Friday, December 28, 2012

Merry Christmas from Ireland

John, David, Peter, Kathleen, Clemént, Jordon, Patricia and William

Peter, John, Patricia, David, William, Mary, Tom,Kathleen, Clemént, Jordon and Luke

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wright's Law

Dear Mrs Chown, Ignore your son's attempts to teach you physics. Physics isn't the most important thing. Love is.

Best wishes, Richard Feynman.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

One of the more interesting gift catalogues we received

This is from Peter (not the founder of this blog, but the one with the same name), who  claims these are pages from a catalogue Lisa found while shopping in a discount mall. (Click on each image to view it full size.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Geography of Gun Violence

The Newtown shooting has occasioned endless features and articles on gun violence and gun control.  While I'm not sure that anything can be done to stop a mass killer intent on carrying our his mission, our murder rate is off the charts -- as Jim has pointed out.  Using 2009 data, we have a gun homicide rate that is is some 15 times greater than the combined homicide rates of 22 other high income countries.  That's just crazy and, if a mass killing generates a discussion about that, I'm not not complaining.

The frenzy is such that even old articles are being dredged up.  I saw an article originally published in January 2011, after the Tucson, Arizona shootings:  The Geography of Gun Deaths.  It compared the firearm deaths -- accidental, homicide and suicide -- for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.   Here's a map showing the comparison:  

Then, came the interesting part.  As the author, Richard Florida states:

With these data in hand, I decided to look at the factors associated with gun deaths at the state level. With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, we charted the statistical correlations between firearm deaths and a variety of psychological, economic, social, and political characteristics of states. As usual, I point out that correlation does not imply causation, but simply points to associations between variables.

First of all, let's look at the factors that do not correlate with gun death rates:  rates of unemployment, illegal drug use, stress,  neuroticism, mental illness and population.  

Now, what are the factors which can be assocaited with high gun death rates?  The factor with the highest correlation to gun deaths was which candidate carried your state in 2008.  If your state went for Obama, breathe a sigh of relief; there are not many gun deaths in your state.  Be concerned, however, if it went for McCain.   Also, if your looking for safety, pick a state with a high immigrant population.  A high immigrant population had a high correlation to low gun death rates.   Also, look for a state with a lot of college graduates.   Anyway, here's the complete graph.  You can see for yourself.  


Monday, December 17, 2012

It's the news, again

In Progress typically has a unique perspective on events. I don't want to add more to the cascade of reporting and opinions on the tragedy of Newtown, CT. Kottke has abstracts and links to an incredible amount of thoughtful writing.

I'll only add a couple of quick comments. First, Tom, before he left for Ireland, was upstairs packing and heard me say that I doubted even this tragedy would budge Obama and congress to enact more strict gun control. When he came down he said imaginatively that it is more likely that the response, especially from the gun lobby, would be: we need to pass legislation to arm teachers with hand guns.

Secondly, why is this news? It is not because it is unusual for 26 people to be killed by gun shots in a day. In 2011 there were 8,583 deaths from guns in the U.S. That averages, over a 365 day year, to about 24 a day, so this was a pretty average day. It's just that it coincidentally happened in just one spot.

Friday, December 14, 2012

NASA Working on Warp Drive

NASA is currently working on a warp drive -- thanks to recent work by physicists Miguel Alcubierre and Harold White. Once developed, we could be in Alpha Centauri in two weeks tops. See How NASA might build its very first warp drive. For the more technicially minded, here is White's paper:  Warp Field Mechanics 101.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas songs

On the subject of Christmas songs here's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" with a little bit of a different twist to it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Creepy Christmas Song

It seems that everywhere I turn these days someone is writing about the song, "Baby It's Cold Outside."  The song is a duet sung as a conversation: one party to the exchange is bent on seduction while the other resists. The song was first presented to the public in the 1949 motion picture, Neptune's Daughter. The film actually featured two performances of the song: one by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams and the other by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. It won the Academy Award for best song that year.

The problem is that in this time of date rape and Rohypnol, some question the appropriateness of the song, especially at Christmas time.  After all, the woman protests, "I simply must go", "The answer is no", "I've got to go home", and the guy persists -- exactly the opposite of what they teach you in the workplace harassment seminars.   And he uses every weapon in the arsonal:  appeals to her safety and well-being, flattery and utltimately guilting her ("What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?" "How can you do this thing to me?").  And the "Say, what's in this drink?" line has its own obvious problems. 

