Category Archives: Personal

Inflated

First, the NFL could reveal today that the whole thing is rigged these days like professional wrestling has always been, making “spy-gate” and “deflate-gate” all part of the act, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I have my suspicions on this, but nothing to back them up. So, whatever.

Second, even if the Patriots did, in fact, intentionally cheat by deflating the balls to make them easier to play, that still doesn’t explain how the Colts did so poorly in the game. Simply saying a deflated ball is easier to play implies that everyone on the field would have benefited one way or another, and not just one team. There is evidence out there in the commentary that incorrectly-inflated balls is fairly common.

Finally, if the balls were unintentionally deflated because of simple physics (Boyle’s pressure law, anyone?), the amount of press this is getting outside of the sports pages is bordering on the asinine. In other words, the NFL is entertainment. No spectator’s life is directly affected by this the same way it is for those directly involved in the league; spectators have team integrity as affectation, not as career choice. So, if the game changes such that blatant cheating becomes a part of the story, and I, as a viewer, find that unpalatable, there are other options.

Comics and the Kids

. . . where were the superheros for girls that weren’t quite so overdeveloped and under-dressed? When the guy behind the counter was asked, he smiled at me knowingly, and said “Your daughter’s…seven?” I said yes. “Same here,” he continued. “I always bring her home these.” . . Hello Kitty and Monster High.
IT in the D: What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me

I took my daughter to a comic book store for the first time a few weeks ago. I haven’t been to one regularly in ages—definitely not in the past ten years or so—though I am picking up some of the Moebius reprints from time to time. The store offers a better collection of kid-appropriate, and girl-specific comics, than those mentioned in the article. There are kids’ versions of Superman and Spider-Man (who knew? And they’re funny, too), and there’s actually Powerpuff Girls and Archie, both of which were always personal favorites. So, we picked up a couple issues of each. The kids are hooked on comics now, as I had hoped, and I enjoy reading them to the kids. So we’re going back tomorrow, and will likely make going to buy comics a regular thing for a quick and easy one-on-one activity that isn’t going to cost me a ton of money (yet).

Despite the increased selection—easily eight feet of kids comics—the point still stands. The kids’ selection equate to maybe 5% of the overall selection in the store, and the girl-specific selection is maybe 5% of that. The rest of the gear is clearly geared towards demographics that will never be her at any age. While my daughter didn’t ask any of the questions posed in the article the last time we went, she will at some point. This is only a matter of time. My horizons were broadened widely when my daughter was born, and will continue to be until the day I die, and I’m not sure of what my response is going to be. Like so much of parenting, I’ll probably just wing it. The rest of the store is rather uncomfortable as a parent, however, not just of a daughter but of a son as well because the men in comics tend to be just as impossibly over-developed as the women in many cases.

“The Open-Office Trap” Revisited

Speaking of the New Yorker article I posted just now:

With everything we know about open plan offices, why are these mega-rich companies knocking themselves out to hire the very best and brightest minds from the world’s best universities, paying them huge salaries, tapping world-class architects to design artisanal office spaces in the most expensive place in the country, and then cramming desks together in noisy bullpens?
Matt Blodgett: But Where Do People Work in This Office?

Great question. The other thing I think of when I see open office plans like this the fact one person with the cold or flu will easily wipe out the entire floor. I’ve witnessed that event myself, especially in those environments where the desks are really just an eight-foot (if that) stretch of work bench. At least if I have a cold, I can close myself in my office and just call into meetings, sparing everyone else around me.

The Open-Office Trap

But the most problematic aspect of the open office may be physical rather than psychological: simple noise. In laboratory settings, noise has been repeatedly tied to reduced cognitive performance. The psychologist Nick Perham, who studies the effect of sound on how we think, has found that office commotion impairs workers’ ability to recall information, and even to do basic arithmetic. Listening to music to block out the office intrusion doesn’t help: even that, Perham found, impairs our mental acuity. Exposure to noise in an office may also take a toll on the health of employees. In a study by the Cornell University psychologists Gary Evans and Dana Johnson, clerical workers who were exposed to open-office noise for three hours had increased levels of epinephrine—a hormone that we often call adrenaline, associated with the so-called fight-or-flight response. What’s more, Evans and Johnson discovered that people in noisy environments made fewer ergonomic adjustments than they would in private, causing increased physical strain. The subjects subsequently attempted to solve fewer puzzles than they had after working in a quiet environment; in other words, they became less motivated and less creative.

I have an office. One wall is completely glass, but an office, nonetheless. I have told HR they can pry it from my cold, dead hands. The walls here are thin—two sheets of drywall and a metal stud to hold them up—but I can put in a pair of 3M disposal industrial earplugs, and my office is quieter than the Widener Library during summer break.

Bold

The front cover of Wednesday’s edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the first since last week’s attack on its Paris offices that left 12 people dead, is a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.

The cover shows the prophet shedding a tear and holding up a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” in sympathy with the dead journalists. The headline says “All is forgiven”.

Bold on all levels.

New York Times: What You Learn in Your 40s

There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.
New York Times: What You Learn in Your 40s

Being a parent is what really revealed this to me, though in ways I will only be able to articulate after some reflection (read as: not now, maybe later). I think Ben Stiller’s character puts it best in While We’re Young

For the first time in my life I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.

I can’t wait to see this movie if only because this trailer captures some of what it feels like hanging out with the (totally awesome) twenty-somethings I’ve met at school.

A fatal flaw of Wall Street in one sentence

Emphasis mine:

JetBlue distinguished itself by providing decent, fee-free service for everyone, an approach that seemed to be working: passengers liked the airline, and it made a consistent profit. Wall Street analysts, however, accused JetBlue of being “overly brand-conscious and customer-focussed.”
The New Yorker: Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer

Like software, and so many other things, all airlines suck, but some airlines suck less than others. JetBlue sucked less than most of the others; they sold a decent product—treating people like humans, making a cramped, stressful experience as tolerable as reasonable—for a decent price, made money doing it, and they are being punished for it. Having watched the changes that come from it firsthand, I’d say “maximizing shareholder value” is easily one of the worst things to happen to any business. Now JetBlue is selling the same crap as all the other airlines, which means they are no longer our “go to” airline for trips. Now, we’ll just shop around like everyone else.

Microsoft vs. LaTeX

Ed: This WordPress theme makes the titles all-caps, thus mangling “LaTeX.” My analytics should get interesting in a little while.

I haven’t read this entire article yet, but the opening paragraph has the best comparison of Word and LaTeX I’ve seen yet:

Microsoft Word is based on a principle called “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG), which means that the user immediately sees the document on the screen as it will appear on the printed page. LaTeX, in contrast, embodies the principle of “What you get is what you mean” (WYGIWYM), which implies that the document is not directly displayed on the screen and changes, such as format settings, are not immediately visible.
plosive.org: An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development

Between work and school, I deal with Word and LaTeX a lot. LaTeX less so than Word given Word’s ease of use for everyone, but I work with enough math content at work that I needed to learn at least the basics. But, once I got the hang of LaTeX, I’ve been using that as my “go to” for document preparation, despite the state of LaTeX to be a lot more crunchy than I think it needs to be (that’s a separate blog post entirely). Still, even after using LaTeX consistently for a few years, I find it hard to explain it to someone who hasn’t so much as even seen it.

This bit in the abstract is interesting as well:

We show that LaTeX users were slower than Word users, wrote less text in the same amount of time, and produced more typesetting, orthographical, grammatical, and formatting errors. On most measures, expert LaTeX users performed even worse than novice Word users. LaTeX users, however, more often report enjoying using their respective software. We conclude that even experienced LaTeX users may suffer a loss in productivity when LaTeX is used, relative to other document preparation systems.

I really need to read the article to find why this to be true but two things come to mind immediately:

  • Know your tools. If LaTeX is a core requirement for submissions, then take the time to really learn it.
  • Always double-check your work. There are no excuses for not checking work before submission.