The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy 2018, UTC!

It's now just past what computer people call "2018-01-01T00:00:00" (or, in more human-readable form, "2018-01-01 00:00:00 +00:00").

Some of you will remember that 2017 was exactly 1 day and 1 second shorter than 2016, owing to the leap second added a year ago at 2017-12-31T23:59:60.

Even thought 2017 was that much shorter than 2016, it seemed so much worse. But that's literally behind us now (or at least in the 13/24ths of the world on GMT or ahead of it). Here's looking to 2018 to be just a tiny bit better.

Happy new year!

Link round-up

Today is the last work day of 2017, and also the last day of my team's current sprint. So I'm trying to chase down requirements and draft stories before I lose everyone for the weekend. These articles will just have to wait:

We now return to "working through lunch," starring The Daily Parker...

 

How will we react to aliens?

According to a new study, it seems to depend on how big they are:

Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University and a member of its new Interplanetary Initiative, is trying to anticipate this response.

The scientists asked 500 people to describe their reactions to a hypothetical discovery of alien microorganisms. Respondents also had to predict how humanity at large would react. Like the journalists, people in the study used positive words. There were no characteristics that set responses apart, not a person's income, ethnicity, political orientation or traits such as neuroticism or agreeableness. But people felt that the rest of the country would be generally less agreeable.

That may be because “most Americans tend to think, on any desirable trait or ability, that they're better than the average person,” Varnum said.

So tiny aliens are OK, but larger ones are scary? Has no one read The Andromeda Strain?

Teenagers and Fitbits

A recent study found that activity trackers can actually de-motivate teenagers:

The problem with the monitors seemed to be that they had left the teenagers feeling pressure and with little control over their activities, as well as self-conscious about their physical abilities, said Charlotte Kerner, a lecturer in youth sport and physical education at Brunel University London, who led the study. The result was frustration, self-reproach — and less, not more, movement.

“You can’t just give a child a Fitbit for Christmas and expect them to be active,” Kerner said. “They will need educating on how best to negotiate the features.” Nudge them to set realistic step counts and other fitness goals, she says, and to consider whether they want to share their results with friends. For many young people, fitness may be better achieved in private.

I would be interested in why this happens, and how prevalent it is in adults. For some adults, like me, having an activity tracker is really motivating. I've arranged my life in part to make sure I get lots of steps, often more than 4,500 by the time I've gotten to work in the morning (or 9,000 if I walk the whole way).

Teenagers, though, really resent being told what to do. I wonder how this study could be altered to reduce that part of adolescent psychology.

Update: I just discovered that, when I hit 10,611 steps today, I'll have 15 million lifetime steps on Fitbit. Cool.

Earth's rotation slowed and earthquakes are expected

Scientists have found a correlation (but, crucially, not a causation) between the earth's rotation slowing slightly and an increase in seismic activity:

Although such fluctuations in rotation are small – changing the length of the day by a millisecond – they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued.

The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week.

Exactly why decreases in day length should be linked to earthquakes is unclear although scientists suspect that slight changes in the behaviour of Earth’s core could be causing both effects.

Energy has to go somewhere. And systems as large as the earth move a lot of energy around. Could get rumbly this year.

It doesn't work like that!

Jimmy Carter captained nuclear missile submarines. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. Barack Obama was a Constitutional Law professor at one of the top-5 law schools in the country.

Donald Trump thinks...well, I'll let Japan Times explain:

Trump said ‘samurai’ Japan should have shot down overflying North Korean missiles

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country before landing in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, diplomatic sources have said, despite the difficulties and potential ramifications of doing so.

The revelation came ahead of Trump’s arrival in Japan on Sunday at the start of his five-nation trip to Asia. Threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs were set to be high on the agenda in his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.

Trump questioned Japan’s decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea, the sources said.

[T]he Self-Defense Forces did not try to intercept the missiles, with the government saying the SDF had monitored the rockets from launch and judged they would not land on Japanese territory.

But the altitude and speed of the missiles would have made it very difficult to destroy them in flight, while failure would have been embarrassing for Japan and encouraging to North Korea.

Defense Ministry officials confirmed this view and said there were also legal issues to clear.

Reagan thought we could call back nuclear missiles. Trump thinks we can shoot them down. And the Republican rank-and-file think we who want competent leadership are elitists.

We might be doomed.

Los Angeles of the future

Carl Abbot, writing for CityLab, discusses Blade Runner's impact:

Blade Runner fused the images, using noir atmosphere to turn Future Los Angeles into something dark and threatening rather than bright and hopeful. Flames randomly burst from corporate ziggurats. Searchlights probe the dark sky. But little light reaches the streets where street merchants and food cart proprietors compete with sleazy bars—a setting that Blade Runner 2049 revisits. The dystopic versions of New York in Soylent Green and Escape from New York are set in a city crumbling from age and overuse. In contrast, Blade Runner uses the imagery of the future for similar stories of deeply embedded inequality.

When it comes down to it, of course, there’s more fun and schadenfreude in imagining trouble striking a big city than a small town. Terminator 2: Judgment Day would not be half so exciting if T-1000 chased Arnold Schwarzenegger along the banks of the puny Miami River in Dayton, Ohio, rather than the concrete arroyo of the Los Angeles River. In the 1980s, the fictional destruction of New York was old hat. Los Angeles was a relatively fresh target and, for the film industry, a logistically convenient one. Moviegoers were increasingly willing to disparage it, too.

Blade Runner was a catalyst for a dystopian decade that was accentuated by the rioting and violence that followed the April 1992 acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Moviegoers would soon get Falling Down, whose filming was interrupted by the Rodney King riots, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day, with its total obliteration of the metropolis. In print in the early 1990s were Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, all depicting a near-future Los Angeles fragmenting into enclaves and drifting toward chaos, capped by Mike Davis’s The Ecology of Fear.

 

I've got tickets to Blade Runner 2049 already. Can't wait.

Pirates may be to blame for the U.S. not being Metric

The Système International d'unités, also known as the Metric System, is the most widely-used system of measuring things in the known universe. Of the 7.57 billion people in the world, somewhere around 7.2 billion use SI. The laggards are almost all here in the United States.

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post Science Alert today, blames English privateers:

In 1793, botanist and aristocrat Joseph Dombey set sail from Paris with two standards for the new "metric system": a rod that measured exactly a metre, and a copper cylinder called a "grave" that weighed precisely one kilogram.

He was journeying all the way across the Atlantic to meet Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson - a fellow fan of base-ten systems who, Dombey hoped, would help persuade Congress to go metric.

Then a storm rolled in, knocking Dombey's ship off course. The unlucky academic was washed into the Caribbean - and straight into the clutches of British pirates.

The brigands took Dombey hostage and looted his equipment. The luckless scientist died in prison shortly after his capture; his belongings were auctioned off to the highest bidders.

France sent a second emissary to promote the metric system. But by the time the replacement arrived, America had a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph, who apparently didn't care much for measurement.

As the person who sent me this article said, perhaps the pirates just preferred saying "yarrrrd?"

But really, I put this into the same category of "American exceptionalism" that keeps us executing criminals, not getting passports, and thinking that we're somehow #1.

Under vacuum

So, this might be happening at my house next weekend:

The "sous vide" part of sous vide cooking refers to the vacuum-sealed bags that are often called for when you're using the technique. (The French phrase literally means "under vacuum.") However, these days, when someone says "sous vide cooking," they're generally referring to any kind of cooking that takes place in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, whether you're actually using a vacuum-sealed bag or not.

Sous vide cooking offers unparalleled control over whatever it is you are trying to cook, whether it's steaks and chopsshrimp and lobstervegetables, or even large cuts of meat like pork shouldersand legs of lamb. With fast-cooking foods, like steaks and chicken breasts, sous vide removes all the guesswork involved in traditional methods. No poking with a thermometer, no cutting and peeking, no jabbing with your finger—just perfect results every single time.

A sous vide circulator mysteriously arrived at Inner Drive World Headquarters yesterday. We're going to start with eggs and work our way up to a venison steak. Yum.

Statistical sins: smoking v. e-cigratettes

Deeply Trivial finds evidence for why there is little evidence about the safety of e-cigarettes:

[T]he statistical sin here isn't really something the researchers have done (or didn't do). It's an impossibility created by confounds. How does one recruit people who have only smoked e-cigarettes or who at least have very little experience with regular cigarettes? What's happening here is really an issue of contamination - a threat to validity that occurs when the treatment of one group works its way into another group. Specifically, it's a threat to internal validity - the degree to which our study can show that our independent variable causes our dependent variable. In smoking research, internal validity is already lowered, because we can't randomly assign our independent variable. We can't assign certain people to smoke; that would be unethical. Years and years of correlational research into smoking has provided enough evidence that we now say "smoking causes cancer." But technically, we would need randomized controlled trials to say that definitively. 

That's not to say I don't believe there is a causal link between smoking and negative health outcomes like cancer. But that the low level of internal validity has provided fuel for people with an agenda to push (i.e., people who have ties to the tobacco industry or who otherwise financially benefit from smoking). Are we going to see the same debate play out regarding e-cigarettes? Will we have to wait just as long for enough evidence to accrue before we can say something definitive about e-cigarettes?

For my part, their safety or lack of to the smoker makes little difference to me. I just don't like people blowing their exhaust fumes into my environment.