Monday, November 29, 2010

Is math necessary?

How much math do we really need to know, asked math professor G.V. Ramanathan last month in this Washington Post article.

This month, some engineers respond at EETimes.

As an undergraduate Applied Math major, and as someone who has a sister who occasionally tutors kids in math, I think we need to teach more, not less, math. The lottery, I like to say, is a tax on people who didn't take probability and statistics.

What do you think?

(Flickr photo)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Netflix introduces streaming-only option

This week Netflix raised the prices of its DVD options, but introduced a new, streaming-video-only option at $7.99. An earlier story this year revealed that Netflix will not be opening any more processing centers for DVDs.

DVDs account for a large part of our circulation, and a large portion of our visitors. How are we going to keep them coming in the doors four or five years from now when they can get movies at home any time they want?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It figures

I lived in Connecticut for over 30 years and was called for jury duty three times. Four times, actually, including one day of grand jury, but I think that was a day tacked onto the first stint of jury duty. The memory is a little fuzzy. Each time I had to report to Bridgeport, about an hour away.

The first time was in the late 70s, and under the old system, you reported for jury duty every morning, four days a week, for an entire month. If you were not called for voir dire, you spent the day reading, knitting, watching television, and talking with your fellow inmates citizens. I fell to talking with another woman, visibly pregnant, who was also from the Danbury area. She thought it would be a good idea if we car-pooled, and I agreed, so for the next four weeks I picked her up in the morning and dropped her off in the evening. At the end of the month she pocketed her mileage allowance. I know it's petty of me to remember that all these years later, but it made an impression on me. That and the grueling month of jury duty. I did get selected at least once that I recall, for a personal injury case resulting from a traffic accident, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

The second time I got called, the state had instituted a much more humane system, wherein you phoned in the night before, or early the morning of, to find out if you had to report. I did not have to report, and that was the end of it.

The third time, I did have to report. It was a gray December day, and the snow started coming down heavily just after we arrived at the courthouse. I was driving a Geo with front-wheel drive. It was usually pretty good in the snow, but this stuff was heavy and wet and slippery. I sat in the jury room watching it come down with dread.

Finally we were called into the jury room. In Connecticut State court, each potential juror is questioned individually, but in federal court they do it in gangs of about 20 at a time. Each of us was asked to stand and recite our answers to a set of written questions that we'd each been given. No problems until I got to the question of education. "B.S. in Applied Math from NYU, J.D. from the University of Connecticut..." "Your Honor!" calls out one of the attorneys. Both go up the judge's bench for a private conversation.

When they come back out, the judge asks me, "Have you ever practiced law?"

"No, Your Honor."

"If chosen for this jury, will you follow my instructions as to the law to be applied to this case?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

Voir dire ends, the attorneys confer, and I am excused. Big surprise. There's nothing wrong with being an attorney. There were at least two practicing attorneys in the group who were selected. The difference is that they all know each other but they don't know me, since I've never practiced law. I'm a loose cannon, and they don't know what I'll do when confronted with a real case.

And that was that. I was done with that round of jury duty. Somehow I thought that maybe I wouldn't even get called again, that I'd be on someone's do-not-call list somewhere. And if I did get called, I'd never be asked to serve on a jury, so it would all be over in one day at most.

I opened my mail tonight and guess what? I've been summoned for jury duty. In Connecticut. In Danbury. Just a little less than 2 miles from where I used to live. I could have easily walked there. So I have to send the form back and tell them that I can't report because I've moved out of state.

It figures.

*The first image is of the old court house at 71 Main Street. Beautiful, isn't it? I'm so glad they haven't torn it down yet. The second image is the new court house at 146 White Street, the one I would be reporting to if I still lived in Danbury. It's not bad, but it just doesn't have the character of the old court house. At least it still has a law library. Connecticut closed two of its other law libraries this year.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Heart Dell

I just replaced the optical drive in the director's computer. The computer is brand new, just purchased late last year but, inexplicably, it was ordered with a DVD-ROM drive. (Yes, they still make those.) The old drive slid out, the replacement drive slid in, and I didn't even need a screwdriver; the new drive came with its own mounting/sliding hardware. It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pale Blue Dot

Today would have been astronomer Carl Sagan's 76th birthday. Here is my favorite Sagan quote from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future In Space.

Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

At the Rally to Restore Sanity

I wasn't there, but someone from Woot! was, and captured an image of this sign. It's good to know that librarians were represented.