Monday, December 29, 2008

Magic Republicans

Satire is a powerful thing, but *some* people simply do not get it. I refer specifically to those promoting the “Barack the Magic Negro” song, but this is not a new development. A few years back there were a lot of Chelsea Clinton jokes flying around, trying to make political gain by ridiculing a (then) awkward teenage girl, which I might generously describe as cruel and shameful (let’s skip the less gracious descriptions).

To be fair, and I do try to be fair, it’s not just Republicans who do this. My point is that it gains Republicans nothing to be known as the Party of Cruelty and Shame. Come on Reps, you should not allow your party to be represented in this way, because you can be better than that. If you are really interested in reforming your party, you must be.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blindsight: What we don't see

80Beats has an interesting post on Blindsight, or how our brains process visual information without our consciously being aware of it.

Now if someone could only figure out Blindwork.

Adventures of the Pink Rabbit

pink rabbit abroad sciencegirlFollow the adventures of Maurice the Pink Rabbit and his lab rat friends. Don't forget to visit Maurice's friend Sciencegirl while you are at it.

After you are done with that, go out for a night on the town (lab?) with Pink Rabbit and Friends at the Disco! :-)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Can Opener Massacre

I'm not sure what is more disturbing, that this graphic dismemberment of aluminum cans is actually a bit scary, or that this short film is far better at what it does than any slasher flick - not that I've seen any in 20 years (well maybe Evil Dead?).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from DTA!

It's a tomato ... sort of ... if you use your imagination ... and squint.

Merry Christmas everyone. I am pondering a post on the reciprocity of snow removal, but it just didn't happen today. Perhaps tomorrow, or maybe I'll take a few days off.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Guys take on make-up

This is simply too good to pass up. Essential information for XX's in a relationship with an XY, and a good lifeline for those XY's that fail to notice these things.

A Guy’s Take on Makeup: Does It Really Make You Beautiful?

[from Back in Skinny Jeans]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mathematics and Magicians, the Rant Continues

An old friend of mine just wrote in reply my Mathematics and Magicians post yesterday. He couldn’t post his comments directly to the blog site, so he emailed them to me. With his permission, I present it to you here in full (I did add the first two links for reference):

Hey Dan

I read one of your blog entries, and I got so worked up that I furiously banged out a reply. Then the silly thing wouldn't let me post it, probably because it was too long. So I'll just email it to you. You can ignore it or delete it or post it yourself....but at least I will have had my say! And for the record, I'm griping with the
author you cite, not we're on the same side.

Here's my reply to your entry "
Magicians and Mathematicians":

Having worked in the financial arena for about 15 years now, I'm here to tell you that the term "human side of finance" is as big of an oxymoron as "sanitary landfill" or "military intelligence" or "compassionate conservative". If you want that touchy-feely crap, go down the hall to HR and cry them a river. The finance people have work to do, thank you very much.

All businesses which are traded in the public markets exist for one purpose: the pursuit of profit for shareholders. How the "quants" apply their profit mandate to their daily tasks is merely a matter of corporate policy. It's shockingly naive to assume that anyone in a financial capacity would ever "appreciate...the unintended consequences" of their individual actions or even give a hoot for that matter.

Sounds like a bunch of academic rubbish to me. It would also be foolish to subscribe to the notion that this is a relatively new phenomenon (ref. the managers with history degrees – as if to say “back in the good old days”). The Spanish conquistadors directly or indirectly caused the deaths of millions in the pursuit of profit (unbridled imperialism). The Bolsheviks made a naked power grab in the early 20th century and wreaked 70 years of financial, ecological, and social havoc, all under the pretense of making a better life for the masses (rampant socialism/communism). Wall Street capitalists speculated themselves into quite a mess in 1929 (runaway capitalism).

Greed is an intrinsic part of human nature, and unfortunately greed is also part of the group mentality of "quants" which are otherwise known as "people". It seems the article's author is the one who has lost his "human side".

P.S. I resent being identified as a mere "quant", which sounds suspiciously like “quantum”, especially since the definition of THAT word would be even more dehumanizing.

Ahh........I feel better it's back to clearing general ledger errors for me!


I will have to investigate if there is a limit to comment length, but after reading Rick's reply I rather suspect that it was a hardware failure instead (his keyboard probably melted!).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What a nice picture

Just trying out a new feature of Xoopit (, which I just added as a Firefox Add-on. I'm not yet sue that I'm going to like having my Gmail inbox turned into a social networking device. We shall see.

Click image to view

Magicians and Mathematicians

[via Tao of Gaming]
Paul Wilmott writes about Magicians And Mathematicians, and I might have a bone to pick.
Quantitative finance and risk management are not just about the numbers. Numbers play a part, but so does the human side of the business. When analyzing risk it is important to be able to think creatively about scenarios. Unfortunately the training that most quants get seems to actively discourage creativity.
I certainly agree,

This is really a question about whether modern risk managers are capable of thinking beyond maths and formulas. Do they appreciate the human side of finance, the herding behaviour of people, the unintended consequences, what I think of as all the fun stuff. And this is a nice question because it very quickly sorts out different types of thinkers.


Once you start thinking outside the box of mathematical theories the possibilities are endless. And although a knowledge of advanced mathematics is important in modern finance I do rather miss the days when banking was populated by managers with degrees in History and who'd been leaders of the school debating team. A lot of mathematics is no substitute for a little bit of commonsense and an open mind.

How can we get quants and risk managers to think beyond the mathematics? I'm afraid I don't think we can, the way the majority of them are currently educated.

[The emphasis is mine. ]

I'm OK with the part about training the quants to understand these things, and it's somewhat criminal that they were not required to understand these things before being allowed to play in that particular sandbox, thus precipitating a financial meltdown. However, this in no way removes the problem from the "box" of mathematics. It's still math, but it has to be applied in a consistent and conservative way, and founded in a basic knowledge of the subject area. -- And now I'm going to contradict my self -- It is more than math, it is statistics. It was once suggested to me that the difference between math and statistics is the manner of application (of stats), which might fairly be described as an art. A herd of quants well versed in the application of statistics ought to have realized the most obvious error (dependencies among risks).
That there is an essential art to understanding financial markets I do not doubt. It's too bad so many people forgot, or were blinded to that fact by greed.

[UPDATE: The rant continues here!]

Dance Like a Monkey

[via Pharyngula. PZ seems to get all the good stuff first.]

Some of us may also recall an older generation of Monkees ...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Years of Study, Moments of Enlightenment.

[from XKCD]

I can think of a few similar experiences, moments of learning that changed my way of thinking.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tomato Cassarole

A collection of leftover stuff I need to get rid of before it goes stale:

Pharyngula -
Get your kids addicted to cephalopods!
Is nothing safe? It appears that calamari may have addictive properties similar to tomatoes!

Science and Math Defeated -
Probability (part one) "Probability is false"
Darn that NotedScholar! He's going to put me put of a job at this rate.

From TED -
Malcolm Gladwell: What we can learn from spaghetti sauce
It's got tomatoes in it, so it must be dangerous too!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"that conversation with your child"

Jim Stigl of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:

Sooner or later you're going to have that conversation with your child, the one about how it all works "down there."

By down there, I mean Illinois.

Children are curious and you can't protect them forever from the harsh realities of life. Maybe the news will be on TV, and they'll turn to you all wide-eyed and say, "What the bleep is a bleeping Blagojevich?"

You need to be prepared. Calmly explain to your child that mommy and daddy love you very much, but there are things that happen to the south of us that are not very nice.

Definitely a Wisconsin perspective - Click through for the full column.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Matter of Intent?

Driving to work last week I listened to part of a discussion of this story on the radio:

UK TV station defends plans to show man's death

LONDON (AP) — A British television channel plans to show a film about an American man who commits assisted suicide at a Swiss clinic, reigniting debate over an issue that strongly divides opinion in Britain. Opponents called the broadcast a ratings-grabbing stunt.

I could not find the program online to listen to it again, so excuse me for doing this off the top of my head. The participate representing the government position argued that (among other things) it was inappropriate to show an "intentional death" on television. This reasoning is just wrong. How can anyone say that a peaceful intentional death is inappropriate when the media is full of so much violent intentional death, either real or fictional? I can think of other reasons to object to this program being broadcast, but this matter of intent is a totally bogus, and not a reason to disallow this program as part of the larger debate on assisted suicide.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blog Thoughts

I've been considering some changes to my blogs for some time, and it's time to write them down. This is going to be stream-of-consciousness stuff mostly, so if you are going to muck about in this with me you might want to take off your shoes and roll up your pants (otherwise you are going to get my messy thoughts all over your clothes).

I had a great time during the election when a good topics were low-hanging fruit, but this also distracted me from my purpose (such as it is) of humorous commentary on science and statistics. This was not intended to be a political blog, but I have come to the realization that some of my topic are politics (ID, among others) so I should admit that politics/opinion will have a large part to play here. ID itself is a topic I'd like to leave behind - except that I'm not quite done with it yet (I have a take on Irreducible Inanity Complexity Inanity, and a Bozo Behe book to bomb) so there will be a few more posts like this. Of course, I'll always be happy to link to others efforts along these lines.

New Topic: I will be starting a series on posts on aging issues. This has become an important personal issue for me over the past few year, and I think I can contribute useful opinion on a personal and professional basis. Expect a few outright rants on this topic too.

I'm considering some chances to the general appearance of the blog; some color adjustments and perhaps a new banner. I have a secret dream of commissioning Phil Foglio to create a banner and associated icons/images for me. That would be WAY cool.

I have created a new email address for the purpose of blog related management and communications; TomatoAddict42 (presumably Tomato Addicts 1 through 41 have already succumbed to the ill effects). I will monitor this new email from my regular Gmail, so this should be a transparent change.
I may start also posting on others blogs as "Tomato Addict". It's not like I really need another online handle, or that I want to conceal my identity, but in order to establish myself as a blogger I think it helps to have a unique identifier (and "Dan" is far from unique).

I'm also hearing really good things about Wordpress, but having just got settled in on Blogger I'm not ready to pick up and move.

There is one final small addition; I've added my Favicon to my post template so it can appear at the end of every post, as I've always intended.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Secrets Revealed

GG is a spoiler! He has revealed the secret to my favorite math trick. He also has one I didn't know, and another I had seen but couldn't recall. Check them out at Skulls in the Stars.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Use this equation 0=NP(20C+B)/75

Use this equation 0=NP(20C+B)/75 to determine if the boobline is too low.
“Following her [Britney Spears] wardrobe malfunction — where she was snapped nearly popping out of a very low-cut dress at her 27th birthday bash, below — scientists, undies experts and mathematicians have been trying to figure out where the decency perimeter lies. And here we can exclusively reveal the formula to work it out.”

Ben Goldacre discusses this equation and other important mathematical findings at Bad Science.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Troubled Waters ... and then a Funny Thing Happened

Noted Scholar gives his take on the merits of Intelligent Design.

It was a rousing good argument back on the blog pages - back when they had blog pages - that started off with comments on an article about Ben Stein's movie and continued on for months in an evolution versus ID free-for-all. Those were truly glory days.

Something surprising happened along the way, amidst the endless argument; I made a friend on the other side. A man of education, intelligence, interest in science, and a deep conviction in his faith. A man with whom I have a very fundamental disagreement on the very basis of science, but one whom I could respect and share an honest conversation. He reminded me that people have a basis for what they believe in, and if you are able to really communicate with them, it is possible to reach common ground. At least you can do this with people who are open and honest, and this man is among the best. We still trade notes and news on a regular basis.

Funny things happen - This post started off as another poke at ID, a boost for a fellow blogger and kindred spirit, and a remembrance of how I got started blogging. Somehow my thoughts were turned to the positive experience I got out of my early evolution/ID discussions, completely off-track from what I had intended to write. That is the nature of blogging I suppose, to share your thoughts, and I'm glad I took the time to share this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Open Letter to Goodreads

Dear Goodreads,

This is getting old. I tried last month to unsubscribe from your newsletter, and still it comes. I am not surprised. I did not sign up for the newsletter either. A close acquaintance signed up (not knowing any better) and Goodreads SPAMMED her entire address book, causing a great deal of grief and embarrassment. Now all these people (and me) continue to receive Goodreads monthly SPAM too; It's the gift that keeps on SPAMMING, and just in time for Christmas.

So, Mr. Goodreads, does this by any chance look familiar?
Do you send unsolicited emails or direct mail?

Goodreads absolutely, positively does not use the emails it collects as a source for unsolicited emails.

It ought to, it's from the Goodread Privacy Policy page. Surely the people at Goodreads have heard the old marketing maxim that if you displease one customer, that customer well tell 11 people, and those 11 people will tell another 4 each, for a total of 45 pissed-off customers. I've seen a few weakly worded posts in response to complaints around the blogosphere, but no real evidence that you are actually changing your Address Book SPAMMING practices, or making any effort to remove any email addresses you previously gathered in this manner.
Your registration pages still guide people into giving you access to their address books, and actually require extra effort (canceling pop-ups AFTER deselecting the check-box) to avoid this to avoid this step. In short, despite your claims that you have improved you practices, there is no evidence of this change.

If Goodreads is serious about changing their ways, and maybe correcting for past wrongs, then they had better get busy.

[Never reveal your email login and password to any program or internet service that you do not absolutely trust, and even then you should be very suspicious. Most certainly do not trust Goodreads to protect your privacy.]