Friday, December 20, 2013

Fractional Reserve Society

Currently there is not a universal definition of what constitutes a group. Groups can have varying numbers of members, communication styles, and structures. Research has identified a few common requirements contributing to the recognition of individuals working in a collaborative environment to be considered a “group”:
  • Interdependence: In order for an individual of the collective to accomplish their part in the assigned task they depend, to some degree, on the outputs of other members of the collective.
  • Social interaction: In order to accomplish the goal some form of verbal or nonverbal communication is required to take place amongst the members of the collective.
  • Perception of a group: All members of the collective must agree they are, in fact, part of a group.
  • Commonality of purpose: All the members of the collective come together to serve or attain a common goal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Moon Masterpiece

His time on the surface was nearly finished before Scott managed to squeeze in a brief Fallen Astronaut ceremony. “I was going to drive the rover out, set up a TV camera to watch the liftoff, put down the little astronaut and the plaque, and take a photo,” he says. “On Apollo 15 we took over 1,100 photos on the surface of the moon, and all those are without any rangefinder or light meter. So that was another part of setting up the Fallen Astronaut: making sure I got a good photo of it, because nobody knew about it.”

Finally Scott found his moment, and he wanted to keep it private. Irwin distracted Mission Control in Houston with inane chatter while Scott took a few bounding steps north from the lunar rover and made Fallen Astronaut a citizen of the moon.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Modest Proposals

I’d like to look at a specific question raised by the discussion of private returns and social value, namely: can Wall Street, in its present form, be justified?

That is, does the share of income flowing to corporations and professional workers in the financial sector reflect their marginal contribution to the total value of social output, so that, if their work ceased to be done and their skills were allocated elsewhere, we would all be worse off?


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The original lime

Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust. Calcium is also the fifth-most-abundant dissolved ion in seawater by both molarity and mass, after sodium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfate.

Calcium is essential for living organisms...[a]s a major material used in mineralization of bone, teeth and shells, calcium is the most abundant metal by mass in many animals...
[C]alcium is reactive and soft for a metal (though harder than lead, it can be cut with a knife with difficulty). It is a silvery metallic element that must be extracted by electrolysis from a fused salt like calcium chloride...

It is apparent that many animals can taste, or develop a taste, for calcium, and use this sense to detect the mineral in salt licks or other sources...

Calcium is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the human body, where it is a common cellular ionic messenger with many functions, and serves also as a structural element in bone....

Visible spectra of many stars, including the Sun, exhibit strong absorption lines of singly ionized calcium.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Makes me want to be a druid

Oh John Michael Greer, you are my one true man crush. Naughty, naughty man.
[L]et’s consider the future of astronomical observatories.  An observatory big and high-tech enough to contribute significantly to the advance of astronomy can be a very expensive proposition—the Palomar observatory outside San Diego, for example, costs over US$10,000 a night to operate—and the ebbing tide of prosperity in the industrial world is starting to make those costs hard to cover...
Observatories are particularly vulnerable in this context because they don’t make a profit for anybody...These days, the sciences are being sorted out into two camps, those that produce technologies useful to government and business and those that don’t; I’m sure my readers need no help figuring out which of those camps is getting the lion’s share of research dollars these days, and which is being left to twist in the wind.

...It so happens that astronomers do have another potential source of income available to them—a funding source that could probably support many if not most of the existing observatories in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, and would be completely independent of government grants and the whims of university administrations alike...
It’s as simple as it is elegant, really.  All that would be required is that observatory staff would have to learn how to cast and interpret horoscopes.
Yes, I’m well aware that that’s not going to happen, and in a moment we’ll talk about the reasons why, but let’s set that aside for now and consider the thing in the abstract.  Despite the fulminations and wishful thinking of the rationalists among us, astrology’s not going to go away any time soon.  It’s been a living  tradition for well over two millennia in close to its current form, and is as lively now as it’s ever been.  The rationalist crusade against it has been a resounding flop, having failed to make the least dent in its popularity; today astrology supports its own economic sector of publishers, computer firms, annual conferences, correspondence schools, and many other businesses, not to mention thousands of professional astrologers who make a living casting birth charts, annual progressions, horary charts, and other astrological readings for a large and enthusiastic clientele.
Not only could astronomers tap into this market, it actually takes a continuing effort on their part to avoid doing so.  I’ve been told by astronomer friends that observatories in the US routinely field calls from people who are a little confused about the difference between astronomy and astrology, and want someone to cast their horoscopes. Put a new message on the answering machine, teach the receptionist how to take down birth data, and that’s fixed...
Nor would this be anything new in the history of astronomy.  Johannes Kepler paid the bills while he was working out the laws of planetary motion by casting horoscopes; Claudius Ptolemy did the same thing more than a millennium earlier while he was writing the Almagest...
Much more could be said along these lines, but it’s probably better to stop here, so that my rationalist readers don’t fling themselves at their computer screens in a purely reflexive attempt to leap through cyberspace and wring my neck.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cartographic Consciousness

The devil is in the details, but I enjoyed all of these:

40 maps that explain the world

Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to... Some of these are pretty nerdy, but I think they’re no less fascinating and easily understandable.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Music Math

“This is a visualization of Beach Boys vocals inspired by the physics of church bells,” Alexander Chen, who works at the Google Creative Lab, explains over at Vimeo. “Using a mathematical relationship between a the circumference of a circular surface and pitch, I wrote code that draws a circle for each note of the song.”

