Thursday, December 01, 2005

ELO: Elven Liver Oxidation

It all began innocently enough. I started with the 'umble variant of "hello", with an elision of the first consonant and a simplification of the bicameral ll into a softer, single l, but then an absence of a response sparked a desultory monologue that, while of absolutely no worthwhile content, was mildly amusing, at least more so amusing than witnessing myself furthering the art of twiddling thumbs. Sadly, at no point during this reflexive exercise did the party I was trying to contact respond. Below I have copied the text, providing line breaks at each point a message was sent.


Elven liver oxidation.

It's a debilitating condition for elves arising from overconsumption of alcoholic beverages.

Policymakers are nonplussed at the precarious situation wherein ELO, already admitted by those in the know of certainly reaching pandemic proportions, is the only inhibitor preventing the generally rowdy demeanor of elves from physically manifesting into fisticuffs with those race of bears fondly known to televise "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires."

Republicans announced today a strategy of preemption, gunning down Smokey the Bear and his ilk and thereby cordoning off the one likely outlet for sober Elven fury. Insiders ruminate how Republicans haven't really ironed out how to then get the elves to stop drinking and mitigate ELO's rampage across Elven communities. Insiders continue by stating, "We think the Republicans just want to kill Smokey the Bear. This whole tactic of trying to find an avenue to cure ELO without violent spillover is a rouse to accomplish a long harbored right-wing stratagem to take down Smokey."

Democrats meanwhile protested Republicans' unilaterally decided path and demanded an end to "a blatant witch-hunt against the Smokey Bears who have almost no link with the drunken elves." Voting on whether to take down Smokeys fell fairly along party-lines but a band of anti-Smokey democrats crossed over to help pass the bill through a slender majority. Many Smokey Bears have fled for Canada but one remained behind and allowed itself to be interviewed. When asked what its reaction is to this new crackdown on an otherwise ignored minority community of bears, Mr. Smokey, as it asked to be called, commented glumly, "Only you can prevent forest fires." Mr. Smokey was visibly shaken, demoralized, and obviously under tremendous psychological pain, apparently so much so as to be unable to coherently say anything else.

Elves meanwhile continued their drunken revelry as no government task-force has yet been assigned the pressing issue of ELO. Senior Analyst of Elven Affairs Sean Connery reports, "What we're seeing here is a silent admission by staff officials that elves and alcohol are inseparable. With the Republican aim of cleansing out Smokey Bears, forests are now free to be burned down for mini-malls and prime television ad space previously used by Smokey is opened to new players. ELO was never a concern, and I think now that the party's objective is accomplished, attention over ELO will be redirected to other pressing matters."

Democrats, fuming at having had public funds siphoned for hawkish special interest groups vying for television ad space, staged a walkout from congressional and senatorial deliberations. Democrats then marched into the streets in protest where they were promptly assailed by a gang of drunk elves merrily prancing about. Some Democrats whose names are being sealed per Circuit Court order seized a few of the Elven whiskey bottles. Details of what immediately ensued are still sketchy but twelve Democrats are confirmed dead and five elves injured.

An outpour of public fulmination over the incident has forced Republican hands to covertly allow Smokey Bears to reenter the country under a clandestine agreement provisioning some airtime, albeit reduced, to Smokey ads in exchange for curing the deteriorating relationship with the Elven community. A local sheriff whose rise to fame last year was the capture of a picnic-basket thief named Yogi has alerted locals that the Smokey Bears and the Elven communities are engaging in gang warfare and humans should remain calm and stay away when spotting either nearby. Hospitals are reporting an influx of critically wounded elves, possibly indicating that Smokey Bear clans are expediently executing an eradication campaign.

Pundits analyzing the situation paint a bleak picture when asked about the likelihood of achieving social harmony any time soon but agree upon the longer-term benefits of a reduced Elven population. Already, mean young elves are throwing away their bottles of whiskey to hone their skills at bear hunting. This itself will, as pundits point out, ameliorate the spread of ELO. Bears meanwhile are unfazed by the new sober variety of elves and are finding it highly lucrative near the Christmas season to capture elves for resale in the slave trade. China has criticized this new labor force and has opened a complaint with the WTO that Santa's workshop is using slave labor, unfairly competing with their lowly priced merchandise. Santa has defiantly obscured access of investigators working to assess claims of Santa's crimes against elfanity. This matter is still pending in International Criminal Court.

Monday, October 31, 2005


Sarah seated herself under the shade of a walnut tree, pulling her white frock neatly around her and patting off loose blades of grass trapped in the lacing. Taking a deep breath, she motioned with just her mouth letting no sound out “Mentaharnin…” but before being able to continue a sudden shriek and then joyous laughter from behind broke her concentration.

Someone had just won, or scored many points in a game, Sarah guessed not really thinking. It was true, the other girls her age of Rosemary Manor were playing hopscotch; but the laughter was over Amy Henderson who trying a very challenging sequence had fallen flat on her rear, initially letting out a shriek but then bursting into laughter with the others over her own abysmal performance. None of this concerned Sarah, she always seemed to find the things that brought others great joy to be immensely trite.

The momentary cacophony died down and another round of hopscotch quietly ensued. Sarah focused intently on the sound of the breeze rustling the tree leaves until her mind was completely clear once again.

“Mentaharnin acquinte oransk” she chanted silently, motioning every syllable perfectly just as she had done each week the past three months. Immediately, Sarah felt the familiar, uncomfortable twin piercing at one side of her neck and a withdrawal of warmth. She sat motionless, staring toward the horizon as wispy clouds now stayed their position in the afternoon sky.

“Entaharn, refreshed?” Sarah thought without speech, feeling two incisors slide out her in response. She leaned forward but the air seemed unwilling to move. Defiantly fighting the immobile ether, she struggled forward with increasingly greater effort, and, suddenly, as if a glass door had given way, she hurled forward at frightening speed. The ground and sky spun around her, colors washed from blue to red to green and back to blue, and finally as suddenly as it all began, it stopped. Everything stopped. The sky was reassuringly above her and the ground thankfully beneath her. She noticed herself still seated on grass, but not where she had sat; then, looking forward, she saw nearly fifty meters ahead her own body still under a walnut tree, completely motionless.

“Elegant, always so very elegant.” A boyish, cavalier voice chuckled all around her. “Do you always tumble like that?”

“I’m still practicing,” Sarah retorted a bit embarrassed but returned to a regal tone, “Hurry up and repair that body over there.”

“Ah, yes; fixing your problems.” The same voice was distinctly in front of her but its owner remained unseen. “My, my… an entire centimeter in almost momentary time. I commend your effort, but ripping your flesh seems a rather coarse way to…”

“Just fix it!” Sarah snapped impatiently. An entire centimeter this time, she thought to herself worriedly. Entaharn had explained to her before the dangers of corporeally moving when time slows to a fraction of its original speed. Her whole body could irreparably dissolve under enough acceleration, and with a centimeter of movement this time, it had nearly happened.

Have a Hallowed Eve!

Monday, October 24, 2005

number theory: ah, those funny li'l modulos

There were only a handful of tricks with numbers that the typical elementary school student would be inculcated with during those years I enjoyed (well, attempted to enjoy) primary education. To cast the bleak bleaker, the divisibility test by 3 is often the only ubiquitously taught trick possessing some semblance of novelty. In case anyone wondered as a kid but failed to discover the reason, modulus arithmetic is the preferred foundation with which one derives efficient divisibility tests. For some reason still unbeknownst to me, I decided to raise this ol' topic and began concocting digit-wise divisibility tests for the primes 7 and 11. I urge readers to please have ready several pitchers of water, since what follows is fairly dry...

When X is a string (of some radix) of numerical value Σ(X[k]*radixk)∀k∈0..X.length-1⊆Z, then (int)X ≡ 0 mod Y iff: Σ(X[k] * cycle[k])∀k∈0..X.length⊆Z ≡ 0 mod Y, where cycle is the repeating series { radixk mod Y }.

Let's pick a radix we all know and love, base10:
Let Dn = { 100, 101, 102, ... }
Dn mod 3 = { 1, 1, 1, ... } = Cycle (1). Since cycle[k] = 1, we get the age-old mantra "X is divisible by 3 iff the sum of digits is divisible by 3".

But let's look beyond 3,
Dn mod 7 = cycle ( 1, 3, 3*3≡9≡2, 2*3≡6≡-1 ..) = cycle (1, 3, 2, -1, -3, -2)
Dn mod 11 = cycle (1, 10≡-1 ..) = cycle (1,-1)

Interestingly, but with less power than an iff relationship, since lcm(2,6) = 6 and both Dn mod 7 and Dn mod 11 have half-cycles (-1 as an element), then X ≡ 0 mod 77 if X in decimal form can be grouped into 3digit strings, where every other 3digit string is marked red and those in between are marked blue, and the { reds } minus { blues } = Null.

