Three Stooges Monday

Back to the gym! The week is officially begun. The weather beavers are forecasting rain for most of the week and right now thw weather is decidedly springish – as in season and not Young’s modulus. The podcasts this morning were an episode of CBC’s “Best of Ideas” and a couple of what used to be “Future Tense”, but isn;t any more and isn’t near as good. The new newsreader is way to suavey and deboner. as one of my undergraduate colleagues, “Smiling John” Angular Momentum liked to say.

The Ideas podcast had a good piece that somehow grabbed my attention. They were interviewing one of what the Canadians call “Native Peoples” – as if the Amerinds evolved in the Americas – an Ojibway, who was relating how when he was a boy living on reservation his grandparents got a television. What is riveting is that he had never seen caucasians/Europeans before and his first sight of them was Three Stooges episodes on the television. He said he is still in fear of ‘white people’ coming up and hitting him.

I can’t say that I disagree too much. We late arrivers from Europe have not been noted for being particularly nice. Of course, one of the reasons we got away with being nasty so easily was because the Amerinds had pretty well killed themselves off just before we arrived. That’s not an excuse but it is a reason.

Anyway, speaking of which, I note an article [Link] about work from the Yankee government’s National Exposure Research Laboratory, which incidentally has nothing to do with wearing rain coats – and nothing else – in public places, that indicates that the presence of amoeba in the nation’s water supply is increasing. We tend to forget about amoebic diseases so this looks like a prescription for a die-off if we aren’t careful. Of course Amoeba are big, compared to molecules of dihydrogen oxide, so we can filter the beasties out but then what do we do with them?

Naegleria fowleri amoebas, like these, can glom onto nerve endings in the nose of an exposed individual and motor along them into the brain. There they can trigger encephalitis, a nerve infection that is quickly lethal. Feeding cups on their surface are where they take in bacteria from the environment or bits of tissue while living within a human host.

This is what comes of spending tax money on stuff that doesn’t work instead of things that do work, and are important, like cleaning the drinking water and collecting the garbage.

On a similar azimuth, I note [Link] that the TED folks have started a series of mini-eBooks to augment their videos. Has anyone actually ever watched one of those videos all the way through? Most are incoherent and the remainder telegraph so strongly that you can punch out halfway through. And all I have to pay for the videos is the overhead of bandwidth-download time and my viewing time (plus a bit of wear and  tear on the equipment.) So I doubt I will run out and buy the appropriate eReader so I can pay for these eBooklets. And the only format supported is Kindle. So much for this being a progressive product.

Sometimes the way society pretends to advance makes me want to go move onto that Ojibway reservation.

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Faked Up?

Sundae at last, and the Arab Electrical Cooperative is at the top of the index sterci. The untervelt mentsch who dispense potential difference in Greater Metropolitan Arab discontinued service at least four times yesterday! So I spent most of the day repeatedly coaxing computers to reboot after having trash shut-down. And while I was waiting for hard drives to scan I got to wander around resetting clocks on appliances. This level of incompetence and disdain almost made me entertain the idea that a ritual decimation was appropriate although I am not at all convinced the poltroons are worth even that modest overhead.

We may only hope that today will be less punctuated by electrical incompetence. On which note, it seems time again to strain through the lees of tabs in the browser as commentary on the culmination (?) of the week. First, I have an article [Link] describing how Barnes and Noble are discontinuing their offering of a 3G Nook eReader. Quite frankly, I find this a matter of some intrigue.

It is commonly represented that the primary demographic of the eReader is the urban commuter, the folks who sit on mass transit vehicle for a hour or so every morning and afternoon (if they are lucky enough to get a seat) and need some diversion from the press of humanity. One would have thought that 3G might be necessary for these folks to download reading text for their diversion. But could it be that these people are actually disciplined enough that they can stock their eReaders in advance, and using the less expensive 802.11 pipeline?

