Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Video: Alan Turing and artificial intelligence

About Alan Turing:

An updated point to the Turing Test:

If you want to try out an online Turing Test, then here's one.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Meandering Musing: The Phases of my Laundry

Since I don't have immediate access to laundry facilities where I live, I go through boom and bust cycles of clean clothes availability. Recently, xkcd posted something about this:

Of course, the cycle is far faster (weeks and not months), and I (almost) never get to the last stage. I guess if you relabeled the chart "Forest-Living Grad-Student/Caretaker Laundry Habits".

This week is laundry week, so maybe that's why I have this on my mind.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: I am a "Thoughtful Guy"

Rhett & Link

It's freaky that many of these things are actually things that I've thought about recently...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: What if other life is right-handed?

Life on Earth is "left-handed". No, I don't mean that a majority of living things have hands, or even a preference for their left side. (Heck, some things don't even have a left side, since they are radially symmetrical.) No, in this case, I'm talking about the left-handed orientation of proteins (i.e., chirality).

On Earth, almost all proteins and sugars are left-handed: the proteins and sugars in our body, the proteins and sugars that we eat, the proteins and sugars that break down or interact with the proteins and sugars we consume or make are almost all left-handed (i.e., they display homochirality).

However, this doesn't preclude the presence of right-handed protein and sugars, or even the wide-spread presence of them.

What, then, would happen if we do discover extraterrestrial life that - instead of our left-handed homochirality - they are based on right-handed homochirality?

Would the proteins and sugars of these extraterrestrials be consumable by us? What about ours by them?

Would explorers find themselves surrounded by abundant proteins and sugars, but yet starve because their bodies can't process them?

Also, why hasn't this been addressed in science fiction, or do we just go with the assumption that either technology can fix the problem by reconstituting base elements into food or that life can only exist with the same (or effectively the same) basic mix of chilarity as on Earth?

All of this came to mind (again) when I saw this article at PhysOrg the other day:
Since life can't function with a mix of left- and right-handed amino acids, researchers want to know how life – at least, life on Earth -- got set up with the left-handed ones. "The handedness observed in biological molecules – left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars – is a property important for molecular recognition processes and is thought to be a prerequisite for life," said Dworkin. All ordinary methods of synthetically creating amino acids result in equal mixtures of left- and right-handed amino acids. Therefore, how the nearly exclusive production of one hand of such molecules arose from what were presumably equal mixtures of left and right molecules in a prebiotic world has been an area of intensive research.
The story finishes with this additional twist that we will have to incorporate into our search for extraterrestrial life:
The result complicates the search for extraterrestrial life – like microbial life hypothesized to dwell beneath the surface of Mars, for example. "Since it appears a non-biological process can create a left-hand excess in some kinds of amino acids, we can't use such an excess alone as proof of biological activity," says Glavin.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: Drought and a comparison of summers

Just like the comparison of "winter" this year and previous ones, it's interesting to look at the condition of this year's drought conditions. The front lawn area is where this year's drought is most evident. The brown lawn looks more like something one sees in California than what one would expect in southeastern Michigan.

From Thursday morning (July 25, 2012):

Compare it with July 23, 2011:

September 7, 2010 (couldn't find a photo from the end of July):
Start of fall colors

July 23, 2009:

And although the lake appears to continue to be nice and blue and stable, it actually has continued to drop quite precipitously (considering that it's a spring fed lake and all). To wit:

On Thursday afternoon (July 25, 2012), you can see the matted bottom starting to show through the algal mat:
Low water level on TSL

whereas two months ago (May 25, 2012) it was a channel deep enough for it to be a usable fish passage:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is Michigan to Become the "Buckeye State"?

Living through this summer of far-hotter-than-normal days in Ann Arbor - home to the University of Michigan Wolverines - and working in environmental and natural resource management, I am thinking about the on-the-ground effects of climate change more than often. (Maybe more than is healthy.)

I hope for rain. I hope for cool winds. I hope for clouds even.

We get heavy sun that heats up asphalt, withers trees, and browns the grass. We get hot gusts of dry wind that buffet you into sweat-stained submission. We get few clouds, and those we get rarely carry rain for us.

It's the largest drought area ever declared, but some people are wondering if this is a forecast of things to come, or even the new normal. However, people from Mississippi River managers to Michigan cherry crop farmers to almost anyone paying attention in much of the country is recognizing that there is a massive drought happening and that weather has gone haywire (unless you happen to be Newton Leroy Gingrich).

And these are just the things that are happening right now. For University of Michigan fans, things could well get much worse.

According to research done in 2007 by Daniel McKenney and colleagues, the Ohio buckeye - which is the state tree of Ohio as well as the mascot to Ohio State University - will be shifting northward over the next 100 years. This means they will be shifting into Michigan, moving fromcurrent distributionand possibly into Michigan (according to the CSIROmk35 A1B prediction model)

This will turn Michigan into the new "Buckeye State" (and buckeyes have been growing quite happily in Saginaw Forest for a few years now), which might well get a lot of Michigan (and Michigan State) fans quite angry about the whole thing, and maybe start to think of climate change as something real. Yes, it's a strange way to introduce people to the effects of climate change, but many people have visceral attachments to sports, and for many people this includes university sports (even if they never attended that particular university).

What might make this an even greater blow for University of Michigan fans is that the last known wolverine living in the state died in 2011. With the death of the wolverine - the UofM mascot - and the encroachment of their largest rival's mascot onto home territory, could there be some sort of climate change education and action that come out of this?

While part of this is written as tongue-in-cheek, another part of me is trying to think of ways to get people latched onto simple fact that climate change is not just happening right now, but has been happening for decades already; that the time to act is not tomorrow, but yesterday; and that the fact we haven't done a lot is only going to require us to work all the harder down the line.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On "pros and cons"

A friend of mine recently posted the following quote (perhaps misattributed, but that's not so important here):
If 'pro' is the opposite of 'con' what is the opposite of 'progress'?
-Steven Wright
The answer that automatically springs to mind is congress and is meant to be a swipe against the legislative branch of most countries; that often really annoying governmental body in which people are supposed to work together to pass legislation, but is often merely a place where partisan politics tend to become magnified (at least it seem so) and that seems like the opposite of what progress is seen to be.

However, while this joke is funny, it's also false (which is - admittedly - part of what makes it funny). And yet - and yet - we have the niggling problem that pro is the opposite of con, right? Well, not quite.

The word pro (as opposed to the prefix) is actually an adverb all by itself that we use today in such Latin-derived phrases, like pro bono or pro tempore (as in "governor pro tem"). According to dictionary.com, the meaning of pro is (to paraphrase) "in favor of/for". In addition, as a prefix, the meaning of pro- can continue to mean "in favor of/for" as well as meaning "advancing forward/projecting". Dictionary.com helpfully provides the antonym of pro- to be anti-. (And here we have the basic problem of the etymological logic behind the quote. The logic is wrong, because the opposite of pro- is anti-, and therefore the opposite of progress - using the strained logic of the joke - is antigress... which doesn't exist as a word.)

Even though we can now see the fault with the underlying logic of the joke, let's move on to the con in "pros and cons", which is actually an abbreviation of contra. This term does mean "against", and therefore fits into a phrasal analogue of "pros and cons" to mean "for and against". However, the etymology of contra is of more interest here, since the joke hinges on the false equivalency of the con- (as a prefix) being the opposite of pro (either as a prefix or as an adverb). The meaning of the prefix con- is "with/together", and is actually the equivalent of the prefix com-, but used in front of hard consonants. Although dictionary.com doesn't provide the antonym for con-, the closest one that comes to mind is dis-, which means "asunder/apart/away" or de-, which means "down/away/reversal".

Therefore, the opposite of con- is dis- and the opposite of pro- is anti-. However, the opposite of congress is not disgress (nor degress), and the opposite of progress is not antigress, because disgress (and degress) and antigress are not words in the English lexicon.

Of course, another problem with the quote is that is assumes that all types of congress is opposite of progress. However, looking at the definitions of congress, there is the definition that means "coitus/sexual congress", and that one might well be progress. Indeed, reading this meaning into the word, we now can construct a new phrase:
Sexual congress can be apposite of progress.
Or something like that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Condition the People"

Three things started to get me back to wondering about how to get people to become more energy efficient, more eco-aware, more sustainable, more Earth-friendly, more "green", the first was the following webcomic from Kickstand Comics:

The second was a radio piece on NPR yesterday morning: An Alaska Company Losing The Obesity Game Calls In Health Coaches:
Health coaches are a new kind of health professional, and it's their job to help people make those easy-to-say, hard-to-do behavioral changes that promote good health — getting enough exercise, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress.

At first, the lifestyle changes Orley made were very small.

"We started out where my goal was to take the stairs instead of the elevator once a day. Not even more than that but just really manageable," she said.

Soon Orley was drinking more water and less soda. She began walking regularly and attending Pilates classes. She kicked her fast food habit. She lost 50 pounds.
The third was a piece from yesterday's Treehugger: "Beat The Heat: Original Green Architect Steve Mouzon Says, 'Condition People First'":
Briefly, the idea is that if you entice people outside, they get more acclimated to the local environment, needing less heating or cooling when they return indoors.
These three examples provide the case that lines up with the recognition that humans - like many animals - prefer to take the easiest option available to them. This is why pedestrians will cut through grassy areas, why drivers pull their car through to the forward parking space, and even how animal trails develop. It's not surprising that many people will chose the option that is faster and requires less body-energy use to accomplish the same action. If we have a car, we're more likely to use it than to get about on our own energy. If we have the option of parking close and using elevators, we're more likely to do them rather than walking across an expansive parking lot and climbing the stairs (even to the point where this becomes possible). If we have the option of green gadgets to achieve sustainable design, we'll use those instead of thinking about how to integrate people's behaviors into the design of the building (let alone designing the building to minimize energy use to begin with).

It's not a doubt that cycling will burn more of your body's calories than driving your car the same distance, and walking briskly will likely burn more than cycling. Of course, both cycling and brisk walking will take a longer amount of time and will leave you a little bit more sweaty and tired at the destination, which are both good reasons for not wanting walk or bike when you have a car. Similar arguments can be made for parking close to your destination, taking elevators and escalators, and designing buildings to show off green gadgets. However, what all of these actions do is to solidify norms and then amplify them. It's why bike-commuting in much of the United States is considered to be an undesired alternative: car ownership provides so many benefits of transportation ease (both time and distance) that one doesn't need to live near work or rely upon public transit, therefore suburbs (and now exurbs) grew (and are growing), public transit networks shrank (or became reliant upon cheaper and less competitive means, like buses), and satellite towns grew from self-sustaining hamlets and villages into sprawling residential cities with little to no/insufficient downtown amenities for a community so large.

Compare this to the situation in many European cities, where a conscious effort was made to shape policy that would discourage American-levels of sprawl and maintain cycling as a valued option for public commuting. Here, the government made the decision to "condition the people" to the idea that cycling was a valid option through the provision of bike lanes (either shared with traffic or separated from it) and increasing the pedestrianized areas in cities (which often allow bikes while banning all cars and trucks, save for early morning deliveries).

In the US, meanwhile, riding a bike is - apart from a specific segment of the population (dense-city dwellers and university students) - a daily conscious decision, which is (largely) predicated on the initial decision of where to live in relation to work. Of course, although I live 4 miles from where I work, my only viable option is to ride my bike (since I don't own a motor vehicle and live about 20 minutes from the nearest bust stop). I know that - for me - given the choice of cycling or driving, I would likely drive, even though it would take just as much time (assuming that I park at or on the university campus) or more (if I parked in the residential areas where parking is free... if you can find a spot).

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Permanent Two-Party System Is Relatively New

Susan Schulten found the above graphic from 1880 about the rise and fall of American political parties. What's interesting is that the two party system that we know today really emerged in the years leading up to the Civil War. Before that, parties would come and go every few decades.

Read Susan Schulten for more.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ann Arbor 1930s style travel posters

Over on tumblr, you can find (if you know where to look) Brian Walline's page, which has - in addition to many other pieces (many of which are Michigan-themed) - this travel poster that evokes the travel posters of the 1930s:

More Ann Arbor (and other Michigan) travel posters at The Mighty Mitten. This one's also fun:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Imperial weight" or "Avoirdupois weight"?

Americans are pretty much the only people left on the planet that don't use metric, although the UK and many former British colonies do use pounds to measure weight, or at least the weight of some objects. These countries seem to be slowly moving toward metric-only, but that's a topic for another time (maybe). The US remains the lone stand-out.


Who knows. After all, "tradition" hasn't stopped the British from changing, and it makes things so much more difficult when physics departments are teaching metric, but Americans still prefer miles, gallons, and pounds.

And everyone still calls it "imperial units."

And there's that word: imperial; derived from "empire". And are Americans really bothered by the implications of this word, let alone the fact that they off-handedly call it "Imperial Units" and are proud to use them?

I think that most Americans likely don't even think about it, unless and until they are faced with having a choice (or at least seeing the contrast) between inches, feet, and yards and millimeters, centimeters, and meters. Then it's, "Those are metric, these are imperial." (Although some do call them "American" units, just like some people call what they speak "American".)

However, why not use the other term for these units; the historical term for these units?

Yes, say it with me: Av-wah-doo-pwah.

Okay, maybe I can understand the reticence that some Americans might have with choosing a "French" word, conveniently forgetting (or being ignorant of the fact) that many of the words that they use are French words (just not so French-sounding). It also helps that American English spelling tends to hide some of the more "egregiously French" words, like center (instead of centre), rapid (instead of rapide), maneuver (instead of manœuvre), etc. So, maybe if we changed the spelling to something less "French-looking":


... yeah, I don't think too many people would adopt its use.

And then there's the problem of generalizability. Avoirdupois refers only to the weight of something, and so can only really be used to describe the system of weights, but not of volumes or distances.

I guess, then, that the terms pounds, yards, and gallons will remain "Imperial", and slowly change over time to "American" as the US continues to become the isolated case of a hand-me-down from Roman times that became standardized some 1400 years after the Romans left the British Isles.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Annoying things about being a lefty: BuzzFeed's list doesn't cut it.

I'm a lefty, and as such, I like to kvetch and complain about the various accommodations that I have to make to a world built for right-handed people. Don't get me wrong; these are not generally huge concessions, but they are still somewhat annoying. Most of the time when I feel a little annoyed with the right-handed dominant world is when I'm writing or eating. The writing is annoying because of how book binding and character formation seem to favor right-handed people. At least in English. I have sometimes tried filling in a notebook from back to front, but that ends up just being confusing to me, so I don't do it anymore. The eating is annoying because a lot of people haven't learned how to eat with their elbows tucked in at their sides, which does increase the chance of bumping elbows (even when I eat with my right hand).

When I recently saw a link to "the 18 worst things for left-handed people", and I thought that it might be an interesting list to compare against what I find annoying. I was struck, however, by how many of these things are non-issues for me personally (and how many of these were somewhat silly), thus making my "worst things" list a LOT shorter. In fact, most of the things on the BuzzFeed list smack of being First World Problems, but here's my take on my annoyance level and associated solutions (serendipitous or learned) to overcome (or at least deal with) each of them.

1. Spiral notebooks: I don't use spiral notebooks, precisely because they are annoying to write in, and it's not too difficult to get non-spiral notebooks. Indeed, when living in Japan and Taiwan, spiral notebooks were the exception to the rule, maybe due to considerations of trying to put more than one spiral notebook on a bookshelf. (Go ahead, put a bunch of spiral notebooks on a shelf, and then try to extricate just one without having a load of grief. Couldn't do it, could you?)

2. Writing in a 3-ring binder: Ditto to #1: I don't write in 3-ring binders. If I am going to write using loose-leaf, I'll write on the loose sheets of paper. After all, one of the massive benefits of using a binder is that you can add and remove individual sheets of paper.

3. Only 1 gross lefty glove in gym class: I never learned how to throw a ball with my left hand, and so, except for underhand lobs, I'm completely uncoordinated when it comes to throwing left-handed. My dad - probably because he didn't know that I was left-handed (I didn't know at the time, either; I was 4 years old) - gave me my older brother's baseball glove (yay for hand-me-downs) and taught me how to throw with my right hand. Although I later found that I can catch objects equally well (more or less) with either hand, my lack of ability to throw with my left meant that I never had to wear the only left-handed glove in the pile. Of course, now that I'm no longer in high school - and now that I've owned my own baseball glove for a while - I don't have to worry about using what's left in the pile.

UPDATE (2013/02/21): SocImages recently discussed the point that the ability to throw (with one hand or the other) is far more likely to be a learned and trained action than an action that is inherently handed in nature (or even gendered in nature). I guess the fact that I'm nominally left-handed, but can't throw very well at all with my left hand, merely provides additional evidence that:
no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice

4. One pair of the lefty green scissors in class, 3 lefty kids: I don't recall ever seeing lefty scissors until I was in high school. The scissors that I had in elementary school were the ones that could be used equally easily with either hand. They do make these scissors, and although not as ergonomic as handed scissors, they do get the job done quite nicely. Still, I learned how to use scissors with either hand, and so now I use them with whichever hand picks up the scissors.

5. Ballpoint pens don't work as well because you're pushing, not pulling, the ball: I learned how to write left handed without doing the around-the-top-of-the-paper arm curl nor doing the curve-your-hand-backward-to-keep-it-from-smudging-the-ink form. This means that I can write without having to put my paper at an awkward angle for the tiny lecture hall desks (see #12), nor do I have problems with excessive smudging (see #6, #17, and #18). For some reason, I've never had problems with ballpoint pens. (Fountain pens, though, remain annoying.)

6. Ink all over the side of your hand: See #5.

7. Bonking elbows with a righty at the dinner table: Or at any table, really. Still, although for some reason I was taught how to use my knife and fork as a lefty (as opposed to my ball throwing and catching skills, see #3), I also learned how to eat with my elbows kept tucked in. This was necessary when in Japan and Taiwan; even the right-handed people didn't have lots of space within which to maneuver. During my later years of high school (when I was living in Budapest), I learned how to eat like a righty, just because I was stuck at the middle of so many tables with righties all around. Today, I usually prefer to sit at one of the corners that allows my left hand to be free, but when I'm stuck in the middle, I either just eat with elbows in or I just eat like everyone else.

8. iPad Kindle app - left side is page back: I don't own an iPad, and even with my Kindle (which has page back and page forward buttons on both sides) I read it with my right hand, because the case is built that way. Not such a difficult thing to get used to.

9. Driver's cup holder is for the right hand: Unless you are in a vehicle built for left-side driving (like in the UK, Australia, Japan, etc.), where the diver's cup holder is for the left hand. This isn't a horrible problem, though, since (A) I don't drive a car that often, and (B) when I have a beverage while driving, I rarely use the cupholder, since my beverage of choice is often a bottle of soda or something in my thermos, both of which I tend to hold between my legs. (That is - admittedly - a completely different kind of potential problem, but not one that is based on the culture standard of which side of the car the driver's seat happens to be placed.)

10. Numberpad is on the righthand side of keyboard: I got used to it a LONG time ago. I can't use the numberpad with my left hand; never learned how. This is like complaining that the QWERTY keyboard is set up in the way that it is.

11. Dying sooner, so becoming a zombie sooner: Discounting the second half of this annoyance, while it's statistically true that left-handed people are likely to die sooner on average, often because of accidents caused by mis-cues, I'm not really losing a lot of sleep over this one.

12. [Lecture hall, right-handed writing] desks: See #5 about how I orient my arm for writing. To that end, the lefty-desks are actually quite annoying for me, and I have trouble using them. Also, I almost never find myself in a position where I actually have to use these kinds of desks.

13. Measuring cups that show you stupid metric: Leaving aside the argument of whether metric is useful, measuring cups are only useful when they are left on a flat surface. You cannot accurately measure anything in a measuring cup when it's held in your hand. True, you can give it a quick "eyeball" to determine if you're in the right ballpark (correcting for your angle of viewing and the steadiness of your hand and arm, of course), but I almost never (A) use a measuring cup and (B) hold a measuring cup up to my eyes to determine the level.

14. [Can openers]: Like learning to throw a baseball with my right hand, I learned to open cans with my right hand. I have never encountered a left-handed can opener, although I know that they exist.

15. [Video game controllers]: This was one of my peeves while growing up; it was a great excuse that I gave myself as to why I was not as good at video games like Street Fighter and the like. I eventually came to the recognition that I wasn't as good at video games as my friends, because I'm just not that good at video games. Therefore, I don't play video games on consoles, and the games I play on my computer tend toward games like Civilization than Call of Duty.

16. Cord on credit card machine pen is never long enough: This is perhaps the first thing that is currently an annoyance. However, technology is continuing forward, and many credit card machines that use the touch-screen pens are moving to technologies that don't require the use of that specific pen; you can use any stylus, including (in some cases) a capped pen. Which I use. In the cases when the credit card pen is the one that must be used and its cord is not long enough, I just make signature-like scribbles with it using my right hand. (I had to learn how to make a decent facsimile of my signature when I broke my left arm; the generally low level of graphical resolution that older credit card machine touchscreens have means that my signature comes out roughly the same, regardless of the hand used to sign.)

17. [Graphite coated palm edge]: See my note at #5 about writing. Also, I don't use pencils to often anymore, which means graphite smudging almost never happens.

18. ["SmudgeGuards" to minimize #17]: I had never seen "SmudgeGuards" until I came across this BuzzFeed page.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The long-s: The ſ in Congreſs

Yesterday, I posted a 1652 coffee ad, and in it were - like all things published in English at the time - uses of the long-s (ſ). To our modern eye, the ſ looks a lot like f, and therefore words like "ſail" and "fail" are very easy to mistake, one for the other.

The long-s was a remnant of the Roman, Latin, cursive, lowercase letter s (the s used to be called the terminal-s, round-s, or short-s), and its use wasn't likely much of a problem before widespread use of moveable type and widespread literacy. Now, though, it's completely disappeared in contemporary English, to such an extent that trying to read a paragraph in which the long-s is used becomes very difficult for some. (Of course, reading Chaucer is a few steps more difficult, but that's something for another post at some time.)

Of course, for people being introduced to the long-s, people must first learn the rule of how to use ſ, which - in English - was basically used for all cases of s, except at the end of a word (e.g., his, cats), as the second s in a pair (e.g. ceſsation), and when paired with an f (e.g., ſatisfaction).

Therefore, if we were to continue to use these rules, the previous paragraph would be written as:
Of courſe, for people being introduced to the long-s, people must firſt learn the rule of how to uſe ſ, which - in Engliſh - was baſically uſed for all caſes of s, except at the end of a word (e.g., his, cats), the second s in a pair (e.g., ceſsation), and when paired with an f (e.g., ſatisfaction).
The use of ſ was phased out of English over time, and the last official use of it in official US documentation was in the 1803 Acts of Congreſs.

For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

From 1652: A really early coffee ad.

Straight from copyranter, we find this (likely) original advertisement for that novel beverage of coffee:

Transcript (with links to terms that might be unfamiliar):
The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink.
First publiquely made and sold in England, by Pasqua Rosée.

THE Grain or Berry called Coffee, groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia.
It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seigniors Dominions.
It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dryed in an Oven, and ground to Powder, and boiled up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any Blisters, by reason of that Heat.
The Turks drink at meals and other times, is usually Water, and their Dyet consists much of Fruit, the Crudities whereof are very much corrected by this Drink.
The quality of this Drink is cold and Dry; and though it be a Dryer, yet it neither heats, nor inflames more than hot Posset.
It forcloseth the Orifice of the Stomack, and fortifies the heat with- [missing text] its very good to help digestion, and therefore of great use to be [missing text] bout 3 or 4 a Clock afternoon, as well as in the morning.
[missing text] quickens the Spirits, and makes the Heart Lightsome.
[missing text]is good against sore Eys, and the better if you hold your Head o'er it, and take in the Steem that way.
It supresseth Fumes exceedingly, and therefore good against the Head-ach, and will very much stop any Defluxion of Rheumas, that distil from the Head upon the Stomack, and so prevent and help Consumptions and the Cough of the Lungs.
It is excellent to prevent and cure the Dropsy, Gout, and Scurvy.
It is known by experience to be better then any other Drying Drink for People in years, or Children that have any running humors upon them, as the Kings Evil. &c.
It is very good to prevent Mis-carryings in Child-bearing Women.
It is a most excellent Remedy against the Spleen, Hypocondriack Winds, or the like.
It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for Busines, if one have occasion to Watch, and therefore you are not to drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours.
It is observed that in Turkey, where this is generally drunk, that they are not troubled with the Stone, Gout, Dropsie, or Scurvy, and that their Skins are exceeding cleer and white.
It is neither Laxative nor Restringent.

Made and Sold in St. Michaels Alley in Cornhill, by Pasqua Rosee, at the Signe of his own Head.
Wow, who knew that it would be such a great remedy for so many things? ;)

Also, what's the rule for italicizing? It seems kind of random in amongst all the other non-italicized words. At first, I thought it was related to the words that were - similarly randomly - capitalized, but no... Ah well, I'll just leave it as an old way of creating highlights; an attempt to draw the eye to various words through the advertisement.

One thing that they should have written, though, is that coffee does not go well with licorice whips, even though one might think the flavors to be complementary. The licorice whips are just so chock full of flavor that it completely overwhelms the coffee flavor. I've only learned of this today, when I thought of eating some licorice with my coffee, and ended up ruining my coffee-drinking experience. Ah, well... lesson learned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Warming temperatures leading to additional lake complications?

This past winter, Third Sister Lake didn't get a complete freeze, and it was possible, as the spring approached, to see algae growing in some of the ice. In March, while we were experiencing temperatures normally part of June weather, I wrote about some of the possible impacts that such weather might bring if they become the norm. I also wrote about some of the possible impacts to Third Sister Lake that such warming might bring.

Well, add to all that one more impact brought on by warming: decreased lake turnover. In a new paper out in the journal Climate Change, Swiss scientists have shown how increased warming in Swiss lakes have decreased lake turnover, and this has brought about increased levels of Burgundy blood algae.

The paper's abstract states:
Anthropogenic-induced changes in nutrient ratios have increased the susceptibility of large temperate lakes to several effects of rising air temperatures and the resulting heating of water bodies1. First, warming leads to stronger thermal stratification, thus impeding natural complete water turnover (holomixis), which compensates for oxygen deficits in the deep zones2, 3. Second, increased water temperatures and nutrient concentrations can directly favour the growth of harmful algae4, 5, 6. Thus, lake-restoration programmes have focused on reducing nutrients to limit toxic algal blooms7. Here we present evidence that the ubiquitous8, 9, 10 harmful cyanobacterium Planktothrix rubescens has become the dominant species in a large lake during the past four decades, although the phosphorus content of the ecosystem decreased fivefold. However, the nitrogen input was not diminished concomitantly, favouring this non-N2-fixing cyanobacterium owing to increased N:P ratios10. P. rubescens contains gas vesicles that allow for buoyancy to accumulate within the depth of optimal irradiance11. As the toxic cyanobacterium has low consumption by predators12, water turnover represents the main mechanism of seasonal population control. Thus, unidirectional lake-restoration measures13 in parallel with recurrent absence of holomixis owing to lake warming may lead to similar undesired effects that have formerly emerged from fertilization.
This type of impact is problematic for Third Sister Lake, not because of Planktothrix (or because of other cyanobacteria, at least to my knowledge), but because Third Sister Lake is already a lake that doesn't completely turn over. From a 2001 paper by Bridgeman et al., the finding of lake stability (i.e., the resistance to turnover) in Third Sister Lake was that:
Salt-laden water entering Third Sister Lake [during the winter] from [the business lots to the southeast] could eventually lead to the formation of a chemocline. Large vertical gradients of salinity may potentially prolong stratification or altogether prevent mixing. ... If Third Sister Lake follows a similar pattern [to First and Second Sister Lakes], the contribution of a chloride gradient to stability would reach a maximum in March or April ... and the lake ... will remain [thermally stratified] until mid-November.
The paper also reported that - due to forest growth from 1904 - Third Sister Lake didn't fully turn over in the spring (i.e., following ice-out), even back in 1986. The authors of the 2001 paper concluded that:
Given that the lake is now more sheltered [than in earlier decades] and may require about 60% more wind energy to overcome a chlorine gradient, complete spring mixing, which was a common event at least into the 1940s and occurred occasionally until the early 1980s, is now probably rare.
And it's likely to remain rare if increased temperatures become the norm. (That is, unless a significant number of trees fall down, thus increasing the lake's wind exposure.)

Are vines growing faster?

Walking through Saginaw Forest this summer, I have noticed far more vine growth than I recall there being in previous years. Is this just my imagination? Confirmation bias? Or could it have something to do with the really warm winter that we had? (Too, could it have something to do with the differential rates of growth between vines and trees?)

What we know for sure is that the winter of 2011/2012 was a really warm one and March, May and June have been uncharacteristically warm, as well. There has also been less rainfall than usual.

Now, what I'm guessing at is that, since vines require less resources to maintain themselves and grow compared to trees, it seems possible to me that vines have been able to quickly take advantage of the warm spring and start their growth while also being able to continue growing during these more parched months. However, this is just a guess on my part.

What I know is that there are a lot of trees with vines growing on them; the vines themselves are very dense, and there's a lot of poison ivy, too. This radically warm winter, spring, and summer seem to correspond with the basic message of a 2006 paper by Mohan et al. Their abstract reads, in part:
Contact with poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is one of the most widely reported ailments at poison centers in the United States, and this plant has been introduced throughout the world, where it occurs with other allergenic members of the cashew family (Anacardiaceae). ... Rising CO2 is potentially responsible for the increased vine abundance that is inhibiting forest regeneration and increasing tree mortality around the world. In this 6-year study at the Duke University Free-Air CO2 Enrichment experiment, we show that elevated atmospheric CO2 in an intact forest ecosystem increases photosynthesis, water use efficiency, growth, and population biomass of poison ivy. The CO2 growth stimulation exceeds that of most other woody species.
So, poison ivy is expected to be more abundant and a greater lover of the high CO2 future than trees. And this is likely also a cause for the increase vine abundance in general.
We heard news a few months back that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased past 400ppm, which doesn't correspond to the elevated CO2 chambers of Motan et al's study, but as the Motan paper discusses previous studies on increased CO2 and vine growth:
With an increase in CO2 concentration and a corresponding increase in photosynthesis, vines can allocate more photosynthate to additional photosynthetic tissue, because of a low allocation to support tissue relative to other woody growth forms (13, 14, 18, 19). Increasing abundance of woody vines is causing increased tree mortality and reduced tree regeneration in forests around the globe (18, 20–23), potentially resulting in shifts in community composition that may impact carbon cycling and biodiversity (23). Although it is unclear how elevated CO2 will affect the growth of vines in forest environments, the contemporary increase in woody vine abundance may be the result of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations (19, 23).
The Motan et al paper doesn't discuss the impacts of warmer winters, springs, and summers on poison ivy growth (nor on the growth of other vine species). However, I am going to guess that a large part of the vine growth this year is likely due to the ever increasing CO2 levels and have been exacerbated this year by the unnaturally warm seasons.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Whether to use Evite

Many people use Evite to send out invitations to their events. I've even used it in the past. However, with the advent of other online invitation options, I've stopped using Evite to a greater degree.

And having learned Spanish, I've also come to recognize that there is a linguistic problem with Evite, itself.

We all know that English - although the major language-of-use - isn't the only language used on the Internet. In 2010, the ten major languages used on the Internet were:

1. English (536.6 million)
2. [Written Han] Chinese (444.9 million)
3. Spanish (153.3 million)
4. Japanese (99.1 million)
5. Portuguese (82.5 million)
6. German (75.2 million)
7. Arabic (65.4 million)
8. French (59.8 million)
9. Russian (59.7 million)
10. Korean (39.4 million)

Why does this matter? Well, for the point that the Latin root of evitatio means to avoid, and all the modern-day Romance Languages utilize this Latin root. For example, to avoid translates variously as:

evitar in Catalan, Galacian, Portuguese, Spanish,
éviter in French,
evitare in Italian,
evita in Romanian,
eviti in Esperanto, and
evite in Hatian creole

Most (if not all) of these have the conjugation of evite, which means [he/she/you] avoid, either in the indicative or the imperative forms.

Therefore, Evite - while a somewhat catchy and witty portmanteau of the novel prefix of e- (referring to electronic) and the root word of invitation - was automatically limiting its implicit meaning to roughly 295.6 million people (using only the totals of Spanish, Portuguese, and French from the list above), or roughly 15% of the 2010 Internet using population.

Still, it doesn't help that the second automated option for a Google search of "evite" is "evite alternatives"...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why I like water

All these are reasons why I like the water. In addition to the whole water-is-habitat reasons.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rivers are apparently not warming due to increased atmospheric warming

... at least not in all Pacific Northwest rivers, according to available data.

In a recent paper ("The paradox of cooling streams in a warming world: Regional climate trends do not parallel variable local trends in stream temperature in the Pacific continental United States"), Arismendi et al provide a description of what's happening to stream temperature trends vis-à-vis air temperature trends. (That's pretty obvious, because it's in the title of the paper; yay to the descriptive quality of scientific papers.)

In the paper, Arismendi et al describe the importance of water temperature in stream ecology, and provide a brief review of the theory of stream warming and a critique of the quality of existing corroborative, data-driven research:
Observed warming in air temperature (between 0.8 to 2.1°C for the first half-decade of the 21st century relative to the period 1950-1980) [Hansen et al., 2006] and changes in streamflow timing and magnitude [Mote et al., 2005; Regonda et al., 2005; Luce and Holden, 2009] have been hypothesized to lead to increases in the magnitude and variability of stream temperature. Several studies have noted increasing temperature of streams. However, these have been based on data from streams that include those altered by human influences, including impoundments and water withdrawals [Kaushal et al., 2010; Mantua et al., 2010], or through inferences and correlations derived from air-water relationships [Mantua et al., 2010; Isaak et al., 2011]
The authors point to an interesting trend in the stream temperatures of 63 sites in northwestern Pacific coast of the US: some are cooling, even as the air temperatures are rising even while others are warming, but most showed no variability in water temperatures. In the end, few stream sites conformed to the initial hypotheses of both (A) increased temperatures and (B) increased variability in temperatures.

In their conclusions, the authors point to a variety of potential causes:
  • Variability in stream shading over the record period
    • Even though correlations between baseflow and riparian vegetation seemed to show counter-intuitive results
  • Variability in results derived from long vs. short record periods
    • Longer term records are more robust, but there are very few long-term records for minimally impacted streams.
  • Local driving factors that overpower any theoretical relationship between warming air temperatures and increasing stream temperatures
The authors conclude that there need to be far more stream gaging stations, and - as someone who likes greater amounts of data - I have to agree. Still, I wonder if the study could have been improved by - instead of asking for greater amounts of stations in the Pacific Northwest - looking at a greater number of stations across the nation. (I mean, the USGS provides a lot of data for many hundreds of stations around the country.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Writing dilemma

Sitting and working does not stir creation, but gets work done,
Walking and reading gets no work done, but stirs creation.

What to do?
Which to pursue?



Admittedly, I was able to write a page or two yesterday, and I'm looking at writing another page or two today (mostly integrating information from a key paper into my dissertation). However, one piece of advice that my brother gave me about dissertation writing seems to be definitely true: it's just bloody grinding away at it, page by page, revision by revision, comment by creativity-crushing comment.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Japanese Beat Boxin'

I was reminded about the presence of Japanese beat boxing when I saw this video on the Daily Dish:

I had a look for Hikakin, the featured beat boxer above, and he even does his version of "Crazy Japanese stuff", including:

Curiosity Cola

CC Lemon Strong (Sparkling Strong)

Cherry Cola (in Japan!)

But in addition to doing his reviews of Japanese sundries, he has a bunch of beat boxing videos:

Also some collabs. In these two cases with (and against) Daichi

And from looking around on Hikakin's channel, I find AIBO! She's got crazy skills!

So there you go. Japanese male and female beat boxers! Whodathunkit?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Robot always beats you...

... at "roshambo" or "jan-ken-pon" or "rock, paper, scissors"

And it does it by being faster at pattern recognition and response than the human eye can detect and the human body can respond. In other words, it wins by cheating. It would be either as successful as random guessing (or completely fail if, for example, it only does "rock" when given no stimulus) if a visual barrier were put in front of it.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The cynical problem with the cynical GOP's cynical crusade against voter fraud

The GOP really like to work themselves up on a lather on the one hand about social and policy points that have been settled in the past - getting rid of Constitutionally valid abortion, dissolving civil rights legislation, allowing women access to contraception - while getting themselves angry about policy points made by Obama - the stimulus (which almost every economist has said worked, but wasn't big enough), the auto bailout (which their campaigner in chief now says he was all for it ... a year after he wrote an op-ed that basically said to let US automakers go bankrupt), the DREAM Act (voting against the very bill that many of them had previously supported), health care (don't even get me started on health care), etc. - all the while forgetting that they had campaigned on "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

Oh, and that whole Voter Fraud problem that GWBush had several state AGs wrongly fired because they couldn't actually find any major voter fraud? Yeah... you knew it was just the GOP wasting more time and money trying to find and persecute something that they conjured into their minds as a problem. (Or, to put it more cynically, it was a factor that - if they could control it - would provide the GOP with a better chance to win elections by excluding or demoralizing just enough of the electorate who would vote against them while whipping up just enough of the electorate who would vote for them... But that would be conspiracy theory thinking, right?)

Well, according to a story in Mother Jones:
In her 2010 book, The Myth of Voter Fraud, Lorraine Minnite tracked down every single case brought by the Justice Department between 1996 and 2005 and found that the number of defendants had increased by roughly 1,000 percent under Ashcroft. But that only represents an increase from about six defendants per year to 60, and only a fraction of those were ever convicted of anything. A New York Times investigation in 2007 concluded that only 86 people had been convicted of voter fraud during the previous five years. Many of those appear to have simply made mistakes on registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, and more than 30 of the rest were penny-ante vote-buying schemes in local races for judge or sheriff. The investigation found virtually no evidence of any organized efforts to skew elections at the federal level.

Another set of studies has examined the claims of activist groups like Thor Hearne's American Center for Voting Rights, which released a report in 2005 citing more than 100 cases involving nearly 300,000 allegedly fraudulent votes during the 2004 election cycle. The charges involved sensational-sounding allegations of double-voting, fraudulent addresses, and voting by felons and noncitizens. But in virtually every case they dissolved upon investigation. Some of them were just flatly false, and others were the result of clerical errors. Minnite painstakingly investigated each of the center's charges individually and found only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has focused on voter fraud issues for years. In a 2007 report they concluded that "by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare." In the Missouri election of 2000 that got Sen. Bond so worked up, the Center found a grand total of four cases of people voting twice, out of more than 2 million ballots cast. In the end, the verified fraud rate was 0.0003 percent.

One key detail: The best-publicized fraud cases involve either absentee ballots or voter registration fraud (for example, paid signature gatherers filling in "Mary Poppins" on the forms, a form of cheating that's routinely caught by registrars already). But photo ID laws can't stop that: They only affect people actually trying to impersonate someone else at the polling place. And there's virtually no record, either now or in the past, of this happening on a large scale.

What's more, a moment's thought suggests that this is vanishingly unlikely to be a severe problem, since there are few individuals willing to risk a felony charge merely to cast one extra vote and few organizations willing or able to organize large-scale in-person fraud and keep it a secret. When Indiana's photo ID law, designed to prevent precisely this kind of fraud, went to the Supreme Court, the state couldn't document a single case of it happening. As the majority opinion in Crawford admits, "The record contains no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history."

This mountain of evidence suggests to most liberals that there's another agenda at work: suppressing votes from Democratic-leaning populations. And Minnite's research confirms a partisan tilt. Today's voter ID laws are championed "almost exclusively by Republicans," she told me, and, with only one exception, have been enacted only when Republicans have unified control in a state capitol.
(Go read the rest over at Mother Jones about the selective additional suppression of voter turnout via other state GOP actions.)

Additional evidence that the GOP are doing this as part of a cynical ploy to gain just enough votes to win can be seen by what the GOP's own man in Pennsylvania said. In touting all of the "successes" that the GOP has done in not creating jobs gutting civil rights laws pushing their agenda, state house majority leader, Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said (emphasis added):
"We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we've talked about for years," said Turzai in a speech to committee members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature.

"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done. First pro-life legislation -- abortion facility regulations -- in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
Maybe that idea of mine - "it was a factor that - if they could control it - would provide the GOP with a better chance to win elections by excluding or demoralizing just enough of the electorate who would vote against them while whipping up just enough of the electorate who would vote for them" - seems to be not so cynical after all; I'm merely showing physical evidence, statistical evidence, and corroborating statements by those in charge of pushing for such an outcome.

None of this is cynicism, because it isn't cynical to point out the fact of what actual cynics are doing.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Happy Birthday to me

Today's my birthday, and so I'll be working outside today. In the warm, steamy summer day in Ann Arbor. Hopefully, I won't get too much heat, though...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Birthday USA

It's the 4th of July today, which means that it's the marking of Independence Day. Although it's technically a marking of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I seem to recall that it was described in 1776 as being written a few days earlier and signed a month later.

Still, July 4 is regarded as the date of formal date of independence, so there you go:

Happy Fourth of July! (And don't let those fireworks burn down your house or start a hazardous fire of any other kind, either.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Happy birthday to my brother

To my brother: happy birthday! You still seem to be able to keep two years and two days older than me. Happily, leap seconds don't occur between our birthdays, since that would mean that you'd be up to 18 seconds older than me now than when I was born.

Anyway, if you happen to be reading this on your birthday, stop reading this blog entry and have a good birthday. If you happen to be reading this after your birthday, I hope it was awesome!

Monday, July 02, 2012

How did the "Leap Second" affect you life?

Some of you might actually have known that June 30th, 2012 was actually 86,401 seconds in length; a whole 1 second longer than any other day of 2012. "So what?" you might ask. Well, here's what (via PhysOrg):
Reddit, a social news network, posted a Twitter message, saying "We are having some Java/Cassandra issues related to the leap second."

A later message by Reddit attempted to make fun of the issue: "You ever wish you had an extra second or two? This is not one of those times."

Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox browser, also had problems.

"Java is choking on leap second," said Mozilla engineer Eric Ziegenhorn, who noted that some services using the Java software platform were malfunctioning.

The Australian airline Qantas reported delays which some media said were due to a software problem with the Amadeus reservation system, impacted by the leap second.
All of these problems sound more like a lack of awareness and concomitant lack of planning. After all, leap seconds - while not as regular an occurrence as a leap year - aren't random effin' anomalies! For companies that function based on clocks and clicks, you'd think that they'd spend some time focusing on the clocks and not only on the clicks.

... kinda like Google did:
Google went in prepared for the latest of 25 leap seconds added since 1972, having identified problems in 2008 and developing "one of our coolest workarounds."

"The solution we came up with came to be known as the 'leap smear,'" Google engineer Christopher Pascoe said in posting last year.

We modified our internal NTP servers to gradually add a couple of milliseconds to every update... Google engineers developing code don't have to worry about leap seconds."
See? A little planning, some understanding of implications about information that is widely available (so long as you actually see it), and the ability to program, and voila! No problems!

Sheesh, Qantas. You might "have never crashed", but your reservation system has.

Thoughts upon "fix"

A friend of mine wondered about the use of "fix" to mean "to make food/drink" when asked by one of his Chinese students as to why a word that meant "repair" could mean "to make food".

My response:
This is why words like "fix" tend to be so useful: they mean so friggin many things! Trying to get a foreigner whose language's word connections to actually understand what seems - even to people who don't really use the term in one way - not TOOO much of a stretch in logic just lie like a dead and slowly desiccating carcass in front of the mind of that speaker whose language cannot map a connection between "repair [a broken item]" to "prepare [a meal]" (and from there to "effect revenge" and "castrate" and "render [an image]" &c.)

To wit: "What's fixed in my mind is that I'm fixed on fixing to fix dinner of the fixed bull before it tries to fix me, so I should fix a meal time and fix it to my calendar. There's the fix."

This is why I just tell them that - in academic, technical writing - words that are so general (like fix as well as take, make, do, get, etc.) are just not really useful. Of course, the opposite is often true in conversational English.
Just to translate the phrase by using synonyms and synonymous phrases:

"What's stuck in my mind is that I'm concentrating on preparing to cook dinner of the castrated bull before it tries to take revenge on me, so I should set a meal time and put it on my calendar. That's the solution."

Ahh, the wonders of the English language. (Well, wonders of many languages, I'd suspect.) The multiple meanings of words such as fix make them useful in conversation, but can be problematic when trying to write. This seems to be especially true of words that have origins in Old English or Old Norse. However, in the case of fix, this is the exception that proves the rule in that it's a Latinate word.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Evolution of Where the hell's Matt?

Earlier, I posted the latest video of Matt around the world; it was the fourth one he made, and looking through the other three, it is clear that it wasn't just the maximum resolution and music that change: the 2008 and 2012 videos carry a far more human aspect to them.





Now all he needs to do is go to Hell, MI!

Of course, there is always the video equivalent of fan fiction:

UPDATE (2012-July-04): Ever wonder where Matt was staying in all these places? Well, here's a peek at some of them: