I read about the triple slit experiment

Someone went and got me a subscription to Scientific American, which is nice. Haven’t read one of those since before my PhD. In theory, I should be able to understand it a lot better. In practice, popular articles often omit crucial details or use “creative” explanations that would confuse most professionals.

So I went straight to the physics section and found an article titled “The Triple Slit Experiment” by Urbasi Sinha. Already this has me a bit confused. What’s so special about three slits? And why stop at 3? You can just have slits repeating indefinitely. It’s called a diffraction grating, and I had one when I was a kid (from this book).

Lightbulb as seen through a diffraction grating. A rainbow ring appears around it.

Diffraction gratings turn everything to rainbows, and are great toys. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So I looked through the article to see what was going on. The article makes three main points:

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People sure are judgmental about food

Some years ago, I read an article about how millennials are killing breakfast cereal or something, and I made the mistake of reading the comments. Surprisingly, it was less millennial bashing, and more older readers looking down on cereal. Something something nutrition, something obesity epidemic, something something overpriced processed foods. This article isn’t the one I remember but has comments along the same lines.

Disclosure: I eat cereal every day. It’s cheaper and easier than most options, there’s enough diversity in brands that I don’t get tired of it. Personally I don’t buy the sugary cereals, except to mix with less sugary cereals. I wouldn’t care if it was linked to obesity, and judging by the first meta-analysis I found, cereal is actually negatively correlated with being overweight.

To be fair, it’s a fine line between explaining your preference in foods, and moralizing your preference in foods. But I get the impression that these commenters don’t care a bit about walking that line.

My impression is that commenters, without realizing it, are basically complaining that cereal is too low class for them. Which seems misplaced on an article talking about how millennials (who are on average poorer) are eating less cereal.

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The target of criticism

Looking at my past two months of blogging, I seem to be talking a lot about critical thinking–i.e. how to argue. Why break the pattern now? My bloggy friend Coyote also likes talking about how to argue, and today I would like to borrow one of their ideas.

So, here’s the problem. Suppose I have a friend who just did a thing that annoyed me–they linked to a news story where a celebrity they dislike was swindled out of their money. To me, this is victim blaming–con artists often rely on victims being too embarrassed to admit they were swindled. So I vent by writing something on Twitter or Facebook about how much I hate victim blaming. But I don’t want to specifically call out my friend so I keep it general. My friend sees and cheerfully agrees with my post, but fails to realize that I was talking about them; they thought it was about sexual assault or something.

As Coyote put it:

If you want to tell people “this belief is wrong” or “this practice won’t do what you think it will” then the first step is making sure you can precisely and accurately describe the belief/practice in the first place, where “accurately” here is assessed by your audience (not you), because if nobody can see themselves in the flawed behavior as you’ve described it, then your criticism might as well be addressed to nobody.

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Fractals from Newton’s Method

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2008, over ten years ago!  This is the one that explains where my avatar comes from.

Today, I will explain how I created this:

Three-colored fractal

This is a fractal. A fractal is a pattern that contains smaller versions of itself. But it’s not just any fractal. It’s a fractal I created from something called Newton’s method.

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In meta news

In case you missed it, PZ Myers launched a FTB Discord server.  As part of that, several blogs started dedicated channels, and I started one as well.  My channel’s currently quiet, which suits me fine, but if chatrooms are a format that appeals to you, then you’re invited to join.

I’d also like to mention that last week I touched up my banner so it’s less blurry, and added a favicon.  Not sure how many people knew this, but there is a puzzle embedded in the banner, which I personally designed and am quite attached to.

On subversivism

This has been crossposted to The Asexual Agenda.

“Subversivism”, according to Julia Serano, is

the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms.

Serano criticizes subversivism because it creates a double-standard, where people who are perceived as having less transgressive experiences are excluded or othered.

Subversivism was established in Serano’s book, Whipping Girl, and further discussed in Excluded. Although, I admit that I have not read these books, and have instead gotten the short version from Serano’s blog. I refer to subversivism often enough that it seems useful to write up my own thinking about it, and discuss its applications to my own area of activism.

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Word count

As someone with a number of idiosyncratic opinions, and as someone who has extensively elaborated on my opinions, I think a great deal about length. If I take 2000 words to explain why X is wrong, then: A) how can I realistically expect anyone to read it? and B) how can I realistically expect anyone to go through the same thought process themselves, and end in the same place?

Realistically, I can’t expect any individual to read any of my writing. Most people don’t, you know. I have site statistics, I have the population of the world. I know a lot of people prefer different kinds of media… videos, memes, IRL conversations, collections of one-liners… I don’t judge. Or maybe they just don’t give a shit about whatever mother of all niches I have chosen to write about today.

And independent of whether people read what I say, it’s unrealistic to expect them to follow the same path. I’ve been blogging for long time, I know that not even I come to the same conclusions each time I address the same subject. I also like to think I put some sort of work and cleverness into forming my opinions. Well, if I’m so clever, how can I judge others for being less clever? Aren’t I kind of a high bar?

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