Thursday, April 01, 2010

Nevermind

I'm done blogging for the time being. Too much other stuff going on. Maybe I'll come back to it, maybe I won't, I don't know.

I always get a weird sense of bleakness when I wander across a dead blog or a website that hasn't been updated in a long time. There's a sense of unfulfilled potential. It's like wondering about the might-have-been future.

Sorry if I've made you feel this way. Not that I really even know if anybody reads my blog in the first place, heh.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Really, Really Need to Understand Economics

It should be obvious to just about everybody, even disregarding recent history, that a working knowledge of economics is pretty much an obligation for any citizen of any democratic country, especially those that are capitalist. For instance, there is fairly strong evidence that the recent economic kerfuffling could've been prevented if certain electoral decisions had gone otherwise maybe ten or twenty years ago. Or maybe five or ten years ago, if you're on the other side of the debate. Either way, you've got to believe it matters.

But the good news is, learning economics, at least enough to be a competent citizen-voter, is not all that hard.

Half the difficulty is penetrating the jargon, in my opinion. The actual meanings of all the wacky terms are, mostly, pretty simple and common-sense, or at least they have been to me.

The other half is understanding the math, and it's not all that hard math actually. A good friend of mine (http://vort.org/) once told me most of economics is just adding and subtracting. Sometimes the numbers can be very big, but luckily big numbers are just as easy to understand as small numbers. In fact, there is no conceptual difference between the two.

So, for fun and my own education, I think I'll start learning basic economics from the ground up, and then talking about it here. Nah, actually, science is way cooler and way more interesting. I was sort of a policy & current events wonk for a long time (long influence of the debate team from high school I bet), and lately it's just not worth it. Nobody interrupts you to question your value as a citizen or whether or not you really love your fellow man when you talk about how awesome it is that Voyager 1 is about to become the first man-made artifact to enter interstellar space.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Unfortunately, I was Right About Facebook

So awhile back I posted about my Facebook aversion. Looks like I was justified:

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/09/08/23/1458246/Facebook-App-Exposes-Abject-Insecurity

http://www.cyberoam.com/pressrelease_q12009.html

http://www.pcworld.com/article/159738-2/5_facebook_schemes_that_threaten_your_privacy.html

Ask yourself: How hard is it to leave a dangerously insecure service when everyone you know wants you to stay?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Astronauts Read Fantasy

In what is perhaps not a huge surprise, astronauts read fantasy novels. I made this discovery myself, though I don't know if it's been made by others before me.

Evidence: See the floating book on the space shuttle. See the purple book on the bottom of the stack of fantasy novels.





Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reason Magazine Betrays Their Eponymity

I'm in favor of articles like these, wherein a major news outlet is criticized for poor journalism. On the other hand, it seems Reason itself needs to reassess its commitment to, er, reason. I'm not trashing the article as a whole, as in fact the internal logic and overall quality of evidence seemed to me convincing enough in general, at least at a glance. However, the section on obesity doesn't measure up to its peers. It's flawed, and obviously so, in ways I intend to prove.

"But the science proved hard for the panic to overcome. In 2005, a team of CDC researchers published a study finding significant flaws with the 400,000 figure. The real number, they said, was closer to 112,000." [link in original]

Yes, overestimating the figure by a factor of four is a serious problem. Still, 112,000 is still quite a few individuals, wouldn't you say? What might be the context for this sort of figure? In other words, what is the threshold for an acceptable level of corpulence? To put the idea of perspective into, uh, perspective, the United States suffers about 30,000 suicides every year, and about 40,000 deaths due to automobile accidents every year. So now the 112,000 figure looks enormous. Yet a minute ago Reason made it look small by comparing it to a poorer estimate of itself.

"And when you add in the protective effects of being mildly overweight, the number drops to 26,000."

