Topic Tuesday #87 2014/03/18- "Cosmos"

Topic Tuesday #87 2014/03/18- "Cosmos"

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the reboot of the influential 13 episode Cosmos: A Personal Journey by Carl Sagan, has caused quite the stir. The second episode hits evolution, which in the United States in particular is a controversial subject. It shouldn't be, but it goes against the underpinnings of certain faiths. Many people that have chosen faith over fact and have chosen to argue for a few contradictory accounts of the way we got here to even be taught along side the real science of both the age of the Universe and modern biological sciences knowledge of evolution by natural selection. It is a problem here, this denial of science. The first episode of Cosmos' reboot had 15 seconds "accidentally" overdubbed. It just so happens to have lined up perfectly to censor the mention of the origin of life with a news promo by an affiliate station in the west, highlighting some hunting segment.
I will leave the rest of the commentary on how the rather vocal religious to other pundents, who have done a great job highlighting their folly.
Instead, I will leave you with an excerpt of the transcript from 40 minutes (without commercials) into the second show.
"Nobody knows how life got started. Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impacts and erosion. Science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance; not afraid to admit what we don't know. There's no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began." - Narrator, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Topic Tuesday #76 2013/12/31 - "New Years Eve"

Topic Tuesday #76 2013/12/31 - "New Years Eve"

Behold, the close of another revolution around the our bright celestial neighbor. Yes, another year is over. Some of us are more than pleased about this and others are sad yet hopeful that the next year will live up to their own unreasonable expectations. A lot has happened in 2013, and I am in the first camp of people that are ready to move along, but oh, there was so much to see in 2013!
A brief year in review, so while you are lifting a libation to you lips to toast while toasty and let your "auld lang syne" breath forth, let's also remember what we did.

Discovery of the Higgs Boson
Voyager 1 finally made it to interstellar space.
The Sun's magnetic poles flipped (we didn't die)
The universe is about 100 million years older than previously thought. 13.82 billion years.
A new Pope, and he's a rather nice man.
Space Telescope Kepler managed to find many "earth like" exoplanets, which is awesome.
China landed a robot on the moon.
Scientists at Cern started search for Anti-Gravity.
MANY new species were discovered.
India launched a spacecraft to Mars, and on the cheap too.
A solar cell (still in the lab) achieved a 44.7% efficency.
HIV Vaccine... Oh yeah.
Largest Volcano on Earth discovered in the Pacific.
A plethora of 3D printed organs were used.
Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented (whew, good).
3D printed Solar Panels...
Human Stem Cells created through, cloning.
3D printed organic ear, that manages to hear beyond human capabilities.
Bacteria is being used to turn algae into fuel.
The Curiosity Rover determined Mars; once had a thick atmosphere, contains the building blocks of life, was once a habitable environment  (in our terms), had drinkable water, and still has water in its topsoil.
Identified a new type of supernova.
New teeth were grown from mouse cells.
A supercomputer with over 1 million cores was brought online.

And so much more...

Let's make 2014 another year to remember.

Happy New Year from "Can We Fix It"

Topic Tuesday #75 2013/12/24 - "Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Topic Tuesday #75 2013/12/24 - "Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Santa Claus as an icon owes much of his spitely visage to Clement Clarke Moore (most likely though contested) and his poem published anonymously in New York's Troy Sentinal, 190 years ago today.
I could pick it apart and show you just what I'm talking about, but instead I will include it all below so you can read it aloud this evening and keep (or make) a family tradition of your own. Happy Christmas!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Topic Tuesday #74 2013/12/17 - "Language"

Topic Tuesday #74 2013/12/17 - "Language"

If you look around the world, there are anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 languages exist. About 35 languages fade into obscurity every year. We speak a miss mash of fallen languages that have merged into one another from neighboring tribes. Slave speech flowed into the slavers, the slavers speech fell to the slaves. We listen to accents and naturally judge where someone if from, what their class level is, and what kind of education and intelligence they wield their words with. Do their words whip like lashes? Do they drip like honey? Do they say one thing and simply mean the opposite? Can you tell?
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Words... They can kill you from the inside out - or not.
Words have meaning and by their usage and mastery they can invoke magic. They can call forth grand vistas, ugly smells, faces of such astonishing beauty that they could never actually exist. They can make you warm, make you blush, make you lie or make you tell the truth. You can be urged to hate and love. These words are thoughts. They are someone else's thoughts, being poured into you and you have to digest them, like it, or not...

Words can suffer over usage; they lose their power and become meaningless and flaccid. Obcinities are nothing but words that evoke strong feelings. By themselves, they are just words with basic definitions. It is their context that provides them power and their intent revealed. Words are nothing without the person composing them. They describe the character of the speaker. They provide a measure of the writer.
Pay close attention to the language you are exposed to for it is not always meant for you. Think carefully about how you use your own language. Seek to understand where it comes from. Try to be clear, but never boring. Try to be kind, if not forgiving.

