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Miscellaneous items from before 2009:           to enlarge a photo, click on it

Not driving - why I don't drive    Is it a bird? Is it a moth?   Thoughts on thoughts   Models   Try a cryptic   Why genealogy?   ...and all that   Ubuntu   Dog's tails and dancing girls   The scientific method    More fossils   Weather that matters   The end of the world as you know it   The real experience   Dyscalculia   Mr. Do-it-in-the-road   Fractal wrongness   Coming in under the radar   Slime molds

Not Driving - why I don't drive

I have always maintained that I am too unsafe a driver to drive, and should not obtain a licence. I have ridden a small motorbike because, I reasoned, on a little motor bike you can only kill yourself not other people. Of course, I occasionally practice driving so I might have a chance to manage to drive in an emergency. My refusal to have a driving licence was always a disappointment to my mother. Growing up in the 20s, she equated three things with freedom and emancipation for women: short hair, driving and a career with qualification papers. Now that I am living again in an environment with effective public transport, I can disagree with her on the driving.
The reason I am unsafe is that I have abysmal reflex times - really, really bad ones. I always thought the reason had something to do with my dyslexia. Learning to read and write does not get rid of dyslexia; it only gets rid of its worst effect. Still present is the bad reflex times, the clumsiness, the effort it takes to tell mirror images apart, and a host of little quirky things. My bad reflexes are not going to go away with time or practice.
Lately I ran across a study that seems to confirm my opinion of my abilities. The New Scientist reported a study by Hermundur Sigmundson that showed dyslexics had 20-30% slower reaction times than normal. This can be compared with other studies: UK legal limit for alcohol gives 10% slower; using a hand-held cell-phone gives 45% slower. Actually, Harry and I once made a rough estimate and found that my reactions were about 3 times (that would be 300% I guess) slower than his.
Now I would never drive drunk or use a cell-phone while driving, so why should I drive with what appears to be a permanent lowering of react times of the same sort of amount. The truth is that not driving can be very awkward. It can be a drag even with good public transport and really a problem without. But I simply could not live with myself if I seriously injured or killed someone while driving, knowing that I am an unsafe driver.


Is it a bird?  Is it a moth?
hawkmothIn our front yard is a lavender plant. It is a favorite with many insects. One day there was a large 'thing' feeding. We discussed whether it was a hummingbird or a moth. It moved like a bird and had the shape of a hummingbird, but there was something odd about the tail and it appeared to have antenna. It was there the next afternoon and the one after that. We vacillated between thinking it was a bird and thinking it was an insect.
Google was consulted, of course, and we found pictures of the 'bird', the Hummingbird Hawk Moth. Apparently it is often mistaken for a hummingbird. As well as looking and sounding like a hummingbird, they fly in the heat of the day which is unusual for a moth. They apparently have a good memory and visit the same flowers at the same time of day - we noticed that it always came about mid-afternoon.
The numbers that migrate north each year from the Mediterranean, how far north they go, and how early in the summer is one of the indicators being used to following climate change. People notice them and report them.
There are much better pictures of this creature but here is mine.


Thoughts on thoughts

The world is in for another great scientific shock.
There was the Copernican revolution that gave us a new meaning for the word 'revolution'. It took a while but people started feeling that they really were on the surface of a sphere, spinning around and orbiting a star. At first, the very thought made people dizzy and fearful. Now it is just how we think.
Then there was Darwin. Not everyone has digested that model yet, but many people can now be comfortable with the feeling that we are one of the animals, not the opposite of animals, and share a long history with them. Darwinism along with plate tectonics has made us accustomed to the idea that the earth, and its life, has been slowly changing for an extremely long time rather than created as we see it now, in a short time.
Next Newton's universe of simple matter and energy, action and reaction, unfolding in a rigid, continuous space and time, was shattered by Einstein's relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Most of us have not only failed to internalize these models, we have not even managed to understand or really 'believe' them.
It is time to get ready for the next shock. Science is shortly going to illuminate how the brain works and it is not going to be easy to assimilate.
I may have an advantage (or disadvantage) here; I never have been comfortable with the model of thought I was given as a youngster.
Take the conscious and unconscious minds. It never seemed to me that I had two minds. That is not unusual; a lot of people feel that way. But what is unusual is that I felt that all my thinking was unconscious and there was no 'mind in consciousness'. Others seemed happy with a conscious mind but it was the unconscious that they could not feel comfortable with. I feel like one person with one mind making decisions and taking actions but I am only conscious of those decisions and actions after they have been taken. Consciousness has seemed to me more akin to memory than to thought - sort of the leading edge of memory.
Take introspection. Most people seem to believe that they know their own thoughts, more or less completely and more or less accurately. I feel I know my thoughts in the same way that I know the thoughts of others, by inference. If I did 'a' then I must have thought 'b'. I know my own thoughts to a much great extent then I know the thoughts of others, but in the same way.
I do not believe that I see my thought processes better than others, just differently. The source of the difference is probably the same source that caused my dyslexia. My model of this fault in my brain is that there is a partial 'split-brain' condition where the right and left hemispheres have slow communication. The imperfection, whatever it is, allows me to feel at home with recent brain research. The discoveries have a cosy feel because they confirm how I view my own thinking. But, in the past, when I have tried to describe to others how it feels to be me, they find it very difficult to understand and accept. For many, it is simply impossible to imagine what I am saying. So I anticipate great difficulty for most people coming to terms with the brain science revolution around the corner.


Try a cryptic

More than forty years ago, I did my first cryptic crossword - well, I got individual words in group efforts before I ever did a whole puzzle by myself. Originally this was therapy for my dyslexia but it was soon an addiction. Over the years, I have encountered many people who would have enjoyed a cryptic crossword if they had ever tried one, but never understood that it was all about.
I have made up a number of clues for the same word, in the patterns of those found in cryptics.
  1. Salute with dry bread
  2. Brown stout rearranged
  3. Breakfast food found in hot oast-house
  4. Honour to a good man
  5. Drink while in transit to a star
  6. Warm yourself with a raised glass
  7. What always lands on the jam
  8. It's the end to a short street
  9. As in a tot to your health
  10. Cook cheese at the end of night with nothing by a southern time
  11. So tat knot for dark slices
  12. Partner of rack and melba
  13. Food for a master public speaker
  14. May be French but not if it's dry
  15. Under radiant heat, cook porridge of oats and what sounds like tea
  16. Burn the first of all the old and sickly trees
I could go on, but probably by this time, you recognize that the word is TOAST. These clues illustrate a few of the cryptic crossword conventions.  In almost all cases there is a word or phase in the clue that is simply a definition (salute, dry bread, brown, breakfast food, honour, drink, warm, raised glass, the end, your health, cook cheese, dark slices, food, under radiant heat, burn). Maybe these are slightly unusual definitions, but a definitions all the same.
The first type of clue is the double definition which I have illustrated with 1and 6. Similarly, a clue can use double association, such as two common adjectives associated with the word (see 12 and 14). Clue 13 is a mixture of a definition and an association. The word may be a hidden word in part of the clue with the definition in the other part. Numbers 3 and 5 have the letters of toast in order within them. With the anagram, the letters are together but not in order. I have used 'stoat' in 2 and 'so tat' in 11. Clue 15 has a partial anagram (oats) and a small use of a homophone. This last clue breaks up the word into smaller pieces and this is common. Number 4 uses 'to' 'a' and a reference to a saint, 8 is similar but with a reference to the abbreviation for street. In 10, I get the 's' and 't' from the common abbreviations of south and time. Clue 10 also illustrates the use of numbers of letters in nothing for 'o'. Roman numerals are often used in this way.  Positional letters in other words are sometimes indicated.  For example all the first letters in a phrase in 16 and the 't' in 10 using the last position in 'night'.  Sometimes the pieces are not in order, but one piece is an inclusion in another. In 9 'as' is put inside 'tot'. Occasionally, the clue is not a word play of any sort but a type of joke definition. Clue 7 refers to the common complaint that toast lands butter/jam side down when it falls. Of course, I have not given examples of every possible trick, only the common ones.
I challenge you to try a cryptic if you have never had the pleasure.


Why genealogy?
My husband cannot understand why I am interested in tracing my ancestors. I would tell him if I could figure out why. On the surface genealogy appears boring and narcissistic. I do it out of choice and find it a pleasure so it is not boring but I cannot understand why it isn't. I have never been a particularly narcissistic person. What is the attraction?
Is it because I like history? I do, and I always have, obtained great pleasure from history. I'm sure that is part of the appeal. I have read histories that I would not have thought to look into if they were not linked to some ancestor. But, there is no difficulty in finding interesting history to delve into and so there must be some other reason for spending time on dead ancestors.
Tracing ancestors is often like a puzzle and puzzles are good entertainment, at least I find them so. A designed puzzle guarantees a solution while a real life puzzle doesn't. Genealogy does not always give you a lift when you solve a problem, instead you can have frustration at not finding answers.
I am told that family history is something that people get more interested in as they get older. I am not sure I believe that but it might be true and I am getting old. A number of people have said something like, "It was only after grandmother (or mother, father, grandfather etc.) died that I realized that I should have asked them more about (whatever)?" This sentiment could work both ways for people about my age: they are trying to make up for the information they didn't gather from their already dead relatives and storing up information in case some younger member of the family asks for it. But this could be a motivation for any type of study - we still have the 'why genealogy' question.
There were a few incidences that started my interest. One was finding out that my grandfather's grandfather was born in Quebec. My grandfather grew up in Nebraska, with his grandfather living in the house. For the first time I had a clue to my grandfather's extreme distrust of Catholics and French Canadians. Except for a few quirks like this one, I really thought my grandfather was a pretty reasonable person. I wondered that other explanations I would find about our family's 'culture'.
The next incident was when I got an update of a list of a great grandparent's descendents. It had on the first page a list of the ancestors of this great grandparent back for eight generations. But all that was listed was a single male line, each man's father - like some odd sort of immaculate paternal conception. I did a quick calculation a found I had 2048 ancestors in the top generation, all of them I presume as important to me, genetically or culturally, as the single man listed. This made me laugh and get angry at the same time. I immediately set out to try and find my mother's mother's mother's etc. For a while I was just trying to correct this lack of balance. But what I had was a list of somewhat meaningless names and dates.
But these names and dates soon became times and places along with hints of status, occupation or beliefs. Collection of information on particular circumstances has continued to be engaging.
I had to make a decision about whether I was going to continue to 'waste' time on this hobby and I decided to continue. Who knows why - certainly not me!


...and all that
I was recently reminded of a great comical book called '1066 and All That' by Sellar and Yeatman. If you have not encountered this parody of the old-fashioned way of teaching English history, I recommend it. I have included an extract with the famous genealogy which includes Williamanmary and Henry VI (part I) among its gems. Since reading the book many many years ago, I have never thought of William and Mary as joint monarchs without the vision of a king with the odd name Williamanmary springing to mind and King John is always in my mind as a bad king but a good thing. The blurb sentence is 'A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates'. It is memorable - a confused childhood memory - and very funny.

1066 and all that
"The Barons
Simon de Montfort, although only a Frenchman, was a Good Thing, and is very notable as being the only good Baron in history. The other Barons were, of course, all wicked Barons. They had, however, many important duties under the Banorial system. These were:
1. To be armed to the teeth.
2. To extract from the Villein saccage and soccage, tollage and tallage, pillage and ullage, and, in extreme cases, all other banorial amenities such as umbrage and porrage.
3. To hasten the King's death, deposition, insanity, etc., and make quite sure that there were always at least three false claimants to the throne.
4. To resent the Attitude of the Church. (The Barons were secretly jealous of the Church, which they accused of encroaching on their rites.)
5. To keep up the Middle Ages.
Note
In order to clear up the general confusion of the period it is customary to give at this point a genealogical table of the Kings (and even some Queens) of England. As these tables are themselves somewhat confusing, the one here has to a certain extent been rationalized, and will, the Editors hope, prove to be exceptionally memorable."

Ubuntu
I have been trying to find out what ubuntu means since Harry has take to using the Ubuntu release of Linux on his computer. It is not easy to pin down the meaning but here are some attempts I found. It's a very interesting concept.
-We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.
-An understanding of ourselves in relation with the world.
-There exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, and through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities.
-A person is a person through other persons.
-The central concept of social and political organization in African philosophy, particularly among the Bantu-speaking peoples. It consists of the principles of sharing and caring for one another.
-to be human is to affirm one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish humane respectful relations with them.
-That if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life.
-The African worldview driving much of African values and social thinking is "Ubuntu". The Ubuntu worldview has been recognized as the primary reason that South Africa has managed to successfully transfer power from a white minority government to a majority-rule government without bloodshed. The South African government will attempt to draft a Data Privacy Bill and strike an appropriate balance within the context of African values and an African worldview.
-Ubunto is seen in the importance of collective learning, teamwork, sustainability, focus on local community, alternatives to extractive capitalism, fairness, collectiveness, humility, dialoque collective restitution, healing, conflict resolution, reconciliation.
-Ubuntu worldview as a community-based mindset, opposed to Western libertarianism and individualism.
-Ubuntu is an African worldview based on values of intense humanness, caring, respect, compassion, and associated values ensuring a happy and qualitative human community life in a spirit of family.
-To Be is to Belong.
-Ubuntu comes from the word muntu which means human being, the opposite isilwane meaning animal.
-Ubuntu means being human and being human in the African sense means among other things
---Merciful
---not assaulting your opponent when he is already on the ground
---going to a funeral of your enemy
---if somebody was owing you money or a cow, it meant not taking a cow from him if that was the only thing that provided milk
---not eating when other children are not eating, sharing the food with them
---letting a stranger into your house to sleep and if he came to your house at night after you had finished supper, catching a fowl and slaughter it for him and cook it even at night and let him eat
---when your neigough had no children, you give him one of your children to go and stay there and do erands some of those children never came back-I DO NOT MEAN HUMAN TRAFFICKING
---during war, women would not be murdered and so the children
---all the good qualities of man.It does not mean human nature.
-To perceive ubuntu in your heart is like getting saved or understanding a mathematical theorem that you have been battling for years to understand.
-A humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other.
-A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. - Desmond Tutu
-The concept of ubuntu defines the individual in terms of their several relationships with others.
-A traveller through our country would stop at a village, and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but Ubuntu has various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve? - Nelson Mandela
-Concept of ubuntu is used to emphasise the need for unity or consensus in decision-making, as well as the need for a suitably humanitarian ethic to inform those decisions.
-That the king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him.
-Visitors do not need to burden themselves with carrying provisions - all they need is to dress properly and be on the road. All visitors are provided for and protected in every home they pass through without payment being expected. In fact, every individual should try their best to make visitors comfortable - and this applies to everyone who is aware of the presence of a visitor within a locality. This explains how David Livingstone survived on his journeys in Southern Africa especially among ubuntu-oriented societies of the time.
-Other manifestations of ubuntu are that it is taboo to call elderly people by their given names; instead they are called by their surnames. This has the effect of banishing individualism and replacing it with a representative role, in which the individual effectively stands for the people among whom he comes from at all times. The individual identity is replaced with the larger societal identity within the individual. Thus, families are portrayed or reflected in the individual and this phenomenon is extended to villages, districts, provinces and regions being portrayed in the individual. This places high demands on the individual to behave in the highest standards and to portray the highest possible virtues that society strives for.
-It embodies all the invaluable virtues that society strives for towards maintaining harmony and the spirit of sharing among its members.
-Jurisprudence tending to support remedies and punishments that tend to bring people together.
-You can't be human alone.


I got an email from Blair Bolles about this:
Janet,
I took a quick look at your site and noticed the discussion of "ubuntu."
I think I can give you an entymology for the word.
It is plainly a Bantu word although not a Swahili one. Bantu languages are marked at the front rather than the back. For example, we say child/chldren putting the plural marker at the end, while Swahili speakers say mtoto/watoto putting the marker at the front. Notice also that Bantu languages have a marker for singular (m in mtoto) as well as plural, something English speakers don't have. In this case the markers in ubuntu are u- and -bu-. -ntu is the stem that sets the general meaning.
-ntu is commonly the stem for an item. In Swahili the singualar for a human item is is m-tu (without the hyphen, of course) while the plural is wa-tu. (Other singulars are ki-tu for a single inanimate object/thing; pa-tu for a single location; ji-tu for a single giant.)
The word Bantu itself is a common word for people (plural, I think) in many of the family's languages.
A common marker in Swahili and many other Bantu languages is u- which can be used in two ways: to name a territory or to name an abstraction. The Watutusi people, for example, (did you notice that wa-? It pluralizes the tribal name) live in ututusi. The Wafaranza is Swahili for the French and they live (as apparently do you) in Ufaranza. You may recall that at the time of African independence there was much talk of uhuru (freedom) which stuck a u- on huru (some concrete word, which I confess to not knowing). The Tanaznian word for socialism is ujamaa, -jamaa means a  family and u- turns it into an abstraction, the terrain of familyness.
Hence, u-bu-ntu probably works out to the terrain of peopleness. After that, you can have people arguing just what that means. The word sounds to me like a coinage, an effort to translate the word "humanism" into an African language. The country where they would be most likely to want to come up with an African word for humanism is Zambia, under the regime of President Kaunda. (I once was riding in Zambia in a car that had a blowout. We avoided crashing into a tree and immediately villagers appeared to help. I thanked them profusely and one of them said to me in English, 'After all, we are a humanist people.') So I'm guessing it's a Zambian coinage. I found that when I was there, I could understand speakers sometimes if I just relaxed and let the sounds wash over me (rather like catching the French vibes in Portuguese) so event though ubuntu is not a Swah
ili construction I suspect I'm pretty close to being right in its origins.

Dog's tails and dancing girls

Two things caught my attention this week and together started me thinking again about left and right lateralization of the brain. The one article was about right-tailed and left-tailed wagging by dogs and the other was a rotating silhouette of a dancing girl that can be seen as rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. The turning lady was supposed to be a test of whether you are left brained or right brained.
Of course, being left-handed, I have always been interested in lateralization. But I have become very negative and bored with the really unbelievable 'simplisticness' (I don't mean simply; I mean simplistic) of the right-brained-versus-left-brained popular theories. Especially annoying is the idea what each of us is one or the other. Also annoying is that we cannot learn to do both of the things that are listed as opposites. So if I am left-brained, I cannot be creative or if I am right-brained, I cannot be logical. This does not make sense. Why are things presented as opposites when they are not? Why can't someone be good at detail and see the big picture at the same time? Do these theorists think that one hemisphere goes to sleep while the other works? Why would the parts of the brain not cooperate with each other? 
So when I come across tests to see if I was left-brained or right-brained I do not take them - but I took this one before I realized what it was. For me the dancing girl turned clockwise; there was no doubt I could not make it turn counterclockwise no matter how hard I tried. I showed it to Harry and he could turn the girl either way. He also told me how to do it. Following his advice I managed to get the middle of the girl turning counterclockwise. I was just about to announce success when I noticed that the rest of the girl, above and below the part that I had been concentrating on, was still turning clockwise. The poor dancer was being twisted, and this was easier for me to do then to force the whole silhouette to go counterclockwise. I never managed to shake the clockwise rotation.
This was interesting and I would love to understand it. Why could I not turn the girl in the other direction? However what I was told was that that I was right-brained and therefore: use feeling rather than logic, am 'big picture' oriented rather than detail oriented, ruled by imagination rather than facts, use symbols and images rather than words and language, concerned with the future rather than the past, more interested in philosophy and religion than math and science, etc. etc., down to takes risks rather than plays safe. Blah, Blah. This is not a description of me - it does not ring true. So I tried another test that was available. It was some colour words written in coloured letters but the colours did not match the words. For example RED might be written in green letters. I was to read the words and note whether it was difficult not to mistakenly say the colour of the typeface. It was not difficult at all and so I was left-brained and therefore I was: logical rather than random, sequential rather than holistic, rational rather than intuitive etc.etc. Again it was not a description of me.
I was very excited, years ago, by Sperry's experiments showing the differences between the two hemispheres. There is something here about how brains work but it has been degraded into a silly notion of left-brained and right-brained people. It may sell books and consultant fees but it is silly.
So it was nice to read about the dogs. This is really a sweet observation made by A. Quaranta. When a dog wags to show pleasure, it wags to the right and when it wags to show nervousness, it wags to the left. So the left side of the brain greets the dog's owner and the right side of the brain signals uneasy friendliness to some big strange dog. This fits with a growing number of observations from all vertebrates (amphibians, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals) that differences between the hemispheres is the rule.
P. MacNeilage in summarizing the work with non-humans gives a few differences that have been proposed. The left hemisphere is concerned with approaching things while the right is concerned with avoidance. The left is concerned with routine actions and considered responses while the right is concerned with emergencies, threats and actions requiring speed. In vision the left processes detail better than the right but the right does better at processing overall spatial arrays. The left hemisphere has a communication specialization in songbirds as well as primates. But it seems that the right hemisphere may be better at recognizing the non-verbal communication in facial expressions.
This is interesting and worth my following so I will have to learn how to do that without constantly running into maddening talk about 'developing your right-brain'.


The scientific method
At the end of the year,
http://www.edge.org asked the question:
The Edge Annual Question - 2008
When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.When God changes your mind, that's faith.When facts change your mind, that's science.
WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?
Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?"
Way over a hundred scientists and other thinkers gave short replies which I have just finished reading. I am certainly not part of this elite group - but because of the discussions with Harry over the years, I have a clear notion of what I think about the subject of the scientific method.

First science is one of the 'collective scholarships'. Like history, philosophy and the like, it accumulates a body of published works and criticisms of those works, which is seen as a growing body of knowledge, even of wisdom.
The important word here is 'published'. These scholarships are conducted in the open, in public and are subjected to equally public criticism. Secret systems of knowledge (like alchemy, witchcraft etc.) grow slowly and may spend long periods in blind alleys; they die in competition with public systems. Another implication of publication is that a scientist or small group of scientists take personal responsibility of the integrity of the work that is being reported - they sign it so to speak. This is not an empty formality as their careers depend on their published work not be exposed as sloppy, misleading, stolen, or fraudulent. Even when published work is not made the subject of someone else's investigations and therefore is not directly subject to attempted replication, it was not published until it had undergone peer review. In my opinion if work is not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal than it is not science. Many books and magazine/newspaper articles are written about science but the Science with the capital S is written in the scientific journals.
'Collective' is a more obvious word - one mind can only produce a small amount of new insights, two minds can produce more than twice as much and so on. The number of people involve also protects the quality of the product. You 'can't fool all of the people all the time' as the saying goes. Here we come to the question of method and the upshot seems to be the any method that satisfies other scientists in the field is an acceptable method. The question should not be 'what is the scientific method?', the question should be 'what is convincing to other scientists?. Just because science is a collective enterprise does not mean that scientists act in cooperative ways, quite the opposite, science is more usually done it an adversarial atmosphere. Groups of pros and antis fight out the acceptance of new theories, searching for weaknesses in their opponent's arguments and flaws in their experiments. When a consensus is finally agreed it is likely to be a strong one; one accepted first by scientists working in other areas, then by the scientifically educated public and finally most of us.
The methods used in science (as opposed to a 'scientific method') vary from area to area. In the same way that one science would use telescopes and another would use microscopes, so the nature of data and how it is interpreted is different in different areas. The theoretical background also differs. You might think, looking at journals, that there was not one science but many separate sciences. But there are interfaces between the little sciences where ideas pass from one to another or where arguments may arise. (For example the different consensus reached by paleontologist and molecule biologists on whether the 'recently out of Africa' story of human history was valid.) There is in the end one science and those working in the interface areas are not satisfied to have inconsistent results between two areas of science. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology and Astronomy lean on one another and try to be a consistent whole.
So what we can say is that science is a huge body of scholarship, both wide and deep, that is the product of a great many people working openly for a few hundred years, and trying diligently to uncover any 'errors' in the knowledge it has accumulated. The scientific method is then simply the experimental, mathematical and logical presentations that scientists find convincing. The idea of a speculation which leads to a formally stated hypothesis which is tested by experimental attempts at falsification it, fits much of scientific work but often has to be stretched to make it fit. Another model is to find a new experimental tool (a new pair of glasses to look at the world with) and use it to gather new data then use the data to develop a new theory. This is the way induction is often seen in science. But in the end, the work of a scientist either convinces or does not convince his peers.
So what convinces in the scientific atmosphere?
1. Errors are not convincing. The rules of logic and mathematics must be followed in deductive arguments. Data collection must be systematically done and recorded well. Words must be used with precision. Classification systems must be clear. And so on through the normal everyday rules that we would expect of clear thinking and presentation.
2. The simpler and less convoluted or complex argument or experiment is the more convincing. The more clear-cut the results, the more convincing. Again these are very everyday rules for all of us.
3. Special conditions are not convincing. Experiments must be able to be replicated. Anything 'special' about the scientist or the subject must be justified or eliminated. There must be a reasonable explanation why something is not replicated by another person in another place in another time. Not all data comes from experiments that can be replicated - supernova cannot be replicated at will - but the idea of no special conditions applies even where replication is impossible.
4. Results that call into question strong theories (those general theories that have enjoyed a stable consensus for some time) are suspected and require careful investigation. After investigation, they may be accepted as a 'fact' that is contrary to theory. They weaken the theory's status by in effect forcing a 'patch' to the theory, but do not destroy it until a replacement theory that is better is found. 
5. Supernatural explanations, even those that are believed by a scientist, are not part of science. Many great scientists have been religious and believed they were uncovering God's work, but they never, never put forward a supernatural explanation of anything in a scientific context. Science is about natural explanations with no special conditions or arguments from authority.
6. Evidence has more weight that all else in science. Thought experiments are accepted in many arguments especially as a way of clarifying questions, but it is not considered as an experiment in the normal sense of the word. Neither are computer simulations. They show possibilities and limitations etc. but are not experiments. (Computer are however powerful tools.) Getting something from 'first principles' does not mean much to a scientist. What is convincing is good evidence. It is this aspect of science that has been stated as 'testing against reality'. It also has been stated as 'a scientific theory must be falsifiable'. I prefer the statement, if a scientific argument is to be convincing then real evidence must be brought to the table. This is the main difference between science and philosophy - if what appears to be an iron-clad logical argument is in opposition to an iron-clad piece of evidence, the evidence wins for the scientist and something must be wrong with the axioms of the logic.

The people who come into science tend to have a particular mindset: they have a strong sense of there being a natural reality; further that natural reality can be understood by finding general theories or 'laws' that describe and predict the world around us; and by iteratively improving those theories it will be possible to come closer to, but probably never reach, some ideal of a complete explanation of natural reality. Science is not about truth, beauty or utility although individual scientists may be motivated by these, as well as the always present curiosity motive. It is about theoretical explanations of reality based on the evidence that reality supplies. It is about creating a convincing theoretical framework for understanding our world including us in it.

More fossils
We have started to find another type of fossil in our diggings. It is something called a 'glass sponge', from a class called 'Hexactinellida' and the closest I can ID it is an extinct Jurassic one called ' Tremadictyon'.
There have been examples since the earliest sponges until today. They are found at great depths in the oceans and live longer than most (maybe all) other animals. The usual shape is cylindrical or cup shaped. They filter their food out of the sea water.
Glass sponges are very odd. Instead of being the soft absorbent things we can use for washing in the bath, the glass sponges are rigid because they have a sort of glass skeleton. Little spicules with 6 points connect with each other to form a lacy web of silica. The soft part of the body is mostly one large cell with many nuclei. The little spicules are formed and cemented together inside this large cell. This single cell forms the outside and inside surfaces of the sponge as well as the thickness of the wall. The cytoplasm streams around in this cell, every bit of cytoplasm sees every part of the sponge about every half day. There is no nervous system but there is a lot of electrical activity in the large cell and that controls the flow of water through the wall of the sponge.
The reefs in the Tethys Sea in the Jurassic were rich in Hexactinellids. Because of their silica mesh they form fossils easier than other sponges.
sponge sponge sponge

Weather that matters

My grandfather used to say, 'the weather don't matter if the wind don't blow.' That about sums up his 70 years of watching Saskatchewan weather. From dust storms to blizzards, it is the wind that matters on the prairies.
But other places have other weather. The first winter that I worked in the UK, I went to work in the dark. I came home in the dark.  Every day including the weekends were either raining or heavy overcast. No sun, I didn't see the sun for a couple of months. Then the weather forecast said that the sun was going to shine. I thought about being sick but I decided that it was just too obvious. The first time there is sun in an age and Janet's sick, who would believe that. So I went to work. The building housed about 150 people on a normal work day. There were about 12 of us that showed up for work. I went back home. That year, 'nothing mattered if the sun did shine'.
The British Isles have something called Scotch Mist. It is not a mist because there are little droplets of water. It is easier to see through then a mist or a fog. But it is not rain either because the little droplets are so small they hang in the air rather then falling. If you stand still, you do not get wet - you would in a rain. If you move, you get soaked - you wouldn't in a fog. I came to love Scotch Mist and found it so soothing. My husband hated it and called it 'rain that's too lazy to fall down.'
Nairobi was another matter. It is a mile high and almost on the equator. It has monsoons. It is great to have sun, rain and cloud on schedule. (I know the monsoons sometimes fail but that aside.) There are the short rains in the spring and it buckets down for a couple of weeks. And there are the long rains in the fall when it rains softly every night for about a month. In the winter it doesn't rain but there is often cloud cover. In the summer, there is not cloud or a drop of rain. 'The weather didn't matter if the monsoons were on time.'
That business of the rain falling at night is a lovely arrangement. We had it in Austria. Someone once tried to explain it to me, about the south side of the Alps and air movements, but my German was not up to the job. In any case, in that part of Austria it rained often and often at night. When it didn't rain, it was often very sunny - most days. Things grew - you could almost hear them grow in the fertile soil, watered nightly and given strong sun every day - or so it seemed. What mattered in Austria was whether you were on a south facing slope or a north facing one.
From now on we will not be able to count on anything thanks to global warming.


The end of the world as you know it
This article (Apr 15 2008, TomDispatch.com) does seem to put most of the elements of the problem together. Missing is discussion in depth of the effect of bio-fuel competing with human food, the enormous disruptive climate effects in store for us and the even greater environmental effects of new processes such as tar sand oil recovery. Klare has done many other articles and you can't get everything in one go. 'The end of the world as we know it' is right!!!
The End of the World As You Know It … and the Rise of the New Energy World Order
by Michael T. Klare

Oil at $110 a barrel. Gasoline at $3.35 (or more) per gallon. Diesel fuel at $4 per gallon. Independent truckers forced off the road. Home heating oil rising to unconscionable price levels. Jet fuel so expensive that three low-cost airlines stopped flying in the past few weeks. This is just a taste of the latest energy news, signaling a profound change in how all of us, in this country and around the world, are going to live - trends that, so far as anyone can predict, will only become more pronounced as energy supplies dwindle and the global struggle over their allocation intensifies.
Energy of all sorts was once hugely abundant, making possible the worldwide economic expansion of the past six decades. This expansion benefited the United States above all - along with its "First World" allies in Europe and the Pacific. Recently, however, a select group of former "Third World" countries - China and India in particular - have sought to participate in this energy bonanza by industrializing their economies and selling a wide range of goods to international markets. This, in turn, has led to an unprecedented spurt in global energy consumption - a 47% rise in the past 20 years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).
An increase of this sort would not be a matter of deep anxiety if the world's primary energy suppliers were capable of producing the needed additional fuels. Instead, we face a frightening reality: a marked slowdown in the expansion of global energy supplies just as demand rises precipitously. These supplies are not exactly disappearing - though that will occur sooner or later - but they are not growing fast enough to satisfy soaring global demand.
The combination of rising demand, the emergence of powerful new energy consumers, and the contraction of the global energy supply is demolishing the energy-abundant world we are familiar with and creating in its place a new world order. Think of it as: rising powers/shrinking planet.
This new world order will be characterized by fierce international competition for dwindling stocks of oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium, as well as by a tidal shift in power and wealth from energy-deficit states like China, Japan, and the United States to energy-surplus states like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. In the process, the lives of everyone will be affected in one way or another - with poor and middle-class consumers in the energy-deficit states experiencing the harshest effects. That's most of us and our children, in case you hadn't quite taken it in.
Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:
1. Intense competition between older and newer economic powers for available supplies of energy: Until very recently, the mature industrial powers of Europe, Asia, and North America consumed the lion's share of energy and left the dregs for the developing world. As recently as 1990, the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the club of the world's richest nations, consumed approximately 57% of world energy; the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact bloc, 14% percent; and only 29% was left to the developing world. But that ratio is changing: With strong economic growth in the developing countries, a greater proportion of the world's energy is being consumed by them. By 2010, the developing world's share of energy use is expected to reach 40% and, if current trends persist, 47% by 2030.
China plays a critical role in all this. The Chinese alone are projected to consume 17% of world energy by 2015, and 20% by 2025 - by which time, if trend lines continue, it will have overtaken the United States as the world's leading energy consumer. India, which, in 2004, accounted for 3.4% of world energy use, is projected to reach 4.4% percent by 2025, while consumption in other rapidly industrializing nations like Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Turkey is expected to grow as well.
These rising economic dynamos will have to compete with the mature economic powers for access to remaining untapped reserves of exportable energy - in many cases, bought up long ago by the private energy firms of the mature powers like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Total of France, and Royal Dutch Shell. Of necessity, the new contenders have developed a potent strategy for competing with the Western "majors": they've created state-owned companies of their own and fashioned strategic alliances with the national oil companies that now control oil and gas reserves in many of the major energy-producing nations.
China's Sinopec, for example, has established a strategic alliance with Saudi Aramco, the nationalized giant once owned by Chevron and Exxon Mobil, to explore for natural gas in Saudi Arabia and market Saudi crude oil in China. Likewise, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will collaborate with Gazprom, the massive state-controlled Russian natural gas monopoly, to build pipelines and deliver Russian gas to China. Several of these state-owned firms, including CNPC and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, are now set to collaborate with Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. in developing the extra-heavy crude of the Orinoco belt once controlled by Chevron. In this new stage of energy competition, the advantages long enjoyed by Western energy majors have been eroded by vigorous, state-backed upstarts from the developing world.
2. The insufficiency of primary energy supplies: The capacity of the global energy industry to satisfy demand is shrinking. By all accounts, the global supply of oil will expand for perhaps another half-decade before reaching a peak and beginning to decline, while supplies of natural gas, coal, and uranium will probably grow for another decade or two before peaking and commencing their own inevitable declines. In the meantime, global supplies of these existing fuels will prove incapable of reaching the elevated levels demanded.
Take oil. The U.S. Department of Energy claims that world oil demand, expected to reach 117.6 million barrels per day in 2030, will be matched by a supply that - miracle of miracles - will hit exactly 117.7 million barrels (including petroleum liquids derived from allied substances like natural gas and Canadian tar sands) at the same time. Most energy professionals, however, consider this estimate highly unrealistic. "One hundred million barrels is now in my view an optimistic case," the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, typically told a London oil conference in October 2007. "It is not my view; it is the industry view, or the view of those who like to speak clearly, honestly, and [are] not just trying to please people."
Similarly, the authors of the Medium-Term Oil Market Report, published in July 2007 by the International Energy Agency, an affiliate of the OECD, concluded that world oil output might hit 96 million barrels per day by 2012, but was unlikely to go much beyond that as a dearth of new discoveries made future growth impossible.
Daily business-page headlines point to a vortex of clashing trends: worldwide demand will continue to grow as hundred of millions of newly-affluent Chinese and Indian consumers line up to purchase their first automobile (some selling for as little as $2,500); key older "elephant" oil fields like Ghawar in Saudi Arabia and Canterell in Mexico are already in decline or expected to be so soon; and the rate of new oil-field discoveries plunges year after year. So expect global energy shortages and high prices to be a constant source of hardship.
3. The painfully slow development of energy alternatives: It has long been evident to policymakers that new sources of energy are desperately needed to compensate for the eventual disappearance of existing fuels as well as to slow the buildup of climate-changing "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere. In fact, wind and solar power have gained significant footholds in some parts of the world. A number of other innovative energy solutions have already been developed and even tested out in university and corporate laboratories. But these alternatives, which now contribute only a tiny percentage of the world's net fuel supply, are simply not being developed fast enough to avert the multifaceted global energy catastrophe that lies ahead.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, renewable fuels, including wind, solar, and hydropower (along with "traditional" fuels like firewood and dung), supplied but 7.4% of global energy in 2004; biofuels added another 0.3%. Meanwhile, fossil fuels - oil, coal, and natural gas - supplied 86% percent of world energy, nuclear power another 6%. Based on current rates of development and investment, the DoE offers the following dismal projection: In 2030, fossil fuels will still account for exactly the same share of world energy as in 2004. The expected increase in renewables and biofuels is so slight - a mere 8.1% - as to be virtually meaningless.
In global warming terms, the implications are nothing short of catastrophic: Rising reliance on coal (especially in China, India, and the United States) means that global emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise by 59% over the next quarter-century, from 26.9 billion metric tons to 42.9 billion tons. The meaning of this is simple. If these figures hold, there is no hope of averting the worst effects of climate change.
When it comes to global energy supplies, the implications are nearly as dire. To meet soaring energy demand, we would need a massive influx of alternative fuels, which would mean equally massive investment - in the trillions of dollars - to ensure that the newest possibilities move rapidly from laboratory to full-scale commercial production; but that, sad to say, is not in the cards. Instead, the major energy firms (backed by lavish U.S. government subsidies and tax breaks) are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes to extract oil and gas from Alaska and the Arctic, or to drill in the deep and difficult waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The result? A few more barrels of oil or cubic feet of natural gas at exorbitant prices (with accompanying ecological damage), while non-petroleum alternatives limp along pitifully.
4. A steady migration of power and wealth from energy-deficit to energy-surplus nations: There are few countries - perhaps a dozen altogether - with enough oil, gas, coal, and uranium (or some combination thereof) to meet their own energy needs and provide significant surpluses for export. Not surprisingly, such states will be able to extract increasingly beneficial terms from the much wider pool of energy-deficit nations dependent on them for vital supplies of energy. These terms, primarily of a financial nature, will result in growing mountains of petrodollars being accumulated by the leading oil producers, but will also include political and military concessions.
In the case of oil and natural gas, the major energy-surplus states can be counted on two hands. Ten oil-rich states possess 82.2% of the world's proven reserves. In order of importance, they are: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria. The possession of natural gas is even more concentrated. Three countries - Russia, Iran, and Qatar - harbor an astonishing 55.8% of the world supply. All of these countries are in an enviable position to cash in on the dramatic rise in global energy prices and to extract from potential customers whatever political concessions they deem important.
The transfer of wealth alone is already mind-boggling. The oil-exporting countries collected an estimated $970 billion from the importing countries in 2006, and the take for 2007, when finally calculated, is expected to be far higher. A substantial fraction of these dollars, yen, and euros have been deposited in "sovereign-wealth funds" (SWFs), giant investment accounts owned by the oil states and deployed for the acquisition of valuable assets around the world. In recent months, the Persian Gulf SWFs have been taking advantage of the financial crisis in the United States to purchase large stakes in strategic sectors of its economy. In November 2007, for example, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) acquired a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup, America's largest bank holding company; in January, Citigroup sold an even larger share, worth $12.5 billion, to the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) and several other Middle Eastern investors, including Prince Walid bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. The managers of ADIA and KIA insist that they do not intend to use their newly-acquired stakes in Citigroup and other U.S. banks and corporations to influence U.S. economic or foreign policy, but it is hard to imagine that a financial shift of this magnitude, which can only gain momentum in the decades ahead, will not translate into some form of political leverage.
In the case of Russia, which has risen from the ashes of the Soviet Union as the world's first energy superpower, it already has. Russia is now the world's leading supplier of natural gas, the second largest supplier of oil, and a major producer of coal and uranium. Though many of these assets were briefly privatized during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, President Vladimir Putin has brought most of them back under state control - in some cases, by exceedingly questionable legal means. He then used these assets in campaigns to bribe or coerce former Soviet republics on Russia's periphery reliant on it for the bulk of their oil and gas supplies. European Union countries have sometimes expressed dismay at Putin's tactics, but they, too, are dependent on Russian energy supplies, and so have learned to mute their protests to accommodate growing Russian power in Eurasia. Consider Russia a model for the new energy world order.
5. A Growing Risk of Conflict: Throughout history, major shifts in power have normally been accompanied by violence - in some cases, protracted violent upheavals. Either states at the pinnacle of power have struggled to prevent the loss of their privileged status, or challengers have fought to topple those at the top of the heap. Will that happen now? Will energy-deficit states launch campaigns to wrest the oil and gas reserves of surplus states from their control - the Bush administration's war in Iraq might already be thought of as one such attempt - or to eliminate competitors among their deficit-state rivals?
The high costs and risks of modern warfare are well known and there is a widespread perception that energy problems can best be solved through economic means, not military ones. Nevertheless, the major powers are employing military means in their efforts to gain advantage in the global struggle for energy, and no one should be deluded on the subject. These endeavors could easily enough lead to unintended escalation and conflict.
One conspicuous use of military means in the pursuit of energy is obviously the regular transfer of arms and military-support services by the major energy-importing states to their principal suppliers. Both the United States and China, for example, have stepped up their deliveries of arms and equipment to oil-producing states like Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan in Africa and, in the Caspian Sea basin, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The United States has placed particular emphasis on suppressing the armed insurgency in the vital Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where most of the country's oil is produced; Beijing has emphasized arms aid to Sudan, where Chinese-led oil operations are threatened by insurgencies in both the South and Darfur.
Russia is also using arms transfers as an instrument in its efforts to gain influence in the major oil- and gas-producing regions of the Caspian Sea basin and the Persian Gulf. Its urge is not to procure energy for its own use, but to dominate the flow of energy to others. In particular, Moscow seeks a monopoly on the transportation of Central Asian gas to Europe via Gazprom's vast pipeline network; it also wants to tap into Iran's mammoth gas fields, further cementing Russia's control over the trade in natural gas.
The danger, of course, is that such endeavors, multiplied over time, will provoke regional arms races, exacerbate regional tensions, and increase the danger of great-power involvement in any local conflicts that erupt. History has all too many examples of such miscalculations leading to wars that spiral out of control. Think of the years leading up to World War I. In fact, Central Asia and the Caspian today, with their multiple ethnic disorders and great-power rivalries, bear more than a glancing resemblance to the Balkans in the years leading up to 1914.
What this adds up to is simple and sobering: the end of the world as you've known it. In the new, energy-centric world we have all now entered, the price of oil will dominate our lives and power will reside in the hands of those who control its global distribution.
In this new world order, energy will govern our lives in new ways and on a daily basis. It will determine when, and for what purposes, we use our cars; how high (or low) we turn our thermostats; when, where, or even if, we travel; increasingly, what foods we eat (given that the price of producing and distributing many meats and vegetables is profoundly affected by the cost of oil or the allure of growing corn for ethanol); for some of us, where to live; for others, what businesses we engage in; for all of us, when and under what circumstances we go to war or avoid foreign entanglements that could end in war.
This leads to a final observation: The most pressing decision facing the next president and Congress may be how best to accelerate the transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to a system based on climate-friendly energy alternatives.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil. Consider this essay a preview of his newest book, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, which has just been published by Metropolitan Books.


The real experience
Once in my life I was in New York and, of course, I visited the art galleries. There were a number of paintings I was very excited to see and others which I cared less about. To my surprise the paintings that I enjoyed most were not the ones I expected to like. The expected favourites were enjoyable but no more enjoyable then I expected. But there were others that floored me. The ones that I expected to glance at and walk on but that caught me. So some of the paintings that I was not that interested in became the ones that interested me the most.
I was familiar with the images of these surprising paintings. What I was not familiar with was their size and the way they were painted.
In art books and prints for walls etc. there is a standard range of sizes. Monet's water lilies in a book is nothing like the really thing taking up an expanse of wall space. The water seems to have depth and movement in the really thing; it takes your breath away. On the printed page, the impression is blur and boring. When you walk past the real painting, you walk past shimmering reflections.
At the other end of the scale was Dali paintings. I was not prepared for how small they were. The surrealist messages of Dali's painting had always left me cold (and still do). But what had never been clear in reproductions was the tiny scale of the painting. Was it done with a three-haired brush? The paintings were like little sparkling jewels of beautiful colour.


Dyscalculia
Being dyslexic, I am interested to learn that a similar fraction of the population has as much the same problems with numbers as dyslexics have with words. And I am interested, but not surprised, that changes in the way arithmetic/mathematics was taught that occurred in the 50s was as disadvantageous for dyscalculics as the loss of phonetics at about that time was to dyslexics.
It turns out that we have at least three different mechanisms for dealing with numbers. It is very complicated and includes different areas of the brain. So like reading/writing different parts of the brain have to work together.
First, we have an inbuilt system that can recognize immediately groups up to and usually including four objects. The concepts of these first numbers do not require words or symbols or counting. We also seem to be born with a number line which gets more approximate with higher and higher numbers. This line even seems to have the low end of the left and the high end of the right. The concepts of addition and subtraction are there although it is only accurate for small numbers. (Multiplication and division are not inborn concepts). We have to learn to do arithmetic accurately with larger numbers but can do it approximately without instruction.
Second, we have counting. This is a language thing. This allows us to move further up the number line without approximation by having a series of names. Once the series is learnt, it can be used to identify groups by counting and using the last number as the number representing the group. These names can also by given symbols that are visual rather than linguistic. The same principle applies, they are a series that can be used to count, to compare quantities, to add and subtract above the basic few numbers.
Finally, we can bring logic to bear on numbers. Then we can manipulate the visual symbols to acquire other concepts. I don't know where in all this are the problems that dyscalculics have. I expect it will not be any easier to understand than the problems of dyslexics.
All this reminds me of a little pet theory of Harry's. The decimal and metric systems have all tens and nothing else in groupings. But older systems were very different. Take the units of length: inch, foot, yard, fathom, chain, furlong, mile. No relationship is repeated: 12 inches to a foot, 3 feet to a yard, 2 yards to a fathom, 11 fathoms to a chain, 10 chains to a furlong, 8 furlongs to a mile. To a mind that is thinking in mathematical symbols, all these units are confusing. To a mind that is thinking more intuitively, the repetition of 10 is without any reference to real distances is confusing. A furlong, for example, is the distance between rests and any plowman can judge how far he can get before the oxen have to stop. The reason all this came to my mind is the score. Shepherds used to look at a field of sheep and say something like, "There's about 4 score and 6". They would be right within a few sheep. 4 score and 6 is 86 but there might be 84 or 89. The shepherd did not count the sheep - he counted the scores of sheep. And then he counted the ones that were not part of scores. That is a lot faster then counting to 86 (if, of course, you have learnt to do it) and a lot more accurate if the sheep are moving about. They would not move much while you counted to 4 and they might move too much while you counted to 80.


Mr. Do-it-in-the-road
I once watched a TV program about a man planning a feast in Papua New Guinea. It was a long time ago and I cannot trace the program. My memory of it may be a bit faulty but it was such a revelation to me at the time that I have what seems a clear vision of it in my mind.
This man wearing a T-shirt with 'Do it in the Road' written across it was explaining to the camera the process of arranging a big feast. He did most of the planning sitting on his haunches in the forest. As the documentary unfolded, the enormous nature of the plan that was being prepared emerged. Years later, when I was implementing a large computer system, I used to tell myself when things seemed to be racing toward disaster that it could not be more complicated than the feast of Do-it-in-the-Road.
The basic idea was that during his life, to this point, he had done favours for others so that now he could call in all his markers at once for the big feast. The guests would be housed, fed and entertained for about 4 days and each would go home with a gift. When you had a feast, you got the prestige and status for your feast and were a cut above those that had never had one or who had had a smaller one. Our hero was going to be a very big man because he was planning to give the local Member of Parliament a Landrover. The MP would of course accept his invitation once he realized that there was a Landrover in it. And the MPs important friends would come too and make it a feast to remember. There would be a hundred or more people at the feast.
The preparations included pigs that would be coming from lot of people who owed him something. They would have to be fed after they arrived until they were either cooked or taken away as a gift. His family had to plant a much larger garden for the feast and feeding the pigs. The arrangements for the pigs to arrive had to be planned so that they didn't all arrive at once, not too late for the feast and not so early that he ran out of food for them. He himself had been raising pigs like mad for a few years and there was already a strain on the family's ability to look after pigs. He spent a lot of his time on the pigs and the Landrover but there was a myriad of other details.
Do-it-in-the-Road was planning the logistics of this and making adjustments to his plans for unforeseen opportunities and hitches. He was dealing with some sharp learning curves to do with the interface with city life in getting together cash and buying the Landrover. He used great skill in forecasting and negotiating and trading and communicating and conning and…whatever was required.
Everyday he spent time in the forest planning. He sat there on his heels and thought. He had no lists, no calendar, no schedules, no calculator, no abacus, no diagrams, no project management program on a computer, no minutes of meetings, no assistants, no whiteboard. He had nothing but what he could remember and manipulate in his own head. He accomplished his feast; it was a success; he attained the status. And he deserved the status. He was in his own way a real genius. Really, he was an illiterate, innumerate GENIUS.


Fractal Wrongness
I have run across a new phrase, fractal wrongness, defined by a person called Keunwoo Lee. He is a computer scientist and the definition is amongst some interesting computer definitions on his
website.
fractal wrongness:
The state of being wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. That is, from a distance, a fractally wrong person's worldview is incorrect; and furthermore, if you zoom in on any small part of that person's worldview, that part is just as wrong as the whole worldview.
Debating with a person who is fractally wrong leads to infinite regress, as every refutation you make of that person's opinions will lead to a rejoinder, full of half-truths, leaps of logic, and outright lies, that requires just as much refutation to debunk as the first one. It is as impossible to convince a fractally wrong person of anything as it is to walk around the edge of the Mandelbrot set in finite time.
If you ever get embroiled in a discussion with a fractally wrong person on the Internet--in mailing lists, newsgroups, or website forums--your best bet is to say your piece once and ignore any replies, thus saving yourself time.
When I read this to Harry for his amusement, he said, "Oh, how frustratingly depressing and true!" It didn't seem to amuse him. But personally I think that mentally labeling someone with this phrase will make talking to them less frustrating.
If someone's understanding of 'life, the universe and everything' is different from yours at a very deep metaphysical and epistemological level - where can you both stand to have a conversation?


Coming in under the radar
There seems to be things happening that do not hit the popular press. Everyday I read a little list of science articles and press releases from the previous day. Mostly I just read the headlines, for some I read a sentence or two summary, and for a few I read the approximately page-long press release. The newspapers have the same or similar sources of raw science news to follow up on for that day's science coverage. Every day I also look at the headlines in the online versions of the BBC, Guardian, London Times, Globe and Mail and sometimes other publications. There is a pattern in science coverage. Medicine is covered most extensively. Climate change, space exploration, education are favourites. Weird sounding things are included such as new theories in particle physics or unusual animal behaviour. But I see practically no articles on nanotechnology.
The lack of information on nanotechnology is a mistake, we will regret it. There are three reasons why the public should be exposed to news about nanotechnology. First, like nuclear energy and gene cloning, there are potential dangers to the technology and it probably needs to be regulated by some publicly accountable body. Second, it will be a very powerful area of engineering. It will make some things easy and routine, that are not even conceivable today. Third, it is moving very quickly and will soon become economically important. If it stays 'below the radar' it will burst onto the scene and the public will be surprised and unprepared.
The general idea is to make tools, machines and materials that are extremely small - really, really tiny. The scale of 1 to 100 nanometers is the scale of atoms and molecules. The diameter of a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers. Currently there is an estimated $50 billion of nanotechnology goods manufactured globally. There are over 500 products on the markets (dietary supplements, skin products, electronic devices). But 70% of American adults have heard little or nothing about nanotechnology while only 6 % are knowledgeable on the subject. It has been treated like an academic game, but now it is getting serious and has momentum and money behind it.
"Efforts to inform the public have not kept pace with the growth of this new technology area. This increases the danger that the slightest bump -- even a false alarm about safety or health -- could undermine public confidence, engender consumer mistrust, and, as a result, damage the future of nanotechnology, before the most exciting applications are realized. If they do not effectively engage a broad swath of the public in steering the course of nanotechnology, government and industry risk squandering a tremendous opportunity." - David Rejeski, director of the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
I made a note of the nanotechnology items in this morning's ScienceDaily News and found that someone had made a balloon that was 1 atom thick and the 'world's thinest'. Someone else had produced flexible nano antenna arrays that were embedded in a plastic sheet. The sheets could capture solar energy. A number of people are trying to marry DNA technology to nanotechnology and the third new item this morning was that someone had used DNA 'wires' and attached metal ions to make the world's smallest magnets.
Any one of these stories seems more interesting to the general public than the stories that I found in the papers. I for one would like to know what happens to the materials after a nanotechnology experiment is over. Are they just poured down the sink and washed into the local rivers? The benefits and risks are huge.
Recently it has been shown that some nano-particles can pass through skin. "It's the strongest evidence yet indicating that some nanoparticles are so small that they can actually seep through skin, especially when the skin has been damaged. The health implications of nanoparticles in the body are uncertain, said DeLouise, an assistant professor of Dermatology and Biomedical Engineering and an expert on the properties of nanoparticles. Other scientists have found that the particles can accumulate in the lymph system, the liver, the nervous system, and in other areas of the body. In her study, she found that the particles accumulate around the hair follicles and in tiny skin folds. DeLouise, a chemist, points out that her study did not directly address the safety of nanoparticles in any way. "We simply wanted to see if nanoparticles could pass through the skin, and we found that they can under certain conditions," she said."
This could be as large an industrial revolution as steam, electricity or computers. Keep your ears open for this subject.

Slime molds
I have always liked the IgNobles. When I hear the news that the Noble prizes are being awarded, I start looking for news of the IgNobles. I read that a Japanese group won this year's IgNoble prize for cognitive neuroscience. They showed that slime mold could navigate a maze and find the shortest path between two points. 
Although this (very smart, ha) slime mold was not the sort I knew, the event did get me thinking about slime molds. Then Nikon announced their prize winners for microscopic photography. And what did I find among the photos? - my sort of slime mold, the cellular slime mold, Dictyostelium discoideum.
When I worked in John Ashworth's research group, I did a lot of feeding and looking after D. discoideum. The idea was that this slime mold could illuminate development because its development was so simple. As long as there was bacterial food to eat, the organism lived as single celled amoebas and they were independent of one another. When food was scarce, the amoeba streamed together and formed a little slug-like thing that moved to a good place. It then stopped and changed shape. Finally a ball of spores rose up a stalk. The spores could turn into amoebas when or where there was food. The development was about as simple as possible: just two or three developed cell types in the multi-cellular fruiting body and they developed from more of less identical single independent cells in a short period of moving about as a group.
The whole development was beautiful under the microscope from the streaming aggregation to the mature fruiting bodies.

slime mold slime mold