The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The meaning of "or"

In computers, as in any technical or artistic field, sometimes words have different meanings than they do in ordinary English. Take "or," for example. When a computer sees "or," it understands that if either condition is true, then the entire thing is true. The logic chart looks like this, with the conditions along the edge and the result in the middle:


So, if condition 1 is true, then the statement is true, regardless of condition 2, and vice-versa. Only when conditions 1 and 2 are both false is the result false.

In standard spoken English, the word "or" doesn't work that way. Instead, it functions as an "exclusive or" (XOR), wherein one and only one condition must be true (and the other false) for the entire thing to be true. That grid looks like this:


So if condition 1 is true and condition 2 is false (or vice-versa), then the result is true; but if both 1 and 2 are the same, the result is false.

Leave it to master logician and brilliant philosopher Newt Gingrich to use a logical "or" in conversation today when he said, "either I really believe the things I've said my whole life, or I'd be a fraud." See? To a computer, he can be both!

Actually, he can be both to a person, too, but that's another problem.

The only governor we had, unbleeped

Rod Blagojevich, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties:

The prelude to this curse is also quite interesting because Blagojevich is on a conference call talking to his advisors and he quickly seems to come unhinged. He starts the conversation by saying he’s been politically successful, but Obama’s rise to the White House makes it difficult for him to run for president. He tries to keep his cool, but then he makes clear to his advisors what he wants: money. Then an advisor asks one question and he loses it.

(Go to the WBEZ City Room for a link to the uncensored tape.)

Some of the former governor's money woes might—might—have come from spending $400,000 on clothes in the six years before his impeachment. Just maybe.

Pat Quinn will never give us this kind of entertainment, running the state competently as he does. I mean, this is f****n' Illinois. And we had this thing, and it was f****n' golden. But then it got tossed out of office, and all we have now is the retrial.

Even warmer than that

Earlier I mentioned today would be the warmest since October 11th. True; but it turned out warmer than any since August 29th. Today the official temperature at O'Hare hit a record 32°C, warmer than Miami, Cancún, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

The cool lake waters and warm inland temperatures generated a strong lake breeze that kept us almost 14°C cooler downtown.

Tomorrow may be warmer...

Warmest day in seven months

Sunday the temperature in Chicago couldn't crest 16°C, a temperature more typical of March than of May. Today it's already 26°C and rising—the warmest Chicago has seen since October 11th. Tomorrow will be even warmer, possibly passing 31°C. But don't worry; this is Chicago, so March will return this weekend:

Computer models are advertising a sharp pull back in temperatures by this weekend. A pool of unseasonably cool air is to settle over the Midwest, spinning up a blustery storm system over Illinois which is to remain essentially stalled in place over the coming weekend. It's a scenario which could generate gusty easterly winds in Chicago and temperatures which fall back to the low 10s Saturday and Sunday. That the system is to be part of a blocking pattern is the reason it's to be such a slow-mover. Model rainfall estimates put potential weekend rainfall of up to an inch down here.

NOAA also released new data this past week confirming what we in Chicago have suspected for a while: our autumns are getting sunnier while our springs and summers are getting gloomier. Winters, however, remain unchanged in their character building cold.

Yeah, couldn't see that coming

The costumed head of a Tea Party organization this morning clarified the movement's small-government ethos:

[Tea Party Founding Fathers chairman William] Temple said that "if the House Armed Services Committee and the Pentagon slow down on injecting open homosexuality and females into forward combat roles," tea partiers might be able to put up with their new Republican House voting to ensure American government services paid for with more borrowed cash.

Temple's line of reasoning:

When the Pentagon's own studies show that military effeminization may have an extremely costly impact on recruiting and retention, when Islamists have shown their willingness to sexually brutalize American female reporters, why would John Boehner's House Republicans be caving to political correctness? Why would House Republicans who know better be fostering inappropriate attractions in the intimacy of tents, bunks, barracks, platoons, subs, tanks, convoys, cockpits, latrines, showers, toilets and locker rooms when we are fighting wars in three Muslim nations?

This is, of course, the kind of reasoned argument one would expect from a man standing in front of video cameras wearing a tricorn hat.

NPR made my brain hurt this morning

They aired two back-to-back stories on Weekend Edition. First, they reported that for reasons that passeth understanding, the NRA got Florida to pass a law prohibiting doctors from asking about guns in the house:

For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged its members to ask questions about guns and how they're stored, as part of well-child visits.

But Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Tallahassee, says that's not a pediatrician's job.

"We take our children to pediatricians for medical care — not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions," she says. NRA lobbyists helped write a bill that largely bans health professionals from asking about guns. Hammer says she and other NRA members consider the questions an intrusion on their Second Amendment rights.

"This bill is about helping families who are complaining about being questioned about gun ownership, and the growing anti-gun political agenda being carried out in examination rooms by doctors and staffs," Hammer says.

What the...? Getting shot causes medical problems, right? And there's a demonstrated (but not necessarily causal) link between gun ownership and medical risks, right? So asking about guns and other dangerous items in the house might be part of a good medical history, don't you think? Apparently the NRA don't. If they're so concerned about gun-owner privacy, why not pass a privacy law instead? Oh, right—doctors are already forbidden from sharing medical histories.

The story immediately following that one had Barbara Bradley Hagerty asking, completely straight-faced (which is easier to discern on the radio than you might imagine), why people believe May 21st is judgment day:

Most Bible scholars note that even Jesus said he had no idea when Judgment Day would come. But May 21 believers like Haubert are unfazed.

"I've crunched the numbers, and it's going to happen," [actuary Brian Haubert, 33,] says.

Haubert says the Bible contains coded "proofs" that reveal the timing. For example, he says, from the time of Noah's flood to May 21, 2011, is exactly 7,000 years. Revelations like this have changed his life.

"I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement," he says. "I'm not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I'm just a lot less stressed, and in a way I'm more carefree."

Only last week I read a Mother Jones article about denial science, which opened with a description of The Seekers, who believed aliens would spirit them away on or before the end of the world, which would happen 21 December 1954. After giving up all they owned and waiting for their version of the Rapture, they concluded from the lack of cataclysm that the aliens had seen their devotion and decided to save the planet, thanks to the Seekers. I wonder what Haubert and his friends will say on May 22nd?

Not only that, but: he's an actuary? On the basis of the available information, one must conclude he's not a very good one.

The economic effects of emancipation

On Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan posted a note about the South's economic lagging after the U.S. civil war. Yesterday, he posted a follow-up quoting one of his readers repeating the destruction-of-wealth canard, which posits that $4 bn of wealth (about $400 bn today) got wiped out with the 13th Amendment. The reader, an historian, said:

Perhaps the most important factor in the South’s economic underdevelopment was the fact that emancipation, while a milestone in human freedom, was an economic calamity. There were approximately 4 million slaves, with an average value of $1,000. Emancipation meant the destruction of $4 billion of Southern capital. Slavery as a symbol of status had encouraged successful professionals and entrepreneurs to invest in slaves rather than industry. With the end of the war, that “investment” was rendered valueless, and that put severe limits on the available local capital for investment.

Fortunately, this evening Sullivan posted a response from another reader (presumably an economist) who corrected the record:

If the economic value of a slave was the value of his future expected labor, less the cost of his subsistence, then to destroy his value as an asset would require that he be killed or disabled. In fact, Emancipation simply took that value from the slaveholder and returned it to the former slave, the rightful owner. For this transfer to be destructive of economic value workers would have to have been more productive enslaved than working freely for wages, which is unlikely.

The historian seems to suggest that possession of slaves had become a status symbol, causing overinvestment in this variety of asset. If this is true, then there was a "slave bubble", the popping of which would have erased value with or without Emancipation. In fact, if slavery had still existed when the bubble popped, the result would have been terrific brutality, as slave owners attempted to use starvation and the whip to salvage what profit they could. The rationalizing force of the market took the evil that was always present in slavery and made it an efficient evil.

I think the second reader has got it right. The whole thread is worth a read, though. I've always found the regional differences fascinating, even more after spending six months in North Carolina.

Senior Software...Gardener?

Apparently "gardener" makes more sense than "engineer:"

So why do so many gardens fail, yet so many skyscrapers succeed? With a few exceptions, the technique for building a skyscraper is similar whether you are in Europe or you are in Singapore. Gardens do not work that way. Every garden is different because the environment it is in is different. Even gardens that are within throwing distance of each other can have wildly different soil. That is why the lowest bidder can probably build the same bridge as the highest bidder, but your company can’t grow the calibre of gardens that Google can grow.

Remember that time when someone in your company unsuccessfully used an Agile gardening methodology, and then went around saying that it was horse shit that doesn’t work? Well horse shit does grow gardens, it just wasn’t enough to save your garden. Your garden was probably dead before it started – a victim of the climate of your organisation. Were you trying to grow a rainforest in the desert? You can’t just plant the same plants as Facebook, Flickr or Twitter and expect them to take root regardless of the quality of your gardeners or the climate of your organisation.

(Hat tip MVT.)

Don't know nothin' about me

Via one of my cow-orkers, a company that can tell you all about yourself at a hitherto-impossible level of detail. All you have to do is spit:

23andMe is a retail DNA testing service providing information and tools for consumers to learn about and explore their DNA. We utilize the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Research Use Only Chip which has been customized for use in all of our products and services by 23andMe. All of the laboratory testing for 23andMe is done in a CLIA-certified laboratory.

How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?

Once the lab receives your sample, DNA is extracted from cheek cells in your saliva. Your DNA is then copied many times so that there is enough DNA to use for the genotyping step. Next, the DNA is cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. These DNA pieces are then applied to a DNA "chip." The DNA chip is a small glass slide with millions of microscopic beads on its surface. Attached to each bead are "probes"—bits of DNA complementary to sites in your genome where SNPs are located. There is a pair of probes for each SNP, corresponding to the two versions of each SNP. Because two complementary pieces of DNA stick together, your DNA sticks to whichever probes match your versions of a SNP.

The service claims to do the following:

  • Identify health risks based on genetic propensity (and quantify how much of the risk is genetic);
  • Tell you where your family came from, and when they got there, going back several thousand years;
  • Find your long-lost cousins; and
  • Send you updates as new research comes in.

My colleague paired this suggested site with this TED talk about the future of human evolution.

Remember when Gattaca was just an interesting fiction? Let's hope not all of Andrew Niccol's predictions come true...