Archive for February 2010
I mentioned earlier that I ordered a supply of Wild Planet sardines (packed in extra-virgin olive oil, and packed in oil with lemon) and tuna. I also mentioned that I was disappointed to see that in the oil-with-lemon sardines the oil was soybean oil. I avoid that (along with corn oil and others) because of the very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio: much too high.
OTOH, it’s easy to drain the oil, and the sardines themselves are still tasty. (The EVO oil I use, of course.) And the sardines are excellent—and when you order from the company you get free-shipping.
Still, I did write to the company about the soybean oil, and I just received this email:
I want to thank you very much for taking the time to write us with your insightful suggestion. I cannot believe our entire team missed that very important consideration with soy oil as the medium for our lemon sardines. We did verify that it was GMO free but did not consider the Omega 6/3 ratio.
We have begun the process of reformulating the packing medium and our next production cycle which begins in April will have the new formula.
Thanks for the input, we value the perspective of our customers and invite you to reach out anytime.
Wild Planet Foods, Inc.
That’s very cool—and since the sardines are excellent, I’m pleased that I can re-order with a clear conscience.
Interesting article in Wired by Erin Biba:
Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech where he focuses on theories of cosmology, field theory and gravitation by studying the evolution of the universe. Carroll’s latest book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, is an attempt to bring his theory of time and the universe to physicists and nonphysicists alike.
One way to get noticed as a scientist is to tackle a really difficult problem. Physicist Sean Carroll has become a bit of a rock star in geek circles by attempting to answer an age-old question no scientist has been able to fully explain: What is time?
Here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he gave a presentation on the arrow of time, scientists stopped him in the hallway to tell him what big fans they were of his work.
Carroll sat down with Wired.com on Feb. 19 at AAAS to explain his theories and why Marty McFly’s adventure could never exist in the real world, where time only goes forward and never back.
Wired.com: Can you explain your theory of time in layman’s terms?
Sean Carroll: I’m trying to understand how time works. And that’s a huge question that has lots of different aspects to it. A lot of them go back to Einstein and spacetime and how we measure time using clocks. But the particular aspect of time that I’m interested in is the arrow of time: the fact that the past is different from the future. We remember the past but we don’t remember the future. There are irreversible processes. There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.
And we sort of understand that halfway. The arrow of time is based on ideas that go back to Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist in the 1870s. He figured out this thing called entropy. Entropy is just a measure of how disorderly things are. And it tends to grow. That’s the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy goes up with time, things become more disorderly. So, if you neatly stack papers on your desk, and you walk away, you’re not surprised they turn into a mess. You’d be very surprised if a mess turned into neatly stacked papers. That’s entropy and the arrow of time. Entropy goes up as it becomes messier.
So, Boltzmann understood that and he explained how entropy is related to the arrow of time. But there’s a missing piece to his explanation, which is, why was the entropy ever low to begin with? Why were the papers neatly stacked in the universe? Basically, our observable universe begins around 13.7 billion years ago in a state of exquisite order, exquisitely low entropy. It’s like the universe is a wind-up toy that has been sort of puttering along for the last 13.7 billion years and will eventually wind down to nothing. But why was it ever wound up in the first place? Why was it in such a weird low-entropy unusual state?
That is what I’m trying to tackle. I’m trying to understand cosmology, why the Big Bang had the properties it did. And it’s interesting to think that connects directly to our kitchens and how we can make eggs, how we can remember one direction of time, why causes precede effects, why we are born young and grow older. It’s all because of entropy increasing. It’s all because of conditions of the Big Bang.
Wired.com: So the Big Bang starts it all. But you theorize that there’s something before the Big Bang. Something that makes it happen. What’s that? …
People laugh at me for… well, for any number of reasons. One, I like to believe, is that I’m funny. Another is (probably) my compulsion to have a spare of .. just about everything. So when I got my nice 21-oz. double-walled glasses, I observed the height-to-base ratio and immediately ordered a spare pair. This morning the inevitable finally happened: I backed into a glass sitting near the edge of my rolling kitchen island, and being a tumbler, it tumbled.
After a brief search, I found the spare pair, and now I still have a working pair plus an extra glass should one break.
BTW, these are a much better shape and the ones I would now recommend.
Jonathan Chait and Robert Waldmann, in slightly different ways, highlight a crucial dynamic in American political debate: the extent to which public figures are punished for actually knowing what they’re talking about.
It goes like this: Person A says “Black is white” — perhaps out of ignorance, although more often out of a deliberate effort to obfuscate. Person B says, “No, black isn’t white — here are the facts.”
And Person B is considered to have lost the exchange — you see, he came across as arrogant and condescending.
I had, I have to admit, hoped that the nation’s experience with George W. Bush — who got within hanging-chad distance of the White House precisely because Al Gore was punished for actually knowing stuff — would have cured our discourse of this malady. But no. Why not?
Chait professes himself puzzled by the right’s intellectual insecurity. Me, not so much. Here’s how I see it: in our current political culture, the background noise is overwhelmingly one of conservative platitudes. People who have strong feelings about politics but are intellectually incurious tend to pick up those platitudes, and repeat them in the belief that this makes them sound smart. (Ezra Klein once described Dick Armey thus: “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”)
Inevitably, then, such people react with rage when they’re shown up on their facts or basic logic — it’s an attack on their sense of self-worth.
The truly sad thing, though, is the way much news reporting goes along with the condescension meme. That’s Waldmann’s point. You really, really might have expected that the Bush experience would give reporters pause — that they might at least ask themselves, “Isn’t it my job to ask whether a politician is right, as opposed to how he comes across?”
But NOOOO! [/Belushi]
And, in parallel, this post by Steve Benen:
ABC’s "This Week" held its usual roundtable discussion this morning, with Elizabeth Vargas hosting a panel of Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, George Will, and Paul Krugman.
The last topic of conversation was introduced by Vargas this way:
"[O]f course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She — she was highly criticized after the Obamas’ first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary’s office didn’t have people manning the security sites."
This led to a surprisingly long chat about Desiree Rogers.
Krugman sat silently while the discussion went on (and on), before eventually interjecting:
"Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we’re worrying about the status of the White House social secretary….
Donaldson responded, "Paul, welcome to Washington."
Look, I realize that not every discussion on a show like this is going to be substantive, sophisticated, and policy focused. Not every post I write for this site is going to highlight critically important issues, either. There’s nothing wrong with including heavier and lighter subjects in the same public affairs forum.
But this panel discussion covered exactly four subjects this morning: health care reform, Charlie Rangel’s ethics problem, David Paterson’s latest troubles, and the fate of the former White House social secretary (and where she’s from, what her clothes looked like, what her next job is likely to be, etc.), which hardly seems relevant to anyone who doesn’t actually attend social events at the White House.
In this same discussion, there was nothing about the jobs bill that passed the Senate this week, nothing about the incredibly important Zazi guilty plea this week (and the fact that it makes Republican talking points look ridiculous), nothing about Jim Bunning single-handedly delaying unemployment insurance for those who need it.
I wonder, who was the target audience for the discussion of Desiree Rogers, who most Americans have never heard of, and whose White House position has nothing to do with public policy? The general public or the D.C. cocktail circuit crowd?
Krugman no doubt annoyed the show’s producers by mentioning the inanity of the subject matter, but he’s right to remind his colleagues of what matters. For Donaldson to "welcome" him "to Washington" was insulting — to Krugman and the rest of us.
My friend Mr. Spaeth once observed that in any meeting that is considering what course of action to pursue, one idiot will inevitably say, "One thing we can do is… do nothing!" and look around for appreciation of his perspicacity. But in healthcare reform, doing nothing has a terrible effect. Reed Abelson in the NY Times:
“Hands off my health care,” goes one strain of populist sentiment.
But what if?
Suppose Congress and President Obama fail to overhaul the system now, or just tinker around the edges, or start over, as the Republicans propose — despite the Democrats’ latest and possibly last big push that began last week at a marathon televised forum in Washington.
Then “my health care” stays the same, right?
Far from it, health policy analysts and economists of nearly every ideological persuasion agree. The unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly.
“People think if we do nothing, we will have what we have now,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group in New York. “In fact, what we will have is a substantial deterioration in what we have.”
Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone’s dollar will go to health care, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate.
Policy makers, in the end, may be forced to address the issue.
“It will break all of our banks if we do nothing,” said Peter V. Lee, who oversees national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents employers that offer coverage to workers. “It is a course that is literally bankrupting the federal government and businesses and individuals across the country.”
Even those families that enjoy generous insurance now are likely to see the cost of those benefits escalate. The typical price of family coverage now runs about $13,000 a year, but premiums are expected to nearly double, to $24,000, by 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund. That equals nearly a quarter of the median family income today.
While some employers will continue to contribute the lion’s share of those premiums, there will be less money for employees in the form of raises or bonuses.
“It’s also cramping our economic growth,” said …
Take a look. Jack, have you seen the actual books?
Chapter 1: A search for bias: Bush and Gore hit the trail
It was early June, 1999, and the Washington press corps was ready to rumble. Within days, the governor of Texas, George W. Bush, would fly to Iowa, then on to New Hampshire. And everyone knew what would happen next:
When he arrived in the Hawkeye State, Governor Bush was going to enter the 2000 race for the White House.
Other candidates had been stumping since March. But Bush had stayed in Austin, taking part in the Texas legislature’s biennial session. Legislative business concluded in May. Bush announced he’d be heading for Iowa.
Within the nation’s political press corps, anticipation began running high as the governor’s launch date drew near.
Fold it into the existing services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard). Technology created the Air Force and now technology makes it unnecessary. Greg Jaffe in the Washington Post:
The question, scrawled on a Pentagon whiteboard last fall, captured the strange and difficult moment facing the Air Force.
"Why does the country need an independent Air Force?" the senior civilian assistant to Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the service’s chief of staff, had written. For the first time in the 62-year history of the Air Force, the answer isn’t entirely clear.
The Air Force’s identity crisis is one of many ways that a decade of intense and unrelenting combat is reshaping the U.S. military and redefining the American way of war. The battle against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq has created an insatiable demand for the once-lowly drone, elevating the importance of the officers who fly them.
These new earthbound aviators are redefining what it means to be a modern air warrior and forcing an emotional debate within the Air Force over the very meaning of valor in combat.
Since its founding, the Air Force has existed primarily to support its daring and chivalrous fighter and bomber pilots. Even as they are being displaced by new technology, these traditional pilots are fighting to retain control over the Air Force and its culture and traditions.
The clash between the old and new Air Force was especially apparent in the aftermath of the 2006 strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq.
Predator crews spent more than 630 hours searching for Zarqawi and his associates before they tracked him to a small farm northeast of Baghdad.
Minutes later, an F-16 fighter jet, streaking through the sky, released a 500-pound bomb that locked onto a targeting laser and killed Zarqawi.
The F-16 pilot, who faced no real threat from the lightly armed insurgents on the ground, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the same honor bestowed on Charles Lindbergh for the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Predator pilots, who flew their planes from an Air Force base outside Las Vegas, received a thank-you note from a three-star general based in the Middle East. Senior Air Force officials concluded that even though the Predator crews were flying combat missions, they weren’t actually in combat.
Four years later, the Air Force still hasn’t come up with a way to recognize the Predator’s contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There is no valor in flying a remotely piloted aircraft. I get it," said Col. Luther "Trey" Turner, a former fighter pilot who has flown Predators since 2003. "But there needs to be an award to recognize crews for combat missions."
It is the job of Schwartz, the Air Force’s top general and a onetime cargo pilot, to mediate between the old and new pilot tribes…
The "more info" at the YouTube post:
This post is quite interesting. It begins:
Something happened the other day that made me really step back and say to myself …"Whoa…"
I was in auto-pilot, I was standing in front of a group of people – some [most] of whom couldn’t care less about their company’s web site security – and talking about security vulnerabilities and why they can lead to serious financial consequences. More importantly, I was trying to convince these folks, arms folded and all, that these "vulnerabilities" actually existed in real web sites. One of the gentlemen in the crowd commented – I’m just not convinced we have developers that write such terrible code, and even if they did – I don’t see how all this complex attack stuff would even get them anything.
Again, since I have done this a million and one times before – I attempted to give an intelligent answer, at the right technical level and without providing the "FUD" I’m sure he’s heard before. I was thinking in the back of my mind that this was one of those people that would need to witness a breach and then begin to panic.
It’s often the case that the best teacher is experience – and I wish for nothing more than my doubting Thomases to ask me to show them these issues on their sites … without even asking this crowd obliged. A fellow in the back of the room just yelled "Well, if these issues are so prevalent, let’s see if they exist on one of our sites". I left auto-pilot and went into cautious attack mode.
First off, I talked them out of performing a live test against a production site, but rather against one that was low-impact and that wouldn’t cost them a lot of money if we broke something. They volunteered a URL and I started by opening up the page in my browser … after about 5 seconds I got this: …
Via The Wife. Fascinating little video.
Harry Markopolos tried for years to tell the SEC that Madoff was a fraud, but the SEC wouldn’t listen. (In fairness, the Bush Administration had undermined the mission of many regulatory agencies, not just the SEC.) The brief interview of him in the NY Times Magazine is well worth reading.
It’s not just studied at St. John’s, of course, but that is the source of my own memories. Nice little essay by Simon Willerton, which begins:
I want to explain a little of the background behind Tom Fiore’s musical post last year. In this post the aim is to explain to a numerate audience some of the origins of the Western seven note musical scale. I will try to assume no formal knowledge of music except perhaps a vague notion of what a piano keyboard looks like. I won’t get very far in the historical development, only up to about the middle ages.
There are two aspects of music relevant to this discussion: melody and harmony. Melody involves the consecutive playing of notes, like in any tune you can hum or whistle; harmony involves the simultaneous playing of notes like in a chord or multipart singing. In terms of Western music, it appears that harmony did not make an appearance until the middle ages; in this post I will not get on to harmony and how it had a significant effect on the precise pitch of each note. What I will explain here is the origin of the seven note Western musical scale in terms of the consonance of the octave and the consonance of the fifth, which in turn have their origins in the physics of the vibrating string.
I should add at this point that I learnt much of this stuff from the following great book which is freely available as a pdf.
- Dave Benson, Music: A Mathematical Offering, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
I also learnt a lot from talking to various friends and there is lots and lots of information on the internet one interesting looking document is
- Peter A. Frazer, The Development of Musical Tuning Systems.
The palette of notes – scales
If you are wanting to compose a piece of music, be you a caveman, a rock star or a member of the Royal College of Music, you must at some point – probably when you start – decide on which notes you will use, what your musical palette will be. By this I do not just mean which keys on the piano will you use: if you have chosen to use a standardly tuned piano then you have already significantly restricted the notes you can play – and we will see a little bit about which notes these are below.
The palette that you chose will be constrained to some extent by the instrument or instruments that you will using. For instance, many instruments, like the xylophone or the piano, will force you to use a discrete set of notes, whereas other instrument, like the violin or the voice, will theoretically allow you to use a near continuum of notes in your piece of music. In between these two extremes there are many instruments which on first sight appear to be based on a discrete set of notes but on which the player has some freedom to move or ‘bend’ notes somewhat, for instance by using the shape of the mouth (or ‘embouchure’) on instruments such as the clarinet or the harmonica.
Another possible constraint on the choice of the palette is ..
Jonathan Rauch has an excellent article in the National Journal:
The history of the modern Republican Party in one sentence: Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller got into an argument and George Wallace won.
OK, footnotes are required. The most important is that racism, a central factor in Wallace’s career, is marginal in today’s Republican Party. In fact, if there is anything Republicans like about President Obama, it is the racial breakthrough that his election represents. Nothing in this article implies that the GOP is a racist party.
But there was much more to George Corley Wallace than race. We too easily forget, today, what a formidable figure he cut in his heyday. His four-term career as governor of Alabama spanned a quarter-century. In 1968, he launched one of the most successful independent presidential candidacies in American history, winning 13 percent of the popular vote. In 1972, this time running as a Democrat, he won five primaries and was on a roll when a would-be assassin’s bullet knocked him out of the race.
"To dismiss George Wallace as a racist or a demagogue is to seriously underestimate his allure," said the National Observer in 1968. "His appeal is broader, far broader, than racism, and his themes too vital to be contained within mere demagoguery." Wallace drew a map for Republicans’ subsequent inroads into the South and blue-collar America, and he pioneered legitimate issues to which establishment politicians paid too little attention: easy money, dysfunctional welfare programs, perverse crime policies.
What Wallace did not do was frame a coherent program or governing philosophy. His agenda was "this strange conglomeration," says Dan Carter, a University of South Carolina historian and biographer of Wallace. "I don’t expect politicians to be running a seminar, but there’s an absolute incoherence about the thing that is more a cry of angst than a program."
Wallace’s national appeal came neither from the racial backlash he exploited nor from his program, such as it was. "It was a deep sense of grievance," Carter says — a feeling that elites "are not only screwing you over but at the same time they’re laughing at you, they’re looking down their noses at you."
Fast-forward to the present. The hottest ticket in the Republican Party is Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee. In a recent column, George Will compared her insurgent libertarianism to that of Goldwater’s, which electrified the Right in 1964. Fair enough. But Goldwater served for 30 years as a respected insider in Washington’s most exclusive club, the U.S. Senate; he was never interested in cultural and social issues; resentment and rage were alien to him. Palin’s style and appeal are closer to Wallace’s.
Palin: "Voters are sending a message." Wallace: "Send them a message!"
Palin: "The soul of this movement is the people, everyday Americans, who grow our food and run our small businesses, who teach our kids and fight our wars…. The elitists who denounce this movement, they just don’t want to hear the message." Wallace: "They’ve looked down their noses at the average man on the street too long. They’ve looked [down] at the bus driver, the truck driver, the beautician, the fireman, the policeman, and the steelworker…."
Palin: "We need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern." Wallace: "We have a professor — I’m not talking about all professors, but here’s an issue in the campaign — we got these pseudo-theoreticians, and these pseudo-social engineers…. They want to tell you how to do."
Palin: "What does he [Obama] actually seek to accomplish…? The answer is to make government bigger; take more of your money; give you more orders from Washington." Wallace: "They say, ‘We’ve gotta write a guideline. We’ve gotta tell you when to get up in the morning. We’ve gotta tell you when to go to bed at night.’ "
Wallace was not a libertarian. In Alabama, …
More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.
The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values. The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years."
"Evolutionarily novel" preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are "evolutionarily familiar."
"General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions," says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles."
An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals. Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk. Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel.
This is very cool indeed, and I’m definitely adding this to my Spanish efforts.