Tuesday, October 17, 2017

a lesson learned too late

On Facebook, recently, I saw some discussion about a couple of professors I knew when I was in grad school at the University of Michigan. One of the professors discussed was M.S. Ramanujan, whom I had had. In that thread, I mentioned that I had my own Ramanujan story, but that I would post it on my blog. So, here it is.

But before I start, let me note that my father had taken a class with ramanujan when he was an undergrad at the UM. That's neither here nor there.

So, it was my first semester as a grad student, and I was taking a class in real analysis with Ramanujan. On the midterm, we were asked to prove disprove the following:
The set A union B is measurable if and only if both A and B are measurable.
We were allowed to assert without proof anything that had been proven in class.

My solution was simple: Let A be a nonmeasurable set of reals. Let B be A's complement. A union B is the set of reals, which is measurable. But neither A nor B is measurable. Therefore the statement is false. QED.

I only got half credit for my solution, which really angered me.

Professor Ramanujan argued that I got half credit because I only answered half the problem. Despite presenting the problem as one statement, he had intended it to be interpreted as two statements:
The set A union B is measurable if both A and B are measurable.
The set A union B is measurable only if both A and B are measurable.
I had proven that the second statement was false, but had not said anything about the first statement. Therefore I only got half credit. Ironically, the first statement is much simpler to handle, since we had proven it in class.

I argued with Professor Ramanujan that I should get full credit; he had presented the proposition as one statement and asked us to prove it or disprove it. I did so. His response was that, if I want to be a hardass about it, he's sure he could review my paper and find points to take off elsewhere. I dropped the argument.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about it. I was certainly right in at least one interpretation of events. Of course, as one of my classmates pointed out to me, in the name of elegance, I should have written into my answer something along the lines of "Of course, as proven in class, if A and B are both measurable, then their union is measurable."

But the bigger point that I didn't understand is that it didn't really matter. In high school and in undergrad, grades on tests were crucially important, as the final grade would be some well-defined average of scores and tests and homeworks. In grad school, the professors had much wider latitude to assign grades based on how well they felt the student knew the material. So the extra points for restating such a trivial result didn't really matter.

Live and learn.

baseball stoopidstats -- 2017 edition, number 4

In an earlier post -- "baseball stoopidstats -- 2017 edition, number 1" -- I presented the results of looking at the cumulative win totals and "games over .500" for every major league baseball franchise, as well as ranking the franchises by win total. In that one file I also grouped franchises by location and by state (or state-like entity).

I have now added to that file, including groupings of the teams by name. All franchises that were "Senators" are now grouped as one. Likewise, all "Orioles." But the "Angels" (1961-2004 and 2017) are separated from the "Angels of Anaheim." It wasn't a whole lot of work to add this to the file, since the data were already included in the file.

FWIW, the file is here.

A word on methodology is called for. In the early days, team nicknames weren't as clearly defined and official as they are now. As a result, there's some subjectivity. I did an end-run around all that by accepting baseball-reference.com's judgement. There have been 119 franchise nicjknames in baseball history, as compared to 115 franchises.

Here are a few fun facts, for what it's worth:

  • The name with the most wins is "Giants" (10,981).
  • Among team names that are now defunct, "Senators" has the most wins (5,330).
  • Among active team names that are part of the American League, "Athletics" is ahead (9,714).
  • Among active team names, the one with the fewest wins is "Rays" with 855.
  • In 2017:
    • "Rangers" passed "Padres" to move into 23rd place.
    • "Rockies" passed "Marlins" to move into 29th place.
    • "Rays" passed "Colonels" to move into 40th place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

eaten alive (cinema history class)

Session: Halloween Month / Fallen Filmmakers, week 2
Movie: Eaten Alive (1977)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Creepy weirdo runs a hotel in the swamp, and he feeds his guests to an alligator. Hilarity ensues.

Background and Reaction:
I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this one. It was incredibly claustrophobic, and fog was used to obscure the fact that it was filmed on a small set. But that just enhanced the atmosphere. Between that and the neon backgrounds, this felt like a Creepshow movie.

