Art and Arzt

Rather a strange symmetry at the gym this morning, the pinheads – their own term – at Reynard news on the inside of the televisions on the wall, and the relative hordes – is there a collective name for the social organization of lemmings? – of the teacher taliban. The symmetry comes from the televisions being mounted on the wall so that one has the perception of looking through a window into a room beyond.

The Reynardians were lambasting the chief kudzu of the Whole Foods market chain and doing so in a sadly inane, often contradictory fashion. At one point they asked how this fellow thought his criticism of the current administration’s health care machination would “have an impact.” The incongruity of this being said on a television network, albeit a rather whacked one, transmitted throughout the Yankee republic was at once hilarious and saddening. One could not help but muse if getting these pampered news readers to pronounce something is not having a meaningless but substantial impact on society, then what is?

They alternated in this vein with a Colonel Blimp (modern) republican corporate oligarch discourse on how captains of industry – assuming or presuming that the head of a chain of groceries is a captain or that grocery is an industry – have no business having morals or ethics only profits. And then they went on, along the foodstuffs azimuth, to decry the efforts of the Yankee government to diminish the toxicity of chain restaurant offerings.

I could not help but recall the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs – that dead geese lay no eggs – in trying to reconcile the cyclical contradictions in this delivery.

The near side of the wall was less boisterous other than the overloud groans of members of the teacher taliban who evidently did not do exercies over the summer months that shul was out of session. I once more had the opportunity to wonder at the incongruity of the arrogance of dominating others to express oneself. Scant wonder that the education apparat is predominantly (modern) democrat.

I quickly turned to my MP3 player for an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas”. This one was one of their monthly ‘arts’ episodes which are generally vacuous as well as meaningless. This one was no exception although it did give me occasion to consider whether art is nerdery, geekery, or bogery. I quickly eliminated bogery since the enterprise is too aeconomic to be appealing to a bog.

In many ways, art does have aspects of nerdery. It is understood by few, but the overwhelming question is whether it is productive in some fashion. It does produce something although I would not consider much of what is produced by most artists to have any merit or contribution of any kind. But then, I am one of those who holds that the slide rule was one of the highest forms of human art in combining practical functional fuctionality with mystical, emotional satisfaction. But recognizing that others may not see this also captures the nature of both art and nerdery, so I was forced to accept the hypothesis that art may indeed by nerdery but that the matter was insufficently parametrized, if it could be.

After all, who am I to determine if something contributes to the health of the species?

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What is the height of Stupidity?

Back when I was a senior in high shul, the old joke of the title was making its periodic rounds. As I was making the rounds of the blogs I read, I came across this

 

on Download Squad. [Link] The blot is on the matter of some failed MegaHard advertising catch phrases, of which this was the featured one. [Link]

I can see why the failure. After seeing this every Mac and Linux user will be doing themselves a serious injury rolling on floor and laughing sans control.

On which note, not only is there life without Windows, but it is a good life. Indeed, it is so good that the rational among us have to ask if existence with Windows is life or just slavery, maybe, on the best of days, serfdom?

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Unless it’s a problem

In rummaging through the backlog of articles that amasses during the week, [1] I came across an article on ScienceRay, [Link] “Is It Ethical for People to Rely on Electronics?”. The article deals with some particular issues having to do with using electronics to monitor the elderly and, in some sense, infirm. The ethical issue is in clear counterpoint to the economic issue of whether we, as humans individually and as societies, can free humans from this custodial activity by using relatively simple, and thereby, hopefully, near infallible and attentive widgets. The economic issue is the cost of the widgets and their minor upkeep compared to the cost of a human attendant.

The economic issue is in some sense specious in this age of consumer leisure and entertainment. It rests firmly in the value of human endeavor. On the one side of this is that humans have value because they produce things. What is less clear is whether value attaches to those who produce things that have monetary value in the artificiality of marketplace or just in more absolute context of species survival? And if the latter, how is quantitative valuation to be effected in a meaningful and substantive way, unlike the use of the purely artificial, arbitrary, and baseless metric of money? The matter is further complicated by the inconsistencies. If every human’s efforts are valued then the earned credit of seniors merits care, but if only substantive contribution is valued, almost all seniors are valueless and can be ignored into oblivion. As is often the case our addiction to the immediacy of money hampers our rationality.

Leaving such Gordian knots for the moment, let us turn to the question of whether using electronics is adequately ethical. If the device is indeed accurate, that is, it measures what needs to be measured and also measures its own accuracy, then if the instrumentality can provide action support in a sufficiently timely fashion, which is more than can be claimed for human attendants with scant attention, the ethicality question has to reside in the ameasurable but observable component of human-human interaction. As such, no rational decision is possible.

This is not a new question. I was reminded of my first encounter with the matter, at the point of the spear as it were, by the arrival of the spring/summer 2009 issue of “Department of Chemistry News” from the campus of the Boneyard. In this issue was a brief article announcing the retirement of a professor, Momentum Magnetic Induction. I was mentally returned to the end of fall semester 1971/2. I was assigned as a teaching assistant to a general chemistry class lectured by this professor.

In those days teaching assistants were in a several way Oreo situation. Their supervisor was the head of section, in this case Gravitational constant Hamiltonian but attached to the professor teaching the specific course, in this case Momentum Magnetic Induction. Both could issue direction and guidance. And, of course, the TA was also supposed to get some research done for their adviser. The situation is often religious and difficult.

The description in the periodical article of Momentum Magnetic Induction is glowing and humanitarian, a paragon of the ‘good’ aspects of humans. Working for him as a TA made me very glad he was not my adviser, which is saying much given the nature of my adviser. In many ways Momentum Magnetic Induction was like someone in a Greek myth, the kind who suffer from overweening ambition and end up barbecuing their children through divine muddling of mental faculties.

The ethical issue arose at final exam time. In those days they occurred after the winter solstice holiday break, when christmas, or chanucah or whatever was observed. A freshman walked into the exam with a christmas present, one of the new luggable basic arithmetic electronic calculators. [2] The question raised was whether he should be allowed to use this on exam? Did it confer an unfair – whatever that is – advantage?

Immediately the professor and sycophant assistants went into frenzy. Ambition was struck ringingly because any hint of impropriety in teaching would have possibly minor effect on tenure decisions. After all, this was a state funded teaching university, which meant that tenure decisions were made 0.99 on the basis of research and grant success.

Happily it was pointed out that slide rules were permitted in the rules – although the average bog freshman was clueless on how to use – and this calculator was, in effect, the same. Not a solution, for there is no solution since this is not a problem but a condition, but it relieved the panic and the actual business of bureaucratic education could continue.

[1] Caught me! Obviously this implies the week begins on Monday.
[2] The HP 35 had been announced – all the graduate students had a picture clipped from a periodical and attached to their wall – but not released, not that we could have afforded it on our stipends of $200-300 per month for 9 or 11 months per year.

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Dearth Days

Yes, I know I haven’t made any blots the last couple of days. Mixture of doldrums, anything that moves me the comment, and my head being into a research of looking at diffusion as renewal-like.

Sour Grapes

Having done so-so on fat, the American Heart Association has come out against sugar. [1] OK. I can accept that, but why do they keep ignoring the sodium thing? [2]

Is there a prurient interest here?

[1]  Got email so can’t cite an article.
[2]  As far as I can tell every additional gram of sodium you have over bodily requirements translates to 0.5 kg of retained, globulous water (dihydrogen oxide). Another form of obesity.

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New Year

The local public shuls rebooted a couple of weeks ago, and the colleges seem to be doing so this week. Certainly I have been seeing lots of ‘welcome, slime mold freshmen, to campus, this is how you are supposed to behave’ or ‘rejoice! this is how the administration has made starting the shul year less traumatic’ articles in the student newspapers of the campus of the Black Warrior [Link] and the campus of the Boneyard. [Link] [Link] All of which rather brings me to consider my strating experiences.

As a freshman at the campus of the Black Warrior I had already gone through a 2.5 day on-campus indoctrination during the height of summer when the only people stirring on campus were hung over public shul teachers working for graduate credits to up their paychecks and really dedicated, real graduate students. And, of course, us being marched from place to place for College 101. Lots of briefings by interested parties trying to sell us on various things, like signing up for ROTC courses or buying meal tickets – 14 or 20 meals per week, and thankfully a pep talk by a social sciences graduate student at the one on few level and re-registration for fall courses. The latter was when I learned not to pay any attention to advisors who didn’t know you although I did not appreciate what I learned until Christmas holiday.

Despite this, we had to come back a couple of days before the rush so I had to arrive at my dorm in tow of parents. Happily I was not alone in this; the U wisely had this time programmed for parents to do the semi-covert sniffle thing without embarrassing us too much in front of who had experienced this at least a year previously. So I semi-stoically – didn’t know what that word really meant until the next summer – put up with my mother frantically cleaning an already clean – for college – dorm room and their tourist bright help purchasing textbooks and supplies. Most of the latter turned out to be useless or superfluous, replaced the next week by items recommended by kind, empathic upperclassmen.

What they didn’t get to experience, happily on my part, was the joys of the dorm cluster cafeteria. I was fortunate enough to avoid the megadorm the cafeteria was in as residence, but I still had to visit there 20 times a week, Sunday evening the exception, to partake of their meals. My father would have understood with his Great Patriotic War experiences with navy food, and his workplace experiences with Yankee army commissary cafeterias, but my mother would have decided I would starve on the unseasoned but overcooked foodstuffs. All in all, however, the rationale that an automobile-less freshamn would have trouble getting meals was not too inaccurate. And the spring term I fulfilled my mother’s unborn reaction by dropping 25 pounds – so much for the Freshman 15! – because of back to back classes across the lunch period forcing me to skip lunch.

The following years were not as difficult, especially after I moved out of dorm the summer between my sophomore and junior years. The only crisis was not having preference for registration, which proved to be a non-issue after my sophomore year with majors in very underpopulated classes. There is no terror in a class with 25 allotted seats and only 5 registrants. But I learned the spring semester of my freshman year to swipe a registration form before registration actually opened, fill it out, get a friend to scrawl something in the advisor signature block, while returning the favor, and show up at the gymnasiu, where class registrations were pulled ten minutes after opening on the first day. Regardless of whatever alphabetical order, rotated each semester, you were supposed to observe. In at 0810, at the book store by 0900. The latter was important because the managers of the bookstores knew which classes would not fill and bought accordingly. If you wanted that quantum mechanics 321 textbook be there early, no web in those days. Or xerox machines.

When I went off to graduate shul, it was almost like regression to being a freshman again, except without the pre-registration. Not that graduate registration was a pain in those days. But indoctrination was as thorough although more along the lines of how not to get your undergraduate charges killed, if you were a teaching assistant, that is. And how to live on a stipend of $300 per month for nine or eleven months and not come down with deficiency diseases or go to debtor’s prison.

But many of those memories, nor forty plus years old, are still bring, largely because I still have some old towels and clothes with  the name tages sewn in them by my mother. Stuff was made better then. I also have my slide rule and quite a few of my nerd textbooks, the ones not destroyed in the great fire of ’01. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind going back to then but not to starting college now. Somehow the fun has been sucked out in the intervening years.

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Camelot Camphor

Wednesday is supposed to be Quirks and Quarks day but because they have been on holiday and I am building up a buffer, I defaulted to “The World” podcasts. In and around that, I had occasion to take in the persisting evidence of the media’s partisan prejudice.

Sir Bors has passed. [Link]

I can think of many things to say on the matter. A comparison to the recent circus accorded that entertainer could be made. Some comment about campaign workers could be made. Out of deference to my Southron programming I shall refrain from any such. I should like to say something positive about the man but I fear I know of nothing to cite. Not that I think there is not something, just that I do not know what it is.

Leaving ambiguity aside, I take note that a new land speed record has been set for steam power automobiles. [Link] That, at least, I can find some good to mention. In this one instance we have some evidence of hope for the continuation of the species. Although I do have to admit to not being sure whether this new record being set by an Englishman is a good or an ill.

I hope that the tyrant of England sees fit to bestow knighthood on this stalwart fellow. We may only hope that he continues to do good for the species and stays out of politics.

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Compost

I once more have a plethora of accumulated articles, and being human I look through them to find patterns, recognizing that there is a significant probability those patterns are false even to my nerdish perception. The pattern I perceive this morning is that several are the articles are related by needing greater contemplation and cogitation.

First, [Link] there is research from U Tokyo that indicates that fire exits can be made safer by partly obstructing them. My first chain of thoughts here have been my own experiences with fire drills, crowding and jostling in Tokyo, and an old movie. Having worked for the Yankee government, and in particular the army, for many years, I have participated in more fire drills than parties, and enjoyed the drills rather more than the parties except when they were scheduled during inclement weather – ‘we don’t care how many people get sick from exposure, they have to learn to be safe!’ was an actual statement after an army fire drill in the rain in winter that sent 15 people to hospital with pneumonia.

So you early on learn to proceed slowly to the exits to avoid the trample, and maybe minimize the amount of time you have to stand in the weather. But the trampling reminds me of how people get on and off subways and how extreme that is in Tokyo. So if anyone is going to study trampling it is an academic in a big city. And the old movie was the one with Gary Cooper playing Alvin York having a discussion with the subway ‘pusher’ from New Yawk. Putting an obstacle in the way is another form of pushing.

And while we are on big city academics, I see that the lads at the Wonk shul on the Charles have used cellular phone usage to distinguish friends from acquaintances.[Link] Violation of privacy aside, I have to wonder how they validate this. And does this make organizations you are arguing with over something friends? Back when I was traveling a lot I played a lot of phone tag with people I was working with. That didn’t mean they were friends.

Next, speaking of strange friends, Matt Asay did a neat piece [Link] on the search engine preferences correlated with OS preference.

He drew note to the commitment by Linux users. My left outside of the box take was that Gooey has a Lanchestrian monopoly with Linux and Apple (Unix) OS users, and almost one with Megahard users. Of course this is one of those classic cases of fractions (percentages) being likely misleading since the last time I checked Apple + Linux ~ 0.25 of total. But there is lots of structure here to think on.

And while we are on the subject of monopolies, I see that researchers at U Oregon and the Smithsonian [1] have done some research that early coastal dwelling humans (~ 13 KYA so near the end of the cold phase and probably early in human settlement of the Americas) basically destroyed the local ecology.[Link]

Some comment should perhaps be advanced that there are some theories that the transition from hunter-gatherer to sedentary existence crystalized in coastal settlements where hunting (well, fishing) could be continued after the cold phase and permit agriculture to begin in a not yet crash situation. But what is damning in this work is more evidence of the inability of humans to live in nature despite all the prattle by the social engineers and the ecological idealists. This deepens the dounts that our species can ever practice sustainment successfully.

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In Search of Academic Something

I have been pinged a bit about my attitude of the relationship of college attendance with education. Recognizing that I can, with high probability, do nothing to either alleviate the difficulties colleges have gotten themselves into selling something other than education but in its guise, or to alter the conceptions of those who have pinged me, I plan to continue in this blog with the conviction that I began that it is a medium of my cogitations and opinions and only occasionally a dialog.

In this sense I was rather pleased with a guest article [Link] in the student newspaper of the campus of the Boneyard by a ‘recent’ graduate of college to entering freshmen. The overall tone of the article is quite hedonistic but some parts of it actually ring of good purpose as well as good sense. Before proceeding to consideration of that I feel a bit compelled to rant on the subject of college hedonism.

I feel some degree of qualification to address this matter, having done my undergraduate studies at the campus of the Black Warrior, notorious then and now as a party shul. I should admit that that fact was oblivious to me until sometime through my freshman year of study. I was not a party person in high shul. Being an introvert as well as an incipient nerd, the only parties I attended were shul functions that my parents demanded I attend as part of attending shul. I dutifully attended and generally had a miserable to blah experience.

At that time, freshmen were not permitted automobiles, so our out-of-class lives were largely a matter of walking together or cadging rides from upperclassmen – a rarity. Hence the rather trite joke of the day: how do you tell freshmen? – they herd. As a result our evening activities on weekends – week nights were dutifully spent studying in the main – were largely limited but as football season peaked I became aware of the boisterous Greek (as in fraternity and sorority, not the nationality or the ‘civilization’) parties.

From there it was a short step to discovering the party nature of the campus and once I looked about a bit I noticed that the vast majority of students selected courses not on the basis of what they could learn but what grade they could get, and were generally more interested in what party they were going to do or make  than in what they had just learned in class. The old high shul distinctions between extroverts and introverts, between bogs and geeks and nerds, was still there but without the social rankings of before.

That is not to say there were not social distinctions but college was remarkably democratic in that regard in those days. Whereas in high shul the jocks and the cheerleaders had been the social elite and the nerds and geeks the pariahs, in college each looked down on the other, at least in those days. The fraternity/sorority types, the former majoring in business, the latter in home economics or education, looked down on the non-Greeks regardless of major. The science and engineering majors looked down on all who weren’t. And while there was an aspect of disdain in those attitudes, there was also a sense of some sympathy.

One of the biggest differences between folks in college then was how they partied. The Greeks partied whenever they could. They even cut class to party. The nerds primary party activity in the fall was attending football games. And only during, not after – studies had to be caught up on. But after big tests, especially semester finals, nerds quietly partied, usually in near solitariness, more cocktail party with nerd discussion than dancing and carousing. Nerd parties tended to be much quieter as well as less frequent.

Of course once one got to graduate shul, even this ceased. No wasting time going to athletic events. Of course the Greek bogs didn’t go to graduate shul. They went out into the real world and got jobs, mostly through the intervention of parents, got married and quit using birth control, and partied. At which distinction I have to wonder why they went to college in the first place unless to become educated in how to party?

Ah well, enough of that. Back to the newspaper article:

“As far as school goes, choose to be here. If your parents chose for you, get out now and come back on your terms, or you’ll likely get burned out.”

I have to agree with this. Of my freshman class I think all of us were in college because of our parents telling us for years that we were going to college. It was a result of the whole Great Depression – Great Patriotic War thing. Those who had other reasons, or found other reasons stayed; those who didn’t disappeared. Sadly a lot of those never did find anything to do with themselves.

“Give yourself an easy semester to start with; take easy and interesting classes. Get the partying out of your system.”

This is one I tend to disagree with. I got this advice from an assigned, overworked advisor as a registering freshman. I had too much time on my hands and quickly found I needed to be overloaded to do well. But I was/am an introvert and nerd. This may be good advice for extroverts and bogs.

“At the beginning of every semester, register for as many classes as possible and drop the ones you don’t like. “

I like this one but I have to caveat it. The key word here is “like”. If you are taking those types of classes where you read the book first and then go to class to discuss, and your grade is based on that kind of fuzzy stercus, then you better like the professor and he needs to like you to get a good enough grade to survive. But if you are a nerd and/or an introvert, or taking the other type of course where you have to go to lecture to get told how to read the text and then do stuff for grade, you need to like what you are learning first and the professor second, maybe not at all. And if you are not a party bog, then taking an overload is good because these things do reinforce. I once got an extra letter grade in a junior analytical chemistry class because I was also taking an electronics course in the physics department and ended up knowing more about that subject than the chemistry professor and could rescue him during class demonstration that had gone aglee.

“And as far as life after school goes, anticipate leaving school being really tough. Realize that unless you’re studying engineering or computer science, you are very likely to not have a job offer when you graduate, let alone a high-paying dream job. Plan on people with bachelor’s degrees being ubiquitous in the job market.”

Again, I partly agree with this. My undergraduate days were the best time of my life because I actually had a lot of free time, despite taking twice as many hours of courses as the average student, and could enjoy them. But the job thing was a bit different. We were aware enough to realize if you were really serious about being a nerd you had to go to graduate shul. So the job thing didn’t enter in until I got disillusioned with the academic bureaucracy. And the economic conditions were bad then, especially for nerds. And the first job I found was drek but the second was a keeper, not a dream job, because such are as fake as any dream, but one that I could make into what I could do and not what I was paid to do.

And the bachelor’s degree thing is dead on. It’s about like someone in your parent’s day having a high shul diploma.

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