Monday, July 29, 2013

Reading (iPad) - Civil War - 2006/7 Marvel Comics

I was really hooked on Civil War (Marvel Comics 2006/7) when it was current.  Bought almost every issue in the crossover, company-wide series.  I'm now re-reading the Civil War Chronicles, a 12 issue series which reprints key issues of the series.

What I liked:

  • the dynamics of how to play off those who think this is a great idea and those who demand the status quo
  • they whole dynamic of the mandatory reveal of identity to the gov't
  • the Spider-Man identity reveal and the immediate ramifications of it.  Kingpin's character, and his ability to plan and take advantage of the Civil War was a good use of the character (similar to what he had done to Daredevil when he discovered his identity)
  • the counter intuitive Iron Man on the side of the gov't and Captain America in the role of rebel
  • Cap's eventual arrest and the follow-up Death of Captain America were well done
  • Seeing the rebels in new secret identities as fun
  • The Fantastic Four - Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) was given some character depth for a change - questioning Reed, caring for Johnny - good character development.  The "sleep with Reed then run away" revelation was probably an unnecessary plotline.  Johnny came out OK as well - victim of a crowd beating, he was unconscious for much of the start, but seemed clear-headed and driven, once recovered.  Johnny and Sue undercover as a married couple was humorous, and their feeling creepy was apt.  Ben's neutrality was also well played, though a trip to France was maybe overkill and a play to an anti-France bias.  Reed came across as a tool, which is a little stornger than he may have deserved - he's supposed to be smart, so his rigidity was difficult to reconcile.
  • Speedball to Penance was a good evolution, and seemed to reflect the magnitude of the story

What I didn't like:
  • The relatively quick acceptance of super-villains into the role of super-cops to chase down otherwise-heroic figures who's only "crime" was to not register  (e.g. make a deal with a murderer to catch a jay-walker)
  • The Spider-Man revel leading into the "Brand New Day" resolution (the a-hole idea that Peter Parker would make a deal with the devil (Mephisto) to void his marriage to bring back Aunt May from death).
  • The vilification of Iron Man - at least in my opinion, Cap kept his morals more or less intact, while Iron Man took his role of super-cop to an unhealthy extreme
  • I found the roles on the pro-registration side to be a little too rigid - seemed to belittle Reed Richards and Tony Stark in particular (this may be somewhat the result of my leaning towards the Cap side in the war)
  • Iron Man's unethical behaviour vis a vis Peter Parker - aside from trying to get him onside (which I'll accept, particularly if Tony thinks that is the right thing to do anyway), but giving Spider-Man an armoured suit that monitors and undermines his powers is pretty unethical, particularly as Peter was operating as a disciple at the point Tony gave him a suit.  Only a really untrustworthy person would trick and trap somebody who's body and soul onside.  This entire relationship seemed to weaken Peter to a groupie, and made Tony seem to be a Svengali - a little more balance might have made the story a little stronger.
  • Not sure what the revelation the reporters had for Iron Man were supposed to reveal.  Is Tony suppose to be a bigger, unethical, immoral person than the entire Registration debacle itself indicates?
  • The amount of death, hero, villain and civilian was astounding and didn't seem to appropriately resonate with the characters.  Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic should have been crushed that Bill Foster was KILLED by their cloned Thor. Civilian deaths are rarely mentioned, and usually directly the fault of the villain - never attributable to the "hero".  This change of status should have been a bigger deal.  Think about the Gwen Stacy death or Captain Stacy - these were huge impact events - now 100's of civilians die and the worst that happens is registration.

What really killed me:
  • The astounding "revelation" that the hero-vs-hero war in Manhatten, where 53 (57?) civilian people DIED, was required for Cap to realize that there was damage being done and surrender
    • Remember, this whole episode was based upon collateral damage done when the New Warriors tried to capture some super-villains for a reality TV show - Nitro exploded and civilians were lost) - why does EXACTLY the same thing need to happen for this realization to come to the fore?
    • The story basically called for a "final battle", but maybe when the forces arrayed, Cap could have surrendered because as a former soldier, he'd see what damage would be caused, regardless of who would eventually emerge victorious.  He would have seemed heroic - not so much when the battle has to take down an whole neighbourhood before he clues in.
  • Not happy with the outcome of the Spider-Man story line - the "Brand New Day" stuff was a cop-out and a sell-off of the Peter Parker character.

The resolution took me from a renewed, rabid Marvel comic reader, to a very disillusioned one.  The stupidity of the characters destroying Manhattan didn't resonate as ironic, it resonated as merely stupid.  If they are that insane, they might as well be the "next generation" heroes of the Kingdom Come DC story line.  I was really taken with this story line, and was very disappointed with the conclusion.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reading (E-Reader) - "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre

I'd highly recommend "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre for anyone interested in the basics of the scientific method.

Goldacre uses examples from medicine and homeopathy to explain how "scientific" conclusions are made.  Chapters on "placebo effects" and basic understanding of how to set up research paradigms to get at accurate and specific conclusions.  He does a good job explaining non-random sampling, problems with convenience sampling and how to assess research protocols without making the research seem "magical" - it comes across as common sense (which it should) and points out common areas where simple shortcuts (e.g. sampling) cause big problems later on.

I'd recommend this book, or chapters therein for anyone teaching or taking basic research method courses, elementary statistics or with any field of study with a research component.

Very easy to read, and the examples are very clear, and used consistently for entire chapters.  Probably not the primary text for courses, but an excellent ancillary text.

Chapter 11 is quite interesting, as it talks about different ways to fake/hide research, some of which are not immediately apparent, such as using too high or too low a dose of competing medications (too high- high prevalence of side-effects, too low - curative effect seems weak); letting patients withdraw without much fanfare (clients who try to drop out of trials are generally having difficulty, so "losing" them makes the remainder more likely to have an effect); checking random baseline effects between "control" and "experimental" groups - "keep" the difference if it is in the good direction, "correct" it if it is in the "bad" direction; along with typical data mining, post-hoc data playing (e.g. looking for sub-groups who are showing an effect, using inappropriate stats, ignoring significance completely).

Finished (E-Reader) - "Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality" - Manjit Kumar

I don't think I can get enough of the history of quantum mechanics.

I think the move from classical to quantum mechanics is a great example of paradigm shift, and the proper (and improper) use of the scientific method.

Classical mechanics has formally existed as an explanatory system since Newton in the 17th century, and was only substantially replaced in the early 20th century when Einstein developed relativity theory which showed the classic mechanics wasn't complete and that movement and time distorted measurements (e.g. elongation or shrinkage of measuring units as speeds approach light; the constancy of the speed of light, changes to mass produced by movement...).

Einstein was also an early proponent of quantum mechanics, as he revolutionized the theories of light to accommodate the dual wave-particle reality.

However, as the details of quantum mechanics began to be explored, there was a fundamental change that Einstein couldn't wrap his head around - it appeared (and still appears) that there are limits to measurement, and that there are basically properties that cannot be simultaneously measured (e.g. the position and direction of elementary particles).  The best explanations of actual matter seemed to involve probabilistic methods, not classical ones.

What this means, is that one can understand the likelihood of things happening at a quantum level, but can't actually predict any particular one.  For example, you can accurately determine the 1/2 life of a radioactive element (e.g. uranium), which is the time it takes for 1/2 of the element to transmute into the non-radioactive form.  However, it is impossible (in fact as well as theory) to determine when any particular atom will decay.

Einstein showed a proper respect for the scientific method.  He allowed that quantum mechanics was accurately predicting the future state, but maintained, until his literal deathbed, that there will be an overriding unified theory which will remove the "probabilistic" elements, and replace with a deterministic understanding of what is happening.  He had intense trouble with the idea that all reality was actually based upon "unknowables" and probabilities.

Einstein dealt with his discomfort exactly how "science" expects one to - by creating experimental designs that will, if executed, force the distinction between probabilities and determinism, or at least illustrate problems with the present level of explanation.

Bohr (and the newer quantum theorists) accepted the probabilistic nature of the universe as a "given" and eventually tired of Einstein (and his cohort) questioning the new model.  I understand the Bohrian wish that nay-sayers go away, but I think it is not to his credit that he basically labelled Einstein as outdated, as opposed to maintaining objectivity.

In short,what I like is the clarity with which our understanding of reality changed in such a short order - from Newtonian physics to Einsteinian Relativity to Bohrian Quantum Mechanics, and the reactions to all the players (except the long deceased Newton, of course).  I think the reaction of the main players to the changing field of play reveals lots about the application of the scientific method - how to probe the limits of new theories, how to test and illustrate proofs etc.

A few cautions were also on display - quantum mechanists tended to accept an mathematical proof offered by Von Neumann, as evidence that there could not be any intervening "hidden" variables introduced into quantum mechanics to re-introduce classical causality.  However, years later, this proof was found to be incorrect, even though a more complete proof seems to support the same conclusion.

It may be my bias showing, but I think Einstein comes out as the purest supported of the pure scientific method - he acknowledged the accuracy and predictive power of the very theory he was purporting to improve/replace.  Bohr et al. seem to suffer from a bit of selection bias - accepting too readily theories supporting their view and creating a bit of a cult of "believers" and "non-believers", which is dangerous as it greatly narrows the skeptical mind required for science.