Oh, sweeeeet: Google Mail now has IMAP support. That makes me pretty happy, since I don’t use Gmail as my primary mail client, but get enough mail in the account to make it worth checking it every so often. Now, I can plug the account into my desktop mail client and it’ll be integrated into my normal email flow…

You might have seen the National Do-Not-Call Registry popping back up in the press recently — since the Federal Trade Commission opened the list in 2003, and numbers registered on the list expire after five years, there are a ton of numbers that’ll fall off the list next year unless people go and re-register them.

I discovered one annoying gotcha, though, related to how the FTC set up the online system for registering numbers and reporting violations of the list. Consider the following three bits of info:

  • the online system doesn’t make any distinction between registering a number on the list and re-registering a number that’s already on the list;
  • the law gives telemarketers a 31-day window to continue to call people after listing their numbers;
  • the online system doesn’t let you report a company’s violation of the registry if you’re within the 31-day window.

What that means is that even if you’ve had your number on the list for years, if you re-register it, you’ll start a 31-day clock where you can’t report any violations. It’s pretty annoying, actually — but of course, it’s certainly not a reason you should avoid making sure your numbers don’t fall off the do-not-call list.

Well, this is disappointing: James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, gave a somewhat jaw-dropping interview to London’s Sunday Times in which he declared that African people and their descendants have inherently lower intelligence than caucasians.

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”. He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Of course, this is scandalous to me only because I appear to not be familiar with some of the other things that Watson has hypothesized in the past, such as the thought that potential homosexuality should form the basis of decisions about aborting fetuses and the intuition of a link between skin color and sex drive. I guess he’s an example of someone who made a fundamental contribution to science in spite of his insane beliefs, rather than as a result of them.

The New York Times ran an awesome article last week about how Big Papi (more formally known as David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox) spends most of his time during games reviewing every pitch of the opposing pitcher, as well as all his at bats against the pitcher (from the game in progress and every other game in which they’ve faced each other). Far from the hulking bear that he appears to be, Ortiz is apparently a total nerd when it comes to using technology to improve his batting — unsurprising, since I’ve actually had the chance to meet Big Papi twice, and both times he displayed a knack for being the exact opposite of every stereotype you could possibly muster about him. I think it’s safe to say that while I’m a Yankees fan through and through, I’m also a pretty huge David Ortiz fan, and the fact that he spends his between-bats time shuttling through a video-on-demand system makes me like him even more. (via Jason)

Up until now, one of the larger reasons why I haven’t been too keen on Apple’s iPhone is that it’s locked to AT&T Wireless service, and in general, I’m a believer in the argument that AT&T is one of the more loathsome companies out there — the company has cooperated with the NSA, the RIAA and the MPAA to invade the privacy of its customers, it continues to charge iPhone users a $175 early-termination fee for canceling their contracts despite the fact that those users paid full-price for their phones (and thus, no argument about repaying them for a subsidized phone exists), and despite clear rulings that say it has to offer $10 DSL in certain markets, AT&T is doing everything it can to mislead consumers, bury the existence of the option, and generally obstruct people from signing up for the plan. Thus, when reasonable alternatives exist, I generally like to take them, and for that reason (and a few others), Shannon and I have remained Verizon Wireless customers. (Note that I’m not saying VZW is the paragon of greatness — but up until now, I’ve been pretty satisfied that the company’s efforts to screw me aren’t above the norm that we’ve come to expect in the cellphone industry.)

However, over the past week or two, bits of info have come out that might force me to rethink things a bit. First, I got a notice in the mail two weeks ago to let me know that Verizon wanted to share my personal info and calling habits with “authorized companies”, and that if I wished to prevent this, I had to call them and opt out of their plans. That was a little annoying. (Consumerist mentioned the notice in mid-September.) Then today, the Washington Post reported that Verizon has been turning over calling records to federal authorities without warrants for years, claiming that it doesn’t investigate the “legality or necessity” of the requests, because “to do so would slow efforts to save lives in criminal investigations.” While I understand the sentiment, I’m somewhat aghast at this — if Verizon really claims that see no need to evaluate whether a request to share their customers’ information is valid and legal, then I’m not sure I have a need to give them my money.

Unfortunately, though, with every day’s news it becomes clearer that all of the various telecom companies are both doing everything they can to screw their customers and get as cozy with federal law enforcement officials as they can. Thus, I’m not sure that privacy concerns constitute a reason to rethink a telecom choice anymore… food for thought, indeed.

I’m not sure how I’ve not stumbled across Benford’s Law before, but I haven’t — it sure seems like the kind of mathematical trivia that’s right in my happy place. The law states that given a list of numerical data from real-world sources (i.e., baseball statistics, street addresses, Dow Jones averages, tax return amounts), the first digit of a number in the list is more likely to be 1 than any other digit (specifically, a 30.1% probability), and there are specific probabilities for each other digit as well. The law can be used to look for fraudulent sets of data — for example, if tax return data doesn’t follow the probabilities specified by the law, it has a much higher likelihood of being falsified.

Rex Swain republished the Times article along with some enlightening charts that help illustrate the law, and of course, Wikipedia has more info. And finally, there’s a Java tool that can help you analyze your own data sets against Benford’s Law… just be forewarned that data that’s truly uniformly distributed won’t adhere to the law.

So, ummm… yeah, things have been a little quieter than normal around here, for a bunch of reasons.

First, I spent four straight weeks as the attending on the peds oncology service at work (rather than the customary two-week blocks we do), and while I thought that it’d be minimally harder to do, it ended up draining me quite a bit more than that. Between four straight weeks of earlier-than-normal mornings, later-than-normal evenings, weekend mornings at the hospital, and an unconscious fear of the pager going off, I found myself with a bit less time and energy to put into all the normal side stuff I do, meaning less time for blogging.

Second, even without the added clinical responsibilities at the hospital, my “regular” work (building bioinformatic systems for clinical research) has exploded a bit over the past two or three months. That’s awesome — I love what I do — but again, it means that I’m spending more time in meetings (and preparing for meetings), more time building specs and debugging apps, and more time on long-term strategy planning.. which again, means less time blogging.

And finally, Shannon and I have had a lot on our plate at home, what with a new project we’re working on. (For those of you who aren’t so much into knitting, scroll down on her post to see what I’m talking about.) Things are going well, but just like everything else, it all adds up to less time to just sit, chill, surf, and post! Pathetic of me, I know, and I hope to recover a bit now that my clinical responsibilities have diminished, I’ll be able to devote my full attention to my research, and things at home are in a groove of sorts…

(Of course, come mid-March, I make no promises!)