Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Language: Where Does The Alphabet Come From?

From the earliest impressions on clay and the first scratchings on flat surfaces we've somehow gotten from the idea of a symbol for something to the idea of symbols for sounds.

It's a long and convoluted story and one that fascinates me. Besides the bookshelves of books on language I have a collection of books on how writing developed and changed over time. So it's a topic near and dear to my heart.

Lene passed along a link to a nice overview from ilovetypography. The origins of abc gives a overview of the history of writing. At least the history of writing words. I also found a good overview of the history of numbers in a powerpoint presentation by Tope Omitola and Sam Staton.

We've come a long way from impressions on clay yet it's amazing how similar things are. Turn ideas, words, and sounds into little pictures, pictograms, or symbols. Several thousand years later we've taken that basic idea and hopefully refined it and made it more expressive.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Math: Understanding the Fourier Transform

Play a pure tone on a computer and you hear a clean clear note. A perfect single sound. Take a number of pure sounds and you can create something quite complex.

Did you know that given a complicated sound you can decompose it back into the different tones (or frequencies) that make up the complicated sound?

The technique is called the Fourier Transform. It's not as complicated as it sounds. At least the overall theory is not too complicated to understand.

The DSP dimension has an article entitled The DFT "A Pied": Mastering The Fourier Transform in One Day. The on again, off again, on again blog called Physics For My Mom has a multi-part overview of the fourier transform.

That should be more than enough to get you started on fourier transforms. Once you understand that theory jump ahead and see if you can explain the math behind FFTs to me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Right Learning for the Job

I was one of those only semi-mythical teenagers who could fix your computer for you no matter what went wrong. When I started working in hospitals the total number of people in the computer department could be counted on one hand. And the total included the manager (not director... manager), the secretary, and the one fix-everything techie. That techie was me.

It was obvious that computers were the next big thing. Soon almost everyone in the hospital would have one. It would take a while of course. There are only so many computers one person can install in a week. People weren't as comfortable around computers as they are now. This was before smart phones, before facebook, and even long before email was widespread.

During those years I kept getting asked one question over and over. How did you learn about computers? Usually someone was asking because they wanted to push a son or daughter into learning about computers so they'd have a guaranteed career in the apparently exciting field of computers.

I'd patiently say that I didn't learn in any particular school. That, at the time, there were no places to learn how to be an all around PC support person. I'd mention community college or the like but since I'd never gone for those computer courses I'd have to tell them I didn't know if the courses were any good. To those people I really liked I then told them the real secret. The secret was that even if there was a really good technical school that could teach you those technical skills that was just half the battle. No one taught me the real skills required to fix computers.

The real skills were people skills. How do you tell someone that you can't retrieve or fix the only copy of a document they've been working on? How do you tell them when it's something they've literally worked on for months?

Back in the days before ubiquitous backups and networks it was amazing how often disks and drives lost files. (By the way... you do backup your important files right?)

How do you tell someone that they've been doing something on the computer incorrectly? Do you tell them that they're stupid? That they should have known better and that they deserve the problems they're having? Or do you tell them that computer programmers don't think like 'the rest of us' and that if they learned a few things about computers and how those programmers make computers work they'd save themselves lots of trouble?

Do you have any idea how many times I told people something wasn't their fault and that it was the fault of the computer and the programmers who thought about working on computers in another way? I learned how to make sure people felt superior to the computer and I made sure they decided to learn how to work down to the level of the computer in order to get their work done with as few problems as possible.

A large part of my success as a techie was due to the fact that I didn't make people feel stupid around their computer. I made them feel like smart people who had to learn to deal with a dumb machine.

Over the years I found that the best techies were not just the ones with incredible computer skills. Techies (not programmers) need interpersonal skills of the highest order. We are the elite psychological ninjas of the technological world. You'll never realize that we politely told you that you didn't know how computers worked and you've been doing things wrong. You'll think that we told you that computers aren't as smart as you and that you have to, sadly, start changing your behaviour in order to accomodate the stupid machine.

We manipulate, teach, instruct, and correct while making people think it's not their fault.

Which, of course, is why I'm linking to an article on how to be a successful management consultant without having an M.B.A. The Management Myth by Matthew Stuart tells of how he became a successful founder of a consulting firm with a doctoral degree in nineteenth century German philosophy. His look at the history of management theories and approaches is worth reading the article for. His look at how management theory and business degrees can actually limit how you think about problems is eye opening.

It turns out that the right skills for many jobs are not the obvious ones. Yes... you have to know about computers to be a techie. Yes... you have to know about business to be a management consultant. But too much specific knowledge in one specific area may be a bad thing.

Which leaves me with one very big question. How do you find and hire those perfect candidates that don't have the exact educational and technical skills you require but would be unexpectedly perfect in a job?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Follow Up: Drivers Without Traffic Lights?

Maybe it would be a good idea to remove some traffic signals and signs on the roads. After all maybe people would act like adults and be careful and share the roads.

There's only one way to find out. Turn off the lights and see what happens. Martin Cassini started the FiT Roads site which advocates for the removal of traffic lights.

The only way to find out what happens when you remove traffic lights is to... well... remove traffic lights. Two videos by FiT show what can happen. Part 1: Roads unfit for people and Part 2: Roads FiT for People show how dramatic the change can be. Contrary to many people's expectations drivers are willing to share the road and act responsibly. Not to say that the results are perfect. FiT's own video points out at least one potential shortcoming of the project. Still... it's an experiment worth taking seriously.

Counterintuitive thinking at it's best. Now with real world proof.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Science: What if Quantum Mechanics Makes Sense?

Science has gotten increasingly complicated. Take physics as a perfect example. It makes sense to us that the Aristotelean view of the universe is wrong. The universe isn't made up of earth, water, air, and fire. It makes no sense to us to think that heavenly objects moving in perfect circles while earthly objects move in straight lines. Watching a juggler for a few seconds shows how wrong that idea is.

Things start to seem right to most of us when we get to the discoveries of Newton. We may not know what attracts objects to each other but we don't mind just knowing that it's called gravity. We like the idea of an orderly predictable clockwork universe in which everything moves along in cosmic harmony.

