Thursday, May 31, 2007

CB radios, Bonanza, and safes

When I first arrived in the U.S., I was into CB radios. Talking on a CB was, of course, a great way to learn more English.

On TV, at the time, there were a number of promos for the series Bonanza. The slogan went "Watch Bonanza!"

One day, I spoke with a man who indicated that he was watching Bonanza. So, someone actually did!

I then asked the man about one of my other interests: "Do you know where I can buy a safe?"

His answer was "No."


A news item today indicated that the daughter of one of the Supreme Court Justices entered into a plea bargain entailing probation for a DUI. Not being one to gossip, I am not going to mention which justice--or which daughter--is involved, but sufficice it to say that I always live in fear that there will be a scandal involing one of the good guys. That was not the case this time. It was not one of the four good justices. And, fortunately, among those I do not need to worry about any scandals involving children of David Souter.

Disgusting spammer arrested

USA Today reports that Robert Alan Soloway--described as "one of the world's most prolific spammers," or, as I would put it, a disgusting, no good, reprehensible, psychopathic SOB--has been arrested and is being held pending his a hearing on Monday. One apparent result of this arrest is that "computer users across the Web could notice a decrease in the amount of junk e-mail."

The bozo supposedly could get "decades" in prison, but there is some uncertainty as to which Federal sentencing guidelines will apply. I hope the harsher ones are found to be applicable.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How could I have been so wrong?

The title of this post would normally lead one to suspect that a sad love story is coming. It's not that bad at the moment, but the mistakes I made were literally astronomical in size.

Up until today, it was my understanding that Vega was the closest star to our solar system at a distance of some twenty-six light years. It was also my understanding that Vega was known as the North Star. I was also deceived by Gerry Rafferty's song "Right Down the Line" into believing that the "Northern Star" is "the brightest light that shines." Apparently, I was wrong on all three counts.

Proxima Centauri--the closest star to our solar system--is, apparently, "only" some 4.22 light years away.

The brightest star--other than the Sun--as seen from our solar system is apparently Sirius.

The North Star is, in the long run, technically not one enduring star. According to Wikipedia, this is "a title of the star best suited for navigation northwards." Currently, that status falls to Polaris, but Thuban was used some 3,000 years ago. In a thousand years or so, Gamma Cephei will apparently claim the title, but it will be another thousand years before the fit is optimal. When I looked up "Northern Star" in wikipedia, I got the name of some rock band. The real name, apparently, is the North Star. Did Gerry know of another source of light that I--and the astronomers--did not?

So, what is the big deal about Vega? According to Wikipedia, it is admittedly "the brightest star in the constellation Lyra." That, however, does not impress me much more than it would likely impress Shania Twain. It is only "the fifth brightest star in the sky."

Vega is apparenlty the star of choice "for the calibration of absolute photometric brightness scales." I have no idea how important that might be. To justify Vega's "cultural significance," Wikipedia notes that it was "first star to be photographed [and later] to have its spectrum photographed." How impressed am I supposed to be?

Now, why did I look up these issues?

An article on CNN's web site ( reported the discovery of "an odd planet the size of Neptune" which is apparently the first extra-solar system planet confirmed to have water. Although the water is estimated to have a temperature of some 247 degrees Celcius--almost two and a half the boiling tempreature at Earth sea level--the water is apparently "rock hard." Another CNN article at reports that the water at this planet can "survive" because "Smaller stars [like GJA recent article on CNN's web site 436 around which the planet orbits] are cooler and redder." I do not get why this allows the water to persist--even with the lesser heat radiated, 247 degrees Celcius is still extremely hot. It it because the greater mass of this planet results in higher pressure, increasing the temperature needed for boiling?

OK, so what does this have to do with anything, let alone distances from the solar system? The article said that this planet was only some 33 light years away from us. I wondered how likely it would be that some other solar system would be found so close if, as I mistakenly assumed, the closest star to Earth was 26 light years away.

At first, I attempted to calculate the area of a circle with our solar system in the center. I then examined the ratio of area covered to distance. Going from 26 light years to 33, the ratio was only 1.61. That is, one might expect only sixty-one one hundreds of a star to be found there if one assumes that the distribution density of the first star is representative.

It quickly dawned on me that space travel is, realistically speaking, likely to be at least three dimensional. (I say at least because Supersting Theorists might suggest that there are more dimensions involved, but only the three, so far, seem to involve a major distance. For now, I am ignoring the time dimension, holding it constant). Now, "inflation" happens much more quickly:

Still, going from 26 to 33 light years only increases the volume ratio to 2.04. That is when I became suspicious.

Now, when we examine the increase in volume, going from four light years to thirty three, we see the volume ratio increase to 226.87. Even going with the three dimensions, however, 101,540 light years cubed does not seem like all that much. I'm sure, however, that this neighborhood is bigger than it sounds. In a lifespan of some 100 years, one could only expect to be able to travel 1/540 of the distance of one extreme to the other going at the speed of light--if that is even possible. As Crossby, Stills, Nash, and Young remind us, it only takes "trav'ling twice the speed of sound" for it to get "easy to get burned."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Peace Planets?

This week, the Staples Center is hosting a Star Wars event. I am not sure of the details, but when talking by today, there were long lines. There were also people wearing strange outfits and weapons--albeit toy ones.

There is nothing new on going on a trip against a society that seems to encourage war in this way, but I am still tempted to think about the concept of a Peace Planets movie series. How many people would this attract? Is this an unrealistic idea, perhaps in part because the Peace Train has limited capacity and is likely to be confined to terrestrial travel?

One might argue that the analogy is flawed for complex grammatical reasons. Is there, for one thing, a meaningful plural of "peace," or is peace a default phenomenon that is not readily separable into discrete events? Nominally, "wars" in "Star Wars" is in the plural. "Star" is technically singular, but as a matter of pragmatics, the word becomes plural by implication when the context is considered. One could envision one peaceful planet, but once plurality is involved, at the planet level, the grammatically correct expression nominally has to be distributed exactly oppositely to the "star" version.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Do one hundred million people gossip every day?

This was a statistic offered on the Oprah & Friends show on XM Radio. No source was offered, so I am now sure how reliable this statistic is. Also, is this just in the U.S.? Do Canadians not even count? How many people gossip every day around the World? Reportedly, several municipal employees in New England were fired for gossiping during their lunch break.

Two thirds of all people reportedly gossip. Again, I have no idea what geographic scope is included in this statistic and what the criteria for "gossip" are.

Oprah went on to talk about people stealing from hotel rooms. She claims not to have taken anything other than shampoo samples hersef, but someone else reported that he at least somtimes took the "Do Not Disturb" sign. An industry insider suggested that was OK, and Oprah apparently thought this was a rather "cool" idea.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The bozos cancelled Gilmore Girls

As the late Jim Croce said, "It was bound to happen--just a matter of time." Hopefully, the decision the bozos made was "one of a painful kind."

Realistically, keeping Gilmore Girls going now that Rory would be on the road would probably be too difficult. Sure, Lorelai and Rory could talk over the phone, but part of the series is, of course, about their shared experiences.

I am torn. Maybe it is best that we each get to imagine how the story progresses. There were just so many issues left unresolved:
  1. Will Rory ever get a position at the New York Times?
  2. How will things turn out between Lorelai and Luke? Did the last episode strongly hint that they would remain "friends plus" with nothing more?
  3. Will anything happen between Rory and Logan? Their last encounter, when Rory turn down Logan's proposal, was rather surprising. Both Rory and Logan have been known to reverse themselves.
  4. Will Luke and his daughter be able to take the boat trip next year?
  5. How will things turn out with Lane's two babies? What will be the relationship with their grandmother?
  6. Will we ever see Lane's father? Lane has repeatedly referred to "my parents," but we have never seen the father. Wouldn't he at least have some obligation to show up for his daughter's wedding?
I had feared this would happen when Rory went off to college. Harvard would have been a considerable distance from Stars Hollow, but then we got a reprieve when Rory decided on nearby Yale instead. But, with Rory now on the road, "[writing] us out of this" one might have been too difficult even for Joan Wilder.

The number of truly eccentric people on TV has been considerably reduced with the passing of Gilmore Girls. I just hope they don't cancel Monk anytime soon!

Nightmare of the week

Tonight, I had a nightmare involving travel. First, there was, again, some question of getting on the right plane at the right time, but that seemed to be resolving itself.

The real trouble was that I had not clarified ahead of time whether my Blackberry would function in Denmark and, if so, what any roaming charges would be for use.

What is a web site?

A British judge presiding over a terrorism related criminal trial apparently shocked the public when stating "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a Web site is." That comment did not make the judge seem particularly competent, especially in the fifth week of the trial.

A judicial communications offer has now clarified that "Mr Justice Openshaw is entirely computer literate and indeed has taken notes on his own computer in court for many years. ... Mr Justice Openshaw was simply clarifying the evidence presented, in an easily understandable form for all those in court."

This raises the question of whether the question was a rhetorical one or, if, instead, the judge raised the more subtle question of categorization. What criteria must an entity meet to be a web site? Not all web sites have the "www" prefix. Some web site use the secure "https" preface. Not all URLs are web sites--they could be single files or addresses for FTP transfer.

There is also the issue of graded structure--which entities are the "better" exemplars of the category? Is a blog hosted on Blogspot a web site, or is the as a whole better seen as the web site, with each independent blog merely being a division of the site? Is my site at a web site in its own right? What about the backup site for my class immediately below the main site at

With the evolving technology and terminology, who really knows what a web site is?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A rather morbid link

It has come to my attention that there is a link to my basic marketing section on from the "MORT 3016: Funeral Service Marketing and Merchandising" course page on the University of Minnesota Biomedical Library web site.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Who doesn't love a surprise?

Suki asked this question tonight on the season finale of Gilmore Girls.

I, for one, do not! As someone very insightfully remarked when asked about the nature of Hell, "Surprises!"

Spacey exam answers

At the conclusion of the Fall semester, I commented that a number of students had written rather corny answers to one of my final exam questions.

This semester, I will have to say that some of the answers to one question were rather spacey.

This semester, I can no more blame the students for the exam answer outcome than I could last time. In the Fall, I had a question about the diffusion of hybrid corn. This time, I had a question about perceputal maps.

This marked the first time that an exam of mine did not feature any questions about fictional rap musicians. I am not sure why; somehow, the questions just did not emerge. It was more deliberate--given a rather tragic event recently in the news--that I did not feature any questions about Avenging Ammo.

So what did I have this time? There were some beautiful questions about:
  • Optimal pricing of cookies sold by The Greedy Girl Scout Group.
  • Effective public relations methods by Sigma Sigma Sigma, also known as the Sorority Sister Surfers.
  • A possible strategic problem for, a web site that would not allow children who had misbehaved to go to any other web destinations until they had (1) written for at least five hours about why they were being punished and (2) left comments on at least fifteen other children's entries on how much they deserved to be punished.
  • Traitor Joe, a rather repugnant fellow engaging in severely objectionable import and export practices.

Backache today

With apologies to the Eagles:

Some boxes were going to hurt my back
Before the day was through
There is a backache today
Backache today
Backache today, I know
There is nothing I can do
Except to continue to take aspirin

Hoffman Hall in the Marshall School of business is undergoing renovation. This has set in motion a large chain of events of office relocations. Yesterday, it was my time to move. The song lyrics above hint at the more salient collateral consequences for me. My new office is considerably smaller than my old one, so I have to move a large number of items into storage. For now, my office is littered with boxes, but my back is probably not going to allow for this straegic relocation today.

To paraphrase Call Sign Charlie in Top Gun, "It's a good thing that [I] don't have to make a living as a singer."

Fax nightmares: Poisson distributions and conditional probabilities

Last night, I had a dream that I had a notice on my answering machine with instructions on how to deliver a fax. As it turns out, I have not had a fax machine connected to my phone for many years now and, now that I think about it, although I have sent a handful of faxes during the last year, I am not sure that I have actually received a fax at work during the last six months (or during the last year, for that matter). Anyway, the message set to press some buttons (as one would do to use a fax on a shared voice phoneline), but somehow, I did not have a fax connected. So far as I recall, it wasn't that I was actually expecting any faxes, but it appears that I heard the answering macine go off. (These days, I give out my more permanent cell phone number rather than my home phone, so there is usually no reason for me to answer the phone at home--statistically, it is very likely to be a wrong number or a "spam" call).

Does it take an eccentric to have a nightmare about fax machines? It probably doesn't. These things are probably a very rare event that happens with the same limited frequency among eccentrics, "normal" people, and "others." That is, the null hypothesis that the conditional probability is the same for all three groups is probably the same. The event probably follows a Poisson Distribution.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The lesser of seventeen evils

The title of this entry seems rather pessimistic at first glance, but it should actually be a cause for optimism. Here's why:

Assuming that evils are normally distributed, one is a lot better off having seventeen--rather than two--to pick from. This is evident in the following chart, ranking random samples of the lesser of two, and seventeen, evils, each with an expected mean of 1.5:

On avearage, the lesser of two evils was 1.229. The lesser of seventeen evils was only .534.

Why the number seventeen? I could say that seventeen is the largest prime number less than nineteen, or the third smallest prime number that can be expressed in two digits, but neither of those two reasons would be particularly persuasive. Seventeen was just the number I thought of.

I'll take that as a compliment

Yesterday, a student sent me an e-mail saying "You are the [excrement]." At first I thought this was a student who was about to complain about her project scores. It turned out to be a highly complimentary note, however.

This appears to be a new--or at least new to me--piece of slang. I am well aware that, for many years, that referring to a meal that someone has prepared as "baad" is actually used as a tremendous compliment in African American slang.

It's just difficult for me to imagine how being thought of as excrement can be complimentary, but one lives and learns--or at least should live and learn--every day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

United Airlines, the means-end chain, and theory of mind

My all time favorite advertisement is the United Airlines black-and-white cartoon ad featuring a man flying out for a job interview, leaving behind his dog while he goes. It has been posted on Youtube at . (A close second is the Wausau Insurance ad featuring Fred Fox, the very concise "world renowned expert on efficiency and effectiveness.")

The United Ad is illustrative of important issues for both marketing and autism. It is interesting how these illustrations are related.

In terms of marketing, this is the strongest illustration I have seen yet of the means-end chain. It is made clear that the passenger flies not for the purpose of flying, but rather to get to a destination to undertake activities. This illustrated in the closing comment: "Where you go in life is up to you. There is one airline that can take you there: United."

In terms of autism, this is a splendid illustration of the idea of theory of mind. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty relating to what other people are thinking, and sometimes even to the idea that others have ideas and thoughts different from one's own. In this ad, we trace a man's experience with some interesting cues to his thoughts and feelings. The only spoken words are the closing comment mentioned above. It is apparent, however, that the man is quite overwhelmed with the large building in which his job interview takes place. It appears that he is asked tough questions in the interview. On the way down from the elevator, the man clearly looks exhausted, dejected, and unoptimistic. As he walks on the street, however, the man's cell phone suddenly rings. Seeing the man's jump with joy, it appears he got the job.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Another brush with the iPodless life

Yesterday, my iPod stopped functioning. It was not easy to find repair information on Apple's web site. In fact, I did not find out what to do. It appears, however, that it was my charger that was the problem. When I recharged while driving, the iPod came back to life!


My students are not going to like this! Last night, I had a dream that I was going back to school--I think in International Business--at UCLA! It actually did not feel like a nightmare.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Paying attention

My mother once reported an experience riding with a rather obnoxious woman who kept telling her horse "Pay attention!" My mother said that she continuoulsy held her tongue rather than asking, "How much does attention cost?"

In the news today, there is a story about paying attention that does not answer that question, either. It was interesting to hear, however, that some French hotel woman had been given a forty-five day jail sentence for driving with a suspended license. Showing some measure of remorse, the hotel woman allegedly said that "I'm very sorry and from now on I'm going to pay complete attention to everything..."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'm so blogging about this!

That's what I heard someone saying today. Shows some interesting linguistic developments over the last decade!

Price sensitivity (high, moderate, low)

In a sample assignment I posted to illustrate an assignment on segmentation, targeting, positioning, I included price sensitivity as a variable, listing the values of high, moderate, and low. The vast majority of students seem to have jumpled on the bandwagon, including this variable with exactly these three levels. Does this segmentation division seem to be rather universally applicable, or are we dealing with a strong force of conformity?

Unprofitable social irresponsibility

A very insightful ed-op piece in Forbes, written by two Marshall professors, suggests that paying low wages may not be such a bright idea after all. Right on!

No coffee--at Starbucks?

Last week-end, I attended the Marketing Educators' Association conference in San Antonio. (A previous post touchingly detailed my iPodless existence there).

One attendee related his experience of having gone to Starbucks only to be told that they had no coffee. At first we were indignant, finding it difficult to believe that this chain would fail to deliver on its core competency. Of course, one might be prepared for the unusual since a sissy place like Starbucks is not all that congruent with the idea of Texas but then again, there is some diversity in most areas. After thinking about the issue for some time, I started to realize that maybe my "paradigm" may at best a bit traditonal and quite possibly overly too narrow. Wouldn't it broaden a person's perspective to drink some exotic tea, or some imaginary berry mix, rather than the habitual coffee? And if they happen to be out of those beverages, too, what is wrong with a plain cup of water? Isn't Starbucks mostly about the atmosphere?

What was wrong with me? I stand corrected!