Thursday, September 05, 2002

NLP - for real?

I've had my killer SUV almost long enough to pay it off, and it shows in the way I get into it. In a fluid motion the door is open, I'm in the seat, my key is instantly in the ignition and off we go.

As long as I don't look at the ignition switch that is. It seems odd that looking at the target for my ignition key would make things worse, but it does. I rarely miss. Of all the physical skills to have, this is mine - whoopee.

Alright, I've been in and out of the thing probably a couple of thousand times now, so I have had practice. But how much practice does it take to acquire "muscle memory"? How much should it take? How can we make it faster?

Nowadays I find myself learning American style tango. Slowly. All that attitude, the picture lines, etc - I'm more of a plow horse than a show horse. Maybe my expectations are out of whack, but I seem to be learning it very slowly.

Could the answer lie in phobias?

Some years ago I read a number of books on neuro-linguistic programming. Practitioners study the way people react to external stimuli, and phobias are particularly interesting examples. They can be thought of as the result of effortless, very thorough yet instant visceral learning. Which suggests that learning about how phobias are created and overcome can teach us a lot about learning in general - why can't all learning be done so rapidly and thoroughly? The applications to training, sales, politics and other human interactions are boundless.

Phobias are just one thing that NLP practitioners study. They also study other clues that trigger behaviors, and seek ways to create these triggers and attach reactions to them. I'm not doing it justice by any measure, and its backers have high hopes for it, publishing books with titles like "Using Your Brain - For a Change".

I've never run into anyone who's heard of this, much less who had an opinion about whether it was for real or just so much overpromoted pseudoscience. Any opinions out there?

I'll teach her...

The price of leaving a comment on this site can be severe, as Beth knows now that I've ransacked her website. Well, it wouldn't have been so bad if she had permalinks that I could find.

Anyway, my terminally geeky favorite is the pi trainer (not to be confused with a Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman), from which I found the e-trainer. But now I also know more about "the swollen treasure of her femininity", the heretofore-unappreciated cuteness of wet rats, the aesthetics of long toes, and newt care.

Condoms urged for Male Prisoners

Are condoms a cure for cancer? It can't hurt to try them - they seem to be the answer to so many other problems. Now we should distribute them in prisons.

Yep, a bunch of guys who not only broke the law but managed to get caught and imprisoned for it will suddenly become responsible citizens when it comes to prison sex. Although the article does confide that
The survey found that many of the newly admitted inmates admitted to "high-risk behaviors," such as not using condoms and having anonymous sex with a variety of partners.
Imagine that!

Prisons must not be too awfully restricted if we can't even keep the prisoners from having sex with each other consensually or otherwise. Here as always, abstinence beats condoms. Yet somehow if we took strong measures to prevent prisoner sex, I suspect that the folks who are pushing condoms for prisoners would take issue.

Pebble bed modular reactors

Alright, it's your turn to be an engineer. Suppose you created a toaster, then found out that in service the heating elements burned out. What would you do?

Back to the drawing board. Hmm, what if we put in some kind of heat sensing device and automatically turned on a powerful fan when the heat got too high?

Well, fans are expensive. We could just put in a simple thermostat and set it to short out the toaster if the heat got too high, and depend on the house wiring's fuses or breakers to protect us.

If you chose either of the above, it's back to engineering school with you - both of those ideas really stink out loud. In fact, as millions of people worldwide can tell you, it's possible to design a toaster that will be almost idiotproof day in and day out for years without burning out or otherwise failing electrically, and the whole device can be had for under $10. And if you want to design something that will burn out at a specified current level or higher, those can be had even cheaper - they're called "fuses".

We can design this way because we can calculate the heat generation rates, the rate of heat transfer out of the heating elements, and the temperature at which the heating elements will fail. In essence, the heat generated will equal the heat discharged at some temperature T, and if T is less than the temperature that will significantly impair the performance and life of the heating elements you have a workable product.

It seems pretty obvious that you'd want to design a heating device such that it couldn't destroy itself by overheating if that was at all possible. You might think that that was especially important in something like, say, a nuclear reactor.

It is. But unfortunately there was a big push to get nuclear reactors working in the early days, and the first designs they got to work didn't meet that criterion - they were capable of getting hotter than what they could physically withstand. Lots of training, auxiliaries, testing and emergency planning are used to make up for this design characteristic. And really, these reactors were designed for submarines - all the cooling water you could ask for was right there outside the hull.

But then there was a big push for land-based reactors back in the 1950's, so submarine reactors were scaled up in size to make US commercial nuclear power reactors. The inherent overheating capability problem remained.

Now there's no arguing with experience. The engineered safety features and other measures taken by US commercial nuclear power plants have been very successful and safe by any reasonable standard (don't compare them to Russian designs like the VVERs or the RBMKs - the latter made Chernobyl famous and have far worse design issues than the ones discussed here).

But they make for a more expensive and ultimately less reliable plant than what could be realized with fuel that can't destroy itself or its containment by overheating. And these plant designs exist.

This is a technical reference on the plants.

Of course there are organizations that bitch about nuclear power plants for a living, such as NIRS. This is what they have to say about the design. This post is already long, so I'll Fisk the NIRS link later.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Greenpeace opposed to trees?

From Tim Blair

Born gay?

As I mentioned below, we managed to get some of the family together for Labor Day weekend.

If you're a relative, you'd better show up to these things or else we'll talk about you. This time it was mostly about a relative I haven't seen in years. I don't know how to contact him even if I had a mind to, and likewise he hasn't really stayed in touch with anybody to my knowledge. The last I heard was from his mother, and she's dead.

If I had been told that one of us was gay and I had to pick the one, he would have been it, and in fact he is. Apparently he's in Key West with the same partner he's had for a long time, running a tourism-based firm.

That he's gay is his business. It wasn't what his parents had in mind, but I don't know that anybody else in the family has ever given him any flak about it. But it led to a conversation in which one relative claimed that you're born gay.

Hmm. This seems to be almost totally behavioral to me. AFAIK there's no controlling what turns you on, but you can control what you do about it.

Thought experiment time. You're blindfolded and subjected to, uh, mechanical stimulation. Nature takes its course. Then the blindfold is taken off and you see that the agent was of a sex other than your preference. Do you suddenly switch teams or turn bi?

Or maybe it's something visual. Eros raises his ugly head, then you realize it's someone who's off limits like a relative or someone underaged (and I'll bet you 20 years you can't always tell). Can you keep playing by society's rules, or must we change the rules for you?

I find it interesting that many societies have such strictures regarding gays. Is it reasonable to ask people to abstain from exercising certain practices or to keep their hands off certain people? Can such rules be so integral to the success of a society that failure to enforce them will lead to that society's destruction?

Kid stuff

I managed to get together with some relatives this past weekend, including an assortment of rugrats and preteens before whom civilization cowers.

Well, the kids weren't bad, but they certainly were spirited and loud and ornery. And they're learning too fast, particularly the stuff they needn't. (If we could only convince kids that there's something illicit about math and science. Maybe we could inscribe multiplication tables on the bathroom walls or something).

For instance, the oldest was a girl of about 10. She's getting big to ride on my shoulders, but I carried her around for awhile. Then my neck got tired and I put her back down and she told me "that wasn't long enough!". I mumbled something to one of the adults about how a woman shouldn't ever tell a man that, har har. The kid made it clear that she caught the allusion and pronounced me a "perv" or something like that. Well, at least she thought it was off color.

I usually bring something for the kids in hopes that they'll learn something besides stuff like the above. There were some age-appropriate quizzes among the booty, and the little squirts wanted to play. They did better than I had hoped. Hopefully the parents can help them with some of the projects that I don't have time to do with them.

The smallest was 6 months old, and has had her picture posted here before. She just laid there cooing, kicking her feet and getting passed around to everybody. She's not too easily intimidated, even though I kept telling her in baby talk how I was going to bite off her nose and suck out her brains. Hey, if you want something mushier, read Lileks.

Oh yeah, I saw the relative I mentioned a few posts ago about college funding. We got everything straightened out and she's back at the same school for her junior year (We finally got her father out of the way - what a jerk! Everyone but him should have a daughter so bright and beautiful). Many thanks to those of you who offered advice, especially the two of you to whom I wrote directly - that was an outrageous imposition, but I wanted to try something.

Enough - I leave you with Warm Fuzzies.

Another way to reform campaigns...

I've been thinking of proposing something like this for some time, but now someone has actually built a site to do it. Link courtesy of NRO.


IBM and USA Technologies said on Friday they are connecting 9,000 washing machines and dryers at U.S. colleges and universities to the Web in an effort to make doing laundry at school less of a hassle.

Roots of racism?

It appears that lady lions prefer males with darker manes.

Of course, nothing is innocent, you know - there must be a political dimension to this. Does this mean that lions are racist? And if it does, does it mean that females are responsible for causing racism?

Uh, no. But some of us seem to think that animals have a lot to teach us humans, and draw conclusions no less asinine than the above.

Four strikeouts in one inning

Who else but the Cubs?

Incidentally, I wonder if major league baseball attendance has been impacted by the strike threat?

Monday, September 02, 2002

Stem cell question

From here we get
The team of researchers from Keio University School of Medicine in Japan extracted stem cells from a 14 day-old rat fetus. The type of stem cells they extracted are called neural progenitor cells, which are genetically programmed to later develop into various kinds of nervous system cells.
I thought the point of getting stem cells from a fetus was that any such stem cell could form any other type of cell, ie, it wouldn't matter what kind of stem cell you got from a fetus. Otherwise you could use non-fetal stem cells instead, which were more specialized and highly developed at the cost of the flexibility.

Wireless networking available at Starbucks

Via Daniel Pink we have this story. It does require a membership with a particular wireless carrier, but the first 24 hours are free.

Borders, Barnes & Noble, are you listening?