Fuzzy math

For many humanities students like myself, explanations involving math can be anathema. Yet today I'm reading about fuzzy math, and I can't help but think most students, both those in the arts and mathletes alike, can appreciate the particulars of fuzzy math. 

Fuzzy Maths

What is fuzzy maths? Fuzzy maths, properly "fuzzy logics" deals with situations that are neither 100% true nor 100% false. This condition is met when sources' answers vary widely, but can also come into play when the options are limited to A and B.

For example: say you asked fifteen people to describe the color of an object. Even if the choices were "blue and green" or "blue and black," it's unlikely that all 15 of your answers would be identical. 

The Numbers

Here you can see the same concept with a numerical value: temperature.

According to the experts:

> coldwarm, and hot are represented by functions mapping a temperature scale...[where] each function has one point on that scale — three arrows or "truth values" — and the vertical line follows whatever temperature the functions gauge...[so that] the red arrow at zero: "not hot," the orange arrow at 0.2: slightly warm" and the blue arrow at 0.8: "fairly cold."

With that in mind, may I present a few subcategories of this exciting new branch of mathematics:


 * Defuzzification

 * Fuzzy logic operators

 * Fuzzy querying languages


The math itself is fun and worth a look, but even if you steer clear of the symbols, the official terminology is, as my nana would say, "a hoot and a holler."

It's probable that many folk out there don't find this terminology as funny as I (or my nana) do. Those people, I'd guess, probably also don't snigger when the term "dick" or "cock" or "balls" or "hee-hoo" come up in class or in the grocery line. I don't break bread with those kinds of people (but I do break bad with their mamas — hey-oh!).

For that reason, and that reason alone, I share with you my fuzzy findings. Let us part on one of the best snippets from the fuzzy explanation:


'Recommended age'

Because I am secure in my adult-ness, I will confess: I bought a book about statistics in comic form. Today it arrived. Yes it's for me, and yes I've been reading it (and it's pretty bomb, too), but as I was reading, a curious thing happened. I began thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. This year my cousins - 9 and 12 - will be there. I've been searching for suitable gifts, and I wondered: would this book be a good gift for their age? I wasn't sure.

To make this determination, I turned to the publisher's page. I wasn't sure exactly what I hoped to find, but I trusted the publisher to provide useful information of some kind. Maybe a 'recommended age,' I thought to myself. Then I froze. 'Recommended age'? On a book?


Everything today has more information available than anyone, ever, would care to read. Although we often get to pick and choose how much information to absorb at a given moment, sometimes the mere presence of this data abundance is too much. For instance, my mother hates eating at restaurants with menus showing calorie counts (If you've never encountered such a menu, count yourself lucky. The average meal is not improved by close inspection). 

It can also be easy, however, to take this abundance of data for granted. When extra information becomes commonplace, it becomes expected. When information is omni-vailable, it's easy to get complacent. It's also easy to accept whatever's written as fact, guaranteed. 

I see this complacency in my own life, as I saw tonight, inspecting my book for a 'recommended age.'

The beautiful thing about books now is that they are for everyone. It's true that earlier volumes were available only to the privileged, but the fungus of illiteracy today is not a common affliction. This means that men, women, children, people of all races and creeds and colors and beliefs all share the same right: to pick up any book within their reach and glean whatever information its pages might offer.


The curious incident tonight, my expectation of a 'recommended age' on the publisher's page, leaves me with a little chill. It seems like an easily overlooked incident. A simple lapse. But despite going against the boundless, ageless nature of a book in every way, when I consider it, the notion of a 'recommended age' doesn't seem so farfetched. 

I can picture it becoming common practice to print a 'recommended age' on children's books. Justified at first as a way to help parents differentiate content. 

Yet I hope society would rail at such a practice. May we always have educators, librarians, teachers, guiding adults and, if necessary, their institutions as well, to list and define in their own agendas what books are suitable for which ages. There is nothing wrong with the older generations recommending personally to the younger. The danger lies in printing this message in the book itself. The book is not a judge. It does not prohibit. It is a friend to all. It must only ever encourage its readers, asking only of them what they are willing to give. 

For this reason, a book cannot recommend a reader away, neither by his age nor any other distinguishing feature. A book can be read by any reader who has both the luck and inclination to attempt the read. 


Today I urge you to consider: what is the division between information made explicit and left implicit? How much should manufacturers recommend? 

Or, alternatively, feel free to pick up a book. At least, I'd recommend it.

Shallots are terrible

Hello again, friends. Fun fact of the day: did you know shallots want to f-ck your shit up?

If a dire enemy is out for your blood, know that shallots, collectively as well as individually, are out for your tears. 

While cooking dinner tonight, I wanted to use some monstrous shallots I'd inadvertently purchased. I'd chopped onions plenty of times, and I figured shallots weren't much different. So, I didn't wear any kind of protective eyewear. Also, I used a serrated blade. These were my huge mistakes. 

Of the two, only one error was wholly due to my laziness. That was the use of a serrated edge. I try to "waste not" as a matter of course, and I foolishly thought I could use the same knife for ALL of my dinner preparation. Discounting the edge case, I recommend that no matter what blade you use, you seal your eyes, nose and, if at all possible, ears from the air around you when chopping a shallot. Let the pain of my hard-won lesson sub in for your own. Don't make my mistake. Remember that shallots are an unusually vengeful vegetable. If they're getting chopped, they aim to take us with them. They're out to make us cry and burn.

And to those who argue that a shallot is just an onion, nothing more, I ask you. Do you have to suit up to confront onions? No. You do not. There's no special equipment required. 

On the other hand, for shallots...

this look better hold some a-peel. 

Good news, bad news, who can say?

I was reminded today of a story I've heard once or twice before. You know the kind. Its origins are a mystery, but each time you hear it, it makes an impression. So you remember. It's an old story. 

This one goes:


An old farmer buys a horse that runs away. His neighbor says, "That's bad news." The farmer says, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

The horse comes back with a second horse. The farmer's neighbor says, "That's good news!" The farmer says, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

The farmer's son rides the new horse and falls, breaking his leg. The neighbor says, "That's bad news!" The farmer says, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

The king enters a war and drafts all able-bodied young men to fight. The farmer's son is passed over. The neighbor says, "That's good news!" The farmer replies, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"


The old farmer's taoist attitude guides the story. His patient reaffirmation reminds us not to judge a situation in haste. We imagine that the farmer sees the interconnectedness of things, recognizing that one thing leads to another and that it's impossible to predict how any situation, no matter how dire it seems, will play out in time.  

The oldest versions of the tale go one step further. They assign an additional moral to the tale, noting that the only certainty is death, which comes for us all. 

It's a heavy ending for so brief a tale, but if we take the heart of the story in stride, we need not interpret it as such. After all, 


An old farmer is plowing his field when death comes for him.

 Good news, bad news, who can say?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The above Latin phrase was popularized in the movie/graphic novel series Watchmen. Translated, it means"who watches the watchmen?" This morality question has stood the test of time because, as is typical of Latin pith, the dense words suppose a darker question within. That is: if the population needs to be observed in order to behave, then what behavior do we expect from the watchmen, whose actions are unobserved?

People behave better under observance. This is an unquestionable truth. I wonder, then, how does the new norm of maintaining a constant online presence mesh with this principle? In the digital age, aren't we all the watchers? And when the watchmen and watchmen watchers are one, what happens to absolute power?

More self-satisfied ponderings coming tomorrow.