Later On

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

Archive for March 21st, 2010

Oh, yum! The Mediterranean

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Take a look. (Beware of drooling.)

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Looks like Healthcare Reform is a done deal

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Stupak and his block are satisfied with Obama’s Executive Order re: abortion. Vote count is now 220 in favor, with 216 needed for passage.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 1:42 pm

I don’t think I could serve in Congress

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I know that this will quash any "Draft Leisureguy" initiatives, but as I watch today’s debate, I see clearly that I wouldn’t do well in Congress. The necessity to listen to dilatory, incoherent, stupid arguments (which are appearing in profusion from the GOP side) would drive me crazy.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Congress

First owl chick emerging

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Take a look.

UPDATE: The comments in the social streams are often repellent. If you create an account and sign in, you can see comments in the “Chat” column, which are much better.

UPDATE: So many viewers it crashed. It’s back up at this location. One chick (“Max”) is fully hatched.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 11:48 am

Posted in Daily life

‘Cold fusion’ moves closer to mainstream acceptance

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A potential new energy source so controversial that people once regarded it as junk science is moving closer to acceptance by the mainstream scientific community. That’s the conclusion of the organizer of one of the largest scientific sessions on the topic — "cold fusion" — being held here for the next two days in the Moscone Center during the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). "Years ago, many scientists were afraid to speak about ‘cold fusion’ to a mainstream audience," said Jan Marwan, Ph.D., the internationally known expert who organized the symposium. Marwan heads the research firm, Dr. Marwan Chemie in Berlin, Germany. Entitled "New Energy Technology," the symposium will include nearly 50 presentations describing the latest discoveries on the topic.

The presentations describe invention of an inexpensive new measuring device that could enable more labs to begin cold fusion research; indications that cold fusion may occur naturally in certain bacteria; progress toward a battery based on cold fusion; and a range of other topics. Marwan noted that many of the presentations suggest that cold fusion is real, with a potential to contribute to energy supplies in the 21st Century.

"Now most of the scientists are no longer afraid and most of the cold fusion researchers are attracted to the ACS meeting," Marwan said. "I’ve also noticed that the field is gaining new researchers from universities that had previously not pursued cold fusion research. More and more people are becoming interested in it. There’s still some resistance to this field. But we just have to keep on as we have done so far, exploring cold fusion step by step, and that will make it a successful alternative energy source. With time and patience, I’m really optimistic we can do this!"

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 10:36 am

Posted in Science

The personality of the workaholic and the issue of "self"

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Interesting post by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination:

A study published this month explored the personality of workaholics. Of interest was the relation of narcissism and workaholism. That grandiose sense of self-importance that seems to be present in epidemic proportions in our society is related to the worst aspects of workaholism, so was perfectionism. I think these results reveal something interesting about the "self."

In the latest issue of Personality and Individual Differences, Malissa Clark, Ariel Lelchook and Marcie Taylor (Wayne State University) published a study on the relation of various personality traits with workaholism. Although my "pet subject" is procrastination (those people who just can’t seem to get to a task), I’m also interested in those of us who can’t seem to let go of work tasks. These "workaholics" are people who work to the exclusion of other life activities, are consumed with thoughts and feelings about work and often do more than is expected at work. Certainly, their lives are not models of "balance."

What caught my attention about this study is the focus on individual differences or personality traits that are related to workaholism. I’m particularly fascinated by the negative influences of narcissism and perfectionism in our lives, as these are traits that seem to be celebrated in many ways in modern American culture. For example, many cultural heroes of popular TV shows, particularly those shows that portray the lives of doctors, lawyers and successful business people, are hard-driving individuals who seem to have no life other than work. What each shares is a grandiose sense of his or her own self-importance that is central to the definition of narcissism.

In their study, Clark and her colleagues analyzed data from a sample of 322 working students, the majority of whom were female (73%), Caucasian (51%) or African American (27%) with an average age of 24 years and who, in addition to their studies, worked 36 hours a week on average. These participants completed self-report measures of the Big Five Personality Traits (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness), as well as measures of Narcissism, Workaholism, Perfectionism and their tendency to experience positive and negative emotions.

The Results
There were a number of interesting findings in this study. As expected, most of the Big Five traits were related to workaholism: Neuroticism (emotional instability) positively to all aspects of workaholism, Conscientiousness negatively to the impatience component of workaholism, Agreeableness negatively to the compulsion to work, and Openness to experience was positively related to the polychronic control (multi-tasking) component of workaholism.

In terms of the other traits they measured, they found that: ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 10:32 am

Randomness and God

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Very good post by Jonathan Lehrer:

The world is a confusing place. Correlation looks like causation; the signal sounds like the noise; randomness is everywhere. This raises the obvious question: How does the human brain cope with such an epistemic mess? How do we deal with the helter-skelter of reality? One approach would be to ground all of our beliefs in modesty and uncertainty, to recognize that we know so little and understand even less.

Needless to say, that’s not what we do. Instead of grappling with the problem of induction, we believe in God. Instead of applying Bayesian logic, we slip into rigid ideologies, which lead us to neglect all sorts of salient facts.

A new paper by psychologists at the University of Waterloo explores the connection between the presence of randomness and our belief in the supernatural. (The existence of God is the ultimate refutation of randomness, unless God throws dice.) The scientists argue that we abhor randomness so much that when confronted with it – when we’re reminded that nothing makes very much sense – we become more likely to subscribe to "spiritual control," or the belief that everything is caused by an invisible hand.

The study was simple: 37 undergraduates were told they were participating in an experiment concerning "effects of an herbal supplement on color perception." Upon arrival, participants read a brochure about the product. Half of the subjects were informed that, according to federal testing, the supplement has no side effects, and half were told that it has a single side effect, "mild arousal or anxiety." Participants then swallowed a pill that supposedly contained the supplement (but actually contained inert microcrystalline cellulose).

While "waiting for the compound to metabolize," participants completed a questionnaire that was supposedly unrelated to the experiment. Here is where the priming occurred: subjects were told to unscramble a variety of word sets. For half the participants, eight words in these sets were related to randomness, such as "chance," "random" and "chaotic". For the other half, these randomness primes were replaced with negatively valenced control words, such as "poorly," "slimy" and "injuries".

Finally, the subjects were quizzed about their religious beliefs. Did they think that that the universe is controlled by a God or a similar nonhuman entity? Is there a supernatural order, such as karma, that dictates the outcome of events? Does life unfold according to a master plan? Interestingly, "the randomness primes led to significantly stronger beliefs in the existence of supernatural sources of control than the negativity primes did." However, this effect disappeared in the group of subjects that were told about the side-effects of the herbal supplement, as they probably assumed that their mild anxiety wasn’t about randomness – it was just a chemical hiccup.

The scientists summarize their results thusly:

These data suggest that belief in supernatural sources of control, such as God and karma, may function, in part, to defend against distress associated with randomness, even when the perception of randomness is not related to traumatic events.

Personally, I’m less convinced by the theological implications of the experiment than I am by the larger relationship between randomness primes and the search for patterns. (Religion is a vast, sprawling subject – it isn’t going to be solved by a clever study involving 37 teenagers. People believe in God for an infinitude of reasons; as William James reminds us, one can only talk about religious experiences in the plural, for there are so many different kinds.)

What this study really reminds me of is the stock market…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Interesting: Evidence that Ivins did not act alone in anthrax attacks

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Of course, the FBI assures us that they are competent and did a great job, now move along, will you? Nothing to see. But take a look at this:

In "Silicon Analysis of Anthrax Attack Spores: New Answers Leave More Questions Unanswered", I referred to data recently published in Science, where it was found that the anthrax spores used in the attacks of 2001 contained an unexpectedly high concentration of silicon inside them, as a component of the internal spore coat. I also discussed data from a paper by researchers in Japan who demonstrated that they could produce spores with high silicon content using a closely related bacterium by culturing the bacteria in medium containing high concentrations of silicates.

I am deeply indebted to commenter behindthefall (see this comment as just one in the series) in the comments section of the diary linked above for continuing to ask why someone would put a high concentration of silicates in the growth medium. Those persistent "why?" questions kept coming at me, and I finally extended my thinking from just the narrow question of silicates in the medium to think more broadly about any material containing the element silicon which could somehow wind up in the spores. That took me directly to materials called antifoam agents.

Before getting to the silicon content of popular antifoam agents, a brief digression to explain foaming in microbial cultures is necessary. When microbial fermentation is carried out in large fermenters as opposed to small shake flasks, it is common practice to add agents generally classed as antifoams. Microbial growth rate in liquid medium is often limited by the rate of oxygen transfer into the medium. In shake flasks, the flask is filled below the half-way mark and oxygen is supplied simply by swirling the flask with it attached to a moving platform. Oxygen transfer occurs at the liquid-air interface and keeping the liquid circulating in this way allows oxygen to achieve a sufficient concentration in the liquid to support growth. In larger fermenters, on the other hand, the liquid is much "deeper" and so must be both stirred with a mechanical stirrer and aerated through the use of forced air generally introduced at the bottom of the tank, similar to the air pumps commonly used in aquariums.

To appreciate the foam problem that forced aeration induces, consider two different glasses containing a carbonated soft drink. First, consider a highball glass (for you non-drinkers a highball glass ironically has a low profile, just taller than the height of an adult hand and with a similar diameter) filled less than halfway. Swirling this glass gently by hand isn’t going to cause much trouble for containing the liquid. That is the situation seen in shake flask cultures. Now consider a much taller glass tumbler with a narrow diameter and filled to about the three-quarters mark. Imagine that the soft drink is being stirred by a small propeller and you then insert a straw to the bottom of the glass and blow. That is the foamy mess encountered in large fermenters if steps are not taken to control foam.

Antifoam agents work to reduce the surface tension on bubbles, collapsing them.

Although there are multiple types of antifoam agents employed in microbial fermentation, silicone based antifoams are among the most popular. My favorite antifoam agent of all time is Dow Corning Antifoam M (pdf) because in addition to its use in fermentation, it also is used as an antiflatulent

Continue reading. The conclusion:

… The alternative explanation to Ivins growing 36 two liter cultures is one fermenter run of approximately 70 liters or more. Note that the FBI investigative summary informs us that Dugway was engaged for the 1997 work precisely because Ivins did not have access to large scale culture equipment. The fact that the RMR-1029 spores themselves did not have a high silicon content could be explained by the use an antifoam agent that did not have silica present for those particular fermenter runs at Dugway, since silica is not uniformly found in all antifoam agents. However, the presence of high silicon in the attack spores strongly suggests that they could have been grown in the presence of an antifoam agent that did contain silica. If Ivins had grown the spores in his shake flask equipment, he would have had no reason to include any sort of antifoam agent, much less one containing silica, because antifoam is just not used in shake flasks. It also seems unlikely that Ivins would have changed his culture process to produce the attack material. If he did not introduce silicon in his early shake flask cultures (and we know he didn’t from the silicon analysis of the RMR-1029 material), it seems unlikely he would have done so with shake flasks for the attack material.

Note also from the Science report that the only other elevated (but not as high as the attack spores) silicon content spores analyzed came from Dugway, where we know that fermenters are available.

In conclusion, the finding of high silicon in the spores used in the anthrax attacks suggests that these spores were grown in a large fermenter that used an antifoam agent containing silica. Since Bruce Ivins did not have access to a large fermenter, fermenter growth would suggest that he could not have acted alone in the attacks.

This hypothesis could be tested easily in a series of experiments where B. anthracis or B. cereus is grown in media with a range of concentrations of antifoam agents with and without silica present in them. followed by analysis of the silica content of the spores. From an investigation standpoint, it would not be difficult to determine if Ivins or someone in his laboratory ever purchased an antifoam agent containing silica that could have inexplicably been used in shake flasks.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 10:23 am

Interesting Pacific Grove tree

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About half a block off Lighthouse:

Click to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

Miss Megs around the apartment

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Miss Megs dumpster diving:

Miss Megs, after being caught and chastised, tries to look “Who, me?”

Miss Megs taking a nap in another of her townhouses:

As always, click image to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 9:54 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Remember that tip on growing moss? Now make a moss table.

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Take a look. (Tip: Take a handful of moss, blend it with 1 cup of buttermilk, and paint the sludge where you want the moss to grow.)

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 8:20 am

Posted in Daily life

Revisiting kibble

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Looking back, when Megs had a 24/7 kibble buffet, things were quite routine in the apartment, and routine is something we both enjoy, Megs and I. With a diet of strictly canned food, the dynamic changed considerably. She began to feel dependent on me for her food (the kibble was just there, and had little to do with me), and I began to feel that she was pestering me for food—especially in the middle of the night, with pat, pat, pat on my face.

So I’ve had to lock her out of my bedroom, which really is not something either of us wants. If she has ready access to food, she visits me to sleep on me or to get some petting, but she is not insistent that I get up.

So some changes are going to be made. She’ll continue to get canned food twice a day, but she’ll also have access to kibble whenever she wants. I’ll pick up the kibble (Innova Evo, a very good kibble) today, and we’ll see how that goes.

Live and learn.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 7:57 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Food, Megs

Wise choices in conditions of uncertainty and risk

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Jeff Huggins at ClimateProgress:

Imagine that you are a parent of a young and energetic child.

You and your child are on a walk, in a park, on a warm summer day.

On your journey, you come across a large pond or small lake.  It looks natural and inviting.  It seems clean, although you can’t actually see the bottom because of the water’s rich colors, slight silt content, and the glare of the sun’s reflection.  In short: a natural and fresh pond, of uncertain depth.

Now, your child is eager to cool off and have fun.  She can swim well enough to keep afloat safely.  But, she hasn’t developed that sort of wisdom that will certainly arrive as she enters her pre-teen years—you hope.

As it happens, there’s a short ledge overlooking the pond, and your child wants to dive into the water, head first, from the ledge.

The water looks refreshing.  Your child can swim well enough.  You certainly don’t want to be a mean, closed-minded, over-controlling parent.  The ledge is not all that high.  The only problem is, the water’s depth is very much uncertain.  At the spot in question, the water could be eight feet deep—plenty for a safe dive, under the circumstances.  Or, it might only be two feet deep.  In that case, if she dives, your child could end up with a broken neck, strained back, or sharp twig in her eye.

Your child wants to dive.  What do you do?

This is a matter, of course, of making an important choice under conditions of uncertainty and risk.  We humans face similar choices throughout our lives.

Clearly, you don’t—or at least shouldn’t—need to be a philosopher, ethicist, Olympic diving champion, saint, PhD from MIT, Democrat, Republican, or Tea Partier, let alone an economist, to consider the situation and figure out a wise path forward.  Please also note that my description of the situation didn’t have to appeal to any unique philosophical considerations or to terms familiar only to practicing limnologists.

Think about it.

Nevertheless, it often helps to hear from people who do think about such things based on a more careful examination of the likely facts and relevant considerations.  To that end, I’ll quickly mention three examples.

In his great guest post in early February (Feb. 9) titled “Ten reasons why examining climate change policy through an ethical lens is a practical imperative,” Donald A. Brown, Associate Professor for environmental ethics, science, and law at Penn State, wrote: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 7:46 am

Pope’s apology to Ireland: Too little, too late

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Henry McDonald in the Guardian:

Along Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, shoppers appeared unimpressed by the pope’s letter to the republic’s four million Catholics.

Adrienne Kelly, on a day out from Co Meath, said the papal letter of apology had come too late. "The damage is already done," she said. "There doesn’t seem to be any way back for the church now after all the scandal and the abuse. It’s very sad, but people are very angry over what has been done to children in this country by so-called men of God. You just cannot make all this scandal go away in one letter."

Maureen Murphy from Killmainham in Dublin said she did not think the pope’s intervention would make much difference. "It must be terrible for older people in Ireland who love their church to hear all this. But younger people don’t listen any longer to the hierarchy. They are spiritual in their own way and don’t want to be told what to do. It’s also a shame for all the really good holy men still in the church who have done no wrong. It would be unfair to tar them all with the same brush. But this letter won’t change things now. There has been too much scandal, too much horrible stuff."

Along O’Connell Street and nearby Talbot Street no one spoke up in favour of Cardinal Seán Brady remaining in his post after the revelation that he knew about child victims being forced to sign oaths of silence for the church. Nor did they believe the letter would halt the decline of the Catholic church in Ireland.

But an exception was to be found in the form of a small group of elderly men and women outside Dublin’s Catholic procathedral in nearby Marlborough Street. One woman, Maura Kennedy, said she was "heartened" by the pope’s concern for victims of abuse in Ireland.

"The holy father has called for justice in his letter and I think everyone will listen to that. I think that means the abusers can’t hide from the law any more. That is a good thing not only for Ireland but for Catholics everywhere," she said.

Asked whether Cardinal Brady should resign, Kennedy added: "The cardinal is a good man and deserves time and space to do what he thinks is right, but personally I believe he should stay."

At the tram stop in Middle Abbey Street a group of teenagers from Co Kildare clad in green, white and gold, in Dublin for yesterday’s rugby international between Ireland and Scotland, said that while they believed in God they did not have any faith left in the church hierarchy.

Brian Dillon, 19, said: "No one listens to the church authorities among our generation. After all that has gone on with all the abuse and the paedophile priests, why would we?"

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 6:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

The Cheneys

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Via Ed Brayton’s blog:

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 6:46 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Superb column by Maureen Dowd

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I almost always think little of what Ms. Dowd writes, but today she hits one out of the park:

Angry nuns have been calling Congressman Bart Stupak’s office to complain about his dismissive comments on their bravura decision to make a literal Hail Mary pass, break with Catholic bishops and endorse the health care bill.

As a Catholic schoolboy, the Michigan Democrat had his share of nuns who rapped his knuckles when he misbehaved, like the time he crashed a kickball through the school window.

So, of course, he’s having some acid flashbacks, but he told me, “They’re not printable even in The New York Times.”

Like that other troublemaking Bart (Simpson), Stupak, who wants to kill the health care bill because he thinks the language on abortion funding is not restrictive enough, should have to write on the blackboard a hundred times: “I will listen closely when the nuns tell me I am wrong. I will not be an obstinate lawmaker.”

Stupak got in hot holy water when he told Fox News, “When I’m drafting right-to-life language, I don’t call up nuns.” He followed that with more scorn for sisters, telling Chris Matthews that the nuns were not influential because they rarely try to influence — which makes no sense — and because “they’re not the recognized spokesperson for the Catholic Church.” He listens to the bishops, he said, and antiabortion groups.

We might have to bang Bart’s head into a blackboard a few times before he realizes that in a moral tug-of-war between the sisters and the bishops, you have to go with the gals.

The nuns are giving the Democrats cover. As Bob Casey, an abortion opponent who helped negotiate the abortion language in the Senate bill, observed, quoting Scripture: “They care for ‘the least, the last and the lost.’ And they know health care.”

On Friday, Tim Ryan, an antiabortion Democrat from Ohio, took to the House floor to say he had been influenced by the nuns to vote for the bill.

“You say this is pro-abortion,” he said to Republicans, and yet “you have 59,000 Catholic nuns from across the country endorsing this bill, 600 Catholic hospitals, 1,400 Catholic nursing homes endorsing this bill.”

For decades, the nuns did the bidding of the priests, cleaned up their messes, and watched as their male superiors let a perverted stain spread over the entire church, a stain that has now even reached the Holy See…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2010 at 6:23 am

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