02 November 2008

Obama or McCain?

My general attitude toward government is that it is, in most cases, part of the problem not the solution. In 2004 I voted for Bush. I did it because I was ill-informed on his policy positions and I saw the Republican party as the party of fiscal restraint. I had just taken 2 economics courses and everything in the world seemed to start making sense.

Bush betrayed me. His administration has led to huge deficits in non-military spending. He has led a horrendously planned and executed war in Iraq. The signs and decisions were already in place in 2004, I just hadn't taken the time to find out the facts. But still, I felt betrayed that the Republican brand had led me so far astray with respect to Bush.

In 2006, I voted for Jim Webb, a Democrat, for Senator of Virginia. To punish the Republicans for misleading me 2 years prior? Yes, a little. But more so because if government is part of the problem, then a divided government can do less harm than one that is run by a supermajority party (see years 2002-2006).

So this brings me to the 2008 Presidential election. However, unlike 2006, my residual feelings of betrayal and my less government philosophy are pulling me in opposite directions this time. A vote for Obama would give me the psychological satisfaction of voting against the Republicans. However, now that the Democrats have and will likely expand upon a large Congressional majority, I am nudged toward McCain to avoid disasterous over expansion of government that is likely to ensue (since McCain can veto all that wasteful spending legislation).

So, since my single vote does not count in any practical way, I plan to vote on principle. It seems the "golden years" of prosperity came during the last Democratic presidency and a Republican congress, so I'll vote that way this election. Obama for President, and Republicans for Congress (i.e., Jim Gilmore for Senate).

What if my vote were desicive, would I vote differently? Perhaps. But even then, I am very socially tolerant and I don't think I could bring myself to vote another George Bush a heartbeat from the presidency (in the guise of Sarah Palin).

In the end Obama will win, I'm guessing he'll probably pick-up around 320 electoral votes, and the Democrats will pick up a decent majority in Congress. In the next four years we'll see a continued large deficit as spending is slightly increased but as taxes are also slightly increased. The Republicans will concede that they've lost their touch with mainstream American and get back to their roots of small government and individual responsibility. And by 2012, we'll have a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, our standing in the world will be much improved, and we'll be moving back toward a more free-trade, less protectionist economy that Obama and the Democrats will likely usher in in the next few years. I guess that is more of a hope than a prediction.

16 October 2008

Boston Legal

I have been on a spate of online TV watching. Heroes, 30rock, Chuck. And now I've come to Boston Legal.

Let me start by saying this is not a show I ever thought I would watch before last week. If the only way available to watch BL was with commercials on TV (alt. univ. w/ no DVR), I'd just go without watching it at all.

Yes BL is absurd. Yes BL is funny. But it is also at least a little bit, about law. And that's where it runs into problems. You see, the juries in BL land are suckers for an emotional hook. I find myself sympathizing with the opponents of the Boston Legal team. The opposing arguments are often very compelling. In fact, if you were to decide the case based on the proceedings up to --but excluding-- the closing arguments, you'd think the show wanted you to go with the opposing side. The BL case is often not supported by the evidence!

But then the star BL lawyer saunters up to the jury and delivers an impassioned closing argument. I can't help but find the moment anti-climatic. It is clear that the audience is supposed to be swayed by this final twist, having appreciated the "human-side" or "spirit" of the law the BL lawyer has to remind the jury of (and us of). I'm sorry, but my verdict would be for the other guy in 4 out of the 4 episodes I've seen (season 5, episodes 1-4).

18 September 2008

Are you feeling well?

I think I have a case of the whichPoliticianIsTellingMoreLies-itis. I assume that politics has always been a race to the bottom, with politicians stretching the truth tighter than a pair of Usain Bolt's spandex on Rosie O'Donnell, but the only reason they get away with it is because we must like seeing Rosie O'Donnell in nasty-tight spandex. Seriously, if anybody says they are proud of how McCain or Obama is running their campaign, I'm going to laugh. Then I going to treat you like a elementary school student, because apparently that is when your mind stopped developing.

17 September 2008

A Balanced Regulatory Meal

A frequent Second Glance commenter has asked for my views on the financial market mess. More specifically he'd like me to reconcile my general disdain for regulation with this disaster which appears to have been caused by a lack of regulation.

I would love to opine at length on the topic, but like many of the shell shocked investment firms out there sitting up to their eyeballs in worthless securitized debt instruments, I don't really know what the heck is going on.

So, as any good libertarian would, I will avoid the direct question by stating a hypothetical that no one can disagree with. Then I will claim that the hypothetical is relevant to the current question, even if the relationship is tenuous. Then I will claim that there was never any paradox to reconcile in the first place. Here it goes:

As we all know, hindsight is 20/20. So my question is "what would we have done differently, if given the chance?" If your answer is, "we should have had the gov't cracked down on predatory lending and the proliferation of high exposure investment instruments," I would just laugh. I'd laugh somewhat nervously, partially because I don't know what the hell that really means. But I'd also laugh because the Monday morning quarterbacking only works until next Sunday.

It seems the golden phrase these days is not more or less regulation but "good regulation." Good regulation is just another way of saying let's make rules which constrain the choices of corporations with the intent to limit harm or provide benefit to some individuals. Unless you have a vendetta against the word "regulation," good regulation doesn't sound so bad, right? Who cares about corporations when the individual is at stake?!

To which I must reply with a platitude because it is so fitting yet never gets considered seriously during the "solution" or regulation proposal phase, that is, "actions often have unintended consequences." Let us say that we enact all the regulation that is supposedly needed to "keep this from ever happening again." My question would be, in the process have we created an even bigger monster, requiring even more regulations to defeat? And where does it end? And if its so good now, why didn't we think so before, and will it be good later?

This is not to say that regulation is never needed, or that it was not needed in this case. It is only to say, that we shouldn't use the fact that voluntary exchange has gone south as a sufficient rationale for enacting regulation. Especially since once in place regulations have a tricky way of making themselves permanent residents. Regulations change the rules of the game. In the new game, maybe we limit the upside by limiting the downside. Maybe it is better to sustain transitory losses, however painfully, to remove the ceiling on growth in the future.

These are a lot of tough questions, and the easy answer is to just enact smart or good regulation. The hard part is figuring out if we are doing less harm than good.

28 June 2008

Kinetic Productivity -- Part II -- Pockets of Productive

Conventional wisdom on productivity lists several reasons for productivity decline, including:

1. Distractions
2. Motivational issues
3. Lack of engery (including mental energy)
4. Lack of tools (spilt coffee on your laptop)

The kinetic productivity analogy goes a long way to unifying these reasons. Unification is valuable because it gives the worker the most leeway in choosing a productivity enhancement plan. For some, motivation is always an issue because they hate their job, for others they get easily distracted by RIF (RSS, IM, Facebook).

So back to the analogy. When in a productivity slump, the analogy suggests that we must do enough work to generate the potential energy to crest the productivity hill. Fine, but how?

There are two ways to get over the hill. One is to build up potential energy by pushing the productivity ball up the hill. The other is to pick a different small hill to climb.

Question: But what energy is used to convert into potential energy (through work). Energy is conserved after all, right?
Answer: Yes, energy is conserved. But energy is constantly flowing back into you when you don't even know it. The problem is having an efficient tool to convert that energy into potential energy (the source of future productivity).

Basically what my theory suggests, is you just have to get out of the slump (whatever way you can) and then you can coast for a while at a high level of productivity. If this sounds like a bunch of hogwash, let me give you an example from my own experience.

One of my biggest productivity drains at night is sleepiness. Big surprise! What I didn't realize is that sleepiness wears off WITHOUT sleep. So the hill I have to climb is sleepiness. If I can get over the sleepiness, I can roll down the hill and be productive for another few hours. I've found that the best way to overcome sleepiness is to wait until your body wants to go to sleep and then and only then start working. Your body will fight you momentarily as you boot up your computer and bring up your spreadsheets, but what your body doesn't realize is that you are breaking down the sleep cycle barrier. You've essentially tricked you mind and body into think it is a new day and it resets a lot of stuff in your brain. Try to think what you did this morning... it will be hard to do!

Okay, so maybe it still sounds like hogwash. And maybe it is. My point is just that you have small burst of productivity and if you can figure out when they usually happen, you can trigger them.

Another example before I leave this pseudo-scientific post. Interestingly enough, I find I get flashes off mental acuity while going to the bathroom. Often this is where I plan much of my day. Don't waste time in the restroom, be productive!

26 June 2008

Kinetic Productivity: Part I -- The Analogy

I learned today that my former co-worker has created a website called PickTheBrain.com. I was browsing some of the articles and came about one on productivity. He suggests utilizing "surges of mental activity" as opposed to forcing our mental activity into a continuous 8 hour block.

This reminded me of an interesting passage by tech whiz Aaron Swartz:
"With all the time you spend watching TV," he tells me, "you could have written a novel by now." It's hard to disagree with the sentiment -- writing a novel is undoubtedly a better use of time than watching TV -- but what about the hidden assumption? Such comments imply that time is "fungible" -- that time spent watching TV can just as easily be spent writing a novel. And sadly, that's just not the case.
In addition to what these gentleman say, I believe I've discovered a little known productivity limiter; bear with me as I coin the phrase "kinetic productivity" with respect to working life. Think back to high school physics when you were working out how much work it would take to get a ball resting at the bottom of a hill up to the top. Once at the top, you can simply roll it down the other side; converting all its potential energy into kinetic energy.

Now think of the kinetic energy as productivity. As long as the ball has kinetic energy (productivty), it can move (get work done). As it rolls along, the forces of friction (work) eventually dissapate the kinetic energy and you are left at the bottom of another hill (low mental activity).

Stay tuned for Part II in which I decode analogy further--defining the hill and methods for climbing it.

16 June 2008

Win a new hard drive... or at least more space

What is the difference between getting a bigger hard drive and creating more space on the one you have. Creating space is cheaper, faster, easier, and more fun!

Windirstat is a free program I ran across today at work when the IT guy told me I should probably free up some space on my hard drive.

I've known for some time that I'd need to do some HD spring cleaning, but I didn't want to take hours searching through folders to find big files that I don't need. So I turned to Google. I Googled something to the effect of, "hard drive space management," and was presented with a most awesome tool (in the process I discovered a totally rad website chock full of other nifty Windows [and mac] utilities, Lifehacker.com).

Basically, windirstat produces a visualization of you hard drive which makes it easy to see what's eating up all that extra space. For me, at home it was a couple video files, duplicated music, and some video games. The easy-to-use interface let's you quickly delete old, dusty files by quickly drilling down into your biggest folders to find the biggest files each contains. So many of these files are unnecessary. With a fast Internet connection you could re-download in no time if you ever needed the file again.

Take a look at the visualization of my HD below:

08 June 2008

Chicken, the Other Green Meat

As human-induced global warming gains more sway on the moral conscience of consumers, you might expect vested interests to come up with sales pitches promising to stretch our greenbacks to their green limit. The "buy local" fad is just one of the "solutions" that help us feel like we are doing our part. Sure it is a little more expensive, but think about the external effects on the planet of the CO2 emissions from shipping strawberries from China -- the other side of the world!

The fact that buying local also supports local agriculture industry also soothes our irrational tribal-biased aversion to foreign competition, perhaps bruised by a recent Hi-Def TV purchase, only serves to raise the issue to the media forefront.

However, by its nature, not its distance to market, is the carbon footprint of food made. According to a recent study,

"A relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same greenhouse gas reduction as eating locally, Weber adds. Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year."

But red meat tastes so good! Of course, that is why we can expect green house gas emissions to continue to rise. As China grows richer, their demand for delicious red meat can be expected to rise (Indians, who are also getting richer, generally don't eat beef, though I'm not sure about other red meats).

Thanks to MR and Ezra Klein for the pointer.

29 May 2008

I'll give you 4 Reasons why Cannabis should be Illegal

This is the post where I finally start to give you the reasons that Cannabis should be illegal. I debunked a lot of the standard arguments in previous posts. Weak. If you really want to keep Marijuana illegal use the following 4 arguments:

1. By keeping marijuana illegal you maintain the stigma which surrounds it. For a teenager to smoke it, he must be breaking the law, i.e., disrespecting authority, and that is attractive to teenagers. By legalizing marijuana you reduce the stigma, which then may transfer to a more dangerous drug.
2. If you make marijuana legal, more people will use it. Classic Law of Demand. Lower the price (consequences), and the quantity demanded will increase, including use by some who were priced out of the market before. If we claim people smoking marijuana is a bad thing, this means more of a bad thing.
3. People smoking marijuana makes other people uncomfortable. It smells weird. People who smoke it act funny. It just makes non-smokers uncomfortable. More smokers means more interaction with non-smokers, leading to more uncomfortable non-smokers.
4. It is hard to prove you are not high. Since the THC is stored in your fat cells, it may be difficult to prove you were not impaired by the substance (even after the 2-3 hour effects had worn off). For example, if you are in a car accident the day after smoking up and weed was found in your car, that may be grounds to test you. If it is found in your system, you could face additional criminal and civil penalties. This assumes that there isn't a BAC-impairment equivalent for marijuana testing (I haven't heard of any). The legislation and litigation that would result from these disputes would further tax the judicial system. This may be partially offset by fewer marijuana possession cases, but the net cost is uncertain.

Could I poke holes in each these arguments? Sure. Can I think of any others? Not at the moment. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

28 May 2008

The Gateway to Hell?

In a previous post we discovered that our position for keeping marijuana illegal is not well supported by the self harm argument.

But what about marijuana being a "gateway" drug to harder drug which cause more deaths or emergency hospital visits? Unfortunately, these statistics don't generally support the Cannibis as a gateway drug theory (see wikipedia's article):
"The people who are predisposed to use drugs and have the opportunity to use drugs are more likely than others to use both marijuana and harder drugs," Morral said. "Marijuana typically comes first because it is more available. Once we incorporated these facts into our mathematical model of adolescent drug use, we could explain all of the drug use associations that have been cited as evidence of marijuana's gateway effect."
In fact, if you want to use the Marijuana gateway drug argument, you have to admit that the ultimate gateway drug is alcohol.
So there are a lot of numbers and they seem to favor marijuana as a substitute to alcohol and tobacco. The question is whether the numbers matter.

We can take several perspectives. The libertarian perspective says that the numbers be damned, it's none of the government's business what individual risks one chooses to take. A utilitarian perspective would say the numbers are everything and would attempt to weigh the benefits to the user against the risks. A liberal would probably attempt to devise government intervention to minimize the pertinent numbers (often neglecting secondary effects). A conservative would probably be interesting in a different set of numbers than the liberal, relying tradition and morality to justify the current prohibition.

Considering the relatively low risk of self harm, little correlation with external harm, the high cost of enforcement, and the claimed pleasurable benefits, we'll need to delve deeper into the conservative perspective in order to find arguments against legalizing marijuana.

Stay tuned as we don our bow ties and smoking caps and determine why marijuana should be illegal!

08 May 2008

The deadliest dope is legal

I think it is widely known that tobacco and alcohol cause more deaths than any other substance. In fact, tobacco causes about 440,000 deaths a year and alcohol about 80,000. This complicates our search for why marijuana should be illegal, considering marijuana, depending on your definition of "directly causes," causes between 0 and 21 deaths per year (search cannabis). But let's give it a go anyhow.

