SNOWFLAKES HAVE SIX SIDES

So we put up the office Christmas decorations this week, and there were a couple that really got me peeved.

I suppose they were intended to represent snowflakes, but they were like no snowflake that ever existed on this planet. Instead of the natural hexagonal symmetry (six sides), they had octagonal symmetry (eight sides) – eight branches coming off the center in a squarish pattern.

Here’s a photo of an honest to goodness real snowflake:

A real snowflake! The way nature intends them to be!

See that? SIX SIDES! Here are more photos of the types of actual snowflakes, in all their amazing variety:

http://www.thoughtco.com/snowflake-crystal-shapes-609172

The one thing they have in common? SIX SIDES.

Here’s a photo of the sort of thing that got put up around the office:

NOT SNOWFLAKES

I suppose the reason these abominations exist is because people are too lazy to bother learning the trick to making the necessary hexagonal fold.

But come on, it’s not that hard. And there are plenty of “How To” websites, like this one:

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-6-Pointed-Paper-Snowflakes/

If you prefer watching a video:

I actually use that method for the hexagonal fold, but I’ve never ironed them. Instead, I pause when I’ve made that dart shape and before I begin cutting. I unfold the paper, smooth out all the creases, and then fold it back up.

Pro Tips: The thinner the paper, the easier it is to fold and cut. Use sharp scissors! Also, always make straight line cuts. No curves! Real snowflakes do NOT have curves!

If you make a mistake cutting them, or they don’t look good, don’t worry. It’s just paper! Toss the defective ones in the Recycling Bin (White Paper Only), and make another.

So do it right and make your own individual unique snowflakes, OK?

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Book Review: Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
by H.W. Brands
Doubleday
(c) 2005 by the author

The current president likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, choosing Jackson’s portrait to hang in the Oval Office. Jackson is going to be removed from the $20 bill, to be replaced by Harriet Tubman. All the hubbub over Jackson has many people in a lather about him; essentially he’s seen as the Anti-Christ for his slave ownership and the “Trail of Tears”.

I thought it might be a good idea, then, to read a biography of our seventh President, and learn something of what all the fuss is about.

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The Hall of Fame and the Keltner List

It’s that time of year again – the Baseball Hall of Fame has released their annual ballot. Let the arguments begin!

The arguments typically involve analyzing a player’s statistics (which is NOT to be confused with statistical analysis!) and deciding who is better on some arcane and arbitrary scale.

There’s “Wins Above Replacement”, which exists in two versions. At Baseball Reference, you can look up Bill James’ “Black Ink”, “Gray Ink”, and “Hall of Fame Monitor”, which all assign points to various career accomplishments and compare them to players already in the Hall. Jay Jaffe has come up with his “JAWS” score, which is an attempt to combine everything into a single number by which one can easily judge a player’s Hall-worthiness.

(Note that JAWS and WAR are pretty much calculations in a multidimensional space – but more on that in a future post….)

These are all attempts to take something that is purely subjective – a player’s greatness – and treat it in an objective manner. But they still wind up being subjective in the way they assign weights and importance to their individual components. And what the heck is meant by a “half a win” above replacement, anyway?

I figure we should drop all the pretense of objectivity, and go with the Keltner List.

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The Outrage Factor

These past few weeks have seen a lot of creepy guys getting called out on the carpet for their crappy treatment of women. Harvey Weinstein got what he deserved, Kevin Spacey was outed, an accused child molester is running for the Senate in Alabama, even Sen. Al Franken got caught with his hands where they should not have been. El Presidente still has a reputation for grabbing women, and former president Bill Clinton is being raked over the coals again by some for his past personal affairs.

It’s getting so common that you can’t tell what to be outraged about anymore.

As it happens, I think I’ve come up with a formula that can help you decide what to be outraged over, and how much outrage to give it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Time Travel

Time Travel
James Gleick
Pantheon Books
Copyright 2016 by the author

If you were looking for someone who could explain all the ins and outs and forwards and sideways of time travel, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better writer than James Gleick. He’s previously tackled topics like chaos theory and the life and work of Richard Feynman. So a history of the idea of time travel seems like a natural subject for him to present to the average intelligent reader.

Gleick starts by taking us back in time to when H.G. Wells was penning “The Time Machine”. He discusses early drafts of the novel, and mentions some of the problems that reviewers noted – what happens if solid objects are in the space the Traveler is passing through, for one, and how do you account for the fact that the earth is both rotating and moving through space (the latter is one that time travelers always seem to forget).

From there, he moves forward in time through physicists treating time mathematically as a dimension, philosophers grappling with the concept of time, and even lexicographers trying to simply come up with a definition of the term that doesn’t wind up spinning in circles: “Time is what clocks measure”; “A clock is a device for measuring the passage of time.”[1]

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Investigations, Indictments, and Impeachment

There was a brief bit of excitement as the first round of indictments came out of Robert Muller’s investigation a few days ago. Some on The Left started doing a happy dance, hoping that this was just the beginning, and the dragnet would very shortly close in around the president and force the start of the impeachment process.

