Monday, January 08, 2007

Programmers: The good and the great

I just read that the best programmers are at least 12 times as productive as the average programmer. Amazing. Good to keep in mind when selecting graduate students.

Economist (2006). The revenge of the bell curve. The Economist, October 7-13. p20--22.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Differences between conservatives and liberals

Just read a fascinating article in Pychology Today, Feb 2007, p81, describing empirical research on the differences in personality and experiences of liberals and conservatives. 9/11 made many people conservative and one theory is that the fear of death did it.

are neater, keep houses cleaner, better lit, and more conventional, have fewer books, are more religious, more pessimistic, like country music, like TV and talk radio, have a greater desire to pick a position and stick to it, are more conscientious. Those who think the world is dangerous and have a great fear of death are more likely to be conservative.
As kids, conservatives were easily victimized and offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable.

keep houses more cluttered, have more travel documents, their books cover a wider variety of topics, like classical and jazz, are more optimistic, like abstract art, like romantic comedies, poetry, diary writing, acting, and playing musical instruments. They are more intellectually curious, excitement-seeking, creative, and crave stimulation in the form of travel, color, art, music, and literature. As people travel and become more educated they get more liberal. They see shades of gray more than conservatives.
As kids, liberals were more self-reliant, energetic, impulsive and resiliant, had a close relationship with peers.


I've heard that the national sport of Canada is Lacrosse, but unofficially the national sport is certainly hockey. A few times people have identified me as American by my pronounciation of this word-- the vowell sound in the first syllable, when I say it, is a flatter "a" sound, more like the "a" in "cat" than the more "ah" sound Canadians use.

I have three hockey stories. The first is documented in my entry on underwater hockey, so I won't retell the story, but if you want to read it go to this link:

My second is my first experiencing being at a bar with friends while there was a hockey game going on on TV. My friends invited me out to see it, but it was 2004, and we all know what that means! It means I could not watch television for the whole year. If you don't know what I'm talking about, see my FAQ at

I went anyway, thinking it would be a challenge, and, more importantly, very funny. So I went and didn't look at the TV even once. I sat there for the whole game, asking what was happening and watching the faces of my friends watching TV. It's weird when you do this. I get a similar experience when I am in the movie theatre. When the commercials come on, I turn my head (I like to sit in the front row)and like to watch the people watching the commercials that everyone complains about. They all complain, but usually I'm the only one in the theater actually doing anything other than watching them.

My third story: I left Canada to visit my folks in Florida, and my cousin Carlos took me to a hockey game in Florida. It's amazing how much effort they put into making the experience fun, even for people who don't give a flying albatros about the game. There are lots of chants to do, games, and this adorable "kiss cam" which gets focused on people, who are then expected to kiss.I've never seen such a sad job for cheerleaders, though. They're usually stuck in that dark alley where the zamboni machine comes through, cheering wherepractically nobody can see them. Once in a while they go into the aisles and do a short routine. During breaks in play, they skate out onto the ice and wave, but carry brooms and shovels and haul snow off the rink.

Tampa was losing terribly by the end of the second period, so we beat the traffic and split, listening to rap music all the way home.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year's Resolution: No Sliced Bread

As some of you may know, my friend Lou and I have a new year's resolution every year that we keep up for one year.

Ususally it's giving something up, because it's easier to know for sure you have not violated it at the end of the year. We make very specific rules for what counts as a violation and what does not. Why do we do it? It's a test of willpower and a good conversation piece.

This year we are giving up eating sliced bread. This means we cannot eat bread that has been sliced off of a loaf with a knife. So no toast, no french toast, no texas toast, no sandwich bread. We were thinking of having it so we can't eat any bread product that has been cut with a knife (you'd have to rip the roll with your fingers) but we were feeling pretty down about the abject failure of the resolution of 06 (see below) that we went for something easy.

I went out swing dancing for new year's eve and brought a slice of white bread in a ziplock baggie to eat just before midnight, but I forgot all about it. I did, however, get to laugh at the thought of the people cleaning up the swing dance venue finding a single piece of white bread in a baggie and wondering what the hell?

These are some things I've given up in the past:

2006: Say "I'm on my way, I'm making it" every time I get money. That means every time I find money, get change, find out there's been a direct deposit, somebody gives me money they've owed me, or I open an envelope and see a check in there for me. This was a dismal failure. I forgot all about it and didn't think to do it once, I don't think, in the last 9 months of the year.

2005: No Fruit. This idea was so ridiculous Lou and I had to try it. We can't eat whole fruits or fruits manipulated such that you could reproduce the effect with a knife. So no peach slices, but you can eat peach jelly. We are not counting tomatoes, even though they are fruits, because they are not treated as fruits in our culture. That is, we're using the popular, not the scientific, definition of fruits.

2004: No watching television. Specifically, this means no broadcast, where broadcast is defined as one central entity sending a signal that could be watched by people in more than one building. So DVDs and Videos are fine, for the most part, unless they were recordings of broadcast. DVDs of TV shows are okay because they were not recoded from the broadcast, but from the same entity that generated the broadcast. The hardest part of this one was in bars and restaurants. Sometimes there's nowhere to sit that does not face a TV. You end up catching your eyes wandering to the TV and you have to catch yourself. Annoying.

2003: No eating Hamburgers. Where a hamburger is defined as a ground beef patty. This one was painfull, because I eat a few hambugers a week, even though I could eat turkey or garden burgers. But believe me, they are no substitute for a good burger. I found myself eating a lot fo cheesesteaks. I screwed up one day, bigtime: I ate 12 Krystals (mini burgers). I wasn't thinking of them as burgers! Note that every violation I've ever done has been accidental, never giving in to temptation.

2002: No Little Debbie products. Normally I eat a lot of these.

2001: No french fries.

2000: Floss every day. This was the only "positive" resolution we had. The trick to doing something every day is routine. The problem is when are you going to floss? If you floss before bed, you will likely screw up because sometimes you go to bed twice in one day: you go to bed after midnight one day and before midnight on the next, and you end up flossing twice in one day and none on another. So I got in the habit of flossing when I got up, which only happened once per day. I missed one day.

1999: No cake. The hard part of this one was the definition. We decided on this complicated, but at least, consistent definition of cake. Something was cake if it 1) had the word cake in it, or 2) sufficiently resembled prototypical birthday cake. That means no birthday cake, twinkies, crab cakes, pancakes, funnel cakes, swiss cake rolls, ice cream cakes, etc.

1998: No ice cream. I ate a decent amount of frozen yogurt, but man, it's just not the same.

1997: No pork. I missed bacon a lot. I had to be careful about buying hotdogs. But since there are whole cultures who need to avoid pork, these things are fairly well labelled. I only screwed up once: I ate fried pork snacks in Mexico city that I thought were cheese. What are you going to do?

1996: No salt and pepper applied to foods after preperation. This means that we can put salt or pepper in something we are cooking, but not on it after we or anyone else is done cooking. We also decided that asking someone else to apply salt and pepper for us is still applying it, using the other person as a tool, so that was disallowed as well. My girlfriend at the time ended up putting salt and pepper on my grits, even though I never asked her to do so.

1989: No swearing. What's so difficult about this one is that, unlike trying not to eat something, the actual swearing comes immediately after the "decision" to swear. I gradually swore less until it was gone completely after about three months. After that I got a girlfriend who, for about eight months, never heard me swear. I couldn't wait for 1990.

1988: No soda. Where a soda is defined as a non-alcoholic carbonated drink. I messed up on this one only once. I was in France and my mother bought me an expensive grape drink that neither of us thought was carbonated. I swallowed a sip before I realized it had carbonation. To her annoyance, I refused to drink any more of it. I was a junior in high school.