On inflation

October 8th, 2008  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

I’m relieved to see that my local Coca-Cola bottler has an answer for rising soft drink prices.


August 22nd, 2008  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

I’m not sure what the UW Parking Office was trying to accomplish with the signage on this meter:

iPhone 2.jpg

Uniquely terrible

June 18th, 2008  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

Well, this entry into the “themed-snack” marketplace is basically the dumbest thing I’ve seen since I learned that Sony was bankrolling “Are We There Yet,” a PG-rated children’s comedy starring Ice Cube:


Next up: “United States Currency-O’s,” “Fruit-Flavored Powerbook Keycap Snacks,” and “Whole-Grain Picture-Hanging Hardware Kit.”

(via Wolf Rentzsch on twitter)

Thomas and Zoltan

April 14th, 2008  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Billboard by birthdays

April 11th, 2008  |  Tags: ,  |  Comments Off on Billboard by birthdays

David Pogue links to this entertaining site, which lets you discover what song was atop the Billboard charts on any given day (like, for example, your day of birth). Mine, sadly, is a boring old disco number; Andrea’s is an hilariously awesome disco number (namely, Meco’s Star Wars theme arrangement). I’ve got to give the advantage to the muse on this one. (WT is even more unfortunate than I, though — his birthday featured an American Indentured Servant winner at the top of the pop charts.)

Store-brand stupidity

April 9th, 2008  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Store-brand pricing snafus

I have come to dread going to Walgreens.

It is undeniably convenient — there are two within walking distance of our house, one of which is open all night, and, while they do not, strictly, sell “everything,” they do seem to sell products that can approximate nearly anything. Such a high-utility store merely has to be competently administered to present a pleasant shopping experience. However, the chaotic store layout, inconsistent stocking, and the overwhelming sense that you could contract a terrible infectious disease from other customers at any moment (few late-night pharmacy customers are healthy) conspire to reduce the overall Walgreens experience to, at best, “grim necessity.”

Tonight, due to a desperate shortage of toddler drugs and a slightly altered route home, I went to our least favorite local Walgreens — the store that isn’t open past ten and where we have encountered uniformly slow-moving, unfriendly, and lackwitted employees. Delightfully, every person I had occasion to deal with tonight was cheerful, speedy, and capable.

Unfortunately, Walgreens was determined to rub refined capsaicin on one of my greatest retail irritations. I found a Walgreens-branded product that was exactly half as expensive as the national brand. While this would ordinarily be a bargain, the Walgreens product also contained exactly half as much medicine.

Why on earth should one-half ounce of Walgreens-brand infant acetaminophen cost exactly half as much as one ounce of Tylenol-brand infant acetaminophen? (The Tylenol is actually a more functional product, since it is dye-free.) Isn’t the point of store-brand products that they identical in every way except the price?

Walgreens is a terrible offender in this arena, since almost no Walgreens-brand product represents good value when compared to a non-generic, but they are certainly not alone. Some local grocers omit the “unit price” display on store brand items, hoping that these knockoff goods — which are sometimes even more expensive per unit (!) than their national-branded equivalents — will appeal to gullible, careless, or arithmetically inept consumers. To its credit, Walgreens does not stoop to this level of chicanery, but it is awfully shady to exploit consumer perceptions of “generic” products by offering goods that are no less expensive than the nationally advertised ones.

Since I assume that a larger percentage of the sticker price of the Walgreens-brand product represents profit for Walgreens, I rewarded their behavior by purchasing the Tylenol. Next time, I’ll probably just trek out to the local bullseye-themed megastore, where the store brand is approximately 60% cheaper than Tylenol.

Why Wikipedia is almost comically awesome

June 14th, 2007  |  Tags: , ,  |  2 Comments

I recently had occasion to visit this Wikipedia article about Alice ML. Alice ML extends Standard ML with a bunch of useful features, like future, typesafe persistence, and so on.

To motivate future, the wikipedia article author presents the recursive Fibonacci function:

fib 0 = 0
   | fib 1 = 1
   | fib n = fib(n-1) + fib(n-2);

The article then states that “[f]or large values of n, fib n will take a long time to compute.” No kidding; it’s exponential with n. However, Alice ML, according to the Wikipedia article, has a solution for this problem — and it’s not the one you learned in CS1. With future, the article informs us, it is possible to spawn a new thread to compute the nth Fibonacci number, thus saving time if the continuation of fib n does not need the result of fib n immediately.

The article neglects to mention that even Standard ML provides a mechanism to dramatically speed this function’s execution: the humble accumulator, whose straightforward application admits an implementation of fib that is linear with n.

Goodnight, ma’am

May 23rd, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Happy birthday, Margaret Wise Brown.

Hip-hop-themed linkdump

April 24th, 2007  |  Tags: , , ,  |  1 Comment

  1. Detailed analysis of the lyrics to (apparently) the #1 song in the US. I’m not familiar with the song, and I suspect that the rather McSweeneyesque subgenre of “satirical music writing that thoroughly interrogates the rhetorical and logical implications of rap lyrics” may write itself, but it is nonetheless an enormously entertaining read.
    [via Luke]
  2. A video for N.W.A.’s relatively obscure “Help the police.” Highly recommended.
    [via Andrea]

Course timesavers

April 11th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

I opened my lecture by briefly showing this slide, which saved at least 45 seconds of instructional time:


In my experience, it seems that meta-jokes are far more successful than actual jokes. How po-mo.


April 8th, 2007  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

I got me flowers to straw Thy way,
I got me boughs off many a tree;
But Thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st Thy sweets along with Thee.

The sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume,
If they should offer to contest
With Thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever

Herbert’s text certainly needs little else, but Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting for baritone, chorus, and orchestra is quite nice.

Since I am keen to avoid the appearance of insufficient doctrinal partisanship,
here’s a little something for my fellow Lutherans in the audience.

Hole in the house

March 25th, 2007  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

goodbye, piano


March 22nd, 2007  |  Tags: , , ,  |  1 Comment

Tonight, Andrea and I briefly sought some Danish-made stacking block toys for WT after watching him enjoy similar items at a friend’s house. (These particular toys are no longer in production, which complicates matters.) One item — call it “A” — we deemed crucial; a second item — call it “B” — was more of a nice afterthought in the grand blocks-and-block-accessories-for-WT plan. Andrea happened to find an “A” on a well-known online auction site. I noticed that the seller offering “A” was also offering several “B” items in a lot, and that this seller offered to combine multiple orders to save on shipping.

Unbeknownst to Andrea, I (foolishly!) placed bids for both, since they were ENDING SOON MINT NIB A+++ OMG LOL. I thought that the “B” auction was priced a little high, but I assumed, given the activity on each, that I would either:

  1. Get both items at a relative bargain price, or
  2. Lose the auction for “B,” but get “A” — the item I was most interested in acquiring, anyway — and grudgingly pay the somewhat-inflated shipping charge.

I suspect that experienced internet consumers already know how this story ends:


Read the rest of this entry »


March 21st, 2007  |  Tags: , ,  |  2 Comments

One of the least-heralded benefits of my fine city — at least, the parts of it that I walk through when heading to or from teaching or the office — is that, whenever it rains, there are ducks everywhere, just hanging out. This is an advantage of being surrounded by lakes that I suspect no one ever considers. I’d have to be in a pretty sour mood before a duck failed to cheer me.

Slacktivism is rather TI(RED)

March 13th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Ryan T. Anderson at FT writes about the colossal failure of the “(RED)” campaign to do anything other than raise awareness of celebrities and consumer products. Please do read the article — it’s an amazingly comprehensive takedown. As far as I can tell, “(RED)” seems to exist solely to provide comfort to weaker-conscienced Americans and Europeans who have experienced some momentary and transient guilt at the existence of abstract poverty or pandemic disease. “(RED)” is nothing more than a phenomenally expensive experiment in slacktivism, like a self-righteously forwarded email petition or a rubber wristband would be if those cost $100 million but remained roughly as effective. (A standard charity operating four times as efficiently as “(RED)” would be pilloried for poor performance.) It is like an advertising campaign that merely advertises the putative concerns and thoughtfulness of the owner.

Briefly noted

March 4th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

I need to start writing for Sports Illustrated

The great Bodum experiment hit a temporary snag yesterday afternoon. Notably: I need a cleaner desk if I am to use glass espresso cups, and probably also a broom. Also, I should probably make a habit of moving my glass away from the edge of the table. (I guess I’ve heard this advice once or twice before. Thanks for the tip, Dad.)

(Of course, any experiment can be improved by building a bigger pyramid.)

Music notes, apropos of little

The second part of Crumb’s Black Angels is pretty great.

This morning, Andrea and I ducked out of church a little early and headed down to Holy Redeemer to support the OGs on the occasion of Simon’s baptism. We arrived at Holy Redeemer in time to hear the final hymn of the 9 AM service, which was to the tune Wie schön leuchtet. For those of you keeping score, that’s one more hymn written by a Lutheran in the last five minutes of Mass at the Catholic church than we usually get at Bethel in an entire service.

For my suffering brethren

Sure, at times, your life as an apprentice academic may seem like a quixotic pursuit of the irrelevant. However, at least you weren’t responsible for this, since you have peer review to help you avoid looking foolish in public. As a result, very few people know about most of the terrible ideas I’ve had.

Reading comprehension

February 26th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  8 Comments

Most of my regular readers (both of you) are above average in every way. Unfortunately, some of the people who have found this site via web search are not as bright. I honestly don’t know what it is about the internet that compels folks to carelessly skim over some prose before issuing forth a frothy, incoherent response — are there that many people with terrible reading comprehension who feel trapped by their lack of a soapbox?

While I cannot claim that this site’s random pitchfork-wielding visitors are somehow unique among the crowds of people who assault more popular sites (note John Wiseman’s post “Like Beyoncé and Jay-Z” for an amazing example of total commenter insanity that even extends to adjacent posts), I have gotten some crazy comments.

Most notably, see this post, in which a wide variety of people rail, with varying degrees of rhetorical acuity, against a range of positions that I have not advanced. (Here’s a tip: neither “this activity is difficult” nor “this activity makes me feel good about myself” imply “this activity warrants and demands spectators.”) Only one commenter failed to completely miss the point: random guy on internet is baffled by baton twirling.

At first I was confused: Why all of the irrational hate? Why have all of these baton twirlers descended on my web page? Why can none of them read and see that nowhere did I say “you are [sic] not a sport?” Then I noticed that many people — many more than had commented — had found this site by searching for information on baton-twirling scholarships.


baton twirling scholarships

Since this site is apparently the premier destination on the internets for baton twirling scholarship information, I have some advice for twirlers who want to get in to college: Spend at least half as much time practicing reading well and constructing arguments as you spend juggling torches and accumulating bruises. There are, presumably, a limited number of baton twirling scholarships. It seems that you’ll improve your chances of snaring one by presenting the impression that you’re not only an amazing twirler (by whatever metrics athletic departments use to evaluate this) but that you’re also reasonably equipped for academic success (by, for example, doing well on standardized reading comprehension tests and writing good application essays). Also, please consider what you’ll do after college. Since there is such stiff competition for professional twirling jobs, you may not be picked in a high round of the twirling draft after your NCAA eligibility expires. In this case, if you’ve done well in college (again, involving reading and writing well), you may have something to fall back on.

I mention these spurious comments now due to the arrival of a new challenger. Fortunately for the authors of twirling comments, I have recently been presented with a comment that demolishes theirs in nearly every way; it is even elegantly terse. Please enjoy the reigning “bad reading comprehension exemplified comment” winner, on a 2005 post about Ash Wednesday.

Substantial tetris blocks

February 20th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Daddytypes discusses “kid-sized” tetramino blocks. That’s a pretty cool toy. I suspect that the ones linked to are rather pricey (since the company is based in the UK and no price or ordering information is available from the site), but I imagine that a couple of weekends with the miter saw could produce an acceptable facsimile. (I hope to have at least one weekend free before WT is big enough to play with such a toy.)

Still in the wrong field

February 16th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  1 Comment

Can you tell a Sunni from a Shiite?” is the famous question used by reporter Jeff Stein to expose the ignorance of some U.S. counterterrorism officials about basic issues related to the Middle East.

In a book to be published next summer, Stein, who is Congressional Quarterly’s national security editor, will expand from columns he wrote after quizzing dumbfounded members of Congress and other officials about their knowledge of the Middle East.

I suspect that being a counterterrorism bureaucratrespected member of the intelligence community is fairly lucrative. Since I got 100% on this Sunni vs. Shiite quiz, though, I’m probably overqualified.

Baffling assertion watch

February 6th, 2007  |  Tags: ,  |  6 Comments

Here are two baffling assertions, both from a Starbucks in Wayne, PA. In the first, the asserted fact is baffling; in the second, the assertion itself is baffling.

  1. According to a plaque on the wall, the Starbucks in Wayne, PA was voted “Best Coffee on the Main Line” by readers of some regional publication. (It doesn’t matter which one — it could have been Philadelphia Philistine Monthly and it would still be troubling.) Certainly the bourgeoisie must have ready access to superior coffee.
  2. My espresso came with this quote from Nancy Wilson of the rock band Heart:
    "History without war -- a good plan for the future."
    OK, so it’s not a complete sentence. But what could it possibly mean? I’m not sure it’s even wrong. (Your suggestions for how to make sense of this are welcome in the comments. Bonus points if you can fashion this utterance into some part of a coherent argument.)

Briefly noted (2/5)

February 5th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Why revise the “best?”

Apropos of my recent mention of Richard Scarry, here’s a very interesting photoset detailing some changes between the 1963 and 1991 editions of the Best Word Book Ever. Several (but not all) of the changes are truly cringeworthy. However, some are understandable and some (most notably, “Gretel”) I found rather interesting.

Also of interest for nerdy Scarry fans: Richard Scarry’s Busytown, a video game for the Sega Genesis. Yikes. Something tells me that it’s probably not as good as the books. (You can see cover art here.)

Suicide watch

Episcopal bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s risible claim that “Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations” brings to mind another denomination that strongly discouraged reproduction (and, as does the ECUSA, proselytizing). I wonder how this exclusive, “better-educated” policy will work out for them?

I’ve been meaning to post this item for months; sorry to be late to the punch-line. Regular readers who share my mailing address will be proud to know that I resisted the impulse to introduce ironic “scare quotes” in at least two places in the preceding paragraph.

Super Bowl notes

Mark Liberman argues: “[W]hat’s lingering just below the surface of this year’s [Super Bowl] ads is Americans’ too-long-suppressed desire for more linguistics in their life.” It was a rather weak ad showing, I thought, but Liberman glosses some of the good ones.

Thanks to NFF for a link to this NYT article about one of my favorite postseason traditions: shipping tons of parallel-universe celebratory clothing to various remote and undeveloped regions. Since even the worst seats at the Super Bowl cost thousands of dollars per ticket, Bears fans who wanted to see their team triumph could have saved a lot of money simply by booking a mid-February flight to Uganda.

I’m currently listening to Micro Melodies from the album “Moog: Original Film Soundtrack” by The Album Leaf

Weisberg redux

February 5th, 2007  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

I noticed that Richard John Neuhaus had some things to say about that Weisberg piece on whether or not it is permissible to support a political candidate whose religious beliefs you find silly. Neuhaus, as one might imagine, takes a rather different tack than I did in evaluating Weisberg’s argument:

First, what would people think of someone who abandoned the religion of his forebears in order to advance his political career? (Mr. Romney is apparently having difficulties enough in explaining some of his political changes.) Second, do we really want to exclude from high office millions of citizens born into a religion whose tenets strike most Americans as bizarre…? Third, candidates should be judged on the basis of their character, competence, and public positions. That one was born a Mormon is not evidence of a character flaw. That one remains a Mormon may be evidence of theological naiveté or indifference. But we are not electing the nation’s theologian.

