Saturday, December 10, 2011 are three things:

* What I grew up hearing referred to as 'homeopathy', wherein you give small doses of poison (or typically harmful in normal quantities) to stimulate the immune system. My friend backs this up as what she still knows it as.

* What, for the past 5-10 years I've heard the term 'homeopathy' used to refer to every time save for twice in the past couple weeks: diluting a medicine (perhaps a poison) in water. And then diluting it again. And again. With the claim being that each successive dilution actually makes the medicine STRONGER, even when you reach the point when there are zero molecules of the original medicine included in the typical dose (10% chance after 23rd iteration at a 1/10 dilution ratio). Even at that point, the water allegedly "remembers" that it once had medicine in it, so it's effective in curing all ills. People believe this, and do it instead of using real medicine, and they die. It's a problem.

* What I'll call 'naturopathy': medicine based on natural herbs and the like. This is basically a superset of what I traditionally heard called 'homeopathy'.

The problem is, the first and third are semi-legit. forms of alternative medicine*, but the first shares a name with the completely bonkers memory-water. And while I know several people who only know the term 'homeopathy' to refer to number one, I suspect most of my friends--being online folks--know it only to refer to number two.

So 1. know that the term 'homeopathy' refers both to pseudoscience quackery AND semi-reasonable forms of medicine and 2, if you're not dosing people with just water, consider just using 'naturopathy' instead. (Unless you know a more specific, non-ambiguous term--please tell me! Isopathy?)

What brings this up right now is that a couple weeks ago I heard our AP refer to homeopathy as medicine, and I ran down the hallway to her desk to dispute this. Turned out she only knew the first usage of the word. And today I heard someone make a distinction between homeopathy-as-the-Internet-knows-it and naturopathy.

*Although, as has been pointed out by Tim Minchin, Dara O'Brian, and countless others, we tested most alternative medicine and what actually worked ended up being called...medicine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blair: What's your middle name, Luca?

Me: Luca Kaceem Butler Masters.

Katie: What?!

Luca: Yeah.

Katie: That's awesome!

Good job, parents.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I had a training at Region XIII (the government agency that interfaces between schools and the Texas Education Agency) today and the guy leading the training asked us, as a subset of the thousands of people who can edit student data in the state-wide database to voluntarily adopt a policy that would help prevent what is apparently a real, actually-occurring problem: EDIT WARS of STUDENT RECORDS in the STATE-WIDE DATABASE--specifically of their STATE-WIDE STUDENT IDs (that's THE PRIMARY KEY), but also of their names.

We also discussed 'Hey, this student's Birth Certificate and Passport disagree. What do we do?' (Throw one away--it's illegal for anyone to have two legal identities.) And 'We have a record of this student's name being changed upon adoption, but now he's with his biological father who is providing us with the birth certificate and asking us to use that name. What do we do?' (Go with the most recent date.) And 'We don't know this student's SSN. What do we do?' (Answer: Start an edit war in the state-wide database. No, wait. How about the twenty of us DON'T do that and just hope that everyone else in the state follows our lead.)


Saturday, May 01, 2010

(Potentially relevant link)

Your post advocates a

( ) technical (X) legislative (X) market-based ( ) vigilante

approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
(X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
(X) Users of email will not put up with it
( ) Microsoft will not put up with it
( ) The police will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
(X) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
(X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
( ) Open relays in foreign countries
( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
( ) Asshats
(X) Jurisdictional problems
(X) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
(X) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
( ) Extreme profitability of spam
( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
( ) Outlook

and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

(X) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
been shown practical
( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
( ) Blacklists suck
( ) Whitelists suck
( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
(X) Sending email should be free
( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
( ) I don't want the government reading my email
( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

(X) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your
house down!

Monday, April 05, 2010

I got up in them middle of the night to write this and it was all muddled. Then I got up in the middle of another night thinking 'This makes no sense!' And it didn't, because I had written P(causation|corrrelation) = P(causation) - P(correlation|no causation). Stupid me. I'll correct it later. In short: They're not independent, as correlation is a prerequisite for causation. P(correlation) is not 0 or we wouldn't be discussing P(correlation) with such fascination. I'll explain it with more rigor when I'm not really tired and needing to get up in seven hours.


I occasionally see misuse of the mantra 'Correlation does not imply causation'. So I don't have to write all this every time I see it, here's a concise explanation:

(Note on notation for non-mathy people: P(x) is the probability that x is true. P(y|x) means the probability that y is true given that x is true.)

The source of the confusion with this statement is that 'imply' can mean either 'entail' or 'suggest'. 'x entails y' means P(y|x)=1). 'x suggests y' means P(y|x)>P(y).

In 'correlation does not imply causation', the word 'imply' is being used to mean entail. Correlation does suggest causation.

Also, if you've ever been tempted to claim that 'lack of evidence is not evidence of lack', I encourage you to apply the same [deleted because I muddled it] reasoning, keeping in mind that the terms 'evidence' and 'proof' are not typically considered interchangeable.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bill Riiff, the store’s manager and a former air traffic controller in the Air Force, stepped into the circle, holding high a pump of hand sanitizer.

“Swine it up!” he bellowed.

Each employee simultaneously extended an arm, palm up, as Mr. Riiff squirted a dollop of goop into one hand after another to help stave off the H1N1, or swine flu, virus.

(Emphasis added.) Hand santizer kills bacteria. If you want to prevent H1N1, then wash your handsusing soap and water.

This message is brought to you by your high school biology class.

Monday, November 09, 2009

In Outliers, Gladwell quotes Bill Joy commenting about how they had nightmares about forgetting to go to class or forgetting they were even enrolled in a class.

I've had multiple 'Oh, snap! Wasn't I enrolled in an econ course?' moments toward the end of the semester. In fact, this year I've had at least one dream about completely forgetting about a biology course and a philosophy course for pretty much an entire semester. That was this year, and I haven't been in school since 2005.

Luckily, the reality is that I've missed class three times in my life: once because I was giving blood for six hours (long lines on Sept. 12), once because I was in a ballet performance at the same time, and once because I thought it was Monday or Wednesday, not Tuesday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Science and technology are the only potential non-catastrophic solution to all our problems (and have been for thousands of years).

People don't accept this. Our current problems (global climate change being the big one nowadays) seem to be by-products of past sci+tech solutions to problems such as, oh, dying. But unless we want to experience massive (multi-billion person) die-offs and a reversion to the pre-industrialized world, we can only go forward.

Alas, people often argue for this reversion to past technological levels. When trying to convince them that that's idiotic, it's common to bring up life expectancy: up some thirty years in the past hundred years. But the naysayers dismiss that as unimportant: who really wants to live to be 80, anyway? 79-year-olds, not the new-agers and hippies we usually find ourselves debating with.

People really believe that the increase in life expectancy is a bunch of years tacked on to the end of life--that two hundred years ago, people rarely lived past seventy. This is patently false, though. People who made it to adulthood could easily live that long. In 1900, a 65-year-old in the US had an average of about 12 more years to live whereas in 2000 that would be 16 years. We've tacked an extra four years onto the average 65-year-old's life expectancy (and only two more years for the average 80-year-old). These are tiny, tiny gains, yet people treat them as if they're the ONLY gains. The true gains in life expectancy are not the tacking four years onto the lifespan of a 65-year-old, but about THIRTY years onto the lifespan of a newborn.

We need to stop talking about life expectancy and instead start talking about infant and child mortality: a child born in an industrialized country in 1800 had a one in five chance of dying by age 5. By 1900 it was one in ten and now it's below one in a hundred. It's not about who wants to live past seventy. It's who wants to live past FIVE.

So, yeah, if the global climate crisis were a cost of allowing a 65-year-old to live to 81 instead of merely 77, people might not think it's worthwhile, but if it's the cost of a newborn living to 30 (or 75), rather than dying by age 5...we get a very different answer from most people. People who actually appreciate what science and technology have done will not voluntarily go back. The only possibly choice is to continue to count on science and technology to solve this problem just as it's solved countless seemingly insurmountable problem in the past.

(Data sources: )

Sunday, August 30, 2009

(Potentially relevant link)

I had some stupid assignments in college, and, yes, freshmman health had some of the worst offenders. But this takes the cake. My brother's assignment is to:
1. Add specific numbers to the top of his mobile phone and show the contacts to the professor. (I, for one, have no mobile phone. When I did have a mobile phone, it was my private property and NOT subject to search my professors and the phone book was determined BY ME.)
2. Sign up for text alerts. (I, for one, have no mobile phone, and when I did, texting was far from free. if you want me to sign up for text alerts, you pay for them.) For the record, they used to email us these alerts. They're not actually very relevant.
3. Tell the professor what route he (my brother) take to and from class. Maybe we should have a mandatory GPS tracker?
4. Photocopy his student id card, driver’s license, credit cards, insurance cards and anything else of importance in his wallet and
4a. Show a copy to his professor. (No, but I will report the assignment to the professor's supervisor.)
4b. Keep a copy in his [probably dorm] room. (An unencrypted hard copy in a shared room? This is to keep him SAFE?)
4c. Send a copy to his parents. (Guess who's over 18. That's right: EVERY STUDENT THERE.)

So, things to consider when applying to college now includes 'considers you an adult' (it actually was a problem back in my day to) and 'understands the concept of privacy'. (Also a problem to some extent in my day--while I was there, they finally switched to NOT displaying your SSN on your student id card, though professors would illegally post it with your grade or pass it around on an attendance sheet. They also still printed your full CC number on your book store receipts, though.)

I don't know what school to recommend, but I know it's not East Carolina University.

Friday, July 03, 2009

I argue by analogy a lot (though less than I used to). People are stupid, and analogies provide a very pithy way of demonstrating why what they just said is really, really stupid. Alas, they're pithy because the working premise is implicit, and they're doubly ineffective when they mention Hitler. Consider this discussion I've had ever so many times:

Foo: Bar punched me in the face just for kicks. He's mean.
Baz: He's my friend. You're a jerk for calling him mean. He's nice to me.
Me: Hitler was nice to his friends.
Baz: You're saying punching Foo the face is as bad as genocide?

A half-way intelligent person would realize the argument by analogy, made lucid, is this:

Your argument is premised on the claim that 'If X is nice to his friends, he's not a mean person.' However, consider the following argument using that same principle:
1) If X is nice to his friends, he's not a mean person.
2) Hitler was nice to his friends.
3) Therefore Hitler was not a mean person.

Clearly, the conclusion, 3), is false. 2) might be true. I suspect it that is--if you believe otherwise, just consider hypothetically that it were. Supposing 2) is true, do you believe 3) is therefore true? Probably not, which entails that 1) must be false (via denying the antecedent).

Thus, completely independent of whether punching Foo in the face is mean--or in any way comparable to what Hitler did1--the fact that Bar is nice to you, his friend, does not entail that he isn't mean.

1 Neither your argument nor mine is about what Hitler did or what Bar did to Foo. Yours is about whether Foo is a mean person and how he behaves toward you, not Foo, and mine is about whether your reasoning is sound.

That's a really, really long-winded, and any half-way intelligent person would be perfectly capable of getting it all from the six word reply I gave in the initial example.

I, however, do not frequently find myself replying to half-way intelligent people, as they would not say something so stupid as Bar did.

Since analogy is about as effective with these people as saying 'You're stupid', I sometimes go with the latter. An intelligent person will recognize that as shorthand for the relevant analogy.

(In the future, however, I may just say 'Hitler!' with a link to this post.)