Postmodern Sturgeon

The incresed air temperature has had the beneficial effect of stimulating my cognitive activities. The detrimental side is that much of that activity has been frustrating and painful.

One of my colleagues, Current Density Linear Angular Momentum, send me a [Link] entitled “Is President Trump a Stealth Postmodernist or Just a Liar?” The subject of the article aside – for now – the contents of the article are a lengthy quote fest of what postmodernism is. 

I have to admit that I managed to go to college for twelve years without being exposed to the idea of postmodernism. IMHO, that was a mitzvah. Because so far as I can tell from repeatedly revisiting the matter as a degreed adult and a practicing Science NERD, it is an overly elaborate theory that lacks any meaningful foundation. Even the name is off-putting. 

I have to admit that my own approach to the matter is rather Platonian. I am primarily concerned with views of reality since that is the sine qua non of Science NERDs. Simply put, there is no one reality. Even actual reality, that of the physical universe, has several aspects. The reality of the physicist is different from the reality of the biologist or the geologist. That doesn’t mean any of them are completely accurate but the differentiation does lend itself to Us-Them.

What seems relevant here is reality at a somewhat more aggregate level. Specifically, the difference between physical and social reality. Physical reality is the reality of Science NERDs and maybe some mathematicians. Social reality is the reality of society. Part of the latter is civilization and agriculture and capitalism. 

When we first cast out the British tyranny and established an Amerikan tyranny, we were an agrarian nation. The majority of the population were directly connected with agriculture, an agriculture whose instrumentality was familial and instrumentation was sensual and muscle powered. As a result, physical reality – especially weather – was intimately a part of the population’s reality.

Today, the majority of the citizenry live in cities. They are largely divorced from Nature and as a result, for most people, social reality is more important than physical reality. 

This brings us to Truth. This is a horribly misused term. It effectively has no meaning outside the religious. In terms of physical reality, what is important is accuracy and effectiveness; in therms of social reality, what is important is memery and kulturny. So anytime one hears (or sees) the word “truth”, one knows it is a misused – and hence contra-meaningful – word. 

Politicians have always toga-wrapped themselves with words like “truth”. Largely because what they say is inherently self-serving. In the old days, they rationalized this with “the Plebians will not understand, so misrepresentation is crucial to peace and stability.” Nowadays, they don;t care about anyone but themselves so the rationale is simply “misrepresentation is crucial to peace and stability” and continuance in office. 

One of the realities of “truth” is that everything is inaccurate, especially if it is expressed in language. We could say that everything is a “lie” but that is as meaningless as truth because of its universality. What is useful is to talk about accuracy and that implies maths and hence will not be understood by the Bogs (Plebs.) 

So what is important is not whether someone “lies”, but how they “lie.”

In the context of physical versus social reality, this is crucial. In physical reality, knowing the degree of inaccuracy is fundamental; in social reality, the congruence with current social memes and practices determines the accuracy. 

Now I’m going to do something constructive, namely, breaking my fast.

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Reinventing Stupidity

Seven Day. And foretold by the weather beavers to be the day we leave dihydrogen oxide phase changes behind for a while. And may thus cease to stress out over damages to our household plumbing. Houses in Alibam are not built for colding weather. Or ice. 

Another thing that needs to change in response to Climate Change. Which is unlikely given the preponderance of Repulsian denial-ism in the Old Confederacy. 

On an equally dismal – and comparable – azimuth, I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Research reveals ‘shocking’ weakness of lab courses.” This comes from Cornell U – once host to Feynman – about how their introductory physics labs don’t teach physics. 

What is shocking to me is how this nonsense is getting dredged up once again. 

I started doing learning physics labs back in high schule. That was in the sixties (of the last century) when science was a big deal, even approved by Repulsians and Democruds, because we needed to keep the Red Hordes at bay. In many ways, Containment was a vastly superior life style than today even with hiding under one’s schule desk exercises. And fear of nuclear destruction. 

Anyway, high schule physics lab was largely a joke, mostly because of the turn over of faculty and the meagreness of equipment. But those lessons stood well with time. Two of the problems with physics learning labs are the equipment: highly specialized; hideously expensive; and not very instructive; and faculty interest. No one gets tenure for dedicating one’s career to introductory physics labs. It’s a ticket punch, not a career definer.

When I went to college I found more and better equipment, almost all of it older by I by decades, and lab teaching assistants who were more concerned with students not killing themselves than meaningful learning. 

Supposedly the purpose of introductory physics lab is supplementing what is taught in the course. That fails. First of all, the only people who may benefit from the lab – long term – are science majors, physics majors in particular. And they are the minority. Because if you try to teach an introductory physics class for physics majors the legume enumerators hang you out to dry. So you have to have a course that services (the academic variety) engineers and other science discipline majors as well as provides a blast off for physics majors.

So the majority know they aren’t going to benefit from the labs and that their task is to endure the labs to pass the course and move on. And the physics faculty have to accommodate this to survive. 

Let me also interject that introductory physics lab is unique, or, at least, was in my day. Yes, it was paced to the lectures, but the stuff taught in introductory physics is the same as taught in high schule physics just more so. So what the labs will show is already well known, so little learning opportunity and little learning. Just more endurance.

The next learning lab course – “modern” physics – is better in having stuff to actually learn but, at least in my day, wasn’t tracked to the lectures. Why? Because there was only enough equipment for one set per experiment. So the lab schedule was a staggered progression. One team got to do the experiments in sync with the lectures but everyone else was out of sync. 

The team thing is another contributor. It’s a Taylor thing. Teams are good for getting work done but they’re lousy for learning or doing really original stuff. Why, because the EXTROs want to get things done and they run the teams. In fact, even in a team of two, learning doesn’t happen. Learning is an individual activity to varying degree and physics tends to be overpopulated with INTRO Nerds. 

When I was in Grad Schule, study groups were a big deal at the Campus of the Boneyard. I tried a couple. Didn’t work. Because of the EXTROs. Turned out the study groups were encouraged because of the flunk out rate of EXTROs and how emotionally engaging they were with the administration.

The last coffin nail is time. Labs have to be scheduled. College teaching is all about floor space. And not everyone learns at the same “speed”.

So why do we expect learning labs to work? Because of the administration? Because the faculty did it? Because they didn’t learn either but think they should have? 

If we’re realistic, we shouldn’t expect anything more out of introductory physics labs than that it will “wet the feet” of students who will get introduced to real research labs in a few years. And won’t be total klutzes about it. 

Physics is about reality. Apply that reality recognition to learning labs and quite rehashing their ineffectiveness every ten years or so. So I can quite having to read the same tripe every decade. Figure out it’s a socialization process like lectures and homework problems. And take Latency into account.

Selah.

Word Misuse

An article this morning about Ancient Beringians [Link] served as the seed crystal for this blot nattering about the common misuses of certain words:

Native Americans – No Such Animal. Humans are NOT Native to the Americas. They did not evolve here. They all emigrated here starting about 20 KYA. So calling the humans living here before the arrival of Columbus “Native Americans” is erroneous, inaccurate, and probably insulting? The uncertainty lies in the inconsistency and ambiguity of what is complement and what is insult any more.

Natural Meat/Food – Sheer Idiocy. Anything that exists, including virtual particles in the vacuum, are inherently parts of Nature and hence Natural. For those who want a simple scheme, if something is made up of atoms, it’s Natural. (So are other things, but we haven’t figured out how to make foodstuffs out of dark matter.) (And if we could, we likely couldn’t digest it since its chemistry would have to be non electro-magnetic.) (Which would not keep corporations from selling it as zero-calorie foodstuffs.)

GMO – This is the ubiquitous norm. All living matter is Gene Modified. There is NO SUCH THING as Non-GMO! Why? Because mutation of gene structures occurs continuously and since gene structures have been around for in excess of a BILLION years, all gene structures around today are modified from the original.

Organic – A substance (foodstuff, e.g.) is Organic if it is primarily comprised of covalently bonded carbon atoms. The term is currently widely used in an erroneous and inaccurate way to imply the foodstuffs have not been exposed to “toxic” chemicals, which erroneously include pharmaceuticals. It’s an egregious Bogism that reflects the inherent inability of Bogs to learn or think well. 

There are probably more such words that are reduced to garbage by people who have difficulties with using their brains. In some cases, it is unclear that they even have such. In other cases, it is clear some people just misuse their brains. This is common among the population segment at the union of math blind and thought-dead who are incapable of understanding maths or science and hence invert the merits of things like vaccines and herd immunity. 

Selah. (Still ambiguous.) Enough ranting against the march of the moronic.

Code Quackery

I ran across an article [Link] entitled “ScienceAlert Deal: 4 Essential Coding Languages You Should Know in 2018.” And I have to admit to some bemusement and head shaking.

This article purports to list four coding languages that are necessities for STEM Nerds. The credibility ends there.

With one exception the languages are all about GUI, not number crunching. How is this a necessity for STEM Nerds? Is this why science is becoming crap in Amerika? Because the STEM Nerds are spending all their time making web pages?

The exception is Python. I have to admit that Python is a useful language for a STEM Nerd. Not the best one, mind you, but a reasonable first language to grasp the idea of coding.

The most important language for STEM Nerds is the one whose name is not to be spoken. Or written. Yes, I mean FORTRAN. Why? Becuase if you’re going to do real number crunching on a “supercomputer”, then you have to know FORTRAN. 

And the article doesn’t mention FORTRAN. Why not? because the article is an advertisement for the products of a company that bribes the writer.

STEM Nerds don’t do GUI or web pages. They do number crunching. And that is best learnedd by doing and making mistakes and learning things capitalist pseudo-educationalists can’t teach. Like maths.

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.