Category Archives: offhand

The furniture sentiment

Today’s Memorial Library find:  the magazine Advertising and Selling.  The September 1912 edition features “How Furniture Could Be Better Advertised,” by Arnold Joerns, of E.J. Thiele and Co.

Joerns complains that in 1911, the average American spend $81.22 on food, $26.02 on clothes, $19.23 on intoxicants, $9.08 on tobacco, and only $6.19 on furniture.  “Do you think furniture should be on the bottom of this list?” he asks, implicitly shaking his head.  “Wouldn’t you — dealer or manufacturer — rather see it nearer the top, — say at least ahead of tobacco and intoxicants?”

Good news for furniture lovers:  by 2012, US spending on “household furnishings and equipment” was  at $1,506 per household, almost a quarter as much as we spent on food.  (To be fair, it looks like this includes computers, lawnmowers, and many other non-furniture items.)  Meanwhile, spending on alcohol is only $438.  That’s pretty interesting:  in 1911, liquor expenditures were a quarter of food expenditures; now it’s less than a tenth.  Looks like a 1911 dollar is roughly 2012$25, so the real dollars spent on alcohol aren’t that different, but we spend a lot more now on food and on furniture.

Anyway, this piece takes a spendidly nuts turn at the end, as Joerns works up a head of steam about the moral peril of discount furniture:

I do not doubt but that fewer domestic troubles would exist if people were educated to a greater understanding of the furniture sentiment.  Our young people would find more pleasure in an evening at home — if we made that home more worth while and a source of personal pride; then, perhaps, they would cease joy-riding, card-playing, or drinking and smoking in environments unhealthful to their minds and bodies.

It would even seem reasonable to assume, that if the public mind were educated to appreciate more the sentiment in furniture and its relation to the Ideal Home, we would have fewer divorces.  Home would mean more to the boys and girls of today and the men and women of tomorrow.  Obviously, if the public is permitted to lose more and more its appreciation of home sentiment, the divorce evil will grow, year by year.

Joerns proposes that the higher sort of furniture manufacturers boost their brand by advertising it, not as furniture, but as “meuble.” This seems never to have caught on.

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AI challop

When I was a kid people thought it would be a long time before computers could adequately translate natural language text, or play Go against a human being, because you’d need some kind of AI to do those things, and AI seemed really hard.

Now we know that you can get pretty decent translation and Go without anything like AI.  But AI still seems really hard.

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I’m at Disney World with CJ, on a Pirates of the Caribbean-style ride, a car careening through a tunnel.  On the wall of the tunnel there are math posters, the kind you’d see in a high school classroom, about Pascal’s triangle, conic sections, etc.  And I feel sort of annoyed and depressed, because I know that Disney is going to make a big deal about how educational this ride is, but actually, nobody except me is looking at the posters, nobody who didn’t already know the math could get anything out of the posters, the way the car speeds down the track.

Please interpret and derive relevant policy prescriptions for math pedagogy in comments.

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Posthumous appreciation

Monday was the day of appreciating David Bowie on my Facebook feed.  That’s the way it is when people die; until that moment, you can, if you’re inclined to, say their best work is behind them, they were never that great anyway, etc etc.  Afterwards, for a while at least, it’s pure appreciation, love, honor.

Why do we do it that way?  It seems totally backwards.  For my own part, I want everyone to appreciate me and tell me I’m great right now, while I can enjoy it.  And if you think my work is overrated and anyway I’m kind of a jerk?  After I’m dead would be an awesome time to bring that up.  You have my permission, go for it.

Ranking mathematicians

I’m on the hiring committee, I chair the graduate admissions committee, and I’m doing an NSF panel, so basically I’ll be spending much of this month judging and ranking people’s mathematics.  There’s a lot I like about these jobs:  it’s a very efficient way to get a panorama of what’s going on in math and what people think about it.  The actual ranking part I don’t like that much — especially because the nature of hiring, admissions, and grant-making means you’re inevitably putting tons of very worthwhile stuff below the line.  I feel like a researcher when I read the proposals, like a bureaucrat when I put scores on them.

But of course the bureaucratic work needs to be done.  I’d go so far as to say — if mathematicians aren’t willing to rank each other, others will rank us, and that would be worse.

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My Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number is 11

I am pleased to report that I have an Erdös-Bacon-Sabbath number.

My Erdös number is 3; has been for a while, probably always will be.  I wrote a paper with Mike Bennett and Nathan Ng about solutions to A^4 + B^2 = C^p; Mike wrote with Florian Luca; Luca wrote with Erdös.

A while back, I shot a scene for the movie Gifted.  I’m not on the IMDB page yet, but I play against type as “Professor.”  Also in this movie is Octavia Spencer, who was in Beauty Shop (2005) with Kevin Bacon.  So my Bacon number is 2.

That gives me an Erdös-Bacon number of 5; already pretty high on the leaderboard!

Of course it then fell to me to figure out whether I have a Sabbath number.  Here’s the best chain I could make.

I once played guitar on “What Goes On” with my friend Jay Michaelson‘s band, The Swains, at Brownies.

Jay performed with Ezra Lipp “sometime in 2000,” he reports.

Lipp has played with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.

From here we use the Six Degrees of Black Sabbath tool, written by Paul Lamere at EchoNest (now part of the Spotify empire.)

The Black Crowes backed up Jimmy Page at a concert in 1999.

Page played with David Coverdale in Coverdale.Page.

David Coverdale was in Deep Purple with Glenn Hughes of Black Sabbath.

So my Sabbath number is 6, and my Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number is 11.







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i, you sneaky bastard

Childhood memory:  I learned that i is formally defined to be the square root of -1.  Well, I thought, that worked well, what about the square root of i?  Surely that must be yet a new kind of number.  I just had to check that (a+bi)^2 can never be i.  But whoa, you can solve that!  (sqrt(2)/2) + (sqrt(2)/2)i does the trick.  I was kind of bowled over by this.  i, you sneaky bastard — you anticipated my next move and got ahead of me!  I had no idea what “algebraically closed” meant, or anything like that.  But it was one of my first experience of the incredible power of the right definition.  Once the definition is right, you can just do everything.


Imagine 33 percent

This, from the New York Times Book Review, bugged me:

There are 33 percent more such women in their 20s than men. To help us see what a big difference 33 percent is, Birger invites us to imagine a late-night dorm room hangout that’s drawing to an end, and everyone wants to hook up. “Now imagine,” he writes, that in this dorm room, “there are three women and two men.”

It’s not so bad that the reviewer was confused about percentages; it’s that she went out of her way to explain what the percentage meant, and said something totally wrong.

I figured the mistake was probably inherited from the book under review, so I checked on Google Books, and nope; the book uses the example, but correctly, as an example of how to visualize a population with 50% more women than men!

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Leibniz on music

Leibniz wrote:

Even the pleasures of sense are reducible to intellectual pleasures, known confusedly.  Music charms us, although its beauty consists only in the agreement of numbers and in the counting, which we do not perceive but which the soul nevertheless continues to carry out, of the beats or vibrations of sounding bodies which coincide at certain intervals.

Boy, do I disagree.  Different pleasures are different.

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Going Out of Business

There’s a certain strain of 1960s-70s visual art that’s so sunny, so optimistic, so earnest in its belief that a better world is possible and that world would be really colorful, that it makes me cheerful whenever I see it.  (Relevant:  Mexico 68 Olympics poster.)  So I was happy to go by this in the Chazen today:

But it turns out that, while Mel Bochner is actually a painter active in that era, he made this in 2013!  Thanks for keeping it going, Mel Bochner, whoever you are.  I like this a lot and I like the Chazen for putting it up.

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