College Curmudgeon 5

I have bemoaned repeatedly the nastiness that is closed access research journals. O quite appreciate the economics but while being poor may explain evil it does not excuse it. Rather, it indicts rich and poor alike for the apathy of not fixing the situation. One of the primary targets of my complaints is the journal SCIENCE, which raises social correct elitism to apoxic heights. The quality of their content for main stream, inherently uncontroversial research articles is unassailable, except for the stench of a form of simony that cries for nails and hammer.

Despite this, I note summaries of a couple of articles this week, note, after all, since SCIENCE is a subscription periodical and unless one pays their dues the real information is sequestered. The articles have to do with the on-going failure of the academic system, so the absence of detail is not pertinent under these conditions of little more than arrogant, disdainful admission of fully apparent rot.

The first deals with the re-engineering of undergraduate biology courses, [Link]

 “to assess how far they have come in their efforts to improve undergraduate introductory biology courses, which are seen as a critical step toward raising the nation’s scientific literacy.”

The thing that is striking about this statement is the tacit, de facto concentration on biology 101. The casual observer would read this as an indication that knowledge of biology is the key scientific area for Joe and Jane Consumer. That would be inaccurate, as is the basic premise of the effort. The simple accuracy is that biology courses are “popular” today, as they have been for decades, if not centuries, because they are viewed as the simplest of introductory science courses.

The average college student takes almost no science courses. Some, notably business students, take no science courses, and few maths courses, which, despite their association, are not science. Most students take two or four science courses, almost all in the introductory level. Very few student minor in a science discipline, most as a convenience to a science major in a different discipline. The modern consumerist-capitalist Amerikan ideal of a liberal (broad) education is far from Capellan.

The fact is that for the average college student, the ones who go to college not to learn but to adhere to social expectations or plump a resume, the requirement of science courses is considered odious and punishing. Many delay the courses as long as possible so that one commonly sees the halls of introductory science courses populated with freshman would-be majors and minors, and senior others. The contrast is striking; bright young faces with straining attention to disciplinary pablum conjoined with apathetic, dilettante gray countenances wondering why they bothered to attend class. The requirement for this mass of bogishness to take a science course achieves the opposite of its intent, it alienates rather than illuminates. No amount of course improvement will change this. The effort is wasted because the basics of science have not been appliedbecause that would violate political correctness – and have, possibly, improbably, some effect.

The second piece has to do with a related rot in graduate nerd education, [Link]

“The commingling of graduate education and research in the United States has created a system that is the envy of the world in terms of research productivity. It’s also not a bad deal for the student, who typically doesn’t pay a penny to earn her Ph.D. But that wildly successful system comes at a high cost to both students, who end up providing their advisers with several years of skilled labor at below-market rates, and the profession, says Nobelist Roald Hoffmann. And it’s not sustainable, he argues, especially during tough economic times like these.”

Part of this is accurate. The average graduate student is indeed reduced to a form of servitude, in the form of either a research or a teaching assistantship. Both have pay scales considerably less than minimum wage if one includes the hours of unpaid effort subsumed tacitly into the proposition. And what is unsustainable about the whole program is its dishonesty with the graduate students themselves.

Almost all graduate students have some expectation of graduate shul being a path to an academic career. The actuality is that the fraction of failures of this aspiration is second only to those in popular entertainment. The sad accuracy is that once these students complete graduate shul, the strong majority who can live in the genteel poverty of that environment, the only continuation is more years of slightly reduced poverty as a post doctoral serf. The simple and previously noted mechanics are professors who have thirty (plus?) year careers and graduate one or two students a year.

Rot. Pure and simple. A system that pretends to educate while doing the opposite. The responsibility is not solely that of academia, however much they would be loathe for anyone outside to consider either its actuality or its treatment, so until that hurbis can be overcome, all that seems likely to result is more rot and ruin.

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Belly of Summer Lees

End of the exercise period for the week. The folks at the BBC’s “In Our Time” have evidently wandered off into the nothingness – vacation – that Europeans seem to do for so long at this time of year. Makes one rather wonder about the nature of a society that can effectively shut down for almost a tenth of a year. Do they put all the sick and infirm and young in freezers of some sort?

