Sunday, May 26, 2013

Notre Dame quarterback booted

Notre Dame's quarterback has left the school. The stories imply that there was some sort of academic or resident life violation. There doesn't seem to be any relevant police report, so we may actually assume he was booted for not being a good student. Imagine that. Colleges often bend over backwards to keep their athletes. The great ones seem to make it back after getting nice sized criminal rap sheets. And academics? Well, as long as they play football, who cares?

It is refreshing to see a school require athletes to behave somewhat like real students. Perhaps this can help the NCAA as athletes are trying to claim they are "professionals" employed by the university.

Now we just have to see what impact it has on the school. The starting quarterback was booted. Another heir apparent had transferred to another school. After the Manti Te'o mess and the debacle of the BCS championship game, wouldn't it be a Hollywood ending if this new team came back and won it all? (Or better yet if they lost a close one to Stanford...)


Quiet is a book about introverts. It was a fun, interesting read. However, I felt it was going too far with the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. At times, she would discuss introvert characteristics, and I would say "that's me. that's me. Yep, I'm a pure introvert." Then she would talk about extroverts, and I would think "hey, I feel some of that too."

I'm just not a fan of the black and white. I can take a little from the Democrats, a little from the Republicans, and then sprinkle in a lot of Green and Libertarian ideas. Similarly, I have trouble seeing the world divided so strongly in to introvert and extrovert camps. The author even sees some problems with this, as she mentions in her afterward.

One section talked about the "Asian introvert ideal" of Cupertino and the high achieving Monta Vista high school. UH. Well, I guess that is how things may seem on the outside. Just the other day I was talking to somebody who's sun enjoyed jazz music. And there was the boy who really liked sports, but had pushy parents encouraging him to study more. And the kids who spent all the time on facebook when they said they were studying. And of course there is the rampant cheating.

Monta Vista does have its share of introverts. However, it also has a lot of heavily pushy parents. They paid good money to send their kids to the school and they want them to get good grades and good test scores. The kids go to all the tutoring and test prep. They get the good scores. They are also pushed to get the good grades. (A = acceptable. B = Beating...) However, does this make it an introvert Utopia? Not really. There is a forced Asia-based introvert ideal coming from the parents. The school injects the "extrovert" American education standard. Where does that leave the kids? Either with the best of both worlds or in a confusing mess. There are regularly students that excel at national and international competitions. There are also kids that cheat and have no motivation to learn. (They only want a grade.) Most of these highly stressed students end up going to the local community college. All that work and struggle to get a good grade, and they end up in the same class as the kid who never did his homework.

To be fair, the Cupertino part was only a minor portion of the book. Other sections talked about being true to the introvert. Sometimes introverts can succeed as "pseudo-extroverts" by being true to their passions and not trying to be something they are not. Introverts also need their "downtime". Introverts and Extroverts need to balance their needs and desires to succeed. Sometimes an introverted child may seem maladjusted, but they are really just behaving in the way they feel most comfortable. Our education system stresses the extrovert ideal, but some of the greatest leaders are the introverts (and some of the most colossal mistakes are made by extroverted boldness.

There are plenty of good bullet points that should make any introvert happy. (And if you are reading a book on introverts, you probably are one.)

Boy Scout Membership Policies

The Boy Scouts of America made headlines by revising the membership policy to no longer include boys based on sexual orientation alone. Some conservative scouts predicted doom and gloom. Gay rights activists applauded the change.

In actuality, the benefits will probably flow the other way around.

The policy stresses that any sexual activity by boys will not be tolerated. This will encourage scouts to place a greater emphasis on moral chastity. By having a wide open door to boys that are "questioning" their sexuality, the scouting organization will be able to play a larger role in their lives. They will not be forced to turn to the gay community for support.

Same-sex attraction is a behavior "quirk". It doesn't necessarily impact the ability to function in life. It could be akin to liking an obscure form of music. It can make you a little weird, and it can cause issues if you obsess over it. But, it doesn't create any direct harm. Lack of attraction to the opposite sex, however, is a Darwinian defect. Humans sexually reproduce. Without the attraction, obtaining a mate and reproducing becomes extremely difficult. Without reproduction, genes cannot be passed on and the individual has reached a genetic dead-end. While this would not impact the ability to live, it significantly impacts the ability to "carry on."

The modern gay-rights movement has tried to shift things around and call homosexuality an inborn sexual preference that should not be treated. This would make it like Down Syndrome. People with it learn to adapt and live their life. They can be perfectly happy. However, reproduction will be difficult.

The "gay rights" agenda seems to have gone to the extreme of proclaiming homosexuality as normal. Trying to "cure" people of it is considered bad and a waste of time. This, alas, posits a huge number of assumptions. First, it assumes there is a genetic binary gay/straight divide. One possibility would be a "dead-end" gene. If we assume it is a simple dominant/recessive gene, then we could see a rapid dye out. If it were dominant, it would never be passed on. (People with it could not reproduce.) If it were recessive, then you could potentially have heterosexual carriers. However, they would only have a 25% chance of gay offspring. Since the recessive ones would not reproduce, their representation in the gene pool would gradually decrease until they did not exist at all. A crude genetic analysis is shown below. There could also be more complex variations. However, if it is a trait that does not allow reproduction, it would quickly go away.

So, what has happened? Why does it seem to be occurring more frequently now? Some explanations are given by epigenetics where the gene expression is triggered during early development. But why?

Well, perhaps it is related to infertility. Today, there are many options to allow reproduction where it could not take place unassisted. Perhaps these contribute to the preponderance of the trait. There are also many means used to prevent or postpone reproduction. Perhaps some of these contribute to it.

Or perhaps it just isn't such a dichotomy. Attraction can occur on a spectrum. People tend to be attracted to different traits in a partner. Perhaps some of these occur more commonly in the same sex than in the opposite sex. Or perhaps there is some social conditioning involved. If you pop out at 50 on the 100 point spectrum and all your friends are at 100, then you may drift towards 100. Even a 30 may be pulled more towards the 100 side due to peer pressure. The advantage the gay community has is that it is the "outside" view. If somebody is feeling a little bit "different" than what they perceive everybody else feeling, they may be more likely to latch on to the outside view. Thus a small deviation could become significant. In the past, somebody that was 20% gay may have simply lived a hetero life. Now, they may feel more inclined to go the opposite way to live a gay life.

Or perhaps it is just a learned "preference" that is extremely difficult to change. It could be like being a fan of a specific sports team. Some people have the ability to change. But others may have the Packers so embedded within them, that they still support the cheese-heads even after moving to Chicago. I wonder what would happen if we lived in the age of the internet, yet without the activist movement. If people could go online and find same-sex partners, yet they knew they would be discriminated against and could be arrested for homosexual behavior. Would some gays never consider homosexuality, and live a perfectly normal life? Or would they appear to live an awkward life when where their preference did not match with their current living condition. All would probably not be the same.

Alas, today, it would be difficult to encounter the truth in the matter. And it may not be the same for everyone. Since homosexuality is officially "normal", a cure for it would not be sought. But isn't that a form a discrimination? After all, plenty of research is being done on other types of infertility. Why is this type of infertility being ignored? Yes, it is possible to get a donor or adopt offspring, but it wouldn't be the same as a true genetic child.

Going back to Boy Scouts, most of the boys are simply discovering their own sexuality. The membership tends to skew younger. A boy may have all sorts of attractions that may not have any bearing on the future sexual orientation. Being morally clean means not acting on these impulses. It doesn't matter whether the object of attraction is a boy or a girl. The attraction needs to be appropriately controlled. In the sexually-charged environment of today, that can be a challenge. If a scout comes out as an active participant in "free love" or "gay" activities, that could be grounds for discipline. Otherwise, discussing attraction should not matter much.

Some of this environment may be a logical result of birth control. Now that birth can be controlled, sex has become simply a "pleasure" activity. If we are worried about population growth, limiting reproduction seems like a benefit. Homosexuality has the benefit of allowing the "pleasure" without any of the "risk" of offspring.

