Carl Banks' Blog

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Its—the possessive form of it—should be spelled with an apostrophe

It's supposed to be simple. The word "its"—the possessive form of it—is spelled without the apostrophe because it's a pronoun, even though it is a regular possessive. That's the rule: nouns spell their possessives with an apostrophe, pronouns don't. Simple and sensical, isn't it? Do you agree with this rule? I bet you do, because every single person I've had this discussion with has thrown this argument at me. "'Its' is a possessive pronoun," they say, "so it should be spelled without an apostrophe like all other possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, our, and their)."

Problem is, the rule's wrong. Most pronouns do spell their possessives with an apostrophe. To wit:

Someone's hat is on the chair.
One's mind must always be focuses.
Whoever's coat is in the hall better pick it up.

By the rule above, these possessive pronouns should be spelled without apostrophes.

"Oh", but you say, "it's not any pronouns; it's just personal pronouns you don't use the apostrophe with. All other pronouns you use the apostrophe. It's still a simple rule."

And it's still wrong. It doesn't account for the word "who", which is not a personal pronoun yet spells its possessive ("whose") without an apostrophe. The only way to account for both "it" and "who" is to make a complex rule, one with at least two conditions.

"Ok," you argue, "but it's still a pretty simple rule: don't use an apostrophe for personal pronouns or interrogative pronouns."

Don't forget that "who" can also be a relative pronoun.

"...or relative pronouns."

Now it has three conditions, and it's still wrong. To wit:

The computer that's turned on is wasting power.

True, it's probably not the best style, but it's perfectly intelligible and would not ever be spelled without the apostrophe. (And don't give me any Chomsky bull about "that" being a relativizer here and not a relative pronoun; if it were a relativizer this sentence wouldn't be intelligible.)

"Ok, fine", you say, "everything except 'it' and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Now you've forgotten about the other personal pronouns."

"Everything except personal pronouns and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Ah, finally we have a rule that works. It's a little ugly because one condition is a class of words and the other is a singular exception, but it's relatively simple and no actual reader or writer would have difficulty applying it. It's not the end of the universe. But the thing is, it's needlessly complex. If we could spell "its" and "whose" with apostrophes, then we would only need a simple rule with one condition: a word who's possessive is regular spells it's possessive with an apostrophe.

But, English orthography, being what is is, has to make things complex for us, even simple things like spelling possessive pronouns.

Tags: apostrophe, apostrophe_rule, spelling
Last Edited: 29 October 2010, 3:16 AM
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Proof the economy is struggling

I recently made my resumes public on and (I am not looking for another job at the moment. It's just that my company annouced that it would soon be laying off 500 employees. I don't expect to be one of them but if they're laying off, I can activate by resume. C'est la vie in the aerospace industry.)

I've ignored all the messages so far (except for one guy who was kind enough to have read by Open Letter to Recruiters so I figured I should at least write him back to tell him I wasn't interested).

  1. I'm only getting about one message a day instead of five or so.
  2. When I ignore their messages, the recruiters don't follow up asking me why I haven't responded to them.
  3. I've actually gotten a few solicitations for jobs I'd be a perfect fit for. That has never happened, not once, in all my job hunts.

Point is, with less demand for workers, the recruiters are taking the time to screen and deliver good candidates to the customer, rather than shoveling in large quantities of them. And when business chooses quality over quantity, you know the economy is not doing well.

Tags: economy, job_recruiters
Last Edited: 25 October 2010, 5:19 PM
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Let's stop this urban nuisance

I want to talk about a problem, a problem that exists everywhere, but is a problem especially prevalent in certain urban areas, one of the worst being my home, Santa Monica.

Walking around downtown Santa Monica, I encounter an insidious nuisance seemingly every day. They stand there on the street, lurking, eyeing you up, waiting for you to pass. Then they strike, they confront you, they ask if you can spare something, and if you don't they run a guilt trip on you.

Now, I personally never give these people a damn thing. In fact, I don't even acknowledge or look at them, when they greet me I walk right by them as if they didn't exist. This is the only effective way to combat these people. Giving them what they ask for only encourages them, and rewards them for being a nuisance.

