July 2007 Archives

Not that many people are linking to me, but I shamelessly "borrowed" the button technique used by Newsbusters and applied to my posts.

"Innumeracy" being the numerical equivalence of "illiteracy", it's astounding to me that most Americans probably wouldn't even recognize the word (thought most numerate people would be able to figure it out pretty quickly). That said, American Thinker is right that the defining quality of a "nerd" is numeracy, not "whiteness" as argued by some social scientist.

The article does not mention the true common characteristic of nerds: they are numerate, i.e. conversant in the language of mathematics - an odd omission for a linguist. This omission can be explained by the fact that Berkeley-style multi-culturalism is threatened by numeracy, the development of which is the hallmark of Western Civilization and the historical wellspring of western economic and military success. Consequently, it is incumbent on multi-culturalists to discredit whenever and wherever possible those who are numerate.

It troubles me to hear people denounce math and proclaim its uselessness in their lives... imagine anyone making the same claims about reading and writing! Sure "math is hard", but achieving basic functional numeracy is well within the ability of an average person, just as is functional literacy -- and numeracy is just as important! Consider: Jesus said more about money than about almost any other topic, and no one can handle money wisely without being numerate.

People who reject numeracy will not thrive in our modern civilization and have the most to gain by tearing it down. Parents who want their children to succeed should focus as much on math as they do on reading, or maybe more considering how poor most primary-level teachers are at basic math.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Update 070801:

To clarify, my point isn't that everyone should love math or be great at it, just that people should have an appreciation for numbers and a basic understanding of how they affect our lives.

The World Gospel Mission missionary group is looking for virtual missionaries to share Christianity in the Second Life game/community. From their email:

World Gospel Mission (WGM) has developed nearly 100 years of experience in the mission field by evangelizing the world beginning in China in 1910 and today has 300 missionaries and support staff serving on six continents and in more than 17 countries. And now WGM is the first to use this extraordinary missionary expertise to evangelize the “Virtual World.” WGM is the first to develop a comprehensive training manual, “Ambassadors to LindenLand Handbook,” to equip missionaries to evangelize “Second Life,” a 3-D virtual world inhabited by over 8.3 million residents from around the world. Second Life has grown into a prosperous online community where goods are bought and sold, people meet people, and members can even build their own houses. But, what about the spiritual aspects of the virtual world? Hubert Harriman, president of WGM, is available to discuss the challenges and the successes of evangelizing cyberspace as it relates to “Second Life.” Harriman can answer the following intriguing questions: How did you determine a need to evangelize cyberspace? How many missionaries do you have at Second Life? How do you train missionaries to evangelize online without getting caught up in the pitfalls of the online culture? Have you ever had any conversions to Christ online and how do you know they are real? What are your plans with Second Life? Do you intend to build an online church and hold services? What is the future of such online communities as they relate to missions work?

Interesting endeavor! (I know nothing about WGM's theology.)

One of the benefits I've found to living in a small city is that I can call City Hall and actually talk directly to the bureaucrats who make the decisions that affect my life. For instance, I just got off the phone with the guy who runs the Traffic Projects department of the Engineering Division of the city. His direct phone number was posted on the city's website, and he was willing to listen to my complaint about a new traffic light that was recently installed along my commute route.

The fact that I could get right to the person who could address my problem made me incredibly happy, and I was careful not to waste his time after telling him that the light cycles red along the main thoroughfare so long that the street sometimes backs up onto the highway during rush hour. The delay isn't really significant, only 30 seconds or so each way, but I told him that it appeared to be an unnecessary impediment to the flow of traffic. Even though he didn't think it could be fixed at the moment (because right-turners were triggering the inductor in the street and triggering the unnecessary light changes) it was still gratifying to know that my complaint was heard by someone who seemed eager to do his job well.

I wrote about lead-tainted Mexican candy a couple of years ago, and now there's even more evidence linking lead exposure to criminality.

Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

I don't find this hard to believe (though the WaPo's connection of this issue to Rudy Giuliani is interesting...). Lead is bad, especially for kids, and this itself isn't news: lead poisoning may even have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Missouri's Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, has severely misrepresented a proposed constitutional amendment intended to ban racial and gender discrimination by focusing narrowly on the effect the ban would have on existing affirmative action programs. The text originally submitted by the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative says:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit any form of discrimination as an act of the state by declaring:

"The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting?"

And the text as written by the Secretary of State for the official ballot:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

* ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and

* allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?

It's totally inaccurate for the MoSecState to describe the amendment as banning affirmative action "designed to eliminate discrimination..." because in fact all affirmative action would be banned. The inclusion of this phrase is intended to bias the reader against the amendment, despite the fact that the vast majority of voters would be in favor of a racial- and gender-neutral government. Since when does the secretary of state play politics in the execution of her official duties?

Just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I must say that the ending of the series was, in my opinion, brilliant. Quite an enjoyable read, and I wouldn't say that I'm a particularly fervent fan. Now that it's over I'm sad to see the story end (as I always am with such tales).

My favorite character, by far, was Severus Snape -- tragic, noble, brave, and desperately misunderstood.

Stephen Moore at the WSJ has a great interview with Charles Schwab -- I didn't know much about the man, but my respect for him has grown immensely.

Creating wealth is what Mr. Schwab has come to regard as his "life's pursuit." He's accomplished that not just for himself--his stake in the company is estimated at $4 billion--but also for the millions of small investors who first came to be owner-capitalists by opening a Schwab account. So who better to discuss the future of financial markets and investing than the man who revolutionized the brokerage business? ...

I ask him what he means by his favorite term, "democratic capitalism." He replies that the stock market today is "an open tent for anybody to come into." Ever the salesman, he adds: "For as little as a thousand dollars, you can open an account at Schwab. I mean, it's not a big barrier to entry."

