res ipsa loquitur

Bill Watterson's old editorial cartoons

Posted on: Thu, 04/22/2010 - 23:18 By: Tom Swiss

Back before Calvin and Hobbes made him a household name (well, at least in households of good taste), Bill Watterson was an editorial cartoonist for Cleveland's Sun Newspapers. This page has a few of his old strips from their archives. A few chuckles, but there's no doubt that we were better served having Mr. Watterson use his cartoons to investigate imagination, love, and the mysteries of life, rather that Ohio tax policy.

"Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass"

Posted on: Mon, 03/22/2010 - 12:40 By: Tom Swiss

This lab report from a frustrated physics major reminds me all too much of my own lab work, before I gave up on my foolish notions of attempting a double physics/CS degree and decided to just major in hacking. (I especially remember optics lab. My data disproved every principle of the field...)

Abstract: The exponential dependence of resistivity on temperature in germanium is found to be a great big lie. My careful theoretical modeling and painstaking experimentation reveal 1) that my equipment is crap, as are all the available texts on the subject and 2) that this whole exercise was a complete waste of my time.



Check this shit out (Fig. 1). That's bonafide, 100%-real data, my friends. I took it myself over the course of two weeks. And this was not a leisurely two weeks, either; I busted my ass day and night in order to provide you with nothing but the best data possible. Now, let's look a bit more closely at this data, remembering that it is absolutely first-rate. Do you see the exponential dependence? I sure don't. I see a bunch of crap.

However, his conclusion that "I should've declared CS. I still wouldn't have any women, but at least I'd be rolling in cash." might have been true in the dot-com boom, but sadly not so much any more, with more and more software jobs being sent overseas.

not an happy camper

Posted on: Mon, 03/15/2010 - 11:00 By: Tom Swiss

This came up in a Slashdot thread, and I thought I might as well post it here. Today's pet peeve: misuse of "an" before words starting with a voiced "h".

Most of us understand that when a noun starts with a vowel sound, you use "an" before it: "an apple". And most of us get that this includes words that start with a silent consonant: "an hour".

There are a few words, like "homage", that can be pronounced with the "h" either silent or not. It's silent in the preferred pronunciation, so "an homage", just like "an hour"; but if you're using some dialect where the "h" is pronounced, "a homage" would be correct. So either "a" or "an" could be okay there.

But there's a common misusage with some "h" words. I have a strong urge to punch people who say "an historic occasion" or "an hallucination". These are just wrong, unless you are a British aitch-dropper. ("An 'istoric occasion, guvnor!")

I'm not a big grammar stickler but this one grates on the ear. It does not leave me an happy camper.

The rule is simple: "an" before vowel sounds, "a" before consonants. The "n" in "an" is exactly there to hold vowels apart; if you don't have adjacent vowels (sounds, not symbols) in your phrase, it's redundant.

Because the rule is about sounds, not symbols, you also get cases where "a" rather "an" should be used before a word whose spelling starts with a vowel: "a union" or "a unicorn". If it helps, think of how you could spell these as "a (you)n-yin" or "a you-ni-corn".

And there there's acronyms: "a USB port", but "an MBA". ("A you-ess-bee port, an em-bee-ay".)

If we could all get this right, it would really cut down on my urges to punch people, and I'm sure there are others who feel the same way. So work for world peace: use the proper article. Thanks.

who's got socialized medicine? The Palin kids!

Posted on: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 15:31 By: Tom Swiss

Sarah Palin's husband Todd Palin has Native American ancestry, Yup'ik and Curyung. It recently came out that their grandson, Tripp Palin Johnston, is an enrolled member of the Curyung Tribal Council -- and receives free federal health care through Indian Health Services and the Alaska Native Medical Center. (Comments on that story claim that all of the Palin kids are enrolled and get taxpayer-supported health care, but I cannot confirm that at this time.)

Sarah Palin earned Politifact's "Lie of the Year" when she claimed that government-run health care would end up with "death panels" sending the elderly and disabled to their doom. But it looks like she just wanted to scare the rest of us off, make sure that there were plenty of government benefits to go around for her family and not let us riff-raff in on the deal.

Socialized medicine for the grandkids of the rich and powerful, while the rest of us get sick and go broke thanks to private health insurance. Yep, that's the greed and hypocrisy of the GOP we know and love.

it's official: we are going crazy, and we're exporting it to the world

Posted on: Tue, 01/12/2010 - 13:00 By: Tom Swiss

A recent study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge looked at Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test results for high school and college students from 1938 through 2007. (The results will be published in a future issue of the Clinical Psychology Review.) The MMPI is one of, if not the, most popular personality tests, which measures (or claims to measure) people's mental health along ten different axes.

Twenge found that in 2007, five times as many people surpassed the threshold to be considered to have mental health issues as did in 1938. Especially high were the increases in hypomania and depression. And this doesn't even consider the vast numbers of people taking antidepressants and other meds that alleviate the symptoms the MMPI asks about.

Now, add to the fact that as a nation we're going crazy, the fact that we're exporting our model of mental health to the rest of the world. We've been aggressively preaching that "mental illnesses" should be considered a "brain disease", in the theory that this would help remove the stigma around them.

According to the research of Professor Sheila Mehta of Auburn University, though, this in not actually the result: considering mental illness as a neurological defect actually tends to make other people treat the sufferer less kindly. Mehta has actually studied how other people treat those they believe have a "brain disease", versus those who they believe have a psychosocial problem. She says, “Viewing those with mental disorders as diseased sets them apart and may lead to our perceiving them as physically distinct. Biochemical aberrations make them almost a different species.”

This may be why schizophrenics in the United States and Europe, where the "brain disease" idea holds sway, have a significantly higher relapse rate than those in other countries. More "primitive" notions of mental illness may actually help keep the troubled individual in the social group, and religious beliefs that attribute their problem to "evil spirits" or somesuch may allow for calmness and acquiescence and a less stressful response.

double A-bomb victim dies

Posted on: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 15:19 By: Tom Swiss

I posted previously about the strange case of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was in Hiroshima on a business trip on August 6, 1945 and his hometown of Nagasaki of August 9th, and thus was the only known survivor of both nuclear massacres.

Yamaguchi has died after a battle against stomach cancer. According to NPR,

Last month, Avatar director James Cameron visited Yamaguchi. Cameron is considering making a film of an upcoming book by Charles Pelegrino, The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back.

After meeting with Cameron and Pellegrino, Yamaguchi told The Mainichi Daily News that he believed it is the director's "destiny" to make a film about the bombings.

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