E.B. White

posted by ben on 07.09.18 at 19:32, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

I see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, and the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men's clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene - which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene. It was the miracle that God had wrought. And it was patently the sort of thing that could only happen once. Mechanically uncanny, it was like nothing that had ever come to the world before. Flourishing industries rose and fell with it. As a vehicle, it was hard working, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the person who rode in it. My own generation identifies it with Youth, with its gaudy, irretrievable excitements; before it fades into the mist, I would like to pay it the tribute of the sigh that is not a sob, and set down random entries in a shape somewhat less cumbersome than a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

The Model T was distinguished from all other makes of cars by the fact that its transmission was of a type known as planetary - which was half metaphysics, half sheer fiction. Engineers accepted the word 'planetary' in its epicyclic sense, but I was always conscious that it also meant 'wandering', 'erratic'. Because of the peculiar nature of this planetary element, there was always, in Model T, a certain dull rapport between engine and wheels, and even when the car was in a state known as neutral, it trembled with a deep imperative and tended to inch forward. There was never a moment when the bands were not faintly egging the machine on. In this respect it was like a horse, rolling the bit on its tongue, and country people brought to it the same technique they used with draft animals.

Its most remarkable quality was its rate of acceleration. In its palmy days the Model T could take off faster than anything on the road. The reason was simple. To get under way, you simply hooked the third finger of the right hand around a lever on the steering column, pulled down hard, and shoved your left foot forcibly against the low-speed pedal. These were simple, positive motions the car responded by lunging forward with a roar. After a few seconds of this turmoil, you took your toe off the pedal, eased up a mite on the throttle, and the car, possessed of only two forward speeds, catapulted directly into high with a series of ugly jerks and was off on its glorious errand. The abruptness of this departure was never equaled in other cars of the period. The human leg was (and still is) incapable of letting in the clutch with anything like the forthright abandon that used to send Model T on its way. Letting in a clutch is a negative, hesitant motion, depending on delicate nervous control; pushing down the Ford pedal was a simple, country motion - an expansive act, which came as natural as kicking an old door to make it budge.

The driver of the old Model T was a man enthroned. The car, with top up, stood seven feet high. The driver sat on top of the gas tank, brooding it with his own body. When he wanted gasoline, he alighted, together with everything else in the front seat; the seat was pulled off, the metal cap unscrewed, and a wooden stick thrust down to sound the liquid in the well. There was always a couple of these sounding sticks kicking around in the ratty sub-cushion regions of a flivver. Refueling was more of a social function then, because the driver had to unbend, whether he wanted to or not. Directly in front of the driver was the windshield - high, uncompromisingly erect. Nobody talked about air resistance, and the four cylinders pushed the car through the atmosphere with a simple disregard of physical law.

There was this about a Model T; the purchaser never regarded his purchase as a complete, finished product. When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start - a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware. Driving away from the agency, hugging the new wheel between your knees, you were already full of creative worry. A Ford was born naked as a baby, and a flourishing industry grew up out of correcting its rare deficiencies and combating its fascinating diseases. Those were the great days of lily-painting. I have been looking at some old Sears Roebuck catalogues, and they bring everything back so clear.

First you bought a Ruby Safety Reflector for the rear, so that your posterior would glow in another car's brilliance. Then you invested thirty-nine cents in some radiator Moto Wings, a popular ornament which gave the Pegasus touch to the machine and did something godlike to the owner. For nine cents you bought a fan-belt guide to keep the belt from slipping off the pulley. You bought a radiator compound to stop leaks. This was as much a part of everybody's equipment as aspirin tablets are of a medicine cabinet. You bought special oil to stop chattering, a clamp-on dash light, a patching outfit, a tool box which you bolted on the running board, a sun visor, a steering-column brace to keep the column rigid, and a set of emergency containers for gas, oil and water - three thin, disc-like cans which reposed in a case on the running board during long, important journeys - red for gas, gray for water, green for oil. It was only a beginning. After the car was about a year old, steps were taken to check the alarming disintegration. (Model T was full of tumors, but they were benign.) A set of anti-rattlers (ninety-eight cents) was a popular panacea. You hooked them on to the gas and spark rods, to the brake pull rod, and to the steering-rod connections. Hood silencers, of black rubber, were applied to the fluttering hood. Shock absorbers and snubbers gave 'complete relaxation'. Some people bought rubber pedal pads, to fit over the standard metal pedals. (I didn't like these, I remember.) Persons of a suspicious or pugnacious turn of mind bought a rear-view mirror; but most Model T owners weren't worried by what was coming from behind because they would soon enough see it out in front. They rode in a state of cheerful catalepsy. Quite a large mutinous clique among Ford owners went over to a foot accelerator (you could buy one and screw it to the floor board), but there was a certain madness in these people, because the Model T, just as she stood, had a choice of three foot pedals to push, and there were plenty of moments when both feet were occupied in the routine performance of duty and when the only way to speed up the engine was with the hand throttle.

Gadget bred gadget. Owners not only bought ready-made gadgets, they invented gadgets to meet special needs. I myself drove my car directly from the agency to the blacksmith's, and had the smith affix two enormous iron brackets to the port running board to support an army trunk.

People who owned closed models builded along different lines: they bought ball grip handles for opening doors, window anti-rattlers, and de-luxe flower vases of the cut-glass anti-splash type. People with delicate sensibilities garnished their car with a device called the Donna Lee Automobile Disseminator - a porous vase guaranteed, according to Sears, to fill the car with la faint clean odor of lavender'. The gap between open cars and closed cars was not as great then as it is now: for $11.95, Sears Roebuck converted your touring car into a sedan and you went forth renewed. One agreeable quality of the old Fords was that they had no bumpers, and their fenders softened and wilted with the years and permitted the driver to squeeze in and out of tight places.

Tires were 30 x 3 1/2, cost about twelve dollars, and punctured readily. Everybody carried a ]iffy patching set, with a nutmeg grater to roughen the tube before the goo was spread on. Everybody was capable of putting on a patch, expected to have to, and did have to.

During my association with Model T's, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal's head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator) and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver's cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the downstroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded - first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver's seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn't been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket. In zero weather, ordinary cranking became an impossibility, except for giants. The oil thickened, and it became necessary to lack up the rear wheels, which for some planetary reason, eased the throw.

The lore and legend that governed the Ford were boundless. Owners had their own theories about everything; they discussed mutual problems in that wise, infinitely resourceful way old women discuss rheumatism. Exact knowledge was pretty scarce, and often proved less effective than superstition. Dropping a camphor ball into the gas tank was a popular expedient; it seemed to have a tonic effect both on man and machine. There wasn't much to base exact knowledge on. The Ford driver flew blind. He didn't know the temperature of his engine, the speed of his car, the amount of his fuel, or the pressure of his oil (the old Ford lubricated itself by what was amiably described as the 'splash system'). A speedometer cost money and was an extra, like a windshield-wiper. The dashboard of the early models was bare save for an ignition key; later models, grown effete, boasted an ammeter which pulsated alarmingly with the throbbing of the car. Under the dash was a box of coils, with vibrators which you adjusted, or thought you adjusted. Whatever the driver learned of his motor, he learned not through instruments but through sudden developments. I remember that the timer was one of the vital organs about which there was ample doctrine. When everything else had been checked, you had a look at the timer. It was an extravagantly odd little device, simple in construction, mysterious in function. It contained a roller, held by a spring, and there were four contact points on the inside of the case against which, many people believed, the roller rolled. I have had a timer apart on a sick Ford many times. But I never really knew what I was up to, I was just showing off before God. There were almost as many schools of thought as there were timers. Some people, when things went wrong, just clenched their teeth and gave the timer a smart crack with a wrench. Other people opened it up and blew on it. There was a school that held that the timer needed large amounts of oil; they fixed it by frequent baptism. And there was a school that was positive it was meant to run dry as a bone; these people were continually taking it off and wiping it. I remember once spitting into a timer; not in anger, but in a spirit of research. You see, the Model T driver moved in the realm of metaphysics. He believed his car could be hexed.

One reason the Ford anatomy was never reduced to an exact science was that, having 'fixed' it, the owner couldn't honestly claim that the treatment had brought about the cure. There were too many authenticated cases of Fords fixing themselves - restored naturally to health after a short rest. Farmers soon discovered this, and it fitted nicely with their draft-horse philosophy: 'Let 'er cool off and she'll snap into it again.'

A Ford owner had Number One Bearing constantly in mind. This bearing, being at the front end of the motor, was the one that always burned out, because the oil didn't reach it when the car was climbing hills. (That's what I was always told, anyway.) The oil used to recede and leave Number One dry as a clam flat; you had to watch that bearing like a hawk. It was like a weak heart - you could hear it start knocking, and that was when you stopped to let her cool off. Try as you would to keep the oil supply right, in the end Number One always went out. 'Number One Bearing burned out on me and I had to have her replaced,' you would say, wisely; and your companions always had a lot to tell about how to protect and pamper Number One to keep her alive.

Sprinkled not too liberally among the millions of amateur witch doctors who drove Fords and applied their own abominable cures were the heaven sent mechanics who could really make the car talk. These professionals turned up in undreamed-of spots. One time, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington, I heard the rear end go out of my Model T when I was trying to whip it up a steep incline onto the deck of a ferry. Something snapped; the car slid backwards into the mud. It seemed to me like the end of the trail. But the captain of the ferry, observing the withered remnant, spoke up.

'What's got her?' he asked.

'I guess it's the rear end,' I replied listlessly. The captain leaned over the rail and stared. Then I saw that there was a hunger in his eyes that set him off from other men.

'Tell you what,' he said casually, trying to cover up his eagerness, 'let's pull the son of a bitch up onto the boat, and I'll help you fix her while we're going back and forth on the river.'

We did just this. All that day I plied between the towns of Pasco and Kenniwick, while the skipper (who had once worked in a Ford garage) directed the amazing work of resetting the bones of my car.

Springtime in the heyday of the Model T was a delirious season. Owning a car was still a major excitement, roads were still wonderful and bad. The Fords were obviously conceived in madness: any car which was capable of going from forward into reverse without any perceptible mechanical hiatus was bound to be a mighty challenging thing to the human imagination. Boys used to veer them off the highway into a level pasture and run wild with them, as though they were cutting up with a girl. Most everybody used the reverse pedal quite as much as the regular foot brake - it distributed the wear over the bands and wore them all down evenly. That was the big trick, to wear all the bands down evenly, so that the final chattering would be total and the whole unit scream for renewal.

The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so the lights would be bright enough to read destinations by. I have never been really planetary since. I suppose it's time to say goodbye. Farewell, my lovely!

-E.B. White, Farewell my Lovely, The New Yorker, May 16, 1936

now i will make many maths

posted by ben on 07.09.18 at 15:09, null, pictures, New York, 4 comments Permalink
Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
I still don't get the joke.
Permalink 09/22/07 @ 07:27
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
It's Black Scholes... nevermind.
Permalink 09/22/07 @ 10:36
Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
Ok, but how is that a joke?
Permalink 09/23/07 @ 06:43
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
I never said it was funny.
Permalink 09/24/07 @ 08:02

Lawyers make the world more boring.

posted by collin on 07.09.17 at 12:24, null, nonsense, random, sport, ski, 3 comments Permalink

video on this page.

Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
I tried to click on the video.
Permalink 09/17/07 @ 13:21
Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
That's because the video is a saveable but not linkable streaming wmv. And it's mostly how to assemble/use it.
Permalink 09/17/07 @ 13:33


posted by ben on 07.09.13 at 21:45, null, pictures, New York, Leave a comment Permalink

I bought a couch. It seems to be very ugly, but I like it anyway. I want to buy two and do the Seattle, two couches facing wine and cheese thing, but I don't think they'll fit. Suggestions?

Loss of Facial Hair

posted by ben on 07.09.13 at 21:42, null, null, pictures, 2 comments Permalink
Comment from: Lauren [Visitor]
NO! Benton! I liked the facial hair.
Permalink 10/12/07 @ 08:06
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
It's back now.
Permalink 10/12/07 @ 09:54


posted by ben on 07.09.06 at 22:01, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, 2 comments Permalink

I'm currently looking at Countrywide (CFC), the largest mortgage lender in the US which, unsurprisingly, has suffered quite a bit from the subprime mess.

According to the google, Countrywide has $14,818.45 million in equity with 576.02 million shares outstanding. Which gives a book value of $25.72.

But, quite a bit of that value is in mortgages which are never going to be collected on. Estimates vary. Countrywide CEO Mozilo claims that only 7% of Countrywide's loans in 2006 were subprime. The Times seems to think things are worse, but because articles go behind a paywall, I can't find the exact figures.

Anyway, Bloomberg thinks 13.4% of mortgages at the end of June were to borrowers likely to default. Let's round that up a bit and assume 20% default for all mortgages.

Then, the book value of Countrywide is only 20.58, but it's currently trading at $18.48.... so, it's trading below a very pessimistic book value. And, I'd assume that the stock is going to recover as the market does, scaling business back up.

Bank of America recently put $2 billion in as a loan at 7.25%, which is convertible to preferred stock at $18 as a safety measure. This makes me think that Bank of America's analysts believe CFC is worth considerably more than $18.

And I read somewhere that Richard Pzena is all mixed up in CFC now too. Though, I can find nothing with the google to substantiate that.


Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
I don't understand. Do mortgage lenders really lose much money in a foreclosure? I realize that they could lose money if the value of the property has dropped significantly since the mortgage was issued, but is that alone enough to hurt a lender like CFC so badly?
Permalink 09/07/07 @ 12:18
Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
It appears I've been doing some subprime lending myself.
Permalink 09/07/07 @ 13:27

posted by ben on 07.09.04 at 19:58, null, null, 1 comment Permalink

Have you ever tried staring straight up like Superman while flying? It's really hard. I'm surprised he doesn't stare at the ground and crash into birds.

Also, I approve of duck confit with a sauce of champagne and currants.

Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
Flying has always been the difficult part for me.
Permalink 09/05/07 @ 09:37

Debby Harry

posted by ben on 07.09.01 at 11:02, null, music, music, New York, Leave a comment Permalink
-via Michelle
-via Brooklyn Vegan

posted by ben on 07.08.20 at 10:20, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

It appears that past performance is, in fact, an indicator of future performance.

posted by ben on 07.08.14 at 20:50, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, 5 comments Permalink

If there isn't a bug, this is a happy moment. I'm thinking there's a bug.

Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
wow, there's a bug. how surprising.
Permalink 08/15/07 @ 18:16
Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php


Permalink 08/17/07 @ 11:50
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com

what is it you do at work exactly?

for that matter, what exactly do I do?

Permalink 08/17/07 @ 11:57
Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
Hey now, I am an invaluable asset to my company. I do lots of important stuff. Computer stuff.
Permalink 08/17/07 @ 12:25
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com

Also, I miss clever computer names:

YALE - Yet Another Learning Environment -> Rapid Miner
POI - Poor Obfuscation Implementation -> POI (just a word, no acronym)

...stupid humorless computer industry.
Permalink 08/18/07 @ 13:17


posted by ben on 07.08.14 at 07:39, null, technology, Leave a comment Permalink

-via wikipedia

posted by ben on 07.08.11 at 14:22, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, 5 comments Permalink

anyone have a linux server with a speedy internet connection and a gig or so of free space that they want to give me a shell account on?

Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
Didn't you used to have 7 of these?
Permalink 08/11/07 @ 15:10
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com

I think at the height it was even more insane than that. I may just get a box at godaddy if no one has anything. Seems weird that none of us are dorky enough to have static IPs and servers any more... or at least a box at some hosting company with shell accounts...

This picture has 7 alone, and I'm pretty sure there were a few in the closet too.

Permalink 08/11/07 @ 15:21
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
The godaddy crap plan is only $30. I should probably just do that.
Permalink 08/11/07 @ 15:47
Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
I could install unbuntu and dyn-dns if you want...
Permalink 08/11/07 @ 15:52
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
Do it! Bring back the cluster. I may be serious. I can't tell.

It doesn't look like Matlab likes Ubuntu. Is this real? CentOS?

...or should I just buy a new motherboard for my 64bit box and put it in my apartment whenever I get my apartment...

ack. don't know which to do.
Permalink 08/11/07 @ 16:01

posted by ben on 07.08.09 at 20:29, null, math, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

The unprincipled approach to machine learning: use algorithms you've never even heard of in weka on your 100mb of stock data...

I'm having another one of those "Unless I've fucked up, I'm going to retire to Kopipi" moments. Let it stay.

Wow... that one only lasted a minute before I realized what I did wrong.

posted by ben on 07.08.08 at 20:13, null, math, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

Anyone know how to invoke Matlab from the command line without bringing up the GUI? It seems to have something to do with the -automate flag, but I don't get it.

Right now I'm doing matlab -r computeBeta;exit

This brings up the Matlab window and closes it when done, but is kind of dumb. No one knows, do you? None of you use Matlab... boo.

Update: ...crap. Since it spawns off a new process, my Python keeps running happily while the Matlab runs and bad things happen. bah.

posted by ben on 07.08.08 at 19:25, null, math, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

Weka seems to have gotten a hell of a lot cooler since I last used it (at least 3 years ago it seems). I suggest it for all you ML/data mining needs.

Fennel Pollen

posted by ben on 07.07.28 at 17:50, null, null, food, 4 comments Permalink

...has something to do with Mario Batali... I forget.

Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
Something besides the fact that he cooks with it?
Permalink 08/03/07 @ 13:55
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
It's actually a little more indirect than that... There's a cook in Tuscany who Bill Buford worked for after he worked for Batali who used fennel pollen which got me thinking about someone who likes fennel.
Permalink 08/04/07 @ 14:03
Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
If you assign a number to every letter beginning with a=1, b=2, etc, the sum of the numbers in "Bill" is 35 and "Buford" is 66. Add 35 to 66 and you get 101. 1+0+1=2, and there are 3 digits in 101, giving you 23!!!!!
Permalink 08/07/07 @ 16:52
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
point taken
Permalink 08/07/07 @ 18:37

posted by ben on 07.07.22 at 18:45, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

The notation here isn't quite right, but basically I'm asking:

For each time, what symbol maximizes:

openPrice(0,symbol),... openPrice(time-1,symbol)
closePrice(0,symbol),... closePrice(time-1,symbol)
lowPrice(0,symbol),... lowPrice(time-1,symbol)
highPrice(0,symbol),... highPrice(time-1,symbol)



posted by ben on 07.07.22 at 10:58, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, 2 comments Permalink

Dear Lazyweb,

I really should have bought a bunch of books on financial modeling when I was in the Cambridge Press bookstore, but I'm dumb. I can't find the books I was looking at on Cambridge's website or on Amazon. I think I need to find a bookstore with a bunch of their books and hopefully great piles of Springer grad texts on math and finance as well so I can sift through and dig out what I need. Foyles was pretty good too, but once again, wrong continent.

These days I'm mostly in New York and Chicago. Surely one of these cities has such a bookstore...

I've already tried: NYU and the big Barnes and Noble textbook store. Columbia is later this afternoon.

Am I allowed to buy books at the UChicago coop?

Otherwise, I suppose I'm waiting until the next time I make it to Cambridge (for Cambridge Press) or Cambridge (for MIT press)...

Springer has a big office in or by the Flatiron, but I don't think it has books. Why is it so difficult to get arcane texts on mathematical finance?

Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
Yes you can shop at the UC Co-op. Unlike Harvard, things are pronounced correctly there. Depending on how much you're buying it might make sense to buy a share, $30 gets you 10% off in perpetuity. They're good about helping and ordering things too.

You should check out the regular UofC book store since it has textbooks for the professional schools. It's on the other side and across the street from the Admin building on the main quad (only ugly 70's building, constructed when draft cards and other things were being burned), Ellis and 58th. Though they probably won't have those in till mid-late September.

Powell's at 57th and Harper has used stuff. Might have things.

(Sorry I didn't call, phone died, no charger)
Permalink 07/22/07 @ 11:37
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com

(thanks to Alex)
Permalink 07/22/07 @ 18:07

Things Graham doesn't tell you.

posted by ben on 07.07.21 at 18:20, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, 2 comments Permalink


Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
So you need $25k, 3 trades per stock per week max, and no leverage?
Permalink 07/22/07 @ 11:01
Comment from: ben [Member] · http://ben.nonplatonic.com
I saw the $25K part. That's doable.

I didn't notice the 3 trades per week bit or the no leverage requirement.

Ideally, I'd like to put in some sum of money and trade it once a day, possibly twice with no leverage. Leverage scare me. Margin calls scare me.
Permalink 07/22/07 @ 11:05


posted by graham on 07.07.16 at 09:08, random, Cars, Porsche, null, 2 comments Permalink

Comment from: collin [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/collin.php
I'm surprised how flat the torque curve is. Gotta love that sweet spot at 5200rpm.
Permalink 07/17/07 @ 09:18
Comment from: graham [Member] · http://nonplatonic.com/graham.php
Even though it looks relatively flat, you can really feel that little rise in torque after 4000. Anything over 5000 sounds and feels pretty good.
Permalink 07/17/07 @ 16:07