Mr. Schwab pioneered the use of the Internet and helped create the concept of the online brokerage firm. This innovation has enabled investors to behave like informed consumers by leisurely shopping around online for mutual funds tailored to their particular financial circumstances.

It wasn't always like this. When Mr. Schwab started his firm after working in insurance, banking and financial consulting, the mutual fund industry was just getting off the ground. "There were a few high-load mutual funds that charged a 9% sales load" (or fee) he recalls, shaking his head. "The investor had a huge cost to get in and out and faced a big spread between the bid and the ask [price]. There were big commissions on the top of that, to boot. There was all kinds of friction in the system to prevent small guys from investing."

Mr. Schwab sweat those transaction costs out of the process so that even small traders could have a go at it. Brokers have become "commoditized" agents, he likes to say. Schwab's fees on its money-market funds are as low as 0.4% and they keep shrinking.

Mr. Schwab and others like him have done more to improve the quality of life around the world than the United Nations could ever dream of. Perhaps only Norman Borlaug stands taller than the financial wizards who make modern prosperity possible.

My brother sent me an article claiming scientific evidence for the idea that obesity is a socially-contagious disease.

The answer, the researchers report, was that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased one's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.

There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less of an influence than friends. It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away - the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between mutual close friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese too.

The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say, but since most people were gaining, not losing, over the 32 years, the result was an obesity epidemic.

Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, says one explanation is that friends affect each others' perception of fatness. When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.

"You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you," Christakis said.

I doubt that perception is the major influencer of weight gain or loss... from personal experience, fat friends want to go out and eat crap all the time, whereas skinny friends want to eat healthy and have fun in physically active ways. Either way, there's on doubt that the friends you pick have a large influence on you -- food for thought!

DARPA's building a war-fighting equivalent of Deep Blue named Deep Green, and I think computer-augmented command structures are the wave of the future.

According to the DARPA call for ideas (available in full here (pdf), Deep Green will include technologies called "Sketch to Plan and Sketch to Decide", "Crystal Ball", "Automated Course of Action Generation"" and "Blitzkrieg".

The idea is that within three years DARPA will be able to run wargames using human headquarters staffs, but that the Deep Green equipped staffs will have only a quarter as many personnel. Performance will be graded by judges who don't know whether a given team was Deep Green equipped or not. ...

"The long-term vision of Deep Green is for options to be generated by both the commander and the computer... so that some options are generated by humans and others are generated by machines. Initially, DARPA expects the machine generation of options to be centered on making clever mutations of the human-generated options..."

One of the most fruitful directions of artificial intelligence research is writing software that augments the abilities of human decision-makers. AIs that can suggest options to generals and estimate outcomes will be invaluable in the battlespace of the future, largely because they'll have far more information awareness than a human staff could ever achieve.

Yesterday I met two incredibly strange guys. The first I call "One-Bite", because he eats everything in a single bite. I watched him take a bagel-half, cover it with cream cheese, and then stick the entire bagel-half into his mouth at once and eat the entire thing in one bite in the middle of the conversation. Everyone else paused, recognizing the surreality of the act, but One-Bite just kept on as if nothing had happened. Later I saw him make a taco at the buffet and shove the whole thing in his mouth at once. It was bizarre and vaguely nauseating.

And then there's the Human Water Balloon. When we met in the morning he was a normal-looking guy with little discernible gut. Over the course of the day, however, I watched him suck down dozens of sodas and never go to the bathroom. By the time evening came he had a huge distended belly hanging over his belt. I would have sworn this was impossible if I hadn't seen it myself.

Forget the theological implications (of God using a Mac...) and be mildly amused at God's email inbox. (HT: Robb.)

Just watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "Tapestry" and it was excellent, one of my favorite ever. Also, very appropriate consider the day we've had....

The Pirate sent me a disturbing link about animal brothels in the Netherlands... uh, great. The sad thing is that both Democrats and Ron Paul would probably favor legalization of such establishments in America.

Neither Denmark nor Norway has a prohibition on sex with animals, as long as the animals do not suffer.

On the Internet Danish animal owners advertise openly that they offer sex with animals, without intervention from police or other authorities, Danish newspaper 24timer reports.

In correspondence with the animal owners, the newspaper was told that the animals involved have many years of experience and that the animals themselves wanted sex. The cost to the client varied from DKK 500-1,000 (USD 85-170).

I can say with some certainty that no Republican candidate for president other than Ron Paul would allow such a thing.

My brother send along an article about an online random number generator that can supposedly supply truly random numbers instead of the pseudo-random numbers us computer scientists are used to.

The work on QRBG [Quantum Random Bit Generator] Service has been motivated by scientific necessity (primarily of local scientific community) of running various simulations (in cluster/Grid environments), whose results are often greatly affected by quality (distribution, nondeterminism, entropy, etc.) of used random numbers. Since true random numbers are impossible to generate with a finite state machine (such as today's computers), scientists are forced to either use specialized expensive hardware number generators, or, more frequently, to content themselves with suboptimal solutions (like pseudo-random numbers generators).

The Service has begun as a result of an attempt to fulfill the scientists' needs for quality random numbers, but has now grown to a global (public) high-quality random numbers service.

Incredibly useful for a host of applications. I'm going to download a huge batch of random numbers right now!

Can someone with a blog try sending me a trackback? I'm not sure if they're working properly. Thanks!

Update for Mark:

Does it work?

I think I have a mild case of prosopagnosia. Either that, or I just don't care about most people enough to remember their faces. In my defense, when I lived in Los Angeles I never spotted celebrities; I often have a hard time recognizing actors in different roles; and I'm mystified that most people seem to be able to spot professional athletes walking around in plainclothes.

(HT: Neatorama and GeekPress.)

Bryan Caplan says that jock/nerd conflict explains history, but Ilya Somin modifies the theory slightly by labeling it the cool kid/nerd theory of class conflict. In either event, Caplan nails the prime point:

With the Jock/Nerd theory firmly in mind, this sentence takes on a deeper meaning:
We don't take steps to redress inequalities of looks, friends, or sex life.

Notice: For financial success, the main measure where nerds now excel, governments make quite an effort to equalize differences. But on other margins of social success, where many nerds still struggle, laissez-faire prevails....

Punchline: Through the lens of the Jock/Nerd Theory of History, the welfare state doesn't look like a serious effort to "equalize outcomes." It looks more like a serious effort to block the "revenge of the nerds" - to keep them from using their financial success to unseat the jocks on every dimension of social status.

I agree that the opponents of nerds are typically the cool kids, not just the jocks, but I think the main idea is sound.

I've been thinking about Mitt Romney for the past few days and I really respect that he's been married to his wife for almost 40 years. In this day and age, that's quite an accomplishment for a successful businessman, not to mention a politician.

Senator David Vitter has also been in the news recently because of his patronage of the DC Madam's prostitution ring. Vitter's wife, Wendy, recently made a strong statement supporting her husband and reconfirming that their family is reconciled and has already dealt with his infidelity.

"David is my best friend," Vitter said at a press conference last week. "Some people said to me they wouldn't want to be in my shoes. I stand before you to say I am proud to be Wendy Vitter."

She went on to say that privately she has forgiven her husband and that she has every intention of recommitting to their marriage.

"To forgive is not only always the easy choice, but it was the right choice for me," Wendy said.

And then there are the various top-tier Republican presidential candidates: Rudy Giuliani tries to hide his first two marriages, Fred Thomson is on his second wife and is a self-described womanizer, and John McCain ditched his first wife after she worked tirelessly to get him back from Vietnam. Not exactly models of fidelity.

So my question to you: other things being equal, would you prefer as a candidate a serial marrier like Giuliani, Thomson, and McCain, or a reconciled cheater like Vitter?

Even though Rudy Giuliani is largely pro-choice, if he's the Republican nominee I won't hesitate to vote for him considering that Barack Obama and John Edwards want publicly-sponsored abortions for everyone.

Elizabeth Edwards said Tuesday that her husband's health-care plan would provide insurance coverage of abortion.

Speaking on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards before the family planning and abortion-rights group Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Edwards lauded her husband's health-care proposal as "a true universal health-care plan" that would cover "all reproductive health services, including pregnancy termination," referring to abortion. ...

Asked about his proposal for expanded access to health insurance, Obama said it would cover "reproductive-health services." Contacted afterward, an Obama spokesman said that included abortions.

Clinton has not yet released her health-care proposal.

Does anyone think that Hillary Clinton's universal health-care plan won't pay for murdering babies? If it weren't for terrorism, killing babies would be just about all the Democrats could agree on.

I don't agree with everything the pseudonymous Spengler writes, and I'm not sure if I buy his take on recent American-Russian relations, but his "conversation that didn't happen" between Presidents Bush and Putin makes for an entertaining read.

Bush: But can't you keep the country honest by democratic means?

Putin: George, everybody isn't like Americans. If Americans don't like what's going on, they elect a different congressman, sign a petition, take out newspaper advertisements, or whatever. For two generations Russians learned that if you made the wrong kind of joke, you disappeared in the middle of the night. You survived by keeping your head down and drinking your vodka. We used to have political troublemakers - in fact, some of the most enthusiastic ones in the world. They were called "communists". The ones that Josef Stalin didn't kill, he sent to the Gulag. Just who do you think is going to take the lead against crime syndicates with private armies? If the government doesn't do it, no one can - and the means we employ aren't going to be pretty.

Bush: I don't mean to get personal, Vladimir, but I guess you know something about those means.

Putin: You had better believe that I do. Why do you think that the Russian government is in the hands of people who served in State Security? In the bad old days, the only institution that could take initiative was the security services. There was no other place to learn how to exercise power. ...

Putin: Did it ever occur to you that you have an insignificant number of Muslims to answer to - and half of them are native-born American blacks who never vote Republican? I have millions of Azeri Shi'ites attending mosques supported by Iran. I don't have the luxury to rap the mullahs on the knuckles and hope they stick their hands back in the pockets. Read what Niccolo Machiavelli had to say on the subject: never inflict a minor injury upon an opponent. Men will avenge themselves against minor injuries, but they can't avenge themselves against major injuries.

Bush: You're not telling me to inflict a major injury on Iran, by any chance, are you, Vladimir? ...

Bush: Okay, you don't have to rub it in. How do you propose to gain influence among Muslims?

Putin: Do you know how many civilians died in Chechnya when we suppressed the rebellion there? No one knows exactly, but the number is around 100,000. We know that half a million Chechens lost their homes. That's half the country. We've been killing Muslims for 300 years. That's why they respect us.

Bush: Vladimir, what you are saying is horrible. The American people will never see the world that way.

Putin: The American people don't have to. They are sitting comfortably in their own continent and think it's a great disaster when a few thousand people are killed in an office building. I'm not suggesting that you go out and explain to your voters that things might be very different in other parts of the world. But I am warning you: we have a tough enough job on our hands. Don't make it harder for us, or you will be sorry.

The world is a messy, dangerous, convoluted place, and I think Spengler is right that we Americans don't always appreciate that.

Aside from the sensationalism surrounding the Chinese brick-making slaves, the most notable aspect of the story to me is that Chinese peasants used the internet to force the Communist bureaucracy to heed their complaints.

The scandal surfaced last month after about 400 distraught parents posted a plea on the Internet about their children who had been sold into slavery in China's northern Shanxi province and neighbouring Henan.

They made their case public after police and local authorities refused to help find their children.

After the Internet postings prompted action from police and attention from the state-run press, disturbing images were broadcast of abused and emaciated workers being freed from brick kilns, with some young men too weak to stand.

I bet the Communists were surprised to find their iron boots slipping off the necks of their subjects. There's still some concern that government officials may have been involved in the slavery, but I bet those facts will come to light eventually, too.

However, human rights groups and some ordinary Chinese citizens on the Internet said those convicted could just be scapegoats, and accused the ruling Communist Party of trying to ensure that corrupt officials were not implicated.

Even the Luddites who oppose technology and civilization should cheer this victory for internet-empowered peasants.

Two parents played video games while their children starved and some people are worried about "addiction" to video games.

RENO, Nev. - A couple authorities say were so obsessed with the Internet and video games that they left their babies starving and suffering other health problems have pleaded guilty to child neglect.

The children of Michael and Iana Straw, a boy age 22 months and a girl age 11 months, were severely malnourished and near death last month when doctors saw them after social workers took them to a hospital, authorities said. Both children are doing well and gaining weight in foster care, prosecutor Kelli Ann Viloria told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Michael Straw, 25, and Iana Straw, 23, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts each of child neglect. Each faces a maximum 12-year prison sentence.

They'll spend 1-2 years in prison, after which they'll get the kids back, just watch. Even more outrageous:

“They had food; they just chose not to give it to their kids because they were too busy playing video games,” Viloria told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ...

Michael Straw is an unemployed cashier, and his wife worked for a temporary staffing agency doing warehouse work, according to court records. He received a $50,000 inheritance that he spent on computer equipment and a large plasma television, authorities said.

What's wrong with just just calling this neglect the evil it is and dismissing these people from civilized society? But no, there must be a way to cast the abusers as victims themselves.

Patrick Killen, spokesman for Nevada Child Abuse Prevention, said video game addiction’s correlation to child abuse is “a new spin on an old problem.”

“As we become more technologically advanced, there’s more distractions,” Killen said. “It’s easy for someone to get addicted to something and neglect their children. Whether it’s video games or meth, it’s a serious issue, and (we) need to become more aware of it.”

If "addiction" means "I'd rather do something fun than take care of my responsibilities" then hey, we're all addicts! The term becomes meaningless when it can be used to describe anything and everything under the sun.

Farecast attempts to forecast airline ticket prices for various routes and suggests when you should buy and when you should wait.

What we really need, though, is for tickets to be fully transferable between passengers so that a secondary market can develop and smooth out prices for consumers.

Barack Obama is right to condemn violence in the black community, but despite correctly diagnosing the symptoms his grasp of the underlying disease is facile.

Nearly three dozen Chicago students have been killed this year, according to Chicago Public Schools. Obama said that figure is higher than the number of Illinois serviceman who've died in Iraq in 2007.

"We need to express our collective anger through collective action," Obama said.

He said the government needs to permanently reinstate an assault weapons ban and close regulatory loopholes that protect unscrupulous gun dealers.

He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added.

"We have an entire generation of young men in our society who have become products of violence, and we are going to have to break the cycle," Obama said. "There are too many young men out there who have gone down the wrong path."

He later added, "There's a reason they go out and shoot each other, because they don't love themselves. And the reason they don't love themselves is because we are not loving them enough."

First off, how many of those dozens of students were killed with legally-owned "assault weapons"? I haven't done any research, but I'd bet anything that the number is zero. A ban on "assault weapons" is stupid.

Secondly, does anyone really think that young men turn into thugs because of a lack of self-love? Obama's prescription is exactly wrong -- go watch MTV and you'll see that if there's anything young people have in spades it's pride and self-importance. What young people need, and young men in particular, is a proper sense of humility. This humility might be encouraged by "love" of a certain kind, but not in the sense that Obama and others like him use the word.

Bryan Caplan has a humorous example of gender inequality but doesn't mention the most likely explanation.

Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist has a passage that beautifully illustrates a lesson my colleague Robin Hanson has been telling me for years. Here’s the passage:
A Dr. Rangel, a well-known blogger and MD, offered this recipe for impressing a woman:
Wine her, Dine her, Call her, Hug her, Support her, Hold her, Surprise her, Compliment her, Smile at her, Listen to her, Laugh with her, Cry with her, Romance her, Encourage her, Believe in her, Pray with her, Pray for her, Cuddle with her, Shop with her, Give her jewelry, Buy her flowers, Hold her hand, Write love letters to her, Go to the end of the Earth and back again for her.

Just imagine substituting “him” for “her” in this passage, and telling women to do it. “I want to be his girlfriend, not his slave” would be a reasonable response.

What is Robin’s lesson? Men take a lot of abuse in our society, but rarely complain about it. Why not? Because when men complain, they look weak and get mocked.

Despite appearances, women's behavior is quite rational from an evolutionary psychology perspective. Men are wired to spread their genes as broadly as possible, and women are wired to ensure that the few children they can bear over their lifetime come from strong genes. If women allowed cheap access to their genes they wouldn't be able to separate the low-quality men from the good ones.

Via reader JV, another cool engineering project in the Emirates -- this time plans for a futuristic mountain resort. I'd imagine most of these plans, as neat as they are, never get off the drawing board. Still, it would be fun to have a few billion dollars and dream these projects up....

I give President Bush and the Congress a hard time for their mistakes, but no one can dispute that they've managed -- on purpose or through neglect -- to stimulate a booming economy the likes of which we haven't seen for decades. Tax cuts and reduced regulations have been instrumental, and I hope our next president knows enough not to mess with success.

Ok, I've always thought it would be fun to host a talk radio show, and now I see that there's a site that lets anyone do just that, minus the "radio" and plus the "internet": BlogTalkRadio.com. You can get call-ins and store the audio online, for free, apparently forever. Sounds like fun, but if none of you called in I'd be very lonely.

Smarter people tend to earn more money but also tend to spend more than less smart people.

Zagorsky's subjects earned an average of $234 to $616 more per year for each added IQ point, meaning someone with an IQ of 120 (top 10%) made $4,680 to $12,320 more than those crowded in the middle of the bell curve with an IQ of about 100. ...

Zagorsky adjusted for outside factors that affect wealth, such as education, divorce, inheritance, smoking and psychological well-being (yes, people with high self-esteem and a sense of control earn more) and, to his surprise, found:

* While those with above-average IQs were three times more likely to have a high income as those with below-average IQs, they were only 1.2 times more likely to have a high net worth. "Simply put, there are few individuals with below-average IQ scores who have high income, but there are relatively large numbers (of those with below-average IQs) who are wealthy," he wrote.

* No IQ group had built up "a significant financial cushion." The median baby boomer's wealth equaled 18.6 months of income, while the highest-scoring group, those with an IQ of 125 or above, had little more than two years of income saved.

* Subjects with a 105 IQ had the same median income as those with a 110 IQ but had a greater net worth: $83,918 compared with $71,445.

It seems likely to me that whatever mental threshold people set that determines how much they spend is independent of intelligence. If a person's brain says "stop spending, we've only got $x left" it doesn't really matter how fast the cash comes in, it goes out just as fast. Cash-flow is high, but net wealth hovers around $x.

Additionally, smart people might believe that their intelligence is an inexhaustible asset and that they can spend more money than an average person -- they're so smart, it will be easy to earn more!

Doron Levin nails down the motives of environmentalists -- and it's not all about "saving the planet".

The folks against sports cars in Europe and big sport utility vehicles in the U.S. often are same ones who hate McMansion-sized homes, corporate jets, jumbo freezers, yachts, 60-inch flat-screens TVs, overnight-delivery services and other trappings of Western-style wealth and energy use.

Do people demonize these goods because they can't afford them? Or because they think others shouldn't have them? Proposals to limit carbon dioxide often sound like basic opposition to prosperity and rising living standards.

Outside of a handful of command economies, few today would agree that a central authority ought to regulate who owns what. But attacking those who ``waste'' energy achieves the same goal.

Many ardent environmentalists are convinced that the planet is in peril. Why can't they be just a bit cautious, humble or skeptical in their advocacy of reduced energy consumption, which in turn must mean reduced global economic growth?

Leftists use "environmentalism" to disguise their true motive: control everyone and everything to bring about their "ideal" world -- circa 1984.

I wrote last year that real environmentalists drink tap water, and as the bottled water industry continues to explode I think it's worth remembering that buying bottled water is basically for suckers. (Of course... the wife and I buy a $5 case a couple of times per month....)

When we buy a bottle of water, what we're often buying is the bottle itself, as much as the water. We're buying the convenience--a bottle at the 7-Eleven isn't the same product as tap water, any more than a cup of coffee at Starbucks is the same as a cup of coffee from the Krups machine on your kitchen counter. And we're buying the artful story the water companies tell us about the water: where it comes from, how healthy it is, what it says about us. Surely among the choices we can make, bottled water isn't just good, it's positively virtuous.

Except for this: Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 81/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water--you have to leave empty space.) ...

We buy bottled water because we think it's healthy. Which it is, of course: Every 12-year-old who buys a bottle of water from a vending machine instead of a 16-ounce Coke is inarguably making a healthier choice. But bottled water isn't healthier, or safer, than tap water. Indeed, while the United States is the single biggest consumer in the world's $50 billion bottled-water market, it is the only one of the top four--the others are Brazil, China, and Mexico--that has universally reliable tap water. Tap water in this country, with rare exceptions, is impressively safe. It is monitored constantly, and the test results made public. Mineral water has a long association with medicinal benefits--and it can provide minerals that people need--but there are no scientific studies establishing that routinely consuming mineral water improves your health. The FDA, in fact, forbids mineral waters in the United States from making any health claims.

And for this healthy convenience, we're paying what amounts to an unbelievable premium. You can buy a half- liter Evian for $1.35--17 ounces of water imported from France for pocket change. That water seems cheap, but only because we aren't paying attention.

This paragraph is misleading. Children and adolescents should definitely drink tap water rather than bottled water because tap water in most municipalities is fluoridated, and fluoride works wonders to promote strong teeth and prevent decay.

In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It's so good the EPA doesn't require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.

It would be a lot more cost-effective and environmentally responsible to simply buy a nice bottle and refill it with tap water as necessary. In some circumstances (e.g., stopping at a gas station on a cross-country drive) tap water isn't particularly convenient, but the vast majority of the time it's much easier to acquire. And for those who complain about the taste of tap water....

Taste, of course, is highly personal. New Yorkers excepted, Americans love to belittle the quality of their tap water. But in blind taste tests, with waters at equal temperatures, presented in identical glasses, ordinary people can rarely distinguish between tap water, springwater, and luxury waters. At the height of Perrier's popularity, Bruce Nevins [the man who brought Perrier to America from France] was asked on a live network radio show one morning to pick Perrier from a lineup of seven carbonated waters served in paper cups. It took him five tries.

I'd like to perform a blind taste test with some of my friends. When I do, I'll report the results here.

Gizmodo has it right: hands hand soap is just plain creepy.

(HT: Nick.)

William Randolph Hearst's Beverly Hills mansion, "the "Beverly House", is for sale for $165 million. I'd like to buy it myself, but none of the news stories have posted an address and I insist on consulting Zillow before calling my agent! Supposedly it's somewhere north of Sunset Blvd.....

The 1920s-era, pink stucco estate is shaped like the letter H and is spread across 6.5 acres north of Sunset Boulevard.

It boasts three pools, 29 bedrooms, a movie theater, a disco and separate residence for the security staff.

So who can find it first? This link will probably get you close, so look around for a giant pink "H".

I enjoy reading evolutionary psychology, but a few of these politically-incorrect "truths" seem pretty flimsy to me. (As does most psychology.) For example:

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim

Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why? The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don't get any wives at all.

I think the gender disparity in Muslim countries has far more to do with violence than does the relatively rare case of Muslim polygamy. Besides, it is increasingly apparent than many terrorists are wealthy, highly-educated people with plenty of mating prospects, which means that perhaps Islam as a religion is a factor....

As with most psychology, there's a lot of hand waving and theorizing without any experimentation or proof.

(HT: Marginal Revolution.)

A stationary cycle that hooks to your television to keep your kids entertained and healthy.

Instead of venturing outside, children can simply pedal away on the stationary bike while staring at a computer-generated image of a moving road on the TV screen.

And while manufacturer Fisher-Price claims the Smart Cycle is the ideal solution to concern about evergrowing child obesity, critics say it could be used as an excuse for parents who can't be bothered to take them out.

It also does nothing to combat worries that youngsters are spending too much time watching screens instead of looking at books or playing in the real world.

I certainly agree that many people spend too much time indoors, but there's nothing wrong with combining video games and exercise. If I found a game I enjoyed with a physical component I'd be happy to kill two birds with one stone.

Don Surber does a great dissection of the NYT's call for surrender in Iraq. We're foolish as a nation to even consider leaving Iraq now as an option, and the NYT should pay the price for being (yet again) on the wrong side of history.

War is not a television game show to be cancelled after 4 seasons.

The consequences of suddenly abandoning 25 million people to cutthroats and jihadists would make Darfur, Sudan, look like a weekend in Disney World. Yet the Times wrote:

That conversation must be candid and focused. Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

By “could” the Times means “will.”

This is madness. It is lunacy to suggest that UN peacekeepers drawn randomly from other countries and thrown into the maelstrom with no leadership skills or experience will do a better job than 150,000 professional soldiers with 4 years experience in Iraq.

Africa burns while UN blue helmets look askance and indulge themselves in child porn and petty theft. That is the Times prescription for Iraq.

The chaos would result in zero civil liberties for 25 million Iraqis. The Times clamored for extraconstitutional rights for 500 or so jihadists at Gitmo — men captured on the battlefield. Now the Times is willing to forfeit any civil justice system at all in Iraq.

America is a powerful force for good in the world, and as Edmund Burke famously wrote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Surber goes farther and takes the Times' position apart brick by brick.

What the Times proposes may be over-the-top, but it should be remembered for the Times has abandoned its principles.

Its next call to spend more money on the environment will be framed with the reminder of how large a carbon footprint the Al-Qaida Car Bombing Brigade will leave in Iraq if we surrender immediately.

Its next call for equal pay for women will be framed with a reminder that the Times is willing to allow in Iraq for the stoning of raped women as punishment for “adultery.”

Its next call for more spending on education will be framed with the reminder that the Times is willing to allow students in Iraq to be blown up in their schools and to be forced to attend jihadist schools.

Its next call for “affordable housing” will be framed with the reminder that the Times is willing to allow for millions more to become refugees in Iraq as they flee the violence that will engulf that nation in the wake of a withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

Its next call for revamping Homeland Security will be framed with the reminder that the Times is willing to allow Iraq to resume its role as the chief exporter of terrorism to Israel.

No one who advocates abandoning Iraq can claim moral authority on any of the other pressing issues of our day.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Rand Simberg wasn't impressed by the medical students he's known and John Derbyshire isn't surprised that the Muslim docs in London screwed up their bombs. My experiences with medical doctors leave me similarly unimpressed with the group as a whole. As Derbyshire puts it:

I attended a British university with a large and famous teaching hospital attached. The medical students were pretty widely regarded as the dumbest on campus, and as the heaviest drinkers and stupidest pranksters. Of the five or six student rock groups, the medics' was the loudest and worst. (Its name was "Perry Stalsis and his Abdo Men.") My subsequent experience of doctors has done nothing to erase those early impressions. Sure, medical students have to memorize the names of a lot of little parts. So do auto mechanics.

I used the auto mechanic analogy in my post, too, but auto mechanics don't have a powerful government-enforced licensing scheme to limit the supply of their services. That's the difference.

My brother pointed me to this article explaining that gasoline pumps don't compensate for temperature (or, presumably, pressure), leading to considerable losses by consumers.

Think gas is expensive? It's even more expensive on hot summer days. Gasoline expands as temperatures rise. That means motorists get less energy from a gallon of so-called "hot fuel" than from a cold one.

When Brent Donaldson, a restaurant owner in Kansas City, Mo., discovered that fact earlier this year, he joined hundreds of consumers in more than a dozen states who are suing oil companies and gas retailers, alleging that they have been overcharged by billions of dollars.

"The consumer is repeatedly being ripped off and not given a fair deal," Donaldson says. He says he spends $60 a week filling his Acura.

The lawsuits allege that higher temperatures of gasoline cost consumers between 3 and 9 cents a gallon extra at the pump.

Pumps are apparently calibrated to 60 degrees, so if you get gas when it's hotter than that you're paying too much. Of course, if you get gas when it's colder than 60 you're reaping a benefit... but gas companies in cold climates already compensate when the error would be to their disadvantage!

However, the consumers' attorneys say that in Canada — where gas temperatures are generally colder, and the advantage shifts to the consumer — temperature-adjustment equipment already has been installed at the gas pump.

George Zelk, a Chicago attorney representing truck drivers in several states, says the oil industry wants it both ways.

"The industry has pushed for this temperature adjustment in Canada, where they lose money, where it's colder than 60 degrees, and opposed it in the United States where it's warmer than 60 degrees," Zelk says.

I had always assumed that gas pumps compensated for temperature and pressure... otherwise, high-altitude cities have been getting systematically screwed for decades!

My Money Blog has a great analysis of the subprime mortgage meltdown that puts most of the blame squarely where it belongs: on the borrowers, not the lenders. (It's based on this WSJ letter about a family losing their home.)

Take Ms. April Williams, who is the main character interviewed for this story and also featured in the box to the right.
“This has stripped us of our whole pride,” says April Williams, 47 years old, who has until August to pay off her mortgage or vacate the two-story Colonial at 5170, where she and her husband have lived for 11 years. “There’s going to be no people left in Detroit if they keep doing this to them.”

They did this to them? Let’s see here - they have an unstable job, but still decide to purchase stainless-steel appliances, custom tile, a new bay window, central air-conditioning, a backyard koi pond… and is that a $50,000 Lincoln Navigator luxury SUV parked in her driveway??

For this specific situation, I feel like both sides are in many ways getting their just desserts. Borrowers like Ms. Williams were greedy, bought more toys than they could afford, and now have to deal with the penalties. Their lenders were also greedy in extending them so much undeserved credit, and I’m sure will be losing money in the event of a foreclosure.

The power to borrow can be used for good or for evil. Our modern economy would be impossible without it, but many people either never learn to borrow responsibly or just aren't mentally capable of the feat. Our monetized society is far more complicated than the average hunter-gatherer brain can comprehend, so it's no surprise than some people can't handle it.

Here's a story I missed from three years ago about a night club in Barcelona whose customers use RFID implants to identify themselves and pay for drinks.

Last week I headed for the bright lights of the Catalan city of Barcelona to enter the exclusive VIP Baja Beach Club.

The night club offers its VIP clients the opportunity to have a syringe-injected microchip implanted in their upper arms that not only gives them special access to VIP lounges, but also acts as a debit account from which they can pay for drinks.

This sort of thing is handy for a beach club where bikinis and board shorts are the uniform and carrying a wallet or purse is really not practical.

Pretty high-tech. I'm sure I'll get an RFID implant someday, but I'm not looking forward to the criminals who find some reason to extract them violently....

(HT: GeekPress and The DIY Guide to Becoming a (Real) Cyborg.)

We're All Journalists Now by Scott Gant is a brief yet informative piece that explains the new era that the profession of journalism is entering. Gant begins his argument that we are in a new era of media by giving us an outline of what old-fashioned journalism looked like (think Dan Rather.) He points out that the profession of journalism only pertained to a select few who worked for large, institutional organizations. One conjures the image of the cigar-toting, tie-and-vest journalist who swilled whiskey on his lunch break and while sitting hunched over a typewriter. The new era of journalism has changed this notion of the Journalist, with more people now then ever actually attaining that elusive status through the Internet Age. Gant's main point in giving us the old versus new contrast is to illustrate that all journalists, not just the large, organizational ones, deserve to have access to "shield laws" and "privacy" traditionally awarded journalists. Gant believes that it's high time for the American judicial system to start recognizing that "journalism is in flux" and there are more and more average people ("citizen journalists") who deserve the right to protect their sources. Gant says of this: "Nonprofessional journalists are sure to occupy an increasingly prominent and significant role in American life," (p.135).

The book is a fairly decent read with what I think is a balanced look at the journalism industry. Gant gives a concise history of American journalism and delves into the numerous court cases where small-time journalists were forced to reveal their sources and notes while larger journalists were allowed to refuse to do so. As Gant points out, "We should be suspicious of efforts to allocate preferences that do not reflect the reality that we're all capable of being journalists now," (p. 134).

To his credit, Gant also outlines some of the difficulties with this new Internet age of Citizen Journalism. He mentions that some press settings, such as a government building, only allow a certain number of journalists to attend. So, how do we sift through the rising number of both professional and non-professional journalists to determine who gets a press pass? Who gets media credentials and who does not? Which journalist gets press preferences and press perks? Gant gives various criteria for this problem starting on page 132: "Preferences should be based on the activity in which a person is engaged, rather than who the person works for, whether the person is paid, or the views that are expressed."

While most experienced bloggers and the internet-savvy will have already thought of or read about or heard of the ideas that Gant presents in this book, it provides a good perspective on the status of journalism today. We're All Journalists Now gives many details on court cases pertaining to the transformation of journalism, as well as layman explanations of the results of those cases. I would recommend this book to current students who are majoring in Journalism, as well as folks like Dan Rather.

(HT: With thanks to Jessica Williams.)

My brother Nick sent me this link about RoboCup soccer... the title is pretty self-explanatory!


The main focus of the RoboCup activities is competitive football. The games are important opportunities for researchers to exchange technical information. They also serve as a great opportunity to educate and entertain the public. RoboCupSoccer is divided into the following leagues:

Simulation league

Independently moving software players (agents) play soccer on a virtual field inside a computer. Matches have 5-minute halves. This is one of the oldest fleet in RoboCupSoccer.
As a physical visualization sub-league, a visualization using thumb-size robots (Eco-be system) will be demonstrated in 2007.

Small-size robot league (f-180)

Small robots of no more than 18 cm in diameter play soccer with an orange golf ball in teams of up to 5 robots on a field with the size of bigger than a ping-pong table. Matches have 10-minute halves. This league focuses on the issues of multi-agent cooperation with a hybrid centralized/distributed system.

Middle-size robot league (f-2000)

Middle-sized robots of no more than 50 cm diameter play soccer in teams of up to 4 robots with an orange soccer ball on a field the size of 12x8 metres. Matches are divided in 15-minute halves. All sensors are on-board. Robots can use wireless networking to communicate.

