Monthly Archives: September 2012

My AncestryDNA Results

AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity

Jim’s AncestryDNA results

I got my results from the AncestryDNA test, which offered a few surprises and a few non-surprises. In brief: my DNA is 52% British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales), 46% Scandinavian (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), and 2% uncertain (but still Earth, presumably).

What can I conclude from these results, which look back “hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of years ago” (according to the report)?

Not surprising—British Isles: I was expecting to see a British Isles heritage. Three of my great-grandparents were born in the British Isles (Ireland in particular). Another four are known or strongly suspected to have English ancestry. That leaves only one great-grandparent with no known British Isles ancestry. I could have had a very high percentage of DNA matching the British Isles.

Conclusion—British Isles on both sides: The fact that I’m more than 50% British Isles proves that both of my parents have this ancestry. If one of my parents never had this in their heritage, my British Isles percentage couldn’t have been more than 50%. I can’t tell how much I got from which parent, but I can be certain I got some from each.

Surprising (at first)—only 52% British Isles: With a British Isles heritage in 7 of 8 great-grandparents, why is my British Isles DNA “only” 52%? That was surprising at first, because 7/8 = 87.5%, but that’s now how DNA works. You get half of your DNA from your father and half from your mother, but you don’t know which half each parent contributes. Each child gets a different DNA mix. The half of my father’s DNA I received could have included very little of his British Isles DNA, or lots of it. Likewise for my mother. In other words, having 52% British Isles DNA is completely plausible.

Surprising—Scandinavian: Where did I get 46% Scandinavian DNA? Looking back through the last several generations, I don’t find a single Scandinavian in my family tree. I have some far-reaching branches of the family tree that find Scandinavians born over 1100 years ago, but a) there are some iffy genealogical connections between now and then, so I’m not entirely certain they belong in my family tree at all, and b) if I have to go that far back to find any Scandinavians, it seems unlikely that almost half of my DNA would be from IKEA.

Conclusion—got Scandinavians: I’ve probably got Scandinavian ancestors I don’t know about, probably within the last 1000 years. I could have gotten all of my Scandinavian ancestry from one parent, because it’s less than 50%, but the test doesn’t tell me how much came from one parent or the other. Possibly, the Scandinavian connection is a false positive, meaning it’s a mistake in the AncestryDNA data and I don’t have Scandinavian ancestors after all, but I’m not going to assume they blew it without further evidence.

Surprising—no German DNA:The DNA results didn’t show any German ancestry. The Becker surname is German. My Becker great-great-grandfather and his wife were born in Germany, and so were their parents. (To be precise, my great-great-grandfather was born in the Grand Duchy of Hesse — Großherzogtum Hessen in German — before there was a Germany. It was part of what would become Germany.) Why don’t I have any German DNA?

Conclusion—lack of German DNA is not a lack of German ancestors: Does my lack of German DNA mean I don’t really have German ancestry? No. This sort of DNA testing can prove what’s present in your ancestry, but it can’t prove what’s missing. My German great-great-grandfather Valentine Becker married Anna, a woman who was probably German. Their son Edward probably had lots of German DNA. Edward married Ethel, a woman with no known German ancestry. Their son Lester probably had 50% or less German DNA. Lester married another non-German, Mary. Their son Earl (my father) could have anywhere from 0 to 50% German DNA. Dad married a non-German too, so it’s completely plausible that I received no German DNA despite the fact that I have German ancestors.

Not surprising—my cousin is my cousin: The AncestryDNA site says my cousin Ellen appears to be my cousin! Our mothers were sisters, after all, and Ellen did the test too, so this accurate AncestryDNA match lends credibility to the results.

Surprising—my cousin is just like me: The AncestryDNA match say Ellen is 54% British Isles and 46% Scandinavian — very close to my results. We’re first cousins, so some DNA overlap is possible and likely, but I’m surprised our results were that close. Two of my grandparents have no connection to two of Ellen’s, so I would have expected some non-matching elements too.

Speculation—Scandinavian on Mom’s side: The similarity of our results raises the possibility that our Scandinavian DNA came from the grandparents we have in common. It’s something to pursue, but we’ve hit some genealogical dead ends in that part of the family, so I’m not sure how we’re going to solve this puzzle. However, it’s also possible that our Scandinavian DNA is a coincidence, if Ellen’s father and my father just happened to have Scandinavian ancestry, even though they weren’t related. It’s also possible that we each got a mix from both parents. Basically, while the Scandinavian ancestry could be in our common ancestry, it might not be.

Comparison to Other DNA Tests

This AncestryDNA test is in particular an autosomal DNA test (atDNA). A few years ago, I did the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test and the Y chromosome (Y-DNA) test. The mtDNA test placed my maternal line in Haplogroup H, which showed up in Europe during the Stone Age. This group spread all over Europe. The Y-DNA test looks only at the paternal line, and it put my paternal line in Haplogroup R1b, which also came to Europe from western Asia during the Stone Age. They wound up all over western Europe and the British Isles.

The results are consistent. Based on the mtDNA and Y-DNA tests, which look back tens of thousands of years, it’s no surprise that the atDNA test, which looks back centuries instead of millennia, found European ancestry. It’s official: I’m European-American.



Filed under Genealogy

My Mixed Results with Pandora

I finally took the Pandora plunge. My results have been mixed. I’ve created four stations so far, liking and disliking my way through the selections Pandora picked out for me.

Here’s my imaginary visit to the Pandora Shoe Store on the best station so far:

Me: Hi, I’d like a pair of shoes similar to the ones I’m wearing now.
Pandora: Okay, let me see, here’s a selection of shoes that are similar in style, color, or brand.
Me: Good selection, thanks. You’ve got my business.

Here’s my visit to the Pandora Shoe Store on the most frustrating station:

Me: Hi, I’d like a pair of shoes similar to the ones I’m wearing now.
Pandora: Okay, here, I picked out a shirt for you.
Me: No, I said I want shoes — similar to what I’m wearing now.
Pandora: Okay, how about this other shirt? By the way, I’d like you to meet some 50+ women.
Me: No. Shoes, please, similar to these loafers I’m wearing. Anyway, that shirt looks just like the last one. (And how do I give a thumbs-down to the 50+ women? I’m already happy with the one I’ve got!)
Pandora: Ah, okay. Here’s a nice pair of sandals.
Me: Wrong again. I might like those when I’m shopping for sandals, but I’m not shopping for sandals.
Pandora: Can I interest you in some stiletto heels? By the way, I’d like you to meet some 50+ women.
Me: Nope.
Pandora: Oh, alright, here’s a pair of loafers.
Me: Thanks. Thumbs up.
Pandora: Now try these on. By the way, I’d like you to meet some 50+ women.
Me: That’s a pack of cigarettes.
Pandora: I’m sorry, you’ve turned down too many things already. Right now it’s the cigarettes or nothing. Come back another day and we’ll do this again. By the way, I’d like you to meet some 50+ women.

My two stations that have worked out best are:

The most frustrating station is my “Frank Zappa” station, which I’m tempted to rename to “Frustration Station.” First, Pandora decided that what I really wanted was lots and lots of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix — not what I want if I feel like listening to Zappa. Eventually, it decided that what I really wanted was lots and lots of King Crimson — also mostly not what I felt like listening to if I was after a Zappa sound. Currently, it hasn’t completely let go of its King Crimson obsession, and it has latched onto Jeff Beck. I like a lot of what Jeff Beck has done, but it’s not always what I’m after on this station. Pandora still slips in the occasional Frank Zappa or those with somewhat similar sounds (as if anybody really sounds like Zappa), but I might give up on the station if it doesn’t shape up.


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Filed under Music

6 + 1 x 0 + 2 / 2 = ?

It’s 7. It’s not 1, or 0, or 5, or 3.5, or any of the other answers people have imagined. This has been going round and round on Facebook, with over 300,000 responses last time I looked. Sadly, most of the answers are wrong.

There’s a thing called order of operations. Arithmetic isn’t a matter of opinion or voting. There’s a memory aid — Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally — to help one remember the right sequence: parentheses, exponents, multiplication and division, addition and subtraction.

Let’s apply that to 6 + 1 x 0 + 2 / 2:

  1. No parentheses. Move on.
  2. No exponents. Move on.
  3. Multiplication and division: 1 x 0 = 0 and 2 / 2 = 1. Now, our exotic puzzle becomes 6 + 0 + 1.
  4. Addition and subtraction: 6 + 0 + 1 = 7.

