Half A Century Past

One Day. Back to Gym. And since the monitors were offering nothing worthwhile about the massacre in Las Vegas, I settled in to listen to my usual, an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” podcast. This episode was a mid-season special about their fiftieth anniversary.

This led me to reflect on where and what I was fifty years ago. I was a sophomore at the Campus of the Black Warrior. Still lived in the Nerd Dorm aka Hammer (Mallet) Hall. No cafeteria. Moldy and sagging with age. The only thing new was that telephones (wired, of course) had been installed in every room and the U sent you a bill every month for the callage. I seldom got a bill because I never called anyone.

The most noteworthy thing that semester was that I finally made Dean’s List. My first semester I almost flunked out and the second missed the Dean’s List by a fraction of a point. Summer didn’t count.

It was also the first semester I took a maximum course load. I had figured out that the fewer courses I took the lower my grades. Lots of ideas why but what counted was not being offered a scholarship to study in Vietnam. Survival, that is.

The big courses that semester were third semester calculus and first semester Sophomore Classical Mechanics. Both were characterized by interesting content and not very good teachers. The calculus teacher was a grad student. I had gotten spoilt the first two semesters with Barbara Chambers who was a great teacher. If It hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t have been able to learn third semester calculus on my own, proving Chicken Man’s (Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s) claim that ‘good student succeed in spite of bad teachers.’ 

The physics teacher was a perfesser but he seemed indignant that he had to teach sophomores. Happily, sophomore mechanics is a problem solving course and all I had to do to learn was work problems.

The long course was organic chemistry. Most courses were three or four semester hours credit; organic was five. Three hours of lecture and two two hour labs a week. We made lots of smells so my efforts to regain weight took a nose dive again. The perfesser was a recently mustered out Vietnam veteran who acted like he begrudged the time wasted in ‘Nam and was noted for having congress in his office with coeds who needed a grade upgrade. This course was a two semester series that was (supposedly) a make/break for PreMed students. Less than a “B: and no Med Schule. So some of the coeds did extra credit work. Supposedly.

The bad course was first semester English Literature. This was the third of four mandatory “English” courses for arts and science college students. The teacher was a grad student who fancied himself a thespian so he read a lot aloud in class. The problem was that the material was not only boring but unengaging. And this guy though science fiction was porn. 

The weird course was New World Archaeology. The professor was (the) David DeJarnette. Nice guy, made it all interesting, and kept trying to convince me to switch from Physics/Chemistry/Maths to Archaeology. He kept setting me special problems like how to date the fire enlarged caves in the Yucatan. 

This was also the last semester I took a maximum load until my last semester. Hereafter I always took an overload. Only way I could get a triple major before being sent to Vietnam. 

Gad I had a lot of phun in those days. Even with the football pornography feeding cancerous on the environment – fall term and all that.  And I learned a lot. Especially about molecular quantum mechanics. And I had to learn to read french and german and russian that term (and the next,) so I could read journal article for organic chemistry lab.

And the first 0.5mm mechanical pencil came out. 

Life was GOOD.


NERD Ignorance Pride

Six Day. Gym opens late. Icky. Didn’t really understand that word till now. Inconvenience that is distressingly uncomfortable?

Anyway, ran across an article [Link] entitled “Scientific Papers Are Getting Less Readable.” Natters on about readability indices and word rarities that exceed college graduation levels. 

I can’t argue with the title, but in my experience, they have the problem backwards. It’s not a case of the words in the article being too rare for college graduates to read, it’s a case of college graduates being too ignorant.

I have been composing scientific manuscripts for over fifty years now. Almost all of that time I have also served on one or more journal’s unpaid staff as a reviewer/referee, depending on how they designate. Over that period I have seen a decrease in composition skills of potential authors. Over 0.9 of all returns and rejections I have issued over the years have been for poor composition and inadequate grammar. Inadequate vocabulary goes with this.

I will concede that the composition form of refereed literature is different from that of Archie comic books and Dick and Jane readers. It can, however, be easily learned, otherwise the thousands of people who have contributed articles to all these journals would not have. 

But today we seem to have some sort of a stupidity infestation. People seem unwilling to meet the composition standards of refereed journals. I have returned manuscripts as many as tree times with the authors steadfastly refusing to make their manuscript compliant AND readable before asking the editor to reject the article. This behavior is evidently common because no editor has failed to support me nor chide me for excessive rigor.

I have entertained the conjecture that some contemporary authors are lazy but that seems inconsistent with the effort to prepare manuscript. Admittedly, the process of making a manuscript proper and readable is nagging and onerous, but an unreadable article is a waste of all connected with it.

So I come to the conjecture that contemporary authors are unable to learn how to compose. 

I would be tempted to comment on the cause of this cancer but it is too nauseating to deal with at this time.

Swiss Cheese IT

Intriguing week. Lots of confusion and strife. Had to motor into Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill Wednesday for a gum inspection. Two weeks early. Not bad but draining with the uncertainty going in.

Then on Thursday I had to motor to Guntersville to help a colleague install Linux Mint on an old (relatively) W7 lapbox. Which turned out to be severly whacked by its Windows install and had to be given religionist internment.

Did I mention the box was made by HP? Sad. Used to be a good company when I was in college. Stercus now.

After the debacle we shared our experiences with IT staffers over a mediocre cup of coffee distilate. I won’t mention the location since coffee distillate isn’t part of their mission.

Then today, at gym, I listened to an episode of Linux Links podcast. On this, the part I listened to this morning – the rest tomorrow afternoon (I do hate the religionist discrimination the gym management practices!) – the four talkers held a telecon with some young woman who was a Freshman in college studying Computer Science. This conversation – and the discussion Thursday – reminded me of a couple of things

  1. Computer Science folks can’t do Nerd computing.
  2. If you have to tell me your discipline is a science, then it isn’t.

I have visited the latter several times previously and won’t elaborate much on the matter. Computer Science is considered to be a STEM discipline but too many of the folks who study it are not nerds. They’re geeks. They collect stuff mostly, and do sometimes. But mostly in inordinately well defined environments.

Take the physical universe. The only manuals we have for it are the ones we have written for ourselves. (And, NO, religionist books are not manuals!)

Take the biological universe. The only manuals we have for it are the ones we have written for ourselves.

Take the computer universe (relatively speaking.) All the manuals we have for it are how the universe was made. In effect, Computer Science guys are gods because the create their stuff from the physical and biological and social universes. 

So why do they have such problems? If you ask, they will tell you it’s because of all the people who aren’t IT and the IT folk who are idiots and sociopaths. The latter usually being everyone but the individual and his (very few her – mostly because of good sense) drinking buddies. 

Did I mention that this is a construct of MegaHard and Forbidden Fruit attitudes towards computing? The more serf-like the users, the better. Especially management, who is seen as the great evil because they never make the IT budget large enough. 

But all the wiring diagrams of their universe are there from the get-go.

What does this have to do with nerd computing? Well, nerd computing is different from everybody else’s. Most people do browsing and spreadsheeting and word processing and maybe a bit of databasing. Nerds write computer programs, something that only IT folk are supposed to do. But the Nerds use languages that the IT folk don’t know and, in most cases, can’t learn very well. 

Say FORTRAN to a young IT person and they’ll have to go into psychiatric analysis. And that’s what all the supercomputers are programmed with.

Nerds also want to attach computers to things they have built for themselves, like spectrometers and particle accelerators. IT folks mostly can’t make stuff but they can – sorta – repair what they have. At least if it can be repaired. Only the minority of IT folks can design IT stuff. 

IT folks claim that IT is a profession. No argument, if profession means a body of knowledge that you get paid to know and use. 

So what is NERD computer programming? For example, a simulation of the formation of the universe? Can IT guys do this. Unless they’re the rare ones who are NERDs, they can’t. Generally only NERDs can do NERD programming. And that really bugs IT folks. Because it’s a knowledge hole in their domain.

The good news is that some of them can learn it. If they are taught by NERDs. Unfortunately, if they are, they too become NERDs and can’t be “real” IT folk any more. 

Sleeping with the Enemy.

And I need to reveal a big secret. The NERDs are happy with this. Because they want someone else to do all the scut work on the Internet. NERDs don’t mow grass. Not because they can’t but because after the first time it’s a waste of time. 

And I ain’t even gonna mention Quantum Computers. 


Well, I seem to have survived the “Great American Eclipse”. That’s quite a name. Indicates a level of imperialism that I don’t see as fitting any more. But I managed not to hurl massive hard things at the electromagnetic audio-visual receiver so FD SCP wasn’t too upset.

In fact, the whole thing was more than a shade (no pun intended) humorous. The idea of a nation-state owning an eclipse was the cherry. The ice cream was the composition and behavior of the NASA talking heads. And the nuts and fruit sauce were the social Bogs who made up the eclipse tourism. 

The NASA dialog was the most humorous stuff, a mixture of poorly composed science and worse composed guff. Happily the folks who were doing the actual work, the camera folk and such, were competent and not called upon to sully themselves with verbal stercus. 

Despite this odor the NASA presentation was still better than those put on by the local news folks. They tried earnestly but were whelmed by their toothiness. And a bit of ‘Aw Shucks’.

As the eclipse deepened outside Castellum SCP, I retired to the porch to watch the sky. Not the eclipse mind you – I have seen several eclipses previously but before I had mostly watched the body being eclipsed. 

I also have to own up that I prefer Linar eclipses since I don’t have to worry about retinal damage.

But this time I got to just watch the sky. That is, the atmospheric light.

And it was marvelous. In it rarity better than fog. 

And hence it is over and I have much that I saw to mull upon.


Tower of Academia

Seven Day. On the morrow is promise that an evil monster will masticate, digest, and defecate the holy torch in the sky. 

All right, it’s ice cream day after all and something needs be done to remind the boggerate of their lemming behavior. 

I have seen two articles this week on the subject of writing. As is usual with the folks who write semi-academic articles, they confuse writing – the making of letters or ideograms or symbols on a view-able surface such as paper – with composition, the use of language to form mental information into a hoped-for communication.

The first article [Link] is a pseudo-review of a book by Steven Pinker on composition. (I have taken the necessary step of correcting the misuse lest my ire vibrate my brain into a darkness state.) The second [Link] is rather an interventional bit that says much the same thing, at least to someone who has worked at learning composition.

The first article can be summarized by

“For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. “

The second claims that what is missing is

“the use of narrative and tangible prose.”

Before getting into the middle of things, it seems best to meander a bit on the subject of communication. Communication is by far one of the most important things that humans do, as well as one of the most difficult. So we tend to do it poorly. 

The basic idea of communication is that we start with some information in our mind, turn it into information  in the encoding of language, speak it to another person, and that person turns the language into information in their mind, and responds by indicating understanding or non-understanding. This process is iterated until the two individuals have a reasonable confidence that they now share the information, in which case communication has successfully occurred, or that they do not share the information and either keep trying, or give up in disgust over the failure to communicate successfully.

This is a difficult proposition, fraught with danger, often resulting in war, famine, divorce, murder, or tooth disease. It is complicated by short attention spans, differences in word knowledge, and general inadequacy of mentation. 

The process becomes risky to the point of expected failure when the transmission of information is one-way. Since this is ice cream day, consider sermons. We know from observing the behavior of people who regularly listen to sermons (ostensibly – they attend services and sit in pews,) that almost nothing of that information has any effect on their behavior. This is largely due to the communication failing.

We can extend this to other one-sided communication efforts: schule instruction; television programming; political speeches. (In the latter case, the failure is carefully planned and executed.)

Composition is thus a horribly risky effort. It is inherently a one-way communication attempt. And if the composer does not take special effort to convey the information in a form that engages and is readily comprehensible to the reader, it is a failure from the get-go.

In effect, when one composes, one must tell a story that is good and is well done. 

Now let us return to our cited articles. Both are written by academics. Academics compose a great deal; that’s one the the ways they prosper. But that prosperity depends on how many compositions get published, not by how many people learn from their compositions. 

In other words, the majority of academics in the majority of their compositions do not care whether they communicate or not. They are not rewarded for the communication, only for the transmission. 

Can this be fixed? Probably not. Should it be fixed? Probably not. By that I mean that academics – in the main – cannot be taught to communicate composition-ally without breaking them as academics.

This does not mean that some academics cannot communicate composition-ally. I can think of several: Norman Cantor, Isaac Asimov; Ruel Churchill; to name a few. 

But by that token, news readers – or the folks who compose what new readers enunciate – and the like do need to learn this. 

Happily, this does not apply to all who have education. Being outside the academic environment does wonders for one’s ability to compose and communicate. 

But academics are probably a lost cause because if we teach them to communicate in composition we will have destroyed education as an organization. And we need that more today than ever. And we need educated, cognitive people in the general population to communicate. 

