Friday, August 31, 2007

Thorn Within

I'm listening to "Thorn Within" by Metallica from their Load album right now; it's really quite good.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Retrospectively Protesting My Undergraduate Education

Uncertainty analysis. Do an uncertainty analysis. Right. This is the type of thing printed in my lab notes (we didn't have a lab text in most classes). Honestly, after reading the 1997 ISO Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement (GUM) for a second time, I am quite convinced that it is not possible to do a satisfactory analysis with the information given to us in those labs. The uncertainties of all the instruments need to be known; the physics of the experiment practically needs to be known in order to figure out what could be contributing uncertainty to the measurements; alternatively, a lot of sample data must be taken to create type A uncertainties. Unless an entire experiment is designed with uncertainty analysis in mind, and the students are made acutely aware of everything that needs to be done to obtain this information, there is no hope for an uncertainty analysis.

BTW, why wasn't the GUM a required text in at least one of my classes? The information therein is critical to modeling uncertainty, especially with regard to limiting what may be said about the uncertainty of a particular measurand and the propagation of uncertainty.

A reading of my old thermodynamics text (published in 1998) prompted this complaint. I was looking for steam table data with uncertainty information. Of course, it is not there. Interestingly, my text doesn't even reference data from the then-latest International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam Industrial Formulation 1997 (IAPWS-IF97) steam tables. There is also a non-industrial formulation from 1995 that has a simpler formulation but takes longer for a computer to calculate. Both formulations have uncertainty data. Instead, my book's tables were "adapted from" another thermodynamics textbook published in 1986.

Oh noes!!!11!1! Heaven forbid we use a relevant international standard. Ridiculous.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When States Compete, You Win

Many companies make the news for outrageous tax breaks when building large plants in new areas because of the tempting addition of employment to (the target) economies. Examples include Dell, Google, and ThyssenKrupp AG. Those aren't the original articles I read on these deals, but they should give some indication of the tax incentives I am talking about.

Why are states pursuing big game with large tax shelters rather than lowering taxes on average? It's like they've seen something shiny ("my precious") and they're going to fight everybody else to have it. What they don't see are all the other opportunities (opportunity costs) for economic growth passing them by when they drive the taxes up too high for everyone else.

A well thought-out piece in the Advocate that I found when trying to provide the links above takes a similar position.

Uncouth Google Web History Trends Recommendation

Google web history's trends page said the following URL was number two on the list of "Web pages related to your searches."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Chemistry and Dimensions

The chemistry that I look at often plays fast and loose with the dimensions of the variables. Particularly infuriating is when a dimensional quantity is used in an equation as if it were dimensionless. When digging deeper into the situation, one finds out that these variables are often referenced against some standard quantity that nondimensionalizes them, but which does not appear in the equations. Furthermore, they are not consistent across publications. Examples:

  1. Concentration
  2. Pressure
  3. Ionic strength

Friday, August 3, 2007

Quoth Wikipedia