7 Quick Takes (3/28/13)

— 1 —

Lo, a miracle has occurred.  I enjoyed an article that in some way pertained to March Madness.  (Unsurprisingly, it’s by Nate Silver).  Over at 538, he’s got an explanation (with simulations and graphs) of why a team might prefer a lower seed, what they could do with the perverse incentives, and how the NCAA could patch the problem.


— 2 —

Ok, in fact there were two articles about college basketball that caught my eye this week.  I also enjoyed seeing Travis Waldron call out the University of Kentucky for a refreshing lack of hypocrisy with regard to their basketball team.  To wit:

The Wall Street Journal’s Dennis K. Berman wrote a piece this week comparing the basketball programs at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Kentucky coach John Calipari, as Berman notes, built his program on the backs of players who spend one mandated year in college before jumping to the NBA. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, by contrast, built his with players who are more likely to stick around for the full four years. The implication from Berman is that Kentucky’s program is “hollow” like the Death Star, while Louisville’s is built in the manner that most fans and basketball observers would consider the “right way.”

…But here’s the thing about Kentucky: intentionally or not, it has blown a hole in the idea that college basketball is a virtuous educational endeavor pursued solely by amateurs who love the game. Calipari’s program more than any other takes advantage of the fact that college basketball is a minor league business for the NBA by understanding that the most talented basketball players are using college to get to the pros as fast as possible. If Kentucky’s players can’t share in the riches they generate for Kentucky, they’ll at least be getting paid for their work soon enough. That’s far from an ideal setup and hardly excuses Kentucky from scrutiny, but it at least halfway acknowledges and exploits the flaws in the argument that the top levels of college basketball are anything other than a business. Because it does that, the program is a slap in the face to purists, right way-ers, and the “amateurism and education crowd” that hasn’t updated its views to fit reality.

— 3 —

(Shudders).  Well, that’s quite enough sports for a good long while.  Can I interest you in a list of obscure and awesome words as a palate cleanser?

Meaning: Walking while smoking a pipe.
Origin: 1820s
As in: I’m off for a post-lunch lunt, anyone care to join me?

And another list, restricted to Swedish words?

Bloggbävning, n.
Definition: Literally translating to “blogquake,” the word describes the process by which a topic explodes in the blogosphere and is then picked up by more mainstream media outlets.
Used in an English sentence: “Man, that ‘ogooglebar’ thing really caused a bloggbävning today.”

— 4 —

Oh, and speaking of words, the delightful Max Gladstone (author of Three Parts Dead) has a fun post up titled “Words that are my enemy” about his editing process and what he makes sure to cut.  On the list of words that are pushing their luck:

world (you laugh, but when your characters start talking about metaphysics and global economics, this word gets worn out.)

— 5 —

Um, and if my theme has abruptly become word (both under-used and over) then surely an article on password cracking is apropos?  Since the dictionary approach depends on people’s choice of passwords being fairly predictable?  Ah well, the connection may be tenuous but the article is awesome:

At the beginning of a sunny Monday morning earlier this month, I had never cracked a password. By the end of the day, I had cracked 8,000. Even though I knew password cracking was easy, I didn’t know it was ridiculously easy—well, ridiculously easy once I overcame the urge to bash my laptop with a sledgehammer and finally figured out what I was doing.


— 6 —

So, well, continuing to speak of words — sometimes we treat words we don’t understand very well as though they had talismanic power, which means we can’t tell when someone is exploiting our trust in a mystical world like, say, ‘statistically significant.’  I have a blog post up at CFAR about how statistical illiteracy hurts the justice system, and how the classes CFAR teaches are meant to combat it.

— 7 —

And, finally, let me do at least one liturigical calendar-related link.  Or rather, let me do a tardy one, so you can see Eve Tushnet’s great contribution to the Times on what people ‘are supposed to get out of Lent.’

But if all of that leaves you cold — if you feel like you don’t “get anything” from Lent — your experience may actually be the most thoroughly Christian response possible. Because Lent isn’t a self-improvement project, even a spiritual self-improvement project. It isn’t a diet or a life beautification regime.

Lent is a promise to walk with Jesus even into the desert. It is a trusting willingness to put our hand in his at all times, no matter what it requires, to go with him into the wilderness or onto the cross. Lent is about our relationship with Christ; and that relationship, like our ordinary relationships with other people, has seasons of trial and deprivation as well as seasons of joy. Lent allows us to say “yes” to all those seasons. It echoes Ruth’s pledge to her mother-in-law, Naomi: “Whither thou goest, I will go.”

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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  • I worked briefly for a firm that was paid to crack the passwords on files left behind by clients’ former employees. We sat at dumb workstations hooked to a mainframe and selected whether to run a dictionary attack, or brute force, or whatever. Brainless, easy work.

    My boss, the creator of our proprietary cracking algorithm, mentioned one day that he had been trying to crack some passwords from a client’s Israeli subsidiary for weeks with no results, and couldn’t figure out why.

    I asked him if he were using the Hebrew alphabet, or just Latin characters and punctuation marks.

    “They have their own alphabet?” he asked.

    All the passwords fell to Hebrew dictionary attacks a few hours later. Sometimes a humanities type can be of help to an I.T. type….

    • Darren

      _That_ is a great story…

      For your amusement

      Best password joke, ever

      • I should’ve known you’d be a “Spaceballs” fan, too, Darren!

        • Darren

          Probably not much of a surprise, right? 😉

          Pretty much any Mel Brooks; give it some time and I’ll probably manage a “Young Frankenstein” or “Blazing Saddles” quote.

  • I may have to take up pipe smoking just so I can lunt every now and again.

  • deiseach

    Great, now I will have to go change all my passwords to something more secure. Thanks for the warning!

    That article was interesting, informative (particularly for the likes of me who didn’t get exactly how hackers were able to hack) and scary in a good way, i.e. motivating me to change what needs to be changed.

    I agree about the statistics as well; I remember the O.J. Simpson trial and whatever your opinion on hedunnit or not, I do remember at the time thinking with regard to the DNA evidence and the prosecution quoting statistics that “this means there’s only one chance in a hundred million” (or whatever it was) “that this is a mismatch” that “No, I don’t think those numbers mean what you say they mean”.

  • grok

    I loved the article on obsolete words. Here’s a vote for resistentialism ( The seemingly malevolent behaviour displayed by inanimate objects.)

    Also the next article on the site I thought was very funny as well, particularly #31, 35 and 40.

  • Darren

    National Atheist Day?!?


    How come you didn’t tell us!?