Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another position on the Lance Armstrong debacle

Is here, courtesy of a commenter on Gene Veith's site, which I heartily recommend. 

In the linked article, it's noted that about five years ago, scientists realized (a la Walter Shewhart) that if you tracked the patterns in blood tests, you will start to notice some anomalies that are statistically significant.  To use the quality engineer's way of describing things, you put the results on a control chart and watch for violations of the Western Electric rules.  When you see violations, you ask the doctors if the violation is consistent with doping--usually adding extra red blood cells or EPO to the rider--and make your decision.  It's a pretty neat technique, and one that I've discussed (when applied to another topic) recently in an interview.  It's used to prevent trouble in car parts and medical devices.

The article suggests that it's likely Armstrong did dope, a conclusion with which I tend to agree, but there are still a number of questions out there.  First of all, if the tests are consistent with doping, why bother with getting eyewitnesses, a number of whom are dopers themselves? 

More importantly, if it's all about the sanctity of the sport, shouldn't USADA be checking the results for all athletes tested before going to the press?   Shouldn't they be looking at ways to get these analyses done in a shorter period of time?  Shouldn't they be working to quantify the danger of the drugs and the advantage gained?  To put it mildly, if the USADA's PR department was told to make the group look like jerks, they did a great job--or possibly Armstrong did it for them.

Quick note on the science: both EPO and blood doping (adding red blood cells) work by increasing the amount of oxygen the lungs can get to the muscles.  Above a certain limit, it's a health hazard--I'm fairly close to the upper limit without EPO or doping, but it doesn't make me much faster.  So what we have here is dopers using their own blood to "optimize" their oxygen intake--it's not quite the same thing as the East German swim team, Ben Johnson, or Lyle Alzado taking all the horse steroids as they could get away with.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Doping alert!

Those who think it's a very important thing that former friends of Lance Armstrong have accused him of taking performance enhancing drugs need to take a look in their grocer's poultry aisle.  I recently purchased chicken breasts and found that they weighed about 1.3 pounds apiece, and when cooked, the ~7.5 lbs of chicken gave off about 1.5 lbs of liquid--fat and water.

Although steroids are not legal for use in raising chickens, I've got suspicions.  For starters, what kind of mutant chicken devotes 2.6 pounds of its live weight of six to eight pounds to this one area?  Second, one of the symptoms of steroid use is increased water retention, AHA!  

OK, since I didn't find implants, it's pretty obvious that chicken farmers are feeding steroids to their birds.  Either that, or the new meat breeds are designed to have a lot of valuable breast meat, and the carcasses soak up about 10% of their weight in the cooling tank after slaughter. 

I don't know what is grosser; that chicken carcasses contain up to 10% of cooling tank water (which typically includes a fair amount of chicken waste), or that some people are possibly using steroids to grow their birds.  But either way, wouldn't you agree that it's the seriousness of the allegations, not whether they're presented in a fair trial within a reasonable length of time, that matters?

Well, that's what you think if you're a bureaucrat with the cycling federation!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Contract job bait and switch....

One interesting thing I've noticed on this job search is that I'm getting a fair number of calls for contract jobs, and in general, most recruiters simply double the hourly wage and claim "well, this looks like a very good wage."  They then seem rather surprised when I note that when one counts the cost of medical and dental insurance and the FICA match, that hourly wage doesn't sound so good after all.  It is as if many of my fellow engineers are not doing the math to calculate these costs.

It's surprising that employers and recruiters think that they can get away with this, and shocking that apparently many of my fellow engineers are failing to do the math and are letting them do exactly that.  Aren't we supposed to be a group of people  who can do basic arithmetic?

If you happen to be looking for work, and the possibility of contract work comes up, a good rule of thumb is that the contract wage should be about 30% higher to cover both insurance and FICA, and about 20% higher to cover insurance alone if the employer covers the FICA match.  If you've got a family and typical base salary in your field is less than $60,000, those numbers go to 40% and 30%.

If you happen to hear someone complain about there not being enough engineers, ask them what they're offering to pay.  Five will get you ten that what they're offering is not comparable with what engineers in the field are usually paid.  There has always been a shortage of engineers willing to work for 40% less than the going rate, after all.

A couple of recent examples; one company requesting an IE with eight years of experience offered a contract rate lower than that generally obtained by new college graduates in the field.  Another looking for a QE offered a rate as low as assemblers in that same company--unskilled labor really--were getting. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Never thought I'd see these bumper stickers together!

I saw this one at the park about a week ago; the one on the left has emblems of all religions forming the word "coexist," the one on the right spells out "tolerance," and the one in the middle says "It's God's job to judge the terrorists; it's our job to arrange the meeting."

OK, help me out here.....

Lance Armstrong has apparently been, according to the U.S. cycling federation, doping throughout his career without ever being caught in 500 tests, approximately one per week of his cycling career. 

Now, one thing I remember from my childhood cortisone injections (Kenalog)  for poison ivy and allergies is that the wonderful effects of this steroid last for about a month or more.  In the same way, if Armstrong was adding extra blood cells, those also live for about two months--trust a soon to be 14 gallon donor to know this.

So if Armstrong was being tested weekly, or even monthly, and it was not detected, then we have only a few possibilities:

1.  The tests aren't worth beans.

2.  The tests work, but Armstrong's doping level was below the critical thresholds.  (keep in mind here that the synthetic drugs Armstrong is accused of taking have extremely low thresholds)  Would this really be an issue?

3.  The cycling federation doesn't really care about doping, but pretends to just to preserve a modicum of credibility.

Whatever the facts may be, Lance Armstrong is not the key problem  It's the anti-doping committee of the cycling federation.

H/T Mr. Dilettante

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where we're headed?

This link reports--and cites laws--indicating that at least in Oregon, implementation of the Obamacare "Health Insurance Deform" law is going to pave the way for 15 year olds to be surgically sterilized--with no provision for parental consent or even notification.  It is as if legislators and regulators in Oregon are blissfully unaware of the foolish things teenagers will do in order to have sex, and how parental involvement might help young people avoid a life-altering decision to satisfy their hormones.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yes, this is offensive

Witness the purchase of 174,000 hollowpoint rounds in .357 magnum by the Social Security administration.  Now, I know that, in our age of each agency having its own police instead of using the GSA, rounds will be purchased.  However, I have serious doubts that the 350 or so armed workers for Social Security are going to be needing 500 rounds of hollow point ammunition apiece annually. 

I can see about a tenth of this amount for final qualification with their service revolvers and occasional use, but for routine practice, ammunition companies manufacture a product called "full metal jacket" that is for cheaper and--given that the .357 mag is usually a snubnosed and fairly inaccurate pistol to begin with--will give every bit of accuracy these agents need.

The same goes for the half billion or so rounds of hollowpoint .40 S&W purchased by DHS.  Typically, FMJ rounds go for a quarter or less apiece, and hollowpoint rounds for at least twice that--often four times that.  We don't need our government agents to be using these all the time at the range.

An accomplishment for Obama?

My local newspaper reports that, due to the ongoing recession and the introduction of fracking to release new natural gas deposits--the latter of which the Democrats tend to oppose--carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are as low as they were in 1992.  So by failing to revive the economy and by failing in his attempt to prevent oil and gas companies from fracking, President Obama has complied, apparently, with the Kyoto protocol.

Added note; the latest gasoline usage numbers indicate that gasoline usage in May 2012 is lower than it was in 2001.  The peak was, of course, just before Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid began to head the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Looks like someone has failed in his goal to get people commuting again!  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Creative accounting at the NHTSA

Which is claiming that the near-doubling of corporate average fuel economy to an average of will "cost automakers only $157 billion." while saving consumers about ten times that amount.  Let's do the math on that one.  We'll start with the premiss; that automakers will pay the cost, while consumers will reap the benefits-- as if automakers do not pass the costs of government mandates on to the consumer as a matter of survival.  The NHTSA isn't starting off well in the credibility department, to put it mildly.

Going further, the most fuel efficient car in mass production today is the Toyota Prius, which tops out (as really a four seater) at about 51mpg.   So we can safely assume that for automakers to achieve the federal mandate, their technology will need to exceed that of the Prius--which costs over $6000 more per vehicle than the comparable Corolla.  No, contrary to some opinions, it's not equivalent to a Camry, which is why Toyota makes a hybrid Camry, too.

We might assume that we could get some cost reductions as these go into higher volumes, but reality is that we've been making these batteries and motors for a while now--the latter really for a century--and hence it's unlikely that we're going to get huge decreases in the cost. 

So let's assume that in each year, an additional 10% market share will need to go to hybrid or comparable vehicles--with the last two years' cost indicating that all vehicles will need to go beyond current hybrid technology.  What is our cost? 

Approximately 100 million hybrid vehicles, or the vehicles purchased over about eight years, will need to be sold with an average additional cost of somewhere around $5000/vehicle.  In short, the actual cost for implementing this is about three to five times what the government says it will be--no surprise there.

Now, given that we're keeping our vehicles for an average of ten years or more, what will the consumer actually save on gas?  It's hard to tell, not knowing what gasoline prices will be, but let's try a model.  First of all, the previous standard was to be about 35mpg by 2025, which is an improvement of about 2% per year.  So we will see how much an additional 2% per year improvement--average of 3.5% for light trucks and 5% for cars minus 2% planned improvement--will save.

Answer: about three hundred billion dollars over the next twelve years, or about half of what the program will cost.  So when you see government efficiency mandates and the numbers they use to justify them, distrust, then verify, then distrust some more, as Mitch notes at Shot in the Dark.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An interesting thought.....

If I am indeed correct that it is rather heartless to spend a lot of time and energy to prevent voter ID laws from being enacted, would it not follow, then, that one great way for a church or political party to really help the poor (and possibly get their seats in a pew and/or their votes) is to help them get their birth certificates and state issued IDs--with extra credit given for helping them to get a drivers' license?

Yes, I think it would.  Hmmmmm....

Friday, August 10, 2012

No more gloom and doom for this blog today!

My good friend Jim Peet pointed me to this little heartwarming story.  Isn't it...sniff....lovely when a story has a happy ending?

What happens when you don't speak up

Here's an interesting column from the Detroit News about the Obama administration's move to require passenger cars to achieve better than 54 miles per gallon.  Notice that the automakers were apparently sparring over various credits to be given for hybrid and other technologies, but apparently no one opened up the most obvious objection:

There are no mass produced vehicles capable of meeting this standard, nor is there a plausible path towards achieving this standard without eliminating entire categories of vehicles while greatly increasing the cost of new vehicles.

Had the automobile makers simply united to point out this obvious fact, this debacle could have been avoided.  Instead, they chose to play the game of "this regulation will hurt my company, but I'll make sure it hurts other companies more.", and now the whole country gets to pay for it.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Gluten addiction; not just yeast breads!

Being the Mob's Gluten Addiction Czar is a huge blessing, especially since my daughters decided to learn how to make phyllo leaves and then proceeded to make baklava one day, and strudel the next.

But for some odd reason, my weight loss has stalled.....thanks, kiddos!  (you're hired as soon as I start a real boulangerie!)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

So who really caused the Great Recession?

According to a member of the Federal Reserve board, it's the same guys whose cluelessness caused the Great Depression, of course.  Hopefully this time, we can put two and two together and realize that government management of the money supply does not in fact lead to economic stability.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Yes, it's beyond time to remove Obama from office

Here's a great column that illustrates why.   Rewrite of immigration law, rewrite of welfare reform law, rewrite of Most Children Left Behind, rewrite of Obamacare when the provisions of his law became onerous to his supporters....and none of it even bothering to consult Congress. 

Article 1 of the Constitution notes very clearly that this kind of thing must start in the legislature.  It's beyond time for the legislature to rein in a lawless President.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Things to watch out for at church--or anywhere

My friend Jim has a post about a scandal at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.  Evidently, the head pastor has been found to have bedded a then 16-year-old female member.

Now, despite growing up 25 miles from Hammond (exit 26 on I-94 in Indiana, you can figure it out), I never have entered their building, nor did I have a desire to do so.  However, there are a number of things from which we can learn in this sad case if we're willing.

First of all, as Jim points out, it can be very dangerous to have a father and son ministering together--a father will tend to overlook the moral faults of his son, as Jack Hyles is said to have done for both his son and son-in-law.  A commenter of Jim's and mine also notes that a similar thing happened at Jim's current church.

On a different level, though, churches that avoid nepotism can fall into the same trap by falling into a cult of personality.  Let's take a look at First Baptist since Hyles arrived in 1959.

