31 August 2009

Death by Processed Food

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that fast food places are out to poison people.

Of course, I know they're out to poison me. I don't mean that they have a conscious intent to do so, but that they have such a ridiculous neglect of allergen information that they may as well be consciously intending to poison me.

Not just fast food, either. I had a package of Del Monte lightly sweetened peaches. I debated whether to even try it, since "natural flavors" were listed as an "ingredient." I should have trusted my instincts. In less than 20 minutes, I had the pain and upset stomach of a soy reaction. From PEACHES. Seriously, what the bloody hell is wrong with food companies?

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A Bit More on Kuhn

I asked Dr. Wahl about Kuhn at the end of class today. Essentially, he thinks that there is a body of assumptions that contribute to the decision about how to test a hypothesis, and some of those assumptions are ones that no one would ever think of questioning.

On a certain level, he's correct. In the normal course of things, such assumptions exist. However, every time they are used, that is a test. If a consistent difficulty is noticed by many researchers, in many different labs, the assumptions will eventually be looked at. Examples that come to mind immediately are the orbit of Mercury and Newtonian gravity's failure to explain it and Conservation of Mass (which does not hold when mass changes to energy or at speeds near c). Yes, assumptions were made and held onto tenaciously, but, in the end, those assumptions were overturned.

So I profess myself still unimpressed with Kuhn.

ADDENDUM: I'll probably have more to say after class next Wednesday, but I finally got some idea of why Popper might need some criticism from Dr. Wahl yesterday. The problem is that Popper leans on falsification to the exclusion of all else. In his view the goal of any test done by any scientist should be to falsify the theory. He wants to downplay any role of confirmation/corroboration. In other words, if the test goes as the theory predicts, Popper would see it as a failure.

So possibly what Kuhn is getting at is that the first reaction of a scientist who gets a result that does not accord with the prevailing theory is not to discard the theory, but, rather, to see what else might have gone wrong. But he still writes as though the theory itself is sacrosanct, which just isn't the case. It's held as true until some discrepancy becomes noticeable, and then it's either adapted or replaced. The process may be slow and painful, and full of argument, but if there is a genuine discrepancy, it will eventually be examined, and, more eventually, fixed in some fashion.

One sidenote. We discussed the case of Mercury in class, and Wahl pointed out that the response of 19th century scientists was not to abandon Newtonian gravitation, which, if they operated according to strict Popperian principles, they should have. After several failed attempts to solve the problem, it was largely ignored, until Einstein's theory of General Relativity turned out to give the correct solution. The problem with simply throwing out Newtonian gravitation was that it worked in most situations. The one discrepancy revealed its limitations, but it had so much corroborating evidence from other sources that no one was going to just give up on it. In other words, falsification is not the whole story, but it's an important part of the story.

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29 August 2009

Thomas Samuel Kuhn

I haven't found the entire article online yet, but much of it is available through a Google Books preview. Skimming through the preview, it looks like we only have the first part in our book anyway. The article is called, "Logic of Discovery, or Psychology of Research?" It argues that Popper's view of science, while it has its place, is not how science is actually practiced on a day-to-day basis.

I haven't read enough of Popper or Kuhn to be sure that Kuhn isn't demolishing a straw-man, or even just dissembling about the meaning of "falsification" and "test." Kuhn argues that science is more about "puzzle solving" than it is about "problem solving." His main point seems to be that in the normal run of things scientists simply assume the currently accepted theory and work within it. At least in this excerpt, I get the feeling he's missing a crucial point.

Yes, in any run-of-the-mill lab, a groundwork of theory is assumed. The puzzle-solving involves figuring out how that theory applies to whatever work the lab does, whether the work is growing cells, or running current through vases, or whatever. But Kuhn seems to miss that the run-of-the-mill work will be a test of the deduced application. If it turns out to predict different results than those observed, there are three possible culprits: (1) Bad data; (2) Bad interpretation; (3) Bad theory. In the majority of cases, the first two are the most likely. Assuming that instrumentation problems can be sorted out, and enough trials are run to make chance systematic errors extremely unlikely, (1) can be dealt with. The next level to check is (2). How can the interpretation be modified to fit what has been observed? All of this fits in the realm of Kuhn's "puzzle-solving", but fits equally well with Popper's "falsification." Level (3) will only be engaged after levels (1) and (2) have been exhausted, but it takes more than one research group to really effect a change on level (3). Multiple groups have to have similar problems before anyone credible will seriously consider mucking with level (3).

My biggest issue with Kuhn so far is that I don't see how you can possibly have "puzzle-solving" without of necessity having "falsification." How do you know when the puzzle is solved, otherwise? Part of the puzzle solving is figuring out what the accepted theory says should happen in a situation, and that automatically creates a way to falsify the interpretation. I will grant that it takes a lot of broken puzzles before an accepted theory is itself called into question, but that's almost the point. If all it took was one "problem," then every time a machine malfunctioned we'd have a paradigm shift.

Some of Kuhn's examples also make me question his reasoning. He writes that "many theories, for example the Ptolemaic, were replaced before they had in fact been tested." Now, the Ptolemaic theory kept having to add in more and more epicycles to account for the observed astronomical data, and that, to me, would be a sort of test. The more data came in, the more the Ptolemaic system had to be modified. It was never sufficient as it was to explain every aberration. Also, the ad hoc adding of epicycles smacks of Popper's "irrefutability," since, given any conflicting data, more epicycles could be tacked on to "explain" it.

I'll be curious to find out in class if there's more to Kuhn in stuff that we didn't read. It's possible, and maybe likely, that we got the simplest version of his ideas, and that they don't really make sense until they're fleshed out a bit more.

Further reading on Wikipedia:

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There's a series of math talks on Octonions this semester in the math department. The first one was yesterday afternoon. It dawned on me there that I do still have an interest in math for math's sake, particularly when it has interesting applications. Octonions turn out to be useful in string theory, which I found in a general hunt yesterday, and the Wikipedia article mentions special relativity and quantum logic as well.

It's also the first group I've come across that is neither commutative nor associative. Commutative means the order doesn't matter: 3*5 = 5*3, 6+8=8+6, etc. Subtraction and division by themselves are noncommutative, but since subtraction can be seen as adding a negative, and division is multiplying by the inverse, you can get around that. Matrices are the first things most people see where order really does matter. AB need not equal BA for two matrices A and B. Associativity means, roughly, that where you "put the parentheses" doesn't matter. So:

3(5*4) = (3*4)5

In the first case, I get 3 times 20, which is 60. In the second I get 12 times 5, which is still 60. Multiplication of real numbers is associative. In fact, I can't recall ever encountering a group operation that was not associative until reading up on the octonions.

The other thing I noticed at the talk was that, despite not taking any upper level math for the past several years, everything still made sense to me. Also I was a bit amused that the current grad students, who have all taken algebra more recently than I, didn't immediately recall that you generally use divisibility to establish that if a prime divides a product, it must divide at least one of the multiplicands of the product (Yes, multiplicand is a word; I just checked). The other nice thing about math is that I know the majority of people in the department and I might get away with not moving my office again, particularly since we've had several people retire and the temporary dean of Arts and Sciences (the bastard who sent out the gods-bedamned 'terminal' notices) is against hiring any more lecturers.

Still, I'm going to keep working through my old physics books. I wonder if it's possible to do a crossover math-physics doctorate here...

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28 August 2009

Karl Popper

The second reading for Philosophy of Science this semester is Science: Conjectures and Refutations. It's a beautiful thing. Now, there are some problems with defining 'scientific' solely in terms of falsifiability, but it is certainly an important feature to note in any theory. I particularly liked that what brought Popper to use that as a criterion was that two competing psychological theories (those of Freud and Adler) were sufficiently vague as to be able to explain any conceivable set of behaviors. He had at first been impressed with their seemingly endless lists of confirmations...until he noticed that there seemed to be no behavior that could be taken as falsifying either one. The link above is to the full article, but I just thought I'd post his summary list. Closely related: Confirmation Bias. I've bolded a few of the parts that I find most significant.