I have to admit that this was my assessment early on. Why, I asked myself do I want a cellular capacity for an eReader when I have some access to WiFi? Not that I am ready to procure an eReader. I still have difficulty with the IP aspects, the titles I want are generally unavailable – math and physics references rather than bosom rippers and milliporn, and why an eReader when tablets are booming? (The question of why 3G in a tablet is related but a bit more intense.) But I am not a member of the avowed primary demographic, and I still want to hold a book that displays pictures and equations and such, as well as ASCII.

Conceivably this could even be an organizational thing. Could it be that the folks who want an eReader with 3G predominantly patronize Amazin’? And those who patronize BandN are conventional sit in a chair or on the porcelain throne to do their reading folks? I patronize both vendors but for different things, fewer books from the former, less stiff from the latter. Is this indicative? Do we GEN X mugwumps and tar pit sinkers want to download that eBook onto our hard drive and then put a copy on the eReader? This idea has an attraction that is not strange but is undatafied.

Next, I note a rather incoherent article [Link] in the BBC about a homo sapiens migration out of africa somewhere about 125 KYA.This is about twice the temporal depth of the textbook date for sapiens excursion. Recalling the data sparseness of such findings, one is tempted to think about the growth and decline of neighborhoods. Still, it does give us some insight into just how less than competent we are.

Laastly, and of some neatness, coolness, and scientific merit, boffins ate U British Columbia have made fake ‘hydrogen’ atoms and found that they do have properties consistent with quantum mechanics. [Link]

So there is some sense and sensibility in the world, after all.

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I ran across this cartoon [Link] this morning:

which struck me as very much the way science fairs are now in the Yankee republic.

In Greater Metropolitan Arab, which is a bedroom community for Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill, and has a population of technical people (~0.08 of adult population) who would be happy to judge a science fair, none have been invited to be judges in the last decade.

You can guess what projects get picked by a combination of a bank vice president, a real estate agent, and an accountant.

See! It’s not just Every-Child-Left-Behind.

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To dream, to complain

The week is now tailing off into the weekend, despite all the nauseating, banal things said about it by the news readers, and there were actually some worthwhile articles that squeaked out during the waning days of the force-over-distance part of the week.

First, it appears that corporate organizations are about to be reined in on the matter of organization members grousing on social websites.[Link] The Yankee government labor relations board seems about to tell some mismanaged ambulance company (is that redundant?) that they can’t discipline/discharge members who complain about the mismanagement on Facebook.

I hate to say this, but thi strikes me as rather like that situation Canute was in. Even kings, who propagandized that they were employed by the deity, can’t tell the tide how to behave. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the water cooler or Facebook, organizational members are going to complain and if you try to prevent the complaining you are going to end up with a grenade suppository. That’s what is commonly known as the Vietnam lesson of management, not that the Vietnamese are very happy with having their country’s name associated with fragging.

But we are always going to have bad managers and part of what makes them bad managers is that they can’t handle criticism or disorder or chaos. And no, I will not comment about how much of the Yankee government passes this criterion. I will simply say that something like 0.5 of all managers do.

And as an individual, I have to enjoy occasionally someone on Facebook saying something commonly derogatory about some supervisor. It gives us a bit of relief from the garbage that they usually utter that has to do with religion, politics, or sports, all of which they can do nothing about except complain and are hence meaningless topics of conversation. Which is why bad managers fit in just right.

Speaking of what we can’t do anything about and organizations, I was gratified to read that the campus of the Boneyard is installing shower doors in their dormitories. [Link] This is a backhanded, as much as one can expect of any organization, especially academic or governmental, admission that they have a problem with rape in the dormitories. This is nothing new; it precedes the dorms going coeducational (bisexual?) in fact. But the willingness to admit that these attacks regularly occur has not been forthcoming. The dimensions of this are complex and increased by the fundamental insecurity of academic organization.

Now if we can just get the campus of the Tennessee to own up with its own admissions. But then they had an administration that only survives on diuretics.

