Stacked Deck

 Back end of Week Out. Nasty. Himicane rumbling through. High air speeds, at least for a Model T. And for trees. And dihydrogen oxide falling. So a good day to hunker down, be miserable and try to not dwell on the damage upcoming to domicile.

This has actually been a good week for some indication that Homo Sapiens may actually be smarter than he/she usually appears.

First, a couple of articles [Link][Link] indicating that by 34 KYA humans had figured out not to have bairns off their sisters.

This does raise a few questions. The obvious ones are: why so late?; and how did they come to this?

One would have thought, with humans, in various flavors, being around for about 2-3 MY, that we should have figured out early on that kinfolk kuddlin’ (as people in the old Confederacy put it,) would result in greater stupidity. But then, since it does that, the likelihood of each successive generation figuring it out would be decreased, so if you tried it for two generations it would be established. (As it sometimes appears to be in the old Confederacy just based on observing Bubbas.)

Of course, if this is the situation, the second question becomes even more relevant. Was the discovery something emergent like art or Pop Rocks, or was it an epiphany? And if the latter, from whom? Space Aliens or Neandertals?

This brings up another, related question, which is when did humans realize they were ugly? And is the ugly basic DNA or miscegenation originating? Did it take a genus level mutation for us to realize that daughter dinkin’ made kids that were not only stupid but ugly as well?

If the idea didn’t emerge until recently, a few KY in the past, then this could explain why humans have spent so much time futzin’ about and doing little more than rock knocking and drooling. Civilization makes a lot more sense if smarts started 50 KYA (approximately) than 2 MYA.

Second, another couple of articles [Link][Link] that relate a study that indicates religion is instinctual (and hence totally irrational.) This is even more uplifting. One quote is especially good:

our brains are hardwired with cognitive biases that have evolved in order to help us to survive, but which have the side-effect of making it natural to develop religious belief.”

In other words, religion is a congenital disorder like impacted third molars or failure of blood to clot. And we have the possibility of disposing of it with gene therapy.

Short of that we can be aware of it and do exercises to diminish its debilitating effects. And we can find ways to help people who are particularly afflicted with this horrible genetic disorder. Perhaps we can even form a national charity, akin to the March of Dimes, to search for a cure?

And lastly, [Link] indications that a lot of our undesirable aspects were passed on to us by Neandertals, probably in the process of explaining to us about miscegenation.

The traits they identified included those that affect hair color, skin color, skin tanning and burning, sleeping patterns, mood, and tobacco use.

So we can blame everything from skin cancer to drug addiction on those beetle-browed precursors of ours.

Probably the price of getting smart and inventing civilization and such like.

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Bogs in Space

After reminiscing about the good old days when outreach books were actually written by scientists and actually had some science in them, I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Here’s Everyone NASA Felt Was Better Than You” and this took be back again.

I grew up in Huntspatch, Alibam, catchily catch-phrased as the “Space Capital of the Universe,” which indicates the arrogance of elected officials, if nothing else. You would think that a child growing up in Huntspatch in the days of Mercury, and Gemini, and Apollo space programs would want to become as astronaut when he/she aged. 

I never wanted to be an astronaut. And I didn’t know anyone who did until started graduate school in another state (much less city.) And that person was a woman studying engineering who wanted to be the first astronaut.

I suspect the “first” was more important the “astronaut”. She was a nice enough person but suffered a drive and determination that would have left her with no social life even if she had sought such. I don’t mind her ambition but then, it wasn’t mine. 

I never really wanted to be anything but a scientist. I toyed with some other things along the way but quickly found I wasn’t good at them and I was rational enough to know not to go any farther. Happily I could – poorly – do science and that was enough.

I mention this because NASA talks about doing science. They do, but it’s either secondary or tertiary. If they had to get their science money from the agency that funds science in Amerika they would be right after Slippery Rock Teachers College on the priority list. 

What they do is mostly rockets. Back when they were NACA they did airplanes. Becoming NASA was a bit of a rescue from being irrelevant. 

And what astronauts do is basically technician work. Their flights are planned and controlled from the ground. The “experiments” they do are planned by real scientists and real engineers set up the instruments in a one-button box. And the data gets automatically recorded or transmitted back. 

They used to be test pilots (look at the original seven) but those folks like to actually do things and so you won’t find many test pilots being astronauts any more.

What you do find is people like public school teachers, which tells you something about their work conditions. 

There used to be a lot of geeks in NASA but only a few nerds. Now it’s mostly bogs and the geeks all stay on the ground.

Dilution to Dissolution

Two Day, and back to gym. As mentioned, the gym was closed yesterday as part of its on-going program of denial of service. So yesterday was a hard day.

The exercise was welcomed this morning, as was the scant population. But the podcast, an episode of The Guardian’s Science podcast, was dismal. The podcast was an interview with three “award winning” writers of science books. 

If these are the best of who is writing these days I can well understand the dismality of contemporary science books.

To clarify, I want to distinguish between books about science and books of science. The latter are textbook and collections of papers from conferences and such intended for nerds or the science education of the young in a classroom environment. The former fall primarily into two categories: outreach books written by academics or academia employed journalists; and books written for profit by journalists.

I am probably doing a bit of disservice to some of these authors but inasmuch as the composition and style of most of them is indistinguishable from that of contemporary journalists the aggregation seems accurate.

I should also comment that I do not read a lot of books about science. By that I mean that I start reading a lot of such books but seldom get beyond the first, or occasionally, second chapter. And yes, the books are that bad. Revolting in fact. As in almost nauseating.

The reason for this is the, at best, poor, most often, blatantly inaccurate descriptions of science matters. Descriptions that are so bad that they revolt me even in the fields where I am not a practitioner and am only peripherally and superficially informed.

Sadly, the outreach books are almost as bad, which leads me to conjecture an overall process by which a scientist explains something to an author, diluting and distorting, who in turn writes their own explanation, further diluting and distorting. What is said and what is bear less connection than a doughnut and a coffee cup mathematically.

In addition, the outreach books seem to be written with the same heavy hand of grammar and an absence of story telling rather like a turn crank journal article.

I should be tempted to say that books about science were better in my youth but since I was less knowledgeable and more adaptable then I am sufficiently uncertain to do so. But my emotional response is exactly that.

For these reasons, I will attempt in future to redirect my efforts to blog more about the successes and failure of contemporary science books. But don’t expect much. After all, I am ORF.

Conservative?

In physics, one of the distinctions we draw is whether forces are conservative or not. And no, this has nothing to do with the politics of gravity – although politicians do talk too much, and incorrectly, about strong and weak force.

Today is “Star Wars Day”, largely because of a horribly weak and limp pun. But the actual important thing that may as well be discussed today is whether Star Wars the cinemas are actually science fiction or not? They are clearly SciFi but that doesn’t mean they can transcend the inanity of horror flick to be actual SF!

The standard of comparisons are the classic “Space Operas” of book fame, notably, Edward Elmer Smith’s Lensmen and Skylark series and George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral series. So we have to ask whether the Star Wars cinemas (and stories) live up to the standards of these classics?

Now clearly they do on the fiction dimension. For space opera, characterized by troglodytic geniuses with horribly menacing alien sidekicks (or bemused capitalists, which may be more menacing?,) Star Wars quite readily satisfies the fiction requirement. Although the glorification of robots definitely fails the Dune test.

But on the science dimension, Star Wars is an abysmal failure. No where is some wonderful new technology revealed or pivotal. The Death Star is nothing more than a space going CCC project of space-going democrats with dictator envy. And “light sabers” are not only Boy Scout projects but rather tame when compared to Delameters or truly insidious weapons like duplicators or no space – no time transporters. 

This vacuity is not surprising. After all, the archetypical cinema space opera was only saved from mediocrity by the technology of an extinct race of aliens and the tender ministrations of a sociopathic linguist.

 

Marine out of orbit

Spent much of yesterday in the precincts of the medicalist community of Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. FD SCP was having a bit of day surgery and I got to enjoy the overweening discipline, false manners, and communication inabilities of that community.

Admittedly, communicating in the Huntsville area is extremely difficult for the medicalists, largely because of the high fraction of STEM Nerds. Medicalists tend to throw their communications over the wall, in the metaphor, with an ambiguity that is typical of Bog communication. And generally ignore the effects of that communication except for disdain and criticism of the Boggerate for that ambiguity. 

Unfortunately this strategy is an even more abysmal failure for the Nerd segment since they – rightly – recognize the communication and deliberately ambiguous and contradictory and largely ignore much of it as noise.

But I heard last evening that John Glenn had discorporated and so I gave that some cogitation. First I reflected on the reaction when he went into orbit. I was at schule at the time and the reaction among the teachers and staff ran from “wonderful, amazing” to “pay attention, this is BIG history.”

The reaction among the students ranged from “so what” to “finally, what took them so long to do something simple like this?”

Growing up in Huntsville, that latter was common. We tended to consider the whole space race a slow motion farce. Some of that was misplaced, a lack of understanding of organizational paranoia, but a lot of it was valid. And this brought me to the commonalities between the medicalist community and NASAl.

Both are autocratic, their way or be punished. Except in NASAl’s case, it seemed the punishment was meted out regardless of how you did something. Management was hideously insecure and violent. Spawned a lot of domestic abuse. Huntsville used to have more social workers than a city thrice its size. Divorces and battery. Also employment for a lot of those divorcees. 

And NASAl really hated astronauts. Would have much preferred their own civilian folk to military test pilots. Too independent and concerned for themselves. Not serf enough for the organization. So they got treated like chicken stercus.

And Glenn showed how you beat NASAl at its own game. You made it big and then made them be nice to you in exchange for giving them publicity. Because public approval was the only way to keep the politicians out of micromanagement. 

Anyway, Glenn was a good troop. And properly disrespectful to false authority.

Mirror Image?

Two Day. Last day of schule? Density actually up a bit at gym. Unusual for a two day. Otherwise, not bad. The podcasts were passable albeit a bit tedious and unmemorable. 

But I did note an article [Link] yesterday entitled “Selfie fans regularly overestimate how attractive they are, scientists find” that gathered my attention span. I am a bit bemused by this selfie thing. It is not, to my domain, the land of speedbumpia portrayed by the media of selfie addicts obstructing passage and causing collisions. I also have to admit to having tried it on myself for both investigation and obtaining photographs for icons on various web sites. There is considerably more art and skill to this than portrayed by the media, which is consonant with my experience with photography.

There is also the matter that while the camera sensor in cellular telephones is quite good, the optics are RUBBISH bordering on STERCUS. 

This article, from U Toronto, asserts that there is a component of egotism. That is unsurprising. Nor is the academic sense of priestliness, that information is gossip until sanctified by a gowned scholar. The form of the egotism is. The intro claims that selfie takers consider themselves more attractive than those who view their work, which raises anew the question of art.

But what was telling was deeper in the article:

When all was said and done, both groups – the selfie-takers and non-selfie-takers – reported themselves more attractive than they were rated by the outside group, though the selfie-takers were off by a greater degree

Seems to control for this the wonks did two sets of photos – selfies and otheries – and submitted them to an independent (?) group to review. And they found everyone had a better view of themselves than others do.

And here I thought that was a well established character of human nature. If we all didn’t think we look better than we do the suicide rate would be close to 1.0.

So I am mulling whether this nulls the whole exercise. Is there any science here? Maybe. But probably not new.