Introductory note: I wrote this homage to a beloved teacher, Miss Carter, some time ago and set it aside. I came across it yesterday and reread it. I found a burning need to reset its context in light of current events. It thus reaches an inflection point and takes a sharp, negative turn, like our failing nation.
It was the era when erasers had to be clapped and blackboards washed. First thing every morning we recited the Lord’s Prayer and read a Psalm. It was the 1955-56 academic year at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I was in 7th grade. We had a class quaintly called “unified studies.” All I remember, though, is that we learned English. Our teacher that year was Miss Carter. She had gray hair and was older than my parents, so she qualified in my book as old – probably mid 50’s. She was what we called an “old maid” and she lived with Miss Neff a fellow maiden teacher. We and the times were sufficiently innocent back then that I do not recall any speculation whatever as to their sexual orientation; in those days there were only two sexes. They were both respected, indeed beloved teachers; strict disciplinarians, to boot.... [Read More]
Over many years of intermittently reading various medical journals I began to notice that the arguments in favor of public health measures were often based solely on society-wide benefits. The effects are usually small on an individual basis and only matter when applied to a large population. As reported in the popular press, the recommendations are simplified to do this because it will make you live longer.
The arguments in the journals tend to go like this:... [Read More]
In the latter part of the 1980s, the preeminent buzzwords in marketing were “digital”, prompted in particular by the compact disc as a music format, and “turbo”, from the exhaust-powered gizmos auto manufacturers began to use to get more zip out of tiny (compared to V-8s of a few years before) engines. This resulted in these adjectives being plastered on products which had nothing whatsoever to do with either digital technology or turbocharging. In the software world Borland International had a whole line of products called “Turbo Pascal”, “Turbo C”, etc., and “digital” showed up on boxes containing things whose only connection with the word was that they could be operated by fingers. I especially remember ridiculously overpriced “digital speaker cables” which claimed they could better cope with the sound of compact discs.
Well, not to be left behind, I created my own logo in PostScript and started putting it on all of my software projects.... [Read More]
Memorial Day Weekend – a time to honor and remember the troops, and take a break from the daily routine. And what better more cost-effective way to take a break than by diving into a great book for only $0.99!
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I don’t know about you, but there are some things that touched me in my life, some things in the digital world, some things that were shared or received in an email . Yep most were discarded with the logic that ten thousand angels on the head of a pin won’t help me if I don’t forward this to ten other people….
I’m a “visual” type of person, I can visualize results of a project before it’s even begun. A lot of the things I saved were images or clever sayings, but some were purely text…
Yesterday I learned a new thing about sex: the ZW sex determination system. Everyone knows about the XY system: the girls have XX and the boys have XY chromosomes. In college we used James D. Watson’s Molecular Biology of the Gene (2nd ed.). The book is currently in its 7th edition. Early in the text, there’s a section entitled “Chromosomal Determination of Sex” from which I’ve reproduced (pun intended) the page below. Species as disparate as humans, fruit flies (Drosophila), and some plants use the XY system. I figured that’s all there was to it, aside from plants, since that’s all Mr. Watson had to say on the subject. If you already know all about the ZW system, accept my apologies, feel free to congratulate yourself on your erudition, and move on to a different post.
Before beginning, I want to recommend another excellent piece by VDH, whose title employs an apt medical metaphor and whose text describes the painful realities of our current status, while putting them in historical context.
Judging by some of my family members’ reactions to the latest massaged ‘news’ of Trump’s musings regarding disinfectants, I am fearing for the prospects of his reelection. Immersed as they are in 14.7 psi column of legacy propaganda molecules (like the atmosphere it pervades everything, it extends from the surface of the Earth to outer space) [actually, their frantic subterfuges render our environment more like a hyperbaric chamber of air-fluid venom aimed at infusing our very bones], my family are more negative than usual about Trump. Rather than debate them – politics, like religion, is generally not amenable to persuasion – I am focused on what Trump ought to be saying; I am asking what would a real leader say to the public? It is less my enthusiasm for him than my terror at the election of a Dem which is at work here.... [Read More]
All of us are focused on Covid-19, aka SARS – CoV2 and anxiously awaiting its complete characterization. As with prior diseases, giving it a name has always been important to its understanding and treatment. Nowadays, even this is made controversial, with a hidden purpose, as it turns out. Previously and uncontroversially, viral diseases were named for the region in which they first arose or were recognized. e.g. West Nile Virus, Ebola Virus, Zika, Spanish Flu, Coxsackie.
Now, however, rather than discussing what we do not know and what we urgently need to find out, we are regaled with lectures about the impropriety of unfairly stigmatizing China. That, we are told, is more important than learning facts about the illness or its spread (but not as important as criticizing Trump). In point of fact, it is very likely that the totalitarian Chinese government, as is the wont of dictatorships everywhere and at all times, has stigmatized itself through the propaganda and misinformation it continues to spread about the origin and dissemination of this disease. Were so-called ‘wet markets’ operant in the United States, the “media” horde would descend upon them (in hazmat suits) like flies on dung; the markets and bat smoothies would be outlawed by executive order. ‘No need to wait for legislation’, would spout the approving media. Any practice deemed ‘dangerous’ by them must be outlawed immediately!... [Read More]
Scientific models can be useful in understanding complex phenomena and to make predictions. All is well so long as everyone, modelers and users, understand the limitations of the model. It all goes wrong when the modelers become enamored of their models or the users treat the model as gospel, or both.
This drama is playing out on a global scale under the WuFlu panic of 2020.* Imperial College (London) epidemiologist Neil Ferguson predicted† about 500,000 deaths in Great Britain, which was scaled to 2.2 million deaths in the US. The UK and US political leadership were using this model to make policy decisions on March 16:... [Read More]
The nature of time has perplexed philosophers and scientists from the ancient Greeks (and probably before) to the present day. Despite two and half millennia of reflexion upon the problem and spectacular success in understanding many other aspects of the universe we inhabit, not only has little progress been made on the question of time, but to a large extent we are still puzzling over the same problems which vexed thinkers in the time of Socrates: Why does there seem to be an inexorable arrow of time which can be perceived in physical processes (you can scramble an egg, but just try to unscramble one)? Why do we remember the past, but not the future? Does time flow by us, living in an eternal present, or do we move through time? Do we have free will, or is that an illusion and is the future actually predestined? Can we travel to the past or to the future? If we are typical observers in an eternal or very long-persisting universe, why do we find ourselves so near its beginning (the big bang)?
Indeed, what we have learnt about time makes these puzzles even more enigmatic. For it appears, based both on theory and all experimental evidence to date, that the microscopic laws of physics are completely reversible in time: any physical process can (and does) go in both the forward and reverse time directions equally well. (Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that: just reversing the direction of time does not yield identical results, but simultaneously reversing the direction of time [T], interchanging left and right [parity: P], and swapping particles for antiparticles [charge: C] yields identical results under the so-called “CPT symmetry” which, as far is known, is absolute. The tiny violation of time reversal symmetry by itself in weak interactions seems, to most physicists, inadequate to explain the perceived unidirectional arrow of time, although some disagree.)... [Read More]
During all of recorded history, until quite recently, life was far more difficult than it has been for us and the past few generations. Previously, human life had been noted as “nasty, brutish and short”. Being largely ahistorical as a culture, such thoughts, of late, have been generally avoided. Of course, there are many ways to broadly characterize the various facets of our recent lives in what I call ‘modernity’ for want of a better term, but Covid-19 suggests we consider one particular attribute of our present culture: excess. From a world history of pervasive scarcity, in the 20th century we emerged into one of plenty; sufficiency was supplanted by distribution as the predominant societal issue when it comes to ‘stuff’. “Distributive justice” emerged as a rallying cry along with the vocation of social justice warriors. I allude to the dogmatic nature of such folks by observing that the words, distributive justice, became flesh of SJW’s. Worse for our moral character, (those who dared speak of traditional morals were promptly marginalized with ad hominem attacks) our astounding material wellbeing was promptly pocketed and led to new mantras: ‘I am entitled’, ‘more’; ‘what’s next?’ Nothing exemplified such excess like a visit to Las Vegas; at least that was true until a few weeks ago. Further, ‘excess’ encapsulates the intersection (to borrow a term) of most if not all the (all-but-forgotten) seven deadly sins. If spoken of at all, such ideas were considered quaint or fanatical.
Various facets of human existence lend themselves to description on a range or spectrum whose extremes characterize the range. “On the spectrum”, in common usage, refers to the range of behaviors of Asberger’s Syndrome, from interactive with others to non-responsive. Other examples: idealist – pragmatist; materialist – spiritualist; progressive – conservative; statist – libertarian; religious – secular; ideologue – relativist; etc. All these are general and may be vague or subject to wide interpretation – or disputed unto oblivion by dismissive sophists. That does not vitiate their utility, however. Although distilled by many cultures, Christianity condensed certain polarities of human nature (even if one denies moral standing to these, as a practical matter we tend get on better with each other if we generally eschew these motives when we act) – certain ideals jelled into a moral code of actions to be avoided – listed as the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. As we respond to Covid-19, it seems timely to consider the scale of our recent hedonism vs. its opposite, asceticism; otherwise put – Las Vegas vs. Trappist Monastery. Hedonism, like excess, can be seen as encompassing an element of most every sin; asceticism can be seen as an earnest (or excessive) effort to avoid them.... [Read More]
Models are judged by their predictive skill. During today’s COVID-19 press briefing,* Dr. Birx presented the latest modeling that is informing decisions at the federal level. The model makes specific predictions about the number of deaths expected under the current “full mitigation” scheme. Within about two weeks, deaths are predicted to peak at 2.2k per day and it should be clear if the model has predictive value or not. The advantage to using deaths instead of confirmed cases is that the latter are subject to testing bias; corpses are easier to count.
This graph plots the number of deaths per day (vertical scale: each division is 500) versus date (February 1 through August 1). Click on the graph for a full size version. The area under the graph is the cumulative (total) number of expected deaths. The dashed curve is labeled as “projected,” which I take to be the principal prediction within the wider band of uncertainty. The projected curve is approximated by
\(deaths per day=120(x-3.5)^4 exp[ -4(x-3.5) ]\).
The total number of deaths obtained by integrating under the curve is about 90k, which is in good agreement with an eyeball estimate. The lower and upper bounds are 40k and 140k, respectively.... [Read More]
Today, President Trump extended the federally recommended period for isolation against the Wuhan virus until the end of April. In light of that extension, I’d like to share some personal, practical knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.
Ten years ago, I actively sought out a low-tech, hands-on hobby – something that I could do to fully unwind from a stressful day working in I.T.. I eventually settled on baking bread. Two years into that hobby, I grew and used my first sourdough culture. I have never looked back.... [Read More]