2012.04 minutiae

  • This month's Facebook-related musing: I've noticed that people often respond to "happy birthday" messages on Facebook not merely by saying "thanks" but also by marveling at how great Facebook is for allowing them to receive said messages. But doesn't that basically boil down to, "Hooray, there are a lot of people who don't care about me enough to remember when my birthday is but who will at least say 'happy birthday' when explicitly told that it's today"?

  • Jay Busbee: On April 10, 2005, at the 16th hole at Augusta, Tiger Woods crafted the finest highlight of his career, a delicate chip shot that stuck, curled and hung for an eternity on the lip of the hole before dropping in. Seven years later almost to the day, at the exact same hole, Woods had one of his worst on-course meltdowns as a pro.

    Yes, that happened on April 6 — a mere four days away from April 10! What are the odds?? Well, they're actually pretty good, given that the Masters is held at the same time every year. Everything that happens at the Masters is going to happen on or "almost" on some anniversary of everything else that ever happened at the Masters. Busbee's wonderment is like someone marveling that Barack Obama's inaugural address happened on the exact anniversary of Jack Kennedy's.

  • I was driving down my street when I passed someone going the other way on one of those 19th-century bicycles with the giant front wheel. I'm pretty sure I didn't hit 88 mph at any point so I can't really explain it.

    Then as if that weren't retro enough, I got home and Mazzy Star was trending on Twitter.

  • Presumably you've heard about China's fake Apple stores and fake Ikea stores and basically fake everything. I was recently amused to read that this has extended into the candy industry, as China has its own knock-off of Ferrero Rocher: "Zhangjiagang Food has been accused of making copycat brand called Ferraro Rocher in China and exporting them overseas" [sic]. How do you know whether you have the original or the knock-off? Well, as noted, there's "Ferrero" vs. "Ferraro" to tip you off. The knock-off candies are packaged in columns rather than in rows. And then of course in the middle of the Chinese version is not a hazelnut but a pellet of lead shot.

  • From the website of "Club 9One9" in Victoria, BC: See live performances by Queens of the Stone Age, Bedouin Soundclash, Tragically Hip, Big Sugar, Public Enemy, Matthew Good, Nirvana, Atmosphere, Fleet Foxes, Excision, Skream, Zeds Dead and Z-Trip. Funny, you'd think that if Nirvana were doing live performances they might attract more attention on Twitter than Mazzy Star.

  • CBS San Francisco on a strip club's advertising truck: It's a mobile enticement for the legions of tourists who share the "XY" chromosome. The XY chromosome? What's that made of, DNA atoms?

  • So I posted the Lyttle Lytton winners this month, and as is becoming traditional, message board posters across the Internet took to their keyboards to thunder about how much I suck because the runners-up are funnier than the winner. (I usually reserve the top spot for the entry I consider the best-crafted and give the runner-up spots to the entries that made me laugh the most.) The thing that most amuses me about their denunciations is that the prize the winner receives is… having his or her entry posted on the results page. Whereas the prize the runners-up are stuck with is… having their entries posted on the results page. Nevertheless, I concede — it's an outrage!

  • In other Lyttle Lytton news, while I appreciate all the writeups the contest has been getting lately, I did have to scratch my head at the one that referred to it three separate times as "Lyette Lyon."

  • I went to buy some food and the store had a section dedicated to "Epicurean Solutions." I have lived too long.

  • I was reading an article about Microsoft Bob and loved this bit: "Fries and Linnett held focus groups and showed neophytes an interface with an animated waterfowl as an on-screen helper. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Fries remembered one man's response: 'This guy was very emotional about it — he grabbed my arm… He said, "Save all the money on the manuals and just give me this duck to always be there and tell me what to do."'"

    I was also partial to the screenshot in which a document with the header "Estate Planning: Burial List" was accompanied by a cheerful cartoon dog asking, "What shall we do next, Buddy?"

