A recent poll finds that the most common thing purchased on-line is books. [Link] This is a matter for some consideration. I suspect that books are a popular commodity on-line because they do not come in different sizes (paper versus hard bound does not count) and they have a sufficiently long shelf life as to have some satisfyingly high probability of arrival before decomposition. Still, I wonder how folks pick their books? I have read that among avid readers – which account for something of the order of 0.25 of literate humanity, with 0.5 being occasional or mundane readers and the remaining being people who read only when there is money involved – something on the order of half their book purchases are snap decisions. Now I can identify with this. When I wonder about a brick and mortar book store I tend to buy books that I was not seeking. But so many of the good brick and mortar bookstores are being destroyed by the big box book stores like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Books 10^6.
In this regard however, I have noticed that when I know the book I want, I tend to purchase that book on-line. This practice started because the books I read tend to be highly specialized or not big sellers. How long has it been since a real physics book – and I don’t mean the physics of Star Trek here – made any best seller list except the one in Physics Today? So rather than go to a brick and mortar bookstore, ask for a book, be told its not in stock, let them order it, and have to come back when it comes in, I just order over the web. And yes, I have to pay shipping as well as tax, but I don’t have to deal with the people in the brick and mortar book store. That is not to say that these people are any worse than the ones in the old neighborhood book stores, but their priorities are not to help customers, at least the customers who are in the store. If you are talking to one of these clerks and the phone rings, they will answer the phone. 1.000000000 of the times the phone rings. And while they have access to a computer data base of the store inventory (accuracy evidently pretty poor incidentally), which customers may not have access to (why?) they have absolutely no better idea of what section of the store a book will be in than the average customer. So if one wanders about looking for a book for an hour, and then asks a clerk, one is treated to following them around on another random walk of an hour unless the database says they do not have the book. In the first case I usually walk away muttering uncomplimentary things about the organization and its member-employees. In the second, I am now trapped into another hour, largely due to the process being punctuated by a dozen phone calls of infinitely higher priority, of ordering the book. Then I get to wait for a phone call and another trip to the brick and mortar store. Which is why I order books I know the citation on-line, and why I am rather glad books do not go bad like food.
On which topic, namely of brick and mortar book stores and their employees, I note that new information indicates that Bubonic Plague has a higher probability of killing weak people than strong people. [Link] Much as I hate to note that this falls into the obvious, common sense category for anyone with some inkling of how the human system operates, it is always comforting when science proves something.
In which vein, we note that his holiness, the bishop of Rome, has denounced the “seductiveness of science”. [Link] Let’s see, we have religion characterized by blind unquestioning acceptance of what other people tell you and an opportunity to pay these people for the privilege while science is characterized by a mandate of questioning and testing the accuracy and validity of everything. Yes, I can see how that eternal uncertainty is highly seductive, especially to people who actually want to think for themselves. Or is it actually a matter of being forbidden to think and question that is repugnant to those people?
Perhaps we could get an opinion on this from the inhabitants of Finland, Poland, Slovenia and Hungary. Why these nationalities? Well, the use of Firefox in these four countries exceeds 0.4. Of course, selecting Firefox over the MegaHard browser may have nothing to do with good sense or resisting blind obedience.
And while we’re on divergence, some researchers have now placed the divergence of the platypus from anteaters to 120 MYA. [Link] The previous, usual figure was of order 30 MYA. This is very encouraging news. If the platypus can be around that long perhaps there is hope for humans. Oh! But platypuses (?) don’t overheat their environments, do they. Down side to intelligence perhaps?
Another evidence of that downside is some recent findings that medical insurance co-pays for mammograms is having a negative effect. [Link] Evidently having to shell out for the test is causing many women to decline or forgo the tests, and the data indicate this decision is irrespective of individual income. This is a bit of a mixed bag. The good side of this is that those women predisposed to breast cancer early in life will tend to be removed from the reproductive population before they can pass on their genes, which is about as nasty and horrible as a good side gets. The bad side is that a lot of women are hastening their deaths or setting themselves up for a nasty bout of treatment and recovery that could be avoided or ameliorated. And the cost of that is about the order of magnitude of a meal? Sorry, you don’t see me asking my physician what he charges when it comes time for me to be told “bend over and grab your ankles”. Intelligent life on Tellus indeed.