Friday, November 29, 2019

Hear Ye, Hear Ye... (Boomers!)


Things are slow at Math-Frolic, as I bide time watching the drip, drip, drip of daily news and those who be twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. ;)
Sometime in the next week will probably post my usual year-end compendium of books (and 'math book-of-the-year') for your Holiday shopping; but today just another off-topic post for the few who may be interested (ye "boomers" ;) .… 
Over a year ago I wrote HERE about my personal experience with PSAPs (personal sound amplifying products), cheap substitutes for hearing aids. With a year+ added experience I’ll update that info:

I’ve now owned 4 of these devices (for a single ear), 2 of which were the same $20 model I initially talked about. For my ear that $20 model was the most comfortable (and slimmest) model, and while I wear this item limited hours on any given day, the longer you do wear them the more important comfort becomes as a consideration. And again I was surprised by how much benefit this cheapie product did afford (especially in non-crowded situations). On the downside, though initially a single charge of this (re-chargeable) unit would last close to 2 days, soon the product was only lasting about 6 hrs. on one charge — this becomes quite a nuisance to need re-charging before even getting through a day. Also, the product was somewhat flimsy and needed to be handled with care (let's just say I had to repair it with super glue a couple of times). I wouldn't much expect it to last more than a year even with proper care (but again you could buy one of these every 6 months for years on end and still spend less than the cost of a single real hearing aid).

The second product I bought (~$75) had slightly better sound-filtering quality, and was sturdier than the $20 product, but this was counterbalanced by the same need for frequent re-charging and being much less comfortable (due to being slightly thicker). Overall, the two products were almost a toss-up; one with slightly better hearing quality and sturdiness, the other being cheaper and more comfortable (though comfort will depend on the size/shape of your individual ear).

The last device I bought, again ~$70, was battery operated (instead of re-chargeable) — some of these PSAPs require 2 very small batteries (which I wished to avoid), but the one I chose required a single, larger, easier-to-handle and maneuver battery — the hype said a battery would last 500 hrs., but I find it to be more like maybe 200 hrs. — still better than having to re-charge each-and-every day (and the batteries aren’t too expensive). Also, its hearing quality is at least on par with the 2nd device I owned, if not slightly better, and it’s thinner and more comfortable (than the 2nd device), so overall (price/comfort/sound-quality) I regard it as the best of those I’ve tried (though they're all somewhat close), and for the time being will probably stick with single-battery-run options in the future, until more progress is made with re-chargeables (I also may look more seriously at German, Japanese, and American made models at some point; the ones I’ve had thus far are all Chinese made, and I suspect subject to lower quality control).

Even buying 4 of these devices in one year’s time, I’ve spent less than $200 (and attained some significant satisfaction) versus the $2000++ a real hearing aid would cost (and perhaps need replacement within 5 years time). Your mileage may vary (and there are certainly many instances/conditions where a true hearing aid may be necessary; I would just caution that real hearing aids, despite the increased cost, can still be difficult to maintain, fit, adjust or operate properly, and be easy to lose!). Obviously, if money is no object for you, or you have insurance covering hearing aids, you may not want to mess with PSAPs. And again, prices, quality, and availability of all these products ought continue to improve notably as the market for them continues to widen. (Walmart is increasingly expanding into the actual hearing aid market, and Costco has been there for some time).

Here's a recent podcast (~23 min.) on hearing loss and hearing aids:

[If anyone cares to relate their own experiences with these type products, feel free to in the comments.]

Anyway, in my next post I should get back to a little bit about math... and will make a small, cordial request of Ben Orlin along the way... ;)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

Another ASMR Friday...

Oh man, what a blood-curdling week if you've been viewing the impeachment hearings and watching Republicans criminally pretend to represent Americans' interests (with their clearly oligarchic Russian values)... and it ain't even close to over yet -- the current brilliant, rocket-science Trump strategy seems to be to commit endless impeachable acts each-and-every week, in hopes such hearings may never be brought to a close. ;)

So, time already for another ASMR clip to temporarily change all that seething to soothing:

Monday, November 18, 2019

Knowledge, Probability, 2 children... ohh my

Alex Bellos poses one of the great puzzle 'paradoxes' of all time (well, actually a set of them) in his Guardian column today. I don't doubt he'll offer his usual lucid explanation later on... but also don't doubt that sparks will fly in the comments section... bring it on!:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Who Knew!?

What do all these individuals have in common?:

Harry Blackmun  (former Supreme Court Judge)
Art Garfunkel
Ira Glasser  (of ACLU)
Larry Gonick  (author/cartoonist)
Teri Hatcher  (actress)
David Robinson  (NBA star)
Frank Ryan  (NFL quarterback for Cleveland Browns I well remember)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Ed Thorpe  (stock trader)
Lawrence Tribe  (lawyer)
Virginia Wade  (tennis star)

They all deeply studied or majored in math in college, but mostly not going on for the PhD. (though Frank Ryan did), nor pursue the subject much career-wise. 

I stumbled upon this somewhat fun page of “Famous Nonmathematicians” awhile back -- the above is just a small sampling from it… a couple of these folks I knew about, but most on the list were new to me.
Mathematics… it takes all kinds! (check out the whole list)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Numbers Messing With Our Lives…

A little filler post to end the weekend… not exactly math so much as an odd, quirky thing that once happened to me involving numbers:

Every month I scan (as everyone should) my monthly bank statement when it arrives, for inaccuracies. It’s almost always fine, but one month a few years back I noticed two entries for my local electric utility that does automatic withdrawal from my account. Early in the month was a figure that looked like my usual amount of dollars being withdrawn, but then later in the month was a second significantly larger withdrawal. Checking my records I knew the first withdrawal was correct, but the second one made no sense to me. Had someone hacked my account, stolen my identity… to pay a utility bill??? Or just some computer glitch? Going to the bank and spending an hour they couldn’t figure out what happened either, but said they’d keep working on it and call me if they discovered something. I went home and sure enough a couple hours later the call came with the oddball explanation:

A lady had recently moved into a new house and requested automatic withdrawal to pay her utility bill. They gave her a form to fill out, but where she was supposed to write in her 11-digit banking account number she recorded instead a 12-digit credit card number (wrongly thinking she could pay by credit card). When she turned the form in, a computer (looking for a bank acct. no.) only read the first 11 digits she’d written down (of her credit card number)… which turned out to be identical to MY bank account number! What are the chances!

Just a peculiar happenstance, and a reminder to always check your financial statements… in the age of computers weird things still happen. I'm glad I caught it the very first month it occurred -- even though I'm used to seeing XYZ Utility on my statement (and thus usually ignore it), the second entry was big enough to get my attention.

Anyone else got a quirky story to tell of how computers and/or numbers threw some strangeness or mystery into your life?

Friday, November 8, 2019

An ASMR Friday

Just an ASMR clip to end the week -- this one for all the cat lovers:

('s looking like next week will likely be a verrrrrry stormy, tempestuous news week, so you may wish to keep this handy for purposes of remaining calm)  ;)

Monday, November 4, 2019

Tom Lehrer… not yet pushing up daisies, as of this Monday

New month, so a new math “profile” today (#15 in the series)… all you 65+ year-old mathematicians will already know this individual well, but all you baby-faced, Instagram-addicted 30-year-old-and-younger whippersnappers, dabbling in category theory and elliptic curves, listen up now… AND, respect your elders (despite the damn mess we've left you with)!

The first amazing fact is… Tom Lehrer is still alive!!! Glory be (rampant rumors of his demise the last couple decades have been consistently exaggerated). He’s in his nineties and therefore no longer making appearances on Ed Sullivan, but you can still find him on YouTube (thank you Sergey and Larry). "Thomas Andrew Lehrer" (named after those bulwarks of American comedy, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Johnson), fittingly now lives in Massachusetts, the wise, sensible state that voted for George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis (while mindless, Zombie-like Americans were casting ballots for, if you can believe this, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush/Cheney, LOL). Tom's own political hero was Adlai Stevenson, who famously, and timelessly, said of Republicans back in the 50's that "if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them."

Tom Lehrer may have been the funniest mathematician of all time (…yeah, I know, Matt Parker is trying to give him a run for his money, but if Tom had had the Internet at his disposal, he might have left Matt in his Cantor dust).

Anyway, let’s jump right into it; here, for any Lehrer virgins out there, one of his all-time favorites, that he wrote for me when I was two-years old:

Now, compose yourself, and we’ll continue on…

Tom was born on April 9, 1928 in Manhattan, NY.; the same year that Noam Chomsky was born and also (like Tom) realized by age 2 that the United States was an imperialist corporatocracy.  Lehrer was considered a prodigy early on and after graduating prep school, entered Harvard at age 15 (something I personally refused to do, waiting instead until Pomona College made room for me). There he studied mathematics while also writing comic songs for friends (sort of like we all did on college Saturday nights… except, HE was good at it!). He earned both a BA and MA in math from Harvard, magna cum laude, which I believe is Latin for ‘funny as Hell’.  And he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, which I believe is Greek for ‘magna cum laude’.

Following that classroom stint at Hahhhvahd he taught math classes at MIT, Wellesley, Harvard, and University of California, never getting a dream job at the Claremont Colleges, but oh well. Lehrer continued off-and-on with classes at Harvard pursuing a math PhD. at the same time that his musical parody proclivities drew national attention. He spent time as a researcher at Los Alamos Laboratory as well. He was drafted into the Army and served from 1955-7 working at NSA, no doubt cracking up the code-crackers every time he burst into cryptic song (meanwhile, I was exploring the intrinsic structure of vintage humor on TV under the tutelage of Captain Kangaroo and Dr. Soupy Sales).  Lehrer eventually gave up on the PhD. once it was clear there was more money to be made making nerdy Americans guffaw. (Of course all the laughing came to a screeching halt for America in November of 2016 when happy-go-lucky socialism was replaced with creeping, unfunny, and lunatic kleptocracy… but, I digress.)
Tom also wrote songs for PBS’s “The Electric Company” back in the day, so some of you are familiar with his work even without knowing it.

Here’s a couple more Lehrer classics, before we get too far along:
His take on “the New Math” from decades ago makes you wonder what he might have to say about Common Core today:

...and then branching out to chemistry, "The Element Song"... with lyrics even harder to memorize than Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire":

Tom was by no means just a writer of math/science hijinks, but a general satirist poking fun... sometimes very controversial/irreverent fun... at stodgy society.  Indeed, when he toured parts of the world in the 1960's some of his ‘radical,’ liberal offerings were censored or banned in various locales — because, hey, you know you can’t laugh at the Establishment without consequences, or the next thing you know, you'll be asking them to pay taxes for gosh sakes! (Or, as Tom says at one point, "You can't be satirical and not be offensive to someone.") Of course societal standards were quite different back then — unlike now, you couldn’t even have nude pics of the First Lady of the U.S. splattered across the internet back in those Puritanistic days! Also, long before Mel Brooks took full credit, Tom voiced the idea of doing a musical based on Hitler. Despite his leftward leanings Lehrer was uncomfortable with antics of the 60's so-called "New Left" movement, as well as with some of the 'political correctness' that would follow, recognizing that 'free speech' is threatened by both the far left and far right.

Tom’s last main public performance was in 1972 on behalf of the presidential campaign of George McGovern (who I proudly voted for, and you younguns don't remember). 25 years later he did do one London performance for a new generation of fans. Through the 1970s, bored with performing the same material (he wrote 37 songs) over and over again, he mostly returned to teaching, and was beloved by students. His multitude of fans have kept his name and material alive and available, though a restrained Lehrer repeatedly eschewed the fame, fortune, and limelight headed his way, maintaining a surprising degree of privacy (making him, according to one writer, "the J.D. Salinger" of musical comedy).

Tom was quite an original, who influenced many future satirists like Harry Shearer and Mark Russell, who is close to Lehrer’s age, but who’s career took off about the time that Lehrer was withdrawing. Russell in turn likely influenced the Capitol Steps who gained national attention starting in 1981, and who will probably use their upcoming annual year-end review to tell Donald Trump (if, incredibly, he's still in office) where to shove it (just my educated hunch). On-the-other-hand, Lehrer once noted that much of the satire that followed him had been "de-fanged" and lost its edge.

Despite his elusiveness over the years, the Web bears a great many pieces on/about him; here are just a few...
A great interview with Tom from 2000:

This fabulous 2014 Buzzfeed piece on Lehrer has a lot more details than I've given here:
(In this piece he’s quoted as once saying his entire repertoire was “part of a huge scientific project to which I have devoted my entire life. Namely, the attempt to prolong adolescence beyond all previous limits.”)

...and another, older piece:

(...and there are many more)

It’s kinda a shame Tom isn’t active today given all the material the current “Administration” (and obviously, I use that word loosely) hands out on a platter to work with — but then who wants an 80-hour work week. Still, I'm in the mood for perhaps a timely "Impeachment Rag":

Now I don't want to be accused of starting conspiracy theories, but one pressing question that still remains is, did ANYone ever see Tom Lehrer and Buddy Holly in the same room at the same time... EVER!? huhhhh?:



Perhaps we should end with one of Tom's prescient and uplifting ditties:

Happy dreams everyone; I hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane… and remember sometimes the only alternative to laughing at life… is to incessantly wail.

Check out all the prior math profiles here: