Thursday, December 31, 2009

First number patent

I discovered this entry in a book called Famous First Facts:
6765. Patent on a number was granted by the Patent Office to mathematician Roger Schlafly of Real Software, Soquel, CA, in 1995. The number was nearly 150 digits long. It was useful in speeding up mathematical calculations performed within the Diffie-Hellman public-key data encryption system.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unamerican movie

Sailer writes:
Am I going deaf?
Or was much of Robert Downey's English-accented dialogue in Sherlock Holmes close to inaudible? I started to understand more of what the star was saying after about an hour. I think I could follow the diction of Jude Law's Dr. Watson a little better. ...

In contrast, Englishman Hugh Laurie has been doing Holmes with an American accent to perfection on House on TV for most of the decade.
I don't even watch these movies in phony British accents. If the producers wanted to make a movie for the American market, then it should hire actors who can speak American.

Yes, I know that American English was derived from British English, and this movie character was derived from British fictional books. But that was long ago. This particular movie does not resemble any of those books, and nobody knows what a fictional character ought to sound like anyway. So why give him the silly accent?

If the avatars on the 3-D blue planets can speak American English, then surely Sherlock could also. (I am assuming that the avatars do; I haven't seen that movie yet. I don't think that they would spend $300M on a movie and then screw it up with British accents.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Other threats to marriage

A Si Valley newspaper letter reads:
With some unfortunate events in the news recently, I'm still waiting with bated breath for the politicians who oppose same-sex marriage to issue the following statement (or words to that effect): Other threats to the sanctity of marriage include married (heterosexual) men having affairs with other women and heterosexual women who have affairs with married men (and vice versa).

Siva Kumar
Huhh? Yes, those who oppose same-sex marriage nearly always oppose adultery also. Just ask the Catholic Church or the Mormon Church. They are far more concerned about adultery. No politician defends adultery.

This letter seems like a joke. The same-sex marriage arguments are extremely silly.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Toddlers can be taught to count

The NY Times reports:
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
Is this a joke? Doesn't every parent and preschool teacher know this stuff? How is it possible that all the educators could be so wrong about something so obvious?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sentence in balloon boy hoax

The E network reports:
The couple who wanted America to believe that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was adrift in a runaway balloon both were sentenced to jail time for crafting a hoax that first captivated then horrified the nation. ...

He was also slapped with four years of probation, during which time he is not allowed to profit in any way for his ill-intentioned scheme, meaning no book deals or media interviews. He must perform 100 hours of community service a year for the duration of his term, write a letter of apology to community and public agencies and submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

Finally, he must pay full restitution for the state and federal forces marshalled in the rescue effort that wasn't. That amount still needs needs to be determined.
Prosecutors estimate the fee at $47k. Also reported:
To enforce that ruling, Schapanski ordered the couple to submit quarterly financial disclosures for the duration of their probation.
This is unamerican. Americans ought to have an inalienable right to make money off of publicity stunts. Cash-starved publicity seekers made America great.

The only expense this couple caused was maybe the price of binoculars to see what was going on. That should have been enough to see that there was no boy in the balloon. Heene sought his publicity by calling the local TV station, not 911.

This couple had to make a plea bargain because the wife was threatened with deportation and the kids were threatened with foster care. So they pled guilty. I think that someone should give them a medal for entertaining the country.

All Americans have a fundamental right to write a book and tell their story. All except the Heenes and a few murderers.

Silly law prof gives football opinions

Ever wonder how lawyers could produce such a screwed-up court system? Read this article for how a law professor wants to screw up football refereeing. His basic idea is to rely more heavily on instant replays by ignoring the referee's call on the field when the instant replay is ambiguous.

His next bad idea is to abolish innocence until proven guilty. He wants criminal verdicts to be either innocent, not proved guilty, and guilty.

Update: There are more lawyer comments here. The Slate article claims to be giving the arguments in favor of some deference to the referee on the field, but omits the most obvious ones. He doesn't mention that the fans don't like plays to be reversed well after the fact, and only tolerate it if the original call was embarrassingly bad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Avoiding goofy character sets

The NY Times reports:
The most widely trafficked search engine in Russia, Yandex, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s Internet users would favor Cyrillic addresses in the near future. Livejournal, the busiest blogging platform in Russia, said it would not employ Cyrillic domains.

“I really do not see Cyrillic domains being popular,” said Dmitri N. Peskov, a prominent computer consultant who organizes Internet conferences in Russia. “People just do not see the point in having them.” ...

The most widely trafficked search engine in Russia, Yandex, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s Internet users would favor Cyrillic addresses in the near future. Livejournal, the busiest blogging platform in Russia, said it would not employ Cyrillic domains.

“I really do not see Cyrillic domains being popular,” said Dmitri N. Peskov, a prominent computer consultant who organizes Internet conferences in Russia. “People just do not see the point in having them.”
This is one of those internationalism bad ideas that no one opposes, but no one wants either.

Why would anyone want domain names in Cyrillic or any other goofy foreign alphabet? I hope that I will be able to confure my browser to ignore such domains.

People use the internet as a universal communication tool. English is the universal language. Maybe Russian farmers talk to each other in something other than English, but there is no reason for educated people to use anything but English.

Using a Cyrillic character set for domain names is like using Roman numerals for telephone numbers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Medieval superstitious nimrods

The Onion's top stories include Four Or Five Guys Pretty Much Carry Whole Renaissance:
"Our research indicates that da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Galileo basically hoisted the entire intellectual transformation of mankind onto their shoulders while everyone else just sat around being superstitious nimrods," said Sue Viero of the Correr Museum of Art in Venice, Italy. ...

According to modern thought on the era, contributors to the Renaissance can be broken into two distinct groups: the brilliant few who, day in and day out, were thrusting society out of the depths of darkness and into the light of learning; and the rest of the so-called artists, mathematicians, and scientists, who were mostly all phoning it in.
Funny. Another top story is Woman Domesticated in around 3000 BC.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Geeks Drive Girls Out of Computer Science

LiveScience reports:
The stereotype of computer scientists as geeks who memorize Star Trek lines and never leave the lab may be driving women away from the field, a new study suggests.

And women can be turned off by just the physical environment, say, of a computer-science classroom or office that's strewn with objects considered "masculine geeky," such as video games and science-fiction stuff. ...

Not only are women missing out on some of the "best career opportunities, but computer science is missing out on female perspectives," Cheryan and her colleagues wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Why stop there? They should try filling up the classrooms and offices with girly stuff. They could use pink-colored textbooks and giving assignments to write programs to compute baby feeding schedules.

Where I live, most of the computer science students are foreigners. So maybe we need to encourage Americans by hanging American flags in the classroom. We could have some white pride posters, as there are not many white students.

The rest of the university is 60% female, so maybe we should have computer games and junk food in the English and Sociology classrooms.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News media create and destroy

The AP reports:
Can companies afford the risk of signing multimillion-dollar contracts with celebrity endorsers? The self-destruction of Tiger Inc. has some saying the billion-dollar athlete may be a thing of the past.

Celebrity endorsers can help boost both the sale of products and their maker's image. But Woods' hasty and stunning downfall shows how quickly things can sour when a superstar athlete's life choices are exposed in a negative light by today's real-time tabloid news culture.
No, Tiger Woods did not self-destruct. The news media built him up and then took him down. They have known for years that his private life did not match the public image that they were creating for him. And now they are piling on with unverified gossip and innuendo.

Whenever the news media destroy someone, defensive reporters deny any responsibility for what they have done. They claim that their victim self-destructed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Women not wanting drugs

The NY Times has this story, puzzling about women who don't like drugs:
“I even went so far as to get the prescription” for tamoxifen, she said. “But then I started reading more and decided this isn’t the way I’m going to go. I don’t like to take drugs.”

Such decisions have become a topic of growing concern among doctors and researchers, who are increasingly focused on treatments to prevent cancer in high-risk patients. ...

It is true that tamoxifen can have side effects, some of them serious. Among 1,000 similar 52-year-old women, the drug would be expected to cause 21 additional cases of endometrial cancer, a cancer of the uterine lining that is typically treatable when caught early. An additional 21 would develop blood clots, 31 would develop cataracts and 12 would develop sexual problems. And while more than half of the 1,000 women would naturally develop hormonal symptoms like hot flashes, changes in vaginal discharge or irregular periods, tamoxifen would cause those symptoms in about an additional 120 women.

While these risks are not to be taken lightly, neither are the risks of failing to use tamoxifen; its benefits for breast and bone are substantial. Yet virtually every woman in the study said she would be unlikely to take the drug.
I don't know anything about these drugs, but just two days earlier the newspaper had a story about 10,000 lawsuits over menopausal hormone drugs. It seems that there is a long history of experts telling women that they need to be on drugs to control their hormones, and then the science was later shown to be bad. It should not be surprising that some women are leery of these drugs, even if some of them appear effective.

Mammogram Math

Mathematician John Allen Paulos explains:
As we now know, the panel of scientists advised that routine screening for asymptomatic women in their 40s was not warranted and that mammograms for women 50 ...

The exact weight the panel gave to these considerations is unclear, but one factor that was clearly relevant was the problem of frequent false positives when testing for a relatively rare condition. ...

Cognitive biases also make it difficult to see the competing desiderata the panel was charged with balancing. ...

Whatever the role of these biases, the bottom line is that the new recommendations are evidence-based.
Huhh? It is difficult to see the panel's reasoning because the panel did not tell us!

Paulos admits that it is "unclear" how the panel made its decision, and then he just makes up his own reasons. I can do that too.

Let's say 100k women get screened at a cost of $200 each. 2k test positive, and they all get $2k in additional tests. 500 test positive, requiring $20k in treatments. Total expense = $20M + 4M + 10M = $34M.

Now suppose the insurance companies want to save money, and cancel all the screening. The 500 women with cancer eventually come in for an inoperable cancer, and treatment is only $6k each. Total expense = $3M. The insurance company just saved $31M by canceling the screening.

Yes, we can that the authorities were looking at evidence, but were they more interested in saving money or saving lives? Unless they detail the exact weight to all their considerations, we don't know who benefits from these recommendations. It does not help for a mathematician to invent possible reasoning. We need to know what the reasoning really was.

This is the future of health-care in America, I am afraid. Bureaucrats in secret meetings will make decisions to ration health care, and they won't document their rationale.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Drugging kids is big business

Here are some more facts about how kids are being put on psychiatric drugs:
Prescriptions for psychiatric drugs increased 50 percent with children in the US, and 73 percent among adults, from 1996 to 2006, according to a study in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Health Affairs. Another study in the same issue of Health Affairs found spending for mental health care grew more than 30 percent over the same ten-year period, with almost all of the increase due to psychiatric drug costs.

On April 22, 2009, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion. By comparison, the cost of treating trauma-related disorders, including fractures, sprains, burns, and other physical injuries, was only $6.1 billion.

In 2008, psychiatric drug makers had overall sales in the US of $14.6 billion from antipsychotics, $9.6 billion off antidepressants, $11.3 billion from antiseizure drugs and $4.8 billion in sales of ADHD drugs, for a grand total of $40.3 billion.

The path to child drugging in the US started with providing adolescents with stimulants for ADHD in the early 80s. That was followed by Prozac in the late 80s, and in the mid-90s drug companies started claiming that ADHD kids really had bipolar disorder, coinciding with the marketing of epilepsy drugs as "mood stablizers" and the arrival of the new atypical antipsychotics.

Parents can now have their kids declared disabled due to mental illness and receive Social Security disability payments and free medical care, and schools can get more money for disabled kids.
There is very little evidence that these drugs are doing any good.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Vote for the good-looking man

Volokh's blog reports on beauty research:
Are beautiful politicians more likely to be elected? To test this, we use evidence from Australia, a country in which voting is compulsory, ... Beautiful candidates are indeed more likely to be elected, with a one standard deviation increase in beauty associated with a 1½ – 2 percentage point increase in voteshare. ...

Lastly, we present some suggestive evidence on the question of whether the effect of beauty represents productivity or discrimination. In electorates where a higher share of voters say that they do not care who wins, that they are not interested in politics, and that they are not interested in the election, the marginal effect of beauty is larger. On the assumption that apathetic voters are more likely to discriminate, and engaged voters are more likely to choose based upon productive characteristics, this suggests that the effect of beauty on voteshare is more likely to reflect discrimination than returns to productivity.
I think that this last paragraph is incorrect, because "productivity or discrimination" is a false dichotomy. All voting is discriminatory.

If beauty is correlated with productivity for politicians, then the voters may be rational. It seems plausible to me that a good-looking man will be a whole lot more likely to develop political skills that make his a more effective politician. The same might not be true for women because pretty girls can often get ahead with poor political skills.

There could also be a genetic element. Other research has shown:
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that men's cardiovascular fitness at the age of 18 is a marker for later academic achievement.
Other research has shown that all sorts of seemingly unrelated talents are actually correlated.

Federal workers get rich

USA Today reports:
The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.

The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.

When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.

The trend to six-figure salaries is occurring throughout the federal government, in agencies big and small, high-tech and low-tech. The primary cause: substantial pay raises and new salary rules. ...

The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.
Wow. We should stop using the term "public servant".

Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics

The NY Times reports:
New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.
Some people will read this as saying that poor kids get better medical care than rich kids.

The article suggests that some kids are getting unneeded treatments, but that is usually a sign of wealth. Rich people get unneeded treatments all the time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A holy war can be a just war

Pres. Barack Obama said, in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture:
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion ...
This is offensive. Obama believes in a just war, as he just ordered the escalation of the Afghanistan war.

The concept of a just war was invented by Christians, and it does not mean indiscriminate killing. Obama seems to be saying that a Christian belief in a just war must necessarily be wrong.

Christians and Mohammedans have fought wars for causes they believe in throughout history, but there is no moral equivalence. Only the Mohammedans kill pregnant mothers and Red Cross workers in the name of God, not Christians. Christians do have causes that they believe in and are willing to fight for, but they are not the same causes as the Mohammedans.

Obama is reciting a liberal mantra that all religions are the same. They are not. If he were a real Christian, he would not say such nonsense.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Phony study on phony web sites

The Si Valley paper reports:
With a little sleight of hand, con artists can dupe them into giving top billing to fraudulent Web sites that prey on consumers, making unwitting accomplices of companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. ...

Stickley created a Web site purporting to belong to the Credit Union of Southern California, a real business that agreed to be part of the experiment. He then used his knowledge of how search engines rank Web sites to achieve something that shocked him: His phony site got a No. 2 ranking on Yahoo's search engine and landed in the top slot on Microsoft's Bing, ahead of even the credit union's real site.
Con artists can show up in searches, but this does not prove it. The researcher created an authorized site that directed customers to what they wanted. It was not a fraudulent site. So why should a search engine block it?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Crime to kill a rat

The Canadian news reports:
Two reality stars from the British program I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! have been charged with animal cruelty.

Italian chef Gino D'Acampo, who won the competitive series, and actor Stuart Manning face the charge for allegedly killing and cooking a rat during the show's filming in Australia.

Animal welfare activists in Australia lodged an official complaint and state police in New South Wales have confirmed two men have been charged with animal cruelty in connection with the program. ...

The pair have been issued a summons to appear in court to face the charge on Feb. 3. The maximum penalty is three years in prison. ...

During the three-week show, which ended on Friday, D'Acampo was forced to eat rotten egg, cockroaches, a crocodile's tongue and rhino beetles in order to win a dinner for his fellow campers.
This is so ridiculous that I don't know what to say. Humans have to eat animal meat (or artificial substitutes) in order to be healthy. Rats are vermin. The TV show was educational. Everyone benefited. What kind of kook would think that this deserves three years in prison?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Silly Title IX claims

The NY Times reports on a busybody who goes around filing complaints against high school athletic programs:
Soon, parents at other schools enlisted his help, and Landau continued to spot unfair treatment.

Girls typically played basketball in the afternoons, and the boys in the evenings. Cheerleaders performed only at boys’ games. Boys played their title games at arenas like the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, and girls were relegated to school gyms. His complainted have helped eliminate those inequities.
So the law requires cheerleaders at girls' games? This is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An adult conversation with a kid

Dear Abby advises:
DEAR ABBY: My 8-year-old granddaughter has posed a question that stumped me, and I hope you can help with an answer: Why be neat and well-groomed?

She doesn't care what people think of how she looks. She sees no problem wearing clothes that are torn, etc. ... I am challenged by her question. How can I answer her?

DEAR LOST FOR WORDS: Please stop trying to have an adult conversation with an 8-year-old. ...
Dear Abby considers this an "adult conversation"? Perhaps this explains why she give such bad advice.

No, grandma was trying to have an 8yo conversation with an 8yo. Kids need explanations for stuff like this.