Quotulatiousness

June 26, 2017

QotD: Psychiatric hospitals

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s interesting that psychiatric hospitals are used as a cliche for “a situation of total chaos” – I think I’ve already mentioned the time when the director of a psych hospital I worked at told us, apparently without conscious awareness or irony, that if Obamacare passed our hospital would have too many patients and “the place would turn into a madhouse”. There’s a similar idiom around “Bedlam”, which comes from London’s old Bethlehem psychiatric hospital.

In fact, psych hospitals are much more orderly than you would think. Maybe 80% of the patients are pretty ‘with it’ – depressed people, very anxious people, people with anger issues who aren’t angry at the moment, people coming off of heroin or something. The remaining 20% of people who are very psychotic mostly just stay in their rooms or pace back and forth talking to themselves and not bothering anyone else. The only people you really have to worry about most of the time are the manic ones and occasionally severe autistics, and even they’re usually okay.

For a place where two dozen not-very-stable people are locked up in a small area against their will, violence is impressively rare. The nurses have to deal with some of it, since they’re the front-line people who have to forcibly inject patients with medication, and they have gotten burned a couple of times. And we doctors are certainly trained to assess for it, defuse it, and if worst comes to worst hold our own until someone can get help.

Yet in the two years I’ve worked at Our Lady Of An Undisclosed Location, years when each doctor has talked to each of their patients at least once a day, usually alone in an office, usually telling them things they really don’t want to hear like “No, you can’t go home today” – during all that time, not one doctor has been attacked. Not so much as a slap or a poke.

I am constantly impressed with how deeply the civilizing instinct has penetrated. When I go out of the workroom and tell Bob, “I’m sorry, but you’re disturbing people, you’re going to have to stop banging on the window and shouting threats, let’s go back to your room,” then as long as I use a calm, quiet, and authoritative voice, that is what he does. With very few exceptions, there is nobody so mentally ill that calmness + authority + the implied threat of burly security guards won’t get them to grumble under their breath but generally comply with your requests, reasonable or otherwise.

Scott Alexander, “Reflections From The Halfway Point”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-06-29.

June 23, 2017

British and Irish Iron Age hill forts and settlements mapped in new online atlas

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Guardian, Steven Morris talks about a new online resource for archaeological information on over 4,000 Iron Age sites:

Maiden Castle in Dorset. View of the west gate and ramparts (English Heritage)

Some soar out of the landscape and have impressed tourists and inspired historians and artists for centuries, while others are tiny gems, tucked away on mountain or moor and are rarely visited.

For the first time, a detailed online atlas has drawn together the locations and particulars of the UK and Ireland’s hill forts and come to the conclusion that there are more than 4,000 of them, mostly dating from the iron age.

The project has been long and not without challenges. Scores of researchers – experts and volunteer hill fort hunters – have spent five years pinpointing the sites and collating information on them.

[…]

Sites such as Maiden Castle, which stretches for 900 metres along a saddle-backed hilltop in Dorset, are obvious. But some that have made the cut are little more than a couple of roundhouses with a ditch and bank. Certain hill forts in Northumbria are tiny and probably would not have got into the atlas if they were in Wessex, where the sites tend to be grander.

Many hill forts will be familiar, such as the one on Little Solsbury Hill, which overlooks Bath. But there are others, such as a chain of forts in the Clwydian Range in north-east Wales, that are not so well known. Many are in lovely, remote locations but there are also urban ones surrounded by roads and housing.

The online atlas and database will be accessible on smartphones and tablets and can be used while visiting a hill fort.

H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

June 22, 2017

The EU regulators want to get rid of a Belgian food tradition

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Carol Off reports for CBC Radio’s As It Happens:

Belgian Fries, traditionally served with mayonnaise
(photo by vokimberly at Flickr)

Belgium’s government says a new proposal by the European Union could spell disaster for the country’s world-famous fries.

“We adore our fries the way we make them, so just let us do so for the next 100 years, because the last hundred years it wasn’t a problem, so why should it be a problem now?” Flemish Tourism Minister Ben Weyts told Carol Off, host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Traditionally, Belgian fries, are twice fried in fat. First, they go in raw to generate a soft, fluffy interior. Then they are refried at a higher temperature to create a crispy, golden exterior.

This process sets Belgian fries apart from soft and chunky British chips, or the sleek and thin fries preferred by the French.

But the European Commission is proposing that all potatoes be blanched — briefly cooked in boiling water — before they hit the fat.

It’s part of an EU effort to curb exposure to acrylamide, a chemical that can form in foods cooked at high temperatures, and has been linked to cancer in animal tests.

[…]

On the heels of the Belgian backlash, the European Commission has insisted the proposal is a suggestion, not a ban.

“The commission has no intention whatsoever to ban Belgian frites — or any other frites, for that matter,” spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday.

“Instead, the commission is preparing a new regulatory measure to oblige food business operators to apply a code of practice to reduce acrylamide in food, as it is carcinogenic.

“We are all very attached to the rich culinary heritage we find in our member states.”

For more information on Belgian Fries, see The One and Only Original Belgian Fries Website (which hadn’t been updated with this latest existential threat when I checked it).

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

June 17, 2017

What Happens When You Take Steroids? – Earth Lab

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Jun 2017

Have you ever wondered what happens to a human body when it takes anabolic steroids? Well, Greg Foot is here to explain all the science you need to know about steroids and why people use them for muscle growth.

June 15, 2017

The “killer app of space tourism”

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The “mile-high club” will soon be replaced by the “sixty-two-mile-high club“, says Glamour in their coverage of “Sex in Space“:

As Elon Musk announces a plan to start colonizing Mars in 2020 and space tourism companies begin offering (very pricey) trips outside the planet, space vacation is suddenly looking less like a sci-fi plot and more like a real possibility. And like any other type of vacation, one of the best parts will probably be sex. But sex in space? Is that even a thing?

To our knowledge, no one’s boldly gone there, but that hasn’t stopped the experts from guessing. Here, they answer some of our most pressing questions about the future of hooking up in space.

Is it even possible?

Sure, though keep in mind that in space capsule conditions, there’ll be considerably more fumbling around. Just getting our parts to touch could be a puzzle, since it turns out gravity is the important sex aid you didn’t even realize you were using.

“Because successful coitus for humans relies on gravity to achieve correct alignment and maintain contact with the participants’ genitals, its absence will pose a novel problem,” says OBGYN Kyrin Dunston, MD. “In addition, the thrusting motions required for successful coitus will present unique reactions in the female, where she will be propelled away from her partner during coitus, making the act very difficult.” (Though it’s pretty hilarious to picture.)

According to Dr. John Millis, Ph.D, a physicist and astronomer at Anderson University, it would be almost like two ice skaters pushing their hands against each other while standing on ice. “This two-dimensional example is complicated further by the fact that, in space, the astronauts would be moving in three-dimensions,” he says.

Will we need a whole new genre of sex toys, then?

If we want to streamline space sex, we may have to enlist technology to stop people from floating away from each other. A good space-sex device would have to attach the astronauts to their partners and the space station, says Millis.

Dr. Dunston elaborates: “That could be a jungle gym-type apparatus that allows people to position themselves appropriately to a strap system that holds them together, or clothing that accomplishes the same thing. Imaginative minds will create something ingenious, I’m sure.”

QotD: The Budapest Effect

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared. The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women.

The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between 1890 and 1920. These included Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel-Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and legendary polymath John von Neumann, namesake of the List Of Things Named After John Von Neumann.

The coincidences actually pile up beyond this. Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.

But maybe we shouldn’t be joking about this so much. Suppose we learned that Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all had the same childhood piano tutor. It sounds less like “ha ha, what a funny coincidence” and more like “wait, who was this guy, and how quickly can we make everyone else start doing what he did?”

In this case, the guy was Laszlo Ratz, legendary Budapest high school math teacher. I didn’t even know people told legends about high school math teachers, but apparently they do, and this guy features in a lot of them. There is apparently a Laszlo Ratz Memorial Congress for high school math teachers each year, and a Laszlo Ratz medal for services to the profession. There are plaques and statues to this guy. It’s pretty impressive.

A while ago I looked into the literature on teachers and concluded that they didn’t have much effect overall. Similarly, Freddie deBoer writes that most claims that certain schools or programs have transformative effects on their students are the result of selection bias.

On the other hand, we have a Hungarian academy producing like half the brainpower behind 20th century physics, and Nobel laureates who literally keep a picture of their high school math teacher on the wall of their office to inspire them. Perhaps even if teachers don’t explain much of the existing variability, there are heights of teacherdom so rare that they don’t show up in the statistics, but still exist to be aspired to?

Scott Alexander, “The Atomic Bomb Considered as Hungarian High School Science Fair Project”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-05-26.

June 13, 2017

Vegetable impostors on your table

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The vegetable pushers are clever: they can disguise vegetables in such a way that you don’t realize where they came from. A prime set of examples are all variations of a common Mediterranean weed called Brassica oleracea:

Click to see full-size image

Brassica is also known as the wild mustard plant.

“The wild plant is a weedy little herb that prefers to grow on limestone outcroppings all around the coastal Mediterranean region,” Jeanne Osnas, a researcher at Purdue University who blogs as “The Botanist in the Kitchen,” writes of Brassica oleracea.

“It is a biennial plant that uses food reserves stored over the winter in its rosette of leaves to produce a spike of a few yellow flowers at the end of its second summer before dying. Those nutritious leaves make its domesticated derivatives important food crops in much of the world now.”

This one plant was selectively bred over hundreds of years to create dozens of wildly different vegetables.

By selecting and breeding plants with bigger leaves, or larger buds, the various cultivars were created.

[…]

The amazing evolution of Brassica oleracea goes to show that humans have been tinkering with the genetics of our food – creating what are now known as genetically modified foods, or GMOs – for a very long time.

New lab techniques just let us do that in a more precise and directed way.

June 9, 2017

Can my dog understand me? – James May Q&A (Ep 34) – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Humour, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Aug 2013

Sit, Fetch, Lie Down! James May answers Luke from Durham Johnston Comprehensive’s question on whether dogs can understand humans.

Links
The British Science Association: http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/

National Science + Engineering Competition: http://www.nsecuk.org

Can dogs understand words: http://animal.discovery.com/pets/dogs-understand-words.htm

Shame your pet: http://www.shameyourpet.com

June 3, 2017

The Government Hates Boobs

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 2 Jun 2017

From nipple censorship to breast milk regulation, the government is making it hard to have breasts. The FCC maintains oversight of how much and what kind of breasts can grace public airwaves. Its decisions have ripple effects, since cable broadcasters often voluntarily comply with FCC guidelines.

A more dire issue than strategic anatomical censorship is the issue of breast milk. Between one and five percent of American women aren’t able to produce breast milk, and some babies can’t drink formula. When the two overlap the demand for breast milk is life or death. But acquiring breast milk from donation-based milk banks can be difficult and prohibitively expensive. So some women buy their breast milk on an online “gray market” that stifles suppliers.

In this week’s Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton explains why the government should get its hands off our boobs.

Performed by Andrew Heaton

Written by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

QotD: Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Fascinating. This NYT article bears out a suspicion I’ve held for a long time about the plasticity of sexual orientation. The crude one-sentence summary is that, if you go by physiological arousal reactions, male bisexuality doesn’t exist, while female bisexuality is ubiquitous.

I’ve spent most of my social time for the last thirty years around science fiction fans, neopagans, and polyamorists — three overlapping groups of people not exactly noted for either sexual inhibitions or reluctance to explore sexual roles that don’t fit the neat typologies of the mainstream culture. And there are a couple of things it’s hard not to notice about them:

First, a huge majority of the women in these cultures are bisexual. To the point where I just assume any female I meet in these contexts is bi. This reality is only slightly obscured by the fact that many of these women describe themselves and are socially viewed by others as ‘straight’, even as they engage in sexual play with each other during group scenes with every evidence of enjoyment. In fact, in these cultures the operational definition of ‘straight female’ seems to be one who has recreational but not relational/romantic sex with other women.

Second, this pattern is absolutely not mirrored in their male peers. Even in these uninhibited subcultures, homoerotic behavior involving self-described ‘straight’ men is rare and surprising. Such homeoeroticism as does go on is almost all self-describedly gay men fucking other self-describedly gay men; bisexuality in men, while an accepted and un-tabooed orientation, is actually less common than gayness and not considered quite normal by anybody. The contrast with everybody’s matter-of-fact acceptance of female bisexual behavior is extreme.

It is also an observable fact that many women in these cultures change either their sexual orientation or their sexual presentation over time, but that this is seldom true of men. That is, a woman may move from being sexually involved mostly with other women to being mostly involved with men, and back, several times during her adolescent and adult lifetime; nobody considers this surprising and it doesn’t involve much of a change in either self-image or social identity. Not so for men in these cultures; they tend to start out as straight or gay and stay that way, and on the unusual occasions that this changes it tends to involve a significant break in both self-image and social identity.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gayness is hard, lesbianism soft”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-07-06.

June 2, 2017

Schrödinger’s Paris Accords

Filed under: Environment, Humour, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

As Ace points out, the Paris Accords apparently have the same kind of precarious state of existance as Schrödinger’s cat:

This is a common signal from Progressive Messaging Central. The claim being made is that the Paris Accords are simultaneously an ineffectual nothingburger of meaningless symbolism, so why even bother withdrawing?, but also are The Only Thing That Will Keep the Earth from Literally Dying.

Obviously, these can’t both be true at once: Either the Accords do something, or they do not do something. They cannot exist in a state of quantum indeterminacy where they remain in a mixed probabilistic waveform of both “doing something” and “doing nothing” until a Progressive Political Physicist takes a measurement of which state is most helpful for his Religious Fervor at this moment.

This one isn’t over the top, so much as stupid.

Update: Brendan O’Neill posted this to Facebook:

The demented response to Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement — the world is doomed, our children will die, people will drown, locusts will swarm, fires will burn, and any criticism whatsoever of climate-charge alarmism is a species of heresy that must be destroyed — has reminded me why environmentalism is my least favourite ideology. Fearful, shrill, anti-progress, censorious and shamelessly marshalling sad-eyed children to the political end of stymying economic growth despite the fact that half of humankind still lives in poverty: greens are the worst. Trump is a rank amateur in the politics of fear in comparison with these bourgeois moaners and misanthropes.

How does deodorant work? I James May Q&A I Head Squeeze

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Oct 2013

Get a whiff of this! James May delves in to the mechanics of deodorant.

Did you know that our sweat doesn’t smell? Made up of various things like our diet and genetics, it actually does not pong. Rather it’s when your sweat mixes with the bacteria on your skin that it releases an odor that can sometimes clear a room. Your armpits and pubic areas contain thousands of hairs which then hold on to your sweat and bacteria.

Us humans aren’t alone in smelling, many animals have some serious BO too. It’s not such a bad thing for them, it helps them mark out territory, repelling enemies and, most importantly, attracting mates.

Deodorants work by killing the bacteria on your skin and they also work as an anti-perspirant by reducing the amount of sweat. No more BO!

May 30, 2017

QotD: The uses of IQ

Filed under: Books, Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Suppose that the question at issue regards individuals: “Given two 11 year olds, one with an IQ of 110 and one with an IQ of 90, what can you tell us about the differences between those two children?” The answer must be phrased very tentatively. On many important topics, the answer must be, “We can tell you nothing with any confidence.” It is well worth a guidance counselor’s time to know what these individual scores are, but only in combination with a variety of other information about the child’s personality, talents, and background. The individual’s IQ score all by itself is a useful tool but a limited one.

Suppose instead that the question at issue is: “Given two sixth-grade classes, one for which the average IQ is 110 and the other for which it is 90, what can you tell us about the difference between those two classes and their average prospects for the future?” Now there is a great deal to be said, and it can be said with considerable confidence — not about any one person in either class but about average outcomes that are important to the school, educational policy in general, and society writ large. The data accumulated under the classical tradition are extremely rich in this regard, as will become evident in subsequent chapters.

[…]

We agree emphatically with Howard Gardner, however, that the concept of intelligence has taken on a much higher place in the pantheon of human virtues than it deserves. One of the most insidious but also widespread errors regarding IQ, especially among people who have high IQs, is the assumption that another person’s intelligence can be inferred from casual interactions. Many people conclude that if they see someone who is sensitive, humorous, and talks fluently, the person must surely have an above-average IQ.

This identification of IQ with attractive human qualities in general is unfortunate and wrong. Statistically, there is often a modest correlation with such qualities. But modest correlations are of little use in sizing up other individuals one by one. For example, a person can have a terrific sense of humor without giving you a clue about where he is within thirty points on the IQ scale. Or a plumber with a measured IQ of 100 — only an average IQ — can know a great deal about the functioning of plumbing systems. He may be able to diagnose problems, discuss them articulately, make shrewd decisions about how to fix them, and, while he is working, make some pithy remarks about the president’s recent speech.

At the same time, high intelligence has earmarks that correspond to a first approximation to the commonly understood meaning of smart. In our experience, people do not use smart to mean (necessarily) that a person is prudent or knowledgeable but rather to refer to qualities of mental quickness and complexity that do in fact show up in high test scores. To return to our examples: Many witty people do not have unusually high test scores, but someone who regularly tosses off impromptu complex puns probably does (which does not necessarily mean that such puns are very funny, we hasten to add). If the plumber runs into a problem he has never seen before and diagnoses its source through inferences from what he does know, he probably has an IQ of more than 100 after all. In this, language tends to reflect real differences: In everyday language, people who are called very smart tend to have high IQs.

All of this is another way of making a point so important that we will italicize it now and repeat elsewhere: Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual. Repeat it we must, for one of the problems of writing about intelligence is how to remind readers often enough how little an IQ score tells about whether the human being next to you is someone whom you will admire or cherish. This thing we know as IQ is important but not a synonym for human excellence.

Charles Murray, “The Bell Curve Explained”, American Enterprise Institute, 2017-05-20.

May 28, 2017

QotD: Nostalgia

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.

“Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” Dr. Sedikides says. He considers the first great nostalgist to be Odysseus, an itinerant who used memories of his family and home to get through hard times, but Dr. Sedikides emphasizes that nostalgia is not the same as homesickness. It’s not just for those away from home, and it’s not a sickness, despite its historical reputation.

Nostalgia was originally described as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps.

John Tierney, “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows”, New York Times, 2013-07-08.

May 27, 2017

Mary Anning – Princess of Paleontology – Extra History

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Apr 2017

“She sells seashells by the seashore.” Many have heard this old English rhyme, but few know the true story of the woman who inspired it. Her name was Mary Anning, and she did much more than sell seashells: she discovered some of the very first dinosaur fossils and laid the groundwork for the brand new field of paleontology. But she never got credit for her work.

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