Later On

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

Archive for October 7th, 2017

Canada grocery observations

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Canadians seem still to be on a low-fat kick despite the revision of nutrition guidelines as the shackles of Ancel Keyes are thrown off. (He was enormously influential despite being a poor researcher because he dominated the conversation, being a bully. See, for example, The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz, a well researched and highly readable book.)

Whatever the reason, 2% sour “cream” is sold in large tubs, but actual sour cream comes only in small tubs and there are not many of them. Cottage cheese is overwhelmingly 1% and 2% fat but you can find 4% if you look for it—again, not many. Milk is available in 0%, 0.5%, 1%, and 2% fat, and whole mile (4% fat) is available only in some stores. Whole milk is not available at all in half-litre containers.

At Savon when I asked for chuck roast, I was told that they generally don’t carry it, but stick to higher-end meats. Weird: chuck roast is pretty much essential for pot roast, and cut into small pieces it makes great chili. Again, I think the idea is to use lean meat and avoid fat, even though fat makes meat tender and tasty.

OTOH, the fresh ginger is great: extremely fresh. I imagine that’s because there’s a good demand, so stock turns over frequently. (The Wife still has her head cold, so I’ve been making ginger tea: 2-3 tablespoons grated ginger, juice of a lemon (and the South African lemons here are enormous and very juicy), and 2 teaspoons honey in a quart of boiling water (in a teapot). Steep 10 minutes, then strain into a cup. Her comment after the first sip: “Oofta! That’s a lot of ginger!” I told her that her immune system was already throwing a party.

No anchovies in olive oil and damn few anchovies packed in jars. The one I found was in safflower oil, of all things. And canned tuna comes packed in soybean oil or sunflower oil or the like: only one was in olive oil. That’s disappointing: it was easy to find anchovies packed in olive oil in jars back in Pacific Grove. Still, that’s why we have mail order, I suppose. Update: The Eldest suggests that we check the Italian markets in town. Good idea.

OTOH, at Fairway market I saw beef heart and beef kidney readily available, and also pig bung (used to make fake calamari among other things), something I never saw in the US. Very good fish selection, much like Monterey (both being coastal cities).

Prices vary a lot. In the move I lost a belt I like (this one): in the US it’s US$22.63 and free Prime shipping. In Canada, the belt is CDN$62.43 plus CDN$18 shipping, not available on Prime. And if you want a gunmetal buckle, it’s CDN$86.22 plus CDN$18 shipping. OTOH, the grocery stores include a lot more products from Australia and the UK.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Hummingbird Whisperer: Meet the UCLA Scientist Who Has Befriended 200 Hummingbirds

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From an Open Culture post by Ayun Halliday, which begins:

Common wisdom, and indelible memories of The Birds, warn that feeding seagulls, pigeons and other creatures who travel in flocks is a can of worms best left unopened.

But what about hummingbirds?

Melanie Barboni is research geochemist in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences. Near the UCLA Court of Sciences she took a break from volcanos and the moon long enough to hang a feeder filled with sugar water outside her ground floor office window.

This complimentary buffet proved such a hit, she hung up more.

Two years later, Barboni is serving a colony of over 200 hummingbirds from four 80-ounce feeders. Their metabolism requires them to consume 8 to 10 times their body weight on a daily basis.

Barboni’s service to her tiny jewel-toned friends extends well beyond the feeders. She’s diverted campus tree trimmers from interfering with them during nesting season, and given public talks on the habitat-destroying effects of climate change. She’s collaborating with another professor and UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz to establish a special garden on campus for hummingbirds and their fellow pollinators.

The intimacy of this relationship is something she’s dreamed of since her birdwatching childhood in Switzerland where  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the post:

Some longtime favorites now perch on their benefactor’s hand while feeding, or even permit themselves to be held and stroked. A few like to hang out inside the office, where the warm glow of Barboni’s computer monitor is a comforting presence on inclement days.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Trump’s outright sabotage clearly seen on ObamaCare

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Peter Sullivan and Jennifer Roubein report in The Hill:

The Trump administration is taking a hatchet to ObamaCare after failing to pass legislation through Congress repealing President Obama’s signature law.

The administration has cut funding for advertising and outreach by 90 percent, raising the odds that fewer people will join the health-care exchanges during the fall enrollment period.

It has slashed funds by 41 percent for outside groups that help reach and enroll likely ObamaCare consumers.

The enrollment period has also been chopped in half, and the administration announced plans to take down the website for maintenance for hours at a time on several days during the sign-up period, two other steps likely to cut into enrollment.

All of these steps could lead fewer people to sign up for the law, which in turn might lead to higher premiums that could force others off the exchanges.

Healthy people are the most likely to drop coverage because of a lack of outreach, leaving a sicker group of enrollees that drives up costs for everyone else.

“One has to assume at this point that enrollment will be lower as a result of the administration’s actions and that will lead to fewer healthier people signing up,” said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Trump attacks go beyond enrollment, too.

President Trump has threatened to cut off key ObamaCare payments to insurers in a bid to make the law “implode.”

And on Friday, his administration took a new step to roll back the law, limiting the requirement for employers and insurance plans to cover birth control.

Andy Slavitt, a former top health-care official in the Obama administration, warned on Twitter Thursday that the administration’s “sabotage” of the law added up to what he called “synthetic repeal,” meaning a range of small steps that add up to repealing ObamaCare even if Congress doesn’t act.

The administration counters that ObamaCare is a failing law that should not be propped up.

“Obamacare has never lived up to enrollment expectations despite the previous administration’s best efforts,” a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “The American people know a bad deal when they see one and many won’t be convinced to sign up for ‘Washington-knows-best’ health coverage that they can’t afford.”

The cuts are having real world consequences already.

Reducing the outreach budget has forced local organizations known as navigators to dramatically scale back their operations.

Shelli Quenga, director of programs at the Palmetto Project, a navigator group in South Carolina, said her organization has had to cut staff from 62 people to 30 after its funding was reduced by around 50 percent.

“You want to talk about designed to fail?” she said. “This is the playbook for how to build something to make sure it fails.”

Quenga said that she only found out about the cut to her organization’s funding after the administration publicly made an announcement about the navigator cuts and she was called by a reporter for reaction.

She said the career officials she works with at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) were not aware of or involved in the decision to cut the funding, saying the decision was made at higher levels of the administration.

Navigators across the country had to scramble to craft new plans ahead of the open enrollment period beginning on Nov. 1.

“I’m just feeling very anxious about the fact that we have a whole lot less time to gear up then we should have had,” said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families, which is affiliated with the University of South Florida.

“We had a very well thought out plan, and we definitely had to go back and revise that plan, except we didn’t plan on having 3.5 weeks to put it together,” said Ray, whose group will receive $900,000 less, a 15 percent reduction.

A group of former Obama administration officials this week announced plans to launch their own enrollment effort, called Get America Covered, to try to fill the gap left by the cuts.

Insurers and ObamaCare supporters are also on edge about an executive order from Trump that could come as soon as next week loosening rules to allow businesses and other groups to band together to purchase health insurance. The problem is that these special insurance plans are not subject to the same ObamaCare rules and pre-existing condition protections, which could suck the healthy enrollees out of ObamaCare plans and damage the market.

The administration has also resisted efforts by some states, even conservative ones, to make changes aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare.

Iowa submitted an innovation waiver, which lets states alter ObamaCare as long as the law’s basic protections are retained. Part of the proposal included conservative reforms to the Affordable Care Act, yet President Trump reportedly wasn’t on board.

Trump saw a story about the waiver in The Wall Street Journal, and asked CMS to deny it, according to The Washington Post.

The application has not been formally rejected, at least not yet. It is in the midst of a 30-day public comment period, and is still pending, an Iowa Insurance Division spokesman confirmed to The Hill.

But without it, Iowa’s Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen has warned the impact “on many Iowa families would be catastrophic.”

The deep-red state of Oklahoma had sought a waiver to help stabilize its markets, but withdrew it at the end of September because it hadn’t received approval from the administration in time.

The withdrawal came even after “months of development, negotiation and near daily communication over the past six weeks” between the state and the administration, Oklahoma wrote in a letter complaining to the administration about the lack of action. . .

Continue reading.

Polls do show that people now associate problems in the Affordable Care Act with the GOP Congress and Trump: they know that Democrats are not responsible for the problems they now experience, such as higher premiums.

Trump’s uncaring and callous nature is obvious as he takes away programs that helped so many so much.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 11:32 am

Five ways ancient India changed the world – with math

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Christian Yates reports in the The Conversation:

It should come as no surprise that the first recorded use of the number zero, recently discovered to be made as early as the 3rd or 4th century, happened in India. Mathematics on the Indian subcontinent has a rich history going back over 3,000 years and thrived for centuries before similar advances were made in Europe, with its influence meanwhile spreading to China and the Middle East.

As well as giving us the concept of zero, Indian mathematicians made seminal contributions to the study of trigonometry, algebra, arithmetic and negative numbers among other areas. Perhaps most significantly, the decimal system that we still employ worldwide today was first seen in India.

The number system

As far back as 1200 BC, mathematical knowledge was being written down as part of a large body of knowledge known as the Vedas. In these texts, numbers were commonly expressed as combinations of powers of ten. For example, 365 might be expressed as three hundreds (3×10²), six tens (6×10¹) and five units (5×10⁰), though each power of ten was represented with a name rather than a set of symbols. It is reasonable to believe that this representation using powers of ten played a crucial role in the development of the decimal-place value system in India.

From the third century BC, we also have written evidence of the Brahmi numerals, the precursors to the modern, Indian or Hindu-Arabic numeral system that most of the world uses today. Once zero was introduced, almost all of the mathematical mechanics would be in place to enable ancient Indians to study higher mathematics.

The concept of zero

Zero itself has a much longer history. The recently dated first recorded zeros, in what is known as the Bakhshali manuscript, were simple placeholders – a tool to distinguish 100 from 10. Similar marks had already been seen in the Babylonian and Mayan cultures in the early centuries AD and arguably in Sumerian mathematics as early as 3000-2000 BC.

But only in India did the placeholder symbol for nothing progress to become a number in its own right. The advent of the concept of zero allowed numbers to be written efficiently and reliably. In turn, this allowed for effective record-keeping that meant important financial calculations could be checked retroactively, ensuring the honest actions of all involved. Zero was a significant step on the route to the democratisation of mathematics.

These accessible mechanical tools for working with mathematical concepts, in combination with a strong and open scholastic and scientific culture, meant that, by around 600AD, all the ingredients were in place for an explosion of mathematical discoveries in India. In comparison, these sorts of tools were not popularised in the West until the early 13th century, though Fibonnacci’s book liber abaci.

Solutions of quadratic equations

In the seventh century, the first written evidence of the rules for working with zero were formalised in the Brahmasputha Siddhanta. In his seminal text, the astronomer Brahmagupta introduced rules for solving quadratic equations (so beloved of secondary school mathematics students) and for computing square roots.

Rules for negative numbers

Brahmagupta also demonstrated rules for working with negative numbers. He referred to positive numbers as fortunes and negative numbers as debts. He wrote down rules that have been interpreted by translators as: “A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt,” and “a debt subtracted from zero is a fortune”.

This latter statement is the same as the rule we learn in school, that if you subtract a negative number, it is the same as adding a positive number. Brahmagupta also knew that “The product of a debt and a fortune is a debt” – a positive number multiplied by a negative is a negative.

For the large part, European mathematicians were reluctant to accept negative numbers as meaningful. Many took the view that negative numbers were absurd. They reasoned that numbers were developed for counting and questioned what you could count with negative numbers. Indian and Chinese mathematicians recognised early on that one answer to this question was debts.

For example, in a primitive farming context, if one farmer owes another farmer 7 cows, then effectively the first farmer has -7 cows. If the first farmer goes out to buy some animals to repay his debt, he has to buy 7 cows and give them to the second farmer in order to bring his cow tally back to 0. From then on, every cow he buys goes to his positive total.

Basis for calculus

This reluctance to adopt negative numbers, and indeed zero, held European mathematics back for many years. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the first Europeans to use zero and the negatives in a systematic way in . . .

Continue reading.

Note the paragraph later in the article:

But Indian mathematician Bhāskara had already discovered many of Leibniz’s ideas over 500 years earlier. Bhāskara, also made major contributions to algebra, arithmetic, geometry and trigonometry. He provided many results, for example on the solutions of certain “Diophantine” equations, that would not be rediscovered in Europe for centuries.

Think about that five-century delay, and what how the internet (rapid and broad communications network) and AI translation (as it improves) would have eliminated that. Even now we see research teams whose members are scattered globally able to work together effectively using just the internet. With AI translation progressing rapidly, backwaters will move into the mainstream and we will have bridges over cultural canyons.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 10:36 am

Posted in Math

Fascinating application: Teaching a Machine What Members of Congress Care About

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Jeremy Merrill reports in ProPublica:

If you asked congressional experts what legislative subjects, say, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington specializes in, they’d have a few pretty good guesses: maybe education and health care — because she’s the ranking member on a key committee that oversees those issues. If you asked who else in the Senate shares her interests, you might hear Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. Why? Because he is a former school superintendent and a member on that same committee.

You could ask them the same question about more members of Congress, but before you got through all 535 lawmakers, they’d probably hang up on you.

But what if we could teach a computer what specific topics are distinctive to each member? We did just that. We trained a computer model to extract what phrases a Congress member uses more than the rest, using hundreds of thousands of press releases from 2015 to the present.

We hope this addition to Represent’s member pages will give constituents new insight into what the people who work in their names specialize in, whether it’s hot-button national issues or local happenings.

Many of the results are intuitive: Rep. Jared Polis, a Democratic representative from Colorado who is known as a civil libertarian, has “email privacy” as a topic; the model also knows Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, talks often about “coal miners.”

But the model’s strength is not in making obvious observations, but spotting things others might not. The model has picked up on New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s use of the phrase “moocher states,” for example, a phrase more closely associated with libertarian groups than his own party. And the model recognizes Rep. Yvette Clarke’s interest in “confederate generals,” as it relates to street names in Fort Hamilton, near her Brooklyn, New York, district.

The model notices issues that aren’t quite on the national radar, like the “wotus rule” — AKA, the Waters of the United States Rule, a change in who regulates water pollution that has raised the ire of Republicans such as Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio. Or widespread interest among representatives of the rural West, including Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, about whether to add the sage grouse to the endangered species list, triggering rules that could limit farming and industry near the bird’s habitat.

Just because a topic appears on one member’s list but not another’s doesn’t mean the second Congress member don’t care about it. There may simply be more distinctive topics that they talk about. And for now, that means big topics that lots of representatives and senators talk about, such as education or crime, aren’t included in each member’s list. But we’re working on ways to reflect those, too.

Along with identifying discrete topics, the model finds which members of Congress’ press releases are most similar, in topic or turns of phrase, in essence calculating who “sounds like” whom.

The representative whose press releases are closest to Rep. John Lewis’ is Rep. A. Donald McEachin, another African-American Democrat from a southern state. Rep. Thomas Massie, the model says, puts out releases similar to Sen. Rand Paul, his fellow Kentuckian who also leans libertarian.

How the Model Works

Our code relies on an approximation of what English words mean created by mathematically representing the context in which they occur. The theory that this would give you an idea of words’ meanings is called “Distributional Semantics.”

Why the particular technique we use, called Word2Vec, works so well is a bit of a mystery — especially if you, like me, never studied linear algebra — but it does work. Without being explicitly programmed to know anything about U.S. politics, the model has learned a lot about how our country works:

  • It knows that “death tax” and “estate tax” refer to the same thing.
  • If you ask the model who has the same kind of relationship to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has to Rep. Paul Ryan, its answer is Sen. Chuck Schumer — the Democratic minority leader in the Senate. (Well, it’s a tie: the model suggests Schumer and his predecessor in that position, Harry Reid.)

A related technique, Doc2Vec, assigns a value to individual press releases or a member’s entire body of press releases from the sum of the meanings of the words. Similar to the way in which DW-Nominate, a powerful statistical technique used to characterize where politicians stand along a political spectrum, transforms a congressperson’s voting record into a location in two dimensions, Doc2vec transforms what the Congress member says into a location in 100 dimensions. (However, unlike DW-Nominate, there’s no good way to translate those dimensions into anything that makes analytical sense to humans.) Finding Congress members who sound alike is as easy as finding each member’s “nearest neighbor” in this imaginary 100-dimensional space.

The topics are generated in a way that uses the same software, called Gensim, but relies less on linear algebra and more on counting. It finds the phrases that occur most often in each member’s statements but rarely in everyone else’s — a statistical technique called term-frequency (over) inverse-document-frequency (often shortened to “TF-IDF”) that is a useful proxy for importance. More concretely, it finds that Sen. Enzi’s statements contain the phrase “sage grouse” a lot, but that phrase appears frequently in only a few other members’ statements. A more general topic like “environment” would not show up, since it’s relatively common and only one word long.

The results of the TF-IDF algorithm are not presented verbatim; we do some manual filtering to exclude, say, the name of the member’s contact person for press releases or the phrasing of their “contact me” button.

There’s more in store. Stay tuned for a way to see what bills are related to a given topic — in a way that’s more powerful than just a keyword search. We’re also planning to throw floor statements into the model, as part of the relaunch of the CapitolWords project we inherited from Sunlight Labs earlier this year.

So how did our algorithm do on Murray? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 10:25 am

Return of the Dorco PL602, welcomed by Mr Pomp, Yardley, and Penhaligon Blenheim Bouquet

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As mentioned earlier, my Dorco PL602—a really excellent razor in terms of comfort and efficiency, though not so excellent in choice of materials (made to minimize cost)—broke when taking out the blad: the threaded stud from the cap had apparently become brittle and simply snapped with no pressure.

But one benefit of a sub-$4 razor is that one can have several on hand, which I do—mainly to offer to those who have yet to discover the delights of DE shaving—and these function also as spares. So as I unpacked I unearthed my little stash of PL602s, and today started a new one.

Mr Pomp evoked a fine lather from the vintage Yardley shaving soap, and the PL602 did its usual magnificent job: total smoothness in three passes with not even a hint of a problem.

A good splash of Blenheim Bouquet finished the job, and now for another day of unpacking and arranging. I’m noticing that moving involves a heavy amount of deferred gratification as we await completion of various things: the apartment as it exists in one’s imagination only slowly becomes a reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2017 at 9:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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