Drunks and Cell Phone Users

A recent study, [Link] just published in a refereed journal, finds that the driving skills of folks using cell phones while driving are as impaired as the skills of drunkards.This is wonderful. It not only confirms what everyone who can observe has seen, but suggests an direct treatment.

Congress Critters and Legislature Lizards! Amend the drunk driving statutes to include cell phone users with the same penalties as drunks.

Constables of the Law! Enforce the Law!

Scientists too Busy?

I read in the BBC feed [Link] that (presumably) British scientists are too busy getting money to reach out to students and the public on matters of science. A majority also thought such outreach activites were a waste of time and effort.I have to wonder how the survey instrument was messed up. Or, if it wasn’t, how to get the proper lubricants to these folks to get their ears disengaged from their anal sphincters.

I have found that many academic scientists and engineers in this country (not just a Alabama although it is definitiely the case here,) don’t want to fool with outreach except as they are coerced by their public affairs people or they think it will help get them a grant.

I have found that many industrial scientists and engineers (mostly the latter, industry doesn’t want unproductive scientists) don’t want to do outreach because they have been told not to by their management. Industry outreach is most public relations stuff, done by managers and public affairs people.

I have found that many government scientists and engineers don’t want to do outreach because its contrary to policy. Simply put, its not expressly encouraged and is thus forbidden.

Despite this, there are many academic, industry, and government scientists and engineers who want to do outreach. The problem is that no one wants outreach.

Scientists and engineers aren’t wanted as guest speakers or even volunteers in the classroom or clubs. These activities have set schedules and standards to meet and extraneous scientists and engineers would detract from those requirements. Besides, the scientists and engineers might say something that isn’t in the syllabus and isn’t politically correct. It might even offend some religious fanatic parent or administrator.

(I can just see P. Z. Myers (Pharyngula) coming to speak to an Alabama high school biology class or club. Hey Dante, what’s the temperature in Hell? Has it thawed yet?)

Scientists and engineers aren’t wanted as guest speakers at civic clubs because no one gives a bacterium’s sphincter. They want guest speakers that will talk about something interesting like making money, finding religious faith, or having a positive attitude.

Scientists and engineers aren’t wanted as guest speakers at professional organizations unless they pay for the privilege. Most professionals are boring, and probably wrong, so let’s listen to some politician on how to get money from the government.

When I was a young man, Joseph Heller wrote a book about the Great Patriotic War entitled Catch 22. The subject became a catch phrase. Well, the Catch 22 of all this is we don’t care about science and engineering any more. All we care about is money and consuming.

A Typical (?) Day in Nawth Alabama

As Mr. Rogers used to sing, Its a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood. In reviewing the RSS feeds this mawnin, I decided I should bore y’awl with the happenings of a typical day in Nawth Alabama.The news, as usual is dominated by our mighty neighbor to the Nawth, Huntsville, home of the Yankee Army’s Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Typically, NASA gets the bulk of the publicity, mostly because something like 50% of their budget is for publicity. The bulk of the money spent and the work done is by the Yankee Army and the Department of Defense.

The lion’s share of this money is connected with research, development, and procurement of new wonder weapons and systems like missiles and helicopters. In fact, most of Huntsville is paid for by the Army and Department of Defense. Its the richest (except maybe Homewood), most educated (mostly Yankees with degrees from other places than U Alabama and Auburn), and egotistical town in Alabama. Well except maybe Homewood, which is pretty obnoxious.

The legal situation in Huntsville yesterday was typical. [Link] INTERGRAPH, a home grown information company that can’t make up its mind whether to be a defense contractor, a hardware company, or a software company, or a mixture, decided to sue Fujitso, Toshiba, and NEC, alleging infringement of its Clipper patents. Simultaneously, the Yankee government is coming down hard on a (former) Huntsville captain of constables on possessing and transporting child pornography.

I know that’s only two anecdotes, but do you see the pattern?

Both of these articles came out of the Huntsville Times, which is the premiere newspaper in Huntsville, having pushed all the others out of business. Except the all ads tabloids. AS a result, the Times can change for anything they want. You call them on the phone and they want a credit card number to charge the time they spend talking to you.

On a state level, the Yankee Government got a guilty verdict for the previous Governor of Alabama yesterday on charges of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice. [Link] They also got the head of HealthSouth. But they let the minions go. Now we’ll see if they make the governor crawl on his knees to Canterbury?

Oh, for the days when Alabama governors went on state-wide television drunk and blabbered about being a thief. Unlike today when the governor comes on television and tells you how much money he saved the taxpayers?

Yes, it was a quiet day in Nawth Alabama. No church burnings by college students. (I used to think there were more churches in Alabama than restrooms. I was wrong! Turns out 78% of all the rest rooms in Alabama, including home facilities, are in churches. And a few synagogues and meeting houses!) No abortion clinic bombings by religious fanatics. (They just use the court system now to starve the clinics into extinction.)

They did hold the preliminaries for the Alabama Junior Miss pageant yesterday, but that was in South Alabama. Gave out a record amount of scholarships. Evidently the time spent getting ready for those pageants keeps you from studying and getting an academic scholarship. Anyway, it assures the state institutions of higher education of ample enrollment in cosmetology, education, home economics, and law.

Pageants are the great women’s sport in Alabama. Those who can do, and those who can’t watch. The great male sport is automobiles. The ideal is NASCAR. All those who can do, and those who can’t drive to work as if they can. No wonder we have global warming. It isn’t the soccer moms in California, its the NASCAR addicts in Alabama.

Not Just in Jawga

Usually, I do not like to cite the New York Times. While the reason are legion, their Imaginarypolitik is such that it is distressing merely to read them. Nonetheless, Sigma Xi recently cited them in their Science In The News E-mail and the story was rather too accurate to pass up, even with its political innuendos.
It seems that there was a hullabaloo in Georgia over the teaching of Evolution. [Link] While I find this persisting nonsense over Intelligent Design tedious, I have no objections to what people want to believe so long as it doesn’t get in the way of reality. Sadly, the appreciation of reality is fast degenerating, as evidenced by this article. Equally sadly, the state of democracy in America is going with it, evidently.
For example, consider the following communication from a student’s parent to the teacher:

One parent asked how money could be wasted on a subject like evolution: “As budget cuts continuously chip away at our children’s future of a good, quality college-ready education,” she wrote, “I would think there would be more educational, more worthwhile and certainly more factual learning that could be taught.” She requested that her son be permitted to “bide his time elsewhere” when evolution was taught.

One has to wonder if the parent attended college, and if so where and what her major was? I rather doubt she attended either of the Alabama football schuls, but can speculate that she must have majored in either Home Economics or Business to avoid having to pass a science elective. Or possibly she was so offended by an actual glimpse of reality that she has been in denial since?
Evidently this was not the only parent to ask questions about Why Evolution? as the teacher in question was pilloried by her principal and superintendant:

On April 25, 2005, during a meeting about parent complaints with her principal, Rick Conner, she (the teacher) recalled: “He took a Bible off the bookshelf behind him and said, ‘Patty I believe in everything in this book, do you?’ I told him, ‘I really feel uncomfortable about your asking that question.’ He wouldn’t let it go.’ ” The next day, she said, in the lunchroom, “he reached across the table, took my hand and said: ‘I accept evolution in most things but if they ever say God wasn’t involved I couldn’t accept that. I want you to say that, Pat.’ “;


Four days after her encounter with the principal, Ms. New (the teacher) was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching evolution. “We have to let parents ask questions,” Mr. Moye told her. “It’s a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions.”

Ms. New said the parents, “badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators.”

Babs Greene, another administrator, “asked if I was almost finished teaching evolution,” Ms. New recalled. “I explained to her again that it is a unifying concept in life science. It is in every unit I teach. There was a big sigh.”

In the first case, one has to wonder when the Constitution was amended to remove the separation between Church and State? In the second we have to wonder if the administrator is a graduate of a business college, or did their education college not require any science courses?
Happily, the immediate matter was finally resolved by the existence of a Georgia state standard that mandated the content of biology curricula. More distressing however, is the existence of such a standard, clearly necessary given this erosive threat to accurate education. No wonder we feel it necessary for such programs as Every Child Left Behind.
Increasingly we find a clear division between bad education and good education. Right now that division is between high school (and state owned junior colleges) and research colleges and universities. The division is almost completely correlated (> 0.90) with the degree credentials of the faculty. High school (and many state owned junior college) faculty are degreed educators. They have degrees in education, not English, History, Science, or Maths.
Research university faculty are almost entirely degreed in their fields. The exception are a few multi-disciplinary faculty. Indeed, the only faculty with education degrees are those who teach in the education college.
Most of the blame for this cannot be laid upon the teachers. They are products of an environment that mandates that if one wants to teach pre-college courses, one must have an education degree. If anything, their dedication to the propagation of the species (an evolutionary concept!) is, in the main, laudable.
Indeed, I am loathe to lay blame. Simply put, every analysis of the situation that I have made has indicated a degree of complexity that defies any simple assessment of cause and effect.
As a rule, such problems of this level of complexity are generally alleviable only by a paradigm shift. If we are smart enough and strong enough to do it before the collapse.
This may be our equivalent of drinking wine out of lead goblets.

Earthworms and Constables

Segmented earthworms are members of the phylum annelidae. They are hermaphroditic with the male and female sexual organs located in diferent parts of their bodies. To repoduce, two earthworms align themselves so that each is pointed in the opposite direction so that each may align his respective sexual organ with the opposide gender organ of the other.

Have you ever noticed how vehiclular constables align their patrol cruisers (automobiles) when they are conferring? The obvious reason is so that each is visually observing the rear approach of the other.

Nonetheless, there is a commonality of appearance here that is somewhat amusing in the irrelevancy of the comparison.

The Aroma of Teleology

Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology [Link] have developed an odor recorder. The device uses 15 microsensors, each tuned for different types of odor, to generate a recordable signature of an odor. They then use a library of 96 chemicals to reproduce the odor on demand.This is really wonderful news because unlike sight and hearing, we don’t have a single model of the physical basis of smell.

The two theories I am familiar with are both electronic and the last time I checked, unconfirmed. The first was based on direct chemical measurement of the odors. The human nose is a venturi. It has a bottleneck where air coming in/going out is compressed and accelerated. I believe there is a heat exchange to warm incoming air and remove heat from outgoing air.

In addition, there are projections that hang down from the top of the venturi passage. These projections contain sensors and cause turbulent air motion, which increases the time that odor molecules spend around the sensors. The nature of the sensors is (or has been) under discussion. One theory holds that the sensors directly measure the chemical properties of the odor molecules. This is geometry dependent, the chemical analog of a jigsaw puzzle. The other common theory holds that the sensors are optical and sense the rotational infrared emissions of the odor molecules as they move through the venturi.

So why is this odor recorded wonderful? Because it may help determine the actual physical basis of smell. To make an analog from history, we didn’t learn a lot about hearing until Bell developed the telephone and Edison developed the phonograph. The resulting explosion of audio technology permitted better measurements that led to better understanding of how hearing works.

The same may apply to smell.

In fact, there are basically two types of discovery process. One is that the instrumentation gets better and something hitherto considered to be experimental noise is seen to have structure. The other is that someone looks at the universe differently.

Ease the Burn

Stanford University Medical Center [Link] has announced that it isn’t what you eat that causes you heartburn, its how much you eat and how you sleep.Their recent clinical studies indicate that there is no good correlation between what one eats and heartburn. There is some indication that one may ameliorate heartburn by reducing the degree of obesity and by elevating one’s head in bed.

On an anecdotal level, I can attest to these. Admittedly I lost weight because of a shift in diet after a heart attack and elevated my head for sleeping to decrease snoring, at the behest of my wife.

In my experience heartburn has been more the result of stress than ingestion.