Neville Brand stole the show as the psychotic hotelier. Scary and comical at the same time, he looked like a demented chimpanzee as he watched his victims get eaten by the alligator. And Robert Englund, as Buck, was particularly amusing as well. Another high point came late in the film when Judd has a guest tied up in one room (but she's bouncing around loudly trying to escape), an amorous couple trying to have sex in another, and an escaped little girl crawling around under the house. As the camera alternates between the multiple scenes, it brilliantly captures the chaos and Judd's descent into madness. I enjoyed this so much that I didn't really notice that the plot was weak -- something that Joe pointed out in his comments.

Joe's criticism was spot on, and almost made me feel bad that he went before me. I was set to rate the film a 10, but his comments made me reconsider. There were, in point of fact, other reasons that I wasn't sure about the high rating. I've given very high marks to the last several films we saw, including 10s for both Deranged and The Hills Have Eyes. Can so many movies really be deservign of the highest grade? Does that devalue it? Eventually, despite my doubts I gave it that 10 because it was so much fun to watch.

I did question Joe's rating of 9.5. He said that he'll have to rewatch this; with subsequent vieings, his rating for it may go up, but will definitely not go down. From my perspective, keeping Bayes' Theorem in mind, it seems to me that that means he should rate it higher. If one of several events will occur, and his rating of the movie will be determined after that event, than the expected value of his rating is the weighted average of the possible values of the rating (weighted by their respective likelihoods). If Joe's rating will be 9.5 or higher (and the probability of it being higher is nonzero), then the expected value of his rating has to be greater than 9.5. I suppose one can argue that his rating of the movie now doesn't have to be the expected value of the rating he gives it after subsequen viewings. But that offends my probablistic aesthetics. Maybe I just need to get that pole out of my ass.

Anyway, this was another one of those movies that just got me really excited and into it. Yet it was comical enough to not really scare me.


Joe: 10 for the exploitation and 9 for the plot, averaging out to 9.5
Dave: 9.5-9.6
Sean: 4 out of 4
Rich: 6
Scott: 6.5
Me: 10
Ethan: 9


Eaten Alive passes the Bechdel test.

Tangentially-Related Anecdote:

Years ago, on a family roadtrip, we were trying to find a campground in Sopchoppy, Florida. It was the middle of the night and raining, and there wasn't a clear boundary between the campground and the home of its caretaker. In my confusion, I ended up driving all over the caretaker's yard. Once I realized that, I drove off and we stayed at a hotel -- fearful that the sherriff would show up and arrest me for vandalism.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

temptation, thy name is cake. and coffee. and ice cream...

Asher's birthday cake
My two weeks of diet hell are halfway done.

I haven't said much about it on the intertubes -- a couple of stray comments on Facebook, and nothing on this blog. No time like the present, I guess.

It's no secret that I like foods that are...less than healthful. And I weigh more than I should. For a couple months I've been seeing a personal trainer to make sure I exercise, but that doesn't really address my eating.

But a few weeks ago she suggested a two-week "cleanse" diet. Sort of a reset. I was skeptical, though I will admit that it made sense to at least try. I gave a noncomital answer -- she can give me the details of the diet, but I make no promises about whether I'll do it. Last week I made the mistake of talking to her about it near the end of our session. Without going into the details, the essence is no highly processed foods, no dairy, sugar or wheat.

I was giving my usual "maybe I'll try it at some point" response, But Blair joined the conversation and encouraged me to try it. So by the time the trainer left, I was on a restrictive diet for two weeks.

My sushi. I should have taken the picture before I ate some of the
salmon and yellowtail
In some ways, it's not as bad as I was fearing. I'm not starving, and I do like eggs. Ethan has been making a lot of chicken for me -- marinaded in olive oil and cayenne pepper. And the trainer has been happy to answer texts when I have questions. Actually, she's been very tolerant when I send her stupid emails. At the supermarket, we saw a package of "superfruit" flavored jelly beans. I texted to ask if it was OK -- beans and fruit are both allowable, so why not this?

But the temptations are the hardest part. Ethan and I have our film class on Thursdays. Last week, Keith (who runs the class) put a big bowl of pretzels out. They were right next to me. I love pretzels -- left to my own devices, I could have eaten the whole bowl. But I managed not to take any. And last Saturday, when we were at an event for veterans, there was a huge hero sandwich that looked really good. And, of course, any work function. 

The biggest temptation was on Sunday, because it was Asher's birthday. That meant dinner out and a cake. We ended up with a Japanese restaurant, since I could have sushi and sashimi.** But there's no way around the cake. A beautiful chocolate mousse cake. And I stood and sang "Happy Birthday" with the family and watched as pieces were cut for everyone but me.

And what will I do when it's over? Honestly, I don't know. Part of me is thinking that if I got this far I can keep going. But, of course, part of what got me this far is the knowledge that it will end. It's easier to not have sandwiches when I know that I'll be able to have them again soon. The idea isn't to stay this restrictive forever. If I can control myself, I'll be eating a bit better after these two weeks are over than I was before.

But, God, do I miss pastrami.

*With the exception of the sugar that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables

**In case you're interested, we ended up at Ginza in Massapequa. It was very good. Very fresh, which is of the utmost importance when you're talking about raw fish. Ethan, in particular, was wary. Among us he's the most finicky about food quality, but he really liked it. I can't recommend this place highly enough.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


We spent last Saturday in Connecticut at a veterans event in Connecticut, representing Stack-Up at the Cove Island Retreat for veterans. The event was the brainchild of Daniel Karger who wants to support veterans with PTSD. The event was run by LZ 4 Vets (Landing Zone for Vets, that is). My understanding is that LZ 4 Vets will have its own website soon, but in the meantime they are represented here.
James Sparrow

The event largely consisted of lunch in the park, with live music. Karger explained to me that he wants the vets -- particularly those with PTSD to have things to do, to know that there are people who care and places to turn. He's hoping that this will be an annual event. We were there representing Stack-Up, handing out information and giving swag to anyone who could do thirty pushups in one minute.

I think the most moving part of the day was when James Sparrow read a poem he wrote called "Names." I can't do it justice, so I am reproducing it here (with his permission).

In the season of the fall
We rendezvoused in 82
In the city Of the commander in chief
For a week long   A quarter million strong
 Some came silently and solo
 Others came with Fanfare And entire families
 It was to be the great gathering! This time we would be heard!
 And we would march in the streets!
 It belonged to us--That city--That week
 Many came still whole and still very strong
 Others came weak from fierce firefights Far off the battlefield!
 Some came missing an arm--a leg--an eye Paralyzed!!
 We came to honor Those--who marched in our ranks no longer
 We would bury our dead With dignity
In Per-pe-tu-i-ty
 A Chevron--500 feet long
A monumental black granite  Memorial Etched--with the names of those who now patrolled with that huge army in the heavens Names!!--57,939
This would be the shield! That we bore their bodies home on As befitting the warriors they were
 We came to see--hear--touch--The Names
 We came in tight fitting uniforms--Faded field jackets-- 3 piece suits
 We came from the big cities and the small towns We came from the low valleys and the mountains We came from the farm lands--the range lands--the wood lands
 We came with long hair--short hair--clean shaven--bearded
 No longer did we look the same as we had when we talked the talk! and walked the walk! Up all night--in fancy hotel bars Intricate handshakes That dazzled the eye and ear.
  Laughin--cryin--huggin--kissin Crowed conversations clutter the air “Semper Fi” “Airborne all the way” “Anyone here served with 3/7 in 67” “Hey Remember me?” First Cav right here “Man, am I glad you made it back, all this time I thought you got zapped!” “What happened after I rotated?” “Did short round make it back?” Glasses clink, with arms held high . A midnight toast “Here’s to the best there ever was, and those of us that are left”.
 We were still young but old beyond our years for we had walked in the footsteps of giants
 Now we gathered--to see--hear--touch--The Names! To dedicate--consecrate-- Our name ladened marble memorial.
 For 3 days before A vigil we held by the light of candles In the National Cathedral From the altar Read aloud Names--57,939 More then 100 of us read the Names Friends and family members from thousands of miles away.
  They came to hear the names The name of a buddy--brother--lover--son--husband It was my turn In the evening of the second day To read aloud names Every pew--full Standing room only A solemn task I knelt on the altar A velet pillow--beneath my knees A sea of faces--asembled before me.
 Names 523 names I read aloud. The first was Kosakowski, Gerald A. The last was Lahna, Gary W. I read a name and receive a reaction from soft murmurs to hysterical pain I became those names all 523 Koo-he-e-nooe, Moses I. Kos-ko-vich, Michael L. LaChance--LaChapelle--LaClear--LaFlair LaRosa--Lackey--Lackland--Labowski--Lafferty I read 2 Lafayettes--3 Kowalskis--7 Laceys 7 Krafts--10 Kruegers And 12 Kramers Arthur-Dennis-Douglas-Howard-James-John- Joseph-Kevin-Leon-Ray Ámond-Robert and Stephen Kramer!!
 Each Name opening wide the mind’s eye of memory Of who they were and who they could have been A man in a wheelchair Medal of Honor gracing his neck. Weeped.With the sound of some names Flowers were dropped at my knees Mothers kissed me Fathers touched me Sisters and lovers hugged me Brothers and buddies--shook me
  Names Kranz Jr., William F. His Mother stopped me When she heard his name Tears in her eyes--with a simple request My signiture next to his name I humbly oblige Teardrops from hundreds of eyes Tug at my soul My mind is flooded with the pain of so many Names My knees ache My body shakes--finished!! I need a hand --just to stand
  At week’s end We walk in the sun Marching along together again Thousands of feet hitting the pavement not in unison at all The same feet that waded the paddies in Que Son and climbed the hills in the central highlands The same feet that clamored out of choppers  And the same such feet that flew those birds and drove those trucks and built those bridges and stood endless watch against the terror of the night
  Short timers canes little American flags  Held high in the hand Sons and daughters perched high on shoulders that once bore the burden
 Chanting!!--Shouting!! while feet strode down the avenue “I don’t know--but I been told Streets in haven--are paved with gold” “Vietnam Vet and damn proud!!” “Pick up your head and hold it high 5th Marines are passing by” “Big red one!”-- “Tropic Lighting!” G.I. beans--GI gravy G I wish I joined the Navy “God Bless America” 7 “I know a girl who lives on the hill She won’t kiss me but her sister will” “Sound off--1-2--Sound off--3-4 Bring it on down 1-2-3-4 1-2--3-4”
  A high school band plays When Johnny comes marching home again--hoo ra--hoo ra A Parade--of emotions down Constitution Ave.--to the end of the mall Where our Wall--Mirrores reflections And contains the Names
 Boat people--Refugees--Vietnamese Line the top of the wall A banner in hand--Proclaming brightly “Thank you, Vietnam Veterans for Defending Freedom and Democracy” Speechless dignataries give speeches “An overdue tribute to those who performed well in the most trying of circumstances”
  We!! came to bury our dead with dignity in Per-pe-tu-i-ty We!! Need no tribute we know who we are . We!! Are the men of Bedford--Exeter--Warwick-- Talbot--Salisbury and Gloucester That fought alongside Harry the King Upon Saint Crispin’s Day We!! Are that same band of brothers That stood defiantly at Lexington!! Conquered the Argonne!! Sweated on the “Canal”!! Chilled to the bone in the “Bulge”!! And Froze in the reservoir know as Chosin!! Speeches!!
 We listen standing--pressed together elbow to elbow asshole to
  belly button We are one!! Our souls--stitched tightly together with the thick twine of shared experience We dedicate in a moment of silence then a surging forth in a search for names It’s done--it’s there for all the world to see--hear--touch The Names 57,939