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Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Uneventful Week

This was one of those weeks when a lot of small things happened, but no one thing stands out in my mind as defining this week. Everything, both at work and at home, just seemed to flow without any unnecessary turbulence, and I was carried along on the flow without being subject to any bumps, bruises or other unpleasantness! If all my weeks were like this, I might give up documenting them in this blog!!

My work week had a few meetings, but none of them were too onerous or painful. People were civil to each other and things got done. At least, people promised they would do things and until they don't get done, you can't complain much about it. My manager left me alone for most of the week, and that is always a good sign that things are not too far off course (or he is so busy fighting fires of his own that he has no time for me, and when the fires overwhelm him, they will be dumped on me unceremoniously!).

Nothing happened to disrupt my by now well-established blog-post publishing schedule. Monday was reserved for a post on Access, Tuesday was set aside for the second part of my first short story. Unfortunately, I never did receive any feedback about the story, good or bad. Wednesday I came out with another installment of Vedic Mathematics lessons. Thursday, I reposted a PCWorld article about the 10 worst video-game systems ever. And on Friday, I put together a post with some funny signs, put up by officials in charge of things like zoos, etc.

I did not have anything planned for Saturday, but Barack Obama's state of the union address on Wednesday gave me some ideas. Initially, I just wanted to collect some basic statistics about the speech and publish them for the benefit of others looking for such information, but over time, I really got into it. I ended up doing some pretty detailed word frequency analysis to come up with some pretty detailed statistics about the speech and that became my post for Saturday.

The flag counter on my blog still grows, quite contrary to my expectations. The new flag for this week is from Suriname. Another improbable flag like the new flags for the past few weeks. But, I will of course take whatever I can get! I now have 99 flags in my widget.
The hobbitt
Things at home were equally uneventful. I ate well, I exercised regularly, I slept well. My kids behaved well, my wife took good care of me. I guess in the short term, it is hard to ask for more. I started reading the book "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is an amazing classic, but the first thing that struck me when I started reading it was Bilbo Baggins' aversion to adventures. Yes, I did not have any adventures this past week, but adventures can be quite inconvenient and painful. Perhaps adventures are over-rated like so many other things in life!

Yesterday and today, I have been busy putting together many of the posts that will be published to my blog in the coming week. I am putting the finishing touches on another work of fiction (this time, it really is going to be a short story that will fit in one blog post!) that will go out on Tuesday. Now, it is time for me to take care of the laundry, have dinner, do the dishes, etc. Here is to hoping the coming week is as uneventful as the one just past . . .!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

State Of The Union Address 2010: 15 Interesting Statistics

I loaded the official transcript of the State Of The Union address delivered by Barack Obama on 27 January, 2010 into Microsoft Word to do some research on it. Here are some interesting statistics I was able to produce from this analysis (the length of the speech, and start and end times are obviously from media sources, not from MS Word).

The Word help files recommend aiming for a Flesch Reading Ease score of between 60 and 70 (the score goes from 0 to 100, with higher numbers denoting higher reading ease). So, Barack Obama barely made it into the recommended range with this speech. The Word help files also recommend aiming for a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of between 7.0 and 8.0. On this score, our President's speech was too erudite and scholarly, with his speech scoring almost a full grade level higher than the high end of the recommendation. By the way, both measures of readability use the number of syllables per word in their calculations, but Word does not provide any statistics on syllables at all!

Interesting Statistics

Length of the speech: 1:08:20
Start time: 9:11 PM EST, 27 January, 2010
End time: 10:20 PM EST, 27 January, 2010

Words: 7076
Non-space characters: 33,737
Characters including spaces: 40,767
Paragraphs: 105
Sentences: 409
Sentences per paragraph: 3.8952
Words per sentence: 17.3007
Characters per word: 4.7678
Passive sentences: 6%

Flesch Reading Ease: 61.8
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8.6

Total number of unique words in the speech: 1671

Frequency of usage of words

Most frequently used word: "The". Used 326 times.
The words "and" and "to" came in second and third, used 234 and 230 times respectively.

Longest word used: Responsibilities (16 letters)

People References
I: 96
Me: 8
My: 10
We: 164
Us: 31
Our: 121
You: 23
Your(s): 2
They: 54
Them: 8
Their: 35
It: 71
Its: 7
That: 166
This: 61
These: 28
Those: 16
People: 33
Family, Families: 20
Joe Biden: 2
Jill Biden: 1
Kent Conrad: 1
Judd Gregg: 1
John F. Kennedy: 1
Michelle Obama: 2
Ronald Reagan: 1

Geographic References
America: 24
American(s): 46
U.S.A.: 3
Country and Countries: 15
Nation(s): 19
World: 7
Globe, Global: 4
Shore(s): 4
Abroad: 2
Foreign: 2
International: 2
Afghanistan, Afghans: 4
Allentown: 1
Arabian Peninsula: 1
Asia: 1
California: 1
Colombia: 1
Doha: 1
Elkhart: 1
Elyria: 1
Europe: 1
Florida: 1
Galesburg: 1
Germany: 1
Haiti: 2
Illinois: 1
India: 1
Indiana: 1
Iran: 3
Iraq(i): 5
London: 1
Louisiana: 1
North Carolina: 1
North Korea: 1
Ohio: 1
Omaha: 1
Pacific: 1
Panama: 1
Pennsylvania: 2
Philadelphia: 1
Phoenix: 1
South Asia: 1
South Korea: 1
Tampa: 1
Washington: 8

Policy references
Health care: 7
Peace: 2
War(s): 7

Economic, Fiscal references
Economy, Economic, Economist(s): 18
Recovery: 8
Recession: 7
Stimulus: 1
Business(es): 29
Company and Companies: 9
Job(s): 29
Work(s), Working, Worker(s), and Workforce: 38
Investment(s): 12
Deficit(s): 14
Tax(es): 21

Political references
Political, Politics, Politicians: 10
Election(s): 7
Democrat(s) and Democratic: 7
Republican(s): 8
Congress and Congressional: 11
Senate and Senators: 7
President: 6
Administration: 5
Government: 13
Democracy: 2
Republic: 1
Bill: 13

Safety and security references
Terrorism, Terrorist(s): 3
Secure, Securing and Security: 14
Christmas attack: 1
Al Qaeda: 2
Defend, Defense: 2
Protect, Protected, Protecting: 5

Question words
How: 8
What: 28
When: 18
Where: 9
Who: 36
Why: 25
Which: 6

Answer words
Because: 20

Positive words
Can: 24
Change(s) and Changing: 12
Reform(s): 13
New: 20
More: 42
Yes: 2
Solution(s) and Solve(d): 6

Negative words
Less: 1
But: 41
Cannot and Can't: 14
No: 14
Problem(s): 10

Notable words entirely missing from speech

Transcript of the speech, as released by The White House

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They’re coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.

And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That’s why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. 200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.

Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.

Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

But the truth is, these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.

We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment – their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.

But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis. It’s what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can’t wait.

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.

No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We are American.”

It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.

Friday, January 29, 2010

9 Humorous Signs!

These signs belie the common belief that bureaucrats are dull and lifeless. Some of them seem to have an excellent sense of humor that shines through in these signs!

Zoos seem to have more than their fair share of funny signs. So, we will start with a few of those.

The agency in charge of supplying water to the Denver area seems to have decided that it would be easier to get through to its customers with humor than with rules and regulations! Good for them!!

I guess they decided that electric fences were not effective enough! And they were probably harder and more expensive to maintain too!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vedic Mathematics Lesson 37: Quadratic Equations 1

In the past several lessons, we have dealt with the solution of various types of linear equations. We started out by deriving various formulae to solve equations that fall into specific types using the Paravartya Yojayet sutra. We then proceeded to applications of the powerful Sunyam Samyasamuccaye sutra. We then covered various kinds of mergers, and finally we covered applications of the Anurupye Sunyam Anyat sutra to the solution of simultaneous linear equations.

You can find all my previous posts about Vedic Mathematics below:

Introduction to Vedic Mathematics
A Spectacular Illustration of Vedic Mathematics
10's Complements
Multiplication Part 1
Multiplication Part 2
Multiplication Part 3
Multiplication Part 4
Multiplication Part 5
Multiplication Special Case 1
Multiplication Special Case 2
Multiplication Special Case 3
Vertically And Crosswise I
Vertically And Crosswise II
Squaring, Cubing, Etc.
Division By The Nikhilam Method I
Division By The Nikhilam Method II
Division By The Nikhilam Method III
Division By The Paravartya Method
Digital Roots
Straight Division I
Straight Division II
Divisibility Rules
Simple Osculation
Multiplex Osculation
Solving Equations 1
Solving Equations 2
Solving Equations 3
Solving Equations 4
Mergers 1
Mergers 2
Mergers 3
Multiple Mergers
Complex Mergers
Simultaneous Equations 1
Simultaneous Equations 2

In this lesson, we will deal with quadratic equations, which are polynomial equations of the second degree. What this means is that when the equation is expanded out with no fractional terms, there exists at least one term in which the unknown quantity is raised to the second power.

