Mathematical Fiction Re-discovered on the Internet

I learned to love Science Fiction as a child; the first story I read was “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel,” by Robert Heinlein. I was hooked at once. Over the years I have read thousands of novels and stories, many of them remembered only in bits and snatches from decades ago.

Thanks to the Internet, many of my favorite stories have re-surfaced, indexed by the all-powerful Google – which makes this post somewhat meta in nature.

One such story was the delightful “MS Fnd in a Lbry“, written in 1961 by Hal Draper. My mother’s name was Draper, but this was a name adopted by the family to avoid anti-semitism, so there is unfortunately no relation.

Draper took a break from his life’s work of promoting Marxism, and wrote one science fiction story. The information explosion, and associated storage and retrieval problems, is humorously examined in this short story. (This story is also of historical interest, containing one of the earliest predictions of the Web.) The story originally appeared in the December 1961 issue of the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction. Reprinted in Isaac Asimov and Janet Jeppson (eds) Laughing Space and Groff Conklin (ed) 17 Times Infinity.

All I did was search for “nudged quanta,” and there it was. And I thought to do it because of a photo I happened across at reddit, courtesy of /u/o0OIDaveIO0o, and then posted to Facebook:

euUzNT1

In just 25 years. One of the microcards at the bottom stores more than all the others combined. While not directly associated with Moore’s Law, the rapid progression of storage miniaturization has been mind-boggling, especially for those of us who lived through the early days of computers. Nowadays kids take massive storage like this for granted, but to see 16 gigabytes of data stored in a piece of plastic smaller than my fingernail simply boggles my mind, even though I used the technology daily.

CoreMemory03

 

We’ve come a long way from An Wang’s 1955 patent for core memory – 1 bit per doughnut.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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Why “Black Friday” is a truckload of camel ejecta

I’ve always known it. With the exception of a few scarce loss-leaders on the front table at Staples, or the one or two flat-screen TV’s listed at a ridiculously low price at WalMart, the things people are disembowelling each other for could be had for the same price at other, much more peaceful, seasons.

An article in the Wall Street Journal talks about the dirty secret of “Black Friday” discounts:

The common assumption is that retailers stock up on goods and then mark down the ones that don’t sell, taking a hit to their profits. But that isn’t typically how it plays out. Instead, big retailers work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want. The red cardigan sweater with the ruffled neck on sale for more than 40% off at $39.99 was never meant to sell at its $68 starting price. It was designed with the discount built in.

Why this is not common knowledge by now is beyond me, other than the fact that most people get their educations from slanted news media and the National Enquirer.

The Week gives some more information in an article entitled Black Friday ads: 4 sneaky pricing tricks — and how to spot them  The summary:

  • They mislead us on original prices (“Original Prices” are grossly inflated.)
  • They push derivative products (The wares they’re selling often aren’t the cream of the crop. These models are, unsurprisingly, unreliable and shoddy. Derivative products often have fewer features than comparable sets as well.)
  • They repeat deals from last year (90 percent of Black Friday ads from 2012 contained at least one of the exact same items selling at the exact same price as in 2011.)
  • They use rebates (Shoppers often forget to submit rebates — which is exactly why retailers love them.)

Each of these points comes with advice on how to beat the retailer at his own game, or at least make sure you’re not falling for the scams.

If you need a visual summary, I found this one over at reddit, courtesy of /u/guyinnova

CLUyh7x

 

Do yourselves a favor. Stay home on Black Thursday and Black Friday, shop on December 4th (or at other less-stressful times), and do your homework. You’ll save both money, stress, and possibly life and limb.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

18 Films Soon to Be Released

Over at Woahdude, a list of 18 films being released between now and February, with capsule summaries.

A condensed version, with my assessment in orange.

  • Frozen – There’s a good chance that I’ll see this one in the theaters. It looks cute and smart.
  • The Hobbit –  This one’s a no-brainer. Tempted to go for the first midnight showing, but I’ll wait until the madness dies down.
  • Anchorman: The Legend ContinuesMeh.
  • Jack RyanProbably a Redbox special at some point if there’s nothing better.
  • 47 RoninLooks interesting. I enjoyed The Last Samurai, this will probably be on the same level. Redbox.
  • American HustleMeh.
  • The Secret Life of Walter MittyA possibility. I’ll be curious to see how they treat this story.
  • The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)In the name of all that’s holy, why?
  • NymphomaniacNot a chance in Hades. I’d like to see society extolling the virtues of faithfulness and stability rather than this kind of camel ejecta.
  • The Green InfernoThis looks like a gratuitous gore-fest
  • Paranormal Activity: The Marked OnesLooks silly
  • Mandela: Long Walk to FreedomThis will be watched at some point for certain, but probably not in the theaters.
  • The Monuments MenI had no desire to see “Inglourious Basterds,” and I have no desire to see this one either.
  • The Wolf of Wall StreetSeven thumbs down. We get too much of this kind of people in real life, I don’t need to see their lifestyle glorified on the big screen.
  • Grudge Matchthis one looks funny, and very meta: two aging boxers who can’t get a break any longer take each other one for the sake of exposure. I’ll probably catch this one in the theater when it comes to Water Gardens in Spanish Fork.
  • The Lego MovieNot much for me there. If I had grandkids close by, I’d consider taking them.
  • Robocop (2014)Looks like a great popcorn flick to lift my spirits when I’m down in the dumps. Redbox most likely.
  • PompeiiThis one makes me think of “Gladiator vs. Dante’s Peak.” Looks like a fun ride, if you don’t take the history too seriously.

 

 

That’s a lot of films coming up – I think Frozen and The Desolation of Smaug are my only real chances of catching this one in a first-run theater. As for the rest, I could miss them altogether and not lose any sleep over it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Geography: The revenge of Europe

Over at BuzzFeed, they asked Brits to label a map of the USA. Most of them didn’t do very well.

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This one is funny – others were abominable. Squaresies?

Turnabout is fair play, so they also asked Americans to label a map of Europe:

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But the question got more personal when I decided to see how well I would fare instead of pointing the finger of scorn at the poor showing of others. So I did the following maps with no prompting or cheating, and here is the brutal result:

Europe

I started with Europe, which I have spent a good part of my life crisscrossing for work, study and pleasure. I swapped Kosovo and Montenegro, reversed Sardinia and Corsica – Ocatarinetabellatchitchix would never forgive me, I’m off to hide in the maquis – and got Lithuania and Latvia backwards. I did remember to put Malta and San Marino in, but forgot Monaco and Gibraltar, although I know they’re there. Totally zoned out on Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova, and anything eastwards there be dragons. I give myself a B+, but I should have done better.

Then I came back home to see how well I would do with my own country.

USA,jpg

For as many times as I’ve driven across this nation I should have these down cold. Kansas and Nebraska got reversed; I’m sure I’m no longer welcome at my cousin Laura’s place in Olathe. I have been in Kentucky but only a few times passing through, and I couldn’t dredge up its name to save my soul. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa simply vanished from my memory; even trying to recite Wakko’s song about the capitals didn’t help, i could only get halfway through. I put Michigan on the wrong side of the lake, and reversed Vermont and New Hampshire. Thank Mogg I know where Maine is or I’d be sleeping in the gutter tonight. I do know where Rhode Island is, but I just forgot to write it in.

Again, probably about a B+. Shameful.

I thought about trying Africa, but looked at an outline map and promptly threw up. I could place Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. I could do Egypt, Libya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the DRC, and Madagascar. Given all the princes and government officials who have contacted me, I should know exactly where Nigeria is, but frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. [1] Beyond a couple of random others, it would be just like that “Sorry, No Idea” above. I know there are lions and tigers, but only in Kenya. [2]

How about trying to identify the provinces of Canada? Well, BC’s out west, then moving east I know there’s Alberta and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, and Newfoundland; Nunavut’s up in the frozen north, and I know I’ve missed a few, but I haven’t spent a lot of time up there. Australia? Geez. I could probably place Queensland, NSW and Canberra, because I’ve been there, and I know where Tasmania is – the rest of the country is Kangarooland for all I know. 

Asia? Too many “-stans” that I couldn’t even begin to identify; China, Mongolia, India, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bangladesh I know; I could place Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Viet Nam, but would probably mix up Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and any others that happen to be out there. And as for the islands of the sea, I can name a lot of Pacific and Caribbean countries, but would get an “F” if I tried to place them on a map.

This all popped up over at Facebook, and a comment my son left is germane: “What’s the point?”

Well, there are a few good reasons for knowing this kind of thing. First and foremost is winning bar bets and getting karma on reddit. Specialized knowledge would be useful for specific careers – say, if you work for the Census Bureau, or FEMA, or certain other government agencies, or the UN High Commision for Refugees, or the merchant marine, or things like that. Or if you’re a Geography teacher.

But more importantly, broad knowledge is a symptom rather than an end in itself.

In Synergetics, Buckminster Fuller said,

“We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable. Consequently, society expects all earnestly responsible communication to be crisply brief. . . . In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others.” 

And in The Roving Mind, Isaac Asimov said that

“Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.”

But by far my favorite quote about specialization and the expansion of knowledge comes from Robert Heinlein, in Time Enough for Love:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

 At the age of 14, I was described by my camp counselors in the following words:
“However unorganized his body of knowledge may be, he is still a source of many bits of information, and despite his mere 85-lb. bulk was one of our most determined and energetic trippers.”

The older I’ve gotten, the worse it gets. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know – and I want to know more. I want to know and understand it all. And having a mind that has remained as scattered and disorganized as it always has been, one which can remember some of the most arcane and useless facts imaginable and still forget where the hqiz I put my keys 10 minutes ago, doesn’t help one bit.

Focus is definitely a challenge, because we only have a limited time on this green earth, and there are things that need to be done. As a youth I was admonished to concentrate my efforts into sufficiently few lines of endeavor that I might become proficient, giving me strength in my position in life. In some ways, I have done that. In others it’s been really …

bigpreview_Red Squirrel

Squirrel!

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] He said “my dear.”
[2] That’s a joke.

Nighthawks: Art and Life.

Edward_Hopper-Nighthawks-1942

The iconic Edward Hopper painting. Diners like this were common in New York as I was growing up. I’ve mentioned them before, but every now and then I’ll see something on the Internet that fans the fires of nostalgia once again.

FSA/8d28000/8d280008d28016a.tif

April 1943. “Baltimore, Maryland. Trolley leaving the terminal at night.” Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. Found at Shorpy.

I love old photos like this – they help me connect to a world that was; so very close and yet otherwise untouchable.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The FTC versus the Hydra

M13.1Hydra

 

When Heracles fought the Hydra, for every head he cut off, two more sprang into being. Only by cauterizing the stumps to prevent regeneration was our hero able to conquer the beast.

I’ve written before about “Ann from Cardholder Services;” despite the FTC’s 2012 full-court press against five companies responsible for these fraudulent robocalls, the nightmare continues; I’ve had several of these calls in the last week. And even though the last of the original 2012 defendants have just recently settled with the FTC, the business is still active under other heads.

In some ways, it’s easy to understand why this problem won’t go away – it’s highly lucrative, and there’s very little risk of being prosecuted. If you get shut down, you simply start up a new boiler room somewhere else under a different name. The money comes not from suckers wanting to lower their credit-card rates – that’s just icing on the cake – but rather from fractional pennies paid for “dipping” into the caller ID database. In other words, “Rachel” from Cardholder Services doesn’t even need to have you answer to make money; simply placing the call, and the robots do this millions of times a week, is sufficient to collect “royalties.” This article has a lot of good information about fraudulent companies names CallerId4U and Pacific Telecom, both tied to a businessman of questionable ethics named Paul Maduno; two relevant paragraphs follow:

CallerId4U owns 763,000 phone numbers Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, California, and Nevada.  These phone numbers are used exclusively for a telemarketing revenue sharing scheme.

CallerId4U provisions their phone numbers in 3rd party “CNAM” callerId databases.  These databases associate a phone number with the caller ID text that will be displayed during a phone call.   When a phone call is placed using one of these phone numbers, the telephone company receiving the call must pay a small fee of less than a cent to retrieve the caller Id text from the database.  These are called CNAM “dip” fees and refer to the process of “dipping” into the Caller Id database to retrieve the calling name text (CNAM.)

So even though the FTC went after five companies and shut them down, Maduno and his scam continue. It seems that only by beheading the Caller ID “dip” fee monster will this particular scam ever be shut down for good. In the meantime, the takeaways here are two:

  1. If you get one of these calls, just hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a representative – you’ll be opening yourself up for the secondary scam; and don’t press 2 to be removed – you’re only confirming to the scammers that you’re a real live number.
  2. If you do happen to connect with a representative, questioning them or cursing at them will have no effect – these are people trained in the art of deception and illicit operations, and they don’t give a rat’s South-40.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A Visit to Dr. Feelgood

Doctor Max

A curious side effect of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination is a resurgence of interest (albeit a small resurgence) in New York’s infamous “Dr. Feelgood,” formally known as Dr. Max Jacobson. I grew up in New York in the 50s and 60s, and my mother was an actress there; I remember her speaking fondly of Dr. Max. In fact, his name was a household word around our home. She got me an appointment with him one time – I was probably around 16 – for Mogg only knows what reason, but I remember the experience vividly.

At the time I had no clue Max was so notorious, although an article which came out  some time before 1968 ² in a local publication had made reference to “Doctor A,” “Doctor B,” and “Doctor C” – it was some sort of investigative report on unconventional medical treatments, and I wish I could find it again, because there’s no question in anyone’s mind who ever visited him that “Doctor C” was Max. Scanning the Internet now, I was surprised to find that  a book was written about Max by by Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes, whence the quote and patient list below were extracted. There seems to be no question that he was treating a large range of patients with methamphetamines, which is why they loved his treatments… he made them happy happy happy!  President Kennedy’s visits to and by Max are well-documented, and about the injections Kennedy said, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.” Among Max’s other clients were:

President Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard M. Nixon, Rod Serling, Jacqueline Kennedy, Spiro Agnew, Sir Winston Churchill, Cecil B. DeMille, Robert Goulet, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Shapiro, Eddie Fisher, Truman Capote, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt, Maurice Chevalier, Ludwig Bemelmans, Mike Nichols, Gertrude Lawrence, Burt Bacharach, Sheilah Graham, Margaret Leighton, Rita Moreno, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Williams, Paul Lynde, Alan Jay Lerner, Howard Cosell, Mike Todd, Hermine Gingold,  Jose Ferrer, Anais Nin, Henry & June Miller, Andy Warhol, Yul Brynner, Arlene Francis, Johnny Mathis, Martin Gabel, Franchot Tone, Igor Goran, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Rockefeller, Burgess Meredith, Ronny Graham, Roy Cohn, Marilyn Monroe, Josh Logan, Hedy LeMarr, Edward G. Robinson, Emilio Pucci, Billy Wilder, Leontyne Price, Senator Claude Pepper, Paul Robeson, Igor Stravinsky, Cary Grant, Peter Lawford, Bob Cummings, Van Cliburn, Tony Franciosa, Phyllis McGuire, Ellen Hanley, Sam “MoMo” Giancanna, Judith Campbell Exner, Mel Allen, Mickey Mantle, Marion Marlowe, Shelley Winters, Leonard Bernstein, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Morgan, Rosalind Russell, Marianne Anderson, Dr. Niels Bohr, Tony Curtis, Greta Stuckles, Mabel Mercer, Richard Burton, Andy Williams, Ambassador Eusebio Morales, George Kaufman, Mark Shaw, Pat Suzuki, Burton Lane, Alice Ghostley, Felice Orlandi (Alice Ghostley),  Rex Harrison, Eddie Albert, Maynard Ferguson,  Roscoe Lee Browne, Zero Mostel, Bob Richardson, Cicely Tyson, Maya Deren, Milton Blackstone, Elvis Presley, Chuck Spalding, Col. Tom Parker, Stavros Niachros, Gore Vidal, Lee Bouvier Radziwill, Prince Stash Radziwill, Vincent Alo (“Jimmy Blue Eyes”), Katherine Dunham, Peter Lorre, Judy Garland, Franco Zefferelli, Gypsy Rose Lee (Rose Havoc), Otto Preminger, Anthony Quinn, Rebekah Harkness, Edie Sedgewick, Roddy McDowell, Patrick O’Neil, Kurt Braun, Leonard Silman, John Hancock (director), Kay Thompson, Bob Fosse, John Murray Anderson, Hugh Martin, Arnold Saint-Subber, Louis Nizer, Sharon Tate, Barbara Harris, Christopher Plummer, Thelonious Monk, Jim Thompson, Florence Eldridge, Frederic March, Harry Belafonte, Stavros Niarchos, Brigid Berlin, Arthur Laurents, Leo Lerman, Maria Callas, Albert Dekker, Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Andrew Oldham (Rolling Stones Manager), Ruth Yorck, John LaTouche, Don and Phil Everly (Everly Brothers), Louis Jourdan, Jason Wingreen, Mike Nichols, Pablo Casals, Ayn Rand, and Montgomery Clift

Max seemed pleasant and inoffensive, coming across as the absent-minded professor type, and I recall his office well, a jumble of odds and ends, jars of orange solutions with glowing colored stones being “irradiated” with ultraviolet light, and a hodgepodge of other things. Max examined me, drew up a syringe full of I don’t think I want to know, and injected me RIGHT UNDER THE FLIPPING BREASTBONE with a needle that looked big enough to terrify Big Jake. I don’t think I fainted, and in reality the needle was probably a small subq, but I had never had an injection there and it rattled me considerable.  I don’t remember going out singing, as some of his patients seemed to do – maybe I got the low-octane stuff. But I’ll never forget it, and I’m tickled that I had an encounter with one of New York’s more infamous characters.

There was another set of stories that got told frequently at home, and I’m not sure if they are related to Dr. Max or not. In my mind, however, they were – so I’m going to relate them here anyway. I was put in mind of these stories by a delightful article over at “Oh God, my Wife is German” where the author talks about his wife’s love of “King of the Thorns.” Unless I’m totally off the mark, Max had a nurse at one point who was Teutonic in origin, and whose English was often flavored with Germanisms. The three instances I recall hearing the most often are:

  • “I’m sorry, you can’t see the doctor right now – he’s right in the middle of somebody very important!”
  • “Now this may hurt a bit, but don’t worry, you won’t last long!”
  • Patient: “Nurse, I need a vase.”  [1] Nurse: “Ja, and how big is your bouquet?”

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes:

[1] For the uninitiated, “vase” was hospital parlance for those portable urinals for bedridden patients.

[2] A subsequent search in 2017 turned up the article in question, from New York magazine and actually published on February 8, 1971.