Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fun With Statistics

And when I say "fun", I kind of mean "mind-numbing horror".
While the numbers aren't well-published, over 100,000 people go missing annually in the US. This number does not reflect abductions by family members, victims of natural disasters, or any case where people have a pretty good idea where the missing person might have gone. This number is people who just vanish.
Further, it does not include people who, for whatever reason, aren't on "the grid". Homeless people and illegal immigrants are rarely reported missing, though empirical evidence would suggest a higher likelihood of just such a disappearance among these populations.
It is possible that some of these missing people just made a break for it, started over, severed ties, but there is no way anywhere near 100,000 could make that happen.
Please feel free to check these numbers on the FBI website. I'm not posting a link to a government website. That gets a person on a special list, probably.
Anyway, we can extrapolate from the over 100,000 "just missing" cases annually that an additional 50% go unreported from communities which historically don't report these things. Wait. That's too high. Let's go with 20%. I personally think it could equal the number of reported cases, but lacking evidence we will use a safe and reasonable number.
If we agree that 120,000 people can just freaking vanish in 2009 in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, I think it is frightening enough.
This breaks down to .04% of the total US population, just gone, every year.
Statistically, 32 people from my graduating class in high school have just disappeared.
Most of these cases get little publicity for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is common enough to not really be news-worthy. The second is that as the majority of these people are never found it makes us feel less safe, unsettled.
In more remote areas, the number of people who vanish is even more terrifying. Millions of people vanish in Africa annually. Some are the victims of war. Some will turn up again years later in refugee camps. But there are a lot of people vanishing in more peaceful areas of the continent as well.
While the numbers are harder to dig up, and even harder to verify, there are a lot of people doing population studies in Africa right now. How sustainable are the resources available for the surviving population? How much sprawling wilderness should be converted to farmland?
And these studies aren't limited to the human population, either.
In the Serengeti National Park, poaching is still an issue impacting animal survival, as is the availability of drinkable water and foraging area.
Unchanged, as near as we can tell, for millions of years is the rate of loss to large predators. Annually, and concentrating on adult herd animals, .05% of the population is lost to predation.
The rate is close enough to our own .04% loss to beg the question, could something unknown be culling the human herd?
Is it possible human predators are making this large an impact on our own population and leaving no forensic evidence of violence?
I don't personally believe people are smart enough as predators to pull off that particular trick.
All this is just numbers and extrapolation and fantasy, sure. But reality meets a dark place among these statistics.
I think I'm calling off my research project now.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I've been fairly regularly freaking out lately.
Since moving to South Carolina, I've been doing my best to come to terms with the differences between Columbia and Houston.
At the moment, the most noticeable thing is that it is freezing. Wait.
Literally freezing. Outside. Sometimes during the day.
Our driveway ices over. With ice.
Trees change colors seasonally. I'm so used to pines and live oaks whenever I pass a section of forest with great sweeping swaths of crimson and gold leaves, my first thought is that there is some disease -- Tree Blight, perhaps -- eating the forest.
And what's weirdest is that I pass sections of forest all the time.
There is a state park a couple of miles down the road.
Since moving here, without even entering the woods themselves, I've seen foxes, otters and (believe it or not) beavers, just running around outside like they own the place.
These creatures are endemic to zoos.
Everything I know about the natural world clearly puts these creatures in the "zoo and plastic toy" category along with lions and unicorns. But they run wild here. And sometimes down the middle of the four-lane road closest to our house.
Thankfully, the humans who live here generally drive more slowly than an otter runs.
The point is, if I wanted to watch Animal Planet I wouldn't have canceled cable TV.
When I was growing up in West Texas, wildlife had the decency to stay outside of town.
Of course, the desert creatures that live in West Texas wouldn't, as a rule, want anything in town. You couldn't buy liquor there unless you drove to the end of town east of the train tracks. I'm not sure animals are big drinkers, anyway. I actually don't know much about what animals want, I guess.
The safe thing to do, given my lack of knowledge about their motivations, is to assume they are hostile. That's not just safe, really. It's the American thing to do.
I've been researching the latest in snare technology. Oddly, aside from the substitution of polyester cord, there has been startlingly little advancement in snaring in the past eleven thousand years or so.
Don't we have some kind of task force looking at this issue? Where the hell are my tax dollars going?
It is a sad, sad day when I have to pepper my yard with snares designed in 500BCE by Proto-Europeans.
Why don't we have inflatable snares? Disposable ones? USB-powered snares, maybe?
Sometimes I think it is no wonder we are losing the war on nature.

Friday, January 08, 2010

What I Do

I hope my utter lack of details has left many questions as to what it is, exactly, that I do professionally.
I like to think it conjures an aura of mystery about me.
I do know that my family has no idea what I do, only that it involves computers.
When we lived in Houston, one of Shana's friends wanted me to meet her husband since we did the same kind of work and would obviously get along.
We met and talked. I told him what I do and he explained that he is actually a medical doctor who wrote and supports a program which sequences and indexes DNA, the very building blocks of life itself, to work out complex treatments for diseases and extend our lifespans.
There was a moment of stunned silence from me, after which he added,"Of course, that just means my family calls me whenever they can't print."
Wow. Our jobs are somehow fundamentally identical.