There two unsubstantiated claims here, both of which are remarkable. Remarkable claims demand proof with evidence and reason, and none are offered. First of all, what exactly are the "protective effects" of being overweight, aside from, I suppose, resistance to starvation? The clinical definitions of terms such as "overweight" and "obese," as I understand them, are carefully chosen by medical science. They are unhealthy conditions by definition. If there are also benefits to being overweight, of such efficacy that they offset the deathcount by 75% (112K down to 26K), one would think that there would be more information somewhere. If there is, Reason has unreasonably chosen to withold it. Moreover the 26,000 figure itself is entirely unsubsantiated.

"As for medical costs, a 2008 Dutch study suggests what would seem to be intuitive: People who live longer tend to incur more lifetime medical expenses. Meaning that if obesity does modestly shorten lifespans, it does so at a savings to taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid."

Misuse of context! Ten yards and loss of down! The Dutch study's cost-benefits model is entirely based on being Dutch. From that study: "Except for relative risk values, all input parameters of the simulation model were based on data from The Netherlands." Reason is attempting to tear down Time's claim that obesity is a problem in the United States. The hilarious thing is, I don't even have to prove that the Netherlands is substantially different from the US in relevant ways, as I suspect it is; the serious flaw in their reasoning is that they assume the study's conclusion is as valid here as it is there.

Feh, Reason. They make a mockery of the word.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Scientific Consensus on Global Warming

It appears that public opinion, and therefore public policy, is slowly tilting towards action regarding climate change. This means that the general public of the United States is finally accepting the scientific consensus regarding the changing climate of the Earth. Different polls show different percentages, but it would appear that a substantial number of Americans now believe that:
  1. The Earth's climate is experiencing a slow, long-term warming trend.
  2. This trend has been caused by human activity, mostly the emission of carbon dioxide by modern industrialized countries.
  3. This trend will have substantial negative consequences for the Earth's environment and the human species.
You can read for yourself about what Americans believe on this subject in a few places. Unfortunately these polls also show that a substantial proportion of the general public also disbelieves the scientific consensus. Some even deny that such a consensus exists in the first place.

This is unfortunate, considering that the opinion of the scientific community is almost unanimous regarding global warming. You can read about the details here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

And if you don't trust wikipedia, follow the evidence to their sources; there are far too many to include them here. Every credible scientific association, including every national science academy of the industrialized world, believes the above enumerated statements about global warming. I think the one exception is the American Association of Petroleum(!!) Geologists, whose position on the issue isn't actually hostile, but rather neutral and even weakly supportive. The last remaining dissent of any relevance appears to be the opinions of a few scattered individual scientists.

Why then does the magnitude of this consensus carry so little force with those who doubt?

Monday, February 09, 2009

My Facebook Aversion

I have a bunch of "Friend Requests" and I'm never going to act on them. The reason is, I hate Facebook. Well, sorta. Not the service itself; The truth is, Facebook-the-service is actually pretty cool. Look at all the neat things we can do with it. We can talk to eachother, share pictures, and arrange ourselves in social networks. I hear there are games and other amusements.

Yet I refuse to use any of these. I'm only here so I can read my girlfriend's blog. Oh, except it's not called a blog, it's "Notes". Anyway.

I'm not opposed to social networking as an idea. I'm opposed to the way it's implemented. Consider what Facebook really-truly is -- a service offered by a for-profit corporation. I don't want my friendships defined and mediated by a single for-profit corporation.

Think of all the other ways you can talk to your friends -- the mail is a government agency subject to influence by the democratic process. My Verizon phone can call any phone number in the world regardless of what company is providing service to the receiving phone. Email can fly easily from my gmail account to my friends' accounts regardless of what company owns the servers in between. My actual blog (http://tomkolson.blogspot.com/) is visible by the entire internet -- any person with any web browser can read what I have to say.

Not so with Facebook nor the other social networking sites. If I want to use Facebook to talk to my friends, my friends have to be on Facebook too. Say I discover that Facebook Inc (the company that sells Facebook, the service) is doing something horrible with their profits. How do I boycott a company who is controlling access to my closest friends?

So, that's the reason I don't have many Facebook Friends.

Addendum - I tried several times to tell all the pending friend requests that I wasn't going to be accepting, but Facebook made me to through its captcha thingy every time. Ick.