humani nil a me alienum puto

random rants about news, the law, healthcare law, economics and anything I find amusing

Genius is Hard Work?

Freakonomics interviews David Shenk about his new book.  Mr. Shenk had some notable observations about genius and the work behind it.

[E]verything about talent is a process. There’s the genetic piece, and then there’s the ability piece. When you look very closely at [Michael] Jordan’s life, you see a rather ordinary teenage athlete with no particularly grand ambition until about mid-way through high school…After the deep disappointment of not making the varsity team, Jordan developed an unparalleled ambition that quite simply dwarfed that of his schoolmates in high school and later his teammates at the University of North Carolina. Jordan’s abilities developed according to what he demanded of himself.

The same is true of other super-achievers. From a distance, it looks like they’ve got something almost super-human about them. But when you look up close, at the moment-to-moment lives they lead, the sacrifices they make, the extraordinary resources they have around them, their abilities actually do make logical sense. If it’s documented closely enough, you can actually see how they went from mediocre to good, from good to great, from great to extraordinary.

He also gives some advice to parents that seem well put.  Persistence is more important than prodigy.  In fact, prodigy can box in young technical achievers into a comfort zone from which they will fear to emerge.  He says:

Show your kids how hard you work, how often you experience disappointments and how you respond to those disappointments. If you blame others for your failures or simply give up, that’s what your kids will learn. If you take on a long-term challenge, show a deep commitment to the process and a refusal to give up in the face of adversity, your kids will pick that up instead.

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Alex Colville – painting just struck me…

via Colville_04.jpg (JPEG Image, 741×560 pixels).

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Annual Perseid Star Party

Every year since we’ve been at our house we’ve had an annual bonfire and star party.  We get some of the neighbors and our friends together, build a small fire and make some smores.   We do it right around the time of the annual Perseid meteor shower.   We tend to miss the peak by a few days, but we always seem to see a few.   And, as we always do, we got out my two telescopes and showed the neighborhood a few night sky objects.

cocking-jupiter021305This year Jupiter was the only early evening planet visible; but it is my favorite.   (Saturn’s close — but setting too early in the evening this year’s August).  Here’s a photo of how Jupiter looked for us through my Meade ETX 125, courtesy of another amateur using the same scope as I have.   Jupiter is great because the kids (and parents) can immediately identify it.  It was really appropriate this year, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical use of the telescope.  The kids kept asking what the stars were that surrounded Jupiter.  They loved the fact that they were Jupiter’s moons.  They even suffered through me talking about the volcanism of Io, the oceans under the surface ice of Ganymede and Europa and how Galileo confirmed the Copernican world view by asking the same question that they had.

OO_08_Oct_26_53

Even with the city lights, we were able to get a few deep sky sights in scope.  After a little star hopping (aided by a new friend to our family – Tom – a geek like me who likes amateur astronomy), we were able to get the great Hercules cluster in my larger 8″ home built dobsonian scope.   The cluster (M13) is a globular cluster with about 200,000 stars sitting in the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy.  In the scope it looks like a dandelion fluff.  Impressive when you think that it contains that many stars — but a bit less identifiable than Jupiter.  Here’s what it looks like in a scope like mine after a few minutes exposure.  As I said, in my scope, with city lights and lower magnification — more of a smudge.

m39_noao_bigI was also able to get M39, an open cluster, in my larger scope.  Unfortunately, by the time I got it in focus, most of our guests had taken off.  I wish I had gotten it in view earlier, because it probably would have gotten more of a response than the Hercules cluster.  The stars in the open cluster are gorgeous in the scope, almost like jewels.  Here’s  a picture of them through a much larger telescope — certainly not what they look like through mine — but it very much catches the effect.  DSC_1850

Most important to me, my kids got a kick out the the evening.  They didn’t last that long — my youngest was going to bed only just after sun set.  Noelle got to see most of the sites.  And, of course, she had her fair share of smores.  I’m already looking forward to next year.

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potpourri podcasts & links

A few noteworthy podcasts/links of the week:

Diane Rehm Show.  On Thursday, hosted Jill Tarter, Director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute’s Center for SETI Research.  Jill Tarter also has a neat little presentation when she recently received the TED prize.  I’ve posted on TED talks before.  Discussion around SETI @ 50 years!

Diane Rehm Show.  On Wednesday, hosted Maxwell Mehlman, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University and the author of “Wondergenes”; “The Encyclopedia of Ethical, Legal, and Policy Issues in Biotechnology”; and “Access to the Genome” and one of my old professors.  The conversation is about his recent book, Price of Perfection.

The Lost Decade.  What’s been the economic growth rate over 1999 – 2009 and how does it compare to others during the modern post-War period.  Ouch.

Co-Ops.  What are they and are they a bridge to bipartisan healthcare reform?

Recession bottoming out?  One of the two steel blast furnaces in Cleveland are finally firing up again.  “[W]e are restarting C-5 blast furnace, a steel shop, hot mill, pickle line, tandem mill and galvanizing line at ArcelorMittal Cleveland…However, we do not expect demand to return to the levels seen in 2008 for sometime yet and remain cautiously optimistic for a low and progressive recovery.”  When both furnaces were turned off (I think late last year), it was a signal of the unusual depth of this ‘Great Recession.’  I’ve been watching to see when they’d fire up again.  This is a good sign.

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Remembering Apollo 11 – The Big Picture

The Boston Globe’s big picture does it again with some amazing photographs remembering the Apollo 11 mission.  Take a look.  The one photo (Earth-rise) was on my wall in my bedroom growing up.  Gorgeous.

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Autopsies of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others – NYTimes.com

An interesting article in the NYT about CT scans of our departed troops.  The use of the data has led to practical applications.  For example, after noting that tubing to inflate collapsed lungs was not long enough due to the larger size of many of the troops, new protocol were adopted for longer tubes – perhaps saving lives.  Of course, also, better information on armor for troops may have saved lives.

This reminds me of a puzzler on one of the Car Talk shows on NPR (if you are uninitiated, take a listen, Tom & Ray have a lot of fun, but they know there stuff).   The puzzler is about British bombers in WWII and engineering decisions concerning how to armor their undersides in face of anti-aircraft fire.  Quite similar in a way, despite the application in an entirely different war.

Autopsies of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others – NYTimes.com.

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I.M.F. Puts Bank Losses From Crisis at $4.1 Trillion – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com

A recent IMF report increases the total write-downs that are anticipated wordwide as a result of the current financial crisis.  These numbers are just simply staggering:

[T]he International Monetary Fund estimates that banks and other financial institutions face aggregate losses of $4.1 trillion in the value of their holdings as a result of the crisis…[F]inancial institutions would have to write down an estimated $2.7 trillion in loans and securities originating in the United States from 2007 to 2010…Banks are expected to shoulder about two-thirds of the write-downs…though other institutions, like pension funds and insurance companies, also face heavy losses…Banks have raised about $900 billion in fresh capital since the crisis began…, but that is far outweighed by $2.8 trillion in credit-related losses. The fund estimates that the banks have already taken about one-third, or $1 trillion, of those write-downs….United States…banks reported $510 billion in write-downs by the end of 2008 and face an additional $550 billion in 2009 and 2010. In the euro zone, banks reported just $154 billion in write-downs by the end of last year and still face $750 billion. British banks are in somewhat better shape: having written down $110 billion, they face $200 billion more, the fund said.

via I.M.F. Puts Bank Losses From Crisis at $4.1 Trillion – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Car Dealer in Chief – NYTimes.com

I think that Brooks has it wrong this time.  I agree that GM cannot restructure itself out of its current situation.  I agree that the Bush administration punted.  I agree that they should have — there needed to be preparation for the imminent bankruptcy.  I also disagree that this one has to remain a political football with Congress or the administration micromanaging GM’s bankruptcy process.   The administration needs to turf this to a real bankruptcy process and then get out of the way.  At the end of the line, it’s a fight between the financial stakeholders, not the politicians.  Throw the bondholders, unions, dealerships and other creditors into the pit (atop the corpse of shareholder equity) and see how it works out.

For 30 years, G.M. has been restructuring itself toward long-term viability. For all these years, G.M.’s market share has endured a long, steady slide…When the economy cratered last fall, the professionals at G.M. went into Super-Duper Restructuring Overdrive… The Bush advisers decided in December that bankruptcy without preparation would be a disaster. They decided what all administrations decide — that the best time for a bankruptcy filing is a few months from now, and it always will be…Today, G.M. and Chrysler have once again come up with restructuring plans…But this, President Obama declares, is G.M.’s last chance. Honestly. Really.No kidding…And yet by enmeshing the White House so deeply into G.M., Obama has increased the odds that March’s menacing threat will lead to June’s wobbly wiggle-out.  The Obama administration and the Democratic Party are now completely implicated in the coming G.M. wreck…The Midwestern delegations, swing states all, will pull out all the stops to prevent plant foreclosures. Unions will be furious if the Obama-run company rips up the union contract… The most likely outcome, sad to say, is some semiserious restructuring plan, with or without court involvement, to be followed by long-term government intervention and backdoor subsidies forever…It would have been better to keep a distance from G.M. and prepare the region for a structured bankruptcy process. Instead, Obama leapt in. His intentions were good, but getting out with honor will require a ruthless tenacity that is beyond any living politician.

via Op-Ed Columnist – Car Dealer in Chief – NYTimes.com.

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Footing the Bill for a Spouse’s Travel – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com

Thank goodness I don’t have to travel much anymore.  But if I do, I want to be the chief executive at Footlocker.

According to Foot Locker’s preliminary proxy statement, “Mr. Halls’s wife may accompany him on up to eight business trips each fiscal year at the company’s expense.” …The company says the perk is an exception to its normal policy on spousal travel, because of Mr. Halls’s “extensive international travel obligations.” …Last year, Mr. Halls’s spousal travel reimbursement cost the company $123,000 plus another $112,000 to cover the taxes that would have been owed on the perk. In the filing, the company notes that starting this year, it will no longer cover the gross-up.

via Footing the Bill for a Spouse’s Travel – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com.

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Top 25 Lawyers Behind the Deals of the Year – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com

Wow.  It’s a sign of the times when the vast majority of notable deals are hightlighted as non-traditional M&A related to bailouts and collapses! Remarkable times.

Only six of the dealmakers on the list this year were recognized for their involvement in conventional mergers-related deals (most are at the bottom of the list except for those involved in InBev’s purchase of Anheuser-Busch and Mars’s purchase of Wrigley). The various distressed deals and government–brokered mergers topped the list…

Here were the deals noted in American Lawyer:

1. Bank Bailouts: H. Rodgin Cohen, Sullivan & Cromwell

2. Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch acquisition: Edward Herlihy, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

3. Lehman Bankruptcy: Harvey Miller, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

4. TARP: Lee Meyerson, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

5. A.I.G. Bailout: Michael Wiseman, Sullivan & Cromwell

6. IndyMac Purchase: Paul Glotzer, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

7. InBev’s Anheuser-Busch Acquisition: Francis Aquila, Sullivan & Cromwell

8. Fannie, Freddie Conservatorships: Harold Novikoff, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

9. FGIC Rescue: Corinne Ball, Jones Day

10. Federal Interventions: Thomas Baxter Jr., Federal Reserve Bank of New York

11. Calpine, Solutia Bankruptcies: Richard Cieri, Kirkland & Elli

12. KazMunayGas Pipeline Renegotiation: George Kahale III, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle

13. Mars’s Wrigley Acquisition: John Finley, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

14. Latin American Project Financings: Cynthia Urda Kassis, Shearman & Sterling

15. A.I.G. Bailout: Marshall Huebner, Davis Polk & Wardwell

16. Visa I.P.O.: S. Ward Atterbury, White & Case

17. Independent Director Representations: Robert Joffe, Cravath, Swaine & Moore

18. Vallejo Bankruptcy: Marc Levinson, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

19. Clearwire Asset Acquisition: Joshua Korff, Kirkland & Ellis

20. Sirius-XM Merger: Joe Sims, Jones Day

21. Verizon Wireless’s Alltel Acquisition: Jeffrey Rosen, Debevoise & Plimpton

22. Triarc’s Wendy’s Acquisition: Paul Ginsberg, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

23. Citigroup Bailout: George Bason Jr., Davis Polk & Wardwell

24. Washington Mutual Bankruptcy: Marcia Goldstein, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

25. A.I.G. Bailout: Eric Dinallo, New York State Insurance Department

via Top 25 Lawyers Behind the Deals of the Year – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com.

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TED and Academic Earth

I have two very interesting intranet sites if you like to listen to interesting lectures on interesting ideas.  The first, which I’ve posted about to my Facebook friends at least is TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.   It’s annual conference brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).  Tickets are, well, expensive and sell out a year in advance.  But — you can view many of the speakers that attend the TED conference (and twin conference) for free.  The speakers range from the most influential politicians of both to the elite More than 200 talks from TED are available, with more added each week.  These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted. Trust me, you’ll find something that is interesting, informing, entertaining and probably mind-blowing.  It’s a lot better than most of to stuff on Discovery Channel and the History Channel (and I like

The other is a site called Academic Earth.   More and more of these sites (and similar pod-casts from leading Universities) are popping up, giving people access to interesting lecturers — and in some cases whole courses — from prominent academicians and Universities.  These are kind of like auditing a university class.  One that I started was a series of lectures on the current economic crisis.   I’m going to, sometime this year, do the Intro to Astrophysics class.  I’m sure it’ll be over my head in a profound way — but I’ll tell you how it goes.

I have to say that the TED presentations are more interesting and lighter fare.  If you didn’t like college, Academic Earth isn’t for you.  But the quality of most of the ones I’ve seen on Academic Earth are really good.  The TED stuff is pretty mind-blowing and condenced.

Check it out — keep learning!!!

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The Health Care Blog: The Hive Mind

John Halmaka from the Health Care Bolg makes an observation that, at first blush, is obvious.  But when someone my age (or older) really thinks about it, is quite profound.  How much has our lives, thinking, analysis changed due to the web?  I remember pre-www/pre-google days, when I would rush to make the 6pm fed ex deadline (or 10pm if I took it to the airport) for a report I was finishing.  Within a few months, I could attach the same report via email.  It was wonderful and cursed.  That same report, with a deadline, got done at 6pm.  But with email, the client knew I could turn even more by midnight.  So, often, the day just got longer.

John observes that the factual recall he requires is augmented by the web, since if he knows enough about the fact, he can fill in the rest by using the web.  If nothing else, it reduces the ‘transaction cost’ in a remarkable and profound manner (like email did for communicating final work product) to clarifying facts he wishes to use for his analysis or other communication.  Of course, since vast portions of the web have no editor, relying on those facts may be fraught with risk.  And he observes that some of the skills he has honed relates to being able to navigate what is likely to be trustworthy, and what is not. I’m not sure about the 80%.

I’ve delegated the management of facts to the “Hive Mind” of the internet. With Web 2.0 we re all publishers and authors. Every one of us can be instantly connected to the best experts the most up to date news and an exobyte multimedia repository. However much of the internet has no editor so the Hive Mind information is probably only 80%  factual – the challenge is that you do not know which 80% .

via The Health Care Blog: The Hive Mind.

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Facebook And Kids: Are Their Brains Ready for Social Networking?

Kari Henley in the March 22, 2009 Huffington Post writes:

For over 25 million youth, Facebook is replacing email as “the” way to communicate, and parents are often left in the dust and wondering is it safe? What age can kids safely have a Facebook page? Should they insist to be their “Friend” and monitor their endless chatter? *** One day, a call came from the principal informing Jill and her husband, their middle daughter was being given in-school suspension for creating a Facebook group used to make fun of another student. Called something like, “Eric is a Hairy Beast,” the group quickly filled with loads of kids making fun of a quiet Armenian boy, uploading cell phone pictures of him and becoming more brazen by the day.  These kids are “A” students, and far from brats; but most are not cognitively developed enough to recognize their behavior is hurtful to others.  *** Kids get into trouble with sites like Facebook and MySpace because they are too self-centered in their overall development to understand the impact of what they are doing… Middle school age children are the most susceptible to cyber bullying, and high school students most likely to use poor judgment in giving out information.  *** I set about interviewing scores of parents with children from elementary to high school, asking their opinions about Facebook and kids. While most felt it was a relatively safe place for kids to connect to each other, many expressed concern over the obsessive nature of these sites.  Designed to be “sticky;” a site is deemed successful the longer it entices you to stay on, yet these hours are replacing other activities critical for healthy development. *** The cyber playground has replaced the physical one, for better or worse. It is our job as parents to make sure their developing brains know how to do more than move a mouse around a keyboard and encourage more face to face social time.

via Kari Henley: Facebook And Kids: Are Their Brains Ready for Social Networking?.

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Strip-Search Case Tests How Far Schools Can Go – NYTimes.com

As reported on March 23, 2009 in the New York Times, the Supreme Court will shortly address a case concerning the scope of student searches.   In the case, an assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected a thirteen year old student of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.  After being strip searched to the her underwear, they conducted further intimate searches.   The student, who was an honor student, had no pills.

At issue will be how much leeway school officials should have in policing zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence.  The court is likely to provide important guidance to schools around the nation.  The Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, found a Fourth Amendment violation by the school, ruling that such a search should be bannned as unreasonable.  This was not without dissent by Judge Hawkins who concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.”

The Supreme Court’s last major decision on school searches based on individual suspicion — as opposed to systematic drug testing programs — was in 1985, when it allowed school officials to search a student’s purse without a warrant or probable cause as long their suspicions were reasonable. It did not address intimate searches.

In his The Health Care Blog of March 24, 2009,  Matthew Holt argues that this case, together with the current drug cartel unrest in Mexico and the previous administration’s prosecution of medical marijuana growers distributors shows the “lunacy” of our current drug laws.  No comment here, but interesting discussion.

via Strip-Search Case Tests How Far Schools Can Go – NYTimes.com.

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ACLU challenges Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools over removal of magazine from library – Metro – cleveland.com

The Cleveland Plain Dealer on March 23, 2009 reports a dispute in Cleveland Heights-University Heights over the removal of a magazine at the library.  According to the ACLU’s Christine Link: “Literature should not be removed from a school library simply because one person may find it inappropriate.  Ms. Link called for the board to “immediately order that the magazine be reinstated.”  The literature: Nitendo Magazine.  The principal’s objection.  Violence on the cover.  The librarian objected because the principal did not follow the rules — object, take it to the School Board for a determination.  I found this entirely amusing.  I also find it delightful that we are arguing over a Nitendo Magazine, and not Huck Fin, Tropic of Cancer, etc.

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Clifton Boulevard to get upgraded bus service and 30 curbside stations

My old neighborhood is getting a bus-line face lift.  Makes me (almost) want to move back and get a job downtown again. Ah, the days walking to Clifton dinner and having brunch with friends.

Sixty-foot long articulated buses, similar to those on the Euclid Avenue HealthLine, are expected to be on the street this fall. RTA will spend $700,000 in federal stimulus money to plan and design a four-mile line extending from the West Shoreway in Cleveland to the Lakewood/Rocky River border. The project, which would include 30 new curbside stations and dedicated bus lanes during rush hours, is expected to cost $14 million. Those funds have yet to be acquired but officials are hoping to seek more federal dollars for the project, said Joe Calabrese, general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Lakewood grew in the 1900s because of its streetcar system, with lines on Detroit Avenue, Clifton Boulevard and Madison Avenue, according to a history of the city by the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board.

via Clifton Boulevard to get upgraded bus service and 30 curbside stations – Metro – cleveland.com.

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Podcasts I’m Listening to, Week of 3/16/2009

Name Artist Album
NYT: Science Times for 1/6/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
The Evolution of Evolution Scientific American Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
NYT: Science Times for 1/13/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
NYT: Science Times for 1/20/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
Phrasing a Coyne: Jerry Coyne on Why Evolution Is True Scientific American Scientific American Podcast
Appeals Judge Posner Says U.S. Is in a Depression Bloomberg News Bloomberg Law
Buckyball Discoverer Explores Nanotech Frontier NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast
In Search of Time Scientific American Scientific American Podcast
AIG Bonus Outrage, Soaring Deficit Complicate Obama Agenda NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Shields and Brooks | NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
It’s All Politics March 19 2009 NPR NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
How Do You Amputate A Phantom Limb? NPR NPR: Hmmm…. Krulwich on Science Podcast
The Search For Hidden Dimensions In The Universe NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast
‘Remarkable Creatures’ Behind Darwin’s Discoveries NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast

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Princeton University – High-powered mathematicians take on free will

A favorite topic of my undergrad years — is there free will and if so where does it come from.  Interestingly, theoretical mathematicians and particle physicists are weighing in.  And if they are right, there is something fundamentally causally disconnected at the particle level.  In other words, uncertainty at the particle level might give rise to uncertainty on the macro level and a place for ‘free-will’ to exist.  John Conway and  Simon Kochen are working on a paper and presentations at Princeton that “will have one focus. [They are ]set on explaining …the tenets of their “Free Will Theorem.” The gist of it is this They say they have proved that if humans have free will then elementary particles — like atoms and electrons — possess free will as well. ”  They explain, “[i]t’s not about theories anymore — it s about what the universe does. And w’ve found that from moment to moment nature doesn’t know what it’s going to do. A particle has a choice.”

The smallest particles inside an atom have a property known as “spin.” And scientists have found that the spin of some particles may be related to the spin of other particles something known as “entanglement” and also known as the “twin” axiom. However an experimenter s choice of spin direction to measure cannot be communicated faster than the speed of light. This is the “fin” axiom. Looking at this sequence of facts the mathematicians have been able to extract the conclusion that if a human experimenter can make decisions independently of past events then the particle can also make a free choice.

via Princeton University – High-powered mathematicians take on free will.

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Q & A with Dr. John Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope | Universe Today

“The James Webb Space Telescope JWST is the much anticipated long awaited “next generation” telescope. Planned for launch in 2013 JWST has been touted as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. With it astronomers hope to look back in time to when the universe was just 200 million years old and see the first stars and galaxies.”

[T]his telescope will see farther back in time with its infrared capability and its huge aperture; it will see

through dust clouds to see where stars are being born; it will see things that are room temperature like you and me planets or young stars being born. All those things can be seen directly with the infrared capability we have on this new telescope. Most of the work will be done in infrared with some capability

in the visible range. *** The hardest thing to build was the mirror because we needed something that is way bigger than Hubble. But you can t possibly lift something that big or fit it into a rocket so you need something that is lighter weight but nonetheless larger so it has to have the ability to fold up. The mirror

is made of light-weight beryllium and has 18 hexagonal segments.

The telescope folds up like a butterfly in its chrysalis and will have to completely undo it self. ***The sun shield is completely new and it too will have to deploy. So what was wrapped up into a small cylinder

relatively speaking becomes a giant shield about as big as a tennis court. It s huge.

via Q & A with Dr. John Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope | Universe Today.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Are We Home Alone? – NYTimes.com

In his New York Time op ed, Thomas Friedman thinks our political leadership is acting immaturely.  He believes that we are missing the bigger picture by riding a populist rage over the financial sector bonuses, and no one in Washington is showing adult leadership.  “There don’t seem to be any adults at the top — nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than the last news cycle.”  He sees Republicans focusing on the AIG bonuses in a non-constructive, opportunistic way, and asks if they think that their “party automatically wins if the country loses?”  In addition, he thinks that the misplaced urge to “villify” persons like Geither will only lead to “ensure that no capable person enlists in government.”

