Friday, December 24, 2010

Thoughts on language and "the environment"

The hard sciences are characterized by the fact that they are used to study, describe, and predict the physical world - the mundane world - in a way that is (supposedly) divorced from social constructs that may introduce bias. It is one reason why the use of the language of mathematics - supposedly devoid of social constructs and the ultimate objective language - is so prized in the hard sciences. (It is arguably one reason why the use of numbers is so desirable among both researchers and the larger public is because numbers carry with them a high level of perceived objectivity... and therefore - perhaps - 'truth'.)

I would argue that mathematics is, itself, its own language. Even when learning of mathematics in other spoken languages, the concepts - as taught through mathematics - are consistent, and (for most concepts of mathematics) they don't intersect with social constructs present in the wider social culture of each mathematician. Since mathematics effectively requires the learning and use of a language other than the mathematician's own mother tongue, one might argue that - by and large - it is not difficult for mathematicians across social cultures to understand the meanings behind each others' research.

In a similar way, the work done by many of the hard sciences (e.g., physics and chemistry) relies on the specialized language of mathematics in addition to the specialized language of each discipline. Furthermore, the concepts that many of these disciplines describe are similarly non-intersecting with that of the societies from which each scientist comes. Therefore, it is possible to teach the same concepts of (for example) kinematics and electromagnetism (two major subjects of 1st year university-level physics in the US) in English in the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand; Spanish in the various Spanish-speaking countries around the world; or even Mandarin and still provide a standard test that can test these theories that don't intersect with most modern-day social constructs and receive the same correct answers from these groups of people who may well hold very different social constructions of how the wider world (which includes social sciences, history, etc.) works.

Biology is different from the hard sciences in many ways. One of these was is that the boundaries of biology have constantly grown, and now but up against so many other physical and social areas of study, such as biochemistry, biophysics, animal behavior, neurology, biological anthropology, and ecological history. However, this point is for a different conversation. The one that I wish to focus on is that some areas of biology are derived from very distinct social constructions of how the world works. Medicine and ecology are two that come most sharply into mind, while systematics (the science of labeling all biological species and showing how they are related) also has suffered from this, but I will not speak of it further. (By the way, the controversies of evolution vs. religious teaching is, I believe, a different kettle of fish, although I am open to counter-arguments.)

Both ecology and medicine - in their widest senses - deal with things of which people have some level of intimate knowledge and may also intersect with social construction. Medicine - which deals with the concepts of "health" and "sickness" - is a field that tries to describe and treat that which every person feel they have an intimate connection with: the human body.

... more later. I've got to get something to eat.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Winter Solstice!

Solstice bonfire

Jet effect

Sparks!

Solstice +1.5 hours

Ngrams: a problem of misinterpreted scans

A search of the term "Nintendo" in Google's new "Google Books Ngram Viewer" tool brought up an interesting result:




Apparently, for a short period of time, the term "Nintendo" was as visible in the expanse of literature as it would be in 1995! Oh, and not a single mention of "Nintendo" between the years 1871 and 1960, and then nothing again in any published book until 1989. (Side note: Nintendo was originally founded in Japan in 1889 as a playing-card manufacturer, becoming the electronics-games manufacturer with which we are most familiar starting in 1974.)

Now, these mentions are in published material that Google has scanned from printed books over the past several years, and not the popularity of the Nintendo site online (for that, check the Google Trends page for "Nintendo"). So, how can there be any mentions of a Japanese company in English printed material about 20 years prior to the founding of that company? Well, looking at the highlighted sources for "Nintendo" from 1870, I found that in most cases, it was a mis-identification of intendo (i.e., the text-recognition software mistook a preceding letter or symbol as an "N", thus finding producing the (case-specific) results for "Nintendo" around 1870). For example:






There was also one result for "nintendo" that apparently was a footnote translation from Italian (although not modern Italian, since the phrases in don't translate directly in the Google translator).

In addition, Nintendo - as a culturally important company in the US - didn't come into being until 1974, so what are the mentions for "Nintendo" in 1960? Clicking on the link for this time period, I was provided with four results. Two of these results were additional nintendo-as-Italian examples, and the other two were examples of mis-filing. One result referenced the film Chinatown, which didn't come out until 1974, and based on the snippet view might be talking about the generation of children who grew up with Nintendo and the film Chinatown. The other result showed a Singapore Airlines advertisement snippet from the Economist magazine, which means that it couldn't be from 1960, since Singapore Airlines (as an independent entity) didn't exist until after 1972, after it split from Malaysia-Singapore Airlines. Furthermore, the result shows that the reference comes from the 364th volume, issues 8280-8283 of The Economist, which (assuming that 52 volumes per year since its founding in 1843) means that the 8280th issue would have come out in 2002 (it's difficult to find issue numbers in The Economist website, but this article that appears to have been published there was written in November of 2002).

The term "Nintendo" does appear to refer to the video game company in all of the books that I looked at for all dates after 1988.

All this means that there are some problems due to technological issues that will likely creep in to a data analysis. It is important to filter the data prior to analysis, (although one hopes that a lot of these problems won't be too problematic without all the filtering).

In addition to the technological problem of the scanning and visual character recognition software, there may also be problems in the usage of words, such with the term "Sony" (which many of us no doubt associate with the Japanese company originally founded in 1946). When doing a search for "Sony" (recall: it is case-sensitive), one gets a lot of noise prior to the 1970s (when the company was introducing the Betamax video cassette and the Walkman).

You know it's the end of the semester when...

Yesterday, I went to the Dana building to see if some friends could go out for lunch, what with it being the last week of the semester. My labmate - one of the graduate student instructors of one of the core curriculum courses in SNRE - informed me that, since the core course exam was finished, he would have to spend the next X hours correcting it, together with the other student instructors.... and so they would be eating the pizza that was on its way from Cottage Inn.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais

I saw this linked from another site, and I thought that it was pretty good. (Never mind that I also like much of Gervais' comedy.)

Why don't you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don't need proof of his existence, and they certainly don't want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like "it's true to me" and "it's faith." I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that "I don't believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I've heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe," comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

...

Why don't I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, "Why don't you believe I can fly?" You'd say, "Why would I?" I'd reply, "Because it's a matter of faith." If I then said, "Prove I can't fly. Prove I can't fly see, see, you can't prove it can you?" You'd probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ''F—ing fly then you lunatic."

...

So what does the question "Why don't you believe in God?" really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking "what makes you so special? "How come you weren't brainwashed with the rest of us?" "How dare you say I'm a fool and I'm not going to heaven, f— you!" Let's be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it's a very popular view it's accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That's obvious. It's an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine.

"Do unto others…" is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that's exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I'm good. I just don't believe I'll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It's knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that's where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. "Do this or you'll burn in hell."

You won't burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

One more reason why I love SNRE

One more reason why I like SNRE: people bike during the winter; after snowfall that keeps most everyone else off their bikes. True enough: not as many people bike to the Dana building after a snowfall, but far more of the bike racks are occupied this morning (after yesterday's 12 hours of snowfall) than at any neighboring building.

Used bike racks at Dana
Bikes locked up outside Dana Building, Diag side. (A similar number could be seen on the hoops on the south side of the Diag entrance as well as on the east side of the building. GO SNREds!)

Empty bike racks at Chemistry
Empty bike hoops at Chemistry. Just a few weeks ago, this area was nearly full of bikes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Partial answer to a question I had

I read this story on my PhysOrg news feed today:

Lighter bikes may not reduce commuting time, researcher says

The upshot of the research with this one is that a doctor's 44-minute journey on his 13.5kg, £50 bike would be made faster with his new 9.5kg, £1000 bike. He realized that it was actually only a one-minute decrease in time to 43 minutes.

As a scientist, he did a randomized trial on his commute (flipping a coin each morning to choose which bike to ride), and found that there actually wasn't any major difference in the time that it took him.

I had been wondering the same thing: whether it was weight that was a more significant factor than components to shaving off commute time. I had kind of made up my mind that - based on the marvelously improved cycling speeds and times that I have been able accomplish with my current bike over my old Giant Sedona that it is primarily due to the components, since they both weigh about the same (and my current bike, with its panniers, often is heavier than how I normally rode the Sedona).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Photographed Teotihuacan...

... from the air. (December 5, 1:18pm)

Rafys' plane on final call

December 5, 5:50am.

Rafys' airplane's status has changed from "ON TIME" to "FINAL CALL". It appears that it will leave on time.

At terminal 2 of Benito Juarez Int'l Airport

December 5, 5:00am

Rafys went through migración (what is also mislabeled here as "immigration", whereas it ought to be "emigration") about 30mins ago. It wasn't easy saying our goodbyes, although we both really started saying them a few days ago. Little things, like thinking about my schedule on Monday or realizing thatg I needed to put together a surveymonkey for the ELI gred students who used the writing clinic tghis semester, started impinging on the mind, drawing it away from the immediacy of the moment, but also helping cushion the blow when it would eventually come: 4:30am as it turned out for me.

We spent out last night together by going out for a bit of a fancy dinner at a traditional Mexican restaurant in the revitalizing Condessa neighborhood of which I had read about in the Lonely Planet guide. However, as we approached our first choice, we noticed that what should have been a cozy Sonoran-style restaurant had been replaced by a modern Argentinian steak restaurant. We passed three American tourists possibly on the same mission to the same restaurent (judging from their puzzled expressions as they approached the supposed location).

We contined the three blocks over and several more up to the back-up choice, only to find another restaurant had taken its place... and had closed its doors for the night. On the positive side, we had serindipidously stumbled across an Irish pub - St Patrick's - on our way (and so managed to continue oujr trend of Irish-bar-hopping that we started in Santiago), swearing to stop in before going back to the hotel. Still, we had nowhere now planned to go for some repast.

We headed back, past a tapas place (no thanks) before heading toward the much busier Avenida Michuacan. Serindipidy was with us again, as we came across a nice little restaurant serving French food (and Italian pasta) at reasonable prices for the area.

As we sat and ate our gorgeously scrumptious dinner, we talked about growing up and what kinds of teenagers we each were. We talked about when wse each received our first cameras, and also talked about whether we had good arguments withour parents. Light talk, but also deep talk, to learn more about each other.

Our trip to St Patrick's was quick (it was only a little over one block away), and we enjoyed overly priced British and Irish beer before catching a cab at around 2:20am in order get back to the hotel for our 3am wake-up call and 3:30am cab ride to the airport. (Needless to say that we made it well on time, but wew far from the first here.)

It is now 5:30am, and Rafys' flight takes off in another half hour. Sitting where I am, I can see the huge HDTV monitor showing the departure times for her flight - the first ont scheduled out from the international part of terminal 2 - as remaining "ON TIME". Once I don't see it on the board, I'll make my way to the terminal 1 area in order to try and stay up the additional 6.5 hours until my own flight leaves.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Getting ready for traveling to Puebla

December 1, 5:50pm

We had lunch of carne asada - way too much for the three of us, but it was really tasty and we left, satisfied. On the way there, I finally was able to mail off the postcards that I had written early last week, but the guy at the post office (for some unknown reason) gave us postage in incremental stamps of 1.5 pesos, for a 10.5 peso charge per postcard. This meant a lot of pasting of stamps.

On the way back, I got to carry L's baby, and she fell asleep in the carrier. I suppose that I have the power to also put babies to sleep!

Pancake toppings

¿Qué se haga si no vive en gringolandia para cubrir sus panquéques? Por supuesto, se puede usar otras cosas que sirope de maple en los estados unidos pero el es el más comun. Por desayuno hoy, nosotros usamos 'condensed milk' y mermelada de fresas. Fue delicioso.

Hotcakes Japanese style!

December 1, 9:28am

Breakfast is fruit, hotcakes, and coffee, all while the laundry is being done.

The hotcakes are puffing up and sitting tall, just like the style in Japan! (More cake than pancake.) Natsukashiiii!!! And they smell delicious, too!

Waking up chilly

December 1, 8:48am

Tlatlauquitepec, being on the other side of the mountains, is enshouded in clouds (I would say 'mist', but it's also 1730m high), and they block the sun and introduce damp into everything. It is like when I was living in Scotland, next to the sea: dampness in everything.

Today, we are going into Tlatlauquitepec to do some shopping.

Tlatlauquitepec

November 31, 9:50pm

One of Rafys' friends from her masters' program in Costa Rica lives right near the town of Tlatlauquitepec, in the state of Puebla. We took a bus from the TAPO bus terminal - a large, domed terminal building proudly proclaiming 30 years of service - for 5 hours, winding through hills and the base of mountains, until we reached the fog-enshrouded town of Tlatlauquitepec at near dusk.

Taking a taxi from the primary bus drop-off for a short, dark, winding trip to her friend's house. We were met there by her friend, who quickly ushered us inside and out of the drizzly, damp night air. There, Rafys and her friend ("L") spent a long time catching up, talking about former classmates, and reminiscing about their time together in Costa Rica. And man can L speak fast! It took me about the first hour to get my brain comprehending at the same speed at which she spoke, and the following hours were spent trying to maintain that pace. My Spanish sounded even more slow and laggard than normal - even to my ears.

At the north bus staion

November 30, 8:40am

We just got on the Piramides bus for San Juan Tenotichlan (one every 10 minutes). The north bus terminal is HUGE, with upwards of a hundred different bus line companies. The building is in the shape of a large pyramid, with glass letting in light, making for an airy atmosphere. It was might brighter and spacious than any bus station that I had ever been in, definitely putting the bus stations in the US to shame.

Thse ticket to go to San Juan Tenotichlan (supposedly 1 hour) was 26 pesos; perhaps speaking to the drawing power of the pyramids.

Our trip to the station was, as Rays commented, an Odyssey. We left the hotel (thanks to hotels.com, no need for a lengthy check-out) and I suggested walking to the Reforma metrobus station: closer to our hotel, but with a need to cross the massive Reforma Avenue and then make our way to the not-as-massive Insurgentes Avenue, all while dodging the morning rush hour police-guided traffic as well as the many pedestriand coming out of the metro station... Each of us with large bags (me with a large backpacker's bag and Rafys with a large rolling bag). I had thought that a trip straight along Avenida Insurgentes would get us to the bus station.

I was wrong. We would have to get off at La Raza and take the metro to the bus station. On the positive side, we were going against the flow of traffic, and so the metrobus was almost empty, and we watched each city-bound bus, already packed with people, stop to try and accept even more. A part of me wondered when the city government would start making the buses and stations double-deckers.

When we got down to the metro (after climbing up and over the metrobus lanes and the adjoining streets - Mexico City is a terrible place for the physically handicapped to take public transportation) I saw a mustard yellow sign pointing to Indios Verdes station, which I recognized as being on the way north.

As we walked down to the platform, I saw a sign labeling a transfer tunnel as 'tunel de la ciencia', and I told Rafys that I really liked that sign. Then we walked to the empty, north-bound platform and got onto a similarly sparse train car. Once onboard, however, Rafys noticed that none of the three remaining station names matched what we needed. A quick look ayt the metro network map confirmed -  as the doors closed - that we were on the wrong line; that we needed to take the yellow line, not the brown-mustard-yellow line. We would have to take the metro back one station and make our transfer... and then Rafys reminded me, "It's the crowded one."

Small blessing: the station platform on the next station was a shared one for north ans sout-bound trains, and so we only had to cross the platform and wait with the ever-growing crowd of morning commuters. I had - since we had gotten off the metrobus - taken charge of both large bags, since the metro stations were as replete with stairs as they were with a dearth of escalators.

After a false alarm of a completely empty meto train pulling slowly through the station, raising our hopes, the real train, already full of people, pulled in. rafys balked a little, suggesting that we take the next one, but my Tokyo and Taipei upbringing told me that each train would likely be like this for the foreseeable future and that there is always room to squeeze in, even if the people in the train don't like it (they are, afterall used to doing this every workday). Therefore, i said that we had to take this train, and pushed my way on (with my large blue backpack and Rafys' large rolling bag) while Rafys pushed into the crowd at the next door.

The position pressed up against the door I just entered by was tight and uncomfortable, but as I braced myself against the movement of the train, I consoled myself that it was only one stop. However, as we pulled into the station, I remembered that the platform at La Raza was on the other side of this packed train.

As we pulled in, I took advantage of the egress of a few other passenges and started surging toward the doors, loudly repeating, "permiso!" While pulling along Rafys' bag, heedless of the legs that it caught and knocked against; I would be getting off, and I would do it before the waiting commuters started getting on. I burst from the crowd, suddenly meeting no resistance, glanced off a man leaving the platform, and waited with Rafys (who had also managed to extricate herself from the crowded commuter train) for the platform to clear a little before making our way back to the 'tunel de la ciencia' in order to get to the yellow line, and the bus station.

The 'tunel' was lined with many back-lit photographs of Mexico's natural lanscapes, each with a brief description. Then the tunel's lighting changed to black light as we wlked under constellation maps on the ceiling, and then past more photos of Mexico's various cultural heritages. This was the 'cienia' of the tujnnel.

We did get on the right train, and got off at the right station, and entered the massive edifice. I sat and waited for Rafys to find the right bus company (something easier for her to do without a massive, hulking gringo behind her). She came to collect me, and luckily we were on the correct side of the station, and she got out tickets.

It's now 9:38am, and we just pulled into San Juan. The estimat of 1 hour given by the Lonely Planet was right!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teotihuacan!

Climb every staircase, go high and low
Visit ev'ry pyr'mid, to luna and to sol
Climb every staircase, take loads of pics
Walk the road of dead, 'til your day is done.

Okay, it's nowhere as catchy as Climb Every Mountain, but after spending 5 hours clambering all around Teotihuacan, you will likely be, too.

The day started with our arrival at 9am-ish, and we walked from gate 2 straight to the Pyramid of the Sun, and climbed up all its 265 steep steps; a Mesoamerican version of climbing the steps at Nikko; very exhausting. However, it was a good climb, and we were both tired but happy when we got back to ground level: those steps are steep!

