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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

And now…

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A couple of articles about… stuff. Science and Programming languages. No, really.

From Stevey’s Blog Rants: Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns. He’s talking about Java. Or should I say java.lang.reflect.AccessibleObject.getAnnotations().

From the Loom: A Nation of Neurotics? Blame the Puppet Masters? Something about something called Toxoplasma controlling our minds. The guys sounds pretty rational and all.

Also, nice idea from All about Linux, host WordPress on your computer as personal diary

Written by Erez

Friday, August 4, 2006 at 10:12

Coincidink? Who would’ve thunk it?

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From today’s Register: Red Giant fails to devour Brown Dwarf companion.
From today’s Free Software Magazine: Why Red Hat will go bust because of Ubuntu.

Written by Erez

Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 15:46

Posted in GNU/Linux, Science

A heated debate

with 3 comments

This is from a post at OneAndOneIs2, concerning the cuddly issue of Global Warming (cue Tannhauser Overture).
Now, this is an interesting article, not discussing an opinion on the matter, but rather, discussing arguments made from anti-global-warming sides. It can be deducted that he is not supporting the “green” opinion, but I’d rather not jump to conclusions here. At any rate, what I want to do is not to debate his point (which is, rather not “Global Warming isn’t damaging”, but “The arguments anti-global-warming organizations are using are as solid as a wet puppy in a monsoon”), but, see where the arguments he’s citing arrived from, and if they are still invalid in that sense. I’ll try to make is short.

Fourthly is the massive exaggeration of Carbon Dioxide’s role in the greenhouse effect. It beggars belief that people actually claim that CO2 is the gas responsible for most of the greenhouse effect.

Is it Hell: More than 90% of the greenhouse effect is generated by water vapor. The amount of the greenhouse effect generated by CO2 is almost trivial in comparison. It certainly is a greenhouse gas, but please, don’t misrepresent it as the greenhouse gas. It just isn’t.

He’s half right there, CO2 isn’t really what’s causing the Greenhouse Effect, but that’s not what the actual claim is making. CO2, along with water vapor, and other natural gases, including Ozone, are responsible for the majority of the Greenhouse Effect, but, some of them are now induced in large quantities to the atmosphere, disturbing the balance, and that CFC, which is an artificial gas, that has been introduced to the atmosphere in large quantities, and which has a substantially larger influence on the Greenhouse Effect.
The Greenhouse Effect isn’t bad in its function, as it’s what prevents dangerous radiation from entering the atmosphere, but, this is only in its natural occurrence, with the correct natural balance. Introducing large quantities of natural gases, such as CO2, Methane, and others destroy this balance. Now, that’s a big word, I’d use “influencing” or “shifting”, but a balance is something that, once disturbed, is, in effect, destroyed until restored. Think of a border skirmish between two countries. In essence, the current status between those two hasn’t been changed. In fact, those two countries are in a state of war. Eventually the skirmish will be won by one side, or both will cease fire. The two countries must announce that no war is being made. If they don’t, one, or both of them will send troops to the site. No announcement is need to be made, and in some countries, no formal decision must be made (as in government permit, or a parliament approval), it can basically escalate from that point to total war (which is formally declared, but that doesn’t mean much by now). Now, this isn’t a domino effect argument, as I’m not saying “the border skirmish will lead to war”, but that to prevent it, a halting action must be taken, the inertia leads it on the skirmish-war trail, it will not stop on its own. Therefore, causing an imbalance in the Greenhouse Effect, will lead to the destruction of the balance there, unless stopped. Already CFC is allowing UV radiation to enter the atmosphere.
Also, when people think of Greenhouse Effect, they think “more humid” and since humidity is part of the heat stress concept, they think “hotter”, which leads to Global Warming. It isn’t. Imbalances in the Greenhouse Effect are what cause it.

Now, mind you, claiming it’s all around the CO2 is not wrong, but can be harmful. It completely ignores two important factors, one, that there are more pollutants than CO2, and two, that CFC is a much worse pollutant, by a scale of 1 to about 14,000.

Fifthly is the overwhelming ignorance of how CO2 is generated and removed. There is no greater example of this than the claim that “The rain-forests are the lungs of the planet” – whomever came up with this one clearly has very little knowledge of basic plant and food chain biology.

In a sense. The lungs store air (made out of mostly Nitrogen, some Oxygen and other gases and particles), then separate the Oxygen from it, and send it to the blood. The Trees store CO2, separate the Carbons from it, and use the Carbon to build themselves, and, in a sense, the Earth. Basically, every organic matter is made of Carbon (and other stuff, granted). When it decomposes, it releases the carbons inside it back to the atmosphere. Trees are, in essence, huge Carbon storage units. Also, when we breathe air, we also breathe toxins and heavy metals (sadly). Our bodies are incapable of detoxifying those in large enough quantities, and these poison our bodies. Now, cruel as it may sound, I find it better if some amount of those is absorbed in other things rather than me. Those things can be, for example, trees. The Green Lung term doesn’t refer to Oxygen being sent to the air, but rather, to the pollutants and toxins that are not. Those chemicals that are stored inside the tree are the real clincher here. Deforestation in essence, causes the release of the stored Carbon and the pollutants and toxins stored in the tree back to the atmosphere, and in large quantities. That’s the big problem with deforestation, not that they “breathe Oxygen”.

Eightly, and lastly: For God’s sake, stop with the “There is overwhelming consensus amongst scientists” thing.

The popularity of a belief is … irrelevant to science. Science is about fact, not belief. Even if the whole world believes something to be true: if the facts show that it is not true, its popularity is irrelevant. That’s the whole point.

Of more relevance is the track record of scientific consensus: There has been widespread consensus that the earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe, that it was created by a god, that illness was not caused by bacteria, that continental drift could not occur. . .

Virtually everything that is currently held as being established truth was at one time at odds with the scientific consensus. Ever read about the reaction to Darwin’s theories on evolution? Pasteur’s theories on micro-organisms? The word “vaccination” was derived from the first vaccine: Infecting somebody with cowpox stopped them getting smallpox. And yet vaccination was almost universally ridiculed at its inception by people who couldn’t see how you could keep people healthy by pumping germs into them.

Going purely by the statistics, you could actually make a very good case that any issue that is widely agreed with by the majority of contemporary scientists is almost certain to be wrong. It always has been so far.

…It has no place in science. In fact, it’s almost an embarrassment. Stop treating it as a killer argument, FFS!

Compelling argument, so I brought it in nearly wholesale. Let’s parse the rhetoric a bit. The writer makes two arguments: One, that consensus is irrelevant to science, which is true, and Two, that a consensus among scientists has an abysmal track record, which isn’t. He also, while not actively making any connections between the two, uses that connection to say “consensus is not only irrelevant, it is Dark-Ages bad,” a connection that is not only false, but is also rhetorically false.

His first argument “belief is irrelevant” is solid rock. Belief isn’t relevant to science. The human body can normally function in the the range of temperatures running from 36.1°C to 37.8 °C, a human running a 40°C temperature is dangerously ill, despite how well he “feels”. Same goes to “consensus”. Theories are not proved by votes, they need to be backed up by observations, repeatable experiments and one should be able to foretell the results of an experiment based on the theory (Which goes back to explaining why “Intelligent Design” isn’t a scientific theory. This also explains why science isn’t the next religion. One does not need to believe in the truth of the findings to use them. I don’t need to believe in C to be using it. I very much do not believe in Java and .NET, but I use them. Someone who doesn’t even know what those are is currently using programs written in these languages and development platforms. If the last three lines sounded stupid, this is exactly how “believe in science” sounds.

However, his second argument is totally bollocks (pardon my Cockney). Scientist consensus can’t have a bad track record, as there has never been one. His examples, (The Earth is Flat, Center of the Universe, etc. etc.) were not scientific in nature, but those that were dictated by a religious or secular force of authority. In this sense, the argument “government-forced scientific views are not good” is quite an appealing argument. But it’s not what we’re talking about here.
The argument is that, since science deals with facts, a theory can only be false or true, therefore if two-thirds of scientists say A and a third say B, it doesn’t mean that A is true, but that both are false.
Contrary to common conception, finding one case that goes against the theory isn’t falsifying it. A theory can say “All planets revolve around Sol (our star)”, but what about the planets that revolve around one of Alpha Centauri’s suns? They are probably not orbiting our sun, does that mean “No planets are revolving around Sol”? Of course not. Then how about “All planets in our solar system revolve around Sol”?. That’s not falsifying, that’s augmenting. If, say, someone finds that Pluto actually orbits something else which only makes it look as if it is orbiting the sun, then “All planets in our solar system are revolving around Sol” will be falsified. Therefore the existence of A and B as alternative theories does not, in necessity, falsify either. It might be that A will be used to augment B, or that A is a corner-case of B, or the other way around.
Theories are created explain observed phenomenas. Group A observed that the planets are moving in an orbit around our sun. Group B found a planet that doesn’t. Saying “There is a planet that revolves around our sun” isn’t making a theory, but simply repeating the observation. Explaining the trajectory of the orbit as a factor of the star’s gravity is. Eventually both will come to the understanding that “All planets revolve around stars”. Which will be fine and dandy until someone finds a rogue planet, and the whole dance starts again.

So, consensus is irrelevant, but the existence of two alternating theories is irrelevant as well. Both theories are backed by repeatable experiments and managed to foretell the results of other repeatable experiments. They are both “true” until either 1. Either theory will turn out to have a flaw, a miscalculation, etc. and be nullified, 2. One theory augments the other, 3. One theory will turn to be a corner-case of the other, or, 4. Both theories will be shown of being a part of a larger encompassing theory (like what happened with the Light-is-waves Vs. Light-is-particles theory duel).
However, assuming either of A or B also say “And this might be/is dangerous”, we need to examine it carefully. Proving “Global Warming is dangerous” means that, if this theory is true, we are in danger to our existence. Proving “Global Warming isn’t dangerous”, does not falsify the first theory, it might augment it (for example, to say “Global Warming is dangerous, but the amount of CO2 in the air is not dangerous”), become a border case, etc. But this isn’t a logical debate. You don’t drink poison, even if there are those who say that it’s not as dangerous to you as you might think (“I mean, what’s a night in the OR between friends? It’s not like you’ll instantly die or anything”). The existence of a warning in the form of the anti-global-warming group, means that we should check the findings and the explanation, and, unless we can find flaws in the theory, we need to take measures against it. If the theory is falsified/nullified, the relative harm done will be less than the harm done if that is true (Suppose CFC is banned, and the theory that it’s causing damage is false, we only lost air-conditions and sprays. If it’s true, we “lost” the extinction of the human race. Good trade, said the man who lost his queen after attacking a pawn.
The same argument goes with the cellular companies. They claim “there are no substantial research that found a connection between cellular radiation and cancer”. They also say “Taking down cellular antennae, will not only damage your quality of life (or reception, as the Indians call it), but will cause the phones to emit more radiation.” The answer, of course is “There are researches that showed there is danger. It might not have been proved beyond all doubts, and there might be contradicting theories, but losing cell-phones is still the smaller part of the bargain when cancer is concerned.” This is what the other part of the Cellular companies argument, that with no cellular phones, our quality of life will be impaired (acing the loss of current comfort against a possible future harm has never been humanity’s better traits). (Oh, and the last part of the argument “Cellphones will release more radiation”. More of the the “not-been-totally-proven-as-harmful” radiation? Why should we be worried about that if said never-proved-as-harmful radiation will be higher? Also, companies claim to have tested each phone to ensure it doesn’t release dangerous amounts of radiation. This means that even in the middle of the desert, with zero cellular coverage, my phone’s emission will not endanger me. So why does the increase of radiation emitted by the cellular phones in result of lesser antennae should worry me?).

Back to course. Science use a lot of words that are interpreted falsely by the non-scientific populace. “The accepted theory of…” sounds like the consensus thing, but it isn’t. It means a theory proved back and forward which is used as base to other theories and researches, like the body heat mentioned above which is used to measure psychological changes in a person. Theories are based on observations, and attempt to explain them. Sometimes the observations are false, sometimes the explanation is false. If such, those theories shouldn’t be able to correctly foretell the outcome of future experiments. Assuming both “Global Warming-bad” and “Global Warming-not bad” theories have managed to do so, and does not have any yet-undiscovered flaws, they will probably intersect in some level in the future. Or that such a flaw will be discovered to either side. Until then, we do need to heed the one that warns us, as the possible loss will be, by an enormous scale, more harmful to us.

Written by Erez

Monday, July 24, 2006 at 15:38

Posted in Science

Makes sense, hit me with another

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Now this may come as no surprise to anyone who knows my view of things, but otherwise this article regarding the process of understanding releases an
opium-like substance in our brain may come as a bit of a shocker. But in all honesty, that’s just the way we behave.
Many of our behaviour patterns are driven by biological needs and urges, or, at the base, were conditioned by such biological causes. We tend to abstract these patterns, but the core of our personality remains electrical connection between neurons and nerve ends.

In this view, making sense as a very narrow case of biological cause-reaction/stimulus-reward mechanism is, to reuse the pun, making sense. A child must understand the world around him to survive. He must make sense of what is good (for him) and bad, what nourishes and what hurts. To do so, our brain rewards every cognitive association with a “hit” of an opium-like substance. The body gets addicted to this substance, which in turn drives the child towards more attempts at make sense of the world, constantly trying to sort things, differentiate, adapt his views and understandings and forge a form out of the chaos into which he is born.
By this, the “scientist” model becomes our form of existence. To quote Descartes, “Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum” (I doubt, therefore I think; I think therefore I am).

It all makes sense. Hit me with another.

Thanks to Warren Ellis for the link.

Written by Erez

Saturday, June 24, 2006 at 15:53

Posted in Science

Is that a slash in your dot?

with 2 comments

Or are you just happy to… Err… Let’s not go there, shall we?

Some recent Slashdotting.

Most “main-stream” GNU/Linux distros nowadays go with the “pre-compiled packages” solution to software installation. This goes against the compile from source concept which is, for many GNU/Linux purists, the whole heart and soul of the whole GNU/Linux concept (or the bread-and-butter of it, pick your choice), as the actual compiling method allows the user to configure and customise the software to his needs, preferences and optimal system compatibility. This article tests both options.

One of the Mars rovers, Spirit, has lost one of it’s 6 wheels. Not bad for something that wasn’t supposed to last more than 3 months, now well into its second year, or to quote NASA “two years into its 90-day mission” Much like the Star Trek franchise which after almost 40 years into its 5 year mission has lost all the brakes.

Speaking of Open Source, the Economist runs a (somewhat clueless, it seems) article regarding open source projects, citing MySQL, Firefox and, well, Wikipedia as examples of a method of which “Its advantage is that anyone can contribute; the drawback is that sometimes just about anyone does.” Which serves as a lesson to kids everywhere that writing under the influence of drugs is not a good habit.
Hehe. Sorry.
I think the biggest confusion here is by bundling open-source software projects with the “communal-edited” Wikipedia. Open-source projects are not chaotic, anarchic, or “contributed by anyone”. These projects have a maintaining body, which has the final word on what goes in and what not. Contributions are welcomed, but do not immediately become part of the product, even when the nature of the contribution is a free-for-all one. For example, while anyone can create a Firefox extension, those are not available as an integral part of the downloaded software (i.e. “The product”), but are presented on a separate “use at your own risk” basis. Other products, like the Debian Distro, goes even further and restrict the software packages submitting to authorised maintainers. This is why the Wikipedia concept is not a good example of Open-Source or, to quote the NYTimes, “Anonymous Source Is Not the Same as Open Source.” The “everyone can do anything” method is just not the same as open-source development, not by far.

And, a double-duo couple of two Microsoft issues:
An analysis of .NET usage in vista shows that “Vista has no services implemented in .NET“. Always nice to see a company backing up their own technology. Almost makes one wonder what are the Mono guys doing supporting this framework while its creators prefer running native code to utilising the .NET framework. Once again, it seems developers and companies are falling for Microsoft PR rather than the simple reality.
Which speaks volumes for the next article, claiming “Windows Vista’s tough approach to spyware may put anti-spyware companies out of business“. But seriously, folks. I’ll believe it when I see it. Marketing your yet-to-be-released product as “100% spyware proof” to a point where it will cause anti-spyware companies to go out of business just don’t cut it in my book. Remember Bill Gates announcement at 2004 that “Two years from now, spam will be solved“? Remember Gates claiming, this year, that Microsoft has, true to its word, eliminated spam? I just hope their concept of “eliminating spyware” isn’t as fuzzy as their concept of spam-removing.

Written by Erez

Monday, March 20, 2006 at 7:07

Extenting the extension

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I’ve seen some weird Firefox extensions this far, but why would anyone want this one is above and beyond me:
“Open an interactive Periodic Table with right click or through the Tools menu. Place the cursor over an element to display information.”

Written by Erez

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 at 22:14

Posted in Internet, Science, Weird

A twist on the old tale

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Two wackos sue a University for publishing a site that explains Evolution. Their argument? The site is spending public money, which goes against the separation of religion and state.

It doesn’t really get any better than this, I tell you.
BTW, doesn’t that admits that “Intelligent Design” is a poor attempt to bring religion to school?

Written by Erez

Saturday, December 3, 2005 at 20:00