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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Midweek Quotations

It would seem that the theme of the quotations for this week is war and political power:

"War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means." - Karl von Clausewitz, Prussian soldier and military theorist, 1780-1831

"The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and ages. It marks a victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred to conceal its own abuses and encroachments."
"I had rather be right than be President."
- Henry Clay, American politician, 1777-1852

"War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men."
"It is easier to make war than to make peace."
"What do you expect when I'm between two men of whom one [Lloyd George] thinks he is Napoleon and the other [Woodrow Wilson] thinks he is Jesus Christ?"
- Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France 1906-9 and 1917-20, 1841-1929

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


My blogcation* was a little longer and more complete than I had initially planned, as I failed to get around to my planned 'TWOTI' posts and even ended up missing a week of quotations (some mid-week quotations will go up tomorrow, never fear), so I apologize for that. I had an excellent holiday, though, and now it is time to get back to being productive.

Now that I am a month and a half into my job as a research assistant at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, I am starting to settle into a routine and feel the inklings of productivity in my work. The research focus of my lab is far more clinical than anything I have ever worked with before, and this has made the learning curve rather steep. Even when I was doing EEG research a year and a half ago I was still investigating the limits of information available within the EEG signal. This meant that our research was more an exercise in data mining and scientific computing than one in neurophysiology. My current lab, however, performs research on three well defined pathological conditions: stroke, metastatic brain tumours, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Thus, when it comes to reading papers and learning analytical techniques I am suddenly faced with a sea of new terms describing the various disease pathologies.

Any drastic shift in research focus tends to be accompanied by an uncomfortable slew of new terms. The daunting volume of complicated unknown words can be quite discouraging. Likewise, it is often disparaged by the ignorant as one of the 'faults' of science (usually with phrases like, "Those elitist scientists fancying up their work with hard to understand jargon just so they sound more important"). While not at all a novel idea, it is well worth pointing out on the occasion that jargon is a necessary evil resulting from the fractal nature of knowledge. The more closely you look at any field, the more subtle aspects are revealed that require new descriptors and manners of discussion.

I have immense respect for accomplished scientific communicators like Isaac Asimov and Richard Dawkins, but their profound talent is a result not of their ability to avoid jargon. Rather, they deftly weave scientific terms into the narrative, making them accessbile with only marginal effort. After all, it is not as though 'phenotype' and 'fitness function' are terms only bandied about by amateur biologists and laymen, but they are terms used prolifically throughout many of Dawkins' popular biology books where they enhance rather than obfuscate the discussion. Thus, while I will likely continue to bemoan the unpleasant task of wading through medical terms like juxtacortical lesions, immunohistochemistry, and some worse ones which I am currently failing to even recall, the fact remains that those terms have important meanings and I'm going to have to just settle down and learn them.

* I know it is tacky to invent words with 'blog' in them, but oh well. I assume I will need future vacations from blogging, so I might as well start tossing a term around. Doing so in the post on jargon seemed to be fitting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Morning Quotations

A new week... what shall this one hold?

"Without the possibility of suicide, I would have killed myself long ago." - E. M. Cioran, Romanian-born French philosopher, 1911-95

"There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, and waiting, for traces of blood to appear in the water." - Alan Clark, British Conservative politician, 1928-99

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean."
- Arthur C. Clarke, English science fiction writer, 1917-2008

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Midweek Quotations

As you may have noticed, I missed producing some quotations to start off the week. I also have not produced an overview of my internet reading for the last two weeks, although that was partly because I discovered last week that I actually had some comments to respond to over at Computing Intelligence, and that ate up one of my evenings. Anyway, enough rambling, it is time for some quotations.

Please note that today is a rather special quotation set, since we have reached Sir Winston Churchill. Regardless of what you think about him, he said a good many quotable things, and I have deigned to go for only a few of them. As always, my reasons for selection are mostly inscrutable.

"There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies."
"Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
"Mr. Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right."
"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations."
"If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
"I did not suffer any desire to be relieved of my responsibilities. All I wanted was compliance with my wishes after reasonable discussion."
- Winston Churchill, British statesman and Prime Minister from 1940-5 and 1951-5, 1874-1965