Not Science, Greed

I notice in Discovery an article [Link] laying partial blame for the Wall Street debacle to the “quants”, people educated as nerds – mathematics and science – who build models and crunch numbers for money people. The title of the article is “Are Scientists to Blame for the Financial Crisis?”

The answer to that question is, rather embarrassingly for this instrument of the traditional media, a resounding NO! That is not to say that the “quants” do not necessarily warrant some of the blame, but rather that the “quants” are patently not scientists.

The key factor here is that making and manipulating models is not in and of itself science. I run into people with business degrees every day who build and manipulate models. In almost all instances they do this abysmally poorly but a good portion of the blame for this depravity is the result of their general apathy and ignorance of maths. To most of these people model making is nothing more than collecting some data, with little consideration of how it is collected or what it represents, and subjecting it to some canned linear regression. The resulting set of coefficients is a “model” in modern business usage, poorly posed, inadequately composed, and absent comprehension. Scant wonder then that the pinnacle of the business apparat would turn to people with some maths and modeling capabilities.

One of the reasons that this is not science is that science has as its purpose to increase understanding for the good of the species. This effort failed in that its purpose was to enrich the financial tsars and their serfs. And unlike mathematicians, people trained in the sciences who do not do science are not scientists. Restated somewhat, scientists are not what they are, but what they do. What they are is physicists or chemists or biologists by education and training but unless they are doing science they are NOT scientists. These people were business modelers at best.

This does not eradicate the question of responsibility, but this is a question as old as humanity and society and civilization. Does the person who manufactures, sells, gives, transports, thinks up, …. a thing or idea that is used in the perpetration of a subjectively bad act responsible in some degree for that act? If this sounds like the argument over firearms, then you are perceptive. Are the people who manufacture firearms for defense, hunting, public safety, …. responsible when someone misuses such and kills another human? I have my opinion, and you may have yours; they may not be the same.

But what is obvious is that the argument here is neither new nor resolvable. The misuse of guns is bad, but forbidding humans to be able to own guns to protect themselves is also bad. The same, as we now recognize in this age of information, goes also for ideas and models and simulations and even data.

But we are still the same humans unable to resolve the question, or even determine if the question is actually irresolvable. And the matter is not helped by traditional mediasts using demagoguery to enhance their failing industry.


Cellular Holeness

Ah! Monday. Back to the gym to contemplate whether Monday or Sunday is actually the first day of the week. The selection is absolutely arbitrary, like deciding the sign of the charge on the electron. I tend to see Monday as the first day but that comes from working a M-F routine for so many years. Alternately, I definitely do not see Sunday as the first day of the week. If anything, and I suspect like most of the Yankee republic, I see the weekend as just that and Sunday, as the second and final day of the weekend as the last day of the week. Thus, ipso facto, Monday defaults to the first day of the week.

As is my wont on Mondays, the listening was a “Best of Ideas” podcast from the CBC. This one was a point-counterpoint, both from the Jewish perspective, of Israel. At least that is what was promised. What was delivered was less a consideration of Israel than a consideration of Palestine, and in particular the Palestinians. All I gathered from this is that both Israelis and Palestinians are human and thus incompetent, inept, and inefficient almost always.

So it was with scant surprise that I found myself attracted to an article from WIRED [Link] on techno-gadgets killed off by the cellular phone. As is usual, I found both the list and its elaboration specious and in places vacuous, even dangerously wrong. So being the quintessential Asperger’s afflictee, I cannot resist a bit of disputation in the cause of higher values.

First on the list of executed devices is the PDA. I have to admit to this with great sorrow. The admission is economic. It is exceedingly difficult to find a PDA these days except junk sold at discount houses. It may be that HP/Compaq still makes some but not overtly. I also sorrow becuase back when HP first brought out their Journada I had one and it was good – in the biblical sense of being cultutrally significant. It improved my survival. Sadly, it was taken away from me because of its technological obselesence of not talking to “the network” and what came after was not good enough to occupy pocket real estate.

The camera is second, and is perhaps the most humorous of the items on the list. Yes, I know lots of people who use the cameras on their phones. None of them are not bogs. Now this is annecdotal, but it cuts to the heart of the absurdity of the matter. The cameras on phones are humanlike; they are ineffective, incapable, and low resolution. I will stick to my aging but adequately resolved digital SLR. You bogs can go take all the phone camera blurry images of your BFF you want, just not around me, nor speak of such around me.

The UMPC is third on the list and is definitely alimentary in location. What demised the UMPC was the cellular phone only in the sense that the cellular phone dumbed down bogs to the point that they can’t understand UMPCs. Indeed, this is why there are those waves of fashionable change in cellular phones. The only way the bogs can understand how to use them is if enough of them buy them and do trial and error. Meanwhile the real reason the UMPC passed was economics. Who wants to pay big bucks for small stuff? Oh, except Apple addicts?

Note that I am not talking about the Little Bitty Lap Top (LBLT) here. They are cheap, although getting less so, and functional. And they do something you can’t do on a phone – work. Unless what you do is make noise, which is a professional activity pretty well in bad smell these days after the debacle of wall street. Do we need a cleansing program for people who sell financial instruments?

Number four on the list is the land line phone. As said previously, all this shows is that WIRED gets written in the coastal liberal metropolises. Out in the hinterland where cellular coverage isn’t 300%, land lines are still useful and if you buy your internet service from a telephone company, preconditional. Alternately you can buy it from a cable company. Where, one has to ask, do the  metropolitan consumers think all the money to pay for their dense capabilities’ infrastructure comes from?

Number five is the MP3 player. I beg your pardon? If my phone had the capabilities of my MP3 player then I would be carrying around a brick the size of an old Motorola flip phone and I would be charging abtteries twice a day. The cellular phone -MP3 player is for leight weight fashionable bogs who only listen to whats hot this nanosecond. A gigabite is a hundred times what they need. But try carrying around twenty-five gigs of classical, folk, band, and podcast files and your phone will glow white hot and scar your pear shell ear.

The lesson incidentally is pure McGyver. If the only thing you need in the way of tools is a leatherman or a wenger swiss arly knife, great, but what this says is you don;t do much and none of it is tool demanding. Real tool demands are single purpose tools, the kind made by craftsman. The same goes for cellular phones. If your demands are callous and shallow, never demanding, then a swiss army cellular phone is good. But for the geek and nerd, those who add to the survival of humanity, a cellular phone is a cellular phone, a computer is a computer, and an mp3 player is an mp3 player. Selah.

Photonic Dilithium

Back when I was in undergraduate shul, television was a rare occurrence. I lived in a dorm the first two years and a succession of apartments the last two. In the first instance, the dorm I lived in had a television room but it was dominated by the pre-law students who had little to do other than to go to class – when they did not skip – and write papers, and the latter could be done about as well – by them – in the television room as elsewhere. The latter is a statement of just how noisy and stressful dormitories were (are?) and why I moved out. Also, the television room was small, holding a television, a couch and two chairs. Seating for at most five in those days, four when the former high shul football types descended.

After I moved out, I still did not have a television. The reasons for this were basically two. First, televisions were deadly expensive in those days. Several hundred dollars for a monochrome monster. I had a graduate student friend whose assistantship was to keep the electronic equipment in the chemistry department working – the Yankee air corps trained him in the real electronics of the day – and since he was with family he augmented his income by getting death bed televisions abandoned by frugal owners and rehabilitated them to sell to students. But even with this discounted avenue I refrained because of the volume, mass, and fragility that a television represented. College students in those days knew they were housing nomads and tended to have a bit of an extended Hunter-Gatherer view of possessions. I was much more inclined to use my “stuff” allowance on books.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of a television and the frat house exclusivity of dorm television rooms, I did watch some television. I had a couple of friends who shared an apartment in an older house that actually came with a television. So twice a week, coursework premitting, I was welcomed to trek to their domicile to watch “Laugh In” and (the original) “Star Trek.” I have to admit that the former was the more entertaining, especially the antics of Arte Johnson and Goldie Hawn, but the latter was the most intriguing, despite the cardboard acting of William Shattner. Still, the skills learned in monochrome Westerns by Leonard Nimoy and Deforrest Kelley more than compensated for Shattner’s trying hubris.

The intrigue was how things were done. For science majors in those days, the basic ideas of machine teleportation and translight velocities were accumulation points for discussion outside the ears of professors who scoffed at the program’s fanatasy aspect. Lasers were new toys in those days so the marvels of phasers were peripheral.

Now, insight is expanded by the news [Link] that the (paranoid) metal bashers at Lawrence Livermore have found out how to produce a LOTTA (~1E8) positrons – antielectrons- by zapping a gold (conductor?) target with a high power, short pulse length laser. Boo Yah!

But I would like to know the details of the energy balance.

Mirrors and Smoke

Back when I was in college, Quantum Chromodynamics was a relatively new thing and I did not get the opportunity to study it under guidance. Of course, it is not something that undergraduates get the opportunity to study and my graduate shul attendances did not present any courses that I could take, and my research advisors were not interested in. Of course, when I got out and was doing practice for pay, there was little use for it. Bottom line: I had to learn QC on my own.

Also, in those days most of my interest was on matter as the basic proton, electron, neutron composition. Chemistry does not really care very often about what the constituency of a nucleus, and nuclear physics was still rather a matter of relative primitiveness. So primitive in fact that it is astounding that we ever got to nuclear engineering at all.

The standard model came along years after my campus days and as such never got much beyond the intellectual level of cogitation. Certainly I raised no beers in discussion of it, or had Friday afternoon kibbitz sessions about it, given that the job was mostly about weaponry.

Nonetheless the announcement of a simulation effort to demonstrate the composition of protons and electrons came as a welcome stranger amidst generally dismal news. [Link] It gladdens the heart to have this computational confirmation that most of the mass of these particles is indeed the result of small particles flitting about inside the larger, so to speak. The analogy that presents is the kid who puts flies in a jar on the idea that if enough are put in the jar will fly. Of course, it does not, but all that motion is part of the reason why.

Now if we can just get real experimental confirmation instead of the fictional simulated kind.


I have commented previously on the withering of the traditional media, at least its print aspect. I noticed this week an article in the Daily Illini, the student newspaper of the campus of the Boneyard, and now a blot of the demise of PC magazine. [Link] (I regret not having a link-citation for the DI article; at the time it did not seem worth noting.)

In the old days when desktop computers were new and as yet not shackled to the coffle that is the network, I subscribed to PC World. Originally I subscribed to several magazines: BYTE, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, PC, and PC World. These seem to now be listed in order of some metric of worth. BYTE was the most useful, best spanning the chasm between technicality and technology, between utility and popularity. DDJ was geekish at best, nerdish at its epitome. PC was worth the price, PC World was not.

In a sense, PC was the TIME of the information milieu. Much of what it spouted was either dead wrong or absolutely pi radians out of phase, but just being said demanded attention to protect oneself from those bogs who occasionally adopt geekishness for fashion’s sake. This rather brings us to the question of whether the magazine failed because that component of humanity, small but none the less sizable, ceased to need technology or simply quit worrying about it? Given my recent observations of the (what is the information equivalent of illiteracy or innumeracy?) of people today, I rather suspect the latter.

I believe it was Arthur Clarke who posed that “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” In the case of modern consumer technology, I suspect it is that such technology is now indistinguishable from religious mysticism for much of consumer humanity. So my mourning for the demise of PC is as much about the demise of a useful and fruitful medium as it is about the degeneration of the species. And given the nature of social evolution, I suspect both are equally irreversible.

Flies with Sledgehammers

The Yankee army has apparently been infected with an electronic annelid, Agent-BTZ to be specific. [Link] And lest this be thought some big secret being kept from the electorate or that crazy Texican in the Oval Office or that megalomaniac who is on the path to take over the Oval Office next year, I also saw it, a bit later, in a Yankee feed. [Link]

The somewhat illogical response to this is that the Yankee army has now banned all forms of transportable media. I say illogical in that while this may indeed be the disease vector – kill the mosquito eggs to eradicate Yellow Fever, hurrah! for the Yankee army and Dr. Gorgas – it also has some of the same aspects as preventing venereal disease – a military problem as old as war – by plugging up the urethra with epoxy.

The aspect I was thinking of was how one voids urine under such conditions?

While I find most conspiracy theories to be specious if entertaining, I cannot help sensing a bit of Yankee army subterfuge here. For many years, ever since the founding of the republic, the Yankee army has been plagued with information leaks to the media. These have been particularly pronounced in recent years with the media’s dissatisfaction with the paternalistic censorship of “embedding” and their own paranoia over irrelevant extinction. The Yankee army well knows that most of these leaks originate from political appointees and that most of these political appointees are inside the Military District of Washington, in civilian terms, inside the beltway (approximately.)

The problem is that since these people do musical chairs (open ensemble) with each administration change, there is no lever of threatened punishment to dissuade such behavior. In effect, these political appointees are as invulnerable of legal restraint as members of Parliament are of debt punishment. So rather than learn how to live with the problem – an adult response that is admittedly beyond the capability of most organizations, but almost impossible of government organization in general – the Yankee army punishes everyone in the organization and itself.

Whenever I encounter situation such as this I am reminded of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express where the premise is that if enough people commit some criminal act, no one is punished. The difference here is that is the act is bothersome enough and the perpetrator is above the rules, then everyone must be punished.

Curling, Nawth Alibam Style

I was rather taken the other day by a cartoon that had been slightly modified from its orginal form:

As I noted yesterday, the heat energy was quite low here in Greater Metropolitan Arab and I was not quite comfortable. Some of that comes from taking all manner of blood thinners, which do all sorts of undesirable things in lowering the heat capacity of my body, but desirable things, so I am told by physicians, for other aspects of my body.

The Arab Curling Club, of which I hold the exalted office of brevet auxiliary fifth rear sweep, is another reflection of the tenor of the community whose primary socio-political organization is the Arab Liars’ Club. I should comment that I am ineligible for membership in that organization because of being a scientist. As one of its most distinguished members, Current Density Energy has noted, you cannot tell when scientists are lying because nothing they say is ever understandable.

I did have occasion to break fast with much of the Liars’ Club one morning at the L’Rancho Cafe and Poke Salat Festival Headquarters and was called upon to explain quantum mechanics to those assembled at the large table. I foolishly assayed this task and upon completion was solemnly informed that I was either the greatest liar they had ever heard or seriously in need of not only having been raised better by my parents but also closer supervision by FD SCP. One of the company who was also a member of the bar and is now a robed justicer allowed as how he would want to investigate that fellow Schrodinger for animal cruelty.

The Greater Metropolitan Arab Curling Club is somewhat less selective in that it has an absence of interest in what constitutes truth. That matter, by charter, is left to Sunday morning services, preferrably less than an hour in total length, and unsullied by anything even distantly related to reality. I should comment as a matter of clarification that the Arab Curling CLub has not only never had a match, it has never had a practice session. Our fair metropolis lacks an ice rink – the nearest on is in Huntsville, Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill, and any trip to Huntsville is seen by the club conscript fathers as anathema – and so the club is still waiting for a hard enough freeze that a local pond designated for the purpose of practice will harden adequately to support the weight of stones and players.

In the interim the club trains rigorously by advancing the antifreeze capacity of the members bodies and developing elaborate and comprehensive consensus plans of game strategy.