Archive for August, 2012

Gun Control

August 29, 2012

It’s beginning to look like the first goal of gun control legislation should be to remove weapons from the hands of the police. The recent Empire State Building incident is a good example. A deranged man kills one person, puts away the gun, and walks away. The police catch up to him, he takes out the gun but does not fire, and from ten feet away they spray enough bullets to kill him, and wound nearly twenty other people. Talk about a mass shooting incident. And it’s not an isolated incident. Three police officers down in Texas recently pumped tens of rounds into an innocent ex-Marine who answered the door carrying a safetied weapon. (My objection isn’t that he was shot, but that he was shot again and again and again).

When I lived in the DC area, it seemed impossible for a DC policeman to draw his weapon without some poor bystander getting shot. Or maybe a fellow officer. Or sometimes, himself. Very occasionally the target person would get hit, but that was mostly by accident.

I was in the Pentagon when the first person ever killed there was shot in 1987. (more…)

Ghost Stories Part 1

August 28, 2012

I’m going to try something new here, I’m going to review two anime back to back – anime which share some conceptual relationship – and do a compare-and contrast. To start off with, here’s two anime ghost stories, each with its own special frisson. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a happy story on top of a dark story on top of a happy ending. Another is a dark story with an unhappy ending, or maybe just an intermission. As with all horror stories, there will be sudden and unexpected spoilers.

Japanese horror appears to be all about atmosphere, and about the horrors of being alone. Japanese population is shrinking, local governments are merging, people are leaving the countryside for the big cities. Many schools are abandoned, and others are only half occupied. Both these anime are set in run-down schools — Dusk Maiden‘s more than Another ‘s — so presumably many Japanese can resonate with the atmosphere. From what I can tell, most Japanese ghosts are like the one in Another , a disembodied, unidentified bundle of hate and discontent. They can’t be set to rest, only momentarily appeased, or exorcised — think of The Ring.

Think of these two essays as a pub crawl: we’ll start with Another, and end with Amnesia.

Which of these will still be alive when the end credits roll? For that matter, which of these is alive right now?

The Japanese are a sickly race. (more…)

Second Manassas

August 27, 2012

Today is the 150th aniversary of the Second Battle of Bull Run. It took place in northern Virginia, about eighteen miles from our house. Essentially, it was Jackson taking a slap at our right flank immediately after our left flank had withdrawn from the Peninsula Campaign. Generally considered a draw. @wpUnion and @civilwarWP are providing live stream tweets. As an aside, the creek that ran through my property fed into the Occoquan, the same river that Bull Run feeds. The Occoquan was the boundary between North and South for the early part of the war.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 27, 2012

Garden Report for 120827

And just like that, Summer is over. We were in the mid-90’s in mid-August. On Tuesday, a cold front blew through, with some rain and minor thunderstorms. After that we were in the mid to upper 70’s, with lows in the 40’s. Sunday touched 85, but the forecast is for continued cooling.

Harvested the last of the beans in the KHG. Got less than a pound, so the total take from the 3×3 patch was just under two pounds. Don’t know if that’s good or not. I could have left them go longer, to see if some of the small ones would bulk up, but lots of leaves were turning yellow, others had holes in them, and something was eating the ends off the baby beans. Time to tear them out.

The spaghetti squash is going great guns. Looks like there will be eight or ten. Nothing new on the crown squash, and I haven’t seen any eight-balls. Summer prolific is still prolificizing. Looks like there’s one delicata.

Some of the tomato plants are six fee tall. Lots of tomatoes, but only the cherry tomatoes, mostly S-100’s, are ripening. None of the tomatoes are very big. The biggest are plum-sized, on a plant meant to produce “up to” one pounders. I guess that’s like my ISP’s “up to” speeds.

Corn isn’t growing much, and that experiment may be a failure (I started way too late). Most of it is a foot to 18″ tall. The t-storms made them slant, but didn’t knock them down. I planted about twenty peas early in the week. One pea next to each cornstalk. I figure it was a cheap climbing post. Peas are cold-hardy, so they should be OK by harvest time in late October. Carrots at the north end of Section 4 are doing well.

The one bush tomato that I’m growing indoors has put out some flowers, so we’ll see. This is a test. If we get decent tomatoes, I’ll try putting up a small greenhouse in the basement, next to the gas heater, with lots of grow lamps and see if we can grow something over the winter.

Cheesy Oats

August 24, 2012

My earlier experiments with ham boullion came out OK, but not raveworthy. Yesterday I tried 100% apple juice instead of chicken broth or a chicken/apple mix. Plus, we had the tail end of a slab of cheese, so I added that.

Setup: 1/3 cup long cook steel cut oatmeal, 1 cup apple juice, 1 heaping dinner teaspoon of ham boullion, about 1/4 cup Beecher’s Hand Made Cheese (semi-crumbly, like Cougar Gold without the grittyness), 2 dinner teaspoons of potato buds.

Result: Really, really good. The sweetness of the apple juice is just what the ham needs. This goes into the rotation, along with apple juice and Golden Curry.


August 21, 2012

The 6th International Conference on Soft Computing and Intelligent Systems and the 13th International Symposium on Advanced Intelligent Systems will be held at the Kobe Convention Center in the Kobe Portopia Hotel next November. I have two papers submitted. Or, I should say, we have two papers, because in this business you don’t get anywhere without a lot of help from your friends. UPDATE: Both papers have been accepted, which is why I’m posting this here and now, after a couple of false starts.

The first paper is on the application of a Systems Science tool called Reconstructablility Analysis to understanding the genetics of Alzheimer disease. Here’s the abstract:

Reconstructability Analysis (RA) is an information- and graph-theory-based method which has been successfully used in previous genomic studies. Here we apply it to genetic (14 SNPs) and non-genetic (Education, Age, Gender) data on Alzheimer disease in a well-characterized Case/Control sample of 424 individuals. We confirm the importance of APOE as a predictor of the disease, and identify one non-genetic factor, Education, and two SNPs, one in BINI and the other in SORCS1, as likely disease predictors. SORCS1 appears to be a common risk factor for people with or without APOE. We also identify a possible interaction effect between Education and BINI. Methodologically, we introduce and use to advantage some more powerful features of RA not used in prior genomic studies.

The second paper used another Systems Science technique, agent-based simulation, to test Herb Simon’s theory of satisficing:

Satisficing is an efficient strategy for applying existing knowledge in a complex, constrained, environment. We present a set of agent-based simulations that demonstrate a higher payoff for satisficing strategies than for exploring strategies when using approximate dynamic programming methods for learning complex environments. In our constrained learning environment, satisficing agents outperformed exploring agent by approximately six percent, in terms of the number of tasks completed.

In a later post, I’ll talk about the collaboration that led up to this.

Group vs Individual Selection in Evolution

August 21, 2012

Last June’s Edge had an interesting essay by Harvard professor Steven Pinker on why the idea of group selection as an extension of natural selection is wrong. His position is to take the baseline definition of evolution by natural selection

The core of natural selection is that when replicators arise and make copies of themselves, (1) their numbers will tend, under ideal conditions, to increase exponentially; (2) they will necessarily compete for finite resources; (3) some will undergo random copying errors (“random” in the sense that they do not anticipate their effects in the current environment); and (4) whichever copying errors happen to increase the rate of replication will accumulate in a lineage and predominate in the population. After many generations of replication, the replicators will show the appearance of design for effective replication, while in reality they have just accumulated the copying errors that had successful replication as their effect.

rewrite this in terms of groups

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 20, 2012

Garden Report for 120820

The NENW summer continues

Keyhole Garden

Finally harvesting more than just summer squash. The 3×3 corner of Section 2 that I had devoted to beans is producing. The first pass, fighting squash vines all the way, yielded just under a pound. It looks like there’s not quite the same amount left on, that I can harvest next week. It ain’t a lot, but it wasn’t a very big plot, and all of my previous beanfields had died. Meanwhile, the spaghetti squash is starting to produce. Looks like six or eight come October.

Other Gardens
On Sunday, one of my carrot containers fell off the porch rail. It’s a 7″ container on a 6″ rail and it was mounted at a diagonal and weighted with two bricks. I suspect that a squirrel decided to plant some peanuts there. I guess that makes the container available for the next stretch of lettuce.

Meanwhile, the miniature cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloupe are all setting teenytiny fruit

Gun control

August 18, 2012

This is what happens when you make it hard for citizens to own handguns.

Ginger Oats

August 16, 2012

A month ago I posted a recipe from my old friend John Fisher, for rhubarb-ginger marmalade. I made half a batch, but between the long division, the conversion twix’t Imperial and post-Imperial measurements, and the product differences, I got the pectin wrong and ended up with something very like ginger applesauce. Even reheating the marmalade later, and adding more pectin didn’t help…much.

It’s still more or less spreadable, and it’s very good on English muffins (well, the American-style ones), so I thought I’d try it on oatmeal.

Standard prep: 1/3 cup oatmeal, 1 cup water (apple juice would probably be better), and a big glop of the RGM — call it a quarter cup.

Result: Quite good. Not overly sweet. Better than the pickled ginger version.

Fun With Vocabulary

August 14, 2012

Swap kana:
きゅうりょう (kyu.ryo) 給料 means salary.
きょうりゅう (kyo.ryu) 恐竜 means dinosaur (lit. scary dragon).
As you can see, the kanji are nothing alike, so that’s alright then.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 13, 2012

Garden Report for 120813

The weather has settled in to the NENW summer standard — highs around 90, lows around 60, no rain.

The Keyhole Garden

Growth continues. Summer squash are hitting an eating size at the rate of about two a day. Tomatoes remain jungle-like but no ripening. Over in Section 4, the corn seems to be doing well.

My experimental cornfield

This is really just an experiment. Section 4 will be used for perennials — blueberries, asparagus — next year, and I thought I’d try to get a late crop of corn from it first. If it doesn’t work, well, c’est la guerre.

The Other Gardens

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, things continue apace. (more…)

Dinosaur Killers 3 – The Science

August 10, 2012

He thought: meddle first, understand later. You had to meddle a bit before you had anything to try to understand…You have to try to get your mind around the Universe before you can give it a twist. — Pratchett, Interesting Times

Turns out, the quiz that kicked off my Dinosaur Killer essays was not about the Earth impact threat at all. Instead, it was about what typeface fonts people consider reliable.

My comments on the quiz took it at face value, and were based on a certain amount of background as an amateur astronomer and space enthusiast. Most people who took the quiz were neither. So all they had to go on was a vague impression from old news reports, Hollywood movies, ….and the gravitas provided by the fonts. Errol Morris was testing the idea that fonts matter when reading about something we know little about — “are we more inclined to believe that gold has an atomic number 79 if we read it in Georgia, the font of The New York Times online, rather than in Helvetica?” This belief, of course, has no impact on the fact that the atomic number of gold is, indeed, 79.

His findings? More people believed the statement when it was written in Georgia than when written in Comic Sans. This has implications for everything from advertising to political shilling to blog writing.

This experiment is a good example of how science works. You think about what you know, or think you know, on a topic, and you establish a working hypothesis — fonts are not important. Then you devise a way of testing this — ask a question that elicits an opinion about a statement on which the test subject knows little, and randomly print it in different fonts. Administer the test to enough people to accumulate good statistics, and then look at the results. In this case, the results were that fonts are important. We discard our working hypothesis for a new one, and we use the new one to ask new questions — if Georgia is more trustworthy that Comic Sans, is it because Comic Sans has no descenders? We have a new hypothesis and can create a new question. Do this often enough, and we can assemble the results into a Theory of Fonts.

Note that it took a while to come up with the Theory. In science, as I’ve said elsewhere, the word theory should never be preceded by the word just. A theory is a model of the world, based on what we know. It throws off hypotheses that are testable, and some of which have been tested. In civilian life something can be just a theory, but not in science. The differences between the two uses are as great as the difference in the use of the word shoot by photographers and hunters.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 5, 2012

Garden Report for 120806

Last Wednesday’s full moon, or maybe the new moon on the 17th (we’re not sure), marks the start of Anglo-Saxon Weodmonað, or Weed Month. They certainly knew what they were talking about. Now that the garden is in and growing, I can devote time to cutting back the jungle out there.


Section 1: Speaking of jungle, the squash is taking over the world. It’s spilled off the east side and is trying to climb the fence. One strand of 8-ball squash has run ten feet along the fence to the south. On the south side, a silent battle is being fought between the squash and the tomatoes, while the Unkillable Rhubarb watches.

Rhubarb-Tomato Jungle
With Squash (all pix click to enlarge)

On the north end of the southern section, the asparagus is fighting to keep its head above….squash. (more…)


August 1, 2012

You’ve never heard of MRSA, the Medical Response Security Agency? That’s ’cause we don’t have one.

Or a Department of Hospital Security. You might think that we should have one. After all, Dr Sanjay Gupta, in a recent article in the New York Times, reports we have somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in hospital annually, due to medical errors. That means doctors are killing 25 to 50 times as many Americans as died in 9/11,* and they are doing this every year, year in and year out. You would think that level of carnage would prompt some kind of official response, at least requiring the presence of a uniformed security officer in every patient’s room, or the enhanced questioning of every doctor after a diagnosis.