LOLcats ISO code

Posted in Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 11:15 am by ducky

I’ve been working on LOLcat subtitles for Sita Sings The Blues, and a friend asked me what the ISO 639 language code for LOLcat was.

It turns out that the ISO 639 language code LOL does exist, and is for the central African language Mongo.  Who knew that the kittehs were African!?!?

Update: My buddy Luther points out that the African Wildcat is the ancestor of the domesticated housecat.  As he pointed out, “Duh.”

Update2: Luther also asks, “I can haz bank scam?”


On the record: I want torture prosecutions

Posted in Politics at 7:41 am by ducky

A few days ago, I read something somewhere about how disappointing it was that there wasn’t more hue and cry about the recent release of the torture memos.  (Sorry, my computer died and I was somewhat off the air for a few days, so don’t have a citation.)

Initially, I wasn’t going to blog about the release of the memos, but I feel I have to go on the record.  I feel I have to say something in order to be counted, to make the “torture bad” side of the argument one voice stronger.

Initially, I wasn’t going to blog because I didn’t think any more needed to be said.  I’ve already discussed why I think torture is a bad idea.  (Never mind discussions about it being morally wrong, it’s still just flat a bad idea.)  The things that I said — that I thought it was impossible to keep our torturing a secret, impossible to only torture guilty people, and that torture gave faulty information — proved true well before the memos were released.

I was angry and saddened at my country’s cavalier treatment of our military prisoners even before the memos were released.  I had already seen routine torture at Abu Ghraib, and it was already known that we had waterboarded some prisoners.  To hear that we waterboarded one guy 183 times was appalling, but I was already appalled that we did it at all.  The difference between someone who knocks over 90 year-olds for fun and one who doesn’t is far starker than one who knocks over three seniors over versus one who knocks over 183.

I was already angry and saddened at how many of my fellow citizens thought torture was a hunky-dory method; just one more tool in the toolchest for waging war.  To hear that Peggy Noonan thought we should not have released the memos — that we should just avert our eyes and walk on by was jaw-dropping, but my jaw has been on the floor for a long time.

The only thing that has changed is my attitude towards prosecution.  I had gone along with the argument that we shouldn’t spend political capital on dragging something along that would devolve into partisan bickering.  After seeing how stunningly in denial the Right-Wing is about torture being illegal, immoral, and ineffective, I now think we have to prosecute.  If we don’t — if we continue to let a large portion of the country think that torture is okay — then we will torture again.

This is not about retribution.  This is not about vengence.  This is not even about justice.  This is about prevention.  This is about deterrence.  This is about making sure that my country never goes down that slippery slope again.


UBC programming team takes 34th in the world!

Posted in Canadian life, Hacking, University life at 11:47 am by ducky

The UBC programming team took 34th place at the 2009 International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals in Stockholm!  W00t!!

This marks the sixth year in a row that UBC has gone to the World Finals, despite being entirely undergraduates and entirely without World Finals experience.  (We have information on past teams, but don’t know the seniority of the 2004 team.)

Congratulations, team!


Unemployment maps

Posted in Maps, Politics at 4:56 pm by ducky

I have been looking at unemployment figures today.  Here’s unemployment rate by county for 2008, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Pure white corresponds to a rate of 2%; pure green corresponds to a rate of 10%.

Unemployment Rate 2008

Unemployment Rate 2008

Note that the unemployment rate is dimensionless, i.e. it’s the number of people looking for work divided by the number of people in the workforce.  The BLS makes its estimates by interviewing thousands of people each week and carefully asking them questions about their employment.  If they have worked at all in the past week (even part-time), that counts as employed.  If they haven’t looked for work in four weeks, they do not count as being in the workforce.  This means that retired people, stay-at-home moms, and people who have given up do not count.  (The BLS has a good explanation of their methods.)

Here is the unemployment rate by county for 2007:

Unemployment Rate 2007

Unemployment Rate 2007

Again, I think the more interesting picture is the difference between the two years; red where unemployment has gone up, blue where unemployment has gone down.  Full red means a change of +5 percentage points or more; full blue means a change of -5 percentage points or more.

2008 unemployment rate minus 2007 unemployment rate

2008 unemployment rate minus 2007 unemployment rate

There’s an awful lot of red there, alas.  The unemployment rate fell in 272 counties and rose in 2767 counties.

Things worth noting about the above maps:

  • There are a fair number of state boundaries visible in the 2008 minus 2007 map.  For examples, Wisconsin is particularly visible, Wyoming is visible to a lesser extent, and there is also a line visible running along the north side of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, and a line along the east side of Alabama.  I think this means that state policies actually do matter.
  • West Virginia had lower unemployment in 2008 than 2007.  I presume that was demand for coal relating to the high price of oil in most of 2008.  The Oklahoma drops in unemployment also be due to the higher value of oil; I don’t know why North Dakota did better.
  • Woods County, OK, which is the bright blue spot in near the center of the country in the 2008 minus 2007 map, has a relatively small population: 120 people were unemployed in 2008 versus 261 in 2007.  Oklahoma’s economy has a large fossil fuel component.

It’s also interesting to look at the difference between 2008 and 1998:

2008 unemployment rate minus 2007 unemployment rate

2008 unemployment rate minus 1998 unemployment rate


  • Poor Michigan.
  • In addition to West Virginia, the rural West had higher unemployment in 1998 than in 2008.  I presume this has to do with the very strong market for resources (trees, minerals, coal, etc.) for most of 2008.

I have added the first three maps to my elections map page.   (Note that I have data such that I can put even more maps on the page, but I worry about the UI getting too cluttered.  Thus, if you really want to see some map, let me know.)

Update: A friend of a friend pointed me at Wisconsin Business Climate Statistics.  That page points out the Wisconsin has a very lean government, low taxes, low crime,and  tax exemption for energy used in manufacturing.  Frankly, it sounds like a Republican party platform — even though Wisconsin is a very Democratic-leaning state.


Historical presidential maps

Posted in Maps, Politics at 5:51 pm by ducky

I recently got historical data on presidential election results by county from Robert Vanderbei, for presidential elections 1960-2004.  While it is interesting to look at the raw data, I find it even more interesting to look at the differences between years, like the 2008 vs. 2004 map I commented on already.  This helps separate how people felt about a particular pair of politicians from how liberal/conservative they are in general.  For example, here’s the 1960 (Nixon vs. Kennedy) map, with Democratic counties in blue and Republican counties in red:


1960 -- Kennedy vs. Nixon

And here’s the 1964 (Johnson vs. Goldwater) map:

1964 -- Johnson vs. Goldwater

1964 -- Johnson vs. Goldwater

1964 Difference

You can see even from the 1964 map that LBJ was not very popular in the South (presumably because of his civil rights work), but the difference map below really hammers it home.  In this map, it is blue if LBJ did better than Kennedy and red if the reverse.  You can see from the difference map that the South really hated LBJ:

1964 results minus 1960 results

1964 results minus 1960 results

Another interesting thing about the 1960/1964 maps is that there is no evidence at all of “the black belt”.  Here is a map of counties which were majority black in 2000, with darker green the stronger their majority:

Majority-black counties (2000)

Majority-black counties (2000)

I have to believe that blacks would have overwhelmingly voted for LBJ — if they were able.  I think this is a pretty vivid demonstration of how thoroughly their voting rights were repressed.

1968 vs. 1960

The 1968 (McGovern-Nixon) minus 1964 map is basically an inverse of the 1964 minus 1960 map, basically because the southern antipathy towards Johnson was so strong that it skews everything.  A more interesting map is to compare Humphrey vs. Nixon to Kennedy vs. Nixon:

1968 (Humphrey-Nixon) minus 1690 (Kennedy-Nixon)

1968 (Humphrey-Nixon) minus 1960 (Kennedy-Nixon)

Humphrey explicitly called for the Democrats to move away from states’ rights and towards civil rights, and that apparently played well in the upper Midwest and Northeast but not as well in the Southeast or West.  You can also see a faint outline of Minnesota (where Humphrey was from) and a strong outline of Maine (where Muskie, the Democratic VP, was from).  (Maryland, where Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was from, is too small to see in this picture.)  You can maaaybe start to see the majority-black counties in some states, but not in Georgia.

There are some blue areas in the above map, but those probably would be red if it weren’t for George Wallace.  Wallace ran as an independent, and did extremely well in southern states.  It is unlikely that he took any votes away from Humphrey, as he was an outspoken proponent of segregation.  While third-party candidates usually struggle to get over 10% of the vote, Wallace won a number of states outright.  Here is a map of counties that he won outright:

Counties won by Wallace in 1968

Counties won by Wallace in 1968


Nixon was re-elected in a landslide.  Not only was McGovern staunchly anti-war during the Vietnam War, he was criticized for his first choice of running mate (who he fired).  The only obvious counties on this map that voted more for McGovern than for Humphrey were in McGovern’s home state of South Dakota:

1972 (McGovern vs. Nixon) minus 1968 (Humphrey vs. Nixon)

1972 (McGovern vs. Nixon) minus 1968 (Humphrey vs. Nixon)


The Carter/Ford minus McGovern/Nixon map looks almost exactly the opposite, as the Watergate scandal destroyed Nixon’s and Ford’s standing.  The South also rallied to Jimmy Carter, the first post-Civil War Southerner to be elected President.

1976 (Carter-Ford) minus 1972 (McGovern-Nixon)

1976 (Carter-Ford) minus 1972 (McGovern-Nixon)


Jimmy Carter had his own troubles: the economy was in dire shape, in large part because of the rise in gas prices because of the second oil crisis.  Carter also was not a strong leader: my memory of the time is that he suffered from what I called “Democrat’s dilemma”: being able to see all sides to all issues and thus unable to take a strong stand.  Ronald Reagan, who exuded a forceful, “can-do” attitude, was more successful than the disgraced Ford almost everywhere:

1980 (Carter vs. Reagan) minus 1976 (Carter vs. Ford)

1980 (Carter vs. Reagan) minus 1976 (Carter vs. Ford)


Reagan got even more popular in large swaths of the country.  Mondale could only manage to erode some of Reagan’s support in spots.

1984 (Mondale vs. Reagan) minus 1980 (Carter vs. Reagan)

1984 (Mondale vs. Reagan) minus 1980 (Carter vs. Reagan)

Note that many of the blue counties above are areas of high Native American population.  The map below shows counties where more than 30% of the people identify as Native Americans:

Counties with more than 30% Native American

Counties with more than 30% Native American

I suspect that Reagan did something to upset Native Americans, but I don’t know what that was.


George H.W. Bush was able to get elected in 1988, but he was pretty uniformly less successful than Reagan.

1988 (Dukakis vs. Bush41) minus 1984 (Mondale vs. Reagan)

1988 (Dukakis vs. Bush41) minus 1984 (Mondale vs. Reagan)


Bush continued to do worse in 1992, again pretty much across the whole country, losing to Clinton.  Note that you can see the outline of Arkansas (home of Bill Clinton) clearly and Tennessee (home of Clinton’s VP Al Gore) somewhat.

1992 (Clinton vs. Bush41) minus 1988 (Dukakis vs. Bush41)

1992 (Clinton vs. Bush41) minus 1988 (Dukakis vs. Bush41)

Ross Perot made a strong third-party run in 1992.  I’m not sure who he took more votes from.

1992 third-party votes (mosty Perot)

1992 third-party votes (mosty Perot)


The Republicans made some inroads in 1996 in the West — especially in Bob Dole’s native Kansas (outline visible in the center of the country) — but it wasn’t enough.  Clinton gained support in the upper Midwest, Northeast, Florida, Louisiana, and Southern Texas (which is heavily Latino).

1996 (Clinton vs. Dole) minus 1992 (Clinton vs. Bush41)

1996 (Clinton vs. Dole) minus 1992 (Clinton vs. Bush41)


Bush43 and Gore had a famously close race, but Bush43 did better than Dole almost everywhere (or Gore did worse than Clinton, depending on how you look at it).

2000 (Gore vs. Bush43) minus 1996 (Clinton vs. Dole)

2000 (Gore vs. Bush43) minus 1996 (Clinton vs. Dole)


Bush43 strengthened his lead in the middle and southeast of the country in 2004, but lost support in some Northern and Western places:

2004 (Kerry vs. Bush43) minus 2000 (Gore vs. Bush43)

2004 (Kerry vs. Bush43) minus 2000 (Gore vs. Bush43)

I’ve written about the 2008 vs. 2004 map already, so I won’t talk about it here.   Instead, I think it is interesting to compare the 2008 election to the 1960 election, to see how the country’s party affiliations have changed:

2008 (Obama vs. McCain) minus 1960 (Kennedy vs. Nixon)

2008 (Obama vs. McCain) minus 1960 (Kennedy vs. Nixon)

The biggest difference is that the Southeast is much, much more Republican now (except for minority-heavy areas: the Black belt and parts of Florida).

The New England states and the upper Midwest are much more Democratic.  Native Americans voted heavily for Obama.  Most importantly, perhaps, is that the Pacific coastal areas are much, much more Democratic than they were in 1960.  (Those areas have also experienced a great deal of population growth, so this change is bigger than it looks.)  The only area that seems like it stayed sort of the same is a belt running through Mossouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas.

Note: The difference maps aren’t up on my maps page yet, but they hopefully will be soon.


Volatility of tech market

Posted in Technology trends at 3:13 pm by ducky

A while back, I hypothesized that women don’t go into computer science because it is a high-risk field.  Today I want to share some anecdotal evidence from my own experience about how risky high-tech is.  Since I turned 18, I have worked at many places, both as a contractor, summer intern, and regular full-time employee.  Of the seven companies where I have a regular job, five ran out of money, one got bought, and one no longer makes the product I worked on.  None of the companies I worked for were profitable when I left.

Regular jobs:


  • NexGen (2 years).  Bought by AMD.  (This counts as an eventual success, but it took them eight years, three product cycles, and I-don’t-know-how-many-rounds-of-funding before they released their first product.)
  • Cray Research (3 weeks).  Bought by SGI, then sold to Tara Computer, which took over the Cray name.
  • Data General (2 weeks).  Bought by EMC.
  • SGI (6 months).  Filed for bankruptcy today.
  • Apple (6 months).  While the company still exists, they no longer make printers, which is the product  I worked on.
  • Sun Microsystems (6 months).  In talks with IBM for IBM to buy Sun.  Update: IBM didn’t buy Sun, but Oracle did.
  • Triquest (1 month).  Gone.
  • Chicago Tribune (1 week).  Still in business, but I wouldn’t bet on it being in business next year.

Summer jobs:

  • EIT.  Bought by VeriFone, which was then bought by HP.  (This counts as a success!)
  • Google.  Still in business!

I realize that I’m probably on one long tail of the distribution, while my husband is on the other end.  (Jim worked for Adobe for 16 years, and Adobe is still in business!)  However, it shows that working in high-tech does have risks.