Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Creative Commons

You may have noticed a new icon in the right column. After double checking the blogger terms of service to make sure that I actually own the content of my blog, I added the Creative Commons Copyright logo to allow anyone to use anything posted on my blog for non-comercial puposes. Clicking the logo will give a quick and easy page of what this means.

Power from the Corps!

Representative Errata

Having spent the weekend grading assignments and rough drafts of papers due this week, I took to creating a text file of common comments and corrections I made to ease the carpel tunnel. Essentially, once I came across the same issue twice I made an entry in a notepad file. This way I could be nice and detailed - hence looking exceptionally thorough and helpful - yet immensely reduce my grading time. I thought I would share a list (in no particular order) of the more common comments I made. I'll leave it to you to determine the rationale for the comments.

Also, if you find any of these comments useful for your own common comments and corrections file, feel free to copy and paste. I grant this list to the world in the spirit of open source and free non-commercial creative commons copyright.

  1. New topic requires a new paragraph.
  2. One good technique to help with this is to set your essay aside for a few hours after you think you’re finished and read it later. Often you’ll catch things that seemed clear but are not. Alternately, give it to a friend or family member to read. Someone who does not know what you’re trying to say is often good at pointing out parts of your essay that are not clear.
  3. This is a plural pronoun but the noun used earlier is singular. Make sure your noun/pronoun use is consistent.
  4. “Data” is plural for “datum”.
  5. To make your sentences easier to read or signal a pause use a comma to set off words or phrases.
  6. If you are using a singular noun to indicate possession place the apostrophe before the “s”.
  7. Try not to end sentences with a preposition.
  8. Each paragraph needs a purpose that moves your essay forward. Each paragraph should focus on a single topic and make sure you only include relevant information. Ask yourself – does this have anything to do with the topic/focus of this paragraph. If not, delete it. If it does, explain why.
  9. What is the primary point of this essay? This should be your opening topic sentence and everything else should flow to support that point of view or argument.
  10. Make sure you add references to support these statements.
  11. Try not to use quotes unless they are so profound that they send chills down your spine because they created such inspiration and could not possibly be improved on to express the point. Say it in your own words then credit the authors who published the original work you paraphrased.
  12. Although it may appear that there are few comments, I am noting only the first instance or two of an issue you should address and I’m leaving it up to you to go through the rest of the essay to find similar instances to correct or address.
  13. If you’re repeating yourself you’ve probably not organized your essay properly.
  14. For clarity, consider keeping all parts of a verb phrase together. Place any modifying words before or after the verb phrase.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Defining the problem with american mainstream culture

Imagine if you will the following scenario: A society where a select few highly educated elites is scientifically literate and understand that evolution and not creationism/Intelligent design is the only viable current theoretical approach to understanding speciation and the huge diversity of life on this little blue marble we call home. Further, this highly educated elite is well aware that global warming is real and are well aware of a host of other looming disasters that are the direct result of neo-liberal economic policies around the world (in the name of "free-trade" - which is pragmatically defined as a trade agreement that benefits the US and cripples the other partner).

Now, imagine how you would get the general public to support government policies that essentially exacerbate these problems and issues to the detriment of all but those few elites. The answer of course is to deny the facts and broad objective scientific consensus on these and other broad topics.

"How is that possible?", you might reasonably ask. "Surely the truth cannot be suppressed for ever. Facts are facts, right?". Sadly, this is not the case. Most everyone is afraid of something. They have some sort of phobia, whether is is spiders, blood, germs, heights, open spaces, enclosed spaces, we all have a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous. Well, I think I've discovered the common American Phobia that explains this strange land in which I currently reside. The american public suffer from Epistemophobia- The Fear of knowledge.

That was a lot of work for one tiny joke. But it was worth it :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


The view from our soon to be very own back patio. A view of the woods/not other houses was very important to us. Posted by Hello

The view that basically sold us on this place. The living room, fireplace and a FREAKIN' loft to boot! We love the airiness and openess of the place. I've tried to explain to other people why we liked this place so much and the best I could come up with was this was a "living space". You don't really leave the room so much as move from location to location, not like in a conventional house where you leave a room and it's like your in a completely separate space. My wife thinks I'm crazy for describing it like this (and she is probably right). What do you think?  Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Monday, June 13, 2005

As a Texan would say...

I'll tell yew what.
God Damn I feel good! I just spent 2 weeks gradually grading then 14+ hours (excluding an hour nap and coffee breaks) grading ~34 1 page papers [see earlier post on the evils of electronic media :)]. But, it's done and I've put off the deadline for papers for a week and I think I'm learning methods to speed this whole grading process along. One day I hope to become 'grand poobah' of electronic grading techniques. Yes. I'll have the electronic grading for dummies book, Cliff notes for electronic graders, Coles notes for electronic graders. The whole shebang. I will live off the royalties of experience hard won..... Whoa! I gotta get a grip! Like that will ever happen. HAH!

However, on the 'yeah like that will ever happen' front' the wife and I made the jump. We paid the $500 "earnest" payment on a new town home. GAH! (as dilbert would say), what have we done!? Still, I have to admit it's kinda cool. Our own place. Finally we can decorate as we please. I never realized how important that was to me until I actually had the option. I envision funky glass vases on stair shelves, mysterious east asian characters strewn about the abode, perhaps even a stuffed penguin or two. We can do ANYTHING! AAAHHHH HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA.

Me thinks sleep is in order :) Yeah for us. Good night.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Freakin' "Hello"

I've been trying to post some photos of the different houses we've been looking at via the google program "Hello" which is supposed to make the posting of photos as easy as pie..... IT'S NOT! It keeps freezing, timing out or some other freakin' !@#%!#$% error! I'm seriously going to have to put up a home website so I can post photos and just add links. Grrrrrr.

Yeah, like I don't already have enough to do. I'll just slip in designing a website between teaching, grading, house hunting, mortgage negotiating, retirement planning, possible packing, regular cleaning, cooking (pfft, haven't even done that recently), helping the wife shop for eyeglasses, recycling trips (also something that I seriously need to do - the balcony is starting to look like the bloody dump in Kingston Ontario ., ....

Sigh.

Please stay tuned as I work out this problem. I promise it will be worth it.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Buying a home?! - How did that happen?

Been a few days since the last post. As mentioned previously, we went house browsing recently and as luck would have it we found a very cool place (I'll post some info a little later and maybe get some feedback - for reasons explained shortly). We talked to the seller and have been trying to contact people who do the mortgage thing, visiting the construction site and taking tons of photos, talking about appliances, pro's, con's of location, liklihood of real estate appreciation and on and on and on! By all that is unholy and poltroonish this is scary stuff!

We finally came to a decision that it is a good idea to make the jump, when we start second guessing and start looking at other possible homes; just to be sure. Now there is a heightened sense of urgency because the place we want is the only unit left and we can only hold it for so long before the building company starts allowing others to consider purchasing it as well. Tomorrow we are heading to 5 other places that are closer to work, are a little pricer but have better construction/options. We are feeling an artifical pressure to make a choice because we are so enamoured with this one home that we are rushing from place to place to try and decide if we're making the right decision. Maybe tomorrow I'll post some links and photo's of the various places we visit and get some feedback from whoever reads this humble little blog.

If I know anything about human nature this shouldn't be difficult. People tend to be very willing to express their opinions and hopefully the importance (from a North American/USA perspective) of home ownership will stimulate lots of opinions and suggestions about things we need to consider that we have not thought of.

OOOhhhh this could be exciting!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Egads!

Well, it's official. The wife and I are going browsing for homes. I mourn the carefree days when my biggest concern was whether or not I would have beer and cab money for Thursday and Friday.

We love our apartment. It's close to work, a well maintained property and has a nice view of the woods but believe it or not ~1200 sqft is now pushing the limit for two people who abhor the thought of discarding things (I am try tho' - I'm scanning as many bills, papers, and other things typically kept in paper form into PDFs and that should clear up an good 24+ sqft once everything is done). We are also planning on performing an e-bay rampage where everything and anything that we are hanging onto because "you just never know when it might come in handy" is getting the heave-ho.

Still, with the green card tantalizingly close to being within our grasp and job security pretty much established with the wife's tenure and greater course work an my institution under our belt we feel it may actually be time to think about getting a home of our own. The actual purchase may be a year or so down the road but we are at least doing semi-serious research and investigation into what is available and thinking about what we would want in a home. Priority number one: NO FUCKING 2 CAR GARAGE THAT DOMINATES THE VIEW!!!. God I hate those types of houses! In my view there is nothing worse than driving down a street and seeing double wide garage doors taking up 95% of the view of a house. What kind of statement about values does that make? My other Ford Expedition super gas guzzling monster truck is a GM Lincoln monster that costs more to run and insure than a years worth of cruises around the world? My vehicle can drive over a fortified tank and I'll think it's just a mild speed bump. God knows I'll never take my baby off-road and get a speck of dust on her....... But I digress.

Homes. It's kind of exciting and terrifying. The thought of owning a house. We finally get to paint and decorate as we want but it also means we've pretty much accepted that we are going to stay in Winston-Salem for a considerable period of time. Fortunately, things in this little burg are actually starting to look a little better (more interesting eating establishments, and entertainment venues are popping up every week), W-S is becoming less of a chain, franchise outlet town and more of a vibrant, individualistic, quirky entrepreneur town.

Homes. Cool. I can get with the concept.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ranting and Raving

OK my first true rant. I should not be doing this given that My wife and I have been waiting for our green cards since August of last year. The timeline we were lead to believe would occur would be that after a month of two after sending our documentation to the Texas Immigration Office the official long-term green card would be processed and mailed to us. We were advised that if we had not received our documents by February we were to contact some offical and make inquiries. It turns out that the immigration officer at the "port of entry" did not put the proper stamp on our documents and we were - once gain - in legal limbo. Our lawyer, hired at great expense and specializes in immigration law, made contacts with the people he knows and tried to locate these misplaced documents. We even received a notice that we were to travel to charlotte to get the documents stamped and sent for proper processing. However, once we got there we we told that we were not in the proper office and the person at the "window" refused to tell use where the proper office would be. Of course, we contact our lawyer who knows someone at the right office who then requested the documents so that he could apply the right stamps but this person was given the run around and no one seemed know where the documents were located. Un freaking believable! Our lawyer eventually had to contact our state senator! The rumor/information we were told was that this senators office had a very good relationship with out lawyers office and the the bureaucracy becomes quite distraught when political officials become involved.

Within a week we received great news! Our documents were located (somewhere in St. Louis) and our final documents would be in our hands within two weeks. This was 4 weeks ago. A call to our lawyer revealed that he too remains continually amazed with the bizzareness of the difficulties we are having.

It's so stressful that it probably would have been easier to just enter the country illegally! For freakin' fraggin floppin' sakes! Just how incompetent are these bureaucrats ... Or ... Are we on a some sort of watch list because I do not fall hook line and sinker for the lies errr I mean communications sent out by the Bush administration. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Begin agin

And so and another season of teaching is upon me. My first summer session teaching Abnormal psychology began today. It should be a lot easier this time. My lecture notes are already online and printed on overhead transparencies.

Yep. You read that right. Transparencies.

My university is only now converting classrooms to use Powerpoint presentations. Fortunately, the room I'm teaching in this summer is 'projector enabled' and I've got it working with my laptop without any assistance [duct tape and spit are amazing tools :) ] so this class should mostly be about converting boring transparencies to boring powerpoint (or, more accurately "impress" presentations - check out open office link on the right). Next semester I'll get the chance to spruce things up and make them funky but getting my notes into a form I can really use is the first priority. Should be a relatively easy ride. Wish me luck.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ambiguity

Being somewhat of a shrinking violet and (more importantly) not very good at picking up on social cues, I have developed a strange habit over the years that has become so ingrained that I'm no longer even aware that I use it unless pointed out to me or I jerk myself into consciousness for a few minutes. The habit or technique - if you want to call it that - is to be ambiguous. I'm not talking ambiguous in the sense of well maybe I do like something or maybe I don't. This is far more complex.

For the sake of illustration, let's say that that I'm writing a paper on some neuroscience topic and I need to interpret some data. The sentences I use tend to be of the sort that can be taken several different ways. From one perspective they could be viewed are arguing vociferously for a particular interpretation. Another way (depending on where the reader places the emphasis in the sentence), might be that I am hedging and uncertain about what the data mean.

I use this illustration to highlight my social inadequacies. I often find myself in a social interaction where someone asks my opinion of something, is cracking a joke or being serious. Unfortunately, I am quite incapable of reading body language, intonation or placing things in context, (so much of my life seems to be self-involved and wildly envisioning alternate interpretations of the world). Not wanting to look foolish or like an idiot my responses tend to be deliberately ambiguous. This leaves my actual intent dependent on the interactor's interpretation. If my comment offends and I am challenged I quickly offer an alternate meaning and get a better read on where a person is coming from and adapt my social style and things I talk about to fit my surroundings. This technique has saved my self-esteem more than once and, as I mentioned earlier is an automatic response when placed in unfamiliar or uncomfortable surroundings.

Unfortunately, it also can trip me up. At some level, I don't like making decisions or choices. It takes a lot of cognitive effort to do it right (from my perspective). Most things in life do not have simple answers and require careful, thoughtful analysis and so I choose to reserve that level of effort to a very few things in my life. Most other things do not get my detailed analysis and I feel that if I've not going to do it right I shouldn't do it at all. The use of ambiguity is my way of trying to fit in and let others make choices for me on those things that I do not consider worthy of my limited cognitive resources. The problem is, there are things should be important to me (retirement savings is currently high on my list) but are not included in that tiny list worthy of massive cognitive analysis.

Confession time. I've been in two PhD programs and both times fucked over. The commonality seems to be two-fold. First, both my advisors were psychopaths. Second, because of my social awkwardness and inability to understand social interactions very well, I was unable to recognize this problem in time to do anything about it. I mindlessly focused on my research with the unrealistic ideal that that was sufficient and I didn't have to suck up to people or pay much attention to my social relationship with my advisors. Each time it came back to bite me on the ass. Combine that with my family history of being stubborn and I think I figured out why I never completed either program.

Ambiguity - helpful and harmful. How's that for irony.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

International Kitty Konspiracy

It's true. I've been gathering evidence for months. Kitties around the world are in communication with each other and are on the brink of realizing their nefarious plans to take over the reins of power. It all came together a few days ago when I read Rockin' Tim's blog. He's over on Rotten Tomatoes. He and his wife have a number of kitties and recently experienced a computer crash. It turns out that it was a power supply failure. Or so it seemed...... I too recently had a computer issue. I was getting ready to clone my hard drive and just before I started I decided to burn a CD of Star Wars: Dark Forces - the first of the of the really good PC Games with a continuity of characters. So, I slip in the PCMIA card for my CD Burner and my Windows XP froze.... sigh.... big surprise. I think nothing of it. I do a hard reboot and while I'm waiting for the laptop to get backup to speed I head to the main home office an start to install the latest Linux Distro that I'm interested in trying (vLos 1.1). When I came back I found that windows had loaded up in what appeared to be safe mode. I have to note here that Kitty did not follow me into the office as is her usual habit (the plot thickens). Again I think nothing and reboot again. This time I again boot into "safe mode". So, I look at adjusting the the display settings (expecting to just readjust the display resolution and color depth -32 bits, millions of colors). Simple enough right? WRONG! It turns out that I only had one screen resolution available (640x something) and 4 bit color... 4BIT!!!!! I've never come across 4 bit resolution! Normal safe mode since Windows 95 was 16 bit) This was crazy!

Long story short, after several reboots with no change I was eventually able to reload the proper driver from the web and recover my display.

This is where the IKK comes in. This "event" occurred while I was out of the room and Rockin' Tim's computer power failure was an odd coincidence. So I examined our photo record and the photo's below seem to suggest that kitties are a lot smarter than they appear and have some sort of international communications system designed to disrupt those who become aware of their ultimate plan to take over the earth and make humans their servile minions! BEWARE! See below photos as evidence

Exihibt 1: Obviuosly guilty of something. I suspect she is communicating with her co-conspirators

A simple example of physical sabotage

Perhaps the most specific example of physical domination via kitty's powerful psychic abilities

AHA! Computer sabotage in action!
Evidence of IKK...Shh!

Monday, May 16, 2005

MMORPGs economy, the future of human evolution and Matrix as a reality

Given I haven't blogged for a long time I have a lot of pent up expressing to do. Today I thought I'd develop several thoughts that have been hanging around in my head from the late 80's concerning virtual reality, virtual capitalism and prognostications on the evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens. How's that for a twisted, convoluted and unrealistic goal :)?

OK, to be short and sweet about this, these are the facts I start with: One, people are using real dollars to purchase items for use in MMORGS. Two, population growth in still increasing, not slowing. Three, placing people in pods and feeding them nutrients via IV solutions while individuals were connected to a MMORG/virtual reality could (logically) vastly increase the density of humans the earth could support. For instance, The wife and I find our little 1200 square foot apartment with standard 8 foot ceilings a bit cramped given neither of us like to discard things. If we converted this space into pods where people lie in womb like environments their entire lives this volume could easily house 100 people. A 50 fold increase in population density with no greater environmental impact (leaving out for the moment little things like waste disposal, support equipment, power generation.......).

So, MSNBC has a story on their site concerning the future of human evolution. While interesting and entertaining, I felt they left out a very important option/possibility - The Matrix Solution. More and more people spend their daily existence online. Checking E-mail, surfing, reading blogs, chatting etc. with people who share common interests from around the globe. Some chat sites even offer avatars and virtual environments to interact in. People are also already paying real money for 0's and 1's that aid the development of their characters in online games. Now, considering the continuing power of Moore's law, development of computing power necessary to create photo/3D realistic human forms in the not too distant future is not an inconceivable concept. Further, human machine interfaces continue to add new features and complexity. Hell I've heard of people controlling the dildo action of a woman connected to the net and vise versa! At some point the distinction between virtual and real becomes meaningless. Stack 'em in pods, feed 'em slurry from microorganism produced goo and we've got ourselves a newly evolved human with little to no need for the real world and can explore an infinite number of virtual realities as if they were real and actually decrease the impact humans have on the real environment andstill have our stupid unabated population explosion.

So there you go. I've related online gaming, evolution and a Hollywood movie together to solve humankind's greatest threat to itself, our damned desire to have sex at the hint of a drop of a pin. Problem solved!

Enjoy the ramifications and philosophical quandaries.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Being a 'Red Queen' in a 'Rat Race'

Time to break the silence. Early on, when I decided to begin blogging again I thought it would be unfair to my students to do any blogging while their assignments and papers remained in limbo. So, I made a commitment to myself and my students (unbeknownst to them) that I would not blog until I had caught up and completed grading their written/e-documents.

What a fool!

Teaching two ~40 members classes with 3 written 1-2 page documents and 1 3-5 page research paper each is (I now admit) is ambitious at best. What made it worse was that I was too smart for my own good. I had each class submit their assignments on different days. The 'intention' was that I would complete grading the one class's assignment before the next classes assignment came due, so I would not be overwhelmed with a bolus of grading and leave each class waiting an inordinate amount of time before returning their written work (preferably returning it prior to the due date of the next assignment). For those of you who have done any teaching I'm certain you know where this is heading.... I sucked at this! The reality was that I ended up with ~ 3 assignments on my computer at any one time and a sense of learned helplessness set in. No matter how many papers/assignments I graded on any particular day, there was always many more that remained ungraded and and many more about to be submitted. I was in a classic 'Red Queen' scenario. No matter how much I graded, I never caught up and there was always more material coming in. For those who read this and have not taught university classes let me try and give you a sense of how this feels. I'm almost certain anyone who has not taught university courses will think/consider this explanation weak but it is a reality for any instructor who gives even the mildest damn about their students.

ooh! Professors have it sooo easy. They get up and teach a 50-90min course 2-3 days a week, what a tough life. They work, at best, 90 X 4 minutes a week. Well let me fill in the gap. First, there is class prep. I can not speak for anyone but myself but I worry/care that my students get an informative session of information. This means not only prepping a lecture but researching material and trying to think of ways to make it interesting. Second, I try to encourage my student to challenge me in whatever I say, which means I have to try and anticipate questions and research adequate answers (I'm not saying I do so adequately all the time but I at least try to anticipate what question are likely to come up). That in itself is a good 4-6 hours of work outside of any actual 'performance'. Then, of course, there are the inevitable post class questions/discussion that range from "could you tell me more about "X" to "what's my current grade". That tends to be about 1-1.5 hour/class/week. So, at a minimum I'm dealing with 26 hour/week for just class related material. Now comes the grading component. My original thinking on assignments and paper was that this would be easy. I was going to require all my students to submit their assignments electronically. No paper, save trees, use spell and grammar check, all the modern conveniences of the the electronic age. HAH! Sure assignments/papers are always legible and you don't tend to lose anything (assuming the HDD doesn't give out - (nod to Tim's recent trauma) but I've found that it is all too easy to spent 30 minutes on a one page document correcting typos, grammar, paragraph structure, idea/arguement flow. After all it's electronic and when you see an error just fix it and tell the student......... Did I mention I had ~40 students/class. When 1-2 page assignments are coming in every 3 weeks plus a 3-4 page paper this "benefit" of electronic submission all of a sudden starts to lose it's luster. When I graded hard copies I tended to comment on only the most egregious errors. Now I can fix even then minutia. And, of course, I do. So now we're at 26 hours/week + ((30*80)/3) hours/week.

Now it's time to mention that "brain" work is more taxing than manual work. I haven't got a good reference for this but if anyone would like one I sure I can dig one up, evaluating written work and prepping oral presentations is more stressful and draining than physical labour (notice the "U"- I'm Canadian). There is motivation, critical thinking skills, anticipatory anxiety, and on and on and on. This takes a toll on your ability to function. I concentrated hour of "brain work" I would argue is not equivalent to an hour of manual labour. Again, I don't wish to speak for anyone but myself, but I find these tasks exhausting, especially since I want to convey as much useful info to my student as possible so they actually learn something they will be able to benefit from beyond the specifics of the course material.

Now the rub. The sine qua non of this entry. My absence from blogging is a direct consequence of my utter lack of perspective and rationality. I was living in an ideal world and not a pragmatic one. As a result, I was in a constant state of course prep, question anticipation, assignment grading conundrum. I was grading as fast as I could just to stay abreast of current circumstances and the pay grade I received for my ideals was far less than it would be for someone teaching as a fulltime professor (did I mention I was an adjunct - esstentially part-time- professor paid/course?!). Oh yeah, it's also a state school. For those international readers, in the
U.S., this means that the pay is standardized and minimized (i.e., pay for course, no benefits, not pension plan, no nothin').

I teach my courses according to my ideals. I make no apologies for that. I probably put in way too much time and effort considering my monetary compensation. I do not begrudge this fact either. I could easily do less and still receive adequate course evaluations to maintain a position at my institution, but I choose to err on the side of my students. I guess the take home message from this rant it two-fold. First, I'm back and I've been saving blog topics for quite some time, so you will be able to read this blog regularly and get new "content" pretty much every day for quite some time (read, plenty of half baked ideas that have been percolating for many weeks). Second, I learned my lesson and about teaching and encourage others to avoid my idealistic mistakes and take a more pragmatic approach.

I'm Baaaaacccckkkkkk! :)

Friday, March 11, 2005

FUD

The term FUD is interesting to me. Since I learned of it I've begun to see it everywhere. Sort of like the VW bug phenomenon. I most often see it in the context of M$ and Linux, but lately it seems to be cropping up everywhere: social security reform, and unfortunately my sentimental favorite computer company, Apple, sued a blogger for revealing info it wanted to keep to itself.

This prompted me to ponder the usefulness and purpose of this particular tactic. It seems to me that the only benefit that derives from FUD is to either temporarily hold on to an edge until you can meet/beat to competition (that is, you've got something in the works but it's not yet ready for primetime) or the entire basis of a thesis is untenable and when you don't have the facts, you need to divert attention from that fact.

In the case of Bush's 'so-called' social security reform, it is obviously the latter. Any reasonable exploration of the facts suggests that social security is not in any danger or at the minimum can be perpetuated with minor adjustments to the system rather than a wholesale give away to Republican benefactors like Wall Street investment bankers. With respect to the Iraq *cough* conflict, I'll say no more than ..... where exactly are the WMDs and what is was the rationale for invading a country whose "leader" was just fine a few president's back when the US was more than happy to provide chemical and biological weapons?

Regarding, M$ and Apple, I detect a little more of the initial argument but just barely. Strange how M$ starts losing market share to that darn upstart Firefox when it finally releases some PR on the upcoming vaporware IE update that will solve every problem that ever existed with previous versions of IE (except for not being W3C compliant, of course) and how the Longhorn , the much *yawn* anticipated OS from M$ will of course be better, superior and more secure than Linux (which gets more user friendly for both business and the average users every single day). These projects were probably in the works before Firefox was generally released and FUD is a useful and effective marketing strategy to hold off conversion to open source versions of software that M$ sells for outrageous prices (but hey, that's just me).

I think what I'm most disappointed in is Apple's suit of a blog that reported news about it's upcoming mini iPod before it did. I've always been a fan of Apple. I grew up with the Mac. I still have my Mac and was/am still amazed at how prescient and innovative it's products were/are. Before I even knew what a modem was my Mac had one that I was just able to plug into the prepubescent incoherency we currently know as the 'NET'. It is a sad day when I feel compelled to chastise Apple for FUD practices.

Let information - accurate information - be free! Let it all hang out and allow the public, using unbiased information, make their choices. Isn't that what a true democracy and/or free market is supposed to do?!

Oooooh Sorry, I forgot. I do not live in this ideal world inside my head. I live in the Hegemonic States of America (HSA).

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My Outer Brain

Well, I did it. I sent an E-mail to several friends letting them know I was blogging on a semi-regular basis. Got some wonderful supportive E-mails and (if you look below) a few comments are beginning to flow in.

One E-mail struck me as particularly funny though. The E-mail I sent invited these few hand picked individuals to visit my blog and welcome them to the crazy inner workings of my brain. The response I received was "What's [my] outer brain like?". I chuckled at the clever turn of phrase and thought I'd leave it at that. But, throughout the day my mind kept returning to this phrase. It wouldn't go away. It rattled around like a loose nut. Banging the inside of my head with ever increasing severity.

I eventually came to settle on two different responses. The first flippant, the second more 'educational'.

What's [my] outer brain like?Response 1: Just a convoluted surface area of neurons with no real relevance to my world.

What's [my] outer brain like?Response 2: My outer brain is a shell or interface. A thin layer of neurons that cobble together electrical signals from deeper brain structures that do the heavy lifting of organizing and filtering information. This thin layer of neurons, while important, do little more than apply a thin veneer of rationality and organization to powerful emotional feelings derived from current incoming information and past experience. This 'outer brain' allows me to communicate with others via effective social constructs derived from eons of evolutionary tinkering. However, the 'outer brain' is not necessary for me to experience the world or to experience emotions or develop my own sense of how the world works. It merely acts as an interface. A way for me to clearly explain what's going on inside my mind to someone incapable of experiencing it themselves. So, as intimated by this title of this blog (in general) and post (in particular), I'll try not to let rational thought and organization get in the way of some very strange thoughts.

Inner brain do your thing!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I finally get it but it's still wrong

For the longest time I've pondered why someone would buy a video or DVD for their home library. After all, how often do you watch a movie more than once. Maybe if it's REALLY good you go to the theater and then rent it again but buy it?! What's the point? Then it struck me one day as I was looking around the ol' apartment that I have a crap load books around. Picture books, science books, novels, political essays. I thought to myself, how often have I re-read any of these tomes? The answer, unfortunately, is not very often. Of the many thousands of titles I've owned in my lifetime I think a fair estimate would be maybe 5% were read more than once. Yet I continue to purchase books rather than borrow then from the library.

That's when I had my epiphanie. I buy them not just to read but as concrete symbols of my values, hopes and goals. I enjoy it when people come over for the first time and browse the bookshelf. I enjoy it when someone asks to borrow a book. It gives me validation and also possible insight into common interests. The books, then, are less for me than about me. The same arguement could be said about purchasing DVDs, video's, CDs or any other medium of communication that involves communicating one to many.

However, after this brief revelation, my hope took a nose dive with another horrible revelation. Unlike books, which seem to have settled into a relatively stable form during the past centuries and do not require any specialized equipment to access their contents (beyond a basic understanding of language), videos, DVDs etc. will always become obsolete.

As an analogy, how many new computers have 3.5" floppies, let alone 5.25" floppies. Yet, I'm betting that in the back of your closet there is a box of 5.25" floppy disks that you will never be able to access again.

That infomation is esstentially lost. Similarly, how many people still own an 8-track tape player? I'm betting there were some pretty good tunes on those babies that you will never be able to get access to again. 8-tracks were replaced by smaller cassette tapes, tapes by CD's and already, a new fight is beginning in the industry over competing standards for HDCD or blue-ray laser CD/DVDs. Even within an established medium there are competing, incompatible formats (what the hell is the difference between DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW anyway?). The only thing I know is that handing someone a DVD or CD today does not guarantee that the person will be able to access the information. You will need to spend time transferring LPs to tape, then tapes to CDs and so on again and again, lose access to that information or buy a remastered version of the something you've already purchased. There will always be newer, better, tech that holds more, has faster access, higher fidelity, greater resolution. The humble book just continues plodding away easing communication without special tech. Behold the book! I bow before this simple yet effective form of communication.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Idealism and Reality

We lowly humans often tout our ideals to others. The ideals of a nation (e.g., all men are created equal), the ideals of our state (Esse Quam Videri - to be rather than to seem; the state motto of North Carolina), ideals of community (e.g., traditional family values) or even our own personal ideals (e.g., to live and let live). Ideals have power. They set the bar against which our behavior, laws, economic and foreign policy are judged and to which, for those who have the capacity, implement these ideals.

The unfortunate reality, however, it that these ideals are rarely met and the most common explanation that I've been able to perceive for this failure is that "they are ideals to strive for but that we are flawed beings and achieving them is next to impossible". This explanation seems to emanate from the lips of religious folks and atheists alike. Scientists and lay people. As a person with a scientific, biological, evolutionary bent, this explanation is often couched in terms of a conflict between the ideals and our evolutionary past which is not necessarily conducive to achieving these goals. Crunch!

That is the sound of the reality of our evolutionary predilection for distrust of the unknown, ingroup, outgroup tendencies and our selfish genes slamming up against the ideals developed over hundreds or thousands of years of philosophical thought that attempts to answer the question of "What does uptopia look like?".

From my perspective, though, all is not lost. While I tend to agree with evolutionary explanations of why we behave the way we do, it is important to remember the naturalistic fallacy. Just because a behavior evolved to solve a particular adaptive problem does not make it right.
The interesting thing about evolution, idealism and reality is that they need not be mutually exclusive. We evolved the capacity for thought and from that our ability to dream for a better future. To create these ideals that seem to be the sin qua non for day to day living. Understanding our evolutionary past does not harm us or prevent us from achieving these ideals but instead provides a framework or starting point for developing effective strategies to achieve these ideals. Ignoring our evolutionary past will almost certainly result in a failure to achieve the ideals we hold so dear. Embracing it, understanding where our past could make achieving our ideals more difficult and developing strategies that circumvent or take advantage of our evolutionary predispositions to achieve these ideals is much more likely to move us closer to achieving these ideals. Don't fight our evolutionary past. Understand it and work WITH it. Ideals and reality need not be different.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ashamed and goaded

Ok Ok. I've tried this blogging thing before (starting in 2002) but it never got off the ground. One the technical side, there were no good blogger clients then, I was using a 56K modem and publishing via the web took too much time and just seemed like too much trouble. On the personal side, I was torn between being excited about leaving my mark (however insignificant) but then I thought it was really self-indulgent, geeky, and although I considered myself a bit of a technophile at the time, the fact that I couldn't get my blog client working to my satifaction grated on me and filled me with self doubt about my status as a true geek. If I couldn't get this stuff to work then how much of a geek was I? Self loathing and "cutting" ensued.

Well, I recently found out that a friend of mine started a blog and that too grated on my sensitive, easily bruised ego. How dare he successfull start a blog when mister geek boy could not! AArgh. The end result is that I'm giving it another go.

I don't know if I'll be nearly as adept at witty commentary as this friend of mine but I hope to at least spark an occasional involuntary twitch of the corners of the mouth every now and then.