Tray Do

One of my alma materi, the campus of the Boneyard, is phasing out trays in its cafeterias. [Link] The excuses given for this have to do with saving money, environmental friendliness, saving money, energy conservation, saving money, reducing food wastage, and saving money.

I am not going to debate any of these reasons for the simple reason that I don’t have numbers on them so I can’t begin to make a nerdish assessment of their validity. Given the recent track record of the administration at this campus, I have my suspicions that everything but money is eye candy.

I am not a great fan of college cafeteria cuisine, a phrase whose only validity is its Agnewesque alliteration. I had more than ample experience with the cafeteria in Paty Hall on the campus of the Black Warrior, whose only food superiority was in comparison to the Morrison’s (commercial) cafeteria that parents invariably insisted on eating at when they visited their children-students. In this one institutional annecdote, I can subjective assess ‘dorm food” to be superior to corporate oligarchy food by a factor of at least 1.5.

Despite my poverty of trying to live on a teachnig assistantship, I did occasionally partake of food at the cafeteria of the Illini Union. This is not strictly a dorm cafeteria since, obviously, it is not located in a dorm, although this is not a negation since I have been on small campuses where there was a central dinig facility and it was often geographically close to the student center. Also, the Illini Union cafeteria is frequented by staff and faculty as well as students.

My visits were usually on cold days when my snake mind had convinced my primate mind that a cup of hot chocolate would be a boon. For a boy from Nawth Alibam, who had just come from four years at the campus of the Black Warrior, central Illinois in winter often seemed indistinguishable from the lowest level of Dante’s Tartarus. There was also a bit of palate rebellion here against my almost steady diet of cosmetically damaged oatmeal, IGA peanut butter on toasted, more-than-day-old bread, and cosmetically damaged Banquet TV dinners. Somehow the urge seemed to reach its climax on Thursdays which was Ruben day at the cafeteria. The prospect of that New Yawk delicacy transplanted to the midwest and made overwhelmingly gooey was somehow compelling in the same way of the first urination of the day.

The point to all this is that I, and most of the folks there, had books and paraphenalia we were carrying. This was before the day of the back pack except for those who had the thought as original and visisted the army surplus store – hence then all packs were green. And scarce since this was in the middle of the Vietnam confrontation and the union had been trashed just a term earlier by anti-war hedonists.

And because we were carrying stuff, usually a book and a notebook in my case, purses by the women, …. we needed someplace to put that stuff while we made our way down the cafeteria line to a table. Trays were a necessity not so much for carrying just food but the combination of food and other stuff. This may not be necessity in a dorm cafeteria where one has a room to store stuff in, but in a more general environment discontinuing trays is likely to have a negative impact on many people and they will look elsewhere for repast.

Thursday Thuddings

I note an article on the popularity of books on “things to do before you die”. [Link] I regret that I find this both amusing and appalling, and for the same reason. Do people really have to go read in a book (or watch an entertainment) to figure out what they would like to do before they discorporate? Makes GEICO commercials seem intellectual and superstition novel.

Next, I note, courtesy of the English press, that Dell is finally offering some boxes with Ubuntu pre-installed. [Link] Again I am unsure of whether I should well up tears of joy or pity. Dell boxes are quite well suited to linux, and Ubuntu in particular, despite the common presence of Nvidia graphics cards and horribly non-compliant wireless cards. Now if they would just explain to Hp just what a slug SLED is? Notably the article mentions not pricing so we might not be surprised at Ubuntu – zero price – boxes tagged at a higher figure than VISTA boxes. Just how much money is MegaHard giving the box manufacturers to install VISTA? Half the cost of the hardware?

There is also the not-news that Gooey’s calculator is busted. [Link] It’s also spayed and microcephalic as well. Won’t even calculate reliably zeroth order spherical Bessel functions of the first kind, and off the origin at that. If this is what Web 2.0 is all about I shall stick to client software, HP RPN calculators, and my laboratory notebook. On which note, we have determined that archival quality ink, either Noodler’s or Diamine’s, is less than 0.03 the cost of the ink in those plastic sticks sold by Bic, Papermate, Pilot, and the like.

We also tender our congratulations to Ardrey and Merlin on the recent, successful dewombification of their new offspring Ichabod. [Link] The 116 g infant is supposed doing well, being especially vocal for one of his species.

Less endearing and definitely exasperating is an article [Link] on how both the O’Bama and the son of Cain are continuing their political affiliations’ practices of either detesting or ignoring science. Perhaps we should be discontent that the Yankee nation will undoubtedly obtain the new chief executive we so richly deserve?


