Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back from the Great Virginia Race

Bob, Rebecca, and David (Chan, not Kelman) went on a Ravenchase across Virginia. Our first day time was, um, not so good. Our second day we did quite well, however, so we award ourselves the "Most Improved" trophy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

George Will: innumerate

I'm late to this, but Matt Yglesias called out George Will for throwing out ".01 percent" as a ridiculously high proportion of Americans to bike to work.

The actual fraction of Americans who bike to work is .4 percent. Which is a lot bigger.

You know, if someone just makes up words and/or applies random words to a situation without considering their meaning, that person is either illiterate or lying or both. And not even the socially acceptable lying or illiteracy. If you wrote a column for a newspaper and misdescribed a situation because you didn't know what the words you used meant, or because you picked words at random that you thought sounded vaguely like what you were reporting, you wouldn't keep a job writing columns for very long. Because literacy is a prerequisite for the job.

Shouldn't innumeracy preclude you from spouting numbers? George Will should perhaps leave the percentages to the staff of the local middle school newsletter, who are more qualified to handle them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I've been reading Pat Kane's The Play Ethic: a Manifesto for a Different Way of Living and he spends a chapter describing the work ethic, its role in the "new economy" (global corporations, erosion of pensions, rarity of lifelong careers in one company, etc.), and how people have tried to recast it or modify it for the post-industrial world. And he spends the book describing an alternative "play ethic", as the title suggests.

My question(s) for you is this: what is your work ethic? What is your play ethic? What is your learning ethic? How are these related, if at all? Would you say you have a "strong work ethic"? How about the others?

Don't plumb the depths here -- just answer what occurs to you. You can answer one, some, or all of the above. You can answer a question I haven't come up with. I just want to hear what you think about these terms and what they mean to you.


What have you been doing over your summer vacation, Bob?

Ripping up the basement.

Here's some pictures of the destruction, with some opportunities for forensic electricianship, if you're interested. Any comments about the state of the basement and our plans for future furnishing are welcome.

Those plans currently include: ripping out the furring strips that have been driven into the brick wall, as well as the strips on the ceiling; painting the brick walls with drylok, and putting a stud wall up to replace the strips; putting drywall up on the walls and ceiling, after putting canister lights or other recessed lighting up between the joists.

Our end goal is to have a nice-looking furnished basement room with >6'6" height just about everywhere (floor-to-joist height is 6'8"), and with soffits as small and high as possible (I can walk under the radiator pipes, but not under the soffit around them with ceiling tile and trim as it was.)

Thoughts? Suggestions? Dire warnings of homeowner doom?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flowers in the Sun

We went to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens yesterday. It was our first visit and we were impressed. I took a lot of pictures. I will spare you most of them. Here are some of my favorites. The pitcher plants were really amazing. They are native to North Carolina, but I had never seen a display this large and healthy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Innumeracy Footnote

One would have thought that Judd Gregg would have a clearer grasp of the significance of 0.479%, which is the proportion of Obama's proposed budget cut to the size of the budget.

I'd think he might think that'd be a significant proportion, since the state he represents (NH) is comprised of... 0.43% of the US population.

Apparently, he thinks his constituency are a "few pieces of sand" compared to the "Gobi desert".

Perhaps you feel like I've singled out Judd Gregg unfairly. In which case, I've got two responses.

First: hey, I'm lazy. I'm not monitoring all the politicians for their ridiculous innumeracies. But if you let me know about it, I _will_ post what analysis I can muster -- it's obvious I can't help it. (And yes, feel free to replace "analysis" with "smackdown".)

Second: maybe I do hold Mr. Gregg to a higher standard. I met him, I shook his hand, he said he'd do his best to serve New Hampshire, and he went to my high school. When he's intellectually lazy, it reflects on me. Step up or sit down, sir.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Swimming in Produce.

Summer vacation! I'm forced to stay home while they move our offices to a different building. Not only has the weather been great, but I got to go to two farmers' markets today.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Innumeracy followup

It's remarkably annoying to try to count out 200 grains of anything. So I played it safe -- I counted out 50 grains, what I'd spilled was over twice that, so I threw two more sprinkles on top. So that's definitely over 200 grains, probably around 300.

In other words, one of those grains is in proportion to that pile at the same ratio as Obama's budget cut is to the budget. That pile, in proportion to the Gobi Desert, is how inaccurate Judd Gregg's statement was.

Mr. Gregg's my first casualty -- take notice, politicos. You bring up the sand, you're in MY HOUSE.

Not a drop in the bucket, not a few "pieces" of sand.

So, Obama's proposed some cuts in government spending. Because it's only $17 billion, and the 2010 proposed budget is $3.55 trillion, this is described as a "modest" cut. On NPR, it is described as "less than one-half of one percent." Which is slightly misleading ("less than" is pretty broad -- a lot less, or a little less?) NPR characterizes criticism "that his cuts were but a drop in a $3.4 trillion spending bucket". (The $3.55 trillion number comes from VOA News. I don't know why there's a disparity.)

Or, here's some actual criticism from NH Republican Judd Gregg:
"It is as if this was the Gobi Desert or the Sahara Desert, and you came along and took a few pieces of sand off the desert"

This innumeracy I cannot abide.

$17 billion out of $3.55 trillion is 0.479 %. If I used NPR's $3.4 trillion figure, it'd be exactly 0.5 % (not less). "Less than one-half of one percent" sounds small. Even the fraction - 1/200 - looks pretty small. (That's for 0.5%. The fraction for 0.479% is 17/3550, which looks, well, not obviously smaller than 1/200.)

A drop is one sixtieth of a teaspoon, and a typical bucket is 10 quarts, which is 320 fluid ounces. And there's six teaspoons in a fluid ounce. So "a drop in a bucket" is .00000868 %, or 1/115200. Which IS A WHOLE LOT SMALLER.

Yes, I KNOW it's just an expression. If NPR is using "just an expression" to REPORT NEWS, they must be using it to give people a concrete idea of the proportion between the ($17Bn) budget cut and the ($3.55Tn) budget. And they're giving them the WRONG CONCRETE IDEA.

And we haven't even gotten to the understandably biased but nonetheless unacceptably hyperbolic Gregg. Let's assume that Gregg's an idiot (because it makes him look BETTER) and that by "pieces of sand" he means handfuls (if he meant grains of sand, he's just lying. Or so thoughtless about what he says that he hasn't even considered whether it's remotely true or not, which is about the same thing.) So, what's the proportion of a few handfuls of sand to the Gobi Desert? Making some more assumptions about Gregg's inadequate understanding of deserts, suppose he thinks the Gobi desert is uniformly one handful of sand thick. The Gobi Desert is 500,000 square miles. If we round up a few handfuls to a square foot, a square mile is 27,878,400 square feet, so Gregg's proportion is 1/13939200000000, or .00000000000717 %.

You want to know what would be like a drop in the bucket? A cut of $31 million. With all the generous assumptions we gave Gregg's assessment, his comparison would accurately correspond to a cut of...25 cents.

Maybe Gregg can afford to overlook the difference between $17 billion and 25 cents. After all, he's only off by 10 orders of magnitude. That's one drop out of 579,437 buckets, by the way.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

First Veggies of the Season

Rebecca was up bright and early Saturday, to get the best vegetables from our CSA at the Forest Hill Park farmer's market. It's good to be back in the veggies!

(Note: the above slide show has captions -- click the speech bubble that appears in the lower left corner when you hover over the slideshow after you click it to play.)