Half a Cure?

Researchers have found a way to remove HIV DNA from chromosomes. Pretty cool stuff. As they mention in the article, this combined with a mechanism for getting the enzyme to where the HIV-infected DNA is could yield an actual cure.

Ghost Ducks Invading Cornwall

Sort of an unplanned scientific experiment involving ocean currents.

Residents of the western UK and Irish coasts have been warned to expect an invasion by a vast flotilla of ghostly, immortal albino plastic ducks, according to reports.

The tale of the floating, whitened bird-simulacra migration is a strange one, dating back many years. It seems that the plastic bathtime companions were originally made in China. They were on their way to America in 1992 when a terrible storm struck their vessel in mid-Pacific, and shipping containers holding 30,000 of the hapless playthings were washed overboard.

I think “albino plastic duck” would be a great name for a band. Even without knowing their history, I’d probably want one for my collection.

Amy at the Farm

On Sunday we went to Wilson’s Farm, where they were having a Strawberry Festival including the world’s biggest strawberry shortcake, free hayrides, etc.

on the hayride On the hayride. Not a great picture of me, but a pretty good expression on Amy’s face and I don’t have nearly enough pictures of us together because I’m usually the one behind the camera.
on the hayride In the barn. Amy’s favorite animal at Wilson’s is the pig, whose name is Oscar, but she was not terribly thrilled when he came over to say hi. I was trying to capture that, but I ended up getting a pretty good profile/serious-expression shot instead.

Shorter Jeff Jacoby, #1

“I don’t actually agree with Dear Leader about stem cells, but there’s no way I’ll admit that I’m on the same side of any issue as those evil liberals.” (longer version)

Somebody Took the Lake!

The title is a reference to one of Amy’s common sayings. If anything is not where she expects it to be, “Somebody took the…” is likely to be her response. Somebody took the snow. Somebody took the house (a teardown in our neighborhood). Somebody took the Daddy (while playing hide-and-seek). Somebody took the lake.

Scientists in Chile are investigating the sudden disappearance of a glacial lake in the south of the country.

When park rangers patrolled the area in the Magallanes region in March, the two-hectare (five-acre) lake was its normal size, officials say.

But last month they found a huge dry crater and several stranded chunks of ice that used to float on the water.

This is not the first time such a thing has happened, of course. I remember hearing a while back about Beloye Lake in Russia doing the same sort of disappearing act. The funny thing is, that one’s apparently coming back. In related news, the Department of Obviousness has this report.

n 1600, there was a church standing on the place where later the Beloye Lake appeared. One day the church disappeared under the surface. The incident made superstitious people believe that disappearing of the church was God’s anger. In a couple of decades, a big wonderful lake suddenly appeared on the place where the church used to be situated.

experts say it is first of all important to investigate the karst as it may be dangerous to walk there.

Yeah, could be. What’s Russian for “duh”?

Stonehenge as Concert Hall

I don’t know exactly why, but this explanation of Stonehenge feels right to me.

Bruce Bedlam, 56, has built a scale model of the ancient stone circle as he believes it was originally constructed – as a round building.

He believes that the Wiltshire monument was created with a large, domed roof made from wood and covered in wooden tiles.

Bruce believes the sitting was significant and the sun would enter the interior at every solstice through one of the ten doors.

I think I heard about people doing concerts at Stonehenge. If so, maybe they were a couple of thousand years too late.

The theory suggests that beams were used to create a roof that came to a point above the monument.

They were held together in place by gravity and the shape would have been acoustically perfect, according to Bruce.

When I was in England for work years ago, we visited both Stonehenge and the lesser-known Woodhenge, which is now just a series of concrete stumps marking the supports of what might have been a similar structure. We also started making jokes about Hayhenge, based on those big cylinder-on-their-side bales of hay scattered throughout fields in the area. Since then Cindy and I have made jokes about other henges, but I don’t remember all of them. Carhenge I’m pretty sure of, and some kind of foodstuff. Maybe Toasthenge?

Sorted Books

Nina Katchadourian arranges books so that their titles in sequence say unexpected things, with very thought-provoking results. Here’s a page with two of my favorites – the series beginning with History of the Universe and the one beginning with A Day at the Beach. If you click on her name on that page you can see a lot more of her work, in all sorts of media and on all sorts of topics. I’m rather partial to Renovated Mushroom.

Gripe of the Day: Merging Traffic

Just because you’re getting off the highway one exit after you got on, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the requirement to merge properly. If you’re forcing your way into the flow of traffic because you haven’t bothered to match others’ speed, you’re breaking the law as surely if you’re going 25mph slower as if you’re going 10mph faster. You’re also endangering other motorists more, because the danger is proportional to the difference in speed and not the speed itself. Do it right or stay off the highway for that half-mile.

Stages of Programming

Mick West wrote a partly insightful and partly humorous article about how programmers develop back in January, with seven stages from Awestruck through Transcendent. I particularly liked this bit at the end.

Not all programmer take the same path, and not all aspects of the programmer will proceed at the same rate, or even direction. With this unfortunate vagueness comes the observation that you can only recognize a stage when you are two stages above that stage. Thus, the transcendent programmer will never truly know he is transcendent (although he will suspect it) and must always be in doubt as to the pragmatism of his solutions, and the pragmatic programmer will be forever conflicted regarding his usage of methodology.

That’s sort of true; you never know how dumb you used to be (and quite likely seemed to others) until you’re a little bit less dumb, and that phenomenon is not limited to programming. What I’d like to pick up on, though, is the “not all aspects” part. Just about every programmer has at some time had to explain to a friend or relative that there are a lot of specialties within computing. Just because I’ve written a cluster filesystem for Solaris doesn’t mean I can help you with your printing problem on Windows. All of programming is only one specialty within computing, which also includes hardware design and testing from chips up to systems, manufacturing, system administration, technical management, etc. each with their own challenges. Even within programming there’s a tremendous amount of fragmentation between platforms and problem domains and languages. Thus, while Mick is mostly talking about overall development, I’m thinking more about development within a particular technical area. More after the break.

Travelers’ Dilemma

This month’s Scientific American has an interesting story about the Travelers’ Dilemma, which is simply described as follows.

Lucy and Pete, returning from a remote Pacific island, find that the airline has damaged the identical antiques that each had purchased. An airline manager says that he is happy to compensate them but is handicapped by being clueless about the value of these strange objects. Simply asking the travelers for the price is hopeless, he figures, for they will inflate it.

Instead he devises a more complicated scheme. He asks each of them to write down the price of the antique as any dollar integer between 2 and 100 without conferring together. If both write the same number, he will take that to be the true price, and he will pay each of them that amount. But if they write different numbers, he will assume that the lower one is the actual price and that the person writing the higher number is cheating. In that case, he will pay both of them the lower number along with a bonus and a penalty–the person who wrote the lower number will get $2 more as a reward for honesty and the one who wrote the higher number will get $2 less as a punishment. For instance, if Lucy writes 46 and Pete writes 100, Lucy will get $48 and Pete will get $44.

The author then goes on to talk about how the “rational” strategy will drive both players’ bids down to the minimum, but I’m reminded of a Princess Bride quote.

You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The “rational” strategy supposedly goes like this. If we both bid $100, we each get $100, but I can improve on that by bidding $99 so I get $101 and you get $97. If you know, or suspect that I’m going to do that you can do better by bidding $98. I can beat that by bidding $97, and so on all the way down to $2. The problem is that people don’t really try to guess what number the other person is going to use until they try to guess what strategy they’re going to use. If you’re smart enough to follow the above train of thought to it’s $2 conclusion, then I’ll guess that you’re also smart enough to realize that the conclusion is highly undesirable to both of us. The only obvious alternative to the “try to maximize my return even if it’s unfair” strategy is the “fair share of the highest total return” strategy, which means a $100 bid. Not coincidentally, that’s the same result we’d almost certainly get if we met and made an enforceable deal ahead of time. Knowing that one strategy leads to a bad result for both of us and the other strategy leads to a very good (though not quite perfect) result for both of us, I’d say the only truly rational conclusion would be that my partner/opponent will choose the latter, so I do the same. Besides, the difference between being wrong with the cooperative strategy and being right with the competitive one is only $4 – not much of an inducement to change, and it’s the same even if the minimum bid is raised. A more interesting experiment might be one that shares some of the same dynamics, but where the penalty for guessing wrong about strategies – not bids – is larger.