Friday, August 19, 2005

Not the Way to do Science

The right way to do science is to criticize the idea, not the author. This is poor form and an embrassment.

Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution -- which has helped fund and run the journal -- lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.

"They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists," said Steinberg, 42 , who is a Smithsonian research associate. "I was basically run out of there."

An independent agency has come to the same conclusion, accusing top scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History of retaliating against Sternberg by investigating his religion and smearing him as a "creationist."

Senate Approval Ratings

This is very interesting, the current Approve/Disapprove of all 100 Senators as rated in their states.

For MA its:

36 MA Kennedy, Edward D SR 61% 33% 28% Senator Approval Tracked for Kennedy, Edward

73 MA Kerry, John D JR 53% 40% 13% Senator Approval Tracked for Kerry, John

which is about what I would expect. I probably won't vote for Kerry (actually I've never voted for Kerry except for president) and Ted, of course, has my unconditional lifetime vote for as long as he wants to be Senator*.

Least popular is Santorum

100 PA Santorum, Rick R JR 42% 46% -4% Senator Approval Tracked for Santorum, Rick

For this rating I fully and whole blame Dan Savage.

*He was one of 3 Senators who had the balls to stand up to Bush-41's Flag Burning Constituional Amendment which passed the Senate 97-3, and I pledged my lifetime support.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

New Toy!

I bought a DVD-RW drive today and have been burning disks like a mad-man. I've got 1.5 TB of storage on the main server and have been a little bit nervous about the quality of my backup procedures.

So far, so good!

The Divine Comedy

I started reading Dante's Divine Comedy yesterday afternoon, finished it today.


A great piece of fiction on a lot of levels. Part of Paradisio really sounds like an NDE.

The Smartest Person I Know

Background: I have a Meeting with Ballmer next month, part of the week where people get locked away with him for a few days, throw around ideas and think about where to take the company in the next few years. It's apparently a Big Deal and, in fact, is a Bigger Deal than I was expecting. Part of this Deal is doing a whole bunch of prep-work, i.e. write a bio so Ballmer knows who you are and your background, write a summary of 3 ideas you think might be interesting, fill out this Form a month in advance. Okay, fine. I'm working on the Form which is actually a form of Intelligence Test. One of the questions is; who is the smartest person you've met?

This is an Intelligence Test in that, I strongly suspect, if you fill in Ballmer or Gates, you will fail to progress to the meeting.

This is a Good Thing, but it did get me thinking about my answer.

First I want to distinguish between Intelligent and Smart. I know LOTS of intelligent people, based on types of friends I make, my education, work etc. I'm a good estimator of IQ to within 5 points (until you get over 165 where IQ is, for all intents and purposes, not reliably measurable). However, Intelligent is not necessarily smart. Many of the most intelligent people I know have crippling intellectual pathologies which prevent them from progressing, e.g. phobias, delusions, self-consistent/self-contained personal mythologies which reject any outside evidence (not religion here, but personal beliefs about their own intellectual infallibility), etc. This keeps a depressingly large number of highly intelligent folks from being smarter than they should be. I try to root this out when I see it but realistically I've never been successful. It's a waste and, unfortunately I have to strike those names from the roster.

Smart, on the other hand, is rarer and only loosely coupled to intelligence. It's impossible to measure objectively, but I look for things like knowledge from multiple disciplines, free thinking, novel approaches to problems using synthesis from other fields (i.e. not necessarily coming up with a new idea but recognizing similar problems in other fields and transferring solutions over). Further, rather than a strict hierarchy, I have a bin of the 100 smartest people I know (and another of the smartest 1000) and occasionally add or remove names form the bin. FTR, I am *not* in the bin of 100, but I am in the bin of 1000. To qualify, I need to have had a conversation with the person of more than a few minutes and exchanged a few ideas.

So, winnowing the bin down to 10, I was left with this list (in no order).

Stephen Hawking (astrophysicist)
Moti Yung (mathematician)
Daniel Blaize (poet)
Ted Harrison (astrophysicist)
Carl Sagan (astronomer, butthead-class)
John Flemming (financier-Morgan Stanley)
Paul Tsongas (politician)
Alan Greenspan (Federal Reserve Chairman)
Dennis Maroney (moral compass)
Alistair Reynolds (writer)

and now, it gets tough. Some of these folks I know well (Dennis, Ted) some I've only met once or a few times (Greenspan, Reynolds). It's tough to say, and tougher to rate. In the end though, I decided to look at whose thinking has most directly effected my actions, thoughts or views. That narrows it down to:

Ted Harrison
Carl Sagan
Alan Greenspan

Finally, taking into account intellectual diversity, practicality and just sheer talent at being smart it comes down to:

Ted Harrison

Which was not the answer I was expecting, but I am very comfortable with it. If I could end up as smart as Ted, I'd be a very happy camper.

