blueollie

Don’t let facts get in the way…

Yes, under President Obama, the number of public workers went DOWN and the number of federal workers…in sheer numbers…increased slightly (140-160 K) since 2008 (remember: a fair way to measure workforce growth is to take into account the population growth and the US population grew about by about 15 million during that period…I am estimating about 2.5 million per year from here)

Republicans still insist that government is “growing out of control” under President Obama.

Science
There is a type of cave insect in which the female has a penis like object which she inserts into the male to GATHER UP sperm from the male. The science itself is fascinating. But…wait for it….some “feminist” is “offended” that the scientists used the term “penis”.

Sometimes, I think that some people see the ability to extract offense as a type of virtue.

April 19, 2014 Posted by | biology, economy, science | , | Leave a comment

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.

Politics
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.

Science
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.[...]

Mathematics
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

The Sun from other planets…

sunfromotherplanets

Pretty fun, huh?

April 11, 2014 Posted by | astronomy, science | Leave a comment

Quit Smoking!!!!!

April 11, 2014 Posted by | health, science | | Leave a comment

Amateurs: the established experts are better at it (with p = 10^-6)

I was amused at this article from Bruce Schneier’s security blog: it was an eye-rolling “here we go again” response to a headline in an article in the popular media. They reported of an “unbreakable code” that came from non-established experts.

That happens when the non-trained try to report on a technical area.

But this brings up a larger point: there are some fields in which people who don’t know what they are doing THINK that they know what they are doing and attempt to contribute…based on…..well, I am not sure what.

Here is Schneier’s advice to amateur cipher creators:

Memo to the Amateur Cipher Designer
Congratulations. You’ve just invented this great new cipher, and you want to do something with it. You’re new in the field; no one’s heard of you, and you don’t have any credentials as a cryptanalyst. You want to get well-known cryptographers to look at your work. What can you do?

Unfortunately, you have a tough road ahead of you. I see about two new cipher designs from amateur cryptographers every week. The odds of any of these ciphers being secure are slim. The odds of any of them being both secure and efficient are negligible. The odds of any of them being worth actual money are virtually non-existent.

Anyone, from the most clueless amateur to the best cryptographer, can create an algorithm that he himself can’t break. It’s not even hard. What is hard is creating an algorithm that no one else can break, even after years of analysis. And the only way to prove that is to subject the algorithm to years of analysis by the best cryptographers around.

“The best cryptographers around” break a lot of ciphers. The academic literature is littered with the carcasses of ciphers broken by their analyses. But they’re a busy bunch; they don’t have time to break everything. How do they decide what to look at? [...]

This post has some advice (e. g. “learn the current lingo of the area and communicate in that” and “remember some really smart, experienced people have already covered this ground and the chances that you came up with something that they didn’t is close to zero..”)

Then there is this from Richard Dawkins:

In the nicest possible way and with great respect, could I make two suggestions to would-be commenters, based on past experience when this topic has come up-
Please pause before offering your own common sense view. There are topics in science, of which this is one, where common sense is not a good guide. If it were, professional biologists would not have been arguing about it for five decades. There is a large back literature in which the likelihood is strong that whatever commonsense view you put forward has already been proposed and exhaustively discussed. As an analogy, common sense is notoriously misleading when we try to understand quantum mechanics. If you could do physics by common sense, we wouldn’t need physicists. To a lesser extent, something like the same thing applies here.

You see this in many other guises: woo-woos trying to correct scientists about GMOs, creationists trying to refute evolutionary science, climate change skeptics trying to refute climate scientists.

I am NOT saying that experts don’t argue with each other and accuse each other of making “elementary errors”: they certainly do and sometimes to in harsh language. But they aren’t arguing with non-experts.

April 9, 2014 Posted by | science, social/political | | Leave a comment

GMO, El Nino, Obamacare’s legs and Ukraine …

GMO: this is a nice editorial, though I don’t agree with labeling laws. Mandatory label laws should be done for science reasons and not to appease the woo-woos:

GMOs are made by inserting a foreign gene into a plant or animal with the goal of conferring properties that have some agricultural benefit. At present, only GM plants have entered our food supply. In the United States, commonly used GM corn and soybean varieties contain a bacterial gene that confers resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed under the brand name Roundup. Roundup kills weeds but not the GM crop. Other GM corn, soybean and cotton varieties produce a bacterial protein called Cry with insecticide activity that lessens the need for application of toxic chemicals that pollute the soil and groundwater.

The creation of GMOs is indeed sophisticated, but in fact agriculture is a high-tech revolution in progress that began 10,000 years ago.

To put GMOs in perspective, that beautiful organically grown heirloom tomato is a biologically distorted, genetically engineered product of human innovation derived from a small, hard, poisonous fruit created by nature. Virtually everything in your garden is the result of many hundreds of years of genetic tinkering through breeding, resulting in organisms that bear little resemblance to the native species, and which would not exist without human intervention.

It is amusing that the now popular “Paleo” (or Paleolithic) diet advocates eating food that did exist in the Paleolithic area, and that would be unrecognizable by our ancestors of that time.

There is a strong consensus in the scientific community that foods derived from GMOs are safe. Reports from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found that no adverse health effects attributed to GMOs have been documented in the human population. Moreover, they conclude that GMOs reduce the application of insecticides, the most dangerous herbicides and overall have fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-GMO crops produced conventionally. [...]

Seriously: check out the science magazines for yourself (e. g. Nature’s GMO issue)

El Nino: Australia is now saying that we’ll have a strong El Nino; this means that we (in Illinois) are likely to have a 1998 like winter. But time will tell.

Obamacare Perhaps there is some hope on the horizon?

The good news for Obamacare just keeps coming in. Via Charles Gaba, the Rand Survey — which was the subject of a report in the LA Times, but which wasn’t publicly available — is now in. And it says that as of mid-March — that is, before the final enrollment surge — the Affordable Care Act had already produced a net gain of 9.3 million insured adults. Again, that’s a net gain; so much for claims that more people are losing insurance than gaining it.

At least some Republicans are realizing that (a) the ACA is not going to collapse and (b) they can’t simply take away insurance from millions of Americans. So they have to come up with an alternative.

And as Sahil Kapur reports, at least a few of them are coming to a terrible realization: there is no alternative. You can’t just support the popular pieces of reform, in particular coverage for preexisting conditions, and scrap the rest. As Jonathan Gruber taught me, and I and others have said many times, reform is a three-legged stool that requires community rating, the individual mandate, and subsidies; take away any leg and it collapses. And Kapur finds a GOP aide who admits to the awful truth: any workable GOP plan would look pretty much the same as Obamacare.

I don’t know how many GOP leaders, as opposed to aides, understand this. And even those who do won’t dare to admit it. The party line, literally, has been that Obamacare is an unworkable monstrosity, and the base will destroy anyone who points out, this late in the game, that it’s both workable and pretty much the only doable alternative to single-payer.

My guess: the GOP will huddle and then say that THEY “forced President Obama to the center” by pointing to tweak x, y, or z….and take credit for what is basically…a Republican idea.

Ukraine: It might not be exactly like what some bloggers say (e. g. a Nazi like “rolling over Europe) but it is looking more and more that Russia will dominate Ukraine in one way or another; this, to my amateur eyes, looks more like a return to the old cold war USSR.

April 8, 2014 Posted by | health care, republicans, republicans politics, science, social/political, world events | , , , | Leave a comment

Life changes and running, walking and all that….

n-RUNNERS-large570

Ok, you know why I liked this photo. But this came with an article that said this:

A number of earlier studies have suggested that people who run more than 20 miles a week or at an average pace of 7.5 mph or faster are more likely to have shorter lifespans than those who run slower over shorter distances. In other words, when “increasing mileage and pace, the benefits of running seem to disappear,” cardiologist Martin Matsumara told The Huffington Post over the phone this week. “[These studies suggest that] running fast and far may be toxic to the heart in some way.”

But some running enthusiasts are skeptical. In 2012, for example, a writer for Runner’s World took issue with a study linking endurance running with reduced longevity by pointing out that the researchers had not considered other health factors — such as body mass index, smoking habits and hypertension — when making their conclusions.

A new study conducted by Dr. Matsumara, however, is now challenging this counter-argument.

Co-director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley Health Network, Matsumara said he wanted to find out if running farther and faster really causes people to not live as long, or if other factors are at play. “I wondered, is there something these high-mileage runners are doing that’s causing them to live shorter lives?” he said.

After looking at the backgrounds and habits of 3,800 runners, Matsumura said he didn’t find any evidence that high-mileage runners had particularly unique habits or troubling medical histories. In fact, other than how long or how far the runners ran, he said his team found no difference between those who ran longer and faster, and those who didn’t.

I don’t know if they corrected for personality; were type A people likely to train harder or to train more?

But my average training pace: nowhere near 7.5 miles per hour (8 minutes per mile); 10-11 would be more accurate.

But as to duration: yes, I used to walk ultra marathons. I haven’t in a while.

Right now, Potawatomi is going on (30, 50, 100, 150) and I am missing it…and really……do not miss it. I think that I am past the point of where I fit in; this is a multi loop course and in the last few times, I spent much of my time getting out of the way of others. My knee doesn’t react well to mud either.

I tend to do this: take a break from something I once avidly did. That applies to: yoga, (now not doing it), weight lifting (long break), swimming (hardly at all in 2013), distance walking (some; perhaps 15-20 miles per week, IF that) and running. And there was a time when I didn’t do 5K runs.

Not fitting in, part II
I help out at a program for new runners, but I don’t really fit in with the instructors.

One reason: I didn’t begin that way. I wanted to get in shape for sports. So I put on some gym shoes and ran. At first: not that far, but I stayed with it until I increased my distance.

The people I work with and many of the instructors simply aren’t like that…though some have gone on to do things like finish Ironman triathlons.

But they tell people things like “you are all athletes”; “you win by making it to the start line”, blah, blah….no one uses the word “slow” which, IMHO, is a perfectly good word to use.

What happens:

newbie is out there huffing and puffing. They exclaim: “I am so slow”.

Typical instructor: “no you aren’t! You’re doing AWEsome! You rock!”

Me: “right now, yes, but you’ll eventually improve if you are diligent.”

I don’t fit in. :-)

April 5, 2014 Posted by | big butts, running, science, social/political, walking | | 1 Comment

Big money, fragile egos, broken hearts and heart monitoring….

Workout notes I took it easy today; just 2200 yards (2000 m) of swimming:
warm up 250′s: 4 x 250 on the 5.
4 x (100 drill/swim with fins (fist drills, balance drills), 100 swim)
200 in 3:22 (I was hoping for faster)
100 back (fins)
50 fly kick
2 x 25 fly (no fins)

I moved the weight workout to tomorrow (after the on-campus 5K run)

Weather: cold, damp, dark…though it is supposed to clear up a bit tomorrow. Athletically: I fear that we’ll move from the 40′s to the 80′s in a week without time to adjust. I am going to have to do some of my running while overdressed.

Speaking of sports: those this “tape on” gadget is designed for health purposes, I can see coaches using it (is x mpm really your lactate threshold pace?).

Speaking of hearts: Yes, emotional trauma does take a physical toll; there is evidence for this in humans and other animals.

Blogging I did write last night, but not here. I wrote this. Though this math has been well known for a long time, it is very clever and relatively easy to implement.

But I have a few things to say today.

Money and politics Yes, the recent Supreme Court ruling allows for wealthy individuals to contribute to MORE people (it removes the cap one individual can give, though it leaves in place the amount that one can give DIRECTLY to a single campaign…of course there are ways of getting around this.

But this might encourage people to give directly to campaigns (where there is disclosure) instead of to the soft-money PACS (no disclosure required). This article is interesting, but my wild guess is that the very wealthy will merely do both.

Of course, those with power and influence want to keep using it without…well...meanies saying anything bad about them:

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page owns the deluded self-pitying billionaire screed genre, and today, it brings us Charles Koch. From the outside, Koch would appear to have it pretty good. He owns a vast fortune inherited in substantial part from his father. He commands enormous political influence, with hundreds of politicians and other political elites at his beck and call. But Koch’s view of himself is as a kind of ragtag freedom fighter hunted nearly to extinction.
Here is Koch attempting to explain the major source of his grievance:

Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.

So the trouble is that his critics attempt to “discredit” and “intimidate” him and employ “character assassination.” All these terms appear to be Koch synonyms for “saying things about Charles Koch that Charles Koch does not agree with.” In the kind of “free and open” debate he imagines, Koch would continue to use his fortune to wield massive political influence, and nobody would ever say anything about him that makes him unhappy.

Those damned peasants don’t know their place! :-) I suppose that when you are that rich, you can buy whatever you want. So what else is there except for…well…the public just adoring you?

Paul Krugman puts it very well:

But wait, there’s more. What I’ve been hearing from Koch defenders is that people like me have no standing to ridicule billionaires. You see, I sometimes say sarcastic things about the arguments of people who disagree with me, and even question their motives when they say things I consider obviously wrong. And that’s just like comparing such people to Hitler.

The thing is, I don’t think the crybaby thing is an act, put on for strategic purposes. I think it’s real. Billionaires really are feeling vulnerable despite their wealth and power, or perhaps because of it. And the apparatchiks serving the .01 percent are deeply insecure, culturally and intellectually, so that ridicule cuts deep.

It’s kind of sad, really – but also more than a bit scary: When great power goes along with fragile egos, seriously bad things can happen.

April 4, 2014 Posted by | health, science, SCOTUS, social/political, swimming | | Leave a comment

Blogging: light

I haven’t written much except to record my workouts…at least here. I did write this post yesterday (on my math blog).

I have followed some stories though.

Health care: Republicans are outraged that Obamacare is meeting enrollment targets. Uh, Republicans: this is your idea. Why not be happy that it appears to be working and that YOU suggested this idea a long time ago?

And yes, I love it when Paul Krugman gets grumpy.

We have some science too. There was a strong earthquake off of the coast of Chile which generated a tsunami. But due to early warning, many were able to evacuate; think of all of the lives that were saved. But…of course….when you hear a story like this, many people start talking about their deity performing magic tricks to save people, though they don’t use the term “magic”. Groan…

April 2, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, health care, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Nate Silver’s new website: growing pains….

Nate Silver’s new website 538.com has come under fire a bit.

First, let me tell you what I think the site does well: it made an early midterm election prediction which is grim for the Democrats. I am sad to say that I think it is an accurate prediction (well thought out, well analyzed). I have heard that there has been some criticism, but this sounds suspiciously like the type of “wishful thinking” we saw from Republicans in 2012. It honestly looks grim for us.

Where the criticism is

538 has a stated goal of doing “data driven journalism”. There are some problems inherent in this task.

1. Data takes a long time to gather and to properly analyze.
2. When one is talking about a highly technical area such as economics or science, having expertise in such fields is ESSENTIAL (non-negotiable) to using such data properly.
3. When you have claimed to make a data driven argument in a technical area, those who know what they are talking about will fact check you and find every possible hole in your argument.
4. If your goal is to provide a simplified presentation to the reader who doesn’t regularly read the specialized economics and science journals, you’ll end up making some simplifications and omissions and you’ll likely be taken to task for that.

However, I think that there is a place for what 538 is trying to do: it isn’t to compete with the experts (it can’t do that) or even with the science/technical magazines (it can’t do that either). But what it can do is to make the public aware of the general issues that the professionals ARE dealing with along with the data and perhaps whet the appetite for more. But it can’t compete with, say, Scientific American or the economics magazines.

For now, 538 is facing growing pains. Here is one response to the first attempts: it is brutal but raises fair points.

Here is a 538 article on the question: “has climate change contributed to the increased cost of the recent natural disasters”. I thought that the article was fine, as “food for thought.” But as to a definitive conclusion: no.l

Basically, the 538 article said that the growing expense of damage from things like hurricanes came mainly from the fact that there is now more to damage…at least for right now. And yes, as of this moment, via the NOAA:

It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet properly modeled (e.g., aerosol effects).

I think that the 538 article was trying to make that point. But 538 is listening to the criticism.

Personally: I find the idea interesting and I’ll continue to read the site regularly. However I am not looking to the site for answers but rather to see what is being talked about and what metrics are being discussed.

March 28, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, economics, media, politics, science | , | Leave a comment

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