Smoked Meat

Yesterday the Information Leak people connected me to an article [Link] comparing Windows 7 and Linux via a weekly eLetter. They do admit up front that this is a bit of a mismatch, apple versus grapes thing, which is about all positive I can say about the piece. I suppose that their blandness is supposed to reflect their journalistic objectivity but it comes across as mediocrity. One more annecdote of how journalism is breathing iridium dust. Simply put, the article fills space, which we may only hope was why it was written, and placates some social necessity, but it is totally devoid of any compelling communication. The deltas and gammas who use XP and VISTA now have no inclination offered to not upgrade to 7, the alphas and betas who use Linux have no substance offered motivating a switch.

I suppose I should praise the rag’s fervor and daring in comparing W to L, but I am not sure this is any more noteworthy than a similar article in the Arab Tribune, not that the Tribune would be so foolish as to write and run such. Contrary to the gonadal asperations of the Linux cheerleaders like Shuttleford, I see scant reason to dignify MegaHard with even such blandings as these. The recent events with General Motors have brought this to attention. The automobiles of GM are much like MegaHard OS, out of date but still popular among those who have no need for value or performance.

On which happy azimuth, I also advance that yesterday was the anniversary of the discorporation of Jean d’Arc in 1431. [Link] I was advised of this by the folks at Encyclopedia Britannica who despite the assailment of Wikipedia and now the Wolfram apparat still produce a useful product even if I have to keep it running on a Windows box. Ah well, since I have to keep that around to keep FD SCP’s sewing clients working I may as well get some value from it.

On the matter of the Maid of Orleans the reminder is beneficial, of the merits of religious organizational barbecues, especially as we are into that season with fervor. It also gives us pause to consider the interaction between other OS and MegaHard, in much the same manner as the French eventually prevailed against the Anglo-French. We may only hope that the near religious organizations associated with Linux do not reward their warriors as this young woman was rewarded by the French branch of the church of Rome. Dogma and Freedom are not happily coexistent. Especially when mixed with stupidity, which is ubuquitous, it would seem, in both aspects.

Lastly, and on a much more positive note, I am informed by SCIENCE that researches at the Yankee government Human Genome Research Institut have yielded new insights into the beings that inhabit out bodies. [Link] It has been known that there are O(1E3) microbial species inhabiting our interstices, but now we have initial findings that a similar number inhabit our externalities. This brings a whole slew of new perspecitive to our claims that we are the most intelligent species and hence masters of the universe with the questions about our role as the home of so many species of other beings. Makes one wonder if a component of that intelligence might be symbiotic?

At the risk of using the “I” word, the riveting part of the findings, at least to the mediaists at SCIENCE, was where the bugs are concentrated. Seems the most densely populated spots are the forearms and the most sparsely populated the backs of the ears. This gives a whole new hygiene aspect to folks wil Ferengi ears. Also, the acne regions do not support diverse populations, but are a ghetto for the bacteria that cause that disease. This gives all sorts of meaning to the idea of acne as gang grafitti.

I must remind myself at gym this week to be alert to watch for teacher taliban liberally annointing their forearms with germicide. This behavior, of course, counters the questions about intelligence.

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Saturday Slugging

That’s ‘slugging’ as in gastropod, not pugilist. I have a backlog – again! – and naturally! – of articles, so I am going to track my way through a few with my usual mumblings and mutterings.

First, courtesy of U Colorado, we have news of research that indicates that extinction level meteorite collisions may be less lethal than supposed previously. [Link]

A hit may what we have previously thought of as a rather large meteorite may not be as life eradicating as thought, only knocking out everything but deep vent bacteria and other biosoup level organisms. I personally have serious questions of whether such an extinction can dispose of two particular classes of organisms: cockroaches, who have been around long enough to survive one and perhaps several such; and human parasitic/symbiotic microbes. The latter are the more specious since such a strike would seem almost surely to discorporate humans and when we go there goes the fun for our microbes. Of course, the good news is that the teacher taliban will no longer be manic with misunderstood, much less misapplied, hygiene.

I suspect it will laso alleviate my inability to understand a system that is unable to compel people to bathe but can compel them to wash their hands pathologically.

Next, while on the azimuth of meteorite strike, extinction, and survival, I note in the Economist an article about automobile retailing. [Link] This article is about the environment of automobile dealers and seems rather relevant when the American automobile apparat, less so, that of the rest of the planet, sees a meteorite looming close.

