# blueollie

## Does success go to one’s head? And some science..

Workout notes 2 mile run in 20 minutes (treadmill: 10:45/9:15)
4 x 800 with 400 walk/jog recoveries (100 walk, 300 jog)
4:11, (3:21), 4:02 (3:35), 4:02 (3:35), 4:04, (3:32) (30:24 for 3 miles)
200 backwards walk (for the hamstring which did NOT hurt)
1 mile run (10 minutes)

Then leg weights: hip hikes, Achilles (a couple of sets)
Squats: 10 x 45 (got deeper to legal depth with each rep), 5 x 95, 5 x 105
good mornings (10 x 45)
leg curls (one legged), push backs, adduction, abduction (3 sets of 10 each)

My 800′s left something to be desired, but in all honesty I wanted to “run as smooth as possible” (and my running is UGLY) and not pull something; I felt my left quad (lightly) at first and I was aware of what could happen to the hamstring, though I didn’t feel it. So this workout felt “successful” even though it was far from “fast”. I never “pushed” the pace.

Success
The theme of this video is that people who think of themselves as successful (be it in obtaining actual wealth, or even winning in a rigged Monopoly game) start to act “entitled” and….sort of arrogant?

I didn’t SEE the study and would be interested in seeing how behavior was classified. In the monopoly study: could it be that people who see themselves as “winning” just act happier? I don’t know.

But the results sort of make sense to me. I’ll give one example from my life.

I know that when I was running my best (1981-1982, and again 1997-2001) and walking my best (2003-2005) I had a bit more “swagger” when I showed up at races. I’d get to the start with hands on my hips, just thinking that I was hot stuff. No, my results were never very good in the great scheme of things (best result: 23:40 for the 100 mile walk in 2004; I was running my 5Ks in the 19-21 and 10Ks in the 40-43 range for the early 80s and again in 1997-2001) but I usually finished in the upper 15-20 percent of races.

Now, forget those ultra walks; the 5Ks are usually high 24 to 27 (typically 25:xx) and the 10K are 53-54. I finish usually just ahead of the median runner but mostly that is because the current era sees more slower and older females showing up.

What this tells me: my former “higher” finish places were more about my being a male and my being younger than the other runners who showed up than anything else! Did that ever deflate my ego!

And I can tell you, I have a much different attitude at the races than I used to.

Same with the weight room; I was just a bit, well, more confident when I was a 300 pound bench presser. Now at 200…not so much. I am much meeker. However the real difference is that I am smaller now and I am older and I’ve had a couple of bouts of a sore rotator cuff. If you put my presses into the “age/body weight” equivalent calculator, my performances have not changed very much. But my awareness has.

Bonus Science and Politics
Though things can change in either direction, right now, it appears as if a 50-50 US Senate spilt is the most likely result from the 2014 midterms. Given past histories and the fact that many of the open seats are in “red” states that are currently represented by a Democrat, I’d give the Republicans a slight edge and call it, oh, 52-48 for the Republicans. But a lot can happen between now and then.

An emerging technique for analysing genomes has given scientists a look at microbes that were until now difficult to study, revealing unexpected links among different branches of the tree of life.

Led by Tanja Woyke, a microbiologist at the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California, researchers used single-cell sequencing to read the genomes of 201 bacterial and archaeal cells taken from nine diverse environments, such as hydrothermal vents and an underground gold mine. None of the organisms had ever been sequenced or cultivated in a laboratory. The results are published today in Nature1.

“This is an astounding paper,” says Norman Pace, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado–Boulder. “The achievement of hundreds of genome sequences from single cells at a shot is an entirely new level of microbiology.”

Single-cell sequencing enables scientists to decipher the genome of just one cell by amplifying its DNA by 1-billion-fold, opening the way to studying ‘microbial dark matter’. These are organisms that have been discovered through methods such as metagenomics studies — which examine batches of micro-organisms living in a common environment — but are difficult or impossible to grow in the lab.

Woyke and her group attempted to explore this dark matter by selecting a highly diverse range of microbes and sequencing a portion of their genomes (which could range from less than 10% to more than 90% depending on the cell). The sequences clarified the microbes’ relationships to one another and to other species.

The work reveals that some conventional boundaries between the kingdoms of life are not as rigid as has been thought. For instance, the researchers suggest that one bacterial lineage synthesizes purine bases — building blocks of DNA and RNA — using enzymes previously thought to exist only in archaea. Meanwhile, three of the archaeal cells sequenced in the study harbour sigma factors, which initiate RNA transcription and have previously been found only in bacteria.

Wow. I continue to be astonished at how rapidly biological knowledge is growing.

Physics and cosmology: Sean Carroll on the Arrow of Time:

Key points:
1. In the small (say, particles, or objects obeying Newton’s laws), “forwards and backwards” in time are indistinguishable.
2. In the large (say, a glass cup that shatters), the directions of time are distinguishable; entropy increases with time.
3. Just as a large body (say a planet) distinguishes directions (say, “up from down”) when you are near that large body, the Big Bang gave time its arrow; we started from a low entropy state.

July 16, 2013

## Cheers for science, boos for cold. :-)

I just walked out the door to go to the gym, saw the sunshine and said “oh bleep it, I am going outside”. But I bundled up:
underwear, bike shorts, tights, second pair of shorts
nylon shirt, long sleeve t shirt, sweat shirt, gortex jacket
mittens (heavy duty)
stocking cap.

And yes, my feet got cold; should have worn wool socks. I chose my 417 feet of climb course since the cold ALWAYS slows me a bit.

Time: 1:04:45 (51:17 for the 5.1 segment). It was only 10 minutes per mile but I still sweated up a storm. And I did enjoy the sun.

Social
A West Virginia paper printed someone’s anonymous phone rant; it was filled with slurs and threats. My beef: it was anonymous. Had this person used his name/address and they verified that it WAS that individual, then, hey, go ahead and print it.

Science

We also have a promising candidate for a leukemia treatment:

A treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer has, for the first time, produced remissions in adults with an acute leukemia that is usually lethal, researchers are reporting.

In one patient who was severely ill, all traces of leukemia vanished in eight days.

“We had hoped, but couldn’t have predicted that the response would be so profound and rapid,” said Dr. Renier J. Brentjens, the first author of a new study of the therapy and a specialist in leukemia at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The treatment is experimental, has been used in only a small number of patients and did not work in all of them. But experts consider it a highly promising approach for a variety of malignancies, including other blood cancers and tumors in organs like the prostate gland.

The new study, in five adults with acute leukemia in whom chemotherapy had failed, was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Go Science!!!

March 21, 2013

## Why Theism Makes No Sense to Me

I’ve seen a few debates about religion, theism (believing in an active deity) and atheism (denial of the existence of such a deity).

Yes, I’ve read the debates between “well, believing in God is good for you” versus “no, it isn’t”.

Of course, I have an opinion (which I think is evidence based) on whether or not religion or religious belief (or “spirituality”, whatever that means) is good or not, but, that is NOT the point of this post. It could be that, say, believing in Jesus makes you as smart as Stephen Hawking and being an atheist makes you, oh deeply depressed.

But that has nothing to do with “truth” though it might have something to do with “what one WANTS to be true”.

And no, I am not talking about the power of suggestion or the value of religious myth (here, “myth” means “story with deep personal meaning” rather than “falsehood”).

What I am talking about: does it make any sense to believe that some deity intentionally created humans and “cares” (in a human like way) about the welfare of humans (e. g., “loves us”)

Yes, I know about evolution being a directionless process and a belief in “guided evolution” really isn’t compatible with science.

So, yes, that is one reason that theism makes no sense to me; we were put together by a bunch of jerry-rigged steps (e. g. the Vagus Nerve) As an aside, I can recommend Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish for an excellent discussion of how humans are put together.

But perhaps there is some clever “work around” this.

But consider this: get a grip on the massive scale of the univers (this is a cool, well put together tool)

And you can watch this:

Now we are one planet orbiting a rather ordinary star in a rather ordinary galaxy. Each galaxy has roughly between 10 million (dwarf galaxy) and 100 TRILLION stars, and we know that there are, visible to us, over 170 BILLION galaxies.

So on an emotional level: am I to swallow that Bronze Age people, who knew so little, got such an immense question right? What is more likely: WE (what are “we” anyway: Homosapiens? Or all the other members of hominidae included too?) are the center of some creation, or that, well, we just aren’t that special? Why our life form? What about other life forms on other planets, or even other galaxies?

To me, theistic belief, as I have seen it practiced, is VERY ego-centric. Oh sure, “God centered, not me centered” I hear. But you are assuming that there is some super awesome “thing” that cares about you. Please.

It makes far more sense to assume that rather dull humans (as in: human beings, on the whole, really don’t know that much; not that believers are substantially dumber than anyone else) are just making stuff up so they can feel better about themselves.

