QOTD: Richard Feynman

February 1, 2007

Richard Feynman“What is the use of discovering the age of the universe? Or, what are these quasars that are exploding? I mean what’s the use of all that astronomy? There isn’t any. Its curiosity that I’m satisfying. If human curiosity represents a need, then the attempt to satisfy curiosity is practical, by definition. I would not put out any promise that it would be practical in some economic sense.”

From The pleasure of finding things out

Feynman is a hero. But at the same time, when the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we are being paid on the public dime, do we have some obligation to carve out some of our research time toward fixing some of the world’s problems?

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Fighting stupid science with snark

February 1, 2007

First, another day of light posting while I catch up from a four-day gotta get the grant in marathon.  Sometimes you let your daily 30m/day maintenance and saw sharpening activities slide to get big urgent and important tasks (like bringing in $$$$$) off your plate. GTD is sometimes about taking the longer perspective.

In the meantime, here is an excellent example of using snark for good, not for evil.  Carl at Full flavour behaviour  discovered this on the back of a Cheerios box.

http://carl.pappenheim.net/d/915
I suspect this isn’t for teenagers, who wouldn’t be caught dead shilling for General Mills, but instead for over-stressed, under-caffeinated parents who see a graph, a happy teenager, and dare to dream.  Unless said parent is a scientist, in which case you have the makings of a nice sloppy spit take.   Now, in this situation you can get indignant and write an informed letter to General Mills (insert “sound of letter wadded and dropped in a trash can” here), or you can get all medieval snarky on their lying asses, and write the following in a post that is then picked up by Boing Boing and its legions:

But I digress; however inappropriate a twenty year-old may look on a kiddies’ cereal box it’s nothing compared to the ludicrous graph in front of which she is positioned. First of all, every condition shows a decline in concentration overall – with 8am as the benchmark! I can’t concentrate on walking at 8am! Downhill from that is comatose!! And what is this poisonous rubbish that causes such appalling degradation of intellectual activity? First up, a glucose drink! The breakfast of champions! Who hasn’t left the house of a morning, pausing only to swallow down a couple of cans of Tango or Lucozade? I’m reminded of Bill Bryson’s “Rated FIRST against the Ford El Crappo for safety!” diatribe on advertising – if a glucose drink is the only competition then Cheerios can’t be doing too well against anything more sensible. But wait! Sugary energy drinks aren’t the only competition! The other condition is.. no breakfast! Which actually beats Cheerios in the first half hour! Clearly, the subjects were still mulling over the pseudo-scientific crap they’d just read on the Cheerios box and couldn’t concentrate on.. whatever it was they were given. In the end, of course Cheerios come out on top but it hardly tells you anything you didn’t know before – as the only solid food in the experiment you might equally read the result as, Cheerios-better for you than starvation.

Yeah, read the whole post and let that snark wash over you.  And think of the memo the ad guy at General Mills will be getting.