Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Weirdness - The heraldic connection

You cannot make this stuff up. From the New York Times, "The Coat of Arms Said ‘Integrity.’ Now It Says ‘Trump.’"

Not only did he steal the image, he swapped out the Latin word for integrity and replaced in with his name.

"Mr. Trump’s American coat of arms belongs to another family. It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump’s cherished getaway."

Full article 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Texas - Relocating an armadillo

Hopefully only one armadillo was feeding off grubs in the soft irrigated soil. They kill plants by uprooting them when feeding underneath.

We caught a large armadillo by laying a trap along a possible pathway. You cannot effectively bate a trap, but if you are lucky they will blindly walk into one.

The cat found it first

Loaded in the truck

Given its freedom miles from home

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weirdness - The Russian connection

Marjorie Merriweather Post was an American who inherited the Post cereal company from her father and became the wealthiest woman in the USA. She had many homes including Tregaron in Washington DC, and Mar-a-Lago in Florida, currently a Resort and Club owned by Trump.

From Wikipedia:

In 1935, Post married her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, a Washington, D.C. lawyer. They had no children and were divorced in 1955. From 1937 to 1938, in a crucial period leading up to World War II, Davies served as the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, ruled at that time by Joseph Stalin. During this time, Davies and Post acquired many valuable Russian works of art from Soviet authorities.

Her husband was an ambassador in the Soviet Union during a fire sale, the Russians were selling off the religious and royal icons for hard cash. I have see some of this collection in the Washington DC home.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Texas - Society's failure to help people with mental conditions

It was early in the morning, and I was talking to the gate agent at IAH. She said they have a problem with people let out of prison, wandering into the airport. I asked how they got to the airport as it is isolated north of town.  She said, after serving their sentence they are let out of prison, given $50 to $100, and if no one picks them up, a bus pass.

The bus route ends at IAH. Many of those with mental conditions do not get off the bus en route, but ride it all the way to the end, they have no idea where they are or what they are doing. When the driver reaches IAH he tells everyone on board this is the end of the route and to get off. They get off and wander into the nearest building.

They should never have been in prison in the first place, and the cost is borne by the airport and many other places. About 30% of Texas inmates are receiving mental services.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Texas - Rabbit proofing

Trenching to find the supply pipe 
I have sprinklers over most of the country property, most are installed in the grass, and pop up when switched on. They just work. Except the ones in the alley, which is mowed by both my neighbor and our grass cutter.

The sprinkler heads are continually getting broken, so I disconnected the spray heads in the grass and added spray heads inside the edge of the flowerbed. A safer location.

For context see  two-different-worlds and  conversation-with-rabbit
After refilling the holes, barely visible

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Texas - Visit from a hawk in the rain

It was 19:30, almost dark, raining hard with thunder and lightening. And there sat a hawk on the fence, motionless. It swooped down to the patio, up again, and was gone.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Climate - Planet Proxima B, orbiting Proxima Centauri

Our nearest neighboring star, a red dwarf, Proxima Centauri has an Earth-like planet, Proxima B

The UK Met Office has just published an analysis of the data with their Earth climate modeling
software, that "with minimal changes can be adapted for any Earthlike atmosphere."



We present results of simulations of the climate of the newly discovered planet Proxima Centauri B, performed using the Met Office Unified Model (UM). We examine the responses of both an “Earth-like” atmosphere and simplified nitrogen and trace carbon dioxide atmosphere to the radiation likely received by Proxima Centauri B. Additionally, we explore the effects of orbital eccentricity on the planetary conditions using a range of eccentricities guided by the observational constraints. Overall, our results are in agreement with previous studies in suggesting Proxima Centauri B may well have surface temperatures conducive to the presence of liquid water. Moreover, we have expanded the parameter regime over which the planet may support liquid water to higher values of eccentricity (>∼0.1) and lower incident fluxes (881.7 W m−2 ) than previous work. This increased parameter space arises because of the low sensitivity of the planet to changes in stellar flux, a consequence of the stellar spectrum and orbital configuration. However, we also find interesting differences from previous simulations, such as cooler mean surface temperatures for the tidally-locked case. Finally, we have produced high-resolution planetary emission and reflectance spectra, and highlight signatures of gases vital to the evolution of complex life on Earth (oxygen, ozone and carbon dioxide).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Constructed Emotions - Emotions do not work as one would expect

A new book by Lisa Feldman Barrett

We find that your emotions are not built-in but made from more basic parts. They are not universal but vary from culture to culture. They are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment.

Emotions are real, but not in the objective sense that molecules or neurons are real. They are real in the same sense that money is real— that is, hardly an illusion, but a product of human agreement.

Why should you care which theory of emotion is correct? Because belief in the classical view affects your life in ways you might not realize. Think about the last time you went through airport security, where taciturn agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) X-rayed your shoes and evaluated your likelihood as a terrorist threat. Not long ago, a training program called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) taught those TSA agents to detect deception and assess risk based on facial and bodily movements, on the theory that such movements reveal your innermost feelings. It didn’t work, and the program cost taxpayers $ 900 million. We need to understand emotion scientifically so government agents won’t detain us— or overlook those who actually do pose a threat— based on an incorrect view of emotion. 

Belief in the classical view can even start wars. The Gulf War in Iraq was launched, in part, because Saddam Hussein’s half-brother thought he could read the emotions of the American negotiators and informed Saddam that the United States wasn’t serious about attacking. The subsequent war claimed the lives of 175,000 Iraqis and hundreds of coalition forces. 

We are, I believe, in the midst of a revolution in our understanding of emotion, the mind, and the brain— a revolution that may compel us to radically rethink such central tenets of our society as our treatments for mental and physical illness, our understanding of personal relationships, our approaches to raising children, and ultimately our view of ourselves. 

Barrett, Lisa Feldman (2017-03-07). How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (Kindle Locations 163-169). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.


Culture - Dangerous Times

We live in interesting times.

From Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 2017 May 17

Another danger is the risk of an erratic, embattled, paranoid leader at home who feels that he may be going down the tubes anyway. In domestic policy, presidents are constrained by Congress and the courts about what damage they can cause, but in foreign policy a president has a largely free hand — and the ability to launch nuclear strikes that would pretty much destroy the world. 

In 1974, as Richard Nixon’s presidency was collapsing, he was drinking heavily and aides worried that he was becoming unstable. Fearing what might go wrong, Nixon’s defense secretary, James Schlesinger, secretly instructed the military not to carry out any White House order to use nuclear weapons unless confirmed by him or Henry Kissinger. 

This was unconstitutional. And wise.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Culture - Fragility Index

Data can prove everything, this from the Fund for Peace. Fragility is a very subjective value, an approximation of the probability of things getting worse.

The absolute map of a country's fragility index for 2017

The 10 year change in the country's fragility index

Friday, May 12, 2017

Nature - Bird's-Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis)

Weirdness.  A parasitic orchid that has no chlorophyll as it does not need it, it feeds off a fungus for free. However the fungus lives in the roots of a tree, and gets nutrition from the tree, and supplies minerals to the tree that help to grow the green, chlorophyll, leaves.

Nature - Turkey Vulture behaving normally

An ex-squirrel, an evening meal for a Turkey Vulture. Movie from a sequence of pictures.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Art - Plants behaving badly

A catchy title, but a more accurate title should be "by-products of the evolution arms race." The program covers carnivorous plants. How a slow moving tethered plants can catch insects and small mammals.

The video was so pretty, showing the plants in their precious swampy native habitats.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Culture - A smartphone will not make you smarter

Sonic Drive-in, as American as it gets. You have to listen carefully, it goes past too fast, deliberately so, the advertiser wants you to concentrate and absorb the message.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Freewill and Beer - Adapted from Brandon Davis

Let’s look at a scene in bar where somebody punches another guy because he accidentally spilled beer on his shoe. Now, what happened here? We first might describe it this way: The guy got angry, thought about controlling himself, but selfishly decided it would be satisfying for him to punch the other guy.

But another way on how the world might function. When somebody spilled beer over his shoe, photons were hitting his retina accordingly, the impulses were transferred into neurons firing and a complicated chain reactions was triggered in the already running system of his brain. As a side effect consciousness arose and the images of what happened appeared in his consciousness, but the chain reaction wasn’t stopped or altered in any way.

Next, the neurons firing caused the side effect of him feeling angry, but again, the chain reaction wasn’t stopped or altered in any way. If we look at every single part of his nervous system and check if every atom and molecule and cell behaves exactly like it has to. Gravity does exactly what it did before. The weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force and the strong nuclear force do exactly what they did before. Nothing that has influence on the physical world, was added through his experiences.

Next the neurons firing caused the side effects of him having the experience of struggling with the decision to constrain himself and than deciding to punch the guy. Again, these experiences were just side effects, that didn’t stop or alter the chain reaction, that led to his fist rushing forward even though he felt like he was the author of this action. We can look at the chain reaction like it was a computer calculating something, but to be exact, the mass of his body was arranged in a way, that photons hitting his retina in a specific way, led to him punching another guy a few seconds later just because of the laws of nature.

Let’s look the practical implications of this for a second. The guy later stands in front of a judge and says: “Your honor, I don’t have free will, I’m just terribly unlucky, please let me go.” But a reasonable judge can answer: “Unlucky? Yes, so was the poor guy that got hit.”

And the judge continues and says, “The universe somehow made your brain into a terrible information processing system, because it’s output leads to the suffering of other people, so it’s reasonable to lock you up. Other people can be protected this way and in prison your brain might analyze the situation and change into something more reasonable. If you think it’s rational to let all criminals go and let them cause more suffering, that only confirms how messed up your brain is right now.”

The judge can also look at the audience and say, “By the way, if anybody who is watching this lawsuit is thinking to himself, ‘If I don’t have free will, from now on I can do whatever I feel like, because I’m not responsible for my actions,’ than I can tell you, that if your brain is smart enough to understand that you might not have free will, than it’s smart enough to understand what fairness is and that the only thing that matters in this universe are the perceptions of sentient entities.

It might be natural to hate someone, but if a person believes in this view, I think he’d agree that it’s not rational. And if we look at a few crisis in this world, it might be useful if everybody thought, that it was completely understandable how everybody acted so far and how we got into the state that we are in right now and it might open the door for more pragmatic thinking, if the feeling of hatred get’s dialed down by this view. A good thing.

Monday, May 1, 2017