Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In The Doldrums

Not much going on. I got Yellow Dog Linux installed on a PS3. Whoopee! A few years ago, I might have had some sort of enthusiasm for the project, but it's tough to be excited when people are paying $500 for a freakin' phone that also plays music and browses the Internet. You can buy a full blown computer for less at Wal-Mart.

Perhaps it's just the time of year. I slept most of Sunday away and awoke with a splitting sinus headache. I didn't get any of the reading or studying I had planned to do. I mostly cleaned all day today, and I still have another day to go if I want to make a dent in the mess I call an apartment. The cats are content. That's a good sign. Nosey is staying close to me which is a bit unusual, but maybe it's the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. I'm not able to take the usual nap before my shift begins at 1:00 A.M.. It's gonna be a long night.

Julie is silent on her blog. That's okay. She's got a lot going on. Not too mention, things come and go in life. Maybe her silent blog is part of life's ebb and flow. My output has dropped this month as well. Well, I still have an hour to kill before I have to get ready. Why does time fly when you are off and it drags when you are at work? Why should my perception of time change due to the circumstances of where I am located and what I am doing?


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Weeds in the Laboratory

The BBC has an article titled How cancer studies wasted cash. It's about how some cancer cell lines aren't what they are supposed to be. If you aren't studying the proper cells in the first place, then not only is it embarrassing, but it can be a very costly mistake in wasted time, energy, resources, and possibly, future funding. This really isn't news though. Many cell culture lines have been found to be HeLa cells after typing. The HeLa cell line has adapted to laboratory culture growth and is a pervasive cell biology lab contaminant or cell culture "weed". The issue is about trust and attention to details. Even scientists are human, but that doesn't let them off the hook. It'd be even worse if you are the graduate student or postdoc who requested the cell line from an academic or commercial lab. Imagine if you spent several years getting results only to find that the cancer you worked on was cervical cancer instead of brain or liver cancer? Or worse, if the cells are mouse or rat. Bye-bye career due to misplaced trust.


FBI - Federal Bureau of Incompetents

"Silent enim leges inter arma." - Laws are silent in time of war.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who watches the watchers?
Juvenal (wikipedia entry)

I've been reading bad tidings of late for the FBI. It's seems that their Criminal Behavioral Profiling Unit is a sham. The New Yorker article makes for interesting reading and concludes that criminal profiling analyses are as ambiguous as psychic readings. Then I find out that their forensics lab did shoddy work that sent innocents to jail, and the FBI didn't care. The FBI abandoned bullet-lead analysis as a forensic tool in 2004, after the National Academy of Sciences found that bullet chemical composition wasn't a unique marker. One couldn't use it to trace a bullet back to a batch of bullets owned by the defendant. The FBI quietly downplayed the issue and stalled attempts by the Forensic Justice Project to obtain a list of the 2,500 bullet-lead analysis cases. Before these latest revelations, it turns out the FBI hired an illegal alien and gave her a Security Clearance. The woman had ties to Hezbollah which means that the FBI, and subsequently the CIA, were possibly penetrated by a known terrorist group. I say possibly because giving money to Hezbollah could mean many things. Was the money used for charity or was it used to train or recruit terrorists? Basically, this woman just showed that the Security Clearance background checks are practically useless. The FSB must be rolling on the floor laughing.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


This is an interesting optical illusion. If the dancer is moving clockwise, the left brain hemisphere is dominant. If the movement is counter-clockwise, your right brain hemisphere is dominant.

There a trick to making the dancer change direction. Can you figure it out? Can you alter your perception? The original article is here. It seems most people are left hemisphere dominant. I'm in the majority. I am left hemisphere dominant, although I can switch perceptions almost at will. (I'm right handed, so I'd expect these results.) A better opinion and analysis is here.

Another interesting left/right brain perceptual illusion is:

Other optical illusions are at


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Credit Card Data Breach

This entry will be pretty short. I got a replacement credit card in the mail the other day. I thought it odd, that the issuer would renew it so soon. When I activated the card, the automated recording informed me that I was being issued a replacement card because a merchant had notified the issuer that a data breach (i.e. compromise) had occurred. I pressed zero after activating the card to talk to a customer service rep. The CSR was ignorant of the situation even after I briefed him. He couldn't tell me who the merchant was. I don't use my credit cards that much, so I can likely narrow the list down, but it bothers me that the credit card issuer would not give out that information to its customers. Most people would think that the credit card company was looking out for them, but in reality, the credit card company was looking out for itself and the merchant. If the law said that I was liable for all the charges on the card even if I didn't make them, the credit card company would have done nothing. Since the credit card company eats all fraudulent charges after the first $50 they did the prudent thing and replaced everyone's credit cards that were affected. I still find it atrocious that the bank wouldn't see fit to inform its customers of the offending merchant. Keeping your customers in the dark is setting them up for further losses down the road with the same merchant. Just because they got burned once doesn't mean that they've necessarily learned their lesson and fixed the problem. I wouldn't do business with a firm that lost my credit card information especially since if they are a brick and mortar store, they are not supposed to keep transaction data at all.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Evolution of Leadership

In The Masks of Command, John Keegan looks at the evolution of leadership. He chooses four men to illustrate his thesis on how leadership has changed due to weapons and communications technology. Warfare has to some extent gone from a very heroic, closeup, and personal experience of fellow human beings killing one another to an impersonal, long distance, pushing of buttons resulting in the annihilation of cities full of people. We've progressed from generals dueling one another with swords or spears to determine a battle, to large groups of men killing one another until one side won, to the group which can kill the greater number of the other group's population without suffering similar losses through the use of conventional and nuclear weapons.

Keegan looks at Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Adolf Hitler. Each illustrated the four types of leader:
1. the heroic - Alexander the Great who led his troops from the front always.
2. the antiheroic - the Duke of Wellington who led his troops from the front often.
3. the unheroic - Ulysses S. Grant who led his troops from the front a small percentage of the time, and
4. the false-heroic - Adolf Hitler who never led his troops from the front and who never cared about them.

To be fair to Hitler, he was a Head of State at the time, and Heads of State seldom visit the front lines, although Lincoln did during the Civil War. Hitler was also a WWI veteran and one of very few enlisted men to win the Iron Cross, First Class. Keegan uses Hitler to make a point though, that leaders evoke the heroic ideals of our cultures and traditions to motivate people to do their bidding.

Keegan believes that command leadership depends upon five imperatives:
1. the kinship imperative - persuading the troops that he or she is one of them.
2. the prescription imperative - giving clear and precise orders.
3. the sanction imperative - giving the troops rewards for approved behavior and punishments for unapproved behavior.
4. the action imperative - attacking or retreating at the proper times as the tactical or strategic situations warrant it.
5. the example imperative - sharing the same dangers that your troops do.

These qualities exemplify our best tactical commanders throughout time even up to today.

Keegan's point is that as the lethality of battle increased in range and effectiveness through better technology, the necessity of better long distance communications and observations arose to allow leaders to stay out of harm's way while directing their armies. Consequently, leaders have become more like administrators of huge organizations and increasingly detached from the common soldiers and people they lead as well as the dangers that the troops faced. The technology of war has outpaced our ethos of war such that there are no front lines any more with nuclear weapons. There are really no armies either since everyone is a target on the business end of a nuclear or thermonuclear weapon. Once you become a nuclear power, your leaders have to become detached and moderated in their responses because there is too much to lose at the push of a button. Diplomacy becomes a major player in negotiations between nuclear powers. Therefore, what Keegan is trying to say is that the idea of leaders being heroes at the level of Heads of State is obsolete. The only false-heroic leader he used, Hitler, is the only loser among his examples. Dwight Eisenhower would be a modern example of the Duke of Wellington. Kennedy and his handling of the Cuban Missile crisis exemplifies how leaders of Russia, China, and the United States must act in times of crisis using moderation, deliberation, consensus, and understanding of the other adversary (empathy with the other leader's situation).

I believe that George W. Bush is a false-heroic leader. Unlike Hitler, he cares about the people he leads, but he seems to have little understanding of or empathy with other political leaders. He is not moderate in his actions, nor deliberative. Indeed, his "heroic" actions tend to verge on recklessness which is the flip side of heroism as David Gergen has pointed out. His foreign and domestic policy solutions are causing more problems than they are solving. I don't know what the answers are, but I can only hope that we as a people are wise enough to choose the most capable leaders and not be swayed by emotional appeals to our heroic ideals in matters where the heroic is obsolete and leads us down dangerous and uncertain paths to our destruction as a society.

1. Time, Otto Friedrich, "Heroism's End? The Masks of Command", November 9,1987.


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