Monday, December 31, 2012

Did I ever say why it's best to take the switch after door number two is opened?

I mean, did I ever say it here?  I said it elsewhere, but that has since been lost to the aether that deleted websites disappear into.  It doesn't look like I said it here, but sometimes I forget to tag things or tag them slightly off.

Anyway, the story goes like this:

You're on a gameshow, there are three doors to choose from, one of them has a prize behind it, the other two do not (or have crappy prizes as opposed to the grand prize.)  Where the prize is is determined at random with each door having an equal chance of success.  As such it doesn't really matter which door you pick because they all have the same odds, for the sake of simplicity, and thus not writing this out three times, we'll say you picked door number 1.

The odds are as follows:

There is an equal chance that it is behind each of the doors.
1 chance it is behind door number 1, you win.
1 chance it is behind door number 2, you lose.
1 chance it is behind door number 3, you lose. 
That adds up to three chances, one you win, two you lose, thus the very simple odds that there's a 1 in three chance you win and a 2 in three chance that you lose.
Now, at this point you know for sure that one of the two doors you didn't pick doesn't have the prize because there is only one prize and two doors.  One of those doors will be opened.  It will not contain the prize.  The door you picked will not be opened no matter what.  Now at this point we don't know which place it is, but we do know that the odds of it being behind each door is the same, and we do know that there are two possible outcomes.

Now a 1/3 chance is the same as a 2/6 chance and it's going to be easier for us to consider the possible outcomes if we think of it as six chances, with each door having two chances.

Before I get to the odds, it's important to point two things out, the first is that if both of the chosen doors are empty there's an equal chance that they open either.  If there were something funky going on I'd probably need something more complex than upping it to 2/6.  The second thing is that, since they can't open the chosen door, if the prize is in one of the unchosen doors they have to open the other one, there's no choice involved.

1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 2, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 3, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 2, and they open door number 3, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 2, and they open door number 3, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose 
The odds haven't changed, if you add it up you'll still find that there's a 2/6=1/3 chance it's behind any given door.  The odds you win are still 1 in 3, the odds you lose are still two in three.
Then they open door number two showing it is empty/contains a non-grand prize.

Now we have new information.  We know that it wasn't behind door number two, so we can cross those off our list of chances.
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 2, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 3, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 2, and they open door number 3, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 2, and they open door number 3, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose 
We know that door number three wasn't opened so we can cross that off our list of chances.
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 2, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 3, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose 
What does that leave us with?  Well, see for yourself:
1 chance it is behind door number 1, and they open door number 2, you win
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose
1 chance it is behind door number 3, and they open door number 2, you lose 
So, three chances, count them up.  One that it's behind door number 1, two that it's behind door number 3.  Odds you win 1/3, odds you lose 2/3, if you get the chance to switch doors you could take it because you double your odds in doing so. 
You still might lose because there is that one in three chance it was behind door number one all along, but it's twice as likely that it's behind door number three.
And that's how it works.

Another way of looking at it is that they opened door number two, so we only need to consider the possibilities in which they opened door number two because the other ones definitely did not happen, which leaves us with the same three chances, and thus the same odds.

Some people have real difficulty with this.  Part of it is that they're not taking into account that their chosen door will never be opened, part of it is that they're not taking into account how the new information interacts with the odds (if it was behind door number three there was a 100% chance door number two would be opened, where if it was behind door number one there was only a 50% chance) part of it is that they think that if the two were equally likely to contain the prize at the beginning they ought to be equally likely at the end, and for some people it's because they think if there are two options (Aliens will invade at 12:56 this afternoon or they won't) the two options must be equally likely.

And, it should go without saying but sometimes needs to be said anyway, if instead of door number 1 you'd picked 2 or 3 the math would stay the same.  Ditto if the opposite unchosen door were opened.  If you replace every instance of "Door number 1" with whatever door you really chose, every instance of "Door number 2" with whatever door was really opened, and every instance of "Door number 3" with whatever unchosen door wasn't opened.  It'll all come out the same way.  You should switch.

But that assumes that the odds really are as stated in the problem, they will not always be.  In fact, if memory serves, on the game show that gave rise to the problem it was more complicated than that.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Social Networking" is not a noun

One might think that I'm a stickler for grammar, after all I did write a whole post on the subjunctive mood (first there, then copied to here), but I'm really not.  I'm generally happy to let language evolve in whichever direction it pleases and welcome new grammatical constructions rather quickly.  However some things do irk me.

See the title.  That is all.

Though you might want context, in which case that isn't all.

I have satellite TV, and for the longest time that was something that you only had in the middle of nowhere, and if you should ever drive through the middle of nowhere keep an eye out and you'll probably see a sign of how far satellite TV has come because there's a sort of icon of middle of nowhere progress that always seems to be there if you drive long enough and keep your eyes open.  That icon being the modern satellite dish attached to an outdated one which simply dwarfs it.  The new one is small enough for a person to carry around, the old one is the size of a car or bigger.

Now a lot more people have satellite TV, but it is still something used by people in the middle of nowhere. Which means that if you have to reach people in the middle of nowhere for your business to work, putting commercials on satellite TV is a pretty good idea.  These commercials can get very annoying after a certain saturation point, and some are annoying from the fist time you see them.  Especially considering that I do not live in the middle of nowhere and so the commercial, whichever one it may be, is directed at people who are very much not me.

Now before we get into that, let's get back to "Social Networking".  It's a verb.  I'd say take it as a two word verb but if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty networking is the verb and "social" is describing what kind of networking it is.

It can be used like a noun, it can be used like an adjective, it can be used in all kinds of ways.  Like "swimming".  Swimming is a verb.  ("I was swimming," "She is swimming," "He had been swimming," "It will have been swimming for two hours by the time we get there.")  But it can be used as a noun ("I am a fan of swimming," "She chose swimming over riding," "The line between swimming and floating is sometimes hard to define."  "Swimming is good.")  Or an adjective, for example a swimming cap, "swimming" modifies the noun "cap".

So, if you're wondering whether you're using the term "social networking" properly, just replace it with the word "swimming" and see if the resulting sentence makes your brain do a grammatical "What the fuck?"

In particular some constructions call for a noun, an actual noun not a verb functioning as one.  The one in question is "this [blank]" or "this whole [blank]".

With the right modifier inserted between "this" and "[blank]" the blank can be filled with a verb acting as a noun.  For example, "I really like this sideways swimming" works where, "I really like this swimming," doesn't.  The reason is that "this swimming" implies that there's such a thing as "that swimming," which there can't be because "swimming" here is functioning as a noun that basically means, "the abstract idea of the activity denoted by the verb 'to swim'," and thus covers all swimming so there can be no "that swimming," as distinguished from "this swimming" because "swimming" covers both.  By inserting a limiting modifier (example above: sideways) you can have an understood "that" which "this [modifier] [blank]" is distinguished from (in the example above it is understood to be all non-sideways swimming.)

In general saying "this [verb functioning as a noun]" as an object of a sentence will make you sound like someone speaking English as a second language (and one who has only just recently experienced the verb).  I say in general because there are exceptions, but most of the time it makes it seem like this conversation has just taken place:
"I really like this... this... What do you call this?"
"I really like this 'swimming'."
The same isn't really true of "this whole [blank]" because the "whole" negates the idea that there is a "that [blank]" to be distinguished from "this [blank]".  The "whole" means that you're talking about all of the [blank] which means that the "this" isn't distinguishing from "that" but instead pointing to something, a real full fledged noun.  Until you get to one the sentence isn't over.  "I really like this whole swimming..." is not a full sentence.  I needs a noun at the end to close it otherwise it becomes, "This whole swimming what?"

Here is a list of things that would work, it is in no way complete, just a list of examples:
I really like this whole swimming concept.
I really like this whole swimming club.
I really like this whole swimming idea.
I really like this whole swimming site.
I really like this whole swimming trend.
I really like this whole swimming pool.
I really like this whole swimming thing.
Yes, "thing" will work.  And it's the go-to word if the reason for saying "I really like this whole [blank]" is to have more emphasis than, "I really like [blank]," while communicating the same concept.

Now, back to satellite TV.

I don't know much about HughesNet beyond the fact that it is satellite internet intended for people who would otherwise be limited to dial-up or nothing as a result of living in the middle of nowhere.  Their sales pitch seriously boils down to, "We're not the best, but given your limited options we're better than the alternative."  Except that I don't live in the middle of nowhere, and my options aren't as limited as the commercial assumes they must be and I can very much get better based on where I live.

The good news is that they didn't use "whole" at least the only partial transcript I can find says they didn't and I'm not about to search through all of their commercials just to double check on one word.

[Added] Nope transcript was wrong, corrections below in blue. [/added]

Anyway, every time I hear, "I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking," I want to scream out, "THING!  You're just getting into this social networking thing, or trend, or maybe you're just getting into social networking."  Because unless she's using "social" as the limiting modifier to distinguish from all of the other types of networking she was totally into before she got a decent internet connection while she was living in the middle of nowhere where the spaces are wide open and dial up seemed like the only option, she can't stop the sentence there.  English does not work that way.  If she dropped the "this whole" it would be fine, if she stuck any noun at the end to the sentence it would at least make grammatical sense if not logical sense (I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking donkey.)  But no, they had to leave it screwy-like.  And it hurts, like having to listen to someone play off notes on an out of tune instrument that has a tendency to resemble nails on a chalkboard.

"I'm just finally getting into social networking." - - - - - - - - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking." - - - - - Is nonsense
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking thing." - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking trend." - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking table." - Is nonsense but at least works grammatically.

Seriously, use the "swimming" test.  If someone says:
"I'm just finally getting into this whole swimming," it's a fragment.

This swimming what?  This swimming pool, this swimming meet, this swimming club, this swimming competition, this swimming retreat, this swimming mood, this swimming what? (Add a "whole" to all of those.)

"Social Networking" is not a noun.  It can function as one, but only in certain situations.  "I like/dislike social networking," uses it as a noun just fine.  "I like/dislike this whole social networking," does not.  The same could be said of using it with an article.  "I like/dislike a/the social networking," doesn't function as a sentence either.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

(image post) Playing with a picture (of a tree)

So it may have come to your attention that I have tendency to take pictures, and then play with them.  Sometimes I play with pictures that I didn't take, which can involve scaling in creative and hopefully semi-artistic ways.

And recently, while my camera was missing, I used the built in webcam to take a rather crappy picture of my tree.

Like this but bigger:
I do believe you can click on it to see it in full size.

But the point isn't the image, it's playing with the image.  Now I still haven't accomplished what I want to with it, probably in part because I'm not sure what I want to accomplish, but it apparently involves scaling it up eight times.

Which looks quite ugly if you don't play around with it somehow.  Don't believe me?  It looks like this (single section shown actual size) if one uses the simplest method of scaling:

And like this, if one uses cubic interpolation:

But I would rather have look something like this:

I say "something like" because I still don't feel like it's there yet, and, no, I don't have any idea where there is.  I do note that there's too much darkening at the center of lights and a loss of apparent color in them.

Anyway, along the way I've produced things such as this:

And this (click for full size, there's too much left to right variation to crop as much as the others):

For those who refuse to click, or in case something goes wrong, I give you Left:

And Right:

Also of note was this thing that doesn't really line up with the others:

And this one as well:

And, um, yeah.  Image post, so I don't have to write a lot.

An update on School

So this semester was different for me.  Previously it had been all about depression.  When my coping mechanisms for depression worked I passed, when they didn't the result was abject failure.  The material didn't really matter, it was just whether my methods for coping with depression were up for the level of depression I was facing at the time.

There was also a level importance to the way the class was graded.  If the grading is based entirely on in class tests then I'm likely to do well unless it's closed book translation (I don't think it matters how long I study, I'm always going to need a dictionary at my side to translate properly.)  If the grading is based in large part on homework, or essays or other stuff done out of class then it depended entirely on how well I was coping with the depression.

This semester, early in the semester, we found a medication that got my depression under control only for the ADHD that the depression had been mostly* masking to suddenly come into full force and let me tell you that shit is impossible to deal with.  I'm sure that for someone who has practice it's not so bad, but I have basically no experience with it and the result has been zero control over what I can focus on.

I can focus like you wouldn't believe, but what it's on tends to be fairly random.  And without the ability to bring focus to schoolwork the schoolwork doesn't get done.

Anyway, I've talked about all of this before.  Here's the update.

I just remembered that I could check my grades online and that they should probably be in by now.  Of four classes I've got one outright failure, one which isn't in yet and I'll get a qualified incomplete (I have two weeks to find a way to focus and do a semester's worth of work) and two that are listed as incomplete which, in theory, gives me a lot more time.

So that's where I stand.  I think it's only my second failing grade so far since leaving high school, but if I don't  find a way to focus soon it'll be joined by three more.


*There had been signs before, going back as long as second grade, but under the weight of depression ADHD wasn't able to put out any definitive signs and what tended to happen is that a sign would come someone would say, "Looks like he might have ADD/ADHD (which one depended on the era, mostly)," and then after paying more attention say, "Not enough to make a diagnosis, guess he doesn't have it."

Friday, December 28, 2012

My spam's spam

So I've discovered something vaguely interesting, spam really likes spam.  Remember a while back when I made a post composed of nothing but the spam I had gotten thus far which consisted mostly of posts with message (often a lack of understanding of the difference between a lowercase omega and a lowercase W) followed by some form of, "Also, visit my site [link to spammer's site.]"

So I collected up all the spam, removed the "Also visit my site" bit, and posted it as a post.  What's interesting is that it seems to have become the most loved post by the spambots themselves.  Oh they're occasionally interested in depression or Greek Mythology, or "what I've been doing for the last week" (need to get back to that), but mostly the seem to like other spam.  A lot.

This is the spam that my spam has gotten:

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[Editor's note: these two were slightly less than twelve hours apart.]


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[Editor's note: lieben is a German word meaning "To love" and it does not, at the time of this writing, appear on Stealing Commas.  Obviously it will once this post goes live.]


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[Editor's note: This comment was posted twice within the same minute.  Since both were exactly the same I'm only showing it once.]


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[Editor's note: Is your difficulty posting the same comment repeatedly?]


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[Editor's note: Seriously, mix it up a bit.  Maybe change out cousin with sibling or him with her or something.  This is just getting repetitive.]


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[Editor's note: Will benefit, will have benefited, not will be benefited.  I've been ignoring grammatical problems because they are many, but this is seriously... there is no passive of benefit, and trying to put it in future passive means that I'm not sure if it's meant to be simple future or future perfect.]


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[Editor's note: Nor do I dear spambot, nor do I.  What about a post full of spam draws in the spam?  One would think that it would set off "Too much competition" bells and the algorithm would decide that bandwidth was better used elsewhere.  A lone spambot in an otherwise active thread might be able to hook a few marks, but in a place that's full of spam already it's got basically no chance.  Perhaps you were just drawn by the siren song of kindred spirits.]


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[Editor's note: Good job changing it up some, but see above for the grammar.]


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[Editor's note: Again, credit for the use of changing up some words, but now that you've tried this twice, I have to ask, what social networks belong to you?  Do you own facebook?  Because I heard that stock took a nosedive, then again maybe it recovered.  I really don't pay much attention to stocks and bonds.]


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[Editor's note: Yes, many of the responses do seem to be from unthinking machines, but the only one visible was from me noting that the post already had spam of its own.  So, um... yeah.  Not the best way to get into my good graces.  Second, yes, I could do that.  That is indeed within my power to do.]


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[Editor's note: Punctuation: understand it you do not.]


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[Editor's note: I think I'll stick with the Texans who don't try to trick me into going to their weightloss sites, thank you very much.]


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[Editor's note: Credit for not being exactly the same.  As for your questions, see above.]


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Blink (Dr. Who episode) Did they do this?

Right now I'm doing post blizzard clean up and then I have to head off to an appointment that I was going to reschedule after finding out my grandmother was dying but then didn't reschedule when I found out she died so the planned visit today was impossible which means two things.  The first is that I don't have a lot of time the second is that I don't have a lot of deep insight to offer beyond the fact that watching The Living Daylights (link to me talking to the movie) can take some of the edge off after a loss.

But what I do have is a question (remember I recently saw "Blink" for the first time), and the question is, "Did they do this?" I'm guessing the answer is no.  They should have done it, it would have been a great idea for them to do it, depending on their relationship to various people who put out DVDs they may have had the ability to do it, but I don't think they did it.  But sometimes people do in fact do things that they should have done, so they may have done this.

What is "this"?

The message the Doctor sends to Sally Sparrow in Blink, spread across hidden extras in seventeen DVDs, the only seventeen DVDs Sally Sparrow owns, has no connection to the rest of the episode.  It could have been recorded well ahead of time, well before the actor* playing Sally was even cast.  And it could have been put as hidden extras on 17 DVDs with no apparent connection except that they're the kinds of DVDs that someone like Sally Sparrow, a person who only has 17 DVDs, would have in her collection.

This could have been done well before the episode was filmed.  I could have been the first thing that was recorded when Martha was cast as the new companion and filtered into the newly released DVDs, piece by piece, leading up to the first airing of the episode Blink.

And if it were done it would have been awesome.

That's the "this".

Did they do this?


*I try not to use "actress" because it just means "Female actor" and since there's no corresponding word meaning "Male actor" it gives the impression that women can't act, or at least can't act well enough to be called actors without a special suffix separating them from all the normal actors (who happen to be male.)

Some words will never be recovered (I don't see "Princess" going away any time soon) but others have been already (you rarely hear about "poetesses") and some should be (goddess means "female god" so there should be no problem calling Aphrodite a god because by definition she is one.  One of the more scary Greek gods regardless of gender, rather unlike the Roman Venus where she was pretty much tamed.)

Also I don't avoid lesbian because first it's not an "ess" word and second every time someone uses that word it's sort of a mini-tribute to Sappho (who came out of a culture with an idea of sexuality so different from our own that she might not have understood the concept of lesbian, since sex with females and sex with males were not seen as all that different in the culture, the difference was who was in control - but why quibble?) and since we didn't manage to preserve her work beyond a handful of fragments into the modern era (in spite of her being considered one of the two greatest poets of all time and being elevated to the status of Muse upon death, the only mortal so elevated) the least we can do is preserve her effect upon our language.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Living Daylights (Buy this movie)

Ok, so my mother's reaction is "I think I've had enough of this movie," then again for movie-not-related movies she slept through part of it and that could have had negative effects on the viewing.  She would wake up and have no idea what was going on which I think detracts from the experience somewhat.  She definitely liked it at some point in the past because when I said, "The one with the cello," she was sold.

Anyway, part of my reaction was, "Why has it been so long since I watched this movie?"

It is, I say without reservation, one of the best bond movies ever.  There are things that could have improved it, if Judi Dench were playing M then I can see no possible way that could work out badly, but they're from different eras.

I hate his other Bond movie, but this one makes me believe that, at least for this one film, Timothy Dalton is the best Bond ever.

There's a lack of many strong female characters on account of there being a lack of many female characters (especially if you limit yourself to those who appear in multiple sequences) which the movie seems to try to make up for by having Maryam d'Abo go from simple cello player to someone who leads a cavalry charge, wins a fistfight while driving, and is generally awesome.

John Rhys-Davies is always fun, as is his relationship with Bond.

Anyway, The Living Daylights:

The only possible excuses for not buying it are these:

  1. You already have it.
  2. You're as poor as I am.
  3. Both.

I've linked to it three times, you have to get it, that's like a rule or something.

An update: My grandmother died.

Still waiting to hear back about whether or not I can change an appointment I have tomorrow so I can go see her with the rest of my family, but that doesn't matter anymore.

I am now without any grandmothers.

Until today, until this evening, I didn't even know she was sick.

What I want to happen in newsrooms

This came to me in the shower, before I got the news of the last post, and before I wrote the post before that too.  In fact the plan was for this immediately to follow from "Plan for blizzards" so I'd come out of the shower, write that post about my day, and then have this fictitious monolog.  Didn't quite work out that way. I'll see what I can remember.


Scene: the main room of the paper of record for a county no one cares about.  It was just bought by someone who can afford to buy a paper with no expectation that there will be a return on the investment.  He's foreign to the local staff, from a different part of the country, with a different accent, and probably different religious and political views.  He's called everyone who works at the paper together for a company wide meeting.  He's about to give a speech.

"You're probably wondering why I bought this paper.  I'm not from around here, where I come from we'd say I'm 'from away' and you're not exactly nationally known.  That's why I bought this paper.  The rest of the country ignores you on the rare occasions they notice you exist.  That means two things.  First it's insulting.  You matter as much as any of them.  Second, it means that you're under the radar and that is a very powerful thing.

"Lasting change needs to come from the bottom up.  It needs to come from the places that people don't notice until it's so firmly rooted that it can't be ignored.  You can change the way news is told, and in so doing change everything.  That is why I bought this paper.  Because you have that power.

"So this is what we're going to do: we're going to tell the truth.  Whether we like the truth or not.  That means you have to know more about what you're talking about then the so-called experts discussing the topic because you need to be able to say when what they're saying is true and when it's false.

"If you're working a religious beat you need to know what the virgin birth is, what the immaculate conception is, and all of the differences between the two are.  You need to know the words contraception and abortifacient mean, the ways in which they are different, what the current position of various churches on each are, what they were a year ago, what they were five years ago, what they were 50 years ago.

"If you don't then someone who is misinformed, or lying, or both, can get away with lying to our readers and that I will not have.

"If someone uses a world you don't know hit the books, look it up, and find out what it means in every possible concept before you even think about writing an article.

"I don't care if you go with 'Trust but verify' or 'Trust no one' but the bottom line is we're not printing anything we haven't checked.

"Sometimes someone you would trust with your life will lie to you, sometimes someone you wouldn't trust with the time of day will tell the plain and simple truth.  In either case you won't know until you check, so everything gets checked.

"And in every case I want the truth right there, not three paragraphs later, not as a correction or an addendum, but right next to what was said.  If people tell the truth then, 'So and so said' quotation, 'Which is true,' if they lied then, 'So and so said,' quotation, 'which is a lie' Period. 'In fact the truth is' whatever the actual truth is.  Or you could reverse it, 'Even though the truth is' the actual truth, 'so and so lied and said,' quotation.  But from now on the actual truth gets put right next to the quotation.

"No he said she said.  'These are the facts, this is what people said' and the 'what people said' includes every true thing being verified as true immediately and every false thing called out as false immediately.  In the same sentence as the quote.

"No matter how much we hate the person telling the truth or like the person who is lying.

"Basically, every section is going to be held to the same standards as the Sports Page.  If the headline on the sports page was, "Yankees supporters say they won the game, Red Sox supporters say they won the game," without telling what the actual score was that writer would be fired before the issue went to print.  The truth is every bit as straightforward as the score of a game and I want our readers to know that they're getting as much truth when report on anything else as they are when we report the score of a game in the Sports Section.

"From now on every single thing we print is checked.  We don't settle for reporting both sides of a story, we dig down and report the actual facts, then tell people those facts, what each side got right, and what each side got wrong."

Or something like that.

And my grandmother is dying

I didn't get the news when it first came out because I was out of the house much of the day, but it's come down to me now.

Which one?  The only one I have left, my father's mother.  Strange thing is, of all of the old people I know, she was the one I always expected to live longest.  Her mind was a labyrinthine maze that sense rarely if ever was communicated from, but she was always active, always in tip top shape, and always lively.  The people she's going to outlive don't seem anywhere near as healthy as she always has, and they never did in my memory.

So if I should seem withdrawn or mopey or whatever, I've got good reason.  This is just a head's up.  If it should seem like I've been hit by an emotional baseball bat, now you know why and you won't have to ask

[Added] She died. [/added]

Plan for blizzards

At some point I need to get back to fiction and fiction related things because that's kind of what the blog has always been about, but this is a sort of real life kind of time when one has to deal with burnt out lightbulbs and giant piles of snow.  Hard to get less fictional than that.

So, blizzards.  They have two defining characteristics: snow, wind.  If an unending supply of snow falls upon you burying your entire house but there's no wind, not a blizzard   If the wind is horrible beyond description but there's no snow, not a blizzard.  You need both.

Now when a meeting was set up for today, neither of us really expected a blizzard.  And thus there was no plan for a blizzard.  


Speaking of, this is the part where I was interrupted by a call from my sister, call was dropped and attempts to get her back have failed but I did hear enough to know that there are, apparently, 27 inches of snow in front of her door.


Back to the narrative.  Here's the problem.  The office I was going to was officially closed at the time of the scheduled meeting.  It was going to be locked, I was going to have to knock on the door to get in.  No problem.  I can knock.

But, blizzard.

So the meeting was, I guess, cancelled.  At least that's how it appears now, but here's the problem: if something is officially closed anyway how do you find out if the thing you're doing there has been called off? All official sources will say it's closed regardless of whether the meeting is on or off because it's officially closed.

I did try to call up, hoping that if he were there he'd hear the ringing and pick up.  But that plan failed because when the office officially closed for the season they turned off the ringer and directed all calls straight to voicemail.

With no, "Hey, how do I find out if the meeting is still on should their be a blizzard," contingency plan the only thing I could really do was go over and check.  I'd say about half an hour into my journey a complete stranger in a pickup truck offered me a ride across the bridge I was about to be crossing and dropped me off within a few minutes of my destination.

He looked, and I say this meaning no offense but instead as an example of not judging people by their appearance (certainly glad I didn't) like central casting sent over generic racist hick.  He works on environmental stuff and so is big into science and by extension math which is one of my fields of study.  His thinking is that you need classics (my other field of study) but you also need to get paid so I should get a job using the math and that will give me the money and leisure necessary to put the study of classics to good use, said use being enjoyment.

He thinks that congress is broken in part because it was set up with the idea of serving one or two terms and then going back to your farm, rather than being a life time plan.

And he thinks that the modern Republican party's entire defining characteristics can be distilled down to, "They don't like having a black guy in office and they want him out.  That's the only thing they care about."

I'm sure there would be more I could say about him, but it was a quick ride and I'll likely never see him again.

Said quick ride shaved an hour off my travel time, which led to a bit of a problem.  The door was supposed to be locked when I got there, but I got there an hour early.  Did no one responding to knocking mean that they weren't showing up at all, or that I was their first meeting of the day and they weren't going to show up until meeting time?

Cue an hour of waiting.

Three cross country skiers went by.

A long while later another two one of them towing what appeared to be a baby carriage on skies.

A long while later a young man and woman speaking what sounded quite Arabic to me but I don't know enough about the Semitic languages to be totally sure.

When they found out the door was locked they went away the way they had come.

I should at some point point out that all of this waiting was not in the wind and the snow.  Outside of the doors was a sheltered area, not an arch, more lintel and jambs (but of concrete) with space to pace that was safe from the wind and snow, but not the cold.  Eventually I gave up on my coatsleeves and was basically hugging myself inside of the coat.

A person and a dog came by.  I heard the dog's name, but have sense forgot about it.  It was female, started with an S, and had multiple syllables.  I thought I'd remember it.

Meeting time came, more knocking, no response.  I'd already decided to give him fifteen minutes in case I was the first meeting and he was running late.  About ten minutes into that I concluded that it was good I hadn't decided to give him longer because the pacing wasn't keeping my temperature up enough , I had started to shiver, teeth chattering, that sort of thing.

When the fifteen minutes came and went,  more knocking, more lack of response I headed home.

I propose a new measure of civilization, only applies to places far enough north or south (or above sea level) to have snow. If the sidewalks are not cleared it's not a civilization.  Because the long walk home didn't feel like I was in civilization.  It felt like I was in a frozen wasteland where the only sure footing was in the tracks of great metal beasts, but if I stood in those tracks I had to constantly keep an eye out to make sure there were none coming lest I be run down by one of them.

At one point, where the sidewalk was separated from the street, I had to decide if I could jump the separator in time should a car come, because taking the sidewalk itself would basically be tantamount to crawling through the snow.  The fact that that was very near the place where I fell into an open manhole one year because the snow had covered over any indication that there was a manhole in the sidewalk, open or otherwise, probably contributed to me not wanting to take the wild untouched sidewalk.

Anyway, this whole ordeal could have been skipped if either of us, two or three weeks ago when we scheduled the appointment, had thought to ask, "Ok, but what if there's a blizzard?"

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Collective bargaining, staying competitive, and cross company solidarity

Say, for a moment, that you work for a company that's going under.  It's been on the way to going under since it got bought by new people and put under new management, new management that doesn't know how to manage.  This mismanagement has been driving the company into the ground for a while now and it's no longer a question of if the company will go out of business, but instead when.

This doesn't really bother the new management because the way executive compensation works these day's they'll get big fat paychecks when the business is shuttered.  It does bother everyone else who works for the company because they'll be out of jobs.