Well, it’s not that simple. There’s still a lot more to do and uncover, and even then it might not be enough for an impeachment. Sure, Trump’s sympathies (such as they are) are pro-Russia. But that, in and of itself, isn’t a crime. One would need direct evidence that he conspired with Russia. Or that members of his campaign team did, and he knew about it and did nothing.

Given his recent panic over the investigation, it seems as if things are hitting close to home. Perhaps he really does have something to worry about, or he’s so insecure that he cannot handle any challenge to his authority. Either way, there are two things we need to watch out for.

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On the 2017 World Series

Wow.

What a World Series! What can I say? It was an unbelievable set of games, between two amazing teams. All the games were very close and hard-fought. Even the ones that look like blowouts from the final score weren’t. Game 4, that ended with the Dodgers winning 6-2? It was tied at 1 going to the ninth inning. And even Game 7 was tighter than you’d think.

Sure, the Astros scored their five runs early. Yu Darvish is probably already getting blamed for it, but watch the replays. Springer’s leadoff double was fair by inches, and if Cody Bellinger has simply put the ball in his pocket instead of throwing it to El Monte…. Meanwhile, Astros’ starter Lance McCullers must have thought he was playing dodgeball instead of baseball against the Dodgers – he hit four of the thirteen batters he faced. But the Dodgers offense left the population of Burbank on the basepaths, dooming whatever chances they were handed.

Even so, knowing the state of the Astros’ bullpen and the overall strength of the Dodgers’ offense, there was always the hope / worry that Los Angeles would put something together and pull out a win. They didn’t really look dead until the bottom of the ninth.

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Do You Like Scary Movies?

It’s that time of year when film critics and fans trot out their lists of the greatest horror movies of all time. They’re usually pretty good, and one can generally predict which ones will be in the Top Ten.

Brazilian film critic and cinephile Diego Carrera approached the topic from a different perspective. Noting that from their very beginnings, movies tried to shock and startle people, he picked one important “horror” movie for every year from 1895 to 2016:

Careful viewers will note that, strictly speaking, not everything on the list qualifies as Horror. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, for example, is a comedy. But they’ve all got their moments that are at least unsettling.

You are free to disagree with some of the movies Carrera’s included. But keep in mind, it’s based on the YEAR, and isn’t intended to be a list of the “greatest” (even though many of them would be on such a list).

So check it out, and see if there’s something there that you haven’t seen yet….and then check that out!

On Presidential Succession

With “El Presidente” showing more and more signs of his his colossal unsuitability for holding the highest office in the land, commenters in various fora on the the Internet are speculating on what happens when Trump is pushed out, either by impeachment or Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Many are worried that Mike Pence is just as corrupt as Trump, so he’ll soon be given the boot as well. This leads them to the unpleasant prospect of President Paul Ryan.

While they do get the Presidential Order of Succession correct (President, Vice President, Speaker of the House), they miss one important fact: that order presumes an essentially simultaneous removal of both the president and the VP. As a historical example, when President Reagan was shot, and VP George H.W. Bush was on his way to Washington DC and therefore out of contact for a little while, Speaker Tip O’Neill was technically acting as president for a few hours.

So unless Trump and Pence are both incapacitated at the same time (and for any length of time) through some unbelievable set of circumstances, Paul Ryan isn’t getting anywhere near the Oval Office.

There’s a historical precedent for what happens under the rules currently in force when a president leaves office.

You may recall – I hope – that when Nixon resigned, VP Gerald Ford was inaugurated as President. That left the office of VP vacant. Speaker of the House Carl Albert did NOT automatically become VP. At best, he became ACTING VP – but I don’t see any provision in the rules that allows that to happen.

Section 2 of the 25th Amendment deals with the situation when there’s a vacancy in the office of Vice President:

“Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. Ford was inaugurated that same day. On August 20, Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller – then the governor of New York – to become his VP. Congress debated and discussed the nomination (it took a while; there were a number of financial improprieties in Rockefeller’s career that needed to be clarified), eventually giving their approval. He took the oath of office on December 19.

So if Trump is booted and Pence becomes President, one of his very first acts had better be the nomination of a new VP. Ryan may have something to say about the nomination, but he won’t automatically become VP himself. Even if something happens to put Pence out of commission for a while during the nomination process, Ryan isn’t likely to be more than a temporary placeholder.

Ryan will have even less to say about the process should the Democrats take control of the House in 2018. That will give them the right to pick their own Speaker of the House. So if we Democrats can hold our horses until then (and concentrate on winning Congress), we will be in a great position for dealing with and controlling a President Pence.

Here’s a fun scenario to think about: Given the GOP’s control of Congress, and that they are not likely to turn on one of their own, impeachment / removal doesn’t start until the Democrats win control of both houses of Congress in 2018. Trump is shown the door and asked to hand over his keys in early 2019. Then, President Pence is essentially forced to choose a VP who is liked and approved by Democrats. They browbeat him into nominating Hillary Clinton (who handily wins approval). Then, Pence is told to take a hike….