tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
My brother, with his incredibly unfortunate photo, tweeted a link to this article about Joe Paterno. My wife and I have talked about the scandal enough this week that I'm not going to do so any further here; but my brother is right (as he is more often than you'd expect, but especially about sports) that it's an article worth reading.

linguistic aside about a sentence from the article )

Meanwhile, a great deal of attention is being paid to Herman Cain's alleged acts of sexual harassment. And I have to admit that I think that's a shame, for a number of reasons:
  1. Far, far less interesting to me than whether or not Herman Cain committed any sort of harassment is how unprepared he seems to have been for this fact to come to light.
  2. In the meantime, the question of whether Cain broke a law over a decade ago (in a way that was settled out of court) is overshadowing the much more serious question of whether his campaign flagrantly violated campaign finance laws this year.
  3. Even if the harassment allegations are true, that fact would be, in my mind, quite frankly at the very bottom of the list of reasons that he's incredibly unqualified to be president. The more people talk about the scandal, the less they're talking about his dismissive reference to Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, the insanity of his 9-9-9 plan (as encapsulated in the best graph ever), his complete loss of words when asked about things like Medicare and the Palestinian Right of Return....
And finally, to make it all better, the 11/10/11 Stephen Colbert sign-off, which you shouldn't watch if you, you know, hate really good singing.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
I think I'm starting to reset the fact that, when I do a Google Image Search, the first page of hits are taken from Google+. In fact, this happens when I'm searching on a name, even though most of the photos it shows me are people in the circle of that person on Google+, and not the people themselves. It's as if they're somehow overriding their "relevance" algorithm to be a "relevant Google service results and then other relevant results" algorithm.

Meanwhile, Google searches continue to ignore punctuation, so that "2+2" and "2 2" return the same results. This is a frequent irritation for me, since I often search on things where punctuation matters. On the other hand, "Google" and "Google+" are distinct. Which is Google's way of saying "we could include punctuation, but we just don't wanna", and "whatever you might need punctuation for, it's not as important as what we need it for".

(To be fair, Google searches also distinguish "C" from "C++" and "A" from "A+". Still.)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Recently, for reasons I dare not even try to understand never mind explain, I found myself singing "What Do We Do With a Drunken Sailor?". Rare as this is, it's even rarer when I'm at a computer, which meant that for the first time I had the presence of mind to try to check something about it.

One of the things that we do with a drunken sailor is "Put him into bed with the captain's daughter". It's a well-known fact that the "captain's daughter" is another name for the cat-o'-nine-tails, which is why this is a punishment for a drunken sailor. Of course, the correlation between things that are well-known and things that are true isn't very strong. So I thought: at last! A chance to actually check this fact!

Wikipedia, of course, confirms it, which does nothing whatsoever to convince me. Actually, I was hoping it would have a reference, but no, it doesn't. The web is similarly willing to confirm it, similarly without any actual convincingness. Google Books seemed like a good place to look, but the fact that Pushkin wrote a short story called "The Captain's Daughter" somewhat overwhelms the search; you can add "whip", but that's more or less the websearch equivalent of begging the question—of course if you add "whip" to the search, you get hits confirming that it's a whip. As it happens, those books are things like 2010's The Book of Pirates and 2002's Pirattitude!: So You Wannna Be a Pirate? Here's How!, which rank somewhere below Wikipedia on sources I'd trust. (Also a page in Anticraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister, which tells me "These days, however, a taste of the Captain's Daughter can be quite sexy (assuming everyone is a consenting adult)", just before instructions on how to crochet one. I'm also taking this to be less than authoritative.) What's very much lacking from Google Books is any kind of authentic reference to "the captain's daughter" as a flogging device of any sort.

(I was starting to doubt that the song itself was even authentic, but there are indeed results from the late 1800s for "What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor"—for instance, in The Water-Babies, serialized in the early 1860s; and seems to be mentioned with the same title by Dickens in 1856. But I digress.)

My readers being either well-educated in the ways of historical sea shanties, or else as vile a mob of scurvy dogs as ever raised a mug of rum, seem likely to be able to answer with certainty. Why was "the captain's daughter" considered punishment—assuming that that line is as authentically 19th-century as the rest of the song? (Not obviously the case; Google Books only returns one hit for the combination of "What Shall We Do..." and "captain's daughter", and it's from 2010.) I've seen theories—a captain's daughter was simply that unattractive; being found in bed with his daughter by the captain was a guaranteed flogging—but someone out there must know the actual fact of the matter, or know someone who knows.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
So I found myself caught up in "Alphas", the new Syphy show. (Well, OK, I found myself in front of the television, and "Alphas" was on. It's kind of the same thing.) So far it's a really interesting mix of things that work and things that don't, or perhaps "win and fail" in the modern internet vernacular.

I appreciate the fact that one of the characters speaks Farsi on the phone with her parents; not as a plot point, not even really as a "look we're multicultural" point per se, just because the actress speaks Farsi and so why not really. On the other hand, if they were going to pick a character whose major issue is a lack of self-confidence/self-assertion, I kind of wish they hadn't picked the young female character.

I'm actually enjoying Bill, in part because I think he's one of the stronger actors on the show. He's ex-FBI (or perhaps on leave from the FBI; he still has his badge, and I get the impression that things are deliberately unclear), so he shows actual competence in investigative situations, and I like the way that contrasts with the rest of the team, especially the leader, who's a psychologist and not really a law enforcement leader. But then again, if they were going to pick a character whose superpower is brute strength, I kind of wish they hadn't picked the black man.

I'm fascinated to see what seems to be a decent portrayal of autism on television, though the flip side of that is that the character can be awfully annoying to listen to. (I think that improved by the third episode, or possibly he just grew on me, but I think they're also doing a good job of integrating his dialogue into the rest of the scene.)

But then, if I'm going to be watching a show on Syphy about humans with mental superpowers and the team that catches them and the undercurrent that perhaps the "asylum for treatment" that they're getting sent to is something more nefarious, then I'd just as soon they hadn't cancelled "Painkiller Jane", which had the same premise plus the advantage of getting to stare at Kristanna Loken.

Also, I do genuinely like David Strathairn in this; he's clearly a good actor and he's doing a fine job with the character. But I do kind of wish that if Syphy were going to put together a show about a ragtag band of misfits with the ex-government black man and the computer expert and the one with super-senses and so forth, they hadn't decided to remind me of when that premise was done as Sneakers by casting the guy who played Whistler in it.

General verdict: so far, better than my expectations from the network that's also bringing us "Legend Hunter", about a man who uses his expertise in symbology to search for Excalibur and the lost city of Shambala. And much better than "Falling Skies". We'll see if this pans out.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Someone has decided to share his Google+ posts with me. That's terribly kind of him. However, since I'm not in fact on Google+, this amounts to my having been put on someone's mailing list against my will—and I can't even reply to him, since all the mail comes from a "noreply" address at plus.google.com.

There's "unsubscribe" info at the bottom, but, seriously, I'm supposed to unsubscribe from a mailing list I never joined? What the hell? (In any other email, that would count as a spammer trying to verify my address.)

My feelings about Google+ have tilted from "slightly positive, because hey it's not Facebook" to "markedly negative, because seriously you guys are helping a user spam me?". Is there some sensible way to make this stop, perhaps by emailing some support address at Google to say "so when did you turn evil"?
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Help me out here. Am I a bad person if, when I see a "lost cat" sign, I say "aww!" and feel really bad for the owners, and keep reading the sign, and then get to the point where they say she's an outdoor cat, and then roll my eyes and say "Oh, for Christ's sake"?
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Last night, the Today Show was apparently here at the NPL convention with a small crew and a reporter. For the icebreaker/mixer, which involved randomizing our table locations, I found myself sitting next to the blonde woman who, as I didn't quite realize, was the show's correspondent. So I introduced myself, and learned her name was Jenna, and that she was from Austin, Texas.

It was much later that evening that I learned who Jenna from Austin was.

Some Con moments are randomer than others.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Having been thinking about this post, which is about changing the lyrics when covering songs by someone not of your gender so that you're singing to/about someone of the appropriately opposite gender, I've been wondering about the following.

What songs are there that involve same-sex relationships? Restricting the list to songs that actually charted on the Billboard 100, because, yeah, I know y'all can come up with any number of songs by Girlyman/Coyote Grace/whatever other indie bands are out there. Indeed, let's say any Billboard chart, given that the "Alt 100" isn't necessarily all that indie.

Only songs that are explicitly same-sex, so not counting songs with possible undertones ("Losing My Religion"—got me, look it up) or songs with no gender mentioned but which are presumably same-sex given that the singer is ("Your Song" or, really, anything else by Elton John, or Melissa Etheridge's music, etc.). Edit to clarify: "explicitly same-sex" means, in this case, given the gender of the singer; that is, only the gender of the other person involved needs to be explicitly textual. So for instance, if the singer is male, and is singing about "how much I miss the touch of his lips" or what have you, that counts.

All we could really think of and/or scrounge up from the Internet were Think of 'em yourself first, if you like )

So what do you think; did we miss any?
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
So it's 3am on a Tuesday, which means that I am--as I am wont to do--watching Syphy. For the past few weeks, Monday-night-3am has been Wolf Lake, a 2001 series with Lou Diamond Phillips about werewolves, that I suspect would have lasted longer if it hadn't been somewhat ahead of its time on the paranormal front (i.e., if they hadn't done it four years before Twilight took off). I was kind of enjoying it, actually. Sadly, they're now back to "Masters of Horror", which has a tendency to be either predictable or stupid or both, even when written by the so-called modern masters of horror. The best episodes have been the one based on James Tiptree's "The Screwfly Solution" and, well, admittedly, this one, which is based on H.P. Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch-House".

But the thing that makes me actually kind of happy about the episode is the main character's Miskatonic University T-shirt. Miskatonic University seals and symbols are a dime a dozen if you search Google Images, and they're usually the typical boring college seal design. In this production, however, someone who clearly really cares made the T-shirt with this image, with the sun replaced with a skull.

It's small, but I appreciated it.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
In the words of the Ryan Stiles impersonator who seems to be wielding the gavel in the New York senate: Ayes 33, Nays 29.

Congratulations, New York!

EDIT: Sorry, the instant replay shows that those are the words of the short gray-haired man in front of the Ryan Stiles impersonator. I think, though, that "the ayes have it" were his words.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Apologies for two closely-related posts in quick succession, but: I've decided to skim over some of the math questions, since that's a field where I have more expertise than in history. One of the first questions I looked at was the following, a "hard" question from the 2009 12th-grade test (block M2, Question #7):
x
y
-23
-10
0-1
10
23
38
The table above shows all the ordered pairs (x,y) that define a relation between the variables x and y. Is y a function of x? Give a reason for your answer.
The NAEP's answer: Take a moment to formulate an answer before looking, if you're so inclined )
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Via LanguageLog, a really nice discussion of the recent NAEP history test results, in which an education professor explains why we shouldn't take all that seriously the reports that American students know so little about history. For instance:
An item is “bad” if almost everyone gets it right. So, if during the piloting testing of NAEP, it is determined that most twelfth-graders can identify “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Rosa Parks, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, slavery as a main cause of the Civil War, the purpose of Auschwitz, and Harriet Tubman, these items are all thrown out because they fail to “discriminate” among students.
You can also go right to the website for the exam, which lets you look over questions from the exam, and also gives some sample answers in the "complete/partial/inappropriate" categories for short answer questions. (Another article from the History News Network discusses some answers the examiners consider "wrong". The second half of the article veers into other territory, but the first half is well worth reading.)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
I've just caught up on the new season of Doctor Who. At the risk of spoiling: what the hell just happened?
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Although this is my favorite joke, I sometimes forget how much I like the joke:
Q: What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor?

A: "Make me one with everything."
It's a stupid joke.

Even more stupid, however, is telling it to the Dalai Lama. Who smiled politely, because that's what the Dalai Lama does.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Today the Unemployed Slackers Local 89 headed into downtown Boston for the Scooper Bowl: $8 (proceeds to the Dana Farber Institute) for whatever ice cream you can handle. It turned out we could handle a fair amount of it. Personal consumption:
  • Edy's: Orange sherbet, Rocky Road ice cream. I was reminded that Rocky Road is not, generally speaking, my preferred ice cream (the other options there were mint chocolate chip and cookies and cream, both of which I like less). Still, not at all bad, and the sherbet was perfectly pleasant.
  • Friendly's: Vienna Mocha Chunk, which was serviceable, and Nuts over Caramel, which was similar.
  • Breyer's: Dulce de Leche, for which I probably needn't have broken my general rule of not eating misspelled food (it was labeled "Dulche..."). Perfectly fine, but not as great as I'd hoped (why, oh why, did they not have their strawberry or coffee, my preferred Breyer's flavors?).
  • Ben & Jerry's: Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack, which wasn't really much better than Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream, which I also hadn't liked very much; and Bonnaroo Buzz, to which the whiskey swirl didn't really add anything exciting.
  • Baskin-Robbins I skipped entirely, because the options were Oreo, mint, Atomic Fireball, and S'More. (I'm told I chose wisely.)
  • Ciao Bello Gelato: worth the price of admission on its own. The wild blueberry and the mango were stunning, stunning enough that we all went back for more after we'd finished our circuit of the ice cream.
  • Soco Creamery: a nicely local (well, far-west part of the state, but that's still local) ice cream company, worth keeping an eye out for. The Dirty Chocolate was perhaps too strong, insofar as I'm just not that much of a chocolate fan, but the Mexicali Chocolate had a very nice flavor.
  • Brigham's: Mocha Chip, which was probably fine, but really anything after the gelato was an anticlimax.
Then, because we were in the neighborhood and why not, we went to Saus and plit a large (sorry, "Belgian") pommes frites. This is how fried potatoes are supposed to be: made to order, hot out of the fryer, beautifully cooked. Plus, homemade ketchup, homemade mayonnaise—which finally made sense of the "putting mayo on fries" thing, because this was not the weird bland thick American stuff—and the Cheddar Duvel (i.e., cheddar cheese and Belgian ale), which I could easily have gotten a spoon and eaten a soup-bowl of. If you're anywhere near City Hall (and you might as well be, since the Scooper Bowl continues tomorrow), go there, it's excellent.

That was most of my day, though I went ahead and swung by the Arlington Farmers Market with another USL89 member and picked up a few things. We also had a very nice chat with the chef from Flora, who is as amiable as his food is terrific.

All things considered, a good food day.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
For those who somehow missed it, Sarah Palin recently said that Paul Revere was
he who warned the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms. By ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.
This was generally ridiculed. That seemed to me not entirely fair, because she hesitated at the beginning, and it sounded like she perhaps reached for a noun and got "British" instead of "colonists", and then finished the sentence rather than correcting herself. Very Palin, really, but everyone misspeaks.

Then, of course, talking to Chris Wallace, she insisted that she got it right:
Part of his ride was to warn the British that we're already there. That, hey, you're not going to succeed. You're not going to take American arms.
So much for misspeaking. I really was prepared to grant her some latitude, but not when she goes back the next day to insist on her misstatement.

OK, none of that is really news to y'all. You might even have heard that some conservatives are insisting that Palin was right, insofar as according to one of Revere's letters (courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) discusses his capture by British troops, and his telling them that they would face 500 armed colonists. Mind you, there's a big difference between "telling the British once they've captured you" (and Revere makes clear that his statement was given once they had already pointed a pistol at him) and "[riding] to warn the British that we're already there".

The thing that I did just learn, and that I find really quite striking, is that people didn't have to turn to obscure letters by Paul Revere; they could have found the following statement from a reliable source:
  • Part of the purpose of Revere's ride was to warn the British that colonists would exercise their natural right to bear arms.
That reliable source is, of course, Conservapedia. And thanks to the joys of wiki, we can see that this statement was added yesterday. Well, admittedly, what was added first was a paragraph about Sarah Palin, which was removed. Then user DanW edited the page to say:
  • Part of the purpose of Revere's ride was to warn the British already present in the colonies that colonists would be exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.
This was reverted, with the observation that "there was not a constitution yet". So DanW tried again, saying:
  • Part of the purpose of the ride was to warn the British that colonists would exercise their gun rights.
This, too, was reverted by a different person, observing that "Americans had no rights under the British". Finally, DanW put it back, noting that "The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right. It does not matter whether or not the British recognized them"; and the previous reverter did some "copyediting" to put it in its current, "natural right" form. (Perhaps the most brilliant part of yesterday's editing was that someone then added a citation to a discussion of Sarah Palin's comment, which was removed with the observation, "Citation not needed", which tells you more or less everything you need to know about Conservapedia.)

