Sorry Physics

Ice Cream day. Still indisposed. Slow retirement of the indisposition and I fear I have about run the course of the exponential decay part of the curve and am now in the linear part, which is slower.

I have been amused observing the same maths behavior in the healing of humal hurts and the relaxation of molecular excitations. Especially since I did some of the work on the latter. Back in my graduate schule days, when I had adult supervision over the physics. Now I just have adult supervision over the not-physics.

Speaking of physics, I noted an article [Link] reporting the submission of an article (to Phys Rev Letters) with 5K authors. And yes, it is an elementary particles/standard model paper. I think the most authors on any paper I was part of was four, maybe five. I am too lazy to go look. 

We have to recognize here that this is a matter of who did the research work and not who wrote the paper. So strictly, this isn’t about authorship although we use that name. 

I have to admit that it is hard to write a paper with someone else. Very hard. And the paper is never as good as if I wrote the whole thing. And never as good as it would have been if I had rewritten it a year or five later. 

So excellence is a bit of a moot point.

I suppose I rather sorrow for those five thousand. How can they have any sense of accomplishment? I know that sounds like ego talking but there is also a bit of expression of work satisfaction. 

I am not proud of much of the work I did in my career. Most of it was bureaucratic Yankee Army work. Necessary to placate some policy or law or regulation. A cost of survival, as it were. But there are bits that rose above this that were worthwhile. And none of them done with five thousand other people. 

I suppose it’s like murder (with apologies to Agatha Christie.) If enough people murder someone, no one gets blamed/punished. If enough people get their name on a paper, no one gets credit, just mention. 

I’m glad that there are people who can work under these conditions otherwise some branches of physics would dry up and blow away. But I still sorrow for them. 

Epicurean Physics

Two day. Spring seems to be ebbing rapidly into summer. Reminds me of Fort Leavenworth: Spring and Fall were the nicest two weeks of the year. Modal day at gym. Sparse population, no bullying weight bouncers, but the podcast episodes were not very sticky. Best that came through was a discussion of the risk of gene modification (of humans) proving to be detrimental several generations removed. Not sure I understand why if it’s due to a gene modification that the modification can’t be reversed. Or is this some hidden association with the collapse of civilization due to our mounting stupidity? Anyway the interviewee then poo-pooed the idea. 

This gave me occasion to think about other things. Part was my on-going effort to learn stochastic differential equations. Lots of math, little obvious physics yet. And consider an article [Link] I saw the other day about how students learn physics better if they get to feel it. The example given was the old gyroscopic motion demonstration using a swivel stool and a bicycle wheel. Seems this improves grades (statistically) by 0.07! 

Which is a whole lot smaller that the standard deviation among teachers of physics. 

In my day any student who wanted to touch could usually do so. The only people who didn’t sit on the stool and get dizzy were the uninterested, the Greeks, and those who suffered from motion sickness. Even the women participated. There were some things we had to just watch, mostly because of safety concerns which were a lot less in those days before litigation looniness. 

This makes me wonder how depraved college instruction must have become. We went to class – my biggest was a bit over a hundred students and that was introductory graduate quantum mechanics, my freshman physics class was about two-thirds of that – and lab and watched and felt simple experiments and demonstrations and took notes and went home and read the text and worked problems. So how much of that has changed? Evidently quite a bit. 

There is a bit of a conundrum in college physics lectures. The larger the class, the fewer the questions; the better the lecturer, the fewer the questions. So make the class big enough and you can’t tell how good the lecturer is. 

One of the problem is that if you don’t get something in lecture or get it wrong, and it isn’t rectified THEN, you are damned because you never can unlearn what you first learn. That’s why old STEMs are hopelessly out-of-date. 

What is it about the education process that the more we try to make it better the worse it gets?

Slime Mold Students

Once more to the edge of week out. Ice Cream Day. The air temperature is up a bit from yesterday and the constitutional in the park was a bit stultified. But at least no muggers or terrorist or wild/feral animals. That I observed.

In and around listening to the podcast I had occasion to contemplate an article [Link] I ran across some time ago about some work at Ohio State U that looked at student effectiveness. Basically the question of why some kids are good students and some not. And no, this wasn’t a bash the teachers thing.

What the study indicates is that student effectiveness is a matter of genetics and experience. That is, if your parents are dunces, you’re likely to be one as well. And not everybody likes schule. I know there were times I disliked schule. Mostly the bullying – jocks and hoods but also coaches – and the information dearth. If I was self-actuated enough to study what I wanted to, I can easily see failure might have occurred.

The study stopped short of looking at the idea that schule is inherently de-motivating, which it is. At least pre-college. I suspect college is de-motivating for those who shouldn’t be there.

But I also kept thinking about wasting education resources on gammas and deltas?

Another reason I am glad to be senior.

And they let the teachers off the hook entirely too easily. Baksheesh?

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Hubble

Two day. Nicely sparse in gym. The podcasts, science day, were all too concerned with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hubble. I can’t get too worked up I fear. It’s a nice thing to do from a science standpoint but not a part of science that I do work in. Which means it is about as alien to my concerns as the Gobi desert is to Alibam. 

I was taken by one thing. They interviewed some staffer who was an astrophysicist. That part makes sense. But what he talked about was that before Hubble he couldn’t explain to his aunt how what he did was good for anything. 

That’s a question we all get from relatives. What do you do? and What good is it? If the relatives are nerds or geeks they have little problem accepting, if not understanding, your answers. If they’re bogs no answer will be illuminating, edifying, or satisfactory. I learned a long time ago not to really care. It upsets elders to be shrugged at when they say they don’t get your answer but if you’re the black sheep it actually helps. And if you are a nerd in a family of bogs, you are a black sheep. I’m not sure of the opposite. 

The problem that is a paradigm of explaining science to bogs is epitomized by the Hubble. All they think of is the pretty pictures. I have even heard politicians complain about how all that Hubble (and NASA) does (do) is produce pretty pictures to impress the proles. But most of the bogs do like the pictures – as do the geeks and nerds – but never care about what the Hubble really does. And what good it is.

That’s the fundamental problem of outreach as it’s called these days, of explaining science to bogs. They can’t understand because they don’t want to learn. Ain’t interesting. (Yes, I used the “I” word.) So all telling them what science is, is just irritating and frustrating them. You have to give them circus, not symposium. 

Sadly Hubble is the astronomical equivalent of Hunter-Gatherer elders sitting on the prairie waiting on the dire wolves to eat them. With the demise of the shuttle, no more service flights. So what circus do we have coming up to offer the bogs? Not, I think, the Webb telescope. 

No wonder science is failing in Amerika.

Mixed STEM Snafus

Zut! Ice Cream day. And courtesy of the weather beavers – execute the messenger! – too low in air temperature for SCP to execute constitutional in the park. So the week out exercise culminated by a session of stationary bicycle and a finish, but not completion, to that episode of “The Pen Addict”. Rather a better episode than others recently. Less nattering about wee notebooks that I find useful but not worshipful. This episode did a bit more nattering about pens and I picked up a few nuggets.

On which azimuth I ran across an article [Link] on Lifehacker entitled “Things You Should Never Say to Women Working in Tech or Science”. This article gather my attention span. Now I should comment that Lifehacker obeys Sturgeon’s Rule. It is about 0.9 crap in article count. I haven’t tried to see if the rule holds for ASCII count. A lot of what they have is crap by context, that is, irrelevant or orthogonal to my existence. That’s not surprising given its demographic is less than half my age. But even taking that out a surprising amount is just plain stercus. 

But I have worked with women STEMs and I do recognize that there are some things that are ‘here be dragons”. This is not to say that there aren’t also such with men STEMs but for some reason these are obvious to both men and women. So, in effect, there is a women’s arcana.

The examples of forbidden questions are:

  1. “How did you learn to do all this?!” 
  2. “No, when I complain about ‘geek girls,’ I don’t mean you. You’re a real geek.” 
  3. “Let me know when you want to do that so I can help you. No offense, but you just don’t know enough about it to try it on your own.” 
  4. “You’re a girl, but you’re not, like, a girl-girl, y’know?” 

which I am numbering for convenience of dissection.

