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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thought Experiment

As I said in my first post, I needed some kind of incentive to start writing and having a blog seems to be doing it. I actually have written a few dozen, but although I am aware that about half of the posts have some science content - when I have an urge to write about my favorite subject, chemistry - I am stopped cold.

That’s because talking about chemistry to most adults is like talking a foreign language and you can’t understand a language until you learn what the words and idioms mean.

It’s different with kids. When I talk to them, I don’t assume they know anything and have fun giving them a feel for the basics. I always assumed adults wouldn’t be interested in kid stuff but have had a little feedback lately that refutes that assumption – so here goes with convincing the kid in you that matter is really composed of atoms that are just a figment of our imagination and that no one will ever be able to see.

The cartoon shows the early Greek philosopher Democritus sitting in his garden thinking as he often did, while his wife is making his supper. All at once he thinks: ‘Oh no! cabbage for supper again tonight !!’ Then he wonders ‘How on Earth can I smell the cabbage cooking when the kitchen is way over on the other side of the garden?’ Being a Greek, he had confidence he could figure anything out if he thought about it so, of course, he did a 'thought experiment'.

Let’s do one together for fun. - What logical reason would explain how our friend Democritas could possibly have something from the cabbage going up his nose? You can only smell cabbage when it's cooking so maybe the steam that comes off the boiling pot and disappears, must contain some particles of cabbage in it that are so small that you can’t see them and they have drifted in the air all the way from the kitchen to Democritus.

Are you thinking - rocks and tables and lots of things don't ever smell so if they are made of atoms, why not? Well, if they are really made of atoms, the only logical reason is that they all must be all stuck together so well they can't let go. Right? As a matter of fact, atoms do have such a strong tendency to get together with other atoms that very few can exist by themselves. If you're interested in knowing why - you'd have to talk to a chemist who might not be able to resist telling you in her next blog. Rie

Sunday, January 23, 2011


To him that hath shall be given.

Or as my father’s was fond of saying: “Them that has, gits’. He always used the expression in the context of money - ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer'. When he was just starting his business, he couldn’t get a loan from conservative bankers in our town and had to borrow the capital he needed from his family. The more successful he became, the fewer the problems so it was certainly borne out by his experience .

It has never seemed fair or right to me but t’were always thus - since biblical times - until John Hatch came along and had his epiphany on a flight to Bolivia in 1984. He conceived the idea of creating 'Banks for the Poor' and that led to the creation of FINCA [The Foundation for International Community Assistance] and microfinancing that is now changing the lives of more than a million of the very poorest in third world countries. It has been such a success because of the philanthropy of many smart people who have made it an exception to the rule.

For an interesting example of the rule holding, I happened to read about QWERTY in M.M.Waldrop’s book ‘Complexity’. If you look at any keyboard using our Latin alphabet, QWERTY it just the word spelled out by the first 6 letters on the top row of letters.

I am very right handed as 93% of people are and I found that when I was learning to touch type - that’s typing without having to look at the keyboard as you probably know - I seemed to be using my left hand as much, if not more than, my right. Still I naturally assumed that it was surely because the letters had been arranged for maximum speed and efficiency. Well, the opposite happens to be true.

Back in 1873 when typewriters like the one shown, were first coming into common use, their keys often jammed if you typed too fast. So in order to slow down typists, an engineer designed the keyboard layout so that each letter was in the most inconvenient place possible!

Then those who started to mass-produce typewriters copied the original layout assuming, as I had, that it was the best and most efficient. The more people who learned to touch type using these awkward keyboards, the more locked in it became –'Him that has gits.’

An even better illustration of the rule is what happened with the two video systems that were developed at the same time - VHS and BETA. They had different technologies and BETA was better in many ways but more people happened to have bought into VHS and it won out and BETA disappeared. HTHG'


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Birds

My husband and I have just arrived in the Dominican Republic (DR) for 6 weeks in the warmth and sun. We have found our haven in Cabarete a small village about 20 Km east of the International Airport at Puerto Plata on the north shore.

This is our fourth winter in succession to come here and for good reason. Although DR shares this large Caribbean island with Haiti, the two sovereign states are very different. I found out the reason for this the very first time we visited the Island in the 1990’s and met an older German man who told us the circumstances that had brought him here.

He was Jewish and had been a young man in the mid 1930’s when the Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jewish people in earnest. His parents were well off and like other Jews who had money and education, they saw the writing on the wall and left the country to live in other parts of Europe. When war seemed imminent in 1938 however, these European countries wanted to be rid of the young German men. At a conference called by Roosevelt the decision was taken to load them on ships and send them across the Atlantic in search of a country that would accept them.

As a passenger, our friend talked about experiencing the rejection of every North American country in turn and then of each island as they traveled down the Caribbean chain until they came to the island of Hispaniola. At that time the Dominican section was ruled by an infamous dictator Rafael Trujillo who in 1937 had brutishly massacred 25,000 Haitians. He offered to take in 100,000 young Germans because he wanted to improve his image in the world and as well as ‘whiten up’ the island, trusting the young men would marry native women. Along with others, our German friend described being loaded into open trucks and how many broke down and wept as they were paraded through the streets of DR’s main city to the cheers of bystanders.

Only 645 Germans actually settled here - but they made a tremendous and lasting impression on the country because of their influence locally and in government in improving sanitation, roads, education and the police force. The cooperative they started still produces most of DR’s meat and dairy products.

We feel secure here and find the people of DR friendly and welcoming. Compared to Haiti’s often-chaotic turmoil, DR is a safe haven probably in good part because of the positive influence of a small number of German Jews. It so happens our apartment on the beach shown on the left is run by Germans. Rie

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Emotional Intelligence

EQ-i stands for Emotional Quotient Inventory and is the standard abbreviation for Emotional Intelligence which is a fairly new and broader measure of a person’s intelligence. EQ-i takes into account a number of different talents people have in areas like dealing with others, being good with your hands, being able to visualize things, etc. Standardized I.Q. tests mainly measure our mental sharpness, language and math skills but that is only one talent among several different kinds that more completely measure your intelligence.

It turns out that it is several other areas of intelligence that actually indicate how successful we can expect to be. I was surprised to learn that the majority of successful people just have average scores on IQ tests! Studies now show that interpersonal skills, self-knowledge and persistence are more important factors. Daniel Goldman found that most Asian students are more successful than their white classmates, not for their IQ level but because of their perseverance and that IQ contributes no more that 20% to overall intelligence. As an aside, I find it interesting that finishing work that they start is one of the main characteristics of a successful person.

It has taken over 20 years of work but Emotional Quotient tests are now scientifically verifiable and widely used in many areas like hiring employees, training personnel, choosing leaders and finding out more about a persons strengths and weaknesses. For instance people with low scores in Intrapersonal areas that measure how well you know yourself, tend to have unresolved personal issues and to be insecure. On the other hand, those who have a good knowledge of themselves are inclined to be more open to exposing their feelings and tolerant and those qualities lead to success.

The five intelligences measured in one of the several EQ-i tests are: Spatial or ability to visualize; Linguistic, a facility with words and languages; Logic-mathematical, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers; Bodily- Kinestics, control of motions and skill in handling objects; Musical, sensitivity to sounds, rhythms; Interpersonal, interaction with others; Intrapersonal, knowing yourself.

Now it’s time to test your own emotional intelligence - just click on the underlined EQ test.. I found the test was an interesting and worthwhile exercise

If you have a special interest in Leadership or Buying & Selling issues, EQ-i studies have interesting insights to contribute. Rie

Saturday, January 1, 2011

EQ Revisited

“All animals are created equal and some more equal than others.” George Orwell

In my blog post before Christmas, I wrote about EQ’s being a comparative measure of animal itelligences. I said then that I would get back to the subject and, though Christmas season and another post intervened, here are a few thoughts about our relationships with other animals. In man’s long history as hunter-gatherers when we had no dominance over animals, we treated them as equals, not perhaps in intelligence, but as living creatures with the same rights as we did to live their own lives and survive by avoiding those that would prey on us and killing those we could catch for our own nourishment. In the culture of North American natives, this respect is retained and an animal is given thanks for giving up its life to feed the hunter and his family. Domestication of animals began back in around 1400 BC and the first species to willingly accept a close relationship with man were canines – dogs. Then came sheep, probably because if you captured the lead sheep, all the others would follow. Then came goats and cattle and chickens and so on. Once the animals were at our mercy and we made a business of raising and slaughtering them for food, we tended to treat them as a commodity and often disregarded their rights. It is horrifying to learn of the cruelty in the way chickens and pigs in particular are treated in order to make maximum profit from them. In early times there was a period when wild hogs, who can be affectionate, clean and playful, were becoming accepted as wonderful pets but the ease and economy with which pigs can be raised for food has now overcame any tendency to treat them as anything but products for profit. Except in China, dogs and cats have survived as pets. I live with a dog and a cat and while I only seem to enjoy watching the cat and stroking it when it wants petting, with the dog it’s different. I regularly try to communicate with him by talking to him and making eye contact. He loves the attention and somehow we both know we are bonding and I enjoy being rewarded with the unconditional affection he so enthusiastically gives. Actually scientific research shows that owning a pet of any sort is generally so good for you that you will actually tend to live longer. I think that is because tensions are relieved and we get comfort because we know that a pet is guileless, trusting and trustworthy. Dogs desire to please makes them ideal to train to become ‘service dogs’ and they can be an invaluable companion help for a blind or otherwise disabled person. Smart little capuchin monkeys with their human-like fingers make them ideal helpers especially for quadriplegics. As a pet, however, Capuchins present many problems, not the least of which is that they live to be 40 years old. In the end, I doubt that dogs and cats need worry that they will lose their place as all-time most popular pets. Rie