Caffeine and Teddy Bears

I have to admit that I am a bit tired of the good people of Nawth Alibam, and Greater Metropolitan Arab, tell me that this winter’s extremes indicate that climate change is either a conspiracy or a sham, if not both. This outlook seems to be common across much of the Yankee republic, at least if I can place any trust in the media, which is itself a possible sham or conspiracy.

I am also tired of saying to these people that weather is not climate although delivering a lecture on the role of energy levels in weather variance is usually worth it just to enjoy the glazing of their eyes and minds and the silence ensuing therefrom. This is a variant on a trick I learned as an undergraduate of how to run off business majors at a social event – all one had to do was speak maths and they would run away screaming in terror of their very lives. And if there is one thing most people in small towns in the Yankee republic think they know, it is business.

On which azimuth, I note that the coffee growers association is complaining about how climate change is cutting into their crop yields. [Link] The business person will immediately laugh cynically at this since coffee prices have been rather reduced in recent years by crop glut. These knowing folks will attribute the rhetoric to a conspiracy to elevate coffee prices.

The marketplace is, of course, a social reality that only takes note of actual reality when the universe decides to kick social reality in the ribs, which is likely the situation with climate change. Sadly, most people – all bogs, most geeks, and all too many nerds – cannot see beyond that social reality and so that kick in the ribs is neither expected nor understandable.

I do however, note that to a large extent that social reality runs on two fluids – gasoline and brewed coffee (the beverage, not the bean.) So how many broken ribs and punctured lungs will reductions in both cause?

On the gooder side however, researchers at U Cambridge have done a medical study (I hate to call these things experiments) that indicates that people who drink brewed coffee beverage have a lower probability of having strokes than people who do not. [Link] One of the intriguing things about this study is that the researchers were able (apparently?) to find enough non-drinkers for statistical significance.[1] Perhaps that is why they performed the study in England? Tea and all that harbor stuff?

But the question does arise of whether the increase in strokes from decreased supply of coffee will be explained as a sham or conspiracy by climate change skeptics? The answer is: of course!

Against Stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain!

And lastly, on the whackier side, courtesy of the Pew people I find out that 0.83 of millennials sleep with their cellular phones.[Link]

I can happily say that I do not. One of the rules FD SCP and I have is that we have neither telephones nor televisions in the bedroom. Bedrooms are where you sleep (or try to at our age.) We do have an alarm clock but it has not been engaged as other than a time piece in almost five years.

I am better than I used to be with my cellular phone. In previous days I only turned it on when I wanted to call someone. Now that I no longer answer calls if the caller ID is not identifiable turning it off seems unnecessary.

Now to enjoy a bit of morning stroke prevention. While I can.

[1] That’s maths talk that all the bogs can ignore, or just run outside screaming in terror.

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Ignorance Triumphant

The coupled matters of eBooks and eReaders have been topics of bloggery here for some time, as have been my rather exacting requirements for what I want to give up my piles and cases of pBooks, or, at least, to transition to using the marvels of manufactured quantum mechanics in some form. As a result of such interest, and given the puling prevarication [1] of most articles on the subject, I hardly expected any epiphanal insights to emerge from such. I was – happily, enjoyably, challengingly – wrong.

Yesterday in going through my wanted inspection of web sites and blogs I happened on this article [Link] about eBooks on Download Squad. The article was an immediate strong attractor of my attention trajectories.

This article dealt with a client utility, whether web or local unstated and hence an indication of the usual shoddy journalism even now present on good geekish sites, that would permit subscribed academics to tailor electronic text resources for their classes (or other needs?) The nugget of the piece was a statement that the cost of eTexts would be about 1/3 that of pTexts, which, despite being uncited, was in line with my own estimations of ~0.5 and hence a useful factoid (anecdotal datum) as well as a potentially emotionally positive indicator.

But then the article closed with this statement,

Fewer wasted trees? Check! A cost savings to students? Ding! No extraneous chapters that the professor won’t even assign? Booyah! Professors can even add their own media and supplemental reading. It almost makes me want to go get another useless advanced degree. Now, if only other textbook publishers would follow Macmillan’s lead …

This paragraph contains the strange attractor. It’s the sentence starting ‘No extraneous chapters’ that was the sink, the epiphany, the moment so often attributed by humans to the interaction directly with the deity. [2]

What is implied, nay, demonstrated here is an attitude that textbooks have no value outside of an individual course; they have no higher relevance. I found this outlook antithetical, if not actually antagonistic. I was aware that many students have this attitude from my own experiences back when television was monochrome and dinosaurs hid on college campuses, but that outlook was limited to the most egregious of bogs. Why even some bogs kept some of their textbooks, husband hunters in the college of home economics and rejected wannabes exiled to the colleges of business and education kept a textbook or two on some matter that they thought of value like accounting or discipline or cooking. And the liberal arts bogs all kept textbooks from literature classes with some snippet of poetry that touched their inner beings, a very nonlinear response. And among the geeks and nerds, many texts were retained. I have to admit to discarding almost all of my elective texts, those from courses the administration mandated I have passed and be on my transcript but I kept the maths and sciences texts even extending to the texts in the philosophy and anthropology electives I took to satisfy a requirement for the soft so-called sciences.[3]

But this spurning, written by someone who should likely be a geek at least given the site and its contents? The implication that this is an attitude inherent to the current generation seems confirmed by my own observations of my daughter and her cohort who seem to thing information should be transferred by Clarkian magic into their heads without having to read at all. Certainly the future has no need of texts once the social and economic ritual of college is completed.

Once more I am happy to have been when I was. College no longer seems to hold promise or epiphany for too many. And I weep for their loss. It seems almost better that they had not been for looking back to what I experienced and thinking them deprived I am torn between failure and meaninglessness in some contemporary Scylla and Charybdis. No feeling of smug superiority here, only grief for the blind.

[1] How’s that for an antagonistic Agnewism? And for those holding this outlook, who?

[2] College is all about these. I discovered this after riding down to campus in August of my freshman year to attend student orientation, a 2.5 day marathon. Parents were included in separate activities, presumably to assure them that Chinese brainwashing nor other manipulation techniques would be used – overtly. Anyway, the ride was long and without intermission so my highest priority on arriving on campus was to discharge my bladder. The intense feeling of that evacuation standing in front of a trough urinal in an actual collegiate entropy cellar was my first of many college epiphanies.

[3] Neither philosophy nor anthropology are soft. In many ways they are harder, more brutal than physics or chemistry, but neither is really science. Philosophy, like maths, proudly proclamative of this although anthropology, like psychology or sociology, claims to be a science while failing miserably on testability. But there is still a rigor there that puts a stronger, worse lie to the analytical pretensions of literature and even history.

Union Rules

The end of the exercise week has arrived. I could definitely tell I had peaked this morning although the cold front that moved in last night likely had all sorts of contribution to that. My joints just don;t work very well is the gym is more suitable for hanging meat than exercising; if the temperature is such that my joints never get warm then I might as well be the Tin Man.

The podcast this morning was an episode of Melvyn, Lord Bragg’s, “In Our Time”, and while it was excellent, as usual, the thing that crept into my attention span while listening to the trajectory of the Indian mutiny was the interplay between science (and technology) and society. In the case of nineteenth century India it was paper cartridges supposedly sealed with animal fat that ran afoul of religious doctrine and dogma. Somehow twenty-first century America seems similar in the science seems to be running afoul of religious dogma.

An article in Science News [Link] talks about how science awareness – I somehow have the impression this is not scientate; science literacy even though the article characterizes it as such – is up to 0.28 of population sampled. This is up from previous but it still puts the Yankee republic soundly in the middle of the second rate. The blame for this is largely placed upon the educational apparat. The increase is laid at the necks of collegiate academia that mandates that all general education (Capellan curriculum?) students take a year (two semesters?) of science courses.

The decreasing side of things is noosed to the nation’s high shul educationalists. Science knowledge among high shul students is somewhere between dead flat (zero derivative wrt time) of even a bit negative (the difference once more between a rate and a fraction of population sampled in a time interval.) The whole thing can be summed up in one lustrous, adamantine statement,

In general, high-school science classes tend to be elementary in nature, and poorly taught – often by teachers who lack much grounding in the subject.

I have little quibble with the elementary nature – the statement is from the standpoint of awareness of science issues which are inherently contemporary and often not elementary (in the fundamental sense.) The incompetence of the educationalists is however, damning and a matter of dogma as adamantine and antediluvian as that of the most doctrinaire of religions. The Helleresque Catch-22 is that educationalists are required to have education credentials that assure they are incompetent to teach disciplines at the high shul (and higher) levels. And nothing is being done to change this; if anything, it is getting worse as the educationalist organizations become more and more reactionary.

It is almost impossible to compare Yankee republic educational dogma to the Counter-Reformation of the church of Rome, the spectacle of Urban VIII (?) and Galileo Galelei, the intensity of an organization that it cannot be wrong and it cannot be criticized.

The only cheering aspect of this whole thing is that given the state of American educationalists, they would misteach intelligent design and creationism as well.

Rigorous Cinema

I have been mulling this one, an article in the Guardian [Link][1] that begins with the statement

Science fiction movies should be allowed only one major transgression of the laws of physics, according to a US professor who has won backing from a number of his peers after creating a set of guidelines for Hollywood.

and I have to admit that I am a bit asea over the intention.

At first glance I have some difficulty understanding how the science fiction movie as a genre can survive such. If the ‘laws’ of science have to be obeyed, with one itty bitty bit of simony, then the technology gets pretty weak and sparse. For example, no computers since quantum mechanics is a theory and not a law.[2] Nor any lasers, much less rayguns. So Avatar is gone in a puff of inadequate social value.

If we broaden the meaning to include theory then we still have to consider how rigorously the postulations are held accountable. For example, no Star Trek since warp drive and transporters would be permitted; no Star Wars since no faster than light travel or light sabers, to say nothing of mental powers; and so forth.

And as unclear as what little will be left, how long has it been since any movie was made that actually did justice to hard science fiction? There was more than one thing broken in Destination Moon and that was the last hard science fiction movie I can recall. Will people today go to see hard science fiction? And what is hard science fiction these days?

But ultimately I have to argue that this is a rather stupid social engineering idea. We go to the movies to get a bit of relief from human social reality, which is not to be confused with the reality that this article is proposing. But somewhere along the path of disbelief suspension what arises to make science fiction movies enjoyable is the violation of the laws of science. Notably, what makes the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons enduringly watched is the fractures of science.

Modern bogs will argue that we have to consider the visual effects. People have been telling me this since Forbidden Planet came out and I answer that yes the first time I see the visual effects they are neat and cool but they are not very memorable. In fact, two weeks later they are stale and obsolete, mawkish even. No, what makes science fiction movies entertaining enduringly is the absurdities and amusements of those violations of actual reality. I well remember sitting through part of the Disney movie The Black Hole laughing deeply over the continual violations until I was ejected from the theater by the manager on the lame excuse the movie was supposed to be taken seriously.[3] I did finally see the whole things years later on DVD and it is all still hilarious.

Or what about Star Trek, a social engineering government where everyone walks around with stainless steel rods up their alimentary canal, doomed to a life of wearing pajamas and being completely anal? Or Star Wars, the ultimate wannabe of might is right, as if that issue didn’t get better treated in Forbidden Planet? But undeniably, the whole Star Wars thing just has to be loved in Vatican City.

So no, thank you, I don’t want science fiction movies to have to obey the laws of science because they just wouldn’t be worth watching. And they are bad enough these days as they are with too much CGI and too little plot and acting.

[1] Not in an American newspaper surely! This would be too contrary to the cash flow of advertisers who are, after all, the degenerating masters of what is reported in Amerika.

[2] Ask the intelligent design folks. They know the distinction so well they can bend it to make whatever silly argument they want.

[3] And just how seriously can you take movies like Dr. Zhivago (poetry writing adulterous physician,) the King and I (Mary Magdalen in reverse,) or Ben Hur (the real nice Jewish boy story.)

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

One of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, called my attention to this cartoon, [Link]

which definitely made me feel like an ORF who had spent his time on the alimentary canal of nerdish life and been excreted as stercus tauri.

In the glory days of undergraduate shul, the choices of programming languages at the campus of the Black Warrior were three: COBOL, used in the business college; FORTRAN, used in the engineering college; and BAMABELLE, used in the arts and science college. Naturally we opted for FORTRAN to do nerdery even if that meant having to show proper disrespect for false authority to the poobahs of the college of arts and science.

So far as we knew there were no debugging tools, and no one showed me how to read a core dump until I was past needing it for all but the most noxious of coding. Instead we used a modular approach testing each module as we went, and developing test cases that we could confirm by other means to verify our code’s operation. Having a good printer plot in those days was a boon as it allowed us to visualize the gestalt of numbers without getting laborious with graph paper and french curve.

That was what programming was about in those days – numbers, not GUI interface like so much is today. And that was part of why I gradually gave up programming in the dark days when MegaHard changed the universe and we all had to use Windows. So I became a manager and had programmers on my staff who could write code for me; or at least they could write the GUI interface code, they were pretty bad when it came to writing number crunching code. Most of them had no idea how to extract polynomial roots or do any kind of integration when they didn’t know the integrand functionally.

But now we have Linux and a command line, which means I can write FORTRAN code again and crunch many numbers. And excrete them in text files that spreadsheet programs can ingest and excrete nice graphs for me.

One of the things we often forget is that writing code is the complement to gratuitous reproductive activity. Both only work if you do them ‘right’ but the one is ‘right’ only if it satisfies the rules and the other is only ‘right’ if it transcends the rules.

Galgenhumor

As I scan over the articles plucked from the RSS feeds last night I am struck by two things. One is recurring, that the best and worst information is excreted on the weekends. The other seems a bit less fundamental, that several articles give a decided aroma of human incompetence and perversion.

First, and perhaps least tawdry, is an article [Link] based on a news release from Virginia Tech entitled “Biologists use mathematics to advance our understanding of health and disease”. What is tawdry here is that if any scientists except biologists were announcing this it would be greeted with laughter so resounding that the emergency rooms of all hospitals in the area would be flooded with people who had damaged themselves rolling uncontrollably on the floor.

Instead, the response is more likely a linear combination of groans and “you have to be kidding!” The development of experimental, analytical science can be said quite accurately to have begun in the early part of the seventeenth century and maths, such as they were back then, were fundamental to that development. No small amount of terror and trumpeting has been made ever since them over the amazing fact that maths describe our universe.

For everyone but the biologists. Biologists have been prideful in being even less calculate that students of business who, after all, have to keep accounts. So when any biologists stand up and announce in that selfsame prideful fashion that they have developed a new tool called maths the rest of us are faced with the dilemma of what socially unacceptable response do we display?

On which note of biologists, I have to make note of the recent nastiness at the campus of the Tennessee wherein a biologist went on a pogrom among her colleagues who, tacitly but likely, denied her tenure. Given the incident initially displayed nothing but the efficacy of surprise and how even obsolete weapons can be use effectively under such conditions, I had no reason to comment. I did note that the point where actual understanding could occur of what happened was not past since all information now forthcoming would either be that issued by justicers to further their schemes or by journalists to assure cash flow. An article yesterday in the New Yawk Times [Link] is the latest and largest tawdriness in this propaganda, taking to new heights the journalistic thesis that the campus of the Tennessee is populated with academic rejects and (the other ‘r’ word) who cannot obtain employment or admission, as the case may be, at any competent university. Given the present administration of the campus I suspect this theme is unsurprising.

But the greatest tawdriness of all is the implication, nay, declaration that science and scientists must now be rigorously socialized and there is no merit in advancing new ideas that are beyond the originality of electric windows in automobiles. Simply put, the New Yawk Times clearly announces that good scholarship and research is the Ford Edsel.

The last piece of tawdriness deals with government, an article [Link] from an academic at U Manchester who claims government of the Yankee republic and the British despotism are underestimating the effort required to rescind current levels of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane.) That they are doing this is neither escapable not covert but it does display the fundamental disconnect between academics in general and scientists in particular from politicians and bogs. Since the bogs, especially in the Yankee republic, have decided, for whatever reasons but mostly denialism and apathy, that climate change is a science conspiracy to take over the world, and bogs are the only ones politicians listen to until extinction is in the streets, the amounts are not being underestimated. The matter is simply not going to be addressed and the underestimates are simply how politicians cover their bets to avoid being caught lacking when the bogs are wrong.

But at least the weapon being used is not as nasty as a firearm.

Snow Culture

My morning meanderings brought me to this cartoon [Link]

which, for the benefit of those who follow not this cartoon, the human male depicted is an aspiring writer/author, the human female depicted is an aspiring artist/painter, and the statue male depicted is a deceased author.

If one can transcend the hunter-gatherer humor of adventurous worldly male and hormonal clueless (blond) female one can examine the interaction between two art people: a writer and a painter. And how they are unable to communicate on art because they each inhabit different parts of the space of art.

This leads to consideration of C. P. Snow’s commentary on The Two Cultures of art and science and how they have problems communicating with each other, and even of valuing each other, a situation that in the framework of this cartoon is embarrassingly clear.

And then one can consider all the on-going grrr brrr about scientists communicating science with non-scientists, which is rather analogous to nerds communicating with bogs and in many cases equivalent. It occurs from this that when individuals are unable to learn enough to carry on communication, no communication is possible. If two art people are so consumed by their own subspaces that they cannot learn about the other’s, either willfully or through absence of capacity, then trivially they cannot communicate about their art. And if bogs are unwilling to learn enough science to share knowledge with scientists any attempt by scientists to communicate with them is doomed to failure, a waste of time and effort.