No Mo Info

We are all aware that some "other people" are occasionally scammed successfully by someone over the internet. Fortunately, most people are now jaded enough to smell spam and phishing from a mile away. There is, however, another aspect to internet security that I think we should pay more attention to.

Many people I know post photos on various websites. The idea is to enable friends and family members to download them and print or develop them. I posted a couple photos on one of those sites before realizing that I don't want any bozo off the street to see my personal pics. Plus, different friends use different sites for the same purpose, so eventually you might have to use half a dozen such sites.

This applies to more than family pictures. How many websites have you purchased items from using a credit card? We commonly use sites such as Ebay and Amazon, but I have made purchases from a number of other online stores. They not only have my credit card number, but my address and phone number, too.

What about other private data? Sites such as Myspace, personal web pages, and even blogging sites collect personal data. This is largely so we can be targeted for marketing, but what happens when this data falls into the wrong hands? (I think the targeted marketing is wrong enough.)

Let us be careful about what kind of personal information we allow to be available on the internet. The world is rapidly becoming smaller, but that doesn't mean we should give sensitive information to every yahoo with a keyboard. Be smart!

The Numbers Game

Today's lesson is about misleading statistics. We will use weather reports for our first example. For much of the spring, the Salt Lake City area was, say, 20 degrees below average for this time of year. This week it will be 20 degrees above average. Having grown up here, I can say that we rarely have more than about 2 weeks of pleasant 75-degree weather in the spring. Usually the winter clings to life not unlike your crabby great aunt, until it takes the full power of the summer to dispel its last vestiges and launch us into the usual 95-plus-degree weather we will enjoy until October.

The point is that while 75 degrees may be the average for this time of year, that number really represents 55 and 95 degree days blended together through the miracle of math.

(Incidentally, I would like to see the statistics of the temperature predictions of meteorologists compared with actual temperatures.)

Now, to solidify the point, let's consider another example. Litigation is currently pending for the makers of Accutane (an acne medication) regarding those who took it and subsequently developed Crohn's Disease. I can only assume that there is a higher rate of Crohn's among those who have taken Accutane than there is in the general public, or the case is completely unfounded. The cause of Crohn's, however, is completely unknown. It may be an autoimmune disorder (as it is currently classified), or it may even be caused by bacteria (as some recent research indicates).

Upon inquiry, I received a packet of information from a law firm regarding this case. One of the first questions asked what I felt caused my disease, and there was another asking what the doctor said caused the disease. This is ridiculous, considering there is no known cause. (No, I am not pursuing the case.)

The point here is that they are confusing correlation with causation. For all we know, those who have a genetic predisposition to Crohn's Disease (if such a thing exists) also have a genetic predisposition to severe acne which will only respond to treatment with Accutane. There is no way to prove that Accutane causes the disease. The results of the litigation will be some extra cash for a few people and serious trouble for the makers of a drug that helps those with acne when nothing else works.

My overall point is that we shouldn't just blindly accept any number that is thrown our way. Consider how that number was arrived at, as only 6% of the population does.

Did you just blindly accept that 6% without considering that maybe I just made it up?

Memorial

Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than to see dead celebrities hawking wares on television, except perhaps for the fact that any holiday serves as an excuse for retailers to have "the biggest sale of the season." Am I wrong in thinking that nobody is fooled by this? Take Memorial Day, for example. What is it about the opportunity to remember loved ones and fallen soldiers that makes us want to go buy a couch? Why don't we do something to stop this assault on our collective sensibility? I think the worst offenders are furniture stores, car dealers, and clothing stores. I'm going to make it a point to never shop at any of those places during that kind of sale. I'd rather cherish the memory of those who have passed away by visiting the cemetery and by spending time with living family and friends.

But apparently that's just me.

A Maxim Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I think it's time to update some axions. Many clichés don't really hold any water, so a while ago a coworker and I decided to bring them into the modern era and correct them grammatically. Here are a few of my favorites:

Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, weaker, or largely untouched.

The way to a man's heart is through his superior vena cava; the stomach just leads to the small intestine.

