Thursday, February 16, 2017

Am I Finally Developing An Interest In Math?

I've always been freakishly good at doing arithmetic in my head. Not quite as good as Rain Man, but definitely unusual. However, I've never found mathematics to be interesting. I wonder whether that's an unusual combination of aptitude and disinterest. I stopped taking math classes in high school as soon as I was allowed to, at the end of 10th grade, when the algebra and geometry courses I had completed met the minimum requirements for graduation.

My younger brother took more advanced math courses. Much more advanced. My brother is literally a rocket scientist. He's got a Bachelor's and Master's of Science from MIT. As an undergrad he had a summer internship working for Martin Marietta and NASA on the Space Shuttle. Then between the Bachelor's and the Master's he took two years off from school and worked for a private company which has sent all sorts of things into orbit. A genuine rocket scientist. We're very proud of the little genius.

Every couple of years, I get an urge to study some more advanced math, and engineering and physics. The urge usually passes very quickly, but then again, it keeps coming back. About 30 years ago I had the urge, and my brother gave me this:

It's the 5th edition of Calculus and Analytic Geometry by George B Thomas and Ross L Finney, both professors at MIT when the 5th edition was published in 1979. It was a worn-out copy, my brother was done with it. I don't know whether he had studied this book in high school in preparation for MIT, or if it was the textbook for a freshman class he took at MIT, or maybe both.

I still have that old worn copy of the Thomas/Finney that my brother gave me. But I still haven't looked at it much. I'm currently having another one of those urges to make myself interested in math. But that's just the problem: math remains excruciatingly boring to me. But now I've been looking at that textbook, paging through it. And also looking at other books such as Blatt and Weisskopf's Theoretical Nuclear Physics, Rojensky's Electromagnetic Fields and Waves and Tolstov's Fourier Series. Looking for something which I can honestly say that I find interesting.

I may have found something. Thomas and Finney may have been rather sly when it came to education. There are a lot of word problems for the students to solve in their textbook, problems demonstrating some applications of calculus and analytic geometry, and one of those problems has actually caught my attention. That's right: something in a math book has begun to interest me.

I can't find that problem right now. I think it's somewhere in the first 50 pages or so of this textbook which runs to well over 900 pages. And it's a collage freshman textbook. Freshmen at MIT, which is certainly not the same thing as freshmen everywhere, but still. Early on in a freshman math textbook, there was a problem which I don't know how to solve.

Yes, it was arrogant of me, but I had wondered whether, in addition to boring me, this textbook would also teach me anything, or not. Arrogant, yes. But, for example, I was factoring 3-digit numbers in my head as a small child, years before a math teacher introduced me to the term "factor." Without finding it interesting. Just because it was there in my head.

But somewhere toward the front of Thomas/Finney 5th ed is a problem which, reconstructed from memory, goes something like this: a person of height X is walking at speed Y directly toward a streetlamp of height Z. Determine the rate at which the length of X's shadow decreases.

I can't do that. But apparently the first chapter or two of this textbook will show me how to do it. (Assuming I'm smart enough to understand what the book says.)

And that is interesting. That is definitely an example of something this textbook could teach me. And, apparently, that's just the beginning of introductory calculus. Just scratching the surface.

That's pretty cool.

So, you realize what this means, right? That's right: I'm going to be the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and another one in Physics, plus a Fields Medal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Journalists Exposing The Plunder Of Politicians

Journalists are hard at work, exposing politicians who claim to be working for the little guy, while they themselves live in unimaginable wealth: the headline at

Barack and Michelle Obama Are About to Get Even Richer

That's right: while You Know Who is busy running the country into the ditch, appointing billionaires to his Cabinet and selling as much of the US as he can to Putin at bargain-basement rates, and please let's not forget about how our new Treasury Secretary foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman because of a discrepancy of 27 cents on her mortgage check (I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that last one); while all of that is really happening, Fox Business is keeping a sharp eye on the wealth of those nefarious plutocrats -- the Obamas.

I wonder how wealthy the Obamas are in the right-wing parallel universe where he's a secret Kenyan Muslim. In the real world, it probably would be pretty easy to estimate their real wealth pretty accurately, given that they've publicly disclosed all the details of their finances going back decades. Unlike You Know You.

Nice to know that Fox Business is on the case, isn't it?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Non-Laughing Cassandra

Maybe there's some way to get the attention of someone who wields real power at a huge corporation and tell them that you have an idea that would actually help them. I am not familiar with this way.

For example, Amazon.

Years ago I tried to get a job with Amazon, just correcting the errors on the website about what languages books are in. Because there were enough such errors that correcting would keep at least one brilliant person, such as myself, busy full-time -- and it would be a good investment for Amazon too, right? Imagine, all those customers finally actually finding what they'd been looking for. No-one I was able to reach was interested in the slightest, or even gave any sign that they understood what I was talking about. Have they made progress on that problem in the meantime? I have no idea, I no longer scour the Amazon website looking for such errors.

And then there are fake luxury-watch reviews. Not paid-for reviews, but reviews by people who think they're funny, saying things like, "This Rolex is great, and having to sell my house in order to buy it was a small price to pay. I'm very happy living out here in the woods," etc. There are who knows how many thousands of such reviews of expensive watches on Amazon, which are basically the same joke: "This here watch is real expensive, hyuck hyuck hyuck!" and none of which are funny. Or at least there were many thousands of such reviews. It's been a while since I've looked at any reviews of watches on Amazon. I sent a couple of messages to Amazon describing the problem, and I moved on. They could fix the problem by limiting reviews of expensive watches to people who've bought those watches, or similar ones.

Where's that on-ramp between me and things I could do something about?

Is it crammed with exactly the same morons who make all those lame jokes about the watches, making me a needle of reason in a haystack of stupidity?

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Newbie In The World Of Watches

If you comment on the ads on Facebook which are called "suggested posts," Facebook will show you similar stuff. If you click on the links, Facebook will show you a lot of similar stuff.

It's too bad that 2 of the links to watch sellers or watchmakers which looked more interesting led to websites where you have to register before you can browse. PITA, later, bye, Touch of Modern, which sells various high-end brands, and Minus-8, a somewhat affordable brand.

Minus-8 says they're from San Francisco. Can it be that some interesting-looking mechanical watches are actually Amurrkin?! I surfed around some watch forums and watch-review sites, and by God, yes! Minus-8 makes automatic watches! With Seiko NH35A automatic movements. And the watches are actually assembled in China. (Seiko is a Japanese company, but some of their movements are actually made in places like Malaysia.)

And speaking of sites which review watches: other than the legendary Watch Snob®, I'm not sure whether I've seen anyone yet who is more interested in uncompromising critical evaluation of timepieces than in having a place on the Web where a lot of watchmakers will advertise. I may have come across a couple such. I'm just not sure yet. I did a Google search for best watch reviewers, and literally all that got me was some remarks on several different sites about how they were the best watch reviewers. So, I'll keep looking. This is all still very new to me.

Like Seiko, Casio was a brand name I'd heard forever without realizing that they make some stuff which some people get really enthusiastic about. I've got a couple of pocket calculators on the table here next to my computer, and one of them ... *checking* ... hey lookit that, actually both of them are made by Casio. I bought them both back in the early 1990's, I rarely use either of them or give them much thought, I bought the SL-100B, which folds in half and has large keys, much more for the physical design --

-- than for any other reason, although the physical design is very important, I think. Using the SL-100B is a pleasant experience for me -- and the other one has many more functions, not all of which I know what they are. They both run on indoor lighting, never had to get a battery for either of them or recharge them or do any other sort of maintenance on them. They both still work just fine, is that remarkable for pocket calculators made in the early 1990's? I don't know.

The reason I mentioned Casio is because they make a watch called the G-Shock, which is renowned for its unbreakability. I went through a number of sites dedicated to the G-Shock looking for info about the movement, about whether there were any G Shocks with mechanical movements. I found only references to quartz movements in G-Shocks. On one G-Shock fan page a G-Shock fan patiently tried to explain how all watch movements should be quartz, basically because they're much, much more unbreakable. Whaddygonnado, quartz is quartz and mechanical is mechanical and never the twain shall meet. There are those Casio G-Shock fans over there, and there are us Seiko 5 fans over here, and perhaps most of the people in one group will never understand what the other group is so excited about.

This is my Seiko 5, by the way:

There are many others like it, but this one is mine.

Monday, February 6, 2017


There's no doubt, I worry too much. I have problems with migraines and high blood pressure, anxiety aggravates these. And then there's the part where anxiety makes me unhappy.

Today, not, unusually, I worried all morning and into the afternoon about whether I would be able to perform certain errands. Then around 2:30 PM I suddenly realized with a start: nothing more to worry about there. I was done. I had performed all of those errands, and for the rest of the day I was free either to worry about other things, or not to worry at all.

And that, sadly, has made it a pretty typical day for me.

Naturally, we all have to be concerned about a number of things in order to lead more or less normal lives. But anxiety is concern which has become exaggerated and counter-productive. It doesn't help get anything done. It offers hinders me to a great extent. Besides feeling horrible, it is inefficient.

I don't know what most of the lyrics to "It Keeps You Runnin'" mean, or, for that matter, most of the lyrics to many other songs Michael McDonald has written or co-written: "What a Fool Believes," "Minute by Minute," "Takin' it to the Streets." ... I got no clue what the man is trying to say to us. I love all of the above-mentioned Doobie Brothers recordings with McDonald singing lead, but I don't really know what the man is talkin'. Well, gradually, over the course of decades, and over the course of thousands of re-listenings, I think I've picked up a few things. For example, I think that "Takin' it to the Streets" may have something to do with protesting in the streets for social justice. Something like that. I don't know.

Anyway, one line in "It Keeps You Runnin'" has always really stood out for me:

"Are you gonna worry for the rest of your life?"

I don't feel that the song in general really speaks to me. I think -- I'm not sure -- but I think it's about a relationship between a man and a woman, and the man, the singer, is trying to help the woman work through some of her stuff. I wonder whether maybe a big problem in this man/woman relationship is that most of the time the woman, although she realizes that the man means well, has no idea what he's talking about, and the man doesn't understand that she doesn't understand him.

Anyway, when I hear McDonald sing that one line about worrying, I ask myself whether I might benefit from relaxing more than just a bit. When I first heard the song, when I was 15 or 16 years old, being worried all the time was sort of my default position. And although the song and some other things made me aware that I was worried all the time and that I should change that, 39 or 40 years later, although I've made some improvement, I still worry too much.

Some time during the 1980's, I was listening to John Peel's BBC programme on US public radio, and quite abruptly, with no warning whatsoever, Peel said that the record he was going to play next was the best of the year, and as quickly as that he played it: a reggae record I'd never heard before and have never heard since, with a refrain where some backup vocalists harmonized with the lead singer in a request for the listener to "Lay your worries down the riverside."

Only heard it once in my life, but it helped as well. Googled "lay your worries down the riverside" just now, in quotes. No diresct hits. Which may well mean that I'm quoting it wrong.

Still helped. It's still helping now.


Friday, February 3, 2017

The Perfect Watch

My Seiko 5 is pretty darn close to perfect. This is my Seiko 5:

There are many others like it, but this one is mine. (I'm going to keep on telling this joke until somebody gets it.) (I might not even stop then.)

Those of you who saw the earlier photo of my Seiko 5 on this blog, posted about a month ago when I first got the watch, may sense that something has changed. Here is that earlier photo:

Your keen instincts are correct. Something has changed: the nylon strap has been removed.

There's nothing wrong with the wrist strap. It is a good strap, sturdy and beautiful. Unfortunately, it is just barely too small for me to use: it took a great deal of effort for me to fasten the strap around my wrist using the last hole, and when I finally did, it was much too tight. And so I removed it, thinking at first that I would replace it.

But now I don't know whether I will. I prefer pocket watches to wristwatches, and with or without its sturdy, beautiful nylon strap, my Seiko 5 fits comfortable into a variety of my pockets. I haven't actually searched very energetically for a replacement strap. One advantage of not having a strap is that it makes it a little easier to look at the back of the watch. And the back of the watch looks like this:

Pretty cool, huh? I know!

Now, some of you maying be saying: Sure, Steve, yr Seiko 5 is awesome, clearly. But of all the watches in the world, how can you say that it is close to perfect, when we know that you know a little bit about some pretty fancy watches -- Rolexes and Patek Philippes and Audemars Piguets and what not?

Well, one big advantage which my Seiko 5 has over those fancy items is that I have never held a Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet in my hand, and I've only held a Rolex once, because a nice saleslady in a watch shop let me hold it for a moment -- but I didn't hold it long enough for it to make a strong impression. I can hold my Seiko 5 whenever I want to. I held it just now, between typing "[...]strong impression." and "I can[...]" This lends it an immediacy which those other watches, at present, do not have for me. My Seiko 5 makes me very happy. (Can ya tell?)

Nevertheless, I can imagine a watch which would be even more perfect.

Perfect for me. The perfect one for you would be different, and the perfect one for another person would be different again, because we people are all unique.

My perfect watch would be a pocket watch. I said before on this blog that watch manufacturers couldn't make a pocket watch too big and heavy for me. Well, I keep learning more about watches all the time, and I'm pretty sure that they have made some which are too big for me. There's the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, for example, presented to the watch-porn public in 1989. 89 mm wide, 41 mm thick -- roughly the size of a hockey puck -- and well over 2 pounds. It's value has been estimated at around $6 million, but that may be just an abstract estimate, because only 4 were made -- 1 each in yellow gold, rose gold, white gold and platinum -- and it may well be that none of them is actually for sale at any price.

If I ever get to the position where I can afford to spend $6 million on a watch, and it turns out that a Patek Philippe Calibre 89 is for sale, and I get to hold it in my hands, it may turn out that I don't find it too big at all, but just perfect. But trying to imagine it now, it really seems like it would be too big for me to carry around. I don't know if anyone could comfortably carry a pocket watch that big.

Then there's the Audemars Piguet 25701, a large pocket watch, currently made, not an antique, made in various shades of gold. I might find it to be actually too big and heavy as well, I don't know, I'd have to actually hold one to have an idea about that. And as they seem to cost closer to $1 million than $500,000, it may be a while before I have to decide if it's for me.

The absolute perfect watch for me might actually be a rather modestly-sized pocket watch. But I would want as much of it as possible to be made of platinum. Do you seek to know me? Then you must know that I like gold and am daffy about platinum, and that with both metals, heaviness is a lot of the appeal. Platinum is heavier than gold. It's the heaviest material -- or, to be more precise: alloys of platinum are the heaviest materials out of which a watch can be made. Anything heavier would either be brittle or radioactive.

So, my perfect pocket watch might be not remarkably wide, and not remarkably thick, but it would be remarkably heavy because it would be mostly platinum-alloy. And a remarkably heavy platinum chain to go with it would also be perfect.

Next, we come to the movement. It would, of course, be mechanical and not quartz: that is, the watch would be powered by a spring, and not by a battery. Why, and why of course? I don't know how to explain it to you. Maybe someone else could explain it to you. Maybe not. Whether there are actual reasons for it or not, I am one of a whole group of people who are fascinated by mechanical watches, and not interested in quartz watches very much at all.

Watches with mechanical movements, that is: watches powered by springs and not by batteries, fall into 2 categories: automatic and hand-wound. Most mechanical wristwatches made today, from the least expensive to the most expensive, are automatics: you don't have to wind them if you wear them on your wrist all day. The normal movement of your wrist will wind the spring.

But I'm obsessive-compulsive, and obsessive-compulsives will always worry about whether their automatic watches are going to run down even though we know it's irrational to worry about it.

Some automatic watches can be hand-wound. Not the Seiko 5. And I also don't wear my Seiko 5 on my wrist. So there's a certain amount of waving my watch back and forth to keep it wound.

Being obsessive-compulsive, I not only worry that my watch will wind down and stop because I haven't waved it back and forth enough. I also worry that maybe I wave it back and forth much too much, and that the excessive shaking is putting excess wear and tear on my beloved innocent little Seiko 5! (Yes, I just referred to my watch as if it were a living thing, like a pet which can experience enjoyment and suffering. I'm aware that this is not an entirely rational attitude. I'm fine with that. I am who I am.)

Maybe I will learn much more about what is good and bad for a watch such as mine, and maybe I will learn ways to know how tight or loose my watches mainspring is, and what effects may or may not come from always being wound up too tight (insert psychiatric joke here) and so forth.

I am not aware of the existence of any automatic pocket watches. All the ones I know about are either battery-driven, or mechanical hand-wind.

But an obsessive-compulsive person can still experience mental anguish with a manually-wound watch: What if you forgot to wind it today?

There's an answer to that anguish, called the power-reserve indicator. This is a feature on the face of some hand-wound watches (I've never seen one on an automatic) which shows how much time is left until the watch winds down and stops.

What a wonderful feature! I wonder whether it was invented with people in mind who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it definitely is suffering. For whatever reason it was invented, it's as if it was made to order, or made to disorder, for us.

Mechanical watches made today generally will run from 40 to 60 hours or more from fully-wound to stopped. Another way to say that is: they have a power reserve of from 40 to 60 or more hours. One wristwatch I know of has a power reserve of 7 days, another of 31 days and one can run for 50 days between windings, the longest power reserve I've ever heard of.

[PS, 5 February 2017: I just found out about another long-distance runner: the Calibre 947 movement by Jaeger-LeCoultre --

-- has a power reserve of 15 days.]

On my perfect, modestly-sized, platinum pocket watch, I think a power reserve of several days or more would be nice. But it would definitely have to have a power-reserve indicator in order to be perfect.

There are a lot of other things which new fancy mechanical watches often have: stopwatches, second hour hands for the 2nd time zone of your choice, alarms, etc, etc. A new Rolex or Omega may well have many complication which I don't even understand, and I'd have to read the owner's manual and hope that then I'd understand what all that stuff on the watch is. Any function other than just an hour hand, a minute hand and a second hand is called a complication. A power reserve indicator is a complication. I'm not sure whether the indicators of the day of the week and of the day of the month on my Seiko 5 are called a complication or 2 complications.

Other than the power reserve indicator, which I definitely want, I'm really not that crazy about complications. Do I like having the day of the week and of the month on my Seiko 5? Yeah, sure. Would I really miss them if they were gone or if they stopped working? I'm not sure I'd miss them much at all.

However, it's certainly conceivable that as time goes on and I learn more about complications, they will have more appeal for me.

The implication of this, of course, is that the perfect watch for me, or for any person, will change as that person changes.