Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Executive Age

Fairly regularly, I browse (not study) a French publication which consists of a classified list of executive appointments. On page one, "rumors" (I try to pay them no attention) and "zoom", followed by the categories: Services, Finance, Energy/Chemical, and so on, finishing with ministries, associations, diplomatic corps, and foreign posts.

A typical issue is about eight pages long, including the subscription coupon and other self-promo boxes. But the entries are not as dense as the telephone directory; they often include biographical information, company activity summary, or both.

The main raison d'etre is networking: if someone you know is promoted or hired, you have an opportunity to send congratulations. Job-seeking and you see an alum from your school get a good job? Could be she'll be reorganizing and would be glad to know you are available. It may also help career plan, tabulating career paths (and diplomas) of the executive named.

I have yet to see anyone I know listed. This week I noticed appointments to replace some people I know, former colleagues (with whom I have not stayed in touch). A few months ago, they even gave Prime Minister De Villepin's staff, and his bio!

There is a lot of talk about the low workforce participation rate of "older" French, enough so that I'll save that (and my thoughts on the diagnosis and options) for other posts. Today, I'll just add a back-of-the-envelope analysis that confirms something I read lately: careers in France are down to fifteen years, ages thirty to forty-five, after which one is a has-been...which makes contributing to a retirement fund for forty years increasingly rarely possible. The analysis is simple. The exec appointments in this publication give year of birth in about three cases out of four; overlooking the possible biases (the omitted birthdates could be the very young or the very old), the tally gives the following:

When BornAgesCount
1945-4956-60 2
1950-5451-55 6
1955-5946-50 7
1960-6441-45 14
1965-6936-40 18
1970-7431-35 10
1975-7926-30 2

Since we're talking high-level jobs (general manager, financial director, e.g.) we are looking at the ages of *mature* executives, not beginners. They are mostly 31-45, with the biggest group occurring at 36-40!

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Pakistani Earthquake Unleashes Can of Worms

I started to write on "Bin Laden Killed in Himalayan Earthquake". Who knows? If we don't receive any more video speaches for seven years, we'll need to give it serious consideration. But I think it wrong to make light of the situation in Pakistan just to speculate on conspiracy theories and how well the fear-mongers in D.C. would keep momentum should Bin Laden disappear. To be more constructive, I had a look at how well relief is being provided. Did the U.S. send the 91 000 tons of ice left over from Katrina, for instance?

How soon we lose interest. The quake (a 7.6) was 8 October, less than two weeks ago. I looked at various online news providers for yesterday's stats on the victims of the quake, and found (not surprisingly) several stories on the Pakistani English-language news, but almost none in my regular diet of English and French news services...

Dawn com --

Independent co uk -- India and Pakistan unite as death toll approaches 80,000
Guardian co uk -- no mention found on front page
New York Times -- no mention found on front page
Los Angeles Times -- no mention found on front page
Le Monde fr -- Pakistan : les secours et les ONG à pied d'œuvre (video), and "New tally in Pakistan: 47 700 dead".
Liberation fr -- no mention found initially, but the "breaking story" scrolled up announcing
Séisme au Pakistan: le "pire cauchemar" qu'ait connu l'Onu
L'Onu connaît au Pakistan le "pire cauchemar" que l'organisation ait vécu, "pire" que le tsunami de l'an dernier, en raison de la faiblesse de l'aide, a affirmé jeudi Jan Egeland, le coordinateur de l'aide humanitaire d'urgence des Nations unies.
Evidently, that the tsunami hit during the holidays triggered a lot more generosity. That and many of the areas damaged being places tourists visit and others dream of visiting. Kashmir doesn't have beaches and sunshine, like Thailand or Sri Lanka; it has mountains and it is getting very cold.

Today the story is off Libération and Le Monde, but the New York Times has it in among the top stories, with a link to "How to Help" (a page with names and addresses of charities and NGOs, and a disclaimer "The Times does not certify charities’ fund allocations or administrative costs.").

And yet, what is the situation? The great, nay almost insurmountable, challenge is how to provide shelter for the estimated three million homeless in a remote mountainous region. There are seemingly not enough cold-weather tents in the world, and it would take until mid-winter to manufacture the balance. For perspective, this is about triple the number of Katrina evacuees, with only two-three weeks remaining before freezing, snowy weather, and no trailer makers or roads. According to a statement made today, however, India promises to provide all the need shelter and without need for international aid.

Pakistan says international aid is still needed, and nixed co-operation with India, opening the line of control (LoC):
ISLAMABAD, Oct 20: Pakistan has ruled out a joint relief operation with India in Kashmir as proposed by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. “This would be tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of the people of Kashmir” Chief Relief Commissioner Maj-Gen Farooq Ahmad Khan said, pointing to the heavy presence of Indian forces in the occupied Kashmir and actions of the occupation troops.

While I hope the Indian tents will be accepted (and adequate), maybe it is just as well that the LoC stays closed
SRINAGAR, Oct 20: The devastating Oct 8 earthquake may have shifted thousands of landmines planted by Indian and Pakistani troops along their Kashmir border, a group warned on Thursday.

“We are very much concerned,” said Shafat Hussain of Global Green Peace, a non-government organization that has worked since 1998 to persuade India and Pakistan to demine the region.

“There are thousands of mines out there threatening to take human lives.”

Mr Hussain said areas along the Line of Control (LoC), are “heavily mined” on both the sides.

“As the earthquake triggered massive landslides along the LoC, it must have surely relocated these mines,” he said.

Is international aid forthcoming? The Times story revolves around "Even in the face of the epic destruction, foreign donors have so far pledged less than $90 million, or barely a quarter of the $312 million that the United Nations estimates it will need for immediate relief." Is this only about the U.N. budget for the operation, or is it inclusive of all NGO expenses? That is not at all obvious. The "contributions to date" are mostly countries (France is not listed--is this true?) plus a line for "Private". Does this count all pledges? Those made to Action Contre la Faim (AAH) or Medecins Sans Frontieres last week?

Clearly it does not include the World Bank commitment noted by Dawn. This commitment hasn't made it onto the World Bank's website yet, either; on what schedule are these designed houses deliverable?

Some relief agencies are now pushing for evacuation to somewhere more clement and logistically friendly. Why do so many people live in such a remote (and hostile) place? Where else could they, should they, live?

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Sunday, October 16, 2005


U.S. Offers Plan for Open Markets in China??

Today is not April 1. In the New York Times, 16 October 2005, Edmund L. Andrews wrote:

The plan, to be discussed in two days of talks here and in Beijing, calls for China to speed up the privatization of state-owned companies, including banks; to develop a Chicago-style futures market for currency trading; to establish an independent credit-rating agency; and to crack down on bailouts for banks left holding bad loans.

"What we tried to do is take a quantum leap in sophistication and scope," said Timothy D. Adams, undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury Department. "It gives you a picture of the truly complex nature of what we are trying to do."

Though many of the ideas are familiar, and often supported by Chinese leaders in principle, the list reflects an increased effort to lecture China about internal financial issues.
That could backfire. Chinese leaders invariably bristle at pressure from American officials, and they could view the new American "priorities" as an unwelcome intrusion.
J'hallucine, as the French say when confronted by something too abnormal to be ignored.

The U.S. is suggesting that the Chinese remove such constraints on foreign ownership of banks as not owning more than 25%, having $10 billion in assets, and having been in business five years or more. This is the same U.S. that prevented the Chinese from buying Unocal, that has had repeated financial scandals (including Refco, a financial institution, just last week).

The U.S. wants the Chinese to spend more and save less. Good idea? Not likely. First, they would probably not spend more for U.S. goods, but for energy and materials, driving world prices higher. Second, the U.S. needs their saving to finance the U.S. debt.

Let's just hope the Chinese keep a straight face; they really shouldn't get angry over such a ridiculous behavior.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Friday XIII

Ever wonder whether there are years without any Friday XIII? How many there are in the *worst* years? If there are always the same number? Well, I did, and I set out to study all the possibilities with a spreadsheet. Once the spreadsheet was ...should I say built, specified, programmed, formulated? what does one do to make a spreadsheet one's need? Well, the spreadsheet was easily extended to consider the days of the week that recurring holidays fell, to compute the *good* years for holidays, the *lean* years for holidays, and, what really annoys me, the years holidays fall on Saturday! Why is it a problem that holidays fall on Saturday? Stores are closed on a day I normally am free to shop.

Back to the question of XIIIths: simply put, months occur in the same order every year, and other than February have the same number of days every year. Thus, there are only fourteen possible cases to consider, depending on the day the year starts, and how many days February has (leap year or not). For instance, January 13th will fall the fifth weekday after January 1, since the 15th (and 8th, 22nd, and 29th) fall on the same weekday as the 1st. If the year begins on Sunday, the 13th will fall on Friday; if the year begins any other weekday, January is *safe*!

In the same way, we can determine the offset for the 13th of each of the following months. January has 31 days, which is 3 more than 28 (i.e. modulo 7). Since Jan 13th falls the fifth weekday after the 1st, and the 13th of Feb will fall 31 days later, it will fall on the eighth weekday after the 1st, which is also the next weekday after the 1st. And so we go, accumulating modulo 7...

Offsets From January 1 to 13th of Each Month

-----Leap YearsNon-Leap Years
MonthDaysMod 7OffsetDaysMod 7Offset

With this table, we can now answer our questions. Better yet, we can derive another table! This one will tell us how many times each offset occurs in a year, leap or otherwise. Why does this interest us? Because every offset occurs at least once a year, so no matter what weekday the year starts, there will always be at least one Friday XIII. And there will be at most three, in non-leap years starting on Thursday: February, March, and November each have offset="1". Shall we check? Fridays are Jan 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, 37 (=Feb 6), Feb 13! And March 13, since February has 28 days in non-leap years. Trust me for November?

Number of Occurences of Offsets from Jan 1 to the 13th of a Month

OffsetIn Leap YearsIn Non-Leap Years

Offset "0" means the 13th falls the same day of the week as January 1; if the year started on Friday, the month with offset 0 will have a Friday XIII. Similarly, offset "6" means the sixth day after, or, equivalently, the day before; if the year began on Saturday, the month with offset 6 will have a Friday XIII.

This year, MMV for most Europeans, began on Saturday and is not a leap-year. It has one Friday XIII, in May.

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Monday, October 10, 2005


My Ecophilosophical Quandry

As I dump accumulated rainwater wherever I find it in my garden I have often wondered whether mosquitos would have defenders if they arrive on the endangered species list. Would they? Should they? Could they? Idle ethical speculation, no doubt. But what if we had the option?

Mosquitos transmit deadly diseases. Malaria, for instance, kills an estimated 2.7 million people this year. Dengue fever is less extensive, but spreading, and no vaccine is available. A recent article on the spread of dengue fever explained: mosquito bites infected person then bites an uninfected person a little while later, in countries with mosquitos. In countries with mosquitos, I thought? Are there countries without mosquitos? But they probably meant the "city-dwelling Aedes aegypti" in particular, not just any mosquitos.

I do not live in a climate where malaria and dengue fever are a hazard, except possibly near international airports when stowaway bugs in air cargo fruit bite someone once in a blue moon. We'll see whether this changes as winters warm.

Nevertheless, I dislike mosquitos. I have disliked them for a long time, as long as I can remember. I suppose I belong to the group of people who smell particularly delicious to them, for I am bitten if anyone is. In Texas, where everything is bigger (so they say) mosquitos bit me through my sleeping bag. In Corsica, they descended on our bed from the walls and ceiling of our hotel room in such numbers that they fairly spoiled our honeymoon. I now choose my hours and weather for gardening much more carefully to minimise the number of itchy bumps with which I'll end up. Wouldn't the world be a better place without them?

Imagine my delight when I read in the Guardian this morning:

Scientists create GM mosquitoes to fight malaria

Science: Mosquito with flourescent testicles could save thousands of lives.

Part of the proposed technology has been around for years and has been used successfully to combat other types of insects: basically, you release a lot of sterile individuals and severely reduce reproductive yield, possibly to a tipping point below which the attractor becomes zero. The difficulty with mosquitos has been the difficulty of separating the males from the females to avoid releasing females at all; sterile or not, they transmit disease. The new part is using genetic modification to enable effective and efficient sorting: "the males expressed a fluorescent green protein in their sperm."

This project has learned from past failures and anticipated objections very well. In particular,
  1. knowing that only female mosquitos bite, they would release only males to ensure that nobody will be bitten by a genetically modified bug.
  2. the released males will be sterile, so no genetically modified genes will enter the wild pool.

Sounds good, but how many sigmas out is zero defects? What happens if a female or two are released along with the males? Presumably they will have been exposed to radiation, too, but will the same dose sterilise females? What happens to the modified genes if and when the mutants are eaten by their natural preditors (they must have some, mustn't they?) How long will it take natural selection to endow the females with a preference for males whose testicles don't glow? Have the researchers patented this process? If not, why not? If so, who profits and who pays?

Other than the GM aspects, is there a reason to preserve mosquitos? No doubt they provide an essential link in some part of the food chain; I vaguely recall that some kinds of bats eat them, but perhaps not the Anopheles stephensi, and I'm not as pro-bat as I used to be since they've been identified as a reservoir, vector, or both, of some of the nastiest emerging diseases of our times--ebola and sars, to wit.

Finally, before letting the prospect of a mosquito-free world dominate our concern about releasing GM bugs, one last question: if we succeed in eradicating mosquitos (or at least some of the more dangerous types of mosquitos), could something worse take their place?

Technorati tages:

How long until the spam e-mail begins proposing "impress your girlfriend with your green fluorescent spurm!"?

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Saturday, October 01, 2005


Geography According to the NYTimes

I was shocked to learn how vaste Hurricane Rita was, in "Smaller Towns Bore the Brunt of Rita's Force", By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

Hurricane Rita was broadly perceived as the Chihuahua to Hurricane Katrina's bulldog and something dodged rather than survived. But looking at small towns like this one, it is clear that from Shreveport in the north to Pecan Island in the south, from Houston in the east to New Orleans in the west, Hurricane Rita was as strong as its predecessor, or stronger.

Travelling west from Houston to New Orleans sure covers a lot of small towns!

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