Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Internets, Where All Your Questions Are Answered

Including the one that everyone wonders about, "How Many Balloons Would It Take To Lift A House?"

Incidentally, welcome to blog post #400. Launch the balloons, toss the confetti, and all that.

Today's fun little ditty

Apparently Pat Robertson made a spectacularly silly comment to the effect that if gay marriage becomes legal, then marriage to ducks can't be far behind. Or someone who likes sex with ducks will be able to marry one. Or something. (Last time I checked, animals couldn't enter into legally binding relationships with people, or vice versa, but I never ever claimed to understand Pat Robertson's thought processes.)

At any rate, here's a fun little song about where it all could lead.

Monday, June 1, 2009

On "irrational numbers" and innumerate bloggers

Warning: Extreme nerd-dom ahead.

So there's a post at the Atlantic about the government's ownership of 60% of GM, taking on the ludicrous claim that the government now owns a large swath of corporate America. As the post correctly points out, the actual ownership of private companies by the federal government is substantially under 1/10 of 1%, which is hardly a socialist paradise. However, the reporter completely blows it with this discussion of the (admittedly rather fun) pie chart produced by Excel:

What I do see is that Microsoft Excel feels the need to portray the percentage of American companies owned by the government as an irrational number. That's 5.07e^-02, or %0.0507 of American companies that are owned by the United States. (When I ask Excel to display this breakdown in real numbers it just becomes "100%" and "0%.")
Um, no. Wrong. That's not an irrational number. It's scientific notation. An irrational number is a number that can't be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers. It has nothing to do with whether it's written in a mantissa-exponent form (as in 5.07 * 10^-2). Scientific notation is handy for dealing with very large or very small numbers, and yes, Excel would round it to 0%, unless you asked Excel to display things out to some fixed number of decimal places.

Which is simple to do, as is suppressing scientific notation in the first place. Either one takes about 4 clicks of the mouse.

Really, people who do business reporting should be familiar with the basic functions of spreadsheet software, and if you're going to complain about something being a particular type of number, you should have some idea what you're talking about.

Update: After numerous comments in the comments section, it's been fixed so that instead of "irrational number" it says "exponential notation." All is well.

George Tiller

No, late-term abortion isn't a good thing. But life sometimes presents unpleasant choices, his practice was legal, and he didn't deserve to be shot down in church.

Prediction: The killer will claim a religious justification.

And remember, that report from DHS a while back about right-wing extremists (that GWB ordered up) was just liberal hogwash, because conservatives would never, ever actually do anything violent. And yes, this was terrorism. This wasn't just about Dr Tiller. This was also intended to send a clear warning to any doctor thinking about providing a similar service: You could be next.

Mark Kleiman, as usual, nails it. Three times in a row: One Two Three.

As one of the things I've read the last day or two put it (I can't track down the original post now, it may have been a commenter on Sullivan), women have the capacity to choose to end pregnancies, even late-term ones. Never mind the legalities, they can make that decision and take action to carry it out. Given that reality, I'd rather they had the option of a doctor's office and not a back-alley coat-hanger operation. Yes, it's morally problematic. Regulations may need to be tighter, and support for other options strengthened. But it has to be one of the options, if only because it's less problematic than shoving it onto the black market.