July 2008 minutiae

  • The doors of the South San Francisco Public Library bear signs saying PUSH TO OPERATE. Can you really operate a door? When I walk around, am I operating my shoes?

  • I have noticed that just over the past couple of months, drivers around here have lost any semblance of a reaction time when sitting at traffic lights. I am no drag racer, but there have been several occasions recently that I've been at the front of the line when the light turned green and wound up at the next intersection before the other cars even moved. And if I'm not first in line, I have had to get in the habit of going around the car or cars in front of me when the light turns green, because they're not going anywhere. What's that about?

  • Normally things like repugnant politics (eg, working for the Bush Administration) and ignorance (eg, "What's the Cuban Missile Crisis?") keep me from finding someone attractive, but I gotta say, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is pretty easy on the eyes.

  • I randomly came across this story and boggled:

    June Nalls died instantly when a man who had been drinking drove head-on into her pickup on a Kaufman County road one night in March.

    Now, true, people are killed by drunk drivers all the time, so while it might be sad, at first glance this seems unremarkable. But there's more to the story:

    The 41-year-old would not have been on the road had her frightened neighbor not shot her son's friend as the boys cut across his yard. The pediatric nurse made a quick decision not to call 911 and to instead drive her son and his friend to the hospital.

    Criminy. But wait, why is this in the newspaper in July?

    But Ms. Nalls' autopsy further complicates the stunning series of events. She was legally intoxicated and had methamphetamines in her system when she died, according to the report, obtained through an open-records request by The Dallas Morning News.

    So some kids run through a neighbor's yard; the neighbor fricking shoots one of them; they go to Mom, who's cranked up on meth; she tries to drive them to the hospital, at which point a drunk driver plows into her.


  • telegraph.co.uk:

    Mr Cameron said that in the past two years he has taken the Conservative Party to the second stage in its modernisation agenda, likening the process to moving beyond level one in the computer game Tomb Raider.

    He said level one had required him to prove that he was a "reasonable, decent, non-discriminating, sensible, practical person who understands the world as it is lived today, who wants to live in the modern world and who accepts what that means."

    Dang, is that really what you have to do in level one of Tomb Raider? I thought you just had to shoot bats.

  • Even more morbid news, this time from the AP:

    Police: N.M. suicide was similar to 'CSI' episode
    In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.

    For some reason that sentence — not just the idea of it, but the actual sentence — makes my head spin. I think it's the juxtaposition between "weapon" and "float". Those words just don't go together!

  • I was training some new teachers and demonstrating the way I teach medians. I always say the same thing when going over medians: "Why do medians exist? What are they good for?" And then we discuss outliers for a bit. Now, the question that might quite reasonably spring to mind here is: what does this have to do with standardized tests? Do they ever ask why you'd use a median? Don't they just tell you to calculate it?

    And it occurred to me that the answer is: I, at least, need to know why anyone would ever care about the median, because otherwise my brain is just going to reject any information I learn about it. Take matrices. I went to high school long enough ago that matrices were explicitly set aside as a topic that would be covered in college. I never got far enough along in college math to encounter them. Then one day years later I was subbing in a middle school math class and the kids were doing matrices and I was like "Buhhh? This is part of the curriculum now?"

    So over the years I have attempted to learn about matrices. But I keep encountering the same problem. Every introduction to matrices I have ever encountered goes something like this: "A matrix is defined as blah blah blah. The following operations can be performed upon blah blah blah..." Never do these introductions say why I should care. And so I don't.

    When I've mentioned this to math people in the past, they say things like, "Oh, but matrices are so useful! You can use them to do this and that and this other thing." But that's still backwards! At least to me. I need to be presented with the problem first — a problem I would actually care about solving — and then be shown how matrices are the best tool for that problem. Don't show me the tool first and then cast about for problems on which it could conceivably be used!

  • I saw a promotional shot for 300 that shows the main guy shouting loudly, as he was wont to do. His back teeth are full of amalgam fillings. I didn't realize Sparta had such advanced dentistry!

  • Here's my new thing this month. I bought an MP3 player shaped like a cassette. Now every couple of days I go to webcast.berkeley.edu and load it with podcasts of lectures. Then whenever I have to drive somewhere I pop it into my tape deck. I may never listen to music again!

  • Or maybe I will! I discovered that Julie Christmas is coming out with a solo album — she put up a clip and it sounds like it will be amazing with a capital zing. Eeeee!

  • Elton John's name came up in conversation, and it occurred to me — isn't "Candle in the Wind" basically a musical version of the "LEAVE BRITNEY ALOOOOONE" Youtube clip?

  • I went for lunch in San Mateo along a slightly grotty stretch of El Camino Real, but finding a parking spot was tough and I ended up passing the restaurant. Then I saw a sign that said ADULT VIDEO and I thought "I'm not parking directly in front of a porn shop" and kept on driving. About a block farther along I found a spot.

    I passed the sign again on the way back to the restaurant. Turns out that it actually said AUDIO VIDEO. Oops.

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