Listen to Trump’s appeal to keep the ban in place

Listen to the argument here before the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Everyone should hear what Trump’s government is saying.

Via RealClear Politics:

At 3:00 PM Pacific (6:00 PM Eastern) on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court in San Fransisco will hear oral arguments about the Justice Department’s case to reinstate President Trump’s travel ban: State of Washington v. Trump.

The issue at stake is not whether Trump’s travel ban is constitutional, but whether it will remain suspended. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” President Trump said in a tweet about the originating decision from Seattle’s Federal District Court judge James Robart.

Hell under Earth

Dead Sea bathers

Above: During a trip to visit my family in the mid-west, my aunt bade me watch a Christian documentary on the geography of hell and the history of the End of Days. The film took an archaeological perspective; the kind that unearths incontrovertible, physical evidence that the Bible, and therefore the narrator’s interpretation of it, is true. At one point, the narrator pinpointed seven portals to hell on a map. Thankfully all of gates were under water. Most of them, deep beneath the ocean. The closest to the surface, though, was under the Dead Sea. Being the lowest point on Earth, this was the most likely the first gate to open when the the unholy demon army of hell decided it was finally time to consume the world. I was about eleven, and I had trouble sleeping that night.

Then in February of 2011 I went to the Dead Sea. It was plenty hot, but not quite hellish. The surrounding mountains crumble into coarse, rocky sand. Local agencies import outside sands for the beach, which are deposited regularly by large construction machinery for the bathers. The water is so salty that crystals fall out of solution and form large balls on the sea floor. (They make great souvenirs.) The salt that remains in solution coats your body and makes your skin slick as you bob up and down in the water. Remember not to shave before taking a dip—the small cuts burn. Do not get any water in your eyes. Life guards forbid the use of goggles, as they allow swimmers to be less vigilant.

Despite the inhospitable environs and poor air quality, no one seemed to notice how dangerously near to the doorway of the Prince of the Air we all were. I don’t know why hell’s army would be pick such a terrible, uninhabited place to emerge. If I were in charge, we’d march from somewhere lush and populated. Watch out, Brazil. But again, what do I know about waging war against humanity? [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Water Wizz, Wareham, MA

Above: So, this summer I was much happier to visit Water Wizz in Wareham, MA. It’s my favorite water park on the Cape. As far as I know, it’s well away from large demonic activity. The park itself is small, but not depraved. And the Pirate’s Plunge is super fun! [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Genetics by the Poolside

Happy Independence Day! To celebrate our nation’s founding, my family and I often hit up the Cape. This year was no exception, there’s little to report. The weather has been spotty: a little rain here, a few showers there, but nothing substantial. Someone was playing bagpipes the other night. And I witnessed a gruesome car accident a few feet from my balcony during the fireworks spectacular. A mass of people immediately sprang up to help the man, direct traffic, and call 911 repeatedly until emergency vehicles could make their way here. I was genuinely impressed by the response, professional and make-shift alike. Within seconds the response team had the guy off to the hospital in no time flat. I think it prudent not to speculate on the cyclist’s health. I don’t want to jinx anything, you know.

And since it’s vacation time, I’m here, at the kitchen table, on my laptop, implementing genetic algorithms. Maybe later I’ll describe what I did. Maybe if I do, someone will be able to tell me if my results make any sense. Whether or not my programs reproduce the classical results isn’t really the point, though. Look at the evolution of strategies for playing the iterated prisoner’s dilemma: they make perfect modern art tile mosaics! I bet someone’d love to have this pattern on their pool floor or garden wall. (Don’t be alarmed that they don’t appear all that related. Each row in black represents the fittest individual from one of a number of independent runs. That is, they probably never had the chance to meet each other.) Imagine the graphic tastefully obscured by flowering vines. (Click on it for a larger image.)

I can see an upside-down raccoon in it. What can you find?

Visitation Rights

Last night I was hanging out on the couch, while DJ played video games on my living room television. I don’t quite remember what obnoxious thing I was doing—I do remember, however, that it was, indeed, deliberately obnoxious—but it prompted DJ to burst, “You make me want to drink.”

“Then you should never have children,” I replied.

A few weekends ago, I babysat my six year old friend Robert while his mother was away on a business trip. It was the longest they had even been separated. Naturally I was a little anxious about watching the little captain under such new and trying circumstances. Originally I agreed to stay from Friday after he got out of school and until Sunday afternoon. That Tuesday things change. Arrangements had been made for Robert sleep over at his friend’s house on Friday and to go to the circus Saturday morning. Officially, my duties wouldn’t start until Saturday afternoon. Great! Or so I thought.

Children have a habit of getting sick right before a big, fun event. Robert’s friend is just like any other kid in that regard. Friday morning at ten, I woke up to an emergency phone call from from Robert’s friend’s mother. Apparently, the friend was at the doctors office with a temperature of 102. The sleep-over and circus would have to wait for another, healtier week. So I frantically got ready to take the next bus in town. (Mind you, it takes about 2 hours to get from here to there by public transportation.) I get to the apartment with some time to spare, so I sit on the couch to write emails until Robert gets home. Then phone rings again. It’s the friend’s mother. Her son felt better and the boys were really looking forward to the sleep-over, so if I didn’t mind, maybe Robert could stay at his friend’s house for the night after all. I agreed. Who am I to deny Robert some quality time with his friend—especially if it frees up my Friday night? Still, it’d take another two hours to get home if that was my plan. My cell phone rang one more time. This time it was DJ.

DJ’s grandmother volunteers her time and her house to a pricy kick-drugs-through-prayer rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge, and their graduation happened to be that night. Naturally, DJ’s grandmother wanted to be there. One of women she sponsors was graduating—for a second time. Anyway, the whole situation made DJ feel a little uneasy and he was looking for company. Because they had to pick me up, we were an hour late to the ceremonies, cutting the total time there to only about two hours.

I was back in Cambridge by noon the next day, just in time for Robert’s return home. Now I’m not related to Robert. Even still, I couldn’t help but feel like a divorced dad picking up his kid for a weekend visit. First they schedule me three days with him. Then they take that away and build up his expectations with a promise to the circus. But then they steal that from him, but keep him for the time it would take to go to the circus. After that, they drop him off with me. By this time Robert feels entitled and demands that we do “something fun.” I was set up for failure. Maybe that’s what the system intends and why it works so well.

Let me tell you how happy he was when we missed the last showing of Sharks 3D at the New England Aquarium due to some unforeseen construction on the Blue Line. We ended up on a bus that took us to Wood Island by mistake. Robert refused to sleep until we did “something fun,” which translates into something expensive and outside of the apartment. There was no way I was going to take him somewhere “fun” at 8:30pm on a Friday night. Instead, I suggested we play a game: “You pretend to fall asleep. You don’t have actually to sleep—just convince me that you’re asleep.”

Robert is shrewd, though. He wanted fun and he let me know it. “Josh, I know this is just a pyschological trick,” he reminded me. “I’m not going to bed until we do something fun.” I don’t easily give in to ultimatums, especially not from six year olds who are out of line. He has a bed time and he knows it. So I sat by his bed in the dark silently for 90 minutes. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The next day we did see Sharks 3D. We arrived and had purchased our tickets by 10am. We waited in the lobby (with a painful detour near Old City Hall in between) until show time at 2:20pm. I read him some Wittengstein on the bus ride home. I don’t think he appreciated it much.

Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inductive Proofs, Constructive Understanding

I remember when I first learned that advertisers will often use glue instead of milk in breakfast cereal commercials. The whole thing blew my mind. Initially, I felt confused. Why would they do something like that? Of course, because glue looks more like what people expect milk to look like than milk does [on camera]. Even after my personal revelation, I still felt confused. Except now my confusion came from within: why had I assumed that things on TV were what they looked like? Even now, I still feel a little uncomfortable thinking about it.

Again in the the seventh grade, another discovery left me feeling the same way: the infinitely repeating decimal 0.999··· is the same as the whole number one (1). I know that this must be true; my math teacher Mr. Heleen proved it to us. First, let’s hide the infinite string of 9s under a clean variable name, say x. Then we can distract ourselves long enough to arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Here’s what Mr. Heleen did:

10x = 9.999···
—x = —0.999···

Subtract the two lines (something that is hard to do in HTML) and you’ll get

9x = 9,

Or, as I claimed earlier, that x = 1. Even now, I find that fact a little bit mysterious. And this is one of my central problems with algebraic methods in general. They’ll tell you that a statement is true, but they seldom lend themselves to obvious readings of just why a statement is true.

In fact, this reminds me of a frequent difference between inductive proofs and constructive proofs: inductive proofs often accompany theorems which speak only about existence—what you’re looking is out there, the proof guarantees it, but you have no idea where; constructive proofs, on the other hand, actually give you what you looking for. Constructive proofs are usually more useful than inductive proofs because they automatically satisfy existence by virtue of demonstration. (Imagine what economists would do with a constructive proof of the Brouwer fixed point theorem; and I’d understand Sard’s lemma a lot better if the proof I learned didn’t rely so heavily on induction.)

