Dead Mice: Update


There are now four dead mice outside of my apartment. If I find eight of them on my next observation, I'll have the beginning of an exponential curve going.


So, I lied.

I said it's been about a week or so.

It had actually been two and a half.

Time flies.

The case of the dead mice

Hello readers.

It's been a week or so. I've been pretty busy. I'm doing some interesting things at work, but that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the fact that a week ago, I found a dead mouse outside of my apartment. Not outside of the building, but outside of the window that leads out into my "backyard." That was not the first dead, squishy mouse that I've found out there. It was the third. When I found it, I was momentarily disgusted. Then I was a bit sad. Then I left.

Admittedly, leaving a dead mouse out there to rot is not the most sanitary thing to do. But back then, I really didn't feel like dealing with it. It was cold and I had other things to deal with.

When I came back today, I found that the little bugger had found itself a partner. I can't tell which one was there first - they both look like they're in pretty bad shape. Luckily, there aren't any other animals around to bother them. If I were more enterprising, I would start taking a daily photo log of them and mimic what they did at stinkymeat. But I'm not, and that project was gross anyway.

I'm formulating hypotheses. Here's the main theory: I think that the backyard is some sort of death trap for them. The place where they die is at the base of a set of steps. Everything around those steps is either brick, steel, or glass, so they probably can't tunnel their way out. If I had to make a guess, they probably have been coming from some other place outside, make their way down to the bottom of the steps, then get stuck and die long, slow deaths.

The cruel, apathetic part of me would want to know what gets them first: the cold or the hunger. I'm guessing that I could probably get some insight by looking at the corpses and seeing if the second one tried to eat the corpse of the first one. Anyway.

The other hypothesis I have is that they somehow fell off a ledge from upstairs apartments. The reason I think that this is possible is because they are very, very flat on the bottom. They haven't splatted or anything, but they definitely look a little squished. Also, I saw a note on the front door of the building from another tenant, asking if anyone else had noticed a mouse problem. So, they're definitely elsewhere in the building. Maybe they made their way down to the outside of my apartment via gravity.

One last thought - I'd really love it if there was a way of getting rid of these things without having to actually pick them up. It's not that I'm incapable of doing it. I've picked up a number of dead things in my lifetime, including a rat that had been left in one of those snap-traps for so long that it was completely stiff, from the tip of its tail to the end of its snout. It's just that it's really unpleasant, especially when you have no idea how long it's been there. It's really unpleasant when you don't know how long it's been there, but you know it's been at least a week. At that point, you know that it's going to be completely liquefied on th inside, and so will be unreasonably squishy around the midsection. You also know that it will probably be stuck to the metal floor, so you will have to really get under there, like a spatula beneath an omelette cooking on an un-oiled, brass pan. This is probably a bit too much detail, but it should give you an idea of why I really am not looking forward to doing this.

At one point, I thought about finding a stray animal of some sort that might want to eat these things. But I'm pretty sure that would be wrong and more importantly, way more trouble than its worth.

Anyway, that's enough of that. I'll post something substantive some other time.

Being sick

There was a time when a good old-fashioned bout of vomiting was a sign that you were having a good, no, an awesome night. That time was called college. Unfortunately, that is clearly no longer true for me.

Yesterday and for a good portion of today, I've been pretty sick in the stomach. Things came out of my stomach that I thought had been put away days ago.

All this while, there have been two things that came to mind. One, I am very lucky to have a loving girlfriend that was willing to take care of me.

Second, I am also extremely fortunate to have health care, courtesy of my employer. The US is currently the only developed nation to not have a universal health care system. This puts us behind many countries that we typically consider to be mildly retarded/backwards, including Canada, Russia, New Zealand, China, Poland, Mexico, and Argentina[1]. Our system currently leaves an estimated 17% of the population uninsured[2]. That translates to roughly 50m people without coverage. While I'm in no position to go off on a discussion of the pros and cons of our current health care system, I will say a few things.

One, health care costs have been going up at about 7% a year. That means that they'll double in a little over a decade, leaving people without health insurance doubly screwed.

Two, I think it would be incredibly frightening to be in a position where you feel deathly ill, aren't sure if your appendix is about to explode, but feel incapable of calling a doctor because you know you won't be able to afford it.

Lastly, according to the Kaiser Foundation, it would cost about $110 billion[3] to provide health care coverage for those that currently are not being covered. The war in Iraq has currently cost us $360 billion[4] and is projected to hit $1-2 trillion[4] before we are done.

So, yeah. That's about it.

[3] The estimate is actually $69 billion, but I've scaled the number up to account for the 7% growth in expense and the growing number of people that are uninsured.

Boston, MA is retarded

I lived in Cambridge, MA for four years. This does not really give me the authority to comment on how retarded Boston is, but just for the sake of this post, I'm going to pretend that it does.

In all seriousness, Boston is severely retarded in many ways. It is one of the most heavily college-populated towns in the country and yet it restricts people from purchasing alcohol after eleven (it previously stopped people from doing it on Sunday). That may actually be smart, but from the point of view of the college student, it is very stupid.

It has a subway system where you can buy the equivalent of a Metrocard on one of the lines, only to discover that that Metrocard is not accepted at other subway stops, requiring you to purchase tokens to get back to where you cam from. Yeah. Tokens.

Its major, major architectural project, The Big Dig, was originally estimated to cost $2.8BN and end in 1985. As of now, it has cost $14.6BN and only "finished" in January 2006. And by "finished," I mean, got to the point where people could start driving in it, only to notice the thousands of leaks, usage of substandard materials, and collapsing ceilings.

So yeah, Boston is retarded.

Here is the latest manifestation of its retardation: It got freaked out by 40 glowing Mooninite boards that were posted around the city. It was so freaked out, it had bomb squads come in and shut down half the city. Turner Broadcasting had to pay fines of $2MN for being so crazy as to put up advertisements.

In this post-9/11 era, I can vaguely understand why people would respond the way that they did. The one part that doesn't click with me is - why would terrorists decide to make their bombs glow? More importantly, why would they make their bombs look like little block-shaped cartoon characters giving us all the finger? Isn't that a little too much pop-culture for people that hate us because of our godless, commercial excesses/on-going support of Israel?

Anyway, I digress. To read more about it, check out this article.

[Link via Thomas Bechtold]

Weird things

Recently, I signed up for Feedburner so I could start tracking the traffic data for this site. I'm interested in basically two things - how many people are actually reading this and who those people are. At one point, this wouldn't have been particularly interesting to me. For the most part, I've just been assuming that no one - save for a few friends and family - would actually bother to pay attention. However, there's been a recent wave of anonymous comments (and by "wave," I mean all of 3-4 comments, which is a lot for me) that have piqued my curiosity. Who are you people and how did you get here?

Since I started checking this out, I'll admit to being even more perplexed about who's actually looking at this thing. Given who my friends are and where they're from, I would have guessed that I'd see traffic coming from New York, Boston, and the Bay area. While I'm right about New York, the rest of the traffic is actually coming from LA and Scottsdale. Boston and the Bay Area aren't even on the radar. Which leads me to believe that either this traffic tracker is feeding me BS or I have somehow attracted people from places where my current friend count is zero.


Update: I've had one person come forward. Now all I want to know is who is coming from Iquique, speaks Castilian, and/or is searching for "record tall tallest giantess women videos."

Global Warming, one more time

About a month ago, I joined everyone and their hippy mothers by writing a post expressing my concern about global warming. Since then, there's been a heavy flow of writing around the subject. Notable events included:

* The IPCC releasing a summary report [pdf] stating that it is "very likely" that climate change is caused by human activity. For those wondering wtf "very likely" actually means, it means better than 90%, which is pretty freaking likely.
* The US speculating that "putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands of tiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulphate droplets pumped into the high atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption" could be a possible means of dealing with global warming. [via The Guardian, report is here in pdf format]
* The NOAA coming out and saying that 2006 was the "Warmest year on record"
* Vinod Khosla saying, "He should see his proctologist to find his head, and you can quote me," referring to the chief executive of Nestle, the food giant, who had questioned global warming. [Link via Valleywag]

There's still a substantial amount of resistance to the whole global warming thing, which I find pretty surprising. For a random sampling, check out these responses to Fred Wilson's blog, or the comments on this Arstechnica article.

Without being a climate expert, it's hard for me to join in the fray and provide long-winded proofs of anything. I can, however, point to the fact that there seem to be people on the "we're not doing it" side that seem to be actively trying to manipulate the conversation so as to change the way that this story plays out [article here, same as above]. While I'm sure there are very intelligent people that believe that anthropogenic climate change is just a mass-media conspiracy, I find myself made increasingly skeptical by the fact that they need to cover things up in order to make their point.

The American Enterprise Institute just sent out a letter offering scientists $10,000 plus travel expenses to write criticisms of the IPCC's findings. The paper they hope to sponsor will "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model [forecasting] outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy..." The letter goes on to criticize the IPCC for being "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work."

Some scientists have criticized the letter, as it is actively soliciting papers with a particular outcome. The American Enterprise Institute receives funding from Exxon ($240k in 2005, $1.6m in total), which they claim represents less than 1% of their total funding. More than 20 of its staff members have worked as consultants for the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former ExxonMobil head, is the vice chairman on their board of trustees.

The Exxon connection is considered significant, as there is a widespread perception that Exxon is actively funding agencies in an effort to cloud public perception on the dangers of public warming. To date, Exxon has spent $16m on funding for 43 "organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science," according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

[Sources: CNN and the Guardian]

An Ode to the Daily Show

I love the Daily Show. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and call it the single best show on television. My guess is that while a good portion of you think it's a fine show, you may not really feel that it rates as the best show. After all, there are a bunch of other quality shows out there, especially the new breed of serials that get us all incredibly involved in complex story lines that may or may not ever pan out (*coughLostcough*). That's all well and good, but the Daily Show is the best, and here's why.

1) The show is hilarious. It clearly stands in the same league as Leno or Conan (never been a Letterman fan, sorry). Judged purely on the grounds of entertainment, the show is quality. Some nights can fall a little flat, and the interviews can sometimes be uninteresting. But the quality levels is consistently pretty good and for a show that comes out four days a week, that's awesome.

2) The show is the left's response to Fox News.

Begin digression: It seems to me that the world of news is increasingly focused on pulling in viewers and less about responsibly reporting what the f*** is actually happening. This has resulted in several types of reporting. There's the heart-on-sleeve reporting, where the news is reported but interpreted by a newscaster with an explicitly stated leaning (think Anderson Cooper, Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly). There's infotainment, where the news is liberally mixed with "stories" that are entertaining, designed to pull in people that normally consider newscasts to be dry and boring (see my previous post on CNN, and Fox news). And of course, there's blatant partisan hackery (see Fox News). The common thread here is that the reporting of the news is increasingly focused on being easily digestable, requiring as little viewer interpretation as possible. End digression.

Fox has managed to do this by blending trashy stories with intense partisan hackery. The trashy stories draw people in. The partisan hackery tilts them towards a particular political direction. If you doubt that they are drawing people in with trashy stories, then head on over to the Fox News website. A quick scan of their stuff shows me these immediately clickable headlines:

* Hot Bods VolleyPalooza: Miami based models battle it out in beach volleyball at Super Bowl event
* Woman: Ex sent me severed kitten head
* Stray dog rescues Ga. woman from crash
* Cops arrest Chewbacca street performer
* Rice rooting for Colts in bowl
* Some meth addicts turn to urine to get high

While a lot of the other news sites have crap on them, I'm going to state with an 85% confidence level that Fox's crap-to-quality ratio is the highest out there.

This is why the Daily show is great. It uses the same formula - mixing entertainment with news - to compete for viewers, but without getting dragged into the morally decrepit cesspool that the Fox News channel has claimed as its favored mudhole.

3) The Daily Show does something that no other show (that I know of) is willing to do - tell the god damn truth. While every other news show on the air incessantly worries about political posturing and appropriate levels of gravitas, the Daily Show consistently focuses on what it considers to be the "real" story and then juxtaposes that with the garbage that the other networks decided to actually focus on. When the other news networks deferentially played the role of Presidential fanboy, the Daily Show showed us clip after clip of the President/Vice President/Secretary of Defense/Press Secretary saying one thing, saying it again, saying it a third time, and then saying he never said it. In essence, it gets us a little closer to the truth, which I think is becoming increasingly elusive in today's world of "Fair and Balanced" reporting.

4) Jon Stewart. While every other show out there seems to have some sort of clear agenda that it's trying to sell, Stewart doesn't seem to have one at all. If anything, his job seems to be to seek and expose hypocrisy and agendas wherever they may be. Maybe I'm just internally overstressing the importance of his single-handedly dismantling "Crossfire," which he seemed to do for no reason other than that it was the right thing to do. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit for backing Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondent's dinner. But I just have a belief in that man that I wouldn't even extend to Barack Obama, were it to come down to it. And the fact that this show can restore my belief in the integrity of television personalities is what makes this show great.

I'm not going to say that him and his show don't have a clear political stance. The Daily Show clearly appeals much more to those leaning towards the left. At one point, I might have found that objectionable - maybe because it smacks of some sort of agenda or partisan hackery. But the truth of the matter is that the show trades in satire: it ridicules stupidity, pompousity and hypocrisy, wherever it may be. And the Daily Show is clearly willing to take a stab at either side of the aisle. Witness the reporting on "the First 100 hours," or Stewart's relatively merciless interview with Joe Biden. While the guy certainly isn't above tossing out soft-balls every once in a while, I trust him to report on what he thinks is right, rather than what will score a political potshot.

Last comment: The one criticism that might be leveled at the Daily Show is that it is frivolous, doesn't actually contain any real news, and is pulling American youth away from real newscasts where they might actually learn something. While I certainly wouldn't call the Daily Show a comprehensive newscast, I do think that it provides a (relatively) reasonable amount of news for just a half hour period. To back me up, check out this press release from Indiana University. In brief, a widely cited article claims that the Daily Show is as substantive a news source as regular network news, with "substantive" being defined as discussion of issues. Anyway, this post is long enough. You all can read that for yourself.

Link to press release via Arstechnica

This chart makes me sad

This chart (from a National Geographic study) is a country-by-country breakdown, showing the percentage of people that believe that "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

Caveat, this chart is not all-inclusive. It only includes "Western" countries, which seems to include Japan for some reason. I'm sure that if we were to survey some other places, the US might not be second to last.

Even so, I find it incredibly disheartening to think that our country is so behind the times that we are roughly 10 slots behind Poland. If any of you ever makes a Polish joke again, just remember that they're still miles ahead of us in terms of not believing that the Bible is the literal word of God.

One last point. The other disheartening thing about this is that not only are we far behind ranking-wise, the margin is also terrible. Only 40% of us decisively believe that evolution is true. That says something terrible and sad about scientific education and rational processes in this country.

Link via Overcoming Bias


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