A loss

I, as a computer professional, woman in computing, human being, really, lost a wonderful treasure today: Randy Pausch has passed away from cancer.

From Huliq:

In Lieu of Flowers: The family requests that donations on Randy’s behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund (, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project.


The Fallen

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

For those outside of St. Louis, we suffered a tragic shooting this week that left one young fireman dead, and two police officers seriously wounded. The event took place in Maplewood, which is just across I44 from where I live.

The fireman was Ryan Hummert, a 22 year old rookie and son of the former mayor of Maplewood, who just started work with the fire department last August. He and others were responding to a reported car fire when the owner of the car started shooting at the fire and police personnel who answered the call for help.

The owner of the house, Mark Knobbe, was a recluse cut off from friends and family, but had never given any indication that he would do an act such as this. After shooting at the police and firefighters, Knobbe set his own home on fire and then killed himself.

Tomorrow, the road outside of the complex where we have our town home will be closed for the funeral procession. I’ll be standing on the side of the road, taking some photos and paying my respects. I’ll post a follow up story tomorrow.

In the meantime, for those in the St. Louis area, the Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team has a page with information on visitation and the funeral procession. In addition, donations in Ryan Hummert’s name can be made to The Backstoppers an organization dedicated to the support of families of fallen police and fire fighting personnel.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The folks of St. Louis are still talking about the massive freeway crash that occurred Tuesday afternoon during rush hour. Three people have now died, and several are still in the hospital.

For those not from our area, the interchange between our Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and southbound I270 is incredibly busy in the afternoon rush hour. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to be forced to slow or even stop in the rightmost lane. Tuesday afternoon, a semi-truck hauling scrap aluminum hit, and literally ran over ten cars. Two people died immediately, and a third died today. Two of the three who died were Amish, traveling in a hired van heading to a funeral.

All the facts aren’t in and the police haven’t issued a report yet, but one thing is known: the truck driver was not paying attention before he hit the cars. A person driving besides the truck, who ended up getting hit by one of the cars knocked over the truck, estimated it was going 75 MPH when it hit the cars, and with no slowing down.

No charges have been filed yet. The driver has a clean record, and is emotionally wrecked, as you can imagine.

Tonight, one of the local news stations reported that the driver was distracted by a cellphone call just before the accident. I don’t think any of us are surprised.

The biggest cause of accidents, in this area and most likely elsewhere, is people not paying attention. They talk on the phone, they eat, try to read the newspaper while waiting at lights, check their email, and probably send Twitter updates. We travel in vehicles weighing thousands of pounds, traveling at high speeds, surrounded by other big, fast moving vehicles, and seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a phone conversation with Joe, or quickly check that email from Jane—not to mention drinking hot coffee, smoking cigarettes that drop hot ash, or fiddling with the in-dash GPS, iPod, or radio.

Needless to say, the accident has awakened the call to make cellphone use while driving illegal. We shouldn’t need a law, though. We have something between our ears called a brain.


The Word

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about women and weblogging, and based on the old John Lennon song, used the phrase, “Women are the niggers of weblogging”.

People were offended at my use of the word, delinked me, unsubscribed, etc. etc. The fact that I was unsubscribed because I used the “word” didn’t bother me. What did bother me is that my writing didn’t inspire either deeper thought on the subject, or a healthy debate. I failed with that writing and it wasn’t because I used the “word”; it was because I used the “word” badly.

If you’re going to do satire, if you’re going to walk the edge with what you write, how you write, and the words you use, you better make sure that you have the skill to pull it off. I obviously didn’t.

This relates to today’s brouhaha, regarding Loren Feldman, the man who bills himself as a funny man, but who is primarily known for those instances where his “humor” has backfired. Feldman had his own failed “satirical” moment with a show he billed as “TechNigga” over a year ago, and got blasted to smithereens by all but a few buddies. Buddies, I might add, who have a lot of clout within this environment.

Feldman has since lost a deal with CNet, and today, the last of his clips were “refreshed” out of Verizon’s mobile service supposedly because of protests from those offended at Feldman’s old clip.

I’m not sure whether the protests by small but vocal groups were enough, or if Verizon found out what many of us have discovered: the man really isn’t funny. Not outside of a small group of weblogging insiders, which doesn’t translate into an audience for 15 year old text messaging girls, Verizon’s primary customers.

Some are bitching about “freedom of speech”, but I think Dare Obasanjo had about the best response to these claims:

People often confuse the fact that it is not a crime to speak your mind in America with the belief that you should be able to speak your mind without consequence. The two things are not the same. If I call you an idiot, I may not go to jail but I shouldn’t expect you to be nice to me afterwards. The things you say can come back and bite you on butt is something everyone should have learned growing up. So it is always surprising for me to see people petulantly complain that “this violates my freedom of speech” when they have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

Feldman is no Lenny BruceRichard PryorGeorge Carlin, or Whoopi Goldberg. These are funny people on the edge, funny people who actually defined both the edge, and what it means to be on the edge. They paid a price, and willingly, for both their humor and their courage.

Feldman wants the glory, but without the cost. He just doesn’t get it.

Money People

Obscene Math

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I was a double major in university, psychology and computer science. Double majors weren’t all that unusual, except that most doubles were in fields that had some class overlap, such as computer science and math. The only overlap I had in my two fields were statistics courses. I could take undergraduate and graduate level statistics classes in the psych department to meet a portion of my computer science math requirements.

There were only two of us signed up for graduate level statistics class, so the professor had us meet in his office. The statistics were so complicated, we had to use computers and software created in the days before “usability” was a criteria for all of our course work. I’ve since managed to forget most of my statistics training except for one valuable lesson: don’t trust statistics. If you’re determined, you can manipulate statistics to prove any point, regardless of how extreme.

A case in point is a New York Times op piece by two gentlemen, Michael Cox and Richard Alm, from the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas. According to their statistics, there really aren’t two separate classes, rich and poor, in this country. In fact, the poor live a comparable lifestyle to the rich.

Income statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story of Americans’ living standards. Looking at a far more direct measure of American families’ economic status — household consumption — indicates that the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society […] if we compare the incomes of the top and bottom fifths, we see a ratio of 15 to 1. If we turn to consumption, the gap declines to around 4 to 1. A similar narrowing takes place throughout all levels of income distribution. The middle 20 percent of families had incomes more than four times the bottom fifth. Yet their edge in consumption fell to about 2 to 1.

The data the authors use to perform their statistics is based on the fact that though rich people invest or bank their extra income, while poor families “magically” live beyond their means, they all “consume equally” and therefore are more equal than not.

Of course, Cox and Alm gloss over the fact that most poor people are overridden in debt, barely keeping ahead of bankruptcy in order to indulge in frivolous expenditures like medical treatment.

No, Aunt Sally has a 19 inch color TV in her mobile home while Aunt May has a 60 inch top of the line plasma TV in her pad overlooking Central Park, so there really is no difference between the two.

It’s true that the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households rose from 43.6 percent in 1975 to 49.6 percent in 2006, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has complete data. Meanwhile, families in the lowest fifth saw their piece of the pie fall from 4.3 percent to 3.3 percent.

Income statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story of Americans’ living standards.

Speechless. I’m just…speechless…

update More from Paul Krugman and Dean Baker, especially in regards to flawed sampling forming the basis for the pretty charts.

update 2 Excellent commentary from The Big Picture, who focuses only on exposing the flaws in the statistics applied (because there’s not enough time to expose all the other flaws in the writing).