Showing posts from February, 2017

Teaching mathematics bass-ackwards

I have now taught the " master method " for solving recurrences twice. The first time I managed to muddle through and present the gist of the idea without screwing up too much. But when I revisited it this semester, I was able to develop a pretty complete intuition for why it works and what is going on. And to realize that one of the world's leading algorithm books presents this in a completely backwards fashion. The student is presented with page after page of formalism, and left to work out what the hell is going on on their own. To present it properly, show how historically the theorem developed out of solving recurrences with recursion trees. Solve a few from each type of case (three) the master method contains. Lead the students to see that the trees keep falling into one of these three categories. Show how which category they fall into depends on the values of a, b, and x in the equation: T(n) = aT(n / b) + n x Then suggest, "Hey, perhaps we can state

Every model needs a purpose

"Academics have to make their models complex, in order to get them published." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, lecture at NYU on 2/28/2017 And there we have the telos of a typical academic model: to be published.

It's going to take a long time to get an hotel-fridge gin bottle that way

As I left my office last night, a woman came up to me and asked if I could "Spare a penny?"

Of course progressives are totalitarians deep-down

All ideologues are: "That is extremely important in practical politics because on this assumption -- that this respective intellectual's creed is representative of all mankind -- rests, of course, the aggressiveness of all ideological, intellectual, [and] totalitarian movements. That is to say, all ideological, intellectual movements are inherently totalitarian because man is made a function of history and [the ideologies] claim to be valid for everyone. If anybody is benighted enough not to know that he belongs to that particular age of mankind represented by the respective intellectuals, that's just too bad for him. If he resists, he must either be killed or put it into a concentration camp or something like that... he has to submit." -- Eric Voegelin, "The Drama of Humanity"

Jets apparently like to snort a bit too

Here .

Is this really an appropriate chant?

I want out into the plaza outside my office. There was a group of trainee emergency medical technicians jogging in formation around the plaza.  As they did so, they chanted in unison: Who are we? Future EMT Get out the way Else you'll D-I-E Is it consistent with the job of an EMT to threaten people with death for blocking your jogging path?

False Gods

"You no longer have reason in its original form, but have decapitated God, and what is left is the human pole of reason. When only the human pole of reason is left, the content of reason, which is precisely the tension toward the ground, the consciousness of the ground, is destroyed. Since man cannot live, or does not live, without accounting for himself in terms of a ground, God, the transcendent ground, must be replaced by substitute grounds of being. Let me enumerate some of the instances. "It begins in the eighteenth century with the replacement of a divinely conceived order of man and society by the idea of order in society through the balance of economic forces, and the rationale of an optimum production of goods. The conception of the eighteenth-century economy is that when all men strive for the utmost satisfaction of their desires and work as best they can in competition with one another for an increase in the production of goods, the result will be an order of

The terribleness of some big company searches

I just watched "Recursion Tree Method: Part 1" on YouTube. It is recommending dozens of other videos to me on the basis of their being similar to this one. Conspicuously absent is "Recursion Tree Method: Part 2." ("Recursion Tree Method: Part 3" is there, however!) This is very common: YouTube seems to have no concept that an ordered series of videos ought to be presented to the viewer in order. Netflix often puts on "Recommended for you" something I have already watched, and it "knows" I have watched, because if I choose if the episodes are all checked off as having been viewed. Sometimes, the recommendation is for something I watched just a day or two beforehand.

"I need to cover this material"

I have occasionally run across a professor who is very worried about how much material he will cover in a semester: "I've got to get through chapter 10." This is a strange way of looking at it to me. I am more interested and how much material the students understand. Isn't it better to cover two chapters, and have the students understand both of them, then cover 10 chapters, and have the students understand none of them? The first time I encountered this was the first time I taught macroeconomics. When I signed up to teach the course, I was told that many of my students would be "woefully unprepared", and that I should be ready to deal with this sad fact. And the warning was spot on: a number of them had trouble graphing an equation like y = x. (This is not hyperbole.) So, I spent time teaching them the math they ought to have learned in the eighth or ninth grade. The same person who had hired me and had given me that warning then came in to review on

British analysis

"in the Anglo American area of philosophy the dominant philosophical movement is still, you might say, British analysis; and without being critical in any way of British analysis you have eliminated all the areas of reality symbolized by myth, philosophy, revelation, and mysticism. Practically everything that's important in life is removed if you confine yourself to that type of logical analysis, which is quite solid in itself." -- Eric Voegelin, "The drama of humanity" Two notes: 1) As Voegelin points out, analytical philosophy department's mostly eliminate philosophy (the love of wisdom) from the curriculum, replacing it with logical analysis. 2) Again as Voegelin notes, there is nothing wrong with what is done in these departments per se. And these people are generally excellent at it: no one does logical analysis of statements as skillfully as a trained analytical philosopher. The problem comes only when one tries to reduce philosophy to this sort of ana

Big Box Stores

Here is a paper Nathan Conroy and I will be presenting at the Eastern Economic Association conference this week.

What's My Line?

Today's mystery guest was called, by Eric Voegelin, "the greatest philosopher of history of the modern West." Let's give him a warm round of applause: Voegelin also said that "in the course of the last 200 years no thinker has arisen who" equals me as an analyst of the political myth. Among the people upon whom I have had a profound influence I can count Samuel Coleridge, Karl Marx, James Joyce, Benedetto Croce, and Marshall McLuhan, and yet I am relatively unknown, even among professional philosophers. Who am I?

Looking like polygamy is next

Rod Dreher notes that the push is now on for polygamy. I recall mentioning to a libertarian-progressive gay-rights advocate that his arguments worked just as well for polygamous marriages as they did for gay marriages. Oh boy, did he become outraged! How could I possibly associate his defense of gay marriage with a defense of the ridiculous idea of polygamous marriages?! I assume that by next year, I will see an op-ed by him endorsing polygamous marriage.

The Bathroom Wars

I want to clarify what I think about the recent conflicts over bathroom access. If a man wants to dress up like a woman, or a woman wants to dress up like a man, it really does not concern me. And if someone who "presents" as a woman, despite having a penis, goes quietly into a stall in the women's bathroom, goes about his/her business, and leaves, then that person should be left alone. And that is generally speaking the way things have worked. Until activists began campaigning for the "right" of anyone to use any bathroom they want to, if they just "self-identify" as someone entitled to use that bathroom. This pretty obviously creates a problem: per the recent NYC directive on bathroom and locker room access, it seems entirely permissible for me to stroll into the women's locker room at, say, the Red Hook Pool, in which (I assume) there will be many naked women taking showers, and, if anyone objects, I can simply declare "I am a woman.&q

The Wheel Is Turning and You Can't Slow Down

Microsoft is running ads claiming that its cloud services are improving golf by allowing players to analyze every shot taken by every golfer in every tour event in great detail. This is an example of the "iron cage" of competition that Max Weber talked about. The world is not a better place if the average tour pro now shoots a 69 or 70 instead of a 71. This "service" does not improve the quality of anyone's life. But once one player starts using it, every other player has to use it as well, or they will fall behind. It is similar to steroids, or weight training, or swim training now lasting 6 hours a day instead of 2. They are all zero-sum games: it is hard for me to see how audiences are any more entertained by football players today, who spend hours a week in the weight room, than they were by players in my father's day, in the early 50s, when he tells me no players at all lifted weights. (And he played Division I ball against people like Jim Brown, a

How Progressive "Morality" Evolves

I have a progressive friend. A couple of years ago, when the bathroom wars were just kicking off, he told me that "they" were now going too far: "It is ridiculous to think that men should be allowed to go in the women's locker room just because they claim they 'really' are a woman." All I could do was quietly sigh. I knew he would be embracing the 'ridiculous' very soon. And sure enough, he is now completely on board with "gender bending" and bathroom free-for-alls. Because here is how this "evolution" works: At first, just a few people on the fringe begin to embrace the latest assault, call it X, on traditional morality. They build up a small cadre of committed activists devoted to forcing everyone to accept X. During this stage, the average progressive will assert that X is "going too far," and will insist that he is completely against X. But then one day, once a critical mass of activists has built up, the

Phony-Baloney Progressive Outrage

The NBA has announced that it might deny the state of Texas the possibility of hosting future All-Star games if the democratically elected legislature of the state passes a bill stating that men should use the men's bathroom, and women should use the women's bathroom. Apparently, this is a "human rights violation." This is the same NBA that goes out of its way to play several games a year in China, a country that regularly employs slave labor in its factories.