  • Dylan Stableford, yahoo.com: Jean-Luc Melenchon, a liberal, was in fourth with 11.7 percent. "A liberal"? Mélenchon split with the Socialist Party in order to found a party to the Socialists' left. He wants to nationalize banks and replace corporations with workers' cooperatives. "Liberals" do not advocate these positions. "Liberals" go on pundit roundtables to timidly suggest that the top marginal tax rate be increased to 39.6%. Feh. This reminds me of the time I checked a weather site during Hurricane Katrina and the "current conditions" for New Orleans were listed as "windy."

  • I saw that the label on the back of my smoke detector says that it was manufactured on "2010 Aug. 21." My heart grew three sizes.

  • It is interesting to look at the search phrases that lead people to my site and see how many of them are obviously homework questions:

    • how is huck finn kind hearted?
    • who is the best girl he ever seen and had the most sand
    • list at least 2 humorous accounts and explain the humor.
    • how did the american political system fail to solve the crises of the 1850s
    • in the gettysburg address what is the new freedom he is talking about
    • three important decisions ulysses grant made during his presidency

    I could go on — there are dozens of these.

  • I was woken up early Saturday morning by loud music, and thought, "Oh, no — it's almost May, the weather's getting warmer, and that means street festivals every weekend. I won't be able to sleep in until November." But then I put on my bathrobe and stumbled outside to see what was going on, and it was just some jerk parked in front of my house blasting music from his car.

  • I went to sfgate.com to read some news and encountered the following:

    ▸ Vallejo man's eyeball plucked out in altercation

    …why was that recommended for me?

  • I hadn't really talked much about my former career developing the SAT reading comp program for a test prep company until I wrote my article about "The Pineapple and the Hare." One thing I didn't mention was that when we were working on the 7.0 manuals back in 2004, my boss and I decided to switch things up and start by introducing the answer choices first, then the questions, and then cover the passage last. The idea being that when you really get to know the test, you know which answer is right just because you know what sorts of answers tend to be right and what sorts of answers tend to be wrong. Here, try it. Which of these answers is more likely to be correct?

    (A) disapproved of many of the choices her mother made in her life
    (B) demonstrated that every decision her mother had ever made was wrong

    Where's the passage? What's the question? It probably doesn't matter! Unless the question is something like "Which of the following is NOT true," the answer is almost certainly going to be (A), because correct answers on the SAT are rarely written in such an extreme manner as (B). One of the reasons test prep works is that heuristics like these are actually very successful in raising scores.

    After I posted the pineapple article, I found comments on many different social networks and bulletin boards arguing that, contrary to what I had suggested in the article, the reason the animals ate the pineapple was that they were hungry. I gave several reasons why that was unlikely to be the credited response, but if I were teaching a student who simply wanted to get a high score rather than a member of the public who wanted to discuss whether it was a good question or not, I would probably start by talking about pattern recognition. "Hungry" just isn't the sort of answer that tends to be right on a standardized test question like this. There are various names for these sorts of answer choices, and while I obviously wouldn't use this term with a student, one name I've heard from time to time among developers is "Aspie trap."

    Most of the arguments I encountered online weren't as manifestly autistic as the one that said that the animals were hungry because two of them were birds and after watching a race for two hours a bird would be famished… but it seems worth noting that that's the kind of thinking that these exercises are designed to penalize. Very often the ability to think beyond the literal is the main skill being tested in a reading comprehension section, and literal answers are offered as bait. Sometimes, as is the case here, this takes the form of testing whether students recognize the emotional underpinnings of the events of a story. On the SAT and ACT there are generally textual clues that give the answers away, but part of the point of my article was that I don't think it's necessarily out of bounds to test a student's ability to recognize patterns of human behavior. You can argue that that's not "reading comprehension," but if part of reading comprehension is understanding literature, and part of understanding literature is possessing some measure of empathy for what characters are experiencing, I'd argue that it is.

    (At other times, it takes the form of testing whether students can spot irony. I spent a lot of afternoons in the mid-'00s commuting down to the South Bay in a futile attempt to help the children of "tiger parents" recognize when what they'd just read was a joke.)

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