Doubleplus Ungood Badspeak

This puts my blogging host in an ethical bind. I thought it was bad that MSN Spaces wouldn’t allow < IFRAME > tags in blogs, but "democracy?" That’s a bit much.

UPDATE: Roger Simon isn’t the only one who’s disturbed by this.

Mark Steyn nails the whole problem in this devastating column:

China hasn’t invented or discovered anything of significance in half a millennium, but the careless assumption that intellectual property is something to be stolen rather than protected shows why. If you’re a resource-poor nation (as China is), long-term prosperity comes from liberating the creative energies of your people – and Beijing still has no interest in that. If a blogger attempts to use the words "freedom" or "democracy" or "Taiwan independence" on Microsoft’s new Chinese internet portal, he gets the message: "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech." How pathetic is that? Not just for the Microsoft-spined Corporation, which should be ashamed of itself, but for the Chinese government, which pretends to be a world power but is terrified of words.

Does "Commie wimps" count as forbidden speech, too? And what is the likelihood of China advancing to a functioning modern stand-alone business culture if it’s unable to discuss anything except within its feudal political straitjackets? Its speech code is a sign not of control but of weakness; its internet protective blocks are not the armour but the, er, chink.

I won’t be following Roger Simon’s suggestion of boycotting MSN Spaces. I’ve already discovered a few clever hacks to get around some annoying limitations the Microsoft whiz kids built into Spaces, and this just motivates me to look for more. One of Roger’s commenters quotes Lenin:

Regarding Microsoft’s kowtowing to the fascist Mandarins in Beijing, Lenin said it best: "The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them."

I prefer to think of Microsoft as the crony-capitalist who sells me–a less mobbed-up capitalist–a banana. I then put the banana peel under his foot. (Thanks to Maakies for the banana.)

ANOTHER UPDATE (12 June): Rebecca McKinnon thoughtfully and politely calls Microsoft a gang of mercenary weasels. Don’t hit me with that stick! back40 weighs in over at Crumb Trail–he thinks Microsoft may be sellling banana peels to the Chinese.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (17 June): The indefatigable Rebecca McKinnon seems to be thinking along the same lines that I do; here she hacks the Chinese interface and blogs for freedom, democracy, and human rights.


Set your cellphones to stun, please

The UTSA summer semester starts today, with the obligatory opening lectures about coursework, grading, and classroom comportment. What could be more timely than this:

More so than one’s CD or movie collection or mp3 playlist, a custom ringtone screams out something personal to the world because it’s so public. Anyone within earshot can make an instant assumption about you, for better or worse.

We wonder whether some things aren’t better left to the imagination.

Ettiquette should be simple and easy to remember, so here’s my rule: Hats and cellphones OFF.

Texas Wisecracks

Texas humor has some goofy qualities: folks often say some truly dreadful things as long as they’re self-deprecating, and many jokes have ridiculous punchlines, just to check if you’re listening. A typical example is the car keys joke:

A man dashes into the counter at the quick-stop and asks "Can I use your phone to call my wife? I locked my keys in the car."

"Sure," the cashier answers. So the fellow phones home.

"Honey," the man tells his wife, "come on down to the quick-stop with the other car keys. I locked my keys in the car, and left the motor running."

"And hurry! I left the top down, and it’s fixin’ to rain!"

My wife–who is the exact opposite of an airhead–zapped me with one just the other day. I mentioned that a new self-serve carwash was being built in the neighborhood.

"How nice," she replied, "and it’s within walking distance."

Gaudy Night

Dr Richard Brougham, a philosopher at San Antonio College, has been giving me pointers about the philosophy of science for my fall freshman seminar, Systems of the World. One of the philosophers Dr B put me wise to is Susan Haack at the University of Miami. Her article on preposterism in the Skeptical Inquirer made me an immediate fan; her thoughtful review of Dorothy Sayers Gaudy Night has got me reading old mysteries again:

"Why do they send these people here? Making themselves miserable and taking up the place of people who would  enjoy Oxford? We  haven’t got room for women who aren’t and never will be scholars. It’s all right for the men’s colleges to have hearty passmen who gambol round and game in Prep. Schools. But this dreary little devil isn’t even hearty. She’s a wet mess."

"I know," said the Dean, impatiently. "But schoolmistresses and parents are such jugginses. We do our best, but we can’t always weed out their mistakes."

–Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

Of course, that was 70 years ago, in far-off Oxford. We’re modern, and in Texas (search for "Graduation Rate").


Not blindingly fast, not even especially fast. BUT, for the 17th year, the Fat City Six, otherwise known as the Buddhas (for our obvious rotundity), completed the Corpus Christi Beach to Bay Relay Marathon on Saturday, May 20. This year’s team was Anuradha Roy, Mike Anderson, Ed Oliver, Jake Oliver, Steve Rodriguez, and Andrew Rodriguez. While we did overindulge on the traditional fudge from Winton’s Candy Shop, a one-hour wait for tables precluded Ed’s tradtional Bananas Foster at Landry’s. The usual Saturday beach party was cancelled due to Keely Porter’s sprained ankle, which gave us an excellent excuse to overeat at the new, and exceedingly excellent Vietnam Restaurant.

Update: We have photos.







Just received: A Great Mathematica Reference

Today the UPS man dropped off my newest toy, Keikki Ruskeepää’s hefty guide, Mathematica Navigator, 2/e. Not only is it chock full of useful, well-explained examples [Bayesian statistics and MCMC algorithms in Chapter 27, oh joy!], but it’s great reading. Chapter 1 reels you in from the start:

In 1903 at a meeting of the American Mathematical Society, F.N. Cole read a paper entitled "On the Factorization of Large Numbers." When called upon to speak, Cole walked to the board and, saying nothing, raised two to its sixty-seventh power and subtracted one from the answer. Then he multiplied, longhand, 193,707,721 by 761,838,257,287 and the answers agreed. Without having said a word, Cole sat down to a standing ovation. Afterwards he announced that it had taken him twenty years of Sunday afternoons to factorize the Mersenne prime 2^67-1.

Based on Ruskeepää’s example, I tried it on my trusty home PC:

2^67 – 1

FactorInteger[%] // Timing
{0.015 Second, {{193707721, 1}, {761838257287, 1}}}

Ain’t computers wonderful?

The $69.95 price tag is about the going rate for a Mathematica book, but this one has a bonus: the entire book is also provided as a Mathematica notebook on a companion CD, gratis. What a deal.