There could also be ties to the Catholic priest (and other) sexual scandals. A few decades ago, a gay man might have found the celibate priesthood as an easy option. He was not attracted to girls, so he would not have to do as much to fight the sexual urges. Homosexuality had such a negative position in society that it would not even be considered. Then as the "sexual revolution" occurred, and people were encouraged to given in to their urges, the man found his position weakened. He found society no longer protecting him from his desires, but instead encouraging him to give in. Without the strong conviction otherwise, he faltered, and did so in a negative way. And after doing so, found society no longer supported him, but fought against him since it deemed his urge to be the one non-acceptable one. (There could also be a number of other factors - notably the possibility of riches. If compensation helps the victims, why do we limit it to those that are harmed by employees of deep-pocketed organizations? Why don't we just pool it all together and divide it out to all victims? And should we extend it to other damage? What about teachers that damaged self-esteem? Or the emotional damage caused by a girlfriend dumping you? But this is delving in to legal deficiencies.)

In the end, I think the scout policy is good. Controlling urges and impulses is one of the most important things that scouts can learn. The scouts can help each other as they do this. Maintaining celibacy in youth is a struggle these days no matter what the orientation. The scouts should be applauded for taking a bold moral stand.

Ugly genetic analysis.
Hh X Hh -> HH Hh Hh hh 67% carrier
HH x Hh -> HH Hh HH Hh

HH Hh Hh
Hh HH HH Hh Hh HH Hh Hh hh HH Hh Hh hh
Hh HH HH Hh Hh HH Hh Hh hh HH Hh Hh hh
4/36 hh - 11%
16/36 HH - 44%
16/36 Hh - 44%

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Podkayne of Mars

After going through some "heavy" books this is a refreshing relief. Podkayne is the diary of a human adolescent who grew up on Mars. Heinlein wrote it during the "bridge" portion of his career, near the tail-end of his juvenile period. Thus, he wrote a lot of what he wanted, but didn't get too "out there" as he managed to do in his later career. Podkayne has always wanted to be a starship captain. However, she had not traveled far from earth, and as a girl she felt disadvantaged. She also had a things for babies. (And she got experience with her family having young triplets.) Her younger brother is an early adolescent who is a technical whiz, but always causes trouble. The two of them get to go on a big journey with their uncle, a Martian politician. They get to ride first class. We follow them along on the journeys and experience the social hierarchy of the ship, the challenges with a radiation storm, and the vastly different culture of Venus. (Think Las Vegas owned by a single corporation.)

Then suddenly we find out the uncle is on a secret mission, there is a kidnapping, a giant bomb goes off and the story ends.

The end seems to come on much too suddenly. Did Heinlein just tire of the book? The end ties together many pieces from earlier, but it seems to be forced. I can see him saying: "I'm bored. Rather than continue this exploration, I'm just going to throw in the action sequence here and call it a day."
In Heinlein's original version, the bomb kills her. In the version here (made "happier" at the request of his original publisher), she is seriously wounded. This, however, is just the last few paragraphs. And for the story, it hardly matters which one is used. It is the few pages before this where Heinlein seems to have given up.
On the audiobook, the narrator fit's the book perfectly. She has just enough of a juvenile bubliness to make it feel like the character Podkayne.

College ROI

Payscale has an attempt to calculate ROI of a college education. The most significant thing you can take from it is:
If you are going to stop with a Bachelors degree, make sure it is in Engineering. 9 of the top 10 schools are engineering. And number 10? Stanford, a nice elite school sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Other than that, you probably have more questions than answers.
In the top 20, a few non-engineering schools appear. They are located in Boston, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and New Hampshire. So, it pays to go to a school in a big city where you can get big wages, or to at least go to a rural ivy where all the jobs are in the big cities.

A degree that pays well makes sense. After all, the cost of college is very similar, no matter what you study. I think there were some small additional "lab fees" or increased tuition costs for engineering and science classes when I went to college. However, even then (when a $1000 scholarship easily covered a year's tuition), the fees were barely a rounding error in the total cost of tuition.

A university located (or connected to) a large job market is also a big plus. Big City U may charge a little more for tuition than Podunk U. However, Big City U grads have plenty of high paying big city jobs. Podunk U may have a few recruiters come from the big city, but most students will stay in podunkia.

Some lawyer friends described their law firms as focussing recruiting in the Ivy League, but getting one or two of the top students from the local university. Similarly, some of the big consulting companies will focus their recruiting on the prestigious universities. If you are going to be paying similar private college tuition, might as well make it count. Alas, not everyone can get in there. However, they can choose a lower tier college that has a good location or employment connections.

The methodology of the study had a gazillion holes. Tuition and using only terminal bachelors are just a couple. The total tuition cost was estimated to be higher for people who took longer to graduate. However, many of these students took a year off, or went to school part time. Thus, total tuition costs would be similar to regular graduates. I graduated in five years after starting. However, I took two years off for a mission, then finished up by doing a study abroad my last summer. (I even debated going back for one more semester, just to use my full four year scholarship.)

Including only people with "terminal" bachelors degrees is also a significant issue. At some schools, most people may end with a 4 year degree. However, the top students may go on for more education. This would cause stats to look worse. Alternatively, a school may send most people to graduate school. Only people that had a great career would not pursue more education. (And how would people like the Google founders be treated? They went to grad school, but didn't finish. And Mr. Facebook? He never graduated from Harvard, but if he didn't go there, he wouldn't have started the company.)

These, and many other problems made the calculation of ROI and ranking of individual schools very error prone, and not terribly reliable. However, the big picture observations look more reliable.

Notes from the Underground

Notes from the underground is the story of a grumpy old man as thinks and meanders around St. Petersburg. Actually, calling it a "story" is probably stretching things. There is not much of what you would call a plot. (Though there are a few "episodes" that follow some sort of structure.) The events happen, and you get a feel that this guy thinks about things a little too much. He has trouble living his life because he is constantly worried about some small perceived wrong. Then he looks for revenge, but is conscious of it, and usually ends up punishing only himself. It is not "action" centric, and takes some focus to really appreciate.

Code Talkers

At first, I thought this was a well written memoir. It seemed amazing that one many could have so many experiences. Then part way through, I realized that it was in fact a work of fiction. Now it seemed much less powerful. It seemed as if the author was throwing in every major event from the Pacific Theater of World War II. The beliefs and values of the narrator also seemed to be more forced. Rather than reading the forward thinking views of a half-century ago, we have modern sentiments projected on the past. Thus it comes across as more preachy and didactic.

Luckily, most of the book is focussed on the action, so we can skip over the preachiness and "kitchen sink" approach to history. It is a compelling World War II book about a Navajo code talker that actively participates in many of the battles. Since this book was written, a "real" code talker memoir has been published. That might be a better one to check out.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories

Mark Twain has his own sense of humor. In the short story collection he can be a little more callous than he is in some of his more popular novels. He doesn't accept one bit of self-righteousness, and prefers the down-to-earth to the pompous. His characters emphasize that nobody is perfectly good or perfectly bad, and events can happen to people regardless of their disposition.
The stories included the following:
The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg -- The town prides itself on being extremely honest. A traveler doesn't like this, and sets off a plan to corrupt them. He has a large sum of money for the man who "helped" him. The person is supposed to write a letter with the phrase that he uttered to help the man. The man then sends letters to each of the "big" men of the town mentioning this phrase as a means of testing their honesty. They all bite, and make a mockery of the town's honesty. However, the keeper withholds the letter from one man, saving him the embarrassment. However, this leads to that man having internal torment, and he ends up dying shortly thereafter. The town now had a negative reputation and eventually changed its name. Down with hypocrisy!
The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County -- This was a lot shorter than I remembered.
The one million pound bank note -- A penniless man finds a million-pound bank note. Nobody can cash it, but everyone now treats him as wealthy. He amasses fame, but is conservative in the money he spends. Eventually, his notoriety allows him to earn real money and marry into wealth. (Is this anticipating celebrities whose only claim to fame is that they are famous?
Edward Mills and George Benton : a tale -- One guy did good all his life. The other did bad. Every now and then, the bad guy would try to do good for a bit in order to reap the many benefits of society. He managed to amass many friends and others trying to help him. Eventually, the bad guy kills the good guy in a bank robbery. The good guy is fairly ignored, while everyone tries to help the bad guy. A century or two later, society still falls into the trap. We spend many resources on attempting to "reform" and "educate" those that have "chosen poorly". The occasional success story helps keep this going. Meanwhile, those that work hard and try to do good are pretty much ignored. (After all, they are doing what society wants, no need for society to expend resources.) As long as the "bad" make occasional presentations of good, they can continue on their debauchery.
The stolen white elephant -- Absurdist
Cannibalism in the cars -- Dark humour where people talk very formally about "who they will eat".
The story of the good little boy -- Goes with the next one. Bad things happens to good people.
The story of the bad little boy -- ... and good things happen to bad people.
The man who put up at Gadsby's -- Don't recall much from this one.
Baker's blue jay yam : what stumped the blue jays -- This one didn't seem to stick either
A double barreled detective story -- This is a long story that involves Sherlock Holmes, a mistaken identity and a complicated revenge plot. About halfway through, the story changes from the "revenge" plot to Sherlock Holmes. I thought I might have accidentally gone on to the next story. However, at the end it finally all ties together.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Federalist Papers

