Friday, September 23, 2011

At SFO testing out a Chromebook

Standing at SFO, trying out a Samsung Chromebook at a Google Chromebook kiosk. Pretty fast, pretty cool... so long as you have an Internet connection.

(Also, it says that it's a "series 5"... where did the first four go?)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What might this mean about voting for a half-Black, half-White presidential candidate (or incumbent)?

Andrew Sullivan links to a Gallup post discussing the changing trend in the acceptability amongst Black and White respondents to the question of marriage to a member of the other race. With only slight word changes (that went from "colored people" in 1958 to "non-whites" from 1968-1978 to -- presumably -- "blacks" in subsequent surveys), there has been an ever-upward trend in both populations. Americans in 1958 had only 4% approval, but this had climbed to 86% in the most recent poll. Presumably, though, Whites were a vast majority of the early surveys, due to the demographics of telephone owners.

Indeed, looking at when Gallup started to ask about race (1968), White Americans showed a 17% approval (compared to the 20% national number). However, in the latest survey, White Americans showed an 84% approval of Whites marrying Blacks.

Why might I find this terribly interesting? Well, partially because I'm mixed race (although it's Japanese/White, and not Black/White), but mostly because I see a confluence of some different things: marriage, morality, and voting.

What's troubling for me has been listening to the "debate" about the validity of same-sex marriage. The religious right has been -- for a long, long time -- chipping away at the notion that marriage holds a legal meaning that is separate from religious meanings. Therefore, it's possible for two atheists to get married to each other and have the same governmental recognitions that a married Christian couple has (or a married Jewish couple, or even -- *gasp* -- a married mixed-religion couple). The marriage between a Jewish friend of mine and his Christian wife is just as valid to the state as the marriage between two Christian friends of mine. The churches and temples to which these friends belong may (or may not) approve of their choice of spouse, but have no secular legal recourse. The most that they can do, if they so choose, is to react within the confines of their ecclesiastical bounds.

However, if you listened to the talking points of the religious right, and if you believe their position, then marriage isn't primarily a governmental institution, but a religious one (and for many, it seems to be that their point of view is that the only valid religion is Christianity, and the only valid version of Christianity is their own). This turns the idea of government recognition on its head (unless you prescribe to the notion that this is actually a religious country founded upon religious ideals that -- for some reason -- aren't to be found anywhere in the founding documents of the country, nor can any analogues of the founding documents be seen in the Bible). However, there are many people who do believe that marriage is a sanctified bond that is between only one man and one women (regardless of what the Bible actually says about different acceptable forms of marriage and regardless of what prior Christian custom may have been, either).

In short: there are a vocal group of people who viscerally believe, with unshakable resolve, that marriage is a matter of, for, and from religion, and that viewpoint brings us to the point of morality.

For many people, religion is the source of morality. I could go on about why this is flawed logic, but suffice it to say that I believe that if people can find morality outside of their own religion, then either not only their own religion is moral (and perhaps their religion may not be the only "real" one) or morality is not exclusive (or necessary) to religion. However, regardless of what I feel about morality and its connection with religion, many religious people do believe that religion and morality are connected.

Now, connect the unshakable resolve about marriage and religion together with religion and morality, and you'll be at a point where many anti-gay-marriage religious believers are in this country: proper marriage is an issue of morality. (Which, although inconsistent with the large universe -- let alone world -- of reality, is a central point that seems to be held with fanatical fervor for many in the religious right, or at least those that I read about, hear on the radio, and see politicians pandering to.)

Well, let's pivot slightly from gay marriage to miscegenation. The Bible was historically used as a justification for slavery and the Jim Crow laws following the Civil War. It was also used to defend laws against miscegenation that were finally struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia. However, just because the Supreme Court struck down miscegenation laws doesn't mean that it struck at the religiously motivated moral reasoning that institutionalized those laws in the first place. (Indeed, such religiously motivated moral reasoning was likely presented as reasons why Whites shouldn't marry Blacks before and after the Loving decision).

Let's now look back at the graph of White and Black approval of marrying a member of the other race. While it is positive to say that 84% of Whites approve, it is also appropriate to say that 16% of Whites do not approve. Let me say that again: 16% of Whites do not approve of Whites marrying Blacks. When surveyed on August 4-7, 2001. During the presidency of the first mixed-Black/White president. (The facts that the marriage was brief and that his father may have been married to two women at the same time may well only diminish the moral legitimacy of Obama's heritage.)

Does this mean that 16% of White America (and 4% of Black America) will be casting a vote in 2012 with this on their mind as part of a moral choice? Might it have affected how they view the validity of Obama's very claim to the presidency?

Looking at the tabular data, perhaps these people wouldn't vote for him, anyway:

Conservatives and Republicans only approved of Black-White marriages at 78% and 77% levels, and in 2008 these groups voted for Obama at 20% and 9%, respectively.  (People with only a high school education did vote slightly more for Obama than McCain, though, so maybe this issue did weigh in their decisions.)

Interestingly, about 4% of Blacks did vote for McCain, which is the same percentage that don't approve of Black-White marriages.

Shinto Shrine Code?

Over at AltJapan, there's a story about a video that shows that Shinto Shrines act as a visual code to show the break line of tsunamis along the coast! WOAH! A tsunami hit Fukushima... and none of the shrines got destroyed?! That's got to be some major divine mojo working there!

20110820 原発建設 警告は無視された? by PMG5

... or it's just Shinto shrines being built at the location where historical tsunami broke against the shore. As explained over at AltJapan:
It is not for nothing that Shinto shrines are generally built on high ground. One resident interviewed in the piece relates how local lore, handed down from parent to child, said to take refuge at the local shrine in the event of a tsunami. It proved true during the disaster, saving many lives.
Like the "tsunami stones" and folktales found throughout the region, these shrines represent an attempt from those who lived long ago to communicate the dangers of tsunami to future generations. It seems likely that's precisely why they were built in these specific locations.
Woah... a set of religious structures built based on observations of natural phenomenon, acting as a predictive guide to the impact of occasional catastrophic seismic events? Now that's religious encoding that works! It's almost like evidence-based predictions of flood-zones, but done before such user-friendly tools like Google existed. It's almost...... scientific! (If only they had relied on a better form of knowledge dissemination, other than oral tradition...)

It would be interesting for someone to look at sea-side Shinto shrines and correlate their location (elevation and location) based on historical records as well as predicted tsunami impacts.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Relearning Math

I often forget that I don't really do hands-on mathematics anymore. By "hands-on," I mean doing it step-by-step; possibly by hand! A few years ago, I had a go at long division, but after several tries, gave up for a bit in frustration, had a coffee, mulled over it some, and then finished what should have been the operation of just a few minutes (if that).

Today, it was trigonometry. Specifically, it was trying to remember how to convert field measurements of elevations and point-to-point distances into point-to-point slopes. It wasn't too difficult to start off: get the difference of two consecutive elevations to obtain the change in height, and use the length between the two points as the -- you guessed it -- length. Okay, easy part done. Now... how does one apply "SOH, CAH, TOA" again?

Oh, right: SOH refers to the relationship in which the sine of the angle is equal to the length of the side of the triangle opposite the angle in question divided by the length of the hypotenuse of the triangle, or:

sine ϴ = opposite/hypotenuse

However, since I didn't have the value for ϴ, I needed to take the arcsine (or inverse sine) of the quotient, or:

ϴ = arcsine (opposite/hypotenuse)

Yeah, not too difficult. However, when I tried this out using Excel for my 30-60-90 triangle with lengths of 3-5.2-6, I divided 3 by 6, took the arcsine and got "0.523599" instead of the 30 that I was expecting. Ah, crap. What did I do wrong? Check it again by dividing the 5.2 by 6, take the arcsine and get "1.047198". Shoot. Well, at least the first was 1/2 that of the second, so the ratio is correct. However, the first is not 30 and the second isn't 60 degrees.

I knew that it was coming to this: hit F1 and subject myself to the Microsoft Office Help functions. ... where I was dutifully reminded that Excel does these calculations in radians and not degrees. Suddenly vague memories of trying to change my Casio graphing calculator from radians to degrees swam through my head. How does one do that transformation again? Go to Google.

Search "radians to degrees formula", and bypass all the calculators that don't actually have the formula (and yet somehow get placed in the search results). Ah, right:

degrees = radians * 180/pi

Okay, so now, I go back to Excel, and multiply my two initial results by 180/pi, and get 30 and 60! Woot! Progress!

However, that's just the slope-angle. I need the actual slope (you know, the m in y=mx+b). So, I turn now to TOA, and since I have the slope-angle in question, this should be easier (since Excel wants everything in radians, I first have to convert my 30 degrees into radians (0.523599), and then take the tangent (0.577351) to get the slope of the hypotenuse (assuming that the adjacent angle is horizontal).

Then, I noticed that I could have simplified the whole thing by not transforming from radians into degrees and back again as well as combing the two processes into a single Excel command:

slope = tangent (arcsine (opposite/hypotenuse))

Of course, this only works when the "adjacent" side is assumed to be horizontal, which -- if one is doing surveying properly -- we can take the assumption as being true.

I'm sure that I will likely have to remember how to do differentiation and integration at some point in the future. And I did learn how to do it, and I was actually decent at doing it by hand at one point. However, that was approaching 10 years ago...

... after all, isn't that the purpose behind computers and mathematical software?

UPDATE: It's true that I could have just as easily gone for the a^2 + b^2 = c^2 right-angle association, knowing what a and c were, and using these to find b, and then taking the slope by using a/b... But that would be too simple! LOL.

Friday, September 02, 2011

News ticker stories about smoking and women

Occasionally, my news ticker happens to serendipitously have stories aboutrelated topics (or topics that seem related in my head). This time, as I was scrolling through the day's updates, I saw one story about how smoking bans encourage female smokers to quit:
The new study uses data from a national survey of 7,610 women who work outside the home, 81 percent of whom said they smoked daily.

Twenty percent of women with home and work smoking bans said they intended to quit smoking, compared with 14 percent of those with work bans only, 20 percent with home bans only and 14 percent with smoking bans in neither place.

Yet, even women who said they had no intentions of quitting still made spontaneous attempts to quit, the study found, and a home ban appeared to have a slightly larger effect than a work ban. Thirty-four percent of women who had no prior intention of quitting but who had a ban only at home said they had attempted to quit, compared with 33 percent with bans at home and work and 25 percent with no bans.

More information: Rose A, et al. The role of worksite and home smoking bans in smoking cessation among U.S. employed adult female smokers. Am J Health Promo 26(1), 2011.
Then, just a few stories down, I saw this from copyranter, about new cigarette packaging in Russia that is specifically aimed at girls:

"Sweet dreams" indeed. I'm sure, though, that the Sandman won't be the one that will take you though; with ever-accumulating evidence linking smoking with lung cancer (and other cancers), I'll more likely be Charon (and his dreams are less varied and more dismal -- and final -- than Morpheus').