Archive for January 2007

Griffin’s Reply to a Long Lost Classmate

January 30, 2007

I’ve written about an incident that I recall from my youth, sometime after the second or perhaps the third moon landing (circa 1970 or 1971).  In a ‘spirited’ class discussion, the kind that 16 or 17 year olds got into during the Viet-Nam War era, one of my friends said words to the effect that “Going to the moon was nice, ‘n all, but it’s time to spend the money here on earth, helpin’ the poor or somthin'”.

We, the class, starting addressing the question of why we went to the moon in the first place.  NASA chief administrator Michael Griffin gave a much better answer than I was capable of giving.

I’ve reached the point where I am completely convinced that if NASA were to disappear tomorrow, if the American space program were to disappear tomorrow, if we never put up another Hubble, never put another human being in space, people would be profoundly distraught. Americans would feel less than themselves. They would feel that our best days are behind us. They would feel that we have lost something, something that matters. And yet they would not know why.

You see, there are acceptable reasons, and there are the right reasons.

It’s definitely worth your time to read the whole thing.


More Unintended Consequences

January 28, 2007

Mostly because I’m trained in “The Sciences” I’m very sensitive to overreaching by anyone involved with research, and especially to claims that sound like certainty to the general public.  Global warming is just one of those topics where the good ol’ John Q. thinks that some unidentifiable scientist (the ‘they’ in “they say that…”) knows what he’s talking about.  Nutrition is another.

Found an article online that actually calls out some of these claims a myths, and found it in the most unlikely of places, the N.Y. Times:

Last winter came the news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against breast cancer, may do no such thing — this from the monumental, federally financed Women’s Health Initiative, which has also found no link between a low-fat diet and rates of coronary disease. The year before we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we had been confidently told, help prevent colon cancer. Just last fall two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time presented us with strikingly different conclusions.

The writer, Michael Pollan, goes on to explain the reasons for this:

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist.

Well, that’s not conclusive, perhaps.  But it does make more than a little sense.

Thirty years ago the McGovern Select Senate Committee on Nutrition came out with its famous recommendations to reduce our intake of saturated fats.  The results is demonstrably an obesity epidemic in this country.  Pollan’s recommendations; eat food.  Eat foods that your grandmother would recognize as foods.  Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number (those are signs that what your looking at is heavily processed).  There’s more advice, but the big one is still, eat less.

Playing Politics

January 25, 2007

I’ve been avoiding writing about politics here, even though I find it’s pretty unavoidable.  There were two articles I came upon today, however, that I really want to share and preserve.

The first comes from Glenn Reynolds, and highlights one Nibras Kazimi, who writes for the N.Y. Sun.  Kazimi makes a good case that, despite the fact that it seems like no progress is being made in Iran, it actually is.  Seems like America’s first instinct, to show patience with this historic effort against terrorism, was the correct one.  More patience is warranted.  He provides evidence that this will soon be obvious to all, as Al Qaeda disintegrates.

The second in a fascinating article in the National Review Online, by Ion Mihai Pacepa.  The (former?) Lt. General was the highest paid intelligence officer ever to have defected from the Soviet Bloc.  In this article he corrects a bit of disinformation spread by the Soviet Union in the Stalinist Era, and again after the rise of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy.  The little lie about Pope Pius XII, who has been call “Hitler’s Pope” as a result.

Funny how things work out, sometimes.

Update: So I’ve taken the pledge.  Have you?


January 15, 2007

Here’s a story about a soon-to-be former professor of Biological Engineering at MIT who did not get tenure, and who will be out of a job at the end of January.  Now, this is not a sudden change in his fortunes (he’s been fighting for tenure since first being denied over two years ago).  He’s jumped through all the appeals hoops and is not getting tenure.  He’s going on a hunger strike, and unless he is granted tenure, or unless the MIT provost resigns, “I will die defiantly.”, he says.

He says that the issue is racism.  “I will go as far as I can because [racial bias] is not just a problem at MIT,” Sherley told The Scientist.

Oh brother.  I had to read further to find out that this guy is not exactly a flake.  Indeed, his resume and list of publications is rather impressive.

I see two things here.  1) Why the heck doesn’t he understand that it’s the implications of his research on the debate about embryonic stem cells that’s in question?  2) What’s with this extortion bit?

I’ve seen this thread of thought before.  It goes:

  • It is not good to be a victim.
  • Adults are not victims but powerful.
  • I don’t have to be a victim if I stand up and insist upon getting what I want.
  • I am an adult, who who should not be afraid to get my way.

All things I pretty much agree with.  But seeing the application of this logic in action leaves me impressed with it’s absolute immorality.

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Companies

January 13, 2007

In no particular order…

  1. Have a highly effective – and intrusive – HR department.  Make sure that they research every employees financial background, work history, and all personal matters that you can think of.  Remember that employees are not people, they’re resources.
  2. Test for drugs and use security services to annoy employees.  It’s much easier than actually having a trust-relationship with them.
  3. Monitor e-mail and phone calls coming and entering the offices.  There’s that trust thing again…
  4. Always leave the low-level workers in the dark, especially about the available tools and resources.  Otherwise they might actually – you know – find out stuff.  That’s one-half the method used to grow mushrooms, by the way.
  5. If you can avoid it, don’t hire permanent workers.  Use disposable contractors instead.  Then dispose of them at frequent intervals.  Can’t have the staffers feeling too secure, you know.  Never forget: regular lay-offs do wonders for employee moral.
  6. Cubicles have a wonderful way of concentrating the mind.  Windows and natural light are distracting.
  7. Always demand that employees arrive at 8:00 to maximize commute time during the morning rush.  They’ll try to leave at 5:00, so be sure to schedule two hour meetings at 4:00, to maximize commute time during the evening rush too.

Egads! I’ve Been Plutoed!

January 7, 2007

Plutoed (plû´tðd) v. it. To demote or devalue someone or something, as in, “I’ve been Plutoed!”

It’s the new word of the year. Well, it beat out macaca, so that can’t be all bad…

N.H. Jupiter Flyby

January 5, 2007

There’s a new P.I. Perspective up at the New Horizons Web Site. That’s the place where Alan Stern posts his news, views and comments on the on-going mission at irregular intervals (approximately once every six weeks).

This time he reminded me that the Jupiter Flyby is coming up quickly, and in fact, starts about now. The spacecraft will be at closest approach to the planet on February 28th, and will keep the P.I., scientists and engineers busy until June. It’s interesting that this flyby will give scientists a chance to recover most of the information that was lost when the Galileo spacecraft was unable to fully open it’s high-gain antenna.

[Not that the Galileo mission was a failure – far from it. But there was a significant drop in the data-rate and total amount of data returned by that mission. Even though N.H. will be spending only days and hours at Jupiter, it’s data gathering power and data return rate is significant, and will fill in much of the science that was not gotten by its predecessor.]

After that, New Horizons will spend most of it’s time in hibernation. It will be monitored continually by the onboard “autonomy” software, (yeah – the stuff I was busy testing for eighteen months) and woken only every two months or so for a quick checkout. That is, assuming all goes well (or, more accurately, nominally). I understand that after Jupiter there will be very little happening on the ground except for software enhancement and testing, and not very much of that.