Art and Arzt

Rather a strange symmetry at the gym this morning, the pinheads – their own term – at Reynard news on the inside of the televisions on the wall, and the relative hordes – is there a collective name for the social organization of lemmings? – of the teacher taliban. The symmetry comes from the televisions being mounted on the wall so that one has the perception of looking through a window into a room beyond.

The Reynardians were lambasting the chief kudzu of the Whole Foods market chain and doing so in a sadly inane, often contradictory fashion. At one point they asked how this fellow thought his criticism of the current administration’s health care machination would “have an impact.” The incongruity of this being said on a television network, albeit a rather whacked one, transmitted throughout the Yankee republic was at once hilarious and saddening. One could not help but muse if getting these pampered news readers to pronounce something is not having a meaningless but substantial impact on society, then what is?

They alternated in this vein with a Colonel Blimp (modern) republican corporate oligarch discourse on how captains of industry – assuming or presuming that the head of a chain of groceries is a captain or that grocery is an industry – have no business having morals or ethics only profits. And then they went on, along the foodstuffs azimuth, to decry the efforts of the Yankee government to diminish the toxicity of chain restaurant offerings.

I could not help but recall the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs – that dead geese lay no eggs – in trying to reconcile the cyclical contradictions in this delivery.

The near side of the wall was less boisterous other than the overloud groans of members of the teacher taliban who evidently did not do exercies over the summer months that shul was out of session. I once more had the opportunity to wonder at the incongruity of the arrogance of dominating others to express oneself. Scant wonder that the education apparat is predominantly (modern) democrat.

I quickly turned to my MP3 player for an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas”. This one was one of their monthly ‘arts’ episodes which are generally vacuous as well as meaningless. This one was no exception although it did give me occasion to consider whether art is nerdery, geekery, or bogery. I quickly eliminated bogery since the enterprise is too aeconomic to be appealing to a bog.

In many ways, art does have aspects of nerdery. It is understood by few, but the overwhelming question is whether it is productive in some fashion. It does produce something although I would not consider much of what is produced by most artists to have any merit or contribution of any kind. But then, I am one of those who holds that the slide rule was one of the highest forms of human art in combining practical functional fuctionality with mystical, emotional satisfaction. But recognizing that others may not see this also captures the nature of both art and nerdery, so I was forced to accept the hypothesis that art may indeed by nerdery but that the matter was insufficently parametrized, if it could be.

After all, who am I to determine if something contributes to the health of the species?

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What is the height of Stupidity?

Back when I was a senior in high shul, the old joke of the title was making its periodic rounds. As I was making the rounds of the blogs I read, I came across this

on Download Squad. [Link] The blot is on the matter of some failed MegaHard advertising catch phrases, of which this was the featured one. [Link]

I can see why the failure. After seeing this every Mac and Linux user will be doing themselves a serious injury rolling on floor and laughing sans control.

On which note, not only is there life without Windows, but it is a good life. Indeed, it is so good that the rational among us have to ask if existence with Windows is life or just slavery, maybe, on the best of days, serfdom?

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Unless it’s a problem

In rummaging through the backlog of articles that amasses during the week, [1] I came across an article on ScienceRay, [Link] “Is It Ethical for People to Rely on Electronics?”. The article deals with some particular issues having to do with using electronics to monitor the elderly and, in some sense, infirm. The ethical issue is in clear counterpoint to the economic issue of whether we, as humans individually and as societies, can free humans from this custodial activity by using relatively simple, and thereby, hopefully, near infallible and attentive widgets. The economic issue is the cost of the widgets and their minor upkeep compared to the cost of a human attendant.

The economic issue is in some sense specious in this age of consumer leisure and entertainment. It rests firmly in the value of human endeavor. On the one side of this is that humans have value because they produce things. What is less clear is whether value attaches to those who produce things that have monetary value in the artificiality of marketplace or just in more absolute context of species survival? And if the latter, how is quantitative valuation to be effected in a meaningful and substantive way, unlike the use of the purely artificial, arbitrary, and baseless metric of money? The matter is further complicated by the inconsistencies. If every human’s efforts are valued then the earned credit of seniors merits care, but if only substantive contribution is valued, almost all seniors are valueless and can be ignored into oblivion. As is often the case our addiction to the immediacy of money hampers our rationality.

