30 July 2011

"The Hedgehog, The Fox and the Magister's Pox" by Stephen Jay Gould

Gould discusses how the conflicts between science and the humanities (religion) are fabricated to put an illogical conflict that should not exist and only drags down both. Instead, science and the humanities should learn to work together. The humanities pride themselves on having one single tactic that works (the method of the hedgehog) while the sciences pride themselves on having a variety of tactics that work (the method of the fox) and that both should learn from each other in order to propel their respective studies into the future. The Magister's Pox was the method of creating the conflict so that they could remain in control.

Interesting tidbit: Gould argues an unusual point for a scientist: that the perfection of the earth and the biosphere should do more to prove that there is a God than anything short of actually seeing Him. Evolution has one of two possibilities: that nature figured out how to do things be its self or that God put things into such a perfect organization and alignment that He did not need to continually intervene.

29 July 2011

"Switch" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

This one is all about fostering an environment of change. The authors compare the mind to an Elephant (our emotional side) and a Rider (our logical side) with changing being the path we are walking down. They talk about ways to motivate the Elephant (who can get through almost anything if it wants to), directing the Rider (who can make good decisions, as long as choices are clearly identified) all while making sure the desired path of change is as clear as it can be.

Interesting tidbit: the authors cite a study by physician Donald Redelmeier nad psychologist Eldar Shafir:

A doctor is reviews the medical records of a 67 year-old patient who is suffering from chronic hip pain. At this point, the man has tried every medication know and his regular doctor was forced to recommend hop replacement (a painful and, at the patient's age, a risky procedure that will entail a long recovery process). As the doctor is reviewing the medical records a new and promising drug is announced. The question is: should the doctor recommend the surgery or try the new drug. In this scenario, doctors 47% of doctors chose to try the new drug. Under a slightly different scenario, this time two drugs were introduced, only 28% of doctors opted for either drug. The authors attribute this dramatic change to the Rider being overwhelmed by the sudden additional options and so defaulted to the original choice of surgery without really considering its implications. An example of the Rider needing to have choices clearly marked.

27 July 2011

200th post!

This is my 200th post! Not a huge bunch mark, but I like to think of my previous 199 post as a (mostly) healthy contribution to society in general.

I was just going to leave this post at the above, but decided to post something a little extra:

26 July 2011

"Time, Love, Memory" by Jonathan Weiner

This book is a history of the fascinating evolution of the field of molecular biology, particularly the ground breaking work of Seymour Benzer. It was interesting to note that this field has been growing so quickly that few students in the field today have heard of Benzer or his fruit fly experiments.

Interesting tidbit: all fruit flies, and most other animals, have a built in "rest" mechanism that tries to put them to sleep in the afternoon. They think this is to encourage us to survive the afternoon heat and thus be more productive in life.

25 July 2011

Whale Study (twice)

Some time ago (last year) I did a whale study:

I planned to make a cool Escheresk graphic with it (for a wedding gift to be sure) but I stopped working on the big picture graphic before it was done (whales do not fit together as nicely as butterflies, fish or birds).

Recently, I was listening in on a phone conference for work. The meeting was quite productive, though my contribution was minimal (literally five minutes out of the hour and a half) though I did glean tidbits of important information that made listening to the call worth the time. As I was listening, I found myself bored. I grabbed some paper and made a real life origami whale study (with magnets on them so they could live on the refrigerator):

Yes, the narwhal is my own genius variation on the whale pattern. By the conclusion of the call I had made two blue whales and two narwhals. By the end of the night I had added two turtles and two walruses. Sometimes I think that I have the best job ever.

Cheap posts

Someday, I will complete a more interesting post (one of the ones that I have in draft that are waiting to be proofed, polished and published) but until then I am enjoying going through old works. There is something liberating about finally publishing something that I had written a while ago, recently rediscovered and can now publish (because, generally, these writings were written on my phone and thus had to wait until I got to a computer to be posted).

24 July 2011

Teachers: Can I Go to the Bathroom?

(I found this in my notes--towards the bottom of the list--next to the note Can I, May I)

I can appreciate the need to maintain order and control, especially when considering young, rambunctious people who, at times think that their sole purpose in life is to overthrow any resemblance of authority and to let chaos and anarchy reign. But beyond the cursory reasons to maintain, it may be more important to ensure that children are able to understand and play their role in the system than to maintain a tight level of control and dictatorial command.