Unfortunately, the law can't help us here. It's politically incorrect and possibly unconstitutional to ban this nuisance behavior, although many communities have enacted laws to limit it. Therefore, the only way to stop this is by a concerted community effort.

And that's why I am calling all people, especially my fellow residents of Santa Monica: let's put a stop to this. Let's stop rewarding these people for being a nuisances. Let's stop being enablers. Ignore them. Just walk past them. Don't sign their petitions. Don't even lift your hands to accept the literature they're trying to hand you. Let's show these activists they're not wanted. Let's....

Wait, you thought I was talking about the homeless, didn't you? Oh, no, no, no. The homeless are kind of a nuisance, yes, but that's because they are mentally ill or mentally handicapped, or both, and feel forced to live that lifestyle because of the way our cruel world treats them. I don't give then any change, becase it doesn't really doesn't help them, but I do pledge a dollar to homeless charities every time a homeless person hits me up for change.

Activists, however, are a nuisance because they're assholes. So, yeah, to hell with them. Pay them no heed. Or if you can't ignore them, tell them shove their hemp coffee mugs somewhere.

Tags: activists, homeless, santa_monica
Last Edited: 9 October 2010, 11:40 PM
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Time to watch the Simpsons

This fall, I've decided to do something I haven't done in more than ten years: I'm going to watch a full (all-new) episode of the Simpsons.

I distinctly remember the last time I saw the Simpsons: it was 1999 and I was in a Penn State dining hall. It was the one where Mr. Burns masqueraded as a doped-up alien.

When I was at Penn State, the Simpsons was the show. If the Simpsons was on any channel in the lineup back then, every public TV would be showing it (the only exceptions to the rule being football games and this movie). And since I had to eat, and since the dining halls had public TVs, I ended up seeing it pretty often.

Back then I expected maybe three or four more years out of the Simpsons, since it clearly wasn't as good as it had been in the early 90s. At some point I probably uttered something under my breath like, "I'm never watching the Simpons again. Well maybe if it's still on ten years from now (yeah right) I give it another try."

I don't know if I uttered those exact words, but it has been ten years, it's still on, and so I will give it another try.

Looks like seasons typically start around the end of September. I will keep this blog post updated.


I watched the Simpsons on October 3, 2010; first time I watched a full episode in more than a decade. Because I haven't watched it in so long, I am uniquely qualified to assess how well the show is now compared to how it was ten or more years ago, since I am not biased by ten years of new shows in between. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but here's my verdict:

No, it's not as good. The Simpsons characters always seemed to be stereotypes to me and not real people, but now they seem to be nothing more than substrates to carry jokes. Nothing remotely made me go, "Ha, that's so Homer" or "That's so Bart", but I had lots of "Marge being Marge again" moments.

And the show is still using the same old storylines. I'm not sure if I happened to watch the first episode in ten years implying a Lisa/Nelson romance, or if it's a running thing.

Nevertheless I did chuckle a few times, meaning it's still better than a lot of shows out there.

Tags: television, the_simpsons
Last Edited: 4 October 2010, 10:17 PM
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States I've visited

Map of the of states I've been to, color coded according to how often:

I've been to every state in the continental US except Rhode Island and Delaware. The state I've spent the least amount of time in are Michigan (just a layover at the Detroit airport) and Idaho (train ride across the panhandle).

Besides these states, the only other places I've visited are the Province of Ontario in Canada, and the Mexican State of Sonora. I've been all around the United States but don't get to other countries much.

Most extreme compass point locations for me (not counting time aboard airplanes, though I'd guess that wouldn't make a difference):

  • North: a point near Glacier National Park in Montana
  • South: Miami, Florida
  • East: Portland, Maine
  • West: Portland, Oregon
Tags: map, states_ive_visited
Last Edited: 3 October 2010, 3:46 PM
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Medium risk fourth down play

One of the things about football that I always thought could be improved upon was the limited options for fourth down.

If it's fourth down, and you are too far away to kick a field goal, there are only two options:

  1. Low risk: punt
  2. High risk: attempt to convert

Problem is, there's a big gap between the options. Roughly speaking, a punt will give your opponent the ball around 40 yards downfield but you give up the possibility of a conversion (not counting turnovers). Going for it on (say) a 4th and 3 is going to be converted about 50% of the time, but if you fail to convert the opponent gets the ball right there.