The song, by the way, is “You Still Believe in Me,” from Pet Sounds, and the result is gorgeous. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This dude been on the Internet so long

The first library I ever remember visiting was the library in Red Bluff, California. I was five at the time, and living with my aunt while my mother was recovering from surgery. I remember the children’s area of the library, and in my recollection of the place today, the rows of books went all the way up to the ceiling. I remember specifically, although not by name, a picture book a pulled down from the rows, about children leaping for the moon. It was explained to me that I could take the book home — and not just that book, but any book I wanted in the entire library. I remember thinking, in a five year old’s vocabulary, how unbelievably perfect. I took home a book about stars, which started a life-long love of astronomy.
The second library I have a strong memory of was the Covina Public Library, in my then hometown of Covina, California. My mother and then-stepfather worked all day and I would walk or bike to the library most afternoons, and read magazines and look through reference and trivia books. I also remember specifically spending a lot of time with a book about dragons.
I remember the library at Ben Lomond Elementary School, also in Covina. It was there I first made the acquaintance of Robert Heinlein, in a library-bound edition of Farmer in the Sky. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.
At the West Covina library, I discovered that one could borrow LPs and listen to them at turntables in the library! I remember sitting in a chair, next to a turntable, headphones on, listening to Bill Cosby LPs and giggling as quietly as I could (it was a library) while simultaneously flipping through a Time-Life book called The Planets, written by one Carl Sagan.
The library in Glendora was where I stayed in the afternoons when my now-divorced mother worked. I would sit in the just outside the kids’ area, eating Jujyfruit candies (you could buy a whole big box for 49 cents at the Ralph’s just down the street), reading what were called “juvies” then and are called “Young Adult” books now. It was the first place I was exposed to a real live computer: A TRS-80 Model III. I remember programming the computer in BASIC to play simple games. It was there I met Mykal Burns, who was (and remains) one of my best friends. I also met — actually met, not just in a book — Ray Bradbury there, which to me wassomething like meeting a wizard.
The library at Sandburg Middle School is where I would be in the early morning before school started, reading science fiction and rushing through my homework. It was also the scene of some of greatest junior high triumphs, as I participated in a school-wide “science bees” staged there, for the Red team (the school divided alphabetically into colors), and would single-handedly utterly slaughter entire opposing teams. All those years of checking out trivia and science books paid off with a vengeance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Archdruid is right, one of the first things to go....

The company had been packing a 40-by-60-foot rental space here with racks of computer servers that were needed to store and process information from members’ accounts. The electricity pouring into the computers was overheating Ethernet sockets and other crucial components.

Thinking fast, Mr. Rothschild, the company’s engineering chief, took some employees on an expedition to buy every fan they could find — “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area,” he said — to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down...


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Another from the vault

Sad I deleted my archives. From 2009:


And what be goldbugs culpability? They resemble anarchists: strongly motivated to be on the vanguard for a variety reasons, but ultimately selfish and probably mistaken for apocalyptic systemic implosion remains a tail event. In this view , gold remains "a trade", and not an end to itself. More irksome, a bet on Gold may be "right", but it - betting as it does upon the acceleration of pus manufacture, feels (to me) somehow uncivic-minded - a wasteful employment of intellectual energy that might be set upon making what is systemically and socially un-well, better.

Exactly right. Put another way, if you are bullish on gold, you are bearish on America, civilization, and the fate of those around you who keep their money in the bank. It's not a hedge against inflation--it's a bet on the inevitability of failure.

In craps, the casino dice game, there are two main bets available to you. You can bet the "Pass" line, meaning that you are hoping the person rolling the dice wins. Or, you can bet "Don't Pass," betting that the shooter will lose.

The odds on a "Pass" bet are 1.414% against you. The odds are 1.402% on the "Don't Pass."

Mathematically-minded players occasionally bet "Don't Pass," due to the slightly lower house edge, but in a real casino, you will quickly be shunned, taunted, bad vibed, and possibly get punched in the face.

Getting punched is a low probability event, but not low enough to justify (to me) the .012% edge you gain by betting "Don't Pass." Also, it's like a 95% chance everyone else you are gambling with will think you are an asshole.

Gold is the same deal. Even if you are right, you are an asshole---and the slim protection you get probably doesn't overcome the negative expectation that someone will punch you in the face. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Rice experienced firsthand the injustices of Birmingham's discriminatory laws and attitudes. She was instructed to walk proudly in public and to use the facilities at home rather than subject herself to the indignity of "colored" facilities in town. As Rice recalls of her parents and their peers, "they refused to allow the limits and injustices of their time to limit our horizons."...

During the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house while Condoleezza practiced the piano inside...

Reverend Rice instilled in his daughter and students that black people would have to prove themselves worthy of advancement, and would simply have to be "twice as good" to overcome injustices built into the system. Rice said “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms." While the Rices supported the goals of the civil rights movement, they did not agree with the idea of putting their child in harm's way.

Rice was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963. Rice has commented upon that moment in her life:

I remember the bombing of that Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father's church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate, Denise McNair. The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations. But those fears were not propelled forward, those terrorists failed.

— Condoleezza Rice, Commencement 2004, Vanderbilt University, May 13, 2004 Rice states that growing up during racial segregation taught her determination against adversity, and the need to be "twice as good" as non-minorities. Segregation also hardened her stance on the right to bear arms; Rice has said in interviews that if gun registration had been mandatory, her father's weapons would have been confiscated, leaving them defenseless against Ku Klux Klan nightriders

tangential h/t Cnu.