26 April 2007

Mathematics: Just Say No!

I previously wondered what the state of science education would be like when my children go to school. Now I know: "Pupils are being discouraged from taking A-level maths as schools in England chase higher places in the league tables."

"The Royal Society of Chemistry said that as maths was a difficult subject, schools feared examination failures which would threaten their standings. Chief executive Richard Pike also said universities were increasingly having to run remedial classes in maths.

. . .

Dr Pike said: 'Schools and students are reluctant to consider A-level mathematics to age 18, because the subject is regarded as difficult, and with league tables and university entrance governed by A-level points, easier subjects are taken.'"

I don't have a background in mathematical education but was an applied mathematics undergrad at UConn where there were a surprising number of "math-ed" students.

A quick search through the AMS archives found this collection of articles on mathematics education in NOTICES of the American Mathematical Society.

House Resolution To Impeach Cheney?

WTF??? Did Rep. Dennis Kucinich just crib the entire GQ piece, The People v. Richard Cheney, and submit it as an original proposal?


Supporting Documents for H Res 333

Synopsis of Resolution

Text of Resolution as Introduced in the House of Representatives

Letter to Vice President Cheney

Brief summary of impeachment procedure

Supporting Documents for Article I

Article I (1)(A): Transcripts of March 17, 2002 Press Conference by Vice President Dick Cheney and His Highness Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain at Shaikh Hamad Palace.

Article I (1)(B): Transcripts of March 19, 2002 Press Briefing by Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

Article I (1)(C): Transcripts of March 24, 2002 Wolf Blitzer interview of Vice President Cheney on CNN’s Late Edition.

Article I (1)(D): Transcripts of May 19, 2002 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (1)(E): Speech of Vice President Cheney at VFW 103rd National Convention on August 26, 2002.

Article I (1)(F & G): Transcripts of September 8, 2002 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (1)(H): Transcripts of March 16, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (2)(A): Pincus, Walter and Priest, Dana. “Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure From Cheney Visits.” Washington Post 5 June 2003: A01.

Article I (2)(B): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Stovepipe.” The New Yorker 27 October 2003.

Article I (3)(A): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 9

Article I (3)(B): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 84

Article I (3)(C): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 9

United States service member deaths: Department of Defense Casualty Report

Iraqi civilian deaths: Lancet Report

Cost of the war: CRS report RL33110

Loss of military readiness: Korb, Lawrence. “A troop readiness crisis.” Boston Globe 11 April 2007.

Supporting Documents for Article II

Article II (1)(A): Speech of Vice President Cheney at the Air National Guard Senior Leadership Conference on December 2, 2002.

Article II (1)(B): Speech of Vice President Cheney to 30th Political Action Conference in Arlington, Virginia on January 30, 2003.

Article II (1)(C): Transcripts of March 16, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article II (1)(D): Transcripts of September 14, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article II (1)(E): Speech of Vice President Cheney at Bush-Cheney '04 Fundraiser in Iowa on October 3, 2003.

Article II (1)(F): Speech of Vice President Cheney to the Heritage Foundation on October 10, 2003.

Article II (1)(G): Hayes, Stephen. “Cheney v. Powell.” The Weekly Standard 13 January 2004.

Article II (1)(H): Transcripts of January 22, 2004 Juan Williams interview with Vice President Cheney on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Article II (1)(I): Transcripts of June 17, 2004 Gloria Borger interview with Vice President Cheney on CNBC’s Capital Report.

Article II (2)(A): Waas, Murray. “Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel.” National Journal 22 November 2005.

Article II (2)(B): Jehl, Douglas. “Report Warned Bush Team About Intelligence Doubts.” New York Times 6 November 2005.

Article II (2)(C): “Leaked Report Rejects Iraqi al-Qaeda link.” BBC News 5 February 2003.

United States service member deaths: Department of Defense Casualty Report

Iraqi civilian deaths: Lancet Report

Cost of the war: CRS report RL33110

Loss of military readiness: Korb, Lawrence. “A troop readiness crisis.” Boston Globe 11 April 2007.

Supporting Documents for Article III

Article III (1)(A): Speech of Vice President Cheney to American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2006 Policy Conference on March 7, 2006.

Article III (1)(B): Transcripts of January 24, 2007 Wolf Blitzer interview with Vice President Cheney on CNN’s Situation Room.

Article III (1)(C): Transcripts of January 28, 2007 Richard Wolffe interview with Vice President Cheney for Newsweek Magazine.

Article III (1)(D): Transcripts of February 24, 2007 Press Briefing with Vice President Cheney and Australian Prime Minister in Sydney, Australia.

Article III (2)(A): Transcripts of February 19, 2007 Daniel Dombey interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for the Financial Times.

Article III (2)(B): International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors Report, February 22, 2007.

Article III (2)(C): Transcripts of February 19, 2007 Daniel Dombey interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for the Financial Times.

Article III (3)(A): Hirsh, Michael. “Hirsh: A Failed Shot at Peace with Iran?” Newsweek 8 February 2007.

Article III (3)(B): Abramowitz, Michael. “Cheney Says U.S. Is Sending ‘Strong Signal’ to Iran.” Washington Post 29 January 2007: A02.

Article III (3)(C): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Iran Plans.” The New Yorker 17 April 2006.

Article III (3)(D): Londono, Ernest and al-Izzi, Saad. “Iraq Intensifies Efforts to Expel Iranian Group.” Washington Post 14 March 2007: A10.

Article III (3)(E): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Iran Plans.” The New Yorker 17 April 2006.

Article III (4)(A): Article VI of Constitution of the United States of America.

Article III (4)(B): Chapter I, Article 2 of Charter of the United Nations

Article III (4)(C): Chapter VII, Article 51 of Charter of the United Nations

19 April 2007

Where Does Your Paycheck Go? - revisited

A previous post regarding how my personal paycheck is allocated each week left me thinking that I need to start devoting some of my available income to the tax for people who are bad at math or find a long, lost, wealthy relative. As it turns out, the kind public servants at the US Government Printing Office care about how its paycheck, US tax revenues, is allocated as well. Originally, John W. Schoen at MSNBC responds to the question, "Where do my income tax dollars go?" The answers are later distilled by the Consumerist (with hourly tallies included by yours truly):

  • Health Care: $219.40 - 8.78 hours
  • Social Security: $206.60 - 8.26 hours
  • Military: $196.50 - 7.86 hours
  • Income Security (Unemployment insurance, food and housing, retirement for federal workers, etc): $132.70 - 5.31 hours
  • Interest on Debt (The US Government's Version of Credit Card Payments): $85.30 - 3.41 hours
  • Transportation: $26.50 - 1.06 hours
  • Colleges: $19.00 - 0.76 hours
  • Federal disaster relief and insurance spending: $17.40 - 0.70 hours
  • Administration of justice: $15.40 - 0.62 hours
  • Public Schools (K-12): $15.00 - 0.60 hours
  • The Environment: $12.40 - 0.50 hours
  • Agriculture: $9.80 - 0.39 hours
  • General government costs: $6.90 - 0.28 hours
  • International development and humanitarian assistance: $6.30 - 0.25 hours
  • Social services related to education and training: $6.20 - 0.25 hours
  • Space Program: $5.50 - 0.22 hours
  • General science and basic research: $3.40 - 0.14 hours
  • Community and regional development: $3.20 - 0.13 hours
  • Workers training programs: $2.70 - 0.11 hours

  • Totals: $990.20 - 39.61 hours
Perhaps the unlisted $9.80 - .39 hours goes to some slushfund?

If I ignore the Federal progressive tax rates and assume that the $1000/week earner and myself are taxed at the same rate, let's see what happens when I cram the figures above into my previously claimed allocations (5.325 hours each week to fund Federal and State taxes, 2.950 hours each week to fund Medicare and Social Security and 2.254 hours each week to fund personal health, dental and vision insurance).

Coming soon! Until then...

  • The sum of the top three categories are a full 70% more than the sum of all other categories combined
  • More is spent on arresting and detaining criminals than is spent on educating a nation of K-12 graders
  • 4.5 times more money is spent on the government's interest payments than on college contributions (where the majority of students take loans to pay interest back to the government and multi-national financial services firms)
  • More than 5 times the amount of potential preventive and proactive local and community development funding is spent/squandered on disaster relief after the fact

16 April 2007

Leading a Balanced Online Life

As more and more of a person's life leeches into social networking sites, personal blogs, online special interest communities, etc., one is faced with two extremes: too much of an online presence and not enough of an online presence.

Facebook and MySpace Used by Employers, Schools, and Police

"If you're like most college and even high school students, you have posted your profile to Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site. But did you realize that your profile can easily be accessed by potential employers, schools, law enforcement agencies, and others? As much as that revelation may be a shock for students, it also came as a shock to those who set up the sites because they never intended outsiders to use the information for purposes other than benign social networking."


Web Anonymity Can Sink Your Job Search

"Having a presence on the Web is a critical factor in the job search, especially given the fact that a growing number of recruiters and hiring managers are using search engines when gathering data about potential employees. According to a 2006 survey, 77% of recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In another survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 25% of hiring managers said they use Internet search engines to research potential employees, while another 10% said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. All things being equal, most companies would rather hire a candidate who has demonstrated the ability to participate on the Web. With that in mind, the article provides five tips to develop a more visible presence on the Web."

What to do, what to do?

More cowbell!

15 April 2007

Reading List #4

In commemoration of the recent death of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., I offer the following as the three most influential of his writings, relative to my life. They are:


14 April 2007

The Cost of Commuting

I've been a long-time reader of Mother Jones magazine and have recently taken-in their RSS feed(s). This caught my eye: a sort piece (blog blob?) aimed at outlining the environmental costs of commuting, with numerous references to a New Yorker piece by Nick Paumgarten, as well as the non-fiscal costs associated with commuting long, or in my personal case repulsive, distances. Here are some of the highlights:

"Roughly one out of every six American workers commutes more than forty-five minutes, each way. People travel between counties the way they used to travel between neighborhoods. The number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way—known to the Census Bureau as “extreme commuters”—has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990. They’re the fastest-growing category, the vanguard in a land of stagnant wages, low interest rates, and ever-radiating sprawl. They’re the talk-radio listeners, billboard glimpsers, gas guzzlers, and swing voters, and they don’t—can’t—watch the evening news. Some take on long commutes by choice, and some out of necessity, although the difference between one and the other can be hard to discern. A commute is a distillation of a life’s main ingredients, a product of fundamental values and choices. And time is the vital currency: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth.

. . .

Americans, for all their bellyaching, are not the world’s most afflicted commuters. They average fifty-one minutes a day, to and from work. Pity the Romanians, who average fifty-four. Or the citizens of Bangkok, who average—average!—two hours. A business trip to Bangkok will buck up the glummest Van Wyck Expressway rubbernecker; the traffic there, as in so many automobile-plagued Asian mega-capitals, is apocalyptic. In Japan, land of the bullet train, workers spend almost ninety minutes a day.

. . .

Nationwide, the automobile took over from the train long ago. Nine out of ten people travel to work by car, and, of those, eighty-eight per cent drive alone. The car, and the sprawl that comes with it (each—familiar story—having helped to engender and entrench the other), ushers in another kind of experience. The gray-suited armies of Cheever’s 5:48 have given way to the business-casual soloists, whose loneliness is no longer merely existential. They hardly even have the opportunity to feel estranged at home, their time there is so brief.

. . .

Commuting makes people unhappy, or so many studies have shown. Recently, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger asked nine hundred working women in Texas to rate their daily activities, according to how much they enjoyed them. Commuting came in last. (Sex came in first.) The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people. The two hours or more of leisure time granted by the introduction, in the early twentieth century, of the eight-hour workday are now passed in solitude. You have cup holders for company.

. . .

Three years ago, two economists at the University of Zurich, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, released a study called “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.” They found that, if your trip is an hour each way, you’d have to make forty per cent more in salary to be as “satisfied” with life as a noncommuter is. (Their data come from Germany, where you’d think speedy Autobahns and punctual trains would bring a little Freude to the proceedings, and their methodology is elaborate and thorough, if impenetrable to the layman, relying on equations like U=α+ßD+ßD²+γX+δw+δw²log y.) The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory, at least), commute even though it makes them miserable. They are not, in the final accounting, adequately compensated."

