December 29, 2005


Stephen and Melissa Green now have a bouncing baby boy, Preston Davis Green. Stop by and congratulate the happy parents.

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December 28, 2005

It's just that simple

Uh no, it isn't. Michael Crichton offers both insights and some stubborn facts concerning the current state of the world. Excerpt:

Now, if we are to do better in this new century, what must we do differently? In a word, we must embrace complexity theory. We must understand complex systems.

We live in a world of complex systems. The environment is a complex system. The government is a complex system. Financial markets are complex systems. The human mind is a complex system---most minds, at least.

By a complex system I mean one in which the elements of the system interact among themselves, such that any modification we make to the system will produce results that we cannot predict in advance.

Furthermore, a complex system demonstrates sensitivity to initial conditions. You can get one result on one day, but the identical interaction the next day may yield a different result. We cannot know with certainty how the system will respond.

Third, when we interact with a complex system, we may provoke downstream consequences that emerge weeks or even years later. We must always be watchful for delayed and untoward consequences.

The science that underlies our understanding of complex systems is now thirty years old. A third of a century should be plenty of time for this knowledge and to filter down to everyday consciousness, but except for slogans—like the butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane halfway around the world—not much has penetrated ordinary human thinking.

On the other hand, complexity theory has raced through the financial world. It has been briskly incorporated into medicine. But organizations that care about the environment do not seem to notice that their ministrations are deleterious in many cases. Lawmakers do not seem to notice when their laws have unexpected consequences, or make things worse. Governors and mayors and managers may manage their complex systems well or badly, but if they manage well, it is usually because they have an instinctive understanding of how to deal with complex systems. Most managers fail.

Why? Our human predisposition treat all systems as linear when they are not. A linear system is a rocket flying to Mars. Or a cannonball fired from a canon. Its behavior is quite easily described mathematically. A complex system is water gurgling over rocks, or air flowing over a bird’s wing. Here the mathematics are complicated, and in fact no understanding of these systems was possible until the widespread availability of computers.

One complex system that most people have dealt with is a child. If so, you've probably experienced that when you give the child an instruction, you can never be certain what response you will get. Especially if the child is a teenager. And similarly, you can’t be certain that an identical interaction on another day won’t lead to spectacularly different results.

If you have a teenager, or if you invest in the stock market, you know very well that a complex system cannot be controlled, it can only be managed. Because responses cannot be predicted, the system can only be observed and responded to. The system may resist attempts to change its state. It may show resiliency. Or fragility. Or both.

An important feature of complex systems is that we don’t know how they work. We don’t understand them except in a general way; we simply interact with them. Whenever we think we understand them, we learn we don’t. Sometimes spectacularly.
And for that matter, who believes that the complex system of our atmosphere behaves in such a simple and predictable way that if we reduce one component, carbon dioxide, we will therefore reliably reduce temperature? CO2 is not like an accelerator on a car. It’s not linear (and by the way, neither is a car accelerator.) And furthermore, who believes that the climate can be stabilized when it has never been stable throughout the earth’s history? We can only entertain such an idea if we don’t really understand what a complex system is. We’re like the blonde who returned the scarf because it was too tight. We don’t get it.

Fortunately, studies show that we can learn to manage complex systems. There are people who have investigated complex systems management, and know how to do it. But it demands humility.

And I would add, along with humility, managing complex systems also demands the ability to admit we are wrong, and to change course. If you manage a complex system you will frequently, if not always, be wrong. You have to backtrack. You have to acknowledge error. You’ve probably learned that with your children. Or, if you don’t have children, with your bosses.

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December 23, 2005

I believe in Santa Claus

Okay, maybe I just need to believe in Santa Claus. In any event, I believe that this editorial should have put the question to rest, permanently. Thank you, Virginia O'Hanlon:

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus?Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!

I'm certain that I will repeat this story many times to my newborn daughter, who coincidentally is named Virginia. Yes, I believe, too.

Yes, this is essentially a retread from last year's post. Sue me. I plan to post this little gem every year.

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December 16, 2005

Christmas info memo

Archaeologists working in the Holy Land have discovered an ancient
diskette mixed up with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here is what they found on the diskette:

Date: Mon, 2 Dec



Subject: Taxes, Census

I decree that all the inhabited world shall be counted and taxed. You must
every one go unto your own city.

Date: Wed, 4 Dec



Subject: Reservations

Please reserve room for two, perhaps three, for December 24 to
January 6.

Date: Fri, 6 Dec



Subject: RE: Reservations

Sorry, no room available. We've got the Hanukkah rush and the census crowd.
Thank heaven Athens beat us out for the Olympics this year! Why not come in
the off-season and get our special rate? Anyway, if you have a forms-capable
browser, you can register for the census and pay your taxes on the Med Wide Web

Date: Sun, 8 Dec



Subject: RE: RE: Reservations

Forms-capable browser? You must be kidding! It'll probably take
Galilee OnLine a couple of thousand years to work out access like
that. Please place us on waiting list for room.

Date: Mon, 23 Dec


From: healthdept@ci.beth.judea

Subject: Temporary Permit

Due to the crush of taxpayers and holiday visitors, you are hereby
granted a permit to use your stable, barn, or any agricultural outbuildings
for temporary lodging or shelter for up to 30 days from this date.

Address any appeals to:
ATTN: Manger Manager

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: It's a boy!

Unto us a son is born.

Let the family know. He came upon a midnight clear, away in a manger.
Hope to upgrade room.

Love, Joe

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: Hark!

Tidings of great joy: Unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour.

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: Praise the Lord ...

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: ... and Pass the Admonition

If ye do not act now, rates for heavenly hostingWeb sites will go up
January 1. Sign up now to lock in current prices, so ye can make known
abroad (at our famous low rates) the saying which was told you
concerning this child, glorifying and praising God for all the things
that ye have heard and seen, as it was told unto you.

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: RE: ... and Pass the Admonition

Angels we have heard on high. We'll sign up, but only if you can get
us the domain name we want:

Date: Wed, 25 Dec



Subject: Star sighting

We've seen the light! Heading your way. May take a few days. Caspar wants
to pick up some gold, frankincense, and myrrh before leaving. And for some
reason, everything seems to be closed today. Also, transportation is heavily
booked westward leading, still proceeding. We just got bumped off a caravan
because Balthazar wanted a non-smoking camel. See you January 6 or so.
Sorry we'll miss the bris. So, what are you going to name the kid, anyway?
And his name shall be called Jesus.
That's what this is all about...

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December 14, 2005

Tools of Satan?

The author of this insane screed thinks that cats are E-V-I-L. Excerpt:

It is a well-known fact that cats are impossible to tame, teach or raise in the truth. The cat has a rebellious, independent spirit. While the animal itself may be unaware of this tragic condition, it serves only its true master - Satan, the Devil.

I look forward to this guy being interviewed by Katie Couric as a fine example of all God-fearing people in this country.

Now go away. My cat asked me to hang my crucifix upside down.

Link via The Rage Diaries.

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December 09, 2005

Christmas questions redux: copy, blog, repeat

Submitted by: Name withheld to protect the quilty.

It's a matter of my opinion that Yule love the game we're about to
play. In each sentence below, fill in the blank or blanks with an
expression commonly used at Christmastide. Answers repose at the
end of this column.

1. On December 24, Adam's wife was known as _____ _____.

2. In Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was
visited by the ghost of _____ _____.

3. An opinion survey in Alaska is called a _____ _____.

4. What does Santa Claus do with his three gardens?
_____, _____, _____

5. What Christmas message is conveyed by these letters?:

6. When the salt and the pepper say "Hi!" to each other,
they are passing on _____ _____.

7. A holy man bereft of change could be called _____ _____.

8. When you cross a sheep with a cicada, you get a _____ _____.

9. A quiet medieval armor-wearer is a _____ _____.

10. A cat walking on the desert is bound to get _____ _____.

11. People who tell jokes on December 25 might be called _____ _____.
12. An airplane disaster in Israel is a _____.

13. Actor O'Connor and actress Channing are known on
December 25 as _____ _____.

14. What do Spanish sheep says when they wish each
other a Merry Christmas? _____ _____.

Meretricious to all! And don't forget that There's
No Plate Like Chrome for the Hollandaise.


