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San Francisco's Housing Crisis Explained

AthanasiusKircher Re:Gentrification? (335 comments)

If you're paying more than $1,500/month rent to live in a one bedroom apartment anywhere in the US, you're very rich.

A decade or so ago, I knew a number of graduate students living in Boston (mostly Cambridge) who were paying well over $1000/month for one-bedroom apartments -- while living on graduate stipends of something like $20k per year. Definitely a few paying $1200 or $1250. (Maybe they made $25k.) A decade later, I assume rents may have risen by a couple hundred dollars in places, so it gets to your range.

Anyhow, these people were NOT "very rich" or even "rich." They were often struggling. BUT - If you were going to school in Boston or Cambridge, your choice was often to rent a place way out of the way and spend hundreds of dollars per month on commuting passes and/or parking, and perhaps spend an hour or more each way getting to school... or you could basically pay just a little more (or even the same) and live in a convenient place with an insane rent. Either way, between housing and commuting expenses, you'd be spending well over 50% of your income.

Of course, the alternative would be to live in some sort of 4-person roommate situation and have more beer money and be able to eat more than rice and beans. Some people did that; others found having their own place to be worth it for various reasons.

I'm not speaking of the San Francisco situation, and I don't know the dynamics there. But there are plenty of people I know who have lived in places like Boston and New York and were shelling out loads of money on rent because on-balance it made sense in their years as a starving artist or graduate student or whatever. Not all people who pay high rents are "very rich" or even "mildly rich." You can call these people "insane" for paying so much for housing compared to the rest of the country -- and perhaps they are -- but that insanity is simply a fact of life in some places.


IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

AthanasiusKircher Re:Refunds indicate bad tax planning (617 comments)

You are getting your own money back without interest.

Actually, for the past couple years, you can actually earn a sort of "interest" on your refund, for example in TurboTax's partnership with Amazon, which will give you a 10% bonus on your federal refund in the form of an Amazon gift card. Granted, for this privilege you'd have to pay for TurboTax, but even so, if you actually buy a lot from Amazon, you're getting a much better guaranteed return than a bank account or CD.

It would be better to owe $2K each year than to expect refunds.

Or you could turn a $2K refund into $2200 of buying power... assuming you buy from Amazon. Amazon is the only place I've heard of this kind of benefit, but I assume others will try to do this sort of thing.

2 days ago

IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

AthanasiusKircher Re:Over 18 (617 comments)

While you are "required" to file if your income is above a certain amount, the IRS has stated repeatedly that there is no actual late penalty for failing to file a return that qualifies for a refund. I'd be interested if you have something that says otherwise.

2 days ago

IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

AthanasiusKircher Re:Bush Vetoed this, apparently (617 comments)

The real question is who added this particular provision, and are they still in office? I'm not sure how to dig up that crucial bit of info.

This takes a bit of digging. I believe the provision in question is H.R. 2419, Sec. 14219. "Elimination of statute of limitations applicable to collection of debt by administrative offset."

It was added as part of a list of amendments suggested by a committee report (House Report 110-261). The specific amendment regarding the statute of limitations was entered into the Congressional Record at H9049.

The slate of amendments (H.Amdt.714) from the report were introduced to a full house vote (see Congressional Record H8763) by Rep. Collin Peterson (Minnesota 7th), then chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. Rep. Peterson should probably not be taken to be the main proponent of this measure, since this was part of a slate of amendments introduced in the committee report, which were then offered up to the full house for approval. (A number of members of the Agricultural Committee spoke for this slate of amendments, though it doesn't seem anyone spoke in support of the specific provision for eliminating this statute of limitations -- this provision was included among a whole bunch of other random things in the bill.)

The specific amendment (the 29th on the slate to be considered) did not actually name the elimination of statute of limitations sections as its primary purpose (listed as Sec. 3005, the "Reauthorization of McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program"), so one might argue that this section was buried as an added clause within an amendment which was buried within a slate of amendments.

In any case, the house agreed to these amendments offered en bloc by voice vote on July 27, 2007, so there's no record of who voted for or against (though the assumption is it was more-or-less unanimous, since it was approving something recommended from the committee who was trying to produce a bill which could be passed by the full house).

(Of course, as is typical, the amendment was not actually read in full to the house, and only entered later into the Congressional record as an "omission" for the day, which is why the page number for the amendment is later than the page on which it is approved.)

It's possible you might find something about who actually wanted this provision by digging into records of committee meetings, but I somewhat doubt it. This slate of amendments was part of an ENORMOUS bill, and it looks like this list of amendments was a compiled list of crap the committee needed to put in just to get it to the next stage of legislation.