Question number one doesn’t have to be a put down. It depends on delivery. It may be honest interest in the individual or it may be admiration of some capability that the questioner covets. If the latter can’t be distinguished from the former then the organization has serious problems and might best be liquidated, starting with the manager.

Question number two is so inappropriate that the questioner should be given notice that any repetition will be answered with dismissal. This sort of question is  a EEO/Sexual Harassment litigation festering. But it is instructive of something. Note the use of the term ‘geek”. This is critical. It indicates this is not a nerd environment. Caveat Emptor. 

Question 3 is nekulturny. Big Time! Given what we inferred from the previous we would like to pronounce that this is clearly a geek environment with all the toe smashing that implies. Sadly, however, nerds have social skills that are as bad, if not worse, than geeks albeit often different. This is one of those unpleasant situations where both individuals need to be counseled on developing their social skills if they ever expect to get off latrine police duty. The sad thing is that the woman will almost certainly adapt – if you caught it early enough – and the man will molder and have to be discharged or quarantined. 

Question 4 is like 2. 

The sad thing about these is that they get past the manager too **** often. Mostly due to manager incompetence. Which also obeys Sturgeon’s Rule. So occasionally it is necessary to dispose of a manager and perhaps his entire sub-organization. Which is a waste of good STEMs that the manager has ruined by incompetence. 

Bonsai Gardening

Once more into week in. Gym was survivable, the population was sparse and the podcast, an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” dealt with (human) parasites. There is a certain thrill to knowledge of yucky things that are maybe good for one. Rather like obligatory reproductive activity?

I ran across an article [Link] this weekend out of Michigan State U that debunks the idea that one can devote 10 K man-hours (MH) to learning something and become a master at that thing. This work establishes that one has to have talent for this thing or those 5 MY are wasted. I now feel much better that I abandoned juvenile athletics as quickly as possible, much to the disappointment of my parents. I have always contrasted the original assertion, now proven conditional, with the idea that one needs to change “jobs” every five years.

I was fortunate in that my parents did not “force” me to do many learned activities. My father wanted me to do sports but I was so abysmal that he quickly subsided. My mother was more determined with ballroom dancing. I still cannot dance to this day despite three summers of lessons as an adolescent. Nonetheless, I have always viewed this as a form of child abuse and was always careful with SCPdatter to help her do things she wanted to do, that I considered worthwhile, and not force her to do things I thought she should do. Other than schule work, of course. Now that I am a grandparent I fear she is morphing into a helicopter. With bumpers. Revenge of the species?

I am not sure it matters much. Children must find their own paths in life. They will be alienated from parents regardless of our acts. But I still fell more comfortable letting children make up their own way. And that’s probably as best as it can be?


Coffee and Industry

This is supposed to be a week of liquid dihydrogen oxide falling. No complaints. Better than solid phase falling. Typical two day at gym. Pleasantly vacant of educationalists and weight bouncers. And the podcasts, various science orts was diverting if not engaging. 

The medicalist mafia has done a spin flop again. [Link] Seems they have now decided more coffee is good. And they have given a meaningful, if not useful, standard, 0.4 g of Caffeine per diem.

The problem is that you can’t find that out from the bag your home coffee comes in or from the barristra (sorta) at you favorite coffeeorum. It approximately corresponds to a 0.6 L “cup” of Starbucks’ something or other that I have never heard of, but then I avoid Starbucks like a White Whale. Their coffee is over-roasted (burnt for the realists) and nasty. Drinkable only by bogs who have destroyed their taste sensors with chain food. 

Next, a study at U Waterloo indicates a correlation between “smart” cellular telephone use and laziness. [Link] I have to admit to a bit of cynicism here. Laziness is not a damnation; it may be a blessing. Quite often lazy folk are more efficient, productive, and efficient than industrious folk. But the assertion that the use of a “smart” cellular telephone gets in the way of learning is right on with my own observations. So while I don’t mind that bogs with “smart” cellular telephones take them to Starbucks, I defriend any of my acquaintances and colleagues who don’t keep theirs in pocket while we are having good brew at our (unchain) coffeeorum.

And yes, the good estimator shy of a chemistry laboratory is 0.6 L per diem.