Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 5th, 2008

The reason behind recommendations in Within Your Means

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The (free) budget-planning Excel workbook Within Your Means makes certain recommendations regarding savings and a cash reserve. Here’s why, from ThinkProgress:

The WSJ reports, “In another sign of the harsh toll being exacted by the economic downturn, the number of Americans unemployed for six months or more has risen sharply over the past year and is likely to increase even more.” According to new Labor Department data, the number of people unemployed for at least 26 weeks has risen to 1.6 million — up 37% in the past year.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Bush’s environmental destruction continues

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Via Americablog, this story in the Washington Post by Karl Vick:

The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation’s largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.

The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes. Plum Creek owns more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 1.2 million acres in the mountains of western Montana, where local officials were stunned and outraged at the deal.

“We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months,” said Pat O’Herren, an official in Missoula County, which is threatening to sue the Forest Service for forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.

The deal, which Rey said he expects to formalize next month, threatens to dramatically accelerate trends already transforming the region. Plum Creek’s shift from logging to real estate reflects a broader shift in the Western economy, from one long grounded in the industrial-scale extraction of natural resources to one based on accommodating the new residents who have made the region the fastest-growing in the nation.

Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 2:06 pm

Hah! Just found Astaire’s golf dance

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From Carefree.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

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Manufacturing a protein

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How it works in your body. (Link displays manufacture of hemoglobin in real time via animation.)

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Cirrus Jet

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Cirrus makes airplanes that include a parachute—not for pilot or passengers, but for the entire plane. If the plane conks out, the pilot pulls a lever, the parachute deploys, and the plane floats gently to earth. The apparatus has been used in actual emergencies and works flawlessly. Up to now the company has made airplanes with piston engines, but now the company has a jet:

And here you can see the parachute in action.

More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 12:45 pm

Sex offenders seldom re-offend

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And the rate of re-offense is dropping—not due to harsh sentences but to greater post-release supervision. From New Scientist:

Sex crime statistics tend to make depressing reading, but now there is some good news from the most populous state in the US. Just 3.2 per cent of more than 4000 sex offenders released on parole in 2002 were re-imprisoned for another sex offence in the subsequent 5 years, according to new figures from California.

While experts know that sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than most other criminals (New Scientist, 24 February 2007, p 3), the very low rate of re-imprisonment in the new study will challenge public perceptions about the risks these criminals pose.

The figures are broadly consistent with a 2007 Minnesotan study, which found that 3.2 per cent of sex offenders released from 1990 to 2002 had been re-imprisoned for a further sex crime within 3 years of their release.

What’s more, sex offenders in Minnesota are even less likely to reoffend than they used to be: about 5 per cent of offenders released in 1990 were locked up for another sex crime within 3 years but of those released in 2002, the figure was just 1 per cent. Over the same period, re-conviction rates – which were higher than jailing rates since not all reoffenders were locked up – had fallen even further, from almost 17 per cent to less than 3 per cent. …

More at the link. New Scientist subscription, on-line only: $39/yr.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Food prices and biofuels

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Thanks to Liz for passing along the link to this story by Andrew Leonard:

The Bush administration states that corn-based ethanol only accounts for 3 percent of global food price inflation. The USDA’s chief economist disagrees — he says biofuels add up to 10 percent of food price hikes. Other estimates have gone much higher — but until today, the most How the World Works had seen anyone claim was 40 percent.

But now the U.K.’s the Guardian is reporting that it has laid its hot hands on a confidential World Bank report that makes the astonishing claim that 75 percent of the surge in global food prices can be attributed to biofuels.

The figure emphatically contradicts the U.S. government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3 percent to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush. “It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House,” said one yesterday.

If true, biofuel mandates are without a doubt a “crime against humanity.” We can only hold our breath and wait for the inevitable leakage of the full report and the ensuing feeding frenzy as the world feasts upon the data. But in the meantime, here’s one clue as to how the World Bank came up with such huge numbers.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Google: the dark side

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Interesting article by Joe Nocera in the NY Times:

Two months ago, Google held a series of secret focus groups with employees who have children in Google’s day care facilities. The purpose was to gauge their reaction to the company’s plan to raise the amount it charged for in-house day care by 75 percent.

