Sunday, June 21, 2009

51 - Answers

Q: Nate - Where do babies come from?
A: How is it that you've gotten through this much of your life without an answer to this question? Didn't they have health class in Connecticut? Maybe now that you're a married man (and belated congratulations to you and Mrs. D, by the way) you have a need for an answer. Well I'm here to help!

Contrary to popular myth babies do not come via air-lift from a large winged bird. The scientific answer is that babies come from the pairing of sperm and egg, followed by gestation, followed by birth. So how do sperm and egg get together, you ask? That would be through what I will delicately call the "physical act of love" (see also: horizontal mambo, bedroom Olympics, and "I'm Nate D, who the hell are you?"). Hope this helped in some small way.

Q: Matt - I just got over a case of the swine flu. Long story short, my doctor prescribed a 5-day regimen of Tamiflu. It was only 10 pills (2 every day), but the prescription cost $115. Why are prescription drugs so expensive?
A: There are many factors that go into the cost of prescription drugs. During my research I found a very good article put out by the people at PHRMA, which can be read in PDF form here. I learned a few interesting things about the development of drugs, including the fact that only 5 out of every 10,000 potential drugs ever make it to clinical trials, and only 1 out of those 5 ever become drugs. Therefore the cost of the drugs that are produced must make up for those "failed" drugs. Another factor in the cost of drugs are the many layers of regulation that the drug must go through prior to being approved for use by the public.

In the specific case of your prescription for Tamiflu I'm going to blame good-old supply and demand. The outbreak of the Swine Flu earlier this summer had the effect of a major increase in the demand for Tamiflu. As a result supplies grew scarcer, and thus price went up. I don't read anything nefarious into the price increase, though there may in fact be some profit-taking by the drug companies.

Q: Bill - I'm interested to hear how political the answer is.
A: Me too. My editor was a little worried that I'd go overboard with another patented Tim Rant about government and spending and all that nonsense. Luckily for my editor I'm too busy and too tired to go off. Maybe next time.

Q: Bill - I know it's been explained to me before, but I was younger and didn't pay attention: Where did horsepower originate and how is it calculated?
A: The term horsepower was created by James Watt in the late 18th century. His goal was to come up with a way to compare the energy output of steam engines with the energy from draft horses, which are horses used for heavy labor such as farming. The original calculation was done by counting how many times a horse could turn a mill-wheel in an hour. By this method one horsepower is 33,000 foot-pounds of force per minute, or 550 ft-lb/sec. In modern times horsepower is still used as a way to represent the power of piston-based (and other) engines.

Q: Jon - 1 hp = 745.699872 watts
A: You are correct, congratulations.

Q: Matt - Watt's a watt?
A: Yes, a watt is a watt. Thank you for pointing that out to the Ask Mitssob audience. You've done us all a service.

Q: Bridget - I have a question.....Yoohoo....what IS it, and why is it so fucking good?
A: Yoo-hoo is a chocolate beverage originally developed in the 1920s in New Jersey. An even more literal definition of what Yoohoo is can be found below:

Water, dairy whey, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, non-fat ilk, cornsyrup solids, cocoa processed with potassium carbonate, soybean oil (partially hydrogenated), sodium caseinate, salt, tricalcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate, xanthan gum, guar gum, mono and di glycerides, vanillan, lecithin, calcium ascorbate, natural flavor, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, vitamin D, riboflavin.

Click here for a detailed history of the beverage in question.

As to why it is "so fucking good", that's hard to say. I would say that it's because of the combination of ingredients. Anyone can make chocolate milk, but there are special bottling techniques used in making Yoo-hoo that probably contribute to the taste.

Q: Rob - Why on the Jolinko home page area does it continue to display a single person under the friend finder for me? It alternates between a list of people I don't know, and only one persons icon, yours Tim.
A: Apparently Jolinko is attempting to recommend me as a friend for you, Rob, despite the fact that I'm not sure I've ever met you. Still, Jolinko is all-powerful and all-knowing, so maybe our friendship was meant to be. Who knows?

Q: vanessa - mine is the same way!
A: Well if I'm being recommended to two different people then my plans for world domination must be further along than I thought! I guess I'll have to advance my plans to take over the world's financial system and...

Oh wait, is this thing on? Whoops!

Monday, June 8, 2009

50 - Answers

Q: Vanessa - Which is better? Living in the city/town you work, and driving at LEAST an hour to see any of your friends....OR living where your friends are and commuting to work?
A: This question generated a small debate on Jolinko after you asked it, with three answers standing out:

1. Brett: I would live in Rochester and commute to work in a heartbeat if I was allowed to.
2. Rob: it's an easy decision if you get rid of your friends
3. Eric: i would live in seneca castle and commute to rochester if i could

Of my friends I think that Brett is best qualified to answer this question. He currently lives and works in Seneca Castle and travels up to Rochester (a drive of at least 40 minutes) to see friends and participate in a wide variety of sports. When I asked him which he preferred he echoed his comments on Jolinko, adding that "I'd rather drive home sober than drunk." This is wise advice of the caliber I've come to expect from Brett.

The question of which is "better" depends on the person. If you are a very social person and have many friends then you will likely want to commute to work and live closer to your friends. Personally I would rather commute to work and live near friends. I am lucky enough that I can do both. I have a 20 minute commute to work and live within about a half-hour drive of most of my friends.

Q: Bill Jeffers - Buy a new car or used with an extended warranty?
A: I'm going to tackle this question from a number of different points of view. I'll give my verdict at the end of each section with a "NEW" "USED" or "UNDECIDED".

Economic (initial) - A new car looses a significant percentage of its value the moment it is purchased and driven off the lot. Therefore economically it makes more sense to purchase a used car that has an extended warranty attached to cover any major issues that might hit right away. (USED)

Economic (long-term) - This depends on the reliability of the used car that is purchased. Your caveat of an "extended warranty" (and by the way this is the second notice that the factory warranty on your car may have expired) will catch any major problems with your new used car, but as cars age they develop more problems. The total cost of ownership, in terms of repairs, service, etc. will be higher on average with a used car than with a new car over the same ownership period. (NEW)

Environmental - Old cars, on average, pollute more than new cars. Therefore if you'd like to pollute less you should buy the newest car that you can. (NEW)

Safety - Newer cars have the latest safety measures installed in them. Many of these safety measures are present in used cars as well, but on average newer cars are going to have more safety measures in them than used cars. Still, used cars can be safer than new cars due to increases in the miles-per-gallon requirements for all car manufacturers (better known as CAFE). To make cars that meet these new standards car companies are making lighter cars which are generally less safe than heavy cars. Still, I think that the newer safety features outweigh those detractions. (NEW)

Gas Mileage - Newer cars are going to get better fuel mileage than older cars. Period. (NEW)

Quality - I was initially going to say that you should buy a new car if you want one of the highest quality. But as I thought about it I realized that when you purchase a used car you have the benefit of historical knowledge about that car. Let's say you're interested in buying a used Subaru Legacy station wagon. You can go to sites like Consumer Reports, CarMax, or Kelley Blue Book and get a picture for how reliable that make and model of car will be for a particular year. You may discover that there is a string of years where the quality is above or below average and base your decision on that.

On the other hand, when you buy a used car you are buying someone else's problems. A used car has been, by definition, used by someone else. It probably has quirks to it that a new car will not have. Because of these variables I'll have to go with UNDECIDED.

So the final total is:
NEW: 4

I know that my list is by no means complete. You'll have to decide what weight to apply to each factor behind the purchase. Good luck with your decision.

Q: Jarsh Beckstein - Will "Cash for Clunkers" help GM at all, or just companies with decent hybrid technology(Honda, Ford, Toyota)?
A: The "Cash for Clunkers" program is basically a credit that the government will provide to a person who trades in an old car that gets 18MPG or less for a new, more environmentally friendly car that gets at least 4MPG better than their current car. The credit will go to the dealer who conducts the transaction, and will be between $3500 and $4500 depending on how much of an MPG improvement the new car is compared to the old one. A good FAQ on the program done by USA Today can be found here.

I think that the only way that the "Cash for Clunkers" program can help GM is if the government combines it with incentives to buy GM cars. Now that the government has a 60% ownership stake in GM they have a special incentive to sell GM cars. Combining a tax credit for the purchase of a GM car with the "Cash for Clunkers" trade-in program would be one way to increase sales.

Assuming that the government does not do such a thing I think that the car models that are best helped by this program will be Toyota, Ford, Chevy and Honda. Toyota produces the wildly popular Prius and has several other models that make use of hybrid technology. Ford currently has the Fusion and Escape hybrid cars. The benefit to Chevy will center around the Volt, which has a great deal of hype around it. Honda has been making hybrids for years, and has recently released the new Insight as direct competition with the Prius.

Allow me to take a bit of a detour into a pet peeve of mine. I dislike the idea of the government providing incentives or disincentives for people to do anything. For example, I am opposed to the federal tax rebate for people who buy hybrid and/or electric vehicles. Those vehicles should be allowed to succeed or fail without the government's meddling. Similarly I am opposed to the tax incentives provided for people who buy SUVs and trucks above a certain weight. This was originally designed to help small business people, but as SUVs got larger and larger more and more of them fell into the category. Again, these vehicles should be allowed to succeed or fail in the marketplace without the government choosing. I put the "Cash for Clunkers" idea in the same category as those tax incentives. Whether or not I agree with the sentiment behind the idea (getting old cars off the road in favor of new, greener cars) is not the point. I simply don't think the government should be in the business of engineering the behavior of the citizens.

In the end I don't think that "Cash for Clunkers" will help GM more than any other hybrid-producing car company unless the government provides further incentives for Americans to buy GM.

Q: Todd - So China wants all PC's sold in their country to include software that block porns (see How is that even technically feasible?
A: What China basically wants is for all computers sold in the country to have Internet filter software installed. This software blocks "objectionable" content on the Internet. Why do I put "objectionable" in quotes? For many years China has been controlling the flow of the Internet to its citizens. (A very detailed article on the subject can be found here.) Until now they've been using ISP-based filters that block access to websites to all citizens. In my opinion this new requirement is just another way for the Chinese government to exercise control over what its population sees on the Internet. The notion is to block pornography, but the same technology can be used to block access to any site that the government doesn't want people to see. I understand the desire for this kind of software, especially for people with young children. But there is a difference between a parent blocking websites for their children and a government blocking websites for its citizens.

To answer your larger question as to how this is possible, there are many different Internet filters available to the public. One site with good explanations is, and a basic description of how they work can be found here.

There are basically three kinds of Internet filters:
1. Blacklist - Websites that are on a "bad" list are blocked.
2. Keyword - Looks for certain keywords on a web site and blocks access to that site if the keywords are found. [Ed - Didn't this site fall victim to this kind of filter once? Yup, Sarah told me that her computer at work blocked me as "objectionable" after my answers to Barn's question about the legalization of marijuana.]
3. Whitelist - Websites that are not on an approved list are blocked.

For a review of a large collection of Internet filter software you can go here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

49 - Answers

Q: Karyn Graves - Whatcha planting? Why is it so hard to grow vegetables? Are more people starting gardens this year because of the economy?
A: When I bought my house there were bare patches along the back of the garage, both sides and behind the kitchen under my famous "door to nowhere". As last summer and fall progressed grass began to take over the areas. I was unhappy with how it looked so this spring I decided I wanted to do some landscaping. I had a one-week window the week before Memorial Day when I had no travel for work so I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the project.

I chose the area behind my garage as the test bed. I dug up the dirt, mixed in some topsoil, and then planted two Caradonna Meadow Sage, four Highlander Red Rockfoil, and a single Barbarini F1 White Sweet William. I covered the whole thing with red mulch to finish it off. The results can be seen below.

I enjoyed myself so much that I decided to tackle the rest of it while I had the chance. I spent a couple days digging up the grass on the east and rear of my house and bought more topsoil and mulch. Then on Memorial Day Bill, Lisa, Lynn and Pepper came to help me finish the project (and many thanks to them for the help, without which I might still be out there planting). We started along the east side. I planted two Butterfly Blue Pincushion Flower, two Beardtongue Red Rocks.

As I did those Bill planted the Rhododendron and began spreading mulch.

In addition I bought two Wintercreeper Emerald Gaiety shrubs for the light pole in front of my house. Bill, having much more landscaping experience than me, was nice enough to plant those for me.

While he did that I spread more mulch and planted some pachysandra, specifically Japanese Spurge, along the rear.

Again, thanks to the entire Jeffers family for their help with this project.

Getting to your other questions, I'm not sure why it's hard to grow vegetables. I think that it's primarily because they require a lot of care in the form of watering, weeding, and fertilizing, not to mention keeping them safe from friendly woodland creatures looking for a snack. In addition there are soil considerations, and also the issue of how much space you have to dedicate to the garden. In short, it takes a lot of time and effort to grow vegetables, which is probably why it's so hard.

My own experience with growing vegetables isn't that glamorous. While living in my townhouse a couple years ago I tried to grow tomatoes in long planters. To make a long and boring story short, I wound up with some small, feeble looking tomatoes that were actually pretty tasty, but they didn't seem worth the trouble I put into the project, which is why I didn't do it again the next year.

With respect to the economy, I can tell you that I know people who are planting gardens this year to save some money on groceries. Does it actually save money? According to this article you can save approximately 7% a year on your grocery budget with a fairly modest garden. Is this worth the effort it takes? That depends on the person. There is a certain satisfaction derived from growing your own food, and I think that weighs into the decision. I can tell you that if and when I get more time I will dedicate some more energy to gardening in my backyard, both for economic and for satisfaction reasons.

Q: Eric Democko - if i upgrade the HD in my macbook, is it worth buying leopard or should i just use my tiger disks that came with it?
A: I bought Leopard a couple months after it came out and have been very happy with that decision. There are a large number of improvements to the OS and the built-in applications. I like Spaces (multiple desktops), and also the Dock improvements. Overall I think it's worth buying. The only thing that stops me from telling you to run out and get it is Snow Leopard, which is the next update coming. I'm not sure if it's going to be a free upgrade or not. If they're going to charge for it then I'd say just reformat with Tiger and buy Snow Leopard when it comes out. If it'll be free then run out and buy Leopard.