Wrong Hypothesis

Ran across an article [Link] entitled “Yellow glasses don’t help night drivers spot dangers any faster” yesterday and it amazed me at how some folks get things DEAD WRONG.

Simply put, the basis of the study is pigshit whacked.

To quote from the article,

Wearing yellow glasses while driving at night might make you think you are seeing better, but tests in a simulator have shown that drivers wearing them don’t spot pedestrians any faster than those wearing clear glasses.

In reality, the yellow glasses reduce the amount of light entering the eye and thus what people can see at night, says Alex Hwang of Harvard Medical School.

“It’s like wearing sunglasses during the night-time,” he says.

In ACTUAL reality, the effectiveness of yellow driving glasses is to reduce the intensity of the blue end of the visual spectrum. Why is this important? Because contemporary headlamps emit more blue light than previous headlamps AND as humans age their eyes become more sensitive to the blue end of the visual spectrum. Hence, contemporary headlamps tend to overload the eyes of drivers approaching and make it impossible for them to discern what is in the eye solid angle containing those headlamps. 

Simply put, the problem is NOT spotting danger. It’s avoiding it. 

If you can’t get the testing parameters accurately, go repair bridges or something else useful. Don’t waste money and effort on pig poop. 

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.

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.


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.