athelind: (eco-rant)
... This is just a quick note. No substance, no references, no citations.


A lot of people are up in arms about how the situation in Japan underscores the "dangers of nuclear power".

To this point, the radiation leaked into the environment is minimal. Things are Very Bad Indeed if you're within a certain radius of the plant, but my suspicion is that the increased health risks and hazards caused by this amount of radiation will still be substantially less than those caused by fossil fuel plants.

Let me emphasize this:

The environmental and human impact of a complex of nuclear reactors failing catastrophically after a major disaster is less than that of fossil fuel plants in the regular course of their operation.[Citation Needed]



I will endeavor to find numbers to confirm or deny this next week, after I return home.


Yes, I just used the Lorax as an icon in a possibly-pro-nuclear post.
athelind: (Eye - VK)
There's been a bit of a kerfluffle about a recent study about students who fell for a hoax website about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

Frankly, the article linked above is a shoddy piece of science journalism. As [livejournal.com profile] eggshellhammer pointed out, it doesn't link to the original study. Even worse, in Your Obedient Serpent's eyes: it didn't specify the age level of the students. That's an important factor: a study about the critical thinking ability of kindergarten students has entirely different implications than the same study about a group of college undergraduates.

That in itself is an indication of a failure of critical thinking ability in would-be science journalists.

As it transpires, this study involved seventh-graders. The conclusion can thus be summarized as, "wow, you can con a 12-year-old into believing some crazy shit", which is hardly earth-shattering news. I'd say three-quarters of the contents of snopes.com is stuff that was repeated as gospel truth on the Bicentennial schoolyards of my twelfth year.

(I find the datum that students ignore search engines in favor of randomlytypinginaname.com to be much more startling, personally. Seriously, WTF?)

The other study mentioned in the University of Connecticut article suggests that this, in large measure, just reflects a need for improved emphasis on Internet search and access skills, and not some Terrible Crisis in Education. That's how the researchers seem to interpret it; the DANGER WILL ROBINSON! reactions were mostly imposed by the secondary sources. For my part, I was intrigued and, on some level, amused at the revelation that students who had difficulties with traditional literacy showed superior online reading facilities.

As for the details of the first study ... I'm going to be generous and completely ignore the implications of drawing broad conclusions from a sample group of twenty-five students in a single class. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this specific class is representative of the entire population of students in Connecticut. Let's take a look at two of the sited conclusions:

• All but one of the 25 rated the site as "very credible" ...

Let us, just for a moment, step out of the role of of the Know-It-All Grown-Up Who Knows This Site Is Patently Absurd Because There's No Such Thing. Let us remember that those reading this journal are likely to have at least five more years of formal education than the subjects of this study.

Yes, http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ is "very credible".

"Credible" doesn't mean "true" or "accurate". It means "able to be believed", or "capable of persuading". The website has a professional presentation and a serious, convincing tone. The only obvious joke on the main page (aside from a deadpan link to sasquatch) is a reference to the organization "Greenpeas". The FAQ gets increasingly flippant and absurdist, but they avoid an overtly humorous tone for the main body.

Given that aquarium octopuses are well-known for getting out of their tanks and taking walks, and that there is at least one species of land-dwelling, arboreal hermit crabs, the idea of a "tree octopus" is just plausible enough to someone who knows just how weird and wacky life on Earth can get.

In science, "credibility" also means "reproducibility", and in this context, that extends to being able to find other corroborating sources.

This leads us to the second conclusion I want to examine:

• Most struggled when asked to produce proof - or even clues - that the web site was false ...

Hey, it's an exercise for the class! Let's check our own research and critical thinking abilities, shall we?

I'm curious to see what proofs (or even clues!) the folks reading this can come up with, above and beyond the flippant tone of the FAQ that I mentioned above. The Sasquatch link leads to an equally-deadpan page, of course.

Needless to say, "I just know there's no such thing" isn't a valid "proof"; in fact, it doesn't even rate as a "clue".

