Saturday, May 16, 2009

Caturday: I Is A Spinks...

Wurship me, mortal!
Ozma has been quite affectionate lately. Now the porch door is open 24/7, she comes and goes at will. She's normally out when I wake up, and in if I get back much after dark. If I get back before dark, though, she scurries out of the brush or from under a car and bounds over to me, then leads me back to the apartment. It's amusingly dog-like... except dogs seem to have the sense to either lead at a reasonable distance or to one side. She wants to be about six inches directly in front of the foot that's planted, forcing me to swerve around like a drunk to avoid kicking her or stepping on her. And I wouldn't want to do that.

As an aside (I can't help myself), a chance misspelling led me to this conclusion a moment ago: you might think one of each letter would be enough. But to be without two h's though would be tough. (To make this one work as intended, you need to imagine a comma on either side of though. Another situation where without puctuation there's ambiguity; with it, tiny changes create completely different meanings. Ok, ok, it's weak, but it amuses me.)

Memo to Michael Steele: Shut Up!

The GOP's Great Black Dope has just emitted another verbal turd: Gay marriage will burden small business. Eeyup. All those partners will now be entitled to the same benefits that traditional partners have had for many years. God help this country if we actually make an effort to make sure that everyone has equal stature in the eyes of the law. Hey, how's this for a republican meme: "Workers burden businesses." If you're not a business, you're welcome to die. Because you're certainly not helping this country by, you know, working and doing stuff and buying things, and demanding all sorts of ridiculous perks like retirement, health care, and wages and stuff. Can you imagine how profitable business could be if we didn't have to pay for all those useless workers?

At the beginning of the year I thought Steele was a harmless, well-intentioned goof. I got pretty exasperated with what struck me as unreasonably vicious attacks on him for what struck me as trivia. At this point, I think the only person that's more dangerous to the emergence of a healthy republican party is Dick Cheney. And yes, Limbaugh is in there, but I'd put him at third, because so many republicans see him as a fringe figure. Cheney is the "how can I miss you if you won't go away" face of republicanism that has been trashed in public opinion; Steele was the attempted reboot to a kinder, more tolerant face of republicanism. But he just keeps ripping the mask off and revealing the living core of modern republican beliefs: a horrific and mindless disregard for the needs of anyone, and a horrific and mindless enslavery to the wants of the well-off.

BTW, I've been a little confused as to whether the parties should be capitalized or not. I have more or less settled on not, but sometimes I do mindlessly capitalize one or the other. Any thoughts? I will say, I'm not writing "republican" and "Democrat" as a 2nd-grade mentality razzing. I'll leave that kind of nonsense for others. I would sure like for conservatives to put together some coalition worthy of respect, and I'm willing to offer such respect pre-emptively. If it should be "Republican," please tell me (a citation would be helpful), and that's what I'll use.

On further thought, maybe I should go with dick(less) cheney and michael (needs to) steele (a brain).

Confirmation of the Obvious

Is the phrase one of my science ed profs used to describe most educational research. This is not as trivial as it might look at first pass. As I've commented before (here for example), we humans tend to see all sorts of patterns, many of which aren't "real." In other words, we think some relationships or recurrent events are "obvious," but careful gathering of data and analysis often shows that these patterns aren't actually there. So in a situation where putting together an analysis that could show a causal relationship is extremely difficult and costly, the logical place to start is to make sure our assumptions, the things that are "obvious," are actually accurate. Education, particularly in a classroom setting, is one such situation. Furthermore, since the vast majority of citizens in industrialized nations have spent a great deal of time in the classroom, the assumptions of what is "obviously" true are deeply ingrained, widespread and numerous. After all, we all have extensive experience in that setting, and therefore feel our opinions have validity due to that experience. Even though most of us have never bothered to gather empirical evidence and test those assumptions and opinions.

This can be somewhat infuriating to those who do try to gather such data and test those opinions.

It can also lead to some serious "Well, duh!" reactions to reports from educational research. For example, this article from The Telegraph is summarized "Reading bedtime stories to children could help to improve their vocabulary, new research suggests." "Well, duh!" was certainly my reaction. Actually, the article went in a different direction than I was expecting... it's more about retaining memories of words learned just before a good sleep (as opposed to several waking hours later). My assumption was that it was going to be a study of kids who were read bedtime stories versus kids who were not. Which does seem like kind of a dumb study, doesn't it? On the other hand, obvious conclusions have often been shown to be incorrect; if that study hasn't been done, it should be. Furthermore, the assumption that "Reading bedtime stories to children could help to improve their vocabulary," while an obvious projection from the study described in the article, is not necessarily accurate. If the kids are drowsy, for example, and nodding off, their retention might not be as good as if they were read to in the midafternoon when they were alert.

Then there's logistics and ethics. It is reasonable to assume that reading to kids is a positive benefit. Yet to establish causality, you would need to randomly assign them to treatment (reading) and control (non-reading) groups. In essence, you might be put in the position of depriving some students of a positive benefit that they would have otherwise received. This is an ethical quandry, which can be resolved through a variety of means, though none totally satisfactory. Payments for participation, offers of remedial followup, resources (books) given after the study, and so on, are options I see off the top of my head for this hypothetical study. Ultimately, the human subjects committee at the institution doing the research would be responsible for deciding whether the palliative actions suggested by the reasearchers would be sufficient to overcome and balance whatever ill effects might arise from participating in the study.

Oh yeah, and there's the whole issue of informed consent: parents/guardians would have to be filled in on what exactly the risks would be (to privacy, to the development of their children, to their health- inconsequential in this case- and so on), and what the study was trying to achieve. The human subjects committee would have to sign off on this as well. The consent form would also spell out the compensation offered to participate in the study, and thus takes the form of a contract: a legally binding agreement between the parties.

In short, any type of educational research ends up being very complicated and involved, and much, much more expensive than most people might guess. It's typically less of a big deal with research on adults who can sign for themselves (this would include most college students), simply because there's fewer parties involved, than it is with kids whose parents/guardians are (rightfully) more suspicious regarding the researchers, and protective of their kids than they might be for their own sakes.

So while confirming the obvious is often seen as a "Well, duh!" sort of achievement, and is frequently held up both in the media and by demagogues as wasteful spending and a squandering of resources, it is neither unimportant nor cheap and easy. The same professor who characterized much of sci ed research with the title of this post also frequently commented, "It's not rocket science!" To which I often responded, "No it's not. In rocket science they at least know what the relevant variables are. In education, we clearly don't, and I'm not even convinced we're getting closer."

Friday, May 15, 2009

How to Improve Drainage:

Remove the obstacles. Callan found this clip at Geo Slice. I found another copy (that I could embed) at YouTube. A commenter at Geo Slice left a link to an extended (and higher quality) clip at Truveo. (You'll be forced to sit through a 15-second commercial with that one.)

This is a cool depiction of the power of running water, but my favorite part (at about 2:50 in the above clip) is when the whole culvert rears up out of the ground like Shai-Hulud in Dune. In the extended version, some of the later, post-flood, scenes give you a much better sense of scale than you get in the (sensibly) farther-removed shots taken during the event. It's not nice to fool Mother Nature, but unless you really know what you're doing, it's downright dangerous to fool with her.


The ears hear. The ears dance. Chaurealography.

Hat tip to Duhism


There are a couple of spectacular pictures on today, by astrophotographer Thierry Legault. This link will take you to today's post, and this one to the front page of SpaceWeather.
Click the pic to see the full size version, and here to see another incredible shot, taken the next day, of the whole disk. In the latter, the shuttle is getting ready to grapple the Hubble space telescope. The two spacecraft are at about the 7:00 position, a third of the way in from the edge to the center. On my computer, at least, you need to expand the picture to full-size (not fit to the size of the window) to see any detail. Mr. Legault's webpage is here, but when I checked it was overloaded (undoubtedly by traffic like mine from SpaceWeather).

I'm reminded that I recently watched the movie Sunshine. A number of people recommended it to me, but I have to say I was disappointed. I think my problem is that the movie doesn't know what it wants to be... hard SF? The science is sub-lousy. Psychodrama? I felt that the characters were pretty trite, reduced to one dimensional obsessives, and not very well developed as believable people with their foibles and strengths competing in a crisis situation. Monster movie? This aspect really pissed me off. Suspense/Thriller? I suppose this might come closest to the mark, but the fact is, there's so much going on, and you can pretty much guess how it's all going to end up (not in detail, but broad outcome) right from the beginning, so it's hard to get into a suspensful mindset. Overall, it never led me to willingly suspend my disbelief, and I spent most of the movie exasperated at its predictable manipulativeness.

Another thing that irritates me is when a story is not credited with at least "inspired by," if not "based upon." Most of the stories by Phillip K. Dick that have been adapted to film attribute his work as inspiration, even when the final production would be almost unrecognizable to someone familiar with the orignal writing. The short story Phoenix by Clark Ashton Smith (1954) is very clearly the basis of this film, but I saw no attribution. I was looking, and it is possible I missed it, but I don't think so. If you have a little bit of time, and you like Sci Fi, here is a link to the story online. I'm not a big fan of the flowery language, but the mood of pensiveness amid apparent calm works for me much better than the frenetic hysteria of the movie.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Am The Slime

It occurred to me when I used this tag earlier that many people may not know the reference. I use it broadly to indicate my distrust of media with commercial interuptions, or my distrust of commercials overall. This version uses the original studio soundtrack...

I am gross and perverted
I'm obsessed and deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I am the tool of the government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you

I may be vile and pernicious
But you can't look away
I make you think I'm delicious
With the stuff that I say
I am the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I am the slime oozing out
From your tv set

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don't need you
Don't got for one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

That's right, folks..
Don't touch that dial!

Well, I am the slime from your video
Oozing along on your living room floor

I am the slime from your video
Can't stop the slime, people, lookit me go

I am the Slime was on Zappa's 1973 album, Overnite Sensation. There's a fun live version from SNL (1976) here featuring Don Pardo doing the Announcer's voice. This was recorded 36 years ago... and the situation has become nothing but worse in that time.

Libertarian Paradise

Elizabeth sent me this about a week ago, and I quite enjoyed it. I saw it on one other blog, but I don't know if it really got good circulation. I do think there's a case to made against too powerful a central government, but "big government" could mean a lot of things to different people. For example, strong public health infrastructure and public beaches and other parks shared by everyone may be some people's idea of sheer hell. Other people might find rampant wire tapping and evesdropping, and torture to falsely justify an unecessary and illegal war to be examples of a government that's a little out of hand. One thing, though, will never change: the party that's out of power opposes the philosophy of the party that's in power. Unless, of course, the party out of power is brain damaged. Then they just oppose everything.

Yay! I've got cholera!

Lucky They Didn't Get an Old Faceful

"Two seasonal Yellowstone National Park concessionaire employees have been fired after they were caught urinating into the iconic Old Faithful geyser." From OregonLive.

My first geology prof totally cracked me up with a story about getting banned from Yellowstone (which his wife swore was true). He and a buddy were on a trip out west, and their low tech alternative to locking the car was to take their steering wheel with them when they walked away. At Old Faithful, they found a broom handle, and waited a little apart from the growing crowd in anticipation of the imminent eruption of the geyser. The first stage of a geyser's eruption is gentle- easy to miss if you're not watching for it: a little gentle bubbling and a small surge of water out of the vent. This is thought to remove some of the pressure on the superheated column of water in the neck of the geyser, and leads to a runaway steam "explosion."

At any rate, when Dr. Niem and his buddy saw the splash of the beginng eruption, his buddy yelled "LET 'ER RIP!" and my prankish prof slapped the steering wheel on top of the broom stick, and started spinning it as fast as he could.

He and his friend were banned from the park for several years.

And nearly 30 years later, that story still gives me a chuckle.

Addendum- I guess this is the webcam that snared the offenders.

Super Cool

As a general rule I hate advertising; so much of it seems to start with the assumption that its target audience is idiots. Every now and then, though, there's a glimmer of originality, a willingness to surprise and delight...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

People Whine About the Price of Gas

Then they're willing to shell out $1.79 for a pint? a liter? of Evian. They're so willing in fact, that companies are going hog wild trying to make their water-product distinct from all the other water-products. Let's see... I could get some big plastic bags, some peroxide and yeast, and make a killing selling "oxygen-enhanced air." "Contains 5% more oxygen by volume than regular air!" Don't imagine there's any more quality and safety restrictions on bagged air than there are on bottled water, either.

Easy Street, here I come.

And btw, water is H2O, not H24.
(From Planet Money, Hat tip to The Vigorous North)

Monster Movie

Pharyngula says he's going to watch this, but then he's a cephalopod person. And he says a lot of things. I watched this trailer with amusement and no small amount of eye-rolling. I find it hard to believe that people would pay to make this movie in the mistaken belief that other people would pay to see this movie. It worked in the 1950's because it was novel. I just don't believe it'll work now... I don't care how much F/X technology has improved.

Followup 5/14: Driftglass, in a post entirely unrelated to this one, reminded me of the following classic, Night of the Lepus.

Wednesday Words

Here's a new set of words awaiting definitions. Take a moment to click over and read Dean's definitions for the last batch... he ran the bunch. I particularly liked the meaning of "sealeta," and I had been under the misimpression that "dessinc" was where one did deddishes, but I think "Dessert, Inc." is probably more appropriate for our times.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Other News, Part II

To finish up my first year retrospective (part one is here)...

My report on Sea Lion Caves still gets a fair number of hits. Most of my traffic, three quarters or so, comes from Google Image searches; this post seems to get picked up by text searches. My mom gave me a digital camera for Christmas, and one of the earliest photos from it is still one of my favorites.

In January, I started several "regular" post topics: Monday Minerals, Wednesday Words, and Friday Fragments. I actually have pictures ready to go for the Mondy and Friday topics, but I just haven't had the gumption to "make it so." I hope to get back to those. I really need to get out to the field. I'm tired of talking about rocks in my own private zoo, and I want to look at some in the wild. I also started Interzone People posts, which I always figured was going to be an irregular feature, contingent on whether I had the camera with me, time and interest. Today, looking over my site meter stats, I found one of the funniest, and somewhat creepy, searches that has ever led to my blog:The last line shows the search phrase... but note the searcher is from Gadsden, Tennessee. I'm going to have to think carefully about posting pictures of female friends here at my favorite coffee shop.

I this February post is one of the funniest things I've ever written.

In March, I posted this somewhat snarky, but ultimately very heartfelt piece regarding my attitude towards conservatives. I can't think of a piece I've received more positive feedback on- though the general gist is one I hit on about once a month: Democrats need rational, thoughtful opposition, but Republicanism in it's current form is neither. Just as scientists need to have their claims and data thoroughly vetted and challenged, so do politicians. But until Republicans choose to acknowledge reality, they are dangerous, and everyone suffers. I also found that I could get some giggles (for myself at least) from a single sentence.

April did not find me particularly inspired with respect to blogging. But I was happy with this piece. Note that really it's on the same topic, with the same worries and conlcusions as the one that I highlighted in the paragraph above.

And I'll just round it off with one more geology piece... my first post this month was a very satisfying rant.

Again, my thanks to the visitors and commenters that keep me making the effort to share my thoughts and various amusements.

No Further Comment Necessary

From Oregon Live

Oh, Very Cool!!

Some of the questions and answers seemed to be pushing me toward characters that I would not be particularly excited about identifying with. I didn't even begin to guess this would be my final result...

and I'm quite happy with it. From Here. (I had a little confusion at first, hitting the "next" button. Allow the flash to load, then hit the "Play" button.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

And in Other News...

Today is the one-year blogoversary of "Outside the Interzone." Yes, 365 days, 578 posts and 8825 visitors (plus some; I didn't add the site meter until early July) ago, I started this cozy little jokey, sciencey, unabashedly political, and (I hope occasionally) thought-provoking cup of... whatever the hell this is. I've been having fun, though I admit over the last weeks I haven't often felt that inspired. This is reflected in the lower post frequency.

So I thought I'd do a quick review of various things I've been particularly proud of, or that figure prominantly in the blog's short life...

From the first day:
The Interzone was named after the novel of the same name, by William S. Burroughs. Couldn't get through it. I think actually I still have the Bill's copy. But at any rate, he tells me that "Interzone," in the context of the book, is a metaphor for nowhere. So the idea of being outside of nowhere is an interesting one to me. Does that mean I'm somewhere, or even more remote than nowhere? I have no idea. I also like the sound of the phrase: 2-1-3 syllables. Of course there's the literal meaning that I'm often outside the Interzone. Finally, the out-in conflict is appealing to me, though technically, "inter" is a prefix meaning "between" rather than "inside."

So there you have the reasons this nascent blog goes by the name it does.

One of my geology profs was in here with some colleagues shortly after I posted this. I showed it to them, and I swear, I think they thought I was serious. I suppose I can look pretty crazy, but I do know my geo- and he knows that. So this picture has caught me in a kind of odd space between a little hurt and offended, and very, very amused that someone thought I saw this as anything but darned funny. (You can click the pic for a somewhat larger and more legible version)

My first post on Ozma. At this point, I hadn't picked a name for her, (and I admit that I still think of her as 'cat' first and most frequently) and I had not yet discovered Lolcats. The second point is pertinant because the hamburger story is true, swear to God.

In July, responding to energy prices, I got pretty explicit about a core tendancy of mine: I look to the middle ground for sense. This is not to say that philosophically I believe that's where "truth" (whatever that means) will be found, it's just that on any opinion that can be dichotomized, the ends are almost always demonstrably in error. So if you assume that "the best" answer must be somewhere along the continuum (which is probably not a very good assumption- I have a problem with one dimensional analyses) , and the end points are flawed, the answer you're looking for must be somewhere in the middle. And after all that seriousness, I posted a few puns that I had personally created over the years. I try to restrict myself to puns that are self-created, so you'll always know who to blame for them. You're welcome.

In August I posted an ever-so-slightly snarky assessment of McCain's choice of Palin as his VP running mate. And in September I participated in my first Accretionary Wedge... I have no idea what happened to that carnival, but I miss it.

I think this is one of my longest posts (in terms of text), and it's certainly one of which I'm very proud: Tips for Science Grad Students. My sister commented at Christmas that it did a good job of addressing many of the problems she'd had as a grad student- and she was in a completely different, non-science area.

In November, I started playing with theme posts. First was my Halloween post, which was actually the day after, but since it fell on Friday, I justified my tardiness by explaining that the post was for Halloween weekend, not just the single day. The next one was for the election, about which I had a very strong opinion, and (given the last two presidential elections) very strong trepidations.

It's getting late, and I'm getting tired... and the cat's getting hungry. I'll finish up this retrospective tomorrow. But I can't leave without saying thanks to those of you who take the time to leave a comment now and then... I do enjoy this "blogging" thing, but it's you commenters who keep me motivated.

It Might be a Cult If...

(From here)
  • ‪ The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  • Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  • The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  • The group is preoccupied with making money.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Now who does that sound like? No, don't tell me, it's right on the tip of my tongue. Oh, I know this one. Dang it... I'll just go have a glass of Kool-Aid. Maybe that'll jar my memory.
(Hat tip to Library Grape, Via I Can't Believe It's Not A Democracy)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Funnies

In entertainment news, Big Bird has been hanging out with Amy Winehouse. I'm very sad, but confident he'll get his life back on track. (From Rolfrazzi)
In disinfotainment news, The Fox Family lost Uncle Wertzlemurdbachmanegger (or however he thinks "Joe" is spelled), because he's frustrated with Republican runaway spending... though upon being questioned, it's not clear what spending he thinks should be cut.Driftglass is frustrated too. Now he's going to have to get everyone seated for a new family portrait. Take a look at the full-size original here... it belongs in the Louvre (and wouldn't that piss off the Faux Crew?).
Oddee had a hilarious compilation of the 15 Cruelest Captchas. Since I have sort of a soft spot for playing with Captchas, this one tickled me good. Ranging from insulting to offensive to just plain impossible, this was defintely worth looking over.I suppose this was an obvious joke, but anything that manages to get humor, coffee and chemistry in the same joke deserves recognition. (From Saturday Bulletin)

If you ever thought it might be a good idea to have a comedian as commander-in-chief, think no longer. It is (a good idea). Next up: Al Franken. (This is from last night's White House Press Correspondent's Dinner... longish at 17 minutes, and the sound is not well synchronized, but very funny, and refreshing after "I know those weapons must be around here somewhere." Haw Haw!!! Nothing is as funny as mocking young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying in an illegal, unjustified war.)

I've been enjoying Duhism for a couple of weeks now. I posted one of his little pellets... I mean pearls... of wisdom last week. Here's another Duhist koan that goes quite a way to explain the nature of this earthly plane: "This is life. Life is art. Art is beauty. Beauty is skin deep. A pimple is skin deep. Therefore… This is Zit."
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures. Lolcats are a strange compulsion. I guess the clearest explanation I can offer is that a week without Lolcats is like a week without... Lolcats. Sorry.
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures. Ozma has been doing a lot of the above lately, and I was relieved to see that it's considered normal.

Given the release of the new Star Trek Movie, I thought it might be important to note that there are already Vulcans among us. In addition to the president, I mean.
barack obama
see more Political Pictures

On the topic of science fiction, I'll never be able to regard R2D2 as fondly as I once did now that I realize he's running Windoze.
carrie fisher, princess leia, r2d2
see more Lol Celebs.

This was one I sort put aside a week or two ago, and have been marking as "not read," figuring I'd get to it eventually. I finally did get to it today, and I'm awfully glad I did. It's worth watching just for the "no underwear in space" comment.
Who knew Vader was such a softy at heart?
darth vader
Be careful this week at work. The swine flu is still out there, and while not as nasty as first feared, it's still pretty unpleasant according to reports. It's increasingly widespread, and responsible sources (i.e., NOT US television) keep telling us the most effective measures in combatting it are frequent, low-tech hygenic practices, like washing your hand(s)...
...though I'm not really sure this is what they had in mind.
see more Engrish.