Archive for March, 2010

Q2P and R2P

Friday, March 26th, 2010

It looks as if “2P” is the in substring for abbreviations of human rights issues, just as “n” after some digits is de rigeur in abbreviations for information-system usability features. Is this analogous to “-gate” being the canonical suffix in names for scandals?

The issue of access to public toilets is abbreviated “Q2P”, at least in one motion picture from India with that name. Q2P is what people without private toilets have to do.

And the issue of preventing genocide and mass atrocities is abbreviated “R2P”, which stands for the Responsibility to Protect. This is a norm that has been defined and lobbied for since about 2000. Its advocates describe it as contributing to the elimination of impunity for crimes against humanity and of worldwide passivity during the commission of such crimes. I’m wondering whether it might not have the opposite effects. I’ll think some more about this before saying more.

Institutional Memory

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

This morning neighbor C telephoned me to report that there was a flood in the basement. I went down to take a look. Water was pouring out of a drainpipe onto the floor next to the laundry room, and it had migrated into the nearby storage room, covering its floor up to about an inch in depth. After a few minutes of stupidity™, it occurred to me that we should mitigate the damage, particularly the possible wicking of water up the sheetrock walls, so K and I did a couple of things. One was to rotate a pair of buckets to trap the pouring water and dump it out into a floor drain by the garage entrance. The other was to use a 16-gallon wet/dry vacuum cleaner that was conveniently sitting out in the garage to evacuate the water where it was deepest. After almost 4 complete fillings of the vacuum cleaner (so, about 60 gallons), we reduced the water from a lake to a film, and the plumber who had (reportedly) left the drainpipe unplugged yesterday for mysterious reasons came and installed a temporary plug. P relayed information and advice to the manager to get the damage assessed and the defect permanently repaired. Then P and D discussed the problem, and what it was a sign of, with K and me.

From this discussion, I gather (note my disclaimer) the following. This pipe carries roof rainwater outdoors, and its plug was demolished yesterday by a plumber who was working on the aftermath of a domestic water leak in G’s apartment. (What a rain drain has to do with a potable water leak is beyond me.) This plumber doesn’t normally do work for BTH and is unfamiliar with its systems.

This incident revealed possible deficits in BTH’s institutional memory. The question arose: In such an emergency, what equipment do we have, where is it, and how can we access it? P said that the vacuum cleaner I was using belonged to BTH, but K and G weren’t aware of that. We needed an extension cord for it and a push broom, but didn’t know whether we had them anywhere. The conversation went on to other leaks, then seismic damage in 1989, and then the history of the age restriction at BTH. It led me to the conclusion that some old-timers at BTH have encyclopedic memories and have their own records, but these are not accessible to the current management. I asked whether BTH shouldn’t capture some of this knowledge in an operations manual. D said he had been arguing for 30 years for the creation of such a document, but nothing had come of it. His recollections, and P’s, are amazingly detailed, and P said she also has extensive digitized written records. Now that the current manager, another person here with in-depth knowledge, will be leaving BTH in a few months, perhaps the time has come to take D’s proposal seriously, produce a manual, and thereby help the new management get up to speed and make use of the lessons that experience has taught.

In my experience, an operations manual works not only by recording facts and procedures. It also works by embarrassment. In other words, when you’re writing it you feel shame at the miserable facts you are about to confess to. That shame leads you to change the facts so you will not have to admit them.

Comparing BTH

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

An informative comparison between Berkeley Town House and some other senior housing options in the East Bay is posted at East Bay Smart Senior.

My Origins in 1 Paragraph—and a Gripe

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

For those who like to know such things, I am a child of a political scientist and a physiologist who were children of a rabbi, a stockbroker, a Zionist activist, and a housewife. My parents’ heroes included Leon Trotski, Sigmund Freud, Robert Hutchins (they named me after him), Mortimer Adler, and Mort Sahl.

What gets me about this hero thing is the absurd security questions that Web sites force users to choose among, like “Who is your favorite composer?” Questions like that are as definitive, for me at least, as “What is your favorite length of shoelace?” or “What material was your first bathroom countertop made of?” I’ve spent eons wading through these lists trying to find 1, 2, or (if they insist) 3 questions whose answers I won’t forget. If they only asked “What exiled Communist leader did your parents venerate in college?”, I’d have no trouble remembering the answer. What’s with these Web site designers anyway? If they don’t understand their users’ memory attributes any better than that, they should be in a different profession.

Years ago I started, on sites I designed, letting users specify any question they wanted. That method had its defects, too. The main one I noticed was the inanely easy-to-guess questions some users formulated. But at least I wasn’t so arrogant as to claim to know what questions would be both easy for the user and impossible for anybody else.

Suggestions about the optimal security-question regime would be welcome.

Window Film for BTH

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Well, today we learned that window film may do us some good at BTH, but PG&E won’t help us pay for it.

Paul Roman, Energy Specialist at Window Innovations, in Brentwood (925-766-6774), came over today on the recommendation of Richard Pon of PG&E. He spent about an hour meeting with BTH members from 2C, 5B, 8A, and 8D.

Here’s what we learned:

1. PG&E offers a rebate for window film for commercial accounts, but not for residential accounts. Window film could help us save natural gas, and our natural-gas account is classified as residential by PG&E, so there’s no rebate for us.