1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.

3. Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")

7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a "conventionalist twist" or a "conventionalist stratagem.")

One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

Shorter Popper: A scientific approach to any idea is to throw rocks at it and see if it breaks. If you throw marshmallows, you're doing it wrong.

Redefinition is trickier. There are cases where the breaks simply indicate the limits of an idea, rather than its overall refutation, and it might be able to be modified to account for those breaks. There are also cases where lunatics liberally apply duct tape and declare it as good as new.

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25 August 2009

Stimulants, Cave Chokers and Labyrinths

Last week, I discovered that two full scoops of yerba mate drunk in tea at roughly 6:00 pm will keep me completely awake and alert until about 1:30 am. I'm just as glad to have discovered this before school started (which was this morning). Last night I dropped it down to one scoop and that was just about perfect. It was just starting to wear off as we called it a night (with 7 Cavern Chokers still alive and blocking the way), so I had no trouble sleeping.

So last night we climbed down a hole to a teleporting ladder rung, found a dragon frozen into a statue, scared off a bunch of R.O.U.S's, lost one player to a labyrinth when he wanted to go through a door to see what was on the other side, and explored the one non-magical doorway only to be attacked by cave chokers. There's also a magical lock, which seems to require us to find sufficient magical gems to unlock it (unless the other "half" requires something different), only I've started wondering if getting it unlocked will be what releases the dragon. Possibly I'm just paranoid, but I think Dovra will want to do several more Arcana checks next time, specifically asking about a connection between the dragon and the lock.

We'll probably all need to go into the labyrinth at some point. OOC, we've all seen the strangely mutating door locations and appearance of runes and/or gems in some of the rooms. Philip thinks that the number associated with the symbol gives information about which door to go through, while I wondered if it might be a distance indicator (like how many turns it will take to get out from that location). I also kept some rough notes, and looking at them there is a potential pattern. Our hapless half-orc was following blue-light, and it looks like each time the door had rotated one door counter clockwise from the prior door. The problem is that I didn't keep notes on the green light, so I don't know if the pattern held there as well. It's something, at least.

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23 August 2009


Over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, there's a discussion of a study on how well people do at moving in a straight line. Answer: very well if they have obvious visual cues to follow (the sun, the moon, a trail, some mega landmark), and very badly otherwise.

I was curious about this one because I became lost once in a forest with no trail to follow, and I realized I'd gone in a circle when I came across something I recognized (I think it was a large, distinctive, rock). I managed to reorient myself and get back to the group once I started paying very close attention to the landmarks around me. Thankfully, I hadn't wandered that far from the group anyway. Interestingly, it was cloudy that day, so I couldn't use the sun as a directional guide.

Here's the thing, though: there are usable landmarks in a forest. Yes, they're not ones most of us are used to paying attention to, but they are there. So now I wonder if (a) forest tribes would do better at this, since they're used to recognizing those landmarks; (b) people who spend a lot of time in forests would do better, for similar reasons; (c) people could be trained to use those landmarks. An empty field or a trackless desert? There I'm not sure that training or familiarity would make much difference, but it might, and it would be worth investigating.

Also, how can I get in on a study that drops you in the Saharan desert and instructs you to walk a straight line?!? That would be fun!

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21 August 2009

Girl Genius, Etc.

Fibonacci, who also happens to be our DM, put me onto Girl Genius Comics this past week. It's a touch weak at the beginning, but it doesn't take long before it really hits its stride. It has a very steampunk feel to it, though it's not quite something I would label as steampunk. You've got a world where some percentage of people are "Sparks," meaning they have a certain compulsion and ability to create devices. Unfortunately, a lot of sparks go mad, so the world is a trifle unstable...particularly since "the Other" left his/her/its mark.

