Monday, December 28, 2009

Reviewing 2009

Each year I come up with yearly goals with little consideration and reason and post them to this blog. Time to review the junk I posted last year and see how I did.

1) Finish Dissertation. OK, no. Working on it. I won't say more or I will go into a dissertation on the dissertation's state.
2) Submit 2nd paper with J-W. Actually did this. Check!
3) 25 minute 5K. I was running again for the first half of the year or so, but it's been sporadic to non-existent this second half. Try agin next year.
4) Average 7 hours of sleep per diem. At night. Falling asleep on the floor of an office doesn't count. Hmm... Probably not, but could be 6 and a half or so.
5) More recipes! I think I did this. I haven't posted as many, but I've been cooking.
6) Read two fiction novels. I actually think I did this, but I'd have to scour around to figure out what they were. Pretty sure. Check!
7) Paca and N night once a month. Um, no, but I've been doing better about couple time. Just not great.
8) Attend 2 parties/dinners with classmates. No cafeterias can be involved in this. Borderline. I have to count meeting a former classmate for coffee for half an hour and a movie in the conference room with the Psycholinguistics Interest Group. But they were social-esque.
9) Watch Titans win Superbowl. Let's not talk about sports.
10) Spit out that paper on poverty of the stimulus and causation finally. I wrote another 7,000 words this last summer, but it's not resolved. It's basically a philosophy paper, so I've put it on hold again.
11) Pursue 2 of the most worthy research projects from the acquisition class' work. No.... and that's all I have to say about that.
12) Be organized for almost all classes I teach each day. Yeah, I did okay here. I never went in blind.
13) Get B enrolled in some sort of activity. Not really. He's done some stuff, but it was all in the service of child care so that we could work. Non-check.
14) Attend sister's wedding. Completely did this and did it in style. Double check.
15) Work through first Korean language book. Uhhh... no. I was sitting in on a Korean class for about 6 weeks. Then I got the flu and then my dissertation called me. "Hellooo, Pacaaaaa. Write meeeeeee." It does that a lot.

I count that as 7 of 15, using my special math, which puts me right under 50%. If you take out the Titans winning the Superbowl thing, since I technically can't really do that for them, it puts me at exactly 50%, same as last year.


I will come up with 2010 goals in a couple of days. Now off to get that 7 hours of sleep. Or... looking at the time... 4. My bad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I am not sure I know what is predictable and what is a miracle.

One of the common arguments against evolution is to list all the things that would have to be just right for life to emerge. It's just so so improbable. You start listing all the parameters and it does come to 1 over billions or something.

But what is the chance that I'm writing this post to you now? An entire universe had to happen just so for this event to occur. My parents had to attend Tulane in the 60s. Their parents had to meet in whatever way they met. I know my grandmother took a teaching job in northern Louisiana. Without that, no blog post.

Each of their parents had to meet, and theirs before that, and what if Genghis Khan had turned right instead of left so that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma doesn't hide in the same bush as that nice guy. So I'm writing this to you now because Genghis Khan turned right. Thanks, Genghis!

Of course, it doesn't stop there. While I have been thinking about chance for a few weeks, it was reading a related post over at Mother Reproduces' blog that made me write today. What if she'd had a headache that day on March 21, 2008, and not written that post. And I was reading that entry because I was at McK's where she linked to Whirl and then Mother wrote a comment on Whirl's blog.

In short, billions of people over thousands of years had to do just what they did, a vast conspiracy, for this amazing event, this blog post, to occur.

Yet here it is.

And it's such an ordinary blog post at that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

For the record

I've been making a lot of progress with the R statistical software package and programming environment over the last 6 weeks. The frustrating part about programming is that you always at some point come to what seems like it should be such a simple task and yet nothing works. I lost about 3 hours today to trying to remove some rows from a table. For the record, it appears I needed this:












Now back to my life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not learning

A couple of days ago a 20-something year-old man here on Oahu was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had been racing his car around 100 miles per hour on suburban streets when he lost control, killing one of his friends in the car and disabling another for life.

Yesterday Cincinatti Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry fell out of a pickup truck and this morning he died.

Yesterday a 4-year-old on Oahu was struck and killed by a car.

And last night, some of my neighbors came flying around the driveway in a pick-up truck, swinging the back around as hard as they could like they were doing stunts in a movie for a thrill - with several people in the back. I heard a woman almost in dry heaves she was so panicked that she was going to die. It took her about 2 minutes before she could regain control of her breath to get out of the pickup's bed.

And of course the driver and his buddy thought it was all awesome.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I learned from Nanowrimo 2009

First up, I know I've abandoned my blog. Just insanely busy. I will try to update soon. In the meantime, here are a few things I learned from doing Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month extravaganza.

1) One really can't write a novel on the side when trying to write a dissertation. Even if all your cool friends are doing it.

2) I'm not really a Nanowrimo personality in that I don't see any point of writing all willy-nilly. I'm not a serious planner in my writing. I will "outline" but the outline is a bare sketch of notes about a page long. Then I sit down to write, see what I come up with, and then perhaps sketch some more notes. In short, I plan just enough to write a few pages and that's it. But I really do want to think about what I'm going to write. If I'm going to write a story of a migrant family fixing wind turbines in 2150, which was the setting, I'm going to read about wind turbines. I can't just skip that in order to get some word count up.

3) I really, really liked writing my 3,000 words of mediocre stuff, reading it to B, and seeing that he enjoyed it. I think I could have a children's novel voice. However, I don't have that voice yet. The stuff I wrote on Day 2 sounded very different than the stuff I wrote on Day 1.

4) When I say I could write a children's novel, I really don't have in mind the current publication genres. Instead, I'm writing the stuff I remember loving as an 8-year-old. The stuff filed in the classic section for kids at B&N. Narnia, Kidnapped, 20,000 Leagues under the sea, etc. Does that stuff even have a genre anymore? It's too adult in language compared to today's middle grade, but it's also supposed to be enjoyable for 9-year-olds. Of course, if I really do write this for publication, I will have to find a way to make my interests fit with business interests.

5) Overall, the experience was good in that, while I only wrote about 3,000 words, that's 3,000 words more than I wrote in any other month of 2009.

6) I still like my idea. A girl and her family travel around the countryside fixing the tens of thousands of wind turbines that power the world she has no chance to participate in, mostly power for The Dop, the amazing transportation system that can take you anywhere in the world in an hour. Of course, one day she steps on one of those "trains". She also learns to fly with the help of a Hawaiian boy and saves her family's livelihood. Now, if I can just get my career out of the way, I'll "write it up".

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coconut Pancakes

These coconut pancakes were super easy and quite nice.

If only we'd had some coconut syrup. As it was, I made do with honey.

In the be careful what you say department

Yesterday N and B went out to buy Christmas hats and glow sticks for our upcoming march in the Kaimuki Christmas Parade with the Cub Scouts. B ended up with a hat with fake elf ears and so he was pretending to be a Christmas Elf during dinner. I told him he should be careful at the Parade because he looked so much like an elf that Santa might think he really was an elf and take him off to the North Pole.

At the parade last night then, we watched the various high school bands, the military band, the two semis for Ohana Concrete Pouring, some clowns, etc. Suddenly B rips off my and his Christmas hat and hides behind N. Apparently, Santa was coming on his fire truck and B didn't want to be taken away.

So he spent much of the time of Santa's passing cowering behind his mom so he wasn't swept off to build toys in Santa's Slave Elf factories.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Of flags and religion

Apparently, a Council of Islamic nations at the U.N. has started lobbying for >a treaty banning certain types of religious blasphemy. They clearly have in mind the old Danish cartoon from a couple years back. This flies right in the face of freedom of speech, of course, and I am opposed to it.

However, it made me think back to the old flag burning Constitutional amendment that periodically crops up. The idea is identical. Many Americans believe that the flag is such an important symbol that to defame it is a moral outrage they will not stand for. And so they will put aside freedom of speech for it.

I also disagree strongly there.

But what's interesting to me is that the U.S. flag is the only symbol in the country that is being treated this way. It's true that you often can't burn a cross, but that isn't because it is an attack on Christians. It's because of the history of cross burning and racial violence in the nation. No Star of David amendments being batted around by Jews; no figurines of Christ amendment, no Buddha statue amendment. Just the flag.

And this makes me think that, for many, patriotism (chauvinism in the original sense is even better) is their religion. I'm fairly patriotic myself. I care how people think about my nation; I want it to do good things; I have affection for my home nation; I would defend it if attacked. But love of country is nothing like love of God.

Something seems askew....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The base rate fallacy

I had reason to look up the base rate fallacy a few minutes ago. Here's a very nice example of what it is and why it is relevant to our real lives today. This is a total copy and paste job from Wikipedia, with some corrections:

In a city with 100 terrorists and 1,000,000 non-terrorists (total population: 1,000,100), there is a surveillance camera with automatic face recognition software. If the camera sees a known terrorist, it will ring a bell with 99% probability. If the camera sees a non-terrorist, it will trigger the alarm 1% of the time. So, the failure rate of the camera is always 1%.

Suppose somebody triggers the alarm. What is the chance he/she is really a terrorist?

Someone making the base rate fallacy would incorrectly claim that the false alarm rate must be 1 in 100 because the failure rate of the device is 1 in 100, and so he/she is 99% sure to be a terrorist if the device rings. The fallacy arises from the assumption that the device failure rate and the false alarm rate are equal.

This assumption is incorrect because the camera is far more likely to encounter non-terrorists than terrorists. (Paca: This is the key sentence in the whole thing. While the machine only falsely tags 1% of the people it sees, it sees non-terrorists relentlessly and only sees an actual terrorist once in a blue moon, giving it a chance to make an error on non-terrorists a lot more often than it has a chance to make an error on a real terrorist.) The higher frequency of non-terrorists increases the false alarm rate.

Imagine that all 1,000,100 people in the city pass in front of the camera. About 99 of the 100 terrorists will trigger a ring — and so will about 10,000 of the one million non-terrorists. Therefore the camera will claim that 10,099 people are terrorists, and only 99 of them are in fact terrorists -- despite the fact that the camera only fails 1% of the time. So, the probability that a person who triggers the alarm is actually a terrorist is 99 in 10,099 (about 1/102). (Paca: So, practically, the camera is almost always wrong.)

The base rate fallacy is only fallacious when non-terrorists outnumber terrorists, or conversely. In a city with about 50% terrorists and about 50% nonterrorists, the real probability of misidentification won't be far from the failure rate of the device.

Paca: The same is true for something like a medical test as well. Image a test which examines a bit of tissue and gives a breast cancer diagnosis. The machine is well made and only makes a mistake 1% of the time. However, breast cancer only occurs in about 13% of American women. This means that a machine that only makes a mistake 1 in 100 times will still actually tag more women who do NOT have breast cancer as having breast cancer than it will tag women who actually do have breast cancer. Not because it's a poorly made machine, but because 87% of the women it sees do not have breast cancer.

If you are into the math (because I know you are), what we want to know is the probability of cancer given a positive diagnosis. This is P(Cancer | Diagnosis = Yes). The error rate of the machine is actually (simplifying) the probability of a diagnosis given cancer ( P(Diagnosis = Yes|Cancer)), i.e., when cancer is present in the tissue sample, it correctly says yes 99% of the time. These are not the same thing.

P(Cancer | Diagnosis = Yes) does NOT = P (Diagnosis = Yes | Cancer)


P (Cancer | Diagnosis = Yes) DOES EQUAL** P(Diagnosis = Yes | Cancer)*P(Cancer)

That last term, the P(Cancer) is the probability that someone has cancer regardless of any medical diagnosis or other evidence. It's called the "base rate" or "prior probability".

The base rate fallacy is also inherent in funny statistical claims such as: Did you know that 99% of murderers eat bread?! It may be true, but the base rate of any person eating bread is probably also around 99%.

Returning to the cancer diagnosis machine, let's say we have a machine that tests 1,000 American women for breast cancer. Because the overall base rate of breast cancer is approximately 13%, we know, before any tests are done, that 130 of these women will have breast cancer while 870 will not have breast cancer. (13% * 1,000 women). How will the machine do? Let's assume it's still got an error rate of only 1%. So it will falsely say that 1% of women who do not have breast cancer do in fact have breast cancer, which is 1% * 870 or 87 women. It will also get 99% of the women who really do have breast cancer or 99% * 130 = 129 women. So, it will claim that 216 women have breast cancer when only 129 actually do. 40% of its claims of breast cancer will be false positives -- despite only making the wrong actual diagnosis 1% of the time.

This is the case with a disease that's fairly common. Over 1 in 10 women are likely to get breast cancer in their lives. The problem only compounds as the disease gets more rare.

**Technically, proportional to, since I'm ignoring the denominator)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stop. Circle Time.

13 years ago now I finished up a Master's degree in philosophy. I was decently good at it. I was given this graduate award that almost never goes to an M.A., but only to a Ph.D. However, I decided not to apply for doctoral programs because

1) I had spent my entire life taking classes. Really had no idea what else one could do in the world. I thought it was time to pick my head up and look around a bit.

2) I was able to write papers that got an A, but I really had nothing to say. I was 22 when I got the M.A. degree and just didn't have any wisdom at all.

3) I wasn't sure that writing yet another philosophy paper would really mean much to anyone. It's a field based on logic and rhetoric, and nothing is as easily manipulated as those two things. It's easy to spend your time being clever instead of productive. If I was going to be a scholar, I wanted to have real empirical data to show that I was right or wrong with a theory. All research can spin its wheels with bad assumptions, but please give me some data. (It's easy to do meaningless work in experimental research as well, but that's another topic. Really, the take home point is that research that's good and that matters is few and far between and the fact that it ever appears at all should make you appreciate those scholars who do it even more.)

I say all this, because I am in the middle of getting materials together for a post-doc at the University of Oslo, where I would do research in... wait for it... linguistics and philosophy. I'm actually kinda qualified for this one in a way that isn't a complete stretch. And it's one of the possibilities that's more exciting than others.

Suffice it to say, it would just be freaky if I ended up spending 2 years doing philosophy again.

However, maybe I'm just applying for the job because it's freaking Oslo! I could hike me a fjord, eat me a bunch a smoked fish, stay up to midnight with the sun, and go around doing the Swedish chef voice as if I can't tell the difference between Sweden and Norway. Really, that last one makes it all worthwhile. I'm sure the Norse love being considered Swede.

My two big questions are: 1) If I get the job, do I have to wear the helmet with the little horns? and 2) If I do, can I please change my name to Hagar the Horrible?

Friday, November 06, 2009

You can't touch this

Has no screens that you can touch. Or if you touch it, it's for your own benefit, not because it does anything.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Planet Claire

I've been enjoying this tune a lot lately.

Planet Claire

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The yearbook photo

In my school, the senior class members were allowed to choose what their photo would be and you could have small groups.

Here I am at 16 with my three friends. Hopefully, people can figure out which I am. My son got it wrong though.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On my hometown

I've been planning to do a post of comments on my old hometown in Northeastern Louisiana for a while, but I keep putting it off because it's a difficult subject with no conclusions.

But I just came across this almost News of the Weird article in which a Justice of the Peace in Tangipahoa Parish, which is north of New Orleans, was caught denying a marriage license to a couple because there were "interracial," meaning she's white and he's black, in this case.

On the obvious and negative side, the reaction is:

?!@#&$#%@#$$($%? REALLY? STILL TODAY IN 2009?!!!!!! C'MON LOUISIANA!!!!!!

The other side of things is that at least this guy is becoming more and more of a minority. I get the impression most Louisianians are also going: ?$%@#$#@%^

This was enough of an inspiration to finally write my article about the Boro, which is Winnsboro, LA.

My family has deep roots there with my great grandfather moving there over 100 years ago. He was a Methodist minister for a very short span in the early 1900s. My grandfather, father, and mother were all Presidents of the Chamber of Commerce at one point, with my mother being the first female president they'd had. My dad is the only family member remaining in the town, but the Paca family was a leading family, you could say, for a century.

I was born and raised there, and it was the only world I knew until I was 12, when I left to New Jersey for a boarding school. I spent a few summers there in the mid-80s, but by senior year or so, I would stay with my mother in other places in Louisiana and Mississippi. And so, I only know of the town from a child's point of view and I have not spent more than a few days at a time there in 20 years.

It's a farming town as virtually all small towns in the area are, on the border of the Mississippi Delta. When I was growing up, the crops were cotton and soybeans. The cotton market fell apart later when I was in college and lots of people moved to corn.

The racial makeup was stereotypical for the area as well. White and black. And that was almost it. Everyone could count the number of families of any other ethnicity on two hands, maybe one hand. I'm only coming up with 4 families right now.

As far as I remember as a child, almost all the elected leaders and such, with only a couple exceptions, were white. I always thought that this was basically because the town was about 60% white, 40% black and there was enough racism that only a small number of whites would vote across the color line.

However, I recently came across some interesting demographics about the town. I had the racial makeup reversed. It's actually 60% black / 40% white. Whites are the minority. (I don't know if this is a change over the last 20 years or not.) Puts the lack of black elected leaders in a slightly different perspective. Here are some other interesting demographics:

Of the households with children, only 35% are headed by a married couple. Another third have a female head with no husband present, and the final third are labeled "non-family". I'm not sure what that means exactly. Could be non-married, could be a combination of families.

The median income per household for the town is... get this:

$17,500 per year.

That's median, so 50% of the households make that amount OR LESS. Not one person, the entire household. This then implies the next stunning fact:

Almost 60% of the town lives below the federal poverty line.

This is not going to be the whole picture, because I know well that there are many poor whites, but one also can't notice the close connection between the town being 60% black and just about 60% of households being below the poverty line.

Things are changing, as I understand it. Here's a lovely video of Freddie Cole, a world famous jazz musician, brother of Nat King Cole, playing a couple years back in town at the Princess Theater. The band stayed with my dad while visiting. The Princess Theater is something of a high spot for Winnsboro with well-known artists coming to play and productions being mounted.

But in the comments to this video, someone stated how wonderful it was to see this, not just because it's a great jazz musician in a tiny town, but because black and white citizens were sitting together and playing music together. And this was not true when I was a kid. In the early 80s still, blacks had to buy their movie tickets at a side door and then sit in the balcony. I confess I had forgotten, but it's completely true. Clearly, it was illegal, but segregation continued on at the Princess just 25 years ago. Good news is that that's gone. Bad news is that it's so close in memory.

I periodically wonder: Why is Winnsboro in such economic troubles with a full 60% below the poverty line? A large part of it is the general decline of rural America. People are leaving the country for the city all over the nation. At the same time, not all rural places have to collapse. I've never actually been there, but Vermont has a reputation of being simultaneously rural and yet decently educated and, if not prosperous, getting by alright. The Delta soil is very rich. Why can't Louisiana be like Vermont?

My best idea is that it's this lingering racism and history of slavery. While the Princess is no longer segregated, it sure seems like most whites and blacks still live rather separate lives. Here are two examples I've found:

The town has one major festival each year: The Franklin Parish Catfish Festival.

I've never actually been, as it started sometime when I was in boarding school. I always hear good things, though, and it became a pretty big deal for a while with thousands of people attending. I encourage my readers down Baton Rouge way to try going some time. Interestingly, though, if I look at the photos on the official site, I can only find one single African-American in the pics. In a town where 60% of the residents are African-American. (I'm sure things are more mixed in reality, because this is a big event and town celebrations like parades had everyone attend when I was a kid. Even so, there's at least under-representation of the black citizens in the way the celebration is presented online.)

Simultaneously, blacks in Winnsboro will celebrate the Juneteenth Festival. I'd like to pretend I was all in the know on this but I hadn't heard of Juneteenth. It's a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in Texas and has slowly spread across the nation. Here's a little home video from YouTube.

Nothing in particular to see there except that I don't see a single white person hanging out. A Juneteenth festival is never mentioned as a cultural event on the town web site. People are still living in their own racial worlds.

And this has immediate political consequences. I just dug up the parish election results for 2008. (A parish is like a county and include more than just Winnsboro.) The parish voted 67% for McCain, 32% for Obama. Got those numbers? 67 McCain, 32 Obama.

Now here's the racial makeup of the entire Parish: 67% white, 32% black. I'm not making this up. It looks for all the world like a straight race-to-party-line.

So what? I can only think that this two worlds approach to race that persists is still killing the rural South. Not just black Louisianians, but white Louisianians as well. No society can truly prosper without them all working together, or at least consistently with one another. Until that cycle is broken, the median income will stay as low as it is. I don't know what it will take. All the old guard dying off leaving the younger people who see all of the citizens as one group, not just those of their own color? I don't know. I welcome your ideas.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dubious concoctions - Goldfish tenderloin

Several weeks ago, we had these pork tenderloins. They always come two in a package. I had cooked both the first night and so later in the week it was time for the second one as leftover. I didn't want to have the exact same thing, so... I had this idea.

N invented Cheez-It Chicken several years ago. You basically crush the Cheez-It crackers into crumbs and then use them like bread crumbs. So I figured I would try to do this but with a pork tenderloin.

Unfortunately, we didn't have Cheez-Its; we only had Goldfish crackers. But those are cheese crackers, right? So same diff.

Except that we only had rainbow colored Goldfish crackers.

However, I was not to be daunted, so I crushed them all up. Dipped the already cooked tenderloin in some sour cream, stuck it in a bag with the smushed Goldfish crackers, and then fried it up in a skillet with some oil.


It wasn't that bad actually, though I don't think this is a recipe anyone needs to recreate. It certainly looked... interesting, however.

the big idea

I've been working on a Big Idea in the back of my head for a few weeks now. I call it the LIMIT model of language, which stands for Language as Integrated Motion in Time.

I've always been rather good at writing prologues to stories and mediocre at following through. I just wrote the intro to my idea and it has a nice ring to it.

LIMIT: Language as Integrated Motion in Time

This is a work of synthesis. The method was this: First, there's a goal. The goal originates from the simple thesis that time is a critical component of cognition, and that time must be a component of any understanding of our knowledge of language. The goal was then to discover how to stop saying that bits of language are to the left and right of each other and profitably say that they are before and after. Next, it examines available research programs, selecting the ones that most benefit that goal. As such, it is an active selection, not a passive one. Then, it modifies those research programs to make as coherent of a whole as could be achieved when they are integrated. The research programs that are used, then, are not taken as wholes, but shaped and modified to fit the purpose. Finally, a set of predictions is made based upon this integrated model.

I go through this explication of synthesis, because this process is also the model itself. Language is created through a set of parallel mental components, each with its own goals, that integrate information from other components in a way relevant to itself, and then each process builds an expectation for the future based upon this integrated information. This process is continuous and time-dependent. In sum, a language is integrated motion in time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day and Judging the Past

Columbus Day has come and gone in the U.S., and there's just no way around it: it's a controversial holiday.

I don't view Columbus Day as really about Columbus himself. It's about the modern contact between the Old World and New World and marking that event in history.

There's always a tendency to oversimplify what it means. Not too long ago, Columbus Day, if recognized at all, was only a celebration. More recently, the coin has flipped and people only discuss all of the horrific things that occurred.

And that list of horrific things goes on for a long time:

The destruction of hundreds of cultures
Languages disappearing forever
Million upon millions of innocent people dead
dead through war, disease, genocide, neglect
The spread of slavery across the globe....

But at the same time, many amazing things have come about as well because of this contact. Here's just a partial list (and apologies to the other Americas for the undeniably U.S.-centric list):


Harper Lee
Truman Capote
John Steinbeck
Walt Whitman
Toni Morrison
Michael Chabon
Jhumpa Lahiri
Zora Neale Hurston
David Henry Hwang
Louisa May Alcott
Robert Frost
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Maya Angelou

Performing Arts / Film

Rodgers and Hammerstein
Cole Porter
Arthur Miller
Tony Kushner
George Gershwin
August Wilson
Orson Welles
Gene Kelly
Fred Astaire
Ginger Rodgers
Jim Henson
The Godfather
Marlon Brando
Kathryn Hepburn

Music (this might be the biggest of all: imagine music today without the New World....)

Louis Armstrong
Ella Fitzgerald
Billie Holiday
Dizzy Gillespie
Charlie Parker
Duke Ellington
Benny Goodman
Muddy Waters
Robert Johnson
Bessie Smith
Howlin' Wolf
The Beatles (well aware, they are Brits, but they were performing Elvis and Chuck Berry; same concept goes for pretty much every single modern musical act. I bet if we all tossed away every CD we had that had some sort of New World post-Columbus influence, we'd end up with about 6 items, 4 of which you picked up on world travels (ok, fine, I know some people for whom this would not be true, but I think my points is clear. Even if your collection is stacked with stars from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, almost all of them are doing New World music reflected back through their own culture and artistry)
Chuck Berry
Simon and Garfunkel
Kathleen Battle
the Met
bossa nova
Antonio Carlos Jobim
ki ho'alu (Hawaiian slack key guitar)
songs of Queen Liliuokalani
Western swing


Jesse Owens
Jackie Joyner Kersey
Carl Lewis
Jackie Robinson
Duke Kahanamoku (at least not his exact life)
Michael Jordan
Ichiro Suzuki
Wilt Chamberlain
Yao Ming
Tiger Woods
Mary Lou Retton
Michelle Kwan
Kristy Yamaguchi

Just major world events / innovation

the telephone
the Moon Landing
the Marshall Plan
the Declaration of Independence
the internet
Martin Luther King Jr.
the lightbulb
Henry Ford's plant
Susan B. Anthony
the cotton gin
the "green revolution" that saved millions from famine in this century

And that's all just scratching the surface.

One can say that some of these things would have been created by others if people in the New World, operating in the cultures created by the contact initiated by Columbus, had not done so. Sometimes that's easy to see, such as with the incandescent lightbulb. Clearly opera would be okay without the U.S. Other things are extremely unlikely. It is exactly the mixing of European and African cultures in the U.S., put through the minds of individual geniuses, that created jazz. Anyway, if we go down this road of "well, someone would have done it," then we are just dealing in hypotheticals within hypotheticals. The facts are that all these people in the Americas did do it.

