In the Land of the Blind

I ran across his [Link]

and gave pause. Actually, the response is absolutely inaccurate since only oneself may know that one is special. You may understand someone else is special but you can only know you are.

The initial thesis is accurate, but not carried through properly.

AND I shall refrain fom commenting on the educationalist perversion.

, ,

What does the lemming see?

Yesterday, in addition to my foodstuff foray, I had to undertake a period of gum maintenance, a which I was advised of the need to submit (endure?) a bit of more invasive care in the near future. This put me in mind of what my psychologist colleagues refer to as love-hate relationships but I think of as either attractor-repulsor relationships (as a physicist) or pony-poo situations (as a manager.)

This morning at gym I listened to the latest episode of the Full Circle Magazine podcast, which is one of those rather strange English podcasts that seems to have very little information but is somehow still worth listening to.

The discussion focused largely on the cloud/browser OS, such as Chrome or Android, and where Ubuntu was going. I have commented in recent blots on my personal dissatisfaction with the profanity/perversion that is Unity. But what made this different today was an epiphany, that the way the computer interface is going is away from the desktop to something that I now think of as a filing cabinet.

The adopted metaphor for the MAC/PC/FC interface is desktop and in the sense that a desktop is the boundary on which you do work and spread around useful gear and relevant sets of information this is not a bad metaphor. But it seems to be largely a GEN X metaphor that is relevant if you grew up using a desk and that is your mind model of a tool space. If you have a different mind model then the metaphor may not be apt, and what is becoming apparent is that this is indeed what is ongoing.

I did not become a desk person until I started work. There was a transition period in college but I still preferred to do real work elsewhere. To this day when I have serious (as I think of it) writing or maths or such to do I do not do it sitting at desk; I do it sitting in a chair with stuff in lap and strewn about.

It now occurs to me that this view is more common with GEN Y than it was for GEN X. Having grown up with laptops more ‘work’ can be done away from desk than has in past and so the present generation does not have the desktop mind model. I suspect their mind model is more closely that of a filing cabinet. Although how this relates to any holism is something that requires more consideration.

But it does make the new interfaces like browser-cloud and unity make a bit more sense. Not necessarily more amenable, but more understandable.

As always though, there has to be some degree of compromise between tool and worker. That’s why axes have handles.

I also commented the other day on my disastrous experience with FireFox 5 and how I found relief with IceCat. Sadly, version 5 of ThunderBird snuck out the other day and while it has not failed it has been surly and venomous. And IceDove seems to have evaporated.

So I would definitely say that Mozilla has entered a situation of pony-poo. Much as I like their products, I depend on their functionality and these modernizations are failing me and my needs. This is one definition of tyranny.

But the second epiphany of the day is that I can begin to ignore some of this modernization. If the cloud as file cabinet metaphor will not work for me and I am going to make a decision to possibly become a stodgy reactionary retaining the desktop metaphor, then other modernizations become skeptical by association.

Pass the Iridium please.

, , ,

Passed Glory

Tuesday once more and not too badly begun. One of my mature hypotheses is that humans are more influenced by the week than commonly thought or claimed. For example, the gym I frequent displays two behavior patterns: first, the level of attendance (density of members) decreases over the course of the week – with sundae excluded and monday being the first day of week; and the pattern of attendance has a cyclic component. Simply put, given the number of people attending on monday, wednesday, friday, there are fewer people than expected on tuesday, thursday, saturday.

The first is fairly well understandable. People get tireder as the week progresses and are less able to rouse themselves to gym. The second seems to indicate that most people think they need to go to gym two or three times a week and hence do the monday, wednesday, friday thing. What is not clear is whether there are people who recognize this and deliberately do the tuesday, thursday, saturday thing?

Anyway, the gym was relatively sparse this morning and I was able to do my thing without too much interaction. For some reason I have observe no positive interactions in gym; all are negative or neutral. This is a subject of observation and perhaps enough data andinsight will emerge to report on sometime.

The podcasts were science topic today and the more memorable piece came from SCIENCE, some mention that large dinosaurs had average body temperatures approximating those of mammals. What was intriguing was how the isotopic distribution of the chemical compounds in dinosaur teeth were used to estimate body temperature.The other was an interview by the Guardian of some author, quite glib, who decried the practice of using neandertal as an epithet – rightful! – and described occasions when he was mauled by Amerikan religionists for being an evolutionist – horrible! Sometimes I ponder that if the meek are going to inherit the earth then perhaps the obnoxious are going to destroy it?

On a more poignant note, I observed an article [Link] bemoaning the proposed passing of one of Huntsville’s high shuls. The context was a recent reunion of the class of 1961 CE and I was moved to consider my own experience with reunions. FD SCP attended a small high shul in the delta country of Mississippi – graduating class size of 25 – who has never attended a reunion. Her shul was closed for economy of scale reasons before her tenth graduation anniversary and so many had moved from the town, including herself, that there was not enough of a core group to even plan a reunion.

Not so for my graduating class. We have reunions every five years. I attended to first two and was bored into despair and depression. Skipped the third, and tried the next. Same story. I attended one about ten years ago and left after thirty minutes.

It is not that I did not have friends in high shul, or even not enjoy the experience. That experience was pale and vacuous compared to college, but not totally without substance. But of those who were my friends then, I either see them often or they do not come to reunion. The expected emotional ROI of reunion is negative.

If my high shul were to be ended, I might be more likely to attend a reunion. The argument against is that they are erecting a new building for the shul, hence the brick-and-mortar emotional memories are broken. Such things are important. When I visit the college campuses I have attended part of my visit is a sight and smell tour. And the smells of that old high shul are not as endearing as the aromas of chemistry and physics labs.

Besides, I expect the reunion of a class of a disintegrated high shul would have a rather strained, pathetic, waiting-to-die aspect of On The Beach. The need to make merry would extinguish any vestige of joy.

But somehow all this seems one of those riches of being human.

, , , , ,

Salary Sadistics

While I’m blathering about overcoming statistics, I may as well heap some praise on a blot [Link] by Alexa Harrington who blogs rather brilliantly at “Educated Nation.” The root of the attraction may be found in this quote:

“The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000); Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000); Aerospace Engineering ($87,000); Chemical Engineering ($86,000); Electrical Engineering ($85,000); Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000); Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with median earnings of $80,000). “

What makes this riveting is not per se the correlation (oh, the horror!) of college discipline (degree) with earnings. This type of presentation has been around of a very long time, at least since I was in high shul and was surveying what I wanted to major in. Not that I paid very much attention beyond rejecting some of the things I wasn’t interested in – syntax and literature, e.g. – because of low pay, but it was the excuse, not the reason.

Rather, what makes this a big deal to me is that the statistical metric cited is the median [1] Too often when these statements of attribute and salary are presented, the salary is the maximum. The problem with this, even with the modern system of telling all children they are exceptional is that it gives an absolutely inaccurate depiction of the job.

I started thinking about this earlier this past week out when FD SCP was watching one of those ‘talent’ contest programs on the audiovisual electromagnetic receiver (before I stomped out in disgust looking for a Simethicone capsule.) I got to thinking and came up with this (hopefully representative) gedanken statistics. For every person that is successful as an entertainer, there are ten thousand wannabes who aren’t. In a given year the wannabes spend $5K on their efforts to be an entertainer and the successful one earns $10M. In terms of the statistics of this data set:

  • The maximum is $10M;
  • The mean is -$4899.51;
  • and the median is -$5000.

Whence we see that trying to be an entertainer is obviously a good endeavor. If you’re a masochist.

The equivalent computation for a professional athlete is similar and left as an exercise for the reader.

The other nag I have about these presentations, including this one, sadly, is that that they don’t tell me the standard deviation. If they did, then I could calculate the probability of earning less than enough to live on, which might make a reasonable definition of failure.

I had a colleague in college. He had a golf scholarship the first three years. Played very well, seated in the top 500 golfers in the country. Then he sat down and looked at what he could do with that. If he worked 80 hours a week he could about make poverty income. So he gave up golf, buckled down and got a useful degree and lives a nice life now. And he gets to golf on weekends. Same handicap but makes a lot more than the club professional.

[1]  For the bogs among us, the median is the data value least different from the mean (expected value) of the data set. It has the merit of having real instance which the mean may not have, especially in a small data set.

, , ,

Client Captivity

I have discussed the Four Ts before so I will not reiterate today. By far the hardest of the four to teach is Thoughts, partly because it is close to one of those things that can only be learned, and partly because the teacher has an obligation not toimpose their acanonicals on their students. Nonetheless, occasionally professors would take time amidst a hectic (redundant?) lecture to offer tidbits of what transpires in the mind of a member of the discipline. I can recall one of my professors in graduate shul saying one spring day, “Physicists transcend correlation.”

This was his variation, for the discipline, of the old saw “correlation does not equal causation”, an his message was that what physicists do is to get down to causation. Cause and effect is, quite simply, one of the root things of science. It is also one of the things that certain disciplines do very poorly, operations research tends to be one of these, assuming correlation is causation and never asking questions aout actuality or whether the causation is uni- or bi-directional.

Anyway, this weekend I transcended correlation. The FireFox repository I subscribe to pushed out the new FireFox 5 and all of a sudden I didn’t have an executing browser any more. Try as I might, my FireFox would try to load and fail. Coincident with this I ran across an article [Link] in the Register about how Mozilla targets the individual user and MegaHard targets the organization. I found myself agreeing with the article but in an orthogonal azimuth to the tenor of poor abused organizations. I fear I, and probably Mozilla, have a Heinleinist attitude here. That is, stupidity is its own evolutionary reward. Winess Hillary Clinton and the Yankee government state department. Those who will not think for themselves abandon their humanity and accept slavery. 

The transcendance of correlation is that by accepting a software client as a dependency we make ourselves captives, hence the title of this blot. To illustrate, back when I was working for Yankee government, I had to travel rather more than I liked or made sense, and some of the travel I had to do was to conferences. These conferences were often l=held in large, semi-isolated conference hotels. From the standpoint of a conference they were good, a comfortable hotel with good meeting facilities, and you could fly to the city they were in and take a shuttlebus to and from the hotel so you didn;t have to worry with a rental car. The problem was that while the cost of staying at the hotel was withing your daily limits, the cost of eating at the hotel was not – and you had nowhere else to go to eat. So you had to pay more for food than you could get reimbursed. And did I say that the food was overpriced. Supply and Demand. 

Anyway, we called this Food Captivity. Because you were a captive of the hotel and either ate their overpriced food or starved.

Client Captivity is something similar. Because you become the cpative of a software client you have to maintain their standards for your computer and OS. The best example of this I can think of is MegaHard Office. Each of its components has a captivity factor: EXCEL has lots of feature- Visual asic, e.g. – that set it apart from other spreadsheets and if you use one of those features you just about have to use Windows. Similar situations exist with POWERPOINT and WORD although these captivities tend to be social and organizational rather than feature oriented even though both have too many such.

As I have commented previously, the more competent the user, the more likely they are to have this situation occur that there is at least one client they depend on that binds them to a set of hardware and software. Only the Zen User transcends his and routinely finds a way to get beyond the cloying slavery of clients.

When FireFox failed this weekend Isoon amassed a litany of notes of things that I depended on that browser for. Not all are browser functions, such as reminders. And yes, I could do the same with a calendar program but ReminderFox does it better. Despite all my efforts to wean myself off of EXCEL and SCIENTIFIC WORD and SIGMAPLOT and …., I found myself confronting a dependence on a client that was supposed to work regardless. FireFox after all is the browser jewel in the diadem of Linux, and it failed. 

Anyway, long story made short, I am now running IceCat. It does enough of what I need until Mozilla fixes the FireFox problem and I – maybe – go back to FireFox. But as Goethe said. “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger” or maybe smarter?

The first step to freedom is recognizing what chains you are wearing.

Pulpit Economics

Sundae again and I find myself once more cleaning out tabs. This task is somewhat reduced since the release of FireFox 5 render it unusable on my desk box. The beast will not even boot! So while I ponder my alternatives, I have a reduced work load, the loss of some intriguing articles, and a great load of frustration.

On the brighter side, I read in Nature [Link] that open access journals are growing at 0.2 per annum while conventional closed journals are only growing at 0.35 per annum. Sadly the discussion is all about economics and not merit which is discouraging as well as confounding. The cost of a web based journal is less than half of a conventional paper journal, mostly because of the cost of labor and materials. But for-profit publishers have to make that profit and this raises the question of can we continue to associate an activity such as science with the rejection mechanisms of the marketplace? The basic idea of open access is that the material published is supposed to be accessible by anyone and if this is associated with profit-making what happens to access when the profit gets too low. This uncertainty cannot, should not, be tolerated. Abolish for-profit journals!

Next, I see [Link] that the Tanzanian government has either bowed to international pressure or come to its senses and has canceled efforts to build a road through the Serengeti. Occasionally, it seems, people can actually do smart things, and when governments do them it is doubly noteworthy. The problem with this road is that it would have disrupted migration of several rare/endangered species and hence made them rarer/more endangered. And the only reason to put in the road was economic.

Much as I admire the economic marketplace model for what it has done – once you strip away the self-service propaganda – as we rush on towards extinction we are going to have to give some thought to how we are going to operate in a society where survival is once more paramount?

Self-serving Quote

"People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively." David McCulloch

One of my colleagues, Force Spring Constant, loaned me an article on this historian and I was attracted to this statement since it so strongly upheld my own analyses and prejudices. It also bring clarity to the domain of educationalists. In those grades where what is taught is ‘common’ knowledge – elementary shul - then a person with an educationalist degree/certification is quite competent, assuming that is, that they have the common knowledge but when it comes to the technical subjects taught in high shul, especially the nerdish subjects, a degree in the subject is likely required. So the situation that should be extant is that below high shul, educationalists should have a degree in education but at or above that level they need real (?) degrees with some supplemental training in educational techniques.