Friday, July 30, 2010

Starbucks Sheila is an alias

I do not listen to NPR radio as much anymore, because it now has more ads than other radio stations. I do not understand why they are allowed to broadcast on the commercial-free frequencies.

NPR's core audience seems to be liberal urban white women who somehow find great personal moral dilemmas while buying a $5 cup of coffee at Starbucks. NPR reports:
When Shefali Kulkarni, a reporting fellow at the Village Voice in New York City, is asked for her name while ordering coffee at Starbucks, she tells the barista a little fib. She uses "Sheila," her "coffee name."

That guy in front of you at the coffee shop might not actually be named "Bob."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sherrod video not doctored

ABC News reports Shirley Sherrod To Sue Blogger Andrew Breitbart Over Doctored Video.

I think that Brietbart should sue ABC for libel. The video was not doctored. You can watch the videos here. The relevant part is around 17:00 to 19:00. It seems like a fair excerpt to me. She admits to having a racist policy 24 years ago, and starts to explain how she learned from it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Number theory axioms

Steve Landsburg writes:
However, we still don’t know whether Fermat’s Last Theorem follows from the standard axioms for arithmetic.
Colin Mclarty says that the big modern cohomological number theory theorems, including Fermat’s Last Theorem, were all proved using Grothendieck’s tools, making use of an axiom stronger than Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory (ZFC). He says that there is a belief that these theorems can be proved in ZFC, but no one has done it.

Usually, mathematicians only agree that a theorem has been proved if it has been proved in ZFC. It seems to me that someone should prove that Grothendieck's work and its consequences is provable in ZFC.

Update: NewScientist reports:
To complete his proof, Wiles assumed the existence of a type of large cardinal known as an inaccessible cardinal, technically overstepping the bounds of conventional arithmetic. But there is a general consensus among mathematicians that this was just a convenient short cut rather than a logical necessity. With a little work, Wiles's proof should be translatable into Peano arithmetic or some slight extension of it.
The article says that large cardinals are needed to decide other arithmetic statements.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The horror of lesbian rape

This story is from a lesbian magazine:
My own first sexual experience with another woman was rape. Like many women, I didn’t know that women could rape other women. It wasn’t until I recounted the incident to a friend and she said, “So you were raped?” that I truly recognized this is what it was. ...

But each subsequent time she stayed at my house, the same scenario played out: She waited until I was asleep and then began having sex with me. It was years before I could acknowledge this was rape.
Weird. It might be a few more years before she convinces anyone. When you hear a woman claim that she was raped, it could be something like this.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How facts backfire

Here is another story about how people refuse to accept facts contrary to their beliefs:
New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t.
The paper is here (and also here), and I don't find it so convincing. It seems possible that the revenue decline was caused by an economic downturn, and that the tax cuts led to more tax revenue than there would have been without the tax cuts.

The correction is not so effective. If the US President says one thing, and some reporter says something different, then why should I believe the reporter over the President? In the experiment, the reporter was not explicitly saying that the President was lying, so maybe the reader might infer that the President is correct.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Google English

It is a waste of time for Americans to learn foreign languages like French and Chinese, but maybe the schools should teach Google English. There are now several good online translation tools, such as Yahoo Babelfish is similar. But these tools do not translate into grammatical English. So maybe the schools should teach how to read Google English instead. It would be a lot more useful than learning vocabulary words, as those words are easily machine translated.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Advice for the paranoid

Today's advice letter:
Dear Annie: Years ago, parents used to put up placards in their children's bedroom windows to let firemen know where they were in case of fire. That proved dangerous because pedophiles also knew which bedrooms the children were in.

Now parents are putting up stick figures of their families on the back of the car windows, including how many boys and girls they have.

Yesterday, I saw a car with two soccer ball emblems in the back window, each with the name of one of two girls. I assume those two girls were their daughters. To me, this is as dangerous as the window placards because any pedophile could follow the car home and target the children in the future. Should I be concerned for these children? — New York
Life must be difficult when your bizarre paranoid fears conflict. It seems to me that if a pedophile were going to follow a car, he would follow a car with kids and not a car with stick figures in the window. But then, I had no idea that pedophiles follow placards that were put in bedroom windows to guide firemen. The whole letter seems like a joke to me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Confirming your prejudices

A UK newspaper reports:
Professor Geoffrey Munro took about 100 students and told them they were participating in a study on "judging the quality of scientific information", ...

Then they were asked about the research they had read, and were asked to rate their agreement with the following statement: "The question addressed in the studies summarised … is one that cannot be answered using scientific methods."

As you would expect, the people whose pre-existing views had been challenged were more likely to say that science simply cannot be used to measure whether homosexuality is associated with mental illness.

But then, moving on, the researchers asked a further set of questions, about whether science could be usefully deployed to understand all kinds of stuff, all entirely unrelated to stereotypes about homosexuality: "the existence of clairvoyance", "the effectiveness of spanking as a disciplinary technique for children", "the effect of viewing television violence on violent behaviour", "the accuracy of astrology in predicting personality traits" and "the mental and physical health effects of herbal medications".
If people find out that supposedly-scientific research was faulty in one area, then it stands to reason that they would be more skeptical about other research.