Maybe the Newtonian view of the world feels comfortable because it's still within the realm of our senses. Our common sense is based on the world around us. We feel comfortable dealing with ideas that are within our grasp. You pick up an apple and let go and it drops towards the centre of the earth. There's nothing unusual happening there. You throw the apple hard and it moves off at a certain speed. Throw it twice as hard and it leaves your hand moving twice as fast. That's practically intuitive.

Then along comes Einstein and the concepts don't mesh well with our intuitive sense of the world around us. It's hard to imagine that someone on a moving train or rocket ship has a different perception of time than you do. You see them moving slower and they see you moving faster. All because there's an absolute speed limit and light has to always move at that speed. Light can't travel through a vacuum slower or faster. No one can see light travelling through a vacuum slower or faster than anyone else.

We may grasp the idea that space is curved but we grasp the concept using the metaphor of a rubber trampoline that dips whenever heavy objects are placed on it. It's much harder to visualize a three dimensional universe as having curves near large objects.

It's even harder to grasp the idea that since objects have a potential speed limit you can't just keep throwing them harder to make them move faster and faster. As you push something faster and faster it gets harder to speed it up. Let's say you take one of Newton's apples and push it from a standing start to one quarter the speed of light while measuring how hard you had to push. Now take the apple from a standing start to half the speed of light. Turns out it takes more than twice as much pushing.

So where does that extra energy go? If it takes more than twice the push to go twice as fast what happens to the extra push? That's where Einstein's famous equation comes in. Energy and Mass are equivalent. The extra push goes into making the apple more massive. Yes... the reason it gets harder and harder to push apples or rocket ships is that they get heavier and heavier the faster they go.

This isn't within the realm of our common sense. It makes you want to go back to Newton's universe and sit under an apple tree doing simple calculations.

What happens when you move on to quantum mechanics?

As I see it there are two choices. You either give up and say it's not understandable by the typical person or you go looking to see if someone has attempted an explanation that makes some sense.

One such attempt was made in 2008 by Eliezer Yudkowsky on Less Wrong. A series of posts called the Quantum Physics Sequence goes through many of the concepts behind quantum mechanics and does a respectable job trying to make them more intuitive.

The entire sequence of articles is in the link above. There are also a few short lists that take some of the articles and help you understand part of quantum mechanics. Quantum Physics Revealed As Non-Mysterious is a good look into why modern physics isn't all that hard to grasp.

Eliezer's central approach can be summed up by a quote from the article in the sequence called Quantum Explanations:
...I don't believe in phenomena that are inherently confusing. Confusion exists in our models of the world, not in the world itself. If a subject is widely known as confusing, not just difficult... you shouldn't leave it at that. It doesn't satisfice; it is not an okay place to be. Maybe you can fix the problem, maybe you can't; but you shouldn't be happy to leave students confused.
The first way in which my introduction is going to depart from the traditional, standard introduction to QM, is that I am not going to tell you that quantum mechanics is supposed to be confusing.
If you don't want to give up on trying to grasp quantum mechanics then give the Quantum Physics Sequence a read. You'll be surprised how much of it you can grasp.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gender: A Theory of Lesbian Sexuality?

Social theories of sexuality tend to leave me baffled. Granted overly complex evolution based theories of sexuality leave me baffled as well. Still I can't help but read them and try to understand them. The best writing on theories of sexuality tend to contain fascinating tidbits and ideas whether or not I agree with the central thesis of the theory. The most fascinating tidbits and ideas reflect more on the author than on the theory they're describing.

A case in point is a publication called Lesbian Sexuality: Issues and Developing Theory by Dr. Margaret Nichols of the Institute of Personal Growth which provides counseling and psychotherapy in the New Jersey area. If you head off to read the article I have one suggestion. I had to zoom into the webpage to make the article readable. I blame the web designer and not the author for the choice of a small font and a font colour that isn't too distinct from the page background. If you print the piece the font is still small but much clearer.

The essay starts with an opening that's guaranteed to make you want to read more:
I am a Sexually Incorrect lesbian. For years I've hidden it, but now I intend to share my dirty little secret with the world.
Early on Dr. Nichols seems to make fun of those who would impose a form of sexuality on others:
If this is not enough to convince you that I am truly S.I., consider this: I repudiate politically correct lesbian lovemaking. P. C. lesbian lovemaking, for the uninitiated, consists of the following: Two women lie side by side (tops or bottoms are strictly forbidden—lesbians must be non-hierarchical); ....
The purpose of the article is presented as:
...my observations of recent very interesting sexual trends within the lesbian community, and my (somewhat prurient) fascination with gay male sexuality led me eventually to do some theorizing and writing of my own. This essay is best viewed as a work in progress. I am an old-fashioned lesbian feminist from the school of thought that believed that the "personal is political." 
At which point... hang on to your hats, the ride gets bumpy. She starts by covering some survey data on lesbian sex. Surveys that start by looking at how frequently couples (heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male) have sex. She then digs deeper (so to speak) looking at monogamy, range of techniques, and other surveyed results of comparative sexual practices. Her initial conclusion?
What is happening here? I believe that lesbians, like heterosexual women, are essentially sexually repressed. We are at least as repressed as our straight sisters, perhaps even more. We have more sexual conflicts than do men, gay or heterosexual, lower sexual desire, and fewer ways of expressing our sexual needs.
I have to admit... at this point I'm not sure I agreed with her conclusions. But she's already brought out some interesting ideas to mull over so I continued. After some disparaging words on how heterosexual couple are not as likely to reach authentic and genuine intimacy Dr. Nichols suggests that:
Moreover, studying lesbian versus gay male relationships gives us a splendid opportunity to examine the "male principle" and the "female principle" as they are currently culturally defined and as they operate in pair-bonding. That is, gay men represent "unmitigated maleness," both alone and in couples, while lesbians represent "unmitigated femaleness."
Now I'd love to hear what gay men think about being called "unmitigated maleness" and lesbians about being called "unmitigated femaleness".

If it sounds like Dr. Nichols lost me as a believer in her central thesis at this point you're correct. And this is less than halfway through the essay. Again that doesn't mean I don't find that she makes fascinating arguments. Her description of some of the reasons lesbians might experience greater sexual repression is worth reading. If you aren't a believer in "the personal being political" then they may ring a little hollow. If you believe that you can't help but be political then they make more sense. Some reasons she cites are certainly worth thinking about. If one third of lesbians have been married (to a man) at some point it has to colour your sexual outlook.

Also interesting is her overview of lesbian attitudes towards the kinkier side of sexuality. Dr. Nichols looks into how "S/M" (to borrow her short form) may be perceived by the lesbian community.

When she looks at "roles" within lesbian relationships I again find myself not quite sure she's presenting a representative viewpoint. Her look at the problems that butch-femme roles can cause left me scratching my head.
The politically correct lesbian feminist line has been that butch-femme roles were essentially imitations of heterosexual culture, and that once we liberated our thinking through gay pride and feminist thought we rejected those roles and discovered that we are really all alike, that there are no roles.

My head scratching stopped a while later when I found myself whole heartedly agreeing with one of Dr. Nichols conclusions:
Indeed, at best the butch-femme position can help us transcend sex roles. It has been symptomatic of our gender conditioning that we always see these differences as gender-linked: The fact that our culture has typically defined a desire to paint one's face as female and a swaggering walk as male does not mean that these are biologically sex-linked traits. At best, we can learn to separate traits and behaviors from gender. Just as I believe that anything women do together sexually is lesbian sex, so it can be true that any behavior a woman engages in can be female behavior.
May I suggest we take things a step further? If traits and behaviours can be separate from gender then why can't they also be separate from sexual preference and sexual identification? Why not realize that being feminine or masculine can be independent of heterosexuality or homosexuality?

I could go on but I'll leave you to read Dr. Nichols and form your own views.

On of the reasons I find essays such as Dr. Nichols' fascinating is not that I find myself agreeing or disagreeing. It's not that I find myself thinking "I know she's wrong on that point and here's why". It's not even that I think we need to end up with well defined social theories of sexuality.

No. What I like the most is that there is much in her thesis and theory that I hadn't considered before at all. Quite a few times I found myself not sure if I agreed or not. Simply because I had to stop and think things through. Any essay that makes me stop and think was well worth reading.

If you want to read an interesting take on sexuality and lesbian sexuality in particular then I suggest Lesbian Sexuality: Issues and Developing Theory.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Games: Drive Fast and Turn to the Left

Sports seem to have internal hierarchies. The World Cup is more important than any other football tournament and some football leagues are more prestigious than others. Within every sport there is this hierarchy. Sometimes it's based on the amount of money the league has, the glory to be found, the attention paid by the public, or by some other almost inexplicable biases.

The world of motor sports has a larger internal hierarchy than most sports. After all everything from motocross to formula one is covered under that rather large umbrella term. Within this huge umbrella there certainly is an informal hierarchy in place. The ranking of importance is different around the world. For example most of the world looks down on NASCAR with some disdain. The reason seems simple. Just look at this video news piece from The Onion.

That's what it looks like. A bunch of cars driving around a circular (sorry... oval) track just going as fast as they can until someone wins.  Like many things that seem simple it isn't as simple as it appears.

For one thing there is the physics of drafting. The car in the front of a long line is plowing through the air for the cars behind him but he's not doing all the work. A train of cars running around the track is faster than any one car on its own. The car at the front of the line may be pushing through the air but the disturbed air at the end of the train is slowing down a different car. They split the work. 

If a line of cars is faster than any single car then you have to travel in packs to be efficient and fast. So how do you move up the line? How do you pass? You convince others to pass with you. If you pull out into clear air without help you'll just slow down and go to the back of the line. So to get ahead you need help. Drivers need to cooperate. All while going over 100 miles an hour just inches from each other. 

What's amazing is that some drivers can win consistently. Do you help a driver with a winning record because he's more likely to win or do you punish a winning driver by not helping him because he's already won? How do you get people from other teams and driving for other owners to help you?

Some of the answers and background are in Social Science at 190 MPH on NASCAR's Biggest Superspeedways from First Monday

Maybe NASCAR deserves a bit more respect. It's a multi-person mind game while driving inches from each other. Makes me want to sit down and watch the gamesmanship on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Language: What if I Have More Than One?

English may not be the hardest language to learn but it certainly has its quirks. The rules for plurals are one of the areas where there are a lot of those quirks. There are more than a few places that will give you the the rules. On top of the rules you need to worry about the exceptions.

While the rules for plurals and the exceptions are important for using English properly. That's not the only reason I link to them. The real reason is because of cephalopods.

I really do like the video Oktapodi. If you haven't seen it give it a look. A charming story of the lengths one octopus will go to save its mate. Which leads to an important question: If you have more than one octopus what do you call them?

When in doubt... ask an editor at a dictionary.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Math: Learning the Math Behind Social Networks

Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, MSN, ICQ, and lots of other bits of computer software have been called social networks. But why networks?

Yes I know they all run on computer networks but there's more to it than that. After all we talk about our network of friends and associates. Maybe network doesn't imply a computer network.

Turns out that there is a whole area of math that deals with the interconnections between things. You have friends and each of them has more friends. You are connected to your friends and they are each connected to all their friends. This branch of math is called network theory. Network theory helps explain things like six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

By the way... the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game works because Kevin Bacon has enough connections to other people in Hollywood to make it relatively easy to track back to him. He isn't the most central person in Hollywood. Central means the person who has the shortest path to everyone else. So an obscure actor who appeared in a single movie would not be central. An actor with lots of roles, lots of co-stars, and a long career would be much more central. According to the Oracle of Bacon (which sadly doesn't actually talk about the food bacon) the most central person in the IMDB database is Dennis Hopper. Karen Black is the leading woman on their list of The Center of the Hollywood Universe.

I stumbled across a good attempt to give an overview of network theory on a site called Measuring Measures called Learning Network Theory. If you want to explore the math behind social networking sites and 6 degrees of whomever it's a good place to start.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Remembering and Reviewing What We May Lose

The web is very ephemeral. What seems like a permanent place to store the creations of millions can disappear easily. Whole portions of the web can disappear overnight. Luckily we have groups like Archive Team to help collect and preserve portions of the web.

Large collections of websites such as Geocities have been saved when the original company running the servers decided to turn off the power and retire millions of pages. Archive Team also keeps track of sights on their last legs as well as maintaining a list of sites that seem healthy but contain massive amounts of important information.

Archive Team makes the point that even some of the archives of the web aren't well archived. It's sobering to read that even important archive sites like archive.org have only one copy and no backup of massive amounts of priceless data.

Still people are concerned. When it was announced that Geocities was closing down several spontaneous projects emerged to make copies of it while it was still online. Hundreds of ancient web pages written by people living and dead were preserved. And don't just think of the web. The internet has carried much more than just web traffic over the years. What happens to pieces of the net such as gopher when a protocol withers and all but dies? You can download your own snapshot of what was contained on gopher servers but that's only an incomplete snapshot of what's been lost.

What happens to the little gems on the web? The pieces that each of us consider part of our combined online heritage? What happens when those bits of the web stagnate? What can we do to make sure we don't lose them?

I started thinking about this when I was reminded of one of my favourite funny parts of the web. A place where the best of bad movie reviews were lovely collected over time for our enjoyment. I'm not talking about Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. I'm talking about Defective Yeti's Bad Review Revue. From February 2002 to April 2009 Matthew Baldwin collected the choicest quotes about the latest crop of bad movies. Little gems where critics put into words exactly what they thought of movies.

Since April 2009 though there has been nothing. The Defective Yeti site continues but there have been some hiatuses and interruptions that made many of us who read it wonder if it would end and fade away like so many other online gems. Not only is there the potential loss of 7 years worth of bad review revues but Matthew hasn't continued collecting them and as fas as I can tell no one has taken up the cause. Jeff Milner took up the cause for a while but he's stopped collecting bad review revues as well.

I'm not picking on Defective Yeti. Matthew is a writer and dedicated to his various projects. I am not too worried that it will disappear from the web completely. I choose Defective Yeti's bad review revues because it is a perfect example of a small gem of the longer web. Lovely collected and presented by one person. A diversion that entertained (as does Defective Yeti in general) but is not being continued.

There are people and groups out there that are archiving the large sites and large projects and massive collections of data. Groups that don't want bits of our online culture and heritage to disappear. Which leaves me with a simple question.

Who's going to archive and protect all the smaller sites on the Internet?

What would you like preserved before it is erased, forgotten, or deleted?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Follow Up: Rock on and Calculate!!!

This is actually a double follow up. It's a follow up that's about Punk and math education. Yes... you read that correctly.

Tom Henderson is a mathematician, an improv comic, and one half of the duo behind the Math for Primates podcast and he's on a mission. He wants to write a book to teach math in a new and interesting way. Using topics and ideas where math can help explain real problems. Problems that matter. Problems that caused people to wear ripped clothes, play loud music regardless of how talented they were, and express themselves as honestly as they possibly could.

So of course his book will be called Punk Math. Yes... you read that correctly. Will be.

Tom's using kickstarter to fund the project. Now don't worry I'm not going to try and convince you to give Tom some money to make his dream a reality. It's too late for that. He's already past the funding level he wanted to achieve. More is, of course, better. I'm sure Tom wouldn't mind additional funding of the project.

So take a look at Tom and his plan for Punk Math. Watch the video on the Punk Math kickstarter page and try to tell me that Tom isn't the type of math teacher and writer you wish you had around years ago. There's no denying Tom's passion. If you want a taste read the interview he gave to Technoccult.

I wish him all the best. I'm looking forward to reading Punk Math. Not just to refresh my math but to see what he comes up with.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Science: "Now, if I'd known they'd line up just to see him..."

One of the greatest scientific finds of the twentieth century occurred more than eighty years ago. Yet, until recently, the documentation, notes, photographs, and details weren't available freely to the public. If you wanted information on what happened when KV62 was literally uncovered you'd have been hard pressed to find details.

Which is amazing considering how the find still enchants people to this day. In fact some of the material found inside KV62 is touring the world and attracting crowds right now.

KV62 is the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. In 1922 Howard Carter discovered it hidden under ancient debris. Over the next 8 years the tomb was slowly, carefully, and meticulously emptied of its contents. Much has been written about the discovery and excavation but the details have never been collected in one publicly accessible place. At least not until the present day. I thank Wayne for bringing to my attention a web site where I may end up spending too much time.

Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation by the Griffith Institute, Oxford aims to be the place where all the photos, maps, notes, and other details can be collected in one place. For anyone and everyone to explore at their leisure. There are photos of the excavation work taking place, notes from Howard Carter, Alfred Lucas, and Lord Carnarvon on the robberies that probably occurred soon after the tomb was first sealed, and maps and drawings of the tomb.

Much of the notebooks and other written material is online in transcripts without scans or photographs of the originals so you won't be reading Howard Carter's notebooks directly. Luckily the list of numbered objects removed from the tomb is presented with the original photographs and scans of the original handwritten object cards along with transcriptions to make reading easier. Item 256 is the King's mummy and 256a is the Gold Mask of the King. You can see the mask as it was found in situ as well as after removal from the mummy.

The first object card for the mask reminds me of the only memory I have of seeing King Tut's mask in person. In the 1970s the treasure of King Tut went on tour. Unlike the current travelling exhibition the 1970s exhibit did include the gold mask. All I remember of the seeing the 1970s exhibit on a dark ealry winter's night is the clear recollection of just how small the mask was. Just over 50 cms tall and less than 40 cms across. That's when it struck me that King Tut really was the boy king.

With all the physics and chemistry and other 'hard' sciences I find that I forget that archeology is a science as well. The detailed records and photographs of the King Tut excavation are a wonderful example of that science. Looking at the photographs and maps it's easy to see why King Tut's tomb caught the public imagination. Over 80 years later the public's fascination continues.

Now if you don't mind... I'm going to find an old comedy album, put on Steve Martin, and look at the original photographs while singing along to King Tut:

"Now, if I'd known / they'd line up just to see him, / I'd trade in all my money / And bought me a museum." 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gender: Redressing Gender Balance (part 2)

It shouldn't surprise you that there is a major gender imbalance in higher education. That there is not even close parity between the sexes in the number of degrees given out by universities and colleges should shock no one. After all if you think about it it's obvious there is a disparity.

What isn't obvious and should come as a shock is that the gap is widening and not getting smaller. The imbalance is growing. Worse... it is expected to grow even more in the future. Here's how the disparity has grown over time:

  • 1990-1991 - 54% to 46%
  • 1995-1996 - 56% to 44%
  • 2000-2001 - 58% to 42%
  • 2005-2006 - 59% to 41%
  • 2010-2011 - 59% to 41% (projected)
  • 2015-2016 - 60% to 40% (projected)
It doesn't matter how you break down the degrees either. Currently there is only one category of degrees which breaks the other way. That is expected to change so that in all categories there will be a disparity. In a few years it won't matter if you talk about associate's, bachelor's, master's, first-professional, or doctor's degrees. 

In all categories women will be receiving more degrees then men will.

Does that surprise you? Did you know that women already are getting almost 60% of degrees awarded? Did you expect them to increase this number to 61% by 2019?

It shouldn't surprise you. There has been a lot of work over a long time to improve education and educational opportunities for women. From grade school to high school to higher education women have done better and continue to do better. This work was necessary and useful. The programs and practices put in place have made women more successful than ever in education.

Professor Mark J. Perry plots the numbers and thinks of the ramifications in The Increasing College Degree Gap; Will College Women's Centers Address *This* Gender Issue? If you want to look at the numbers themselves you can find them at the National Center for Education Statistics here. There's even an Excel version of the numbers in case you want to do any analysis yourself.

The question in my mind is what happens now that the imbalance has swung so far the other way? The "equal" point was back in 1981. Since then men have fallen behind. So now what do we do?

Do we stop the successful programs for women? The programs that have tailored education to their requirements and needs? Those programs and policies that have been so successful?

I hope we don't. Improving education for any gender is good for all of us.

Will we as a society be able to apply those lessons and learn how to keep men in school? To lessen the number of dropouts and increase the number of young men who go on to successful higher education?

I'm not looking for a 50-50 balance. I don't want the number of degrees to be limited and mandated. What I'm looking to see is whether even a fraction of the resources and effort that was spent to help women is now spent to help men.

Or maybe... just maybe... we can stop worrying about men vs. women and start applying those resources and efforts to students as a whole. Maybe we should be keeping as many kids in school as long as possible regardless of gender. Maybe we should be trying to increase the overall percentage of kids who get past high school and into higher education.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Games: Pac-Man

If you're old enough to remember when video games first started showing up in arcades alongside pinball machines I have a question. What original arcade game was the one you first played over and over?

Space Invaders? Q-Bert? Galaga? Or maybe one of the first huge hits - Pac-Man?

Recently a Dutch blog post made the rounds. Toru Iwatani was visiting the Netherlands for the NLGD Festival of Games and he brought with him some rather historic documents. His original design documents and ideas for Pac-Man.

Which got me thinking about Pac-Man. The game has more depth than you think. It may seem as simple as a face running around a maze after dots while ghosts just blindly chase the player but it isn't. There is much more to Pac-Man than that. Don't believe me? Take a look at The Pac-Man Dossier by Jamey Pittman. It's truly the most comprehensive exploration of Pac-Man I've ever seen.

If you ever stumble across an original Pac-Man game and get a chance to put in a few quarters just remember it's deeper and more complicated than you ever thought.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Language: English as a Second Language (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about one way to learn English as a second language. This week the question is how do you write well in English when it's your second language?

A good answer comes from William Zinsser. Last August he gave a talk to the incoming international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Writing English as a Second Language is also a wonderful overview of how to write well for native English speakers. Don't miss giving it a read it you want to improve your command of English. Much of the advice is in other places but unlike The Elements of Style the advice is well balanced and useful.

Even if you are a native speaker you'll learn some ways to improve your writing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Math: My Number is Bigger Than Yours!

What's the biggest number you can name or think of? And no cheating by picking infinity.

Of course any actual number made of digits can be made larger by adding one... so the real trick is to look at ways of understanding and describing vast numbers. Turns out there is a lot of mathematical notion that covers extremely large numbers.

Much of this notation and the concepts behind astronomically big numbers is in Who Can Name the Bigger Number? by Scott Aaronson.

Scott covers a lot of material. But hand on and take your time. How else will you learn about Busy Beaver numbers?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Splendid Isolation?

It turns out that I get to spend a day and a half completely alone. I didn't plan it this way. I wanted to spend the time not being alone. I had plans. A mild summer cold conspired to give me time to myself. Granted I'm spending the time recuperating and feeling better before the work week starts but it's still time I'm spending alone. Not that I mind being alone.

Being alone is not a bother for me. It never has been a bother for me. I can keep myself occupied endlessly. I enjoy long walks even without company or an mp3 player. Being sent to my room as a kid was no punishment. Where else would I want to end up but surrounded by my stuff? Books, computers, pen and paper... what's not to like?

It seems to me that many people don't like to be alone. They don't know how to live with only themselves. They always have to be with someone. They always have to be talking. It doesn't matter what they talk about but they have to be talking to someone at all times. When I commute on the bus you can spot these people easily. They're the ones who use their cellphones constantly for the most inane conversations.

What ever happened to silence and being alone?

Two recent posts on the 'net got me thinking about being alone. And how difficult it seems to be for some people. The first is How to Talk a Walk by Vankatesh Rao. The second is a poem called How To Be Alone (video) by Tanya Davis.

If you're not comfortable being by yourself or just not sure how to do it without going crazy then maybe, just maybe, Tanya and Vankatesh can help.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Follow Up: Mechanical Marvels

On Monday I wrote about a series of videos that covered the basic mechanisms inside mechanical fire control computers. How rods, levers, rolling balls, and sliding bars can do math to help one ship shoot another.

One day later Wayne sent me a link to a photo he took on a trip this March break. It's a plaque on the battleship Iowa. Reminds me of something I read in a magazine once about how the Panama Canal kept it's old mechanical control system for the longest time. Mainly because the new fangled computer systems weren't going to be any better. I think the Panama Canal has modernized it's control system finally. Apparently computers can get better than the mechanical systems that preceded them.

Still fire control is complicated with or without computers. I went looking to see what I could find. Wikipedia gives an overview of the systems that were on the Iowa. Much more detail can be found at the Historical Naval Ships Association (HSNA). Under their document collection about Ordinance, Gunnery and Fire Control there are some interesting things to look at. Fire Control Fundamentals and Computer Mark 1 and Mods (with Computer Mark 1A Addendum) are a good place to start.

The biggest problem with the HNSA is that I could end up reading and looking for days on end. Yet another incredible resource I didn't even know existed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Science: No Busy Bees?

There is a debate on whether we can feed the world or not. As long as food is as plentiful as it is now we have a chance to avoid not having enough food.

If we start having problems growing food then all bets are off. That makes what's happening to the bees very serious. Bee Catastrophe" 1/3 of Colonies Died This Winter, Worries Grow About Terminal Decline is not a good sign.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gender: Redressing Gender Balance?

When the topic of historic imbalances is raised it's a hot issue. Just changing the laws and rules to fix 'future' discrimination may not be enough. Whether we should go and correct past mistakes, or at least compensate for them, leads to heated debate.

When redressing is in the cards the trick is to do something useful. Lip service serves no one. Band-aid measures don't do much either. Even the best ideas with the most laudable of intentions may not work as expected either.  Which means any initiatives to redress a past imbalance must receive scrutiny.

Here's some scrutiny on gender bias in the sciences. How it works and some idea of how it could be fixed. An entirely positive approach. Or something. by The Accidental Mathematician covers how hiring of research chairs is done. Whether the answer is a more open process or legislation one thing is for certain. We have a long way to go.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Games: A Player Who Makes His Teammates Better

Quick... name the most important and valuable player on your local sports team. Now... tell me why he's valuable.

Scores the most points/goals/baskets/touchdowns? Intimidating and a presence on the field/diamond/court/ice?

What if the most valuable player on a team didn't score often and was one of the smallest people in the league? You would't believe it would you?

Believe it. In the NBA Shane Battier is one of the most valuable players on the court. Dollar for dollar he does more for his team than anyone else. Not because he scores or gets great stats. It's because when he's on the court all his teammates perform better. Let me introduce the The No-Stats All-Star.

Shane Battier is an example of what happens when stats and numbers are looked at carefully. Conventional wisdom can be proven wrong. The results may change how the NBA owners, and then owners and managers in other leagues, look at choosing players.

Players like Shane may help win games and championships but they make water cooler conversation much more challenging. Intangibles are harder to discuss.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Language: Choice of Words is Important

If you're trying to convince people of something you have to choose the right words. The choice of words can make something sound better than it is.

So changing the words is important to help make your case. One important case is the one about what we should feed our infants. Breasts vs. bottles is an old and ongoing debate. Language in the debate can change everyone's perspective. Watch Your Language! by Diane Wiessinger from the Journal of Human Lactation points out how important language can be.

Now the article is very interesting and has a lot to say about how choosing words is important but... and there is a but. Her view on how men and women handle guilt drives me crazy. If the same paragraphs were written by a man we'd all call the author sexist. That aside the article's main point can be extended to almost any other place where you're trying to choose the right words to make your point.

It's better to make the 'other' option sound second rate than to make 'your' option superior. A lesson on language we can all learn from.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Math: Mechanical Marvels

We're used to using computers to do math now. Spreadsheets, on screen calculators, and other tools that are digital. I have several rather complex calculators that I still use. Underneath the push buttons they are digital  as well.

Before transistors and digital technology there where calculators of course. Mechanical ones. I'm not talking slide rules (though I have several of those as well). I'm talking mechanical calculators. With moving parts. I have several addiators, and I've used a comptometer. I've never had the chance to see or use a CURTA. They're still a bit hard to find and rather expensive.

Still even those mechanical marvels do one equation at a time and solve it for one answer at a time. There are times you need to solve multiple equations continuously. It turns out there are mechanical calculators or early mechanical computers that did exactly that. They computed several equations with constantly changing inputs automatically over time.

Why would you need such a calculation? Well you and I wouldn't but imagine that you were in the navy. Shooting is a complicated business. You have to know how fast your ship is moving and it what direction. Then you need to figure out how fast the other ship is sailing and in what direction. Then you have to figure out where to aim your guns. You have to point your guns and shoot far enough so that your shells will land where the enemy ship will be. Then add wind and currents and...

It's as complicated as it sounds.

Turns out there where mechanical computers to do the calculations. In case you wanted to know how the mechanisms inside worked... how a mechanical computer could add or subtract or multiple or do much more complicated math... there are a series of US Navy training films from the 1950s online.

I keep having to remind myself how clever people were before computers and before the latest modern technology. Not only are the mechanisms simple they work on changing inputs and give continuous output. Rather remarkable. With all the pieces put together in one computer it must have been a high tech miracle of the age. Or maybe it was nothing special. Just something you'd expect on the latest ships.

The video is in multiple segments. Here's part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Do I Not Know?

You won't often get me saying nice things about Donald Rumsfeld. His policies, ideology, and views of the world contrast dramatically with my own. While I often fail I do try and remember that people who's views are different than mine aren't stupid or inane or even uncaring. And I won't ever call Donald Rumsfeld stupid. Anyone with a career and resume as storied as his has to be understood as very smart and capable person.

One thing I don't usually associate with Donald Rumsfeld is the position of poet. Slate once took some of his press briefings for the Pentagon press corps and formatted some of his choicer words as poetry. I'm not an expert in poetry but I do think he could challenge many a hipster beat poet if given the chance.

What brought me back to thinking about Donald Rumsfeld was an article on what we know. Donald Rumsfeld is (in)famous for a press briefing he gave back in 2002 where he talked about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. See the first bit of poetry in Slate or watch the video. This particular chain of thought was roundly derided. Which is unfortunate. Because it is a very interesting way of looking at the world. It takes some insight to realize there are things out there we don't even know we are ignorant about.  People came to the defense of the secretary of defense.

So what drew me back to some of the more coherent words to come out of the mouth of a senior neocon? An article by Steve Schwartz called No One Knows What the F*** They're Doing (or "The 3 Types of Knowledge"). The article does cover the three types of knowledge mentioned by Donald Rumsfeld. It also adds a few subcategories such as "Shit you don't know you know". If you've ever received praise or high marks and didn't feel you deserved it then this article is for you.

In case you think Steve Schwartz is telling you that ignorance is a good thing since most people don't know what they're doing may I suggest you read his followup entitled Disturbing Misinterpretations: No One Knows What the F*** They're Doing.

What's interesting for me is how this all ties in to something I've said for years. For me one of the most incredible moments is when I learn something, or am shown something, or I figure something out and just after I feel like I know something knew I realize what the next set of questions is. I embrace learning enough to expand my sphere of ignorance. It gives me more to learn and understand. The more I don't know the more I have to know first.

And I like knowing more even if it means I have to become more ignorant.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Better Turns of Phrase?

I was reading The Seated View and agreeing totally with Lene's latest post Of Two Minds. She isn't confined to a wheelchair nor is she wheelchair-bound.

That's what we say without thinking. Someone is confined to a wheelchair. We don't usually stop to think that the wheelchair itself is, as Lene says, liberating. What Lene doesn't mention is what phrase she'd rather people use. This got me thinking of two other posts that have made me rethink some typical turns of phrase.

First is Daniel Dennet's piece Thank Goodness!. Now even if you don't start using "Thank Goodness" instead of "Thank God" he does make many great points. Among them:
Or you can thank God—but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you? (And besides, according to the Christian tradition God has already redeemed the debt for all time, by sacrificing his own son. Try to repay that loan!)
The second is Christopher Hitchens' piece Topic of Cancer. He points out that cancer seems to be tied to its own turn of phrase:
Unfortunately, it also involves confronting one of the most appealing clichés in our language. You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality. You don’t hear it about long-term sufferers from heart disease or kidney failure.
There are probably many other turns of phrase that should be changed and corrected. Our day to day speech is full of them. Trite phrases we say without realizing that what the words say isn't always what we actually meant.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Science: Explaining Einstein

Friday's topic is science and explanations of science.

Albert Einstein is one of the most important figures in the history of the twentieth century. Time magazine chose him as the Person of the Century. The description of his scientific career keeps going and going. Yet can we explain what his most important theory is about? Can we grasp principles that have literally changed the world?

We can give it a try. Here's Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity (In Words of Four Letters or Less). Here's a few smart people explaining his most famous equation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gender: Who's Solving the World's Biggest Problem?

Thursday's topic is gender. 

What's the world's biggest problem? Care to guess? My guess is overpopulation. Too many people has lead to almost all the other problems we have.

The environment? Running out of Oil? Pollution? Global Warming? All can be traced back to having a lot of people. Overpopulation is an important problem we have to deal with. Let Hans Rosling explain a bit about the problem. Two videos provide a good overview of what we're in for and what may work to solve the problem.

Turns out that one group is doing a great deal to solve the problem of overpopulation. Women. The Scientific American article The Reproductive Revolution: How Women Are Changing the Planet's Future explains this unexpected and welcome phenomena. Once again women are leading the way and changing the world.

The world's population is expected to peak mid-this century. If we manage to feed everyone the population should then slowly decline. The problems of overpopulation will be with us for a long time but now with a twist. Instead of extra new mouths to feed we'll end up with fewer children and an aging population as we stop replacing all of ourselves generation after generation. One challenge will lead to another. Women will be key to helping all of us through the upcoming challenges.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Games: The Best Game Ever?

On Wednesday's the topic is games. Including sports, video games, and games people play.

For those of you who play video games I have a question. What is the best video game ever?

Maybe you like Civilization because of how it draws you in to build an empire and conquer the world? Maybe a game that changed the face of gaming. How about Doom or Quake? A best seller perhaps? Such as Super Mario Brothers or Tetris? Or a darling of the critics like Portal? (And if you know the game and the ending I dare you not to be humming Still Alive right now.)

How about a game that doesn't have the graphics to change the face of gaming? The graphics are just text characters re-purposed into walls and creatures? How about a game that will never be a best seller because it isn't for sale? This one is available for free so you couldn't buy it if you wanted to. As for being a darling of the critics....

Slate magazine made the case for a game called nethack back in 2000. Nethack is a descendant of rogue and other dungeon crawlers that were first written back in the days of text screens and terminals.

No graphics, no theme song, and no marketing. A text based dungeon crawl that's difficult from the beginning. If you play video games and want a true challenge... try nethack. Be warned. It's been known to take up a lot of time. The goal of nethack is to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor from the bottom of a dungeon and sacrifice it to your god. Doing so grants your character immortality. When you do this you are said to have ascended. Nethack is such so well known that in many geek circles having ascended is either a requirement or a badge of honour.

Nethack is a descendant of rogue. Rogue is the game that first turned a text screen into a dungeon crawl. Every game that has used roughly the same idea has been classified as a roguelike game. There are several lists of roguelike games available in case you want to explore other similar games for any number of different computers.

In terms of games that pack lots of information into a text screen and fully use the imagination of the player to fill in the blanks the roguelikes have had the upper hand for the longest time. (I'm leaving text adventures that don't use letters on the screens as symbols for another time). In recent years there is a new contender for the most complicated and involving game that works in text. The game is Dwarf Fortress.

Dwarf Fortress' programmers have not spent the time to add graphics or make the interface more user-friendly. Instead they've concentrated on increasing the games' scope and adding feature after feature. All within a text window. While you can play Dwarf Fortress as a hero or an adventurer the more popular mode is one in which you build a fortress from scratch in a world constructed before hand just on your computer. Dwarf Fortress is vast, hard to master, and apparently addictive. So far I've decided not to give into the temptation to get too involved.

In case you want to get involved here's a pointer to the Dwarf Fortress wiki to get you started.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Language: English as a Second Language

Tuesday's new topic is Language. Writing, Grammar, Publishing, Printing, and anything else related to English and it's usage.

I'm unilingual. English is the only language at which I'm proficient - and I've been known to lose even English at times. I certainly can't even pretend to be fluent in any other language. Unlike myself most English speakers in the world have learned English as a second language. The numbers show 330 million people in the world who speak English as their first language. 580 million have English as a secondary language.

So how does one learn English as a second language?

One answer comes from a blogger who calls himself The Korean. He charmingly uses the third person to refer to himself. On his blog Ask a Korean! he wrote a post called The Korean's English Acquisition, and the Best Method to Master a Foreign Language, Guaranteed.

The short version? It takes work. The long version? Don't ask me... go read The Korean. It's well worth it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Math: Why Learn Math Now?

Welcome to Monday's new topic: Mathematics.

So you were never good at math and you don't think it's important to start learning it now. After all you've made it so far without knowing it or understanding math so why bother?

There are any number of reasons to bother. Steve Yegge has a few reasons that drew him back to learn more math. Back in 2004 he wrote Math Every Day where he wrote about his conclusion that math is important and getting better at it is useful and important.

His arguments may not convince you that you should revisit math and become more competent at it. You may already know that you 'should' learn more math.

What Steve doesn't cover is how to accomplish this. So while he may convince you math is important he only points out that he went and bought a bunch of math books. I don't know the best way to learn math either. I do know there is a resource available that Steve didn't have back in 2004. I wrote about the Khan Academy already. If working through books isn't your style then maybe the Academy can help.

Changing Topics Several Times Over

It's time to leave Medical Controversies behind. I'm ready to move onto another topic. Well not quite just another topic.

Turns out that as much as I like staying on one topic it could get boring for people who aren't interested in that particular topic. If I switch to something technical or geeky people who have no interest in those topics may not stick around until I move on to something more their taste.

When it comes to taste I find that mine are all over the map as well. I like sticking with a topic but I want to be able to mix things up a little as well.

Don't worry. I have a plan.

I'm going to switch from following a single topic to following a different topic each weekday. Every Monday's posts will be on the topic of Math. At least for a couple of months and then Monday's topic will= change. The same goes with all the other weekdays.

So stay tuned as I switch to 5 new topics. This way I can keeps things varied and interesting for me and hopefully for you as well.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Now I Have Proof I'm WEIRD

I've always thought that being called weird was a badge of honour. It means not being considered normal and it also means not being considered abnormal enough to be sent away for observation. I accept my weirdness. My family is weird, most of my friends are weird, and almost everyone I've met who's very interesting could be considered weird.

I may be weird but it turns out that most people around me can be considered WEIRD as well. Yes... that's WEIRD in capital letters. If you are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic than you are considered a WEIRD person. Believe it or not WEIRD is a concept that's being used to help psychology researchers understand how relevant and universal their research is. Which is important because even though psychology is a science it's rarely considered one of the purer sciences.

Science is a way of explaining the world in terms of the world. Not in terms of unmeasurable forces or magical powers. Science is powerful not just because it comes up with theories. Science is powerful because the theories can be applied to predict the future.

Chemistry tells us what will happen when we combine compounds or try to make new materials. If the materials don't act like we expect... chemists try and understand why and work towards improving their theories of the world. Physicists create theories that tell us what will happen when certain materials are next to each other and electricity is applied. The result is the transistor and everything it brought about.

Psychology has also lead people to predict the future. Edward Bernayd was a cousin of Sigmund Freud. He applied Freud's theories to the manipulation of people using their inner desires. His work was mainly in the field of advertising. In 1928 he wrote a book about his ideas called Propaganda. I recommend giving it a read. It's short and easy to read and it gives an insight into how advertisers and politicians have been trying to influence people for longer than you think. Oh... and if you're put off by the title remember that in 1928 the word didn't have the negative implications it does now. After the Nazis and WWII the word fell out of favour. So Bernays came up with a replacement that described what he was doing without the stigma attached to the word propaganda. He coined the term Public Relations.

You may think that anything advertisers did using his book wouldn't have worked. After all we have a much more mature view of psychology now than we did then. You may think some of the ideas and concepts old fashioned and even disproved.

Understand that even as science continues to improve it was still useful. This applies to psychology as well as to other disciplines like physics. Modern physics can create the transistor but older physics brought us electricity. We take science to be useful even as we learn more and change our understanding of how the world works.

Predicting the future is one part of science's power. Another part is that science is universal. What you discover I can check. In fact science expects that results will be checked and challenged. The results are theories that apply as universally as possible.

Gravity pulls you towards the Earth. It pulls the Earth towards the Sun. It also moves the Sun around the Milky Way. Same gravity. Same theory. Same laws. Different applications.

Universality is such a fundamental concept in science that people assume that discoveries are universal. It's the default assumption if you'd like. If you discover something you assume it applies everywhere. Or if you're in psychology you assume it applies to everyone.

What if what you find doesn't apply universally. What if it applies to some groups of people more than others?

The first hint I had on the existence of WEIRDness came from an article on the possible evolutionary origin of emotions. At the end of the article Joe Henrich is quoted as saying "And beware of experiments using university students" because "Tests have shown that North American university students are some of the least typical people on the planet..."

Now I suspect that Joe Henrich was quoted because of a paper he co-authored in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. I'd also just heard of the paper because of a blog entry on Shared Symbolic Storage. The paper itself is called The weirdest people in the world? (pdf). As the Shared Symbolic Storage link suggests the journal knew the paper would be thought provoking. There are 28 commentaries in the pdf that go along with the paper itself.

Don't consider the paper or the commentaries as a joke. Sure there are almost endless examples of using WEIRD in puns and interesting ways but the paper is over 20 pages long. The commentaries are 40 pages long and the combined references and sited papers goes on for over 12 pages of 2 columns of fine print.

This is not an April fools joke or a completely tongue in cheek article. This is serious stuff. Even so there are new acronyms and memorable quotes throughout.
  • WEIRD - Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic
  • "I referred to them as WMC, or Western middle class, humans" - Christophe Boesch
  • WRONG - When Researchers Overlook uNderlying Genotypes
  • BIZARRE - Barren, Institutionalized, Zoo, And other Rare Rearing Environments (Referring to comparing studies on wild, institutionalized, and home-raised chimpanzees and humans)
  • ODD - Observation- and description-deprived
  • "For studies in humans in their social world, the North American undergraduate (NAU) does not serve as the fruit fly or E. coli has served for genetics. But at the level of basic psychological processes, such as learning, motor organization, or vision, the NAU is probably a pretty good fruit fly." - Paul Rozin
  • "Chiao & Cheon point out that the vast majority of cognitive neuroscience findings are based on WERID brains." - Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan
I'll admit to not having read every page and every word. Yet. The ideas and arguments in those pages are worth considering though. 

Maybe modern humans have developed different ways of understanding and explaining the world. These are not only different than pre-industrialized people but maybe different than other industrialized or civilized humans. 

Which leads me to wonder how and when these changes took place? When in our history did our cognitive abilities and outlook change? How did our ancestors sculpt ourselves to be WEIRD or how were they sculpted by the civilization and world they had created? Can these sort of findings be used to look at social history? Or even art history? The research possibilities seem endless.

One thing is for sure. I now know I'm not only weird but WEIRD. WEIRD and proud of it.