's
Ethics of Elfland.

When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock. We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a “law,” for we do not understand its general formula.
Yes, there are certain rules for behavior to mitigate the vagaries of life, and there are certain rules of science if you wish to achieve an outcome. But 'arbitrary' game rules allow you to see the fundamental truth that, from making friends to making beer, it is magic. We are all enchanted. Obeying game rules reminds us how 'arbitrary' life is and allows us to embrace the magic. Paradoxically, it also allows us to have more fun in life.

3. There is a goal. Often getting to the goal means conflict.
Often people like or dislike games depending on the conflict involved. Games can be competitive, but it's not necessary. There is almost no competition in Maffia or Murder. On the other hand, the 800 meter race is pure competition, but for me it has little fun and, therefore, not a game. (It is competition, but no conflict, as the rules forbid interfering with another runner.)

Our games are typically very low on competition which is what I personally prefer. We rarely know who 'wins' the game. We often change sides. Most of us are more concerned with the game play and making sure everyone participates and is having fun, than trying to win. Trying to win is important or the game would lose meaning, but we often admire imaginative game play more than scoring.

I think sometimes people place too much emphasis on the competition and lose the value of the fun. I will remember Clement's reading of the answers long after I forget who won, which was Kathleen, by the way. She out scored Clément.

So, for those who are still conflicted about games, I urge you to try to participate and love the fun of games.

"No human being is innocent, but there is a class of innocent human actions called Games." —W. H. Auden

something we could all use -- bedtime stories

Remember that faraway time when you would drift off to the land of nod while you listened to a favorite bedtime story. Snug in your bed, one of the adults in your life would pull up a chair and read you wondrous tales. ...

Well, now you can re-live the experience by contacting Proteus Gowanus. Once the appointment is made, a mysterious woman will come into your bedroom, read to you from a book of your choice until you fall asleep -- a storybook ending to your day.

Pictures at an Exposition - 7

Put on your imagination caps everyone. This one is wide open. I'll give you a hint. It's just too crazy to happen in the U.S.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the (catcher's) glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me.

Dock Ellis' account of pitching a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while high on LSD

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lick One, You Gotta Lick 'em All and Other Stories

The McDonough clan was pretty tough. My grandfather was John F. McDonough. He came over to this country from Ireland with his mother when he was 12. My father was one of …I can't remember how many brothers and sisters he had. Uncle Joe was the oldest, then Harry, Edward (my father), and Andy,…Katherine, I think and Margaret. Walter was the youngest. My grandfather was the patriarch of the family and everyone did what he said. Even when they got older and had families of their own. If he called them up and said they were playing cards tonight—by golly, they would be there.

When Uncle Andy got married (to Loretta), the whole family went to see Helen Hayes in Golden Days. Half way through the show my grandfather stands up and says, "This is a lot of damn nonsense. Let's go home and play cards." So everyone had to file out of the theater. My grandmother nearly died. She was so embarrassed.

I think my father and his brothers were pretty rough. On Fourth of July they would shoot off fire crackers and shoot guns. I think one of my father's brothers shot himself in the hand with a gun on the 4th. They were crazy.

One winter they were sled riding down South Orange Avenue and my father crashed into a trolley car. He hurt himself, but they would not dare tell their father. They snuck him home and fixed him up themselves.

They all went to Seton Hall and played football. If the team was short a player, they would get another McDonough boy to fill in, even though he might not go to the school at the time.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 6

Here is this week's picture stumper. You're playing for six pairs of Don Alverzo's tweezers. Please provide some kind of exposition—a caption, a clue, a comment, really, we will even accept a few random words. You can't win if you don't play.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Last Shuttle Launch Done

Last Shuttle launch is set for 11:26 AM EDT. You can watch it live at NASA TV or embed below from Spaceflight Now

Watch live streaming video from spaceflightnow at

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sexy Ratio

Wasn't sure if this was discussed over the Fourth or one of our first dinner conversations with Clèment but we couldn't remember the sexy ratio, so of course this article is written seemingly for our conversation. If I ever need surgery I am going to avoid Dr. Kim and sedation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Response to Francis' Comment

This would have been a response to Francis' comment but, since I can't put a video in a comment, it must be a separate blog entry.

If you were in a battle and really wanted to inspire your troops, I suggest using the very speech you memorized.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

RI comment

This is a comment to Myk's comment on my post, I couldn't add a picture so I made a new post.

I like Catholics and there are some awesome church leader, I just don't understand the huge disconnect between the lay Catholic and the leadership/institution.

For instance, you aren't Catholic according to this Cardinal,
"It's impossible to consider oneself a Catholic if that person in one way or another recognizes same-sex marriage as a right," said Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna.

Just a critique, "the rank and file who sit in the pews" I think is a misnomer, its the Catholics not in the pew.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 5 Response

This is really just a comment to Myk's earlier comment on Pictures at an Exposition but, since I can't put an image in a comment, it must be a separate entry.

Actually, I thought the comment was quite funny.

We Just Travel in Small Circles and Other Stories (part 2)

The Stracken's lived across the street from us. I remember they had a purple candy dish in the vestibule. Whenever I went to their house Mrs. Stracken would always offer me some candy. They had some kids. Everyone in the neighborhood would play together.

When we moved to Pittsburgh, we met the Haddens and we became good friends. They lived across the street a few houses down. Belle Hadden was Scottish and her husband, Richard, was English. They met in the war when Mr. Hadden injured himself during a blackout and Belle was the nurse who took care of him.

We would have dinner at the Colony and one time the Haddens brought a good friend of theirs. He was the first person they knew when they moved to this country. As we were talking at dinner, I mentioned that I grew up in South Orange, NJ. So this friend of the Hadden's turns to me and says, "You're not that little red-headed Betty McDonough I use to play with as a kid, are you?!" It turns out he was Joe Stracken from across the street. What are the chances that would happen?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rhode Island Civil Unions Response

This is really just a comment to Pete's earlier blog RI Civil Unions but, since I can't put an image in a comment, it must be a separate entry.

Despite what Catholic bishops like Thomas J. Tobin are saying, the real Catholics -- the rank and file who sit in the pews, do the volunteer work and write all the checks -- support same sex marriage, and do so more strongly than Americans overall. A May 2011 survey by Public Religion Research Institute found that 56 percent of Catholics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, compared to 51 percent in the general population. A March 2011 ABC/Washington Post poll found 60 percent of Catholics support marriage for same-sex couples, compared to 53 percent of the general population. No other major religious group supports same sex marriage more vigorously than Catholics.

And I always thought that Ellen was exaggerating when she said that she didn't know of a single student in her Catholic high school who didn't support same sex marriage.

Anyway, here are the results from the Public Religion Research Institute poll:

I wish the bishops would quit teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. It just gives the rest of us Catholics a bad name.

Pictures at an Exposition - 5

Now there are clues aplenty in this picture. Submit your exposition early as the extra ration of grog is getting stale.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We Just Travel in Small Circles and Other Stories (part I)

When the ship came back from overseas, John was stationed in Norfolk, VA. I lived in an apartment with Bob. It was right across the street from the beach. We would go to the beach every day. If I ever saw a cockroach, I wouldn't do anything until I found it and killed it. If you have one cockroach, you'll have five hundred thousand. You would see them laying dead on store shells. I would never want to live in the south.

I would go shopping at the commissary with Nancy Callahan. She had a son Bob's age named Kevin. She was from New York City and she couldn't drive so I would drive her car when we would go shopping. There was a place in the commissary where you could drop your kids off. Kevin was afraid to stay there because of all the noise and commotion, but Bob didn't mind. He loved it.

Later when we went up to Notre Dame to take Bob to school, there was Nan Callahan and Kevin. He was going to Notre Dame too. He didn't stay though. He was kind of a shy kid.
[This is where I always point out the further coincidence that Bob didn't stay either, but that is another story.]

Quote of the Day

Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety, and in some funny way we became each other's protectors; I think perhaps I protected "C" from a world where it still wasn't so easy to be big and black. Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it. Clarence's celebrity and size did not make him immune. I think perhaps "C" protected me from a world where it wasn't always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either. But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I'd written in my songs and in my music. Clarence carried it in his heart. It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly. And that... that's what I'm gonna miss.

From Springsteen's eulogy given at Clemons' memorial: FOR THE BIG MAN

Friday, July 1, 2011

Quote of the Day

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth." [citation needed]
~editor for a peer-review journal