Computer Attraction

Once more into the lees of the week, whether you consider Sundae to be the first or last day. I fear I consider it the last – most of the time – probably because I prefer the promise of Monday to the introspective nastiness of today. In keeping with that comes the tidying of the browser tabs, mostly the result of RSS feed instances and items sent by colleagues and items included in eNewsletters. Today is no different in that respect.

First, and strongest – in a sense that probably verifies our physicist-ness, is an article [Link] that talks about the suggestion by theorists that gravity is emergent (ala complexity) from information, likely quantum information. My first response here was the humor of the thing since information, at least in the artificial world of computers is inherently and implicitly quantized (it´s masticated also – bad pun!) then quantum information must be doubly quantized -> doubly masticated -> baby food -> elementary -> fundamental.

You can tell this is going to be a strange day.

The other thought is that since gravity is attractive only, no repulsive form, and if it emerges from information, this could explain why computers and their use seem to be so attractive. What isn’t quite clear is why the force should be stronger at night? After all, we seldom find people with their heads drawn down to the keyboard during daylight.

While the azimuth is on physics, the folks at the wonk shul on the Charles have published a study [Link] that indicates that physics students who do their own homework do better on exams. While it would be nastily attractive to point out just how lame this makes the wonks look, with a study that does nothing more than validate what every physicist already knows, it has to be acknowledged that this silly behavior among academics of ´proving´ common knowledge has become ubiquitous and raises general, rather than specific, questions of just how productive academics are.

Anyway, what every physicist, and, I suspect, every science nerd, knows is that if you don’t do your own homework problems you won’t do very well on the exams for the simple reason that the exams are mostly made up of problems. And however much lectures and tutorial/work sessions and Schaum’s outlines assist, the only way you learn how to work problems is by working problems. As I have maundered before, physics, and I suspect the other nerdish disciplines, consists of learning, using, and advancing the four T’s:

  • Terms;
  • Tools;
  • Techniques; and
  • Thoughts.

Of these, all but the first can only be substantially be learned by doing problems. And in honesty, I should acknowledge a bit of resonance or correlation (but with causality, I think!) with that Olympian of Education, Alexandra Harrington, ‘Educated Nation‘, who yesterday (Friday actually but I did not observe it till yesterday so I cannot to its previous existence in all physicist honesty) had an absolutely smashing (as in one hammer blow to completely drive in a large structural nail in a beam) blot on the difficulties of learning from computer learning instrumentality – web sites in particular – for those who go deeper than the terms level.[Link]

This, of course, does raise the question of whether copying homework has a similar effect in the non-nerd disciplines (the Capellan ones?) Like most who attended college in the Yankee republic I had to take some non-nerd courses so as to obtain some semblance of a liberal education.[1] And I must admit that I did everything I could to minimize the number of non-nerd courses I had to take to obtain a baccalaureate degree so that I could go really study nerdery. The primary reason for this is that the courses, and in particular the homework, made scant sense.

Simply put, the homework, and the exams for that matter, had nothing to do with problems. Take as an example courses in literature. The homework (dormwork?) usually consisted of writing some sort of essay or other short piece of a pseudo-analytical and/or disputatious nature. I will concede that the exams were to some limited extent based on these lines, but the key here is that the ‘analysis’ was subjective and the conclusions had to agree with the instructor’s, which were also subjective and fundamentally untestable. So, bottom line, I went out of my way to find ‘required’ elective courses that were as nerdish as possible.

Enough about homework! Besides, for all we know it only applies to our species anyway, which is rather rapidly being demonstrated to be less unique than we thought. In the wake of all the grrr brrr about homo florsiensis we seem to now have added what may be homo denisoviensis? [Link] First thought here is that the Altai mountains in Siberia would have been pretty low in temperature even in the warm phases so denisoviens would have been better suited to ‘cold’ than would have been neandertals, a point that is sometimes cited as significant in the latter’s extinction. Second thought is what mechanism will now be suggested for how sapiens did in these folks. Amazing what can be done these days with a single finger bone.

While we’re on humans, the question has been raised over whether Ronald McDougal, the iconic mascot of the fast food megaorg, should be extinguished. [Link] The issue seems to be whether the entity is a detrimental influence on children. Having been a parent I can attest that there was a substantial – entirely too lengthy – period when food could not be consumed at a restaurant other than McDougal’s without loud and antisocial altercation with SCPdatter. Since then I have learned much more about the deleterious effects of the foodstuffs they purvey which cause shudders of memory and a bit of thankfulness that I did not know of such when any outing entailed a visit to the fool’s-gold arches. So I would offer we should let Ronald live but let us extinguish his organization.

And while we’re on things harmful to health, I note [Link] that a pharmaceutical company (?) has begun to market computerized tops for medicine bottles. As I grasp it, these tops are supposed to do two things. First, they light up when it is time to take the medicine in the bottle. Second, they report to some Big Brother server somewhere. What is not completely clear is whether they report all instances or just missed ones.

As with all change from beyond my control – hear that, current administration? – I have some difficulties, potential or otherwise, with these. First of all, I object to having Big Brother just on basic principles. I also question their efficacy. The problem they are supposed to address is folks, especially seniors like SCP, who miss taking their meds. The implication is that we seniors are too forgetful, or simple minded to remember to take our meds. The problem with these devices solving that supposed problem is that they don’t report that a medicine was taken, only that the top was taken off the bottle. Even if they could measure how many pills are removed (added to?) the bottle, they do not measure the pills being ingested! So someone who dislikes the medicine for its effects can just remove and replace the top to fool (?) Big Brother. And what is Big Brother going to do? Send a jack booted Storm-trooper to administer the pill?

More insidious is the question of when? I am told by the medical media, who, like most mediasts, are about as trustworthy as a cardboard wrench in a rainstorm, that I should take my meds at the same time every day. (They are absolutely vacant of what to do about daylight savings time. Maybe because the adjustment is too much for them?) In all fairness I acknowledge that no physician has ever commented on this. I know enough about chemical processes and general rate theory to recognize why this is, but I also recognize that there is substantial variation from what my activities have been during the day. And sometimes I have things to do that mandate I take meds early or late.

I hate to say this, but what I want is a simple reminder thingie. Back when I had my HP Journada PDA that had a Popeye alarm noise, I could program it to remind me every day at the appointed time to take my meds. If I wanted to delay for an hour because I was away from home, the snooze was built-in. If I did took them early I could acknowledge and go on. PDAs are defunct now and my cellular phone is too whacked to do this well, but that is what I need, not technotops on the bottles. Besides, I have to open the cabinet and look at the bottles to see the lights, which means I have to remember to go open the cabinet to take the meds in the first place. Duhhhhhhh!

Now lastly, geologists at U Leicester have decided that we have entered a new geological epoch. [Link] This new epoch, suggestively dubbed the Anthropocene, is supposed to reflect the effects on Tellus wrought by homo sapiens. I should comment here that FD SCP watches some of those television programs where people refurbish houses or redecorate rooms or houses, which may explain a bit my first thought here was that this will give rise to a series of ‘reality’ programs such as ‘This Old Planet’ or ‘Continent Improvement.’ I also have to admit to a great dislike for these programs because the people who are the staff of the program are putzes, the occupants inflicted upon are shmendricks, and the improvements almost always (0.994) aren’t. Invariably in the redecorating a perfectly utile environment is rendered ugly and ineffective.

Lesson to be learned for the future of the planet.

[1] I remind the readership that this use of the term ‘liberal’ is non-political. It refers not to social engineering or socialism or any such but rather to the idea that one must have a diversity of knowledge that gives insight into the complexity of human society.