Computers and science

January 26, 2010

I found this interesting: Keeping computers from ending science’s reproducibility.

In recent years, scientists may have inadvertently given up on a key component of the scientific method: reproducibility. That’s an argument that’s being advanced by a number of people who have been tracking our increasing reliance on computational methods in all areas of science. An apparently simple computerized analysis may now involve a complex pipeline of software tools; reproducing it will require version control for both software and data, along with careful documentation of the precise parameters used at every step. Some researchers are now getting concerned that their peers simply aren’t up to the challenge, and we need to start providing the legal and software tools to make it easier for them.

What he never mentions in the article: almost all of the so-called “climate science” is computational analysis, and one of the largest documents in the “Climategate” files was a log of one scientist’s two-year failing effort to reproduce some previously published results.

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Book Reviews

January 18, 2010

I got several books for Christmas. (Surprise!) Two of them are by Margaret Barker: Christmas—The Original Story and Temple Themes in Christian Worship. I haven’t finished the second one yet but I’ve been enjoying reading them. If you’re not familiar with Margaret Barker, she’s a scholar who studies Christian origins and in particular has written several books (I already had two others, The Older Testament and The Great Angel) expanding on her thesis that most of what scholars have considered new about Christianity was actually a restoration of beliefs and practices from the First Temple (ie., Solomon’s temple before the Babylonian exile.)

Another book I got was Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This is a fantasy novel and it’s really, really, good. I’m not sure how much to say without giving parts of it away. He’s very original and the characters are very well developed.

After I finished that I started reading The Sword of Shanara by Terry Brooks. Sam bought the “25th Anniversary Edition” printing of the trilogy that starts with that book, and I didn’t have anything else (fiction, any way) to read. Now, I’ve seen this book in bookstores and libraries since it was first published, but the jacket blurbs and such always gave me the impression it was a cheap imitation of Tolkien so I never bothered to read it. Well, now that I started it I think I can say that my impression was correct, with a big emphasis on the “cheap” part. Frankly, I’m astonished the book ever got published, let alone became a best seller. The characters aren’t even two dimensional, while there’s danger and adventure there don’t seem to be any moral choices, and the prose style is more like someone describing the story than actually telling it. I’m glad I never wasted any of my money on this.

Finally, I went to the library last week and found The Gathering Storm in the “new books” shelves. This is the twelfth book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Unfortunately, Robert Jordan died a couple of years ago before finishing the story, so his widow and editor (she’s the same person) hired Brandon Sanderson to finish it, and both are credited as authors. This was supposed to be the last book, but as Sanderson started working on it he realized there were too many loose ends to tie up (if Jordan had a fault, it was branching out his plot in too many directions) so there will still be two more books. But this book does start resolving some of the subplots, so it does seem plausible he’ll be able to finish in two more. The only problem is I’m ready to read them now.

Long time, no blog

January 11, 2010

The University was closed the last two weeks of December, and I took vacation the two weeks before that. So with all that time off, you’d think I’d find plenty of time to blog. But I was too busy goofing off.

So, we had a good holiday: for the first time in over three years, all the kids were home at the same time. Sarah was only home for a few days, and Daniel had to go back right after New Years, but it was nice to have everyone together again.

Speaking of Daniel, today he emailed a link to a video of the BYU Air Force ROTC drill team, of which he’s a member. The resolution isn’t good enough to tell which one’s him, though.

Here’s another interesting link, about Vitamin D and scientific consensus.

Now that I’m working again, maybe I’ll get around to blogging more too.