Elvis Has Reentered the Building

I picked up a copy of Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu from the library for a little practice reading French.  Only one sentence in I got nervous about the translation.  In the American English version, the first sentence reads:

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle house,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

This, of course, references Tom Marvolo Riddle, whom we met in The Chamber of Secrets two books ago.  Bien.  Maintenant en Français:

Les habitants de Little Hangleton l’appelaient toujours la maison des « Jeux du sort », même s’il y avait de nombreuses années que la famille Jedusor n’y vivait plus.

Translating roughly back to English, and adding emphasis, that reads:

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle house,” even though it had been many years since the Jedusor family had lived there.

(Okay, putting “Riddle” back in is a stretch, but it’s the Jedusor that stands out most anyway.)

I didn’t read La Chambre des Secrets en Français, but according to Wikipédia the character we know and love to hate as Tom Marvolo Riddle is known en France as M. Tom Elvis Jedusor.

On the one hand… Elvis?  Really?  On the other hand, the anagram in Chamber of Secrets was one of the two silliest and least believable moments in the entire saga.  Introducing “Marvolo” to make the letters come out right never felt appropriate.

En Français, c’est seulement « Je Suis Voldemort »

Your Homework: Annotate the Entire Universe

I love that I can search for messages in GMail based not only on the text in the message, but also on text in any attachments.  This isn’t a new feature, it’s just one of GMail’s original features that I happen to like.

However, this means that virtually every search I perform returns at least one message: the message a student in CS-100 sent me exactly four years ago today.

This particular CS-100 class wrote a program to search for Scrabble words.  Users would enter their available letters and the program would list all possible words spelled with those letters.  Done correctly, it took only about 20 lines of code using the C++ Standard Template Library, which was the focus of the assignment.

This particular CS-100 student submitted her work to me early (before the online dropbox opened), so her homework is attached to the e-mail message.  This includes one C++ source file, and one file called dictionary.txt

Ay, there’s the rub.  For in that file of text, what words may come when we have search-ed through this mortal mail must yield results.  There’s the source that makes a match of unrelated text.

Did she write about “serious software error?”  You bet!  Her message contained the words serious, software, and error.  Did she right about “Registration Manager?”  Yep!  How about “Emergency Alert committee meeting?”  Absolutely, she did!

So, Ms. Student, you have become the one student I am least likely to forget from five years as a teaching assistant, if for no other reason than because you have written to me about every possible topic in the universe.  Congratulations!

Pavlovian Conditioning

The ways of the city have set in too deeply.

When I walk home from the convenience store near my apartment, I have to cross a particularly troublesome intersection.  Cars stream onto the street from several inlets, so breaks in traffic are far apart.  I won’t count how many times I’ve stood for a full minute or two just waiting to cross.

There’s a traffic light, but those aren’t always helpful for crossing streets in Boston.  For example, the Walk sign over at Cleveland Circle barely lasts long enough to get a quarter of the way across the full intersection.  You have to race traffic anyway, so why wait for the light?

There are usually buttons to press to signal that you want to cross, but those just don’t matter during the day.  Lights don’t just instantly change when you press the button unless they’re specifically staying red until they sense traffic in your direction.  If the light is just cycling normally, you’re out of luck.

On my way home tonight, I suddenly made the connection that my troublesome light was at the entrance to a cemetery, where there’s almost never any traffic.  The light stays green on the main street unless it has a reason to change.

I pressed the button — possibly the first time I’ve done that inside the city of Boston.

The light changed instantaneously to yellow, and then red.  Then the walk sign appeared.

Let us never speak of this again.

The Hologram Version is Out Next Year

Netflix offers this summary of the film Journey to the Center of the Earth (emphasis mine):

Science professor Trevor (Brendan Fraser) has become the laughingstock of the academic community thanks to his outrageous theories. While on a trip to Iceland, Trevor, his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and their guide Hannah (Anita Briem) find themselves at the center of the planet, having discovered a whole world within our world. Adapted from the Jules Verne fantasy novel, this film (presented in 2D) marks the directorial debut of Eric Brevig.

Everybody knows the Earth is flat.  Why would you need more than two dimensions to tell a story about it?

Besides, I never settle for anything less than 4D when I watch movies at home.

In the Same Vicinity

I linked to Amy Walker’s 21 Accents video when it became famous back in March.  After watching her new Yes video, which seems like it would be a good to watch before an important meeting, I felt like revisiting some of her other work today.  My favorite remains her parody of the song All I Ask of You:

I’m here, with you, beside you,
Close to you and by you

Even knowing all the words, I laugh every time.

For original work, I like best her original song Let’s Not Sleep.

Math 55

The Harvard Pops, whom I just mentioned, and whose concerts I never miss, often make jokes about Harvard in their performances.  When something is gigantic, it might be “bigger than Harvard’s endowment.”  Get it?  Most of them I get.  Some are more esoteric.

Pops Risks it All had a line that went something like (and I paraphrase):

The Rules: You’d have to take the ultimate risk!
Marcus: What, like, Math 55?

I laughed at the time, ’cause I got the gist.  Then I Googled it when I got home to understand more fully.

The math department has a pamphlet to help Freshman choose which of four math courses they might want to take.  The first sentence describing each course is as follows:

  • Math 21: A thorough treatment of multi-variable calculus and linear algebra with real-life applications.
  • Math 23: A class that covers linear algebra and multivariable calculus while also teaching proof-writing, starting with the basics.
  • Math 25: A rigorous treatment of multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and introductions to other topics in advanced mathematics.
  • Math 55: This is probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country; a variety of advanced topics in mathematics are covered, and problem sets ask students to prove many fundamental theorems of analysis and linear algebra.

Wow.  That is the ultimate risk.

She Wants to Date Other Guys

I can’t rave enough about the Harvard Pops, and last night’s concert may have been the best since Pops Gets Cursed in 2006, which got huge points for  introducing me to Wicked.

Sammi Biegler, whom you can watch on YouTube singing Mack the Knife from last year’s Pops Jumps the Shark concert, even came back after graduating (as Pops members are wont to do) to portray The Rules in the game of Risk.

They put to excellent use Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue (performed there by a different group), and I declare here that Larry O’Keefe’s short opera The Magic Futon, which the Pops commissioned and premiered four years ago, knows no rival.  Of course, you’d only be able to judge for yourself if you attended the concert.

Let that be a lesson: attend the next one.  (Then you’d also know that the title of this post is probably my favorite lyric from the show.)

Actually, That Sums it Up Nicely

A lot of credit cards now offer an “Annual Summary,” detailing how much money you’ve spent throughout the year on merchandise, travel, food, services, et cetera.  My card issuer sent out an e-mail asking us to call customer service to enroll.  It’s strange that we can’t enroll online, but it’s no big deal.  The call was simple:

Call #3:

(I key in my card number when prompted, and say my “phone password” aloud: “Socrates”)

Harry: Hello, my name is Harry.  How can I help you?
Me:  I’d like to enroll in the Annual Summary program, please.

Harry:  Would like a paper copy, or do you want the report online?
Me:  Online, please.

Harry:  One moment… Okay, sir, you are enrolled.  Is there anything else I can help you with?
Me:  Nope; that’s it.  Thank you for your help!

See?  That was really easy.  But what’s that “Call #3” heading doing up there?  Smeg.  Now we have to travel back in time 30 minutes to see what happened earlier.

Call #1:

(I key in my card number when prompted.  The system doesn’t ask for my password.)

Agent:  Hello, my name is Mumble-Mumble.  How can I help you?
  I’d like to enroll in the Annual Summary program, please.

Agent: What is the password on your account?
  Socrates:  S-O-C-R-A-T-E-S
Agent: No, that’s not it.  I’ll give you a hint: it starts with “S” and it’s either your mother’s maiden name, or your best friend’s last name.

(I apologize profusely to whomever I might be forgetting, but I can’t think of a single “best friend” whose last name begins with an S.  More to the point, I’d never choose an actual name for that kind of question, so even if all my friends were named Smith, Schmidt, Sutherland, and Samson, I’d still have given Socrates as my answer.)

Me:  I’m still pretty sure it’s Socrates.  If it’s not that, I have no idea what it could be.

Agent:  Could you verify the amount of your last transaction with this card?
Yes, I used it this afternoon to order pizza from Eddie’s Pizza, for $23.19.
No, that’s not it.  I’ll give you a hint: it was for $68.72.
(pause) Okay… I went to Star Market on Friday and spent about that much…
Agent:  No, that’s not it.  I’ll give you a hint: it was on October 24th.

(First of all, she’s claiming I haven’t used my credit card in almost a month.  Second, by this time I’ve opened my account online and I’m looking at my complete transaction history.)

Me:  That transaction was from the Cheesecake Factory.
I’ll give you a hint: it was from some sort of cake place.
Yes, the Cheesecake Factory.  I spent $68.72 there on October 24th.

Agent:  Okay.  Are you calling from your home phone number?
  I will terminate this call now, and call you back at your home telephone number to verify your identity.

Stunned silence.  The phone rings almost immediately.

Call #2:

Me:  Hello again.
Agent:  Hello, this is Mumble-Mumble calling.

<snip> (We repeat some stuff from the last call.  She verifies my home address.  She verifies my social security number.  Eventually, she starts to enroll me for the annual summary.)

Agent:  I’m having some technical problems. What I suggest is you terminate this call, and then call back.  Is there anything else I can help you with?

Me: (silently, in my head): What do you mean, anything else?

My favorite part of this is that my password really was Socrates the entire time.  We know this because it worked fine on the third call.  Also because I know how I would choose such a password, and it’s inconceivable it would have been anything else.

(This is almost verbatim, by the way.  I naturally made up amounts and dates and such, but the exchange was, sadly, real.)

Blog Duetto Quattro: Now With Twice as Many Vowels!

My dental health center moved to new offices recently.  It’s a much nicer space, with natural lighting, more treatment areas, and all new equipment.  Instead of the posters of kittens my childhood dentist had tacked to the ceiling, for example, there’s now a flat-screen monitor hanging over the chair, cycling through serene images.

In taking all this in, I began to fixate on the fact that the new X-ray gun has a USB port, and I cannot fathom why.  Sure, an X-ray detector that connects to a computer is commonplace now, but that connects to a computer, not the X-ray machine.  The “gun” just shoots X-radiation.  That’s its job.  You tell it how much you want, and it delivers it.  It doesn’t much care what happens once the radiation leaves the tube.  So why would it need a USB port?

There’s a long history of advertising products by counting things that don’t matter.When transistor radios first came out, manufacturers loved marketing how many transistors they had. Technically you only needed one to make a radio, and you could put five or six to good use, but after that you were just cramming them in there for sport. It looks great in ads, though: 14-transistor radios! Those must sound amazing!

Intel advertised microchips the same way. The 1.8 GHz processor was better than the 1.7 GHz processor because it had more gigahertzes. (It scares me that Firefox thinks “gigahertzes” is a properly-spelled word.) The fact that AMD could make faster chips at slower clock speeds tended not to bother the numbers-obsessed consumer.

Gillette kicked off perhaps the strangest counting war when it added a couple extra blades to its safety razor to create the Mach3.  Men everywhere instantly recognized how much better the shaving experience must be with three blades.  I was too smart to fall for that.  I’ve instead spent a small fortune on Schick Quattro cartridges.  I happen to know that it’s a much better razor: it’s got four blades.  I have absolutely no idea what the extra blades do, exactly, but I’m certain I’d be a scruffy mess without them.  Today, we even have the Gillette Fusion Power, which incorporates six blades (one on the back) and a microchip.  Again, the marketing material doesn’t make entirely clear what the microchip does, but we can all agree: the more transistors a razor has, the closer the shave!

My favorite counting game is still with cheeses.  I enjoyed a great three-cheese pasta dish some years ago.  Some time later I had a great four-cheese lasagna, and later still I ordered a delicious five-cheese pizza.  Today I can order a six-cheese dish from several different restaurants.  And do you know what I reply when a server sets down a plate of six-cheese pasta and asks, “Would you care for some freshly grated Parmesan?”  I say, “Yes!”  Who wouldn’t want seven cheeses at once?

So I have to ask: with all this counting of superfluous components, did they just put a USB port on the X-ray machine ’cause stuff works better when it has more USB ports on it?

On Torture and Psychosis

An Associated Press article in the Boston Globe, 14 November 2008 begins:

VIENNA – Prosecutors filed a murder charge yesterday against the man accused of imprisoning his daughter for 24 years in a rat-infested cell and fathering her seven children, saying one of the youngsters who died in infancy might have survived if brought to a doctor.

It gets worse.  It gets a lot worse.  Read the whole thing and you’ll feel your grip on reality slipping away with every sentence.  The absolute surrealism of this story – the natural subconscious belief that this surely cannot have happened in the real world – almost makes it seem like this must have been written for The Onion, except nothing about it is even the tiniest bit funny.