You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for May, 2003.

An oldie but

May 27th, 2003

I don’t usually read USAToday, so I missed this article when it was first published last week. But I think it is very important, so I’m posting it here anyway.

System Wastes Ph.D. Brainpower, by Laura Vanderkam, is about the mismatch between the number of Ph.D.’s produced by American universities and the jobs available to those Ph.D.’s. Most Ph.D. students I knew in grad school (myself among them) dreamed of landing a tenure-track position after graduation. We put up with low salaries, intellectual abuse of various sorts, the emotional gristmill of the seminar room — we put up with all of it, because we knew there’d be a payoff in the end.

But the chances of landing those positions are slim:

“The Modern Language Association counted only 431 tenure-track English jobs landed in 2001, compared with 977 English Ph.D.s granted. One 1999 study found that only 53% of students who received their English doctorates between 1983 and 1985 were tenured professors by 1995. A mere 8% were tenured professors at ‘Carnegie Research I institutions’

Ghostly Biomes

May 26th, 2003

Our reverence for graveyards has had an unintended benefit: protection of the land and ecosystems in which they are established. Some cemetaries protect species of plants that can no longer be found anywhere else. Some protect oldgrowth trees that would have otherwise been harvested long ago. In some instances, animals that live off particular plants or types of plants can only be found in graveyards.

I am fascinated by the unintended consequences of human culture. Too often, those consequences are negative (the crime spawned by U.S. alcohol prohibition, for example). This is a lovely example of a positive unintended consequence.


May 21st, 2003

What would happen if they held an election and nobody showed up?

Residents of Phoenix, Oregon are learning the answer to that question today. A ballot measure that would have raised money for police and fire departments is going down in flames, not because most people voted against it (57% of voters voted for it), but because not enough people voted. State law requires that for a levy to pass, 50% of registered voters must cast ballots and a majority of those must approve the levy.

Apathy will kill us all, one way or another.

I’ve been wondering

May 20th, 2003

For everyone who has been wondering what my favorite web-based random number generator is: it’s I use the site a lot for my work — and I’ve also used it to determine stripe sequences in knitting patterns. I’ve used published tables of random numbers, the random function of various statistical programs (like SAS or SPSS) and other web-based sites, and is the easiest, most consistent and (as far as I’m concerned) most reliable source of random numbers out there.

The interface allows you to specify the number of random numbers needed, high and low boundaries, and both repeated and non-repeated draw options are available. The site also provides a lot of information about randomness and background on how the forms work. It’s a great site in terms of content and function, and the design is clean, simple and fast.


May 19th, 2003

Like most everyone else, I went to see Reloaded this past weekend, and I have to say “huh.” The action and effects were stunning, and the 14-minute car chase/fight on the freeway was amazing.

But there were a lot of things I didn’t get. Even 10 minutes after the film, my husband and I were having trouble remembering how some scenes worked out. In a way, I felt like there was just too much in the movie — too much action, too much story, too much (dumbed down) philosophy — and my poor brain couldn’t parse it all properly.

The movie felt like a new book by Tom Clancey or J.K. Rowling — powerhouses whose new work sees very little editing. Reloaded would have benefited from a little polishing by a non-Wachowski.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like it — I did — but it will require repeated viewing before I grok it.


May 17th, 2003

This very cool, and verly large (13 megs) movie of a day in the life air traffic over the U.S. is amazing (link via Mr. Katxena).


May 16th, 2003

The Worm Research Centre in England, is dedicated to the advancement of vermiculture (raising worms) and vermicomposting (using worms to compost garbage). There’s a surprising amount of scientific and technical detail on the site — and many, many pictures of worms.

Dead or Dead

May 16th, 2003

As part of China’s on-going battle to contain the SARS epidemic, the Chinese Supreme Court and lead prosecutor have threatened anyone who breaks a SARS quarantine with imprisonment or death. I suppose this is a positive sign that the Chinese government is taking SARS containment seriously — however, I’m not sure that threatening dying people with the death penalty is really the best strategy here.

Green (and peach and blue and yellow) backs

May 14th, 2003

The new colorful design for the $20 bill was released yesterday. I think it’s ok — I’m glad that it’s still mostly green, and that the peach, blue and yellow highlights are fairly subtle. However, I don’t like the wavy “Twenty USA/USA Twenty” words [link provided by Mr. Katxena].

My father-in-law thinks that each denomination of bill should be a different size so that it would be possible to tell them apart by touch — I think that’s a pretty good idea.

Propaganda Wars

May 13th, 2003

Have you ever wondered about those billboards and bus ads that scream “Pregnant? Scared? We can help”? I have.

In Choose Lies, Deb Barry, of the Orlando Weekly, examines the organizations behind the signs. The piece is both personal and investigative, documenting Barry’s own experience with a Crisis Pregnancy Center and the organizations behind such centers.

“Anti-abortion crusaders view crisis pregnancy centers as the underground railroad of the war on abortion. To fully understand that battle, one must be able to decipher its semantics. For instance, abortion-rights advocates use medical terminology to discuss fetal development, such as ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo’ or ‘zygote.’ The anti-abortion camp uses ‘baby,’ ‘little person’ or ‘unborn child.’ ”

“In keeping with the strategy of confusion and deception via word choice, CPCs use innocuous language in their advertising. ‘Pregnant? Let us help you!’ proclaims an ad for Center for Pregnancy. ‘Considering abortion? Your health and safety are important to us,’ says another ad for A Center for Women. Most centers advertise free pregnancy tests, which is often the most appealing lure for young and poor women.”

“And now CPCs are in line to collect state and federal monies… [through] President Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives… and some are even being invited into public schools to teach ‘abstinence only’ programs….”

The systematic lies and deceptions Barry chronicles in the article are stunning in their short-sightedness and stupidity. There are too many examples for me to pick out just one here — go read the article.

The thought that our government could soon be funding these chuckleheads as part of the faith-based initiative is a chillding example of why separation of church and state matters. I’m sick at the thought of how many women these organizations are hurting.