Yes, it’s a paradox but that doesn’t keep it from being good.

Desktop Dilemma?

Five Day. Gym schedule changes. Mostly because of discriminatory managerial practices. But with Repulsians in the Catbird seat no way are they going to let one bring a religionist discrimination charge against a capitalist.

One of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, called my attention to Canonical’s on-going reinvention this morning on the Face Scroll. Seems they are moving the window buttons back to the right side!

This is amazing! After all the grrrrrrrr brrrrrrrrrrrrrr they made about how the buttons were more efficient and superstitiously anointed on the left side, they have the chutzpah to move them back. This completely tops the abandonment of Unity, the planet’s second most disliked (read: hated) desktop GUI which they claimed on rollout to be the first coming of the techno-stupid Messiah.

I shortly recalled a discussion on a special podcast of “Late Night Linux”, the successors of the superb “Linux Luddites”, that at its best struggles to be mediocre.[Link] The podcast was devoted to this post collision Ubuntu (it had to have narrowly missed a gravitational singularity?) and was mercifully short. But it did bring up a useful topic: does the Linux desktop matter?

The babble from the invisible talking heads – that’s what an audio podcast is – was that what counted – fiscally – was cloud and IOT, which we might better categorize as delusional placebo and internet-of-spythings. If all we count is immediate cash flow then that statement was accurate. But if that was all that mattered we would still be living in mud brick hovels, sacrificing every third born infant to some bull headed pseudo-deity.

The question unasked by the babblers has to do with what the Linux desktop is used for? Or perhaps better, who uses the desktop and to what purpose?

Yes, most of humanity uses the internet via slablet using either aborted, neutered Linux (Android) or pacifier iOS. The nature of these OS implementations are such as to make any kind of creative activity one geometric point shy of impossible (the smallest infinity less one is finite, that’s the definition – maybe?) The vast majority of the users of these devices are parasitic consumers in the sense that while they may pay for access and service, they do not add anything to the substance of human knowledge or civilization.

The people who add to knowledge or add to civilization mostly use the desktop. That’s because the desktop is a tool and these productive, creative people are tool users. 

The desktop is like a hospital or a university or the Large Hadron Collider. Most people don’t need these things except occasionally. But they are the things that keep civilization – and humanity – going and growing (maybe) and not going extinct. 

The point being that a hospital with staff is a building without effect. A university without staff is buildings without effect. …

That’s why the desktop is important. Not for the man-in-the-street, for the man (or woman) who creates the means to streets.

Fallen Branch

Three Day. Off to Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. Much dashing about. So late for morning informational ablutions. So while plumbing the depths of FaceScroll, I came across this [Link]

I found this tree rather amusing, mostly for the choices of branches. As with most such amateur attempts at graphical taxonomy, the entertainment is in what is left out rather than what is put in. Among these is the branch of NERD STEMs.

First of all NERD STEMs tend to use Linux because of its capabilities and freedoms. Depending on their depth of interest in computational “science” (used here figuratively since anything that has to tell you it’s a science, isn’t,) they may use either Debian or Arch branch. Only the ones who operate in tight control environments use institutional Linux. I shall not dignify this matter with further comment.

As a rule, NERD STEMs want a non-hassling Linux distro. Geeks may want to wonk about with bit bashing but Nerds generally see the distro as a tool and want it to be tool-like: well behaved and trustworthy. And not in need of repair. But sometimes in need of modification.

NERD STEMs may be theoreticians, experimentalists, or intermediates. Some disciplines, such as biology tend to be almost exclusively experimentalists. 

Theoreticians tend to be primarily concerned with maths. That means that they will generally have several computational algebra clients on their box. No point in wasting time bashing maths for analytical solution when the box can do it. They also like graphs so they will have a couple of instant graphification clients. 

Experimentalists tend to be concerned with numbers. That means they will have some high tension (as in electricity) statistical clients and and maybe some electronics design clients and CAD/CAM/CAE clients. They also have statistics and graphing clients to crunch the experimental numbers.

Intermediates are the intersection/union of the two previous.

Nerds write code. Mostly they write in FORTRAN and NERD PYTHON. They don’t care about GUI stercus once they get to graduate schule. All that matters is numbers. And pictures of numbers. Not pretty box art. 

Enough. The branch for STEM NERDs is probably orthogonal to the sheet of the picture above.

And maybe that’s a good thing.