Sunday, May 31, 2009

Defining the first generation

Many people are confused by the term "first generation". Even dictionaries give contradictory definitions. Random House defines:
1. being the first generation of a family to be born in a particular country.
2. being a naturalized citizen of a particular country; immigrant
If definition 1 is correct, then definition 2 is incorrect, and immigrants are zeroth generation.

I think that the problem here is that most people do not understand the zero. If the children of immigrants are first generation, then they don't know what to call the parents because they don't understand that a number can be less than one.

Google reports 1000s of web pages using the term first generation immigrant, even tho there is no such thing. It has almost as many for second generation immigrant, and that is also a nonsense term.

Only one definition makes sense. The folks who permanently move to the USA are immigrants, and generation zero. The first generation born in the USA are called first generation; they are not immigrants. The children of the first generation are called second generation, and so forth.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Using obsolete terms

Certain terms have fallen out of favor in the English language. Examples are Mohammedan, oriental, caucasian, negro, eskimo, homosexual. As far as I know, none of these terms were used as pejorative terms. There are people who don't like Mohammedans or homosexuals, but those terms are not like towel head where the term itself expresses ridicule.

One advantage to these obsolete terms is that they are often more precise than their modern equivalents. They have been used for 100s of years and well-settled dictionary definitions. You can be sure that the definitions won't change, because so few people use the terms anymore.

Latin was a popular language among scholars 300 years ago precisely because it was a dead language. Spoken languages were not sufficiently standardized.

Terms like islamicist seem to be changing in their meaning. Different people use the word to mean different things, and some of them are striving to change the meaning for ideological reasons. Whether that will be for the better or the worse, I don't know. In the mean time, I suggest using the obsolete terms if they more precisely convey the intended meaning.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Spelling bee winners

Here are the top finishers in the National Spelling Bee:
Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan.
Tim A. Ruiter of Centreville, Va.
Aishwarya Eshwar Pastapur of Springfield, Ill.
Kyle Mou of Peoria, Ill.
Anamika Veeramani of North Royalton, Ohio
Kennyi Kwaku Aouad of Terre Haute, Ind.
Ramya Auroprem of San Jose, Calif.
Neetu Chandak of Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Sidharth Chand of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Serena Skye Laine-Lobsinger of West Palm Beach, Fla.
Tussah Heera of Las Vegas, Nev.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Never reveal your prior salary in an interview

An expert advises:
Never reveal your prior salary, says Ramit Sethi, creator of the blog, IWillTeachYouToBeRich, and author of the recently published book of the same title. He is clear and unequivocal. "It's just none of their business," he told me. "You're focusing on a new job and if you reveal what you made previously, two things happen. First, you've laid out all your cards. Second, you're admitting that you are inexperienced in interviewing and negotiating."
That's right, and the interviewer is trying to bully you revealing personal info that he can use against you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Innumerates at the NY Times

The NY Times science reporters have a good knowledge of science, but those who report on American Idol cannot do arithmetic. The NY Times reported:
According to Nielsen estimates released by Fox, the two-hour finale drew 28.8 million viewers, easily the largest audience for the night. But that number is down more than 3 million from last year’s finale (which drew 31.7 million), and the broadcast is likely to rank as the second-lowest-rated season finale of “American Idol” in the show’s history, ...
No. 31.7 minus 29.8 is 2.9, so the number of views is down less than 3 million, not more.

You would think that if a newspaper article has a sentence with three numbers, and if two of the numbers are supposed to add up to the third number, then the copy editor would check that the numbers really add up.

Another NY Times article complains about how the Christian singer (Kris Allen) beat the gay singer (Adam Lambert):
Representatives of AT&T helped fans of Mr. Allen at the two Arkansas events by providing instructions on how to send 10 or more text messages at the press of a single button, known as power texts. Power texts have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show’s toll-free phone lines.
No, there is no "exponentially greater effect". It just multiplies by 10.

The contest got about 100 million votes. Obviously people were voting multiple times. Is it really newsworthy that some phone company salesman in Arkansas told a few people how to cast multiple votes? People were casting multiple votes all over the country. They should have had some mechanism for rejecting blocks of votes. Maybe they did, I don't know. But it seems ridiculous to pick on a few fans in Arkansas, and innumerate to confuse multiplication with exponentiation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The nuclear gender gap

A recent Rasmussen poll shows:
Men and women differ significantly on the question of more nuclear plants. While 66% of men say more plants should be built, only 35% of women agree. The plurality of women (43%) does not think more plants should be built, along with just 24% of men.
This is a huge difference between men and women. It appears that many women have some sort of nuclear phobia. An NIMH study found that phobias were the most common mental illness among women in all age groups.

The poll also found:
The new survey also finds that 39% of voters believe global warming is caused by human activity, up from 34% in April. However, 44% say long-term planetary trends are most to blame for global warming. Last month, 48% cited this reason.

Despite the rise in voters who say human activity is to blame, the overall results represent a complete reversal from a year ago, when 47% blamed human activity and only 34% blamed planetary trends. ...

Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters believe that Americans need to make major changes in their lifestyle to save the environment, but 44% disagree.
So despite years of liberal propaganda, most Americans want more nuclear power plants, and don't believe that people are causing global warming or that we need to sacrifice our standard of living to save the environment.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why California is broke

The San Jose Mercury News reports:
WATSONVILLE -- More than 70 members of the Watsonville police and fire departments grossed more than $100,000 each in 2008, according to a city report.

Tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay drove up wages, in some cases by more than 50 percent, the report shows.

The report, produced by officials as background for union negotiations, was released to the [Santa Cruz] Sentinel on Tuesday as the first installment of a public records request for salary information on all city employees. ...

But aside from the top brass, 40 officers and sergeants grossed more than $100,000. Three officers and five sergeants grossed more than $130,000, in some cases surpassing the pay of lieutenants.
The article lists 75 city employees making over $100k. They also get about 25% more in benefits, and get to retire at the 90% of their last year's salary.

In case you are thinking that the California Bay Area is an expensive place to live, Watsonville is a poor farm town on the Monterey Bay. About half the population is Mexican and the housing is relatively cheap.

Update: A Watsonville fireman replies:
Imagine pointing out examples from American labor's bloody history showing the only antidote to capital is organized labor. The only way conditions ever improve for working men and women in this country is when union strength counters management's advantage. ...

The question readers should ask is not "How could firefighters earn $100,000 a year?" but rather, "How can my fire department meet their legal and more responsibility to protect lives and property if the city demands another 10 percent cut from minimal staffing and a shoestring budget?"
With an attitude like that, they need a much bigger cut.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

California election fiasco

The California budget ballot propositions lost big this week, and I am wondering how anyone could have expected them to pass. No one even made a serious attempt to explain them to the public.

Prop. 1A was a big tax increase, but the official ballot summary said nothing about that. Instead it talks about a rainy day fund and increased revenues.

No argument against Prop. 1B was given. How is that possible? 2.4 million people voted against Prop. 1B, and that was 63% of the Calif. voters. Obviously the Secretary of State did not look very hard for an opposition argument.

Prop. 1C was a crazy plan to borrow against future state lottery taxes.

Prop. 1D and 1E were to cut the funding of some overfunded state programs. They needed ballot propositions because the programs were passed with ballot propositions.

Governor Schwarzenegger says that we will have severe cutbacks if the propositions fail, as they did. Rush Limbaugh says that California will just ask President Obama for a bailout. All California needs to do is to cut back spending to what it was a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Google Page Rank Myth

Larry Magid writes:
Google has software that ranks Web sites based on their importance. Page rank and other factors determine where a site shows up in a Google search. The higher your site is in the results, the more visitors you'll get, which — if you're an e-commerce site — translates into more sales. If you use display advertising, it means more hits and therefore more ad revenue.

The algorithms that determine how a site is ranked are, of course, controlled by Google, and when Google tweaks those algorithms, there are winners and losers.
It is amazing how Google has bluffed everyone into believing that its search responses are mathematical consequences of its patented Page Rank algorithm, with no human discretion. If fact, Google employs thousands of people to hand-tune those search results. If you got your web site by clicking the Feeling Lucky button, then your luck was probably that some Google employee hand coded it that way.

Google now has some monopoly power over who finds what on the web. The easiest way to avoid its influence is to use Yahoo search.

Update: Lifehacker writes:
If you spend as much time online as I do, you can pump a significant amount of personal information into the cloud every day. Think about what percentage of that cloud Google owns. For me, it's three years of work and personal email in Gmail, years of events in Google Calendar, phone calls and voicemail in Google Voice, documents and spreadsheets in Google Docs, web page viewing habits in Google Reader. To top it all off, Google also has a record of everything I search the web for every day in their logs. ...

If the thought makes you uncomfortable, it might be time for you to take a few personal information eggs out of Google's basket. Truth be told, since I moved to Yahoo Search, I've barely missed GOOG. At this point, the two leading search engines aren't that far apart when it comes to quality of results and features.

Monday, May 18, 2009

From Patriarch to Patsy

The WSJ reviews a new book by Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker:
In the most affluent parts of the Western world, a historic transference of power has taken place that is greater than anything achieved by the trade-union movement, the women's movement or the civil-rights movement -- and it hasn't even been extended the courtesy of being called a movement. Fathers, who enjoyed absolute authority within the household for several millennia, now find themselves at the beck and call of their wives and children. Indeed, most of my male friends are not fathers in any traditional sense at all; they occupy roughly the same status in their households as the help. ...

"Home Game," Mr. Lewis's account of becoming a father to his three children, begins promisingly. "At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and -- let us be frank -- got fleeced," he writes. ...

"Home Game" ends with Mr. Lewis's description of getting a vasectomy -- at the request of his wife, naturally. Having submitted to metaphorical castration, he decides to go the whole nine yards.
He is describing the decline of the American man.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Convergence to one

Wikipedia says:
The notations 0.999… and 1 actually represent the same real number. This equality has long been accepted by professional mathematicians and taught in textbooks.
The equality is not just something that "has long been accepted". It is easily proved. There is no need to take any expert's opinion. Just read one of the proofs given in the article.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Births to unwed moms rising

The AP reports from this CDC report:
ATLANTA—The percentage of births to unmarried women in the United States has been rising sharply, but it's way behind Northern European countries, a new U.S. report on births shows.

Iceland is the leader with 6 in 10 births occurring among unmarried women. About half of all births in Sweden and Norway are to unwed moms, while in the U.S., it's about 40 percent. ...

"Basically we're seeing the same patterns," Ventura said, noting the trend has accelerated in the last five years.

Experts are not certain what's causing the trend but say there seems to be greater social acceptance of having children outside of marriage.
According to the CDC data, the rate for Mexican-American unmarried women is about triple the rate for white women, and the rates for blacks is about double. The moms are not teenagers anymore.

The reasons are not so mysterious. Our society has created a long list of incentives for out-of-wedlock births in the last 50 years.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The San Jose Mercury News Roadshow column reports:
Thursday is Bike to Work Day, and it's a good time to remind bicyclists that they should think like they are driving a car. Ride in the direction of traffic, stop at red lights and stop signs, change lanes safely, yield to pedestrians and to traffic having the right of way.

If riding slower than traffic, a bicyclist should ride as far to the right as practicable where it is safe to do so.

However, when a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side, a cyclist is legally allowed to use the full lane. Many people are unaware of this exception. It is generally safer to ride a few feet away from the curb than to hug the curb and encourage drivers to squeeze past you.

If you notice cars stacking up behind your bike, you may want to pull over every now and then to let them pass. But there is no law stating that bicyclists must ride single-file. Go to for more.
Yes. Bicyclists should occupy the whole lane when safety requires it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Consensual" parenting gives the power to toddlers

News of the Weird reports:
"Consensual Living" parenting, which was developed in 2006 and now has many hundreds of followers, supposes that every family member's needs are equally valid and respectworthy. Even pre-adolescents are assumed able to understand their own needs and respect those of others. When little Kiernen, 3, of Langley, British Columbia, hits another child, his mom told Toronto's Globe & Mail in March, she does not invoke authority but instead asks about his feelings and whether he'd like to express himself differently. If Kahlan, 18 months old, of Nanaimo, British Columbia, is grumpy at a time when her mother has made plans, Mom says she is obligated to consider other plans. And when Savannah, 6, insisted on wearing her Halloween cat costume every single day for several months, her mom in Burlington, Ontario, just shrugged, since she recalled how contentious the morning dressing rituals were, pre-Consensual Living. [Globe & Mail, 3-31-09]
I hope that someone is tracking how these kids turn out as adults, if the parents are really able to stick to such weird policies.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Support for spanking

Some people still support spanking. Newsweek has an article about a school that gets good results from spanking.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Paris Hilton speaks

The press is picking on Miss California and Paris Hilton again. From the Paris Hilton deposition:
Q. I'll ask you if you recognize those pages of that document.
A. I've never seen a phone bill of mine in my life.

Q. Who maintains your phone bills?
A. I don't know.

Q. Who --
A. I really don't know.

Q. Who receives them?
A. Does it say? I don't know. I'm assuming, like, whoever pays my bills. I never ask about that stuff.
Funny. She is a performance artist, and she is staying in character.

The Miss California pictures are not even pornographic. She is just modeling some underwear.

Monday, May 04, 2009

IQ denial at the NY Times

David Brook writes:
We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. ...

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess.
Meanwhile, Sam Dillon reports:
The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation’s best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.
He says that the gap is a total mystery that no one can explain. His personal theory is that schools are now teaching concepts that are too complex for the tests to measure, so the gap is just an artifact of poor tests.

I don't see how these folks can deny that Mozart had a special talent, or that there could be a talent gap between some people and others. I think that they are deluded with political correctness.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

New killer red meat study

A couple of statisticians write:
Hundreds of news stories last week warned people that eating red meat raised their risk for cancer and death. ...

These were the results driving the interest in the study, although weirdly, the strangest association was between high red meat consumption in men versus low red meat consumption and mortality due to “injuries and sudden death.“

That result – a hazard ratio of 26 percent (meaning 26 percent more likely) – was buried by the media. The category included death from unintentional injury, adverse effects, suicide, self-inflicted injury, homicide, and legal intervention.
It sounds bad to hear that red meat causes death in all those ways, but it is probably meaningless. If they have a theory for why red meat should cause death in a particular way, and they have an epidemiological study showing that red meat eaters do indeed die in that particular way more quickly, then that would be notable. But I really don't think that red meat is causing people to die in automobile accidents. It is doubtful that eating red meat is causing cancer either, since most of the big studies show no correlation between diet and cancer. I am going to keep eating red meat, and I think that it is healthy.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Swine flu fears prompt pork bans

AP reports:
GENEVA (AP) — Countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers as global health officials tried Sunday to come up with uniform ways to battle a deadly strain of swine flu. ...
Others were increasing their screening of pigs and pork imports from the Americas or banning them outright despite health officials' reassurances that it was safe to eat thoroughly cooked pork.
I really wasn't worried about getting swine flu from pork until I read these official reassurances. Saying that it is "safe to eat thoroughly cooked pork" suggests that uncooked or even cooked pork could spread swine flu, which then suggests that I could get swine flu if I buy some raw pork and cook it myself.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Bill Gates water incident

The WSJ reports:
SEATTLE -- Spend time with the family of Bill Gates, and eventually someone will mention the water incident.

The future software mogul was a headstrong 12-year-old and was having a particularly nasty argument with his mother at the dinner table. Fed up, his father threw a glass of cold water in the boy's face.

"Thanks for the shower," the young Mr. Gates snapped.

The incident lives in Gates family lore not just for its drama but also because it was a rare time that Bill Gates Sr., father of his famous namesake, lost his cool. The argument presaged a turning point in the life of a tempestuous boy that would set him on course to become the Bill Gates whom the public knows as co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and the world's richest man. ...

The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as "utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness."

That's when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son's face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. "I'm at war with my parents over who is in control," Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.
I heard of a case where a mom got into trouble with CPS for throwing water at her son. She got an opinion from another psychologist that throwing water was good. The world might have been different if CPS put Bill Gates into foster care.