Saturday, April 27, 2002

Creating a theory

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exaulted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
You could insert "science" instead of "philosophy" and be equally accurate. But science has been politicized, and shoddy science has sometimes been tolerated because it happened to offer comfort to a particular political outlook.

Today's case involves the theory of evolution, which provides comfort to antireligious people and is presented dogmatically as if there were no possible alternative. They may be right, but they shouldn't tolerate shoddy science in the process. To do so is to elevate dogma above science.

My experience in discussing evolution is that its dogmatic (as opposed to scientific) defenders claim that it explains the entire world of biology. But when I ask for examples of species changing from one to another, they can't deliver anything convincing.

Now Doug Turnbull has pointed out this and this to me as demonstrating that speciation has occurred. I suppose it's arguable by someone with a stronger biological background than my own, but I'll take it as a given.

Does this demonstrate evolution? Not yet. The only examples discussed for vertebrates are based on "morphology", which could well have put Chihuahuas and Rottweilers as different species. None of the examples were more than one step. The theory isn't complete until the entire chain is assembled.

And it gets harder toward the top as species are more complex and less prolific. The new species, which presumably cannot mate with their parents or siblings, must occur often enough so that they can find each other. And this must occur for enough generations to establish the new species. (whatever a species might be, that is).

And we've seen fraud here before, such as Piltdown man.

Perhaps these links will be discovered. But until those discoveries are made and successfully peer-reviewed, claims that evolution progressed from the first life forms and culminated in the development of modern man remain speculation, which places them on par with creationism.

Old time expressions

Much of my family goes a long time between generations. I'm a trailing end Baby Boomer/leading edge Gen X, but my father was about the right age for WWII, and his father was about right for the Spanish American War. Another generation back fought on the Yankee side of the Civil War, and there's only two more before you get to the Revolution when a forebear showed up from Wales.

One result of this is that the family has some fairly ancient expressions. Older uncles and aunts used to listen to Amos 'n' Andy or saw Al Jolson, and they would make reference to old pop culture like Fibber McGee's closet. But best of all were the folksier things I'd hear from my grandmother.

Consider "your tongue runs like the clatterbone in a goose's ass". Sometimes it was a duck, but the idea was that the person in question was loquacious. (she was right about the geese - you can look, I won't tell)

She had 8 kids at the time of the Depression, and most were still at home. Times were tough, but she always had an ace in the hole - "we can all get tin bills and pick shit with the chickens".

She usually lived in small towns where everything was everybody else's business. So I learned that, with respect to babies, "the first one can come anytime, and the rest take 9 months".

I was the youngest grandchild and lived nearby, so I spent a lot of time with her while I was little and she was still competent and mobile. She taught me how to play cards, like Dirty 8, rummy and canasta. She never gave up, either - I could be way ahead, but she'd say "I've seen sicker dogs get well". Little wonder the tough old girl lived to be 100.

Sexual harassment at Mitsubishi

Blogging generally isn't original reporting, and what I have to offer is hearsay. But I find it credible because I know my source very well, and it's consistent with my experience. And to my knowledge, no "name" journalist has ever investigated it from this side.

The Mitsubishi plant was built in the mid 80's northwest of Bloomington, IL just off I-74 on the way to Peoria. I'm from the general vicinity and they hired a number of engineers, so I made it my business to meet people who worked there.

Then came the sexual harassment suits. I was morbidly curious and wanted to hear the scuttlebutt, so I called my best source.

He said a number of the women involved were unproductive and had been in trouble for that reason. What's more, some women at the site were known to offer BJs or other favors to men who would cover their work for them.

Again, it's hearsay, and not much at that. But if it leads someone to do an honest substantial investigation it's worth something. I suspect that the real crime was that Mitsubishi didn't donate enough money to the Democratic Party.

Justice is...

You know what last week's anti-globo protest needed? A homicide bomber. But it couldn't have happened, because all the suicidal losers are on their side.

Personally I favored a chemical approach. Spray them all with soap.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Wednesday, April 24, 2002


More adult stem cell successes, from NRO.

IRS vs. Hollywood?

Among the most fantastic things ever produced in Hollywood are their financial records. Practices are outrageous, and this isn't exactly unknown.

But has anyone ever heard of a studio being audited by the IRS? Maybe it has happened and I missed it. It sounds like it could be fun though, watching disgustingly rich people poormouthing, claiming that they're not making any money.

It would be politically dangerous to take on movie studios though. These guys put on elaborate fantasies for the public for a living, and politicians wouldn't stand a chance against them. We'd hear braying about the 1st Amendment too, charges of being "politically motivated", etc.

So for practical purposes, Hollywood is probably above the law.

Don't forget a spoon

K will be 10 next week. God help us...

In honor of her birthday I started hunting down kid stuff like elephant jokes. And I had to know the rest of that obnoxious song that starts with "great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts". Heavens, we can't lose such a priceless piece of heritage die out.

I'm thinking...

Neat stuff is incubating, but it's not ready for posting yet. Obviously that didn't stop me from posting some of what you see below, but we'll see about doing better. Anyway it'll probably be slow until Thursday night.

If it's more scientific stuff you're after, you can't go wrong with Stephen Den Beste, Rand Simberg, Jay Manifold, Charles Murtaugh, Paul Orwin, Derek Lowe and occasionally Douglas Turnbull.


Sunday, April 21, 2002

Practical home energy conservation

Summer is coming, and with it comes a change in power demand. Say what?

Yes, it's your problem. Although can vary from place to place, the summertime is usually the peak season for electric power consumption. That means that unless all of us help to back off on power consumption, rates can go up significantly and we might even have brownouts or blackouts.

Fortunately it really isn't that hard to reduce. I'm not some left-wing anti-globo idiot trying to save the world - I just want you to try some simple things that will reduce your expenses and increase power reliability with minimal effort. Deal?

Let me start by noting that some of you have broadband vs. dialup Internet access. Here information is analogous to energy, and your bandwidth or data rate is analogous to power.

However, they behave differently at high load - broadband will limit you to the data rate you have paid for (or else some idiot downloading streaming porn video could bring down the Internet from an overload). Power lines OTOH will attempt to maintain line voltage in your wiring beyond ratings until problems occur, which is why we have breakers and fuses. And our white-knuckled porn fiend can record his favorites, but your power has to be "live" (forget about batteries - you can't afford it).

Breakers and fuses are designed to avoid fire hazards, not to control your power consumption. You don't want nuisance trips, so the power demands that they react to are significantly higher than what you are expected to use. If you trip a breaker, investigate now, and don't put pennies in fuseboxes in any dwelling you intend to continue living in.

Alright, a little science. Energy is what you are being billed for, and it is billed in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Power is the rate at which you are using energy. It is how many kilowatt-hours you use per hour, which works out to kilowatts (kW). A watt (W) is 1/1000 of a kilowatt. A lot of times calculations are simpler if we use watt-hours (Wh) - 1 Wh = 1/1000 kWh.

The amount you are charged per kWh will vary substantially, but is probably on the order of a dime a kilowatt-hour - $0.10/kWh, or $0.0001/Wh. Put another way, divide the total number of watt-hours of power you use by 10,000 and that's roughly your bill in dollars. If you can count to four and know your left from your right, you can handle this calculation - just scoot the decimal point to the left 4 places.

Alright, back to your consumption - how can you know what it is? Let's start with light bulbs. Every one has a watt rating. So to determine the power consumption of a bulb, multiply its watt number by the number of hours you run it in a month (which gives you watt-hours, or Wh), then slide the decimal point over 4 places to the left. Add all of these up and you know how much you're paying for lighting.

If the above is too much effort, at least realize that in the summertime you are paying for that light bulb's juice twice - once to light it, and once to suck out the added heat. So if your circumstances permit, use lower wattage bulbs for replacements in the summer, because you'll save power.

Other low effort things to do are to close the drapes - you might like the light, but you don't need it when you're not in the room, and you'll protect the carpet and furniture. Eat later and cooler - sandwiches, salads,... Cut your hair shorter, and trim or cut off your beard. Make sure your dryer is vented properly. Dress lighter. Cheat the thermostat up a little each week to see what you can stand. Soak in a tub. Drink more liquids. Cook outdoors on the grill - you pay for this power twice too. Shut off the TV and unnecessary lights. Take shorter and cooler showers, and generally avoid adding humidity to the air.

Or just go outside - your body is like a 100W light bulb or thereabouts in terms of the heat it adds to the room. Visit your neighbors and let them pay for the power...

I haven't hunted lately, but James Dulley has good website for practical information on energy conservation, and he's permalinked with the geek stuff to the lower right of this page. Check it out.

What is a species?

This must be an easy question, right? Don't we teach this to high school kids everyday? Not so fast.

First let's start with the definition of a species at this link The point to be made is that the definition of species is incredibly muddy, even now that we're basing federal laws with nasty penalties upon it.

One popular definition of species that has been used in other blogs is Ernst Mayr's definition, from the link above:
Mayr (1940) defined species as "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups." Dobzhansky (1950) defined species as "the largest and most inclusive ... reproductive community of sexual and cross-fertilizing individuals which share a common gene pool."
Hmm. This is convenient for those who would want to call a spotted owl distinctive enough to warrant Federal protection via the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (note-this is a PDF).

But it would also seem to tell us that Laplanders, Eskimos, Arabs, Nigerians, Maoris, Yanomamo and others are in fact distinct species, and that's about as unPC as you can get. We dare not suggest that there is even such a thing as races, much less different species of humans.

OK, we can dance around this by insisting that the populations be able to breed successfully with others and have fertile offspring. All of the above can and do interbreed when they can get at each other, so that pulls all of us humans back into the same species again.

But what about the spotted owls? Has anyone ever tried to breed them with other owl species? Are they just another example of one larger owl species that happens to live in a particular type of environment? If so, why do they merit protection?

What do the feds say? From the PDF above:
(6) The term ‘‘endangered species’’ means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this Act would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.
So it is no help.

Do we get to pick and choose definitions depending on whose ox is gored?

UPDATE: From the comments, the ESA definition of "species":
(16) The term ''species'' includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature."
Thank you Mr. Logan. I guess that's why I'm not an attorney.

Count on the feds to muddy the waters further - now a species is a subspecies et al. OK, now what's a subspecies?

Blog bash envy

Here in flyover country I've had to read about blogganalia in NY twice, LA once or twice, SF, DC, the UK, and I think some Houstonians got together. Sheesh, I think even Knoxville got into the act with Glenn Reynolds hosting somebody.

I had to cancel a couple of weeks ago when I might otherwise have met some local talent (I'm in St. Louis for now). There are a few of us - Charles Austin, Christopher Johnson, Juan Gato, and Mark Nugent, and Stephen Green is in exile. But you can't expect so much from us - we're a much smaller market, and in periodic discussions with NY-based coworkers you'd think I was in Podunk.

What's Chicago's excuse? Surely there are enough bloggers, although the ones I can think of offhand are either away from home or aren't natives. Time it right and I might even be able to make it - surely nobody would want to miss that.

Geeky jokes

For statistics, engineering, accounting, and economists. I could do lawyers, but where would I start?

I'm killing time waiting on something, so the above was intended to keep me busy without losing too much stomach lining. What am I waiting on? I'll keep my opinions to myself, but I'm glad I'm not a kitten.

PDA ramblings

I got my first PDA about 4 years ago or so. The gadget freak in me was crying out for one, but I made several trips to the store to convince myself that I really could write into it directly. It turned out to be easy to learn, so I was hooked and got a Palm III.

Supply definitely created its own demand here. All of a sudden all of the stuff I needed to remember could be tracked with minimal effort, and backed up with a few keystrokes. The memory volume was such that I kept about every address, phone number, or other trivial bit of information in it fairly effortlessly. Bye bye Day-Timers.

Then I met somebody who had a better one, and a camera to work with it. Shortly thereafter I dropped my Palm III and it never recovered. I took this very well because it was my excuse to make a beeline to the electronics store and buy the next one, with more RAM and more apps. And of course, the digital camera module.

The camera led me into sin because it was so easy to take candids - you could point it and nobody would know. But the resolution wasn't so great, and although it took color pictures, you couldn't display them well on a grainy grayscale screen before downloading. They took a fair amount of RAM too. That was an older technology though - I might have to take another look.

Then about a year and a half later the alarm function acted flaky on the new one. A saner person would have spent more time investigating, and eventually I figured out what the problem was - I had changed a setting inadvertantly. But no, I had lusted after the color devices and I wanted rechargeable batteries, so it was a Visor Prism for me.

I've only had it for a couple of months now, but now the Treo has come out. What do you know? - I just had some trouble with the Prism after dropping it...

Actually I really did - the charging system was acting funny. But a little surfing on Handspring's website and an in-charger soft reset fixed the problem, so my baby goes back on the road again. The worst thing about the Prism is that it's fatter and doesn't have the built-in flip cover, so it lives more dangerously in my shirt pocket - I make sure the screen faces my chest. But the battery recharges rapidly, and although the screen isn't as sharp as the ones on certain Sony Cliés, it's ok. The next gotta-have features are probably vibrating alarms, higher screen resolutions, and better printing/syncing capabilities.

Nowadays you can get shrinkwrapped apps easily - BugMe, PocketQuicken, a spreadsheet, is good. If you want hardware some is probably available at a Best Buy or CompUSA. You can get phones, modems, GPS, Ethernet, barcode/mag card readers, games, electronic books (dictionaries, PDR, Bibles...), even a massager and power-napper. There are also full-sized foldup keyboards or the little thumb-keyboards like on a BlackBerry. I suppose a full-blown docking station can't be far off.

I've never tried the non-Palm alternatives. The day could come. But I expect the devices will be far more trouble-prone, and you don't want trouble with a PDA. It's just supposed to work flawlessly when you whip it out until it becomes second nature.