Friday, November 19, 2010

This Gouda is too Damned Cold

I was searching for something, a solution for a problem, at work. I am using google, of course.  So I started to type:

"Can you move document stores in Confluence"

When I's just gotten through "Can you" google's auto complete turned on and showed me the top searches that start with "Can you".  Good feature, I've found.

The top choices under "Can you" in google, which I imagine is a *very* common way to begin a search, are:

"can you run it"
"can you feel the love tonight lyrics"
"can you get mono twice"
"can you freeze cheese"

I really don't know what "can you run it" might refer to, but when I click it, I see lots of questions about whether browsers can run things like flash or stuff.  So now I get that as the number one choice.

Lyrics to a really popular song, I get that.

The thing about mono is interesting, it's hard to imagine it's *that* big a concern on earth, but I do know that medical questions now out rank porn for google searches, and teenagers dominate the internet, so on some level I get it.

"can you freeze cheese"--really?!  This is the fourth most popular search starting with "can you"?!  That is just bizarre.  Prior to this morning I would have laid money down that "can you blow up an earthworm in a microwave" would have outranked "can you freeze cheese".  How often does that come up?

Thursday, November 11, 2010


"Two ways to produce electric power without greenhouse gasses."
(caption provided by Barton Nuclear Consulting Services)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hitch on Beck

As usual, Christopher Hitchens is smart, funny and incisive.  Regarding the Glenn Beck affront to intelligence and human decency, he writes:
And these [various] insinuations [of Obama as Muslim or illegitimate] are perfectly emblematic of the two main fears of the old majority: that it will be submerged by an influx from beyond the borders and that it will be challenged in its traditional ways and faiths by an alien and largely Third World religion.
Which is exactly why I have been unwilling to call it plain racism.  It's more about losing power than fearing foreigners for the leaders like Beck.

And of course you get a Hitchens insult, which for my money are the best insults being peddled today:

The numbers were impressive enough on their own, but the overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pity.
I just don't think anyone's doing it as well right now.

I'll recommend that you go read the article, it's more than worth it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

When Worlds Collide

Two South Asian co-workers just passed my desk, chatting breezily.  One of them was riffing from the old "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" lyric: "What does it matter? 'tomato', 'tomato'..."

Which is perfectly common except that neither of his two pronunciations of "tomato" were particularly close to two canonical pronunciations from the song.

They were different from each other, so the point would be clear to anyone listening I guess, but it kind of bent my brain a little bit.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Strangeness in NYC

So how did it become okay to make fun of a blind person *for being blind* in the one and only case of the Governor of New York?  I mean in no other venue and for no other person do we, the politically correct haven of understanding and intolerance of abusive humor, accept debasing humor of a person's disability.  But for Paterson it's perfectly fine to make blind-guy-bumping-into-stuff jokes.

Seems so strange.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Answering a puzzle

Recently in a mailing list I belong to, a friend proposed the following puzzle, which I will reproduce in its entirety (minus the friend's identifying details).  I answered him at enough length that I wanted to preserve the discussion.

Here's a puzzle I have yet to get valid answer for.

The suppositions first...

1) All life requires DNA. (RNA viral snippets we will not considered to be alive as they have to corrupt a functioning cell to reproduce themselves. For this puzzle they are moot)

2) DNA is an incredible information strand that outlines how proteins are to be built.

3) DNA can do nothing on its own, as its just information encoded.

4) DNA requires a relatively complex decoding sequence to unravel it (it's in a special compressed double helix form), read it, and then build the proteins it describes. I.E. quite a number of intricate molecular machines need to be running to access the DNA and do this work to use the DNA for something.

5) This unraveling, reading and building needs to take place where its not interrupted or spread out. I.e. in a shell of some sort like a cell wall.

6) The original life form which all life is hypothesized to evolved from, had to have DNA, the complex decoder and a shell to keep it all together. Or the unraveled, decoder, and builder parts etc would all drift apart.

Now the puzzle.

If things evolved as hypothesized, where did the first DNA come from? More importantly where did the cell wall, the first decoder that reads DNA and the molecular machinery to act on what is says come from also?

I will start with the disclaimer that I am not a biologist, let alone an evolutionary biologist, let more alone an evolutionary biologist specializing on origin-of-life studies, so this is all from recent research (and I'll get into the philosophy of science a bit as well).

