Organized Stupidity

End of week out and summer is in full swing. And the observance of Independence Day is coming up.

Since the declaration was signed on 2 July but it took another day for the founding fathers to gather the courage to actually announce the thing.

I find this rather refreshing that they had this moment of irresolution. Crossing the line to blatant treason should not be easy. We expend a lot of effort on our organizations and decisions to whack them should not be made lightly. Of course, the organizations do not care about their members, only that they have enough to survive. So we repeatedly make the mistake of expecting organizations to behave with a bit of loyalty or gratitude.

Wrong. Organizations do neither. They do not care. But we do. And that’s why periodically we need to beat the organizations into submission before they reduce us to slaves.

One aspect of that came to light this week in an article [Link] detailing some work at Baylor U. The work looked at charitable contributions and the social dynamics of the group contributing.

Seems that the group disapproves of the folks who are out in the wings of the distribution of how much is given. Both wings: less and more than the mean by some amount. So the non-contributors are as socially unacceptable as those who give bunches.

The unanswered question is why should either subpopulation care? Why you give to a charity is your business. If you don’t approve of a charity and other people do, is that a valid reason for ostracism? Or just an indication of bog preponderance?

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Nerd & Geek – Another Perspective

Once more into week out and I have to contend with reducing the population of tabs in my browsers. And I am unable to use Swift’s “Irish Solution” simply due to inedibility.

One of my colleagues, Total Linear Angular Momentum, sent me a link to an  enlightening bit [Link] on the difference between geeks and nerds. This has been a subject of some discussion here. Not to belabor that discussion (monologue except between my ears) but my basic differentiation is that a geek is someone who can talk but a nerd can do. Alternately, I have been charitable enough to offer that a geek can use an equation but it takes a nerd to derive one.

Anyway, this article takes a bit of a more rigorous approach. First, it advances these definitions:

  • geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
  • nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.

Then it does a bit of a statistical testing on words associated with these definitions. I shan’t belabor this other than to note that terms having to do with computers tend to lie on the boundary between geek and nerd. This tends to confirm my own prejudices that computer science isn’t. Or perhaps I should say it’s a special type of stamp collecting?

I have to admit I am quite impressed by this. It expands my own observations from geek as a handicapped nerd to a more meaningful difference, collector versus knower/doer.


But now it would seem that some effort needs to be devoted to addressing those who are neither?

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Internet Excuse

Made it. At least through yesterday. I have to admit that I am coming up dry on figuring out why humans don’t like to visit the dentist. I observe it in myself and others. I am rationally aware that the purpose is prevention and cure, or, at least, stop gap treatment, but I cannot come up with a reasonable hypothesis of why this occurs.

Anyway, I got a passing grade and then went on to perform my gathering mission at diverse grocery stores, which led me to contemplate what is going to happen when the transportation system goes to pot. And given the new grrr brrr that what is important is the transportation of information more than the transportation of things I had to wonder if modern society and the GEN Ys really care.

I then put this in the context of “my” GEN Ys, my daughter and her spouse. Both are picky eaters. Have been since childhood so far as I can determine. I know in case of daughter that FD SCP took a strategy of not forcing and so long as she ate enough of something, good enough. I suppose that is archetypical of helicopter parenting: no forcing, just spoiling? I hate to think of what they are going to eat when the choices disappear.

Along which azimuthi, I also ran across an article [Link] this week in Scientific American. It’s a “guest blog”, which it isn’t, the latter at least or it wouldn’t be in a magazine (or newspaper) dealing with some “limitations” of GEN Ys. The authors teach middle schule, so they are part of the immediately suspect educationalist apparat who teach to the test. The content however, is either a thoughtful fiction or indicates these two are not the usual pre-college zombie educationalist.

The article is a bit incoherent, forcing a format beyond the presentation of content. It lists some observables of their students:

· Students today are accustomed to instant gratification, and therefore can be overwhelmed by tasks that require time-consuming research.
· When researching online, students unsuccessfully scan pages of text as opposed to reading those pages of text for comprehension. Therefore, they cannot tell whether or not the source they are looking at is applicable to their research question.
· When students are given a research prompt by their teacher, students often do not care enough about the topic to really persevere. Therefore, when they find that answers are not immediately apparent, they do not have the motivation necessary to fuel their sustained attention.
· Because there is so much information online, and not all of it is credible, Internet search results can be overwhelming to students. Therefore, the amount of information paralyzes rather than empowers students.
· Developmentally, middle school students are just beginning to be able to think critically, but they seem programmed to look for “the” answer, and do not have a strong sense of self-efficacy when presented with open-ended questions.

To put these in somewhat shorter bullets:

  • Students have no patience;
  • Students cannot read;
  • Students have no judgment; and
  • Students cannot think.

I have to admit that I found almost everything I was assigned in pre-college (and much in the latter) boring and uninteresting. So I cannot accept, on the basis of such shallow data, that this is a unique characteristic of GEN Y. Nor did I have much patience. I still don’t unless I am engaged, and I don’t get engaged because of direction. I get engaged because of my interest, not your demands.

Reading is a matter of attention span, and if attention span has been trained since childhood to television, then reading is going to suffer, especially if there is no engagement. And thinking, I have observed, is rare, at least among humans. I think Sturgeon’s rule applies and only about 0.1 of humans can think regularly and well. The rest run on memory and emotion, and often, physical prowess.

I fear that my hypothesis after reading this article is that the problem with the young today is not the young, but instead their parents and schules. Both stand indicted for incompetence and negligence

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Big Bad

Thor’s day and the portent is for dihydrogen oxide to fall. At least Arab Electron Uncooperative hasn’t bailed yet. But I expect them to any second now.

After yesterday’s blot on pickup trucks, I was gathered in by an article [Link] about some work at Columbia U that indicates that big desks and motorcars can lead to dishonest behavior.

First, I have to admit that I really have problems suspending disbelief when someone tosses around subjective things as honest research. And honesty is one of those things. That is subjective, that is.

Back when I worked for the Yankee government I had to periodically take a polygraph test, commonly called a lie detector test. I would always get in dutch with the test giver because they would tell me not to be too literal, which, of course, just strengthened my natural tendency towards literalness. For example, one of the stock questions would be “have you ever stolen anything from the Yankee government?” Since there were always pads and pencils that got into my briefcase, went home with me, and got left, and I had several times when I was ill but recovering at work and had to use the latrine outside of break times, the answer was always “yes”. When I was asked to elaborate the tester would get testy and tell me he didn’t want trivia. To which I would respond that he asked the question, the implication being that if you ask the question you have to withstand the answer. That attitude is a cornerstone of Yankee army culture.

The point being that honesty is only objective in terms of measurements of metabolic reaction such as are measured by polygraphs and stress analyzers. Anything else is subjective and hence somewhere between suspect and specious.  Like any testimony offered in a legal environment. And oaths are just as subjective. To say nothing of being charmingly sacrilegious if offered in the common religionist association.

But aside from the issue of whether the research is fundamentally flawed, the finding was that people seated at big desks or in big motorcars tended to be dishonest more often than those who sat at smaller desks or in smaller motorcars. This pretty well confirms what I have long observed that people who drive big motorcars (and pickup trucks) tend to drive with more of a sense of entitlement and more dangerously than those who drive smaller motorcars (except people who are practitioners of “fast and furious.”)

In other words, people are people, adopting different strategies to survive better (they hope) based on circumstances. People in small motorcars try to blend in while people in big motorcars and pickup trucks act like bullies.

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Worm Hole

Woden’s day and I have to admit it was a bit nasty. The gym had rather too many, or at least, too obnoxious, weight bouncers, and the podcast, an episode of the CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks” was a Q&A program and hence mostly flat. And full of grating simplifications.

Which puts me in mind of how does one “dumb down” the right amount to talk to bogs and children, recognizing that the two are at least partly distinct. After all, some of the children will become nerds and geeks, but they still have an abysmal lack of experience – uncorrected for bogs – and thus lack reference points for many things. I also have to admit to an emotionalist, in-the-moment effect of having to respond rapidly without the time to do a proper job. But then, why are so many written popularizations so frigging bad?

In such a frame of mind, I was happily greeted by an article [Link] in Smithsonian’s RSS feed about the recovery of twelfth century Plantagenet poo from the ruins of the castle Saranda Kolones on the island of Cyprus.

Cyprus is the opposite of a swimming pool. It is still an attractive nuisance, that’s why everyone wants to control it and why the poo is there, but instead of being a body of water in a back yard, it’s a backyard in a body of water. As such it has enormous value in control of the Mediterranean. That’s why Richard Plantagenet built a castle there in 1191 CE as part of his holy quest to secure Jerusalem from the evil, heathen Mohammedans. And having done that, promptly sold the island – how’s that for ROI? – to the new King of Jerusalem.

But in that brief interim, Richard, and his noble minions, too time to place their nether regions upon the castle’s latrine and leave something of value for science.

The first thing one notices is that the facility is based on an intriguing model of human anatomy. Nonetheless, what was found in the poo was indeed a pony of value to various disciplines. They particularly indicated the presence of intestinal worms in at lest some of the folks who contributed to the sample. So we can add intestinal and rectal disease to the list of things that the crusaders had to enjoy in addition to the crusade itself and heavy armor in the desert.

One can also contemplate that this may be the most important thing done by this particular Plantagenet?

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Encrypted Golf

Two day and the gym was almost sparse enough. Only a couple of weight bouncers playing speed bump for every one else. As is usual, the podcasts were science episodes and the highlights were a discussion of the hundredth anniversary of the Bohr atom (Science) and an interview with E. O. Wilson (NPR – Abe Flato.)

I was already pumped on Bohr from the article in this month’s Physics Today but this was reasonably supplemental despite its superficiality and boggish positivity. And it did give me occasion to reflect on the use of the term “orbital”. But I was a bit leery of Wilson. After all, a great deal has been made of his statement that scientists don’t need maths: I cannot imagine this, at least for physicists. But I was pleasantly surprised by his argument for this, which is almost entirely in the biology context, so I will concede that those who do “stamp collecting” science may not need maths. And I rather took a shine to one of his statements that

“Real Scientists don’t play golf (or watch football.)”

On which azimuth, I noted an Ars Technica article [Link] that indicates if you use anonymous browsing or encrypted email then you are more likely to be watched by the Yankee government’s secret internet police.

Sorry, this one isn’t a surprise. It’s even logical as well as being in the category of a sore tooth that has to be repeatedly touched to make sure it is still sore. I am somewhat less taken with the bull-red analogy.

It only stands to reason that if the YG sees someone encrypting or anonymous then the natural conjecture is that they are up to something not innocent. Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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