Posts Tagged ‘everyday frustrations’

Logged-out, Locked-Out

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

FWVLIW, for the last few days, I've not been able to log-in to LiveJournal using my OpenID. I submitted a support request when it seemed that the problem would persist.

Investigation suggests that the very same problem has affected other OpenIDs at LJ, beginning at least as far back as earlier September, with access never restored once it is lost.

I am not sure, however, that this is actually a bug in the LJ code; I think that the problem might be in the interaction between my OpenID server code and the version of PHP installed by the hosting service that I use.

Until-and-unless the problem is fixed, I cannot read Friends-only entries there, nor comment where anonymous comments are disallowed.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

14 A corroboration of this point of view seems to come from some of the so-called tests for logical thinking, which include questions such as What is the next number in the (!) sequence 1, 3, 6, 10 … ? and (in slightly simplified form) Which of the following four figures differs from the other three: a square; a cross; a circle; a triangle? Questions of this kind do indeed test a valuable ability, viz. the ability to guess what the man who formulated them had in mind, e.g. the circle, because it is the only figure that is round (although, of course, the square is the only one with four corners; the cross the only one with a ramification point; the triangle the only one with exactly three corners). What in this way certainly is not tested is logical thinking. Yet the marks youngsters make in such tests highly correlate with their achievements in elementary mathematics! Far from demonstrating that those test questions have more to do with logic than with guessing and empathy this correlation rather seems to indicate that the presentation of elementary mathematics has more to do with guessing and empathy than with logical thinking.

Karl Menger
Austrian Marginalism and Mathematical Economics (1971)
in Carl Menger and the Austrian School of Economics (1973)
edited by John Richard Hicks and Wilhelm Weber

(Karl Menger, an eminent mathematician of the 20th Century, was the son of Carl Menger, one of the preceptors of the Marginal Revolution in economics, and founder of the Austrian School of economics.)

Indicting Co-Conspirator

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

As I was falling asleep yester-day morning, I was thinking with annoyance about the term co-conspirator.

The term conspire comes from the Latin conspirare, which literally means breathe together, and breaks into con- from the Latin preposition com meaning with, and spirare, meaning breathe. So far, so good.

Things run off the rails with that co- in co-conspirator. The prefix co- is really just a reduced form of com-.[1] Part of the reason that the reduced form is used here is that the original morphology of com- was simply forgot, and whoever coined the term reached for analogy with some term formed by a chain of analogies ultimately leading back to a word that used the reduced form as per rules of Latin morphology (such as co-author). Had that person remembered the morphology — had he or she recognized co- as com- — he or she might have seen the deeper problem.

Prefix conspirator with com-, and one gets … uhm, conconspirator; crudely parsed, that's with-with-breather. That result should raise a warning flag. One should ask whether there is any difference between a conspirator and a co-conspirator. It isn't possible to be in a conspiracy of one (though the claim might be made jocularly).

I think that the term co-conspirator first came to general use during the Watergate Era. Certainly, I don't find the terms co-conspire, co-conspiracy, or co-conspirator in the American Heritage Dictionary of 1975. I'd guess that the term co-conspirator was probably coined by a lawyer, and that it lived for some time in the environment of the court-house, before escaping into the wild exactly as a result of President Richard Milhous Nixon's being called an unindicted co-conspirator in court documents.

I'm reluctant to condemn people who, raised in the years since, use co-conspirator without irony. Even if they recognize the absurdity, it is difficult for people to distinguish those absurdities that one must accept from those from which we might more easily be freed. And I suspect that, in many cases, the folk who use this co- are really trying to capture the sense of fellow; though that sense would be better captured with, well, fellow, at least the co- isn't then wholly redundant. But, really, we ought to make an effort to drive this thing from our language.

[1] In Latin, normally, the reduced form co- is used when followed immediately by a vowel, by h, or by gn. The basic form com- is used when immediately followed by b, by m, and by p, but it is assimilated into col- before l and into cor- before r, and it becomes con- in front of the remaining consonants. Things get less consistent when the construction was not actually made in Latin. Meanwhile, in Latin itself the earlier preposition com evolved into cum.

Weighty Matters

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The metric system has some points of genuine superiority to those of the English (aka American) system, but that superiority tends to be exaggerated. For example, the every-day English measures for volume tend to be implicitly binary, allowing easy halving or doubling. (If base 10 were everywhere superior to base 2, then our computers would be designed differently.)

One of the things that I was told as a child was that the metric system were superior because it measured in terms of mass, rather than weight, with the former being invariant while the latter would change in the face of a gravitational field. Well, actually, the English system has a unit of mass; it's the slug, 1 lb·sec2/ft, which is about 14.6 kg.

