Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Virtual meetings overdue

I was in silicon valley again the last few days. Although it's only an hour flight from Eugene, there is still a noticeable toll, both mental and physical, from all the schlepping.

Years ago I was optimistic that we would soon be conducting most of our meetings over the Internet. A number of companies and technologies were and are in pursuit of this goal. But at this point there is still no substitute for face to face interaction - the richness of cues from facial expressions, body language, etc. are surprisingly important and still not replicated by current technology. We may reach the threshold with gigabit pipes and holographic projectors, but for the time being business travel is an unpleasant fact of life.

On the bright side, I was able to enjoy a warm Sunday afternoon in Berkeley, roaming from Espresso Roma to Cody's to lower college avenue. What used to be grungy college co-ops have often become perfectly groomed residences of affluent families. A casual glance at the realty listings shows modest homes going for >$400 per square foot. Perhaps it's a bubble, but where else can you enjoy a view of the bay on a warm sunny day in January, just a short drive from the Pixar, Chiron and UCB Campuses, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute?


Anonymous said...

I know, I know :)


For Some Girls, the Problem With Math Is That They're Good at It

A few years ago, I told Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science, that I wanted to write an essay for his publication. It would say, "Anyone who thinks that sexism is no longer a problem in science has never been the first woman science editor of The New York Times."

I never wrote the essay. But the continuing furor over Dr. Lawrence H. Summers's remarks on women and science reminds me why I thought of it.

For those who missed it, Dr. Summers, the president of Harvard, told a conference last month on women and science that people worried about the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science should consider the possibility that women simply cannot hack it, that their genes or the wiring of their brains somehow leave them less fit than men for math, and therefore for science.

Dr. Summers has since said clearly that he does not believe that girls are intellectually less able than boys. But maybe his original suggestion was right. If we ever figure out exactly what goes on inside the brain, or how our genes shape our abilities, we may find out that men and women do indeed differ in fundamental ways.

But there are other possibilities we should consider first. One of them is the damage done by the idea that there is something wrong about a girl or woman who is really good at math....


Anonymous said...


Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes

Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

"She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue....


Anonymous said...


Minds of Their Own: Birds Gain Respect

Birdbrain has long been a colloquial term of ridicule. The common notion is that birds' brains are simple, or so scientists thought and taught for many years. But that notion has increasingly been called into question as crows and parrots, among other birds, have shown what appears to be behavior as intelligent as that of chimpanzees.

The clash of simple brain and complex behavior has led some neuroscientists to create a new map of the avian brain.

Today, in the journal Nature Neuroscience Reviews, an international group of avian experts is issuing what amounts to a manifesto. Nearly everything written in anatomy textbooks about the brains of birds is wrong, they say. The avian brain is as complex, flexible and inventive as any mammalian brain, they argue, and it is time to adopt a more accurate nomenclature that reflects a new understanding of the anatomies of bird and mammal brains.

"Names have a powerful influence on the experiments we do and the way we think," said Dr. Erich D. Jarvis, a neuroscientist at Duke University and a leader of the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium. "Old terminology has hindered scientific progress."

The consortium of 29 scientists from six countries met for seven years to develop new, more accurate names for structures in both avian and mammalian brains. For example, the bird's seat of intelligence or its higher brain is now termed the pallium.

"The correction of terms is a great advance," said Dr. Jon Kaas, a leading expert in neuroanatomy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who did not participate in the consortium. "It's hard to get scientists to agree about anything." ...


pankaj said...

Hi Steve,
I thought you would eventually get to the topic of house prices (even though you werent really talking about house prices). What is your opinion of the existance or non-existance of the housing bubble? Are house prices in eugene shooting through the roof as well? I looked for a house during the last month or so, but stopped myself after a serious case of sticker shock. Take care


Steve Hsu said...


I bought my house in 1998, and the going rate was about $100 per sq ft. (Plus or minus, depending on quality, location, etc.)

Now I would say it is roughly $130-150, so about 6% annualized return (nominal) over the last 7 years. Not a bubble at all, although I did see a small (1400 sqf) mission-style bungalow near campus listed for $429K ! That might be cheap for Berkeley today (it's quite a nice house), but for Eugene it is off the charts.

Oregon should really get its act together and try to lure more companies from the bay area...

See the new post for more general comments.

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