“…a garden opposite the Half Dome”

The good old pioneer, Lamon, was the first of all the early Yosemite settlers who cordially and unreservedly adopted the Valley as his home.

He was born in the Shenandoah Valley…emigrated to Illinois…afterwards went to Texas and settled on the Brazos, where he raised melons and hunted alligators for a living. “Right interestin’ business,” he said; “especially the alligator part of it.” From the Brazos he went to the Comanche Indian country between Gonzales and Austin, twenty miles from his nearest neighbor..When the formidable Comanche Indians were on the war-path he left his cabin after dark and slept in the woods. From Texas he crossed the plains to California and worked In the Calaveras and Mariposa gold-fields.

He first heard Yosemite spoken of as a very beautiful mountain valley and after making two excursions in the summers of 1857 and 1858 to see the wonderful place, he made up his mind to quit roving and make a permanent home in it. In April, 1859, he moved into it, located a garden opposite the Half Dome, set out a lot of apple, pear and peach trees, planted potatoes, etc., that he had packed in on a “contrary old mule,”…For the first year or two lack of provisions compelled him to move out on the approach of winter, but in 1862 after he had succeeded in raising some fruit and vegetables he began to winter in the Valley…When the avalanches began to slip, he wondered where all the wild roaring and booming came from, the flying snow preventing them from being seen. But, upon the whole, he wondered most at the brightness, gentleness, and sunniness of the weather, and hopefully employed the calm days in tearing ground for an orchard and vegetable garden.

He was a fine, erect, whole-souled man, between six and seven feet high, with a broad, open face, bland and guileless as his pet oxen. No stranger to hunger and weariness, he knew well how to appreciate suffering of a like kind in others, and many there be, myself among the number, who can testify to his simple, unostentatious kindness that found expression in a thousand small deeds. After gaining sufficient means to enjoy a long afternoon of life in comparative affluence and ease, he died in the autumn of 1876. He sleeps in a beautiful spot near Galen Clark and a monument hewn from a block of Yosemite granite marks his grave.

John Muir, The Yosemite ch.14

JC Lamon
Lamon cabin 1861
Yos Falls 1900
Lamon monument
Images all courtesy of the NPS

See also Order of The Good Earth, The Yosemite Cemetary

Is Popper responsible for this mess?

OK, admittedly this is a bit of a weird post, but otherwise I’d have to be actually working.

It’s just a question post really, because admittedly I’ve read very little of Karl Popper’s writings, and whatever little that was, it was a long time ago. I just know what everybody in science “knows”: he’s the “falsification” guy. That is, he reportedly believes that scientific advancement comes mainly via testing hypotheses (ideas, concepts, theories, call ‘em whatever you like as far as I’m concerned) and then assessing whether the hypothesis withstood the test successfully or not. If it didn’t, chuck it and come up with another one; if it did, test it some more and scale your confidence in it with the number (and/or stringency) of the tests it’s passed.

Hmm, well OK I guess, but it leaves me with this image in my mind of some authority figure standing over me saying “Your idea has been falsified by group X doing unequivocal test Y. Your idea fails. Now get out of here.”

Not to go all Bayesian Bandwagon on the issue, since I have serious questions about that viewpoint also, but if you’re addressing a complex question and you carefully and repeatedly add a little bit of good evidence at a time, over time, thereby eventually narrowing down the list of likeliest explanations for your observations, then you don’t really need to worry about “falsifying” anything really, do you? I mean, lay a solid foundation, then add floor one, then two, etc…. and there you go. I get the feeling Popper thinks science is a bunch of wanna-be sand castle architects running amok on the beach trying to outdo each other but without much of a clue really, but then WHOA, here comes the sand castle judge and he’s going to wreck all but one. But then maybe it is, at least in some fields. Jimi Hendrix could have written a song about it.

I think my main question really is this: did the obsession with hypothesis testing–and all the problems arising therefrom–come from following Popper’s ideas, or did Popper just describe what the hypothesis testing fanatics were already doing? Chicken and egg question really.

If this post has been unsatisfactory to you, I am willing to tell Rodney Dangerfield jokes or discuss baseball. Thanks for your attention either way.

Didn’t know where to find you

I didn’t know where to look for you last night
Didn’t know where to find you
I didn’t know how I could touch that light
That’s always gathering behind you

I didn’t know that I would find a way
To find you in the morning
But love can pull you out of yesterday
As it takes you without warning

I want to be a long time friend to you
Want to be a long time known
Not one of your memory’s used-to-be’s
Not a summer’s fading song

John Gorka, Love is our cross to bear

On baseball (finally!)

I’ve discussed no baseball here yet, which is kind of surprising, given that I’ve been a big fan all my life. I played a lot growing up, through high school and even a little in college and afterwards. If I had the time, I would likely start a blog just devoted strictly to baseball (and not just analysis either), because I have a lot to say on a lot of topics. But alas…

To me, the real interest in any sport comes from actually playing the game, not watching it, and I watch very little baseball (now) because the games are just too time consuming (though I still have a hard time refraining in October). When I do watch, I’m not obsessively analytical–that takes the fun out of it for me. It’s an athletic contest, not a statistics class; I want to see the center fielder go full speed and lay out for a catch, or a base thief challenge the pitcher or whatever, not sit there with numbers in my head. Analysis is for later, and I do like it, so I wade in at times, thereby joining the SABR-metric (or “sabermetric”) revolution of the last 3-4 decades (the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), initiated much of this). And baseball offers endless analytical opportunities, for (at least) two reasons.

Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds

Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds

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A weird incident

Yesterday I had an interesting experience which I’m not sure how to fully interpret.

I got hit and knocked down by a large SUV while on my bike ride. I’ve ridden unknown thousands of miles in my life and this is the first time I’ve ever been hit. It happened in an unusual way; most riders get hit from behind by a vehicle moving ~ near the speed limit. I was lucky–even though I got broadsided from the left, the vehicle was only going maybe 5-7 mph (but accelerating), and I was just starting from a cold stop, barely moving. But I was also in the act of clipping into the pedals, and thus not freely mobile. I was however able, given that I was looking straight at the oncoming vehicle, to turn slightly to the right and get my left hand off the handlebars just enough to prevent a more serious collision. The impact spun me around about 270 degrees and I landed on my left side. What happened next was the interesting part though.

I wasn’t hurt but was stunned and laid on the ground for a few seconds trying to comprehend what had happened. Cars were lined up at a red light and one of drivers yelled out and asked if I was OK. I said yeah I thought so, although I wasn’t 100% sure. I saw the SUV pull over–no chance for a hit and run incident at a red light with clear witnesses. Then I see someone with some type of badge on their shirt, though not in a police uniform, walk up to me and say “What do you need”? Paramedic, already? I’m still trying to unclip my right foot from the pedal so I can get up off the roadway, which I finally do.

As I get up I notice a gun on his hip and then realize this is the person who hit me. FBI agent, unmarked car [correction: it was a Homeland Security agent]. I sort of spontaneously say something like “What the hell are you doing you idiot, didn’t you see me?“, among other things. His first response is “You’re supposed to cross the street at the crosswalk up there”. Obvious nonsensical bullshit; we were both emerging from parking lots, on opposite sides of the road, and trying to initiate left hand turns onto the road. We were both in the roadway, and he just simply wasn’t watching, presumably looking over his shoulder to see if there was any traffic coming. I’m just lucky the light 30 m away was red and therefore he didn’t accelerate even more.

The several witnesses to the incident were now departing and I realized immediately that this guy was going to try to deny any responsibility. What I said next is more or less unprintable, FBI agent and gun or no. He said some other nonsense, mainly that he was in fact watching where he was going, the logical conclusion from that being that he must then have hit me on purpose, which we can be pretty sure an FBI agent would not do. I was busy inspecting my bike, which since it took the brunt of the collision, I was sure must be damaged. It’s a LeMond, which went out of business several years ago due to Trek/Armstrong’s reaction to LeMond’s doping allegations against Armstrong. So getting a replacement frame is limited to what you can find on E-bay and similar sites, and also expensive. Amazingly, and much to my great relief, the bike did not appear to suffer any obvious structural damage. The front wheel wasn’t even out of true. Apparently the impact point had been the left ram-horn of the handlebars, and it just flipped me around. Hairline micro-fractures in the frame are still a possibility though; these will only become apparent once they propagate and grow under riding stresses.

The Sheriff showed up about 15 minutes later and filled out a report. He seemed like a good guy, and sympathetic to my version of events, but nevertheless he refused to assign fault to the driver, saying something to the effect that the party further out into the roadway–which was the driver–has the right of way. I don’t think this is correct for a couple of reasons, but there was nothing I could do, given that any witnesses were gone. I was just so glad that neither my bike nor I were damaged that I just didn’t want to press it. Plus there was only about an hour of daylight left and I just wanted to get back on and ride, which is what I did. I even shook the agent’s hand before leaving, which kind of surprised me actually.

But it’s incidents like this, among many others, that make me increasingly suspicious of the trustworthiness of human beings generally. On the other hand, it makes me think of friend Alan Reinbolt, who only a couple of years after I did mine, was hit and killed by a large truck on his cross-the-country bike ride, and the two bikers who’ve already been killed in the county by drivers this year. In those contexts, I’ve been very fortunate indeed.

Help crowd source better science communication methods

Recently, studies aimed at better quantifying and communicating the “consensus” on climate change have become more popular. To take advantage of the increasing monetary flow in this direction, and to advance the science even further, our institute, meaning me, have been designing a new research protocol. In the spirit of the “open science” movement, we/I thought it would be good to get some public feedback on potential flaws and possible improvements to this protocol. There are several advantages of this “crowd sourcing” approach to blog science, not the least of which is avoidance of placing a rather tacky “Tip Jar” icon on one’s home page.

What we want to know is what sort of message will really stick with people, make them think. New research has shown that communication methods are very important in this regard. For example, van der Linden et al. (2014) showed that “simple text” and pie charts are slightly superior to mixed metaphors involving doctors’ opinions regarding bridge failures. This is an important advancement that we want to build upon, leveraging the moment to effectively effect an optimal messaging paradigm that cannot be falsified.

One improvement that can be made involves how the experimental units are chosen. van der Linden et al. (2014) queried about 1000 volunteers, but these were chosen from among a “nationwide panel of people who are willing to participate in online surveys”. Those people want to be asked random questions by unknown people having unknown motives, which being abnormal, is not representative of the entire population. A better approach is to just target everybody, and a good way to do that is to confront them on the street while they are minding their own business, before they have any idea what you’re up to really.

Another issue is the treatments themselves; van der Linden et al. used a set of treatments involving pie charts, metaphors and numbers. This is nice but c’mon we put a man on the moon; we believe we can achieve more here. Our design applies less pedestrian treatments to these pedestrian experimental units, each chosen after careful thought. Our procedure is similar however. That is, we first ask what each unit believes that scientists believe about the climate, record the response, then apply the randomly chosen treatment, repeat the original question, and record the second response. Pretty simple really; the whole thing hinges on the treatments, which are:

Treatment 1:
The unit is shown a pie chart with the AAAS logo below it, indicating that 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change is real.

Treatment 2:
The unit is shown a pie chart with images of kittens and Jesus below, with statement as above.

Treatment 3:
The unit is shown a rerun of an old Sesame Street episode featuring the numbers 9 and 7, in sequence, over a backdrop picture of a hurricane.

Treatment 4:
The unit is informed that only Australian Aborigines and Death Row inmates are unaware that 97 of scientists believe that climate change is real.

Treatment 5:
Free dinner and beer at a nice local pub is promised to the unit for all answers over 95 regarding what percentage of scientists believe in climate change.

Treatment 6:
“97% consensus” and “Mother” are tatooed prominently on the unit’s right inner forearm.

Treatment 7:
The unit’s face is situated ~ 0.3 meters proximate to the front end of an OSHA-certified megaphone and unit is informed three times, at the “riot control” setting, that 97 percent of scientists believe in climate change.

Treatment 8:
Justin Verlander is placed approximately 60.5 feet from unit, facing, and delivers a ~97 mph fastball to unit’s upper left rib cage quadrant, while yelling “Get a real-time feeling for what 97 is all about partner”

Many more treatments than this are possible of course. For example we can certainly improve upon the “Indirectness Factor” (IF) one or more steps by asking people what they think other people think scientists believe about the climate, what they think they would think if exposed to a particular treatment, and so forth. There is a rich garden for potential studies following this path.

Thank you in advance for any contributions to the science that you may have, the world will be a better place for it. If you would like to donate $1000 or more that would be fine as well.

Recent advancements on the “consensus” science front

Real good news from the world of science, just last week. Science as we all know, is all about “pushing the envelope”, about stretching the frontiers of knowledge, about intrepid explorations right on that knife-edged ridge that typically divides brilliance from ignorance and ineptitude. Science–let’s cut to the chase here–is all about putting it all out there on the line, in the quest for deep truths that affect us all.

Just last week, Climatic Change pushed on that envelope big time, with a fabulous discovery. A team of four researchers have discovered that, in situations where you’re having trouble getting people to buy in on a supposed “consensus” on some topic, such as say the 97 percent consensus regarding human effects on climate change, what you want to do there is to use either “simple text” or a “pie chart”. For the unfamiliar, pie charts are round, graphical devices in which a portion, p, of the round image is shaded one color and the remaining portion, 1-p, is shaded a different color altogether. [For sake of simplicity I have limited our hypothetical chart to two colors; advanced pie charts will sometimes use more than two colors, but we can simplify here without loss of generality]. “Simple text” is just what it says, sometimes even simpler.

When the human eye/brain/sensory system views said chart, an impression in the mind is created in which the two (or more) color shadings approximate actual fractional values of 1.0. Some refer to this as the theoretical/neurological basis of the pie chart. [Others do not; there is no consensus on that issue]. The point is, the pie chart can approximate an actual number!** This makes all the difference when trying to get a point across to the random ignoramus on the street.

I should caution the amateur scientists out there to please not try this at home. This type of research involves heavy duty online questioning* following, strict survey science guidelines, as informed by “metaphor meta-reviews for optimal persuasiveness”. It can involve the random insertion of questions involving “Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy” so as not to divulge one’s true intentions. Not divulging one’s true intentions is a highly refined skill in consensus science–not just anybody can do it. This stuff takes training.

Well we’re out of time now but we can probably expect many future breakthroughs in the exciting world of “consensus” science studies as they relate to climate, and hopefully can investigate these as they occur, should we have the necessary chops and patience.

* The authors note: “All treatments contained the following message; ‘97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening’. To enhance the credibility of the treatment, the logo of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was visible on every message.”. Not that the credibility of the “treatment” needs enhancing mind you, nor that AAAS partially funding the study has any relevance here; let’s not jump to any conclusions.

** This process can be enhanced by what professional pie chart communicators term “overlaying” the actual numerical number right on the pie chart itself, viz:
vanderlinden etal SM figure 2

On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Well now the gravity of trouble was more than I could bear
At times my luck was so bad, I had to fold my hand
I almost lost my soul, rarely could I find my head
Wake up early in the morning, feeling nearly dead

When I think of the old days, it sends chills up and down my spine
Life ain’t what it seems, on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I guess I opened my eyes in the nick of time
But it sure felt like the end of the line
Allman Brothers, End of the Line