A good friend of mine and I videotaped 500+ carolers setting a Guinness World Record for door to door caroling, an event not only joyous for everyone involved but also was an event that helped out a family recently beset by tragedy. To me, this is what XMAS should be. Enjoy
Monday, December 31, 2012
A good friend of mine and I videotaped 500+ carolers setting a Guinness World Record for door to door caroling, an event not only joyous for everyone involved but also was an event that helped out a family recently beset by tragedy. To me, this is what XMAS should be. Enjoy
Sunday, December 30, 2012
As per the wont in BRT regarding the occasional posting of randomly discovered images invoking shock and awe comes this gem from the Radisson Blu Hotel, an outrageous edifice residing in Berlin bosting an 80 ft circular aquarium in the center of the hotel. To yours truly, it's a gateway into another dimension or a shot Stanley Kubrick would have made in 2001, the greatest sci fi movie of all time, if tech like this had been available way back in 1968, the year Kubrick made the film. :)
"Ground Control to Major Tom" - Space Oddity/David Bowie
Ah, the Fiscal Cliff and the incompetency of Congress, the collective who takes money and marching orders from the powers at be in order to get reelected instead of actually getting things done to benefit the country, continues to play games regarding the fiscal health of the nation. As this poor excuse of political brinkmanship goes on, it's becoming obvious that Congress no longer has the ability to do anything of consequence in terms of governing, something that can be changed if referendums become part of the equation, something yours truly thinks is long overdue, especially when looking at such fubars as Vietnam, Iraq, Homeland Security, gerrymandering and a byzantine finance & tax system controlled by bankers for bankers courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
As long as we, the people, don't have direct say in issues affecting all of us (see the above) then we, the people, will continue to get screwed as we have been for at least 100 years.
How about it Barack? We now have the power, thanks to the web, to conduct referendums as per the direct democracy model practiced by Athens over 2500 years ago, something to consider when seeing just how incompetent our governing body has become.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
As a parent and as one who knows folks in Newtown, the sorrow I feel for the parents experiencing this terrible tragedy knows no bounds. The attitude this country has regarding violence, guns and the lack of caring for others must end. There is no place for something like this to ever happen again.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
This chaotic graphic, courtesy the NY Times, provides an entry way into Suffer. Spend. Repeat, an insightful and spot on article by Oliver Burkeman, telling us rubes why stores make it really painful to, as the immortal George Carlion would say, Buy stuff you don't need with money you don't have.
In these final weeks before Christmas, it may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend.
So stores crank up music, repeat the same songs, over and over again, pipe in smells, race shoppers around to far-flung points of purchase and clog their heads with confusing offers. All of which makes it more likely we’ll part more readily with more money.
So have a nice day while enduring the skinner box that awaits us all as we do the annual pilgrimage we all do in buying "Stuff we don't need with money we don't have." :)
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
A must read, Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? is a touching tail about a Japanese researcher and his coterie of immortal jellyfish, the notoriously difficult to breed Turritopsis dohrnii, that may unlock the code to immortality.
But several biologists in Genoa, fascinated by Sommer’s finding, continued to study the species, and in 1996 they published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle.” The scientists described how the species — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.
Nathaniel Riche's story goes on, describing the caring efforts of Shin Kubota in keeping his brood alive as he feels the importance of this tiny organism could change the course of life on earth in ways that go beyond imagination.
For the last 15 years, Kubota has spent at least three hours a day caring for his brood. Having observed him over the course of a week, I can confirm that it is grueling, tedious work. When he arrives at his office, he removes each petri dish from the refrigerator, one at a time, and changes the water. Then he examines his specimens under a microscope. He wants to make sure that the medusas look healthy: that they are swimming gracefully; that their bells are unclouded; and that they are digesting their food. He feeds them artemia cysts — dried brine shrimp eggs harvested from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Though the cysts are tiny, barely visible to the naked eye, they are often too large for a medusa to digest. In these cases Kubota, squinting through the microscope, must slice the egg into pieces with two fine-point needles, the way a father might slice his toddler’s hamburger into bite-size chunks. The work causes Kubota to growl and cluck his tongue.
“Eat by yourself!” he yells at one medusa. “You are not a baby!” Then he laughs heartily. It’s an infectious, ratcheting laugh that makes his round face even rounder, the wrinkles describing circles around his eyes and mouth.
Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual. - Arthur Koestler
Sunday, November 25, 2012
WE’D seen it before: the Piazza San Marco in Venice submerged by the acqua alta; New Orleans underwater in the aftermath of Katrina; the wreckage-strewn beaches of Indonesia left behind by the tsunami of 2004. We just hadn’t seen it here. (Last summer’s Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage on the East Coast, but New York City was spared the worst.) “Fear death by water,” T. S. Eliot intoned in “The Waste Land.” We do now.
There had been warnings. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change issued a prophetic report. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said William Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College and a member of the panel. But what good are warnings? Intelligence agents received advance word that terrorists were hoping to hijack commercial jets. Who listened? (Not George W. Bush.) If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?
BRT has talked about global warming for years. Seems other folks are talking about it too.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Quantum gravity theory is untested experimentally. Could it be tested with tabletop experiments? While the common feeling is pessimistic, a detailed inquiry shows it possible to sidestep the onerous requirement of localization of a probe on Planck length scale. I suggest a tabletop experiment which, given state of the art ultrahigh vacuum and cryogenic technology, could already be sensitive enough to detect Planck scale signals. The experiment combines a single photon's degree of freedom with one of a macroscopic probe to test Wheeler's conception of "spacetime foam", the assertion that on length scales of the order Planck's, spacetime is no longer a smooth manifold. The scheme makes few assumptions beyond energy and momentum conservations, and is not based on a specific quantum gravity scheme.
Less is More - Dizzy Gillespie
Sometimes a Great Notion is also a book written by Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nests and the subject of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, a travelog like no other. :)
Type Quantum Foam in Search to see BRT's take on John Wheeler's incredibly powerful theory concerning QF and From It to Bit as reality, in the end, is information writ large, something Bekenstein understands far better then I. :)
The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain and other complex networks, such as the Internet or a social network of trust relationships between people, according to a new paper published in the science journal Nature's Scientific Reports.
When reading this terrific Physorg piece, the notion of brains, the net, and the universe obeying the same laws of growth makes eminent sense because the underlying laws of nature are inherently modular, able to scale without issue because otherwise, things would not work the way they do in our part of the multiverse. For instance, thanks to Newton, we know white light consists of the primary colors of Red, Green and Blue. With Einstein's Theory of Relativity, we know gravity works the same way in all parts of the universe, something seen in Kepler finding thousands of extrasolar planets orbiting stars in similar fashion to how earth orbits the sun. The only difference now lies in the power of the tools man uses to discern how nature works at the deepest level, something akin to how researchers were able to discover the similarities of brains, the net and the universe in terms of growth using tech of such calculating power unimagined just a few years ago. Click here to download the Network Cosmology piece.
Beginner's Mind is a good thing - Robert E.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Just saw Lincoln, Spielberg's biopic starting Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. The movie works without question as Lewis not only looks like Lincoln but also seems to channel him as well, particularly in using a relatively high pitched voice, a characteristic his contemporaries said he possessed, in expressing political guile, wit and intelligence rarely seen in any of the 44 presidents this country has had in its nearly 250 years of existence. This blurb is not about the movie per se but rather about accessibility as Lincoln not only routinely walked around Washington talking to people to get a sense of what they were thinking but also on the fact people could enter the White House, completely unannounced, to speak to Lincoln on the spur of the moment, conditions completely different from the well armed phalanx surrounding, and isolating, the president from the public 24/7 in this connected and fractured world of 2012.
See the movie to get a sense of just how different the world was way back when. Also check out Argo to see how humor, daring and the fascination Iranians had about cheesy Hollywood Sci Fi Flicks, saved six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis back in the day of 1979, an alternate reality featuring bad haircuts, fashion and 8 track tape. You won't be disappointed.
My son turned me onto XKCD, a snarky but truly insightful and funny site depicting the foibles of man in image and word including this Up Goer Five gem describing the essential components of the Saturn 5 rocket using the 1000 most commonly used words in America. Needless to say, "these" top 1000 cannot delineate the basic configuration of the rocket that carried man to the moon without bringing down the house in terms of just how hilarious the captions truly are in attempting to do the impossible when one lacks the tools to do so. In indirect fashion, Up Goer Five shows, in spades, just how limiting a limited vocabulary can be in enabling one to successfully navigate a world completely driven by tech akin to that of the majestic Saturn 5.
Texting and 1984's Newspeak also come to mind when looking at Up Goer Five as both limit the ability of one to articulate sophisticated concepts needed to negotiate the world by compressing the vocabulary required to accomplish the task at hand, the former by limits of interface (tiny virtual/mechanical keyboards), the latter, by destroying words (ungood instead of bad), something similar to how today's news channels dumb down complex stories in order to sell more ads by making it "easy" for people to "understand" what is happening in entertaining fashion or how some states continue to reduce education budgets to the quick in hopes of staying afloat in the dire economy of 2012 without acknowledging the inevitable blowback a few years hence when "graduates" of the reduced education system enter the marketplace even less equipped to cope with the acceleration of tech then their elders "way" back when in good "ole" 2012.
"In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc."
Sunday, November 18, 2012
A good friend of mine always forces me to think hard about reality. When we have coffee, chaos is always part of the equation with creativity, science, art and governance always bandied about, as we do muffins and java, with complete abandon. To that end, the topic of Thomas Paine and his impact on America, was introduced into the discussion, something that intrigued yours truly as Paine has always been a hero of mine as one who viewed the world in truly modern terms. In talking about Paine, I found out, through Doug, that he was and remains, the best selling author in America courtesy of his pamphlet Common Sense, the document that jump started the American Revolution, "at a time when the question of seeking independence was still undecided".
While thinking about Paine, yours truly recollected another seminal thinker who's viewpoint on the world was just as revolutionary. Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, who dared to question religion and governance, with a dash of scientific inquiry, stated his point of view with the same eloquence and power as that of Paine, the forgotten Founding Father of the United States of America.
Diderot's, Letters on the Blind,...evoked some ironic doubt about who exactly were "the blind" under discussion. In the essay a blind English mathematician named Saunderson argues that since knowledge derives from the senses, then mathematics is the only form of knowledge that both he and a sighted person can agree about. ...What makes the Lettre sur les aveugles so remarkable, however, is its distinct, if undeveloped, presentation of the theory of variation and natural selection.
This powerful essay ... revolves around a remarkable deathbed scene in which a dying blind philosopher, Saunderson, rejects the arguments of a providential God during his last hours.
Reading unfiltered Paine and Diderot is definitely the best way to see why these people mattered.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.
There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.
Because Diderot was French and preceded Paine by a few years, chances are Paine read Diderot when Paine was in France writing his The Rights of Man given just how similar their world views were.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A rapid shift in public opinion is bolstering their cause as more people grow used to the idea of same-sex marriage and become acquainted with openly gay people and couples. “The pace of the change in opinions has picked up over the last few years,” said Michael Dimock, associate research director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, “and as the younger generation becomes a larger share of the electorate, the writing is on the wall.”
It's about time. :)
Monday, November 12, 2012
For a long time, BRT has talked about Global Warming, the 900lb gorilla coming to a world next to you. From comments about the mechanics of Gaia and NASA's findings regarding climate change to the recent BRT post titled Transition from Sandy to Nor'easter, this blog has warned about what's coming thanks to our horrendous stewardship of the planet. With Chasing Ice, the catastrophe we are creating is writ large in a breathtakingly beautiful and ominous film by National Geographic photographer James Balog showing the world melting before our very eyes. Without question, this is one documentary yours truly is NOT going to miss and neither should you.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Russia Today posted an interesting tidbit describing how the US created Stuxnet virus has gone viral.
America’s cyberwar is already seeing collateral damage, and it’s hitting the country’s own billion-dollar companies. Oil giants Chevron say the Stuxnet computer virus made by the US to target Iran infected their systems as well.
