Non-Computer

  • The Old New Thing

    The United States Team uniforms for the opening ceremony is rather hideous, and illegal, and a bit anachronistic

    • 26 Comments

    By the time you read this, the opening ceremony for a large sporting event organized by a lawsuit-happy organization may already have taken place. As part of the ceremony, the team representing the United States entered wearing ugly uniforms. They're so ugly that even the hideous Christmas sweater in your closet, the one with the reindeer and wreaths and candy canes, actually steps out, points, and laughs, saying "Ha ha, what an ugly sweater!"

    If you study the picture carefully, you will observe a number of things.

    First of all, the incorporation of the flag into the sweater pattern (and once in the pants) violates Title 4, Section 8, paragraphs(d) and (j) of the United States Code.¹

    (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. …

    (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. …

    Of course, this section of the United States Code is violated constantly because it specifies no penalty for violation. Therefore, you can break this law all you want; even if caught, there is no punishment. (Exception: Penalties are specified for violations within the District of Columbia. So the Olympic Team had better not wear those sweaters when they meet with the President. Actually, that's probably good advice anyway from a fashion standpoint, completely ignoring the legal angle.)

    But more interesting is that if you look closely at the picture, you might notice that the giant flag in the background has 48 stars on it, which means that this photo was taken some time between 1912 and 1959. I guess they've been working on this uniform for a long time. Either that, or they decided to kick Alaska and Hawaii off the team.

    (Actually, if you're kicking states off the flag for not being part of the team, then the flag should have only 39 stars because there is nobody from Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, or West Virginia.)

    ¹ There is disagreement over whether a flag pattern counts as a flag. Since there is no enforcement, it doesn't really matter, so work with me here. I'm going somewhere with this.

  • The Old New Thing

    The new research citation format, if students got to design it

    • 8 Comments

    References

    ¹ The Internets.
    ² Ibid.
    ³ Ibid.

  • The Old New Thing

    Why chicken wings dominate Super Bowl snack time

    • 13 Comments

    This upcoming Sunday is the biggest sports day of the year in the United States: The championship game for the professional American Football league. The entire country grinds to a halt.

    The most famous secondary effect of the game is the commercials. So many people watch the game that television advertisement costs are the highest for the Super Bowl, which means that companies will produce spectacular ads specifically for the Super Bowl, which means that more people watch the Super Bowl just for the ads.

    Another secondary effect of the Super Bowl is the spike in chicken wing sales. The United States chicken industry even issues an Annual Chicken Wing Report. NPR explains how the chicken wing became the dominant snack food for the Super Bowl.

    Bonus viewing: A Guide to American Football.

  • The Old New Thing

    The 2014/2015 Seattle Symphony subscription season at a glance

    • 8 Comments

    For many years, I've put together a little pocket guide to the Seattle Symphony subscription season for my symphony friends to help them decide which ticket package they want. For a few years now, we haven't ordered any tickets at all because we all have young children, but I still make this guide out of some sense of obligation.

    So here's the at-a-glance season guide for the 2014/2015 season anyway, again with no comments from me because nobody I know is going to use them to decide which tickets to order. Besides, you can probably preview nearly all of the pieces nowadays (minus the premieres) by searching on YouTube.

    Here is the official brochure for those who want to read the details, and you can see what The Seattle Times thinks of it.

    Week Program 21 13 7A
    7B
    7C
    7D
    7E
    7F
    7G 4A SU WG
    09/18
    2014
    Wagner: Die Meistersinger Overture
    Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1
    Dvořák: Symphony #7
                     
    09/25
    2014
    Dutilleux; Métaboles
    Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
    Dvořák: Symphony #8
                     
    10/02
    2014
    Dvořák: Bagatelles
    John Adams: Lollapalooza
    Korngold: Violin Concerto
    Dvořák: Symphony #9, "From the New World"

     
     
     

     
     
     
       
     
     
     
       
     


     
     
    10/30
    2014
    R. Strauss: Metamorphosen
    Mozart: Requiem
                     
    11/06
    2014
    Barber: Second Essay for Orchestra
    Esa-Pekka Salonen: Violin Concerto
    Tchaikovsky: Symphony #4
                     
    11/13
    2014
    Esteban Bezecry: Colors of the Southern Cross
    Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
    Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
                     
    11/20
    2014
    Boccherini: String Quintet in E major
    Rossini: The Barber of Seville Overture
    Respighi: Church Windows
    Beethoven: Symphony #6

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
           
     
     
     

     
    12/11
    2014
    Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijé Suite
    Mason Bates: Cello Concerto
    Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty excerpts
                     
    01/16
    2015
    Bach: Violin Concerto #2
    Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
    Beethoven: Symphony #3, "Eroica"
                     
    01/29
    2015
    Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #3
    Ives: Symphony #4
                     
    02/05
    2015
    Berlioz: Le Corsaire Overture
    Beethoven: Violin Concerto
    Debussy: Ibéria
    Ravel: La valse
                     
    02/12 Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17                  
    03/12
    2015
    Sibelius: Finlandia
    Sibelius: Symphony #1
    Sibelius: Symphony #2
                 

     
     
    03/19
    2015
    Sibelius: Symphony #3
    Sibelius: Violin Concerto
    Sibelius: Symphony #4
                     
    03/26
    2015
    Sibelius: Symphony #5
    Sibelius: Symphony #6
    Sibelius: Symphony #7
                     
    04/02
    2015
    Szymanowski: Concert Overture
    Chopin: Piano Concerto #2
    Prokofiev: Symphony #5
                 
     
     

     
    04/16
    2015
    Schnittke: Violin Concerto #4
    Shostakovich: Symphony #7, "Leningrad"
                     
    04/23
    2015
    Sebastian Currier: World Premiere
    Grieg: Piano Concerto
    Schumann: Symphony #2
                     
    04/30
    2015
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto #4
    Beethoven: Symphony #7
                     
    05/28
    2015
    Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture
    Borodin: Symphony #2
    Prokofiev: Cinderella excerpts
                     
    06/11
    2015
    Beethoven: Egmont Overture
    Julian Anderson: Violin Concerto
    Brahms: Symphony #1
                 
     

     
     
    06/18 Mahler: Symphony #3                  
    Week Program 21 13 7A
    7B
    7C
    7D
    7E
    7F
    7G 4A SU WG

    Legend:

    21Masterworks 21-concert series (Choice of Thursdays or Saturdays)
    13Masterworks 13-concert series (Choice of Thursdays or Saturdays)
    7AMasterworks 7-concert series A (Thursdays)
    7BMasterworks 7-concert series B (Saturdays)
    7CMasterworks 7-concert series C (Thursdays)
    7DMasterworks 7-concert series D (Saturdays)
    7EMasterworks 7-concert series E (Thursdays)
    7FMasterworks 7-concert series F (Saturdays)
    7GMasterworks 7-concert series G (Sunday afternoons)
    4AMasterworks 4-concert series A (Friday afternoons)
    SUSymphony Untuxed (Fridays, reduced program)
    WGWolfGang (Various evenings), see notes below

    For those not familiar with the Seattle Symphony ticket package line-ups: Most of the ticket packages are named Masterworks nX where n is the number is the number of concerts in the package, and the letter indicates which variation. Ticket packages have been combined if they are identical save for the day of the week. For example, 7C and 7D are the same concerts; the only difference is that 7C is for Thursday nights, while 7D is for Saturday nights.

    The WolfGang series is available only to members of the WolfGang club. It also includes one concert not listed in the chart above: The Movie Music of John Williams.

    This chart doesn't include concert series such as the Mozart Concertos or Distinguished Artists series which share no concerts with any of the Masterworks concerts.

    Notes and changes:

    • The 7[AB], 7[CD], and 7[EF] concert series do not overlap, so you can create your own 14-concert series by taking any two of them, or recreate the 21-concert series by taking all three.
    • The 13-concert series is the same as the 7[CD] and 7[EF] series combined, minus the November 13 concert.
    • The non-Masterworks series line-up has been tweaked. The Mozart series is now a concerto series, and there is a Sunday Untuxed series for families.
    • The Sunday Untuxed series squeezes out the the Behind the Score series, though there is a one-shot Behind the Score concert for Sibelius's Fifth Symphony.

    There are two festivals: Dvořák and Sibelius. Although there are no ticket packages specifically for the Dvořák or Sibelius concerts, tickets for the concerts are available individually so you can make your own festival.

    And this year, they made a promotional video.

  • The Old New Thing

    Jan-Keno Janssen decides to rent a bicycle to get around Las Vegas; this is what happens

    • 40 Comments

    Jan-Keno Janssen writes about technology for German computer magazine c't. He covered the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. And that means horrific traffic that turns a trip from the hotel to the convention center into an hour-long ordeal. But he had an idea: Everywhere he needs to go is within a five-kilometer radius. The terrain is flat. The weather is cold but nothing a coat can't handle. Solution: Rent a bicycle and use that to get around.

    This was not as simple as it sounds.

    Uneasy Rider: Radfahren in Las Vegas chronicles his absurd experience trying to execute on his simple plan, through the lack of comprehension, the blank stares, the offer of a mobility scooter, the hotel employees privately talking about the crazy European, the impossibility of finding a place to lock his bicycle, and a video of his triumphant bike ride. (Article is in German, which you should read if you can because the attitude may not survive translation. And because stories of the absurd naturally belong in German.)

    Maybe he should've asked this guy for tips.

    A friend of mine who is more clued in to the bicycling scene says that at Interbike, a bicycle conference held in Las Vegas, a common solution is to buy a cheap bicycle at a local big-box department store and abandon it at the end of the convention. Maybe he could try that next year. (If abandoning the bicycle offends his sensibilities, he could always donate it.)

    Bonus content: Here's my translation of the article into English.

    Uneasy Rider: Bicycling in Las Vegas

    Media coverage on bicycle? In Las Vegas? To Americans, this is about as absurd as using a jet-pack to get a loaf of bread. A report on my experiences at CES 2014.

    The traffic situation in Las Vegas at CES is a catastrophe. Whether by taxi, monorail, or bus, there are annoying queues of people everywhere. For six years in a row, I have tortured myself through the crowd of chaos to report on technology for c't and heise online, and every year, I think, "There must be another way."

    On the opening day of the conference, it can take an hour to get from the hotel to your next appointment. The distances to be bridged are fairly short: The convention takes place within a radius of about five kilometers, including hotels. A European doesn't have to think very long to come up with a way out of the interminable waiting: This year I will try to get to every appointment by bicycle, not handing over a cent for taxi or public transportation.

    This notion strikes an American as if you had said you wanted to take a jet-pack to get a loaf of bread. The reactions of the locals left no doubt about that. Before the conference, I sent a few messages to businesses which rent bicycles. That's right. Bike rental companies. They actually exist. However, they aren't what I had imagined: From the email replies I got back, I gathered that bicycles here are used exclusively for sport and exercise, not as a means of transportation.

    The customers of the bike rental companies drive up in their cars, toss in the rental bike, and drive off somewhere into the desert. As a result, I also was offered a high-tech mountain bike with full suspension for $100 a day. My relatively simple request (renting a simple bicycle with a light and lock for a week) seemed so absurd that the proprietor simply ignored it.

    Wheelchair instead of a bicycle

    Upon arriving in Vegas, I inquired at the hotel. The concierge of the MGM Grand can help with any request, or so it says in the brochure of the third-largest hotel in the world. But when I asked about renting a bicycle, I got the same story the bicycle rental gave me via email: You can rent expensive mountain bikes for desert riding.

    Me: I don't want to exercise. Just use the bicycle as a means of transportation. It is very practical, because at CES I have meetings all day in different hotels.

    Concierge: <blank stare>

    Me: It's so easy to bicycle here. Everything is flat!

    Concierge: You can rent a mobility scooter here in the hotel.

    Me: Isn't that intended for handicapped people?

    Concierge: Well yeah, but anyone can use them.

    Me: I would rather rent a bicycle.

    Concierge: Please wait a moment.

    The concierge called somebody on the phone. Unfortunately, I could not hear what he said, he had taken a few steps back and turned away from me. I could barely make out a few fragments of conversation. "European." "Crazy." As he turned back to me, he informed me that there is a bicycle shop named McGhie's "nearby". I could try my luck there. I knew about McGhies already. That was one of the businesses that didn't answer my emailed questions.

    Me: Okay, thanks. Assuming I can rent a bicycle, may I take it with me to my room? Or is there somewhere a place to park a bicycle? I haven't seen one.

    Concierge: Please wait a moment.

    And again he picked up the phone, turned away from me, and called somebody. The phone call lasted a very long time, but ended apparently with a positive result: Yes, I may take the bicycle to my room. But I was strongly advised against riding a bicycle in Las Vegas. It was far too dangerous. Aha.

    Okay, so off to McGhie. Apparently it is the closest bicycle shop to Las Vegas Boulevard (commonly called "The Strip", the location of pretty much all the city's hotels). Around 15 kilometers and taxi fare of over $50 later, I stood in a large store for mountain bikes and snowboards. And here too, people understood me only after prolonged attempts at explanation. The salesman asked if I really wanted to do it. He said it was very dangerous, lots of traffic, and furthermore the drivers are not accustomed to seeing bicyclists. I replied that I didn't have to go on the eight-lane Strip, but rather could take the smaller side streets.

    "This is America"

    Shaking his head, the salesman gave me a bicycle helmet, included in the price of $150 per week. 150 dollars? Yes, because McGhie doesn't rent simple street bicycles. The simplest model was a crossover bike from Trek. Does it at least come with a clip-on light and a lock? No. Our customers don't ask for lights, and we don't rent locks for insurance reasons. "This is America," the salesman insisted. And speaking of insurance: There wasn't any. If the bicycle got stolen, I would have to replace it. For $1250. I swallowed hard and bought myself a $50 lock and a few simple LED lights.

    Now the salesman wanted to know whether I had my own car or whether I would like the bicycle delivered to the hotel. When I answered that I just wanted to ride the bike to the hotel right now, I earned another shake of the head. "Good luck."

    Somewhat intimidated and slowed down by the thought that I'm about to do something forbidden, I head out. And then it happened: Nothing. It was pleasantly warm, little traffic, I could travel on the sidewalk most of the time. When the kitchily and bombastically-lit Strip emerged at dusk, I had for the first time the sense that my bicycle riding idea was maybe not so preposterous.

    This feeling held up until the next day. The ride from the MGM Hotel to the meeting at Mandalay Bay was admittedly trouble-free, but where the hell was I supposed to put this expensive bike? There were (obviously) no bike racks, and on top of that there was nothing I could chain the thing to. So I asked at the hotel lobby. There I was met with the usual skepticism, but they offered to store it in the baggage room. Good idea, great. So for the next few days, the baggage-room-as-bicycle-rack strategy worked great. Only at the LVH Hotel at the convention center, the very place I had to go most often, did the people in the baggage room put their foot down, even though the hotel was one of the official CES venues. I was not a hotel guest at all, and on top of that was some sort of problem with the insurance again. When I asked where I could store my bicycle, the answer was merely a shrug. Ultimately, with my CES press pass, tips, and tenacity, I finally succeeded.

    Fear and Cycling in Las Vegas

    After five days of putting the cycling plan into practice, the result is clear: The whole fear-mongering was unjustified. You can ride your bicycle in Las Vegas quite decently. There are the fewest problems on the side streets, the sidewalks are practically always free. (In Las Vegas, one travels by foot only in explicitly designated areas. Under no circumstances is this rule broken.) Now, on the large multi-lane roads like the Strip, riding requires considerable concentration because the drivers employ an, er, original driving style. But that also makes it rather enjoyable to whiz past the rows of cars by the Bellagio fountains, the Mirage volcano, and the neon signs.

    Also, you can see places where tourists and convention attendees rarely go, and for good reason: The mini-supermarkets beyond the Strip often sell groceries and drinks a full one third cheaper than at the kiosks of the hotel monopolists. In the stores away from the tourist stomping grounds, you meet the alcoholic and/or mentally ill people who were spit out by the glossy gaming industry. If you talk with the people here, you learn sad stories about the downsides of the American dream and a de facto non-existent social system.

    At one point, I also came to understand why the locals warned me about being stopped frequently by the police. Anyone not riding in a car is a priori a suspicious person, just like for example in Los Angeles. "Only the homeless ride bicycles in the city," I heard more than once. I cleared the police screening probably only because I was wearing a suit most of the time. Sad.

    The efficiency-loving Americans should at least see that you can save huge amounts of time with a bicycle. From the hotel to the convention center, for example, it took me only twenty minutes. At rush hour on the first day of the convention, it was easily an hour by taxi or monorail. That's what I told the man I met in the hotel elevator: He had seen plenty of things in Vegas, but a guy riding around the hotel hallways on a bicycle? Never. He acknowledged my story of the time savings with a shake of the head. Like I said, a jet pack probably would have confused him less.

    Photo captions

    1. Bicycling in Las Vegas: To a European, this sounds completely ordinary, but in practice, it requires a lot of discussion. But it's worth it because...
    2. ... during CES, a person on a bicycle is significantly faster than a car: In a car, you spend most of your time stuck in a traffic jam.
    3. If you go for the shuttle bus, first and foremost, you must wait...
    4. ... same goes for the taxi stands in front of the hotels.
    5. Here is the end of the taxi queue. From here to finally sitting in a taxi, it'll take up to an hour.
    6. With a bicycle, you simply ride past all the traffic chaos. However, since there are (almost) no parking facilities, you have to put the bicycle in your room. At least in the MGM Grand it's allowed.
    7. Not allowed is riding down the extremely long hallways. Purely theoretically speaking, one could save a lot of time by doing so.
    8. The elevators in the hotels are, fortunately, roomy enough. The bike came along with me without a problem. On top of that, it is a safe "conversation starter" in the small-talk-friendly USA.
    9. Although riding along the at-times eight-laned Las Vegas Boulevard falls into the category or "extreme sports", you can take a relaxing ride on the sidewalks of the quiet side streets. Also, the traffic is easy to negotiate here.
    10. Here, right at the beginning of Las Vegas Boulevard, at the famous sign, the traffic is not quite so relaxing. Two kilometers to the north, traffic gets confusing. (See videos.)

    Video caption

    First-person view of bike riding in Vegas: To get from the MGM to Treasure Island, you have to cross a number of overpasses and escalators. Logic would suggest otherwise. The video was designed by the Amsterdam multimedia artist Christopher Holloran.

  • The Old New Thing

    Commissioner Bud Selig was named the first recipient of the Commissioner Bud Selig Leadership Award

    • 12 Comments

    In what was sure to have been a stunning surprise, last night, the first annual Commissioner Bud Selig Leadership Award was given out. And the winner was... Allan H. "Bud" Selig!

    I wonder who will win next year.

    Or who will win the Bud Selig Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Perhaps just to save time, they will name Bud Selig the Bud Selig Leadership Award Recipient For Life.

  • The Old New Thing

    Hello Kitty takes a rather inefficient trip to the United States

    • 31 Comments

    In the book Hello Kitty Takes a Trip, the title character travels to New York, Florida, Vermont, and Hawaii, in that order.

    Now, sure, the Traveling Salesman Problem is NP-hard, but you're not even trying.

  • The Old New Thing

    The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome

    • 19 Comments

    I draw your attention to this research paper from Professor Mike Adams from Eastern Connecticut State University titled The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome, also published in The Annals of Improbable Research. In the paper, Adams investigates the phenomenon he summarizes as follows:

    A student's grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam than at any other time of the year.

    He takes twenty years of historical data and confirms the existence of the phenomenon, thereby drawing attention to an important but overlooked national health problem: Increased mortality of women with grandchildren in college during the weeks leading up to exams.

    • If there is no exam imminent, the death rate is independent of how well the student is doing in class.
    • As a midterm nears, the death rate goes up by a factor of ten. As a final looms, it goes up by a factor of 19.
    • The effect is strongly dependent on how well the student is doing in class. Grandmothers of students doing poorly are at much greater risk. A grandmother of a failing student is 50 times more likely to die in the week prior to a final than a grandmother of a top student when there is no examination imminent.
    • Grandmothers are 24 times more likely to die than grandfathers.
    • The effect is independent of family size.

    Adams develops theories which attempt to explain these phenomena and also has some proposals for addressing the effect.

    A follow-up study by professor Lee Jussim of Rutgers University examined ways of addressing this enormous danger posed to grandmothers. In A Preliminary Report on an Intervention Designed to Reduce Grandmother Death Resulting From College Exams, Jussim found a way to save the lives of 4 out of 5 grandmothers during the lead-up to exams: Inform students that the make-up exam will be brutally difficult.

    Bonus chatter: The articles are written tongue-in-cheek, but other less whimsical explanations for the observed behavior include

    • If a grandmother passes when no exam is imminent, the student will miss class without explanation.
    • Good students are less likely to ask for assistance with exams even if they lose a grandmother.
    • A student with an ill grandmother is more likely to have poor grades due to stress/worry.

    Note also that the predicted grandmother popular collapse did not come to pass. One theory is that this was prevented due to another phenomenon: Grade inflation.

  • The Old New Thing

    Excuses college students use for missing assignments

    • 28 Comments

    My father recently retired after over 40 years as a college professor. During that time, he has seen all sorts of lame excuses students offer for missing homework assignments. Eventually, he got tired of dealing with them, so he instituted the following homework policy:

    There are nine homework assignments in this class, broken into three groups of three. I will take the best score from each group and drop the other two. Therefore, you can turn in as few as three homework assignments and still get full credit for homework. Late homework will be graded so you can learn from your mistakes, but the score will not count. No exceptions.

    He then explains to the students his rationale for this homework policy:

    I have learned from my years of teaching that students are terrible drivers. Now, I know that you personally are probably an excellent driver, but trust me, your classmates are horrible. Every year, countless students come up to me and say, "I'm sorry, but I did not turn in my homework on time because I got into a car accident." I'm tired of dealing with all these excuses, so I'm going to save everybody the trouble of making them up. Whatever excuse you come up with, I accept it, and the score will not count towards the group. That way, you can get into two consecutive car accidents without penalty. If you somehow manage to get into three consecutive car accidents, then I think you have more important things to deal with than this class.

    One year, one of his students gave as an excuse for missing an examination, "My wife gave birth." This excuse may have garnered some sympathy if he hadn't used the exact same excuse three months earlier.

  • The Old New Thing

    There's no seating up there, so you just have to hang on for dear life

    • 5 Comments

    I dreamed that through a friend, I got to join a handful of other people atop Prince Charles's carriage as it wound its way through London. There was no seating up there, so you just have to hang on for dear life. When we reached Buckingham Palace, the assembled crowd and reporters swarmed the carriage for an opportunity to meet the Prince. This provided a sufficient diversion to allow us to climb down from the roof and sneak into the palace undetected.

    We've come to the end of the year, so that's all for Monday dream blogging. For those of you who hated it: You can uncover your eyes now.

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