Next speaking of organizations making admissions, the Hubble folks announced observation of a galaxy that lagged the Big Bang (the actual one, not the television program) by only 480 MY. [Link] The galaxy has been named UDFj-39546284, which seems more of a password than a login, but is nonetheless noteworthy since it is likely the oldest macroscopic thing in the universe, or at least we can claim that from our human perspective.

I am just happy they didn’t name it “Garden of Eden”.

And lastly, I am not sure whether to feel vindicated or copied. There is an article in SCIENCE journal asserting that the Every-Child-Left-Behind law is making the students stupid and ignorant. [Link] No argument on my part over this, although they might have laid a bit onto the way the effects are intensified by the educationalists. It’s not just the politicians that are ruining the young.

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Too Much Fat

The heralded snow event has now receded into memory except among those folks in Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill who associate it with the increasingly bitter incompetence of the Huntsville shul board. I had a somewhat harried visit to that fair (?) city yesterday to acquire foodstuffs and exchange prevarications at the big U. The rancor seemed to turn upon a decision made Tuesday night to delay shul opening for two hours. I discovered to my surprise that Huntsville does not convene its shuls until 0800 so I unknowingly ran into nasty chaos.

The off-timing extended to disrupting much of my day, so I have been climbing out on the task list and only now have occasion to reflect on some the articles that have accumulated in tabs. Happily the exercise week is extinguished and I can turn my attention to less perspiraceous things.

First I note research from a nutritionist of U California who advances that weight watching is counterproductive. [Link] The researcher, somehow aptly named Bacon, claims that popular wisdom that:

  • weight loss will prolong life;
  • anyone can lose weight and keep it off through diet and exercise;
  • weight loss is a practical and positive goal;
  • weight loss is the only way overweight and obese people can improve their health;
  • and obesity places an economic burden on society.

are all bogus. The good quotes are:

“For decades, the United States’ public health establishment and $58.6 billion-a-year private weight-loss industry have focused on health improvement through weight loss. “The result is unprecedented levels of failure in achieving desired health outcomes. ”


“It is clear from our review of the data that body weight is a poor target for public health interventions."

Next, we have word from Vanderbilt U and the Campus of the Black Warrior, via Scientific American, [Link] that children born in winter months are more likely to be bonkers and suffer from depression, schizophrenia, and be brilliant. OK, maybe not the last, although those who fear for their survival tend to be rather smarter about preserving it. Of course, SCP is a winter bairn, and brilliant (at least in my own head,) and ….

And while we’re on brilliance, I note that the U Missouri tried to steal intellectual property rights from its students. [Link] Seems that, as the brightest students seem to do regardless of time, some of the students came up with money making ideas, made money, and the U tried to steal part of it. Guys, that may work with wage serfs but not with customers. Get some neurons implanted. Geez, this sounds like something the campus of the Tennessee would try, especially with the current administration.

Physics Terrorism

The weather beavers are backpedaling, and what seems to be rot is coming out of their mouths. They need be careful lest they be mistaken for politicians. We were supposed to have snow on ground this morning. What we had was liquid phase, not solid. As I was doing my own dihydrogen oxide (with impurities) production at gym I chanced to see them on the electromagnetic audio-visual receiver and they were saying phase change of precipitation while acknowledging the air temperature was above that for one atmosphere of pressure. It almost seems as if having been so spectacularly accurate (for meteorologists) last week they are obsessively trying to force things to stay that way.

This led me to consider an article that came in the email last evening. It’s in Physics Today, which is the monthly gossip and news rag of the American Physical Society. The article [Link] is a hand wringing sob story about the television program “Big Bang Theory”. The hand wringing part is over why the humor on BBT is vapid and passionless. They want the humor to be more like “MASH”, reflecting social consciousness.

This article is almost an archetype of what is wrong with the physics community today. It indicates a concern with social issues that are sapping physics with their inappropriateness. Physics, at least the part associated with being a physicist, the human-reality interface, if you will, is all about alienation, and the alienation runs both ways.

