Spartan Ideas is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions independently written by members of the MSU community and curated by MSU Libraries

Arms Are for Hugging

Arms are for hugging. At least, they should be. But Oscar Arias Sanchez, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner notes that arms are also killing us. He just published this opinion piece to accompany the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (Cancún, Mexico,  August 24-27th, 2015). “Throughout modern history, we …

More

TPACK Newsletter, Issue #24: August 2015 Welcome to the twenty-fourth edition of the (approximately bimonthly) TPACK Newsletter! TPACK work is continuing worldwide. This document contains recent updates to that work that we hope will be interesting and useful to you, our subscribers. If you are not sure what TPACK is, please surf over to http://www.tpack.org/ …

More

Hillary Clinton’s New College Compact

Photo credit: HillaryClinton.com Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, recently released a set of policy proposals to address the rising cost of college.  While there are many good aspects to her plan, there are also some problems with it.  In a recent op-ed on the website of The Conversation, I analyzed …

More

Thinking the Twenty-First Century

I stumbled on this one, Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, during one of my usual visits to the new book shelf at the MSU Libraries. I had not heard of the author, Malcolm McIntosh, before, but the title was intriguing and the praise on the book jacket was urging me …

More

More Shiny Hacks

In a previous entry, I posted code for hack I came up with to add vertical scrolling to the sidebar of a web-based application I’m developing in Shiny (using shinydashboard). Since then, I’ve bumped into two more issues, leading to two more hacks that I’ll describe here. First, I should point out that I’m using …

More

Relief Better Than 2hr Bathroom Waits: Getting Old Work Out!

So, below is the press release for this work that has been in the making since spring 2011. I cannot convey enough how amazing it is to *finally* see it out! Background: For the BEACON course which pairs computer scientists and biologists, I pitched the idea of looking at signals, and lucky me, my co-authors …

More

Sample 1918 Michigan Ballot Proposal on Women’s Suffrage

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on this day (August 18) in 1920, finally granting American women the right to vote.  But the battle over women’s suffrage was fought first in the legislatures and courts of individual states, and with the passage of time it can be easy to forget just …

More

New Morbid Terminology: Cementochronology

When I saw this word I just knew it would make a great new morbid terminology. If we take the word apart, there are two major pieces: cemento and chronology. Chronology is the easy one; it means the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence. When we are talking about building …

More

Gun Lake Band Statement on Withholding Revenue Sharing Payments

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi has withheld its gaming revenue sharing payments, and expressed concern that it may impact its budget. The Gun Lake Band has issued a statement in response: Clearly, when the Tribe and the State negotiated our gaming compact we discussed internet lottery. Both parties …

More

Pinker on bioethics

Progress in biomedical research is slow enough. It does not need to be slowed down even further. Boston Globe: A POWERFUL NEW technique for editing genomes, CRISPR-Cas9, is the latest in a series of advances in biotechnology that have raised concerns about the ethics of biomedical research and inspired calls for moratoria and new regulations. …

More

And so sabbatical ends

Next week, my sabbatical officially ends. As you can imagine, I reenter the academic fray with mixed feelings and a bit of trepidation. I really, really enjoyed my sabbatical. I mean, I really enjoyed it. So much that around March or April, I started worrying about having to come back. But now I’m looking forward …

More

Deep Learning in Nature

When I travel I often carry a stack of issues of Nature and Science to read (and then discard) on the plane.The article below is a nice review of the current state of the art in deep neural networks. See earlier posts Neural Networks and Deep Learning 1 and 2, and Back to the Deep. …

More

Caltech crushes Harvard, MIT, and all the rest

A few years ago I posted a list of number of Nobel prizes aggregated by undergraduate institution of the winner. A social science researcher who reads this blog got interested in the topic and has compiled much more complete information, which he is preparing to publish. He reports that the school with the most Nobel …

More

Fight to the Death! Violence and Trauma in 16th-17th c. Romania

Right now I’m working on the historical background to my dissertation, which means reading a lot of historical texts and history books on early medieval England. As an archaeologist, I’ve been trained to find direct evidence of events and not to rely on text- so I’ve been struggling a little with accepting the interpretations I’m …

More

Optimizing Part of the Objective Function

A somewhat curious question showed up on a forum today. The author of the question has an optimization model (I’ll assume it is either a linear program or mixed integer linear program) of the form \begin{alignat*}{2} & \textrm{maximize} & & \sum_{i=1}^{N}x_{i}\\ & \textrm{s.t.} & & x\in\mathcal{X} \end{alignat*} where the feasible region $\mathcal{X}$ is presumably polyhedral. …

More

Autocorrupt in R

You know that “autocomplete” feature on your smart phone or tablet that occasionally (or, in my case, frequently) turns into an “autocorrupt” feature? I just ran into it in an R script. I wrote a web-based application for a colleague that lets students upload data, run a regression, ponder various outputs and, if they wish, …

More

Kludging: Web to TXT

Text analysis projects share in common 3 challenges. First, data of interest must be found. Second, data must be gettable. Third, if it’s not already formed according to wildest dreams, ways must be known of getting data into a state that they are readily usable with desired methods and tools. While surmounting these challenges are typically …

More

More on caregiving Part 2: The pluses and the not-so-pluses

In my last post, I shared some research that found similar patterns of burden among caregivers across 20 countries. The bottom line: caregiving is hard work no matter what the structure of the health care and social welfare systems. Today I look at a slightly older study that uses data from over 5,000 caregivers in …

More

ORiginals is a YouTube channel co-hosted by Dr. Banafsheh Behzad (@banafsheh_b) of CSU Long Beach and my colleague Dr. David Morrison (@drmorr0). They present short (five or six minute) videos featuring researchers describing their research to a general (non-expert) audience. Their tag line is “Outstanding research in everyday language”, and I think the first two installments …

More

Grave Guns, Coffin Torpedos and Other Methods of Protecting Your Bones From Thieves

Grave robbing isn’t always about stealing artifacts or grave goods, nor is it just a thing of the past. A couple weeks ago, police discovered that the crypt of F.W. Murnau was being used for occult ceremonies. Wax drippings confirmed that the crypt was being used by the living, and the cemetery caretaker confirmed that it had been …

More

Silence is Acquiescence

In Studs Terkel’s last book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, he’s once again collected many moving first person accounts from a wide range of people. They are all moving reflections well worth sitting with should you get a chance.I was particularly taken the other morning by …

More

Emissions &

So I’m afraid that this is one of those weeks when I’m going to send you backwards to catch up. Like to last week when I couldn’t get started because the whole thing was just too confusing, or to a few weeks ago when we were all giving out a big shout-out to Pope Francis. But while it would …

More

Shiny Hack: Vertical Scrollbar

I bumped into a scrolling issue while writing a web-based application in Shiny, using the shinydashboard package. Actually, there were two separate problems. The browser apparently cannot discern page height. In Firefox and Chrome, this resulted in vertical scrollbars that could scroll well beyond the bottom of a page. That’s mildly odd, but not a …

More

Go see Ant-Man. Right now.

Photo courtesy of imdb.com Another Marvel blockbuster, Ant-Man, has come out this summer. With polite nods to previous Avengers and Shield storylines, this is the tale of a good guy, a super-cool shrinking suit, and a pretty amazing scientist with an affinity for ants. Not to give too much away about the plot, I’ll just leave …

More

Happy Day of Archaeology: Revealing Lost Stories and Hidden Voices

Today is the Day of Archaeology. The goal of this day is to provide insight into the daily lives of archaeologists around the world, including professors, contract professionals, volunteers, students and more. It demonstrates the wide range of work that we do, from excavating to lab work, public outreach to research. Being an archaeologist, to …

More

Drone Art

I saw this video at one of the Scifoo sessions on drones. Beautiful stuff! I find this much more pleasing than fireworks. The amount of waste and debris generated by a big fireworks display is horrendous. Tweet

Histriomastix: The Player’s Scourge (1633)

Histriomastix: The Player’s Scourge (1633) This ponderous work by Puritan author William Prynne is essentially an extended argument against the perceived sins of the theater.  For over 1,000 pages, the work viciously rails against the immorality of acting, dancing, and other such pursuits. A handwritten note in the front of our copy quotes Prynne’s infamous …

More

Don’t craft student loan policy based on Governor O’Malley’s experience

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, challenging front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Among his key proposals as a candidate are to offer students in public colleges and universities “debt-free college” and for states “to immediately freeze tuition rates.” While these may sound like good ideas to address …

More

Rankings galore

College rankings have become big business.  There are numerous media and other organizations that have jumped in to create their own rankings, each with a unique methodology.  In 2013 President Obama announced that the federal government would get into the college ratings business as well.  After almost two years of effort, and the release of …

More

Caregiving: The pluses and the not-so-pluses Part 1

I recently came across an article from 2013 by a whole host of authors associated with the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys. (Twenty-six, to be exact! I wonder what that collaborative process was like and how they negotiated the order of authors.) I was interested in this article because it looks at caregiver …

More

Important update 7/21-15: Please see comments below on the really low quality of the data. I was originally serious about this analysis taking the IQ data at face value, but now want to state that while I do find the aspect of the flag colors amusing, I totally do not trust the IQ data. If …

More

What is medicine’s 5 sigma?

Editorial in the Lancet, reflecting on the Symposium on the Reproducibility and Reliability of Biomedical Research held April 2015 by the Wellcome Trust. Offline: What is medicine’s 5 sigma? … much of the [BIOMEDICAL] scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and …

More

Climate Ethics

Are you confused about the climate ethics of your diet? Me, too. I don’t doubt that humans are having a significant impact on global climate systems, but I have some limited sympathy with the climate-change skeptics. It’s going a bit too far when you claim that this is all something that Al Gore (remember him?) …

More

Technically Sweet

Regular readers will know that I’ve been interested in the so-called Teller-Ulam mechanism used in thermonuclear bombs. Recently I read Kenneth Ford‘s memoir Building the H Bomb: A Personal History. Ford was a student of John Wheeler, who brought him to Los Alamos to work on the H-bomb project. This led me to look again …

More

2015 Weed Tour Success

-E. Hill This year’s Weed Tour may have been one for the record books. There were upwards of 300 participants! When I wasn’t driving tractor or visiting with participants I managed to grab just a few photos to share…please enjoy! Also, if you were at the tour and did not receive a tour book because …

More

On quantum measurement (Part 6: The quantum eraser)

Here’s to you, quantum measurement afficionado, who has found their way to the sixth installment, breathless (I hope), to learn of the fate of the famous cat, eponymous with one of the great ones of quantum mechanics. Does she live or die? Can she be both dead and alive? What did this kitten ever do …

More

Productive Bubbles

These slides are from one of the best sessions I attended at scifoo. Bill Janeway’s perspective was both theoretical and historical, but in addition we had Sam Altman of Y Combinator to discuss Airbnb and other examples of 2 way market platforms (Uber, etc.) that may or may not be enjoying speculative bubbles at the …

More

New advice to benefit muskies and pike

I was fishing on a northern Wisconsin lake, and had just casted my Mepps spinner too far onto the bank. As I thrashed my lure back out through the sedges in water less than a foot deep, the glassy surface erupted. There was no “hook set” on my first musky, just holding on for dear …

More

Enter Title Here

I might as well start out today by just admitting up front that it’s not really proving to be particularly conducive to blogging. I mean, what is this blogging thing, anyway? (Sounds like the start of a Seinfeld monologue, doesn’t it?). There was a particular idea to it back in the stone age years of …

More

Magnetism and Mysticism

The Pedvale Open Air Art Museum lies in a magnetic field. The magnetic force lines of this field interact with the large granite and iron sculptures to create some unusual magnetic effects. The lifting ring on my sculpture, Sekimori Ishi attracts the north pole of a magnetic compass. On the other side of the park, …

More

MAETEL1: Day 1

Michigan State University’s summer MAET program in East Lansing welcomed 22 students from across the globe today who were ready and eager to learn and play. The instructors were excited — and so was Sparty! After a warm video welcome from Galway by Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf, the #MAETEL1 cohort started our first day by …

More

July 4th Library Water Leak

Books that got wet as a result of the leak on July 4th have been fanned out to dry in areas around the basement. Some have been frozen until we can get to them. We estimate that 3,500 to 4,000 books were affected by the flood. Some will be able to return the stacks in …

More

Climbing back on the yoga mat. Poses of the day – The Dogs

I’ve been stalking my dog Loki with the camera to catch her doing Ahdomukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and Urdhvamukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) because she does them so well. Sadly, I’m not quick enough with the shutter. Of course, her poses don’t look exactly like the bi-pedal versions (or maybe that’s the other way …

More

Cookbooks are among the most heavily annotated modern books

Cookbooks, we have found, are among the most heavily annotated modern books.  Previous owners often modified recipes, made comments on their favorite (or least favorite) entries, or left food stains behind – sure signs of (repeated) use! Notes in cookbooks are often very personal, revealing a great deal about the tastes of the former owner – …

More

I call this progress

The tail of the (green) 2000 curve seems slightly off to me: ~10 million individuals with >$100k annual income? (~$400k per annum for a family of four; but there are many more than 10 million “one percenters” in the US/Europe/Japan/China/etc.) Via Roger Chen. Tweet

Astrophysical Constraints on Dark Energy v2

This is v2 of a draft we posted earlier in the year. The new version has much more detail on whether rotation curve measurements of an isolated dwarf galaxy might be able to constrain the local dark energy density. As we state in the paper (c is the local dark energy density): In Table V, …

More

Ehtookoto: Client-centered and how!

Ehtookoto provides housing and support services to older adults and adults suffering from mental health problems in the municipality of Lempäälä, Finland. It was founded in 1965 and embodies the principles of empowerment and client-centered services that we often talk about, but sometimes struggle to put into practice. It is also situated in a lovely, …

More

Not Knockwurst

Topic for an American holiday weekend: How did the Vienna sausage come to be associated with a person who performs dangerous or showy stunts? Or, for that matter, with a general exclamation of excitement or appreciation? The Vienna sausage I’m talking about is, of course, better known as a wiener, which, I’ve explained with extreme …

More

Directional dominance on stature and cognition

Interesting results in this recent Nature article. The dominance effect is quite strong: the equivalent of first cousin inbreeding (homozygosity ~ 1/8) results in a decrease in height or cognitive ability of about 1/6 or 1/3 of an SD. That means the effect from alleles which depress the trait increases by significantly more than 2x …

More

DH 2015: Coalescing Frames

The main program of DH 2015 has come to a close. My thanks to the organizers for an intellectually challenging conference. My thanks especially to the brave individuals that forcefully problematized DH as community – who is in, who is out? | who is named, who is not named? | global, really? | inclusivity on whose …

More