Monday, May 25, 2015

The Invaders by Pat Shipman

New, interesting book on paleo anthropology.  Addresses the Neanderthal man problem.  Neanderthal man lived in Europe from who knows how far back up until 40,000 to 25,000 years ago.  Then modern man, Homo Sapiens, appeared in Europe and Neanderthal man disappeared, sometime between 40,000 and 25,000 years ago, depending upon whose radiocarbon dates you accept.  So what happened to Neanderthal  man?  Did our ancestors kill off the Neanderthals?  Did they interbreed with them and absorb them, the way Americans interbred with the Indians?  Did a disease wipe them out?  Or climate change? or what?
   Pat Shipman starts out by going thru the radio carbon dating problem.  Cosmic radiation and solar radiation convert a small fraction of the carbon in the world into the radio active isotope carbon 14.  Living organisms  take in carbon from the environment while they live, and cease to do so when they die.  The carbon 14 decays over time and a measurement of the lingering radioactivity gives a measure of age.  Works back to about 40,000 years ago, at which point the radioactivity gets too weak to detect at all.   Due to one thing or another,  modern radiocarbon dating gives a great deal more age to ancient samples than radio carbon dating did even 10 years ago.  A number of Neanderthal sites were redated recently, and pushed back from 25,000 years to 40,000 years ago.  People used to think that Neanderthals and modern man co-existed in Europe from maybe 40,000 years ago until 25,000 years ago.  If you buy the re done radio carbon dates it now looks like Neanderthals disappeared just a few hundred years after modern man appeared on the European scene.  Which leads to the thought that modern man was responsible for the end of the Neanderthals. 
   The fossil record does not show direct conflict, say Neanderthal bones with butchering marks in modern man sites.  Things like a Neanderthal hunting party getting wiped out in a conflict over an big  kill out in the field probably would not show in the fossil record. 
   Shipman says that modern man had projectile weapons (bows and arrows) and Neanderthals did not.  To an old technological determinist like me, that could be decisive.  With a bow, the hunter only has to get within 50 yards of a deer to beg it.  Without, he has to close in hand to hand and rassle it down.  Deer are alert and wary and getting that close without spooking them takes a level of woodcraft that I don't have.  Clearly a bow hunter will have far greater success than a hunter with just a flint knife.   Shipman's argument would be stronger if he presented real evidence for the absence of Neanderthal bows.  A count and comparison of flint arrow head finds from Neanderthal sites versus modern man sites would greatly strengthen Shipman's argument.
   Likewise, Shipman asserts that modern man had bone needles, with eyes, and Neanderthal did not.  Again, a sewn fur outfit will keep the hunter warmer than just a fur thrown over the shoulders.  Again, Shipman's argument would be stronger with some counts of needle finds in Neanderthal sites versus modern man sites. 
   All in all, interesting and thought provoking read. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cooking for one, Grilled Salmon

The secret of cooking for one is to find recipes that make up small and don't leave you with two weeks worth of leftover.  Salmon, or any other kind of fish, EXCEPT frozen or previously frozen, is very tasty and all the diet guru's approve.  Nobody calls it junk food.  Fish comes in small packages, down to half a pound.  It's pricey, but good.  Fresh is best, plan to cook it the day you buy it. 
   Since Ice Age 2.0 is still in effect around here and the temperature on my deck was 45F, I cooked this one in the oven.  Marinade it in lemon juice, fresh lemon is best but the plastic ones are OK.  Then rub it down with a bit of olive oil.  Preheat the oven to 350F and lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the oven's grille to ease cleanup.  Cook time depends upon the thickness, but is never very long.  Last night was a cross cut salmon steak 1 and 1/2 inch thick and I gave it 9-10 minutes a side.  Thinner fillets cook faster.  I turned on the broiler toward the end of each side's cook time to give it a bit of brown for appearance sake.  The broiler is too hot to leave on for the full cook time.  Plan on turning it just once, as cooking softens fish and it is likely to break up into pieces if handled too much. 
  If summer ever comes,  charcoal grilling on the deck is recommended.  Weber rules. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Computer Science major

Computer Science as a major has good employment odds.  Plenty of entry level jobs are open to grads with no experience, but hold a computer science degree.  There is plenty of room for career growth.  You can work for big companies or little startups.  There can be travel involved, there are always customers having trouble with the product, and someone has to go out to the customer's site and get things working. With some experience you can set up as a consultant and make a good deal of money.  Consultants have to buy their own health insurance, but the rates they command make that easy. 
   To be employable, you need to learn to program in the C language, and it's follow on, C++.  You also need Java, and Python.  Check the college course catalog and make sure they offer all four languages.  If they don't, think about another college.  Plan to take two semesters of each programming language.
   Back in the day, Computer Science used to offer courses in compiler design.  Don't bother, all the compilers ever needed have been coded by now.  Assembler language is also obsolete, the current compilers create code nearly as fast as the tightest assembler code, and  the compiler language is faster to write, easier to debug, and easier to maintain.  But, assembler is fun, I  did a lot of projects in assembler over the years and enjoyed them.  But I would not allow a project to use assembler today, I'd insist that it be done in C.
   You don't need all that much math to program.  Beyond algebra, a course in statistics is useful, integral calculus is useful, a lotta computer programs just do numerical integration.  But you don't have to be a math wizz to be successful in programming. 
   Courses in the "domain" are good.  Computer science treats the computer and the languages, it doesn't do much about the problems that computers are used to solve (the domain).  I'd get in a course in economics, and a course in physics.
  Computer Science will offer courses in software project management, but one is probably enough.  They have been pontificating about project management for 50 years, and we still have projects come in late, over budget and inoperative.  Look at the Obamacare exchanges.   

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Smokescreen? Release Bin Laden documents after Ramadi?

TV newsies are buzzing about the release of about 100 documents off the laptops seized when we got Bin Laden years ago. 
Is Obama doing this to distract public opinion from the loss of Ramadi to ISIS last weekend?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe.

I picked this up in DC last week at "Politics and Prose", a nice independent bookstore out on Connecticut Avenue.  Picks up the story in the ice ages and carries it up to the Norman Conquest.  Does all the archeology and all the historical sources starting with Pytheas "On the Ocean", going on thru Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Gildas and Bede.   Lots of good color illustrations of archeological finds, hand axes, gold hoards, weapons, torcs.  Good maps.  It is heavy on archeology, light on political history.  It's up to date, the last book I read on this era was Alcock's "Arthur's Britain" published in the 1970's.  It does not change Alcock's story much.  Apparently the archeology is settled, with little new finds after 1970. 
  Naturally, we readers want to hear about Stonehenge, and King Arthur.  Stonehenge is dated, described and illustrated but little more is said.  The elaborate astronomical speculation in "Stonehenge Decoded" is not mentioned.  King Arthur is mentioned, and dated but little more is said.  The problem with King Arthur is a nearly totally lack of contemporary written sources.  Most of the Arthur legend that we know and love was created 600 years after Arthur's lifetime by Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Many of the better Arthurian tales are romantic stories written by late medieval authors whose names and dates we know, for example  Christian de Troyes.   The only near contemporary writer is Gildas, who simply never mentions the name of Arthur.  Bede, writing a couple of hundred years later never mentions Arthur.  All we have for contemporary writing is a couple of lines from an Easter table from Gwynedd.  What we have is a medieval copy of the original.  Arguments against the authenticity of this document are easy to make.  Too bad, I love the Arthurian tales as much as anyone, and it is a little disappointing to find so little historical evidence for Arthur's very existence.
  I enjoyed "Britain Begins",  but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if it had covered the political side of the story more. 

$150 million for pure papework?

According to Aviation Week, NASA is considering paying $150 million to "man rate" an interim upper stage on the "Senate Launch System" heavy lift booster.  "Man Rating" is a pure paperwork exercise, checking and recording where every bit, piece, nut, and bolt came from, and what testing it passed.  Paperwork costs a lot, weighs a lot, and does not contribute to the mission. 
  But NASA is in love with it. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Words of the Weasel Part 40

Heard on a TV pill commercial.  "Issues with intimacy".  Ordinary folk say "Can't get it up."