The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Painter of light, stiffer of creditors

In a move calculated to let millions of people believe that taste has not fled the American continent altogether, Thomas Kinkade has filed for bankruptcy:

The Chapter 11 petition was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Jose in the name of the Kinkade production arm, Pacific Metro of Morgan Hill, Calif. It allows Pacific Metro to reorganize and puts an automatic stay on the collection of all judgments, including one for $3 million owed to Karen Hazlewood and Jeff Spinello.

"Kinkade is a … deadbeat," said their lawyer, Norman Yatooma, who accused the artist and his Los Angeles attorney, Dana Levitt, of "breaching their agreement" to pay up. "Kinkade's word is as worthless as his artwork. His lawyer is no better."

(Oh my god! It's a gazebo!)

Coffee and maths

From Matthew Yglesias, information about coffee consumption worldwide, which apparently peaks in Finland:

The Swedes are actually a bit less coffee-mad than the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, or Icelanders but as you can see here all the Nordic peoples drink a ton of coffee, in the Swedish case a bit less than twice as much per capita as Americans do. The Södermalm area of Stockholm where Mikael Blonkvist and Lisbeth Salander live and Millenium and Milton Security are headquartered is just littered with coffee houses like nothing I’ve ever seen in America (incidentally, this is where I stayed when I was in Stockholm on the recommendation of a blog reader—it’s a hugely fun neighborhood, definitely stay there if you visit). Personally, I drink way more coffee than the average American and find this aspect of Swedish life congenial. Even I, however, had to balk at the extreme quantity of coffee I was served in Finland where consumption is absolutely off the charts.

And another from math teacher Dan Meyer:

It is exceptionally easy for me to treat the skills and structures of mathematics as holy writ. My default state is to assume that every student shares my reverence for the stone tablets onto which the math gods originally etched the quadratic formula. It is a matter of daily discipline to ask myself, instead:

  • what problem was the quadratic formula originally intended to solve?
  • why is the quadratic formula the best way to solve that problem?
  • how can I put my students in a position to discover the answers to (a) and (b) on their own?

This last is particularly intriguing because not only would I like those answers about the quadratic formula, I'd also like those answers about the Capital Asset Pricing Model and Black-Scholes.

Off to San Francisco this afternoon, to put off dealing with my head-exploding workload for three days. If the guy sitting in the row ahead of me leans back so I can't use my laptop, I will cry.

Four examples of mathematics in our lives

Exhibit the First: This morning on NPR, a "retired banker from Eagle River, Wis.," when interviewed about the retirement of Rep. David Obey (D-WI) claimed, "I think the majority of people up here are independent thinkers."

Exhibit the Second: via Gulliver, a study of airfare fluctuations in the U.S. market found airfares fluctuate millions of times per year for some city pairs in the U.S. For example, airfares between Atlanta and Las Vegas changed almost 2.5m times last year. Gulliver pointed out that this reflects intense price competition and really good pricing strategies. As for the number of changes? Multiply out the number of seats available times a modest frequency of changes (hundreds of seconds between changes for each seat) and you get into the millions. I'm interested what my marketing professor would say.

Exhibit the Third: via Sullivan, a Spanish mathemetician has examined marital breakups, complete with colorful charts.

Exhibit the Last: Glenview, Ill., police arrested four kids over the weekend for trying to tip cows at a local museum farm. The mathematical tie-in comes from the mass differential between a 500 kg cow and a 80 kg human. Said Wagner Farm director Todd Price, "cow tipping has never been a major concern, mostly because it's harder than people think."

About those gold medals from the Tokyo Olympics...

I've heard of résumé padding, but, wow:

[Adam] Wheeler had never attended the exclusive Phillips Academy prep school in Andover or MIT. And his academic record at Harvard was far less dazzling than he claimed. Instead of straight A's, Wheeler had received some A's, a few B's and a D. His SAT scores were also much less impressive: 1160 and 1220, not the perfect 1600 he had claimed, according to court documents.

Wheeler, 23, of Milton, Del., was ordered held on $5,000 bail Tuesday after pleading not guilty to 20 counts of larceny, identity fraud and other charges. ... Wheeler was tossed from Harvard last fall after he tried to get the school's endorsement for Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, and a professor reviewing his applications found evidence he had plagiarized from another professor, prosecutors say. Wheeler's parents gave him up to a Yale official who called to ask about their son's transfer application.

Prosecutor John Verner said in court Tuesday that Wheeler essentially stole $45,000 in financial aid, scholarship money and academic awards from Harvard.

Just thinking back to my application to Fuqua, I can't figure out how he faked his academic record. All the supporting documents, like transcripts, usually have to come directly from the institutions, for starters. Doesn't Harvard have control systems?

Quick catch-up

I needed to catch my breath this weekend, so The Daily Parker fell to the bottom of the stack. Here are some of the things that passed before my eyes in the last few days:

  • Math teacher Dan Meyer gave a TED Talk in March suggesting improvements to how we teach math. He says we should teach kids how to reason, not just plug in formulae. As I'm going through the effects of bad mathematics education myself this term, his talk resonated.
  • The Texas Taliban have made another tinfoil hat recommendation to the Texas School Board, this time to have textbooks explain to children "Threats of global government to individual freedom and liberty includ[ing] the votes of the U. N. General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the U. N. Gun Ban proposal, forced redistribution of American wealth to third world countries, and global environmental initiatives."
  • Melvin Conner, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Eduction, sums up new research in childhood cognitive development, including the worrying trend of earlier puberty and later emotional maturity.
  • Scott Adams ruminates on brain management in ways I've noticed myself: "I also find it impossible to do any sort of creative writing while listening to music, perhaps for the same reason: Creativity springs from a deep examination of self, which you then generalize, and music seems to share that bandwidth."

There were a few others in there, too, which I'll post as soon as I remember them.

In praise (?) of the Full English Breakfast

There is, fortunately, nothing like a Full English Breakfast, like this one I had a few months ago in London:

Via reader EB, Times writer Cole Morton traveled around the country wondering why people still eat them:

Here, then, is proof that English bloodymindedness endures. Never mind anti-obesity campaigns, free fruit or the knowledge that the big plate of fatty crap is killing us, some people will just pile on more.

We’re addicted to salt and still eating for the hearty, manual labour of old, when most of our work now involves sitting down, says the social anthropologist Kaori O’Connor. The Full English was born at a time during the Victorian era when new forms of energy allowed us to move from two meals a day — mid-morning, and just before the sun went down — to beginning with an early cooked feast. This then became a symbolic meal.

“The full breakfast is the secular sacrament of Englishness,” says Dr O’Connor, author of The English Breakfast. “In the devout early Victorian period, the day would begin with morning prayers before breakfast, which was a civilised meal for a civilised country. In time, the prayers dropped away and breakfast became a sacrament. You ate it as an article of faith.”

The Breakfast Book by Georgina Hill, published in 1865, lists some “things most commonly served for family breakfast” in a country-house buffet. They include “anchovies, bloaters, brain cakes, caviare, cold tongue, devilled bones, dried sprats...” Surely only those who could afford feasts had this high ideal of breakfast.

“No. Everybody had it,” says O’Connor. “Breakfast was the meal that everybody began the day with, whatever their place in society and however meagre the portions.”

I write this eating a small bowl of Raisin Bran with 2% milk. But the next time I visit the U.K., I will have a Full English. Oh yes. I will. If only to remind myself why I only eat them there.

Bad food choices

First, a housekeeping note. This is the one of three entries posted after the fact. Almost always, a post time you see on The Daily Parker accurately records when I first posted the blog entry. At this writing I’m on an airplane over Canada’s Northwest Territories, so the post time shows when I took notes about the entry that follows. This all may seem, as my dearest friend might say, “a bit Asperger’s-y.” Perhaps. Another very close friend blogs retrospectively, because she wants her entries to correspond in time to when the experiences happened. I think either is fine as long as it’s consistent. Otherwise, it’s almost like lying to yourself.

(We now rejoin the blog already in progress.)

If you have to fly out of O’Hare, you really can’t beat mid-morning on Tuesday. It took me 11 minutes from the time my cousin dropped me at Terminal 3 to check two bags through to Shanghai and get through security. Eleven minutes. Yes, I have Platinum status, but there weren’t any lines I could see at anywhere else. Always do things when no one else is doing them, someone once told me. Good advice.

In a moment of stupidity I forgot they would feed me on the plane, so I got lunch. The stupidity compounded itself by suggesting that, since I was heading to China, maybe I should skip the usual Terminal 3 two-item combo from Manchu Wok and get something impossible to get in Shanghai, like, say, a Quarter Pounder. Understand, the last time I ate at McDonald’s, ridiculous comparatives hadn’t been invented yet, so all we could say was “it was a long time ago.” I think I last had a Quarter Pounder during the Daley administration. The first one.

I think they’ve changed the recipe. The Quarter Pounder and small fries I had didn’t taste anything like I remembered. What happened to the salt? Where was the grease? What kind of cardboard bun was this? (At least they still make cardboard buns.) What a disappointment. I wanted my last meal in the United States for two weeks to be something quintessentially American, and obviously fattening and hypertensive. Instead I got what tasted like...well, it didn’t taste like anything, actually. Then American Airlines added to my culinary confusion by serving me a quite tasty beef filet in garlic ginger sake sauce with wild mushrooms paired with a decent Australian cabernet.

What is America coming to, when airline food is better than McDonald’s?

The neurology of spending

Last one today, with two articles on paying cash v. paying with credit cards. First, Ryan Sager at Neuroworld:

Every person’s financial situation and mind works differently. For some people, doing many more of their transactions in cash (or check — you have to have some way to pay bills) would be a huge improvement. If you shop a lot recreationally, for instance, this could slow you down. For some people, just using a debit card could be the answer. For me and other people who like a lot of control and data and feedback — and I swear this whole post isn’t a viral add for Mint.com — a solution like credit cards plus something like… Mint.com is a good answer.

The key, as in so many things, is a high degree of self knowledge, a willingness to experiment and track results, and the information to understand what biases might be driving your behavior.

An older article on the same subject from Jonah Lehrer:

What's interesting to me is the way credit cards take advantage of some innate flaws in the brain. When we buy something with cash, the purchase involves an actual loss - our wallet is literally lighter. Credit cards, however, make the transaction abstract, so that we don't really feel the downside of spending money. Brain imaging experiments suggest that paying with credit cards actually reduces activity in the insula, a brain region associated with negative feelings. As George Loewenstein, a neuroeconomist at Carnegie-Mellon says, "The nature of credit cards ensures that your brain is anaesthetized against the pain of payment." Spending money doesn't feel bad, so you spend more money.

Once again I remember the semi-dystopian Friday by Robert Heinlein, in which he imagines a Republic of California with a constitutional right to credit. Of course, that means everyone in California is in debt....