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March 21st, 2016
07:40 am

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In Israel, wolves and hyenas are hunting cooperatively
I didn't even know there were hyenas in Israel.

Also, tiresome political analogy. I'll tell you why it's easier to get a peace deal between hyenas and wolves-- it's because they don't remember history.

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March 9th, 2016
03:58 pm

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I've been Zorped!
Zorpia is a spam "social network" which is good at scavenging email lists.

More details if you like. I'm mostly interested in whether anyone who's reading this has also gotten mysterious messages from zorpia.

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09:11 am

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kickstarter for pens that double as construction toys


This isn't a product I feel a need for, but it's cool to see people trying to come up with the best version of something. Who knew people wanted a felt-tip pen that's also a construction toy?

It's also cool to see a kickstarter for a reasonable product that's pushing close to 30 times its goal money. They do have an unusually good video.

If they can make the project work, I think they've potentially got a a good-sized business there-- expand it to include many more colors and types of point.

I've decided to put more of my facebook posts on livejournal/dreamwidth-- I'm annoyed at the way fb posts get lost.

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08:59 am

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Amazon best sellers-- a gamable system
A picture of the author's foot and three sales = "best seller". Definitely funny, though I have no idea whether amazon bestsellers are mostly low quality.

When a measurement becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

That being said, apparently the New York Times Bestseller list is bad but not totally useless.

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March 1st, 2016
06:27 am

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Technological aids against color-blindness
http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/02/seeing-in-techicolor-one-month-wearing-enchromas-color-blindness-correcting-glasses/

I was surprised by quite a bit in this-- I knew there were color amplifying phone apps and glasses, and that they worked because many(?) color-blind people had some ability to see the colors they had trouble with, but the story is more complicated and interesting than that.

The glasses were discovered by accident-- surgeons needed eye protection from the high-powered lasers they were using, and the best way to do that was to block the specific colors of the lasers-- and the glasses which did that resulted in a technicolor world that the surgeons liked living in.

In some types of color-blindness, the problem isn't the absence of color-sensing cones, it's that the cones have too much overlap in which wavelengths they're sensitive to, so filtering out those wavelengths improves the person's ability to differentiate color.

Color vision tests don't necessarily measure the right thing-- glasses which improve the ability to pass the tests don't necessarily improve the ability to see colors in the world.

Improving color vision is even more important than it sounds-- teachers are apt to treat children who can't manage the "simple" task of distinguishing and naming colors as generally unintelligent.

Even someone who's figured out how to work around color-blindness like the author of the article finds that life is a lot easier when green is vivid-- so much is color-coded.

It's quite possible that I haven't found all the good stuff in the article, so you might want to read it.

Link thanks to Geek Press.

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February 24th, 2016
01:34 pm

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A useful word
Schlimmbesserung-- an attempted improvement which makes things worse.

It's a new goal after you've learned how to spell schadenfreude.

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January 20th, 2016
11:10 am

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Edge.og 2014: What scientific ideas need to be retired/ part 3
Every year, Edge publishes answers to a hopefully interesting question. 2014 was about scientific ideas that are ready for retirement...

I've pulled out the bits that I think are interesting, and the result is long enough that I'm posting it in several chunks-- this is the last one. I was running out of attention now and then, so if you think I might have missed more good stuff, I suggest reading the Edge link from the bottom up.

My text is what I agree with. If you want a description of the idea that someone thinks ought to be retired, go to the link.

Evidence-based medicine shouldn't be standard practice because the "evidence" frequently isn't very good.

Mice are so different from people that it's simply useless to use them to study cancer treatment or sepsis treatment.

More detail about how mice are different from people. This could be an example of how one foundational mistake can have a huge effect. Anyone have information about whether countries other than the US depend on mouse studies?

Calculus should not be a prerequisite for studying computer programming.

Experiments trump multiple regression analysis (perhaps especially in social science) because multiple regression analysis doesn't do a good job of teasing out factors which are correlated with each other. Sounds reasonable, but I might be missing something.

