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Mal de mer

December 11, 2018

View from a ship at sea

The one good thing about seasickness is that it lasts only two or three days. Even so, that imposes risks on sailors. And pilots. And even on soldiers. So the military constantly is investigating remedies and preventions. Let’s hope this latest gizmo actually works. Until then, keep some patches on hand, and be ready to head for the low side.

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A little strength goes a long way

December 10, 2018

A study out of China suggests that just a little strength training lowers risk for cardiovascular disease, as much as and independent of aerobic training. (Cite.) The study carries all the usual risks of cofounders. Even if not particularly strong (heh, heh) in its own right, it corroborates quite a bit of other research about the broad benefits of strength training. As used here, that doesn’t mean just weight lifting, but any exercise that involves resistance and that increases muscle mass.

The Scientist has a review of the bad things that happen to our muscles as we age. Stem cells are fewer. Mitochondrial function is less. Myokine production is reduced. All of it leading to sarcopenia and eventually frailty. Only one prevention is known:

Although the causes of muscle loss are numerous and complex, there is now copious evidence to suggest that exercise may prevent or reverse many of these age-related changes, whereas inactivity will accelerate muscle aging.

Despite being a fast walker, I am a little skeptical that gait speed is all that good a measure of overall health. Except in the sense that it is an indicator of general capacity to do exercise. It may be better in that regard than counting how many push-ups someone can do, or how fast they can run, only because most people walk some. Walking is the most natural exercise for our species.

Alligators, to the side

December 6, 2018

Seemingly, there is an island in the Laguna Madre that is teaming with alligators. I didn’t see a single one on my dinghy sail from Port Isabel to Port Mansfield. Of course, that doesn’t mean none saw me. Ah, well. I suspect the Laguna Madre gators have less to worry about from people than the ones in Pt. Aransas, like the poor fellow shown above.

Cats, all the way down?

December 5, 2018

Ever since Schrödinger first boxed his cat, it has been clear that quantum mechanics implies a weird universe, if it applies also to macroscopic entities like us. A new gedanken, by Frauchiger and Renner at ETF, shows that communicating observers cannot always agree on macroscopic facts, like the toss of a coin. (Cite.) That doesn’t necessarily imply MWI over all other interpretations of QM, as the article suggests. But it does create a divide between collapse interpretations and interpretations that are “quantum all the way down.” (Whether the Copenhagen interpretation is the latter depends to some extent on how one interprets intermediate observers.)

It is always fun to get a new gedanken that exposes the weirdness of QM. The importance of that lies in two things. First, it helps sharpen thinking. There is significant hand waving in QM over observers, buried in the Born rule. That gets ever more exposed. Leading perhaps to better explanation. Second, and more important, a gedanken such as this can lead to interesting empirical probes of how our universe behaves. Just as the delayed-choice scenario, that John Wheeler invented and so liked, was at first “just” a gedanken, and then led to a variety of experiments, this “observers of observers” scenario might at some point move gradually into the lab. We’ll see.

If the upshot of the delayed-choice scenario was that nothing is a phenomenon until it is observed, the upshot of this scenario is: and not always then. It seems to me that what Frauchiger and Renner show is that, in a fully quantum world, not even an observer making an observation is always enough to pin things down. But who knows? When this moves into the lab, maybe a collapse theory will at some point prevail. Though I wouldn’t bet that way.

No hands

December 4, 2018

Bloomberg has an optimistic look at Waymo’s plans to roll out its automated driving service. It includes the data, right, on how often the backup driver currently has to disengage the autonomous system. While Waymo clearly is doing better than the others shown, 6,000 miles strikes me as two orders of magnitude less than it needs to be. That said, that is a good measure, and it is headed the right direction. This obviously is the kind of effort that requires a significant focus on QA, so hiring a former NTSB chair makes sense. The Smithsonian Magazine has a longer article on how Waymo got to where it is.

Disclaimer: I still am long Alphabet.

Beating Santa

December 3, 2018

This is the start of Hanukkah, and Michael Lukas sounds ready to toss it out, after pondering its origin:

Hanukkah, in essence, commemorates the triumph of fundamentalism over cosmopolitanism. Our assimilationist answer to Christmas is really a holiday about subjugating assimilated Jews. The more I thought about all this, the more it disturbed me. For what am I if not a Hellenized Jew? (O.K., an Americanized Jew, but what’s the difference, really?)

In the end, he decides to celebrate Hanukkah, not because he realizes its origin no longer matters to his current family tradition, but “because at the end of the day, it’s all about beating Santa.”

It’s nice being entirely secular during the winter holidays. One can hang eclectic symbols and decorations, attend everyone’s parties, eat each culture’s food, drink whatever nog one wants, enjoy the company of family and friends. And never once worry about how that fits — or not — with any religion. Any interesting history behind those traditions one can take simply as history, without any obligation on the present.

All the president’s liars

November 29, 2018

Jerome Corsi helped spread the conspiracy theory that Seth Rich was murdered because he was the one who purloined emails from the DNC, where he worked. That was despicable slander of a dead man, fabricated from whole cloth. There now is evidence that Corsi knew that story was false at the time, and that he boosted it to distract from his own involvement with the Russian hackers who snatched that data. Making a despicable act all the more callous.

The media has been slow in figuring out how to handle a White House that spins a litany of lies. CNN has taken to fact-checking Sarah Sanders in real-time, as when she lied about the climate change report issued by the government.

Max Boot wonders why conservatives are global warming denialists. There is a sense in which he should wonder that. After all, conservation once was a conservative value. Nor does a belief in markets entail support for unmitigated external costs. He ponders:

I’ve owned up to the danger. Why haven’t other conservatives? They are captives, first and foremost, of the fossil fuel industry, which outspent green groups by 10 to 1 in lobbying on climate change from 2000 to 2016. But they are also captives of their own rigid ideology. It is a tragedy for the entire planet that America’s governing party is impervious to science and reason.

I think that is partly right. But it misses something important. The right wing is no longer conservative in the sense Max Boot is. They are not skeptics, who have looked at the evidence and concluded it falls short. They instead are denialists, who have gullibly accepted an assortment of political conspiracy theories about global warming. The measured warming is a hoax. The notion of global warming is a liberal conspiracy. Scientists support it only because of the money. (It took quite some chutzpah for those hired by fossil fuel think tanks to push that!)

It will be interesting to watch Max Boot’s political path as he comes more and more to realize the relationship between today’s right wing and these kind of conspiracy theories.

Update: NBC likewise has started bracketing Sarah Sanders so that her lies don’t get first billing.