Because of that nothingness I had to fill in my concentration-time at exercise this morning with a different podcast. after all, the television at that time of the morning is even more corrupt and degenerate than during later in the day, what with liberal and conservative newsreaders who are actually agenda propagandists, and, of course, the joys of infoporn for everything from canine obedience training for the apathetic asentient to chemical regimes to enlarge primary sexual characteristics, male and female.

But finding a different podcast presents some difficulty. There is the matter of finding some podcast that will be rewarding and attention gathering. The risk that the podcast will be so good that I will be unable to abandon it must be dealt with else my already oversubscribed stable become even more pooified. This is when I go looking for college lecture series and am repeatedly gladdened that iTunes doess not have a native version for Linux. The down side of this, of course, is how good it make MegaHard look by comparison, which is a chilling realization.

This year I settled on a special series done by the CBC “Ideas” folks on “How to Think About Science.” I am now up through the second episode. The attention gathering here is not so much about science but about the vast majority of humanity that do not science. Well, not all of the vast majority, only the cognitive component. After all, this is not a program designed to appeal to those whose minds are enslaved by organizational superstition and mysticism, or who are unwilling to consider any lifestyle other than their own as having merit. So I don’t have to worry too much about the faithful of the (modern) democrat and republican parties.

That incidentally is what the second episode was all about, the intellectual tyranny of the church of Rome during the middle ages. No wonder they called them dark. Curiosity was sinful.

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Cold Dark

I live in a neighborhood with rather few children. This is not a bad thing, nor a good thing, just a statement. I have nothing against children, except that I hold the opinion that there should be special aircraft for transporting children with or without their parents and they should not be permitted on adult air craft, and visa versa.

I do have objections and concerns about the parents of children, especially for their competency. It seems unconscionable that we require people to have a license to operate an automobile and not to have children. It seems grossly negligent on our part and harmful to both the species and the children.

I mention the absence of children in my neighborhood because the avowed reason for day light savings time is so that families – parents and children can be outside in the evenings. But when I sit out on my porch of an evening I see and hear no children, no families. But I can see the actinic corruption that is television flashing through windows and curtain sheers. But then day light savings time is a political porkism vastly separated from its propaganda.

But the other evening as I was enjoying the twilight I espied a fire fly, that flying insect with the faculty of biochemical luminescence, the first of the summer. I mused on its beauty even in the moderate light field of not yet full dusk and the pollution of street lamps. (Yes, some of that time doing astronomy on the plains of Illinois did rub off!) I also mused on it being the first one I had seen this year and summer is somewhere about half gone, mostly gone for the shul children that I neither see nor hear of evenings but whose servitude to the diseducation system renews in a week or so.

Hence scant surprise that I read [Link] a report of research from U Florida that fireflies are diminishing. Could it have something to do with the absence of children?

Whither Away 2

Floop! The shoe has not only dropped but exploded on impact! [Link]

Does this mean that I am modal?

And how about contour integration epiphanies while being transported (?) on amusement park rides? And how do you write the result down before it gets lost in head noise?

Decision Saccade

Tuesday is Science and Technology podcast day at gym, and this morning was a good one for listening. Shul session restarts Monday week and the teacher taliban is off avoiding as a last fling, I suppose. Anyway, nice sparse crowd.

This also seems to be holiday time for podcasts as well, so I ended up listening to a bit of a different mix this morning than the mode. Anyway there were vignettes presented having to do with the hullabaloo last week over ants making better choices than humans. (see [Link], e.g.) As I listened to the second exposition of this I suddenly realized that the decision model being described by the podcasters was not the one I usually associate with human decision making.

They were giving an example of house selection where there are two criteria (in this case kitchen and yard size.) If one has two choices: large + small; and small + large; the statistical decision making is 0.5 each. But if a third choice is offered: large + none; then the decision making shifts to predominantly large + small. This is presented as poor decision making.

I realized this may be poor decision making – the goodness cannot be determined accurately from the presentation but that is another matter – but it is not how that type of decision making is done. My experience, both personally and observing other humans, is that they make decisions based on high contrast.

It bears commenting there that this is how we search for things with our eyes. We do series of looks – glimpses starting at points in the visual field where there is strong contrast and we bounce to and from that point to other points of defined contrast.

I have observed a similar behavior in human decision making. The decision is made not on some measure of goodness per se, but on a measure of high contrast or distinctiveness. In the example of the two house criteria, when there were only two houses neither had strong contrast and so the decision making was ambiguous. Add the third house and a strong contrast emerged dominating the decision.

So the question is, do ants operate the same way?

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Migration Path

I am entranced this morning. My morning eMail brought me a link [Link] to an Information Week article entitled “How To Upgrade To Windows 7 From Windows XP “. The entrancement is not what the article is about, a route from W XP to W7, but the cogitation chain emergant from the statement:

“While Windows supported direct upgrades from XP to Vista, they’re not supporting a direct upgrade path from XP to 7. “

The chain is a bit of the obvious, starting with a trade-off analysis of upgrading from W XP to W7.

As I survey the IT situation in Fortress SCP, I find that our dependence on MegaHard Windows has actually decreased from where it was last year. Yes, FD SCP still has that odious PFAFF software on her computers but she has actually decreased her use of nasty Windows-only clients that have no complement on Linux. I still have a W XP desk box and two laptops that run W XP, but the desk box is only used as a bcak up and sometimes goes for days without being touched. 0.99 of what gets run is AV scans and W updates. And the Dell lap box that I have a W hard drive and a U hard drive only gets the W hard drive slapped in once a month for updates. And I have almost ordered a hard drive for my HP lap box to do the same.

Yes, I still have a few W clients I need, but in the last year I have moved about half of them to WINE, so the need for glass? I have my doubts I can get FD SCP’s PFAFF merde to run in a virtual W box. The stercus barely runs on a W box with anything else on it at all; indeed, it barely tolerates W – some of the time. But the National Socialists who do that code will probably shift to W7 anyway and I might as well spring for a new machine that dual boots and only has the PFAFF plop on the W boot.

Hmmmm. Is it premature to plan a wake for MegaHard?

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Quote of the Day

From Chad Orzel, “Uncertain Principle”, [Link]

“That sounds pretty tasty, but “quick and easy”? Not so much. Just the carefully picking through of the crab meat is going to take longer than what I would consider “easy.”

But then, I’m just a physicist.”

I should be tempted to offer that cooking is chemistry, the non-physics part mostly, but FD SCP does have cast iron skillets and my skull is less adamantine than it used to be.

But then, I’m going to have to remember “But then, I’m just a physicist.”

And a simple country one at that!

Atlatl Placebos

It’s suntag again, and I am cleaning up stale crusts of articles that caught my eye but never quite blossomed into blots. Some of these are rather like fine wine, or good cheese, or banana pudding, they have to age a while before they reach their favor peak.

One such is a Register article [Link] about how the English government ministry of defense is clinging to MegaHard’s browser IE6. In one “swoop fell” this article captures so many instances of human and organizational absurdity. Part is the denialism that they even need to upgrade to a more modern, MORE SECURE browser, a behavior not only human and organizational but archetypal of the military organization. Knowing the nature of English humor, one has to rather suspect this who thing has such an undercurrent. The contrasting absurdity/humor is the elaboration of the other ministries who have changed or are planning to change to the newer IE7. The European fear of MegaHard is writ large in an article about government that cannot conceive of any browser but that of the secret masters of the planet. No mention of Firefox or the other competitors.

Which in turn reminds of that episode with the former first lady, now diva of state for the current (modern) democrat administration who, in contrast to the previous incumbent of the position, seems to get a lot of press coverage but makes few achievements. The kindest thing that seems capable of being thought here is that this gives us insight into the causes of the infidelity of husbands.

Nonetheless, I do recall this same question arising at a town hall meeting and being burned from the ether with beams of economic disdain. Somehow the two answers seem the same if one strips off the differences between American and English governmental culture, the one economics, the other staidness. But there is a gleam of hope here. There is, after all, government more Plutonic in its activity, more somnolent than basalt, than the department of state of the Yankee government. Jefferson would be so pleased!

But pray, do not share this with our own military departments, lest in a fit of envy they do themselves a prideful injury.

On a similar note, at U California Los Angeles have found that placebos are not, at least for some people. [Link] My understanding, as a physicist, is that a placebo is a medication of zero medical measure. That is, it has a minor metabolic impact – it has to be  processed by the body – but no actual effect on a disease or other medical condition other than the mental delusion of being medicated. It emerges however, that this response to placebo is genetically determined. Some people, it seems, have genetic architecture so that when given a pill they secrete mood altering chemicals.

This has some obvious implications. If one visits physician and ones genetic screening is consulted prior to prescription, does this indicate one is receiving placebo? And will governments around the planet now screen applicants for this genetic composition so that their work forces will be gladdened by being given antediluvian software?

As devastating as this news is, so too is news from French researchers [Link] that raindrops are suicidal.

My first thought was that this rather reminds me of the nastiness of how parachutes come apart when they burn in flight, or, at least, fall. The second thought is one of relief. The previous theories of raindrop demographics held that raindrops came apart by inelastic collisions, which I always had some problems with, largely because of surface effects. This also fits with another article [Link] on why water expands when it solidifies into ice. Quantum mechanics is phun!

Lastly, a researcher over at Duke has made what seems a quite appealing case for a Neandertal having been killed with a spear. [Link] I am a bit less taken with the component of the argument that the fellow was done in by a modern human, a Sapiens, on the argument that Sapiens could throw a spear and a Neandertal could not. The claim is that humans developed spear throwing technology – atlatls – and Neandertals did not, based on discovered remains.[1] The (second0 question has to do with the probability that Neandertal implements have just not been found, a seemingly reasonable question given the density of Neandertals. [Link] The third question is whether Neandertals were anatomically incapable of throwing spears? After all, one can not quite be able to build an atlatl but still just rear back and throw?

I shall refrain from offering that neither threw baseballs since no baseball artifacts have been found.

[1] These are actually products, but this only raises the question of whether anthropologists should be different from other humans (modern, at least) and recognize the difference?

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Whither Away?

While cleaning up the browser – well, actually the Firefox instance; I usually keep two browsers going – this morning I noticed a reload had included a web site with time sensitive content and presented me with this cartoon: [Link]

which, as so many of Jorge Cham’s cartoon do, take me back to my own days in graduate shul.

When I was at the campus of the Black Warrior I do not recall taking vacations. For one thing the money to do so was absent. My TA stipend would barely cover rent and utilities and food (mostly) and gas, much less clothing and maintenance of stuff and any frivolity. The whole duration of my stay I do not recall going to any movie and the only books I bought were textbooks. So the closest thing I had in that period to a vacation was when I moved down to the campus of the Tennessee; I recall stopping to visit New Harmony as I drove south.

Things were a bit better there. I was working full time, schooling part time but stretching to full time, and money was less of a constraint. Work was the real constraint. Both paid real work and shul work. I could sneak off and take a bit of a rest when my advisor was out of town, or shul was not in session, but not for long.

Which leads me to the question of what qualifies as a vacation? Does a trip to do something qualify as a vacation? For instance, if you go on a business trip and take a day off while you are there – wherever there is – does that count? How about a trip to visit a former college roommate, or attend a wedding or funeral or graduation or bar mitzvah and you take a day, or two, off? Does a vacation have to be unalloyed?

Because if so, I have not been off on a vacation in a lot of years. We didn’t even take that many when I was a bairn. Some of our trips were for amusement and edification but they usually had a component of visiting relatives along the way, or they were piggybacked on one of my father’s business trips. Or we just went somewhere that he could fish, which brings up the derivative question of whether it is a vacation if it isn’t enjoyable?

This got continued when my own daughter was growing up. If we went somewhere it was usually piggybacked, but more frequently the daughter got shipped off to a grandparent’s and FD SCP and I got to experience a few days of mournful simplification in our lives.

Maybe I do need a vacation.

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