I note in the Daily Illini, the student house rag of the campus of the Boneyard, that Perfesser Charley Slichter will be awarded the National Medal of Science. [Link]

Perfesser Slichter was was one of the Big Three of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy when I was a graduate student. The other two were Herb Gutowski who was grand exalted kudzu of the chemistry shul, and Ted Rowland who was a disgruntled political wannabe in metalurgy. Charley was known for having written the best book on the subject, a slender head banger of a tome.

Well done. Well deserved.

Warning Order

SCP regrets to inform that his presence will be required the next few days at a ritual of familial transmogrification. Communication being what they are in Alibam, and demands on SCP’s time being what they undoubtedly and painfully will be, blogging will, with high probability, be minimized for the next few days.

Greater Metropolitan Arab

To quote the Kingston Trio, “in response to a diminishing number of requests,” I am doing a bit of a blot on Greater Metropolitan Arab, common called R’b (pronounced ARRub.) The name is the result of a bit of dyslexia on the part of either the local representative of the Yankee government (at the time,) a postal clerk, or the city founder, depending on which bit of folklore one subscribes to. It was supposed to be named “Arad” but the dyslexia kicked in and rotated the “d” into a “b”. Obviously that name would have been at least as unfortunate since it would be heard as “arid”.

Unfortunately, the name Arab is a bit of a disadvantage these days. The Homeland Security gestapo seem to periodically entertain the idea that a town named “Arab” must be a hotbed of terrorists and they dispatch a gaggle of agents in black General Motors SUVs with GSA plates to scour the city. Somehow the publicly available demographics that muslims comprise the third smallest minority in town, just ahead of people of Lithuanian-Tibetan heritage and Mercotians. The closest to terrorists in town are a slightly high national representation of nerds, engineers and scientists, but this is normal in Nawth Alibam and is the primary reason that the thieves politicians in Montgum would like Nawth Alibam to disappear in a gravitational singularity.

The only remaining vestige of the originally intended name is a road named for Arad Thompson which enjoys the notoriety of bing a major semi tractor route running through a residential area. This sort of paradox is typical of Arab. For example, politics in Arab seem to largely turn on attracting chain businesses and thus doubly depleting local coffers by not only removing the basic cost of goods from the community but franchise fees as well. I have actually been told by these politicians that we can only attract new residents in this manner, which quite ignores the type of people that are likely to reside here. People who have to eat in corporate or government cafeterias or fast food stands for lunch are not likely to want to eat similar fare for dinner.

Almost all of the businesses in Arab are second or third tier. Only a few primary manufacturing concerns, all diminuative, add to the top of the cash flow. So far as I can determine there are no knowledge or information industries here at all. Most of the residents are employed in Huntsville and so Arab is largely a now dying bedroom cmmunity being sapped by the rising cost of transportation. This is abetted by the local businesses who have not yet discovered Arab is a bedroom community and bieng open before and after working hours is more important than being open during working hours. Hence the continued success of chain businesses as the only game in town agter 1800 hours.

The shul system is one of the bright spots of the community, rated highly within the state. This is, of course, rather like saying one has a superior cess pool since the actual goodness of the system is something of the order of 0.1 of what Huntsville’s was in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Because the town’s political atmosphere is split between those who were born and raised in Arab, and the bedroom community commuters, the education apparat is held in high esteem by the former and low ridicule by the latter. This is reflected in the arrogant paranoia of the local teachers who seem to have considerable problems in swithcing from intimidating the children of high shul dropouts to being intimidated by the children of nerds with postgraduate degrees.

Geographically, R’b is located in Nawth Alibam.

The major transportation artery is US 231 which runs fitfully through R’b, punctuated by an inordinate number of traffic signals, none of whom have functional left turn capability. Most of the chain businesses are located on this four lane bumper carriageway and the downtown is slowly drying up as local businesses relocate to the highway. The downtown area is quite friendly, as indicated by a grave yard immediately off the center of town wherein lie many discorporate residents including several Yankee army veterans who remained after the Recent Unpleasantness to reside in Arab. Horses are generally forbidden downtown except during homecoming and christmas parades (maybe) and hence sanitation overall is excellent.

Businesses in town are about equally divided in number between chain and local firms, the latter about equally divided between real businesses and tax loss businesses that are started by the wives (usually) of commuters and are in operation only long enough to sustain the optimum tax loss before going out of business and being succeded the following year by another such.

That which we cannot Measure

I am rather gratified this morning to note that Ms. Alexa Harrington, who blog at “Educated Nation”, [Link] has returned from end-of-summer spiritual purification rituals. Evidence was presented of this by an email notifying me that she had posted a comment on one of by blots. [Link] In her inimitable manner, Ms. Harrington has struck deeply into the “I wonder” center of my brain with this comment. In particular, I reproduce here what to me are the salient parts:

Someone should do their thesis on the cycles and patterns of topics in the blogosphere.