Right now, head coaches go for the low-risk option (punt) probably 95% of the time on fourth down. That's pretty boring. Having a medium-risk option might encourage coaches to take more risks on fourth down, leading to much more excitement. For instance, say it's 4th and 5 on the 50. Most coaches will punt in this situation. But what if there was an medium risk option? You have a 25% chance of converting, but if you don't the opponent gets the ball maybe 20 yards downfield, on their 30. I think some coaches might try that in that situation.

But what would such a medium-risk play look like?

When I asked this question in, I got an interesting suggestion in this thread: the person who receives the snap could roll out and bat the ball downfield with something like a volleyball serve, and it would be played more or a less like a fumble. I think there would have to be some limits on when a team could recover a batted ball (the ball should not peak higher than ten feet above the field, and would it have to hit the ground first).

The following table summarizes the risk tradeoff for these three options.

Option Risk Level Typical Conversion Rate Where opponent gets the ball if conversion fails
Punt Low 0% 40 yards downfield
Go for it High 50% Right there
Bat Medium 25% 20 yards downfield

Anyway, I'm not sure there wouldn't be drawbacks to this sort of volleyball bat play (like maybe too much risk of opponent returning the bat, or too much injury risk), but a play that could add a medium-risk option to fourth down I think would really add to the excitement of the game.

Tags: football, risk, sports
Last Edited: 12 September 2010, 4:31 AM
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Facebook -> Account -> Privacy Settings -> Applications and Websites -> Turn off all platform applications.

Tags: blocked, facebook, happiness
Last Edited: 28 August 2010, 2:44 PM
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Finished the Divine Comedy

Every so often I'll see a little clip or summary of some work that will evoke some sort of deep interest in me, and not merely grab my attention. Somehow from that small bit of information I know this will be a work I'll appreciate, and I am usually right. Such was the case for the Divine Comedy by Dante. As soon as I learned what it was about I pretty much had to read it someday.

It's really tough reading, however, and I didn't finish my first couple attempts at it. I finally got a good verse translation (I can't stand prose translations) to read on my Amazon Kindle (John Ciardi), which is not to say it was any easier reading. But this time I pushed through. (This was facilitated, in part, by my car being out of order for three months. I had plenty of reading time busing to work every day.)

I don't think the overall style of the poem could match me better. Pretty much everything in it was something I enjoyed. The structured, well-thought-out hierarchy of the world, the breadth of cultural allusions (although all the Florentine allusions were a bit too much), the allusions to science and astronomy, the fantastic imagery, and a lot of deep symbolism (about half of which I missed, and the other half I was only alerted to by footnotes). It lacked some of the annoyances many poems have, like wailing self-pity (except for one small part in Earthly Paradise).

But my favorite aspect of the poem was Dante's willingness to break form. In fact, it seemed like he broke form an optimal number of times, just enough so that one couldn't make any sort of sweeping generalizations. Every location he went was like the other locations, yet unique in its own way. This gave the poem an uncanny aura of realism in spite of the fantastic setting.

My favorite such diversion happened in Purgatorio, on the terrace where the Saved souls did their pennance for Sloth. Throughout the poem, Dante and his guide (Virgil or Beatrice) would stop to talk with the people wherever they went, and those people generally had a lot to say. But when Dante arrived at the Terrace of Sloth, the souls didn't stay to talk, since their pennance was to run around the terrance non-stop. The souls would only run by, identify themselves, and run off. So, Dante and Virgil spent their time on that terrance talking between themselves. Dante the Poet wasn't afraid to break the form of his story, even though talking to people in the next world was one of the most important aspects of the story.

All in all a very good read. If you're in a mood for some really tough reading I highly recommend it.

Tags: dante, divine_comedy, literature
Last Edited: 18 August 2010, 9:36 PM
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Fish Tacos

Give someone a boiled peanut and tell them it's a boiled peanut, they'll be like, "This is disgusting". Give that same person a boiled peanut and tell them it's a bean that tastes peanuty, they'll be like, "This is pretty good." It's sad that people are so mentally jailed by their own expectations.

