I object to the word ‘the’!

New York city schools want to ban ‘loaded words’ from tests
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/28/new-york-city-schools-ban-loaded-words-from-tests/?hpt=hp_bn13

In yet another instance of PC gone amok, New York city wants to ban these words from any standardized tests:

Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television.

Pretty amazing stuff! Lets be extra careful sure to keep our children from learning anything that could possibly expand their minds. Just because school itself is an incredible bore and teachers diligently work to ensure zero learning occurs as they stuff unrelated and irrelevant knowledge into our children’s heads doesn’t mean the students are safe from the standardized exams! Wouldn’t want little Johnny or wee Jane to learn about anything accidentally during the tests!

A note to my dear reader(s)

I will be taking the next week off to devote full-time to our greenhouse/pool project, starting this evening and back on Monday the 9th. Historically in situations like this I have been too damn tired to do much of anything, let alone read the news and blog on it (one of the main reasons I seldom blog on the weekends as well). If we get a spell of bad weather then I might check out the ‘net to see if anything interesting is going on, but don’t expect to hear much from me until I get back.

Thank you all for your time and attention! I would probably write this blog even if no one reads (I had been sending emails to my friends for months before I lit on this idea), it but with the attention of you dear readers (Google Analytics shows I am fairly consistently in the double digits for daily viewership, woo hoo!) I am much more motivated to keep up.

Have a great week!

Eacherbeans!

Green coffee beans show potential for losing weight
In a limited trial, 16 overweight young adults taking various doses of green coffee bean extract lost an average of 17.5 pounds and 16% in body fat in 22 weeks. But questions remain, experts say.
http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-green-coffee-weight-loss-20120328,0,4627793.story

A very small study, indeed, but quite intriguing none-the-less. It doesn’t say, but I wonder at the caffeine content of the extract. I don’t get along so well with caffeine (I have bad withdrawal symptoms so decided years ago to leave it alone) so not sure if I would want to try something like this if I am going to be buzzing my ass off. Since this is something that isn’t a drug that has to be regulated, anyone is free to experiment on themselves. Since the placebo effect is very well known (and effective), even if it doesn’t do a damn thing in reality, if it motivates you to put less food in your mouth and walk a few extra miles a week, it is well worth it.

I wonder if this would make low heat sources a viable energy source

‘Thermal cloak’ designed, could solve major chip, spacecraft issues
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/28/thermal_cloak_excellence/

Not so wild about the idea of scientist being referred to as ‘boffins’ (which sure sounds negative to me), but that seems to be the norm in Jolly Old England.

Anyway, the idea is that by using some of the same techniques they have used to provide cloaking (at single wavelengths of microwaves) of objects they might be able to direct heat away (or towards, which is what I am interested in) from objects.

The amount of heat stored in warm water is quite amazing but currently there isn’t any practical way to extract that energy in any useful form (other than warming our tootsies). However, if it were practical to focus that heat somehow, so that we could increase it to the ~400F temperature difference needed to get efficient conversion to electricity (I won’t bore you with why that is the magic number), then in principle much of the energy now going to waste (typical power plants (be it gas, oil, coal, nuclear or solar-thermal) are only converting 35% of the energy into electricity, the rest goes into the environment) could be recycled and converted to electricity. If that were practical, somehow, then almost immediately we get a nearly 3 fold (300%) increase in our power generation potential (this won’t do anything for hydroelectric or solar cells, though). I am going to look into this and see if I can grok any of it…

Live long and pamper!

So, this morning I was actually reading a cellulose-based carbon-marked news document (otherwise known as the Washington Post) as I performed my morning constitutional and found this really interesting article in the Health and Science section (this is the on-line link, I trust the content is identical):

Evolution has given humans a huge advantage over most other animals: middle age
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/evolution-has-given-humans-a-huge-advantage-over-most-other-animals-middle-age/2012/03/12/gIQAtVnccS_story.html

It is a long article by web standards and I know some of my reader(s) won’t take the time to read it, so I will summarize:

The idea that life used to be (nasty, brutish and) short is based on life expectancies _from birth_. If you look at the average life expectancy of an adult (i.e., ignore those that died before becoming adult, say we start looking at 20 year olds) you find that an average adult can easily expect to live into their 60’s. There is decent evidence that this trend goes all the way back to the stone age, so if you survived long enough to raise children you were favored to live long enough to raise grandchildren and perhaps (since the species used to breed quite early back then) even great grandchildren. Why would evolution favor what on the surface appears to be behavior that provides no value to immediate survival and breeding? That is what the article addresses.

The idea is that because (fairly unique amongst animal species) humans are born with very little in the way of instincts and require, in addition to extensive care as infants, extensive training as youths, having some ‘elder statesmen’ (and women) around could vastly improve the opportunities for the ‘tribe’ (it is thought that the majority of ‘tribe’ in the stone age era were made up of family units, much like lion prides and elephant herds today) to survive. Because it might take decades of time to develop the detailed hunting and gathering skills for optimal survival it is plausible, from an evolutionary standpoint, that women would be given a break from child bearing fairly early (and by extension, monogamous males would also be given that same break) so they could focus on training the next generation. There are plenty of examples where what is optimal for the species is at odds with what is optimal for the individual (think of all those sterile (female) worker bees and ants). This would appear to be a similar case, though the ties are closer as the old folks would, for the most part, be directly assisting their own genes in already existing future generations.

So, the gist of the article is that non-breeding ‘old people’ are, in fact, critical to the evolution of our species. Take that you whipper snappers!

Why thinking takes longer as you get older (or should, anyway)

This represents the first of what I plan on being a series of posts that I am hoping my boy will read as he gets older (perhaps, if I am really lucky, he will even reread a few). He isn’t yet old enough to engage in the sorts of philosophical discussions I like so much (you dear regular reader(s) get exposure to quite a few) and until I lit on the idea of writing them up here, I was worried that I might not always think of these things to talk about when he did get older. I have a few friends who I can engage in these sorts of discussions, but it is so rare that we spend extended time together any more and since I tend to run off about whatever subject I happen to have recently read about (or am currently focused on research-wise), even when I have a chance I seldom drop into the philosophical realm.

So much of what I write here is topical and 10 years (or much less) from now it will be totally irrelevant. We will either be so deeply into the police state (for instance) that I will have been trotted off to the concentration camps for my ‘terroristic’ writing (terrorism being, of course, the current code-word for ‘anything against the powers-that-be’) or the pendulum will have swung back and all my posts will be quaint idiocy that comfortable complacent folk can laugh about (boy to I want to be laughed at by comfortable complacent people!). As such, in the event that my boy takes an interest in anything his old man ever had to say, I wanted to set aside in some way stuff I would like him to read without his having to wade through the irrelevant blather from a bygone day. Thus I created the category ‘Letters2MyBoy’ just for him (and, of course, for any other of my dear reader(s) (it might also simplify things for my wife if she ever takes an interest in reading my blather)). I have my other category, ‘OriginalContent’, that I use when I think I have something to say that isn’t simply an opinion on someone else’s writing, but that isn’t necessarily something that has me speaking directly to my boy. Hopefully we will be able to discuss some of these topics when he gets older.

This post is somewhat analogous (but opposite) to a quote I formulated at a developers forum I frequent (under the handle ‘mitakeet‘):

It is not that old programmers are any smarter or code better, it is just that they have made the same stupid mistake so many times that it is second nature to fix it.

As a by the by, another quote (not mine) that I really like:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw
)

Anyone who knows me knows I am a most unreasonable man, so someday I hope to turn that into progress ;-).

When we are young we tend to have a very black and white view of the world (some people (the GOP Tea Partiers come to mind ;-)) never grow out of it). I think that is in large part to simply not knowing very much, so when new (or new to you) ideas come along it takes very little time to consider alternatives because you don’t have that many alternatives to consider. I think this is why teenagers think they are so smart and their parents are so dumb (thinking about that is what prompted me to think about this which lead to this post), teenagers can quickly develop conclusions because they have so little information to consider. As we get older (and hopefully a bit wiser) we get more information that needs consideration in order to develop conclusions or make decisions when something new comes along. I have noted as I get older that I have shifted quite a few of my thought processes. I have decided I am way more liberal than I was when I was younger and I attach much more value to the (potential) good that government can do (unfortunately, the majority of that good is squandered by corrupt operatives, but that is a separate issue in my mind). I haven’t (noticeably) changed in my general dislike of the human species (I like plenty of individuals, but am supremely unimpressed with the species in general (for the last several years my favorite curse word is ‘human’)), yet I find myself increasingly interested in expanding the resources humans have at their disposal.

Things that used to be simple simple to me (e.g., government that governs best, governs least) have been overtaken as I have considered how I might do things if I were in control (I found myself dramatically leaning toward governments like Singapore, for instance). The idea of an extensive social safety net used to be problematic to me but now (and not just because I got to be homeless and destitute (not that there was the slightest bit of help from what tatters of social safety net existed when I needed it)) I see it as critical to a well functioning society and a requirement to maximize the potential of the entire population. I feel I was ‘born paranoid’ in that I never remember a time where I wasn’t obsessed about security, but as I got older (and learned more about security) I realized that perfect security is an illusion (and a dangerous one at that) and that even the most paranoid person with unlimited resources could never achieve security and peace of mind and as such, even if I had unlimited resources I doubt I would do much to change my situation (though I can imagine going nuts with some passive monitoring, that near infrared stuff is really cool).

Accumulating wisdom, though, is not merely getting older and learning more stuff. Some people get old without learning a damn thing and retain their youthful ability to make snap decisions. Some people never reevaluate their prior decisions, so even as new information comes along, they reflexively stick with their old thoughts. Wisdom, in my mind, is taking new information, then pulling out your old decisions/conclusions and then reevaluating them in light of the new data (this, btw, is supposed to be what science does, too bad there are so many ‘scientists’ who fail to grok that concept). I hope that I am wiser than I was when I was younger and I really hope that I am less wise now than I will be as I get older. That wisdom comes with a price, though, and that price is a slower decision making process. Not necessarily a slower _thinking_ process (the title notwithstanding), but as you accumulate wisdom you have more things to consider before coming to a conclusion and, worse, that conclusion is increasingly apt to be fluid as you explore the topic and dredge up more knowledge (either from within, from conversations with others, or increasingly, from on-line research).

This is not to say that you become sympathetic to everything and are paralyzed by analysis. Understanding someone else’s viewpoint doesn’t mean you have to share it. You can still disagree with someone even when you both share the same knowledge base and are both wise. You can easily continue to disagree with someone even if they lack the same knowledge and are not wise while still understanding their viewpoint. However it is quite possible that by understanding someone else’s viewpoint you can better communicate with them and perhaps convey your conclusions in a format they can (or are willing to) understand and thus persuade them to your point of view. That, I think, is the true power and value of wisdom. I would note, though, that I am a argumentative person and sometimes use my understanding to exacerbate the situation, so accumulating wisdom is not the same thing as being agreeable, at least in my case.

There are very very few things that have absolute answers in the human condition. Even in physics and math there are plenty of areas where, despite decades of effort and a huge accumulation of information, it is still possible for reasonable, intelligent, engaged, wise people to disagree. I do think, though, that wise people who disagree are vastly less likely to do so at the point of a gun and are much more likely to discuss some sort of experimental design that can provide the information necessary to resolve the differences they see, thus enabling them to contemplate a situation in the future where they would agree. I hope that my boy will develop wisdom as he gets older. I think my father sought the same thing I and I am sure that there were times I vexed him with my lack of wisdom. I used to hate the guy for a long time. He would drive me nuts all the time, no matter what subject I picked he would invariably choose the other side and would cheerfully (at least it seemed so to me at the time) pick holes in my arguments. I hated him for years until one day I realized I was just like him and since I wasn’t willing to hate myself, I had to give that up. I suspect, for better or worse, my boy will go through the same thing I did, but I am very grateful to my dad (I believe I was able to make that very clear before he died) for his stubbornly taking the other side of my arguments (I do recall a time or twain when he kept having to preface his responses with the statement that he actually believed the same as I did, but I don’t think that had much impact at the time). I believe that due to his efforts I have been able to develop wisdom and can continue to work toward increasing my wisdom as I get older.

Taken to the naive, illogical extreme, eventually it will take an infinite amount of time to make a decision/reach a conclusion, but I think that cheats wisdom a bit. I think that once having considered a particular line of thought (or a series of lines of thought) it becomes practical to ‘pre-think’ some ideas and thus have the capability to more rapidly reach superior decisions (on average; I am sure no amount of wisdom will overcome brain cramps and occasional pigheadedness). The ‘trick’ would be to reexamine those lines of pre-thought each time some new information is made available and be willing to change the pre-decisions/pre-conclusions if warranted.

So, my boy, just because it takes me longer to come to the same conclusion you arrived at doesn’t mean you are necessarily smarter than your old man. He might just have more stuff to consider.

I don’t get it

I am unable to comprehend the huge objection that the GOP Tea Partiers have to Obama.

How Romney tricked the right
The key: Recognizing that conservative opposition to ObamaCare has nothing to do with the details of ObamaCare
http://www.salon.com/2012/03/27/how_romney_tricked_the_right/singleton/

I don’t like Obama, in fact I like him less than I liked Bush and I really didn’t like Bush (Bush was a moron, thus his idiocies could be explained; Obama is much more intelligent, thus his behavior is inexcusable). As a general rule, though, I can’t stand politicians because all I see are pathological liars corrupt to the point that they have become (or never were, I guess) immoral and unethical in the pursuit of their political goals, so my dislike is somewhat all encompassing.

Having said that, Obama has pretty much given the country everything that Bush tried to give the country (and plenty more!) so I am boggled at the vehement opposition to everything Obama. Are these people so completely blinded by racism? I don’t think it can be quite that simple, though, as Clinton (and I really didn’t like him, though I was firmly against the idea of impeaching him for getting a blow job in the oval office, what a fucking farce that was (which fortunately wasn’t made worse by actually convicting him)) got the exact same sort of treatment. Clinton, btw, was no godsend for the left either, though in my memory he wasn’t quite so dismissive of the left as Obama is (but my memory is notoriously poor, so it might just be rose colored).

I am a fond follower of Glenn Greenwald as someone who holds the left to the same standards now as he held the right when Bush was in charge. He has plenty of negative things to say about Obama, yet he is largely alone in his complaints. The ‘institutional’ left, for the most part, is completely OK with Obama committing the _exact_ same illegal acts as they complained so bitterly about when Bush was responsible.

Could it really be so simplistic that none of these people have a conscience? That, left or right, the vast majority of these people really only and exclusively care about ‘us’ vs ‘them’? That they will damn the same things that they supported and champion the things they vilified when they were in charge? Is the country made of sheeple so damn stupid that they can’t see the difference? Or, even worse, is the country filled with a populace so lacking in principle, intellectual honesty and self-awareness that they actively support this dichotomy?

Is this a human condition or something that is unique to the USofA? It really creeps me out to think that rather than being dumb-assed sheeple incapable of logical thought humans might actually be so Machiavellian that they happily will switch sides on an issue purely and simply so they can maintain their us vs them attitudes. Maybe I am just depressed right now and impugning too much intellect on people. Maybe they really are so stupid that they are unaware of how illogical and idiotic they are, but that begs the question how the hell did we, as a species, wind up achieving so much technology?

Perhaps my life-long goal of developing free enterprise in space is a really bad thing. Perhaps our species should remain on a single planet so we don’t run the risk of contaminating the universe.

Fertilized egg to have more rights than the woman it is in

Personhood, the undead movement, marches on
It failed to restrict women’s rights in Mississippi and Colorado, but Personhood USA won’t quit. Next up: Oklahoma
http://www.salon.com/2012/03/27/personhood_the_undead_movement_marches_on/singleton/

First, a caveat: I am ‘pro-abortion’ because I am ‘anti-human’ and attach little value to human life whether they be adult or zygote. I see the planet as containing way too many humans (though way less than what I calculate is feasible, see my post on One Trillion People) and there are already many, many, many unwanted children and children who are born into situations that make it nearly impossible for them to realize their potential and the thought of adding even one to that number is a problem to me.

Additionally, I am very pro-woman and get quite frustrated when anyone seeks to reduce or otherwise negatively impact the relatively few rights that women in the US already have. As I have said before (see previous link if necessary), the anti-abortion GOP line has been revealed as a play to push women out of the workplace and the idea of saving lives has been revealed to be a lie. Reducing abortions is most effective by increasing contraception, but these jokers want to _reduce_ contraception, which, as a natural consequence, is going to increase conceptions leading to increased unwanted babies and almost certainly increased abortions. Maybe some of these people have actually deluded themselves into thinking that a zygote really should have more rights than the woman bearing it, as I am sure there are plenty of people convinced that cats and dogs (and whales and dolphins) deserve more rights than humans (zygote or otherwise), but I believe those people are a tiny minority of the population (though they occasionally turn to terrorist activities, thus have an outsized impact) and could otherwise be safely ignored.

However, since only women can bear children, hence harbor zygotes, this sort of legislation is finely targeted toward women. I guaranteed that if men were threatened with legislation that made it illegal to have sex (or, of course, masturbate) without the intent to produce children (such as Santorum clearly believes) there would be such huge outrage that nearly every man would be marching in protest. Yet, because this only applies toward women there is muted (if one cares to dignify the response with that level of description) from men and we are left with a few squeaky wheel women trying to stand up to this wave of ultra-conservative nut jobs trying to push them damn uppity women back into the kitchen.

It is really this simple and basic: those who support zygote rights are really saying that any sex without the intent to produce a child should be illegal. The natural extension of this, of course, is any sex that is unsuccessful at producing children must be investigated for signs of foul play. So, instead of sex and family planning being intensely personal acts, these become something to be minutely monitored by the State to ensure compliance. It boggles my mind that these are the _exact_ same people who purport to be against any restrictions on guns, are totally against taxes and strenuously object to any sort of aid to the downtrodden.

So, absolutely no government interference in anything _except_ for sex and family planning!

What an idiot I am

Richard Hanna, GOP Congressman, Tells Women To Give Their Money To Democrats
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/richard-hanna-gop-congress_n_1373381.html

I am very sad to say this is surprising news to me:

The Equal Rights Amendment, which Congress passed in 1972 but has not yet been ratified by the necessary 38 states…

What kind of fucked up country are we where we can’t agree to give our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, wives, daughters, nieces, etc., etc., etc. the same rights we (men) have? Hard to believe we might have had a woman President. I guess sexism is stronger than racism. Something all men can agree on, no matter what their ethnicity: women ‘belong’ in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

Corrupt is as corrupt does

America’s Most Corrupt States
http://www.foxbusiness.com/investing/2012/03/22/americas-most-corrupt-states/

Interestingly, and most telling, is this:

…No state earned an A, and only five states received better than a B+. More than half the states received a D+ or worse. Scored from 1 to 100, eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project.

This is our country, people! Doesn’t it make you proud?