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Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.

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March 21, 2019 at 12:47am
March 21, 2019 at 12:47am

I've ranted here about certain science issues, though specifically I've noted my problems with nutrtitional studies and the way they're reported. This one, however, is about antidepressants.

Do antidepressants work?
Depression is a very complex disorder and we simply have no good evidence that antidepressants help sufferers to improve

Like many people, including some I consider role models or otherwise greatly admire, I've struggled with depression. I know there are readers here with mental health issues as well. Let me state up front that I've never been suicidal - that's always the first question people ask, so I wanted to get that out of the way.

As always, let's first consider the source. I have no problem with Aeon, but I do wonder about the particular author:

Jacob Stegenga is a lecturer in philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Medical Nihilism (2018). He lives in Cambridge.

Well, since I ragged on Oxford the other day, it's only fair to consider Cambridge. When I see the words "philosophy of science," my inner skeptic goes on high alert. In fact, anytime I see "philosophy," this happens. I'm not saying philosophy is bad - I think it's important - but it's very easy to draw utterly logical conclusions from bad premises. So one needs to be aware of any lurking biases - ironic, because the article discusses biases in studies. Also, this might be an ad for the guy's book. Not that there's anything wrong with advertising your book.

Your grief and guilt overwhelm you. You are so tired you cannot think straight. Your simple joys are lost in an invisible agony. You have pain in your head and back and stomach, real pain. The swamp of your soul suffocates you with despair. All this is your fault, you are worthless, and you might as well die. This is how depression can feel, though people’s experiences of it, including the severity of symptoms, can vary widely. This terrible disease affects about one person in 10 at some point in life and, to treat it, many millions of people have taken antidepressants. Unfortunately, we now have good reasons to think that antidepressants are not effective.

Okay, gotta be honest here - my own experience has never been that severe. I've been prescribed antidepressants in the past, mostly SSRIs, some SNRIs, and if you've had any experience with this issue yourself, you probably know what those are. Those medications act on the neurological pathways that affect certain neurotransmitters in the brain. It's pretty basic stuff as far as biological psychology goes, but that field is itself not what I'd call "basic."

The meds each did one of three things for me:

1) Nothing.
2) Hallucinations, and not fun ones.
3) Made things worse.

To be fair, (3) might have happened anyway - can't tell with a sample size of one. I'm pretty sure that (2) isn't what was supposed to happen, and (1) happens more often than we'd like. And that's kind of the point of the article.

The vast majority of these studies are funded and controlled by the manufacturers of antidepressants, which is an obvious conflict of interest.

And now we get into some crossover with my problems with nutritional science.

The trials that generate evidence seeming to support antidepressants get published, while trials that generate evidence suggesting that antidepressants are ineffective often remain unpublished (this widespread phenomenon is called ‘publication bias’). To give one prominent example, in 2012 the UK pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to criminal charges for promoting the use of its antidepressant Paxil in children (there was no evidence that it was effective in children), and for misreporting trial data.

And Paxil was the shit that made me hallucinate. Look, if you want me to hallucinate, give me LSD. Not that I've ever tried it, but I've heard that microdoses might be effective in treating depression - moreso than antidepressants, anyway.

The placebo effect is when patients improve merely as a result of the medical care they have received rather than as a result of the biochemical properties of their drug. The idea is that the mere expectation that you will get better after receiving medical care can itself contribute to you getting better. Some diseases are more responsive to placebo than others, and depression is one of the most placebo-responsive of all diseases.

This makes sense, though entire articles are out there that go into more detail about the placebo effect. Unfortunately, the response of depression to placebo is one thing that leads some people to believe that it's "all in your head" and you can just think yourself better. There might be some truth to that, but it doesn't mean the disorder isn't "real." I mean, technically, pain is all in your head - well, your nervous system in general - but only assholes think you can think yourself out of pain.

In short, we have plenty of reasons to think that antidepressants have no clinically meaningful benefits for those suffering from depression. Conversely, we know that these drugs cause many harmful side-effects, including weight gain, sexual problems, fatigue and insomnia. Some studies have demonstrated a link between antidepressants and the risk of violence, suicide, childhood and teenage aggression, and psychotic events in women.

Which would fall into my "making things worse" category above.

Conversely, there is another theoretical consideration that seems to speak against antidepressants. Some critics claim that many diagnosed cases of depression are not cases of real disease, but rather involve the ‘medicalisation’ of normal life – normal grief, stress, anxiety or simply suburban sadness being brought into the jurisdiction of medicine.

I've had some experience with this, I think. A doctor prescribed me some SNRI medicine because I just couldn't be arsed to cook my own food (healthy) when it was so easy to order from GrubHub or stop by McDonald's (not quite as healthy). After taking the medicine for a while, I still ate at McDonald's. As I told the doctor when I informed her I'd be tapering myself off of them, "they still haven't come up with a pill to fix moral failings."

How, then, did I get past that? Well, I don't know, but antidepressants didn't do it.

So, bottom line? Apparently, if a course of treatment works for you, then it works. It doesn't mean it would work for me. I keep hearing that a positive attitude can make you healthier and live longer. If so, this might well be my last blog entry, because every time I get a positive attitude, I bury it like the abomination that it is.
March 20, 2019 at 12:43am
March 20, 2019 at 12:43am
Today is the equinox.

You might have heard stuff about the moon tonight too. "Super moon" they call it. There's some science behind this, but as always, popular descriptions of it show up highly exaggerated. Here's a link to a pretty good explanation.


Just to clear some things up:

No, you can't balance an egg today and only today. That's idiotic.

You won't even notice the slightly larger moon. But that shouldn't stop you from taking a few minutes to look at it. Anything to get people looking at the sky is a good thing.

I'm not going to go into my usual rant about Blue Moons (of which there is one coming up in a couple of months). From the above article:

Last but hardly least, this March 2019 full moon gives us the first of four full moons in one season (between the March equinox and June solstice). Most of the time, a season – the time period between an equinox and a solstice, or vice versa – only harbors three full moons. But since this March full moon comes very early in the season, that allows for a fourth full moon to take place before the season’s end.

Some people call the third of four full moons in one season a Blue Moon. So our next Blue Moon (by the seasonal definition of the term) will fall on May 18, 2019.

By which they mean that correct people call this the Blue Moon. The other definition:

The next Blue Moon by the monthly definition – second of two full moons in one calendar month – will come on October 31, 2020.

...is, simply, incorrect; and that's all I'm going to say about it here. I've ranted enough about it elsewhere. Still, it's something to look forward to next year: a full moon on Halloween. No meaning to it, unless you've read a certain book by Roger Zelazny, but it's cool anyway.

Again, if it makes you go look at the Moon - fine.

Bottom line: Here in the Northern Hemisphere, soon it will be spring. Finally. Naturally, I saw a weather report for freezing temperatures here next week, so my satisfaction at this change of season is tempered by that.

On a personal note, it was on the solstice that I committed to eating less and exercising more in an effort to lose weight. All I'll say about that is that I've been successful - so far. Eventually, I will fail. And yeah, I had a couple of overindulgences over the past three months, but I've always managed to get back on track.

It won't last, but it's something of an accomplishment for me.

Edited to add:

At this moment, the link above isn't working properly. It's not my fault. But this is pretty cool too. https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190320.html
March 19, 2019 at 1:16am
March 19, 2019 at 1:16am

An Oxford researcher says there are seven moral rules that unite humanity

Well. Okay. He's from Oxford, so he has to be right. Right?

In 2012, Oliver Scott Curry was an anthropology lecturer at the University of Oxford. One day, he organized a debate among his students about whether morality was innate or acquired.

That sounds more like a philosophy question than an anthropology question - though I suppose there's some overlap. Either way, I wonder if it matters. I guess that's a philosophy question, too.

Religious people, in general, insist that morality comes from God (or whatever higher being depending on your religion). Atheists are pretty sure it doesn't (after all, there is no god but morality is a thing that clearly exists, in the way a lot of abstract concepts clearly exist). I've even heard the argument, "But if you don't believe in God, then what's to keep you from stealing, raping, and murdering?" To which I reply something along the lines of, "Hey, if the only thing keeping you from stealing, raping and murdering is that you believe God told you not to do those things, then please, please, keep believing."

Of course, belief in God has never stopped certain people from stealing, raping, and murdering. Neither has disbelief. This still doesn't answer the question of innate morality vs. acquired (nature vs. nurture), or whether it matters.

So back to the article.

Morality, he says, is meant to promote cooperation.

Ooooh, nice weaselly passive voice there. Who meant it to promote cooperation? God? Or the humans who came up with the rules? Or is it a survival thing that goes hand in hand with evolution?

To be fair, later there's a statement talking about how "morality evolved to promote cooperation."

Now, I'm not going to list the Seven Cardinal Virtues Universal Rules of Morality. That's what I put the link in there for. (I double-checked this time. It's there.) But I will note my extreme skepticism about how the rules' parameters were codified. For example, "Help your family" and "help your group" seem awfully similar to me.

But then, I'm not an Oxford professor.

I'll just close with a couple of examples of how expressions of morality change over time.

First example: slavery. I think you'd have to work hard to find someone who believes that slavery is morally right, these days, and even harder to find someone who would admit to that belief. And yet, two hundred years ago, you could find people on both sides of that issue. And here in the US, there were people on both sides who pointed to the very same (supposed) arbiter of morality - the Bible - to support their beliefs. So what changed? Well, Cynical Me says the only thing that changed is industrialization reducing the demand for cheap labor - and Cynical Me is pretty much Me - but at the same time, it became an issue of morality.

Second example: child-rapers. Again, find me someone who thinks this is a morally good practice. Oh, sure, you might find arguments about what ages constitute being a child, but I think most of us can agree that it's a terrible idea. And yet, there is, in the Bible, not one commandment along the lines of "Thou shalt not fuck children." This is morality that we definitely came up with all by ourselves - so I'm pretty sure we came up with the other rules all by ourselves, also.

Anyway, I could go on, but what would be the point? Mostly I just wanted to share the article because it's interesting and worth discussion.
March 15, 2019 at 12:09am
March 15, 2019 at 12:09am
I'm not sure there's anything new here, but it's an interesting read.


How Your Brain Decides Without You

And already we have a misleading headline.

Your brain can't decide anything without you, because the concept of "you" is tied up in your brain.

Or something. It's not like we really understand consciousness.

The structure of the brain, she notes, is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world.

Okay... but what I'm not seeing in the article is anything about how one's preconceptions are coded in the first place. Genetics? Environment? Some combination?

Likely, they don't know.

But the fact is there that they are coded, and thus there might be ways to change that code. Nice if you want to change it. Not so nice if there's some external input that can change what "you" are without your conscious consent.

This has implications on our conception of "free will," incidentally. I've been saying for a while now that the classical definition of "free will" is bogus - the idea that, given the exact same set of circumstances, we could have decided differently. That's no excuse for acting badly, of course, but it does imply a kind of determinism.

Like I said, interesting stuff. But there's a brewery out there called Duck Rabbit, and their logo is based on the duck/rabbit illusion featured in the article. And now I want one of their beers. Apparently I have no control over that.
March 14, 2019 at 12:01am
March 14, 2019 at 12:01am
As the literal interpretation of the name of this blog refers to math, and as today (3/14) is Pi Day, I thought I'd say something about pi.

Pi is cool.

That is all.


Okay, that's not all.

I had an engineering professor who told some version of the following joke (it helps to imagine it being told in a rural Virginia accent, but most of you probably haven't been exposed to this particular linguistic jewel collection, so just imagine a standard Southern accent):

Jim-Bob was the first in his family to go to college. He comes back for Thanksgiving dinner and they're sitting around the table.

"So," says Grandpa, "what did you learn in that there fancy school of yours?"

"Well... we learned πr2."

"Pi r square? What the hell are they teaching you younguns these days, anyway? Everybody knows pie are round. Cornbread are square!"

I didn't say it was a good joke.
March 13, 2019 at 1:00am
March 13, 2019 at 1:00am

Twenty years ago, a pair of psychologists hooked up a shoe to a computer. They were trying to teach it to tap in time with a national anthem. However, the job was proving much tougher than anticipated. Just moving to beat-dominated music, they found, required a grasp of tonal organisation and musical structure that seemed beyond the reach of an ordinary person without special training. But how could that be?

...But the more psychologists investigate musicality, the more it seems that nearly all of us are musical experts, in quite a startling sense. The difference between a virtuoso performer and an ordinary music fan is much smaller than the gulf between that fan and someone with no musical knowledge at all.

Yeah. I'm going to have to call bullshit on this.

I spent my childhood learning to play piano. I learned music theory and how to read music.

I spent most of high school playing the violin. Again - theory and sheet music.

All my life, I've sung. Usually this has the effect of making people go away. Often, this is the goal.

I spent time as an adult learning guitar: chords, tabs, etc.

Believe me, the one thing I wish I could do would be to play something by ear. But I can't. Whenever I try to get beyond the technical aspects of music, I'm utterly useless. It's like - I'll hit a chord, and try to guess at the next chord by ear, and I just. Can't. Do. It.

This is maddening to me, because I love music, and I just can't make it.

So maybe the article is bullshit. Maybe I'm an outlier. But all this has done is make me feel even worse about myself.
March 12, 2019 at 1:03am
March 12, 2019 at 1:03am
No, it's not what you're thinking. Jeeze, you people and your gutter minds.


If not for women, there'd be no tequila

...It's here that casual sippers drink this aromatic spirit, but there's one secret they may not know: Without the women of Tequila, there'd be no tequila.

First of all, if not for women, there'd be no <insert name of anything humans create> because there'd be no humans to create it.

Okay, fine, the article is more nuanced than that.

Tequila, of course, is one of the cornerstones of civilization, along with whiskey, wine, and beer. You know what my greatest concern about climate change is? It's not the loss of coastal cities. It's not a greater incidence of extreme weather systems. It's not mass extinctions, decimation of the human population (actually, 1/10 is a conservative estimate), water insecurity, wars, desertification of food-growing regions, or even the loss of coffee. Y'all brought that shit on yourselves. No, it's that the particular climate required to grow blue agave will shift away from the Tequila region, thus cutting off my supply of tequila.

I can only trust that when this happens, Mexico will relax the laws to allow tequila to be made elsewhere.

You know what else has a long history connected specifically with women? Beer. You'd never know it today, as something like 95% of all microbrewers are bearded hipster dudes, and the macrobrewers are run by faceless, genderless corporations. But historically, it was women who brewed the beer, passing down secrets along with (presumably) beauty tips and advice on how to bag rich men.

To be fair, beer would work for both of those.


From the 18th century onwards, women were increasingly barred from the business of brewing, except as barmaids or "publicans", licensees running pubs.

In ancient Sumeria, brewing was the only profession that was "watched over by a female deity", namely Ninkasi.

Yeah, I know this is a bit late for International Women's Day, but hell, why not make every day International Women's Day? Especially if there's beer and/or tequila involved.

Just don't expect me to do a Deadpool cosplay.
March 9, 2019 at 1:27am
March 9, 2019 at 1:27am
4 on Wednesday.
7 on Thursday.
8 on Friday.

I'm about to lose it at someone.

Robocalls. Each trying to sell me "health insurance" that, if I understand the voice mails correctly, have high premiums, high deductibles, and won't cover anything that actually happens to me. In short: scams.

I block each call as I receive it, but it doesn't matter; they spoof different numbers.

I need to know if there's a way I can track down the individual responsible for these things. I'm retired, and I have nothing else to do. No, I don't want to pursue legal action. I want to pursue illegal action.

If I disappear, you'll know why.
March 8, 2019 at 12:39am
March 8, 2019 at 12:39am
Thursdays are when Star Trek: Discovery shows up. CBS, with its grasp on the past, posts it at 8:30 pm, one episode at a time.

But this Thursday was also the premier of the Captain Marvel movie, which I had to see around 8:00 to 10:30 in order to avoid spoilers.

Back in the old days, this would have been a problem. Not today. I came home, took care of some things, and watched Disco when I damn well felt like it. Streaming FTW.


Back in engineering school, I had a professor who was always going on about "the old days," including tales of slide rules and manual drafting. So one day he launches into one of his "Back in the old days..." rants. Now, the way this classroom was set up, it was rows of tables, each of which sat two. I shared a table with a woman whose name I don't remember. On this particular day, no sooner had he gotten those five words out when my table partner muttered, "...as the Earth was cooling..." and I fucking lost my shit laughing.

Everyone looked at me. It was embarrassing. The woman in question maintained an inscrutable, innocent Vulcan face.

End of aside.

Anyway, I'm not going to spoil either show. But Disco is a great show, and Captain Marvel is a movie worth watching if you've been keeping up with the Marvel movie universe - if not, maybe catch up first.

I will say this: back when Doctor Who was doing its fiftieth anniversary celebration, they included some scenes from the very first episode, fifty years in the past, which at the time was 1963. But Star Trek just broke that record with clips from a show well over 50 years old. It would be difficult to beat that anytime soon - for anyone but Doctor Who, anyway. Hell, at this point, 50 years ago was the final season of the original Star Trek series.

And this: If you haven't been keeping up with the Marvel universe, catch up. It's worth it.
March 7, 2019 at 12:23am
March 7, 2019 at 12:23am
Reality is weird.

I mean, the universe is overwhelmingly, mind-bogglingly, surrealistically weird.

Peek outside your ordinary, day-to-day, Newtonian experience, and things get really bonkers.

And yet...

And yet, for some reason I have experienced but do not comprehend, people still have to invent weirdness, as if reality weren't strange enough.

Case in point:


Ong's Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real

Ong’s Hat is one of the internet’s earliest conspiracy theories, but before that, it was a place, a ruin almost 3,000 miles away from Santa Cruz, deep in the woods of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Rumors swirled for years that something profound had once happened there, a confluence of mad science and the paranormal that had warped reality itself, opening a door into strange, unfathomable worlds.

It's rare that one can trace the actual origins of a legend. Things get lost to time and entropy, the people involved die, and ideas morph and take on traits of similar ideas. If it lasts long enough, it becomes part of popular consciousness: Bigfoot, the Roswell Incident, various religions, etc.

But this is one of those rare cases, its origins clearly set out as deliberate fiction. And in much the same way as Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds was reported to cause people to think it was reality (reports which, incidentally, were themselves overblown, thus resulting in a kind of mythception as many still believe many people were fooled), this had the effect of actually warping reality.

By which I mean this: At some point, it doesn't matter whether something has a concrete reality or not, because all it takes is a belief in the thing to evoke thoughts and actions exactly as if it were real. To avoid offending too many people, I'll bring up Santa Claus as an example. We're all adults here, and we know that there's no physical being possessing all the traits attributed to Santa Claus. And yet, every Christmas, many of us like to pretend there is - and in pretending, give him a kind of reality.

Humans have a tenuous grasp, in general, on the line between fact and fiction. Some things we know are fiction - Harry Potter, e.g. Some things we know are fact, such as the JFK assassination (even if the details surrounding it are subject to myth-making). And then, some things... well... depending on the individual, some things blur the distinction.

This may be a uniquely human trait. I don't know. I suspect it's related to our propensity for coming up with new ideas. After all, in order to create an invention, we first have to imagine it - to make it a reality in our heads. Some imaginings can be made to become physical things, and thus we go from chipping a wheel out of stone to sending robots to Mars.

Clearly, though, this trait has a dark side, in that imaginings become obsessions, as with the Ong's Hat thing linked here.

I'm just not sure we can have the one without the other.
March 6, 2019 at 1:00am
March 6, 2019 at 1:00am
The Story Behind The Song: Sultans Of Swing by Dire Straits


Singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler had written it in 1977, after ducking into a deserted pub one rainy night and witnessing a lousy jazz band. Undeterred by the lack of both talent and punters, their lead singer finished the set with a mildly enthusiastic, “Goodnight and thank you. We are the Sultans Of Swing.”

Much of writing, be it fiction or non-fiction such as articles about music, depends on point of view. We have to choose it carefully - and I don't mean just first person or the various third person perspectives (or even the less common second person narrative), so I suppose another word for it would be focus.

In Avengers:Infinity War, for example - yes, I know it's a movie, but writers were involved, and yes, there is a spoiler ahead but if you haven't seen it by now, that's on you - the story is told from the focus of the various heroes we've come to know from previous movies. And the ending sucks for them; they lose. This evokes sadness in the audience. But if you tell the story from Thanos' point of view, it's a tremendous victory. Sure, maybe it would be harder to identify with the guy who wants to eliminate half the sentient beings in the universe - for some people. Other people kind of saw his point.