I maintain that there are some personal beliefs one can hold that absolutely betray credulity to a degree that should probably disqualify one from serious consideration for public office. I suspect that the line between beliefs that should and should not influence potential voters exists but is perhaps indiscernible. Weisberg makes the mistake of taking the slippery slope too far (as I argued, condemning anyone who believes in anything). Neuhaus, by claiming that religious beliefs should not be a “decisive factor” in the fitness-for-public-office calculus, takes the slippery slope too far in the other direction.

I suppose that Weisberg, like most American voters, has to focus his energies on people who are almost certainly running for president this time and ignore the legislature. Perhaps in a future article he can set his sights on the Senior Senator from Utah (who escaped mostly unscathed in the Slate piece) and the Senate Majority Leader (who didn’t even warrant a mention).

I’m currently listening to Hurt from the album “The Legend of Johnny Cash” by Johnny Cash

Time to clean up the database

January 31st, 2007  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Amazon, we’ve known each other for a long time and I get along with you well enough. Sometimes, though, your computers do things that make me concerned that they are also storing my credit card number.



Napoleon and Gantt charts

January 29th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

You should probably be familiar with Minard’s famous graph of Napoleon’s doomed Russian campaign, which Edward Tufte calls “[p]robably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” Well, a blogger at the OmniGroup site has used the OmniPlan software to present Minard’s data as a Gantt chart. I find the juxtaposition of total military failure and massive loss of human life with the bureaucracy and management-related tedium implied by the Gantt chart to be rather amusing, but I must say — with all due respect to the Omni team — that their image falls rather short of “[p]robably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

  • I’ll probably be following BooksForKidsBlog, although for now I find it hard to beat Richard Scarry’s inimitable oeuvre. Catch that hat, Mr. Frumble!


More campus spam

December 29th, 2006  |  Tags: ,  |  1 Comment


How was this domain name still available? Almost all student “activists” are pretty revolting.

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment


…and may all your linger sound long.


November 30th, 2006  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

I was visiting an unnamed online music retailer to buy some strings, and — in a moment of weakness — I almost bought a hand drum for $20. In fact, I went so far as to add it to my virtual “cart.” Once I had done so, however, my ludicrosity barometer required instant re-calibration:

buy a warranty

Let’s ignore the nonsensical “These are the following…” for now and focus on the important part. The item I had added to my cart listed for $20. This retailer not only expects me (with a default selection) to fork over 175% of their asking price for an impulse-buy item in order to add an extended warranty, but they have the temerity to force me to click through a button declining it, as if I were going in for expensive elective surgery without health insurance.

Perhaps this strategy is successful — I am reminded of all of the “stupid percussionist” jokes that circulated in the borderline-conservatory atmosphere of my undergrad institution — but I can’t imagine that there are many takers. Of course it makes no sense to pay for an extended warranty! It’s a drum. There is only one thing that could possibly go wrong with it, and I bet the warranty doesn’t cover replacement heads.

Academic spam

November 8th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

One of those “get a prestigious non-accredited degree based on your work and life experience” spams slipped through my filters today. However, I think I’m holding out for a prestigious non-accredited degree from an institution who (1) isn’t reachable solely by calling a cell phone in LA (not pictured) and (2) knows how to use commas and reflexive pronouns:

Yourself, and a limited number of other candidates are invited to take advantage of this Special Enrollment

Bachelors, Masters, MBA, and Doctorate (PhD) available in the field of your choice – 100% Verifiable Documents will be shipped to you within 2 weeks.

While I doubt that anyone actually sends these people money, it’s nice to note that bad syntax plagues all spammers, even the laughably transparent ones.