Dried Roses

Arrows and objects

Graffletopia collects and catalogues stencil sets for Omnigraffle, a program for making diagrams. I’ve contributed a stencil for making the diagrams used in category theory.
categorydiagramscrnshot 1.png

LinkAugust 5, 2007 in Patterns

Sunday cat pix

It’s a Musa Muvie™! Click on the thumbnail to see it. You may have to wait for all the frames to load; if you have animations turned off, you’ll have to turn them on again temporarily.
Musa and Josie, 9 Jul 2007


LinkAugust 6, 2007 in Cats

Sunday cat pix

This week’s edition will appear in a new window when you click the View button below.

LinkAugust 12, 2007 in Cats

Union Station

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Union Station was completed in 1894. It was designed by Theodore Link, who modelled it after the fortifications of Carcassonne, a city in the south of France whose medieval fortifications are well preserved. In its heyday, it was the busiest rail station in the US. Passenger traffic dwindled after 1960, and in the 1980s it was “renovated” into a hotel and shopping mall. The mall has not been a success. The present Amtrak station is a hard-to-find hovel under the freeway about a block away.
Musa, 14 Jun 2007

LinkAugust 12, 2007 in Æsthetics · Saint Louis

Alphabet soup, finance style

The current turmoil in the markets is partly owing to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, which is now affecting mortgage companies and hedge funds, and which threatens to spread, taking the stock market down with it. The mortgage market includes a number of more-or-less esoteric investment vehicles, which become even more mysterious to the profane when they are referred to by their acronyms. This is not only a way of burying ugly terminology; like calling celebrities (or banking entities, like the once-respectable “Fannie Mae”) by their first name, it signals familiarity.
ABCP asset backed commercial paper
CBO collateralized bond obligation
CDO collateralized debt obligation
CDS credit default swap
CLO collateralized loan obligation
LBO leveraged buyout
LIBOR London inter-bank offering rates (see Mortgage-X for more)
RMBS residential mortgage backed securities
SIV structured investment vehicles
Example of use:
First, you take a bunch of shaky and risky subprime mortgages and repackage them into residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS); then you repackage these RMBS in different (equity, mezzanine, senior) tranches of cash CDOs that receive a misleading investment grade rating by the credit rating agencies; then you create synthetic CDOs out of the same underlying RMBS; then you create CDOs of CDOs (or squared CDOs) out of these CDOs; and then you create CDOs of CDOs of CDOs (or cubed CDOs) out of the same murky securities; then you stuff some of these RMBS and CDO tranches into SIV (structured investment vehicles) or into ABCP (Asset Backed Commercial Paper) or into money market funds. Then no wonder that eventually people panic and run—as they did yesterday—on an apparently “safe” money market fund such as Sentinel. That “toxic waste” of unpriceable and uncertain junk and zombie corpses is now emerging in the most unlikely places in the financial markets.

LinkAugust 17, 2007 in Current Affairs · Language · Society


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‘Dial’ is my name for certain designs I’ve made using various filters provided in OSX’s Core Graphics framework, especially the Kaleidoscope filter. You can access these filters in many graphics programs, including GraphicConverter and ImageTricks (look them up at Macupdate).
Click on the ‘View’ button to see the latest dial, based on a photography of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. If the script doesn’t work, you can see it here.

LinkAugust 17, 2007 in Patterns

Logic puzzle

At the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where two challenges to the Federal government’s electronic surveillance programs have been brought to trial. In the quotation below, the “document” is a log of telephone conversations inadvertently given by the government to a now-defunct Islamic charity and its lawyers. In the quotation below, the document, so the government claims, is Top Secret and SCI (secure compartmented information). Thomas Bondy is arguing the government’s defense against the charge of illegal eavesdropping, a defense that consists largely in holding that everything pertaining to the case is a state secret. A judge asks Bondy whether some part of the document could be brought into evidence. Bondy replies:
This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described.
Is “cannot be meaningfully described” a meaningful description? If it is, then Bondy has not only contradicted himself but is divulging a State Secret.
Sources: Kevin Poulsen, “NSA Judge: ‘I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland’”, Threat Level (in Wired Blogs) 15 Aug 2007; via Digby, Down The Rabbit Hole Head First, Hullabaloo 15 Aug 2007.

LinkAugust 17, 2007 in Current Affairs · Language

Alphabet soup, second serving

Source: The Forum On-Line Antiques Mall
As mortgage companies bail out and the Fed attempts a rescue, here is a bit more explanation of some of the machinery which is currently malfunctioning. In the quotation below, ‘CDO’ means “collateralized debt obligation”. See Alphabet soup for a glossary.
Assured by Triple-A ratings that these instruments were money good and completely liquid, bankers thought they had discovered the philosopher’s stone — a risk-free, high-yielding asset — and this new credit/money has found its way into every corner of the financial system from teachers’ pensions to commercial paper to money market funds. Moreover, once the printers of this new fiat currency realized that there was an appetite for their product among yield-starved institutional investors, they did what every unrestrained ruler with a printing press has done since the dawn of money: they began minting more of it.
In this case, credit/money was inflated through the re-securitization of already securitized assets. The Mugabes of hyperinflation in this case were the rocket scientists in structured finance, and the Zimbabwian extreme are so-called synthetic CDOs, arcane confections which invest in tranches of CDOs. These “innovations” leverage the underlying subprime assets to dizzying multiples so that tens of billions of dollars in subprime originations might ultimately support of a trillion dollars in CDO tranches. At the tail end of this whip, tiny variances from the assumptions about the performance of the underlying assets can vaporize the value of these supposedly rock solid assets.

LinkAugust 18, 2007 in Current Affairs · Society

More hits than outs

It’s not every day you see a line score like this. The last time a major league team scored thirty runs was in 1897, when the Chicago Colts beat the Louisville Colonels, 36–7.
Source: MyWay News
The Rangers’ team batting average gained five points, and went from .253 to .258; the Orioles’ team ERA rose from 4.39 to 4.60. What’s worse is that this was the front end of a doubleheader. The Os lost the second game too, 9–7.
The year we moved to Baltimore was the year they lost 22 in a row. The next season they almost caught up with the Blue Jays to take the division. We lived just six blocks from Memorial Stadium, saw a few games that year, became fans of the Ripken brothers version of the Os. Since then I’ve lost track of the team and its members, but news like this is bound to rekindle those latent fan impulses. The Os are having a mediocre season much like their last four or five. But now there’ll be at least one—‘highlight’ isn’t quite the right word—one memorable occasion in 2007.
Sources: David Ginsburg, “Rangers follow record-breaking 30-3 win with 9-7 victory over Orioles”, Associated Press via MyWay News, 23 Aug 2007; also at Yahoo News.

LinkAugust 23, 2007 in Current Affairs

Purple Rebuke

It’s a little-known fact about Søren Kierkegaard that one of his last works was an attempt to rewrite the Critique of Pure Reason in a peculiar idiom of his own. It is also a little-known fact about him that in his final period (the “purple” period) he used a typewriter. From the Philosophical Fortnights archives we bring forth an intellectual treasure—the only surviving page of Kierkegaard’s never-to-be-completed treatise.
Because it’s a large image, I’ve placed it in a separate window. Click the View button below to see it (if the window doesn’t appear, you can view the image here).
In case you’re wondering, the text was generated from the Critique of Pure Reason using the “N + 7” technique (in French, “S + 7”) proposed by Oulipo. Using a dictionary, replace each noun (or, as in the present instance, each noun and adjective) with the seventh noun (or adjective) following. So ‘pure’ becomes ‘purple’, and so on. The results are better if you use a small dictionary. For Kant’s Latin phrases Collins’ pocket Latin dictionary was used. The page you see was typed about twenty-five years ago; it has survived many moves and long periods of being displayed on refrigerators. I just noticed a typo in the second paragraph: for ‘obvious reason’ read ‘obvous rebuke’.

LinkAugust 24, 2007 in History of Philosophy · Jeux d’esprit