Four-legged robot league

Teams of 4 four-legged entertainment robots (SONY's AIBO) play soccer on a 3 x 5 metre field. Matches have 10-minute halves. The robots use wireless networking to communicate with each other and with the game referee. Challenges include vision, self-localization, planning, and multi-agent coordination.

Humanoid league

This league was introduced in 2002 and the robots will have their third appearance ever in this year's RoboCup. Biped autonomous humanoid robots play in "penalty kick" and " 2 vs. 2" matches and "Technical Challenges". This league has two subcategories: Kid-size and Teen-size.

The cooperative artificial intelligence behind the scenes is in the same niche as my PhD dissertation, so the project is fascinating to me. I'm going to try to find out more and I'll let you know what I discover.

Building land on water isn't new. Much of New York (including the site of the World Trade Center) is built on landfill claimed from the ocean. Dubai is building islands and whole communities off its coast to expand its residential districts and attract wealth from around the world. But this story passed along from reader JV shows that Japan is taking artificial land to the next level by purposefully using man-made islands to expand its economic claims in the Eastern Pacific.

Japan has launched an innovative project to try to protect an exclusive economic zone off its coast.

Officials are planting coral to increase the land mass of rocky outcrops in Japan's waters.

Six colonies of coral have been planted around Okinotorishima, some 1,700km (1,060 miles) south of Tokyo. ...

They look like two concrete roundabouts, sitting in the middle of the sea off the southern coast of Japan.


Their combined land mass is just 10 sq m (12 square yards). But these rocky outcrops are important.

According to the Law of the Sea, Japan can lay exclusive claim to the natural resources 370km (230 miles) from its shores.

So, if these outcrops are Japanese islands, the exclusive economic zone stretches far further from the coast of the main islands of Japan then it would do otherwise.

To bolster Tokyo's claim, officials have posted a large metal address plaque on one of them making clear they are Japanese. They have also built a lighthouse nearby.

China isn't happy but America doesn't mind because this expansion ensures our Navy open access through the Eastern Pacific. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops.

(HT: BLDGBLOG, who has lots of pictures.)

Happy Birthday America!

I rather enjoy programming on interesting projects, but I loathe Makefiles. Because of Makefiles, I hate developing on any Linux variant. It's utterly painful.

Why do I hate Makefiles?

- Arbitrary organizational structures, or none at all! Every developer has their own Makefile style that's completely individual and probably not even self-consistent.

- Obfuscated behavior. One Makefile isn't sufficient to build anything substantial, so a single project is likely to have dozens of Makefiles in as many directories, all including each other and depending on globals and environment variables that are tedious to track down. It's every bad programming practice rolled together!

- Arcane syntax. What? You expected spaces and tabs to be interchangeable? Fool! And if you put the wrong number of whichever whitespace is expected you'll get an error, right? Nope, your command will just be silently ignored and you'll get some random fault in an entirely different area when something that depends on the ignored command fails. Furthermore, symbols and keywords have none of their traditional programming meanings, and procedural blocks are jumbled together with rules.

- Invisible influences. Directory paths are relative to who-knows-where. Most rules in a typical Makefile are implied rather than explicit. Most commands have unintuitive side-effects. Half the game is trying to prevent things you don't want from happening.

Don't get me started on autoconfig.

Light graffiti is one of the coolest forms I've art I've come upon in quite a while.

light graffiti 08 s.jpg

(HT: GeekPress.)

The Image 8.25 elliptical machine I bought from WalMart a couple of months ago has broken, and Icon Health & Fitness wants $55 for three replacement bolts. Uh... no. I'm going to return the broken machine to WalMart for a refund and buy another machine.

But what to get? I'd like to get a nicer machine that will last longer than my previous two machines, but I don't want to spend a lot of money... the constant dilemma of the frugal shopper. Any recommendations? If I can get my $250 back from WalMart for this machine I can apply it towards a new one and perhaps spend as much as $500. Ugh. That's a lot of money!

Ever wonder when the best time is to buy a cordless phone or a shrub? Check out Consumer Report's sale calendar to see what items tend to be on sale in which months. It's only a rough guide, but I plan to keep it in mind when I'm going to make a major purchase.

They also add:

Some other tips that don’t fit neatly into the calendar:

* Airline tickets tend to be least expensive on Wednesday mornings because that’s when airlines try to fill unsold seats on flights for the following week to 10 days.

* CDs and DVDs generally come out on Tuesdays and might be on sale for the first one to three weeks.

* Jewelry sales are common, except around Valentine’s Day and the Dec­ember holidays. So plan to buy early or hope that your beloved will agree to settle for an IOU.

(HT: Sound Mind Investing Blog.)

Here's an article with five reasons not to buy an iPhone. The most important to me is:

'VoIP,' or Voice over Internet Protocol.

For the uninitiated, this is the technology that allows you to make free, or nearly free, phone calls over any Internet connection. No, this isn't just geek stuff. Skype and Vonage (VG) are two widely used VoIP services, and there are now many more. The technology is growing rapidly. Free and open Wi-Fi networks are springing up like weeds in every city.

Sources close to Apple confirmed to me that the iPhone lacks VoIP technology. It cannot use Wi-Fi networks to make cheap calls over the Internet

(Stop the Presses: Steve Jobs has just revealed in a Wall Street Journal interview that he excluded VoIP from the iPhone because he didn't consider it a "breakthrough" technology. He has added, though, that a third party developer may produce a VoIP program for the iPhone in due course, to run through the browser.")

That's great news for AT&T, of course. It's bad news for consumers.

WiFi isn't universal yet, but it will be eventually and there won't be nearly as much need for the existing cellular infrastructure. The next phone I get will hopefully have VoIP built in.

Google has made Google Maps even better by implementing draggable waypoints so you can tailor your route and require it to pass through any intermediate points you choose. Extremely awesome.

(HT: Nick.)

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