Archive for June, 2008

Business Newspeak

I’m glad that I’m in science.  I don’t think I could survive corporate culture.  It’s just too nauseating. I/O psychology has eviscerated the landscape.  There are no employees anymore.  Everybody is an “associate” or an “engineer.”  Everything is about “enterprise” and “innovation.”

The list of newspeak terminology in corporate culture is endless: 360-degree thinking, strategic thinking, paradigm shifts, integrated approaches, ROIs, challenges, optimism, sustainability, success, compensation, incentives, solutions, synergies, visionary, actionable, proactive, re-invented, new and improved, data driven, scalable, win-win situations, industry leaders, change agents, team players, core competencies, 80-20 rules, multi-shoring, rightsizing, cascading, leveraging, monetizing, feed forwarding, thinking outside the box, giving 110%, touching base, playing phone tag all day, pursuing new opportunities, and allowing to resign.

If that seems normal rather than nauseating, you’ve already been assimilated.

Also, they say you shouldn’t use cliches on applications, resumes, and cover letters.  I wish employers would take that advice.  Job listings are full of cliches.  Every employer is looking for a goal-oriented, career-motived, independent thinker with good communication skills.  I have yet to find a job opening for a lazy, listless, illiterate dimwit.  Employers can’t even think outside the box enough to post something original.

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The Lensky-Schlafly debate

John Timmer at Ars Technica comments on the Lensky-Schlafly debate.  Timmer is incisive as always.

Richard Lenski is a microbiologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, who holds a professorship at Michigan State University.  He has been growing E. coli on glucose-limted growth media containing citrate for 20 years — over 44,000 bacterial generations and counting — to see if random mutations could lead to the evolution of E. coli strains that utilize citrate.  That has apparently happened in three separate steps.

The results conflict with the creationist tendencies of contributors to Conservapedia, so they — particularly the founder, Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer with an engineering background — have demanded to see the raw data.  Through his online communications, Schlafly has demonstrated willful ignorance of the underlying science and Lenski’s research program.  He either hasn’t read the paper or doesn’t understand it.  Lenski has thus far refused to release the data, citing Schlafly’s ignorance and mischievous intentions.

The debate is not over yet.

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Human Clearlooks theme with the panels and menus consolidated.

Notice the notification area, volume control, temperature and time are set next to the workspace switcher and trash can.

The Applications, Places and System menus are consolidated into one parsimonious menu.

This layout gives you a little more screen real estate, which is especially useful on widescreen monitors, where most of the panel space is wasted.  A 17″ standard screen gives you up to 1024 vertical pixels, while a 20″ widescreen will often give you only 900 vertical pixels.

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Clearlooks Wise.

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I don’t understand the point of this advertisement. Is the World Wildlife Fund suggesting that mean sea levels will rise so much that we’ll have to evolve fishoid adaptions to survive?  Whatever message they are trying to convey, the ad is absurdly alarmist and patently false.  With modern technology we obviate most environental selection pressures.  People won’t need to adapt to aquatic living because, even in a worst-case environmental scenario, they’ll engineer artificial islands and other technology to combat the disappearance of land.

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I installed Ubuntu on my parents’ computer a few years ago.  They are approaching 60 and they aren’t very computer savvy.  I keep telling them to click that orange/red icon in the top right corner to install updates, but they never do.  So when I visit every few months I have to update hundreds of packages.  However, I recently set up automatic updates using crontab.  Here’s how I did it.

Create a cron job file as root: sudo crontab -e

Add the following line: 0 5 * * * (PATH=/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin && intro=”\n***Beginning auto-update on “`date`”\n\n” && echo -e $intro >> /var/log/auto_update.log && apt-get update && apt-get -y upgrade && apt-get -y dist-upgrade && apt-get -y clean) 2>&1 >> /var/log/auto_update.log

Looks like a mess, doesn’t it?  Here’s what it does: every day at 5 am, apt-get updates the package list, upgrades any packages that need upgrading, upgrades the entire system if a new version of Ubuntu is available (if you don’t want to do this, remove the text in red), and cleans the system of residual packages; and all the changes are recorded in a log file located at /var/log/auto_update.log.

All I have to do is check that file to make sure it’s working and there aren’t any errors, which I can do via SSH or the Remote Desktop Viewer.  I could even have the changes emailed to me every day, but I think that’s overkill.

Also, don’t forget to turn off updates in Synaptic Package Manager.  You don’t need both update systems running.

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In my last post I pointed out that evidence gleaned from experiments must be used to arbitrate between the possible explanations of an observation.  But what constitutes evidence?

A proper experiment changes one variable in the system, and valid evidence is the observation of the final state of the system after an experiment is performed.  If there is no change between the initial and final states, that counts as evidence against a particular hypothesis.  If there is a change in an expected manner[1], that counts as evidence for a particular hypothesis.

In the car example that I used before, we have a number of hypotheses for why the car won’t start: it may be the alternator, the spark plugs, or the battery.  We replace the alternator and the car still won’t start.  The initial and final states are unchanged.  That’s evidence against the alternator hypothesis.  We replace the spark plugs and the car won’t start.  The spark plug hypothesis is ruled out.  We replace the battery and the car starts.  There was a change between the initial and final states of the system.  We have evidence that confirms the battery hypothesis.

But what kind of experiment can we perform to test the God hypothesis?  In each of the other experiments, we had to physically interact with something in order to confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis.  That physical interaction was the causal connection between the object of the hypothesis and the state of the system.  How do we interact with God, or with something else, to make a causal link between God and the system?  What do we interact with to perform the experiment?

We are stuck at the starting line.  Judging by the variety of religions and spiritual traditions in the world, there is considerable confusion over what the nature of God is and how to interact with Him.  God is a poorly defined concept because there are so many definitions.  We have a clear and concise concept of a battery, which means we have a clear way to test the battery hypothesis.  We don’t have this luxury with the God hypothesis.

There’s a crucial point to be made here.  Evidence is a hypothesis-killer.  Without evidence, you can invent hypotheses endlessly, but once you acquire evidence, you start ruling them out.  It is the only way to arbitrate among them.  We have a clear definition of a battery because we have evidence of batteries.  We can observe them.  We can build them.  But we have innumerable concepts of / hypotheses about God precisely because we lack evidence to arbitrate between them.

If you understand Bayesian reasoning, you understand why this does not bode well for the God hypothesis.  Right now the God hypothesis is hopelessly muddled and lacks any means of testability, and this situation doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved soon.  Therefore, we are justified in rejecting the God hypothesis, at least for now.

[1] The change must be of an expected manner.  If we change the battery and the car explodes, there was a change between the initial and final states, but we can’t conclude that the battery was the cause of the car’s inability to start.

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