Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

On Hunting

Human beings are pretty terrifying creatures, from the perspective of other animals. I don’t mean in some kind of OMG EXTINCTION way, either. Humans are the global heavyweight champions of endurance running.

Primitive man would take some rocks – later on they’d use slings or spears or even bow and arrows, basically some type of projectile- and they would find an animal, and then start chasing it. The projectiles were mostly to harass the poor prey. A fit human being can run for hours and hours, whereas most of the animals humans ate can only sustain a sprint for a few minutes. Humans hunted by more or less running their prey to death. Or, rather, chasing them until they couldn’t run any more, at which point said animal would be killed. For some animals we found we could save effort by driving them over cliffs.

As for the other animals with great endurance, rather than hunting them, we domesticated them as herd animals. Ancient goats, sheep, cows, horses… those were the animals humans couldn’t outrun over marathon distances.

So, from the perspective of a delicious animal, a human being represents a predator that can strike from a distance, can thwart all but the most heroic attempts at escape, and will not stop chasing you until you die. And they hunt in packs. Like wolves.

Aliens should be afraid of humans, too. We’re crazy, for God’s sake. We constantly fight each other in horrible, bitter wars that frequently have no better reason to be fought than petty arguments. A bunch of humans went and executed one of their gods.

It’s nice to know that you’re a member of a completely badass species, huh? It sort of begins to make up for the terrible fatties we’ve become. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

P.S. For more information, check this out.

Written by Sri

November 27, 2009 at 8:22 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with , , ,

On Strata

Well, yeah, this is an image of strata.

Social stratification. Class system. These are both archaic concepts, long overthrown in Europe and never seriously present in the United States. This is what we’ve been taught, this is clearly what happens in reality. The US prides itself in being a welcoming place for all people, no matter where they came from.

Yeah, right.

Let’s face it. The United States of America is more bigoted and racist as a culture than perhaps any other nation since, well, the United States. Has it ever occurred to anybody that you never see reports of British neo-nazis, of white hate crimes towards any other race other than here? Has it ever occurred to you that of all the other First-World nations, the United States has the most colorful record of slavery, racism, prejudice, and segregation of any ethnically heterogeneous population. (I need to put heterogeneous in because without it, you get nations like Ireland, which are not fair comparisons to what I’m trying to put across here.)

Here, a bullet-list of all the various prejudices and social issues that the United States so proudly counts as part of its heritage:

  • Catholics. Present in the American population since before 1776, this took until the election of JFK in 1960 to really work its way out of the collective American psyche.
  • Blacks. Present since the widespread adoption of slavery in the colonies in 1680. Slavery, while formally abolished in 1863, did nothing to stem the racism towards blacks, formally and legally abolished in 1964, but still present in many areas of American life even today, whether you consciously aware of it or not.
  • Women. Present in the American population since the beginning of ever, women were denied the right to vote and other social necessities until the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Nowadays, women are, nominally, more or less equal, though there are lingering effects, such as women being paid 75% as much as men for doing the same exact job.
  • Native Americans. Very strong prejudices against Native Americans existed in the United States ever since the white people realized that the land that they wanted had other people living on it. This, in turn, led to such things such as the Trail of Tears, reservations, etc. This particular social ill died out after America reached California and Manifest Destiny petered out. As it is, though, the Native American population is vastly reduced from what it used to be not 300 years ago, and they are still mostly out of sight on reservations, living their lives, unfortunately, in destitution and squalor.

And this is just a small list. I hear stories every day that prove racism is still alive and well.

Nowadays, it seems that America has latched on to anti-Islamism. You hear reports of terrorists in Afghanistan existing. Fair enough, these reports might be true. But then, take a look at the Google news search for “terrorist threat.” Sure, one or two of these reports might actually be about terrorists. The rest have headlines like, “Are American Muslims a Threat?” and “The emerging homegrown terrorist threat.” I mean, there is a point where fear crosses over into ludicrousness. We are way past that point. We proved we were way past that point when people started getting shot at because they had beards. When a little old lady got up and brazenly told John McCain, “Obama’s an Arab.” And while it may not be getting any worse, it sure isn’t getting any better. There is a stereotype now, that Islam is an inherently violent and white-people-hating religion. Which is simply not true. In fact, it startles me that on the one hand, people can say that anybody who accepts Jesus will be saved, and then turn right around and attack fellow acceptors of Jesus. It boggles the mind and startles the spirit, really.