Parents who had been paying $1,425 a month for infant care would see their costs rise to nearly $2,500 — well above the market rate. For parents with toddlers and preschoolers, who were charged less, the price increases were equally eye-popping. Under the new plan, parents with two kids in Google day care would most likely see their annual day care bill grow to more than $57,000 from around $33,000.

At the first of the three focus groups, parents wept openly. As word leaked out about the company’s plan, the Google parents began to fight back. They came up with ideas to save money, used the company’s T.G.I.F. sessions — a weekly meeting for anyone who wanted to ask questions of Google’s top executives — to plead their case, and conducted surveys showing that most parents with children in Google day care would have to leave Google’s facilities and find less expensive child care.

Do you think you know how this story ends? You’re probably guessing that because it involves “do no evil” Google, Fortune magazine’s “Best Company to Work For” the past two years, this is a heart-warming tale of a good company reversing a dumb decision.

If only. Although Google is rolling back its price increase slightly and is phasing in the higher price over five quarters, the outline of the original decision remains largely unchanged. At a T.G.I.F. in June, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he had no sympathy for the parents, and that he was tired of “Googlers” who felt entitled to perks like “bottled water and M&Ms,” according to several people in the meeting. (A Google spokesman denies that Mr. Brin made that comment.) On Monday, Google began the first phase of its new day care plan, letting go of the outside day care firm it had been using.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:45 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The Messiah tradition around the time of Jesus

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by Ethan Bronner. It begins:

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

Much more at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:42 am

Stopping a pandemic with network theory

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Science really does pay off. Another pandemic will undoubtedly at some point ensue, but now there’s a rational strategy to stop it. Davide Castelvecchi explains in Science News:

When deadly bird flu strikes, six degrees of separation could be the distance from here to hell. Even if a vaccine is found to be effective, it may be impossible to produce enough shots for everybody quickly enough, so authorities would have to decide how to use the doses they have in the most effective way. Researchers are now proposing a new strategy for targeting shots that could, at least in theory, stop a pandemic from spreading along the network of social interactions.

Vaccinating selected people is essentially equivalent to cutting out nodes of the social network. As far as the pandemic is concerned, it’s as if those people no longer exist. The team’s idea is to single out people so that immunizing them breaks up the network into smaller parts of roughly equal sizes. Computer simulations show that this strategy could block a pandemic using 5 to 50 percent fewer doses than existing strategies, the researchers write in an upcoming Physical Review Letters.

Much more at the link, including a graphic showing different strategies of interrupting the network.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Saving money at the supermarket

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Get Rich Slowly has a good collection of tips on how to save money at the supermarket. Just a few examples from a longer list at the link:

Make a list — and stick to it.
This is the cardinal rule of shopping. The list represents your grocery needs: the staples you’re out of, and the food you need for upcoming meals. When you stray from the list, you’re buying on impulse, and that’s how shopping trips get out of control. Sure, a magazine only costs $5, but if you spend an extra $5 every time you make a trip to the supermarket, you waste a lot of money.
Compare unit pricing.
The biggest package isn’t always the most cost-effective. Stores know that consumers want to buy in bulk, and so they mix it up: sometimes the bulk item is cheaper, sometimes it’s more expensive. The only way you can be sure is to take a calculator. Our grocery store posts unit pricing for most items, which makes comparisons easy.
Ditch the basket or cart.
If you’re dashing into the supermarket to pick up milk and bread, don’t use a basket. Baskets induce people to buy more. If you’re limited to what you can carry, you’re more likely to avoid impulse purchases. Only use a basket (or shopping cart) if it’s absolutely necessary.
Don’t examine things you don’t need.
The more you interact with something, the more likely you are to buy it, says Paco Underhill in Why We Buy: “Virtually all unplanned purchases…come as a result of the shopper seeing, touching, smelling, or tasting something that promises pleasure, if not total fulfillment.” Do you know why grocery stores place those displays in the aisles? To intentionally block traffic. They want to force you to stop, if only for a moment. It only takes a few seconds of idly staring at the Chips Ahoy! to convince you to buy them. Stay focused.
Live on the edge.
Health-conscious shoppers know that the perimeter of the store is where the good stuff is. The baked goods, dairy products, fresh meats, and fruits and vegetables are generally placed along the outside edge of the supermarket, while the processed stuff can be found up and down the aisles. But shopping the edges isn’t just healthier — it’s cheaper too. Stock up on the fresh food first, then venture to the middle of the store.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Best places to raise a family in the US

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I moved out to the Central Coast (from Iowa City) in 1984 after working through the book Finding Your Best Place to Live in America (now out of both print and date). Such lists can be helpful, though it’s best if they have a list of criteria and allow you to do the ranking to figure out which place(s) best meet your own weighting of the criteria. Now here’s another list—though I’m a little suspicious: the 19th best place is Sarasota County, Florida: right on the Gulf Coast and likely to be inundated as the sea rises. Still, the list will provoke thought. The criteria and the list.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:22 am

Posted in Daily life

Depression and the immune system

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I had believed that depression lowers the immune system. Quite the contrary, it turns out, as explained by Amy Maxmen in Science News:

… Certain immune proteins in the body appear to mess with the minds of otherwise healthy, but depressed people as well. Those who suffer from major depression have higher levels of cytokines, immune proteins the body makes to fend off infections and to patrol the body for disease, and which laboratories mimic. Excess cytokines have also been found lurking in the postmortem brains of suicide victims. “It raises the issue, how much of how we feel — how much of who we are as people — is dictated in terms of our immune system?” says Miller, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta.

Though the connection between the body’s immune response and depression has only gained firm support in the last five years, it’s already catalyzing a revolution in antidepressant drug development. In hindsight, an emotional reaction to surging immune molecules does not seem so surprising. Cytokines are among the first immune proteins to respond to infection. Some direct swelling and fevers. Others order the body to rest, and so the sick take to the bed and decline party invitations, showers and even homemade dinners. The powerful molecules influence wants and needs by altering levels of substances like serotonin in the brain. Essentially, cytokines command the body to conserve energy when it’s sick. “A little depressed behavior is a survival mechanism in that sense,” Miller says. But when inflammation is artificially or erroneously triggered, prolonged sickness behavior may morph into depression and do more harm than good. …

Much more at the link, including a graphic.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:15 am

From The Mauritius Command

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Toward the end, at the celebratory banquet:

Something, reflected Jack, something came over officers who reached flag-rank or the equivalent, something made them love to get up on their hind legs and produce long measured periods with even longer pauses between them. Several gentlemen had already risen to utter slow compliments to themselves, their fellows, and their nation, and now General Abercrombie was struggling to his feet, with a sheaf of notes in his hand. ‘Your Excellency, my lords, Admiral Bertie, and gentlemen. We are met here together,’ two bars of silence, ‘on this happy, eh, occasion,‘ two more bars, ‘to celebrate what I may perhaps be permitted to call, an unparalled feat, of combined operations, of combination, valour, organization, and I may say, of indomitable will.’ Pause. ‘I take no credit to myself.’ Cries of No, no; and cheers. ‘No. It is all due,’ pause, ‘to a young lady in Madras.’

‘Sir, sir,’ hissed his aide-de-camp, ‘you have turned over two pages. You have come to the joke.’

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 11:08 am

Posted in Books

Can you tell when someone’s lying? No.

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No better than chance. This article by Bruce Bower in Science News explains:

… A person’s perceived credibility, as reported by volunteers on questionnaires, rather than honesty, plays a major role in whether that person gets branded as a liar, Bond and DePaulo report in the July Psychological Bulletin. Certain people appear either honest or dishonest from the get-go, whether or not they’re telling the truth, the psychologists assert. Earlier research has found that baby-faced people seem credible whereas people who look nervous or avert their gaze typically get labeled untrustworthy.

The new analysis shows that participants more often believe liars perceived as high in credibility than truth-tellers regarded as low in credibility.

“When all the evidence is statistically analyzed, deception judgments depend more on the liar than the judge,” Bond says.

The new investigation challenges a view, championed by psychologists Maureen O’Sullivan of the University of San Francisco and Paul Ekman of the University of California, San Francisco, that a small number of individuals with considerable experience in unraveling certain kinds of lies do so with great accuracy. O’Sullivan and Ekman have found that a minority of psychotherapists quickly discerns lies about what a person says he or she is feeling, whereas insightful police officers readily discern a suspect’s crime-related deceits.

“There are significant differences among individuals in lie detection accuracy if you pick your subjects appropriately,” O’Sullivan says.

Bond and DePaulo disagree. They devised a new statistical method for estimating the range in the percentage of lies and truths that groups of volunteers would accurately identify if a lie-detection test was infinitely long. The technique corrects for measurement errors that occur on standard lie-detection tests, especially those requiring only a few true-or-false judgments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 10:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

More extinctions from global warming

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This is an odd one, as reported by Janet Raloff in Science News:

… The new paper focuses on tuatara, somewhat-bizarre lizardlike creatures that exist as remnant populations and only on several uninhabited New Zealand islands. Most of these tiny landmasses amount to little more than sheer, rocky outcroppings no more than 5 hectares (~12 acres) in size. Their wildlife has developed in a fairly stable environment and relative isolation. Indeed, the tuatara are frequently characterized as living fossils for the fact that they’re the sole survivors of one of the four orders of reptiles and are little changed from ancient ancestors.

Among their many oddities, these critters have one of the longest reproductive cycles known, grow slowly, and may live four score years or more. Like many reptiles, their gender is determined by the temperature at which eggs incubate. And they incubate in earthen nests a long time — typically 11 to 14 months.

The warmer that nest, the more likely a hatchling will be a he, not a she. So, if the climate leads to substantial nest warming, there will likely come a time at which every tuatara born will be male. That time could be within this century, hints a paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, although Nicola J. Mitchell of the University of Western Australia and her colleagues leave fairly vague how soon that critical date might arrive.

Part of the reason: Theirs is a modeling paper. So the authors ran a range of scenarios through their computer program, graphing the projections it spit out. Gauging the most likely projection requires making a lot of assumptions — and hoping that the scientists or their computer model were sophisticated enough to account for the most likely factors that would affect gender. These include: how much the local climate will warm in the near future, whether nests will warm proportionately, whether tuatara will plant their eggs at lower depths to keep them cooler in the future, and whether moms will lay their clutch at the same open sites as the climate changes or instead begin to nest at shaded locales elsewhere on their island. …

Complete article at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 10:43 am

Posted in Global warming, Science

Brown Sugar Pork Ribs today

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Last night I stayed up to watch the fireworks from my balcony: nice view, nice evening. Megs did not like the fireworks at all (sudden loud noises are not entertaining, says Megs). Yesterday I applied the mix of brown sugar and salt to the ribs, and today I’ll cook them. We’ll watch a movie, probably.

I just started Carefree, a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie, songs by Irving Berlin. So far, so good. Titles were done in fingerpainting, which I liked. I hadn’t though of Astaire as a golfer, but early in the film he does a terrific number that includes belting a line of golf balls down the fairway and it’s clear that he was pretty damn good. The Wikipedia article does say “Astaire was a lifelong golf and horse-racing enthusiast.” On reflection, it makes sense: Astaire had exquisite control of his body, and mastering a golf swing would be child’s play for him.

See golf dance here.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Why telecom immunity strikes at the Constitution

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Glenn Greenwald makes a careful, reasoned argument today on why telecom immunity is wrong. Well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 10:21 am


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The Younger Daughter called from New Hamphire this morning. While in a camping equipment store, she spotted this neat thing: a handle and pop-open top for any wide-mouth bottle. Excellent idea. I have one of the Nalgene large bottles that this will be ideal for.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

CDC: containment doors sealed with duct tape

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Probably following Michael Chertoff’s instructions. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings discusses the story and the sorry state of CDC facilities under the Bush Administration.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2008 at 9:33 am

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