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2010 Home


(Experimenting this month with a different background / layout) ...




From A Simple Starting Point ...


November 1, 2010






What else can we do?  Let’s consider our diagram with four points.  Right now, we’ve been assuming these points go in a certain order, be it clockwise or counter-clockwise.

But surely there are many ways to arrange four points.  Let’s see:









Once you get the idea of just playing around, the sky is the limit.  Here are a few designs created at random from our simple spreadsheet:











Election Day


A Thought on Voting


November 2, 2010





Having voted just now, I decided to take a look at the Kansas Constitution.  Why?  You'll see.  Glance quickly at these, but pay attention to #4:





==§ 1. Equal rights.== All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


==§ 2. Political power; privileges.== All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their equal protection and benefit. No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the legislature, which may not be altered, revoked or repealed by the same body; and this power shall be exercised by no other tribunal or agency.


==§ 3. Right of peaceable assembly; petition.== The people have the right to assemble, in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, for the redress of grievances.


==§ 4. Bear arms; armies.== The people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security; but standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be tolerated, and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.


==§ 5. Trial by jury.== The right of trial by jury shall be inviolate.


==§ 6. Slavery prohibited.== There shall be no slavery in this state; and no involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.


==§ 7. Religious liberty.== The right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any person be compelled to attend or support any form of worship; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, nor any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship. No religious test or property qualification shall be required for any office of public trust, nor for any vote at any elections, nor shall any person be incompetent to testify on account of religious belief.


==§ 8. Habeas corpus.== The right to the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless the public safety requires it in case of invasion or rebellion.


==§ 9. Bail.== All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties except for capital offenses, where proof is evident or the presumption great. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.


==§ 10. Trial; defense of accused.== In all prosecutions, the accused shall be allowed to appear and defend in person, or by counsel; to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against him; to meet the witness face to face, and to have compulsory process to compel the attendance of the witnesses in his behalf, and a speedy public trial by an impartial jury of the county or district in which the offense is alleged to have been committed. No person shall be a witness against himself, or be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.


==§ 11. Liberty of press and speech; libel.== The liberty of the press shall be inviolate; and all persons may freely speak, write or publish their sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such rights; and in all civil or criminal actions for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury, and if it shall appear that the alleged libelous matter was published for justifiable ends, the accused party shall be acquitted.


==§ 12. No forfeiture of estate for crimes.== No conviction within the state shall work a forfeiture of estate.


==§ 13. Treason.== Treason shall consist only in levying war against the state, adhering to its enemies, or giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the evidence of two witnesses to the overt act, or confession in open court.


==§ 14. Soldiers' quarters.== No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without the consent of the occupant, nor in time of war, except as prescribed by law.


==§ 15. Search and seizure.== The right of the people to be secure in their persons and property against unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inviolate; and no warrant shall issue but on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or property to be seized.


==§ 16. Imprisonment for debt.== No person shall be imprisoned for debt, except in cases of fraud.


==§ 17. Property rights of citizens and aliens.== No distinction shall ever be made between citizens of the state of Kansas and the citizens of other states and territories of the United States in reference to the purchase, enjoyment or descent of property. The rights of aliens in reference to the purchase, enjoyment or descent of property may be regulated by law.


==§ 18. Justice without delay.== All persons, for injuries suffered in person, reputation or property, shall have remedy by due course of law, and justice administered without delay.


==§ 19. Emoluments or privileges prohibited.== No hereditary emoluments, honors, or privileges shall ever be granted or conferred by the state.


==§ 20. Powers retained by people.== This enumeration of rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people; and all powers not herein delegated remain with the people.




Why is this relevant? On our ballot today was an initiative to "strengthen" Section 4.  To amend the Kansas Bill of Rights.  On the ballot:


The purpose of this amendment is to preserve constitutionally the right of a person to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for all other lawful purposes, including hunting and recreation.


A vote for this amendment would constitutionally preserve the right of a person to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.


A vote against this amendment would provide for no constitutional right of a person to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.



What gives rise to such an initiative?  That's what I'm interested in - for now.  The context, as you can see, is the 1909 Kansas Amendment addesses "the people".  Citizens are not "the people"; instead, we are all individuals.  This was the clarification:  "the right of a person to keep and bear arms".


A good clarification, though you may be wondering about the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.


More on this in a bit.


The Kansas vote was initially to strengthen the amendment.  Fine.  But what does a "no" vote mean?  "Don't strengthen the amendment?"  No!  A "no" vote really means there is "no constitutional right of a person to keep and bear arms."


For one hesitant to amend any Constitution, a "yes" vote on Constitutional Amendments is not an ordinary vote.  However, a "no" vote somehow has come to mean "modfiy the Bill of Rights" dramatically!


How is this possible, even if Kansans vote "no" to the amendment, when the federal Bill of Rights guarantees one's right to bear arms?


What happens when state and federal laws are in conflict?


We're suppose to be a system of "checks and balances".  What's being checked and balanced?  We have this idea:



When one branch "over-extended" its bounds, the other two were to "reel it in".


But if this is the case, there can never really be "settled law", can there, because "settled law" might mean law "unreelable"? But, using the example of slavery from above, this had better be settled law. This is something not subject to vote.

There seems something missing here.

That something, I believe, is what the branches are doing. Yes, they're checking and balancing each other, but what, in general, are each branches suppose to be doing?

Securing the rights of the individual! That is the sole obligation of government. But what is a right?

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

Ayn Rand

The Virtue of Selfishness


This was the greatness of our Constitution, laid out in the Declaration of Independence:

"That to secure these rights (of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness), Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."


To secure rights - not provide them. This is the essential relationship between a proper government and the individual - to secure rights!

And in practice, we've got more than our tri-partite form of government above, of executive, judicial, and legislative branches. We also "check-and-balance" things at the local, state, and federal level. Lots of checking and lots of balancing!

In the center of it all is the individual with inalienable rights!



But our initial question:  a tug-of-war, but who wins?  What trumps what?  Does federal law on the right to bear arms trump any law passed by the state?  To me, nothing trumps anything.  It is a continual battle between all of these entities.


And that's a good thing.


