The Eye of the Beholder

I am also intrigued by a recent study by Australian ophthalmologists who have established what appears to be a null correlation between myopia and introversion. [Link] This is interpreted as an indication that there is no connection between nerds/geeks/wonks and wearing glasses.

I would be interested in the reference that establishes the correlation between nerdishness/geekiness/wonkness and introversion. However, considering that the media source has a reputation of being one of the least accurate and lowest of integrity of science media organs, this leap may be nothing more than common journalistic practice. In other words, it may be obvious to everyone who is blond, popular, and extroverted.

But the crucial question is whether people who do not consider wearing glasses to be something that totally ruins them as humans can be classified as nerds/geeks/wonks (I shall refrain from any delineation of these) or just as introverts?

Body Energy

The boffins at Queen’s U of Belfast have come up with a goodness. Seems they have developed a thermometer that uses an ionic liquid rather than mercury as the sensing agent. [Link] This is rather exciting.

As a child, I early noticed that the commonplace home thermometer was a subject of love/hate for my mother. One the one side it gave a handy means of determining whether I or my brother were running a “fever” and hence ill that was more reliable than the classic hand to the brow method. That was the up side. The down side was that the glass tube contained mercury, which was widely viewed as a riskier home poisoning source than ant powder or any number of common household compounds. Evidently mothers lived in stark terror that their children would break the glass tube, whether oral or rectal, and the mercury would end up inside them, condemning them to almost sure death.

I was a graduate student before a biochemistry professor happen to explain that atomic or elemental mercury has such a low absorption as to be only marginally dangerous; it is the ionized or ionic forms of mercury that are readily absorbed and are truly dangerous.

But this new fluid is not poisonous at all although somehow I suspect mothers will now fixate over the effects of that broken glass on their children’s innards, as well they should. Of course, the fluid is “green” unlike mercury which does ionize once it escapes the relatively cloistered environment of the thermometer. Also, the fluid is claimed to have a faster response than mercury which I suspect means that it has a higher heat capacity and hence should reach equilibrium quicker.

No word in the reportage about the linearity of the thermal expansion of the ionic liquid which is probably not very important if all one is interested in is a range of about ten degrees Celsius, but for more general applications such are of greater interest and import.

Given the proliferation of magnetic resonance imaging in the medical industry, one has to wonder why they don’t just use these instruments to measure body temperature. It would be a simple matter of measuring the fraction of some excited state of a molecule and getting temperature directly from that. And much easier than having to shake the liquid down in those pesky tubes.

Homo Antecessor

Researchers from the Catalan Institute report discovery of a segment of human jawbone in Atapuerca, Spain. [Link] This segment is about 1.3 MY old and seems to be a homo antecessor.

The translation is cited in the reportage as “Pioneer Man”, which seems a bit disjoint or discordant. The man part is good but ante is usually translated as “before”, and cessor comes from cedo which is the verb “to go”. Hence antecessor would seem more directly as “one who goes before” and thus homo antecessor as “man who goes before”. So you can get to Pioneer Man but its quite a bit of a reach.

A rather pithier view would be to form cessor from cesso which may be the verb “to do nothing” in which case we might translate homo antecessor as “man who did nothing previously” or just “early idle man”. Or perhaps, “first bum”. We also stop short of hypothesizing that this species was responsible for originating the practice of the mid day nap or siesta, which can hardly be considered idleness is one still works a full day.

Interestingly it is hypothesized that homo antecessor is the common precursor to sapiens and neandertalensis.


I ran across an article yesterday [Link] about how Windows is being nibbled down on the edges. The thesis is that

I see two strong trends here. On the high end, people are buying Macs instead of Windows PC. On the low end, Linux is eating Windows alive.

My first concern over this is that I am not at all clear what is meant here by high and low end.

If you are perceptive, or even just subjecting my blogging to a time series averaging computation, you would have noticed I cut down on my blogging about a week ago. This was due to a rather critical distraction rather than a loss of interest. My venerable Dell Precision 620 workstation that I had been using for most of this decade with Windows 2K installed has been dying a slow and painful death of what might be likened to senile dementia brought on by cardiac arrest. Alternately, there were all manner of problems associated with processing and storage that seemed traceable to problems with power supply and its transmission. I have commented on this in previous blots.

About six months ago I became sufficiently interested in Ubuntu to purchase a spare hard drive for my Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop and dedicate it to Ubuntu. Well, after six months of stately progress – that’s management doublespeak for frequent mistakes and glitches but most of them corrected in reasonable time or at least an adequate work around found – I decided to take the plunge and “replace” my Precision 620 with another box and try to run Ubuntu on it. In effect, the experiment would be to make this my primary desktop box.

Mind you, this is not an absolute leap of irretrievable lemmingness. There is still the functional back-up HP XW5000 running XP sitting next to the Precision box. But this box has never been quite as useful as the Precision 620, mostly because XP is not as responsive an OS as 2K. Still it manages to do well enough for most of what I need to do.

I conducted a market survey for refurbished workstations. This is an eccentricity of mine; I have the conviction – belief with cognitive dissonance? – that a used tank is superior to a new SUV. It is unquestionably hardier and if it has survived the depredations of the troops it must be reckonable. The temporally local extremal opportunity was a rebuilt Precision 370 stripped back to bare drive. I obtained this beast for slightly less than a new “home” minimalist box with the benefits of a much better built motherboard, a goodly sized SCSI HD and a reasonable amount of RAM, and since it’s a desktop its condition as what Jerry Pournelle in the heyday of Byte called a “boat anchor” is not negative.

Anyway, while I was waiting on delivery of the box – 5 days from Texas – I downloaded an ISO of the latest Ubuntu release and burned a CD on the HP box. Upon arrival however, I found that the video card in the box had a connector other than standard VGA so I had to find a source for one and wait for it to get shipped to Greater Metropolitan Arab – another five days from New Yawk. The caveat here is that this is self imposed by my frugality. I could have had a new cable overnight if I had been willing to pay about a fourth of what I spent for the box instead of 0.04.

Anyway, once cable and box are in hand, it is a matter of moments to get old 620 out of its position next my desk and replaced with the 370. A few more moments to boot Ubuntu followed by perhaps twice that to install. Overall something like thirty minutes total.

At this point the first priority is to get the box connected to my wireless network. Now the grrr brrr is that Ubuntu’s greatest weakness is wireless, but I have had no problems with it on my Inspiron laptop other than having to transnumerate wireless key phrases into hexadecimal. My hope was to use the same adapter I had been using with my 620, a ZyXel USB adapter. Well, no LINUX driver on the CD or their web site, but I found one on an archive site. The install wouldn’t take.

So I tried installing the Windows driver in a wrapper. The box still would not recognize the adapter. So I next tried a Belkin thumb adapter. Ubuntu recognized it and I got on the network but after an hour or so it would wander off into Peter Pan Land. So I did a search on which adapters are Ubuntu compatible and then a market survey. Result, an adapter from Amazon and another five day wait. But the new adapter, a 3COM, worked like Sherman’s army in Sowth Carolina and I soon had a connection to the sea that hasn’t gone bad since. But this may be the lesson to be learned here.

Other than that, it has been a matter of stately progress. I now have all of my email accounts working either through Firefox or Evolution. Thunderbird has this annoying habit of bombing so I had to move on. That means I can’t add stuff to Google calendar directly from Evolution but that is supposed to change with the next update. So as Valentine Michael Smith would say, “Waiting is.” But I am catching my RSS feeds and I have ScribeFire to do blogging in – there is no “good” standalone Ubuntu/Linux blogging editor that I can find. And I can download podcasts – faster than on my Windows boxes – and get over to my MP3 player. And I can write code and do all sorts of stuff that is a rectal pain in Widows.

So I have to come back to the high and low end thing. I can somewhat see the Mac OS as high end in the same way that daughters are high end; that is, more expensive than they should be. But having had to use a Mac when I was working for the Yankee army, I can also say that it is definitely very low end when it comes to letting you do what needs to be done, even lower than Windows. And the Linux is low end in that it costs less directly but perhaps a bit more in indirect, especially skull sweat time.

But that is what makes it high end.

So I think we have a situation like charge. Why do we say an electron has a negative charge? No definite reason. We could have said a proton has a negative charge just as easily. So perhaps this whole high/low end thing with OS is a red herring? Maybe its more about what we want in the way of performance and the Mac and Linux OS meet different needs than does Windows?

Literary Science

I was listening to the Guardian’s Weekly Science podcast this morning in gym; the theme was science and literature. Of course they exhumed that old saw by C. P. Snow about the world’s problems devolving from the literati knowing bupkus about science and scientists the same for literature. They did however trot out one of their literary journalists who waxed for a few on scientists in literature and plugging a web site on the subject. [Link]

Now I am not at all sure about the C. P. Snow piece, largely because matters literary are almost as sparse around Greater Metropolitan Arab, and indeed, Nawth Alibam, except for those members of the education mafia who “teach” literature in the local shuls and the local book club. In fact, I am not sure about the latter since I have never attended any of their meetings or found out what they read. I can however, address the former.

Over the weekend FD SCP graciously permitted me to accompany her to Greater Metropolitan Arab’s used book store, which is the only book store in the metropolis except possibly some of religious affiliation. They do sell some books at the local MalWart and some of the drug stores but their offerings are pretty clearly not what I think is meant by literature. Nor is it in the categories of what I tend to read which is either nerd fiction or nerd fact. Aside from the used book store the only bright spot in town is the salvage book store of the public library and one can delve through it and find a few pieces of either literature or a lesser number of nerdish interest.

The used book store has a bookshelf dedicated to book assigned in the local high shul, a concentration of what the education mafia, at least locally, considers to be literature. About half of the titles were familiar to me from my own high shul days. I noted three characteristics of this collection. First, nowhere was there anything that could be stretched to be considered science fiction. Second, there was nothing that might be considered irreligious. And third, there was nothing the least bit inviting there. Of the ones I was familiar with, none passed the test of being minimally not boring and banal.

In this frame of mind, hearing the protestations back and forth on the podcast this morning, I was naturally drawn to some cogitation. The obvious observation that emerged was the the majority of humanity are interested in neither literature nor science; they both fall into the too hard category of Joe Consumer/Citizen and are thus to be left to the ministrations of “them” who will be roundly criticized and hated regardless of whether they do good or ill.

It appears however that this aspect of “them” must have at least two components that are orthogonal to each other except for a few rare individuals. This last observation is tentative since I do not believe myself to be one of those rare individuals and I have scant literary colleagues to call upon for discussion or validation. Nonetheless, I believe the thesis has some merit in that in considering what literary people consider to be literature about science I find it to be not only bad but abysmal.

On the other hand, I can offer up that there is such a thing as scientific literature, and by this I do not mean hat the literary people mean by the terms. Instead, I mean nerdish stuff that is well written and has some degree of enduring character and appeal, not that the latter seems to be characteristic of what is usually deemed literature. On the factual side, I offer the maths books of Ruel Churchill and Thomas MacRobert, or physics books such as the electrodynamics book of John David Jackson. On the nerdish fiction side the list is quite long but less than obviously populated with any works by contemporary authors; simply put too much contemporary science fiction lacks sufficient science.

Oh! And the reason that this is not recognized as literature by literary people is because they cannot read it any more than a person who can read only English can appreciate French literature. So perhaps the whole idea of what is literature and literary is inherently flawed?

I suspect it also has to do with the sense of humor as well. How can anyone but a scientist (or a geek?) really find humor in awards for investigating the side effects of sword swallowing or human testicular asymmetry? [Link] Or for that matter, the Standard Model?


In the wake of Mr. Obama’s speech last week where he both owned up to and denied his rebbe, leaving us a bit mystified if this was an exercise of political doublespeak or an actuality of mixed directions, and did so by trying to span the racial injustice shtick by association if not aggregation, we have presented to us a Pew survey among “African Americans” this morning. [Link] This survey indicates that almost half of what society labels as African Americans (0.37) hold that black americans are not a single race.

Before entering however I once more express my discontent, even distress and often disgust, over the taxonomy of “race”. It is inherently as specious an idea as that associated with genocide. So far as we are able to distinguish, we presently have on Tellus one species of genus homo. We may thus somewhat loosely speak of a “human race” and in so doing recognize that such usage is the strongest, firmest, most accurate use we may make of the term “race”.

So far as both anthropology and genetic biology may determine, all living humans are descendants of African forebears. Thus, all of us living in America are African Americans in the sense that our forebears came from Africa and we now reside in America. All who live in Europe are African Europeans, those in Asia are African Asians. As such the separate distinction of African is irrelevant in the sense that it is common to all; it is, in effect, a synonym for human.

Not that there are not distinguishing characteristics. Some of us have darker skin pigmentation than others, different coloured eyes or hair, different shapes of skin around the eyes. Some of us can digest cow milk as adults while other cannot. There may or may not be mental differences and metabolic differences as well but many of these have become social taboos. As such they may not be discussed in polite company and are increasingly avoided by politically correct academics and devious politicians.

In large part, the designations of race exist today largely for the purpose of expressing bias and prejudice; they have little use in scientific matters. Now while prejudice will be with us as humans so long as we are humans – the “us/them” is part of of genetics – we may rise above such. Prejudice does not enshrine well, rather like building a cardboard house in a rain forest, it requires constant rebuilding to stand.

I cannot say that I favor everything Mr. Obama has to say but he did display either considerable cunning or considerable daring in saying what he did. I regret that he had to retain the racial metaphor that is so inappropriate but I suppose such cannot be readily expected of a politician. But what I do agree with is that we need to get past this racial delusion and focus on rising above our prejudice.

Adnotatio ineptui

I now have statistical significance of a trend! Seems that whenever I give a blot a title in Latin that blot receives a statistically significant, as in deviation from the mean, number of views/hits.

At the moment I am entertaining two hypotheses. First, that there is a collection/group/… of folks who have a dedicated interest in the “dead” language. Second, based on the common usage in biology of using Latin names – genus and species in this case – for living entities grouped by commonality of DNA and other characteristics – this is scarcely a venue for mathematical taxonomy given the spirit of the blot – there is a collection/group/…. of folks who are intensely interested in biology or some related discipline.

The part that has become intriguing to me is how I design and implement a set of experiments to test the two hypotheses. A few Cadbury eggs and some beer to wash down the taste of the chocolate may be necessary to achieve the properly scientific mental condition for this undertaking.

Egg (?) Laid

Today is Easter by observation, the “celebration” of the undeath of a nice Jewish Choshever mentsh. Perhaps more properly in contemporary terms we should refer to it in terms of its commercialization? Perhaps as Rabbit Day? Although I still have to admit to rather missing the whole logic and rationale of observing the start of the man’s existence with spending great amounts of money on store junk and its ending with spending money on new clothes and exotic candy concoctions.

Has spring festival, the traditional observation of the “rebirth” of Nature been reduced to Cadbury structured chocolate eggs and the social acceptability of wearing white shoes? Not that I do not find those eggs one of the delights of modern industrial confectionary, despite their relative banality compared to the candy of my youth. Still, I do stockpile them to raise my spirits and expand my waistline beyond the season of Nature’s renewal. And I have not owned a pair of white shoes since I engaged in marching band. I am reminded however that the prohibition applies to women more than men but given the profusion of athletic shoes I suspect the prohibition is as decomposed as good candy and insight of why we observe the occasion.

The RSS feeds have their usual strange sunday diversity. I note the discovery of an ancient Lagomorph from 35 MYA by a group from Johns Hopkins U. [Link] This beastie masses in at 100 g and there is no indication in the report of it either laying or carrying eggs. But we irreverently enquire if perhaps this day is all about Marsupial envy? Or perhaps even more primitively, of some bunny dinosaur?

We also note the apparent ineptitude of intelligent design fanatics – or is that redundant? [Link] Apparently the authorities at the showing of the unethical and hence sacrosanct film “Expelled” expelled one biologist-atheist but failed to recognize another. Can’t say anything about the film itself since I have not seen it, but then I have no intention of doing so. I learned a long time ago that film and accuracy were almost always orthogonal. But the froofraw is a nice diversion from the prevarications and innuendos of (modern) democrats.

Then I note the discovery of Orrorin tugenensis by researchers at George Washington U. [Link] What makes this fellow notable is that he (?) dates back 6 MYA and walked (at least sorta) upright. And being as it is Easter we can reflect on the logic that leads anyone to claim such an elaborate provenance of fossils could be laid down as a Red Herring by what those folks persist in representing as benign deity.

And while we’re on the matter of diversion and distraction by someone claiming benevolence, let us consider the recent identity breach – although haemorrhage might be a better term – in the Hannaford Brothers grocery chain. [Link] Seems that hackers intercepting financial information during credit card payments have obtained identity information on some 4.2 M folks. So much for the convenience of credit card purchase and the nekulturnyness of using currency or check as portrayed in those rather noxious VISA commercials. Of course what they don’t tell you in those commercials is that your won’t ever be able to use your credit card again because your financial identity will have been stolen. Welcome to instant poverty and stress!

Drinking Something

And while we’re on intelligence, I note that the other shul on the Charles, fair Hahvahd, has brought new meaning to the consideration of how inherent terrorism is to Mohammedanism. [Link]

While Hahvahd started life as a religious institution, it now avers its inherently secular constitution – in both meanings of that term. Yet somehow, it has taken actions that indicate its secularity has exceptions when it comes to this particular religion. These actions are reinstituting gender differentiated hours in the gym – excused as being a concession to the insecurities of coeds of faith – and prayer call – excused as being part of an awareness program.

One has to wonder that the local feminist movement is not up in arms about the former, especially given the slowness of the institution to admit women as students or hire them as faculty. Indeed the institution still displays a rather rationalist view of the latter based on absolute excellence of academic record.

Nonetheless, there is a tenor of ruthlessness and fear imposition in both actions that seems much more consistent with this particular religion and with autocratic governance than what one expects in either the Yankee republic or in academic circles in general. So one may indeed wonder if this is a matter of shuls finding, or, at least, feeling, themselves beset and thus acting in a more directive, fascist fashion.

Or is it that the whole organization suffers from overweening arrogance, as I have universally observed in its graduates, and is thus fundamentally a separate part of this republic?

Geek Sex

It has also been recognized that Geeks have considerable difficulty understanding women, even female geeks. Now research at Indiana U indicates what we have always suspected, that geekness is a common human male characteristic. [Link] So common in fact, that all human males may be considered to be geeks.

This has rather profound impact. First, it indicates that some human males have capabilities that allow them to distance themselves from geekness. This may be a reasonable basis for establishing nerdness and its closely related condition wonkness. It may also explain jockness in its at least two forms: overweening self confidence; and total obliviousness.

Second, it may also why men can find no rhyme or reason to why women select them. If this theory is correct, then these aspects of men and women are completely orthogonal. (How’s that for some neat physicist speak this morning?)

Third, this may even give us some insight into whether sexual differences increase or diminish intelligence. There are theories that hold that in the absence of sexual reproduction there is no need for intelligence and that its development was a survival mutation. Alternately, observation of human life on Tellus leads us to question whether there really is any such once humans enter puberty. This work indicates that there may be differentiated intelligence that cancels out in mixed company.