Monday, 31 October 2016

mutual incomprehension

This article explains a lot.
And amid all the talk of red lines and not revealing your hand, there is ongoing speculation about how to interpret the signals coming out of Berlin. 
In fact, it's all quite simple. Merkel means what she says. And German politicians are getting increasingly frustrated by London not seeming to understand this.
And for translation in the other direction, see this chart.

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Sunday, 30 October 2016

Stepford mice

Just think about what it would mean if a human experiment were comparable to a mouse experiment. We would be using a population of nothing but 42-year-old white males that live in identical ranch homes in some small town somewhere with identical diets, identical wives, identical children, identical furniture; they eat the same thing every day for every meal, the thermostat is locked, and the gardener is an extremely scary-looking Tyrannosaurus rex that pulls the roof off their house once a week and destroys their Facebook account and all of their social information.
These are Stepford mice! It’s the only field of biology or psychology where we don’t recognise that variation is what makes us special, what makes us interesting – and what makes us ill.
It’s little use manipulating animals, by genetic engineering or otherwise, so that they simulate the symptoms of conditions they don’t really have.

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Saturday, 29 October 2016

TV review: Childhood's End, mini-series

Alien Overlords arrive at Earth, and impose an era peace and prosperity. But at what cost? Why do they stay hidden? And why does everyone start wearing blue pastel clothing?

This three part Syfy mini-series is based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1954 novel of the same name. I ranked the book 1 (unmissable) and this as 4 (mind candy). Why the difference?


Pacing. I could have re-read the book in less time than it took for this glacial production. Yes despite the slow pace, there was much left unexplained: why was drippy Ricky chosen as the spokesperson (there was some attempt to show him being good at this kind of thing, but it failed to be in the least bit convincing, either before and after the alien arrival); what was Wainwright up to other than blustering; why did everyone stop their conflicts (except when they didn’t for the plot; okay, we know that violence backfires, but not all conflicts are violent); why did all the scientists bar one just give up; and more.

Age. I read the book several decades ago, and its concepts were new, mind-blowing, scary, and exciting. I probably wouldn’t have the same reaction to it now, having read a lot more SF in the interim. I might even find it clichéd, and ravaged by the Suck Fairy. Watching the TV series with all that intervening SFnal background, I found it stodgy, unconvincing, and full of plot holes. (So, these all-powerful aliens can make something to cure Ricky, having recklessly made him sick in the first place, but have only one dose of it, despite having cured everyone else on Earth.) And Charles Dance’s Karellen make-up seems to be channelling Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness in Legend (with somewhat smaller horns) more than being truly scarily demonic. Maybe an eight-foot tall, bright red, horned, bat-winged alien would have terrified people in 1954, but by now we’ve seen much much worse.

Events from the book were updated for the TV series: global warming, oil crises, and more. But maybe the central premise just couldn’t be updated? Today we would be much more sceptical of mysterious concealed “saviours from space”.

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Friday, 28 October 2016

do this now

A nice arXiv paper “Good Enough Practices in Scientific Computing”, full of very sound advice, although I'd probably call it “The Theoretical Minimum Practices in Scientific Computing”.
Our intended audience is researchers who are working alone or with a handful of collaborators on projects lasting a few days to a few months, and who are ready to move beyond emailing themselves a spreadsheet named results-updated-3-revised.xlsx at the end of the workday. A practice is included in our list if large numbers of researchers use it, and large numbers of people are still using it months after first trying it out. We include the second criterion because there is no point recommending something that people won’t actually adopt.

[via Danny Yee’s blog]

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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

unreasonable ineffectiveness

Eugene Wigner wrote a famous essay on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences. He meant physics, of course. There is only one thing which is more unreasonable than the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics, and this is the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in biology.

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Monday, 24 October 2016

the horror of pie

This is lovely article about that horror of presentation graphics, the pie chart.
with Excel and several other products, you can now easily manipulate the transparency of the pie, creating utterly useless charts
Kill it!  Kill it with fire !!

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

a bit fishy

Fact for the day: after a minute in the microwave,  a salmon steak explodes...

tasty, but trust me, don't microwave first...

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

there's plenty of beauty at the bottom

These are amazing!

Photography through the microscope: cells dividing, beautiful crystals, complex materials, compound eyes, insects with gears in their legs, and more.

the foot of a diving beetle, specialized to propel it through the water

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Monday, 17 October 2016

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Elon Musk is wrong

Another argument against us living in a simulation:
Every day that you aren’t bombarded with styrofoam elephants or teleported to a planet made of cheese is another day that a potentially infinite number of software engineers have  decided not to play with the awesome thing that they built. 

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

TV review: Grimm, season 4

This fourth season starts off with Nick having lost his Grimm powers, and coming to terms with that, as Trubel, not feeling ready yet, takes over his role. But of course that can’t last, and events mean he needs to get his powers back. But that is going to cost, more than they know.

The Scooby Gang is growing in size as finally, finally, Sgt Wu is brought into the team. If I were him, I’d be incredibly pissed off that it took the others so long to tell him the truth: Wu ended up in a mental hospital because of what he’d been through, thinking he was going mad. The moral of this series should be, writ large, that although keeping secrets from others might protect you (as Nick finds out to his cost), it hardly ever protects them.

When the series started, there seemed to be just a few Wessen, living in fear and secret. By now, every other major player seems to be either Wessen, or working against Wessen. How has that secret been kept so well?

The plot thickens as we discover more about the Royal Family, and Captain Renard’s mother, and Jack the Ripper, and various underground organisations of Wessen. Even Munroe and Roselee get into trouble with one of the latter, due to their unapproved marriage.

But the biggest upsets are Adalind’s second pregnancy (given just how well the last one turned out, and given who the father is this time), and the price Juliette, and consequently the rest of the gang, ends up paying to get Nick his powers back. The season starts with a seemingly insurmountable problem, and ends in tragedy with an even bigger one. I had two separate running theories of how they might fix things in the end: they did neither. What surprises will season 5 bring?

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Monday, 10 October 2016

abstract abstraction

Steve Easterbrook shows how to write a scientific abstract:
The first sentence of an abstract should clearly introduce the topic of the paper so that readers can relate it to other work they are familiar with. However, an analysis of abstracts across a range of fields show that few follow this advice, nor do they take the opportunity to summarize previous work in their second sentence. A central issue is the lack of structure in standard advice on abstract writing, so most authors don’t realize the third sentence should point out the deficiencies of this existing research. To solve this problem, we describe a technique that structures the entire abstract around a set of six sentences, each of which has a specific role, so that by the end of the first four sentences you have introduced the idea fully. This structure then allows you to use the fifth sentence to elaborate a little on the research, explain how it works, and talk about the various ways that you have applied it, for example to teach generations of new graduate students how to write clearly. This technique is helpful because it clarifies your thinking and leads to a final sentence that summarizes why your research matters.

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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Visualising birdsong

[via BoingBoing]

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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

"a literary Sharknado of error and self-satisfaction"

I read and enjoyed Dan Everett’s book Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes several years ago.

However, it seems some/most/all of his claims may have been a tad overstated.
One form of recursion that Pirahã appeared not to have according to Nevins et. al., was possessive recursion – not remarkable, in their view, because neither does German. But subsequent fieldwork conducted by Raiane Oliveira Salles (2015) recorded constructions like ‘Kapoogo’s canoe’s motor is big’. Once again, setting aside the points that, hey, I guess they have the concepts of tools and personal property after all, there is the key point that this is a possessive embedded within a possessive.
E.J. Spode’s review of Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech is a savage indictment of anti-intellectualism, and the post-fact society.
Wolf[e] is the long form master of the techniques that Trump has managed to distill into tweets.
I usually buy books like there’s no tomorrow.  Spode’s review has me suspecting that there’s one particular book that I won’t be buying.

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Saturday, 1 October 2016

criticism is essential for science

More on the issue of replicating and criticising potentially sloppy scientific results.
There is no “tone” problem in psychology 
I try to write papers as if I expect them to be read by a death panel with a 90% kill quota. It admittedly makes writing less fun, but I also think it makes the end product much better.

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