May 30, 2005

The Doomsday Rule

Slow news night? Or am I just this lazy?

I haven't posted in a while so I'm just lobbing this softball so you know I'm still around.

A couple days ago my oldest daughter asked me which day of the week she was born, errrrr, 13 years ago. Well, I know I know things. "That was a Wednesday afternoon." And I know I get these things wrong all the time. I've only fooled myself into thinking I know them.

So I headed straight to the computer to Google the date. Seriously. And the stuff I found about dates...

First, I confirmed quite quickly that it was a Wednesday since putting Tuesday or Thursday ahead of the date got no results while Wednesday lit up the board, so to speak.

Then I found stuff about the Gregorian Calendar and the Julian Calendar and moving New Year's Day forward etc etc.

Then I found this: The Doomsday Rule.

It looked at first like a quick and/or easy math trick to calculate exactly the weekday of any given date. Well, yes, it was "math". Quick and/or easy was not in the stars, so to speak.

It was a lot of this:

Computing Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year's Day. In a Gregorian year Y A.D. (i.e., the first day of the Jewish year Y+3761), it happens on September N, where

{[ Y/100 ] - [Y/400] - 2}+ 765433
(12G) mod 19 + 1
(Y) mod 4 - 313 Y + 89091
= N + fraction

and G is the Golden number, except that it must be postponed by one or two days in the following circumstances....

Now, yes, there was in fact a trick to memorize, and yes, now I can actually figure any weekday based on a given date, in about 5 minutes, as long as we're not talking BC dates.

Or, Rosh Hashana.

Or for instance, when the Vernal Equinox ought to occur in 2027. I will be Googling this one.

Hope you had a good Memorial Day Weekend.

Read The Rest HERE

May 17, 2005

Ginormous vs. Egantic

As soon as I heard that "ginormous" was first in the Merriam-Webster Top Ten Favorite Words NOT in the Dictionary, I thought of it's Siamenym: "Egantic".

(And yes, I, Don Sheffler, made up Siamenym. If you use the word anywhere you have to mention how awesome I was to come up with it, and of course you need to let M-W and OED know its source. The opening sentence in this post would be the word's first known usage - blog or otherwise. As far as I know. OK?)

Anyway Ginormous seems vaguely feminine. Big, to be sure, and feminine.

Egantic just seems powerfully manlike and huge. Ahh, nah, it doesn't. Who am I kidding? I was just trying to find a way to get Siamenym into the game.

I'm all flusterpated now.

Read The Rest HERE

May 14, 2005

Your 15 Minutes of Fame Aren't Actually Yours

Dear Everyone,
There's not enough time to actually give each of you 15 exclusive minutes of fame.


You'll all have to form parallel lines and BLOG your heads off simultaneously and hope someone notices. Take all the time you want, because you're sharing it.

With everyone.

Your friends, the Powers That Be.

The instantaneous self-publishing that blogging allows has brought a welcome egalitarian element to human discourse. It provides a hyper-soap-box that has not been available to humans at any time in history.

Or does it?

I don't know how many people read my blog, for instance - and I bet I'm a pretty good example of the average Mr. Everyone - but I'll bet I could distribute my views more efficiently if I simply stood in front of a supermarket and shouted them out from, well, an actual soapbox.

Certainly blogging will continue to evolve, and the growth of blog hubs - like and others - promise to increase exposure of "everyperson" to the rest of the wired world going forward.

But if everyone is talking, who's listening?

I myself read online a lot, to the detriment of writing. I don't have 24 hours a day to myself so I find myself gathering like a squirrel. I add links to my favorites or subscribe via RSS and Atom and scroll through my aggregator at lightning speed looking for content I'll eventually wish to comment on.

And I'm constantly sucked into the commercial blogventures like the weblogsinc network of professional bloggers and business people vying for my time and the infinitely expanding Gawker Media Empire, a sort of oxymoronic "diversion central".

