Category Archives: Education

An Easter Thought for All

SONY DSC

Easter is a time of hope, optimism and looking forward. Because of its ties to Passover it occurs in the spring, with its focus on life. I propose that we take this time to harness our creative energies as we look ahead.

The prolific Thomas Alva Edison was self-educated, and, before some of you protest, let me remind you that Facebook wasn’t invented by a large corporation, and Apple started out with two guys experimenting in a garage.

So, now to the challenge – What is frequently in the news because we have too much?

Carbon and heat.

Someone is going to figure out what makes carbon – or more specifically carbon dioxide – valuable. When they do, I’m sure that the rest of us will bemoan how obvious the answer was and that we all should have thought of it. As near as I can tell, carbon in many other configurations is preferable to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Likewise, we’re always looking for new sources of energy, particularly renewable energy. W commonly measure energy in terms of heat (calories, and BTU – British Thermal Units). Somehow it must be possible to efficiently capture the extra heat in the atmosphere and store it for use elsewhere.

It’s a time of beginnings, worldly as well as other-worldly, beginnings and possibilities.

Jesus’ Timing

Superstar

If you have followed my blog for a while, you may remember that during Lent I listen to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Although it’s an artistic musing, it does cause me to think of my scripture reading from a different perspective. In the recording, Judas asks why Jesus came, “in such a backward time in such a strange land.” He goes on to say, “If you’d come today, you’d have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

It’s a fair question, and I pondered it for a while and arrived at an answer that at least makes sense to me.

I think that Jesus’ aim was to inspire, teach, challenge, and demand that we take things into our own hands and do God’s work. It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and perform such works in His name and to give glory to the Father.

But what if He had chosen today? I suspect for a while He would be the top story on the news and a meme on the internet. But would we take Him any more seriously? Personally I doubt it. Besides, in a few days some other story would have pushed him out of the limelight.

It was within His power to solve all our problems – disease; poverty; everything. Instead, He solved the biggest problem – our separation from God.

The rest is up to us, but don’t worry. He taught us how.

How to Keep Your Computer Safe

With all of the stolen identities, viruses, Trojans and other malware, here are the steps you need to keep your computer safe:

  1. Purchase a good quality anti-virus/firewall (AV/F) program.
  2. Install the AV/F program. DO NOT backup data before installing, since this will just save any malware already on your computer. If possible, boot from the AV/F disk and perform a complete system scan.
  3. Update your operating system and your AV/F program. Run a second complete system scan.
  4. Backup your data to a series of Blu-Ray, DVD or CD ROMS and store in a place that is safe from theft, fire, electromotive pulse damage, etc. Bank safety deposit boxes are ideal.
  5. Change your passwords. Do not use any word or combination of words in any language that could appear in a dictionary as these are vulnerable. The password should be at least 20 characters long and include 2 upper case and 2 lower case letters, 2 numbers, 2 special character (such as !@#$%%), 3 polynomials, an imaginary number, an augmented 7th chord, and a mathematical impossibility.
  6. DO NOT WRITE YOUR PASSWORD ANYWHERE!
  7. Remember, if you can remember your password, it is not safe.
  8. Change all your passwords again.
  9. Turn the computer off and remove the power cable.
  10. Remove all other cables attached to the computer.
  11. Remove the screws holding the cover on your desktop OR if you’re using a laptop, remove the battery and all the screws on the bottom of the computer.
  12. Remove the screws on all boards, modules and devices inside your computer. If possible, unsolder all components from the printed circuit boards.
  13. Take each of these items and hide or bury each in a different county/parish. If possible, different states or provinces. (Note: For a variety of reasons, it is advisable that you not cross international borders with your computer parts.)
  14. Consult a professional hypnotist and ask him/her to erase all memories of any passwords or portions of passwords from your subconscious. (Although equally effective, lobotomies have unwanted side effects.)

Congratulations! Your computer is now safe! Enjoy!

Science FICTION vs. SCIENCE Fiction

The_Martian_2014

My older son dislikes the reboot of Star Trek because of some of the liberties they take with the laws of physics. I on the other hand am happy to allow artistic license in order to have a good story.

Of course, I grew up on the notoriously under-budgeted original Star Trek, while he grew up on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The original couldn’t afford the sets and models for a different planet each week, so they created the now ubiquitous transporter. Considering that this was in the days before the first real world moon landing, that was a leap of faith (or a tweak of physics) in its own right.

On the other hand, there are some great stories that take great care in ensuring that the science is reasonably well adhered to. I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir.

There have been marooned stories from before Robinson Crusoe to the recent movie Gravity. The trick is to tell it in a way that’s reasonably plausible. Mark Watney is part of a team of astronauts on Mars that is devastated by a dust storm. His team mates see him impaled on a metal rod and blown away, but can’t recover his body because their launch vehicle is rapidly succumbing to the same storm. Recover one dead astronaut and they’ll add the whole team to the killed in action list.

Of course, Mark didn’t die, but to survive he has to figure out certain things.

How do I get water on Mars?

How do I find some way to grow some kind of food in something?

Like a detective novel, it’s the “how does he figure this one out” factor that makes this book fun, and there are many things to be figured out.

Why You Think It’s Funny and I Don’t

When asked advice on how he would do the old slip on a banana peel gag, Chaplin was once quoted as saying “Instead of slipping on a banana peel, have a large woman walk up, see the banana peel and step over it, and drop into an uncovered man hole she didn’t see ahead of her because she was so busy being smug while looking back at the banana peel she just smartly stepped over. Courtesy JeTamme Derouet (Charlie Chaplin historian, paid expert and top contributor) http://www.charliechaplinclub.com.

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor, but many of today’s comedians don’t make me laugh. I’ve watched Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and others, wanting to be amused; begging to be amused; hoping to be amused, but being disappointed. Have I gotten that old?

The other day I heard a comment on NPR that pointed out how today’s humor is more slapstick, while the humor of the mid to late 20th century was more intelligent and thought provoking – not that everything today is slapstick, or that everything from back then was intelligent (after all, that same time period included the “Gong Show.”) The speaker pointed out how the older material used humor to convey a message. I believe there’s some truth to that.

Look at how Richie Pryor used humor to make a huge statement about the idiocy of racism. Supposedly, he wrote the script for “Blazing Saddles.”) Bill Cosby’s view of life in his stand-up comedy was outstanding, and his characters converted to cartoons with a message.

“Firesign Theatre” parodied just about everything, while salting the material with obscure references to computer technology, radiology, physics, and especially classical literature. These types of comedy got funnier over time because you caught more of the hidden jokes. (“Will you look at the mouth on that gift horse? I’ve never seen anything like that!”)

There’s hope, though. I like the tee shirt emblazoned with, “There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

And of course, “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).”

And, yes, just as Shakespeare (the original) was corny, intelligent humor can be corny as well.

A neutron walked into the Atomic Bar and asked the bartender, a proton, for a drink, which the bartender poured and served.

“How much do I owe you?” asked the neutron.

“For you, no charge,” replied the bartender.

[And if that isn't bad enough…]

“Are you sure?” asked the neutron?

“I’m positive!” replied the proton.

Writing In the Dust

Jewsus

I picked up a copy of National Geographic’s special publication about Jesus. I’m always trying to learn just a little bit more about Him.

I learned something that I didn’t expect.

They pointed out how He left behind no writings or other historical evidence. We know He wrote, but it was in the dust.

He may not have left anything tangible behind, but what He did leave behind was powerful.

Salvation. The fact that God loves us. A new relationship with God.

Jesus wasn’t about Himself – He was about the message.

WANTED: Dead AND Alive

I was having a metaphysical moment.

I crawled into the box with Schrodinger’s cat* because I wanted to see what it’s like to be both alive and dead at the same time.

It didn’t feel any different, and now I’m covered with cat hair, I smell funny and I have several flea bites.

*

Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

Courtesy wikipedia.org

Nowak’s Theorem of Transplantation

Many phenomena are neither inherently good nor bad.

We read of invasive species like zebra mussels, pythons and snakehead fish that overtake an area when they are transplanted with harmful consequences. This is usually attributes to a lack of natural predators.

While I do not refute this, I think there is at least one other dynamic at work that applies – especially to people.

Ellis Island Immingrants archives.gov

Ellis Island Immingrants
archives.gov

As a country of immigrants, America has long been seen as a land of opportunity. People who pack up everything (or next to nothing in some cases) tend to be motivated, so there is some self-selection. However, sometimes the event of being removed from one environment and placed in another has its own effects effects.

Every society has its own challenges – both real and perceived. We all are far too familiar with the shortcomings of where we grow up, and this can predispose us to certain expectation of success or failure. In a new environment, however, since the challenges are unknown, they must be viewed more objectively to be overcome and old biases may not be as overwhelming.

We read of many foreign born Americans who succeed in a wide range of undertakings from advanced academia to small business. Perhaps the change in environment plays a part.

So, my theorem is – “When motivated people move from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar environment they tend to view challenges more objectively allowing them to overcome them and succeed.”

Better Thought Than Money

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/14/health/aquarium-pump-breathing/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

Check the link to CNN for the story and more pictures

Check the link to CNN for the story and more pictures

Check out this great article in CNN about a device designed by students at Rice University that provides lifesaving help to babies in developing countries.

Many times we believe that twenty-first century solutions must be purchased at great cost. After all, haven’t all the easy things been discovered, invented and perfected by big business, big pharmaceuticals and big academia?

Add to that the fact that in large organizations, doing something expensive tends to give you more money and therefore more power. Coming up with an elegantly simple answer provides us with neither prestige nor power.

Remember this – God gave us a brain; He did not give us money.

Now, doesn’t it inspire you to see what new, wonderful and good things people can do with more brain and less money?

WWW 25 Years

Google tells me that the web is 25 years old, today. Wow!

What I learned computing on, and YES! I did own one.

What I learned computing on, and YES! I did own one.

I remember somewhere in the early ’90′s connecting via phone to “Freenet,” which was an early link to the internet through Cleveland State University. They had less than 100 lines – for a metropolitan area of several million people. Yes – you did get busy signals from time to time, but there weren’t that many people interested in connecting.

Quite a difference today. We now take connectivity for granted.

So to Sir Tim Berners-Lee (gotta love “Sir Tim” as in “Some call me —– Tim” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) we say well done!

The Good Old Days

cfrodeo.com

cfrodeo.com

I lived, for a while, in Cheyenne, Wyoming where “Cowboy up!” was a normal part of the conversation.

I loved Frontier Days, the last week in July with parades on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and, of course, the “Daddy of All Rodeos.”

Cowboy life – how dramatic and inviting – at least until you think about the reality back in the 19th century.

As they say, don’t squat with your spurs on – and on the trail there were no roadside rest stops with clean restrooms.

Coffee made by throwing a handful of grounds into a metal coffee pot full of creek water.

The smell that comes after herding a couple hundred head (and therefore rears) of cattle. “Cow pies” (yep, that’s what I’m talking about) are even nastier than the “road apples” produce by the horses.

Bathing? Shaving? Clean clothes? Not so much.

So, my (real-honest-to-goodness cowboy) hat is off to those who paved the way.

But I’ll take my twenty-first century comforts, thank you.

Anonymity or Identification?

One of the problems with the internet and the World Wide Web is that anyone can say anything about anything.

Anonymously.

Courtesy disappears completely when people can hide behind “squirrelbrain321.” It makes the cable news talk shows seem downright civil by comparison.

American Radio Relay League - 100 years of Service www.arrl.org

American Radio Relay League – 100 years of Service http://www.arrl.org

My son asked me the other day why I liked talking with people via ham radio when it’s possible to connect to people all over the world via the internet.

I originally said because hams tend to have more in common – a technical and science orientation. Some degree of intelligence – at least enough to pass the license examination. Oh, and at least a common interest in radio communications.

Later I realized that another reason is that most hams try to interact in a friendly and collegial way. There are always a few jerks in any group, but they are in the minority.

Why do hams interact this way? Because each of us has a unique identifier – a call sign, that we’re required to transmit every ten minutes and at the end of every radio conversation. If you don’t have a call sign, no one will talk to you. If you make up a call sign, you get discovered pretty quickly. Break the rules and you can lose your license (and end up with a hefty fine.)

Oh, and the Federal Communications Commission can isolate where a signal is coming from quickly and accurately if you decide not to play by the rules.

Since hams have to identify themselves and have something to lose, it’s in their best interest to play well with others. Best of all, nobody seems to mind. It’s not a burden to be polite.

I understand that there are many good reasons to protect anonymity on the internet, however, enabling people to be abusive jerks isn’t one of them.

College Sports

Michael Jordan at Boston Garden

I overheard a conversation today.

The speaker was bemoaning the fact that it’s unfair that college students who play “those other” sports get athletic scholarships just like those who play football and basketball.

They don’t bring in any money! Why should they get a scholarship?

Yeah!

And while we’re at it, those pesky geeks who get academic scholarships? What’s with that?

It Could Have Happened

Scream

You have to wonder if any of the following conversations between a parent and a child ever took place.

“Joan of Arc, you put down that sword and get back in here. No daughter of mine is going to lead a French army!”

“Thomas Jefferson! I hope you haven’t been spending time with that awful Patrick Henry again! He’s a rebel, I tell you, a rebel!”

“Marie, ever since you and Pierre Curie have been married, you’ve just glowed! Unfortunately, all the plants nearby keep wilting.”

“Theodore Roosevelt! Stop charging up the stairs!”

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! If you keep playing that music so loud, you’ll go deaf!”

“Edvard Munch! If you keep doing that, your face will freeze just like that!”

Anti-Heroes

stone mt

There have been articles written about removing the names of certain historical figures from various public facilities. I’m speaking of significant figures from the American Civil War who fought for the Confederacy against the Union. To some these were traitors. To others, they were historical figures in spite of their allegiance.

First and foremost (on the least popular side) might be Nathan Bedford Forrest, who (depending upon which historian you follow) started the Ku Klux Klan, or didn’t start the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a “social club” that had a little problem with beating, lynching, burning buildings and people who were not white, or were Jewish, or Catholic, or anything except proper Southern men.

On the more popular side, you would find Robert E. Lee, who declined command of the Union Army because he refused to fight against his native Virginia. He married a lady whose lineage went to George Washington’s stepson. He was very dynamic when defending Virginia; much less assertive when venturing into the North.

The logical argument is that these were traitors who fought against the United States, so therefore, they should not be honored.

I can understand that argument, but it is not complete.

They are also part of our history – just like Dred Scott.

We are humans. Washington, Jefferson, Lee and Grant were humans. John Adams was as wonderful and as imperfect as they come.

As imperfect (and that term is extremely charitable) beings, we fail and we fall. If we’re strong, or stubborn, or wise, we pick ourselves up again and try to do better.

Fortunately these failings eventually succumbed to heroes like Rosa Parks or Medger Evers or Dr. Martin Luther King.

As Americans, they’re all part of the story. It’s not an easy story, but it’s a good one. Working together, it should be agreat one.

rosa

Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King in the background

Another Great Experiment

SolarI love learning and trying new things. If I only had 50 or 60 hours per day, I’d be all set.

Today’s experiment was the installation of some solar panels on the roof. The trick was to place them where they’d get enough direct sunlight to be effective while placing them where they wouldn’t be any more apparent than necessary.

Alas, I did not do the actual installation. At my age a fall from the roof would be a bit more than inconvenient, so my son did the heavy lifting with my daughter wanting desperately to challenge him for the lead role. It wasn’t the actual work mind you – just the appeal of being allowed to get up on the roof.

They got everything in place, although I’m not sure the connections are adequate (that was my doing – not them) – we’ll need a sunny day when I’m home to determine if it works. My intent is to see if I can operate my ham radio station off the solar cells together with rechargeable gel cells. Receiving is low current, while transmitting is much higher. However, the cycle is far more receiving than transmitting.

Some people want to see fossil fuel and nuclear replaced by renewable sources. I think the idea of running whole cities from renewable sources is too large a jump. If everyone ran a few minor things off alternative sources, we’d learn how the pieces fit together. We don’t get as many opportunities for individual experimentation as we did in the days of Edison, Bell and Marconi, but this is a great opportunity to experiment.

Pink Floyd never meant it this way, but “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”

Progress is one brick at a time.

The Wisdom of K

mib

Tom Hanks character in “You’ve Got Mail” proposes that everything a guy needs to know, he can learn from the movie, “The Godfather.”

I disagree.

“You’ve Got Mail” was based in a kinder, gentler, perhaps even quaint time of physical bookstores and dialup computers. In today’s world of high-speed internet with competing news services dishing up the latest trash 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 AND A QUARTER! days a year we need a different philosophy.

I just happen to have a suggestion.

When CNN flings the latest on Justin Bieber at you; when Fox digs up Sarah Palin; even when ABC releases the Kardashians, take your advice from the Men in Black.

(the setup)

K: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

J: Man, we ain’t got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don’t know whether or not you’ve forgotten, but there’s an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that’s about to…

(the wisdom of K)

K: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!

Epistles

monkThis week Father Bryan’s sermon included a topic that my wife and I have spoken of recently. The fact that my generation was taught in great detail how to write letters; not a letter, but a wide range of letters, but this is no longer the practice.

The sermon focused on how the Epistles in the Bible have a particular construction and of how we used to learn how to construct various types of letters in specific styles.

We had to write a letter ordering merchandise, and another asking to return it. We practiced writing to Congressmen, Senators and the Governor. Each had a specific style including the honorific title for the various people, usually different on the envelope than the salutation.

They no longer teach such skills, since today’s communication is in terse abbreviations.

“Waddup?”

“How R U?”

I have to admit, although a bit stilted, I do prefer the archaic, “I hope this letter finds you well.”

Better Late than Never

Today my father would have turned 86; my brother and sister are holding a memorial for him at the church where he prayed for most of his later life. I won’t be there; it’s a twelve hour drive each way and I used my leave/bereavement time to visit with him while he was alive. Both he and I preferred that.

Since he died in early December, I’ve found that he continues to teach me – a lot. I think that having the chance to reflect and process things is allowing me to better appreciate him. Teenage children never appreciate their parents’ sense of humor. I now realize how amusing he was. I can now appreciate the special bond he and my mother had, and why that worked so well. Oh, I realized these things before, but now I can truly take them to heart.

I realize how special it was that I was the last person with whom he prayed, and that I prayed over him as he died.

Better yet, I know now that he and my mom are the ones who are now praying over me, my brother and sister and all our family.

That I really appreciate.

Geeks

image - amazon.com

image – amazon.com

The word “geek” used to refer to certain sideshow performers whose act consisted of outlandish things as eating glass or sticking needles through their bodies. Some people decided that it would be an appropriate pejorative, and it began to be applied to those whose interests ran to academics, particularly science. While such interests may have not have been popular in high school, geeks were well positioned to do well in real life.

Geeks have their own favorite movies, books and games that they sometimes use to share feelings or meaning within the geek community. Don’t expect to pass yourself off as a geek without a well-rounded understanding of science fiction, fantasy, actual science and, of course, mathematics.

What makes geeks, well, geeky? First, they don’t mind being different – at least most of the time. They tend to be creative, trying to figure out how to overcome a particular challenge without worrying about whether it’s the best way or even practical. Most importantly, they have a nasty streak of optimism that is nearly impossible to extinguish.

I recently finished a book I got for Christmas – Geek Wisdom; The Sacred teachings of Nerd Culture edited by Stephen H. Segal. It’s a fun read if you’re a geek or if you just want to try to understand the geek in your life.