Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Traffic Circles

An example of the distance between the expert elite and the user is the difference of opinion concerning traffic circles. Traffic engineers love round-abouts, circles or rondpoints. They will defend them in the face of public outcry . In theory, a traffic circle is ingenious. You have four or more streams of traffic miraculous merging and crossing without a signal or sign. The flow is smooth and safe. That's the theory. In fact, stress levels are so high in people trying to get around that they will drive miles out of the way to avoid them. One can find many funny and scary videos on the internet illustrating the madness at traffic circles all over the world. When it doesn't work properly and safely, the traffic engineers blame the drivers who they claim are driving too fast or don't know the rules of negotiating the circle properly. In fact there are no rules but survival of the fittest when it comes to these monsters. I've been told by several local policemen that the best policy is to ignore the "rules" and drive slowly on the right very, very, very defensively.

Monday, February 15, 2010

fershtunkener inevitable

I was doing a little research on the internet in preparation for a talk to be given by a warmist at our philosophy club. He was to make a presentation about his visits to Alaska and the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap. My search led me to the existence of massive polar volcanos that melt glaciers and emit carbon dioxide, a fact of which I wasn't aware. The volcanos add another element to the model of the global energy balance; another poorly understood element that cannot be quantified. My intent here is not to reopen a discussion of global climate change, but something philosophically broader. Let us assume that a sufficiently accurate model cannot be created and ask ourselves a few questions about that situation.

What does one do when science is not powerful enough to yield the required information about the risks of the future? Getting away from the controversial area of climate change, we can take collision with an asteroid or oversize meteor as unmodelable, yet the risk exists and the consequences would be massive. What is the rational strategy in such a situation? Arguing that we should do something, because the result of not doing something is huge, is fallacious. Edward Teller pointed out the logical fallacy of multiplying a probability that approaches zero by a consequence that approaches infinity which yields an indeterminant risk.

It would seem that at a high level of ignorance or a reliance on providence requires a strategy of flexibility. Decisions in favor of flexibility allow one to wait as long as possible which in turn decreases uncertainty. Adaptation is clearly the way to go, because it gives you precious time in an unknown environment. An example of an adaptation would be a local dike rather than shutting down energy consumption worldwide.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

fershtunkener first-graders

It was my first time as a first-grade volunteer. As I entered the classroom, the teacher welcomed me and immediately one little five year old came running up to hug me. I had heard that these kids were as much in need of affection as tutoring. The teacher quickly intercepted the child and sternly told him to sit down. My heart melted and I was thinking that she was kind of harsh to what seemed like such a needy child. She then said, "Watch out for Jacob. He gets a runny nose full of snot and looks for any adult he can wipe his nose on."
There's a life lesson to be learned here for a bleeding-heart liberal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dumb Commercials

One of the dumbest TV commercials in the world has to be the one by Brinks Home Security. It tries to convince the consumer that some evil-doer is just outside your door waiting to smash it in and attack you and your family. In this particular version, a mother and young daughter set the front door alarm. Moments later the door is crashed in by a hoodlum. The alarm goes off as they run upstairs presumably to get to a safe room. On their way down the hallway moving at top speed in a panic, they come to a screeching halt as the telephone rings. It's Brinks Home Security inquiring about what set off the alarm. Of course, it might just as well have been a tele-marketer. Remember, in an emergency, when the lives of you and your child are in danger, always interrupt your escape to answer the telephone.