Dyslexia takes time

I have a child who is both dyslexic and dyspraxic and she may or may not have dyscalculia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder related to reading and writing. I have a previous post about it. There are three degrees of dyslexia: mild/moderate, severe and profound. My daughter has severe dyslexia. Her vocabulary and use of it is excellent. Her writing and reading, not so much. Spelling and grammar programs have been essential for her schoolwork, and audio books and youtube videos have helped her understand topics her teachers (or I) could/can not explain well enough.

Many dyslexics also have dyspraxia. Both disorders are inherited from my side of the family. She was diagnosed in England at a time when dyspraxia was not an accepted diagnosis in Norway. All of the symptoms and experiences described below have been part of her life. As with dyslexia, dyspraxia is life-long. Certain aspects can improve with a lot of work. Essentially, one has to prioritize which aspects matter in the long run.

When it comes to dyscalculia we might have our suspicions. I’m not sure how well she would have done at school without my tutoring. Probably much worse. Interestingly enough these disorders do not indicate intelligence. Generally people who struggle with one or all of them range from average to highly intelligent. If you need understand the world through IQ test lenses, you will have problem with dys-cal/lex/praxic people.

In spite of her disabilities she is currently (2018/2019) taking a business masters at a university in England. At the beginning of the school year she had to take another test to determine the severity of her adult dyslexia and dyspraxia. As the person testing her concluded the report said: “…. is to be congratulated on her achievements to date.”


Open access journals

There are 1978 research articles that have been published by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) available, free of cost, at PubMed Central (PMC). Titles include everything from the 2018 article “Seasonal energy exchange in sea ice retreat regions contributes to differences in projected Arctic warming” to the 1965 article “Nature of Particles Involved in Lipid Synthesis in Yeast“. For English-reading scientifically inclined minds this should be a treasure trove. 

NASA is not alone in making such a contribution to Open Access. The European Union, by way of its ministers of Science, Innovation, Trade, and Industry, realized that the only way to aid future discoveries was by making previous research accessible to researchers of all kinds. Hiding data behind paywalls* can become expensive and difficult for cross-field researchers who need to go outside their specialized fields. Their solution was to create Horizon 2020, an open access site for scientific articles. 

Scientific Research, Open Access Journals, The Royal Society and the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) are some of the other available open access sites. While Elsevier have plenty of paywall journals they also list a number of open access journals. Some of them are non-English ones. Unlike Google Scholar, Google Dataset Search-engine (GDS) links solely to open access articles. I sampled it, and it seemed to do what it promised, but it is difficult for me to say whether GDS did its intended job.

I am a fan of education, good education, that leaves us more knowledgeable about a topic rather than mired in  old prejudices and attitudes. Before the need for more accessible articles became loud enough to be heard, the general public had a difficult time finding anything solid to base their opinions on. Now we no longer have that excuse.

*While I no longer pay to read the article, the authors (or institution behind them) pay to have them made open access. 


It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we cannot be manipulated. That people who are taken in by cults are gullible or stupid. However, all of us are manipulated each and every day of our lives. Conditioning begins the moment we are born into a certain culture, a certain family, a certain language. Businesses thrive on how simple it is to get us to buy things. Usually things we do not need. Even if we are starving, we might choose to pay for “not food”. This video by Theramin Trees is an excellent introduction to the idea that EVEN YOU might be manipulated. 

Who were The Computers?

Socializing over lunch. From left to right, Barbara Paulson, Vickie Wang and Helen Ling. (Credit: JPL)
I have found truth to be malleable in the hands of historians. Writing people out of history or rewriting history so important people are deleted or even replaced with preferred characters seems not uncommon. While some people might have heard of the first programmer ever (Lady Ada Lovelace), the names of the six females who started modern US programming were conveniently hidden from the public. So were their images. In fact, the idea that they were models posing in front of the ENIAC was encouraged. Not until Kathleen Kleiman went searching for female role-models in computer programming did the world get to hear about these six “Computers”: Kay McNulty, Jean Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.
Any person who differed from the idea of a white male persona were hidden from public mention and public viewing. Many “Computers” who were part of launching NASA’s manned rockets flights, were denied recognition.
The US were far from alone in this regards. British, names like Kathleen Booth or Stephanie Shirley, have probably not been heard of.
It is important that we realize that information will be kept from the public if it suits the purposes of the majority within any field or in any country.

Being human

How do you people stay sane?

When you walk down a street in your hometown or city, or along a corridor on whatever station you visit, how do you stay sane when you see a fellow sentient being who is homeless and hungry, and in need of sanitation and fresh clothes, food and a warm bed, things that you get to enjoy? How do you stay sane when you hear about your neighbor having lost their job, and they’re mired in debt, unable to pay their bills, when you have plenty to spare? How do you stay sane whenever you see an injured stray dog who needs a trip to the nearest vet, with no owner in sight and no one else but you aware of his pain and his plight?

How, meioa, do you and your viewers stay sane when there are so many things you can do to make this universe a better place, day by day, step by step, kindness by kindness, instead of just sitting there complaining about its awful state? How can you and your viewers stay sane whenever you stay silent on matters of social injustice, oppression, and bigotry?

Johnson, J. (2014). Damnation. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 318-319).

Farting: popular topic throughout history

In 1781 Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels that includes the following quote:

Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age.

It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of  the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.

My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

Fart jokes are found in most cultures. The oldest fart joke is apparently from as long ago as ca. 1900 BC in Sumeria (Iraq).

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” (Reuters)

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, and Old Egyptians joked about flatulence. I do not understand all of them, but their intended public tend to think that such humour is funny.


Propaganda, another name for PR

Any person who thinks that they come from a background without propaganda must be blind or deaf. Perhaps they find fault with the word “propaganda”. PR is another word that is used when public relation people want to convince us of their message. “All they want to do is to bring us information”.

Propaganda usually holds elements of truth interweaved with lies or exaggerations. Politicians seem to favour adjusting statistics to fit their party programs. Historians may tell stories about the “good” (winners of wars) and the “bad” (losers of wars). Scientists can interpret their findings to fit their world-views. Religious leaders threaten dire spiritual consequences unless people part with their money. And we fall for this propaganda.

All we have to do is open our eyes to see it. Take something like GMOs. Now there’s a kettle constantly boiling over for yay- and nay-sayers. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms (large and small). The nay-sayers would have us believe that GMO’s will destroy us and the world around us while the yay-sayers would have us believe that they will save the Earth (meaning humanity) from being destroyed. Reality is somewhere between those extremes.

Ever since humans settled down we have been genetically modifying ourselves and our environments. We have modified many prey animals to the extent that they accept living in our vicinity until we slaughter and eat them. Even predators have been modified to want to lend us helping paws during hunts or be protectors in return for companionship and food. In many cases humans have ended up modifying the animals to such a degree that they have problems with respiratory systems or need cesareans to reproduce. We have done the same thing with plants and experimented until the original versions have nothing to do with what we use today.

What GMOs do is significantly speed up that process. Perhaps that is what frightens people so much. What used to take a good many years, may now be done in a fraction of the time. Personally, I’m fine with GMO’s as long as they do not result in regulations that make it impossible for others to produce products the old-fashioned way. I certainly eat GMO foods and have plants that must be the product of serious experimentation (or perhaps faulty gardening – my thumbs are not exactly green). There may be “evil” scientists planning on making life worse for us by tinkering. However, accidental mistakes are more likely. In fact, I find myself wondering why people believe some of the messages anti-GMO factions preach. That is not to say that there aren’t problems with intentional genetic engineering.

Most propaganda suffers from the same forms of misleading. We need to look beyond the message they want us to hear and dig into what lies behind them. If someone is trying to use scare-tactics or make something seem too good to be true, then we should probably watch out.

When it comes to propaganda horror stories, anti-vaccine people take the prize. It is difficult to phantom the number of people who continue to spread the idea that we should stop vaccinating our children. They claim that vaccines are more dangerous than the disease being vaccinated against. In this case propaganda has killed people by bringing back diseases, such as polio and measles (both deadly). What I would like to do to such people is definitely not considered politically correct.

If you don’t think there is propaganda in your social arenas, you should look again.

Life without humour is not worth living

ASAP Science have posted this lab rule song. Important rules to remember for beginners and experts with a nicely done irreverent tone.


Joe Polchinski – genius and friend (reblog)

Reblogging this incredibly interesting tribute to Joe Polchinski ‘s D-Branes.

Image result for joe polchinski

Polchinski — Joe, to all his colleagues — had one of those brains that works magic, and works magically. Scientific minds are as individual as personalities. Each physicist has a unique combination of talents and skills (and weaknesses); in modern lingo, each of us has a superpower or two. Rarely do you find two scientists who have the same ones.

Joe had several superpowers, and they were really strong. He had a tremendous knack for looking at old problems and seeing them in a new light, often overturning conventional wisdom or restating that wisdom in a new, clearer way. And he had prodigious technical ability, which allowed him to follow difficult calculations all the way to the end, on paths that would have deterred most of us.

One of the greatest privileges of my life was to work with Joe, not once but four times. I think I can best tell you a little about him, and about some of his greatest achievements, through the lens of that unforgettable experience.

[To my colleagues: this post was obviously written in trying circumstances, and it is certainly possible that my memory of distant events is foggy and in error.  I welcome any corrections that you might wish to suggest.]

Our papers between 1999 and 2006 were a sequence of sorts, aimed at understanding more fully the profound connection between quantum field theory — the language of particle physics — and string theory — best-known today as a candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. In each of those papers, as in many thousands of others written after 1995, Joe’s most influential contribution to physics played a central role. This was the discovery of objects known as “D-branes”, which he found in the context of string theory. (The term is a generalization of the word `membrane’.)

I can already hear the Lee Smolins and Peter Woits of the world screaming at me. ‘A discovery in string theory,’ some will shout, pounding the table, ‘an untested theory that’s not even wrong, should not be called a discovery in physics.’ Pay them no mind; they’re not even close, as you’ll see by the end of my remarks………………………..

The rest of the article is on Matt Strassler‘s blog.