I wonder if I should hire people to read stuff for me. Then I can actually work, and interact with my real-life family, whose names currently escape me.


In 1992 I was taking some courses back at UCSD part-time, after a long hiatus, to finish my degrees. In one of the courses a young and spunky couple of geeks introduced us all to "the internet". As if we were in a bunker having a secret meeting of the Che Guevara society of new-world communicators, they excitedly distributed a list of complex looking urls printed out with a dot-matrix printer in the computer lab on a long perforated computer paper spool.

These were "addresses". To things you could "find". On "the internet".

I hardly understood a word they were saying. I got the gist of it, though. Not only could we "find" information, we could "offer" information. We were supposed to be able to personally interact with other people somewhere on this internet by using our student network accounts to send "email" and/or "upload" stuff for viewing.


The leaders of our little Internet Junta were insisting that this growing virtual network of computers across the world was going to change the way we all interact and communicate. Political discourse and social & artistic expression were to soon flower in ways none of us could imagine.

Some forward-thinking geeks we had there.
And they were right, if you call a decade "soon".

By this time, 1992, I had read a couple of books in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series, which in themselves were wildly forward-thinking in terms of the future networking of citizens of the universe. Card's tales described the social and cultural communications that would be possible for even the most unknown of unknowns, as soon as IDEA overcame LISTENER's predisposition to ignore the otherwise unimportant SPEAKER. This by the shifting of AUTHORITY via this new network.


Just a year after this UCSD class, I was on Compuserve at home, and then over to AOL (I was one of the first 100,000 subscribers as of 1993). Even then, though, figuring out how to format an email address to a user on another service gave me and the other 99,999 AOL subscribers fits. Well, for a week or two anyway.

Two years after this I actually had a company web page up on the internet - at considerable cost. But that's still just business, advertising, etc. Sure I could get my own personal site - Hey, actually, that's what I did. At considerable cost. This was no way for everyone to get their own 15 minutes of fame.

And then I started noticed in the late 1990's that companies were also giving server space to their employees. Getting there.

And finally has come blogging. Instantaneous, self-published blather.

Ah, the freedom.


However, it seems that as soon as blogging hit our proverbial "fame" funny bones this past couple years, the co-opting began.

Google, who will eventually figure out how to link to our brains directly, bought, which by the way was a good thing. Now it should remain forever free. If that's a good thing. (Tip: I'm never as sure of my own statements as I pretend).

And how is it free?

Advertising. They've got my eyeballs in return for giving me free space to try and attract eyeballs too. So how do we free bloggers get eyeballs to actually read what we're writing? Well, we can just write and hope. We can make the rounds, make connections with the like-minded, trade links, become a community, so to speak.

You can game the system like the Hot Abercromie "Chick", or you can keep pumping out page after page of topical, engaging content like unemployed people on speed, or you can combine with other bloggers to expand your repertoire of interesting content lines. Form alliances. Blogging Communes.


And poof, we're ALL famous ALL the time.

We've gone from passive digestion of broadcast news of the 1970's, to Talk Radio through the 80's and internetting through the 90's, and finally to blogging, still in its cacaphonous infancy.

Where any of you can say anything you want.
Someone might even hear you.

Read The Rest HERE

May 12, 2005

"First, Don't Write Poetry..."

A student at the College of New Jersey has unearthed an 1888 school newspaper interview with Walt Whitman, who gave three bits of advice:

"First, don't write poetry; second ditto; third ditto."

He didn't say to avoid writing altogether; he encouraged learning the craft of writing in every way, including "condensation". I'm guess that's a directive to edit, and when you think you've edited enough, edit some more. Good advice for word-hemorrhagers like me.

He did say to learn the printing business if you were going to write, presumably so you could self-publish if your content was inspired enough to challenge some views.

Wonder what he would have thought of blogging.

Article at

Read The Rest HERE

May 09, 2005

Louis Leithold, Malibu High, and Infinity

I don't claim to be a Calculus expert but I did take about 94 years' worth of it in college. Give or take.

My youngest brother - who never took an interest in the sciences in school, but who now can't get enough of Nova programs and the Discovery channel - this brother and I, often discuss the history and significance of physics and math, biology, black holes and string theory, and beer and of course the famous mathematician John Forbes Nash's game-theory hypothesis on bagging the hottest girl at the bar. Actually, bagging one of her friends. All the stuff brothers chat about, right?

One day we were just glossing over the basics of The Calculus (actually I'm sure we were just scheming some trick bar bets), and we got around to the paradox of getting halfway to a goal each successive step in a series of steps, and ultimately never getting there. Repeating the process infinitely gets you infinitely close so you have finally in essence "arrived". As they say in The Calculus, "close enough". No, really, that's what they say. I've heard them.

Louis Leithold, or perhaps we should just call him Dr. Calculus, last week finally took that last half-step toward the end of his full life.

n = infinity, the equation is solved.

I haven't looked up a list of all the pseudo-mathematical quasi-journalistic smarmy phrases for announcing the passing of a Calculus legend, but that ought to suffice for now. "Close enough."

I was going to say something about how I thought we used Leithold's Calculus book in my college courses, but then I remembered that I was "studying", as they call it at UCSD, under Al "Mr. Exciting" Shenk, and coincidentally we had to constantly purchase the newest version of "Calculus and Analytical Geometry" written by Al "Mr. Sizzle" Shenk himself. A grand coincidence, to be sure.

So, back to Louis Leithold. He wrote "The Calculus", which is considered, in all of its editions, to the be the quintessential writing on the subject, and far superior to that of Al "Do The Hustle" Shenk. Not to disparage Al "One-More-Beer-Bong-And-I'll-Let-"n"-Equal-Anything-You-Want, Dog" Shenk, but I'm on a roll here and I can't seem to stop.

Back again, to Louis Leithold. The man loved teaching, loved the subject, loved the art of it, to the point of working nearly for free, past the age of 80, at Malibu High School long after a distinguished college professorship spanning over half a century. He taught AP Calculus and cajoled his students to mind-bogglingly high AP Test Scores (mind boggling even for Math Majors, go figure). Come to think of it, we're talking high AP Calculus scores at Malibu High. Mind boggling.

Dang, ok, really, back to Louis Leithold. Apparently, if you've met him, you're a better person for it. That's a great reputation to leave behind.

His Math Text Was the Standard, His Touch in Class Exceptional

Read The Rest HERE

May 08, 2005


The following is a list of posts and responses in a forum exchange at FrontPage Magazine.

I was so amused by the post titles alone, that I haven’t even read the content of the exchange.

You can read them in full if you wish at

("No you can’t"
"Yes, you can"
"RE: Yes, you can: you CAN’T!"
"What did you call me?!"
"RE: What did you call me?!"
"RE: RE: What did you call me?!"
"You’re paranoid."
"No, you are."
"You are"
"RE: You are."
"RE: RE: You are.")

OK, here’s the real list:

Darwinism and Creationism - prairieson 6:01:10 PM

Intelligent design isn't a scientific theory.... - BevD 6:54:59 PM

RE: Intelligent design is scientific theory.... - Cato 7:33:35 PM

No it's not a scientific theory...... - BevD 8:55:45 PM

RE: No it's not a scientific theory...... - Cato 9:10:36 PM

I didn't want to embarrass you by - BevD 9:20:06 PM

RE:You only embarass yourself - Cato 9:23:20 PM

RE: Intelligent Design THEORY - Cato 9:33:18 PM

That's so sad....... - BevD 9:50:21 PM

RE: What is an inference? - Cato 10:04:54 PM

There's no such thing as "empirical observation" - BevD 10:17:14 PM

RE: There's no such thing as - Task 11:29:37 PM

RE: I never said it was - prairieson 8:05:20 PM

RE: Actually - SST 6:38:58 PM

Adaptability IS evolution...... - BevD 7:01:37 PM

RE: Adaptability IS evolution...... - SST 7:06:17 PM

Adaptability is not the same as "fit" - BevD 9:01:47 PM

RE: Of course it isn't - SST 9:45:01 PM

No, I'm pointing out that biologically - BevD 10:09:27 PM

RE: No, I'm pointing out that biologically - SST 10:46:49 PM

RE: Doubtful - prairieson 6:55:31 PM

Read "Origin of the Species"...... - BevD 7:04:17 PM

RE: Read - prairieson 7:15:56 PM

RE: Marxism and National Socialism - Cato 7:40:53 PM

They certainly are not. - BevD 9:07:18 PM

RE: Marx & Darwin -A love story - Cato 9:24:30 PM

And it is apparent that you didn't read it........ - BevD 10:11:12 PM

RE: And it is apparent that you didn't read it........ - Cato 11:41:37 PM

p.s. Species don't transform - BevD 6:29:09 PM

RE: p.s. Species don't transform - RightTeacher 6:45:36 PM

So? Species don't transform into - BevD 6:56:45 PM

RE: p.s. Species don't transform - RightTeacher 6:46:46 PM

RE: Darwinism and Creationism - tony 6:51:57 PM

RE: Darwinism and Creationism - Connie 7:49:45 PM

This is wrong. - BevD 9:16:31 PM

RE: This is wrong. - Connie 10:02:21 PM

No, Connie, no evolutionist - BevD 10:14:17 PM

RE: No, Connie, no evolutionist - Connie 10:22:15 PM

RE: RE: Darwinism and Creationism - prairieson 9:27:52 PM

RE: RE: RE: Darwinism and Creationism - Connie 10:16:37 PM

In the interest of brevity (and when is that ever an issue with me??) I took out some innocuous comments through the middle. (What? Innocuous comments?)

I stumbled across this just because in the last week or two I've been following the farcical Kansas Kangaroo Kourt hearings on Intelligent Design.

Maybe I should just get back to watching my Netflix Queue.

Read The Rest HERE

May 06, 2005

Time-Travel Party Didn't Work Out, Tomorrow

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Amal Dorai's bash at M.I.T. tomorrow is gonna be a good time. Top-notch physicists will speak, top-notch students will listen, somebody will spike the punch, to be sure. You can't stop those M.I.T. kids.

But nobody from the year 2770 will come. or 5990. Or really any time past 10pm on Saturday May 7, 2005.

Today, May 6, 2005, is apparently the time for me to come out and explain something I've theorized for years. And years.

Here's my statement, and I'll make it now lest everybody think I came up with it after tomorrow's bomb of an experiment.

Time travel to past points will never be invented / discovered / developed. Ever.

There. I feel much better.

Now, in case you think I'm being smug, and you think there may be some time far far in the future where I'll be proven wrong, just understand, I've already been proven right.

I've been proven right, in fact, every single day that has transpired in the millions of years since the earth first formed. This is really quite simple. If at any time, ever, ever, in the future, be it 90 years from now, or 90 gozillion years from now, if time travel to past points were to come about, then we would already have been visited by someone from the future. Last year perhaps, last millenium maybe, any number of times and places in the past "billions and billions" of possible moments that a future traveller would have landed in his or her past.

I mean, even if for thousands upon thousands of years the powers that be will thwart all attempts by unscrupulous individuals to tinker with the past, even to simply come and see it, don't you suppose that given enough time, eons maybe, that somebody would successfully commandeer a machine and zing back into the past? And that then in the ensuing gazillion years after that, then another one or ten or 50,000 trips would eventually be logged? You think that if time-travel becomes a reality, that in the vast limitless future, absolutely NONE of those theoretical time-trips would have been made to any point in time before Saturday May 7, 2005? Ever?


Wait till tomorrow night at 10 p.m., which is the time that Amal Dorai has selected as the moment when visitors from the future should come to East Campus Courtyard at M.I.T.

Oh, yes, forgot: latitude and longitude have been provided on the invitations(42:21:36.025 degrees north, 71:05:16.332 degrees west), in case the school doesn't exist in the far-flung future from whence these partiers will arrive.

Remember Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure? The scene where they're being hotly pursued, and they come up with a great idea, goes something like this: "This is important - Tomorrow, we have to remember to come back in time, to here, at 10:00 this morning, and hide a smoke bomb right behind this couch! Hey, look, here's the smoke bomb! Awesome! Dude!"

Well, this party is kinda like that. We can all spend the next 50 years creating lavish invitations and putting them in movies and books and on space-ships and so on, and simply supply the information for the May 7, 2005 MIT bash.

Many of Amal's friends have already been putting invitations on acid free paper and slipping them into obscure library books that may not be opened for decades or centuries. Awesome! Dude!

Funny, I'll have to dredge it up somewhere, but in 1993 or so I read a really cool novel set right here in San Diego (La Jolla actually), about some UCSD physicists in the 1980's who come up with a way to shoot some sort of particle at a time-space location where the earth had been in the 1960's. And they send messages back in morse code and hope that some grad student somewhere picks something up on a machine and recognizes the obviously intelligently arranged pattern in the static as a message. To test their experiment they suggest the recipient of their message put package at the post office in La Jolla to be held for Dr. Suchandsuch to pick up in 1988 or something. Then Dr. Suchandsuch simply drove down to the post office and, DUDE!, there's a package that some 1963 UCSD Intern delivered as instructed.

But back to my thesis. Tomorrow will forever disappoint anyone hoping for such a temporal miracle - err, not that I'm mixing religion and science here. Figure of speech.

And if I can't find that book any time soon, I'll just have to send a coded message back to myself in 1993 so that I will have put it into a lock-box at the bank down the street.

Funny, I don't remember ever getting a message like that.

The Time Traveler Convention - May 7, 2005

Read The Rest HERE

May 03, 2005

"Do You, Jennifer, Take John as Your Husband, and Promise Never To Pull This Shit Again?"

New York Daily News

"The only good news is the authorities didn't start yanking Latinos out of blue vans all over the Southwest."
- Runaway Bride - New York Daily News

So, should she be busted? You tell me. On the one hand what's the use of locking up a harmless though narcissistic jerk?

Or is there maybe a problem with sapping the combined resources of the FBI, Georgia state and county officers and the entire 50-officer Duluth police department for nearly a week?

Just so she could "think", if that's what they call it in Vegas these days?

Now, although on the issue of crime I could usually be accused of leaning in the "Law and Order" direction, I reserve my real angst for murderers, rapists, child molesters, and other violent offenders. Not pot-smokers, jay-walkers, and runaway brides. I really want the prisons available to house the clods who deserve it.

In this case, though, there is still a question of culpability to be answered. Just as the Wendy's Chili Bowl Finger Faker has in effect destroyed a franchise owner and harmed a chain of restaurants in just the latest in a suspicious list of lawsuit incidents, the runaway bride crossed the proverbial line when she called in a blatantly false felony kidnapping.

As her unbelievably understanding fiance points out, it's not against the law to get cold feet. Running off isn't illegal. If she had simply taken a bus back to town and apologized for scaring everyone I wouldn't be writing this post. It happens.

But how many people went without real police attention that week? How much injury or mayhem did people suffer, if any? Could we possibly know?

And I don't know if it was 30 minutes or 2 hours or half a day between her 911 call and her subsequent confession. I don't know if whatever amount of time it was really caused any damage to anyone anywhere. She didn't hang on to that lie for days on end.

But in that time what if there had been a "hot-stop" on a blue van with a hispanic driver because of her hysterical story? What if someone got hurt or killed?

The FBI is just walking away from it. The fiance has forgiven her. The Duluth authorities are still mulling it over.

No harm, no foul?

Good luck with that marriage, though.

Read The Rest HERE