Monday, March 29, 2010

Books: "SuperFreakonomics"

A spoiler right up front: Newborns in Uganda a few years ago, when born in the month of May, were 20% more likely to have visual, hearing or learning disabilities than those born in other months.  Huh?  Oh yeah, and the same thing tended to happen in Michigan.  HUH???  Oh yeah, and this pattern shifted to the month of April over the following couple of years.  HUH??????  Hint: It's all about Ramadan ...

"SuperFreakonomics" is an excellent book.  It is the successful successor to "Freakonomics".  I read the latter a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In this one they both added more nuggets of statistical wisdom and they did a fabulous job of synopsizing both books into a single thought:
People respond to incentives in very different ways.
I won't expound on that; read the book.

I will say that I read this in just over a weekend.  It was fun, interesting, intriguing, compelling, and many other words that critics love to say.  Definitely worth your time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

There is not enough time

There really isn't.  There are so many things I really, really want to do.  But having a family and a full-time job means very simply that many ... most of the things that I would love to spend some personal time on ... I can't.

Like sit down for hours a day and 'invent' things with LEGO.  Some people seem to have that kind of time (not a slam, because I am sure he has a real full-time job and kids, but I just don't know how people like find the time, yet he does some absolutely amazing stuff).

Like spend much more time cooking, playing in the kitchen and out on our deck with our BBQ grill, learning and designing new cuisine ... I just re-read that and now see how funny the word "cuisine" sounds coming from me ... But I do love to cook.  Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary; I think the most unique food I have ever cooked myself was plantains.  I love watching Good Eats with Alton Brown and Primal Grill (formerly "Barbecue University") with Steven Raichlen.  I have several of each of their books and am very eager to try more of their recipes.  It is just plain fun to tinker with food, play with flavors and spices, design new rubs and marinades for the meats and veggies that we eat.  But pasta and various simple forms of chicken inevitably rule the day.  They are quick and easy ... as is the Chinese delivery guy ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

I saw a good deed the other day

So the wife and I were in New York City for the weekend, and oh what a wonderful weekend it was to travel to NYC.  We enjoyed at least 6 inches of rain per hour, or so it seemed, and the cabs looked like they would have done better as boats in the newly-transformed Manhattan "Canal District".  But on Saturday, for lunch I believe, we headed to the deli next door to our hotel to eat.  We ended up sitting at a small bar along the window, so we had a beautiful view of the back of some smoker's head, the ambiance of seeing New York City scaffolding on the building across the narrow street, and the pleasant smell of disinfectant, since the deli guy had just mopped our area a minute before we sat down.  Mmmm yummy!!! ...

Regardless, as we sat and ate I saw what I think was a good deed.  It was surprising, and nice.  I saw a mid-late-twenty-something guy walking on the sidewalk just outside the deli in front of us.  We'll call him Guy A.  Guy A was carrying, and using, an umbrella, because it was raining (didn't I just mention that??).  About 20 feet further I saw another guy, Guy B, run to his car which was parked at the curb and try to open the door.  He was umbrellaless (is that a word????  NOW IT IS!!!!).  His car door didn't open.  This resulted in Guy B frowning and smirking, since he was getting more wet by the second, and fumbling in his pockets for his car keys.  Right at this time Guy A, Mr. Umbrella, was passing by him, saw this and walked over to him and held his umbrella over Guy B to help keep him dry.  Guy B looked back, said "Thank you" or something equivalent (I assume --- I couldn't hear what he said, and Guy A remained there, implying to me that Guy B did not, in fact, say "Screw you!!!") and reached into his car for a few seconds.  Guy A remained holding his umbrella over Guy B.  Guy B, several seconds later, got out, closed his car door, put his arm around Guy A and they both walked on, out of my line of vision.

I am not sure that this was a pure act of unwarranted kindness.  It was an act of kindness, as
  1. Guy A did try to keep Guy B as dry as he could;
  2. Guy A didn't immediately go to Guy B; he saw him, but then did a sort of pump-fake as he took a step further and then changed his mind and went back to Guy B to help --- he conciously thought for a second about what he was about to do, and it was obviously unexpected.
But I don't know if Guy A knew Guy B beforehand or not.  I don't think so.  And it makes this unusual (for me) story all that much nicer to remember.

After that, I kept thinking of the phrase "Pay It Forward" ...

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Panspermia"? Really???

So I found this article a while ago: Professor: We have a 'moral obligation' to seed universe with life.  The idea is that we should send some earth-bound organisms into space in hopes that they will someday reach other planets and populate them with earth-like thingies.  I disagree with this, and I think it's stupid, but that is not the point of this post.  (Of course it isn't ...)

I had never heard of panspermia.  However when I first read the article, and when I first saw the word but before they really expressed the definition, I was under the impression that to spread human life throughout the universe they'd have to ... you know ... do like the word itself sounds and send some ... you know ... mens' wiggly things up into space in some kind of ... you know ... repository which would somehow keep them alive for ... you know ... a very long time until they got to somewhere that they could ... you know ... do their human spreading thing.

But I was wrong.  Doesn't matter though, becase some dumbass (hopefully not our Gubment) is going to spend buzzillions of dollars to rig up an environmentally-proper repository for the organisms, shoot it into outer space and then die happy because their Earth-originated germs will populate the universe.  How ridiculously stupid ...

Books: "The Difference Engine"

Began this post weeks ago, and finally getting to finish it ...

"The Difference Engine" is my first steampunk book.  So to answer the obvious first question: "What the hell is steampunk?!?!?!" you can go here or here or here or here or here (these last two I happened upon a while ago -- people posting some fun-ish steampunky stuff).  But to keep you from having to read and read and read, the bottom line is that steampunk is one of these 'alternate reality' fictional (obviously) genres in which a gentleman named Charles Babbage, back in the 1800s in England, completed his project.  Ya' see, in real life Mr. Babbage was working on an "Analytical Engine", the world's first computer.  This was in the early-mid-1800s.  Keeping in mind that timeframe, this was before Tommy Edison and bunches of others invented electricity (yes, I know, nobody 'invented' electricity ...).  So Mr. Babbage used steam to power his machine.  In reality, he ran out of time, money and willpower (I guess the latter couldn't be powered by steam) and he never finished his Analytical Engine, and the world is as it is today.  In this alternate reality, however, he does finish, and so bunches of things change:
  1. Computers, and just about everything else, are run by steam rather than by electricity like they are now.  Technology evolves just a bit differently as everything is initially steam powered and since the computer was invented a century earlier in these stories than it was in reality, the order of technological events and revelations around the world changes too.
  2. Since this was in England, England became even more of a world powerhouse than it became in reality.  With the world's only computers at the time and the only expertise to make more, they would easily outmaneuver everyone else in just about everything: economics, military, technology, etc.
  3. The rest of the world evolved very differently in the ensuing ~150 years.  In the book for this post, America and North America as a whole as we know them in reality evolved into about a half dozen territories, some American, others Mexican, some British, and, of course, the Republic of Texas (which'll make some people happy).