Saturday, October 31, 2009
This summer our Sacremento-based criminal class approved a so-called “balanced budget”, along with a slew of sleazy, shaky accounting tricks to support it.
One of them, it turns out, is direct theft from the taxpayers: without raising the income tax rates (which determine the actual amount you will owe, come April), they increased the tax withholding (the amount actually withheld from your paycheck) by 10%. This is exactly the same thing as the state holding a gun to my head, stealing money equal to 10% of my withholdings, and then promising to give it back on April 15 (without interest, of course).
I only see three solutions to this. The first solution involves 51% of the voters acting in unison to throw the Sacremento criminal class out of office, replacing them with law-abiding citizens. The second is a Constitutional Convention that make it impossible for the corruptocrats to continue making victims of the citizenry. The third involves a much smaller number of people and a few hundred pieces of high-velocity lead.
Which sounds most feasible to you?
Friday, October 30, 2009
This is turning into a high-stakes real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day, except I don't think anyone gets to sleep with Andie MacDowell at the end.Sober up, “diplomats”, will ya?
Then there's the old joke, "Why do you keep hitting yourself in the head with a hammer like that?"
"Because it feels so good when I stop."
The difference being, I am not sure talks ever stop, even (or especially) after Iran tests its first nuclear weapon.
One can almost smell the whiff of fear across the Atlantic at the dawning realization that Obama is exactly what the despised Right said he was: an empty suit, whose flowery and uplifting rhetoric consisted of mere empty words to match it. Europeans are finding that, although they chafed at the previous leadership (much as children do towards firm parents), now that they are leaderless they’re feeling more than a bit nostalgic for those olden days (Dad wasn’t so bad after all, now that he’s gone and you’re on your own).Word.
A rudderless free world might not remain free for very long.
But this brought to mind a question I asked myself some years ago, and figured out: Why do most battery-powered clocks seem to stop at a particular time (generally either around 8:45:45 or 7:45:45)?
The answer lies in the unbalanced hands, especially the second hand and the minute hand. By “unbalanced” I mean that if those hands were free to rotate they'd rotate so that the heaviest portion was pointing straight down. Some clocks are made with balanced hands (this was particularly common on old-fashioned wind-up or weight-driven clocks) – either by making the short side of the hand wider, or by putting added weight on the short side.
When the hand is unbalanced, as in our laundry room clock, the tiny electric motor in the clock has to work harder while the hands are on the left side of the clock than it does when they're on the right – it's fighting gravity in one case, and gravity is helping in the other. This effect is most pronounced for the second hand, which takes about 60 times as much force to move as does the minute hand. The hour hand takes about 60 times less than the minute hand, or 3600 times less than the second hand.
The force required to move the second hand is at it's absolute highest when it's pointing directly to the left. When it's pointing in this direction, the force of gravity has the most leverage with respect to the shaft that the motor must turn. So...as the battery gradually discharges, the motor can produce less and less force. As the second hand sweeps around the clock from the 12 o'clock position, at first little force is required (because gravity is helping). As it passes the 6 o'clock position, more and more force is required (because the motor is lifting the hand and gravity is making it harder). So as the battery discharges, the force required to move the hand is most likely to exceed what the motor can provide when the second hand moves to the 9 o'clock position.
Mathematically, the additional force required to move an unbalanced clock hand imposed by gravity can be described as:
-k sin(θ)where k is determined by the degree to which the hand is out-of-balance, and θ is the angle of the hand (where 0 is the 12 o'clock position). At 45 seconds after the minute, the second hand is at 270°. One second before that, it's at 264°. The sines for those angles are -1 and -0.99452, so there's about a half-percent more force required to move the second hand between the 45th and 46th second than between the 44th and 45th – and that little bit of extra force is why cheap battery-powered clocks stop at around the same time...
On thinking about this from an engineering perspective, it occurred to me that there are two very simple ways to extend the battery life of these clocks:
- Balance the hands.
- Remove the second hand.
We only know about this because the Washington Post obtained an internal committee document accidentally exposed on a file-sharing system.
Pelosi is leading Congress out of the swamp, all right. Leading us to someplace even worse, that is...
I don't think the main cause has anything to do with Math or Science per se. Someone upthread said that there's a profound anti-intellectual trend in America. I agree, but I think it specifically takes the form of A DISDAIN FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS IN ACADEMIC SUBJECTS. This is just as true when it comes to Shakespeare as when it comes to Math.I think there's a lot of truth in there. Unfortunately...
The life-goal in America seems to be to get a well-paying job in which you don't need to think very much. I doubt this is a conscious goal, and it sounds so insulting that I doubt most people would admit to pursuing it. But in my experience, it is what people pursue -- and our education system trains people for it.
I became very aware of this when I started teaching computer classes. I was teaching applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash. Most of my students were upper-middle-class, educated, "smart" people. The majority were middle-aged.
Over and over, I heard people say, "I can't do this stuff. I'm just not a computer person." Now to some extent, this is true. These people were born before the Internet and the PC revolution, and their fear of the technology WAS a stumbling block. But the bigger stumbling block seemed to be that these folks couldn't handle basic problem solving.
The apps I taught mostly didn't hold your hand. For instance, if you want to make a photo look a certain way in Photoshop, there generally isn't a button to press. You have to think through the various tools and figure out how to combine them to create the look you want. That said, it's far from rocket science. I found that the moment I stopped giving people a formula that they could learn by rote, their brains turned off. It soon became clear to me that the problem wasn't new technology; the problem was that I was expecting people to use their brains in a way that no one else expected of them.
I started thinking about what these people did all day at their jobs. Gently, I asked some of them about what they did in their jobs. Many of them hand distinguished careers. How could they perform well at work without problem-solving skills? Answer: they don't need problem-solving skills.
It's not always obvious that these people don't solve problems (or puzzles), because many of these people are experts -- meaning that their brains are crammed with obscure facts. Our schools do very well at training people to learn facts*. At least when I went to school, memorization was pushed as a major intellectual virtue. We memorized the multiplication tables; we memorized the periodic tables; we memorized speeches form Shakespeare... Cultural literacy was pushed, too, though not as hard as memorization. No one was expected to really get into Shakespeare, but you were expected to know who he was and to have read one or two of his plays.
(*true, in America shocking number of people can't tell you the name of their congressman or the capital of North Carolina. But these people DO know the facts needed to get their specific jobs done.)
Pop-culture values reinforce fact-based intellectualism. A couple of years ago, if you'd asked people who was the smartest man in America, many would have said "the guy who won all that money on 'Jeopardy.'" (When I was a kid, there were many game shows on that actually required some problem-solving skills. These are almost non-existent. The shows are all about trivia now.) A "smart person" on a drama or sitcom is usually a guy who knows a huge number of facts.
I grew up around (humanities) academics, supposedly the ultimate smart-set. In my experience, they were coasting on memorized facts just as much as people in the corporate world. A professor would read every major German novel written in the 19th Century and all the critical writing about 19th-century German literature. Then he would spend his career passing on facts to his students. His "intellectual" work mostly involved keeping up with academic journals (learning new facts).
(From what I can tell, most G.P. doctors and most lawyers don't have to do much problem solving either. I do know that my doctor seems to be able to make a good living by doing the same formulaic tests over and over.)
Let me be clear that I'm not anti fact or memorization. Facts and rote learning are important. Facts are the building blocks you need. The are the tools you use when you problem solve. Problem solving is the next step. But it's a next step that most people don't take and don't need to take.
I don't think it's laziness. One can get by in our culture without problem-solving, so why bother with it? By get by, I mean that one can make a good living, have a big house, kids, etc. without having to solve intellectual problems.
And -- most important -- one can be a "smart person" (as our culture defines it) without solving problems. Most people want to be smart. They want to be seen as smart by others. Our culture sends a really strong message to them, which is "memorize a lot of facts and you'll be smart." My guess is most people think they ARE doing rigorous problem solving when they see something that needs to be done and have to search through their mental database to find the right fact or the right formula. I guess this IS a kind of problem solving, but it's the easiest kind. It's similar to solving a problem by searching on google until you find the answer.
When I was a kid, there was almost no problem solving in school. How often did the teacher just present us with a puzzle and say, "Here are some tools. Solve the puzzle!"? Almost never. One would think that MOST of education should be about solving puzzles, but in my experience, almost none of it is.
The exceptions (to a point) were Math and Science. But unless you're going into specific fields, you can quit taking Math and Science pretty early on in life. The other courses are easier and it's pretty clear you won't need Math and Science to get by in life. So why waste your time on it?
Meanwhile, the few people who stay in problem-solving fields move further and further from the intellectual norm: I program computers for a living. Which means I solve puzzles eight hours a day. I constantly have to create something from nothing, and I constantly have to learn new skills. Sometimes, I am so mentally exhausted that I can't do my job.
It was when I started discussing this with friends that I realized how different my career was from most of theirs. Sure, they often are exhausted at work. But they CAN get their work done. They say things like, "I was SO sick of filing today" or "Uh. If I have to grade ONE more paper!" But they don't say, "My brain just shut down and I was unable to figure out..."
I know this sounds snobbish. But I am not trying to diss other people or their jobs. My doctor may not do much problem solving, but I am grateful for his help. I am just saying that most jobs involve little or no problem solving. Mathematicians are from Mars.
I have been talking mostly about corporate and academic jobs. In reality, I think there's a lot of problem solving going on in America. It's just outside of the intellectual world. And it follows a long tradition. In America, our main problem solvers are farmers, football players, carpenters, etc. People who build things and who play games MUST solve problems or they fail. It's really weird, because most such people can't talk the intellectual talk. They don't know Shakespeare from Euler. So we don't consider them smart, and they aren't smart in the limited way we tend to define the world.
Meanwhile, the "intellectuals" are barely using their intellects.
To place this in just a bit of context: this service took place less than a week after the bitter, bloody Battle of Aachen. Watch the video:
Today I read this little piece (by a frustrated Canadian) about one effect of Saskatchewan's health care system: the delivery of the flu vaccine. A little googling brought much more detail.
It seems that the politicians and bureaucrats that run Saskatchewan's health care system have chosen “fairness” as their ultimate measure of success (not health, recovery, wellness, survival, or anything pedestrian like that). So for the flu vaccine, they've decided that fairness can only be achieved by having everyone receive the vaccine at the same time. What is explicitly not allowed is having doctors or pharmacies delivering vaccinations, as that would be unfair – some people would be vaccinated before others, simply because they chose (gasp!) a different doctor or pharmacy. Can't have that!
So, for example, in the city of Saskatoon, if you want the flu vaccine you'll have to join the crowd at Prairieland Park. In that crowd will be those who are already infected, those who are infectious, and those who are about to be infected. But it will be fair!
On the 28th (this past Wednesday), Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona's 6th district voted “No” on a ceremonial statement honoring the 2560th birthday of Confucius. If I were in his shoes, my no vote would be explained by something like “I will not waste my time on such utter trivialities when there are lots of things I should be doing for my constituents!”. Congressman Flake explained his vote this way, in our quote of the day:
“He who spends time passing trivial legislation may find himself out of time to read healthcare bill.”Awesome!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Are you a liberal, a conservative, or a redneck? Here is a little test that will help you decide:
You're walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a Glock 40, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family.
What do you do?
Well, that's not enough information to answer the question! Does the man look poor! Or oppressed? Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack? Could we run away? What does my wife think? What about the kids?Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand? What does the law say about this situation? Does the Glock have appropriate safety built into it? Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children? Is it possible he'd be happy with just killing me? Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me? If I were to grab his knees and hold on, could my family get away while he was stabbing me? Should I call 9-1-1? Why is this street so deserted? We need to raise taxes, have a paint and weed day and make this a happier, healthier street that would discourage such behavior. This is all so confusing! I need to discuss with some friends over a latte and try to come to a consensus.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Click.....(sounds of reloading) BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! click
Daughter: 'Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips or Hollow Points?'
Wife: 'You are not taking that to the taxidermist!'
A man is walking home alone late one foggy Halloween night, when behind him he hears:
Walking faster, he looks back and through the fog he makes out the image of an upright casket banging its way down the middle of the street toward him...
Terrified, the man begins to run toward his home, the casket bouncing quickly behind him.
He runs up to his door, fumbles with his keys, opens the door, rushes in, slams and locks the door behind him.. However, the casket crashes through his door, with the lid of the casket clapping.
on his heels, as the terrified man runs.
Rushing upstairs to the bathroom, he locks himself in. His heart is pounding; his head is reeling; his breath is coming in sobbing gasps.
With a loud CRASH the casket breaks down the door.
Bumping and clapping toward him.
The man screams and reaches for something, anything, but all he can find is a bottle of cough syrup! Desperate, he throws the cough syrup at the casket...
and the coffin stops.
Today, Repair California, a group of everyday Californians, reformers and advocacy groups turned in ballot language to call the first Constitutional Convention in California in more than 130 years. Citing a broken system of governance, the measures would call a limited Constitutional Convention to reform four areas of the constitution: the budget process; the election and initiative process; restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and, creating new systems to improve government effectiveness. The Convention is specifically prohibited from proposing tax increases or from considering changes to social issues such as marriage, abortion, gambling, affirmative action, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, immigration, or the death penalty. Voters will decide on calling the Convention on the November 2010 ballot, the Convention would be held in 2011 and its proposed reforms would require voter approval in one of the three scheduled statewide elections in 2012.I'm intrigued by this. I've no idea what the probabilities are that a Constitutional Convention could actually be pulled off, and that it could make substantive and useful changes – but it's the only idea I've heard that could even plausibly fix the things that are so badly broken in California. Most especially, it's the only idea I've heard that could break the iron grip of incumbency in Sacremento.
Besides, it sounds like a huge amount of fun – with one action, we can irk and irritate every parasitical special interest, every public sector union, and (best of all!) every insincere, posturing politician in Sacremento.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.
In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly, woman, to the stand. He approached her and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know me?'
She responded, 'Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.'
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?' She again replied, 'Why yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.'
The defense attorney nearly died.
The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, 'If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair.'
You may have heard about me. In the computer business I'm known as the Oregon Hermit. According to rumor, I write personal computer programs in solitude, shunning food and sleep in endless fugues of work. I hang up on important callers in order to keep the next few programming ideas from evaporating, and I live on the end of a dirt road in the wilderness. I'm here to tell you these vicious rumors are true.Those of you who know me well will probably be unsurprised that some of what Lutus has to say resonates strongly with me. I can easily imagine being a “programming hermit”...
What you're seeing on this graph are the weekly circulation numbers for some of the major U.S. newspapers. For a newspaper, circulation is a good proxy for revenue – not just because of subscription revenue, but because their ad revenue is mainly determined by their circulation (and, of course, by demographics).
Looking at this chart, two things reach up and slap you in the face. First, the Wall Street Journal seems to be the only U.S. newspaper that's figured out how to attract readers in the modern era. Second, every other newspaper looks like it's in a death spiral – it can't be too much longer until they close their doors. Of these newspapers, I'm most familiar with the New York Times (I used to be a daily reader) and the Los Angeles Times (more by proximity than for any other reason). As a picky consumer of news and commentary source, I am unsurprised that they are shedding readers – they're publishing junk today compared to what they did as recently as ten years ago.
I would hate to be an executive on one of those newspapers right about now...
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Man, it’s a good thing that the flu vaccine isn’t being left in the hands of the free market – we might have the same horrible production and distribution bottlenecks that we run into with Coke, pizza, books, and pajamas – you can’t find those things anywhere.What he said...
And, hey, on the bright side, socialized medicine is coming!
On the other hand, both the geology and the plant life were interesting and different than our home, which is only about 10 miles away in a straight line. We saw a few familiar things (particularly some oaks), but a great many of the plants were unknown to us. A large shrub or small tree was particularly common, but appears to be completely wiped out after the fire – we saw skeletons of these plants, with the remains of very odd seed structures (at least, we think that's what they were) all over the place. When they were present, those must have made this drive a much more attractive one.
The view from the top (at about 2,500 feet altitude) was the best part of the journey. To the west was an unobstructed view of the ocean and coastal plains, as Otay is the westernmost peak of the coast mountain range at this latitude. To the east was the bulk of the coastal mountain range, including Lyons Peak, Lawson Peak, and Gaskill Peak – the heights ranged around our home. We've never seen them from this angle before, and it took a while to get our bearings.
On the way home we stopped at a locally famous place to have lunch: the Dulzura Cafe. I've only been here once before, some 30 years ago, and all I could remember was that I had a good hamburger there. Debbie ordered machaca and eggs; I ordered a hamburger and fries. Most of the meal was mediocre at best, but the hamburger was very good. The one-woman service crew was completely overwhelmed by the lunch crowd, so the service was naturally spotty. We greatly enjoyed the collection of antiques scattered all over the restaurant – particularly the collection of a couple hundred license plates tacked to the walls, and of old-fashioned egg beaters arrayed overhead. One item made us think of our German friend Franz M. (who has helped me a great deal with my slide rule collection): an old, very beat-up Remington typewriter, of exactly the era that Franz collects.
Some more photos from the trip. The third photo is of one of the many radio and television transmission facilities that are on all the peaks of Otay Mountain. The last two are mostly of interest to locals: they show the western flanks of the coastal range, with Cuyamaca Peak prominent in the background:
Monday, October 26, 2009
So, there's this yellow toad wandering around in the forest kinda pissed off because he doesn't want to be yellow. Life would be easier if he were brown like the other toads.. He'd sure be less visible to predators for one thing.This pun's for you, pater...
Anyway... this yellow toad bumps into a fairy godmother. He begs her: "Fairy godmother, please make me brown like the other toads. I am tired of being so visible to predators and such."
The fairy godmother whips out her magic wand and says "Abracapokus! You're brown!"
The toad looks down and sees that he is brown except for his package, which is still yellow. He says to the fairy godmother: "Wait a minute! My pecker's still yellow!"
To this the fairy godmother replies: "I don't do johnsons. You will have to go see The Wizard of Oz for that."
The toad thanks her and hops off on his way.
There is also a purple bear wandering about the very same woods. As luck would have it, he encounters the very same fairy godmother. He implores her: "Fairy godmother, please make me brown like the other bears. None of the lady bears want to be seen with me on account of the hunters can spot me from a mile off."
She, being a nice fairy godmother, takes out her magic wand and says: "Pokuscadabra! You're brown!" The bear looks down and sees that he is, in fact, brown with the exception of the ole twig and berries, they remain purple. He says: "My wang is still purple!"
She says: "I don't do units, you will have to go see The Wizard of Oz for that."
To this the bear replies: "Well that's just dandy, but how the hell do I find The Wizard of Oz?"
The fairy godmother answers: "That's easy... just follow the yellow dick Toad!"
Two old guys, one 80 and one 87, were sitting on their usual park bench one morning.
The 87 year old had just finished his morning jog and wasn't even short of breath.
The 80 year old was amazed at his friend's stamina and asked him what he did to have so much energy.
The 87 year old said, "Well, I eat Italian bread every day. It keeps your energy level high and you'll have great stamina with the ladies."
So, on the way home, the 80 year old stops at the bakery. As he was looking around, the lady asked if he needed any help.
He said, "Do you have any Italian bread?"
She said, "Yes, there's a whole shelf of it. Would you like some?"
He said, "I want 5 loaves."
She said, "My goodness, 5 loaves .... by the time you get to the 5th loaf, it'll be hard."
He replied, "I can't believe it, everybody knows about this shit but me."
There's more science in this web page than in the entire history of the International Space Station.
For less than 1% of the cost...
Friday, October 23, 2009
The chart at right shows the average credit score for people with email addresses at various Internet domains. For instance, if your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, then you'd be counted in the AOL domain.
Someone at CreditKarma came up with this study. Why they would look at this correlation is just as interesting a question as the results of it.
Why on earth should people with a Yahoo email address have a (much) lower credit score than those with a BellSouth email address? I have no idea.
Anyone got a theory?
My friend Doug W. (a clear thinker who is mathematically inclined) says, in effect, “Move along, there's nothing to see here!” His explanation, which makes sense to me, though I certainly didn't catch it at first:
I’m not convinced there’s anything real here. My first gut feeling is that it’s a distribution to be expected, but there just isn’t enough info to draw any conclusions. For example, what is the standard deviation of credit scores? The range here is not that large, and they don’t say how many samples there are from each domain. Let’s take a simple model, which is probably wrong but illustrative nonetheless. There are 7 domains listed, and a total of 20,000 credit scores, so suppose that there are ~3000 per domain (certainly it isn’t evenly distributed, but the results wouldn’t chance much). The expected standard deviation given N samples is about sqrt(N), or 1/sqrt(N) as a fraction. So, for 3000 samples, you’d expect about 1/54 ~= 2% as a std deviation. So you’d expect 95% of samples to be within ~4% of the mean. If the mean is 665, and the std deviation is 15, then everything is exactly as you’d expect.
John was in the fertilized egg business in Alabama. He had several hundred young layers (hens), called 'pullets,' and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs. He kept records, and any rooster not performing went into the soup pot and was replaced.
This took a lot of time, so he bought some tiny bells and attached them to his roosters. Each bell had a different tone, so he could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing. Now, he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.
John's favorite rooster, Ol' Bama, was a very fine specimen, but this morning he noticed Ol' Bama's bell hadn't rung at all!
When he went to investigate, he saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, could run for cover. To John's amazement, Ol' Bama had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring.
He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one.
John was so proud of Ol' Bama, he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges. The result was the judges not only awarded Ol' Bama the No Bell Piece Prize but they also awarded him the Pullet Surprise as well.
Clearly Ol' Bama was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.
Vote carefully next year, the bells are not always audible.
A woman applying for a job in a Florida lemon grove seemed to be far too qualified for the job.Let's not do it a fourth time...
The foreman frowned and said, "I have to ask you this; "Have you ever had any actual experience in picking lemons?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I have!" she replied. "I've been divorced three times and I voted for Obama."
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Oh, well. Just nine points. Not so bad, really.
Except that it's the biggest slip in Presidential ratings that Gallup has ever measured...
So you leave a little message for your customers...
What a maroon!
Wikipedia has a very readable article on the fast inverse square root algorithm that I first heard about in Doom's graphics engine. Turns out its roots go back a bit further than I'd thought.
This is a great example of a phenomenon that has largely disappeared: clever, small algorithms that found very fast ways to make difficult (and ordinarily, time-consuming) computations. The need for these algorithms has faded away with the development of ever more powerful computing platforms. The inverse square root is now a single clock cycle computation on gigahertz graphics CPUs, with pipelined multiple cores reducing the effective cost even further.
The need for these clever algorithms hasn't completely disappeared – you'll still find them in things like cryptographic systems, compression, etc. But these are far more complex algorithms than something like an inverse square root.
In my earliest days as an engineer, in the late '70s or early '80s (I forget which!), I remember working with a company here in San Diego that had a product needing 16 bit pseudo-random numbers. One of the principal engineers there had developed a teensy little algorithm – just a few lines of assembly language – that did the job for them. Nobody there knew how or why this algorithm worked (despite its simplicity!). All they really knew was that (a) it passed all their testing, and (b) it was very, very fast. This made it quite valuable to them.
Today one can find many off-the-shelf pseudo-random number generators, some of them well-understood and documented. They're all vastly faster than the one that firm was so proud of, and fast enough (on modern hardware) for all but the most unusual, demanding applications.
That story has been repeated many times, and one consequence of it is that these days it's actually a little unusual to find a software engineer (especially a younger one) who spends much time thinking about algorithmic efficiency at all. Most of the time, this makes no difference at all – in fact, I suspect it makes these engineers produce better code in less time (optimization is a notorious complexity adder).
But I can't help but pine (a little bit) for the days when even the most pedestrian accounting application could be made visibly more responsive through the work of a clever software engineer who could squeeze more computational power out of the slow computers of the day...
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sounds good, right?
Well, this is the government at work – you should know better! There are two major problems with the bill (which Schwarzenegger has already said he'd sign):
- The glass is mandated for all automobiles under 10,000 pounds. Not just cars with air conditioning. It even applies to vehicles like jeeps with roll-up windows.
- The low-transmissivity glass also impedes high-frequency radio waves, such as those used by cell phones, satellite radios, garage door openers, and electronic toll tokens.
In 2010, these neo-socialists must go...
Monday, October 19, 2009
In its Friday ruling, Medicare slapped Humana on the wrist for disseminating information that it claimed was "misleading to beneficiaries"—even though it was perfectly true—but also lifted the gag order. Insurers will be allowed to communicate with enrollees, provided they get permission. This is basically a concession that the critics are right, especially considering that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the policy as recently as two weeks ago while refusing to answer questions about this raw political coercion from a supposedly impartial federal bureaucracy.I hate to say it, but this sort of high-handed shenanigans feels an awful lot like Hugo Chavez' blatant manipulations...
Meanwhile, the Administration is now threatening to strip the insurance industry of its decades-long exemption from antitrust law. This would blow a hole in the industry's profitability, as would ObamaCare for different reasons. The industry now faces a choice of playing ball with Democrats and getting punished, or trying to defeat the bill and being brutalized as an act of political revenge. This is the industry's reward for spending millions to promote "reform" in the hopes of not becoming a political target. It's still a target, and now it's poised to lose the policy fight too.
Read it all. It sounds like something from a science-fiction novel...New research suggests that there is plenty of oxygen available in the subsurface ocean of Europa to support oxygen-based metabolic processes for life similar to that on Earth. In fact, there may be enough oxygen to support complex, animal-like organisms with greater oxygen demands than microorganisms.
The global ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa contains about twice the liquid water of all the Earth’s oceans combined. New research suggests that there may be plenty of oxygen available in that ocean to support life, a hundred times more oxygen than previously estimated.
The chances for life there have been uncertain, because Europa’s ocean lies beneath several miles of ice, which separates it from the production of oxygen at the surface by energetic charged particles (similar to cosmic rays). Without oxygen, life could conceivably exist at hot springs in the ocean floor using exotic metabolic chemistries, based on sulfur or the production of methane. However, it is not certain whether the ocean floor actually would provide the conditions for such life.
Friday, October 16, 2009
So is this a dirty trick, an example of “cheating” on the part of the Democrats? Not really, though you'll find plenty of people shouting that it is. In fact, what they're doing is perfectly allowable under the bizarre rules of the Senate. This kind of gamesmanship is something that Robert Byrd is (justifiably) famous for. The real reason for all the screaming is that the Democrats are declaring their willingness to violate an informal understanding that has held for decades, but it is not an actual part of the rules. What they're doing is actually quite democratic: they're allowing a majority vote to win the day.A key House committee on Thursday quietly altered its health care legislation in a way that could allow the Senate to mow over Republican opposition to Democratic reforms by exploiting a budgetary loophole.
The Ways and Means Committee adjusted its health care overhaul package so that the Senate, down the road, could avoid a filibuster and pass health care reform with a smaller number of votes than normally required.
The long-discussed process, nicknamed the "nuclear option," is known as reconciliation. It's coming into potential play after the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday became the last of five committees to approve health care reform legislation, sending the overhaul proposals a big step closer to the president's desk. Before it gets there, though, the bill has to pass from the committees to the floors of the House and Senate.
Under the normal process, senators can filibuster almost anything and the debate would only be cut off if at least 60 lawmakers vote to do so. For that reason, 60 is considered the magic number in the quest to pass health care reform out of the Senate.
But under reconciliation, typically used in the budget process, no filibusters are permitted and a bill can pass with just a simple majority.
Whether this is a good idea is an entirely different question than whether it's legal. Once the Democrats violate this informal understanding, then there's a new informal understanding – and it will be there, inevitably, when the Democrats lose power and the Republicans regain it. At that time the Democrats may well regret their decision...
For the past year or so we've all been inundated by a never-ending series of gigantic financial numbers – $300B for this, $750B for that, $1.2T for that. Getting any sort of understanding about these numbers is challenging; I, for one, will take any help I can get.
So when I saw this graphic, I found it instantly appealing. By visualizing the relative amounts of money as different sized colored polygons, the authors have put the data in a form that our brains can easily digest.
Take a tour! And check out the whole site -- it's full of interesting visualizations like this...
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The fable concerns a grasshopper who has spent the warm months singing away while the ant (or ants in some editions) worked to store up food for winter. When winter arrives, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger, and upon asking the ant for food is only rebuked for its idleness. The story is used to teach the virtues of hard work and saving, and the perils of improvidence. Some versions of the fable state a moral at the end, along the lines of: "Idleness brings want", "To work today is to eat tomorrow" or "It is best to prepare for the days of necessity".My mom came across a slightly updated version:
The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.
Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.
CBS, NBC , PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast.
How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?
Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'
Acorn stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, 'We shall overcome.' Rev. Jeremiah Wright then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.
Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.
Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer.
The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar.
The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it.
The ant has disappeared in the snow.
The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.
Be careful how you vote next year.
Amen to that!
In any case, here it is – the definition of “political correctness”:
Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Tired of constantly being broke & stuck in an unhappy marriage, a young husband decided to solve both problems by taking out a large insurance policy on his wife with himself as the beneficiary, and then arranging to have her killed.
A 'friend of a friend' put him in touch with a nefarious dark-side underworld figure who went by the name of 'Artie.'
Artie then explained to the husband that his going price for snuffing out a spouse was $5,000.
The husband said he was willing to pay that amount, but that he wouldn't have any cash on hand until he could collect his wife's insurance money.
Artie insisted on being paid at least something up front, so the man opened his wallet, displaying the single dollar bill that rested inside. Artie sighed, rolled his eyes, & reluctantly agreed to accept the dollar as down payment for the dirty deed.
A few days later, Artie followed the man's wife to the local Safeway store. There, he surprised her in the produce department & proceeded to strangle her with his gloved hands & as the poor unsuspecting woman drew her last breath & slumped to the floor........
The manager of the produce department stumbled unexpectedly onto the murder scene. Unwilling to leave any living witnesses behind, ol' Artie had no choice but to strangle the produce manager as well.
However, unknown to Artie, the entire proceedings were captured by the hidden security cameras & observed by the store's security guard, who immediately called the police Artie was caught & arrested before he could even leave the store.
Under intense questioning at the police station, Artie revealed the whole sordid plan, including his unusual financial arrangements with the hapless husband who was also quickly arrested.
The next day in the newspaper, the headline declared:
'ARTIE CHOKES 2 for $1.00 AT SAFEWAY!'
Oh, quit groaning! I don't write this stuff, I receive it from my warped friends and then send it on to you.
This is dedicated to my dad, who will know why.
A cowboy from Texas attends a social function where Barack Obama is trying to gather more support for his Health Plan. Once he discovers the cowboy is from President Bush’s home area, he starts to belittle him by talking in a southern drawl and single syllable words.
As he was doing that, he kept swatting at some flies that were buzzing around his head. The cowboy says, "Y'all havin' some problem with them circle flies?"
Obama stopped talking and said, "Well, yes, if that's what they're called, but I've never heard of circle flies."
"Well Sir," the cowboy replies, "circle flies hang around ranches. They're called circle flies because they're almost always found circling around the back end of a horse."
"Oh," Obama replies as he goes back to rambling. But, a moment later he stops and bluntly asks, "Are you calling me a horse's ass?"
"No, Sir," the cowboy replies, "I have too much respect for the citizens of this country to call their President a horse's ass."
"That's a good thing," Obama responds and begins rambling on once more.
After a long pause, the cowboy, in his best Texas drawl says ... "Hard to fool them flies, though."
Ellen & I are preparing to return to Sirius Endeavour to continue our adventures. This past summer we had a fabulous time aboard Emerald Rose at the North end of Vancouver Island.We've been there and done that. Won't you?
But the purpose of this note is to make a special request to fellow cruisers and friends. 72 days ago, my cousin, Josh, was on a hike in the East of Iraq when he strayed onto the Iranian border and was arrested and imprisoned along with two friends. He remains today in an Iranian prison apparently in solitary confinement and without any way to communicate with his parents. He is the latest pawn the Iranians are using for political gain.
Ellen and I have known Josh since he was a little boy and like me he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and loves adventure. He is an outdoorsman and hiker like his older brother and my nephew Alexander just like I was until I switched to cruising in boats. It runs in the family.
A website: freethehikers.org has been created to bring his story to the attention of the world in the hope that sufficient pressure can be brought to bear to release him and his two friends from false and unjust imprisonment. If you would be so kind as to 1. review this website www.freethehikers.org and click on the button at the top: TAKE ACTION and then click to sign an electronic petition for his release and 2. email his plight to others you know that they might also take a step in the direction of their release; I would be greatly pleased.
I would like to think that as cruisers and adventurers, we are all outraged by Iran's behavior, specially when their Koran specifically states that travelers are to be treated with respect and kindness, not malevolent injustice.
Thank you for your consideration,
don & ellen
Monday, October 12, 2009
I have taken care of Medicaid patients for 35 years while representing the only pediatric ophthalmology group left in Atlanta, Georgia that accepts Medicaid. For example, in the past 6 months I have cared for three young children on Medicaid who had corneal ulcers. This is a potentially blinding situation because if the cornea perforates from the infection, almost surely blindness will occur. In all three cases the antibiotic needed for the eradication of the infection was not on the approved Medicaid list.Read the whole thing.
Each time I was told to fax Medicaid for the approval forms, which I did. Within 48 hours the form came back to me which was sent in immediately via fax, and I was told that I would have my answer in 10 days. Of course by then each child would have been blind in the eye.
Each time the request came back denied. All three times I personally provided the antibiotic for each patient which was not on the Medicaid approved list. Get the point -- rationing of care.
Over the past 35 years I have cared for over 1000 children born with congenital cataracts. In older children and in adults the vision is rehabilitated with an intraocular lens. In newborns we use contact lenses which are very expensive. It takes Medicaid over one year to approve a contact lens post cataract surgery. By that time a successful anatomical operation is wasted as the child will be close to blind from a lack of focusing for so long a period of time.
Kinda scary, isn't it?
It's what Britain and Canada are living with every day...
So it was with great surprise that I read his column about the award of the Nobel Peace prize to Obama. It's a terrific piece that I think is one of the better reactions any commentator has had. A sample:
Here is the speech I hope he will give:But don't miss the whole thing (even if it is at the New York Times).
“Let me begin by thanking the Nobel committee for awarding me this prize, the highest award to which any statesman can aspire. As I said on the day it was announced, ‘I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize.’ Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all.
“But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
“I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi fascism. I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers and sailors who fought on the high seas and forlorn islands in the Pacific to free East Asia from Japanese tyranny in the Second World War.
“I will accept this award on behalf of the American airmen who in June 1948 broke the Soviet blockade of Berlin with an airlift of food and fuel so that West Berliners could continue to live free. I will accept this award on behalf of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who protected Europe from Communist dictatorship throughout the 50 years of the cold war.
“I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who stand guard today at outposts in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan to give that country, and particularly its women and girls, a chance to live a decent life free from the Taliban’s religious totalitarianism.
Nice work, Mr. Freidman!
They're both photos of the same person. The one on the left has had its contrast enhanced. Our brains turn that little bit of information into a cue about gender.
That's one I never would have thought of...
Friday, October 9, 2009
I guess I have a mistaken notion about the Nobel prizes. I've always thought that they were awarded for actually accomplishing something. Evidently I was wrong. Even the Nobel Committee's announcement confirms this:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.So it's the effort that matters, not the accomplishment. This reminds me of the modern approach to education in many school systems, wherein students are assessed not so much on how well the know the material, but rather on the effort they made. It doesn't matter if you get the right answer to a math problem; what matters is whether you tried.
Apparently that's also the case with the Nobel Peace Prize. Only efforts matter. And maybe not even them – I've heard a lot of talk about Obama's efforts, but I'm unaware of any actual efforts he's made. Maybe there are some secret efforts that the Nobel Committee has been briefed on that us mere citizens have not. Or maybe the Nobel Committee has an odd and unexpected sense of humor. Or maybe they're just all crazy.
The latter seems the most likely.
So now Obama joins a long list of other winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Many of these winners are indeed worthy and admirable people of great accomplishment: Mikhail Gorbachev, Elie Wiessel, and Nelson Mandela among them. But there is also an embarrassing list of losers who have won this prize: Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Mohamed ElBaradei, Kofi Annan, and Yassar Arafat. In that context, Obama's selection fits right in.
What a crazy, upside-down world we live in!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Since 1980, satellites have been tracking very precisely the amount of snow and ice in both the arctic regions (north and south). About 90% of all the fresh-water ice in the world is in Antarctica, so of course when the global warmenists talk about ice melting, that's the place of most concern.
If global warming was causing ice to melt, the place where you'd be most worried about it would be Antarctica. Al Gore, in his movie, painted a vivid picture if Antarctica melting and causing the oceans to rise, flooding thousands of islands and coastal cities. We'd better watch that ice carefully!
Well, the data is just in from their most recent summer (remember, the seasons are reversed down there). Marco Tedesco and Andrew Monaghan report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters: for the 2008-2009 summer season, the amount of ice melt was the lowest ever recorded by satellites.
How, er, inconvenient for the warmenist crowd...
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
But now comes word that the speculators were even more correct than they thought. Bill Ayers reportedly claims to have written the book, not merely co-written it. Anne Leary, a conservative blogger from Chicago, posts that she had a chance meeting with Ayers at the airport, and he said:
Then, unprompted he said--I wrote Dreams From My Father. I said, oh, so you admit it. He said--Michelle asked me to. I looked at him. He seemed eager. He's about my height, short. He went on to say--and if you can prove it, we can split the royalties. So I said, stop pulling my leg. Horrible thought. But he came again--I really wrote it, the wording was similar. I said I believe you probably heavily edited it. He said--I wrote it. I said--why would I believe you, you're a liar.Assuming this is a truthful account, that's just stunning – it means Barack Obama the author is a fraud. It means that the public image of Barack Obama – heavily influenced by that book – is a fraud. It means that a domestic terrorist and criminal helped shape our President. It's confirmation of the darkest suspicions voiced by the fringe right.
He had no answer to that. Just looked at me. Then he turned and walked off, and said again his bit about my proving it and splitting the proceeds.
Worst of all, it's utterly shameful...
This is not a new tactic, nor is it something the Republicans can claim innocence on. But it still stinks to high heaven, because there's only one reason why they would do this – the Congressional leadership wants to pass a bill that they know the public (those pesky voters) would object to.
Some assembly required.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
This morning walking the dogs (at 3 am!) was particularly nice. A light haze blanketed the ground, but it was perfectly clear overhead. The near-full moon brightly illuminated the yard, making it easy for Race (our border collie) to run around the yard chasing a stick I threw repeatedly. There's nothing that makes that dog happier than simply chasing that stick...
However, since that time I have corresponded with a fair number of our warriors in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Their comments lead me to believe that this video is a fairer portrayal of our military's attitudes than the critics would have us believe.
So here's the video, and you can make up your own mind about an appropriate reaction:
I agree that reform in health care is necessary at this time. However the proposals that are being presented by our government, I believe, are a total disaster.For what it's worth, all of the MDs I know are unhappy with Obamacare and all the multitude of proposals coming out of Congress. By and large, they agree with Dr. Lyss' on the elements of healthcare that most need reform.
I have downloaded and tried to read the proposals before Congress. I have found, after several hours of reading, that they are totally incomprehensible. Continual reference is made to previous statutes and regulations that are not reasonably accessible to any reasonable person. Not a big surprise because the document is more than 1,000 pages long!
Who wrote this proposal? Clearly not our legislators. I don't know but it was almost certainly a number of “policy wonks” who may or may not reside in the real world most of us live in.
The proposals seem very similar to the systems that significant countries, such as Canada and Great Britain, currently have with all their problems we already know about.
I have a physician friend who has been a consultant on medical issues to multiple nations, including Great Britain, who stated that in the U.S. 30 million people fall through the cracks and that in Great Britain 30 million people are stuffed through the cracks!
So, where should we go from here?
While our medical care system has a large number of problems, many could be made better by the following suggestions:
1) True malpractice reform. Let's not try a demonstration project as President Obama suggests. Let's try a system like, for example, the one that Texas has already instituted. It has very significantly lowered the costs and distortions caused by a runaway malpractice system. These reforms should be instituted nationally.
2) Allow insurance companies to sell their insurance across state lines. This would increase competition in a dramatic way that would benefit all of us with better coverage and lower premiums.
3) Eliminate the ridiculous provision in our tax laws that says deductions for out of pocket medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of our “Adjusted Gross Income” before being deductible from our income. How would you react to a rule that said you could only deduct mortgage interest that was above 7.5 percent of your AGI? How is this so different?
4) Allow medical insurance premiums to be deductible for tax purposes. If you have your medical insurance through your work, the premiums are already deductible for your employer. Why is it different if you don't have coverage through your job and have to buy this insurance yourself?
These actions are certainly not all we need to do but they are important first steps. However, lets not throw out our whole system which works fairly well for at least 85 percent of people who are asked. Let's not try to help the 15 percent by going to an untried idealistic system that is likely to be a disaster for us all.