For exampe, let red = { 123, 444, 812, 912, 083, 948, 020, 436 }
Thus, blue = { 123, 444, 812, 912, 083, 948, 020, 436 }
Let shuffle(blue) = { 444, 948, 912, 436, 083, 812, 123, 020 }
Then interlace(red, shuffle(blue)) = 123444 444948 812912 912436 083083 948812 020123 436020. This now yields a base10 string which is divisible by 77 (and obviously also by 2, 5, 7, 11 and all the other factors of their multiple 770): 123444444948812912912436083083948812020123436020

Too big a number to verify with a pocket-calculator? Here's an easy multiple of 77 to generate: 001001 = 1,001. A pocket calculator can verify it is 13*77.

But then, what's the ratio of densities between these simple multiples and the full set of multiples? In the case of 77, cardinality of the full set of multiples for base10 string X is (1/77) * (10X.length). Cardinality for the parlor-trick partial set is:
Let redi = ∪(X[6*i+0..6*i+2])
Let bluei = ∪(X[6*i+3..6*i+5])
Let g = X.length/6
(Π(φ(∃unique j s.t. bluei = redj))∀i∈0..g-1⊆Z) * (10X.length)
= (Π(1 - ((103-1)/103)k)∀k∈1..g⊆Z) * (10X.length)
= (Π(1 - 0.999k)∀k∈1..g⊆Z) * (10X.length)
limX.length→∞( Π(1 - 0.999k)∀k∈1..g⊆Z ) ≈ 7.4210E-713

Thus, the ratio of the two is (1/77) : 7.4210E-713 ⇒ 1 : 5.7142E-711. In other words, the parlor trick while being a very good way to generate multiples is a rather improbable way to test for divisibility by 77. The only rigorous divisibility test is the one where iff is ensured instead of the comparatively impotent if.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


“Hello Professor Dumbledore,” I began friendlily but was cut off by the steely eyed headmaster obviously refusing to cow before a well-situated and grown up former student of his.

“Severus, yes”

Yes, first name basis will do, I thought grievously. My mind stalled for a moment to recollect his first name. It had been so long since seeing him, since even stepping foot back into Hogwarts. Then I was considered the short, pudgy son of a mediocre family; others knew not of my true legacy or the future legacy I would create. Today I towered in my custom tailored suit and polished leather shoes, and not because I sought to impress; oh, no, seeing in front of me in tawdry attire with a frail figure a man who once caused me anguish was a mere bonus, a treasure of fractional value to why I was here.

“Albus,” I finally remembered his first name as I gazed at the frays of his cuffs, “the ministry and I had a little chat earlier and since I have been elected to head…” but I was interrupted again,

“Bought to head” Albus finished. His boldly begun words waned into a whisper.

Perhaps it was only because of money I am here again; but money reigns supreme and I possessed a terrifying sum to now head the board of trustees for this school. Even Albus through his thick skull can see this, and through all his defiant pretensions, streaks of fear quiver through his voice and actions. Perhaps Albus need not be disposed after all, I mused. Fear for his job is sensible.

“I have heard a lot of discontent,” I continued, ignoring Albus’s throat clearings, “about the direction of the school and I cannot ignore the extent to which the dissatisfactions have grown. I haven’t invested three hundred million in this place to watch it meander its way into an abyss; I…”, noticing Albus’s open mouth my voice raised, body lurched forward and eyes widened to prevent an interruption, “I want to see this school succeed!”

The words were followed by a short silence, letting me lean back before I continued. “And I assume you do as well, so let us work together."  I left a purposeful pause, letting my words sink in.  Encouraged by the resounding silence and lack of any protest, I continued with  a smirk, "I want to keep you around, but you cannot continue being insubordinate.” His eyes looked more resigned now, and, for once, the idiot had nothing to finish my sentences with.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Service the Machine that Services the Machine

Every morning before breakfast, a whistle shoots up high above the rooftops of the nearby service station and blows with all the fury it can muster a high-pitched "Wheeet." That’s the sign. That’s the sign that a baby lord machine has been hatched. We the servicemen rush from our homes, leaving our cereal bowls vacated. Forty leaps with all the might our legs can afford and the service station’s door is in sight. A swipe of the badge and a careful walk past the sterile threshold to the station reveals the little lord machine, shining wetly and acquainting itself with servicemachines fondly dabbing warm cloth on its chassis to prevent any buckles during the cooling process. This time of day is always a treat, since it is the only time we servicemen can gaze upon a lord machine. Our task is not to care for it directly, but to ensure all the servicemachines who do care for it are well cared for themselves. All one servicemachine need do is let us see its light lit orange and four of us will come walking hurriedly to it with clean oil, chilled water, and a sizable, freshly charged battery pack. Mere feet away from a lord machine, our pride swells; to attend to the machine directly attending a lord machine is a privilege bestowed upon the few, the lucky.

Monday, October 10, 2005

do not incense the crack-addicted squirrels (source)

Rare is it when I start rehashing periodicals, but it is imperative I report that English rodents have gone wild. The fuzzy, cuddly bunnies fondly dined upon by bambi-slaughtering, full regalia donning lords with knives and forks carried in proper hands are not the morsels at play here; rather, unlike rodentia-posing leporidae, these are true rodents who have been feasting upon saran-wrapped packets of crack neatly patted down with topsoil in the gardens of dubious white-powder-shrub gardeners. These are critters teeming with more satanically horrifying vices than contained in all the FOX reality shows and almost as much as contained in Jane Fonda's hair – leave a few cubic hectares of eye-burning aerosol. That's right, these are squirrels, now most easily identified by disheveled fur and the harrowing glare of their blood-shot, demented eyes, and the squirrels have taken a liking to stash buried by scuzzy junkies. Through the mighty rodent quest for granulated satisfaction, squirrels are leaving in their wake a dazed lot of heart-palpitating Londoners.

As always, the bushy tailed recidivism began with the bobbies. After a recent rash of anti-drug enforcement, gardens-turned-safehouses began storing "the goods" and in a double whammy counteracted both the sleuths and the residual yet pungent anal odors gifted by intestinal convoys aboard a long British Airways flight from Lithuania. Of course, now look at the mess; the capital of the mightiest of feeble empires is being overrun by panicky and angsty teens suffering withdrawal and feverishly irascible squirrels who some speculate have already formed a powerful crime syndicate and have half of parliament in their pockets.. pouches.. er paws. Obviously also paid off, the nearly vowelless RSPCA has tried to contain rampant fear by insisting the thimble-sized hearts of our fury friends would go supernovae upon receiving any cocaine. Unconvinced and alarmed by the growing British fiasco, French authorities have decided to examine carefully the baroque snuffboxes of their infamous wayside frogs for any traces of the serious stuff concealed within.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

neither 42 nor 47 are interesting

Infected with an unfortunate meme of geekdom, I've grown unnaturally sensitive toward hearing the numbers 42 and 47. These numbers are almost mythical in nature, 42 for possibly being "the answer to the ultimate question", and 47 for supposedly having an anomalously high frequency of use in daily affair.

In a bid to cure myself of susceptibility to mind control by those who'd reap the awesome power of these two numbers, and under the premise that few enough netizens are infected with these memes to constitute any significant alteration to these numbers' use — a premise I'm sure we can all agree upon given the growing ubiquity of non-geeks online — I thought I'd query Google, our very own 'Deep Thought', on what it thinks about single and double-digit numbers. Here are the results:
x-axis represents the number queried, y-axis represents matched documents in millions under Google's Sept 13, 2005 corpus

Thankfully, there existed no easily roused DoS-prevention logic and so my perl script was sportingly allowed to run unimpeded.

Observing the data, we see that lower magnitude numbers reign supreme as expected, followed by their products by 10 and to a lesser extent theirs by 5. Our odd decision to make seconds and minutes base-60 probably encouraged the high popularity of 30. Shopkeepers who price everything one or two cents shy of a whole buck are the likely reason for the spikes at 98 and 99. Curse their financial legerdemain! I snuck in 100 despite it being triple-digit to show my solidarity with our love of base-10. If you must know, I originally had 0 as well but it made the scatterplot rather messy with its frequency being between those of 12 and 13. Notably apparent from the chart, there is nothing strikingly special about 42 or 47.

So there you have it, confirmation that the '80s really were boring, and incontrovertible proof that neither 42 nor 47 are in any way more spectacular than other numbers in the hearts and minds of sane, normal people. The atypically higher frequencies of 44 and 64 do on the other hand raise new questions...

After all this faux statistical analysis of 'cult-figures', it is perhaps prudent to reflect on the sagacious words of Homer J. Simpson.
1F09, 1/6/94 Homer the Vigilante
Kent: Mr. Simpson, how do you respond to the charges that petty vandalism such as graffiti is down eighty percent, while heavy sack-beatings are up a shocking 900%?
Homer: Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.