21 deaths isn't 0. So technically it is possible to overdose on cannabis (then again, maybe not, 2nd source). And there are other forms of harm other than outright death due to overdose. Behavior alteration can increase the likelihood of dangerous activity. One source claims marijuana users have a 30% greater risk of injury. Again, unfortunately, this risk is even greater for alcohol and tobacco, according to the source. So we must search elsewhere.

What about emergency department (ED) visits? This is a good proxy for harm (real or perceived) of non-fatal exposure to marijuana. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2003, marijuana was involved in 79,663, or nearly 13 percent, of all drug-related ED visits. That sounds significant, except that with 25,231,000 admitted users of marijuana in 2003, 99.7% did not go have an emergency hospital visit (and this assumes each visit was a different person). This is comparable to the 99.9% for alcohol, especially considering that you have to be breaking the law to use marijuana, and are thus probably more risk-tolerant.

So physical danger to one's self is a weak crutch to use in our quest for justifying keeping marijuana illegal.

But what if it is a gateway drug? Tune if for the next episode.


The media's love for Obama's causes CNN to disregard one of the 4 arithmetic operations which has served mankind for millennia; that is, subtraction.

In classical mathematics: 267-250=17
In Obamathematics: 267-250=7

See it here:

14 April 2008

21st Century Faith-Healing

By now, many of you may have heard that Airborne doesn't work... unless you believe.

This morning I found myself in a paradoxical situation. I had both "the first signs of a cold" namely, a mild sore throat, and half a container of the useless vitamin effervescent, Airborne. I say "useless" because I don't believe in it. I wish I did!

I don't believe because I read the article which exposes Airborne's "double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study" as a shame 2-man operation by an Airborne subsidiary created for the sole purpose of conducting the study. Before I learned of its baseless science, I believed Airborne might just work based on some cloudy notion that things like high doses of Vitamin C and Zinc reduce the duration and severity of colds (probably a rumor started by the supplement companies themselves).

In any event, I had half a container of what might as well have been drink flavoring. So did I take it? Darn right I did. Why? Because I wanted to see if I could will myself to believe in the health benefits of a placebo.

Did it work?

Um... all I can say is I'm feeling pretty good. Of course that isn't saying much. Isn't it convenient that they say it is "most effective" if taken at the first signs of a cold. They are the "first signs" because you don't know if it will turn into a cold or not. If it was a false alarm, but you took Airborne, you may be inclined to believe the magic little pill made you all better. If you get sick, you might be inclined to ponder how sick YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN if you hadn't taken the little guys.

10 April 2008

Why Should Marijuana be Illegal?

Type the title into Google and prepare to be underwhelmed.

In fact, there was so few search results with content on why marijuana should be illegal, I half expected Google to come back with Did you mean: why marijuana should be legal?

I intend to start a mini-series of posts on why marijuana should be illegal. I'll get into the statistics and explore hypotheticals, but first let me lay down a foundation for my analysis and commentary. In my mind, the most obvious question which must be addressed is "why should any activity be illegal?"

Nearly every law is justified by claiming that the activity either causes (or risks) harm to the participant or to others (non-participants). This harm can be physical, monetary, or emotional. I'll address all three in subsequent posts. As we'll see, drug legislation is full of contradictions, so how do we find out what is dank and what is swag? Stay tuned!

03 April 2008

The Perfect Temperature for Disaster

I just realized how we drink from a mug (or cup) without looking at the liquid it contains. We use the temperature differential of the liquid and our mouth to feel when it has reached our mouth and thus, when we should cease tilting the mug upward.

This all came to me as I found myself with a nice splash of green tea on my pants after taking a sip while reading an e-mail. Having let the tea cool, it had reached the temperature of my mouth and thus I just kept tilting upward until... disaster.

FAQ: Didn't I feel the pressure of the liquid as it entered my mouth?
A: No, I was distracted.

02 April 2008

CNN -- Not my source for math

I found what I think is an error in this CNN article on jet fuel prices. The article makes the following two claims:

1. "Jet fuel, which the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration tracked at $3.17 per gallon in New York on Tuesday, has doubled since the beginning of 2007."
2. "Jet fuel is at $3.17 per gallon, according to the Energy Department, up 200 percent from 2007."

My complaint is that "doubled" is not the same as "up 200 percent," because the latter sounds like "200% more than." If you said that jet fuel is up 100 percent from 2007, would you think that the price had stayed the same!!!

I'm operating under the following assumptions:

Given X is Fuel Prices in 2007
"Double X" = 2X
"Up 200 percent" = X + 2.00*X = 3X
"200 percent of X" = 2.00*X = 2X

Accordingly, I think CNN should have said, "Jet fuel is at... 200 percent of its 2007 level," or alternatively, "up 100 percent from 2007."

What do you think?! By the way I did check the underlying numbers and verified that the fuel levels today are 2X. Also, I have a little evidence from the site (taken 31 Mar 08):

20 March 2008

Check for the neck!

After a weekend party and a week of carry-out, I have trash bags full of recyclable and non-recyclable materials. The question is, which is which?

To the rescue is the Fairfax County website. It even has a catchy slogan ("Check for the Neck") complete with the recycling logo done up in what appears to be giraffe fur (is that legal?). According to the website, if they get too much "trash" in the recycling, they have to throw out the whole lot. My roommate, Mike*, made a good point - why not put this information on the bin itself?

Oh, and for my Arlington County readers, see this. Though, if you don't have curbside pick-up (for example, you live in an apartment complex) you should check with your apartment management.

*Also my step-dad

16 March 2008

Don't Leave Out Carry-out

I'm fending for myself meal-wise this week. This has meant frequent visits to Pho Reston 75 and Yoko Sushi.

To avoid eating alone in public (a deeply rooted socially unacceptable way to eat), I opt for carry-out. As such, I was left wondering if I should tip, and how much.

When I dine-in at these restaurants, I tip. When I dine-in at McDonald's, I don't. So perhaps it is the wait-staff coming to the table that I am tipping when I dine-in (the analogy extends to the pizza delivery guy as well). Under this paradigm I shouldn't when I carry-out.

Well, I wouldn't necessarily be correct, according to Ask Yahoo:
Phyllis Richman, a restaurant critic for the Washington Post, says that she doesn't usually tip at a carryout establishment, although she may add something to the jar on the counter. But if she is getting a meal to go from a sit-down restaurant, she will tip up to 10%.
Tipping culture is so arbitrary!!! The 15-20% tip is so ingrained in me, that even for carry-out I feel bad tipping less, especially when paying by credit card because then you get that receipt with the "tip" line with the 10,15,20, and 25% tip calculations printed on it. That line is ingenious... it guilts me into tipping more than the "measly 10%" almost every time.

A notable exception: If the kitchen is right behind the counter, as at McDonald's (and at Plaka Grill), I find it easier not to tip on carry-out than I do when the kitchen is hidden from view.

07 March 2008

Out of Focus

To me this Ford Focus commercial misses the mark.

It shows two guys about to embark on a long trip to Los Angeles. The owner of the Ford Focus offers to split the costs of the trip, "Ill buy the gas, you buy the food?" The passenger happily agrees.

The driver then goes on to take full advantage of this deal by clearing the shelves at a roadside convenience store and ordering a tall stack of pancakes at a roadside diner.

I thought the point of the commercial was to say that the Focus gets such good gas mileage that you don't pay much for gas (hence the split working in favor of the driver in the commercial). Unfortunately, the driver bought so much food that it is almost as if he needed to be sure he got the better end of the deal, because, one could be led to believe, he is spending most of his paycheck on the gas guzzling Focus. I'd understand if this was a commercial for the F150, but not the company's most fuel efficient vehicle!

03 March 2008

MS Paint does Subprime Mortgage Primer

This PowerPoint cartoon summarizes everything you need to know about how the subprime mortgage crisis went down. Beware, the language is as poor as the companies that bought those subprime mortgage-backed securities!

HT: EconLog

01 March 2008

Why Chris Craighill should not start a blog!

Comments on my blog may decrease by 100%...

29 February 2008

“Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,”

An Argentine expression, meaning, "I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why." That's from an excellent article by Alvaro Llosa called The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand.
No man is without some redeeming qualities. In the case of Che Guevara, those qualities may help us to measure the gulf that separates reality from myth. His honesty (well, partial honesty) meant that he left written testimony of his cruelties, including the really ugly, though not the ugliest, stuff...
In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his “Message to the Tricontinental”: “hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.”
See also: A list of people Che had executed
Just to keep things linked up, see also, a past blog on Communism and Che

26 February 2008

Now do you believe? -Morpheus

He's the One. And by he, I mean 0.999...

When I first encountered the seeming paradox, in 9th grade, that 0.999...=1, my mind was "blown." I kept wanting to say, "Yeah, it is close to one... but it is not identical." I mean, if it were true, my whole world view would be shaken. On Judgement Day, I could justify zoning out during a looong Sunday School class on Isiah with the argument... "I really wanted to pay attention. Really really wanted to. So technically I was paying attention... 0.999...=1, as you well know Mr. God."

Of course, I really just didn't understand infinity... or Isiah for that matter. For lost souls, like me, Wikipedia comes to the rescue. I like the simplest definitions best:

\begin{align} 0.333\dots          &= \frac{1}{3} \\ 3 \times 0.333\dots &= 3 \times \frac{1}{3} = \frac{3 \times 1}{3} \\  0.999\dots          &= 1 \end{align}

An even easier version of the same proof is based on the following equations:

\begin{align} \frac{9}{9} &= 1 \\ \frac{9}{9} &= 9 \times \frac{1}{9} = 9 \times 0.111\dots = 0.999\dots \end{align}

But, behold, Wikipedia lists many others as well that range from infinite series (something that I know something about) to Cauchy sequences (of which I know nothing).

Note: The Wikipedia article also has a good section on why students often reject the equality of 0.999... and 1. My favorite:
Some students interpret "0.999…" (or similar notation) as a large but finite string of 9s, possibly with a variable, unspecified length. If they accept an infinite string of nines, they may still expect a last 9 "at infinity".

The Power of Obama Compels YOU!!!!

I mean this is bound to happen, but seriously... Obama should get EMT training. Heck, I'd say he is on pace for an honorary certificate by the time the general election comes around.

See also: Why having a cult following isn't a problem. Basically, it worked for Bush.

08 February 2008

Color Illusions

Seeing is NOT believing.

If you don't believe the masks provided by the artist... you can always use a photo editor.

05 February 2008

World War III will be Humans vs. Zombies (guess which side you're on)

I've recently taken interest in the apocalyptic genre of movies/books. Whether it be by cosmic forces (Deep Impact), climate change (The Day After Tomorrow), a deadly virus (I am Legend, 28 Days Later, etc.), or aliens (Cloverfield, Hitchhiker's Guide 2tU), the idea of being among the few remaining is intriguing, even if the movies rarely live up to their potential. If any of these outlandish scenarios came to pass, more than likely you and I would be one of the zombies, or the guys that got crushed by the Statue of Liberty's head, rather than one of the heroes.

World War Z is an entertaining look at what a zombified world might look like. It is a collection of stories about the wars beginnings, its terrible carnage, and its final resolution, as recounted by those who survived. Max Brooks writes in a incredibly engaging style that gives an old B-movie genre fresh legs (or rotten ones). It is utterly believable, if you can get over the whole zombie thing, which many of the books characters find difficult themselves (a deadly mistake). Highly recommended as an intelligent and fresh bit of sci fi!

Okay, am I done with book reviews yet?

04 February 2008

Why is chicken meat white and beef red?

The quick n' dirty here. Basically, it comes down to myoglobin,
Red, or dark meat is made up of slow-twitch [muscles]. These muscles are used for extended periods of activity, such as standing or walking, and need a consistent energy source. The protein myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells, which use oxygen to extract the energy needed for constant activity.

White meat is made up of fast-twitch [muscles]. These muscles are used for quick bursts of activity, such as fleeing from danger. These muscles get energy from glycogen, which is also stored in the muscles.

In dark meat, myoglobin helps us determine when cooked meat is done
When dark meat is cooked, myoglobin's color changes depending on what the meat's interior temperature is. Rare beef is cooked to 140° F, and myoglobin's red color remains unchanged. Above 140° F, myoglobin loses its ability to bind oxygen, and the iron atom at the center of its molecular structure loses an electron. This process forms a tan-colored compound called hemichrome, which gives medium-done meat its color. When the interior of the meat reaches 170° F, hemichrome levels rise, and the myoglobin becomes metmyoglobin, which gives well-done meat its brown-gray shade.
In white meat, again it is protein that helps us tell if it is done, but since there is little myoglobin, we use another mechanism to tell if it's done

White meat has a translucent "glassy" quality when it is raw. When it's cooked, the proteins denature and recombine, or coagulate, and the meat becomes opaque and whitish.

29 January 2008

Follet is Back for Foreal

I'm usually wary of the sequel. It is so often a let down. The essence of the original is... well, original and it is that originality which makes it such a joy.

It is a rarity that I find a book that I enjoyed as much as The Pillars of the Earth. I suffered mixed emotions as I came to the end of the 1000 page masterpiece. On the one hand I wanted the thrills to go on. On the other hand I realized that reading an average of 150 pages/night left me feeling a little consumed (read: addicted).

I read Code to Zero, another Ken Follet novel, right after Pillars and I was left underwhelmed.

So I was inclined to chalk up Pillars to a fluke. Never-the-less, I approached the sequel, World without End, with an open mind. Another 1000 pager, it certainly had a little bit of a formulaic feel after Pillars, but it is much more than an attempt to ride the coattails of the first. It hit the spot like a fix just after rehab. Thanks, Ken... let's just not wait another 18 years for the next one, okay?

State of the Anachronism

The State of the Union address is a peculiar American tradition. Or, more aptly, a peculiar American law? After all it is required by Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution.

It is not quite a ceremony and not quite a speech. It is... an address. It is also really awkward, if you haven't noticed:

1. There are no, or very few surprises. The gist of the address is passed to the press beforehand. But unlike traditional ceremonies the verbatim script isn't available beforehand. As such...
2. The opposing party never quite knows when to applaud and when to moan. This is one of those events where you get judged not just on whether you clap or not but whether you stood to clap or yawned while clapping. You have to be on your toes, because...
3. The President uses turns of phrase to try to trick you into clapping, or by your not clapping, make you look insensitive. Since there is no rebuttal until after the entire speech is over and the President has signed 100 or more of those little pamphlets that don't close all the way, the attention depraved public sees only your immediate response to the Presidents remarks. You're either with him or against him.

So I've come up with a couple suggestions, especially if you are one of those important people that the camera pans to while the President talks about your issue:

1. Don't read the pamphlet. You look like you are either bored or sleeping.
2. Be prepared to clap. If you wait until everyone else on your side of the aisle starts, you look like a reactionary.
3. After the address, have your pamphlet ready and push your way to the ailse as the President leaves. Then go straight home to Ebay... wait there are already 100 of those things for sale. Darn it!

15 January 2008

Be specific, General general

I don't learn something new everyday. Today I did.

If you have 50 states, each with an Attorney General, you have 50 Attorneys General, not 50 Attorney Generals. I didn't realize until I heard "Attorneys General" on the radio today, that 'general' in this instance means the opposite of 'specific', not a military commander. I did know it was not a military post, but I always thought that it just had an antiquated name, perhaps because it was established back when the attorney was a general in the military or something. And that fact that we often talk about the Attorney General or the Surgeon General of the United States, there is no need to use the plural.

By the way, I saw someone smoking today... I wonder what past Surgeons General would have to say about that!