Wednesday, April 27, 2005


It's kinda like GAUUACA

While doing a little light reading in Biological Sequence Analysis: Probabilistic Models of Proteins and Nucleic Acids, which is actually a terrific resource if you're into that sort of thing, I realized that the title of the movie Gattaca is composed of only the four letters which are used to represent the molecules of DNA. This really comes as no suprise considering the nature of the film. Then I realized that I probably wasn't the first to realize this. I was right.

Just remember that GATTACA can be GAUUACA when transcribed to RNA.


Gotta Find a Scapegoat

HP is cutting jobs at its plant in Boise, ID, by offering employees generous severence packages. Employees who have taken these packages and who are considering getting out of town to head for greener pastures have been talking to realtors about selling their homes. One agent is quoted in the Idaho Statesman as follows
"They're all saying: 'How much can we get for our house?' " She said most HP homeowners she's spoken to hope to sell their homes and relocate for new jobs, a potentially money-losing proposition despite Boise's strong housing market.

"When I tell them how much (closing costs) will be, many of them can't afford to sell," she said. "Many had a second mortgage to pay off credit card debt and buy all the Boise toys we all seem to like — SUVs, snowmobiles and boats. They already took all the equity out."

Budell said she tells clients they could pay 9 percent of their home's sales price or more on commissions and the common practice of helping a buyer with closing costs. She said she wonders how some families will swing it and worries about "seeing a lot of foreclosures."

This situation seems like a excellent example of being controlled by money and debt rather than being in control of them. Folks have purchased themselves into a hole despite the rise in equity they've seen in their investments. They'd have been better off if they hadn't realized until they needed to sell that their homes had appreciated.

I'm sure they'll always have the mortgage company that offered them the home equity loan to blame for their misfortune.


Environmental Heresies

Stewart Brand, who's had his fingers in biology, architecture, computer geekery, futurism, and sustainability and who has the pedantic habit of denoting years anno Domini with 5 digits padded by leading zeros as (un)necessary, has written an essay entitled Environmental Heresies, which appears in the MIT Enterprise Technology Review. This essay explains Mr. Brand's belief that mainstream environmentalists will reverse course on four issues in the next decade. As proof that the environmental movement can change its position on an issue in the face of new evidence, i.e. commit heresy, Brand points to the shift from desiring the elimination of forest fire to considering wildfire vital to healthy forests.

Here's a summary of Brand's four heresies:

Population Growth
Brand predicts that environmentalists will cease to decry the imminent threat of an exponentially exploding world population. As evidence, Brand cites a 2002 UN theory that human population growth is slowing and is headed for zero growth. Brand says that birthrates are declining in every culture.
Brand attributes a number of environmental benefits, including decreased population growth and restoration of rural areas to natural habitat, to increased urbanization. Consequently, he prognosticates that environmentalists will reverse their belief that cities are evil and villages are virtuous.
Genetically Modified Organisms
Brand claims that ecosystems are extremely robust and are designed to adapt to the introduction of new genes. He uses this assertion as the basis to foretell the eventual acceptance of GMOs. Then, almost contradictorily, Brand says that a primarily motivator for this acceptance will be the need for GMOs to reverse the effects of the new genes that man has introduced in the form of invasive species to ecosystems which did not prove robust.
Nuclear Power
Brand portrays nuclear power and its accompanying waste recycling or sequestration requirements as the least worst option among continued fossil fuel consumption contributing to more atmospheric carbon and immature alternative energy generation technologies.

I've often hoped that GMOs and nuclear power could provide solutions to some of the environmental problems we face. Unfortunately, Brand doesn't present a convincing case that these technologies, particularly GMOs, have panacea potential. I still think designed organisms which are developed using genomically informed focused hybriding rather than engineering techniques hold great potential and have the ability to fly under the radar of GMO detractors. On the other hand, Brand's arguments for the slowing of population growth and the benefits of urbanization intrigue me; I really should investigate them further.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Montana County among the Fastest Growing in Nation

Golden Valley County, which was just up the road from where I grew up, is listed by the Census Bureau as the 21st fastest growing county by percent in the country in its annual press release detailing the 100 fastest growing counties.

Golden Valley accomplished this feat by adding 60 residents.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


The Worst 10 Years

Recently when I was discussion Social Security reform with a friend, he concluded that because the stock market always outperforms savings bonds we should have private accounts for Social Security. I agreed with him that the market outperforms bonds over the long haul but that that it didn't always do so well in the short term. He replied saying that the worst the market has done in a 10 year span is something like 10%. He was pretty close; the worst 10 year period for the market was 1965-1974 in which the market had a total return of 12.3% for an annualized return of 1.2%.

The highest close for the S&P 500 was 1527.46 on March 24, 2000. Today the S&P 500 is around 1187.76. For the index to have a 10-year return of 12.3%, it needs to increase 44% to 1715.33 in the next 5 years. This rise would represent an annualized gain of 7.7%.

The lowest year end close Dow Jones Index has ever experienced was around 60 in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. The increase from 60 points to today's 10507.97 is a total gain of 17413.28%, or an annualized gain of 7.4% for 72.25 years.

In summary, the stock market will have to outperform at least one major index's long term average in the next five years to prevent 2000-2010 from being the market's worst decade.

Simply from a statistical perspective, I would expect the market pendulum to swing back to the black significantly over the next half decade, beating long term averages and annulling this post.


Quote o' the Day

From the comments to Paul Graham's advice to computer science undergraduates:
The real reason it is hard to learn what math is about is that mathematical understanding requires new and difficult (at least at first) ways of thinking. Cookbook calculus courses sidestep these difficulties and therefore teach little of value. Really understanding calculus was hard for Newton and is hard today.
After finishing Calculus I & II with "A" grades and then later realizing that I knew little about calculus, I've been significantly disappointed in that aspect of my education. Yes, I'm looking at you, you, and you.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Quote o' the Day

Recently, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show interviewed Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Friedman's appearance was primarily a promotion for his new book, The World Is Flat, which argues that telecommunication advances such as the Internet have leveled the economic playing field for information employment, such as tax prepation and computer programming, allowing citizens of Third World countries to participate in economy of the First World more equally.
Friedman: Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test. We've gotten a little fat, a little dumb, and a little lazy. We've been riding on our success.

Stewart: Mmm, hmm. That sounds like the America I know.

Friedman: Right now, basically, we've got a President who is focused basically on taking apart the New Deal when what we really need is a new New Deal to deal with this flattening world and basically empower...

Friedman goes on to say that he thinks that the American people need a challenge to inspire them as Kennedy's Moon Shot inspired a previous generation. He suggests that the Presidency is the ideal bully pulpit from which to launch such an endevor and that the development of alternative energy sources be the grand project.

While I think Friedman is right about myriad benefits which would come from significant advances in alternative energy generation, I have absolutely no idea how such a project could be construed to excite Americans, particularly a generation of school children. Maybe we could tell the children that they won't be able to play video games any longer because they won't be able to afford electricty to power their game system on the service industry job salaries which will be available to them.


Tommy Made Me Do It

NPR reports that President Bush, in his quest to convince the nation of the need for privatized retirement accounts, recently took a trip to the office of the Federal Bureau of Public Debt. This agency is a branch of the US Treasury Department and, therefore, is part of the President's Administration. One might expect that when the President takes a trip to a Federal office, that he would talk up the merits and good work of that office. Instead, the President did the opposite. He ran down the office and its product, pejoratively referring to US Savings Bonds as "'I.O.U.s' -- not real money."

These US Treasure Bonds are the financial product which the investment industry generally considers one of the least risky investments in the world. In fact, the Treasury Bond is the vehicle which allows the current government to spend far more than it is bringing in because they are the primary means through which the government borrows to cover the shortfall in its budget. Yet, the President belittled this investment and agency which he is ultimately in charge of.

Apparently, the President's motivation for this trip and self-deprecating condescension is to create uncertainty in the public mind as to the viability of the future of Social Security. In his words, "It's time to strengthen and modernize Social Security for future generations with growing assets that you can control, that you can call your own, that the government cannot take away."

While I absolutely agree that Social Security is in need of fixing, I cannot agree with the repairs that the President desires to make. I believe that the American people largely believe that the President's intended repairs are misguided; why else would he put on such a conflicted show in which he seemed to be saying that the government has no intention of continuing to pay back its debts? I think this most recent media circus demonstrates that the Administration is desperate to drum up support for the President's plan because it has so little popular support.

Recently I received a phone call from Progress for America, one of the many ignoble 501(c) organizations which indirectly lobby for a politician or his policies. Actually, to describe the communication as a phone call is too generous; it was phone spam, a recording of Tommy Lasorda urging me to call my Congressman to voice my support of President Bush's proposed Social Security reforms. I decided to take Tommy's advice; I decided to write my Congressmen to ask them not to support the President's Social Security reforms until he offers a plan which both contains specifics, not mere demagoguery, and will not undermine the Social Security benefits that the American people feel that they've been promised. If the President wants to reduce the guaranteed payments of Social Security, he should lobby to do so overtly instead of lobbying for a policy which will undermine the ability of the system to pay that which it has promised. I also suggested that a real Social Security reform worth considering is to increase the $90,000 cap on the portion of one's earning which are subject to Social Security taxation.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?