2 days ago

Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

AthanasiusKircher Re:I have a degree in computer science. (723 comments)

Agreed, but your hypothetical persons with first-hand knowledge of managing large numbers of draft animals is likely to be in short supply *in the stipulated scenario*.

In shorter supply than historians with enough specific knowledge about draft animal armies to tell someone how to run a campaign? Not much less, I would think. I'm not saying either of our hypothetical people are likely to be found, but I frankly would prefer my guy -- with practical experience handling animals -- over your guy with his historical knowledge of specific events (which are very unilkely to work out the exact same way again). If neither are available, I'll find somebody skilled in military logistics and/or somebody who has worked with lots of animals, if possible. A smart CS guy might be somewhere lower on my ranking of preferred specialities to deal with this issue, but at that point, I might be looking for anyone with any kind of relevant experience (probably any engineer would be almost as good, since each might bring different perspectives). The abstract algorithm is not the limiting knowledge factor here.

So, do you look for a historian, or someone with a degree in a somewhat math-y field who happens to have a little of both common sense and imagination?

Frankly that attitude is insulting to historians and people in the humanities in general. The vast majority of historical people who planned campaigns with the kind of armies you're talking about were not trained in advanced math or algorithms -- and you can argue that perhaps that led to inefficiencies in historical tactics, but without taking into account real-world conditions and all the messy things I'm talking about, I think that's a difficult argument to make.

Humanities people are often quite creative and inventive. Math is a very useful tool, and models can be helpful, but MY point is that there are lots of pieces to the puzzle of understanding how real-world situations are best optimized, particularly when they involve messy things like predicting human and animal behavior. (Spend some time reading sociology journals and you'll get a sense of all of the crap studies that have come about because people think they can randomly throw math at a problem and expect to model it well...)

Does that mean that the ivory tower training is useless, and that the time would have been better spent just getting real world experience? Of course not.

Didn't say that at all. Please re-read my post. I explicitly said that your problem-solving skills would undoubtedly be very useful. I think your specific example is rather flawed, though. Unless a CS guy has some sort of background in optimizing military logistics or something else similar to the task at hand, I'd frankly go with someone with superior intelligence, problem-solving skills, and creativity, regardless of whether that person is a historian, a CS major, some random other engineer, or a guy with an English degree who can think rationally.

All I was saying is that I think you're overstating the ability to "solve" your problem by saying that any guy with a B in algorithms could do it. That's almost certainly not true. Would that guy be useful in trying to figure out how to solve the problem? Probably. But so would intelligent people in dozens of other disciplines who might be able to bring some other relevant knowledge to the table -- which the random CS dude might not know about or consider with his only an abstract knowledge of algorithms to draw from.

Umm, you're doing it wrong, if you're waiting to sort until you get the bags in your house. I don't have a computer science degree, but my sorting begins as I put items in my CART.

Please, give me some credit for not being stupid. Anyhow, you're just making my point.

That's funny, because you completely MISSED my point. You said you were "using computer science" to deal with your groceries. I'm saying that any reasonably intelligent person who thinks about this problem could figure out efficient solutiosn and optimization strategies. You're not "using computer science" -- you're using general logical and problem-solving skills, which could be possessed by historians, CS people, and whoever else. Now -- if you had some ungodly large number of groceries to go through (actually managing a store inventory, stocking shelves, etc.), then maybe using an actual sorting algorithm could of significant help.

But my point is that I could actually figure out a darned good strategy for putting my groceries away without a CS degree. (I do know a bit about algorithms, but I've never thought about making use of them in that circumstance, probably because I rarely have to put away a boatload of groceries at once.)

From a broader perspective, I was also trying to note that your scenario specifically mentioned one goal achieved by your optimization: you only had to open the fridge door once. Perhaps you think that's best from an energy-saving perspective or whatever, and it probably is a good goal. But if a CS major (not you) took that to an extreme case in trying to optimize the problem, he could end up taking 10 minutes to stack all the groceries in perfect piles on the counter, getting them ready to move to storage... rather than taking 12 or 13 minutes to do the same task, but getting frozen foods and perishable foods into the fridge FIRST, which may involve sacrificing optimization of fridge-opening occurrences, but might result in better quality and safer food handling practice.

I'm not saying you'd actually leave all your frozen foods and meats out on the counter while you optimize your sorting. I'm saying that a CS major unfamiliar with the real-world complications of draft animals, military logistics, terrain, etc. could easily overlook this sort of thing when trying to solve your draft army problem... maybe what matters MOST is not the flow of horses through this route or how often the fridge door opens, but maybe a bunch of other details that could mean the difference between life and death in your original army problem. In that sense, the CS guy is not necessarily capable of "solving" the problem, but rather has one particular piece that could potentially be combined -- by intelligent, thoughtful, and creative people -- to solve a messy real-world problem. If the CS guy is indeed intelligent enough and gets enough of the other pieces together, maybe he could do it himself, but I don't think that's anywhere near true of everyone who ever received a B in algorithms.

3 days ago

Study Rules Out Global Warming Being a Natural Fluctuation With 99% Certainty

AthanasiusKircher Re:more pseudo science (846 comments)

Oh this is rich. The AC calling the scientists ignorant about how the peer review process works. Nice try AC, but GP is right, peer reviewers systematically try to tear pretty much anything that comes their way to shreds.

Really depends on the discipline. Seriously -- I took a course as a graduate student in an obscure interdisciplinary subject, and we basically spent the entire class picking apart all the giant flaws in the core professional literature of this entire subdiscipline. It was pretty much all founded on BS. And yes, it was (supposedly) in the "sciences" (albeit the "soft" ones). But when you're working in a small area where only a few labs around the world do the same thing, and particularly if you're bridging multiple fields where people are often completely ignorant of one or more of the component fields, it's quite possible for much of the professional literature to become mired in accepted dogma that makes little sense and hasn't really been proven (and when it has been, proven in a vacuous way that makes it almost meaningless or completely insignificant).

And how one "tears a paper to shreds" may or may not actually get at some real underlying problems that have to do with fundamental issues in research methodologies or assumptions for an entire discipline. Or it can also be possible to "tear a paper to shreds" for minutiae within some small area, while never questioning statistical procedures that are poorly understood by many scientists in many fields.

If peer review really always (or even most of the time) worked the way you say, there would no need for articles like this one, and the many related discussions out there about flaws in the scientific research process.

4 days ago

Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

AthanasiusKircher Re:I have a degree in computer science. (723 comments)

The intellectual skills involved in CS could, with not much difficulty, be turned to other kinds of problem solving such as operations research.

I have no doubt.

Computer science is essentially about figuring out the resources needed to accomplish things. If you want to figure out how much fodder it would take to move your draft animal powered army over a certain distance, you *could* consult a historian who specialized in the logistics of pre-mechanized warfare who'd tell you how Viscount Howe did it in the New Jersey Campaign of 1776-1777. Or you could find some CS graduate who pulled at least a "B" in algorithms to figure it out for you.

But this begins to go into "crazy-land" a bit. I'm not saying the historian necessarily has the best answer, but someone who actually has first-hand knowledge and experience with draft animals in large numbers would undoubtedly have a huge amount of insight over a random CS nerd who has never seen a horse.

The problem is that in order for your "B student in algorithms" to solve this problem, you'd have to have precise information about the physical logistics of the situation, as well as detailed knowledge of and experience with the real-world problems that arise with huge numbers of unreliable things (like animals that need to eat, poop, might get sick and die, etc.).

Honestly, this sounds something like a scenario where a person has a heart attack in a public place, a bystander calls for help: "It seems he has no pulse! I think he might have some sort of blockage. Does anyone know how to get his blood flowing again?" and out steps a chemical engineer, saying: "My skills are applicable in a wide variety of areas, and this reduces to a simple problem in fluid mechanics, which I've taken a number of courses in. Hold on while I spend some time with the Navier-Stokes equation!"

Seriously -- there's a reason we make jokes about mathematicians or physicists saying, "Assume a spherical cow...." The real world is messy, and unless you already have access to a person who knows almost enough to run the draft army already who can feed you good data to solve the problem in the abstract, I'm not sure your scenario is realistic.

I mean absolutely NO disrespect, and if you're an intelligent person, I'm sure you can find a way to apply your problem-solving skills to many different scenarios. I just think real-world scenarios are often quite messy, and until you accumulate enough data to construct an accurate model, your algorithmic solutions are likely to have serious flaws.

I use computer science every time I come home from grocery shopping. As I remove items from the bags I stage them by where they are eventually going to go. Why? Because efficient sorting algorithms eliminate lots of entropy early on. Consequently I only open my refrigerator *once*.

