Watering the Tree

Bob Nathan, the Pedlar Emeritus of Huntsville, sent me this in e-mail:

If you go to the web site http://www.letssaythanks.com/ you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq . You can’t pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services. It is FREE and it only takes a second. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the soldiers received a bunch of these? I sent mine, now you send one too!

PS: At the site, click home & you will see the cards available.

I have been. I challenge you to go as well. Whether you support the government or not, the troops are deserving of support. Or did you learn nothing from Vietnam?

Once More Smart Cars

As long as I can remember, someone has been pushing some idea for making cars smarter. When I was growing up in the aftermath of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system, which we now seem to think is a part of Nature, the idea was for a smart highway that would control the cars driving on it. While much of the technology was around the information handling aspects were pretty steep for 15kb computers like IBM and UNIVAC mainframes.

Now the idea is resurfacing using vehicle to vehicle communication. [Link] Various versions and features are being considered but one wonders if human nature is.

Automobile racing is the American equivalent of gladiatorial games, fast replacing (American) football as the most popular form of mahem. The driving practices of American drivers are increasingly reflecting this, spiced with a large dollop of impatience.

Given this, is it politically feasible for us to adopt an automated automobile system? And if so, will we be able to punish those who disconnect their systems and cause damage, even death?

Good News on Global Warming

Just as everyone but the Yankee Government was getting concerned about Global Warming, I got reminded that it would be a transient phenomena.

Specifically, we can anticipate Global Warming to end sometime in 2035 or 2036.

Why the uncertainty? Well, it depends on when the asteroid Apophis (#99942) impacts the Earth. [Link]

The current projections are that Apophis will impact in the Pacific Ocean and inundate the West Coast of the United States. Sadly this will be about 5 years too late to save the grape orchards.

If Apophis hits land, the explosive ejecta will likely be sufficient to cause “Nuclear Winter” and reverse, at least temporarily, the warming effect of Global Warming.

Why do I keep thinking about the Tennessee legislature passing a bill making the value of pi three?

The Terrible Twos

Parents quickly discover when they first have children that the year after the second birthday is often unpleasant. This is so marked that child rearing books, and presumably, child psychologists, refer to this as the terrible twos.

For physicists, its a bit different. The terrible twos refer to the number two. And they’re terrible because we keep getting the algebra wrong by a factor of two.

OK, occasionally its another integer, but usually its two. This appears to be related to Benford’s Law, [Link] which is the frequency distribution of occurrence of the digits 1-9. Most treatments of the law ignore zero, for some reason.

Since its a frequency distribution (integer or discrete probability density functionish – I’ll explain what a “functionish” is some other time,) its sum (integral) has to be one if it completely spans the state space or is properly normalized. We would suppose the digits 0-9 to be distributed more or less uniformly in their occurrence in numbers.

If we go to a maths handbook and examine (e.g.,) a logarithm table (we don’t care if it is natural or common,) we find that the distribution is not uniform. In fact, if we ignore the zero, which is a very classical thing to do in a Roman or Greek sense, and only look at the digits 1-9, then we find that the digit 1 is the most common, followed in succession of frequency sequentially.

Now something akin to this occurs in physics. Obviously, we don’t care if we make a mistake in a “1”, since its a one, after all. But we do care if we’re off by a factor of “2” or “3”.

But this distribution isn’t Benford’s because the “2” mistake is really the most common, much more than predicted by Benford’s Law.

If you know what the proper distribution is, LMK. If I get time to worry about it enough to figure it out, I’ll LYK.

Boo Yah for Chicago

Chicago has never been one of my favorite cities. Its big and cold in the winter and big and hot in the summer, but big and a bit dirty all of the time. I suspect the distaste derives from its being a city and when I was in graduate school down state where I had a teaching assistantship, I liked the undergrads from the rest of Illinois better than I liked the ones from Chicago.

In fact, the rural kids were almost like good Southrons. Except that they didn’t talk right and they went water skiing in highway borrow pits with maybe two feet of water in them.

Anyway, the Chicago Board of Aldermen, who seem to be on a bit of a Progressive tear these days, have passed an ordnance requiring “Big Box” stores to pay a “living wage.” [Link]

Wal Mart is seen as the chain most impacted by this since it effectively raises their cost of doing business by putting a higher floor on wages. Media speculations are that Wal Marts will relocate to the out-of-limits suburbs.

I have to applaud the Aldermen. I have watched Wal Mart crush the economies of too many small towns and ruin the budgets of numerous small cities. In the small Southron town where I live, if I am going to buy groceries (e.g.,) I essentially have to go to Wal Mart or drive to Huntsville.

Since Wal Mart continually revises their stockage to maximize their profit, they are notorious for ceasing to carry products for peripheral populations – like the aged, disadvantaged, or disabled. Their isles are so choked with displays one wonders how they survive an OSHA inspection? Their protestations and publicity of compassion and care are less believable even than those of cigarette manufactors.

They drive any business that shares product with them out by undercutting prices and generally reduce the employment opportunities in the community. And they are conspicuously absent in certain environments where they have no competition, like the African American sections of Chicago.

Numerous communities have tried direct bans on Wal Mart, to fall at the gavel of what passes for Yankee Government Justice. This approach is much better, IMHO. Yes, it will increase the cost of goods because it makes opportunity for stores of smaller scale, but some of that increased cost will be more jobs.

Sleeping Together Badly – 2

Professor Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy and her colleagues from Princeton University have determined that male marmosets who are fathers are smarter than non-fathers. [Link]

Notably marmosets are one of the FEW species where fathers contribute to the raising of offspring.

One of the other few is Homo Sapiens.

We may now observe that while sleeping together makes a man less smart, having children makes him smarter. So sleeping with a woman and having children with her sort of balances out.

Sort of. It appears the smartness things decreases with the number of children.

But this does seem to offer some insight into why humans practice “marriage”: sex appeal brings you together; sleeping together dumbs you down; having a child smartens you up; repeat the cycle with diminishing returns. Gee, a Pavlovian cycle!

But further consideration brings us to a more basic question: why do these discussions always seem to dwell on the theme of the male being entrapped?

Learnin Abilities

Professor Russell Poldrack, UCLA, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that distractions such as television and the like really are distractions. [Link]

This appears to provide scientific evidence of what we have known for several years. Horseplay and distraction while studying compromises the learning.

While explains, if not excuses, our children for knowing so little, except about television, video-games, and popular music.

Now if someone would just do a study on the effect of beer on learning.