It is the eve of the new year, and even though the divisioning is arbitrary, as I found out from working for the Yankee army and discovering how the ‘real’ year, the fiscal one, works, it is as useful as anything for giving some thought to the past.

I should comment that I am not particularly enamored of new year’s resolutions. They suffer from too many weaknesses, the concentration being chief among them. Simply put, examining one’s life/behavior/temperament/… is not something that should be reserved for this segment or region of the year. Retrospection AND analysis do not occur in combination too frequently, and except for bogs mindfogged into thinking otherwise by ‘fashion’, not without great happenstance and effort. It is possible to summon these faculties but only after great training, practice, and effort. So it is not something one can just sit down on new year first day and muddle about with a pad and pencil, or their boggish electronic ersatz, the iPad.

Now since there are a few idiots savant who can summon these faculties on demand, we can treat the whole thing as being pseudo-stochastic and advance that there is a probability of being able on a single day of reviewing one’s existence, analyzing it in detail, compounding plans for resolving undesirable traits or conditions, and implementing those plans sine die. That probability is O(0).

I should also comment that having succeeded in the retrospection, the analysis, and the resolution formation, there is the matter of having too many things listed to ever get even one of them done because of divided concentration. Since this is the season of bowl games, it has the effect of carrying the football to the one yard line and then fumbling. Completely. Consistently. Persistently.

So a better approach is to wait for retrospection and analysis to emerge and then use that emergence, whenever and wherever it may occur to good benefit. And shape as few resolutions as is practicable – preferably one. And acting on those few (one preferably) in as resolute and dedicated a fashion as possible.

Then resolutions make sense.

Sadly, they may not be understood. Our friends, especially the boggish ones, think this is a period specific activity, rather like Black Velvet, and so cannot conceive of anyone doing such any other time. And knowing, in some herd mentality sense, that resolutions are almost never fulfilled, will interpret such success as evidence of mental and/or physical aberration.

Now if they run away in terror, so much the better, but if they decide you are incapacitated, they will make life difficult.

Which has the benefit of leading to more retrospection and analysis, mostly about how to pick friends.

As for myself, I have no resolutions at the moment and do not expect to have any except possibly figuring out how to hide from family next winter solstice season.

Fracking Academia

Yesterday one of my colleagues, Force Spring Constant, sent me an article [Link] about the degradation of Amerikan colleges due to the ascendancy of administrators over faculty. I was more perplexed at the attention and outrage than the article per se.

Simply put, this rot has been growing for quite a while, at least since sometime in the twentieth century although we might argue its origins are earlier. Amerika has always been a nation addicted to colleges with that number peaking in the first fifty years or so and decreasing steadily over time as the market consolidates. Pray note that critical term ‘market’. It is central to understanding why this situation is not surprising.

Originally, almost all colleges were small affairs of a few ‘professors’ and a very limited curriculum, usually what passed for liberal arts in those days and included literature, rhetoric, a classical language or two, and perhaps geography and history. Crafts were taught by apprenticeships that included both attorneys and physicians. The few exceptions were either classical colleges in the English sense or women’s polishing shuls.

The next phase tended to be a growth of some colleges, forcing competitors to disappear by economy of scale, and diversification to include medicine and law. The second part of this phase was the burgeoning of land grant universities, mostly after the Second American Revolution that further reduced the number of institutions.

Up until the end of the Great Patriotic War, the student bodies were limited in size by economics. Only the scions of successful families, the athletically (if not mentally) gifted, and the brilliant poor were students, the latter two by scholarship or some other accommodation, and generally excluded from the curricula of the liberal arts which enjoyed a shibbolethic existence. After the GPW, veterans were guaranteed support by the Yankee government and vastly increased the size of the student bodies of admitting colleges.

This situation is notable in that it shifted the economics of the college. More students brought in more tuition but not enough to defray the cost of college operation that was delicately balanced among tuition, endowment, and government pork. As a result, two forces came into play: decrease the cost of education; and increase cash flow. Both of these are primarily managerial than functional in form.

This set the stage for the current situation. Bring in more money and keep expenditures down. The former is typified by the constant lobbying of government and donors that so alienates organizations and alumni. The latter is typified by the dilution of curricula and the neutering of teaching. Emphasis on grants and research income is not a primary symptom but part and parcel of the dunning. A vicious cycle, possibly unstable or chaotic, of seeking ever more students and seeking to balance the discrepancy between tuition and expense has resulted.

And the rider of the tiger is the manager not the functionary. Or in academic terms, the administrator not the professor. The college has become a business rather akin to that of fast food restaurants. What is important is the experience, not the product. So long as the food is served rapidly, is tasteful (if not healthy or nourishing,) and the ‘feeling’ is good, then the business is successful.

There is a cogent argument that modern colleges are fast food restaurants. The education is made as enjoyable and palatable as possible with a minimum strain on the digestive system (mental instead of physical.) It is usually neither healthy nor nutritious, but that is not as relevant as that the experience be enjoyable. Hence the emphasis on athletics and partying, not lectures and research. And it has to be rapid. Degree programs should be never more than four years and preferably less, a growing trend hailed as cost saving. Of course, what goes with this is also a standardized menu of courses and disencouraged variation. Exceptions are granted only to minimize the period of residency.

This is strangely also the epitome of a diploma mill.

Or is it strange?

Academic Relevance

One more holiday to withstand and then this interminable expansion of solstice will be over! I have to restate that I mightily dislike monday holidays. They rather shatter the spokes of the wheels of life’s processes. And no, not the biological ones so much as the social ones. Although this continual closing of the gym on holidays, regardless of their speciousness, tends to disrupt my metabolic processes by depriving me of much needed exertion.

On which azimuth, I make note of an article [Link] that has been languishing in tabs for quite a while mostly because I kept searching for some pony amongst the poo. The article, dealing with work done jointly by Duke and Princeton Us, has to do with our perception of others. Simply put, the whole thing is rather one of those things that is known by the sentient and intelligent and all this work does is put official academia’s urine on it. Humans, it is known by those who have dealt with other humans and/or read history, tend to persecute those who they perceive as not being human, usually due to differences. Like most of my age cohort I was introduced to this idea as a childby all the Great Patriotic War information in our domicile. Subsequent residence in the old confederacy cemented and matured the idea.

It follows from the nature of this that it has to be wired into us, probably as the alternate of altruism. So part of being human is dehumanizing others so they may be safely treated as something that can be destroyed or abused. The only merit I can see to getting the academics involved is that they will at least talk about it which is probably a good thing since the chief propagators of the practice are governments and religion organizations.

On which note, I came across an article [Link] about some work at Emory U that indicates that academics, the artsy ones at least, are doing a lot of talking (publishing) but aren’t listening (reading.) This also is hardly a surprise. At least when one interacts with technical academics there is almost always some useful signal amidst the noise. But the artsy ones? They don’t seem to even be useful or relevant even to themselves.

This brings me once more to my own experiences. I had to take twelve semester hours of ‘english’ during my career as student. This was supposed to be equally divided between syntax and literature. On both accounts the grade earned by the institution and the instructors was “F”. The most valuable syntax courses I had were in the ‘real’ world. Yes, I went back and picked up some of the rules but what was missed by these courses was not that learning how to compose was important, but that the subject of the composition had to be important to the writer not the instructor.

Put another way, I learned more about composition and syntax writing undergraduate laboratory reports than I did writing essays and term papers. Of course, the real classroom was writing article for refereed journals where no only must the content be adequate but it must be adequately composed to satisfy two or three levels of review. And writing different things – letters through reports – on the job. Money and retention are better teachers than grades.

And as for literature I can only say  that what I was exposed to went rather quickly to the do-not-read list. In most case it was five pages of information crammed into five hundred. And most of the noise surrounding the signal failed to pass the so-what test. Incidentally, this is one of the best reasons I know to learn foreign languages. Somehow translation is a strong synonym for butchery.

Political Quantities

As I was watching two of the news channels this morning, the question emerged:

In this campaigning, which, as a class, expresses the greater quantity of stupidity – political candidates or political commentators/experts?

After some consideration I came to the hypothesis that the difference was rather small once one corrected for the small numbers of candidates and the large number of commentators/experts. But I also realized that what was easy to realize was that:

Stupidity_Quantity(Candidates) + Stupidity_Quantity(commentators & experts) >>  2 * Stupidity_Quantity(Average Amerikan Bog).

Not Ordinary?

Normalcy begins to intrude! Back this morning to gym, and with a few notable exceptions the density of annoying people was low. No educationalists inasmuch as shul is still desessioned. The only rats in the beer were a couple of shrews who find hold to the opinion that no one but themselves are not trash humans, and they patently demonstrate the state.

Speaking of which, the podcast this morning was an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” dealing with happiness. Overall the program was more a frustration than an irritant but only just. The few good pieces were clearly unintended consequences.

Basically, the program was limited to bogs, extroverts, and religionists, not that those categories are in any sense orthogonal. But one of the things clearly unconsidered was happiness among introverts which seldom has much to do with gatherings of others. If anything, the surest way to induce unhappiness in an introvert is to force them to be a member of a crowd, regardless of what the crowd is doing. In my experience, introverts are often happiest upon exiting a party.

Similarly, telling an introvert about heaven or hell is equally likely to not lead to any happiness for the punishment implicit is virtual identical for both. Simply put, an extrovert’s heaven is an introvert’s hell.

The most amusing part of the program was its beginning where a member of the bar was interviewed about her program for making herself happy. Given the fundamental unhappiness of such folk, and those they deal with, some such fantasy would seem natural. But that the program slid downhill from this obvious low point is indicative.

What did not get considered, and hence its absence forming the value of the listening, was the physics of happiness itself. The closest that was attempted was a fleeting mention of Aristotle but, as expected, very fleeting given the tenor was so obviously boggish and religionist. Thomas Aquinas would have been proud.

The unexplored country is that happiness is a rather queer (not in a gratuitous reproductive sense) state. Simply put, it is a state that cannot exist if observed by its own system. That is, if an individual observes that he/she is happy, then the state collapses into something different. In effect, the source of the happiness is curtailed and while the happiness may still be present, it ceases to be refreshed and decays away into something of neither happiness nor unhappiness. Obviously, happiness is a state that exists only in transition and as such is rather different from almost any ordinary state in the sense that it is clearly ordered in a different way.

So sometimes even failure to convey happiness can engender the happiness that springs from correcting the failure, even if it is only in one’s own mind. But then, sharing with extroverts would render unhappiness, wouldn’t it?

Xartoon Xcess

This one [Link]

is obviously a repeat from days gone by, but it gives me opportunity to maunder on about gift cards, which are technically cards only by the courtesy of association with the term ‘credit card’, which are not cards. 

As I have stated several times, I do not like being given a gift card, or a cheque, or even pictures of dead caucasian politicians. The practice totally negates the purpose of Newtonmas, Hannukah, Solstice, even christmas. If anything it is enough to defriend anyone who gives it to you. And if it comes from family, better to learn now before you make out your will.

But this cartoon offers up two complications. First, there is the matter of music. Music tends to be highly individual in taste, at least among nerds. Geeks and bogs I am told tend to suffer Bose Einstein condensation with regard to music and hence any popular stamping is good enough. But since the folks I know and associate with are mostly nerds, family excepting in proportions, giving music is chancy. What I like is not what others like and we nerds tend to be overly protective of our music tastes. That’s why the world has nuclear weapons. 

So conceivably, a gift of lucre may be marginally acceptable for music to prevent committing a greater nastiness. But the balance to this is iTunes. Any iTunes card must be placed in a nuclear furnace immediately and the recipient needs to go immediately to hospital for chelation therapy. Nothing is more an act of terrorism than giving a nerd an iTunes gift. Not only is it the instrument of contemporary slavery at its worst, but it won’t work with Linux. Acceptably.

If you want to give music tokens to a nerd, use Ubuntu One. Or somethingelse, Amazing even. Or better, BandN. But not iTunes. 

Incidentally, this proves that the strip Sheldon is geekish rather than nerdish. Even though the sentiment is right.

Gift Cards are Thin Sauce!

This won’t replace Sturgeon’s Rule, but it is pretty good for a geek.

Check the Number of Gammas

OK, the holiday is past and I carefully made scant mention of either Joshua ben Joseph or Sir Isaac although given the proximity to the winter solstice, both seem appropriately connected. But the ennui of the season this year put mental dampers on the matter and so neither gets discussed. In fact the height of the season was finding a set of ‘christmas’ icons on gnome-look – which I shall now miss – and some wonderful astronomy photographs from NASA that I have been using as wallpapers.

Intriguingly, today is the ‘official’ observation of the holy day, an organizational conceit, drilling down from the highest (?) level, to extend a paid off day to the wage serfs. As a result, the not profit fanatic aspects of Greater Metropolitan Arab are absent today including both our government-by-real-estate-agents and the gym at Scant City. Since the latter collects monthly fees all that matters is that the be open one day a month in pretense of some service.

As a result I have another day of enforced inactivity since FD SCP will not, I hope and trust, be dragging me to what passes for day after [1] sales here in Greater Metropolitan Arab and throughout the Yankee republic. Given that, I have a last cartoon to share [Link]

that captures much of the feeling of the day past. It somehow seems fitting that leading up to christmas/newtonmas there were many good cartoons but on the day itself this was all that rose to surpass the gnuuuh barrier.

I find the taxonomy of presents meaningful and useful. While I enjoy a good marmalade, or jelly or jam, I am unsure of its appropriateness as a gift. Perhaps they have been watching too many television advertisements featuring young lads and a sled? Nonetheless, it does occur that presents range from good to bad, not in some good-evil sense – why is christmas rhetoric always devoid of the opponent? – but in that more personal sense of like and dislike. And there are always presents that are confusing but they usually end up being good for some strange reason, perhaps reflecting those aspects of ourselves imperceivable to ourselves but obvious to those who know us?

There is also the implication of the sag of the afternoon, that period when the excitement suddenly collapses and one is left with a seeming bitter disappointment by contrast. This is when those who read and have received good books as presents triumph over those who do and have not.

Contemplation of this brings me to that for which I am most thankful this morning. I anticipate that all of those absurd, boring, inane movies and programs that have plagued us since turkey day will now haw expired, or at least ebbed. The only entertainment deriving from these abominations was identification of their contradictions and absurdities, which was hopefully sufficient to last the duration of the program. Yesterday FD SCP was so alienated that she retreated to her study to view on-line sewing lectures and I made attempt to read some of the lesser tomes I received as presents. How, tell me, are chipmunk and Indiana Jones movies applicable to christmas/newtonmas? The correlations I perceive are as tenuous as haze in a high wind.

But enough. The day of stress and strife is endured, past, never to return and a year until renewal. And having completed, we have reason to be positive in our expectation until misfortune balances our delusions.

[1]  I also find it intriguing how that term, “day after”, has come to mean either the day after a nuclear war, or the day after christmas. The implied correlation/association is telling.