1.  You have a church filled with images of their most famous pastor, including a gaudy bronze of him and his wife.
2.  You have a Bible college named after him, also filled with images of Hyles.
3.  Hyles persuaded his congregation, with no Biblical or secular evidence, that not only was the King James the "only" Bible, but also that no one could be saved unless the KJV was somehow involved.
4.  He kept his Bible college and pastorate despite a string of sexual scandals, many involving his own family.
5.  When his son in law took the pastorate, he changed the church away from KJV-only theology simply by announcing that the KJV was not the only Bible out there--nobody apparently challenging him.
6.  His son also came up with a theology that argued that when someone comes to Christ, it is a spiritual version of intercourse with Christ.

Now look at #6 carefully; it's very close to, but not, good theology.  As Ephesians 5 notes, the Bride is being prepared for wedding to her Lord--not yet wed.  She is betrothed, not married.  So we have first of all the problem that people stayed despite Schaak's argument--not too many saw through it.  And it gives the obvious question; did the young lady come for counseling because of doubt of her salvation, and the pastor volunteered to give her "a little bit of Christ" for her faith's sake?  And to how many did he do it?  The statistics I've seen indicate that molesters of girls average about eight to ten victims.

No matter what happens with this sordid case, I think we call can agree that if the doctrine of a church--or the positions of any other organization--are grounded in no authority higher than the head of the organization, that organization (church, company, etc..) is in trouble.  Pray for the leadership of 1st Baptist, that they will see their need to build their church on the teachings of the Bible, and not simply upon the authority and personality of their leaders.  They will then face the daunting task of teaching their members--if they indeed stay--to be good Bereans who will keep their pastors honest.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Another reason our economy is in the tank

According to this column by Juan Williams, about 10% of Pennsylvania's registered voters do not have a state issued photo ID.  Moreover, about ten million American voters do not have a state issued photo ID,  do not live within ten miles of the nearest DMV office, and do not have access to adequate public transportation to get there.  Now, Williams, a Democrat, is unhappy that this will likely prevent Democrats from voting.  So let's take him at his word.

Let's start by noting that Pennsylvania, like most states, does issue state photo IDs to those who do not want a drivers' license.  So this is not an issue of senior citizens ending their driving careers and thus losing the franchise because there is no photo ID available for them.  One can also, of course, get a U.S. passport and also be eligible to vote.

Rather, we must assume that up to one in five likely Democratic voters do not have the necessary identification to get a job, take out a loan, travel domestically or internationally, get an account at the bank, buy a home, or drive.  I would have to guess that if the Democrats stopped worrying about voter ID laws and started worrying about why so many of their voters are unable to participate in modern society, they might do an awful lot for the economy as all these people finally had a chance to get their first decent job and their first decent home.

So much for the Democrats caring about the poor!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Something new in the schools to stop bullying?

In the paper today, it was noted that the State of Minnesota apparently has a new program for reducing/preventing bullying in the schools.  Now, as someone who took his share (and more) of abuse as a kid, I can at the very least applaud the motivation.  Junior high school can be Hell for the kid who doesn't fit in, to put it mildly.

That said, I was somewhat surprised to see that one of the initiatives was "adult role-modeling of civil behavior."  So either the committee that came up with this plan was under the impression that teachers were not required to model civil behavior, or they're aware that this should be no change for the vast majority of teachers in public school districts, and is thus completely meaningless as a provision for reducing school bullying.

(put more bluntly, either a lot of teachers are currently abusive, or the committee is having a bit of trouble with logic, or most likely, a bit of both)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Let's count the legal problems with this one.....

Apparently, knowing that the victims and bereaved families of the 35W bridge collapse five years ago were going to lawyer up, our state legislature decided that it would be a good idea to remove the statute of limitations for such actions--in this, but in no other, case.  In short, we have an ex post facto law which is functioning as a bill of attainder, and the original design company and designers are (a) out of business and (b) deceased, and thus unable to defend themselves in court--another clear Constitutional issue.  Even more bizaarely, the Supreme Court chose NOT to slap down the State of Minnesota for this egregious miscarriage of law.

I'm hoping that wiser heads will prevail (if we have any of those left in our fair state) and MNDOT will be left to pick up the pieces, as it should.