Four walls do not a prison make, but it's a start.

Patience is a virtue; making others hurry is a skill.

Tis better to have loved and lost than to have allowed her to max out your credit cards.

A rose by any other name would just confuse men buying flowers.

Hell hath no fury like people in line at the post office.

Easier procrastinated than done.

The early colonoscopy gets the polyps.

There are two kinds of people: those who deal in generalities and those who don't.

Talk is cheap, except the words "I do."

Laughter is the best medecine; and, when directed improperly, a leading cause of injury.

Once bitten, six rabies shots.

You can catch as many flies with manure as you can with honey.

I hope that brightened up your Friday. Thanks to Eric Jamison for helping me come up with these.

Woe-Man

We men are becoming increasingly superfluous.

http://cbs4denver.com/watercooler/watercooler_story_143210548.html

It's only a matter of time until women realize they no longer need us. When they seize total control of the world, wars and hunger will cease, although occurrences of slap-fighting may rise sharply. Still, I think spending a billion dollars to research clothes that look good on any body type would be more sensible than trying to research ways to kill the most people from the greatest distance.

Seriously, women are undoubtedly the superior sex. Please don't hit me over the head with that curling iron.

Automotive Nomenclature

This would make a lame post, but I already posted today, so this is for my benefit.

For anyone who reads this, I want you to help me name my "new" car. It's a white 1999 Chevrolet Lumina. It's just about the most boring color of the most boring car in existence. So the name could reflect that, or it could make up for that by being unusually exciting and creative.

So far, I have thought of Edison and Pedro.

As you can see, I need help. So leave lots of ridiculous comments, please.

From Famine to Pestilence

Since I solved world hunger the other day, today I will tackle the problem of disease.

First of all, I have a theory that germs (bacteria and viruses; prions seem to fit a different category) obey Darwinian rules similar to the rest of the world. That is, if you eliminate something, eventually something else will fill its niche in the environment. Think about the great advances in vaccination made in the last two centuries. We have practically eliminated polio and smallpox, and even less life-threatening illnesses such as the mumps and chicken pox. And what do we have to show for it? AIDS, Ebola, and countless flulike diseases from the Hanta Virus to West Nile. I believe that no matter how many diseases we effectively eliminate, more will take their place. Eventually we will either have to be vaccinated for hundreds of diseases, or we will have to stop vaccinating against those we assume we have eliminated, which opens the door for them to come back.

This is not a comforting thought.


I have a hypothetical solution to this problem. According to the Mayo Clinic, most germs can not exist for longer than 48 hours outside the body. Therefore, if everyone who was sick stayed home for the duration of their illness plus 48 hours, we could effectively eliminate, or at least seriously limit, such diseases as the common cold. Those who do need medical attention should check in to a hospital, or some other shelter designated for the purpose, and be similarly isolated. For those who must work in order for the economy not to collaps, bio-suits could be issued.

Think about it. In maybe 3 or 4 weeks (for non-chronic diseases, anyway) we could reduce occurences of illness enough that it would take years for any surviving diseases to spread again. It would be as effective as vaccination (meaning that some other diseases might develop), but without the needle. I would like to perform this experiment on a small scale, such as a relatively isolated town. I really think it would work.

Extra Special

It's strange that one word can have two opposite meanings. take the word "extra." It can mean "outside of" as in "extra-terrestrial," but it also means "very," as in "extra good." I think I'm going to start telling stupid people that they are "extra-intelligent." They will misinterpret this as "extra intelligent." It's easy to slip the hyphen in there since they can't hear any difference.

It's the little joys that make life worthwhile.

Me So Hungee

Today I will tackle the nagging problem of world hunger. There is a lot of grain wasted by using it for alcohol production. I'm not talking about ethanol for cars (who knew that corn farmers would become oil tycoons?); I mean beer. When I was a teenager I wanted to make some movies that would make me rich. Then I would buy grain fields used for alcohol production, and use the grain for feeding the hungry around the world.