Ted Kennedy Story

Andrew Sullivan is on vacation (in p-town appearently although I haven't seen him) and has been lending out his site to various bloggers to fill in the time. Last week was Dan Savage who was amusing but intellectually light and, some would say, a little too gay all the time.

This week is Walter Kim, who is in quite a different vein. Yesterday he dropped a "drunken Ted Kennedy" story in, although I have to say, it wasn't as gratutious as it sounds.

Quick story. In the mid 1980s I went to a fancy Fifth Av. party for Senator Ted Kennedy. There were journalists there and lots of other bigwigs. The only time I'd seen Kennedy before was at a campaign stop in 1979 when he'd been seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He might have won, but I realized at the party that it would have been a terrible thing because he was the drunkest human being I had ever encountered in my life, and chances were that it hadn't just started that night. Sure, he already had this reputation, but it was a vague reputation, all myth and gossip, while the intoxicated wreck in front of me was as vivid and specific as a car wreck. How many thousands of times, I wondered, had such behavior as I was witnessing been quietly countenanced by journalists, and how much other wild, scary stuff pertaining to other movers and shakers who had a shot at ruling the free world, say, had they deftly slipped into their back pockets in return for the right to attend such parties as this one?


This is a well-written piece of persuasive writing written in the style of Pathos (Persuasive rhetoric having three basic types of appeal, Logos, Ethos and Pathos with Pathos being the weakest and least effective of the three). I tend to write arguments in the logos mode and tend to immediately dismiss pathos as already being half-lost. Still, this is well-written (to the guy who drove over memorial crosses at Cindy Sheehan's protest in Crawford) and serves as a good example of the form when done properly:

Mr. Northern:

I am a Veteran of the Iraq war, having served with the 4th Infantry Division on the initial invasion with Force Package One.

While I was in Iraq,a very good friend of mine, Christopher Cutchall,was killed in an unarmoredHMMWV outside of Baghdad. He was a cavalry scout serving with the 3d ID.Once he had declined the award of a medal because Soldiers assigned to him did not receive similar awards that he had recommended. He left two sons and awonderful wife. On Monday night, August 16, you ran down the memorial cross erected for him by Arlington West.

One of my Soldiers in Iraq was Roger Turner. We gave him a hard time because he always wore all of his protective equipment, including three pairs of glasses or goggles. He did this because he wanted to make sure that he returned home to his family. He rode a bicycle to work every day to make sure that he was able to save enough money on his Army salary to send his son to college. At Camp Anaconda, where the squadron briefly stayed, a rocket landed inside a tent, sending a piece of debris or fragment into him and killed him. On Monday night, August 16, you ran down the memorial cross erected for him by Arlington West.

One of my Soldiers was Henry Bacon. He was one of the finest men I ever met. He was in perfect shape for a man over forty, working hard at night. He told me that he did that because he didn't have much money to buy nice things for his wife, who he loved so much, so he had to be in good shape for her. He was like a father to many young men in his section of maintenance mechanics. They fixed our vehicles with almost no support and fabricated parts and made repairs that kept our squadron rolling on the longest, fastest armor advance ever made under fire. He was so very proud of his son-in-law that married the beautiful daughter so well raised by Henry. His son-in-law was a helicopter pilot with the 1st Cavalry Division, who died last year. Henry stopped to rescue a vehicle belonging to another unit on what was to be his last day in Iraq. He could have kept rolling - he was headed to Kuwait after a year's tour. But he stopped. He could have sent others to do the work, but he was on the ground, leading by example, when he was killed. On Monday night, August 16, you took it upon yourself to go out in the country, where a peaceful group was exercising their constitutional rights, and harming no one, and you ran down the memorial cross erected for Henry and for his son-in-law by Arlington West.

Mr. Northern - I know little about Cindy Sheehan except that she is a grieving mother, a gentle soul, and wants to bring harm to no one. I know little about you except that you found your way to Crawford on Monday night in August with chains and a pipe attached to your truck for the sole purpose of dishonoring a memorial erected for my friends and lost Soldiers and hundreds of others that served this nation when they were called. I find it disheartening that good men like these have died so that people like you can threaten a mother who lost a child with your actions.