You asked a cascade of interesting questions about the origin of life.  It in indeed a puzzle and one of the most complicated and interesting puzzles we have about the natural world.  Life is complicated, and at first blush it's obvious that some things are alive and some things are not.  I will continue to harp on this fact: in biology, the boundaries are fuzzy--almost all of them.  Sofia Vergara is alive (gloriously alive), and a rock is not alive.  That's clear.  But just because we can usefully and correctly categorize these two things into these two categories doesn't mean there isn't a fuzzy boundary.  When you look very closely at that boundary, as you do with premise #1, you have to start qualifying things.  Sofia Vergara and rocks are both collections of atoms that form a sort-of unit with a boundary (again, a fuzzy boundary, but a boundary).  As such they are on a continuum. You say it well:

1) All life requires DNA. (RNA viral snippets we will not considered to be alive as they have to corrupt a functioning cell to reproduce themselves. For this puzzle they are moot)

So that's perfectly fair.  RNA snippets are often excluded when talking about what is alive and what is not alive.  Yeasts are often excluded from the life discussion as well.

But that doesn't mean that in reality they are not on the continuum.  By most definitions an RNA snippet is not alive, and that makes some conversation and study into life much easier, because you can talk about "all life is made up of cells".  But saying that an RNA snippet is not life is just that, a statement that makes the study of most of life much easier.  But reality stubbornly continues to be reality.  We call things "alive" or "not alive" but those definitions are our invention.  At the boundaries it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the simplest alive thing and the most complicated not-alive thing.

We often talk about species the same way.  Sofia Vergara (look her up, she is really super-alive--in this case research can be fun!) is a human (Homo Sapiens).  A broccoli plant (less fun to research than Jessica Alba, but sacrifices must be made) is a different species (Brassica Oleracea).  That they are different species is true, in the sense that we invented the term "species" exactly so we could have conversations about divisions of life.  Again, at the borders it is fuzzy.  Cauliflower, for instance, is also Brassica Oleracea.  Cauliflower is mostly a different species than broccoli, or at least it is kind of a different species, or it's useful in some contexts to call them different species, and in some others it's more useful to call them the same species.  At the boundaries it's fuzzy.

This is true not just of plants, but also of complicated higher animals.  I haven't looked it up recently but I think it's true that there are enough dolphin species on Earth that there are lots of what we call dolphin species that have really fuzzy boundaries. 

So I'm all behind disqualifying RNA snippets as life for the purposes of this discussion, but it's a false dichotomy to say that there is "life" and "not life" as perfectly disjoint sets.

2) DNA is an incredible information strand that outlines how proteins are to be built.

No question.  "Incredible" hardly does it justice.

3) DNA can do nothing on its own, as its just information encoded.

I agree in the sense that Shakespeare's written plays also "do nothing" on their own.  If all humans died tomorrow and the Earth and all its artifacts remained undiscovered by any alien intelligence until the heat death of the universe, a book of those plays would be indistinguishable from any other collection of matter.  This whole premise #3 presupposes that "function" has some objective meaning.  This is not sophistry, I mean it as a serious part of this discussion.  What is a rock "for"?  Out in space by itself or rolling down a mountain side--which condition fulfills the rock's purpose?  Shakespeare's plays have meaning because we all (as intelligent agents) agree on some common definition of their purpose.

I think you mean that DNA cannot go about the business of being life on its own.  Again, for the purposes of this discussion I agree that it makes sense to say that DNA does nothing.

4) DNA requires a relatively complex decoding sequence to unravel it (it's in a special compressed double helix form), read it, and then build the proteins it describes. I.E. quite a number of intricate molecular machines need to be running to access the DNA and do this work to use the DNA for something.

I think I object the word "special" to describe the form of DNA, but it is certainly a particular shape and structure.  I only make this point because I think "special" kind of pre-answers the whole puzzle... it reveals what your answer to the puzzle is.  Unsurprising to you, I'm sure, is that I think I'm going to answer this puzzle differently than you will, ultimately.

Like the Shakespeare's Plays example I used above "use the DNA for something" presupposes that it has an objective use.  The plays (in a book form) could be used to fly through space and re-enter an alien planet to be observed by some aliens looking for shooting stars.  Does that book of plays have a purpose beyond its physical interaction with other matter in the universe?  Only because a collection of humans agree that it does.  I agree, however, that DNA's business of acting as a blueprint for copying units of life cannot be carried on without a bunch of other pieces in place.

5) This unraveling, reading and building needs to take place where its not interrupted or spread out. I.e. in a shell of some sort like a cell wall.

True, this process, in order to continue and do the thing that we think of as its purpose, needs to be proximate and protected.

6) The original life form which all life is hypothesized to evolved from, had to have DNA, the complex decoder and a shell to keep it all together. Or the unraveled, decoder, and builder parts etc would all drift apart.

I disagree with this as a premise, and I think most biologists would, too.  Here's an example:

We can create machines that make copies of themselves, much like life at the cellular level recapitulates itself.  But in order to kick the whole thing off, there is not infinite regress, something else assembles the first machine.  I suspect that this statement argues for some other point you imply, but it ultimately argues for both of us.

Now the puzzle.

If things evolved as hypothesized, where did the first DNA come from?

I don't know. 

More importantly where did the cell wall, the first decoder that reads DNA and the molecular machinery to act on what is says come from also?

I'll want to say that the cell wall, while interesting and amazing, does not belong in this discussion.  It's very valuable, but it's not impossible for life to proceed without it... higher-lever, organized living creatures need them (Sofia Vergara, for instance, would be far less compelling without the her cell walls), but there's no reason to think that life in its basic form can't get along without cell walls, it needs protection and some proximity, but not necessarily cell walls.

As to the rest of the mechanisms, there are theories.  None of them are definitive... like a lot of the very basic science, we will probably never know the answer to a perfect level of confidence.  One thing that science is is provisional.  Every understanding we have about the natural world (that science has about the natural world) is provisional to some other contradictory evidence disproving our theories.

That having been said, some things are more well known than others, and certain facts about the universe are simply more amenable to answering than others. 

Some point of discussion:

The laws of planetary motion are really well understood.  They were not initially.  There was also a time when the question about how the planets moved may have seemed unanswerable, we lacked the knowledge of what they were, how the solar system was physically arranged, how gravity worked and we even lacked the mathematics to describe it.  Slowly and with effort and a lot of years (centuries, in fact) we slowly brought our understanding into focus and it turns out that planetary motion is pretty amenable to understanding.  We do not believe that we completely understand planetary motion, it is not 100% sure, but it is, say, 99.999% sure that we do.

How life began is exactly as factual as how planets move.  In other words there is an answer to the question.  On a theoretical basis it is 100% knowable.  It is a harder problem than planetary motion to get at the facts that could answer the question.  As a practical matter our assurance that we know the answer of how life began will always have a lower percentage of assurance than for planetary motion. 

In a general sense, science is all about developing better and better theories about the natural world.  These are often called "models".  Our model of planetary motion is really good (we don't know of anything right now that proves our model is not 100%, but science is always provisional).  Our model of the large structure of the universe is less good.  It's still pretty good, really good in fact, but there are outstanding facts we know about the universe that don't fit the model (dark energy and dark matter are two issues that prove our model is not 100% accurate).

So where do current theories of origin-of-life sit in terms of this "model assurance" discussion?  Well pretty far below the others I've discussed.

But that doesn't mean the answers are unknowable.  Just that they unknown today.  Anything unknown today might remain unknown forever.  The origin of things before our direct observation are always more hampered at getting to that 100% model assurance than things we can test more readily.

I suspect that your question is meant to lead the reader toward the conclusion that because we can't answer the final question that the theory of evolution is therefore untenable.  I'll address that point directly:

First, we actually agreed more than we disagreed on your premises.

Second, how life began is a fundamentally different question than whether or not evolution is happening, and whether or not evolution drives speciation. (the diversity of species of life)

Third, not knowing how something is happening, or how it began, is not the same as knowing that it happens.  Evolution is happening, more and more we understand the mechanism for it, but it is happening.

Fourth, the fuzziness of the boundaries of definition is the key to understanding that evolution drives speciation.  Broccoli and Cauliflower are different species... kind of and almost and almost-not and all of that.  They are certainly on a continuum that includes broccoli, cauliflower, mustard plants, oak trees, and even animals and humans.  Because it's hard to find the boundaries at the most granular level doesn't mean it's not meaningful to talk about the difference between species; conversely, talking about the (working) definitions of species doesn't imply that these things don't lie on a continuum.


[As a point of reference, my discussion of the false dichotomy and continuum of speciation owes a great deal to Dr. Stephen Novella who, to my knowledge, first phrased in the way I've presented it.]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Why not a National Day of Oppression?

This is one of those things that I really, really don't get. Some things I hate and disagree with but I understand. For instance, I think bailing out the banks was a really, really bad idea. I think it only adds to the problem that we are divorcing increasingly large proportions of our economy from any moral hazard. It can't end well. But I do understand why people would think otherwise and why they would advocate for action.

But CNN reports that a U.S. Judge has finally noticed that a National Day of Prayer violates the Constitution. I do not get how such a law can pass even the most casual test of Constitutionality. CNN reports:

The injunction against the National Day of Prayer will not take effect until the defendants in the case, President Obama and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, exhaust their appeals, according to the decision.

So our president, the person we elect who is most responsible for protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States will appeal and fight to keep a law which says:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day
of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in
groups, and as individuals.

And this does not cause him pause when the Constitution he is sworn to protect says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

I know the argument is that designating a day to be a day on which the people of the United States may turn to God is not establishing a religion. But being able to articulate an argument doesn't mean the argument is defensible on any level.

The really baffling thing in all of this is that the text of the law makes it clear that the authors know it's a violation. The law says that people "may" turn to God. If you have a law that says what a person "may" do with regard to religion, when your constitution prohibits the Congress from prohbiting the free exercise of religion, well then you don't need that law.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How can a wrong number be so right?

This morning I got a call from a phone number with a San Antonio area code.

The conversation went like this:

Matt: Hello, this is Matt Dick

Slow, Slurred-Speech Guy: Hello?

Matt: Hello, this is Matt Dick

SSSG: <silence>

Matt: Hello?

Someone in the same room as SSSG: <something loud and unintelligible>

SSSG: Is this Mesario?

Matt: No.

SiSraSSSG: <something loud, unintelligible that is clearly a question>

SSSG (to SiSraSSSG): Mother fucker!  No, this is my friend's phone
number but some
little bitch answered!  What the fuck!?

SiSraSSSG: <much louder and unintelligible>

Matt: <hung up>

I *really* made a mistake and didn't string this along.  I'm thinking
of calling back and re-engaging...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Land of the Free

It's hard for me to imagine how any of the actual human beings in this circumstance went about making their decisions.  I read this and initially shook my head in sadness.  But then as I considered it, it became more and more deeply disturbing to me.  I tend to think that "The State of California" did this monstrous thing.  But it didn't.  A series of human beings made and kept making one monstrous decision after another.

Consider this:

Ignoring Clay’s significant role in Harold’s life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf.

This is a habit of journalism.  No county made this decision, people did.  They were guided by their laws and culture, but a human being looked Clay in the face and made the decision that because he and his partner were both males, that their previous, clear and written commitment to work for each other's well-being was invalid.  Who on Earth did that person think they were?  What drove them to that moment of evil?  Even if he or she thinks that homosexuality is wrong or unnatural or something else, what, at that moment, made them choose what they thought was right over the suffering of these two people?

Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years.
Imagine yourself in a position of authority here... the hospital administrator, the judge, some police officer... you.  You deciding that Clay and Harold were so wrong that mediating their suffering for those three months was not as important as following the rules about visiting family members at the hospital.  You say, "I know you and he spent 20 years together, but since you are gay, your suffering is..."  What?  Now finish that.  There are only two options from what I can see.  If you conclude that statement to your satisfaction then it is inescapable that you think Clay and Harold do not suffer as much as straight people do, or you think that it doesn't matter that they suffer as much as straight people do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Introducing Your NIH

The National Institutes of Health, as a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services is "the nation’s medical research agency - making important medical discoveries that improve health and save lives."1

The NIH is made up of 27 institutes. Some examples are:

  • The National Cancer Institute: "NCI leads a national effort to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer."2

  • The National Eye Institute: "NEI conducts and supports research that helps prevent and treat eye diseases and other disorders of vision."3

    So far so good. I can get behind my tax dollars going towards the research of cancer and vision.

    There are also seven "centers" under the umbrella of the NIH. These include such organizations as:

  • Center for Information Technology: "CIT incorporates the power of modern computers into the biomedical programs and administrative procedures of the NIH..."4

  • National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities: "The mission of NCMHD is to promote minority health and to lead, coordinate, support, and assess the NIH effort to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities."5

    Awesome... if we're going to fund an NIH, let's do it right... let's apply the latest in science and technology and let's make sure we address some really key and fundamental problems like the health disparities among different groups of Americans. Most of the other centers have similar missions.

    And now to the punchline. There is a center in the NIH called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine6: "NCCAM is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practices in the context of rigorous science; training CAM researchers and disseminating authoritative information."

    I have to admit to being skeptical to start with when it comes to complimentary and alternative medicines. Things like ear candling and therapeutic touch are silly on the face of their claims and there is no one who has ever articulated any mechanism for how these modalities might work that shows even an ounce of understanding about how the natural world actually works. But some stuff, like acupuncture and chiropractic, while born of superstitious nonsense, actually do things to the body, so it is not literally physically impossible that those modalities could affect the human body and health. So I can understand the value of studying those things.

    Let's explore the NCCAM a bit.

    In the "About" page, the NCCAM tells us:

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government's lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

    It has been said by smarter people than I that if any of these things worked, they would start to become conventional medicine. I have several friends who are medical doctors. I guarantee that if homeopathic pills were shown to work, they'd prescribe them as gladly as they currently prescribe any other pill.

    The thing is, the most of these things don't show a lot of efficacy. But let's read more about NCCAM.

    In their introduction on Traditional Chinese Medicine they say:

    Although TCM is used by the American public, scientific evidence of its effectiveness is, for the most part, limited. Acupuncture has the largest body of evidence and is considered safe if practiced correctly. Some Chinese herbal remedies may be safe, but others may not be.


    * Yin-yang theory—the concept of two opposing, yet complementary, forces that shape the world and all life—is central to TCM.
    * In the TCM view, a vital energy or life force called qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.
    * The TCM approach uses eight principles to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions: cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin/yang (the chief principles). TCM also uses the theory of five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, and wood—to explain how the body works; these elements correspond to particular organs and tissues in the body.

    Nothing above has any basis in anything even vaguely scientific. Nothing about it is proven, or indeed even hinted about, in any rigorous study of the natural world. Vital life forces or energies are unknown, undiscovered and undescribed by science. "Meridians" have never been found by any doctor, scientist or anatomist. There is no coherent theory explaining why any of this should work.

    The explain about acupuncture:

    Acupuncture. By stimulating specific points on the body, most often by inserting thin metal needles through the skin, practitioners seek to remove blockages in the flow of qi.

    So they are trying to unblock the flow of something they can't adequately describe and which has never been demonstrated or measured in any way.

    In the NCCAM's section on "If You Are Thinking About Using TCM" they advise"

  • "Do not use TCM as a replacement for effective conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem."

    In discussing more CAM modalities, NCCAM discusses "Energy Medicine thusly:

    Energy medicine uses energy fields with the intent to affect health. Some fields, such as magnetic fields, have been measured. Others, such as biofields, have not. Therapies involving biofields are based on the idea that people have a subtle form of energy; energy medicine practitioners believe that illness results from disturbances of these subtle energies.


    Examples of energy medicine include magnet therapy, healing touch, and Reiki (pronounced "ray-kee").

    Magnet therapy uses magnets or magnetic devices to treat or ease the symptoms of various diseases and conditions, including pain.

    Healing touch practitioners pass their hands over or gently touch a person's body to try to identify imbalances in the body's energy field.

    Reiki is based on the idea that there is a universal (or source) energy that supports the body's innate healing abilities. Practitioners seek to access the energy and allow it to flow to the body to help with healing. In a Reiki session, the practitioner's hands are placed lightly on or just above the client's body.

    In other words, "Someone had some concept of 'energy fields' and named them, no one has ever measured those energy fields or proven them to exist, but someone will not touch you in order to manipulate those fields, and that will heal you."

    I defy you to find a more coherent description of healing touch than what I have just supplied.

    So what do we know? We know that nearly $3 Billion has gone into the NCCAM over the last 10 or 11 years, and it is apparently using that money to study whether not touching a patient might effect a cure. If not touching me might cure disease, why aren't all shut-ins 100% healthy all of the time?

    1. NIH's Mission
    2. NCI
    3. NEI
    4. CIT
    5. NCMHD
    6. NCCAM

  • Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Dying Old

    What you're looking at is a graph depicting the death rates in different eras.

    Take the low blue line. This is the 1900-1902 line, showing what befell the people in the United States, base on a per-100,000 live birth rate. At the left you can see that since this is live births, everyone survived to birth. There is a steep decline showing that only 89% of Americans survived to 1 year old. The next data point along that line shows another decline and only 82% of the original group survived to 5 years old. And so on.

    What does this show? Well we're getting better and better at surviving to the elbow of the curve... no line shows a lower survival at any point than a previous era except in one spot. Between 1919-1921, humans in the United States survived to five years old in a lower percentage than between 1909-1911. I think that must be related to the 1917/1918 flu epidemic. It shows what a real pandemic actually looks like... imagine what it was like when children were dying at such a rate....

    The other curious thing it shows is that the advantages over our very recent forebears is still holding up... in 2004 we still see the same advantage over 1989-1991 as 1909-1911 saw over 1900-1902. I would have thought we'd be compressing more than we are.

    Also, while the data stops at 100, it's clear that we converge at the extreme old age... we aren't getting a greater percentage of people beyond about 95 than we ever have.

    At the big bulge we can see how well we're getting people into their 50s. For Americans born in 1850 we were getting about 54% into their 50s. 94% of Americans born in 1954 were still alive in 2004.

    That's pretty amazing, and shows that we seem to have gotten people over the childhood disease rate... the curve is flat until heart attacks take people out in their 50s and 60s. I suspect that cancer is killing us at the far right, and we clearly are making great strides there as well. Born in 1920? Only 14% of people made it into their 80s. Born in 1920? 54%. In 100 years we now are as good at getting people into their 80s as we used to be at getting them into their 50s.

    Still, we need to crack the top end before I relax.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    96 ways to kill a good thing

    So we're going to get 96 teams.

    I will gripe only once in a general sense: John Feinstein had it right when he pointed out that the NCAA is so stupid it's literally doing the exact opposite of what makes sense--they refuse to address their football championship system which is clearly the worst champion-picking exercise of any major sporting season, college or pro.  At the same time they are messing with arguably the greatest sporting spectacle EVER DEVISED.  I don't even mean that facetiously, it's possible that March Madness is more fun for the serious-down-to-casual fan of anything yet devised in sports.

    And now they are going to add tons of mediocre-to-bad teams.  But my main reason for bringing this up is an aspect to this travesty that I haven't seen discussed yet: what does this do to filling out brackets?  64 teams is hard to bracketize as it is, but it can be done with a single piece of 11.5 x 8 inch paper if you write small.  It can be integrated into a website form if it's done well.  When you make it one round bigger it's going to be harder to manage.  Not impossible, but you aren't going to carry around your bracket in as pleasant a way anymore.

    If that's the case, does it make the 96-team tournament really unfriendly to the casual fan?  Is my mother, who has actually filled out brackets before, ever going to sit down long enough to decide if the 8th place Big-Ten team might beat the third best Mountain West school?  No way.  A 96-team bracket makes the obscure match-ups just that much more abstract to people on the margins of caring.

    The office pool goes from something fun for $5 to an annoyance to deal with... that will be as hard on the popularity of the event as anything.

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Giving Way to Hating

    Are we reaching the point where a legislator being actively anti-gay will make us all believe the legislator himself is gay?  It's becoming too common to be a joke anymore, and is just a sad reality.  How much does a man have to hate himself to spend the first 55 years of his life actively denying rights to those of his own sexuality.

    [Mr. Ashburn] also voted in the statehouse against efforts to expand anti-discrimination laws...

    As a kind-of meta comment on this episode, does anyone else find it sad to read a statement like "voted... against efforts to expand anti-discrimination laws..."?  I am a pretty libertarian guy.  If I am radical politically, it is along the lines of believing the government has no place in my personal life.  How can there be laws governing behavior that doesn't affect anyone but the primary actor?  But general libertarianism aside, I can't imagine a better use of extraneous laws than to be anti-discrimination. 


    If there is any value to the fact that humans have to get old and die, perhaps it's so that this generation can leave and let the rest of us get on with more important things that the previous generation's hang-ups.  Note that I know people like this do not represent everyone, and I am aware that I must have hang-ups that my children will abhor.  So maybe it's good that someday I'll die so that they can get on with whatever terrible thing it is that they think is more important.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    The Right Way

    I love Fareed Zakaria. I agree with him about half the time, but he's always on-point. As far as I know, he's never advocated for the United States' Congress to spend time talking about the NCAA Bowl Championship selection.

    In a recent WaPo column Zakaria references the recent al-Qaeda crotch bomber and our response to that event:

    Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. "We approach airline security with the understanding that it's a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures -- caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what's broken and keep improving the design and execution," says Zelikow.

    It's hard to argue that terrorism is designed to change what we do. The crotch bomber was successful because we've talked about him. Can't we just measure James Carville's penis* and get on with our lives?

    * Speaking of Mr Carville, I have for years maintained that he is the most entertaining person on TV. I firmly stand by that position.