Doc rejoins Celtics, sort of

With Rondo on his way to Dallas, Pierce and KG heading to Brooklyn, and Doc moving west, Celtics fans may despair that the once-great team is being shattered.
Rest assured. We’ve been to this movie before.
In 1978, the original Celtics franchise was sent to Buffalo in a baffling deal that brought the then-Braves to Boston. (There was as baseball team called the Boston Braves that played at what is now Nickerson Field at BU. That franchise is now in Atlanta.) Included in that shuffle was one talented and troubled player, Marvin Barnes, whose story is featured in the “What the Hell Happened To” blog.
That same year, GM Red Auerbach had brilliantly drafted Larry Bird as a junior, even though Bird would return to Indiana for his senior year. The great teams of the 1980s had their basis in the train wreck that was the Celtics ownership of the 70s.
Astute readers will note that current GM Danny Ainge was a good basketball and baseball player and a pretty good basketball executive. Red Auerbach, however, Ainge ain’t.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo team moved to California, first to San Diego and then Los Angeles. So Doc River is now coach of what had been the Celtics.

Ikea numbers

  • The probability of placing an upside-down board in an Ikea project: 1.
  • The probability of two or more people, each assembling the same Ikea piece of furniture, making the same mistake: 1.
  • The step you will have to redo: 3.
  • The number of times that one’s grandfather, a cabinet maker, rolls in his grave: .
  • The number of better ways to spend a vacation day with your wife: 0.

Mr. Hakkarainen goes to Helsinki

In Massachusetts, we’ve just completed a special election, characterized by tepid candidates and low voter turnout. Politics used to be something special around here, but we’ve become as dull as Wonder Bread.
Meanwhile, across the pond and to the north, Tuevo Hakkarainen has released a karaoke recording that will be featured at the Gold Cucumber competition in October. (You have to slog through a few translation services to figure out what’s going on. Even then, if the resulting phrases are Gold Cucumber, karaoke, and evil foreboding name, you know that you’re onto something.
In the case that you have doubts, here’s the man himself, singing at an outdoor festival.

And if that wasn’t enough, Hakkarainen missed the opening session of Parliament because of gastroenteritis. News reports referred to him as ” the Lost Teuvo Hakkarainen.”

This post is one of a series about Teuvo Hakkarainen, the True Finns Party MP from Viitasaari. For the record, my grandfather was born in Viitasaari.

Comcast uses Catch-22 as a system design manual

While reviewing my credit card bill, I noticed that the bill for our Comcast service at the camp was higher than expected. I went to the Comcast website, logged in to my account, and clicked the b to see the details on the bill. I learned that I needed a PIN to access the bill.

For security reasons, Voice management and billing information on your account will be limited until you enter the Security PIN we sent to your home address or email. Enter your Security PIN now, or have it re-sent to you.

Fine. I clicked the link to have it sent to my email. Quick as you please, I was brought to a page where I learned that the PIN will be sent to our camp address in five business days.
Less fine. We don’t receive mail at the camp address.
I looked around around to find another way to find out my PIN. I found none. I initiated a chat session with customer support. After I provided my account info and exchanged niceties, we went to the matter of the PIN.
I learned the following from a nice customer service representative.

  • Even though the message says that they can send the PIN to my email address, they can’t.
  • They can only send the PIN in two ways: by USPS to our camp address, where we don’t receive mail or to our Comcast phone number as a voice message. We don’t have a phone to plug into the phone jack on the router to access the voice service that we didn’t order.
  • They can’t send a text message with the PIN to my cell phone, which the phone number by which the CSR located the account.
  • When I said that I would have to buy a phone to be able to access my Comcast voice mail, she said that wasn’t necessary, that I could borrow a working phone from a neighbor.
    The CSR was very sad for me (her words) when I told her that I don’t have a neighbor from whom I can borrow a phone. 
  • I would have to go to the Comcast office 20 miles away to get real help.
When I got to the Comcast office 20 miles away, the nice customer service rep looked up my account information (based on my cellphone number) and then told me that the system could only send my PIN to the service address (the camp), not to the billing address. I quietly tapped my forehead against the glass that separates customers from service reps. She resolved to fix the problem. Twenty minutes later, she was able get the PIN sent to my home address (“in six to eight business days”).
That was two weeks ago.
In the process of testing the links for this blog post, I clicked the Send me a PIN links. I just received the following email:

I logged in, entered the PIN, and can now view my bill. Thank you, Comcast, I think.

Father’s Day 2013

I’m a very fortunate guy.

Not only did I  receive some clever and thoughtful gifts, but, most importantly, we got to spend time together as family. We ate well, laughed loudly, and heard good stories of hope and adventure.

Dept. of Non-obviousness: Drupal configuration message

You might not think that this stream of messages would be caused by character encoding:

Notice: Undefined index: highlighted in include() (line 126 of C:wampwwwdrupal-7.22modulessystempage.tpl.php). Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in drupal_alter() (line 1042 of

I was editing a configuration file and switched to UTF-8 because I needed to add a few unusual characters to a web page. When I did so, the stream of errors appeared. It took a long time of searching before I discovered. this discussion page where ANSI vs. UTF-8 was mentioned.
It’s not a universal law, but experience shows that the bigger the gusher of error messages, the cause is usually quite small and and the least obvious.

If you get there last, leave a message

There’s a scene in Three Little Pigskins where Moe and Larry are arranging to meet at a predetermined location:
Moe: If you get there first, put a chalk mark.
Larry: Okay. What if you get there first?
Moe: Then I’ll rub it out.1
Anyway, The Reg reports that scientists have done this, only better, sending a message from one photon to another that that was already deceased.

Measuring P1 destroys it; even so, it gets its state from P4
Image: Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 210403 (2013)
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.210403

1The Marx Brothers may have done this first, but I can’t locate the scene.

On Google maps and education

At lunch today, I talked with a former professor about some of the issues that he sees with his students. This, by the way, is at Amherst. The students who get in there did so because they knew how to present themselves to their high school teachers and admissions boards. They knew how to win.
Many student wrote papers that were focused on a narrow topic, crisply-defined, but with little connection to other ideas or domains. These students did well well because they showed a clear answer to a specific, albeit esoteric, question. Their research skills were limited to delivering a precise answer with no ragged edges.
If you ask Google Maps (or any GPS system) for turn-by-turn directions, you get good results. Using those directions will get you where you intend to go, but with a curious side effect. You are delivered as in a tunnel, without context.

Time was, we studied maps and knew not only the path, but also the frame of reference. Recently, I had to travel to a part of a nearby town that was unfamiliar to me. The person I was visiting said that his street is right near the so-and-so school. I used Google Navigation. It made no mention of the school as a prominent reference point. Instead, it said, “in 600 feet,  turn left.” I got where I was going, but Google told me nothing of the fact that this family lived near a school.
It turned out that living near a school was very relevant to this person and his wife because his kids could walk to school. Google told me what was true, but not what was meaningful.