Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday quote

If we do not love God, we shall forever be at the edge of Truth, and to crown our folly, we shall the edge of Truth as the center.

Glenn R Martin

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Conduct disorder leads to road trauma

From the files of the completely bleeding obvious we are informed that boys behaving badly are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents, 37% more likely according to an Ontario study
Teenage male drivers contribute to a large number of serious road crashes despite low rates of driving and excellent physical health. We examined the amount of road trauma involving teenage male youth that might be explained by prior disruptive behavior disorders (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder).

We conducted a population-based case-control study of consecutive male youth between age 16 and 19 years hospitalized for road trauma (cases) or appendicitis (controls) in Ontario, Canada over 7 years (April 1, 2002 through March 31, 2009). Using universal health care databases, we identified prior psychiatric diagnoses for each individual during the decade before admission. Overall, a total of 3,421 patients were admitted for road trauma (cases) and 3,812 for appendicitis (controls). A history of disruptive behavior disorders was significantly more frequent among trauma patients than controls (767 of 3,421 versus 664 of 3,812), equal to a one-third increase in the relative risk of road trauma (odds ratio = 1.37, 95% confidence interval 1.22–1.54, p<0.001).
I am amused when I read terms like oppositional defiant disorder and that it is considered a psychiatric diagnosis.

Apparently naughty girls are not exempt
We... replicated our methods in girls rather than boys,... the results yielded... about the same estimated risk (odds ratio 1.31).
The editors add
The results of this study suggest that disruptive behavior disorders explain a significant amount of road traffic crashes experienced in male teenagers. Overall, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder are associated with about a one-third increase in the risk of a road traffic crash.
Who would have thought?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Computer software deciphers Ugaritic

Programmers have used statistical techniques to correlate Ugaritic and Hebrew alphabets as well as forms of words which they assume are somewhat parallel in related languages in order to decipher Ugaritic.
To duplicate the “intuition” that Robinson believed would elude computers, the researchers’ software makes several assumptions. The first is that the language being deciphered is closely related to some other language: In the case of Ugaritic, the researchers chose Hebrew. The next is that there’s a systematic way to map the alphabet of one language on to the alphabet of the other, and that correlated symbols will occur with similar frequencies in the two languages.

The system makes a similar assumption at the level of the word: The languages should have at least some cognates, or words with shared roots, like main and mano in French and Spanish, or homme and hombre. And finally, the system assumes a similar mapping for parts of words. A word like “overloading,” for instance, has both a prefix — “over” — and a suffix — “ing.” The system would anticipate that other words in the language will feature the prefix “over” or the suffix “ing” or both, and that a cognate of “overloading” in another language — say, “surchargeant” in French — would have a similar three-part structure.

The system plays these different levels of correspondence off of each other. It might begin, for instance, with a few competing hypotheses for alphabetical mappings, based entirely on symbol frequency — mapping symbols that occur frequently in one language onto those that occur frequently in the other. Using a type of probabilistic modeling common in artificial-intelligence research, it would then determine which of those mappings seems to have identified a set of consistent suffixes and prefixes. On that basis, it could look for correspondences at the level of the word, and those, in turn, could help it refine its alphabetical mapping. “We iterate through the data hundreds of times, thousands of times,” says Snyder, “and each time, our guesses have higher probability, because we’re actually coming closer to a solution where we get more consistency.” Finally, the system arrives at a point where altering its mappings no longer improves consistency.
Ugaritic was treated as unknown and the resultant translation turned out to be reasonably accurate.

This is beneficial for languages that are related, that is both are derived from a common source. It does not seem to be of use if we discovered a language unrelated to any known ones (unlikely). But it could help with increasing deciphering speed in poorly characterised languages.
“Each language has its own challenges,” Barzilay agrees. “Most likely, a successful decipherment would require one to adjust the method for the peculiarities of a language.” But, she points out, the decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences — such as the discovery of an axe that had the word “axe” written on it in Ugaritic. “The output of our system would have made the process orders of magnitude shorter,” she says.

Indeed, Snyder and Barzilay don’t suppose that a system like the one they designed with Knight would ever replace human decipherers. “But it is a powerful tool that can aid the human decipherment process,” Barzilay says. Moreover, a variation of it could also help expand the versatility of translation software. 

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday quote

If the true meaning of Scripture is covered over in obscurity, if its understanding requires the sophistry of the elite, then the understanding of Scripture becomes impossible. The one plain reading of Genesis became a dozen competing sophistries.

Donald Crowe. Creation without Compromise

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Avian nutrition police

The health police have their eyes on what you feed wildlife. Despite grandma's example, one must be careful about feeding bread to birds,
“We had about five slices of bread and we all threw bits of it towards them. The ducks fought a little over it but they seemed to enjoy it.

“Then a man in a fluorescent waistcoat who was holding a litter pick-up stick came over to me and said ‘I know you mean well but giving them white bread is not good for them’.”
A visit to the local organic market ought to solve the problem.
Lisa Taplin, 34, was told to bring granary or wholemeal bread next time.

The fluorescent vest-clad official said giving ducks white bread was like Mrs Taplin feeding her two sons chips with every meal.
The Manifesto Club's response was amusing
It is amazing that health fascism extends to the digestive system of ducks.
Personally I would be tempted to return with bags of lard, sugar and salt for the birds.

Come to think of it, our botanical gardens asks us not to feed bread to the ducks, though I believe that is to help keep the seagulls away, and they do supply free duck food.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Coaxial helicopter rotors

I noticed a toy helicopter recently with 2 sets of blades. It was a remote controlled vehicle and I presumed that the blades rotated in opposite directions to solve the torque problem. I thought this a clever solution.

A friend informed me that this is a solution that has been used in real helicopters. I was familiar with fore and aft rotors but unaware that a coaxial system existed!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday quote

He sees the world far too much in materialist terms. Achieving economic prosperity is far more important to him than fundamental constitutional issues.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fish numbers increase in Gulf of Mexico

Isn't this interesting? For all the concern the oil spill would have on the environment, it seems the associated shutdown of fishing was significantly more beneficial for marine life than oil was harmful.
...ongoing research suggests the federal closure of the richest portion of the Gulf to all fishing through the spring and summer months resulted in dramatic increases in the abundance of numerous marine creatures, from shrimp to sharks.

...Data collected this year shows a marked departure from previous years.

Valentine’s research, which consists of trawl surveys in Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and around the barrier islands shows a roughly threefold increase in what the nets captured after the spill compared to before, in terms of both the weight of the catch and the number of animals caught. Valentine said it was possible seasonal factors played a role in the changes in the data, though he believed the lack of fishing was the key.
It may be difficult to untangle the variables and estimate the true contribution of altered fishing patterns. No mention was made of bacteria breaking down the oil and whether the oil acted as a food source for these organisms which had upstream beneficial effects; I don't even know if such a theory is viable.

What is interesting in the article is the incredulity of many interviewees. It seems the biosphere is more resilient than many give it credit, and appropriate stewardship of our resources—in this case fishing quotas—is what is required. This is not to say that the region was being over fished, we need data informing us what the maximal sustainable catch is.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday quote

Sometimes the very measures we put in place in place to safeguard our liberty become threats to liberty itself.

Callister, Secretary of Defence, Eagle Eye

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Genesis and the toledoth theory

The Hebrew phrase ’elle toledot occurs 10 times in the book of Genesis. It is traditionally translated, "These are the generations of". Other translations include
  • This is the account of (NIV, NET)
  • These are the records of the generations of (NASB)
  • This is the history of (NLT)
  • These are the descendants of (NRSV)
  • This is the genealogy of (NKJV)
  • These are the historical developments arising out of (Wolters)
A question has arisen as to whether this phrase is introductory or concluding; is it a title or a colophon. Other ancient Near-Eastern texts (or tablets) have concluding data. Several people have concluded that Genesis was constructed from similar tablets and these toledoth phrases were included from the tablets' colophons. Percy Wiseman advocated this theory. A argument for toledoth being a colophon not an introduction can be found here.

I have no qualms that Moses wrote Genesis based on previous written records, be that clay, skin, or scrolls. I think, however, the internal evidence of Genesis points to these being introductory phrases. Here is the list of the phrases as they appear in Genesis.
  1. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 2:4)
  2. This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)
  3. These are the generations of Noah. (Genesis 6:9)
  4. These are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 10:1)
  5. These are the generations of Shem. (Genesis 11:10)
  6. These are the generations of Terah. (Genesis 11:27)
  7. These are the generations of Ishmael. (Genesis 25:12)
  8. These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 25:19)
  9. These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). (Genesis 36:1)
  10. These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. (Genesis 36:9)
  11. These are the generations of Jacob. (Genesis 37:2)
There are several arguments against these being colophons.

There is no phrase at the end of Genesis for one.

Genesis follows a family line from Adam to Israel. Because of this, a phrase like, "These are the generations of Noah" could theoretically be read as the conclusion of the history up to Noah, or as the introduction to Noah and his family. Given the Semitic reasoning that a man's honour is somewhat thru his posterity, I think an introductory interpretation is preferable, though I concede the posterity argument is not definitive.

But the main reason is that all of the phrases can be read as introductions based on the subsequent material, but not all of them can be read as endings. Some of the passages can only be read as introductory because they discuss genealogies that are not in the line to Israel. If these specific uses are introductory it seems reasonable that all uses in Genesis are introductory.

Consider Ishmael. The phrase, "These are the generations of Ishmael" in Genesis 25:12 precedes a discussion of Ishmael's descendants. Now one could possibly argue that this phrase comes at the end of Abraham's life which leads into Ishmael's story (though unlikely given the focus on Isaac earlier in Genesis). But if we accept verse 12 as a colophon then we have the problem that Genesis 25:19 is a colophon, yet the phrase, "These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son" is hardly a fitting conclusion to a discussion of Ishmael's descendants.

Note also that although item 10 may be a variant on 9, that is a repeat phrase rather than a different document; the repetition of Esau's descendants may well represent different documents, and would only fit with an introductory interpretation of toledoth.

Against this it is argued that the final use in Genesis talks about Joseph not Jacob. I find this unconvincing for 2 reasons. I have already mentioned that fame is somewhat related to posterity, so a discussion solely focused on Joseph would be consistent with this. Especially given that toledot (generation) is derived from yalad (beget)*. But note also the narrative from Genesis 37 to 50 is about Jacob and his family. It is just that the beginning of the narrative starts with Joseph in the field. This is of no significance.

At least 2 conclusions follow from this:
  1. The proposal that Genesis was composed by Moses from earlier written material seems more likely than than oral transmission or revelation. Note also the use of the word book in the second occurrence in verse 5:1.
  2. Genesis 2:4 is introducing the narrative in Genesis 2, not concluding the creation account in Genesis 1.
If we suppose the repeated use of this formula is likely to be used consistently before or after a unit of narrative, then the internal evidence in Genesis is that toledoth is used cataphorically.


*This is not the genetic fallacy as the words are related in meaning in the same era.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday quote

I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.

CS Lewis (1898–1963), "Membership", The Weight of Glory.

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