TED Talk: How to take a picture of a black hole | Katie Bouman

A talk on how the process would work presented a couple years ago. Interesting how closely the actual image matches the reconstruction before they did it.

At the heart of the Milky Way, there’s a supermassive black hole that feeds off a spinning disk of hot gas, sucking up anything that ventures too close — even light. We can’t see it, but its event horizon casts a shadow, and an image of that shadow could help answer some important questions about the universe. Scientists used to think that making such an image would require a telescope the size of Earth — until Katie Bouman and a team of astronomers came up with a clever alternative. Bouman explains how we can take a picture of the ultimate dark using the Event Horizon Telescope.

Shortcuts: Rules

(I should have recognized this in my Shortcuts series of posts. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Rules exist to help reduce the friction of society so that we can more easily work with strangers. Without rules, we need to have potentially damaging interactions with individuals, establish a series of data points about them to decide what kind of person they are to know how to handle them in the future. Instead, we create laws, policies, and traditions to define how we interact with each other. This frees our brains from Dunbar’s Number such that we can have larger social groups over that about 150 person limit.

We also have an instinctive bias to when others break the rules. People who severely or habitually do so need to be punished. We will claim it to be that others see that society will not tolerate the behavior, but really it is so we feel better that a rule breaker did not get away with it this time.

I started thinking about this because I had a conversation with a coworker about an odd claim about a rule. One problem with rules is there are too many for any individual to understand them all. We have specializations, so experts in an area are expected to know the rules for that knowledge domain.

People are human and may inform us about things that are less true and more desires of the way things ought to be. Traditions can sometimes fall into the latter. Sometimes when properly challenged, traditions find their way into being codified as laws or policies so that people properly behave.

Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago solved this misunderstanding about what the rules are by writing them down. It really is a good way to handle it. One can read the rules oneself to check to see if how it was explained is correct or missing an important distinction.

And then, there is intentional rule breaking. Do you drive faster than the speed limit? Read all the terms for using a website? Criminals are deemed people who break the rules intentionally. Most of us are breaking some rules several times a day. Some intentionally, some by ignorance. Some because we were set up for failure. Some because the likelihood of being caught and punished are so low the wasted effort at complying is not worth it.

Podcasts updated for 2019

Back in 2016, I did a post on the podcasts to which I was listening. About six months ago, I lost everything due to my cloud-based podcasting app becoming unreachable.

It is weird to me how talking styles for radio news shows I listened to 15 years ago are unlistenable today. It makes me think maybe I should give another try to something I’ve been avoiding.

So here is my list at the moment categorized into genres:

Facebook Feature Request: External content datestamp

When people post a link, a Facebook bot looks at the content and finds the content of the <title> tag and creates a summary. My modest proposal is that it also locates the post datestamp to include here.

Every Facebook post has the name of the poster with when they posted it. It might be “Just now” to minutes or hours then if more than a day, the date. Then if more than a year, how many.

If Mark posts an article from 2 years ago right now, then it can appear fresh and new. Facebook also scrubs URLs so that if that indicated the publication date, one must click through to know that it is old. And, we all know in general people re-share things without doing such due diligence. This could be part of why missing persons posts get shared years after the person was found as people have no idea that the article is 1-10 years old without clicking through.

Comparing numbers

When presenting two values, I prefer to use the same scalar. I think this came from my Chemistry teacher, who is my idol. That had to do with how many decimals for calculations.

An article about the state budget made the point that cutting a sales tax on tampons would remove $9 million of a $26.9 billion budget. I would prefer to write it as $9 million and $26,900 million. (Maybe $0.009 billion and $26.9 billion.)

The idea is to present the numbers in such a way that the reader doesn’t have to do mental gymnastics. Though the difference between a million and a billion is not that intuitive. An NYT piece illustrates it as:

  • a thousand seconds is 17 minutes
  • a million seconds is 12 days
  • a billion seconds is almost 32 years

Dream: Airbender gone wrong

This was one of those being chased dreams. Everyone has superpowers. Mine? If I move too fast in a single direction a glowing, writhing ball of explosives developed in front of me. My superpower was pulling the hydrocarbons out of the air to make an aerosol TNT. But only in front of me. If I timed it just right, then it would develop enough into an explosive and fall to the ground when I changed direction and explode in the face of whatever it was that was chasing me.

New Blog Project

In sharing stuff on Twitter and Facebook, I feel like I could be writing more instead of just sharing a quote. That is where the blog comes in, but I also feel like RRRv4 is all over the place. So, I started a new one: Polymath Parent.

Some self-imposed rules:

  1. Semi-anonymous: I’m not going to use names on it. No photos.
    • It’s not anonymous because I am still using the WP Jetpack sharing options to put them on my public Facebook page. I’m not anonymous, but anyone stumbling across it from WP might not know how to find them.
  2. Mainly going to talk about science, observations, and tie together what I am reading about parenting applies to the kids.

Maybe I will keep it up. If not, then I can always eventually roll them back up into this one.

Also, maybe it will encourage me to blog more here too.

Brainstorming Ebola under America First

Saw a story that got me wondering what the reaction would be under the current president if the test had come back positive.

An unidentified patient who was kept in isolation at a Philadelphia hospital while being tested for Ebola has been confirmed as not infected with the deadly virus.

  1. Thoughts and prayers? That seems to be the go-to for so many things like massacres at home and abroad.
  2. Deny travelers to Ebola prone countries the ability to fly to the US until they have self-quarantines elsewhere for the contagious period, thereby spreading it around the world?

The Obama administration’s Ebola response was to send 3,000 health officials to the region who:

  1. Constructed treatment units in the region.
  2. Provided protective equipment and medical supplies.
  3. Operated almost 200 burial teams.
  4. Conducted aggressive contact tracing to locate other potentially infected cases.
  5. Trained health care workers and conducted community outreach.
  6. Identified travelers who may have Ebola before they left the region.

I suspect health officials would lobby for the same response with the rationale, the faster we end the outbreak there, the fewer infected individuals overall and less like they end up in the US: America First! But, this is the region the current president referred to as “shithole countries.” My guess is this is just the excuse needed to bar travel to or from there.

“Look Like Them”

Read an article about pay disparities by gender in the system by which I am employed which mentioned research that students get along best with faculty members who look like them. It made me laugh out loud.

I cannot recall a teacher who looked like me: male, tall, and half-white / half-black. Or at least of brown skin.

The only male teacher that comes close to matching this might be my 8th-grade math & science teacher who lectured by popping his wrist with a rubber band. He is also African-American, tall, and broad shoulders. Cannot say we got along that well so much as we students cowered in fear of him.

Certainly, that year, I got along much better with my literature teacher, but she is short, Caucasian, and female. My recollection of my 2nd-grade teacher was she was African-American but of lighter skin color.

 

Sort by delivery date

If Amazon wants a better way to take my money, then they would add to the filter a sort by delivery date. Two day shipping doesn’t mean something I order today gets here in two days. It means what is the date it goes out the door, it should arrive in two days.

For most of my orders, I don’t really care. But in this case, I wanted it ASAP. So first, I looked for online order pickup so I could get it tomorrow. None of the usual places had it. (Saying the store has it, but in 4-7 days is not helpful Target.)

Amazon had lots of options, so I filtered to 4 or above average reviews. (I know that system suck.) I checked the prime eligible because non-prime shipping can be a week and cost extra.

In looking through options, I noticed most said it would get here on Tuesday. Same as Target. A couple said Saturday. That is a day after tomorrow, so I went with the one I liked better.

All they need to do is add to the sort filter “Delivery Date” with one 1 to 7 days out. Then have a higher price on the closer date. Obviously the 1 day out is a closer distributor and next day shipping. Two days is a closer distributor and 2 day shipping. They could even give me a higher price for the 2 day.

I was willing to pay 25% more to get it in 2 days. Not 250% the price to get it in one. Instead, I got it for the sale price I saw somewhere in hopefully 2 days.