Deep into Stalker Territory

The Social Graph is Neither

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage – we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they’ve built to document your entire online life.

That Would be a "No"

Can a complete novice become a golf pro with 10,000 hours of practice?

This is a matter of getting the premise wrong. This is the idea:

A Star is Made

“I think the most general claim here,” Ericsson says of his work, “is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.” This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn’t spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.

So the mistaken premise is that since world-class practitioners put in a lot of work at their craft, putting in a lot of work will make you world-class. As the logician reminds us, universal affirmatives can only be partially converted. The idea behind the 10,000 hour “rule” is that it gets you to your best, i.e. it’s a local maximum.


rands in repose: Managing Nerds

Another default opening position for the nerd is bitterness — the curmudgeon. Your triage: Why can’t he be a team player? There are chronically negative nerds out there, but in my experience with nerd management, it’s more often the case the nerd is bitter because they’ve seen this situation before four times and it’s played out exactly the same way. Each time:

Whenever management feels they’re out of touch, we all get shuttled off to an offsite where we spend two days talking too much and not acting enough.

Nerds aren’t typically bitter; they’re just well informed. Snark from nerds is a leading indicator that I’m wasting their time and when I find it, I ask questions until I understand the inefficiency so I can change it or explain it.

The Anti-Tyson

Is speculation in multiverses as immoral as speculation in subprime mortgages?

Perhaps Anti-Tyson is a little harsh, but soon after I see a great discussion by Neil deGrasse Tyson on science being driven by passion and curiosity, I read some blather from someone who’s basically pissed off that a physicist wrote something other than a physics textbook. Speculating on the metaphysical implications of science isn’t my particular cup of tea, but it’s not up to me to tell others that they can’t engage in it — as long as they don’t think they’re doing science. One never knows what speculation might spark an actual scientific advance, or when one might recognize that there is an actual falsifiable scientific principle embedded in one of those thoughts. (Leo Szilard is said to have come up with the idea of the fission chain reaction by seeing a traffic light change. Who the hell knows where inspiration comes from?)

I think it’s worth noting that John Horgan is the author of The End of Science, which I believe is the book (and concept) that Tyson was blasting in the interview as being shortsighted.

Is theorizing about parallel universes as immoral as betting on derivatives based on subprime mortgages? I wouldn’t go that far. Nor do I think all scientists should be seeking cures for cancer, more efficient solar cells or other potential boons to humanity. But scientists should, at the very least, investigate the world in which we live rather than worlds that exist—as far as we will ever know—only in their imaginations.

Now, I haven’t read the book, and I can’t say for sure how it is presented. If it’s being misrepresented as actual physics, then Greene is in error. But that doesn’t seem to be the complaint. Horgan knows its speculation, because he identifies it as such. His objection appears to be that a physicist was doing something that’s not physics! How dare he do that! If a physicist wants to write a book about metaphysics, or poetry, or whatever, who the hell is John Horgan to tell him/her otherwise, or to say what we do with our (free) time?

Why Do Evolutionary Biologists Always Make Gross Generalizations?

Pharyngula: Why do physicists think they are masters of all sciences?

There seem to be a lot of physicists, however, who believe they know everything there is to know about biology (it’s a minor subdivision of physics, don’t you know), and will blithely say the most awesomely stupid things about it. Here, for instance, is Michio Kaku simply babbling in reply to a question about evolution, and getting everything wrong. It’s painful to watch.

Kaku’s tendency to bather via an orifice other than his mouth has been noted more than once in the blogohedron, and he doesn’t even need to leave the field of physics to do it. The question here is why PZ thinks that he is representative of physicists? How does he get from one to a lot of physicists?

The question is why does Michio Kaku, who happens to be a physicist, think he is a master of all science. Leave the rest of us out of it.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Citizen activist grates on state over traffic signals

Cox has not been accused of claiming that he is an engineer. But Lacy says he filed the complaint because the report “appears to be engineering-level work” by someone who is not licensed as a professional engineer.

This seems rather silly, and I suspect it’s just payback. I can tell you when some piece of work is done by a professional engineer: it has a stamp on the document, and it’s signed. I am at a loss as to why it would take “three or four months” to figure this out. Because if simply using engineering equations is illegal without professional certification (as if you need an engineering safety course to handle them correctly), then anyone training to be a professional engineer is breaking the law.

So This Virgin Was Explaining Sex to Me …

Horrible Article On Becoming A Physicist

This person by the name of “Timothy Sexton” (BA in English) somehow thought that he could write an article titled “How to Become a Physicist and What to Expect when You Become One“. Now, before we examine his article, tell me something. What are the chances that someone who has never obtained a degree in physics, and has never worked in physics, would know well enough what one needs to do to become a physics, and then know what to expect when one becomes a physicist?

Supply, Demand, Yada Yada Yada, I Learned Some Economics

The Economics of Seinfeld

For example, The Bottle Deposit is tagged as arbitrage, fixed costs, incentives, variable costs

Kramer and Newman hatch a scheme to arbitrage bottles from NY, where the deposit is 5 cents, to Michigan, where the deposit is 10 cents. They can’t figure out how to make the costs work; gas is too expensive (variable costs), and there’s too much overhead (fixed costs of tolls, permits, etc.) with using a semi to haul the bottles in volume. Finally, they hatch a scheme to use a mail truck, which lowers their variable and fixed costs to zero.