Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 1st, 2008

Navy railgun in test

leave a comment »

Railgun technology has always fascinated me.

The US Navy has just completed a 10-megajoule test fire of their huge railgun. For the first time ever, they fired a projectile with a velocity of 8,270 feet per second. That’s an amazing 5,640 mph, and the gun is only firing at a third of its potential power. The other video shows you what the projectile looks like when loaded.

The Navy is researching railguns because they would weigh less than conventional ones, and since they rely on electromagnetics to fire rounds, you wouldn’t need a big, dangerous pile of explosives stored in a magazine. All of that means a lighter ship, and a much more deadly ship: a combat-ready railgun would be able to fire Mach 5 projectiles over 200 miles with pinpoint accuracy, hitting 5 meter targets.

Yesterday’s test firing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division used just some of the potential 32-megajoules the laboratory test gun is capable of, and that’s only half the 64-megajoules the Navy is aiming at for the final weapon. Expect even more dramatic videos, sometime soon.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Military, Technology

Still denying global warming?

with 15 comments

Here’s the conference for you:

From March 2-4, right-wing climate-denier group The Heartland Institute will host what it calls a ‘Climate Skeptics’ Conference. Heartland President Joseph Blast boasted that his conference would feature climate change deniers: “This is their chance to speak out.” The online poster for the conference declares, “Global Warming is not a crisis!”

Heartland’s environmental stance is completely out of the mainstream. The debate over human contribution to global warming is long over. Even as all three top GOP presidential candidates recently endorsed California’s effort to reduce auto greenhouse gas emissions, Heartland ridiculed the idea, calling California and its allies “environmental extremists.”

Heartland’s extreme anti-environmentalism no doubt spawns from its supporters. Between 1998 and 2005, oil giant ExxonMobil gave nearly $800,000 to Heartland. The group’s Board of Directors also explains the group’s climate change denials:

Thomas Walton is the Director of Economic Policy at General Motors.

James L. Johnston is a former senior economist for oil company Amoco Corporation.

Walter F. Buchholtz is a former member of Heartland’s board of directors and worked as ExxonMobil’s Senior Issues Advisor.

James M. Taylor is editor of Heartland’s weekly Environment & Climate News and wrote an op-ed criticizing Gore’s “Assault On Reason” insisting that “global warming threats they should not be deliberately exaggerated as a means of building support for a desired political position.”

RealClimate quips, “Normal scientific conferences have the goal of discussing ideas and data in order to advance scientific understanding. Not this one.”

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 2:43 pm

The more I use InstaPaper, the more I like it

leave a comment »

Give it a go. I’m really liking the utility of it—better than the Google Reader star function for me.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

We need better Democrats

leave a comment »

We need Democrats who are not so quick to do what the GOP demands:

In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders have, according to Congressional Quarterly and others sources, reached an agreement as to how to proceed on the FISA vote this Monday. There are currently numerous amendments pending to the Cheney/Rockefeller Senate Intelligence Committee bill, almost all of them introduced by Democrats (with one co-sponsored by Arlen Specter) and most of them (if not all) unacceptable to the White House and the GOP.

The essence of the new agreement is that most of the amendments will be subject to a simple up-or-down vote — if they get 50 votes, then they pass — while several of the amendments will require 60 votes to pass (allowing, in essence, the Republicans to filibuster those amendments without actually having to go to the Senate floor and engage in a real filibuster).

Senate Democratic leadership sources are trying to claim that this is some sort of victory for Senate Democrats, and echoing that sentiment, even some of the most insightful and knowledgeable around — such as McJoan at Daily Kos — are hailing the agreement as evidence that “Dems didn’t cave” and that “they held tough.” Unless there is something I’m overlooking, I don’t understand that perspective at all.

It seems rather clear what happened here. There are certain amendments that are not going to get even 50 votes — including the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the bill — and, for that reason, Republicans were more than willing to agree to a 50-vote threshold, since they know those amendments won’t pass even in a simple up-or-down vote.

But then, there are other amendments which might be able to get 50 votes, but cannot get 60 votes — such as Feinstein’s amendment to transfer the telecom cases to the FISA court and her other amendment providing that FISA is the “exclusive means” for eavesdropping — and, thus, those are the amendments for which the GOP insisted upon a 60-vote requirement.

The whole agreement seems designed to ensure that the GOP gets everything they want — that they are able to defeat all of the pending amendments which Dick Cheney dislikes, and to do so without having to engage in a real filibuster. In what conceivable way is this an instance of “Dems not caving” or “holding tough?” This is how CQ described the agreement:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 12:20 pm

Why no Geckoperson superhero?

leave a comment »

It would be cool:

A new anti-sliding adhesive developed by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, may be the closest man-made material yet to mimic the remarkable gecko toe hairs that allow the tiny lizard to scamper along vertical surfaces and ceilings.

The researchers say that such an adhesive could one day be used to outfit a small robot that could climb up walls.

Taking a cue from the millions of hairs covering a gecko’s toes, researchers squeezed 42 million hard plastic microfibers onto each square centimeter of material and loaded it with various weights. They found that on a smooth, clean, vertical surface, two square centimeters of the synthetic adhesive could hold 400 grams (0.88 pounds). At the same time, the adhesive easily lifts off with minimal force and no residue.

Scientists have long marveled at the gravity-defying feats of the gecko, and a number of research teams across the world are working on duplicating the lizard’s adhesive forces. Ron Fearing, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the research team developing the new material, notes that previous research on gecko-like adhesives has focused on the strength of the adhesion. He said that the ease of attachment and detachment are equally important when developing a material that can practically be used for scaling vertical walls and ceilings.

What sets this new gecko-inspired adhesive apart from the others created thus far is that it is directional, only “sticking” when it slides along a smooth surface, not when it is pressed down.

“This difference is critical because if you’re climbing up vertical surfaces, you can’t afford to use a lot of energy pressing down into the surface to stick,” said Fearing. “Using force to attach also requires force to detach. A gecko running uphill may be attaching and detaching its feet 20 times a second, so it’d get very tired if it had to work hard to pull its feet off at every step.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 12:04 pm

The blue-eyed tribe

with 2 comments

Blue-eyed people all have a common ancestor. (Full disclosure: I have blue eyes.)

New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes”. The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific therefore. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour – a condition known as albinism.

Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.

Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996, when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye colour.

The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Do you feel safer now?

leave a comment »

Spencer Ackerman:

Fellow TPMmuckraker alumnus Justin Rood has an amazing story up at ABC’s Blotter. It turns out that the super-sophisticated NSA apparatus used for domestic surveillance by the Bush administration (call the effort the Terrorist Surveillance Program, or Program X, or what have you) is vulnerable to manipulation by the terrorists themselves. That’s according to a forthcoming article in a cyber-security journal called IEEE Security & Privacy. Justin reports:

The data centers for the classified program are reportedly housed in “secure” rooms within telecommunications hubs around the country, and connect to operations buried within the NSA’s highly classified facilities. But judging by past breaches, the authors conclude this system could be compromised also – from within or outside.
In 2004, hackers cracked a wiretapping function on a Greek national cell phone network. For 10 months, they intercepted conversations by the country’s prime minister and its ministers of defense, foreign affairs and justice, and roughly 100 other officials and parliament members, the authors note. The hackers were never caught.

“Although the NSA has extensive experience in building surveillance systems, that does not mean things cannot go wrong,” the authors state. “When you build a system to spy on yourself, you entail an awesome risk.”

Just as dangerous is the possibility that an insider could access the system undetected, according to the experts. Poorly-designed surveillance technology used by the FBI relies on a “primitive” system to track people who use the operation to wiretap phone conversations, the authors say, creating what they call a “real risk” of an insider attack.

Don’t worry, though. The competence of the Bush administration is legendary.

I believe that Ackerman is using the traditional meaning of “legendary”: a story commonly told that is not in accord with facts.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:40 am

Efficient learning

leave a comment »

Interesting post, which includes:

The learning principles of William Glasser, M.D – a psychiatrist who wrote many papers on improving the U.S. school system and was an advocate of non-medical treatments to mental disorders. He said:

“We learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.”

Much more at the link. At one time, the model of learning was “See one, do one, teach one,” but that has become obsolescent with effective simulators that allow for much more experience (and tailored experience).

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:35 am

Cool!

with one comment

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:28 am

Posted in Art, Daily life

Help save Spiral Jetty

leave a comment »

Go read, then act.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:22 am

Posted in Art, Business, Government

Why consciousness?

leave a comment »

What good is it, anyway?

No one doubts that our experience of phenomenal consciousness—the felt redness of fire, the felt sweetness of a peach, the felt pain of a bee sting—arises from the activity of our brains. Yet the problem of explaining how this can be so seems to many theorists to be staggeringly hard. How can the wine of consciousness, the weird, ineffable, immaterial qualia that give such richness to subjective experience, conceivably arise from the water of the brain? As the philosopher Colin McGinn has put it, it’s like trying to explain how you can get “numbers from biscuits, or ethics from rhubarb.” The philosopher Jerry Fodor recently claimed, “The revisions of our concepts and theories that imagining a solution will eventually require are likely to be very deep and very unsettling.”

If you smell theoretical panic, you’re right. But are the scientific answers really so far out of reach? Have people been beguiled by the marvelous properties of consciousness into asking for the moon, while what is at issue is really much more down to earth? Everybody says they are waiting for the Big Idea. But perhaps the big idea should be that consciousness, which is of such significance to us subjectively, is scientifically not such a big deal.

  Joint

It all depends on asking the right questions at the outset. I can show what I mean with the example of a well-known visual illusion. Consider what you might want to explain about the experience of looking at the object in the picture to the left (Fig. 1), a solid wooden version of the so-called impossible triangle. Since it is at first sight so surprising and impressive, any of us might very well innocently ask the (bad) question: “How can we explain the existence of this triangle as we perceive it?” Only later—indeed only once we have seen the object from a different viewpoint (Fig. 2), and realized that the “triangle as we perceive it” is an illusion—will it occur to us to ask the (good) question: “How can we explain the fact we have been tricked into perceiving it this way?”

Now, no one wants to think that consciousness is likewise some kind of trick. But let’s nonetheless see where the analogy may lead. The standard philosopher’s example is the case of what it’s like to see red. So, suppose you were looking at a ripe tomato: What might you want to explain about the qualia-rich red sensation that you are experiencing?

Since the qualia are indeed so up-front and remarkable, and since no one knows why this is, we are all, most probably, going to start off by asking what may be a bad question: “How can we explain the existence of these qualia as we experience them?” So here, again, it will only be if we undergo a radical shift in perspective and realize that the “qualia as we experience them” could be a mental fantasy, that we shall move on to asking what may be the good question: “How can we explain why we have the impression that such fantastic qualia exist even if they do not?” But, here is why it is likely to be so difficult to make this move: In the case of consciousness, we cannot simply change our perspective to see the solution. We are all stuck with the first-person point of view. So, the result is we persist with questing for the qualia as such.

Yet if consciousness is a trick, then of course this quest is a fool’s errand. It will make no more sense to try to explain the existence of qualia than it would to explain the existence of the impossible triangle. What we should be doing instead is trying to explain just how we have been set up—and why.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:05 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Global warming strikes the Western US

leave a comment »

This is bad, though completely predictable. Bush will suggest more studies, and doing nothing.

The persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West is caused primarily by human-induced global warming and is not the result of natural variability in weather patterns, researchers reported yesterday.

Using data collected over the past 50 years, the scientists confirmed that the mountains are getting more rain and less snow, that the snowpack is breaking up faster and that more rivers are running dry by summer.

The study, published online yesterday by the journal Science, looked at possible causes of the changes — including natural variability in temperatures and precipitation, volcanic activity around the globe and climate change driven by the release of greenhouse gases. The researchers’ computer models showed that climate change is clearly the explanation that best fits the data.

“We’ve known for decades that the hydrology of the West is changing, but for much of that time people said it was because of Mother Nature and that she would return to the old patterns in the future,” said lead author Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. “But we have found very clearly that global warming has done it, that it is the mechanism that explains the change and that things will be getting worse.”

Many in the West and the Southwest depend on the snowpack’s springtime melt for power, irrigation and drinking water. When the snow fields melt earlier and more suddenly, dams are able to capture less of the water and must release more of it to flow on to the ocean.

“Our results are not good news for those living in the western United States,” the researchers wrote, adding that the changes may make “modifications to the water infrastructure of the western U.S. a virtual necessity.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 11:01 am

How we get the odds wrong

leave a comment »

Risk assessment in our daily lives is very poorly done. Psychology Today lists some of the most common errors:

Is your gym locker room crawling with drug-resistant bacteria? Is the guy with the bulging backpack a suicide bomber? And what about that innocent-looking arugula: Will pesticide residue cause cancer, or do the leaves themselves harbor E. coli? But wait! Not eating enough vegetables is also potentially deadly.

These days, it seems like everything is risky, and worry itself is bad for your health. The more we learn, the less we seem to know—and if anything makes us anxious, it’s uncertainty. At the same time, we’re living longer, healthier lives. So why does it feel like even the lettuce is out to get us?

The human brain is exquisitely adapted to respond to risk—uncertainty about the outcome of actions. Faced with a precipice or a predator, the brain is biased to make certain decisions. Our biases reflect the choices that kept our ancestors alive. But we have yet to evolve similarly effective responses to statistics, media coverage, and fear-mongering politicians. For most of human existence, 24-hour news channels didn’t exist, so we don’t have cognitive shortcuts to deal with novel uncertainties.

Still, uncertainty unbalances us, pitching us into anxiety and producing an array of cognitive distortions. Even minor dilemmas like deciding whether to get a cell phone (brain cancer vs. dying on the road because you can’t call for help?) can be intolerable for some people. And though emotions are themselves critical to making rational decisions, they were designed for a world in which dangers took the form of predators, not pollutants. Our emotions push us to make snap judgments that once were sensible—but may not be anymore.

I. We Fear Snakes, Not Cars
Risk and emotion are inseparable.

Fear feels like anything but a cool and detached computation of the odds. But that’s precisely what it is, a lightning-fast risk assessment performed by your reptilian brain, which is ever on the lookout for danger. The amygdala flags perceptions, sends out an alarm message, and—before you have a chance to think—your system gets flooded with adrenaline. “This is the way our ancestors evaluated risk before we had statistics,” says Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research. Emotions are decision-making shortcuts.

As a result of these evolved emotional algorithms, ancient threats like spiders and snakes cause fear out of proportion to the real danger they pose, while experiences that should frighten us—like fast driving—don’t. Dangers like speedy motorized vehicles are newcomers on the landscape of life. The instinctive response to being approached rapidly is to freeze. In the ancestral environment, this reduced a predator’s ability to see you—but that doesn’t help when what’s speeding toward you is a car.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with

Wordplay

leave a comment »

Via email:

In case you missed it. Here is the Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting lucky
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee! intravenously when you are running late.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
12. Karmageddon: It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it’s a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. coffee, n. the person upon whom one coughs.
2. flabbergasted, adj. appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3. abdicate, v. to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. esplanade, v. to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. willy-nilly, adj. impotent.
6. negligent, adj. absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
7. lymph, v. to walk with a lisp.
8. gargoyle, n. olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. flatulence, n. emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
10. balderdash, n. a rapidly receding hairline.
11. testicle, n. a humorous question on an exam.
12. rectitude, n. the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. pokemon, n. a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. oyster, n. a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism, n. the belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. circumvent, n. an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:54 am

Posted in Daily life

The sort of people we get

with one comment

Yet another example:

James Glassman, the nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, probably won’t have much of an impact on how the United States presents itself to the rest of the world.

For one thing, he’ll only have 11 months in the post. For another — as his predecessor Karen Hughes proved — putting shinier lipstick on the pig of U.S. foreign policy doesn’t do much to assuage widespread anti-American sentiment. Still, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee‘s January 30 hearing on Glassman’s nomination provided some insight into Washington’s evolving view of public diplomacy.

In his prepared opening statement (PDF), Glassman echoed some popular State Department talking points:

The war against Al Qaeda and other extremist threats to peace, freedom, and justice is not only military. It is a war of ideas. …

Exchanges are the crown jewels of public diplomacy. … The truth is that ordinary Americans are superb citizen ambassadors. … The problem is that the vast majority of people in the world have never met an American. …

Never, in my view, should global public opinion polls determine the foreign policy of the United States. Can we do a better job of explaining our policies? Yes. Will those policies be universally embraced? No.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Glassman’s testimony was his emphasis on the Internet:

How do we get the rest of the world to know about these [exchange] programs … let’s say, electronically come into contact with more Americans? … One of the things that I want to try to do, especially in concert with [Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs nominee] Goli [Ameri], because both of us have a background in telecommunications and Internet, is to amplify what we’re doing. …

I got an impressive demonstration of this the other day, the Digital Outreach Team, which is now I believe eight or nine people who are blogging, identifying themselves as U.S. government representatives. But they’re on blogs, they’re on websites, Arabic language, Farsi, Persian and Urdu, and … trying to get the facts out. …

A lot of the new [public diplomacy] tools have to be through high technology. … Our enemies are … eating our lunch, when it comes to getting their word out on the Internet. But we are coming back. And we are coming back forcefully. The Digital Outreach Team that I talked about earlier. We are, as far as we can tell, the only government that’s actually participating in blogging, in going online and saying ‘Here’s the truth about it.’ We’re pushing back. We need to do that more and more. … We’re using more and more of the tools that exist on the Internet to get our word across. And that will be a major focus of my attention, if I’m confirmed.

Glassman’s remarks bring to mind his integral role in Tech Central Station (TCS), a corporate-sponsored news and opinion website set up by the Republican lobbying firm DCI Group. TCS has helped ExxonMobil pooh-pooh global warming, McDonald’s slam the movie “Super Size Me,” and the pharmaceutical industry oppose imported drugs — all while giving the appearance of independent support for its sponsors’s agenda.

From a Tech Central Station video news release: “James Glassman and TCS have given birth to something quite new in Washington: journo-lobbying,” wrote Washington Monthly‘s Nicholas Confessore in 2003. TCS helps its sponsors, many of whom are also DCI Group clients, “dominate the entire intellectual environment in which officials make policy decisions,” according to Confessore. Glassman’s willingness to associate his name and journalistic past — which includes serving as the editor of Roll Call and writing a financial column for the Washington Post — with a journo-lobbying venture was key to TCS’s success.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:36 am

Language as a spherical cow

leave a comment »

Intriguing:

Part of Noam Chomsky’s famous revolution in linguistics (and cognitive science more broadly) was to focus on linguistic competency rather than performance. People stutter, use the wrong word, forget what they planned to say, change ideas mid-sentence and occasionally make grammatical errors. Chomsky focused not on what people do say, but on what they would say without any such slip-ups.*This certainly simplified the study of language, but one has to wonder what this spherical cow leaves out. Economists similarly made great strides by assuming all people are perfectly rational, think on the margin, and have full access to all necessary information free of cost. However, any theory based on these clearly false premises is limited in its explanatory power.

Speech errors carry information. This was brought home to me by a recent email I received which began, “Er, yes.” If filler words carried no information, why transcribe them? (Lancelot once asked a similar question.) However, people clearly do. A quick Google search found over seven million hits for “uhhh” and over twenty-one million hits for “ummm.” These include quotes like “Ummm… Go Twins?” and “Uhhh… What did she just say?”

These two quotes are suggestive, but I don’t know if all transcription of filler words and other speech errors can be explained as a single phenomenon. I did hear of one study where listeners normally assume that if someone pauses and appears to have difficulty finding a particular word, the listeners assume the word is low-frequency. However, listeners drop this assumption if they believe the speaker has a neurological impairment that affects speech.

I expect that many phenomena dismissed as “performance” rather than “competence” are in fact important in communication. Whether one believes that communication should be part of any theory of language is debated (Chomsky seems to think language has nothing to do with communication).

* This part of linguistics is still very influential in psychology. I’m not sufficiently current in linguistics to say whether most linguists still do research this way.

UPDATE:
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Cool new design for wind turbines

with 4 comments

In computers, the traditional advance is “faster, better, cheaper,” and it looks as though that might apply as well to wind turbines:

Turbines

FloDesign’s unique mixer/ejector technology and fluid machinery expertise was used to develop and patent a novel machine concept for more effectively converting wind energy into usable power. The new concept is called a Mixer/Ejector Wind Turbine (MEWT).

