Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The California DMV and Insurance Industry


I expect that various services that are required by law to be provided at a certain level of competence to the citizen.

I am required to have my vehicle insured and registered which seems reasonable, doesn't it? So I gave the state and a private company $1,500 and my car is registered until March and insured until May.

I will almost certainly be in Europe during February - May of next year, so I asked if I could register my car for next year. I was told no. I would have to do that no sooner than 30 days before. Same thing for the insurance.

Obviously, the State of California and the insurance industry which makes so much money from us does not care to do one thing to make it possible for citizens to live their lives and obey the law. You must bend over, give them money, or be punished.

I have yet to see the State of California be other than totally corrupt and difficult to work with. From the DMV, to the Franchise Tax Board, to long term asset seizure of bank accounts, they are either extremely inflexible and difficult to work with, or just corrupt.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The "Nice Guy" Recommendation to Graduate School

draft / being rewritten as we speak

This post is intended to be background information for those of you who may end up writing a letter of recommendation for my attempt to get into graduate school.  

I have agonized over this requirement (letters of recommendation)  for years without having a really satisfying solution, as you will see.   What could be so hard? 

Well, it turns out that there is a subtext here beyond merely having someone who knows you write a letter saying what a fine person you are.  I am informed by professionals in the field that these committees are looking for letters from (a) direct peers who have (b) worked with the candidate in the recent pasts, (c) who know the candidate well and (d) are willing to write a detailed letter demonstrating this. 

There are many good reasons why this is not a 

I have many friends who are tenured professors, but only one of them has worked with me in the recent past.  I have many friends who have worked with me in the recent past

The problem is, this is rather hard to arrange if you have not been in school (e.g. academia) for a while. 

But if you have been asked to contribute then probably you have written more recommendations than I will ever see or could imagine.  Almost all of you are tenured professors at a major research university and the few who are not have other research credentials.  Nevertheless I want to go over some basic principles here because (a) the situation is atypical and (b) because if I misunderstand something I am hoping you will correct me.

So what is the graduate school admissions committee looking for in these recommendations?

As I understand it, they are looking for (a) a letter from a direct peer (e.g. if this is computer science, then a professor of computer science) who will (b) demonstrate that they know the candidate in detail and has worked with them recently, and (c) will reassure the committee that the candidate is an exceptional student who will (d) be both capable of and certain to get their degree in a reasonable period of time.

And in my case, we also have (e) since the applicant has been out of school for so long, that it makes sense for him (me) to be accepted even though there are many other qualified candidates. 

Unfortunately, only one of you, Ken Perlin, fits all these criteria. He is the only one who has worked with me at all recently and is also a professor of computer science at a major university. The rest of you are either tenured faculty but havent worked with me much at all, or certainly not recently. And in one other case, you know me fairly well but are not a tenured faculty member, although you are a recognized member of the research community.

I have tried to figure out how to get around this problem now for several years and I really havent come up with much. My plan is to do fall-back applications to MSc or MFA programs in the hope that it will lead to more current academic experience and more current recommendations for the next wave of applications. Of course this only matters if I am not accepted to a PhD program. 

And so, dear friends, I hope that you can see your way to writing what I call a “friendship” or “nice guy” recommendation. This is a recommendation that says what you can of what they are looking for: that I am interesting, smart, determined, clean, trustworthy and so forth.

And that they should accept me anyway, goddamnit.

I dont expect you to agonize over this, the way I have.

Do what you can and we will see what we see.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Last Jedi and Nihilism (SPOILERS)


This post is definitely a spoiler for a movie I have not seen, The Last Jedi (2017).

I normally dont mind spoilers for a variety of reasons but I tried to avoid them for this movie at the request of Mark Hamill. He suggested that everyone go see this movie knowing as little as possible. I respected that until I started to hear some of the controversy and being a curious person I looked further. And what I found out annoyed me so much that I wrote some nasty emails and this post.

It goes something like this. Rian Johnson comes into something that has been going on for 30 years and decides to shake things up. Show a new point of view. Maybe be a little bit of a hipster. A new direction! Something like that.

A little controversy can be good. It can refresh and empower a franchise that has been around for a while. If you just keep doing the same old thing, blowing up that damn Death Star again, for example, that would be boring.

Its spoiler time, kids.

So this guy Rian Johnson comes in and here is what we get. Rey hands Luke his lightsaber and Luke throws it away. Who are Rey's parents? No one. Trash. What about Snoke, who is he, where does he come from? It doesnt matter, we just killed him. How about that secret mission that so many risk their lives on? It goes south and many people die who might not have died otherwise. It would have been better if they had just followed orders and done nothing at all. As for Luke, well he is dead for no particular reason it seems, too bad.

Star Wars was never about "no meaning".  It was all about "meaning", it was all about "our lives have meaning", there is a purpose to all this, you can make a difference.  This was your father's light saber.  He wanted you to have it when you were old enough.

Darth Vader was never just a bad guy in black with asthma.  He had a history, he had betrayal and murder in his past.  We did not know it at first, but the emperor was not just any old emperor, he was a Sith. 

A light saber was not just a weapon.  It was personally created by each Jedi as part of what made them a Jedi.  It had meaning.  It had purpose.

It was never about "stay home and die, you might fuck things up".  It was about "go out there and fight for what you believe in and you can make a difference".

It was never about "evil has no meaning", it was about "evil has a purpose and you can stand up and thwart their plans and help people".

Well not to Rian Johnson.  His message is that you dont matter, nothing matters, its all random, dont give a fuck.  Just sit there and die.

And they wonder why people are pissed off.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Republicans, Holocaust Denial and the Epistemological Crisis in America


Today, #45 will sign one of the most insane and egregious so-called tax reform bills in American history.

Although we have not had enough time to analyze and understand all the ways that this bill violates any norm of rational human behavior we know enough to draw some conclusions.

1. We have an epistemological crisis in this country. It does not matter what is true or not true, the Republicans will believe it is true.

2. They are very similar to Holocaust Deniers who do not understand that the existance of the Holocaust is not at all debatable. They will never be convinced.

3. And just like the deniers of the Holocaust, this makes them dangerous to all of us.

4. But whatever the answer is, if there is an answer, discussion and the dialectic process is inoperative. There is no point in discussing anything with them. They are outside reason.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

FCC and a Letter to My Congressman


What I like about the FCC ignoring the will of the people regard Net Neutrality is that it shows exactly what the Republicans and Trump thinks about the American people. The People can go f*ck themselves as far as they are concerned.

Here is my recent note to my congressman, Duncan Hunter.

Have you emailed your congressman today?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pocohontas and the Lesson of History


Tom Sito on Facebook posted the following on the history of the Pocohontas story (which became of course a very nice Disney movie).

I made the following reply, which I sincerely believe:

If the Native Americans had killed every European as soon as they came off the boat (from a distance, preferably) and burned the bodies but studied the weapons and other technology, then maybe, just maybe, they would not have been the victims of the genocide that they were. Maybe not, also. Hard to say. But it couldn't have been worse, it seems to me.

Well, live and learn.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mercury is Retrograde December 2017


I know most of you dont believe in this, and even make fun of the people who do.

For those of you who, like me, have every reason to think that for some unknown reason this is a real phenomenon/a, please be aware that Mercury is indeed retrograde through the end of the year.

The rest of you, laugh while you can.