Thursday, January 04, 2018

Still angry

Happy New year. I've been silent for a while. It's that time of year when one hears about a number of applications/proposals/etc. For me, one was successful, one passed the first round, and two were rejected (one agency doesn't return any feedback and the other won't make those comments available for a month or so).

Things about which I'm angry:
  1. The National Football League (NFL)
    • Teams blackmailing cities by threatening (and sometimes carrying-through) to move to some other city.
    • Paying their leader such ridiculous sums (did they give into Goodell's request for healthcare for his family for life? Interesting that such an expensive perk is a right in so many other developed countries).
    • Sports teams generally getting sweetheart deals on stadiums with special tax treatment (continued in the latest US tax bill)
    • Stupid rules about catches that ruin the endings of (US) football games (particularly that they always seem to go the Patriots' way).
    • The absurdity of the Kapernick conundrum. I can see that some would be bothered by his behavior as some inappropriate offense to the nation, but to act like he's being a selfish, spoiled, rich kid is simply to be in denial. And as much as you may disagree with how he's going about his protest, I can't see not being upset with a league which is clearly blackballing him for it. But ultimately, for all those who nevertheless find themselves lambasting this guy and the other NFL players following his lead, it's hard to listen until these same people:
      • Acknowledge that, at the very least, you can see that reasonable people might think there's a problem in how black people in this country are treated by some in law enforcement. Of course personally, I know there's a big problem, but, even for those who disagree, there's no way to argue it's not reasonable to suspect that there is. In the same vein, I can appreciate that some would worry about voter fraud, even if all evidence says it is absolutely not a problem.
      • If you're going to complain to me about the protest of these players offending you, then in the same breath, why aren't you complaining about the other offenses to this nation? One example among so many, is our President calling our justice system a "laughing stock" and a "joke." How is this not more offensive to our country generally, and our police officers in particular?
      • Why am I not hearing your complaints about all the players allowed to play in the league who have done things (e.g. assault) worse than taken a knee during the anthem?
      • I also don't hear complaints about non-players in the stadium failing to pay heed and stand for the anthem. Those at the concessions or otherwise not paying attention. Indeed, for those so upset, if the anthem plays on the TV for home listeners, what is their obligation to avoid offending you and to demonstrate their patriotism?
      • Finally, if you're going to complain about these players and their protest as inappropriate, then why am I not hearing suggestions for what an appropriate protest is. My sense is that the only appropriate protest is for them to do so in their own homes. They apparently should not block traffic or indeed gather in significant numbers lest you be inconvenienced.
  2. I was invited to a conference, agreed to attend, but then my name was left off the advertisement. The website notes that those invited "include" certain names. Why not list them all? Should I be offended?
  3. So what would you think if you met a biologist only for them to tell you that they study the afterlife? They might talk about hooking up electrodes and SQUIDs to some on hospice care to study what happens when they die. They might also talk to those who have had near death experiences (NDEs). They might consider theories of consciousness and somehow determine properties of our souls after death. Fair enough, they might learn something interesting. But would you trust what they have to say about the afterlife? Whether there is one and what it might be like? After all, the body (that is to say the brain) is either active or not, and I don't see why its properties when active should say anything about what happens after its activity ceases. And those who have had NDEs are alive and hence I would have serious doubts that they know anything about the afterlife.

    In any case, what sent me down this path is that I was thinking how studying a possible Multiverse is a bit like studying an afterlife. There are some interesting things to do, but none that seem like they can actually tell us about the afterlife. For example, arguing that a multiverse may exist and the particular value of the cosmological constant we observe is simply one which allows for life seems to have some useful content. But then extrapolating some how to argue the probability that any given universe has a constant that allows for life...it's not at all clear that there is any hope of doing this.

    NB: I recently heard about a Netfilx show called The Discovery which is set in a future in which "there is now definitive proof of an afterlife."

    *Some quick caveats to this criticism of studies of the multiverse: (i) Collisions of universes that might produce observable signatures seems like good science. However, if two universes collide, they're not really different universes taking as my personal definition of a universe as the sum of all things and events that can affect anything else in that universe. (ii) I like certain Multiverse theories (e.g. many worlds), and I don't see anything wrong with considering a multiverse. I just can't see much beyond that. For example I cannot see that we can reasonably infer probabilities about other universes.
  4. A short article in The Atlantic on China's ambitions with a dark matter search from space.

  5. Just fair warning: There is a huge range in the cost of a refinance. Not only that, but the folks that "sell" you the refinances can be as crooked as the quintessential used-car salesperson. Even the well-respected bank USAA was dishonest about the costs, and when I complained they did nothing. I hear so many good things about USAA despite my negative experiences throughout the years, that I worry that there are simply too many suckers out there. For another example, I contacted Quicken Loans who advertise heavily on the various podcasts I listen to. Big mistake. Seconds after filling out a form, the phone rings despite having clicked that my preferred method of communication is email. And instead of approaching this with the seriousness that this huge amount of money demands, he's just asking about how much I can afford each month and how much cash back I need. Nothing about rates and fees and my longterm best interest. A couple days later an offer comes in the mail with a good interest rate. It is surprising for a few seconds until I found the fees which showed it thousands of dollars more expensive than my best offers. How many potential customers would spend those seconds to discover the exorbitant fees?
  6. I just finished a class for physics majors and the students did not do well. Was it me? Did my teaching suffer somehow? Or instead, was it just that the group of students wasn't very good? One indication in favor of the latter is that I got none of the questions that I usually get. My first thought when recognizing this is that the students were uninterested and perhaps unable to even get to the point of having the obvious questions. Of course, perhaps I was so dull and incompetent at explaining things to get them interested and asking questions.
  7. I keep meaning to re-read this entire post and publish, but the longer it gets, the more imposing that task becomes. Then I think of some new entry to this list which only makes things worse.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Politics and the arXiv collide!

I read a lot of politics and so when I see a link to the arXiv on a political blog, I had to do a double take. After all, I read a lot of physics as well. It feels a little strange, to tell you the truth. Anyway, glad to see the arXiv serve the broader community (neh, a broader impact :). Anyway, the political blog is at the TalkingPointsMemo (highly recommended reading) and if you don't want to click through, the arXiv paper is this one.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Dishonest Folks

I'm aware that students can cheat with smartwatches, but wasn't aware of watches designed for cheating. Instructors may want to click through to the Amazon page to see what these look like.

And it's not just students being dishonest. I've had an archenemy in my department for a few years now and it's not pleasant. However, I could always step back and tell myself that he wasn't trying to hurt my career or enrich himself. He simply had a very different vision for what the department should be. Indeed, I think he had lost sight of what an academic should be.

But in a recent episode, I'm reminded of where the title for this blog comes from. The issue involved a personnel recommendation and, as usual, he was assigned to draft it (the committee would then have to approve it). He ignored what was discussed in committee (as per his usual), but he also saw fit to, at the very least, be very misleading. I would call it lying. This latter deception was surprising, but in the course of various emails trying to sway the committee members our way (him against me), he sends out an email similarly lying about the emails themselves.

I somehow find it surprising to find faculty act without basic integrity. And of course the fact that the paragraph in question is ultimately inconsequential just makes me even sadder about the whole situation. True to form though (the guy knows how to battle), when in the end he lost, he sends out an email praising the rewording as being better than his as if he hadn't just lost but instead succeeded in making the letter better!