Smart and Stupid Calculators

My iPhone’s calculator app comes up with 7 because it uses the proper order of operations.

The calculator app on Windows 7 comes up with 7 because it also uses the proper order of operations.

My TI calculator from 20+ years ago gets 7. It, too, uses the proper order of operations. (Yep, I still have an old calculator, and it still works.)

However, I’ve seen cheap calculators that use the wrong order of operations. They act like everything is from left to right, no matter what. You enter 6 + 1, and they immediately show 7. Multiply by 0 and you get 0. Add 2 and you get 2. Divide by 2 and you get 1. I imagine this is why 1 is a popular answer, when people assume all arithmetic is strictly left to right, or they’ve been misled by a stupid calculator.

Counting Cookies

Here’s an illustration of why multiplication and division come before addition and subtraction.

Let’s say I’m counting my cookie intake over the last month. On 5 occasions, say I had 3 chocolate chip cookies: 5 times, 3 cookies, or 5 x 3. On 3 occasions, I had 2 oatmeal raisin cookies: 3 times, 2 cookies, or 3 x 2.

5 x 3 + 3 x 2 = ?

Do you think I had 21 cookies, or 36 (or some other number)? The correct answer, certainly, is that I had 21 cookies: 5 x 3 = 15 chocolate chip cookies, plus 3 x 2 = 6  oatmeal raisin cookies, for a total of 21 cookies.

If you do the arithmetic in the wrong order, like strictly left to right, you’d think I had 36 cookies. 5 times, 3 cookies = 15 so far. 15 cookies + the 3 times I had oatmeal raisin = 18 cookies so far. (Makes no sense now, right?) 18 cookies, times 2 for the two times I had oatmeal raisin = 36. Wrong!

If you think 5 x 3 + 3 x 2 = 36, try laying out pennies. Take 5 sets of 3, and then 3 sets of 2, and then count how many pennies you’ve laid out. You’ll get 21, not 36.

Or say the problem in a different order, oatmeal raisin before chocolate chip. 3 times, I had 2 oatmeal raisin cookies. 5 times, I had 3 chocolate chip cookies.

3 x 2 + 5 x 3 = ?

If you follow the proper order of operations, you’ll find that I had 21 cookies, same as before. If you pretend arithmetic always runs left to right, you get a different answer this time: 3 x 2 = 6, 6 + 5 = 11, 11 x 3 = 33.

If strict left-to-right arithmetic was correct, then I had either 36 or 33 cookies, depending on which cookies you count first. Does that convince you?

Vending Machines Help Make the Point

You go to a vending machine. The item you want costs 75 cents. You put in 2 quarters, 2 dimes, and a nickel. Does that add up to 75 cents? Only if you follow the correct order of operations.

2 x 25 + 2 x 10 + 1 x 5 = ?

The correct order of operations has us do the multiplications before the additions: 2 x 25 = 50, and 2 x 10 = 20, and 1 x 5 = 5. Then we add up 50 + 20 + 5 and get 75.

If you think arithmetic is only left to right, you’d get 2 x 25 = 50, plus 2 = 52, times 10 = 520, plus 1 = 521, times 5 = 2,605.

Which is it? Do you think 2 quarters, 2 dimes, and a nickel add up to 75 cents, or $26.05?

Now switch the order. If you take those same coins, but you put in the 2 dimes, the nickel, and then the 2 quarters, is it still 75 cents?

2 x 10 + 1 x 5 + 2 x 25 = ?

Of course it’s still 75 cents. The correct order of operations says so: 2 x 10 = 20, and 1 x 5 = 5, and 2 x 25 = 50. Then 20 + 5 + 50 = 75 cents.

If you use left-to-right order instead of the correct order: 2 x 10 = 20, plus 1 = 21, times 5 = 105, plus 2 = 107, times 25 = 2,675. You’d think you had put $26.75 into the machine this time, instead of $26.05 when you started with the quarters.

If you believe your two quarters, two dimes, and one nickel add up to 75 cents in any order, you just made a case for using the correct order of operations.

And that’s my $0.02.



Filed under Math