Stephen Deusner of Salon doesn't approve. Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a date-rape anthem? Alyssa Broda of PolicyMic says This Song is About Sexual Harassment. And Eleanor Barkhorn and Ashley Fetters of The Atlantic want to re-write the lyrics.  How to Redeem 'Baby, It's Cold Outside': Fix the Lyrics.

Well, in spite of it all, it's a pretty clever song -- and you can decide for yourself if it's creepy or not.  Is she putting up a token protest, or does she really want to leave?

First, here are the two versions from Neptune's Daughter:

And a more recent version from Glee:

And, finally, if you just want the lyrics:  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

More Things You Shouldn't Teach Your Children

In a previous post I offered the view that the sad state of religion today has been severely abetted, if not principally caused, by teaching religion to children. I want to expand that to other areas.

It's not unusual to spread lies to our children in many areas, but typically they are corrected when the child becomes an adult. From Santa, to George W. never telling a lie, to Columbus discovering America, we later teach them the fine distinctions of what first was presented as simple truth.

The reason religion is such a problem area is that, while we may take advance math or history, ninety-nine per cent of us never take advanced religion. As I said earlier, we get stuck with the child view.

But while it is pervasive in things religious, it causes problems in other subjects too. Unless you are a college physics major, you most likely have not been taught, and will not be taught any physics that has been developed since 1865! Yes, 1865. Imagine all the lies this fills us with. Thank goodness this is not true for other areas of science.

For example, were you taught that gravity was a force of attraction between the masses of different objects? I was. Do you believe it still? It's a lie; a popular misconception. The problem, again, is that we don't teach the adult version because…well, I'm not sure why…perhaps, like religion, it would be too difficult, or that many aren't interested.

No serious scientist believes gravity is based on mass. You can easily grasp that the notion is silly when you think about gravity's affect on light. Everyone knows about light and black holes; but light has no mass. Actually the source of gravity, at least as we understand it today, is not mass, but energy and momentum. Newton's Law of Gravitation is just an approximation. It's 'good enough' for most purposes. But it helps to have the 'adult' versions of things.

OK, the title of this post is a child's view of the subject. We can't really stop teaching children childish things, but we should try not to teach them things that are flatly wrong without continually reminding them with every lesson:
"This is not exactly right. It's wrong, but it's somewhat understandable. Hopefully, you can use it. Build on it. But, most importantly, continue to discover all the wrongness in it, and correct it. Whatever you do, don't believe it as gospel."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Traveling Upstream

Shane Carruth is the man behind the world's most complicated film, Primer. It's a movie that fascinates even when you haven't the foggiest of what's going on. After a few viewings you get the impression that time travel may be involved, that time travel is as addictive as crack, and that a lot of characters are walking around with similar names and faces. Unfortunately, something this complex is often seen as either an intelligence test or the emperor's new clothes. But that was 2004; now is 2012. Carruth is now moving Upstream Color. And it's coming to Sundance.

If that teaser (NOT a trailer) means anything to you, you may not be tethered properly.

Of course the whole movie may not add a lot of clarity, if Primer is any indication. I'm excited though. And it comes from my daily perusal of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. I can tell you that:
Within the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry, there are many process streams that require purification by some means or another. Typically, this requires that a specific impurity is removed or that a range of impurities are eliminated. In the latter case, these impurities are never fully characterized and are generally called color-species. 

In all cases, the color is regarded as an impurity that must be removed in order to avoid any adverse quality problems downstream with the final pharmaceutical product. The removal of upstream color also serves to improve the resin lifetime of expensive chromatography media that is used in downstream purification.
Feel better now?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Finding Fault with God

It's nice to see that other mainstream media, aside from In Progress, attempts to venture beyond childhood notions of religion. Yoram Hazony, a Jewish Philosopher, writes a nice piece in the New York Times. This statement may be part of our mythical canon:
The belief that any human mind can grasp enough of God to begin recognizing perfections in him would have struck the biblical authors as a pagan conceit.
I found that Hazony's explanation on the pitfalls of perfection called to mind the first episode of "The Hermeneutics of Wishes" where I quote William James and call it the Incompatibility Principle. (shameless plug: There is still time to enjoy the six part series.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Amazing Science

I know some people are interested in this, especially John, so here is an amazing article about amazing science.