I also wonder about all of the other gods relegated to the waste bin and wonder about a time when the current ones will be as well.

PS: if you say “see, you SAID that “humans don’t know that much”! True, I did. But “humans don’t know that much” in no way implies “therefore my conception of a deity is correct” or even “therefore my conception of a deity is plausible”.

March 17, 2013

## Big…Big…Big….and the joke is on us…

Ok, can you see what she is protesting?

Hint (if you don’t get it): many claim that homosexuality is sinful because “that is what the Bible says”. Well, the Bible says that OTHER things are sinful including eating things like lobster (yes, I know; some of the prohibitions are revoked in Acts).

Speaking of homosexuality: no, strictly speaking, the Bible condemns homosexual acts, not homosexuality (which is a relatively new concept). If that sounds confusing: the idea of “sexual orientation” is relatively new (classifications didn’t exist until the later parts of the 19′th century) ; in the times of the Bible it was thought that people who engaged in homosexual sex were being disobedient rather than acting on their nature.

Still, this Lawrence O’Donnell video is pretty good:

The joke is on us
Yes, I’ve posted some Jon Stewart videos; it seems as if he attacks nonsense. But sometimes he slips up:

Oh, dear. Jon Stewart took on the platinum coin, and made a hash of it — he faceplanted, as Ryan Cooper says.

What went wrong? Jon Chait says that he flunked econ, but that’s just part of it. He also flunked law, politics, and just plain professional.

So, yeah, as Chait says, Stewart seems weirdly unaware that there’s more to fiscal policy than balancing the budget. But in this case he also seems unaware that the president can’t just decide unilaterally to spend 40 percent less; he’s constitutionally obliged to spend what the law tells him to spend. True, he’s also constitutionally prohibited from borrowing more if Congress says he can’t — which is a contradiction. But that’s the whole point of the discussion.

And it makes no sense at all to talk about any of this without the context of extortion and confrontation.

Above all, however, what went wrong here is a lack of professionalism on the part of Stewart and his staff. Yes, it’s a comedy show — but the jokes are supposed to be (and usually are) knowing jokes, which are funny and powerful precisely because the Daily Show people have done their homework and understand the real issues better than the alleged leaders spouting nonsense. In this case, however, it’s obvious that nobody at TDS spent even a few minutes researching the topic. It was just yuk-yuk-yuk they’re talking about a trillion-dollar con hahaha.

Hey, if we want this kind of intellectual laziness, we can just tune in to Fox.

Well, The Today Show IS intellectually lazy, by definition, even when I agree with them.

Size of the cosmos and things in it…

Astronomers have discovered the largest and oldest mass of water ever detected in the universe — a gigantic, 12-billion-year-old cloud harboring 140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.
The cloud of water vapor surrounds a supermassive black hole called a quasar located 12 billion light-years from Earth. The discovery shows that water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence, researchers said.
“Because the light we are seeing left this quasar more than 12 billion years ago, we are seeing water that was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the universe,” study co-author Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland said in a statement. “This discovery pushes the detection of water one billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.”

Hope you are thirsty.

Astronomers have crowned the universe’s largest known spiral galaxy, a spectacular behemoth five times bigger than our own Milky Way.

The title-holder is now NGC 6872, a barred spiral found 212 million light-years away in the southern constellation Pavo, researchers announced today (Jan. 10). The distance between NGC 6872′s two huge spiral arms is 522,000 light-years, compared to about 100,000 light-years for the Milky Way.

NGC 6872 has ranked among the largest known spiral galaxies for decades. But it has only now been crowned champion, after detailed study of data gathered by a number of instruments, including NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft, or GALEX.

Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe, a clump of active galactic cores that stretches 4 billion light-years from end to end.
The structure is a large quasar group (LQG), a collection of extremely luminous galactic nuclei powered by supermassive central black holes. This particular group is so large that it challenges modern cosmological theory, researchers said.

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” lead author Roger Clowes, of the University of Central Lancashire in England, said in a statement. “This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.”
Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe. For decades, astronomers have known that they tend to assemble in huge groups, some of which are more than 600 million light-years wide.

This is larger than our current physics predicts is possible, hence we have some revising to do.

Think of it this way: it is so large that if aliens were on one side of this structure and the earth was on the other side, the aliens could watch the earth being formed!

January 12, 2013

## Stretch the Intellect Saturday…

Physics and Cosmology
Physics is not my specialty but I do follow it on a popular level. So when the cosmologists started babbling about “dark matter” I kind of wondered “is “the aether” making a comeback”? Well….no.

Yes, there is a similarity: neither has been directly detected; its existence has been inferred by observed effects. However both have been examined…and “the aether” has been discarded because experiments designed to detect it have failed (e. g. Michelson-Morley experiment)…in fact have provided evidence to show that it did NOT exist.

Roughly speaking, “the aether” was conjectured to provide some medium for light-electromagnetic waves to propagate in; at the time these waves were thought to be like sound waves (disturbances of some sort). Modern physics (relativity theory and quantum mechanics) have shown that these waves are very different from sound waves, though there are similarities.

On the other hand, evidence continues to pour in for dark matter and dark energy, as Sean Carroll explains:

Dark matter, in particular, is nothing at all like the aether. It’s something that seems to behave exactly like an ordinary particle of matter, just one with no electric charge or strong interaction with known matter particles. Those aren’t hard to invent; particle physicists have approximately a billion different candidate ideas, and experiments are making great progress in trying to detect them directly. But the idea didn’t come along because theorists had all sorts of irresistible ideas; we were dragged kicking and screaming into accepting dark matter after decades of observations of galaxies and clusters convinced people that regular matter simply wasn’t enough. And once that idea is accepted, you can go out and make new predictions based on the dark matter model, and they keep coming true — for example in studies of gravitational lensing and the cosmic microwave background. If the aether had this much experimental support, it would have been enshrined in textbooks years ago.

Dark energy is conceptually closer to the aether idea — like the aether, it’s not a particle, it’s a smooth component that fills space. Unlike the aether, it does not have a “frame of rest” (as far as we can tell); the dark energy looks the same no matter how you move through it. (Not to mention that it has nothing to do with electromagnetic radiation — it’s dark!) And of course, it was forced on us by observations, especially the 1998 discovery that the universe is accelerating, which ended up winning the Nobel Prize in 2011. That discovery took theoretical physicists around the world by surprise — we knew it was possible in principle, but almost nobody actually believed it was true. But when the data speak, a smart scientist listens. Subsequent to that amazing finding, cosmologists have made other predictions based on the dark energy idea, which (as with dark matter) keep coming true: for the cosmic microwave background again, as well as for the distribution of large-scale structure in the universe.

Of course, there is a long way to go in developing this theory.

Physics and Philosophy
Here is yet another “play nice” plea to physicists (Jim Holt in the New York Times):

Why do physicists have to be so churlish toward philosophy? Philosophers, on the whole, have been much nicer about science. “Philosophy consists in stopping when the torch of science fails us,” Voltaire wrote back in the 18th century. And in the last few decades, philosophers have come to see their enterprise as continuous with that of science. It is noteworthy that the “moronic” philosopher who kicked up the recent shindy by dismissing the physicist’s book himself holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.

Physicists say they do not need any help from philosophers. But sometimes physicists are, whether they realize it or not, actually engaging in philosophy themselves.

Here is my take. Physics is hard. Only the smartest among us do original research in physics and these people spend years in training to able to start. In fact, it takes an intelligent person with great math/science aptitude years of focused effort to even become conversant on the questions.

Those who haven’t spent that much concentrated time (and frankly, who have a lower aptitude for this subject) really don’t know what they are talking about; they really aren’t qualified to give comments that are worth listening to.

Note: I am talking about the science itself and its interpretation; I am NOT talking about, say, the ethical issues that come up (e. g., the use of nuclear weapons, the production of weapons of mass destruction, experimentation on humans, animal research, etc.) On these issues, I am happy to listen to philosophers because in these areas THEY have put in the concentrated long term effort and they have displayed some aptitude for this sort of thinking.

Statistics and Data: what does one consider when one tries to make sense of data?

Here is a baby case: suppose you want “the average household income of a neighborhood”; what do you use?
Well, it depends on what question you are interested in. If you are interested in, say, how the typical person lives (spending habits, energy use, etc.) then median income might be what you want, especially if the standard deviation (minus an outlier or two) is small.

If you are talking about, say, the total money that is spent from that region, then perhaps the mean (average) is better.

One uses the data germane to the problem at hand.
Paul Krugman patiently explains this:

Just a quick note on a question that comes up in some comments: why do I sometimes look at percentage changes in unemployment, sometimes at changes in absolute levels? Isn’t that inconsistent?

The answer, of course, is no. When you do stuff with data, here is the universal rule: do what makes sense given the question you’re trying to answer. It’s like the issue of where the y-axis in a diagram starts — it depends on context. Starting at zero isn’t a universal rule, certainly not when changes of a few percent up or down are in fact crucially important for the policy discussion.

So on unemployment, one favorite story out there is that we have lots of unemployment, and must have lots of unemployment, because the pre-crisis structure of the economy was unsustainable: too many people were building houses in Nevada, too few doing other stuff in other places, so there has to be unemployment as workers move from the occupations/localities that were oversized to those that were undersized.

OK, so what would be the “signature” if this story were true? There would be lots of job losses among construction workers in Nevada, of course; but for the story to make sense there should be rising employment in those other sectors people are supposedly moving to.

But of course, that’s not at all what you see. Instead, you see job losses everywhere, with most of the total job loss taking place in sectors that were clearly not overinflated by the bubble. And that is the relevant comparison: if non-bubble sectors are losing rather than gaining jobs, and in fact account for most of the job losses, then this story is just wrong.

He concludes:

But as I said, the universal rule for using data is to think about the question you’re trying to answer. A foolish consistency here really is the hobgoblin of little minds.

The problem here is
1. All (or at least 99.99 percent, myself included) of those who comment on his blog are significantly below him in intellectual level and many are completely unaware of this and
2. The pundit class does not constitute our finest minds. And from what I can tell, our pundits are blissfully unaware of this as well (left and right, I am sorry to say). Just read what they have to say about ANY technical matter; they almost always get it wrong.

June 9, 2012

## Today: intellectualism, plausability of deities, etc.

Workout notes I did my hilly 8 miler in 1:22:43 (41:30, 41:13); the weather was very cool.
Then weights (after a quick breakfast): rotator cuff, rows (12 x 200, 12 x 200, 10 x 230), pull ups (4 sets of 10), bench (10 x 135, 7 x 165, 4 x 175, 3 x 175), incline (2 sets of 7 x 135), sit ups (5 sets of 20), pull downs (3 sets of 10 x 160), military (2 sets of 15 x 45 lb. dumbbells), push backs (2 sets of 10 with 130), abduction (2 sets of 10 with 170), curls (3 sets of 10 with 70, machine), toe raises (for the Achilles).

I was a bit dead during the lifting.

Posts

Note: yes, the job growth rate is barely over what we need for break even (the number of potential workers is growing, and those laid off during the contraction need jobs too). But it is still better than what we had before.

Education Overall, we are NOT challenging our students, at least academically.

Then again, the level of public discourse isn’t very high…and in Congress…it is dropping. AWESOME, like WOW!

Science and the public
Yes, I know that “the multiverse” is just speculation at this point. But still, I see no evidence that there is a deity that intended to create humans; this poster explains how I see it:

And no, just because something doesn’t make sense TO YOU doesn’t mean that it is nonsense!

(hat tip: Jerry Coyne)

And when you insist on spouting off ignorant nonsense, I am not going to take it seriously. Larry Moran reports a well known creationist pointing out what he thinks are the top 3 flaws in evolutionary theory:

Unfortunately most public schools do NOT teach about the flaws in evolutionary theory. Instead, they censor this information, hiding from students all of the science that challenges Darwinian evolution. But in a perfect world, if the evidence against Darwinian theory were taught, these would be my top three choices:

Tell students that the fossil record often lacks transitional forms and that there are “explosions” of new life forms, a pattern of radiations that challenges Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Tell students that many scientists have challenged the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce complex biological features.
Tell students that many lines of evidence for Darwinian evolution and common descent are weak:
a. Vertebrate embryos start out developing very differently, in contrast with the drawings of embryos often found in textbooks which mostly appear similar.
b. DNA evidence paints conflicting pictures of the “tree of life”. There is no such single “tree.”
c. Evidence of small-scale changes, such as the modest changes in the size of finch-beaks or slight changes in the color frequencies in the wings of “peppered moths”, shows microevolution, NOT macroevolution.

Note: I am NOT saying that only people who know science are worthwhile. I am saying that I am not going to respect an IDEA that has no merit.

Social
Imagine someone texts someone else. The person who receives the text is driving…so they try to read the text while driving and get into a traffic accident. Is the SENDER of the text liable? Maybe:

Could you be blamed for a car crash because you sent a text message?

A New Jersey judge will decide later this week if the sender of a text message might be partially liable for a horrific auto accident that occurred because the driver was reading that message on his cell phone and drifted into oncoming traffic.

With nearly half a million U.S. drivers injured in distracted driving-related accidents every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the judge’s decision could have wide-ranging impact in both the legal and digital realms.

While it might seem absurd to blame someone who isn’t even in the car — or anywhere near it — for causing an accident, some legal experts say the plaintiff is on firmer ground than you might think.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if this is really a case where experts are divided, or the case in which a journalist wants a “good story” and managed to cherry pick a crack-pot opinion under the guise of “balance”.

Social
Do you wonder why sometimes bystanders don’t call out ill behavior? Well, Mano Singham managed to capture how I feel:

The bystander issue has relevance to something that Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds raised about the important issue of sexism within the secular movement that keeps surfacing from time to time. She had just returned from the Women in Secularism conference and reported on some conversations that she had had about some of the well-known men acting obnoxiously towards women at secular gatherings.

I am not a part of the secular movement conference circuit. I attend some local events in my area but that is about it. The Reason Rally is the only national event I have attended. Hence I have not met personally almost all of the well-known names in the secular movement who are the speakers at these events and so cannot report any first-hand experiences but want to share some general thoughts on this topic. [...]

Can bystanders help here? As in the above story, the attitude of bystanders can be a force for good if such behavior occurs in a group of people. If most people are disapproving of such behavior and make their feelings known in both subtle and direct ways, that might mitigate the problem. The catch is that unless the offender is unbelievably arrogant or stupid, such unwelcome overtures are likely to occur in private, away from other people.

But even if it did happen in a group setting, it is not clear what the bystander should do. For one thing it first requires that they recognize undesirable behavior when it occurs. I for one am terrible at this, unless it is so obvious that even a child would notice or if I have been made aware of the problem beforehand and know what to look for. I did start to wonder what I, as a bystander, would do if I did happen to notice such behavior. What options are there? The catch is that while you want to oppose it, you also do not want to risk patronizing the woman at the receiving end of the unwelcome advances, as if she could not deal with it herself. I suppose that what it requires is close observation to see if the woman is seeking allies in the crowd to support her in confronting the behavior, and then stepping in if it is clear that she does. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo in his book The Lucifer Effect (p. 315-323) points to numerous studies that show that having just one ally in a group tends to provide enormous strength to people taking an unpopular stand.

We should also realize that people who do the harassing may well be unaware that their advances are unwelcome. Indeed, they may think that they are flattering their victim by paying them attention.

Exactly. I am someone who doesn’t know people well, and I have poor people skills. Many times, my “gut reaction” to what is going on is just plain wrong.

May 22, 2012

## Across the Internet…

Workout notes: prior to leaving St. Joseph, I ran 3 miles on the Wobegone bike path. in 32:22 (15:47 second 1.5 miles) It was 52 and drizzly….where was this weather yesterday?

That is the one good thing about a bad marathon: I am not that beat up.

Major lesson: I didn’t have enough WALKING miles to race this distance. Next time: no matter how many running miles I do per week, I need to walk more. I had enough 20+ mile walks, but I didn’t have the faster 10-14 mile tempo walks or longer intervals.

Posts
Paul Krugman: points out that in TODAY’S political climate,
it is the Republicans that moved to the extreme

This is a Daily Kos article that gives an example of how to have a political conversation.. I am not good at this.

Science
What are the major mysteries of the universe? Check out the Smithsonian Magazine’s Top Ten.

What constitutes good teaching? It isn’t an easy call, and attempts to be objective and to use a set metric can backfire; here is an example.
Hat tip: Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

What is the difference between Intelligent Design and theistic evolution? Jerry Coyne argues that it is really a matter of degree. I am no expert, but to me the difference is this: theistic evolution either says that some deity created the laws of science OR that the interaction of the deity with the evolutionary process is impossible to detect, whereas ID claims that one can deduce “design” FROM the laws of science, together with mathematics and logic.
Or, put another way, theistic evolution is really a faith based religious claim.

Eclipse Photo

Click on the thumbnail to see this cool photo of an eclipse (courtesy of NASA; photo by Dr. Armando Lee)

More Jerry Coyne: Harsh, but there is some truth here. Too many people (and not just religious people) have the attitude: if it doesn’t make sense to me, it must be BS.

May 21, 2012

## Science: taxonomies, grasping it and the insufficiency of “common sense”

Is there a new addition to the tree of life?
Via Jennifer Welsh from MSNBC:

Talk about extended family: A single-celled organism in Norway has been called “mankind’s furthest relative.” It is so far removed from the organisms we know that researchers claim it belongs to a new base group, called a kingdom, on the tree of life.

“We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species,” study researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, of the University of Oslo, in Norway, said in a statement.

The primordial animal from As lake, 30 km south of Oslo, does not fit on any of the main branches of the tree of life. Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi had to create a new main branch, called Collodictyon.

The organism, a type of protozoan, was found by researchers in a lake near Oslo. Protozoans have been known to science since 1865, but because they are difficult to culture in the lab, researchers haven’t been able to get a grip on their genetic makeup. They were placed in the protist kingdom on the tree of life mostly based on observations of their size and shape.

In this study, published March 21 in the journal Molecular Biology Evolution, the researchers were able to grow enough of the protozoans, called Collodictyon, in the lab to analyze its genome. They found it doesn’t genetically fit into any of the previously discovered kingdoms of life. It’s an organism with membrane-bound internal structures, called a eukaryote, but genetically it isn’t an animal, plant, fungus, alga or protist (the five main groups of eukaryotes).

Particle Physics Taxonomy
From Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:

(click to see the large picture, or go to the blog post)

Of course, figuring out the mysteries of science is, well, hard…and many…even educated people don’t understand how it all works.

Though this talk is long, there is a point in which Ricard Dawkins points out that “common sense” is insufficient to understand science:

This might sound arrogant. But let me try to explain it this way: “common sense” is what many use to get through their lives on a day to day basis. For example: if someone in your day-to-day life is trying to sell you on something that seems strange to you (e. g., “doesn’t pass the smell test”), then you are probably wise to reject it. However, in science, many of the strange sounding things happen to be true!

I still remember one of my college physics classes: we were studying how light is polarized and the effects of filters. There was some positing of filters such that when two of these filters were in series, no light got through. But if you put a third polarizing filter in front of those two, light appeared to get through….I said something and my physics professor said “it doesn’t make sense, does it Mr. Nanyes?”

But…it worked, just as the mathematics said it would.

I’ll give another example of how “what makes sense in our day-to-day lives” is nonsense; this one is very concrete. This comes from General Curtis LeMay’s book: Mission with LeMay.

Then Colonel LeMay was in charge of a B-17 unit in Germany; the B-17 was a bomber which carried several 50 caliber machine guns for defense against fighter attacks.

The guns were operated in turrets, blisters or windows, and the gunners were in charge of their guns. The gunners were told to NOT oil their guns because the oil would freeze at the altitudes at which the B-17 flew and fought. They were told to clean their guns with gasoline. But, as LeMay said “everyone knows that oil is good for gun” and though that they knew better (many hunted prior to the war or were skilled with other guns). And much to their sorrow and horror…the oiled guns….froze up when they had to shoot at attacking fighters.

“Common sense” (thought that worked well in day-to-day life) was nonsense in this foreign environment!

So what about Jon Stewart’s point about “faith”? Well, it is true that scientists are VERY reluctant to overturn a long established theory that has worked very well for a long time. It does happen (quantum mechanics and relativity theory superseded classical mechanics….in a way) but only after a great deal of checking and rechecking.

Here is an example of what typically happens: way back when, people used classical mechanics to predict the orbits of planets. But the predictions for Uranus were a bit off; one possibility was that classical mechanics was wrong (unlikely…and classical mechanics works very well for planetary orbit predictions). The other possibility: something out there had a large mass and was throwing things off. That lead to the discovery of Neptune. Click the link to Greg Mayer’s article at Why Evolution is True for the detailed story; it is fascinating.

May 1, 2012

## Some physics and philosophy

First, a new result was announced. A new subatomic particle has been discovered by a team working at the super-collider. Particles of this type had been discovered, but in ground states. This was the first discovery of this type of particle at an excited state.

The “something rather than nothing controversy: one question we have is this: why do we have something (our universe) rather than nothing? The debate has some smart people talking past each other: one group says “quantum mechanics allows for this possibility” whereas the other group says “hey, why do the laws of quantum mechanics even work to begin with?” They are really two different questions. Sean Carrol talks about this here; this is what I like:

Quantum mechanics, in particular, is a specific yet very versatile implementation of this scheme. (And quantum field theory is just a particular example of quantum mechanics, not an entirely new way of thinking.) The states are “wave functions,” and the collection of every possible wave function for some given system is “Hilbert space.” The nice thing about Hilbert space is that it’s a very restrictive set of possibilities (because it’s a vector space, for you experts); once you tell me how big it is (how many dimensions), you’ve specified your Hilbert space completely. This is in stark contrast with classical mechanics, where the space of states can get extraordinarily complicated. And then there is a little machine — “the Hamiltonian” — that tells you how to evolve from one state to another as time passes. Again, there aren’t really that many kinds of Hamiltonians you can have; once you write down a certain list of numbers (the energy eigenvalues, for you pesky experts) you are completely done.

We should be open-minded about what form the ultimate laws of physics will take, but almost all modern attempts to get at them take quantum mechanics for granted. That’s true for string theory and other approaches to quantum gravity — they might take very different views of what constitutes “spacetime” or “matter,” but very rarely do they muck about with the essentials of quantum mechanics. It’s certainly the case for all of the scenarios Lawrence considers in his book. Within this framework, specifying “the laws of physics” is just a matter of picking a Hilbert space (which is just a matter of specifying how big it is) and picking a Hamiltonian. One of the great things about quantum mechanics is how extremely restrictive it is; we don’t have a lot of room for creativity in choosing what kinds of laws of physics might exist. It seems like there’s a lot of creativity, because Hilbert space can be extremely big and the underlying simplicity of the Hamiltonian can be obscured by our (as subsets of the universe) complicated interactions with the rest of the world, but it’s always the same basic recipe.

So within that framework, what does it mean to talk about “a universe from nothing”? We still have to distinguish between two possibilities, but at least this two-element list exhausts all of them.

He then goes on to talk about how the two different questions are about different thing: a non-zero Hamiltonian operator (one that really does evolve the states) and the possibility of one that is zero…that just admits many “non-zero” cross sections.

But read the above to see linear algebra concepts being used all over the place. Here is a one-dimensional explanation of what is going on: A Hilbert space is really a normed vector space (the vectors are functions whose SQUARE have a convergent improper integral on $(-\infty, \infty)$ and whose vector space addition and inner product is consistent with infinite sums. Allowable observable values are the eigenvalues associated with the eigenvectors associated with linear operators (linear transformations that respect the infinite sum process) and the probability of making one of these observations is related to the expected value (expectation) of the eigenvectors (normed to 1); this is exactly the expected value of a density function that you saw in your probability and statistics class.

Here is a series of notes I wrote for those who have had calculus, linear algebra and probability/statistics but if you want a readable source, I can recommend the out-of-print book by Gillespie called A quantum mechanics primer.

April 30, 2012

## General election polls, hidden birds, hidden matter…

Extraordinary claims
11 minutes long, but very good:

Short version: “lots of people accept it” is not evidence that it is true.

R. P. Feynman on childhood, algebra and calculus

Note: I remember the “X for the practical man” series. I tried to read the “calculus for the practical man” book and couldn’t get past the “definition” of “dt” which I remember being defined as “a very small unit of time”. I was in 8′th or 9′th grade at the time.

Cool photo
Go to Conservation Report to obtain a wall-paper size version of this:

You can see the moon, Venus with clouds and birds.

Speaking of nature and art, this video uses NASA footage of Saturn and Jupiter to create an artistic video; ONLY genuine footage is used (and pieced together cleverly).

Back to earth
Can you find the bittern (a type of marsh bird) in this photo? This is part of the Conservation Report Animal Camouflage series.

(click on the thumbnail to see a larger image at Conservation report. To see this on flickr, go here (and see the guesses)) You can also see the full size photo. It isn’t easy to spot!

Speaking of stuff that is hard to spot: we aren’t seeing the amount of “nearby” dark matter that we should; cosmology is starting to get even MORE interesting.

Social

I am not a huge fan of David Brooks, but I have some respect for him. This article is very interesting: it talks about the difference between competition and finding something new. Competition doesn’t always lead to added value!

My take: I see this in higher education. Example: many colleges and smaller universities are competing for students; they do this, in part, by more recruiting, providing more student facilities, providing more student services, etc. NONE of this effort makes the product (education) any better at all! But, ironically, it does drive up costs.

Note: I know that the Brooks article was about innovation versus success in an established area, but I was focusing on “adding value” as a result of competition. My observation was tangential.

Politics

I always joked that I could never campaign in a Republican neighborhood as they’d call INS on me.

Poor Newt.

Ok, now this is going to be Romney vs. Obama. What do early polls say? Well…in terms of predicting the outcome: not much, one way or the other.

April 26, 2012