Even Qadgop was moved by this to pause in his daily exercise of shredding sheet neutronium with his claws and tongue to trans halfway between continua in consideration.

The thought here is that one of the preliminaries to assessing “the cycles and patterns of the blogosphere” would be to develop a taxonomy of blogger and their blogs, which in turn generates the prerequisite of some assessment of whether these can be considered the one or the many since some blogs have multiple bloggers and some bloggers have multiple blogs. This vector schizophrenia aside, it has become rather apparent that some effort needs be bent to provide the blog universe (at least the part on Tellus) with some categorical taxonomy.

I should comment at this point that many of us are familiar with taxonomies. The one that comes most rapidly to mind is the one used in libraries to catalog books. The examples of this I am familiar with are the Library of Congress and the Dewey Decimal systems. In a sense these taxonomies are a map of all knowledgeable information, or at least that component that may be recorded and expressed in some variant of American English. (Both of which constraints are, of course, severely limiting.)

What we are not necessarily familiar with is the underlying theory and practice of taxonomies. I suspect most people think that some smart guy(s) sit(s) down who is broadly and deeply knowledgeable and composes a taxonomy in much the same way that we array cans of vegetables in our cupboard. This is only partly correct. There is actually a set of maths theory (and practice) for constructing and affirming taxonomies (taxonomies, like good vector spaces need righteous orthogonality.) An elementary (as in elements of, not the lowest taxonomy class of shul) presentation may be found in Dunn and Everitt’s An Introduction to Mathematical Taxonomy. One should also exercise care in applying these in situations involving practitioners of a taxonomy; I have been savaged more than once by excellent librarians driven to berserker frenzy over detailed kritik of their favorite system.

Despite this existence, we must also admit that rather few taxonomies are composed on maths grounds. Rather, they tend to grow in a Mopsyish fashion and only after they have evolved to a point where their operation is serious jepordized are they revamped using rigorous methodology. The best example of this process, to mu knowledge, is biological taxonomy which has suffered and is suffering severe trauma under the onslought of DNA measurement. Despite this stress, which leads one to enquire if it induces biologists to partake of junk food, the taxonomy of living “things” is made increasing credible and utile, at least to the view of an auslander.

To demonstrate why we have need of such in bloggery, let us consider the common, at least by myself, of the categorization of bloggers (and their blogs) based on whether there is recompense or not. In general, paid bloggers write their blogs on the part of or under the sponsership of some organization and hence have many characteristics of traditional journalists including excessive simplification. Unpaid bloggers, on the other hand, tend to be whiners in some dimension and say things as they think them. The taxonomic questions arise when we consider the cases of bloggers who have advertising on their blog sites. Are all of these paid? Or are the ones who only advertise enough to have a revenue neitral blog effectively unpaid, whiners as it were as opposed to simplistic blatherers? And are those who derive a positive cash flow paid?

I await some product of effort to develop this taxonomy. And given the time of quadriyear, it might be especially fitting if the developer were named Truman.


I also had occasion this morning to listen to a podcast episode of “Future Tense”. [Link] These are five minute ‘casts, several per week, dealing with information technology/society matters, and I use them as end of session fillers when I have only a few minutes to go on my scheduled exercises. Even so, I also fall behind on these so I can’t tell you how old the ‘cast is. Its subject however, was those people who have never “connected” to the internet.

The fellow being interviewed, whose name I never got and would not have retained had I, was talking about those people who have never experienced the internet expect possibly by looking over someone’s shoulder. These are people who may use computers, but do not use them to connect to the internet, do IM or email, or the like. The demographic does not include people who use internet at work but not at home. The fraction of these people were cited as ~0.2 of the population of the Yankee republic, over half of which were people over the age of 65.

My first thought was that this may be why these people are over 65, at least based on the previous listened podcast about monkeys and junk food. My second thought was my mother who used to use a computer a bit, back before the web was wide, but she could or would not learn its use and so the computer was donated to the local library. She also declines to have a cellular phone despite the protestations of various members of the family that she needs it for emergent emergencies, which sounds redundant but is not if one considers complexity theory.

This is not to say that we do not continue to inveigle her to become a computer user, primarily because of her interest in genealogy and the grandchildren are tired of her complaining that they never visit nor write frequently enough. It should be commented this is not at all without its risks. The idea of administering my mother’s computer is frightening to say nothing of depressing, many days administering and maintaining the computers of FD SCP and my contribution to the grandchild pool is whelming.