"So there are Oliphaunts. But no one at home will ever believe me."
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Portable Document Philes


“How do you change a pedophile?”


“I have something that I need to make changes to. A pedophile.”

“Ahhh… I’m not sure what you mean?”

“You know, these pedophiles? Or what do you call them? PD files?”

“Oh. You mean Adobe Reader files? Like PDF?”

“Yes, yes. Pedophiles.”

Beware, the PD Bear.

May 20, 2010   Comments Off

Caveman Grammar

I just taught what was quite likely the best 25 minute introduction to grammar, ever, and I made it all up on the fly.

I did it by describing language as developing first from the caveman’s desire to name things, and from that came the first NOUNS. So any word that names a thing—objects, people, ideas—is a NOUN. Next cavemen wanted to describe those things by size, shape, or color, so the ADJECTIVE was invented. Eventually it wasn’t enough to talk about things, and people needed to talk about what things-with-names were doing, so VERBS were created. Just like the ADJECTIVE was needed to NOUN, the ADVERB was needed to describe the VERB’S activity.

It may sound simple, but those guys learned more about the parts of speech in 25 minutes that they had in four years of high school. They were able to identify word roles easily where 30 minute earlier they couldn’t even say with confidence what the parts of speech were.

Of course language almost certainly did not develop that way at all, but that’s some effective pedagogy.

May 19, 2010   Comments Off

The Iron Kitty

Some other people have, against my recommendation, adopted the feral kitty that used to live under my CHU. It’s pretty aggressive about getting attention, and attention in its mind means food. It tried to run into my CHU once but I stomped my feet and it backed off. I think my neighbor, before he left, was feeding it.

They claim it will kill mice, but I’m pretty sure that the cat is smart enough to know that mousing in 120°F heat is hard work and its a lot easier to sit inside the air conditioned hard shell tent and wait to be fed tuna and leftover chicken.

They have named the cat Margaret Scratcher.

That is all.

May 17, 2010   Comments Off

Blue Screen vs. Lethe

If this is true—and I think it is up in the air whether this is pure quackery or sound science—it would explain a lot here. There are many people who complain of the same problem, being tired and not being able to fall asleep. Virtually everybody uses a computer a night to read, watch movies or TV, etc. It’s sort of a chronic thing. I had always attributed to general stress and vague apprehension.

This is a big, long article in CNN that doesn’t seem have much science to it.  Theoretically, the light emanating from electronic screens is different from the light from a lamp that bounces off a paper book or a nonglowing screen like the Kindle. Much is made of blueness.

(From “Althouse: So now there’s this theory that the iPad is going to cause insomnia but the Kindle will not.“, via Ann Althouse.)

May 16, 2010   Comments Off

Separation anxiety

Curious fact: in every position I’ve held in my current job (that’s three), my top assistant has been relieved of his position. The first one, I had nothing to do with, although I was immensely relieved that he managed to talk himself out of his job, since I was new, unknown, and didn’t want to rock the boat. I was involved with the second two, although my authority doesn’t extend to actually making personnel positions about people of relative stature.

In my fourth job here, I’ve inherited the local problem. We had to actually make up a position for him since he couldn’t be entrusted with genuine responsibility. Everyone knows he is doomed, his career over, a condemned man walking, except maybe for himself.

Well, after our chat tonight, I’m sure he knows.

Man I put on a good performance—a virtuoso negative professional developmental counseling. Tough! But fair!

Yeah, it’s harder than you would think to let people go here.

May 15, 2010   Comments Off

The escape

So Valve releases Steam for the Mac. Steam is like an iTunes Store for video games. That is, video games that work on a traditional computer, not on your iPod/iPhone/iPad. Of which the iTunes Store has tens of thousands. Steam is a big deal for Windows computers, and now that they have come to the Mac, Valve giving you access to your games on OS X even if you originally bought them for Windows. Classy. Browsing their store, they don’t have a lot for the Mac right now, but there were a few on sale that tempted me, until I remembered that I had stockpiled a bunch of games to play to while away endless hours here. And I have barely touched them. So I guess I’m good on games for the next few years.

Except for Wii games. And DS games. And iPhone/iPad games.

