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Fun With Numbers

Time to Eat The Dog

With a title like Time to Eat the Dog? A real guide to sustainable living you can sure a book will sell a lot of copies, and earn the authors a fair bit of hatemail at the same time. The book itself by Robert and Brenda Vale received mixed reviews on amazon.uk. But what about the premise of the book? (Which isn’t actually that dogs make great food sources, but rather that keeping carnivores as pets is a major resource burden.)

In an article on new scientist, the authors calculate that it takes .84 hectares (that’s over 2 acres!) of farmland to support a medium sized dog. Larger dogs like German Shepherds have a footprint of 1.1 hectares (2.7 acres)  Through some calculations they then start comparing the impact of a dog to various cars, but that hinges on assigning energy production values to farmland, which in my opinion is the weak link in their calculation.

So why not look at how dog ownership compares to the land required to feed a human being? (more…)

Could someone check my math?



Per capita meat consumption in America is 124.8 kilos per year. Which is ~275 pounds per year, 5.3 pounds per week, and almost exactly 3/4 of a pound per day.

That seems like a lot to me. I mean that’s three quarter-pound hamburgers each and every day. On occasion I’ve hit twice that, maybe thrice in a single meal. But when I say on occasion, I mean every once in a long while. I can’t believe the occasional, delicious, burger binge would bring my average up to three quarters of a pound on a per-day basis.

Have I made an obvious math error? Am I eating less like the average American than I realize? Anyone have more insight into this statistic?

How viable is local food?

Before I begin, let me say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with supporting your local farmers through CSAs, farmers markets, or direct purchases. I’ve done similar things before and it makes sense in the same way I’d prefer to support local businesses over national chains It keeps money in the local economy and even if it didn’t, it is always more fun cheering for the home team.*

That said how viable is solely local food (usually with an arbitrary cut off of 30 or 50, or even 100 miles from its point of origin) for providing all the food for all the residents a major city? (more…)

Driving home how fortunate I am

According to this report (warning link is a PDF): 34% of workers under 35 still live with their parents. 52% of those under 35 and making less than $30,000 a year (me). Now from the way the statistic is phrased I assume that it includes teenagers with jobs, and excludes college kids without jobs. Even with those two caveats, it’s a frightening number.

Makes me grateful to be living in the apartment I share with only one roommate, noisy neighbors and all. It’s scary to realize how much of my generation is not so fortunate.

Upgrade complete

You might recognize this computer:
Then again you might not. After all a black box isn’t very distinctive. Regardless, this is the central server of my home network. It stores 3.25 terabytes of data between internal and external hard drives, can serve video to any computer in the house, and is accessible via VNC or ssh anywhere in the world (that I can get internet access), and draws less electricity than the average lightbulb. And now, after the arrival of a gift and less than an hour’s work it’s more useful than ever.

As I outlined before, the main bottleneck I faced was processor speed. With the arrival of the components I’d talked about that bottleneck no longer exists! Everything happens blazingly fast. I can’t wait to try out WUBLAST on this new and improved machine. I want to build a private database of the rice, sorghum, maize, and brachypodium genomes (and platypus genome, why not?) all in one location.

The wonderful thing about doing bioinformatics, is that if you just feel like messing around and seeing what there is to find, it doesn’t take hundreds of dollars of reagents in a controlled lab environment with super expensive pieces of equipment.

But applications later, for now I just want to enjoy how cool it is!



Like Kevin Bacon, but less fun:

If this doesn’t make sense then you don’t have to worry about it.

I’m the second hit on google!

This is very thrilling. Of course I’m still losing out to a genealogy site, so it reflects more the rarity of my name than my importance in the world. Just like a search for James Giant Corn returns this site as the top hit, there just isn’t a lot of competition. But I sure showed the guy with my name who finished in the mid-40s in a bass fishing contest who’s boss! 😉

Update on Electoral Strength

For anyone who was interested by the map I posted a while ago comparing the electoral strength of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vs John McCain, the site where I pulled my raw data from is now doing the same sort of comparison, with updated numbers, and only looking at states that aren’t safely Democratic or Republican, regardless of the nominees. I am satisfied in the fact that I had a map up before a site with 25,000 page views started doing the same thing.

General Election Strength


If anyone is following the race for the democratic nomination for president, one topic that gets discussed ad nauseum is whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton has a better chance of winning against McCain in the fall. The problem with such arguments is that there are different roads to victory and and the two candidates are strong in different parts of the country and weak in different parts of the country.

In order to better visualize this I’ve dusted off my knowledge of Perl to generate a map of the states in which each candidate has an advantage. Dark blue states are ones where Obama does ≥ 10% better than Clinton relative to McCain, medium blue are ones where he does ≥ 5%, and light blue ones are where his advantage is 1-5%. States where Clinton has a relative advantage are marked in green, and coded using the same dark ≥ 10%, medium ≥ 5%, light 1-5% system.*

*All calculations based on the most recent poll in each state, and using date pulled from a site I highly recommend Electoral Vote.

Things to keep in mind:

1. A relative advantage doesn’t equal a win. (For example Obama is 27% closer to McCain in Utah than Clinton is, but that still means polls show McCain winning 50%-39%)

2. Likewise a relative disadvantage doesn’t equal a loss. (Clinton has a 12% advantage in Massachusetts, Obama an 18% advantage in Illinois, but the democratic nominee would certainly carry both states.)

3. The margin of error on most polls in 3-5% so the lightest blue and lightest green states are ones where neither candidate has a significant advantage. If I did this map again in a week, after new polls had come out, a lot of those states might change colors.