The picture presented is one of a marketplace saturated with retailers using methods deleoped when information was scarce and now are confronted with an environment where the cost of automobiles is widely known and they need something to distance themselves from their competition, hence cut throat price reduction and the economic problems they have.

Since I have not bought an automobile from one of the big three American manufacturers in twenty-five years, I find myself amply qualified to amplify on both their shortfalls and those of the article. That’s what blogs are all about, isn’t it? Whining? And speaking of which, have you heard a slug whine? Listen hard when they make a tight turn, the edge of their foot vibrates.

Anyway, I ceased purchasing Yankee corporation [1] for two reasons: bad engineering and worse maintenance service. For some reason, Yankee automobile designers are unable to design an automobile that is comfortable to drive. The seats are void of support so that one has back ache and butt freeze within an hour or so and the suspensions and drive train are less responsive than those of bulldozers or lawn mowers. And while all automobiles in the last quarter century (at least!) have been built so that Joe Citizen-Consumer cannot maintain them, the Yankee automobile dealers cannot, or, more likely, will not, maintain them either.

So the whole structure is rotten. It may be argued that the Yankee automobile industry is still healthy here in the hinterland. I have noticed however, that that the dealerships of those manufacturers who offer good design and good maintenance service are preferentially located in higher population density locales, so the apparent success of the Yankee automobile industry in the hinterland has more to do with being the only game in town than with being competent and useful. I also note that these dealerships, being the more conservative, are highest on the list for culling.

So I can now sit back and await the sweet smell of putrefying meat.

Lastly, I note a study from U Kansas, evidently sponsored by Gallup, that indicates that people are naturally optimistic. [Link] I find this unsurprising since most of the species are extroverts and bogs. It explains why we are altruistic, have survived for so long, and are always in danger of extinction. Why, it even explains the high proportion of thucks, after all, if one is optimistic then being incompetent is not important, one will survive and become rich somehow.

Nerds, as a rule, are naturally pessimistic, believing that it is better to be pleasantly surprised than crushingly disappointed. They also have to be realistic. After all, someone has to be prepared to save the species and/or the planet.

But the Gallup folks presence is a surprise. Are they trying to figure out how to correct the obviously whacked answers they get on polls. Does anyone pay attention to polls any more? Or is it that the number of gullible people who will even answer a poll any more has sharply diminished? The world wonders.

[1] Notice that all of the American automobile corporations are located nawth of the old Confederacy even though they have plants in the Sowth, preying on cheap Southron labor.

Reports of my Demise

Pronouncements of the eminent change of academia have been periodically common ever since the basic idea was invented sometime after the last cold phase (about 13 KYA.) It seems to be the nature of the beast, and its usual importance is more about how it makes the organization so conservative colligatively while making the individual members so liberal, [1] in the mean. While we do have to infer a lot from the ancient periods, the latest round of academic fervor dating from the middle of the middle ages certainly supports the observation. We too easily forget that originally universities were hotbeds (relatively speaking) of rebellion, striving to separate themselves from the organizational direction of both the church of Rome, which had enabled them to moderate doctrine, and the sometimes oppositional organizational direction of government.

Hence, when Alexa Harrington, the genius behind ‘Educated Nation’ alerted me this week to new predictions of state change, my attention was riveted.[Link] After all, this is not the pointless mumblings of some celebrity mystic but the derivative information of one who definitely does more for the species than merely satisfy da Vinci’s criterion. The blot, while derivative, is noteworthy in the same sense that a good intelligence analyst is golden.  I know from discussion with my father, and observing my daughter’s progression (if not progress,) in comparison with my own experience that college has changed. If anything, it has become less educational and more trainative. And from my perspective it has become much more prescriptive and canonical than in my day, about the same as in my father’s. Neither of these strike me as healthy. But being the cynical immature flatulence that I am, I could not resist commenting on some of the original points that Ms. Harrington so righteously provided. [2]

Hey, college: you’ve been put on notice. My kids will probably not experience you the way I did. My guess is, by the time they get there, a college education could have some of the following characteristics:

Based on my three data points (generations) I have to agree. American college education is definitely non-stationary. Not sure why that warrants such Orson Welles stentorianism, but then some mediaists seem to think they are the messiah.[3]

College will be less about the four years that follow high school than about a lifelong commitment to a learning community.

I have to reserve judgment on this. A lot of it seems to be rooted in Gen Y behavior. For one thing the mean time to a baccalaureate degree these days is six years, not four. That in itself tend to put enormous pressure on the traditional academic sunset clause of five years. But this trend started during the Containment era when the graduate population began to make the shift from full time to part time attendance and assistantships to full time employment. Also, I have to question that ‘lifetime commitment’. It ignores human nature. My experience has been that women change their learning practices at about 30 and again at 50; men at 45 and 60, approximately. Both changes tend to be of direction and characterized by a lessening intensity and a deepening wisdom.

Gen Y is apparently committed to lifetime learning, which started fifteen years ago in management cycles courtesy of management academics like Charles Handy. [4] These actuality of society is already altering this. Take the paradox of Information Technology continuous learning. It has been neutered by the who certification craze into blue collarism so that organizations may eliminate their burden of paying for the learning directly. This has not only shifted the emphasis from education to training but the organization from academe to cram class.

College degrees may be staged. One of the first areas of focus for many out of school will be basic professional skills, which in many cases will be taught in blended study/work environments.

This brings us to the question of what is a professional? I still hold to the definition that a professional is an amateur who retains his fervor but has such excellence of capability as to be paid for his hobby. Sadly, the hobby part, the fervor if you will, and the independence we associate with justicers and physicians has disappeared from the modern viewpoint. It seems only a piece of the slide away from Capella education.

Northeastern and Drexel already use this model, where internships are part of the program. Some professional grad schools use this model, too. This will get students into the working world and earning an income quicker.

I include this quote only for the last piece. The need to get students earning income has nothing to do with education. It has to do with a social myth that everyone needs a college education. The main reason poor folks did not send their children to college in times past is because they did not have the income. This has not changed except that Henry Ford’s bright idea of how to sell Model Ts has been extended to college. And the analogy of the Model T is appropriate. Most of what students today are getting from college is a Model T, not a Stutz Bearcat or a Stanley Steamer. Think about it.

Math and science will also get early billing in the curriculum. Not knowing how to divide isn’t cute, it’s dangerous. Our economy today requires incredible specialization, which in turn requires more detailed, and higher level thinking. That means math. From my experience, people are a lot better at math than they give themselves credit for. Their issues aren’t about manipulating numbers, they’re about the teachers they had[link]. We’ll get over it.

DREK! This one flies in the face of American history. The number of nerds has not increased disproportionately. If anything the nerd departments are in deep kimchee from ‘inadequate’ enrollment to justify their operating expenses. Yes, a lot of that is the result of incompetent secondary shul teachers who try to teach science and maths with at best the equivalent of half an undergraduate major. In fact, the situation got summed up for me in yesterday’s Arab Tribune where they reported that the Marshall county education apparat had transferred a junior high shul special education teacher to teach science at the high shul level. Science and maths teaching in the teacher taliban is broken – seriously and cannot be fixed without a pogrom of the teachers.

But the point still remains, whether because of nerd apathy (or antipathy), or simple greed as the primary selection criterion for a major, leading to a further increase in the number of thucks,[5] that students are trying to avoid nerd courses even more than in my day and the cash strapped, administration punished nerd departments are watering down the courses. We are graduating a cohort of science ignoramuses. Irrespective of their mystical inclinations. And this will only stop when we have another threat like Containment.

The liberal arts education will become a lifelong endeavor. People will take ongoing courses in English, the arts, history, and the humanities. Knowing something of the world around you will be a status symbol… and for businesses, these ongoing courses will provide tremendous networking opportunities.

This one I actually have to agree with. That’s because what the author is talking about is traditional, or, at least, classical, Capellan education and that has been on the decline in this country since we threw the British kind of education. Except for the people who are monied enough to actually pay for their children to attend those few colleges founded before that time, no one really puts any importance on this type of ‘education’. Unless you are going to be a captain of traditional industry/commerce, or a high officer of government, you cannot earn a living with that kind of education. In fact, you may not be able to period; it is just that those folks who can pay for their children to attend those colleges also do not need for their children to have to earn a living.

That does not mean that there are not poor people who have talent and interest in these subjects. History is full of rare instances of poor kids excelling at Capellan disciplines; unfortunately it has been substantiated by the American dream away from the effort into a right of some sort. Rather reminds one of transubstantiation.

My fundamental problem is that I do not see this persisting learning current. I cannot find it except in hothouse environments. It is not common nor diffuse. And it certainly isn’t going to generate revenue to perpetuate the college wing of the education apparat, even if they want to evolve into such a classical metaphor and form.

Time to put on my scientist hat in earnest; show me the data.

[1]  The prefer the appellation progressive. Given the widespread absence of praxis in academia I tend to reserve that designation from them, in general.
[2]  No drek, it is indeed a mitzvah. Even if it is from a shiksa.
[3] Ayeh. I mean that in the torah sense, not the way all those christian religionists have warped the meaning.
[4]  ‘The Age of ….’ books. Too fuzzy and theoretical for ‘real men’ managers and organizations.
[5] See yesterday’s blot.

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Enter the Thuck

What’s a thuck? Before answering that question, some background for thought is needed.

When you hit a tennis ball (with a tennis racket,) energy and momentum are transferred to the ball. The ball goes through a process of compression – absorbing energy internally – and expansion – returning that internal energy, at least in part to increase the momentum. Or I should say that is what happens when you hit a tennis ball with internal pressure. When the ball has lost its internal pressure and you hit it it still compresses but it doesn’t expand back as much. As a result the ‘flat’, underpressurized ball has less momentum than the ‘live’, pressurized ball and doesn’t  fly as far.

For our purposes we can tell the state of the ball just by listening. When we hit a ‘live’ ball the collision makes a ‘thwack” sound; a ‘flat’ ball collision makes a ‘thuck’ sound. Hence the term.

Now what does it mean? For that we go back to the Four Ts of learning a discipline: thoughts; terms; techniques; and tools. A thuck is someone who can learn all of these that he/she is shown but can’t do anything new. In ball terms, they can be compressed but they can’t expand.

Thucks do not have learning disability. In fact, they learn too well. They come from all temperament types. Since they do learn well but can’t be creative there tend to be a lot of commonality between a geek and a thuck but thuckdom is not limited to nerdish disciplines. Thucks make good technicians but lousy researchers since they can’t come up with anything new.

Now the aspect I was building up to. Thucks tend to be very successful as children but taper off rapidly in adulthood. They tend to be most visible as people who study some discipline in college because that discipline pays well rather than because they have talent for that discipline. Thucks tend to do very well in the first half of their undergraduate years, disappointing in the second half, and sliding into failure in graduate shul. This latter is especially the situation if they pursue a research degree since being incapable of being creative they can’t do original work. For this reason they tend to either down shift in graduate shul, going from (e.g.) engineering to business or hiding in a large researhc group where they can do something minorly different from everyone else and no great creativity is necessary. Thus you find people with a bachelor’s in engineering or science and an MBA, or a doctoral dissertation of the sort that confirms some existing, already well confirmed theory, or extends some measurement by one decimal place.

Thucks are valuable people. They are stewards of the status quo, but they are also difficult problems. The problem arises in that because they took up their discipline for the sake of a remunerative career, when they prove to be unable to excel and are instead less than ordinary they tend to get sulky, mean, nasty, even pathological. They set out to be leaders and find themselves barely qualified to be the lowest of followers. And this situation is intensified by the modern ‘educational’ system that tells children they can be the best at whatever they want to be, never impressing on them, or their parents, that talent and capability enter into the equation.

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Sound and Fury

One of the joys of living in Greater Metropolitan Arab is not living in Huntsville, Nawth Alibam’s Shining-City-on-the-Hill. This got confirmed for me yesterday by an announcement in the RSS feed of the Huntsville Times, a print newspaper stuck in the boundary layer between big city collapse and small town resurgence. The article [Link] is the Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s “10 Best Cities of 2009” list. Huntsville is first on the list.

My first thought on seeing this was being impressed that perhaps I am overcritical of Huntsville. But after scanning the article, my first thought decayed rapidly. This started with the magazine’s criteria for being on the list, “boomtowns offering solid employment opportunities and the talent to create new, well-paying positions,”. Nothing about quality of life, nothing about good government, indeed, nothing really good at all except pandering to the paranoia of recession. And it is less than clear that that is good.

In fact, I would take being on the list, much less first as rather more of an insult than praise. But then the bogs in Huntsville are not very good at differentiating insult from compliment. The nerds do well at his, but they don’t talk about it.

On a more positive note, the Yankee government’s National Institut of Occupational Health and Safety has released information on a research that indicates that power tools are bad for your health. [Link] It seems that the motors in those hand tools – drill motors, motorized saws, Dremel (R) tools, and all of that sort of thing that we used to buy at Sears because CRAFTSMAN (R) was guaranteed forever or till Sol went nova, whichever was shorter, but not buy wherever, cause all sorts of vascular and neural damage to one’s extremities.

