2014.08 minutiae

  • Dan Schmidt once tweeted: "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: '1 comments'".  Here are the superlatively sad words on what is supposed to be a fairly professional site, fivethirtyeight.com:

    It doesn't take that much code to avoid this tragedy.  Print the number, print a space, print the word "comment", check to see whether the number is 1, and if not, print the letter "s".  But say you don't want to do that.  Say you're just that lazy.  Okay… so then why not rephrase to "COMMENTS: 1"?  No pluralization checking necessary!

  • Sports columnist Jason Whitlock writes: "Pride — the salvation of African-Americans when we were in chains, limited by Jim Crow laws — has turned into an Achilles' heel for many of us. Unchecked pride evolves into swagger, a hypnotizing mask of insecurity that can and does compromise our ability to make progress and attain power. Pride stands in the way of forgiveness and a strategic approach to navigating a chessboard rigged to prevent pawns from becoming kings and queens."

    One problem with that metaphor: except in bizarre variants, pawns in chess never promote to kings.

    What I find interesting about this is that, for ages, it was standard practice in English to coin phrases such as "all men are created equal", "these are the times that try men's souls", "we came in peace for all mankind", "to boldly go where no man has gone before", and on and on, and when women and girls complained of being excluded, they were told that in cases like these, the words in dispute include both males and females, the way that the French word ils can refer to either multiple men or a mixed-sex group.  Thomas Jefferson may not necessarily have been imagining women when he penned his phrase about equality, the defenders of these terms conceded, but women should still project themselves into the term "men"!  Now consider the term "queen".  In the context at hand, that of the chessboard, this is a word that means "a chunk of inanimate material that looks like a miniature bedpost, moves multiple squares in any cardinal or ordinal direction, and is worth nine points".  But because this word also has the meaning of "female monarch", the idea of projecting themselves into the term "queen" was apparently so threatening to Whitlock's readers that he had to turn his metaphor into nonsense.

    Speaking of queens, a while back I was standing in line at the Trader Joe's when the guy in front of me started peppering the female cashier with jokes.  "A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a beer and a mop." "My psychiatrist says I'm obsessed with revenge. I'll show him." Etc., etc.  He had four or five of them.  I don't know what the guy was trying to accomplish by doing a comedy routine while in line at the Trader Joe's, but the cashier listened politely.  "You're the king of the one-liners," she said in a "very well, I will humor you" voice.

    "Better than the queen of the one-liners," the guy reflexively replied, with a grin.

    This is the sort of thing people are talking about when they try to convince skeptics that casual misogyny is endemic in our society.  This guy, given an instant to think of an amusingly denigrating quality for a person to have, chose "female" — and expected to get a laugh from the female person he was talking to!

  • I was pretty disappointed when I went to a recipe site and it said that if a 9" pie serves eight, then a 4½" pie serves four.  You would think that if there were one recipe calculator in the world that correctly accounted for how geometry works, it would be one involving pie.

  • One evening not long ago I ordered a pizza from this place called Pizza Moda, then drove down to pick it up.  It was quite busy.  I went to the bar area and a waitress came over; I said I was there to pick up a pizza.  "What's your name?" she asked.  I told her.  She went to check on it.  "Two minutes," she reported, bringing back my bill.  I handed her my credit card.  She returned with my receipt, then left again.  She did not return with my pizza.  I waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Eventually the waitress ambled through and looked perplexed to see me.  She asked whether there was a problem.  I said I'd been waiting for some time and still hadn't gotten my pizza which had supposedly been two minutes away from being ready.  She was even more perplexed.  Notes were compared, and eventually this story emerged:

    My pizza had come out while she was running my credit card.  Meanwhile, the cook had given my pizza to a different waitress and instructed her to deliver it to me.  That waitress went out to the dining area, where some random guy had just walked in the door.  "Are you Adam?" she asked.  "Uh… yeah, sure," he'd said.  She had then handed him my pizza, and he had turned around and walked out the door with it.  She then went back to the kitchen and reported to the first waitress that her mission was accomplished.

    So the waitress said she would take care of it, and I waited around even longer, assuming they were figuring out some sort of compensation.  Eventually she came back and said that my new pizza would be done in about three or four minutes.  "Sorry about that!" she chirped.  I was like, whoa, hang on there.  I didn't go into the litany, but we all knew the situation: they'd given my pizza to a thief — by brilliantly asking "Are you Adam?" rather than, say, "What's your name?" — made me wait long enough that I might as well have eaten in, didn't even offer me a glass of water, and all I was getting by way of compensation was a rushed version of the pizza I'd already paid for?  "Sorry" wasn't going to cut it.  She brought out the manager, who offered me a nectarine salad.  I said that would be acceptable.

    The nectarines weren't ripe.

  • Apparently there was once a Soviet youth comedy troupe called the Club of the Merry and Inventive People.

  • Robb Sherwin sums up the telephone nicely: "[…] the most stress-inducing invention of all-time. I feel I could find myself buried alive with a working cell phone and still go, 'Ah Christ…'"

  • A while back I checked the ESPN web site and was amused to find this score box for an NFL preseason game:

    I'm sure the unnecessary precision was just a glitch, but I suppose that if there's one team that could find a way to score a fraction of a point, it's Jacksonville.

  • The first three paragraphs of this (up to "we do not know") are among the funniest things I've run into in quite a while.

  • A while back Facebook added a sidebar with links to news items, in response to Twitter's "trending topics" box.  For a long time I ignored it, but then I read something that suggested that if you clicked the X to make certain stories go away and then clicked "I don't care about this" when the site asked why, you could end up with a more relevant list.  It seemed like 80% of the stories were about celebrities I'd never heard of, so day after day I Xed out all of those, and kept only those few stories about world events: the war in Ukraine, the Ebola crisis, stuff like that.

    Well, it's sort of worked.  Now when I log into Facebook, the stories in the sidebar tend to be about celebrities I've never heard of opining on world events.

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When I was five years old, I wrote a book.  Some distant adoptive relative had given me a blank book for my birthday, and I carefully numbered each page from 1 to 290 and started filling it with stories.  The project took most of 1979 to complete.  One afternoon, as I was nearing the end, my mother took me aside to deliver some horrible news: my brother Raihan, age two, had gotten hold of my book and scribbled all over pages 288 and 289.  I was inconsolable.  I wanted to kill that little monster.  I had been working on that book for almost 20% of my life!  And now it was ruined.  Ruined!

But then I had an idea.  What if — what if I pretended that I had been planning to end on page 286 all along?  That would let me pass off the grotesque vandalism as an appendix!  So I wrapped everything up on page 285, and on page 286 I wrote:

Then on page 287 I wrote "Wait 1 Minute" and "I Forgot Something", and then introduced:

So feast your eyes upon the earliest surviving handiwork of my little brother, who died suddenly this month at the age of 36.