Fish tacos are good unless:

  1. you don't like fish
  2. you don't like tacos
  3. you have mental impediment

We might also note that fish tacos are not the same kind of tacos you eat in a crispy corn shell with ground beef, lettuce, and shredded cheese, in case anyone doesn't know. (I could see that being a little weird.) Fish tacos are actual Mexican tacos, which means fish, shredded veggies, a squeeze of lemon or lime, and a bit of salsa or avocado maybe, on soft corn tortillas. Lots of people who claim to hate fish tacos would love it if you threw the same ingredients on a bun and called it a fish sandwich, or if you serve it without the tortilla and call it fish slaw. Hell, if you serve you serve it with a tortilla, i.e., the exact same dish, and called it fish slaw.

Tags: boiled_peanuts, fish_tacos, food, tacos
Last Edited: 8 August 2010, 7:53 PM
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Papers I've Written for School

These are some academic papers I've written for school, all for Aerospace Engineering courses. Although none of these are genuine research, nor were any published in journals, I have encountered an occasional proceedings or business publication that cites the web version of these papers.

Searching for Lyapunov Functions using Genetic Progamming (PDF Version §)
Here, I present genetic programming as a possible general method for finding Lyapunov functions. (Lyapunov functions are functions by which one can prove the stability of a nonlinear dynamic system.) This paper describes genetic programming, and how it can be used to find Lyapunov functions. This paper demonstrates that genetic programming is at least worth a better look. I now realize that there is a grave oversight in this method as I've implemented it, although the fix is obvious. [AOE 5984, Nonlinear Control, Virginia Tech]
Self-Tuning Control with Control Allocation (PDF Version †)
This investigates adaptive control: namely self-tuning control which uses parameter identification to determine control effectiveness for use in control allocation. This project is one of the main reasons I decided to abandon my research on on-line parameter identification. After doing this work, I no longer think on-line parameter identification is that important. [ECE 6414, Adaptive Control, Virginia Tech]
A Discussion of Methods of Real-Time Airplane Flight Simulation (PDF Version ‡, slightly modified from what I turned in)
This what the scholarly paper which was a part of my Master's Degree requirements. There are some annoying errors in it, but it's mostly quite detailed and accurate. It describes mathematics and computer implementation of flight simulation.
Composite V-22 Blade Design
Documents my unsuccessful attempt to design a V-22 rotor blade whose shape adapts to the flight condition (hover or propeller) using anisotropic effects of fiber-reinforced composites. Because rotor speed, and thus the centrifugal force, is much higher in hover mode, I wanted to use the extra force to twist the blade into an optimal shape. [Aerospace 597I: Behavior of Advanced Structures, Penn State]
Helicopter Dynamic Stability
In this paper, I do an analysis of helicopter dynamic modes. I am a little amazed that I managed this one, and I think my professor was, too. There's some really advanced stuff in there. As for the results, I doubt their accuracy. They look quasi-reasonable, but I suspect there was a mistake lurking in my code. (Incidentally, although I had to have put at least 30 hours into this project, I whistled through the whole thing. Dynamics just interests me.) [Aerospace 504: V/STOL Aerodynamics, Penn State]
Boundaray Layers
A brief explanation of how boundary layers can really simplify the complicated incompressible Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. [Aerospace 508: Fundamentals of Fluid Dynamics, Penn State]
The Hodograph Transformation
I describe the hodograph transformation, which is an interesting analytical technique whereby certain nonlinear equations in aerodynamics can be transformed into linear equations. [Aerospace 597D: Topics in Applied Aerodynamics, Penn State]
Project Asterius: Mission to Europa
Here is a report I wrote with my spacecraft design team: Amy Briggs, Becky Carver, Patrick Morinelli, Brian Sarsfield, and Mark Newey. It descibes our design for a Europa Lander. We all learned a lot, and had a lot fun, but our design methodology was utterly terrible. I can't bring myself to read the report any more. [Aerospace 402B: Spacecraft Design, Penn State]
Tags: aerospace_engineering, flight_simulation, papers
Last Edited: 6 August 2010, 1:48 AM
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Viewing all blog posts (Page 7 of 11)