Divided we fall

As I was letting my mind wander I cam to ponder the current dynamics of the political divide in the US. Many have observed how strong identity politics is in creating the atmosphere of “us vs them”. But I didn’t think that should override the unity of being “Americans” and working together for the betterment of the US. After all, US politics have been a turmoil of different parties since there have been US politics. Then something occurred to me. Conservatives are regularly told by their leaders that they are the “real Americans” or the “true America”, implicating (and sometimes explicating) that their political counterparts aren’t really “American”. The unity of the US as being “Americans” is then undermined. It would be an interesting thesis to research the history and effect of this specific tactic on the dynamics that are currently at play. Knowing how things go, someone probably already has.

Failed Cicumstance.

I have no desire to rehash all that has happened in Ferguson, MO. Nor get into the larger trends of racism, police militarization, authoritarianism, etc that are relevant. By in large it is a sad failure of modern society. But the thing that just puzzles me at the moment is the narrative of the shooting that is apparently being used as Wilson’s version. A struggle for the gun then Michael gets away, turns and starts to charge. At best it paints Wilson as incompetent, worse as callous too. This is someone who was on the police force for 6 years? It doesn’t speak well of the police force there.

Melting Ice

Melting ice can be used for a physics/chemistry demonstration of buffered systems and the energy of state change. A heat source is applied to a container of ice water that is being stirred and the temperature is recorded as the ice melts until the all is melted and the water has reached whatever temperature the heat source is taking it to. Sometimes the water is taken to boiling. Ideally, the result should be that the temperature stays at 0 C until all the ice is melted and then it rises at a rate dependent upon the heat source. Realistically the measurement of the temperature will vary depending on where the thermometer is reading and how well the ice water is being kept homogenous. But the basics concept will be the same. The ice in the water will buffer the temperature by soaking up the heat energy for a state change to liquid. Once the ice is gone however, the temperature of the water rises unimpeded and possibly quite quickly if the heat source is strong.

I think of this demonstration whenever something about global warming comes up. Our ice is melting. Climate change is some complicated stuff. The earth is big and complex. But our ice is melting. The ice isn’t the only buffer. But it is a buffer, until it has melted. 50 years? 100 years? I don’t envy the people who will have to live through that, nor the people who will die because of that. And it is avoidable. But humanity can’t process it. Maybe it isn’t on a time scale we seem to be able to collectively understand. Or perhaps too many people just don’t care about future generations. Sadly it wouldn’t be very difficult to turn things around if there was collective will to do so. It would mean giving up a lot of luxury and conditioned comforts, but doable. Having fewer children, using wind/solar/tidal/hydro energy, traveling less, eating less meat, reforestation. In general, being more efficient, creating less waste, conserving more. Individual actions help, but collective action is needed.

Bad beef

Not sure how much to be concerned about mad cow disease in the US.  The article is a little scare mongery and doesn’t seem to have an entirely accurate grasp on prions.  However, it does seem like the US isn’t investigating and regulating beef to sufficiently insure it is safe of contamination from mad cow.  This is par the course for regulation in general for food from what I gather.  However vCJD is a bit worse than most other things one has to worry about with food these days.   I think if mad cow were to become a real problem regulators would be able to control it, but it isn’t clear they’d be able to before-hand.  Regardless it seems like it is another point in favor of grass-fed, non-factory farmed beef.

Evil seat belts!

Who knew they were so dangerous!



Passing Turing

A lot of hoopla is being made about the supposed passing of the Turing test.  Supposed because it passed a particular test set up, which may or may not have been an adequate simulation of Turing’s abstract test.  Then there is the question of whether passing is actually an indicator of any real intelligence or thinking.  Regardless, this is a milestone of sorts, though we’ll have to see if it is repeatable now.

Personally, I think a properly rigorous version of the Turing Test would be a good test for intelligence, but I doubt this was rigorous enough.  From previous transcripts of when judges were fooled I could see how in some cases they might be if the actual human wasn’t cooperative.  I wasn’t able to find transcripts between the judge and the human confederate for recent tests to see how they compare.  However, to be an adequate test, the humans would have to be cooperative.  If they are trying to fool the judge too, then it is more of measure of the human than the computer.  The depth of the depth and nature of some of the interactions also seem to be too limited.  The 5 minutes does come from Turing, but I don’t think he was envisioning roughly 1 simple exchange per minute.  I certainly don’t think that is sufficient interaction.  Perhaps when the transcripts to this test are released we’ll see something different though.

The limited interactions of this set up of the tests allows programmers to write programs to fool the judges instead of programs to exhibit intelligence.  In this case it was to pose the program as someone who could not communicate intelligently.  While this is a clever tactic to “winning” it doesn’t meet the purpose of the test.  With more depth a judge would be able to dig enough to make the distinction between an entity that didn’t communicate intelligently because of cultural/language/etc barriers and an entity that wasn’t capable of intelligence.

What’s the difference?

The mass shooting(s) and open carry demonstrations have me wondering what is the difference between the people who choose one vs the other.  In the end both are trying to empower themselves.  Both seem to have irrational fears and hatreds.  Is there a difference in kind or is it just a difference in degree?  I don’t know.  I suspect it is the ameliorating and exacerbating factors.  What does the person have to live for?  What avenues can they expect will actually let them feel powerful?  How can they actually conquer those they fear and/or hate?  The murderers seem desperate, as if they think they have no other reasonable route to achieve the power they crave.  The open carriers however don’t seem to be at the point.  They are otherwise happy suburbanites, simply malcontent that they aren’t cowboys and worshiped for it.  But how far will they go if simply carrying a big gun around doesn’t get them what they want?  What if the looks of fear and disgust no longer give them their fix?  What happens when they realize that a lot of that disgust is people thinking they are pathetic losers?  I hope nothing happens and am sure the vast majority of these people wouldn’t decide to assuage their insecurities by killing a lot of people.  But if even one does, that’s one too many.

Moving on before having moved on

The CIA is no longer going to use vaccination programs as cover for operations, so they say.  However, the statement from Aziz Memon amused me for the irony of how he describes the situation and made me start thinking about how people (meaning me, but probably other people too) move on with their lives after some outrage but will respond anew when reminded.  Without satisfactory closure what else can one do though?  Obsess.  Some people do that, but I don’t think it is usual.  But why does the reminder derail us if we’ve for all practical purposes moved on?  Psychologically I don’t think it is hard to understand.  Emotions are good at building strong neural connections.  Trigger the memory, trigger the emotion.  This also works for positive memories.  But why?  I can understand why building memories more strongly around emotion could help us with danger avoidance, but what about the other situations?  Or are those other situations just a side effect of the usefulness from danger avoidance?

Playing with fire(arms)

An 11 year old was shot in the head by an uncle. This type of “accident” is inexcusable. Guns are tools of death and destruction. That’s not a bad thing. That they are treated as toys instead is a bad thing. That they are treated as magical talismans of protection and virility is a bad thing.
I’m not an advocate of complete banning of guns, though at this point I can’t muster any objection. I have a very “this is why we can’t have nice things” mentality. Reasonable regulation might drastically reduce the irresponsibility and damage from people using guns. However, with the current culture around guns I suspect that even if such laws were passed, they wouldn’t be enforceable. Of course an out right ban is even less feasible. Another problem that won’t be solved because those that could solve it have no interest in doing so because they think they are immune from it or even profit from it.

MERS in the US

According to NPR.  If I heard correctly it is a man that returned from Saudi that is infected.  I bet he’s not liking the attention he’s getting at the moment.