Thursday, December 29, 2005


Not-Too-Readable Text Files

Imagine my surprise: a downloaded zip file of 95 352 kb (or ko in French) contained one single text file (yes, ".txt") of 508 371 kb. Needless to say, I cannot browse it with Notepad.

I suppose I'll unzip it to a cd, and then... what? Can Wordpad or OOo read and display a file without loading it into memory? I guess I'll find out.

I can't wait to see its contents and hopefully understand why it couldn't have been split into smaller bits.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Could It Be?

Reading the methodology notes on the National Adult Assessment of Literacy recently, I noted that 13 % of the households they visited turned out to be vacant or not dwelling places (see my post on December 18). I have a theory as to which database they used to seek out adults, literate or not: voter registration. It has been said that in some places, "cemeteries vote." Perhaps not just cemeteries!

Chicago Rules of Election Fraud have other tips for voter generation, and it is not just Chicago anymore! Christian Science Monitor:
- Nothing says election fraud like a ballot cast from a cemetery. On paper, Manuel Yip seemed an active and regular voter in Miami, casting ballots four times between 1993 and 1997. There was just one problem: He passed away five years ago.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Closed is not Open

Nevertheless, one can park at the picnic area and walk along the side of the road to get a glimpse of this "boat ride": to enable canal barges to change altitude without a long (and time-consuming) series of locks, the "inclined plane" at Arzviller-St. Louis floats them into the large bucket which we see at the upper position on its track (left center, below) . Barges enter from the upper canal to our right, travel down to the basin (foreground) and exit to our left, or vice versa.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Monday, December 19, 2005


What Remarkable Creatures (we are)

Demographers (at the INED, in France) estimate that the world population of living humans reached six and a half billion December 19, 2005, give or take a couple of years. Fifty years ago, when we were only two point seven billion, they (demographers) predicted we would be 6.5 billion in 2005. Well done, humans! Rarely are long-range targets and plans achieved, and this, involving billions of people over a span of fifty years! We also managed to heat the planet to its highest temperatures known or estimable over the past 650,000 years. We are unstoppable, the sky is the limit! Or maybe not, but that is what we appear to assume, by and large.

In a recent article, Joel Cohen, of Columbia University and Rockfeller University, pointed out three or five remarkable demographic phenomena of our times (for those of us born before about 1960).
To this we should add the point made by Richard Freeman, Director of Labor Studies at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Herbert Ascherman Professor in Economics at Harvard University:
In 1980, the global workforce consisted of workers in the advanced countries, parts of Africa and most of Latin America. Approximately 960 million persons worked in these economies.

Population growth — largely in poorer countries — increased the number employed in these economies to about 1.46 billion workers by 2000.

But in the 1980s and 1990s, workers from China, India and the former Soviet bloc entered the global labor pool. Of course, these workers had existed before then. The difference, though, was that their economies suddenly joined the global system of production and consumption.

In 2000, those countries contributed 1.47 billion workers to the global labor pool — effectively doubling the size of the world's now connected workforce. read more

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Stalking Literacy

The recently published reports on the 2003 NAAL can be quite interesting. In particular, the "Web Documentation for NAAL General Audience Report" provides information on the sampling and statistical processing. It also demonstrates just how difficult to comprehend a combination of prose and quantitative information can become, and leads this writer to wonder about his own level; try this:
Based upon the screener data, 23,732 respondents aged 16 and older were selected to complete the background questionnaire and the assessment. Of the 23,732 household respondents selected, 18,186 completed the background questionnaire. Of the 5,546 respondents who did not complete the background questionnaire, 355 were unable to do so because of a literacy-related barrier; either the inability to communicate in English or Spanish (the two languages in which the background questionnaire was administered) or because of a mental disability. The final weighted response rate for the background questionnaire, including respondents who completed the background questionnaire and respondents who were unable to complete the background questionnaire because of language problems or a mental disability, was 75.6 percent.

I wonder what the weighting for the final response rate was. It appears to relate 18,541 (18,186 + 355) to something, but to what? At any rate, 21.9% of the respondents selected to complete the background questionnaire and the assessment did not complete it, for reasons other than inability to communicate with the interviewer.

This is neither the first nor the last difficulty for the administrators. The first was to find households. Beginning with a nationally representative probability sample of 35,365 households (chosen from what database?), they encountered fully 13.2% (4,671 ) "were either vacant or not a dwelling unit". Subsequent screening (and representativity targets) then pared the group down to the 23,732 noted in the quoted paragraph above. Another five per cent of those tested did not properly complete all three scales. Amusingly, the prison inmates tested seem to have been more successful at staying in the sample and completing all three scales.

If I read their report correctly, the (non-prison) sample yield breakdown is this:

18,186 adults age 16 or older completed the background questionnaire,
of whom 17,178 completed at least one literacy task on each of the three scales—prose, document, and quantitative—included on the assessment.
That leaves1,008who completed the background questionnaire but not the full core test.
Deducting 84 who were disqualified for language or mental reasons during the test (i.e., after the background questionnaire)
leaves924who completed some, but not all three scales.

One accounting given is

859respondents answered the background questionnaire but refused to complete the assessment for reasons other than language issues or a mental disability. For these respondents, answers to one assessment item on each scale were imputed based upon the answers from respondents with similar background characteristics.
plus65a wrong response on each scale was imputed for respondents who started to answer the assessment but were unable to answer at least one question on each scale because of language issues or a mental disability.

The aforementioned 859 would then have included
an additional 504 were unable to answer at least one question on each of the three scales for literacy-related reasons.
so we surmise that355just plain had no time to waste on such foolishness.

Next in this series: why this test is better than the OECD PISA test, and how it correlates to SAT verbal scores.

18,102 + 439 = 18,541 : final reporting sample plus language and mental disqualifications.

18,186 + 355 = 18,541 : completed background questionnaire plus language and mental disqualifications.

Ergo, 84 language and mental disqualifications were manifest during the assessment but not during the background questionnaire.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Awfully said

According to CNN, reporting on the results of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, "Eleven million people is an awful large number of folks who are not literate in English, and therefore are prevented access to what America offers," said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the Education Department.

How disappointing that he did not use awfully, the adverb, rather than awful, the adjective which is informally used as a shortcut for the adverb.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Copyright: veritanerian

1) one defending and furthering the cause of verity (verita-n-erian);

2) doctor providing medical care to aminals

No, this word is not in the dictionary; Google finds no occurences on the whole Internet! At least there were none found as of yesterday. Tomorrow the situation may be quite different.

Veritarian might be easier to say, and it could be argued that it would have the correct meaning (verita+rian) but it seems to already have been hijacked to name a dietary religion (like vegan, vegitarian).

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Copyright: anthropophage

anthropophage: living organism which feeds on humans.

A number of similar or related words appear on Internet dictionary searches: I even found anthropophaginian, but doubt its legitimacy. In a nutshell, anthropophag(i|y) (noun) is people-eating; beings which do so are anthropophagous (adj). Anthropophagite is proposed as a noun for those who eat humans, but I believe it should designate those who approve the practice (i.e. adherents or followers) whether or not they practice it.

Inasmuch as the cells which eat other cells are macrophages, not macrophagites nor macrophaginians, I recommend anthropophage as superior to the alternatives.

By the way, why macro+phage for a phago+cyte? macro+phage is a: "big+eater". Is it just a shortened form of macrophagocyte? I suspect so, but have not found documentary support.

It seems that a phago+cyte is a cell which eats, but not necessarily other cells: "eater+cell". The act of cell+eating is cyto+phagy. Is cytophage a word? Not as far as I can tell, so I hereby copyright it, too.

Be that as it may, "It was a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple anthopophage" probably would not have sold nearly as well It was a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater...

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Climate Change?

Strolling around town yesterday (i.e. the day before St Nicholas) I observed several Santas hanging around. I don't know whether the arrival of Santas in town before St Nicholas should be attributed to global warming. It does seem to reflect some changes in productivity of labor and supply chain management, though: more than once I spotted a pair of smallish Santas, reflecting attempts to use more less qualified labor. Meanwhile, a bunch of unemployed elves loitered in a garden.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Fraud Cultures

Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican, told his home state constituents "Fraud is in the culture of Iraqis. I believe that is true in the state of Louisiana as well.” Craig was quoted as saying Thursday (October 13, 2005) in the Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune.

But why bring the Iraqis into this? Why such a slur on the people Americans are dying to liberate?

I realize that the point he was trying to make was the need to have good accountability and oversight of the spending to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. That is certainly true, and not just because of the risk of *local* graft. Was it 90 000 tons of ice that crisscrossed the country and ended up in warehouses, under FEMA's management? How were the cruise ship leases negotiated again? And the house trailers? How often, how many times will the federal government pay to rebuild in areas that never should have been built? Will the Army Corps of Engineers get the specs for the levees right this time, and supervise the work?

Anyway, I certainly hope the Iraqi fraud culture isn't contagious, although there are some signs it may have corrupted a few Americans in Iraq. It would be horrible if all those Americans managing the billions of dollars for rebuilding in Iraq caught it and started diverting funds or taking kick-backs for awarding contracts. That there have been reports of poor accounting, poor (or no) negotiation, and nine billion dollars has gone missing (probably just forgot to ask for a few receipts?), is bad enough!

Now, if the Iraqis would only stop denying their WMD stocks and hand them over they would be taking a big step toward overcoming their fraud culture, wouldn't they?

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Thursday, December 01, 2005


We, the lightbulbs of France

We've all heard (not lately) the classic "how many [target group of your choice] does it take to change a lightbulb?" (Answer: Three, one to hold the lightbulb and two to turn the ladder). A colleague a few years ago had a variant: "How many social scientists does it take to replace a lightbulb? Social scientists don't replace lightbulbs, they try to find out why the last one burned out!"

In a recent edition of the magazine "Courrier Cadres", a reader asked "How many unemployed turn down valid jobs offers? Out of how many offers?". Jean-Pierre Fine, Secretary General of the APEC (association for the employment of "cadres", or managers) replied that the APEC doesn't generate offers, they provide advice and information so that the unemployed can search fruitfully.

They do publish some stats in their magazine though, which give an indication: by category, the average number of candidate per job posting. Not all applicants are necessarily unemployed, however, so this does not measure the odds of getting a job, but since I suspect there to be a bias among hiring firms in favor of the employed over the unemployed (both because that could mean they are more immediately operational, and more successful) the odds are probably even worse than these!

2.1 Production Director (industry) 80
3.2 Supply chain: logistics, purchasing90
3.3 Methods, Quality Control and Assurance80
4.3 R & D Project Mgmt. 50
5.1 Marketing, Sales Director100
5.3 Marketing130
5.7 Sales70
8.2 Audit, Controller100
9.1 Informatics Director130

On the other hand, of course, if there are 154 offers per month in a category, and 100 candidates per offer, it could be that the same 100 people are applying, and there are 1.5 vacancies per candidate! Given the specificities required, however, it seems very unlikely that the same candidates could vie for all jobs.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Listserver Overload

It has been nearly a week since my last post here...what have I been doing instead? Among other things, trying to get caught up (ha! ha!) on my listserver reading. For some reason, once I subscribe for a listserver and read it for a while, I lose interest but don't unsubscribe. What's worse, I find it very, very hard to delete any of the messages I've received; as if I might need my own personal archive, off-line? And they don't take up anywhere near as much space as all the magazines, old clothes, broken appliances and so on that encumber my house.

One rationalisation is that editing the message threads down to something concise could be a contribution to some (free and open source) software projects, since documentation is often incomplete (why else would the topics be on the listserver?). Where, and in what form, my edited versions would be published is an open is the appropriateness of inclusion or exclusion of the names of those who provided the answers and tips. Nevertheless, occasionally I go through some of the messages and try to edit them.

Actually, I'd rather not know how many, or how few, I've actually managed to process to something worth keeping. Most often, it is impossible, because:

I should add that my yield is especially low because I subscribe to digests, and spend much time searching for other digests containing posts on the topic at hand, rather than relying on threads. This (subscribing to digests) is a really bad idea if you plan to try to follow threads.

Just for perspective, my current backlog is:
16221599FreeBSD Questions
324274FreeBSD Hardware and Firewire
23893COIN-OR open source operations research software project
868139Forrest (xml web publishing with Apache Cocoon)
217124Bull-I3 + jet (French university research and conference lists)
9268L'Internaute (leisure)

I subscribed to another one or two this week, but they seem not to be active (nothing in my inbox, yet). There is also my college class list, but that is a completely different category, as far as I am concerned--usually the first thing I read after family and friends.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?