There is one particular problem with this idea, even if I had the money. The United States destroys a portion of its grain harvest every year for economic reasons. I guess too much grain would drive the price down and ruin the farmers, or something like that. Also, just giving it away to other countries would ruin their economies as well. I propose that we make the people work for the food. They could build homes and communities and be paid with food. The economy could (initially) be based on barter. As other businesses developed, they could transition to currency. With a thriving economy they could raise their own crops. Then we could collectively get back to wasting our food and killing our brain cells by alcohol consumption.

All Hail the Great Manipulator

I decided this morning that Chiropractic is a religion. The "purists" claim a specific founder who had a miraculous experience of curing someone's pain. They make claims that must be accepted on faith without any empirical evidence to support it. They charge money and do everything they can to keep "converts" (patients). How many doctors' offices will call you and ask you to come in if you don't go? They want you to come in regularly for the rest of your life to "maintain" your health.

I was trying to think of a legal basis to take action if this office Katie went to kept bothering us, but the fact is they carefully avoid words that would be legally binding. I think it would save them effort of they just declared themselves a church. They've already got a number of "factions" who have different philosohpies. All that's missing is a bit of chanting and their own book of hymns. They could have songs like "Bend over Backwards," "Limber Lumbar," "Open Your Wallet and Close Your Mouth," and the perennial favorite, "Yours, Spine, and Ours."

The Long Arm and the Law

We are all familiar with basic laws of physics, at least to the extent that we are able to pour milk on our cereal in the morning or go bowling (which, incidentally, I think is the real sport of kings). But we all have little superstitions that we are convinced are real physical laws. Perhaps the best know is the way socks seem to disappear in the dryer.

I marvel at the way I can drop something over the side of the bed and it will turn up two feet under it. I'm not talking about a superball; I mean something like a pill. I have not been able to duplicate that. Even on a hard floor I can't get a pill to roll two feet. But when dropped on the carpet beside the bed, it somehow moves until it's just far enough under the bed to get covered in dust (and get me dirty reaching way under there). For some reason that fascinates me.

Another "law" is the way traffic is always the worst when you're in the biggest hurry. I realize this is largely due to our perception; but since all we have to experience the world is our senses, isn't it as valid as other so-called empirical facts?

I'm getting long-winded. That means it's time to stop. What are some of your laws?

Ratings Man

In 2002 the prison population of the country topped 2 million. Maybe there are just a lot of people who are so lazy they want free room and board at the expense of personal freedom. At any rate, things are getting pretty overcrowded in the system. That breeds all kinds of unpleasantness, such as lawyers.

The occasional science fiction story deals with this by having inmates risk their lives in return for freedom if successful in completing some dangerous task, such as escaping when being hunted. While I think the occasional (literal) manhunt could be interesting, I see something more beneficial to society. There are many dangerous jobs in the world we could be using inmates for. In return they would get a reduced sentence (variable according to the danger inherent in the job).

One job in particular I would like to see an inmate do is travel to Mars. With proper training and careful selection, it could be beneficial to everybody. We would get firsthand knowledge about the planet, and the convict would become a cultural icon, which would lead him to largely stick to white-collar crimes, like the rest of our celebrities.

If anybody out there actually reads this, give me some suggestions on what jobs you'd like to see our inmates tackle.

Bend Over

My wife hurt her back and has been going to the chiropractor for the last week or so. They claim dozens of things are wrong with her that will require months and thousands of dollars to correct. I want her to be well regardless of the financial cost. I also realize, however, that the claims of this doctor are largely unverifiable.

The most smiliar situation I can think of is going to the dentist. If you need a healthy dose of guilt, the dentist's office is the place for you. They always point out that the only way to keep your teeth healthy is to never put anything in your mouth except for your toothbrush. The fact that you would soon die of starvation doesn't concern them. No matter how well you care for your teeth, they are constantly decaying. Only the rate varies. It's in the best financial interest of the dentist to keep you coming back. The work of dentist, however, is almost all verifiable.

The chiropractor, too, wants you to keep coming back. This particular doctor actually used the example of visiting a dentist. After all, we are supposed to go to the dentist every six months. Basically everything we do injures our back, even tilting your head down to read a book, according to this doctor. So regular treatments are necessary to keep your skeleton from trying to escape your body.

He also offered a discount if we paid for the entire treatment up front. This seemed like a good deal, except that we have no bargaining position if they already have all the money. At least if we pay as we go, she can stop going if she doesn't feel like it's helping anymore.

This chiropractor appears to passionately believe in what he is doing. That being said, so does your average crackpot standing on the street corner with the sandwich board predicting the end of the world next Tuesday afternoon at 3:15.

Generally speaking, I like doctors. It's not too often that I feel patronized by them, and they are at least knowledgeable people. Usually when I go to the doctor I end up feeling better, at least eventually. If it weren't for doctors, I would have wasted away and died a year ago, if some other disease hadn't killed me years ago. Most doctors, however, have a low opinion of chiropractors. This should set off a little red warning light.

I guess it's best to go into it with an open mind but a closed wallet.

Lexical Liberty

The upside to fatigue appears to be increased lexical creativity. This morning for some reason I was thinking about those people who are proportioned normally from the waist up, but below the waist appear larger then they should. I have heard the term "peaar-shaped" to describe them, which is fine. I decided that I will dub this phenomenon "the iceberg effect." If you need an explanation, that's just too bad. It's already taking me twice as long as normal to type this because I keep transposing letters today because I'm so tired.

One other thing. That lame documentary on the LDS church last week brought up an interesting question. Why, exactly, is polygamy illegal today? I understand that when the law was created people were probably concerned that the church would soon outpopulate the rest of the country. Or maybe they were just trying to be jerks. At any rate, the point is that one man was willing to care for multiple women. He actually took full responsibility for their needs. Society today is completely the opposite. Getting two people to marry and stay married is almost a joke. With cohabitation so prevalent and so many children being raised with one or fewer parent, why should anybody care if someone actually wants to be responsible for more people? I'm not saying this because of any desire to practice it myself; it just doesn't really make sense. But then, the list of things that don't make sense seems to get longer every day, including the topics I seem to come up with.

Double Dose

Well, if anyone out there actually reads this, I'm double-posting today because I coined a new phrase (as far as I know): karmic equity. the idea is that a bunch of bad things might happen, but then some good things will happen to even things out. Life probably doesn't work that way, of course, but it's a nice thought.

Dial Z for Zleepless

I think I had something brilliant and insightful to discuss this morning, but too many sleepless nights have left me with a brain like a sieve. Even my ability to describe the problem is suffering. Like a sieve? How original is that?

Anyway, I'm trying to call a doctor's office this morning and nobody is there. I looked up their hours online, and they're open from 8:30 to 4:45 (they're closed from 1 to 2 for lunch). I could have sworn that just a few years ago doctors' offices were open from 8 to 5. Pretty soon you'll only be able to avoid after-hours charges if you go between 3 and 3:07 in the afternoon. It's probably all a scam perpetrated by doctors and insurance companies to line their pockets, with the bonus that they thin the population a bit and improve the health of the average person by killing off the really sick ones.

It appears that fatigue intensifies cynicism.

We're Wired Weird

Yesterday's post reminded me of something else I thought of a long time ago. I call it "emotional inertia." Newton's first law states that some force must affect an object in order to change its motion, whether it's moving or at rest. I believe that we have an innate desire to remain in whatever mood we are currently in. I know that when I'm happy, I want to remain happy. When I'm mad at someone, I want to stay mad. And so on.

How this could actually benefit anyone, I have no idea. But it's fun to think about.

To See or Not to See?

The Dilbert blog today reminded me of a maxim I thought of a few years ago—that we are all better off not knowing how others perceive our appearance. I imagine that most of us perceive ourselves as slightly more attractive than average. This is probably best for our self-esteem. Those who discover the truth about how others perceive them are in trouble. They either become explosive-mailing terrorists or annoyingly arrogant actors or models. Either way it spells trouble. It's really best if we just go through life with the pleasant delusion that we're okay. Most of us can find someone who is attracted to us, but we're not so sure about ourselves that we are constantly thinking that we can do better. This is right and good.

So let it be written.

When It Rains

I was thinking about the idea that particles of mass are attracted to each other through the force of gravity. Often it seems events are the same way. We often seem to experience several bad events or good events in quick succession. Of course, it's probably just coincidence or our perception, but what if events have a "physical" effect on time (if in fact time exists)? What if certain kinds of events are more likely to cluster the way matter adheres to itself? I would like to see someone develop this idea further.

The Whole Tooth

The subjective nature of personal crises amuses me. At least it would if my whole mouth wasn't throbbing in pain. Ordinarily I spend most of my time pondering how to bring peace to the Middle East, or how to create limitless free energy for the world. But when my mouth hurts like this all I can do is try to keep from screaming.

Such is life. We can't help but focus on ourselves, because we can never know exactly what it is like to be another person in another situation. So I suppose that the best we can hope for is to spare thoughts for others when possible and try to do what we think will help them out (asking is sometimes helpful, although you need to be able to decode responses from a woman). Because you never know when you'll need someone else's help, like a dentist.

The Car Conundrum

So this morning I was out putting something in the mailbox when some guy drove by in a truck with some souped-up muffler. I don't understand why people want to make their cars louder. Then there's the guy down the street with the truck set so low it actually rests on the ground unless he's got the hydraulics going.

Personally, I would think that the best thing to do to impress people with your car is to make it a "sleeper." You soup up the engine but leave it looking inconspicuous. Then when you pull up to a light next to some low-rider you can just laugh and out-accelerate him if he tries to beat you off the line.

I guess what it boils down to is that there are a host of illogical things we do when it comes to driving. For most of us the cheapest car would serve as well as the most expensive one. There's no logicality in fancy paint jobs and alloy wheels. And I don't understand why this guy on my street drives an Infiniti but lives in a crappy little duplex. I would rather drive the worst, ugliest, cheapest car possible but live in a decent house.

This brings me to the most illogical act I can think of. Why would anybody ever pay for a brand new car? It's a tremendous financial loss the instant you drive off the lot. Why not let someone else take the financial hit and buy something one or two years old?

Why aren't philosophers dealing with practical questions like this instead of making vague, unverifiable statements about the nature of existence?

Part 2

It wasn't any better. So I stopped watching it.

Partial to Objectivity

Last night PBS aired the first half of the documentary called "The Mormons." I was looking forward to an even-handed representation of the Church's doctrines and history. What I saw instead was a host of people, many of whom were not LDS or who have left the Church, telling what they thought was wrong with it. There were numerous reported "facts" which were not supported by evidence from any primary source, such as the idea that Joseph Smith spent an inordinate amount of time hunting for treasure. Of the two hours, the entire second hour was spent discussing the Mountain Meadow Massacre and polygamy.

To their credit, there were a few statements by actual church authorities. Specifically, there was video shown of a General Conference address by President Hinckley stating in no uncertian terms that we do not practice polygamy. There was also a brief statement by Elder Oaks discussing the Mountian Meadow Massacre. The bulk of the interviews shown, however, were of those with no authority to speak on behalf of the Church.

There were, of course, representations of those with differing faith and opinions. That is in the interest of fairness. What is unfortunate is that the majority of the program seemed to focus on what would be considered controversial, with no mention made of all the good the Church does, for individuals, families, and the world as a whole. Having said that, the second part of the program may explore those things in greater depth. We'll have to wait and see.

This does bring up an interesting question. Is it possible to create a completely impartial documentary? I would think that to achieve a truly disinterested viewpoint it would be neccessary to be completely apathetic toward the subject. Otherwise it would be impossible to maintain true neutrality. For example, I would be the perfect person to explore the issue of what kind of fish would make the best pet. I don't care about fish at all, so I could be completely impartial. That presents two problems, however. The first is that I would never work to explore an issue that I didn't care about. Even if you overcome that problem, though, you will inevitably begin to form an opinion as you learn more about the subject. So, I guess to be fair to the producers, writers, and editors of "The Mormons," it's probably impossible to be completely impartial. The most we could realistically expect is for them to have a bunch of people on each side of things.