Of course, if we hadn't had these things created, because the settlement from Europe, Africa, and Asia into the Americas never occurred in the pattern that it actually did, we'd all be celebrating other cultural achievements. Playing the game of "well, it was worth it" is hopeless. Who knows what would have existed. The fact that we got MLK and can celebrate that doesn't mean that segregation was good. Instead, people just do the best they can with what they've got.

You can rarely judge an individual's action by what happened due to it 100 years later. Columbus did set in motion the world of Cortez, but, if we simply blame Columbus, then we are letting Cortez off the moral hook for the conquest of Mexico, and surely he's the one to blame there. Cortez could have said 'no'. Columbus should be morally judged on his own actions (and I'm aware that he had a very mixed/dubious character), not for what others did in his footsteps.

Now, that last paragraph sounds good to me (which is nice since I wrote it), but it's assuredly a flawed view. The actions of a single person can be basically harmless when only one person does it, but when a million people do the same thing, it can be devastating. The clearest case is in natural habitats. One besotted nature tourist walking a beach where sea turtles are born does harm to no one. But cover the beach with those tourists and the habitat is destroyed. One carbon-emitting car: no problem. 100 million carbon-spewing cars: big problem. The same thing happens with cultural contact. It does little harm for an English speaker to meet and become friends with a group of Choctaw speaking people. But swamp the nation with English-speakers and the Choctaw language is fighting for its life.

Those wiser than me must take it from here. I think all you can do with Columbus Day is say that it changed the world. That makes it worth marking. And then teach children what happened as a consequence. The good things, the terrible things. And then maybe they will take whatever actions they can as they grow up to keep as much of the good and mitigate the bad as can be done today. If I were to stay in Hawaii permanently, for instance (which is not likely since there are no jobs here without killing someone in my department), I would have failed if I don't take actions to keep Hawaiian culture and language alive.

Accordion Vivaldi

It is Vivaldi, right? (I said Bach at first, hat tip to Akiemi.) Hat tip to Heather

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Overcoming your limitations in writing

How do you overcome your limitations in writing?

I've mentioned before on this blog that I have a lousy visual memory. N corrected me once on the color of our house. (I assumed it had white siding, but it apparently was a sort of tan or something.) I didn't know the color of my own mother's eyes once. Apparently, they are blue. I only remember this because I remember the conversation. I mentioned once how I didn't know anyone with blue eyes with my mother there and she said, "well, perhaps me." I couldn't tell you if my wife has a big nose or a small nose, even though we've been together for 19 years now. If a sketch artist started placing different noses on her face, I would know if it's right or not. I just can't take the nose off of her face and stick it mentally next to some other nose and make a decision. Unless it's Pinochio or Cyrano.

And so, when I'm reading fiction, I often start to skim when I get to those big paragraphs describing the room or the person's clothes. I have an interest in women, I assume from this whole heterosexuality thing I've got going, so I sometimes do care what a woman looks like in a book, but I don't particularly care about everyone else, and I often actually forget the physical description of the female characters as well. If the monster has pointed ears or flat ones? Whatever. It's a monster. That's all I need to know.

I'm currently reading Kate Elliot's Spirit Gate and the color of hair is only important on one woman, a slave named Cornflower. She has blonde hair and is viewed as an object of desire and possibly a demon by others. But the much larger character of Mai, a major POV character and heroine in the novel, well, I can clearly infer she's not blonde, but otherwise, I've totally forgotten, and it really makes no difference to the plot what her hair color is. People react to her as beautiful, so I know she is. But I have no image of her in my head at all.

Largely, I just don't care. Descriptions for the visual senses are not part of the enjoyable experience for me, like a good one-liner is.

And yet, I know many other people do care. It's these detailed descriptions of sight that brings the character and world to life. I think it ties into the way people find different arts appealing. For some, the structures of music are just not all that interesting. For me, that's definitely the most fascinating of all the arts. Others can stare at a painting for half an hour. I can easily put on headphones and disappear into music for an hour, but a painting? Not so much.

How do you compensate for your own weaknesses in writing? Someone once told me she maintains a five senses check list. I haven't written anything in a couple years now, but the last few times I did, I would draft with whatever came to mind, which is always dialogue, emotions, and wit. Then I'd go back in the revisions and continuously look for places I could satisfy the other senses and add something in. Are there places where a normal person would want to visualize more? Should there be a sense of smell here? I think it did help.

Are there things that you know are important that you just don't do naturally? How do you overcome it?

Friday, October 09, 2009

artefact versus artifact

I just wrote these two sentences in my paper:

"There is some tendency for these harsher critiques of the family members to be directed more towards female members of the family than male ones. However, this may by an artefact of the scenarios more than anything else."

And old MS Word underlined "artefact" and wants me to spell it "artifact". So off to Google I went and there seems to be no consensus on this. It could be a UK/US spelling difference, though there's evidence that both forms are used in both nations. However, to me, I don't think of these as the same word, though it's hard for me to pinpoint the difference.

If an archaeologist digs up a piece of pottery, that's a definite artifact with an "i" in there. But, well, that's not the kind of artifact I am talking about in my sentence. This sort of an artefact is an accidental construction of other features. My sentence example is a better explanation than my definition here.

What are your thoughts? I expect people to have opinions on the spelling, but what about the difference in meaning? Are these really two different, though related, words? Or is my inability to articulate the difference between an artifact and an artefact evidence they're really the same thing?

My guess right now is that these are the same word, but that I've encountered this "accidental feature" use of artefact among stuff written by people who happened to use the artefact spelling. It's a probabilistic meaning for the linguist readers.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Why is shortly a word but longly isn't?

As in, "I will have a beer shortly," but not "I will finish this paper longly."

Just asking.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bad Science / Poor Logic / What a Maroon Rant

I've mostly avoided political rants like I did in my old days. Instead, when I have stated something governmental as of late, I've tried to be constructive overall. But some stupid quotes have hit the blogosphere from a columnist at National Review Online, John Derbyshire, who, in short, would be happier if women couldn't vote, since all they want is for the state to take care of their babies. You can get the details here should you be in a fighting mood. I posted two comments on The Moderate Voice blog and I've copied them here:

1) I'm not up in my political pundits and have no idea who Derbyshire is, but it would seem like such a view would push him to the fringes of conservative punditry.

2) Decided to come beat this horse a bit. I've been reading articles by Derbyshire on his web site and columns at the NRO. Odd character. Novels, non-fiction books on Reimann, self-published stuff. His mathematical non-fiction has gotten awards so I assume it's quite worthy, but at the same time his article >Will Obama Kill Science? is a horribly simple-minded understanding of the current state of the "nature/nurture" debate.

That piece really isn't about science, it's about one tiny piece of research, which he thinks is best exemplified by that old book The Bell Curve. You see in Derbyshire's world, all the liberals (and cultural Marxists, a term he uses) are trying to shut down any research that doesn't show people to be the same, again exemplified by The Bell Curve, and if that happens we will have shut down the search for the Truth. Since identifying how various groups are different is the sum of all interesting science. Curse those liberals!

This seems to connect to the opinions expressed in the quotes here in that he has these ideas of what people are like, and apparently he's very drawn to ones that group people by gender and ethnicity -- at least that's all he cites. Haven't read his works, but I bet he doesn't go study up on differences that don't fall along these lines.

In the quotes here, women all want to nurture, because that's how women are you know, and simultaneously they want someone else to take care of "their" kids. How they want to nurture and yet not take care of their kids is a bit confusing, but I'm sure he'd make it clear to us given the opportunity. Perhaps women are also lazy or have no ability to follow through with their desires? (Not as rational as men, I suppose, but I probably am putting words in his mouth now, though it's certainly suggested since in Derby-Land women are driven by these biological needs that few can resist so as to vote like men.)

And, of course, women don't want to take care of "their" children. Derbyshire's a big fan of biology, so he might want to be reminded that it takes two to create one of those things we call children, so there really aren't any children that are just from women (artificial insemination exempted, I suppose).

But men aren't inclined to help out much. I find that interesting as I pick my son up from school and drop him off. Naturally, it's just the two of us when my wife has a meeting or trip. When the Vice-Principal calls, it's me who goes to find out what he's done, and when the nurse calls, it's me who usually stays at home. (I don't mean to say that I do everything and N doesn't. Due to the fact that I study on Sundays and one night a week, she probably ends up with more B time overall. The point is I and many dads are in fact involved in our children's lives.) Perhaps I'm the exception that proves the Derby Rule, however.

But is Derbyshire upset with the men who created this child they don't want to help take care of? Seemingly not. It's "their" kids after all, "their" being women.

The real killer, however, is indeed in what Colmes points out (at least as quoted here). Derbyshire thinks he's a believer in freedom and yet doesn't really want any groups of people to vote unless they more often agree with him politically. That thought is the death of democracy and freedom. Women vote differently than him, and so they really shouldn't vote. Who else? He doesn't want slavery, but African-Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we took away their votes as well? Jews?

Derbyshire actually hints here that women are incapable of voting well, due to this supposed need to nurture and simultaneous laziness. (I feel like someone needs to create "Need to Nurture" t-shirts.) And this highlights one of the reasons some people do get worried about research looking into differences between the sexes or different ethnic groups. It's because people such as Derbyshire aren't trying to get a complicated, in-depth picture of the human race. They instead like to seize on some result that matches what they think and then use that to justify what they already believe.

The large majority of scientific studies that find differences between groups of people don't find anything categorical (some developmental work with children might be an exception; there are certain things that kids really don't get at all until a certain age, then, bam, they all get it). Instead, they find a higher correlation between one variable (attitude, intelligence measures, problem-solving behaviors, linguistic features, whatever) and another, such as gender identification. Both groups display immense variability, but on average there's a slight sway one way or another. The partisan then grabs that as evidence of what women are like and recommends cutting these funds or doing away with this program or whatever. Because now "it's based on science". But of course that's a silly way to understand the result.

Then, a few year's later there will be a follow up study which shows that it wasn't gender identification which was the best determining factor, but some other feature, often behavioral, which happened to be more common in the women who participated in the study. In other words, it wasn't a gender thing at all, but a cultural one that may or may not be common across cultures.

But it's too late, because the program was cancelled.

This doesn't mean that research on gender and ethnicity shouldn't be done. In fact it is done all the time. I'm just spelling out why some have political reservations about it.

Rant done.

Moral for the Trivia Game and in General

I was about to post this to the Trivia Game notes, but I decided it has a ring to it, so I will post it here:

What I couldn't accomplish through intelligence or skill, I accomplished through persistence.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not key lime pie strictly speaking

I bought these limes at the Kapiolani Community College farmer's market about a week ago and so I needed to do something with them. Well, key lime pie of course!

Except they aren't key limes; they're just limes of some other umm non-key sort.



I made the pie anyway.

Graham cracker crust:
1.5 cups of crushed graham crackers
4 TBs of butter, which wasn't enough, so I poured in some pecan oil until it looked moist enough to press. Press into pie pan.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes at 350, then let cool.


4 egg yolks
one can of condensed milk
1/2 cup of lime juice.

Mix the egg yolks together with the condensed milk until well blended. Add in the lime juice. Pour into the pie crust.


Every topping for this that I found online involved either whipped cream or a meringue. I've never made a meringue before, but I had these 4 whites in a bowl from the filling, so I gave the meringue a try.

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar (supposedly superfine is better, but I made it through with granulated sugar, sugar mama (John Lee Hooker reference))
1/4 tsp of cream of tartar

Now, I actually have a big powerful Kitchen Aid mixer that N's dad sent to us as a present a few years ago, but it was behind all this stuff, and it sure seemed a pain to get that thing out from the back corner, so I decided to just whip the meringue by hand.

Do not do that.

Well, unless you are trying to lose weight in your forearm. Seriously, how did those French pastry chefs in the 19th century whip out meringue pies all day long? They must have had forearms that weighed more than the rest of their body. I can clearly tell that they moved about by bouncing on the forearm muscles from one place to the next. You just flex one of those puppies and bounce to the next location. I think I spent half an hour whipping this thing, and I had to get N to jump in at least 2 times to give me a break.

So just get out the mixer. Don't do it by hand unless you're going for meringue bragging rights.

Which I am. I rule. You suck, you electric mixer meringue people. You call that a meringue?!

Electric pansy.

Whip the egg whites slowly so that they are full of bubbles. Add in the cream of tartar and continue whipping until soft peaks form. This should occur right around the time that American Idol 22 crowns the winner. Good news: you won't have missed a single episode by living your life. Now, add in the entire cup of sugar... wait for it... 1 TB at a time. That's right. A cup added one TB at a time. Because you have nothing else to do and, when it comes down to it, your life is a puddle of emptiness seeping into a void over an abyss.

Add the TB and whip some more. Add another, whip. You get the idea. Just whip it. Into shape. Shape it up. Get straight. Go for it. Move ahead. Try to detect it. It's not too late. To whip it.

All together.... Whip it good!

Whip until you give up or the soft peaks become stiffer peaks. (Actually, you can get away with softer peaks if you are doing a pie and not one of those baked meringue confections. So I am totally still manly even if I may not have been as stiff as others had wished for. It's totally natural and happens to most men at some time or another. It doesn't mean we aren't attracted to pie anymore. It's a physical reaction and you really shouldn't read so much into it. About meringues I mean.)

Spoon the meringue on top of the pie and place the pie in the oven that is still preheated at 350. Bake for, like, 15 minutes or something. The meringue should be browning on top. Remove. Cool on a rack for a while, then cool in the fridge for 8 hours.

This is what it looked like in rather fuzzy pics:

I may have a little too much meringue there, but you know how I loooove making meringue by hand. Uh huh.

Punditry with Real-Time Polling

Another brilliant satire video from the Onion. Why does this not feel inaccurate to me, however?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Seeing numbers

Yahoo's Live Science just posted an article about scientists using brain imaging to see the neural representation of numbers and patterns of dots in people's brains. I added a comment in the "Buzz Log" about why this could be a really big moment in science, and so I'm copying that here:

This is very, very cool, and could be seen as a breakthrough in cognitive science. The way most psychology works as of today is that the scientist thinks of a pattern that fits data, and then we guess that something like that pattern is what's actually in our minds. But this is because we've had no direct way to see what the mind was doing. We could only see general areas in use before with brain imaging. However, if they can truly see the way the brain is representing certain objects, then that could let us study how those objects are manipulated by the brain, which then let's us stop guessing about the mind and start observing how thought works.

Super cool!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dress Like a Pirate Day

20 years ago next Spring, I was a 16 year old senior in high school and I appeared in our Spring production of the Pirates of Penzance. I was a lovely pirate in Act I and a policeman in Act II. A friend of mine posted some pics of that production on Facebook, and I've charmingly stolen them and posted them here. I am pretty sure I have the exact same pictures stored in a warehouse in Louisiana.

That's me with the black pirate hat right in the middle of the boat with the arm in the air. I believe the lovely pirate ship had just rolled on stage and the Pirate King in shadow behind me will soon sing, "For I am a Pirate Kiiiinnnnggggg!"

And here I am with our hero, Frederick. The person playing Frederick went on to a substantial career in theater, such as helping found 2nd Generation in NY, and I've talked about him in the past.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Singing in the Rain

B and I watched Singing in the Rain tonight. Think it's the first time I've ever actually seen the whole movie, and it had B up and dancing. And so, I thought I'd repost this item I wrote almost 4 years ago now:

Ever since I was a kid I've always had the idea that being able to tap dance would be really cool. I don't know if it's the rhythm thing or what. I've had little desire to learn to do any other form of dance and I have no actual natural talent at dancing. I took a movement class as part of a theater camp at the U of Texas, when I was a junior in high school so... 1989, and in our little recital they put me in the far back corner. In college I studied Tai Chi from my Chinese prof and thought I was doing OK, so when I was in China I showed my friends the first few motions I had learned and they burst out into laughter. Similar results when I was learning to do some Japanese Noh-style movements once in an audition - I was asked to be the stage manager. I have no accelerated ability to dance. But regardless one day, maybe when I'm 40 and have tenure and a bit of free time, I'm going to take a class, strap on my shoes, let all the 21 year old jazz dancers giggle at me, and do my best Fred Astaire. So there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Great Division....

Terrific post for the economically innocent such as myself over at The Moderate Voice blog today. It's a simple report on economic tendencies with two remarkable items. The first is the less politically charged one, which is the unravelling of the so-called "Great Compression". This Great Compression is when America transformed through WWII from a land of haves and havenots into a land of the middle class, the world which most of us grew up in. Since the mid to late 80s, about the time I was in high school, wealth has divided again. It's hard to know exactly why this has happened, but I would hazard that it's part of the change in economic focus from manufacturing to service more than anything else. It is also the dismantling of many LBJ social programs, but I don't know if that's important or not.

The more politically controversial fact is that the recent Bush administration has the dubious distinction of being the only two-term President to preside over a decline in income since WWII as well. And, and this is the important part, it is not because of the recession that started in 2007. Even when the economy was growing overall from 2000 to 2007, the average income was falling. The bottom just fell out even more then.

What to do about it is of course a very good question, and I cannot answer it. But it's the right question to be asking.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My fave garage rock / pop band

The Donnas

And for those on Facebook where the links don't show, let's try this one:

Friday, September 04, 2009

Yurihwa 유 리 화

I think I got my Hangul right there, but I can't quite see it clearly.... Anyway, I have finally finished watching my first ever Korean drama, i.e., soap opera. Yurihwa or Stained Glass. I think I watched Episode 1 sometime in June and just watched Episode 18, the last, tonight.

For those new to K-drama, they are not quite like any format on U.S. television that I'm aware of. They're many episodes long, 15, 20, 30, so much longer than a miniseries, but they don't go on forever like an American soap opera. Instead there's one story that takes place over 20 hours.

In this one, I got to watch the travails of Ji-Soo, Dong-Wu, and Gi-Tae in a long and dramatic love triangle. Is Dongwu the arrogant rich jerk that he shows when he's in Japan as Yuichi, or is he the kind, loyal, and romantic Dongwu in Korea? Will Ji-Soo choose Gi-Tae, the friend who's been by her side for years taking care of her after he parents died when she was a teen, or Dong-Wu, the new man that she can't stop thinking about? And do we really know who Dong-Wu is anyway? Secrets abound! Coincidences coincidence! And what of her father.....

You get the idea. Here's a video containing various clips from about the first 5 episodes.

Many people say that this is not the best of K-drama. My co-author really enjoyed one called, in English Palace or Princess Diaries or something similar. You can get them from Netflix if you've got 20 hours to spend.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Henovins - recipe

I mentioned in my grocery posts that I found some Cornish hens, split in half, for $4.99 last weekend. So I cooked them up for the mega birthday lunch today. Oh, yeah, I am now the lovely age of 36.

I haven't done Cornish Hens in several years, so I had to look up recipes again, then I merged three of them together into something that came out quite nice if I do say so myself. The key was that N has these stacks of leftover bottles of wine from a wine tasting her company did like a year or two ago. Because we had the wine for free, the following recipe was possible. It's basically a sort of coq au vin, or Hen au vin, um, hence my Englishized (yes, I know anglicized is the correct term. if a linguist can't make up words to please himself, who can?) title Henovins. Isn't henovin a liquor?

Where was I?

2 Cornish game hens, split down the middle. Ours came this way, so I can't offer advice on how to do it.
garlic powder
"italian seasonings"
red wine
2/3 cup flour
2 T butter

I stuck all of the above seasonings and a bunch of red wine into a bag. Then I added the hens inside and let it marinate for about an hour. I am sure a longer marinade would have been better. Oh, and put a whooole bunch of the italian seasonings in.

Melt 2 T butter in a big big pan with a cover. Put 2/3rds cup flour in another bag with salt, pepper, and more italian seasonings. Mix the seasonings and flour in the bag. Take the half-hens from the marinade and place in the flour bag. Shake your money maker until it's covered in flour. Place in the skillet and brown on both sides. Add 1 cup red wine into the skillet and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes until super tender. I cooked some rice to go with it. After removing the hens and putting on a serving plate, you can put a little flour or corn starch into the remaining wine and make a gravy. Pour the gravy over the rice and hens as desired. Munch. You'll need napkins, cause picking the hens with your fingers, the only appropriate way, is messy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the magic number is... 100

I've had this bee in my bonnet the last couple weeks to attempt to feed our family for a week on $100. What this really means is that I only spend $100 at the grocery store for the big week's shopping. In fact, we've spent more than $100, because I pay $1.90 for a lovely elementary school breakfast each morning, usually buy a tea from a vending machine during the day, and B's lunch money is not part of it. Oh, and we usually eat out somewhere once a week. But, at least, the major shopping has a direct $100 limit.

Mixed results so far. It would be quite easy to do if we lived on ramen and oatmeal, but I'm trying to do actual balanced meals with, you know, a starch, a vegie, and usually a meat, for dinner. We want to eat "regularly" just affordably. We pulled it off quite handily in week one, but we ate most of our meats out of the freezer. Those are now gone. Due to my meticulously adding up each item, I've been able to concentrate more on just where the money is going. Turns out I can get a whole bunch of vegies and fruits (well, not exotic ones) for $30 or so. Really not bad. Then the Crystal Light drink mix was $7. Meats are butt expensive. It has caused us to experiment a bit more there, such as the cubed steak, and they bizarrely had 4 frozen guinea hens on sale for $4.99. I've also been a bit creative with the exact meal. For instance, today and tomorrow's lunch is red potatoes, inch-long asparagus, and a can of salmon with a vinaigrette.

Not sure yet how I'm going to handle big multi-week purchases. For instance, the only real way to have salmon regularly without paying 7.99, 8.99 a pound and such is to buy the big package of frozen filets at Costco. Since we eat them, it's definitely a good deal over time, but the initial purchase is a bit hefty. The obvious solution would be to have, like, $400 for a month rather than $100 a week.

So what little money-stretching gimmicks have you found for the grocery aisle? Any favorite, cheap recipes?

Perhaps I should start watching Clara and her Great Depression cooking show again. Mmmm... dandelion salad.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Movie - Precious

Just the trailer to this movie makes me bawl like a baby. There's no way I'd be able to see the movie.

It's apparently based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Maybe I can read the book; I don't know.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

I'm spending all of my days copying and pasting data from one spreadsheet to another, so in the meantime, I bring you this enlightening quote from Doctor Who Season Three about the nature of time.

Incidentally, it is from the episode Blink, which is one of the best episodes in seasons 2 and 3, so I recommend watching it. If you have Netflix, you can watch it right now on their Instant Play feature.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hoppin Paca

This is my pseudo sorta kind of take off on Hoppin' John um -esque.

Package of the 15 bean soup. If no 15 bean, black-eyed peas
Package of Hillshire Farms sausage
one onion
half a package of frozen okra
cayenne pepper
black pepper
garlic powder
sriracha or tabasco

Soak the beans in 6 cups water over night. Drain. Slice up the onion and cook it 5 minutes. Slice up the sausage and toss it in. Brown. Add the beans, seasonings, and 6 more cups water. Bring to boil and simmer for one hour. Add in the okra and simmer for 30 minutes. Cook some rice up. To eat, one scoop rice, ladle over the beans, splash in some of your favorite hot sauce.

The End.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I believe in you

Lambchop performing a cover of the classic tune "I Believe in You", most famously recorded by Don Williams.

They are in some alley in France.

CAE Lamchop #2 - "I Believe In You" from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Not looking good enough

I have to analyze a whole bunch of data and then report back. I'm about to go on an Excel and Graph bonanza for the next few days.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's looking better

My exciting committee meeting isn't until tomorrow (Tuesday), but I spent a lot of time in the lab this evening and things are suddenly looking a lot better.

I've t-tested and ANOVAed and Levene'd and Welched it; I've standard deviationed it and meaned it; and suddenly my results are looking a lot more promising. The key was to remove the two outliers more than two standard deviations from the mean.

Oh, the results aren't clean at all. No, there's one experiment that's just come out wacky and I still have no idea why, but everything else is tending towards my predictions. Tending means usually there's a 85-90% chance I'm right. The random threshold in the social sciences is that there has to be a 95% chance you're right, and it's pretty categorical. 95% chance = publish and get a job! 94% chance = education is its own reward!

Anyway, I've now gone from having almost no idea what I wanted to say to my committee other than "help!" to having a pretty clear idea what the three next best steps would be. So I'm happier now.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Academic Rock

It's 2:30 AM on a Friday night / Saturday morning, but I finally - finally! - resubmitted this paper to a journal that's been lingering far too long. I think it's much better than the first submission, so I hope it makes it.

Moreover, while revising the Forever Paper, I discovered a little bit of theory that might help me finally publish this set of data I've been sitting on for 4 years. If I am right, I should be able to whip that publication up pretty quick, since all the data gathering and analysis is done. I just need to tell people now why they care.

So today I officially rock academically.

In seemingly more important news, I meet with my dissertation committee on Tuesday. I don't know what's going to happen. No matter how bad they think the results are, they aren't going to kick me out of the program. The question is only what the next steps would be, and how big. That will determine when I graduate.

We will see....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Random idea number one billion

Yet another random idea.

You know how a blogger named Julie (something, yes I could google it) fixed every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook, later wrote a book about it, and then it got turned into a movie? There are similar other stories of someone doing something exhaustively: living biblically for a year, living on so odd many dollars, etc., etc.

Well, after I brought you that delicious "chicken in a can", I thought, hey, each week I should try some new thing at the store. Something dubious. Not necessarily gross, just doubtful. So I bought some kippers, those little fish in a tin. In many places, those are still eaten regularly, but I myself have never opened a can of sardines, kippers, or any tinned fish.

Um, they're still in that tin, though.

Anyway, after hearing about Julie and Julia, I declared that I would:


Notice the big font with the big concept. Then I remembered that there are things like $75 bottles of balsamic vinegar and the like, so the new concept became:


I think about it some. But there are practical problems:

1) there must be 50,000 things in a modern American grocery store. What should the actual scale be?
2) How do I keep a list to see what I've done? And they change things. I was wondering if I could get Safeway to sponsor me. Hee hee. Seriously, though, if there was a very popular blog featuring the foods and variety of a brand every few days, that seems worth something.
3) I need to figure out better photography.

Maybe I should just start with the fruits and vegies. I've eaten the same 5 vegetables for 35 years.

But I do have a name for this amazing blog.


There's a family story there. Smoochie was my grandmother and she told the story each holiday for years. As her mental abilities declined later, she would often tell the story several times in a single meal. The story is simply that my older brother was being picky about foods and not eating this or that. In Smoochie's words: "And Paca just go soooo disgusted with Pacabro that he said, "smoochie, I'll eat ANYthing."

The thing is that I don't. I'm only not picky compared to some incredibly picky siblings. Different types of chicken breast were beyond the pale for PacaBro. In fact, however, I eat the same collection of foods over and over again. I have no idea what to do with a dragon fruit, for instance. Entire sections of vegetables that look shady have never crossed the threshold of my lips.

So there's the latest dumb idea. Advice appreciated.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Conducting an interview

I'm currently in the waiting room at the dentist waiting to get a filling. Wahoo!

In other news, I am hoping to conduct an interview in the future. A few of my intrepid blog readers have conducted interviews on their blogs in the past, such as on BookRoast or elsewhere. What did you use to conduct the interview and what was the procedure? Email, gmail chat, phone? Did you edit the interview for space, grammar, coherence, etc.? How did you do it?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Paca's Long Term Balanced Budget

This is really rough, but I need to do real research to make it better, so let's go with this for now.

With regard to budgets, we in the U.S. are typically offered two choices: 1) no balanced budget rules or 2) an annual balanced budget. Currently, 32 states have a balanced budget amendment in their constitution while 11 more have statutory rules. That's 43 of 50 states. Meanwhile, the federal government has none. As is obvious to anyone watching, there are problems with both solutions.

The major problem with no balanced budget rule is clear: government has a huge tendency to spend for the now and end up with a growing permanent debt. The current national debt, according to this debt clock is about 11.5 TRILLION dollars or $38,000 a person. It could be worse. In WWII, the debt was even higher than now as a percentage of GDP, so we can recover, but that doesn't mean this is good. I'm getting some different numbers depending on where I look, but it seems that we currently pay around 500 or 600 billion dollars every year just on interest payments for the debt. Just 2 years of that interest pays for the entire trillion dollars over 10 years proposed health reform package currently being debated. That's more than the budgets of homeland security, education, HUD, energy, VA, EPA, FDA, and more combined. If I'm reading this correctly, the amount that the U.S. spend on paying interest on our debt is about the size of the UK's entire budget. The whole thing. pdf link, page 12 We could pay interest... or fund the entire government of a major European nation. (Crap! I just remembered that's pounds, so it doesn't work, but it sounds so good that I'm leaving it.) An annual balanced budget rule prevents a government from getting into a hole like we have over the long term by preventing deficit spending.

But there are problems with an annual balanced budget as well. Often we think of deficit spending as inherently bad, but it's actually a very common occurrence among the most fiscally responsible people. The greatest example of routine deficit spending is called retirement. When you retire, you often spend more money than you bring in. However, this can be just fine assuming you have saved enough to make up the difference. The problem with deficit spending comes, of course, when you have no savings.

What an annual balanced budget essentially does is force state governments to operate paycheck to paycheck. Yes, they can save under such requirements, but the motivation to do so evaporates, because you aren't allowed to use those savings when times get tough later. It's like telling people they should save for retirement, but by the way, when they are retired, they can never spend more money than they are bringing in while retired. The motivation for saving would be greatly reduced, because it enforces privation whenever temporary revenues fall. I think this is an important point. Why would someone save for retirement if there's a rule in place saying they can only spend what they earn in social security? Saving for retirement become useless.

Moreover, cutting during bad times, which all the states are doing, can feed right into increasing the bad times. Revenues are down, so you cut all the workers who then don't buy anything, which then decreases revenue, so you cut more workers....

So what's the solution? Why not a longer term balanced budget? Something greater than a year. Here's a guy who says it should be five years. Instead of trying to find the magic year though, it might be better to require the right behavior: Force the government to save when times are good and then allow them to spend when times are bad. How can you do so?

How about requiring a certain percentage of growth in revenue during times of GDP growth to go into savings, and then allowing those savings to be spent only when 1) GDP is declining, 2) there is a major war of national security with a state of war formally declared by Congress (so nothing post-Korean War would count, I don't think), or 3) reasonable leverage, a term to be "defined" later.

Easy ideas so far, but exactly how much are you required to save and how much are you allowed to spend? That's the million dollar question, and not one easily answered. One way to tackle it is to specifically save so as to replace the drop in revenue during a recession cycle. We need three main numbers: 1) percent drop of revenue per annum during downturns, 2) number of years of typical recession, and 3) the distance between recessions. Add 1) and 2) together to get the amount you need to save, and then save a percent in growth years based upon 3), so that it matches 1) and 2). This gives the savings requirement.

OK, I just spent longer than I should have trying to figure out the formula, which it turns out is exceedingly difficult for little old me who's never taken an economics course, but I think the principle is clear. The government is required to save a percentage of growth in good years to replace drops in bad years.

But what about the spending requirements? How much over current yearly revenues can be spent? One answer is that you can spend whatever was saved beyond current revenues, and that's it. Apart from savings, you operate entirely on a year-by-year balanced budget.

But that's a limited answer, because it assumes the government will never have a justifiable reason to take out a loan, even though we allow individuals and businesses to do so all the time. Reasonable leverage is an accepted part of most business models. But what is "reasonable leverage" and what is "stealing from our children"? I haven't figured out the answer, but I have a few ideas. First, reasonable leverage must be deficit neutral over the long term. I have in mind here something like using money now to make medical records electronic which will save more money later. But you can't just say that and let it go, hoping it turns out okay. There has to be a real plan that can be tracked. You must write up a plan saying when the savings will come and then monitor that progress. If it's a 10 year plan and you haven't gotten the money back within 10 years, then the gig is up and you've got to find the lost money from increased revenues or cutting spending. If the program is so vague that nothing can be tracked or it might help our general economy one day... well, that's not "reasonable leverage". That's just something you think is a good idea and must get funded without running a deficit for it. The next requirement is that it must meet some standards for being a safe amount of leverage. I have in mind something like the ratings given by Moody's or Standard & Poor. I have no idea how those work; the key is that reasonable leverage is safe and deficit neutral in the long term.

What I'm ending up with here is not really a balanced budget, but a small set of requirements that all together keep the financial house in order:

a) The government CAN run a deficit, but only in three ways: 1) it can use savings to do it, 2) it must be trackable, verifiable, and small "reasonable leverage", or 3) there's some national emergency such as a state of war (I mean a real state of war per the Constitution, not a police action) when deficits just pale in comparison.

b) When the economy is growing, the government MUST save a portion exactly calculated to compensate for drops in revenue during inevitable recessions.

c) Everything that isn't covered under a) or b) must follow some sort of PAYGO model.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

23 years and nothing

I've spent 23 years of my life in various levels of school, earning a masters in philosophy and becoming a doctoral candidate in linguistics, and, yet, I just spent some time looking at positions in independent secondary schools, and all evidence indicates that I am qualified to teach nothing.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Prove it!

I have until Friday to convince my chair the dissertation is going somewhere interesting. After that, it's committee time.

Fun fun!

And if you think my chair is tough, you should talk to my table (he says with his best Groucho Marx impression).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Movies better than the books?

It's a cliché that movies made from books are always worse than the book. But I do think there are exceptions. For instance,

I really enjoy the movie The World According to Garp, with Robin Williams (and transgendered John Lithgow!) from the early or mid 80s. It's a weird movie in that you can interpret it entirely differently depending on your mood at the time. Is it a comedy with some serious moments or a tragedy with a little quirk? It goes back and forth. But then I read the John Irving novel, and, well, I never even finished it. I think I gave up when the bears at the hotel jumped on unicycles. Or something.

And there's The Razor's Edge with Bill Murray. Another great movie that really challenges one's world view. Is it a tragedy or a Buddhist meditation on non-attachment or what? Many layers. I read M. Somerset Maugham's original, but it didn't live up to the movie.

The Jurassic Park movie was better than Crichton's novel, too. Crichton stretched the chaos theory metaphor far more than it could be stretched. When you've got dinosaurs running around eating people, it's hard to step back and worry about chaos.

One theme here is that I saw the movie first and read the novel later. But despite very well regarded authors (at least for what they do) in Irving, Maugham, and Crichton, I won't re-read these books, but I will see the movies again one day. I wonder if there are any books/movies where I read the book first, but liked the movie better. I'll have to stew on that.

How about you? Any movies from books where you like the movie better?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Remember the Milk

I've been trying out a new web app, basically an online To Do list, named Remember the Milk. I use it pretty simply. I type in a task with a due date. It then emails me each day with all the things to do that day and, if there is an exact time, emails me a reminder some amount of time before the due time. Currently, I am using two hours before. I always have my email open. It can also send Instant Messages, though I've gotten out of that world, and share lists with others or assign lists.

All of this is free.

There are some fancier features for you real techies so that it can send messages to your Blackberry, iPhone, Twitter, etc. Some of those require the non-free version, which is $25 a year. It also syncs with things like Google Calendar, iCal, and can be a widget right in gmail.

I don't do any of those things. I just type my task in and get an email. But I'm liking it so far. I just finished editing a paper and got to hit the delicious "complete" button on that task.

I think I will add writing this blog post as a task into it.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Most Important Event in America

The most important event in America is this flap between a cop and a yelling professor in Cambridge. The. most. important. thing. I am happy that our media and government are focusing their energies so continuously on this event.

Not as important as Michael Jackson, but really damn important.

Sarcasm is evident, right?

I can sum up my views on the case in three words.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Paca's Logical Guide to Global Warming Denialism

I made the mistake of getting in debates over global warming with others online in the past few weeks. The arguments over global warming are perhaps as interesting to sociology as they are to climate science. I am here to produce a set of watch points that could be useful or of interest to others moving forward.

Global warming has three basic claims: 1) the globe is warming, 2) it is warming in a pattern that doesn't match any cycles we've been able to reconstruct in the past, and 3) this abnormal fluctuation is caused by various heat-trapping factors, such as CO2 and methane CH4.

I cannot assess the scientific validity of these claims through my understanding of the research. Nevertheless, there are certain logical / argumentative issues in the denial of these claims that do not work. For instance

1) As evidence grows of warming, a claim is put forward that, yes, we are warming, but this is due to natural temperature cycles. Many of the same people will put forth another claim, which is that we have been cooling or steady for a decade. (More on this claim in a bit.) Such claims are possible if they occur at different time periods or in different places, but if they are supposed to be happening now, then they don't make any sense. It's a claim that the earth is both warming and cooling in the same place and at the same time. That's incoherent, and it is only entertained because each of the claims serves a rhetorical purpose at different places and times. Not all people who deny global warming make this mistake, but very many do, so you can be alert for it.

2) George Will, generally a very smart man, recently approvingly quoted social critic and columnist Mark Steyn, saying, "If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade." That sounds really bad for global warming doesn't it, particularly if accurate? It does sound bad (well, for the argument; good for the world), but what does it really say? If I am 29 and I became an adult at 18, then that's 11 years. 2009 - 11 = 1998. OK, now if I'm a senior in high school, and there's been no warming since first grade, that's 12 - 1 = 11 again. Huh, 1998 again.

So removing the rhetorical devices, it's a claim there's been no warming since 1998.

But I wonder, what if I'm 30? Has there been warming since I became an adult? The answer is yes. What about if I'm 31? Yes. 32? Yes. How about the other way? What if I'm 28? Yes, warming since you became an adult. 27? Yes. What's going on here? How could there be warming for people of every age around 29, but not 29? The answer is that 1998 was a very anomalous year. Here's a graph of temps for the last century.

It may be hard to see on that graph, but 1998 is that black dot that jumps really far out from all the averages, and all the years around it. Every year in the entire 2000s has been hotter than every year on the entire chart except for 1998. Even the very last dot, 2006 which has a slight dip (yay!) is hotter than 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000.

The obvious point is "don't fall for the 1998 gimmick". The bigger point is "be wary of any argument that hinges on selecting just the right example.

3) Beware of a set of arguments where mistakes are never corrected when they are pointed out. For instance, there is a myth floating around that in the 1970s, all the scientists thought there was an ice age on the way. Clearly they didn't know what they were talking about then, so they must not know now. First, there's an obvious problem, which is assuming that scientific knowledge never improves. If someone said, "In the 20s, they didn't know how to land a man on the moon, so they must not know now," you'd laugh at them. Science has changed a lot since the 20s and in fact we landed someone on the moon already. Now, from the outside we don't know if climate science has gotten better or not (it has), but that's just our ignorance from not knowing the field. It's entirely possible that mistakes that were made 20, 30, 40 years ago would not be made now, because we know more.

All that aside, the real point here is that this "scientists all thought the ice age" was coming is just a myth. There never was a consensus at that time. This fact has been pointed out by the American Meteorological Society. Here's one of the most relevant quotes:

... despite active efforts to answer these questions, the following pervasive myth arose: there was a consensus among climate scientists of the 1970s that either global cooling or a full-fledged ice age was imminent ... A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth's basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.

There have been other analyses of the myth as well. What's important is that even when the myth is proven to be false, it continues on. No retractions, nothing. You just keep reporting the myth. This is how political arguments work, repeating the talking point to get traction, not scientific ones. The fact that evidence doesn't change arguments is an indication that one side is really presenting a political argument.

4) Beware the great conspiracy of peer review.

Most denialist literature exists on web sites, in white papers from think tanks, books from non-academic publishers, and other non-peer-reviewed formats. Not all, but it's certainly dominant. Moreover, you can't find any large scientific bodies who are skeptical of climate change. Why is that? Either peer reviewers are rejecting such papers for valid reasons or... they are rejecting them because they control what does and does not get published and they will never allow a competing view to appear. In other words, it's a conspiracy, covering journals and scientific bodies around the world.

Now, am I saying that peer reviewers never have their unjustified biases? Certainly not. It's not uncommon for a reviewer to have a biased view for whatever reason, usually to protect their own reputation. Sometimes these biases can spread to large number of reviewers. This happened in my field of linguistics in the late 60s to early 80s, when Chomskyan linguistics dominated everything. If you didn't work within those assumptions, it could be tough to get in the top journals. What did the field look like then? The so-called top journals were dominated by Chomskyan linguistics, and many of the top departments were as well. Yet at the same time, there were other smaller journals publishing fine stuff. There were other departments who had non-Chomskyan interests. There were members of departments who disagreed with Chomsky, but were still around and getting tenure. Non-Chomskyans had their conferences and all. Chomskyans thought they were wrong, but alternate research programs continued on.

This isn't what the state of climate research looks like. There are only a small number of researchers out there skeptical of global warming who can actually write something good enough to pass peer review, and, oddly for a conspiracy, they do get published sporadically. The number is small, and refutations are often published soon thereafter. In other words, the picture is neither one of a global conspiracy where everything that doesn't tow the party line gets banned nor one of a bias among mainline researchers. The picture is instead that the majority of climate research supports global warming and only a few skeptics write decent enough stuff for acceptance.

5) Beware the great conspiracies in general. There are a million claims about great conspiracies among "lay" skeptics, i.e., your average conservative Joe. This is a conspiracy by liberals who want to destroy the economy. It's a conspiracy by liberals who want to seize power. It's a conspiracy of funding. Cap and trade is a hoax for Al Gore to make a 100 million dollars (often the same round number is repeated). In many minds, Al Gore seems to be a great puppet master making the world dance for him. You think I'm kidding? Read the 200 plus comments that were posted on Yahoo after an astronaut dared to mention shrinking ice caps.

People in general are quite incompetent. A conspiracy involving more than six people wouldn't make it a week.

6) Organizations which are trustworthy when you cite them are not trustworthy when they disagree with you. It is very common to quote a scientific source in a skeptical argument as much as possible, since it lends credibility to your point of view. But what happens when that source you quoted disagrees? They suddenly become part of the conspiracy or are brainwashed.

7) Smart people don't know everything because they are smart. It's always really tempting in an argument to quote someone who's really smart who agrees with you. For instance, Steven Hawking believes that man-made climate change is possibly the greatest issue facing humankind today. Dang, it's Steven Hawking! I mean, it's Steven Hawking! So clearly that means something. Well, maybe, but it's hard to know. Has he ever really researched climate science? No real idea. Similarly skeptics can pull out a name periodically. There's a guy who got the Nobel on Physics in the 70s who made some skeptical remarks at a conference once. But, as far as anyone can tell, he's never done any actual research on climate science ever. No articles of any sort. I don't doubt the man's smart, but that doesn't mean he's educated on this topic. Larger point: Just quoting someone cool doesn't add much weight to anything. You need to know if they've ever actually done research on this.