Social Stereotypes

Tonya Jameson of the Charlotte Observer recently penned an article with an interesting title: “Why Don’t White People Mind Being Stereotyped?”. I’m not quite sure how to react. There are all sorts of thoughts going through my head. For the record: I have no idea if the film in question is funny or not – but I do think that the Wayans brothers have had some good humor in the past. They’ve also had some pretty bad attempts at humor.

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Moron Language

I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on language – even (or especially) English. I leave things dangling and jam sentences together and all sorts of things. But still, I can’t help but notice when people who write for a living make mistakes. Shouldn’t these people, who earn their living writing, be able to construct a simple sentence?

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Writing Headlines

It looks like they’ll let just about anyone write headlines for the paper, without apparent regard for how well they can assemble a sentence. For instance: “For 3rd year, Vatican had deficit in 2003”. Would someone please tell me how in the world someone – anyone – can run a 3-year deficit in a single year (specifically, in 2003)? Do we understand what they are saying? Probably. But come on. It’s not that hard.

Getting the Data

I briefly mentioned that my local paper stopped providing articles without requiring a registration. It’s a free registration (at least at this point), but I find it annoying. For weeks, I made do without. Then I noticed after searching that an article listed as Charlotte was showing up on a completely different domain. Turns out it is the same company – just another way of getting at the data without registering. So I’m back.

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Reasonable Measurement

The radioactive half-life of an element is a measurement that determines how long it takes for half of the atoms in that element to disintegrate. Some elements have a half-life measured in seconds, minutes or days. Others have a half-life measured in thousands or billions of years. How exactly does anyone reliably determine such a figure?

I understand that measurements are generally exact, at least to our limited perception, and using standard equations should result in a particular value. Moreover, if you can see a decent progression happening over a particular window of time, then it should be reasonably simple to come up with a decent guess as to the half-life of an element. The one thing you will need is a constant – or at least an understood – rate of decay.

Even though this rate may seem constant to our measuring techniques, how can anyone think that the rate will remain constant over 4.5 billion years? Assuming that the rate of decay does remain constant, how do we know that some other factor – some outside influence that changes the conditions – won’t alter the rate of decay at some point in the future? While outside influences aren’t generally understood to affect such things, what happens if we find out that they do?

There are just over 2 trillion days in 4.5 billion years – that’s a lot of opportunity for change. Especially interesting because many of the elements that have such a large half life weren’t even known until recent years. Uranium, for instance, wasn’t discovered until 1789, and it wasn’t even isolated until 1841. That’s a lot of advancement – and change – in just 54 years. Why do we think that there won’t be even more in the next 4.5 billion?

Let’s assume that Uranium’s rate of decay had been examined since the day it was discovered. You’re only talking 200-plus years. How can a measurement taken over that small of a sample reliably reflect data for 4.5 billion years? The sample would only be five 10 millionths of the whole – and I feel very confident that the rate of decay hasn’t been measured since discovery!

Recently, the government’s effort to build a nuclear waste facility in the Nevada desert suffered another setback. Now I don’t have anything against the folks in Nevada, and I don’t necessarily think that this is a good idea. But the latest argument against this project is that the designers can only predict how well the facility will hold its contents for the next 10,000 years. The effect on someone living in near proximity to the facility indicates that they will be 60 times over the allowable limit of radiation – in 270,000 years.

I’m all for being environmentally responsible, and I am not necessarily recommending that the government move ahead on this project. What I don’t get is how anyone thinks that we can possibly predict reliably what things will be like 10,000 years from now – much less 270,000. What if the designers come back and say that they’ve altered their plans and that things are all set – and for 500,000 years, the radiation will be well below allowed levels?

What if they are wrong? Who in the world will be liable for the problems that crop up 13,000 years from now? Our country can’t even seem to get over slavery issues – and those ended just 150 years ago. Even if you blame the government, who in their right mind would think that any entity that exists today would be around in any form in that kind of window? Microsoft, sure. But who else? Even Larry Ellison ought to have given up by then.

Assuming that those issues can be handled, what if someone in 20 years – or 200 or 2000 or 20,000 – decides that the allowable raidiation level is a tenth of what they projected? Ooops. I don’t have a problem with science, even though this may come across as such. I’m all for it. However, I don’t see why we think we can predict things so far in the future. Even if the numbers are right, all sorts of things could change between now and then. Just look at the discoveries of the last few hundred years.

To think that the sum of our knowledge will simply stagnate for the next four-and-a-half billion years seems to me to be very narrow thinking – or very egotistical. Perhaps the effort should be expended on trying to make things decay more quickly, develop or discover methods for ridding ourselves of the mess we’ve already produced – or even come up with safer alternatives.

Bloglines Toolkit 1.4.0

I received a note from Simon about an extra separator line in the context menu appearing, even though the context menu had been disabled. He even sent me the code where it was happening! So I’ve whipped up another version of the toolkit. The only change is that the second separator will not display if you have the context menu disabled – if you like the separator displaying, or if you have the context menu enabled, this version will do nothing for you.

Pointless Procedures

Most of us have credit cards. Anyone notice how more and more locations have signs indicating that you must hold out your card and show it (and ID) to the cashier? If so, have you noticed how rarely the cashier actually follows this procedure? A few years ago, I wrote ‘Check ID’ on my credit card, as I have no problem if a cashier asks me for some photo ID along with my purchase. In fact, I like it.

The problem I have is that they don’t. Nearly everyone flips the card over to check your signature line, but very few actually read it, and fewer still compare it to what’s on the card. Just seeing some scribble of ink there apparently means that it’s okay. Those few who do ask me for ID almost invariably look at the ID and check the name on the card to see if it matches. Anyone notice a missing step here? They rarely, if ever, actually look at me to see if I may in some way resemble the person on the ID. Think that might be a useful step?

What about when you’re in a grocery store of some sort, and the cashier needs to void something because it rang up incorrectly? Ever see the manager come over to fix the problem? How many times have you seen the manager give the keys to the cashier, then seen the cashier verify the manager’s code, and then proceed to fix the problem themselves? The manager, now on the hook for fixing problems, has no idea what just transpired under their watch.

I don’t have a problem with procedures. I do have a problem with procedures that don’t have any effect. Why bother with implementing more and more red tape if it’s just going to be ignored? I guess so that when people complain, they can introduce more procedures, designed to speed things up again. Maybe the best idea isn’t to throw bureaucracy at a problem, but really try and solve it in a way that makes sense. Is that really too much to ask?

Rustle or Jingle

It costs 4.2 cents to produce a dollar bill. That dollar bill lasts for 18 to 22 months. Meanwhile, it costs 12 cents to produce a Sacagawea Dollar – but the coins last for thirty years. The cost of keeping a dollar bill around for thirty years is somewhere between 69 and 84 cents. That may not seem like much difference, but when you’re talking about billions of dollars in circulation, it can add up quickly.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, the cost of processing one thousand dollars in one dollar bills is approximately $10.11. To process the same amount of money in dollar coins would cost just $1.22. Why so much difference? Bills jam more easily than coins. How many times have you tried to feed a bill into a vending machine, only to have it spit back out at you? Now think about how much trouble you’ve had with coins. I’m guessing it’s a lot less (it is for me).

Lines would move faster. You need a coin, you reach in a pocket or a purse of some sort, grab your change, get what you need. Meanwhile, if you need a bill, you either pull a crumpled wad out of your pocket and spend fifteen seconds straightening out each bill or you have to find your wallet, open it, leaf through and pull out the right denomination. Which will be faster?

The long term cost is lower, the hassle factor is lower, the speed is faster. Yet dollar bills are still far more prevalent in the US than dollar coins. Why is that, exactly?