Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for May 2009

So, for the two of you who care…

I’m sorry I haven’t posted that much as of late. Too much crap getting in the way, life and such, the usual bullshit. I wish I could make this blog a priority right now, but the mundane demands of real life are getting in the way of my creative sparks and diverting them to their own selfish purposes. As it is, I think I may have to take an extended hiatus from this blog. I’m sorry guys, and thanks for all the support.

Written by Sri

May 31, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

On Spring

How much more douchey can you look?

Spring. Vivaldi. Four seasons. Classical music. Ugh.

Why do people consider classical music so good? From where I stand, it could do with some sprucing up. Like maybe adding a beat. Yeah, a beat would be nice. No more of this floaty sort of “doo-DOO-doo-doo-doop-do-DO-dooo” crap. Stuff that goes “thump” and can shake floors when pumped through my subwoofer only, please.

Anyway, back to my main point of discussion.

Spring. Variously known as “that time after winter,” “the season of love,” and “Holy-crap-I-need-to-get-in-shape-for-the-beach time.” It’s a fun time, to be sure, what with the days getting longer, the hemisphere getting greener, and the air slowly beginning to smell dry and dusty like summer (except when it rains, then it’s just awesome-smelling). A magical time, to be sure, but perhaps only because everybody’s just gotten out of winter.

And one of the seasons which is going to be disappearing rather rapidly in the near future, if things keep going the way they do.

You see, there is this interesting little thing called global warming. And while the short-term effect of global warming is to jack up average temperature, it is not the only effect.

In the long term, you see, global warming will lead to not only extreme weather, but also to such things as aquifers and above-ground lakes completely evaporating into the atmosphere. Seawater will become more acidic, leading to the widespread extinction of pretty much everything that lives in it, along with oxygen deprivation, since the increased temperatures will lead to the corresponding dissolution of any oxygen that was within the ocean water that is now atmosphere.

More interestingly, thermohaline circulation will either diminish drastically or cease to exist, which would lead to the end of the North Atlantic drift. Now, for you and I here on the continent of North America, this isn’t really a big deal, but for Europe, it kind of is. Here, let me explain.

Have any of you been to Europe? It’s got really rather nice weather, all things considered. Sunny, temperate, lush… no wonder people managed to form Western civilization there. It’s almost paradise. Now, taking into account all of that, it was rather surprising to me to find out that London is about the same latitude as Quebec. And Madrid is on the same latitude as we are. Reference this handy-dandy diagram for further details:

Click for bigger pictureAs you can see, this would not only bring an end to Europe being a nice place for people to live, it means that the Gulf Stream would also stop, meaning that weather patterns worldwide would shift into what scientists have termed “utter fucking chaos,” and also that plane trips to Europe would not benefit from that tailwind.

Cancun would no longer be a nice place to go for Spring Break, the Sahara’s rate of desertification, already alarmingly fast, would increase, the Antarctic ice shelves would continue to melt, submerging everybody who lives along a coastline (China’s population is going to drop something fierce, and we can all kiss Japan goodbye and most of Taiwan too), the Midwest would turn into something approaching a desert, Russia would probably stay exactly the same (stupid Russians), most of the nice bits of California would be underwater, Baja California will turn into Baja Archipiélago and basically everything’s going to be screwed up.

Within about 200 years.

In fact, it’s already begun. Remember Hurricane Katrina? Of course you do. Remember a couple years ago, when it was 70 degrees in mid-December? When we were all going to school in summer clothes in January? Did you know about the evacuation of the Carteret Islands because they’re ceasing to exist?

Yeah.

But what’s the flip side, you ask? Well, you should hold on to your house. It’s going to be beachfront property. And therefore expensive. At least until it sinks.

It’s already a small world, and it’s just going to get smaller. Me, I think I’ll just continue work on my hyperdrive. The sooner I get off this rock the better.

On Calculus

So, in the good old year 1693, an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head and he invented calculus. Which then promptly got him into hot water because this German guy named Leibnitz had invented calculus nine years ago. They started a huge fight between themselves, which eventually became a mathematicians’ fight in general: England vs. Germany. Cage Match. FIGHT!!!!

Guess who won. No, seriously, guess. I’ll wait.

Ok, time for a hint: it wasn’t Newton.

Leibnitz’s notation is the one we use today, even though his system of calculus isn’t either modern calculus (what you know) or Newtonian calculus (what Newton invented). I’m sure that your calc teacher sometime in high school mentioned Leibnitz, for it is from him that we get the symbol for the integral and the symbol for the derivative as well as many other calculus symbols.

Which brings me to the question of the post: how did a bunch of guys in the 1600s develop frigging calculus? I mean, maybe this is just incredibly future-centric of me, but at the time, there wasn’t even anything calculus could be applied to, except other kinds of calculus. Physics was only in its most rudimentary stages (basically all we had at the time was Principia, also by one Isaac Newton). Hell, there were still people who believed that the earth was flat back then. There were still people who found it appropriate to dress like this in public:

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Seriously, now. What would possess a man to go outside dressed like that and expect to attract the eye of anybody who wasn’t gay?

But that’s beside the point. I mean, Newton was sitting there deriving equations to model the orbits of planetary bodies. Even though I’m pretty sure the whole concept of a “planet” was defined during his lifetime. I mean, this is just insane.

Where’s the equivalent doings in our present time? I mean, the 1600s had calculus. The 1700s had capitalism. The 1800s had everything from railroads to cars. The 1900s had airplanes and the Internet. At the current rate of “inventing new shit,” we should already have around 5 kick-ass advances in the world order of things right now. So far, all I can find are Facebook and the iPhone. C’mon, we can do better than that!

Though, the iPhone is pretty badass. Hm.

Anyway, the second somebody figures out a theoretical way to enter hyperspace (Einstein can go screw himself) (Relativity my ass) I am so jumping on that. And then monopolizing the resources of the Solar System. Mwah hah hah. I shall be RICH! Me and the guy who figured out the math will split the profits 50-50. While ruling the world through manipulation of its resource markets. Ah, you poor Earthlings. While you scrabble at the paltry leavings of “precious” metals, I shall be taking over the real stores of value: real estate on habitable planets. MY GALAXY. NOT YOURS.

That is all. Mwah hah hah.

Written by Sri

May 9, 2009 at 8:38 PM

On Standards

So, as I’m sure you all know, the PSSA standardized tests are officially completed. Every high school junior in the state of Pennsylvania has finished their government-mandated standardized testing forever.

So, of course, people are happy. I’m happy. No more time wasted sitting in room 142 watching the clock tick the hours away.

However, those PSSA scores do go into calculating just how well the US stacks up against students from other countries, who have also had to take standardized tests. Which basically means the US ends up looking rather sucky. And which brings the wrath of some people. I was reading the Time 100 issue, and noticed this letter to the editor:

Your article on education standards included a table ranking the performance of 15-year-olds globally [April 27]. I feel that we, as a nation, are being censured for our expansive access to education. The U.S. extends the duration of compulsory education way past that of many other countries. We educate immigrants, regardless of their level of English language. We educate children with disabilities, many of whom have their scores factored into overall  standardized-test scores. I fear this sort of misleading data will lead to a further “amping up” of current standards. In California we already teach fifth-graders how to solve and graph linear equations. Will we be doing logarithms next?

Carol Tensen, Burbank, California

She has some good points here. The US does bring in an astonishing amount of free riders into its education system. They get the full benefits of education that they have not paid for with taxes, and that’s an amazing thing, because heaven knows the US needs smart people, no matter whether they are Mexican or from Middletown, USA. Children with disabilities have a full right to education as well. If the world had not educated Stephen Hawking, I’m not sure I would be typing this right now.

But there is one thing I have a little bit of a disagreement with. Why, Ms. Tensen, should fifth graders not be doing logarithms in fifth grade? Is there something fundamentally wrong with logarithms? Are they “too complicated” for younger students? I could never consider any math concept to be relatively hard on its own merit. In fact, the only things that I have ever considered to be “hard” concepts in math, I was taught by bad teachers. Things like geometry. I still don’t know anything of geometry except for the Pythagorean theorem.

Of course, the reason for her reluctance may be something a little bit less patronizing, like perhaps the teacher doesn’t know how to teach the concept of a logarithm such that fifth graders can understand them. Why not teach the concept as the opposite of an exponent, which I’m sure every fifth grader should be able to grasp. Just as addition and subtraction are opposites, exponents and logarithms are opposites. Easy.

What really irks me about this letter, though, is that this woman implies that fifth graders are not capable of understanding the concept. Has she tried to teach fifth graders logarithms? I don’t know. It sounds like she hasn’t, though, and that is what gets me angry. Who is this woman to assume that children aren’t capable of learning concepts that are just a tad complicated? Not being able to grasp the finer points and applications of a logarithm in the greater mathematical spectrum, fine, I can’t expect fifth graders to grasp that. But not teaching students logarithms at all in fifth grade, simply because you don’t think they can take it? That’s just deliberately underestimating your students, madam. Not only is that unfair to them on its own, it jeopardizes your students’ chances of moving quickly through the ranks of math education to get to the same level of competence that the competition is at. I’ve seen my dad’s old textbooks from school. They definitely were doing algebra (and logarithms, mind you) by sixth grade. I only got to algebra in seventh grade, and I was two years ahead of the standard curriculum.

So, basically, Ms. Tensen, don’t assume that kids can’t learn things just because they’re young. Just because you weren’t able to grasp these concepts doesn’t mean that your students won’t be able to. That is all.

Written by Sri

May 2, 2009 at 12:51 PM

Posted in Musings