This research is supposed to prove that people are unscientific when they prejudices are challenged. I don't read it that way. A lot of social science is bogus but sounds convincing. You don't realize how bogus it is until it contradicts common sense. Then you look at it more critically. And when you find out that reputable journals are publishing research with obvious holes in it, then you are naturally going to be more skeptical. I think that these study subjects are not necessarily being irrational. Maybe they were just learning a lesson in how social science research works.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Still no iphone multitasking

The Apple iphone users are all excited because the new iphone-4 has some sort of limited multitasking. But it still just approximates what DOS users had back in the 1980s.

DOS did not get true multitasking until DOS version 6, or versions that had the ability to load a Windows kernel. But long before those, it had the terminate-and-stay-resident command. That allowed user apps to continue to reside in memory and to service interrupts. The best known such app was the Sidekick text editor, but you could also do downloading, CD music playing, print spooling, and other tasks in the background. You could keep text in your editor and paste it into other apps.

You cannot do any of these things with the iphone 1, 2, or 3. There are certain system functions that give an illusion of multitasking, such as a system program that allows you to browse the internet and listen to music at the same time, but you cannot acquire a music-playing app like Pandora and run that at the same time as another app. Worse, you cannot even suspend an app, and later return to its previous state.

The new iphone-4 promises some new features that allow apps to be written so that some limited set of functions can proceed in the background. This reminds me of DOS in the 1980s. Except of course that you could write any DOS apps you wanted, and you never had to get Microsoft's approval. The iphone only allows apps that Apple approves as being consistent with its business strategy. It has even rejected a political cartoonist on the grounds that a politician might be offended. Meanwhile, all the smart phones on the market allow true multitasking. You can have two or more user apps running at the same time, and the system automatically switches among them.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Parasites cause low IQ

A widely publicized study found a correlation between countries with low IQ and parasite infections. It actually found a greater correlation with skin color, but that analysis was suppressed because of the lack of a causal model. There are probably correlations with sunlight and tropical weather as well. I guess these researchers can put politically incorrect data in their papers as long as they explain it away somehow.

Wearing a bike helmet might not make you any safer

This article says that there is no proof that helmets make bicyclists any safer:
According to a 2003 article in the American Heritage Invention and Technology magazine, a surge in bicycle helmets from 1991 to 2001 -- to the extent that 69 per cent of child cyclists and 43 per cent of adult cyclists wore helmets by the end of the period -- was accompanied by a decline in ridership and an increase in cyclist accidents, resulting in 51 per cent more head injuries per cyclist. ...

One source cites statistics from Western Australia where head injuries fell by 11 to 21 per cent when helmet requirements were put in place, but cycle use fell by 30 per cent or more, meaning the risk of head injury increased for those who continued to cycle. ...

In the Netherlands, there is high a rate of cycling and a low rate of cycling injuries. Virtually no one wears a helmet.
The real purpose of the helmet laws may be just to discourage bicycling.

The empathy deficit

Pres. Barack Obama gave this 2006 speech to Northwestern Univ. grads:
There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit — the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us — the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.

As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. ... Not only that — we live in a culture that discourages empathy.
Now Obama is known for his skyrocketing federal budget deficit, and his own personal empathy deficit. I guess he was speaking from experience, as his advisors have been begging him to fake some empathy for the BP oil spill.

Meanwhile research is showing that college student empathy is dropping, but there is plenty of empathy in ravens (birds) and robots.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Reader thinks Freud invented zoning out

Here is a NY Times letter:
SIT, or “mind-wandering,” is a phenomenon generated during times of non-purposeful attention. This construct is virtually identical to the concept of free association, discovered by Freud, and most effective during psychoanalytic therapy. How far we have come since 1895, when Freud attempted to develop a comprehensive dynamic neurological theory of psychological functioning.

Leon Hoffman, M.D.
It is funny how these shrinks can pretend that Freud said something useful, when he only said some untestable trivialities.

Another article cites Freud for the idea that it is unhealthy to suppress anger and other emotions.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Deadbolt the doors

An Oakland newspaper reports:
In anticipation of the Mehserle verdict, the City of Oakland has suggested that city retailers take one of more of the following actions to avoid the kind of destruction witnessed after Oscar Grant’s death last year:

Remove or secure large trash cans;
Park cars in safe locations;
Provide employees with the option to close shop;
Stock up on plywood to board windows;
Make sure all spaces are well lit, closed circuit TVs are working and turned on, and all doors and windows have strong locks.

The city also recommends that all exterior doors be equipped with deadbolts, gaps in door jams be covered with a steel plates, and cash drawers be left empty and open after business hours.
Wow. Baghdad would be safer. If I still lived in Oakland, I would make sure that my gun is loaded and accessible. It is amazing that we have four US supreme court justices who deny that we have right to use a gun for self-defense, and Pres. Obama is appointing another one.