Saturday, June 30, 2012

Are you ready to extend your day by 0.001157 percent?

Yes, today is June 30, and it's a LEAP-SECOND DAY! Be cheerful, because for this day, thanks to more precise measurements of Earth's wobble - and that understanding leading to good time-keeping course-correction - we are all going to be able to spend an extra ONE SECOND to enjoy this last day of June. (Even for people living in East Asia, you'll still have time to get in on the game, since - unlike the the insertion of February 29 occurs as a whole day, and lasting a whole day, in everyone's one local - a leap second is inserted (almost magically into our construct of measured time) between 23:59:59 and 00:00:00 of the chosen UTC, which means that the whole globe will simultaneously experience this added second!

If you are getting worried about how scientists are trying to change the whole concept of lived time vs measured time - if the extra day in February (added every four years, save for each century) - gets you really wigged out and/or annoyed with the universe, then hopefully adding an extra second at the end of June (or sometimes at the end of December), then don't worry: a body of scientists that you've never heard of will decide (between now and 2015) whether to continue keeping radioactive time tied to solar time:
A leap second will be introduced on 30 June 2012 following a decision made by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) earlier this year. This could potentially be one of the last ever leap seconds added, as a decision may be made in the next few years to abolish the practice.
I mean, all of these added seconds - done irregularly once (or twice or never) every year - is just going to play all sorts of havoc in a world in which clock precision seems to be weighing ever more heavily in people's lives (international trading, for example, happens second-to-second and never stops; additions of a second here could prove problematic). However, it also seems really strange and stupid that no one has been able to design a clock that - you know - incorporates these changes automatically.

So: in one corner, corner of learning about leap seconds is a bit of a "wonder of science", but recognizing that some people don't like it because it may prove difficult for them (but seem unable to actually figure out that technology can help them with adding this into the time-keeping) is a bit "short-sightedness of people in the face of science that they don't like"...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Rand Paul gets it wrong (again)

Senator Rand Paul is still a freshman senator, but sometimes it seems like he hasn't actually taken the time to understand some of the points about his job. To wit, in a recent interview over the upholding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka "Obamacare"), Rand Paul said the following:
“Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional.”
True: Mr. Paul could well have had a slip of the tongue. He might have meant, "I disagree with the majority decision of the Supreme Court," or, "If I were a Supreme Court justice, I would have decided it the other way, based on X, Y, and Z." But he didn't say those things. He also didn't (as far as I can tell as of this writing) issue a retraction or a clarification of this statement, because "a couple of people on the Supreme Court CAN declare something 'constitutional', and THIS MAKES IT SO". Yes: even with cases that you happen to disagree with. A declaration by a majority of Supreme Court judges - by definition in the Constitution - make that declaration constitutional or unconstitutional. Again: EVEN WITH COURT CASES THAT YOU HAPPEN TO DISAGREE WITH! This is what makes the Supreme Court a REALLY RISKY venue for testing legislation that you don't like:

If SCOTUS finds the law that you don't like to be constitutional, then - guess what - you now have to follow the law; there is no legal wiggle room. I don't like the outcome of Citizens United. I think that SCOTUS decided it wrong; however it is constitutional.

I don't like the interpretation of the second amendment that basically has allowed such loose gun sales in the states that it has led to the acquisition of a whole slew of guns along the border with Mexico through effectively legal gun purchases; forcing only issuance of small arms for a well regulated militia (the bit of the second amendment that is normally forgotten by so-called "gun rights" supporters and - to a large extent - by recent SCOTUS incarnations) would likely have diminished the amount of loose firearms in the country.

In conclusion: there are some SCOTUS decisions that I agree with. These decisions are constitutional. There are some SCOTUS decisions that I disagree with. These decisions are ALSO constitutional. Why? Because, as Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 78 (which many Supreme Court justices have cited as the justification for making constitutional and unconstitutional determinations):
"A Constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute."
... and as Marbury v. Madison (1803) decision that ended up determining the role of SCOTUS.

Of course, Mr. Paul's statement unfortunately doesn't seem so out of touch with reality when you realize that the so-called intellectuals of the conservative right also don't think that this decision was actually, really, truly a constitutional decision (via BoingBoing):
The Court, by a 5–4 margin, refused to join all the august legal experts who insisted that of course it granted that authorization, that only yahoos and Republican partisans could possibly doubt it. It then pretended that this requirement is constitutional anyway, because it is merely an application of the taxing authority. Rarely has the maxim that the power to tax is the power to destroy been so apt, a portion of liberty being the direct object in this case.
The conclusion by the BoingBoing author (Rob Beschizza) is a good one to sum up not only his continued disillusion of the intellectual muscle of the National Review but also this post's position on Mr. Paul's apparent intellectual understanding of the facts, which is, "This is American conservatism's immune system going into anaphylactic shock. Fun to watch, while it lasts!"

Work on magnets

I don't study magnets. In fact, I don't know much about magnets beyond what I learned in undergraduate level physics. However, one of the things that I do remember is that scientists (at that time at least) didn't really know why magnetism worked; they merely knew some of the how.

Well, in my PhysOrg newsfeed this morning, I saw two stories about magnets.

In the first story, researchers de-magnetized a magnet in order to see how magnets worked, and - possibly - to make smaller magnets. Kinda cool.
In the material studied at EPFL, the atoms are arranged in pairs in a very particular way: the magnetic field of one atom is the opposite of that of its neighbor. As a result, the total magnetic field of each pair is practically nil. The entire material thus loses its magnetization.

To unveil the secrets of this strange magnet, the scientists bombarded a lithium-erbium-fluoride sample with neutrons. The radiation allowed them to measure the structure of the crystalline network and its magnetic properties at very high resolution. The experiment had to be conducted at very low temperatures in order to prevent the atoms’ Brownian motion from obscuring the results.

[W]hen they measured the magnetic properties of their sample, the physicists obtained an unexpected result. In this experiment, even though the sample was much thicker, it had the magnetic properties of a single layer.
Why is this cool? Well, because of miniaturization of hard disks:
Data are stored in binary form by changing the magnetic polarity of an area of the disk. With miniaturization, however, the problem is that sectors close to one another can influence each other, and spontaneously change polarity. The data would then be lost. “With these special materials, miniaturization could continue; each sector of the disk could be one of these magnetization-free pairs. The probability that the magnetic field of one atom would influence the magnetic field of its neighbor is practically nil.”
But that's still years off. Still, here's a pretty cool story that points to a the HDD analogue of Moore's Law being allowed to continue onward.

The next story is about how magnetism works in Helium-3 thin films (yeah, who knew such a thing existed?):
Thin films of helium atoms with nuclei of two protons and one neutron—helium-3—intrigue physicists because they have exhibited unusual and unexpected magnetic behavior in experimental investigations. ... The [researchers'] model also predicts the appearance of a new quantum state in solid helium-3 films. [The researchers] focused on solid-state helium-3 because it enabled them to study a phenomenon known as frustration. Helium-3 thin films are ‘frustrated’ by interactions between localized areas of magnetism known as spins. The atoms in these films are organized into a triangular lattice, so the interaction between nearest-neighbor-pairs requires that spins act in the same direction—a mechanism known as ferromagnetism. At the same time however, exchange interactions between multiple spins are antiferromagnetic; that is, alternating spins act in opposite directions. ... They found a previously unknown ground state that has a so-called octahedral spin nematic order; that is, the spins are arranged such that they point along a particular direction, and these ‘directors’ are orthogonal to each other.
Much of the brief runs over my head, but there is something between these two papers that I think is additionally cool: they both potentially describe the same underlying phenomenon! In the first brief, we read the following observation:
But when they measured the magnetic properties of their sample, the physicists obtained an unexpected result. In this experiment, even though the sample was much thicker, it had the magnetic properties of a single layer.
and in the second paper:
the spins are arranged such that they point along a particular direction, and these ‘directors’ are orthogonal to each other. Momoi and colleagues believe that it is this unusual arrangement that causes the anomalous magnetic behavior of two-dimensional solid helium-3.
They both are stories that try to explain how effectively 2-dimensional magnetic fields are formed.

Yeah, I know that it's kinda nerdy that I find all this interesting, even though magnetism isn't part of my research, but there you go. Too, I admit that I may well be wrong about my reading of the two papers - and maybe the whole 2-D magnetic field thing was already known, but I still think that it's cool, because it wasn't known at least to me.

Slinky: Not levitating when dropped

Although a slinky might look like the bottom is levitating when it is dropped, focusing on merely the bottom end of the slinky is missing the overall point of the system-nature of the slinky:

As described last September by Rhett Allen:
Then why doesn’t the bottom of the slinky fall as the top is let go? I think the best thing is to think of the slinky as a system. When it is let get, the center of mass certainly accelerates downward (like any falling object). However, at the same time, the slinky (spring) is compressing to its relaxed length. This means that top and bottom are accelerating towards the center of mass of the slinky at the same time the center of mass is accelerating downward.
This is - arguably - a good analogue of thinking about individual components versus systems. If you look only at individual components of an overall system, you can very well come up with a series of rules that describe the conditions of the components that are being observed. It would even be possible to describe how these components seem to go against the rules that we know OUGHT to be governing other objects. However, assuming objects that are part of a system operate the same as when they are in a system is (arguably) a faulty way of thinking about the objects in question.

When looking only at the end of a slinky, it seems to levitate until the point that the mass of the rest of the slinky crashes down upon it. When looking at a tether ball swinging around its pole, it seems to exhibit centrifugal forces until the point that it stops moving. When looking at an astronaut in a capsule, s/he looks to be floating freely until s/he returns to Earth.

All of these things are examples of having the incorrect frame of reference; of merely looking at the components.

Still, enough of the discussion about depth of the topic; enjoy the slinky video and the explanation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

WTF is きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ?

I have no idea about who きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ is. Seriously, I don't. I can tell that she is a type of J-Pop star. I can tell that she's likely, too, a corporate-made star, and she fits into the mold of Japanese "cuteness".

Her songs aren't too masterful, and her choreography is ... well judge for yourself:


Here, in Candy Candy, きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ tackles the difficulties of running in a sailor-moon-hair wig and the really difficult English words of candy, sweetie, girls, love, and chewing.

She didn't even sing anything in this one! (Or really dance, either.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Virtual time travel back to St. Andrews' cathedral

Back when I was living in St. Andrews, I got to know a local historian and artist who was doing a rendering of the St. Andrews cathedral; how it looked before its eventual ruin. It got me thinking and imagining more about the actual presence of that edifice; what used to be the largest building in all of Scotland (and largest single room in Scotland up until its eventual - and final - destruction).

Now, as part of its ongoing 600 years of academic marvel, St. Andrews University is presenting a virtual tour of the cathedral in all of its past glory:
Visitors will be able to create their own avatars and navigate their way around the online reconstruction; exploring the cloisters, the internal choir section, the chapter house, and the nave. There will be historic characters so visitors will be able to chat (using headphones and microphone) with Robert the Bruce, an Augustinian Friar and perhaps “The Old Grey Lady” a ghost reported to haunt the building. The experience is intended to give users a new perspective on Scottish history, accessible across the generations.
Looking at the School of Classic page, I can't find the actual 3D renderings beyond the model, but I'll keep poking around, maybe even send an e-mail to Classics to find out where the 3D virtual tour is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Where the hell is Matt now?

Back in January of 2009, I came across the video of Matt traveling around the world, and dancing with local people in small groups and large (and sometimes alone). It was an amazingly fresh and uplifting video.

Well, Matt's come up with another video of his travels. Thanks, Matt, and keep it up!

This is just awesome, and I absolutely LOVE it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sexism (or any other form of bigotry) should not be given a free pass, even on the Internet

IllDoc does another great video:

I don't even know why this would be a controversial topic. Makes sense to me, but apparently not to many men. Yeah, yeah, I know that there are lots of men out there who don't support the actions of misogynists, anti-feminist trolls, etc.. However, tacit disagreement with such a stance isn't actually helping out, either.

When I see the types of negative, bigoted statements referenced in the video, they generally make me angry.

Statements like, "Hey, it was a joke!" just piss me off all the more. You know it wasn't a joke, when you said it. I know that it wasn't a joke when you said it. The only reason that you are now back-pedaling now is that you've been called out on something that was obviously a bigoted comment, but you don't want to admit that you were wrong, so you try to play it off as a joke. It's transparent. It stretches credulity. It mocks my intelligence. It does nothing other than continue to offend.

Furthermore, stating things like, "I don't really think that way; it's just funny to do," isn't any better than the more general, "It was a joke" excuse. Making bigoted comments against someone because of who they are - and thinking this humorous - carries about as much humor as a knock knock joke: none. Furthermore, it shows everyone that you don't actually think of the other person as a human being, which means that potentially anyone could be treated as less than human, merely because of how you choose to classify them. Why would I - or anyone - would want to associate with that sort of deep-seated sociopathically inclined person is beyond me.

Finally, it doesn't prove to anyone that your strong, witty, courageous, or possess any other sort of socially redeeming characteristic. It merely proves that you can string together sentences that are replete with bigotry. Sadly, too, it often doesn't even show that you're imaginative; most bigoted insults are so well-trodden that anyone can likely rattle off a dozen or two in their mind with little prompting.

What to do about it? Well, fighting fire with fire is one option, but it is one that quickly cedes the high ground. Some might, however, contend that there is little concept of a "high ground" on the Internet. I don't think that it's necessary to opt for a bigoted response to bigotry, though. However, such responses - like Anderson Cooper's responses to hater-tweets - generally do require a sense of wit and imagination that is often lacking in the heat of the moment. I tend - when I see them (and I don't often, since I rarely am involved in fora that witness outright bigotry) - to merely point out that the person is being a bigot. Others can then agree with my simply stated point; but it takes the initial statement of calling out.

True, some people might not even consider themselves to be bigoted when it comes to a particular topic. In their (often privileged) world view, such statements are normal and have never been critically examined (from any viewpoint, let alone from the viewpoint of the group being discriminated against). To these people, the simple statement of, "You are making a very bigoted statement," is the height of insult. You might actually have to have a reasoned conversation (which is always difficult online, especially once you have said something that the other person has taken as offensive) about how their statement was actually quite bigoted. There's no promise that you'll succeed in convincing the other person in a single conversation that their point was, indeed, bigoted. However, it's unlikely that anyone could change someone's worldview in just one conversation, regardless of how well-reasoned the argument and how amicable the conversation; changing someone's mind requires time and constant follow-up, so don't worry if the other person still doesn't agree with your position at the end of the conversation (provided you can even have a conversation).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anderson Cooper is sharp

I don't watch much CNN, but I do like to watch Anderson Cooper. Not because he's a sharp dresser and a sharp looker, but because he's got a sharp wit and (often) brings sharp insight to his pieces.

Now I learn that he's also sharp-tongued and sharp-witted on Twitter, too:



More at MattStopera on BuzzFeed.

I guess that I need to start actually following people via Twitter.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Population weight, public health, and environmental implications

I watched the following video

which brought up several points of concern:
  1. The total adult population of the Earth weighs roughly 287 million metric tons (316 million US tons).
    • This is about 1/2 of the total biomass of the world's cattle
    • This is about 1/5 of the total biomass of the world's ants
  2. The world's average adult body mass is 62 kg (137 lbs).
  3. The North American average adult body mass is 80.7 kg (178 lbs).
  4. If the world's adult population all had the same average mass as the North American average, it would be like adding 935 million people to the current world's population.
The video goes on to explain why this is problematic for environmental and public health concerns (starting from 1:14). The original article - "The Weight of Nations: An estimation of adult human biomass" - can be found at BMC Public Health.

Abstract (Background):
The energy requirement of species at each trophic level in an ecological pyramid is a function of the number of organisms and their average mass. Regarding human populations, although considerable attention is given to estimating the number of people, much less is given to estimating average mass, despite evidence that average body mass is increasing. We estimate global human biomass, its distribution by region and the proportion of biomass due to overweight and obesity.
Abstract (Results & Conclusions):
In 2005, global adult human biomass was approximately 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes were due to overweight (BMI > 25), a mass equivalent to that of 242 million people of average body mass (5% of global human biomass). Biomass due to obesity was 3.5 million tonnes, the mass equivalent of 56 million people of average body mass (1.2% of human biomass). North America has 6% of the world population but 34% of biomass due to obesity. Asia has 61% of the world population but 13% of biomass due to obesity. One tonne of human biomass corresponds to approximately 12 adults in North America and 17 adults in Asia. If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass of 58 million tonnes would be equivalent in mass to an extra 935 million people of average body mass, and have energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults.

Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra half a billion people living on the earth.
I (idly) wonder if anyone has used this sort of data analysis for actual trophic food web analysis, much like one might do with various fish species (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; see also "trophic food web" on the University of Michigan's dissertations, theses, and research publications site).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rethinking models of mutualism

I saw an article brief posted at PhysOrg, entitled "Maths experts question key ecological theory," and (apart from triggering my desire to write yesterday's post), I immediately thought of a particular xkcd strip, specifically, this panel:

And then I read the post, and there seem to be some interesting points:
By carefully examining previous analytic results, and applying computational and statistical methods to 59 empirical datasets representing mutualistic plant-pollinator networks, they say they disprove the accepted theory of nestedness. Instead, they contend that the number of mutualistic partners a species has is a much better predictor of individual species survival and community persistence.


Co-author Dr Alex James, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Canterbury, said: "It is a well-used phrase but correlation does not imply causation. Although a cursory glance at real networks can make it appear that nestedness is correlated with survival, you need to delve deeper to realise this is a secondary correlation. The stronger and more causal relationship is between the number of mutualistic partners a species has and its survival."

If this all proves to be true and usable, then it will be a good addition to our understanding of mutualisms in nature.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another difference between British and American English(es)

When living in the UK, I was corrected several times when I uttered the word "math" in public.

"It mathsss," they would say, emphasizing the final s.

"Why?" was what I asked after the second or third correction; it was obvious that the first correction wasn't done by a loon, after all, and that I might well be in the wrong.

"Well, it's because it's a contraction of mathematics. After all, you wouldn't say mathematic would you?"

I had to concede the point: the term mathematic was not in my lexicon, not in their lexicons, and therefore the concept of  

mathematics U+2192.svg maths

made a sort of logical sense, and I questioned it no further. (I did, however, switch back to merely saying "math" when I moved to the US; fitting in linguistically was another lesson that I learned from this - and many other - language lessons learned in the UK.)

Recently, a lot of commentators on the left made fun of GOP Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney, for his repeated use of the word sport instead of sports. I know of two times when he said sport as part of a public speech. It was used - among other mannerisms - to paint a picture of how he is "out of touch" with common Americans. This post is not about whether this is true, but to ask the question:

Why do Americans say sports but not maths, and (conversely) why do the British say sport and not math?

The only times that I recall hearing an American say sport were by older - usually White - men, using it in the informal way that was (apparently) more typical during their youth. For example, sentences like, "He was a good sport," or, "Hey, sport, let's get going," or even, "It was said in sport". These are rather specialized usages, though, and definitely not the meaning used by Mr. Romney, which was what most Americans would call sports.

Looking at Wikipedia's entry, it looks like some British people do make a distinction between sport and sports; the former used for talking about the overall concept and the latter reserved for explicitly talking about multiple different sporting activities. However, looking at the ngram of sport vs. sports in British English shows that the latter meaning is a recent one, gaining parity around 1976-1978, and is only slightly more dominant at present:

Meanwhile, the ngram for American English shows the shift between sport and sports occurring back in the 1940s, and sport occurring only slightly more than half as often as sports.

This is likely why the use of sport sounds so strange to American ears. However, this still doesn't answer the main question that I had, which was, why the Brits still use sport but not use math in their lexicon?

I guess that I've just rediscovered the small point that language is not always consistent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How do we define different colors?

A couple of years ago, xkcd did a online color survey and posted the results:

The preliminary results were quite humorous:

  • If you ask people to name colors long enough, they go totally crazy.
  • “Puke” and “vomit” are totally real colors.
  • Colorblind people are more likely than non-colorblind people to type “fuck this” (or some variant) and quit in frustration.
  • Indigo was totally just added to the rainbow so it would have 7 colors and make that “ROY G. BIV” acronym work, just like you always suspected. It should really be ROY GBP, with maybe a C or T thrown in there between G and B depending on how the spectrum was converted to RGB.
  • A couple dozen people embedded SQL ‘drop table’ statements in the color names. Nice try, kids.
  • Nobody can spell “fuchsia”.
A color spectrum was also divided into the various "accepted" realms of color:

All very interesting, but if we think about it, this is a definition of colors of the English speaking world (primarily - most likely - that of the United States). In a more discursive review, EmpericalZeal writes about how color is defined differently in different languages:
Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. ... [In] Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. ... In Japanese, [someone who is inexperienced is] ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.

And it’s not just Japanese. There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. ... The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and ... this is something you see across language families. In fact, Radiolab had a fascinating recent episode on color where they talked about how there was no blue in the original Hebrew Bible, nor in all of Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey!
EmpericalZeal continues, describing the xkcd color spectrum, and raising the question of what this all means for the non-English-speaking world, drawing upon the World Color Survey that sought to determine how many colors exist (linguistically), and found that there seemed to be pattern in the development of different colors:

A picture worth many words. The path to a more colorful language, according to Berlin and Kay (1969).
... If a language has just two color terms, they will be a light and a dark shade – blacks and whites. Add a third color, and it’s going to be red. Add another, and it will be either green or yellow – you need five colors to have both. And when you get to six colors, the green splits into two, and you now have a blue. What we’re seeing here is a deeply trodden road that most languages seem to follow, towards greater visual discernment (92 of their 98 languages seemed to follow this basic route).
Pretty cool, eh? But so what? Well, in part 2, EmpericalZeal explains why:

Well, if we agree with the idea that our perceptions of the world have a major influence on how we think about the world, and we further agree that our how we form our perceptions are limited and enhanced by the traits of our language, then we have to recognize that language plays a major, foundational role, in how we even put together our thoughts about the world in which we live. This is the basic point of people following the thesis of the American linguist Benjamin Whorf, who said:
We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language [...] all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar 
And we know this sort of thing to be true (and it is the basis of my reasoning in this blog post), and that terms that we might individually think of as fixed and true may only be so in our minds (such as what is meant by the term "environment" or what you mean by "brook"). It's a major part of political strategy (including the whole "climate change" vs. "global warming" semantic debate"War on Drugs" and "Drug Tzar" framing, the semantic arguments that underlay "climate gate", the misunderstanding of scientific word-use, etc.), and as words change their popular imbedded meanings, their social use also changes (e.g., "welfare" vs. "the dole"). Indeed, going back to the linguistic connections with available words for colors, EmpericalZeal describes the results of a 1984 color recognition study amongst English and Tarahumara speakers:
The researchers discovered that, compared to the Tarahumara, English speakers do indeed see blue and green as more distinct. Having a word for blue seems to make the color ‘pop’ a little more in our minds. But it was a fragile effect, and any verbal distraction would make it disappear. The implication is that language may affect how we see the world. Somehow, the linguistic distinction between blue and green may heighten the perceived difference between them.
Pretty cool, eh? EmpericalZeal then describes a 2006 follow up study that was a color perception task in which a peripherally viewed block of color would be a contrasting (bluish or greenish) color compared to the other peripherally viewed blocks of color. What the researchers found was:
It takes less time to identify the odd colored square if you are jumping categories (blue versus green), compared to staying with a category (green versus green). ... However, ... this result only holds if the differently colored square was in the right half of the circle. If it was in the left half, then there’s no difference between the two cases – blue and green are just as vivid. It seems that color categories only matter in the right half of your visual field!
WOAH! So color perception and recognition have handedness too? Perhaps so! I wish that this study were done by obligate lefties (i.e., lefties who can't actually learn to do things with their right hands). Would we get a different response?

Still, this finding extends beyond English speakers to include Koreans' distinction between yeondu and chorok versus a lack of real distinction between the two (as distinct colors, as opposed to shades of greeny-yellow) in English. The results showed that Koreans displayed the above type of distribution (i.e., no significant difference when viewed in the left half of the circle; significant difference when viewed in the right half of the circle), while among English speakers, there was no significant difference when viewed at either the right or left side of the circle... which seems to reinforce the idea that, since English doesn't distinguish these as distinct colors while Korean does, having a basic color distinction (as opposed to shades of the same color category) does change how you observe the same physical phenomenon.

EmpericalZeal continues in describing how different cultures describe color relationships differently, using the following BBC video as an example:

as well as how it takes children a significantly longer amount of time to learn to distinguish colors as opposed to acquiring words for objects, showing that Darwin's inquiry of whether children perceive the world differently once they learn their colors is very likely true.

I've covered (and blockquoted) a LOT of EmpericalZeal's blog posts, but I really am excited about a lot of what was written there. Still, you should go over to those two posts in order to read them in their entirety:

The Crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A bit of omphaloskepsis on the etymology of "hmmm"

Over at LiveScience (don't click unless you (a) have an adblocker or (b) don't mind getting barraged with surveys) there is a bit of an explanation (or a reasoned guess) as to the meaning and origin of the word "hmmm".
Although it exists in many languages in a variety of forms, its roots are elusive. "I have no theory of its origin," said Anatoly Liberman, a linguist at the University of Minnesota and an expert on word origins. "Possibly it could have spread from French to English… but you cannot trace it in any way as far as its distant history is concerned, because the word is so natural that it may have arisen at any time."

Hmm is technically categorized as an "interjection," along with the likes of um, huh, ouch and wow. It's also "sound symbolic," along with onomatopoeia words like plop, ping or oink — "except that it's symbolic of, really, nothing," Liberman told Life's Little Mysteries.

"The first h-sound is simply a substitute for breath, and the second m-sound, since the mouth is closed, is symbolic of the fact that we're not quite sure what to say," he said. The pause filler indicates that we're temporarily speechless, but still engaged. The variety of tones we may take add subtle meaning to the interlude.
All of this makes a sort of just-so-story type of explanation. However, like many things about language and society, this isn't as universal as we might think. I remember in Scotland, that the use of hmm was heard (by me) less often than emmmm; in my high school years, the more common thing was ummm. In Japanese, there's the ehhhh (and sometimes ehhh~tohhhh...) and well as the nnnn; not so much with the hmm.

This sort of thing makes me question the universality of explanations like the above. However, with American English becoming the major spoken form of English in the world, hmm could well become the dominant (or more common) expressive form that indicates pondering.

However, when thinking of things that make you go hmmm, there is, of course, always this:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Language and social contexts (specifically about the use of the N-word.)

Jay Smooth (aka IllDoctrine) did a video commentary on Gwyneth Paltrow's recent use of the N-word in a tweet. This is a follow-up and final word on the subject:

Brilliant insights, especially the ending:

The rule that says black people using that word amongst themselves is one thing and anyone else using it is a different thing is not a double standard. What that is is a standard. It's doing what a standard's supposed to do. So can we please put that argument to bed and bury it next to asking why there's no White History Month, because no. Just no.

Check out Jay's blog here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hot and sticky Japanese summers

As we start what is expected to be yet another really hot not-quite-summer-even-though-it-feels-like-summer day, I remember back to what a Tokyo end-of-summer felt (and sounded) like. This pretty much sums up the feeling:

Ad Agency: Dentsu Kansai.

via CopyRanter

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Living in a future of super-humans!

Well, okay maybe not as a fantastical idea as one might think. (No, we aren't going to all become like members of the Avengers... at least no time soon.)

A month ago, we learned how to survive a robot uprising. Today, we learn about how a future where we create new technology that makes us effectively into "super-humans," and how this will likely affect our social setup:

A lot of this is developed in near-future sci-fi, as well as role-playing games like Shadowrun. I used to love the idea of the Street Samurai, with all its cybernetic implants. The balancing of these - for gaming mechanics - was that the increased number of implants was a trade-off in magic and humanity skills (and often weight and bulk).

In other novels, in which cyborgs had become an increasing part of the social landscape, "trading in" a leg (or even upgrading your legs) was done by some for both aesthetic as well as functional (or increased-functional) purposes. See, for example, the Transmetropolitan graphic novel series (which deals with a somewhat-in-the-future, but not intergalactic space, setting) and the Battle Angel Alita and Battle Angel Alita Last Ordergraphic novel series (which are set in a dystopian future of a collapsed solar-system-wide civilization).

What I find interesting is how cyborg enhancements play such a small role in the Star Trek series, save for the calmly, callously, inhumanly, evil Borg...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Normalizing CO2 emissions makes little physical sense (at least to me)

I have written about some of the problems of normalizing CO2 emissions (here, here, and here), and I don't really understand the reasoning behind it, other than to make a policy statement. Indeed, because we live in a world that has dominant social systems that govern the physical systems, we must recognize the importance that such framing has in policy statements and decision-making.

We must recognize that China - although the world's largest emitter of CO2 - has a far lower per capita CO2 emission than the United States. However, the physical world doesn't care about this normalization, and as China has pursued their economic growth through completing about 1 coal fired power plant each week, its economic costs due to coal and industrial pollution are draining an increasing amount away from that growth.

We must recognize that countries that divide their CO2 by their GDP also show some sort of "CO2 efficiency" in their economy. However, the physical world doesn't care about this normalization or any concept related to it.

To the physical world, one ton of CO2 emissions is the same as any other single ton of CO2 emissions, whether it is emitted from China, the US, or Botswana; whether it's emitted due to respiration, cooking fires, or industrial emissions; whether it's for economic gain in country A or in country B. An economist might look at this and say, "Hey, this is a great reason for applying an opportunity cost assessment here," but - you know what? - the physical world doesn't care about opportunity costs, either.

With all that recognition, we now have a new study - from the University of Michigan's Transport Research Institute - that shows that the US's CO2 emissions don't fare "as bad" when you account for heating degree days (and cooling degree days).
Sivak and UMTRI colleague Brandon Schoettle say that some rankings adjust the total amount of emissions to account for the size of each country's population (per capita) and its overall economic output (per GDP). But they believe it's important to go one step further: account for the general heating and cooling demands imposed by the climate of a given country because climate control produces carbon dioxide emissions.
The justification for this is not really clear. Are they doing this based on the assumptions that we will have climate change, and then people might be using energy differently? If so, the article doesn't actually say how or what climate change scenarios are assessed. If it's looking at how current energy is used based on current climate, then it's double-counting types of efficiency, since part of those costs would be included in GDP measures.

What gets me most, though, is the final paragraph of the article:
"Overall, our results suggest that taking climate into account makes a significant difference in how countries fare in carbon dioxide emissions rankings," Sivak said. "Because people respond to the climate they live in by heating and cooling indoor spaces, an index that incorporates climate provides a fairer yardstick than an index that does not."
Ummm.... How does Sivak define, "fairer?" If one is concerned about total emissions' impacts on the world and on global climate change, then his argumentation makes no sense, because the physical world doesn't care about this normalization. In fact, as I stated above, the whole idea of normalizing based on per capita or per GDP makes little physical process sense, except for the arguable forum of of public policy. However, that forum must divorce policy making and future scenarios from impacts from climate change in order for the argumentation to really work outside of an international setting. However, recognizing that policy may be divorced from the impacts of climate change doesn't justify normalizing by degree days.

Why not, for example, choose something else, like normalizing by weather variability (which is connected with major changes in local climate), by expected health care costs (since this has major direct and indirect impacts on GDP and per capita as well as speaks to a host of environmental changes), by security (since we can expect major changes in migration - and in nations' security - in a future with climate change), or by almost anything else than a triple normalization that included degree days?

Or maybe I'm missing some justification that makes sense that was presented in the article in Scientific American that I didn't see in the PhysOrg article. The way that it was presented in PhysOrg made it seem more like a "hey, don't hate on the US, we're better than you think when it comes to CO2 emissions*".

* When you normalize the data three ways to next century.

Comparative US science literacy on evolution (as well as a brief tangent on what "scientific literacy" actually means)

Carl Zimmer presents a chart of science literacy from Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 that reports US figures side-by-side with some other countries' figures.

What Zimmer says is insightful:
We Americans do relatively well on a lot of the questions (although that sometimes means we’re about as bad as most other countries). The one big exception is when Americans are asked about the origin of the universe and of our species.
And he's right: the US is on-par with our "competitors" in terms of providing the correct answer to the questions. (There is some question as to whether the Big Bang can be short-handed as an "explosion", but in some ways, the process of the Big Bang doesn't really fit within the constructs of language as we use it today, so - without first going into a massive verbal description of what the Big Bang is and was - "explosion" is likely a good enough layman's explanation of the process.) However, looking at the question about evolution, we see something rather interesting (as Zimmer points out):

Q. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (True)

USA (2010, n=1932): 47%
South Korea (2004, n=1000): 64%
EU (2005, n=16,029): 70%
Japan (2001, n=2146): 78%
India (2004, n=30,255): 56%
China (2007, n=10,059): 69%
Russia (2003, n=2107): 44%

Interestingly, this value of 47% echoes some of the Gallup polling on this question. In the last survey of Americans, 46% stated that God created humans in their current form, 32% said that humans evolved with God's guidance, and 15% said that humans evolved without God's help. (I wrote previously about how odd these findings would sound if it were related to whether God helped with gravity.) If one were to add the latter two rates (32% and 15%), both of which agree that - whether God did it or not - humans evolved from earlier species, one would get 47%; an interesting piece of corroborative proof.

Just to be clear: the US and Russia answered the question at a rate lower than just random chance would suggest (i.e., 50%). In fact, it is arguable that any answer that significantly diverges from 50% implies that there is literacy about the question. In the case of the United States and Russia, this literacy tends toward answering the question as false. However, even with majorities of India, South Korea, China, the EU, and Japan answering the question as "true", this point says little about the application of such knowledge.

When we think about the question of evolution in the context of the United States - especially when formed in this manner - we may remember the 2005 Dover trial or the much earlier Scopes trial that provided legal tests on the teaching of creationism (or what amounted to creationism under the guise of so-called "intelligent design theory") in public schools. To some level, the question in these cases isn't one about scientific literacy per se but of whether creationism amounted to religious doctrine (which was not allowed to be taught in public schools in the US). The science of evolution wasn't - itself - in question, insofar as whether it was a valid scientific realm or scientific theory, but the trials did show something about how the societies in question (e.g., Dover, PA and the state of Tennessee, respectively) approach the framing of the idea of evolution versus religious doctrine.

If one posits that the science of evolution must conform to the written word of their holy book (in the case of the US, this is almost always the Christian Bible), since it is religious doctrine that the holy book is infallible/the word of the deity/morally good/etc., being faced with a question that flies in the face of the teachings of that book - and of the religion that uses it - makes the whole thing a rather touchy subject. This is a rough outline of what the case of the social situation was leading up to the 2005 Dover, PA trial (and likely what it continues to be today). The literacy of knowing that one thing is a "scientific truth" does not, however, necessarily mean that you accept this scientific truth nor that you understand how to apply it. I would be willing to bet that the number of people who actually accept the above statement as true is likely less than the 47% who reported the that the statement is scientifically true. I would be even more willing to bet that the number of people who understand some of the ramifications of that statement is far less than the 47% figure.

According to some, the importance of whether evolution is true has very little impact on their lives, and this may also color their responses. Kevin Jones over at Mother Jones says, in his article titled "The Fight over Evolution Isn't Actually All that Important":
The fact is that belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything. That's why 46% of the country can safely choose not to believe it: their lack of belief has precisely zero effect on their lives. Sure, it's a handy way of saying that they're God-fearing Christians — a "cultural signifier," as Andrew puts it — but our lives are jam-packed with cultural signifiers. This is just one of thousands, one whose importance probably barely cracks America's top 100 list.

And the reason it doesn't is that even creationists don't take their own views seriously. How do I know this? Well, creationists like to fight over whether we should teach evolution in high school, but they never go much beyond that. Nobody wants to remove it from university biology departments. Nobody wants to shut down actual medical research that depends on the workings of evolution. In short, almost nobody wants to fight evolution except at the purely symbolic level of high school curricula, the one place where it barely matters in the first place. The dirty truth is that a 10th grade knowledge of evolution adds only slightly to a 10th grade understanding of biology.
Similar arguments have been made about the importance of learning calculus (or even advanced algebra), learning physics, geology, chemistry, literature, or history. In fact, much of public school education could be shot down with similar logic. Of course, if the utilitarian argument isn't the only reason why we learn things. After all, without being introduced to these topics - and having the opportunity to excel in them - we would be pushing back the learning requirements until the university level. And - to a certain degree - this happens, with many freshmen taking introductory mathematics classes, because they didn't take much past algebra in high school. Perhaps schools could also be offering trades courses (like car repair, appliance maintenance, hair-cutting, cooking, etc.) or preparing people for operating businesses or for entering public service, etc. However, I think that these things are grist for a different conversation; one about the efficacy of our current education system's ability to provide the skills and opportunities for people to excel in the areas in which they find interest.

Going back to the point about literacy, scientific literacy ought to be more than merely being able to correctly answer true and false questions. Like literacy of language, it requires that you understand not only that the letter "C" is actually the letter "C", pronounced as "see", usable as either a "ssss" sound or a "kuh" sound. It requires more than knowing that "cat" is pronounced like "kat" and not "sat". It requires more than knowing that "cat" refers to a type of animal, and more than merely knowing a physical description (and perhaps recognizing a visual representation) of the animal. Indeed, literacy requires that you know how "cat" is situated in the language; to know that it has a particular nuance when used in one situation, "she has many cats," than in another one, "he has many cats"; to understand some of the social complexity that arises from conjoined words like "catnap" and phrases like "the cat's meow"; and to understand social differences between merely "cats" and the Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, "Cats"; and so much more (for just this word). And literacy requires a similar knowledge for not just a smattering of words (or even significant portions of a lexicon), but it also requires that you know how and when and where to use them for the exact level of the precise desired effect in the setting of choice and medium of communication.

In a more applicable example of literacy and social impacts (and social constructions), the recent Gallup poll of Americans' views on the percentage of the population who are non-heterosexual showed that a plurality believe that at least one out of every four people in the country aren't heterosexual. As Gallup concludes, " is clear that America’s gay population — no matter the size — is becoming a larger part of America’s mainstream consciousness." Of course, what would be interesting would be the cross-tabs on how many Americans believe that a large percentage of the population are gay or lesbian while also thinking that it is a lifestyle choice (and not genetic). THAT understanding can actually have some say about the literacy of our understanding of things.

In short, the list of statements for which Trues and Falses were given is merely a starting point for scientific literacy, not an end point. But still, even with that starting point, recognizing distinct social trends underlying trends to relatively simple two-choice answers can indicate something about the underlying social condition of a country.

Just to increase your scientific literacy about evolution a bit, here's a good overview video:

UPDATE (2012-06-15): Ed Brayton, at Dispatches from the Culture Wars (and a blogger that I started reading during the Dover evolution vs. intelligent design/creationism lawsuit was taking place) has also weighed into this debate of why Americans fail to answer this question correctly and whether this is a bad thing (and I'm pleased to note that his major points seem to align with the ones I made above):
We aren’t going to “bring the country together” — whatever that means — no matter what people think about evolution and creationism. But there are far better reasons to be bothered by the lack of acceptance of evolution than that it divides us. Because rejection of evolution does not typically travel alone; it is a symptom of a much larger problem of overwhelming ignorance of science.

The second is a preference for religious and political explanations over scientific ones. And this is not limited to evolution, it pervades our political discourse. If science says that evolution is true but your church says it’s not, evolution must be wrong; if science says global warming is real and threatens our future but your political party says it’s not, global warming must be wrong. And not merely wrong but a massive conspiracy by evil and satanic liberals who want to destroy God, grandma and apple pie.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Breakin' the Flag Code

It's Flag Day today! Are you flying YOUR US flag? And are you doing it right?

This is a re-post from a few years ago, but since it's Flag Day, I decided to put it up again (with minor edits and updates of photos, since some of the linked-to photos in the original were no longer linked properly).


Recently, a number of things have made me wonder about how well people follow the flag code, especially the part about "Respect for the flag". Therefore, I looked up the Flag Code's section on "Respect for flag".

Flag Code, Section 8: Respect for Flag
§8. Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
  1. The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  2. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  3. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  4. The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  5. The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  6. The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  7. The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  8. The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  9. The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  10. No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  11. The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning

Point-by-point Assessment of Flag Code Breaking
Okay... So let's look through section 8 one by one. The protesters of the "disrespect" to the flag aren't seen (to my knowledge) in doing (a), and although I'm not sure that (b) really can work if the flag itself its merchandise, I don't think that it is generally done by "Flag coders" (i.e., those who tend to strongly profess a need to follow the flag code, but apparently don't know what is and isn't a violation of said code, since they don't seem to mind when they - or those they like - break it), although with September 11th flag mat, one does have to place it on the ground...

That brings us to (c): in addition to the flag mat and the placing-of-a-flag at a memorial above, there are technical violations done repeatedly during sporting events, and often by the military:

This flag is both horizontal (against the code) and is not flying "aloft and free". Sorry, but this patriotic display of the flag is against the flag code.

On to point (d), the worst violation by the "Flag coders". Just consult the Oracle of Google for "US flag clothes" and you will find thousands of examples of a violation of this point. Some examples:

Although many "Flag Coders" may feel that it is the pinnacle of patriotism to sweat into the flag plastered on their bodies, whomever drafted the flag code would have begged to differ.

On to point (e): Here we find "Flag Coders" both upholding the code while others are also in violation of it (see above, where George W. Bush is clearly in a position to soil a flag, which is laying horizontally, and is touching the ground).

On to point (f), I found this one example of a flag-as-ceiling... in a military tent. Can't be more patriotic than the military, right? Unfortunately, the contractor was breaking the flag code. (Apparently, the soldiers didn't know or care, either.)
Holding tent; flag ceiling

Then there is point (g). There are many photos of politicians supported by "Flag Coders" in which they are placing marks (their signature) on flags:

There are also the technical violations of "support-the-troops" insignias and symbols printed on top of the flag (while one might not like it, or feel that supporting the troops is a patriotic use of the flag, it is technically against this point in the flag code):
On to point (h): Doing a search for "flag basket" one can find many examples of the flag being a receptacle for potentially holding, carrying, and/or delivering:

Are these flag baskets (or similar receptacles) used by "Flag Coders"? I don't know, since I couldn't figure out the correct sequence of words with which to query the Oracle of Google. However, I can imagine a "Flag Coder" in his or her flag shirt, sitting and eating a picnic out of a flag basket (but that basket would be on a blanket, and not on the ground, obviously).

On to point (i): Wow. Let's take this point-by-point. It "should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever": How many car commercials have you seen that have in them the US flag, especially around Memorial Day, July 4th, or Veterans Day? 

All of them -- in using the flag in the commercial -- are technically violating the Flag Code's "in any manner whatsoever" ban.

It should not be made into a cushion. (Oops):
anything for temporary use or discard. (Oops and oops):

On to point (j), and what's that about no flags on (or - presumably - as) athletic uniforms? (Oopsoops, and REALLY oops)

These days, you almost always see "Flag Coders" wearing patriotic flag pins, and you definitely see public officials, during public events, displaying their flag pins on their left lapels at every chance they get (providing they are wearing lapels). However, this wasn't always the case, as this photo of Reagan and Bush I shows:

Wow. The man who brought down the Soviet Union (and his one-term successor) aren't wearing lapel pins?!? How could you have known if they were "true patriots" and "real Americans"? (On a side note, if anyone has read through the graphic novel Pyongyang? There are a few panels in the book about how to tell if a person is a real patriot by the presence, position, and condition of their flag pins. This whole flag-pin business in this country really makes me think that some of the "Flag Coders" and "real American patriots" want to subject us to an authoritarian regime in which wearing a pin is equivalent to patriotism.)

Finally to point (k). It always seems to me that it is the "Flag Coders" who are up-in-arms about burning flags and how it's desecration. However, the code says that this is the preferred manner of destroying the flag. (Of course, with all these synthetic flags out there, I don't know if it's the healthiest manner of doing so.) True, many anti-US protesters burn the flag, but instead of getting angry at the fact that these protesters are burning the flag, one should be happy that they are treating it with the respectful final destruction that the flag code calls for at the hands of "the anti-US" who could have put it to far worse purposes.

... and these things don't even touch Section 3 of the code, which is all about how it is actually illegal to do most of the above violations within the District of Columbia:
Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, [breaks almost any of the restrictions above] ... shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court.
All I can say to that one is, "Oooops!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Using Twitter to map a city's sleep cycles

Over at Flowing Data, Nathan Yu shows some graphics that nicely capture the timings of a city's sleep cycle by mapping out a year's worth of Twitter.

These graphs were done by Twitter engineers - Miguel Rios and Jimmy Lin - and they found some interesting things:
We see different patterns of activity between the four cities. For example, waking/sleeping times are relatively constant throughout the year in Tokyo, but the other cities exhibit seasonal variations. We see that Japanese users' activities are concentrated in the evening, whereas in the other cities there is more usage during the day. In Istanbul, nights get shorter during August; Sao Paulo shows a time interval during the afternoon when Tweet volume goes down, and also longer nights during the entire year compared to the other three cities.
It's also interesting to note that one can see a marked effect in NYC of what appears to possibly be the start of the academic year (see the shift in the start of September) in addition to the seasonality that is visible there.

I wonder if the relatively low number of Tweets in Tokyo during the day have to do with the medium of use. For example, do people make more cellphone texts from 10am to 6pm than they do from 7pm to 2 am? After all, there is no reason to believe that Twitter has a major corner in the short-texts market in Tokyo (where Facebook is also not a major player).

I also noticed the lags in mid-afternoon Tweets in Sao Paulo, and I wonder if that's got something to do with long lunches that they take down there. It would be interesting to see if how comparable it is with other Latin American cities - where far-longer-than-American lunches are commonplace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A friend's blog: Uphill Both Ways

A friend and former classmate of mine has started a blog - Uphill Both Ways - about becoming a better commuter cyclist (and commuter driver, too):
I am a bicycle commuter. I don’t ride a bike recreationally, or for exercise. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sweating buckets on my way to work – I do! – but primarily, I ride to get places. And as a commuter, I want to be able to use the roads in my community safely and responsibly. Plenty of drivers drive like assholes, and plenty of cyclists ride like idiots, and I know I’ve fallen into both those categories, accidentally/ignorantly/unattentively. So I’m committing, first, to learning to abide by the rules of the road and take the steps I can to protect myself as a cyclist (helmet and chartreuse jacket? check!). And second, I’m going to learn to drive properly when there are bikes around.
As is written: "I always wanted to live somewhere where I could ride my bike to work. Then, one day, I started riding my bike to work. Now I live somewhere I can ride my bike to work." and as a fellow bike commuter, I have to say good continued luck with this project!

No window in new office

The English Language Institute recently moved from its digs in West Hall over to an off-campus location at 555 S. Forest St. The space where I find myself has no windows outward - only a window facing the hallway. Ah well... at least there is an office for the writing clinic (now shared with the speaking clinic). This is far better than it was back at the 500 E. Washington location, where I was working out of a cubicle.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Warm days

Woah, these days have been warm. It's meant nice evenings with lots of fireflies over the lawn. However, it's also meant miserable noons. Ah, well, hopefully we are going to get a reprieve later this week.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Write what you know...

The advice that is given to young writers is (apparently, and quite often) "write what you know". Sometimes, you might even get really rich by doing so:

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Oooh! Squishy!

Ever wonder what food would look like when you squished it? And have you ever then wondered what soundtrack you would put to it? Well, wonder no more!

flatten from Kay van Vree on Vimeo.

An experimental film in which we where curious about the forms and shapes food makes when you flatten them.

After that we composited different parts of the video and each gave them a separate time span so we could edit on the music.

Visuals : Hugo de Kok & Kay van Vree
Music : Ivo van Dijk & Sophie Ansems

Friday, June 08, 2012

Understanding sentences without subject or object.

Today, I saw a video made by one of my former classmates from when I was living in Tokyo:

The phrase (すごく気に入りました) directly translates into English as only, "Liked a lot"; no grammatical subject nor object. However, the translation given in the video is, "I liked it a lot." Note the inclusion of a subject ("I") and an object ("it") that was not in the original, direct translation of the phrase. Technically, the phrase can have both a grammatical subject (私) and object (それ) in Japanese (私はそれをすごく気に入りました), but - unlike in English - they are not necessary, given that we understand the context of who is liking what. The phrase, すごく気に入りました, CAN mean "he likes it a lot," or even, "it likes him a lot," depending on the context in which it is spoken. (However, the common context of learning a language is the speaker being the subject and the object being known, so the translation of, "I liked it a lot" isn't too strange.)

In this way, Japanese is a really flexible and simultaneously annoying language. Of course, this is sometimes a problem for Japanese students who are learning English Being able to speak (relatively understandably) without either a grammatical subject or object in Japanese isn't a problem. Why, then, can't one do this in English? If it works perfectly well in one language, why not in another? Why NOT be able to just state, "Like a lot," without any problems? (And - in some ways - wouldn't it be fun if it were possible?) Although not often a problem in written academic English pieces, sentences sans subject and object (as well as sentences merely sans subject) often emerge, making some monolingual English speakers go, "Whaaaa...?"

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Watching the transit of Venus

I'll be (hopefully) watching the transit of Venus tonight at Saginaw Forest. Hopefully:

A) it will be clear enough to see the sun,
B) the viewing glasses will be dark enough not to blind me,
C) there will be enough friends and acquaintances there to share this event that won't happen again until 2117 AD.

If you are not in a place to see the transit (or don't have a means to see it directly), you can watch it live via the NASA site:

If you live in a city that will have a view, head over to your planetarium; they will likely be quite crowded, but you should also be able to avail yourself to their services (and exuberance) there.

And just in case you don't know if your city is in the viewing area, here's the map of where the transit will be visible:

And - because it is a solar event - the starting time will be at the same relative time around the world: roughly 6pm on June 5, 2012 (if you happen to be living in the same timezone as Michigan, that is).

Would a similar majority think that God is required for gravity to function?

Apologies to Ed Brayton, from which the following was based as satire to (hopefully) prove a point about how silly the idea is that the Theory of Evolution is something that is knowable based on what people are likely to see in their daily lives (and without critical evaluation of any evidence that they might see to support the theory), and that - therefore - God had to do it (in some way):

Gallup has been taking polls for 30 years now giving people three options for their beliefs on gravity: 1) gravity is God and his angels holding each one of us to ground; 2) gravity is a fundamental force in the universe and requiring of no God; 3) gravity is a fundamental force created by God at the moment of creation. And little has changed over the decades. 46% believe that gravity is a fundamental force created by God at the moment of creation; 32% believe gravity is God and his angels holding each one of us to the ground; and 15% believe gravity is a fundamental force in the universe and requiring of no God.

The plurality clearly doesn’t know anything about the physics or quantum mechanics; if they do, they have to engage in some serious rationalization to get rid of the evidence rather than explain it. We have an excellent series of observations, measurements, and theories that can’t be explained rationally with either the creationist or theistic evolutionist position.

Of course, the vast majority of those answering the poll, and the vast majority of Americans in general, are utterly ignorant of all the evidence and have no understanding at all of how gravity operates. They wouldn’t know a graviton from a gravid bear. If they were intellectually honest, 90% or more would answer “I don’t know” to such a question because, in fact, they don’t know. They don’t have the first clue. But they think they do.

What's sad is that many people don't know how gravity works, either (not even to know that it's one of the fundamental forces of Nature). However, this lack of knowledge doesn't create dissonances with their understandings of a resurrected savior, walking on water, effectively infinite splitting of fish and bread, a virgin birth, or even the creation of the universe! Even though the numbers are going to be different, I'd wager that just as few people would choose option 2; not because they know or don't know the science, but because they cannot fathom (or don't want to fathom) a universe without a god, their god, or even a need for a god.

Monday, June 04, 2012

A morning of blah = funny video pick-me-up

Sometimes, waking up comes with a spring in one's step. Today is not one of those days. However, a good antidote to this type of morning is a fun video, much like this one from the "Teens React" series:

More from TheFineBros here.