Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Rest of an interesting interview with Slavoj Zizek found here.
Monday, August 30, 2010
1. Swipe card.
2. Wash car.
3. Push stop button.
Apparently, two steps was all "Bradley" could remember, because Saturday when I pulled into the car wash port, and got ready to input my quarters, I saw this on the screen of the car wash card reader:
"Thank you, Bradley. Current time: 11:33, current charge $7.47. Hit "Stop" to end wash."
Poor, hapless Bradley had driven off without ending his wash, and in doing so had left his card with a continuous, growing charge. And so I was suddenly faced with an incredibly difficult dilemma: should I hit "stop" for Bradley?
The dilemma here was not one of whether or not I should freeload a car wash off Bradley. I really don't sell my morality for a $2.75 car wash. The dilemma was exactly what I should do to help Bradley the most. I could immediately terminate his car wash, ending the charges to his card before they hit 8 bucks. Chances are, Bradley would never even notice the anomaly on his monthly statement of a few dollars more than the typical car wash. Which means the next time Bradley came and gave his car a bath...he might forget to hit "Stop" again. By helping him now, I might be just hurting him later.
Or...I could let the charges continue to accrue. Maybe an 8 dollar car wash wouldn't get his attention...but surely a 30 dollar one would! If I let Bradley's charge grow, and it bit him later, he might come storming back to the car wash demanding to know why he was overcharged! Then, in embarassment, he'd be told that "3. Push Stop Button" is an essential part of the car wash protocol, and learn his lesson. From that day on, Bradley would never forget the lesson to read the instructions at the car wash card reader carefully. By letting Bradley get the stinging lesson now in the form of a high charge...I could save him heartache later.
And so for a few seconds I sat there, trying to decide what form of help Bradley needed.
Then, as I watched the charge tick up to $7.51, I remembered that I am not the only person on earth who can help Bradley. If I help him now, he may not learn a hard lesson about reading the instructions. But still, the possibility exists: just as I bail out Bradley now, the next time he gets a car wash and forgets to hit stop, there will be another person behind him in line who will hit stop for him. And that is what it means to be a Christian. You do what you can to help a Bradley out. And then you pray that other people will help Bradley out too.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Question 1: Are you against "an Islamic Center a couple blocks from the site of the World Trade Center"?
Question 2: Is there an Islamic prayer center inside the Pentagon building?
Question 3: Can you name an event, other than the events of September 11th, in which Muslims deliberately attacked the United States of America?
Question 4: Can you name a person who has personally caused you harm (outside of the events on September 11th) that is a Muslim?
Question 5: Name 5 countries where Islam is the major religion.
Question 6: Were you aware that one of the primary financiers of the "Ground Zero Mosque" is the second largest shareholder in Fox News?
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
And so when obviously important, needed, plausible innovations are apparent it makes me sad that I will probably not see them bear fruit during my productive lifetime. The two examples I am talking about are obviously fusion and ambient superconductivity. For fusion, see about one in three of my entries in 2009.
But as for ambient superconductivity, I have to say: the possibilities are endless. Besides wind generators that produced infinite power, motors with infinite torque, long-distance power generation with zero current loss, solenoids with infinite strength, reduction in wire size by a factor of 100, and a cadre of other uses, the fact that structures like the Large Hadron Collider could reach much higher field strengths leads to further potential for major innovations. Maybe a wormhole isn't feasible to artificially create and maintain...unless you had superconductive wire that could hold the current necessary without melting.
Or what if you took a superconductive wire and plunged one end into the sun? In theory (see Larry Niven's Ringworld series) the wire could not be different temperature at any point along it, so the entire wire would heat up to the temperature of the sun. Plunge the other end into a lake...and evaporate the lake. Or plunge the other end into the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa, and the evaporated water could irrigate the entire Sahara Desert!
For me, the dream is of building linear actuators about the same size as human muscle, but a thousand times the strength. Powered exoskeletons become very realistic if you no longer have to worry about overheating your solenoids.
Friday, August 20, 2010
And while self-satisfaction is a worthy and important lifelong goal, so too is doing things in the service of others. For example, a typical bucket list goal would be to build your own cabin on your land, or build your dream home...
...would not an equally satisfying goal be to build a Habitat for Humanity home? Certainly, you lose the ability to use the home after it is completed...but you gain the blessings and grace of a family that now has a place to live. Or why not do both? Another example would be to ride your bike across a state. Why not make that state Iowa, and join RAGBRAI, raising money to fight cancer?
So with that in mind, TAE has spent (literally) the last two years assembling an active list of selfish and not-so-selfish bucket list goals. This entry will go into a special floating section of the blog page, for easy viewing and updating. Expect the list to change as my motives change. I also welcome recommendations for other bucket list entries. For simplicity, I have created two sections, Selfish Goals and Unselfish Goals.
1. Climb all 54 of Colorado's Fourteeners, stand at the peak of each and scream at the top of my lungs.
2. Learn French. Order food at Olive Garden in French, then get irritated with the American waiter for not understanding me.
3. Learn Spanish, visit a country where that is the native language and not speak a word of English while there.
4. Hunt an Apex Predator. Look into its eyes before I kill it.
5. Take my family to Bora Bora.
6. Learn to surf.
7. Start my own engineering firm.
8. Stand up for an issue even if it costs me a friend.
9. Ride an elephant. In Africa.
10. Drop whatever I am doing and help out a friend.
11. Finish my book: "Redemption"
12. Get my PhD. Teach a class at a University. Become renowned amongst students for my kooky behavior and excitement over boring material.
13. During an award acceptance speech, yawn.
14. Jump a train.
1. Make an anonymous donation of at least $10,000. Tell no one I did this.
2. Be a Scout leader for my kid(s). Take them camping.
3. Build a Habitat for Humanity house.
4. Drop whatever I am doing and help out a friend.
5. Get the "5 gallon" pin from the Red Cross
7. Actively stop a crime in progress.
8. Take cupcakes to school every year on my kid's birthday.
9. During an award acceptance speech, thank my parents.
Or as my brother-in-law so succinctly puts it: "Who the hell cares where you are. And who the hell is snobby enough to post up "I'm at First Watch eating pancakes" and think anyone cares?!"
Catholics On Geocentrism:
"The proposition that the Earth is not the centre of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith "
Catholics on Evolution:
"Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith."
Catholics, apparently, consider changes to the status quo a threat to their faith.
Ross preaching at gays sounds like Bobby Drake's mom in the second X-Men movie: "have you tried...not to be a mutant?" While he goes on and pretends like he doesn't want gays to go away, or that he's totally okay with some sub-marriage civil union concept, the fact is that Ross would prefer that gays went right back into the denial closet where Catholics like most controversial issues to stay.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Phooey on that. Jonah Lehrer boils this down in his latest post:
In the late 1990s, Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, began interviewing female residents in the Robert Taylor Homes, a massive housing project on the South Side of Chicago. Kuo and her colleagues compared women randomly assigned to various apartments. Some had a view of nothing but concrete sprawl, the blacktop of parking lots and basketball courts. Others looked out on grassy courtyards filled with trees and flowerbeds. Kuo then measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. She found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category.So when people tell me cities are great...I say "yeah, for everything except living."
I'm not saying there aren't creative, brilliant people living in Boston. I can think of more than one close friend who lives there and seems sane enough (Hi, Ryan). But for me, the stress-reduction found in looking at nature vastly overwhelms any other opportunities I could find living in a bustling metropolis of concrete and steel. Which is why I happily take a lower salary at the edge of the Plains over a higher salary and a concrete jungle on the coast.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Skipping over my usual diatribe about the ridiculousness of manned spaceflight, and ignoring that robots have been crawling on the surface of Mars quite happily for most of a decade, rendering a Mars mission pointless, let me ask this question: why don't orbital spacecraft spin to create artificial gravity?
Studies suggest even .6 Earth gravity would be enough to maintain healthy bone mass and muscle strength. As early as 1968, centrifugal spacecraft were depicted in film and fiction, including the famous Discovery One of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Some research has been done on artificial gravity, and most scientists agree the centrifugal method for creating gravity is by far the easiest to design and achieve.
So why, in the last 40 years, have we not built one? "The Coriolis Effect" is not a correct answer.
Monday, August 16, 2010
There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.Note: "allegiance to the Constitution" apparently trumps ethnic differences, language barriers, and religious divides...but not sexual orientations.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Among the men and women the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am,
Some are baffled, but that one is not--that one knows me.
Ah lover and perfect equal,
I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections,
And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Why did I, an independent, do it? For me it wasn't that Hope or Change, really. A lot of it was thinking about which candidate would make the world a better place for my daughter.
But a significant reason was that Obama was razor sharp. I like smart people, no matter how vile or egomaniacal they are. Something about high levels of creativity or intelligence compels me. John McCain has neither.
This graph points out something interesting that follows this: independents are as smart or smarter than both Democrats and Republicans on every single issue except who the name of the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan is. This could be argued away as "independents follow current events better" but I don't think it is that. I think what this graph is showing is that people who get informed on every issue are inevitably rendered incapable of affiliating with either of the current parties. Or at least their affiliation becomes a much harder pill to swallow.
Monday, August 9, 2010
TAE, however, doesn't. My hard line stance towards ending manned spaceflight for the foreseeable future has really been pushed to the limits lately, so much so that I've backed down about posting about it. After President Obama outlined his plan for NASA and American Manned Spaceflight, I sat back in jaded disillusion as astronauts and Florida Senators alike lined up and wrote letters and submitted testimonies demanding America remain in astral mediocrity as long as possible. "We must remain the dominant nation in space" the argument went, not acknowledging in the slightest that we have not had a major technical breakthrough in space in 50 years, or that the first letter in ISS stands for "International" or that while other nations have entered into orbit, the NASA has become largely a Florida Economic Stimulus Package. They argued that we cannot end the shuttle missions until we have a new method by which to send astronauts to the ISS or elsewhere, but they provided no alternatives, other than a large, dangerous, and expensive "Heavy Lift Rocket." And despite successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, virtually guaranteeing that private, AMERICAN orbital vehicles are on the cusp of realization, the bureaucratic blowhards in the Senate and astronauts who wax poetic like veterans of some galactic conflict cannot accept that the interests of America are better served in other places than in an orbital junkyard.
And so, the Senate's "compromise" unsurprisingly sounds to me like Ben Nelson called in a few favors so he doesn't have to worry about reelection. It sounds like the same arguments that people make to continue the Bush Tax Cuts...we must not end this now, but later when we're not in office to face the blowback, then end it.
I have alluded to this before, and I feel like rehashing it now. We must abolish NASA. America needs to immediately and succinctly pull out of space, the same way many on both sides of the aisle urge the quickest possible withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. American lives are put in extreme jeopardy, and little is gained, by the incredibly risky and expensive missions in this dangerous wasteland. There are no friendlies in space to aid, there is no economy or government to help rebuild. There are no radical insurgents to find and remove. There is little, if any, breakthrough science left to be learned. The ISS is an expensive (and poorly built) experiment in failed Western imperialism and we are better to cut our ties and leave now.
Some would argue that leaving Iraq now would open it up for Iranian influence. These arguments might well be valid. Similarly, the same argument could be made that American departure from space would only make it easier for "evil" nations to take up residence there.
And what, TAE asks, are these vile interlopers going to do in space that we must prevent? Fill the void with missiles, pointed at the U.S.? They don't have to go to space to do that. Fill the skies with satellites, pointed at us? They can already do that.
TAE thinks the only real reason a nation would want to get humans into space is so they can spend ridiculous amounts of revenue. The Chinese might send men to the Moon? How much will that cost them? Honestly, if Apollo cost the U.S. around $150 billion in today's dollars...how much would it cost the Chinese? They don't exactly have a track record of tight budgeting of mega-projects.
Other than the single, highly-implausible scenario where another nation might launch orbital satellites containing nuclear weapons whose sole purpose was to threaten upper-atmospheric detonation to create an electromagnetic pulse that would send America back to the bronze age...other than that single scenario...I can think of not one other reason why we need to "maintain" American dominance in space. Not one. And no one has given me any. Certainly not Ben Nelson or Neil Armstrong.
TAE thinks the 18.7 billion dollars or so being spent annually on NASA would be much better spent on educating America's youth. Simply put, we must get out of space and educate some kids who might come up with a more plausible way of getting us there. Why not kill NASA and turn the entire budget into 750,000 full ride college scholarships for science and engineering students?
Why not? The status quo, that's why.
Friday, August 6, 2010
The Tibetan Mastiff also known as Do-khyi (variously translated as "home guard", "door guard", "dog which may be tied", "dog which may be kept"), reflects its use as a guardian of herds, flocks, tents, villages, monasteries, and palaces, much as the old English ban-dog (also meaning tied dog) was a dog tied outside the home as a guardian. However, in nomad camps and in villages, the Do-khyi is traditionally allowed to run loose at night and woe be unto the stranger who walks abroad after dark.
Hark! Hear thou ever-vigilant cry! From yonder darkness cometh the quadruped canine to reject intruders into the pit should they forsake to cause ill! Away! Fly like the sparrow on a safer course!
Thursday, August 5, 2010
So the idea that you can lose weight be reducing your total calorie intake makes perfect sense except for the part where your brain is going to go "what the hell?!" and demand more calories. You might be able to eat 6 small, low-calorie meals a day and trick your stomach into thinking it is constantly not-empty. You might be able to eat more protein and less carbohydrates, giving you a full feeling longer while cutting down on calories.
But your brain remembers what an incredible rush it is to have a blood sugar surge. It remembers the sensational feeling of limitless energy available. It knows exactly what it is capable of doing, totally jacked up on sugar. You probably imprinted this on yourself as a kid, the first time you drank a soda or ate cake.
So think of your brain as an independent organism, like your pet dog for example. Imagine feeding your dog a fresh, thick slice of bacon. Then imagine waiting a week and cooking bacon. Will your dog come beg for another slice? You betcha. Now imagine your house being filled with shelves of hot, steamy bacon. Imagine that all that bacon is within reach of your dog. Will your dog resist the temptation to eat that bacon until it is sick? No, your dog will eat bacon until it pukes. And rightly so, bacon is delicous!
The same is true for your brain, really. Your whole house is filled with yummy, carb-loaded crap. Your brain wants those carbs! So it deludes you into thinking maybe just one little snackiepoo is okay...then another...then another. Or you go to the grocery store and walk down aisles filled with carbohydrate-laden garbage, seeking the healthy stuff. But your brain doesn't want healthy stuff, it wants the garbage! So it convinces you to buy a cake mix...which of course you'll cook for someone else, you tell yourself. Your brain convinces you dessert is okay tonight - its a special occasion! Your brain convinces you a pop a day is okay - everything in moderation! Your brain convinces you that you are too tired to exercise - I'll do a hard workout tomorrow!
All this, you see, is the subconscious chemical addiction your brain has for sugar. So the failure of most, if not all diets, does not surprise me.
Of course, being the engineer I am, I have a solution: outfox the fox! Studies have shown that rats fed a diet with real sugar actually gain less weight than rats given a diet which included artificial sweetener. The reason for this, scientists deduced, is that the aspartame/saccharin-fed rats experienced a rebellion in their brain. Essentially, their taste-buds would think they were getting sugar due to the aspartame's sweetness. Then their blood sugar would drop because their brain expected sugar to be present and produced insulin. So then they'd get hungrier than ever and eat more...leading to weight gain. Their sugar-fed friends got exactly as many sugar calories as their taste buds and brains thought they were, and had a normal diet.
But TAE thinks we can twist this reality around on ourselves! And so I present: The Artificial Sugar Diet.
Did you know there are over 6,000 foods in the United States that contain only artificial sugar? Soft drinks, instant breakfasts, coffee sweetener, breath mints, gum, soy milk, yogurt, many desserts, wine coolers, and a veritable smorgasbord of others. Almost anything that contains sugar can now be made with aspartame as a substitute.
So TAE suggests this: like a derivation of the Atkins diet, eat no carbs. But unlike the Atkins, you do not have to restrict yourself to protein-based foods only. Instead you can nom-nom on all the delicious food you want, as long as the only carbohydrate it has is aspartame or saccharin (which is technically not a carbohydrate). This way, your brain will think it is getting the sweet, wondrous surge of sugar one would obtain from eating a big bowl of ice cream...but you don't get any of that sugar!
Of course, based on the rat study mentioned above, one would expect your brain to get super pissed when it realizes you've betrayed it. Here's the solution: keep eating artificial sugar. Your brain, placated, will shut up again and stop trying to connive sugar for itself.
And so this process will repeat itself all day, every day, as you rapidly and safely slough off the pounds.
Haven't really thought of an endgame yet, however. Maybe that's my brain trying to outsmart me, yet again.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Thanks for your devotional, which I thought was great. Like you and your once-atheist friend, I have this huge appreciation for the universe, its size, complexity, history, mystery, etc. I too find God present in all that. Your devotional resonated strongly with me.
I find it paradoxical, I wrote back, that people are afraid that learning about science will diminish their faith. For me, the more science I learn, the stronger my faith. The stronger my wonder.
I was talking to my friend Matt last week when he dropped a bomb on me: he had started considering the Almighty "plausible." This was news; Matt was a physicist and during college he'd taken pride in his atheism. I asked him what was up.
"Well, you just can't ignore the absurdity of it all," he said. He went on to describe his newfound lack-of-lack-of-belief: apparently he had read that astronomers have recently updated the estimate of the number of stars in our galaxy (the Milky Way) to around 400 billion. That got him thinking about the total number of stars in the known Universe. He told me that current estimates are that there are around 70 sextillion stars in the Universe (a 7 with 22 zeroes after it).
He then went on to tell me about the "Drake Equation," a formula that takes probabilities of planets being habitable, number of stars in the Galaxy, and so forth, and estimates that in the Milky Way there are maybe 2-12 alien civilizations at any given moment. "The Drake Equation isn't hard math, though," he told me. "None of the variables can be nailed down to an exact number, so you get wildly different estimates of the number of alien races out there depending on the interpretation."
Then Matt went on to describe a concept called "The Fermi Paradox," which basically states that even if intelligent life is extremely rare, and statistically unlikely, given the sheer number of stars in the Universe, there must be tons of alien civilizations. The paradox is that there should be all these aliens all over the place, and yet astronomers can find none of them.
He then said to me "So which is it? Are we in a Universe teeming with intelligent species, on hundreds of thousands of star systems? Is 'intelligence' something that naturally evolves and the Universe has filled itself with beings that can zip around in spacecraft and interact with one another? Or, are humans alone? Are we some sort of improbable oddity of science that, despite 70 sextillion other stars, we and we alone are the only species in the entire Universe that can build telescopes and stare into the deep Heavens searching?"
I told him I did not know.
He smiled then, and said that was why he had started to doubt his atheism. "Either scenario," he said, "leads me to believe that this isn't all random. In the first case, you have a Universe filled with amazing, varied species that all have somehow evolved to the common point where they can speculate, wonder, and create. That is really a pretty decent argument for God. But in the second case, you have an even stronger case for God: if we are alone in the Universe, if humans really are the only intelligent life amongst a nearly infinite number of stars, then our solitude has so overwhelmingly defied statistics that you almost have to believe something supernatural has occurred to bring our very existence about."
What a wondrous thing, I mused, is this world we live in.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Shirky points out that the 1oo million hours spent writing all of Wikipedia is less than one thousandth the amount of time Americans spend in front of the TV every year. If we spent that time on cognitively positive activities, he thinks the world would rapidly evolve into a better place. TAE thinks that if you subtracted the amount of time spent on wikipedia articles about TV shows and movies, the ratio would become 5 to 10 times higher.
But here's where TAE waxes liberal: rather than imagining a world where we don't waste our cognitive resources in front of the boob tube, I imagine a world where the huge, vast, massive, appalling number of people living in squalor and famine are free to donate to the cognitive surplus!
Why should we try to convince people to watch TV less and learn more in hopes of increasing the cognitive surplus of developed nations, when increasing the quality of life in the developing world would add entire new minds to the cognitive bank account.
The reason I suggest this as an alternative is because people need their entertainment outlets. The average person is scared of their own thoughts, or has been taught to fear them, or has learned to hate them. The average person needs TV so they can focus on lives that aren't their own, that they know are fictional. People escaped reality via various means all throughout human history, either watching gladiators, or taking opiates, or drinking alcohol, or staging revolutions.
The fact is, America was humming along at an amazingly productive rate, with an amazing plethora of innovations and a sick-fast rise in economic output, all while Shirky's hated sitcoms sprayed jokes and commercials in our faces. And if Shirky can claim that the current world population, with their TVs and their internet, has watched X hours of TV and spent Y hours building Wikipedia, could I not argue that it would be better for all if instead of decreasing X in order to increase Y, instead we should increase both through the addition of more brains?
Certainly, we all could do with a little less TV time, for many reasons, our fattening hindquarters not being the least of these. But telling people to stop watching TV and spend more time contributing to a global cognitive resource is essentially the same as telling us to stop sleeping so much; spend more waking hours contributing to a global cognitive resource. Time spent mentally vegging, like time spent dreaming, is physically and mentally essential for your health.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Basically, all the rain that has been pouring in China has washed every bit of trash possible out into the river system. The trash then heads downstream until something blocks its path. In this case, the thing blocking its path is the single largest concrete structure in the world. Right now, an estimated 3000 tons of trash are being pulled from above the dam every day...and they aren't keeping up.
But let's keep the focus on the Three Gorges Dam for a minute. The justification for the dam was the control of flooding; the dam reservoir acts as a buffer for flash floods, making flow downstream of the dam more constant. It also houses a huge hydroelectric plant inside it, producing gobs of power. These are both seemingly noble causes. It would be a wonderful thing if the Chinese government cared about its people enough to spend billions subverting flood risks as well as cared about the environment enough to build green energy plants.
In order to build the dam, the Chinese government displaced nearly 1.3 million of its citizens, a number far higher than the number killed by flooding of the Yangtze river. Over a thousand important religious and archaeological sites were set to be submerged by the reservoir above the dam. Some were picked up and moved to higher ground, others weren't. Entire cities disappeared underwater. Those residents were relocated to vast concrete cities.
And as far as China's potential dedication to the earth via green energy...consider the river dolphin driven extinct by the Dam. Or the critically endangered Siberian Crane who's nesting grounds were submerged.
But most striking indeed is that this massive project, at full capacity, provides less than 2% of China's energy requirements, and that number decreases every day as the demands of the increasingly industrialized country continue to spike. How does China meet all its new power demands? By building one coal power plant a week for a decade straight, and becoming the single largest consumer of coal. Less than 15% of those coal plants have any desulphurization technology.