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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Friday, May 09, 2003

Weblogs Saved My Life!

Just the other day, I was marking a big pile of lab reports, and lamenting the fact that while I can recognize well-written English prose, I can't really give proper descriptions of a lot of common errors, nor can I really articulate the rules underlying some of the odder points of English. (Specifically, I was having trouble with the rules regarding articles (definite and otherwise) in English, and when it's ok to leave them out.) All I can do is say "That's not quite right," and provide an example of how I would have written it.

"What I need," I didn't actually think to myself, "Is a giant grammar website with detailed descriptions of all the major rules of grammar, and examples of how to apply them."

And lo! Teresa Nielsen Hayden provided just the link I was looking for...

I may be adding hyperlinks to the comments on the next round of labs...

Posted at 9:44 PM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Wanna Bet?

The recent silence in these parts is due to the fact that I had a big (electronic) stack of lab reports to grade so I can hand them back today, before we assign the next big lab report. Oh, joy.

Anyway, while I've been wallowing in the freakish misery of attempting to make constructive comments about page-and-a-half-long stream-of-consciousness "paragraphs," another tempest of pseudo-scandal has swirled through the "blogosphere" teapot. This one deals with Bill "Book of Virtues" Bennett's gambling problem.

This is another of those items where I find myself being glad that I've moved out of DC, and don't have to breathe whatever scandal-centric swamp gas it is that drives this stuff. I really like Josh Marshall's writing, but this is another of those big-inside-the-Beltway issues where he writes volumes (scroll down for more) about stuff that just doesn't seem anywhere near that level of importance.

Of course, as Brad DeLong notes, Bennett's defense that he's "about even" after years of playing $500 slots makes him either a liar, a twelve-step candidate, or the fabled Seven Sigma Event. Personally, I'd go for the middle option-- Bennett's comment smacks of "gambler's bookkeeping," where all the wins are counted, but most of the losses just...vanish-- but Brad's done the math to back up the claim, and provides a helpful link where you're supposed to be able to try it yourself (the applet didn't run on my creaky old computer...).

This all misses the point that there are jucier misdeeds in Bennett's past. It's well known that he attended my alma mater back in the early 60's, but slightly less well known is the fact that he played rugby in the early years of the club there. And I have firsthand experience of what a... virtuous lot the WRFC is... If you want something to use to annoy him (which, after all, seems to be the main purpose of all this), ask him about that.

(I should note for the record that I've never met the man, and don't have any sure knowledge of what his opinion of his rugby days is. I've heard from a couple of other people who have met him, and asked him about it (including one former club treasurer who sent him a fundraising letter), that it's not a topic he likes to talk about...)

(And while we're on the subject of fun Bill Bennett trivia, a friends of mine asked him (at an alumni reunion) about the rumor that he had a blind date with Janis Joplin. Apparently, this is true, and Bennett said that "she was a very interesting person, but we didn't really hit it off" or words to that effect.)

Posted at 8:09 AM | link | follow-ups | 9 comments

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Well, That Was Quick

Getting dinner at a local steak house before going to see the X-Men sequel, Kate and I caught the Kentucky Derby on tv. Which got me to thinking: Is there another event in all of sports that has such a high ratio of the time spend building up to the event to the time actually taken by the event? The run-up to the Derby takes weeks, and it got hours of live tv coverage yesterday, but the actual race takes only a couple of minutes.

The most obvious competitors would be sporting events that are intrinsically short-- the 100-meter dash, or a sumo bout-- but those tend to be embedded in larger events. The 100-meter dash takes less than ten seconds, but at any given meet, there are at least three or four qualifying heats before the championship, providing a full day's worth of races. A sumo bout that goes beyond the one-minute mark is an epic struggle, but sumo tournaments stretch over fourteen days.

There are occasional events that would rival major horse races in the hype-to-event time ratio, but they're not intrinsically short. Mike Tyson in his prime could do it, as a heavyweight fight gets scheduled months in advance, and he usually knocked people out in the first round, but a fight that lives up to its billing lasts for hours.

The other striking thing about the Derby (and the Preakness, and the Belmont) is that it's one race. This isn't like spending a random Saturday at the track, where they'll run a dozen races over the course of several hours. There's pomp and ceremony around the race, but they only run one, and it's over in minutes. One bad bowl of tailgate chili at the wrong time, or one too many mint juleps, and you've missed the whole show.

Posted at 12:01 PM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

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