Wednesday, November 30, 2011

at the TEF blog: getting unstuck

For people with writer's block.


Ave, Sean!

I'm proud to announce that my brother Sean, who's one of the founding members of his chamber group CounterPoint, has sent out the official invite to see his group's newest performance: Audio Warhol, in honor of the man himself. Here's the flyer I received today; if you're in the DC/Metro area, I hope you'll consider swinging by the performance, which has been designed as a merry auditory version of Warhol's visuals.

If I remember correctly, the group's performance is supposed to be an ongoing, almost atmospheric thing: you aren't necessarily supposed to stand there watching the players for two hours. You can walk around the museum, come back, take note of the weirdly shifting situation, and try to figure out how the sounds are analogous to Warhol's work (think: pop culture references, repetitive tropes, etc.).

Alas, it appears the performance will be happening right as I'm working (9 to 5 on Saturdays). For the rest of you, though, here's the newsletter that came with the above image:

Dear Friends,

We hope that you will join us to experience CounterPoint! Please see the invitation below for more information regarding our upcoming performance.

CounterPoint and DJ Cutlet are excited to present AUDIO WARHOL, a musical/multimedia event inspired by the work of Andy Warhol. Based on Terry Riley’s minimalist work In C, it features string musicians, actors, and a DJ.

We hope you will be able to join!

WHERE: National Gallery of Art, East Building
WHEN: Saturday, December 10 -- Repeated Performances will take place between 3:30pm and 5:00pm

Thank You!

Go and take in some meta-art!


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

a study in contrasts

Aaron "I Don't Trust a Theist Candidate" McKenzie versus JS "Atheists Are Cheats and Liars" Allen.

I love-- and am very proud of-- my variegated blogroll.


this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem

From here:

This Week's Problem: "Friends Of Friends Of Friends"


Joseph has 8 friends. Some of these 8 friends know each other, as follows: Mary knows Dave and Edgar, who also know each other. Edgar, in addition to knowing Mary, knows Lea, Juan, and Greg, none of whom know each other. If Joseph would like to introduce each of his friends to all of his other friends whom that friend does not already know, how many introductions will Joseph have to make?


(A) 2
(B) 10
(C) 22
(D) 28
(E) 58

Good Christ, this looks like one of those permutations/combinations problems. I hate those. My answer will eventually appear in the comments, so stay tuned. Meantime, feel free to offer your own solutions (but please show your work).


MGRE's solution to last week's Math Beast Challenge

Remember last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem?

The answer is indeed B, so I would have gotten it right, but according to the answer write-up, the amount of $173.40 is correct-- it's not $173.13. Personally, I'm not so sure, even after having read MGRE's explanation. But you decide: here's what they had to say.


An online bank verifies customers’ ownership of external bank accounts by making both a small deposit and a small debit from each customer’s external account, and asking the customer to verify the amounts. In 70% of these exchanges, the deposit and debit are within two cents of one another (for example, a deposit of $0.18 and a debit of $0.16, or a deposit of $0.37 and a debit of $0.38), and the deposit and debit are always within five cents of one another. During one week, the online bank attempts to verify 6,000 accounts in this manner, but 0.5% of the transactions do not go through, and thus no money is transferred. What is the maximum amount, in dollars, that the account verification system could have cost the bank that week?

(A) $165.30
(B) $173.40
(C) $174
(D) $256.71
(E) $258


This is just a very lengthy problem that requires careful reading and note taking.

Of 6,000 accounts, 70% have deposits and debits 2 cents apart, and the other 30% have deposits “within 5 cents” (but not within 2 cents), and thus are 3-5 cents apart. So:

4,200 are 1-2 cents apart
1,800 are 3-5 cents apart

0.5% (that’s one-half of one percent) of 6,000 attempts do not go through, so:

30 do not go through
5,970 do go through

We are not told how many of the 30 failed attempts were in the 1-2 cents apart category and how many were in the 3-5 cents apart category. However, we are trying to MAXIMIZE the bank’s cost, so we’re going to finish this problem by presuming the worst possible scenarios for the bank. To maximize the loss, presume that:

• All the (2-5 cent) differences are in the customer’s favor
• All the costs are as large as possible (so the 1-2 cent ones are all 2 cents, and the 3-5 cent ones are all 5 cents)
• The 30 accounts that did not go through were the two-cent ones (that way we can maximize the 5-cent losses)

Thus, we WOULD have had:

4,200 2 cent losses
1,800 5 cent losses

...except for the 30 exchanges that didn’t go through. Again, to maximize the bank’s loss, let’s assume that the 30 that didn’t go through were 2-cent losses. Therefore:

4,170 2 cent losses = $83.40
1,800 5 cent losses = $90

$83.40 + $90 = $173.40

The correct answer is B.

While the explanation sounds plausible, I don't agree with the idea that the failed transactions should be counted as losses. I don't see this implied anywhere in the problem, which to my mind makes MGRE's assumption unwarranted. As a practical matter, though, that's just a quibble because my own reckoning puts me in the proper ballpark. I agree with the MGRE gurus that (B) is the best answer of the bunch.


over at the TEF blog

On mastering the GRE Analytical Writing section.


Monday, November 28, 2011


Regarding that refund check I wrote about earlier:

I only just noticed that the accompanying bill says "FINAL UTILITY BILL" on it. I imagine this is the "final" bill because it's the last bill for my first one-year rental term, and any leftover money can't be carried over. That explains much. So in actuality, I'm not off the hook for either December or January: those bills will be considered the first two bills of a new one-year cycle. This explains why the town didn't simply carry over my money: they're not allowed to do that from one contract period to the next.


Impervious Bird: a poem (redux, redraft)

ten times ten birds
upon a wire
Yahweh looks down
with eyes of fire

points a finger
shouts, HEE HEE!
and blasts the birds
with hellish glee

ninety-nine birds
burst with a caw
the last bird laughs:

now God, he frowns
he points anew

he fires a bolt
it sears the sky
and hits the bird
square in the eye

the bird just laughs
absorbs the hit
HA HA, it shouts

God ain't happy
he's damn disturbed
the bird sits there
quite unperturbed

screams wrathful God

good as his word
God blasts again
his boundless wrath
beyond our ken

he fires and fires
the lightning flies
and through it all
we hear God's cries


and with each blast
the bird inflates
'til it's as big
as Heaven's gates

and with each strike
the bird does scoff

so to this day
the fight goes on
God and bird 'til
the eschaton


the refund

The town where I live has sent me a refund check for $107.88 because they over-billed me for electricity. This is strange; I've deliberately overpaid the town before, and it has usually credited the extra funds to the following month's bill. But not this time: instead of giving me a January freebie, the town has sent back the extra money as a refund. Since I owe around $180 in property taxes (I started 2011 with one car and ended up with another, so I've got taxes on both), I'll be putting this refund toward that.

Life is weird sometimes. Or in my case, it's weird pretty often. This has, in fact, been a very strange life thus far.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

quiet day at work

Most of our center's kids chose to stay home for the long weekend, so I had very few students today, but at least I was there for a full eight hours (with thanks to our supervisor, who spread the kids thinly so we could all work).

Am currently digesting a large dinner. More later, when I'm able to think straight.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ave, GI Korea!

GI Korea, over at ROK Drop, has put up a very nice photo essay about a recent visit to Songgwang-sa, one of the "Three Jewels" Zen temples in Korea. Dr. Robert Buswell of UCLA, author of many books and articles on Korean Buddhism, trained at Songgwang-sa and lived there for several years. His insider's book on life at the temple, The Zen Monastic Experience, is a must-read for people interested in Korean-style Seon (Zen) Buddhism.

In Buddhist terminology, the Three Jewels (Sam-bo in Sino-Korean) are the Buddha (the Teacher), the Dharma (the Teaching), and the Sangha (the monastic community, but now widely interpreted to mean all practitioners/adherents of Buddhism, and sometimes interpreted even more cosmically than that). In Korea, Tongdo-sa, which possesses some of Shakyamuni's relics, represents the Buddha; Haein-sa, thanks to an extensive library that includes the Tripitaka Koreana, represents the Dharma; Songgwang-sa, known as a major center of monastic training, represents the Sangha.

One of GI Korea's impressive photos shows the famous monk Wonhyo at the moment he encounters the skull that he'd thought was a bowl.


apologies to Hahna

No pics of yesterday's meal, alas; by the time we tucked in at 5PM, the light was waning, and my living room light is too weak for a good photo. But the menu was:


lame baguette from Food Lion
Wegmans triple-creme Brie (far too awesome for that baguette)
Wegmans Alpine cheese (courtesy of Dr. Steve)
chocolate-covered marzipan (courtesy of Dr. Steve-- more on this in a moment)


Gosling's All Natural Ginger Beer (courtesy of Dr. Steve)


stuffing (cornbread, corn, and sausage)
carrot and raisin salad
mashed potatoes (cream, cream cheese, butter, light herbs and seasonings)
honey-baked sweet potatoes (Food Network recipe-- from crazy-eyed Ellie Krieger)
cranberry sauce (homemade)


Wegmans apple pie (also courtesy of Dr. Steve)


a can of Chinese eel (!!)
Wegmans Australian-style Red Twists (better than regular Twizzlers)
Hapi brand hot wasabi peas
Landsberg Hazelnut Chocolate Spread
Wegmans Cranberry Walnut Loaf
Old Dominion Butter Peanut Crunch (i.e., peanut brittle)
Wegmans Classic Entertainment Crackers (butter-crackers-- amazing)
Wegmans Jumbo Roasted Cashews

(all the above courtesy of... you know)

And now a story. It goes like this:

Dr. Steve arrives on Thanksgiving afternoon and unpacks this monstrous load of food. A portion of it is going to his aunt, whom he's visiting the following day, but he wants the bulk of the food to remain here with me. He unloads item after item, and at one point he pulls out this foil-wrapped, dildo-shaped object and claims it's "chocolate-covered Marmite." My mind is going Whafuck? but I roll with it, thinking this must be some perverse item you can only find at Wegmans. We start snacking on the baguette and cheeses; Dr. Steve asks whether I want to try any of his licorice; I say, "No, but I think I want to try that chocolate-covered Marmite first because I don't want to end dinner on a nasty note." Dr. Steve's a good sport and he laughs; he opens the chocolate package up and it still looks like a dildo. I take a knife and stare at the dildo as if it represented the greatest challenge I've ever faced-- and truth be told, I'm really not looking forward to eating Marmite-- let alone chocolate-covered Marmite.

"I've never seen you get so worked up about a food item," Dr. Steve observes with wry amusement.

I cut into the object...

...and the first thing I notice is that this isn't Marmite: it's off-white and is the consistency of...

"This looks like marzipan," I say.

Dr. Steve goes, "Oh, right-- that's what it is!"

All that drama for nothing.

What I learn from this is that I can trust my buddy when I need an explanation of the murkier aspects of poststructuralism, but I should fact-check everything he says about food.


Friday, November 25, 2011

fear us!

Those Occupy protestors are a force to be reckoned with:


chocolate pig

Mad rush as I prep, but here are the promised photos of my attempt at making chocolate bacon truffles. It wasn't a bad first try.

It turned out that three minutes and twenty seconds was just the right amount of time to produce crispy roulades of bacon. What you see above is two pieces of thick-cut bacon, snipped in half to produce four spirals.

The initial coating process, with maple syrup and butter, made me want to eat the bacon pieces even before they'd been coated in chocolate. Once I had coated the bacon pieces, I placed them in the freezer for a few minutes to re-harden the chocolate, which was just standard, semi-sweet chocolate chips.

In terms of mouth feel, these were legitimate truffles, but the bacon lost some of its crispiness in the maple/butter soaking process. Next time around, I'm going to spoon the solution into the middle of the bacon so that the outside will remain crispier. I also think I need to spruce up the chocolate itself, perhaps by adding some Lindor truffles to the mix to produce a tastier coating.

Still-- not a bad first effort. Such truffles are easy to make, as it turns out; they simply take a bit of time due to the cool-down, the drainage, the soaking and re-drainage, and the few minutes of post-coating freezer time.

Righto-- mad prep in progress. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Thursday, November 24, 2011


News of a Russian anchorwoman who flipped Praesidyent Obama the bird on Russian TV earlier this month is now making the mainstream rounds. I suspect, however, that the lady's words and gestures were radically misinterpreted by those seeking to undermine US-Russian relations. A proper translation of the awkward moment is shown below:


I've got pictures

I took some pics of last night's bacon truffle experiment, and will post them tonight if I can. They came out surprisingly well, but there are things I'd do differently. More on that once the pics are posted.


death of the dragon lady

I just saw the news that fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey, whose stories about dragons and dragon-riders dominated bookstore shelves in my 1980s-era youth, has mounted her own ethereal dragon and flown off to a different plane of existence. I never read a single one of her books (about the only female SFF writer I read back then was Madeleine L'Engle), but I recall being fascinated by both the titles and the cover art.

Tributes to McCaffrey have sprung up over the past few hours and are now legion; simply Google to find them. Even as a non-reader, I think it's safe to say she had a major hand in shaping the fantasy writing of today.

I wonder whether she ever wrote about East Asian-style dragons (see here and, more recently, here).


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Two good reads on the failure of reason in Korean culture:

Gord Sellar: A Society Without Debate

Aaron McKenzie: Politics: The Concentration of Animosities

As I'm now reading Jules Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (a.k.a. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) for the first time, I find this quote from the book apropos:

A quoi bon discuter une proposition semblable, quand la force peut détruire les meilleurs arguments.


on reading and taking notes

At the TEF blog.


bacon truffle report: preliminary

I'm behind schedule on this, but what's new, right?

About an hour ago, I used two slices of thick-cut bacon to determine whether they could be microwaved to appropriate crispiness. With standard-cut bacon, you normally need about a minute or so per slice to achieve desired crisposity; I rolled up two thick slices around a bamboo skewer and set the 'wave for 2:30. This proved inadequate: the bacon was done (and edible-- mmmm), but not nearly crispy enough. Later tonight, once I'm home from work, I'll try again, perhaps going for 3:30. I'm hoping that an extra minute of 'waving will be perfect and won't carbonize the pig. We'll see. If I succeed, the next step will be to let the bacon sit, then drench it in a maple/butter combination, then let it sit again before finally covering it in chocolate and perhaps adding some sort of topping.

Another thing I learned is that, while the bacon does shrink on the skewer and does retain its spiral shape (I had worried about sizzle-induced partial unspooling; my fears proved groundless), it ends up looking like a football-- a pigskin, if you will. This may actually be a good thing: from now on, I'll be slicing the cooked bacon in half (assuming crispy bacon can slice; I may need to slice earlier in the cooking process) in order to have truffles with the proper dimensions. Slicing will also serve to open the spirals by offering a cross-section view; the maple/butter mixture will have no trouble draining into that.

More later. Possibly with pictures.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Seeing these two videos in rapid succession makes for weird mental echoes.



My thanks to ZenKimichi's Twitter feed and Dave Trowbridge's Twitter feed.


this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge

From MGRE:

This Week's Problem: "Modern Banking"


An online bank verifies customers’ ownership of external bank accounts by making both a small deposit and a small debit from each customer’s external account, and asking the customer to verify the amounts. In 70% of these exchanges, the deposit and debit are within two cents of one another (for example, a deposit of $0.18 and a debit of $0.16, or a deposit of $0.37 and a debit of $0.38), and the deposit and debit are always within five cents of one another. During one week, the online bank attempts to verify 6,000 accounts in this manner, but 0.5% of the transactions do not go through, and thus no money is transferred. What is the maximum amount, in dollars, that the account verification system could have cost the bank that week?


(A) $165.30
(B) $173.40
(C) $174
(D) $256.71
(E) $258

Go to it. My answer will eventually appear in the comments, although another commenter's answer might appear there first. One remark before I go, though: that's got to be a pretty weird bank if the debit doesn't exactly match the deposit. I certainly wouldn't let any agency take two cents out of my bank account merely to verify that the account is mine!


TOEFL listening skills

On the TEF blog: sharpening your TOEFL Listening skills.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Elisson gets it

The answer to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem was indeed (E). MGRE's explanation:

First, let’s note that choice (A) is a pretty transparent trap. Increasing by x% and then by 2x% is not equal to increasing by 3x%, since the x and 2x are percents of different numbers (2007’s and 2008’s year-end populations). Similarly, the decrease needed to return to the original percent will be a percent decrease off a third number – the population at the end of 2009. So, 3x is an obvious trap based on a serious misunderstanding of percent change.

This problem is best solved by plugging in numbers! For example, let’s make x% equal to 50% and the original (end of 2007) population equal to 100.

If x = 50,
end of 2007: 100
end of 2008: 150
end of 2009: 300
end of 2010: 100

For Peopletown’s population to have gone back to the original 2007 levels at the end of 2010, it must have decreased 66.67% in 2010. Thus, plug in 50 for x and see which answer yields 66.67 (feel free to use your calculator):

(A) 3x = 150
(B) (100 + 50)(100 + 100)/100 = 300
(C) 1 – [100/(150)(200)] = 0.996
(D) 100 – [10,000/(50)(0)] = can’t divide by zero!
(E) 100 – [1,000,000/(150)(200)] = 66.67 (any slight discrepancy is just due to rounding off repeating decimals)

The correct answer is E.

MGRE's explanation goes on at some length to demonstrate the algebra behind the problem, but that explanation ends this way: "The answer is E, of course. But almost no one can do this in the time limits allotted, which is why we strongly suggest plugging in numbers. x = 50 was a very good example, since taking 50% of any number is pretty easy."

The brute-force "plug-and-play" strategy is something we also provisionally recommend at my place of work, if the situation warrants it.


what occupies me this weekend

I've got more proofreading work from Korea-- another 19-page paper plus a CV and Statement of Purpose, all adding up to over 5600 words, or somewhere close to $500. I've already worked on the CV and the statement, so all that's left is the research paper. I've got until the end of the month to deliver a proofed copy.

I'm also prepping for Thanksgiving. Like last year, it's going to be a quiet one; my brothers have their own plans, and I've got mine. One of my very best buddies will be coming over, and we'll be stuffing our faces with the standard Thanksgiving fare: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc. Chocolate bacon truffles might make an appearance, too; I'm experimenting tonight.

How about you? What are your plans?


Ave, Bill and Malcolm!

Malcolm's exchange with Dr. V on a "mysterian" view of the nature of consciousness is worth a read here. Those who've followed this sort of debate will see the same familiar issues popping up in this discussion. I lean more toward Malcolm's side than toward Dr. V's; also, like Daniel Dennett, I scoff at the mysterian view, which basically abandons the possibility that we will ever know the nature of consciousness. I tend to think this is a soluble problem, but that the solution will require some serious re-paradigming in our thinking before we can grasp it.

Be sure to read Malcolm's reply to Dr. V in the comments section of that post.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

proofreading and editing!

With rates and package deals: here.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ebert still has it

I have no interest at all in the Twilight saga, but I enjoyed Roger Ebert's arch review of the latest Robert Pattinson/Kristen Bell outing. Some excerpts:

Yes, the most eagerly awaited deflowering in recent movie history takes place entirely off-screen. That something momentous took place is indicated 14 days after the wedding ceremony, when Bella (Kristen Stewart) urps in the morning and discovers she is pregnant. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) may have been dead for more than a century, but he's still producing industrial-strength sperm. Can humans and vampires mate? What's the blood chemistry on that? What will be in the wee one's bottle? Milk, or the unthinkable?


Back again is Bella's best friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who you recall is now a shape-shifter who turns into a wolf. Enraged by Bella's pregnancy, he summons his pack. The wolves, it must be said, are underwhelming as a pack. They become huge ferocious beasts with sharp fangs, and hurtle at top speed through the forest, and… well, that's about it. They're always hurtling somewhere. Hurtle, hurtle.

Ebert's review has succeeded in confirming my apathy.


"Mankind was my business!"

This evening, I'm going out to see "A Christmas Carol" performed by a local high school drama troupe. Two of my YB students are in the play, so I'm showing a bit of support and hoping to enjoy myself. It's been years since I've seen any sort of theatrical production, despite my love of good theater. Last night was opening night; I couldn't attend because I was teaching. I wouldn't have attended, anyway: as I know from my own acting experience, the first performance of most plays is usually marked by a series of gaffes-- missed cues, forgotten lines, etc.-- all due to opening-night jitters. Performances tend to smooth out after that... until the final day of the play's run. By that point, the cast is sick of the play and ready to get on with life; the resultant inattentiveness can give rise to the same kinds of mistakes one would see on opening night, but with none of that night's uptightness: the players are simply trying to get the whole thing over with so they can rush to the after-party.

So tonight, the cast's second performance, ought to be quite good. And even if the kids make some mistakes, I'm sure I'll enjoy this latest incarnation of Dickens's classic.


Friday, November 18, 2011

religious attitudes

Those who know this blog are already familiar with the typology on display at the TEF blog.


bloody hell!