Anyway, I have to go play these games now or else I wasted the money. It’s like work.

May 13, 2010   Comments Off

Hang together, or just hang

There is so much news to process as things fall apart. I feel like I could spend the whole day reading and by the end of the day events will have rendered half the facts obsolete. Here in Iraq, I spend an hour and a half to two hours teaching math on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and I feel exhausted by the end of those days. I have no idea, none, how I managed to hang on through the same class for six weeks, teaching six days a week, not three last November and December. That whole time seems like a blur to me, and it was some of my busiest time during my “day job” as well.

Well, at least John Ellis has time to read and ask the right questions. He is consistently very good on the financialization crisis. My news reader’s gutter of “to read” articles is consistently of links from his blog.

Looming over the financial crisis of the developed world is the larger question of social cohesion. Given what is coming (higher taxes, sharply reduced services and a much diminished sense of financial security), do countries hold together or do they come apart. Clearly, “social cohesion” is being tested in Greece. The Irish, on the other hand, are holding together well, at least so far.

The social cohesion of the United States will soon be tested. Higher taxes and sharply reduced services are coming soon. Expectations of a brighter future are evaporating. The question that hangs out there is whether we are Greece or Ireland.

(From “Social Cohesion“, via Ellisblog!.)

May 12, 2010   Comments Off

Like Ripkin

I haven’t been sleeping well so I was almost relieved when I got back to my CHU after teaching math for two hours at the end of the day to find that the Internet had gone down and I wouldn’t have to make a post. Then of course nature kicked in and I had to fiddle with it until it started working again.

The math class had an interesting problem on some of the homework I had assigned. I knew how to figure it out using a brute force-like approach but I stumbled for a good ten or fifteen minutes trying to figure out an elegant way to explain the problem: something simple enough to be understood while providing a good foundation for future reasoning, rather than a simple trick based on memorization or a pseudo-formula magic incantation. The problem was “If it takes 5 men working 4 days to load 5000 tons, how long does it take 8 men to load 10,000 tons?”

Well, the elegant way is to figure it takes one man four days to load 1000 tons, or “1000 tons per man per 4 days” which is trivially rewritten as “250 tons per man per day.” Now, you multiply the whole thing by 8 men: 2000 tons per day. Then 10,000 tons divided by 2000 tons/day is (10,000 tons/2000 tons) * 1 day, or 5 days. It looks a lot better written out because you can see the units build up and then cancel out, which is how you know you have the right answer. The units in this case are: tons, days, and men.

May 10, 2010   Comments Off

Scrabble for iPad

Scrabble on the iPad has become a part of the morning ritual along with the illy café from the moka pot. Sometimes games take days, other times we decide that we have wrecked the board with too many tightly played words and start over. Sometimes we forget whose turn it is and only realize after the next person goes.

The game has a terrible built in dictionary, accepting words like, NE, QI, QUOD, ENVIRO, ZINE and AE. But we aren’t playing seriously so it is tolerated. The official Scrabble dictionary is only about 660k, and this is a licensed version, so I don’t see why they couldn’t include that.

They need to add the ability to store multiple in-progress games, and a customizable dictionary. Worth the $9.99 price, though.

May 10, 2010   Comments Off

Iraq Shi’ite blocs ally against Allawi

This is, maybe, the worst outcome for the Iraqi elections.

Iraq’s two big Shi’ite political coalitions, one led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and one whose leaders have close ties to Iran, agreed on Tuesday on an alliance to form a single bloc in parliament, officials said… the union of Maliki’s State of Law, which took 89 seats in the March 7 parliamentary election, and the Iraqi National Alliance which won 70, could also heighten tension.

The Shi’ite parties have been trying to get as many candidates—and in some cases, actual election winners—disqualified as possible on the basis of Ba’athist ties. In principle I support de-Ba’athification but not when used as a political lever to shift the outcome of an election. My understanding is that this alliance may not be legal under the interpretation of parliamentary rules that were in place prior to the election.

Also, another reason to be grateful we don’t have a Parliament of the United States.

(From “Iraq Shi’ite blocs to join forces in parliament
| Reuters

May 6, 2010   Comments Off