Physics, simply put is all about reality, in particular, making steps towards understanding reality. In the sense of models, approximations, what is real is quantum mechanics, relativity, the standard model, …. Physicists know this, and they know that the ‘normal’ human ‘reality’ of jobs and taxes and even television is made-up stuff. In a sense, from a physicist’s perspective, most of humanity is engaged in some neurotic for of continual cosplay.

And the ‘normal’ folks who are engaged in this know that it isn’t reality, that what physicists do is actual reality, or as close as we can come, and they know they don’t get it. Many are not interested in even trying to ‘get it.’ So the alienation runs both ways. And we coexist so long as we don’t intrude too much on each other.

That’s why the BBT program is never going to be about physics, or even like “MASH”. That would violate the coexistence agreement between physicists (scientists) and non-scientists. So BBT is going to stay vapid and emptily funny because its about what the cosplay folks think physicists are and do. It isn’t going to gain social content because physics and the society of the non-scientists are intellectually orthogonal.

Which brings us back to cleaning our own house. The problem is that we physicists have allowed a third group to grow up in our midst that think physics is part of non-scientist society. And we need to gently lead these people back to reality, preferably the reality of physics but at least the reality of the non-scientists. Because as is, they are already anarchists and close to becoming terrorists. And that is not good. For either group.  

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Corrupt Mass

As I once more await the instantiation of the weather beaver’s prognostications, I have occasion to contemplate the nature of impermanence.

The day is rainy, the gym was of low density, and the podcasts were mildly diversional but not compelling. When the local content began about 0430 I had attention span to spare on other things. The first thought harkened back to the telecasts of last evening. The entire appearance of local news, more than the national for some reason, was plastic, idealized, comic in the sense not of humor but of simplification. I was struck by how all the news readers (and weather beavers) were like fashion dolls or perhaps aviolent action figures. The thought emerged that this might be labeled the ‘Barbie News” since the appearance of people was so contrived, unreal, and superficial, and the information content amazing similar.

Even the trumpeting of imminent snow was such, a sermon with all the fervor and emotion of a Latin mass, an alienation that required so long to translate than any human aspect was diluted beyond homeopathy.

So this morning as we wait, tired already with the prospect, to see if the monkey wrench of snow is once more, this month, inserted in the gears of Nawth Alibam civilization. This is the portent, not epidemic or war reducing our numbers, our emotional and intellectual ties, but of forced inactivity, of the loss of perverted, abased, degenerate freedom. This is what snow means in the old Confederacy, alienation and the denial of our counter survival, counter productive butterfly behavior.

In this tension of waiting made bitter by the foretaste of denial, I turn my attention to an article [Link] dealing with the matter of the archetype standard kilogram. Such is multiply alien to the society of the Yankee republic. At outermost domain is the government’s antiquarian, reactionary refusal to embrace a system of weights and measures that is rational and constructive. Instead we citizens are left slaves to a system left us by our happily evicted English overlords, and, incidentally, abandoned by them. Attacks of Amerikan rationality are passing rare.

So beyond the fact that almost all of the citizenry have no grasp of what a kilogram is, even less and fewer have any grasp of mass. So the question of why the standard kilogram, a block of the most permanent metals we know of as rational humans, a decreasing minority, is itself decreasing? So far as we can determine from absence of observation, protons do not decompose, at least, to use the scientific odds excuse, in some enormous number of years that precludes us having probability of observing a decay. Such observations are not widespread sought; I know few experimentalists who sit awaiting a counter to click from the products of decay of a proton.

Similarly, we know that certain isotopes of certain elements are very long lived, comparable, by absence of observation, in time duration. Such are the metals that the standard is made of. So why is the mass decreasing?

One possibility is that the universe is changing in such a way that we humans are unable to sense, and thereby our consciousness is almost incapable, and then only in a few, to grasp the concept.

More likely is that the conditions of preservation are not as preserving as we may think. Molecules of air striking the surfaces of the standard may occasionally, rarely but more frequently than proton decay. liberate an atom of rare metal and whisk it away from the electromagnetic grasp of the greater collective. If so, then this seems a paradigm of the nature of humans and their instrumentality. Our bodies wear out, not from elemental decomposition – the same protons are extant, nor from poor design – since we are patently not designed and beyond that we know that design is no prevention anyway. Our manufactured goods, be they houses and motorcars, our most consciously expensive possessions, wear our. Even our actually most expensive possessions – organizations such as nation and society and perhaps even civilization – wear out.

The insight seems obvious. Humans and all they drag with them deteriorate and decompose.

Which is what makes the coming of the snow barely endurable; it will go away. Sometime. But likely not soon enough.

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“Once more into the breach, dear friends..” Well, how about the week? This morning has been surprising clement although the Huntsville weather beavers are still making noises about solid phase dihydrogen oxide.

A middling crowd at gym this morning, a few educationalists monopolizing equipment and talking in outdoor voices, a few weight bouncers being Arnoldish, a few constables drinking coffee and occasionally making perspiration, and a few ORFs ‘sweating for survival’. The state of Alibam is gearing up another weight reduction campaign that has mediocre advertising and unobserved participation. The latter is not unintended, Alibam got failing grades on nanny state intervention of tobacco usage over the weekend and is being social engineer pummeled as a fat state so something to get the coastal, urban liberals to stay home is necessary to preserve Alibam in its traditional ways.

I have to admit to not being too concerned about people smoking or obese. One of the rules we adopted after the Cambrian, when sex was invented, was that individual organism had to die. So the question is whether we cram all the fun into a few years or thin it out over a lot. I suspect we would do more of the latter and less of the former if all the health evangelists would leave well enough alone. One of the joys of living in Alibam is that a fair fraction of the population takes a pleasure in doing exactly what they are told not to do. Nothing moderates the tyranny of organization like an occasional caustic enema.

On which note, I observe that the central Alibam apologizing for the new guvnuh has begun. [Link] The claim, from some hack mediaist for the Muntgum newspaper is that the rest of the planet may care that the guvnuh is a religionist bigot but the good folk of Alibam don’t. “Good folk” appears to mean other religionist bigots of the same flavor as the guvnuh, of course. I hate to contradict someone who spent a lot of money getting a journalism shul certificate, but there are several people in Alibam who have noticed that the guvnuh is a grober, and probably a goniff, and will not quit watching him closely.

On the positive side, the Lifehacker folks had a quite good article on why humans learn more when the write than when they key. [Link] Happily the same arguments apply if we consider quality of composition. And yes, I know that is selfserving but I have expressed my prejudices previously on the matter of writing and I have not changed my mind. I am just happy that someone else has come to agree with me. With real research, in fact. Sadly, I fear the lesson will still be lost on the current generation, who may themselves be irretrievably lost anyway.

Incidentally, it appears the guvnuh doesn’t write either.

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Mass Problems

After yammering previously about a study that indicates college students are not learning to think critically, among other things, I ran into a blot by Chad Orzel, “Uncertain Principles”, [Link] that expanded the scope of the consideration. My take is a bit different – but not completely orthogonal from Chad’s.

In addition to the study (studies? the web site is ambiguous here) there is a book, which suggests that the information is considerably more dated given the latency of publishing a book even in these days of electronic publishing. Not surprising, those of us who watch over Ishrael have known the place has been rotting for a long time.

Anyway, my tendency is to take some snapshot quotes (so I can maunder about thing out of context) and then make outre comments afterward, usually of chaotic direction and incomprehensible substance. I see no reason to alter that behavior here, so in media res:

“The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.”

(This quote refers to the underlying study/survey.) The sticking point here is whether students are having to read at least 40 pages of text and/or (?) write twenty pages per week. Is there some standard of what a page is? And is it defined in characters, area covered, or information? And is the information considered in terms of encoding (ASCII characters ala Shannon) or in terms of concepts/ideas/memes?