Topic Tuesday #73 2013/12/10 - "Remain Calm"

Topic Tuesday #73 2013/12/10 - "Remain Calm"

It is the holiday season and many people are freaked out. There's a preponderance of reasons why people go nuts, and particularly at this time of year. Money is often spent frivolously, and often borrowed to do so. Relationships are strained as people remember old times. The holidays are like a cultural birthday, and everyone just got a year older. For many, it's the saddest time, because it used to be the happiest time. We grieve and feel the loss of the ages. We miss those that have left our lives. We feel out of control, like something is just pulling our strings as we go through the motions of the humdrum day to day. There are many reasons why bah-humbuggery is ever present.
What do you do to make it through? To just survive the cacophony and malaise that hearing holiday music (now starting at Halloween) is challenging enough for some.
Our minds play horrible games with us. We hear things that aren't there. We see remembered faces in everything from cocoa to decorations. Our own boogymen haunt our thoughts and demean our self esteems.
By all accounts, it's a lousy time of year!
But it is beautiful.
The houses decorated in lights.
(if you happen to live outside Florida and the southern hemisphere [happy summer folks!])
The leaves turning colors and the remaining ones blanketed in snow.
Children smiling and giggling.
The smell of cinnamon, pine, and deserts like pie and cookies.
Wondering what you might get for a present, or what faces you will get to see.
There is a lot to be thankful for and  to be joyous about.
It's tricky. As we age, the wonder is driven out of us by the piper of progress and responsibility. But if you just sit, quietly, and focus beyond yourself, you may see that the rest of the world is a pretty great place. There is wonder still, if you calm down enough to look for it. New experiences are always there to be had. The seasons show us that life can begin again, year after year. Remain calm. A new beginning is right around the corner, waiting to be found.

Topic Tuesday #72 2013/12/03 - "Problem Management"

Topic Tuesday #72 2013/12/03 - "Problem Management"

We all have problems. Some are small like what to wear, what kind of salad dressing to use, where you left something, or if you left a poor impression. Some are large problems. Sometimes, my small problem will be monumental to someone else, and my greatest issue - insignificant to the right person.

Some words of advice:

We all share the same world.
We all are born & we will all die.
We all eat and drink and feel, though all differently.
"Enough" is relative.
There will always be someone with more and someone with less, than you. You are always going to be somewhere inbetween because the value of "things" change as you change. You can't eat a trophy. You can't drink a computer.
In the end, even the richest person in the world has something that he would trade their empire for one more moment of. You won't be taking anything with you, certainly nothing material.
Love will come and go. Friendship will do the same. Even family, is fluid.
Everyone is having a hard time with something. Being kind, goes much further than you will ever know, until someone is kind to you.
The sun will come up on our home world tomorrow as it has for all of recorded history an beyond, and lucky for us, it will continue to do so for billions of years more.

That is the human component of our shared existence. Materialisim, empathy, compassion, and mortality.
We all have our problems. Whatever is it, be it the right outfit to wear when you meat a prospective employer for the first time at a lunch and making sure to order the right dressing that won't dribble down your chin and stain that carefully chosen garment.... or whether or not to call someone or wait for them to apologize first, keep in mind that the human element is at work all around you, and is very complex.
You are not alone.

On to the management part of the problem.
A saying that I enjoy from the world of business project management, "you can't DO a project. You can only do tasks that will complete the project one step at a time." Or from myth, how do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.
Break it down. Whatever it is, it has smaller parts. Yes, they all go together to make an enormous scary boogyman, but where you can't defeat the boogyman, you can undress him. (Sorry for the visual, I didn't know you knew the boogyman. Awkward... anyway...)
Disect your boogyman into manageable steps. A list is a great tool. Just tick off the things that you can address about the boogyman.
Shoes, pants, coat, hat, gloves. Then address them one by one.
You'll often find you missed things, it's ok.
He had a vest on under the coat, and what looks like an ascot.  He's wearing other things, and you just keep taking them off until you have the boogyman defenseless.
Eventually your problem, your issue, your fear, your boogymen, will be taken care of.

No problem, we're only human.

Topic Tuesday #69 2013/11/12 - "Meta-cognition - Thinking About Thinking"

Topic Tuesday #69 2013/11/12 - "Meta-cognition - Thinking About Thinking"

Between your ears rests everything you have ever known in roughly 3lbs of grayish matter known as our brain. No matter what your IQ or station in life, the amazing organ in your head does so much that you must step back and wonder how it works at some point. The ancients didn't think the brain was important, and instead went with the organs in our chest. Our heart was not a mere pump but but where your soul resided. We know more now. We don't know everything but we are getting there. Neuroscience is the field of study of the nervous system, and how it connects to the brain and how it works its voodoo.

The voodoo of the brain has some really fascinating implications. The thing the brain does, beyond keeping us alive, is think. When a thinking object thinks about the way it thinks, we have the recursive meta-cognition.
As you may well know, the brain is a collection of trillions of biological switches, making connections with each other in complex patterns that interpret all the things our bodies go through. Hunger, heat, pleasure, pain, elation, excitement, fear, rage... All of it exists in the brain. All of the concepts you have learned over your years, all the thoughts about your job, all the relationships you have had and relate to every few seconds, is a product of your brain.
This, being a vast discipline, is going to be exceptionally difficult to explain in a few Tuesdays, so let this serve as a brief introduction to thinking, about thinking, and what that may imply. What might we manage to accomplish taking this ultimate introspection to its logical conclusion? How do we think? Why do we see things and think things that aren't always real? Can we have an open mind? Are we able to rely on our own memories? Do two people see the same event the same? Love the same? Feel pain the same?
Mull these thoughts over, while I try to summarize this topic for future weeks.

Topic Tuesday #68 2013/11/05 - "Guy Fawkes Night"

Topic Tuesday #68 2013/11/05 - "Guy Fawkes Night"

"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot..." As the rhyme is most often remembered after V for Vendetta gave us another reason to remember Guy Fawkes. Earlier ditties were all similar enough to leave to your imaginations and a quick search on Google.
So, did we forget what happened on the fifth of November 1605? If you are American, you are likely nodding, while if you are British, you may be setting something on fire right now and reading this after the fact. Bonfire Night, as it is also known, commemorates in better humor than the original night was conceived, the attempt by the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the House of Lords at Winchester Palace on the opening day of Parliment in an attempt to kill King James I (as well as many other high level targets). Also known as the Jesuit Treason, the goal was to install the King's daughter, 9 year old Princess Elizabeth, as the Catholic head of state. Of the list of conspirators, Fawkes had the military background and was given charge of the explosives (pun intended). This would have been quite an effective strike, had it gone off.
The conspirators were ratted out by an anonymous letter to Baron Monteagle William Parker. As the story goes, Guy was caught guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords around midnight on November 4th. The rest of the Plot  was caught after some battles with the Sheriff of Worchester (not just a sauce you know). The eight survivors were tried January 27th, 1606, convicted and then sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. 
Given the nature of the plot, it was often heralded by many of the Catholic faith and became more than just a treasonous plot. Over the centuries, it has become a celebration known as Bonfire Night, where Fawkes is burned in effigy on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a firework display.

Rather interesting that a plot to kill the head of state by a bunch of religious extremists would turn into a celebration. Remeber the fifth of November!

I now leave you with my favorite scene from "V for Vendetta."
V: Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.
[carves "V" into poster on wall]
V: The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.
V: [giggles]
V: Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

Topic Tuesday #65 2013/10/15 - "NaNoWriMo"

Topic Tuesday #65 2013/10/15 - "NaNoWriMo"

"NaNoWriMo" is not gibberish. It is one heck of an acronym for National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month was established in 1999. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes stories matter. This year, they anticipate half a million writers joining their noveling adventure.

Last year 341,375 storytellers participated in 2012's NaNoWriMo. Over 250 of the novels, that made it though the month, have been traditionally published. 

This year, I'm going to try my hand at it. I don't even know what I'm going to write. I have plenty of ideas but nothing solid. So where should I start? Where does one begin such a project? 

Outline: Your outline will be the "elevator pitch" 50,000 foot overview of your work. The beginning, the middle, the end, and some sinew to join them, consisting your story's flow.
It has been said that if the outline doesn't make you want to write the book and tell the story, you need to start again. If you are going to write a book in 30 days, that needs to be true as your motivation and will alone will get you to the end. Don't give yourself a simple roadblock, like not wanting to write your own book.
Really, many people have come to rely so heavily on their outline that the outline begins to grown and grow until it becomes the book. They treat it and the first draft, second draft, rough draft and then only transcribe to the final draft, all while working from the original "living" outline. 
Many traditional writers will have a bible of the story containing all the notes they have taken on the world and its inhabitants. We don't have that kind of time, unless you are going to treat NaNoWriMo as your chance to do your final draft. (DO IT!)
There are no two outlines that will look alike, and that is as it should be.
Some will need a little more structure so the empty page doesn't seem so daunting.
I have taken plot analysis courses in college and found that the examination of a typical plot arch can give you a path. Many will call it a formula. Why not follow one as a beginner?  Included below is an empty plot outline to get you started, if you need it. (If you don't see it, follow the link to the blog.) 

Now... I need to get writing.

“NaNoWriMo Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Topic Tuesday #62 2013/09/24 - "Sequester or Default? Wait, what does that mean?"

Topic Tuesday #62 2013/09/24 - "Sequester or Default because of the "Debt Ceiling"? Wait, what does that mean?"

What have we gotten ourselves into?

What is a "Sequester"? What is a Debt Ceiling and why does it need to be raised or we will default?·ques·ter  (səˈkwestər) verb
  1. isolate or hide away (someone or something).
    "Tiberius was sequestered on an island"
  2. take legal possession of (assets) until a debt has been paid or other claims have been met.
    "the power of courts to sequester the assets of unions"
    • take forcible possession of (something); confiscate.
      "rebel property was sequestered and a military government installed"
    • legally place (the property of a bankrupt) in the hands of a trustee for division among the creditors.
      "a trustee in a sequestered estate"
So as you can see from the dictionary definition, it involves withholding assets (or money) until such time as a criteria has been met for it to be released. The criteria here was spelled out in legalese in the Budget Control Act of 2011. In brief, it raised the debt ceiling and sought to apply pressure on Congress to come up with a longer term plan for deficit reduction.
From a Huffpo article: The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts would be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. During the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, $85 billion worth of cuts are set to go into effect. The budget cuts would end in 2021.  [Summarized from their article] The Sequester was to answer a Republican demand after raising the Debt Ceiling (more on that in a moment). The Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction ultimately proved unable to reach an agreement. This ended  up forcing the sequester to go though and shut down government (because Congress couldn't agree to a 1.2 trillion reduced budget the allotted time).
The sequester stipulated certain areas of government spending will see no cuts. No money will be drawn from spending on wars and military personnel. Funding allocated for Medicaid, Social Security, Pell grants, veterans' benefits and some low-income programs will not be affected, either.
The POTUS says this about the "Sequester":
“The whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth. And so this was all designed to say we can't do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration." —President Obama

That was the Sequester... what about the debt ceiling? 

In a line; "A legislative restriction on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the Treasury."
Here's where it gets complicated.
Just because there is a limit of the debt that can be issued (in the form of bonds typically) it doesn't actually stop spending, it just stops the treasury from paying on the debt. It halts the liquidity that goes out in interest payments on the debt to the other nations of the world who have purchased the debt. There are consequences to not paying your debts. You lose points on your credit rating (the measure of being a safe investment that judges how much interest you are charged on the credit extended to you. If you are a risk, you pay more. Like buying a car or house.). The US Credit rating was downgraded in 2011, causing drops in the stock market and raising interest rates, the last time we had this mess. We had to raise the debt ceiling to avoid defaulting. Currently the "Debt Ceiling" is $16.699 trillion and will be exhausted and need to be raised again in October 2013.

What happens if we default because we can't pay on the debt by borrowing more?

In 2011, House Republicans threatened to shut down the government and breach the debt ceiling unless the Obama administration made substantial concessions. The two sides ultimately came to an agreement. There was no shutdown. There was no default. But we did have our rating reduced making borrowing money more expensive.
From "The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases"
"The Government Accountability Office has also concluded that delays in debt limit increases could lead to “serious negative consequences for the Treasury market and increase borrowing costs.” A delay in interest payments on Treasury securities would trigger a default and risk serious negative repercussions for economies and financial markets around the world. Default might be avoided in such situations by delaying other types of federal payments and transfers. A government that delays payment of an obligation, in effect, borrows from vendors, contractors, beneficiaries, state and local governments, or employees who are not paid on time. In some cases, delaying payments incurs interest penalties under some statutes such as the Prompt Payment Act, which directs the government to pay interest penalties to contractors if it does not pay them by the required payment date, and the Internal Revenue Code, which requires the government to pay interest penalties if tax refunds are delayed beyond a certain date."

Drawn conclusions?

Now if I can expound upon the former: The stability of other countries finances are interwoven with the United States due to their reliance on held American and America paying dutifully on the interest. Should America stop paying foreign held debt, then those reliant nations will have hardships paying their own debts. The amount of impact will vary and is largely unpredictable, but if we take it to the next logical progression, we can expect drops in global markets and economic downturns that could spiral to collapse because America missed some payments - or stops paying entirely and writes it all off, bankrupting other countries. This could lead to conflict; war is a fantastic economic stimulus.
That's the geopolitical landscape, locally here at home, we have another fine mess.
And that will be for next week.

Thanks to for the image.

Topic Tuesday #61 2013/09/17 - "Babies Birthday - Or - An Excuse To Eat Sweets"

Topic Tuesday #61 2013/09/17 - "Babies Birthday - Or - An Excuse To Eat Sweets"

Tomorrow is a special occasion. Well it is for my family, and since I'm writing I get to say what's important!
Anyway, tomorrow is my eldest daughters 6th birthday! It's not a big deal but I do get to be a supportive parent and provide sugar to her kindergarten class in the form of cupcakes. Birthdays are only as special as we make them. Inviting friend and family to celebrate with you makes the moment memorable (sometimes in unique and embarrassing ways). As we get older, some birthdays pass by without any notice, save the license and registration renewals (you remembered right?). I know that on more than one occasion I have had to do the math to even remember how old I was turning that year. Some years we are surrounded with only family; other years only friends. On off years you may find a birthday with no one but yourself remembering, or only your electronically prompted Facebook friends (I honestly don't care what reminds you, if you say something, you remember, and that is what matters). Whatever the birthday brings, be it yours or someone else, live it up! Light the candles, sing happy birthday in the loudest most obnoxious way possible, drink, eat, be merry and be the joy of the moment! Don't look for gifts, but look for the memory; the faces, the smells, the lights, the hugs, the kisses, the rainbows, the rain, the cries, the emptiness and the fullness. It all matters and makes the day special.
And eat cake.
Lots. Of. Cake.
Maybe some ice cream too.

So this year for my daughters birthday, I'm going to fill some balloons, inhale some helium, sing happy birthday like a chipmunk and generally live vicariously thought her, making her day awesome.
If today is your birthday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Love, puffy hearts, googly eyes, and kisses to all.

Topic Tuesday #60 2013/09/10 - "Red Pill Blue Pill or Suicide is Painless"

Topic Tuesday #60 2013/09/10 - "Red Pill Blue Pill or Suicide is Painless"

An idea has crept into my mind. Freedom. We have an interesting culture. We value life almost universally as a species, our own species. Let me cut to the chase or I will dawdle for a while waxing poetic on this deep thought.
When someone is on death row or serving enough multiple life sentences that they will die in prison, why not offer them the Blue Pill, and let them choose to drift off to la la land and pass away peacefully?
Harsh? I don't think so. Analytically it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. The inmate would not have to languish wasting their potential. The state and the taxpayer would not have to spend the nearly $50,000 a year to keep an inmate "safe" and healthy. The taxpayer and the inmate continue to benefit as an aging prison population starts to rack up the medical bills. The prisoner suffers. The tax payer pays, sometimes over $100,000 a year per aging inmate.
There is a question that has always rattled around in my head. Why does a prisoner, sentenced to death, must be deemed healthy before being executed?
Anyone sentenced to death, automatically (almost always) sits in a special cell block for about 20 years before being executed. The current financials on this have it as an average of almost $90,000 a year MORE to house and litigate these inmates. That's $140,000 a year, for 20 years. $2,800,000 for an average death sentence.
Average "lifer" let's say they made it to 30 (roughly median age of the average prison population across the United States) before having the book thrown at them and tossed away to rot.
Based on demographics, major medical problems begin to escalate around the age of 55. It has been estimated this can triple the cost of care for an inmate until they pass away. If they live to the average North American lifespan of 79 years (both men and women averaged) and they were good girls and boys and were put in medium security AND they were of average health throughout their life. carry the 2....
49 years in prison. 49 * $50,000=$2,450,000 Plus the extended health care cost for the ages over 55. 24
years * $100,000=$2,400,000 + the healthy baseline = $4,850,000 We can go ahead and average this down to $4.5 mil based on the following health factors lowing the life expectancy of any inmate:
     Prison populations exhibit an elevated prevalence of communicable disease. High levels of violence, including sexual violence, have been reported among imprisoned populations. Consensual sex without condoms as well as drug injection and tattooing without sterile equipment are reported to occur at dangerous levels and to result in transmission of diseases, such as HIV.

For a well cared for lifer, $4,500,000 to support them to death do they part. nearly 5 decades behind razor wire.
For the average death row candidate;  $2,800,000 to support them until we execute them after about 20 years.

So. What do you think?
Red Pill, face the grime reality of being put to death or dying in prison, possibly old and enfeebled.
Blue Pill. Die on your own terms, without pain or decades of suffering.

I think we should offer it as a choice. What do you think?

Topic Tuesday #59 2013/09/03 - "Labor Day"

Topic Tuesday #59 2013/09/03 - "Labor Day" 

Ah, Labor Day: a paid day off from the general malaise that is a work week. But, what is Labor Day, and why do we get to shirk our responsibilities on this day?
Labor Day is the first Monday in September. It is set aside to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the working class. It allows us all to step back for a moment, usually with a hamburger or hotdogs and a libation, and take pride in all that we have accomplished.
President Grover Cleveland set the holiday in September nationally in 1894 (Oregon started celebrating in 1887). There was of course a bit of drama surrounding the originally proposed May 1st. A couple events known as the "Pullman Strike" & the "Haymarket Affair / Massacre", further pushed the issue to both ratify and relocate the celebrated day. The American Federation of Labor had proposed to have it celebrated in May, along side all the other international Labour Festivals which were essentially copied. The CLU (Central Labor Union) proposed to celebrate in September, and Cleveland went with that to avoid the "Communist, Syndicalist and Anarchist" movements associated with "International Workers Day".
Tradition dictates that there be a parade and a festival. Personally I was always fond of attending regattas with my father.
In many parts of the United States, Labor Day also marks the end of summer break and the return to school, to the chagrin of students and the joy of parents everywhere. Oh, and if you feel like being part of the well-to-do set, remember to put your "summer whites" away for the season.

Topic Tuesday #58 2013/08/27 - "Water Clock Running Dry"

Topic Tuesday #58 2013/08/27 - "Water Clock Running Dry"

To return to the core of the 'Can We Fix It?' mission, we have a problem and we need a solution (no pun intended since it's about water). In the United States there is a vast water reserve that is being depleted at an unsustainable rate. The High Plains Aquifer lies beneath eight states from South Dakota to Texas and supplies 30 percent of the nations irrigated groundwater (it is also a key source of potable drinking water in the region). A new study, out of Kansas State University and published online Monday in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences', has concluded that it will be depleted within 50 years at the current usage rate. David Steward (professor of civil engineering at KSU) said, "It would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer."
This is a complex problem with implications that are stupefying. Bridget Scanlon (Sr. research scientist and lead of 'the Sustainable Water Resources Program' at the University of Texas - Austin) had a few comments about the study.
"We know the aquifer is being depleted, but trying to project long-term is very difficult, because there are climate issues and social aspects that have to be included. Projections are so difficult because I think we're clueless about a lot of things, like extreme weather events. Farmers are trying to make a living, and they're responding to economics," she explained. "Asking them to drastically reduce water might be like asking me to retire now because there are so many unemployed people. This is a very nice study, but we really need to address droughts and socioeconomic issues, and other approaches to figure out the problem, beyond the technical. If we don't know what we're doing, are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?"
It's a valid response. It is not dismissive, but urging more inclusion of other factors for strategy, which is a secondary target diverting from the crux of the matter. We are going to run out of water. It's not a matter of 'if'; it's a matter of 'when'.
What can we do? We can continue rationing water supplies. We can improve irrigation methodologies and technologies. At some point, we will need to harvest water from other resources. Desalination and pipelining it to the nation's breadbasket to keep food production going.
What happens when a town runs out of water? The people leave. It's just that simple. If you can't feed the livestock and crops with enough water, they wither and die. Then the farmers leave, and there is a food shortage and then costs rise as demand is shifted. Economies are drastically affected in our global community by a little thing like a drought. It is a fragile situation and deserves attention while there is still a resource to utilize. And... I haven't touched on "Fracking" yet.
Any ideas? Can We Fix It?

Topic Tuesday #57 2013/08/20 - "Running for POTUS"

Topic Tuesday #57 2013/08/20 - "Running for POTUS"

In the news: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is gearing up to take a 2016 run at the big chair. He has been mired in some interesting controversy that I found amusing, and then infuriating. It's all down to the interpretation of "Natural Born Citizen".
Requirements to be eligible to be the President of the Untied States of America (POTUS):

 35 Years or Older.
Have been a permanent resident of the United States of America for at least 14 years
Must not have served more than one previous term as president.
Must not have been impeached by the Senate.
Must not have participated in a rebellion against the United States
Must be a natural-born citizen of the United States.

This is usually interpreted to mean you have to have been born in the USA, which is not what it legally takes to be a "natural born" citizen.

* The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that "the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens". This act was superseded by:
* The Naturalization Act of 1795, which did not mention the phrase natural born citizen. The Act of 1795 was superseded by:
* The Naturalization Act of 1798. This act was repealed in 1802 by:
* The Naturalization Law of 1802. A number of minor revisions were introduced, but these merely altered or clarified details of evidence and certification without changing the basic nature of the admission procedure. The most important of these revisions occurred in 1855, when citizenship was automatically granted to alien wives of U.S. citizens (10 Stat. 604), and in 1870, when the naturalization process was opened to persons of African descent (16 Stat. 256).

To the nature of Texas Senator Cruz, who was born outside the United States to a Canadian father and American mother, Section 4 is pertinent.
*SEC 4 And be it further enacted that the children of persons duly naturalized under any of the laws of the United States or who previous to the passing of any law on that subject by the government of the United States may have become citizens of any one of the said states under the laws thereof being under the age of twenty one years at the time of their parents being so naturalized or admitted to the rights of citizenship shall if dwelling in the United States be considered as citizens of the United States and the children of persons who now are or have been citizens of the United States shall though born out of the limits and jurisdiction of the United States be considered as citizens of the United States provided That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never resided within the United States Provided also that no person heretofore proscribed by any state or who has been legally convicted of having joined the army of Great Britain during the late war shall be admitted a citizen as aforesaid without the consent of the legislature of the state in which such person was proscribe.

So yeah... That's muddy. Now we have to check with what has really already been decided.

"Qualifications for President and the 'Natural Born' Citizenship Eligibility Requirement". Congressional Research Service report. Federation of American Scientists. November 14, 2011. p. 2. Retrieved February 25, 2012.
"In addition to historical and textual analysis, numerous holdings and references in federal (and state) cases for more than a century have clearly indicated that those born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction (i.e., not born to foreign diplomats or occupying military forces), even to alien parents, are citizens 'at birth' or 'by birth,' and are 'natural born,' as opposed to 'naturalized,' U.S. citizens. There is no provision in the Constitution and no controlling American case law to support a contention that the citizenship of one's parents governs the eligibility of a native born U.S. citizen to be President."

"Although the eligibility of native born U.S. citizens has been settled law for more than a century,
there have been legitimate legal issues raised concerning those born outside of the country to U.S. citizens. From historical material and case law, it appears that the common understanding of the term “natural born” in England and in the American colonies in the 1700s may have included both the strict common law meaning as born in the territory (jus soli), as well as the statutory laws adopted in England since at least 1350, which included children born abroad to British fathers (jus sanguinis, the law of descent).
The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term "natural born" citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship "by birth" or "at birth", either by being born "in" the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship "at birth". Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an "alien" required to go through the legal process of "naturalization" to become a U.S. citizen."

And there it is. "by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents." In Ted Cruz's case, there are two reasons that he can be harassed. He was one of the very vocal "birthers" during the Obama campaigns making him a little hypocritical. And by not knowing this in the first place and getting it figured out ahead of time. Letting the media run your campaign is a bad idea. They asked for his birth certificate as a joke, poking at him for the "birther" connection. He has been caught with a Canadian maple leaf on his under-roos with this one and is now being forced to renounce his Canadian dual citizenship, but is unfamiliar with the paperwork, and stumbling around blind in a room full of cameras. There is only one other little detail that could keep this ball in the air. There is a misogynistic bend to this act, that should be summarily ignored. The jus sanguinis, law of decent, is traditionally on the male side, and his father was the Canadian. So if you don't pay attention to his mother being a U.S. Citizen, then yes... you still have an argument to make, albeit a horrible one for someone in the 21st century. But given that he has dual citizenship, that argument should be stuffed.

In short, Yes, he can run. Yes he can hold the office if he wins. Will he be able to win? Well, we shall see in 2016.

Topic Tuesday #56 2013/08/13 - "Knowing Your Audience"

Topic Tuesday #56 2013/08/13 - "Knowing Your Audience"

I have been, recently, coerced into thinking about entrepreneurial ventures. I have had owned businesses before and found I lacked some of the ability to sell the product, especially when it was a more esoteric property; myself. I just realized what it was that I was having trouble with, and it isn't going to make me any happier moving forward. I was playing to the wrong audience.

When there is a product, it has an intrinsic and esoteric value. We can equate it down to very substantial terms. Replacement value. That term can also bend into the realm of the vague and emotional too as it is human nature to displace emotions onto objects and sometimes personify them. Boats are always women. Cars are feminine, while trucks are masculine.  Once you name something... Well I am getting ahead of myself.
Replacement Value: How much did the item cost; to make, to assemble, to deliver, to paint, to store, etc. These are direct monetary measures.
Emotional Value: How much do you have invested into the object, as measured by; age, sentimentality, sweat equity, heirloom, quality, the general perceived worth.

Let's take a piece of furniture as an example. A Chippendale Chair. Thomas Chippendale original was
manufactured out of a particular three species of mahogany from Cuba, Honduras, and Dominican Republic, that is now extinct; it allowed for the finest details to be carved into the work. An original in excellent condition would sell today at auction for several thousand dollars, but only if authentic. Today, an imitation done in the style popularized by Chippendale has all the same form and function, but not the same wood, nor by the same hands, if hands even touched them, would go for a few hundred. The audience separation is clear. The tier that can appreciate the form and function of the chair, but cannot afford the original, buys the knock off, or worse, only looks at museum pieces. The poorest tier, will sit on a box, which serves its purpose equally as well as a Chippendale, I might add.

That was a product, but what of a service? Something with very little tangibleness.
Fixing a computer. Your laptop got a virus.
You take it to the big box store while a technician in unflattering clothes runs some diagnostics for a modest fee of $75 bucks, and then tries to sell you a warranty, and a new machine and a new hard drive, more ram, a laptop bag and an extra mouse, a USB hub, a Router and somehow... a new cell phone? But yes, the laptop is repaired, and you avoided the upsells.
You take your laptop to a buddy and for a case of beer or other such exchanged good or service they remove the offending software and have the decency to not look at your browser history. (That's worth an extra beer by the way).
Both have given the same level of service, in removing the virus, because your buddy does know what they're doing.
Here is where things get a little odd. Your buddy doesn't want a good or service, they want some cash because they have bills to pay.  Would you give them the same $75 bucks that you would have to the folks at the big box upsell-o-rama? In my experience, the answer is a flabbergasted no. Not only that but in my experience, I had someone cancel a check on me.  What I am pointing at here is that for some reason the value of the service suffers dramatically when it hits the wrong audience. As an example a former client of mine hear my price and gave me more because it was worth it to them. A buddy of mine made me feel bad for asking for gas money.

An individual cannot compete on the price that a mega conglomerate big box can get away with. An individual (read: entrepreneur) also should not try to. If your customer only wants to know how much it costs, then perhaps you are wasting your energy.

Know your audience and do not cow-tow to the ones that do not appreciate quality service and product.

Have you seen this disparity in goods and service prices? Have you ever tried to sell a craft and someone offered you $2 for nearly 4 days worth of your work? How do we get them to understand, or do we just say, "No, you can't buy it from me, but you can get something like it at the thrift store."

This can also be expanded to Science. Do laymen know the real value of the Large Hadron Collider? Do laymen understand that for every dollar that NASA spends it generates roughly 3 in return to various other sectors? (This is a conservative ROI as the real ROI figures are nearly impossible to accurately be determined.) Simply, no. They are the wrong audience for big science. Don't get me wrong here; that doesn't mean that they are uninterested. It means we must make them understand.

Topic Tuesday #55 2013/08/06 - "STEM or STEAM?"

Topic Tuesday #55 2013/08/06 - "STEM or STEAM?"

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. 
You may also hear the use of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Mathematics).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) uses a broader category to define STEM subjects which includes subjects in the fields of Chemistry, Computer and Information Technology Science, Engineering, Geosciences, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Psychology and Sociology), and STEM Education and Learning Research.
Lately STEM programs have been in the news and in politics while talking about the competitive ability of the United States with a modern industrial and technology complex like China. Job creation (always a hot topic) drew focus on STEM education as a platform for 21st century job growth.  The Department of Commerce calls careers in STEM fields are some of the best paying and have the greatest potential for job growth. 
STEM is not just a US centric program topic. The UK has also been engaged in building interest and fostering early education in STEM fields. 

Feb 4th 2013 saw House Resolution 51 for the 113th 1st session of Congress. It's short, so I will include it here. If you do not want to read it, in summary, it was to encourage STEM and STEAM program growth. It was referred to two committees (H. Education and the Workforce, and H. Science, Space, and Technology committees) and nothing further has been accomplished at the time of this post.

HOUSE RESOLUTION 51 113th Congress

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that adding art and design into Federal programs that target the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields encourages innovation and economic growth in the United States. 
Whereas the innovative practices of art and design play an essential role in improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and advancing STEM research; Whereas art and design provide real solutions for our everyday lives, distinguish United States products in a global 
marketplace, and create opportunity for economic growth; 
Whereas artists and designers can effectively communicate complex data and scientific information to multiple stakeholders and broad audiences; Whereas the tools and methods of design offer new models 
for creative problem-solving and interdisciplinary partnerships in a changing world; 
Whereas artists and designers are playing an integral role in the development of modern technology; 
Whereas artists and designers are playing a key role in manufacturing; and Whereas May would be an appropriate month to designate as ‘‘STEM-to-STEAM Month’’: Now, therefore, be it 
Resolved, That the House of Representatives— 
(1) recognizes the importance of art and design in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields; 
(2) supports the designation of ‘‘STEM-to-STEAM Month’’; 
(3) encourages the inclusion of art and design in the STEM fields during reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; 
(4) encourages the inclusion of art and design in the STEM fields during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; and 
(5) encourages the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Department of Education, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Director of the National Science Foundation to develop a STEM to STEAM Council representative of artists, designers, education and business leaders, and Federal agencies in order to facilitate a comprehensive approach to incorporate art and design into the Federal STEM programs.

Some sentiments from youths about STEM from
"STEM holds the key to changing the world for the better" - Kensen Shi, 17, A&M Consolidated High School, TX
"STEM provides a link between learning and doing, tying knowledge to experimentation and real-world problems" - Adam Bowman, 17, Montgomery Bell Academy, TN
"Pursuing STEM at any age allows you to discover and answer fundamental questions about the universe, from creating frisbee shooting robots to studying the causes behind cancer" - Lillian Chin, 18, The Westminster Schools, GA
"STEM is cool because it provides opportunities to develop new technologies to improve the quality of life" - Kelly Zhang, 17, College Preparatory School, CA
What benefits can you think of that could emerge from heightened STEM programs? Are you seeing STEM programs in schools near you?

Topic Tuesday #54 2013/07/30 - "Cruel Calculus"

Topic Tuesday #54 2013/07/30 - "Cruel Calculus"

"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." - Joseph Stalin 

Researchers were curious about generosity in the way of donations to charitable causes. 
There would seem to be a correlation to the level of generosity when it has a face; a face reflecting the suffering. You may have heard that sometimes you "have to put a face to name" to make it matter. It turns out to be very true. John and Jane Doe see a plea for a donation to save needy children. The plea wants money to help save children by providing general life saving things: medicine, food, clean water, shelter, maybe even education, if there is enough left over. Save more with a higher donation. It's simple math really, and we have seen it in the big box stores when we stock up on items. Buy bulk, pay less per item.  It works that way with helping people too. The more money is donated, the more people are saved. So it would figure, by that reasoning, that if you are told your generous donation of x will save 1,000 children, you would be inclined to save that number. But that is not how our brains work. That 1,000 is a statistic. The numbers somehow make our brains just say "Nope". 
Do you want to save kids? Of course you do. Do you want to save lots of kids? Sure you do. Do you want to save this particular kid that has a picture and a life story and will write you a gratifying letter saying thank you? OH HELL YEAH!
Face recognition. You put their picture next to a pledge amount. If you leave the donation amount up to the common man (or woman of course) you get this approximate distribution.

The breakdown of average voluntary donations results in a counterintuitive way. Sometimes like a tip at a restaurant...
Save 1,000 children ≈ $20 donation
Save 100 ≈ $20
Save 10 ≈ $25
Save 1 ≈ $50
Save 1 very specific child  ≈ $75

It's the way we are wired, or so the numbers bear out. 
It's cruel calculus. But given that we can easily be manipulated by pictures and possibly made up tales of strife, some organizations may be inclined to use this against you to benefit the other 999 hungry mouths to feed. In this case, I think that is a good idea. What do you think?

Topic Tuesday #52 2013/07/16 - "Comfort Food"

Topic Tuesday #52 2013/07/16 - "Comfort Food"

Today was a hectic kind of day. Lots of travel with lots of complicated things to do. Pretty stressful. Then I get a phone call, the type of call you do not want to get. My significant other is on the way to the ER.
So that's lovely right? OK, now what? Well I don't want to tell you another tragedy (especially since they're home and all is well), rather I want to talk about something to take our minds off of such hardships. Comfort Food.
We all have them. For me, delicious fried chicken, is just about unbeatable. However a big smoked turkey leg, can turn the worst outing at a theme park into... a walk in the park!
Tonight to take our minds off the malaise of impending batteries of tests to fully grasp the situation, I went old school. Thanksgiving dinner.  Green Bean Cassarole (just how mom made it, from the can), cranberry jelly sauce substance (the kids favorite), stuffing, steamed veggies, and reheated leftover grilled chicken. (Totally didn't have time to roast a bird, or thaw one out...)
It was good, and everyone is feeling a little less stressed out.

I would say more, but... I have to take a nap. I'm sure you understand.

What are your favorite comfort foods? Something that just makes the world a happier place.

Topic Tuesday #49 2013/06/25 - "The Middle Mind"

Topic Tuesday #49 2013/06/25 - "The Middle Mind"

I was chatting with an older Hungarian immigrant about cosmology, and he started to get visibly uncomfortable. I recognized this, and it redirected the conversation. We were outside of his comfort zone. This is a reasonable thing to have happen. Thinking about very big things, and very small things, can make your head hurt. These are realms that do not make sense to us, as we are of the middle. To our middle oriented mind, things appear smooth, water appears as a fluid, the sky appears blue, and pin points of light in the night sky appear as single stars. 
If we venture to the level of insects the surface tension of a drop of water is as solid, and likely very bizarre, in comparison to soil or plant material. Further into the microscopic, we find that nothing is very smooth, not even our beloved nonstick pan coatings. If we go further still, the very components of what we are made of appear and behave in ways that are completely counter intuitive to our observable reality. The fundamental building blocks of even atoms has yet more structure.
   Everything, everywhere, is made up of 12 building blocks (6 quarks and 6 leptons) and 4 force carriers that hold them together and 'guide' their interaction with each other. This may  change as the standard model adjusts for new discoveries, but right now, it's the best we have, and it works (albeit in not quite as elegant a way as would be preferred).
Now, up to bigger things. It is hard for us to comprehend the immense nature of the world around us. We may stare at a desk globe and see all the geopolitical dividing lines and vast expanses of blue, but that is only a pale resemblance of what this planet is. With the circumference of the earth, at the equator, being 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 kilometers) [more or less...] the farthest away you can be from anyone of your fellow human beings is around 12,450 miles, 8,000 or so if you could go through the rock beneath you.
While talking about going through things, let's consider the atmosphere. Easy for us to move through, yet it has a density. There are just as many molecules in a since centimeter of air as there are in a centimeter cube of titanium.  Everything around you has something in it. We breath air to consume the nutrients it provides. It is colorless. Or is it? The sky is blue, but the air in the room around us is clear, what gives? Perspective. A clear cloudless day-time sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the Sun, more than they scatter red light. When we look towards the sun at sunset, we see red and orange colours because the blue light has been scattered out and away from the line of sight. From space, we see our oceans reflecting blue light, giving our world its pale blue appearance.
The structure of the world is amazingly large compared to ourselves. However, Earth isn't that big, all things considered. When we examine our bright neighbor, the Sun, is roughly 109 times the size of the Earth; 865,374 mi (1,392,684 km) in diameter. It is so massive that it makes up 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System.
The Sun is also a relatively small main sequence star. There are others in the sky that are much much larger and could swallow up our star like the Sun could gobble up any of our neighbor planets.
If we keep looking outward with a modest telescope we find that the pin holes of light in our sky is almost never a single star but a cluster of hundreds. Get curious enough and we up the magnification, and we find that those may well be more galaxies. When you look up, you see trillions of stars, you just can't tell. You are also time traveling... sort of. These points of light are so far away, that in the time it has taken for that glimmer of light to reach you, the source may no longer be there. Distances are the trickiest part of cosmology. Just consider the fastest thing in the universe, light, still takes 8 minutes to make the trip from the Sun to the Earth.
These are just numbers... They are unnervingly difficult to relate in your head, since we are of the middle realm of reality. (Maybe not even the middle, but that is my artistic license.) All we have is the math to even try and comprehend the vastness of the universe and the infinitesimally small nature of the things that it is made of. As Richard Feynman said, "If anyone tell you they understand quantum mechanics, they don't understand quantum mechanics." It's easy to say, "Don't be afraid of the vast unknown. Don't let it make you terribly uncomfortable." The truth is we are not built to interact with these scales. We can only do so with tools and not everyone swings a hammer with the same skill. If you feel dizzied by the world around you, be it large or small, take heart. You are not alone. For all those of the middle mind, water is wet, glass is smooth, and the sky - a wonder.