Too often the rules, that to the adults who have been stuck in this and similar system for seemingly endless years seem self-evident, are not explain in a reasonable manner to the children. Instead they are simply told in a matter of fact tone of the way it is. At the young and curious state they are in, these same children are constantly seeking to understand the reason and logic that should pervade through the world they perceive but that seems so elusive. They want to know why things are they way they are, but too often those who know (especially those whose job it is to teach them) are too concerned with other--arguably less important--matters to thoroughly explain them.

It is the 'why' that so many children crave to know, because once they understand the 'why' they can begin building a framework to help them understand other components of the world without adult explanation. Failing to explain the reasoning behind seemingly arbitrary rules and instructions that must be important, is a kin to denying an opportunity for the child to gain precious insight into the inner workings of the the system they will be living in the rest of their lives.

Ironically, the adults then become frustrated that the child never seems to catch on to the concepts that are trying to be taught. This is like calling an animal stupid for getting hit when crossing the road. They are not necessarily hit because they lack intelligence, though they might be too stupid to know better, but this particular folly is the result of a lack of understanding: no one ever taught them the order of things. The defensive adult might argue that the patterns of traffic should be obvious. 'Should be obvious' to those who have the essential tools of knowledge needed to be able to decrypt the world. Without these critical tools the flow of traffic is just a jumbled mess of objects flying down the road.

What is needed is not to dismiss the reasoning of the rules under the cloak of arbitration by declaring "because I said so" (the cars do not flow in a particular pattern because someone said so); instead, time needs to be taken to help the child understand the logic (the cars flow because people decide to drive down the road, thus their pattern and speed cannot be accurately anticipated) so that they can start to identify similar reasoning in other settings (such as, some times of the day will have a busier flow because more people are coming home from work or headed to school). Though a system of active teaching to children will undoubtedly be more time consuming, children in such a system will learn later lessons quicker and more thoroughly. But then, that may lessen the control on teachers on children.

21 July 2011

"Emergence" by Steven Johnson

When you get a bunch of small and simple things together and give them simple commands, clear patterns of behavior begin to emerge. This is true for ant colonies, computer program logic and even cities full of people. We are finding more and more that we need more simple and basic programming and planning to achieve greater and more complex results.

Interesting tidbit: Queen ants do not direct the actions of the colony, in fact no ant is "in charge". Instead, each individual ant lays down and detect pheromone trails that indicate what is going on in the colony. If an ant detects too many pheromones from harvesting activities it will go check on the nursery.  If the nursery is full of "happily taken care of" pheromones then it will check on the gardens. Using this system of pheromones, the ants can quickly adapt to the changing needs of the colony. Additionally, the system is self healing because no single ants (or small collection of them) calls the shots.

18 July 2011

Chihuahua versus Elephant

I was reading some of posts and came upon It is strange when... and made a funny graphic:

Yes, that is a chihuahua trying to bite an elephant's leg. This is a prime example of failure.

It still makes me smile.

17 July 2011

Relating to Pack Rats

I wrote this back in January, shortly after my car had been wrecked and before I got another car to drive.

Recently I found myself being mildly appalled by my newly acquired pack ratish behavior. I blame this newly acquired behavior on the fact that I no longer have a car. Though I get to the store often enough, I have realized that I can't simply jump in Elazar and go. Instead, if I do run out, I must find someone who in going, or is willing to go, to get the needed items. So, rather than risk running out, I find myself purchasing resupplies long before they are needed. This made me suddenly have a level of compassion for the pack rats of the world.

16 July 2011

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie

Good murder mystery. An unknown stranger gathers together ten people onto an island for a weekend getaway. One by one, each of the patrons get voted off the island through their mysterious death. The remaining patrons band together to find the killer, but fail in their attempts. In the end, we learn that each member has committed so crime that they were not successfully tried for thus justice has finally been served.

15 July 2011

Observation: Words Counts Encourage Poor Writing

As I am sitting here writing nine statements, each at least 150 words, I am thinking to myself: "man my writing is getting pretty sloppy. But then, if it is not sloppy I will not make the word count because I will have said what needs to be said and still need 50 words to meet the assignment."

This is certainly not the first time that I have done this, in fact only for one class did I still reach to meet the word count while maintaining good writing (and that was because I knew the teacher would reward me for my articulation and word count). Instead, most teachers just care about the word count, not the clear presentation of thoughts. Thus, word counts encourage me to write poorly because I will be rewarded the same either way--so I focus on things for which I am rewarded for putting more effort into.

13 July 2011

"Full House" by Stephen Jay Gould

Gould is a notable researcher in the fields of paleontology and natural history. He also has really good analogies to  describe his arguments. In Full House, Gould discusses how the human form is not evolution's ultimate goal, but that the goal of evolution is to try every possible variation at least once. He notes that if we track evolving life we see that once a new species is created, it tries a myriad of variations and then stabilizes on an average. Though his arguments sometime get repetitive, he is thorough and sure to cover as many counter arguments that he can think of.

Interesting tidbit: Bacteria, by quantity and and variations, is by far the most dominate life form on earth. Also, the horse (which is often epitomized as the finest example of evolution because of its nearly straight line succession) is actually a bad example of evolution because where the history of the horse resembles a branch most other species look like a bush (think of rodents: where there is one kind of horse, there are dozens of kinds of rodents).

12 July 2011

Why We Despise Successful Normal People

I have noticed an interesting trend in business and politics: we do not like "normal" people succeeding. Quite frequently whenever a "normal" person becomes successful, rumors begin to spread about how the said person is not truly "normal". Indeed, these rumors seem carefully designed to draw enough, even if subtle, distinction between the successful individual and the less successful "normal" population.

As observed, this behavior seems to be a coping mechanism the "normal" use in order to assure the common individual that their paltry efforts are indeed acceptable and that those who have chosen to break from the herd in order to be successful were, in fact, never really part of the herd. Instead, they were a bit like the ugly duckling: an immensely successful person who had not yet realized their potential and so was hanging out with the inferior crowd.

As comforting as such thinking might be, it is truly damaging to the "normal" and is the reason they have retained their normalcy. Instead of inspiring the individual to do and be more, the herd mentality encourages each member to hold on to their common bond by forsaking any thoughts or behaviors that would allow the individual to push beyond the implied limits of the herd and thus allow them to enter the realm of success that they, and indeed the whole herd, are ever jealous of. This pervasive thinking is mostly perpetuated by the laziest of the "normal", the ones who want the grandeur and glory but who do not want to work for it. Indeed, they think that such should be handed to them. They suppress the general population (a feat usually more consuming than actually doing the work) because they fear that if their fellow "normal" beings were to suddenly start to succeed then they would leave the "normal" herd and the lazy would be left behind all by themselves.

How sad "herd mentality" can be.

11 July 2011

"Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson

This is a very short (94 pages) and very good book. The premise is that a bunch of friends get together for a reunion and they catch up on each others lives. One of the friends launches into a parable about recognizing and accepting change. The parable is a powerful and catching one that made me stop and think, "how do I handle change?"

09 July 2011

Random Interesting Reading

I made the comment (because the conversation was about sloths) that sloth organ are upside down. Seymour (a roommate) asked if the bats were the same. I responded that I did not know so I started a search. An article called Commonsense For Bats came up. It turned out to be very interesting reading about Human Resources in an  organization. How interesting it is that I can be looking for one think and find something else of equal interest but in an entirely different vein.

(Also, I found this interesting post by Nicholas Carr about effects of prolonged exposure to the internet of the brain.)

(Oh, the question about the bats has been entirely pushed aside by more interesting things.)

08 July 2011


I do not know that I read that many books that are incredibly interesting. Actually, even as I write that statement I think, "if a book does not capture your attention in the first ten pages then you put it down, usually forever." As I think this, such behavior would lead to the reading of mostly interesting book with few exceptions (required reading for a class being one of them). Most importantly than my reading of good books is that I tend to share enough tidbits that I learn from the said books that people keep asking for a reading list. I have wanted for some time to make such a list and then realized it would be best to craft the list in such a way that it could continue to be updated and easily accessible to the world.

With that premise, I have added a new "Reading" tag and will write brief comments about book I have read that are interesting.