Thursday, January 29, 2009

Demands of Democracy

First we define our terms:

Politician: A representative of a constituency within government whose avowed goal is to represent the aims and desires of that constituency. The reasonableness or appropriateness of those aims and desires is moot and quick fads have the same if not more weight as long lasting needs. The personal goal of the politician is to satisfy the goal sufficiently to stay in office. A politician will jettison a course of action if it interferes with the success of reelection.

Statesman: A representative of a constituency within government whose avowed goal is to represent the needs and health of that constituency. The reasonableness and appropriateness of the needs and health may conflict with the immediate aims and desires of that constituency. The statesman knows that the job will never be complete and will set in place activities and program that will outlast any tenure in office. A statesman will risk election failure if the goal is sufficiently important and endangers reelection.

So: a democratic system such as ours needs statesmen. But the democratic process requires politicians.

Any wonder why we're messed up?
Wall of Idiots
Fox Does Science

Links of Interest
Paper Sculpture
BPA Lingers On
Jury Duty Scam
What Darwin Didn't Know
Stradivarius: Better Music Through Chemistry
Geoengineering and here
The Vital Worm
V: Ball Pendulum
Darwin and Slavery
Roasted Planet
V: Stingray Automaton

Alternative Refrigeration
Water Bottle Raft: Here and here.
Growing Shiitakes

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Disturbia in Israelistine

The links below are to several articles regarding the natural gas resources in both Israel's and Gaza's coastline. It appears that Israel is in the process of coopting Gaza's resources. Whether or not this has any bearing on the recent conflict is beyond me but not so beyond the speculations of the authors.

I believe very strongly in Israel's right to exist. However, I also believe Israel has to stand for more than just another middle eastern country. While I like Israel better than its neighbors, that's too low a bar to act as a standard.

It has also become clear that both sides have decided that all members of the opposing sides are enemy combatants. When either side talks about harming innocents they are speaking solely of their own side; the other side has no innocents.

It's heartbreaking to see any of this happening.

Disturbing Connections Between the Gaza Invasion and Gaza Natural Gas
also here. here. here. here. here.
Political Links

Wall of Idiots

Links of Interest


Of Interest

Political Link
Global Warming Irriversible
Green Detroit

Links of Interest

Tiny People Who Clean Your Teeth
Jello Lenses
Alternative Selection
Future of Space Propulsion
Get Off on the Dirty Water
Revenge: A Dish Best Left Unserved
Dolphin Cognition
Cancer Hates the Dark

Countertop Greenhouse
Autonomous Snowshovel Robot

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gander Sauce

Yesterday, I referenced the Coleman/Franken election in Minnesota. The WSJ article (here) described Franken as "a tainted and undeserving Senator".

I went looking for WSJ articles about how they viewed the Bush/Gore election. If you'll recall, Florida had a number of irregularities not so different from the ones referenced in yesterday's article. Not to mention Ohio. In Missouri, there was such a polling place problem that a local judge ruled the polling places had to stay open an additional couple of hours. He was reversed by an appellate court judge when the Republicans brought suit. I looked for what the WSJ's opinion of the legitimacy of the Bush win in 2000 and found that WSJ online only goes back a year. Surprise.

Well, I hope they enjoy the new Senator from Minnesota as much as we enjoyed the President from Texas.
Political Links
Gore Derangement Syndrome

Of Interest
Video: Ornithopter in Flight
Video: Evolution of Robots
Space Elevator Broomstick: Here.
Snow Man... Well, head.
Zombie Stars
Wind-Up Birds
Slow Worms
Steampunk Monopoly
Complexity of the Younger Dryas Extinction
New Map of the Milky Way
The Year in Energy
Pink Iguanas
Haunting: Yes, Ghosts: No
Omnivorous Fuel Cells
Kyle Fokken

Converting an Accord to Trash
Wind Power
Things to do with Duct Tape

Back from the Grave, Ready to Party

It was a good vacation.

One of the things we got was the DVD of Hancock. I spoke about Hancock at length before but now that I've seen it again I have two additional things to say about it.

The first is that I was wrong. It is not the best superhero movie of all time. That's because it's not a superhero move. Instead, it is a movie with a superhero. Now, it is the best movie with a superhero of all time but that's sort of problematic as it is the only (to my knowledge) movie with a superhero that's been made.

Why the distinction?

I twigged to this sort of idea listening to the Julie Schwartz Memorial Lecture, featuring Neil Gaiman, the other day. Cowboy works, science fiction works, mystery works, etc., have stations of the cross in them. This is, of course, vastly oversimplified. A cowboy book, for instance, has a clear hero and villain. The hero is usually flawed in some way and often mysterious or has a troubled past. He comes into town. That's pretty much universal. See A Fistfull of Dollars, for example. The alternative plot is something comes to town to meet the hero. See High Noon. Confrontation ensues. The hero (usually) wins.

There are also cowboy movies that play against type where each station of the cross is marked by its opposite rather than the normal fare. Unforgiven is a good example.

A book with cowboys in it is significantly different. In such a work, the stations of the cross are essentially absent or reduced in scope to coincidences. A good example is E. L. Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times. This book happens to have cowboys in it but the book is in now way a cowboy book.

This is not to say that the genre work is worse or better than the work that uses some of the trappings of the genre. It's just to say they must be judged differently.

Hancock, then, is a movie with a superhero in it. Batman: Dark Night is a superhero movie.

The second additional thing I have to say about Hancock (remember? There were two.) is perhaps one of the reasons it is not a superhero movie. To recap: Hancock is an amnesiac man with superpowers. He tries to help out but he's drunk most of the time so he's often worse than the problem. He's drunk because 1) he's miserable, 2) he doesn't know who he is and he's alone and 3) because of 1 and 2 he's an asshole. Ray, a PR guy who's trying to use his PR powers for good rather than evil, is saved by Hancock. In return, he tries to straighten Hancock. Oh, by the way, Ray is married to the other superbeing in the story but doesn't know it. Fun ensues.

The neat bit that is so important in the story is that Ray, fully normal human being, is on equal footing with the two superbeings. At no point does he act subservient. At no point does he act as if he is less important than they are-- the movis clearly stating that importance does not derive from naked power but instead comes from within. It comes home later when Hancock and Mary have a fight and express some emotions that have been bottled up between them for hundreds of years. What she is protecting is not earth. It is not some abstract concept of evil or the predations of a concrete supervillain. It is trying to preserve a bit of happiness that she has with Ray. She prefers Ray. She chooses Ray. Ray makes her happy.

Contrast this with the overblown melodrama in Dark Night. Batman can't have a relationship with a normal person because his high flung morality prevents it: it would interfere with his life's work. He's taken on that life's work because he has a grief problem anybody with a grain of counseling could help him with. But he clings to it. The world of the Batman requires the grim world of Metropolis and the psychopathic Joker. Hancock lives in the real world. That's the difference.

Well, as real a world as can have a Hancock, anyway.


Rovers Still Going After 5 Years!

Political Links
Franken "wins" in Minnisota? and here

Wall of Idiots
Mike Griffin's Wife Pleads for his Job
Genetic Engineering at Home
Uncomfortable Chic

Links of Interest
Science before Newton
Solar Perihelion
Best Astronomy Pictures of 2008
Biodiorama Art
SF in China and here
Americans Who Don't Deserve to Travel
Burning Time
Meteor Impact Killed Mammoths?
Hot Peppermint Stick Bug Action
New! Pandemic! The Board Game
Penny Postcards

DIY Links
DIY Laser Communicator
Water Rocket
Pegboard Tool Cart

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Evolutionary Poker

(Picture from here.)

As both of the readers of this blog know, I'm an ardent evolutionophile, a word I just invented. It's not a "belief"-- I don't "believe" in the speed of light, Maxwell's equations or relativity. These are thing that have been proven adequately. As has evolution. "Belief" is not involved.

An Evolutionophile really enjoys evolution. Likes to think about it. Finds the science exciting. Etc.

Even so, I run into those for whom evolution is a dirty word. Often they don't understand to what they are objecting. One of the signs that they don't understand it is when they say something like "evolution is all about random chance" or "the chances of human beings being here is [insert improbably large number here] to one." For one thing, these people often do not understand statistics and for another they are under the mistaken belief that evolution is random. It is not. Nor is draw poker.

What? you say. But poker is a game of chance!

Yes it is and it is not random. The order of the cards is, in fact, random. Or should be-- though once, in a Sunday evening church gathering, I played cards with an off duty vice cop. He dealt each of us seven cards and proceeded to tell us what was in each of our hands. He was making a point about gambling to a bunch of high schoolers.

Anyway, you have 52 cards, 13 cards/suit, four suits. You get a deal:


A pair of 2's. You go with the twos, keep the ace and try to buck up the remainder by asking for two more cards.

This is not a random decision!

The chances of getting another two aren't great but there is a chance that you might pair up another card and get two pair. Hence it makes sense to keep the highest card. If the next two cards are trash, you're still ace high.

The ace and pair of 2's have been selected-- just as intelligence is selected for in humans or hooves are selected for in horses. The deal of the pair is random-- or should be as I said before-- but the evaluation of the cards is the result of the application of environment (your brain on poker) against the random set. The resulting selection is no more random than balancing your checkbook.

You could use the hand as a metaphor for a generation. A random generation occurs, selection applies to the members of that generation and 60% die before reproduction. The remaining 40% (our two pair) reproduce.

What's even more interesting and how evolution applies here is that now, the 2's are represented as having value (selection survival) and apply to the next generation. Two cards are dealt:


If you'd kept the jack, you'd have two pair. So it goes: evolution cannot predict the future. It makes bets with what it has. Even so, you still have a pair of 2's and an ace.

We could extend this metaphor, keeping different cards and exchanging them, each generation's cards applied against the selection criteria. Evolution does that. In short order, with a deep deck and an indefinite number of draws, you could get any hand you wanted.

Or, you could follow the rules and make your bets and see who wins. Animals don't just compete within their own species, they compete with other species for the same resources-- in this case a pot of money. Different animals use different strategies. A bobcat and a fox use different strategies to obtain the same sort of dinner.

Or, you could do what evolution does all the time: break the rules. If you're a bacteria, you all exchange cards to maximize your hand. Randomly-- the bacteria just packages up what it has and sends it out. It has no idea what will be useful for another bacteria. But ultimately most of the recipients will benefit. Or you could attack the player next to you for his money, bypassing the common pot altogether. The player to your left observes this and while you're all distracted, he takes the pot and runs off. He'll be banned from the game but if there are enough games around, he might get away with it long enough.

In cards the rules are arbitrary ways of controlling the mechanism of the game. In evolution, the mechanism of the game (genetic variation and selection) is relatively constant but there are no rules. There is only cost and benefit, profit and risk. And luck.

Wall of Idiots
Climategate ab absurdum
A cheap solution to climate change we're not doing

Links of Interest
V: Hymn for mannequins
V: Neutraface
V: Beautiful hunger
Creating citizen scientists
Chimps play with fire
Fog on Titan
Superhuman feats
Science kits of yesteryear
Stirling engines in power generation
Hybrid solar panels

Party crackers
Tea light lamps
Cure a hangover
Interlocking modular furniture
Garden in a ball
Paper roses
2009 top instructables and best of category