Archive for August, 2010

More Defense of Links

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Scott Rosenberg (who I was led to by Crawford Killian) shares my skepticism re the “studies” cited by Nick Carr. And what is more, he actually took the trouble to read them carefully and point out some of the nonsense in detail. (more…)

Back From the Future

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

An article in DISCOVER Magazine discusses an apparent influence of the decision to make later measurements on the results of earlier ones.

But then it turns out that the effect persists even when the later measurement is not recorded. Such cases are dismissed as experimental error, but perhaps it is just that the presence of the apparatus for the final measurement that causes the effect. Just as the half-silvered ends of a laser trap the photon between them, so perhaps do the apparati for initial and final measurement also trap the photon subjects of the Aharonov-Tollakson experiment.

Is there any significance in the fact that the article was originally printed in the April edition?

Who’s a Dick?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

In his writings[1] Dick Feynman was never a dick (except perhaps in the eyes of those responsible for security during the Manhattan Project), and Dick Dawkins is not usually a dick but sometimes he comes close. I suspect that I am often a dick myself but I enjoy it too much to give it up completely. (more…)

Data Sharing Speeds Research

Monday, August 16th, 2010

An article in the NYTimes (coming to me via Michael Geist) reports progress in Alzheimer’s research coming as a result of researchers adopting the principle of open data. (more…)

The Rigor of Love and The Love of Rigour

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Even — and indeed especially — those who are denominationally faithless can have an experience of faith.

The above quote comes from Simon Critchley’s recent article about Kierkegaard, The Rigor of Love, that appeared in the NYTimes’  Opinionator Blog on Aug 8.  (more…)

Memetic Allergies and Mutations

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Ruth Howard asks Is Critical Thinking a Meme to Counter Memes? (in a post which came to my attention via #CritLit2010). And then she goes on to suggest that some skeptics become inflamed and hyper-sensitive when exposed to allergenic stimuli such as conspiracy theories (or at least that’s how I interpreted her juxtaposition of so many interesting analogies and ideas). I suspect that the biological metaphors are getting mixed here, but I get (and like) the idea that, in their hyper-enthusiasm for debunking some kinds of nonsense, people such as Brian Dunning in his “Here be Dragons” video go overboard to the extent of failing to apply critical thinking to their own position.

Ruth’s comments on Dunning’s video are apt. I was dismayed on seeing it myself at the manipulative presentation, including, for example, the frequent juxtaposition (to sinister sounding music yet!) of items representing real fraud or nonsense with others on which it is only fair to say that the jury is still out.

The Top Five Lies (about AGW)

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Discover Magazine is asking for readers to suggest their candidates for the Top Five Lies About Global Warming.

Here are my suggestions:

1. It has recently been proved
(False – it was “proved” in the 19th century by Svante Arrhenius. Yes there were gaps in the “proof”, and some imaginable mechanisms for the climate system to evade it, but they were always far fetched, and foolish to put a high stakes gamble on)
2. Evidence matters
(False – looking for evidentiary proof is like asking for such proof that you will eventually ht the ground after falling off a cliff and arguing about whether the fact that air resistance is reducing your acceleration means that you’ll actually be just fine)
3. We can all make a difference by changing our own lifestyle
(False – it will require universal collective action. So far, just 20% of the world have been “defectors” from abstinence and even with an 80% “participation” rate the strategy of living poor isn’t working)
4. Energy efficiency is the solution
(False – even with 100% efficiecy of all devices, with currently available of foreseeable energy sources there is no way we can continue to do what we do without causing more global warming)
5. Reducing our energy consumption is the solution
(False – Even compulsory mandated limits on travel and other forms of energy consumption would not suffice unless those limits were low enough to reduce us all to a “third world” standard of living. If we lower Western/Northern populations to any acceptable standard of living the effect would be more than offset by what would be necessary to raise all the rest to that same minimum standard.)

So what WILL bring AGW to an end?

Plan A is an immediate compulsory global one-child policy which will halve our population in about 50 years and cut it back to about 2.5 billion by the end of the century,
and if that is considered too draconian there’s always…

‘Tea Party North’ fires an EMP

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Tyee gets it. What Harper is doing to StatsCan and the census is classic military strategy. First blind the enemy. Cut off his communication lines, fill the air with smoke, or in modern times, knock out his systems with a computer virus or a high altitude nuclear  ‘Electro-Magnetic Pulse’ weapon. Then go in on land and wipe out the confused and scattered remnants. Brilliant!

CRTC consultation on Obligation to Serve

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

For what it’s worth, here is the main point I made in my submission today:

with regard to the question about ensuring access for all Canadians, I said:

CRTC should set national rate caps for broadband access via both telephone and cable operators AND should ensure ‘net neutrality’ with regard to content type and source. This does NOT preclude charging users on a per data quantity basis. In fact that is the best way to counter arguments for throttling, and is the only fair way to deal with the fact that some users ‘hog’ bandwidth. The most important fundamental principle to apply is that all transmitters via a given carrier should pay the same rate per unit of consumed bandwidth and similarly for recievers (with a difference between unit costs for transmitters and receivers being acceptable).


@maferarenas on microblogging and learning

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

My linking to this is evidence for @Downes of more real interesting learning from #CritLit2010.

But it’s not just the shape of the network that’s important here; it’s also the semantic content of what we are linking about. (If we had drifted off into a classroom conversation about mutual friends in Argentina then the network connections might look stronger but it might not be so “interesting” from the course’s point of view.)

Perhaps some more direction about how to tag things in a coordinated way (beyond just the one #CritLit tag) would have made it easier for Stephen’s colleagues to extract the necessary information from our network activity (and also for us to get more immediate value from the course!)

For me the effectiveness of Twitter as a tool is definitely increasing as a result of participating in CritLit2010 (though mostly after the fact), and I am learning lots of other things as well. Perhaps my reading of the actual course resources has left me with useful mental hooks for conceptualizing these new skills, but I’m still not convinced of that; so I do think that a more practical approach (as in Maria’s post here) would have been more useful.

Pascal’s Wager and the Value of Truth

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Pascal’s Wager has been cited, and the value of ‘truth’ has been questioned, in a rather curious Guardian article by Harriet Baber who has been trashed by PZMeyers who has been called out by ‘Siris’ (with John S Wilkins agreeing to some extent), and Ophelia Benson has also taken it on. Despite the objections of Siris (and having now read the above linked Stanford Encyclopedia entry) I don’t think Meyers is off-base with regard to the Wager being “bollocks”, but I do think his ad feminem tone was more what I would expect of some of his fanboys than of himself and I also think he missed some of the subtleties of Ms Baber’s position. Not that I agree with her, but I do find that she gives some insight into how an intelligent and thoughtful person can come to adopt a religious position.

Coincidentally, the question of  ‘truth’ also comes up in Philosophy Talk this week, where John Perry takes issue with the pragmatic theory of truth in the promo for a broadcast on William James.  Am I wrong to imagine a connection between James “pragmatic” theory, what Baber says, and the postmodernists’ ideas of  “socially constructed” truth?

Is Google Evil?

Monday, August 9th, 2010

No this isn’t about the Verizon thing; it’s something completely different.

I was looking at both Feedblitz and Google’s Feedburner as tools for offering email subscription service, but despite claims in the help files on both sites that Google is supporting Feedblitz as a complement to Feedburner there is no apparent way of reaching it from the Feedburner site.

Now I can understand if the cooperation agreement is perhaps no longer in place and what I was reading is outdated, or if the intent was only to support those who picked up Feedblitz by going to its own site (as I did), but what is really EVIL is that when I tried to edit the email subscriptions properties in Feedburner the only option I was offered was to disable Feedblitz. This kind of Microsoftian ploy is not the kind of thing that will build public confidence in an organization that wants to be the guardian of ALL our information!

Google and Verizon

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Stephen Downes and Jay Hathaway are upbeat about this, but I share the doubts expressed by ‘saltrix’ and ‘Alain’ on Jay’s posting, and by the critics quoted in the NYT’s more recent article. Namely “protecting the internet” won’t mean a damn once there’s a new “differentiated” network on which the anomaly of relatively cheap publication costs for small independent sources can be done away with. At present the internet is supported by the traffic of big and small transmitters, but if the big ones leave it may get squeezed – and if the big corporate entities find it more congenial to ‘competerate’ with one another rather than with the less predictable challenges afforded by upstarts, then squeeze they will.

New Web Host

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

For some time I have been looking forward to the arrival of WordPress v3 which, among other things, enables easily setting up a separate blog for the CMR website. But to install it I needed my host to run a more recent version of MySQL than I had currently available. It turns out that they could do that, but that the process of transferring my database would be no less complex than taking my hosting business to a new provider whose interface I find more compatible and whose price is a lot less also.

So, after a week or so of email exchanges with (where the staff were always polite and helpful but the interface repeatedly defeated me), interspersed with productive work on a new “free trial” site at, I have decided to go with the latter. And after one last slight unexpected delay in getting the DNS change recorded it seems that everything is now being served from the new host – including the new blog-of-its-own for CMR and an up-to-date installation of Moodle (into which I have been able to upgrade the old work I was doing re inclusion of editable graphs and dynamic math in quizzes).

Retiring on Sept1!

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

So, at the end of this month I will be  retiring from Langara, where I have been teaching for many years. I will miss the daily interaction with colleagues and students, but am looking forward to having more time for expanding my horizons and learning new things.

This Summer I participated in Stephen Downes and Rita Kop’s  on-line ‘Critical Literacies‘ course (#CritLit2010) – partly with a view to increasing my networking skills, and also attended the CADGME conference on Computer Algebra Systems and Dynamic Geometry in Math Education – to get some idea of whether there are still any legs left on either my GX2 java project or the College Math Resources website.

But I am also looking forward to deeper reading in some of the other areas that I occasionally touch on here – and maybe even eventually coming up with something useful to say!