Poor Old Microsoft - Update

Last August I posted about how lame Microsoft Hotmail is. One problem that really bugged me was that there was no way to just display the mail you haven't read. Now, they seem to have added that functionality!

It's about time, but credit where credit is due!

Indian Cooking

If you are interested in learning about Indian cooking, I recommend watching the videos at Manjula's Kitchen on YouTube. They are nothing flashy (pardon the pun), but quite enjoyable and informative, I think. Manjula clearly has a lot of experience and knowledge on the subject.

We bought a pizza stone yesterday. We used it for pizza, which turned out great. Now perhaps I will try to make naan, an Indian bread. Here's Manjula making it:

Looks so easy!


Oregon officials close Al Gore's second chakra!

Ready, Set. Action!

So, last week I watched the new "Tron" trailer. My sound wasn't working on my computer, but it looked totally lame. Yesterday, my niece and I went to see "The Last Airbender" which was lamer.

Both suffer from the stupidest of new movie conventions: when the action is getting really good, they insist switching to slow-motion. Gee. Gosh. Exciting. In what world is slowing down the action to a crawl entertaining? "Airbender" did it so often the entire movie dragged (not to mention that the picture was terribly blurred through most of the film (we saw the 2D)). We'll have to see with "Tron", but here's hoping the final cut cuts the stupid slo-mo.

Walmart Paranoia

Walmart is expanding the use of RFIDs in products sold in its stores. In this story, we learn that this is an insidious invasion of privacy.
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is putting electronic identification tags on men's clothing like jeans starting Aug. 1 as the world's largest retailer tries to gain more control of its inventory. But the move is raising eyebrows among privacy experts.

The individual garments, which also includes underwear and socks, will have removable smart tags that can be read from a distance by Wal-Mart workers with scanners. In seconds, the worker will be able to know what sizes are missing and will also be able tell what it has on hand in the stock room.

They are bugging our socks and underwear! Consumer advocates to the rescue:
"This is a first piece of a very large and very frightening tracking system," said Katherine Albrecht, director of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Albrecht worries that Wal-Mart and others would be able to track movements of customers who in some border states like Michigan and Washington are carrying new driver's licenses that contain RFID tags to make it easier for them to cross borders.

What paranoid nonsense. The bit about driver's licenses makes no sense at all, since Walmart or anyone else can already read those cards with a scanning device. It seems possible that someone might scan your trash to see what labels you have thrown out. But how important does Ms Albrecht and others in her group think they are? Who is going to care enough to scan her trash to figure out what brand of jeans she buys? Even if they do, who cares?

I rather like the idea of not having to go through the current checkout process. Imagine just walking past the register, and having your purchases scanned all at once! That would be great.

New technology seems to attract such fears. I remember when caller ID came out. This was a new feature of phones in the 90s. When someone called, you could dial *69 or some such and get the phone number the person who was calling you. The horror! Advocacy groups like MPIRG were up in arms about it. Their theory was that somewhere there would be an abused spouse, hiding from her husband. If she were to call home, the husband might be able to figure out where she was. Based on this scenario, advocates lobbied strongly to ban caller id. Having a blocking option wasn't even enough for the consumer advocates. (What if she forgets to block!) Now of course, people would think you were nuts for suggesting banning such a feature. Every time someone calls me, I can see who it is, or a notice that the id is blocked. If I don't know who it is, I don't have to answer. Who doesn't like having that ability?

Art Break

I ran accoss this photo on the web. It's a famous work of Edward Stiechen's.

I admit I don't recall seeing it before. Striking and beautiful! That's the Flatiron Building, of course. The photo was taken in 1904. Steichen has a Milwaukee connection, which I found interesting.

You Can't Go Home Again

Looking at the location of the sinkhole referenced below, I realized that it was right outside of Pizza Man, Oakland and North Avenue.

Then I was shocked to discover that Pizza Man burned down in January! Grecian Delight too.

Both places were near and dear to me, being regular hang-outs in high school and beyond. Especially Pizza Man. If it were up to me, it would be built back up exactly how it was. Somehow though, I doubt that will happen. That early 70's style irregular brickwork was dated even back when I was in high school.

However it is re-incarnated, I hope it comes back strong. Pizza Man will rise again!

Rival this

Update 7/25/10: I pulled this image off of a Fox6 report. Amazingly, it looks like their front doors were water tight:

(end update)

One of our high school's great rivals got badly pelted in the rain. Here are two pictures for Nicolet High School in Glendale, WI. One report had almost knee-high water inside the main building. The local Fox affiliate is reporting "most" of the high school is damaged. The torrent going into the basement is heading for the football locker room:

Our old stomping grounds is collapsing

A picture from tonight at the corner of Oakland and North Aves. in Milwaukee (From the Journal/Sentinel Online) This is a Cadillac Escalade:

Parts of Milwaukee got 7 inches of rain in a couple of hours.

Our Alma Mater can be embarassing

UPI Report:
Police drop teen's lunch theft charge

MILWAKEE, Wis., July 20 (UPI) -- Milwaukee police have dropped a theft citation against a 15-year-old accused of stealing a chicken nugget meal from his school cafeteria.

Police Chief David Banaszynski said the case against Adam Hernandez, who was handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted after Shorewood High School officials accused him of stealing the lunch, was dropped with the agreement of the school principal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday.

[...] Hernandez, who had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday, said he did not steal the food, but it was given to him by a friend enrolled in the free lunch program.


We've had a problem this year with ants in the house. We have had them once or twice in the kitchen and twice in the bathroom. I purchased the usual Terro brand ant killer and tried that, but it didn't seem to do the job. There was a ring of ants around the poison for weeks, with no sign of letting up. Out of frustration, I made my own, more powerful poison.

Looking on the label of my bottle of Terro, I noticed that there is only one active ingredient: borax. Terro ant bait is essentially a sugar solution with 5.4% borax. Well, borax is easy enough to get. I purchased a box of 20 Mule Team Borax from the grocery store. Mixing a spoonful of borax and a spoonful of sugar and adding a bit of water to make it liquidy gives you a 50% borax ant killer. Borax works, by the way, because ants mistake it for food. My home-made ant killer did the trick. The ants came out in force, but were nearly gone after a couple of days.

As an interesting exercise, let's see how much Terro ant killer we could make from a box of 20 Mule Team. You can buy a 76 oz box for $5.28 here. Well, 76/.054 = 1407, so you could make about that many ounces of Terro-strength poison, more or less.

You can buy 1.8 ounces of Terro product for $8.99 at their website.

Now 1407 x 8.99/1.8 comes out to around 7029. So that $5.28 box of Borax contains enough for around $7029 dollars worth of Terro ant traps. I like that margin!

Ok, you are paying for a lot of plastic, and convenience, but still that seems like Terro has a good thing going there. I'm sure Terro had to go through a lot of EPA hoops to get their product approved. That's probably a significant barrier to market entry. Don't expect to see Steve's Ant Killer
on your supermarket shelves soon.

Mango Pickle

I've tasted enough mango pickles to have a favorite. It's Mother's Mango Pickle Mild.

They have a hot one too, but it's really too hot to be delicious.

Putting the oil spill in perspective

According to the Wikipedia, the gulf oil spill is gushing out between 35-60,000 barrels per day, which, at 42 gallons per barrel is between 1.5 and 2.5 million gallons per day. According to AP, when the cap is removed today, the gusher will spew 5 million gallons in 48 hours. Taking 50k gallons per day from the Wikipedia estimate gives about 200 million gallons so far. If you take the capless AP value, you would also get around 200,000,000 gallons so far (but since the well hasn't been capless all this time, the real number should be a bit lower.)

Yesterday, as part of a family reunion in Minneapolis, we went through the northern-most lock on the Mississippi, at St. Anthony Falls. According to the boat tour, the lock releases 9,000,000 gallons of water every time it goes up and down. Which means the amount of oil spilled into the gulf is about the equivalent of 20 St Anthony locks.

Considering the immense size of the Gulf, that really doesn't seem like that much.

Steve: Wikipedia says the area of the slick is at least 2,500 square miles. If it were spread out evenly over that area, 200 million gallons would have a thickness of about 5/1000-ths of an inch.

Probability Code

Since John Derbyshire has posted code for the probability problem, I thought I'd provide my own, written in C. Typical output is:

Two boys: 2499636 0.249964
One boy, one girl: 4999669 0.499967
Two girls: 2500694 0.250069

Tuesday boys: 714025 0.071402
Their brothers: 357115 0.500144
Their sisters: 356910 0.499856


