24 August 2007

sensor information mismatch

The New York Times did an article a few days ago on the magic shows at the Conference on Consciousness that was held in Vegas this year. Magicians discussed with the scientists that if you create an assumption of a behavior pattern, then your audience will assume something is fact when in truth it doesn't have to be. Today they have an article about how out-of-body experiences can be induced by creating a mismatch between the different sensory streams that our brain uses.

What this means is that even our brains-- though they are very complex and have learned from a lot of experiences as our lives go on-- sometimes still cannot detect scenarios that have the same sensory input as another more common scenario but are actually different. I like the example of the rubber hand. Subjects with their hand under the table and a rubber hand on the table had both hands stroked by a stick. Visually, you would see that the stick is stroking the rubber hand, and since you feel your own hand being stroked, you would assume the rubber hand is your own. The people even shrieked when the rubber hand was hit by a hammer!

(note: NYtimes links are only free for a couple days)

23 August 2007

"the moon" incident

I just read about this in the Wittenberg Door.

During a science lecture by Bill Nye in Waco, a woman stormed out when the Science Guy informed his audience-- after quoting from Genesis that God made two lights in the sky along with the stars-- that the moon was not in fact a light but simply a reflector.

In this response, they express their opinion that the woman left upset because the Science Guy had purposefully brought up the bible and said that it was wrong, as if to attack the bible.

Maybe it's true-- maybe if our dear Bill had not brought up Genesis, everyone in Waco would have been happy to know that the moon is a reflector. sigh.

But anyway, how else do we scientists get christians to start considering figurative interpretations of the bible? Perhaps by donating to the unicorn museum billboard to be installed near the creation museum in Kentucky. Unicorn museum motto-- "Unicorns are real. The bible says so."

Also, the Waco Tribune *did* take down the story from their website. I can't judge whether that was out of embarrassment. They have at least 30 days of history on there, but no such original story from a few days ago.

21 August 2007

Anything you can do, I can do Meta

MIT Technology Review has a good article about Charles Simonyi in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue. Simonyi created microsoft word, and now he hopes to fix the way programmers do their job. He asks, "Why is it so hard to create good software?" here are some quotes.

"Everywhere you look, software is over budget, behind schedule, insecure, unreliable, and hard to use. Anytime an organization attempts to introduce a new system, or upgrade an old one, it takes a colossal risk."

"The US Government has found it nearly impossible to introduce or upgrade large-scale software systems: Decade long efforts at the FAA and FBI have collapsed in chaos. Businesses have fared no better. To give a single example, McDonald's executives dreamed of a (new software system)...By the time they gave up and canceled the project, they had to write off $170 million of its estimated $1 billion cost."

"But even as Moore's Law has made each year's new computers faster and cheaper, the flexibility and utility of our computer systems have been limited by the slower, uneven evolution of software. One formulation of this problem is known as Wirth's Law, after programming expert Niklaus Wirth: 'Software gets slower faster than hardware gets faster.'"

"...in Simonyi's quest to alleviate the chronic woes of the software field. 'It's not enough to be a great programmer,' Simonyi once told Hichael Hiltzik, author of a history of PARC. 'You have to find a great problem." [Simonyi's company] Intentional Software may not deliver on its grand promises. But no one can charge Simonyi with choosing too modest a problem."

One funny thing-- Simonyi doesn't know how to turn off Clippy. Ha.

Just to put in my two cents, I contend that it's so hard to create good software because programmers have typically been the type of person who wants to tinker and hack. A stereotypical coder enjoys tweaking things until they work, whether or not he knows exactly why it started working. (I used the male pronoun on purpose here! haha)

give them more time

This new york times article talks about how highschool students who are far behind can finish-- if you just give them more time.

I believe strongly in eliminating expectations on time. Why should you get a HS diploma at 18, college diploma at 22, married at 23, promoted at 25....etc?

This precludes all interesting paths, like traveling the world for a year, earning money needed for family emergencies, spending time doing real community service, or playing in a rock band before you get your PhD in your late 30s (I know someone who did this).

Forget the timeline, people.