But more than this, he thinks that Mr. Obama missed an important opportunity.  “[Had ]Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily. Inspiring conduct has so much more of an impact than coercing it.”

I liked the following passage, which summarizes, in my view, a prominent failure in the financial sector’s culture:

‘There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause,’ said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book ‘How.’ What makes a company or a government ‘sustainable,’ he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors. ‘It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,’ said Seidman. ‘Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.'”

Of course, all this populist outrage does not fix the current mess.  It’s the absence of a clear plan to address the banking crisis that has allowed “all kinds of lesser issues and clowns [to ]have ballooned in importance and only confused people in the vacuum.”  But the “big issue — the real issue — [is ]the president’s comprehensive plan to remove the toxic assets from our ailing banks, which is the key to our economic recovery,” not punishing corporate executives, even those that are clearly receiving obnoxious bonuses that they should not.

Personally, I’m not sure we would not, in any event, have these “lesser issues” and “clowns” coming to the fore and distracting the policy debate.  I think there is such a pervasive sense that things have gone very wrong, that I am personally hurting, that my neighbor or family member is ‘really hurting’ through loss of home, loss of employment, and, certainly, loss of retirement savings, that outrage is real.  Let’s hope some adults can focus this outrage in a constructive way to establish some sound policy fixes.  I do hope, as Friedman concludes, that a Geither plan will be out next week, it will be specific and thoughtful, and the “president will pull the country together behind it” because “our country, alas, is not too big to fail.”    Edit Post ‹ humani nil a me alienum puto — WordPress

via Op-Ed Columnist – Are We Home Alone? – NYTimes.com.

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Cosmos – On Hulu

I recently was exploring Hulu.  It’s a really fantastic site if it has the shows you like to view.  On his Bad Astronomy Blog

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‘Star Trek’ Fans Put Kirk’s Command Chair in Their Homes – NYTimes.com

Saving the galaxy ... and watching some basketball

‘Star Trek’ Fans Put Kirk’s Command Chair in Their Homes – NYTimes.com.

The New York Times published an article discussing people that really want to be James T. Kirk.   And, I mean, who wouldn’t.  Swashbuckling through the galaxy, plenty of ensigns to get killed off, and green women to woo.  (He’s one of the few people I know — er…characters — where you just can’t say the name without the middle initial).  But particularly avid, aging fanboys have been creating Enterprise captain chairs for their family rooms.  Now that is just strange.  Who are these guys married to?  I can just imagine what Stephanie, Noelle and Brooke would say if I tried to pull that off.  After we were engaged I got rid of my old, brown, beat-up — but incredibly comfortable — bark0lounger.  I cannot say Stephanie made me do it; it really did start to have a vague beer, pizza aroma.  It was more of an acknowledgement that some things have to go once you are planning to live together.  I still have a picture somewhere where I am toasting it at the curb with a beer in my hand remembering all the memorable times I had on that chair.  I’m sure a few were watching Star Trek movies that did not s***.  There were a couple.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Perverse Cosmic Myopia – NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist – Perverse Cosmic Myopia – NYTimes.com.

“As a tiger sinks its teeth into the world’s neck, we focus on the dust bunnies under the bed…[Obama is trying to tackle the four most intransigent policy problems of our times and cannot address the immediate economic problem and the furor over the AIG bonuses]…risk[s] destroying the entire bank-rescue plan”

“[All this ]is not the most idiotic of the distractions…[A] core lesson of the Great Depression is that a global crisis calls for a global response…But the G-20 process is heading toward global impotence because the Europeans are dismissing this approach…The world is in flames and they want directorates and multilateral symposia…Many people used to wonder how the world’s leaders could be so myopic at various points in history — like during the Versailles Treaty or the turmoil of the 1930s. We don’t have to wonder any more. We get to watch the cosmic myopia replay itself in our own times.”

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