2. Window film could save us natural gas by trapping more heat indoors during cold weather, so our radiators don’t operate as much. However, all four attendees today testified that they never turn their radiators on. Film wouldn’t decrease the use of natural gas by anybody like us.

3. Window film could make us more comfortable and protect our furnishings by blocking some heat and almost all ultraviolet rays from coming in through our windows.

4. Window film would also protect us and our property against large sharp shards of glass in an earthquake by holding them all together instead of letting them fly through the air.

5. There is solar film, 1.5 mils thick, that incidentally provides shatter resistance. There is also safety film, 7–15 mils thick, that incidentally provides solar filtering. It seemed likely to me that most of us would prefer the former, if we chose to have film applied at all. The idea is that with light earthquake damage the thin film would suffice, and with heavy damage shattering windows would be the least of our worries.

6. Window Innovations recommended we consider three types of solar film, which it would be willing to supply and install for between $4.00 and $6.50 per square foot (no quantity discount). The less expensive film is somewhat more visible from the outside. The three films have somewhat different transmission and rejection properties. The bedroom window in 2C is 54 square feet in size, so applying film to it would cost between $216 and $351.

7. Roman left samples of these three types of film with me. I would be happy to show them to anybody at BTH.

8. Some lanai windows are insulated. Outdoor-side application of film tends to be kinder to insulated windows than indoor-side application, but the film doesn’t last as long when applied to the outdoor side. Window Innovations offers a “lifetime” warranty on films applied to the indoor sides and a 5-year warranty to films applied to the outdoor sides.

Susie has collected notes from several sources about this topic, and some of the sources advise safety film, or even laminated glass, rather than solar film for protection against shattering in earthquakes.

Lemmatic Ambiguity

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Lemmatic communication is problematic because it is crippled compared with unrestricted communication.

Yes, it is crippled, but other kinds of communication, too, are crippled, and yet they are widely used and venerated.

For example, monochrome photography. No color.

And writing. No prosody, facial expressions, gestures, or posture.

And natural language. No guaranteed correspondence between form and meaning.

More generally, Roy Blount Jr. asserts, “the only thing universal in communication is our inability to say exactly what we mean.” (Often, I suspect, because we don’t know exactly what we mean.)

Courtney Humphries in “An Evolving Foe” (Harvard Magazine, March–April 2010) writes “In Malawi, he says, many more people die of malaria than in Senegal” (p. 75). I don’t know what that means. Perhaps the malarial death count is higher in Malawi. Perhaps it’s higher per-capita but not absolutely. Perhaps what’s being compared is deaths per case of malaria, not total or per-capita malarial deaths. Or the denominator may be different: malarial deaths as a fraction of all deaths. And does this assertion apply to the present and the indefinite past?

If full, unrestricted natural language in written form is used as sloppily as this, how disabling would a lemmatic constraint really be? Would you know much less about the facts if you read a lemmatic passage like this?:

malaria kill Senegal person quantity

malaria kill Malawi person quantity more

Middle Names

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Once upon a time if I did a Web search for the phrase “Jonathan Pool” I retrieved no pages about or by anybody else. The count of people with that name on the Web has increased a bit, so in the interest of ambiguity prevention I am adding to my name label the middle name I previously omitted except when asked. Allegedly this uniqueness technique will become unnecessary when URIs assume the job.

Naming This Site

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

OK, why is this site named “” (and my blog named “Stulta”)?

This question isn’t worth running a contest on, so I’ll quickly summarize my reasons, to relieve your suspense.

1. I wanted a name that expressed something basic about my worldview, and “stulta” does that.

2. Once I chose the concept, I needed to choose a language to express it in. English was out, since “stupid.justabouteverything” is already registered to people who got there faster than I. Same for the German “dumm”. Not quite so bad for the French “stupide”, but only obscure TLDs are left there. Of course, I could use PanLex to root out expressions in more esoteric languages. Some, like the Basque “tonto”, are all sold out, too. But in Icelandic they say “heimskur”, and, despite the Icelandic financial meltdown, nobody has registered “heimskur.anythingatall”. Anyway, I chose the word in Esperanto, intstead, “stulta”. Esperanto speakers are apparently as oblivious to stupidity as the Icelanders, since until I came along nobody had registered any domain starting with “stulta.”. Or perhaps it’s the opposite: They are all (except for me) smart enough to know that it’s an idiotic idea to name your own Web site “stulta”.

3. It’s part of a secret plot to teach the world Esperanto. See? It’s working. Now you know how to say “stupid” in Esperanto. You may think that’s not enough to let you start using the language, and I’ll grant you that. But it may be more than you think. After all, “stulta” is a gateway drug to “stultega = utterly idiotic”, “stulto = stupidity”, “stulte = stupidly”, “stulti = do something dumb”, “stultulo = nitwit”, “stultaĵo = booboo”, and even “malstulta = intelligent”. And so much more. So maybe it’s not a stultaĵo to name your Web site “stulta”.

Reminds me of a claim I read ages ago that only racecar drivers who have no fear paint their vehicles yellow. The analogy here, I think, isn’t that I have no stupidity, but rather that I have no fear of stupidity. After all, it’s the key to the stupidity defense, which (Susie will attest) I invoke several times a day.