Archive for January 24th, 2005

Does Sex Matter?

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Academia
is all atwitter over the provocative comments by Harvard President Lawrence
Summers who merely suggested that
innate differences between the sexes might be one factor deserving of
more research as our society tries to understand and rectify the paucity
of women in the upper echelons of hard science. According to the New
York Times:

When Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, suggested this
month that one factor in women’s lagging progress in science and
mathematics
might be innate differences between the sexes, he slapped a bit of
brimstone into a debate that has simmered for decades. And though his comments
elicited so many fierce reactions that he quickly apologized, many
were
left to wonder: Did he have a point?

We certainly think so. Our understanding
of the scientific method is that it encourages the postulation of every
conceivable hypothesis,
even those one finds personally odious, in an effort to disprove and
discard as much as to prove or approve. In fact, we wrote a very thorough
paper on this very topic 30 years ago at Harvard, and although the science
has filled in a lot of the blanks in the intervening decades, our conclusions
were pretty much the same as the current scientific consensus, as described
by this
article
.

Has science found compelling evidence of inherent sex disparities
in the relevant skills, or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs,
that could help account for the persistent paucity of women in science
generally, and at the upper tiers of the profession in particular?

Talk about asking the wrong question! Just by inserting
the phrase "or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs" the Times reporter is
injecting his own spin and interpretation on this issue. Succeed
at what? And how is success measured? And if "at all cost" includes
the neglect of family and children, shouldn’t we be trying to insert
a little balance in the driven MALE researcher’s lives rather than
trying to get women to emulate them?

"We can’t get anywhere denying that there are neurological
and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly
are," said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College
who wrote the 1998 book "Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women." "The
trouble we have as scientists is in assessing their significance to
real-life performance."

Our conclusions were remarkably similar. The physical,
neurological and chemical differences are demonstrable and indisputable,
but it is impossible to scientifically demonstrate how much of the observed
performance differential is due to innate differences and how much is
due to cultural and personality factors. We suspected then, and continue
to suspect today, that if the more of the researchers in this topic were
women they would uncover a long list of cognitive and performance areas
in which women are measurably better than men, and we are not talking
about cooking and gardening.

from the New York Times

On the Dearth of Human Intelligence

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 – The Pentagon has created battlefield intelligence
units that for the first time have been assigned to work directly with
Special Operations forces on secret counterterrorism missions, tasks
that had been largely the province of the Central Intelligence Agency,
senior Defense Department officials said Sunday.

Wasn’t one of the identifiable problems contributing to 9/11 the duplication of effort by agencies doing the same thing and not communicating with each other? The interagency squabble between CIA and Defense has
been going on since long before the neo-cons got hold of the reins
of power.
What the military has against the CIA, basically, is that they are civilians,
which in addition to leaving them outside the warm glow of warrior male
bonding makes them susceptible to accountability and oversight by that
other most odious caldron of civilian interference – the US Congress.

from the New York Times

Browser Wars Redux

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The Boston
Globe today
has an interesting article on the kid who wrote
most of Firefox, the open-source browser that is starting to chip away
at IE’s monopolistic dominance of the number one application class in
the world today.

At 17, Ross and another Netscape programmer, David Hyatt, started a
side project that became Firefox. They wanted to strip down Netscape
and the Mozilla suite on which it is based.

AOL ultimately spun off the project and created the not-for-profit Mozilla
Foundation to develop Firefox and related software.

Hyatt left to design Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari Web browser, but Ross
stayed and helped fix Firefox bugs from college.

Firefox was officially released Nov. 9. It was used by 4.6 percent of
Web surfers in early January, and that number could reach 10 percent
by mid-2005, according to WebSideStory, which tracks browser use. Microsoft’s
Internet Explorer has dropped to 90.6 percent this month from 95.5 percent
in June.

We are in principle in favor of any project that diversifies a market
and especially Bill Gates stranglehold on the world of PC computing.
In addition, we support the idea of open source software, and know a
bunch of really quality people who write the stuff, and have tried many
interesting open-source programs.  However, we don’t use any of
it regularly, at least as far as we know (is bit torrent open source?)

Firefox is as close as we have come in a while. We like the look and
feel, and it’s faaast. Rarely crashes and has tabs, which we
have become addicted to. But the deal breaker is a simple omission which
really puts
a crimp in the Dowbrigade blogging style – the lack of a "copy to clipboard"
option when right-clicking on an image on a web page.

In Safari
(we already eschew IE except when previewing pages designed for clients)
when we right-click (or option-click on the iBook) we get
the menu seen on the right.  If the image already has the desired
size and cropping, we select "Download image as…" However, if we need
to resize, crop, touch up or combine images to get the effect we want,
we "Copy Image to Clipboard" and then paste it into a new document in
Photoshop CS, which we have open on our desktop at all times. Photoshop
5, which we used for years, had a "New image with clipboard" option under
the File menu which is gone now, but when there is an image in the clipboard
the new version opens a blank document of the same dimensions so pasting
the image in is only one addition click away.

The problem
in Firefox is that although the right-click menu we see when we click
on an image is quite a bit longer than the corresponding
version in Safari, the is no "copy to clipboard" to be found.  We
can instantly add a bookmark or view the image in another window.  Copying
the image location just puts the image URL into the clipboard, not the
image itself.

We are forced to save it, then switch to Photoshop and open it, which
involves SEVERAL additional clicks and distractions, interrupting the
creative flow we depend on (the Dowbrigade is easily distracted) and
cutting into our production capacity.  In a life as tightly regimented
as ours, there is precious little time to be lost in unnecessary clicking
and navigating through files.

It seems like such a minor detail, but as they say, that’s where the
devil lives. We really think that if the next version of Firefox fixes
this deficiency, we might cut the cord to Safari forever.

article from the Boston Globe