The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Well the rain falls down without my help, I'm afraid, and my lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent... 

Wow, a quarter of a century goes by pretty fast. Happy birthday, Daniel.

Also, today we mark the 50th anniversary of Albert Einstein's death, and the 230th anniversary of Paul Revere's famous midnight ride (tomorrow is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, which started the American Revolutionary War).

What dreams may come, or Sleep Your Way to Unemployment! 

During the last few years, I’ve had a problem with allergies. It wasn’t always this way, but lately I tend to sneeze a lot and get a bit congested once the weather starts to warm up. It’s mostly just an annoyance, and so I put up with it.

This morning, I blew my nose, and my wife suggested that I take some allergy medicine that we have. I don’t usually take any medicine unless whatever is ailing me is significantly impeding my function (e.g. I have a headache that distracts me to the point that I can’t pay attention to anything else). However, since I recently started taking some vitamins, I am getting used to taking pills. Without really thinking about it, I popped one of these tiny, bitter tasting pills.

Still not thinking about it, I drove to work, and almost immediately upon arrival, I noticed that I was really tired. I’m tired a lot of mornings, but this was not your usual “I can’t handle mornings, or consciousness in general” fatigue. It’s closer to how I feel after 20+ hours without sleep. I screams out for me to just close my eyes for a second, and then it will all be better.

It turns out that, like all allergy medicines, this one may cause drowsiness, but they’ve put in a stimulant to counter the effect. Apparently the stimulant doesn’t work on me, and so I have drowsiness. Instead of providing relief to minor symptoms, the cold medicine has given me a major, performance reducing side effect. Tomorrow, I’ll just bring along a clean hanky to blow my nose with.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Some Lessons (away) from Bill 

While I was in my wife’s car this evening, listening to Bill O’Reilly, several things were called to my attention, typically because he was advocating their opposite:

1: Guns do not make people safer. People who own guns are far more likely to be injured by guns than people who don’t, and they’re far more likely to injure someone close to them with the gun. In a life or death situation, an aggressor is far more likely to try to kill or injure you if he feels that you might shoot him, making you much safer in a burglary or robbery if you are unarmed. The key exception to this is that in situations where you are assumed to be armed, then it is safer to actually be armed in some way. This applies almost exclusively to military and law enforcement.

2: Immigration, even illegal immigration, is not the root of all of society’s ills, such as violent crime, drugs, poverty, and overpopulation. Also, immigration law is the jurisdiction of the federal government and cannot be enforced by local or state officers.

3: We cannot assume that all people who have committed a crime will do so again. Certainly criminal recidivism is a real problem, but if we cannot believe in rehabilitation then our current justice system makes no sense.

4: President Bush probably cares far, far less about Bill O’Reilly than Bill O’Reilly believes that Bush cares about him. Of course, Bill’s ego will never allow him to see that.

5: I am definitely a moderate conservative.

So, we're practically cousins 

One of my favorite games is called “Six Degrees of Bacon” (or some variant of that). It is played by naming any person who has appeared in a motion picture, and then connecting them through co-stars to Kevin Bacon. For example, Kevin Costner was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Morgan Freeman, who was in The Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins, who was in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon. These paths are generally not unique (for example, Kevin Costner->Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves)->David Straithairn (Sneakers)->Kevin Bacon (The River Wild) also makes the connection in three steps) (also fun is the chain with three Kevins: Kevin Costner->Kevin Kline (Silverado)->Demi Moore (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)->Kevin Bacon (A Few Good Men), or Demi could be replaced by Tom Hulce->Kevin Bacon (Animal House)), and the challenge is in getting the chain shorter than a given number of links (officially they should be 6 steps or less, but in practice it’s usually desirable to get a chain in three or fewer links).

This game is fun for several reasons. First, it takes a lot of movie trivia, and I like both movies and trivia. Second, it’s a challenging optimization problem that is quite rewarding when done well. I don’t think that this would be universally true of all similar games. The Kevin Bacon game works because it has two very important properties. The scope of possible connections, while very, very large, is small enough to be manageable, and the relevant information is widely available. This has allowed the game to be entirely analyzed, and for a search engine to play it automatically. Fortunately, this doesn’t ruin it for casual players who just want to test their memory.

By contrast, the general Six Degrees of Separation doesn’t work. It is really just a theory that any two people, anywhere on the planet, can be connected by no more than a series of 6 mutual acquaintances. For example, I belong to a message board with a member from Sri Lanka (or somewhere else, I’m making up the rest of these so it doesn’t matter) who may have met someone from Morocco who buys carpets from a supplier in Chad who asked for directions from a villager in a remote village who’s nephew was just born last week. The problem here is that there are an insane number of connections (certainly more than trillions), and they are poorly known. I may know all of the connections for myself (which I don’t), but it is almost in the definition of the game that I can’t know any of the further connections.

Actually, no one really tries to play the general game (established variants do exist to connect baseball players or other athletes, or to connect two arbitrary actors), but occasionally my mother will ask me to try to connect some relative to Kevin Bacon (answer: they didn’t appear in any films, and therefore cannot be connected to Kevin Bacon).

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I will trunk no more, forever 

Three years ago, I had a new roommate move into my apartment. At 20, he was the youngest guy in our apartment, and the only one who had not already served a mission. We were all delighted for him that next fall when he decided to go on a mission. Well, he got home Wednesday and just called me tonight.

(For the record, we weren’t that close, but I recently ran into his cousin, who told me he was coming home, etc.)

Anyway, we talked about old times, and new times, and the changes in missionary work since I was out (6 1/2 years ago). In a way it was like we had hung out this morning, and were just getting caught up on the day’s activities. We talked for a while, and hopefully we’ll do so again soon, but at least if we have to wait months or years, we will probably be able to just pick it up again.

Welcome home, Markwise.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Take Weekly Inventory, Zone Transport Is Destructive 

Wednesday, I was driving behind a car with a sticker in the rear window saying, in bloody letters, “TWIZTID” (the last letter could have been a P, but it was probably D). Lacking an obvious meaning, we guessed.

“The Way is Zeal. Toward it: Death”
“That was incredible, Zack. Take it, dude!”
“Today: waffles, including zebra, tea (iced), and donuts”
“This was intensely zany. Ten icky ducks.”

Further investigation reveals that it's the name of a band. How boring.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The rebirth of an almost palindromic author 

I just tried, for the first time in months, to check out Zannah’s web log. It used to be a favorite read of mine, but during the bustle and lack of internet connectivity around the time I got married, she stopped writing in it, keeping a live journal log instead. I never found out what happened that made her stop writing there, and I figured that it was just one of those things that changed when I got married and left it at that.

(Apologies to Llew, Karinka, and others who fell off my regular reading cycle about then too, but I just didn’t have time for them either for a while.)

So, I just pulled it up, expecting to see the same entry that had been there for nearly a year, and instead I found half a dozen new entries. It looks as though, almost entirely by chance, I stumbled on her log within a week of its rebirth. Okay, it wasn’t by chance. Zannah commented on the Phischkneght log recently, and it only took me 3 days to see her comment and another two days to get around to checking her site out.

What’s my point? Welcome back, Zannah. May your writing find a friendlier audience this time around.

Bill Remembered (almost) 

General conference was this weekend. I watched the Sunday afternoon session with my in-laws, who were hosting two (biological) sisters that they knew from Finland, and the children of one of them. The father of the four children died in December in a suicide bombing in Iraq. We were a bit surprised when, during the second to last talk, there was mention made of a young mother of four who’s husband died in Iraq in December. The mother wasn’t with us at the time (she was still coming back from seeing the morning session live), and when she came back we disagreed about the details. I only remembered that the husband and father had died in Iraq, while others remembered that it was a mother of four (correct) and that the husband had died in Mosul (which hadn’t been specified). I spent the rest of my time there trying to get some incarnation of Real Player to work on their computer so that we could listen to the streaming record of conference that was available at the time (short story: it didn’t work).

So, this morning, I finally was able to listen to it again, and it stated that the mother had spoken at a stake conference where Elder Bednar was attending. Since the mother was surprised to be mentioned by Elder Bednar, I think it’s unlikely that she’s the one in question, although now I wonder just how many LDS fathers of four died in Iraq just before Christmas.

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