The federalist papers are a series of articles defending the US consitution. It is not a "story" and is a struggle to get through. (It seems to be the type of source that you would use to extract "quotes" to support some viewpoint.) Many of the points are still applicable today. Some of the points are verified in the negative. In defending the president, one key point is that access to repeat elections is unfettered. Oops. Maybe the "lame duck" second term presidents we have is part of our problems today. Also, today's representative constituency has far exceeded the "optimal size".

The dates at the start of each "paper" help drill in the fact that the creation of the USA was a long process. A dozen years after 1776, the American continent is still far from having a unified country. At the time it was still much like an infant European Union. (Perhaps we should send this to the EU as they struggle to create a unified system while still maintaining autonomy.)

In the discussion of judges, the authors attempt to counteract the perceived weakness of the judiciary. Well, the judges have managed to take much of that into there own hands today. (And we are now having the opposite issue.) There are also many other tidbits of the debate. Some are still right-on today, while others are long since dated. These guys obviously spent a lot of time thinking about and supporting their pet cause, the US constitution.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Penultimate Truth

Most of the world now lives underground. They think there is a devastating nuclear war going on above the earth. They see videos of Detroit being destroyed and of their brave leader reporting on need for increased production. However, the war actually ended a decade ago, and the people above the surface are living a posh life, with plenty of robots to help them out.
There are conflicts going on up there, with people trying to get more power. One guy from "down low" attempts to go up to get an artificial organ to extend somebody's life and steps in the middle of things. There is also some limited time travel, with an attempt to set "alien artifacts" in the distant past accidentally helping an American Indian to extend his life from then to the present day. Eventually some people die and the people below are told the war is over and that they can go back up. We hear the story of a "spin writer" longing to craft some rationale for what happened and make it sound good.
The fake war is an interesting idea. However, the conflict here gets confusing. I had trouble keeping track of who didn't like who and why they were doing things. Maybe that's why this hasn't been made into a movie - yet. (Though it is used for the title for a movie about the author.)

The Education of Henry Adams

The Education is a history of Henry Adams' education. This process started when he first started remembering, and continued on up until immediately before his death. Since he was the grandson of a president, this education had a fairly elitist flair to it. OK, it comes across as very elitist. Even the many attempts at questioning come across as pompous. Telling the story in the third person doesn't help.
It is interesting, however, to see how somebody lives through the many changes happening through the time of the civil war to the beginning of the 20th century. He was a diplomat in England at the time of the year, and observed England doing pretty much what America has done in many conflicts since. Idealistically, England supported the US in the war due to the anti-slavery view. However, commerce pre-empts idealism, and England officially was on the side of the confederacy.

We also get Adams questioning some of the "accepted" wisdom of changes. Darwin and science were providing revolutionary alternatives for grounding in basic values. However, all of these theories had their weaknesses, and were simply the trendy thing of the day. He seemed to be not a big fan of the "all-encompassing" theory, and seemed to somewhat ironically choose one as the modern invention.

At times he delves into issues that were big concerns of his day, but seem trifling to us. At other times, he just seems to ramble on about things. He betrays remarkably little about his actual day to day life and employment, and instead focuses on his thoughts, especially as compared to other times. There are plenty of good parts here, but it is more a book about exploration than "found wisdom".