Joe Physicist

It falleth. Dihydrogen oxide that is. From the sky. Which is itself a concept of much depth and breadth. But the liquid was not too obnoxious save for its diffraction on the windscreen of my motorcar.

And the gym was mediocre, which is about as good as it gets given the management’s incompetence and the overall paucity of good sense that abides in the organization. The weight bouncers were more than a bit arrogant this morning and there were moments when I was glad the gym is next the hospital even though that establishment is not greatly better than the gym. In competence, that is. Same management, of course.

And being two day, it was science podcast day and a poor representation of such at that. First I had to listen to some fellow from the Large Hadron Collider, a name that dares any male to misspell it, arguing that the folks who work there are just ordinary men-in-the-street.

Hardly. Just being a physicist is offsetting given that the number of physicists in the Yankee repulbic is o(2.3E4) and the population is o(3.1E8) which gives us a fraction of ~ 7E-5. Now given that most people have about 250 friends and acquaintances the probability, simply estimated, that any random person “knows” a physicist is o(2E-5). This is, of course, warped since physicist condense, like bosons, and so one wither knows no physicists or several.

So based on frequency of occurrence, physicists are not common.

Could the argument be construed to be one of temperament and behavior? That doesn’t seem to hold dihydrogen oxide either. All physicists have to do maths which distances them from the algebra fearing herd. They have quite specialized knowledge and are generally considered to not behave as the herd does. Yes, they still drive motorcars – in the main, and they wear clothes and eat food. They are humans. But a great fraction of them are nerds and aspects of autism spectrum are more common among physicists than in the general population.

So I come back to my original head shake that the contention that the fellows working at the LHC are average joes is specious and farcical.

Note that this is not a statement of elitism. Haven’t argued here that physicists are better than other people. Just that they are outliers in the spectrum of humanity.

But it is a bit disturbing that a physicist would make such a ridiculous contention. Probably this fellow is an administrator whose physics neurons have been rotted by bureaucracy. At least we can hope.

This must be a Weird Saturn’s day. The rings are askew? or Askew? Yes, bad pun. Or punal pun?

Anyway, I was reviewing the morning web sites and ran across an article [Link] on io9 that presented me this picture

which gave me all sorts of thoughts about horrible movies and horrible art based on them. But I visited the cited web site and ran across this [Link]

The picture is of some wire frame “art” of Feynman diagrams made by Edward Tufte. Tufte is, of course, the righteous archenemy of powerpoint. And every nerd on Tellus knows what Feynman diagrams are, is not what they do. But I never associated them before with paper napkin holders. Which is what these look like. 

Feynman and paper napkins. I can see the association. He liked a good time and much good nerdery has first been written on a napkin – or table cloth. See George O. Smith’s “Venus Equilateral” on the intellectual property niceties of napkin inscriptions.

But somehow it struck my amusement neurons that Tufte, the master of vistual presentation, would be doing paper napkin holders. 

Alienation or Prevarication?

Which is worse: a journalist interviewing another journalist on a technical subject; or a journalist interviewing a STEM on that subject? Bear in mind that the STEM has to recast his knowledge in what he thinks is understandable by his visualization of Joe Public, and that the second journalist has taken what a STEM has told him/her and cast into journalist-speak.

This question arises because this morning when I listened to an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” that covered the health perils of sedentaryism, the moderator did this by interviewing another journalist. Not a physician, nor a physiologist, or any STEM. A journalist.

The response to his questions varied from a cacophony of cliche to astounding inaccuracies. The most egregious was the definition/description of what an accelerometer is. If I had not know the definition before, I would not know now. I was unsure for several minutes whether to weep or laugh. I finally selected the former.

This is not news. The vast preponderance of observational data replicates this abysmal situation. In the mode, journalists are STEM incompetents and are destructive in representing STEM to the public. 

The other side is not without peril. Most STEM try hard to communicate with the public and fail miserably. They either cannot simplify or simplify too much, in either case alienating their audience. 

But the question is, which is worse, alienation or error? 

This is a great unpleasantness. When I was a bairn I read several quite good STEM books written by journalists. No more, at least that I can find. Evidently competent journalists are an extinct species.

STEM NERD Writing 1

A fair start to the day. Lower temperatures. Almost pleasant. And I listened to part of an episode of the “Pen Addict” [Link] podcast during my constitutional. One of my colleagues, Total Angular Momentum Magnetic Inductance, put me on this, which I share with another common colleague, Magentic Inductance Force, because we are all rather interested in pens and/or pencils and paper. The podcast started out as an attention diversion but after I commented a couple of times on the hosts’ grammar, it improved considerably and the podcast is – part of the time – enjoyable and informative.

I listen with some latency so the recent announcement of the podcast shifting (?) has caused some stress. And it has provoked me to reflect a bit on my own history with pens and writing and such.

So while this is not becoming a penphenalia blog, I am going to be doing some blots on the subject. Somewhere between reminiscence and history.

When I grew up, basically in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, I lived a pencil existence. We didn’t use pens much in schule. Even in high schule. But I do recall that I greatly disliked “wooden” pencils. They had to be sharpened. That meant you had to get up and walk over to the sharpener – a manual device in those days – and use it. I am not very mechanical. I have struggled all my life to learn to use tools, almost always unsuccessfully. In the Sowth this type of handicap is seen as gender incompetence. No male is tool incompetent.

Also, when you go to the pencil sharpener, people look at you. Not agood thing for an introvert in schule. Extro handle it naturally; intros get nightmares and contemplate suicide, or planetary destruction.

I recall getting my first mechanical pencil at about age seven. About the same time I got my first slide rule. It was a gift from my paternal grandfather. He was an insurance executive and got lots of pens and pencils given him and since this was an advertising pen I suspect it was a birthday gift of convenience. But successful and exciting and pleasing all the same.

It took the large – 2 mm? – leads of the day and had a clutch mechanism similar to those used in drafting pencils. The body was green plastic, a very warm feeling pen and not uncomfortable in my juvenile hand. I can’t recall what happened to it. Probably superseded or broken but the loss was emotionally decoupled so it could not have been traumatic. But that pen strated me on a road of NOT using wooden pens. The only time I used wooden pens after that was when I took those horrible standardized tests with the optical scoring forms for the selected answers. The ones where one had to use a “Number 2″ (what hardness is that?) “lead” (not graphite-clay mixture) pencil. The teachers were always pedantic about reminding of that I would have to go buy pencils specially for the exam. And abandon them as soon as the exam was over.

But I didn’t use a pocket protector. Never associated with anyone who used one until I went to work for the Yankee Army.

And there were pens along the way, but I don’t recall them. Pencils were the thing until I got to college. Film at Eleven.

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Feces and FORTRAN

Two days now without precipitation. A statement like that wouldn’t normally be joyous, except around Noah time, perhaps, but it is. And the walk in the park this morning was passable. Even the podcast episode had relatively few grammar obnoxities. So I can do a bit of wandering about this morning.

Given the general tenor it seems appropriate to note that Drum Castle in Scotland is the seat of an investigation into fourteenth century micturation and defecation. [Link] Nothing says real archaeology like mucking about in cess pits and the like. Not an activity we can easily picture the hatted one performing.

On a similar azimuth, a U Virginia study [Link] indicates that the kids who are “cool” in high schule are more likely to have social and emotional problems – like being criminals – than the uncool kids. Nerds score again! Bogs get sucked down!

Further, the founding ancestor of Linux has defecated upon the idea that everyone should learn how to code.[Link]  The quote is worth presenting

“I actually don’t believe that everybody should necessarily try to learn to code,” Torvalds said. “I think it’s reasonably specialized, and nobody really expects most people to have to do it. It’s not like knowing how to read and write and do basic math.”

since the majority of folks can’t do basic maths. The article also contrasted to the English government coding mandate

‘the idea that “getting to know code is really important” and that “not just rocket scientists” should learn programming.’

The problem is that coding isn’t rocket science. One of the advantages of being a rocket scientist is that one has a fairly good idea of what rocket science is and basically coding, in and of itself, isn’t. It’s a tool, like a Craftsman adjustable spanner, or an integral table, but that’s about it. You do need coding to get to Mars but coding, in and of itself, won’t get you there.

In fact, scientists don’t do the kind of coding that is associated with the program. We do problem solving, number crunching coding, not people caring coding. Perhaps the best illustration of this difference is that we code in FORTRAN (and maybe a couple of other languages but FORTRAN is the intense one.) It’s not the same thing.

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Why We don’t do outreach

End of gym week, and happily there. With the departure of the educationalists for the summer the annoyances of seniors becomes more apparent. And we have a new early person who is downright nasty. I shan’t mention any further characteristics but this person is enough to make me want to go elsewhere. Queue breaker. Self-server. Arrogant. Haughty. Nekulturny in the fullest meaning of the term.

On a happier note, I ran across a rather tawdry article [Link] n a tee shirt web site entitled “10 Questions Still Baffling Scientists”. The questions are:

  1. Why Do People Spontaneously Combust?
  2. Why Do We Yawn?
  3. Why Do Placebos Work?
  4. What Was Life’s Last Universal Common Ancestor?
  5. How Does Memory Work?
  6. Can Animals Really Predict Earthquakes?
  7. How Do Organs Know When to Stop Growing?
  8. Are There Human Pheromones?
  9. What’s the Deal With Gravity?
  10. How Many Species Are There?

which is a mixed bag. And as usual with lists, I can’t avoid some comments.

  1. Who cares? Except bogs and some sort of really bored geek? This isn’t common and the discussions I have seen in the nerd literature are good enough for working purposes given we can’t do experiments.
  2. This is a moderately good one. The best I have heard on this are (a) quick burst of oxygen, and (b) a prelude to sleep reflex akin to leg jerk. But again, primarily a bog thing.
  3. This one comes down to lack of maths and lack of experimentation, IMHO.
  4. This one is a step above what-color-are-the-deity’s-eyes? level of question. It is probably one of those questions that can’t be answered so why waste time?
  5. Another lack of experimentation one.
  6. Not worth dignifying.
  7. This is a DNA question. Give it time.
  8. Not sure this one is worthy of any list.
  9. Lack of experimentation again, this time due to the magnitude of the effort.
  10. This one is so silly it isn’t worth dignifying.

Obviously, this is a I-hate-summer day. Selah.

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Air Bogs

Once more into week out. Foul mood. Spent yesterday with floorers redoing the spare bedroom and arguing with Scant City Memorial. At least the floorers were competent. And the constitutional was passable this morning.

Speaking of competent, I read that Eric Shinseki has resigned. I admit to great respect for this man. He has steadily taken on jobs with unsolvable problems and he has often solved them, or at least found work arounds. But it is not clear the VA has any solution nor work around other than it is just too big a problem. So there is no shame in failure; failure was assured. But the criticism is unjust and ill deserved. But he takes it because that is part of the job: try as hard as you can, perform well if not brilliantly, and be subjected to the indignation of the bogs who want more but can’t do an iota as well.

Gee, that puts him in company with Sokrates.

I also ran across this cartoon: [Link]

yesterday that seems pretty well apt. I don’t know that balloons are the most fun but they are quite intriguing, in company with bubbles and foams. And any balloon that told me about physics would be intriguing in that aspect doubly. So the first two boxes are quite good, but the third is the clunker. The reaction of the protagonist seems to be one of boredom or apathy. How can one be bored by such great stuff with so many azimuths ranging from human vision through quantum mechanics?

So what this cartoon is all about is boggery. Superficial interest so long as things are aintellectually entertaining – porn is good I should suspect? – but once real content appears the interest evaporates (sublimes?) with near infinite speed.

“Nothing is faster than the departure of bog interest.”

This may quite be why we shouldn’t try to do science outreach to bogs. It’s rather a waste and runs the risk of the same sort of vicious, gratuitous violence that Shinski has experienced.

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