While we all know that there is a shit ton of water on this planet - 3/4ths of the earth is covered in it - and there is also a lot of air, when you compare them to scale
, it puts things in perspective. Just like a ball of pizza dough becomes cardboard thin when rolled out, so goes it with our elements as well. In fact, close to 90% of the atmosphere exists in only the 7 closest miles to the surface of the earth.
Also, William F. Buckley expired today at his home. For a conservative, he was pretty well spoken and I always admired his 1996 statement to the New York Bar Association on legalizing drugs in America. I believe I've mentioned it here before, but here it is again
for those who might be interested, along with commentary from many others. The whole page is a worthwhile read, even as dated as it is some 12 years later.
So goes the opening line:
WE ARE speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemen -- yet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect.
It's not that I haven't been trying - honestly, I have - but there hasn't been anything too interesting that has caught my eye lately worth writing about. Everyday I trawl the internet for things to comment on, spark debate, and create a conversation. Inevitably that devolves into youtube links. I don't really think any of you want that, but maybe I am wrong. It's been known to happen.
So today I must dig into my email, where an interesting conversation went on today about the Harvard tuition news late last year. I pointed out that:
They overhauled their tuition back in December (a trend I am seeing of late) such that they will not expect any more than ~10% of a families income per annum if they make less than $180,000 - so, no more than $10,000 for a family making $100,000 which is, in my book, pretty damn fair, all things considered.
Nevertheless, with a $35 BILLION DOLLAR endowment (largest in the land, of course) they can certainly afford to do this. In fact, based on Microsoft's recent offer, they could basically go out and buy Yahoo tomorrow and be A-OK with their creditors. Based on their undergrad student count of ~6800 and a tuition of $35k for the 07-08 year, they could invest their 35 bill in a modest money market fund, pay for ALL 6800 students, and still
have money left over!
Sometime in the late 90s I remember hearing about their amazingly large endowment of $625 million.. that was about 10 years ago. Someone did them some good investing.
My friend TBone chimed in with this response:
Harvard has an endowment bigger than Ireland's GDP. Harvard, with a all its undergrad students (most of whom do not work, and many of whom have never worked a day in their lives), take in more money than the 4,109,806 Irish, including the St. James Gate brewery.
This seemingly magnanimous act of generosity on the part of Harvard becomes less-so when you consider that Congress has been putting the screws to the likes of the NCAA and some of the Ivies with respect to their non-profit status. Their endowment is of course, untaxed, and is therefore in a real sense, a gift from the American taxpayer, so they are obligated by law to spend at least 10% of the total every year, which they have not been doing for decades now. It's BS if you ask me, they should be tuition-free.
No wonder they're doing so well.
The New York Times does it again with a great web-based interactive graph of movie box office takes since 1986
. It is adjusted for inflation so you can concentrate on how much more movies take in now compared to just 10 or 15 years ago. You can also see that it all comes in bursts now.. when Top Gun came out, it was making box office monies from May through December of 1986.. National Book of Secrets has already trickled to nothing in less than 3 months.
Okay, time to geek out a bit. I feel guilt for both doing so, and using the term "geeking out" but what can you do? Suffer with me.
For those of you who know of the Large Hadron Collider, you know it is big. 17 Miles big. Underground. A friend of mine once visited the site and the stories were otherworldly. Luckily, National Geographic (an odd choice of publications for servicing us with physics news, no?) provides us with a brief look into that world. [P.S. what a wonderfully designed site. Note the simple navigation at the top, the clean white-space design - webmasters take note]At the Heart of All Matter
- please don't mind me for quoting, specifically, Rutherford, of McGill fame:
Was it, as [J.J.] Thomson believed, a pudding, with electrons embedded like raisins? No. In 1911 physicist Ernest Rutherford announced that atoms are mostly empty space, their mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus orbited by electrons.
I digress, on to the good stuff:
There must be some exotic hidden matter in the mix. A theory called supersymmetry could account for this: It states that every fundamental particle had a much more massive counterpart in the early universe. The electron might have had a hefty partner that physicists refer to as the selectron. The muon might have had the smuon. The quark might have had ... the squark. Many of those supersymmetric partners would have been unstable, but one kind may have been just stable enough to survive since the dawn of time. And those particles might, at this very second, be streaming through your body without interacting with your meat and bones. They might be dark matter.
Then we get the worst analogy in the world:
[Theoretical physicist John Ellis of CERN] offers an analogy: Different fundamental particles, he says, are like a crowd of people running through mud. Some particles, like quarks, have big boots that get covered with lots of mud; others, like electrons, have little shoes that barely gather any mud at all. Photons don't wear shoes—they just glide over the top of the mud without picking any up.
*Sigh*.. Nevertheless, it's an interesting piece and gives a tiny view into the big world of colliders in general. Have a look.
if you knew what was good for you, you would immediately go here
, watch the demo video, and then possibly download and have some phun.
For a long time I've lamented the lack of a "decent" news aggregation site on the web - one with some simple features that would make my life a whole lot simpler, like the ability to truly
aggregate (recognize duplicates, group sources into a single item). I even considered coding one up myself but due to the normal laze of things (read: me) it never happened. I am not one to stay up late burning the midnight oil on that sort of hobby project, especially when I know I wouldn't do as thorough a job as the idea warrants. C'est la vie.
Today, I found a new website that might actually do the trick: newspond.com
. From their about page:
As a news story surfaces across [the web], Newspond notes every detail about it - from how fast a story spreads throughout the internet, to the amount of discussion surrounding the story, to even things like the rate at which people click on or bookmark the article and the size of each of the sites reporting it. Every detail is carefully noted, sized, and gauged, reading at a faster rate of speed than any human being could ever dream of. That way, you don't need to visit multiple news sites to find out what's going on.
And yes, there is a pretty ajaxy interface with an expandable 'view sources' tab for each news item. To be clear, the real beauty here is that it doesn't track any one particular article, it tracks the actual news item
- an ephemeral thing indeed - and links the various articles on that event in one place. Bravo.
It doesn't have user ratings, it has "buoyancy ratings" that attempts to track an item's popularity by analyzing the web itself, and the number and frequency of linking and discussion that is going on in real time. Somehow, though, I am not convinced the site will become that popular, even if I'd like it to. People love them some human contact, in the end, and there is something oft forgotten about the web - while it might be transforming itself into a giant auto-generated, aggregated, pile of information, people are the primary users
. Just as users feel uncomfortable interacting with a computerized telephone system, users are likely to feel alienated by a completely electronic-brained (to use a term from Newspond's own site) entity as Newspond in the wake of such social enterprises as Digg
, and Reddit
. C'est la vie.
Paul Graham, discussing how to deal with that ever-present pest the internet troll
, makes an interesting remark:
Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.
Which gets to the point quite nicely. Most often, assholes are just that because they have too much impetus and have spent too little time thinking about it. In a go-go-go world like ours this problem could likely worsen as the flood of information and technology bombards us. It's a stuck-in-a-box, don't-know-how-to-get-out situation. Consider a situation in which you don't have full knowledge of a question's domain, let alone the answer, but you are pressed for time. This is pretty much the essence of life, but some people handle it better than others.
It's an interesting perspective, and worth remembering the next time you find yourself in the situation: either as the asshole or on the other end.
More science-inspired tattoos
than you can shake a
, via the always-so-readable The Known Universe
blog comes an eassy on Zombies and Robots and the uncanny divide
"Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels."
This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely-human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is "almost human" will seem overly "strange" to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathetic response required for productive human-robot interaction.
I think that explains a lot of my ex girlfriends, actually.
I'm out of touch and, clearly, I must be missing something. Here we are in a heated race for the next presidency, and what is making congress go all a'twitter? Or, more specifically, the House Committee on Oversight and Gov'ment Reform?
Steroid use in professional sports.
Okay, so I'm a little late on the game here. I know it's been a major point of contention for a long time running now but I have to honestly ask: who cares? But before you start crying "me, I care!" I need to clarify my position. I care too, in as much as we would all like to think that sports are fair and there are no spurious advantages. However, I honestly don't want to pay my politicians to sit around debating the issue and slapping people's wrists. Do you?
To state a fact (and I looked it up
, albeit on the blacksheep Wikipedia) the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's purview is:
.. jurisdiction to investigate any federal program and any matter with federal policy implications.
Is this some attempt to save face on the longest running war that the U.S. government has participated in? After untold billions in drug war money, are they trying to find one tiny slice of the pie that they can stuff down their gobs, faces slathered with pie juice, so that they can proclaim "Look, we won a battle"? Is it? Because I just don't get it.
I'm obviously not the only one
The toughness displayed by the representatives on the Government Reform Committee at this silly hearing into an issue that has almost no impact whatsoever on the lives of average Americans contrasted markedly with the way the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the same day, handled its hearing into the CIA's torture policies since 2001.
There CIA director Porter Goss, a former House member himself, was treated with utmost politeness and decorum, and was allowed to fudge answers, or not answer questions at all.
It goes without saying that the MLB has dropped the ball on this one; has erred we could say. So does that mean we should turn to our government to investigate?
Is it the age in which we now live, with live CSPAN coverage, that is driving these sensationalist shenanigans? Certainly, more people's ears will perk up to these issues than, say, non-appropriation municipal affairs of the District of Columbia, and the Postal Service, including post office namings, holidays, and celebrations
. But what can you do, right? We need us some fair baseball.
All this to give you this delicious quote from Eric Wilbur's sports blog on Boston.com
Many had long suspected that [Roger Clemens] had dabbled in some sort of performance-enhancing drugs based on the dramatic upturn in his performance as he grew older and the way he doubled in size over the past decade. That’s what we loved about Clemens, we got older... he stayed the same age.
So, whatever.. getting to the point: now that elected officials are on the scene, this will all get sorted out, right? Well, back that ass up. Eric goes on to tell us:
.. half of the 41 committee members met privately with Clemens last week, [and were] posing for photographs and signing autographs.
Phew, everything is
under control. I'm quite relieved. Plus, there has been some admission by MLB players of illicit drug use, so they'll get the wrist-slappy, right? Well, de-ride that donkey for a second..
We don’t exactly hear Miguel Tejada’s name every day and unlike Clemens, he’s still playing. Pettitte is going to pitch this season, and the only nagging he’ll likely hear about the Mitchell Report is about Clemens’ involvement, not his own. Gary Sheffield, Eric Gagne, Brian Roberts, they are all moving on, and hardly anyone is asking them about steroids as spring training approaches.
Hmm. It's kind of like the way my mom handled things when I was growing up. Admit you've done wrong up front and, hey, that's such an accomplishment (well, it was for me when I was 5
) that we'll let the punishment slide. Hey, no big deal, back at it next week. Maybe we should call it the House Committee on Oversight and Making Sure Bad People Admit They've Been Bad So We Can Forget About It.
I'll take off please. Brain "pacemaker" activates long-lost memories
While his surgeons were identifying potential appetite-suppressing sites in his brain, the patient, awake and under local anesthesia, reported feeling a sense of deja vu.
He could vividly recall a scene from 30 years ago: He was in a park with friends. His girlfriend at the time was there. Everything was in colour. He could see his friends talking, but couldn't make out what they were saying.
"He could describe what they were wearing. He could describe the temperature, what kind of day it was," says Dr. Andres Lozano, professor of neurosurgery and Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience at the Toronto Western Hospital.
When the current was switched off, the memory stopped.
with this guy's ears
?????? (picked off raymi
, or "borrowed" as she'd have it)okay, so the ears were just another excuse, I admit it.
See that poor guy getting stepped on
at about 00:35?
Sometimes I feel just like him.(but really I just wanted an excuse to post that dumb link - at least it didn't involve an improper use of the letter z, an emoticon, or an internet acronym)
Maybe I'm obsessed? Who knows..
It's a bit strange how life works out, but then what can you really do about it but watch it fly by? I find it interesting that for years - like five of them - I basically wrote a blog that nobody read. Sure, I got hits but they were all random search hits for the most part. On occasion a fellow blogger would stumble into my little corner of the innernector and start reading for awhile, then wander off to greener pastures. For the most part, this little place has been provisional - very much like a diary that nobody ever goes back to read. Which is a shame because that's really the point, isn't it? Anyone who writes something down secretly wants
it to be read, even if they say they don't.. I don't care what anyone says. Only in movies do people write letters that they tear up and never send.
So sure, every once in awhile I would wander into the archives and read some of my old shit just to get perspective on things, but I was probably the only one. Back then I was getting somewhere in the range of 15 hits a day. Now, having kept on keeping on (even if it has been less keeping than I'd like) and also having it come up in conversations with people here and there.. well, before I knew what was happening people - real people, people I know, not strange faceless beings online - were reading it too.
I still get somewhere in the range of 15 hits a day. They're just mostly from people I know. Or people I think I know. Or people who appear to be people I think I know, which, at the end of the day, is what all of you are anyway, right? People who appear to be people I think I know
. Does life get anymore certain than that? Probably not, but I can't be sure.
So what does it all mean? What do I write here? Why do you read it? Why do you care? These aren't hypothetical, really, because I'm truly interested. I read all of three blogs on a regular basis and they're all people I don't know. I read one of them because it's just good, interesting writing. I read another because it's funny with good pictures. I read a third because it's habit and habits die hard. But those reasons are surface at best.. there are deeper reasons that cause these blogs to be more palatable to me, but being deep they are less easy to access. So we say "that's interesting," or "it's funny."
Why do I care about a stranger on the internet that I've never met. Why do I care about what his or her cat did yesterday and what job interview they just bombed or what kind of tea they had for breakfast? Why are reality shows so popular? Is it pure coincidence that blogs and reality shows both came into their own at the same time? Does any of this matter?
I don't know, but I still feel guilty for lazy updates and broken promises. Even if nobody is out there reading this. Even if someone is. It's that piece of self that generates willpower, motivation, and stubbornness that is like cold fusion. Without it, this seemingly endless source of energy, nothing would get done and nobody would read anything. Too bad it can't help me gracefully conclude any of my posts.