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Lionel Mandrake

Profile Information

Gender: Male
Hometown: The Left Coast
Home country: USA
Current location: electrical wires
Member since: Sun Jul 1, 2007, 06:47 PM
Number of posts: 3,383

About Me

I study, play the piano, play chess and go, and enjoy the company of my wife, children, grandchildren, other relatives, and friends. I am a perennial student at a local university, where they let me take classes and use the library for free (because I'm old). My serious reading includes math, science, history, and biography. I enjoy science fiction and mysteries, which my wife and I refer to as "mind rot". And now on to politics. I hated Nixon and Reagan. I think W is a war criminal and was easily the worst president in US history. Thank Darwin he's gone. I will support any candidate who is a "dove". I support "plan B" without prescription for girls of all ages. I support free abortion on demand, without delay, and without the requirement to notify anyone, for all women and girls who want it. I think it's time to repeal the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the very rich. I think other damage done by conservative Supreme Court Justices rivals that done by the monster they put in the White House.

Journal Archives

R.I.P. Alexander Grothendieck

The great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck died a few days ago. He was 86 years old.

Alexander Grothendieck ( ... 28 March 1928 – 13 November 2014) was a German-born French mathematician, and the leading figure in creating modern algebraic geometry. His research program vastly extended the scope of the field, incorporating major elements of commutative algebra, homological algebra, sheaf theory, and category theory into its foundations. This new perspective led to revolutionary advances across many areas of pure mathematics.

Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Grothendieck
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sun Nov 16, 2014, 02:43 PM (4 replies)

Why I like some dictionaries more than others

I am the proud owner of what will probably be the last print edition of the granddaddy of all English dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Among its other virtues, when describing etymology it does not transliterate Greek words. It prints them using the Greek alphabet. The same is true of Cassell's Latin dictionary and the monumental Oxford Latin Dictionary.

Transliteration made some sense in the era of typewriters and hot-metal typesetting, but those technological dinosaurs are nearly extinct. Almost all printing is now done by computer. Since Greek fonts are widely available, there is no excuse for new dictionaries not to print Greek words in the Greek alphabet.

Many dictionaries now in print are photographic reproductions of older editions, so transliteration can not be replaced by Greek text.

Last time I checked the online OED it had not evolved much from the print edition. The Greek alphabet was used where appropriate, but unfortunately no Greek font was used. Instead, each Greek letter was a Graphics box, which means that those of us with bad eyesight could not zoom in on Greek words the way we could on English words.

Another criterion for dictionaries is the way they describe pronunciation. The gold standard for pronunciation is the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association (IPA). The best dictionaries (e.g., the OED) use the IPA alphabet, at least as a starting point.
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sun Nov 16, 2014, 01:43 PM (0 replies)

Pronunciation of articles in English

Everyone knows that the pronunciation of the indefinite article depends on whether the following word begins with a vowel or a consonant. The spelling reflects the pronunciation. Thus we say "a dog" and "an owl". (There are borderline cases: some say "a historical drama"; others say "an historical drama".)

Did you know that the pronunciation of the definite article also depends on whether the following word begins with a vowel or a consonant? The spelling is always "the", but "the" usually rhymes with "knee" in front of a vowel, and usually rhymes with "uh" in front of a consonant. (There are exceptions; can you find them?)
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Wed Nov 12, 2014, 03:11 PM (11 replies)

Today is the anniversary of two important events.

1. November 9, 1938 was Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) in Germany and Austria. Jews were attacked by Nazi storm troopers and civilians. Jewish shops had their windows broken (hence the name). Synagogues were damaged or destroyed. About 100 Jews were murdered, and tens of thousands were sent to concentration camps.

Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht

2. November 9, 1989 was Mauerfall (the fall of the Berlin Wall).

"the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere."

This was part of a sequence of events that led to the reunification of Germany and, eventually, the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sun Nov 9, 2014, 01:01 PM (4 replies)

Jury Duty in America

The dreaded letter arrives, informing you that you have been randomly selected for jury duty. You must go to a courthouse up to 20 miles away and report to the jury assembly room. There you will be subjected to pep talks from various bureaucrats, usually including a judge (or a video of a judge). If selected for a jury panel, you and other potential jurors will be herded into a courtroom. You will be told the nature of the case to be tried. Most likely it will be a criminal case (as opposed to a lawsuit). You will be asked questions by lawyers on both sides - the prosecution and the defense. You may also be questioned by the judge. If you show an obvious bias toward one side or the other, you will be excluded from the jury "for cause". Otherwise you may be excluded by what is called a "peremptory challenge" by one side or the other. Each side is allowed a certain number of peremptory challenges, which means they may exclude you from the jury without saying why.

Peremptory challenges are controversial. Many experts have questioned whether they serve any useful purpose, other than to support an industry of jury consultants, who advise the lawyers about whether a particular juror is likely to vote guilty or not guilty. Defense lawyers have been known to brag about how they managed to pick stupid jurors to get their clients off.

You'd think jury selection would be simple and fast, but sometimes it takes longer to select the jury than it does to try the case. That's mainly because of peremptory challenges. It's also because of peremptory challenges that so many people get called for jury duty, and so few are selected for an actual jury. Jurors are paid so little that the courts have no incentive to use their time efficiently.

Things are different in England, where peremptory challenges have been abolished. In England, jury selection is a breeze, and there is no jury selection industry.

Which do you think is better, the English or the American way of picking juries?
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sat Nov 1, 2014, 03:53 PM (18 replies)

Cranks and the Internet

Cranks are people with bizarre ideas unsupported by evidence. Some of them proclaim that "Einstein was wrong!" Others are busy raising funds to counteract gravity or travel faster than light. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The internet makes it possible for cranks (and others) to find each other and get organized more easily than ever before. Consider, for example, the Flat Earth Society. According to Wikipedia, in the 1970s and 1980s (before the Internet), they published the Flat Earth News, with headlines like the following:

"Whole World Deceived... Except the Very Elect" (Dec. 1977)
"Australia Not Down Under" (May 1978)
"Sun Is a Light 32 Miles Across" (Dec. 1978)
"The Earth Has No Motion" (Jun. 1979)
"Nikita Krushchev Father of NASA" (Mar. 1980)
"Galileo Was a Liar" (Dec. 1980)
"Science Insults Your Intelligence" (Sep. 1980)
"World IS Flat, and That's That" (Sep. 1980)
"The Earth Is Not a Ball; Gravity Does Not Exist" (Mar. 1981)

Membership in the Flat Earth Society fell from an earlier peak of 3500 to around 200 in 1980.
In 2004, Daniel Shenton resurrected the Flat Earth Society, basing it around a web-based discussion forum. This eventually led to the official relaunch of the society in October 2009, and the creation of a new website, featuring the world's largest public collection of Flat Earth literature and a user-edited encyclopedia. Moreover, the society began accepting new members for the first time since 2001, with musician Thomas Dolby becoming the first member to join the newly reconvened society. As of July 2014, over 500 people have become members.

Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_Society

You can also check out the Flat Earth Society's own website:
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Fri Oct 24, 2014, 01:30 PM (3 replies)

After watching the TV series "The Killing" I asked what piano piece

Kyle was playing in Season 4. My friend Google answered ...

Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Fri Oct 3, 2014, 07:26 PM (4 replies)

The Blues is everywhere

What do we mean by the blues? Your answer will depend on the types of music you listen to.

If you go to blues clubs, you will expect to hear blue notes, which give the music a certain sweetness.

If you like 1960s rock, you may or may not hear the blues in this tune:

Bent notes, which are mandatory in delta blues and optional in rock, are rare in jazz. What a jazz aficionado calls the blues typically has the same chords, with some variations, as any other blues. Although most blues has mostly major chords, there is such a thing as a minor blues, e.g.:

Occasionally the 12 bar format is changed to 24 bars:

Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Tue Sep 30, 2014, 02:29 PM (18 replies)

What's the best way to backup the hard disk on a Mac Pro?

Should I buy external storage, install another disk, or use iCloud?

Or is there some other way?
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sun Sep 14, 2014, 10:43 PM (6 replies)

The scientific explanation of tetrachromacy is somewhat involved.

The story goes on to say that

the gene for our red and green cone types lies on the X chromosome. Since women have two X chromosomes, they could potentially carry two different versions of the gene, each encoding for a cone that is sensitive to slightly different parts of the spectrum. In addition to the other two, unaffected cones, they would therefore have four in total – making them a “tetrachromat”. For these reasons, it’s thought to be a condition exclusive to women, though researchers can’t totally rule out the possibility that men may somehow inherit it too.

This is about right, except for the last sentence. (Having only one X chromosome, men could not possibly be tetrachromats.)

The article cited in the OP fails to mention that in each cell in a woman, only one of the X chromosomes is active. Each X chromosome normally has a gene controlling the pigment in red cones and another gene controlling the pigment in green cones. Both types of gene are quite variable in the human population. This makes for some variety in the spectra of red and green pigments. (Technically, they are called long- and medium-wavelength pigments.) A woman's retina is actually a mosaic - like the skin of a calico cat. In some patches, one of her X chromosomes is active. In other patches, the other X chromosome is active. In principle a woman could be a pentachromat, i.e, she could have five different types of cones: two red, two green, and one blue (short wavelength). (The gene controlling the pigment in blue cones does not lie on the X chromosome, so it is impossible for anyone to have more than one type of blue cone.) Pentachromacy probably exists, but it has not been observed. Its effects would be very subtle indeed.
Posted by Lionel Mandrake | Sat Sep 13, 2014, 08:18 PM (1 replies)
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