moldybluecheesecurds 2

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A baby and a drink?

Having been a good schoolboy, I remember the lessons of 10th grade health - including the mantra that alcohol consumption during pregnancy leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Apparently, this conventional wisdom was shared with the men so that we could continue to make choices on behalf of the women in our lives...

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that there is no research in the middle ground. The federal government knows that heavy alcohol consumption causes FAS, but doesn't know much on whether moderate or light consumption has any effect at all. And because pregnant women are a protected class of citizen under research rules, we're not likely to find out anything any time soon.

However, one might take note of the French, who drink wine in moderation during pregnancy and still seem to be doing fine (all jokes about Nazis and trees aside).

Conclusion: I am a geek

Otherwise, I would never find the girls of the NES entertaining. But I laughed...out load.

UPDATE at 4:52pm: The hilarity mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg. Sydlexia also discusses the brilliance of McDonald's Halloween pails, pans SNES Super Punch Out, and reviews the 100 top NES games of all time (the deepest dip in the well I've ever seen).

Matching that picture does not make you secure

A researcher who had posted a boarding pass generator on his website has just been exonerated due to a complete lack of evidence of criminal intent. He had posted the feature on his website to emphasize that the ID checks and no-fly lists were ineffective methods of preventing terrorist attacks on airplanes, especially compared to random searches.

His post and the following comments highlight the various issues at stake with airport security and identification checks:
1) No fly lists don't work because suicide bombers only need to get through once and can have a clean record beforehand.
2) ID checks are therefore useless because verifying the identity of a suicide bomber before they commit their terrorist act does not stop it.
3) ID checks do, on the other hand, threaten the rights of Americans to fly without informing the government that they are traveling, as well as adding inconvenience to traveling.
4) There are more effective ways - random searches - to improve airplane security.

As he sums up, the issue is not WHO is on the plane but WHAT is on the plane. Letting a potential terrorist onboard but without his weapon will pretty much guarantee failure. On the other hand, making every traveler show ID or profiling Muslim travelers does very little to ensure security.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Victory through retreat?

I'm not sure I agree, since it's a bit fatalistic, but David Rieff has an intriguing piece on Iraq where he essentially argues that the sooner we lose and leave Iraq, the sooner we can get to the reconciliation process, even if it takes 30 years. His reflections on Vietnam make this a worthwhile read for any citizen whose government is mired in a foreign war.

Public education: choosing to fail

The eons-long debate over the quality of public education rarely uncovers a lot of new ground, but sometimes things are a little different that you expect. In an analysis of the lofty goal of No Child Left Behind - that all American students will be 100% proficient by 2014 - NY Times Magazine contributor Paul Tough notes that we're choosing to fail.

Several good studies have uncovered the facts:
1) Students from low-income families start school behind and fall further behind as they are socially promoted.

2) These shortfalls have more to do with parental style than income!
Amazing, but true. Middle class parents talk to their kids frequently, building their vocabularies. They give their children enriching activities and they encourage their kids to challenge authority. And these kids, armed with a sense of entitlement, do better in school and in life (and often treat teachers poorly, as well).

3) A proven way to improve the chances for poor kids - courtesy of KIPP schools - is to help them catch up:
a) by giving them 60% more time in school.
b) by giving them highly qualified teachers.
c) and by teaching them the work ethic and commitment to education that their parents may not have.

Part (c) is particularly interesting in light of research that shows that a child's scores on a psychological self-discipline test are twice as likely to help predict their GPA than their IQ. Motivation matters.

If we know what works, from motivation to more intense schooling, then the author is right. We aren't failing by accident or because failure of certain students is inevitable. We have the model and we know the cost.

We're failing these kids by choice.

A fear of food?

With so many people approaching blimp size in the United States, it's easy to overlook - or much scarier - admire those folks with eating disorders. This piece looks at the experience of one family trying to help their teenage daughter overcome anorexia and is an engaging look into how little we understand the disease.

Even conservatives support the Bill of Rights

He may not be a progressive's favorite Supreme Court justice, but Antonin Scalia is showing a surprisingly strong resistance to overreaching executive power during the "War on Terror." The article explores Scalia's firm but narrow commitment to the Bill of Rights and his subsequent impatience with the Bush administration's claim of expansive executive power in times of war.

I think it's also interesting because, as I understand it, many of the drafters of the Constitution thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary - or more specifically, redundant. It doesn't look so redundant now...

Monday, November 27, 2006

With sex offenders, irrationality rules

As with many laws in the area of crime and justice, laws regarding sex offenders have a tendency to overreact to spectacular cases. Many towns have responded to problems with released sex offenders by setting up residency and loitering restrictions on released offenders, banning them from being within 1000 (or even up to 3000) feet of locations where children frequent. The rationale is to remove sex offenders from the presence of temptation, no doubt.

The drawback is that these restrictive zones can create large swaths of towns where sex offenders can no longer reside, causing many to be evicted. Ironically, this drives many offenders to move, making them harder for state officials to track them. Furthermore, sex offenders who are forced to move often drop out of treatment programs. The most interesting tidbit was hidden deep within the NY Times article on this phenomenon (and the resultant court case). An expert on sex offenders is quoted: "most of the laws are passed on the basis of the repulsive-stranger image, when in most cases the offender knows the victim.” Not just most cases; 90% of cases.

But at least we feel like we're doing something...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Go with the stove

Ask Pablo answers the unanswerable, such as this question: is it more efficient to get hot water by running the tap for a minute or heating the cold water on the stove? Surprisingly, the answer is to fire up the burner. Both heat loss in the pipes and the wasted cold water mean the stove's a better bet, even though the gas burner is less efficient than your hot water heater.

My one question to Pablo is, who the heck keeps their water heater in the garage? Not at my latitude!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Listen to the generals

A major criticism of President Bush by Democrats was that he refused to listen to the State Department or even his dissenting generals when setting Iraq policy. While the Iraq War is cited as a major reason for the Republicans' ouster, it would be a mistake to assume that a unilateral withdrawal will necessarily serve American interests. We had a chance in 2003 to make the right choice - staying the hell out - but now that we've made the bed, we should probably at least get dressed before we get up.

Basically, if our "commanders in the field" are suggesting that we need to think carefully about our new Iraq policy, we should.

Consider this game system an investment

There are people on eBay willing to pay more than $2000 to have a PS3 tomorrow; that's four times the retail price of $500. Of course, eBay isn't helping by restricting auctions of the PS3.

DIY Computer Woes

I like to build my own computers because I get to cherry-pick components that have a good price-performance ratio. That, and it's fun to pretend to know a lot about computers. So when my recently purchased set of hardware has turned out to be a failure, I've hit the online forums trying to piece together answers. The one refrain I hear constantly, even from official technical support people: did you test the part in another system?

Excuse me? Am I just supposed to have a second, identical machine lying around for swapping parts? Computers are expensive, even when you shop judiciously, and I'm apparently expected to have duplicates of everything around so I can verify for these folks that my part is not faulty.

Whatever. I know they're stuck because of the near-infinite number of component combinations that can create incompatibilities with otherwise-fine hardware. But something tells me I shouldn't be bearing that cost.

Is this really your legacy?

Media Matters has another example of a pundit being an asshole to get attention, this time regarding the newly-elected US Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN). How long until Mr. Beck is found paying a gay Muslim for sex?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bush lied

Putting these two words together seems to elude most major media outlets, even when the President ponies up. An excellent analysis of the media's pathetic revisionism shows that even when Bush admits he's a liar (having determined that Rumsfeld would in fact be resigning before the election while saying the exact opposite - a lie), the media like to give him the "benefit of the doubt." Folks, the doubt has run out. In fact, continuing to use these silly euphemisms like "untruth" is insulting. He's a liar.

Note: I didn't really closely enough to realize my friend at 28th Ave linked to the same analysis I just did. He's my source on the second link on newspeak.

A concrete that cleans?

Smog getting you down? Never fear, self-cleaning concrete is here! Coated with titanium dioxide, the new concrete - called TX active - helps quicken the oxidation of harmful chemicals such as nitrogen oxides (smog contributors), carbon monoxide, and benzene (a carcinogen). For only a 30% premium over regular concrete, it can reduce NOx by up to 60%.

The producer envisions this concrete in urban environments such as sidewalks and streets, reducing car pollution and keeping the urban air cleaner. As a bonus, the active compound in the concrete keeps these substances from clinging to the concrete, making it look cleaner. Nice!

While this is no reason to keep working on pollution reduction through cleaner fuels and renewable, clean energy, it's nice to know we can help clean up the mess closer to the source.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I take it back

Sometimes I'm a little too cynical about Republicans, but I'm willing to admit I was proven wrong. Good spirit, Mr. Allen.

Fewer signals make safer roads?

A seven-year experiment in a Dutch town has removed nearly all traffic signs and lights from the roadways. The theory was that fatalities and injuries from car-pedestrian or car-bicycle collisions are due to drivers' sense of entitlement to the pavement, enhanced by having a green light.

The result of the light removal is that there have been no fatalities and that drivers use greater care. Apparently, people can actually get around town faster this way, as well.
These transportation research folks and road engineers basically argue that we'll have greater safety and less pollution by letting traffic self-regulate (a la sidewalks).

Note: I didn't have time to dig deeper, but the source of these theories is the British-based Institute for Economic Affairs, and they seem rather libertarian (surprise!).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's over

An exhausting election cycle done and the votes are in. Results? Democrats take control of Congress, winning 29 House seats and 6 Senate seats. Pundits on both sides will spin this as they will, but it's a whole new ballgame in Washington in January. Look for legislation on ethics, the minimum wage, government bargaining on prescription drugs, a balanced budget, and health care.

There will likely be at least one major recount, in Virginia. Republican incumbent George Allen is losing by 8,000 votes and is saying that the voters of Virginia must be respected and their votes counted, in response to his opponent's declaring victory. The Daily Kos has some excellent perspective on Allen's opinion, since this man had no patience for recounts in Florida in 2000. But maybe that's because his party was the projected winner. Hypocrite.

Oh, and Donald Rumsfeld quit as Defense Secretary today. Why he waited until now is beyond me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another new lightbulb

While not precisely new, as it has seen extensive use in traffic lights, the light-emitting diode (LED) is poised to become economic enough to replace the standard incandescent light bulb. Although still cost-prohibitive in comparison, LEDs even put compact fluorescents (CFLs) to shame as they last 10 times longer than CFLs and 133 times longer than incandescents. However, depending on the application, their efficiency can range from 1-10 times as much as incandescents (LEDs are better at spotlighting than lighting an area). In other words, it's questionable if an overhead fixture would be more efficient with a CFL or an LED. Either way, there's no way you should still be using a regular lightbulb when 90% of its output is heat.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Superb Iraq War journalism

In an era of 24-hour news, you rarely see the kind of in-depth investigative reporting that reveals the truth about society and government. The mention courtesy of Shadoweyes, this Mother Jones timeline exposes what we knew about Iraq and when we knew it, with particular attention to how the Bush administration ignored its own intelligence to lead us to war. It gives you a chilly sense of foreboding as you see the inexorable move to war amidst all the evidence against it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Iraq Reconstruction Stopped in June

Is there any better indication that we're losing the war in Iraq? The Defense Department's Iraq reconstruction website shows no reconstruction projects completed since June 2006. Are the webmasters at DOD just taking a break or has the focus shifted from rebuilding to survival?