Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Spherical Photos – pretty cool!

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

This is pretty cool:

The Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera which captures a full spherical panorama when thrown into the air. At the peak of its flight, which is determined using an accelerometer, a full panoramic image is captured by 36 mobile phone camera modules.

Financial Education

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Tim Harford captured my attention with the opener of his recent article, Illiteracy rules

I hope you won’t mind me setting a little test of financial literacy. You buy a new £1,000 computer and borrow money to pay for it. You have a choice: either (a) pay 12 monthly instalments of £100; or (b) borrow money at an APR of 20 per cent, meaning you pay back £1,200 at the end of the year. Which offer is better – or are they (c) identical? (The answer is at the end of this column.)

It seems a simple question, but 93% of Americans get it wrong, according to the article (so you’d better not assume you got it right.)  The article goes on to make the case that we need formal financial education.

The sophistication of financial products has increased dramatically; the sophistication of consumers has not. “Knowledge hasn’t caught up with the real world,” says Lusardi. “The important word is ‘literacy’. You can’t live in society without being able to read and write, and now you can’t live without being able to read and write financially.”

The obvious answer is financial education. But it has been tried and doesn’t seem to work terribly well. According to a survey published by Lewis Mandell of the University of Washington, financial education seems to have no impact on formal measures of financial literacy, although, puzzlingly, it does seem to improve financial decisions a little later in life.

Why doesn’t it work?  Does it not work?  I love the assessment offered by Annamaria Lusardi, an economics professor and director of the Financial Literacy Center. While the track record of financial education is not encouraging, the evidence that is available now tells us very little about whether it would work if done right. … perhaps the reason that financial education doesn’t seem to work is that nobody has tried it properly.


On a barely related note, Terry Zink posted a graphic the FBI put together explaining how a money mule operation works.  The article doesn’t say so, but I believe many of the mules are [willfullyl] ignorant of their roles.




Slightly less related is this video about online cons (again, via Terry Zink’s blog)

And one final link related only by criminality:

Criminals Steal Cars by Calling Tow Trucks

That’s right, you can just call someone to haul that car away.  Like to the scrap yard.

The law does little to protect a car’s owner when the vehicle is at least 10 years old. Thieves can call in a wrecker service and have it towed right out of an owner’s yard; they don’t even need a title.

Interestingness Filter

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Tim Harford is an economist in England.  He writes serious (and interesting) essays on economics, and a rather tongue-in-cheek advice column called Dear Economist.

This article, When it comes to research, we live in interesting times, make some really interesting points about popular science sources, and about more serious systematic reviews.  It’s a short article and worth clicking through.

The bottom line is that, for most of us, the information we have access to has already been filtered multiple times, with biases for availability, popularity, political correctness, and most of all, interestingness.

Quite apart from the fact that nobody wants to read all the evidence, there is a deep problem with the way evidence is selected throughout academia. Even a studiously impartial literature review will be biased towards published results. Many findings are never published because they just aren’t very intriguing. Alas, boring or disappointing evidence is still evidence. It is dangerous to discard it, but let’s not blame Malcolm Gladwell just because he doesn’t stick it on page one.

There’s a hierarchy of evidence here. The systemic review tries to track down unpublished research as well as what makes it into the journals. A less careful review will often be biased towards results that are interesting. A peer-reviewed article presents a single result, while a popular social-science book will highlight a series of results that tell a tale. The final selection mechanism is the reader, who will half-remember some findings and forget the rest.

Those of us who tell ourselves we are curious about the world are actually swimming in “evidence” that has been filtered again and again in favour of interestingness. It’s a heady and perhaps toxic brew, but we shouldn’t blame popularisers alone for our choice to dive in.

Best 4th of July Ever

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Late yesterday evening, July 4, a summer squall moved over town and dropped the biggest, loudest, most dramatic load of hail I have ever seen.  We dropped what we were doing and just watched with much running about, shouting, and laughter — mostly when I attempted to retrieve the first huge hailstone and was rewarded with an impressive welt on the shoulder. (like, what did I expect, anyway – certainly not sympathy!)  We left the car in the driveway, and I felt compelled to cover the hood with a blanket.   This time I had a jacket over my head, but I guess it slipped and I got beaned on my bald head.  Hail goes “DIIIIIIING”, if you ever wondered.

Levi summed it up best; “This was the best Fourth of July EVER!”

Here are a couple of pictures for scale:


And here are a couple for scope:


I’m amazed at these little guys.  We were still marveling about the  storm when the hummingbirds returned.  This little guy drank like he was starving. He probably was – I’m sure they all had to hide out with no food for at least 10 minutes.



I just read on NOAA that they broke out the snowplows to clear the road.  In July!

Severe thunderstorms dumped quarter size hail in Woodland Park (20 miles northwest of Colorado Springs). There were reports of marble-size hail 4 inches deep just north of Woodland Park. Several vehicles slid off the roadway due to the hail and sustained minor damage. Snow plows were used to remove the hail from the road. Lightning struck a transformer in Woodland Park, causing a brief power outage. 

A Son Born on a Tuesday

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

I have two children, one of whom is a son born on a Tuesday. What is the probability that I have two boys?

Would you believe 0.481481481… (or, more accurately and informatively, 13/27)?

This problem has easier roots in the famous Two Child Problem, originally phrased thusly:

  • Mr. Jones has two children. The older child is a girl. What is the probability that both children are girls?
  • Mr. Smith has two children. At least one of them is a boy. What is the probability that both children are boys?

The answer to the first is 1/2.  The answer to the second is traditionally 1/3, though it can be 1/2 depending on how you found out one child is a boy.

