Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I see over on the Al-Dente blog (via Insty) that there is a "Hunger Action Challenge" which challenges one to:
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner spending only $7 ($12 for two, $18 for three, and $22 for four) per day.
  • Salt and pepper don't count but all other seasonings, cooking oils, condiments, snacks, drinks, and everything else do.
  • Don't use food you already own.
  • Don't accept food from family, friends, coworkers and others. Not even the free samples from Costco!
  • Try to include fresh produce and healthy protein each day.
(I have highlighted the family-of-two cost, as it is just my wife and I.)

Now, let me introduce you to our new, recently spiffied-up monthly food budget (now with more money and new fruit and veggie category!):
General Groceries: $192.50
Fruits and Veggies: $55.00
Coffee: $7.00
Alcohol: $7.00
Date Night: $25.00

If you include the maximum of $50 or so of our respective fun money that ends up going to Starbucks, McDonald's, or subsidizing a date night in a given month, we have a total of $336.50, or $11.22 per day for a 30 day month.

I hereby declare victory over this not-particularly-challenging challenge.

If my wife and I can manage to eat what we believe to be a balanced diet, complete with dinner at Outback and a few fast food runs, on less than the maximum food stamp benefit for a family of two, it would seem that hunger just isn't that big of a problem. This challenge has backfired - I'm more skeptical than I was going into thinking about it!

I realize that I live in a fairly low-food-cost area here in Indiana, but all it takes is skipping date night and fast food, and all of a sudden the food budget stretches much farther. What am I missing here?

Friday, March 18, 2011


Patrick over at Popehat points me toward a video that's got the internet all atwitter (I've since seen it pop up through two other unrelated blogs). This video shows a kid getting bullied. The bully throws no less than four punches, at which point the kid on the receiving end decided he wasn't going to take it any more and bodyslams the much smaller bully, probably breaking his ankle in the process. It appears that according to the newsies I'm supposed to be disturbed. As someone who spent years of my life receiving similar abuse, all I can find it in myself to do is cheer - the little twerp had it coming.

Schools as currently run do little to nothing to stop bullying, and I'm not sure that there is much they really can do. If we expect the school administration to come down hard on any suspected bullying, they'll inevitably be conned into punishing kids who have done nothing. The current accepted method of waiting until the bullying escalates into full-on "fight" and then punishing all participating parties, however, is asinine. The only way it becomes a "fight" is if the bullied kid defends himself. That's how I got detention several times in sixth grade - I wasn't about to let myself get pummeled. Unfortunately, I don't have a better idea for how schools should handle it.

On the other hand, I do know that the best way to stop bullying is for the bullied kid to defend himself in a way that scares the pants off the bully. I never found myself forced to fight hard enough to do lasting damage to the bullies (unlike the kid in the video). But I did find that my life in junior high got a lot easier after I pinned one little shit of a bully to the wall of the locker room by his throat and explained to him that I was sick of his crap; I didn't actually hurt him, but I did demonstrate that I was both capable and willing to do so if he continued.


I'm very confused about current calls for US and/or European military intervention in Libya. Didn't our last military intervention against a third-world autocrat end badly? And lead to about a bajillion protests? What makes this different?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not the reference they were going for...

Going to ESPN.com, I find the headline on the main page to be as follows:
His Pen Is Mighty

Has nobody on their copyediting staff seen SNL celebrity Jeopardy? *snicker*

Police Encounter

I find myself wondering why, in the only two occasions I have had interactions with local police in their official capacity, they have been total assholes. This is the story of the most recent interaction.

Today, the parking lot I typically use on campus had the overwhelming majority of it marked off with cones, and a squad car driving slowly within that area. I pulled into that parking lot and began driving around the outside of the coned area toward the area at one end where I could see several cars parked.

As I drove along the narrow strip left between the cones and the edge of the parking lot, the squad car rolled up from the other direction. I rolled down my window, with the intent to ask where or if I was allowed to park in the lot. The officer, without waiting for me to say a word, proceeded to berate me, asking rhetorically "Didn't you see all the cones and the squad car?" He then proceeded to both call me an "idiot" and tell me to "turn your brain on." He continued, declaring that I should have used a very specific lot entrance (where the other cars were), even though there were no signs declaring such, nor were there any indications that the entrance I did use was intended to be closed. (It's not like they had a shortage of cones to close entrances with.)

I received this verbal abuse despite the fact that at no point had I crossed a line marked out by any cones, nor had I been anything but respectful to the officer. I think from now on I will cease calling police officers "sir" by default, since they clearly feel no duty to be respectful to me. I know a few individual officers who are great people, but I'm getting a bit jaded on the population as a whole.

To the unknown officer I unfortunately met at noon today: You are an asshole, and you have greatly diminished the respect I have for people in your profession. If you want civilians to cooperate with police at any time in the future, it may behoove you to at least be civil to us. Being an ass is only undermining your own authority.

To the Purdue University Police Department: I can only assume that Officer Asshole is one of yours. Please discuss with him the virtues of attempting to model respect and professionalism in interactions with civilians, which help to bolster rather than undermine the authority of police everywhere.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Statistics: How not to use them

Two recent articles on how statistics can be (mis)used to mislead people about the thing being discussed. This really gets at the heart of one of my pet peeves about news: just because you can toss a number, ratio, or percentage out does not make it helpful to understanding the issue in question.*

Here are two cases in which statistics may actively obscures the issue:

1) A general post on When is an Average Not an Average? It does a great job pointing out why averages don't actually mean anything in a large number of situations.

2) A much more controversial post, wherein the author looks deeply at a statistic that failed the sniff test, and discusses the statistical implications of the fact that concentration of the incidence within a small group distorts the statistic being applied to the entire population.

Interesting to the math geek in me.

*On a related note, a group of grad students I took a Finite Element Theory class with had a running joke that the analyses the presenters showed us had to be right because they had pretty color pictures of the results. The implication of course being that no matter how pretty the analysis/picture/statistic looks, it's only as good as the foundational assumptions on which it is built. Having a number/picture/whatever does not make the analysis correct. Different point, but related.