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December 08, 2005

It just occurred to me...

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
my Bonnie lies over the sea.
She's a real tall girl.

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That's entertainment

I hear that Jennifer Aniston is suing a photographer for taking pictures of her while she sunbathed topless. The lawsuit is for invasion of privacy and not for embarrassment, which is a good thing: these pictures show nothing to be ashamed of IMHO, Derbyshire's creep comments notwithstanding.

Update: Yes, I realize that by showing these pictures I'm also invading her privacy. I'll repent of my evil ways whilst taking a very cold shower.

One other thing: if you think that Jennifer is too over the hill to get excited about, I've got a special joke just for you in the extended entry: more...

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December 06, 2005

Shop elsewhere

I never advocate boycotts. However, I personally will not to shop at Target this Christmas season. Your decision is, of course, your own.


Thanks to Debbie Schlussel via XLRQ for the update. Oh, and the image swiped from there as well.

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Bring out yer dead!

Time to submit your rosters for the Dead Pool, v.2006. Here is a new rule for 2006:

Players must be bloggers and willing to expend an effort in promoting the game and cheering on their picks as they appear in the headlines, flirting with death. All players must join this site as contributing authors are welcome to with the understanding that shameless self-promotion of their own blogs in the process of making posts about their rosters is not only welcome, but encouraged.

Every player must blog about each of their picks at least once per calendar quarter (January - March / April - June / July - September / October - December). This means 15 posts per quarter times four quarters = 60 minimum posts. Failure to blog about a particular pick during a quarter means the loss of that pick. There will be no reminders or status pages of blogged picks, so track your roster carefully during the year.

If a pick dies during the year, then you no longer have to blog about that pick.

I think that the new blogging requirement will come back to bite me in the ass, but that's my problem.

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December 05, 2005

"We used to be a free country"

In deference to Jerry Pournelle

OTB/Radley Balko link to a story of a woman who got tasered by the police for refusing to take a blood alcohol test. Here is a link to the video. I can't make out a lot of what's being said. Except for, of course, the woman's screams of "OH MY GOD!" as she's being tasered.

Hey Barney! Here's some free advice: knock it off. If you and partner can't handle a 100 lb. woman, find another line of work.

Update: James Joyner politely mentioned in the comments that I had linked to the wrong story. Whoops.

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December 01, 2005

May I have your attention

Time to rack up Dots

Please read the press release below.

Dec 2, 2005: goes live! 

SlingDot is a gaming community built around on-line casual gaming, chat, contests, cash and prizes.  SlingDot features a Free Games section open to unlimited play for all gamers over the age of 12 and a members-only gaming area called the DotSpot.  DotSpot membership is available Dec 15th and is only $4.95 a month or $29.95 a year.  Full membership benefits include access to exclusive games, member contests, enhanced chat features, no advertising, and greater opportunities to win cash and prizes.

All levels of gamers earn Dots for their play.  The better you are, the more you'll earn, and DotSpot members earn triple the Dots of free account players.  Beginning Feb 1, 2005 Dots can be used to enter daily, weekly, and monthly drawings for cold hard cash.  In coming months SlingDot will unveil many other benefits and personalization items that players can access using their Dots.  And as the old saying goes - he who dies with the most Dots wins!  How many Dots you got?

Dec 2 is a soft launch for the site with more features and games being added every day.  Visit us, check the news area for upcoming additions, and share your thoughts with us.  This is a gaming community, and the players will drive the look, feel, and feature set as this community grows.  Our goal is to make your gaming experience the best it can be!

As a special introductory offer, all players get a 14 day free trial membership to the DotSpot, giving everyone access to the members-only games.  Play them all, rack up Dots, and save them for the future. 

FYI: I'm not an employee in this venture, own no stock in it and am not on the payroll.

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