What might bother the new management somewhat is if they make the papers for putting the company out of business, what they could use at this point is a scapegoat.

Now, enter union negotiations.  Unions are, basically, the reason that we didn't replace slavery with "freedom in name only" because what every company wants is a way to produce whatever it they produce, or provide whatever service it is they provide, at lower cost.  The easiest way to do that is the human element, pay people less, make fewer people work longer hours, and if someone gets their arm chopped off at the job ditch them (they can't do the job anymore) and hire someone new.  So on, so forth.  Also children make excellent laborers.  They can crawl into tight spaces, they've got energy, and they're little so you can push them around without being worried about being pushed back.

Pay low enough wages, get the workers to buy from the company store, and eventually you own them.  They have to work for you in hopes of scraping together enough money to pay back the debt they owe to you.

The reason that worked is because any one worker vs. a company is a case of company wins, worker loses.  It's sort of like walking out of school.  If a single student stands up in the middle of class and says, "I'm fed up, I'm leaving," and walks out then the student is given detention, or suspended, or what have you.  If every single student in the school did it, well at my high school I seem to remember that being round about a thousand students.  You can't stick a thousand students in detention, and suspending them will shut down the entire school.  You wouldn't be punishing them you'd be giving the whole school an extra holiday.  And unlike a snow day it doesn't get tacked onto the end of the year.

That's how unions work, one shit shoveler versus the lord of the manor and you end up with a shit shoveler in the stockade.  Every single shit shoveler or potential shit shoveler vs the lord of the manor and pretty soon it starts to stink, and then you get a lord of the manor who is very concerned with what he can do to get the shit shovelers back to work.

As I said, enter union negotiations.  Tell one employee you're cutting back their pay and upping their hours and there's not much they can do about it, but with a union you're not just dealing with one employee you're dealing with everyone in that line of work, and that gives them much more leverage.  There is something they can do.  They can slap Twisted Sister in the 8-track player and say, "We're not gonna take it!" which is also known as a strike.  The company grinds to a halt, and until the two sides agree no one gets paid.

But think back to the beginning, this is a company that's about to go under anyway and the people in charge are looking for a scapegoat.  They want a strike because then the headlines wont read that they killed the company, they'll read that the union did.

From a management perspective the best thing they can do is offer the union a shitty deal in an attempt to induce a strike.  If they get a strike then they blame the company's demise on the union, if they don't get a strike... well that's when things get interesting.

If they don't get a strike then it means that the union agreed to the shitty contract.  It's a precedent.

You see wages are negotiated based on what other people in the same business are paid.  If you want to walk in on negotiation between a postal employee's union and their management one of the first things you want to do before walking into the room is find out what UPS and FedEx are paying they're employees because it will come up in the negotiation.

If you want to walk into a negotiation between a doughnut shop's management and doughnut maker's union and understand where they're getting their numbers from, you have to find out what the other doughnut shops are paying their doughnut makers.

This cuts both ways.  The union will say that they should be paid as much as the people in the same profession who are paid more than they are because otherwise employees will just switch to the company that pays higher.

Management will insist that to stay competitive they have to pay the members of the union as little as the lowest paying competitors pay their employees because if they don't keep costs low prices will rise, sales will fall, and the company will collapse.

Staying competitive is the argument in favor of pretty much any case of arguments for "Belt tightening" that there ever is.  Have to cut back your pay to stay competitive, have to cut back your benefits to stay competitive, have to cut back your [whatever] to stay competitive.  And the way that they make the argument is to point to another company, a competitor, where the workers have it worse.

So if the union decides to take the shitty deal then all of a sudden the management, who probably has their fingers in a lot of other companies in the same area (have you looked at the boards of directors of various companies and seen the overlap?) has given every company in an even remotely related field an argument in favor of making their unions swallow shitty contracts.  "Company A is doing it and we won't be able to stay competitive unless we sink to their level."

Company A is soon to go out of business, but the union at Company B might not know that.  And that's all it takes, one other company renegotiating their contracts between when Company A's union takes the shitty deal and when Company A goes out of business, and all of a sudden the bar has been lowered.

Once Company A goes out of business, as it inevitably will, it can't be used to argue, "You have take this shitty deal so we can stay competitive," but Company B is still in business, and they took the shitty deal to so they can be used to make that argument.  And then the race to the bottom begins.

It's win-win really.  If there's a strike then they have their scapegoat, if there isn't a strike then they've just managed to lower the bar to "shitty contract" level.

Because in the end it's all connected.  If employees at UPS and FedEx suddenly accepted much worse compensation packages you can bet that the postal employees would find themselves screwed over the next time their contract came up for renegotiation.

If one union caves, it makes things that much harder for all remaining unions in that sector.

Of course, sometimes concessions are necessary to stay competitive, sometimes the workers do have to decide between a worse deal than they want and no job at all.

But that's not what I was talking about here, because that's not what's on my mind.

You know your company is going under.  You know that whether you sign the contract or not you'll soon be out of a job.  If you do you might stay employed a little bit longer and shunt some of the blame away from yourself but you'll also be harming everyone who does your job in other companies, the other companies you'll have to look for work in once your job goes away.  If you don't you'll probably become unemployed sooner, get the blame that belongs to others shoved on you, but you won't lower the bar.  You wont set a precedent that can be used against you and everyone who shares your profession in the future.

Do you sign or not?  We haven't considered the fact that "They didn't sign and so their company went under so now you have to sign otherwise our company will go under," can be used against people too which makes things more complicated and brings me back to this being a win-win for the people who failed at management.  But setting that confounding factor aside, it seems to come down to weighing between how desperate you are for even a little bit more employment, how much you care about other people and your future self who work at other companies, and how much pride you have.  Desperateness says sign.  Altruism says strike.  Pride says that you shouldn't take the blame rightfully belonging to others so sign because if you strike you'll get the blame.

Basically, when you're negotiating for the shit shoveler's guild with the lord of the soon to be collapsed manor, you don't have just yourself to take into account.  You have to consider what effects your actions will have on the neighboring shitshoveler's guilds.  One of which you may soon be a member of given that this manor is clearly on the way out.

Good and Bad in everything (or, my life sucks, but it's sometimes good before it reaches that point)

Somewhere in Seaquest DSV, season two I'd guess, Dagwood asks someone for clarification on what's going on because he thought the aliens were their friends.  Whoever he asked explained, "I guess there's good and bad in everything."  Which leads to the memorable exchange later on:

"What that a bad in everything?"
"Yeah, definitely a bad in everything."
Or something like that.


We had pizza, that was good.  Opened presents, that was good.  Got an unexpected announcement in an extremely roundabout way.

Some months down the road I'll have a nephew.  That seems like good news, but I worry about finances.  My family teeters on the brink constantly as is, with no evidence of improvement in sight.  Still, good news.

At that point I was fully ready to leave.  Everything had gone well, and that is when you should get out.

Not to be.  First we we forced to stick around to watch Blink.  Good episode, missed it originally.  (I think it was the only Martha Era one we missed.)  I was ready to leave then.  Everything had gone reasonably well, good time to get out.

Hours later my sister offered to take me with her, even though I was supposed to leave with my mother, I told her to leave me behind, even though staying was painful.

It was well after she left that I was promised it would just be one more thing before I was allowed to leave.  It wasn't one more thing.  Or two more things.  Or three.  Or four.  Or... you get the idea.  What it was was enough lies to make me so angry I couldn't stop shaking coming from the abusive parent who raised me by constantly yelling at anyone he perceived to be lying.  What counted as lying?
-Forgetting something
-Making an incorrect prediction.
-Reminding him of something you said which he'd forgotten
-Reminding him of something he'd said which he'd forgotten
-Changing your mind, for example the whole family deciding what to get for ice cream before approaching the window and then, when it was her turn, my sister, then a child, saying that she'd reconsidered and wanted a different type (not standing there being indecisive, it took no longer than sticking with her original choice would have.)  That brought on a yelling fit about how she was a liar remembered to this day.
-Correcting him when he made a factual mistake.
-Remembering something in a way that didn't precisely match his own memory.
-Being late.
-Being early.
-Being on time when he was late or early.
-Making a mistake of any kind.
-Refusing to speak
-I'm just going to put in a wild card here because I'll never cover everything in a list.

I'm not good at being lied to in general, I think I'm fairly average when it comes to differences of opinion and people being mistaken (or me thinking they're mistaken when in actuality I am), but when you're saying false things to me which I already know that you know to be false, which is to say when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're lying (saying something even you believe to be false) instead of misinformed or better informed than me, that can get me very pissed off very fast.  When it comes from the person who spent a lifetime yelling at me for lying when I wasn't, that gets me shaking with rage and, eventually, shouting at the top of my lungs.

And then after that I went to my sister's and moved furniture.  A piano counts a furniture, right?  If it doesn't then a piano and furniture.  Remember how I talked about pain in my back?  Hasn't gone away.  Things are pretty good so long as I don't bend or, you know, move furniture.  Actually, with the moving furniture that was only problematic because there was bending involved.  Need to remember not to bend.

So now, in addition to pain in my back, I've run my throat ragged with shouting.

High point, or low point, probably being when my dad said two things were exactly the same, I corrected him for the Nth time, he finally admitted that they were the opposite of the same, and then went right back to saying they were exactly the same the very next sentence.  He, of course, used this for the basis of his entirely highly flawed argument, not that that was the only lie employed.  Not even close.

So, family gatherings, good and bad.  My strategy would be to leave before the bad sets in, since it generally comes at the end (though yesterday it came at the start and then quickly switched over to good) and the end generally stretches out to take more time than the rest of the gathering combined, and do so by a wide margin, once the bad has set it.

Trouble is, I'm a pedestrian, I can only leave when my transportation does.  There's an argument to be made that I should have left when my sister offered to become my transportation, that would have saved me from the worst of it, but there are reasons that I try to minimize the amount of time my sister has the absolute control over my life that her being my transportation entails.

As a pedestrian, if you're my transportation I am your slave for as long as we are out of walking distance of my house, because if you won't take me home, I'm not getting home.  Which means that if I ever want to get home, I have to keep you happy.  Maybe not comply with your every whim, but comply with enough of them that you'll take me home.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

My sister's offer was to get out of there, but not to get me home.  It would have entailed slave time.  I'm not a big fan of slave time.  Unpaid manual labor I'm actually ok with, when my back isn't a problem which until recently it never was, but slave time not so much.  If there were a way to do the first without it becoming the second, I'd probably help my sister a lot more, but what I have found is that when she controls the transportation you can't just lend a hand via whatever unpaid manual labor you're up for, you become a slave.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a white Christmas (images)

So, woke up today to unexpected weather and the finding of my camera:

Which means I can take better pictures of the tree, which also, unfortunately, give you better pictures of the mess:

(Click for larger images)

Now the observant observer will notice that the star, so bright last night, is not lit.  The brightness should have been a warning sign that something was wrong.  Here's a picture of some of the damage:

So the star is now unplugged.  (It wasn't for those pictures, it was just burnt out.)  There was once another star, too large for our tree so we put it on the smaller one, but it seems to have gone missing.  So I improvised and produced this:

I don't have anything more to say.

It's probably not actually Jesus' birthday (images)

In fact, it almost certainly isn't.  And even if it were I have no idea what an evergreen, even a fake one, would have to do with it.  None the less, I just cleaned off my living room floor, brought up the fake tree, went through lights to get almost two working strands, hung some bulbs, and realized that I missed my self imposed deadline of before midnight.  Then I spent a good solid 40 minutes looking for my camera which I have yet to locate.  So all you get is a crappy built-in-webcam shot:

That can be compared to last year when I had no presents to put under the tree
so I put another tree under it:

Monday, December 24, 2012

The time has come to rant about Windows again

The problem, such as it is, is that while there are ways to disable automatic updating I don't want to do that.  What I want to do is disable automatic restarting, and I have yet to find a way to do that.

So instead what happens is this, the updates are automatically installed, as naturally they should be.  Some of the updates don't go into effect until after the computer has restarted, as naturally it should be.  Then the problem comes.  The natural thing to do in this case would be to have a prompt come up that says, "Installation will not be complete until the computer is restarted, do you want to restart now, or restart later." and if the person clicked on "later" never speak of it again and just wait for them to restart the computer on their own damn time.

That is how every non-Windows program operating on Windows does these things.

What Windows does is... Well actually let me say something first.  There is a tendency to see any criticism of Windows, Microsoft, or Bill Gates as a compliment to Apple, Macintosh, or Steve Jobs and vice versa.  Likewise any compliments to one are seen as a tearing down of the other and the whole thing is treated as a zero sum game.  It is not, and should not be.

So before I go and say why Windows being Windows had me screaming the word "FUCK!" into the Heavens this Christmas Eve (I'm sure the Heavens could hear me through the ceiling and roof, I was very loud) let me offer this disclaimer before anyone tries to see this as a building up of Mac.

I have been using Windows my entire life, it first came out when I was less than a year old.  And while I might have initially had more fun playing video games on the Commodore 64 and the TI whatever it was, that's a long time using Windows.  All of the bugs in all of the versions of Windows that I have ever experienced, combined, do not add up to the irreparable damage done by a single Mac bug.  Was the bug I'm thinking of a bug from the days of yore when computers were strange and unknown things used only by the sages of cyberspace?  No.  It was a bug that went out with OS 10, four years after we were playing with an RC car on Mars.*  And unlike most every** Windows bug I've encountered it happened to everyone who did what they were supposed to do.  Across the board.  Every single person.

Follow directions, do everything you're told, and all that you care for will be destroyed.  That's a Mac bug.  Apple's response to learning about this bug?  A national advertising campaign telling people to move -let me repeat that: move not copy- all of their most important and beloved files (the files for your small business, the photographs of your baby, it didn't matter what so long as it was precious to you) to the operating system that deleted everything on the computer without fail if you did everything right.

Apple is evil.  They are sadistic.  The fact that their business model is based on applying the tactics of drug dealing to the world of technology doesn't bother me.***  The fact that they seem to take joy in causing suffering does.  The fact that while, Bill Gates was off trying to cure Polio, Apple was using its influence on a local city council to pressure the local police into breaking down the door of someone whose only crime was doing everything Apple ever asked him to do just adds to the flavor.

So any criticisms I make of Microsoft should not be considered in any way to be endorsements of Apple.  Those people are evil.  I wouldn't endorse them unless under duress and I'm not entirely sure how much duress it would take.

So, what does Windows do when an update requires restarting the computer?  It starts a timer.  You get fifteen minutes to respond then it restarts the computer its own damn self losing almost, but not quite, all unsaved data you have.

Your options are "Restart now, repeat this timer process in ten minutes, repeat this timer process in four hours."  Notably missing from your options is, "What I'm working on is going to take more than four hours, so wait until I tell you shut down."

No, if you're working on anything of any significance you need to repeatedly tell it, "Wait another four hours," and hope that you are never called away from your computer for more than 15 minutes because if you are you know that those will be precisely the 15 minutes when the computer starts the timer to self-restart.

So, here I was, working on many things at once.  Dozens?  Hundreds?  Probably not thousands so let's go with hundreds.  I was not saving them because saving took too much time and I am in a hurry and even if my computer should be hit with a giant power surge (which should be impossible twice over) the worst that would happen is that it would go into hibernation and all of my unsaved stuff would be preserved.  Indeed the only thing that could possible ruin things if the computer shut down or restarted itself without my permission.

Now I had to step away for what I thought would be fairly quick but turned out to be slightly over 15 minutes, guess what the computer did?

Well the only thing that could possibly make things go wrong at this juncture would be if it restarted in spite of me repeatedly telling it that I did not have time to restart right now.  So that is exactly what it did.  And all of those things were lost, like teardrops in the rain.

Some things are intermediate steps, never meant to be saved, some thing are meant to be saved eventually but doing so right now would take too much time, in all cases there was no cause for me to save them because literally anything that happened that left the computer intact would preserve them as well as saving would.  The only exception being if somehow the computer were shut down or restarted without my permission.

So the computer doing that has quite naturally pissed me off.  The entire idea of setting it to a timer rather than allow you to wait to restart until you're good and ready seems silly and stupid.  I've don't things on computers that took days to complete.  Does Microsoft expect me to wake up every four hours for three days just to tell the computer, "No, don't restart now, put it off another four hours."  What if one of those times I wake up 15 minutes late?

It was a bad design the last time it screwed me over, it's a bad design this time, and it will be a bad design next time.  And there will be a next time, because I still can't find the, "Update automatically but wait until I fucking tell you before you shut down or restart," setting.

Still, much better than a Mac bug.  At least it didn't delete every single file on the computer.


* Pathfinder fans forgive me for describing the mission in such a glib way.  I realize it was a tremendous achievement.

** The reason for "most every" instead of "every single" is hedging against the off chance I'm forgetting something, but in truth I don't think I am.  I don't think I ever encountered a bug in Windows that would happen to everyone who used the software right.

*** I actually think that's rather smart and shows a real ability for lateral thinking on their part.  Even the Macs I used at school as a child were placed there in accordance with Tom Lehrer's description of the Old Dope Peddler.  "He gives the kids free samples/ because he knows full well/ that today's young innocent faces/ will be tomorrow's clientele."  And saying that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applying drug dealing tactics to technology sales would severely understate how prevalent it is.  Way more than 90% of that is too far out of the purview of this article to mention even in a footnote.