I hope that you are ashamed of yourself.

Perry Jefferies, First Sergeant, USA (retired)

I suspect that far from being ashamed of himself, Mr. Northern is quite proud of the fact he defended the president from his critics.

The Boy's Blog

Geoff has started a new blogging/forum site:

Geoff Horvath Kicks Ass


I had dinner last night with the larger portion of my graduate class, which was lots and lots of fun. Mostly they all hang in the same circle and bump into each other on a semi-annual basis, but for me it was the first time I had gotten together with the group in 3 or 4 years. Lots of fun.

There's more history among us than many sibling have, so it's sometimes a little awkward and, of course, not everyone showed up (This one is still a little miffed at that one), but overall it was a great time.

One especially interesting thing: apparently the ID debate is coming to the Smithsonian in the next year. A group of GOP congressmen are threatening to substantively cut funding to it (and by extension the SAO) unless the Smithsonian "get on board" with ID. Travis would, no doubt, say this was a Good Thing since science (or anything else) shouldn't be funded with public money. As I've said before, I think this is a narrow, short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating view (countries that don’t' fund science get beat to the Moon by countries that do). OTOH, If this is really going to happen, it might be a chance to draw a bright line on the battlefield and show ID and the GOP as being anti-science. In a world where Koreans are cloning dogs, the Chinese are heading to the Moon, and India has more programmers, maybe it isn't such a great idea to start insisting that our R&D incorporate mythological elements. I could see this as another PBS-type debate with the strong, historical reputation of the Smithsonian coming into play against the more hysterical anto-science arguments.

We'll see I suppose.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Taking Prudie to task

Finally, in catching up on my reading over this mini-vacation, I dashed off a note to Prudie for this advice of hers:

Dear Prudence,
Am I being prickly, or do I have a valid complaint? It drives me absolutely batty when I thank a waiter, sales clerk, or other paid service person and the response is "no problem." I paid you to bring me my meal or find those shoes in my size, and the fact that it was or wasn't a problem is of no interest to me. A few times I've actually responded that "I don't really care if it was a problem or not," which I know was wrong, but I was aflame with ire and it just came out. As for myself, whenever I am thanked, I always respond with, "You're welcome," "I'm happy to help," or "My pleasure." Is it too much to ask that others do the same?
—David M.

Dear Dave,
You have come to the right place. Prudie, herself, is a bit of a churl about that "No problem" business. It has, unfortunately, crept into the language and does not seem about to be displaced. Some phrases take hold and then go on to lose all meaning. Another regrettable example is the phrase "soul mate" which has become the supposed ultimate accolade to a spouse, fiancee, what have you. "No problem" is meant to be polite. That is, people who say it are not trying to be annoying, they are just linguistic sheep. In a hotel once, the music from a neighboring room was way too loud, and Prudie called the desk to ask them to please inform the offender. The answer of course was, "No problem." When there were no results, and Prudie called back to repeat the request, again there was the mindless "No problem." With exactly your feeling of "aaarrrgh," Prudie's response was, "Apparently you are mistaken, because it is proving to be a problem."

To which, the old grammar curmudgeon in me came out to say:

Dear Prudie,

I've read and enjoyed your column for a long time and, and often agree with your advice. I often find it practical and no-nonsense.

I'm writing about your advice to David M. on the use of "No Problem" as a response to thanks. I use this phrase quite a bit myself when the effort was, in fact, not actually a problem for me to do. People ask favors all the time, many of which are minor problems of some degree or another. For the small ones, "No Problem" is accurate, concise and reflects the degree of difficulty of the favor. This seems to me to be more honest and accurate than something like "My Pleasure", which often it is not (although when it is, I'll use that) and quite a bit less formal than "You're Welcome". I use it consciously and accurately and until I read your column I had no idea that anyone found it objectionable.


Roberts on the SCOTUS?

Also, in Slate, a good article on Roberts and why I have a hard time getting worked up into a lather about him.

The same conservatism that leads him to decry judicial overreaching in the privacy and civil rights contexts is part and parcel of a larger conservatism that distrusts reckless grandiosity. The same quality, in short, that kept Roberts from sneaking off into the woods to smoke may be the same quality that keeps him from torching Roe v. Wade. The Clarence Thomases of this world—men unafraid of tearing down centuries of constitutional scaffolding in order to impose their own theories of constitutional construction—are far scarier to me. Those are the guys who probably did barf off the clock towers in college; guys with the hubris and drive to change the world without going through the confirmation process first. Scalia doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, and Thomas is happiest when he's provoking outrage. Roberts cares a lot about looking temperate, and that isn't a bad thing in a judge.

When I want to alter the constitutional framework, I'll elect folk to do it. What I want are judges with a sense of, well, judgement.

Best Understatement of the Week

From Slate:

Matt LeBlanc opens up. The Enquirer must have something good on Matt LeBlanc, because the married Joey star sits down for a contrite photo session and interview in which he explains how he came to be groping a stripper in Canada. "The stripper was all over me," he says. "I was pretty drunk. … I could not wait to get home." Critics are calling the tale "improbable."

An Unrepentant Gravisist

Whenever the Creationist or ID tell me "Evolution is just a theory", I always respond with a version of, "yes, it is. Just like Relativity or Gravitation", which almost always ends the argument Usually my arguments with the religious simply end at this point, they generally know they are losing ground and stop digging.

Thus I remain an unrepentant gravisist.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Taking on Hillary with their 3rd stringer

I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton and think she embodies, in a single human, everything that is currently wrong with the DNC. I think she's shallow, partisan and obsessed with her hair.

which is why I got a jolly when I read this Slate note:

Channel Surfing: On Tuesday, the New York Times explained why Westchester County district attorney Jeanine Pirro agreed to run for the Senate against Hillary Clinton: "Even in defeat, Ms. Pirro has told friends, her resulting fame could pave the way for another statewide office, or, perhaps, give her a greater role on television, where she has been a legal analyst for Fox News."

Although by no means
impartial, The Has-Been considers it a breakthrough when a Senate race is now just a stepping stone to Fox News. In the past, prime seats at Fox and elsewhere were reserved for true has-beens looking for something to do after leaving Congress. Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, Martin Frost, and Susan Molinari are among the former members who have gone on to be part of the Fox family.

Skipping Congress to go straight into punditry has its advantages. Governing can be boring work. Fox pays better and earns higher ratings than C-SPAN, especially in the 18-44 demographic prized by advertisers. Besides, what can
freshmen possibly get done, anyway?
Of course, Rick Lazio, the last guy to run against Hillary Clinton, went on to
a brief stint as a guest host on Fox. But he did it the hard way, as a washed-up congressman.

Jeanine Pirro will never get as much
airtime on Fox as Hillary Clinton. But if Pirro's strategy works, she'll pioneer a lucrative new career path for up-and-coming has-beens: like low-budget Disney sequels, we can bypass theaters and go straight to DVD and video.

Kiss and Make Up: Pirro will face stiff competition from conservative idol Rep. Katherine Harris, who announced her own Senate candidacy in Florida this week. Harris says she's deeply hurt by how press coverage of the 2000 recount misled the nation into thinking she was shallow, partisan, and obsessed with makeup. To dispel that impression, she staged an announcement that was shallow, partisan, and obsessed with makeup.

In her announcement speech, Harris called herself "conservative but progressive, pro-small business, pro-economy, and anti-tax." She attacked Sen. Bill Nelson as "one of the most liberal" Democrats in the Senate. Harris told reporters, "I'd like to say I trail by an eyelash" and recalled her childhood as a time "when blue eyeshadow was quite the fashion."

First documented real world Starcraft Fatality


A 28-year-old South Korean man died of exhaustion in an Internet cafe after playing computer games nonstop for 50 hours, the Reuters news service reported.

Lee, a resident in the southern city of Taegu who was identified only by his last name, collapsed Aug. 5 while he played the battle simulation game Starcraft, the news service reported. Lee had planted himself in front of a computer monitor to play online games, leaving over the course of three days only to go to the toilet and take brief naps on a makeshift bed.

Lee was quickly moved to a hospital, but died after a few hours, due to what doctors are presuming was a heart attack, police told Reuters. Lee had been fired from his job last month because he kept missing work to play computer games.

The Wrong Trousers

From Sci-Fi Weekly

DreamWorks unveiled the first 15 minutes of its upcoming feature-length stop-motion animated film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit to reporters on Aug. 5, though the movie is still being completed.

In the movie, the cheese-loving Wallace and his silent but smart dog Gromit battle garden-attacking rabbits as well as an evil were-rabbit who comes out when the moon is full.

Terry Press, a marketing executive for DreamWorks, said the film is being completed by Aardman Animations, the same team that created the hit Chicken Run, and that they are working full-time to finish the film. "There are 30 sets with 30 animators each working for a week for three seconds of footage," Press said. The plasticine (not clay) models are about one-eighth scale, and a few of the models were on display at the DreamWorks studios in Glendale, Calif.

DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said he was amazed as he watched director Nick Park and his crew of 250 people work on the movie with "the most painstaking craftsmanship and precision. I've been such a fan of these shorts over the years. Nick Park and his team have such amazing creativity."

Park won two Academy Awards for best animated short for his Wallace & Gromit films. The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1996 won Oscars, and A Grand Day Out was nominated in 1991.

The new movie centers on the duo's efforts to save a neighborhood from ravaging rabbits with a pest-control company called Anti-Pesto. With the Giant Vegetable Competition looming the next week, neighbors are protecting their giant pumpkin, and Gromit has his prized super-sized cucumber. They are awakened by a funny Rube Goldberg contraption that is triggered by a garden gnome that gets them out of bed, fixes them coffee and gets them on their way to the pending emergency.

The head of the competition, Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), calls the team over to suck the rabbits off her estate. But they accidentally suck in her fiance, Lord Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), and get him stuck in their pest vacuuming contraption.

"We're just in the last part of getting the movie finished," Katzenberg said. "We are very proud of it, and hope you enjoy it." The G-rated movie will be supported by a video game being released by Atari around the same time as the film's Oct. 6 release.

The Whole of the Law while standing on one Foot

Judism: Do on to others as they would do on to you.

Catholicism: Jesus is coming, look busy.

(I saw the latter on a T-Shirt in p-town last weekend and realized what a compact, complete satement it was)


I joined in a "discussion" on Travis' blog yesterday on the journalist's privilege of not revealing sources.

Travis said:
I don’t have a firm opinion on Miller, but I lean towards the stance that jailing her is the right thing. At the federal level, journalists do not have special privileges, and I think that at no level SHOULD they have special privileges. If we’re going to give the state power to compel testimony from folks about crimes, and if we’re going to make it a crime to learn classified information on the job and then leak it, then we should jail everyone who is witness to leaked information and then fails to testify about it (with the obvious legal exceptions: testimony against self or a spouse, and testimony by a priests or lawyer who learned the information in confidence).

To which I replied:
I agree with everything you wrote if you replace the word “Journalist” everywhere with “Journalists and Priests”. Otherwise I think you are still make exceptions for non-governmental employees, just arguing over which group holds your special interest.

The logic being that, until it's proven that a) god exists and b) priests are actually his representatives, they should not be granted any special rights that the rest of the citizens don't have.

Afterwards I was thinking about this and wondered what religions, other than Catholicism and it's minor variants, have confession as an integral part of their services. An hours work poking around the web (I am on vacation this week) came up with one and only one other established religion that uses confession to control their flock:


At this point, even I won't comment any further except to say if you know of another that isn't a version of Catholicism (e.g. Greek Orthodox), shoot me a mail. Please. I need to be less appalled by this than I current am.


Field correspondant Susan relates this true life tale about life in Sommerville:

I met a guy who had an entire church organ in his one-bedroom apartment. (It was disassembled.) I asked him where he got it.

Yes, you guessed it.

An organ donor.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Touchy Feel New Age Crapola

I'm never a fan of New Age crap. You will never find me channeling my "energy", I will never lose sleep over my "chakras". So stuff like this usually seems to me the sign of a weak mind.

"And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life." In addition to the two-hour bike ride, Bush's Saturday schedule included an evening Little League Baseball playoff game, a lunch meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a nap, some fishing and some reading. "I think the people want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy," he said when asked about bike riding while a grieving mom wanted to speak with him. "And part of my being is to be outside exercising."
On Friday, Bush's motorcade drove by the protest site en route to a Republican fund-raising event at a nearby ranch.

Bush is an Ass.

The Lost Weekend

It was a hot, rainy, sticky weekend on the Cape this week, and mostly I stayed inside. One of the housemates brought a new puzzle game I had never seen before called Sudoku.

It's very addicting and lots of fun. What surprised me was the depth of inference logic that was generated by the very simple rule set. It's especially good if you like to do very detailed work. One error and it might be awhile before you realize something is wrong, and even longer to figure out where.

Not having internet at the house on the cape, I started writing a program to solve and generate puzzles, but the Sudoku site has that as well.