Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The True Story

If you have access to it, read The Real Thanksgiving by David Brooks. It came at a good time for me; I needed the laugh. Among the best bits:
[O]nward they ventured, across the vastness of the ocean until finally the infinite wonder of the New World came into view, and the passengers of the Mayflower realized here they could raise their children and their children's children to be snooty and the subjects of John Cheever stories.

They were greeted at the shore by a tribe of native peoples, led by chief Massasoit and his lobbyist Abramoff. The Pilgrim leader William Bradford spoke first: "Behold! We have come to drive you from your land..."

And it came to pass that Massasoit was relieved by this declaration, for at least the strangers had not come promising to spread democracy. In exchange, all he asked was that he and his people be allowed to open casinos...

Others reacted to these difficult beginnings with murmurings of mutiny and discontent. It was said that Miles Standish had brought the flock to the New World on the basis of faulty intelligence, while others claimed the pilgrimage had been ruined by the religious right.
And my favourite sentence of all:
In the midst of these hardships, many did find spiritual succor by returning their attention to the Holy Book (even though parts of it were now behind a firewall as part of ScriptureSelect).
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Doing the Math

Yesterday's Washington Post carried an article on a study which showed that working out could improve your life expectancy. Essentially, the study claims that if you walk for half an hour a day, your life span will go up by nearly 1.5 years. More strenuous exercise produces even more benefits (up to almost 4 years).

Of course, I immediately had to figure out whether it was worth it. Sure, you live a little longer, but if you have to spend time exercising every day, is there a net gain? That is, does the total amount of time spent exercising exceed the increase in life expectancy? A quick calculation showed that there is a substantial benefit; depending on the amount of exercise you do, the total time invested is only between 1 and 6 months. (Admit it, you were disappointed. You were hoping for an excuse not to exercise - ed.)

Anyway, I'm bringing this up because I thought at the time that the article could have been strengthened by including this information. It would have been intellectually honest to point out that the 'net' increase in life span was a little less than claimed (especially when they claimed precision by using figures like 1.7 years), it would have saved geeks like me from performing the necessary computation, and most important, it would have helped readers relate to this kind of simple cost-benefit analysis. I put the omission down to the general math-phobia in the media, imagining some assistant-deputy-sub-editor removing it on the grounds that the math would drive readers away from the article.

I was surprised and delighted, then, to find an editorial - no less - in today's Post with all the omitted math - and then some. It adjusts the time spent exercising depending on how it affects the rest of your day and makes allowances for sleep (something I forgot to do!). Best of all, it includes the compound interest idea! That is, it assumes that time now is worth more than later, and allowing for the possibility of accidents, etc., it discounts the future at a (compounded) rate of 3% per year.

Unfortunately, even after making all the allowances one can, there's still an overall benefit. I guess that means I no longer have a good reason not to exercise.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Curse you, Blogger!

I haven't posted here for ages, but I had a little free time today, and since the Pennsylvania news cheered me up a little, I thought I'd write about it. After I composed the post and clicked publish, the text disappeared! Frustrated, I tried again; at least the 'Recover post' feature seems to work. Blogger's consistent, I have to admit... the bug was 100% reproducible.

Eventually, I had to switch to Firefox to actually get the post published. Ok, I have a workaround now, but I don't want to have to use Firefox! Particularly when I'm blogging and have 15-20 pages open, Opera works much better. Switching around between browsers is just ugly. What makes it more frustrating is that Opera always used to work just fine.

While I'm ranting, why on earth has Blogger overloaded Shift-Ctrl-arrow? I'll grant that may not be the world's most popular shortcut, but it's the standard way to select a word in a text box. Perhaps this is also Opera-specific, but it loads the preview (which should be reached via Shift-Ctrl-p). It's disconcerting, to say the least, when your text box disappears in a heartbeat.

(Aren't you overreacting a little? You've posted 4 times in the last 3 months - ed. Look, it's the principle of the thing. Now that changes everything... -ed. Ok, fine; I'm done whining.)

To end on a positive note, Dan Drezner was offered a tenured position at Tufts. Regular readers of this blog will remember that he was denied tenure at the University of Chicago last month. (Two comments: First, what regular readers? Second, you didn't post about it! - ed. Well, I meant to; that should count for something, right? And I've been busy lately...)

Bravo Pennsylvania

Right on the heels of the Kansas Board of Education effectively approving the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes (and redefining science while they were about it), all the members of the current Pennsylvania school board who were up for re-election were thrown out of office by voters. The board had required that science students hear about so-called gaps in the theory of evolution, and that alternative theories such as intelligent design be presented. It is likely that the new board will reverse this policy.

Life has a way of pleasantly surprising you once in a while.