6.28.2006

world's smallest nation evacuated



Before there was Petoria, there was Sealand, whose history is is no less bizzare. Unfortunately, a fire has caused the complete evacuation of the dubious principality (i.e., the one guy present at the time had to be airlifted off). No word on how this may affect its status.

6.26.2006

"the antithesis of a healthy lifestyle"

Recent allegations regarding Lance Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs have reminded me of a question that has bugged me for some time (see comments). Namely, how can one really tell if an athelete has doped with EPO or another performance enhancer (such as steroid hormones) that are derivatives of or, in the case of EPO, the exact same substance as something which the body produces naturally?

My understanding of these tests is that they look for abnormally high ratios or metabolites. The premise, of course, is that there is a "normal" range. However, this strikes me as a particularly absurd assumption from which to work, given that the people being tested are world-class athletes, who by definition are not "normal".

How could you possibly tell that someone like Armstrong--who likely falls in the top 0.00001% of all humanity in terms of cardiovascular capacity--has been "doping" with something that is going to be upregulated by the type of training he does anyway?

All of this is to introduce a post by Art De Vany, in which he relays a very insightful letter from someone with a vast experience on the enforcement side of banned substances in sports, and which seems to confirm much of what I have long suspected: that false positives are not uncommon, and that the rules are often arbitrary and based on shaky science at best.

He also makes some excellent points regarding training at the world-class level:

Most people don’t realize it, but training at the elite level is actually the antithesis of a healthy lifestyle. The definition of peak fitness means that you are constantly at or near a state of physical breakdown. As a peak performer on a world stage, you have done more work than anyone else, but you have paid a price. It is again ironic that the professional leagues and the IOC, the ones who dangle that carrot of millions of dollars in salary or gold-medalist endorsements are the same ones who actually created this overtrained, injured and beat-up army of young people.


Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to the gym. For about 45 minutes.

By the way, if you haven't read Art's blog, it is an utterly fascinating look at issues of fitness and health from a very strong evolutionary perspective. It has completely changed the way I think about exercise and food, and to the extent that I have succeeded in implementing his principles (not nearly as much as I would like or intend to) I have felt much better and much stronger.

6.22.2006

you have 20 seconds to comply

Via Marginal Revolution:

“Security, safety and sex are the big concerns,” said Henrik Christensen, a member of the Euron ethics group. How far should robots be allowed to influence people’s lives? How can accidents be avoided? Can deliberate harm be prevented? And what happens if robots turn out to be sexy?






“The question is what authority are we going to delegate to these machines?” said Professor Ronald Arkin, a roboticist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Are we, for example, going to give robots the ability to execute lethal force, or any force, like crowd control?”


(RTWT)





Personally, the prospect of robotic violence bothers me much more than the prospect of robotic sex. In any case, you can probably count on the first instance of the latter taking place in Japan.

don't bother me--i'm eating

Today I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a solitary lunch outside in somewhat pleasant weather...a rare event in June in this corner of the world.

A young man with a clipboard (always avoid eye contact with anyone carrying a clipboard on a University campus!) took advantage of my sedentary position to initiate a conversation with me.

"Sir, could you sign this petition to put a proposal on the September ballot?"

"No."

"Sir, it will only take a minute..."

"I don't support it."

"Sir, I haven't told you what the proposal is. How do you know you're against it?"

"I didn't say I was against the proposal."

"What, then?"

"Voting."

(silence)

"You're against voting?"

"I believe it's a form of violence, and I generally don't support violence."

"How is voting violence?"

"It's the imposition of the will of the majority on the minority. Actually, if you take into account the number of people that don't vote, it's probably the imposition of a minority's will on everyone else. But either way it's the violent domination of one group by another."

"So you've never voted?"

"Oh, I didn't say that. In fact, I vote all the time."

"How do you justify that?"

"Self-defense."


(Actually, this conversation only took place in my head. What really happened was that he started talking to me, and through a half-chewed bite of chicken I simply said "I'm Canadian" so he would go away. But this makes for a better story.)

6.20.2006

'tis the season for traveling

...and the good Dr. McCracken has some world-class advice. It's geared towards the young consultant, but contains some good general principles for international travel, such as:

There are lots of things they don't tell you in b-school. The single most valuable object for the business traveler, for instance. You and I know this is a book of hotel matches. But the young consultant...not so much.

Eventually, in a medium size town in China, our YC (young consultant) decides it's time to go for a walk. Normally, our YC has a pretty good sense of direction, but in this case he has a formidable case of jet lag, and he is more or less disoriented. A couple of wrong turns, and now heÂ’s not sure. Is he walking towards the hotel or a way from it? Never mind. He can just ask someone, right? Well, not if no one speaks English. And not, especially, if he can't remember the name of his hotel.


That's rule # 2, which I will admit I haven't thought of or practiced. Of course, every place I've been I've been comfortable enough with the local language to get by alright. But then again, I haven't been to China...

I always follow #1 (hotel soaps are inevitably girly), try to follow #3 (I pack as light as I can, usually), never had much use for the other rule #3 (what's Spanish for "consierge", anyway?), and I found #4 to be especially worthwhile in pickpocket-laden Paris. Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with #5, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time...

everything i know about evo psych i learned from my dog

During a generalized bitching session re: people with whom we work, a colleague said to me today:

"I sense you share my informed pessimism."

I guess that's one way to put it.

People suck and I am tired of them. I need to get to a gym and move heavy things around whilst cathartic music is piped into my ears at an unhealthy volume. But right now, I have to work on a Powerpoint presentation. (Have you ever noticed how weak and pointless most Powerpoint presentations tend to be?)

This is probably how wars get started. We've substituted epic struggles for mundane tasks. We have the survival thing licked, so we have to actually create problems for our problem-solving-optimized brains to solve. Or else we get bored and restless. I'm bored and restless at the moment, but I'll be able to work through it just as soon as I can get away from the lab for a while.

My dog who hasn't been walked enough lately (it's too hot) has decided to reignite our dominance struggle. He's not being overt about it--he doesn't do anything like shit in the house, thank goodness--but he's pretending he doesn't hear me, or hear his collar being jingled when it's time for a walk, or that he doesn't know the meaning of "DOWN". He's testing the limits on the leash (we've had him trained on a loose leash for months now.) Basically, he's acting like an adolescent who doesn't quite have the balls (funnily enough) to rebel outright, but still wants to push the boundaries.

On some level he knows this is futile. He's big, but I'm bigger; he's smart, but I'm smarter; he's stubborn, but I'm a research scientist--I mark my forward progress on a scale of years. But he's bored and restless and needs a project, so I'm it.

We're not so different, I think.

6.15.2006

the two things about laboratory research

1. Never be doing just one thing at any given time.
2. Don't do too many things at once.

(Archive and explanation of "The Two Things" meme here.)

6.14.2006

i hereby proclaim siam the united states of america!

Below the fold, the US has asserted its right to develop space-based weapons, and declined to participate in treaty negotiations to limit them.

I must confess to having mixed feelings about this. As long as sovereign nations are the norm, defense is a necessary evil. (Note that I did say defense.)

On the other hand, I can't help but think that maybe we're scared of our own shadow here:

John Mohanco, deputy director of the office of multilateral, nuclear and security affairs, said the United States faced a threat of attacks from the earth or from other countries' spacecraft. He did not name any potential attackers.

"As long as the potential for such attacks remains, our government will continue to consider the possible role that space-related weapons may play in protecting our assets," he told the United Nations-backed forum.

"For our part, the United States does not have any weapons in space, nor do we have plans to build such weapons," he said.


So...we don't have weapons in space, we don't plan to put weapons in space, but we do face potential attacks from space so we may need weapons in space?

Did I miss something?

If you've ever wondered why the aliens haven't announced themselves by landing on the White House lawn or in Times Square, this sort of thing might have something to do with it. We've some evolving left to do.

On a related note...Stephen Hawking has stated that he believes getting off this planet is the only way we will survive as a species.

Yeah...that seems about right.

it'd be much funnier if it wasn't true

It's Kafka's world. We're just living in it:

On Monday a Justice Department lawyer, Anthony Coppolino, told the federal judge who is considering a lawsuit challenging the NSA's warrantless surveillance of phone calls and e-mail that the program is both legal and necessary to protect national security--legal, in fact, because it is necessary to protect national security, which triggers the president's inherent power to ignore laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The thing is, Coppolino added, "the evidence we need to demonstrate to you that it is lawful cannot be disclosed without that process itself causing grave harm to United States national security." The government's case seems airtight to me: If the surveillance program is vital to national security, it is legal, and since the government refuses to talk about it we know it must be vital to national security.

6.13.2006

6.12.2006

metal goes meta?

Or is it that Cookie Monster vocals have just gotten very, very literal? You be the judge.

(I'm supposed to be writing a manuscript right now. Can't you tell?)

niche markets

Balko gets an email:

There are some people that don't have a choice in where to go. I'm a gay male who is into large men, and in the area of Northern VA and DC there are 3 bars I can chose from, none of which are smoke free. So my choice is either deal with it or don't go out. I guess it's still a choice, but not the one you're thinking of. I myself am an-ex smoker, and don't mind the smoke so much. But it would be nice to hang out at the DC Eagle without the plumes of smoke all the time.


(sigh)

I know what he means. I spent most of my 20s looking for a bar populated with naught but witty, well-educated, height-weight proportional females who enjoy literature and football in equal measure, but they all allowed smoking. It's tough out there, I tell you.

live ?!*@ like a suicide

"They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."


--Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, on the suicide of three inmates

It is fascinating how eager we are to ascribe intentions to the other. I don't claim to know why these guys committed suicide, but it seems a touch presumptuous to dismiss the possibility that people facing indefinite detention without due process might be driven to an act of desperation.

Regardless of why they did it, placing your enemy--especially one with "no regard for [his] life"--in a position where he literally has nothing left to lose is a supremely stupid tactical decision.

UPDATE--In the same vein:

We're now so fully terrified of the shadow of our national nemesis that an act of total surrender by our purported enemies must be repackaged as an attack. So terrified that the spokesmen of empire specifically reject the argument for desperation and embrace the super-villain theory, that even the prisoner's death by his own hand is a blow to the body of state. Où alliez-vous, Michel Foucault?


(via Henley)

Frustrating when you go to the trouble to say something and find someone else said it better a day before. C'est la vie...

6.09.2006

why we read what we read

Nick Gillespie surveys some recent investigations at the intersection of literary criticism and evolutionary psychology. I could try to recap, but you should probably just read it for yourself, if you are interested in such things.

The context is a recent British survey asking men and women what novels have meant the most to them. There were, unsuprisingly, some differences bewteen the sexes. And I seem to fall into line with my fellow males fairly well, having read 13 of the top 20 male responses, and only 7 of the women's top 20 (4 of which were common to both lists).

I suppose my top 5 would be:

1) Haruki Murakami The Windup Bird Chronicle
2) Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude (#4 on the men's list, #13 on the women's)
3) Ralph Ellison Invisble Man
4) Joseph Heller Catch-22 (#6 among men, #8 among women)
5) Robert Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land

I'm also left to wonder if (as the investors say) past trends indicate future results. The books currently stacked on my nightstand include:

Jose Saramago The Double (I'm about halfway through)
Phillip Roth American Pastoral
John Kennedy Toole Confederacy of Dunces
Gabriel Garcia Marquez The General in His Labyrinth
Ian McEwan Saturday

Yours?

6.08.2006

i'm glad he's dead

Al-Zarqawi, that is.

But I still think the war was a terrible idea. If we weren't there in the first place, we wouldn't even need to know who that shitbag is was. Among other things. Anyway, I don't think the positions are mutually exclusive.

The war parties would do well to restrain their jubilation. Again, not because Al-Zarqawi's death isn't a good thing, but because this is just the latest "turning point" in the foolhardy Iraq campaign. (See also: the iconic fall of the statue, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, elections, etc., etc...) And after each of these, public support for the war has fallen once it becomes apparent that the alleged turning point has not brought us any closer to withdrawal.

On second thought...bottoms up!

6.06.2006

i'm not in kansas anymore

This past weekend my wife and I made an impromptu road trip to Kansas. It is worth mentioning that we do not live anywhere near Kansas. As in we had to drive across 5 states to get there. Big ones.

We were there for a funeral. My wife's extended family are Mennonites. Not just any Mennonites, but Holdeman Mennonites. The men wear beards, the women cover their heads, and they live very simply. No TV or radio (too worldly), no mirrors (too vain), and education beyond high school is strongly discouraged (too prideful). However, they have not shunned modern technology completely--they have cars (and drive them great distances, especially, it seems, for funerals), fax machines (used primarily for mass communication with extended family), and apparently, at least a few of them use the internet.

What I find interesting about them is that they are difficult to distinguish theologically from the evangelical (Baptist) Christianity in which I was brought up (and no longer embrace). Their essential beliefs about God, Christ, and salvation are, as far as I can tell, the same.

To be fair, I am sure they would not share this assessment.

Clearly, something in their interpretation of Christian doctrine leads them to lead lives completely apart from the rest of the world. It is a fundamentalism, to be sure, but to their credit, not one that they seem hell-bent to inflict upon the rest of us. Which is more than I can say for the Baptists...

To be an outsider visiting among these people is to be the very definition of conspicuous. Still, I found them to be welcoming to us, especially in light of the fact that my father-in-law and his mother had been excommunicated from the church many years ago. (Avoidance of the excommunicated is a defining practice of the Holdemans.)

Other observations:

--The group of people that seemed to be most wary of us were the people our own age and younger (I am 28). My wife and I are particularly unusual to them, in that we have advanced degrees and no children. Most people our age have at least three. The older adults were more inclined to talk with us at length; perhaps because they are more comfortable with their own identity, or perhaps because they've known my father-in-law since childhood.

--In that vein, one of my in-laws (a great uncle) with whom I spent a lot of time talking, didn't believe me when I told him I was 28. He thought I was much younger. Maybe it was the lack of beard. Or the well-rested look that only the young and childless enjoy.

--The Holdemans are more suspicious of the government than I am. As will likely become apparent in future postings, this is really saying something.

--For me and most of the people with whom I grew up, grief is an intensely private thing. This is not to say that emotion isn't shown at funerals and such, but it is usually restrained. Particularly among men. The Holdemans, for all their generally serious demeanor, are not ashamed to express their grief openly, to such an extent that I felt genuinely uncomfortable being witness to the raw emotion of people I do not know.

It was explained to me that to hide one's pain from public view is a form of pride.

--The doctrine of not loving the world seems to result in a general view that life is something to be endured, and that death (and the afterlife) is the reward for enduring it righteously. This is especially apparent in the context of a funeral.

While I think that acknowledging the inevitiblity of death and accepting it is admirable and healthy, to anticipate it is strikes me as very sad. I cannot wrap my brain around a god that would create a world so full of wonderful experiences and expect his people to eschew it so completely. If one believes that life is a gift from God, asceticism seems akin to placing that gift on a closet shelf and never pulling it out.

6.05.2006

same dish, different sauce


Oh, I explained my point of view for the hundredth time and I think I finally managed to persuade him that my crazy idea was not quite as dotty as he had always thought, A victory, Which won't get us anywhere, True enough, though, of course, one can never be quite sure where exactly victories get us anyway, sighed the mathematics teacher, Whereas everyone knows where defeats get us, especially the people who poured everything they had into the battle, but no one pays any attention to that particular lesson from history, Anyone would think that you were fed up with your job, Perhaps I am, it's just that we seem to be putting the same old sauce on the usual dishes, nothing changes, Are you thinking of leaving teaching, I don't know exactly, or even vaguely, what I think or want, but I imagine it would be a good idea, To abandon teaching, To abandon anything.


--Jose Saramago, The Double

This is not my first blog.

Between 2003 and 2005, I pounded out about 75,000 words. A respectable novel, in terms of length if not content. It's funny, though, how an undertaking can collapse under its own weight if it draws out too long. I find this is especially true in movies these days--a snappy comedy weighed down by a clumsy and contrived romantic plot, a drama diluted by too much exposition.

And so it was with the blog. I found myself being steered by my own momentum. The inertia of almost three years of near-daily rambling about the news of the day, my thoughts, my ideas, and (occasionally) my life just became too cumbersome. Though there was nothing real keeping me from taking new directions with my writing, I nonetheless felt trapped by what I had already done.

So I stopped. I let it sit for six months. And eventually, I deleted it.

I had other practical reasons for doing so; I was approaching a career move, and didn't necessarily want prospective employers coming upon some things I had written (the blog was published under my real and full name). But really, that was just a convenient excuse to do something I wanted to do anyway.

With some time and distance between me and it, I think I am ready to start again. We'll see how it goes.

everything is temporary

We flit in and out of existance in the blink of a cosmic eye. Whether the eye is there to see it or not is another question entirely. In any case, we come and we go. Usually much too fast for our liking.

This is nothing but a humble attempt to create some evidence of my existence before the universe blinks.