Thursday, November 17, 2011



stuff that sucks

It sucks to discover, belatedly, that you've had a booger hanging out of your left nostril for who-knows-how-long, and that the knot of your tie has slipped way over to one side for no good reason. Students are often afraid to tell the teacher that he's not looking his best.


over at TEF

It's English Day at the TEF blog, and I've got two posts up: on dangling and misplaced modifiers here, and on etymology here.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

fascinating, fearful mystery


Wrap slice of bacon around toothpick, microwave to crispiness, drain of fat, allow to cool.

Remove toothpick from crispy bacon spiral.

Dip spiral in butter/maple syrup combination.

Let sit, so that syrup and butter penetrate spiral's interior.

Dip whole mess in fine chocolate to create truffle.

Before chocolate hardens completely, roll spiral in mixture of bacon and bread crumbs, or just coat top of truffle this way.

Let sit. Depending on chocolate, chill if necessary for hardening.

Break out and eat.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem

My answer will appear in the comments, but right now I have to make some cole slaw. Respect the cabbage.


solution to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge

I got last week's MGRE MBC problem correct. Here's MGRE's explanation, which is much more detailed (a good thing!) than mine.


the European financial crisis: a French perspective

I wrote my buddy Dominique the other day, and wanted to know his opinion regarding the European financial crisis:

Ici, on suit l'actualité économique en Europe, avec tout ce qui se passe entre Sarko et Merkel, aussi bien que la Grèce et l'Italie. Qu'en penses-tu? Il y a des rumeurs qu'il faudra peut-être ficher quelques-un des pays de l'Eurozone (notamment l'Italie et la Grèce) par la porte afin de sauver le reste; il y a d'autres gens qui disent qu'il faut un retour à l'ancienne monnaie-- les francs, les lires, les marks, etc. Tout comme aux Etats-Unis, où nous confrontons nos propres problèmes fiscaux, il s'agit d'une situation tellement compliquée qui n'aura probablement pas de solution nette et claire.

We're following current events in Europe here, with all that's happening between Sarko[zy] and Merkel, as well as Greece and Italy. What do you think? There are rumors that it may become necessary to chuck some Eurozone countries out the door (notably Italy and Greece) in order to save the rest; there are other people who say there needs to be a return to the old currencies-- francs, lira, marks, etc. As in the United States, where we're confronting our own fiscal problems, this is such a complicated situation, which probably won't have a neat and clear solution.

His reply yesterday:

...cela nous ne fait pas trop peur. Mon sentiment est assez partagé sur cette crise, car même si l’état français est endetté, les français ne le sont pas spécialement, les français sont les champions européens de l’épargne... Il y a 3 mois l’opinion des chefs d’entreprise était très positif et la crise économique, selon eux, était terminée. Maintenant c’est une crise financière... c’est un peu virtuel tout ça, car tout ce qui se passe en ce moment existait déjà il y a 2 ans, 1 an ou même 6 mois et ce que l’on pouvait accepter avant c’est devenu intolérable? j’ai du mal à le croire... les USA avait un AAA et l’ont perdu, cela change quoi? rien apparemment car les USA ont vu leurs taux d’intérêt baisser !!... La crise existe, les états sont endettés mais cela ne datent pas d’aujourd’hui, alors pourquoi cela serait il plus inacceptable aujourd’hui? Le problème européen est que nous sommes 27 à prendre une décision quand les USA parlent d’une seule vois alors c’est un peu le bordel en Europe, en plus avec quelques boulets comme la Grèce ou l’Italie (Berlusconi est OUT.. enfin) cela ne rassure personne, je crois que la crise vient aussi de là et pas uniquement de la situation financières des Etats, cela peut se calmer assez vite alors que les situations financières seront équivalentes à celles d’aujourd’hui, une fois que chaque état respectera ses engagements, en Italie par exemple depuis 1 an, Berlusconi avait annoncé des mesures pour réduire les dettes de l’Italie mais rien n’a été mis en oeuvre, aujourd’hui les marchés financiers sanctionnent cette attitude comme pour la Grèce et après c’est le risque de contagion sans qu’on sache vraiment pourquoi et la France est la prochaine sur la liste... alors que nous sommes moins endettés que l’Italie et que les réformes sont réellement en place (retraite...), il y a eu assez de bordel en France à cause de ça... doesn't scare us too much. My feelings about this crisis are somewhat divided, because even if the French government is in debt, French people aren't especially so; the French are European champions at money-saving... Three months ago, entrepreneurs' opinions were positive and the economic crisis had, according to them, come to an end. Now it's a financial crisis... it's all a bit virtual, because everything happening right now already existed 2 years, 1 year, or even 6 months ago, and what we could accept beforehand has now become intolerable? I have trouble believing that... The USA had a AAA [rating] and lost it, and that changes what? Nothing, apparently, because the USA saw its interest rates go down!! The crisis exists, governments are in debt, but that situation didn't arise just yesterday, so why should it be unacceptable today? The European problem is that we're a group of 27 when making decisions while the USA speaks with a single voice, so it's a bit chaotic in Europe. What's more, with those dragging us down like Greece or Italy (Berlusconi is OUT... finally), this doesn't reassure anybody. I think the crisis has also arisen from that, and not uniquely from the financial situation in the States; it could calm down quickly once the financial situations are equivalent to those of today once each government starts living up to its commitments. In Italy, for example, for a year, Berlusconi had been announcing measures to reduce Italy's debts, but nothing was put in place. Today, financial markets are penalizing this attitude, as in Greece, and afterwards there's a risk of contagion without knowing exactly why, and France is next on the list even though we're less in debt than Italy and our reforms are really in place (retirement, etc.); there was enough of a mess in France because of that...

The latter sentences of Dominique's paragraph get a bit murky; I've translated as faithfully as I can, so it's up to you to follow the logic. I think what he's saying is that

1. Europe's financial crisis can't be explained simply as something precipitated by the US economy.

2. As long as the status quo remains stable and Eurozone governments keep their promises, things will calm down. That's my interpretation of "cela peut se calmer assez vite alors que les situations financières seront équivalentes à celles d’aujourd’hui, une fois que chaque état respectera ses engagements." I had trouble figuring out Dom's meaning here; is he diachronically comparing present conditions to future conditions? Is he synchronically comparing the respective economic statuses of the Eurozone countries? I opted to translate Dom as literally as possible for fear of altering his intended meaning.

3. Berlusconi had announced stabilizing measures as long as a year ago, but Italy never put those measures in place, whereas France did put its own measures in place. All the same, there's a perniciously infectious, epidemiological quality to what's happening, hence Dom's reference to "contagion" afflicting even those countries that are both less in debt and protected by internal reforms.

4. I'm guessing that the very last line is saying that the French had a huge internal fight over the reforms that were eventually put into place. (le bordel = mess)

My overall impression is that Dom feels that Europe can ride out this crisis, and that there won't be a need to return to old currencies.


Monday, November 14, 2011

SAT woes: the Critical Reading section

At the TEF blog.


test your mettle

I brought home with me a copy of the Fairfax County Math League challenge problems that a student had shown me. Feast your eyes:

I've already answered 2-1 and 2-4 here on the blog. Since I first received the sheet, I've also successfully answered all the other problems except 2-6, the final one. Goddamn combinatorial math!

Feel free to try your hand at this set, and if you're especially brave, try to answer all the problems in the allotted time (36 minutes). I'll admit here and now that there's no way I could have managed that feat. For me, the major obstacle was my inability to envision how to set some of these problems up. I did manage to figure out 2-1 without help, but it took a colleague to make me see how to approach 2-4. I arrived at the solution to 2-2 through a sloppy combination of intuitive leaps, a student's hint, and sheer luck. 2-3 wasn't too hard to figure out; in fact, it may be the easiest problem on that sheet.

2-5 deserves a separate paragraph for its sheer awesomeness. It's a really fascinating problem (for us math losers, I mean-- not for math geniuses), and not as difficult as it might look at first blush. If you've been away from a math class for a long time, as I have, you may have forgotten that the phrase "center of symmetry" is not the same as "axis of symmetry." In other words, the FCML problem is asking for the coordinates of a point, not the formula for a line. If you're good at doing algebra in your head, you might even be able to figure this one out without writing a single thing down. Once I did all my figuring, I looked back at everything I had written and saw that there's a very easy way to figure the solution.

2-6 scares the crap out of me. The student who gave me this copy of the FCML questions told me what the answer was after I had given up, but I still don't know how to get to the answer. That student didn't know, either; I asked him. He said he'd managed to figure out only two of the six problems by the end of the allotted time, and 2-6 wasn't one of them.

Good luck!


imagine the possibilities

Over at the TEF blog, I link to an article about a product that, when sprayed on a surface, produces a superhydrophobic coating. The video accompanying the article is amazing.

(I do wonder, though, whether coating the inside of a toilet bowl would really keep it clean.)


pome for subway commuters

the crazy fucker on the train
you don't know what he'll do
for all you know, he'll start a fight
or hump a woman's purse at night
or vomit on your shoes

erratic though his conduct be
one thing's beyond debate
he'll flail, he'll thrash, he'll wet his pants
he'll sport a hard-on like a lance
but he is never late

that's right: the crazy fucker boards
with Swiss efficiency
uncanny how he seems to know
that you'll be there to watch his show
and flinch instinctively


Sunday, November 13, 2011

you have to credit Herman Cain

I'm not aligned with any political party, but when I look over at the GOP side, I've found Herman Cain to be, despite his total inexperience in politics, the most palatable choice among the current crop of GOP wannabes. That said, the scandal surrounding him is troublesome, and if it turns out that there's actual substance to the accusations against him, I'm perfectly willing to turn my gaze elsewhere.

But I do have to hand it to Cain: he's introduced a new concept that will be hard for liberals to shake, and that's the concept of the "Democrat plantation": the idea that, if you're black, your ass belongs to the Democrats, and to break away from that narrative-- to be a successful black Republican, for example-- is to brand yourself as "uppity." This is a clever subversion of a toxic theme in American public discourse.

Cain's concept is as dirty as the sort of race-card rhetoric that emanates from the liberal side; there's nothing noble about it. But as a blow struck in favor of rhetorical parity, the concept does much to reset the terms of the political discussion, and (one hopes) to make Democrats more cautious about what they say regarding successful minorities who don't see the world through a liberal lens. The "if you're black, you should be a Democrat" meme-- more of a tacit assumption, really, than a public avowal-- is odious and begs for deconstruction.

The "Democrat plantation" meme is spreading, too:

A cast member of the gay reality TV show “A-List Dallas” tells The Daily Caller that he was punched to the ground and bloodied Friday night by someone vandalizing his car because he’s a gay conservative associated with commentator Ann Coulter.

Taylor Garrett, a Republican consultant in Texas who stars in the reality series on the channel LOGO TV, said in an interview that he was attacked outside a birthday party in Dallas after finding a vandal scratching “F–k Coulter” on the side of his car.

Garrett said the incident reflects a troubling mindset.

“The Democrats want me to live on their plantation as their slave, because I’m a gay person,” he said. “And I refuse to do that.”



More blogging tomorrow. Tonight, I'm proofreading.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

another Math League challenge problem!

Try this on for size. It's another of the Fairfax County Math League problems:

I haven't figured this one out yet, but one of my colleagues, who tutors math and science, told me what the approach should be. My attempt at an answer will appear in the comments.


embarrassed to say it took all day

Fairfax County Public Schools Math League challenge problem (worded differently from the original because I didn't memorize the wording):

A 100-pound watermelon is 95% water. If you dehydrate the watermelon to the point where it is 90% water, how much will the dehydrated watermelon weigh?

Yesterday, a student handed me a list of six FCPS Math League problems, all of which had to be done in 36 minutes. I'm embarrassed to say that the above problem, first on the list, took me all day to solve. Sure, part of the reason was that I was teaching, so I didn't have the luxury of staring at the problem for several minutes at a time.* All the same, it would have been nice had the flash of insight on how to solve the problem come five hours sooner than it did.

My answer, with figuring, will be in the comments.

*Not that that should matter much: in principle, a capable Math Leaguer is able to solve each such problem in six minutes.


a true vet

A true veteran is worthy of the uniform. He doesn't lie, he doesn't betray, he doesn't shrink from conflict, confrontation, or the demands of duty. He doesn't say to himself that "no one needs to know" or that "this is someone else's problem" or that "they're not ready to learn the truth." No true veteran is a coward, either on the battlefield or at home. Whether facing the enemy or facing a domestic crisis, the true veteran's backbone is straight, his eyes are fixed on his objective, and his actions-- never hesitant half-measures-- are an exact reflection of his thoughts. No true veteran lacks integrity. There is nothing shifty or secretive in his manner. What you see is what you get.

If a man wears a uniform and falls short of these basic moral standards, it's better that he leave the service and either burn his uniform or give it to someone worthier.

I offer my thanks to the true veterans out there-- men and women who exemplify bravery and integrity every moment of their lives.


Friday, November 11, 2011

the most wonderful time of the year

November 11, 2011: a.k.a. Eleven-eleven-eleven-- the biggest, bestest Pepero Day of them all.

What is Pepero? you ask. It's many things, but one thing it's not is peppery. Pepero has nothing to do with peppers... unless some evil genius has managed to create a chili-flavored Pepero stick.

Pepero is the Korean brand name for a snack found all over the world. Most people think of it as something like a chocolate-dipped pretzel stick or stick-shaped cracker, but I know it for what it is: the unholy union between Santa's tongue depressor and an elf's peanut-encrusted asshole. That, friends, was the first-ever Pepero, and the rest is history.

On Pepero Day, your every wish will come true, no matter how ridiculous. Wish for a five-hour orgasm, and bliss will be yours as you ejaculate until your scrotum and balls get sucked inside your abdomen and squirt out your urethra.* Wish for an apodictic impossibility, like 2 + 2 equaling five, and watch the laws of physics dance at your whim for a day. Wish for a world of edible poop, then traipse through a verdant pasture while eating steak-and-blowjob-flavored cow patties.

Pious Pepero devotees know that there can be only one 11-11-11 this century. On this most sacred of days, the Pepero god will rise out of the ground like an enormous Sivalinga, spouting megatons of cream into the sky and fertilizing the earth-yoni with its potency. There in that holy rain we shall all stand, Pepero sticks jammed into every fat roll and orifice, making our wishes and welcoming the appearance of our deity.

Happy Pepero Day to you all! TO YOU ALL!

*That's just the first hour. Gasp with joy as your entire body gets ejaculated through your penis over the remaining four hours!

Previous tributes to Pepero Day:



over at the TEF blog

The Fundamental Question of Religious Studies.



My sore throat has pretty much disappeared, but now I'm dealing with a nose that's been alternately runny and stuffy all day.

And what does that mean, Poison Girls?

You guessed it!

It's time to break out-- THE NETI POT!!!

Since nasal irrigation is the closest thing to sex that I get these days, I plan to make this experience as fulfilling as possible. I'll be dimming the lights, putting on some Barry White, slipping into a silk bathrobe, sprinkling rose petals all over my bathroom sink, hanging posters of Yi Chae-yeong and Oh In-hye off my shower curtain bar (thanks, Charles), hooking my nipples up to a car battery, and getting myself mentally ready to be nasally penetrated.

Nothing says sexy quite like a ceramic tube in one's nostril.


soah trote

This past Tuesday, the Day of the On-site Shit, I admit I wasn't feeling too hot. My bowels were just starting to become watery, which is probably why I was able to poop a third time even after having pooped twice before going to work. I'm beginning to suspect that I've actually been sick since last Saturday, when one of my elementary-school students had come into the center with a head full of rank snot and what sounded like a light cough. This kid blew germs across the desk for two hours, and I'd wager I got colonized. The effects of this assault had been blunted, but not totally deterred, by my vitamin C consumption, but now I'm thinking I should have been pounding those tablets down at a higher rate (see Sperwer's comment in that other post). Vitamin C is less effective as a cure; it works best as a prophylactic (i.e., preventative) measure.

Yesterday, I woke up to a painfully sore throat. I did my usual old-school thing and gargled with salt water, but matters only seemed to worsen. Right before I got to the YB Near center, I hit a gas station and bought a one-dollar pack of Halls cough drops to at least alleviate the pain: swallowing was becoming difficult. I used up the whole pack during my six hours at the center, then went home and gargled again. Today feels like more of the same.

No other symptoms to report-- no fever or headache or runny nose. It's just a nasty-sore throat. May it depart soon, and leave me my regular throat.



French interrogative pronouns over at the TEF blog.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

over at the other blog

Who/whom revisited.


needs all the help he can get


a brown-letter day

The horror... the horror...
--Marlon Brando's Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, "Apocalypse Now"

Today, for the very first time in my several months as an employee at YB, I took a shit while at work. Long and long have I tried not to be that guy-- the guy who stinks up the bathroom for all the people who come after. To that end, I've refused to eat anything before class, because I know my bowels only too well: a few bites of food will trigger the end stages of peristalsis, even when the colon seems empty.

Folks: the colon is never empty.

Our tutoring center is essentially a large, carpeted, rectangular room, walled off with wide-open cubicles that hold four: a tutor plus three students, all seated at rounded, L-shaped tables. Toward the back of that room are a separate "private" room for students taking diagnostic tests, a storage/supply room, and the restroom. Everything is constructed of thin, painted-over drywall-- the sort of material that stuntmen dive through for fun. Even though my own cubicle is about twenty feet away from the restroom, I can clearly hear the flushing. The soft vibration of the restroom's fan is also barely audible, a friendly hum in the midst of our studiousness. Normally, I don't care when students or colleagues visit the loo; in most cases, people are merely going there to pee, and only occasionally will some of the students rush to the bathroom for More Serious Reasons.

Today, I suppose, was my turn. If you play Russian roulette long enough, the cylinder eventually stops at the chambered round, and you're fucked. That's karma, and my karma had come for me. I have no clue why things went so badly today; I had actually pooped twice before I'd left for work. No matter: the gastric hellbroth building up in my guts rapidly took on the heft and gravity of a More Serious Reason. I didn't rush to the can as some of our elementary schoolers might have, but I did make my way to the toilet with cold sweat beading on my brow and a grim sense of purpose in my heart. It was very much like a walk to the gallows. Emotions swirled in my mind as the awful moment drew near: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I knew it was too late to turn back: my ass has a mind of its own, and when it's convinced that Shitting Time is imminent, it readies itself to unload.* I locked the restroom door and faced my destiny.

Our restroom's toilet has one of those flimsy plastic seats on it, the kind that tends to groan under my weight. I settled my bulk onto the seat and began the most delicate maneuver of all: shitting without farting. Luckily, I'm a master at this, so I was able to let a good bit of crap slip quietly out before I hit my first major bubble. The idea, of course, is to minimize sound by spreading the ass cheeks wide enough to prevent flappage. This doesn't guarantee absolute silence, though: a puckered anus can still yell. (Or, more frighteningly, whistle. Yes, that's happened to me before.) But I was in control; I deposited my load with only one quiet, wayward poot to my name, and that happened while the sink's faucet was turned wide open (a tactic used by another staffer who shall remain nameless). I wiped, flushed, checked the toilet bowl for residual log-parts and itinerant hairs, vainly sprayed some air freshener around the room, then made my exit.

Within five minutes, a female student, obviously unaware of what had just transpired, crossed my line of vision on her way to the restroom. I mentally cringed as I imagined the olfactory surprise awaiting her.

Meanwhile, I have to live with the fact that I have now broken my oath never to poop while at work. As Darth Vader said, "This will be a day long remembered."

*The absolute worst is when, while driving along a freeway, you think you're finally going to be able to take that much-needed shit, but then you realize that you just missed the rest stop and the next one isn't for another 90 fucking miles. I don't know about you, but when my ass is cheated out of an opportunity to shit, it signals the colon that it's time for la Revolución! And my colon obeys: it starts writhing like a python in a bear trap. Indiana Jones would scream like a little bitch if he ever saw my large intestine in that agitated state.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

this week's Math Beast Challenge problem

From MGRE, we get the following:

My answer will be in the comments. Have a fun.


someone owes me a steak dinner

Manhattan GRE confirms that, for last week's Math Beast Challenge problem, the correct answer is indeed (D)-- 210. MGRE's explanation:

Let’s look at the two possible combinations separately. The first type of combo is 1 entree, 2 side dishes, and 1 drink. When a customer orders this type, she makes several decisions:

Entree selection: choose 1 of 3, so 3 possibilities.
Side dish selection: choose 2 of 4, so (4)(3)/(2) = 6 possibilities. For the first side dish, we have 4 options, but for the second side dish we have to choose from the 3 remaining options. We divide by 2 because the order in which the two side dishes are selected doesn’t matter. For example, picking mashed potatoes then side salad is the same as picking side salad then mashed potatoes.
Drink selection: choose 1 of 7, so 7 possibilities.

Thus, there are (3)(6)(7) = 126 different combos of the first type.

The second type of combo is 1 soup, 3 different side dishes, and 1 drink. When a customer orders this type, she makes the following decisions:

Soup selection: choose 1 of 3, so 3 possibilities.
Side dish selection: choose 3 of 4, which is like choosing which 1 of the 4 NOT to order, so 4 possibilities.
Drink selection: choose 1 of 7, so 7 possibilities.

The total number of this type of combination is thus (3)(4)(7) = 84 combos.

Put together, the customer could order either the first type of combo OR the second type of combo, so she had 126 + 84 = 210 unique lunch options. Note that “and” means multiply on combo problems, which is why we multiplied when the customer could order food “and” a drink. “Or” means add on combo problems, which is why we added when the customer could order either the entree lunch combo “or” the soup lunch combo.

The correct answer is D.

MGRE's explanation is about the same as mine, and we both got to the same answer by the same means. In the end, you have to calculate the number of possible configurations for each combo, then add those two sets of possibilities together for your total.


Ave, Jeff!

Although I'm now part of the evil culture that preps students for tests, I have to applaud Jeff's latest post on how the test-taking mentality is taking over and stultifying American academe. Jeff writes, with regard to widespread student complaints about a certain teacher who* they feel demeans them through his use of the Socratic method in his business classes:

What a baffling attitude students have! Socratic questioning presupposes student intelligence, the ability to think for oneself! Apparently, students these days look on learning as little more than the memorizing of class notes written down as the professor lectures, the aim being to pass a test, and any process that departs from the rapid conveyance of information is an inefficient waste of time. They don't see that genuine education means learning how to think, which entails slowing down to ask questions and look at an issue from various points of view as they learn to integrate facts and ideas on their own under the guidance of a good teacher.

Jeff gets it exactly right. For my part, I've been known to warn students that mastery of the SAT doesn't translate to the possession of actual life skills. Learning to think is a life skill.

*Why not "whom"? Good question. I may write a post on this, possibly over at the TEF blog.


two at TEF

1. The Need for Organization

2. Writing an Essay for the SAT I


Monday, November 07, 2011

Ave, Malcolm!

My thanks to Malcolm for linking to this reminiscence by Neal B. Freeman about William F. Buckley. As a teacher who does a lot with writing, I found the following of interest:

It was a humbling experience to be edited by Bill Buckley. I still have the original of the first editorial I wrote for National Review. We used Royal typewriters in those days to pound out copy on yellow foolscap: Here and there, one of my black words peeks through a blaze of red ballpoint ink. It was his conceit that if you couldn't write, you couldn't think; and that if you couldn't think, you were unlikely to prosper in his friendship.
(italics added)

I'd call it an axiom of modern society: if you can't write, you can't think. And if you can't think, you sure as hell can't write. This may be why so many students at our tutoring center like math and hate writing: writing requires more thinking. Not to say that math doesn't require one to think, but math-- especially from grade school through high school-- is more an object of convergent learning, wherein there are objective truths and clearly right or wrong answers; writing, by contrast, begins with convergent learning and rapidly moves into the domain of divergent learning: taming the wild horse of logic doesn't mean you rest on your laurels: you've got a whole country to explore while seated on that horse, and though it sounds paradoxical, the paths you follow will be the ones you make.


"Ajeossi": a review

The 2010 Korean actioner "Ajeossi" (called "The Man from Nowhere" in the US) stars doe-eyed, fresh-faced Won Bin as a hardass ex-Black Ops dude named Cha Tae-shik who quits the service after losing his wife and unborn child to an assassin. Cha now runs a quiet pawnshop where he befriends Somi, a cute little waif who lives next door. Somi's mom, meanwhile, is a heroin addict who is alternately verbally abusive to and neglectful of Somi.

The story is a bullet-ridden Dickens tale, with Cha as The Benefactor and Somi as The Oppressed Child in Need of Rescue. The mom is killed early on in the film by gangsters who traffic in human organs (the gruesome result is displayed for us, tailgate-party-style); Somi gets kidnapped and Won Bin's character reverts to badass mode to track her down. Many people die along the way, and the police are never far behind.

Simple plot, simple motivations. At this point, you can probably predict the ending, because the film follows action-movie boilerplate with unquestioning faithfulness. I had my doubts, while watching "Ajeossi," as to whether Won Bin could convincingly pull off the portrayal of a hard-edged character. In the end, I think he succeeded, and it's a testament to his acting ability that he did. Your mileage may vary, however; Won Bin doesn't look particularly gritty. Perhaps he can't.

That said, I found myself impressed by the fight choreography, especially the intense knife fight with the deadliest of the bad guys; the final bit of gunplay was-- despite some egregious continuity errors (e.g., a car's buckled hood that miraculously unbuckles most of the way)-- also exhilarating to behold. The filmmakers borrowed liberally from the Hollywood action-movie palette: Cha Tae-shik has the suicidal bitterness of a Martin Riggs, the smoldering anger and unerring instincts of a Jack Bauer, the unarmed fighting skills of a Jason Bourne, and the same sort of bullet-extracting friends-in-low-places as Robert De Niro's Sam in "Ronin." As the latest instantiation of that archetype, Won Bin's Cha Tae-shik is a worthy successor. And since the film's ending is a good setup for a sequel, I imagine there'll be an "Ajeossi 2" somewhere down the line.

While "Ajeossi" doesn't hold a candle to the more adult, pensive, 1990s-era "Shiri" (the movie that introduced me to Korean action films), it's got its simple heart in the right place. I recommend it.

14 hours

Thanks to the time adjustment we had at 2AM this morning, we're once again 14 hours behind Seoul. Woo-hoo!


Sunday, November 06, 2011


One of my kids this morning (you'll recall that I work on Saturdays from 9AM to 5PM) came in with a nose full of snot. He sniffled and snorfled his way through the two-hour session, and left me wondering whether I was going to catch his cold. As it turns out, I haven't caught it-- a fact that I attribute to the insane amount of Vitamin C that I take daily: 2000mg. I'm a firm believer that this has kept me largely cold-free while I've been working, whereas colleagues of mine have already started succumbing to the leading edge of cold season.

Take your Vitamin C.


I take it back

With all the reports of rape and other types of violence coming regularly from the various Occupy movements, I can no longer say that there exists an equivalence between those movements and the various Tea Party rallies. While not a Tea Partier myself, I can't ignore items such as what Malcolm recently linked to, or the mayhem in DC.

UPDATE: "Safety tents" or "rape shelters"? No matter how the existence of these tents is spun, I have to wonder: why the need for either of these things? Some conservatives are actually cheering the Occupy Wall Street movement because it's going to be a millstone around Obama's neck as more and more filth, violence, and sexual assaults come to light.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

rare agreement

I'm not the biggest fan of Mark Steyn, who often strikes me as overly alarmist,* but this paragraph in an essay on why he's pessimistic about America's future resonates with me:

The thing is, for better or worse, we are defined by our differences, and if Barack Obama didn’t understand that when he was at a podium addressing a room filled with representatives of Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Venezuela, and the whole gang of evil, the rest of the world certainly did as soon as Qaddafi appeared. Obama and Qaddafi may both have been the heads of state of sovereign nations, but if you’re on an Indian Ocean island when the next tsunami hits, try calling Libya instead of the United States for help and see where it gets you.

No disagreement with the basic message here. While I'm not comfortable with "gang of evil" language,** I think Steyn makes his point clearly and succinctly. It's just the sort of thing I've heard from Koreans of my mother's generation: they remember who Korea's friends are. Younger Koreans-- like younger Americans-- refuse to understand this in their rush to to deny or put aside history.

*An example of Steynian hyperbole: "But nothing the British did to any of their subject peoples in far-flung corners of the globe compares with what they did post-imperially to their own population." In attempting to make a point about the deleterious effects of nanny-statism, Steyn undermines his own respectability. I'm no historian, but I do recall that the British Empire engaged in chattel slavery before the Empire abolished it in 1833. Is Steyn seriously suggesting that modern Brits, downtrodden thanks to the unwisdom of their current social paradigm, are worse off than the slaves of yore? That's laughable.

**Venezuela may have a stupid, crazy leader, but I wouldn't mind visiting the country. And after having read Scott Fisher's The Axis of Evil World Tour years ago, I'd say the same about Iran. Our beef is with the governments of these countries, not the regular citizens.


Friday, November 04, 2011

the hits roll in

My humble blog is experiencing a sudden spike in traffic as people are visiting me after first reading the comment I posted over at MGRE's blog. Welcome, all. This blog didn't use to be so serious. In fact, it used to delight in being offensive. For a taste of that, here's a link to an old post about a ridiculous sculptural tribute to a pregnant Britney Spears (do not click if easily offended and/or a Britney fan). Plenty here to fit all tastes: posts on religion, life in Korea (from back when I lived in Seoul), etc. Have yourself a little tour.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

my confusion is justified

Manhattan Prep, the parent of Manhattan GRE and Manhattan GMAT, has just published a blog post that validates my confusion at seeing how my scores have been rendered, and how percentiles have shifted. Well worth a read.

Item #3 on that post leads me to believe that I must have broken 750 on Quant, per the old scale, since my newest Quant score has me in the 86th percentile. I'm also wondering whether my most recent Verbal score is actually lower than 710. It may, in fact, be the same or higher: because of the extensive re-scaling of scores, an equivalent or slightly higher old-style score might translate as a lower score/percentile in the new scoring system. For all I know, I did just as well this time around in terms of my raw score.

While I'm still frustrated that my Verbal score isn't higher than it is, I'm happy that my Quant score went up despite an apparent toughening of the math problems. What killed me, I'm sure, was my inability to answer two questions on standard deviation. I'll be ready for that next time.


Malcolm's poser

Malcolm asks an interesting language question over at his blog. I assume he doesn't want you to use Google to look up the answer, so I'm currently codgimatating on my own.

UPDATE: a commenter gets it. Malcolm's original post said:

Here’s one for you, language weenies: can you think of an irregular English verb that becomes a regular verb when applied to a particular subject? (I’ll post the answer if nobody gets it in a day or so.)

My own guess was the modal verb can (which, like other English modals, is called a "defective verb" because it has no "to-" form); modals are irregular, but this wasn't the verb Malcolm was thinking of: he was thinking of to hang.

What makes a verb irregular? At least two things: how it's conjugated in the present tense, and how its participial forms lay out. A regular verb like to walk would chart like this:

I walk
You walk
He walks
We walk
You (all) walk
They walk

I walked.
I have walked.

(walk, walked, walked)

We see that to walk is regular because (1) the verb is uninflected except for the third-person singular "s," and (2) the past tense simply requires the addition of an "-ed" suffix. The verb can, like other modals (should, will, etc.), is irregular in its present-tense conjugation, and it has no past-tense form aside from could (which doubles as the conditional form).

Malcolm's focus was on irregular verbs whose conjugation in the past tense doesn't conform to the above rule. Example: begin, began, begun (no "begined" or "beginned"). He's perfectly correct to think that "hang/hung" is an irregular configuration while "hang/hanged" is regular.

But that certainly wasn't the only possibility. See can among the irregular verbs here. While we're at it, let's add will to the list of verbs that meet Malcolm's criteria. As an auxiliary, it's irregular, but when used in a sentence like God willed the earth into existence, it's regular.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

bad news

My GRE scores are now in; I just saw them when I logged into my online ETS/GRE account. Verdict: unsurprisingly, it appears I'll need to try yet again.

Here's a scrunched version of my scores from July and August:

In case you're having trouble reading the scores, they go like this:

July 2011
Verbal: 710 (167), 98th percentile
Quant: 710 (155), 69th percentile
AnWrit: 5.5, 96th percentile

August 2011
Verbal: 165, 96th percentile
Quant: 161, 86th percentile
AnWrit: 5.5, 96th percentile

How does this make me feel? Well, I'd say there's a mixture of pride, disappointment, and outright confusion. I couldn't help noticing that my original "72nd percentile" for the Quant section of the July test has now been demoted to a 69th percentile-- a recent development, I suppose, as ETS continues to juggle its figures to make the old test scores "match" the new ones. I also see that the 5.5 Analytical Writing score, which used to be a 94th percentile, has been bumped up to the 96th percentile. That's nice, although I would have loved a 6 this time around. I'm also happy to see that my math score seems to have vaulted from the 69th to the 86th percentile. At the same time, it sucks that my Verbal score has dropped from the 98th to the 96th percentile; I thought I'd done better than that. It also sucks that the Quant score didn't at least break the 90th percentile, which would have made me recruitable by Kaplan, at the very least, if not by MGRE.

The reassignment of the percentiles for my July test is disconcerting. It feels like a rewriting of history, especially since I have a piece of paper from ETS with a "72" on it. Not that that 72 is anything to be proud of, but it's still better than a 69.

So now it's a question of scrounging up the cash to take another test. At $160 a pop, this won't be easy, but it may be worth my while. For the moment, at least, employment at Manhattan GRE remains out of reach.


over at the TEF blog...

The Lone, Forgotten French Verb

Why Do French Verb Conjugation Charts Look the Way They Do?


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

first Seoul Craigslist ad created!

I should have done this a while ago, but I've just finished placing an ad in the Seoul Craigslist for my services. We'll see whether this generates any heat. I doubt it; what I probably need to do is access some Korean-language message boards (any ideas on where to go, and how to do this?). They have to be boards for adults, though: most undergrad students can't afford my rates without parental help.


Bonne Fête des Morts!

Have fun with these two spooky videos:

1. Big Spider Attacks Daddy

2. Le Serpent Mort (Dead Snake)
(The comments to this second video, though in French, have a very American tenor.)


this week's Math Beast Challenge problem

Here's this week's Math Beast Challenge problem:

This Week's Problem: "Lunch Combos"


The standard lunch price at a cafeteria buys either a combination of 1 entree, 2 different side dishes, and 1 drink or a combination of 1 soup, 3 different side dishes, and 1 drink. Substitutions are not allowed, and customers cannot order multiple servings of any one side dish. If customers can choose from among 3 entree, 4 side dish, 3 soup, and 7 drink options, how many different lunch combinations are available for the standard lunch price?


(A) 54
(B) 84
(C) 126
(D) 210
(E) 252

Go for it. My answer will appear in the comments, and MGRE will publish the official answer next week. My first impression is that we're dealing with a typical permutations/combinations problem... but we'll see. I need to stare at it for a moment.


avais-je raison?

So! Was I right in my answer to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem? Yes, indeed: the correct answer is C. For those who missed my explanation, see here. MGRE's explanation follows almost exactly the same pattern as mine.



Now at the TEF blog: conjugating the seven most basic irregular verbs in French.