Progressively Stupider Regarding Sex

Cop TV show. One cop sleeps with another cop's wife. The chief finds out. CHIEF: You slept with Harrigan's wife?! COP: That's none of your business! Every culture known to history, before the one that arose in the West over the last few decades, has known that sex is very much a public matter: it produces children, families, dynasties, social bonding, social strife, jealousy, and murder. But progressives are so stupid -- not that they necessarily have low IQs, but ideology makes you stupid! -- that they actually could put in a TV show that it is none of the chief's business if one of his officers is sleeping with the wife of another of his officers.

Progressives' "Multicultural Sensitivity"

What being "multicultural" means to a progressive: 1) A professor who students were all from countries where it is unthinkable to call a professor by their first name, forced them to call him by his first name. He didn't give a crap about their culture: what was important was to force progressive values on them. 2) A progressive, told that a Muslim woman who he would be meeting would not be comfortable shaking hands with a man, shook her hand anyway. He didn't give a crap about her culture: what was important was to force progressive values on her. 3) A progressive to whom I mentioned that my kids had attended Catholic school: "Yuck!" (Sticking out her tongue.) Tolerance only extends to exotic religions in far off places! 4) A progressive who moved into an Italian Catholic neighborhood: "I hate all of those statues of the Virgin Mary in the front yards!" Mind you, she moved into this neighborhood! The Italian Catholics had been there for

"Tolerant" Progressives Try to Ban Milo, Then Riot When They Can't

Over 100 UCal Berkeley professors -- you remember Berkeley, the center of the free speech movement, right? -- signed a letter saying that Milo Yiannopoulos should not be allowed to speak on campus. When the university failed to cave in to their attempt to squash any non-progressive view, rioters showed up at the talk, "lit fires, overturned police barricades, smashed windows, and threw fireworks." For progressives, tolerance means you can have sex with anyone or anything you want, just so long as you are a progressive.

The significance of ritual killing

I've been watching Gomorra, I show about the Neapolitan mafia. The head of the crime family at the center of the show is Don Pietro. His only son, Genny, is somewhat of a dweeb. Don Pietro is worried that, if he dies or is imprisoned, Genny won't be ready to take over the family. Therefore, he asks his trusted lieutenant, Ciro, to take Genny to do "that thing," to see if he is ready. "That thing" turns out to be killing a random person, who has not done anything in particular to deserve killing. It is interesting to contemplate why this shows one "is ready." The effect is twofold: 1) By committing this horrific act, the killer shows that his loyalty to this particular group comes above every aspect of common human decency. The group can trust him to do anything at all it requires him to do. 2) All morally sane people would unequivocally condemn this action. But the group in question praises the action, telling Genny he has now "become a

Closing in "solidarity" with immigrant workers

I stopped by a local restaurant last night. The place employs many illegal immigrants, pays them sub-standard wages, and offers them no benefits. The owner is so rough with these workers that they call him "the devil." But... last night they closed in "solidarity" with immigrant workers! On a Thursday night, in February, when they would be making almost no money anyway. And I would take large bets that all of the illegal immigrants were not paid for the night! This could be an emblem of progressive "caring": empty, symbolic gestures intended to display one's tremendous moral stature, performed in lieu of actually having to do the hard work of really caring.

A dystopia, for you, and a dystopia, for me

Reader Joe sends us this nice analysis of types of dystopias .

Deletion iterators

Often, deleting during iteration is problematic. So, in say Python, if you write: for e in edges: if seen(e.v1) or seen(e.v2): delete e you are in for some trouble. And this is understandable. The default iterator is meant to get you through a sequence rapidly, and no one wants to drag along the baggage that would allow you to muck about with the sequence as you traverse it. But why not have a second type of iterator that does allow deletion, which you would pull out just for the special cases where the above code is the sort of thing you need to do? Because I've had to "hand-roll" one of these every few months, it seems, and I bet others have as well. Java has something like this with "fail-safe" iterators, but they seem to be for protection from another thread modifying the data while you iterate. In fact, the fail-safe iterator is guaranteed not to change while you are iterating.

Leftist violence

Reader Greg Pandatshang offers the following: I was in a movie theater a couple weeks ago, and in the row behind me were two young women, who I'd guess are maybe undergrad sophomores, not particularly tall or athletic, talking about the Richard Spencer sucker punch brouhaha, pleased as punch. One of them remarked, "If I'd've been there, I would have done more than just punch him!" I'd suggest that this is indicative of the centre-left (and parts of the hard left) reaction to the late unpleasantness: they live in a fantasy world where the possibility that they might not win at violence doesn't even occur to them. What are the chances, really, that Luke Skywalker will lose the final duel with Darth Vader? And what are the chances, really, that a short female college kid will fail to give a grown-ass fascist man the beating he obviously deserves? In light of this fantasy, it becomes merely an issue of whether their side will choose to be nice and refrain

TDS updates

1) Here a CNN nincompoop says "Trump's travel ban fundamentally changes American history." Of course, progressive hero FDR grabbed American citizens, based on their ethnicity, and stuffed them in concentration camps for years... but Trump saying that non-citizens from a few troubled countries can't enter the US for 90 days is such a terrible act of discrimination that American history has been "fundamentally changed." 2) Yesterday I heard progressives talking about the "latest" Trump outrage: the NASA scientist who had to unlock his cellphone at the border. But stricter rules on cellphones went into place in 2014, under progressive hero Obama, and Trump's executive order said nothing about cellphones, and the order doesn't apply to American citizens, and Bikkannavar had not been to any of the countries named in Trump's order, and... Well, it was extremely likely that this was simply the typical bumbling sort of overreach that hap

Evil Mastermind / Completely Incompetent Moron

Scott Adams has been saying that anti-Trumps will soon be swinging from "Trump is Hitler" to "Trump is incompetent." He is behind the times. Last week I actually listened to two progressives alternate between saying how terrifying Trump is because he is an evil mastermind who is going to establish an authoritarian dictatorship in the US, and saying how laughable he is is because he is such a stupid, incompetent boob, literally between one sentence and the next. And the two views kept alternating for a good five minutes.


Trump will issue a new immigration-related directive this week. Many people will sigh with relief, and say, "Well, this is more reasonable." And this will be the directive Trump intended to stand all along.

Tolerance, real and phony

'Conservatives remain in this age almost the only believers in tolerance; in any age I think they will respect the spiritual admonition present in T.S. Eliot’s saying: "One needs the enemy."' -- Richard Weaver For over a dozen years, I have mingled with the progressives of gentrified Brooklyn on an amicable basis. I listened to their silly political diatribes when we'd meet at a bar or park: I would smile, nod, and ask if they had seen the Knicks game the night before. I tolerated their opinions, and kept mine to myself. Well, except once in a very rare while. For instance, a progressive I had known for several years, and been on friendly terms with, made a Facebook post asserting that no decent person could possibly vote for Trump after the "pussy" remarks emerged. I merely responded: "Wait, when Clinton was president, Democrats kept saying a politician's sex life was completely irrelevant to their job, and none of our business. So...?&quo

Passive-Aggresive-Progressive Hate

I saw this in a deli window near me: What's wrong here? 1) A policy disagreement (how much immigration should we allow from various countries) is being turned into a way to smear anyone who disagrees with the poster's preferred immigration policy as a "hater" who doesn't "welcome" certain people. And this is the way progressives handle pretty much all disagreement with their policies today: the person who disagrees does so because they are an evil racist bigot, not because they think progressive policies are often harmful. 2) As good progressives, the makers of the poster, in fact, despise believing Muslims: to progressives, believing Muslims are "homohobic," "misogynist," "medieval," and so on. Everything they hate about Christians is there to hate about Muslims, just ten times more. It is not Muslim individuals  that progressives welcome: they welcome the usefulness of the concept of Muslims as a hammer with

The left is starting to embrace political violence to overturn the election results

Living in gentrified Brooklyn is like being a spy in the enemies camp: so long as I don't let on that I am not one of them, I get to pick up on what progressives say when they think no one else is listening. Well, last night, I got to hear two very ordinary, middle-class progressives talking to each other about how they were only talking and protesting, and that perhaps it was the people taking violent action who really understood what has to be done right now. In the end, they both agreed that probably the rioters are acting appropriately. Note: they are not about to commit violence themselves. But they are ready to cheer on those who aren't as constrained.

Liberal "tolerance" on display

Two exhibits: 1) Samuel Hammond correctly recognizes that both major US parties have been liberal parties, but is severely distressed that we may now be seeing a non-liberal party competing with a liberal party. Liberals are all for "diversity," by which they mean, "All slightly different liberal voices should be heard!" They most certainly do not mean that it is acceptable to voice non-liberal views! 2) The International Olympic Committee threatens to move the Olympic golf competition if a Japanese golf club won't cave to liberal pressure and admit women as full members. Liberals are all in favor of "multiculturalism"... just so long as every one of the "diverse" cultures moves in complete lockstep with the latest liberal standards, which are subject to routine updating. (E.g., in 2008, both Obama and Clinton opposed gay marriage. That was fine. But once the NY Times  et al. declared it not fine, suddenly, any person, group, or

The perverse anti-functionalism of CLRS algorithms

Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest and Stein's  Introduction to Algorithms  (CLRS) is now the dominate textbook for algorithm courses. As I've been working on implementing their algorithms from their book in Python,  I've been struck by how often they espouse an non-functional anti-pattern . Functional programming asserts that a program should consist mostly of " pure functions ," which have no side effects, and always return the same output given the same input. In particular, if we pass a function f a data structure x as an input, f should leave x alone, and return a new data structure y as its output. Of course at times, if we are not dogmatic functional programmers, we may indeed want to modify x , for instance, if x is huge in size, and we don't want the memory cost of creating a y that is essentially a new copy of x with a few modifications, and we have no further need of the original x . But, as I argued long ago , even code in languages that are n

How to report a crime in France

My bedtime TV watching tonight is To Catch a Thief . I am only a couple of minutes into the movie, but I have already learned something new: apparently, the way you report a crime in France is to simply shout out the window, even if the window is six floors up above a busy avenue, "Police! I've been robbed!"

The rise of the three

This was interesting to read: "The Knicks honored five members of their 1988-89 Atlantic Division championship team that set a then-NBA record with 386 3-pointers." That years Knicks made so many threes they were called "the bomb squad." Last year Steph Curry made 402 threes.

Another anti-Trumper being pushed to defend Trump

Father Dwight Longenecker : "Those who have taken any interest in my political opinions will know that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I am one of those conservatives who happened to think that a thrice-married playboy who runs casinos and strip joints was not exactly the best choice for the highest office in the land." And Longenecker recognizes the process I described a couple of posts back: "If the mainstream media continue to be deceitful about the travel ban and other presidential orders, Americans who heretofore have sat on the fence in regard to President Trump will start to slip down from that fence and sidle over to him in sympathy..."

A programming language breakthrough!

In honor of our team member Nandu , I have invented a new control structure: NON DO. Like many looping constructs like DO and DO… WHILE, it takes an argument saying how many times the loop should execute. But in this instance, the parameter tells NON DO how many times NOT to perform the code inside the loop body. So: NON DO (1)     print(”Hello world!”) Will not print “Hello world!” one time, while: NON DO(1000)     print(”Hello world!”) Won’t print “Hello world!” 1000 times. My original run-time analysis rigorously proved that this construct was of order Θ(1) run-time complexity (the proof is too long for the margin of this web site to hold!), but I incorporated a system call inside the loop conditional to sleep 1 / n milliseconds before not executing the loop body n times, and now it runs in O(1 / n), gifting computer scientists an example of an algorithm that executes in n -1 time.

Judging a book by its first letter

Several commenters have chastised me for "ignoring" the fact that Trump authorized a drone strike that apparently has killed at least one child. If that happened, I am truly sorry. That's not a good thing. However... let's go back to 2001. I will explain how I understand the just way to undertake military operations. Let us assume that the attribution of the 9/11 attacks to Osama bin Laden was correct. If so, I believe the US had to "go after" him militarily. What I would have done, had I been in charge, would have been to notify the Taliban, then the ruling power in Afghanistan, "We are sorry you've been occupied with civil war etc., and haven't been able to rid yourselves of bin Laden. But as such, we are going to have to violate your sovereignty in order to take him out ourselves. As long as you stay out of our way, we will leave you alone." This would be consistent with eliminating threats to Americans' safety, while not at

This Way to the Algorithm Museum Room!

Mind your hats goan in ! ( Reference : "This the way to the museyroom. Mind your hats goan in! Now yiz are in the Willingdone Museyroom.")