Whining, politics and science

Gee, when people dismiss crackpot ideas (e. g. engage in global warming denialism) it gives Charles Krauthammer the sadz. No, Mr. Krauthammer: ideas have no inherent right to respect, including…well, some academic ideas like this one (forbidding “triggers”).

Speaking of dumbness: a few of the “in the future predictions” made by the film “Idiocracy” have come true. But…I should point out that some of these predictions were already commonplace prior to the movie. Remember how humans in “civilized” countries used to amuse themselves: public executions, burning animals alive, making people fight to the death, etc.

Yes, keeping control of the Senate will be an uphill fight for the Democrats, even if some of the “head to head” polls look ok now. There is the problem of the “drag” on the ticket due to the unpopularity of the President in the states in question, many of which are “red” to begin with.

But there is time, and the recent news for Obamacare has been good.

And maybe, just maybe, there is some attention being paid to inequality. Ok, that book by Piketty is rather highbrow.

It is interesting, but being slightly underweight and undereating seems to help with longevity. Is there an evolutionary reason why this is so? There is a new conjecture about this, but the conjecture has detractors:

Why did creatures evolve such a mechanism in the first place? Researchers have declared the most popular theory doesn’t make evolutionary sense, and they’ve proposed a new explanation in its place.

The most prominent theory involves what happens physiologically during times of food scarcity. When the living is good, natural selection favors organisms that invest energy in reproduction. In times of hardship, however, animals have fewer offspring, diverting precious nutrients to cell repair and recycling so they can survive until the famine ends, when reproduction begins anew. Cell repair and recycling appear to be substantial antiaging and anticancer processes, which may explain why underfed lab animals live longer and rarely develop old-age pathologies like cancer and heart disease.

Margo Adler agrees with the basic cellular pathways, but she’s not so sure about the evolutionary logic. Adler, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says this popular idea relies on a big assumption: that natural selection favors this energy switch from reproduction to survival because animals will have more young in the long run—so long as they actually survive and reproduce. “This idea is repeated over and over again in the literature as if it’s true, but it just doesn’t make that much sense for evolutionary reasons,” she says.

The problem, Adler says, is that wild animals don’t have the long, secure lives of their laboratory cousins. Instead, they’re not only endangered by famine but by predators and pathogens, random accidents and rogue weather as well. They also face physiological threats from a restricted diet, including a suppressed immune system, difficulty with healing and greater cold sensitivity. For these reasons, delaying reproduction until food supplies are more plentiful is a huge risk for wild animals. Death could be waiting just around the corner.

Better to reproduce now, Adler says. The new hypothesis she proposes holds that during a famine animals escalate cellular repair and recycling, but they do so for the purpose of having as many progeny as possible during a famine, not afterward. They “make the best of a bad situation” to maximize their fitness in the present. “It’s an efficiency mode that the animal goes into,” she says. Adler and colleague Russell Bonduriansky published their reasoning in the March BioEssays.[...]

This Scientific American article discusses “modular forms” and notes that a current mathematician appears to have solved a riddle proposed by a famous mathematician from yesteryear. As articles about mathematics go, this one is pretty readable.

April 18, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, economy, education, evolution, health care, mathematics, politics/social, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

“Viral” math common core meme

(cross posted on my math blog)

This is making the rounds on social media:


Now a good explanation as to what is going on can be found here; it is written by an experienced high school math teacher.

I’ll give my take on this; I am NOT writing this for other math professors; they would likely be bored by what I am about to say.

My take
First of all, I am NOT defending the mathematics standards of Common Core. For one: I haven’t read them. Another: I have no experience teaching below the college level. What works in my classroom would probably not work in most high school and grade school classrooms.

But I think that I can give some insight as to what is going on with this example (in the photo).

When one teaches mathematics, one often teaches BOTH how to calculate and the concepts behind the calculation techniques. Of course, one has to learn the calculation technique; no one (that I know) disputes that.

What is going on in the photo
The second “calculation” is an exercise designed to help students learn the concept of subtraction and NOT “this is how you do the calculation”.

Suppose one wants to show the students that subtracting two numbers yields “the distance on the number line between those numbers”. So, “how far away from 12 is 32? Well, one moves 3 units to get to 15, then 5 to get to 20. Now that we are at 20 (a multiple of 10), it is easy to move one unit of 10 to get to 30, then 2 more units to get to 32. So we’ve moved 20 units total.

Think of it this way: in the days prior to google maps and gps systems, imagine you are taking a trip from, say, Morton, IL to Chicago and you wanted to take interstate highways all of the way. You wanted to figure the mileage.

You notice (I am making these numbers up) that the “distance between big cities” map lists 45 miles from Peoria to Bloomington and 150 miles from Bloomington to Chicago. Then you look at the little numbers on the map to see that Morton is between Peoria and Bloomington: 10 miles away from Peoria.

So, to find the distance, you calculate (45-10) + 150 = 185 miles; you used the “known mileages” as guide posts and used the little map numbers as a guide to get from the small town (Morton) to the nearest city for which the “table mileage” was calculated.

That is what is going on in the photo.

Why the concept is important

There are many reasons. The “distance between nodes” concept is heavily used in graph theory and in operations research. But I’ll give a demonstration in numerical methods:

Suppose one needs a numerical approximation of \int^{48}_0 \sqrt{1 + cos^2(x)} dx . Now if one just approaches with by a Newton-Coats method (say, Simpson’s rule) or by Romberg, or even by a quadrature method, one runs into problems. The reason: the integrand is oscillatory and the range of integration is very long.

But one notices that the integrand is periodic; there is no need to integrate along the entire range.

Note that there are 7 complete periods of 2 \pi between 0 and 48. So one merely needs to calculate 7 \int^{2 \pi}_0 \sqrt{1+cos^2(x)} dx + \int^{48 - 14 \pi}_0 \sqrt{1+ cos^2(x)} dx and these two integrals are much more readily approximated.

In fact, why not approximate 30 \int^{\frac{\pi}{2}}_0 \sqrt{1+cos^2(x)} dx + \int^{48 - 15 \pi}_0 \sqrt{1 + cos^2(x)}dx which is even better?

The concept of calculating distance in terms of set segment lengths comes in handy.

Or, one can think of it this way
When we teach derivatives, we certainly teach how to calculate using the standard differentiation rules. BUT we also teach the limit definition as well, though one wouldn’t use that definition in the middle of, say, “find the maximum and minimum of f(x) = x-\frac{1}{x} on the interval [\frac{1}{4}, 3] ” Of course, one uses the rules.

But if you saw some kid’s homework and saw f'(x) being calculated by the limit definition, would you assume that the professor was some idiot who wanted to turn a simple calculation into something more complicated?

March 30, 2014 Posted by | education, social/political | , | Leave a comment

No whining, some science/philosophy issues

It is has been a while since I linked to anything but “winter sucks” and “here is my workout”.

Jerry Coyne has a couple of interesting articles.

One: he talks about an article that claims that we “should study history to understand science”:

Alejandra Dubcovsky, an assistant professor of history at Yale, thinks that it’s essential for scientists to study history (she doesn’t specify what kind of history, or if she means the history of science), for another reason: because it gives us scientists “a sensitivity that only the humanities can teach.”

Or so she maintains in a new piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, ”To Understand Science, Study History.”

Like the reader who sent me the link, Dubcovsky seems not only defensive about her discipline, but stretching a bit to make her point. To show how history informs our scientific sensitivities, she uses the examples of Rosalind Franklin, which will teach us that science is not gender-blind (she says Franklin is “largely forgotten,” which is simply untrue); of Rebecca Skloot’s wonderful book about Henrietta Lacks (donor of the HeLa cells), which should teach us that science and race have an “uneasy history;” and about Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb, which should teach us that “we find deep, sometimes unforeseen, and often devastating consequences, even from the most theoretical of projects.”

Yep. I am often amused to hear a non-specialist tell me what “I don’t know about” in my own discipline. :-)
Frankly, the humanities ARE under fire and are really stretching to stay relevant. Why? My guess: higher education is getting more and more expensive, and there simply isn’t a great demand for humanities majors. The market for humanities Ph. D.s is also terrible.

And yes, science IS blind to sex; for example, if you get the laws of science wrong, what you build with them won’t work. I doubt that there is a feminist interpretation of quantum mechanics. :-)

Note: the humanities ARE valuable IMHO…and even have practical value. Steven Pinker’s book Better Angels of Our Nature, gives a bit of credit to fiction in helping humans become less violent (e. g. reading a novel better helps us “walk a mile in another person shoes”).

In this day of a smaller globe, the study of language and culture is essential! And knowing some history is extremely helpful, especially given some of the turmoil we are seeing now. Much of it has ancient roots. For example: had we remembered that Vietnam and China were traditional rivals and enemies, we might have reacted better to the situation in Vietnam rather than escalating that horrible, wasteful war.

Professor Coyne has another article about Whole Foods (the store) and about how it promotes woo-woo (beyond the usual woo-woo stuff about “natural” and “organic”). Here, he goes off on Whole Foods pushing homeopathic remedies (placebo really). This might be seen as a “liberal” type of creationism, though conservative sites like NewsMax also pushes woo-woo “cures” and the like. If you get on their e-mail lists, you’ll see adds for them. Hey, there is nothing more Republican that cheating the gullible out of their money! :-)

Sandwalk (Larry Moran’s blog) takes on the “argument from evil” response that some atheists attempt to use against theists (e. g. if your loving God exists, then why did horrible thing X, Y, or Z happen?)

I agree: this is a waste of time. The response by the theist (who believes in a specific deity) is something like “we don’t know God’s ways” or “this is in this life, which is just a microsecond in all of eternity…even the worst possible suffering in the here and now doesn’t compare to ETERNAL bliss that we are going to get (some of us anyway), blah blah blah.”

It is weak medicine, IMHO> And of course, there could be an Evil God. Here is my favorite:


February 28, 2014 Posted by | education, religion, science | , | Leave a comment

Outliers and society

I think that this is common in this day and age: I have some students who are struggling in our “elementary conceptual calculus” course. They come to class, but work a large number of hours at a job in order to make ends meet. So…they are often left with very little time to study.

And yes, IN THIS COURSE, most of the students need to study quite a bit in order to have a chance at even a “C”.

In short: most students need to have a certain number of hours in order to sleep and to addition to making the classes and their part time jobs.

Now, some might say that this is nonsense.

I remember a professor I had at the Naval Academy. He said that when he was an undergraduate he studied very little for his math classes as he paid his own way through school by waiting tables. He made up for it by PAYING ATTENTION IN CLASS.

That is well and good…..but then remember that he had an earned Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT.

Most of us don’t have that type of natural ability.

Yes, Mohammed Ali could break the conventional rules of boxing (dangle his arms, lean away from punches):

But most, including most other professional boxers, don’t have that kind of ability.

Yes, there are people who can run a 2:15 marathon on 35 miles a week of training:

Following the 1976 trials he trained by running 35 miles per week and ran “a 2:14:37 for second place at the Nike-Oregon Track Club Marathon in Eugene in 1978. After that, he ran 2:15:23 for 15th place in the Boston Marathon in 1979.”

But most of us aren’t that gifted (this was Tony Sandoval, cowinner of the 1980 US Olympic Trials Marathon)

Yes, some can make a successful film while being stoned on marijuana, but most of us aren’t as talented as the Beatles.

The list can go on and on. The bottom line: you can gain inspiration from the incredibly successful, but you won’t be able to get away with taking the short cuts that many of them got away with. Neither you nor I are outliers.

Public policy should reflect this. Yes, it is great that a tiny minority of people might strike it very rich. But MOST WILL NOT. It is unjust to orient society that way.

February 25, 2014 Posted by | boxing, education, marathons, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Ignorant and proud of it….

Workout notes
Full weights plus 1800 yards of swimming (just over a mile)

Weights: rotator cuff, hip hikes, Achilles
pull ups: 2 sets of 15, 2 of 10
bench: 10 x 135, 7 x 170, 6 x 170
military (dumbbell): 3 sets of 12 x 50 (seated, supported)
rows: uphight, 3 sets of 10 x 25 (dumbbells)
rows: Hammer, 3 sets of 10 x 210
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 160
curls: 3 sets of 10 x 70 (machine)

Swim: 500 warm up (slow; got blown away by Ms. Bikini)
500 of drill/swim (no fins)
10 x 50 on the 1:10 (first 5, count strokes: 21-23 per length, 51-52 sec.)
next 5: 49-50
100 first drills
2 x 100 IM

I felt a bit bad; I grabbed the lane by the wall, and this kind of strange guy who usually swims there saw that and left, though there was room in the middle of the pool. I’ll ask him if there is some medical condition that precludes him from using the middle lanes.

The pool (and the weight room) has been used at an unusually high level lately.

The public and mathematics
Yes, some people have asked me this: “why all of the letters? Why don’t you use NUMBERS?”.

If I am in a patient mood I might say something like: “ok, suppose you want to be able to program a computer to compute a tax on an order? Well, you’d need the item ordered, the price of the item ordered, how many of each item ordered and the applicable tax, right?

Well, there is a “slot” in the order form for each of those, and the “letters” we use stand for such slots.”

Usually, these questions come from those who haven’t had the benefit of an education.

I expect better from our political leaders, and from time to time I am disappointed in them:

Ignoring pleas from business leaders, the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 along party lines Thursday to bar Arizona from implementing the Common Core standards the state adopted four years ago.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who championed SB 1310, said he believes the concept of some nationally recognized standards started out as a “pretty admirable pursuit by the private sector and governors.”

“It got hijacked by Washington, by the federal government,” said Melvin, a candidate for governor, and “as a conservative Reagan Republican I’m suspect about the U.S. Department of Education in general, but also any standards that are coming out of that department.”

Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

“I’ve been exposed to them,” Melvin responded.

Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

No, this isn’t satire. I wish that it were.

So, in all seriousness: how is such a person supposed to make a decision on any issue that requires the least bit of analytical thought?

I swear: I am old enough to remember Republicans when they were proud of their educations and knowledge. Now, at times, it appears that they are mostly proud to be ignorant.

But…I can’t blame this all on the rabid populists. A Facebook friend posted this article on her wall…and look at her comments, especially the LAST ONE:


Get that? If something is too tough for a “special needs” person to do…well, it is too hard for the general population.

I’d hate to think that common standards are determined by the least able among us, but there is a large segment of the population that thinks EXACTLY that way.

I can see a conservative chuckling and saying “ok, how is that PUBLIC EDUCATION working out for you”? :-)

Note while there ARE legitimate criticisms of Common Core; using “letters for numbers” isn’t one of them.

Note: the above link was brought to my attention by someone on Facebook.

February 24, 2014 Posted by | education, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans politics, swimming, weight training | | Leave a comment

Cold, NFL and science

Jerry Coyne has an interesting post about how he sees science being “dissed”. I’ve been over much of this; one reason is that sometimes non-replicated studies are loudly presented as break throughs when, in fact, they are merely false positives.

That jet stream appears to be stuck, thereby subjecting us to repeated blasts of cold air and others to severe drought. View the maps presented here.

Many schools were cancelled yesterday; the University of Illinois was not. That we were: kind of silly; it was actually COLDER today. But some of the Illinois snowflakes were less than pleased that they had class and vented on the internet.

Again, big school; small sample size.

It is interesting how the players are decried as “thugs” by many; some say that football promotes a “rape culture”. So I went online to look for statistics; in fact, even when one considers ALL violent crimes, there is zero evidence that NFL players commit them at a higher rate than other males their own age and race. In fact the evidence suggests that they commit such crimes at a LOWER rate. Here is the non-technical study from Duke University; “arrests, charges and conviction” data is presented and discussed.

January 29, 2014 Posted by | education, NFL, science | , | Leave a comment

I survived the semester, so far…

Well, they are back. The gym was unusually crowded for 6 am (“first of the semester resolutions”) and the Army ROTC took away many of the dumbbells.
But I got it all done anyway; well, all but the plank/McKenzie exercises (which I can do tonight)

pull ups: 2 sets of 15, 2 of 10 with hip hikes, Achilles
incline bench: 2 sets of 10 x 140, 5 x 150
abs: 3 sets of 10: crunch, twist, sit back, vertical crunch
pull downs: 2 sets of 10 x 140 (different machine), 10 x 160
military press: 3 sets of 12 x 50 (dumbbells, seated, supported)
upright row: 3 sets of 10 x 20 (dumbbells)
bent over row: 3 sets of 10 x 65
dumbbell curls: 3 sets of 10 x 30
rotator cuff: ALL of them; doing them at the end of the workout might be more effective as the bigger muscles are fatigued.

The weights took 1 hour flat.
Then 3 mile walk on the treadmill: warmed up on 0.5 incline and sped up from 15 mpm to 12 mpm and got to mile 1 in 13:20
Next two miles: 24:00 (12 mpm, did .25 0, .25 at elevation: 2-3-4-5 with .25 at 0 rests): 37:20 for 3 miles; 38:55 for 5K

That got me out of the gym at 7:48; time enough to walk home (in slick ice/snow), change, quick breakfast, back to work.

Two parting shots
Paul Krugman on reporting the issues: it isn’t enough for a reporter to work hard. They must make some effort to know what they are talking about:

Here’s the problem: When you’re covering policy, the usual tools of journalism — cultivating sources, pounding the pavement, pulling out the Rolodex — just won’t cut it. You have to have people who actually understand the policy issues — people who can pound a spreadsheet, or whose Rolodex includes academic experts as well as DC flacks.

Otherwise what you get at best is he-said-she-said reporting — what I mocked many years ago as responding to claims that the earth is flat with the headline “Views differ on shape of planet.” Or, even worse, you rely on people who seem like authority figures because of their style or their official position, but are in reality just guys with an agenda, and often completely untrustworthy.

The Post — I really don’t think I’m being unfair here — has been particularly guilty of the latter sin. Colin Powell says Iraq is building WMD — well, that settles it, doesn’t it? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says we have a fiscal crisis — well, they’re the authorities, aren’t they?

What Ezra and company brought was a combination of sophistication about policy issues and skepticism toward the Very Serious People. Ezra and Sarah Kliff really understood health policy, and knew that if you needed to know more, you called Gruber or Cutler, not Senator Bomfog. Others on the team actually understood macroeconomic policy, and knew that you shouldn’t treat the hacks at Heritage as if they were symmetrical with, say, the careful wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

What Krugman notices here isn’t partisan though. Example: suppose a reporter wanted to cover a GMO issue. If they just used credible sources (scientists) they would infuriate their liberal readers who wanted to see the woo-woo point of view covered too.

Or, in the case of contamination from the Fukushima nuclear accident affecting the safety of the fish catch off of the United States: well what is true isn’t what many want to hear:

Neville has sampled more than 60 fish since Fukushima. The levels of Cesium traced to Fukushima were so low that his lab couldn’t see it at all until he concentrated the samples.

Kim Martini, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, agrees that the tuna are completely safe.

“To actually get a harmful dose of tuna you have to eat 2.5 tons of tuna a year,” Martini says. “I really love Tuna, but I don’t love it that much.”

Numerous other tests since the Fukushima disaster have found the same thing: radiation levels in Pacific fish that are vanishingly small.

And yet the fear persists, and even grows, fostered in part by supposed “evidence” passed around the web. Sites have sprung up blaming Fukushima for everything from lower sockeye salmon runs in the US to conjoined twin baby whales in Baja.

Martini points to one video in particular that’s been posted on YouTube that shows a guy named “Dave” sweeping a northern California beach with a Geiger counter that suddenly starts beeping.

“I’m over background,” Dave says on the video, “The alarm’s going off. Here I am on the beach… There you go. That’s sort of the levels we’re dealing with here…”

The video, which has more than 700,000 views, prompted California officials to test samples from the beach. They found that the radioactivity was naturally occurring.

“This is one of the problems,” Martini says. “People are going out with Geiger counters and saying this is Fukushima radiation, but the Geiger counter can measure radiation but it can’t differentiate between different kinds of radiation.”

You’ll find naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in rock, sand, even in bananas and seawater itself.

But try telling that to the SFBs.

Speaking of fish, check out this catch:


(click the smaller photo to see the full size photo at the source).

Nature can be interesting, no?

January 22, 2014 Posted by | economy, education, politics/social, science, walking, weight training, whining | | Leave a comment

Onward to the semester (ugh…)

Workout notes I did a slow 6 miles on the home treadmill; that was probably a mistake. I went too slow and the gait irritated that upper thigh “ding”. A “pulling” motion isn’t the best thing for it. Time: 1:06:30 (approximately).

It was bitterly cold outside and we had a bit of snow; because of the wind parts of our walk were still dry, other parts were covered with drifts. Never mind; a city plow managed to bury the “clear” part.

So I shoveled; part of it was snow that stuck to the cement (could be best cleared by a broom), with powder over it with a top “crust” layer. I can see why some would think that a snow culture would have different words for snow…though what I learned in grade school (about the Inuit having lots of words for different kinds of snow) might not be correct.

One thing I’d like to search for: gloves that let you handle something like a shovel that keeps your fingers warm.

Sometimes people use the old “I worked X hours” as some sort of badge of honor. Yeah, sometimes the work is required, but often NOT:

And then there were the breakfast meetings. I can understand why busy, productive people might sometimes want to meet at 7 AM. But what soon became completely clear was that the people who insisted on those early meetings were precisely the least competent and productive guys — the economics team at the NSC, which was totally hopeless in the Reagan years, the team at Agriculture (ditto), and so on. (No offense to current personnel, who I hope are in a completely different class; there were a lot of really strange people allegedly doing economics in the early Reagan period.) It was hard not to conclude that they were making a show of being incredibly busy and hard-working; they probably went back to their offices after breakfast and read Ayn Rand novels or something.

Meanwhile, people at USTR and the Fed, who really did know what they were doing, showed no similar fetish.

To the extent that this is a problem, I guess rules are the answer. But you wonder whether the urge to signal will just pop up somewhere else.

Yes, the above was written by someone who understands success way better than most of us. :-)

Math: as seen
Someone caused a stir with this video, which says that one can say 1+2+3+4+....+k +.... = -\frac{1}{12} .

Now I can understand why this makes the heads of some mathematics professors explode. We spend a LOT of time trying (with varying degrees of success) to teach students about infinite series…only to be seemingly undermined by stuff like this.

Now math professors understand the issue: what is really going on here is that there exists some well defined map between the set of sequences of real numbers to the real numbers that assigns the sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ....) the number -\frac{1}{12} . The trouble is that the term “sum” is used, and when one hears the term “sum”, one expects some sort of compatibility with ordinary addition; that is, if f is the map, then if f deserves the title “sum” at all, then one would expect something like f(1,2,3,4...) = 1 + f(2,3,4,5,....) = 3 + f(3, 4, 5,.....) , etc. Needless to say, the compatibility with ordinary addition will be a problem here, and it isn’t with the definition of “infinite sum” that we usually (attempt to) teach our calculus students.

Scientific American has more.

And yes, string theory (THAT string theory) uses this weird assignment to this particular “series”.

And speaking of math: such a tiny minority of people understand it at even an elementary level that “art” like this is produced:


There is nothing here that a freshman in a technical curriculum wouldn’t recognize; there is the limit definition for f(x) = x^n evaluate at x = 1, and I think that they meant to write F = \frac{dp}{dt} instead of F = \frac{\Delta p}{\Delta t} . But on the whole, aside from being common expressions in freshmen level courses, these are unrelated and just put there at random.

January 21, 2014 Posted by | education, mathematics, running, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Memes and massive online open courses and education for the masses

A description of the massive online open courses movement can be seen here. I’ve read where some have said that somehow this was supposed to be a threat to conventional higher education.


Yes, I think that the MOOC is a good thing; it makes a ton of good, valuable resources available to those who want supplemental work or to those who are, say geographically isolated.
But there are some factors that I don’t see discussed that often.

1. Learning some types of material is hard. I’ve taught college mathematics for upwards of 20 years. The students almost always THINK that they know the material better than they actually know it; I find this out when I grade their examinations. How are they going to learn the stuff if they don’t have the “pass the test” incentive? Yes, I know that some of these MOOCs have a online exam at the end (multiple choice) that is machine graded, but only a tiny percentage of people get to them.

Learning is hard and time consuming.

2. Prerequisites: many might find, say, some of the counter intuitive conclusions of quantum mechanics interesting. But how many are going to be disciplined enough to learn the math to learn this area properly? How many are even capable of learning the mathematics properly?

Here is a hint:


Yes, I know that this is nonsense; there is nothing to “solve” here; this is the Fourier function representation formula. And yes, given a function f you need to know how to solve for a_n, b_n to even begin a proper undergraduate quantum mechanics course.

So if you don’t know this already, are you going to spend the years necessary learning enough mathematics?

So. I think that this massive open online stuff is good, it isn’t going to benefit a high percentage of the population. It IS a boon to a tiny percentage of outliers though.


Yep, when you see some internet arguments about subjects such as the constitutionality of a given law, whether a given GMO is safe, climate change, evolution, fracking, etc., well, people think that providing a link to an “activist” website or their having half-digested a couple of pop-books on the subject (IF that) qualifies them as an expert, or at least gives them an opinion that is worth taking seriously.

Psst: it doesn’t.

And, of course, it is ALWAYS someone else who is “stoopid”


Yes, I’ve seen the unmodified version of this meme (modification is in red) posted on many people’s walls, including the walls of woo-woos and those who really haven’t accomplished all that much. I know that the National Academy of Science isn’t in my future, and I don’t have any members on my friends list.

I have lots of blind spots and, if I have an advantage on most, it is that I know that there is a huge gap between me and the truly genius level people AND I understand that what “makes sense to me” might well be false, or at best, incomplete. But the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong in many.

January 19, 2014 Posted by | education, ranting, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Almost time to crank it up

Classes start in 6 days.

Workout notesIt was too pretty not to go outside (mostly snow/ice free and sunny; just under freezing) so I walked the 5.2 mile West Peoria course and ran 3 miles on the treadmill: 0-.5-1-1.5-2-2.5-3-3.5-4 and I stayed on 4 between 8 and 15 minutes and 3 from 15 to 18, 2 from 18 to 20, then on 1. I “sped up” to reach 3 miles in 31:18.

Ultras I don’t know if I’ll ever do an ultra again. I believe that ultra marathons change what one can do athletically. As far as health effects:

Ultra-runners are different from you and me. They run more. But a new study of these racers, who compete in events longer than marathons, joins other recent science in finding that they also tend to be older and have some different health concerns than most of us might expect, suggesting that some beliefs about how much activity the human body can manage, especially in middle age, may be too narrow. [...]

The results, which were published last week in PLoS One, were telling. The ultra-runners had a low, although not nonexistent, incidence of high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats, with about 7.5 percent of the runners reporting one of those problems. But less than 1 percent had been diagnosed with heart disease or had a past stroke, and few had experienced cancer, with basal cell skin carcinoma being the most common malignancy, occurring in 1.6 percent of the runners. Those percentages are generally lower than among age-matched American adults, especially considering that a majority of the ultra-runners were aged 40 or older.

On a less salutary note, the runners did report a high incidence of breathing problems, with almost a third of the group telling researchers that they experienced either allergies or asthma, often after running. That finding, while worrying, makes sense, the researchers note, since ultra-long-distance runners spend many hours outside, striding along trails strewn with pollen-slinging trees and flowers, priming their respiratory systems for allergies and asthma.

They also tend to get hurt, as runners at all mileage levels do. More than half said that they had experienced a running-related injury in the past year that had been severe enough to keep them from training for at least a few days, about the same percentage as often is reported by recreational runners. Many of the injuries were knee problems or stress fractures, along with a few, unexpected concussions. (I once slipped during a trail run and thwacked my head into a tree trunk, so it can happen.)

Note: the injuries tend to occur more among the younger runners.

Now there are all sorts of caveats here. For one, it might be that the ultra running crowd attracts those from the “healthy” segment of the population to begin with. Also, as far as being “hurt”: yes, I was “hurt” from September 2009 through most of 2010; I had tears in my meniscus. But during my time of being hurt, I still completed two 30 mile trail walks and a marathon walk; I was able to do my usual duties in terms of work, etc. I only needed outside help for a few days after the operation and was able to walk a 5K at 15 minutes per mile 2-3 weeks after the operation. So the term “injured” might be misleading.

The start of school
We are hiring for a new position and so I read a ton of applications. On one hand, I am glad to have a job and to not have to go through the uncertainty and anxiety of the job hunt.
On the other hand, I kind of miss the excitement of travelling to interviews and having dreams of big success…..which, for me, have been crushed a long time ago. (that isn’t always the case for everyone)

And then there is this: while every class contains good students and most classes contain some gems, from time to time there is also this. There is a real (albeit imperfect) correlation between intelligence in the classroom and intelligence in behavior.

January 16, 2014 Posted by | education, running, walking | , | Leave a comment


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