Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Print Media Dying? Careful, It's a Trick Question.

This Graph Is Disastrous for Print and Great for Facebook—or the Opposite!

Quote of the Day

Writer Aaron Sorkin on the problems and the approach to writing a Steve Job's screen play:
"[Jobs] is an extremely complicated guy, that I know that for sure. Mark Zuckerberg is an extremely complicated guy as well. As little as I know about the Steve Jobs movie, I know this for sure: I can't judge the character. He has to, for me, be a hero. I have to find the parts of him that are like me. I have to be able to defend this character. With someone like Steve Jobs, to put it as simply as possible, you want to write the character as if they are making the case to God why they should be allowed into heaven."
As that is why God and heaven are important.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Craziness of Soccer II

Double Hmm…. The original video is now unavailable so I replaced it with these two.


Criminals—smart or dumb?

There's plenty of evidence on how dumb criminals are, but there is also evidence that some are smart. If you want to steal money, it's smart to go to where there's a lot it—the federal government.
The criminals, some of them former drug dealers, outwit the Internal Revenue Service by filing a return before the legitimate taxpayer files. Then the criminals receive the refund, sometimes by check but more often though a convenient but hard-to-trace prepaid debit card. 
Now, if everyone refused to give the government a no interest loan, then tax refunds would be so rare that the Treasury Dept. could investigate each one. So I guess criminals don't have to be that smart—just smarter than the rest of us.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Our wobbling morality

Experiments suggest our morality is very dependent on circumstances, ritual, and other people.

Ericsson Put to the Test

Tourist in NYC:  Officer, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?
Police Officer:  Practice, practice, practice.

Everyone assumes that Einstein, Beethoven and Michael Jordan achieved remarkable success because of some genetic advantage they had over other people.  K. Anders Ericsson, psychologist at Florida State University, has different ideas.  He says that talent is not born but made, and is more the result of an investment of effort.  Other factors are at work as well, such as supportive environments and skilled mentors.

Ericsson says, however, that not just any kind of effort produces extraordinary talent; rather you must be engaged in what he calls deliberate practice.  Haphazard effort won't do.  Deliberate practice is activity that is designed to improve performance, that is, it reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.  In fact, Ericsson claims that 10, 000 hours of deliberate practice will make anyone an expert in any field.

Now someone has stepped forward to put Ericsson's theory to the test. Dan McLaughlin, a photographer of dental equipment who had never before completed a game of golf, has decided to take up Ericsson's challenge.  With the help of a professional coach, he is intent on spending 10, 000 hours of deliberative golf practice.  His goal:  becoming one of the roughly 250 men on the PGA Tour.  It should take him about six years.  See 10,000 Hours To Golf Stardom.

In any event, however it comes out, we will soon know whether it's genetics or effort that makes expertise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Social media is making us more… tolerant

All this social media and the internet is definitely making us more something. Our activities have dramatically changed. Not since TV or the automobile has culture been so modified. I'm not sure it is making us more lonely, but I do think it is making us more tolerant. We are constantly confronted with characters we would never come across in real life—often a good thing. While I have spent years wondering how people could be so ignorant or so hopelessly non self-aware, I now just chalk it up to being a bit too high on their current 15-minute crisis. They will probably have a regretful hangover in the morning, but undoubtedly do it all again. On the other hand we are confronted by writers who are far better in their expression than we could ever hope to be. We end up being more tolerant of others and ourselves.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Successful Launch

I'm not sure how much news coverage this received, but the successful launch (unlike Korea and Blizzard) of SpaceX's Falcon 9, whose mission is to dock and bring supplies to the international space station, is amazing in so many ways. Here is the video.

Some thoughts:
• The public commentary during the launch seems more human than NASA. Is that because of lack of military influence?
• While this is reported as a private enterprise, there is so much cooperation and dependency on the U.S. government, NASA, and other governments that is seems to herald a new era where private enterprise and government are much more intertwined than in the past. The infrastructure in some industries is so great that government needs to be intimately involved. Perhaps the economies of the U.S. and China will not be so different in the future.
• Why the constant use of the word 'nominal'? Do they really know what that means? (Some antonyms are 'real', and 'significant'.) Or is there a special new meaning for 'nominal' for space flights?
• Why do they launch at sea level? It seems it would be much cheaper to launch from a higher place.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trip to PA

Nice work Renee et al. I am assuming you will be using that hard earned money to take us out to dinner this coming weekend.

Megan, Jack and I are heading down to PA this Memorial Day weekend. We are taking our leisurely time, stopping and seeing many of the great sights along route 84 in CT and the PA turnpike. For Myk and Sue and anyone else in the Harrisburg region, we will probably be stopping in either Hershey, Harrisburg or Carlisle (depending on Jack's napping at the time) sometime in either late morning or early afternoon this Saturday. That's about as detailed as I can get. Maybe we will see you Saturday. (We will be in Pittsburgh Sat. night, Sunday and Monday)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The contest results were revealed today. And Renée ended up splitting the prize money with another contestant, but it turned out fine (note the picture)The next dilemma is figuring out how not to split the money with the school.  Thanks everyone your votes and support!

Stealing from the Pirates

The other day Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander no hit the Pirates for 8 innings only to have it broken up in the ninth by Josh Harrison. Today Max Scherzer struck out 15 Pirates (in 7 innings), one shy of Mickey Lolich's Detroit record of 16. Stephen Strasburg of Washington has struck out 27 Pirates in 13 innings pitched.

I think records against the Pirates during their 19 consecutive losing seasons should go down in the record books with a asterisk—like drug use or a longer season.

Friday, May 18, 2012

quote of the day

Two friends, Umberto Eco, novelist, scholar, philosopher and self-declared secularist, and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a churchman who at one time was in line to be pope, have maintained a lively, sometimes confrontational, but always respectful correspondence.   The following is from one of Eco's letters to Martini published in Cross Currents.

But you say that, without the example and the word of Christ, all lay ethics would lack a basic justification imbued with an ineluctable power of conviction. Why deprive laypersons of the right to avail themselves of the example of a forgiving Christ? Try, Carlo Maria Martini, for the good of the discussion and of the dialogue in which you believe, to accept even if only for a moment the idea that there is no God; that man appeared in the world out of a blunder on the part of maladroit fate, delivered not only unto his mortal condition but also condemned to be aware of this, and for this reason the most imperfect of all creatures (if I may be permitted the echoes of Leopardi in this suggestion). This man, in order to find the courage to await death, would necessarily become a religious animal, and would aspire to the construction of narratives capable of providing him with an explanation and a model, an exemplary image. And among the many stories he imagines—some dazzling, some awe-inspiring, some pathetically comforting—in the fullness of time he has at a certain point the religious, moral, and poetic strength to conceive the model of Christ, of universal love, of forgiveness for enemies, of a life sacrificed that others may be saved. If I were a traveler from a distant galaxy and I found myself confronted with a species capable of proposing this model, I would be filled with admiration for such theogonic energy, and I would judge this wretched and vile species, which has committed so many horrors, redeemed were it only for the fact that it has managed to wish and to believe that all this is the truth.

You are now free to leave the hypothesis to others: but admit that even if Christ were only the subject of a great story, the fact that this story could have been imagined and desired by humans, creatures who know only that they do not know, would be just as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the son of a real God’s being made flesh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quote of the Day

Concerning the May 15 launch, after 6 years in the making, of Diablo III when apparently many were thwarted by Diablo's minion, Error 3007:  "We've seen North Korea have better launches."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Craziness of Soccer

Not sure if anybody has been following the premier league this year but it has been one crazy season.Today the season ended in one of the most dramatic finishes that the league has ever seen with Manchester City finishing first over rivals Manchester United on goal differential.   This is the first time this has happened in the Premier League era and if that wasn't enough the way that Man City won their last game was nothing short of a miracle. 

Despite all the twists and turns during the season the championship would come down to the final day. Going into today both Manchesters were tied with 86 points and Man U had a goal differential of 55 and Man City with one of 63 so all Man City had to do was win and they would win their first title in 44 years, finishing above their hated rivals across town Man U nonetheless. Many people expected them to win but not in the way they did it.  I believe this short video of highlights will show you what i mean.
and here's one with the winning goal with a bit more emotion...
 and if this doesn't give you chills i don't know what will

I think showing the fans is the best because it really is ecstasy to agony to ecstasy and of course they have to storm the field afterwards:

I was lucky enough to watch this game at 10am this morning with an Australian exchange student and i will probably never forget the finish, with the stakes as high as they were it was nothing short of incredible.  It reminded me why i fell in love with this game in the first place, you think you've seen it all and then something like this happens, it just goes to show why its the most popular sport in the world.  Also this game sets it up nicely for the Euros which start in mid-June in Ukraine and Poland which should be fantastic as well.  Watch them if you can find time

Friday, May 11, 2012

Homeopathic Medicine at Work

Wonder the progression of Jobs' cancer had he not done this for 9 months.

Religious movies

Somehow The Ten Commandments came up after we saw The Avengers last weekend. It was the special effects champion of its time. I was a bit older than the 'younger boys' when it came out so it was always extraordinarily cheesy to me, but, at least for a few years, it was spectacular for them. By chance I have seen three decent religious movies recently, a genre I would not normally recommend.

The first one you all know: The Tree of Life. Critics loved it as did many others. James loved it and we corresponded briefly about it. The small parts I liked; the grand parts not so much. But enough has been written about it that I needn't add to it. It is worth watching.

The next film I liked better: Higher Ground. It stars and is directed by Vera Farmiga. It is not the type of movie I would normally like, a woman's spiritual struggle with her faith. Plus, you will not find the pace of the Avengers. However, I found it extraordinary.

The last film I liked best of all: Adam's Apples. It did not receive great critical reviews. It is a Danish film which is classified as a comedy, but defies category. It is clear from some critics that everyone will not like this movie, but I found that every time I questioned the movie, it would squirm away in a new direction.

Oddly, often the key to a good religious movie is that it doesn't preach. You needn't worry about any of these three.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The picture of relativity

Guess what the bluish globe represents? (It is a sphere of water.)

Here is the surprising answer.

Hoisted by your own petard

Censorship always carries baggage. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wanted to clarify Iran's policy on journalists having access to uncensored web sites.
Khamenei, according to a translation by RFE [Radio Free Europe], replied: "In general, the use of antifiltering software is subject to the laws and regulations of the Islamic republic, and it is not permissible to violate the law." However, his own use of the word “antifiltering” apparently triggered Iran’s own filtering system, making Khamenei’s words inaccessible to most Iranians.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Republicans and Religion

I happened to see an article in the March and April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs called “God and Caesar in America: Why Mixing Religion and Politics Is Bad for Both.”  Find it here.  Authors Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and David E. Campbell of Notre Dame explain in the article that the identification of religion with Republican politics in this country is a relatively new development.  In the 1960s, regular churchgoers were actually more likely than nonchurchgoers to be Democrats. As Putnam and Campbell point out, even into the 1980s, there were still plenty of progressives in the pews on Sunday morning and plenty of conservatives who stayed home.

Somehow or other, over time religion became identified with conservative politics.  In the last election it was much more likely that, if you were a churchgoer, you voted for McCain.  Curiously, this trend is not due to religious people or secularists switching parties.  Rather, as religious polling shows, formerly religious Democrats (except African Americans) are leaving their religion, and formerly unobservant Republicans are finding God.  What Putnam and Campbell discovered is that today religion doesn’t dictate your politics; your politics dictate your religion.

The irony here is that the evangelicals are victims – as so many of us are – of the doctrine of unintended consequences.   They set out to gain converts but, by identifying Christianity with political conservatism, they ended up driving people away from the fold.  From 1989 to the present, polls show that the percentage of those who say that they are not affiliated with any religion has more than doubled from about 7% to 15 %.  (In the 60’s only two percent of people polled said that they belonged to no religion.)  Most of the defections are from Democrats who hear a message from religion that is increasingly hostile to their own political views.  As Putnam and Campbell put it:  many of those who “might otherwise attend religious services are saying, ‘Well, if religion is just about conservative politics, then I'm outta here.’”  Indeed, “[t]o them, ‘religion’ means ‘Republican,’ ‘intolerant,’ and ‘homophobic.’ Since those traits do not represent their views, they do not see themselves – or wish to be seen by their peers – as religious.”

Evidence of this trend showed up in some recent conversations with my own kids.  Not too long ago, I was discussing Jesus Christ Superstar with Ellen.  I was telling her that I’ve been listening to the recoding since I was in high school and I still find it moving.  Ellen, however, complained that her friends are surprised and even a bit dismayed that she listens to it at all.  They wonder why would anyone want to listen to a “Christian” musical?  She lamented that all her efforts to convince them otherwise fall on deaf ears.  Ellen didn’t say this, but I suppose that her friends were convinced that Jesus Christ Superstar is “Republican,” “intolerant,” and “homophobic,” simply due to its subject matter.

And then recently, Tom met the minister we’ve managed to get on-board for his wedding.  This fellow is an old friend of mine and a good Presbyterian who was very much involved in anti-poverty efforts back in the 80’s.  Anyway, we all talked over lunch, which included some discussion of religion and politics as well as the wedding service.  Afterward, Tom said to me, “That’s so weird: a liberal minister.”

I was also reminded of the dramatic change since my younger days when I recently heard a radio interview with William O'Rourke, another academic from Notre Dame, who just published the 40th edition of The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left.  It’s actually an incredible story about nothing much (almost perfect for “This American Life,” but that will have to wait for another blog effort).  I mention it because I was struck by the title.  When was the last time anyone was identified as “the Catholic Left?”

I guess what bothers me is this:  why are we letting our opponents determine our own religious practices?   Why do they get to define Christianity?  I say that it’s high time for good Democrats to return to their houses of worship.  By walking out, they left the conservatives in charge and free to distort Christianity in some pretty horrifying ways.  Recall Woody Allen’s well-known line:  “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up.”  (Not that a purely Democratic church would be any closer to the truth – when you find yourself staring into the heart of the Mysterium Tremendum, words like “liberal” and “conservative” cease to have much meaning.)

I’m reminded of the climactic scene in Bend It Like Beckham, when Jess’ father finally comes around and supports her decision to play soccer.  He points out the mistake of his accepting the judgment of others:

When those bloody English cricket players threw me out of their club like a dog, I never complained. On the contrary, I vowed that I would never play again. Who suffered? Me. But I don't want Jess to suffer. I don't want her to make the same mistakes her father made, accepting life, accepting situations. I want her to fight. And I want her to win.

When we let the political right define Christianity, who suffers?  For one, we do.  We deprive ourselves of the riches of a religious tradition which reaches back two millennia.  Christianity also loses its luster and for that the world suffers.  Religion is far too important to be left in the hands of a few narrow-minded Republicans.    

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Farting is Bad

Or how to get read as a scientist.

Library Books

On Saturday, Cinco de Mayo, or, more importantly, Francis' birthday—he's a teenager, one of three in their house, I got to celebrate the birthday in Highland Park. Of the many things we did (including seeing the most popular weekend movie of all time), one was a small discussion on digital books. Lisa mentioned that she wished you could lend digital books to a friend the same as tree based books. Unfortunately, the conversation drifter to other things. So much to cover with so little time.

There are interesting digital rights issues here. You could imagine one copy of the next great American novel™ being sold once and everyone having a copy—something music and film publishers believe is practically happening now. Although, they still set week-end sales records.

Law is pretty much making common behavior consistent and, with books, we have a long tradition of sharing a book after we have read it. Even beyond this, we have institutionalized this process through public libraries. They buy one copy of the book and then continually lend it out. Some others have been thinking like Lisa. They are starting a movement to create a digital library. This has just begun so there barely is an organization yet, but the possibilities are interesting.

How would such a library work? Do libraries have digital collections now? Should they keep the same model where only one person could have access to a digital book at a time?
Publisher Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media played the print industry’s white knight at the DPLA’s [Digital Public Library of America] conference, explaining to the audience how his company adapted to the prevalence of on-demand information. "We’ve insisted from the beginning that our books be DRM {Digital Rights Management] free," He insisted to applause.
How could DRM free digital books work, especially in a library?

Practically all the problems in this world could be solved, if we (scientists? psychologists?) could figure out how Lisa thinks. Of all the complaints I've heard people make about digital books, or anything for that matter, I'm not sure I've ever heard one that focuses on, not one's self, but on helping someone else.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tropical Storm Lee

I've been meaning to do this for some time now, but here are some of our photos taken following Tropical Storm Lee last September.  And, yes,  that is water you are looking at.  

By the way, the Susquehanna River crested at 25.17 feet, the 5th highest level since records have been kept.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Renée, Francis, and Michael have created a video for a contest. If their video gets the most votes, a reward will be given. Watch for the video here! Click on 6-9 grade entries and the video is under Pittsburgh Obama, Renee Eddy Harvey, Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine. After you watch the video, make sure you vote for it!

Update: Moved to the 10-12 grade section found on the second page.  View Here.  Vote Here.

Revisited: Feelings have disappeared from human experience

It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling. And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did.
—John Fowles
If you forget the excellent conversation on the blog, you can find it here.

It was raining today and, as hundreds of cars splashed by, I thought of another feeling that for many has died out: The unique joy of playing in the puddles as you walk to school in the rain.

I don't mean this to be commentary—just funny—but I thought this would be an appropriate time to add this picture:

Just to ensure that I'm only presenting this American life and not commentary, I'll add another feeling that many will never feel—that bitter hatred of their mother when forced to wear boots when walking to school in the rain.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

MLB's geography problems

I asked this question at a hockey game, but I got my sports mixed up. So everyone but Dave has a shot at this. The Pirates are in the Central Division, but Pittsburgh is farther east then 40% of the teams in the Eastern Division. What two National League Eastern Division cities are farther west than Pittsburgh?