Putting punctuation in politics

20120428-081322.jpgWhile driving through the University Park neighborhood the other day, I saw the new Romney campaign sign on a lawn (see left). Seeing the sign for the first time made me realize that an old pet peeve of mine – lack of punctuation in signs – was still peeving me.

For example, I have always been bothered by the sign that says,”Slow children at play.” The sign should read, “Slow! Children at play” or ” Slow: children at play.” Otherwise, I find the sign conjures images of either mentally impaired children whose street is marked as if they lived in a dystopian ghetto, or the more comical image of kids playing in slow motion out in the street.

What did my mind see when it read the Romney sign? I saw a comma, turning the poster into an anti-Romney imperative sentence: ” Romney, believe in America.” Of course, it is intended to be read as if it contained a colon, “Romney: Believe in America.”

We should demand punctuation in all of our signs. Punctuation is needed in order to clarify the meaning and rhythm of sentences. Since meaning is so easily distorted in a political campaign, political parties should, more than anyone else, embrace punctuation.

Finding Fitbit

I’ve been sick all week. The moment I arrived in Michigan for the MCTP Second SPring Symposium on the Higgs Boson, I started getting a scratchy throat and running a fever. By the time I made it to my hotel and made the round trip the the nearby CVS for some TheraFlu, the body aches had set in and I could feel the warmth in my chest growing – an early indication of much coughing to come.

So, when I arrived home from the conference for the weekend I was very much looking forward to being comatose on the couch for most of the weekend. This morning, however, we had some drama that took my mind off the coughing and the hacking. Jodi walked into the living room and said, “I can’t find my fitbit. I had it when I went running, and I noticed it wasn’t in my pocket when I was mowing the lawn. I don’t know where it is.”

A manual search commenced, with the both of us slow-walking around the back yard in rows. Our search turned up nothing. We also poked around the house in obvious spots, but found nothing.

I tried to find the fitbit’s wireless signal with my mobile phone and a wifi signal strength application. But, a quick search on Google revealed that fitbit uses a proprietary short-range wifi network called ANT+, which standard mobile phone antennas are not tuned to receive.

That left one last option: using the fitbit’s own limits data syncing base station in the hunt. The station cannot tell you the signal strength of any single fitbit connection. But, it can tell you whether or not the fitbit has synced recently. Since the fitbit syncs just about every 15 minutes, one needed to only place the antenna in location, wait 15 minutes, and use that to establish a radius in which the fitbit cannot or can be located. The range of the fitbit wifi signal is 15 feet. We only needed three positive syncs in different locations to get a general triangulation of the fitbit.

The map below indicates the data. Green dots mark locations where the antennae successfully received a syncing signal from the fitbit. Red dots indicate failed locations.


Sure enough, in the overlap region of the three gray circles we found the fitbit, sitting on a shelf just out of view in a closet. The fitbit had been removed for a change of clothes, and then promptly forgotten. This was a sweet and simple use of technology and a little physics to help in the hunt for a small lost gadget.

Sign the petition: no platform for anti-vaccination message on American Airlines


American Airlines is planning to run an anti-vaccination message from the Australian Vaccination Network, AVN. AVN is a mis-leadingly named organization that promotes the discredited link between vaccines and autism, among other anti-scientific nonsense. They claim there is scientific debate about the dangers of vaccines (there is no such debate) and also claim [1] that vaccines don’t work anyway, as evidenced by the rising rates of measles and whooping cough (these outbreaks have been overwhelmingly, >85%, linked to UNVACCINATED individuals [2]).

A petition has been created, with a goal of 1500 signatories. The petition explains why this is a dangerous and irresponsible message to air on an intentional airline, and offers you the chance to sign so your voice is heard. I also recommend you send your own mail to American Airlines customer relations.

The petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/ask-american-airlines-to-cancel-anti-vaccination-message#

[1] http://traffic.libsyn.com/firesnake/AVN_AmAirlines.mp3

[2] http://emergency.cdc.gov/HAN/han00323.asp

Certified free of actual science content

I doubt that this product contains no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Humans have been breeding plants according to their useful functions – cold-weather resistance, nutrition, disease-resistance – for thousands of years. It was only when Gregor Mendel illuminated the laws of genetics that we learned how to control this in meaningful ways and generate intentional benefits in plants on shorter timescales. With the discovery of DNA as the source of genetic information we learned to speed the design of biological improvements even more. The point is, like all other plants, black beans (a Meso-American crop) have been bred into many varieties and it’s pretty much impossible to have non-GMO beans these days. Marketing a product in this way caters to the lack of science literacy in our country, taking advantage of people who mean well but totally misunderstand what is means to genetically modify anything. ALL things are genetically modified.

Author’s comment: Thanks to R. Scalise for sending this my way after the original post: http://science.psu.edu/journal/Spring2007/GMOFeature.htm