For a given wind velocity, a MEWT having a maximum diameter 50% smaller than an existing 3-Bladed Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT) can potentially generate over 50% more power, and can potentially cost 25-35% less than the same HAWT. The FloDesign Wind Turbine Corporation was initiated to develop such wind turbines in Western Massachusetts. It has an exclusive license from FloDesign to fabricate and market the MEWT concept.

The MEWT system uses cambered ringed airfoils (shrouds) and an efficient mixer/ejector pump to draw in more wind flow through the machine. A stator-rotor turbine cascade design is used to more effectively extract energy from the flow. This new cascade concept allows smaller, more durable rotor blades that can withstand high wind gusts and turbulence.

Furthermore, the low inertia, smaller rotor blades spin faster and provide more energy extraction at both lower and higher wind speeds. The shrouded blades and higher rotor speeds also reduce gear box complexity and result in quieter, safer wind turbines.

A stator-rotor turbine cascade design is used to more effectively extract energy from the flow. For a given wind velocity, a MEWT having a maximum diameter 50% smaller than an existing 3-Bladed HAWT can potentially generate over 50% more power, and can potentially cost 25-35% less than the same HAWT.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:22 am

Autism spectrum and thin bones

leave a comment »

This is disturbing news:

Results of an early study suggest that dairy-free diets and unconventional food preferences could put boys with autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at higher than normal risk for thinner, less dense bones when compared to a group of boys the same age who do not have autism.

The study, by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, was published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The researchers believe that boys with autism and ASD are at risk for poor bone development for a number of reasons. These factors are lack of exercise, a reluctance to eat a varied diet, lack of vitamin D, digestive problems, and diets that exclude casein, a protein found in milk and milk products. Dairy products provide a significant source of calcium and vitamin D. Casein-free diets are a controversial treatment thought by some to lessen the symptoms of autism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Why the wait?

leave a comment »

Bad work by Bush Administration:

Today we released a new report showing that despite a law requiring manufacturers to provide the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with “immediate” notification of dangerous products, there are long delays before the public learns of dangerous, defective products.

The study, Hazardous Waits: CPSC Lets Crucial Time Pass Before Warning Public About Dangerous Products, covers 46 cases since 2002 in which the CPSC fined manufacturers for failing to adhere to the law requiring prompt reporting.  In addition, companies fined for tardy reporting took an average of 993 days – 2.7 years – between learning of a safety defect in their products and notifying the CPSC.

Perhaps as shocking, the CPSC then took an average of 209 additional days before disclosing the information to the public – even though each case concerned a product defect so dangerous that the item was recalled.  Under current law, the CPSC cannot disclose information about dangerous products without court approval or manufacturer agreement.

Among Public Citizen’s findings:

  • Graco waited 11 years to report its faulty infant swing, which was linked to reports of 181 falls that resulted in six deaths and nine serious injuries, including bone fractures and concussions. Graco made the report only after CPSC staff contacted the company.
  • Hoover waited five years to report a vacuum cleaner with a faulty switch that had caused at least 96 fires. The CPSC then took another 279 days before negotiating a recall and informing the public.
  • By February 2000, Polaris Industries had received 1,147 reports of faulty oil lines on its ATV, including 42 instances where the hot oil started a fire and 18 cases in which the oil seriously burned a rider.  But the company didn’t report the defect to the CPSC for another year.

It’s time to change the law to give the CPSC the authority to truly protect consumers.  Read the study and more about the problems with the CPSC.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 10:14 am

More on ultracapacitors and electric cars

with 3 comments

Good news:

Put the pedal to the metal in the XH-150—a souped-up Saturn Vue—and watch the instruments. Sure enough, the speedometer shoots up in a satisfactory way. But an adjacent dial shows something else: the amount of charge in the car’s capacitors is decreasing. Ease off the accelerator and as the speedo winds down the capacitors charge up again.

Such a capacitor gauge could become a common sight on the dashboards of the future. A capacitor can discharge and recharge far faster than a battery, making it ideal both for generating bursts of speed and for soaking up the energy collected by regenerative braking. AFS Trinity, a company based in Washington state, has turned that insight into a piece of equipment that it has fitted into an otherwise standard production model as an experiment. The result—the XH-150—was unveiled at this year’s Detroit motor show.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2008 at 9:58 am

%d bloggers like this: