Friday, June 27, 2008

More Knuth Wisdom

I somehow hadn't noticed that Knuth recently released another book in his Art of Computer Programming series. Actually, it's not a book -- it's a fascicle (something I had to go look up on This one is part of what will be a multivolume series on combinatorics.

The full title is The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4, Fascicle 0: Introduction to Combinatorial Algorithms and Boolean Functions. Another cool book to buy and only partially comprehend...

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Premarital Sex == Less HIV

I need to buy the Elizabeth Pisani book The Wisdom of Whores; it sounds like it will be interesting in the same way that Alexa Albert's Brothel was. Anyway, she offers some data from the developing world that seems to bolster Steven Landsburg's argument that if the total amount of sex went up (via increased frequency among those who do it less frequently now, rather than hyper-sex amongst those already most frequent), STD rates would decline. This argument was made in More Sex Is Safer Sex.

The full quote should be read over at the MR post where I saw this story, but one bit that I found interesting:

At the start of the 1990s, 57 percent of twenty-one-year-old men in Northern Thailand trooped off to the brothel to do their philandering. More than half the sex workers who soaked up their excess energy were HIV-infected....

Chinese Sports Academies

During my trip to and from Richmond last week, I picked up the current issue of Time. There was a really interesting feature story in this issue that talked about China's sports development academies. There are lots of them: about 3000 scattered across the country. They send out scouts to find kids who have the objectively-measurable attributes that make them well suited to a particular sport (even if they have never heard of the sport in question) and offer to enroll them in one of the academies. The entire story is China's Sports School: Crazy for Gold.

In an effort to try to win the most golds at the Olympics, they spend extra recruitment efforts on sports that have a large number of medals awarded (like swimming). I'd be curious as to how much doping they have going on now; the 1990s Chinese women's swimming team was particularly blatant: only good in sprint events, deep voices, acne, and hugely discontinuous drops in time (and a men's team that wasn't even on the radar). Actually failing drug tests a ton of times surely adds some support to the view of widespread, East German-style doping at the time.

There was even an interesting bit about Chinese ping pong dominance (and how it came to be):

Consider the country's decades-long dominance of table tennis. This supremacy had little to do with a national passion for wooden paddles and plastic balls. China decided to develop star paddlers largely because the International Table Tennis Federation was, in 1953, one of the first sports organizations to drop ties with Taiwan in favor of the mainland. In 1959, Rong Guotuan made history as China's first world champion in any sport. Mao deemed the victory a "spiritual nuclear weapon." Determined to maintain Ping-Pong supremacy, coaches fanned out across the countryside looking for kindergartners with quick reflexes and superior hand-eye coordination. "Other countries have produced some really good table-tennis players," says Liu Fengyan, director of China's table-tennis administrative center. "But without a sports system like China's, their success ends when those athletes retire."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Straight Dope On Candidates' Tax Proposals

I saw a post over at Capital Gains and Games that listed something I'd long wondered about: what actual dollar values the McCain and Obama tax policies translated to. It's pretty easy to get the impression that McCain's proposals would equate to a sizable cut above and beyond what Bush already did (given that he's proposing eliminating the AMT and reducing corporate tax rates (albeit phased)), and that Obama's must be expensive (since every speech is laden with tons of new programs and bolstering of various existing programs...all of which has additional cost).

Here is are the numbers, from a new Brookings/Urban Institute study:

...compared to current policy, Senator McCain would cut taxes by $628 b. over the next 10 years and that Senator Obama would raise them by $734 b. over the same period. Most of Senator McCains cuts go to middle and high income individuals, while most of Senator Obama's cuts would go to low and middle income individuals.

It goes on to say that Obama's tax raise may be markedly higher than the 734, since he has repeatedly proposed completely eliminating the current $250k income limit cap on payroll taxes (which would amount to a huge hike for high earners). He's also denied this at various the study worked up his numbers without this change. The full post referenced at Capital Gains and Games is here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Post-Ride Report: Real Ale Ride

Saturday was the Real Ale Ride in Blanco, TX. I had not done it before (there was just last year, and I heard that one was cancelled due to super high winds at starting time).

I planned on doing the 80 mile route (they sometimes listed it as 85...and their own GPS-published version of the map shows it as 77-something). That didn't happen: the ride started late, I blew some time with a flat around mile 14 or so, and the hills sure didn't speed me along. While waiting to refill my water bottles at rest stop two (and later searching for a full size pump, in vain), a ride worker runs around yelling "if you are going to do the 80 mile route, you have to leave within the next minute and a half!!" I looked around and saw a bunch of people in the drink line basically shrug like 'oh well, darn ;)'. So, everyone left was shunted to the 65 mile route.

It was a pretty nice ride, and basically what I was guessing it would be: pretty hilly and scenic. Blanco is about 20 minutes south of Johnson City, straight down 281. If you've driven to San Antonio via 281 before: that hilly stuff you drive through along the way was the sort of landscape for this ride. It was mostly rural FM/RM county roads running alongside ranches with wandering cattle. I took these photos from just before the 50 mile stop:

I should have taken some earlier in the ride, where it was particularly hilly (mile 9 sticks out, as does 36/37). 9 was abrupt and steep, while the 36/37 was loooong and sustained climbing. All of the extra pounds I was carrying with me were particularly unwelcome on that second hill!

I actually got a second flat right after the long climb, at the 40 mile rest stop. It was kind of bizarre: after my 14 mile flat, I used a CO2 inflator to get my tire up to about 100 psi. I'd looked for a full size pump at the 25 mile stop to try to top it off to 110-120, but couldn't find one. I did find one at the 40 mile stop, and proceeded to pump up to about 120. I propped my bike up against a fence, and went to refill my water bottles. While I was in line, I heard a loud pop...loud enough that everyone turned to see what it was. It was my bike, still over by the fence. It seems that I must have had a pinch right by the valve stem when I changed the last flat, and ha ridden with that pinch from 14-40..and the extra inflation up to 120 was enough to push it over a threshold and pop it. The tire was totally off the rim near the valve stem when I went to see what had happened. Luckily, the Bicycle Sport Shop van was at the stop at this point, and so I was promptly hooked up with a free tube (I'd only brought one, using it for the 14 mile flat) and use of a full size pump. The mechanic also was kind enough to slightly adjust one a limit screw after I inquired about a bit of clicking I heard in my small ring (but not the big) -- that fixed it.

The ride finishes right at the Real Ale brewery (where it started). Each rider gets 2 Real Ale beers of their choice, as well as BBQ catered by Riley's. The food was good, as was the beer. The only minus here was the lack of throughput on the food line; it kind of sucks to finish a ride like that and then wait in a 45 minute long line in a very hot (99 for the high in Austin, not sure what it was there) parking lot with no shade. There were about 1400 riders; maybe I happened to be going through the line around a peak time.

I ran into Jane Bui and Roman when I was there (right at the start, and then again after finishing my BBQ). Didn't see any other familiar faces, though. I did see a Circle C Ranch Cycling Club jersey, though (kept running into the same guy).

This was also the first long ride for my new saddle, the Koobi PRS Alpha. So far, so good -- pretty comfortable, and not broken in at all yet. Two other things got their first long-ride exposure: the Polar F11 that I got for Christmas (worked great, very comfortable strap) and some BodyGlide (no complaints here; definitely worth a try after the MS150 experience!).

Vulcan Dachshund

I am not sure why I didn't post a picture of this back when I got it (from some small gift shop near the new Hill Country Galleria).