Saturday, August 24, 2013

Total recall?

I found out that prior to my physics class I'm taking in college, there's a prerequisite quiz. It's nothing too horrible, in fact, they're all high school concepts, which are often shrugged off in college (an alarming number of people tend to use calculators for even the simplest of multiplication). One part dealt with linear travel along a not-quite-linear line on a graph. The solution (I thought) was to divide things up into triangles and use the old "base times height times .5" formula, and then work from there. Great.

The next part dealt with the meaning of cos, sin, and tan, also known as one of the many unholy trinities high schoolers come across. Instantly I recalled "SOH-CAH-TOA! That's it!" but immediately came across static after that, and I had to do some Google-searching to know what they mean. Of course, part of the problem is that I really don't want to recall high school in general. In fact, I've succeeded in convincing myself that high school was far better than it actually was. On the other hand, I had also convinced myself that the high school was a labyrinthine dungeon (although they recently renovated to try to dispel that) stuck in a deteriorating neighborhood, which may or may not be really true.

Returning to the graph problem, I found that there was a problem, as some were far more than others. Horrified, I realized that bh(.5) wasn't for measuring hypotenuses, but measuring area.

So assuming that x and y were the sides of a right triangle, we would get for measuring the hypotenuse.

This is all rather troubling as the more I remember about what I learned in high school, it also brings to light the negative aspects of high school (and not just academics, EVERYTHING) which undermines the belief that high school wasn't so bad.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Houstonia magazine

One of the worse things on the Internet (but not the worst) are lists. Always clickbait, mostly in the slideshow format, and usually poorly researched.

However, that didn't stop me from being intrigued by "H-Town vs. Big D: 273 Reasons That Rivalry's Over And Why We Won", the cover story of Houstonia, one of the magazines that my work carries that wasn't there when I started working there. Well, that did pique my interest somewhat, and given that I tend to hold magazines in higher regard to the Internet (generally), I looked up the article when I got home. Houstonia is one of the magazines that tries to go for the entertaining and informative, a bit like early MacAddict, except while MacAddict at least made a pretty strong effort to show that they were fun, interesting, cool people, Houstonia's writers are like "friends" you have at bars. They're slimy if you know actually them, but once you've had enough booze, that doesn't matter.

Obviously, with its 250+ reasons, there are bound to be some that are tongue-in-cheek. The problem is, ALL of them seem to be so. Some of the particular ones that got to me is how Houston is better than Dallas because Dallas invented convenience stores and ATMs, and that's bad somehow, or how there's numerous ones about how unpretentious Houston is (irony), or some hyper-subjective craziness (like Dallas not having liquor stores on every corner), or ridiculous sweeping generalizations.

Oh, there's others too, from stretching boundaries, like how they claim they've got Texas Renaissance Festival, which is 25 miles outside of the edge of Houston (that's regarding some odd gerrymandering with city limits, in reality it's closer to 35 miles). To put in perspective, that would be like College Station taking claim to Hempstead, which itself can be considered a Houston suburb.

There's also some incredibly poor research: Steak & Ale went bankrupt about five years ago, or the fact that they completely discounted the Dallas farmers market. They even believed (falsely) the Asian district was some strip malls in Richardson (it's more than that). They even played the old "Some of My Best Friends Are X" un-ironically. Or maybe it is supposed to be ironic. Or maybe it's because they don't know how stupid they sound. Or maybe it's just another tongue-in-cheek entry. Or perhaps, it's ALL tongue in cheek, and the idea was to mock not Dallas, but the idea that there is some sort of rivalry at all. In that case, it would be pretty brilliant, if a bit poorly executed.

If it WAS meant to be mostly serious, it's worth saying that a good editor could've whittled down their 273 reasons down to a 50, cutting out some of the nonsense (SNL quotes, falsehoods, extreme subjectivity, tongue in cheek stuff, etc.) and creating a more compelling list that could reasonably be taken seriously. Less is more, you see, but that doesn't matter, because their purpose is to sell magazines, not to tell the truth (like most mass media).

Of course, the Houston-Dallas "comparison" is an example of how the magazine is objectively terrible. Regurgitating listings from a 1983 Texas Monthly listing? Hardly journalistic integrity. It's great material for a blog post to be certain, but a magazine? Not so much. (The writer is John N. Lomax, who fired back at Keep Houston Houston, another left-wing leaning Houston blog with a bit of tounge-in-cheekiness, except backed up by someone smarter. Even he bashed this horrible magazine. The bright side is Houstonia magazine is relatively new (less than a year, actually) and hopefully it will shrivel up and die like many magazines (some longer-lasting and better ones, that is) do. Or maybe they'll improve, which is unlikely.

It's all such a shame because new magazines are pretty rare these days. The format of Houstonia in particular isn't clogged with ads like many of its contemporaries are, and there is a lot of great things about Houston. Too bad the magazine is terrible.

OK, to Houstonia's credit, it did teach me how to quit mangling a few names: "Kuykendahl" is pronounced "kirk-en-doll", not "koi-ken-doll". I knew Bissonnet, and I probably should've known about "Fuqua".

EDIT: I want to take back some of what I said Houstonia magazine, as I learned that the Houston/Dallas rivalry runs pretty deep, so it's important that they find as many reasons as possible, even if most of them are pretty silly. In an alternate universe, an article in Dallasia magazine is pointing out how "Dallas" comes first in an encyclopedia before "Houston".