29 September 2006

I'd have travelled farther with a greater amount of gasoline if not for the incident

I love the usage notes on Dictionary.com. Previously, I posted on minimal. Although it is missing minimal, this site has tons of other interesting common english usage errors.

27 September 2006

In this line of work, "Shortcuts" are "Pivotal"

My official title is Simulation Modelling Engineer, but I think I'm going to start telling people I am an air traffic consultant. And as with nearly all consultants, my best friend is the spreadsheet. My poison is Excel, but any old spreadsheet will do. Oh, that is, if it has pivot tables. I think of it sort of as a lite database where you pick all the attributes you want to look at and you string together queries using pull-down menus.

So, here's to you pivot tables. I think you might deserve one of those Budweiser commercials. But if not, rest assured you have increase my productivity greatly.

In fact, right now I'm on a little productivity enhancement mission. I printed out the Excel shortcut list and have dedicated myself to learning them as I go about my spreadsheeting.

In fact there are no shortage of Excel tips and tricks services to help you boost your productivity using what can otherwise be a somewhat frustrating tool (see here and Mr. Excel's Podcast here).

An economic theory of clubs

And yes, I am actually referring to James Buchanan's seminal work which among other things describes the optimal size of a club. His response could very well have been

Weight: 7.5 ounces (213 g)
Length: 20.25 Inch (514 mm)
Diameter: 3.25 Inch (83 mm)

And now you see that I am also talking about juggling clubs. More precisely a club of club jugglers. How valuable is an e-mail account if you're the only one with one? Like e-mail accounts, where if your friends, family, co-workers, etc., have them, then having one yourself become more valuable, having people around that can juggle, makes juggling skills more valuable. The more people in the network, the more people with whom you can interact using that medium.

Now in a club there is an upper limit on the number of people, beyond which additional members are a burden on the club. For example, in a secret club that upper limit is lower because additional members bring additional risk of spilling the beans. However, when it is a juggling club, and so far there is only one member, you really don't worry about upper limits much. Now, I'm no longer as blindly optimistic as my high school class believed back in 2002, but it costs me very little to advertise via this medium, and if I get just one member, it would be worth it! Gosh, I sound like such a spammer.

Basically, I'm looking for people interested in juggling, including learning to juggle. If you need convincing, here is a rather unconvincing list of reasons you should pick up the balls and give them a whirl:

1. Juggling is great exercise... if you do it while you are running.
2. Juggling brings people together... if you count throwing stuff at people bringing them together.
3. Juggling sharpens the mind... especially if you juggle knives before you're ready.
4. Juggling makes people fear and respect you... clowns juggle, case in point.
5. Juggling relieves depression... (if you don't think about the fact that you can never win; you can alway add one more ball.)

15 September 2006

Great TV

Everybody, including me, has their shows that they love to watch on TV. 24, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Good Eats (haha, yes!), etc. etc. But if you are willing to sit through an hour or 45 minutes for one of those shows, I implore you, I implore you, please sit through just 30 minutes with Milton Friedman if you have not yet done so. If you do and are not impressed, I cannot imagine why you read this blog. If you do and are impressed you will have gained a better understanding of what motivates me to write this blog.

12 September 2006

Why haven't we been attacked again yet?

This is a good article, which proposes several reason why we haven't endured another terrorist attack on US soil. And none are the standard ones offered up by the government. Here are a couple good excerpts

Instead, Americans are told -- often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks -- that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the United States is owed to the protective measures so hastily and expensively put in place after 9/11. But there is a problem with this argument. True, there have been no terrorist incidents in the United States in the last five years. But nor were there any in the five years before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the United States was doing much less to protect itself. It would take only one or two guys with a gun or an explosive to terrorize vast numbers of people, as the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., demonstrated in 2002.


It may well have become more difficult for terrorists to get into the country, but, as thousands demonstrate each day, it is far from impossible. Immigration procedures have been substantially tightened (at considerable cost), and suspicious U.S. border guards have turned away a few likely bad apples. But visitors and immigrants continue to flood the country. There are over 300 million legal entries by foreigners each year, and illegal crossings number between 1,000 and 4,000 a day -- to say nothing of the generous quantities of forbidden substances that the government has been unable to intercept or even detect despite decades of a strenuous and well-funded "war on drugs."


It is also sometimes suggested that the terrorists are now too busy killing Americans and others in Iraq to devote the time, manpower, or energy necessary to pull off similar deeds in the United States. But terrorists with al Qaeda sympathies or sensibilities have managed to carry out attacks in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the past three years; not every single potential bomb thrower has joined the fray in Iraq.

They aren't jihadists, they are mujahidin

Stop calling the terrorists "jihadists." Doing so inadvertently lends legitamacy to their cause in the eyes of the arab speaking world. This is an interesting primer on common terms used by the media and the adminstration that are not helping our "war on terror." I found it here, an interesting article about our pessimism with respect to beating the terrorists. It offers insight into why we have reason to be more optimistic. An no, it is not because things are going well in Iraq or Afganistan (see any major new source).

The 10th dementia

I don't remember specifically when I first gained a good conception of what 3 dimensions meant, but I think soon thereafter I must have wondered how to make a fourth dimension. But how frustrating! No matter where I drew an additional line, it was already covered in the 3 dimensional space. How could I escape this prision! Well it turns out that even as I screamed this in my head I had escaped. I had travelled along the forth dimension as I sat thinking how to draw a line in the fourth dimension. Sooner or later I came to understand time as the fourth dimension. I had a vague idea that higher dimensions related to lower ones in much the same way, however I could not tell you how many dimensions exist or what any above the fourth were.

Enter this great flash animation. It goes a little quickly but if you can wrap your head around it, it is really cool to think about. Just think of the higher dimensions as the ability to fold the lower dimensions. Now I know why there can't be more than 10 dimensions!

Hat tip to AT at MR

07 September 2006

Facebook News Feeds

To the general audience who does not participate in the facebook phenomenon, sorry, there is too much back story to fill you in. For everyone else, you are obviously aware of the new facebook feature and the uproar which surrounds it. Here is a sample I just pulled from my feed
XXXX YYYY is no longer in a relationship. 9:23 pm
WWWW ZZZZ just posted a picture to a group. Utah Conservatives. 9:16 pm
The majority of the complaints claim the feature has made facebook more stalker-esque. If fact dozens of new facebook groups have popped up overnight begging Mark Zuckerberg to remove the feature or at least allow users to disable it if they'd like. With the news feed it is now much easier to see what your "friends" are doing. The problem is that many of your "friends" are not really your friends. Some are casual acquantinces or casual acquantinces of your friends which may only be acquantices. It is generally considered bad manners to reject a friend request unless you really dislike or do not at all know the person -- "what, they are not good enough to be your friend."

In my opinion facebook's popularity is derived partly from people's voyeristic desire to see what others are upto, including people they know only through a picture and an "about me" section. The cost of digging through everyones profile and pictures to get the "goods" on that person were relatively high. Now all the information is summarized for you whenever you log in. This has drammatically changed the rules of the game. When friends can be anybody, you have to watch your back a little better. Judging from the backlash in the community, people will generally post less personal information and pictures. And, if Zuckerberg doesn't address the demands soon, some people may soon find themselves with fewer "friends." This is probably a good thing.

04 September 2006

And what about before THAAAAAT!?

I remember in eighth grade I gave my physical science teacher a hard time during the lesson on the size of the universe. I asked something like, "yeah but what is right beyond the edge of the universe?" She may not have been able to answer definitively because the answer depends on the theory of the universe that you ascribe to. While there may not be 100% consensus on this issue, I think most would agree that it is "knowable." I think.

What I don't think is knowable is the origin of matter, energy, etc. I'm not talking about the origin of the universe or the Earth or that. You might point to God or the Big Bang or another popular theory. But regardless of which theory you ascribe to you have to ask, what was the initial condition. And if you ascribe to that initial condition, what came BEFORE it? You might say that time did not exist before the universe and therefore neither did cause and effect. You might further point to quantum physics as some loop hole that can allow for the universe to come from nothing, caused by nothing. You may point to string theory, and other theories that nobody really understands.

But I find those "explanations" pretty lame. Maybe because I am not intelligent or initiated enough to understand them. Or maybe because they don't satisfy my 3/4ish-D understanding (meaning that even if super-intelligent entities explained it to me, I would not comprehend them). But I think I find them lame because the answer isn't knowable. I personally don't find the question very essential to daily life, because I don't think we'll be getting it any time soon (read: ever).

Crocodile Hunter dies

When he first gained fame, I enjoyed watching Steve Irwin's adventures --chasing poisonous snakes, komodo dragons, but most memorably, jumping into dark murky water to wrestle crocodiles into submission. In fact, I am amazed the ol' croc hunter lived as long as he did. He was obviously in a very risky business. I probably wouldn't have lasted through one week of the show, but Irwin was a pro. Pros are supposed to be invincible, especially when they are taking on the risk voluntarily to make a TV program. But since there are so few of these guys, even in a risky business, with a high death rate, you don't hear of them dying ever day.

His last words on film were probably, "Crikey, that ray jumped up an' nicked me. Oh, he got me good." Irwin, rest in peace.