Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.

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Sunday, June 05, 2021

the alternative campus
Seemingly unfazed by the acrimony generated over a proposed acupuncture school at Florida State University, as well as warnings from medical skeptics, the University of Pennsylvania and other schools are dabbling with alternative medicine studies.

FSU subsequently killed their foray into acupuncture. But the joke campus map produced during the debate lives on. And if other schools choose to boldly go forward with aromatherapy and the like, perhaps they can use the Fantasy State University blueprint to develop their own future schools of out-there studies.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/05/2021 05:02:45 PM
Category: Society, Science | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Sunday, May 29, 2021

Isaac Newton believed time was absolute, independent of the observer and perpetually forward-moving. Albert Einstein felt time was relative, dependent upon perception and prone to manipulation by other forces.

Now, maverick physicist Peter Lynds proposes the radical alternative: That time doesn’t even really exist, but rather is just an imagined concept.

The thrust of Lynds’ thinking appears to be the inability to conclusively prove that time, as a truly quantifiable force, exists. Since you can’t measure it apart from the effects upon other objects, it’s hard to extract it.

As with most thing physics, much of this is over my head. But it seems to resonate with an observation I made about the nature of time, years ago:

To me, it seems that time is a fundamentally physical, rather than conceptual, phenomenon. Think about it: The only way you can tell time has passed is in the outward, physical signs. You observe wear-and-tear upon people and things, and from that have the indication that time runs. But that’s all there is to it: physical growth and deterioration. The perceptual part — chiefly recollections — resides only in our minds. Without the physical proof, time doesn’t manifest itself to us.

Maybe this is the core of Lynds’ theories. I’m not sure why it would rattle so many cages, because is seems logical to me.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/29/2005 03:52:44 PM
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A while back, I noted that the ubiquity of mobile phones and other always-at-hand devices is eliminating the need to memorize phone numbers and other contact information.

The logical consequence of that is the erosion of the average person’s memory skills (maybe).

Freeing up brainspace by neglecting to commit some mundane data to memory is nothing new; it’s an evolving process. I seem to recall some anecdote about Albert Einstein that addresses this:

Einstein was speaking with someone he’d just met, and when the time came to part, the new acquaintance asked for Einstein’s phone number. The world’s biggest genius got up, went for the phone book, and looked up his own home phone number.

The other party was a bit stunned, and asked: “Dr. Einstein, you don’t know your telephone number?”

Einstein replied, “I don’t bother memorizing things I can easily look up.”

The point being, if one of history’s most brilliant minds didn’t think it was worthwhile to commit such things into the memory banks, then why should you?

Looking at it in a larger sense, I think this outsourcing of particular bits of personal data will lead to the strengthening of other mental capabilities. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all; if that section of the brain formerly occupied with massive memory storage is deprived of that task, it’ll just find something else to do. Moving from hunter/gatherer, to agrarian, to industrial societies, the resultant easing of tasks that used to occupy huge chunks of time opened the door to innovations. This could be the next step in that progression.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/29/2005 03:07:51 PM
Category: Tech, Science | Permalink | Feedback

Friday, May 27, 2021

Just when you thought it was a-okay to pop as many of those little purple blue pellets* as you wanted, Viagra use is suspected of causing blindness.

I guess your mother was right: Diddling with your dick will indeed make you go blind — whether your use your hand, or a pill.

What is it with the tragi-comic side effects these types of male-targeted drugs cause? In a similar vein, those anti-baldness treatments might work, but by the way, they’ll also make you impotent. Talk about the laughter of the gods! (Do women have to contend with these pharmaceutical ironies?)

*Corrected 5/30/05; shows you how much I know about the penis pill…

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/27/2005 02:00:08 PM
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Monday, May 23, 2021

Just when you thought statistical theory was so much bunk, Knoxville-based QualPro is turning heads with its analytical techniques that boost companies’ efficiencies (and therefore bottom lines).

What’s QualPro’s secret? Multivariable testing, or MVT, a method that basically makes some statistical assumptions, which enables running fewer models. Once the number of experiments becomes managable, something like MVT has enormous business application:

Shortly after SBC took control of Ameritech in late 1999 its service operation fell apart, with some customers waiting weeks or months to get phone service restored or new lines installed. In 2000 SBC brought hundreds of technicians from Missouri, Texas and elsewhere to the Midwest to regain control.

SBC considered the situation normal once it reduced the backlog to about 80,000 Midwest customers awaiting service…

Following its usual format for problem solving, QualPro’s consultants held brainstorming sessions with people who did the repair and installation work for SBC-technicians and customer reps who answer complaint calls as well as managers and department chiefs. Everyone was asked to propose ideas for improving the process.

The only suggestions considered were those that cost little or nothing and were easy and practical to implement, said Kieron Dey, QualPro technical director…

The experiment identified about eight changes that improved efficiency. Most were fairly simple things such as giving employees written instructions rather than relying upon them to remember what they were told.

The firm acted on the suggestions. Over several months SBC’s backlog in the Midwest was cut in half, dropping to about 40,000, [former SBC Communications exec Ed] Mueller said.

“It’s unbelievable you could get it there and sustain it in a cost-effective way,” said Mueller, who was so impressed with MVT that he traveled to Knoxville to study [QualPro president Charles] Holland’s methods.

To paraphrase Bart Simpson: They actually found a practical use for geometry statistics!

And the fun isn’t limited to the business world:

“Anything that can be measured can be improved,” Holland said. He has even applied his methods to his teenage son’s baseball team.

Using a radar gun Holland measures how fast a baseball leaves the bat once it is hit. As each batter changes various factors, such as his stance, bat length and weight, Holland records the performance.

By finding an optimal batting strategy for each player, Holland said, batters have raised by 10 miles an hour the average speed of a batted ball. The extra speed translates into more runners reaching base, he said, and has helped the team achieve a batting average above .400.

Look for several Major League teams, and player agents, to be scrambling for QualPro’s phone number.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/23/2005 11:25:04 PM
Category: Baseball, Business, Science | Permalink | Feedback

Thursday, April 28, 2021

Interesting guest on “Letterman” last night:

DANIEL TAMMET: he’s a mathematical savant and the subject of a new documentary on the Science Channel, “Brainman.” It airs on Friday. Daniel says he’s a prodigious savant possessing exceptional mental ability. At the age of 4, he had an epileptic seizure and his father rushed him to the hospital. It is believed his seizures as a child “kicked” something in his brain to unlock this gift. It makes one wonder if we all have this ability hidden deep inside our brain and only needs to find its way out. An example of Daniel’s talent is he can solve 37 to the 4th power in a little more than a snap of the fingers. What makes Daniel so special is that other savants do not have the ability to communicate for us to understand. Daniel can. He can explain how his thinking works and what is going on in his brain. He can also explain, or help explain his autism…

When thinking of numbers, Daniel says he sees numbers as shapes and colors and images. In the notes for his segment, he is asked to explain what he sees when asked what 37-squared equals. Daniel responds, “I don’t see a 3 and a 7 in my head. I see the numbers as shapes, as images. I see a bumpy thing on one side, and another bumpy thing on another side, and a space in the middle and they come together. And then I begin to see a sequence that looks rounded in some way that got bits to it and that look s a bit like lumpy porridge and it clicks . . . and the answer is 1369.”

I guess it works in reverse as well. Daniel looks at Dave and starts to explain something, saying, “For instance, you’re a very handsome man . . . .” Dave cuts him off and shyly says, “heh heh heh, well, you certainly got my number, heh heh heh.” Oh how I laughed at that. Anyway, Daniel says that David Letterman reminds him of the number 117; tall, lanky, a bit wobbly.

So this guy has not one, not two, but three high-functioning mental peculiarities: Savantism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and synesthesia. Talk about your brain working overtime!

Tammet’s appearance on “The Late Show” was intriguing enough to make me want to catch the “Brainman” documentary about him, airing tomorrow. But I doubt I’ll be able to watch it; right now, I’m slated to be flying back to Tampa while it’s on. Another time, maybe. (Or maybe I’ll just go rent Rain Man again…)

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/28/2005 03:47:50 PM
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Monday, April 18, 2021

Today’s the day for Catholicdom, as the Cardinals start conclavin’ to select a new head honcho.

Coincidentally — or, perhaps, not so much so — today’s scientific community is wondering when they can look for the next Albert Einstein, 100 years after the past century’s most famous brain was born.

I see huge, huge synergy here.

Why not kill two birds with one stone? In a bold move to embrace the scientific world and reconcile it with the spiritual, the Catholic Church should select a Pope who is also an advanced physicist! It’d be the ultimate papacy for the 21st Century.

Of course, Einstein was a Jew. Maybe the Cardinals can overlook that aspect when selecting their superscientific Pope. But his well-rounded education would have made him an excellent Bishop of Rome, and perhaps should be included in the requisites for the next candidate:

Education is different, too. One crucial aspect of Einstein’s training that is overlooked, says Notre Dame science historian Don Howard, is the years of philosophy he read as a teenager — Kant, Schopenhauer and Spinoza. It taught him how to think independently and abstractly about space and time, Howard says.

And he was an accomplished musician. The interplay between music and math is well-known. Einstein would furiously play his violin as a way to think through a knotty physics problem.

It’s worth a shot. Is Stephen Hawking Catholic?

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/18/2005 10:38:24 AM
Category: Political, Science | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Saturday, March 26, 2021

For something that’s been around for so long, the universe sure is a tricky thing to pin down. Whereas just a month ago, we were told that “dark matter” and “dark energy” made up most of everything, now there’s a counterview that declares such mysterious forces to be so much bunk.

When Einstein first put his theories of relativity together, he included a cosmological constant, a number that accounted for this acceleration of the universe’s expansion. He later referred to this as his greatest blunder, but his ideas have since been rehabilitated.

But now, Edward Kolb of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory says that Einstein “was right when he said he was wrong”, according to a Reuters report.

Antonio Riotto at Italy’s National Nuclear Physics Institute in Padova, who also worked on the research, told Reuters: “No mysterious dark energy is required. If dark energy were the size that theories predict … it would have prevented the existence of everything we know in our cosmos.”

Instead, he says, the acceleration is an after effect of the big bang that has not been properly accounted for.

I see a rumble in the academic jungle over this one…

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/26/2005 04:16:02 PM
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