But I digress. Point is, the linked article is far from the first rags-to-riches story in the music world. It's compelling; I mean, no one wants to hear about bands that got their start by, say, inheriting ten million dollars. No, we want to hear how the underdog became victorious. It's kind of an American thing, though not exclusively; after all, the band in question here is purely British. The details are always different, but the story's often the same: talented and hard-working musician(s) start out unknown, begging for scraps, using secondhand instruments, sleeping rough; then, boom, big break, hit single, concerts in packed stadiums.

I mean, really, it's the archetypal story of rock and roll - but again, not limited to that one genre. I was fortunate enough to personally witness it once, as the Dave Matthews Band went from playing drunk, sweaty fraternity parties to international stardom.

But you never hear the story of the Sultans of Swing.

I don't mean the song; I mean the desultory jazz band that provided Mark Knopfler's inspiration in the linked article. There you are, just trying to earn a living, maybe getting a few quid from the landlord, more likely just hoping for exposure. Along comes a desperate guitarist, putting up with your music just to stay out of the rain for a couple of hours. You don't recognize him because he's not famous yet. He's just sitting there having a pint or three. The set ends, you say "Goodnight and thank you," and you maybe go home and smoke a bowl and try to reevaluate your life.

And then a year or two later, you hear it on the radio. Sultans of Swing.

I wish some music journalist could have tracked them down and asked them what they thought about it. How they felt about their sole purpose in life being to make Mark Knopfler and the other band members millionaires by way of one brief moment of inspiration. Where are they now? Dead from some overdose? Doddering about in a nursing home, still cursing the name of Dire Straits for all eternity?

Did they even remember that one fateful night, or could it have been, to them, any one of a hundred lousy pub gigs?

"Then, of course, it’s a story. And let’s face it, all good songs have a story."

Everything has a story. Most of them don't have happy endings. Most of us are not destined for greatness. Most of us are the Sultans of Swing.
March 5, 2019 at 12:25am
March 5, 2019 at 12:25am

Top 10 Design Flaws in the Human Body

Evolution constructed our bodies with the biological equivalent of duct tape and lumber scraps.

Um... lumber scraps are biological. Duct tape I'm not sure about. Or duck tape.

With that in mind, I surveyed anatomists and biologists to compile a punch list for the human body, just as you’d do before buying a house. Get out your checkbook. This one’s a fixer-upper.

I'm too old to flip myself.

I'm not going to rehash the points of the article here. Some make sense. Some are idiotic. I'm just going to provide my own, unrelated top 10 list.

Waltz's Top 10 Design Flaws in the Human Body

10. Toes. Seriously, what the fuck?
9. Eyes on only one side of the head.
8. The inability to regenerate lost parts like some lizards do.
7. Lack of functional wings.
6. Sunburn.
5. Hair in odd places.
4. Ears. Have you looked at ears? REALLY looked at them? They're totally weird.
3. Absence of web shooters in wrists.
2. Farts.
1. Whatever the mechanism is that makes us gain weight after we're fully grown.

I mean, really, how can any list of human design flaws not include at least some of these?
March 4, 2019 at 12:29am
March 4, 2019 at 12:29am
Nothing deep or profound today, just an interesting look at prop-making:


Where does fake movie money come from?

I've seen shows and movies where it's clearly Monopoly money, and others that you just can't tell. I think the trend has been toward more realism, ever since we got the technology to pause and do screenshots - I'd imagine few directors want someone posting images from their films and going "FAKE MONEY!" as if we didn't know it was fake, even though we might not be able to tell by looking at it.

There's a lot of money in a Hollywood film, but very little of it ends up on camera.

One thing's for sure - the subject of that article has found a way to literally print their own money. Unfortunately, they have to sell it for pennies on the "dollar."

I just have to wonder if they bother to snort coke out of rolled-up fake $100s.
March 3, 2019 at 12:16am
March 3, 2019 at 12:16am
Sometimes, people do awesome things.


Denver International Airport Installs Talking Gargoyle as a Nod to Conspiracy Theories

The scariest parts of most airports are the long security lines and baggage fees. At the Denver International Airport in Colorado, travelers are also confronted with disturbing art, strange markers on the ground, and a demonic horse statue that killed its creator (no, really). These quirks have given rise to conspiracy theories that the airport is a center of illuminati activity, and now Denver International is leaning into these rumors with a new gargoyle that talks to customers, the Denver Post reports.

Hey, if you're going to be a target for conspiracy nuts anyway, might as well OWN that shit.

As an aside, "theory" isn't a good word for this sort of thing. But then, English has an unfortunate, stubborn reluctance to mold itself to my will. It is unlikely that the conspiracy whackjobs will adopt my suggestion of "conspiracy fiction," "theory" it will remain.

I may be playing into their hands to give this sort of thing any attention at all, but again, it's not like anyone spares a thought for my opinion about these things. Thus, I can safely learn what the fringe element is concocting, knowing that I can neither fuel or dampen their fire.

When you think of people who honestly see conspiracies in every damn thing, the image you probably have involves a tinfoil hat. Some people believe that it blocks the mind-control rays. I've tried to start a counterargument that tinfoil hats actually concentrate and enhance the effect, thus blowing their minds, but again, nothing.

As the video below shows, the wise-cracking character didn't avoid bringing up the airport's reputation. "Welcome to Illuminati Headquarters … I mean, Denver International Airport," he tells one passerby.

That part made me LOL.

I find most conspiracy "theories" highly amusing. The ones I don't find amusing are the ones that put all our problems squarely on a single group of people, usually "the Jews;" that sort of thing just fuels more xenophobia, something we could do with a lot less of in the world. And also the moon landing hoax people - that group is beyond help. Even the flat-Earthers can be a source of amusement, but to reject the single greatest accomplishment of humanity is to reject humanity itself. I just want to take them to the edge of the planet and push them off.

The gargoyle is part of a larger campaign from the airport that embraces the conspiracy theories surrounding it. Last year, Denver International hung posters referencing aliens, freemasons, and lizard people outside an off-limits construction zone

Someone over there at DIA has an epic sense of humor. This, folks... this is how you troll.
March 2, 2019 at 12:22am
March 2, 2019 at 12:22am
Today's "you're doing it wrong" entry applies - as so many such articles do - to parents.


At whatever age smart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”

I think that brings the number of words you're not supposed to say in front of your kids up to 3,255. Pretty soon you won't be able to say anything to them.

The group most damaged by fixed-mindset thinking is high-achieving girls, Boaler argues, because it’s girls who are told by society that they probably won’t be as good as boys at math and science.

So, wait - follow the logic here - if you tell someone she's "smart," it's because she's a high achiever. But then - somehow - this turns them into underachievers because reasons?

“When we give kids the message that mistakes are good, that successful people make mistakes, it can change their entire trajectory,” Boaler said. 100 percent is not an ideal score. When kids come home from school and announce that they got everything right on their school work, Dweck advises parents to offer some sympathy: Oh, I’m sorry you didn't get the chance to learn.

And, meanwhile, those who consistently get 100 percent scores will go on to the likes of Harvard and MIT, leaving those who made mistakes in the dust.

When kids get the idea that they “aren’t math people,” they start a downward trajectory, and their career options shrink immediately and substantially. There is also the common idea of a wall in math: People learn math until they hit a wall where they just can’t keep up. That wall may be trigonometry, and it may be advanced calculus, and it may be calculating a tip.

I can agree that math is important. But what I see holding people back is the repeated question: "How am I going to use this stuff in the real world?" And that, it seems to me, more than anything else, keeps people from learning. I hate that question. It's why I could never be a teacher and one reason I never wanted to become a parent: ask me that once, and I will give up on teaching you, because you've obviously (in my mind) given up on yourself.

All knowledge is useful. Some, admittedly, is more useful than others. But the more you learn, the more connections you can make, and the more you can at least read shit like this critically.

Full disclosure: I was called "smart" from a young age. I also made plenty of mistakes, and learned from them. But I also learned from teachers. I also learned that "smart" isn't valued in our society. And that - not mere words - is what we have to change if we're ever going to amount to anything.
March 1, 2019 at 12:06am
March 1, 2019 at 12:06am
As I've mentioned before, I haven't been a fan of The New Yorker. Their pretentiousness and predilection for deconstructing freaking everything is annoying. When I was a kid, I would read the mag (I liked the comics), and trust that when I got older, I'd understand what the fuzz they're going on about.

It never happened.

I just figured they're smarter than I am and left it at that. But finally - just this past week - I saw an article that was dumbed down enough for me to grok:


When it comes to quantum physics, things get weird. Like, mind-bendingly, mad-hattery weird. I don't pretend to understand most of it, but I read as much as I can about it.

Of the various classical laws of motion—all workable, all useful—only the principle of least action also extends to the quantum world.

Now, see, that's where I can relate. I, too, follow a Principle of Least Action.

Arkani-Hamed now sees the ultimate goal of physics as figuring out the mathematical question from which all the answers flow.

Insert reference jokes about the number 42 here.

Yes, I'm aware of the irony of stating that when that mag finally published something I could comprehend, it was about quantum physics. I guess that's just how my mind works.

I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
         -J.B.S. Haldane
February 28, 2019 at 12:43am
February 28, 2019 at 12:43am
Finally, the last day of the hated month of February.

Unfortunately, the weather report here indicates more cold days ahead, and possibly s**w. But at least the end is in sight: three weeks to the equinox.

If I can make it that far without straying too far from my healthy-eating-and-exercise plan, begun on the solstice, I'll consider it a win. Then it won't feel so bad when I inevitably fail.

I've been waffling about whether I want to reprise the "30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+] in March - though I'm leaning toward not doing it this time. That merit badge up there *Up* is from winning it in January; while I'm not focused on winning, I originally started doing it as motivation to blog every day, and I think I can do that anyway, writing about the subjects that interest me and not necessarily following a prompt. Still, it can be a great activity, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants that extra motivation.

Besides, I might need to give myself permission to skip a day or three in March. Perhaps I'll re-evaluate for the next round, presumably in April - though I might have to go to NYC for a few days then.

In other "win" news, back in December, I signed up to do "I Write in 2019 [E] - one contest entry and one review per week. I've actually been successful at that as well - at completing the tasks, anyway. We'll see if that holds up. It's going to be especially tricky in October and November, what with NaNo and Prep, but I'll burn those bridges when I get to them. Again, I expect to fail eventually - so I can't be too disappointed when it happens.

I'm starting to get antsy for travel again, too. Part of that, though, is the crappy weather we've been having (normal for February in Virginia, but still crappy), so we'll see if I still have the urge in, say, April. I'll be unsatisfied if I don't go somewhere this year; I just don't have any firm plans yet. Maybe in conjunction with my possible NYC trip. Probably another beer tour; if so, that will automatically fail my health efforts - at least while I'm traveling.

I mean, losing weight is great and all, but beer is more important.
February 27, 2019 at 1:10am
February 27, 2019 at 1:10am
To follow up my last "there are probably no spacefaring aliens" post, here's some speculation about what extraterrestrial life might look like.


It's Cracked, so this is more about amusement - and if you're cynical, clickbait - than science. But there's still some interesting stuff.

And if we ever do run into something along the lines of what's been dubbed the "Octomite," we'll have to make sure we don't show them all of our television shows, in which our noble heroes immediately destroy anything that looks remotely like that.

Too late. One line of reasoning speculates that we haven't met aliens because they know damn well we're xenophobic. Hell, they probably are, too. It's kind of a byproduct of natural selection.

Humanity, along with all other life on Earth, is carbon-based. Carbon is great at bonding and forming long molecular chains, and it's often been assumed that carbon is a requirement for metabolism and other important functions that make life work. But "carbon chauvinism" has been disputed more and more over the years, which we're sure has led to some sarcastic comments about Silicon Justice Warriors.

Yeah, look, what's methane? CH4. The C stands for carbon. Methane might - might - stand in for water (though it lacks some interesting properties that make water unique), but it's still fucking carbon.

The next alkane after methane is ethane (hey, I learned this stuff before I knew how to read). Ethane is two carbons and six hydrogens. Replace one of those H atoms with an OH radical and what do you get? Ethanol. You know what would be cool? If we found ethanol-based life forms. Hey, it's not as crazy as it sounds. Astronomers have legitimately found entire clouds of ethanol floating out there in the galaxy. I bet it's even aged nicely.

One theory is that life was brought to Earth by a meteorite that slammed into the planet, and so the only genetic material we could work with was what was available on that rock.

Again with the life-came-from-elsewhere hypothesis. Still doesn't answer the question of how life got going in the first place. There are some thoughts on that subject (and they don't involve the supernatural, the presence of which would ask more questions than it answers), but there's no consensus I'm aware of.

In any case, the speculation is fun.
February 26, 2019 at 1:27am
February 26, 2019 at 1:27am
Here we go with the alien theories again. No, I don't mean of the "abducted by" sort; that's a whole other issue. I mean the semi-scientific "where are they" variety.


If the galaxy is billions of years old and it took humans just a few decades to visit the moon and launch space stations, why hasn’t single alien spaceship landed on the White House lawn?

And already they're asking the wrong question.

I'm not saying there's not some interesting ideas in that article - else I wouldn't have bothered to read it, let alone link it here. And I definitely think the search for extraterrestrial life is of the utmost importance, as much for what it doesn't tell us as for what it does. So I'm not saying that we shouldn't be doing these things. I can also accept that the people who study these things for a living know more about this sort of thing than I do.


I'll call our attention to this bit from the article:

Second, no single habitat can endure forever, as humanity is rapidly realizing. Spreading to other stars can extend a civilization’s overall lifespan, but from the moment a new settlement is born its days are numbered. It may last for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, but at some point, a catastrophe almost certainly will take it out.

People who think we may be alone in the galaxy - and here, I'm going to limit the discussion to this galaxy alone, as others are further away than any of us can properly comprehend - have been accused of hubris. What, the argument goes, makes us so special? Here's the rub, though - I contend that the idea that other life-forms will necessarily evolve a species that is technologically capable is also full of hubris.

So here are some points to consider. I'll try to be brief, because this is a blog post and not a book.

Best estimates put the age of the universe at about 14 billion years. Age of the Sun, 4.6 billion years. Age of Earth, a bit less than that. Beginning of life, about 4 billion years ago. Modern humans, dunno, call it one million years - give or take. Exact time doesn't matter. What we call civilization, maybe 10-12 thousand years. Length of time we've been technologically capable of leaving the atmosphere: 60 years.

There might be other types of chemical reactions that can produce life, but as far as we know, there are none more efficient than those involving water and carbon molecules. Water is unique for several reasons that I won't go into right now, but there's very good reason to believe that the easiest - and, therefore, fastest - way to cook life is to start with good old H2O. And while silicon might replace carbon in life processes, the sheer number of possible combinations of carbon with other elements makes that element by far the most likely (again, therefore, fastest) choice for developing life.

