Archives April 2011

Numbers Mean Things

So I saw this headline in The Washington Post:

UN envoy says $5 billion malaria fight has saved several thousand lives in recent years

My first thought was, “$5 billion divided by, let’s say 5000 people, that comes out to a million bucks per person saved. A noble result, to be sure, but isn’t there a more cost-effective way of achieving the same result?”

Then I read the first paragraph:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief’s envoy for malaria says a $5 billion campaign has saved several hundred thousand lives in recent years, keeping international efforts on track to virtually end deaths from the mosquito-borne disease by 2015.

(emphasis added) and now the cost per person drops two orders of magnitude, from $1 million to $10,000. Much more reasonable (though it’d still be nice if it were even cheaper).

But I suspect that either the reporter, or someone at AP or WaPo decided that the word “hundred” didn’t change the meaning enough to make it worth taking up valuable headline space. I’m sorry, but it does.

Then again, what’s two orders of magnitude among friends?

(Cross-posted at UMDSI.)

Answer to the Saturday Puzzle

On Saturday, I gave the following puzzle:

Can you make the following equation correct by moving just one number?:

45 – 46 = 1

Answer below the jump. Read More

Saturday Puzzle

I love Richard Wiseman’s Friday Puzzles. So as a tribute of sorts to this one, here’s one of my own:

Can you make the following equation correct by moving just one number?:

45 – 46 = 1

I’ll post the answer on Monday.

Inexplicably-Elected Official Recommends Magic Spell

From the office of the governor of Texas, Rick Perry:

WHEREAS, the state of Texas is in the midst of an exceptional drought, with some parts of the state receiving no significant rainfall for almost three months, matching rainfall deficit records dating back to the 1930s; …

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.

Yup, magic. An elected official of a populous state in an allegedly advanced country is using his office to tell his constituents to use rain magic.

Notice that Perry’s proclamation, like a well-crafted ad for a magnetic bracelet or an herbal boner pill, tries to give the impression that the product works, without actually making any actionable claims:

WHEREAS, throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer; it seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires;

Shorter Perry: “We have a drought, with the ensuing wildfires and crop failure. Here, have a pacifier!”

(Via ThinkProgress.)

Using snoop/tcpdump as a Filter

Okay, this is kinda cool. Yesterday, I ran snoop (Sun’s version of tcpdump) to help the network folks diagnose a problem we’ve been seeing. Unfortunately, I let it run a bit too long, and wound up with a 1.5Gb file. And the guy who’s going to be looking at this is at a conference, and would rather not download files that big.

Now, I’d known that snoop can dump packets to a file with -o filename and that that file can be read with -i filename; and of course that you can give an expression to say what kinds of packets you want to scan for. But until now, it never occurred to me to put the three of them together. And it turns out that not only does snoop support that, it Does The Right Thing to boot.

Now, one of the reasons I wound up with 1.5Gb worth of packets is that we didn’t know which port the process we were trying to debug would run on, until it ran. (That, and the fact that I started scanning early because I wasn’t sure when it would run. And ending late because the Internet dangled shiny things in front of me.)

At any rate, I was able to run

# snoop -i old-snoop-log -o new-snoop-log host thehost.dom.ain port 50175

and wind up with a packet capture file of manageable size.

And a bit of experimentation showed that tcpdump does the same thing (adjust arguments as appropriate). I’ll have to remember this.

Religion Makes You Stupid, Part N

The Washington Post has an of a type that’s all too common. It involves the Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem.

For those who don’t know the background, Holy Sepulcher is a church in Jerusalem that’s controlled by an alliance of six religious sects. And when I say “alliance”, I mean warring factions and an uneasy mix of all wanting to be at the same place, but hating each other’s guts. So over the centuries they’ve mapped out the church down to the inch to determine who controls which parts.

A ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century, for example, has remained there ever since because of a disagreement over who has the authority to take it down.

So you know it’s going to be stupid. Epic stupid. An Iliad of stupid and an Odyssey of petty.

They won’t put in a fire exit.

Because everybody wants a fire exit (the church can hold thousands, but only has one door), but nobody wants to give up any space to put in the door.

The most likely location for an exit would require the agreement of the Greek Orthodox, Copts and Ethiopians. But wherever a new exit is located, one of the churches would have to cede part of the sacred space under its control. “I don’t know where they’re going to do it,” said Father Samuel Aghoyan, the senior Armenian priest at the church.

Adding a layer of political complexity, some of the space directly outside other potential exit points in the church walls is controlled by an Islamic religious body known as the Waqf, which does not recognize Israel’s control in Jerusalem and is therefore unlikely to cooperate.

This is what religion does to people: it divides them into in-group and out-group. Saved and unsaved, sheep and goats, faithful and infidel, us and them (just ask a Muslim in Israel, a Jew in Palestine, a Catholic or Protestant in Ireland, or anyone who’s tried to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons). Even if it doesn’t directly cause enmity between groups, it certainly encourages this sort of tribalism.

Grow the fuck up, people. This isn’t kindergarten. Lives are at stake.

Ramp Closed. Use Next Exit

(See what I did there? It’s because my site is a fill-in-the-blank on the Information Superhighway. Get it?)

The more eagle-eyed among you who visit this site on a regular basis (both of you) may have noticed some changes to the layout and whatnot. Or maybe something just went kerflooie in the RSS feed and your aggregator has just tossed the whole thing in the trash rather than try to deal with it.

Well, not that you asked (you could’ve asked, you know. I take an interest in your lives, you insensitive assholes1), but I’ve been messing with things behind the scenes, mainly to avoid having to update stuff all the time. So, in keeping with the vintage 1992 metaphor in the title, I’ve stopped leaning on my shovel, drained the last of my coffee, and actually gotten to work fixing the actual roadway underneath the twenty-times-patched potholes. And then knocking off early and asking someone to punch my time clock for me, because that’s the kind of tireless lazy fucker I am.

Actually, one thing y’all might like is the “Reply” button underneath comments, that allow you to reply to individual comments.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pop over to Geocities to download some animated “Under Construction” and flashing-light GIFs.

1: Not intended as a factual statement.

Three Different Things that Look Similar

Here are three statements:

  • St. Anselm says that no one really disbelieves in God.
  • Stephen Hawking says that spacetime is smooth at the Big Bang.
  • PZ Myers says that “The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers”

All three are of the form “person X says Y“, but they’re really three different types of statement. See if you can figure it out before meeting me after the jump.

Read More

More Rain Music

It’s raining out there, so here’s a song about a rainy city at night. It’s uncharacteristically upbeat for Anne Clark:

Fact-Checking the BillDo

Recently, BillDo farted the following onto the intertubes:

Moreover, Jenkins wrote that “Out of 100,000 priests active in the U.S. in this half-century, a cadre of just 149 individuals—one priest out of every 750—accounted for over a quarter of all allegations of clergy abuse.” In other words, almost all priests have never had anything to do with sexual molestation.

(italics in the original).

Just for comparison, the Wikipedia page for Crime in Detroit, Michigan, says that the murder rate there was 40.1 per 100,000 people in 2009.

Assuming that each murder was committed by a different person, this means that about one Detroiter out of every 2500 accounted for all of the murder in 2009. In other words, almost all Detroiters are not murderers.

So by BillDo’s reasoning, Detroit does not have a murder problem. Good to know. Presumably if I gave him a glass of water with only one part of arsenic in 750, he’d drink it.