I genuinely can't decide if I find this really funny or really scary. On the one hand, it's hilarious, and on the other, it represents an actual attempt to do the Orwellian change-history-to-match-current-statements thing.

(Incidentally, the far more fascinating part of the Revere letter linked above is a phrasing he also used in his 1775 deposition, in which he relates encountering some officers who rode up, pistols in hand, and said, "God damn you Stop if you go an Inch farther you are a dead man". When Revere and his companions tried to pass them anyway, "they kept before us & swore if we did not turn in to that pasture, they would Blow our brains out". Seriously. If I saw a reenactment of these events with British officers using the phrases "you are a dead man" and "we will blow your brains out", I would have thought it was some stupid modern Tarantinoesque reimagining, and not something directly from the source material. I wonder how old the phrase "blow [one's] brains out" is.)

(Later edit: Poking at Google Books, there's a 1771 account of a trial in "The London Magazine; or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer" in which a witness testifies that the defendants said, "d——n your eyes, you fon of a bitch, lie ftill, of we'll blow your brains out." Interestingly, too, the same article appears in "The Lady's Magazine; or, entertaining companion for the fair sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement", with the differences that (a) this is headlined as "An Account of what passed on the Trial of the Jews", and (b) "damn" is uncensored. In 1724's "A General History of the Pyrates", the author—possibly Daniel Defoe—referred to "blow his Brains out" as "a favourite Phrafe with thefe Pyrates". Why can't I get paid to do this kind of research?)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
You know, I've been making this asparagus salad for years, and I'm really starting to get skeptical of step 4:
Step 3. Take 3 Tbsp pine nuts. Put into toaster oven and lightly toast.

Step 4. Let the pine nuts burn. Repeat step 3, properly this time.
Some day I'll learn how to skip that step.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Today, amidst three loads of laundry, I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen. My wife has an event on Saturday that she needs to take food for, so I made her a cake. I also had bought a brisket when I was out getting strawberries for the cake, but then it turned out she was out with a friend tonight, so I kind of sighed and said, "Well, I guess I'll just make it anyway, even if she's not here to eat it."

Somewhere in there I realized I have become a 1950s housewife. I think I need a Valium.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
This has been a singularly bad season of Top Chef. Some of the challenges have been less "difficult" and more "mean" ("oh, and by the way, you're going to have five less minutes than we told you, and no wait staff, and no running water"—that's not some weird exaggerated paraphrase, that's one of their actual challenges). This week they had to run the lunch rush in a fast food restaurant, and they clearly did a terrible job of it, because, duh, you can't just drop untrained people into a restaurant and drive-through and expect them to do fine with it, regardless of how good they are at making food.

Then there was last week's episode, which consisted of cooking favorite dishes of "Biggest Loser" contestants but kept to around 500 calories each. So you've got all these chefs talking about what a great thing this is, how terrific it feels to be part of these people's life changes...but at the same time, there's the occasional comment about how, well, counting calories just isn't something chefs do, and they're not used to limiting themselves in this way. They claimed this was all about "health", and yet they have nutritionists standing there telling them how many calories are in, say, a slice of bacon, as if the only health concern with bacon is calories. And this week we had one of the judges saying that one of the dishes felt like a kid's portion—that is to say, a week later, the show was right back to saying "more food rather than less".

Plus you have the fact that they advertised the show as having Ruth Reichl as one of the judges (I loved her book Garlic and Sapphires), by which they seem to have meant "one of the judges for the first two episodes". I can't tell if that's misleading advertising or some sort of deep disorganization on their part.

Alas. Well, eventually there will be another real season.
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
Dear Macys:

Your commercial involving Thanksgiving parade floats, fake snow, lots of red and green, and little people in elf costumes is a Christmas commercial. It is currently April. STOP AIRING IT.

Yrs, Tahnan