Friday, August 22, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Then one day, after explaining to us how expensive and sensitive the equipment was that he was entrusting to our use, a professor left a gaggle of us with it and went off to another room to work with other students. Soon after that, the machine jammed or otherwise malfunctioned. I can't remember for sure if it was a piece of equipment that used lasers, or what, but I remember we were terrified twice over: first because we weren't sure if we were in mortal danger (it seemed likely), and second because we had just been told what an incredibly sophisticated and expensive machine this was. That we had no idea how we'd broken it didn't help; there is no clueless like the cluelessness of wondering how you messed up a scary bit of technology while being extremely careful and cautious.
Being teens, and terrified, we kicked up a bit of a fuss, as I recall. There were screams, and people running for the professor.
The professor came in, took stock, told us to calm down, and then picked the equipment off the table and slammed it on the floor a couple of times. He set it back on the table, ran a couple of tests on it, declared that it did this all the time and it should be all right now, and then left us, our mouths hanging open in disbelief.
It worked fine after that.
I have since found that a lot of guys 'fix' things this way, sometimes successfully. Or they happily employ "a judicious use of his most basic hardware tool for such things, his fists", as James M. Kushiner puts it.
In the linked post, Kushiner laments that fewer things built these days can be fixed that way. I'm inclined to think he has a point. (Although, to be sure, I've been surprised again and again what can be fixed that way. Not that I recommend it, necessarily, you understand. :)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
I'm not sure you could pay me to get on the thing. But wow. What cool engineering.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Well, let Phil from Brandywine Books give you the lead-in and the link.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
To some people this is news. From Tara Parker-Pope's article, "Coping With the Caveman in the Crib" (New York Times, February 5, 2008):
Full article here.
Now Dr. [Harvey] Karp, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, has turned his attention to the toddler years, that explosive period of development when children learn language, motor skills and problem solving, among other things. The rapid pace at which all these changes occur is nothing short of astonishing, but it can also be overwhelming to little brains. A wailing baby is nothing compared with the defiant behavior and tantrums common among toddlers.
In his latest book, “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” Dr. Karp tries to teach parents the skills to communicate with and soothe tantrum-prone children. In doing so, however, he redefines what being a toddler means. In his view, toddlers are not just small people. In fact, for all practical purposes, they’re not even small Homo sapiens.
Dr. Karp notes that in terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans. Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting, “are meaningless to a Neanderthal,” Dr. Karp says.
The challenge for parents is learning how to communicate with the caveman in the crib. “All of us get more primitive when we get upset, that’s why they call it ‘going ape,’ ” Dr. Karp says. “But toddlers start out primitive, so when they get upset, they go Jurassic on you.”
So, those of you who have actually raised toddlers to the next stage of human development -- have brought them forward into the Cenozoic, so to speak -- feel free to weigh in.
As for the 'Neanderthals in the Jurassic' business, let's try to remember these people are speaking figuratively here. OK? (And I hope they're joking where they say, "In fact, for all practical purposes, they’re not even small Homo sapiens." Of course they're small Homo sapiens. Exhaustingly immature Homo sapiens, perhaps, but definitely full-fledged members of the species. And sometimes they're even cute. Such a deal.)
Side note: Isn't there some debate on whether Neanderthals were as primitive as depicted in popular culture and some science texts? Isn't it rather more common these days to put them forward as rather more sophisticated than your average toddler? I know, I know, we're speaking figuratively here, and you and I are perfectly capable of enjoying caveman jokes without worrying if they're justified. But still, I would like to note that I don't know if they are justified.
Found while searching for something else about the Jurassic: Photo in the News: Jurassic "Crocodile" Found in Oregon (National Geographic News: March 22, 2007.) That's interesting. I live in eastern Oregon. We have lots of fossils around here, many of them looking rather tropical. (Talk about climate change!) But in this case, the scientists were speculating that this 'croc' started out in Asia and its fossilized remains were propelled by plate tectonics across to our decidedly inland mountains? Hmmm. I guess anything's possible, but... isn't it a bit more likely that it was just a local croc? I guess I'd like to know what sort of rock the fossil was in, and whether it matches Asian rocks with similar fossils.
P.S. I was telling a friend about the supposedly Asian fossil being shoved into our mountains theory, and he said he'd heard that a pterodactyl (aka pterosaur) had carried the croc over and dropped it here. I'm pretty sure he was joking. But, hey, it's a theory... :)
Monday, February 04, 2008
Thursday, January 31, 2008
I was (according to the quiz) one of the theoretical survivors. Let's not go into how much of that was by dumb luck and wild guesses, shall we?
At Cheat-Seeking Missiles, I found a couple of interesting posts right at the top. Fade-Out On The Campaign TV Spot looks at changes in how national political campaigns are run, now that television ads are so expensive, and now that there are more (and better) alternatives. Creationism Bragging Rights takes a mostly-humorous look at recent claims about machine-made life. He says what the scientists are really claiming (when you cut through the hype and spin) isn't that they're on the verge of creating life. As he puts it, they're talking about hijacking it. There's a difference.
When you get through laughing at Laer's punchline, though, please go read the article that prompted his post: Giant step toward artificial life, by Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical writer, San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2008. Except for the rather unfortunate "there is the matter of bragging rights of mythological proportions. Mere mortals have yet to lay claim to creating life" segment, it's really an interesting, informative, and rather well-balanced article, I thought. And it does give space to concerns about what's going on.
Update: Sallie is leading a discussion on Jane Austen movies. She also has a long and thoughtful, very good post in which she revisits a post from May of 2005 on deciding what's important, and acting on it. I'm in a simplify-and-cut-back phase right now, and appreciated the inspiration.
Update: Patrick Deneen takes a look at "the breakdown of a covenant of respect and honor," and "the growing evidence of shamelessness among our middling debtor class."
Monday, January 07, 2008
But if you follow the link in his post you'll read about a new book called What Bugged the Dinosaurs?: Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous, by George O. Poinar, Jr and Roberta Poinar.
Oregon State University press release on the authors and their theories here.
Added: Phil at Brandywine Books recommends a dinosaur book for kids, Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up. I list it here because he notes that he has problems with the section on why the dinosaurs died.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Very cool. Hats off to Mr. Wallington.
Now, kids, I'm counting on you to get permission from your parents before you try, say, to transplant the garage. There's a very good chance they a) don't want the garage moved, and b) don't want you hurting yourself. You should note on the video where Mr. Wallington talks about the times he got hurt while perfecting his methods. OK? You with me on this?
Semi-related: This makes me think of Archimedes and the quote "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." It's so easy to forget the power of levers... And gravity... And other basic stuff...
hat tip: My husband
Monday, December 10, 2007
So, now that I'm through chuckling (it was great timing, and a nice contrast), I think I'd better share with you what Mr. Jenkins points out as the science behind Gore's crusade (it's not what Mr. Gore would like you to think):
Read the whole thing
The media will be tempted to blur the fact that his medal, which Mr. Gore will collect on Monday in Oslo, isn't for "science." In fact, a Nobel has never been awarded for the science of global warming. Even Svante Arrhenius, who first described the "greenhouse" effect, won his for something else in 1903. Yet now one has been awarded for promoting belief in manmade global warming as a crisis.
How this honor has befallen the former Veep could perhaps be explained by another Nobel, awarded in 2002 to Daniel Kahneman for work he and the late Amos Tversky did on "availability bias," roughly the human propensity to judge the validity of a proposition by how easily it comes to mind.
Their insight has been fruitful and multiplied: "Availability cascade" has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; "informational cascade" for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd's beliefs; and "reputational cascade" for the rational incentive to do so.
Mr. Gore clearly understands the game he's playing, judging by his resort to such nondispositive arguments as: "The people who dispute the international consensus on global warming are in the same category now with the people who think the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona."
Public opinion cascades are powerful but also fragile--liable to be overturned in an instant when new information comes along. The current age of global warming politics will certainly end with a whimper once a few consecutive years of cooling are recorded. Why should we expect such cooling? Because the forces that caused warming and cooling in the past, before the advent of industrial civilization, are still at work.
No, this wouldn't prove or disprove a human role in warming, only that climate is variable and subject to complicated influences. But it would also eliminate the large incentive for politicians to traffic in doom-laden predictions--because such predictions would no longer command media assent and would cease to function as levers to redistribute resources.
I think we all need to sometimes step back and ask if what we're championing is based on nothing more than a cascade that took on a life of its own, apart from the facts. I know I've had a few jolts in my life when I realized to my horror or dismay that I'd been working off of faulty info or misguided opinion. (I've been obliged to disown some of what I spouted when I was feminist, for instance... Ahem...)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Today I had time to follow up so I spent some time googling trying to find the story, but found it hadn't seemed to make much of a splash. Either that, or I was using the wrong search words. But then I went to Considerettes, and there it was, with a link to a Washington Post story from Tuesday. A page one story, no less. And hey, if you go all the way to the end of the article, it notes that variations in behavior are the biggest determining factors in how severe the HIV epidemic is from region to region and from group to group. News you can use, that is, even if it isn't politically correct.
The Washington Post article quotes two authors: James Chin, author of "The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology With Political Correctness," and Helen Epstein, author of "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS."
Monday, October 29, 2007
I think one of my favorite memories from school days was the day we got to Pangaea in our textbook. You could look at a globe, or even a map (if you were good at adjusting for the distortions in map projections) and see how continents fit together if you scrunched them back together in your mind. I didn't even need the further evidence of matching rock formations along different shorelines to make me believe this theory.
Q. On what continent did dinosaurs first appear?
A. Trick question! All the continents were joined together during the Early Triassic period in one big continent called Pangaea.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
We had a lot of fun, as I recall, playing with the mental gymnastics that naturally followed from the idea of one bigger land mass breaking up, with the parts heading off in different directions. For starters, animal and plant populations would be severed. And then the following generations of plants and animals on each traveling continent would have to adjust to the slow, slow, but big, big changes that would occur. The latitude as well as the longitude would change, and with it seasons and daylight and temps and who knows what all? Plus, the ocean currents would have to change as the land masses moved around, moving the blockades, as it were. This would, as I understand it, make for big changes in weather patterns.
And then, when you also started factoring in the growth of new land, thanks to volcanoes, etc., it got really interesting. For instance, the evidence pointed to North America and South America not being joined at first, but being linked after volcanoes in what is now Central America built up the land bridge that is there today. Can you imagine what a difference that had to make in climate, not to mention to ocean plant and animal populations? I mean, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were linked there, and then they weren't. I've been led to believe that this happened slowly, but still... I saw a television documentary on this once, and it showed an animation of ocean currents swishing through there, and then being blocked and therefore totally, drastically rerouted. I hope it was an accurate rendition, because it made a big impression on me. The oceans got cut in two, but land animals had new lands made available for migration. Such a deal.
For another instance, where I live used to be practically a rain forest (you should see our fossils around here - what a fascinating story they tell), but ever since the Cascade Mountains grew up, this part of the world has been in a rain shadow (that is, we don't get much rain because of the mountains to our west). And I'm sure the wind patterns are different, too. Certainly the seasons are more extreme than they used to be. And...
But you get the picture, I'm sure. To try to approach a comprehension of reality, start with the above and start factoring in everyday sorts of erosion, not to mention drastic changes from earthquakes and floods, and then try to factor in the natural evolution of ecosystems as soils mature, and then...
Well, you get the picture, I'm sure. The histories of the physical and biological worlds can be hard to get one's head around. But it can be fun to try.
Have you ever tried to map what's happened to the spot where you live? How it's (probably) migrated over the globe over the eons? I don't know of any computer games or models for this, but I think they'd be fun to play with. At a guess, you could set your imaginary self down in the tropics and travel to the temperate zone without ever standing up, if you factored in enough time, and picked the right starting point.
OK, yes, perhaps it might be somewhat-geeky fun, but I like somewhat geeky fun. Heh.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
The article cites Gary Taubes' new book which examines diet myths, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007).
hat tip: Frank Wilson
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
You might want to read Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid. - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine to see what the study actually tested and how it was carried out.
How people expect non-scientists to take science seriously when junk like this gets traction in the press is beyond me.
By the by, I put 'liberals' and 'conservatives' in single quotes in part because these days it seems to me that more 'liberals' are big on punishing people who don't march in lockstep as per their assigned group identity, and more 'conservatives' are in the freedom-loving, countercultural role. At any rate, the current use of the words doesn't match the traditional meanings of the words at all. (If you feel up to a lengthy, scholarly explanation, you might want to check out What Is Classical Liberalism?, by John C. Goodman, December 20, 2005, NCPA website, for starters.)
Finally, this might be related to the issue discussed in the Saletan article: Most science studies appear to be tainted by sloppy analysis, Daily Policy Digest, NCPA Idea House, Sept. 18, 2007.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Plan A for today, when I went to bed last night, was to get up early and bake some bread as a Welcome to the Neighborhood gift. Or, rather, gifts. A couple has moved into the house next door and I've only met the husband in passing, and a Baptist pastor and his family just moved to town yesterday, and I haven't met any of that family yet, even though they're only half a block away, more or less. The plan was to show up bearing gifts, see if anybody needed anything, and then probably just scoot back out of their way until they got over the exhaustion of moving.
So much for planning. My husband was ill much of the night, so we were both rather unrested this morning. When I did drag out of bed it was with sneezing and sniffling and with a swollen, itchy eye. I don't know know about you, but if I just moved into a neighborhood and some stranger showed up on my doorstep sneezing and coughing and with an infected eye and presented me with a batch of homemade rolls that she said she'd just baked that morning, I have a funny feeling I wouldn't consider it a gift quite as much as an invasion. I might also wonder what sort of neighborhood I'd just moved into. So, anyway, the re-enactment of the scene from the movie It's a Wonderful Life got put on the shelf. Not that I intended to have a ceremony or anything, but, still, the tradition of bread-as-gift for people moving into a new home seemed like a good idea last night, but not today.
Between the bug and some sore muscles from overdoing it a bit in the heavy-physical-labor department on Tuesday, I was kind of slow today, both in mind and body, so I did some drudge work I'd been putting off, both indoors and out, both personal and business. It was a good day for drudge work. The bookstore is better off because of it, too. And so's the lawn. Such a deal.
I probably should have taken a nap somewhere along the line, but I am well and truly glued to a book I started the other day, and it took up all my spare time today. It's not one I was especially excited about when it showed up in a trade-in pile, but it caught my eye and I thought I'd browse through it before putting it out for sale. Browse? I'm eating the details.
The book is a biography of Bess Truman by her daughter, Margaret Truman. The title, plainly enough, is Bess W. Truman. I'm rather fond of biographies in general, but I usually avoid those written either by employees or family members. I'm not quite sure why I made an exception in this case, but I suspect that in part it's because I've read some mysteries by Margaret Truman and know she's a pretty good writer, and also in part because I have a weak spot for books from World War II and the years leading up to it.
To my surprise (I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but I was) Margaret Truman really did her research on this. I was afraid it was going to be something along the lines of I-remember-this and Somebody-told-me-that. But, no. I'm only about two-thirds of the way through, but I feel like I've already gotten more in the way of history lessons than found in most college courses. It's also making me rethink some of what I thought I knew about that time period. At any rate, despite some awkwardness that inevitably results from the author being the daughter of the two main subjects in the book, not to mention being a main character in her own right, I'd recommend it. (It's really as much a biography of Harry Truman as it is of his wife, with a healthy dose of autobiography on the author's part.)
I should probably mention that the author is definitely one of those I-calls-it-as-I-sees-it type of historian, which is a bit too bad for some of the people featured in the book (including, at times, her mother). On the other hand, the book doesn't suffer from, on the one hand, the cardboard people syndrome common to many history books - which seem to pretend that it didn't matter who was in place when events happened, because, you know, the events happened to them, or something like that - or, on the other hand, the over-wartiness of other history books, especially those of the important-people-should-be-torn-down-because-it-wouldn't-do-to-leave-any-heroes-standing-or-reputations-intact school. Truman is frank and sometimes-opinionated, but not vicious, from what I've seen so far.
There are some priceless quotes and passages, but for now I'm going to finish the book before I start getting into that. From what I've read so far, I've already moved it onto my Books I Wish Somebody Would Bring Back Into Print list.
Another recently read book I moved onto that list is The Foundling by Francis Cardinal Spellman, c. 1951. It's also on my Top Ten Coming-of-Age Novels of All Time list, or would be, if I were organized enough to have such a list. More on that one later, too, but in sum, a soldier returning to America after being grievously wounded in World War One is afraid to go home and have his mother and sweetheart see him scarred and crippled and, not knowing where else to go or what to do, he wanders into a cathedral and, after a while, exhausted, he falls asleep. When he wakes up he's all alone in the cathedral. Or he thinks he is. A baby cries, and he finds a baby boy abandoned in the church. The rest of the book is about the lives that intersect and intertwine because that soldier found that baby, and also about that baby growing into manhood.
Hmmm. I'm afraid that might make the book sound sappy, and it isn't. It's a rather hard to categorize book. Some of it's drop dead funny (it has, for instance, a great passage or two on a boy overcome with gallantry while in the throes of puppy love), and some of it's gut-wrenching. It's pro-America, unabashedly. But it's not blind to her faults (much of the book is a direct assault on the racism common at the time). It's, in a way, pro-military. But it's not blind to the difficulties faced by soldiers and their loved ones. It's ecumenical, in that there are Catholic, Protestant and Jewish main characters. But it's not so ecumenical that it pretends there aren't differences between Catholic and Protestant and Jew - in fact, much of the story turns on the fact that the soldier is Protestant and the baby is declared Catholic. But it is a compassionate book. And there I go, making it sound sappy again...
(Did I mention I'm buggy and not in top form today?)
I wish I knew more about classical music, because, as it happens, much of the book also revolves around the love of music, and 'highbrow' music at that. But it's not a highbrow book. In fact, Boston elitist types get portrayed as spoiled brats when the occasion presents itself.
(Did I mention that it's a hard to classify bit of fiction?)
Anyway, moving on to one more quick note before I head off to bed... I'm not going to try doing a link tonight, or a full review either, but if any of you are participating in the Apple tribute over at Semicolon (link in my sidebar) and are looking for a book with good apple information, Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes by Sue Hubbell has a pretty interesting chapter on the history and science of apples. At least I thought it was pretty interesting.
I'd probably quibble with one or two things if pressed for a point by point review of opinions/attitude/style in this book, but overall it's a well-above-average science read aimed at laymen, and it's got some interesting history in it, too. In addition to apples, the book covers corn, silkworms, and domestic cats, among other things.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Are you sitting down?
One of my classmates, upon thinking he might have found a specimen of that for which we sought, and finding himself not within easy hailing distance of the professor, pulled. the. plant. up. by. the. roots. and. took. it. to. her. to. see. if. it. was. the. endangered. one.
You may file that bit of information under "how to give an environmentally-hyperconscious college professor a case of the vapors."
That blast from the past was prompted by the story of the Papua New Guinea tribesman who recently reported eating a creature that some folks thought had gone extinct. Just to make it more interesting, the creature had been named (by outsiders) for the naturalist Sir David Attenborough. From "I didn’t know creature was rare, says tribesman who liked it well done," by Lewis Smith (TimesOnline, July 16, 2007):
Figuratively speaking, I am laughing and crying at the same time.
The expedition to find the echidna was part of the Zoological Society of London’s Edge programme which aims to find, learn about and help to protect some of the world’s most endangered animals. It was led by Dr Jonathan Baillie of the ZSL, who said the discovery that villagers in the Cyclops Mountains of Papua New Guinea were familiar with the echidna was immensely reasuring, even if they did eat them occasionally.
Now it has been established that they are alive, he is planning to return to set up camera traps in the hope of photographing one of the shy, nocturnal animals. He said that the conversations with villagers and the nose impressions in the ground indicated that the species had a much wider range than previously believed.
The original specimen was discovered at 1,600 metres up a mountain but it is now known that the animal can live much lower down, at 160 metres. They are estimated to live in an area of 100 square kilometres.
Tribesmen in the Cyclops Mountains provided scientists with information about the echidnas, for which the local name is Payangko. The animals are well-enough known to have a place in tribal culture. Peace is said to return to villages where families suffer long-standing rivalries if one of the protagonists catches an echidna and shares its meat with a rival.
Attenborough’s longbeaked echidna, Zaglossus attenboroughi, was first found in 1961 and the captured specimen was sent to the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden in the Netherlands for storage.
However, it was only in 1998 when the specimen was analysed by Professor Tim Flannery and Professor Colin Groves that it was realised the animal represented an unrecognised species.
Dr Baillie added: “In addition to Attenborough’s echidna, we found an astonishingly vast array of biodiversity, some of which is highly unlikely to be known to science.”
Read the whole article.
hat tip: The Common Room: The Echidna; Tastes Great!
Monday, July 16, 2007
If mention was made of the Gilbertian nature of global warming scaremongering of the mankind-is-killing-the-planet-by-carbon-dioxide-production variety prompting the addition of jet routes direct to Greenland from various points around the world, somehow I missed it.
See the VOA News - Video of the Day Archive for the video, as well as others from the last week. (It's a pretty varied offering: the demise of Coney Island as an amusement park, Appalachia's unique music, a website that posts personal secrets sent in by postcard, a former Minuteman missile site in South Dakota that is now open as a national park, one with the teaser "World Population Day reveals more than half the world lives in urban areas – often poor – and that women are key to societies’ welfare" for which the headline reads: "6.6 Billion and Growing," and, from last Tuesday, one titled "A Chilling Climate for Press Freedom" which is teased with "Since 2000, 13 Russian journalists have been mysteriously murdered. What’s it like to be so dedicated to your job in spite of death threats?")
Getting back to the topic of today's video, for their own sakes I just hope the Greenlanders are working on a Plan B for when the current hysteria dies down and/or 'global warming' gives way to the next round of "global cooling" fears. ("The climate" is always in flux. If you want to be scared by a lack of stability, you'll always have your chance, it appears to me...)
You don't think the hysteria will die down? Perhaps you're right. There are a lot of people who seem to be heavily invested in the global warming warning industry, including the folks who find it a very useful thing to use to promote the extension of government power, or a great excuse to sue somebody with a different outlook on life. (Sigh.)
On the other hand, I am seeing more articles like this one. Aren't you?
And more and more folks from 'developing' countries are managing to find an audience for their pleas for help getting out from under the hardships imposed on them by environmentalists. Live Earth Vs. Africa by Kofi Benti is a fairly good representation of what I'm talking about here.
And I like to think that the recently launched "I'm more worried about the intellectual climate" catchphrase might make a difference. It's from DemandDebate.com, which I found out about here. One of the biggest frustrations I have with many of the "global warming" partisans is that they act like science is a matter of setting up experiments -- or even just computer models, for goodness sake -- until you get the results you need to promote the goals you already have, and then declaring that the discussion is over. That is not science. Not by a long shot.
If it weren't so sad, and so harmful (and therefore, unfortunately, not all that funny at the end of the day), I'd probably laugh at the folks who point at scientists who don't march in lockstep with the "global warming consensus" crowd, scornfully calling them skeptics, as if skepticism were a bad thing for a scientist. Since when? Would we have had any advancement in science -- would we have "science" in the first place? -- would we have ever come to a better understanding of the physical world, if scientists hadn't ever wondered if somebody else's theory would hold up to another good, hard, carefully delineated look?