As I recall, I took very few courses that consistently required me to read ~40 pages per week. The ones that come to mind are the english courses, four in total mandated by some authority, two courses in philosophy, and two anthropology courses. Taking each in turn, the reading in the english courses was either poetry, usually less than 40 pages per week because the information (as in concet/idea/meme) density of poetry is pretty thick, or ‘classical writings’, mostly antiquated fiction that tended to greatly exceed 40 pages per week but had mind numbingly low density of information. Overall some of the poetry was worth reading (to me) but essentially all of the ‘classical writings’ were lacking in worth. It was not helped that english professors, in those days, thought science fiction trash, at best.

The reading in the philosophy courses was brutal since there was a lot of it, and it had either been translated into the american version of english (or the english version of english) from some furrin tongue, or was written very turgidly in english to begin with. The information density was low, but what there was tended to be of considerable attraction so that if one were not an asentient bog – we had a few who wandered into the courses by being asentient bogs – it engaged the mind and forced one to think and learn. The anthropology writings were of similar length and information density but much better written. There is evidently some causation between being an anthropologist and being able to write in a communicative style.

Using Chad Orzel’s excellent dichotomy of educational modes, all of these courses were of the mode where one reads before lass and then in class discusses. All of the other courses I took and remember were of the type where one goes to class, the lecture illuminates, and then one reads the book. In all of these courses the information density is high and the number of pages is low and fraught with many equations and graphics. Regardless, I will argue that the real measure of these (nerd) courses is not how many pages must be read but how many problems must be done.

This brings to the writing assignments. I avoided mushy, fuzzy writing assignment courses. Yes, I had to write papers in the eight reading courses but the writings were limited to semester papers and maybe some essays. And none of these taught me much of anything except that it is very hard to write about stuff you are not intrigued with. On the other hand, many of my nerd classes had laboratories and one had to write lab reports. These were graded for syntax, content, and accuracy and while they would likely be dismissed as irrelevant to the fuzzy 20 page criteria I will advance that there was more interest here than in some essay on some boring novel. Certainly one had to think to write a lab report because one had to explain and justify one’s conclusions. Heck, one had to form conclusions which was a term never used by the fuzzy course instructors.


“Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.”

At last! This is something nerds have known but have had to comply with the social demands of the authority figures. If you’re going to understand and cogitate you have to do it solitary. The only benefit of group grope is to get started, and that is unnecessary if the lecturer does a good enough job.

“Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.”

It’s Newton – action and reaction – if we can apply physics to humans. Or call it survival, but if the students know they have to perform, they either will or they will invent a way around, and both call for effort, don’t they? And I still think the page thing is whacked. It ignores the metrics of nerd courses.

“Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.”

Certainly, time spent partying and hung over aside, greek life is not conducive to cogitation and learning, except maybe learning of how to cheat and slide by. I belonged to a professional (discipline) fraternity in graduate shul. I have yet to find any benefit from it other than learning that once one joins a fraternity one is stuck with time wasting obligations and diversions from learning.

“Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.”

Again, if you aren’t thinking about the stuff you are supposed to be learning, you ain’t learning. Now I have to admit to being able to think about solving problems while I was on dates but I had to cease that if the activity went down the gratuitous reproductive activity azimuth. Although I did solve some very nasty integrals during orgasm.

“Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains.”

This is back to last time, and I reconfirm that if the discipline you study doesn’t demand you think and reach conclusions there is no reason, other than random human desire, to learn how. So if you take crip courses you get crippled in the head.

I have to agree that the difficulty lies in society and the shul. Simply put, a lot of students and a lot of disciplines – business, for example – are not going to make critical thinkers. So own up to the idea that most need to go to trade or craft shul and not to college. And trun the colleges back into elite foundries and not plastic molding factories.

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Mercantilist Relief

This may be an exercise in complete contradiction.

I subscribe to several so-called social websites. Fiacebook, as a given, from my age and background, but also some professional sites as well.

So my question, directed primarily at the latter, is there any way to not be bombarded by incessant, inept marketing/advertising of services or products?

I know the purpose of these sites is to permit information exchange with people who have similar professional interests as myself, but that does not often include buying stuff of questionable utility and applicability.

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