Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughts on environmentalism

Around my town, I've noted for a while that a lot of homes have roofs that....let's just say they've seen better days.  Until a few weeks back, I was ready to attribute this to the economy and the hope to "make it just a few more years" until the roof actually starts leaking.  Then I noticed that a large portion of homes in a newer (< 15 years old) neighborhood were this way, and so I asked the roofers who came to one of these homes what was up.

It turns out that when the homes were built, the builder is said to have sold buyers on "environmentally sound" shingles built on a cellulose base instead of a fiberglass base.  Over time, as micro-leaks allowed water to get to the cellulose (paper and such), it absorbed water and degraded the shingle--as anyone who ever re-roofed a home with these shingles (they were standard prior to fiberglass shingles) could tell you.

Lessons learned?  Well, for starters, as cellulose (paper) production is one of the most polluting things we humans do, it suggests that this is another example of "Environmentalist" meaning "Person who cannot do math or science".  (e.g. Al Gore)  On the bright side, if indeed these shingles were sold as "environmentally friendly," it suggests that even small town America can be persuaded to do environmentally friendly things without the law forcing them to do so.

Or, alternatively, it means that my neighbors cannot do math and science, or quite possibly (as the "eco-friendly" shingles are simply the older, inferior technology) that the builders were trying to get the houses completed as cheaply as possible.

Let me get this straight......

....according to Chief Justice Roberts and four others, the government cannot order us to purchase a product based on the Commerce Clause.  However, the government apparently can order us to purchase a product as long as the incentive to purchase that product is described as a tax.

In related news, an East India Company spokesperson noted his gratification with this decision and reiterated calls for compensation for the wanton destruction of its wares on Boston Harbor.

Seriously, apart from the fact that the Obama administration furiously argued that the noncompliance fine was not in fact a tax, this makes a bit of sense--what is the tax code these days except for a hodgepodge of incentives and penalties that costs us $400 billion annually before the government gets a penny of revenue?  But that said, today is not a good day for liberty.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I don't get it

Apparently, there is a new practice called "SWATting", where someone sends a note to the police alleging an urgent criminal situation whereby a "dynamic entry" will be undertaken.  OK, I understand the motivation, I understand how it works, but one thing I do not understand:  without clear identification of the person making the allegations, why are the police acting on this with a "dynamic entry"? 

The reason I ask is simple; one of the key issues homeschoolers like my family deal with is unwarranted investigations, and one of the things the HSLDA consistently does for its members is to remind over-eager social workers and policemen that they do not have warrant for an investigation on the basis of an anonymous allegation.  Federal law requires peace officers and social workers to be trained in the 4th Amendment.  So why is this working?

The only answer I've got is that many peace officers are still not taking the 4th Amendment seriously, and it's about time they did.

H/T Mr. D and others

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts on food

One of our neighbors recently gave my family a couple of boxes of food;she knew that I was out of work, and also that she had some food in her pantry that she wasn't going to touch for some time.  Since most of the food was prepackaged foods along the lines of "Tuna Helper", "Hungry Jack", and such, it was something of a change for our "made from scratch" kitchen.  Some was reasonably good, some left something to desired, and all in all, it reminded me of what we all desire in food: some sugar, some fat, and some salt. 

The difference between food that gets Michelin stars and that which gets the air sickness bag award is simply how these key ingredients are treated.  Any fool can add extra sugar, fat, or salt (or usually a combination of the three) and come up with something that seems semi-palatable, but the genius of fine cooking is how to make a tiny bit of these key ingredients scream for attention, like in a good brioche , a steak cooked over high heat, or carmelized onions or mushrooms over that same piece of meat. 

For those about to rock (the kitchen), we salute you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book review: Out of the Crisis

Thanks to interlibrary loan, I had the privilege of reading W. E. Deming's classic book "Out of the Crisis" yesterday.  For the uninitiated, Deming was a guru of quality engineering who played a huge role in making Japanese industry what it is today.  If you've ever bought anything from Toyota, Honda, Sony, Hitachi, or a host of other Japanese companies, you have Deming (and a hot of other American QEs who went to Japan because U.S. businesses wouldn't hire them) to thank.

The book is more or less a summary, written at a time (1980s) when the national psyche was terrified of what would happen if, God forbid, the Japanese ever got more than 30% market share in automobiles.  And so Deming used a very simple motif--basic statistical tests along the lines of Shewhart's control charts--to point out the folly in any number of areas.  More or less, his point is that, from corrective actions to annual reviews and incentive programs, statistics generally point out that the problems at hand are not special causes, but rather the ordinary variation of the system.

The end conclusion he makes--to summarize perhaps too tersely--is that managers need to organize a system that works for the long term. 

What strikes me at the end, though, is how few of the companies I've worked for follow Deming's wisdom.  Now to be sure, two of the four are out of business, and a third is likely to follow, so perhaps this isn't such a bad bit of data after all.  And to be sure, Toyota and Honda are still going gangbusters.  But even so, I wonder what Deming would think to know that few American companies use his statistical methods to evaluate their policies, let alone subscribe to his "14 points" or avoid his "7 deadly diseases.  I reckon he would have something to say about the matter.

Maybe those of us who inherited his wisdom should.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Update on CFL lightbulbs

As an engineer who likes efficiency, I've tried a number of different CFL bulbs--probably about 100 in toto in the past decade or so--and figure that others wondering what to do in replacing lightbulbs (and electing politicians) might be interested in my experience.

The bulbs I like best are the simple bare bulb 60W equivalent in a "bright white" or "daylight" style; I've had to replace very few of them, and they seem to indeed last the full 5-10 years promised for such bulbs.  I still doubt that they actually last the promised 10,000 hours of use, but they at least do indeed save money. 

Second best are the 60W equivalent bulbs for recessed lighting--they also give you a few thousand hours of use, and really reduce the power needed to light a room.  Honorable mention goes to some three way CFLs I bought about a decade ago.  All of these lasted several thousand hours, even if I'm not sure that MTTF averaged 5000-10000 hours as promised. 

Bulbs to avoid; as far as I can tell, the rest of them.  Why so?  I'm not sure, but my hunch is that the bulbs are really designed to work at "60W equivalent", and when the design is "tweaked" to work at 75W, 100W, or 40W equivalent, the designers simply haven't done the reliability work to make them actually work well.

The worst bulbs I've seen are the small round and enclosed bulbs intended for bathroom vanities.  They literally do not last as long as the incandescent bulbs in the same fixture. 

So a word to the wise; 60W recessed and bare CFLs work pretty well, and the rest?  Well, write a letter to your Congressman letting him know that the claim that all CFLs work for 5-10 years is, to put it politely, false, and that he'd do well to lift the coming bans on incandescent bulbs if he wants your vote.  Or, for that matter, a well lit bathroom.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On the importance of big books

Here in my town, a religious group decided to do something interesting; they put a copy of a book by "E.G. White" (not clearly labeled as such) into each mailbox in the county.  Now, apart from the apparent illegality of the scheme--those mailboxes you buy are technically "federal property" after all--it struck me how subtle it was.  They didn't announce who they were, and despite an abundance of evidence presented, they really didn't get at what they were trying to do.

Enter a book a spiritual mentor told me to get--Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, which let me know that Ellen Gould White was a self-styled prophetess of the Seventh Day Adventists, and that William Miller was the prominent early theologian of that denomination.  So now I can let you know that if you should get a copy of "The Great Controversy" in your mailbox from a group in Coldwater, Michigan, it's supposed to push you towards being an Adventist.

OK, 300 pages later, no dice--Judas ("better if he had never been born") and the thief on the cross ("today you will be with me in paradise") took care of that. (Adventists do not believe in Hell or the presence of the believer with Christ immediately after death)   OK, and a love of meat and coffee doesn't help, either.

 But that said, I'm very glad that Pastor Tom pointed me to Elwell's work.  It's been a blessing again and again, and (whether in the dead tree version or otherwise), I cannot say enough in favor of the big books Tom had me buy for myself.

Side note; the Adventists seem to have a soft spot for a lot of the same things as characterize Landmark Baptists.  It makes me wonder whether they were plagiarizing the same books.....

Friday, June 15, 2012

Update on the homosexual parenting debate

Apparently, the APA is standing by its meta-analysis of 59 studies of the effects of homosexual parenting, with a couple of very interesting quotes:

The author of the report, University of Virginia psychology professor Charlotte Patterson, fully noted the limitations of the studies, said Mr. Herek,

"which was that when you compare children raised by lesbian or gay parents … they really don’t look much different from kids raised by comparable heterosexual parents.”

Now without getting into the debate itself, the limitations of the APA study are that few if any of the studies they cited had either sufficient sample size or a control sample.  The claim, then, that the outcomes for the children of homosexual parents are similar cannot be sustained for a very simple reason; the hypothesis has not, by the APA's own admission, ever been tested.

If this is representative of the APA's thinking at its highest levels--preposterous claims that can be refuted by a simple look at their methodology--we may be entering a dark age in terms of helping the mentally ill, to put it mildly.

I'm thinking the Founders would be appalled.... Victor Davis Hanson gives a new--or really a very old--name for the legions of under-educated, over-indebted graduates (and non-graduates) of our higher education institutions.


Let's just hope, for the sake of our modern day Helots, that the apprentice Hoplites in DC don't remember the classical initiation ceremony into the Spartan army.  Or perhaps, some of the helots might see it as more humane than what they were used to.  Ouch!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On microstamping gun cartridges

Apparently, many chiefs of police are eager to require new firearms to have a firing pin which will "micro-stamp" a unique ID onto spent cartridges, and cannot figure out why anyone would object.  Well, let's look at the evidence.

For starters, the method is useless if the crime gun is a revolver (a large portion of crime guns, #1 and #6 on the FBI list), where the cartridges stay in the firearm until removed by the owner.  Going further, as the article admits, the serial number is only visible half the time, and the best identification studied is "most of the time"--and that with new firing pins, not worn tool steel.  It's worth noting here that identifying a gun by the marks the firing chamber leaves on the outside of the cartridge tends to be just as effective.

It's also worth noting that firearms, unless heavily used, last a long time, so requiring new firearms to have this feature doesn't make a big difference quickly. I personally own a .22 rifle that is over 100 years old and still works wonderfully. 

Finally, tracking firearms by serial number only works if the firearm is traceable--and in a world where most criminals get their gun via theft or a private sale, one simply cannot do this.  So what we would have would be a very expensive way of tracking very few criminals--but a very inexpensive way of infringing on the rights of the law-abiding gun owner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What does this mean?

Mitch Berg clued me in to this article here; more or less, median net worth (assets-liabilities) of U.S. families has dropped by 40% in the past few years.  Now with housing dropping precipitously, and Americans doing most things with debt instead of with assets, this is not terribly surprising, but what surprised me is that median net worth of families is only $77,000 these days.  It's along the same lines as when a friend of mine claimed--and I don't know whether it was true--that Bill Gates' net worth of $50 billion at the time was greater than the net worth of the 50 million poorest Americans, indicating that the bottom 50 million Americans have an average net worth of $1000 or less.  Ouch!

Back to Mitch's source, if we consider that hypothetically the median family would be in their forties or fifties, averaging out whether they are married or not, this surprises me.  Aggregate savings for "1.5" people in the workforce over approximately 25 years--40 man-years more or less--is about $2000 per year, or $6/day--and that not even counting the appreciation of investments.  To put it in everyday terms, aggregate daily savings among "median" Americans are similar to the cost of a trip to Caribou or Starbucks.  Even the previous number--$125,000 per family--represents savings of only about $3000 per year, so the problem isn't entirely (or even primarily) the loss of housing equity. 

My best guess is that it's the things we "can't do without."  For some, it might be eating out instead of a brown bag meal.  For others, it's cable TV, or a trip to Starbucks each day, or a new fashionable wardrobe each season, or the trip to the gaming hall.  And if we take a look at the spending habits of the middle class and poor, these expenditures are what we see among the "median."

So if you're concerned about great wealth gaps--and count me in that category--it's probably time to admit that #1 on the Pareto is not rich people rigging the game.  It's the middle class and poor--people like me--who "can't do without" their daily pleasures.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Even I might be able to figure this one out

I haven't read the whole article yet, but this very interesting refereed journal article by Dr. Loren Marks of LSU notes that when the APA released their meta-analysis of 59 studies claiming that the children of homosexual parents did not differ statistically from the children of heterosexual parents, 26 of those studies did not have a heterosexual comparison group or "control," and none of the studies had a sufficient sample size to find small differences.  Also worth noting is the prevalence of single parents as a control group--13 of 33 studies--when the research does clearly indicate degraded outcomes for the children of single parents, and the fact that in the remaining 20 studies, important data about the control group (marital status, income, race, etc..) is not listed.  In short, it would appear that in none of the studies cited by the APA was an actual, valid statistical test performed.

Now no matter where you fall on issues regarding homosexuality, this ought to be of concern.  More and more often, it appears that researchers are simply not following basic procedures in their research, and their colleagues are not calling them out on this.  Like in this case.  And since more and more public policy is being decided on the basis of studies like these, we all have a lot to lose.

Why Six Sigma got so popular

I've been trained as a Black Belt, and recently received my "Certified Quality Engineer" certification, and it struck me while studying for the CQE exam exactly why Six Sigma is so popular.  First, a quick clarification on the differences: the CQE certification really goes "soup to nuts" in terms of all phases of quality management, while Six Sigma, at least as I was taught, really concentrates on the statistical methods.

So why, then, does the partial course get more billing in many places than the full course?  My take is that many companies that practice Six Sigma--including one I used to work for--really, really, really don't want to be confronted with quality principles like those of Deming, and really, really, really, really don't want to be told, as Deming famously is said to have told Ford executives, that 85% of their quality problems lie in the executive offices and board of directors.

Or, it could be just that Six Sigma is the most recent fad, but I have to wonder if many executives are passing up on the benefits of more comprehensive quality management because too many important toes would be stepped on.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Now how did that happen?

A few years back, I was intrigued to see a book called "Open Embrace," where the authors--newlyweds of two years at the time--detailed many of the reasons that they had walked away from the typical evangelical endorsement of barrier and chemical birth control.  I bought and read the book, mildly encouraged by their stance even though my own view is "not quite that of the Catholics, or even that of pre-1930 Protestants."

And then I learned that they had walked away from their stance in 2006, walked away from evangelical Christianity to the Eastern Orthodox churches (which ironically also oppose contraception), and then finally walked away from each other in divorce. 

Now, one could--but I won't--delve into personal issues and say "aha, that was it," but really I think that misses the point.  Rather, I noticed something in the book; not only did they not discuss the standard argument against contraception--the story of Onan--but they also really didn't develop a Biblical theology of marriage, but rather assumed it.

In other words, the testimony of their book indicates that their difficulty was, at least in part, that they were not rooted in authority, and then to no one's surprise they ended up....rootless. And I'll be fair here; I hope and pray that time proves me wrong about this couple.  However, one thing I can say for sure; in whatever we do, we do well to examine whether our roots and foundations are sound or not.

And if you're curious, my personal stance is that the Bible is authoritative when it says to married couples "Be Fruitful and Multiply", but that Onan's sin was primarily disrespecting his father, defrauding his brother's wife, and attempting to blot out his brother's memory while stealing his brother's birthright and inheritance, not the spilling of the seed. Hence I do not oppose non-abortifacient contraception, though I do wonder why anyone would deliberately put a tire in the middle of that wonderful affirmation of marriage.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

On objections to voter ID

Regarding voter ID laws, one common objection is that it would disenfranchise people who do not have a drivers license, other state issued ID, or passport.  OK, so let's think this through; you cannot get a job, be in the military, fly in a plane, get a loan or credit card, buy or rent a decent home, and a lot more with out one of these IDs.  Now I know that we view ourselves as a Democracy where everyone gets to vote, but do we really want people this disconnected with our society to vote?    Do you want someone who has never held an honest job to be formulating economic policy, for example? 

In the same way, are we doing these people any favors by giving them fewer incentives to get an official ID and thus be eligible to participate in these functions of society?  Now it's not the total solution to the problems of the underclass, of course, but I cannot help but wonder if voter ID might prompt some to rejoin society by getting that ID.

Or, put differently, it seems that many opponents of voter ID are quite happy to see people live in squalor, as long as "their" side gets those peoples' votes.

Friday, June 01, 2012

On banning sex-selection abortions

Apparently, Republican congressmen are working to ban an apparently common practice in some cultures; that of sex selection abortions.  While I agree with them as to its barbarity, I have to wonder how you would prevent it.   You see, only the most hardened abortion clinic workers are willing to look at the child on ultrasound before the prenatal infanticide, so it's unlikely that too many clinics are advertising "We'll kill your baby girl for you!" 

Rather, what would most likely happen is that the couple would go to an ordinary ob/gyn who does not perform prenatal infanticides, learn the sex of the child through ordinary ultrasound, and then make their appointment at the clinic that does perform prenatal infanticide.  So how exactly you would pass a law that would prevent this is beyond me.

So nice thought, but......let's think of some laws that will actually help someone, OK?  And if there are indeed clinics where the "doctors" advertise "We'll kill your baby girl!", well, let's make that public, and see what falls out.  I'm guessing that even NARAL will have trouble defending that one.