Friday, June 30, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Advertising

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Distraction: Spider Man Trailer

Because I'm a huge dork. Enjoy.



Also, according to the internet, my super hero personality is Spiderman. You can take the test here.

Hat tips to Mike, Prof B., and Andrew Sullivan.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

How to write good

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren't necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. Be more or less specific.
15. Understatement is always best.
16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
18. The passive voice is to be avoided.
19. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
20. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
21. Who needs rhetorical questions?
22. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Stolen from here.

This city doesn't work

Due to wide-spread flooding and electrical problems caused by last night’s rain, half of the Metro system isn't working. Downtown is gridlocked. Cops are everywhere, ineffectually waving their arms about as everyone ignores them. I got to work an hour late, and half of my government office is empty. I shudder to think what would happen if something more surprising then water falling from the sky happened.

[/rant]

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Family

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Statistics: The Decline of Rape

From the Post:

The number of rapes per capita in the United States has plunged by more than 85 percent since the 1970s, and reported rape fell last year even while other violent offenses increased, according to federal crime data.

This seemingly stunning reduction in sexual violence has been so consistent over the past two decades that some experts say they have started to believe it is accurate, even if they cannot fully explain why it is occurring.

I'm pretty familiar with the data collection methods used to measure this. The decline is real, and here's why...


Rape is one of the most un-reported crimes. Victims are far more likely to report a theft, and hospitals are required to report injuries that might be the result of an assault. So we have a pretty accurate count on how many cars have been taken and how many people have been shot, but a less accurate count of how many sexual assaults have happened. Women are most likely to be raped by people they know, rape has a huge stigma attached to it, and proving rape has often been difficult.

But things have changed for the better.

DNA identification technology has gotten much better. Proving guilt in a courtroom has become much easier.

Once convicted, they face increasingly harsh sentences. In the 1950's it was not uncommon for rapists to get short prison sentences, and often just probation. No longer - numerous states have seriously considered chemical castration and the death penalty for rapists. At a minimum you will net you at least 25 years in prison, until you're too old to be much of a threat.

In addition, under new laws if a woman is drunk or otherwise impaired and then claims that it was rape, even after the fact, then its rape. This makes an entire category of "fraternity rapes" or other alcohol induced sexual assaults much easier to prosecute and somewhat less frequent, even though its obviously still a big problem.

There is also a hidden demographic side to this story as well. The baby boom is getting much older. So the proportion of our population that is 16-30 and male (the most "crime prone" sub-group) is in steep decline. Older men commit crimes with far less frequency, so all crime has been declining. This is especially true for rape, which clearly has a biological component as part of the problem.

On the numbers side, and this is a little convoluted, so bear with me: Current rape statistics are underreported. But they have ALWAYS BEEN underreported. So even if the true numbers are much higher, the old numbers should have been much higher as well, so the decline is statistically significant and real, even if the raw numbers aren't. Unless for some reason rape has become further underreported in the last 30 years, and there's no evidence of that. If anything, current measurement techniques are much better then 30 years ago.

And finally, though this is by far the hardest thing to prove, I think there has been a cultural change as well. Women are more empowered then they were thirty years ago. There have been massive, somewhat successful "no means no" campaigns. And I think most men have changed as well. Once, it was thought that if a woman was raped, "she was asking for it" somehow. Now virtually everyone rejects that argument, and rape is widely considered one of the most heinous crimes anyone can commit, as it should be.

So, some good news for a change. I had forgotten what it was like.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Online Hearing Test

Well, since last week's post about cell phone rings that adults can't hear was so popular, I thought I'd post an online hearing test. Click on each, and see how well you can hear. You're listening for a continuous tone, not the popping of static in your speaker. Higher numbers are usually much more difficult for older people to hear.

11,000 Hz

12,000 Hz

13,000 Hz

14,000 Hz

15,000 Hz

16,000 Hz

17,000 Hz

18,000 Hz

19,000 Hz

20,000 Hz

21,000 Hz

22,000 Hz

23,000 Hz

24,000 Hz

25,000 Hz

I can hear up to 17,000. I can't hear 18,000, but it makes my ears perk with a slight pain. 19,000 and higher is completely inaudible to me, except for the static. Also, some of the higher numbers actually had trouble opening in my browser, so I had to download them and listen to them on Windows Media Player (with the spectral analyzer on, confirming that a sound was indeed being made).

Stolen from Americablog and Ochen.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Pennsylvania invents time machine, inadvertently sets civil rights movement back decades


A lot of people joke about Pennsylvania being Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Not having to bear the full brunt of the joke – I live in the non-Alabama part of the state – I’ve always taken that joke with a grain of salt. Not to mention that there’s some truth to the matter, but these days I’m feeling that truth more than ever.


The state’s House just passed on a bill that would amend PA’s constitution to include a ban on gay marriage, and also prohibits cities, counties and other subdivisions from overturning a mere “state-law”. Passed with flying colors too – 136 pro, 61 against.
Granted, this is just a mere step towards the goal, as it also needs to “pass the General Assembly in each of two successive two-year sessions and then win voter approval in a statewide referendum.” (Kim Lyons, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 7, 2006)
I honestly didn’t know what the turnout on a vote like that would be in the Ho(mophobic)use, but seeing that makes me cringe to think what’s going to happen in the Senate.
Let’s look at some of the main points of what’s happening here, though.
1. There are other issues like public transportation funding, property taxes, budget issues, and the appalling minimum wage that are currently being back-burnered.
2. Raising a lot of hype over this issue is clearly covering up that our elected legislators are doing nothing about those other issues.
3. Proponents of the bill speak of the concept of gay marriage ruining the sanctity of the institution, but as of 2004, for every two couples getting married, one was divorcing (the actual figures are 49.7%). This is up more than 3 times of the amount in 1954, when one couple divorced for every 6.25 couples getting hitched (16.06%). (Pennsylvania Dept. of Health, Bureau of Health Statistics and Research)

Pennsylvanians over the past fifty years have shown a growing disregard for the sanctity of marriage. So really what our buddies in the Ho’use are doing are voting to restrain the legal rights of the gay/lesbian community. Hey, why stop there? They shouldn’t be able to vote either, should they? Heck, that’d really help for when the bill would go up for voter approval in a statewide referendum…
While we’re at it, maybe blacks shouldn’t get married either. Or Jews – after all, we don’t even acknowledge the New Testament.

So while real issues like budget, funding needs, and the like go ignored, the Ho’use goes about trying to make some of its citizens very uncomfortable living here. These guys and gals aren’t even doing their job properly, but they want to stick their noses where they don’t belong.
Straight people are already wiping themselves with the “Sanctity of Marriage”, and doing the very thing that the Ho’use is worried will happen if gays are allowed to wed. So, the only conclusions we can draw here are:
1. A large segment of our elected officials are homophobes.
2. More likely, they want to ensure their reelection by “taking a stand” while letting more important stuff go untouched, so they can keep their perks while basically employing the work ethic of Homer Simpson. If they have to throw the gay community under the bus to do it, so be it.

All I can say is, whether or not this bill gets any further, it is a sad day to be a Pennsylvanian.
As a comedian recently said, "Gays should be allowed to be as miserable as the rest of us."

Demotivational Friday: Arrogance (a third time)



The picture is from Geno's, of course.

I remember when I was a store clerk, I did my best to treat the customers with respect. It wasn't until years later that I learned that respecting customers is actually counter-productive (from the perspective of store clerks, at least). When you're a clerk, your goal is for fewer people to come to your store, not more. If your store sells something necessary enough, it will continue to stay in business, no matter how poorly you treat your customers. Just look at any cell phone company. And even if you drive them out of business, you can just get another crappy job at their competitor or anywhere else. While good jobs are hard to get, lousy jobs are quite abundant in this country. So I'm really not sure why everyone in retail don't treat all customers like garbage.

In fact, immediately after writing my scathing blog entry about Geno's, I desperately wanted an authentic Philly cheese steak. Now, had I the time to take the train from DC to Philly, I would have gone to Pat's across the street instead. But if Pat's line was too long, I would go to Geno's, because I need the cheese steak more then I need to be politically correct. Sad, but true.

And if you think you're so much better then me, just try to not to spend money at Walmart (employs illegal immigrants, allows stores to refuse to sell birth control), McDonald's (sells Grade D meat and other poison), Amazon.com (refuses to let workers unionize, forces unpaid overtime and night shifts), Domino’s Pizza (funds a variety of whacko right wing causes), Clear Channel (monopolizes most radio stations and concert venues, shuts out small bands who refuse to sign ludicrous contracts) and every gas company (price gouging, environmental disasters) for one year. Then call me and tell me how morally superior you are. I dare you.

Anywho, here are my two previous Arrogance Demotivators. It's too bad I couldn't find a picture of Cheney at Geno's, but that's the way things work out sometimes.



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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Statistics: Vital Records by State

If you are looking for birth, death, marriage, or divorce statistics by state, you can find them at the CDC National Center for Health Statistics website. You have to click through a couple of times until you navigate to each state's page (ignore the part about "if you want to buy this record, send $ to here,") and then you sometimes have to do a search on that webpage for the specific number you're looking for. The federal government does a really lousy job of compiling these, so if you're looking for a comparative chart of any vital statistics, you usually have to do a lot of digging on their main site here, or just make the chart yourself.

Since most vital records are recorded on the county level, doing cross-tabulations of this data (for instance, if you wanted to know how many white women over the age of 40 get divorced, or any other variable cross-tabbed with some other variable) is often difficult or impossible. Since reliable macro level data isn't fungible, social research into marriage and divorce is often very unreliable.

As an aside, when you do a Google search for any statistic, its usually more efficient to search by typology instead of the name of what you're looking for. So instead of searching for "divorce statistics" or "black test scores" (which usually leads you to 1,000 different articles about those subjects) you should search for "vital statistics" or "standardized test scores by race." If that doesn't work, use an advanced search to limit your searches to web pages that include ".gov" in them. There is usually a federal agency that specifically collects what you're looking for. If that doesn't work, read any recent article on what you're studying. Look for the name of an academic who studies what you care about. Then Google their name on the webpage of wherever they teach, and send them an email asking for help looking for your numbers. They probably have them handy, and 90% of the time they are more then willing to help.

Monday, June 12, 2006

If you can't hear this, you're old.

Some nerds in England have developed a cell phone ring tone that adults generally can't hear, but kids can. Apparently its becoming popular in schools so that kids can keep their cell phones on in class.

You can listen to it here - I'm 28, and I can hear it fine. But I spent 9 years studying music, so maybe I'm an aberration. Or maybe I'm just young.

English Only in South Philly?

This is Geno's:


They're a decent cheese steak shack that has been around since 1966. The corner they occupy in South Philly is busy virtually all day and all night, with the line stretching around the corner around lunch, dinner, and 2am when the bar flies get thrown out. Recently, they've put up this sign:


Speaking as the son of an Italian immigrant, I find this kind of bone headed nativism to be all too common among my extended family, and working class white-ethnic immigrants in general. It’s more common among the second and third generation, but I’ve even caught first generation family members making the hackneyed slurs; Why don’t they learn English? They’re taking OUR jobs! Why don’t they go back to [insert unpopular country here]?

I find this whole situation revolting and sad. But besides soft racism and misguided pseudo-patriotism/nationalism, there is a real reason for this sign. Standing in line at Geno’s is a lot like standing in line at the Soup Nazi’s. There are two lines, one for cheese steaks (the long line) and one for drinks, fries, and everything else (the short line). If you’re in the steak line, the procedure is simple. With cash (only) in hand, you state the quantity you want, type of cheese you want, and the presence or absence of fried onions on the steak(s). One Wiz wit, or two provy without, or one American with, etc. If you don’t have cash in hand, or if you hesitate ordering when you get to the front of the line, you will be skipped over or moved back in the line by other impatient patrons, sometimes to the very back of the line, and sometimes physically. Attractive women and seniors get more leeway then others, anyone who looks like a tourist gets less.

The irony, of course, is that when Geno’s was founded, most of South Philly spoke Italian, and it was probably common for patrons to order in either English or their native tongue. I know for a fact that several of the people who work at Geno’s speak Italian, as I’ve joked around with them using my limited vocabulary. Spanish, especially simple every day Spanish, is really not that different. So the sign is clearly more of a statement then an administrative tool.

For the record, I prefer Pat’s across the street. They’re steaks are greasier and more juicy, and when I order “One Extra Wiz With” they give it to you drenched in oily Cheese Whiz, which is exactly how I like it.

Hat tip to Bizzyblog, who has a good roundup of the events around the situation here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Spite


Thanks to Missie for emailing me the pic. I'm pretty sure this is the Holland Tunnel, but I'm not 100%. Meh.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Article: Single by Choice?

I consider myself an armchair sociologist, so I’m always pleased to see moderately well researched articles about family structure. There was one such article in the Globe about never-married individuals...

More than ever before, men and women are living single well into their 30s, 40s, and beyond. It's been estimated that, as early as 2008, a majority of US households will be headed by an unmarried person - a shift that has already taken hold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and 15 other states. People continue to marry later in life, especially in this state, and some are opting out altogether, posing Couplists a question of their own: "Why bother?"

In 1970, only 7.8 percent of Americans aged 30 to 34 had never married, and 65.4 percent of all men were hitched, as were 59.7 percent of all women. By 2003, the number of never-marrieds aged 30 to 34 had exploded to 27.9 percent. The number of all men who were married had dropped to 55.4 percent, and barely half of all women were wed.


Interesting read, but somewhat misleading. Some of these changes are by no means a recent phenomenon. Many happened (and have persisted) back in the 70's and 80's when the invention of the pill, the passing of no-fault divorce laws, and the rise of women's income/independence radically changed family relationships.

A big part of this shift to "single-ness" is simply the delay in the timing of marriage. If current patterns hold (and they might not) around 90% of Americans over the age of 15 will marry at some point in their lives before they die. But middle class people are waiting until their careers are locked in, almost always after college, and sometimes well into their 30's or 40's.

The real change is that our society has started to accept a basic truth. The old male-dominated household is not the norm. Many marriages based on the old patterns have fallen apart. Some people have forged new, more egalitarian marriages. Some people have chosen not to marry at all. Lots of people are waiting until their financially secure before they marry.

But above all else, there is no longer a strong social pressure to marry. There is no reason to grab and hold onto the person you are currently in a relationship with, because people see the reality that marriage doesn’t always work, and that when it does work, it requires a great deal of effort. This, I think, is a very good thing. Those who choose to marry will have much stronger relationships because they know what they’re getting into. And those who choose not to marry can enjoy their lives alone without feeling ostracized. And our decreasing birth rates will be offset by our high rates of immigration. Everybody wins.

Except, of course, people who are wedded (pun intended) to the 1950's idea of marriage. Those people are screwed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's just a number...

A lot of people are freaking out because today is the sixth day of the sixth month of 2006 (666). Many Christian groups have taken a break from being angy at The Divinci Code to focus their animosity at the remake of The Omen. This make zero sense to me as the entire movie is about how much the devil sucks. They try to kill him. It's not like they find out their son is offspring of Satan and then take him to Chuck-E-Cheese and let him stay up all night in exchange for eternal life and a high ranking position in empire of the kingdom of lies. It's a two hour demon smear campaing, it's about removing satan from your life, it's the sort of thing Christian rock songs are made of.

Interesting fun fact from imbd.com:
"As part of its pre-release publicity campaign, and to point out the significance of 'the three sixes' as The Sign of Satan, the movie was sneak-previewed nationwide in the USA on 6 June 1976. While audiences inside the theatres were being scared witless by the film, theatre employees were out front, busily putting up specially made posters declaring: 'Today is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of Nineteen-Seventy-SIX!' Hokey though it was, the gimmick worked quite well, as many a theatre patron literally 'freaked-out' upon seeing those posters as they left the previews."

My point? We're all still here to see the remake! Okay, many people died during the twenty year period between the two movies, and I was born in 1977 so I wasn't there for the first one, but you get what I'm saying.

I don't believe in the devil. If I did (and I used to) I'm SURE he would not come on a day we were expecting him. He's the Devil. He's the biggest jerk in every plane of existance. He'll probally come on December 25th. Nobody would expect that AND he'd ruin Christmas for everbody....(and I was hopeing for an X-box 360)

So don't worry Christian doomsayers, the devil in not coming today and if by some....anti-miricle he does - nothing says eternal bliss like saying "I told you so" from heaven. It's win win for you no matter what happens.

On a completly different topic.....Mortgage demand dips as 30-year rate hits 4-year high of 6.66%

Friday, June 02, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Experience


Not to nitpick on amputee veterans, but I would have used:

Want this? Call:
1-800-GO-ARM-Y


1-800-GO-ARMY is the actual Army recruitment 800 number, and has an extra "go arm/arm gone" double entendre worked into it.

Also, I realize I've been particularly bitter this week, what with the world being dragged into Hades and all. So here's a picture of a puppy and a kitten sleeping:


Don't say I never did anything for you.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Distraction: Batwoman is a Lesbian

For decades, comic books have been the primary source of teenage fantasies - robots fighting ninjas, kids who develop super powers during puberty, women who fight crime in revealingly tight spandex, etc. And now they are taking the next logical step:

Years after she first emerged from the Batcave, Batwoman is coming out of the closet. DC Comics is resurrecting the classic comic book character as a lesbian, unveiling the new Batwoman in July as part of an ongoing weekly series that began this year.

The 5-foot-10 superhero comes with flowing red hair, knee-high red boots with spiked heels, and a form-fitting black outfit.

Artist's rendition of new Batwoman.


My preference for the new Batwoman.


Not that this is new or anything. In fact [insert homophobic Robin is gay joke here] for years!

Anywho, good for DC Comics. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint, and with any luck it will drive the Pat Robertsons of the world nuts to see a classic comic book character portrayed in an alternative light.

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The folks at Gillette are pervs, thank God!

The good folks at Gillette have come out with a new razor, and this one is for the ladies. It's the female version of the Mach 3 Turbo which (as you may recall) has a tiny motor and battery which causes it to....move. The Gillette website even goes as far as to comment on the Venus Vibrance's "soothing vibrations." Female razor....soothing vibrations. Seems very well thought out until you realize that they totally didn't need to waste the production cost on the "Moisture Glide Stripes."

Statistics: More Men Amore' Marriage

USA today has a short article about a very long statistical report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Men are more likely than women to prefer marriage over lifelong singlehood and in many ways are as interested in serious family relationships as women, according to a study that provides the government's first comprehensive glimpse into the male psyche.

...

For example, to the statement "It is better to get married than go through life single," 66% of men agreed, compared with 51% of women.

To the statement "It is more important for a man to spend a lot of time with his family than be successful at his career," 76% of men and 72% of women agreed.

"When asked about their attitudes about marriage and family and divorce, more men agree on the relationship of marriage," says Gladys Martinez, the study's lead author. "The majority agree it is better to get married, and few people agree that divorce is best."

This statistically confirms what I've known anecdotally for a long time: The stereotype about men being swinging bachelors that dread marriage is bunk. It is women who tend to delay or devalue marriage, usually in favor of personal independence, and for middle class women, because they want to establish their career before they "settle."

Keep in mind that 98% of all Americans will marry at least once at some point in their lives. So its not a matter of if men or women will marry, just the timing of their marriages and the likelihood of divorce.

Since its my job to understand stuff like this, I'll be reading through the insanely long report, and I'll blog anything I find particularly interesting