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.

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.

December 6, 2016

Bowmanville, Ontario from 1984-2016 in Google Timelapse

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Description from the Timelapse page:


Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.

Using Earth Engine, we combined over 5 million satellite images acquired over the past three decades by 5 different satellites. The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. For 2015 and 2016, we combined Landsat 8 imagery with imagery from Sentinel-2A, part of the European Commission and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program.

November 8, 2016

Operational analysis: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Filed under: Books, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Angry Staff Officer analyzes the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (called by some the Battle of Minas Tirith) in terms of the six warfighting functions:

… Which leads me to my problem statement for this impromptu mission analysis that I am forcing you into: how did the forces of Gondor wage unified land operations versus the forces of Sauron at the Battle of Minas Tirith? More specifically, how can a primarily infantry force defend against a numerically superior enemy that possesses significant air assets, fires superiority, and freedom of movement and maneuver?

Couched in these terms, the problem statement resembles the complex situation faced by our brigade combat teams in a potential peer-to-peer engagement.

The situation – for those who do not remember it – is as follows: the forces of Gondor have been driven back from their forward defensive strongpoints along the Anduin River in the population center of Osgiliath. The withdrawal had been conducted in an orderly manner until the rear guard covering the retreat came under air attack by the Nazgul, which used their air superiority to drive the defenders into a panic. Most significantly, this air sortie wounded the primary land component commander, Faramir, depriving the forces of Gondor of their most effective warfighter.

More than 30,000 orcs and men of the forces of Sauron then enveloped the battle positions around Minas Tirith and began a siege of the 4,000 or so defenders of the city, which was primarily an infantry force with little in the way of cavalry or artillery. Significantly, the defenders possessed virtually no anti-air defenses, allowing the Nazgul freedom of movement around the battlefield – a dangerous proposition as the Nazgul also wielded considerable psychological damage (not unlike the sound of Stuka dive bombers in World War II). The greatest asset for Gondor was the wizard Gandalf – a force multiplier by any definition of the term – who was serving as the principle mission command adviser to Denethor. The objective for Gondor was to maintain their battle positions and hold out until reinforcements could arrive. However, lines of communication were cut during the siege and Gondor could not be sure that cavalry reinforcements from neighboring Rohan could arrive in time to save the city. This uncertainty weighed heavily on the forces of Gondor.

As a good staff officer, I turn to Army Doctrinal Publication 3-0, Unified Land Operations to understand the problem through the six warfighting functions. And given that J.R.R. Tolkien himself was a British signal officer during World War I, it would be appropriate to start out with mission command.

I imagine the author was grinning when he got to this section:

Luckily for Gondor, Gandalf then assumed command of all land forces, despite his position as a primary staff advisor to Denethor.

Yeah, that’s right, a staff officer took over operations.

Gandalf immediately provided vision and direction to the city’s defenders at a critical moment, as the forces of Sauron were conducting a breaching operation on the gates of Minas Tirith utilizing a battering ram named Grond. Arriving at the enemy point of breach, Gandalf rallied the forces in the engagement area, organized the defense, and directly opposed the primary enemy air and land component commander, the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king was Sauron’s chief captain and commander of the Nazgul. Under his supervision, Sauron’s forces breached the main perimeter to the city and the Witch-king moved through the point of penetration into the far side of the breach, where he was confronted by Gandalf. The two land component commanders were prevented from close combat by the arrival of the primary maneuver element: the forces of Rohan.

H/T to John Donovan for the link.

October 13, 2016

If we’re living in a simulation, do we even want to break out?

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I have no expertise in this area, but it appears to me that if the “Silicon Valley billionaires” are right and we are living in a simulated reality there are only two likely options. First, we’re (if you’ll pardon the simplification) “players in the game” — whether we’re aware of it within our simulation or not — and we can leave the simulation in the same way a World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV or Guild Wars 2 player can log off and resume life in “meat space”. Second, most or all of us are actually NPCs and there’s no way to leave the simulation because (some|most|all) of us have no objective existence outside the simulation we currently occupy. If the second option is true … and mathematically it’s the one that’s overwhelmingly likely if we’re actually in a simulation, then there’s little point in discovering that it’s true, as we’ll all cease to exist when our home simulation is turned off.

September 7, 2015

Twenty-five interesting maps

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

H/T to AEI for the link.

July 31, 2015

Rapido’s Real Train Car Restoration: 1

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 21 Jul 2015

The guys at Rapido Trains bought a full-size Pullman sleeping car and are in completely over their heads.

March 4, 2015

How many colours do you see?

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

How many colours do you see

On LinkedIn, Professor Diana Derval posted this image with an explanation why different people will see significantly different numbers of colours:

You see less than 20 color nuances: you are a dichromats, like dogs, which means you have 2 types of cones only. You are likely to wear black, beige, and blue. 25% of the population is dichromat.

You see between 20 and 32 color nuances: you are a trichromat, you have 3 types of cones (in the purple/blue, green and red area). You enjoy different colors as you can appreciate them. 50% of the population is trichromat.

You see between 33 and 39 colors: you are a tetrachromat, like bees, and have 4 types of cones (in the purple/blue, green, red plus yellow area). You are irritated by yellow, so this color will be nowhere to be found in your wardrobe. 25% of the population is tetrachromat.

You see more than 39 color nuances: come on, you are making up things! there are only 39 different colors in the test and probably only 35 are properly translated by your computer screen anyway 🙂

It is highly probable that people who have an additional 4th cone do not get tricked by blue/black or white/gold dresses, no matter the background light 😉

H/T to ESR for the link.

May 18, 2014

Arena football as methadone for the NFL-addicted fan

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:43

Dave Rappoccio went to his first arena football game. It didn’t make him decide to give up the NFL:

Click for full comic

Click for full comic

Last Sunday thanks to a generous fellow I obtained a free ticket to go see an AFL game. The Portland Thunder vs the Arizona Rattlers at the Moda center in PDX. It was my first ever Arena Football game. I’d never watched it (outside the occasional highlight) so I didn’t know what to expect at all. What I got was what I would describe as Football lite. Actually no, it wasn’t football lite, football lite is preseason football.

Arena Football is Football Lite lime. Lite beer is already bland, watered down and generally disappointing but no one is drinking it for the taste. You know it’s going to taste like crap. You drink it for the slight buzz to feel slightly better about yourself. Now we have Football lite lime. It’s the same crap, you know it’s going to taste like crap, but you think to yourself…well, maybe it’ll provide a slightly different type of experience. That lime might turn crappy piss football into somewhat tasty crappy piss football. So you try it. And it tastes basically exactly the same. That’s Arena Football.


Despite the weird goalposts, the 7 on 7, and everything else, it really just does feel like generic minor league football. It’s not a high enough level of play to enthrall you like the NFL, but it’s not quite wacky enough like Canadian Football to differentiate itself either. It more or less just felt like watching an NFL team do a full contact practice. I would have personally preferred more wackiness. I saw an interception off the bouncy screens, followed by a botched snap on a kick, and I got excited. This was going to be great. Then it settled into basic football and I spent most of the game mocking it along with the people I was with. The players are competent enough to get things done, but not quite exceptional to really impress you. It’s just alright. It was a good way to fill 3 hours, in many ways it was still football and fun to see football again, but it’s not going to leave a lasting impact. I was more emotionally invested in trying to get a T-shirt launched towards me from the cheerleaders than watching the game.

November 2, 2013

It’s “time” for a change

Filed under: Business, Cancon, History, Railways, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 10:29

In Quartz, Allison Schrager wonders why we still bother with daylight savings time and four separate timezones for continental US states:

Click to see full-size version at Quartz

Click to see full-size version at Quartz

This year, Americans on Eastern Standard Time should set their clocks back one hour (like normal), Americans on Central and Rocky Mountain time do nothing, and Americans on Pacific time should set their clocks forward one hour. After that we won’t change our clocks again — no more daylight saving. This will result in just two time zones for the continental United States. The east and west coasts will only be one hour apart. Anyone who lives on one coast and does business with the other can imagine the uncountable benefits of living in a two-time-zone nation (excluding Alaska and Hawaii).

It sounds radical, but it really isn’t. The purpose of uniform time measures is coordination. How we measure time has always evolved with the needs of commerce. According to Time and Date, a Norwegian newsletter dedicated to time zone information, America started using four time zones in 1883. Before that, each city had its own time standard based on its calculation of apparent solar time (when the sun is directly over-head at noon) using sundials. That led to more than 300 different American time zones. This made operations very difficult for the telegraph and burgeoning railroad industry. Railroads operated with 100 different time zones before America moved to four, which was consistent with Britain’s push for a global time standard. The following year, at the International Meridian Conference, it was decided that the entire world could coordinate time keeping based on the British Prime Meridian (except for France, which claimed the Prime Median ran through Paris until 1911). There are now 24 (or 25, depending on your existential view of the international date line) time zones, each taking about 15 degrees of longitude.

Now the world has evolved further — we are even more integrated and mobile, suggesting we’d benefit from fewer, more stable time zones. Why stick with a system designed for commerce in 1883? In reality, America already functions on fewer than four time zones. I spent the last three years commuting between New York and Austin, living on both Eastern and Central time. I found that in Austin, everyone did things at the same times they do them in New York, despite the difference in time zone. People got to work at 8am instead of 9am, restaurants were packed at 6pm instead of 7pm, and even the TV schedule was an hour earlier. But for the last three years I lived in a state of constant confusion, I rarely knew the time and was perpetually an hour late or early. And for what purpose? If everyone functions an hour earlier anyway, in part to coordinate with other parts of the country, the different time zones lose meaning and are reduced to an arbitrary inconvenience. Research based on time use surveys found Americans’ schedules are determined by television more than daylight. That suggests in effect, Americans already live on two time zones.

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

October 29, 2013

Colby Cosh on IQ

Filed under: Japan, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In his latest Maclean’s column, Colby Cosh talks about the odd evolutionary advantages that accrue as you get further from the equator:

A new study in the biometric journal Intelligence presents surprising data from Japan that reveal that IQ, imputed from standardized tests given to a large random sample of Japanese 14-year-olds, varies strongly and persistently with latitude. The Japanese are usually thought of — even by themselves — as being quite homogenous ethnically; the myth of the sturdy, super-cohesive “Yamato race” has not yet been entirely obtruded out of existence. But it turns out that the mean IQs of students in Japanese prefectures apparently vary from north to south by two-thirds of a standard deviation — a spread almost as large as the “race gaps” in cognitive performance which trouble education scholars in multicultural countries like ours. Sun-drenched Okinawans, as a group, do not test as well as the snowbound citizens of Akita.

It is an article of liberal faith that IQ is a bogus tool cooked up by white supremacists to justify imperialism and slavery. I am happy to nod along, but the monsters who developed IQ tests certainly never planned on creating strife between the two ends of Honshu Island. Kenya Kura’s study demonstrates the usual statistical connections between IQ and social outcomes, including physical height, income, and divorce and homicide rates. IQ may be a phony racist artifact, but if shoe size predicted life success as well as those stupid little logic puzzles do, every middle-class parent you know would have one of those Brannock foot-measuring thingies mounted proudly on the wall. That is why IQ persists in the top drawer of the psychometrics toolbox.

August 30, 2013

A profitable way to deal with annoying calls

Filed under: Britain, Business — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:01

At the BBC News website, Joe Kent profiles today’s hero in the ongoing battle against annoying telephone solicitations:

A man targeted by marketing companies is making money from cold calls with his own higher-rate phone number.

In November 2011 Lee Beaumont paid £10 plus VAT to set up his personal 0871 line — so to call him now costs 10p, from which he receives 7p.

The Leeds businessman told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme that the line had so far made £300.

Phone Pay Plus, which regulates premium numbers, said it strongly discouraged people from adopting the idea.

Mr Beaumont came up with the plan when he grew sick of calls offering to help him reclaim payment protection insurance (PPI), or install solar panels.

He said: “I don’t use my normal Leeds number for anyone but my friends and family.”

Once he had set up the 0871 line, every time a bank, gas or electricity supplier asked him for his details online, he submitted it as his contact number.

He added he was “very honest” and the companies did ask why he had a such a number.

He told the programme he replied: “Because I’m getting annoyed with PPI phone calls when I’m trying to watch Coronation Street so I’d rather make 10p a minute.”

He said almost all of the companies he dealt with were happy to use it and if they refused he asked them to email.

August 26, 2013

A small note from the hand tool trade

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:02

In a discussion of the plight of Sears in the major appliance market, Coyote Blog mentions an earlier Sears mis-step in a different market:

Oddly, I witnessed a similar Sears private label fracas when I worked for Emerson Electric over a decade ago. For years and years, Emerson (not the folks who make the cheap radios and TVs) manufactured many of the Sears Craftsman hand tools and power tools. Sears got tough one year, and negotiated a better deal of some sort with someone else, and an entire division of Emerson saw its sales basically going to zero. So Emerson bought a bunch of orange paint and plastic, went to Home Depot, and cut a deal for a private label tool line at Home Depot (Emerson separately owns the Rigid tool company, so a lot of the items were branded Rigid). Emerson ended up in potentially better shape (I did not stay long enough to see how it turned out), partnered with a growing rather than a declining franchise.

March 9, 2013

What if physical objects had DRM?

Filed under: Humour, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

From TechHive:

In many cases, DRM can be get kind of silly, and it can completely shape the way you use the digital media you purchase. DRM might make you think twice about how many devices you can still add your iTunes Library to, or which computer will get a shiny new version of image editing software.

Luckily there’s no DRM on any physical objects like a cup paired to one person’s mouth. That is, there wasn’t until a group of hackers put together a chair that self-destructs after eight uses.

February 13, 2013

Can we get versions of this for the Toronto Star and National Post?

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:49

The Guardian-style comment generator:

Guardian-style comment generator

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