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 #85 2014/03/04 - "Text Books"

Topic Tuesday #85 2014/03/04 - "Text Books"

I stumbled on an article in Salon written by Katie Halper (whom I about to cite extensively) about some of the skewed things that are making it into text books around the United States. You may be aware of the kerfuffles in Texas over their routine revisioning of their text books (a 7 year refresh). Many things were threatened to be taken out of History books, Science was in great danger of being skewed by anti-science fundamentalists. Thankfully, that has been largely taken care of by the addition of a committee that consists of educators and experts, whose opinions are more valid than the lay person when it comes to proper education.
There is another issue that our nation faces. Many disagree with how the public education system is structured, or are in areas where the local school board has made a right mess of things. Because of this there are alternatives to public education; Private schools, Charter schools, Religious Parochial Schools, Montessori, and homeschooling to name the usual suspects. Here we have a divergence in the materials utilized by these alternatives to what I will otherwise refer to as "mainstream" public education standards. Montessori has specific methods and practices. Homeschooling can be done with mainstream tools sanctioned by the areas school board, but can be supplemented and subverted as long as regular testing scores come back positive. Some of these supplemental or alternatives to the mainstream materials are what is preferred by some of the private, charter and religiously affiliated institutions. Here is where we get into the danger zone.
As this article( on Salon points out, there are 3 big players in the religiously focused educational material business. A Beka Book, Bob Jones University Publishing, and ACE (Accelerated Christian Education). A Beka Book has the largest distribution (9,000+ schools) so is an obvious target for more fact finding. 
Let's run down what the author of the article found to be the 7 sins of this publisher, so far.

The publishing company boasts that, “Unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book texts teach that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute.” “...traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.“

Critical Thinking:
Like so many of Beka’s critical thinking tools, this one comes in the form of a mnemonic device: “Use the DISCERN method,” Beka instructs, “to determine whether abortion is biblical.” The method allows students to make an informed godly choice around any issue, not just abortion. Once they’ve figured out whether something is biblical or not, they can engage in it and praise it, or refrain from doing it and condemn it. Here’s how DISCERN works:
Determine your choices
Inquire of God through prayer
Search the scriptures
Consider godly counsel.
Eliminate worldly thinking.
Recognize God’s leading.
Never compromise the truth.

To see what REAL critical thinking is... I recommend a dictionary.  Or check this wiki out..

"A non-Christian world view is any one that is based on the belief that there is something more reliable than the bible. The belief may come from church traditions scientific conclusions, or various theories. The most important teachings to be found in a Christian World View are… God made the world and everything in it; The world has fallen into a tragic state because of sin; and God is working to redeem this world to Himself.”
Science that contradicts these notions, the people at A Beka Book explain, is just plain wrong. “These three teachings should influence your interpretation of any facts you study,” they note. “And if you are serious about being a Christian, they must color your view of scientific thinking.”
Also crucial is the instruction not to stray from God’s path by using science to help people. “Others may be curious about the world of nature simply because they want to improve the lives of other humans. Although Christians should also be interested in that, they should mainly be interested in loving God through the study of nature.”

“The founding fathers… understood that unarmed citizens would not be able to stand against a tyrannical government.” Gun control, according to this text, is simply a “gateway to tyranny.” The book’s exhaustive analysis of world history backs up this brilliant assertion: A study of Hitler’s, Stalin’s and Mao’s ideas on disarming their citizens shows… they were well aware of the concept that control thrives when people are unarmed.”
As an added bonus, guns are also a way for America to fight against creeping… globalism: “Armed citizens could also play a major role in thwarting Globalism, the idea to bring the world together under ‘one global government.’ making the constitution null and void.”

The Death Penalty
'America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective' laments that the death penalty, and thus the sanctity of life, have become less hip. Back in the good old days, because people believed in the sanctity of human life, most states practiced capital punishment.” Yeah... That makes sense...
 Sexually Transmitted Disease
'Health In Christian Perspective'
text also teaches that sexually transmitted diseases are caused by sacrilegious behavior: “Disobedience to God’s Word in the area of sexual purity can also lead to disease.” “Some infections, known as… STDs,  are almost always spread by direct bodily contact during illicit sexual relations (sexual relations outside God’s institution of marriage). People who live according to God’s standards of waiting until marriage to have sexual relations are very unlikely to acquire venereal diseases.”
Worth noting that Sex Ed is not on the list of curriculum, but there is some wacky checklist...

encouraging students to check boxes for things like, “I wash my hands thoroughly on a regular basis” and “I obey biblical principles regarding morality, self-control, attitude, and anxiety.” “Unchecked boxes” the book warns, “identify conditions of risk.”
Homosexuality is listed under 'United States History—Heritage of Freedom In Christian Perspective’s'Cultural Decay” section: “Traditional American family values have dramatically declined….When [the family] comes under attack, all of society suffers.” “The media has increasingly belittled fathers and husbands, portrayed blatant violence, and laughed at immorality. One result has been the increased acceptance of homosexuality.”


As you should be able to reason out, this is completely out of touch, and should in no way be taught to future generations. It is obviously divisive, and many of my Christian readers will likely chime in and concur with how despicable it is to taint children with a distorted version of reality, even a Christian reality, as I know most Christians do not subscribe to this way of thinking. 

Beware what your children are learning. Ask questions. Take action. You, as a parent, are their only way to find a decent path to walk. The children are the future.

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 #67 2013/10/29 - "When The Boys Came Home"

Topic Tuesday #67 2013/10/29 - "When The Boys Came Home"

Beginning after VJ-Day in 1945, millions of soldiers were out of a job, Veterans from the largest conflict the world had ever seen. What the hell did they do next?
Why do I ask?
Glad you asked, and I will answer with another question. What will happen when the U.S.A. has to reduce the defense budget by double digit percentages, in 2014 with the next round of sequestration cuts? A lot of men and women will be looking for something to do. Something to feed their families.
What will they do? I thought it appropriate to look at history for an indicator of what we are about to repeat.
Brief review of WWII:

Obviously there was much more that happened, but those are some highlights. Now with all that, the troops, the men, the soldiers, the veterans and survivors came home.
Thanks to the 1944  Servicemen's readjustment Act, returning heroes could get low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. 8.8 million veterans had taken advantage of the program before it ended in 1956. Thanks to the forethought of the FDR administration and veterans affairs lobbyists, the G.I. Bill set the groundwork for a successful reintegration of disciplined and skilled Americans. Education (51% of returning WWII Vets took advantage of the tuition program) allowed them to get jobs, or if there wasn't one to be had, they could get low interest small business loans. 
We respectfully took care of those that had served. What will we do when the Cold War ends? 
It ended? You say... 
When? I ask. 1991 says the web... 
Then Why do we still spend so much on the military?  When did we stop? 
We never did. We have a juggernaut war machine in place, that just keeps eating our resources. 
As we continue to talk about exit strategies... Has anyone heard of any reintegration plans for those that will be exiting the services? I have not. I also have not seen us exit any conflict.
The economists are looking at the bottom line. They know as well as you or I, that the war machine needs a diet. We spend as much as our allies combined on "defense". Why? Don't answer, it doesn't matter.
What matters is that it needs to stop, and we need an exit strategy and a reintegration plan. We don't need more fear.
So... As the next round of sequester cuts steadily marches towards us, and the government pulls the belt in another notch, what will those that have lost their jobs do?
Will they be able to get a small business loan? Will they be able to get an affordable education if they go back to school? Are there enough vocational schools out there to fill the need? Are there enough homeless shelters to house what we have now, much less an influx of displaced humans?
No. For the most part the answer to all these questions is no.
What can we do?
I'm going to write a letter to my representatives to find out what the plan is. To see if they have thought this out. I'll let you know, please do the same.

Topic Tuesday #66 2013/10/22 - "Cognitive Dissonance"

Topic Tuesday #66 2013/10/22 - "Cognitive Dissonance"

I am running late today on my Topic. It happens, but I dare say it was a slow news day for things that I have not already touched on. I have in recent days been having some heated yet civil discussions on beliefs. You can guess what the topic was, but I'll give you a hint, facts vs. myths.
Now that that simple statement has potentially ruffled your feathers, let me elaborate as why this may have had that effect.
Cognitive Dissonance, From the Concises Encyclopedia
Mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The concept was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–89) in the late 1950s. He and later researchers showed that, when confronted with challenging new information, most people seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists. Cognitive dissonance is nonetheless considered an explanation for attitude change.
For some human explanation, Frantz Fanon

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
And Dr. Philip Zimbardo and some footage from the 1950's.

I explain it in simple geek terms. "Conflicting orders, make our brains go a little coo-coo. Just like how the HAL-9000 on the Discovery in 2001 a Space Odyssey (spoiler alert) tried to kill everyone."  HAL"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Today we encounter this almost everyday in politics, science and yes, religion. Especially where they meet at crossroads. I will just look at some politicians, frankly because they are easy targets, have large opinions and even bigger mouths that they just don't know when to keep shut.
Rep. Dr. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology drew outrage from the scientific community last year when he declared that "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell," Broun said at a banquet for a church sporting club. "And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.... I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old," 
And he's a doctor... 
BTW, he's announced that he's running for Senate. With any luck Charles Darwin will run against him again. One unnamed Republican told The Washington Post that an effort to counter Broun wouldn't be necessary because he's "going to say things that are going to make him unelectable, even in an ultraconservative GOP primary in Georgia." We can hope.
Representative John Shimkus (R-Ill.), According to Shimkus, pointing to biblical verses in Genesis and Matthew, "The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) Although Barton may be most famous for apologizing to the CEO of BP after the company spilled almost five million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico He is also known for his uneducated approach to science, due to faith. Barton characterized wind as "God's way of balancing heat" in 2009 and thus questioned whether wind turbines "slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up." He also described the biblical Great Flood as proof that climate change is not anthropomorphic: “I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.” (Face Palm) He has some interesting ideas about oil and how it got to Alaska... (Double Face Palm)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) What can I say that she has not already said? I'll just let her speak for herself.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, who believe in intelligent design," she remarked in 2006 without providing names.
She characterized HPV vaccinations as having "dangerous consequences" in a 2011 presidential debate and insinuated that they can cause mental retardation. Thankfully she has given us an out, and told us not to listen to her on matters of science. "I just take the Bible for what it is ... and recognize that I am not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist. I'm not a deep thinker on all of this." But alas, she continues to speak. OH! and she is on the House Intelligence Committee. The HPSCI is charged with the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community, which includes the intelligence and intelligence related activities of 17 elements of the US Government, and the Military Intelligence Program.
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), has suggested that climate change is the product of a mass global conspiracy of scientists -- the overwhelming majority of whom have concluded that burning fossil fuels cause warming -- to obtain grant money. In 2011, he told National Journal he didn't believe climate change was man-made because "I don't think we can control what God controls."

I have said it before, I'll say it again. You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. Science, contains the facts as best as we know them. They are subject to change as we learn more. But when your belief contradicts the facts, somethings has to give - and it turns out, most of the time, it's the facts.  Unless you are his holiness, the Dalai Lama.  "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." 

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 #64 2013/10/08 - "Rose Colored Glasses & BS Detector Goggles"

Topic Tuesday #64 2013/10/08 - "Rose Colored Glasses & BS Detector Goggles"

I am, by nature, an inquisitive person. I do not take anything at face value. Everything needs to be respected enough to first give it some thought before drawing any conclusion. There are always shades of grey and multiple points of view. What these POVs have in common are facts. It's been said you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts, and I adhere to that in my daily life. It is important to not get lulled into a false sense of reality, as many of the opinions you have were manipulated without your knowledge a long time ago (maybe generations in the past). This, at its core, is skepticism. Doubt.
We have many built in tools for detecting fraudulent things. The ability to recognize deception is something we have honed over millennia. At the heart of the matter is a misinformation maelstrom; an arms race of lies. Better detection, better lies. Many concepts are so susceptible to deception that we think they are true, time and time again. The rose colored glasses of what we wish to be true, regardless of facts. And then...  Conspiracy theories! Delicious tabloid lies!
I love a good conspiracy theory, as much as the next guy, and can certainly buy into them from time to time. It takes patient research to ferret the facts out of a "conspiracy" for one simple reason, most of the information is factual. The conspiracy just strings multiple facts together with leaps of logic that are just outlandish enough to be both interesting and possible, even if unlikely. The more grand and secret they are, the more they play on our psyche.
We have to bust out the BS Detector Goggles and put away the rose colored specs that make life just a beautiful and heart warming paradise. What we need are tools. Here is a list inspired and expanded from Carl Sagan's own "Baloney Detection Kit" born from "The Demon Haunted World".
* First, we have to have data. As much hard data as possible. Quantifiable facts are all you should be interested in until it is time to reason beyond them.
* Whenever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts. Verification is important.
* Now, quickly you can apply Occam's Razor, and then Hitchen's Razor in turn.
  Occam's Razor: "The simplest answer is often correct." (Very powerful tool.)
  Hitchen's Razor: "What which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
  With the one/two punch of these epistemological razors, you can quickly cut to the heart of an issue.
* Brainstorm. Don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy; spin more than one hypothesis.
* Tear it apart by yourself. Try to defeat the hypothesis. Can you falsify the argument? Is it testable? Can/have others duplicated the experiment and the result?
* In testing the arguments hypothesis, did it rely on shaky information? You've heard it before (and with good reason), a chain (argument) is only as strong as its weakest link.

**When dealing with people, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with "Logical Fallacies". We use them all the time in our speech and politicians pop them out every few words. I suggest taking a look at and but here are a few of the very popular:
* Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
* Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.
* Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
* Argument from "authority".
* Loaded Question - a question that couldn't be answered without appearing "guilty".
* Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).
* Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
* Confusion of correlation and causation.
* Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.
* Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
* Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.
* Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).
* Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
* Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
* Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
* Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").
* Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
* Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).
* Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").
* Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
* Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"

Now hopefully you have prepared your own kit and can interrogate the world for facts.
Don't let the skeptics of the skeptics get you down either. Just because you traded your rose colored lenses in for a magnifying glass and ask a lot of questions and seem rather contrary, doesn't mean that the reality we share has changed, or that something tastes different because you know more about it. What they will be unhappy with is not being able to get a fast one over on you any more.
I'm all out of gum, watch out for the weasel words!

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 #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 #51 2013/07/09 - "And why is that?"

Topic Tuesday #51 2013/07/09 - "And, why is that?"

I would wager that most of you that wind up reading this are a bit like me. You want to know. What exactly you want to know changes from moment to moment, though the driving insatiably curiosity never wanes. 
Currently my little compulsion has been directed to absorb as much as I can about the connections between the things in our everyday lives. I suppose I could blame my young daughters as the inspiration to ask "why" and "how" as much as I do, but that would be false; I just want to know.

As an example of what I mean, let's go out to eat. We sit down at a typical table in a typical restaurant. Before we are served, we'll inquisitively examine the common table accoutrements.
With exceptions approaching zero, we will be faced with Salt and Pepper. Even if the meal is "to go" and has a knife and fork wrapped in a napkin or you are on the front lines in a foreign land with an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), there will be salt and pepper. Why? Why have these two condiments graced our tables with such ubiquity?
It turns out to be a long story, that I would have to dedicate a lengthy post to. (Which I may.) We shouldn't end there though... There are so many things in the world that have long and sorted tales behind them.

Oh good the meal has arrived.
Say the place we went to eat was Indian, and we had the typically famous Pad Thai. It's delicious and notable for the peanut sauce. Wait a second... Why peanuts? Peanuts were found half a world away and are not native to Asia. A signature dish, that can only have its signature flavor because of global colonization.

There are countless such rich histories around you. All you have to do is open your eyes and inquire.

One more before I leave you to explore your world: You have heard of lavatories being known as a WC (water closet), right? Why is it called that?

Because that is the room where the royal personage received their enemas of course! Actual flushing toilets wouldn't come about for many decades after.

Have you discovered any history about common items?

Topic Tuesday #50 2013/07/02 - "CHARGE!!!"

Topic Tuesday #50 2013/07/02 - "CHARGE!!!"

CHARGing you batteries is not the easiest thing to do some days. It gets especially difficult when you do something unusual. For instance you may have seen the MIT/Wilson Solar Grill.
This implementation is unique in the way is stores energy, which is certainly different from the way a cell phone or laptop stores power. This configuration (which has not actually been constructed to my knowledge) uses a fresnel lens to magnify and focus the rays of the sun to melt a lithium nitrate substrate. The melted lithium nitrate, due to its phase change reaction, is able to release its thermal energy for longer periods of time and at higher temperatures than other methods up to now. Heat is then redistributed through convection, which allows for outdoor cooking and heating homes. This method is referred to as "latent heat storage".

Obviously this is a unique application that requires a specific set of criteria. This could also be used to provide electric power or boil water for steam applications. 
Peltier element
Remember any time you have a change of temperature you can utilize that to create power as the heat is exchanged and returns to a neutral state. Peltier coolers use power to create heat, which in turn creates a cold side. With an application such as this, derivatives of that technology can turn a heat source, into power. If done creatively, a refrigerator too. 
Batteries, and power sources in general, are complicated things. The design may be simplistic, but usually a power supply is designed to fit an application.  Some things to consider:

Capacity (Amp Hours)
Size (Physical Dimensions)
Discharge Rate (Time to Empty at designed load)
Charge Rate (Time to Charge, when under load and not under load)
Charge Cycles (number of charge/discharge cycles before needing to replace)
Operating temperature range (Affects charge and discharge rates. Batteries can catch fire and explode under the "right" circumstances, like being embedded in a cooking appliance like the solar grill)
Architecture of storage media: Lead-acid? NiCd? NiMH? NiZn? AgZN? NaS? Lithium ion? - and so forth.
Longevity and recyclability:
Obviously what the battery is made of has far reaching implications for the ability to recycle them. Lithium is rare, expensive, and in high demand. Lead Acid (car, marine, UPS batteries) are low cost, high weight, and readily recycled into new batteries given the proper facilities.

So, thank your local engineers for building all this stuff we take for granted all the time, and keep the innovation alive by encouraging our youngsters to... play with electricity, fire, water, light... and anything that interests them. Who knows what problem they might solve.

Topic Tuesday #48 2013/06/18 - "The Advocate"

Topic Tuesday #48 2013/06/18 - "The Advocate"

In this world there are uncountable things to be concerned with. Everything from how your laces are tied to what was served at the last White House dinner, that you weren't invited to, could flow across your mind. There are people out there that get really passionate about a few things. These folks raise money, awareness, and a ruckus in the name of their "cause". Sometimes the cause is relatively small, but nonetheless daunting. Other times, the cause is massive. Something so enormous in complexity and nuance you just have to be a little in awe of it. It takes a special person to devote themselves to a cause and rally for its support. Among other things, we call these individuals, Advocates. And we need their voices. When the message is clear and the personality is strong enough, one person can make a difference in anything. They often have stalwart opponents and detractors. Lies and slander are often the tools of the trade. Mudslinging as often as not is used as part and parlance to fundraising and handshaking. Sounds a little like politics doesn't it? It's because it is a lot like politics, and has to be since politicians are just the kinds of people that advocates are up against. Fighting fire with fire and so on.
You know all this already, or at least I hope you do. My point is to raise your awareness to the advocates around the world. take a second look at what they are doing, and why. These people are running full tilt with a plan. Some want to save a small nesting bird, and others want to save the planet. Some want to educate everyone, others just want to make sure no one goes to bed hungry or sick.
Almost universally Advocates for a cause are trying to change something. They see a problem and want to fix it. They advocate to have anyone who will listen help them in their cause.

So, my dear readers; What are you an advocate for? This is where you get to plug your cause and get just a little more exposure. 
Can we fix it?
We can try!

Topic Tuesday #47 2013/06/11 - "Big Brother / Big Data"

Topic Tuesday #47 2013/06/11 - "Big Brother / Big Data"

Orwell would be pointing a malnourished finger at all of us and chanting, "I told you so".
I don't go into the dystopian conspiracy theories, but as they are part of our culture, they still must be examined. Today the magnifying glass is on "Big Data". You may have heard the term, and if you haven't, you will.
Wikipedia summarized it thusly:
Big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis, and visualization. The trend to larger data sets is due to the additional information derivable from analysis of a single large set of related data, as compared to separate smaller sets with the same total amount of data, allowing correlations to be found to "spot business trends, determine the quality of research, prevent diseases, link legal citations, combat crime, and determine real-time roadway traffic conditions.

Big Data is just that, BIG. Veritable truckloads of data available on demand and manipulatable to yield a variety of correlations. It's enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, but honestly, it is unavoidable.
Big Data is a side effect of our increasingly technological society. We have devices that generate information that can be captured and logged. Most of it is innocuous. Like temperatures, wind speed, and rainfall.  
We take weather measurements every few seconds (this would be a data set, like a spreadsheet) in thousands of weather stations all over the world (a larger data group, a collection of spreadsheets). Now imagine that you have all this information collected from all the weather stations all over, and now you can see patterns. With patterns you can make predictions. Voila, you have a rudimentary weather model and can start to predict storm patterns.
Now extrapolate that out further. Do you have a credit card? Congratulations you have your own data set of purchasing patterns! This information is stored and used to determine fraud patterns. If suddenly you are outside your normal spending patterns or regions, you may be flagged with a fraud alert, keeping you safe. The dark side of the credit card industry is they have a tendency to sell/share that information with marketers and even law enforcement. In this way your habits become a recognizable pattern. Patterns can be identified, and some are as unique as a finger print.
It is safe to assume that if your have a device that generates a loggable data set, you can be sure someone somewhere is collecting it, and someone else wants it for some reason. Some will want to make life easier for you, others for themselves. Some will profit from it, and others will suffer. And I haven't even got into facial recognition! 

Topic Tuesday #46 2013/06/04 - "Book'em Dano"

Topic Tuesday #46 2013/06/04 - "Book'em Dano"

...And make sure you swab his mouth for a DNA sample.

Sounds a little more ominous now doesn't it? But why is that? First, the news: 

Says all I really need to know in that sentence. It passed the high seat by a slim 5:4 margin with a strong dissenting opinion by Judge Scalia. As always, I encourage you to take a look and think about the issue for yourselves.
What I want to look at is what our normal baseline is right now for the "booking process" and the Fourth Amendment.
While going through the booking process, the following should be expected:
  • Mug Shots
  • Fingerprints
  • A search
  • Routine questions on background information (name, address, etc.)

If your case begins with a court appearance and not an arrest, you may still be required to appear at the police station for a book-and-release procedure. 
Most jails will give out booking information (arrest date, bail, visiting information, the location, the court date, charges and booking number). Generally, you'll be asked for the defendant's full name and birth date. Keep the booking number for future reference. 

As you can see, once you are in police custody, very little is sacred. You can plead the Fifth Amendment and maintain your Miranda Rights, however, you are still subject to a physical search, up to cavity search...  

A note on Miranda rights, since they are thrown about so readily: 1966 Miranda v. Arizona. The ruling states:
...The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he/she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that he/she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he/she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him/her.
Further: On June 1, 2010, in deciding the Berghuis v. Thompkins case, the United States Supreme Court declared that criminal defendants who have been read the Miranda rights (and who have indicated they understand them and have not already waived them), must explicitly state during or before an interrogation begins that they wish to be silent and not speak to police for that protection against self-incrimination to apply. If they speak to police about the incident before invoking the Miranda right to remain silent, or afterwards at any point during the interrogation or detention, the words they speak may be used against them if they have not stated they do not want to speak to police.

The lesson here is say as little as possible until you see legal council, even if you are innocent. Don't be a jerk about it, but better safe than sorry.

OK enough about that, now on to the Constitution. For completeness:

Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I imagine that the issue that is primarily irritating is "the right of the people to be secure in their persons". It's a fine line. You would already have your finger prints put on file, your picture taken (without make up in most cases), and... there is that search...

So what's the big deal about having another piece of data, that identifies you, even better than finger prints and mug shots, go into the database? Oh... there it is. The Database. Big brother is watching you and Hoover is keeping Tabs on you. Well yes. They are. This is a surprise? You get targeted advertisements all the time. Data is being harvested all the time, and the government happily buys it up. They might not know what to do with it, but they have it when they do figure something out. DNA, will just be another field in a growing database.

Lately, there has been an increasing stigma over "big data". Specifically how it is being used. The primary problem is a lack of understanding. I will save big data for another Tuesday. For now, be aware that more rapists, more criminals, more bodies, will be identified and thus be another step closer to justice - whatever that means today.

Think I'm off base? Good, tell me about your thoughts on the matter. Just remember, 'cavity search'. before thinking a DNA swab is illegal.

Topic Tuesday #44 2013/05/21 - "The Finger of God"

Topic Tuesday #44 2013/05/21 - "The Finger of God"

The devastation in the heartland cannot be ignored. We will not go into the bloodshed and human damages imparted to us by the recent rash of twisters through Oklahoma. We must look ahead so I will talk about the power of nature and how we classify these storms.

The National Weather Service was instrumental in saving lives by having a tornado warning in effect 16 minutes before the 2 mile wide twister wrought havoc on the ground for over 40 minutes traveling 17 miles. This was the worst of a series of storms that devastated 16 counties in Oklahoma over the weekend.
Tornados are measured on a severity scale, similar to hurricanes. Let's be clear however. To equate the two would be like saying trench warfare in WWI was the same as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII. Hurricanes are a slow burning bonfire; tornadoes are kegs of black powder and nitro thrown into a volcano.
In 1971, Dr. Tetsuya Fujita and Allen Pearson came up with a scale (F-Scale) for measuring the intensity of tornadoes by their damage path. 
In 2007, the scale was updated to its current form, the Enhanced Fugita Scale

Each damage level is associated with a wind speed however, the Fujita scale is effectively a damage scale, and the wind speeds associated with the damage listed aren't rigorously verified. 

Basically, rating the damage of a tornado is as much an art as it is a science.
For a write up on what is entailed in the EFScale, follow the link below. The reading is fascinating but dry.

What we are usually concerned with is the F0 - F5 range.

  • F0 - Wind: 64-116 km/h - Damage Path Width: 10-50 meters - Damage: Light. Heavy storm style
  • F1 - Wind: 117-180 km/h - Damage Path Width: 10-50 meters - Damage: Moderate. Hurricane force winds, roof surface damage, light structures damaged.
  • F2 - Wind: 181-253 km/h - Damage Path Width: 10-50 meters - Damage: Significant.  Roofs sail away, trains overturn, large trees snap, highrise windows blow in.
  • F3 - Wind: 254-332 km/h - Damage Path Width: 200-500 meters - Damage: Severe. More and worse, larger missiles, some cars leave the gound.
  • F4 - Wind: 333-418 km/h - Damage Path Width: 400-900 meters (1/4 to 1/2 mile) - Damage: Devastating. Well constructed homes demolished. Cars take flight.
  • F5 - Wind: 419-512 km/h - Damage Path Width: 1100 meters (3/4 of a mile) - Damage: Incredible Car size missiles hurled 100+ meters, bark on trees removed, steel reinforced concrete structures damaged

The storm in Oklahoma, would be beyond an EF5. It's damage path was over 1.5 miles wide.
No one every really classifies tornadoes beyond an EF5. But now, you know why storms of such magnitude are referred to as "The Finger of God".

If you wish to lend assistance to those in need, please visit They have done a phenomenal job of collating a majority of the charities giving the real needed aide to those affected by these storms.
For government assistance Governor Mary Fallin and her staff have out together www.­okstrong.­ok.­gov

Topic Tuesday #42 2013/05/07 - "Disruptive Tech"

Topic Tuesday #42 2013/05/07 - "Disruptive Tech"

I love technology. I love history. I love science and science fiction (the inspiration for more of the former). The last few days have seen a turn in the direction of what was thought of just at the top of the year as pure science fiction. Well, when I say thought of, I mean all but those with their eyes on a gun manufacturer here in the United States. Defence Distributed, and its front man Cody Wilson, have dreamt up a cottage industry in disruption. Cody, over the last year, has designed and now succeeded in building a fully 3D printed firearm called the Liberator. It's designed as a homage to the single shot weapons that were air dropped over France during WWII. Besides that, the weapon is all plastic save the nail used as a firing pin. The plans have been released to the wild. Anyone can make one of these if they so desired.
And that is outstanding.
Don't think so? Let me explain my stance.
Oh... You probably want more of a platform than that. OK, look at it this way, this is a technology that cannot be stopped. It cannot be regulated to the governments liking and never will be without massive outrage. This is manufacturing in your garage. Dream it one day, make it the next. You don't need permission. You just need the know how, the raw materials and the tools to put them together. Cody made a gun. Will this gun be used to hurt someone? Almost certainly. This is a logical progression to this kind of device (3D printer). Think for a moment as I stroll down technology of years past lane. When Gutenberg and his movable type printing press came on the scene the scribes were out of a job, and it was revolution in the streets (Martin Luther ring a bell?). When the cassette tape was released and you could record onto it easily, the Recording Industry lost their minds. When the VCR came out the Motion Picture Industry went nuts. CD Burners, DVD Burners, BlueRay burners MP3, MP4, JPEG things that can make a copy of something without the originator getting their due, will always be disruptive. I recall that digital copiers were so good at color reproduction that they were used in counterfeiting operations. The Liberator is a statement and a loud extension of this phenomenon. This says, "You can't stop the future. This is the information age, and now we can make use of that information - whatever form it takes."
It is a shake up. It is a wake up call. What that call sounds like changes depending on who hears it, but really it's about freedom.

Personally, I knew this was coming, and making my own gun if just not my cup of tea. Personally, I would rather be the toy maker or make replacement parts and mockups for my own projects. But that is what most people will do. Again, take the internet as a case in point. When it was started, there was no security, no anti virus, no pictures... It was innocent, with innocent ideals. None of those early engineers considered that it would be used for terrorism, free speech, porn, dating, and social networking, or even voice and video. It proved to be disruptive. In a very short time, look how far it has come! Now, where will 3D printing go as the technology becomes less and less expensive?  In less than 10 years, I can see the personal 3D printer all over. Remember inkjet printers were very expensive when they first came on the scene; now they are practically disposable. The printer they used for the gun, was $10,000 on ebay second hand. You can get a MakerBot for considerably less. And I encourage you to go make something.

What will your imagination make next? Will regulation over these devices stifle creativity and rapid prototyping with red tape? Will it just be impossible to regulate, like desktop printing and copy machines?
What do you think?

Topic Tuesday #41 2013/04/30 - "Teach the Controversy?"

Topic Tuesday #41 2013/04/30 - "Teach the Controversy?" 

Ready to get mad? Ready to get fired up? Ready to take on a big bad taboo subject? Faith and science in schools; here we go.
In the United States, and around the world to varying degrees, there is a movement known as Intelligent Design. For those that are not familiar with what this is: ID, or Intelligent Design is the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity. This is largely a Christian Fundamentalist backed position.
ID's asserts that:
It is a scientific field of research
Darwinian evolution by natural selection is wrong
There is an "design agent" working to fine tune the universe.

For the extreme positions asserted, one jumps to a stance known as "Young Earth Creationism" which asserts the following:
The Universe is, at most, 15,000 years old.
The planet Earth is, at most, 10,000 years old.
All of the book of Genesis is fact.
Noah and his ark were real
The flood compressed the plant life into our fossil fuel, covered the world with the observable sedimentary layers, carved out the Grand Canyon, the Norwegian and Icelandic fjords, and even continental separation and plate tectonics.
And lots of other items.

As you can tell this is a very religiously oriented world view.
ID arguments are somewhat acceptable and represent a Deistic view; the same view was held by most of the talked about Founding Fathers of the USA. Here is where we run off the rails and into the schools and "teaching the controversy".

It sounds great, on paper. From, "Instead of mandating intelligent design, the major pro-ID organizations seek to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks by teaching students about both scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution.  Most school districts today teach only a one-sided version of evolution which presents only the facts which supposedly support the theory.  But most pro-ID organizations think evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned."

The failure with their premise is that the evolution that we have been teaching in school for decades is not at fault, it just doesn't leave room for a designer, as it is the designer. There are no real gaps in the data, certainly less gaps than in an ID discussion that pleads to a supernatural agent for tweaking what we do not fully understand at the moment. The research and understanding are quite complete and there is no controversy except for what they "believe". As has been said before, the nice thing about science is that it doesn't care about your beliefs, it only cares about what is real.

This has come up because a few things have breezed past me to draw my attention to them. 

1) A copy of a test from an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school was trotted out on Reddit for all to see. Those involved are waiting to disclose all the details around it until the end of the school year to prevent any adverse reaction to the students, but it is amazingly awful what they were passing for science. check out Snopes for the dirt on it.

2) the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Central Florida chapter will be distributing secular documentation to 11 area high schools to balance a bible distribution done Wednesday, January 16, 2013. The initial Story - here and here - The FFRF response here -

The group responsible for the Bible outreach is World Changers of Florida, Inc.
I will let them to speak for themselves here:
"We should resist trying to force the Holy Scripture to fit with popular scientific consensus.  What would science tell us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?  How about Moses and parting the Red Sea?  What about a virgin conceiving without sexual relations?  How would science explain the resurrection of Jesus and his many appearances afterward?  Science says it can’t happen, but we know that with God, all things are possible, even a 6-day creation.  Do you trust man’s interpretation of events that were not witnessed and that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory?  Flawed suppositions supporting weak theories promoted by scientists who will not accept the possibility of a supernatural explanation for our existence.  I’ll trust God’s explanation because “the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate.”"

What we have is a group, the defines themselves as YEC (Young Earth Creationists) touting the Intelligent Design arguments and trying desperately to get their view alongside hard science in the classroom as a possibility, rather than the science that works, and can be built upon.

That is the "teach the controversy" argument.
Their argument is that science is lacking this side of the debate. It's not up for debate. One is theology and mythology and the other is science, tried and true.
I am up for teaching about theology in school. It is a part of humanity, and part of our culture. Something that pervades our speech and habits. We should learn about it. We have classes for that. Mythology and Humanities and Social Studies. I highly recommend a comparative religions class too. But you see, that would not forward their position. These groups, and there are many more, have their built in proselytizing agenda to contend with. They venture forth with the banner of equality, but that only opens the door so they can sneak inside and start making changes.
I personally find it offensive and insidious. It is a danger to our future. Many students are in for a harsh wake up when they get to college or in the real world and "god did it" is not the answer to the real problem in front of them. To manage in the real world with these ideas, you have to have a dualistic view of reality, and you have to be comfortable with cognitive dissonance. You may believe that the world was created in 6 days, but the math you use to make the rocket fly to the outer reaches says it wasn't and could not have been. You may believe that man was fashioned out of clay, but if you cut one open you see the same organs as our cousins in the animal kingdom and all we become are animals made of meat, bone, and blood. Reality doesn't care about your beliefs.

Science works. If you water it down at all, you cause our future to be watered down too. This is a heated fight, because it damages the view people have of reality. People don't want to think they have been wrong for so many years, and potentially wasted their life in the pursuit of a fallacy. It's hard to swallow. But that doesn't mean that they should be coddled, especially when they adversely affect others. What you do at home, none of my concern. What you bring or force into the schools and the mind of our children, will always be my concern.

Teach the controversy? We would if there was one.

Topic Tuesday #40 2013/04/23 - "Life Interrupted: Injury"

Topic Tuesday #40 2013/04/23 - "Life Interrupted: Injury"

What better way to know about something than to experience it first hand? Walk a mile in the shoes, that sort of thing. If you read my last TT, #39, you may have remember I was on vacation over the weekend. It was marvelous. It was grand. The food was outstanding. Everyone was nice. The hotel smelled good. The bed was comfy. The companionship awesome. Then I rolled my ankle in front of the fountains at the Bellagio.

I was a stubborn ass and really didn't know the extent of the injury, and we walked quite a while before I was convinced that I needed a taxi.
By the way, awesome fountain show, I highly recommend it, just watch the seems in the pavement while crossing the streets. Some of the gaps are surprising.
Anyway, I ended up with quite the sprain. It was bad enough that after a night sleep, I couldn't put my weight on it and needed to rent a wheelchair from the hotel ($20, if you are curious). In retrospect, getting a scooter would have been much more enjoyable and less struggle to deal with in certain situations, but we had been granted an "upgrade" to a Mustang for our car rental, and a scooter was not going to be useful away from the Las Vegas strip - AND I WANTED TO SEE STUFF! I digress...
This was the first time I had been physically injured while traveling, much less on vacation. I have had other illnesses, but nothing that restricted my mobility. It's an eye opener, and I'm always ready to have a new experience. First, the chair. It was comfortable, like an old shoe, but it smelled a little like an old bowling shoe and was worn like one too. It had rather awful hand push rims (I'm sure there is a word for these, but I don't know what it is). They were plastic, and gouged and were like to rough up my hands, which were simply not used to this kind of action. No calluses. Muscle groups not accustomed to using it either. and the tires were smooth and did not give much traction. I did alright, all things considered. It would have been better for me if I had been able to elevate the leg as well, but that was not an option on this rental. My diminutive spouse had some issues pushing me on carpet and certainly on the weird inclines and curbs around the hotel and parking garages. It was also very difficult to load and unload the chair into the trunk of a sports car, but by the end, she was a pro, with only a few war wounds to go with mine.
Dining out while occupying the handicap place of honor, was quite enjoyable, once I figured out where to slot my foot comfortably under the tables. The serving staff and valets, and everyone we met along the way were really rather nice. However, we were very nice and unexpecting of different treatment; it was likely just a "you get what you give" scenario, one I hope happens often for everyone with a positive outlook.
The painkillers worked on and off, and we were able to tool around a bit, did some shopping and some gawking. There were plenty of people who were just self absorbed and not paying attention to anything but their own little world, so I got bumped a few times, but nothing serious and nothing worth further than acknowledgement that "it happens".
Obviously stairs are an issue, and at attractions it can be a huge hinderance. Thanks to the proliferation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (rather happy it's there btw) there were alternative ways to get to and fro. Micro elevators for just a wheel chair. Guided tours through some back secret path to get someplace. Really, it's not so bad, except for being confined to the chair and perhaps having less of a view.
The journey home was the real "treat". Airlines and airports have a pragmatic approach to those that have "special needs". Those in wheelchairs get amazing treatment. I know why too. It's that pragmatic approach I spoke of. These folks have to get to the terminal like any other, and they would be in the way, and possibly delay travel for the entire complex. So they are escorted from check-in to the gate. It certainly has the benefit of reducing stress on everyone concerned. It's a great service to all, including the folks that can walk through the system normally. It clears congestion.It's obvious when you think about it, and who would think about it, unless you go through it?
At any rate, they were very nice, and we were able to get to the plane on time, and were able to get a seat befitting my injury, which likely prevented me from developing a blood clot. (bullet dodged). The airline had arranged for a chair to be at the terminal we arrived at, making the entire trek much more streamlined than I could have hoped for. Also, the airport wheel chairs are enormous, except for the ones they use on the airplanes, which I did not need.When I say enormous, it was so wide it was difficult to use the hand wheel rail (which was a nicer chrome). Expect to be pushed in these chairs.
When I'm really confined, I'm gonna make it awesome.
When I got home, I was lent a set of crutches to get me through a couple doctor visits. This was also my first time with regular crutch use, and by the end of the day, my hands were killing me, and my armpits were in as much pain as my ankle. I chalk this up to no calluses; just not being up to the challenge right off the bat. It was a rough day. But educational. I learned what to do and not do on crutches.
[Quick run down, adjust them so you have stability, but you are not resting your body weight on the top. 1 or 2 inches from top to armpit. (you will injure the nerves in your arms and cause serious issues if you use them to support your body weight), Wear a good shoe. Your one good foot will be taking the entire strain of your body. If you slip, you will go down and hurt yourself more. If you have a bad fit, you will be in pain the rest of the day, and be miserable. Rest often. Do not push yourself. Your hands will be sore if you have done it right... Mine are killing me, and if I can avoid using crutches again, I will. Here is a link to help with crutches if you should need it. ]
While in my home, it's an interesting situation, since it's not setup for easy access for those sitting. In fact, we have young children, so some things are very purposely out of reach. I caught myself thinking about how to remodel the bathroom when the time comes to make it handicap friendly, if not full on handicap accessible. As with many things in life, you don't miss something until it's gone. Eyesight, hearing, taste, mobility, etc.
Maybe as I age I will thank myself for having an injury or two so I will have planned ahead, just a little for when my knees fail me.
Now... Time to figure out how to take a shower, and not kill myself in the process! The adventure continues!