Thursday, July 30, 2009

Not so sedentary Saturday

Recently the other SWIPIAW and I took part in a local bike race, the Fireweed 200. Not seriously, mind you. And it wasn't really as arduous as all that -- we did it as part of a four person* relay team, so an average of 50 miles each isn't really that bit a deal.

The view from the saddle was not particularly horrible (yours truly is in the foreground):

TOSWIPIAW and I cresting Thompson Pass, just before the descent into Valdez:

On the way back, we got an upclose and personal view of the Alaskan pipeline:

* To be exact, three women and me. My idea for the team name was "Three Squeezes and a Wheeze". "Team Big Love" was the winner, though.

Backyard Bruin

One recent-ish morning I looked up from my Corn Flakes to see an interesting and, thankfully, momentary addition to our backyard (apologies for lousy pictures; it was early and there wasn't quite enough light):

I am used to the zoopoint on our wild cousins: outside boxes looking at the animals on the inside. Interesting feeling having it the other way around.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No Effect, No Cause?

Using a cell phone while driving is A Very Bad Thing. Studies clearly show the accident risk while texting is eight times greater than when keeping both eyes on the road, and all ten thumbs on the wheel. People talking on cell phones are four times more likely to cause a crash.

No doubt.

That undoubtfulness leads to a hypothesis: Since cell phone use while driving is risky, and cell phone usage has become increasingly common since the mid-1990s, then there must be an increase in accident rates over the period.

Turns out that isn't the case.

Number of US highway crashes (1000s) and miles driven (1,000,000s): 1990 - 6,471 (2,144,362); 1995 - 6,699 (2,422,696); 2000 - 6394 (2,746,925); 2005 - 6,159 (2,989,430); 2006 - 5,973 (3,014,116).*

With the minor exception of 1990 to 1995, the number of accidents per year has been decreasing. The rate, based upon miles driven, has decreased throughout the period.

There are two ways of looking at this. It could be that improvements in driver training**, car technology, and road design from 1995 - 2006 lowered the overall accident risk faster than cell phone usage increased it.

Alternatively, researchers had no real idea what they meant by risk. "Cell phone usage increases the risk of an accident by four times." If I increase my risk by four times, does my mishap rate go up by the same amount? If it does not, then how does risk have any meaning? If risk does not reflect in rate, then risk becomes a cause without an effect.

Impressionistically, I am find the former explanation unconvincing. ABS and ASC systems have made cars more controllable. However, most drivers have no idea how to use ABS, and ASC is too new in mass market cars to have made any measurable impact.

So I'll go with the latter. The researchers just know that using a cellphone while driving is more dangerous, so they stopped at demonstrating the "cause".

This reminds me of Warmenism. The Cause is obvious, so obvious that very often no ink is spilled looking for the effect. The Arctic icecap has been melting; well, until recently, anyway. Clearly, obviously, that is due to Global Warming, aka Climate Change. Has anyone seen a story on this subject that cited any actual sea or air temperatures?

*2006 is the latest year available.
** Yeah, right.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This One's for Brit

Recently, Brit said some very nice things about my children.

Naturally, that makes me an expert in parenting.

Real soon now, Brit and his SWIPIAW are going to become parents.

This confluence of events makes now the perfect time for completely unsolicited advice. After all, if you can't trust a male blogger for insight into the parenting arts, who can you trust?

So, in no particular order, here are my parenting tips:
  • Read Dogs for Dummies. Okay, probably not the leash training chapter, and certainly not the housebreaking bits. However, what works with a dog also works with kids from about 9 months through 5 years: reward behavior you want to see more of. Punishment has its place, but positive reinforcement works better at eliciting correct behavior than negative reinforcement does in discouraging bad behavior. Most importantly, though, is the underlying theme of the book: making continuously clear who is in charge.

  • Dads are not Moms. I know this is heresy (I think the NOW thought police with their pastel truncheons have already arrived on my doorstep), but: There are certain things moms just cannot do. For example, our daughter used to be a very, very picky eater. Finally, in response to a food fit, I said "Fine. Starve. Your choice." Moms cannot, will not, pull this sort of thing off -- something about the nurturing instinct. Sometimes, though, it just needs doing.

  • Use The Voice Brit, Use the Voice. When I wanted to kids to either start, or stop, doing something, I'd ask politely and quietly once, twice, often three times, very occasionally five. Somewhere between two and five, though, I would instantly switch to the room filling Wrath From on High Voice. Startled the heck right out of them. Moms cannot do this without sounding shrieky: it just doesn't work. See Dads are not Moms, above. I haven't had to use The Voice for a good half-dozen years.

  • Do as you say. Sounds glaringly obvious; too often honored in the breach. If you want your children to be polite to, say, food servers, you have to be unfailingly polite yourself.

  • Praise in public, discpline in private.

  • "Which part of NO are you unable to take on board?" Best. Parenting. Phrase. Ever.

  • Better to negotiate with terrorists than children.

  • Parents best be singing from the same sheet of child raising music. That stops the little terrorists from playing one parent off against the other.

  • Learn the Heimlich maneuver.

  • Until a child learns to swim, water any deeper than is required to dampen the soles of your feet is the enemy.

  • Get a puppy. Okay, not right away. This is best done at about age twelve. Your daughter(s) and/or son(s) will fall in love with it. Then toss in the sexual morality discussions. To a daughter: "You love this puppy, would you kill it?" Horrified look. "Well, what if you get pregnant?" To a son: "You love this puppy. Would you abandon it?" Horrified look. "Well, what if you get a girl pregnant?"

  • A son is to a paper airplane as a daughter is to the Space Shuttle.

FWIW, neither my wife or I have hit, or even threatened hitting, our kids.

Now it is time for the hive-mind to kick in.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Won't Get There From Here

The paradox about The Fermi Paradox is that anyone finds it paradoxical at all.

To ruthlessly summarize, the Fermi "Paradox" goes like this: The Milky Way has lots of stars, many of which must have planets capable of sustaining life, at least a few of which must harbor intelligent life. And while stars are very far apart, the Milky Way's age trumps distance. Further, in a galaxy orders of magnitude older than human civilization, it is extremely unlikely humans are the first intelligent species. Therefore, since there are other intelligent beings in the Milky Way, we must have seen some sign of them by now, except that we haven't.

This is considered a paradox because reasoning from logical premises leads to a conclusion that contradicts observation: there must be, but there isn't.

As paradoxes go, this is nothing on anything Zeno cooked up. There are any number of ways to shoot holes in Fermi's logical premises: interstellar travel is, in fact, irremediably difficult; the mean distance between habitable planets exceeds the detection range; civilizations become harder to detect as they become more advanced.

To those obvious objections, add this:
( -- For more than 50 years, many have taken the so-called Fermi Paradox to indicate that the existence of intelligent alien civilizations is an impossibility. However, a recent re-examination of the paradox points out that, rather than discounting the spread of an intelligent civilization, the Fermi Paradox merely points out that advanced civilizations with exponential growth are unlikely to exist.
In other words, for any civilization advanced enough to accomplish interstellar travel, there will be no point in doing so.

The only reason anyone still pays attention to the Fermi paradox is because Fermi said it, and it is a faux profundity: religion in miniature.