OKC temple complete

Photos from Sunday's consecration ceremony for the temple. The land was bought in 1984. It's taken 25 years (helped by the steady growth in the size of the Indian community) to pull together the money to build the temple.

Making sushi at home

Making sushi at home is easier than making pie.

Cucumber, avacado and smoked salmon rolls:

1) Add 3 tbsp vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar to 1 cup cooked rice

2) Put seaweed sheet on bamboo mat (makes rolling it easier)

3) lay out vegetables on one end, then roll towards the other

4) Slice the roll and voila ...

p.s. the rolls are for tomorrow afternoon's Summer BBQ at J.'s, if you are coming!
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Sunset at 12,000 ft

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Somehow not charming

Reston, Virginia has a walkable, compact towncenter.
Water fountain

Flowering lamp posts

Coffee shop

But when you're there, you have this nagging feeling that something's not quite right. The water fountain is not a central gathering place -- instead, a skating area across from it is. The lampposts are not really on the sides of the streets, but are in plazas next to restaurant seating areas. The coffee shop turns out to be a Panera Bread that's on the ground floor of a Hyatt.
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So much public interest in microwave satellite retrieval?

A University of Maryland researcher wanted to come to Norman to consult with us because he is using our nowcasting technique on satellite data. I asked him to give a seminar since he was going to be at the National Weather Center anyway.

Imagine my surprise when, on my morning commute this morning, there was an announcement on the local radio station for a seminar on "microwave satellite-based rainfall improvements". And in my inbox, a media request to talk about the seminar. It must be a really slow news day!

Folks, this will be a very technical seminar. Not really meant for the general public.

R to the rescue

I wanted to create a graph for a paper I was writing. A rather complex graph that would show the difference between six different techniques on five different types of storms on three different criteria. Representing 6x5x3=90 interactions in an easily interpretable way is hard, especially if you want to do it with confidence bounds and the like. I had a general idea of how to create the graph and was wincing internally at the thought of doing it in Excel. Chances are that I would have to rerun the cases if I discover problems and will have to regenerate the graphs quite often. Enter the statistical package, R.

This is the final graph, so you know where I'm going with this:
and this is the description of the graph in the paper so that you understand the comparisons made possible by the organization of the graph:
Each row of graphs consists of the evaluation of a case on the three criteria described in Section 1b. In each graph, the best two methods are shown in black. If several techniques tied for second place (within the bounds of statistial significance shown by the error bars) as in the case of mismatches for the first case, there may be more than two black bars in a graph. Similarly, the worst two methods (with a rank of 5 or 6) are shown with white bars. Gray bars indicate middling (rank of 3 or 4) performance.
So, here are the issues: (1) create a figure with multiple graphs (2) arrange them (3) have Greek symbols for the y-axes (4) The barplot should have different colors indicating rank (5) Should have confidence intervals (error bars) on all the graphs.

I first put all the numbers into a text file. Then, I ran the R script, snippets of which are below.

First, read the data and set up margins for the plot. The output will go into a PNG image:

png( filename="allscores.png", width=1200, height=1500, pointsize=20 );

par(mar=c(3.1, 4.3, 4.1, 1.1))

data <- read.table("allscores.csv", header=TRUE, sep=",");
We want 5 rows and 3 columns. Set up column names:
par( mfrow = c(5,3))
technique <- data[1:6,2];
ylabels <- c( expression(sigma[size]~km^2), expression(e[xy]~km), "Median duration (s)")
shortstat <- c( "Mismatches", "Jumps", "Length")
Loop through and pull out the data:
for (caseno in 1:5) {
startrow <- caseno*6 - 5;
case <- data[startrow,1];
for (statno in 0:2) {
values <- data[startrow:(startrow+5) , 3+statno*4];
valuesLB <- data[startrow:(startrow+5) , 4+statno*4];
valuesUB <- data[startrow:(startrow+5) , 5+statno*4];
rank <- data[startrow:(startrow+5) , 6+statno*4];
Set up the colors for the bars in the barplot:
colors <- c("gray", "gray", "gray", "gray", "gray", "gray" );
for (i in 1:6){
if ( rank[i] == 1 || rank[i] == 2 ){ colors[i] = "black"; }
if ( rank[i] == 5 || rank[i] == 6 ){ colors[i] = "white"; }
Draw the bar plot:
xpoints <- barplot(height=values, col=colors, ylab="", names=technique, xlab="
", ylim=c(0,max(valuesUB)) )
Draw the error bars:
lh <- 0.2;
segments(xpoints, valuesLB, xpoints, valuesUB, col="red")
segments(xpoints-lh, valuesLB, xpoints+lh, valuesLB, col="red")
segments(xpoints-lh, valuesUB, xpoints+lh, valuesUB, col="red")
Set up the title, increasing the font of the y-axis by 40%:
title(ylab=ylabels[1+statno], cex.lab=1.4)
title(main=paste(case,": ", shortstat[1+statno]," by technique") )
and voila ... The neat thing is that I can now run this script on my data file and get the graph. No pointing and clicking required ...

Healthcare reform should not expect doctors to be saints

Atul Gawande (professor of surgery at Harvad, practicing physician and staff writer for the New Yorker) gave the commencement address to the University of Chicago Medical School. You should read the whole thing but here is his key point:

No one talks to you about money in medical school, or how decisions are really made. That may be because we’ve not thought carefully about what we really believe about money and how decisions should be made. But as you look across the spectrum of health care in the United States—across the almost threefold difference in the costs of care—you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. And as you become doctors today, I want you to know that you are our hope for how this battle will play out.

Earlier in the speech, he talks about some doctors who did make a difference:
He is a physician here in Chicago. He’d invested in an imaging center with his colleagues. But they found they were losing money. They had a meeting about what to do just a few weeks ago. The answer, they realized, was to order more imaging for their patients—to push the indications where they could. When he realized what he was being drawn to do by the structure he was in, he pulled out. He lost money. He angered his partners. But it was the right thing to do.
To insure that unnecessary costs are avoided ... surgeons agreed to do no operations on lung-cancer patients unless the pulmonologist and oncologist agree that it is indicated. This is radical. “I have had to swallow my ego repeatedly to stick to this principle,” he said. Sometimes he’s had to persuade them an operation was best. More often, however, they persuade him to drop his plan and with it the revenue. And he did—because it was the right thing to do.
In each case, the doctors had to fight the temptation that our health care system throws in their path -- incentives in our health care system that are stacked in favor of overtreatment.

Rather than hoping that every doctor becomes a saint, can we not change these incentives? Incentives in medicine should be oriented towards keeping patients healthy, not towards making hospitals and imaging centers profitable.

Suddenly chatty

Have you noticed how it's all quiet on an airplane until they announce the plane's gonna land? Suddenly, everyone gets all chatty asking their neighbor where they're going on to ... Whether it's their first time there and what they're going to do when they're visiting. What was with all the quiet and what's with all the chattiness?

Expertly channeling people power

The protests in Iran are really impressive:
  1. Their silence (amateur video here on BBC) adds a sense of purpose.  How can there be that many people and it not turn into a riot?  These folks are going out of their way to be non-violent.  This is evidence of really strong leadership.
  2. Who ever heard of elite Tehranians leading street protests? Yet, that is core base of the reformers. These protests are being attended by the lower middle class.  That's an impressively broad base they've built.
  3. There is also quite a bit of organization: note the ready availability of green bands, green ribbons and the street art depicting what looks like a Mayan owl.
  4. The protestors are organizing against the odds -- TV, radio, newspapers, etc. are all closed to them.  All these people are showing up through word-of-mouth.
  5. The reformers have coopted symbols of Shia mythology including religious imagery, slogans and the 40-day funeral cycle.  In American politics, the party that captures the center wins. In Iran, the party that captures the Shia sense of martyrdom wins.
  6. Tying Ahmadi to the Russians, while taking "offense" at a mild putdown of Moussavi by Obama. They're playing the game of "who's the foreign stooge" quite brilliantly.
Considering all this, I wonder whether all this is a well-laid trap that the hardliners walked into.

Don't get me wrong: an open, transparent, modern Iran would be an incredibly stabilizing influence in the Middle East. Persia has historically had lots of soft power and it would be great if they start using it for good.  So, I'm pulling for the reformers (even my post is green!).  But that doesn't mean I can not admire expertly channeled people power.  There's a lot that other countries chafing under authoritarian rule can learn from the Iranian protests.

A very Iranian protest

The purported manifesto of the Iranian protestors is interesting:

1. Remove Khamenei from supreme leader because he doesn't qualify as a fair supreme leader

2. Remove Ahmadinejad from president because he took it forcefully and unlawfully

3. Put Ayatollah Montazeri as supreme leader until a review group for the ghanooneh asasi ( "constitution" ) is set up

4. Recognize Mousavi as the official president

5. A goverment by Mousavi and start a reform of the constitution

6. Free all political prisoners without any ifs ands or buts, right away

7. Call off any secret organization such as "gasht ershad"
Notice how Iranian it is. They are still talking about keeping a supreme religious leader. They just want to change which one. They will still have councils of experts, and religious vetoes. But they want it to be more open and transparent. The protests are also full of themes from the 1979 revolution. The major leaders of the protest -- Mousavi and Rafsanjani -- are both founding fathers of the Islamic state. What they want is an Islamic democracy that would look nothing like either the American or the Indian ones.

Butterflies and wildflowers

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a nature preserve the Nature Conservancy maintains in Southeastern Oklahoma.
A meadow of wildflowers.

This guy was flitting about at 50mph. I caught him on camera when he alighted for just a second.

The cacti were in bloom. I'd never realized how spectacular a cactus bloom is.

A tiny blue butterfly with incredible markings. He never did spread his wings.
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Still killing daughters

Asian immigrants to the US are probably aborting their daughters:
In general, more boys than girls are born in the United States, by a ratio of 1.05 to 1. But among American families of Chinese, Korean and Indian descent, the likelihood of having a boy increased to 1.17 to 1 if the first child was a girl, according to the Columbia economists. If the first two children were girls, the ratio for a third child was 1.51 to 1 — or about 50 percent greater — in favor of boys.
How long does it take to finally cast off the misogyny of the old world?

Catch-22 in China

The experience of a Chinese-born US citizen who happened to be sitting 3 rows behind someone on the plane who had the H1N1 virus and was quarantined makes me shudder:

I am now sitting by myself in a room, in a building full of other "suspected" H1N1 patient. I can use the internet, the phone and watch TV but there is a lock on the front door and I'm not allowed to leave my room or talk to the other "guests" ...

The funniest part about all of this? I don't have H1N1. Although the people here refuse to answer most of my questions, I was given an English document from the government describing proper procedure for the quarantine. I quote, from the section "When will you be free to leave"

"The time to lift the medical observation depends on the diagnosis of the passenger with fever symptoms. If the diagnosis rules out the possibility of A H1N1 infection, you will be free to leave immediately...However, if the test report shows anything suspicious or needs another diagnosis, your time of staying here will have to be extended according to official notice..."

That is what the official government notice says. "I will be free to leave immediately," yet when I asked the workers here about that statement, they claimed that I was misinterpreting the text. Clearly, my English skills have regressed rapidly. When I asked for a blood test, the official way to confirm whether or not I carry the virus, I was denied, "We only test people who look sick. You don't look sick. If you develop a fever, we will test you."

So I am still here in my hotel room, healthy but treated as if I have the plague. Counting down the days. One down, six more to go.

It's a regular Catch-22. We'll only test you for H1N1 if you look sick. But we'll release you only if your test comes back negative. Since you don't look sick, we can't test you. And since we can't test you, we can't release you.

There's a conference in China I was planning to attend in August. Now that the WHO has upgraded H1N1 to a pandemic (even while emphasizing that symptoms are mild and that people who get infected do not need medical treatment), I think the Chinese reaction to H1N1 is going to get even crazier.

So, this may be the year we don't go to China. Oh well.

AMA against reducing doctors' income

So, the American Medical Association (AMA) is opposed to anything that will reduce doctor income.  Why is that a surprise?  Much of the increase in medical costs is because doctors branched off from just seeing patients to also having part ownership in things like scanners and test labs and  relying on commission income from hospitals.  Doctors don't want to be just salaried, highly-paid professionals even if the overmedication caused by poorly aligned incentivies actively harms patients.   Hippocratic oath be damned.

The AMA has always been against anything that will reduce doctors' fees, even if the alternative was people going untreated or patients being killed by overmedication.  The AMA has been against every health care reform proposal -- from FDR's and Truman's to Hillary Clinton's. They were even against Medicare, but fortunately (as opposed to the other times), they were not successful.  Hope that this time, too, they are unsuccessful in their effort to block a public insurance plan.

A Sunday sans kids

What's a Sunday sans kids look like?
  1. Wake up and watch Federer vs. Soderling (French Open tennis final). Soderling seemed happy to just be there. I missed Rafa! I was even willing to watch five sets this time.
  2. Take my friend's Porsche for a spin. Nice car, but a bit impractical, no? The kids are coming back ...
  3. Go shopping with wife. The kids are gone. The wife isn't!
  4. Take a nap. But then I always clear out time for a weekend nap. Freshens up my week.
  5. Watch USBF team trials (Bridge: Cohen-Berkowitz vs. Stewart-Woolsey Round of 16)
  6. Mow lawn
  7. Watch Lakers vs. Magic (NBA finals)
I could get used to this life. But it seems ... empty.

A nice way to start the day

This is what I had for breakfast nearly every day last week when the wife and kids were out of town:
Cottage cheese waffles, blackberry preserves, strawberries and mangoes.
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Glass Mountains, Oklahoma

Glass Mountains (or Gloss Mountains) are in NW Oklahoma. They get their name because of the shiny rocks embedded in the mountain sides. It's worth a stop if you are going to Roman Nose State Park or to the Great Salt Plains, but is probably not worth a daytrip from the OKC metro area.
This is what the Glass mountains look like from a distance.

The rocks that shine are selenite crystals.

There were a few wildflowers in bloom when we visited a couple of weeks ago.

But because it was a warm day, and because these were the only high ground for miles, there were lots of birds soaring in the thermals.
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A gadget worth waiting for

Android-based smartbooks are great news.  I bought an iPod touch just so that I would have a quick way to get on my home and on public Wifi networks. If there is a slightly more capable device that gives good battery life and is quick to switch on & off, then I'm all for it.

Custom magazine: good concept, but not better than RSS

I signed up for a magazine (Mine) that consists of articles pulled out of various publications from the Time Warner group, based on what they think I'd be interested in. The claim is that is personalized.

The ads are personalized too. And over-the-top creepy. I don't know why Lexus thinks I've been buying gold bars (!). Or for that matter, why I would be interested in a Lexus.

The article selection is quite good, though. I estimate that I'll read 7 of the 10 articles in the first issue -- a far greater percentage than I would in any of the component magazines. So, this "personalized magazine" does have a better hit-rate than the individual magazines.

But I fail to see why this concept is better than my RSS Reader.

Aftermemory doesn't improve my bridge

The last hand of the night, my partner and I bid 6-spades with 25 high-card points and off the Ace and Jack of trumps. I haul the little slam home and am feeling pretty good about it because (a) it's always nice to bid and make a slam (b) no one else bid slam on the board, so it was a clear top (c) the rest of the evening was quite awful -- we barely scratched even though I was partnered with one of the best players in the club.

Anyway, I'm rerunning that one bright spot of the evening in my head and I realize that I could have made the slam even if the heart-queen was not a doubleton. "Play a small heart," I'm thinking to myself, "and ruff, then head back to dummy through a club, and then all the hearts are good."

Needless to say, on the actual hand, my play was not quite as elegant. I was merely lucky the cards broke in my favor. I could have played that hand better, as I could have nearly every one of the other hands tonight. It was one of those nights.

The heroine in one of the books I'm reading (How to buy a love of reading, by Tanya Egan Gibson) calls this "aftermemory". The author helpfully defines this as: (a) a time when you have better words to say (b) a present that doesn't move too fast to grasp [what's going on] (c) a dream of making things happen (d) what maybe might have been.

It's a lovely word: "aftermemory". Describes my reaction to a bad evening of bridge to a T. Except that in my aftermemory, I still turn out to be a bit of a klutz.

Need more categories on Grace Notes and iTunes

I discovered a blog of jokes each of which is opened by a musical segment that is a wonderfully upbeat combination of folk and ragtime. Turns out the music is called Klezmer:

Klezmer, old time traditional Yiddish dance music was the soundtrack of Ashkenazi Jewry for generations ... Fiddles, ‘cellos and hammered dulcimers were the hot instruments of the Middle Ages ...

So, naturally, I went on iTunes and searched for Klezmer music. Of course, there's no category for it --so I only got bands that happened to have "Klezmer" in their name. And notice that their "Genre" is anything from "World" to "Country".

This is one of my pet peeves. The music I listen to the most -- Carnatic classical -- is not an official category either. So, people who upload track names to Grace notes use (pick one) classical, world, alternative or, in one instance, funk! It's a pain when searching. How hard can it be to include better categories? Surely, it takes no extra bytes to store "Klezmer" or "Carnatic" than it is to store "World"!

p.s. The jokes on "Old Jews telling jokes" are kind of old -- you've almost definitely heard them before -- but the effect of a wise old fella narrating the joke is quite unique. You should definitely watch a couple of clips.

Realtor ad euphemism

The tv ad for Realtor takes the cake for best euphemism:

Home prices have not fallen ... "affordability" has improved

What killed GM: It stopped being a car company

USA Today has an article listing the top reasons why GM failed, but they miss out the key factor. For too long, GM was profitable only because: (a) they financed their own deals with GMAC (b) they made up in truck and SUV profits what they lost on cars. This may not have been a problem, except that it was exacerbated by the terribly short-sighted incentives given to American managers.

When GM's profits started coming from financing and monster trucks, the company started to throw money at their profitable units and start neglecting the "cost centers". The "cost center" in this case happened to be the raison d'etre of the company and so, GM lost its core competence.

The other reasons listed are all valid, but the key reason that GM is bankrupt is that GM, long ago, ceased to be an engineering company.