Airpower Makes People Stupid

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Robert Farley has prepared a short dialogue illustrating the history of airpower thought:

Sagredo: “We must do something!”
Salviati: “But what? The situation is complex.”
Simplicio: “I know! Airpower!”

Shooting Beethoven

Monday, March 31st, 2014

If you enjoy music and shooting, you should enjoy Shannon Smith shooting a bit of Beethoven:

Group Size

Monday, March 31st, 2014

An architect by training, then a professor at Arizona State University, and now a business strategy consultant, Kristine Woolsey studies the impact of the physical environment on human behavior:

Numerous anthropological studies show that group size — the number of individuals who live or work together — is key to peaceful collaboration in all kinds of environments. The ideal group size for forming bonds of trust is around six to eight people, Woolsey said.

A gang of four can be easily dominated by one strong personality; any larger than eight, and they’ll to need to elect a leader. But right in the middle, there’s “a sort of peer pressure in terms of expected social behavior” that leads people to act in the common interest, she said.

Effective open-plan offices, such as the ones Google Inc. has designed in Zurich and Dublin, and the ones offered by NextSpace, a California-based company that rents workspaces to freelancers and small businesses, place employees in hubs of six to eight, with nearby common areas accessible to several groups, Woolsey said. Thus, rather than dividing up a giant workforce into “acres of gray cubes,” the office is instead comprised of small groups nested within larger ones.


Jeremy Neuner, the CEO of NextSpace, said he’s observed that workers naturally congregate in groups of six to eight. Recently at the company’s Santa Cruz headquarters, as a sort of experiment, a 12-seat conference table was moved into an open area of the office. Sure enough, Neuner said, six to eight people gathered there to work.

“Except when they’re up against a deadline, people are not looking for their own closed-in spaces,” Neuner said.

As Woolsey sees it, the traditional open-plan office is no better at adapting to the way people work than the old cubicle-dotted office.

How One College Boosted Female STEM Graduates

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Tiny Harvey Mudd College quadrupled its female computer-science graduates in just six years:

Maria Klawe, a former Princeton University engineering dean who became Mudd’s president that year, supported faculty members who wanted to make intro classes in computer science more interesting for freshmen who came in with non-technical backgrounds. They shifted the course content to practical applications, such as solving games and puzzles, and away from “the inner details of computers and software,” Dr. Klawe says. “They would model the spread of a disease, or program a robot who wants to find all the green Spam in a maze,” she says. The changes “turned computer science from one of the most despised courses to the most loved course in a single year,” Dr. Klawe says.

To counter the notion that computer science is a “geeky guy thing,” the school sent 40 to 60 women students annually to the Grace Hopper conference, which celebrates women in computing and exposed them to successful women in the field.

Dr. Klawe also took on psychological obstacles. Research shows women, more than men, see having to exert a lot of effort to pass STEM classes as a sign that they don’t belong, according to a 2012 study headed by Jessi L. Smith, an associate professor of psychology at Montana State University; women who are encouraged to see working hard as normal and expected are more likely to stick with STEM. The college president tackles the topic of self-doubt in her annual address to incoming freshmen.

Students who have “imposter fears,” who feel like a phony and live in fear of being exposed, aren’t alone, she says. “Whenever you take on something challenging and there are lots of people around you who seem like they’re really good at it, it’s not uncommon to doubt yourself,” she tells them. “That doesn’t mean you don’t belong. It’s just something that happens.”

In another move to dispel self-doubters, Harvey Mudd professors split introductory classes into three groups based on students’ previous experience; those with no previous computer-science exposure are placed in a different class from those who started programming at age 5, whose expertise can be intimidating to other students.

Females now make up about 45% of the college’s computer science grads, a percentage that reflects the male-female balance on campus as a whole, and is quadruple the 2006 figure.

Russia Is Restarting Stalin’s National Fitness Program

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

On March 24, Putin signed an executive order to bring back the Ready for Labor and Defense program, or GTO:

Back in the U.S.S.R., people of all ages were expected to participate in GTO. If you were 16 to 18 years old, you were enlisted in your high school’s “Strength and Courage” program, which included elements of military basic training. Not only did you run, swim, and do cross-country skiing, depending on the season, you also ran obstacle courses and practiced grenade-throwing minus grenades. Sometimes there was rifle practice, too.

Older people got off lightly but not completely. Men between the ages of 40 to 60 and women from 35 to 55 were expected to take part in the “Vigor and Health” program run by the GTO’s local branch. Driving the whole program was the quest for medals and glory amid huge pomp and ceremony. In its heyday, the GTO sponsored annual championships in towns and cities across the Soviet Union, with 37 million people taking part in 1975. The winners were feted on television and lionized in the state press.

Really, this is one of the least crazy things to come out of 20th-century totalitarianism.

Who Had Richer Parents, Doctors Or Artists?

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Who had richer parents, doctors or artists?, NPR’s Planet Money asks. Professional artists and musicians tend to have rich parents, it turns out.

Household Income During Childhood vs. Income During Adulthood

Before the Internet

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Do you remember back before the Internet?

xkcd Before the Internet

David A. Trampier, 1954-2014

Friday, March 28th, 2014

David A. Trampier with Yellow Taxi in Carbdondale, IllinoisDungeons & Dragons has attracted some unusual individuals over the years, including illustrator David A. Trampier, who just passed away, according to the The Southern Illinoisan:

He disappeared in 1988, leaving his ongoing D&D comic Wormy abruptly unfinished, and retired from illustration to drive a Yellow Taxi in Carbdondale, Illinois. (The above photo from 2003 is one of the only pictures ever snapped of Trampier.)

Trampier PHB Cover, Lizard Man, Wererat, and Goblin

Half the Battle

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Community brings us a very special Public Service Announcement:

Business Schools Flunk When CEOs Grade the Test

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

A new study from Hult International Business School shows that MBAs may be great with Excel and PowerPoint but not much else:

Hult International Business School interviewed 90 CEOs and other executives to get their take on the current state of business education, and found that the reviews are far from glowing. Respondents, from companies including Accenture, Unilever, and Liberty Mutual Insurance, said students lack self-awareness, can’t work in teams, have poor critical thinking skills and come up short on creativity.

The school initially planned to collect responses from 200 executives. “We were just hearing the same thing again and again. There was really no point in continuing the research much further,” says Hult President Stephen Hodges. He added that he was surprised by the consistency of those negative sentiments.

Keeping the Game of Thrones TV Show from Catching up to the Books

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

George R.R. Martin has a plan for keeping the Game of Thrones TV show from catching up to the books:

They know certain things. I’ve told them certain things. So they have some knowledge, but the devil is in the details. I can give them the broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet. I’m hopeful that I can not let them catch up with me. The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book. The third book [A Storm of Swords] was so long that it had to be split into two. But there are two more books beyond that, A Feast for Crowsand A Dance With Dragons. A Dance With Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between Feast and Dance, if they split into two the way they did [with Storms]. Now, Feast and Dance take place simultaneously. So you can’t do Feast and then Dance the way I did. You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward.

Dirigible Drones Will Watch the World From 13 Miles Up

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The Stratobus aims to fly between UAVs and satellites:

Designed to be about the length of a football field and 25 yards in diameter, the blimp-shaped vehicle’s shell will be made of carbon fiber.

Without a launcher, StratoBus floats to the lower stratosphere at an altitude of about 13 miles where developers say it will be in a perfect position to carry out a range of functions, including surveillance, border security monitoring, communications reinforcement and facilitating navigation — all from a stationary position with the help of two self-adjusting electric motors. The StratoBus will be able to endure missions of up to a year with a total lifetime of five years.

The ultra-lightweight design allows for a plug-and-play payload on the nacelle that can accommodate up to 450 pounds. And because the drone-tellite stays closer to earth, it will be able to take higher resolution images and maintain a stronger communications system. It might even be used to boost GSM network capacity during high traffic periods.

StratoBus will have a state-of-the-art solar power system with panels that rotate to maximize sun access coupled with a power amplification system to handle any surges in expended power.

The StratoBus project is led by Thales Alenia Space with Airbus Defence & Space, Zodiac Marine and CEA-Liten, who say they expect the first prototype within five years.

Shots fired, large fights at Kansas City Zoo

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Kansas City leaders are looking at changes to the zoo’s free admission days for residents of Jackson and Clay counties after large fights broke out and shots were fired at the Kansas City Zoo:

Mayor Sly James emphatically said Wednesday that “we had young people who were misbehaving badly.” However, he does not believe violence at the Country Club Plaza involving large groups of youth and Tuesday’s violence at the Kansas City Zoo are connected, saying they are isolated incidents.

“It’s not my job to take separate incidents that happened in one part of town and one that happened in another part of town for purposes of trying to create something else.Those are separate incidents. They weren’t the same people involved. It wasn’t the same place or the same time or circumstances,” he said.

However, some of innocent patrons caught up in the violence say they believe the Plaza violence and Tuesday’s violence at the zoo are connected and the city must do more to ensure families can be safe when going to Kansas City’s top attractions.

Residents of Jackson and Clay counties could get into free to the zoo on Tuesday because of voter support for a zoo tax. The day coincided with mild weather and spring break for many area districts.


Marc Hoefer was at the zoo with his wife, and 11 and 8-year-old children. An 11-year-old friend joined them.

“It was crowded. It was a different crowd. There was not a lot of courtesy. It was very packed and very tense,” he said. “There was a strong police presence. There were a lot of pockets of youth. You could see there was a lot of tension. I didn’t expect to walk about and see what I saw, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Nothing to see here. Move along. These were two totally different sets of youths misbehaving at different locations.

All These Stories

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

George R.R. Martin started writing A Game of Thrones after moving to Santa Fe:

I was living in Dubuque, Iowa, in the seventies. I was teaching college. And I’d been writing since I was a kid but I started selling in ’71 and had pretty immediate success in a limited way. I was selling everything I wrote. I did short stories for six years and sold my first novel and got a nice payment for my first novel. In 1977 a friend of mine, a brilliant writer, he was like ten years older than me, his name was Tom Reamy, he had won a John Campbell Award for best new writer in his field. He was a little older, he was in his forties, so he’d started writing older than other people, but he’d been a science fiction fan for a long time. Lived in Kansas City. Tom died of a heart attack just a few months after winning the award for best new writer in his field. He was found slumped over his typewriter, seven pages into a new story. Instant. Boom. Killed him. We weren’t super close. I knew him from conventions and I’d admired his writing. But Tom’s death had a profound effect on me, because I was in my early thirties then. I’d been thinking, as I taught, well, I have all these stories that I want to write, all these novels I want to write, and I have all the time in the world to write them, ‘cause I’m a young guy, and then Tom’s death happened, and I said, Boy. Maybe I don’t have all the time in the world. Maybe I’ll die tomorrow. Maybe I’ll die ten years from now. Am I still teaching? I really liked teaching, actually. I was pretty good at it. I was teaching journalism and English and occasionally they would let me teach a science fiction course at this little college in Iowa, Clark College, a Catholic girls’ college. But teaching used up a lot of emotional energy. I would write a few short stories over Christmas break and more stuff over summer break. But I didn’t have time.

I had finished one novel before I took the teaching job and I didn’t know when I would write a second novel. After Tom’s death, I said, “You know, I gotta try this. I don’t know if I can make a living as a full-time writer or not, but who knows how much time I have left? I don’t want to die ten years from now or twenty years from now and say I never told the stories I wanted to tell because I always thought I could do it next week or next year. Maybe I’ll starve to death but then I’ll go back and get another job, if it doesn’t work out.”

Once I handed in my notice, then I said, “Well, I don’t have to stay in Dubuque, Iowa anymore. I can live any place I want.” And in that particular time Dubuque had just had some very, very harsh winters, and I was tired of shoveling out my car out from being buried in snow. I think a lot of the stuff in A Game of Thrones, the snow and ice and freezing, comes from my memories of Dubuque. And I’d seen Santa Fe the previous year while going to a convention in Phoenix, and I loved New Mexico. It was so beautiful. So I decided I would sell my house in Iowa and move to New Mexico. And I’ve never looked back.

George R.R. Martin is not a young man, and A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t done yet.

JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf to be published after 90-year wait

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Almost 90 years after he translated the 11th-century poem, JRR Tolkien’s version of Beowulf will see print:

The book, edited by Christopher Tolkien, will also include the series of lectures Tolkien gave at Oxford about the poem in the 1930s, as well as the author’s “marvellous tale”, Sellic Spell.

It seems odd that it took so long.