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Mapping race

Dustin Cable at the University of Virginia has created a fantastic map: every person enumerated in the 2010 US census, by place, and color-coded by identified race.

Slate uses the map to explore segregation in major US cities, but I of course used it to look at my own town (click for bigger).

race map of State College, PA

Central Pennsylvania is largely white, but on top of that is overlain the effects of a major research university. You can clearly see where the Asian grad students like to live, for example. More depressingly, you can also see State Correctional Institution at Rockview just northeast of town.

The map is fascinating, from the broadest overview of the entire continental US, to the highest zoom on our cities and towns: history, culture and landscape all tied together.

Science in the future

I’ve been watching the increasing numbers of crowd-funded science projects with some fascination. I don’t think this is the way to fund all science, but some things are quite possible, and more likely to get funded this way than through traditional channels.

For instance, here’s a perfect candidate, just languishing:

Herpetology In Latin America: An Interdisciplinary Approach: ethnoherpetology and conservation in Latin America. How can you not think that’s neat, and want to chip in a few dollars to see it succeed?

Or this potentially ground-breaking project:

Poikey, the Cancer Killer
: A possible physical method to improve targeting of anti-cancer drugs. I find the presentation rather fluffy, but the creators have been good about responding to questions about scientific capabilities.

What do you think of crowdfunding as a possibility for art? For science? Seen anything worth sharing lately?

The culprit

You may recall that last time I wrote here was Thursday, and I’d been having a pretty good week.

The Universe seeks balance, it seems: after dinner on Thursday it became abundantly and damply clear that my refrigerator had concluded that keeping things cold was far too much work and it just couldn’t be bothered.

I can now tell you where to buy a chest freezer at 10pm on Thursday, should you ever need that information.

Friday morning I spent some time looking at new refrigerators online, but that really wasn’t what I wanted to do with my raise. So I asked Google, font of all wisdom (anyone remember the Usenet Oracle?).

“Oh great and wonderful Google,” I typed, “my refrigerator is doing this and such and so and so. Am I screwed?”

And Google replied, “It’s probably this $50 part. Here’s how you tell, and here’s how you use a multimeter to check the compressor. If the compressor is bad, you are well and truly screwed, but the other part is a five-minute repair.”

I liked what Google told me, so I pulled the fridge out and took the back off. Sure enough, the start relay was bad. (Diagnosis: unplug it. Shake. If it rattles, it’s dead.) Even better, the compressor wasn’t.

Through the good offices of Home Depot’s online parts department and overnight FedEx, I had a working refrigerator by 11am Saturday.


That’s the culprit over there on the right.

Apparently this is a very common failure point, and it’s an easy fix if you’re willing to take the back off the fridge and give it a try.

Somehow all the coolers and ice and throwing things away (not much at all, just the fresh dairy nd mayo) and replacing them ad such ate up my weekend, and the internet was down so I couldn’t even participate in the writer hangout on Sunday. But I buckled down yesterday evening and got two stories submitted and a few words on the story in progress. I’ve been neglecting fiction in favor of things with more urgent deadlines since March or so, but everything is slowly calming down. Except for sudden refrigerator death, but how do you plan for that?

More on my commute

I was asked for more data on my morning commute.

Walking to work earlier, not reading:
36 minutes
3896 steps
15 floors (e.g., 150 feet of vertical climb)

Walking home yesterday while reading:
36 minutes
3846 steps
7 floors

Walking to work today while reading:
38 minutes
4200 steps
17 floors

The weather was pleasant all three times: neither hot nor wet. I followed roughly the same route each time.

Very preliminary conclusions:

  • Reading doesn’t affect my pace markedly. (Motivation does, but I have no data to support that yet.)
  • I do not in fact walk uphill to work both ways, no matter what it feels like.
  • Today was the first day that I remembered to hit the record button at the door, rather than across the street. That might account for the 300 steps.

I will need to keep recording my commute. Now I’m curious how much of the variability is due to the FitBit, and how much is due to me. Also, science requires that I remember to push the record button in the same place; I will have to work on that.

So true

Nikola Goddamn Tesla, from The Oatmeal.

That doesn’t seem like enough for a post. But it’s Tesla, so it must be.

The morning commute

My morning commute:

3896 steps.
36 minutes.
150 feet of vertical climb.

Why yes, I got a FitBit, can you tell?

I haven’t managed to convince it of my stride length, despite multiple attempts: the 3896 steps should be just under 2 miles, but the FitBit is convinced that it’s 2.33 miles. The step count seems to be quite accurate, although it doesn’t record short, slow steps very well (like walking around in the studio setting things up, for instance). The vertical climb estimate is interesting (expressed as flights of stairs): State College has lots of hills.

I walk between 65,000 and 70,000 steps a week, or 32-35 miles. Pretty good, I think. That morning commute and its evening companion contribute most of it. I climb about 150-170 floors a week, between the hills and my upstairs office.

My most active day in the three weeks I’ve had the gizmo has been 15,000 steps and 50 stairs.

Data: I like it.

Zombies at the Library

My social media for writers talk went very well. The audience ranged from, “Authors have blogs? How do I find them?” to “How do you manage this fine point of Twitter?” Lots of good discussion and questions, and people said complimentary things after I finished.

I had a great deal of fun making the slides too.

One more shot

And a cheap one it is. The Camping rapture people, they’re just too easy. Now Harold Camping says that the Rapture did happen, we just didn’t notice. And the world will be ending on October 21, thank you very much.

But one of the associated websites still says May 21, with a cute little count-down of the months and days: now sitting idly at 0 Months, 0 Days. Awwww. This screenshot was taken today.

And look, the book has been pened! That is the past tense of the plural of “penis,” obviously, so the sign that you’ve been Raptured is that your dick falls off. You wouldn’t be using it in Heaven anyway, right? Making the discarded body parts into books seems a bit much though.

I wonder if they still have free bumper stickers.

On to more interesting material.

The secret of procrastination revealed by Fake Science. Now if only they post the solution.

NASA has officially given up on Spirit, the Mars rover that made it seven years instead of 90 days. A triumph of science and engineering; now let’s do it again.

For all the stupid things that people do, we can do some awesome ones too.

As always, XKCD puts it best.

XKCD Spirit

Got to fly

Need a space program? Start your own!

To add to the cheer, more short-sighted behavior: Governor Corbett’s new Pennsylvania state budget cuts the funding for Penn State and other state universities by over 50%.

Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, the state and nation do not have as much money as they’d like. Cutting education is one of the most short-sighted things that could possibly be done to fix it. Infrastructure is critical. Education is critical.

I want to live in a civilized country, and am willing to pay for it. Education, high-speed rail, health care, police, fire, sidewalks, clean air and water: all marks of civilization, and necessary to if we want the US to be healthy, prosperous, a world leader in more than our own minds. Raise taxes, especially on those who can afford it. Take care of those who can’t afford it. Invest in science, engineering, transport, research, health care.

Be a civilized country.

An era winding down

I and 120,000 other people watched online as the Discovery landed for the last time today.

The shuttle program is the space program I grew up with, for better and worse. I was ten when the Columbia went up for the first time in April 1981. I sat in math class and watched the Challenger explode on the television, over and over and over. I pored over the Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual and dreamed of going up myself.

I never expected the shuttle program to last so long, that we wouldn’t have moved on to better things in the thirty years since that first launch. Shuttle launches became almost routine, something that happened every now and then, until the Columbia reminded us that heading into space is never routine, never entirely safe.

Now Discovery is down for good. Endeavour is scheduled to launch for the last time in April, and Atlantis will make her last flight in June, the 135th shuttle flight.

With the end of the shuttle program, and the cancellation of the Constellation program last year, the US is without a manned space program: a stunning lack of vision. We can watch video from the shuttle cockpit real-time as it lands, but we cannot send people into orbit, let alone to the Moon or Mars. What are the kids now going to watch in awe? What great scientific enterprise will unite the country? What will we cheer, and mourn?

Forget about the flying cars. Where’s my space program?