7 Quick Takes (11/9/12)

7 Quick Takes (11/9/12) November 9, 2012

— 1 —

This has been a contentious week, so, if you want to have high-intensity fights not about the presidency, may I suggest the board game Credo?  Here’s the description from BoardGameGeek:

Odd premise for a game, players represent early Christians arguing over the actual precepts of their Church. The game mechanism involves collecting worshipers to your side, gaining money and influence over different factions, and you can win by reaching different goals. As the game proceeds, gradually the 10 basic “beliefs” are established.


— 2 —

Still need cheering up?  Or more outlets for your joy?  The NYT ran an article recently on “jookin” — a hip hop inflected dance style.  That article led me to the video below of a jookin dancer performing to live accompaniment by Yo Yo Ma.

It is so hard to watch that and accept that all the moves are done in real time, with no special effects.  Even if I believed the dancer was using wires for his gravity-defying moves, I’d still be suspicious that the tape was being sped up and down, since how could anyone move like that, even with support?

— 3 —

Read this quote first with no context:

Ian Stewart wrote about Steve Omohundro’s extension to an arbitrary number of pirates in the May 1999 edition of Scientific American and described the rather intricate pattern that emerges in the solution



— 4 —

I’ll be starting my costume soon for the Hobbit premiere (which we’ll be seeing in 3D since my housemate thinks we need to have faith in Peter Jackson and he did put a lot of thought into the tech).   To spell us over, the video below isn’t in 3D or 48 fps, but is quite delightful.

— 5 —

And that’s not the only movie I’m thrilled about this winter.  I’ll be recieved into the Catholic Church next Sunday, so this will be the first Christmas that I’ll be attending Mass.  On Christmas day, however, I’ll still be loyal to our good New York Jew(ish) tradition of Chinese food and a movie, and oh, what a movie.

(And there was much rejoicing)

— 6 —

I assume, like me, that you’re too suffused by joy (and a desire to relisten to the whole soundtrack and sing all of Jarvert’s bits very loudly and aggressively in the shower) to need any more cheering if your candidate lost, but just in case, I’ve got some math links.  The Civil Statistician blog sees an overlap between the skills needed for good science fiction and good empirical thinking:

I think statistics could be presented as a kind of “applied science fiction.” When you perform a hypothesis test of whether some parameter is 0, you

  1. assume it *is* 0,
  2. imagine what kinds of data you would probably have seen under that assumption, and then
  3. if the real data you *did* see is unlikely under that assumption, decide that the assumption is probably wrong.

Shades of our learning through LARPing argument!  And if you want to do more to build up your scifi skills, I really recommend Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy.

— 7 —

New Yorker essay titled “Why Writers Should Learn Math” is total me-bait.   Here’s a quote:

What ballet is to football players, mathematics is to writers, a discipline so beguiling and foreign, so close to a taboo, that it actually attracts a few intrepid souls by virtue of its impregnability. The few writers who have ventured headlong into high-level mathematics—Lewis Carroll, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace—have been among our most inventive in both the sentences they construct and the stories they create.

As anyone who has taken a standardized test in the last half-century knows, math and “language arts” run on parallel tracks for much of one’s school career. Both begin with an emphasis on rote memorization of the basics: sentence diagrams, multiplication tables. Later, though, both disciplines become more heady: English class discards grammar in favor of the ideas lurking beneath textual surfaces, while math leaves off earthbound algebra, soaring along the ranges of calculus.


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  • Scott Hebert

    Maybe I’ve just run across this concept and therefore see it everywhere, but isn’t the pirate take an example of reverse induction, and therefore risks its bias?

    Also, Leah, I was wondering whether you could contact me privately over something?

    • Alex Godofsky

      No, the pirate case is a pure deductive proof.

      • It’s also one of those setups that most clearly demonstrates that humans are neither perfectly self-interested nor perfectly rational.

        • Alex Godofsky

          That’s a much weaker result than you think. For the most part deviations from rationality in game theory experiments can be explained as improperly constructed payoff matrices and/or incorrectly modeling the game as non-repeated.