Life as we know it also requires higher-weight elements such as nitrogen, iron and calcium. Again, there may be replacement options, but the point is that their atomic numbers are higher. Why does this matter? Because the only way to get them in sufficient quantities is to fuse them from lighter elements. Briefly, the universe started out as mostly hydrogen; this hydrogen condensed into stars; these stars fused it into (mostly) helium. Our solar system, including the sun, planets, and us, condensed out of cosmic dust that had been scattered by massive stellar explosions that created elements higher on the periodic table. Until you have a few supernovae, you simply don't have enough heavier elements to produce life as we know it - not to mention enough to fuel technological advancement, about which I'll have more to say later. Point is, this process takes time.

So - with this knowledge, just how fast can life begin? Well, given that there was only about half a billion years between the formation of Earth (which was then molten slag) and the first known life, probably pretty quickly in cosmic terms, once a suitable planet is formed. But the formation of a suitable planet - one with the heavier elements available - was extraordinarily unlikely in the early universe, and only became possible after a few supernovae seeded the galaxy with oxygen, nitrogen, etc.

But wait, there's more.

Remember I pointed out that life on Earth probably got its start about 4 billion years ago. (People have argued that it might have been seeded from other planets, but to me, that just kicks the can down the road and, if true, would only support my upcoming point.) Consequently, it was a long time before a species capable of technology appeared. If the first humans evolved one million years ago, that's comfortably within the error bars of the 4 bya estimate for the beginning of life. So, for four billion years, life on Earth chugged right along, evolving to fit its environment, adapting to new environments, consuming itself, without the benefit or detriment of humans complicating the works.

And here's the thing a lot of people miss about evolution: thanks to years of bad science fiction (and even some good science fiction), combined with some good old-fashioned narcissism, we tend to think of some life-forms as "more evolved" than others. But every single species on this planet has been evolving for the same amount of time, and the evolution of each of them was a matter of survival and, ultimately, adaptation. A snake is not "less evolved" because it has no limbs; it gets along just fine. A chicken is not "less evolved" because it has all the cognition of a plant; it, too, survives. And a human is not "more evolved" because we can blog; we, too, adapted to environmental conditions - it just so happens that those qualities that we call "intelligence" turn out to be fairly useful in hunting, and avoiding becoming, prey.

Now, look, I'm not one of those misanthropes who insist that the world would be better off without us. But it would go on, and other species would keep on feeding, fighting, and fucking.

Point is, there is absolutely no known law or principle of evolution that requires the development of those qualities that lead to space travel. As long as a species can thrive in a given habitat, there's simply no need, from an evolutionary perspective, to devote energy to bigger brains or opposable thumbs. And if it can't survive, as millions or billions of species have not, then it's far more likely to simply die out.

And I can make the usual misanthropic arguments about how we're probably going to wipe each other out before we seriously get going into space, but that's irrelevant - we can't project that on other, hypothetical, technological species from other worlds.

And, going back to the paragraph I quoted above, a planetary catastrophe (meteor strike, whatever) could have stopped the evolutionary line that led to humanity in the first place. In other words, it's possible that we got lucky. This isn't as unlikely as it seems, since we're here; after all, the chance of winning a lottery might be 1 in a trillion, but once you've won it, the chance of having won it is 1 in 1.

There are other arguments to make - for instance, that without the event that led to the formation of the Moon, then most of those heavier elements I mentioned earlier could have simply sunk to the interior of the early, molten Earth, like rocks sinking in a pond - but I think I've gone far enough to make my main point, which is that, even given the 200 billion or so stars in our galaxy, it's entirely possible that we're on the only planet with spacecraft. I mean, life is probably prevalent. We don't know yet. But I think we can safely rule out a Doctor Who or Star Trek galaxy.

It's bleak to think about, I suppose, but I guess we might just have to make our own destiny.
February 25, 2019 at 12:31am
February 25, 2019 at 12:31am
I've been hanging on to this one since before V-Day, and I'm finally to the point where I can read it without associating it with that disgusting holiday.


Old-fashioned romantics might have the wrong idea about love. Strong beliefs in true love could be blinding you to both the good and bad in your partner, with sometimes toxic results.

Never thought the BBC would jump on the "You're Doing It Wrong" bandwagon, but I suppose that's spilled over into everything now.

Psychologists have found two scales that influence how we start and maintain relationships.

One measures how much importance we put onto first impressions and early signs of compatibility, while the other measures how likely we are to work through problems in relationships. They are called implicit theories of relationships (because we don’t often talk about them). We might intuitively think of ourselves as more or less likely to believe in true love – but this is not something that we openly discuss with others or are conscious of when we start new relationships.

Right, and I'm sure that these were verified in scientific tests and then replicated by other researchers.

Regardless, I skimmed over the quizzes. But they might be useful to someone.

Particularly in the early stages of a relationship the presence of an issue can precipitate a break-up, as the destiny believer realises that their “perfect” soulmate is fallible. The destiny believer may argue that their partner “never really understood me” or that a small fault is “evidence that we’re not really compatible.” This is the case even if the couple are relatively well matched, Franiuk has found.

This is also an abominably common plot device in romantic comedies. Or at least the few I've seen.

They say the course of true love never did run smooth – but a greater awareness of our own romantic tendencies might just help us navigate those bumps and turns along the way.

"They" don't "say" that - Shakespeare said that, and in a play that was even more a satire on love and destiny than the infamous Romeo and Juliet was. It's a sad day indeed when a British publication fucks up a Bard quote...

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