Monday, January 31, 2005

Embryonic Stem Cells into Neurons

Scientific American today: Scientists Switch Stem Cells into Neurons

Just think of all the great results we'd have if we didn't have the president we do? Just think...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Gitmo Interrogation

Apparently some of the interrogation methods they used at Gitmo involved female private contractors interrogating suspected Muslim terrorists while in short skirts. During the interrogation, they would take off their shirts and rub their breasts (not necessarily bare) against the backs of the individuals being interrogated. One of the other methods involved rubbing a red blood-like substance all over the faces of the men being interrogated, telling them that it was menstral blood, and then refusing them showers until they talked.

Now, while this is pretty awful... I guess the brighter side is that none of it involves physical harm. None of it involves physical "torture." So that makes it right, right? Kind of makes you wonder about all forms of interrogation... (images of 24 come to mind)

Jenn's a Whore

So apparently today Jenn read my Oral Sex is the New 3rd Base! post and commented on it. Jenn's comments included the following.

When you told me this the other day, I thought you were trying to come on to me. Huh. Interesting stuff.

<blink> What?!!

So, if the bases are redefined as such, does that mean "going all the way" is now also known as "contracting venereal disease?" Oy vey. I have to say, though: I'd rather have 1st Base be kissing than having my ankle see the light of day. This is also because I'm a whore, so my comment may mean nothing.

A couple of comments...

  • Hasn't 1st base always been kissing?

  • How does Jenn's ankle have anything to do with this?

  • How does Jenn's ankle possibly enter into an alternate first base?
Silly New Yorker.

You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this UGLY song is about you

So last night on FCUK FM, DJ's Tom and Poppy had a top ten "cuss word" songs. They were the top ten songs you would play to someone you wanted to say "bugger off" to, or something like that. (silly Brits)

Anyway, one of them was the Carly Simon, "You're So Vain."

However, almost right after that they played "Ugly" by Daphne & Celeste. It was an interesting contrast. If you've never heard this song, it's a poppy fast bubble gum heart attack song you'd expect to be sung by a cheerleadering group (a mean set of cheerleaders).

The lyrics include the following... (emphasis added)
You got eyes like a pig and your nose is big
And with hair like that you should be wearing a wig
Uncle fester remember him? I never knew that you had a twin
You can't disguise your googly eyes
In the miss ugly pageant you win first prize
Yo mama says you ugly -
You ugly!

U.G.L.Y you ain't got no alibi you ugly eh! Hey! You ugly!

Quite a contrast from Carly Simon.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Winamp is Amazing

So FCUK's audio stream was only playing in Windows Media Player because it uses an ASX stream, and I was upset about that. I like Winamp a lot.

I was especially upset to see that Media Player couldn't put its visualization on my background. Now, I didn't know Winamp could do this, but I thought that both should be able to.

So I went on-line to see if there was a way for me to get ASX's to play in Winamp, and it turns out they can (with a very simple modification to the ASX file).

Anyway, it turns out Winamp CAN put the visualization on the background, which is very cool. Now, the other cool thing is that Winamp's visualization engine (specifically the mlik one) is REALLY GREAT **ESPECIALLY** when compared to Media Player. I'm REALLY impressed.

So now as I work my desktop pulses to my music as I work. I'm sure my officemates will be excited.

Little Black Lies

Krugman (NYTIMES): Little Black Lies
Social Security privatization really is like tax cuts, or
the Iraq war: the administration keeps on coming up with
new rationales, but the plan remains the same. President
Bush's claim that we must privatize Social Security to
avert an imminent crisis has evidently fallen flat. So
now he's playing the race card.

Let's start with the facts. Mr. Bush's argument goes
back at least seven years, to a report issued by the
Heritage Foundation - a report so badly misleading that
the deputy chief actuary (now the chief actuary) of the
Social Security Administration wrote a memo pointing out
"major errors in the methodology." That's actuary-speak for
"damned lies."

Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get
from Social Security turns out, according to various
calculations, to be either about the same as that for
whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly
do better than either.

So the claim that Social Security is unfair to blacks is
just false. And the fact that privatizers keep making that
claim, after their calculations have repeatedly been shown
to be wrong, is yet another indicator of the fundamental
dishonesty of their sales pitch.

The persistent gap in life expectancy between
African-Americans and whites is one measure of the deep
inequalities that remain in our society - including highly
unequal access to good-quality health care. We ought to
be trying to diminish that gap, especially given the fact
that black infants are two and half times as likely as
white babies to die in their first year.

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How good it feels to be a 5...

You Are the Investigator


You're independent - and a logical analytical thinker.

You love learning and ideas... and know things no one else does.

Bored by small talk, you refuse to participate in boring conversations.

You are open minded. A visionary. You understand the world and may change it.

Microsoft Scare Tactic

A quote from the article :
"The bad thing is that the piracy is obviously a problem," he said, "but the positive thing for Microsoft is that if that happened with open source, there would be no easy way to get around the problem. In this case, a proprietary product has an advantage because it can be authenticated."

This of course makes no sense at all because PIRACY ITSELF is not a problem with open source software.

The article is about Microsoft requiring people to register for Windows updates. For now, even unregistered users can get security patches. Eventually even that will go away. Thus, Microsoft will CAUSE more security problems when the REFUSE to fix pirated copies of their buggy software.

[ And yes, Bill Gates is a Bush supporter. ]

By the time Microsoft starts requiring registration for even CRITICAL updates, they'll have an anti-virus program in the market.

Realizing that most of their software will be unregistered and therefore VULNERABLE to *LOTS* of attacks, it makes sense that they'll start selling a lower priced anti-virus tool that will bully all the competition out of the market.

Just like the virus writer who made a fortune off of his Vacsina anti-virus program that cleaned his own viruses, Microsoft will make a fortune off of each bug they release into the public.

So what's Microsoft saying? Register now for "protection" or take a major hit and have to pay us anyway to fix your computer. Either way, Microsoft makes money. It's extortion.

Gates and Balmer are nothing more than mobsters. We need modern day "untouchables" to go out and put them in jail.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Chewing Gum

I just heard a song called "Chewing Gum" by Annie off of her Anniemal album. Its lyrics are pretty silly. You see, the chewing gum thing is a metaphor.

I don't really understand the "helps me keep my teeth clean" thing... For one, a lot of chewing gum probably DOES NOT do that. Secondly, what are the guys doing that are keeping her mouth clean?

[ that last comment reminds me of the time my behavioral ecology teacher was talking about some insects and in response to a question that someone had, mentioned that the most of the seminal fluid ends up the female's digestive track, which is something everyone in the class knew, but it was the way he said it... the way it came up... I think it was in the middle of relating some behavior to what we see in humans... it just seemed like he just made an off color joke ]

Here are the lyrics. I've added some emphasis on the key parts.

Hey Annie
Girl look at you
Is that a new boy stuck on your shoe

Come on Annie
how is it so
Youve always got a new bubble to blow

Im gonna tell ya how its gonna get done
Im just a girl thats only chewing for fun
You spit it out when all the flavour has gone
Wrap it round your finger like your playing with gum


oh no
oh no
youve got it all wrong
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no
oh no
A slip of the tongue
i think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no

Come hey Annie
you used to be
The only girl to take it seriously
Come on Annie
Tell us your trick
On how you keep on getting boys to stick
Okay ill tell you why you,ll never love gum
Its my selection its my pick of the pack
Im hooked on im the chewing machine
It makes me smile and keeps my teeth clean

oh no
oh no
Youve got it all wrong
i think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no
oh no
A slip of the tongue
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum

oh no
oh no
Youve got it all wrong
i think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no
oh no
your not the one
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum


I dont wanna settle down
I just wanna have fun
I dont want to settle down
I just wanna chew gum

I dont wanna settle down
I just wanna have fun
I dont want to settle down
I just wanna chew gum

oh no
oh no
youve got it all wrong
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no
oh no
A slip of the tongue
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum

oh no
oh no
youve got it all wrong
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum
oh no
oh no
your not the one
I think you think your chocolate when your chewing gum

La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la


She Caught Me in Her Venus Fly Trap

So finally someone has figured out exactly how venus fly traps close so quickly.

Secret of the Venus Fly Trap Revealed

I think that's really cool.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Oral Sex is the New 3rd Base!

Katie Couric did a special on teens and sex tonight.

It turns out the bases have been redefined!!

1st Base: Kissing
2nd Base: Making Out
3rd Base: Oral Sex

I feel **OLD**.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Astrophysicist at Columbia

Stephanie e-mailed me today. She must have been talking to Kristen, because she asked me about the Foraging Theory book, and there's no possible way that news could have gotten to her through anyone but Kristen.

The last time I e-mailed Stephanie was during undergrad. There was a volley of about three e-mails. I think I sent her a hello. She sent me a response telling me about her undergrad research, and in it she mentioned not having a complete grasp of something about the surface magnetic currents on cool stars (like our sun). So for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to explain it to her (even though I (probably obviously) didn't know this off the top of my head and had to research it myself).

So that was a typical long e-mail from me. Then I didn't hear from her after that. I'm hoping it was just because the e-mail was too long to deal with and not because the e-mail was a pompous waste of time and "e-breath."

The last time I actually talked to Stephanie in person has got to be high school. In fact, it might be her high school going away (or birthday?) party. I met her sister there too (can't place the name now)... She was studying web design in college for some reason, so Stephanie mentioned she should talk to me. I probably was too helpful to be anything but creepy, and that's the last I heard from either of the T's.

Alright, so in high school (and in middle school too? we both were on the high school math bus in 8th grade, I think...) I got a kick out of talking to Stephanie in class. During those four years, she was #1 in our class for at least one or two of them, and I was confident that she was the only one who actually deserved it. She was brilliant and extremely social. I just got a kick out of talking to her. She had good stories about her family, and she had really great mean things to say about the rest of the people in our classes. Always a good time. I only hope she thought something similar of me. Otherwise, Stephanie and I really didn't know much about each other. We had different friends. I was usually dating Kelly or Angie or Lauren or someone at the time, and (as Kristen frequently reminds me) she was dating some guy who I don't think I even knew (probably some college boy).

So I really respected Stephanie. And I was sad to lose touch with her. And thus, the e-mail that led to the surface magnetic currents on cool stars like our sun...

So she e-mails me today asking me about the book and why on EARTH I would stay at Ohio State for graduate school (she's at Columbia, and she came from SWARTHMORE... ). So I responded, and I tried to be brief, and I *TRIED* not to sound like a pompous ass... and I TRIED to ask questions that would give me information about how she's doing and what she's doing and what she did between undergrad and grad school...

But I forgot to even say anything about the weather. She's going to school at COLUMBIA and I forgot to say any sort of "Good luck in the snow" or something...

But, oh well...

I used to have so many smart, interested, interesting, independent, thoughtful people around me. I miss people like Stephanie and Erin (and even Kristen when she's feeling deep and not simply looking for a man to marry). (yes, Jenn, you too, but you're grouped a little differently) And why are all these names female? Maybe that's a dumb question. Or maybe I'm just overlooking names like Miles... and... John? Shawn?

Bed time for Teddie.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Girls Suck at Math (or do they?)

Something on gender differences... (response to the Harvard president's statements last week)

Around 5PM on NPR, I heard a commentary from Drew Weston, a psychology professor at Emory University in Georgia.

At the end of the commentary, he brought up a study that was done that had some interesting results. Sets of an equal number of men and women were given a math and ("hard") science test. Different sets of men and women were either told that the test *should* show gender differences or *should not* show gender differences. In every case where the women were told that there *should* be a difference, on average they did worse than the men. However, when they were told that the test *should not* show a difference, they did equally well.

So some might say that just because something is a stereotype doesn't make it any less true. However, it is possible that the existence of the stereotype is what is making it true...

So that's something.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

That Magic Moment

Recently, on another forum, Anthron posted What is so important in this forum.

I thought today's Krugman article, entitled That Magic Moment, is a good response to this.

The first paragraphs of the article are entirely about the war. They are entirely about misleading the public about WMD's. They are about how confused a majority of BOTH PARTIES in the public were just before the election. They are about the lies told by Iraq's interim prime minister.

But then there's the second half of the article, which starts:

Maybe we can't hold Mr. Bush directly to account for
misleading the public about Iraq. But Mr. Bush still has a
domestic agenda, for which the lessons of Iraq are totally

White House officials themselves concede - or maybe boast -
that their plan to sell Social Security privatization is
modeled on their selling of the Iraq war. In fact, the
parallels are remarkably exact.

And then the article goes on to talk about the crisis mongering, the politicization of the agencies, and finally...

Still, there are two reasons why the selling of Social
Security privatization shouldn't be another slam dunk.

One is that we're not talking about secret intelligence;
the media, if they do their job, can check out the numbers
and see that they don't match what Mr. Bush is saying. (A
good starting point is Roger Lowenstein's superb survey in
The Times Magazine last Sunday.)

The other is that we've been here before. Fool me once ...

I think it's important for everyone not to forget that there is a war going on in Iraq, and people are dying IN VAIN. I think it's important for everyone to realize that an enemy made a vicious attack ON AMERICAN SOIL in 2001, and that enemy has been let off the hook for this.

However, I really think it's important that people notice that George W. Bush is trying to derail an important government program, and he's using the same tactics as he did to derail important foreign policy. I think it's important for people to actually **USE** the resources that NOW **ARE** available to them to evaluate (and invalidate) Bush's crazy ideas.

Most importantly, while I think it's important for everyone to realize that GWBush is a BAD president running a BAD administration, it's more important for people to realize that he's about to get MUCH WORSE.

If enough people truly feel this way, Bush will lose much of his congressional support, and it will make it that much harder for him to do that much worse in the upcoming 4 years.

(and on a related note... so now we're going to send airstrikes into Iran, huh? (at least says one of the veteran reporters who came out with the Abu Ghraib story before many other agencies) Granted, we probably should have looked at Iran more closely in 2001... But it now looks like we're going to bomb them for completely unrelated reasons... and while our military is spread thin. On the TV show [i]24[/i] the administration has just decided to bomb U.S. soil to kill its OWN Secretary of Defense in order to prevent the U.S. from being embarassed. Talk about FICTION. (this is not intended to be a threat, secret service web bots))

(I do realize that Anthron was saying that the administration should stop thinking about social security and continue thinking about fixing the war in Iraq... However, I do think that something needs to be done SOON about the social security problem (just not what Bush is suggesting) or else in 40 years the problem will be unfixable... so I'm suggesting that people PAY ATTENTION to social security **AND** the war)

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Friday, January 14, 2005

The British Evasion

So Krugman has another article out today (saying something I've been saying, so I was excited about that) that I think is extremely interesting. See:

The British Evasion

The basic gist is that the Brits made the privitization move back in Thatcher's day, and that move was actually during a time when the Brits did not need to do major borrowing to do it. (whereas the proposed Bush move requires $2 trillion in borrowing, and that's only in the short term) Well, privitization FAILED for the Brits. It turns out that the risk associated with private investment has a cost that far outweighs its benefits.

In other words, "sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you." When people think about privitization, they expect that everyone is going to make money. However, everyone can't be making money. If everyone is making money, then they can't be making high yields. And this doesn't even account for how money managers can really screw someone. (note that financial institutions are major supporters of Bush; he's going to keep them in business)

So Brits are finding that the retirement funds allocated for seniors are far too low and taxes need to be raised in order to gaurantee a minimal amount of funds to be paid to all Brits on retirement. In other words, social security.

The Krugman article links to another article that gives a lot of information on the situation in Britian. Krugman also criticizes news agencies for not giving more exposure to the failure of privitization schemes in other countries.

Myths, Half-truths, and Exaggerations [about Social Security]

And here's another fun little link:

CNN Money: Myths, half-truths, and exaggerations [about Social Security]

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Highs and Lows

Today's high in Columbus: 66
Today's low in Columbus: 26

How do you dress for that?

What a wonderful place.

Climate Change Drying the Planet

It doesn't matter if you believe humans are at fault. Global warming is a major issue. Policy isn't just for conservation anymore. It must be made to help ensure survival.

Climate Change Desiccating the Planet, Researchers Conclude

I think they've lost their mines...

Due to the Civil War in Sri Lanka, there are mine fields protecting military bases.

Well, there used to be. When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, it moved them.

And so now they have to find them. Hundreds of MISSING MINES that were swept into other areas of Sri Lanka. And now the people who have to go out and find them don't have the necessary gear (again, due to the tsunami), so they walk around in flip-flops (no boots) just hoping that their eyes are sharp.

What a mess.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Reenacting Jackson...

So tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 I learned that the E! Channel will get around the camera ban in the Michael Jackson case by reenacing a 30 minute version of each day's case as a TV series.

I think that's worth repeating. E! cannot video tape within the Michael Jackson child molestation case, so they have put together a cast to reenact a 30 minute summary of each day's trial events in a TV series that will show in primetime.


Fast food call centers...

So this evening on NPR I heard a pretty interesting story.

Somewhere out west (Oregon? Colorado?), a fast food franchise (McDonalds?) actually runs its drive-through lane via call center. This is no joke. You use your cell phone to call a call center; the order is taken and sent back to the McDonalds instantly; you drive up to the window, pay, and get your food.

They have had some great results. They've gotten the average order-to-food-pickup time down to something like 2 minutes and 10 seconds, and the average price of orders has increased by 19 cents. No, they haven't raised prices or anything, but because the people taking the orders don't actually have to prepare the food, they are able to hire professional sales people to work the call center calls (making $7/hour). These call center agents are just better at handling calls than the average McDonald's employee, and they have better results getting people to buy deserts and other items with their orders.

Pretty weird stuff.

Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students

Stephen C. Stearns' Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students

MATLAB to R Equivalents (and other R help)

So I found a great site giving mappings from common MATLAB commands to R commands that do the same thing.


It's very helpful if you're a MATLAB "expert" trying to learn R, that strange statistics package that everyone else seems to use...

I also found this really nice R tips sheet.


This gives instruction on how to do LOTS of things within R.

[ Oh, and if you're wondering, OCTAVE is a free numerical package designed to work almost identically like MATLAB.

Octave ]

[ Additional Octave/MATLAB/R Links on my Links page. ]

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Television Without Pity

I think it's great; I don't care if anyone else doesn't, though I think you should.

(is "though" a conjunction? I don't care about that either. It should be)

"Theoretical" Work in Grad School

Now, even though I am an electrical engineer, I'm taking a course this quarter out of the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology (EEOB) department on Behavioral Ecology (EEOB 740).

Of course, I am the only engineer in the class. I'm taking the class for very nontraditional reasons dealing with my very nontraditional research. Nearly everyone else in the class is an Anthropoloy PhD student, though there are a few other soft sciences in the class, and there are two or three undergrads in their senior year. One of the most wonderful things about the class is that out of about 25 students, probably 18 are female. This won't be a shock to anyone who isn't an engineer. As far as I knew, classes with that many females didn't exist in nature. As far as I knew, girls were only 1 part per 1000 students. How could there possibly be this many concentrated in one class? It baffles me. And we even had a NEW student today! And it's another girl! She's even a very cute girl with a cute name and a cute voice! How does this happen?!

Getting back to the topic of this post, today I was sitting next to one of the few undergraduates. He's a senior in some sort of biology-related major.

Now, non-engineering graduate-level classes often expose new graduates to the "uncomfortable" notion that mathematics are not only useful but inevitible in modern research. You simply cannot avoid Calculus if you want to study anything that is remotely related to science or statistics. EEOB 740 (Behavioral Ecology) is one of these classes that starts to use math. This is pefectly okay to me, the engineering student. Ordinary differential equations are extremely important to even the sophomore engineering student; by graduate school the engineering student starts to take for granted that there are people who don't use math on a regular basis. So you can imagine what it was like today when the professor explained to the class **WHY** the derivative of a constant is equal to 0 (and he didn't even give a geometric explanation!!! He did it by taking the derivative of a variable to the 0th power!!). (oh, and after that he reviewed the quotient rule...)

So before class, this undergraduate student was talking to some of the people around him about math. He apparently hasn't taken math for 3 years, and he's taking Math 153 this quarter. He says he's taking Math 153 this quarter because he's preparing for more theoretical work in graduate school and he figured he should know the fundamentals...

Math 153 at The Ohio State University is the Freshman class that follows Freshman level Integral Calculus. It is the first real class on Analytic Geometry.

Saying that this class has anything to do with the "fundamentals" one would need for "theoretical work" in graduate school is like saying that knowing how to count is a "fundamental" to doing arithmetic. Yes, it's important, but if it's your "fundamental" then you're a long ways off from doing your taxes.

Keep in mind that at OSU the classes that have "introduction" or "fundamentals" in their titles and are meant for graduate level students (even graduate level non-math students) also have course numbers no lower than 600 (or maybe one or two 500).

So I couldn't help but feel sorry for this poor kid. If he was going to do any "theoretical" work, he'd have a lot of work to do in graduate school to really prepare for that.

In truth, he's probably okay. No one learns ANYTHING in undergrad anyway, and most soft scientists learn ALL of their math in graduate school.

I just think it's funny that he thinks he's actually preparing himself. It's cute.

The Future is a Partisan Topic?

It seems sad to me that social security has been driven into partisan politics. Major decisions about a major part of every young American's future should not be made with a 42% approval rating.

See recent poll on Bush's approval rating.

The Iceberg Cometh

Some quotes from NYTimes: Op-Ed Contributor: The Iceberg Cometh (more social security news from KRUGMAN).
Last week someone leaked a memo written by Peter Wehner, an
aide to Karl Rove, about how to sell Social Security
privatization. The public, says Mr. Wehner, must be
convinced that "the current system is heading for an

But that's just the borrowing over the next decade.
Privatization would cost an additional $3 trillion in its
second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and
another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time
privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the
federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in
extra debt.

All wouldn't go well; I'll explain why in another column.
But suppose that everything went according to plan. Even in
that unlikely case, privatization wouldn't even begin to
reduce the budget deficit until 2050. This is supposed to
be the answer to an imminent crisis?

A responsible administration would reverse course on tax
cuts and the botched 2003 Medicare drug bill, both of which
pose much greater threats to the government's solvency than
the modest financial shortfall of the Social Security
system. But Mr. Bush has declared his tax cuts inviolable,
and he says that his drug bill will actually save money.
(The Medicare trustees say it will cost $8 trillion.)

There's an iceberg in front of us, all right. And Mr. Bush
wants us to steam right into it, full speed ahead.

For more information on some details in this article (like the numbers projected 50 years out about Plan 2), see a news article posted today (not an Op-Ed column):

Wall Street Hears Pitch for Social Security Plan

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Monday, January 10, 2005

For the Record on Social Security

Since GWBush has made the end of February the deadline for privitizing social security, in the next coming weeks there are going to be a lot of articles about the move.

Here's another one that came out today.

NYTimes Opinion: For the Record on Social Security

And, as usual, some quotes:

Late February is now the time frame mentioned by the White
House for unveiling President Bush's plan to privatize
Social Security. The timing is no accident. By waiting
until then, the president will conveniently avoid having to
include the cost of privatization - as much as $2 trillion
in new government borrowing over the next 10 years - in his
2006 budget, expected in early February.

Worse are the true dimensions of
the administration's proposed ploy, which were made
painfully clear in a memo that was leaked to the press last
week. Written in early January by Peter Wehner, the
president's director of strategic initiatives and a top
aide to Karl Rove, the president's political strategist,
the memo states unequivocally that under a privatized
system, only drastic benefit cuts - not borrowing - would
relieve Social Security's financial problem. "If we borrow
$1-2 trillion to cover transition costs for personal
savings accounts" without making benefit cuts, Mr. Wehner
wrote, "we will have borrowed trillions and will still
confront more than $10 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
This could easily cause an economic chain reaction: the
markets go south, interest rates go up, and the economy
stalls out."

At a recent press conference, Mr. Bush exaggerated the
timing of the system's shortfall by saying that Social
Security would cross the "line into red" in 2018. According
to Congress's budget agency, the system comes up short in
2052; according to the system's trustees, the date is 2042.
The year 2018 is when the system's trustees expect they
will have to begin dipping into the Social Security trust
fund to pay full benefits. If you had a trust fund to pay
your bills when your income fell short, would you consider
yourself insolvent?

In suggesting that 2018 is doomsyear, the president is
reinforcing a false impression that the trust fund is a
worthless pile of I.O.U.'s - as detractors of Social
Security so often claim. . . .
. . . If the trust fund's Treasury securities are
worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the
world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt
that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as
the trust fund securities. The president is irresponsible
to even imply that the United States might not honor its
debt obligations.

Over the next 75
years, the mismatch between revenues and Medicare benefits
for doctors' care and prescription drugs is 3.5 to 6 times
as much as the shortfall in Social Security, according to
the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Medicare
hospital trust fund mismatch is two to three times as big.

It appears that the president and his aides are trying to
sow ignorance to gain support for their flawed
privatization agenda. Lawmakers, policy makers and the
American people have to let the administration know that
they know better.

What's up, PhDoc?

I heard this from a math professor of mine during a discussion of graduate school...

Once upon a time a rabbit sat in the woods near a cave doing some of his work. The rabbit was spotted by a hungry wolf who headed toward the rabbit intending to eat him. The wolf announced his presence, "Hey Rabbit, I'm here to eat you. But before I do, I'm curious... what are you doing? I'm still going to eat you, but I just want to know."

The rabbit responds, "Well, I'm just working on my dissertation."

"Ah," the wolf says, "what is it about?"

"Well, why don't I show you. Come into this cave." And so the rabbit and the wolf go into the cave together. The wolf finds out that unfortunately there is a lion in the cave who has no problem with eating a wolf, and thus the wolf's life ends and the rabbit survives and returns to his stump outside the cave to continue working.

At some point, a coyote comes by the rabbit in a similar manner as the wolf. He says, "Rabbit, I have come to eat you. However, before I make a dinner out of you, I'd like to know what you're doing."

"I'm working on my dissertation," responds the rabbit, once again.

"Ah," says coyote, "what is it about?"

"Come into this cave. I'll show you." And so the same sequence of events occurs again. The coyote meets the lion, and the rabbit survives another day.

For the rest of the time the rabbit worked on his dissertation, many other predators came by and had the same fate.

So what is the moral of this story?

The subject of your dissertation is hardly as important as having a lion of an adviser in your corner. With a good adviser, survival is ensured.

So I thought that was cute.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tsunamis and Polar Ice

So on The Carnegie Vandertramp in post Prick Me, Jenn Onofrio said:

Theo? If you're out there: do you know if the recent tsunami/earthquake had any great impact on the position of the polar ice caps in the Arctic Circle?

To which I responded:

First, I want to point out that tsunami is a Japanese word literally meaning "habor wave." It is meant to represent a sea wave that is not caused by periodic tidal forces (i.e., gravitational interaction with the moon). It is meant to represent a sea wave that really only exists AT coastlines. If it weren't for harbors, we wouldn't notice them. Somewhere something was lost in the translation and we ignorant English speakers started to call it a "tidal wave." Now, in most English phrases, "tidal" would modify "wave," implying that this is a slow periodic movement. That's what "tidal" means. However, we make a special exception for "tidal wave" where, basically, "wave" modifies "tidal." This is a wave that sits ON TOP OF the normal tidal ebbing and flowing of the sea. So, personally, I'd be happier if everyone called this a "harbor wave." Of course, it would take a lot for everyone to do to make me truly happy...

Now, that being said, you're really asking about the earthquake. So let's talk a little bit about earthquakes, or at least the particular kind that the area around Sumatra.

You see, there are a number of different types of earthquakes.

For example, the earthquakes you hear about in California are caused by two plates sliding by each other, just like two cars side-swiping each other. This type of earthquake will never result in a volcano (despite what Hollywood movies tell you), only earthquakes.

However, the earthquake that occurred near Sumatra is due to a very different type of interaction. It is what is known as a "subduction zone." This particular subduction zone is what fueled the great 1883 explosion of Krackatoa. When continential plates interact this way, a soft plate collides head-on with a hard continential plate and the soft plate is forced downward beneath the hard plate, taking with it lots of water. The composition of the material that is driven deeper into the earth actually sets up conditions for massive volcano eruptions later.

In the case of this recent 600-mile-long "subduction event," six miles below the earth, the soft plate dived down into the planet in a matter of minutes. The entire island of Sumatra was moved 100 feet to the southwest. These movements are what drove the wall of water toward India at ~500 miles per hour. Note that this movement of water was only a few meters high away from the coastline. Boats on the water would have hardly noticed it (keep in mind that energy is what moved hundreds of miles an hour toward India, not water; the water just translated the energy but did not drift much with the wave). As the wave moved closer to land, the sea became more shallow. As the sea became more shallow, the drag on the bottom of the sea started to increase and slow the movement of the wave down there. This is what caused the top of the wave to surge forward ahead of the bottom of the wave. This is what caused the sudden crest of the wave. In order to dissipate all of this energy, the water then had to receed and return a number of times, damping with each new time. Also note that the BACKSIDE of islands in its path often were hit the hardest because of the dynamics of the wave's movements.

Now, going back to the earthquake... That soft plate was pushed deep into the earth. This changed the earth's rotational inertia. Imagine a skater spiraling around with her arms spread far apart. As she brings those arms closer together, it becomes easier to spin her since there is less mass to be moved around the large circle etched out by her extended arms. The SAME THING happened with the earth. In order to conserve its angular momentum, the EARTH'S ROTATION HAS INCREASED. A day on earth is now about one second shorter. This may not seem that significant, but keep in mind that scientists (including those who study polar ice) need to know the length of a day so precisely that they have invented a "leap second" (like a "leap day") that they apply at regular intervals to help keep our clock in sync. Those calculations thus need to be updated.

And so all this alone changes the environment slightly. To a bacteria, for example, one second is a long time.

But I still haven't really answered your question. As you probably heard, the earthquake completely changed the underwater toplogy around Sumatra (I'm guessing the Sunder Straight is probably a lot different than it used to be). Heck, Sumatra actually MOVED, so of course the underwater topology changed.

However, there really was no DIRECT effect on the position of polar ice. However, as mentioned before, this changes the DYNAMICS of the earth's spin.

Let's go back to the skater example. Her arms are extended as she spins slowly. She moves her arms inward. Her angular velocity increases. What happens to her pony tail? Since its mass hasn't changed, in order to maintain circular rotation, its radius of rotation changes. In other words, it moves farther out.

So as the earth spins faster, there is more stress on the polar ice caps to move toward the equator. This probably is a neglible change, but it is a difference.

Also keep in mind that since the days are shorter, the temperature profile of the planet changes. On average, every point on the planet still receives the same amount of sunlight. However, how that average is delivered changes. Picture someone turning on and off a light switch. Over ten minutes, the light is on half the time. It could be on for five minutes and off for the other five, but it also could be on for 30 seconds every minute. This would cause a very different effect in a room. Imagine that we're not only turning on a light, but also turning on a heater. How does it affect things by speeding the "carrier signal" of that energy up?

So there are those issues. But that's not what all of us science types are really concerned with. The big issue involves global warming. We know that a "tiny" little earthquake like this one can cause a change in the earth's rotation and stability. Imagine what would happen if the polar ice caps melted?

In other words, let's go back to our spinning skater. Let's say she's pretty strong and holds a bowling ball at full arm extension in one hand and nothing in the other. Now, if she's a light girl, this bowling ball is going to cause her to wobble like a boomerang. In other words, her center of rotation is going to be closer to the bowling ball than herself. Her body is going to want to rotate around the bowling ball, and it will wobble and destabilize her desired spin because of it. Now, if she is a REALLY REALLY heavy girl, this bowling ball isn't going to make a dent. She'll spin around her own center with no trouble.

The earth is a lot like this skater. The polar ice caps give the earth a bunch of stability. It is unclear how the dynamics of the earth would change without so much mass being concentrated near our axis of rotation.

So does the tsunami affect the polar ice caps? Probably not in really important short and medium term ways. What the tsunami does do is point out how a mass movement can change the dynamics of our spin (even in the short term). Movement of ice can do the same thing.

(NOTE that we currently do not have a stable rotation; we wobble like a top. If you know how to look at the stars and point out constellations, you'll notice that the REAL Zodiac is far different than the one that is published in the paper. Just 2000 years ago our earth was at a different angle with respect to the plane of the planets' rotation. 2000 years isn't a long time. Hopefully the top is settling down, but with too much mass movement, it could destabilize. The top could "fall"...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Fun Little Internet Radio Station

So Kelly pointed me to a cute little Internet radio station.

It's at the French Connection (FCUK). Click on the "fcuk fm" link at the top of the page and then click on "tune in now" on the popup page that occurs.

They change DJ's all the time. Their slogan is "none of the hits, none of the time," though about half of the time I hear songs that I've heard before more than once, and even SOME of the time I hear what I'd call a "hit." But most of the time it's fresh and new.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Stoned at AskOxford?

From the AskOxford Word of the Day (emphasis added):

[Brit. dyoo-LOH-sis; US d(y)oo-LOH-sis] the technical term for the enslavement of ants, by ants. The adjective is dulotic.

Sadly, there has never been an ant Abraham Lincoln, so there is no ant Emancipation Proclamation, or even any ant Harriet Beecher Stowe.

It's a good thing they took the time to add that last part. Yep. Ant Emancipation Proclamation. Way to go, guys.

Microwaves, Faraday Cages, and the Xenaverse

In a recent CNN article, Passport chips raise privacy concerns, there are a number of disturbing quotes made by the author that question whether the author really was ready to publish.

The worst of them is:
Wrapping your passport in aluminum foil actually works. It is called a "Faraday Cage," and it's the same thing that protects you from the microwaves as you watch your popcorn pop. The foil blocks electromagnetic waves so a nearby chip reader can't force your passport chip to perk up and say "howdy."

Now, let's put aside the fact that it is completely unnecessary to mention Faraday Cages here. It would have been sufficient to just say that wrapping a passport in aluminum foil prevents remote access (though that's not necessarily true, but we'll get to that). Let's put aside the fact that it is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY to talk about electronics PERKING UP TO SAY HOWDY. After that, we're left with the fact that the thing that protects you from microwaves while popping popcorn is NOT so much a Faraday Cage but the SKIN EFFECT. Faraday Cages work great at low frequencies. However, at high frequencies the time it takes for the charge carriers within the metal to compensate for the oscillations of the field is not negligible! Any lag and the Faraday Cage will cease to work! So for high frequencies, it is the "skin effect" that prevents radiation from escaping. Microwaves attenuate very quickly in a lossy material like copper, and thus very few microwaves can escape the unit. For copper, the "skin depth" can be as little as micrometers (millionths of a meter). All of that energy gets dissipated in the resistance of the copper metal surrounding the microwave.

So those are her big strikes. She brings up technical detail that's not needed. She makes reference to electronics saying "howdy," and finally she makes a completely inappropriate reference to Faraday Cages.

But we're lucky enough to spot some other problems with this article. In particular:

The passport chips will hold much more data, from 64 kilobytes to eventually 514 kilobytes, as much as the first personal computers. They will hold the same information as a paper passport plus a digitized photo and face template for the still-unproven facial recognition software, which also is supposed to identify you from a distance, unnoticed.

Now, that's not supposed to be 514 kilobytes. That's supposed to be 512 kilobytes. Thus, her editors also are to blame here. But then she goes on to say how that is "as much as the first personal computers." This statement is not necessary. It could have just as equally been applied to "64 kilobytes," and it is completely irrelevant. It is meant to imply that this is a LOT of data. However, the first personal computers were not storing RECOGNIZABLE IMAGES. The amount of information entropy in a recognizable image is going to take up most of that space.

And on top of all of this, her language is very poor. For example:

The fact that passport data can be read unencrypted, with no physical contact, from up to 30 feet away, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, upsets privacy advocates for two reasons.

This is a one sentence paragraph. I would argue that nearly every word could be reordered, but then I would feel petty.

And at the end of the article, after that Faraday Cage mess, we get:

Try it out with your work I.D. card or a toll-booth pass. I wouldn't recommend wrapping your micro-chipped dog in Reynolds Wrap, however. Neighbors might think you were planning a barbecue.


So I decided to look up this woman to see if she had any contact information available. It looks like she does. She has HER OWN WEBSITE at Personally, I think the domain name is very appropriate. On her site, she has links to her doctoral dissertation. The title of her doctoral dissertation involves the Xenaverse. Sounds like some interesting research.

Gonzales is a Bad Man, a Stupid Bad Man

So this morning I listened to many of the Gonzales responses to questions from Senators. It was shocking.

Ashcroft was a nightmare, but I'm pretty sure Gonzales is the reincarnation of Hitler or at least high ranking SS. The interesting thing is that after NPR ran the Gonzales story, they ran a case about a guy being tried for his work in the KKK.

Gonzales could at least answer the questions like a reasonable person. He could at least make some comments that at least SOUND sane. But instead he sounds like a tiny little GWBush trying to allow for a loophole that allows torture, but in the end not really caring because no one should be questioning the actions of the executive branch.

The guy actually said that when we spend time investigating things like Abu Ghraib we become more like our enemy. What does that even mean?!

I didn't think I'd hate this man this much, but I do! He's just another Bush cronie. He's a sad excuse for a moral man. This administration is populated with moral weaklings, and they seem to take pride in that.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Social Security: "Plan 2" the new "Plan 9" ?

In a recent article posted on CNN, What privitization alone can't do, some interesting numbers are presented. I include an excerpt of the article here. Note that my excerpt is biased, so see the full article for a LESS biased handling of this subject.

Additionally, note that "Plan 2" is the leading Bush administration proposal for social security reform.

[ also note that "Plan 9" is the name of a research operating system developed to bring to research what UNIX cannot; it was named after the "Worst Film Ever Made", Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space ]

The CBO estimates that [under Plan 2] when a worker
earning the median income born in 1990 retires, he would receive
$14,500 a year in today's dollars. That includes the money he'd
draw from his personal investment account – assuming a 4.9
percent annual return -- and his Social Security benefits.

Under the current system, that worker is promised a benefit of
$23,300. But even critics of privatization acknowledge that the
current promise can't be met since the system won't be taking
in enough revenue when he retires to pay out all its obligations.

But even if the system only paid out what it could afford to --
about 80 percent of the current promise -- the worker in this
example would receive $18,100, which is $3,600 more than
he'd get under Plan 2.

Whatever changes are made to Social Security, President
Bush has made clear that the benefit levels of current and near
retirees would not be affected, although he has not specified
what ages define "near" retirees.

Now, to put things into perspective:

Social Security Today

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Some New Arguments Against Privitization of Social Security

More NYTIMES articles about Social Security. This time by someone other than PAUL KRUGMAN. :)

See Choose and Lose by BARRY SCHWARTZ at

One quote:
THERE are three arguments being
made in favor of privatizing part of Social Security.
First, the Social Security Trust Fund needs money and
privatization will, in the long run, increase the amount of
money available to retirees. Second, privatization will
give people choice, and choice is good. And third, "it's
your money," and you ought to be able to do with it as you

Each of these arguments is dubious, or disingenuous, or
. . .
There are several problems with this argument, however. For
starters, there is no guarantee that equities will return
more than Treasury bills. One of the reasons that equities
have a higher rate of return than other types of
investments is that investors have to be compensated for
taking risks. Perhaps equities will outperform Treasury
bills in the long term but that doesn't mean that they will
be outperforming Treasury bills at the specific moment you
. . .
What's more, the administrative costs of keeping track of
these private accounts, according to President Bush's
Commission to Strengthen Social Security, will be 10 to 30
times the cost of administering the current system, eating
up almost all of the hypothetical gains that equity
investments could provide.

I recommend you read the entire article (it's short). It brings up a lot of "new" good arguments against privitizing Social Security.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Gecko-Inspired TAPE

Researchers are working on the next great adhesive now, and they are borrowing the technology from Geckos. They've made prototype tape that's really strong. From an article from June of 2003:

Gecko-Inspired Adhesive Sticks It to Traditional Tape

Their prototype--which consists of an array of microfabricated polyimide hairs attached to a flexible base . . . --exhibits an adhesive force per hair that is comparable to that of a gecko foot-hair . . . Because the adhesive is dry, it can be attached and detached repeatedly . . . But the researchers' calculations show that if they had enough to cover a human palm (200 square centimeters or so), gecko tape could support the weight of an average person.

Now, in a more recent article from this month:

Scientists Unravel How Geckos Keep Their Sticky Feet Clean
"Self-cleaning in gecko setae may occur because it is energetically favorable for particles to be deposited on the surface rather than remain adhered to the spatulae," they write in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It turns out that if they make the adhesive fibers out of the right kinds of materials, they'll actually be self cleaning. It will be energetically favorable for dirt particles to stay on the surface and not on the adhesive!

Details inside.

Printed on a bag of Fritos:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

Just sit and think about it for a second.

Social Security: Two More Articles

From a January 4, 2005 Krugman NYTimes Article:
Stopping the Bum's Rush
Politically, that seems far-fetched. A general fiscal
crisis, on the other hand, is a real possibility - but not
because of Social Security. In fact, the Bush
administration's scaremongering over Social Security is in
large part an effort to distract the public from the real
fiscal danger.

There are two serious threats to the federal government's
solvency over the next couple of decades. One is the fact
that the general fund has already plunged deeply into
deficit, largely because of President Bush's unprecedented
insistence on cutting taxes in the face of a war. The other
is the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

As a budget concern, Social Security isn't remotely in the
same league. The long-term cost of the Bush tax cuts is
five times the budget office's estimate of Social
Security's deficit over the next 75 years. The botched
prescription drug bill passed in 2003 does more, all by
itself, to increase the long-run budget deficit than the
projected rise in Social Security expenses.

There was also another NYTimes article from December 31, 2004, that discusses how social security may be UNDERestimating increases in life spans. There is some debate on what this means. In other words, does this mean that more people draw out social security longer? Or does this mean more people work longer? Is any of this a problem? Is any of this a benefit?

From a December 31, 2004 NYTimes Article by ROBERT PEAR: Social Security Underestimates Future Life Spans, Critics Say
"The higher costs associated with longer life expectancy
could be offset in several ways that do not involve a
reduction of Social Security benefits," said John R.
Wilmoth, another demographer at Berkeley.

People who live longer could work longer, for instance. Or
the size of the working-age population could increase
because of higher birth rates or a larger number of

Further, some population experts foresee developments that
could wind up buttressing the forecasts of the Social
Security Administration. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of
epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of
Illinois at Chicago, said the era of large increases in
life expectancy might be nearing an end, with the spread of
obesity and the possible re-emergence of deadly infectious

For more information about privitization of social security being a BAD thing, see Buying into Failure, another Krugman NYTimes Op-Ed article that was mentioned in a previous post about social security.

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Instructions for Adding Highlighting to Your Blog or Web Page

So I've put together a quick instructions page on the "searchhi.js" JavaScript I'm using to highlight words on my web page.

Search Word Highlighting Instructions

If someone links to your page from a search engine's results, the search words will be highlighted on your page. On top of that, you have the option of putting a text box on your page that allows the users to add more words to be highlighted on your page.