Total solar eclipse today, though not visible from Oregon or, indeed, anywhere in the US. I didn’t make it to blog about the solstice, as is becoming rather usual, but at least I got this one on the day of the event.

Meanwhile, instead of a very erudite discussion of confidence levels and logic, I’d just like to pose a question about how we ever decide we have enough information to act on. NN Taleb frames the question by running counter to his own advice and quoting from Herodotus about Solon. Perhaps another good (and equally intellectually snobby) example is the prisoner’s dilemma.

Since I can only think about that for so long, here’s an interesting discussion of status (wealth and otherwise), or skip straight to the last link about happiness.


A good post on the HAARP project at the Danger Room caused me to spend a while looking for a picture of their offices in the Geophysical Insitute on the UAF campus. No dice on Google images or Flickr, though. Gregg? Layla?

In terms of scientific rhetoric, it seems predictable that people will believe conspiracy theory allegations of the capapbility of some project that looks like it gets 5200 channels when we talk about knowing the age of the Earth to an absurd degree of precision. I had a longer disquisition going on that, but it has now escaped me.

Instead, good news for Pluto. Now if only someone demonstrates the same chutzpah on behalf of Eris, we might be getting somewhere. Also, watch out for dolphins and sea lions–they might be enemy agents.

Washington Post (I’m not shilling, honestly–see, no link) orchestrated an experiment that examined the nature of perception, beauty, and altruism all at once. Or something. Don’t take my word for it, go read Gene Weinberger’s superlative article. I got the link from A&L Daily, who I will happily shill for.

I tell you honestly that I almost lost it while reading, down near the bottom of the column, about the amounts of money people gave. I think this is an excellent gedankenexperiment that far surpasses any example I’ve been able to come up with.

Feel free to make of that what you will, but it blew my hair back yesterday. The narrator of everything ever written, but especially fiction, is always a construct of the author. Or something.

Anyway, I’ll just be a slacker and repost something today, because I haven’t yet written the post on how, at my house, burning propane makes my beer cold.

Via Uncertain Principles a poem about academia by Tom Wayman, of whom I had never heard until I read this post:

Did I Miss Anything

Tom Wayman

Originally from: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead.
Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Ponder. And if you really enjoy science, it’s good for you to occaisionally wander into a well-taught lecture on literary theory.
Be seeing you.

As for which of the many events in the news that statement might refer to, see the post at Think Progress about Donald Rumsfeld’s involvement in a company that sold the now-infamous nuclear reactors to North Korea.

Without hurling another shout of blame into the cacophony, this does seem consistent with the many other versions of people-we-used-to-sell-weapons-to-but-now-don’t-like-because-its-not-politically-expedient-and-they’re-actually-scary-and-dangerous,-anyway.



18 September 2006

I am working on a pithy motto to put on business cards. Trying to concisely describe a business concept where I produce science writing for magazines and the internet and do technical writing for companies (press releases, website content, and so on) is tough. So far I don’t have a lot of choices, but I’d like to hear any offerings from the peanut gallery.
So far:

Eschewing obfuscation since 2006

It is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer . . .

and the ever-popular

Non illigetimi carborundum (somebody who knows Latin please correct this one).

Where does all of this fit?

18 September 2006

Together with other pieces in the news, the following snippet from Bob Park’s email newsletter makes me wonder what information the oh-so-strategic White House is trying to propagate about Iran. I’ll try to find some of the other stories, but since with my news consumption I am nearly a NPR-obligate feeder, that’s probably where I heard them. Also check out the Nuclear Threat Initiative who haven’t posted on this yet, but I think they are a credible source of information.

As an aside, did anyone else hear about the 9/11 Public Discourse Project before just now? Me neither, and I think its a damn shame they closed up shop. Who are they trying to pressure into picking it up?

WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 15 Sep 06 Washington, DC

Who would have thought that relations between the U.S. and the
UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency could get worse? The
IAEA complains that a House Intelligence Committee staff report,
“contains erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information”
about Iran’s nuclear program. Sound familiar? A caption in the
House report says Tehran is “enriching uranium to weapons grade,”
but the facility shown only enriches to 3.6%, enough for power
production, but far from the level needed for weapons. Before
the U.S. invaded Iraq, the IAEA had insisted, despite American
objections, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and
later showed that some White House claims were based on forged
documents. After the fall of the Saddam government, the U.S
blocked IAEA inspections of damage to Iraq’s nuclear facilities.
But in a stunning vindication of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei,
director general of IAEA, was awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize