Dazzling Knowledge

Monday, July 24, 2006

Male and Female Computer Programmers Think Differently
According to a study in Science, while male and female computer programmers scored similar results when given a task involving editing code for a virtual calculator, they tended to use different strategies:
Even when males and females perform equally well at computer programming, the two sexes comprehend the job in different ways, according to a Canadian research team.

Anthony Cox, a computer scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and his colleagues challenged 30 graduate or undergraduate computer science students--15 male and 15 female--to take a 300-line Java program that emulates a calculator and make specified changes--such as altering the color of a button--that required the students to find and alter relevant chunks of code.

Both sexes performed equally well, but questioning afterward revealed differences in strategy. Men were more likely to find their way through "codespace" by forming a mental overview of the computer program, whereas women tended to navigate by landmarks whose location they knew.

The authors say the men's "top-down" approach relies more on spatial visualization and is also more "risky" because it involves making educated guesses. That jibes with research showing that men are more risk-tolerant, Cox says, adding, "because of that, the men will gamble and work at a higher level of abstraction." The results will appear in Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Software Maintenance in September.

Psychologist Nora Newcombe of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, notes that spatial visualization seems to be a key to getting around in codespace, just as in physical space--where men and women also tend to use different strategies. But Diane Halpern, a psychologist at Claremont McKenna College in California, says, "I don't think the data really support" the claims about risk-taking, because the study did not directly measure risky behavior. Cox says a follow-up study will include such measures.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Arab Silent Majority

Much has been said of late about the somewhat surprising antipathy in the Arab world to Hezbollah's latest attempt to start a war it cannot win. I was most interested in this article written by a "moderate Arab." Note that the scare quotes should not imply that I do not believe that there are moderate Arabs; rather I just think that the situation in the Middle East is too complex for me to define the moderate Arab. Not that the media has any better of a clue.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl

The recent death of John Money, former sexual psychologist at Johns Hopkins, has brought up the sad tale of David Reimer:

The doctors had chosen an unconventional method of circumcision, one in which the skin would be burned. The procedure goes horribly wrong and Bruce's penis is burned so badly it can't be repaired surgically.
One night, the Reimers see a television profile of an American doctor and his theories on sex and gender. Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore argues that boys – caught early enough – could be raised to be girls. Nurture and not nature determines a child's gender, the doctor argued.
At the age of 21 months, Bruce's testicles were removed. What remained of his penis was left, not to interfere with his urinary tract. When Bruce was released from hospital, his parents were told to raise him as a girl. The family was told not to divulge anything to anyone. They went home with a girl they called Brenda.
Janet Reimer did her best to raise Bruce as a girl. She dressed him in skirts and dresses and showed him how to apply make-up. But the transformation was anything but smooth. Bruce Reimer didn't like playing with the other girls – and he didn't move like one either. He got into schoolyard fistfights. The other kids called him names like "caveman," "freak" and "it."
He attempted suicide three times. The third – an overdose of pills – left him in a coma. He recovered and began the long climb towards living a normal life – as a man.
David Reimer underwent four rounds of reconstructive surgery to physically make him a man again. The surgery enabled him to enjoy a normal sex life, but he was unable to father children.

David Reimer committed suicide on May 4, 2004. He was 38.

Told You The Beatles are Overrated!

This guy, Jake Shimabukuro, can play "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on a 4-string ukulele. Note that he simultaneously provides the lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and vocal line.

Billy King Begins Sixers Rebuilding Project By Firing Himself

PHILADELPHIA--76ers GM Billy King kicked off the team’s rebuilding project today by firing himself and several members of his front office staff. The firing sent a message to the club that nobody was safe from the chopping block.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Holy... Holiness, Batman!

Exploring the spiritual side of superheroes:

"In the foreword to "The Gospel According to Superheroes," a book examining superheroes and religion, legendary comic book writer and editor Stan Lee says he always avoided any mention of specific religions in his stories.

"I thought of myself as an 'equal opportunity writer,'" he says.

But a few writers have brought religion into the mix when taking on some longtime characters. Frank Miller, for example, established Marvel's blind Daredevil as Catholic many years ago.

"From a story point of view, a guy that dresses up like a devil but is devoutly Christian is interesting," says Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics editor in chief. "Just the same way that the fact that he is a lawyer by day and practices vigilante justice at night is interesting and makes for great storytelling."

More recently, Ben Grimm, the Thing from the Fantastic Four, was revealed to be Jewish."

Whole thing here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Richard McBrien looks at how Benedict XVI may act when it comes to the canonization of new saints. He also hopes that, in the future, the Church will recognize more types of people as examples of discipleship. JPII had continued the tradition of canonizing mainly martyrs, priests, and nuns, rather than people who live lives more like those of the vast majority of Catholics.

"The Quattrocchis were the first married couple to be beatified in five centuries. On the surface, their beatification represented a change in the Vatican’s approach to saint-making.

Here was a married couple who had raised four children during their nearly 50 years of marriage. On closer inspection, however, this was no ordinary marriage.

First, none of the four children ever married. Two became priests, one a nun, and the other daughter embraced a life of consecrated virginity.

The priest-sons later testified that, after 20 years of marriage, their parents moved into separate beds and lived as brother and sister for the next 26 years, until their father died in 1951.

There is no implied suggestion here that the Quattrocchis should not have been beatified. This column’s only concern is that the Church missed an opportunity in this instance to provide a more credible model of holiness for the overwhelming majority of Catholics who not only marry, but have children and grandchildren, and remain husband and wife in the fullest sense of the words for the entirety of their marriage."

Whole thing here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Beer Bottle Organ

Ever make that cool sound by blowing over the top of a beer bottle? Ever wonder what it would be like if you practiced the art? Did you think it would sound like this?

Here's what it looks like.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bald Eagle population rising in Pennsylvania, nationwide

But the article mentions stupid DDT myths. Here's a corrective. If only the consequences of junk science were not so damaging to Africans.

Spelling for loozers

On the radio the other day, I heard someone mention a movement to simplify spelling, ostensibly to relieve frustrations for immigrants and schoolchildren. As a word snob, I immediately recognized that this was a movement that I could seriously hate on.
The Simplified Spelling Society advocates a shift toward phonemic spelling of all words in English. For example, “dumb” would become “dum.” The Chicago Tribune actually tried this in the 30’s. That’s why the White Sox aren‘t the White Socks.
I oppose this for the following reasons:

1) I am a word snob.

2) From Wikipedia: “(I)t would hide morphological similarities between words that happen to have quite different pronunciations. This line of argument is based on the idea that when people read, they do not in reality try to work out the sequence of sounds composing each word, but instead either recognise words as a whole, or as a sequence of small number of semantically significant units (for example morphology might be read as morph+ology, rather than as a sequence of a larger number of phonemes). In a system of phonetic spelling, these semantic units become less distinct, as various allomorphs can be pronounced differently in different contexts. For example, in English spelling, most past participles are spelled with an -ed on the end, even though this can have several pronunciations (compare kissed and interrupted).”

3) It would hide the etymological relationships between words that allow readers to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words.

4) It would introduce an unnecessary and intrusive Top-down micromanagement to the language. One of the reasons English is a successful international language is that it is adaptable and open to influx from other languages. Note that English is not even an official language in The United Stated or Great Britain.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's the 4th of July. Blow some stuff up.

I think it still pisses off King George. No, not that King George. Anyway, I like fireworks, but my state has seen fit to make them illegal. Here, Robert McCain discusses how a very popular, and not all that dangerous diversion has been banned in much of the country by nanny state ninnies. Next thing you know, they'll be taxing tea.

I've also been enjoying the appearance of fireworks shops here in Pennsylvania, even though they're illegal here. It turns out that a bizzarre loophole exists that allows fireworks to be sold in PA, as long as it's not to a PA resident. Seriously, If I walk into the store, they'll ask for ID to prove I'm not a Pennsylvanian. If I whip out a New Jersey driver's license, they'll sell to me. We're pretty close to Jersey and Delaware here, so business appears brisk. Oh, and it doesn't matter that fireworks are illegal in NJ and DE, too.