Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pi Day 2015

     3-14-15 9:26:53 has come and gone. I felt nary a ripple in the cosmos nor in my mathematical ethos. It was a moment in time neither momentous nor irrational.
     I thought about buying a t-shirt for a moment. It would be the logical nerdy thing to do. I might have actually done had Pi Day fallen on a day that I was actually teaching. That it fell on a Saturday and that the t-shirt I liked cost $23 yielding -2 utils for this proposition. I may, however, e-mail the company in a week or so, April 1 seems quite appropriate, and see if they would sell me one for, I don’t know, let’s say $5.
     There is a lot of friendly and fun hype about Pi Day. There are contests at various universities where folks compete to see how many digits of this most famous irrational number and be memorized and reciting. Oh my… golly gee whiz… that sounds like fun. Buying a pumpkin or blueberry pie with Pi carved in the crust and sharing it with a few people is more my speed. Even better yet, I could just blog about it.
     Why Pi? It is probably the most popular irrational number. It is probably one of the Greek letters most people are familiar with. It is fun and 3-14 is logical day to celebrate it as a prelude to Green Beer Day and the First Day of Spring. It is even cooler because 3-14 is Albert Einstein’s birthday. So, why not have a little fun with it? We love cool dates, especially like 3-14-15 9:26:53, that are once in a lifetime events. In fact, I have blogged about this phenomena already: 12-12-12 Come and Gone - Now What?
     Irrational numbers are so named because they are not rational. This has nothing to do with how easily the numbers can or cannot be reasoned with. The key part of both terms is “ratio.” A rational number is any number that can be expressed as the ratio or fraction of two whole numbers. When converted to decimals, these numbers have a finite number or digits or are repeating e.g. 1/2 = .5 or 1/3 = .33333… An irrational number cannot be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers and when expressed at a decimal goes on infinitely and never repeats. Pi is such a number. It is the most famous irrational number.
     There is, of course, a website: They provide one million digits of the number. They also, in the Learn About Pi page, provide the following:

Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi is a constant number, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will be the same. The diameter of a circle is the distance from edge to edge, measuring straight through the center. The circumference of a circle is the distance around.
By measuring circular objects, it has always turned out that a circle is a little more than 3 times its width around. In the Old Testament of the Bible (1 Kings 7:23), a circular pool is referred to as being 30 cubits around, and 10 cubits across. The mathematician Archimedes used polygons with many sides to approximate circles and determined that Pi was approximately 22/7. The symbol (Greek letter “π”) was first used in 1706 by William Jones. A ‘p’ was chosen for ‘perimeter’ of circles, and the use of π became popular after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737. In recent years, Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits past its decimal. Only 39 digits past the decimal are needed to accurately calculate the spherical volume of our entire universe, but because of Pi’s infinite & patternless nature, it’s a fun challenge to memorize, and to computationally calculate more and more digits.
     There are, at the least, two other irrational numbers worth noting: The Golden Ratio, square root of 2 and the natural exponential “e.”
     The Golden ratio (= 1.618…) is the ratio of the longest side of a Golden Rectangle divided by the shorter side:

Golden Rectangle and Ratio
The Golden rectangle has been known since antiquity as one having a pleasing shape, and is frequently found in art and architecture as a rectangular shape that seems 'right' to the eye. It is mentioned in Euclid's Elements and was known to artists and philosophers such as Leonardo da Vinci. 
One of the interesting properties of the golden rectangle is that if you cut off a square section whose side is equal to the shortest side, the piece that remains is also a golden rectangle.
International Paper System
Sequence to calculate e
The Golden Ratio is approached as the ratio of two successive Fibonacci numbers.
      The European paper system is based on the basic principle that if you halve the rectangle along the longest edge, the two halves are the dimension of the next size down paper. The ratio of the longest side divided by the shorter side is the square root of 2 (= 1.414…).
     For me, e = 2.718 is the coolest of them all. The exponential function with base e is it’s own derivative. It is central to most statistical distributions notably the normal or bell shaped distribution. It is used in most life data and reliability distributions including the continuous growth formula for bacteria.
     When I think about it, irrational numbers seem crucial to the design of the universe as we perceive it.

     Happy Pi Day everyone.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Very Odd Naming of Craft Beers

     There was a time when there were a lot of beer brands in the US. Many of them were regional and a few became national like Budweiser, Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, and maybe a few others. There were many other regional brands like Stroh’s, Olympia, Shiner Bock, Geobel, Rhinegold, Narraganset, Schaefer, Ballantine, Falstaff, Schmidt, Hamm’s, Old Style, Genesee, Iron City, Rolling Rock, Blatz, Knickerbocker, and Olde Frothingslosh (really?). Over the years, there has been a significant consolidation in the mainstay brewers. The top ten beer brands by sales are:
  1. Bud Light 
  2. Coors Light 
  3. Budweiser 
  4. Miller Lite 
  5. Corona Extra 
  6. Natural Light 
  7. Busch Light 
  8. Michaleob Extra 
  9. Busch 
  10. Heineken 
Six of the brands are from Anheuser-Busch InBev, two are from CoorsMiller Brewing, and two are imports from Mexico and The Netherlands.
     While this consolidation has been happening, there has been an explosion of lesser brands of higher quality ales and beers. This class of beers is known as craft beers. The goal is to emulate classic Eurpean beers such as Pilsner Urquil and Stella Artois. This trend began back in the 1980s with Samuel Adams (founded in 1984) and Goose Island (founded 1988). Over the years there has been a proliferation of microbreweries that make these craft beers. It has gotten to the point where I go to various gatherings where beer might be served, there are only craft beers that I have never heard of. Seriously, it is almost impossible to get one of the aforementioned top ten brands anymore. I see the big brands in the stores but almost no one I know buys and serves them.
     The craft beers all have interesting and colorful labels. They also have what could easily be construed as weird or odd names that from my perspective have nothing to with beers. I think many of the beers are formed by two words. The first word is an adjective from the title of a horror movie with the second being a noun from common flora and fauna. For example:
  • Twisted Cow 
  • Broken Ox 
  • Zombie Crow 
  • Frightened Spaniel 
  • Petrified Giraffe 
  • Demented Daisy 
  • Crooked Elm 
  • Wicked Tangerine 
  • Haunted Pine 
  • Spooked Gerbil 
The above were all made up using my scheme and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have no future in marketing. 

     Consider the following real brands:
  • Jolly Pumpkin 
  • Dragon’s Milk 
  • Funky Buddha 
  • Lost Abbey 
  • Fiddlers Elbow 
  • Old Speckled Hen 
  • Dogfish Head Snowblower Ale 
  • Sick Duck 
  • Homo Erectus 
  • Seriously Bad Elf 
  • Arrogant Bastard 
  • Moose Drool 
  • Santa’s Butt 
  • Gandhi Bot 
  • Hop Zombie 
  • Leafer Madness 
  • Barrique Okarma 
  • Smooth Hoperator 
  • Sexual Chocolate 
  • Chocolate Starfish 
  • Beard of Zeus 
  • Polygamy Porter 
  • Apocalypse Cow 
  • Unicorn Killer 
Heck, my names don’t sound that bad. It motivates me to conjure up some more:
  • Logical Hoptivist 
  • Existent Ale 
  • Nihilist Chowder Stout 
  • Inflated Ego 
  • Purple Musket 
  • Secret Staircase 
  • Green Llama 
  • Bent Mizrap
  • Olde Niblick 
  • Molten Daggar 
  • Laughing Rhino 
  • Unfulfilled Dreams 
  • Naked Firefly 
  • Plaid Zebra 
      I am not nearly the first to stumble on the crazy and seemingly endless names for craft beers. Simply Googling “weird names for craft beers” yielded the real brands noted above. The same search provided links to a few articles about craft beer makers running out of names. It seems there are over 3,000 craft brewers in the US and many names and words have been scooped up. Supposedly there are lawsuits galore.
     Maybe I should go into the beer naming business after all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hey, I am 44.4% Successful!

     The internet and social media is rife with lists of all kinds. There are lists ranking this and that from the Best Places to Live to the Worst Places to go to School. From the number of them, as well as the number of them that overlap or focus on the same thing, one would assume we are obsessed with these lists. Probably, we only look at the ones that apply to us, looking for validation that we live in the right or wrong place, went to the right or wrong university, or chose the right or wrong profession. If one list doesn't give the validation sought, perhaps the next one on the very same subject will. 
     A recent list extolled the 9 Books that All Successful People Read.  The erroneous and majority causal assumption is “Wowsers, if I read these books, I will be successful.”
  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  3. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  6. The 4 Hour Week by Tim Ferriss
  7. The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Chirstiansen
  8. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  9. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar
     Reading the list, as with a fair number of these lists, reveals no more than the title, 9 Books That All Successful People Read, is more compelling and promising than the content of the list. Any notion, hint, or promise of causation evaporated. It was unclear if there was any correlation.  It cannot be possible that ALL successful people have read these books.
     OK. The Carnegie, Godin, and Hill book make sense. They are about getting along with people, marketing and innovation, and gaining wealth. These all contribute to being successful. A glaring omission might be Machiavelli’s The Prince. There is nothing by Drucker or Deming either.
     The Ferriss book was a recent best seller as was the Godin book. Having read both, Purple Cow resonated more and providing some very good advice about the need these days to differentiate ones brands and ones product and services. Seth Godin is revered by many probably because his writing is slow clear. He may be the heir of Peter Drucker which again begs the question if one can really be successful without having at least read a Peter Drucker article? Tim Ferriss is no Seth Godin. His book is not for everyone but he must be pleased as punch that so many people have bought it. He is message is “I have a way cooler life than you will ever have. Via being smarter than you will ever be and using smoke and mirrors while bandying about my giant ego, I have created the illusion that I only work 4 hours a week. Read this book and gain a few well worn tidbits on time management and prioritization."
     How about the The Great Gatsby and The Cather in the Rye? Surely, they are standard classics of American literature and round us out as human beings. As literature goes, Salinger’s short stories are much better than The Catcher in the Rye. Why not Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? They are all classics of American literature and probably read by the same class of people. Heck, there could be a case made that every successful, powerful, rich, and influential American who learned to read from the 1930s to the 1970s has read and mastered Fun with Dick and Jane. There was just a piece in a recent Wall Street Journal in which Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is chosen for the WSJ Book Club. As many successful people read a the Wall Street Journal, The Maltese Falcon may make the next list.
     Even more fundamental, how is successful defined? How did the authors assemble this list? Was there a poll involved? Did a committee just select these books? The article does shed some light on this.

  • Here are 9 books that all successful, powerful (and, well, rich) people read and that are sure to set you on your path.
  • Our staff writers have expertise in a wide variety of areas. Each article that they write is thoroughly researched.
     Now we know, successful includes the powerful and rich. We also know that everything was “thoroughly researched.” The inclusion of Maya Angelou’s book, another classic of American Literature, is on the list. Did they include this to bring a woman and person of color to this list that was so thoroughly researched. Why not The Color Purple, Go tell it on the Mountain, or Native Son?
     Who are these folks at America’s Business Guide? The About Us feature of their website site states:

America’s Business Guide was created by business experts with over 70 combined years of entrepreneurial and business experience. America’s Business Guide’s mission is to promote key strategic news and advice that can help you grow your own business or move up the ranks in someone else’s business. You will find America’s Business Guide as your go to source for insight into the exciting business world.
     Wow. 70 years of combined business experience. That is not all that impressive as I have 40 years of experience myself.
     In the end, what is the end result of all this ranting, raving, and whining about this list:
     I have read 4 of the 9 books. That makes me 44.4% successful. 
That seems about right.  My son has only read one of the books and I definitely consider him more successful than I am. 
     Of the books, I have not read I probably should read all of them beginner with The Innovator's Dilemma.  Therefore the list has been of some value to me. I got a bloggy bit out of it, I have validated that I am 44.4% successful, and I have added five more books to my already too long reading list. 
     Maybe, I should just re-read Fun with Dick and Jane…

Thursday, March 5, 2015

February 2015: 11th Anniversary Letter

     It has been 11 years of this e-letter and almost 13 for writing every day. As I have written almost every year, it has been a good thing. It has even been a good transformational process. It forces clearer and more organized thinking. Surprisingly, my proofreading skills are still lacking and perhaps lacking big-time.
     The Habit of Writing: It has, indeed, been 11 years of this e-letter and almost 13 for writing every day. Well that is until late last year that is.
     Honestly, the daily writing has become a bit of a struggle since I started my full time faculty position. This seems odd because, I theoretically have more free time and thus should have no problem writing.
     Yes, I have free time. The classroom time is set and fixed. It amounts to about 12 hours of in class time. On a 40 hour work week, that leaves 28 hours of free time. On a 60 hour work week, which is more the norm these days, that leaves 48 hours of free time. Anyone that has ever taught understands the fallacy of this arithmetic. The reality is that each hour of class time, requires or generates 2 hours outside the class. That bumps the 12 hour teaching load up to 36 hours. The four hours get used for administrative meetings and such. This is why they call teaching 12 credit hours a full time load.
     OK then. I am working full time. Big whoopee. I should still be able to make and find time to write. Shouldn’t I? People make time for what is important to them. That much is a universal almost by definition. If it is really important to you, you will do it. If you are not doing it and complaining about not having time to do it, then it must not be something you really want. That is the logic.
     Case in point, while working at Colgate-Palmolive and Newell Rubbermaid, I managed to write each and every day. I would have to say that those corporate jobs were more demanding than my current faculty position. How was I able to do that?
     First, let’s consider the following. There was a Zig Ziglar quote on Facebook this week. It is right to the point:

Motivation gets you going
and habit gets you there.
     Motivation by itself is not enough. Back in my corporate days, I developed a writing habit. I did it first thing in the morning. I would get up early and do my daily writing with my first cup of coffee. It worked. It worked if my office was in Manhattan. I would take the early train, head to a Starbucks by the office, and write. It worked in Oak Brook. I would get to the office early having gotten a coffee en route and write.
      In the days of unemployment, consulting, and adjunct teaching, I still had a good writing habit. It shifted a bit though. Writing became the last task of the day. I still did but instead of at the crack of dawn, it was more like at the stroke of 10 pm.
     With the return to one full time job instead of three or four part-time ones, my life is more predictably scheduled and thus I should be better able to establish a habit. This has not been the case. My first thing in the morning over that first cup of coffee activity has become reading the Wall Street Journal (read more about this in the next section). It is and indispensible part of the job. As a professor in a business school, it is important to be on top of what is happening in the world of business and be able to relate what is being taught in the classroom to what is happening in the real world. For example, we were covering the role of government while the US was deciding on the Net Neutrality issue. Perfect. The point here is that reading the journal has taken over the crack of dawn time slot.
     Well that still leaves the end of day time slot. With the new job has come a resumption of getting up early. Thus, by 10 pm, I am simply running out of gas. There is a reason the best writers in the world tend to write first thing in the day. They simply have more energy and clarity of thought.
     On top of this, I decided to tackle serious subjects in my December and January letters which by the way are still in draft form in cloud storage. In December, I had this idea of tackling looking at both or all sides in the Ferguson, MO what is going on with race relations in this country. It is a great topic but it is also a deep and controversial subject. It is controversial because most folks have a point of view, sincerely believe that point of view is unequivocally, axiomatically, correct and anyone who disagrees is a moron. This is not an easy thing to write about from the middle. You are wrong to both sides and are basically just Shemp Howard saying “Gentlemen, gentlemen” only to by punched simultaneously on both sides of the face (I did try to find a photo of this on internet).
     Basically, I need to retrench, retool, and establish a new habit. There will be more to follow on this I am sure in subsequent blogs and letters on objective setting and time and task management. (Yes, I know, I should just read and follow my previous bloggy bits on these topics.)
     Good writing: This is the section of my anniversary letter where I traditionally comment on good writing i.e. not mine.
     Having taken the job at North Park University’s School of Business, I have gotten into reading the Wall Street Journal every day. We get at a copy at the office. I started reading that copy but I was not on campus every day. Others also wanted to read the paper, so it was not always available.
     In this age of newspapers being something much less than they were because of the internet, the Journal did it the right way. Because they are the official newspaper of American business, they were able to charge for their internet content. It is just a business expense for their reader base. Basically, I would have just read it online but for this.
     I decided to explore getting a subscription. There were two basic subscriptions: digital only and both print and digital. While I was looking at the pricing and balking at the rates, I notice they had exclusive offers for students and educators. This appealed to me. For $200, I got two years of home delivery and digital access. That comes to $1.92 a week or approximately 32¢ an issue. I signed up.
     The writing in the Journal is generally good. In most of the articles, it is clear and informative. Where it shines, is in the feature articles especially when there are guest notables or professors. Recently, I have read one of each.
     In the February 5, 2015 edition of the paper, Paula Marantz Cohen wrote a lovely Opinion piece titled “Queen for a day no more.” “Ms. Cohen is an English professor and dean of the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University in Philadelphia.” She wrote about a beautiful piece about Harold’s Bridal Shop in New Haven, CT that recently closed its doors after Harold’s sister in-law and long time soul of the place sales lady, Georgianna DiGioia, who passed away last year at the age of 98.
Harold Pellegrino had started the shop when he returned from World War II. His assumption was that there were two things people would do when they got back from the war: buy a house and get married. He opted for the bridal trade over real estate. Georgianna loved her work because it allowed her to contribute to the most important moments in the lives of her neighbors. Like her name DiGioia, her work in the shop gave her and others joy.
     Professor Marantz painted a lovely scene of a single proprietor business in this big box, online, chain store era we live in.
     Another wonderful piece was in the February 26, 2015 edition by the humorist Dave Barry: “The Greatest (Party) Generation.” Dave Barry is a great humorist. I used to love to read his column every Sunday in the Parade magazine that came with the Detroit Free Press. I may have even bought a book on fatherhood by him back in the 1980s.
     This article in the Wall Street Journal is “Excerpted from Mr. Barry’s latest book, ‘Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster),’ to be published on March 3 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.” It is also a nostalgic piece about his parents, my parents, generation. He expounds on the kinds of house or cocktail parties they used to throw with greater frequency and verve than the ensuing generations. Here is an excerpt:

And it wasn’t just cigarettes and alcohol they didn’t worry about. They also didn’t worry that there might be harmful chemicals in the water that they drank right from the tap. They didn’t worry that if they threw their trash into the wrong receptacle, they were killing baby polar bears and hastening the extinction of the human race. They didn’t worry about consuming trans fats, gluten, fructose, and all the other food components now considered so dangerous they could be used to rob a bank (“Give him the money! He’s got gluten!”).
     I do believe I am trying to write like both of these wonderful authors.
     How do I write? In previous years, I have commented that I have handwritten my daily writing. This was true for the first several years I was writing this letter. As the theme for the monthly letter emerged somewhere in the last third of the month, I would edit and type up the daily writing into the letter.
      In 2009, I put all the original writing into a blog, This Side of Fifty, and things seemed to change. I had experimented with typing my daily writing before then, but the frequency began to increase at this point. Shortly thereafter, probably in 2010, I procured an iPad2 with a Zagg keyboard. Soon, I was typing everything and handwriting became passé. These days, I type 100% of my daily writing into Apple’s Pages word processor or MS Word. In either case they are saved in either the iCloud or so that I can access them from any device connected to the internet.
      While all of this is very cool and kinda high tech, I do miss the handwriting. There is something to be said for the act of handwriting. There is an expressiveness to it that cannot be matched on the keyboard. Yet, as nice as that might be, handwritten work must then be typed turn it into a blog post or e-letter. They time savings of writing on a keyboard surpasses the pleasure gained by handwriting.
     Handwriting, and I am talking about cursive handwriting versus printing, may become a lost art. It is no longer universally taught. I did not no this. I became aware of it when students came up to me and said they could not read what I had handwritten on their exams. I assumed it was because my handwriting was too sloppy but that was not the case. They said they could not read cursive handwriting. I asked how that could be and then learned that they had never learned cursive writing. I was kind of surprised more than shocked. Having learned this, I then noticed that on essay parts of exams more and more students were printing rather than handwriting their responses. I realized that handwriting is not necessary or relevant any more. One does not need both printing and handwriting for the amount of manual writing we do these days. As printing is traditionally taught first, cursive handwriting has become redundant and unnecessary.
      According to an August 12, 2013 USA Today article, Is cursive's day in classroom done?, “at least 41 states do not require public schools to teach cursive reading or writing.” This is primarily due to cursive writing not being in the new Common Core requirements. Is this a big deal? Eh… maybe yes, probably not.
      A little research showed that cursive writing was formalized in the US in the mid-1800s by one Pratt Rogers Spencer. It became the popular style of penmanship taught in the US until 1925. The Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola logos are written in what is known as the Spencerian Script.
      Spencerian Script was quickly replaced by the script developed by one Austin Palmer in the late 1800s. He published a book in 1894, Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing. It quickly became the standard which was taught in all schools until, apparently, recently.

     I was taught the Palmer Script in third grade I believe. I was so excited on the first day when we learned to write lower case i’s and j’s. I came home very excited and practiced them more at home. It did not take long, like the next day, when I realized that my handwriting was going to be less than perfect. 

      When I was handwriting my daily pages, I probably had the best handwriting of my life. I still believe in the power and personal touch of a thoughtfully handwritten missive.
      Thanks once again to all my friends and family who have graciously supported this 11year old project through both readership and encouragement. I greatly appreciate it.