Monday, December 29, 2008

Apple did not invent flash memory

Wired mag writes:
Top Technology Breakthroughs of 2008
7. Flash Memory

When Apple blessed the iPod with flash memory, it gave new life to a technology that had long played second fiddle to hard disk drives.
Huhh? Other companies were selling ipods with flash memory for years before Apple even entered the market.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is the USA in decline?

The LA Times reports:
Bush presided over decline of U.S.'s global influence

... Bush has been widely blamed for the erosion of American prestige. ...

A vivid illustration of the power shift came Nov. 15, when Bush convened world leaders in Washington to lay plans for dealing with the global economic crisis. In the old days, experts said, he would have limited the meeting to a handful of major industrial powers. But Bush realized that the world economy now has a larger cast of influential players, and invited all members of the so-called Group of 20, which includes countries such as Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.

A decade ago, the United States might have been able to bring enough economic pressure on its own to force an end to Iran's disputed nuclear program, said Nikolas K. Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College.
That's the evidence? It seems to me that this is just evidence that American influence is as great as ever. The USA has a financial crisis, and the whole world goes into a panic. More countries than ever come running to Washington just to hear what we are going to do.

Iran has been unfriendly to the USA for about 35 years. For 60 years, there have been countries with rogue nuclear programs that we would have liked to shut down. I don't see how anything is any worse now.

All my life I've heard people proclaim that American power and influence has been declining. But where is the hard evidence? It is true that not many countries were willing to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that is a sign of their weakness, not their strength.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What I hate about Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird is supposed to be the most advanced and full-featured free email program, but I am baffled at how such a program could be so badly designed. Here are the main things I don't like about it.

It is completely unusable if you have a large mailbox and a slow connection. It insists on downloading your entire inbox, whether you like it or not.

The defaults are destructive. If you set up a new email account on it, it will immediately start deleting messages from your mail server. Yes, you can change the settings to stop it, but the defaults should be non-destructive.

It is extremely tedious to setup new email accounts. You have to manually process dozens of menus, filling in lots of obscure settings, and there is no way to automate it. If you want to install Thunderbird on another computer, you have to do it all over again.

It allows you to separate your incoming and outgoing accounts, but it is extremely confusing. Eg, if you setup an incoming account, the first thing it does is force you to give a name for your outgoing messages. It would make more sense to set your outgoing settings when you setup your outgoing account.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Domestic violence propaganda

An Indiana newspaper reports:
In a recent interview, Brown said "on average, at least half" of victims in local domestic violence cases eventually make some efforts to halt prosecution of their alleged abusers.

"It's an ongoing problem," said Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney, who has taken steps, with others, to make it more difficult for cases of domestic battery to be swept under the rug.

McKinney said he and officials in law enforcement and the local victim advocate's office "have come up with a strategy" to pursue prosecution when possible in cases "even if the (domestic violence) victim didn't want to cooperate."

Part of the effort includes police officers who are sent to the scene of alleged domestic abuse compiling much more detailed reports than in the past.

Alleged victims of domestic battery seeking to have charges dropped against their significant others must first complete 10 hours of classes "to teach them the cycle of violence," before such a request would even be considered, McKinney said.

And under a new policy, those who actually recant earlier allegations of battery will likely find themselves the target of a criminal investigation, facing the possibility of charges ranging from obstruction of justice to false informing.

"It's very upsetting to me," Brown said of taking statements from apparent victims retracting their earlier accounts of abuse. "I try to remain neutral. ... I feel horrible about (pursuing charges against perceived victims). But it's also my job."
There is something sick about prosecutors trying to put someone in jail when the people involved say that no crime occurred. Wives should not have to be forced to watch video propaganda on why they should leave their husbands.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jerry Brown supports judicial supremacists

The San Jose newspaper reports:
Saying Proposition 8 violates constitutionally protected liberties, Attorney General Jerry Brown on Friday asked the California Supreme Court to strike down the same-sex marriage ban, ...

"There are certain rights that are not to be subject to popular votes, otherwise they are not fundamental rights," Brown said in an interview. "If every fundamental liberty can be stripped away by a majority vote, then it's not a fundamental liberty."
Prop 8 did not, and can not, strip away any constitutional rights. The so-called right to same-sex marriage is based on the constitutional right to equal protection of the laws, as in the USA and California constitutions. P8 only amended the California constitution. If the courts really believed that same-sex marriage rights were a consequence of the equal protection guarantees, then they would rule so based on the USA constitution. They have not and they will not.
"In doing what they are doing now, they are showing the world what their true agenda is: to harm lesbian, gay and bisexual people," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "No one could think it's morally acceptable to destroy a legally existing marriage."
This is wrong on many levels. First, P8 did not harm any gays or lesbians. They continue to have all the substantive rights they had before, as the California domestic partnership law still applies. Second, no true marriages were destroyed. While some same-sex couples had California marriage licenses, those couples were not married under federal law, and they could not file joint federal income tax returns or share Social Security benefits.

Third, if you consider P8 to be destroying existing marriages, then the California Supreme Court has already shown that it is willing to do exactly that. It unanimously invalidated all the same-sex marriages that SF Mayor Newsom authorized.

Fourth, claiming harm to bisexuals is a little strange. Is he arguing that P8 is a barrier to some sort of group marriage? Is there some reason why bisexuals cannot just get married just like everyone else? That one has me baffled.
Proposition 8 opponents filed suit the day after the marriage ban passed, arguing that the initiative process was legally flawed. ... Normally, the attorney general would defend existing state law.
If the initiative process were flawed, the time to act would have been before the election. It is too late to complain now. The people have spoken. (I believe that there was a challenge before the election, and the courts dismissed it.) Jerry Brown should defend P8, just as he once defended the California property tax initiative Prop 13 even after opposing it before the election.

I am getting a little tired of people being called bigots just for opposing same-sex marriage. It is not just Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage; it is also all of the major Democrat candidates including Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Nearly every vote for President in the past several elections has been for a candidate who explicitly campaigned in opposition to same-sex marriage.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Redefining parenthood to solve black illegitimacy

The NY Times reports:
The number of black children being raised by two parents appears to be edging higher than at any time in a generation, at nearly 40 percent, according to newly released census data. ...

The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.
The reported 40% is up from 38% in the year 2000. The boyfriend-of-the-week is not a parent. They have pretended to solve a problem by changing a definition.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ambiguous Sudoku

Today's San Jose Mercury News (print edition) has an ambiguous Sudoku:
The solution can have 5 or 7 in each of the entries in Rows 1 and 6, Columns 4 and 5.

Real Sudokus are supposed to have unique solutions. Sometimes the uniqueness is useful in finding a solution.

Update: As a comment below shows, I was wrong about this. The solution is unique as it is supposed to be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Out of wedlock births

Here is a chart of births to unmarried women, as a percentage of all American births, by year. The data came from here. Half Sigma argues that it is leading to the decline of Western civilization.

As you can see, the rate of out-of-wedlock births is on a long-term uptrend, and is headed toward 50%. The percentage is already over 50% in some European countries.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gov. Blagojevich's crimes

Wonder what Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's crimes were? He was charged with two crimes:
(1) conspiring to commit mail fraud by not giving the people of Illinois his honest services.
(2) soliciting a bribe by telling a newspaper that he wasn't going to do them any special favors as long as they were writing editorials demanding his impeachment.

For this he was arrested at 6 AM at his home in his pajamas, and released on $4.5k bail. He has not yet even been indicted.

I think that the DA should have let Jesse Jackson Jr. or a govt informant pay a suitcase full of cash for Obama's senate seat, and see whether Blagojevich accepted it or not. As it is, they have him saying embarrassing things like, “I’ve got this thing and it’s f***ing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f***in’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

We will never know whether or not Blagojevich would have actually accepted a bribe. He may argue that he was only looking to make a political deal of a sort that is entirely legal, or that he was describing his legal personal ambitions in a clumsy way.

A federal DA should not have this much power. I wonder if Pres. Bush approved the arrest. The DA could have just taken his evidence to the Illinois legislature, and let it decide whether to impeach the governor.

Update: Now the Illinois attorney is trying to get the governor removed on grounds of disability. That is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Corn syrup is harmless

A press release says:
A supplement in the December 2008 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that reviews the history and development of high fructose corn syrup finds no scientific support for the hypothesis that high fructose corn syrup is causally linked to obesity in the United States or globally any more or less than other caloric sweeteners.

Following a symposium that brought together scientific leaders on this
topic from varying backgrounds, including former high fructose corn syrup
critics who had earlier expressed concern that high fructose corn syrup might pose unique problems, a consensus is emerging that this sweetener is in fact indistinguishable from sucrose in its metabolic effects.
Americans consume a lot more corn syrup than sugar because of sugar tariffs and corn subsidies. Some people say that sugar tastes better. Some people also claim that corn syrup is particularly fattening or is otherwise bad for you, but that has never been proved.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Defining obesity in Bombay

A food blog reports:
On Tuesday, Health Ministry officials in India released the country’s first Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. It begins by making significant departures from World Health Organization definitions for overweight and obesity. According to new cutoffs enacted by Indian health officials, anyone with a body mass index of 23 kg/m2 is now labeled as overweight. And a BMI of 25 and over is now defined as obese — considerably more stringent than the international cut-off of a BMI 30. ...

As the Daily News & Analysis in Mumbai (Bombay) reported, men with waistlines of 35 inches or more and women with waistlines of 31.5 inches or more are now considered obese by the new norm. These, too, are well below the WHO cut-offs of 40.2 and 34.6 inches, respectively.
I am now considered obese by Indian standards. So are most professional athletes.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Obama and the Apes

Even since Barack Obama was elected, it seems as the Planet Of The Apes is the only thing on TV. The basic cable channels like AMC, FOXMO, SciFi, FX, Encore, and TMC have all been showing Apes movies over and over. The original was made in 1968, and three sequels were made in the early 1970s. There were also a few TV episodes, and a 2001 remake.

It is always fun to hear Charlton Heston say, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape." But why are these movies being shown dozens of times now? Is someone trying to say something about Obama? Or maybe these movies had been scheduled months ago, but held up until after to election for fear that people would think that they were in poor taste?

Update: The Apes movies are still showing with the start of 2009. Someone suggested that it could be commemorating the death of Charlton Heston, but he died on April 5, 2008. Why all the Apes movies now?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why election recounts fail

Here is a NY Times op-ed by Charles Seife on the folly of repeated recounts in a close election:
Minnesota’s instruments for counting votes are simply too crude to determine the winner in a race this tight. ...
Luckily, Minnesota’s electoral law has a provision for ties. After all the counting and recounting, if the vote is statistically tied, the state should invoke the section of the law that requires the victor to be chosen by lot. It’s hard to swallow, but the right way to end the senatorial race between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken will be to flip a coin.
That won't solve anything. The loser of any close election will just keep requesting recounts, and then request a coin toss. They will never be able to fairly decide whether the election was close enough to justify that coin toss. It would be better to just accept the first count.

Saife has written on mathematics elsewhere, saying silly things like:
Zero and infinity are eternally locked in a struggle to engulf all the numbers. Like a Manichaean nightmare, the two sit on opposite poles of the number sphere, sucking numbers in like tiny black holes.

College-aged kids are crazy

A psychiatry journal claims:
Results Almost half of college-aged individuals had a psychiatric disorder in the past year. The overall rate of psychiatric disorders was not different between college-attending individuals and their non–college-attending peers. ... These findings underscore the importance of treatment and prevention interventions among college-aged individuals.
Do they really want to treat half of all 20-year-olds? No, I don't believe that DSM-IV disorders are that common. I would have guessed 5% have DSM-IV disorders.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Crazy shrink

Ever wonder how crazy a big-shot psychologist might be? Try reading this essay by Lauren Slater. She writes about dishonesty and betrayal and acts like it is a good thing. It is amazing that her husband puts up with her.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dreaming in color

The NY Times reports:
And yet for a small segment of the population, drifting off at night means reverting to a world of monochromatic hues.

Childhood exposure to black-and-white television seems to be the common denominator. A study published this year, for example, found that people 25 and younger say they almost never dream in black and white. But people over 55 who grew up with little access to color television reported dreaming in black and white about a quarter of the time. Over all, 12 percent of people dream entirely in black and white.

Go back a half-century, and television’s impact on our closed-eye experiences becomes even clearer. In the 1940s, studies showed that three-quarters of Americans, including college students, reported “rarely” or “never” seeing any color in their dreams. Now, those numbers are reversed.
This is silly. No one dreams in black-and-white. The invention of TV did not change brain function. TV may have affected how people describe their dreams to researchers, but it did not affect how people dream.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Latest research on sexual preferences

The San Jose newspaper reported today:
Growing research suggests being gay is not 'a choice'

Compared with straight men, gay men are more likely to be left-handed, to be the younger siblings of older brothers, and to have hair that whorls in a counterclockwise direction.

Researchers are finding common biological traits among gay men, feeding a growing consensus that sexual orientation is an inborn combination of genetic and environmental factors that largely decide a person's sexual attractions before they are born.

Such findings — including a highly anticipated study this winter — would further inform the debate over whether homosexuality is innate or a choice, an undercurrent of the recent Proposition 8 campaign in which television commercials warned that "schools would begin teaching second-graders that boys could marry boys," suggesting homosexuality would then spread. ...

"In the past decade, I think the pendulum has swung more toward biological theory and biological causes," said Richard Lippa, a psychology professor at California State University-Fullerton, who has studied hair patterns and other biological traits in gay men."
Here is Prof. Lippa' research:
In a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Canadian psychologist Ray Blanchard and California psychologist Richard Lippa extended recent research on handedness, birth order, and sexual orientation by analyzing data from over 200,000 men and women who completed a survey posted on the BBC Science and Nature website. Survey participants reported their sexual orientation, their degree of right- versus left-handedness, and how many older brothers and sisters they had.

Some of the major findings of the new study:
* More gay men than heterosexual men reported being left-handed (13% versus 11%).
This is unconvincing. There is no proof that left-handedness is genetic, or even inborn. Even if it were, the correlation with homosexuality is slight, and not necessarily inborn. Professional baseball players might be 30% left-handed, but that would not show that being a baseball player is not a choice.

It is possible that there is a gene for right-handedness, and those without the gene are equally likely to be right or left handed. About 3% of men are homosexual, according to some surveys. If so, then maybe 3.5% of left-handed men are homosexual, and 2.9% of right-handed men are. That would be consistent with the about study. But that says nothing about whether being gay is a choice, or whether being gay is inborn.

There is no scientific proof that being gay is inborn, and no evidence that being gay is any more likely to be inborn than a lot of other human behaviors. Nearly all such behaviors are a subtle combination of nature and nurture. The details are not well understood.

Even if it were proved that homosexuality were inborn and not a choice, that would not necessarily have any bearing on political opinions about whether same-sex marriage should be taught in the schools. The anti-P8 campaign dishonestly claims that same-sex marriage would not be taught, or that parents could opt out. It is already being taught in the public schools in my district. My guess is that the schools are also teaching that scientific evidence shows that homosexuality is not a choice. The newspapers print such propaganda, but it is just not true.