So, is it any wonder that I gravitated toward geometry over algebra in college? Geometers use inductive arguments, too, to be sure. However, problems are usually cast in ways that are about as tangible as mathematical problem can be. Some of them even have straight-forward physical interpretations. It’s not (too) hard to imagine that soap bubbles could represent minimal surfaces, for example. However, what does a Dedekind domain look like? (If you can help me visualize a Dedekind domain, I’d be very grateful. Had you helped me three years ago when I was taking algebra, I’d’ve been even more grateful.) Like I said, algebra is hard.

But let’s get back to our infinitely repeating decimal. Why should it be the same thing as one? Well, I suppose we should ask, what is the number one? There are lots of answers—many of them correct. In this case, one is particularly useful: the number one is a label for a point on the number line.

The decimal 0.999… is also a label. But then again it’s so much more. Both 1 and 0.999··· are directions to the points that they label. How convenient! Here’s how you read the roadmap embedded in every decimal. First you need to arbitrarily pick a point called zero. That’s up to you. Next you need to pick another point that’s a unit length away from zero. This choice is also arbitrary. In the metric system you might use centimeters. In the English system, the unit you pick might be feet. If we were measuring something large, maybe you’d choose lightyears. What you choose is really a matter of convenience.

Now the fun part comes in. The first digit d after the decimal tells you to chop up the unit length into 10 smaller pieces of equal length. This smaller distance (1/10) will become the unit you use in the next step. Then you go to walk to the d-th piece. In this case, we chop up the length 1 into 10 equal pieces and walk to the ninth piece.

In the second stage, you chop up our new unit (1/10) into 10 smaller pieces of equal length. That smaller length becomes our new unit (1/100) for the next iteration, so remember it for later. Now walk over to the piece that the second digit in the decimal tells us to go to. In the third stage, we repeat the process, always taking tinier and tinier steps. For an infinitely repeating decimal we have to take an infinite number of steps to get the point the directions describe. Eventually, the steps we take will be so small that for all practical purposes we stop. This is the idea behind a limit point.

Of course I haven’t been terribly rigorous. That’s where the algebra comes in. We already proved that 1 = 0.999··· above, but the geometry is where the understanding is, at least for me. Ideally, I would’ve had some pictures in this post—but modern technology is years behind pencil and paper. But kindergarteners can draw; more importantly they can walk. Maybe limit points aren’t especially useful in most kindergarten curricula, but I think that this shows that they probably have a fair shot at understanding the concepts. And maybe now I can put this demon 0.999··· to rest.

p.s.—Wikipedia also has an entry on 0.999··· with more pictures and deeper, more confusing jargon.

p.p.s.—Now I really need to write up something about infinity. After all, 0.999··· has an infinite number of 9s in it. What does that even mean?

Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dialogue and Learning Environments

During the winter session I took a class on dialogue processes. Most people are familiar with debate. We have clubs for this sort of thing after school, after all. In the standard set up, a debate has two or more opposing sides. They bat each other over the head with facts and name-calling until one of them submits and declares a surrender. Dialogue is the opposite of debate. Instead of looking for a product (i.e., winnning), dialogue focuses on a process (i.e., learning). It’s ideal in education because it nicely ties together the sometimes competing interests of knowledge-, student-, and assessment-centered learning environments by a clever structuring of its community base.

I’ve posted the final paper I wrote for this class [late]. It’s short and only very briefly describes my “coffee mug model” for the classroom. Basically, this thing is predicated on the idea that respect is the willingness to learn from another [person or thing].

I know I’ve been in situations when I know that the person who’s taking to me is much more knowledgeable than I am, that I should pay attention to what he’s saying, but that because I don’t respect the guy, I just can’t learn from him. In the classroom, I think that learning from another person is respect, by definition. Think about it. How many times do opposing viewpoints talk right passed each other? The reason is because they’re not willing to learn from the other. Chances are paying attention to your opponent can help out your cause. Sometimes, you might find that there really isn’t any conflict at all. Instead, it’s all perceived (rather than real) conflict. Golly, communication is powerful stuff.

I still owe you guys a post about assumptions. Consider this the beginning of it.

Also, if you have the time, please come to Seven Old Ladies get lost in the loo tomorrow nigth at Blanchard’s Tavern (turn down your volume before you follow the link). For those of you who don’t know it—and be ashamed if you don’t—Blanchard’s Tavern is one of the few bars around here that tries (really, really hard) to stay honest to its 18th century foundings. They serve things like loganberry wine and Brunswick stew. (You can check out the full menu for yourself.) And they’re a steal at only $3 each.

Tomorrow’s event is going to be raucous—the volunteers who run this thing promised me. So come on down. Bring a canned good or expect to donate $1 to the local food pantry. We’ll sip on General Washington coffee and sing along to old sea shanties. And if you can’t make it tomorrow, you can show up any Saturday. Every Saturday.

Do it.

Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Backwards Compatibility

This weekend I took the Chinatown bus down to New York to visit my army special forces friends Danny and Mike and to meet their army special forces friend Zack, all up from North Carolina. Whenever Danny makes his way up the East Coast, a bunch of us convene: a few from Boston, a handful from New York, and one from DC. We’re a geographically diverse group of friends, but that doesn’t stop us. We make an effort. And that’s the problem—I think maybe we’re a bit misdirected.

Saturday, we went to a sports bar called Proof. (I immediately wondered if there was so big a math crowd in this part of the city as to sustain a bar, but I quickly realized that they probably didn’t mean a mathematical proof. Eighty proof was more the feel of the place.) The floors were the kind of dirty that black, matte surfaces always are, which set up a visual cue for the rest of the decor to follow. Everything about the bar was dark hip in that cold, uninviting way that encourages you to have fun to prove to others that you’re having fun. The neon lights that pierced through from behind the bar coupled with the bartendress’s bad dye job and caked make-up put me in the psychological dugeon of a Celine Dion concert. Proof relies on happy hour gimmicks which simultaneously feature Bud Light and a multitude of flavoured Stoli. (You could tell from the looks of the clientele that they had found their niche.) I’m not sure anyone in the bar knew why they were watching a football game. I certainly didn’t.

We established early on that no one in our party had any opinion either for or against the Colts or the Ravens. A lady bordering us said she liked the Colts, so one of us loudly cheered for her team. Lisa, Danny, and I left our uncomfortable and unsociable seats and headed to the burger joint next door just before half-time, where we almost had time enough to talk. The guy who had dragged us to Proof didn’t pay attention to the game at all. I overheard his girlfriend trying to explain to him who Adam Vinatieri is. It was no use; he wasn’t interested. By the time he realized that the three of us had left, he mobilized the rest of troops. We were going to leave. To sit down. To have dinner. Somewhere else.

Earlier that day I caught some awful brunch with my good friend Baca. We went to some up-and-coming place in Nolita called Public. Its theme: public spaces. The menu comes on a clip board. Apparently public spaces are industrial and water-stained. I had two poached eggs on garlic yogurt with kirmizi biber butter. I pressed our waitress before ordering and she admitted that “No, it’s not really butter.” She was right—it’s an oil with too much flavour for its own good. I let the hipster get the best of me. It could’ve been because I was wearing herring bone. Still, I wanted to go out to brunch. Baca merely accommodated me. Sorry, Baca.

Now here’s my point. In both instances, I hated the place we went to. But the sports bar really left me angry while, the food aside, I had a really good time at brunch. So, on the bus ride back to Boston, I started thinking why is that? And the secret is a problem in good user design.

Software designers sometimes leave in features that could be considered obsolete, needlessly complicated and confusing, or otherwise just bad in the name of backwards compatibility. The idea is that even if it’s not necessarily the best way a thing can be done, it’s a way that the user knows and therefore will expect will work, if poorly. And that’s right. The user might very well expect to see an old feature in a new realease. But expectation isn’t a good enough justification for doing something. It’s sort of like saying, “The user should be abused because the user is used to being abused.” (You might’ve heard the argument, “He may be the Devil, but at least he’s my Devil.”) People do this sort of thing all the time in all fields. Decisions made in the past are often carried well passed their realm of usefulness into the future for the sake of mindless adherence to tradition. Not to do so is like admitting your were wrong, or at least that you’re wrong now. Why do you think we won’t revise our plan for Iraq? Designers who throw in features they know to less than productive to ensure backwards compatibility have confused a means as an end.

Software is supposed to be a vehicle to help people do things that they otherwise could not have done on their own. That is, the software—like alcohol or sports bars–is supposed to be a servant, not the master. But that’s the difference between my two stories. In the first, we went to Proof because someone thought we were supposed to watch the game. Really, no one wanted to—the Pats played on Sunday, not Saturday. (We all went to dinner during the second and arguably more important half, you remember.) But brunch? I wanted to go brunch. The fact that the food sucked was only incidental. I wanted to spend time dining with Baca. And Public, bad though it was, did the trick. It provided a forum for us to catch up. That’s what I expected to do this weekend. Instead, we often got caught up doing things that are supposed to be fun rather than actually having fun.