Meanwhile, I observe that, in countries where the metric system ostensibly prevails, people typically use its names of units of mass (gram and kilogram) for units of weight; they even refer to what is measured as a weight. Now, the real metric system does have a unit for weight, because weight is a force; weight can be measured by the newton (or by the dyne, which is a hundred-thousandth of a newton). But people aren't doing that; they're using kilogram as if it means about 9.807 N.

Much as it may be claimed that America is the only industrialized nation not on the metric system, really nobody's on it.

I notice that the Beeb most often wants to speak and write of weight, rather than of mass, but in the most ghastly unit of all, the stone (pronounced /stɛun/, with at least one pinkie extended). The stone is 14 pounds (divisible by 2 and, uh, 7). When weights don't divide into integer multiples of 14 pounds, tradition is to represent weight in terms of a combination of stone and pounds, as in Me mum weighs 19 stone and 12. Of course, if the Beeb were using pounds at all, there'd be the two obvious questions of

Why aren't you just using pounds for the whole lot?
Wait, now that I think of it, what happened to that metric stuff?
So the Beeb feels compelled just to round everything up or down to an integral number of stone, and somebody's mum either gains two pounds or loses twelve.

I suspect everyone, and no one!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

I loathe the way that police officials and journalists will use the word suspect as if it means perpetrator, as in

When the register was opened, the suspect partially jumped over the counter and thrust both hands into the cash drawer, police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.

A suspect is one suspected — that is to say surmised — to have done something. To baldly declare that a person did something is to speak with far more than suspicion.

One can have multiple suspects even knowing that an act was committed by just one perpetrator. And one can have no suspects despite knowing that some person or persons must have acted; the use of suspect for perpetrator becomes utterly absurd when virtually nothing is known about the perpetrator. Here

An unknown suspect (or suspects) allegedly entered the garage during the previous night and removed a Cannondale bicycle valued at $500.
the police don't even know how many perpetrators there were. On whom does suspicion fall? Here
officers have no description of the suspect, except that he was wearing a black, red and white bunnyhug
they have a gender and a hooded, tri-color sweatshirt. On whom does suspicion fall?

Baby Gays

Saturday, 2 January 2010

There's a fair amount of annoying absurdity associated with [remarkably realistic picture of cotton swab] the cotton swab.

The traditional use for these things is, of course, cleaning-out one's ear canal. Probably that's not a good idea, though. The back of the Q-tips® package at which I'm looking says

If used to clean ears, stroke swab gently around the outer surface of the ear, without entering the ear canal.

WARNING: Use only as directed. Entering the ear canal could cause injury. Keep out of reach of children.

(Emphasis theirs.) A swab could push cerumen (ear wax) deeper into the canal, and pack it more tightly. With or without the cerumen, the swab could be pressed hard enough to rupture the tympanic membrane (ear drum). And the swab might even promote infection.

But, though there may be some tiny number of people with such odd convolutions to their outer ears that a cotton swab would be helpful in cleaning them, most of the rest of us could get better or faster results with a cloth or tissue. If we're not going to put the swab in our ears, then it probably just shouldn't touch our ears at all. Granted that the box merely says If used to clean ears, but I remember a commercial from Cheesebrough-Ponds featuring Orson Bean, cleaning his outer ear with a Q-tip®, and advising us Never put anything in your ear, except your elbow. (Someone get that man a tissue.)

When doctors and medical advice columns tell their audience not to use these things in the ear, they frequently use a formula which gets my back up. Formally, it's Not-X. When X, then Y. which is to say that they claim something doesn't happen, and then tell us what to do when it happens. Jeez! More specifically, they tell us

The ear canal does not need to be cleaned, because it's a self-cleaning organ. […] When the ear canal needs to be cleaned, one should see a doctor.

Okay, the ear canal does need to be cleaned, because it is an imperfectly self-cleaning organ; let's not pretend otherwise while we're trying to keep the swabs out. And, as far as this see a doctor business, while it may seem like a mighty fine idea to the doctors, most people don't want to pay the cost of seeing a doctor. Even where medicine is socialized to the point that there would be no pecuniary cost in seeing a doctor, there will be the cost of waiting (which will typically be significantly higher where medicine is socialized). People want their ears unclogged quickly.

A better alternative to the swab for cleaning the ear canal is the syringe. For a few bucks, most druggists will sell you a syringe that's basically a rubber ball with a nozzle. If you went to the doctor, then he'd probably use a more impressive syringe, made of metal and with a plunger. You could order one of those for yourself for about US$20, but it's unlikely to be more useful for you unless you start syringing not only the ears of everyone in your household but also those of all your friends and neighbors.

If you read the instructions on the syringe package, it will basically tell you to dribble water into your ear. You will probably find this dribbling signally unhelpful unless you've used other fluid to dissove the cerumen and are now just rinsing the mess out. You can buy expensive fluids from your druggist, or you can use the dilute hydrogen peroxide that he'll sell you for much less, or you can use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda, each bought from the grocer. In all three cases, that's going to tickle maddeningly.

I once had my ear canals cleaned by a Doctor Villavecer, in Westerville, OH. He used one of those impressive metal syringes. He didn't dribble the water into my ear; he blasted it. That worked pretty well, though I might have felt differently had a tympanic membrane ruptured. In any case, subsequently, this blasting is how I clean my canals, except that I use a rubber ball syringe, as I am leaving the ears of my friends and neighbors clogged but unmolested.

Backing-up, let's return to the warning on that Q-tips® package:

Keep out of reach of children.

Now, unless we're prepared to tell people to keep lollipops and twigs out of reach of children, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to put the Q-tips® with the pornography and assault rifles. We can instead tell junior not to put anything into his ear, and reälize that a swab would be less terrible in disobedience than many other candidates. I reälize that Cheesebrough-Ponds is not really to blame for this specific bit of nonsense (responsibility lies in the hands of lawyers, of state officials, and of the fools who empower them), but nonsense it is, none-the-less.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I received notice this morning from eBay:

We received a report about a message you sent to another eBay member through our Email Forwarding System. The message violates the Misuse of eBay Email Forwarding System policy. We want to let you know about the report and invite you to learn more about communication between sellers and buyers. To learn more about the Email Forwarding System guidelines, please go to:

We're taking a neutral position regarding the report we received, but if we continue to receive similar reports, we'll have to investigate. Policy violations can result in a formal warning, a temporary suspension, or an indefinite suspension.

If you have concerns related to this matter, you can contact us by going to:

Well, I'd like to know about what message this complaint was levelled. But, naturally (this being eBay), there's no appropriate option at index_selection.html, and the best fitting options require that in one field I provide a relevant item number or user ID about whom I'm complaining. My own user ID is rejected from this field.

Over the years, eBay, like many other corporations, has modified its interface and protocols to make them dumber in ways that specifically increase the difficulty of confronting it with responsibility.

eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, whose user ID is pierre. So I entered that user ID in the field, and it was accepted. Doubtless that, if others do likewise, then the software will be tweaked to prevent it.

Third Toss

Sunday, 19 July 2009

I have submitted my paper to a third journal, that recommended by the editor who rejected it at the previous journal.

This third journal is one from an association which, like many, charges a lower submission fee to its members. Even with the annual dues and on the assumption that I only made one submission in a year, I would still save money, so I joined. However, after I registered and paid, I learned that it could take up to four weeks for my membership information to be recorded and provided to me. Hence, this delay between submissions. I'm not sure that the money saved was worth that delay.

Irksome Declaration

Saturday, 20 June 2009

In looking for an established notation for a particular sort of permutation, I have run across a large number of tutorials that declare that the notation and formula for a permutation is

nPr = n! / (n - r)!
This claim complete confuses the concept of a permutation with the count of possible permutations. It's rather like saying that an American is 306,719,000.


Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Yester-day, I found a rat's nest under the hood of my car. Literally.

I visited my parents in Tucson from late March until last Tuesday. I parked outside, just off their drive-way, and didn't use my car very much during that time. They live far east of the city center, out amongst the cactus, gilla monsters, and pack rats. I spotted the occasional pack rat under my car, but thought very little of it.

On my way home, I was pulled-over by an officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol, because my passenger-side head-light was out. (He was simply concerned that the problem be addressed, and gave me a written warning rather than ticketting me.) I went to an automotive store on the next day or the day after that, and bought new bulbs. But, when I popped the hood to replace the bulb, I found that the wires to the bulb were frayed and broken. There was nothing there to bang-around. The Woman of Interest suggested that they'd been chewed by a mouse. Rodent damage seemed plausible, and I couldn't think of a good rival explanation. Anyway, I decided that the best way to effect a repair was with a new connector and some butt connectors (metal sleeves, which are in turn ensleeved in plastic, and which are crimped to join wires or cables).

Apparently, I was operating with a sort of tunnel vision when I discovered the chewed wires. Although the rat's nest was quite big, I didn't spot it, sitting on the engine behind the valve cover, until yester-day, as I was effecting the repair. The nest was built of twigs, sticks, and some soft fibrous material. I was puzzled about why I hadn't had an engine fire, until I reälized that the soft fiber was produced by shredding swatches of the hood insulator. That rat really did considerable damage.

None-the-less, its actions weren't malicious, and I rather hope that it either wasn't in the car at all when I was driving, or leapt out before I was going more than a few miles per hour. Otherwise, the pack rat almost certainly was cooked to death or was killed when it hit the pavement. Had it cooked, I probably would have found a body. And if the nest was built between my previous use of the car and when I was loading it to go home, then the rat probably fled as the car shook from that loading.