Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Prerequisite for going to the doctor: Math

It's become apparent to me that the innumerate masses in America must be having a hard time making good health care decisions. The information your doctors have is too complex for them to just sum it up for you - they'd basically be making the decisions for you. They can't do that, you have to interpret the data yourself. Innumerate people can't do anything with the data they're given, so they just make a judgment based on how it sounds.

Some data sound very worrisome when they are not. "This test result means your risk for Disease X is doubled". That sounds as if you're likely to have the disease. But it doesn't mean much unless you know what the baseline risk is. If it's 1 in 5000, then it's probably not worth worrying about the new test result. Odds are 99.96% that nothing is wrong with you. If you aren't able to figure this out, you might insist on a painful or invasive procedure to rule out the disease, just to alleviate your worry.

"Your child's weight is 20th percentile". That might sound dangerously small, but all it means is she's smaller than 80% of her peers. It doesn't tell you how much smaller. If you look at the distribution of children's weights, you might find that the difference between 20th percentile and 50th (average) is just a few ounces.

I could go on with dozens of examples. Why aren't there word problems in math books like this, rather than made-up scenarios about apples and train schedules? Maybe kids wouldn't be so quick to dismiss math as "something they don't need in real life".

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Which is an "eyesore"?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Life is like...

Wow it's been over a year since I've posted? I guess I've been a little busy.

So I was driving to work today, that song Crazy was on the radio and for some reason I noticed the lyrics, even though I've heard them 1000 times:

"Who do you think you are?
Ha Ha Ha, bless your soul
You think you're in control?"

And that got me thinking about how people have a such a strong desire to feel in control of their lives. I won't take anything away from Forrest Gump, life is somewhat like a box of chocolates - but I prefer to think of it as being like BlackJack. The game is designed to make you feel like you have some control of your destiny. You have to know when to double down, if you expect to have any chance to win. The reality is, though, that there's hardly anything to the game. Even when making all the right moves, the only thing that makes you a winner is the cards.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A little counterbalance

Here's a little something to counteract the "stupid people are breeding" phenomenon:

Stupid people are getting deadly diseases because they think vaccines are some kind of trick to sterilize their children, or give them autism.

Measles Is Back, And It's Because Your Kids Aren't Vaccinated

So maybe there's hope for humanity after all.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bleeding heart

Terminally Ill Denied Drugs for Life, But Can Opt for Suicide

That's the headline.

What the headline and opening paragraphs lead you to think is that a greedy insurance company refused to pay for drugs that would extend her life six months, and instead offered her a much cheaper assisted suicide.

Sounds like the insurance company should be sued for a billion dollars right? I'll grant that it was sort of disgusting to offer assisted suicide, unsolicited. But that's a tough spot for the insurance company, the woman's definitely going to die, and probably it's going to be painful, maybe she is interested. However, as I continued to read, the article revealed some facts that paint quite a different picture than the headline:

A lifelong smoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 and quit.

The median survival among patients who took erlotinib was 6.7 months compared to 4.7 months for those on placebo. At one year, 31 percent of the patients taking erlotinib were still alive compared to 22 percent of those taking the placebo.

So basically the woman smoked herself into lung cancer and now expects everyone else to foot a $27,000 bill for a drug that increases survival time by two months.

Sorry lady, I was once a smoker. If I got diagnosed with lung cancer tomorrow, I'd know it was 100% my own fault, and I would not be crying foul when the insurance companies forced me to deal with my own mess. If you had wanted insurance on being a lifelong smoker, you would not have not been able to afford it. Well, maybe you would have, if you hadn't spent the money on cigarettes. I don't blame the company one iota for not covering you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My grumpy advice column

I don't normally read advice columns, but I do enjoy Salon's Cary Tennis. Today's question, however, was just too much for me to take, so I'm going to answer it myself. Since I don't have any readership to lose, I can be a complete dick in my answer.

Dear Cary,

I desperately want a child. I want, my husband wants, we want.

However, my husband and I purposely will not conceive a child. The reason is, we feel that what we want is not the most important thing. The most important consideration is toward the person who is most directly affected. The most important consideration is toward the child.

Making a life-altering decision without consulting the one most affected seems wrong. Also, there is a chance that once the child is grown, he may look back and feel, "I would have preferred nonexistence. There, I would have remained safe from all harm."

Also, any harm that comes to the child would be my fault and my husband's fault. If we had not conceived the child the harm would not have occurred. Do many other people think this way?

Wanting/Not Wanting

Dear Wanting/Not Wanting,

Yes, plenty of other people think this way, I even have a name for them - idiots. It amazes me that you would approach something as important as having children without apparently having given the matter any real thought at all.

It is not possible for anyone to honestly believe the statement "I would have preferred non-existence". No one can prefer non-existence. It isn't just a matter of opinion, like preferring vanilla over chocolate. The statement itself is logically absurd, it's nonsense. People cannot both exist and not-exist at the same time. If a person doesn't exist, then they cannot know what non-existence is like. Existence is a prerequisite for experience. See?

Let's set that issue aside for a moment. Even if your worst fears are confirmed and your child somehow prefers non-existence, his wish is easily granted, isn't it? He can step off this crazy ride called 'existence' any time he wants. In fact, you can send him back yourself. Oh, what's the matter? You find the prospect of sending your child back to non-existence distasteful? Perhaps you should ask yourself why. Maybe non-existence isn't the warm fuzzy place you make it out to be.

It may sound like I'm encouraging you to pull out the diaphragm and go for it. However my advice to you is to remain childless. Not for your sake or the child's, but the whole world's. We need more stupid people to stop breeding. You have my sincerest thanks for volunteering.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Is this a face on Mars? Of course it's just a rock, but it really, really looks like a face! How could this possibly have happened by coincidence?

Well, most people don't know this, but your brain has parts that are specifically for face-recognition. It's not too surprising that we have this ability built-in, since we are social animals it's very helpful if we can easily figure out who we're looking at.

I say "most people don't know this" because things like this
grilled cheese sandwich sell for $28,000 on eBay. Why? Because it really looks like a face. Well, certain people say it specifically looks like the Virgin Mary, even though no one really knows what the Virgin Mary looks like. I suppose they figure God put the face there, and what other woman would God want on a piece of toast?

Anyway, the reason for this post today is that I found an image that demonstrates that this "face-recognition" area of the brain exists, and provides great insight into why we see faces where there are none.

How can one image do that? By making the "face-recognition" part of the brain choke on bad input. You can actually feel your brain sputtering and fizzling and restarting. Ready? Scroll down.

Crazy, right? The doubled eyes and mouth in this image really shouldn't put our brain straight into "does not compute" mode. But it does, because it actively seeks to find eyes, nose and mouth, and it can't figure out which set of eyes and mouth are the "real" ones.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Haven't spent enough time looking at my feet

How many bones do your toes have? Think about it.

Then click here for the answer (6th item in the list). I would have gotten it wrong. Next time I start acting all smart, someone please point out I don't know basic things about my own feet. Which I might add I've owned for 33 years and have probably looked at more than casually probably 1000 times.

Have I mentioned I don't feel sorry for you?

Ok, so remember how I expressed my lack of sympathy for people who took out home loans they had no chance of paying back?

Turns out some of them deserve far less than mere lack of sympathy. In fact, many of them deserve a punch in the face. With brass knuckles. And maybe one in the gut, for good measure.

You see, rather than being humble in their mistake, they are lashing out at anyone within range. Some of them are destroying the house on the way out the door. That's pretty juvenile and senseless, but at least it's not targeted at innocent bystanders. However, it gets worse.

Some people are abandoning their pets
. After they've punched up all the drywall and smashed the toilets, they are waving goodbye to Fido, leaving him tied up in the backyard, where he will starve to death. And they know it. Anyone who could do such a horrible thing deserves to get foreclosed on. I know the foreclosure happened first, but let's be reasonable, foreclosure is not the end of the world. These people still have a place to live, it's just not the fancy house they couldn't afford. Even if they were now homeless, I've seen a lot of homeless guys with dogs, and the dogs are always the better fed of the pair. Foreclosure sucks, but it isn't supposed to turn you into a bitter, cruel asshole. I think it's clear these people were assholes all along, and they got exactly what they deserved. In fact, they got better than they deserved. To you pathetic jerks, I downgrade lack of sympathy to 'I hope you get hit by a bus'. The world is better off without you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Killer Deer

I guess people are getting bored being afraid of Muslims and bird flu. The new 'in' killers are:

You hear that? They're invading our suburbs! Don't turn your back on a deer for even one second.  They'll use their sharp... hooves and ravenous... herbivore teeth... to tear you limb from limb.

Ok, maybe not.  But don't think for a second that they're just cute defenseless animals!  Listen to this shocking testimony of one womans tale of terror.  A deer made her sad after she smashed it to bits with her SUV!

Meghan Berry, a 27-year-old New Jersey graduate student, collided with "an absolutely gigantic" deer while driving one night. After killing the deer, she was traumatized by the fur it left behind on the demolished car.

Those evil, diabolical deer! They must be stopped at all costs! There's one now!

Oh my god it's coming right for us!!!

Coming up next: Squirrels - cute or deadly?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Do not panic, everything is perfectly fine

That's what major news outlets are saying today about the stock market. The Fed cut interest rates in an emergency effort to stave off recession. Just a few hours later these headlines:

ABC News: CNN:

Don't panic, don't sell -- save and network

Hm, since when do media outlets give such clear cut BUY or SELL advice? I'm sure they are just trying to help the average joe. Right?

Um, no, if they wanted to help us, they would do some fact checking on government lies, and we all know that they do no such thing. So that explanation is out. The next most obvious explanation goes like this: There's a lot of rich people with a lot of stock they wish to sell. They can't get a good price with a million average joes also trying sell. So they call up the heads of their media companies, and tell them to immediately print big headlines meant to keep us from doing anything. In fact, CNN actually suggests buying! If you run out of money later, they say, just borrow against your home equity. Brilliant advice. It will give the rich media company owners someone to buy their stocks before they tank! And if you decide to just hold, at least you will let the rich guys out the door first.

Ok, I don't claim to be able to predict stock markets, I have no idea whether there's going to be a recession, and if there is, when it's going to happen. But I do know that these headlines are a really bad sign. Just so you all know, I did sell some non-retirement stocks today. And not just a few bucks worth either. Yeah, it probably wasn't necessary for someone my age, but let's just say I sold just enough to feel ok no matter what happens.

If it turns out that these headlines were really run to make the rich richer, it sure was a pretty clumsy and obvious attempt. At least the readers' comments on the ABC story seem overwhelmingly skeptical of the article.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A sign of age

I suddenly realized I'm not so young anymore. it's not because my body is losing its shape, although I can't say I'm in the best shape of my life. It's not because I'm going senile (or is it?). No, the thing that opened my eyes to my age is known as "2 Girls 1 Cup".

For those of you who aren't familiar with this, it's a gross-out video. If you're about to stop reading this and google it with the intention of watching it, for crissakes, I implore you, don't. Not too long ago, I didn't shy away from gross-out stuff. I got into a gross-out war with my friend Terry that began with the emailing of photos of gunshot wounds and got worse from there. Back then, my general stance on this sort of material is that they were just images and couldn't hurt me no matter how disgusting. Of course that stance is a lot easier to take before you've looked at the material in question. So even though I was seriously disturbed by those genital mutilation photos, I had opened them anyway, I suppose because I just had to know the answer to the age old question 'what's grosser than gross'? Back then I think I got the answer - I knew that was about worst thing out there and I survived it.

I just can't do it anymore. I just can't open "2 Girls 1 Cup". I know that the internet has even darker corners now than it did 10 years ago. Relax, I'm not going to describe "2 Girls 1 Cup" here. (I've read 1-sentence descriptions so I know the main idea. Fortunately I don't even have to describe it at all to inform you how gross it is). Let me put it this way, there is a popular YouTube series of simply people's reactions to watching the video - the "2 Girls 1 Cup" video itself isn't shown at all. People apparently react so strongly in disgust as to make it comical and YouTube worthy. I say 'apparently' because I can't even bring myself to watch the reaction videos either. I already know "2 Girls 1 Cup" is more than I can handle. I'd say my time of being part of the most depraved generation has passed. I know that's a good thing overall, but there was always this sense of power over older people because we could stomach things that they couldn't. Now I've lost that power, however minor and impractical.

Perhaps someone could comment on whether they think each generation has always been more depraved than the last, or if this is just a recent trend.

Friday, December 28, 2007

My new heroes

You know all that ranting I do here on my blog? I do my best, but The Buffalo Beast shows how its done, in its '50 Most Loathsome People':

Check out these choice quotes-
On #1 'Most Loathsome', George Bush:
Only supporters left are the ones who would worship a fucking turnip if it promised to kill foreigners.
On #9 'Most Loathsome', You:
You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Reasons why both the music and film industry can kiss my butt

1) The movie industry decided it would be a good idea to force everyone to watch a "don't pirate this movie" advertisement every time they watch a legitimately owned DVD. I find this so incredibly insulting and annoying that I will pirate movies just for spite. And shame on the DVD player manufacturers (Sony, Panasonic, all your major brands) for kowtowing to the movie industry - they are the ones who disable your FastForward button while the ad is showing.

2) The music industry, as it exists today, is finished. Walking dead. They know it. Their business model is irretrievably broken, but until it finally collapses, the bigwigs are going to milk every last cent they can get. First of all, it no longer takes a million dollar investment to make a good recording. Artists don't need lopsided record contracts where their chances of making any money are about the same as winning the lottery. Second of all, internet piracy will exist as long as the people are being ripped off in the stores. The RIAA can sue everybody on the planet and it won't matter. How many decades have we been buying $18 cd's without being allowed to listen to it first, and it turns out there's one good song on it and the rest is crap?

Think about this question: If you accidentally scratch a CD so that it no longer plays, what does the music industry say? They say "too bad, buy another one". Let's say that instead we go to the internet and download the same songs for free. The music industry will still sue us claiming that we didn't pay for it, even though we did. They talk out both sides of their mouth. They act as if they sell physical disks half the time, and licenses to listen to music the other half, depending on which one requires us to give them money at that moment in time.

It's a big fat scam.

How about you music industry types give me access to ALL the songs you've ever recorded. Give me a music player program for my computer and an iPod that keeps track of what songs I actually play. Once a month it transmits this information to you and I'm charged accordingly, let's say a few cents per-listen. That way, my favorite artist whose song I play over and over gets paid what he deserves. Sure, this system is hackable, but why would any significant number of people bother to hack it? They're not getting ripped off, they're getting exactly what they want for a fair price. The reason such a system doesn't exist is that it would eat into your enormous (and unearned) profits.

Choose Two

There's a saying in Software Engineering circles (and probably other fields):

Fast, Cheap, Good: Choose Two.

It's all about tradeoffs. If you want something fast and cheap, it's not going to be very good. If you want something cheap and good, it'll probably take a long time. And if you want something fast and good, it'll probably be expensive.

I find that a similar principle applies to an atheist's view of the afterlife. In my choose-two scenario, it works the opposite way. All the choices are negative, but in this case, the "choose two" limitation is a good thing. You're guaranteed that at all times, at least one of the three negative things can't apply to you.

Dead, Mortal, Unhappy: Choose Two.

You see, if you are mortal (and by mortal I mean when you die you completely cease to exist), then you cannot be both dead and unhappy. Because if you are dead, you no longer exist, and there's no "you" to experience unhappiness. Whether you're alive or dead, there's always some good news. If you're dead and unhappy, at least you've survived death and have a chance for future happiness. If you're mortal and unhappy, at least you're not dead.

Friday, December 07, 2007

America gets even dumber

Who Qualifies for Bush's Mortgage Bailout Plan?

It better be "no one"!

As it turns out the answer is "practically no one". In my opinion, this may be the very first thing Bush has done that hasn't been a complete disaster. Score one for Bush under "fiscal responsibility". That makes a total of... one.

I'm sorry folks, I really am. I am sorry that people are suffering from their own stupidity. I am sorry that they borrowed far more than they were ever capable of paying back. I am sorry they went all googly-eyed when someone dangled a shiny house in front of them.

All that sorrow, however, need not result in my writing a check to Uncle Sam for these people to deposit in their bank accounts to cover their massive stupidity. It just encourages further stupidity, and I think Americans are quite stupid enough already, thank you.

When I bought a house, I spent hours calculating various scenarios to see whether the amount I was borrowing was something I could handle. What if interest rates rise dramatically? What if I'm temporarily unemployed? You know why I put thought into it? Because I wasn't borrowing 200 bucks, I was borrowing almost 200 THOUSAND bucks. That's a big deal. Is that not obvious to everyone?

I don't give a shit if some people did not realize that they couldn't make the payments. I don't give a shit if the contract was on rainbow colored paper and the bank paid out in casino chips! Caveat emptor. These people are adults, and they should have acted like one. I am very sorry that they are dumb, but a government bailout is not going to make them any smarter. It'll just give them some money. And we all know (from experience this time),

'a fool and his money are soon parted'.

What the hell do you think Social Security is? It's the government's very noble attempt to hold idiots' money for them so that they can't be as easily bilked. And then what does "Grandmother Nettie McGee" (from the article) do the minute she finally gets control of the money? Goes out and signs it all over on a subprime, adjustable rate mortgage. And when the rate inevitably goes up, says "I don't have it. I'm on a fixed income, Social Security."

/end rant.