His eminence's eloquent words denouncing statistically based reasoning. Amen, Mr. Simpson, amen.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Attending a Desi Wedding in Cincinnati

Labor day weekend went by rather well! Whenever any sort of long weekend creeps up, my family begins by expressing a warm, embracing intention to vacation somewhere. This wishful thinking must be quite taxing because my parents seem to move directly onto appeased inaction, bypassing the entire stage where one normally would book a flight and a room. This brilliant tactic of omission allows a vacation "planned" a month in advance to disintegrate into ether, leaving my family panic stricken the week of our supposed excursion and ultimately resigned to satiate our wanderlust another time. Despite this, somehow, maybe when the stars align, we get our act together and manage to go somewhere. This labor day weekend owes itself to one such cosmic arrangement. And, oh, what a weekend it was!

The Groom as White Knight

The Bride and Groom

Weddings are always special occasions, but this desi wedding meant a three-day gala affair with the groom riding on a white stallion! In the picture to the right you can see the groom mounted on the steed. Truth be known, an equestrian trainer pulled it along, and it was for less than an hour, but still... a horse!

Since the groom is Tamilian and the bride is Gujarati, the wedding combined traditional North Indian style with traditional South Indian style. Hey, if it means more variety in sweets for the guests, I say combine away!

Unfortunately, owing to the paucity of Indian weddings I've attended, I'm not exactly sure which all aspects were Southern inspired and which all were Northern inspired. The ancillary use of the horse, by the way, is primarily a North Indian phenomenon, and may even be confined further to Gujarat. I know, I know, I'm a bad coconut with only a vague understanding of these things. I'm trying, right?

The photo to the left shows the general theme and the apparel worn. The guys in red on the rightside are mostly the groom's friends from Chicago. The girls in red saris are sisters of the bride. People are pumping their arms into the air as they dance to Hindi music in a procession behind which faint and gentle clacks of horseshoes emanate.

Arches and candles are among the more artistic items one can capture with a still; yet, some guy has the impeccable timing to get up and ruin my shot. Oh well.

I probably should cast a little of Cincinnati's limelight over on Kentucky since the latter is where most of the events actually took place. Barefaced about being a geography dunce, I never realized Cincinnati practically grows out from Ohio and into Kentucky! Makes me wonder, though, if Mr. Ed from the first photograph was ever in the Kentucky derby.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Acting with a Gracious Aussie, Politics at the Pool Table

I won! Wait, I won?

It takes quite a lot of skill to throw a game convincingly. The fact I'm still uncertain over whether the game was actually thrown is testament to my opponent's crafty generosity, if he really did let me win. I suspected something was awry when I narrowed his lead over me while he kept encountering a rash of difficulties with getting the 8-ball into any pocket, until that cathartic moment when, after a few of my own fumbling moments with the 8-ball, I won. Wow. At that moment, as strongly as I sensed victory was being handed to me, a feeling of redemption engulfed any other worries or misgivings I had. For an instant, lingering questions on the legitimacy of the victory evaporated, as did the tension of being down 0-4 games, a tension I grew so accustomed to as to fail to recognize how taut and clenched-fisted it had been keeping me. While the tension seemed permanently subsided, those lingering questions were less willing to go, coalescing into an anvil and thudding atop my head with the pestering realization that I need to think of how to respond beyond showcasing motionless stupor and disbelief.

What's the protocol, I wondered; do I sneak in a teaser about how he let me win? Should I thank him for the gracious gesture? Perhaps he would be offended if I garishly threw noise on a donation he so discretely made. Then again, I did still have to struggle - he certainly wouldn't have fiddled with that 8-ball long enough to embarrass himself. In fact, in addition to the onus of winning being on me, I had to endure the added pressure of potentially losing to someone playing on a five shot handicap. Yes.. yes.. the victory was well earned. Besides, I continued to reason, it would be sacrilegious of me to call his act an act when he expended considerable effort to make his loss credible. I decided to accept his donation; I played the intended part and offered a courteous "good game" with an appreciative smile and a nod. I instantly second-guessed myself, wondering if silently accepting someone's largesse would be considered tawdry, but, thankfully, the comforting return of relief from my opponent's starkly more relaxed look allayed any fear of misstep. He bought the act, or so I believe.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Robert Blackwill, Dictionaries, and p[a-z]*pot(ate|ent)

Despite a gleaming mention in the subject, Robert Blackwill has very little to do with this particular journal entry. In fact, he is merely part of the ambient noise surrounding a slippery word that tantalizingly evaded me. It's quite odd how, when focusing so intently on recollecting one thing, loosely related items emerge into thought and, though unsolicited, they emerge with unbridled clarity and brilliance.

I began explaining to a friend how I hate synonyms and prefer words which carry a larger concept - a purposeful word useful in reducing the amount of time to convey an idea. At that moment, I caught the shadow of a word which would be of prime example; unfortunately, anything more than the shadow eluded me. Lilipote? No, no. What was it? I struggled to think. I knew its definition is the use of a euphemism or understatement for emphasis. I started rattling off to my friend whatever I could think to see if the word would come to me. If two people are berated by an extremely mean officer, one can later use hyperbole to tell the other "that's the worst officer ever in history!" One can also use sarcasm to tell the other "he sure is a nice guy." One can also use a .. er .. lilipote to tell the other "he's not an extremely nice guy." Tragically, I was in the car without internet access. I asked my friend over the phone to google "lilipote" and although I was expecting no results, it was disheartening to be confronted with that reality. It did make for a decent segue into Lilliputs and from there the conversion meandered to other things of interest, such as the movie about a 40yr old male virgin, and away from this mess of grappling with quarter-life senility.

To ensure no one's spirits have risen in thinking this blog will delve into the interesting parts of that conversation, I should make clear that interesting movie-related discussion will never be in any blog I write. Interesting stories can easily be told to people, real-time; it's the uninteresting things which require the occasional straggler who resorts to reading blogs, having tired of hours of solitaire.exe and an additional hour of repeatedly dragging rectangles on her desktop to see icons highlight. Right, now that we've squared that away.. Once I arrived home and the conversation ended, I managed to remember 'litotes' was the word I likely was looking for, and a quick validation on the web vindicated my belated answer. Naturally, just before feeling the burden lifted, I remembered once knowing a word used in a many years old NY Times passage about then ambassador Robert Blackwill being autocratic and sinking his staff into depression by incessantly denigrating them. I knew the word meant something along the lines of being given authority or power by appointment; other than that, I only knew it began with something like "pen" and ended with something like "potate" or "potent" which is sadly insufficient to query a web dictionary, or a printed one for that matter.

Cursed word-based queries, grep would solve this in seconds, I muttered. Wait, yes, grep will solve this in seconds! After some longer than anticipated tar.gz hunting, I seemed to find numerous providers of the 1913 Webster's unabridged English dictionary, which has fortunately been released into public domain. With some tr, sed, and sort -u, I had a nice greppable txt file revealing 'plenipotentiary', carrying as a noun the meaning "a diplomatic agent, such as an ambassador, fully authorized to represent his or her government" and as an adjective "invested with or conferring full powers." Aha, excellent. If only there had been a web service to do this generally! Are you listening, Google? I seriously need a mind-augmenting persistent cache to prevent memory loss. As an aside, as if this whole posting wasn't a giant one, a month and a half ago I managed to utter "Al Grove" in place of "Carl Rove", seamlessly morphing him with a certain former vice president and presidential candidate I'll leave unnamed. Needless to say, that gaffe instantly clinched an unofficial debate victory for my heckling opponent.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Cursory Game Review of "Rome: Total War"

Developed by The Creative Assembly and published in 2004 by Activision, the latest in the Total War series, Rome: Total War, far exceeds any expectations set by Warcraft in warfare while borrowing from the allure of Civilization (Civ) and Master of Orion (MoO). Like Civ, the macroscopic management of the empire (involving the queuing of building structures, the queuing of training troops, and the movement of troops across the available map) is turn-based; however, the time (number of turns) to produce a building or unit is, like Warcraft and unlike Civ, a fixed number of turns dictated by the item being constructed or trained rather than the manufacturing capabilities of the city. Like MoO, battles are fought optionally as mini-games. Unlike MoO, these mini-games are real-time and follow in the genre of Command and Conquer (C&C) and Warcraft but replace the old C&C and Warcraft era maps with true 3D terrain, camera perspective, and high-resolution military units comprised of twenty to fifty individually animated characters per unit. Also unlike MoO, when declining to manually play a mini-game, the player merely is given (and rightfully so) the statistical end-result instead of peering into the 5-10min long battle animation which would otherwise ensue. In brief, this game borrows heavily from, and exhibits itself as, a medley of classic strategy war games, yet does so as would a good recipe harmoniously blend common palatable flavors while adding a few hitherto uncommon ones.