California-based Chevron, a Fortune 500 company that’s among the biggest corporations in the world, admits this week that they discovered the Stuxnet worm on their systems back in 2010. Up until now, Chevron managed to make their finding a well-kept secret, and their disclosure published by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday marks the first time a US company has come clean about being infected by the virus intended for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Mark Koelmel of the company’s earth sciences department says that they are likely to not be the last, though.
“We’re finding it in our systems and so are other companies,” says Koelmel. “So now we have to deal with this.”
Koelmel claims that the virus did not have any adverse effects on his company, which generated a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue during 2011. As soon as Chevron identified the infection, it was taken care of immediately, he says. Other accidental targets might not be so lucky though, and the computer worm’s complex coding means it might be a while before anyone else becomes aware of the damage.
“I don’t think the US government even realized how far it had spread,” Koelmel adds.
Blowback is the espionage term for unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government.
Interesting post from Cisco regarding web connects to hardware, the next step to building a smart planet complete with the inherent costs and benefits tech of this magnitude brings to the society of man.
As more things, people, and data become connected, the power of the Internet (essentially a network of networks) grows exponentially. This thinking (“Metcalfe’s law”) comes from Robert Metcalfe, well-known technologist and founder of 3Com, who stated that the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users. In essence, the power of the network is greater than the sum of its parts, making the Internet of Everything, incredibly powerful.
The Internet of Everything, good phrase Cisco, I like it, I like it. :)
Friday, November 09, 2012
In the 2012 edition of Occupy Money  released last week, Professor Margrit Kennedy writes that a stunning 35% to 40% of everything we buy goes to interest. This interest goes to bankers, financiers, and bondholders, who take a 35% to 40% cut of our GDP. That helps explain how wealth is systematically transferred from Main Street to Wall Street. The rich get progressively richer at the expense of the poor, not just because of “Wall Street greed” but because of the inexorable mathematics of our private banking system.
This hidden tribute to the banks will come as a surprise to most people, who think that if they pay their credit card bills on time and don’t take out loans, they aren’t paying interest. This, says Dr. Kennedy, is not true. Tradesmen, suppliers, wholesalers and retailers all along the chain of production rely on credit to pay their bills. They must pay for labor and materials before they have a product to sell and before the end buyer pays for the product 90 days later. Each supplier in the chain adds interest to its production costs, which are passed on to the ultimate consumer. Dr. Kennedy cites interest charges ranging from 12% for garbage collection, to 38% for drinking water to, 77% for rent in public housing in her native Germany.
Her figures are drawn from the research of economist Helmut Creutz, writing in German and interpreting Bundesbank publications. They apply to the expenditures of German households for everyday goods and services in 2006; but similar figures are seen in financial sector profits in the United States, where they composed a whopping 40% of U.S. business profits  in 2006. That was five times the 7% made by the banking sector in 1980. Bank assets, financial profits, interest, and debt have all been growing exponentially.
The only free lunch in the multiverse is gravity although the creation of money from nothing comes close, but only for a short time. Just ask Germany vis a vis Europe to see why.
Transition - From Sandy to Nor'easter is a short clip showing the two weather systems CT experienced from Oct. 29 - Nov. 8 as seen from the yard of yours truly. Note: Hurricanes and Nor'easters, prior to this year, have never been considered a package deal, ever. Outside of losing power for 6+ days and web connects for 11, our luck held out relatively well (Fairfield not withstanding) owing to the fact Sandy passed well south of us and rains that usually accompany huge storms such as this were absent, thus sparing CT and NE from the enormous devastation wrought upon NY and NJ from the perfect storm circa 2012.
When looking at this video, one sees the very beginning of the truly destructive power of global warming and what it means for mankind as we move further into the 21st century, particularly when looking at the predictions scientists are making regarding sea level rise.
WASHINGTON: Global sea levels could rise two to three times higher over the next century than previous UN estimates, according to a study released Friday by the US National Research Council.
A committee of experts evaluated the latest UN data and updated those projections with new data on polar ice-cap melting that is believed to be speeding up sea level rise around the world.
By 2100, the NRC estimates that global sea levels will rise between 20-55 inches (50 and 140 centimeters).
Something to consider don't you think?
Redding got 8"-10" of snow on the Nov Nor'easter but no loss of power, thank god.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
The flick, Armageddon, where intrepid astronauts blow up a menacing astroid using nukes, has been debunked by scientists stating said tech employed could never do the job.
The heroic act, made possible by Willis's drilling expertise, splits the asteroid into two even halves which drift apart and fly relatively harmlessly past either side of the planet, saving humanity from extinction.
But now the effectiveness of the solution has been called into question by a group of physics students who claim mankind does not possess a bomb big enough to do the job.
A mathematical analysis of the situation found that for Willis's approach to be effective, he would need to be in possession of an H-bomb a billion times stronger than the Soviet Union's "Big Ivan", the biggest ever detonated on Earth.
Using estimates of the asteroid's size, density, speed and distance from Earth based on information in the film, the postgraduate students from Leicester University found that to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing Earth would require 800 trillion terajoules of energy.
In contrast the total energy output of "Big Ivan", which was tested by the Soviet Union in 1961, was only 418,000 terajoules.
Deep Impact, from the scientific perspective, fares better but blowing up the comet is not only impossible but also is a bad thing to do.
Both movies missed the opportunity to startle the audience with enormous sonic booms. The fragments that strike Earth are travelling about 100 times faster than the speed of sound. Deep Impact did do a wonderful job of showing the atmospheric pressure wave, which expanded outward from the collision site.
In Deep Impact, the comet is blown up by several nuclear devices at the very last moment. It is understandable that Hollywood wants to create as dramatic a movie as possible. But such a procedure would not save the world. It is impossible to pulverize a comet as portrayed in the movie. The nuclear devices would break it up into fragments that would act like a multiple warhead. The devastation might even be worse, as the destruction would be spread over a larger area of Earth. The atmosphere would suffer more damage.
But, there could be a way to avert disaster, if we have enough warning, by simply painting the object in question with white paint, a suggestion posted by an MIT grad student who looks at this problem from the creative perspective. :) (Note - Comets are dark, dusty bodies of ice.)
Paek's proposal would work on two different levels. The paintballs themselves would impart a slight momentum change to the incoming asteroid, diverting it slightly -- but probably not enough to avoid a collision. But using white paint or other light color in the paintballs would increase the asteroid's albedo, or reflectivity. The pressure of photons of sunlight bouncing off the asteroid could, over time, provide a much greater shift in course. A similar effect is behind using solar sails for spacecraft: Light striking the sails and being reflected would provide impetus to move the craft.
Alternative approaches to the solving of complex problems is good for the soul. - Robert E.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Just read a really good article from the NY Times titled The Island Where People Forget to Die, a piece about the Greek island Ikaria, home to some of the oldest people in the world. Besides being breathtakingly beautiful, the lifestyle of it's denizens is the stuff of dreams.
Seeking to learn more about the island’s reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. “People stay up late here,” Leriadis said. “We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.” He took a sip of his wine. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
Pointing across the Aegean toward the neighboring island of Samos, he said: “Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world. There they are much more developed. There are high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros. In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”
Additionally, the old mantra of "You are what you eat." rings ever true, something the processed food companies of this country have completely ignored in creating cheap, compromised editables that have compromised the health of millions in a way completely alien to the Ikarian diet of natural foods left relatively untouched by the tech that permeates nearly everything Americans eat 24/7.
As I knew from my studies in other places with high numbers of very old people, every one of the Ikarians’ dietary tendencies had been linked to increased life spans: low intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy was associated with lower risk of heart disease; olive oil — especially unheated — reduced bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol. Goat’s milk contained serotonin-boosting tryptophan and was easily digestible for older people. Some wild greens had 10 times as many antioxidants as red wine. Wine — in moderation — had been shown to be good for you if consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, because it prompts the body to absorb more flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. And coffee, once said to stunt growth, was now associated with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and, for some, Parkinson’s. Local sourdough bread might actually reduce a meal’s glycemic load. You could even argue that potatoes contributed heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber to the Ikarian diet. Another health factor at work might be the unprocessed nature of the food they consume: as Trichopoulou observed, because islanders eat greens from their gardens and fields, they consume fewer pesticides and more nutrients. She estimated that the Ikarian diet, compared with the standard American diet, might yield up to four additional years of life expectancy.
After reading this, one realizes the adage, Less is More, applies to more then just Jazz, architecture and writing but also to a lifestyle more in line with how nature operates, a notion more people should follow, including yours truly. Enjoy.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
This is one of many pictures yours truly took on a trip to Shaker Village in Hancock, MA. I knew about Shaker design from various publications but never saw any of the tools or products first hand until now. The part that amazes one is the sheer elegance and simplicity of design imbued in everything the Shakers did including this shoe cobbler work bench, an example of form following function to the nth degree.
Seen above is a foot powered jigsaw, a precise and elegant tool able to do the job in ways not even conceivable in today's age of cheap tools intended to be thrown away once their usefulness has been used up. Without question, the Bauhaus designers knew about the Shakers and, IMHO, were indirectly influenced by their craft and strict adherence to the aforementioned design adage of form following function as seen by not only the Shaker jig saw and cobbler's workbench but also in the Bauhaus designed Olivetti typewriter.
As a last reminder of the importance of Shaker design, seen below is the Round Barn, a structure not only strikingly original in it's appearance but also in it's practicality.
The Round Stone Barn offers ground-level access on all three levels. Wagons entered on the upper level to deposit hay into the central haymow on the main floor below. The Brethren would drive the empty wagons around the circular barn floor and exit the same door they came in, eliminating the potentially dangerous activity of backing wagons out of a barn.
The cows stabled on the main floor faced inward toward the haymow for ease of feeding. Manure shoveled through trapdoors to the cellar was stored until needed as fertilizer in the gardens. The Shakers maintained a working dairy farm at Hancock into the 1950s.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Sunday, October 07, 2012
No, this post is not about the 2008 Daily Kos Word Clouds analysis of the Biden/Palin debate but rather about the importance of words and why a scarcity of them, especially at a young age, can relegate one to a less successful life as stated in a NY Times piece titled, Before a Test, A Poverty of Words.
Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4.
This notion of word deprivation and the adverse impact it has on poor kids is emphasized in an insightful critique by E. D Hirsh of a book titled How Children Succeed, a work written by Paul Tough describing the problems disadvantaged children have in a world increasingly dependent on one having the necessary word skills needed in order to succeed in life.
Moreover, there is strong evidence that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age six is the single highest correlate with later success. Tough alludes to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) studies, which show that a young adolescent’s score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) is the best single predictor of later income. The AFQT is a math and verbal test. It is scored by doubling the verbal component before computing the overall raw score. This verbal component, largely a vocabulary test, is an index to general knowledge. General knowledge is also the best single predictor of later academic achievement among preschoolers and kindergartners, as has been shown by analyses of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K1992), which has followed the life paths of some 2,700 children over the past decade. After general knowledge, the next best predictor is fine-motor skill, which is correlated with the development of “executive function,” a cognitive ability. In third place come the non-cognitive features that Tough emphasizes in his book.
Wired comes through with a primer on how to read a scientific paper, something yours truly does but with some difficulty. Now, with this little gem of an article titled Learn to Read a Scientific Report, writers and readers alike will know what to look for when wading through a tome describing the intricate mechanisms of some esoteric organism or phenomenon. To whit:
Reading an original paper isn’t the same as understanding it. Science journalists try to help on that front, but as with any filter, important bits can get lost in translation. So you need to explore a few critical elements—of the study or the media coverage about it—to determine whether it contains life-changing advice or something best deposited behind the couch in the dentist’s office. And what are those elements? Glad you asked.
Causation vs. correlation
How do you know if a study’s results answer the question it set out to ask? Sometimes an outcome is just a coincidence—there’s a correlation but no causation. Meta-analyses pool the results of smaller studies and filter signal from that kind of noise.
True size of the effect
Watch out for weasely language—a “threefold increase” might only be a shift from 1 percent to 3 percent. One recent paper reported that women’s mortality risk rose 133 percent. That sounds scary, but the elevated mortality rate was still just 1.9 percent.
Look at two key factors, the n and the p. The n is the number of subjects used in the study. Multifaceted experiments typically have fewer subjects than simple surveys. Genetics studies need a big n. The p value lets you know whether the result is “statistically significant”—it’s the probability of something occurring by chance alone. You want to see a p of less than 0.05. (Results can be statistically significant and still only show correlation, or have confounding factors.)
Conflicts of interest
Most journals now note this as a matter of policy. Was the company making the drug or product associated with the laboratory that did the study? Are any of the authors trying to sell a product? For example, the authors of a study exploring the effectiveness of “brain training” techniques on cognitive enhancement worked for the company that developed (and sold) those techniques. They disclosed this, but that’s still a red flag.
Any questions? :).
Saturday, October 06, 2012
Interesting post from the NY Times regarding exercise and muscle memory.
But the Copenhagen scientists wanted to see how exercise influences the development and consolidation of physical memories. So before having their volunteers master the squiggle test, they first had a third of the group ride a bicycle at an intense but not exhausting pace for 15 minutes. The other two-thirds of the group rested quietly during this time.
Then, after the computer motor-skill testing, a third of those who'd previously rested completed the same strenuous 15-minute bike ride. The others rested.
All of the volunteers then repeated the follow-that-squiggle test after an hour, a day and a week, to see how well they'd learned and remembered that particular skill.
Their scores for speed and accuracy of squiggle shadowing were almost identical at the one-hour point, although the group that had ridden the bicycle after the first computer practice session was a bit less accurate.
After a week, though, things looked different. The men who had exercised just after first learning the motor skill were noticeably better at remembering the task, with their tracing of the red line on the computer more agile and accurate. The men who'd exercised before learning the new skill were not quite as adept now, although they were better than those in the group that hadn't exercised at all.
Consolidating a memory is not instantaneous, after all, or even inevitable. Every memory must be encoded and moved from short-term to long-term storage. Some of those memories are, for whatever reason, more vividly imprinted than others.
It may be that physical, aerobic exercise performed right after a memory has been formed intensifies the imprinting, Dr. Roig says. It makes the memory stronger.
As an avid cyclist, I often take off after doing something complex on system as a means of getting away from bits and photons and have found that remembering complex actions done a few days before is easier to do if I ride right after doing the deed in question. Maybe it's because cycling tends to be a lot more fun then trolling for the right bits while trying to do the next great thing prior to the next ride yours truly will take in order to help remember if I did the next great thing or not. :)
It's been a while. Yours truly has been swamped, thank god, with work and BRT has suffered (yeah, right :)) from a dearth of articles pretending to say significant things about humanity's often misquided approach to dealing with reality but blurbs will be forth coming yet again like this one regarding Fargo, the existientialist's/absurdist's approach to understanding existence from the perspective of us rubes, Minnesota style.
[Marge bends over next to the overturned car, as if she's looking at something on the ground] Lou: You alright there, Margie? Marge Gunderson: Oh, I just think I'm gonna barf... Marge Gunderson: [standing up again after a moment] ... Well, that passed. Now I'm hungry again.
Another writer's take on the meaning of it all, filled with the same kind of irony as Fargo's, is seen in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Any questions? :)
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Nothing more really needs to be said in terms of the knowledge engine construct according to Google but significant others dispute Google's claim to fame in this nascent field and with good reason.
Wolfram Research promises ready access to the pursuit of knowledge via Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine promising innumerable ways to get the correct answer to difficult questions in real time, something not even foreseen just 5 years ago. Another player in the knowledge game is Bing, Microsoft's competitor to Google. Bing uses Wolfram Research tech on the knowledge side of things. Also forgot IBM's Watson, a major player for sure.
Precursors to The Knowledge Engine - Greatly Edited
"Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.” He then led me to the frame, about the sides, whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty feet square, placed in the middle of the room. The superfices was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered, on every square, with paper pasted on them; and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions; but without any order. The professor then desired me “to observe; for he was going to set his engine at work.” The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn, the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down." - Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift