Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Fun News?

Of course, the biggest news of the Kansas City Chiefs' dominating win over Chicago was a 33-year-old spectator sitting in the club level. Watching the game alongside Donna Kelce, whom we Chiefs fans refer to as Mama Kelce, was one Taylor Alison Swift, who may very well be the biggest music star on the planet.

If you live under a rock, you might not know that Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce -- who is clearly one of the top players at the position and one of the key reasons the Chiefs play at the elite level they do -- has expressed a crush on Swift, and they have been what every news story I've read has called "hanging out."

Lots of 33-year-olds hang out. But when one of them is NFL royalty and the other is music and cultural royalty, then it becomes something people talk about. And do more than talk, for that matter -- sales of Kelce's jersey rose four hundred percent since Swift was spotted in her club box seat with Mama Kelce. For KC folks, Mama Kelce is perhaps even more beloved than her yardage-generating son. When she wanted to see son Jason play for the Philadelphia Eagles as well as Travis play in KC on the same day, the mayor of Kansas City offered a police escort from the airport so she could arrive in time. For Taylor to sit with Mama Kelce is a kind of seal of approval all of its own.

Writing for Poynter, Tom Jones also suggests that a big chunk of the interest stems from the meeting of the two biggest shows on Earth. He also asks this important question.
Whatever the case, doesn’t this beat some of the depressing news we hear on a daily basis?

And yes, it does. Two relatively nice people meet, get intrigued by each other and hang out a bit to see where it goes. Only difference is they're famous. On the other hand, all I have to do is list names: Trump, Biden, Harris, Menendez, Biden H, and so on.

I'll pick "Traylor," "Tayvis" or "Swelce" any day of the week.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Agree to Agree

In the course of trying to slodge through a new Quanta article about the importance of modular forms (what are they? Hey, I said "slodge" for a reason), I ran across a different article by about how mathematical proofs have a social dimension.

Quanta writer Jordana Cepelewicz interviews mathematician Andrew Granville of the University of Montreal about this in an August Q&A. The jumping off point is the claim by reclusive Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki to have created a proof solving something called the "ABC Conjecture" that has do to with a relationship between addition and multiplication. Mochizuki's 2012 proof was 500 pages long and pretty dense, even for a mathematical proof. After two other mathematics professors visited Mochizuki in 2018 and found out what seemed to be fatally flawed gaps in the proof, Mochizuki dismissed their claims by saying they did not understand his work.

While "I'm right and you're too dumb to know it" might work in conversations with politicians and many celebrity figures, it's not an acceptable way of discussing mathematical proofs. In order to be useful, they must be held to be valid by a large group of mathematically knowledgeable people, so that when those people rely on the proof in their own work it won't fall apart.

According to Granville, Mochizuki's response hit on a key feature of mathematics and proof writing. The only way a math person may prove a proof is by convincing other math people their answer is accurate and not missing anything. Now, the other math people obviously have knowledge everyday folks lack. Ask me to evaluate a complex proof and my answer will be a single word: Hellifino.

But even the math people start with understandings that might be different from the proof writer.  They are the people who can say, "You cannot use that squiggly line in this spot! It must go here instead, and if you don't see that you breathe through your mouth and your knuckles drag the ground when you walk." They may say that because they know better. Granville points out that they may also say that because that's how they learned or because that's how their equations work properly.

The upshot of his understanding is that a social factor among mathematicians plays a much larger role than anyone might have thought it would in this discipline seen as the realm of cold logic. Perhaps it once was, but work in the first part of the 20th century opened the door to letting the community of mathematicians put their thumbs on the scale. It could have been a detriment to their work, but Granville sees it as a way to build closer ties among different mathematical disciplines and ideas. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

I Hate When Things Are Over


The above picture is from the last song ever to be played at Oklahoma Scotfest by the North Texas band the Selkie Girls. Band members will still make music (singer Alli Johnson already has a solo album), but the sextet will disband in a few months. I first caught on to the Selkie Girls at a Scottish festival in Sherman, Texas, a few years after they had begun to play. The jazz-influence percussion, dual vocalists and harp were an instant draw that set them a bit apart from a lot of Celtic bands, and their live performances were worth catching whenever possible.

This photo is not from the last song the Tullamore trio played at Scotfest, but it is from their last set. My journey with them, as friends and as a fan, has lasted almost 26 years since I first saw them play at the Medieval Fair in Norman, OK in 1997. The band will call it a career after a Celtic Cruise in 2024, making this their last Scotfest also. Tullamore has morphed several times over its career, but the mainstays have been Mary the hammered dulcimer player and Mark the guitarist, and they are good friends. Between shows of theirs I have caught in Norman, Edmond, Arlington, TX and Tulsa, I've literally never been disappointed with a performance. I've also always been happy to see my friends Mark and Mary (I liked the other band members too, by the way, but they were as I said the constants).

The post title comes from the early '90s one-hit wonder Deep Blue Something. Their song, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" includes the line. Despite the fluff that was Deep Blue Something, the song's always stuck with me and the line sums up my reaction to endings of good and pleasant things.

Sláinte to both bands, and thanks for all the music.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Fight, the Power

I come now to address a pet peeve I have when watching political commercials or hearing political claims and endorsements.

Of course this is rich ground for plowing, as the next political commercial I see that is of any value beyond helping one spell a candidate's last name will be the first. But I come not to disdain their dishonesty, trickery or complete lack of substance. No, my problem today is with one word: fight.

Candidates for every office in the land promise that they will fight for their constituents. They will fight for the middle class, they will fight injustice, they will fight the forces trying to destroy the country or those who are blocking attempts to save it. Everyone fights. We, the listeners who have gone to get chips during the commercial, are meant to be impressed by the conviction and grit demonstrated by someone who will fight.

But I'm not -- although I might be if it meant any of these meatheads would literally fight each other in a ring with gloves, headgear and a hip replacement doctor on standby No, I think saying one will fight for something is just a way of trying to convince a voter that the candidate is serious about their attempts to help them.

The problem of course, is that there is literally no way to measure the effectiveness of such a claim. a senator or representative will certainly claim they fought for or against something, depending on their party's preferred position about the something. They can fudge that. They fought, but the special interests of the other side were just too strong. Or dark money did them in. Or the deep state, the illuminati, Hollywood, the press collaborating with the other side or whatever else can be used as a scapegoat for the failure of their fight. They might even blame an actual goat. There is that diagram that shows how a goat's head fits into a demonic pentagram, after all.

And fighting, of course, can be done by making sure the candidate or incumbent got a lot of TV hits -- you know the candidate is fighting because he or she said so frequently on camera.

Lastly, fighting never gets anything done. Now, considering what Congress, say, has done may make people, including me, believe that's not always such a bad thing. But the truth is, there is legislation and work that a legislature is supposed to do. Also an executive. Also a city councilman or a county commissioner.

But passing a complicated appropriations bill is not fighting, It's work. TV hits get nothing done in negotiating a budget agreement. Clever quips and putdowns against opponents get no work done. And in fact, the work is what you and I consent to let the IRS take our money to fund. Not fighting. Fighting is against. Working is with.

We have to be careful -- a clever politician could say "work" but mean as little about it as they do when they say "fight." So I don't want a candidate to tell me he or she is working. I want them to tell me what they're working on. I want to hear what actual Article I work will be accomplished by them at the end of their term if they're running for Congress. I want to hear how they're going to update an antiquated city charter if they're running for city council (yes, that's an oddly specific request, and yes, it describes the community in which I live.

Because if a "No Fighting Allowed" was a good sign to put on the school playground, it's probably a good one to put on every frickin' campaign in the country.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

What's in a Name?

I spent a big chunk of Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning talking to myself. OK, not really.

Many years ago, I searched for my name on Facebook and found a profile of a man in New Zealand who spelt his name exactly the same as I did, which happens to be an uncommon spelling. In those days, FB had some of your likes on your front profile page and I saw we'd read the same book. I messaged him to say so, he friended me and we've confused people ever since by wishing each other happy birthday and commenting on each other's posts.

Tuesday, during an American road trip, he (or I) and his lovely wife (definitely him) dropped by the church and we tested the structural bonds of the universe by shaking hands. When it didn't blow up, we had a great chat. We both like bluegrass as well as a number of other things -- religion, antipathy for politicians and a belief that much of the time, the governments of both of our nations were far too invested in things they need not be.

We sat at a table in a local restaurant for about two hours Wednesday morning (tipped accordingly) chatting before they were to be off and traveling again. I got to hear how he and his wife met. how beef-raising is done in New Zealand, what it's like in a country where 5.1 million people spread out over 104,000 miles and 2 million of them live in three cities, and so on.

Thus one of the original (and long lost) principles of the internet was fulfilled, as it brought people from distant lands together and showed we are more alike than we thought.

Of course, he and I had a head start.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

When, and How Large?

A couple of articles in the magazine Astronomy highlight that science is about changing and reacting when researchers encounter new data.

In its September issue. Richard Turcott wrote an article about how the galaxies visible to the James Webb Space Telescope were among some of the oldest in our universe. But they were quite a bit larger than they should be. Modern cosmology's most widely accepted theories suggest that old galaxies would have been small. This was a tough piece of info that doesn't match most accepted theories of the creation and development of the universe. Were they wrong? Should they be re-thought?

Then, in an August 31 article on the website (which came out later than the issue because of print publication deadlines) Paul Sutter describes how astronomers may have been using an inaccurate measuring stick to determine distance. Rather than being far away, those galaxies were closer and thus of appropriate size.

Now astronomers and cosmologists have to study the matter to see which is which. If the galaxies are old and far away, some theories need changing. If they are close and ordinary, then the measuring methods for a lot of galaxies might need to be changed. Either way, people who understood things one way had to change their ideas when new evidence cropped up.

That's action that can be worthwhile in a lot of places.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Biiig Music

Today I received my gift for my investment in a Patreon project for a long-beloved but semi-defunct band named Caedmon's Call. They did write mostly for the Christian music market, but the primary songwriters had a telling gift for imagery and ideas that had wide appeal. Recently, for an anniversary of their initial album, they decided to reunite and re-record it. Through Patreon they offered several different gifts to help fund the project. My choice included, among other things, a vinyl double album of the release.

I'm not the guy to tell you that vinyl is superior to a CD. For one, I'm not sure there's that much difference and for another, too many loud shows in too many small clubs make sure I'll never hear whatever difference there might be. There's also the way vinyl records were pressed as CD sales rose. The records themselves became thinner and thinner -- cut a hole in the middle of one and glue it to the bottom of a top hat and you could set yourself up as Oddjob forthwith. I sold my collection about 15 years ago because I move too often and I owned about 700 heavy albums. I just kept a few and have added the odd title here and there.

The album I was sent today is a double album, gatefold cover. It's a big old chunk of memory. The ginormous photos, compared to a CD cover or worse, a digital music thumbnail. Checking out which disc is the first half and which is the second. Sliding it into place among some other remaining albums. All things that take me back to a world where cassettes were OK for cars and 8-tracks had their day, but if you wanted to listen to music the right way, you laid it on a spinning platter, cued up the needle and let it play.

Here's hoping Caedmon's Call does their second album the same way -- the first one is good but the second was my favorite. Either way, this evening sounds real, real good.