Thursday, September 25, 2008

Checking out my spam folder

Just got the odd idea to look through my spam folder before zotzing its contents. There are some winners in there.

Best subject lines:

"In Canadian chemists we trust!" - Beauty, eh?
"Wish you act like Herculesus in bed?" - this I want to see on Spamusement.
"Join biggest success of the human successful men"
"Be the only one ladies hunt for" - Also a good spamusement candidate.

Interesting sender names:

"Normal Sexual" is selling viagra.
"con ethelbert" seems to think I can read cyrillic. Any takers on translating "Большие буфера скачать"?

Monday, September 08, 2008

I'll Show You Improper

I just want to state for the record that whatever jerk it was who gave fractions greater than one the name 'improper fraction' should be kicked square in the nuts.

I was trying to help Jack subtract some compound numbers (compound numbers being things like one-and-three-quarters and seven-and-five-eighths and so forth). If, for example, you are subtracting one and five-eights from two and one-fourth, it's helpful to convert both numbers into fractions before subtracting.

The easiest way to do this is to convert 2 1/4 to 9/4, and 1 5/8 to 13/8, then convert 9/4 to 18/8, then subtract 13/8 from 18/8. The result is 5/8. Simple, right?

However, Jack was very reluctant to do that because he'd been taught, and taught well, that you couldn't write a fraction as nine fourths. That was improper. So every time we got to a point where you'd have a 18/8 or 9/4, he would say that he couldn't do that because that was an improper fraction, and convert it back to a compound number.

This an unfortunate side-effect of elementary education. They wanted to have an easy way to tell kids not to write their fractions upside down, so they called them 'improper'. But there's no fundamental mathematical reason for banning fractions larger than one. Fractions, after all, are just another way of writing a division problem. So rather than teach that, we've generated a rule that's fundamentally incorrect to keep kids from making a simple mistake, and then having to un-learn that rule later.

Monday, August 11, 2008

If y'all could leave me out of your war, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

About Wednesday of last week, I got a request from a coworker in our Paris office to build a terrain dataset for a trial of our microwave network planning tool. It didn't have any clear labelling, and it wasn't clear where the data was for when I put it together. I finally got it built on Friday morning, as the news was talking about the Russian offensive really heating up, and I was recoginizing some of the terrain in the maps as disturbingly familiar.

This dataset I was working on was for the Russian Caucasus, and includes Chechnya, North Ossetia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. There aren't any significant expansions of the data into Azerbaijan or other parts of Georgia. It's kind of creepy. And the cherry on top of this creepy-coincidence-sundae is that the coworker who made this request is named Mikhail.

I really hope somebody is just planning to build a nice, non-violent telecomunications network using this data. 8-(

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hillary and Misogyny

Over at reason, Kerry Howley makes a pretty convincing case that even though Hillary didn't lose because of sexism (she lost because Obama did a better job of courting the electorate), there was still too damn much sexism aimed at her campaign.

And Malkin et al aren't exactly doing much to allay fears of racism against the Obama campaign, either.

I have faith that America can push through both its sexism and racism and could elect a good candidate of any personal background (although there are still to many anti-gay neanderthals to make me hopeful on that front for a good while). But that doesn't mean we should tolerate either racism or sexism in the meantime.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More fodder for the sex work / exploitation debates

New commentary over points out Congress being stupid again.

Law enforcement is having tremendous difficulty finding and prosecuting human trafficking, which, in the US, mostly revolves around sex work. While it is generally believed that tens of thousands of women are trafficked in the sex trade in the US (hard numbers are obviously difficult to come by), few victims have been identified and saved, and few traffickers have been prosecuted. This is a serious problem, and requires a serious response.

The House has a bill that is supposed to do just that, but it looks seriously flawed.

Specifically, the House version of the TVPRA would expand U.S. laws against prostitution by re-defining most prostitution-related activities, regardless of consent, as trafficking. Human trafficking is a complex issue, but there is widespread agreement about its key distinguishing features, namely the use of force, fraud or coercion. HR 3887 throws out these cornerstones and threatens to re-define all prostitution, arguably even all sex work, as trafficking. And it would require the involvement of federal law enforcement through a broad new provision that covers actions "affecting" interstate commerce (rather than actual activities that involve the crossing of state lines, the standard trigger for bringing in the feds). Therefore, most prostitution-related activities defined as sex trafficking would fall under federal law even if no interstate commerce was involved.

The immediate consequences of this definitional sleight-of-hand are bad enough: the use of federal resources to prosecute state-level offenses involving consenting adults who may not see themselves as victims of a crime. But turning the DOJ into the prostitution police is not the worst of it. By shifting the focus of the law from genuine cases of trafficking to prostitution as a whole, the bill threatens to divert resources from those most in need: the real victims of trafficking.

I think that the last thing we need to do is to start prosecuting sex workers at the federal level. But more importantly, we do need to strongly consider whether taking sex work out of the legal shadows would make it any easier to find and prosecute traffickers, and help their victims.

Hat Tip: Kerry Howley at H&R

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama and the Constant Sore

There's a moderate amount of furore going around the pundisphere over Barrack Obama's recent comments from an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, in which there is discussion of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. This is quoted by rightish (and presumably Hillaroid) commentators thusly:

JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?

BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy.

Alarming stuff, no?

Commenting at, Tom "Tom & Gerrymander" DeLay found this to be a clear demonstration of Obama's unfitness to lead.

On one level, this is traffic-stoppingly stupid. What’s wrong with this guy? We’re told ad nauseum he’s the greatest political communicator of his generation, and his idea of a balanced and nuanced position is to compare a threatened ally in a crucial region to a festering, open sore?

Rightospheric JV attack dog Doug Ross starts off with a comparison to Ahmadinejad, and quickly goes Godwin on himself.

Obama's remarks seem to parallel those of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "In yet another verbal attack against Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Jewish state a 'filthy bacteria' whose sole purpose was to oppress the other nations of the region"...

Come to think of it, a Mr. A. Hitler had some remarks along these lines. "Against the infection of materialism, against the Jewish pestilence we must hold aloft a flaming ideal."

The GOP House Minority Leader Jim Boehner and Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor quickly jumped on the Obama-vs-Israel bandwagon.

"Israel is a critical American ally and a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, not a ‘constant sore’ as Barack Obama claims," Boehner said. "Obama’s latest remark, and his commitment to ‘opening a dialogue’ with sponsors of terrorism, echoes past statements by Jimmy Carter who once called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’"

"It is truly disappointing that Senator Obama called Israel a ‘constant wound,’ ‘constant sore,’ and that it ‘infect[s] all of our foreign policy.’ These sorts of words and characterizations are the words of a politician with a deep misunderstanding of the Middle East and an innate distrust of Israel," Cantor said.

Journalists at The Atlantic and WaPo (along with the bulk of the leftosphere) have of course jumped upon this like White Person on a gramatical error. They point out that the GOP is quoting Barrack out of context, and that he's clearly talking about The Arab-Israeli Conflict, not Israel herself. When you look at the original text, they appear at first glance to be right.

JG: What do you make of Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?

BO: I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.
JG: If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?
BO: What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.

JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?

BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.

I want to solve the problem, and so my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we’re going to be stuck in the same status quo that we’ve been stuck in for decades now, and that won’t lift that existential dread that David Grossman described in your article.

But, I would like to take this opportunity to call all of the blogosphere wrong. The whole question, of course, is what does he mean when he says 'this problem'? Go back and look at some of Obama's words. "Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States."

I think it's clear that Obama is calling the continuing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which do provide political cover for those who want to derail the peace process by their continuing acts of inexcusable violence. It might be sloppy rhetoric, but it's clear from my reading.

That Obama is speaking up on this, and not just toeing the Arabs-bad-Israel-good line is heartening. The only hope for peace is for the West Bank to become a Palestinian homeland. This cannot happen if Israel continues to allow new settlements to be built within the occupied territories.

Found sentences that should be shared

I should point out that in a general discussion of grammar, no one wins. Unless you're dhex.

the serial comma is not only unnecessary it actually went back in time and made the holocaust worst by adding a completely inappropriate ragtime soundtrack.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Bernstein's political story - no, the other Bernstein.

The Sharks-and-Jets world of the Democratic Primary has finally exploded into gun-controlled violence, as a Clinton supporter stabs his Obamaniac brother-in-law in the gut.

I see the whole thing unfolding thus:

my-boy-friend's-vo-ting-for Ooo-baaa-maaa
my-boy-friend's-vo-ting-for Ooo-baaa-maaa
my-boy-friend's-vo-ting-for Ooo-baaa-maaa
my-boy-friend's-vo-ting-for Ooo-baaa-maaa!

How can you betray us like that? Our people are from Hillary. Hillary runs in our blood! Hillary is our passion!

OMG Obama ttly pwning Hillary. Also I is doing ur sister. LOLZ!

Only blood can satisfy this insult to Hillary! Also, dude, not cool talking that way about my sister.

I thrust my nipples at you while my posse mount invisible bicycles!