Monthly Archives: January 2018

Texting is an insult

Recently a friend started a Facebook thread about whether using punctuation, namely, a period, is proper or insulting in a text. Here’s an article about it: Article

Here’s what I posted as a comment to the thread:

I solved this long ago: I don’t text. I used to have texting blocked on my phone so others couldn’t text me, either, but too many web accounts require texting as a second form of security that I had to relent. However, I still consider a text an insult, an indication that someone doesn’t think I’m worth writing to in full, proper sentences. It’s tantamount to someone calling me on the phone and when I answer telling me not to answer so he can just leave a message on my voice mail and not have to talk to me.

Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

Black Mad WheelBlack Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This mishmash of science fiction, horror, and thriller is set in post-WWII, sometimes in Detroit, sometimes in Iowa or Africa. Phillip and his rock band, The Danes, are conscripted to help the military identify and perhaps neutralize some strange musical sound that disables all weapons. They travel to the Namib desert to find its source. Further description of the plot would be pointless because that’s what the plot is. The author tried and failed to conjure up suspense and prickles up the spine. I don’t know who or what recommended this book to me, but if I could remember, I would discount all their further recommendations.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ng has written with insight and compassion about teenage angst (and lust), about the artist’s unconventional world view and lifestyle, but most importantly about the nature of motherhood. The plot revolves largely around issues of adoption, surrogate mothering, child abandonment, and how parents can be blind about their own children due to their bias (which we call love). I thought the trial story line handled these issues in a fair and balanced way. Even so, I can’t say I found the plot very compelling. There were several times I considered giving up on it out of boredom; I’m glad I didn’t, though. It was more plodding than plotting, but if you stick with it, it gives you food for thought.

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Fatal Accidents in Santa Clara Valley

I’ve been playing with auto crash data from NHTSA again. The image below identifies every fatal crash in 2016 by make of the vehicle(s) involved. Click on the image to see it full size in good resolution.

I find it interesting in several ways. First, I notice the makes seem to cluster a bit. The expensive makes tend to locate around Los Gatos, an expensive area, so not too surprising, but overall luxury brands seem to be underrepresented based on my experience seeing what’s on the road. In other words, they seem to be involved in fewer fatal crashes than expected based on numbers on the road. This may be because they are safer vehicles, because the owners drive more safely, or even because they are stolen less often than other makes.

Second, Fords and Hondas cluster around the east side of the valley, Dodges and Jeeps in the central area near downtown. This may be coincidence or perhaps it has to do with dealerships. Most notable, though, to me is the high number in East San Jose on city streets, not freeways. This coincides with crime reports. That area tends to have a lot of bars and violent incidents involving drinking or drugs, although I don’t have hard numbers on that. For those not familiar with the area, the hills to the west are the more expensive areas to live, the east side more working class, although homes get more expensive again up in the eastern hills.

I was also surprised at how many were solo crashes, especially in East San Jose. I suspect drunk driving was involved in a lot of those. You can see some data points with two car makes listed next to them, but they are hard to spot. I created a KML file and loaded it into Google Earth for this. It was an interesting technical exercise, and if you want to know how to do it, contact me using the contact link above. This file allows the user to zoom in on Google Earth and see the crash marker in more detail. Sometimes more vehicles pop out that way. See the image below; I circled a few examples. I only loaded car makes into the data file, but it is possible to include other data in the KML file as long as it can be represented in an Excel file. For example, it might be interested to show this data marked with time of day.

Bear in mind that just because a car was involved in a fatal accident, it doesn’t mean anyone in that car died. Sometimes the death was a pedestrian or bicyclist or in a multi-car crash only one car had a fatality. This map does not show cause or fault, either.


The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha_Mukherjee

The Gene: An Intimate HistoryThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This tome’s subtitle describes it better than its title. It is a history, not a book on genetics per se. The author describes how genetics emerged as a science with experimenters like Mendel and his pea plants and finishes up with the latest developments in gene splicing with the CRISPR tool. The writing is clear, easy-to-understand (at least for the relatively well-read with a biology class or two), and well-researched. There is quite a bit of repetition, so the reader can skip liberally, which is probably necessary for most people since it is a very long book. I think it was about halfway through the book before researchers even recognized the concept of a gene. If you are interested in the subject but want a deeper understanding of what’s happening today in gene research, I recommend Jennifer Doudna’s A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution which is more up-to-date but also more technical.

This is not a medical book, nor is it in any way related to ancestry or genealogy. To be sure, it does mention many gene-related diseases and some progress (or setbacks) in the area of gene therapy, but that is a relatively small part of the book. It does not explain how genome companies like 23andMe or determine your ethnic ancestry from your genes. It is, however a broad treatment of the history of genetics research and discovery and well-written. I take some issue with the author’s final conclusions. I believe he has inserted his own moral judgments rather liberally into what he calls the “scientific, philosophical, and moral lessons of this history.” For example, his lesson 9 says every genetic “illness” is a mismatch between an organism’s genome and its environment. In other words, every such illness is, or would be, actually of benefit in some other environment. I disagree. That may be true of some diseases such as sickle-cell disease, which is harmful, but the sickle-cell trait (conferred when only one parent provides the gene) provides some protection against malaria which is no doubt why it hasn’t been expunged through natural selection. But there are other genetic diseases that confer no benefit. The child is born with horrible mutations that lead rapidly to a painful death. Some diseases are simply genetic mistakes.

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How to use “only” correctly

I often hear news reporters say something like “John Young was only one of three people who have visited the moon twice”  or “she was only one of two people to have survived the plane crash.” What they mean is “John Young was one of only three people who have visited the moon twice” and “she was one of only two people to have survived the plane crash.”

The word “only” signifies that the number to follow is unexpectedly or unfortunately low or otherwise shows rarity. Of course John Young is only one person. How many people can one person be? It makes no sense to say he is only one in this context, since there are two others. The number in the first example that is low is three, i.e. the number of people who have visited the moon twice. In the second example it is the number two. Those are the numbers that should have the word only directly before them. This is one subtype of a more general rule that modifiers should come immediately before the word they modify.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of FourThe Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is what a mystery/detective novel should be. The story is riveting, the detecting is superb, there is an affecting love story as a subplot, and all this without gore, sadism, f-bombs, or other objectionable material. The extensive vocabulary for once treats the reader as an intelligent, educated human being. I do wish Holmes wasn’t portrayed as a cocaine user, but that ship has sailed long ago. I wish publishers today would take a lesson from this book, but I fear this kind of quality is long gone. The reader, David Timson, is excellent, doing all the voices in different, easily distinguishable accents.

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