Essentialism doesn't capture the complexity of the real world. I agree, and I'll add that essentialism makes it very tempting to ignore information you've got if you've already concluded that you know the essence of something you're looking at.

Malthusianism is wrong. This seems to be true currently-- and did anyone predict a considerable drop in oil prices?

"This nasty idea—that you had to be cruel to be kind to prevent population growing too fast for food supply—directly influenced heartless policy in colonial Ireland, British India, imperial Germany, eugenic California, Nazi Europe, Lyndon Johnson's aid to India and Deng Xiaoping's China. It was encountering a Malthusian tract, The Limits to Growth, that led Song Jian to recommend a one-child policy to Deng." Anyone know whether all of this is historically accurate?

However, the author claims that Mathusianism was never true, and I have no idea whether that's the case.
Thoughts?

One genome per person oversimplifies matters. There's a lot more mosaicism and mutation than you might think.

Now that I think about it, there's a lot of evidence that women pick up cell lines from their sons-- it seems to be easy to check for Y chromosomes. Shouldn't it be just as likely that women pick up cell lines from their daughter?

Also... Timothy Leary thought that women were more mentally flexible than men because of re-imprinting during childbirth. Assuming he was actually on to something, maybe it was actually genetic changes.

Different languages might have effects on cognition, but it's not enough to add up to different worldviews. Dammit, Sapir-Whorf is so convenient for science fiction! However, even pretty weak Sapir-Whorf might be overblown.

Looking for simple explanations is a disaster in social sciences. Seems likely to me.

Maybe the Hard Problem isn't consciousness. Maybe it's coming up with thought experiments that make sense. How much is a philosophical zombie (something that behaves exactly like a person but isn't conscious-- it can do philosophy, but isn't limited to it) like a perpetual motion machine?

Mutations aren't fully random. Sounds good to me.

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January 10th, 2016
10:50 am

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Some scientific ideas to retire, part 2
There is no statistical independence. Damn. I should have thought of that one, considering that random sequences are so rare that if you see one, you should suspect it was deliberately designed.

Apparently, there is no perfectly white noise because the real world doesn't work that way.

We may not be able to explain that much about our minds by referring to our evolutionary past.
Reading provides a nice example. The ability to pass on and accumulate information has transformed our world, but written languages appeared only in the past 5,000 years ago, not long enough for us to have evolved an innate "reading module". Still, if you look inside the brain of a literate person, it will light up quite differently from that of an illiterate one, not just when reading but also when listening to spoken words. During the social process of being taught to read, infant brains are remodeled and new pathways created. If we didn't know this cognitive capacity was produced by social learning we'd likely think of it as a genetically-inherited system. But it is not: our brain and minds can be transformed through the acquisition of cognitive tools which we are then able to pass on again and again.

And I'd like to see something about the fairly common compulsion to do fiber arts.

A claim that inclusive fitness isn't mathematically sound. I'm not sure the piece is solid, but it does seem plausible to me that nature isn't maximizing anything simple.

The extent to which thinking runs on its own, though I think the author underestimates the extent to which people deliberately zone out.

More about problems in science. "The bias against corrections is especially harmful in areas where the results are cheap, but the underlying measurements are noisy. In those scientific realms, the literature may quickly become polluted with statistical flukes."

History of the idea of unlimited growth-- alchemy, Faust, money and imagination

F=ma doesn't mean that force *causes* acceleration, they just happen together.

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January 9th, 2016
09:59 am

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Edge.og 2014: What scientific ideas need to be retired/ part 1
Every year, Edge publishes answers to a hopefully interesting question. 2014 was about scientific ideas that are ready for retirement...

I've pulled out the bits that I think are interesting, and the result is long enough that I'm posting it in several chunks. I was running out of attention now and then, so if you think I might have missed more good stuff, I suggest reading the Edge link from the bottom up.

Buckyballs behave like light particles in double slit experiments. I'm not sure what it means, but this was my first what-the-fucking-fuck moment of the year. May we all have many more.
WikipediaA dramatic series of experiments emphasizing the action of gravity in relation to wave–particle duality was conducted in the 1970s using the neutron interferometer.[22] Neutrons, one of the components of the atomic nucleus, provide much of the mass of a nucleus and thus of ordinary matter. In the neutron interferometer, they act as quantum-mechanical waves directly subject to the force of gravity. While the results were not surprising since gravity was known to act on everything, including light (see tests of general relativity and the Pound–Rebka falling photon experiment), the self-interference of the quantum mechanical wave of a massive fermion in a gravitational field had never been experimentally confirmed before.

In 1999, the diffraction of C60 fullerenes by researchers from the University of Vienna was reported.[23] Fullerenes are comparatively large and massive objects, having an atomic mass of about 720 u. The de Broglie wavelength is 2.5 pm, whereas the diameter of the molecule is about 1 nm, about 400 times larger. In 2012, these far-field diffraction experiments could be extended to phthalocyanine molecules and their heavier derivatives, which are composed of 58 and 114 atoms respectively. In these experiments the build-up of such interference patterns could be recorded in real time and with single molecule sensitivity.[24][25]

In 2003, the Vienna group also demonstrated the wave nature of tetraphenylporphyrin[26]—a flat biodye with an extension of about 2 nm and a mass of 614 u. For this demonstration they employed a near-field Talbot Lau interferometer.[27][28] In the same interferometer they also found interference fringes for C60F48., a fluorinated buckyball with a mass of about 1600 u, composed of 108 atoms.[26] Large molecules are already so complex that they give experimental access to some aspects of the quantum-classical interface, i.e., to certain decoherence mechanisms.[29][30] In 2011, the interference of molecules as heavy as 6910 u could be demonstrated in a Kapitza–Dirac–Talbot–Lau interferometer.[31] In 2013, the interference of molecules beyond 10,000 u has been demonstrated.[32]

Whether objects heavier than the Planck mass (about the weight of a large bacterium) have a de Broglie wavelength is theoretically unclear and experimentally unreachable; above the Planck mass a particle's Compton wavelength would be smaller than the Planck length and its own Schwarzschild radius, a scale at which current theories of physics may break down or need to be replaced by more general ones.[33]

People's responses in the Asch experiments (will people make mistakes about the length of a line if they're under social pressure to get it wrong?) were much less extreme than the common understanding of the experiment. They still mostly got it right, and there's a lot of individual variation in how much people are affected by social pressure.
Wikipedia:
In the confederate condition also, the majority of participants’ responses remained correct (63.2 per cent), but a sizable minority of responses conformed to the confederate (incorrect) answer (36.8 per cent). The responses revealed strong individual differences: Only 5 percent of participants were always swayed by the crowd. 25 percent of the sample consistently defied majority opinion, with the rest conforming on some trials. An examination of all critical trials in the experimental group revealed that one-third of all responses were incorrect. These incorrect responses often matched the incorrect response of the majority group (i.e., confederates). Overall, 75% of participants gave at least one incorrect answer out of the 12 critical trials.[1]

Large randomized control studies may prove much less than you think.... especially if the subjects know what's going on. The people in the control group may undertake the intervention on their own. The people in the experimental group may not do the intervention because it's harder than it sounded to the scientists.

A lot of the essays so far have been about people knowing less than they think they do.

Scientific research needs better organization and metadata. In particular, it needs a system which is both better at indicating that research has been retracted and (this is harder) tracking which research is dependent on other research so that anything based on retracted research can be retracted itself, or at least checked.

Citations should be marked by whether the cited work is considered merely true or important in addition to being true. (Oy, the politics!) Also, a work can get a citation because it's being challenged and this should be distinguished from being cited for truth.

Git is recommended as a good system for keeping track of changes in stored data.

The article also suggests having a beta reader system for scientific journal articles rather than slow and anonymous peer review.

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December 24th, 2015
05:53 pm

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The oldest carpet, and a very fine Roman mosaic


The oldest carpet, some 2500 years old, though I expect there's a long tradition of beautiful carpets that led up to it. The colors are so good because it was frozen.

A 1700 year old Roman mosiac.

There's the whole mosaic at the link and some details, but if you should happen to want more, more, more...



A 3d version of the mosaic.

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