Not News

There are some things about global warming that are obvious enough that one has to wonder how anyone can make hay out of them, much less news. Apparently some Town Planner in England has come up with the idea that freedom will be curtailed by the development of a more totalitarian government in response to global warming. [Link] Sorry, but its obvious enough that I wrote about it in rThe Metaphysics of War when I considered but a cold and a hot phase. But apparently the current trend to reduced freedom resulting from terrorism has escaped the view?

Closer to home, a researcher at fair Harvard has come up with the pronouncement that the heat itself will result in greater incidence of death. [Link] Sorry, again not news to anyone who pays attention to the demographics of heat effects, concentrated among the elderly and poor – those least able to spend money on air conditioning and other ameliorations.

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Stercus Phone

The Greater Metropolitan Arab Computer Club meets twice a month – maybe. This may sound rather pedestrian, but in Greater Metropolitan Arab this group is about all that exists in the way of any intellectual association. There are several service fraternal organizations, and several recreational groups that dance (yes, even with all the Baptists about,) sing, play cards, and do other brain dead activities, but nothing that passes for any pretension of cogitation or knowledge. In fact nothing more modern in terms of programs than the ’50′s. Evidently the whole idea of baby boomers hasn’t crept into local government’s consciousness yet.

Indeed, the urbs has a bright new (relatively) senior center that evidently cost so much that the government is unwilling to spend any money on it. It has a web page that hasn’t been updated since it was first posted; there is no way to contact the center management, and no calendar of events is published. When I go there for club meetings I have this feeling that I should watch my step for horse apples.

I can’t speak to the programs for the young or middle aged (mature adults?) because they aren’t any more accessible to view. But the lessez faire attitude is comfortable to a lot of folks so my mentioning will probably be taken as criticism.

Anyway, the conversation during and after the meeting turned to the greed of information providers. This came to be concentrated on cellular phone providers and the division of the group into those who wanted a cellular phone that provided them will access to calendar and e-mail as well as conversation, and for some, internet access, and those who merely wanted conversation and another device for internet access. The only thing the two sides could agree upon was the exorbitance of instruments that either did too much or too little – the standard paean of standardization – and service that seemed ridden with parasitic fees.

No mention was made of the wondrous three horse shay – um – iPhone. And having seen the cost of ownership estimates today, [Link] I somehow doubt that the beast will be seen as beneficial. Does the device have any positive features? Or is it just another piece of meaningless bling for people who lead meaningless lives and when they think, which isn’t often, think meaningless thoughts.

I suspect my first sight of one of these marvelous devices will be in the  grocery isles at MalWart where every other person, distribution density by age inversely proportional to age, is conversing while either searching for some grocery that has almost assuredly been discontinued because its cash flow rate was too low, or displaying their inability to be cognitive enough to have made a list of groceries to buy, assuming that they are literate enough, of course, which is becoming a rather substantial assumption in Greater Metropolitan Arab. But that has to do with parent apathy and education system intransigence and autarky.

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I have previously mentioned the informational and intellectual bankruptcy of various Six Sigma programs, notably the Yankee army’s Lean Six Sigma program. Their very foundation, assuming unproven stochastic behavior for everything, and their questionable maths is sufficient to serve in the office of a rigorous starvation diet coupled with a vigorous program of involuntary enemas. I was however taken by this cartoon, slightly modified to make the point:

Actually this is a simplification as the net effect of most Six Sigma programs on productivity, effectiveness, efficiency, … is Negative!

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Tuesday Twinklings

The arch villain , criminal Paris Hilton,  was released from durance vile early this morning after the Las Angeles penal system declared bankruptcy as a result of costs incurred during her incarceration. [Link] The high point of her incarceration was a statement made to one of America’s most notorious journalists,

“I used to act dumb.”

which definitely demonstrates that heiresses are not taught the difference these days between “dumb” and “stupid”.

In a related article, [Link] researchers at the Max Planck Institut for Evolutionary Anthropology have announced plans to reconstruct the genome of homo neandertalensis. Given the deterioration of fossil DNA over time, the importance of the criminal Hilton’s assistance in this matter is obviously central.

And on a more exciting note, the debate over whether the dinosaur extinction that may have resulted from a meteorite strike 65 MYA did or did not give impetus to the rise of mammals is still raging. [Link] This should give us an alternative to the heated bickering over whether neandertalensis extinguished or just reproduced itself into indistinguishability with sapiens.

If this effort is successful, we may likely expect Lee Baca and Michael Sauer to be called upon to assist a similar project to reconstruct the genome of habilis.

But we still wonder what all this has to do with physics? Its a shame Max isn’t around to explain why an institute engaged in biology is named after him?

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I was reading “Uncertain Principles” this weekend, [Link] and got pointed to a survey study report on differences by discipline of study of students. One of the statements worried me a bit:

Students in social sciences, arts and humanities, professional programs (e.g., architecture, urban planning, nursing), and education scored higher on deep learning. Business, physical science and engineering scored lower on the deep learning scale. Biological sciences majors were midrange

until I went and looked up the exact description and distinctions between deep and surface learning.

The key difference, in so far as the study of science and engineering is concerned, [Link] is that deep learning “Relates previous knowledge to new knowledge” (among other things).  Hence, deep learning occurs (?) only if previous knowledge is valid and  can be relied upon.

The problem with learning about the real world is that most of what you have learned previously is not valid. Knowledge of history and syntax and manners and music are largely irrelevant and even detrimental to understanding physical reality. And then too there is that aspect of knowing that tomorrow someone may improve the understanding and set today’s teaching on its head.

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Clausewitz, the messiah of military art, – there are many who question rightly whether there is ever such a thing as military science – has said “everything in war is simple, but even the simplest things are difficult.” Certainly this applies to understanding the military. Even those who spend their lifetimes in the military, coming of military families, have difficulty, so complex is the organization, the institution, the instrumentality, the society and culture.

Sometimes however, you can tell when the military is going to stage a tantrum. I first noticed the symptoms earlier in the week when the WIRED feed carried an article [Link] in which the former Yankee army Vice, as in Vice Chief of Staff, announced

“we never had that as a mission in Iraq.”

Whenever the military, and particularly the army announces that something wasn’t their mission, it invariably means that something is vertically copulated (Yes, Virginia, that is an euphemism and it means exactly what you think it means!), that the military is indirectly responsible for it being vertically copulated because of some callous action or inaction on the military’s part, but since they deny it was ever part of their job, they aren’t responsible. As my colleagues who wear Tudor robes and pretend to worry about truth and justice would say, it a matter of criminal neglect.

Usually such occur with folks the military consider to be civilians and thus rating of an attention level commiserate with that of pond scum.

Now, I read in the Tribune feed [Link] that service folk, current and past, are having their discharge conditions degraded and their actions labeled as “disloyal”. The former is economic persecution or punishment, depending on the circumstances, in that it makes it more difficult for the ex service folk to obtain employment or trust by the Yankee government bureaucracy. Folks with less than honorable discharges have their income tax returns reviewed about five times more frequently than the national average despite less than a factor of two greater incidence of criminal activity. And if the service folk are critical of any aspect of the military, its definitely persecution.

The latter is a bit of a catch all term. Disloyalty is a oft used term of almost ultimate criticism in the military. The only things more serious than disloyalty in the military view is disobedience and treason. Nonetheless, disloyalty is almost universally used and often cannot be avoided. Disloyalty to a superior who does wrong is loyalty to the organization as a whole, or even to right behavior. Hence the complaints of the folks mistreated at Walter Reed was disloyalty.

Widespread claims of disloyalty on the part of former service folk critical of something associated with the military  is indicative of the onset of a military organizational tantrum.  Hence, we may expect  irrational, even violent behavior from the military, probably due as much to embarrassment over the political mess as anything they have actually done or not done.

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One of the characteristics of a democracy is that the electorate is frequently divided. It seems we are shaping up for such a division over when we may lower the republic’s flag to honor a death. [Link]

When I was young, I thought the practice of lowering the flag when someone of note died was a small act of demonstration, a thing to be honored like the adornment of the graves of passed soldiers on veterans’ day. As I worked for the Yankee government, I found the practice to be anything but the fine thing that it is portrayed. In simple, the Yankee  government only ordered the flag lowered for two reasons – when some icon of public interest died, such as astronauts or media figures, or when some politician passed.

I cannot quibble with the action of the first. Many of these people are indeed serving the republic and are dedicated to such, although many are not. Indeed, many of the media figures who are so honored were only serving themselves or, at best, some segment of the population.

The same blot applies to the second category. Too many of the people so honored by politicians are themselves politicians whose service to the republic was a waste byproduct of their ambition and occasional greed. Too few are people who have died after a lifetime of dedicated and selfless service to the republic. Although such words are invariably uttered in the proclamation or epithet, one more evidence of the organization’s lack of moral stricture in uttering utterly unreal falsehoods and doing so so blatantly that the insentient take them as accurate.

Yes, this state of affairs clearly leads to cynicism and given the way the honor is practiced these days, that cynicism is righteous and accurate. Nonetheless, there are those who deserve such honor. In this we should recall that the flag does not belong to the Yankee government; it belongs to the citizens. And the citizens should decide when and to whom the honor is accorded.

In this vein, the Yankee government needs to get out of the business of ordering flag lowering, as should all of the state, county/parish, and local governments. Let the decision to lower a flag to half staff to honor a hero of the republic rest on the citizen owning that flagpole and that flag, not some self serving politician out of sight and mind, but not purse or conscience, except during election season. Let us, in a small way, take back our republic.

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The Yankee government defense department got hacked yesterday. [Link] This is nothing new, the Pentagon is a glaring self-advertised target, especially to egotistical, individualistic anarchist hackers who enjoy the benefits of modern civilization. Indeed, some may say that these hacks are actually beneficial in the sense that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Certainly if there is such a thing as a network immune system these hacks are beneficial in the same way that cowpox ameliorates smallpox.

Of course, the military can’t say that for several reasons including any admission of guilt, weakness, wrong doing, mission failure, …………………………………………………………………………………

What is more worrisome is a statement by the Secretary of Defense, the other Mr. Gates,

“I don’t do e-mail.”[Link]

Sadly this explains a lot about what is wrong with our senior leadership in this Yankee republic. Somehow they believe communication is beneath them – at least that’s the good interpretation – and reject one of the fastest ways of communicating. The bad interpretation is that doing anything new is bad and beneath them, a common affliction of executives everywhere and the cause of much inefficiency, waste, and failure in all organizations.

Bear in mind that most new organizations fail because they can’t perform their function well enough, in the commercial sector this usually means not enough cash flow. Old organizations fail because they can’t adapt either because executives cease adapting to change or because organization members cease adopting change.

Wonder which it is in the Defense Department?

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Nerd Word Processing

WARNING! May be Offensive to some. Politically Incorrect!

“As I was walking the streets of Laredo”
I came across an entry in Lifehacker [Link] to a review of word processors. [Link] Normally I don’t mention reviews because the criteria they use are at odds with mine, and often they are nothing more than advertising by someone who it turns out is paid by the manufacturers or the retailers. Hence reviews in most computer magazines, such as PC, must be approached warily with ample supplies of skepticism and either Beano (R) or salt tablets, and sampled in moderation lest they corrupt one’s intellectual and financial metabolisms. In effect, they are closely related to anything written by Intelligent Design pundits, which in fact they share the premise that the designer expects intelligence on the part of the beholder. Nonetheless, as such things go, this review is reasonably good, exceptional as part of the overall population, and hence worthy of more attention than one of these normally would merit. Perhaps because it is open source?

From the standpoint of the nerd, word processors almost universally suffer from several faults (features and capabilities in the boasts of the developer’s marketeers,) that compromise the utility of the software in ways comparable to having someone with Parkinson’s disease work in a nuclear materials laboratory – the clean up costs are bankrupting! For example, all of these word processors mix the functions of formatting (appearance) with content production, thus rendering the process of producing a decent communication difficult by either constant intrusion of diversions or the constant need to adjust form. Thus, the first thing a serious writer does is to turn off all automatic processes such as grammar and spell check and reduce the clutter of icons at the top of the window to a minimum of menu.

Jerry Pournelle years ago wrote on this from the perspective of a science fiction author, but his perception that what one wanted was a blank window to put words upon – the electronic equivalent of a piece of paper – is valid for all who write more than tawdry correspondence. Sadly, even the best word processor clients cannot achieve the ideal.

Leaving the Potempkin issue for the moment, there are three things that distinguish nerd – scientist and engineer – content: tables, figures, and equations in large number. Tables and figures need to be captioned and cataloged, and equations need to be numbered. In a good nerdish word processor these are done automatically and lists of table and figure captions generated easily for front matter. Of the three top word processing clients: Open Office; Megahard Office; and WordPerfect; all fail at this. I regret not being familiar enough with Open Office to give equal treatment, but given its obvious faults it should be obvious why I don’t spend time trying to force a good product to do something it can’t.

  • Open Office – tables and figures handled but not well, equation editor primitive, no obvious automatic numbering.
  • Megahard Office – tables and figures wander about the page unless embedded in text boxes which may – may! – stay put, equation editor moderately more advanced but no automatic numbering without upgrading to MathType, total number of equations effectively limited to about 100 because of internal problems.
  • WordPerfect – tables and figures stay put pretty well, equation editor about the same as Megahard Office, no automatic numbering, and fixity of equations sometimes flaky at bottom of printed page.

In addition, and this is an editor complaint, none of these maintain or require separate files of figures; they all fully embed everything making publication editing difficult, frustrating, and expensive.

Further, while every one of these have some form of formating template, this capability is a joke warranting a hernia operation. In the main, almost all writing done by nerds is strongly formatted by someone else: a technical report for their employer; a journal article; or a book. Formats are rigidly established by employer or journal/book publisher. Thus futzing with format is a distractive diversion.

As I have said before, this is why I prefer a good LaTeX system. Format and content are essentially separate. The client I use – Scientific Word – is partly WYSIWIG – for the equations, and detract only a little from the writing with distractive controls, all of which are optional. It is pricey, about $400 which is close to the cost of Megahard WORD (R) stand alone, but then a good pen and good paper are worth the price if what you write with tem communicates well.

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Information Singularity?

When I was a graduate student, my interests were primarily in the realm of the physics of “normal” matter: quantum, classical, and statistical mechanics; and electromagnetics. I did have to take a course in General Relativity; it wasn’t required but since it was taught by the department head and he was a member of my committee, prudence dictated that I should take the course. Besides he was a good teacher as  well as lecturer which set him apart from the faculty herd.

This is not to say that physicists are noted for being great lecturers. The bulk of lecturers were delivered facing one of the blackboards that covered three sides of any classroom while writing equations, interspersed with a few emphasizing words, on the board of the moment. Style was not key, nor rhetoric. I can recall that one of the clearest courses I took as an undergraduate was taught by a professor who had grown up in Japan and whose English language skills were more than adequate for writing articles but not for lecturing. Hence, his lectures were “lectures” were completely on the blackboard except for the occasional Japanese exclamation, largely wasted on us, as emphasis.

Needless to say, a podium was almost a useless appliance in a physics classroom except as something for the lecturer to lean upon as he delivered nasty announcements – examinations, or answered a question that maths would clearly not illuminate, such as what joyous surprises were not covered in the catalog description like long nights writing computer code at the campus computer center – that was in the days of ONLY mainframes and if you were far enough along to be taking physics major courses you better know how to write code – or lab sessions that far transcended the catalog’s one hour of credit – 3 hours per week. A four hour physics course was usually good for at least twenty hours of attention span each week.

The general relativity course was quite different. First of all, there were only two of us in the class, myself and a fellow who had gotten a maths masters and decided he didn’t want to be a mathematician. It was a three hour course which meant it normally met twice a week for two hours per session – semester credit on quarter duration, a very neat way of handling terms. Instead, we met five days a week, two hours a day, and the other student and I alternated with presenting the assignment, seminar fashion.

The textbook was Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, a massive three thousand page dog killer, and the first paperback that I ever paid a hundred dollars for. That book went with me. When I went to lunch or the toilet, the book went. When I drove it sat, open, on the passenger seat so I could snatch a paragraph at stop lights. And the course was taught in the summer so we often ran over the allotted two hours without anyone barging into the classroom.

It was great! I went into the course knowing only a bit of special relativity, as taught in sophmore modern physics and in graduate electromagnetics courses. I left able to read (and if inclined, write) journal articles in the field.

A good portion of the course  was taken up with gravitational singularities. In those days, the state of the knowledge was such that for all we knew everything that crossed the event horizon was like Charley on the MTA – lost and gone forever, but we could throw sandwiches in. This was long before any thought about quantum leakage across the horizon or anything like that. And we didn’t think very much about the information lost in the collapse. Heck, we didn’t worry about information in physics in those days.

So in later years, once we started thinking about the information locked up in matter, we began to worry about how all that information got gobbled up by the singularities. Now, [Link] some folks at Case Western Reserve U have come up with an answer – maybe. Based on the reportage, I haven’t read the paper yet, evidently the information gets transferred to the electromagnetic field before the horizon forms (or presumably before the matter crosses the horizon? – not clear in the reportage.)

So its still great! Even if I didn’t do it. But my interests have stayed with the more conventional domains if not applications.

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