We have this idea that once agreed upon, that's it.  An idea, a ruling, a settlement, a decision, whatever the case, that's it.


And that's not it.  We fight - as we always have.

"Unfortunately, too many Americans consider the search for liberty as at an end, as if it had been secured and made safe for all time by the founding fathers. To the contrary, the struggle for liberty is one requiring eternal vigilance and today is perhaps more in danger than at any other period in our history."

William James Sidis

America's Search for Liberty - In Song and Poem







Another Chapter of

"From Dot to Dot"


November 3, 2010






Finding ‘x’ and ‘y

When you drew the lines at the start of this booklet, points were distributed evenly around the circle.  We just programmed some designs, but the points were either selected by us, or chosen randomly.  Let’s try to distribute them evenly around the circle – via the spreadsheet.  Let’s start with our triangle.  The logic:






That’s what we want to do.  Now, how do we do it?  Let’s start with a single point, and see how we would treat it:




What do I know about this point?  We can create a triangle, and mark off ‘x’ and ‘y’ units:



Since I do know the hypotenuse (in this case, 200), I need to find some relationship between the angle (in this case, α), the hypotenuse, and the ‘x’ and ‘y’ distances.  This is trigonometry!  And the three main trigonometric functions are cosine, sine, and tangent:




Taking these trigonometric functions and remembering what we really want are the x and y coordinates, let’s solve these for x and y:




And solve for x and y, to get the coordinates for our triangle:




And finally, let’s graph the results to make sure our results (in red) look like what I know they should look like (in black):




What is this?  Why do our triangles differ?  What happened?


A bit of research reveals Microsoft Excel does not perform trigonometric calculations using angles, but rather by radians!  Therefore, to properly use my formulas, I must convert all degree measurements into radians. 

What are radians – and how do I convert degrees to radians?  Let’s find out - in the next installment of "From Dot to Dot" ...





Another Chapter of

"From Dot to Dot"


November 4, 2010





Degrees to Radians

I know something about the circumference of a circle, and I know this formula includes the circle radius r.

But does this lead me anywhere?  I’m still talking about “distance”, while I’m looking for something regarding “angle” or “degree”.

Look at the following circle with radius r.  I’ve got three distances labeled r here, two actually are the radius, defined by the distance from the center of the circle to the outside.  The other is that same distance, but this time measured as we move around the circle.


            Now, the question is:  how many degrees have I measured when I move the distance r around the circle?  1 radian.  “Radian” is a degree measure.  It’s less than 90˚, but more than 45˚, you can tell just by looking.  It’s about 60°.  But how far exactly?  Let’s see.


So if I move 2p radians around the circle, I’m back where I started.  360˚.  p radians and I’m only halfway around the circle:  180˚

What’s the general method of converting between radians and degrees?

You really don’t have to remember any formulas.  Instead, think of this:  there are two ways of going all the way around the circle:

  1. by radians, and we know there are 2p radians in the circle;
  2. by degrees, and we know there are 360˚ in a circle.


Since we’re going around the circle, these two must be equal.  Therefore:

2p radians = 360˚




Therefore, if this is what 1° looks like, and I’ve got α°, then I need to multiply α by the figure above: 2π/360.

Let’s try it …




And graphing …




Now we’re talking!  Let's apply this method, not just to an inscribed polygon with three points, but four.  Five!  Six!  Seven!  Eight!









"laissez-faire nous"!


November 5, 2010





Illinois Representative Mike Tryon is fighting to get an Amtrak Station in his district.  In response ...



Good day, Representative Tryon ...

As you know, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, aka Amtrak, was founded in 1971 under the auspices "the private industry couldn't do it anymore". Part of that is true, but partial truths are non-truths, and the implications are felt to this day. The ICC, of course, in addition to myriad federal regulations, really put the private passenger train out of business, with the government then sweeping in as "the savior".

Since 1971, Amtrak has held a, if not de jure, at least a de facto monopoly in this regard.

Monopolies in the private sector are impossible. There are always alternatives. Monopolies in the public sector, on the other hand, can exist with no end in sight, with the power of the purse and the power of the government as allies.

This is the situation I, right now, find myself in, and I wanted to tell you just a bit of my story.

I live in Overland Park, Kansas. The last time I took Amtrak, from KC to Joliet, Illinois, the train was delayed 6 hours departing Union Station in Kansas City. There were numerous unexpected stops along the way. Awful.

But what could one person do?

Passenger service in Kansas, as you know, heads SW towards California on the Southwest Chief. Talk is of rerouting the SC along different tracks in western Kansas, and this gave rise to numerous KDOT / Amtrak "viability" studies. Continue along that route? Add a route to OKC and on to Fort Worth? Many options were considered.

Millions - tens of millions actually - of dollars to implement.

At a monumental - PROJECTED - loss.

That's the Kansas plan. As I said, ONLY GOVERNMENTS CAN DO THIS. I, as a Kansan, pay for this loss.

I found a train I'm considering purchasing. Yes, me, an individual, trying to start a route heading west out of Kansas City to Denver. Not high-speed. Just a comfortable ride allowing one to see a good part of the country - in comfort.

The Arete Glide is the tentative name of the train - "arete" being Greek for "excellence".

The UP owns the tracks, and is reluctant to allow any passenger service along their lines. I can understand that. Their business is freight, and it's their lines. However, I don't think one passenger train moving marginally faster than a freight train can upset the cart too much. There's likely something else in play.

Likely, they - and the BNSF - know there is big money coming from the government to modify the track. Why should they consider leasing track space to a small entity when the government is dangling millions - check that - BILLIONS - of dollars in their faces?

And again, you see the unintended - but predictable - consequences of government intervention in the economy.

I march along, a pie in the sky dream perhaps, but one I happen to think is pretty neat.

And you?

You're trying to get an Amtrak station. Your constituents want it. Your job is to serve your constituents. I can understand the premise.

However, let me leave you with this thought:

Kansas City, as many cities do, offer tax incentives for businesses to come to the area. The thought is, if we don't, the company will merely go elsewhere. That's probably true, in this environment, and for a particular company. But imagine that same company in 10 years, now stripped on their tax-preferred status, competing with a new company with an even greater subsidy. A circus. Congressmen find themselves in the same dilemma, I suspect. If I don't bring home the bacon, others will.

What's the alternative?

Let's make the argument government is not about bacon. It's about securing individual rights. Not only fight for individual rights, but let us know who is trying to take the bacon home with them!

The recent election was a tremendous abnegation of the Obama agenda. If it is for something, maybe this might generally be described as a clarion call to "LET US ALONE"! In this respect, the November 2010 elections mirror the origin of the term "laissez-faire", when the French finance minister, Colbert, in 1680 asked how the state could help the merchants. Le Gendre responded: "Laissez-nous faire", meaning "Leave us be", or literally, "Let us do"!



Michael Round

Overland Park, KS





Another Chapter of

"From Dot to Dot"


November 6, 2010






What else can we do?  Let’s take our figure with 5 points distributed equally about the circle.  Right now, we’ve been assuming we find all the points by looking half-way between them.  What happens if, instead of looking at 50% of the way, we only go 25%?  75%?  What happens if we let it range from 0% to 100%?  Let’s start with moving only a third, instead of a half:



But I’m surprised when I see the following image:




What’s gone wrong with the formula?  Let’s see, using a simple example.  Suppose I had two numbers, 5 and 10.  The halfway point is 7.5, which I get by our formula:



However, when I use the same formula, but divide by three, I get 5, which is one of my points:



Something’s wrong.  I’m not sure what, but let’s figure out a different way around the problem.


What I want to know, for starters, is how far the points (5 and 10) are apart.  In this case: 5.  What’s one-third of that difference?  5/3.  That’s how far I need to move.  But where am I moving from?  5.  The Starting point.  Therefore, I arrive at my new point by adding the change above to the starting point!

Let’s try, with these points (5 and 10) and a couple others:




Perfect.  Does this work as well with our previous graphing (going one-half the way)?  Let’s see:




Let’s formalize what we’ve got:




Let’s try it with some different fractions, using a five-point polygon for starters:







Introductory Research in the Short Book on The Random Walk


November 7, 2010





As was the case with most problems, this one started innocently enough.  Rather than the typical arrangement of a "random walk" model, where I start in the middle of a grid and can move either in any direction any distance,  or NSEW, typically a fixed amount, I decided to try a different tact:

What would happen if I started at the top of  a structure, and my only movements could be downhill, and only to the left or the right, with a 50/50 probability of going either way.

The general layout:


How many different ways can I arrive at the bottom?  Let's start, as always, with a simple problem:  two rows:


Maybe it's not such a good idea to start with the simplest example!  Of course, there's only two possibilities:  down and to the left, and down and to the right.

Let's move on to three rows of points:  Here's all the possible arrangements:


Let's note there was only one way to arrive at the bottom left, and one way to arrive at the bottom right.  However, there were two ways to arrive at the bottom middle.  Let's arrange the possible outcomes in columns, according to the end result:


That was with three rows.  What about four?


Let's pause and tabulate some results.  When there were just two rows, there were only two paths to take:  one to the left; one to the right.

With three rows, there were four different paths.  Again, only one to the left and one to the right, but two separate ways down the middle.

Four rows?  16 different routes.  One way, always, to get to bottom left and the bottom right.  However, there were four ways to get to the next-inner point, and 6 different ways to go down the middle.


What's the relationship among the rows?  Each entry is the addition of the two numbers immediately above it.  I think.  Let's try it, using the next row in our triangle.  But first, what would we expect?


Let's see!


Sure enough!   Let's try a higher number ... What about seven?


More to come ...





Introductory Research in the Short Book on The Random Walk


November 8, 2010





Let's go back to our example with five possible ending points, and remember how many different paths there were through the maze of points:


Summarizing this, we have:

Are you clear on what these numbers mean?  For example, how can I end up at the lower left dot?  I've got to make five straight random choices, selecting "go to the left".  What's the probability of doing this?


Before moving on, let's look at the data above, visually ...


What does moving on mean?  Let's suppose I took 100 random paths through the maze, something like dropping a ball and seeing which way it continually bounces.  But first, what would I expect to see?


Let's see:


And visually:


Somewhat close, but I ended up only going to the right 3 times, and I expected 6.  I also ended up in slot '4' 31 times, but only expected to get there 25 times.

Of course, there's lots of variability here.  That's the nature of randomness!  Let's try to calm this down a bit by simulating 1000 paths instead of 100:


That's more like it!

To be continued ...





Revisiting a Brief Poem


November 9, 2010






Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.




So spoke Robert Frost in "The Road Not Taken", telling us why "The Road Less Traveled" made all the difference.  Frost came to mind recently when I was out for a nighttime stroll ...





My Path

A Random Road Normally Traveled


A casual nighttime walk.

The road a narrow line.

I came upon a boulder,

That changed my state of mind.





This rock caused me to stop

And to my choice give sight.

Which direction should I choose?

To the left or to the right?




My good friend, Robert Frost,

Suggests the road not taken.

Since I was off the beaten path,

BOTH routes were forsaken!


I didn't see it mattered.

The logic of my choice.

"Just choose it randomly!"

I said in a quiet voice.


To my left I jutted,

And to my fright I saw.

Boulders everywhere!

Seemed to be the present law!





I continued as I had,

each move an equal chance.

50/50 probability

in math parlance!





I finally arrived

A jagged, ragged, route.

The logic of my process ...

Was sound, I had no doubt.


But then I got to thinking,

Suppose I start again.

Where would I end up?

Anywhere from One to Ten!




Just as I suspected

The flight of a different bird.

Repeat the process many times.

"Iteration" is the word!





To the left and right I end,

Though the center seems frequent.

What I need is tabulation.

No counting accident.





I compile all the data,

And to my wondering eyes.

The random route I took,

Is normal in disguise!






Thoughts on the Random Walk


November 10, 2010





Let's suppose I start walking, randomly.  Where would I end up?

To better visualize the results, let's suppose I started on a grid, in the center, at point (0,0).  For now, I can only walk in 4 directions:  up, down, left, and right.

I can also only take one step before deciding again which direction to go.  Let's try a few simulations of 10-steps each, and see what the results look like.

But first, let's ask ourselves what we might expect the results to look like.

For example, let's suppose we were flipping a coin.  How many heads would we expect?  One-half? 

This is like being back at (0,0), isn't it?  Despite any variation, we'd expect things to "even out", wouldn't we?

Enough talk - let's try it!


In one instance, we did arrive back at the (0,0) origin.  However, we seem to be all over the grid!  But it's tough to tell the distribution of the ending points in this layout.  Let's bring the 6 ending points together into one graph:

This was just 6 simulations.  What would happen if we did this 100 times?  Let's see:



We see something of a circular distribution about the (0,0) origin.  But this was the results of 100 simulations, plotting the results after only 10 random steps.

Let's do 100 simulations, plotting the results after 100 random steps:


Lots of work to do!





An Introduction to the Hydraulic Press (I Think)


November 11, 2010






"When pressure is applied anywhere to an enclosed fluid, it is transmitted uniformly in all directions."


When I read things now, I often - too often, maybe - stop and say, "What does that really mean?"  Most of the time, when I question myself, I realize I have no idea.

But what made this instance more frustrating was the picture accompanying the claim:


Why is this frustrating?  I know this picture is wrong.  OK - maybe not wrong, but it makes no intuitive sense to me.  Maybe not this specific picture, but ones like it, where a person is standing on the cylinder on the left side, causing the car on the right to rise.

No way.  I don't believe this is possible.  It doesn't pass the "intuitive" test, to me.

I don't believe this picture either.  Why?  Because many similar pictures show a person standing on the left side, providing the downward force.  I don't believe this is possible.  It doesn't pass the "intuitive" test, to me.


Let's try to build some understanding into all of this:

The general idea is if I push down on the left side, the water forces up the object on the right side.  I can see this.  For example:



This isn't just true here, I think, but other places, too.  If I've got a balloon and squeeze one place, the other part of the balloon rises.  The air - or water above - when compressed, must go somewhere.

So what's my problem with the first image?  Not so fast, I tell myself, thinking of this image:


How do I reconcile these examples?  In the first instance, the basketball moved.  In the second, the car didn't. 

What's the difference? 

In the first case, the left side weighed more than the right, and as the left went down, the right had to go up.  There was no place else for the water to go.

In the second case, the left side did not weigh more than the right, and did not budge because of the weight of the car on the right.

What's the common link?

The force applied relative to that which is being moved?  That is:


I think ...

Another thought comes to mind: in my head, I was originally thinking "weight" regarding the two items.  As I push, however, now the idea of "force" comes to mind.

What's the relationship between "weight" and "force"?

We'll continue this in the next issue ...



HEALTH CARE:  A Continued Thought


November 12, 2010





Child-only plans are in the news.  Why?  Insurance companies are dropping the coverage.  Why would they drop an entire block of business?  Because new legislation does not allow the insurance companies to apply pre-existing conditions.

What's the nature of these new benefits?  imagine a newborn in intensive care.  Incredible costs, with little premium.  A dramatic example, infrequent, but it's these dramatic and infrequent circumstances that can make or break a company!

And the nature of the individuals?  In addition to these sick children are any children who may have issues.  They show up with an application, and are immediately granted coverage.

How can a company make business under such circumstances?  They can't.  Hence, the reason these companies are dropping coverage en masse.


Did Health Care reform policy makers want insurance companies to drop all coverage?  Probably not.  So the results, as usual, fall into that category of "unintended but predictable".

We will start to ask:  if the results are so predictable, who is to say that was not the desired result?

Let's go back a step, however, and inquire into the nature of this product in the first place.  "Child only"?  Why is there even such a policy?  If you're a member of a family, why aren't you covered with the rest of your family?

Who are these children?  Where are their parents?

The parents are typically employed.

And they have health insurance through their employer.  Hopefully, you're saying, "There's that ugly thing, rearing it's head again!  EMPLOYER-SPONSORED INSURANCE IS SOMEHOW IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CHILD-ONLY ISSUE?"


You see, just because employers provide employer-sponsored health insurance doesn't mean it's free.  It's not.  At least not to everybody.  A typical plan might cover the entire cost of the employer, but only one-half the cost of dependents.

What's the cost of the dependents?  This depends as well.  One could be married but no kids.  Married with five kids.  Unmarried with one kid.  It depends. 

Let's suppose the insurance company providing the insurance rolls all this up into two nice rates:  employee and family.  If you've got any dependents, you're a "family".

The insurance company offers rates:  $200 for an employee, and $600 for a family.  The dependent cost, then, is $400.

The employer says they will cover 100% of the employee cost, but only 50% of the dependent cost.  A breakdown of the numbers is here:


Now, suppose you're a family of seven.  This is a pretty good deal.  Complete health insurance for $200 / month.

Let's suppose you're a working mother, unmarried, with only one child.  How much do you have to pay?  Still $200 for that one child!

It doesn't sound fair, does it?  It's not, to you.  What do you do?  You go shopping for insurance for your child.  You go looking for "child only" coverage.


TWO examples of "unintended but predictable" consequences.  We're beginning to see a pattern emerging here!




HEALTH CARE:  A Continued Thought


November 13, 2010





Physician payments under Medicare are, once again, under attack.  They are subject to a 23% reduction December 1st, and another 6% in January.

How can this be? 

Disregard that question.  Let's suppose you're a legislator, and it's your job to vote on this.  Up or down.  Yes or No.

Why would you vote "No".  You know Medicare payments to physicians are already low, and cutting them another approximately 30% will be disastrous - to the physicians.

Why "Yes"?  You know the Medicare budget is out of control, and there comes a time when, to reel in costs, payments must be reduced.

You and your fellow legislators are caught in quite a dilemma ...


Unsure which route to take, you choose the middle ground:  maintain the current fee schedule, and kick the issue down the road for a year. 

Problem solved.  Or perhaps "Problem Ignored" is a better way of saying it.

But A is A.  Reality cannot be ignored - forever.

And the next year, the issue is on your plate once again, only this time the necessary cuts are even greater!  They include not only the cuts you didn't pass the prior year, but also the cuts necessary for the current year!


So here you are, in 2010, facing a 23% cut - and following month and additional 6% cut.

What do you do?

Let's say you bite the bullet.  We either deal with this problem now, or we've lost the war forever.


You in the legislature have done your job.  Let's see how it plays out in the Physician's Office.  Let's consider the average physician, going about their daily business, doing good work.  You come in for a visit.  How much will the physician be paid for your visit?

This depends on what type of insurance you have.

If you have typical Private (Commercial) insurance, let's suppose the physician gets $100.  If you're a Medicare patient, the physician gets only $60.  And if you're a Medicaid patient, they only get $50.


Now picture yourself - as the physician - doing your books at the end of the day.  How much money have you been paid?  To do this calculation, you obviously need to know how many private, Medicare, and Medicaid patients you've seen.  Let's make an assumption, and break this into thirds:


In this example, you've been paid $7,030 for your services.  You check the local paper and see your Medicare payments are going to be slashed.  You quickly run the numbers.


You've lost about $500!  Are you going to sit idly by and do nothing?  What can you do?  The payments are the payments - at least for Medicare and Medicaid.  There's not a whole lot you can do about these.

But the private market - the commercial market.  There, you might be able to extract a bit more.  Sure, the negotiations are tough:  insurance companies want to make a profit as well, while keeping premiums low for their members.

But if you want to be a profitable physician's office, this is where you must go.  And the amount of increase you need to seek to return to be "revenue-neutral"?


A summary of my actions:


You go to the commercial carrier to negotiate the rates.  In your mind, you need 13.40% to maintain your current amount of revenue.  This is "pie-in-the-sky" dreaming, you're told.  "Do you know how much pressure we're under to keep premiums down?  13.40%?  We can give you 2.5% tops."

You head back to your practice, head down, knowing revenue will be down, significantly.  You also know the next year - and the next - and the next - will be much of the same.

What to do?

"This Medicare market", you mumble.  "These government programs are bleeding me".  "These government programs ..."

And then it dawns on you, like it has so many other physician practices.  Quit worrying about the fee schedule for Medicare, and instead concentrate on the patients you're seeing with Medicare insurance.  More specifically, refuse to accept any more patients.  Yes, you'll continue to see those you have been seeing, but no more.

Knowing you only have so much time in a day, cutting Medicare patients frees up time to see more private-insurance patients. 

You rush back to the office and model the possible membership change, with the change in patients seen, and the new 2.5% private-market fee schedule increase:


It will work - for now - you realize.

But the impacts to the system, due to the Medicare budget crisis, are numerous - unintended - but nonetheless predictable!


What to do, you , as the legislator?  You started with a noble goal, you thought - "Have a viable Medicare system for senior citizens", but now this noble goal has put you right in the not seat!  You seem damned if you do, and damned if you don't, AND THINGS ARE ONLY GETTING WORSE!  Compromise?  Or recognize you're faced with a contradiction?  Remember the words of Ayn Rand: 

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”





Part of the =EQUALS= presentation this Thursday


November 14, 2010








An Introductory Look at the War in the



November 17, 2010











It's Algebraic Origins


November 20, 2010





Philosophers, mathematicians, and practical craftsmen - for as long as one could remember - wrestled with the problem of the circle.

Specifically, it's length.

It could not be measured.

What do I mean by that?

If I gave you the length of a square, for example, you'd be able to tell me the perimeter of the square was.  Similarly, with a rectangle, you could tell me the perimeter of this body, with given width and length.

In fact, you could really measure anything, couldn't you?

What about curves?


These, of course, pose a problem.  You just can't "mark it off".  Your straight-edge doesn't bend with the curve.

So the simple circle eludes measurement.

Until ...

Someone says: "I may not be able to measure it out, but surely, I can devise ways to calculate it."

Another says:  "While you do that, I'll work on devising a relationship between the radius and the circumference.  After all, as the radius grows, so too the circumference should."

Both are reasonable, but provide no definitive relationships.

Until the great Archimedes comes along ...


And Archimedes, of course, looks at the idea from an entirely different perspective (of course), a perspective no different nor non-intuitive than the simple game of "guess a number between 0 and 100". 

Q:  "Guess a number between 0 and 100".

A:  50

Response:  "Higher".

I now have sandwiched the right answer between 50 and 100.  Continuing the game, I can get the right answer in 5 or 6 guesses.

Archimedes did the same thing with the circle.

Sandwich the circle - the curved figure he can't measure - between two straight figures he can!

For example, take two squares below, one inscribed within the circle, one circumscribing the circle:


What does this look like with a regular pentagon?


What does this look like with a regular hexagon?


You've got the idea ...

Now, our question is this:  "How do we program this?  How do we find the lengths of the sides of each of these figures?  How do we plot them?  How do we calculate the perimeter of each?  How do we estimate the value of the circumference of the circle, and therefore, π?"

Next time, we'll get started ...



"Thanks" - "To Whom and For What"


A Look at the Real Story of "Thanksgiving"


November 21, 2010





They fled an intolerant England for a new world to practice their religion in peace.  Aided by the Indians, they made it, and we now celebrate "Thanksgiving" in tribute ...

Tribute to what?

Thanks for what?

What is the story of the Pilgrims?  What is the real story of Thanksgiving?









It's Algebraic Origins


November 22, 2010





Let's get started.

But how?  Where?

Let's start with a general polygon - one with not too many sides, but not too few.  We want to see what it takes to get going.  Six is a good number.  Let's start with it.

Let's also make our circle easy to work with. Let's assume we have a circle with radius 100.

The plan:


Let's get started.  But how?  How does one start a problem to figure something out?

That's a good question.

Practice?  Intuition?  A little bit of both?  I think so.

I want to find the perimeter of this inside polygon.  What do I need?  What do I know?  I can break the polygon into triangles.  I know this.  And if I can break the polygon into triangles, then I can work with a single triangle to find the base.  If I know the base, I can find the perimeter of the inside polygon.

That is:


I've got a triangle - let's focus on the angles in the triangle ...


But I don't want the sum of all the angles, but rather, each one.  That is:


And simplifying, in our case (with n = 6), we have:


Which leaves us with this:


Now I've got an angle and a side, and I need to find the length of another side.  How?  Trig functions!  That is:


And simplifying:


And doing the math, we arrive at 'P = 600' as the answer to the question:  "What's the perimeter of the inscribed polygon in our circle.

So what?

If the perimeter of my polygon is 600, and if my initial circle has radius 100 - and therefore diameter 200 - then the ratio of the circumference (perimeter) of my polygon to the diameter is 600 / 200 = 3.000


My estimation for π for the inscribed polygon with 6 sides, is 3.00.

This makes sense.  π, I know is slightly more than 3.00.

So what is the estimation for π for the outside polygon?

Next time - and next time, we'll see we really have all the work done already - above!

To be continued ...





It's Algebraic Origins


November 23, 2010





As I said, that was a lot of work --- do we need to do all that work for the external polygon?

Let's see.

The number of sides, the number of triangles, the number of angles, the radius - they're all the same!  We can jump immediately to this diagram:

The relationship between b, 100, and 60° is as follows:


And continuing ...


And doing this math, we arrive at 'P = 692.82' as the answer to the question:  "What's the perimeter of the inscribed polygon in our circle.

So what?

If the perimeter of my polygon is 692.82, and if my initial circle has radius 100 - and therefore diameter 200 - then the ratio of the circumference (perimeter) of my polygon to the diameter is 692.82 / 200 = 3.464.

That is:


Let's put this into a table:




And finally, let's graph this ...


We see our "sandwiching" method generates an estimation of π pretty quick!



"Thanks" - "To Whom and For What"


A Look at the Real Story of "Thanksgiving"


November 25, 2010





Fearful their way of life was slowly eroding in Holland, the "Pilgrims" were anxious to re-settle.  But where? 

They decided on America.

But to be an English colony in America meant securing a charter from one of the two Charter companies established by King James:  the London Virginia Company and the Plymouth Company.

The story of the charter they received will be discussed in coming articles.  It's an amazing story, and as part of the story is relevant to this article, let's briefly discuss it.

As I understand the charter process, if you were looking to establish a colony in America, you yourself went to one of the two charter companies and said "We'd like a charter". 

The Merchant Adventurers (capitalists), however, were able to secure a charter in the New World from the London Virginia Company without having plans as such, akin, I think, to buying tickets to a show, but only with the intent of reselling them.

This was perfect for the Pilgrims, because they certainly didn't want King James or the Church of England to know they (the Pilgrims) were looking to establish an English Colony!

A spokesman for the Merchant Adventurers negotiated the deal:  work 4 days for us, 2 for yourself, and after 7 years, you keep everything in the colony.

It was agreed to.

The rest of the Merchant Adventurers were furious.  Where was recognition of the risk?  Of possible failure?  Of losing one's money?  6 days for us!  After 7 years, we keep the buildings, land, etc.!


THIS was agreed to - but the negotiater for the Pilgrims!

Now THEY were furious!

Nonetheless, they set sail, ultimately aboard just the Mayflower.

There are many more questions to resolve, and as I search for the answer to these questions, what's clear is the Pilgrims - and others aboard - sailed north of where they intended to land - The Hudson River - and landed at now Cape Cod / Provincetown.  They tried sailing south to the Hudson, but were unable, and then were unsure what to do.



They landed north of their charter.  This bothered some, and was seen as an opportunity to others!  Remember, not everyone aboard the Mayflower were Pilgrims!

What to do?

Suppose I had pre-paid a grocer for groceries, and then told you go to pick them up.  You get mixed up, and arrive at the wrong grocery store.  Are you entitled to walk in and take $x in groceries?


The police would be called, of course, and similarly, I think many of the Pilgrims felt the English government would be called, once it was discovered someone was not where they were suppose to be.

But what to do?

We know what they did do - they signed the Mayflower Compact.  But what was the conflict, and was this a good solution?  Did it solve anything?

Here's one possible conflict-resolution diagram for:  GO ASHORE / DON'T GO ASHORE.




But they're ashore, these tired and hungry Pilgrims and additional people aboard the Mayflower, and they're hungry.  And they're unsure of what they'll find.

What they do find are old abandoned buildings - perhaps of European descent, some of Native-American descent, and recently cultivated fields.

And artificial mounds.

What comes to mind when you see an artificial mound in the ground?  Maybe it's to dig and see.  Maybe the climate of the time was to bury surplus food as a means to keep it fresh.  My inclination in the 21st century is not to disturb the ground.

But supposing they did, what did they find?


This was a burial ground.

And provisions set aside for the afterworld for these dead.


And you're hungry.

Would you take it? 


Two conflicts ... two dilemmas.  Two decisions to be made.  Did they do the right things?  Would I have acted as they acted?

The biggest dilemma - to me - was yet to come.  This is my dilemma, and can only guess whether this individual thought this a dilemma at all!

To be continued ...



"Thanks" - "To Whom and For What"


A Look at the Real Story of "Thanksgiving"


November 26, 2010





Kidnapped.  Taken to a strange land.  Sold into slavery.  Ultimately, you return home - after nearly five years, only to find everybody you knew - family, friends ... everybody - dead.

What would you feel?

Sadness?  Anger? 

What would you seek?

Justice?  Revenge?

Now, you see coming ashore these same people - Europeans!  It's Winter 1620, and these people have no idea how to stay warm, how to farm, how to fish.  What are they doing here?

This is what Tisquantum - Squanto - saw - and experienced.


"Provide help - do not provide help"?  Was Squanto torn?  Let's put ourselves in his shoes.  Would we be torn?  Would I?

You bet.  I can feel the rage right now, as I type these words.  Absolute hatred at these people for what they did to me - to my people.

But another part of me looks at these starving people and, knowing I can do something to help, wants to help.

Why am I wrestling with this?  Let's try to verbalize the dilemma ...

I'm watching these people who obviously need help.  Should I assist?

It seems obvious - of course I should help.  They're in need, and I'm able.  But my background with Europeans - and the English - isn't so good.  In fact, it's horrible.  So I don't want to provide assistance.  Why?  I only help good people - and these aren't good people.

Let's see if this makes sense:


On the one hand ...

In order to be a good person, I should help those in need.  If I help those in need, then I should provide assistance to the English.

On the other hand ...

In order to be a good person, I should help only good people.  After all, if a burglar robbed my house but broke his leg carrying my TV to his van, would I help?  Of course, not.  I'd call the police.  So if I only help good people, I should not provide assistance to the English.

I'm watching these people who have harmed me and my people, yet I'm still torn.


And it dawns on me, as I watch these people.  THESE people did not harm me.  THESE people did not kill my people.  THESE people seem like good people!

These people are not "burglars", in my above analogy. 

And I realize my dilemma is really no dilemma at all, but rather, after thoughtful analysis, a decision tree!


This might be the first case in history where a whole race of people was not judged by the actions of a few.





It's Algebraic Origins


November 27, 2010





Let's play around a bit with our newfound algorithm ...


And we see, zooming in as n∞, why we approach a sandwiching estimation for π!


And we're not done!  More to come!




"Thanks" - "To Whom and For What"


A Look at the Real Story of "Thanksgiving"


November 28, 2010





The Pilgrims were unprepared for life in the New World.  They couldn't fish.  They couldn't hunt.  Disease and starvation were rampant.  One-half died the first year alone. 

And along came Squanto. 

He saved the Pilgrims.

Without Squanto, you would not know the rest of the story.

You see, he only gained the Pilgrims time.  He showed them how to grow crops.  How to use fish for fertilizer.

But the Pilgrims were now living under a different kind of death sentence:  a political / economic death sentence pronounced by the very people who had financed their trip:  The Merchant Adventurers!  The capitalists!  The sentence?

"From each according to his ability - to each according to his needs".


And it didn't take long for those of ability to understand the nature of the game.

Imagine, if you will, shoveling driveways in the winter.  There are five of you, and you charge $20 / driveway.   You can shovel 5 driveways in a day.  $100 dollars divided five ways.  $20 dollars per person.  Not a lot if you're an adult, of course, but if you're a teen-ager, that's good money.

You decide to divide the money equally, regardless of how much each is shoveling.

And Tommy went home sick today.

You split the $100 among the four who worked - $25 each - and Tommy is suddenly indignant.  "Where's mine?  We're a team, remember?"  You reluctantly trim your earnings back to $20, and give him a full share: $20.

The next day, with your back sore from doing extra shoveling, you awake hoping Tommy's better.  You show up at your first assignment and notice something odd:  both Tommy and Jimmie are sick!  It's just three of you working now, 8 hours instead of 5, to earn that $100.

And they want their share.  "That was the agreement", they say.  "We share everything!"

The next day, what do you do?  You see others benefiting from your hard work, and they're doing nothing.  You of all people decide to "call in sick", but so did the remaining two boys.  Now, nobody's working.  And, of course, there is no money to disperse.

Such was the case with the Pilgrims.

They found themselves caught in a similar plight as they farmed a "common land".  All worked for the "common good" on "common land", and each received the same amount of pay and food, regardless of who did what.

As with our snow-shovelers, it didn't take long to figure out how to play the game.

But this was no game - this was life and death.

But what should they do?  What could they do?  You see, they were operating under the terms of the contract with the Merchant Adventurers!

Break the contract / don't break the contract?

A possible conflict-resolution diagram:



There was no compromise here, of course.  The Pilgrims broke the contract.  And Governor William Bradford wrote of the results in "Of Plymouth Plantation":

"All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much torne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with the advise of the cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corve every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in the generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys and youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more torne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into the feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set torne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression."


The next section is revealing ...

"The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other.ancients, applauded by some of aater times; -that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and $orishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and servise did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, etc., with the meaner and yonger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon the poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought them selves in the like condition, and ove as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let pone objecte this is mens corruption, and nothing to the course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them."



If this sounds familiar (as you get through the old English), it should.  Here's the story of "The Twentieth Century Motor Company", from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:

"... The plan was that everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need."

“Do you know how it worked, that plan, and what it did to people? Try pouring water into a tank where there’s a pipe at the bottom draining it out faster than you pour it, and each bucket you bring breaks that pipe an inch wider, and the harder you work the more is demanded of you, and you stand slinging buckets forty hours a week, then forty-eight, then fifty-six – for your neighbor’s supper – for his wife’s operation – for his child’s measles – for his mother’s wheel chair – for his uncle’s shirt – for his nephew’s schooling – for the baby next door – for the baby to be born – for anyone anywhere around you – it’s theirs to receive, from diapers to dentures – and yours to work, from sunup to sundown, month after month, year after year, with nothing to show for it but your sweat, with nothing in sight for you but their pleasure, for the whole of your life, without rest, without hope, without end … From each according to his ability, to each according to his need …

“We’re all one big family, they told us, we’re all in this together. But you don’t all stand working an acetylene torch ten hours a day – together, and you don’t all get a bellyache – together. What’s whose ability and which of whose needs comes first? When it’s all one pot, you can’t let any man decide what his own needs are, can you? If you did, he might claim that he needs a yacht – and if his feelings are all you have to go by, he might prove it, too. Why not? If it’s not right for me to own a car until I’ve worked myself into a hospital ward, earning a car for every loafer and every naked savage on earth – why can’t he demand a yacht from me, too, if I still have the ability not to have collapsed? No? He can’t? Then why can he demand that I go without cream for my coffee until he’s replastered his living room? … Oh well … Well, anyway, it was decided that nobody had the right to judge his own need or ability. We voted on it. Yes, ma’am, we voted on it in a public meeting twice a year. How else could it be done? Do you care to think what would happen at such a meeting? It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars – rotten, whining, sniveling beggars, all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earning, he had no rights and no earnings, his work didn’t belong to him, it belonged to ‘the family’, and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his ‘need’ – so he had to beg in public for relief from his needs, like any lousy moocher, listing all his troubles and miseries, down to his patched drawers and his wife’s head colds, hoping that ‘the family’ would throw him the alms. He had to claim miseries, because it’s miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm – so it turned into a contest between six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother’s. How else could it be done? Do you care to guess what happened, what sort of men kept quiet, feeling shame, and what sort got away with the jackpot?

“But that wasn’t all. There was something else that we discovered at the same meeting. The factory’s production had fallen by forty percent, in that first half year, so it was decided that somebody hadn’t delivered ‘according to his ability.’ Who? How would you tell it? ‘The family’ voted on that, too. We voted which men were the best, and these men were sentenced to work overtime each night for the next six months. Overtime without pay – because you weren’t paid by time and you weren’t paid by work, only by need.

“Do I have to tell you what happened after that – and into what sort of creatures we all started turning, we who had once been humans? We began to hide whatever ability we had, to slow down and watch like hawks that we never worked any faster or better than the next fellow. What else could we do, when we knew that if we did our best for ‘the family,’ it’s not thanks or rewards that we’d get, but punishment? We knew that for every stinker who’d ruin a batch of motors and cost the company money – either through his sloppiness, because he didn’t have to care, or through plain incompetence – it’s we who’d have to pay with our nights and our Sundays. So we did our best to be no good.

“God help us, ma’am! Do you see what we saw? We saw that we’d been given a law to live by, a moral law, they called it, which punished those who observed it – for observing it. The more you tried to live up to it, the more you suffered; the more you cheated it, the bigger reward you got. Your honesty was like a tool left at the mercy of the next man’s dishonesty. The honest ones paid, the dishonest collected. The honest lost, the dishonest won. How long could men stay good under this sort of a law of goodness? We were a pretty decent bunch of fellows when we started. There weren’t many chiselers among us. We knew our jobs and we were proud of it and we worked for the best factory in the country, where old man Starnes hired nothing but the pick of the country’s labor. Within one year under the new plan, there wasn’t an honest man left among us. That was the evil, the sort of hell-horror evil that preachers used to scare you with, but you never thought to see alive. Not that the plan encouraged a few bastards, but that it turned decent people into bastards, and there was nothing else that it could do – and it was called a moral ideal!

“What was it we were supposed to work for? For the love of our brothers? What brothers? For the bums, the loafers, the moochers we saw all around us? And whether they were cheating or plain incompetent, whether they were unwilling or unable – what difference did that make to us? If we were tied for life to the level of their unfitness, faked or real, how long could we care to go on? We had no way of knowing their ability, we had no way of controlling their needs – all we knew was that we were beasts of burden struggling blindly in some sort of place that was half-hospital, half-stockyards – a place geared to nothing but disability, disaster, disease – beasts put there for the relief of whatever whoever chose to say was whichever’s need.

... By that time a village half-wit could see what generations of professors had pretended not to notice. What good would our need do to a power plant when its generators stopped because of our defective engines? What good would it do to a man caught on an operating table when the electric light went out? What good would it do to the passengers of a plane when its motor failed in mid-air? And if they bought our product, not because of its merit, but because of our need, would that be the good, the right, the moral thing to do for the owner of that power plant, the surgeon in that hospital, the maker of that plane?

“Yet this was the moral law that the professors and leaders and thinkers had wanted to establish all over the earth. If this is what it did in a single small town where we all knew one another, do you care to think what it would do on a world scale? Do you care to imagine what it would be like, if you had to live and to work, when you’re tied to all the disasters and all the malingering of the globe? to work – and whenever any men failed anywhere, it’s you who would have to make up for it. To work – with no chance to rise, with your meals and your clothes and your home and your pleasure depending on any swindle, any famine, any pestilence anywhere on earth. To work – with no chance for an extra ration, till the Cambodians have been fed and the Patagonians have been sent through college. To work – on a blank check held by every creature born, by men whom you’ll never see, whose needs you’ll never know, whose ability or laziness or sloppiness or fraud you have no way to learn and no right to question – just to work and work and work – and leave it up to the Ivys and the Geralds of the world to decide whose stomach will consume the effort, the dreams and the days of your life. And this is the moral law to accept? This – a moral ideal?"

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged





Diagramming a Recent National Geographic Article


November 29, 2010





The Quiet Stalker


The December 2010 National Geographic had an article on bats.

The quiet stalkers.  No, the focus of the article was not on "bats" as "quiet stalkers", but rather a disease called "white-nose syndrome" that has killed, at last count, one million bats, and threatens the survival of several species.

This is an attempt to understand the article, and, more importantly, the implications of the article:


I think that's a reasonable start.

As usual, a reasonable start brings up more questions than it does provide answers!  What's hibernation, and why do some things hibernate - but not others?  What is a metabolism?  Why does it slow down during hibernation?

It also doesn't follow to me merely because the bat awakens and has minimal fat stored it dies quickly.  Why doesn't it just go hunt?  That's what I do during the middle of the night when I awake?  Is it because the bat's prey, during the cold winter months, has "gone underground" as well?  More to come!

And there's something missing here as well.  Fungi, the article says, does not usually cause severe disease in warm-blood creatures.

Why not?

High body temperatures aren't conducive to runaway fungal growth.


Now, I'm not quite sure what's killing the bats.  Is death the result of the fungi, or is it because of starvation caused by the fungi waking the bat up?

But this is a good start, I think.  Not great, but good.  But let's cut to the chase. 

So what?

So what if bats are being killed off?  What does it mean to me?  The article tells of an ominous future:


Of course, there's something missing here:  a million bats have died thus far.  How many bats are there?  A billion?  A trillion?

Do they all hibernate?

Are they all equally susceptible to white-nose syndrome?

They (bats) eat insects.  What percent of insects are consumed by bats?  50%?  0.05?

They disperse seeds and pollinate flowers.  So do birds, right?  What percent of seeds are dispersed by bats?  What percent of flowers are pollinated by bats?

Moreover ...

If bats didn't pollinate flowers, does this imply the flowers don't get pollinated, or do other creatures fill the need?

I don't know the answer to any of these important questions.

How at risk is the system with this white-nose-syndrome attack on bats?

The search continues!



A Visual Short Story on the Field Goal


November 30, 2010





The first in a series of data displays and analysis on understanding how the field goal has changed over time - and why.

The initial data ...


Some displays ...