Umm, you're doing it wrong, if you're waiting to sort until you get the bags in your house. I don't have a computer science degree, but my sorting begins as I put items in my CART. (Just a rough sort into refrigerated items, fragile items, etc.) This makes it more efficient for me to unload the cart onto the conveyor belt, and it ensures that bagging procedures will be most efficient and least likely to cause food spoilage (e.g., refrigerated stuff going together, heavy things packed separately from "squashable" things, frozen foods all in a few bags, etc. -- supermarket baggers can vary quite a bit in their attention to reasonable bagging methods). By the time I get the stuff into my house, I should already have a group of a few bags for the freezer, a few bags for the fridge, etc.

This does not require a CS degree, and frankly it sounds like you're starting the sorting process a little late for maximum efficiency (not to mention food safety and quality standards).

Even when times are violent, disordered, and desperately poor people still need art and music, and if we're stipulating that apocalyptic == "no computers", that means no iPods either. So it seems quite plausible to me that experts in gymel might find their services *more* in demand in a post-apocalyptic world.

Absolutely. This is one point I agree with, and it makes the summary sound stupid.

4 days ago

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie

AthanasiusKircher Re:And yet at some point the age of consent in Uk (639 comments)

GP claimed that the AVERAGE age of marriage was below 16 and that the practice was common. It was not. My comment said nothing about age of consent or earliest marriage possible, which obviously were lower in the past (in royal marriages, it was perfectly possible for a 9 year old girl to "marry" a 5 year old boy, though consummation would obviously take place later). If you read my earlier comment, you'll note that I discussed aristocratic marriages, which were (rarely) involving very young... and even the quote in the post you responded to mentioned one girl married at 13. My response to GP was solely addressing the question of the AVERAGE and what most people did... on that point, he was clearly in error.

about a week ago

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie

AthanasiusKircher Re:Mirror image (639 comments)

We should take your data here and apply it to the topic on hand, then. The cultural norms of the time required Muhammad to have many such aristocratic marriages, for the purpose of cementing alliances. In the context of the time, across nearly the entire globe, Muhammad's behavior was not unusual for a man in his position.

You may well be right. I don't know much about common practice in his culture at that time in history. I was merely responding to GP's assertion that AVERAGE age at marriage in Europe was less than 16 until the 20th century. That's just not true, though it's a commonly believed myth.

Ancient peoples had all sorts of relationships, including heterosexual and homosexual relationships with teenagers. In various cultures at various times, these relationships may have been more or less common. I didn't dispute that at all. I really don't know enough about your specific example and its cultural context to judge what it meant within that culture. I was only addressing a specific erroneous claim made by GP regarding a different culture at a different time.

about a week ago

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie

AthanasiusKircher Re:Mulgrew is an airhead (639 comments)

The whole Voyager series was hit and miss save for two redeeming features - seven of nine and and seven of nines' mammalian protuberances.

I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but I have to say that Seven of Nine and the Doctor were the best features of Voyager -- not because of appearance, because they actually had some sort of character development and growth over the course of the series.

Everyone gets hung up on Jeri Ryan's outfit, just like I've heard people complain in recent years about Troi's outfits on TNG. Were they necessary? Of course not. Would the series be better if they dressed these characters like professionals and grown-ups? Maybe.

But it seems to me that if you get distracted and annoyed about what people wear, the problem is with you. In our puritan-influenced nudity-phobic modern U.S., we've declared very strict (unofficial) regulations governing what women are and aren't allowed to do to make themselves look attractive in a "professional" situation. Wear loads of makeup? Sure. Get plastic surgery? Yeah. High heels and form-fitting skirts? Sure, as long as they don't go too far.

But form-fitting tops? Unprofessional. Any hint of cleavage? Not in a professional situation. Etc.

It's all arbitrary nonsense, and it infantilizes women. I have very close female friends who have been taken aside and told about their "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" clothes by other women, in work situations where formality was not the norm, and the clothes in question were very tasteful. An ankle-length dress that shows a hint of cleavage is "unprofessional," but a short form-fitting skirt, high heels, stockings, and hair tied up in a bun to show off a neck is good "business attire."

Arbitrary nonsense.

Were the clothes of Seven of Nine and Troi supposed to attract male viewers? Probably. And maybe viewers should feels insulted about that or annoyed at the writers or costumers who thought that was necessary. But I watch these shows and care about the characters, and Seven of Nine is one of the more interesting ones on Voyager. I don't give a crap about what she's wearing, because the writers actually gave her interesting plot points and development on a number of occasions... and I wish more people would stop complaining about how uncomfortable it makes them feel or how terrible the costume is. The fact is that the character's strength actually added something on many occasions to a pretty weak show.

It seems that these arguments are always about judging people by their appearances. Well -- can we REALLY stop judging people by their appearances and getting hung up on some stupid arbitrary social conventions about what "sexy" things are "appropriate" and which are "unprofessional"? All I give a damn about when encountering a woman in a professional situation is whether she's competent and can do her job. Whether she's wearing a business suit or an old pair of jeans or a sundress or a bikini or a form-fitting catsuit -- I don't give a crap. To those of you who get so worked up and offended by Jeri Ryan's outfit -- just remember that the problem is inside YOUR head and what YOU are reading into the character based on her appearance.

about a week ago

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie

AthanasiusKircher Re:Mirror image (639 comments)

"She is but 14 years old"
"And younger than her are happy mothers made"

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliette.

That's Renaissance England

By the way, even a cursory glance at Wikipedia would demonstrate your error regarding Shakespeare's time:

Still, in most of Northwestern Europe, marriage at very early ages was rare. One thousand marriage certificates from 1619 to 1660 in the Archdiocese of Canterbury show that only one bride was 13 years of age, four were 15, twelve were 16, and seventeen were 17 years of age while the other 966 brides were at least 19 years of age at marriage. And the Church dictated that both the bride and groom must be at least 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their families; in the certificates, the most common age for the brides is 22 years. For the grooms 24 years is the most common age, with average ages of 24 years for the brides and 27 for the grooms. While European noblewomen married early, they were a small minority and the marriage certificates from Canterbury show that even among nobility it was very rare to marry women off at very early ages.

Keep in mind that Romeo and Juliet, while written by an Englishman, was set in Italy. The lines you quoted were probably meant to be either a joke or intended to shock the audience, as a jab at young aristocratic marriage ages (which were particularly associated with Catholic countries like Italy).

and it remained common until the early 20th century. The REAL reason it changed was World War 1- with most of the young men gone to war for several years, women had to take over the work-force and do so without many potential suitors around.

Also, after poking around a bit, I discovered my previous post was slightly in error at least for the U.S. -- the lowest median age for first marriage according to census data, apparently occurred in 1956, with women marrying then on average at age 20.1 years.

So the theory about WWI -- not true either.

about a week ago

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie

AthanasiusKircher Re:Mirror image (639 comments)

Umm, no. Read some actual historians who have done the research. The reason there is this popular myth of early marriage has to do with selection bias -- most marriages in medieval times that we have records for were aristocratic marriages, and their goal was less about love or even children than about cementing alliances, so they could happen at ridiculously young ages. Common people often didn't bother to get married at an actual ceremony (and certainly not recorded) until after the Reformation. Anyhow, a number of historians HAVE found records and accounts to look at marriage age in NON-aristocratic marriage (which was the majority of marriage), and they have found the GP's account to be roughly true -- median age for women marrying was early 20s... until just the past couple centuries. I believe the youngest median marriage age for women was somewhere in the late 19th or early 20th century. Look it up.

about a week ago

To Reduce the Health Risk of Barbecuing Meat, Just Add Beer

AthanasiusKircher Re:Oven? (179 comments)

Yeah, many steakhouses use a very hot broiler (salamander), which effectively provides massive radiant heat while also acting like an oven. (Butter, more than salt, is often the "secret" ingredient, though a decent amount of salt too.) Those places are most interested in cooking as fast as possible, but IMO don't produce the best steaks, particularly if they are thick-cut. (I've had really expensive thick steaks that were positively ruined in restaurants that way... terribly burnt on the outside, raw in the middle.) There are various other options, but a short hot grilling period combined with slower cooking before or after (whether in an oven, sous vide, or some other low heat place) will often make the best steak.

about two weeks ago

To Reduce the Health Risk of Barbecuing Meat, Just Add Beer

AthanasiusKircher Re:Marinade, add beer to the marinade (179 comments)

By the way, I should mention that many restaurants -- and home cooks too -- have switched to sous vide methods instead of using an oven, since it is faster and more precise. But the principle is precisely the same: very small time on the grill, longer time getting the interior up to temperature.

about two weeks ago

To Reduce the Health Risk of Barbecuing Meat, Just Add Beer

AthanasiusKircher Re:Marinade, add beer to the marinade (179 comments)

Pre-cooking food at low heat for a period before slapping it on the grill can cut down the time needed to cook it as well as limit how much burnt material is produced.

Except, by doing that, you've ruined the whole reason we barbecue things - Because we want that thin outer layer of charring.

No, you don't. Not actual charring. Are you the kind of guy who likes his hot dog completely covered with a crust of black ash? I know a few people like that, but if so, you guys are in the minority. Most people want a well-browned piece of meat, which is mostly produced through flavorful byproducts of the Maillard reaction and caramelization. If your food is actually charred, you've gone beyond that and destroyed those flavorful compounds, instead producing bitter compounds with a bad texture.

Yes, we have plenty of ways to cook foods without forming PAH, acrylamide, or the other carcinogens-of-the-week.

Yeah, by not burning your food. The GP's advice is spot-on to produce the absolute ideal of "grilled food" for the vast majority of people. If you want the tastiest, juciest steak you've ever had in your life, I dare you to take his advice. Put it in an extremely low oven (well below 200F, 150F or below is ideal) until the interior temp rises to somewhere around 100F or a little above. (With an oven temp of 130-150F, this could take a few hours for a thick piece of meat.)

Then throw it on your hot grill until you get a beautiful browned flavorful exterior. Don't let it burn -- cooking time will probably only be 1/4 or so of what you'd usually need. Let it rest for a few minutes, and eat a steak like you've never tasted before.

No need to BURN your food just to get the interior up to temperature. Get the whole piece of meat warmish to begin with, and then use the grill to BROWN your food and maximize flavor compounds. I know this is an extra step and takes longer than simply cooking at high heat, but the result is actually better tasting food, in addition to fewer carcinogens.

We grill things over open flame because all those nasty carcinogens make it taste better. Simple as that.

No, they don't. They tend to form at the greatest rate when you're overcooking the outer layer and destroying flavor compounds. GP's advice is just an extension of the "let your steak come to room temperature before grilling" advice, which most grilling afficionados will agree is helpful to get a more evenly done piece of meat with less fuss and less chance of overcooking or burning.

I'm NOT saying that you can't cook reasonably good food on the grill without doing what GP recommends -- but I AM saying that taking his advice (and doing a little extra work) is a way to maximize the exact grill flavors that most people prize, while also avoiding burnt layers of food that taste like sawdust.

(If you don't believe me, you should know that these are precisely the kinds of methods that many high-end steakhouses use -- with only a short grill time, but a longer time in the oven either before or after grilling to bring the interior up to temperature.)

about two weeks ago

Your Car Will Tell You How To Hit the Next Green Light

AthanasiusKircher Re:Wrong assumption (364 comments)

If anyone gets to within 1m of me at any kind of speed I'll slow down, to a crawl if necessary, until they get the hint*. Partly for both our safety, but also because it's fun to be a jerk to jerks.

Please do NOT do this. I hate tailgating as much as the next guy, but the safe response to tailgating it to get out of the way. Change lanes. If you're on a road with only one lane in your direction, and the tailgating is severe, consider pulling off and letting the moron pass you.

Your practice is NOT safer. You may think that slowing down would be, but what you're not taking into account is the car behind the car who is tailgating, who may be traveling 50 mph down a road, not expecting to encounter two cars going 10 mph because you're "trying to teach someone a lesson." That fast driver may not realize until too late that you're going much slower than the speed limit, and it could end up in a collision.

Also, my experience is that deliberately annoying people who already have tendencies toward road-rage (like most tailgaters) is that, in their rage, they will make increasingly more stupid maneuvers rather than simply driving more reasonably. So, they might try to overtake you in an unsafe place (e.g., with oncoming traffic), or perhaps cutting someone in the next lane off (on multi-lane roads), and thereby putting even more cars in danger.

I agree that the practice of tailgating is annoying and dangerous, but you're not actually solving the problem, and your strategy could actually increase the possibilities of accidents in many circumstances.

about two weeks ago

Your Car Will Tell You How To Hit the Next Green Light

AthanasiusKircher Re:Time is the most valuable thing I have (364 comments)

Even if it is 1 second I save, it is one second of MY LIFE. I don't have any interest in trading my time for someone else's pointless pursuit of a few extra MPG. My time is the most valuable thing I have and I resent anyone who interferes needlessly with my ability to spend it on the things that matter to me.

In most situations, you actually DON'T save one second of your life. How do you save any time by reaching a red light sooner than you might otherwise? You still have to wait for green. If the car in front of your is OVER-compensating and slowing down too much (so that the light turns green before he gets to the intersection), you have a point, but that would also be wasteful and therefore defeat the purpose. If the guy is doing it correctly, the only thing you'd get by zooming fast to the red light is worn-out brakes and more time to sit at a stop.

Granted, there are scenarios where this behavior is problematic, such as on a single-lane road with a lot of added turn lanes at intersections with differently timed lights for turns. Unless you have a situation like that, you're not actually saving any time, not even one second.

You sound like the guy who gets annoyed at drivers in heavy traffic on highways who try to drive at a constant speed instead of speeding up to 40 mph, then braking and stopping for 20 seconds, and then repeating -- why not just drive at a constant 20 mph? (Doing so, by the way, can actually increase throughput on a highway and work to free up traffic jams.)

Instead, you sound like the guy who is constantly switching lanes and cutting people off because you think you can "save a few seconds" by getting around the guy who is driving at constant speed. But you're not going to get where you're going any faster in such traffic... and, moreover, the continued traffic waves and jams are actually caused by sudden acceleration and decelerations like you are probably doing.

about two weeks ago

Should Patients Have the Option To Not Know Their DNA?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Op Out Knowledge? (157 comments)

Apologies -- I just realized of course you are the GP. I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. (Also, my original post was partly in reply to another post higher up in the thread which was claiming something similar to what you did.)

about two weeks ago

Should Patients Have the Option To Not Know Their DNA?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Op Out Knowledge? (157 comments)

And as there are so many laws and regulations irrelevant to most people, it IS relevant that you can't be fined for not knowing them. (as long as they stay irrelevant for whatever you're doing.)

Yeah, of course that's true, but NOT relevant to the point the GP was trying to make, which is (supposedly) that you NEVER are forced to know the law.

I was simply noting that there are sometimes common everyday situations (like doing your taxes) where you are basically required by law to do something in a particular way. If you don't do it at all (because you don't know about the requirement), or don't follow the law in doing it, you WILL be fined or put into prison. How anyone could manage to comply with the law in such situations without actually KNOWING it is a mystery to me -- hence my reply to GP.

I never said that anyone had to memorize the entire federal code. But I believe there are plenty of situations where you are basically required to know what is legal or not, or else face imprisonment, forced compliance, etc.

about two weeks ago

Should Patients Have the Option To Not Know Their DNA?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Op Out Knowledge? (157 comments)

No. It only becomes a problem when you break it. And even then you won't be fined for not knowing the law, but only the offence at matter.

Exactly! I decided to take precisely this approach with something called "taxes" this year.

Apparently, I am actually compelled by law to file them, but I didn't actually know that. One day, I was typing random keys into my search engine, and I randomly typed "taxes," and all of these cool websites popped up with forms that I could enter random numbers into!

The forms mentioned all these things like "W-2s" and "401k," but I knew nothing about what these were, so I just filled in random numbers. It was fun!!

And someone told me that there are these things called "deductions" where these "tax"-thingos (whatever they are) don't apply to money I've spent. Of course, I knew nothing about the law applying to these "tax"-thingos (even though the law apparently compels me to file them), so I made a dartboard up which had "DEDUCT!" on one side and "DON'T DEDUCT!" on the other. I threw some darts, and that's how I decided how to fill out the form. Drank some beers too. It was an awesome afternoon!

So, I know you said I can't be "fined for not knowing the law," so that's the approach I took. I figure I can just "roll the dice" and fill in the forms randomly, and I suppose it can just work out, right?!? I mean, what do you think the odds are that I got all the numbers right and the IRS won't fine me??


Yeah, you're technically right that the government can't fine you for "not knowing the law." Just like the laws of physics technically don't require me to die if I jump off of a 30-story building. But it would not be a good idea to live my life every day doing these things.

From a practical standpoint, you can be fined or put in jail for not knowing the law. Technically, you're put in jail for the effect of not knowing the law (i.e., your action in breaking it), but there are many places where the law compels you to do all sorts of random technical things (like filing tax returns), and it's a practical impossibility to comply with the law without having some knowledge of it.

The OP said:

All knowledge is op-out-able, as far as I am aware, no one is likely ever going to force you and everyone else to know something.

Similarly, I guess we could look at the laws requiring students to pass some sort of exam to graduate from high school (and thus raise their future earning potential -- there's a much greater penalty for not having a high school diploma than most fines for breaking the law). And we could say: Gee, well we don't actually "force" students to know anything! They could actively make a decision to flunk out and make it much harder to start a career. Or, heck, they could take the test and choose random answers, and maybe they could pass anyway!! Yeah -- we're not "forcing" them to know anything. They could just "get lucky"!

The only way to measure what people "know" is to require them to act on that knowledge or to complete some task that requires it. There are plenty of laws that can put you in jail or fine you or make your life really hard if you are unable to do complex tasks that require specific knowledge. So, are you technically required to "know" these things to live a normal life in society? No. But we have all sorts of restrictions that make it a practical impossibility to take required actions without that knowledge, so arguing that we don't have such laws is meaningless.

(By the way, I know y'all are worried about "thoughtcrime" and Orwellian crap here. So yeah, technically we tend not to have crimes against what you think or what you know or don't know. But try living life without any knowledge of the law... it's simply not possible in any meaningful sense.)

about two weeks ago



Wu-Tang Clan to Release Only One Copy of New Album

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about three weeks ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Wu-Tang Clan's double-album The Wu — Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was recorded in secret, and they recently announced that only one copy will be sold. Wu-Tang member Robert 'RZA' Diggs described the concept: 'We're about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before... We're about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We're making a single-sale collector's item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.' Before the album is sold, probably for millions of dollars, it will tour the world as part of special listening exhibits. Patrons will be subjected to heavy security to ensure that no recording devices are allowed, as a single leak would spoil the artistic project. As RZA noted: 'The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years. And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.'"

A Corporate War Against a Scientist, and How He Fought Back

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 2 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Environmental and health concerns about atrazine — one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. — have been voiced for years, leading to an EU ban and multiple investigations by the EPA. Tyrone Hayes, a Berkeley professor who has spearheaded research on the topic, began to display signs of apparent paranoia over a decade ago. He noticed strangers following him to conferences around the world, taking notes and asking questions aimed to make him look foolish. He worried that someone was reading his email, and attacks against his reputation seemed to be everywhere; search engines even displayed ad hits like "Tyrone Hayes Not Credible" when his name was searched for. But he wasn't paranoid: documents released after a lawsuit from Midwestern towns against Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine, showed a coordinated smear campaign. Syngenta's public relations team had a list of ways to defend its product, topped by "discredit Hayes." Its internal list of methods: "have his work audited by 3rd party," "ask journals to retract," "set trap to entice him to sue," "investigate funding," "investigate wife," etc. A recent New Yorker article chronicles this war against Hayes, but also his decision to go on the offensive and strike back. He took on the role of activist against atrazine, giving over 50 public talks on the subject each year, and even taunting Syngenta with profanity-laced emails, often delivered in a rapping "gangsta" style. The story brings up important questions for science and its public persona: How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?"

Federal Government Surveillance of Santa Superior to Private Companies

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 4 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "This year, competing tracking services for Santa led to confusion for children worldwide. At one point on Christmas Eve, Santa was reported to be over Romania by NORAD's Santa tracker, while Google claimed he was in Madagascar at the same time. Moreover, the estimates for total toys delivered varied wildly, with Google claiming only 770 million at the same time Google estimated 2.8 billion. Veteran Santa analyst Danny Sullivan explained the discrepancies: "the precision offered by NORAD’s satellites likely is superior, offering it the ability to lock onto the position of the sleigh within a matter of inches. 'They’ve been doing it for almost 60 years,' Sullivan said.... He said Google likely relies on alternative technology, such as tracking Santa’s in-sleigh WiFi signal, causing a possible lag in showing his exact location. Sullivan also guessed that Google was using an algorithm to estimate the number of gifts delivered, while NORAD might have the ability to identify individual gifts, and perhaps even smaller items such as stocking stuffers.""

"Brain Activity" Found in a Dead Salmon Demonstrat

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  more than 4 years ago

AthanasiusKircher writes "Neuroscientist Craig Bennett used a dead salmon in his Dartmouth lab as a test object while they were evaluating new lab methods. The lab even followed proper experimental protocols, including showing the salmon photos of humans displaying various emotions. They were somewhat surprised by the results:

When they got around to analyzing the voxel (think: 3-D or 'volumetric' pixel) data, the voxels representing the area where the salmon's tiny brain sat showed evidence of activity. In the fMRI scan, it looked like the dead salmon was actually thinking about the pictures it had been shown.

Of course, the salmon wasn't actually responding to pictures illustrating human emotions. But the data manipulation commonly used in brain studies caused apparently significant patterns to appear by chance. More from the Wired article: 'The result is completely nuts — but that's actually exactly the point. Bennett, who is now a post-doc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his adviser, George Wolford, wrote up the work as a warning about the dangers of false positives in fMRI data. They wanted to call attention to ways the field could improve its statistical methods."

The study demonstrates the potential for misinterpretation and misuse of data in brain studies, particularly as data manipulation becomes more and more complex. Bennett notes: 'We could set our threshold [of significance] so high that we have no false positives, but we have no legitimate results.... We could also set it so low that we end up getting voxels in the fish's brain. It's the fine line that we walk.'

So far the paper has been rejected for publication a number of times, but there is a poster available that was employed in a conference presentation. Recently it has been making the rounds informally in the neuroscience community."

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