The Washington Post has a piece by Eric M. Weiss that addresses the health problems of commuters:

"Besides being a daily grind that takes time away from family, a long commute can be harmful to your health. Researchers have found that hours spent behind the wheel raise blood pressure and cause workers to get sick and stay home more often. Commuters have lower thresholds for frustration at work, suffer more headaches and chest pains, and more often display negative moods at home in the evenings. It's not just the drivers who suffer. Carpool passengers have to deal with what they call 'Mustang neck' or 'Beetle neck' -- the contortions they must make to wedge themselves into the back seats of certain cars.

. . .

As a consequence, more drivers will probably suffer the health effects of a commuter lifestyle, researchers and doctors said. 'You tell someone they need to exercise or go to physical therapy, but how can they? They leave at 5 a.m. and get home at 7 or 8 p.m. at night,' said Robert G. Squillante, an orthopedic surgeon in Fredericksburg who has treated patients for back pain and other commuting-related issues.

He said constant road vibrations and sitting in the same position for a long time is bad for the neck and spine and puts special pressure on the bottom disc in the lower back, the one most likely to deteriorate over the years.

There are other long-term concerns. Raymond W. Novaco, a professor at the University of California at Irvine's Institute of Transportation Studies who has researched commuting for three decades, found a correlation between traffic congestion and negative health effects such as higher blood pressure and stress.

Novaco's research team measures the blood pressure and heart rate of commuters shortly after they arrive at work and again two hours later. Commuters also fill out detailed questionnaires on their home and work lives. 'The longer the commute, the more illness' and more illness-related work absences occur, he said.

. . .

Spending hours sitting in your car can also cause back and other muscle problems and takes time away from more active, healthier pursuits such as walking or going to the gym. The ill effects of commuting are increasingly showing up in local doctors' offices. Squillante, the Fredericksburg orthopedic surgeon, said he has had surgery patients say that the best thing about a back operation was the forced hiatus from their daily commute during recovery."

There is a single take-away from all of this: commuting is both a personal as well as a public health issue. The opportunity costs associated with commuting are often extremely disproportionate. There is a real, measurable drain on those suffering through long commutes. Long commutes break people down.

On a slightly more up-beat note, I read a great piece this past weekend in Wired by Douglas McGray regarding a "pop-up city" initiative in China that looks extremely promising.

12 April 2007

Life Is No Way To Treat An Animal

Kurt Vonnegut died last night. The NYT has an emotionless retrospective. Mother Jones was too lazy to write anything so they linked to the NYT piece. The Nation posted a piece that is appearing in the 23 April 2007 issue. It's almost alarming when you realize how many people wrote or posted pieces in the past with the title, "God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut."

When the tupelo
Goes poop-a-lo
come back to youp-a-lo

--Kilgore Trout's last poem

(blog post title by way of Wikipedia reference for the epitaph on Kilgore Trout's tombstone)

10 April 2007

Where Does Your Paycheck Go?

I was recently reviewing my benefit information at work and adding a new family member, etc. when it occurred to me that I could spend a few minutes computing how my income is allocated each week.

Disturbing. Based on a 40 hour US work week I've determined the following:
Pre-tax Allocations
  • Voluntary retirement contributions: 6.000 hours
  • Federal and State income tax: 5.325 hours
  • No local taxes so I'll lump Medicare and Social Security together: 2.950 hours
  • Health, dental and vision insurance contributions: 2.254 hours
Pre-tax total: 16.53 hours

OK, that leaves me with 23.47 hours of pay to fund the other necessities. Let's see where that goes:

Post-tax Allocations

  • Mortgage: 7.993 hours
  • Commuting costs: 2.909 hours
  • Property taxes: .892 hours
  • Property and vehicle insurance: .832 hours
  • Student loan repayment: .629 hours
  • Life insurance: .559 hours
  • Utilities: 1.234 hours
Post-tax Total: 15.048 hours

This leaves a remainder of 8.422 hours of pay to cover food, maintenance, savings, vacations, child care, education and discretionary spending.

I am very glad my spouse has income as well or we would be rather strapped otherwise. I'm not sure how so many people make substantially less money yet manage to live in MA. Three days ago, the Boston Globe posted this piece by Robert Kuttner:

"REPRESENTATIVE Barney Frank of Newton , chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was in town this week to hold a hearing on the squeeze on household incomes and housing costs. In city after city, costs of both rentals and owner-occupied homes have been outstripping paychecks.

Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone testified that median housing prices increased by about 50 percent in Greater Boston between 1999 and 2006, while real household incomes were basically flat. In 1998, Bluestone calculated, the median-income family could afford the median-priced home in 148 of 161 Greater Boston communities; by 2006, in just 12 communities.

The cost of rentals has been rising just as fast. All this, of course, represents a real hit to family incomes. If you have to spend half of your income to get a roof over your head, you are that much poorer. If you have to double up to get a decent place to live, that's a decline in your standard of living."

On the same day the Worcester T&G provides details from the Central Mass Housing Alliance's 2006 Out of Reach Report (part 1, part 2, part 3), focusing on the Central MA region.

09 April 2007

Reading List #3

Three books I read late last year came to mind while working on my recent post concerning arbitrage opportunities in Second Life. They are:


Arbitrage Opportunities in Second Life?

Second Life (SL) is gaining momentum in popular awareness as well as gaining mind- and wallet-share of first life emigrees. If you believe all/most/some of the hype, there are riches to be made in SL. Gold in dem th'ar hills, as it were. This begs the question: "Are there any arbitrage opportunities for clever investors as well?"

The Linden dollar (L$) value is indexed for the most part against the US dollar (USD), with some volatility based on supply and demand. Linden Lab has this official blurb regarding currency exchange:

"Several online resources allow residents to convert Linden Dollars into US Dollars and vice-versa. Rates fluctuate based on supply and demand, but over the last few years they have remained fairly stable at approximately 250 Linden Dollars (L$) to the US Dollar."

I was truly hoping to learn the Yahoo! Currency Converter would supply conversions, but alas, my hopes were dashed; SL economic statistics and market statistics for currency trading was the best I could hope for.

L$ exchange rates are determined by an in-life market (LindenX) where residents are able to buy and sell currency. There exist other markets, however, external to LindenX where L$ can be bought and sold against some other "real currency". What is needed then is, at minimum, two distinct markets where a pricing difference between L$ and another currency can be identified and taken advantage of in such a way where L$ are purchased at market price lower in one market than the price they can be sold for in another market.

If the fees could be compensated for and the timing issues resolved, at first consideration I would think this could be accomplished via numerous eBay auctions of L$, where each unique eBay auction is itself a distinct market. In fact, if creative individual figures out how to short sell L$ in one market while buying long in another, they will have just hedged L$ currency trades!

06 April 2007

Reading List #2

I certainly didn't read the next three recommendations since the last Reading List post...I'm tidying-up a bit and happened to find three I read last summer that fit the bill:


04 April 2007

Evolution? Phooey!

By way of /., a Newsweek Poll summarized on MSNBC states 48% of Americans believe "God created humans pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" while an additional 13% believe that "humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process."

That's 48% of the survey respondents being firmly against evolution and up to an additional 13% falling in-step behind.

I hardly know what to say to this. Will science education in the classroom be dead by the time my kids go to school? I need a healthy dose of Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins now.

03 April 2007

It's a Boy!

Eamon Campbell joined us yesterday morning @ 0456 EDT!

8 lbs., 3.5 oz., 19.75" long/tall.

Everyone is healthy and well.

01 April 2007

Reading List #1

In anticipation of Douglas Hofstadter's latest book, I Am a Strange Loop, I decided to re-read his first work, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. That got me thinking that I tend to read in a Wikipedia-like fashion; I take notes of referenced works or concepts explored in the original book and start following them serially, reading whatever falls within my field of interest.

That being said, instead of traditional book reviews (of which there is no short supply), I decided to simply list a few loosely linked or tangentially related books that I have enjoyed with minimal commentary. Here is round 1: