24 December 2015

The fuckityo.com computer website for people wishes you happy holidays

Last time that I was at my parents' house I did something I had been meaning to do for awhile. I forget whether I was in preschool or kindergarten at the time, but I had caught the chicken pox. To pass the time while I was at home--presumably fairly unhappy with the state I was in--my mother transcribed stories that I told to her. Though these stories have been revisited many times since, I have wanted to scan them for quite some time.

My mother was a very faithful and subjective transcriber; I think The Car that Didn't Like Christmas is a fine example of that. Here's a story where the protagonist totally subverts the meaning of Christmas by looting the north pole and, unsatisfied with that haul, plots further trickery for even more material gain. At least the car in question distributes the toys to its...baby cars? Cars were typically the central characters in these stories. I was obsessed with cars, but not for the typical reasons. I wasn't interested in them because they were fast or mechanically complex; I believed cars were alive and lived just as vibrant lives as people did. I even believed I was a car, just emitting a holographic image of a human being. (This belief is most likely due to a combination of the Transformers cartoon, the movie Herbie Goes Bananas, and one or two episodes of Star Trek Voyager. I also believed I hatched from an egg, but that's of limited relevance here.)

I think I kind of knew that this belief in living cars was not logically tenable, even as a preschooler. I think I really strongly hoped that against all odds, it would in fact be or become true. If I were a car, that would make me different from everyone else and as a kid I passionately embraced the notion of being different. What better demonstrates that than a story about a sentient car who hates the holiday typically most beloved by children?

I don't think there's a problem with nonconformity. What I did as a young kid, though, was to start with being different as the fundamental axiom and build my reality and interests on top of that. I disliked things arbitrarily if they were popular enough: Christmas, sports, dogs, cats, and all of the Ninja Turtles. In retrospect it was a weighty, self-imposed burden.

I feel as though I still carry bits and pieces of what The Car that Didn't Like Christmas could represent. I feel more awkward discussing shared interests with people than I do mocking (good-naturedly, I hope) something that I know other people enjoy. Overall, I think I've tempered most of the nonconformity for its own sake, and am happier for it. Then again I used to think I was a car so how self-perceptive can I really be?

What's not in question: the car that didn't like Christmas is a little shit.

28 March 2015

Special gym

In kindergarten, one time I was pulled out of class to learn how to use the stairs. I had always taken stairs, as best I can recall both up and down, by putting one foot on a step, and then putting the second foot on the same step. This had to be corrected, so a nice woman, who I think was a physical and occupational therapist, coached me on going up and down stairs. I think after that lesson I took to it fairly quickly, but unlike the vast majority of everyone who has lived since stairs have existed, it did not come without explicit coaching.

Through kindergarten, and at least partially through elementary school, I would occasionally be pulled out of class by the same nice woman to do other activities. One time, we climbed on the half-buried set of oversized tires that were climbing equipment in the schoolyard. Another time she lobbed a softball and I had to hit it. Once she tried to get me to run more upright. Who or what prompted these excursions--be it my teachers or my parents, reactions to isolated events or schedule program--is a mystery to me. I'm not sure how these activities came to named, but collectively they had the terrifically euphemistic name of "special gym".

"Special gym" was a nice try at correcting a problem, because regular gym was a source of trouble. I definitely gave it an honest effort, because in my mind school was a place where honest effort was an expectation and requirement. I just wasn't really good at. I remember being frustrated to the point of tears about small things: a game of matball where I felt particularly inept, coming in dead last in a race. I had some anger issues as a kid, stuff I barely remember now except for vague recollections of some group therapy and briefly seeing some sort of counselor or therapist, and a lot of it seemed to stem from athletics being a thing that mattered to my peers and me not being good them. I remember telling the therapist that my peers shouldn't be so enthusiastic about athletics. She said that that was not something I could change; I could conform to the values of my peers or learn to not let that bother me.

I took the latter course, for the most part. I eschewed most all physical activity outside of gym classes. I kept trying at gym classes and had sympathetic teachers who seemed aware of the fact that I was in fact trying, I was just spectacularly inept. I became less uncomfortable with my bad athletic performance in part because my perception that people cared about this largely went away. I began spending most of my leisure time with computers and video games. I embraced this, I self-identified as a nerd, and I felt no need to concern myself with athletic pursuits.

This mindset continued unabated for a long time. It broke down a little bit as I started enjoying baseball games late in high school. But looking back at it, I think the biggest blow to it was a change in how I saw myself after my freshman year of college. The nerd thing seemed limiting and not really satisfying as a lifestyle anymore. Other things seemingly randomly became interesting to fill that void. One of them was tagging along with some friends who went to the gym.

In truth, very little immediately came of it because I would only go inconsistently and I had no idea what I was doing. It definitely planted seeds of interest, though. I began occasionally jogging. Throughout grad school I used a stipend in my health insurance to pay for a gym membership. Nonetheless, the gym was a place where I felt somewhat self-concious and lost and I didn't go often.

Something really specific resulted a huge shift. About six months after I moved to Seattle, I joined a gym where I would trained one-on-one by one of a rotating set of personal trainers. My criteria for selecting this gym was pretty simplistic: it was right down the street from where I lived at the time. But the concept has demonstrated its efficacy remarkably well. Basically, it has been the only type of physical activity that I have been able to regularly commit to.

So basically, find myself back in "special gym". Nice, well-trained people are scrutinizing how I perform physical activities, advising me on what I can do better, and keeping detailed records of my performance. When they demonstrate how do an exercise, and I'm baffled about how I can get my body to behave that way, they'll go as far as contorting me into that shape. I'm learning how to go up and down stairs all over again. Only this time, the taxpayers of Framingham aren't paying for it; I pay dearly for the privilege, but it's easily worth it. Physically, I feel fundamentally changed. Things I long ago wrote off, like running a half marathon without much additional training, are things that aren't out of the ordinary.

What's interesting, though, it what hasn't changed. At the end of a session a couple of months ago, we had some extra time and my trainer and I played a game of basketball against another client and his trainer. The whole time I felt unaware of my surroundings. I was largely unable to guard or block because everyone seemed a couple of steps ahead of me. I was terrified of what I'd do once I got the ball and sought to rid myself of it as soon as possible. I realized I felt the same ineptness that I did back in elementary school gym classes. In spite of my training, something was still obviously lacking.

What I think that might be is the sort of presence of mind, acting without conscious thought, and real-time strategic thinking that comes from a strong competitive drive. And to some extent, even if that's learnable I don't think I'm terribly interested in learning it at this point. Being unable to be comfortable partaking in sports is a definite downer; I never really felt at ease when I was in a softball league a couple of summers ago and I'd hoped it was something I could take great enjoyment in. Nonetheless, I feel I derive plenty of joy from the accomplishment and sheer incomparable fatigue that I get a result of my time at the gym.

With that in mind I wonder if there's something that can be done for kids in school these days who are struggling with gym classes. It seems a shame that some of them, like me, could be set up to overcompensate and throw away physical activity because they're conflating it and competition. How do you send every kid to their own special gym?

14 February 2015

Who will be Matt's date to the Valentine's prom?

People are all saying how hard it is to find a date in this town. Blah blah blah ratio of males to females, blah blah blah Seattle freeze. Well stupid people, have you ever tried looking right under your noses? In a little thing called your email, stupid?

Ladies all the time are sending me all sorts of messages on the email computer. Are they not sending them to you? It's probably not because you're ugly (though it can't be helping), it's just because you're stupid. You have to look in your Spam folder. Google nerds are forcing these emails into your Spam folder so that there are more ladies for themselves, obviously.

Currently, though, I'm forced to choose between two lovely ladies to serve as my date to Valentine's prom so I'm asking you the reader to help me decide. I'll take your feedback and then do the opposite because you're really dumb.

Subject: Matthew Laquidara, Don't turn back from UNREAD MESSAGE of Clemmie Vivas
I was going to turn back from UNREAD MESSAGE of Clemmie Vivas, but I was asked not to by name, so I acquiesced. It was a good decision. Clemmie's strange mix of formal and informal in the greeting of "Excuse me baby" is a little bizarre, but the color scheme and formatting made me keep reading.

Then she called me cute! Score, right? On that basis alone, she wants to send me (19) private photos. In some accounting systems that means negative nineteen photos, so I'm not sure how I feel about that. Even if the photos never arrive I'm told Clemmie's got big boobs and a big butt. And presumably her statement about knowing how to use them does not refer her ability to sit or nourish a hungry infant.

Clemmie seems nice enough, but what is a Clemmie log?

Pro: Boobs, butt (big)
Con: Possibly a Frenchperson

Subject: Bring Matthew Laquidara's DREAMS into TRUE LIFE with Dorey Demaranville
What's more grating than being addressed in the third person? Being addressed in the third person and then being shut down right away. Whatever Dorey Demaranville, I didn't want to date you anyway.

But then I thought of all the effort Dorey put into typing weird characters in the place of normal ones. Clemmie didn't care enough to do that. Dorey, while being a total buzzkill about our chances in the traditional dating world, is trying to secure me casual sexual encounters all within a 17 mile radius. I hate having a long drive to my casual sexual encounters. Dorey really does care. Guys, I think Dorey likes me.

I think maybe I could break through to Dorey with an invite to Valentine's prom, what do you think?

Pro: Alliterative name, could teach me how to type double-bridged H
Con: Might be from space and thus have to return to home planet at some point

Who(m) should your humble author bring to Valentine's prom? Leave your choice in the comments!

11 January 2015

Questions surrounding a jacket with a large American flag on the back

  • Is the jacket allowed to touch the ground?
  • When the jacket becomes tattered or otherwise damaged, must it be disposed of by burning?
  • Due to its material, what if the jacket didn't burn? What are the restrictions regarding melting jackets flags?
  • On a day of mourning, should the jacket be tied around the waist, as to fly the flag at half mast?
  • If a person is wearing a jacket with a state flag or the flag of a foreign country on it, and the individual wearing the American flag jacket is shorter than the other person, must they switch jackets?
  • When in danger, ought one to put the the jacket on upside-down?
  • Should the jacket be illuminated if worn at night?
  • If the national anthem starts playing, and no other flag is visible, should the wearer try to face the back of their jacket?

05 January 2015

How I Hijacked Matt's Blog For Math Stuff

A friend of Rachel's asked this question on Facebook: "Can anyone tell me why infinity is a useful mathematical concept?"

I started to write out an answer that Rachel could paste as a Facebook comment, but it was getting longer and longer (though not infinite): a couple of nice examples of infinity in math came to mind, but to really explain them would take more space than would make sense for Facebook. So I decided to write it out here. Disclaimer, if any mathematicians are reading: this was written very off-the-cuff and it's written for a general audience rather than a mathematical audience, so there might be some minor issues with notation and formality.

I. Unbounded Growth

'Infinity' can be an easy way of talking about a function's unbounded behavior. For example, you can ask for any function f(x) what the limit of f(x) is as x approaches infinity. What you're really asking is basically this: as 'x' gets higher and higher (and not just higher asymptotically to some fixed number, like it slowly gets closer and closer to 5, but higher in an unbounded way, meaning that it eventually passes 5, 10, 15, or any other given number), does the function's value get closer and closer to some number?

The function 1/x has a limit of 0 as 'x' approaches infinity: if you divide 1 by bigger and bigger numbers, the answer is closer and closer to 0. The function 1/x + 4 has a limit of 4 as 'x' approaches infinity. The function x^2 has no limit as 'x' approaches infinity. We can say that the limit of x^2 as 'x' approaches infinity is "infinite", or "equal to infinity", which would be shorthand for saying that it gets higher and higher in an unbounded way (again, this means that it will eventually get higher than any given number). Since there is no actual number 'infinity', it does not actually have a limit, of course. The same thing happens to the function 1/x as 'x' approaches 0 from the positive side (i.e. you start at, say, x=1, and let 'x' slowly get closer and closer to 0; the function then approaches infinity).

On the other hand, the function sin(x) also has no limit as 'x' approaches infinity, but for a different reason: it just oscillates forever between -1 and 1, so it doesn't get closer and closer to any particular number, and moreover, it doesn't grow in an unbounded way.

II. Set Theory

That's one usage of the concept of infinity in mathematics: to talk about unbounded growth. Another usage is in set theory. A 'set' is just a bunch of unique objects, in no particular order. So, {1, 2, 5} is a set, and that's the same set as {5, 1, 2}. Both sets have size 3, because they have three things in them (in this case, the things are numbers, but they can be anything). But you can also have infinite sets: the set of all natural numbers, or counting numbers, i.e. {1, 2, 3, 4, ...}, is clearly infinite, since no matter how high you count, you can count one higher. So it can be useful to talk about whether a set is finite or infinite.

One way things get interesting is that there is actually a notion that some infinite sets are bigger than others: this is the distinction between what's called a 'countably infinite' set and an 'uncountably infinite' set. A set is countable if you can list all of its elements: you name one element first, then you keep listing them, and the rule is that you have to eventually hit any given number of the set.

So, the set of natural numbers is countable: if you give me any natural number, (e.g. one billion), I can tell you for sure that you'll eventually reach it in the list {1, 2, 3, 4, ...}. Also, the set of all integers (i.e. all positive and negative whole numbers, along with zero) is countable, since you can make the list as follows: {0, 1, -1, 2, -2, 3, -3, ...}. Say you have a positive integer, like 100, that you want to reach: it takes longer to get to it in the second list than in the first one, but you still hit it after a while, and you also hit all of the negative integers. An interesting and totally non-obvious result is that the rational numbers are also countable (showing this is not super-difficult but takes a little bit of work).

But not every set is countable. Georg Cantor showed in his famous Diagonal Proof that the set of all real numbers (this includes rational as well as irrational numbers) is NOT countable. The proof is very elegant and I will reproduce it here (although it's not strictly necessary for the purposes of this post, so feel free to skip it):


1) Suppose that the set of all real numbers is countable. Then, since the set S of all real numbers between 0 and 1 is a smaller part of the set of all real numbers, S must also be countable.
2) Since S is countable, we have a list of all numbers in S. We can express each number in the list as an infinite decimal, so it would look something like this:
S = {
(Some notes: not all of the numbers will have repeating decimal representations, since not all of them are rational. So, the first two numbers, from what I've written of them, may not be rational. The third number, if the 3s continue repeating, is 1/3. The fourth number is 1/4, and the fifth number is equal to 1.)
3) Let us produce a number 'x' using the following rule. We will go down the diagonal digits from our list of S. For the first digit of 'x' (after the decimal point), if the first digit of the first number in the list is not a '3', then we will make the first digit of 'x' a '3'; if it is, we will make the first digit of 'x' a '4'. For the second digit of 'x', we do the same thing, but we look at the second digit of the second number in the list. And so on. So, given our list above, 'x' will look like this: 0.33433...: the third number has a '3' as its third digit, so we have the third digit of 'x' as a '4', but the other digits shown are '3's since the other numbers do not have '3's in those digits.
4) This number 'x' must be different from any given number in our list: from how we constructed it, we can see that it differs from the 1st number in its 1st digit, the 2nd number in its 2nd digit, and so on. Therefore, 'x' is not in the list. But the list is supposed to contain every number between 0 and 1, and 'x' is clearly a number between 0 and 1, so we have a contradiction!
5) Therefore, it's impossible to have a list of all of the numbers between 0 and 1, and by extension, it's impossible to have a list of all of the real numbers.


This remarkable proof tells us that the real numbers are uncountable: we can't make a list of them. What these results about countability tell us is that the countable infinite sets, such as the natural numbers, the integers, and the rational numbers, all have the same size in some sense: even though there are more integers than naturals in ONE sense (since every natural number is an integer, but not vice versa), in ANOTHER sense there is the same amount of numbers in both of them, since we can just make a list of each set and line up the lists. But since it's impossible to make a list of the real numbers, in a sense, that infinite set is much bigger than these other infinite sets. So here we get an interesting idea of some infinities being bigger than others.

Those are the two biggest examples of talking about infinity that came to my mind, but I'm sure there are plenty of others.