One suspect the culprit is poor – read profit maximizing – design. Back in my youth, when chicken ancestors waddled the planet and acousto-optical receivers were monochrome, I could use my father’s drill motor (0.635 cm) for extended periods with no effect, and despite my minuscule mass. That was because the device was designed to be low vibration. Today the same type of tool renders the hand numb in moments, and overheats in the process.

I leave it to the readership to conjure the connection here.

Heat Death?

I ran across this cartoon

on XKCD [Link] yesterday. I have to admit that I do not always get the point of these cartoon, usually when they refer to things that are popular with younger folks and outside my attention space, or have to do with different social paradigms than the ones I experienced.

The cheerleader paradigm is one that I have experienced, at least off hand, through Daughter of SCP. [1] D’SCP was a cheerleader from junior high shul through part of her undergraduate years.  During the early years I was forbidden to attend any of the athletic events she cheered at because ‘I only went to see her cheer and I took a book and ignored the athletic competition and I had no “SPIRIT”.’ That is the connection with the cartoon.

I had already concluded that cheerleading is either dying or undergoing a paradigm shift. Even when D’SCP was a cheerleader this was evident. Back when I was in high shul, cheerleaders spent the entirety of athletic competitions leading cheers. It was very intensive but it was limited to cheering. There was very little motion beyond that comparable to the dancing of the day. By the time D’SCP was in high shul leading cheers was less than half of the time of the event, with much of the rest of the time taken up in preparing for, performing, and recovering from gymnastic group ecdycism. In effect, cheerleading had begun to absorb the role of drill teams.

I recalled what my daughter kept telling me about why I went to the events and why that was wrong. I became convinced, after careful observation, that most of the people attending the event were not doing so to root for the team. They had other reasons and the cheerleading was orthogonal to them. In effectm cheerleading was becoming extraneous, superflous.

In recent years I have observed cheerleading competitions broadcast to the acousto-optical receiver. These are not cheerleading but actual athletic events in and of themselves. The tenor of the participants is that this is what cheerleading is about today, not leading cheers for the team, but being the team. And while this is what I had initially perceived I am not at all sure that this is not healthier. Support for one’s organization should not be choreographed; it should be natural and cheerleading is not natural, or at least has not been for a century or more.

Now what I am considering is whether this  paradigm shift is not also a death knell. These cheerleading competitions are essentially no different from football matches or any other athletic event, but what I cannot discern is an extended following. It seems that all the people who attend are there because of the individuals on the squad and not because of the organization, whether that be the team/squad, or the shul it represents. Parents, siblings, friends are all there. BUt a general population of ‘fans’ – no. And the the attendance is volatile, attendees arriving and departing when their individual interests are in the spotlight. Just like what D’SCP didn’t want from SCP.

[1]  Yes, I know that rather resonates with Bride of Frankenstein. Not unintentional or ill posed.

Not Just Dcoration Day

Today is Memorial Day, which started as Decoration Day, a Yankee government holiday that demonstrates why it is called the Yankee government. The establishing proclamation begins as

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.” [Link]

This simple prepositional phrase is one instance of the many things said and done in the wake of the cessation of hostilities, of the bond reforged by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Appomattox, of the oppression and discrimination that was heaped upon the old Confederacy by the self-righteous victor shmegegi.

This, of course, led to what I believe is the accurate meaning of “The Recent Unpleasantness’, referring to reconstruction and its continuing aftermath rather than the war itself. Despite this continuing discrimination, the fact remains that men in the military service of the Confederacy died defending their country, and that a wholly disproportionate component of the military service of the Yankee republic has, before and since the “late rebellion”, come from the population of the old Confederacy.

This is the spirit we should attribute to this day. Not the limited prejudice that limits our consideration of the service of those who died while wearing the uniform of the Union during those four years, but to all who have served in the military service, regardless of which uniform they wore. It matters not whether they were colonial militia serving in the French and Indian War, or regulars in the Mideast, men serving their states at Valley Forge or Gettysburg, men serving their nation at Chapultepec or the Argonne or Hue.

It does not even matter greatly that they died in the performance of that service, although we acknowledge and mourn the depth and tragedy of that greater sacrifice. But those who serve the nation, their home organization, in its continuance by the enforcement of policy are not ordinary men and women. In days when all had served, such as after the Great Patriotic War, this was less obvious, but now that service is rarer its special nature is more evident upon the very being of those who have so served.

And who deserve this day our quiet and solemn respect.

Yes, we should bring special consideration to those who died in that service with appropriate symbols as possible, but we should not restrict our consideration of their deeds to just those.

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