The lesson learned is an old one: hang out with your friends at a bar, don’t hang out with a bar in front of your friends.

Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Still in SF.

Howdy from the West Coast. Another update from California. While I had originally planned only to stay until Monday, a few folks convinced me to extend my stay. Thirty dollars worth of airline fees and five days later, I’m still here. My cousin Spencer just dropped me off at base camp—at his parents’ home—from his new pad. It’s nice. This was the first time in fifteen years that we spent any amount of time together. I enjoyed the space and the time, though he just reminded me of an incident that occurred during our last and first meeting.

I was eight and more than a little squeamish around blood, especially my own. So when I busted my knee on a strange road in a foreign land while biking I just about fainted; he and his twin brother, Evan, had to drag me home. I’m not embarrassed at all that he remembers and thought to remind me of it now that we’re twenty-three. Truth be told, I’m still not entirely over the blood thing; I am most sensitive to my own bodily fluids—I don’t really care if others are bleeding to death. As long as I’m okay, things are fine, thanks to the movie industry and their constant, graphic portrayal of extreme violence. Yet I really like receiving shots of novacane at the dentist’s office. When I was in high school, sometimes I would chew Orajel until my face went numb.

It’s unfortunate that we live so far apart. I’m starting to really dig this family thing. Think about it: automatic friends without the trouble of being friendly. It’s not a bad deal.

For all of those you back East [and elsewhere], don’t worry. I miss you constantly, and the several of you who have forgot the three-hour time difference have very successfully woken me up in the wee hours of the morn’. Don’t think that because I didn’t pick up that I didn’t wake up. But I do appreciate your calling, naturally.

Is this a blog entry or a love letter?

Anyway: with all my heart, good night.

Off the Exit

Last night I drove, according to my tripometer, 442.7 miles from Sudbury, ON, back into the States to hand-off DJ to Bob and Trisha, who brought the boys Kyle and Lukie, along for the ride. I can’t help but feel like we were runners for the Underground Railroad, though I don’t remember tourism in Florida being against the law however dangerous it might be. Weedsport, NY, wasn’t a stop I remembered from my sixth grade history texts, either. But the books we used at my school were far from definitive.

Now I write to you from Auburn, NY, in the parking lot of the Days Inn. Last night, around 2:10am, I tooled into town only to discover that I hadn’t loaded the maps for this part of the state in my little GPS gizmo. Lost, I circled back to the gas station across from the Holiday Inn to ask for directions for the Days Inn. The clerk and customer very kindly gave me straightforward instructions detailing some tricky turns despite the hotel’s short distance from us. “You’ll have to take a sharp right—you might not even see the hotel until after that right because there are trees on either side,” the clerk told me.

“Thanks. I won’t drive too fast,” I promised.

And I didn’t. Within seconds, I was in the parking lot—of a Motel 8. It was late, I needed directions, and I already had a confirmation number. I had to go in.

“I know this is bad form, and that it’s late, and I’m sorry to have woken you up, but can you tell me how to get to the Days Inn?” I asked the desk attendant, a man in his late thirties whom I had clearly riled from sleep. He was thin, in an inactive sort of way, like how I imagine Marfan’s syndrome left Abraham Lincoln.

He explained over my apologies and in no time flat, I was where I needed to be. Four and a half hours later, I was awake again. Time to check in on my sister. Back in Sudbury, she had slept even less. She plans to stay in Canada through August with JC and his family. I’m worried about her.

On my way out of the hotel lobby I ran into another guest, Phyllis, who was up from Florida for an extended summer visit. She was leaving, too, but the rain held her inside. Phyllis had grown up around here—a quaint little town surrounded by sprawling pastures, befitting a place in New England or a Washington Irving short story—, but lived in Natick for a time with her husband, a native Bostonian now deceased, thirty years ago. “My how that mall has gotten bigger,” she remarked. We chatted a while more, asked where I was from, where I was headed and why. I told her. She seemed concerned with my driving seven or eight hours back; I didn’t explain that Michelle was on a bus bound for Syracuse, perhaps I ought to’ve to assuage her fears. I did explain that I wasn’t so foolish as to drive just then, in my sleepless condition, but that I would walk across the parking lot and into my car to camp out until I felt better.

So here I am, somewhere off exit 40 on I-90, in the parking lot of a hotel I’ve already checked-out of, hours later, using their amenities—including the sauna my car has turned into, despite its missing from their list of offerings. It’s time to grab some breakfast.