The general form of a quadratic equation is ax^2 + bx + c. The quadratic formula can be used to solve equations in the standard form. The quadratic formula is usually written as below:

quadratic formula
In this lesson, however, we will not deal with quadratic equations that are written in the standard form. It may take quite a bit of effort in cross-multiplication, collection of like terms, etc., to get these equations into the standard form. The solution of these equations using the quadratic formula, therefore, is quite cumbersome, not to mention, error-prone.

Rather than go through all that labor, we will identify these special types of equations and apply certain simple procedures to solve them quickly and easily.

The first special type of quadratic equations we will consider are like the one below:

x + 1/x = 10/3

In the traditional method, we would go through the process of getting the equation into the standard form using the steps below:

x + 1/x = 10/3 becomes
(x^2 + 1)/x = 10/3 becomes
3x^2 + 3 = 10x becomes
3x^2 - 10x + 3 = 0

We would then solve it using the quadratic formula by setting a = 3, b = -10 and c = 3. This would lead to the solutions x = 3 and x = 1/3.

However, we don't have to go through all that trouble to solve this kind of equation. All we have to do is observe that 10/3 = 3 + 1/3. Thus, we would immediately have figured out that we can rewrite the given equation as below:

x + 1/x = 3 + 1/3

The symmetry of the equation above immediately reveals the answers, x = 3 and x = 1/3.

The same method can be used to solve many different problems such as the examples below:

x + 1/x = 26/5 => x + 1/x = 5 + 1/5 => x = 5, 1/5
x + 1/x = 50/7 => x + 1/x = 7 + 1/7 => x = 7, 1/7
x + 1/x = -17/4 => x + 1/x = -4 - 1/4 => x = -4, -1/4

We are not restricted to x + 1/x on the left-hand side either. Consider the equation:

(2x + 3) + 1/(2x + 3) = 50/7

Since the right-hand side of the equation can be expanded to 7 + 1/7, by the symmetry of the equation, we can equate 2x + 3 to either 7 or 1/7 (or equivalently, by equating (2x + 3) and 1/(2x + 3) to 7). We then get the solutions x = 2 and x = -10/7 to the given equation.

Similarly, consider the equation:

5x/(2x + 3) + (2x + 3)/5x = 26/5

The right-hand side of the equation can be expanded to 5 + 1/5. Thus, we can use the symmetry of the resulting equation to derive the following linear equations:

5x/(2x + 3) = 5
5x/(2x + 3) = 1/5 or alternatively, (2x + 3)/5x = 5

These two equations can then be solved to give us x = -3 or x = 23/3.

Now, consider the equation:

(x + 3)/(3x + 5) + (3x + 5)/(x + 3) = 17/4

The right-hand side of the equation can be expanded to 4 + 1/4. This then lets us solve the equation by deriving the linear equations below:

(x + 3)/(3x + 5) = 4
(x + 3)/(3x + 5) = 1/4 or alternatively, (3x + 5)/(x + 3) = 4

These equations can then be solved to give us x = -7 and x = -17/11.

Now, consider an equation of the type below:

x - 1/x = 3/2

We can rewrite the equation as below:

x - 1/x = 2 - 1/2

We may be tempted to conclude from the symmetry of the equation on both sides of the equal-to sign that x = 2 or x = 1/2. That would be wrong. In equations such as the above where the terms are connected by "-" signs instead of "+" signs, the solutions are x = 2 and x = -1/2. Only with x = -1/2 is it possible to get -1/x = 2, and therefore x - 1/x = 2 - 1/2. This is important to remember.

We will illustrate this with a few examples as below:

x - 1/x = 8/3 becomes
x - 1/x = 3 - 1/3, which then leads to x = 3 and x = -1/3 as the solutions.

x - 1/x = 63/8 becomes
x - 1/x = 8 - 1/8, which then leads to x = 8 and x = -1/8 as the solutions.

x - 1/x = -24/5 becomes
x - 1/x = -5 + 1/5 which then leads to x = -5 and x = 1/5 as the solutions.

The technique is equally applicable to cases where the left-hand side consists of other terms than x and 1/x. The following examples illustrate a few examples of these cases:

(3x + 2) - 1/(3x + 2) = 63/8 => (3x + 2) - 1/(3x + 2) = 8 - 1/8 =>
3x + 2 = 8, 3x + 2 = -1/8 => x = 2, x = -17/24
2x/(5x + 1) - (5x + 1)/2x = -15/4 => 2x/(5x + 1) - (5x + 1)/2x = 1/4 - 4 =>
2x/(5x + 1) = 1/4, 2x/(5x + 1) = -4 => x = 1/3, -2/11
(4x + 3)/(3x + 4) - (3x + 4)/(4x + 3) = 24/5 => (4x + 3)/(3x + 4) - (3x + 4)/(4x + 3) = 5 - 1/5 =>
(4x + 3)/(3x + 4) = 5, (4x + 3)/(3x + 4) = -1/5 => x = -17/11, -19/23

Sometimes, the equation may have undergone some transformations that hide its true nature. Consider the equation below:

x + (x + 1)/x = 7/2

The equation can actually be simplified as below:

x + (x + 1)/x = 7/2 becomes
x + x/x + 1/x = 7/2 becomes
x + 1/x = 7/2 - 1 becomes
x + 1/x = 5/2 becomes
x + 1/x = 2 + 1/2 which directly leads to the solutions x = 2 and x = 1/2.

Many of these transformations are difficult to peal back on sight to reveal the true nature of the equation. But it may be worthwhile to examine the equation and try a few transformations to see if any simplifications are possible before giving up and solving it using the traditional method.

Sometimes, the right-hand side is not as easily decomposed to a pair of reciprocals as in the above examples. Consider the equation below:

x + 1/x = 25/12

The right-hand side may look as if it can not be converted into a pair of reciprocals since at first glance, it breaks apart as 2 and 1/12. But a closer look will reveal that 25/12 = 3/4 + 4/3. Thus, we can actually rewrite the equation above as:

x + 1/x = 3/4 + 4/3

This then leads immediately to the solutions x = 3/4 and x = 4/3 by the symmetry of the equation on both sides of the equal-to sign.

Let us tackle a few more equations like the above:

x + 1/x = 13/6 => x + 1/x = 2/3 + 3/2 => x = 2/3, 3/2
x + 1/x = 29/10 => x + 1/x = 2/5 + 5/2 => x = 2/5, 5/2

Similarly, we can solve the equations below also by recognizing the right-hand side to be a difference of reciprocals:

x - 1/x = 11/30 => x - 1/x = 6/5 - 5/6 => x = 6/5, -5/6
x - 1/x = -40/21 => x - 1/x = 3/7 - 7/3 => x = 3/7, -7/3

This same technique can be extended to equations where the left-hand side is a sum or difference of any two reciprocal quantities, not just x and 1/x. I will leave those extensions to the reader in the interest of keeping this lesson from growing any longer than it already has become!

Assuming that the left-hand side is a pair of reciprocals, connected by either "+" or "-", how do we verify whether the right-hand side can be expressed as a pair of reciprocals with the same sign between them? We will explore this question in greater detail in the next lesson.

In the meantime, I hope you have found this lesson useful and interesting. I also hope you will apply the techniques explained in this lesson on real problems so that you become familiar not only with the technique itself (which is actually quite trivial), but also with the fractions that result either from the addition of numbers with their reciprocals, or the differences between numbers and their reciprocals. That will enable one to apply this technique where appropriate, on sight and mentally, to solve the types of quadratic equations we have dealt with in this lesson. Good luck, and happy computing!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Deal - Part 2

The following is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed below are purely fictional. Any resemblance or similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.

The following is copyrighted to Blogannath. All rights are reserved. You can find Part 1 of "The Deal" here.

The Deal - Continued

Tom breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the stranger left. He and Mary looked at each other with a slight sense of disbelief that any of this had actually happened. Tom slapped and pinched himself a few times to make sure he was dreaming all of this in his sleep. He got a few red marks on his skin, but the activity did not cause him to sit up in bed in the dark, breathing heavily as if he had awoken from a nightmare. Mary half-expected the stranger to walk back into the house, point to a corner of the room and intone, "Smile! You're on candid camera." But the show was not even being produced anymore, so there was little chance of that happening! "The Deal" had actually happened. Tom could eat whatever he wanted. Mary could cook whatever made Tom happy even if that meant a dozen eggs fried in a pound of butter! And it was not going to make Tom keel over from a heart attack either!!

Tom's weight and waist size started going up right away. It took a while for Tom to really stretch his imagination to see what was possible in terms of his food consumption, but when he did the results were quite spectacular! Daily runs to the grocery store could hardly keep up with his appetite for cheese, marbled meat, butter, margarine, and the huge variety of chips and other fried junk food he consumed in every meal. Dunkin Donuts created a special class of preferred patron membership specifically to show their appreciation for Tom! And pizzerias from far and near competed to find a place on the limited set of speed-dial slots on Tom's phone!!

But, in spite of this level of debauchery, Tom showed no overt ill-effects of his diet. He did not suffer from chest pains or shortness of breath. His knees did not buckle and his arches did not fall. He appeared healthy and vigorous, even to his own doctor. Tom did surprisingly well on his battery of tests during his annual physical exam. His cholesterol level was under control along with his blood pressure, and his body could seemingly tackle endless quantities of sugar and other sweeteners without breaking a sweat, figuratively or literally. Tom probed his doctor for bad news, but apart from his size and weight, there seemed to be pretty much nothing wrong with him. Tom actually started believing in "The Deal" only after this physical exam. And that was the last physical exam he cared to go to.

Mary couldn't be happier. She spent all her time planning elaborate meals for her husband. She perfected reading Tom's mood and reacting with the appropriate meals to a fine art. Whatever made Tom happy made her happy, and being able to make him happy with no feelings of guilt whatsoever made the feedback loop that much stronger. Along with Tom's weight and waistline, the couple's happiness expanded rapidly too!

And expand rapidly Tom's size did! His weight ballooned to over 300 pounds within the next several months. His resemblance to a beach ball grew more striking with the passing of each day - no, the passing of each meal! He dwarfed his wife to the point where people sometimes did not even notice she was with him. People took to stepping off the sidewalk when Tom walked by. Furniture stores stopped selling him furniture insurance.

Tom had to invest in remodeling his house, making the door frames wider. He would have preferred to make the staircase wider too, but it would have been too expensive. He squeezed himself up and down the staircase for now, taking care not to lean on any of the railings. He also bought himself a bigger car with more room between the seat and the steering wheel, a larger door, and a much more powerful engine. He was a little unhappy when he realized that at some point, he might have to stop driving because his hands would not be able to reach the steering wheel over his expanding midsection! But he decided that would be a small sacrifice he could afford to make when the time came!!

The couple received surveys in the mail, asking them about their satisfaction with "The Deal", and whether they would recommend it to their friends and family. Tom and Mary enthusiastically filled in the surveys with top scores in every category. Tom was the kind of guy who never gave top scores to anybody in any survey. If the satisfaction scale in a survey went from 1 to 5, and Tom was supremely satisfied, his response would be a 4. If the scale went from 1 to 10, his response would be a 9. But he made an exception for these surveys, he was that happy!

But all good things eventually come to an end. And they always come to an end when you least expect it. Like a bull market that ends right after you plow the last cent of your rainy day funds on a stock that "can not go down"! And Tom and Mary's fairy-tale existence came to an end one fine day too. Mary received a phone call from the local police station soon after Tom had left for work one day. The cop said Tom had been involved in an auto-crash. A bad auto-crash. A fiery auto-crash. He met Mary at the hospital and told her that cops had responded to a multi-car crash on the freeway that had left Tom trapped but unhurt in his car. And then the fire had started, spreading from car to car and burning through them at devastating speed. Tom was burnt badly and was in critical but stable condition at the hospital.

Tom was barely recognizable when Mary looked at him through the windows of the critical care unit at the hospital. His bulk obviously made him recognizable, but he was swaddled in bandages from head to toe. Miles of tubing of various types entered Tom's body through natural and artificial openings. He was hooked up to various different machines that beeped and pinged endlessly, announcing every breath Tom took and every beat of his heart. The doctor took Mary to his office and explained the situation to her. Tom was badly burnt, especially his face and neck. He would live, but he would never be the old Tom. He would probably never eat through his mouth again. He would probably not talk. He was probably in pain, and would be in perpetual pain for as long as he lived. But he was in no immediate danger, he was breathing on his own (albeit through a tracheotomy tube inserted just above his chest), and would probably live as long as he was fed through his feeding tubes.

Mary was numb with grief. Her world had collapsed around her and she was powerless to build it back up. Mary could not believe the doctor's prognosis for her husband, and what it meant for both of them. Tom was going to be in agony, possibly for a very long time, and she was going to be miserable as long as Tom was unhappy. She was powerless to make him better, but by the same token, she was powerless to put him out of his misery too. Mary wished Tom had died in the crash rather than surviving in the state he was in now.

As Mary was escorted out of the hospital by the cop he said to her in a wistful voice, "Tom was totally unhurt in the original crash. He was just stuck because the crash bent his car frame and the door could not be opened properly. If only Tom had been a little smaller. We got his car door open partially, and could have pulled him out before the fire, but we were simply unable to open the door far enough for a man of Tom's bulk to fit through the opening. We tried as hard as we could, but it just was not to be." Mary just stared blankly at him.

When she got home, she was only slightly surprised to see the smartly dressed stranger waiting for her. Mary flew at him in a rage and attacked him viciously with her fists and nails. When she had spent herself on this activity, the stranger calmly disentangled himself from her and waited for her to calm down as much as the circumstances would warrant. He was physically unhurt from Mary's assault on him, but he took his time straightening and cleaning his clothes and shoes so that he was as presentable as before. He then announced that his client was willing to make a deal with Mary. The price would be the same: Mary's eternal soul when she eventually died. In return, his client was willing to make arrangements to end Tom's suffering. He offered to wait until Mary made up her mind one way or the other.

As he walked out of Mary's house a little later, with a document bearing Mary's signature safely tucked under his arm, he remarked to nobody in particular, "my client always likes these two for one deals the best!" As he left her driveway, he saw Mary calmly walk into the garage and start her car. When she did not emerge from the garage or even raise the garage door for the next several minutes, the stranger daintily plucked his watch out of his coat pocket, noted the time on it, and remarked, again to nobody in particular, "I better make it to the hospital pretty quickly to keep poor Mary from waiting too long for Tom!"

The End

Monday, January 25, 2010

Microsoft Access Tips & Tricks: Percentile Values

As explained in the previous post on Access, the distinction between percentile scores and percentile values is important to understand. Given a particular instance from a large sample contained in a column of a table, we can find out its percentile score, which denotes how close to the maximum or minimum value the particular instance falls. Percentile scores always fall between 0 and 100.

On the other hand, you may be given a percentile value (which can only fall between 0 and 100), and asked to find what instance from a large sample has that percentile score. This instance can have any value between the minimum and maximum of the given sample. The median is an example of a percentile value. Finding the median of a large sample involves finding that value in the sample that has a percentile score of 50. In this case 50 is the percentile score. The actual value of the median is the percentile value corresponding to the percentile score of 50.

If you are interested, you can find my earlier posts on finding the median, the mode, the geometric and harmonic means, ranking every row in a query, selecting random rows out of a table, calculating running sums and averages, calculating running differences, creating histograms, calculating probability masses out of given data, calculating cumulative distributions out of given data, and finding percentile scores.

In this lesson, we will be dealing with finding instances out of a sample, given the percentile value we want to find. In that sense, this post is going to be very similar to the post on finding medians. It also means that the answers in this post are all supposed to be single values, not tables of values. You are given a table, myTable, with a field, myField, that contains several instances. You are then asked to find the instance with a percentile value of x, where x is between 0 and 100.

We have already seen how to find the instance with a percentile value of 50. That is what finding the median was all about. We can easily see that it is possible to modify the SQL for finding the median to find other percentile values also. But even before we go there, consider the following basics:

The 0th percentile value of a dataset is always the minimum value in the dataset. Thus, the 0th percentile value can be found simply with the SQL below:
SELECT MIN(myField)FROM myTable
Similarly, the 100th percentile value of a dataset is always the maximum value in the dataset. Thus, the 100th percentile value can be found simply with the SQL below:
SELECT MAX(myField)FROM myTable
To find other percentile values, we can modify the SQL for median. For instance, to find the 10th percentile value, we can use the SQL below:

FROM (SELECT TOP 10 PERCENT myField from myTable order by myField)
Just as in the case of medians, different schools of thought define percentile values in different ways. So, in some other schools of thought, the SQL below will give us the 10th percentile value:

FROM (SELECT TOP 90 PERCENT myField from myTable order by myField desc)
Note that the TOP modifier is used with 100 - the percentile value we are interested in calculating, when we use this version of the SQL.

When the true 10th percentile value is an actual instance in the dataset, then both these queries will in fact give you that exact instance. However, if the true 10th percentile value falls between two values in the dataset, the two queries above will give you the two values which have to be combined in a particular ratio to get the true 10th percentile value.

In the case of medians, when the two queries for median give different answers, the true median is easily found by combining the two values in 50-50 ratio. In other words, we took 50% of one value and combined it with 50% of the other value. This is the same as taking the average of the two values.

In general, if the xth percentile value is calculated as two different numbers by the two queries above, then the true xth percentile value is (100 - x)% of the value from the first query combined with x% of the value from the second query. We were able to do this combination using the SQL aggregate function AVG() during the calculation of medians. No such SQL aggregate function exists to combine arbitrary percentages of two different values. So, we have to code it up ourselves.

One way to do this would be to code up the two queries above as subqueries of a larger query that then combines the results from these queries in the appropriate proportions to produce the final results. Such a query for the 10th percentile value might look like this:

select 0.90*(SELECT MAX(myField)
FROM (SELECT TOP 10 PERCENT myField from myTable order by myField)) +
0.10*(SELECT MIN(myField)
FROM (SELECT TOP 90 PERCENT myField from myTable order by myField desc))
from myTable
Note the symmetry of multiplying 0.90 by the SQL that uses TOP 10 percent and multiplying 0.10 by the SQL that uses TOP 90 percent. That will make the form of the SQL easy to remember.

Just as in the case of medians, one can write VBA code to calculate percentile values. The set of parameters passed to such a function can be modified to include the percentile value we are interested in finding. I will leave the actual writing of such a function to my readers though!

Hope this post has been helpful in solving any problems you might have had with calculating percentile values out of your data in Access. If you have any problems or concerns with the queries in this lesson, please feel free to let me know by posting a comment. If you have other questions on Access that you would like me to address in future lessons, please feel free to let me know through your comments too. Good luck!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Busy Week

Lots of things came together to make this a somewhat busy week, both at work and at home. So busy, in fact, that I have to keep this post short so that I can take care of everything I need to before the new week starts!

At work, our IT department finished a major portion of the data modeling for my project and scheduled my team and I for several hours-long meetings to go over the design in detail and get our feedback. The analysis of the design brought out many doubts and concerns that lead to more meetings and email back-and-forths with our business users and other stakeholders.

As if this was not enough, we had a design review meeting with our director to go over the overall technical design of our project. I had to produce a powerpoint deck to use during this review meeting. We have to go over a similar review meeting with a director from the IT department also involved (why he should be reviewing a technical design of a mathematical model which he probably will not understand head or tail of is beyond me, but it is a fight we fought and lost, so there is no point in rehashing that all over again).

After the meeting, our director suggested several changes I have to make to the powerpoint deck before the review with the IT director. Since that meeting was scheduled for the coming Tuesday, I had to make the changes last week. Combined with the object model design meetings, I needed a lot more than 8 hours a day last week to get everything done on time!

At home, I had to spend a lot of time shopping for various things. My kids have started outgrowing their ballet and tap shoes, so I had to take them to a shoe store to get new ones. Then my older daughter needed a plain white blouse to wear during a violin recital she has coming up on Thursday. More shopping! Then the kids started complaining that the school backpacks they have had since the beginning of this school year are getting to be too small to hold all their books and other school "stuff". Time for another shopping trip with them.

The problem with backpacks is that since this is not the start of the school year, most stores do not have big stocks of kids' backpacks. The ones they had were the exact same size as the ones my kids have currently. The only other backpacks in the stores were all travel-related backpacks, and my kids did not like any of the designs on those backpacks. They have been told that in that case, they just have to live with what they have right now, but I anticipate me being dragged in the near future to other stores that we did not have time to visit last week!

In my karate class, the two new students who joined two weeks back are still at it. My sensei spent most of last class teaching them while I worked with the slightly more advanced students and practiced my black belt kata and weapons kata. In addition, in the last class, we had some light sparring, but not with bare hands. We chased each other around the ring with a rubber knife. My sensei managed to knock the knife out of one of the junior students' hands and then "killed" him with it, but most of the other rounds ended up with the knife-wielder inflicting pretty grievous injuries on the opponent!

But the sparring rounds got my breathing and heart rate up, and got my hands and legs going the way the warm-ups and kata practice could not, so it was good. It also showed the students how difficult some things are, such as disarming a knife-wielding opponent, especially when the opponent knows a thing or two about arm-bars, wrist-locks, etc. My sensei likes to use these bouts as exhibits during his lectures about how important it is to always consider getting out of a fight if at all possible, rather than getting into one with your judgment clouded after watching one too many action movies!

I also produced the usual stream of posts for my blog last week. I talked about percentile scores and how to calculate them in Access on Monday. I published the first part of a 2-part story on Tuesday. This was my very first foray into fiction (apart from the fiction that issues from my mouth at various times!), and I am not convinced I have the outrageous and incredibly fertile imagination to make it as a fiction writer. But I have to find out first-hand by trying it out though. Wednesday was Vedic Mathematics day once again. Thursday, I republished another old PC World article about the worst Apple products ever. Friday, I put together a collection of humorous signs from restaurants. I put together a post on Saturday about the trial of Scott Roeder, the killer of abortion doctor, George Tiller, after listening to an interesting story about it on NPR.

My flag counter inches towards 100 with three more flags added this past week, continuing to defy my expectations that it would stop growing any day now. My widget now sports 98 flags, with the last flag being from Kenya. Another beautiful flag from a beautiful country! And with that, I have to stop this post and get some rest and sleep.

After all the meetings at work, the multiple versions of the design review presentations, the multiple shopping trips, the classes I have to drag the kids to and from, and so on, I feel like something the cat dragged in. I have barely had time to recover fully and now it is time for another week, probably another run-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off week! At least the chicken gets to stop and drop dead after a while!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Was George Tillman's Murder "Voluntary Manslaughter"?

During my drive into work yesterday, I was listening to a story on NPR that turned out to be quite interesting. It was a story about the murder of Wichita abortion provider, George Tiller. The story talked about a possible defense tactic being considered by the admitted murderer, Scott Roeder. Scott wants to produce evidence that would allow him to avoid a conviction on first degree murder charges that carries a penalty of life in prison. Instead, if he got his way, he could be convicted of voluntary manslaughter that carries a penalty of just 55 months.
George TillerGeorge Tiller

Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo., is charged with first-degree murder for shooting Dr. George Tiller on May 31 as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kan. Roeder is also charged with two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a gun at two ushers who tried to stop him after the shooting.

Roeder has admitted to reporters and in a court filing that he killed Tiller to save "unborn children."
Scott RoederScott Roeder

On Wednesday, a Kansas Circuit judge ruled that Scott Roeder could present a voluntary manslaughter defense. The judge's decision means that Roeder—who has been charged with first-degree murder—will be able to present additional evidence that, in a straightforward murder case, would have been barred from the courtroom.

In order to create a voluntary manslaughter defense, Roeder must show that he had "unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." To be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Roeder must have believed his act to be "necessary to defend … a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force." This means Roeder has to demonstrate not one, but four things. First, that there was a threat to a third person. Second, that the threat was imminent. Third, that imminent threat was the result of an unlawful act. And, fourth, that he honestly believed all of this.

Before I go on, I want to make sure I explain that I am mostly an apolitical person who does not have strong views one way or another on the abortion issue. I think abortion is never going to be an issue that is resolved to the satisfaction of all people in our lifetimes. But the NPR item got me thinking about the issue of "voluntary manslaughter" in general.

Leaving aside the politics of the issue, let us look at the voluntary manslaughter defense, as defined by Kansas law. Scott Roeder must prove that he believed his act to be necessary to defend unborn children against imminent harm from George Tiller's use of unlawful force. The most important words in the previous sentence, as far as I am concerned, are the words "imminent" and "unlawful". There are legal scholars who have questioned whether unborn babies are persons (no court has ever ruled that they are until now), but for now, I am going to ignore that.

George Tiller was killed nowhere near his clinic, leave alone while attempting to perform an abortion. He was an usher at his church when he was gunned down. What he was doing when he was killed can hardly be considered to cause or threaten to cause "imminent" harm to unborn children. Similarly, if George Tiller had been a back-alley abortion provider who operated illegally to perform abortions that were not legal, then he could have been considered as using "unlawful" force. But George Tiller, by all accounts, operated within the law, and practiced a completely legal and lawful occupation.

Now, if the definition of what is lawful and what is unlawful, or what is imminent and what is not, is to be left up to each individual defendant in their defence of whatever actions they take against other people, there is no question that we will face nothing but complete chaos and anarchy.

Consider, for instance, the case of a truck driver, or a person who works at an automobile assembly plant. Your activities, either directly or indirectly, cause emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is widely accepted and believed to cause climate change. And climate change is predicted to cause more floods and famines, more powerful hurricanes and sea-level changes that will submerge many low-lying areas of the world, among other things. As you can imagine, these effects of climate change could very well exact a very real human toll in terms of many hundreds or thousands of lives lost to these natural disasters resulting from climate change.

Now, who among us does not contribute to the emission of carbon dioxide either directly or indirectly? In fact, most people contribute both directly and indirectly. Most of us drive to work, heat our homes, use electrical appliances, and do countless other things in our daily lives that lead directly to carbon dioxide emissions (if nothing else, we breathe). In addition, many of us are employed in industries that contribute to carbon dioxide emissions, whether that be automobile manufacturing, travel and tourism, shipping and trucking, restaurants, utilities, etc., etc.

By Scott Roeder's logic, any environmentalist would then be able to murder any of us, and claim a "necessity" defense. Most judges would laugh such a defendant out of court because it would be completely baseless. And they would be right because the victims were engaged in completely legal and lawful activities, and any harm to others that results from their actions is but collateral damage that results from a legal occupation. Moreover, nobody was going to die immediately or imminently because of the victim's activities. But would such a defence be so baseless if a precedent is established by the Wichita court in this case?

The court has 3 choices in this case, as I see it:

  1. Rule this defence inadmissible in this case
  2. Rule that George Tiller's actions and occupation were unlawful (which would open a new can of worms), and that his acting as an usher at a church caused or threatened imminent harm (I don't even want to think about the consequences of this!)
  3. Or declare open season for anybody on pretty much anybody.

I think the court should take a step back from the brink here rather than taking a step down this slippery slope. All indications are that this is an open and shut first degree murder case. The defendant shot the victim dead in public, in front of numerous witnesses. He then admitted openly that he did indeed commit the murder. The only other defence I see in this case is a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. And I have to admit that in the case of Scott Roeder, that defence might indeed work . . .

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