Monday, January 30, 2012

Music Monday

I finished "The Thirty Day Music Meme" last week, but I still like music, so you still get some! Here's what I was rocking out to today:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Science Saturday: Britain's Greatest Codebreaker

Another selection from DocumentaryHeaven, this time about Alan Turing. In my first three semesters at college, I read his "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" paper three times, for three different classes. What struck me each time was not only the originality of his thought, but the clarity of his writing; it made enough of an impact on me that I went on to write my philosophy undergraduate thesis on the ethics of artificial intelligence, all the way at the opposite end of my academic career. It's unsurprising, then, that I knew a lot about his legacy before I watched, though not a lot about his personal life: a genius who contributed to the Allied war effort who was years later persecuted for his homosexuality and, as a result, took his own life. Honestly I kind of wish I hadn't watched this, because it's just so tremendously depressing and heartbreaking to learn everything I didn't know about him.

The good: This is a nice, long, juicy selection (a full hour), and extensive research was involved.  There's loads of interviews with people who knew or worked with Turing, as well as medical, biographical, and computer science experts. It switches between present-day interviews, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments quite seamlessly.

The bad: Another BBC documentary that likes to crank up the dramatic music and the pathos. Is that the trend now?  I've seen it in so many of the BBC's documentaries online, I'm just beginning to assume that  it's par-for-the-course documentary-making anymore. Also, I wish they had made it longer and included more of the substance of his thoughts and writings. At one point they present a formula he developed to generate the patterns on animals' coats, and rather than explain how it works or even what each variable represents, they just leave it floating up there on screen while people talk about how genius it is.

One interesting fact: Spoiler alert, somewhat. As I mentioned before, Turing eventually killed himself as a result of his conviction of Gross Indecency and subsequent chemical castration. That much I knew beforehand. What I never knew about the charges and the conviction was that the police were first made aware of his homosexuality because he went to them after his apartment had been burgled by a young man he had taken home a few weeks prior. Turing contacted the police and explained what had happened, including the part about the apartment being cased by the young man he had slept with.  In his utter naivete, Turing assumed the police would do what most of us consider the right thing and deal with the theft (which was not much, but included some objects of sentimental value to Turing). Instead, they cracked down on his sexuality like a vice squad.  The rest is history.

Would recommend?: Very strongly, Turing was a genius who deserved more credit than he ever got in his day, and almost all of our modern technology is due to his insights. The video quality on this one is excellent as well: one uploaded clip instead of a schizophrenic playlist. It's just not a good one to watch when you're already depressed, is all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I'm reading:

It's slow going at first, as Dr. Sacks goes into detail about the condition Encephalitis lethargica.  At least it was slow going for me, being that I'm not as well-versed in neurology as other sciences.  In a nutshell, Encephalitis lethargica leaves the victim trapped in a frozen statue of a body, able to think and perceive but unable to easily control their own bodies. There was an outbreak of it in the early years of the 20th century, and then for whatever reason, it more or less subsided.

Beyond the first chapter it's much easier going, as Dr. Sacks recounts his experience with a vast number of patients in the late '60s and early '70s.  By this point, many of his patients had been "stuck" (so to speak) for forty or fifty years.  Upon the administration of the drug L-DOPA, many of these patients suddenly and almost violently "woke up," and Awakenings  is a collection of the stories of these, well, awakenings.  I'm going to have to watch the movie once I finish.

What are you reading?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Science Saturday: On the Road With Scientists at CERN

CERN, the European center for nuclear research, is home to the much-lauded (if also much misunderstood) Large Hadron Collider. This short piece from the BBC takes a quick look at what it is scientists do there all day.

The good: It's quite interesting to see how large and busy CERN is. It's also thankfully free of the melodrama from previous BBC documentaries.

The bad: It's only about twenty-five minutes long, so it's a rather cursory and shallow look at the CERN.

One interesting fact: The LHC generates enormous amounts of data, something like four million events every second. Computers eventually whittle that down to one hundred events per second for the scientists to analyze.

Would recommend? Sure!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pinterest Post!

I signed up for internet crack Pinterest and it's ruined my life.  (If you're signed up too, follow me! I'm Kokoba!)

Case in point, I started writing this entry about twenty minutes ago.  I headed over to Pinterest to find an example of cool stuff I've found, only to get sucked into repinning things.   And now it's twenty minutes later.

For example, here's a relevant meme:


                                          Source: via Katherine on Pinterest


Awesome boots:

                                                           Source: via Katherine on Pinterest

And this beautiful image of The Pillars of Creation, gas clouds in the Eagle Nebula:

                                          Source: via Katherine on Pinterest

Are you on Pinterest?  What have you found?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

But you've still got a long way to go.

Case in point: Slashdot runs a story on gender disparity in OSS/FLOSSy projects. Yay: Insightful comments as to why that may be the way it is.  Nay: There's still too much sexist bullpizzle getting modded up as "Insightful" among all the actual insight.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Music Monday

Day 30 - Your favorite song at this time last year.

It was probably this, as best as I can remember.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Science Saturday: Polio Vaccine

From NPR: India Marks A Year Free of Polio

And this year was made possible entirely because of the polio vaccine.    High five, polio vaccine.  You rule.

Yet there's this weird trend among a certain group of parents to not vaccinate their children (though, this is the MMR vaccine—Mumps, Measles, and Rubella—and not polio) because of the false belief that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  Except, of course, it doesn't.  The idea was based on a critically flawed study by a British scientist who later came under heavy fire for it (ten of his co-authors repudiated it); ultimately the study was redacted by The Lancet, the journal that originally published the piece.  Oh, and it was fraudulent through and through.

Yet Jenny McCarthy still carries on her crusade against science.

Beyond autism, there's this backwards notion that gets perpetuated (I'm not sure by whom) that vaccines are somehow just plain dangerous. I had a discussion with a coworker once about H1N1—swine flu—and whether or not we would get flu vaccinations.  I opted out, simply because I didn't feel like going to the hospital and dealing with an alien medical process in a foreign language.  I figured I was young and healthy enough to suffer through if I caught it, anyway.  One of my coworkers also decided against getting vaccinated, but because he didn't trust vaccines.

"What does not kill me, makes me stronger."

"But that's exactly what a vaccination is, only it just makes you stronger without getting you really sick first."

He nonetheless persisted in his opinion, so I shrugged and let it drop.  But—what about the children he'll (probably) have?  Will he take the safer route and get them properly vaccinated?  How many other people around the world harbor this idea that vaccinations are somehow more dangerous than the diseases they're designed to prevent?  Apparently enough people in the US buy into this horse pucky that we've had the largest measles outbreak in fifteen years.

Plus, opting out of vaccinations isn't just a question of your health.  It's a question of the health of those around you.  Children and the elderly have notoriously fragile immune systems, not to mention those with medical conditions that lead to depressed immune systems.  The more people come down with an illness, the more likely someone who can't resist it as well will also come down with it.  And if it's an illness that's by and large preventable by vaccination, then certainly there's a certain level of moral obligation involved when it comes to getting vaccinated.

Now that India has more or less eradicated new cases of polio, there's only a few countries left where it's still considered endemic.  I'd like to think that within my lifetime, polio could be completely eradicated, same as we did with smallpox.  But it's going to be a longer time getting there if people keep buying into this "vaccines are dangerous and cause autism!" hysteria.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Music Monday

Day 29 - A song from your childhood

I spent a lot of my childhood listening to the oldies station.  I have a particularly fond memory of singing this in the car, age ten, with my mom on the way to (Bible) summer camp and then upon getting out of the car: "Uh, Katherine, don't sing this at camp, okay?"

"Well, duh."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Science Saturday: Meme

Here, enjoy the Scumbag Privilege-Denying rAtheist meme generator. They're hit and miss (as all memes are) but they get the point across.  Here's one of my favorites:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

(Not Really) Resolutions

Happy New Year!  This year is the year of the Dragon.  The Water Dragon.

I'm never one for New Year resolutions, normally.  Jokes about their futility have become a cliche at this point, so there are better investments to make.  Instead, for the past nearly-three years I've participated in the "101 in 1001" project: accomplishing a list of 101 tasks in 1001 days.  My 1001 days will be up on my birthday this year; I won't have finished all of the 101 by then, but there are a few I could reasonably achieve.

The List
  1. Clean out my music collection. This means listening to everything—everything—and deleting whatever I don't listen to or like anymore. The music library I have now is ten years old, surviving numerous life crises, laptops, and whatever else.  Not only have I accumulated a fair amount, I've also grown rather sentimentally attached to it all.  For nostalgia purposes as well as logistics purposes, it's going to be a tough slog.  Really, though, it needs to be done.  I have ninety-four top level folders to sort through, all told.  Tonight I finished one of them.  Every stop counts, right?

  2. Organize the music collection (after I clean it out).  Since my music library is a relic from high school, a rather nonsensical filing system has been fossilized in there.  It's like something out of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

  3. Watch seventeen documentaries to get me to my goal of thirty-three (or, one documentary a month for 1001 days).
  4. Watch seventeen foreign movies—same goal as the documentaries.
  5. Read seventeen non-fiction books—again, the same goal.
  6. Complete the Couch to 5K program.  Just because.

Looking at it all written out like this, it seems pretty ambitious—more ambitious than anything I'd normally undertake at the beginning of the year!—but it also seems entirely doable.

I have a (private) account at the Day Zero Project to keep track of this and all of my other goals.  Come June, this list will be finished and I'll make a fresh account and share it here, so we can all follow each other!  It's been really fun, overall, and even if I didn't accomplish everything on the list, it did a lot not only to give me a sense of purpose, but also to serve as a surprisingly insightful snapshot of my mindset 1001 days ago.  

Join me, won't you?