      • Scott Hebert

        Could you perhaps explain why this is not a case of backwards induction? I think the name is poor, as it is not really inductive, but argument in this way seems slightly different than, say, dynamic programming.

        Also, the _game_ is poor, as the conceit of it is that the pirates are completely rational… except for the (IMO) highly _irrational_ constraints put on their thinking. As one example (at the link, anyway), why would they want to throw another pirate off if this actually does not help them? Do you even consider that rational behavior?

        • Alex Godofsky

          Sorry, I thought you referring to inductive reasoning. I’m not sure why you think backwards induction is ‘biased’?

  • I’m not sure how I didn’t know this until now, but of course Helena Bonham Carter is Madame Thenardier.

    I knew there was a reason both math and English were my favorite subjects!

  • OK, I love Les Miz. But can I say I’m just a wee bit worried about the movie? Not Tom Hooper–love his movies. And not really, even the cast, although if Russell Crowe is not a good Javert I will spend the whole movie rooting for his suicide scene. I’m worried that it’s not going to play to people who aren’t Les Miz fans already. The ENTIRE THING is sung. It’s essentially opera. Now, I’m a classical vocalist. I hang with other musicians and actors. So my group of friends? We’ll love this. But the rest of the world? I dunno–as much as I love it, I even find Act II a bit of a slog in parts (“Dog Eat Dog”, for example…great song, slows down the whole act). And Amanda S. as Cosette? Cosette is hard. We’re talking C6 here. That’s not a note one can easily fake.

    • leahlibresco

      Everyone I knew in high school loved Les Mis. And I think Rent did pretty well in theatres, plus Glee, Smash, etc has primed everyone more for musicals not-on-stage.

      But I’m definitely hoping for some singalong showings maybe a month into the run.

      • Scott Hebert

        While I do also have a vocal bent, I wouldn’t worry too much, either.

        I’ve, uh, actually never seen or heard Les Mis. (I, of course, have heard OF it.) Please, no stonings… I might go see it on my birthday.

        • We won’t stone you….yet. 🙂 Get thee to iTunes and buy the 10th anniversary cast recording RIGHT NOW. IT’s the best by far.

          • Scott Hebert

            I’ll remember that. Unfortunately, there is no time in the foreseeable future where I will have that kind of disposable income.

      • Rent actually sort of bombed in the theaters…probably because the cast was too old to be convincing, even though they were mostly the OBC. (And Smash is HORRIBLE! Lord have mercy, that show just needs to end, even though it has Brian d’Arcy James, whom I love.)
        But any movie this big and this expensive has to recoup its investment to be successful, financially, and I just don’t know if that’s going to happen. If you’re *not* a fan of big, long, epic musicals, are you going to pay $12 to see it in the cineplex? And more than once?

        • leahlibresco

          I just assumed Rent was successful because I saw it more than once.:) And Smash was too awful to watch the show, but some of the numbers (“Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking”) were very good.

          I hope Les Mis will do well, but whether it does or not, it will exist either way and I will get to see it, muah hah hah!

          • Snort. I am the same way–I’m glad I get to see it. But my cinephile keeps coming out and say, “but what IF!” (It really needs to be quiet) And I love Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream”.

          • I keep hoping for musicals to be big again in Hollywood — it didn’t happen after Moulin Rouge, or Chicago, or Rent, and yeah, you’re probably right, Emily, it won’t happen with Les Miz. But I don’t care — I’m dying to see this movie. Too bad I’ll have to spend Christmas day with my damn wiener kids.

    • KL

      Amanda was classically trained before getting her break in Hollywood. That was part of the rationale for her being cast in the role, if I’m not mistaken. I’m also curious about whether they’ll keep it sung-through or create more spoken dialogue to break up the numbers. Either way, can’t wait to see it!

      • Was she really? Didn’t know that. Makes me feel much better. Whew. 🙂 (Because I already liked her as an actress.)
        I’m pretty sure Director Hooper says they are keeping it as it is onstage, but with an additional song written by Boubil/Schoenberg for the movie. So one more piece of music.

  • keddaw

    “2. imagine what kinds of data you would probably have seen under that assumption, and then”

    No, no, no. This leads people to set up experiments to confirm what they already expect, not to falsify what they think they know. The aim of all experiments should be to fail.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think your reasoning necessarily follows. Suppose you were Einstein a hundred years ago. You were considering a beautiful theory of gravity, born out of some previous data, interesting thought experiments, and obscure (at the time) mathematics. Are you going to say, “Well, if this conjecture is true, the data we’d likely see include bending of light around the sun, precession of Mercury, and redshift”? Or are you going to do… uhhh, something else? What else do you propose doing, actually? I can’t really think of what else you would do. You’d proceed to form an experiment that tests these predictions against the existing theory… but you’d need to consider the implications of the conjecture before you can determine what experiments might distinguish the theories.

      • Scott Hebert

        Keddaw makes some sense to me, although my experimentation is all on the applied side.

        _Particularly_ in the data collection area, if you only collect data that is thought to support your hypothesis, you fall prey to a selection bias. Luckily, this is harder to do in the types of experiments I do (systems simulation) than in purer disciplines.

        • Anonymous

          “Beware of selection bias” is very different from “don’t imagine the kind of data that would result from an assumption”. In fact, talking about the possibility of selection bias doesn’t even make sense until after one has already considered what the implications of an assumption would look like. If keddaw was merely saying, “selection bias bad,” then I will agree. However, it sounded like keddaw was instead saying, “Don’t think about what religion might imply.” …because I know the reaction wouldn’t be the same if someone had said, “Imagine what kinds of data you would probably have seen if general relativity/evolution/climate change/aerodynamics/etc were true, and then…”

          …in fact, after re-reading the quoted section, it’s even worse than that. The post follows up considering the implications with comparing those implications to data… and resulting in an attempt to prove the assumption wrong! Notice that it doesn’t say anything about showing that the assumption is true. It simply tries to falsify what we think might be true… exactly what keddaw wants! Of course, since Leah is taking this and claiming that we should actually be so brazen as to consider religion, she must be rebutted… I guess. “Selection bias bad,” indeed.

  • Oh, and on the last point–me and math not friends. At all. My father is total math geek, but me and my brother? Nope. I’m a musician, I’m a writer, but I cannot, for the life of me, do math.

    • deiseach

      *falls on your neck sobbing in relief*

      Sorry about that, Emily, but yes! The absolute worst rows I ever had with my poor father were when I was in Fourth Class and he was trying to help me with my maths homework. Suffice it to say, the gulf between those who do maths problems for fun and those of us who do not is not easily bridged.

      If it wasn’t for my Victorian-educated granny, I would never have learned to do long-division (so much for the New Maths!) So when I see all you maths types burbling on about the beauty and wonder of the subject, I just remember the agony and remain unconvinced 🙂

  • Cous

    storylinkvideolinkvideosacramentreferencelinklinkli…hold up. This coming Sunday or the one following?

    • leahlibresco

      The 18th.

      • Sweet! I’ll be praying for you! Are you excited?

        • jenesaispas

          Me too. I’m sure it’ll go great 🙂

      • KL

        So soon!! Being a neophyte is an exciting time. Enjoy!

      • deiseach

        Is it very Catholic-nerd of me that the first thing I did was turn to the calendar to see what saint’s day the 18th is? 🙂

        It’s the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul (excitiing, I know!) There are also several saints commemorated on that day, including (for the Star Trek:DS9 fans amongst us) St. Odo (of Cluny, not of Bajor, alas) and for an American connection, St. Rose Duchesne.

        Many congratulations, Leah!

      • Cous

        Leah – I’m glad I didn’t miss the day, I’ll be praying for you especially this week. As you can probably already tell, this will be neither the end of a journey, nor the beginning of a constant high, but a lifelong adventure and a battle (grim at times) that we’re all in together. Further up and further in!

        deiseach – my favorite part of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is the series of mosaic-portraits of all the (legitimate) popes ever, running around the inside of the basilica near the ceiling. Church history made physically traceable – no one does it better than Rome. Which also reminds me of huge statues of the 12 apostles in St. John Lateran, walking down that aisle feels like walking toward the bench on the day of judgment.

  • Ted Seeber

    Why morality beats rationality: The moral pirate allocates himself 92 coins, thus insuring that B,C,D,and E get two coins each. He then rewards everybody by taking them out to dinner and rum.

    • jenesaispas

      Probitatem quam divitias!


      • Ted Seeber

        More Noblesse Oblige. The more you take care of those you are in charge of, the more they will take care of you.

        If it had been Probitatem quam divitias, the split would have been closer to 58 coins for A, 12 for B, 11 for C, 10 for D, and 9 for E.

        • jenesaispas

          Haha. That sounds more like being self-serving than being moral though…

    • Scott Hebert

      Ted, I would call that more reasonable, and less moral.

      I think the pirate game is less an introspection in surprising results of ‘rationality’ and more a study of the assumptions that must be built into human models in order to achieve closed-form results.

  • Scifi writer Greg Egan has published math papers as well, I believe. And I thought his fiction was pretty good.

  • TKB

    I love that in the reviews for Credo people are arguing about the filioque and whether one ought refer to the Nicene or Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

    If I can find a relatively cheap copy I’m definitely buying.

    • Ted Seeber

      From the sound of one review I’ve found, the ONLY thing you can find is cheap copies. The current production value seems to be a ziplock bag full of paper, complete with cards on such light cardstock that they can’t be shuffled properly and punch-out church stands and not enough pieces (or the right colors) to match the rulebook.

      But like you, yeah, I sent an e-mail to my local gaming nerds store. Haven’t heard back yet if they can order it for me.

      Somehow I don’t think my local radtrad-run Catholic bookstore will order it for me.

      • Credo was, at one point, published by Chaosium but is long out-of-print. I believe copies are rare and relatively expensive though the material has been put online for free in a PDF so that you can print on light card stock.

  • jenesaispas

    2.Great dancing, very balletic.
    4.Makes my school trip to France look boring in comparison.
    5.The Les Mis video said it had been blocked due to copyright (nothing wrong with that). I’ve got another one if anyone else can’t see it.
    Looks good but I don’t think I’d last long without crying my eyes out! Maybe I should read the book instead but it’s sooo long.

    Vi Hart has another hexaflexagon related video up, the ending of which is kind of fantastic.

    • Anna

      Oh, but the book is soooo good! The bishop’s character is lovely (ditto for his sister and their housekeeper). And Marius seems like a much better person than in the show where it’s rather hard to get why he is such a dunce about Eponine (whom he doesn’t really know at all in the book, rather than being pals as they seem in the show). The book is totally worth all those pages (though I love the show too)!

      • jenesaispas

        “…Eponine (whom he doesn’t really know at all in the book, rather than being pals as they seem in the show)”.
        Huh, that’s a bit weird, but you’ve convinced me to read it… just not right now 🙂

  • ” The few writers who have ventured headlong into high-level mathematics—Lewis Carroll, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace—have been among our most inventive in both the sentences they construct and the stories they create.”

    Selection bias, Miss Lebresco! Selection bias! The few famous writers who have etc.! For all we know, there are lots of failed mathematico-poets whose mathematics drove otherwise excellent sonnets into dogged iambic misery. (Also, those are some very subjective standards of measurement.)

    I actually agree that math would help one write, but that’s only because any kind of super-specialized knowledge would help one write, whether that’s sociology or music or anthropology or natural history or, indeed, math. But that remains true only if the writer is already a good writer. Bad writers don’t become good writers by dint of skill elsewhere.

    • leahlibresco

      Goodness knows my poetry is terrible.