The fact that one of my children was born on a Tuesday is actually germane to the problem.  You can see the full solution and some history here.   The article points out that your intuition is likely to be correct in real life where you would know why something like Tuesday is included, but math puzzles like this are designed to eliminate that knowledge.

The Easter Savings Club

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

 Wikipedia has this to say about Christmas Clubs:

The Christmas club is a savings program that was first offered by various banks during the Great Depression. The concept is that bank customers deposit a set amount of money each week into a special savings account, and receive the money back at the end of the year for Christmas shopping.

Christmas clubs have fallen by the wayside in recent years, largely replaced by credit cards – why pay all year for next year’s Christmas when you can pay all year for last year’s Christmas instead?  There is an interesting footnote in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein that, though Christmas clubs have fallen out of favor, an Easter Savings Account still remains popular:

“Although Christmas clubs have become unpopular, most Americans still make use of a non-interest bearing savings vehicle that might be called the Easter account.  Three-quarters of Americans get refunds when they file their tax return, with the average refund being more than two thousand dollars.  If these refunds were described as interest-free loans to the government, they would probably not be so popular.  Although taxpayers could adjust their withholding rates to reduce the size of their refund, and in principle could earn interest on these funds throughout the year, many prefer to get the refund as a way of being forced to save.  When the refund comes, it feels like a windfall.”

The Rich Family

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

 I’ve been seeing this story every year at this time for, well, years now.

Thanks to  Mikeys Funnies this time.

By Eddie Ogan

I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister Ocy was 12,and my older sister Darlene 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died five years before, leaving Mom with seven school kids to raise and no money.

By 1946 my older sisters were married and my brothers had left home. A month before Easter the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.

When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1.

We made $20 on pot holders. That month was one of the best of our lives.

Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.

The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change.

We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before.

That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering.

We could hardly wait to get to church! On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet.

But we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt rich.

When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us kids put in a $20.

As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes! Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills.

Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash. We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our Mom and Dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the spoon or the fork that night.

We had two knifes that we passed around to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things that other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor.

That Easter day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed–I didn’t even want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor!

I thought about school. I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew that we were poor. I decided that I could quit school since I had finished the eighth grade. That was all the law required at that time. We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know. We’d never known we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way.

Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?” We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week.

Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering.

When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over $100.”

We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus!


Sunday, April 4th, 2010

This is a story that has been floating around the internet for years.  This time it floated by just a few days after our nearly deadly accident, so it has more emotional teeth.  Save it for later if you’re feeling weepy.

Thanks to Mikey’s Funnies this time.


My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister’s bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. “This,” he said, “is not a slip. This is lingerie.” He discarded the tissue and handed me the slip.

It was exquisite; silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached. “Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least 8 or 9 years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion.”

He took the slip from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to me.

“Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”

I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where my sister’s family lives. I thought about all the things that she hadn’t seen or heard or done. I thought about the things that she had done without realizing that they were special. I’m still thinking about his words, and they’ve changed my life.

I’m reading more and dusting less.

I’m sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time in committee meetings. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them. I’m not “saving” anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event–such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, the first camellia blossom.

I wear my good blazer to the market if I feel like it. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries without wincing. I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties; clerks in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that function as well as my party-going friends. “Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary.

If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. I’m not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she wouldn’t be here for the tomorrow we all take for granted. I think she would have called family members and a few close friends. She might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think she would have gone out for a Chinese dinner, her favorite food.

I’m guessing–

I’ll never know. It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew that my hours were limited. Angry because I put off seeing good friends whom I was going to get in touch with–someday. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write–one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my husband and daughter often enough how much I truly love them. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is…a gift from God.


Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

A couple of weeks ago my family was in a nasty car wreck.  A Jeep Liberty lost control in the snow, crossed over to our lane and hit us head-on with a combined speed of about 100 MPH.   Thank God, all of us will be OK.  I believe the 3 occupants of the other car are all out of the hospital now also.

We all got to ride to the hospital on a surfboard, and it took a week for all of us to dribble back out.  Interestingly,  size seems to be the critical factor in our injuries.  I was not admitted (didn’t squeal loud enough, I guess).  My 14 year old son was released the next morning with no serious injuries.  My 12 year old stayed another couple of days and has a broken collarbone and ankle.  My wife, who is the most delicately-boned (and the prettiest), and therefore deemed the “smallest”, stayed for almost a week.  She has broken ribs, broken sternum, two broken metacarpals (in her hand) and some really nasty bruising, all from the seatbelt.  These are painful injuries that will take a few months to heal.

I could not be more proud of my family.  Nobody freaked out in the car.  My wife’s first priorities were to calm the kids and to thank God we were all in one piece.  My youngest was stuck in the emergency room and trauma ward alone all night, and handled it magnificently.  My older son has been extraordinarily patient and helpful as we have needed much from him.

This has kept me from posting for a while, and will affect my posts (and everything else), both frequency and content, for a while yet.

Be careful driving in bad weather, and watch out for the other guy.  (and be big)


Rubens Tube – “Still Alive”

Friday, January 15th, 2010

still-alive.PNG “A Rubens Tube is a classic physics demonstration. The device is simply a tube with a source of propane on one side, a speaker on the other, and a bunch of holes along the length. When the speaker outputs certain tones, the sound waves bouncing around the inside of the tube set up standing waves with areas of high and low pressure. The higher pressure areas force propane out faster and makes a larger flame.”

This is a video of a Rubens Tube in action, playing the theme from a very cool computer game (now available in flash).