Archive for November, 2005

Are You Still Reading NY Times online?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 30, 2005 by Mike Procario

I have read the NY Times in print and online for over twenty years even though I have never lived in New York City. I read it for the national news coverage, the opinion pages, business, science, and technology news. When I lived in Ithaca, NY we got the regional price which is lower then the national price, and when I worked at Carnegie Mellon University, I could get it at a reduced price at the campus bookstore.

In recent years I have read it online. I would start with the columnists, then move on the most emailed stories list before digging deeper. Since the start of Times Select the new paid subscription service, I find myself reading the NY Times less and less. I go less often to the website, and I read less when I get there. I find myself going to the Washington Post’s website more and spending more time there.

I have noticed that the columnists who are now only available on Times Select are less present on the most emailed list and when they do appear they are lower ranked. I do not know if the Times is making money on Times Select, but I would be very curious how much traffic they losing on the rest of the site.

Brian Greene on the Colbert Report

Posted in humor, physics on November 29, 2005 by Mike Procario

The Colbert Report had several bits about science, including Stephen settling the debate between science and religion once and for all with a coin toss. He also interviewed the string theorist Brian Greene, the author of the Elegant Universe.

Greene tried to explain what strings are in his five minute segment, but he has some trouble doing so, and Colbert commented that strings make intelligent design seem appealing. There is a lot less thought involved in “God did it.”

The show will be on again on Tuesday at 8:30 PM Eastern time.

Identity Theft

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2005 by Mike Procario

There is an interesting post on identity theft at Political Animal. The argument that Kevin Drum makes is that the cost of identity theft should be put on the business that lose the information by forcing them to notify those who have had their personal information stolen. This seems very sensible to me. The businesses can then weigh the cost of adequate security against the cost of losing information. It seems like a very simple solution. Much less complicated than having the government create security standards for the information.

In the comments on the post there was rather vacuous comment by someone named Al about how free market solutions would be best, but it did not really address what the free market solution was. That comment set off a fire storm of replies, and most did point out that people getting hurt by identity theft are not the customers of the information brokers that are responsible for losing the information, so the free market cannot punish those who are doing a bad job.

What Can Popular Science Books Teach Us?

Posted in biology, Books, Science on November 21, 2005 by Mike Procario

I have a background in physics, including a Ph.D., 20 years of research experience, and 10 years of university teaching. Despite all of that background, I can still enjoy and learn from a well written popularization of physics. A good example is Brian Greene’s, Elegant Universe, which attempts to explain the beauty and possibilities of string theory. I have wondered what someone who does not have my background might get out of such a book. Clearly they will get less, but since the book was a bestseller they must be learning something.

I think I have begun to understand what an intelligent but non-expert reader might learn from a popular science book, when I read Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll. The book discusses recent developments in evolutionary development biology. I took a variety of things from this book. It is the first book where I recognized the science in biology in the same that I see science in physics. Carroll talks about the geometry of an embryo. Biologists have been able to learn how different genes operate in different parts of an embryo to make the parts of the fully grown animal. There are even pictures of frog and fruit embryo showing stripes. These stripes correspond to structures in the adult animal.

I was left with two questions after that section. One is how is the gene action turned on only in the correct places? The other is how did they get it colored? The first is a very fundamental question of science, while the second is about experimental technique. Being an experimental scientist I find both questions interesting.

Clearly, a well written popular science book can impart useful information even if it cannot make us all into practicing scientists. I will continue to read books about biology and other sciences as well as physics books. My daughter is a sophmore majoring in biology, so we will have something to discuss over Thanksgiving vacation.