But guess what? I’m guessing it’s going to take another century for that stereotype to exit the collective American psyche. Just like Jim Crow. Just like the stigma against Japanese people during WWII. Just like the prejudice against Catholics.

Not cool, America. Not cool.

    Written by Sri

    November 16, 2009 at 9:37 PM

    Posted in Musings

    Tagged with , , ,

    On Space

    So, yesterday, exactly 40 years ago, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed an asymmetrical lump of sheet-thin metal and rocket fuel on the Moon. Their first steps in that gray dust were watched by 450 million people worldwide. Let’s put that into perspective. The global population at the time was 3.63 billion. That means 12.4% of the world tuned in to watch this broadcast. That’s something amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact that there were two guys in spacesuits bouncing around on the Moon. The Moon! It’s really something, huh? This site has the astronauts’ experiences in their own words, if you care to read.

    But, when you think about it, that was the end. Since those fateful days in the 60s and 70s, not one agency of any kind has sent more than satellites to the Moon, and a scant few at that. No, instead the space program got sidetracked by other things; the “Cold War,” the “Computer Revolution,” and so on. But I think it’s time to go back there. To space. To the Moon. Beyond that, even. The time is ripe for a new revolution in technology and the world needs something else to focus on besides the constant threat of terrorism and celebrities. And besides, we’re in a recession. There is literally no better time for this to happen than right now.

    Now, I understand that some of you may scoff at this, asking how anything could happen when the world is in the midst of an “economic downturn,” as the politically correct saying goes. But hear me out. Basic high school economics teaches you that in order for the GDP of a country to become bigger, you can do several things. You could spur consumer spending and business investment, increase your exports, or increase government spending. You could somehow manage to increase the amount of entrepreneurial ability, or increase the amount of labor, land, or capital. You could increase productivity. All viable methods, from a  purely economic standpoint. But economics is a simulation. Let’s go into the viability of each of these factors in the real world, shall we?

    Spurring consumer spending: Our government, from what I can tell, is trying very hard to encourage people to go out and spend more money wantonly like they were doing before this whole “crisis.” Unfortunately for them, it seems the greater American public has learned its lesson. There’s an old Tamil saying that, translated, comes out as, “The only foolproof way to be taught something is to experience it for yourself.” And so it has happened. Gleeful and reckless credit spending has pretty much drawn to a close. Sure, while credit cards may not be going out of style, they certainly are now beginning to be seen as necessary evils rather than as free money. And, for an economy used to that type of spending, it’ll no doubt be a shock to recover from. Anyway, there’s little chance that consumer spending is going to return to the pre-recession levels, so let’s leave that aside.

    Business investment: For the time being, at least, it’s much the same story for businesses as it is for consumers. With their counterparts failing left and right, many most firms will be laying off people and cutting costs, attempting to weather the storm. Nothing’s going to change that. They’re not going to save our GDP either.

    Exports: Excuse me while I laugh. Increase exports? Yeah, RIGHT. Like that’s going to happen. For the past twenty years, the US has been the world’s largest IMPORTER. Think something like a giant vaccuum sucking in all the goods produced elsewhere. Yeah. Moving on…

    Increasing entrepreneurial ability: Already happening. What with the internet, and inspiration by our President’s hope-and-change rhetoric, and just the general trend of entrepreneurs generally coming out of the woodwork during hard times like these (it feels almost wrong to call this “hard times,” when you look at the Great Depression), that step of the process has already begun.

    Increasing land, labor, or capital: Again, mostly beyond anybody’s control. Land is land (very much finite, and not quite in demand right now), capital (keep dreaming), or labor (try again in a few years) aren’t going to be viable for a while. This option isn’t happening, either.

    Productivity is fine (what? Computers aren’t good enough for you now?), so that really leaves us with one option: Government spending.

    We need a massive influx of government money stimulating research and development into multiple areas in order to even STAND A CHANCE of getting out of this recession in anything approaching good shape. Look at the Great Depression. That took WWII to counteract it. While our situation may not be quite as dire, it is still shown that the twin factors of having to rapidly and effectively deploy advanced technology to counter the Axis powers (think tanks and nuclear bombs) was quite the economic stimulator.

    We can’t have a war this time around, because we’re already fighting a war, so making it bigger probably isn’t going to help a lot. The problem this time around derives from having to fight with a new strategy instead of bigger guns. Strategies cannot and will not come about from any new technology, so, bugger.

    So that leaves scientific advancement. There are, as I see it, two major areas of interest in the science field: computers and space. As the trend of microtransistors becomes the world of quantum computing and nanotechnology, there is plenty of incentive from the consumer market for cheaper, faster, more awesome computers. Which effectively makes it a consumer good, rather than a capital good. Which means that it is all but useless in increasing GDP and spurring the economy. So, once again, circumstances force us to look to space technology. Think about it. The Saturn V rocket cost between $2-3 billion. NASA’s current best hope, Project Constellation, is estimated to cost roughly double that. I can see you now. “That’s a lot of money!” you think. “We can’t afford anything like that!” Au contraire. It would be foolhardy not to spend this money. The US needs every bit of stimulus it can get at this point. $7 billion of government money will quickly cascade through the economy, creating billions more in jobs and resources. I mean, seriously, if the bailout (worth roughly $700 billion) has, as of yet, failed to do much (The New Deal didn’t do much either, remember?), then it looks like alternative means of government spending is our only option.

    And besides, it’d be the coolest thing ever. We have all the elements needed; all we need to do is get rolling. So please, Mr. President, increase the budget for NASA. $17.6 billion (0.75% of total budget) isn’t going to be enough. Hell, it took $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (appoximately $136 billion in today’s money), which was a whopping 5.5% of the total US budget at the time, to even get us to the moon. Put some money where your mouth is, Mr. President. I dare you.

    Written by Sri

    July 21, 2009 at 12:21 PM

    Posted in Musings

    Tagged with , , , , ,

    On Exercise, Part 1

    *Disclaimer* Let it be noted that I am not against running/jogging as a form of exercise, nor am I against exercise in general. I’m just saying that excessive running can be and is very very bad for you. And also ranting a bit. *Disclaimer*

    As I noted in my Twitter stream recently, every time I go to a park, I tend to spend some time watching the joggers go by. I mean, they are fantastically fun to ponder about. What other demographic, at any time in humanity’s history, would run, thankless and alone, on hard asphalt for hours at a time in “running” shoes while blasting away their eardrums with cheap iPod earbuds? I mean, the medical costs of running like this are going to really come back and bite each and every one of these people in the ass in a few decades. Let’s take a closer look, hm?

    • Feet. By encasing their feet in running shoes, joggers remove the benefit of having feet in the first place. While the shoes may protect against the occasional sharp rock or all-too-squishable slug, they also kill your feet faster than pretty much anything short of arthritis. Did you know that the arch in your foot absorbs and counters 17% of the impact shock of putting your foot down when you run or walk? Don’t believe me? Here’s a simple experiment. Go outside, put your shoes and do two laps around your backyard. Now take your shoes off (socks too) and run two laps barefoot. See that? The foot comes down, not on the heel, but flat down, when you go barefoot, utilizing the arch structure of your foot to absorb shock. Eliminating this counter increases the stress on the bones in your foot and leg, your knee, and every muscle involved in the process as well, leading to foot fatigue. Furthermore, the running shoe forces the foot to come down on the heel, further destabilizing the foot, and, even worse, completely wrecking the natural running movement.
    • Knees. I will assume all of you are familiar with the high-heels effect (tilting of the pelvis forward, also known as kyphosis-lordosis posture), yes? Good. Now, note that this efficet is not limited to high heels alone. Any time your heel is elevated above your toes, that high-heels effect comes into play (though perhaps not as noticeably). This is an incredible amount of stress for your knees and feet, when you think about it, especially when running.
    • Chests. This is more of an issue for the females in my readership (hi, you two!), so you guys can skip down to the next paragraph. Anyway, Cooper’s Ligaments. They’re not at all made for heavy shocks like running on asphalt for extended periods of time. Especially repeatedly. It stretches the ligaments out, and from there, it’s sorta clear what happens next.

    Stay tuned for Part 2, the psychological side of exercise-as-drudgery, coming tomorrow later!

    Written by Sri

    July 5, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    Posted in Musings

    Tagged with , ,

    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:

    image

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    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