The storyline while lackluster is implemented in a very novel manner. The ahistorical premise of the game is that the Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR) wishes to expand Rome vicariously through three powerful Roman houses, the Julii, Scipii, and Brutii. The player's avatar is the faction leader of one of these three houses - the particular house being chosen when creating a new game. The Senate will give time-bound missions incentivized with modest rewards to help steer the player’s faction. Cities cannot be formed or destroyed as would have been able in Civ; instead, each faction simply advances by conquering existing cities and choosing to either occupy, enslave (dispersing 25% of the population to other cities), or exterminate (lowering the population by 75%). Initially, many of the available cities are rebel-owned. These rebel cities have no allegiance and cannot form diplomatic channels and are thus fodder for adjacent civilizations. The player’s faction is initially allied with the SPQR and the other two Roman factions. The Julii house would typically expand northward and northwestward into Gallic territory. The Brutii house would typically expand southeastward and eastward into Greek and Macedonian territory. The Scipii house would typically expand southward and southwestward into Carthaginian territory. Later in the game, Rome expands into Germanic, Dacian, Seleucid, Thracian, Spanish, Scythian, Egyptian, Briton and other territories. The objective of the game is to own the Senate while possessing 50 provinces. Like Civ, the best way to achieve the objective is to build structures improving the economy, city defenses, and sanitary conditions. Like Warcraft, military units have prerequisite military structures, one upgrade path for various infantry units, another for various cavalry units, another for various missile units, and yet another for various naval units. A blacksmith or armourer in the city is the only exception, helping improve the quality of weapons for all military units.

Curiously unlike most other strategy games, family members of the faction's patriarchy are important. All the characters gain virtues and vices over time, form entourages conferring insight, marry and propagate, and eventually die as in real life. Some characters may even be elected into the senate and rise through the various bureaucratic ranks. While moderately complex for a strategy game, much of the complexity is mitigated by being read-only. The only control on the family the player has is in selecting the heir, choosing to betroth a female family member to a requesting suitor, and occasionally choosing to adopt into the family a commander who has shown his mettle in combat. Male family members of age (sixteen or older) appear as a General at the capital, carrying modifiers set by his virtues, vices, and the traits of his retinue. These modifiers can affect anything from the morale of troops at battle to the cost of erecting buildings in the city to the chances of rising in the bureaucracy of the senate to the likelihood of having many children. Like any other unit, a General - and, importantly, his modifiers - can be moved across the map from city to city or battle to battle. Less importantly, in real-time battle mini-games, a General often appears as a cavalry unit of 10-20 horsemen - which can have some minimal, direct use. Gameplay-wise, the 10-20 horsemen simply indicate the General's "health" since each horseman bimodally either survives combat or dies during it.

The quality of the mini-games' graphics is astounding, even when using a slightly older (circa 2002) graphics card requiring one to disable various aesthetic features. Unlike the motion-picture implementation in C&C and Warcraft utilizing a dozen key frames, Rome: Total War uses proper 3D animation, vector-based with perhaps five dozen inflection states involving the categorical concepts of marching, running, fleeing, scrimmaging and, for missle units, firing. The viewing camera is, seemingly, several meters above the ground, angled downward toward the battlefield. The height and downward angle of the camera are automanaged and read-only, but the player may polar rotate and cartesian translate the terrestrial plane. Whenever the axis of height is important (viewing units on a slope or viewing from a slope), the camera's automanager will correct the height and downward angle of the camera to provide suitable sight.

Throughout this review, I have been doing a grave disservice by referring to the real-time battles as mini-games; in actuality, these real-time battles can be the sole focus of the game and the creators cleverly catalogue historical battles for instant play, dismissing the need to ever plod along a tiring and lengthy Civ-style campaign. True to its mission of being realistic while fun to play, battles occur on a giant arena which may take 10min to walk across with infantry. Fortunately, your opponent tends to be positioned a minute away. Woodlands and hills can shift the balance of power in battle, forcing one side to fight an uphill battle or render its siege weapons immobile due to absence of clear terrain. Town Watchers, Hastati, Principes and Triarii are, in ascending order of power, the infantry and heart of Roman might early in the game. The various cavalry and missile-based cavalry units are fast, useful to prey on outlying infantry or to pierce a hole in the opponent's rank. Velites, Archers, and the ancient world's engineering marvels such as ballistas and onagers are strategic units with limited but invaluable uses. There are also special units various civilizations possess. A dearth of elephants available to Rome, and consequent cultural abhorrence of elephants and denigration of the militarization thereof, makes this unit unavailable to a Roman army while available to a Carthaginian one. Similarly, pikeman and other units are for exclusive use by certain civilizations. Once the battle is underway, formations prove vital. Morale and effectiveness of one's units are heavily dependent on orderliness, easily disrupted by beasts such as wardogs and elephants or by swift, indefatigable cavalry. A pivotal unit may quickly flee long before it could ever be vanquished if the men are disheartened by pervading chaos. Most units, unfortunately, are limited to the dull blocks legionnaires classically form; however, cavalry can form rhomboid and wedge formations, cavalry auxilla - missile-equipped cavalry - can also form a Cantabrian circle around their prey, and legionnaires during sieges can form a testudo, the oft-romanticized 'invincible' tortoise formation. Given the richness present elsewhere in the game, the unvariedness of formations is a puzzling oversimplification. Perhaps this streamlining correctly portrays the genuine monotony of roman formations. Thankfully, spectacles such as incendiary pigs – oil drenched, violent pigs unleashed upon an enemy and later ignited by fire-arrows to wreak one-time devastation on the opponent – more than make up for the narrow range of formations.

Graphics: 8 /10
Gameplay: 6½/10
Novelty: 8 /10

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Jason and the Argonauts.. and The East Colchis Trading Co.

Some days back, I was watching one of those shows - the ones aired on History or Discovery or some other -y suffixed channel, the shows which somehow mesmerize me with enough intrigue that I try to extrapolate it onto other things or in some other way imbibe it into my own life’s fabric no matter how useless the content.

This particular show was analyzing the story of Jason, the epic Greek hero who, unlike every other epic hero, is endowed with little besides leading the Argonauts, crewmen so renowned the cast of Ocean’s Eleven could have been first-year acting majors.

The agenda of the show was to prove that Jason was not a mythical figure but an ambitious businessman, premising on the ancient Greeks’ use of allegories to tell the tale of businesses, trade routes, and mergers with fanciful hyperbole coalescing kingdoms, quests, and marriages into a riveting epic. The throne Jason sought from the cold, calculative Pelias was ownership of a trading company, and the quest for the Golden Fleece symbolized establishing a trade route from Thessaly in gold-scarce Greece to elementally rich Colchis in western Turkey where laborers used fleece to dredge up gold from turbid river water.

Even Medea, the sultry sorceress-princess of Colchis stolen away by an alluring Jason to later wed him, is theorized to be a symbol of a business contract between two corporate powers. I'm not sure how to interpret, however, how she in her later years turns out to be a scorned termagant, killing her children and an elderly Jason’s young, lithesome mistress.

While I’m sure our contemporary academes are over-crediting the epic writer with symbolism and other nuanced literary complexity, oh, how fun it would be if today’s newscasters delivered corporate news in the greek raconteurs' motif!

Sunday, April 10, 2005


In the process of procuring for a friend a 1999 college paper of mine from my class on space-time, I decided to indulge myself in a waft of unintelligible writing from my other papers adjacently kept in six years of abeyance. I find it remarkable how I now find the jargon from philosophy so completely alien when years ago I swam in these terms and wrote about them freely. In my defense, Google presently seems to know of only 222 pages mentioning the Covering Law Model of Explanation and only 557 containing corpuscularity. I, however, have little excuse for forgetting Logical Positivism which appears in 76,900 pages in the Google corpus and even has its own wiki entry. Another esoteric term I almost never use and had nearly forgotten, supervenience has a healthy 30,200 hits with Google. Below is the text from my "Models of Explanation" class paper:
03/04/99 “Models of Explanation”
It could be argued that the most powerful tool we as intelligent beings posses is our capability to reason through logic in order to explain the happenings in our world. Ironically, it then becomes quite a task to explain such a tool since we will have to assume that our ability to deduce and explain is powerful enough to be self-applicable. For now, however, let us assume we can explain explanation. One model that seemingly does exactly that is the Covering Law Model of Explanation. In essence, this model uses a miscellany of reasoning taken from corpuscularity and positivism to disassemble our complex understanding of explanation into a series of simpler causal events that take on a true or false value in existence.

Applying this model, an explanation for why a vending machine gives soda would be broken into several mathematical tokens, each representing an ongoing event that influences the outcome in some way. A very rudimentary view would lead one to conclude that putting in seventy-five cents into the coin slot while the sodas are not empty and the power is on and the mechanical components are working would yield in the machine giving a soda. In any combination of events, a mathematical equation could take all the initial states and calculate a corresponding outcome. This very mathematical approach, however, would only be acceptable to a full-fledged determinist, or would otherwise be limited in its range of application, such as being applicable only to non-living things. Aside to this model of explanation’s dependence on determinism, its dependence on reduction again reduces its audience. Most probably, several other factors affect the mechanical condition of the vending machine and the number of sodas remaining as well as the power being on. Recursively, multiple factors would need to be monitored as potential variables in order to truly reduce any complex object. This infinitely required knowledge is often an argument against any form of corpuscularity.

A usual retort to any theoretical challenges imposed on a theory is providing empirical evidence in support of the theory; and, history comes in favor of the Covering Law Model of Explanation. Most Newtonian physicists and chemists often reduced complex real life occurrences into a simple matrix of variables, yielding a determined answer. Even in “An Explanation of Hunger,” a scientific paper written by Cannon and Washburn, the two authors sought to explain why humans get hungry, and in doing so fervently applied the Covering Law Model of Explanation. A similar endeavor to understanding hunger was conducted by another scientist prior to the attempt by Cannon and Washburn. With knowledge of the previous unsuccessful attempt at showing that hunger causes stomach contractions, Cannon and Washburn sought further meticulous analysis of the issue, with the starting intuition that perhaps stomach contractions cause hunger and not vice-versa.

By monitoring all the known macro-variables, which were referral of pain, chemicals secreted by the stomach, volume of substance in the stomach, and smooth muscle lining, Cannon and Washburn were able to deduce that the contraction of the smooth muscle lining that made up the stomach walls was what produced hunger. The very nature of the experiment focussing on components that could affect hunger shows the experimenters’ usage of reduction. The manner in which they manage to stay non-contradictory is to fix the recursive problem with reduction by having holistic macro-variables and using statistics instead of a deterministic framework. With this logic, whenever a person’s stomach walls contract, there exists a probability that the person will suffer from pangs. However, no attempt is made to recursively explain when these macro-variables will be true or when they will be false. This room for ambiguity serves, in part, to preserve the somewhat implicit nature of randomness of any complex system and the likelihood of supervenience being a more comprehensive model of the hierarchy in complexity than corpuscularity.

In fact, Mischel initially reasoned the holistic alternative that challenges the Covering Law Model of Explanation. The problems with both corpuscularity and determinism are corrected in Mischel’s holistic view whereby complex things are not treated as the sum of their individual components. Although classical Newtonian mechanics interlaces reduction throughout many of its theorems, it should be noted that most of the problems under scrutiny by these theorems were about non-living physical things in ideal conditions where no unknown variable influences the system. Because of the limited scope of simplified Newtonian physics, reduction works. However, for any truly natural event, and especially for any living being, the predictions based upon the micro-components would deviate from the actual results so quickly that no similarity between prediction and actuality would ever be noticed. Indeed, if a group of people were to enter a subway, the driving forces behind why each of them entered may differ vastly from the other. No generalization could ever be achieved unless a law were to be made for every person, essentially creating a rule for every exception.

In an excerpt from “The Origins of Intelligence of Children,” by Jean Piaget, the power that the Covering Law Model of Explanation can give is observed. Although, as stated earlier, reduction has its many problems that holism appears to resolve, science repeatedly maximizes the utilization of reduction for their benefit. Piaget initially tries to observe and record each invariant that could have any significant impact on his subjects, and then he goes about creating a system of simultaneous equations, essentially a matrix of all recorded variables. By seeing the deviance of output from a small initial change in one of the variables, and after several iterations of experimenting, a conclusion can be made about what each variable does with its normal environment. Again, empirically, conclusions appear to assimilate from the environment to predict accurately the actual end-results.

The philosophical issue pertinent now is whether empirical corroboration is enough to offset problems in the fundamental theories. The dichotomy between reliance on empirical proof and logical proof is of concern. A simplified analogy would be to drop a feather and a lead ball and show that objects do not undergo equal and unified acceleration due to gravity. This is utter nonsense, since all the empirical evidence would then corroborate with this invalid hypothesis unless someone were to remove every variable including air friction for a perfect experiment. Therefore, empirical evidence with many distracting outside influences cannot always be reliable, since induction has many of its own theoretical flaws.

In the case of Newtonian physicists and many scientists using reduction in order to simplify and then to conquer problems, the focus of study is always a simple organism, be it biological or inanimate. Firstly, a simple focus of study inherently supposes that the actions performed are deterministic, or pseudo-deterministic. A baby’s natural instinct for milk, as was studied by Piaget, would fall under this category of pseudo-determinism, because, although the baby is a living complex entity, the study is not about the baby. The focus of study, in this case, would be on the code programmed into its body, or natural instinct, which is not subject to free-will. If, however, the Covering Law Model of Explanation were to try to explain why a person decided to enter a subway, large clashes in philosophy would occur, since a free-willist would not accept any theory that assumes humans as deterministic. For studying human actions or any other complex indeterminant system, a holist’s approach, such as that of Mischel’s, would be necessary, where supervenience not corpuscularity would be the underlying axiom.

Another freshman-year paper worth reposting is one titled "Reductionist's Belief in the Observation Basis". I cannot recall another time in the six years following when I have alluded to Hilbert or Gödel. My lack of doing so is perhaps indication that, unless I make a conscientious effort otherwise, my most enlightened years are behind me. In any case, below is the text from that elliptical class paper of mine:
03/17/99 “Reductionist’s Belief in the Observation Basis”
Straining to cope with the sudden burst of information rushing through time, with information pleading to be processed as quickly as the next information can take its place, a newborn has the universe materialize around itself. With no earthly law other than the apriori knowledge of motion, everything else, every nuance of our meticulous training and thinking, the foundation of all modern understanding, is left as an unprecedented event for the distant future. The future of this newly created realm, however, remains an unintelligible concept as elusive to decipher as the creation of the present. The self encompasses everything, and the universe appears as merely an extension of the limbs. Indeed, nothing starts of as apriori knowledge and all accumulated knowledge may only be a gaudy tower of Lego blocks where the corpuscles of reality are deceptive inferences of the sensations.

Logical positivism has a long life, spotted with illness, yet healthy for the most part; its longevity allows it to remain an incessantly recurring philosophical view. However, if the universe is a game as mathematics was thought to be by Hilbert, could there be some savior, an anti-positivist counterpart to Gödel? Perhaps, through this game we play, where we role-play in our most sentient dream, we may discover truths of the underlying reality, assuming there is one. Therefore, with the needed assumptions, truths can be derived merely from observation. Furthermore, although a newborn may appear to learn holistically, as the universe takes on a more rigid and developed form, cognitive thinking sharpens like a lens focussing. This sharpening of cognitive thought from the sensory data can be seen as one’s adopting of reductionism. Although the focussed picture may vary in appearance depending on the defined corpuscle, the re-blurred images will all be identical again. Essentially, from a functionalist’s standpoint, the macroscopic object reconstituted solely from its corpuscles will always be the same regardless of what its corpuscles are. As long as the observation basis continues to be used, there will be inherent truths discovered through reductionism, and these inherent truths, holistic in nature, will correlate in a non-contradictory manner.

This weekend has seen me mired in nostalgia. Yesterday, I wanted to immerse myself in '80s video games, loading the save files from my 386. Alas, it was not to be had. I found my 386 hidden in the study room but could not locate its power cables or monitor.

Revisiting the past has surprisingly been therapeutic for me. When I was a latchkey kid at age twelve, I mucked around with the CMOS configuration and nearly rendered the only few months old 386 inoperable. Fortunately, with some desperate prayers and panicky corrective changes, the machine came back to life before my parents returned home. However, ever since then, I harbored the suspicion that the new settings were making the 386 far slower than it once was. When I was 23, I somehow remembered this episode and decided to put my limited experience with computer hardware to task. The 386 at that time was still plugged in - albeit collecting dust - and awaited being turned on. Interestingly, this 386 demanded more of its user to configure its CMOS than needed to configure a modern CMOS. Aside to the ubiquitous settings regarding whether to shadow video ram, the geometry of the hard disks, and the caching policies, there lay many other settings concerning intricacies on architecture and design requiring an investment in a computer architecture course. I reconfigured the CMOS employing what I knew, and, miraculously, the 386 sped up considerably! The feeling of correcting a ten year wrong is an indescribable coupling of euphoria and serenity.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

slacker theory, sedulously researched

Excerpt from AIM session... er, well, actually, the entire session:
(2005-04-04 20:59:16) you_know_who_you_are: what's that theory that states that it's easier to have everything disorganized than to work to keep it clean

Hmm. Excellent question - except, that message had ended up being routed to my office computer's instant messenger so only this morning did I read it, at which time you were offline, and you are conveniently continuing to remain offline. After having Google scour its corpus for me on a variety of search phrases, all to no avail, I settled on the idea of using Wikipedia. While nothing useful came up on 'disorganization' and its variants, I felt I was gaining traction when I searched for 'slacker'. Indeed, it was close; and, ideally, the content answering your question should have been there. Aha, I thought to myself, here's my chance to help the open-source encyclopedia! Below is my personal - and probably myopic and faulty - answer about how slacker theory partially revolves around the notion that it's easier to have everything disorganized than to work to keep it clean. Criticism welcomed. Dodging the highlighter pens I throw at you in a fit of rage is not.

Excerpt from Wikipedia, slacker entry:
Apart from meaning lazy, slacker may also be used to insinuate habitual procrastination and a disorganized, slovenly lifestyle. Proponents of slacker theory assert that managing to survive by doing things at the last possible moment improves intellect as a compensatory way to cope, fashioning a wily yet lazy person. Similarly, a disorganized lifestyle may be superior to an organized one from the pragmatic perspective that a slacker will adapt to disorderliness by improving skills at memorization and at effortlessly rummaging, whereas actively organizing would require serious effort. Hence, the epithet slacker, while often used in the pejorative, is growingly signifying a complimentary, cerebral quality of an unconventional person. For another example of a bimodally pejorative and affectionate term, see hacker. There is also a slight overlap between slacker culture, stoner culture, and hippie culture insofar as they all are implying a disheveled appearance; however, many slackers are straight-edge, and their relative apathy precludes their involvement in any hippie movement.

Adhering to the slacker principium, I found it easier to forge the results I was looking for than to invest time into researching the matter. Classical texts' veracity notwithstanding, does anyone genuinely assume a compiler diligently winnows out bullshit from available resources? The average compilation is rife with conjecture, and Wikipedia gallantly distinguishes itself from the average by employing even greater guesswork. We can only hope that assiduous researchers will catch on and surreptitiously learn, like everyone else has, to quote themselves, misquote others, and quote out of context anybody with antithetical views; perhaps, then, we may finally escape the irksome face of truth recurrently coming to contradict us.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Plagiarising from Comedy Central: New Journalism

In my efforts to depart from the wholly unsavory experience of watching television, I am realizing that the Internet, comparatively, is sort of an intellectual camelot. No, I'm serious; and, yes, I am the same person who has always complained about the deterioration of the web ever since AOL decided to join it, but there is a certain respect fake news possesses when compared with the dichotomously apathetic and sensationalist mainstream media news. Intriguingly, the nearest to a television news program daring enough to earnestly tackle the topic of social security - a system ostensibly dilapidated due to gay married terrorists - is an episode of The Daily Show with guest economist, the sassy Paul Krugman.[1] Thanks to Comedy Central's magnanimity, the episode is available online with limited commercial distractions for anyone who can right-click and select 'fullscreen'.

The waning of the integrity of news reporting isn't new; in fact, seasoned journalist Tom Fenton lambastes his colleagues on what he describes as a slow deterioration arising from loosening FCC regulations and the ending of the Cold War.[2] Left with "thin soup," as Fenton describes the shallow informational content, the plethora of news channels are subsisting by repackaging the same one or two newswire feeds and filling empty airtime with opinions. While fake news is also fallible, as the pompously defensive Brian Williams likes to articulate,[3] its reduced obligation to rehash already well-covered stories lends to being able to skip the cursory coverage and immediately start with deeper analysis, assuming the audience has met the prerequisite by watching 'real' news first.

Another point of interest is that mainstream media news refuses to cover news about mainstream media. Absconding scion Ted Hitler eloquently explains how legitimacy brings access, status, and power, all of which reduce the ability to be as objective as illegitimate news.[4] Particularly, Hitler mentions (Eschaton) as among the impudent attack-blogs where facts are gathered and collated without the stolidness of mainstream media. However, Hitler also saliently points out how New Journalism, like its predecessor, will eventually gain access, status, and power, and will hence repeat the same mistakes. Dutifully, I pledge that my blog will never reach an audience greater than my fingers let me count, and will therefore shield itself from journalistic decay, despite its never having covered anything of journalistic importance to begin with. I also pledge to wear pants while I blog, from now on.

2005-04-04 21:18 Update — Just thought it would be amusing to point out that Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show mentioned, and surely enough, on Feb 16th, 2005, the domain gets registered. Life imitates art, it seems.

Friday, March 25, 2005

gadzooks! toons, extemporaneous fan mail and all that jazz

The death anniversary today was most enjoyable. Having reveled since daybreak and continuing to revel now well after nightfall, I've grown giddy without horns emerging from the skull or an appendage sprouting from the tailbone. It never ceases to amaze me the euphoric stupor hours spent watching television can cause. The first round of amusement came from rebroadcast '90s science shows where scientists plead for the credibility of concepts now considered obvious; there is sinister, megalomaniacal humor in watching top-rated physicists reduced to uttering 'multiverse' with great hesitation, akin to watching Dr. Evil finger quote 'laser'. The second round of amusement came from flash toons, which I consider part of television despite not requiring a television set per se, one of which contains Mario and Luigi in coarsely pixilated form reenacting battles with Gumbas and Bowser in a masterfully choreographed spoof.[1] With a remix of nostalgic nintendo music perfecting the ambiance, even alcohol, were it present, could not add to the ecstasy. Ah, yes; may there be more days reserved for ecclesiastical solidarity. Cake, anyone?[2]

Credit for today's fruitfulness needs to also go towards my mother, without whose nagging at sun rise to make a deposit at the bank, fetch two packets of screws from Waterworks, and buy a gallon of milk, I would have woken up at dinnertime. Wasn't I supposed to find my own apartment after moving back to Connecticut last June?

Ehem. So, anyways; while other rounds of amusement occurred, such as viewing Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, their details elude me in my state of euphoria. One facet I do recall is my surprising, recent leaning toward things Indian. Below is the email I spontaneously wrote to a professor at Penn State regarding his rather popularly reproduced compilation of evidences[3] attacking the Aryan Invasion Theory, a theory of India's past initially purported by colonial powers and later glorified by the Third Reich:
Prof. Dinesh Agrawal,

I was surprised and delighted to see your consolidation of evidences many other scholars had espoused piecemeal, none individually denting the scholastic machinery that has made the hypothesis of an Aryan invasion of India a ubiquitous fact.

Although it was a reproduction of your 1995 soc.religion.hindu newsgroup mailing, I just recently read it. Having earlier read of excavations and other findings of significance in chronicling the history of ancient India, I long ago concluded that the position of supporting Aryan invasion of India having had happened was untenable; yet, I have seen and am continuing to see a growing adoption of this occidental view in general American education as India becomes a growing interest to the world. I have reservations and mixed feelings towards the transition, from where India is not taught about at all, to where it is taught under a vintage, hesperian lens.

Even among those I know were educated in India, to whom the weaknesses in AIT have been explained in Indian education, some shrug at their learnings as being nationalistic or unduly saffronized, while others, adamant about their xenogenic Aryan or indigenous Dravidian ethnicity, indulge in cliquish behavior under the faulty premise. Such baneful perceptions are reminders of the era we live in, birthed by lingering effects of colonialism and an attempt at discovering self-identity under globalization in which the West is inarguably the leader.

My questions to you are, what steps are being taken to correct historical inaccuracies; which governing bodies are providing the brief excerpts about India's history, ostensibly factual to the believing reader, that have managed their way into countless textbooks and governmental pamphlets; and why are universities, many of which have 'veritas' somewhere in their motto, dismissing the pursuit of truth on the grounds of lack of interest or by alluding that AIT opposition must be a special-interest group akin to evolution doubters attempting to overturn science with specious zealotry?

After watching insurmountable evidence contrarian to AIT be diligently gathered, verified by peers, and reported on by those in the scientific community devoting serious thought and time to Indian history, I am nonplussed at the general education system's insistence on republishing as the authority on Indian history the resources authored by those having put in the least thought and the least time. Only at the higher echelons of education, where being uncritical is a liability, is AIT successfully challenged. What is your view on this?

(My Name)

Yes, I rather love emailing strangers my prattle on obscure topics. I was amazed when I received Prof. Dinesh's quick reply, the content of which I won't publish without his consent, partly due to netiquette, and partly because there undoubtedly is some law requiring I obtain consent. In line with my recent attraction to Indianness, I found, an amusing blogpository (my coinage) of a half dozen Indian American bloggers with comedic reflections on life as it relates to Desis.

Oh, to the one person who reads this without my prodding, apologies for not posting a blog for nearly two weeks.

2005-04-06 15:34 Update — Drats, blogpository already coined! Cursed elund steals my coinage by developing a time-machine to travel back to 2003:

12-03-2003, 12:18 PM
Blogging has been going on for decades. I think it's hilarious that once somebody attached a funny sounding name to the activity that it suddenly became popular.

I don't have a blog, but I have nothing against them. Blogs come in different forms. Some are platforms for pundits and industry critics, some are really .plan files, some are online diaries, and some act as news aggregators, regurgitating or deep linking to new things on the web. Most have a little bit of each. Slashdot is sort of a public repository blog when you think of about it. A blogpository, if you will.

Blogging gives you a vehicle for adding freeform site content. If you don't have a blog, everything you add to your site needs a purpose. But if you have a blog, just blather away, opine on the business or other sites, or talk about your day. Don't have any news? Mention somebody else's news. It's easy, quick, up-to-date "content." If you find a way to be interesting, it's a good way to get regular visitors to your site.

On the negative side, making a successful blog requires -- besides interesting things to say -- commitment. With the exception of joke blog sites like Gabriel's dullest blog in the world, it takes daily or at least weekly effort to keep a blog updated. Like many team game development projects, it's easy to lose steam and fall apart. It's hard to garner new blog visitors when they see yours is updated infrequently, no matter how interesting your posts are.

Blogging can take less blatant forms, too. On my website I have a news box where I can post what's going on at Gearhand Studios. If I wanted to, I could update this every day. I don't, because I'm just pretty sure I couldn't say something interesting and topical every day. At least not in it's current format. It's definitely worth thinking more about.

quotted from indiegamer
google cache also available.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

hackneyed and lackluster musings of an interviewer, part II

In my previous animadversions concerning grades, I complained about how positive correlation between classroom scores and future achievement is waning, and I opined that standardized scores would benefit interviewers and mitigate nonsensical school grading. Only fittingly, the efficacy of contemporary standardized exams needs to be critiqued.

Standardized exams truly and dutifully bear the responsibility to provide a metric on which students can be compared, thereby giving institutions insight on applicants' relative success in the future. In theory, the purpose of any exam is to emulate "the ideal exam", a formally defined concept. In reality, however, avarice adulterates the specification. To understand how existing exams are flawed, let us first understand the ideal.

Mathematically, the ideal exam is represented as an exam E for some success predicate S where, for all pairings (A,B) such that A scores higher on E than does B, then A does better at S than does B. Obviously, when E=S, we have a trivial solution of prediction. The commercial value of E exists only when the results for E can be attained long before the results for S are realized. Such augury comes at the cost of accuracy. An imperfect E can only try to maximize the percentage of its better-worse pairings (A,B) which satisfy the condition that A does better at S than B. When the percentage is over 50%, then we say E positively correlates with S. Since a random set would have 50% of the pairings satisfying the relative-success criteria, E must have a positive correlation significantly above 50% to avoid being dismissed as a joke.

Generally, any university aims to admit students who will excel at the curriculum provided by the university. To aid this endeavor, standardized tests like the SAT try to provide positive correlation with doing well in an undergraduate curriculum. Yet, certain universities, feeling behooved to reanalyze their past students in an attempt to improve the selection process, quantitavely discovered that the SAT correlates more poorly than ACT, AP exams, and other standardized scoring means in predicting undergraduate performance. For quite some time it had been popular for schools to simultaneously accept ACT or SAT, but the growing futility of the SAT goaded the powerful University of California system to almost abandon the SAT altogether.[1] At the risk of losing the patronage of Berkeley, UCLA, and others in the UC system, and for fear such a UC decision would cascade to Texas and New England, ETS has dangerously pulled a prototype exam away from scrutiny and is today recasting it as the new SAT.

Having taken the SAT II subject tests MathIIC, Writing, and Chemistry, I do feel that ETS is correct in principle to strengthen the SAT with the essay portion of the Writing exam and the slightly more difficult math questions from the MathIIC exam. However, the triviality of each question and the pressures of time make the premise of the SAT as irremediably meaningless as a thousand-question examination of single-digit addition problems. Speed at so automatable a task can hardly correlate with any professional success.[2] The AP exams - also overseen by ETS - ask fewer, more arduous questions and are akin to undergraduate finals. Why will ETS not follow their own standards for crafting AP exams when they ponder on the SAT standard? Profits, perhaps. Despite ETS being a nonprofit organization, they have US$153mil in their coffers,[3] mostly from the inexpensive to manufacture SAT exams with comparatively high test-taking fees. Moreover, modeling the SAT after the costlier AP exams would necessitate fees many would consider exorbitant,[4] and would therefore shoo ETS customers to rival test makers. While the problem can be remedied by pledging to operate on a wafer-thin profit margin, ETS is unlikely to be as charitable as its tax-exempt status stipulates it be. It is a pity such pecuniary aspects plague academia so.

Special Mention: The inspiration for this blog, and most of the facts and figures, come from an NPR article by Bob Schaeffer, SAT: A Cynical Marketing Ploy. In NPR's defense, despite Schaeffer's harrowing tale of the deleterious effects of the SAT, there are numerous NPR stories giddily espousing the exam and its new format.[5]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Egads! Spurious Dickens, Spackled Cars, and Feckless Me

I stumbled upon a great stash of opinion articles last night. Thank you Maud Newton for your blog on Giles Coren's groundbreaking revealments about Dickens on, without which I would not have found Chris Ayres' taxonomy of Beverly Hills - which tries to be about overpriced cookies in Los Angeles, a rambling segue into the Michael Jackson trial. To those with illusions of internet efficiency, please be aware that is apparently powered by avian transport, so I would encourage getting some coffee while the poor postal pigeon meanders its way to the nearest telegraph-equipped outpost.

Excepting the opinion articles, yesterday was a rather unholy culmination of the weather's malignancy towards my innocent car and my own saturnine wallowing. Pampered by garages at home and at work, I thought little noticing out my window the pretty early morning downfall of powdery snow. Now I see how vile and stygian that snow really is! My subconscious cleverly had repressed memories of studying in Troy, NY and my daily sufferings there at carving my car out from a block of ice itself buried in a mound of snow. My even now thawing hands cannot believe that the garage's annexation by plumbing widgets menacingly laid there would lead to my driving today in a hovering igloo with circular windows dug out.

Enough about New Englanders' banal plights; what of my saturnine wallowing? I had lost a check, a rather sizable one, equal to a few months worth of salary. Convinced I merely misplaced it, I ransacked the house, studied every pocket in my coat like a tailor, and gave my igloo car so thorough an examination the TSA's rectal search would seem scant. When the realization it may truly be lost dawned, I tried to distract myself with work, food, and online opinion articles, all to no avail. After having slept the troubled night of a fugitive, a denouement of sorts occurred this morning. I mustered the courage to overcome embarrassment, phoning the issuer and requesting my sought-after check be cancelled and a new one be issued. Relaxed at having overcome such trepidation, I noticed a moment after hanging up that beneath a few stacks of office stationary was slid askew an envelope containing, yes, my sought-after check. I redialed and ignominiously cancelled my cancellation. Ugh; I'm a scatterbrained moron.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

NPR? I am not addicted to Faberge Eggs!

Some days I really miss the little things I grew accustomed to when living in California. Today was one such day. After the first month of scanning radio stations in Connecticut, I gave up trying to find NPR. Several months ensued and I found being a menace on the highway with my cell phone was a reasonable alternative to silence. Today, I found NPR on AM 820, faintly suffocated by another station in the morning and rendered unintelligible by two or three other stations in the evening. Only King Tantalus can empathize with the feeling of seeing such delicious fruit so close without ever being able to taste it. Although I wished I had never found AM 820 while I struggled to keep sane under the hisses, crackles, and divergent music phasing in and out, the onset of madness did jolt my memory enough to remember a colleague of mine at Oracle who would listen to NPR through! Duh, why was I unable to realize this months ago?!

Before the wrong ideas circulate based on my incessant pining over NPR, bear in mind that NPR is an FM station with the crispest, clearest reception imaginable across the entire SF Bay Area, and that its local franchise, KQED, broadcasts three to four television stations as well. You can perhaps see how weaning away from something that sacrosanct and integral to everyday life can be traumatizing. I admit NY Times' op-eds by Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd ameliorated the otherwise harsh life without NPR, but the attempts of columnists always lack the vigor and buoyancy of a live debate. Bill Maher's Real-Time on HBO was another saving grace, albeit during half a year and even then only weekly. Notwithstanding the alternatives, I am overjoyed at the new prospect of reacquainting myself with NPR.

P.S. addiction to Faberge Eggs is not a laughing matter; it afflicts many people annually, depleting their monetary capital, devastating their ability to sustain relationships with family and friends, and causing early onset of gingivitis.[1] To help those whose lives have been thusly distraught, please send donations to my Cayman islands account[2] and I will see that it reaches those who truly need it.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Beyond the Impropriety of Ward Churchill

The now infamous Professor Ward Churchill may not have been in his element when he described the slain financiers of the World Trade Center as genocidal middlemen, as Adolf Eichmanns of a freemarkets system of amoral efficiency. Despite Churchill's impropriety and lapses in tact, his arguments appeal to those of us weary of ignorance and complacency in an era of mass-produced sorrow.

Cogs in the wheel, most of us are feckless, mired in mundane livelihoods. Our collective departure from agrarian lifestyle, arguably the greatest monument to civilization, gave rise to a flurry of thinkers and buttressed an era of accomplishments; in spite of this, we are knowingly degenerating to days of hunters and gatherers, days when free time ceases to exist.

Lessons from Churchill teach how ignorance of one's evil deeds does not equate to innocence. Just as the judiciary pities very little the reckless driver who, with no intent to harm, slaughters a man, morality should pity very little those who, without evil intent, do evil. Certainly, the crime without intent is lesser, but the criminal is never innocent. Blissfully ignorant of extraordinary renditions, society abidingly supports the machinery to torture. Innocent? We are not, and we mustn't pretend to be.

Like criminal law and its perennial amendments, morality serves a particular purpose and we must accordingly redefine morality to serve more greatly its purpose. While laws govern the tactics of our welfare, our immediate needs for safety, morals govern the strategy of our welfare, our needs to live through the next millennium.

So long as we are content, believing we are journeying on the moral high-ground, our small peon-scaled atrocities can be overlooked, thereby giving free reign for our collective atrocities to engulf any hopes for the long-term viability of our civilization. Therefore, with the strategy of civilization's longevity in mind, it is imperative to redefine morality. Ever-increasing population will only further exacerbate the need to fundamentally feel guilt over our minor infractions. Our only recourse is to guide ourselves to the Gandhian philosophy where we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Readdressing Churchill, we indeed need to view those complacent in their crimes as guilty, as well as ourselves; even if we are not the hammer to bludgeon the skull of a defenselessly quivering man, we cannot feel innocent filing the paperwork approving the action. To adjudicate our own lives' actions, we must set aside time in our day for consulting a new, contemporary, moral compass. With greater time spent reflecting, we may shed myopia and its cohort ignorance;[1] hopefully, an expanded awareness and culpability will prescribe the good actions we should take. The alternative is to decay into darkness.

2005-03-08 03:10 Update — U.Colorado struck with curse: NY Times 2005.03.07 (registration required, yada yada).

One can only marvel at how the nation's ill-willed mutterings skipped past teflon Churchill and onto president Elizabeth Hoffman for an unrelated sex and alcohol scandal involving recruitment policies of jocks.

Cheers to Churchill despite his inopportunely having had shedded his reticence. Condolences on being forced to step down, Liz.

Friday, March 04, 2005

hackneyed and lackluster musings of an interviewer

Bell-curves are not fractals; yet, educators thrust bell-curves on classes consisting purposely of individuals chosen for scholastic achievement! The upper end of the curve is elongated, skewed, and forced into fitting the ideal with the same intelligence of an idiot kid jamming shapes into wrong holes. I would typically pity such a kid, and the plight of his or her parents for ceaselessly having to replace cracked plastic toys. At least the educator has to wait a year before a replacement.

Were the formulated grades not inane enough, they are summed and divided across uneven classes, arising at a meaningless gpa. How embarrassing it is when grade-point darlings fail even the most rudimentary questions! Perhaps these darlings need two separate scores, one encompassing their tactics at ephemeral memorization, another spanning true knowledge.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

the menu is, monkey brains

I'm livid with embarrassment over the state of education in this country. No, John T. Gatto is of no use; that half-bake and his neologisms and coinage deserve their place on the funny-farm. I won't even touch the morose subject of the degeneration of secularism in education. The decline of scholastic achievements among youth is saved for a day when I've a ready box of antacid. Something succinct and more pertinent to imminent catastrophe catches my attention. The utter and replete dilution of any and all schools of thought will definitely percolate up until society stagnates, or worse, implodes.

Pop-culture has always been pervasive, a concept absolutely unsurprising and uneventfully invariable. The notion raising eyebrows is its new floral-colored, pixie-powered permeability of inescapable range. Since the days of hermits, societies have offered great respect and aegis to their brethren at the cusp of hamlets. No longer do engrossing troglodytes receive enthralled visitors' kisses at the feet; it's truly for the better; a single improperly inhaled toe hair can asphyxiate a weary, gasping, traveler. Supplanting the hairy toe man, satchel-wearing academes now reign as the new defense against a rising deluge of groupthink. At least, I thought so.

The next generation of erudite insulation fillers for the cold vacuous halls of academia disappoints. Not yet weaned from sensationalist drivel, these men and women are about as iconoclastic as Janet Jackson with her lesson in anatomy.[1] Worse, with hyper-specialization only a step away from creating the first human-sized transistor, none of these matriculated lads 'n lassies has any clue on his or her position on anything of significance. "We shouldn't form opinions. It's best to assume all possibilities are valid." - fine; then, at least have the opinion that people shouldn't form opinions. Something worth causing a brouhaha needs to spring from college campuses before the next Galileo not waiting for any church gouges his own eye out for seeing things, thereby scoring a possible interview with E!.

Agreed, there are innumerable subcultures and self-described counterculture groups littered about urban dwellings. Most, however, believe indoctrination is remedied with Ayn Rand peeking out of their backpack, body piercings, and a philosophical outlook about as dangerous as a house pet named Rover. Elsewhere, our neighbors still reeling from "The War of Northern Aggression"[2] turn gay marriages and stem cell research into contentious topics. Oi vey! When the only opposition comes from the same people who still consider evolution contentious, I have serious reservations. However, I recused myself from the topic of declining secularism. At the moment, my quibbles are with the mass communication infrastructure, partly mechanized, partly electrified, and completely stupefied. The monolithic culture of apathy and acquiescence spreads on the internet like plaque on the teeth of a hershey-bar junkie. While I personally love the idea of cultural diffusion, I abhor homogeneity. The new library of the world has pages and sentences from various books interleaved. Goldie Locks, where’s your glass slipper?

Rarefied by the cruelties of numbers, critical thinkers have always required the pressure and density of a school or university to crystallize.[3] I don’t see that crystallization happening anymore; they come in a potato, go out serving french fries. In today’s pervasive soup de jour, how will even a professor not smell like an onion? Float! Float my little nematode! Float until you’ve something to latch onto!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

priestcraft, a pious ode

Adult children kneel before you in scores, awaiting you, a master raconteur who serves sweetened thousand year old stories. None resist these delicious tales, salted with reactionary principles, peppered with donation-box chicaneries.

O, your humility knows no bounds; first we are made a plaintive lot, then your philanthropy saves us from our dismay. Your predilection for our salvation keeps us in your edacious embrace, shielded from recreants and their infectiously latitudinarian ways.

You offer such elegant sophistry, simplifying the multifarious thinking one otherwise needs. One hardly could reproduce such a spectacularly specious feat.

O, how greatly you enamor your flock, professing the virtues of moderation on gilded podiums, abstinence under the sanguine light of stained-glass windows, and the teachings of an ascetic in such a meretriciously preternatural an abode.

You have no need for red piping, your white suffices; your machinations are the envy of cabals the world over.

Monday, February 28, 2005

ascent of a sycophant

Buggy-eyed with a grimace covering half his face, the unskilled sycophant is not beautiful. Contortions and contractions of those facial muscles of his manage ugly smiles in even the most trying of times. Near his master, the sycophant is bowing, radiating a glow of appreciation and humble affection. He is not respected; the intentions of the unskilled sycophant are too thinly veiled.

The skilled sycophant is just as uncouth, but cloaked especially well. He does not bow, he does not flinch, he does not strain his face into a smile. A master fraternizer, he keeps and grows his good graces with those he needs to. Ostentatious and reveling, he carefully accomplishes one or two things. This man is no fool; he sheaths his lies and deceit within genuineness. He will not yell at you, he will not fight you on any single day. Yet, cross him and beware: his unsheathed vitriol will seep like ink and stain black any reputable man within the year.

Brave men turn fools, honest men turn cowards; none challenges the skilled sycophant who now only grows in power. I remain waiting, to see whether it is the fool or the coward I have become. I so loathe the skilled sycophant; he soon may be my master.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

the phoenix and chaos stalemate

Wonderful curtains flow down from mounts above the windows. Baby blue, I think the color is, with some embroidery I haven't looked closely enough in years to see. A nice ornate lamp in a corner lets off a comforting yellow glow. Fresh chequered sheets and a down comforter wrap around me on a large bed. All wonderful, all great, none my doing.

My contributions are seen on the other side of the room, the side with lamps unlit because brown paper bags I have to unpack guard them like Cerberus. Stacks of envelopes spread themselves haphazardly on a polished oak table like a recently felled house of cards. The letter-opener has been misplaced for some time; torn and disfigured envelopes tell their dying tale. Some checks need depositing, some bills need paying, all the letters have dates two weeks old. Soon, soon they will be taken care of.

Here I lie, my presence bringing about chaos to the erstwhile order -- not the chaos so foul that remedies are immediately taken. Here brews a more dangerous chaos, the cunning, sly, mischievous kind naively smiled at for its disorderly cuteness.

Unshaven since friday, disheveled and with only a faint recollection of sunlight, I am indeed the most unfitting object in this entire room. Tomorrow by daybreak my obsolescence ends and I vanish, replaced by a rejuvenated man I pray will right my wrongs. He never does, not thoroughly. Chaos fools him also.