Anyway, I have a group of developers. Here is a picture for reference:

I don't know what their code does, technically, and the end result is some kind of math or something so I'll be the first to admit I don't care. However, I currently need them to test it.
I can't do this for them, and I'm not their boss so I can't make them.
Their boss has been emailing me directly about their progress in testing everything. While he can apply the needed pressure, he'd rather not. He has asked me to prod them into action.
So, this morning my job is, effectively, poking a bunch of cats with a stick and hoping that the outcome is that they all move, or at least shift, in the same, and desired, direction.
As my own research, I tried this on a couple of cats we happened to have laying around here.
Of my three test subjects, one bit the stick, one rolled over and rubbed her cheek against the end of the stick and one did not take any action at all. Perhaps I need to poke harder, but she looks so adorable all curled up and sleeping.
I suppose that is the issue I have with this whole process. I can't bother a sleeping cat, who statistically speaking probably spends upwards of sixteen hours per day sleeping. Bothering a human to do some testing of stuff they probably broke anyway is easier, but in principle exactly the same.
I hope this sheds some light on what I do, but not enough to pierce this oh-so-sexy veil of mystery.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


It's been six months since I quit playing World of Warcraft. Six months since I completed a quest. Six months since I trash-talked a battleground. Six months since I carried out complex Damage-per-second calculations while weighing the overall appearance of a new piece of gear. Six months since I defeated the forces of evil. Or good. Well, a lot of that depends on perception.
It has been a hell of a lot longer since I rolled dice in an old-school pencil and paper gaming manner.
I am, however, a gamer.
This isn't an activity or a hobby, really, not in this sense.
Gamer is a personality type. It's almost a condition. There are theories that it comes from wasted brain function, like unused cycles on a CPU endlessly burning through SETI calculations. The brain needs this downtime because of the way it is wired, or something. A diversion from the heavy lifting normally done during the course of a day. The imagination is rarely tapped in a conventional workday. Or it isn't appreciated if it is. At least it isn't appreciated by Human Resources.
Others say the twitch-factor is the key. There is only so much hand-eye action going on in ordering a latte and typing emails, so that energy is redirected towards slaying virtual dragons.
It isn't like this energy could be spent in other areas, either. This is specific stuff, completely incompatible with anything grounded in reality. And, if untapped, it becomes toxic. Probably.
I've joined the ranks of casual gamers. I'm not sure it's working, but it is within the boundaries I've set for myself.
A couple of minutes of diversion on the iPhone a couple of times a day and I can almost totally avoid the shakes.
Something like 145 million people over the age of 17 play these little puzzle games, word games and strategy games with no pressure to grind experience or join raiding guilds or haze the n00bs.
The majority of these people probably wouldn't call themselves gamers, but they play at least an hour a week to get counted, usually between four and six.
There are over a hundred million users on Farmville and over 50 million invites for it on my Facebook page.
These numbers amaze me.
The people they represent are our grandparents, co-workers, strangers in shopping malls and the guy that repressed his homoerotic urges by joining the football team in high school and beating up on smaller guys.
And all of us move around letters or colored blocks or bump each other off in Mafia Wars, for the most part making no contact with others of our kind within the game space. Because that is what is missing in casual gaming. I get no human element in it. The familiar faces are absent.
With massively-multiplayer the multiplayer element is what completes it, cinches the addiction, keeps me coming back to check in with people I know there.
And sometimes get them all killed when my cat decides to clean her ass on the keyboard while strategy is discussed.

Monday, January 04, 2010


First, knitting is like crazy-hard.
I've got the part where a series of slip knots makes a row of stitches. I actually even have one of those rows of stitches all neatly lined up across a knitting needle. After that, though . . . Um . . . Well, I have a row of stitches.
Any help you can offer at this point would be welcome. I've looked at various online diagrams about making the transition and reversing the direction to add the second row of stitches, but none are at all helpful. The YouTube videos also all seem to be either filmed from way too far off or recorded at triple speed.
This hand-knitted Snuggie project is going to take forever if I don't find someplace to buy a thirty-five foot long knitting needle.
We picked up drapes for the floor length windows overlooking the pool. That water-filled hole is pretty depressing during the winter months and the glare was horrible on the TV. Anything which obscured the CGI on the Sony is a bad thing. It has been fixed.
Work is ramping back up to production speed as people return from vacations. I'm becoming more adept at the paperwork involved in delaying progress at a large national corporation. This is a skill every I.T. person should embrace.
One other thing on the to-do list involves a call to the home warranty people.
I need someone to verify our wiring.
Quick end-of-the-year math tells me we've gone through four wireless routers, a microwave, a refrigerator, a dvd player, a desktop PC and two televisions since moving in. This, coupled with the fact that odd electrical fields have been resulting in nighttime hallucinations and there are places where I can stick a pin to the wall using magnetism as opposed to any pin-insertion technique leads me to believe something may be wrong with the way our wiring is . . . Um . . . wired, I guess.
At any rate, even if I had the equipment to test for that, it would likely explode if I plugged it in. It is better for us to call professionals, or at the very least people with the right type of insurance.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


So far, 2010 has been 100% composed of spending time with the family, watching SciFi, and sleeping in.
While I knew the whole time it wasn't sustainable long-term, I enjoyed the absolute hell out of it.
Gwynyth goes back to school tomorrow, and I resume my commute before she boards the bus, but I will drag my relaxation kicking and screaming into the meaty part of 2010 if it kills me.

Happy New Year, everybody.