Answers will be graded!


Thanks ... and apologies ... to [livejournal.com profile] pseudomanitou for drawing my attention to this study and the reactions which followed. Please don't think I'm being an asshole for deconstructing this.
Update: [livejournal.com profile] eggshellhammer contacted the original author and scored a link to the original document. Yes, the sample group was larger than 25.
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
This is a link to someone else being smart:

Don’t worry guys, everything isn’t a Mary Sue, by Kelly "Coelasquid" Turnbull.

Kelly is a professional animator who also does the invariably-entertaining webcomic, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. This essay not only deconstructs the currently-hip notion that any protagonist who bears any resemblance to the author is a "Mary Sue", it also discusses at length how to use Maslow's Hierarchy as a tool to write convincing characters and conflicts.

I thought it needed sharing -- and preserving for future reference.


Cross-Posted to Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons: Mary Who?
athelind: (tell it like it IS)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Would you rather be super-rich or super-smart if you would only be average in the other category?

... assuming the question means "mean" and not "median" or "mode", an upgrade to an average level of income sounds pretty sweet right now.

To be a little less flippant:

A) It's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got.

The ability to be content and comfortable while living on modest means is a learned skill. If you haven't learned it, it is unlikely that you will be content or comfortable even with exorbitant resources at your disposal.

B) Knowledge does more than income.

Being "super-smart" includes the ability to make one's resources go further. Why buy your own supercomputer when you can network a bunch of loss-leader-priced video game consoles? Why pay Toyota for a bleeding-edge hybrid when you can replace the engine and transmission in that old junkyard chassis with a turbine generator and a surplus DC-10 starter motor?


I should note that I define "super-smart" as "a whole lot smarter than I am". Oddly, a lot of people have been answering this one with "I'm already smart...", which makes me suspect that either their bar for superlatives are a lot lower than my own, or their egos are a lot larger.
athelind: (Warning: Lack of Internet)
Icon to the contrary, Internet access is the one thing I do have at the moment.

My cellphone account has always been provided through [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia's employer. Due to our impending divorce, it has now been terminated.

Time to tap into the LiveJournal Hive Mind again:

I need to find an inexpensive, reliable provider with good coverage in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area. I'm going to be spending a lot of time out in the eastern hills in the near future, so good rural coverage is a plus.

I want to transfer my old cell phone number, preferably without any additional service charges.

I think I should go with a pay-as-you-go plan; I don't need to get locked into monthly obligations when my income is, at best, erratic.

Unlimited evening and weekend hours are a must.

Unlimited text messaging would be Very Useful Indeed; our last contract charged us something like ten cents a pop.

Thanks in advance for the feedback, gang.


I should also note that my old email accounts will be terminated on Sunday. As a Permanent LiveJournal Account Holder, however, I can always be easily reached.
athelind: (green hills of earth)
As if to demonstrate that Life Goes On, I just had an Archimedes moment: I ran out of the shower, towel wrapped 'round my waist, shouting "EUREKA!"

You see, I finally figured out a series of graphics that would explain to observers just what I was seeing in all that Elkhorn Slough data back in 2004-2005. I was trying to get a coherent article out of three or four different studies, each of which insisted that the Big Erosion Hotspot was in a different part of the Slough. Unfortunately, because their studies found erosion and deposition occurring at opposite ends of the Slough, the PhDs responsible for two of the papers each had ... issues ... with the other.

Bear in mind that these gentlemen were supposed to be my co-authors.

Bear in mind as well that I'm the only guy who looked at all four and a half data sets spanning 15 years.

Of course, any hypothesis that reconciled these supposedly-contradictory datasets was going to get lambasted from both ends.

Of course, after staring at all that data for three years, I came up with one:

Elkhorn Slough would experience Big Erosion Events that would dump a lot of sediment at the head of the Slough, and it would work its way down to the mouth over a period of years, thus giving the pattern of "Erosion here, deposition there" in one study, and "Erosion there, deposition here" a few years later.

I just figured out how to make maps that show the bulge of sediment moving down the slough.

It's clearly visible in the "flip chart" of cross-sections I carried around with me during that whole project, but I just figured out a way to display the data in four or five Q&D maps, rather than making people scrutinize Excel graphs for three years to see the pattern emerge.

So, yeah, "Eureka".

And you know what's even better?

When I rattled this off to [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby, who's an engineer, he said, "oh, yeah. that's plug flow."

So:
  1. I still have all that data on my desktop hard drive.
  2. And I have an open-source GIS program that I've been wanting to figure out.
  3. And I want closure, dammit.


I may have material for a Master's Thesis here.


athelind: (Eye - VK)
Last week's Yoda quote raised a little controversy in the comments.

Here's another quote that I find equally compelling:

"Failure is always an option!"

—Adam Savage, Mythbusters



In my mind, this does not conflict in any way with Yoda's "Do, or do not; there is no try."

Let's put that into some context, courtesy CNET:

That leads to another question I wanted to ask: Talk about the notion of "Failure is always an option."

Savage: Well, people always imagine a scientist sets up an experiment to prove something. When it doesn't, they imagine him saying "my experiment was a failure." In fact, a real scientist sets up an experiment to test something. If he was wrong about his preconceptions, he's far from upset. In fact, it means something else entirely new has been illuminated. This is how it is for us, and thus we say that any experiment that yields data, even if we were wrong about what that data would be, is a successful experiment.


As Unca Sammy taught me to say:

Failure1 is not Failure2.



When Yoda says, "that is why you fail1", he's saying "you have sabotaged yourself with your own doubt and disbelieve, and your impatience has caused you to surrender when you have actually made headway toward accomplishing your goal." Only, you know, in backwards Muppet Moonspeak.

Failure1 means giving up.



When Adam says "failure2 is not an option", he's saying that, to an experimenter, there are no failures: there are unanticipated successes.

Failure2 means learning something new.



They are the same word, but they are not the same idea.


The "Feed Your Head" series started with the subject line, "Things I KNOW, but need to LEARN". If I sound didactic, rest assured that you are not the intended student body.

Which doesn't mean you're not welcome to audit the course, naturally.

athelind: (big ideas)
Something at work last night reminded me...



Do. Or do not.

There is no "try".




Edit: The full lesson:

"I don't believe it!"



"That is why you fail."


athelind: (Default)

The Kno: A giant double-screen tablet to replace giant textbooks.



Kno Movie from Kno, Inc. on Vimeo.



I'm not much of a tech-fiend or an early adopter. My usual reaction at the Shiny Tech Toy of the Minute is, "huh, that's kinda cool", but it's seldom if ever "OMG I GOTTA HAVE IT".

Even now, as I'm looking at the Kno, my reaction is, "Yes, this is finally getting to what I want in the elusive 'electronic book' -- something that retains the utility of a hardcopy book while simultaneously taking advantage of the new medium."

Up until now, the ebook readers I've seen haven't done either. They've been the Worst of Both Worlds: a static page without any of the convenient features that let the spine-bound book render the continuous scroll obsolete. That's fine for a novel, but for any kind of reference work at all, it's useless. If I'm, say, playing an RPG, and trying to run combat, even the best-organized rulebooks I've seen have me flipping back and forth between three or more widely-separated sections at once.

A reader-tablet that's set up to properly display two-page spreads, to let me jot notes, to let me flip back and forth casually between sections? One that's ALSO set up to hyperlink and cross-reference? And, of course, to have animated illustrations and even embedded video? To have two books open at once, or a full-on web browser on one screen with a textbook on the other?

This is the frakkin' Diamond Age, boys and girls. Or the first real stab at it, anyway.

[livejournal.com profile] halfelf is holding out for a tablet that has both a capacitive and a resistive screen, so you can do both the Cool iPhone Multi-Touch Tricks and the Pressure-sensitive Drawing Tablet Tricks. Call it the "fingerpaint interface".

It would be NICE to be able to use something like the Kno as a full-fledged graphics tablet, but it's not a deal-breaker for me. I can live without that. After all, I can't use my laptop as one, either.

In short: WANT. If this thing isn't just vaporware, I'll be eagerly awaiting announcements of price points.

Even if it is ... this is the interface of the future. This is what an "ebook reader" will have to look like to be as useful as a spine-bound book. It doesn't have to be this large, but it's going to have to be this flexible.

Take a good look, people. This could be the printkiller.
athelind: (Warning: Self-Evolving System)
After my post about the possibility of a non-violent dissolution of the Union, and particularly in light of this comment about a Disunited States restructuring itself as a North American Union along the lines of the EU, two posts on Futurismic jumped right out at me.

The first raises the idea that the U.S. is just too big to govern with a top-down model, and as the amount of information involved increases, and transparency increases, it simply overwhelms the systems. Some of the quotes sound like knee-jerk Luddism, until you realize that the guy saying "The political system is broken partly because of Internet" is the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the guy saying that releasing more government information would harm politcial debate and paralyze the government was Lawrence Freaking Lessig, one of the founders of the Creative Commons. When that hits, it turns everything around: they aren't critiquing the new technology; they're critiquing the established governmental systems, and actually suggesting new ideas.

(Again, a recurring theme in Toffler is that "second-wave" institutions are are a poor match to an economy driven by "third-wave" technology. Is that The Other Shoe I hear?)

The article about Post-National Identity is also Relevant To Recent Discourse, but it's one in the morning, so good frakkin' night.


athelind: (eco-rant)
Okay, one reason, and one alone:

The United States of America consumes a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and produces a disproportionate amount of its pollution. Even a massive socio-economic catastrophe isn't going to do more than moderate that, at least over the next half-century or so. this is an issue that I can't run away from, because the ripples affect the entire world, and not just economically.

I am an Earth Systems Scientist.

If I have any hope of having an effect on this globe-threatening situation, it's gotta be here.

I've got my lever, rusty as it may be, and I think I'm narrowing down my places to stand.


athelind: (politics)
This was originally tacked on as a footnote to my last post, but I think it needs to stand on its own.

For the record, the "Divided States of America" is only a "worst-case scenario" if the Balkanization is violent. That's not unlikely, because we're all pretty pissed at each other right now, and we do like our guns.

On the other claw, the Soviet Union managed to spin off its component without devolving into all-out war, though, even if there were border skirmishes; if the U.S. pulled off the same trick, California might wind up better off than we are now, with the Federal Government funneling money out of the eighth-largest economy in the world and into Red States who rant against taxation, welfare and government interference.


athelind: (prisoner)
Mostly for my own reference: some thoughtful and measured words about emigration.

I'll tell ya: ever since reading Toffler's predictions for the future of the two "Second Wave" superpowers in 1990's Powershift, and watching it come true in the Soviet Union less than a year later, there's a part of me that's been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yes, I'm fully aware that this kind of apocalyptic paranoia has contributed to the paralyzing stasis of my life since graduation.

Still, there's an important truth in play: things aren't getting any better in the Untidy States, and the best-case scenario is to hope that the continual erosion of our rights and freedoms will be sufficiently gradual that we won't notice.

And the alternatives ... well, we seem to be using all the worst clichés of Cyberpunk as a road map as it is, why not that one, too?*

I would really like to convince myself that this is just pessimism due to the latest economic downturn, but even during the boom years of the '90s, I saw the "New Democrats" quietly and casually continuing the trends of restricting the rights of biological individuals and increasing the freedoms of "corporate persons". Some oppressed groups have made a few advances in acceptance, but really, it's just welcoming them to the same Village that the rest of us live in. One step forward, two steps back.

I'm in the process of reevaluating my life, realigning my goals, and trying to get a better grip on how the "real world" works.

And around here ... it doesn't. Not very well. Not in ways that will do me any good, now or in the future.

Realistically, if I'm trying to reconstruct my present to make plans for my future, "emigration" needs to be one of my options—even and especially if I land the elusive "Real Job" locally.

The big issue, of course, is that the other Anglophone nations don't really want more USian expatriates.


This is not a post about pessimism or defeatism. This is a post about options.
*See next post.

athelind: (AAAAAA)
Observation: two cups of coffee within 90 minutes is my limit.

The third seems to produce mildly disorienting side effects, a little bit like anxiety, and a little bit like motion sickness while sitting perfectly still.

It's almost subliminal.

I'm glad I don't have to drive for a few more hours; I can sense my temper just looking for an excuse.


athelind: (Warning: Existential Threat)
Instant Sound Bytes for Every Occasion.

Makes noise, obviously.

If you try no other button, you need to hit "EPIC?!".

I promise, I really, really promise not to abuse this during our Star Wars Saga games.

A well-placed Wilhelm does not constitute "abuse", however.

Blame [livejournal.com profile] gatewalker.


athelind: (Eye of the Sky God)
Posted for future reference:

The Key to Quantum Gravity May Lie in the Æther.




Expect the TIMECUBE crazies and the anti-science types who think that the Big Bang is part of "Darwinism" to jump all over this, shrieking, "See? Einstein was wrong!" and insulting the intelligence of everyone who doesn't immediately see that this proves their own particular brand of blather.
athelind: (Eye of the Sky God)
Posted for future reference:

The Key to Quantum Gravity May Lie in the Æther.




Expect the TIMECUBE crazies and the anti-science types who think that the Big Bang is part of "Darwinism" to jump all over this, shrieking, "See? Einstein was wrong!" and insulting the intelligence of everyone who doesn't immediately see that this proves their own particular brand of blather.
athelind: (Magnum Opus)
Since my brain is currently actively engaged in other matters, my Magnum Opus* has finally decided that it wants my attention, as well.

(Obviously, this only happens when there are other things that Actively Need Doing; I don't think I've really done any serious work on the Opus since I finished my capstone, though I was actively working on other story ideas over the long commute during my three months with the civil engineering firm.)

I'm looking for good software to help me organize my plot -- and just to make it hard on the audience, I'm looking for Ubuntu software.

If I were doing this analogue, I'd get a pack of 3"x5" cards, and write down the Important Plot Moments that Must Stay In No Matter What, figure out what order to put them in, and start "inbetweening", as the animators say: adding the transitions and the bridge scenes and the character development moments that get me from Scene to Scene to Scene.

If the inbetweening process suggests a different order for the Keystone Scenes, I could then start shuffling them around.

I'd like to find software that does this sort of thing gracefully. Wikis don't work (I've tried'em). Mindmap software is kind of close (discrete ideas in boxes on a blank desktop), but the radial paradigm is all wrong.

I'm downloading a few outliners from the Ubuntu repositories, and I'll mess around with'em later. I was wondering if any of you out there in LJ Land might have some suggestions for something more graphical, more like a Big Ol' Bulletin Board/Table Top that will let me have a bunch of ideas and plot elements all out in front of me at the same time, and shuffle them around without awkward copypasta. Don't be hesitant to suggest Windows Application X or Mac Application Y -- I can always use them as a search term to find open-source software that's like those programs.


* No, I'm not going to give any details about the Magnum Opus at this stage of the game. I will say that, yes, it has dragons. And dinosaurs. And sorcerors. And maybe even swords.
athelind: (Default)
Since my brain is currently actively engaged in other matters, my Magnum Opus* has finally decided that it wants my attention, as well.

(Obviously, this only happens when there are other things that Actively Need Doing; I don't think I've really done any serious work on the Opus since I finished my capstone, though I was actively working on other story ideas over the long commute during my three months with the civil engineering firm.)

I'm looking for good software to help me organize my plot -- and just to make it hard on the audience, I'm looking for Ubuntu software.

If I were doing this analogue, I'd get a pack of 3"x5" cards, and write down the Important Plot Moments that Must Stay In No Matter What, figure out what order to put them in, and start "inbetweening", as the animators say: adding the transitions and the bridge scenes and the character development moments that get me from Scene to Scene to Scene.

If the inbetweening process suggests a different order for the Keystone Scenes, I could then start shuffling them around.

I'd like to find software that does this sort of thing gracefully. Wikis don't work (I've tried'em). Mindmap software is kind of close (discrete ideas in boxes on a blank desktop), but the radial paradigm is all wrong.

I'm downloading a few outliners from the Ubuntu repositories, and I'll mess around with'em later. I was wondering if any of you out there in LJ Land might have some suggestions for something more graphical, more like a Big Ol' Bulletin Board/Table Top that will let me have a bunch of ideas and plot elements all out in front of me at the same time, and shuffle them around without awkward copypasta. Don't be hesitant to suggest Windows Application X or Mac Application Y -- I can always use them as a search term to find open-source software that's like those programs.


* No, I'm not going to give any details about the Magnum Opus at this stage of the game. I will say that, yes, it has dragons. And dinosaurs. And sorcerors. And maybe even swords.
athelind: (happy)
Does anyone out there know how to open/convert/break down an .avb avatar file from the old, old Microsoft Comic Chat program? Way back in the Dark Ages, Malathar made a custom file for me, and I'd like to convert the various emotions and gestures into LiveJournal icons.

athelind: (Default)
Does anyone out there know how to open/convert/break down an .avb avatar file from the old, old Microsoft Comic Chat program? Way back in the Dark Ages, Malathar made a custom file for me, and I'd like to convert the various emotions and gestures into LiveJournal icons.

athelind: (soylent)


A reference for [livejournal.com profile] kolchis, in re: a conversation earlier today. (The formula in Panel 2 was the specific reference.)

Confirmed with actual census data.


athelind: (Default)


A reference for [livejournal.com profile] kolchis, in re: a conversation earlier today. (The formula in Panel 2 was the specific reference.)

Confirmed with actual census data.


athelind: (cronkite)

Upper Mismanagement


Quick Summary: American manufacturing is in trouble in part because American business schools focus almost exclusively on finance, rather than production.

-- found via Boing Boing.



This thesis jibes with my impressions -- or perhaps it just plays into my prejudices.

You see, I've never really believed in money. I never have. I know it only has meaning and value because everyone agrees that it has meaning and value, and I've always found it difficult to buy into the consensual hallucination.

I design games for fun. I model real systems for a vocation. When I look at the financial world and derivative markets and all the rest, it all looks a lot more like the former than the latter. It's made up. It's arbitrary. And it bugs the hell out of me that, over the course of my lifetime, the people playing these made-up number games have managed to arrange the world so that their Game is somehow the Only Important Thing. no matter what else you do, no matter what else you know, you have to play their Game to have any measure of stability or security in your life.

And yet, they have no reciprocal obligation. If you have solid, useful, tangible knowledge, you also have to know their rules at the most basic level, and the more you pick up, the better off you are -- but if you focus on nothing but the Game, you have distinct advantages, economically, socially, and politically.

And, adding insult to very real injury, they constantly pat themselves on the back for being "hard-nosed" and "practical" and "only looking at the bottom line".

In short, they're Munchkins.

And yeah, the idea that their inbred, detached-from-reality number games have eviscerated the economy, leaving nothing but a hollow shell, a junk-bond paper tiger, a ghost made of numbers -- that makes perfect sense to Your Obedient Serpent.

On the other claw, as valid as these points may be, at this juncture in my life, I am forced to ask: Hey, Athe, how's that workin' for you?

I need to reassess my own attitude toward their razzin' frazzin' Game, and my own participation in it. Right now, when someone says "investment" and "mutual funds" to me, what I hear is "gambling" and "scam" -- and that's not useful.


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