Random Stew It seemed like a good idea at the time.

29Aug/081

You Have *GOT* To Be Kidding

Stupid is as stupid does. --Mrs. Gump

As I'm often wont to do, I was watching The Discovery Channel the other evening, specifically an episode of the series Discovery Project Earth. The series bills itself as "eight crazy experiments bold enough to change the world". The experiments are ways to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming.

So, what are these bold, world-altering experiments? Well, I've seen three of the experiments so far.

  1. Save the glaciers. The scientists running this experiment propose to save glaciers from accelerated melting -- due to global warming -- by wrapping glaciers with a reflective plastic. The experiment was performed on a glacier in Greenland that was tagged as being endangered by global warming. The glacier actually had a large meltwater lake in the middle of it -- something I had never seen before. To be honest though, I'm not sure how saving glaciers was supposed to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming.
  2. Create more clouds. Clouds are much more reflective than water or land. So this proposal is to create automated fleets of ships that will atomize sea water, spraying the mist high into the air to form clouds. The computer simulations of this experiment showed this being performed off the west coast of Africa. In theory, a 10% increase in clouds would cool the Earth to pre-industrial levels.
  3. Diffract part of the sunlight that reaches Earth. This was, by far, the boldest idea. The proposal is to launch billions of refractive lenses into space between the Sun and Earth so that a portion of the sunlight that currently reaches Earth will instead be diffracted into space. A reduction of sunlight as small as 1-2% would cool the Earth to pre-industrial levels.

As I'm listening to each of these proposals, I was immediately struck by how amazingly stupid and ill-advised each one is. Not a single one of the ideas suggested discovering and addressing the root causes of global warming.

I know that the popular theory of the cause of global warming is a dramatic increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. And that might be true. But it's not proven. Yes, CO2 levels have increased along with global temperatures, but correlation does not imply causation. An alternative, tongue-in-cheek, yet statistically valid theory shows an inverse relationship between the population of swashbuckling pirates and global temperatures. Specifically, that a decrease in the pirate population has caused a rapid increase in global temperatures.

I'm not saying the alarming increase of atmospheric CO2 is not the cause of global warming. I'm saying that it appears to be a promising theory with a strong correlation, but we still don't know. The Earth has experienced temperature fluctuations before that were not caused by CO2. Are we sure this trend isn't one of those flucuations? I think these experiments should have been directed at finding the root cause of global warming and not these absurd ideas.

After all, wrapping a glacier in plastic is such a stupid idea that I can't believe it was even discussed -- so, I'm not going to.

As for creating more clouds, let's ask the survivors of Katrina whether pumping warm water vapor into the air off the west coast of Africa sounds like a good idea to them. Our understanding of climatic systems is embryonic, at best, so why even contemplate creating 10% more clouds? How can we possibly predict the global environmental impact?

Brilliant thinkerAnd diffracting some of the Sun's energy away from Earth? Let me think about that. Hmmm...every bit of the energy used on Earth comes from the Sun. And now we're discussing decreasing that energy source? By spending trillions of dollars to manufacture, launch, position, and maintain billions of strategically positioned lenses? Riiiiggghhhtt.

I have a couple of ideas to reduce global warming that would fit right into this TV series. What if we paint all the cities white! That will greatly reduce the heat absorption of all that pavement. Not to mention stimulating the economy by employing all the painters in the world.

Here's another "great" idea. A person breathing at the average rate of 12 breaths per minute, exhales 1.3 grams of CO2 every minute. What if everyone breathed slower? If every person would cut off 2 breaths per minute, their respiratory contribution to atmospheric CO2 would be reduced annually by over 116 kilograms. If everyone participated, the amount becomes 697,422,960 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1000 kgs)! The average American automobile annually spews 4.5 metric tons of C02 into the atmosphere. So merely by breathing a bit slower, we can effectively remove 154,982,880 automobiles from the road -- that's well over half the number of cars in the United States.

Thank you. You've been a great audience. I'll be here all week.

14Aug/080

There Must Be Something In The Water

Like a lot of people, I've been watching a fair amount of the Olympic games this week. Quick question: with all of the cable channels nowadays, why don't I have the opportunity to watch any sport I wish? Instead, I'm being force-fed a diet of gymnastics, beach volleyball, and swimming. Not that I don't like these sports (OK, the only thing I like about beach volleyball is athletic women in bikinis), but I would like to be able to watch judo, fencing, and even trampoline. Did you know that trampoline was an Olympic sport? Neither did I. But karate, a sport that has millions of practioners, is not an Olympic sport. Go figure. Anyway, while watching swimming events, I've been struck by how many world records are being broken. A couple of days ago I watched a heat of the women's 200m freestyle in which the world record was shattered by Federica Pellegrini of Italy. Two days later, she won a semi-final race in the same event by breaking the world record she just set two days ago. Most shocking was that the next two finishers also finished faster than the record time set just two days before. As of 9:40 EDT this morning, 18 world records have been set in swimming events at the Beijing Olympics! That's 10 more than in the Athens 2004 Olympics and four more than in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. And the Beijing Olympics are far from over. So what's causing all of the world record times? A quick Google search reveals four main theories.

  1. The widespread use of the new Speedo swimsuit, the LZR Racer. The suit is made of a low-drag polyurethane fabric that repels water and uses compression to further reduce drag and maximize muscle performance. Some critics claim it increases buoyancy, a direct violation of Olympic rules. Athletes wearing the suit have broken four dozen world records since its introduction six months ago.
  2. More financial support for athletes. Today's athletes are allowed to have endorsement contracts and are better able to support themselves and their families. After winning 7 gold medals in 1972, Mark Spitz had to retire from competitive Olympic-level swimming in order to support himself in an era when amateur athletes were forbidden endorsement deals. Athletes today can compete longer, into their peak athletic years, and therefore have more opportunity to maximize their potential. If Michael Phelps breaks Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Olympics, he will receive a $1 million bonus from Speedo, the manufacturer of the LZR Racer suit that Phelps will be wearing.
  3. The pool at Beijing is configured to maximize a swimmer's speed. Still water is fast water. The Beijing pool is deeper and wider to reduce turbulence.
  4. Doping. Admit it, that was your first thought. In sports where big money is at stake and millimeters and/or hundredths of a second make the difference between winning and losing, there will always be rampant use of performance enhancing drugs. Every sport has been plagued by athletes who resort to using drugs to enhance performance, e.g. cycling's Tour De France winner who was stripped of his title, and an Olympic 100m gold medal sprinter who was stripped of his title, and baseball's home run king who should be stripped of his title.

I certainly have no problems with the first three theories. Sports have always evolved with technology. Baseball players benefit from better gloves, bats, uniforms, and shoes. Football equipment has certainly improved over the decades. Pole vaulters do it with better poles. And everyone should have the opportunity to make a living while pursuing their dreams. I don't believe athletes should be paid for competing in the Olympics, but they also shouldn't be denied the possibility of endorsement deals. But please, please, please don't let this sudden assault on world records be the result of doping. I don't want to hear in a couple of months that Michael Phelps has tested positive for a banned substance. I'm already cynical enough.

24Jul/080

To Boldly Go…

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. --President John F. Kennedy to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

On this date 39 years ago, the national goal set to us by Kennedy was accomplished when Apollo 11, carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Over eight years of singularly focused scientific and engineering discovery was realized in this achievement. Many people say it's still the greatest achievement of mankind.

Kennedy's challenge to the nation became a calling for a Cause and fired our national imagination. It forged the will within the nation such that nothing could stop the Cause. 1968 Democratic Convention in ChicagoNot the daunting technical challenges. Not the tragic deaths of the Apollo 1 crew in a capsule fire during testing. Not the naysayers who cried the project was too expensive. Not the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960's. Not the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not the Vietnam War. Not the murder of John F. Kennedy, nor Martin Luther King, nor Robert Kennedy.

World War II was unquestionably the greatest focal period of the nation's collective spirit during the 20th century, but the Apollo program of the 1960's was surely the second. German soldiers goosestepping in Warsaw.And at least during WWII, the need of singular focus on winning the war was obvious. And while the Apollo program was partially driven by Russianphobia, the benefits were certainly less nebulous than winning a war against the Axis Powers.

And the costs! According to Project Apollo article on Wikipedia, the final cost of the project was about $23 Billion in 1969 dollars ($135 Billion in 2005 dollars)! Again, other than war, when has any country committed itself to such an endeavor?

Kennedy knew the magnitude of the task he was setting, but as he said in his famous speech at Rice University:

Kennedy speaking at Rice UniversiteWe choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Setting such a bold goal for the country was a sign of great leadership. Somehow inspiring the public imagination and national will to actually accomplish the single greatest peacetime achievement in history, is, most assuredly, leadership truly worthy of being called presidential.

Something to think about in this election year.

4Jul/080

Rock On, Dude!

The next Neil Peart? On Monday evening, June 30, I went to my son's drum recital. He's only been playing since the beginning of May and has only had 6 drum lessons! This is his first time playing with other musicians.

What an awesome job! What an appropriate song.

Free Bird!

27Jun/080

Teach Your Children Well

When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.  ~The Talmud

Since Fathers' Day, I've been thinking a good bit about my fatherhood and my relationship with my 12-year-old son. He and I usually run jog together in the mornings, but he has been unable to join me the last couple of days. As a result, I've had some thinking time during my solo workouts.

What are the life lessons I would like for my son to learn from me? What can I teach him to truly help him get a running start towards maximizing his amazing potential?

  1. Father and sonTake responsibility for your actions. Don't shift blame. Be truthful. Don't give excuses. In the end, effort matters somewhat but performance is what really counts. Be a stand-up guy on which others can depend.
  2. Be a creator. The world is full of takers with a sense of entitlement. Don't wait to be told what needs to be done. Search out opportunities to fill needs and create value.
  3. Be a positive thinker. The world is full of naysayers. Complaining is pointless. Worrying solves nothing. Your attitude shapes your reality. Don't let you be the limiting factor on realizing your potential. Dream big and know that your dreams are possible.
    • As a corollary to positive thinking, push your envelope. Make it a habit to go outside your comfort zone. The person that lifts the same weight for the same number of repetitions every day, never grows stronger. Make sure you're straining a bit. Don't be afraid to fail. Increase your capabilities.
  4. Be true to yourself. Don't fall prey to peer pressure. Don't be a sheep. Think for yourself. Don't be afraid to be different and to stand out from the crowd. And always follow your moral compass.
  5. Have fun. Life is indeed short. Don't make it all seriousness and no fun -- that makes Jack a dull boy. Notice the absurdities and relish the ironies. Laugh often. Play hard. Love a lot.

Now if only I could learn these lessons.

...Physician, heal thyself... --Luke 4:23

24Jun/080

Politics Happens

Ewww!! What's that SMELL?!?

In a recent article, Faux Fox News disclosed that political activists planning to protest at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver will have to contend with the Crap Cannon, a sonic weapon that generates an infrasound frequency causing victims to involuntarily defecate! Supposedly, this weapon generates a brown note, a low frequency sound that causes people to lose control of their bowels due to resonance.

According to Faux Fox News, some activists are scared shitless concerned that the Denver police department is armed with such a diabolical device.

We know this weapon and weapons like it have been used at other large protests before. --Mark Cohen, co-founder of the activist group Re-create 68

A fly and some, er, ointment.There's just one small fly in their, er, ointment; the existence of the brown note has never been scientifically proven. In fact, this urban myth has even been recently busted on the popular Discovery Channel show Mythbusters.

Still, the concept of such a weapon has seeped into popular culture and has been featured in an episode of Southpark as a sound played in a world wide recorder concert that caused the entire population of Earth to suddenly defecate. In the popular comic strip Transmetropolitan, the main character, Spider Jerusalem, totes a pistol-shaped "Bowel Disruptor" used to defeat and otherwise humiliate his enemies.

It's almost as if we want the brown note myth to be true.

doodyBut what has me rumbling is that Faux Fox News published this story at all. Given their right-wing conservativism and well-known pandering to the lowest common societal denominator, I suppose it's no wonder they're gushing over the opportunity to spin a story so that the evil Democrats will be using a defecation weapon on brave protesters. I think their editors are combining their metaphors, throwing something at a fan to see what sticks on the wall.

And it smells like doody.

17Jun/080

Karate Kid

I spotted this piling along the beach where we're vacationing this week, and I just couldn't resist.

Props to Mr. Miyagi.

5Jun/080

Could you use it in a sentence, please?

 

28May/080

What Was Your Name Again?

Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food. -- Austin O'Malley

I have an erratic memory. On second thought, erratic is the wrong word; I have a very selective memory. My problem is that I don't get to select what I remember.

If I'm asked to pick up three things from the store on the way home, I'm lucky to remember to stop at the store. If I do stop, I won't be able to recall at least one of the items. If I borrow an item, I'll place it next to the door so that I'll remember to return it; it will still be there a month later. I don't recall what I had for lunch yesterday, nor the name of the movie I saw last week. If you introduce yourself to me, it's guaranteed that I'll forget your name within 30 seconds.

On the other hand, I will remember your face forever. I retain almost every joke I ever hear. My recall of useless trivia is near legendary. Van Gogh cut off his left ear (he was right-handed). Neville Chamberlain was the British prime minister whose policy of appeasing Hitler was supposed to ensure "peace in our time". There are 63 known moons orbiting Jupiter.

I can tell you immediately that the first 12 digits of pi are 3.14159265359. The first 12 digits of the natural log e? Why, it's 2.71828182845. Avogadro's number is 6.0221415 x 1023. And, of course, the speed of light is 186,282.397 miles/second. Doesn't everyone know these constants off the top of their head?

I recently watched an episode of "The Human Mind" on the Science Channel in which the 2003 World Memory Champion (yes, there apparently is such a contest) was featured.

Of course, I can't recall his name.

The man was given 10 shuffled decks of cards which he memorized in order. He was then asked to name the 103rd card...the 17th card... the 484th card, etc. He correctly named the card every time! In fact, he then named all 520 cards in sequence!

How did he do it? He used what was termed a "location" technique. He lives in London and before demonstrations, he takes a ritualized walk through the city -- always the same path, visiting the same sites. As he examined the decks of cards, he married the sequence of cards into his memorized walk. In addition, he uses imagery for each card; the two of clubs becomes a teddy bear, a 10 of diamonds becomes a saw. So, if those were the first two cards and he began his walk at Big Ben, he would visualize a teddy bear with a saw at Big Ben.

I was discussing this technique with my business partner and he mentioned that in the Hannibal Lecter series of books, Lecter describes his "memory mansion" which he decorates with treasured memories -- another location technique.

In the same episode, an Oxford University study was profiled in which grade school children were given a daily pill for several months. Most of the students experienced a marked increase in their academic abilities, concentration, imagination, and memory. What was the magic pill? An Omega-3 supplement.

So, if you meet me in the near future and feel that I'm eyeing you in an odd manner, it's probably because I'm picturing you as an octopus at Starbucks. And that smell? It's because I've overdosed on Omega-3 laden fish oil.

If you're trying to remember a happy memory, don't think back to a time when you were ALSO thinking of a happy memory, because man, how long does this go on?! --Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts

13May/080

On The Bookshelf

It's been quite a while since I last posted my reading list. Here's what I'm reading at the moment.

Now that I look at the list, I find it to be an interesting combination. An observer might say that I'm determined to get my way and free my time to do things I truly enjoy. Of course, they might just say I'm whacked.