Saturday Surfing

Six Degrees of Separation theory may leak like a sieve. It’s still an intriguing idea and fun to play with, though it may be a Big World after all. (via Gene Expression)

Time Out.

“Is it a faux pas to make a gift of faux poo?”

Give Geese A Chance.

Meerkats, ferrets, children, and VapoRub.

2D reality in a 3D illusion.  (via Marginal Revolution)

Kudos to Jeff Skiles. This was a team effort of many people, some who had trained for it and some who hadn’t (the passengers on the plane and on the ferry boats, for example.) People were on the wings almost immediately after the plane came to a stop. Well, as much of a stop as it was going to come to in the river’s current. In less than 8 minutes, passengers were being taken about ferries and rescue boats. (via Rachel Lucas)

Strangest search term ever: 1a8846fefa19f4391919f99ef11ece80785de72a25fd20c9. But what’s really neat is that Google asks “Did you mean to search for: 1a8846efa19f4391919f99f11ce80785de72a25fd20c9” which returns no results, but might after I post this!

ThinkHost: Pretends To Provide Webhosting, Pretends To Be Green

My LittleSister can’t get to her website dependably. Neither can I. Bet you can’t either. Nobody could yesterday. The really huge problem for LittleSister is that she can’t even get into backend to point the domain name somewhere else and just move the site.

Thing is, the tech support at ThinkHost is just horrible. Back in October, she opened a support ticket about a specific issue. It was something she’d always been able to do with other hosting providers with a few clicks – additional FTP functionality. That’s so easy on the three providers I’ve used that even I can do it.

Like a good customer, she went to their Knowledge Base for information. She found they suggest using a virtualFTP thingie (whatever that is) and that ThinkHost would set it up for a fee and it would then triple her monthly hosting fee.

The funny part is that they finally answered her original question after 15 days of telling her they couldn’t. This was after a message from tech support telling her how to cancel her account if she wasn’t happy with their service.

Now, I’ve got to let you know that I would never have signed up with this hosting service in the first place. And yeah, LittleSister knows that. She’s OK with me bursting into laughter within seconds of viewing the homepage.

What made me laugh? The logo tag: powered by wind and sun. Of course that explained LittleSister’s problem! She lives in Scotland and probably hasn’t seen the sun in several days. Yes, this is nonsense, but it’s just the way my mind works. Then again, ThinkHost is based in Portland OR and I’m wondering how much sun they’ve had recently too.

The site says “we provide world class hosting powered by renewable energy. let’s change the world together — join us today.” That is misleading because it is, of course, impossible. What they are doing (and is discussed on their site, so they’re not trying to hide it) is buying renewable energy tags, which sound a lot like carbon credits which have always struck me as similar to complex financial instruments, ie., useless and worthless paper.

Not that there’s not money to be made on carbon credits — my father owns timberland and has been approached with offers to buy his carbon credits. His scam-o-meter alerted him to the fact they don’t really make sense and he didn’t sell because he didn’t want to be involved with scammers on any side of the scam.

To LittleSister, this green thing sounded good. She is a good-hearted person and wants to do things in a way that is best for the ecology. And she’s a progressive and we agree on very little politically. But durnit, she’s my sister and she was scammed and that really irritates me.

I have little doubt that the collective at ThinkHost thinks they are doing good and no doubt at all they are trying. If they want to succeed, they are first going to have to refine that little thing about “world class” hosting. It doesn’t mean leaving your customers in the dark to save electricity.

What I do not believe for one minute is that the “green” and “progressive” angles are not marketing tools. When someone signs up for hosting with ThinkHost, they are buying conscience relief; psychological carbon credits. They are paying higher (in my opinion, at least) prices for the hosting because the company is in political agreement with them, plants a tree for each customer and gives progressive non-profits discounted hosting.

OK, that’s a bit snarky, but geez… I can’t help it! (sorry LittleSister). But you agree that non-profits are not helped by poor service and technical support. I know you do.

It occurs to me that these greenies may be simply capitalists/opportunists with a niche product designed to empty the pockets of greenies and progressives. Except they picked on my sister. Nobody should pick on my sister, ya know?

I’m through. For now. If you are in the market for web hosting, please overlook ThinkHost. How green can a site be if their service increases one’s desire to throw things which will then have to be replaced?

What I’m Reading Online Today

Scenes from chem lab – oh my. I am now worried.

Self-Control is a Muscle – read the comments to find out why that theory is possibly wrong.

Political Behavior through the Lens of Behavior Genetics – it’s not necessarily wrong, just not as informative as supposed.

The ingredients in the melting pot – maps of the U.S. by ethnic group, culture regions, religion, language, politics, and socio-economics. The demographics of where you live might surprise you.

Corn, corn, everywhere there’s corn.

What I’m Reading Tonight

Assistant Village Idiot has over the past several months intrigued me with references to this author and I finally ordered one of his books.

A not-so-random quote from p. 19:

Almost no one can conceal his emotions. Behavioral scientists believe that one of the main reasons why people become leaders is not from what skills they seem to possess, but rather from what extremely superficial impression they make on other through hardly perceptible physical signals — what we call today “charisma,” for example. The biology of the phenomenon is now well-studied under the subject heading “social emotions.”

Meanwhile some historian will “explain” the success in terms of, perhaps, tactical skills, the right education, or some other theoretical reason seen in hindsight. In addition, there seem to be curious evidence of a link between leadership and a form of psychopathology (the sociopath) that encourages the non-blinking, self-confident, insensitive person to rally followers.

(paragraph break added for online readability)

Back to the book now… I’m sure I’ll find more to share with you later.

Not Everything Is Neatly Indexed On The Internet

I hate it when my husband or father asks me to look for car or truck information on the internet. It’s not so bad when they have a part number. I can find dealers and prices with no problem with that information.

But when they want information on… say… how to improve gas mileage on an ’84 Mazda b2000, the internet is not so friendly. In part, I know it’s because I do not understand exactly what information they want well enough to define good search terms.

What’s really frustrating is their “man on the moon” attitude. Just because we can put a man on the moon doesn’t mean somebody has written and posted on the internet a way to increase gas mileage in a specific vehicle.

Sure, I can find plenty of site that will tell me how to make that truck run on water. That just screams SCAM to me. The idea that the hydrogen can be separated from the oxygen and used as a fuel doesn’t sound nearly as far-fetched as the idea that somebody is going to sell me that knowledge for $49.  For only double that amount I can learn how to make a fortune in real estate.

Prescribing Statins During Pregnancy?

Unbelievable. In order to decrease the number (ie, costs) of emergency C-sections, UK news reports that statins will (?) be prescribed in the last three months of pregnancy. Supposedly, a low cholesterol count increases the ability of uterine to contract decreasing length of labor.

Oh, and did I mention that this is for obese women? Because of course your cholesterol is high if you’re obese! Why, it’s just a given, right? And did anybody mention that an increase in cholesterol and triglycerides is normal in pregnancy regardless the mother’s weight?

But what is the cost of slightly reducing the number of emergency C-sections? Why it’s just deformed babies, some so severely they die within a month of birth.

It’s time to put a stop to the “war” on obesity. It’s killing us.

Ted Kennedy Has Brain Tumor

That’s the breaking news on Fox right now. The “expert” they are speaking with is Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist. He says that most brain tumors in older people are benign, citing meningiomas.

He also made it sound like the surgery to remove any old meningioma is a breeze, patients recover and go on with life as before. Well, as the proud owner of a meningioma, I say not exactly.

For one, he’s a pathologist, not a surgeon. He probably doesn’t have many of his patients complaining about complications.

Second, he’s not a neurologist or neuropsychiatrist. He is probably as familiar with the physical structure of the brain as either one, but… perhaps he’s not as familiar with the peculiarities of minor damage to any area of the brain.

The thought that Kennedy might have a brain tumor has crossed my mind several times since I heard the news of his hospitalization. Mine was discovered when I thought I had a mini-stroke, or TIA. I was worried enough that I sat in the ER for 5 hours after all symptoms subsided to find out. I think Kennedy got, um… more aggressive treatment than I did.

For his sake, I hope it’s a meningioma, I hope it’s small, not near any major bloodworks, and that radiation is considered as the first course of treatment. This isn’t about politics, Imeningioma1.jpg wish him well.

Here’s one shot of my brain tumor, before radiation treatment.

UPDATE: AP is reporting that Kennedy’s tumor is a malignant glioma. Not good news.

Advantages of an Older Brain

At least some part of the body gets better with age. John McCain’s campaign should jump on statements like 

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

and

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

and

“If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Obama should be worried that the article indicates that an ability to ignore distractions, though quicker, ultimately results in assimilating incomplete information. In his case, I think it is not only a desire to not be “distracted” but also an ingrained part of his temperament.  

via Instapundit

The Darwin Diet

From the inimitable Dr. Boli:

Now observe that we could, without altering the lists at all, change the headings above the lists to “Things That Are Healthy to Eat” and “Things That Are Not Healthy to Eat.” The correspondence is perfect. Things that taste good are things that are healthy to eat. It follows, of course, that the things that taste best are the healthiest to eat.

Stupid Question

Are Big Brains Smarter?

Since yahoo stories tend to disappear, more quoting than usual.

One thing scientists do agree on: A big brain alone doesn’t equate with smarts. If it did, elephants and sperm whales would win all the spelling bees. Rather, scientists look at brain mass relative to body mass in order to make any speculation about a creature’s cognitive abilities.

So while an elephant noggin, at 10.5 pounds (4,780 grams), could squash a human think box in a purely physical battle of brains, you and I take the cake in a war of wits. Our brains, which weigh an average of 2.7 pounds (1,200 grams), account for about 2 percent of body weight, compared with an elephant’s under one-tenth of a percent.

Studies have shown that across species relatively large brains “do seem to provide some complex cognitive skills, such as innovative solutions to ecological problems, more efficient resource mapping and food acquisition, and more complex social strategies (such as deception),” said Nancy Barrickman, a graduate student in Duke University‘s Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy.

Differences in brain size within a species, such as humans, are relatively small, making it difficult to tease out the effects of brain size and the effects of other factors. For instance, the difference in intelligence between an organism with, say, a brain that’s 1,100 grams and one that’s 1,400 grams (which could be found in humans) is confounded by other variables, including differences in density of neurons, other structural brain differences and socio-cultural factors.

Density of neurons could be interpreted as density of links. What makes a website “intelligent”? The sheer mass of data, or it’s internal links that relate that data?

“Why isn’t there any fun anymore?”

John Brignell, in March of the zealots, explains why fun has gone out of style. In doing so he also explains a lot of other stuff. Consider yourself warned.

Every age has its dominant caste. This is the age of the zealot. Twenty years ago they were dismissed as cranks and fanatics, but now they are licensed to interfere in the every day lives of ordinary people to an unprecedented degree. When Bernard Levin first identified the new phenomenon of the SIFs (Single Issue Fanatics) many of us thought it was a bit of a joke or at most an annoyance. Now the joke is on us. In that short time they have progressed from being an ignorable nuisance to what is effectively a branch of government. They initiate legislation and prescribe taxation. They form a large and amorphous collection of groups of overlapping membership, united and defined by the objects of their hatred (industry, tobacco, alcohol, adiposity, carbon, meat, salt, chemicals in general, radio waves, field sports etc.) Their success in such a short time has been one of the most remarkable phenomena in the whole of human history.

He may be wrong on his timeline, as I remember hearing as a child, “If it’s fun, you better do it now before it goes out of style.” Back then “style” meant “approved,” but today it’s called “political correctness.” I also remember coming to the conclusion nearly 40 years ago that everything caused cancer.

I’ve been fed up for quite a while, it seems.

The common factors in these campaigns of zealotry are:

  • Creation and maintenance of a myth

  • Ignoring all evidence countering the myth

  • Ad hominem attacks on opponents

  • Encouraging authoritarian governments to impose taxes and reduce individual freedom

  • Promotion of limits and constraints that are simply invented without reason

  • Collusion by the establishment media

  • Damage to science and its methods

  • Elimination of things that make life bearable

  • Making some people very rich whilte impoverishing the lives of almost everyone else

They will not be satified until they have you shivering in a cave, sipping thin gruel.

It’s rare that I come across an essay this long in which I find almost nothing to disagree with.

(via Junkfood Science)

7 Billion Years From Now

Hope dims that Earth will survive Sun’s death.

I believe in being prepared, so I think we’d best start working on how we’re going to arrange that “fly-by of a nearby asteroid.” If I remember correctly (school was a long time ago), the earth is about 5 billion years old now.

Will there even be life on earth 7 billion years from now? Will it be human? Will those humans be something we might recognize? There may be life, Jim, but not as we know it.

I think I’ll find something more immediate to worry about.

Exciting News on Fertility

Science Daily reports: Mothers Trade Child Quantity for Quality.

An intriguing headline. My first though was I’d be reading about mothers dropping off all but their favorite(s) at the local adoption center.

Wrong, it’s an article about fertility rates over time. Frankly, we do not need research and science to tell us this:

The researchers also found evidence for an evolved relationship between a mother’s fertility and the fertility of her children — the more offspring a woman has, the larger her overall family will be. This means that women having fewer children will ultimately have fewer grandchildren.

 All together now, in harmony – DUH!

“Regime change through landscape architecture”

At least that’s one use Pruned sees possible for Paul Torren’s geosimulation of crowd behavior. The actual goals of the project are a bit more pedestrian — predicting crowd behavior, evaluating evacuation plans, assisting city planners, developers, and public safety and health officials.

Torren, at the Arizona State University School of Geographical Sciences, says the model “will serve as an experimental, but wholly realistic, environment for exploring ‘what-if’ and unforeseen scenarios of relevance to cities and their citizens.”

According to an ASU press release:

In the areas of public safety and homeland security, the model can be used to examine questions asking how pedestrian interactions with cars can be minimized; what the early signs of antisocial behavior in large crowds are and how polarizing influences can be neutralized; and what strategies might be used to compel antisocial crowds into compliance without the use of force.

Torren is also using his expertise in a 3 year longitudinal study investigating patterns of behavior among children ages 3-5.

(via Instapundit and Schneier on Security)