As usual, though, it's the characters and their interactions who make the comic for me. I particularly like it when an antagonist can be presented as genuinely trying to do what he thinks is best ... even when nearly everyone thinks those actions to be completely and absolutely wrong. I also appreciate it when apparently disparate plot points suddenly converge and, more importantly, work. I am a bit curious as to what, besides clockwork, powers the mechanisms in the world. There have been some implications, but nothing too definite. Probably just as well. Harder to overanalyze and get irritated when something doesn't pan out. ^!^

As far as my life goes, I've made it up to Chapter 6 in my intro physics book, with very few difficulties. Everything is coming back much more readily than I expected it to. So far, at least. Now, when I dig out the more advanced books on the same topics, the ones where you have to integrate to get the answers, and work out the correct d-nonsense for each integral, then I'll find out how well I really remember it. First year stuff, though, is no problem so far. In fact, I think it's making much more sense this time around ... which just might have something to do with the fact that I'm actually reading the text in the book. I seem to recall scanning through it for equations, skimming the examples, and completely ignoring the text when I was in the class. But, wait, no students ever do that, do they? * blinks innocently *

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20 August 2009

Fictional Exploits

Well, Dovra has now helped in a futile attack against trolls attempting to kidnap a member of the existing party she encountered (and joined up with), been attacked by a stirge. Shenron (dragonborn cleric) got it off of her, but I think she did deal the killing blow to a different one with a Thunderwave spell. They managed to find the trolls, who no longer had the person they'd kidnapped but were more than happy to let the party into a cave ... with the understanding that they would not let us back out.

There we were attacked by cavern chokers hiding on the walls. I realized that Dovra's attack spells had a wee flaw in them: they were all blasts and bursts, which is problematic in close quarters and/or when one of the party has been grabbed by something. However, she did make herself useful in that encounter. The cavern chokers blend flawlessly into the background when they're not moving or attacking. While she could see one, Dovra put a bright red X on it with Prestidigitation so that it couldn't do that. Well, it could vanish... but the X remained visible. That one didn't disappear again before it died, nor did the second that she marked, but the third one did try to vanish once... and the purple X stayed visible (I used different colors for each one; the next one would have been neon green at the request of our half-orc, but there wasn't a next one) so that it could still be attacked.

So then we kept exploring the cave and came across one end of a teleportation key, which took us to meet the Big Bad of the campaign... whom Dovra knew relatively well, having worked with him before she became Not Evil (she always says it that way; so far no one's commented on it). Amusingly he asked if Dovra wanted to work for him again, but since he proclaimed that he was "still SO evil," she declined. We were running out of time at this point, so I'm wondering if the rest of the group are going to question her about this. I mean, they only just met her. Sure, she's helped them fight off giant mosquitoes and such, but surely they ought to be a bit worried that she's worked with the guy who coordinated the kidnap of their friend. Ah well.

(Apologies for the mixing of pronouns in this; I've realized that any specific action that my character takes I tend to think of in third person, especially if it's a spell, but any generic action of the group, like going into the cave, I tend to think of in first person. That's...oddly backwards, isn't it? I could clean it up for consistency, but I think it's an interesting record of the way I respond to the fictional set-up.)

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18 August 2009


Now, I understand the concept of "tolerance," where the body becomes accustomed to a certain medication and requires more of it to produce the same effect. I seem to have "reverse tolerance," if there is such a thing. I'm needing less Claritin to take care of my allergies. I tried a half-dose today... next time I need one, I think I'm going to try a quarter-dose.

Unlike Zyrtec, the physical side effects are fairly minor. I do get some itching with it, but it lasts less than 20 minutes, and is useful because it tells me that the Claritin is just wearing off. No heartburn. More of a dry mouth than with Zyrtec.

The mental side effects are starting to irritate me, though. The last time I took a full dose, I felt restless and anxious for most of the day. The restlessness I'd had before, but the anxiety was new. This last time I took a half-dose, and felt unsettled rather than anxious. Once I realize it was the medicine causing it, I settled down a bit, but it's still irritating. The half-dose was plenty for my symptoms, so maybe a quarter dose will knock it back down to just restless and still be enough for the allergies.

I just don't get why the effects have suddenly gotten worse when I've been taking the stuff all summer. I've been more careful with the Claritin than I was with Zyrtec, in that I never take a second dose until I'm sure the first has worn off. Generally, this is about two days later, despite the bottle saying it lasts "24 hours." I can tell due to the aforementioned minor itchiness. I also give any allergy symptoms about half an hour to go away on their own before taking it; any longer, and the Claritin won't work at all if I take it.

So... is there such a thing as reverse tolerance? I have no idea, but it sure doesn't sound right.

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16 August 2009

Soy List

I found a rather comprehensive list of possibly soy-derivatives to avoid in ingredients. The page is Living With a Soy Allergy. Amusingly, I'd already been avoiding many of them due to the possibility they were made from wheat, but "Glycerol monostearate" is a new one, and I'm not too happy to see "guar gum" on the list, as it is often used in place of xanthan gum to make gluten free products stick together. "Natural Flavors" have been iffy, because they can contain gluten, but they almost always contain soy.

Reading some of the comments on the site, I'm just as glad that I don't have a contact-allergy to soy. I have noticed soy lecithin having minor effects on my asthma, but no out and out asthma attacks, and I have to eat the stuff for it to have that effect.

One final comment on the site: Most of the info I'd found up to this point contained some nonsense about "most people with soy allergies are not sensitive to soy oil or to soy lecithin." Looking at the comments on the linked site, I'd say that's complete and utter garbage. I first noticed problems with soy oil, then with soy flour and soy lecithin. Admittedly, it's a self-selected sample, and people with similar stories are more likely to comment, but I don't see anyone chiming in with "Oh, I'm okay with oil and lecithin." Not a one. It doesn't prove anything, but it's rather suggestive.

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13 August 2009

Soy, the Other Poisonous Food

One of the current theories about food intolerances is that people are born with a genetic susceptibility, and that circumstances, particularly stress, determine whether or not it actually develops into anything. I've had a minor sensitivity to soy for quite a while now, but it seems to have turned into a full-blown intolerance. I'm pretty sure it was the stress of getting the terminal contract notice that did it, too. It would be amusing if I had enough medical documentation to sue the university over it, but I have no proof whatsoever (unless chocolate wrappers with the ingredient 'soy lecithin' count as proof that I wasn't strongly sensitive until recently), so there's no case. However, this incident definitely lends credence to the susceptibility/trigger theory.

Soy is at least as hard to avoid as gluten, though I've already been minimizing my exposure as mush as possible. It used to be that only soy protein and soy oil caused a strong reaction. Now, it's pretty much anything with any sort of soy in it. People ask me if it's hard not to "cheat" on eating gluten, and now soy... It's not hard at all when the moment you eat it, you start feeling so sick to your stomach that you don't want to eat anything else for the rest of the day. The only major sticking point for me right now is chocolate. I'm going to have to start stocking up on the few soy-free chocolates that I know are out there, or else I'm going to go completely nuts. I'll probably links to the sites at some point. Whole Foods Market carries several good varieties, and there's also Enjoy Life.

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Physics, Chapter 1

I made it through all the odd problems (i.e. the ones with answers in the back) from Chapter 1 of my first physics book today. I'll probably slow down in later chapters, but this one was mainly vector notation and unit stuff, which just came right back to me even though I haven't done it for several years. It's strange how easy and obvious it all seems to me now, though I remember struggling with vectors at the time. It's also rather nice to have numbers to plug in. Yes, higher level physics, like higher level math, tends to run on straight formulas and symbols, but it's so refreshing to have numbers right now. I'll get to the more abstract stuff soon enough.

The funny thing is that I'm going through the textbook with the same attitude as I do when I get ready to teach a new class, or an old class with a new book. If I can maintain that feeling through the rest of the chapters, I'll be doing well. If I feel like I could potentially teach each and every chapter, I will be happy. That will tell me that I know the material. Now onto Chapter 2, the kinematics equations! I remember helping out some of my classmates in that first physics class, and so so many questions could be answered simply by looking at the kinematics equations and figuring out which one(s) applied. ^/^

What does it say about me that I found my biggest empty notebook and am hoping that I can completely fill it with work on physics problems? Seriously, I am totally enjoying this.

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12 August 2009

As Lando Calrissian once said...

"This deal keeps getting worse all the time."

Okay, so it's not 'garrison-troops-at-my-house' worse, but as part of the ongoing budget crisis the state-board has decided to change the way the "15-hour" rule is enforced. Full-time employees at ISU are supposed to be at 15-hours each week. The way the math department had been filling the extra 3 hours was by having us work in some sort of tutoring lab (math and learning center or math 108 center). Apparently that is no longer acceptable, and 15-credit hours is now considered a full teaching load. For those of us teaching 108, though, Fisher bumped it back up to a full class (3 credit hours), but with the catch that we have to work extra time in the math 108 center, so that each 108 class can count as 3 credits towards our load.

I'll be honest and say that Fisher's personality grates on me, but he's been handling this situation about as well as anyone could be expected to, and I overheard some stuff that I would not want to share online that makes me a think a lot better of him than I used to. Suffice it to say, he's doing the best he can for his department in an impossible situation. However, I'm suddenly feeling even more relief than before that I should be out of it next year. At the moment, almost anything* sounds better. If the budget ever stabilizes, they might be able to put a sane system back in place, but for now... YECH.

And I'm still thinking that physics is the way to go. I see more places I can go with it than with math at the moment—at least, more places that I want to go—so I've dug out my old physics books and I'm going to start working through them again. I even found my old GRE-physics prep book. I should try to find some more recent versions of the test, but it's a decent starting place. If I don't get a decent assistantship with physics, there's still math, but I'd much prefer to make it into physics.

*anything not requiring me to work closely with gluten, at least. So, no fast food.

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11 August 2009

Free Energy!

My laptop has apparently solved the mystery of free energy, as it has run for about 70 minutes on zero battery power. It's a miracle! That, or, just maybe there's something wrong with its power sensors. D'ya suppose that's more likely? *blinks innocently*

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From out of the blue this morning, it dawned on me that if I go into a graduate program next year, it does not need to be in math. I double-majored in math & physics as an undergrad, so I've got a B.S. in both. Admittedly, my physics is rusty (so is my ability to spell physicis... that's the third time I've mistyped it, and I'm not fixing that one), but here's the thing: a doctorate in math will just put me back in the same situation I'm in now, unless I'm willing to take any university opening in the hopes of establishing tenure. I'm not. I have very specific areas of the country that I want to be in (Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado... more reluctantly, Montana, Oregon and/or Washington), and that's just not very compatible with an academic job search.

But physics... We've got INL right here, and they do busing out to their site. Having experienced INL rush hour once, I'd be just as happy to ride and save both stress and wear and tear on my car. Now, since I have been out a while, there's no guarantee I'd be accepted to the program, though I'm thinking if I brush up and take the physics GRE and do well enough, I'll be okay. I'll still apply to the math program, but the physics one gives me a heckuva lot more options when the future comes due. Also, the thought of physics courses fills me with curiosity and interest, while the thought of math courses just fills me with...um... See, there's a certain level of abstraction beyond which I stop giving a damn. I need to see a purpose to the thing I'm working on, beyond "it's part of your grade." So some classes I absolutely love, generally applied things like statistics and combinatorics, while others I get sick of as soon as I open the book. Yes, there's abstraction in physics, but there's a point to the abstraction.

FYI, my mind's been doing so much jumping around the past month or so that I may change my mind in another week. Still, this is one of the more plausible ideas I've come up with. It's also a tad ironic. My dad was working on his doctorate in physics at ISU, and his thesis project went screwy, and I guess he just gave up. It was something to do with DNA (using a laser to split it? I'm not sure.), and the foul-up, er, fouled up the department's air for a while, as in it stank to high heaven. I don't know why he didn't try again, or try something else. I'm not going to ask, either, because he's so deep in his schizophrenic paranoia that there's no telling whether what he said would have any resemblance to the truth or not. Hopefully it won't drive me mad. ^/^

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08 August 2009

Dovra Lawyndro

After something of a hiatus, I'm back in a D&D group. For no particular reason, I decided to create a rather neurotic character: the half-elf wizard Dovra Lawyndro**, who used to be evil until she found* the Flute of Unbreakable Balance, which can "only be wielded by one neither good nor evil," and decided not to be evil any more. She's a poorly socialized half-elf, who is a bit like Anya from Buffy in that she doesn't quite "get" normal behavior. We've only just started the campaign, and she encountered the extant group of characters for the first time last Tuesday. She announced, "I'm not evil!" at least three times, possibly more. Then proceedings were interrupted by the DM for a duel between his character (from the campaign when he wasn't DM) and a goblin. At that point, it was time to quit, as they'd had to finish the old campaign before they could begin the new one.

I actually got to participate in the old campaign, albeit with a missing player's character, so that they'd have at least one wizard on board. Turns out it was a good thing I did. I/Galadriel (Yes, an elf-wizard named Galadriel; the actual player is a rather young girl, so go with it) managed to successfully cast a sleep spell on the big bad in the very last encounter. There was a lot of luck involved. I got higher initiative, so I was able to try before the big bad transported to his circle of power, where his stats would have been just out of reach of the spell. Even better, he had enough time just before the spell took effect to transport to the circle, which was right next to a portal which we'd been told would kill any living creature who passed through it, so rather than hack the big bad repeatedly for a dozen turns, they just had to drag him to the portal and push him in.

*I'd actually intended that Dovra just be looking for the Flute, but there was a miscommunication with the DM, and he thought she already had it, so I went with it. As she's not convinced yet that she's neither good nor evil, she's not going to try and play it any time soon, but she'll probably annoy the other characters by trying to play the ordinary flute that she bought, figuring that learning to play it will help her play the other one. I have no idea whether this is true, and Dovra hasn't the faintest idea what the Flute actually does. I doubt she even knows why she wants it. I can speculate OOC: she hasn't had a particularly happy life up to this point, and figures that anything that would "balance" that out must be a good thing. I'm leaving it up to the DM what, exactly, the Flute really balances, but it's probably not even close to what Dovra thinks.

**I'm lousy at coming up with names, so I've got a bot with several sets of syllables that can be combined in random order. The generated names were actually much longer than just "Dovra Lawyndro," but by removing a few I wound up with what I consider to be a decent name. It will be amusing if the other character try to call her "Dovi," as that's what I call the cat who adopted me, short for "Dovienya."

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Go Get the Axe

I heard this song on a Bugs Bunny episode, and had always assumed that it was one made up by the writers, as the lyrics were so screwy. It turns out that, no, it's a real song. One site lists is as a Scottish/Irish folk tune. The lyrics are easier to read here, but beware the automatic midi-play of the melody. There's no off-button on the site itself, but if you've got adblock, you can block the .mid file and make it go away. Anyway, I'm posting the full lyrics, just because of their sheer bizarreness.

Peepin' through the knot-hole
of grandpa's wooden leg,
Who'll wind the clock when I'm gone?
Go get the ax
There's a flea in Lizzie's ear,
For a boy's best friend is his mother. (cont. below)

Peepin' through the knot-hole
of grandpa's wooden leg,
Why do they build the shore so near the ocean?
Who cut the sleeves
Out of dear old daddy's vest,
And dug up Fido's bones to build the sewer?

A horsey stood around,
With his feet upon the ground,
Oh, who will wind the clock when I'm gone?
Go get the ax,
There's a fly on Lizzie's ear,
But a boy's best friend is his mother.

I fell from a window,
A second-story window,
I caught my eyebrow on the window-sill.
The cellar is behind the door,
Mary's room is behind the ax,
But a boy's best friend is his mother.

I wonder if the thing was supposed to be nonsense, or if there are actual meanings in it if you're familiar with the sayings and expressions of the time it was written.

ADDENDUM: After a bit of hunting (Wikipedia's ordered list was quite helpful), I finally found the cartoon where Bugs sings this. It's called Hare Trigger, and is also the very first cartoon to feature Yosemite Sam as we know him today, though there were prototypes in earlier cartoons. Once I knew the title, finding it at YouTube was easy. The song starts at about 1:05.

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06 August 2009

ISU Insanity

So, it turns out that the university's brilliant stupendous stupendously idiotic plan to get its classes taught without full-time lecturers is grad students. Now, a graduate student will only teach one class per semester. That's it. Their class-loads are too great to do anything else. A full-time load for me is four classes (five if I've got 108, as those only count as "half" a class towards my limit).

Let's look at some numbers on that, shall we? A Master's student in math with a teaching assistantship earns about $9400 for the school year. Four such students would earn around $37,600. My salary is just under $30,000. But wait, it gets better: they'll need two offices (two grad students to an office) instead of just one. And if they've got four doctoral students teaching the classes, they shell out about $49,000. This is not a way to save them money.

There is more to the plan, however. They want to bunch up the introductory math classes into big lecture halls. Now, these are the students who need the most help with math. Shoving them into a big lecture hall is, effectively, smothering any chance they have of passing. In the smaller classes we currently have, there's usually a 50% failure rate or higher. I've heard talk of using them as "weed-out" classes, but in that case, why don't they just have, oh, say, admissions standards??!?!?

None of this is the fault of the math department. I overheard our chair in the hall discussing how bad the situation was. Their budget for office supplies is $700 less than they typically spend on copies alone. They're under pressure not to open up new sections, even if there's enough student demand for them. The list goes on. I have no idea what's actually going to happen for the 2010-11 school year. I'm sure the math department will fight a lot of these changes, but unless the bastard Otter restores something resembling a reasonable budget, there won't be much they can do.

There's also an issue in that there are some faculty who just "don't like" the idea of full-time teaching faculty who are (GASP!!)not full professors, and I suspect they're taking the opportunity to try and weed us out. But what are departments without graduate programs supposed to do, hmmm? Just die? Hire professors who have to be paid more? Yeah. These idiots are clearly not capable of cogent thought.

Oh, yes. I should probably add that these views are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the math department ... though I would be surprised if they weren't at least similar to the rest of the department (and that's my opinion, too).

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05 August 2009

Deby's Carrot Cake

At Deby's bakery, she had various kinds of cake, packaged theoretically as single servings (as well as full cakes). I couldn't resist getting a piece of carrot cake, though I actually cut it into four slices as it was almost 4 inches square, and I didn't need that much all at once. Looks like the carrot cake isn't available for order on her web-site yet, but there are some carrot cupcakes on the "order" page at her web-site. It's not giving me a direct link to the order page for some reason.

But I couldn't resist the carrot cake because I have very fond memories of always buying one of the little slices of carrot cake for dessert whenever we went to Skipper's when I was little. Now, I can't even eat at Skipper's any more, and I never seem to get around to making carrot cake myself, so it was nice to finally have it again. Deby's version is pretty good. It needs more spice, imo, and a bit less frosting, but overall I'd recommend it. One warning: the label did say "contains trace amounts of soy." I usually don't react to small amounts, but anyone extremely sensitive should avoid, well, most of Deby's products actually.

**Just noticed this on the order page: "Note: all Deby's breads are Gluten Free, Dairy, and Egg Free, and contain only a trace amount of Soy (from the nonstick pan spray)." Blasted soy-lecithin strikes again. I'm half-tempted to buy one of the good refillable spray bottles and send it to her. At Bed, Bath and Beyond I found a metal refillable spray bottle, and I swear that, other than the pumping, I cannot tell the difference between the way it sprays and the way the aerosol, soy-laden, store-bought ones spray. It holds the pressure much better than the old plastic one I had, and the spray is much, much finer. It is one that you have to pump, as it uses air pressure to send out the spray, but, again, it works much better than the plastic pump one that I had before.

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