Tuesday, July 18, 2006

LiveScience.com - Or is it LiveLiberalCommentary.com?

LiveScience.com - Nobody is Listening to the Modern Hearing Problem:

Unless you're living in a cave or the White House, you would know, for example, that condoms can prevent pregnancy and many sexually transmitted diseases.
Again, unless you're living in a cave or the White House, you know that soldiers in Iraq long lacked body armor.
Wait, I thought this was an article on LiveScience about premature hearing loss, not an article on HuffPo about Bush and Rummy not taking care of the troops...

I emailed LiveScience:

In the article "Nobody is Listening to the Modern Hearing Problem" by Christopher Wanjek posted July 18th, 2006 on LiveScience.com the author twice refers to things as obvious "unless you're living in a cave or the White House." Both comments, one in reference to the efficacy of condoms, the other to the quality and availability of body armor to U.S. troops serving in Iraq, are broad generalizations, arguably false (it would be untrue to say the majority of people on the planet, or even in the U.S., knew about the body armor situation in Iraq prior to it becoming a major news story), and completely outside the scope of the article. If Mr. Wanjek truly believes premature hearing loss to be an issue that needs attention he should refrain from making comments that could alienate an entire political party, regardless of which one is in power at the time. Does LiveScience employ editors? If so, do they send articles back for correction or instruct authors not to make political and other comments beyond the scope of the article? Mr. Wanjek does not appear to be qualified to comment on the efficacy of condoms or the quality of body armor in Iraq, and his comments should not have been included in the published article. If you intend LiveScience to be respected as a repository of scientific knowledge and thinking you would do well to avoid such blather. I would appreciate a response to this correspondence. Thank you.

We'll see if they write back...


Friday, February 24, 2006

Calif. bill would bar toxins in cell phones, iPods - Yahoo! News

Calif. bill would bar toxins in cell phones, iPods - Yahoo! News: "The bill unveiled on Thursday by Assembly Member Lori Saldana, a Democrat from San Diego, would apply to any electronic or battery-operated device. The bill, which was introduced on Wednesday, would require manufacturers to stop using the substances in devices sold in California by 2008.
'We know that the manufacturers of these products are able to produce them without including harmful toxic materials,' Saldana said in a written statement."

Emphasis mine. My only response is "Really? You're an electrical engineer? You must be, since you know everything that goes into the circuitry and interfaces and housings of so many electronic devices." Appologies if AM Saladana actually is an engineer, but I generally expect elected representatives to be universally ignorant of the things they legislate. That perception comes from years of experience.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Why Men Report More Sex Partners than Women - Yahoo! News

Why Men Report More Sex Partners than Women - Yahoo! News: "Most surveys about sex find impossibly that men have had far more partners than women, typically two to four times as many.
Either there are a bunch of phantom females out there, or somebody is lying.
Psychologist Norman R. Brown at the University of Michigan has done several studies on the apparent flaw in these surveys. The latest was a web-based survey of 2,065 heterosexual non-virgins with a median age in their late 40s.
The women reported on average 8.6 lifetime sexual partners. The men claimed 31.9."

Well, for starters, I buy an average of 30 lifetime partners as much as I buy that the "average" man is 8.5" long (that's what you get if you ask men to measure themselves, in studies where doctors measured the men the average is closer to 5.5"). So I'd say it's a fair guess that man are overestimating. Women may also be underestimating. But that argument is not why I'm posting.

I'm posting because there's something here that's common to nearly all medical research now - a possibility that wasn't worked into the research and now basically makes this study useless. They did not find out - or even attempt to estimate - the ratio of sexually active females to sexually active males in the geographical areas the study group was pulled from. Even if the people in the study are split 50/50 on gender there could be huge disparities in the number of sexually active individuals according to gender in the places where the participants live and work. Alternatively, more of the women could have been in areas where people in general have fewer partners, and more of the males may live in areas that are generally more promiscuis. There are too many underlying differences that went unaccounted for and 2,065 people is far too small a sample to factor them out. Overall, this survey produces next to no useful information and as usual, rather than think about what issues could be affecting the data, the researchers just apply their own perceptions to the results. All this study really tells me is that the researchers think men lie about how many people they've slept with.

Friday, January 27, 2006

TCS Daily - How Wal-Mart Is Like Academia

TCS Daily - How Wal-Mart Is Like Academia: "Critics charge that this will encourage a race to the bottom, as the store fills many of these vacancies with part-time employees and offers lower wages and benefits than the competitors that will inevitably fold against Wal-Mart's enormous buying power."

The critics' arguments are also shown to be misplaced in my experience. Just out of high school I got a job delivering pizza at a non-chain, local dive. While my hourly pay was more than what a Domino's driver made (and frequently the tips were, too), we had no benefits, since we were all part time. Domino's offers benefits, we didn't. That was how the store managed to offer higher wages with it's lower profits from moving a lower volume of higher priced goods. But, unlike the proverbial mom-and-pop store slain on the alter of mass commercialism, that place stayed around even after Papa John's started moving in on it's market share. By the wisdom and leadership of the owner, we offered things you couldn't get at Domino's or Papa John's or Pizza Hut, and stayed in business and profitable (albeit sometimes marginally). As far as I know the place is still there.

The point of all this rambling is that I worked at the small local store that faced the Walmart-esque assault and weathered it well. By offering products the big chains didn't and a different model of compensation than the big guys, the store attracted different customers and different employees who weren't attracted to the big box places. We were all young and nearly all male. I could have quit and gotten a job at Domino's or PJ's if benefits were important to me, but they weren't. We stayed there for the higher paychecks, even if we might have received less overall compensation than a big place that offered benefits. It was a niche market for customers and employees, but it worked.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

At this rate, people will think I took lessons from Allah

Here's a random thought: As I go about my constant degauss battle with two monitors sharing a small desk with a big laserjet, and as I was fixing the color temp on my second screen and wondering how the crap it got changed to something so... red, my eyes were drawn to various and sundry weighted office supply dispensers on my desk. Not saying they're to blame, but think about this for a second. My postit dispensers, tape dispenser, paperclip dispenser, they're all weighted. What are they weighted with? Well, in the old days it would have been lead, but I'm sure they don't use that anymore because of environmental concerns. What is it now? Think it's iron? I bet it is, it sure isn't copper or nickel or silver or something more valuable. Think they're shielded? I doubt it. Here we are, trying to keep our delicate electronics (I say that tongue in cheek, being a man with the motto "everything's hot-swappable if you plug it fast enough") safe from those evil magnetic fields, with a bunch of iron-weighted objects on our desks. Sheer madness, I tell you.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Long time no blog...

Random thoughts:

Back in my BBS party Doom II / Heretic multiplayer days, I remember meeting a guy who had 20MB of RAM on his 486. 20MB! Incredible! Why would anyone need so much?

Even as recent as six years ago, if you had told me in 200_ I'd be able to back up 4 or even 8GB on a single disc the size of a CD, I would have thought you crazy. Four gigabytes? Isn't that the storage capacity on those huge hard drive towers they record whale song on? I would have thought you doubly crazy if you suggested I'd need 100 of those discs to back up a single hard drive.

Two or even one year ago, what were your odds of seeing the words "256MB MP3 player $29.99" together all in one place? Never mind that said MP3 player is the size of a jump drive and doubles as one.

My father said the other day that things just keep getting better all the time. That was in reference to cars, but it certainly holds for computers, too. It must be getting better faster, because at only 27 years of age I can say things are certainly unimagineably better now than I remember them being. What an amazing world we live in.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Really politically incorrect...

This needs to be said. So I'll deal with the hate mail.

Here's a thing that I couldn't get away with saying publicly: When you look at the statistics, black people in America do not do as well on nearly all "social scores" as white people. They're much more likely to be a felon and/or a drug user, much more likely to be from a single-parent home, much more likely to be pregnant (or cause a pregnancy) out of wedlock, etc. These are real hard numbers, and they indicate serious social problems in the black community. But we can't talk about them, because it's not politically correct. I think that is only perpetuating the situation. Seriously, I came to this conclusion the other day when I was reminded by statistics that not all of the stereotypes against black people are unjustified. Hypothetically, let's say I was confronted with a strange man in the parking lot at night approaching me. Now, if I was more concerned for my safety if he was black than if he was white, under PC I'd be a racist. But under statistics, I'd be wise. A black man is statistically more likely to be a mugger than a white man, based on number of convictions. You can't talk about that. But it goes both ways. I might be more concerned about a wild-eyed crazy looking white man than a similar black man. That could be racism, or it could be wisdom again, since white men are statistically more likely to be serial killers.

Thinking about how popular culture and entertainment act as a feedback loop on society and different groups, both deriving from and reinforcing stereotypes and mindsets: Look at present day rap music. Much of it reinforces the gansta and thug archetypes. It influences young people (and older people) to appreciate that worldview and personality, which in turn creates more demand. Black people are disproportionately represented in that segment of the entertainment industry. On the other hand, what year was it when we first saw a black actor in a horror movie? Horror movie casts are predominantly white, and it's largely because the audience for that genre is predominantly white. At the extreme of that genre, I can say that everyone I've ever known who wanted to see Faces of Death was white. Trent Reznor, who I still think is a musical genius, has a really sick death obsession, and his music primarily sells to white people. Neither of these is a cause, but surely both contribute to the statistically higher chance that a black man will be a mugger and a white man will be a serial killer. And these statistics drive stereotypes. Nearly all stereotypes are wrong when applied to an individual, but many are derived from hard statistics about groups. We need to be able to talk about these things if we're ever going to deal with the root causes.

When will we stop saying "There's no problem, and it would be racist to suggest there is" and say "Look, there is a problem, let's talk about how to fix it?" Every time we avoid this discussion because it's not politically correct we do a great disservice to black Americans as a group, as well as perpetuate injustice against an untold number of individuals.