We also wended our way to the pyramid of the sun and took some food while seated at its first level (the upper levels wew closed). From there, we noticed that the surrounding structures were all in various levels of reconstruction.

After climbing down from la piramide de la luna, we headed toward the museum of mural art, walking through the Jaguar courtyard - a collection of ruined buildings that most likely housed priests and their families.

The mural museum was very quiet (we were the only visitors there) and had many examples of murals that were recovered from the many nearby ruins.

After this, we went back to Teotuhuacan, walking all the way to the southern end of the ruined city, to the 'citadel' and the temple of quetzacoatl. This temple to the feathered serpent had actually had its quetzacoatl frontage covered over by a dais structure, although a large cut from of this later structure showed the retored face of the original pyramid.

From this point (5:30pm) we walked to the single eastern exit to go to the Gruta restaurant (the only option given in the Lonely Planet guide). We were approached by a female booster for another restaurant, and we ended up going there, instead, since it was much cheaper.

The people even gave us a lift back to our hotel after dinner!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A full day of anthropology

Today,  we had a full day at the Anthropology Museum, which is located in the Bosque de Chapultepec area of Mexico City. This area is analogous to New York's Central Park, just less central and a lot more publicly used than I recall ever seeing Central Park (although I haven't been to NYC that often). Along the major throroughfares, there were sellers of various and sundry items, but if you just walked along one of the parallel paths, there were very few people, and no vendors, either.

We walked through the Botanical Gardens, and noted that single patches of different cacti, and we stopped to take some posed photos by them. Then, along the major boulevard separating one side of the park from the Anthropology Museum, we were treated to several blown-up photographs depicting the Mexican Revolution that took place starting about 100 years ago (and one of the things that the country is celebrating, along with it's 200 year anniversary of independence). Neither Rafys nor I knew much about the Mexican Revolution, (and it is something that I will be reading up on while going to Teotihuacán tomorrow).

Then we crossed to the Anthropology Museum - a massive edifice dedicated to the human history of the Mexican native peoples throughout history. Since the museum is open to the citizens of the city every Sunday, it was bustling with many, many people when we got there and were told that we had to each buy our 51 peso tickets, and drop off our bags. (Sidenote: I saw an example of a false cognate on the sign at the baggage check: "valores" means both "values" and "valuables", but we were asked to check our values and that they were not responsible for any lost values.)

There was a dance exhibition that was well underway when we entered; one that demonstrated the various traditional dances from different regions of Mexico. We stopped to enjoy it before going down to getting some food at the restaurant: sandwiches (tasty, but nothing special), coffee and soda. Then we entered the first hall: a special exhibition on the findings from Mayan ruins.

Then we continued to the rest of the halls, starting with an introduction to anthropology and the entry of humans into the Mesoamerican area. The next hall was on the early civilizations of Mesoamerica, and moved on through to the Teotihuacán culture, through to the Toltec culture, and beyond. Then we moved to the main hall, and was presented with the Mexica culture (previously known as the Aztec culture). This hall had many artifacts about the entry of the Mexica people to the region and the development of the city of Tenoctichlán.

By the time we were through with that hall, it was 4:30pm, and we decided to skip the other four halls (the Gulf peoples, the northern people, the (regular) Maya exhibit, and the western people) and go to dinner at the nearby branch of Sushi Itto. (We had a really tasty dinner of traditional and nuveau sushis.)

While coming back to the hotel, we got into a cab that was wanting to charge us 130 pesos to take us back, instead of the 30 pesos that took us from Ruta 61 to the hotel on the previous night. He also told us that he would take us to a different place, by a different road, etc., so we decided to get out, take a regular bus to the Chapultepec metro station, and ride the metro back the two stops to Insurgentes station and walking back to the hotel. In all, this option cost us 6 pesos each, instead of what would have been 65 pesos each, with the cab... Sometimes, fleecing happens in more obvious ways than others.

Musical night

1:46am

After our light meal at the barf in the Blue Palace, Rafys and I looked into different options for clubbing or music. Going on the advice fron the Lonely Planet guide for Mexico City, we chose four places: to near the Palace, and two further away.

We went to the first - an underground jazz venue, but didn't really feel like each paying the 200 peso cover, and walked along to the next - a reggae dance club. It had security that was a little invasive (full pat down and search of our bags) but only had a 30 peso cover. After we went upstairs and had danced and drank a beer, we decided to leave, to catch the last train to the Condesa neighborhood to try out the other two places.

We arrived at Ruta 61, a live blues place, and decided to stay: the bad was really solid, and we both got into the music.

Sitting in the Blue Palace

Rafys and I had an eventful afternoon, after starting rather late... We came to the Alameda Central area, took loads of photos of the art deco Bella Artes theatre and walked through the Alameda park, full of vendors, and ended up at the Diego Rivera mural museum. There, we were surprised to find a choral concert going on, and - for no more than the price of admission (free) - went in and listened to the choral group sing traditional songs while standing in front of the mural. We then left, making our way back to the old post office (and stamp museum) only to find it closed. However, across the street, we heard the sound of throbbing drums. It was another Aztec dance circle (similar to one we saw in Coyoacan, but much larger). Rafys talked to one of the men who was about to join the circle and learned that it was a cultural thing that was preserved over the centuries, but with some changes from the pre-hispanic days. We then wended our way through the very crowded streets, until we got to the Gandhi bookstore. After over an hour of perusal, and the purchase of a few books, we headed out to the Opera Bar on Calle de Cinco de Mayo, but first walked into the Sanbourn's operated blue palace. It is kind of like Mexico City's analogue to London's Harrod's: a department store with a history. Well, the blue palace - unlike Harrod's - was originally a palace, and in the old courtyard, there is a restaurant. We ended up heading up to the bar and sat down with some Victoria beers and small bowls of spiced pickles, peanuts and Mexican crunchy 'chips'.

The Blue Palace, like many of the old buildings in the city, has suffered from earthquakes and subsidence, and the lines are no longer square, which makes it somehow more 'tangible' then some similarly-aged buildings in Europe.

My tlacoyos (con salsa roja y verde) and Rafys' quesadillas surtidas (de queso, champiñon y papa) have arrived.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

At SMEE day 3 part4

7:12pm

The final speaker, who arrived late, having been stuck on the Periferico, is well into his second half-hour of what turned into an informal discussion with the remaining seven attendees, the organizer, and one other ultimate-panel speaker. The topic - eco eco and climate change - was interesting.

He's done.

Religion is everywhere and obvious

When I visited India in 2004, I was surprised at just how much religious iconography suffused everyday life, and I thought that I wouldn't see that amount outside India. However, Catholic iconography is replete throughout Mexico City. It shows up as the several churches scattered and constructed liberally throughout the city. The older part of the city is choc-a-bloc with them, and they are also found hiding an side streets or blending into the frontages, their only outward sign of sancrosancty being their signage.

Of course, the iconography is found other places as well, mostly in the form of shrines to Mary of Guadeloupe, something like the patron ('matron'?) saint of, if not only Mexico City, the country. There are shrines in train stations and along the tracks as well as makeshift shrines found in other places throughout the city.

I don't know if florists would survive as prodigiously as they do without all these shrines and churches. I remember thinking the same thing while in India, looking at all the garlanded statues, and I found myself thinking the same thing as I saw more and more the iconography of saints in Mexico City.

Defining new paradigms

Many of the presentations cite:
  • sustainability
  • the precautionary principle
  • methods of prevention
  • limited consumption
as the means by which ecological economics can create a positive outcome to environmental degradation. However, I wonder how much of this is utopian thinking and how much is based on a presumption of widely held values (left unsaid and undefined).

As to the first, I don't know how best to address utopian thinking. However, as to the second, this is a topic that I have discussed with compatriots before. The value of human life is one, for example, that many share, and forms the basis of the (somewhat apparently redundant) Hypocratic Oath. Such a shared value is so ingrained in our mindset that the concept that one should sacrifice the lives of others in order to save oneself (or others) sounds quite anathema to many of us.

Such a shared value set as the importancde of individual life underlies the basis of Western Liberal democracy: that individuals are all important in the running of a nation ties directly back to this shared value of the inherent importance of each human life. (That the Hypocratic Oath exists at all speaks to the possibility that a world that didn't share this value existed, and could exist again.)

However, this shared value runs so deep that it cannot be questioned, partly because we don't think of it as a case with more than one option and also because its negation creates too many unsavory options that we shy away from it when we recognize the nature of our choice to do otherwise. When faced with the possibility of having to choose one life over others - effectively sentencing the unchosen to death - we fall to pre-determined procedure and/or congratulate those who 'sacrificed' themselves (choosing to use the active rather than the passive construction of,'those who were sacrificed').

In his book, The Honest Broker, Pielke presents the scenario of a tornado barrelling down on a town as a case in which decision-making is clear-cut: head to the nearest basement to wait out the storm. However, the problem comes with the thought example in which only a handful of people can go into the shelter. Under such a condition, the decision as to who can survive, and who is left to the storm, becomes difficult because it cuts across many of the socialized assumptions (and maybe these are also in-built ones, too) that we have.

In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, the main character is counselled that (to paraphrase) 'sometimes the truth that is a lie is harder to accept than the lie that is the truth.' This simple statement speaks to the difficulty of trying to change paradigms when speaking to the society in general. Concepts that have become comfortable, although known to not 'work' as it is supposed to, cannot be overthrown so easily, especially if there is no operational alternative that is also popular. For this reason, working within academia, ecological economics (or most any interdisciplinary prusuit) is unlikely to be quickly adopted, even though practitioners of base disciplines understand tghat there are 'problems' with their system; if the currency of any new discipline is paltry - few journals, few well-recognized names, small coffers, few professional organizations, etc. - then the currency of an interdisciplinary pursuit is even more paltry - competition within possibly vast (in history and geography) institutions for recognition of non-standard methodologies and unorthodox philosophies.

Incriminating the the dominant paradigm - while a good exercise in schadenfreude - is as prodictive as railing 'against the failing of the light' at dusk. Instead, it could be more productive to present the strengths of the new methodologies viz the failings of the dominant one.

Furthermore, the attacks against the dominant paradigm's presupposed shared values leaves one open to attacks against one's objectivity (or lack thereof), since the shared values of the dominant paradigm are usually subsumed within, and are insinuated throughout, the practice of that paradigm: it forms the basic building blocks (the foundational assumptions) of research, and the mounting levels of publications only reinforce the implicit (and peerceived to be inherent) paradigmatic assumptions of the discipline.

In some very practical ways, therefore, it is important for a new interdisciplinary approach explicitly define its underlying assummptions (those that will likely become subsumed into the discipline as it matures). This much makes a sort of sense: one cannot claim objectivity without having a set of assumptions and rules against which to be measured in terms of loyalty to and consistent use of them. However, in some ways, one is undermined by the very tool of definition that one wishes to use: language.

Words carry meaning, both at a society-wide scale as well as between societies (evoking Churchill's insight that the US and the UK were two countries separated by a common language) and between languages. 'Society' can, of course, refer to different groups, and doesn't always have to refer to civil societies, but can refer to academic societies (such as the dominant paradigm society and the new paradigm) as well as between academic and civil societies. Both of these latter relations are important to consider with groups dealing with defining values related to the environment.

Terms referring to the environment often carry social definitions that carry with them associated assumptions of a desired state, which can easily lead to accusations of presumed/desired outcomes or apparent agency in nature and, therefore, non-objectivity. Similarly, terms may be shared between disciplines, and its understanding in an interdisciplinary manner must be carefully managed, especially if working with disciplines that both use the word but with different definitions.

In sum, concepts often highlighted for ecological economics (or any other minor discipline interdisciplinary pursuit) need to be studied in terms of their inherent presumptions. In addition, in my opinion, they should be defined in a manner indepndent of the dominant paradigm, lest they are seen merely as reactions against or comparisons to the dominant paradigm (this was one of the arguments as to the problem of the name 'Women's Studies' as opposed to the non-comparatory 'Gender Studies'); one cannot supercede that to which one defines oneself as comparison.

At SMEE day 3 part3

2:12pm

Lunch is in 18 more minutes, and noises that we need to stay on schedule for lunch have been made, especially since some participants are leaving before the end of today's sessions.

Cuestión vs pregunta

I hear people using the word cuestión a lot, and I am wondering how it differs from the word pregunta.

At SMEE day 3 part2

Just watched a presentation on an analysis of the Columbian economy from 1970 to 2007, using an ecological economics perspective. It was interesting - as much as I was able to understand - and seemed to include many different aspects of economics, industrial ecology and a consideration for non-classical economic theory. It was a presentation that showed some of the muscle of the 'Barcelona School' of ecological economics (what I suppose I will term 'eco eco', because it sounds fun - along the lines of thinking that 'evo devo' sounds more catchy than 'evolutionary development').

Friday, November 26, 2010

Observation about preparing for presentations

Some of the presentations have been really goo, others really quite bad, visually speaking. The important thing that needs be done prior to uploading it to the presentation computer is to ensure that your presentation is likely to be visually engaging, given the emvironment of the venue. This means that one should take not of the visual problems of previous presentations and take appropriate action (changing font, colors, etc.). Then, when you have a chance to run through the presentation on the presentation computer, tweak things as necessary.

Although a plain black-test-on-a-white-background is quite boring, it is the one that is the most simple to read with simplicity. Darker backgrounds means that one's font needs to be even more contrasting, and possibly either larger or wider.

At SMEE day 3 part1

Uno de los puntos que el director del congreso ha repetido es sobre la definición de economía ecológica. ¿Cuáles son las diferencias de economía ecológica que son diferente de otros tipos de economía? Nunca ha respondido suficientemente.

When does infrastucture become environment?

A thought came to mind while sitting here at the SMEE. One of the presentations was about how to put economic value to the ecosystem,and it got me to start think as to when infrastructure becomes a part of the ecological environment. Many of us who live in cities take for granted the built environment, and make jokes about the prevalence of weeds and pests, as if the are an integral part of the environment, no matter how much we try to 'control' them.

When do we start thinking of bridges and roads as extant parts of a landscape that must be considered when thinking about cost/benefit analyses? Is it because of the up-front costs that have already been spent that makes us unwilling to think of a space without that road? At what point does a road change from a potential connection between point A and point B into an integral and immovable object, unimaginable to have removed as it was unimaginable at one point to have been built? Why is the removal of the road thought of as a 'trade-off' insteas of the road itself being the trade-off, a cost that is constantly being paid?

This is the problem when thinking of evonomic valuation, environmental/ecological services, and cost/benefit analyses: the human environment is automatically given more weight than the non-human environment, since humans know how to value human things, withn a series of feedbacks that help reach a fair market price. Humans produce many valuable non-physical things as well as a myriad of non-valuable physical objects. This isn't the case with the natural environment.

The natural environment produces primarily physical things. Even the non-physical aspects ascribed to the natural environment (existence value, positive mental feelings from nature, etc) are rooted strongly in a physical reality. Furthermore, the importance of many environmental things are considered 'natural' and 'normal' and, therefore, not something for which people should pay. (And if we did pay, to whom would we give the money?) Perversely, too, the fact that a large part of a physical object's value is based on scarcity and demand, which seems to impy that the fewer of the physical object there are, and/or the greater the demand for those objects, the more interest there is in setting up a merket, since greater value is to be had.

In fact, many ecosysten services fall in the box of 'public goods' (water, air), which are not easy to value in traditionl economics. (I would argue that this is because we humans are not good at giving value to things that are 'natural' and 'normal' to us.

So, this brings me back to the question of the post: 'When does infrastucture become environment?' From the perspective that involves humans, it is when it is built, once it is in place, that it becomes a part of the landscape (environmental, social, and cultural). When we discount what appear to be previously paid costs (eg, the building of the road), our calculations of future changes will not aequately take the reality of constantly paid costs into account.

At SMEE day 2 part4

4:10pm

Lunch - a late one like yesterday - was - also like yesterday - really tasty. A lot of the same things, but instead of red molé, today it was green molé. (Sí, entiendo que se lo escibe menos el acento, pero en inglés, ya hay una palabra se escribe 'mole'.) There was also a green chile soup, which was very tasty (sino fue un poco tan picante a Rafys).

At lunch, I listened to the conversation around me, and was following pretty well until a student of the host program sat down, and (according to what Rafys told me later) he then decided to take over the conversation by regailing us with the last things he read by (a translated) Marx, Engels, and Lenin as well as a what he had read about land division after the Spanish had taken over the area of Xochimilco, and how the current-day arguments over borders wasn't actually to be blamed on Cortes, but on themselves. I thought that a large part of my boredom was that this guy didn't talk about things of interest to me, but then I noticed that the others at the table were also glassy-eyed. Rafys saved the situation by smoothly changing the direction of the conversation, and the guy left the table about that time, too.

I had't had too much difficulty in following the conversations about environmental and social research, but what he was talking was a completely alien linguistic corpus. However, I did recognize that he was quoting from his (translated) Lenin, and it made me wonder about the importance in teaching rote memorization plays in Latin American education. Rafys told me that it has played a part in many of the experiences that she has had, but that some professors seem to think that a glut of memorized ideas will automatically lead to good conceptualizations and criticisms. Apparently, the guy who took over the lunch conversation didn't get the memo.

At SMEE day 2 part3

1:01pm

So... we are thirty minutes behind schedule, with a two hour presentation given in a time slot originally meant for 1.5 hours. The next panel should be interesting for me...

And then there is lunch, supposedly at 2:30, but with the delays, who knows?

At SMEE day 2 part2

The bathrooms at the Parque Ecológico main building dont have toilet paper in the stalls. Instead, you must take toilet paper from a large dispenser located at the entrance of the bathroom. While this makes maintenance easier than having it in every stall, I wonder how such a thing would be met in the US.

I can see that such a practice could diminish the amount of toilet paper one might take, since there might be a shaming factor involved. "Why is that guy taking so much toilet paper?" would be what a person would think others might be thinking of his removal of yards of toilet paper.

Of course, it would take time to get used to, and there will be many angry and embarrassed people stuck in stalls.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The order of posts

These posts are written in the email client of my N810, and then uploaded once I return to a public wifi area. For that reason, it's not uncommon for the emails to be sent out of order, which is why I have labeled many with time stamps.

Getting to the congress

Getting to the conference has been a bit of a chore, since we have to take the public transportation.

First of all, the conference is in Xochimilco, a city far to the south of the Federal District, meaning that there is no direct route via public transport. Furthermore, the conference is in the Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco, which is not easily accessed from Xochimilco proper, meaning that one must take a bus along one of the "ring" roads from a point north of Xochimilco itself (ie, we don't get to see the canals for which Xochimilco is famous).

Our mornings start by leaving the hotel - located in Calle Viena in the downtown - and walking about one km to the Insurgentes station station. If our hotel were a little further north, we likely would take the metrobus to the Insurgentes station, but as it is, our walk is about five minutes to the station.

Once in the station, we head in the direction of Pasqueña station, getting off after five stops at Pino Suarez station, where we change from the pink to the blue line, and take it all the way to the terminus, Tasqueña (aka Taxqueña). As the train pulls out of Pino Suarez, it emerges to street level, then running above it, gliding between the two directions of traffic. At rush hour, it leaves the cars, buses, trucks, and taxis behind. However, at other times, the train plays a game of catch-up with the traffic, passing it at stop lights, being passes at stations.

At Taxqueña station, there is a mad dash by some to transfer to the light rail (tren ligero). At rush hour, people shove to get into the two somewhat long cars, but after rush hour, people appear to be content to wait for the next train if no seats are to be had.

The light rail runs with metal wheels on tracks, like most rail systems around the world. This, howver, is in contrast to the smooth ride of the subway, which runs on tires along wide tracks, making for a ride that - likely for a fraction of the cost - rivals the EuroStar. This mode of el tren ligero makes the much slower ride seem much more jarring than the subway.

Since el parque ecológico is not (apparently) accessible from Xochimilco proper (due in part to the many canals that lie between the park and the UNESCO city), we have to disembark el tren ligero at the Perifrico station. This stop is not very inviting: a narrow strip of platform surrounded by dusty streets running below the Periferico ring road/highway overpass. To exit this station, one needs to cross over the tracks (watshed over by a security guard-cum-crossing guard), climb up to a pedestrian bridge, backtrack across the walkway so as to return to the same side of the road as we were dropped off, walk under the Periferico road, and then walk up to it, along the exit ramp, and then another 100 meters or so, to where one can catch a bus or taxi. (Walking this distance is necessary so as to allow the taxi or bus driver enough distance to merge onto the Periferico road, instead of being forced off of one of the many off-ramps found at this point.)

Once in the taxi or bus, it is a straight shot to the Parque Ecológico, with the road changing from an eight-lane road (two lanes going each direction on the outside - accessible to and from other roads - and two lanes in each direction on the inside, separated by medians, that act as express lanes) into a six-lane road (three common lanes in each direction) separated by a reed-lined canal-cum-wetland.

At SMEE day 2 part1

10:07am

we have arrived at the second day of the congress, an hour late, but apparently not really an hour behind the pace of the speakers. We have missed the first speaker for sure, and probably it was the second speaker that we walked in on at the end of his talk.

Still, getting to the congress was less difficult today than yesterday catching the subway at the end of rush hour. (However, we were met with traffic on the Periferico for some reason.)

At SMEE day 1 part5

5:56pm

Okay... it appears that people are cooperating to bring the day closr to on-schedule. The last major speaker cut his talk down from 1.5 hours to about 50 minutes... and no one asked questions.

Now, it is la mesa final, y one of the coordinators is negotiating the shaving of a few minutes from each presentation. However, given the speed of the prior panels of this morning, I don' think that this would be too much of a difficulty.

Three women presenters: a definite change of tone compared to yesterday. Interestingly, they are all dressed in various accoutrements of different shades of purple. This includes Rafys, who is up first, and may be the one who has traveled the furthest to get here... She's first, because it appears that the first speaker is now going to present (maybe she is from here?), So even mor time-saving to keep on schedule. Still, all of this could have been avoided if the logistics had been better...

At SMEE day 1 part4

5:05pm

We just got back from eating... And that was a trial: first we had to buy a ticket for the food (which did turn out to be wonderful, btw), begging the question of what the registration fee covered; find our way to where the food was being served, making one wonder why none of the organizers knew how to get to where we were going, provide temporary signage, or give better directions of how to go and return; and once we were there, no one made sure of the time to keep us on the very optimistic schedule.

We are now almost an hour behind schedule, full, and going into two more long sessions... I will be surprised if we all get over the finish line together.

However, as to the food: it was really quite good. Many examples of pre-Columbian (aka prehispanica) foods from Mexico, including rana con nopales, omlettes de juevos de pez, algo pasta picante, mole rojo, tamales de frijoles y arroz. También, tuvo jugo de jamaica (juice of the hibiscus), y desde fue muy dulce, añadí agua.

The walk back to the main building took us along a different path than the one we took out to lunch, but it wound back on itself, through a series of archways and past decrepit benches, surrounded on both sides by tall reeds glowing in the slowly setting Mexican autumnal sun.

At SMEE day 1 part3

1:30pm

El congreso sufre de una gran cosa: timing that is too optimistic. There is no lunch break scheduled, nor are there any breaks scheduled between sessions. This means that very few people are here for the first presentation of mesa 2.

Además, el auditorio only has hard surfaces, which means that el sonido de la sala afuera el auditorio reverberates inside the auditorio. Still, este problema es menor en comparison with the one outlines above.

Cuando se está senrtando a una mesa, la problema del tiempo no es muy obvio. Se solo ve una tabla and fill it in. Sin embargo, es importante que se recuerde que las personas en el congresso no son maquinas, and it seems like a person who didn't have much experience with logistics put the while thing together.

I have been to many conferences and know that it is important to plan for some free time, especially given the limitations of the venue (here, it is that there is only one auditorium with loud, sliding doors, poor lighting options for PowerPoint presentations, and no sound-dampening). If people had such time as to take a break, it will actually be more productive (provided that breaks are written into the program), and it will be less likely that sessions are cut short due to people dropping away for a break. In a venue with only a single auditorium, this is even more important.

At SMEE day 1 part2

1:13pm the morning sessions are done, and we are moving to the afternoon ones... después a short break. The food will be sold at 3pm, which makes me agre with Rafys' suggestion that we bring our own food tomorrow.

Using dual dictionaries

I don't know how the device will be able to store new words in the correct diccionario, especialmente cuando use una mezcla de inglés y Spanish. Still, es mejor que puedo escribir en two languages al mismo tiempo con una computador that can help me keep my languages straight with the help of predictive text in two languages.

This might help me with transitioning a español...

From Michigan to Michiuacan

12:13pm

Last night, in the cantina in Coyoacán, out waiter asked us where we were from. (This seems to be a common question that we encounter.) Rafys answered, "Soy de Chile," and I answered, "Soy de Los Estados Unidos." "¿De cuál estado?" he asked me. "De Michigan," I replied. To which he said something like, "No, en realidad es de Michuacan, no?"

Today, at the SMEE conference, one of the speakers spoke of the organic products from Michuacan, and the idea of "from Michigan to Michuacan" came to my mind. Is there a good university connection in the state of Michuacan? Could students from SNRE undertake projects there? I know that my interest is one drawn from the assonant association between the names of these two states, but I think that such a linguistic, auditory linkage could be very useful as a mnemonic device, which predisposes itself to a greater utility.
But it also lends itself to the name of a book. Perhaps a travelogue of a roadtrip from one state's capital city to the other's? The distinct landscapes and peoples lying in the thousands of kilometers between the two would provide an interesting subject for study (just as any travelogue that links two places can make for interesting reading).

At SMEE day 1 part1

Arrived at SMEE at 915am and checked in. Rafys had to help pay for my registration for the conference. Luckily, I could get in with the student price.

The conference is an international conference, drawing primarily from Mesoamerican countries. This is actually one of my main justifications for learning Spanish: to become involved with the conferences and intellectual community in Latin America.

The first round of talks were quite basic, but this was okay, because it was information with which I was familiar, but in Spanish, which allowed me to practice a little bit. However, they were somewhat of a letdown, because they did tread on well-worn paths.

The conference is taking place in the town/exurb of Xochimilco, in the ecological park - a 2km^2 area of no development, encompassing some of the floating city that marks and chracterizes Xochimilco... a throwback to the time of the Aztecs (la epoca de prehispanica). The area surrounding the park is quite poor, and it's not surprising, from one point of view: the peoples living in this area of ancient and man-made lakes and canals have become swamped with the inflow of the Distrito Federal. We haven't explored the sights of this unique city - a UNESCO heritage city - but I hope to be able to do so; to take some of the boatds from the embarcadros and see something that people felt important enough to save via UNESCO.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Traveling

0530 - Waiting at gate 32 after purchasing some 'breakfast' and coffee. I had decided to stay awake throughout the night, afraid that I would sleep through the three alarms and promised phone call from the shuttle driver. So I stayed awake, watching a lot of Hulu while I packed and repackdd my bag.

I got a call from the driver at 0400 and after coaxing her to drive all the way down to the house, we were off to pick up another early traveler before going to the North Terminal at DTW.

After hearing so much about the full-body scanners, I was half-hesitant, half-interested about it, and there they were, accepting people, arms upraised, immediately after the luggage drop-off. However, after divesting myself of everything from my pockets, and standing (I imagined) innocently and self-assuredly, I was waved through the just-opened, standard metal detector, which I went through with nary a beep.

On the flight with me to Dallas are a whole lot of collegiate female basketball players from Missouri State University. jamming all of us onto the McDonnell-Douglass airplane ought to be ... 'Interesting'. Sometimes I feel lucky that, although I am 6"3', I have relatively short legs (32") compared to many of my height.

0606 - Just made my way to seat 17A, and I saw, pasted next to the aisle number sticker, another on that reported: 'Wi-Fi onboard'. It would not surprise me if the are made available for a fee, though, with the way things are with airline pricing these days.

On that topic, I learned, during the process of checking my bag, that American Airlines now charges for a second bag on flights to Mexico City; the capital city of another country is now treated - in terms of luggage charges - the same as a domestic destination. Is this a sign of things to come - when flights to far-flung places are not any more 'special' than the jaunt to the coast. (Christ knows that the prices aren't that much different...)

0740 - Slept fitfully on the flight to Dallas. we are about to dip below the blanket of clouds and then it will be making my way from A20 to D29... Taking the shuttle to get there. It's my first time at Dallas.

1031 - On the next flight... To Mexico City! I will be awake for this two hour flight (about half way through already), and I am already really excited to see Rafa. I am a little concerned that I haven't received any immigration or customs forms yet, but perhaps that will come later (at the least, there will probably be forms at the airport).

The wait in Dallas was... boring. Texas state law prohibits the sale of alcohol before 10am on a Sunday ('yay' to blue laws), so no Guinness or other Irish beer before takeoff. Instead, I roamed aimlessly around the D Terminal after taking the very convenient shuttle tram from A. Since it was still before 9am, not a lot of people were around, and the stores that were open had only the sort of standard airport tack that I wouldn't want to buy (but still make for distracted browsing). I ended up getting a double espresso and a chicken salad sandwich (for an exorbidance) before I received a text from KD about some good news, over which we chatted for several minutes as I watched the boarding line slowly extend from the gate.

After our conversation, I tried the 'rents, but had to be content with leaving a message on their answering machine.

We are currently (1043) flying along the coastline, and I can see several coastal and just-inland waters, hiding bedind a barrier coast. Occasionally, there is a break in the barrier, carved there by engineers, but otherwise, the shoreline stretches along, sandy mile after sandy mile.

1147 - Landed at Mexico City airport. I looks sunny and dry. Captain said that it was 19celcius.

1230 - I'm sitting outside customs, very early and very quick; far faster than any previous immigration, baggage pick-up and customs check than I can remember. Admittedly, it was a longish walk from the gate to immmigration, but when I reached immigration, I was called forward immediately, and it took very little time to go through: just a swipe of the passport and some stamping, and then I was through to the baggage carousels, and I took the opportunity to change some dollars at the place that cried: 'no commission' in big letters. True, they didn't charge commission, but thir rate was lower than what is being offered on this side of customs. Oh well, live and learn.

When I turned around to look at my carousel, I saw my bag at the end, being set aside by an airport employee, doutless to minimize the pile-up of unclaimed bags. With my cart, I walked over, plonked it on the cart, and moved toward the not-Latin American arrivals customs area, showed a security guard my baggage claim ticket, and lined up in front of one of the two operating machines before quickly going through without any question, and then, confronted with a button, was told to push it in order to determine if I was lucky enough to participate in a closer inspection. It shone green, and I was waved through the sliding doors, upon which my cart was confiscated and I then had the option of either carrying my own bag or to use the stevedore services. I chose the former, walked to the bench upon which I am currently seated, unpacked my backpack from its old Japanese Mail giant mailbag, folded the bag away, and sat down to punch this in while I wait for Rafys... still about an hour ahead of what I was expecting.

Standing in line at Harry Potter

7:30pm - I'm waiting in line to see the new Harry Potter film... long line...

10:30pm - Finished Harry Potter, and I'm waiting outside the women's bathroom... along with about eight other men.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is Buzz still send stuff to my Gmail?

If Buzz is still turned on, then I will just have to delete my Buzz profile. I know that I have linked my blogger sites to Buzz, but with my 810 linked (again) to GMail, I am getting Buzz messages forwarded to my gizmo. (It doesn't show up in my online GMail, of course...)

Typing slowly on an 810

Typing away on this 810 is slow but steady. And the device is much smaller than my laptop, and it doesn't need any sort of wireless contract.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Using political framing to understand something (symbolically related) about conservation

Andrew Sullivan shares an anecdote about shutting off the trash-food supply for grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park (as another example of how grizzly bears are not as "self-sufficient" as Sarah Palin makes them out to be):
Forty years ago, grizzly bears in Yellowstone were dependent on garbage intentionally fed to them in Yellowstone Park. When the Park Service abruptly closed these garbage dumps, some thought this would cause the extinction of grizzly bears in Yellowstone because the bears had become dependent on garbage. While grizzly populations declined following dump closure, the end result was a growing population (4 percent to 7 percent a year for the last 15 years) that has grown and now survives entirely on natural foods.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Long-exposure photos

Although I don't have a tripod, I think that these long-exposure (15-second) photos from the north-side of Third Sister Lake are pretty good.

Night time long exposure


Night time long exposure

Replacing a punctured inner tube

Just a few more days before I think that I will need to slap on the studded tires for the season, and I find this morning that my back tire was flat. It appeared that all the coming-and-going of yesterday, all piled down with weight, pinched the inner tube, puncturing it.

So... I pushed the bike to the bus stop and pushed it to the ELI. Then, in the evening, I took the #8 bus to Great Lakes to get a new tube.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Laundry day

Today -- with a trip looming in the future and no need to be on campus -- I went to go do laundry. It's one of the problems with the Saginaw Forest caretaker position: no laundry facilities.  Still, there's one not too far away, and it is usually just a couple hours of investment in time, and a few dollars in cash (this time it was $4).

So, distributing my dirty clothes among my four panniers, I loaded them (front and back) onto my bike and headed off to the laundry, about 2 miles away. I decided to cycle up the main drive, and encountered a UM-OSEH vehicle coming down the road. Inquiring as to what was happening (the large, red letters spelling HAZMAT on the side had me a little worried), and the driver told me that he was out at the forest to check on the progress of the plant growth along the path that was constructed during October. (Short news: the grass hasn't grown in very much, due to the cold, the angle of sunlight incidence, and the dearth of rain, but I hope that it will grow in relatively quickly in this late Indian Summer.) Anywho, I took the foot path through Dolph Park, since I didn't want to be cycling along Jackson Road with all my panniers; I cannot really react quickly/safely.

3.5 panniers of laundry = 1 machineI got to the laundry, and unloaded all of my washing (about 3.5 panniers-full) into a single triple-load laundry machine, and (ready to count out $3 in quarters) was surprised to find the machine turning on after putting in only $1.75. It is kind of funny to think that the entirety of what I can carry with my panniers will fit totally into a single washing machine; an indication of the spatial capacity of what I can carry on my bike.

After the wash was done, I put everything into a massive centrifuge-dryer (50 cents). This step is crucial, and I don't know why more people don't do it. Although a lot of water is removed during the final spin cycle of the washing machine, the clothes still have a lot of water in them, and (considering the very high specific heat of water) there is no reason to pay extra to heat up all that water to evaporation via a dryer. After a 5 minute high-speed spin, the clothes are just slightly damp, and I sort out the shirts (to hang-dry at home), putting the rest in one of the massive dryers (75 cents) for 21 minutes. (A larger drier means that more air flow around articles of clothing can take place, thus decreasing the drying time... and the smaller dryers cost the same.)

As the smallclothes and trousers were drying, I folded up the barely damp shirts into two of the panniers (taking up much less space than when I brought them), and when I was done with that, emptied out the dryer; folded, matched, and put away the smallclothes; and loaded up my bike for the return trip. Only 1.25 hours at the laundromat and I was ready to go home, this time taking Highlake to cut through to Burr Oak to get to Liberty Road.

Piled up with recycling
Once I got home, I realized that here was a lot of recycling that had been piling up inside and on the porch, so I decided to haul it up to the road. Of course, not owning a car was the main reason why so much of it accumulated at the house. However, today, I decided to pile up as much as I could on my bike, lashing down the recycling bin and filling my front and back panniers, and clattered and clanked up to the main gate, at a steady cycle of 4 mph.

Not all of my bottles have been returned -- I'll be bringing more to Kroger to get back the bottle deposit -- but there's a smaller amount of containers and paper in the house and porch.

After that was done, I came back inside, unpacking my newly-washed clothes, and hanging them up to dry overnight.

IMG_4704

Monday, November 15, 2010

Obesity, diabetes and an image problem

In a recent story from the People's Daily, more young Chinese are becoming diabetic. The story goes on to ascribe this trend to the changed lifestyle that many young urbanites have switched to:
Two years ago, Ke Li, was living a life typical to many office workers. He frequently worked until late at night, ate junk food and hardly did any exercise. The 6-foot-tall young man never thought he would be a candidate for diabetes.

"Who would pay attention to blood sugar at that age?" 27-year-old Ke told the Global Times. "I went to hospital because I had fatigue and always felt thirsty, even in summer, but I was soon told I had diabetes after a blood test."

Ke was not aware that his growing weight, which had hit 94 kilograms when he was diagnosed, was a warning.
Okay... so this isn't too surprising. After all, type 2 diabetes has been linked to obesity, and obesity has been linked to unhealthy lifestyles (not enough exercise, eating junk food, high stress, etc.). It would, therefore, make sense that, in a country with an urban population of several hundred million people exercising less and having more ready access to Western junk food, type 2 diabetes would become more prevalent.

So what makes this something more interesting? Well, according to the story, Ke Li is 6 feet (~183 cm) tall, and weighed 94 kg (207 lbs), which gives him a BMI of 28.1 (if I use 183cm as the actual height). Assuming that the guy's height is as low as 177 cm (which he rounded to 180 cm when talking to the reporter, who then rounded up to 6 feet when writing the story), the guy's BMI is exactly 30.0. At the end of the story, Ke Li is reported to have lowered his weight to 78 kg... which would (using the 177 cm low estimate) put him at a BMI of 24.9: right at the cut-off point of the "normal weight" category. Why point this out? Well, the People's Daily is a state-run newspaper, and it seems kind of odd to me (a 6'3", 226lb person) that the main diabetic interviewee had a BMI that just barely (possibly) registered as "overweight" before just managing to sneak back into the "normal weight" category. Similarly, the image that accompanied the story (below) was of a young, female urbanite that clashes with a Western image of "obese".

 
This image was copied from the People's Daily news story, in case it is no longer shows up in the future. (Not that I think that my blog is that important or visible, just that some websites remove images from stories after a certain amount of time passes.)

For a country to which image portrayal is highly important, it wouldn't surprise me if there was some amount of editorializing with the numbers and choice of image. Depicting a woman who stretches the image of obese and presenting a man who barely wanders into the "obese" category of BMI might - independently - not strike me as too odd, but not when they occur together.

China - I would argue - doesn't like to be put in the spotlight with things that it finds embarrassing. Thus the angry rhetoric that accompanied the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. Thus, too, the huge embarrassment about the tainted milk scandal that just couldn't be handled quietly. Same with their condemnation of anything written with even a slight whiff of negativity about Tibet. I would argue that there is some of that coming through here. Although there are explanations as to the current Chinese obesity increase being tied to traditional Chinese culture (which was shaped by famine, and in which an obese person would be an obvious sign of wealth), the association with obesity in the traditional sense focused on the positive implications (i.e., more wealthy) than on the negative (i.e., increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes). In the light of this potential link of obesity with disease, it makes sense to me that the images (in text and in print) proffered by the state would show as rosy a face as possible, as opposed to the images one finds when doing a search for "obesity China".

Three China science & technology news stories

Skimming through my reader this morning, I came across three China stories in PhysOrg. The first one tells us that China has the world's fastest super computer:
Tianhe-1, meaning Milky Way, achieved a computing speed of 2,570 trillion calculations per second, earning it the number one spot in the Top 500 (www.top500.org) survey of supercomputers.

The Jaguar computer at a US government facility in Tennessee, which had held the top spot, was ranked second with a speed of 1,750 trillion calculations per second.
...

The United States still dominates, with more than half of the entries in the Top 500 list, but China now boasts 42 systems in the rankings, putting it ahead of Japan, France, Germany and Britain.
That the Tianhe-1 uses mostly US-made parts is (I imagine) cold comfort.

In another news article, it was made clear (yet again) that China's environmental impact is getting larger. I wrote two years ago about a report saying that China surpassed the US in being the world's largest CO2 emitter. This story talks about how an increasing level of consumerism is increasing China's ecological footprint:

Demand for construction, transport, goods and public services are the key factors behind ballooning carbon emissions, the World Wildlife Fund said in its annual "China Ecological Footprint" report.
...

Carbon emissions accounted for 54 percent of China's ecological footprint in 2007 and the country needed more than two times its own biologically productive land area to meet demand for resources and to absorb emissions, it said.
...

The paper, released in conjunction with the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, a government-backed advisory body, was based on 2007 data.
If the numbers were based on 2007 data, one can only imagine what has happened in the succeeding 3 years, what with a still-increasing GDP (fueling consumption and growth), and considering how, too, their CO2 emission figures for 2008 looked like.

Of course, along with an increased amount of consumerism and a Western lifestyle, China is now the country with the greatest number of diabetic people:
China has the highest number of diabetics in the world with 92.4 million with the condition, but 61 percent of them do not know they have the disease, state media reported Monday.
...

China's economic growth has led to increased health problems linked to the richer diets and more sedentary lifestyles of an emerging middle class.

Since China's economic boom went into high gear in the 1980s, millions of people have left the countryside for jobs in cities -- ditching bicycles for cars and embracing aspects of Western living such as fast food.
The article doesn't say if the diabetes increase is of type1 or type2, but I am assuming that it is type2, since this is the form that has a greater environmental component to incidence, and also because the state-run China Daily also ran a story about this, citing type2 diabetes. (Interestingly, in another anecdotal example of India-China rivalry, the Times of India ran a story that cited India as having the most diabetics, with China a close second.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Percentages can mask underlying data

Yesterday, SocImages posted a graph from Yglesias' Think Progress blog:

One of the comments on the SocImages post was by Kemlyn:
So, the 31-64 crowd is not particularly interesting?
To which I responded:

Kemlyn's question ("So, the 31-64 crowd is not particularly interesting?") is crucial. Why? If you add the percentages in 2008, you get ~34% (~18%+~16%=~34%). If you add the percentages in 2010, you get ~34% (~11%+~23%=~34%). This implies that the percentage of the "31-64 crowd" didn't significantly change.

This relative lack of change, then, magnifies the underlying trend in the data, since any change in the percent of the "under 30" group is effectively added to the "over 65" group. In other words, there is effectively double-counting in the changing percentages. What is needed is to look at the actual number of voters in each age group to determine how the overall voter demographics shifted.

Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation using these presented numbers as well as the total voter estimates, I find this:

2008: 130million voters * 18% = 23.4million "under 30"
2008: 130million voters * 16% = 20.8million "over 65"

2010: 90million voters * 11% = 9.9million "under 30"
2010: 90million voters * 23% = 20.7million "over 65"


So, yes, the demographics did change between 2008 and 2010, but there was no significant jump in the total number of over-65 voters, which is what the graph can easily imply. Instead, the number of voters in the "under 30" category declined by ~58%, while the "over 65" group effectively didn't decline at all (<1%). For example, on Yglesias' blog:
According to exit polls, for example, the relative proportion of youth voters and senior voters shifted quite dramatically

While this is true, the underlying message of "voters over 65 turned out in the same proportion in both 2008 and 2010" is hidden by the presented graph.

I dislike this kind of graph because it obfuscates the underlying numbers by comparing relative values, instead of absolute values. True, it is important to know how the voters represent the population as a whole, but the manner in which the above graph does this is (at best) poorly rendered.

UPDATE 1 (11/11/10 12:07 PM): Here is a chart showing the estimated voter numbers:


This graph uses the numbers I calculated above. As you can tell, the estimated number of "Over 65" voters remained roughly the same between 2008 and 2010, while the number of "Under 30" voters dropped dramatically. If Yglesias had used this chart, the message of "the relative proportion of youth voters and senior voters shifted quite dramatically" becomes less important, since we don't have to worry about what the relative numbers mean, since we can tell the absolute condition: fewer "Under 30" voters showed up at the polls, while the number of "Over 65" voters remained constant.

Similarly, the conclusions a casual viewer might draw from this graph would be different than with the one presented by Yglesias.

UPDATE 2 (11/11/10 1:22PM): Upon further consideration, I made a graph showing the change in voter turnout between the 2008 and 2010 elections, including the 31-64 crowd.


Here, the narrative becomes relative, but only between years, and not relative between voter groups.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Highest UMich football game score

Today's nail-biter of a shootout-game ended with 132 total points. This point total makes it the highest-scoring game in Michigan history (according to this site). Quickly, reviewing, the previous games, this is how they stack up, in terms of cumulative scores:
  1. Michigan v. Illinois (2010): 132 points
  2. Michigan v. West Virginia (1904): 130 points
  3. Michigan v. Buffalo (1901): 128 points
  4. Michigan v. Michigan Agriculture (1902): 119 points
  5. Michigan v. Iowa (1902): 107 points
  6. Michigan v. Northwestern (2000): 105 points
  7. Michigan v. Kalamazoo (1904): 95 points
  8. Michigan v. Illinois (1981): 91 points
  9. Michigan v. Purdue (2008): 90 points
  10. Michigan v. Beloit (1901): 89 points
So... of the other 100+ point games in UMich football history, only one was within the past 100 years. Looking more closely at the underlying point breakdowns, it is notable that in those older games, Michigan played shut-out games, whereas the 2000 game (and today's game) were almost even. In fact, looking at the top ten most winning games in UMich history, we see that today's game wasn't that remarkable:
  1. 1904: Michigan 130 v. West Virginia 0
  2. 1901: Michigan 128 v. Buffalo 0
  3. 1902: Michigan 119 v. Michigan Agriculture 0
  4. 1902: Michigan 107 v. Iowa 0
  5. 1904: Michigan 95 v. Kalamazoo 0
  6. 1901: Michigan 89 v. Beloit 0
  7. 1902: Michigan 88 v. Albion 0
  8. 1903: Michigan 88 v. Ferris Institute 0
  9. 1902: Michigan 86 v. Ohio State 0
  10. 1939: Michigan 85 v. Chicago 0
In fact, today's game is 28th place in terms of points scored, preceded by the 68-0 game against Michigan AA in 1892 and succeeded by 66-7 game against Washington (St. Louis). However, it was the second most points scored by a Michigan offense in the past 30 years (second only to the 69-13 game against Illinois in 1986).

If today's game wasn't anywhere near the top of UMich's highest-scoring games, then it follows that it must the highest number of points allowed in any game in Michigan history. Looking at the numbers for points allowed (i.e., points scored against Michigan), we see this:
  1. 2010: Michigan 67 v. Illinois 65
  2. 1891: Michigan 12 v. Cornell 58
  3. 1889: Michigan 0 v. Cornell 56
  4. 1958: Michigan 24 v. Northwestern 55
  5. 2000: Michigan 51 v. Northwestern 54
  6. 1991: Michigan 31 v. Florida State 51
  7. 1968: Michigan 14 v. Ohio State 50
  8. 2008: Michigan 42 v. Purdue 48
  9. 2008: Michigan 17 v. Penn State 46
  10. 1883: Michigan 0 v. Yale 46
So... we win this game, with the highest point total in UMich football history, but we also win this game with the highest points allowed in UMich football history.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Adverb of "write"

I came across a phrase today that needed to be changed: "... including presentation of data in writing, speaking, and graphically."

So, immediately, I knew the problem: the list items were non-congruent: (gerund noun, gerund noun, and adverb). The thing to do was to bring them all to the same type of list items, all nouns or all adverbs. I initially thought that it would be good to write them all as adverbs: graphically remains as it is, while speaking changes to verbally... but writing changes to... what?

My first thought was that, like I did when substituting verbally for speaking, it would likely require that one change the word itself from the Old English-derived word, writing, to a Latin-derived word. However, which Latinate word had an adverb for what "writtenly" (which doesn't exist as a word) would correctly express? Going to thesaurus.com, I was presented with several synonyms, but I did not recognize any that had an adverb form.

Hrm...

I eventually came up with literarily as the closest option that I could find, but it wasn't really useful, since it had a strong connection with the terms literature and literate; the written word, or the ability to read and write. However, the only other option appeared to be the adverb phrase "in writing," as in the phrase, "Please submit your comments verbally or in writing."

Since the best suggestion of using adverbs would have been, "... graphically, verbally, and in writing," (which I don't like for stylistic reasons), I ended up suggesting, "... in speaking, writing, and graphing." (The justification of changing from "graphically" to "graphing" was due to the fact that the paper was discussing the necessity to be able to show data in graphs; if it were based on something else -- such as the ability to use illustrations that aren't necessarily graphs -- then I would likely have suggested using the [less stylistically choice] adverb list.

EDIT (2014-08-14): I came across advice on this topic from "English Language & Usage", in which various people suggested textually  and orthographically. However, in the above example, I don't think that either of these adequately capture the meaning that was being communicated. Textually refers to actual written words that already exist (as opposed to text that may yet be produced). Orthographically refers to the part of the written language that has to do with correct spelling. In short, both of these options could work, and might be of use to some people, but they are not to be considered generally synonymous with the adverb phrase "in writing."

EDIT (2014-07-01): Upon further reflection (no I couldn't let this go), I would now suggest "graphically, verbally, and in writing." My feelings on the stylistic "necessity" of parallel structure outweighing the simple fact that there are perfectly adequate adverb forms for "graphic" and "verbal" have changed. Ah, well, writing style preferences are fickle, it seems.

Presidios and prisons

The word presidio presents some problems for me, because its meaning has changed since came into use from Latin into both English and Spanish. The etymology of presidio – agreed upon by both English-language and Spanish-language dictionaries – is from the Latin præsidium, which means, according to Dictionary.com: “guard, garrison, post, lit., defense, protection,” and Wiktionary (Spanish) “defensa.” However, for some reason, while the primary English definition, “a garrisoned fort; military post,” is arguably quite close to the roots of the word, this meaning is the fourth and fifth definitions found in the Real Academia Española dictionary (4. Guarnición de soldados que se ponía en las plazas, castillos y fortalezas para su custodia y defensa, 5. Ciudad o fortaleza que se podía guarnecer de soldados). The preceding Spanish definitions all relate to incarceration (1. Establecimiento penitenciario en que, privados de libertad, cumplen sus condenas los penados por graves delitos, 2. Conjunto de presidiarios de un mismo lugar, 3. Pena consistente en la privación de libertad, señalada para varios delitos, con diversos grados de rigor y de tiempo).

At some point in time, the word presidio took on a meaning of prison in Spanish; indeed, the words presidio and prisión are synonymous in Spanish. So when did presidio change in Spanish to include the concept of incarceration? True enough, one could argue that being a soldier in a fortress garrison could be equivalent to feeling like one is incarcerated, but I doubt that this is the case. The second English definition elicited from Dicitonary.com (“a Spanish penal settlement”) might well help with some of this question, insofar as implying that the condition might just be something typical of Spanish. (Of course, the word appeared to enter English from Spanish, so this could also just be a nod to that history…)

According to Wikipedia, “A presidio is a fortified base established by the Spanish and Mexicans in North America between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The fortresses were built to protect against pirates, hostile Native Americans and enemy colonists. Other presidios were held by Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in Italy, on Elba and in North Africa.” In this manner, it seems likely that the constriction of presidios was part of a campaign of Spanish imperialism in what is modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Indeed, looking at the history of the Presidio of San Francisco turns up a lot of information about the old Spanish fortress (built in 1776), but nothing specifically mentioning a prison.

Investigating the Spanish page for presidio, it also indicates that presidios were built as fortifications for soldiers in far-flung territories of the Spanish Empire, meant to extend imperial power. (“El Presidio era un tipo de fortificación, instrumento de defensa y pacificación territorial, típica del periodo colonial español. En sus inicios era la base defensiva de las rutas y caminos que permitieron la colonización y el dominio los territorios del norte de México actual y el sur oeste de los Estados Unidos.”) However, it goes on to say that many presidios were dismantled (desmontar), becoming a sort of quarry for building materials, with the original footprint of the presidio building possibly becoming a sort of park. (“Al ser desmontado el presidio era olvidado y convertía posteriormente en una población que aprovechaba cualquier resto de construcción abandonada para hacer sus casas, trojes y formando la plaza principal que alguna vez fue el espacio central del presidio.”)

Using this logic, it may be possible that in some areas, presidios were not abandoned and dismantled, but rather repurposed to become prisons; what once served to keep out hostiles was transformed to retain them. Such was the history of one famous example of fortress-cum-prison: the Bastille. Originally created as the “Bastion de Saint-Antoine” in the late 1300s, after the Hundred Years War (for which it was originally built), its impenetrability and proximity to the city that it was originally built to protect made it a prime candidate for a jail. It is quite possible, therefore, that cities built near presidios (or came to encompass one) might well repurpose the fortress in their midst into a prison, rather than build one from whole cloth. Their fortifications would make it difficult to bust a prisoner out (after all, they were built to repel attack from the outside), while also making it difficult for a prisoner to escape from within.

That the name by which they were called didn’t change from presidio to prisión isn’t too surprising, either: the Bastille, while still referencing its history as a bastion to protect the city of Paris from the invading English, eventually came to synonymous with a prison and, then, the many social problems perpetrated by the French monarchy. So, too, the transformation from presidios being equivalent with protection and pacification of far-flung, dangerous territories into fortified prisons isn’t too far of a stretch.