Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Monday

Due to a Spanish exam that I was taking at 8AM, I found myself downtown before any traffic really started rolling. I also found myself seeing flowers on trees that were effectively bare on Friday.

I sat down with my breakfast of some Eastern Accent coffee and a BBQ pork bun and watched as the city slowly came into life. (The exam wasn't the nicest in the world; I thought that there was too much emphasis on topics not fully covered in the course of the semester by my section, but that kind of is the way things are when you have roughly a dozen different sections all ostensibly learning the same material...)

As a closing comment that isn't really associated with the photos, I think that the best thing to do with the final grades of all the sections is to normalize grades across different instructors. The most fair method would be to normalize each grade fraction (e.g., all homeworks, all tests, etc.) for each section, and apply a "correction factor" unique to each section to normalize the distributions of that particular section's grade fraction. That way, not only are different instructor's sections somehow marked along a similar distribution, but also each instructor's own sections are done so as well. That means that if an instructor has a much better time teaching the same topic a second or third time during the day - and that is reflected in the grades - then the earlier sections would not be penalized for the inability for the instructor to teach as facilely as in the latter section(s). Of course, another might argue that so long as the instructor did a "fair" job of teaching to the requirements and schedule of the class, then a test across all sections is fair. Oh, well. It's over now.

Cycling the long way home

On Friday, I cycled home the long way along the Huron River before heading up Maple Road. Although it added about one mile to the trip, it was well worth it, with the balmy sunny weather. Here are some photos I took at that time.

 Bright and sunshiny day on the Diag. Slightly over-exposed, but I think you get the idea. Too bad this didn't happen before the start of exams...

Some sculptures made of old concrete pavers. North Main Street.
On Barton Dam, you can see a City of Ann Arbor official benchmark. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the elevation... This website, although having a lot more information, also didn't have elevation...
Cycling up to the new High School, one can see the not-so-good-looking option the city chose for storm water management. True, it does create a berm, but does it have to look so... misplaced? Maple Road.
An older stone house on Maple Road made entirely (seemingly) of river-stones. This style of architecture used to be more common in Michigan, where the only rocks one is likely to find in this type of glacial landscape (without having to dig) is river-stone. Some houses are made with rather interesting patterns of sunbursts or geometric repetitions. This one... not so much, but quite nice to look at nonetheless. (Unfortunately, due to the time of day, there was a lot of back-lighting. I'm sure that if it were the morning, the house would look brilliant.)
The buds were just starting to get ready to burst open. This lonely tree in Westgate Shopping Mall seemed to be quietly waiting in a field of cars and asphalt for spring.
Plum Market - the West Side's version of Whole Foods - has become the lifeblood of the West Gate. I've never been in, and made a point of not going in this time either. (Although part of that could have been due to the fact that I didn't have my panniers on my bike at the time...)

Another Maunder Minimum?

According to a recent publication in the BBC, recent solar activity may indicate that we might be going into another "Maunder Minimum". What is a Maunder Minimum, and why haven't you heard of it before (unless you happen to have an interest in historical climatology, possibly radio wave physics, or have read the 1632 novels)?

Well, the Maunder Minimum was a period of time with very few sunspots and other solar activity. It's important because it was also associated with a mini-ice age. Now, this is something that the anti-climate change people will likely point to as to why global warming is actually a hoax. I'll wait and see, though, holding my breath against what is likely to be the inevitable...

Cars were apparently larger in the past...

If this picture was made today, I would have categorized it as a Photoshop-fail. However, it comes from the early 1900s. I mean, the cars are all so BIG... the small specks next to the parked car are people! (And the trolley is sooo small!) Maybe only giants - that have since gone extinct - drove cars... Or people were more wealthy than Richie Rich!

Here is a real photograph from the Freep archives. This one taken sometime during the 1950s (I think). There are actually trees there, with grass in between. The building - Gotham-like though it may be - is actually beautiful in its own way.

The Detroit Free Press has a bunch of "current" photos of the inside of this now-shell of a building. There is a chance (again) that the building will be torn down. I think that it would be a shame, since the restoration of the building could be seen as part of a rennaissance of the Motor City. Still, who am I to judge? I never lived in Detroit, and have only visited there twice in all the time that I've lived in southeast Michigan...

(photos from the Detroit Free Press. Hat tip to Orac.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The sound of obsolete technology

Why do films and TV shows continue to use obsolete or unnecessary sounds for technology?

I was watching episode 6 of Dollhouse on Hulu and got really annoyed with the sound effect near the beginning of the episode when the guy turns off his LCD TV. Listen for it. It sounds like a 1970s cathode ray-tube monitor is being shut down. Why is this necessary? Many of us own LCD monitors and TVs (and many more have at least seen one in action). Why do we need the sound effect of a CRT monitor when the object is obviously a LCD monitor? To show how silly this use of obsolete sounds is, one equivalent would be the use of a propeller plane sound when the person sees a jet. However, if it was only this one thing, I wouldn't really be having a gripe, but it's not only the misuse of a CRT TV sound for an LCD TV, it's the general misuese by substitution of sound effects for previous technology's sounds.

It's only been recently that the stupid sound of *bleep* or the like is no longer used to indicate that a computer is doing something. It's only recently that the visual graphics of what is happening on the computer screen actually looks like something that might be on a computer screen (but that's a different issue). As an example of when this started getting really annoying for me, go and watch that admittedly horrible film The Net with Sandra Bullock. It's supposed to be all high-tech for the time. Well... seriously, what was up with those computer sound effects? I saw that film when it went to VHS (yes, VHS), and was annoyed back then about the unnecessary sound effects.

If The Net is anything to go by, it will be close to 10 years before sound effects actually mimic the real sound of the technology. (Of course, by that time, new technology will undoubtedly have come on the scene, also undoubtedly repeating the cycle...)

When I hit "Publish Post" will I have a sound effect that lets the audience of one (i.e., me) know that an action has been committed on the computer and that something will happen on the magical screen? Somehow, I doubt that it will do so now when it hasn't done so all those previous times. Why? Becaust it is not necessary!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Al Gore and John Warner's Testimony on Climate Change Legislation

One way in which science is being used to steer the debate about politicized events such as climate change is through testimony to congressional committees (or subcommittees). On April 24, 2009, former Vice President Al Gore and former Virginian senator John Warner both testified on topics relating to global warming. Mr. Gore spoke more to the topics of science of climate change (including the "pure science" of the causes and the "applied science" of the impacts), although answered questions as to costs of possible implementation of a cap-and-trade scheme for carbon dioxide. Mr. Warner spoke on the linkage between science and national security. Almost all questions were directed to Mr. Gore and ranged on topics of the economics and science of global warming. (More on this later.)

During his recent testimony to the House of Representatives' House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee, former Vice President Al Gore provided a view point of how the science of global warming, which has become a major political flash point in the past few years. There is evidence from various different sources, such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Pew organization, that the science and politics of global warming (and the proposed legislation to deal with it) has become an issue with a clear partisan split of understanding between Democratic and Republican legislators and voters.

Al Gore presents in his opening remarks that the passage of the legislation by first presenting the ever-growing body of science on the causes together with the environmental and human impacts of global warming, presenting the names of the organizations and journals in which the findings were published - prestigious ones all - before presenting those scientific study's results . This was followed by his social justifications for acting by promoting the shift away from carbon-based energy systems as a opportunity to upgrade infrastructure systems, fund R&D opportunities, and find new "green jobs" for coal miners. He continues by increasing the scope of his statements by including the context to that of a global one by stating that the United States should not have to continue spending money and effort sending troops (an action that is becoming ever-more publicly unpopular) and should be one of the first countries to do serious action on the topic of global warming to once again become a leader - moral and scientific - of the world (a topic that is becoming more popular). He finishes by once again tipping his hat toward funding of a science-justified bill by asking for bipartisan support for the legislation.

Former senator John Warner's (R-Virginia) opening statement also made an interesting framing of science within the global warming debate. Other than making a tangential comment about a news story in the New York Times from April 24, 2009 by Andrew Revkin, which talked about the obfuscation by companies that were major polluters of scientific studies fourteen years ago that spoke to the validity of the impacts of global warming , he left the "facts" to Al Gore. Instead, Warner's points spoke more to the problems of how innovative infrastructure presents new problems, such as water usage requirements for California solar power and land acquisition for installing the next generation "smart grid". He spoke of climate change, energy, and national security were all tied closely together, and that the Congress needs to build any legislation that incorporates all three. He then continued to discuss the linkage between climate change and national security.

In that portion of his testimony, Warner quoted General Gordon Sullivan - the former Chief of Staff of the Army - saying that this message was a critical point of view to understand that climate change/national security link:
"The Cold War was a specter, but climate change in inevitable. If we keep on with business as usual, we will reach a point when some of the word effects are inevitable. Back then, the challenge was to stop a particular action, now the challenge is to inspire a particular action. We have to act if we are to avoid the worst of the effects."
Warner states that there is a lot of fear associated with the issue of climate change. He makes the point that some people are asking the question of whether now - with a major financial crisis and troops fighting overseas - is the right time to address this issue, especially if it is going to cost a lot of money and require national sacrifices. He cites that continued delay of action will only increase the inevitable costs of taking action, and Warner also quoted Admiral Joseph Lopez's statement, "You have a very real change in natural systems that are most likely to happen in regions of the world that are already fertile ground for extremism." To the question of whether now is the right time, he stated simply, "Yes, it is the time."

One could say that Al Gore and John Warner present two different facets of approaching the issue of global warming. Al Gore starts off with his big-guns of science; how the ever-mounting evidence of science should make it more and more obvious that action needs to be taken on this topic. On the other side, John Warner calls upon the long-term national security interests of the country to justify the investment in climate change legislation. Both of these two strands of evidence have historically been used successfully to garner funding from the Congress. However, before the joint testimony of John Warner and Al Gore - two respected former politicians from different parties - the connection between climate change science and national security investments were not placed in such a close testimonial juxtaposition. Indeed, Mr. Warner asked the Subcommittee to bring in members from the defense sector, intelligence community and private sector dealing with defense infrastructure, recognizing the benefit of bringing these other points of view that are critical in having to deal with a future in which climate change is a reality.

Senator Warner made an allusion to the 1990 passage of the amendments to the Clean Air Act in the Senate. He recalled that during that period of time, there was a lot of worry and controversy in the public regarding the possible future of manufacturing in this country as well as the costs of implementing the legislation. He recalled how it was the concerned actions of the committee chairman - calling up each member of the Senate who was wavering - to get that amendment passed. He noted that the passage of the bill forced industry to innovate, and ultimately they survived. This framing plays to the point of view of the policy-science link being kind of evolutionary in nature: new policy creates new "selection pressure" in the private sector, causing an "evolution" of (in this case) scientific innovation to optimize the industry to the new selective pressure; the image of scientific innovation being a linear process.

However, when attacking the science of global warming, most of the attacks came from the Republican party members and were directed at Al Gore. The types of attacks took several forms, including using the "there is no scientific consensus" frame (e.g., Representative Scalise R-LA , Representative Barton R-TX ), stating predictions as "theory" (as opposed to "fact") , stating that science can prove whatever end a politician wants (e.g., Representative Burgess, R-TX), citing the science as alarmist (e.g., Representative Radanovich, R-CA), or trying to directly discredit Al Gore, through claims in his film An Inconvenient Truth (e.g., Representative Barton - TX), and through Mr. Gore's apparent conflict of interests with regard to climate change legislation (e.g. Representative Scalise R-LA , Representative Blackburn R-TN).

The questions from the congress tended to focus on possible impacts of the bill to their local constituencies, whereas the comments that Mr. Gore and Mr. Warner made tended to be national and international in scope. In my opinion, these differences in scope were not sufficiently addressed by either Mr. Gore or Mr. Warner in many of the cases.

Mr. Gore made a statement during his testimony that touched a topic that seems to have a strong resonance with many Americans - their children's and grandchildren's generation. He posited the scenario of what our children and grandchildren would think when, twenty to fifty years down the line, they look at the world they inherit and ask why we - the people of today - chose to listen to the questionable science coming out of corporations and political groups who benefit from the current business-as-usual instead of listening to the global scientific consensus on the science and expected impacts of global warming. In my opinion, this argument suffers from a few problems. First, it falls into the framework of "trust the science", which is - itself - a value that doesn't resonate with those people who have been witness to what is portrayed as a "flip-flopping" of scientific findings in the media or somehow a sinister plot by a global cabal of scientists to change life as we know it. Second, it is a form of Pascal's Wager that seems to swap out "science" for "God" and "future generations" (i.e., our biological eternity) with "eternity." If taken the same conclusion as Pascal's Wager, it can be used as an argument for inaction along a specific line of policy than action along the lines of the given policy. Third, it continues to play into the frame of a "scientific priesthood" that can divine the future. While one might argue that playing this frame when it gets you the desired outcome is what really matters, the argument falls apart quickly when science is shown to not be as great a seer as its proponents claim. Fourth, it portrays an unlikely future scenario of complete non-action vis-à-vis climate change, which is a problem opposite to that of the "scientific priesthood" problem. The assumption of a future with no action - although an effective rhetorical tool - again presents a duality that can easily be refuted after the fact to make ad hominem attacks against the user as being too simplistic or even reactionary. Of course, if people are going to ignore your warnings or voice criticism against you no matter what you say, then I suppose worrying over these points is not necessary or productive.

When asked about whether Mr. Gore supported the bill, even though it did not live up to the science, he stated that he supported the bill, regardless of the shortfalls because it would catalyze future cuts that would be more in line with the science, but did not specify how he envisions this. This statement, though, plays into a linear-type model of how science affects the policy-making process in that it assumes that in the end, "the science will out." If, like in the case with Michigan's Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council, there is a formalized legal mechanism by which the decision-points are reviewed based on the updates to the science, then I think this idea bears merit. However, if not, then it is merely playing to the concept of incremental change, but one that might not be able to change national laws quickly enough to meet the future environmental challenges.

Morning discovery

This morning, I learned that one of my former schools - St. Mary's International School in Tokyo, Japan - has been undergoing a major construction/expansion. The interseting thing is that the expansion doesn't actually increase the amount of land the school owns; merely that there is an increased amount of student density. While I was a student there (1985-1992), there was already a waiting list of students that couldn't get in (and so - likely - went to the American International School in Japan).

Anyway, the important thing is that SMIS is doing a good job in forging ahead into the 21st century.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Daily Show and Colbert Report on the TEA Parties

I love political criticism that is funny, whether it's pointing to the left or the right. John Stewart's got a team of writers that are just amazing. Here's two segments from the April 16th show about the tea-bag parties (aka T.E.A. Parties) that took place around the U.S. this last April 15th.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Nationwide Tax Protests
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Brilliant. FOXNews = NPR & Democracy Now, CNN = Even more dickish FOX, MSNBC = Daily Show. Hahahah.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Tea Party Tyranny
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

I really like John Oliver, because his humor is just so British and sardonic.

Is it literally over night, or happening over a long time? ... No, no, it is literally impossible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

mid-April Photos

Taking down lights from the trees on Main Street.
Grizzly Peak Brewery taking in some ingredients for some yummy beer.
A morning photo of a swan on Third Sister Lake

Getting a new bike!

My poor GIANT Sedona bike is getting a little too squeaky-in-the-bearing, breaking down due to the 8 miles per day of commuting. I have wanted for a while to get an "upgrade" on my bike, and after speaking to the people at Great Lakes Cycle and Fitness, I learned that it would be way too expensive and inefficient to upgrade the components of my present ride. Instead, I could do a decent upgrade by purchasing a GIANT Seek 1: lighter, better componets, slightly more aggressive position, and 8 speed internal gearing. However, such a choice would have its drawbacks, including the fact that although the components are better than my Sedona, they are not necessarily "good" components, nor is the Seek built for my needs....

So... I decided to get a custom bike made. Yiiiii!!! It should be done at the beginning of May, or there abouts. Have no doubt that there will be photos.

Tax (and teabagging) Day

The script-writers at MSNBC must be having field-days this week with all the talk about teabagging coming from FoxNews and the right-wing of the Republican Party.

Excerpts below (what can only be assumed to be sarcastic comments are in bold, added by yours truly):
[April 15th] is going to be Teabagging Day for the right-wing and they are going nuts for it. Thousands of them whipped out the festivities early this past weekend, and while the parties are officially toothless, the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals: They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing, and lick government spending. Spending they did not oppose when they were under Presidents Bush and Reagan... That’s teabagging in a nutshell.... Washington prostitute patron Senator David Vitter ... has issued statements in support of teabagging but is personally tight-lipped... [Both Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity] are looking forward to an up-close-and-personal taste of teabagging themselves.

World builder


Saw this video and it reminded me not only of the wonderful things that are now possible in the virtual world, but of when I was thinking about making worlds up for role-playing games, painting pictures (or trying to) in my head about the layout of imaginary cities, etc. Somewhere in amongst all those boxes of old papers in my parents' attic, there are pages of imaginary cities with buildings delineating winding roads encaced within stone walls. There are layouts of some of those buildings, too, where adventures could start (or abruptly end).

Skip forward several years, and the first time I played the Sims, I was similarly enchanted with the ability to create a building that matched (some) of your desires. I was actually less enthralled with the pseudo-social aspect of the game, and ended up just having people work like drones to earn money to make a more interesting house possible. (I think that other people likely did this, too.)

For some reason, SimCity never appealed to me. Possibly because I wasn't "in control" of the development of the buildings or the city (the tools used to influence outcomes seemed to me too crude and contrived somehow). However, I did like seeing how building types thrived (or failed) with different types of urban development. Strangely, (or maybe not so strangely) I was more interested in the terraforming tools that one could use in SimCity 2000 to shape the landscape prior to beginning the game. If they had made only that part the whole game, I would have been quite satisfied to play around with that alone (which I did anyway).

Although I've never played in SecondLife, I imagine that many of the things portrayed in this video are analogous to what is possible there. However, the depition of being able to stand inside your own creation and build what your mind puts in front of you is ... wow. Not to mention that the graphics of this film are breathtakingly stunning, and the concepts of cyberintegration is quite ingeneous.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Are schools killing creatively?

Sir Ken Robinson's talk at TED in 2006. Brilliant piece. Funny, insightful, and hard-hitting.

Unilever, Catherine Zeta Jones, and a 7-minute shampoo commercial

Unilever Japan has made a 7-minute multi-million dollar commercial starring Catherine Zeta Jones to launch their new line of Lux products. See the stunning cinematography here. As a film, it's alright, until the last minute, when the corny product-pushing message is put in.

Happy Easter!

No daffodils out yet in Saginaw Forest, but there are flowers, and buds on the trees.

One thing that I didn't know was the etymology of the word "Easter". I had figured that it was dreived from Latin or Greek, but like many things with the English language, one cannot assume this. For example, in Spanish, this date is called "Pascua", "Pâques" in French, derived from "Pascha" in Latin (derived from the Greek "Πάσχα", which is itself derived). In contrast, this date is "Ostern" in German. In other Germanic-languages speaking countries, a derivation of the Latin "Pascha" is used.

So, in looking a little closer (i.e., doing Wikipedia research), this is what one finds for Easter (links in original):
The modern English term Easter developed from Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre or Eoaster, which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar attested by Bede as named after the goddess Ēostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism.[8] Bede notes that Eostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held her in honor during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced with the Christian custom of Easter.[9] Using comparative linguistic evidence from continental Germanic sources, the 19th century scholar Jacob Grimm proposed the existence of an equivalent form of Eostre among the pre-Christian beliefs of the continental Germanic peoples, whose name he reconstructed as *Ostara.
The implications of the goddess have resulted in scholarly theories about whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede, theories connecting Eostre with records of Germanic folk custom (including hares and eggs), and as descendant of the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn through the etymology of her name. Grimm's reconstructed *Ostara has had some influence in modern popular culture.
Furthermore, I learned from Wikipedia that the Greek "Πάσχα" is derived from the Hebrew "Pesach (פֶּסַח)", which is the word for the Jewish celebration of Passover. (Strange, no, how the two overlap? Oh wait, it isn't really, isn't it?)

Therefore, in the English (and German) speaking world, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on a day named after a pre-Christian goddess of fertility, and Christians in other European-language speaking countries celebrate the same day using a word derived from the Hebrew word for Passover (which celebrates the Jew's escape from Egypt). My point is that neither "Easter" nor "Pascha" have Christian word-roots, and I think that's kind of interesting.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Yup, the crazies are out there.

Well, at least one crazy is out there. (FYI, Culver is the Governor of Iowa.) However, there are several problems with the sign.

One is the grammar.
Okay, I'll give the man the necessity of writing in all-caps, since visibility is important. However, the lack of punctuation? Seriously, if you are going to make a sign to be seen in public, you should use better grammar than that. Also, the lack of punctuation makes the second part of the sign a little ambiguous. Does is it supposed to read, "God bless Culver man up" or "God bless. Culver, man-up!" In the former, it would be some sort of English patois-based statement asking God to "bless-up" "Culver man". However, I doubt that the sign is meant to be some sort of patois, therefore, I will assume here that it is the second case. So, before moving on, I will assume that the sign is supposed to read thusly: "Same-sex animals don't mate. God bless. Culver, man-up!"
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, let's look more closely at the first sentence: Same-sex animals don't mate. Ummm... but they do. Ummm... here are birds-of-more-than-a-feather that "flock" together, and there is documented evidence from over 500 species of homosexual mating. So the first premise is patently wrong. The man is holding up a sign written in bad grammar (which itself confuses and denigrates his own message) that begins with what is either a blatant lie (assuming that he knew the evidence to the contrary) or proof of his blatant ignorance (assuming he didn't know of the evidence). Not a good start there...
Moving on to "God bless", I have to ask to whom this statement is made. Is it a statement that relates back to the previous untrue sentence, is it a general statement, is it asking for a blessing for the Governor, or is it something else? If it is the first, then is the man asking that God bless a patently false statement? If so, then to what end? To hope that God would make the patently false statement somehow true, either by changing the nature of scientific observation or by asking to be brought under God's coattails (and the perceived social benefit that such a request brings)? If it is the second, why tuck it between a blatantly false statement and a demand that the Governor somehow "man-up"? Wouldn't it work better (logically) at the end of the sign as a courteous (or ironic) closing salutation? If it is the third, then to what purpose? (I will explore some possible options of "man-up" in the next paragraph.) Finally, if it is for some other reason, it is as clear as mud to me.
Moving on to "Culver, man-up!" Gwen at Sociological Images makes and forwards good points:
The Culver being told to “man up” is Iowa’s Democratic governor. Joshua says,
I just think it’s kind of telling that Culver is being urged to preserve the traditional definition of marriage with the phrase “man up.”  Only by tapping into honest masculinity can Culver fend off effeminate men and mannish women who want to marry each other…
It is a great example of the assumption that masculinity automatically includes homophobia; being a “real man” means not just being straight, but being opposed to gays and gay rights.
Apart from that, I had always thought that the phrase, "man-up!" meant that I was supposed to pair-up against someone in basketball, playing man-on-man defense. However, I think it is supposed to mean something closer to the various initial definitions found in If that is the case, then is the man asking the Governor of Iowa to usurp power from the state's Supreme Court? If that is the case, then is the man asking for the governor to be an autocrat? I somehow doubt that, since if Gov. Culver takes autocratic power, I would think that this man (and many others in the state) would not be very happy about it. Okay, maybe he's not asking the governor to become an autocrat. Maybe he's asking the governor to make a statement against the state's Supreme Court decision. If the governor does that, then what? Such a statement would only be a political statement that would not really help in Culver's re-election, since (unless Iowa is different from the rest of the country) it is likely that more people who support the Supreme Court decision would be those who would try and re-elect Culver.
Now, this is just one example of a protester making an argument that doesn't address the decision of the Supreme Court. He is a private citizen, and not a person in political power. ... but Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars shows that legislators can also be quite ignorant (blissfully or otherwise) of the Supreme Court decision vs. the rhetoric (okay, it's one legislator in this case, not many).
This sort of backlash - although an inevitable part of any social change - is annoying. I understand that it will be there, and I feel it when certain "truths" I take for granted are questioned, but open-mindedness is not a selfish thing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Biking becomes easier

Although I can only make a guess at the amount of weight I have lost over the past three months (I don't own or use a scale), I know that it is significant. Cycling twelve kilometers each day has forced me to cinch my belt ever-tighter, and to get out some jeans and shorts that I hadn't worn for "quite a while."

Not only do I see benefits on my waist, but I also have realized that my commute has become easier. I noticed it last night when I was cycling up the hill from Virginia to Stadium into the wind at a gear ratio I would not have been able to handle in February, and I noticed again this morning when I was tearing down Liberty, barely slowing down on the rises as I had my bike in top gear (I felt that if I was on a road bike, I would be overtaking the cars). Furthermore, I don't get as ravenous as I used to during the day, and although I eat a sizeable dinner, I seem to still be (slower now) losing weight.

I thought that perhaps I had lost some of this weight-shedding/muscle-building capacity over time, but I think I still have it (for now). I doubt that I will be able to go back to the physique I had when I was twenty-two (fifty-two inches around the shoulders, thirty-one inches around the waist), but I'll be more than happy to drop back down to between a thirty-four inch and thirty-six inch waist, and energy levels closer to what I used to have.

No doubt, getting to this point was not easy, especially when I compare what I feel like now to what I felt in January. True, it was blisteringly cold during that time, but I was also heavier, with less strength than now. I didn't feel like I could sleep enough, nor could I eat enough. I was stressed about this-and-that, and couldn't concentrate well. However, I now sleep better, need less of it, and I am starting to concentrate better, too. Who knows, but by the end of the semester, I might be in a position to actually get some quality work done.


I was yesterday introduced to the music of Soraya. It was lyrical, captivating, warm, uplifting, and - above all else - vibrantly alive.

Soraya died on May 10, 2006 from breast cancer. For half of her recording career, she knew that she had cancer, possibly incurable.

This juxtaposition of knowledge of one's impending death next to the lyrical beauty and vibrancy-infused music is strange almost to a point of painfulness. The strangeness comes about because I am discovering a wonderful artist who is - to some greater extent - a contemporary of mine, not a long-dead person from "the past". The painfulness arises because I know that the inspired heart and soul of this singer has been silenced, and the only thing we have are ghosts of her - fleeting images and sounds captured for a time on YouTube - eventually to be washed over and mixed in with those now-dead artists who came before her in that large beach that is the repository of music.

It is painful, too, because it seems like I was just getting onto a path to get to know someone very interesting - someone one can only hope to meet in one's life - and to make that person part of my life - thought it be only vicariously through her music. To learn, after cracking open the door to this wonderful music that flows warmly and quickly into one's blood, that the music is dead is itself a heartbreaking occurrence. Imagining the vast gulf of what might have been "if only" she were alive; the great possibility and richness her music would have brought brings an aching pain of emptiness, even though it is for someone that I don't even know.

More, too, does the pain come from another level of understanding. As I learn to sit and listen to the richness of another collection of music, I become painfully aware of the relative parochialness of my own viewpoint. Standing here, looking for a path along which one can gingerly walk toward a better understanding of a new field of knowledge - of experience - learning that a pillar has been almost cruelly and casually trimmed, to move from living artist to archive in an instant (seemingly) before I start my journey, is itself a shocking example of life's calm brutality.

However, instead of trying to forget, I will try and learn, to include Soraya as a pillar holding my pathway through to understanding del mundo hispano.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Be green like Obama Girl

Be green, Earth-friendly and environmentally conscious. Like hot people living in New York City. ;)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Snow in Ann Arbor

It snowed a lot last night. Well... not as much as other parts of the state at similar latitutde, but a lot for Ann Arbor (and a lot, considering that it is April). I wonder, though, how many people are going to use this as an excuse to do them some global-warming hating. Usually, such attacks conform to the following:

1) Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)/Climate Change (CC) is a massive conspiracy.
2) No one has proven AGW/CC or AGW/CC is just a theory.
3) I can disprove AGW/CC. Let me show you.
4) It's snowing. Therefore, no AGW/CC.

What's wrong with this argument? I mean, it is snowing. It is April. Well, what's anomalous-sounding is that it is snowing in southern Michigan in April. If this were northern Michigan, snow in the start of April isn't that uncommon. Snow in Alaska in April is even less uncommon, so the presence of snow in upper latitudes isn't the issue, it's that there is snow where it is uncommon in April. But that the wrong way of looking at the issue.

Climate is more than a snapshot of a weather pattern in a small region of the globe. Climate is a concept that is actually somewhat difficult to grasp, which is probably why so many people fail to grasp it. In a nutshell, Ann Arbor is (according to Grolier Online Atlass) "Continental Humid" with (according to a "High" rain exposure and (according to minimum temperatures of negavitve ten to negative fifteen celcius and plant zone 5b. How does this relate to today's temperature and precipitation? Well... today's temperature and precipitation matches the climate range of what Ann Arbor is supposed to be. It's an example of what "Continental Humid" is (from Wikipedia):
The humid continental climate is a climate found over large areas of landmasses in the temperate regions of the mid-latitudes where there is a zone of conflict between polar and tropical air masses. The humid continental climate is marked by variable weather patterns and a large seasonal temperature variance. The seasonal temperature variance can be as great as 33° Celsius, but is typically about 15-22°C (27-40° Fahrenheit). The temperature difference between the warmest and coldest months increases as one moves further inland and away from the moderating influence of the ocean. Places with a hottest month temperature above 10 °C and a coldest month temperature below -3°C, and which do not meet the criteria for an arid climate, are classified as continental.[1] It is most prominent over a wide section of central and eastern North America, parts of Eastern Europe, northwestern Asia and areas adjacent to the Yellow Sea, the Korean Peninsula and Northern Japan. It is only found in small pockets (micro climates) in the Southern Hemisphere.
So... last night's weather (and today's weather, too) is well within the definition of "great seasonal temperature variance", especially since (regardless of how large the Great Lakes are) Ann Arbor is far "away from the moderating influence of the ocean".

Is AGW/CC a myth? Well, that is a subject upon which a scientist studying global warming would be better suited to answer, provided that you consider the concept of mythology of science something that a scientist would be qualified to answer. Of course, I am considering here, that "myth" is a word describing a concept or description of something that doesn't really exist. Therefore, since a scientist is trained to test whether something physical exists or acts according to a theory, and since AGW/CC is something physical and of a theory that is testable, then a scientist should be able to test the validity of AGW/CC. I am not an AGW/CC scientist, and most of the people who say that winter disproves AGW/CC aren't either.

However, I read many papers and discussions published by AGW/CC scientists, and the theory is consistent and sound. Therefore, I tend to agree with their findings, rather than those of the deniers. Okay, this is deviating into a different topic. Therefore, I'll end it here, with a rather unnecessary (and technically incorrectly used) Q.E.D.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Slate article on the "Green Economy"

Normally I like articles on Slate. However, this article was forwarded to me, and I must admit that I found it lacking, both in evidential strength and in good writing. I decided not to discuss the issues, per se, but focus more on some of the problems in writing.

This is not a well-written article, for logical purposes alone (let alone the facts underpinning the logic). For example:
The fundamental problem is that there's no solid evidence that green policies—even those aimed explicitly at creating jobs—will actually lower the long-term unemployment rate.

One could also sate that, "The fundamental problem is that there's no solid evidence that [heretofore untested] policies -- even those aimed explicitly at [perceived social benefit] -- will actually [reach the goal of the policy]," and play a game of madlibs. For example, read the statement substituting the following their respective places:
  • intergalactic space penis
  • impregnating cylon drones
  • bring about a sexual revolution
  • complete Palestinian universal autonomy
  • ending Middle East conflict
  • do so
The problem is that the statement is refuting the possibility of something that hasn't heretofore been possible (or conceived as being possible) because of a lack of evidence of it's success. It would be like saying in 1960 that the space shuttle would never work, because no space shuttle had ever been successfully launched. It would be like saying that the Salk vaccine wouldn't make any impact on worldwide polio, since it's never been proven.

Moving on to another issue: that of definition. Levi says:
For many environmental advocates, of course, these discussions are of secondary importance; what matters most is that green jobs will help the planet. They'd be wise to be careful there, too. Indeed, the most successful green jobs program to date is one that no environmentalist wants to brag about: the conversion to corn-based ethanol.

Apart from the problem of lumping all people who share a concern about the fate of the environment of our planet (whether it is through peaceful or violent means, or whether it is because of a primary concern for human existence or ecosystem health) is a logical fallacy. Of course, it also difficult to separate everyone out into their respective groups, even using the two axes listed in my parenthetical. However, a hunter/fisher conservationist can be considered as much an environmentalist on some issues as a PETA or GreenPeace activist. Do they all have the same viewpoint? No. Is environmentalist a monolithic group? No. Although it may seem like a bit of digression, it goes to the point of asking which environmentalists consider corn-based ethanol a "green job" sector? Certainly very few of the greenies in my department. Calling something a "green job" when it holds very few actual environmental merits is a term that Levi should get to know a little bit better: "Greenwashing". The corn-based ethanol issue is not just an environmental issue (in terms of the pollution caused by raising the corn, distilling the ethanol, and distributing it), it is also a trade issue (in terms of government subsidies of US corn production, causing world corn markets to "slide") and a fisheries issue (in terms of the massive dead zone of deoxygenated water caused by fertilizer-based nitrogen-rich waters of the Mississippi River flowing into the normally nitrogen-limited waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and creating massive algal blooms that actually cause deoxygenation when the mat begins to sink into the water -- due to the weight of ever-increasing numbers of algal cells -- thus causing aerobic-respiration based decomposition by existing bacteria). There are also social issues relating to the change in the Gulf of Mexico fishery, health issues caused by nitorgen leaching into groundwater well systems, and long-term macroeconomic issues caused by backing ourselves into a corner by investing in massive infrastructure for corn-based ethanol (thus effectively closing the door on more efficient alternatives for ethanol prodduction) prior to a full exploration of alternatives. Is the corn-based ethanol sector a "green jobs" sector? Well, only if you consider the production of liquid fuel from sources other than fossil fuels "green." If that is the case, then (imho) it is a limited definition of "environmental", and therefore Levi is in more need to define who is included in his set "environmentalists".

Finally, I've seen better conclusions to papers produced by freshmen than what Levi's put up. Seriously, all he does is lightly revisit some of the casually and illogically "investigated" points he mentions in his article before stating that no matter what he has said previously, it is necessary for the US to make some sort of decision. Really? No shit? Woah! Why did I just spend all that time reading your points of view that counteract your very conclusion? If you wanted to make your piece a contrast analysis of different opinions, you should have set up your lines of evidence differently and set up your opening thesis as one that will show how -- regardless of the perceived deficiences -- the green economy is something that we should pursue.

Iowa courts overturn same-sex marriage ban

Iowa's supreme court has overturned same-sex marriage ban, callilng it unconstitutional. First: YAY! Second: how quickly will (have?) people use the "activist judges" attack. Third: How quickly these anti-gay-rights people make it to the national news?

Hopefully, Iowans will - on the whole - stand behind this ruling and either pass it in the legislature, or pass it as a ballot. However, strategically speaking, if this issue makes it to a ballot initiative, it will have to be written very carefully to ensure that a defeat of it will not mean a constitutional ban.