Leaving such Gordian knots for the moment, let us turn to the question of whether using electronics is adequately ethical. If the device is indeed accurate, that is, it measures what needs to be measured and also measures its own accuracy, then if the instrumentality can provide action support in a sufficiently timely fashion, which is more than can be claimed for human attendants with scant attention, the ethicality question has to reside in the ameasurable but observable component of human-human interaction. As such, no rational decision is possible.

This is not a new question. I was reminded of my first encounter with the matter, at the point of the spear as it were, by the arrival of the spring/summer 2009 issue of “Department of Chemistry News” from the campus of the Boneyard. In this issue was a brief article announcing the retirement of a professor, Momentum Magnetic Induction. I was mentally returned to the end of fall semester 1971/2. I was assigned as a teaching assistant to a general chemistry class lectured by this professor.

In those days teaching assistants were in a several way Oreo situation. Their supervisor was the head of section, in this case Gravitational constant Hamiltonian but attached to the professor teaching the specific course, in this case Momentum Magnetic Induction. Both could issue direction and guidance. And, of course, the TA was also supposed to get some research done for their adviser. The situation is often religious and difficult.

The description in the periodical article of Momentum Magnetic Induction is glowing and humanitarian, a paragon of the ‘good’ aspects of humans. Working for him as a TA made me very glad he was not my adviser, which is saying much given the nature of my adviser. In many ways Momentum Magnetic Induction was like someone in a Greek myth, the kind who suffer from overweening ambition and end up barbecuing their children through divine muddling of mental faculties.

The ethical issue arose at final exam time. In those days they occurred after the winter solstice holiday break, when christmas, or chanucah or whatever was observed. A freshman walked into the exam with a christmas present, one of the new luggable basic arithmetic electronic calculators. [2] The question raised was whether he should be allowed to use this on exam? Did it confer an unfair – whatever that is – advantage?

Immediately the professor and sycophant assistants went into frenzy. Ambition was struck ringingly because any hint of impropriety in teaching would have possibly minor effect on tenure decisions. After all, this was a state funded teaching university, which meant that tenure decisions were made 0.99 on the basis of research and grant success.

Happily it was pointed out that slide rules were permitted in the rules – although the average bog freshman was clueless on how to use – and this calculator was, in effect, the same. Not a solution, for there is no solution since this is not a problem but a condition, but it relieved the panic and the actual business of bureaucratic education could continue.

[1] Caught me! Obviously this implies the week begins on Monday.
[2] The HP 35 had been announced – all the graduate students had a picture clipped from a periodical and attached to their wall – but not released, not that we could have afforded it on our stipends of $200-300 per month for 9 or 11 months per year.

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Dearth Days

Yes, I know I haven’t made any blots the last couple of days. Mixture of doldrums, anything that moves me the comment, and my head being into a research of looking at diffusion as renewal-like.

Sour Grapes

Having done so-so on fat, the American Heart Association has come out against sugar. [1] OK. I can accept that, but why do they keep ignoring the sodium thing? [2]

Is there a prurient interest here?

[1]  Got email so can’t cite an article.
[2]  As far as I can tell every additional gram of sodium you have over bodily requirements translates to 0.5 kg of retained, globulous water (dihydrogen oxide). Another form of obesity.

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New Year

The local public shuls rebooted a couple of weeks ago, and the colleges seem to be doing so this week. Certainly I have been seeing lots of ‘welcome, slime mold freshmen, to campus, this is how you are supposed to behave’ or ‘rejoice! this is how the administration has made starting the shul year less traumatic’ articles in the student newspapers of the campus of the Black Warrior [Link] and the campus of the Boneyard. [Link] [Link] All of which rather brings me to consider my strating experiences.

As a freshman at the campus of the Black Warrior I had already gone through a 2.5 day on-campus indoctrination during the height of summer when the only people stirring on campus were hung over public shul teachers working for graduate credits to up their paychecks and really dedicated, real graduate students. And, of course, us being marched from place to place for College 101. Lots of briefings by interested parties trying to sell us on various things, like signing up for ROTC courses or buying meal tickets – 14 or 20 meals per week, and thankfully a pep talk by a social sciences graduate student at the one on few level and re-registration for fall courses. The latter was when I learned not to pay any attention to advisors who didn’t know you although I did not appreciate what I learned until Christmas holiday.

Despite this, we had to come back a couple of days before the rush so I had to arrive at my dorm in tow of parents. Happily I was not alone in this; the U wisely had this time programmed for parents to do the semi-covert sniffle thing without embarrassing us too much in front of who had experienced this at least a year previously. So I semi-stoically – didn’t know what that word really meant until the next summer – put up with my mother frantically cleaning an already clean – for college – dorm room and their tourist bright help purchasing textbooks and supplies. Most of the latter turned out to be useless or superfluous, replaced the next week by items recommended by kind, empathic upperclassmen.

What they didn’t get to experience, happily on my part, was the joys of the dorm cluster cafeteria. I was fortunate enough to avoid the megadorm the cafeteria was in as residence, but I still had to visit there 20 times a week, Sunday evening the exception, to partake of their meals. My father would have understood with his Great Patriotic War experiences with navy food, and his workplace experiences with Yankee army commissary cafeterias, but my mother would have decided I would starve on the unseasoned but overcooked foodstuffs. All in all, however, the rationale that an automobile-less freshamn would have trouble getting meals was not too inaccurate. And the spring term I fulfilled my mother’s unborn reaction by dropping 25 pounds – so much for the Freshman 15! – because of back to back classes across the lunch period forcing me to skip lunch.

The following years were not as difficult, especially after I moved out of dorm the summer between my sophomore and junior years. The only crisis was not having preference for registration, which proved to be a non-issue after my sophomore year with majors in very underpopulated classes. There is no terror in a class with 25 allotted seats and only 5 registrants. But I learned the spring semester of my freshman year to swipe a registration form before registration actually opened, fill it out, get a friend to scrawl something in the advisor signature block, while returning the favor, and show up at the gymnasiu, where class registrations were pulled ten minutes after opening on the first day. Regardless of whatever alphabetical order, rotated each semester, you were supposed to observe. In at 0810, at the book store by 0900. The latter was important because the managers of the bookstores knew which classes would not fill and bought accordingly. If you wanted that quantum mechanics 321 textbook be there early, no web in those days. Or xerox machines.

When I went off to graduate shul, it was almost like regression to being a freshman again, except without the pre-registration. Not that graduate registration was a pain in those days. But indoctrination was as thorough although more along the lines of how not to get your undergraduate charges killed, if you were a teaching assistant, that is. And how to live on a stipend of $300 per month for nine or eleven months and not come down with deficiency diseases or go to debtor’s prison.

But many of those memories, nor forty plus years old, are still bring, largely because I still have some old towels and clothes with  the name tages sewn in them by my mother. Stuff was made better then. I also have my slide rule and quite a few of my nerd textbooks, the ones not destroyed in the great fire of ’01. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind going back to then but not to starting college now. Somehow the fun has been sucked out in the intervening years.

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Camelot Camphor

Wednesday is supposed to be Quirks and Quarks day but because they have been on holiday and I am building up a buffer, I defaulted to “The World” podcasts. In and around that, I had occasion to take in the persisting evidence of the media’s partisan prejudice.

Sir Bors has passed. [Link]

I can think of many things to say on the matter. A comparison to the recent circus accorded that entertainer could be made. Some comment about campaign workers could be made. Out of deference to my Southron programming I shall refrain from any such. I should like to say something positive about the man but I fear I know of nothing to cite. Not that I think there is not something, just that I do not know what it is.

Leaving ambiguity aside, I take note that a new land speed record has been set for steam power automobiles. [Link] That, at least, I can find some good to mention. In this one instance we have some evidence of hope for the continuation of the species. Although I do have to admit to not being sure whether this new record being set by an Englishman is a good or an ill.

I hope that the tyrant of England sees fit to bestow knighthood on this stalwart fellow. We may only hope that he continues to do good for the species and stays out of politics.

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