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Archive for November, 2008

Can your congressperson live on $169,300?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

In 2008, members of Congress were paid $169,300. Periodically stories surface about Congressional Reps sleeping in their offices or taking D.C. housing as a bribe (Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman most recently). Atrios mentions it here.

So how much extra does it cost to be a Congressperson? They live away from home in D.C. when Congress is in session. They return to their district on weekends to be with their family or visit the district. They need to keep up appearances. Let’s make a list:

D.C. Apartment: $2,500/month
Clothes & dry cleaning: $1,500/month
Weekly flight home: $500/wk x 40
Total: $68,000

So after accounting for the special expenses that come with the job, a Congressperson makes over $100k a year. Not a gold mine, but by itself almost double what the average family makes. And this is, I think, fairly conservative, as some of these expenses get picked up by campaign funds, and from the stories many Congresspeople have much cheaper D.C. digs, have a shared apartment, etc.

A memory game with molecules

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I had an idea for a game. It’s a memory game, the idea is to flash a molecule on the screen for a few seconds in the left hand window, then in the window to right the player builds the molecule. That’s basically the game. The player learns to recognize interesting chemicals, learns to break down larger molecules into functional groups as a way of remembering them, and perhaps learns what they are.

As the molecule fades it would be replaced with a picture that goes with the molecule–oranges for citric acid, as a memory aid or a clue for the chemically astute player.

The game could be made easier by having the molecule fade out slowly, or flashing on periodically, or visible through a port.

I don’t really want to write a molecule editor myself, that would take a lot of time and also it turns out to have been done by chemist/programmers many times. Yeah! Some very good molecular editors are out there. I was particularly impressed with Molinspiration WebME editor. Two problems though, it’s 2D and not open source.

Looking further, I found BKchem and molsKetch both of which look good and are GPL licensed but are 2D. Jamberoo is Java based but the molecule editing worked too slowly for a game.

Avogadro is 3D, is GPL licensed so the source code is available, and works on Linux/OSX/Win. It looks good and works well, so I think it would make a good starting point for a game.

Vitamin C in Avogadro:
Avogadro screen shot

Notes from the 2008 election

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

The national popular vote shifted +8% for the Democratic candidate compared to 2004 but some counties voted more Republican. I think we are seeing the most racist regions of the country, running in a belt across the Southern and Appalachian states. This map likely minimizes the extent of the belt, as in southern state counties with large black populations there was a high black turnout and Obama got a higher percent of the black vote.

counties more Republican in 2008
(image from

On the other side of the coin is Indiana which swung +21% in Obama’s favor–the biggest surprise of the election this year. It looks like Indiana is finally giving up its claim to be the northern-most Southern state and is rejoining the Midwest.