Alibam Innumeracy

It seems that there are six counties (out of 67) in Alibam where there is a problem with arithmetic – counting, in fact. [Link] It seems that in these six counties they have more people registered to vote than they have adult population.

What is less than clear is why this situation exists. The traditional media is pretty quick to fall onto the conclusion that this is the result of conspiracy, to commit voter fraud, but I am not so sure.

Bear in mind that there are quite a goodly number of people in Alibam who are canny enough to want to stay off the census rolls so that they don’t have to worry about paying taxes, or be known to the “revenooers”. Sadly, some of these wily folks are not quite canny enough to realize that if you get on the franchise register that will seep over onto other list of “the Man”.

In the minds of many Alibamians such activities are not viewed as necessarily illegal. After all, only “furriners” who come here to be Alibamians actually have a choice about being a citizen of the state/county/…. And to a lot of folks the benefits of being a citizen of state/county/…. just doesn’t seem to be a fair exchange for the taxes one has to pay, especially this year when the property board in all of the counties has pulled the trick of raising property appraisals – despite the fact that house values have sagged 0.15 this year – to make up for the lost tax revenue because of those sags.

And yes, you have to be able to think like a government bureaucrat or a thief to grasp the logic that if the value of something goes down and the government loses tax money thereby so that tax revenue goes back up. And no, while thieves are criminals, even Alibamians will agree on that, government bureaucrats aren’t, even in some cases when they move monies into their own coffers, because of that “g” word. That is, they are, but because the same people who make the laws are stealing the money it technically can’t be a crime.

Further reflection however, leads us to contemplate another possibility of why these counties have a numeric discrepancy between the counted number of registered voters and the counted number of adults. That is, excluding the  folks who want to not be on the census but haven’t the wits to avoid not being on the voter rolls. That possibility is that the folks who do the counting don’t do counting very well.

Now it is possible that the folks responsible for these countings may suffer from dyscalculia, ignoring for a moment that dyscalculia is most often about not computing right as opposed to not doing calculus right so we should call it dyscomputia except that then people would think we are referring to some inability to use computers as opposed to what computers do, which is basically arithmetic. It is also not improbable that some should suffer from dyscalculia, in the sense of not computing well, but the probability that everyone who does these countings is such is vanishingly small unless there is an awful lot of nepotism in action. Given politics in Alibam, this cannot be discounted since a lot of these piddly offices are elective and the hiring of the folks who work in these offices is entirely under the control of the elected office holders. So the possibility does exist that in all of these counting offices the folks employed by the office holder are his/her relatives and they all carry dyscalculia in their DNA.

It is however, more likely that all of the folks who work in those offices, including, and especially, the office holders are educational innumerate. Having been raised in an environment where algebra is something to be undured until it can be discarded, and change making is the province of the machine masters, it is entirely likely that widespread inability to count accurately is a, if not the, primary contributor to this discrepancy. Based on person experience dealing with the Marshall government instrumentality I can attest – admittedly anecdotally – that they are even worse at arithmetic than SCP and I do suffer from dyscalculia. I however, know how to check my sums and I care, two things absent to vanishing in county and city government offices.

Besides, this does strengthen that old saying to “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Dumbing Down by Automation

I was pointed to an article in ComputerWorld by the folks at Pendemonium. [Link] Being a pen shop, they have a natural interest in writing, which is the subject of the article. I cannot speak to their pen selection as my interests in American made pens these days are pretty well limited to Conklin but they do have an excellent selection of stationary and inks, except for laboratory notebooks, which is to be expected. But they do have an unusually wide selection of archival inks.

But the subject is writing, something I have decried in previous blots, as does this article. I was especially taken by one extended statement,

People over 35 generally have lovely handwriting. The 25-to-35 age
group has decent handwriting. And the under-25 crowd is a legibility
laughingstock. It’s all because of computers. And it’s kind of a shame.

I regret that my handwriting is somewhat typical of that of a physicist. That is, equations are usually abundantly legible if not elegant and beautiful, and accordingly my cursive of Greek and Hebrew letters is generally better than my cursive of Roman.

This comes, I find, first of years of taking lecture notes that were primarily equation derivations, interspersed with the occasional figure and spiced with terse comments made more terse by the necessity of capturing equations but net the fullness of sentences. This trend was cemented by working at physics “problems”, first those in books and then those of research, that have reduced one’s “natural” writing style to legible equations and almost expletive-like words of relevance. Only when one writes out a paper or other text is one called upon to write actual sentences that adhere to the grammatical rules of the language, much less legibility. And since the American Physical Society has led the way to adopting LaTeX, the medium of writing such are text editors – distinct from word processors like the hated MegaHard WORD. Still, my cursive is better than that of my daughter who does not so much write as curly print.

But what struck me of the statement was my own oft used one that I could tell when an educated person (a nerd, as it be) went to college. If they went to college prior to the ’60’s, then they learned how to write code once they entered the workplace, whether that workplace was academia or something closer to reality. If they went to college bewteen the ’60’s and the ’80’s, then they learned how to code in a class. And if they went to college after the ’80’s, they did not learn how to code at all since by then all code was canned and they had to learn coding on their own in graduate shul in and around assistantship and qualifing exams.

I fear that the two are now comparable as dying arts. Cursive has gone away except for adults who take up calligraphy, which is itself a sad vanishing shadow of its Medieval glory. Similarly coding has  become less a matter of nerdly literacy and something increasingly reserved for information plumbers. Both are prosecuted by the great organizations: the latter by an insistence on ASCII composition; and the former by a paranoia of ordinary individuals doing anything original with a computer. The latter is an often overlooked aspect of society’s wider war on science, an effort bent on destroying the freedom of enumeration.

Indeed, this is the true horror of computing, of denying us not only cursive but maths as well, hiding both behind canned software that increasingly does both not only poorly but incorrectly.

Daylight Savings Death

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute and the Swedish Nation Board of Health and Welfare have determined that going off daylight savings time causes heart attack deaths to decrease to 0.95 of the daylight savings time incidence. [Link]

The punch line is it’s the “fall back” portion that lets us get an extra hour of sleep that is the cause, not the abandonment of daylight savings time itself.

This is a bit of a disappointment to folks like me who really dislike daylight savings time. If you arise at 0330 and retire at 2000, daylight savings time is of little value in saving anything except dark, which there is plenty of at the lower end and usually at the upper end.

My colleagues argue that this is why I am sometimes rather anti-English since that nation is known for citizens who rise late and stay up half the night. Which is one of the reasons I rise so early – to avoid those people who live that way.

Actually I have no real argument for or against daylight savings time. I simply dislike the change of having to “lose” and hour in the spring, gain it back in the fall, and have my bodily rhythms upset twice by the meddling of undemocratic governance. And I do wonder if the loss of sleep in the spring generates a higher incidence of cardiac failure?

Of course there are advantages to living as far Nawth as Sweden in terms of regularizing whether the day is long or short.

Gospel

I am, sadly, back in Huntsville, Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. This time I am getting one of my automobiles maintained after the little dashboard light that indicates I need to have the vehicle maintained began emitting photons while I was returning from my previous trip to Huntsville, back on Tuesday. That previous trip was a dutiful son excursion of taking my mother to get her eyes inspected by a local practitioner.

That travel is broadening is a cliche of some limited validity. Certainly travel these days is one of hurry up and wait with inadequate exercise so that the broadening one does is about the pelvic region. Of course this situation is somewhat improved by the movement of the transportation vendors to charge exorbitant proces for foodstuffs thus prompting anyone with two neurons to make other arrangements.

Also, I can experimentally attest, albeit as anecdotal observation under less than controlled conditions, that the customer lounges at automobile dealer garages, at least this one, are more amenable than the lounges provided by medical practitioners for their patients and their entourages. Of course, for those who have medical insurance, the perception of cost of medical treatment is generally considerably less than that of normal maintenance on one’s automobile and hence the extent of amenities correlate with how big the cost of their use will be.

Recognizing this, I made arrangements on Tuesday to drop off my moter and go off to obtain some luncheon foodstuffs for myself, it being that time of day and with the sure knowledge that her superior socialization skills would charm the medical minions to call me once her eye maintenance had been concluded. And hence lies the crux of my tale.

I chose to break my midday fast at a mid scale restaurant, a bit upscale of the usual fast food chains and characterized by rather better quality arising from a devotion to value for price. Sadly with the present recession, as is usual with such, this place is a bit beset with a differential effect of lunch eating folks moving down the food chain. That is, those who must eat out every day have been tending to eat at “cheaper” restaurants to save money. The effect of this has been to drive a couple of the best restaurants in Huntsville to close their doors, or rather kitchens, as people forsake relatively healthy chef prepared meals for the depredations of the automated food, if it may be called such, at McDougals and Burger Tyrant.

In its own way this is a sign of how consumer democracy works, and as much as I realize it is a transient phenomena, for as transportation costs rise the volume differential enjoyed by the chain fast food troughs will erdoe and they themselves will have to close their grease traps, I still can do no more than enjoy what is available, as it is.

The noteworthy thing, at least to me, occurred as I left the establishment. I was addressed by a middle aged fellow in a rather shiny black suit, “Brother, what operating system do you use?” I glanced around to assure myself I was the one addressed, for many have great reticence about speaking to SCP, and responded “Windows by the demands of social obligation, Ubuntu for myself.”

His reply was “Hallelujah, Brother! I knew on seeing you that you were near unto one of the saved!” Encouraged by my Vulcan eyebrow response, he continued to explain that he was a minister of the church of the numerical messiah and that those who used open source operating systems like Ubuntu were the chosen of  the deity and that those who used Windows were mired in the sin of unthinking subjugation while those who used the Apple OS were simply unrepentant hedonists.

About this time my cellular phone played its rather banal, but cost neutral ring tone and I had to excuse myself to be told to recover my mother from her eyeball observations. I apologized for both using a closed phone – I did not mention that too was a social obligation to FD SCP – and departing, and asked how I might help this saintly individual in his quest to bring information enlightenment and epiphany to a superstitious and mystical society. He waved aside my offer of pictures of dead presidents and instead instructed me to pass on a Live-CD of Ubuntu to some poor Windows or Apple sinner who was capable of elevation.

I then climbed in my automobile, again sadly a closed system by necessity, and drove away to fulfill other social obligations, ruminating on the nature of human belief.

Church Business

The PEW people usually publish surveys but occasionally they go in other directions. Such was the case with a consideration of a litigation between the District of Columbia and the third church of christ, scientist. The name aside, this group must be presumed religious from their legal arguments against a restriction placed on modifications to their church building. [Link] Apparently the building is a particularly exceptional example of an architectural style and the district designated it as a protected historical building, in effect preventing the church from modifying or demolishing the building. The church then immediately screamed religious persecution.

Quite aside from the legal aspects of the matter, which I shall not reiterate, what gathered my attention was that the church is arguing that their being unable to demolish the building restricts their ability to generate revenue! This is not a religious argument; this is a business argument, and it is made rather baldly and directly by an organization that claims itself to be religious.

Unfortunately, by making this argument it also makes itself a business which has no claim to protect or consideration on religious grounds. But somehow I suspect this whole point will be studiously ignored all round.

Degeneration

It also seems that the stupidification of the the young is not limited to the Yankee republic. Research at King’s College indicate that contemporary teenagers are better at rote response than the same age cohort in the ’70’s, but much worse at evidencing understanding of what they have learned. [Link]

This is rather damning indication that the loss of ability to think is not confined to the Yankee republic but is also the situation in England as well. It also reinforces my own observations which are, of course, nothing more than anecdote.

The study blames this on the increased optempo of modern life. This explanation strikes me as both reasonable and perhaps overly general, although it would tend to explain why kids from the hinterland are “smarter” these days than those from the cities.

I also have to wonder how much good righteous family values have done to ameliorate this effect? And how much it is accelerated by shuls that no longer (?) educate, only train for rote responses to published test questions.

How long will it be before we humans can be replaced by parrots? Or our whole civilization collapses in the intelligence equivalence of Babelism?

I shall have to think more on how this matter may be reversed.

Twitterist

It seems the Yankee army is concerned about terrorists using Twitter as a means of furthering their nefarious and dastardly activities. [Link] I do not wish to belittle this other than noting it seems no more inherently evil than email, blogging, or any of the other information diffusion activities that the Yankee army has denigrated in past.

Basically, any means that any opponent uses to communicate or perform his mission is evil, bad, ……. That’s just the simple way of the military. The problem arises from the short step from can use to does use. Hence the repression of any activity outside of military control, and the criminalization of any activity not overtly and explicitly required.

The nature of this danger is demonstrated in the Yankee army’s document on this threat. For example, they state that

Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences,

Note first that “social activism tool” is a synonym for purposeful communication means. In this perspective, if we take Twitter as a means for terrorist communication then it is a short step to the reverse, that those who use Twitter may be terrorists, in particular “socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists,
religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and
others”. From this we may see that both (modern) republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, those of religious faith and those of non-religious faith, those who eat meat and those who do not, … all are terrorists or should be considered potential terrorists and treated accordingly.

I have to wonder how long it will be before a squad of Ones drag me from my computer to be incarcerated in some Arizona Auschwitz or just do the deed with a round of ball ammo at the base of the neck where I sit.

A certain part of this paranoia is inherent to military organizations, and another part is blatant envy. The speed of Twitter is something that a directive environment such as the military cannot achieve except under the most useless of conditions. What is less clear is how close this envy is to insecurity.

Sugar Rush

I happened to be watching the Oprah program the other day when she gifted her audiences with Kindles. [Link] [Link] I was going out to use the half entropy cellar outside my study and FD SCP had the program on the den television.

I have to admit that I was on a television program once. The occasion was my birthday. I was five or six, and the program was one of those “50’s after shul hours cartoon programs that were interspersed with morality bits and acts of inept slapstick. I recall all through the experience wondering why adults would do such ridiculous things.

In the old days, rules in what we now call India would reward behavior they considered socially threatening with the gift of a white elephant. Since this was a gift from the ruler, who was bless by the deity, the gift was a great honor and had to be kept and cared for properly. But such took a lot of time and money and so getting this white elephant as a gift was a sure way of keeping the recipient from being a social problem.

I have to wonder if the situations aren’t comparable – in both instances. First, I repeatedly wonder why adults do things like these afternoon programs. This is an easy and quick one, they do it for money and power. But what isn’t easy is why do adults watch these programs? My current theory draws from ancient Rome: chariot races; gladiatorial combat; Christians to the lions; circuses. The same things we five year old kids were getting: cartoons; sugar; novelty.

But is the Kindle a white elephant? Since you can’t get anything on it without paying, even for stuff that is free over the internet, yes, it is. Of course, you can’t get the free stuff onto the Kindle because it won’t talk to your computer just like you can’t feed white elephants Purina (R) elephant chow. And the content you can buy for the Kindle is pretty much like those kid’s programs: scant intellectual content (cartoons) and artificial emotion (sugar and novelty). Which are still the characteristics of afternoon television programming.

Buh Buh

Several years ago I had to attend a conference in downtown Chicago. The conference was so-so, a typical Class B publication thing. The main high points were networking with smart folks who had the good sense to not live in Nawth Alibam but the bad sense to come to that conference, bread pudding in the hotel pub – with Irish whiskey (yes, it’s good but it’s not whisky), and the Field museum.

Now I read that the management shul at Northwestern had a new student mixer at the Field that turned into a real drunken brawl. [Link] I have to admit to not being at all sure which of several azimuths to consider this.

I think I will settle for the one that this is indicative of much of what is broken in the Yankee republic. No, I am not going to get all Southron mystical and declaim serving spirits to students. The Yankee shuls have been doing that overtly for a long time and while it may be a contributor it is not the only one. Rather, what is most damning here is that we have students whose uppermost concern is hedonism, unbridled and without any control at all, external or internal.

This is one of the reasons I have scant respect for management shuls. They have scant respect for anything other than money and profit, the most callous and craven aspects of management. Sadly this outlook has come to pervade not only all shuls, but all of society as well. So the blame rests on all of us, not just the students who lack any integrity, the faculty who lack any respect, and the administrators of the Field who lack any neurons.

Sadly I have to conclude we in the Yankee republic deserve our impending third world status.

Boot Blues

After yesterday’s blot on how long it took my Ubuntu and Windows (XP) desktops to boot/reach functionality, I was a tad surprised to see an article in the New Yawk Times on this very subject. [Link] What caught my attention was a statement that their reporter/editor thinks it takes computers – Windows implied – three minutes to boot.

“Moose Muffins”, to quote a favorite source of such.

But what the article was about was people being unhappy – polite term – that it took so long for their boxes to become functional. And it rattled on about corporate oligarchs who were scheming to speed this process up.

I recall years ago in the days when DOS was paramount that there were all sorts of folks who sold computers that had DOS in ROM, or PROM, or EPROM so that you didn’t have to wait for it to boot from disk. And this was after DOS was enhanced enough to actually talk to hard drives. Of course it usually took less than a minute to boot DOS off of a floppy wven if you had it loaded down with add-ins.

So the conculsion is that we, as a species, at least here in the Yankee republic, have lost our capacity for patience. And that is why these ideas may not work any better this time than they did last time.

The problem with these fast boot techniques is that usually they involve storing the OS, or at least its boot portion, on a fast memory device and usually those devices are not easily changable. So once you have the bootable part of an OS on one of these devices, you can’t update it, and if we bother to think about it, computers and updates are insperable. So having a fast booting computer means that you are using old OS.

This is especially telling for Windows since about every other Tuesday there are security updates, which, if you have one of these fast boot computers, you can’t use unless you can change the contents of that fast memory or you get a new set. And if you don’t, your computer is insecure.

So the best thing to do is use your other computer, the one that keeps your ears apart. And figure out something constructive to do while your box boots. Or just drool.