Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deschooling Society

If a team wants a good field goal kicker it will indeed seek a kicker who demonstrates to them he can kick. That someone comes to the team with a certificate that he went to kicking school and got all good grades in kicking would be laughed out of court. The issue would be: can the person kick field goals with accuracy and distance under pressure of game situations.

Similarly, with much in entertainment worlds. Webster University has a highly regarded theater department. Students work hard here and hopefully learn a great deal. But when they go out looking for an acting job, that they have a degree from Webster University with a major in theater is of extremely little interest. The issue is performance and demonstrated ability, not a credential.

China High-Speed Rail project

Someone in my family works for Siemens as a senior member of the China High-Speed Rail project (not to be confused with the China Maglev project, for which Siemens is also a partner). We've talked about it quite often - and fairly extensively yesterday. Here are a few details:

The technologies of all four major high-speed rail system in the world - Germany's ICE, Japan's Sinkansen, France's TGV and Canada's Bombardier (in order of overall technological advancement) - have come together in China, though rather reluctantly. When the Chinese started the project years ago, they did something very clever: Instead of picking one of the four systems (which is what people normally do), they gave all four a pilot contract each. The one showing the best result in its pilot would then be chosen as the main partner, they said, making all four competing like crazy - routinely investing more resources than they've originally planed. The Chinese are not concerned about significant waste due to incompatibility between the pilot products, since all four are building to the specs written by the Chinese.

Now, years later, the Canadians and the French are practically washed out, even though some of their technologies have contributed to the new Chinese system. The Germans and the Japanese remain - as initially expected - the main competitors - or, reluctant partners for the Chinese. The vast majority of heavy lifting on the technological front is done by the Germans (which was also expected, since even the Japanese system was originally based on German designs), but the Japanese have the advantage that their pilot has started earlier (the Chinese intentionally delayed the German pilot in order to ransom a below-value price).

The record speed, for example, was achieved using two joined trains - of four sections each - built by Siemens in Germany and put together in China. Those are the only two German trains current available for this route. All the other trains are Japanese, and they're what people see on most new footages. But the top speed the Japanese trains (on the same route) can reach are significantly lower - about 350 km/h, or >10% less than the German record. Plus, while the German rains got to 395 km/h in standard configuration - with two tracking (active) and two tracked (passive) sections in each train - the Japanese had to cheat - using three tracking and only one tracked section in each train - in order to reach their 350 km/h.

As someone has mentioned above, there exist a TGV speed record that's much higher still, but that's a record nobody in the industry takes seriously, because it was achieved with a totally crazy, not nearly practical configuration of train sections. It's a fake number, period.

The bottom line is, for the original cost of one project, China has managed to get more than twice the amount worth of know-how (all legally via proper technology transfer contracts), and is now itself among the leading players of the industry. For the upcoming US high-speed rail system, the Chinese has offered a bid with a price tag 1/3 lower than anybody else...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.


Moreover, the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

"The Sumerian people must have found God's making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else," said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. "If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week."

According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God's most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

"These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant," one Sumerian philosopher wrote. "They must be the creation of a complete idiot."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why girls dress up?

scientific proof

Perhaps it's time to once again point out that "scientific proof" is a red herring. As any number of science's theoreticians have carefully explained over the years, scientific methods rarely if ever actually "prove" anything. Rather, science works mostly with a double-negative approach: An accepted theory is one that we have failed to disprove. Scientific testing and data collection is mostly aimed at showing that a hypothesis is wrong. Results that agree with a hypothesis are generally called "support", not "proof", because usually the tests can't provide proof. But a single (correctly done;-) test or observation is often sufficient to disprove a theory.

This is why scientific theories are often called "tentative". Scientists are always trying to think of new ways to test a theory, and sometimes they succeed in finding situations where a theory fails. The poster child for this was the failure of Newton's mechanics to explain a number of anomalous observations about a century ago, which led to Einstein's theories explaining how the universe actually works. Of course, his theories have never been "proved", either. They have merely withstood hundreds of new experimental tests. Tomorrow some physicist (or high-school student) may produce a new test that demos an exception to Einstein's equations. But until then, they are accepted not because we've proved them, but rather because we have repeatedly failed to disprove them.

Of course, fundamental physics is "easier" that climate in an obvious way. Weather is much more complex than things like particle physics or orbital mechanics, which can be reduced to some fairly simple equations (though not quite as simple as we thought back in Newton's day). Anything dealing with weather has to be treated statistically, since the complexity is far beyond the capacity of our most powerful super-computers. (Our computers can't even model a butterfly's wings in detail, much less the effect the butterfly has on weather halfway around the world.;-) Since the public is generally totally ignorant of statistics, it's not surprising that people would fail to understand what the AGW theorists are telling us. It's fairly obvious that even most of the posters here in this "nerd" community don't understand the difference between weather and climate. You don't have much of a chance of understanding the issue without a good grounding in statistical methods, in addition to all the kinds of chemistry that you have to understand.

But the constant use of forms of the words "prove" and "proof" in regard to scientific theories should be treated with humor, since such words are an open statement that the author doesn't know much at all about scientific methods. Those are media and propaganda terms; they have very little use in scientific discussions. Proofs are what mathematicians do. Scientists do disproofs. (And it is interesting how well the radically different approaches of math and science complement each other. So far I haven't read much enlightening from either camp on this topic, just the observation that they play well together. But we all know that.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Telangana - why so much opposition

... Telangana lost out because it had to carry the burden of keeping the marriage working and pretending everything was alright while suffering and enduring discrimination all the while. Telangana lost out because the Indira Gandhi’s Congress was not ready to create more states. Telangana lost out because they had to unnecessarily live with the tag of united Telugu when they were only concerned with their self-rule, self-expression and self-development.

We don’t want continue with charade any longer. We don’t want to be cowed down by the majority of Andhra-Rayalaseema. We just want to be on our own so that our politicians, however vile they are, are at least accountable to us. So that they spend the money they get in our region, even if they eat half of it, at least we get the other half. Self-rule, self-development and self-expression are more important to us than the unity under a tag called Telugu. This tag does not even make sense when many Telangana people actually feel that their language is treated inferiorly by their Andhra brothers.