#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <math.h>

#define GIRL 1
#define BOY 2
#define TUESDAY 3

/* return a random integer from 1 to max */
int randint(int max)

int main(void)
int N=10000000; /* number of trials */

int n,g[3],d[3],a,b;
int twogirls=0,twoboys=0,boygirl=0;
int tuesdayboys=0,sibgirls=0,sibboys=0;

for (n=1;n<=N;n++)
g[1]=randint(2); /* random gender of child 1 (GIRL==1, BOY==2) */
d[1]=randint(7); /* random birth day of child 1 (SUNDAY==1, SATURDAY==7) */

g[2]=randint(2); /* random gender of child 2 */
d[2]=randint(7); /* random birth day of child 2 */

a=randint(2); /* child parent tells you about (1 or 2), chosen at random */
b=3-a; /* child parent tells you nothing about (1 or 2) */

if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(g[b]==BOY)) twoboys++; /* increase count of 2-boy families by one */
if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(g[b]==GIRL)) boygirl++; /* increase count of 1-boy 1-girl families by one */
if ((g[a]==GIRL)&&(g[b]==BOY)) boygirl++; /* increase count of 1-boy 1-girl families by one */
if ((g[a]==GIRL)&&(g[b]==GIRL)) twogirls++; /* increase of 2-girl families by one */

if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(d[a]==TUESDAY)) /* if the child the parent chooses to tell you about is a Tuesday-boy */
tuesdayboys++; /* increase count of Tuesday-boys you are told about by one */
if (g[b]==BOY) sibboys++; /* increase count of their brothers by one */
if (g[b]==GIRL) sibgirls++; /* increase count of their sisters by one */

/* print out counts and ratios */
printf(" Two boys: %d %f\n",twoboys,twoboys/(double)N);
printf("One boy, one girl: %d %f\n",boygirl,boygirl/(double)N);
printf(" Two girls: %d %f\n",twogirls,twogirls/(double)N);
printf(" Tuesday boys: %d %f\n",tuesdayboys,tuesdayboys/(double)N);
printf(" Their brothers: %d %f\n",sibboys,sibboys/(double)tuesdayboys);
printf(" Their sisters: %d %f\n",sibgirls,sibgirls/(double)tuesdayboys);


#undef TUESDAY
#undef BOY
#undef GIRL

Probability Problem

There is an interesting probability problem floating around the net. It is easily stated:
"I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?"

The "convential wisdom," from the math experts, is that the answer is 13/27th, not the 1/2 that one might expect. I read about this problem here and here and here, the last link being to John Derbyshire's blog. He has comments in the corner too, here, here, and here.

I came up with the same solution, but later had my doubts. I now side with the folks who say the answer is 1/2. The problem is one of language, which is ambiguous.

When someone says "I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday" does he mean that he has at least one Tuesday-born boy, or does he mean that one specific kid, call him William, was born on a Tuesday? If the former, the answer is 13/27. If the latter, the answer is 1/2. That's the ambiguity.

Consider another, simpler, scenario: "I have two children. One is a boy." Has he told you that at least one of his kids is a boy? If so, then the probability of two boys is 1/3. Has he told you the gender of one specific kid chosen at random? If so, the two-boy probability is 1/2. What do you think is the more common meaning of the statement? I feel pretty sure that the latter interpretation, yielding 1/2, is far more often correct. This is not the interpretation of the "experts" linked above, who would give the answer as 1/3.

A comment posted here agrees with me and is a good explanation. Another great comment here.

MedVance Institute

While watching late night TV recently, I saw a commercial for MedVance Institute. It is a small for-profit private school offering degrees in practical medical-related fields such as Medical Assistant, Medical Billing & Coding Specialist, Sterile Processing Technician, and Medical Office Administration. What interested me most though was their degree in "Radiologic Technology." I thought this was interesting enough to look up on the web.
MedVance Institute prepares you with in-depth knowledge of X-ray positioning according to standardized practices and procedures, physics, specialized equipment and techniques, film critique and patient care.

Ok, so it's just x-ray tech training. If you want to become an MR tech or CT tech, you would have to get more training. But check out the annual tuition for the Nashville Campus:

Radiologic Technology............$36,995

Good Grief!! Thirty seven thousand dollars per year for two years, after which you get an associate's degree. Then you can take the exam to become an x-ray technician. Let's compare this school's tuition to some of the full fledged medical schools the Nashville area. In-state tuitions have been recently:

University of Tennessee....$18,256
East Tennessee State....$20,176
Meharry Medical School....$33,120
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine....$36,600

Only the private medical schools come close to the tuition of MedVance Institute.

There has been some buzz lately about the excessive fees that for-private schools are charging these days. I think this may be a good example. For-profit schools are making huge profits off the federal student loan program. That program has distorted the market. The Obama administration has been making noises about "cracking down" on these schools. I'm not sure what the best approach to the problem is, and I'm not sure that the not-for-profit schools are doing anything better.

But this bubble has to pop soon.

Happy Independence Day, 2010

Happy Independence Day everyone!