Foot Covering in Gravity Well

Finally! Someone who can command the attention of the media and is not too politically correct to stay quiet. Chris Rapley, the new head of the British Science Museum has called for the elimination of a few billion people. [Link]

If we credit that a considerable component of global warming is due to people, then an obvious amelioration of global warming is fewer people. The first difficulty of this is that its not something any government wants to talk about – it smacks of Nazi Germany and death camps to them – although the thoughtful may compare it to the situation depicted in On The Beach more accurately. Still its a hair triggered land mine vis a vis almost any religious organization.

The matter of making a list of who gets eliminated is fraught with peril. Lets just try a short one:

  • Lawyers – after all Shakespeare already suggested  them;
  • All elected politicians and contributors to political parties – for obvious reasons;
  • Everyone with more than two children – they clearly have no respect for the planet;
  • Everyone who hasn’t had any children and is over 30 – they clearly have no interest in propagating the species or they have some disorder;
  • Everyone who is or has been in jail or prison for more than a week – clearly we don’t need criminals; and
  • Everyone who is unemployed and lacking resources – because they aren’t contributing to the species’ propagation.

For that matter, we could just identify everyone who isn’t doing enough for the species and give them a shovel and a black pill.

Enough. By now it should be pretty clear why this type of list is in the Too Hard pile.

An alternative would be to just pick a few places on the planet and nuke them. This has the triple advantage of drawing down the nuclear arsenal, eliminating excess people, especially those in areas that don’t contribute adequately to the global economy and maybe harbor terrorists, and providing a bit of nuclear winter to cool things off while the effects of population reduction kick in.

Don’t like that one? Then there’s always Swift’s solution to the “Irish problem”. This has the double effect of reducing the future population while also eliminating the carbon dioxide loading by switching from beef to long pig.

Hence, I think, Rapley’s suggestion that we get serious about birth control. He advocates instrumentality and education. We might however, consider some legal supports. Like organ farming for anyone convicted of damaging a birth control facility. Or a thousand dollar license to have a child, and a tax of fifty thousand dollars a year per child on all families with more than two children, or better, any parent who has had more than two children. If this is truly a capitalist market economy then perhaps we need to take a marketplace approach to saving the planet?

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Cartoons

I noticed on the ScienceBlogs [Link] something entitled “Science and The Simpsons”, which I perceive refers to the movie version of the television show. The perception arises from having caught glimpses of television commercials on the movie. Since the bloggers featured are not ones I normally look at, I moved on. The teaser seemed to be that the head writer of the movie, who has a maths degree, had written something in Nature (the journal.) Nature is not one of my journals that I normally read just because of lack of overlap with my interests and hence I don’t expend the equivalent of Yankee greenbacks on a subscription.

I do have to admit to not being a regular viewer of the Simpsons television program. I used to enjoy watching Futurama on occasion even though it was typically putrescent television science fiction and would abide a few minutes of Simpsons just before when I didn’t have a trip to the entropy cellar or food repository necessitated. Its value never surpassed the throw away distractive.

This is not to say that I do not enjoy cartoons. As a lad I enjoyed comic books, my favorite being those about the archaeologist Adam Strange who at least had whose science was totally fictionalized, although admittedly strained far beyond Young’s modulus. In cartoons proper however my favorite were Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. These to me were an ideal characterization of science: an unattainable goal – truth as portrayed by mystics and the superstitious; and an unrelenting if dogged scientist. This was indeed a role model for humanity. Indeed, I once event taught a course using the cartoons.

I used to teach part time at the Tennessee branch of U Alibam. Normally I taught quantum and classical mechanics at the post-master’s level but one time they asked me to teach sophomore classical mechanics (first semester). Basically, this is Newtonian mechanics. The course normally presupposes that the students have finished the calculus series of courses and have or are concurrently taking introductory (undergraduate) ordinary differential equations. As is often the case with physics courses, the real difficulty of teaching is getting the students to look past the maths and see some of the physics.

The matter was further complicated by most of the students being Vietnam veterans, considerably older than the usually fuzzy cheeked nineteen year old sophomore. When I announced that tests would be drawn from Coyote cartoons and watching them on Saturday morning was recommended as a study method, I got a bit of flak from the direct spoken vets. Such however are best responded to tacitly.

The interesting one however was from one married student whose wife was apparently a bit controlling. He requested a note to his wife about the Saturday morning thing. Bemused, I wrote him out the note and was subsequently pleased with his performance. He also told me it made a hit with his children that Daddy had to watch cartoons.

For a final exam I wheeled a projector into the classroom – this was long before VCRs, and announced that the exam was two hours long, that there was a Coyote cartoon on the reel that had at least twenty unphysical things on it and the rules were that they had to identify at least ten of these twenty and tell me succinctly but exactly in a paragraph why each was unphysical. If they wanted to put down more than ten, only their ten best would count towards the grade. And they could replay the cartoon as often as they wanted. And I left the room with the AV guy to run the projector behind, looking in every fifteen minutes or so but otherwise killing time with coffee and some work on electromagnetics of personal interest.

The next term I went back to graduate courses and a couple of years after that the department went through an accreditation spasm about the same time I got promoted to a manager on my real job so my regular teaching took back seat for a while.

But I was pleasantly surprised to note one of the children of the student who needed a note received a Ph. D. in physics from that institution. So much for cartoons.

Evolution in Action

I ran across a blog by Matt Asay [Link] about the IT blunder of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in acquiring a document management system. The paean here is that open source is a better choice  than proprietary and Matt lays a good logical  basis of argument.

Sadly its largely irrelevant. The problem is that Matt, like most folks, doesn’t understand government and  how it makes IT decisions.  Instead he sees  a waste of $3M as a BIG bad thing.  I see it as a  small bad thing.

Until a few years ago if a government agency or office wanted a document management system, they would go out and hire someone to survey the requirements, assess the problem, and write code. Maybe they would even pay for some support after the coding but since that smelled a lot like personal servitude it probably wouldn’t happen courtesy of the  attorneys and procurers.

The only requirements that were considered were those of management, and the structure of the data was always simplified to what the programmers wanted it to be rather than what law, regulation, and business practice dictated was how it had to be done and how the government folks who handled the data actually did. Herein lies the demise of most of these systems.

If the system replaced an existing one, this usually boded a bit better for success than if it was an initiative. Regardless, it soon emerged that the data workers did no more than they absolutely had to with the system. If they used the system interactively to accomplish their work then it was usually a moderate success. If its only function was to provide summary reports to management, no amount of coercion would suffice to make it practicable. Hence something like 0.75 of such systems were abandoned, either actually or effectively, within three years of inauguration. Bottom line, organization worse off than before and a lot more than $3M down the hole.

This actually got better when networked PCs first came about, largely because IT had not been centralized as an economy of scale. As a result, each work area had to know something about IT and when some overambitious manager decided to generate his next promotion by introducing some information automation, one of two things happened. The first was that he did like folks had done before, hired a contractor to turn his requirements into code and write code. The result was that he usually got a black eye because the information savvy work areas put his Rube Goldberg to rest even faster. The second was the manager put representatives of his work areas to the task of overseeing the design of the code and then there was a product they had bought into and hence it limped along for a few years.

Then IT became centralized and decided it had to dumb down the users to make its job easy. The result was that the IT folks replaced the contractor in developing the requirements and assessing the problem. Little or no attention was paid to the users because they’re ignorant and just drones anyway, at least in those IT shops that don’t engage with their users as customers (or at least consumers if you favor the cat food model.) The IT went out and surveyed the commercial software and picked the best and installed. They might even hire the software contractor to do this. In many agencies this would have to be competitive, so it was a case of letting creative marketing guys in the companies tell you how great their software met your requirements and how much cheaper it was than anyone else’s.

Of, and open source? Forget it. There are laws and regulations that the Yankee government cannot use unpaid for software.

Right of Copy

J. F. C. Fuller is sometimes quoted as saying

Noting is more alien to the mind of the military monk than change.

A meaningful paraphrase that applies here might be

Nothing is more orthogonal to the ways of the politician than science.

I Stumbled upon a blog [Link] that led to an article by Cambridge U doctoral candidate where he develops a calculation of the optimal length of copyright protection. The magic answer is 14 calendar years.

This number sounds about right, indeed it is not too far of from the original 17 adopted in the Yankee republic. It even seems to reflect an argument that the greater the rate of technological change the less time copyright protection sustains technical change.

But will it have any effect on the Yankee congress. Will the corporate dictatorship of intellectual property be reversed? The world wonders.

Reason

My sentient regular readers (Yes, Virginia, I am quite aware that is redundant.) will have noted an absence of blots yesterday. This was the result of my spending most of the day wrestling with a rather interesting modeling problem.

In recent weeks I have been working on a variety of collision problem associated with the spread of disease. As many are aware the biology community as a whole, and the medical community as a component thereof, are quite unmathematical. Nonetheless, there are considerable previous efforts on maths models of disease. None of these models however were developed using general rate theory, a recent development that substantially derives from functional theory. Hence I was asked to give a bit of a look at such problems using general rate theory.

One of the most neglected aspects of disease modeling is the spatial aspects of this, and it is here that my blogging attention capacity was diverted yesterday. In brief, most of the day was spent working on a particular transport model. Details to follow but overall a mentally stretching day.

For those who missed my drivelous wit and erudition, I shall endeavor harder in future. Maybe.

College Foibles

I note two articles, both in the Hew Yawk Times, and hence of needing some filtering to remove components of social engineering and liberal species sapping. The first, [Link] deals with teaching the underprivileged, too often an inaccurate synonym for African American in this “great metropolitan newspaper, how to write college essays that will get them attention for admission. The second, [Link] deals with the developing practice of some colleges to charge differential fees for some courses of study.

The entrance essay is a requirement that has evolved since SCP applied for undergraduate shul in the mid ’60’s. I can only say that this is one of several educational trends that I am thankful to be “grandfathered” from. Despite the fact that I have written many papers published in refereed journals, refereed and unrefereed proceedings, technical reports, letters, and the like, including two nerd books, I can admit to having feeling of severe and acoustic dyspepsia at the thought of the essay. I admit to writing several as both a high shul and undergraduate student, all in conjunction with some English syntax or literature class and all abominations.

I suffer from many faults. One of these faults is that I believe communication with language, written or oral, should be as error and noise free as possible. Another fault is that communication should be just that, I should impart information of value to someone else. Hence, I have had enormous difficulty with essays on vacuous non-subjects such as what I did on my summer vacation – I read a lot of books, and did less than pleasant and enjoyable things at the behest of my parents such as mowing grass and other household chores, abided the antic irritative intrusions of my younger brother, and participated in a “family” vacation trip that was noteworthy for its boredom, discomfort, and actual dyspepsia – or what I want to be when I grow up – I don’t want to “grow up” and have mind and body sapping responsibilities that result from the inept, self serving administration of human society by the privileged and “those with a mission” – or what event made me a changed person – I was born; up until then I was warm and comfortable and satisfied; and since all I have been is put upon and persecuted; or I discovered maths and science and that there was something to existence other than sheer ignorance, emotionalism, illogic, and irrationality.

The modern college equivalent of this, according to the article, is about the applicant’s exposure to South American poverty. These essays undoubtedly come in two flavors, the one that blames their poverty on the absence of liberal democratic government and the depredations of oppressive privileged oligarchy, or the failure of the poor to practice the religious beliefs of the only true religion, whichever that one may happen to be.  Somehow these essays are never about poverty in Mississippi or on an Amerindian reservation. Somehow they never talk about poverty resulting from the barriers that belief, religious or political, places in the path of apoverty, or even that there may be forms of apoverty other than consumerism.

I am sure that the education mafia can give me a list of reasons why the essay is valuable, but I am not sure I can credit them or their arguments with value. Hence why I say I am happy to have grandfathered this requirement.

But I do think I understand the matter of differentials fees, mostly because I had to pay such when I was attending college. In those days, there was a fee for each course hour taken, and a separate fee for each laboratory component of a course. As a nerd student taking as much as a double load and half of the courses laboratory courses, my tuition fees were considerably higher that the business, arts, and education majors who skated by on the minimum number of hours to remain a student in good standing and hence secure from the clutches of the Selective Service Office. They however largely correctly, even overcorrected that imbalance by the costs of being a member of a party missioned fraternity or sorority.

The same was also the case with those studying engineering. In fact, some of their advanced laboratories had even higher fees. Both of us, engineering nerds and science nerds, had additional costs – lab gear, drafting equipment, slide rules, graph paper and engineering pads, Rapidiograph pens, and satchels to carry all of our gear about in. Where we struggled across campus with the impedimenta of several back-to-back classes, our non-nerd fellow students sauntered about with a solitary notebook and perhaps text under arm with widely temporally separated classes made livable by respites at local student watering holes or the comforts of their fraternity/sorority houses. But they did have to spend more money on fashionable clothes and shoes and fugicide – the latter since it was fashionable then for the fart boys to wear their Weejuns in Alibam humidity and heat without sox.

The rationale for the laboratory fees was the additional cost of the equipment and consumables – power and chemicals and the like – in the labs. The fees, while substantial, were clearly not adequate. The labs were as much about leaning how to get things done with inadequate, antiquated, and damaged equipment as they were about completing the experiments. Connecting the experiments to the coursework was a random and undirected process.

Now, with the nation dumbing itself down by such expensive programs as “Every Child Left Behind”, money for the colleges is even scarcer than before. This situation is enhanced by the (modern) republican war on science, the (modern) democrat apathy of science, and the commercialization of the faculty that leads them to form independent corporation to avoid college overhead fees. In this mode, it only makes sense for the colleges to try to make up the shortfall somehow. It makes little sense to charge additional fees for unpopular courses of study – this just drives away more students and increases the size of the albatross to be worn for the sake of accreditation. Better to charge more for the popular courses of study, a practice long familiar to colleges with strong athletics and the practice of scalping tickets.

Somehow I have my doubts of the distribution of the revenue. In the day, I noted that the football team had its own dormitory and several other “perks”. The only benefits I could see from the monies incurred by the team’s prowess was a new dormitory every three years – with the old one demoted to ordinary (athletically underendowed) students – and improvements to the administrative instrumentality of the college. The science and engineering classrooms still had forty year old desks and the labs still had the same deficient equipment.

Nonetheless, I cannot escape thinking that the problems derive from inside as much as outside.

Wondering

This is somewhat old – Thursday – but I didn’t run across it till this weekend. It seems the CEO of the Roman Catholic Church has stated that there is substantial scientific proof of evolution.[Link] One has to wonder if one of his minions whispered “Galileo” in his ear?

Then he goes on to say (slightly abridged and edited):

creationism and evolution are presented as alternatives that exclude each other. This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favour of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.

In SCP terms, science and religion span different spaces.

He has also come out in favor of planetary preservation,
We must respect the interior laws of creation, of this Earth, to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive
It seems this Pope is making more sense than his recent predecessors, or at least is more direct spoken. One wonders however if his real concern is for the planet and the species or the health of his “one true” church?

He recently reinstalled mass in Latin, a source of great comfort to those who want religious services to be as unintelligible and impressive as possible, as well as those few of us who enjoy both the ritual and the translation. He recently announced that only the Roman Catholic church was a “true” church, implying that everyone who isn’t Roman Catholic, except maybe the Orthodox Catholics – maybe, is doomed to Tartarus. This announcement has gladdened and enriched the lives of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, …….

His earlier pronouncements have dealt with the dire consequences of people straying from the church, failure of morality, and other such. Now he pronounces the folly of creationism as science. Can we trust the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the people who brought us Inquisition and Simony, among other things, on the face of these remarks? Or do we delve deeper and wonder if this is merely a ploy to soothe those alienated from religion by the antics of the creationists and intelligent design advocates? We might well recall that difference between the liberal promises made to obtain conversion and the dire punishments of the converted for straying.

But I still take heart that the planets foremost religionist recognizes publically that religion is not about falsifability.