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Posts from — April 2010

Goldman sucks

Law professor Ann Althouse has an appreciation for words and imagery—one of the reasons I read every post at her site—but I wonder about this derivation. There is no doubt that soak does derive from a word originally meaning suck, but I don’t think that the following necessarily holds true:

But the old expression “soak the rich” was not originally based on an image of dunking the rich in a vat of water or other liquid or somehow hosing them down or otherwise wetting them. The original etymology of “soak” is “suck.” So “soak the rich” is more like suck the rich dry.

There is no mention of when the word soak completely lost its sucky sense, but the first use in the sense of overcharge was in 1895. It seems likely to me that the proto-Germanic sense was completely lost by 1895, so I expect there is a different explanation for this idiom.

The original post, by the way, is about the profanities used in the Senate hearings on Goldman Sachs. I saw excerpts of this hearing on the news. I think that there is plenty of room for argument about how to design and impose rules to prevent over-leveraged investment firms from wiping out the global economy, but I am amazed (truly amazed, not in the sarcastic sense) that the members of the pertinent rule making body, the Senate of the United States, appeared to comprehend banking, savings and investing at a junior high school home economics level. Truly disturbing. So it’s hard not to enjoy the irony of the lead inquisitor being unmasked as voting for the very bill deregulating the firms he wishes to hoist.

In the end, I don’t think that the regulations will matter, in the sense of achieving their designers’ desired effect. Thanks to advances in mathematical modeling, assisted by computerized trades and global financial markets, the smart money is getting exponentially smarter. The demons have jumped out the box, and they’re not going to be persuaded back in by a few rules. I think we end up in a world with some unimaginably strange currencies being swapped trillions of times a day by ghosts.

(From “Althouse: “In an angry hearing peppered with shouts and potty talk, Goldman Sachs brass doggedly insisted Tuesday they have no regrets about dubious mortgage deals that soaked investors.”)

April 30, 2010   Comments Off

Greece and the Euro

From Megan McArdle, links to a couple of articles on the sovereign debt crisis, and how it all played out last time around. It’s worthwhile to read as many of these as you can stomach—the Yves Smith article is especially good.

The Great Depression was composed of two separate panics. As you can see from contemporary accounts–and I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the Great Depression read the archives of that blog along with Benjamin Roth’s diary of the Great Depression–in 1930 people thought they’d seen the worst of things.

I’ve felt since the stock market started to rebound in the middle of last year that we were just passing through the eye of the storm. If I were a more active investor I might have taken some medium-to-long term short positions on… everything.

(From “Greece and the Euro: Going, Going . . . “, via Instapundit.)

April 29, 2010   Comments Off

Triangle Man, Triangle Man

In case you were wondering, here is the answer to the pop quiz.

I made this presentation completely on the iPad—more as a proof of concept or trial run than by way of doing serious work. I learned several of the kinks and quirks of Keynote on the iPad this way. Of course I went over the top with animations just to see what it could really do, making it highly questionable from an aesthetic perspective. The mixture of typefaces is also rather… eclectic.

It’s just for fun.

Update: Yeah, I made an error in the presentation. Well, at least one. I found it myself though so it’s cool. Fixed now.

April 28, 2010   Comments Off

Three corners, three sides, infinite possibilities

Kids, even grown up ones, ask the darnedest things. During class yesterday we talked a little bit about geometry, and one asked, “How many kinds of triangles are there?” We had been discussing the concept of congruency, and I drew some examples of right triangles, equilateral triangles, and isosceles triangles.

I was actually stumped by this question. I vaguely remembered that triangles were sometimes called obtuse and acute, but I wasn’t sure if that was a common use, or if it was more typical to describe them as having “an obtuse angle” or “all acute angles.” Somebody said, “I think one is type is scalene.” Right, there is that. I was able to do a simple proof in class that a triangle could only have one obtuse angle. That is, since the inside angles of a triangle come to 180º, and since an obtuse angle is one that is greater than 90º, it follows that the other two angles must be acute (less than 90º). I still wasn’t sure if I could enumerate all types of triangles, or if it was even possible to do so. I promised them I would give them an answer. Here it is—or at least, close enough.

Triangles can be classified according to the size of their interior angles. Based on the fact that the interior angles must add up to 180º, it follows that there are three kinds:

  • All of the angles are less than 90º (acute). For example, 80º—60º—40º. This is known as an acute triangle.
  • One of the angles is obtuse, that is, greater than 90º. The other two angles must be acute. This kind of triangle is an obtuse triangle.
  • One of the angles is exactly 90º. As expected, the other two must add up to 90º (for example, 1º and 89º), so they are acute. This is a right triangle.

It turns out you can also classify triangles according to the relative lengths of their sides.

  • Suppose your triangle’s three sides are the same length. This is an equilateral triangle. It turns out that there is only one way to make such a triangle to work out, and that is by having all of the interior angles the same. Since they must sum to 180º, each angle is 60º.
  • Perhaps only two sides are the same length. It works out here that the angles of the “odd” side are identical to each other. This shape is an isosceles triangle.
  • Finally (since there are only three sides to consider!), there is the possibility of having a triangle where all three sides are different. This rogue is the scalene triangle.

So, pop quiz. How many types of triangles are there?

April 27, 2010   Comments Off

Staying the Course

Just now finished teaching the first session of our second math improvement class. This class will go much better. One reason is that I learned a lot in the previous course about how to teach the subject matter effectively, but the biggest reason is that in this course we had a large enough population to cut the applicants who were below a 10th grade math level. I had no problem teaching individuals at any level, but in the previous class the population, based on our initial test results, consisted of students performing as low as third grade math to beyond high school level. Since we are all doing our full time job in addition to the class, it was virtually impossible to manage.

I just did an introductory overview today, quickly covering many topics that we’ll later cover in depth, but in many ways it felt like we already went further in this class than we did in two weeks in the previous class.

In other news, I received the news today that I am cleared to spend at least one, and probably two more years in my current assignment and location. Now, we just need to figure out the lodging and commuting puzzle and we’ll be settled.

I’ve started a transition into a completely new job, in charge of computers, radios and communications. I miss my old job dealing with logistics. If I were looking for a different job I would strongly considering making the leap into a new field in some sort of logistical support role. I cannot complain, however, that this new job offers me a lot more free time, and obviously plays to my strengths.

April 26, 2010   1 Comment


I disabled the requirement to enter your email address if you choose to leave a comment.  I’m not sure if the address of commenters is protected from email harvesting bots so it seems safer to leave it out.

April 25, 2010   Comments Off

The Snipe Hunt

This morning, over espresso (how terrible war is), somebody wanted to play with my iPad (again, this war, right now: terrible) and started an impromptu game of Scrabble. We started a “pass the iPad” multiplayer game, and to my surprise the demo turned into a serious contest. Time passed, and finally somebody suggested that it would be great if we had a multiplayer computer version to play on our laptops, taking turns during little breaks throughout the day.

Surely, I offered, some enterprising programmer has created a free version of Scrabble that can be hosted on one computer and played locally with other computers on the same network. Probably, I hypothesized, this programmer had even made it possible to play through your web browser. The other two agreed that this was virtually certain to have happened.

“Well,” said one, “you should probably go back to your CHU to download whatever it is since the Internet is so slow so we can have this set up by tonight.”

“Right,” I agreed.

Six hours gone, and many vast and deep Internet searches later, I had to give up. I realized that the challenge to find this thing on the Internet had been like a perfectly aimed special munition into the very heart of my personal Death Star. A whole perfectly splendid idle Sunday used up in futile sifting through the bed of the web’s Mariana Trench.

“Well played, friend,” I admitted to my new enemy, many hours later.

Perhaps all was not lost. I have been casting about for something to work on to keep my coding skills sharp. A locally shareable game like Scrabble, with an HTML5 client, would have a pretty deep stack of the technologies I’m interested in. So I may pursue it.

Around dinner time I got a late invitation to go barbecue with our Lebanese friends. The food tonight was really, really good. I think that perhaps my culinary interest in Lebanese food has prompted our host to up his game, or it may be that improving economic conditions have made it possible for him to acquire better ingredients and equipment (for instance, tonight he had actual hard wood charcoal as opposed to briquettes). Whatever the cause, it’s great to be able to enjoy simple food, well prepared.

We were going to make peanut brittle afterwards, but everybody was stuffed, and I owed this to the blog.

Tomorrow I start teaching math class again. We learned in the last that having the class five or six times a week was likely too much, so we’re cutting back to every other day and placing more emphasis on homework.

April 25, 2010   Comments Off

Fun with words: Oh, Henry

I’m reading (on my iPad, hooray), Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove. I thought that perhaps I was descending into idiocy, but in researching this post I was gratified to learn that even admirer Edith Wharton found his later works to be nearly incomprehensible. The language and the narrative are similar: challenging, opaque. Beyond the veil the book offers convincing psychological clarity and the pleasure of enjoying of the brilliant use of English.

I don’t wish to write about the book, however; just one single word in it, whose use was, in its time, likely common: “I engage myself to you for ever,” (Kate Croy, wishing to commit herself to marriage, or at least, maybe, the possibility, if only… yes, it’s complicated).

I wondered at the unusual employment of engage. Of course people who are affianced are described as “engaged,” but I had never seen the word used in the active voice—that is, one expects to see “I am engaged” not “I engage myself.” The iPad’s built-in dictionary offered no definition supporting this use, but in the etymological note it stated that the word is derived from one meaning, “to pawn or pledge something,” later coming to mean “to pawn or pledge oneself,” and, by mid 16th century, “enter into a contract”. The word later comes to describe meeting in combat, and then finally reaches the modern, and very much abstracted from the original, meaning of “to be involved with.” The original meaning is nearly obliterated except in the vestigial remnant of “they are engaged [affianced]“1.

Other words of pledging develop special uses (e.g., “commit troops to combat”) but I find that the history of this word to be curious. Originally it focused on the pledging a thing, or oneself, to another, but eventually the focus of the word moved from the one promising to the effect of the promise on its recipient in the interaction of the two parties. Consider, for example, “they were engaged in a discussion,” or “the two gears engaged.”

I was surprised to see that this word is not Latinate. It comes from French through German. Cursory further digging suggests that, accounting for the shift from Germanic w to French g, (en)gage is related to wage and wed2.

1 I’m not sure what dictionary the iPad uses or I would attribute this etymology. It appears to be the same dictionary in OS X’s Dictionary.app.

2 Again, as per Dictionary.app.

April 24, 2010   2 Comments

Some UNIX Marbles

Some tricks I’ve used recently.

  1. Suppose you want to enable non-interactive (that is, “passwordless”) login to a remote host using ssh. This happens all the time, right? If you follow the usual steps, or the man page, there is a good chance it will fail on you without explanation. This is because ssh silently croaks when it discovers that your ~/.ssh directory is group or globally readable. To fix it, just
    chmod 700 ~/.ssh

    and you’re done. Some helpful links:

  2. File transfer (ftp, scp, http, whatever) interrupted from a known host? Resume file copy using rsync. You just supply the –progress argument point rsync to the source file. Found this tip at a defunct Danish blog. Sample usage:

    rsync --progress --rsh=ssh "joe@joesdiner.com:mydir/myfile" .

    Note that the destination is required, so to resume in the working directory use . as above. rsync will compare the two files and resume copying at the break.

  3. Setting (or spoofing) your Machine Address Code (MAC) on OS X? Use the ifconfig command, passing lladdr with your new, colon-delimited MAC. This needs to be done as root, so sudo is required. Sample usage:

    sudo ifconfig en0 lladdr 00:11:22:33:44:55

    Used on OS X 10.6 but I’m sure it works on any POSIX system. I looked this up for a friend because his, er, off-brand (Iraqi) router insisted that his MAC was invalid, so it couldn’t be entered into the MAC filter table. Odd. Found here.

April 23, 2010   Comments Off

Leave, Day 3

A busy Day 3 (events from 2 April 2010).

We got up early, and @agentwool made German Apple Pancakes for breakfast. Around 10:15, we headed into Tacoma. Our first stop was Sushi Revolution. The kids love sushi, and they especially love choosing their own food from the conveyor belt system, pointing out which plate for you grab from the parade of Japanese food (mostly sushi, but there are other bite-sized offerings). The plates cost $1.00 to $3.50 or so, in .50 cent increments, with the price being color coded—cheap, you would think, but the children will eat prodigious quantities and are attracted to the most ostentatious and expensive plates. A lot of the sushi is very non-traditional and geared toward American palates (anything with Krab™, cream cheese, avocado, or smoked salmon), which doesn’t interest me, but some of the innovations involving seared (but still raw) tuna or salmon prepared nigiri style and then drizzled with a wasabi sauce are definitely winners.

Most of us selected the plate of cream puffs for dessert.

From there, we headed to the Tacoma Museum of Glass. I was worried that the kids would hate it right from the start, so we headed to the “hot shop” immediately, where we watched a group of artists collaborate to make a giant glass “tire” by repeatedly heating, spinning and blowing. The furnace was hot enough that the visible light was painful to look at. The kids were actually very interested in this process and watched it for a long time. This is the only area of the museum where pictures are allowed, save for the obligatory gift shop.

The museum is pretty small, and there were only two galleries for display. The first we went to was the Kids Design exhibit, followed by a gallery dedicated to Tlingit artist Preston Singletary. The first exhibit showed glass recreations of fanciful creatures sketched by children. The recreations were very faithful, copying every defect and juvenile asymmetry. In that, they were technically impressive, but still fun. The kids liked it. They didn’t like the exhibit of Tlingit glasswork nearly as much, although they did find a few things to ooh and ah over. I could have spent more time here but it was testing the stamina of the kids. There is some beautiful work here, although I was forced to wonder about the artist’s attitudes about other aspects of the advanced industrial technology needed to manufacture these expressions of traditional Native American art. I noticed some of the same artwork on display at SeaTac when I left the country through there a few days later.

A worthwhile visit, but here is a little secret: the best part of the museum is actually free: the bridge over the highway between the museum and the courthouse which is decorated with some of their best pieces.

Pictures were taken, but not many thanks to the restrictions on photography.

April 20, 2010   Comments Off