Grail Quest

Saturn’s day and the air temperature is less than yesterday’s this time. Definitely a brisk! constitutional in the park. And blissfully absent crashing drug addict. So I had some solitude to listen to podcast and my cerebration. Which mostly is wrestling with stochastic differential equations (SDEs).

SDEs have been a grail quest of mine for several years. They pretty much came on the scene after my formal schuling so I never had a chance to take a course in the subject. There may have been courses but their existence didn’t get past my mind screen of now-stuff. I first ran across them about ten or fifteen years ago and decided I needed to study them enough to see if they would be a useful tool. 

The problem was that I found myself in the position of a neolithic hunter-gatherer who asked about how to make stone tools and was handed a rock and told to get to it. I started my quest by buying a “textbook” on SDEs. Lots of theorems and rather unintelligible proofs but no tool usage. The examples never got beyond the trivial and were never adequately explained. 

I should comment here that one of the problems of being a not-Mathematician is that what is important for a mathematician to say in a maths book is not what is important to an S&E for tool use. Most of what a mathematician wants to make sure gets covered is not really relevant to someone who want to use a tool. I don’t care very much how the screwdriver is made if it has the right properties as a tool. So there is a lot of information but no indication of what has to be applied to use the tool.

This makes for a hideously frustrating situation. Lots of trial and failure. And eventually ennui and walk-away. 

So periodically the itch has returned. I go out and survey the market. All the courses are for real mathematicians – that probably ought to be indicative? No “dummy” books. I visit college bookstores and browse the course texts; I visit Amazon and Barnes and Ignoble and do searches. I buy anything that offers “applications”. Time and again, trial and failure and fleeing the black flies. 

I suspect this attempt will end the same. But I am still trying. And it is, tritely, very trying. 

Film at Eleven. If Eleven ever comes.


Collection and Collective

It occurred to me the other day, while arguing right-of-way with a bumpkin that Greater Metropolitan Arab is one of those places where driver run STOP signs if no one else is using them.

I didn’t have any problem getting to the park this morning but then no 4-way STOPs along the way. The weather was a bit off. Air temperature in mid-40s and a mild wind. Just enough to be cooling. My ears are just now recovering sensation. The podcast was an episode of “The Pen Addict” which should stretch through the week out.

The thought trail I wandered off on this morning was “what makes us have these nit noid special interests?” I am not talking about our disciplines; physics is not nit noid except to asentient bogs. Nor am I talking about things like cooking which are peripheral to survival. Rather I mean things like an addiction to pens or notebooks or calculators or slide rules or collecting pins or stamps or coins. We rationalize these activities, especially the collections, as a form of wealth accumulation although almost universally they prove to be anything but. Beanie Babies being a case in point. 

It would be nice if we could say this was a by-blow of intelligence but that ain’t so. Several animals collect stuff. I have read that crows collect ‘shiny things’ and that pack rats collect something, I am unsure of the qualifier. So this behavior cannot be simply a matter of high overhead brains. But since it manifests in many, if not all, humans it must have some beneficial aspect. 

It seems to be related to whatever drove us to abandon hunter-gathering and adopt sedentary agriculture. Clearly hunter-gatherers were limited in what collections they could have. Maybe a favorite rock or two so long as they were capable tools or unburdensome jewelry, but no stamp albums or ceramic figures in glass cases. 

An aspect of this has to be some form of us-them. There is clearly an aspect that whatever one does in this special way has to distance one from the mass but also have some (few?) colleagues so that comparisons and critiques are possible. Unique collections or interests are often viewed as a form of insanity, which incidentally is clearly a social and not a physiological illness, but as soon as there are a few who do this thing it enjoys social tolerance if not acceptance. It’s a bit like religion: if one does it, it’s terrorism but if two (or more) do it, it’s a church. Which is intriguingly a complete reversal of how religion should be. 

Selah. For now.

Not Glass, Maths

Yuck. Saturn’s day and not bright. The weather is not supposed to be as precipitous as yesterday but my mood is. But I did get to go walk in park this morning. There was some sort of spitting but so sparse as to only be observable once per lap or thereabouts. I continued listening to “Linux Luddites” from Thor’s day and this bit was quite nice a bashing of both Fedora and Gnome Shell. 

I have tried Fedora a couple of times and it is too gritty for me. I like a bit of polish and smooth. And Gnome Shell is at once both a tile GUI and a betrayal of the user community. Admittedly it is the best of the tile GUIs, much better than Winders or Unity, but still a tile GUI. I have recently considered that if the Christianists are accurate and there is a afterlife place of punishment (yes, I know that is contradictorily illogical) then part of that place will be using W8. 

Back when I first came to Linux, Gnome 2 was the pinnacle of GUIs. It was Glodilockian; it was “just right”. And then it was abandoned and Gnome Shell was flooped out – like a flatulent bit of feces – as a replacement. That’s the betrayal.

On which azimuth, I cam across an article [Link] entitled “The Math Ceiling: Where’s your cognitive breaking point?” It’s a blot written by a chap teaching pre-college (?) maths in England. And the question, posed I understand, by his department head is whether humans have a “natural” maths ceiling. He does quite a good job of covering the matter which seems to collapse into a model of teachers saying “no” and students (past and present) saying “yes”. 

I have expressed previously my agreement with Tyson’s tweet that good students learn in spite of bad teachers. Bad in this context is the perception of the student, not the teacher or peers or instrumentality. Somehow I doubt this fellow is bad to most students, however. 

I have to admit that I have never had a teacher of maths tell me that I can learn something. They mostly just laid it out and let us partake or not. Yes, some wanted us to learn but they didn’t push very often. (My freshman calculus instructor is an exception. I blew an integration exercise on a test and she made me revisit it, much to my embarrassment and edification.) But prior to college and after  most of my maths learning has been on my own.

I have to admit that learning has been superficially sporadic. From my perspective I have learned a lot of maths since graduation and not learned a lot. The distinguishing factor is whether I could see some use for the maths. If I tried to learn some maths for its own sake, I almost always failed but if I could early on see some way I could use the maths I plugged away at it. Did I learn it as well as a mathematician? Absolutely not! Did I learn it well enough to help me in my research? Absolutely yes!

I tried several times, years ago when it was popular, to learn chaos theory. Failed every time. Those landscapes just didn’t have enough tool to them. But renewal theory and order statistics and a bunch of others. Yes. Unqualified. 

So is that a ceiling or some sort of buffer or filter? I think more the latter. We can learn a lot more if we are interested than not, and for me, at least, being able to bash things with the maths is a form of being interested.

Do But Question

Freya’s day. Survived a (too long) annual exercise with my ophthalmologist yesterday. Had to be supervised by FD SCP since despite engaging an early (for them) appointment it takes all day for my ability to focus to reboot after the pupils are dilated, to  say nothing of the stress and bashing of some of the tests. Especially the depth of field test. Makes me shudder every time I think of the subject. 

But in the closing segments, mostly dealing with the practitioner himself and not just his scurrying myrmidons, albeit they are very well mannered and knowledgeable myrmidons, I came to realize a weak distinction among bogs, geeks, and nerds. The testing functional is “follow directions but question.” The functional follows from medicalists giving instructions to clients. Other disciplines do this as well but in lesser frequency.

I also mentioned that this was a weak distinction. Weak in this case indicates that the distinction is statistically modal rather than universal. I suspect this results from the mixing of behaviors/temperaments. That is, the categories of bog, geek, nerd are approximate divisions of a spectrum. So some bogs exhibit geekish behavior under certain conditions, e.g.

With these caveats and qualifications, we may begin:

Bogs (modally) follow directions but do not question. That is, they may or may not follow directions. Usually they initially follow directions but may cease and do so without questioning the directions. 

Geeks ask questions but usually do not follow directions initially. They may follow directions subsequently if frightened into doing so.

Nerds follow directions but continually question them and may modify the directions based on what they learn. 

It is noteworthy that all of these are frustrating to the person who issued the directions.

Cow Flops are Apathetic

Woden’s day. Calm. Maybe. Not having to motor to Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. Too many medicalist engagements. Gym crowded but not harassing. Subdued. Podcast, an episode of the CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks” was a review of three books on nerdery and was not a total waste of time. Not that I plan to read any of them. Convinced of that. Bog books about science are nasty. They have no learning substance and they propagate “wrong” things. 

On which azimuth, one of my clipping services sent me a link [Link] to an article entitled “Social studies education facing ‘crisis’ as class time is slashed, departments closed”. Before we get too worried I should comment that this is about public secondary schules. It seems that social studies and science and such aren’t being taught in secondary schules because, surprise! surprise!, they aren’t covered on the standardized tests. And the world is coming to an end because of this.

What isn’t discussed is that this is fiscally motivated. The money the schule gets is directly proportional to the student scores on the tests so why teach something that isn’t going to pay? Good business thinking, isn’t it. Which indicates that the world isn’t coming to an end. It has already ended and the schules are zombies.

The implication is that the kids aren’t getting good education. IMHO this is a specious implication. When have the public schules ever provided good education. I refer again to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s quote about good student learning in spite of bad teachers. An appendix to that is bad information. 

I have to ask myself what I learned in public schule:

  • Composition D-
  • Maths C– (exception rule applies)
  • Syntax D-
  • Spelling C-
  • Science C– (exception rule applies)
  • Social Studies F

so I am not all that upset at this teapot tempest. Now I did learn composition but not until I got to college and in practice, not until after. Maths and science I largely learned on my own. The only positive thing I can attribute to public schule is arithmetic drills – multiplication and addition memorization – that are anathema these days and indicative of how we have set ourselves up for failure as individuals and a nation. Spelling is called out because it is like arithmetic; it has to be memorized and at an early age. The mis-spellings I learnt then are still with me and I will carry unto death. It’s wired in us. 

I give social studies a failing grade because all it bothered to teach – in the main – was names (which I am terrible at,) dates (which are unanchored and thereby irrelevant,) and the propaganda ideas pushed by politics. What social studies I learned of value was either acquired in college or on my own. 

So if I got it in spite of the schule system, why should I worry? (Thank you Alfred!) Because those who are successful and learn in spite of the incompetency of the system are the minority. Sturgeon’s rule at least approximately applies, so 0.9 of all student cannot learn in spite of bad teachers and inaccurate, inadequate information. That’s why as a nation we are ignorant and deluded about birth control, evolution, climate, and almost any other aspect of reality. So we are doing ourselves in as individuals and a nation by feeding our kids mind stercus.

The only good thing is that it’s sparse. Which is the other damnation. So education is a farce and a prevarication. So it doesn’t matter what we do until we get fed up with failure and ignorance and stupidity and start all over. Which we won’t do.


For now.

Old Biology

This is going to be one of those extended weeks of rather intense medicalist entanglement so blogging will be a bit off. How much I say will depend on factors including exhaustion and discomfort (e,g,. PAIN!) 

Along that azimuth, I ran across this cartoon: [Link]

this weekend and immediately thought about how accurate the first part was – the avoidance of steps and such; going up is easier (!) than going down and it isn’t just seeing one’s feet in the bifocals – and clueless in the second part. Not about the young woman whose breeding fitness is demonstrated by ignoring old men – they seem to instinctively know the DNA rots after 40 – but the difference between geek and nerd. I am bemused by the religion aspect but that may be nothing more than common usage and/or audience demographics – lots of bogs. 

But there is a perception among many young women that geeks can be reformed but nerds cannot. Reformation in this case means reducing to bogdom and doing all of the husband things ala Wrangham. 

I decline to get into the arguments over sociability versus intellect as heritable characteristics.