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Archive for the ‘Numbers in the News’ Category

One of my favorite comics on the web is xkcd.

In addition to its use of math, language, and sarcasm, this comic often introduces me to things in popular culture that I would not have tripped over on my own.

The popular block-building game Minecraft was on my radar thanks to xkcd.

This comic alerted me to the fact that there is a discussion about a replacement value for pi.

Also, the genius of Randall Munroe was my first inkling that there was a game called Kerbal Space Program.

With the above being said, xkcd has now brought me awareness about the game 2048.

This game, 2048, has now become my new addiction. It is simple and maddeningly tought to put down.

I am, however, happy to state that I was able to create the 2048 tile. Yeah, me! My high score stands at 20,264 (there’s your number for the day). How’s your 2048 score?

But now, the game hits my pleasure center by daring me to uncover the 4096 tile. Curse you, creators of 2048!

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I had always wanted to make this a recurring blog theme, but it always seems to slip my mind to actually do it. Well, regardless of my excuses, here is my latest blathering based on what I have found while tripping through the websites of the Cabinet departments of the United States government.

(Aside: Previous entries have focused on the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and Department of Agriculture.)

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the 38th (there’s your number for the day) country that became part of the government’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is a government program that allows visitors from participating countries to enter the United States without a visa and stay for ninety days. There are a few more requirements, but the VWP means that a citizen from a participating country who wants to visit the Big Apple (or the Windy City or the Emerald City) does not have to go through the process (which usually involves a great deal of waiting) of obtaining a visa.

Before the latest announcement, there were thirty-seven countries that participated in the VWP. Of those 37, 30 were from Europe and 7 were from Asia.

From the above listing, you will have perhaps noticed two missing continents. One of them is South America. Of that continent’s thirteen countries, none were members of the VWP.

Until now.

Starting in May, the citizens of Chile can now enter the United States without a visa (so sayeth this press release from DHS).

Bienvenidos to the VWP, citizens of Chile! Enjoy the chili of Texas, the Chili’s found everywhere, the chiles found in most supermarkets, and the chilly weather that hits parts of the northeastern part of the United States every winter.

Chile’s admission into the VWP means that the only continent without a participating member is Africa.

From laughs, I should research how many countries require American tourists to possess a visa and how many do not.

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Please file the following under: TMI

On this date, twenty-five years ago (there’s your number for the day), I lost my virginity.

On May 13, 1988, I had sex for the first time. My partner in this inaugural nocturnal endeavour was my girlfriend at the time who has since gone on to become my lovely wife.

And who says guys can’t remember an anniversary?

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The news continues to be full of stories about rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula with the regime in North Korea issuing dire threats and the United States requesting dialogue with conditions Commentators wonder when war will break out.

However, I will offer up the following indicator that shows that the folks over in Pyongyang will not purposefully start a military conflict.

As long as this event – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Amateur Golf Open – is still being advertised as up and running, then one can be assured that the new leader of the DPRK will not let slip the dogs of war.

Because nothing cools the enthusiasm of an amateur duffer (or thier hosts) than rockets falling on the back nine.

In case you have no plans for May 25 – 27 of this year, this is how you can enter.

This tournament will be held at North Korea’s only golf course, Pyongyang Golf Complex, which was opened in 1987.

Present at the grand opening was the then-leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, who baptized the course by scoring a blistering 38-under par including a mind-boggling eleven (there’s your number for the day) holes-in-one.

(Please note that the TIME article that I linked to says that the Dear Leader only hit five holes-in-one, but that’s only because it’s a magazine that prints all the imperial pig lies.)

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Following on the news that President Obama has named Ernest J. Moniz to be the new head of the Department of Energy, I thought I would take this opportunity to traipse through the DoE website.

One of the items I found on the Department’s “Maps” section was the Alternative Fueling Station Locator.

If perhaps you are interesting in purchasing an electric car and want to see how many charging stations are in your ZIP code, this map will help out. In my old stomping grounds of Northern Virginia, this map shows that there are ten battery recharging stations within ten miles.

I also found out that in my older stomping grounds (Southern California), there are only eight places to refuel in all of Los Angeles and Orange Counties if your vehicle runs on liquified natural gas (LNG).

However, if your car of choice runs on hydrogen, then you only have ten (there’s your number for the day) stations throughout the entire country.

Take your pick of these ten

Take your pick of these ten

So, please, plan your trip with your hydrogen car carefully.

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I have trod the soil before of how I lament the dearth of originality in today’s American cinema (see here and here for previous examples). For those expecting another blog post about how Hollywood has lost its creativity, I can only say you will be disappointed.

I realize that my original thesis about the death of originality in Tinseltown is wrong.

(And honestly, when is the last time you read a blogger admit an error?).

While doing some research to bolster my original point, I looked at the top ten grossing films of 2011. Of that dozen-minus-two collection of film (full list here), nine of them were sequels and the remaining one (The Smurfs) was based on prior material (in the case of the little blue creatures, it was the comic strip created by Belgian artist Peyo).

Of those sequels (and only because I love diving into numbers), three were the immediate sequel (Cars, Hangover, Panda), one was the 3rd installment (Transformers), three were the 4th flick (Mission:Impossible, Pirates, Twilight), one was the 5th movie (Fast), and one was the 8th incarnation (Potter).

I decided to look back thirty years and see what audiences flocked to in 1981. Of the top ten grossing movies three decades ago (see full list here), there are only two sequels (Superman II, For Your Eyes Only) and one based on prior material (On Golden Pond). Those of you with good math skills will recognize that this means that seven of the top ten grossing films were original (Arthur, The Cannonball Run, Chariots of Fire, The Four Seasons, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stripes, Time Bandits).

All of that data is interesting, but looking deeper into those movies is where I did a mental hiccup.

The top ten grossing films of 1981 won a combined twenty-one (there’s your number for the day) Academy Awards. Of what I consider to be the Big Six of Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), these ten movies won four (Chariots: Picture; Golden: Actor, Actress; Arthur: Supporting Actor). The other two of my Big Six (Director, Supporting Actress) was won by Reds, which (by the way) came in 13th place of the highest-grossing films.

Not only did 1981 produce high-quality cinema, but the audiences flocked to those movies.

Leap forward thirty years and the top ten grossing films of 2011 took home a combined grand total of three Academy Awards which were all won by Transformers: Dark of the Moon and they were all for technical merit.

I have discarded my original thesis because Hollywood in 2011 did produce some highly original fare. That year saw the release of The Artist, The Help, The Iron Lady, and Beginners, which were the movies that won the Big Six of Academy Awards that year. However, none of those films – nor any of other original films that year (including Sucker Punch, Source Code, or Midnight in Paris) – came close to the box office tally ($559 million) earned by the movie that clocked in at number ten on the highest-grossing list, Cars 2.

I revise my original statement and now assert that Hollywood does indeed make quality original fare. It’s just that the audience doesn’t go see it. The masses vote with their wallets and they want sequels and movies made from books or comics. The film industry, like any good profit-seeking business, is only provided what the buying population has shown they want.

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After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States embarked on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). On September 20, nine days after the attacks, President George W. Bush said this

Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

When those remarks were made, the Department of State listed twenty-six foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). They ranged from the Abu Nidal Organization to HAMAS to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party to al-Qaeda to the Shining Path.

In 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo that posed this question…

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror

I would offer up the following metric: How many FTOs exist today when compared against the number of FTOs in 2001.

According to the Department of State, as of September 28 of this year, there are fifty-one FTOs.

That list is slightly out of date as the Department of State, earlier this month, listed the al-Nursa Front in Syria as a FTO.

That brings the number of FTOs to fifty-two (there’s your number for the day).

In just over a decade since the GWOT began, the number of FTOs has doubled.

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Say what you want about the United States government, but for a data-head like me, the offices, departments, and bureaus that comprise the executive department offer a wealth of numbers, figures, and reports that make me positively giddy.

Beside the charts, tables, and figures, the data put out by the United States government lead can reveal new discoveries (at least for me).

Our case study for this post comes courtesy of the Department of Agriculture and its report which is the second outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade for the Fiscal Year 2013 (Link to the actual report, in PDF form, is here.).

You can view the report in all its total glory for yourself, but here are the items of interest I took from it. For those of you playing along at home, all the facts and figures I will be spouting from this point forward are from Fiscal Year 2012 (that would be from September 2011 to September 2012…I have no idea why the government can’t stick to a calendar year, but I guess that’s a thought for another post).

Agricultural products are one class of items where the United States has a surplus of trade. In other words, we ship out (export) more things of an agricultural nature than we ship in (import). In Fiscal Year 2012, the U.S. exported $135.8 billion worth of agricultural good while importing $103.4 billion.

So what are the big items that America exports to the world?

The number one item, according to the report, and this was a surprise to me, was soybeans. The United States exported $19.797 billion of the legume best known for being turned into tofu.

Second on the list was corn ($11.420 billion) followed by wheat ($8.353 billion).

An item I found of interest can be found under the heading “Livestock products”. Not sure why I should be surprised given the number of cattle in the Lower 48 (90.8 million head as of January 1, 2012), but I was surprised to see that a major export of the red-white-and-blue is “hide, skins, and furs” which racked up $2.764 billion in exports, which was more than rice ($1.988 billion) and unmanufactured tobacco ($1.052 billion). That’s a large amount of leather.

What countries are the largest receivers of American agricultural goods?

China takes the top spot as it paid $23.359 billion in exports, which comes out to 17.2%. A close second is our neighbor to the north, Canada, which took in $20.008 billion of our agri-goods. Mexico ranks third ($18.890 billion). Those three nations comprise 45.8% of the countries we export to.

Of note, and I will come back to it later, is the figure that India welcomed in $764 million of American agricultural products.

Looking at the other side of the ledger are imports. What are the biggest items, in terms of dollar value, that the United States ships or trucks in?

Those of you who need your daily jolt of java can be thanked for the fact that coffee beans (and other products) takes the top spot as America imports $7.789 billion of the stuff.

The silver medal goes to the fresh fruit category ($7.618 billion) and the bronze is awarded to fresh vegetables ($5.831 billion). I take this mean that American do in fact know how to eat healthy.

What are the Big Thee countries that the United States imports from?

Canada takes the top spot as the number one import partner as the country with the provinces sends us $20 billion worth of agri-stuff.

The European Union (yes, I realize they are not a country, but I’m only going with what the USDA has provided) sends us $16.6 billion and Mexico comes in third at $16.3 billion.

And know you know.

India (I told you I would come back to this) enjoys a large imbalance of trade with us when it comes to agricultural products. In Fiscal Year 2012, the United States imported $5.4 billion. That means that America imported in $4.636 billion (there’s your number for the day) more worth of agri-goods from India than they bought from us. Just for reference, the United States enjoys a surplus of $19.059 with China when it comes to agricultural items.

So what the heck is the United States buying from India? The USDA report has the answer. From page 11, it says…

From India, the chief imports include food thickeners (mucilages), spices, cashew nuts, and essential oils.

Over five billion dollars is a vast amount of thickeners, saffron, curry, and crunchy nuts.

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I haven’t visited this thought for some time so I wanted to come back to it before year’s end.

On the October 28, 2009, episode of Marketplace, a radio program about business distributed by American Public Media, the political pundit David Frum made the assertion that the precious metal gold was a bubble.

In fact, you can read his words by clicking here.

When he appeared on Marketplace, the price for an ounce of the yellow metal was $1029.90 an ounce.

In the three years since Mr. Frum’s assertion, I have posted updates (under my category of “veridiction”, my made up name for the act of verifying predictions) to see how the former speechwriter for George W. Bush has fared with his “bubble” warning.

My first post on the subject came half a year after Mr. Frum’s analysis of gold was heard over the airwaves. In those six months, the price had risen 13.7% to $1171.30 an ounce.

Ten months after Mr. Frum’s warning, I posted an update. Gold had then hit a mark of $1236 an ounce, an increase of 20%.

A shade after the two-year anniversary of Mr. Frum’s warning about speculating on gold, I again issued an update in blog form. At that point, the price of gold was hoverning in the neighborhood of $1730 an ounce. Anyone who had bought gold the day Mr. Frum warned against just such a foolish act and then had sold said gold nearly two years after Mr. Frum’s warning would have made a staggering 67.9% return on that investment.

I was content to end this particular update with a look at where the price of gold was today, three years and a month (give or take) after Mr. Frum’s original prognostication. However, something curious happened. While doing research for this post, I saw that Mr. Frum had made an updated prediction concerning gold. Nearly a year ago, on December 29, 2011, he wrote that he indeed was correct that gold was a bubble because it had popped. As he wrote…

The price of gold dropped $31 an ounce yesterday. Gold has dropped $400 since the summer…Further declines look likely.

When a bubble pops, prices plummet like…like…like a gold brick, I guess. Think tulips circa 1620, Beanie Babies circa 2004, and the United States housing market circa 2008. When those bubbles popped, the value of the item in question dropped faster than Felix Baumgartner.

As Mr. Frum was making his popping sounds, the price of gold was at $1571 an ounce.

Where is gold now?

One year after gold “popped”, the price, as of December 4, 2012, settled at $1712.70 an ounce.

Gold has increased 9% since its bubble “burst”.

It has also increased its value 66.44% (there’s your number for the day) since Mr. Frum first made his assertion in 2009 that gold was a bubble.

Allow me to end this post with the words I have completed my last two posts on this subject because I feel they are still valid…

As I have written before, my main point in highlighting Frum’s “gold-is-a-bubble” assertion is not to say he was wrong because at some point the value of gold will fall. My point has always been that anyone can say an asset is a bubble because at some point the value of said asset will fall.

The trick in calling a bubble is in the timing.

Had Mr. Frum predicted that gold was a bubble and it would pop in two years (or one or three or four, etc.), then we, as listeners, would have something to hang our hats on and Mr. Frum would have a real assertion to stand on.

But, instead, we, as listeners, only receive a bland dose of pabulum signifying nothing. Again, any listener who heard Mr. Frum’s advice and sold their stake in gold would be out a gain of thirty nearly seventy percent.

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The original concept of this post was to be an update concerning an earlier post about the 2010 special Senate election in Massachusetts to fill the seat vacated by the death of Democrat Edward Kennedy. To recap, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in that election.

That post highlighted the fact that 655,781 fewer Bay State citizens cast their ballot in that 2010 election when compared to the number of citizens who voted in the 2008 Senate election (John Kerry (D) vs. Jeff Beatty (R)).

I wanted this post to see if the number of voters in Massachusetts increased or decreased in the 2012 Senate contest between incumbent Scott Brown (R) and challenger Elizabeth Warren (D). To recap, Warren won.

The total number of ballots cast for Brown and Warren was 3,090,053, which is a 38.7% increase from the 2010 total of 2,226,789. The 2012 total was also a 7.1% increase from the number of ballots cast during the last regular Senate election in the Bay State (2008 = 2,882,570).

I was heartened by these figures. Not necessarily by the results, but by the numbers. It always does my heart glad to see more people becoming involved in the political process and having their voice counted. My previous post on this subject ended with the thought that the reason that fewer people voted between 2008 and 2010 was because they were tired. I think the increase seen in the 2012 totals show that either I was wrong or that the people woke up.

While cruising through the numbers and tallies, I did see something that caught my eye. Warren earned 1,660,738 votes to win the election. In that same election, President Obama earned a “yes” mark from 1,901,276 citizens of the Bay State. That means that over 240,538 checked the box for the current resident of the White House, but declined to give the same courtesy to his fellow Democrat.

What intrigued me more was the following comparison which skewed the opposite way. On the other side of the political spectrum, 1,429,315 people voted for Scott Brown in 2012 (which, by the way, was a 22.3% increase over his 2010 tally…and he still lost). On that same ballot, only 1,178,245 cast their vote for president for the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. That means that 251,070 (there’s your number for the day) gave their seal of approval to Brown who did not do the same thing for Romney…and he was the former governor of that very state.

Not sure what it means. I’m not paid for analysis; I just like to dig for data.

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