Issue 79: Writing Standards

It is hard to imagine just where today’s writers failed to learn basic grammar, punctuation, and proofreading, but, as most careful readers can attest, publication standards have progressively slid in recent years. Hardly a day goes by without one of the Blog Wyrm staff stumbling across an article with poor writing mechanics, murky storytelling skills, and egregious errors.  Case in point:

Bad Proofing

Are the statements just defamatory?   Is there another attribute that the writer wished to include?  Is the string ‘andstatements’ simply a new word in the English language that will soon be included in the OED?

No doubt the pace at which today’s ‘writers operate explains some of the gap, but there is a limit to what can be considered as ignorable in this age of spell-checkers and computerized proofreading. Of course, we at Blog Wyrm are hardly perfect, but we don’t make a living doing this – in fact we don’t make a single cent from these posts. Even still, we often do a much better job than our paid counterparts, leading us to ask just what it means when the amateurs are outperforming the pros.

And speaking of our performance, let’s take a look at this month’s columns.

The one thing of which we are often reminded when the subject of the Great Recession arises it that, despite how bad it was, at least it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression.  And, for the most part, this is true.  But not completely.  This month’s Common Cents presents data that suggests in one key area, economic growth, survivors of the Great Recession may actually have it worse than their counterparts from the Great Depression.

When someone says logic, it is a good bet that Mr. Spock will spring to mind.  Often thought of synomously with reason and dispassionate logic, everyone’s favorite Vulcan is curiously quiet on the limitations of logic, limitations that logic itself painfully uncovers.  Aristotle To Digital presents and explores these limits.

Inspired by last month’s look at the The Great Darkness SagaAbout Comics takes a historic look at what started it all:  Jack Kirby’s fertile imagination, his great skill as an artist, and the enduring mythology he created with his Fourth World saga.

Continuing to examine constraints in mechanical systems, Under The Hood compares and constrasts solving for the familiar pendulum equations of motion using either direct substitution or Lagrange multipliers.  Although, both methods led to the same final equations, the differences in approach reveal some of the more interesting aspects of constrained dynamics.


Issue 78: Equifax Sucks

Well, it has happened yet again. A behemoth of industry and supposed trusted public entity has, through its carelessness, been hacked by my personal data exposed and/or compromised. Following in the disgraced footsteps of Target, Home Depot, OMB, UMD, and who knows how many more, Equifax the last in a long line of corporate entities, in both the private and public sectors, who have failed to keep our data safe. It is particularly galling from the company charged with making judgements over the trustworthiness of others. Sigh…

Now onto something that doesn’t suck, this month’s columns.

It is rare that a comics story can really pull the reader in and sustain excitement, tension, and expense over a period of months. It is also rare when such a story can repay multiple readings and maintain its charm through each reading. About Comics dips into the past to revisit just such a tale: The Great Darkness Saga.

Politicians, shady salesmen, and boorish acquaintances of all sorts seem to have one feature in common – they all leave the impression that they talk a great deal but say very little. Aristotle To Digital presents a way to analyze such speech and decide what the real content is and what is just hot air; all through the power of symbolic logic.

Most of us have taken a summer ride on a roller-coaster. Fun, thrilling, exciting, all of these words can be used to describe the typical experience. However, as this month’s Under The Hood shows, the more apt word may be complicated, as it is demonstrated that numerical modeling of a ride on a roller-coaster is very hard to do due to the constraint of having to stay on the track.

In a follow-up to an earlier column on the the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate and the Jevons Paradox, this month’s Common Cents looks for direct evidence of these effects in oil prices, especially after the U.S.’s move to a more energy efficeint posture over the last 40 years. After looking at a variety of data, the conclusion is that there is little to support the idea of a large upswing in consumption of the sort predicted (and feared) by those learned men.


Issue 77: Eclipsed by a Summer Break

This month, the Blog Wyrm staff decided to take a break from publishing our favorite blogzine. The reasons for this are many and manifold. All of us need a time to recharge; kids need to be ferried back to school; and a once-a-in-long-time opportunity to see an eclipse presented itself.

So, in place of this month’s offering, we instead offer these very beautiful images of the cresent sun produced by the ‘pinhole’ cameras formed by spaces in leaves.

Eclipse Crescents

Ordinarily, we only see roundish splotches since the round sun images over lap and the holes in the trees aren’t really pinholes. It is astonishing just how well the sun’s images appeared on the day of the eclipse.

So, we will be back next month with our usual spate of columns. Until then, enjoy!

Issue 76: Whose Line Is It?

I thought I would take a moment to say a few words about one of the funniest shows ever on TV – Whose Line Is It Anyway? Born across the pond in Great Britain, Whose Line is a hilarious improv show. If you’ve never seen it you should. Recently it’s become a staple viewing in the evening and it really brings a smile to my face before heading to bed.

And speaking of bringing smiles, this month’s columns are full of fun.

Creature comforts. That’s the term that the car companies used to describe the little touches that make a car fun to drive. While this may seem mindless advertising drivel to some, the way cars design their man-machine interfaces can make all the difference for the driver’s comfort and safety. Aristotle To Digital examines two such designs – one done right and the other wrong – and speculates on the thoughts that passed through the mind of the designer.

Constraints in dynamical systems are both interesting and complicated and applicable to a wide variety of situations. This month Under The Hood develops the general theory of clasifying and handling constraints using principles of virtual work and Lagrange multipliers.

There is an interesting situation that develops in economics of efficiency and conservation. An increase in efficiency can undermine policy attempts to conserve natural resources. This occurs when the efficiency improvements make it widely more attractive to use the resource being conserved. Common Cents beings a two-part series on the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate and the Jevons Paradox that describe under what situation such a perverse calculus can occur.

The business of comics is always tricky – after all, the publisher needs to balance the need for quality from the creative team against marketing to catch the eye of the reader and pull them in. This undertaking gets even more complex when trying to reinvent a beloved, existing character and the results can go quite wrong. About Comics presents one such case – the reinvention of Doctor Strange in the mid-nineties.


Issue 75: Bad Messaging

Stop for a moment and consider Twitter. Not in the sense as a politican or sport star may use (or misuse) it but rather in it as a messaging platform. The tweet limit of a 140 characters is manifestly too short to do anything with except to utter a platitude, push out a pithy remark, or otherwise put one’s foot in one’s mouth. Most rational people would agree that Twitter is an excellent way to get in trouble. Now step back and consider that bumper stickers were the Twitter of those pre-wired generations doomed to live without the constant intrustion of the internet. How much less can be said with a bumper sticker? How much more is the possibility to misinterpret? The answer is a lot more.

Case in point. I was driving a couple week’s ago when a car got in front of me. The rear-end of this particular vehicle was festooned with lots of bumper stickers. One, in particular, stood out from all the others due to its immense font, white in color, standing proudly on a deep, dark green saying, for all the world to see “Kill Bees”.

Knowing the economic and biological importance of the honey bee, I was first confused and then indignant at the ignorance dancing in front of me. My indignation changed when, stopped by a red light, I was able to close enough to the car to see the much smaller font decrying mosquito and lawn treatments that kill bees.

Bad Messaging

Talk about bad messaging. The only thought that remained in my head was to wonder what kind of a person is unable to understand that only a few people will ever get close enough to their bumper to get the full idea. The majority of the motorists following this four-wheel tweet, no doubt, was left scratching its heads trying to figure out just why caused this guy to be filled with hatred for, arguably, the most beneficial of all insects.

Fortunately, this month’s issue of Blog Wyrm (its 75th no less) is a vertiable clinic in excellent messaging so sit back and enjoy the columns.

What is about the one-percent that gets under our collective skin and drive us to distraction? It’s not entirely clear but whatever the cause, the effect is that most of us turn into first-class chumps when we catch the disease, which cripples our economic literacy. Common Cents presents case studies of some of the unlucky ones in the hope that you’ll be able to notice the tell-tale signs in yourself or those around you and seek assistance before it is too late.

About Comics reviews The Black Monday Murders, created by Hickman, Coker, Garland, and Wooton. Part occult tale, part murder mystery, and part conspiracy theory, this intruiging new series from Image Comics that explores just how far people are willing to go for money and power. The resulting narrative is engaging and shows just why comics are such a versatile art form.

Under The Hood finishes its multi-part exploration of generalized coordinates the resulting relationship between energy and the Hamiltonian. This month’s column shows explicit examples for those cases when the energy and the $$h$$ function are the same and when they differ.

Aristotle To Digital continues its analysis of the K Means cluster algorithm. The new variation in the mix is a more robust seeding mechanism that promotes the algorithm up to the K++ Means.


Issue 74: Distracted Society

I know that we live in a distracted society. I get that. Everyday, I see people texting while driving, fumbling through conversations due to the interruptions of one gadget or another, and generally having the attention span of a squirrel. But I believe I have now seen, with my own two eyes, the pinnacle of our ability to be disengaged in our own lives.

Picture the scene. It is early night, about 9:30 or 10:00 pm. The sun has set and the streets are thin on people. A perfect time for lovers to be out and about, enjoying each others company with a tryst here and an assignation there. So I wasn’t surprised when I turned into a lonely byway and found a young man in a clutch with a young woman.

The young man held her at her hips, pulling her in tight to him. His forehead resting on her collar bone, he appeared by all my perception to be in the throws of deep emotion. For her part, she had her arms drapped over his shoulders. What could be more idyllic?

Then I noticed that she held between her hands a cell phone and that she was surfing the internet, or texting a friend, or playing Clash of Clans for all I know. What was clear was that the boy (it really is hard to call him anything else) was clearly engaged in their union while she was clearly not. Go figure.

Well this month’s offerings aren’t a distraction but rather an engaging enrichment sure to entertain.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve heard of the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
Not only does this blockbuster feature the favorite characters from the first movie but it introduces a few new ones. Most notable amongst these is Mantis, a character whose comics existance is likely unknown to most of the viewers. About Comics tries to rectify that by giving a retrospective of her publication history.

It’s a free country right so how can individual choice be bad? Well generally this is true, except for those cases where we all share a common resource. In these cases, unthinking individual choice can lead to big problems. Common Cents presents concrete examples of this ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ that are no further than your car or your cellphone.

The human eye and the mind/brain behind it are remarkable things. Patterns in plots and pictures are evident to even the most unschooled unmongst us but remain essentailly elusive for computers. Aristotle To Digital explores a cluster identification algorithm that called K-Means Clustering that helps narrow the gap between human and machine.

Under The Hood begins a multi-part exploration of generalized coordinates the resulting relationship between energy and the Hamiltonian. This month the focus is on the general conditions when the energy and the $$h$$ function are the same and when they differ.


Issue 73: April is the Cruellest Month

This month’s title is pulled from the first line of The Waste Land, the long form poem by T.S. Eliot and hailed as one of the greatest and important poetic works of the Twentieth Century. I suppose that I’ll be labeled a cultural degenerate when I say that I really don’t care for The Waste Land. Yes, I’ve actually read it and invested time in deciphering it. I’ve listened to lectures analyzing its content against the wider cultural content pre-WWII England. Still I don’t like it – except for that first line and its unusual spelling.

That said, I am all for poetry. Robert Frost’s work pleasantly suite my mood, especially Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. <a href=”https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/46565″>Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is also a favorite and William Butler Yeat’s The Second Coming has secured a permanently place in my mind. Other poems spring to mind and I could go on and on citing modern and traditional works. In the final analysis, my dislike of The Waste Land springs mostly from the my belief that obscurity doesn’t equal profundity and that length doesn’t equal quality – being clear and concise is a thing of beauty.

Speaking of clear and concise writing, this month’s issue has another spate of though-prvoking articles.

How much control should the government exert on the economy? When should it intervene on the behalf of one company against another? These questions have been debated as long as there have been economic concerns. This months, Common Cents looks at this question in the contect of Apple file for corporate divorce from Imagination Technologies, its primary supplier of the GPU-based technology for iPhone and iPad.

Ask most people about philosophy and they will invariable tell you that it is a difficult and esoteric subject practiced by brilliant, aloof people who can’t relate to day-to-day life. Indeed, the modern conception of a philosopher is a far cry from someone who welds parts together, or solders circuits, or manufactures hardware. And yet, deep philosophical questions can lurk even in industrial settings. Aristotle To Digital examines the intersection of troubleshooting and philosophy by way of an unusually-named modern tool of quality engineering – the fishbone diagram.

The power of the Lagrange method of mechanics can hardly be overstated. The use of generalized coordinates opened doors for solutions to problems that the older Newtonian approach struggles mightily to solve. The Lagrange approach even set the stage for the advent of non-Euclidean geometry and the invention of General Relativity. Unfortunately, with great power sometimes comes great confusion. Under The Hood begins a multi-part exploration of generalized coordinates the resulting relationship between energy and the Hamiltonian.

If you have ever opened a Golden Age comic, the first thing you probably notice is that the look and feel is obviously ‘old-fashioned. Regardless of the publisher, character, or focus, these Golden Age comics have a distinct look that visually identifies them as belonging to a classic era. The same can be said for Silver Age books and, to a lesser extent, also for the Bronze Age. The Modern Age books operate differently. About Comics looks at the evolution of the comics zeitgeist from the late 1930s to present day.


Issue 72: Listening to Words

At a recent lunch, a colleague of ours pointed out how he had begun to hone his listening skills and that he increasingly realizes just how often people tend to take for granted that everyone else uses words in just the same way that they do. For example, when negotiating a schedule, he says that he often hears his employees reaching agreements with each other – agreements that can’t be met but which sound good all the same. The reason the agreements sound good is that each person hears a set of words and imagines that the meaning is precisely what they want rather than what the other is actually intending. By listening carefully and slowing everyone down in order to more carefully define their terms, he’s been able to avoid a lot of headaches.

So we thought that this month’s Blog Wyrm would focus on words and meanings and perceptions in a variety of contexts.

Everyone knows that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? It’s one of Newton’s three laws and a pillar of physics. But sometimes what is meant by equal and opposite action and reaction is more complicated than at first glance. Under The Hood explores the various meanings and nuances of this old idea.

Understanding words precisely is a sign of intelligence. Being able to play with them and layer multiple meanings is also a sign of intelligence. Both attributes are needed for artificial intelligence to pass the Turing Test. But sometimes, as this month’s Aristotle To Digital argues, being confused may be the most important aspect to help an AI blend in.

Can words and ideas deeply affect the economy? Yes! when they persuade large numbers of people to ignore great job opportunities simply because these jobs aren’t cool. Thankfully, Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs, cares about this jobs gap. Read this month’s Common Cents to see what he has to say (and, amusingly) how he says it.

Finally, this month’s About Comics looks at the evolution of words and ideas in comics over the decades from the early days in the Golden Age to the modern comic.


Issue 71: Sigh… The Oscars

February is usually a hard month. It’s typically cold and dreary. Historically, it brings a lot of snow. Every 4 years (well almost…), it gains a leap day, throwing off segments of the population as well as posing the standard conundrum as to the correct way to calculate the age of the people who are born on this day. Not to mention how hard it is to spell. But far more tiresome than any of these, is the yearly celebration of the narcissistic and the banal: The Oscars.

Nowhere else in the entire world can one find a bigger collection of spoiled, self-centered, ‘artists’ who use a faux awards ceremony as one part advertisement, one part ego stroke, and one part political stump speech. These artists tell us to love not hate while the characters they portray gun down everybody in sight. They tell us not to waste or pollute while cars, planes, and buildings are destroyed with gleeful abandon for the sake of their art. They tell us that torture doesn’t work while they manically portray some deranged caricature of mobster who always gets the information he wants by beating it out of some poor stooge. They tell us that what counts is what is on the inside, while they diet and train and liposuction and tanning booth their way onto the red carpet. They decry greedy capitalists, big business, and the sins of money while simultaneously demanding bigger and bigger paychecks so that they can spend profligately. Why we collectively watch this trash that masquerades as a venue for their much-deserved recognition is beyond me.

Fortunately for those of you who like counter-programming, Blog Wyrm has a fine spate of columns this month.

Starting off the rotation is an interesting analysis of decision making in the face of uncertainty. Aristotle To Digital dissects the Secretary Problem and shows that knowing precisely when to stop can be a very difficult thing indeed.

Ever hear of the twisted cubic? It’s a wonderful, elegant, simple-to-define space curve with some interesting properties that makes it an object of fair amount of mathematical research. Just the thing to demonstrate the nature of minimal frames, a topic that has been ongoing within Under The Hood.

There seems to be a universal argument in all creative undertakings as to who deserves the lions share of the credit. Is it the actor, or writer, or director and so on. Comic books are no different. This month’s About Comics discusses this perennial, fan-favorite source of drama.

What do haircuts and wine tasting have in common? If you didn’t say regulations and licensing then you need to read this month’s Common Cents where all will be revealed.


Issue 70: That’s 240 in Dog Years

Well Blog Wyrm has reached another milestone – 70 issues. And all in the space of about 2 years. Not bad! Imagine if we had put out one per year. That would be 240 in dog years (not sure what that old expression really means but why not slip it in – we’re celebrating here). One per year would make us a septuagenarian and we all know what that means:

Yep! The world would be our oyster. Well, enough with the jocularity and pointless banter and onto the columns.

Ever wonder how can we explain the sorry situation that exists within the American citizenry with regards to a working knowledge of the rules of economics? Well the blame rests squarely on the those innocuous board games that everyone is playing. Don’t believe it? Well this month’s Common Cents will prove it beyond a reasonable doubt (assuming that your reasonable doubt makes allowance for tongue-in-cheek shenanigans).

Speaking of shenanigans, an old and somewhat comical word, one need look no further than some of the colorful turns of phrase offered by our political class in their finest moments – when they are walking that fine line in a speech where they try to be all things to all people. And certainly the famous oration If By Whiskey by one Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. is often argued to be the pinnacle of political double-speak. But there are always two sides to every story and, as Aristotle To Digital demonstrates, Soggy may have more in common with ancient Greek philosophy than anyone ever thought.

On a more sober note (see what I did there), About Comics looks the great love story from J. O’Barr , The Crow. This graphic novel, which has all but disappeared from the comics discourse, was one of the great works from the 1980s. It went on to inspire a movie franchise and a number of spin-off works.

Finally, Under The Hood plays with the method of moving frames and shows how minimal frames can arise in a variety of ways.