Friday, November 18, 2011

A list of things you may not have heard of (but will)

A list of things you may not have heard of (but will):

The singularity
The ether
Super gravity
G.K. Chesterton
Thomas Kuhn
Hans Van Meergen
Symmetric Groups
Jeremy Bentham
The Kuiper belts
The Van Allen Belts
The Anthropic Principle
Non-Euclidean Geometry
Quantum Computing
 A Tesla Coil
 Phlogiston theory
The Antikythera Mechanism
Monte Carlo Simulation
The Cloud
Commercial spider Silk
Equal Temperament
The Bernoulli principle

Monday, November 14, 2011

From a Rant in TechCrunch

The Android/Amazon/Apple battle is the same as the Apple/Windows battle: by comparing apples to oranges, they hide the fact that the systems are all garbage given what tech could be doing today. These companies don't want to give you a quality experience. They want to make money by making things as cheaply as possible and rolling through a twenty year backlog of technology as slowly as possible, making you purchase upgrade after upgrade. Capitalism has been put in slow motion by the ability of large companies to hire lawyers and threaten/execute litigation, effectively shutting out real innovations. Nothing new, I just get sick of people talking about how great their systems are. As proof of my argument, I offer the sad fact that actual user input has gotten stuck since the innovation of the mouse. My Kinect can do better at input than my phone or computer, but it excludes any kind of productivity. The same basically goes for Kindle Fire and Android, and to a lesser extent, the Ipad. We should have had Siri ten years ago. We should have AI right now. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft and Apple.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A modern version of HG Wells' "Green Wall"

Somewhere in my past, this color exists. I'm pretty sure it was on a guitar or car or otherwise very glossy surface. I had to recreate it because I can't find it anywhere. There also exists the same color, I know on cars, in a blue and also a gold. It is an unspeakable transparent glitter color that you would really have to see in 3D.

My point in bringing it up is that sometimes we see things that hit a part of our brains and make a mark. We carry that memory around. If it's a quote, ok, we can bring it back maybe by reading it. A color or a smell is much more difficult and subtle, because it is usually nameless. Sometimes we get hold of it and name it, like Parrish Blue, after the artist Maxfield Parrish. That helps, but you have to see it in person to really get it. Another example are the colors Vermeer used, which you have to see to understand. I think some of the colors in the movie Avatar are that way too.

When the memory of this red first came back, it startled me, because I could remember clearly my pleasure at seeing it but couldn't recall, (and still can't recall) the actual object that it was on. It was most likely a car or a guitar, but I really don't remember the object or where or when, just the color/texture.

You probably have similar memories in your head, maybe some you didn't even know were there. The reason I'm fascinated by this is because up until recently, I thought memory was linear and cohesive. It's not, at least once you hit 45 or so. Carlos Castaneda wrote about this, but I never really believed any of it. Now I do, having re-experienced the memory of the color above.

What does this have to do with the H.G. Wells story The Green Wall?

The story is about memories lost like this red texture/color. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Review: Moneyball

Around 2002, Billy Beane was the general manager for the Oakland A’s baseball club. Not having a budget like the New York Yankees, he couldn’t afford the popular players. So he came up with a different approach.

That’s the background for the unlikely likeable Moneyball. In the interest of saving you time, I’ll let you know this is not your typical sports movie. Sure, it’s got dramatic game play and team building, but there’s also a twelve year old girl in a music store, singing a song she wrote for her dad. We have a first base player who has never played first base, and a young economics graduate from Yale trying to explain baseball to a star hitter. And if that’s not enough, there are scenes of Oakland that proved to me some places out west are much less beautiful than good old Southwest Louisiana.

So just sit back and enjoy the show. Brad Pitt plays Billy, although another actor plays Beane’s younger self in flashbacks of his short career playing professional baseball. It turns out Billy was one of many rising stars that fizzled out before he got started. I was expecting a movie of goofy misfits coming together as a team, sort of a Longest Yard of baseball. Instead, we find ourselves looking into the heart and soul of a guy who the sport has swept up and left in the back corner, now manager of the poorest team in the country. His boss, the owner of the A’s, doesn’t care about winning the World Series. The guy just wants people to buy hot dogs and make him a profit. The trouble is, that’s not what Billy wants.

In one of a number of great scenes, he’s trying to trade a couple of players to the Cleveland Indians, when a heavyset college type (Jonah Hill) whispers something to an assistant manager and blows the whole deal. Later Billy confronts the young man and finds out that he has some crazy ideas about baseball. Billy listens. He can’t afford to buy star players, so he buys the kid’s contract. Together, they build a team centered on statistics: draft players who can get on base and get runs.

It turns out that no one in baseball runs a team this way. They all go after stars. Billy’s team is cheap. All of his players have flaws. But they have the ability to get on base, even if it’s by getting a walk.

The story could have been mundanely told. Instead it’s beautifully told. In fact, if I had a complaint, it’s that some of the scenes in Moneyball seem over directed, as if we’re supposed to see every scene as key to the whole movie. But you can’t deny that the movie sports some extremely subtle humor with commentary perfectly sprinkled throughout.

I’m mainly a guy who watches only Houston Astros baseball, and then only when they’re winning. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the human drama in Moneyball, the drama that comes from trying to reach a goal while trying to figure out what that goal is.

These days, to be rated PG-13, a movie has to be either violent or have vulgarity. The couple four letter words I heard seemed out of place, put in specifically to get the mature rating. Moneyball proves that you don’t have to have the charm of Brad Pitt to make it in baseball. But if you want to be a success, you may need to redefine what the word means as you go. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl

Yet another important book immediately spawned from WWII, my parent's generation, is Viktor Frankl's book about his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Doctor Frankl was a psychologist and survived the camps, largely through luck or Grace, certainly Grace for us who have the good fortune of his writing.

The details are not as grotesquely written as we are used to seeing these days, but they are alluded to in such matter-of-fact tone that the effect is chilling.

His message, which you can really only get from reading (I'm about halfway through) is this: Even in a concentration camp, with torture and death constantly at hand, even then, one can choose one's attitude. It's not easy, but it is possible. Frankl saw this with his own eyes as some of the prisoners chose the path of helping their fellow prisoners, even at risk to their own lives.

This is the hero's attitude turned inside out, and so foreign to us that we immediately think loser of anyone who takes it on. Sacrifice? You've got to be kidding me! Yet Frankl comes to the conclusion that it is this that kept some of the prisoners from the brink of giving in to suicide or worse, the slow death that comes from giving up. He observed that it was a difficult task, sometimes going against instinct, in the face of hunger, fear, sickness, and horror. In his own case, he decided to stay with a group of sick prisoners to help them when he could have escaped. It ended up saving his life. Luck? Yes, a random event if you will. Even so, he expounds on the claim that to do otherwise, to leave these men, would have been, for him, wrong. And that would have weakened his spirit, making feel even less human than his circumstances made him feel.

We all have this choice before us, every day. Do we follow instinct and inhumanely climb the ladder of self preservation, or do we stop along the way to give others a hand up or even a push from below them? Thoughtful reading this is, and I would recommend it to anyone from our era of having everything at hand, an era that could easily crumble into anarchy and decay.

What goes around - Arabian Nights

If you are among the millions who picked up all the Harry Potter Books including the Tales of Beadle the Bard, you may want to get The Thousand and One Nights, available for free at 

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of Scheherazade and realized that with all the stories I'd heard growing up, I never actually picked up the book. It turns out there's no definitive text, and there's more than one volume but the one here has the prologue, which is fascinating. You can also find an online version with a menu for navigation here.

 As we in the west continue to scratch our heads over the turmoils in the Middle East, perhaps reading some of their classic literature will help us to understand our fellow humans with more insight.

What J.K Rowling did, we should try to continue, that is, introducing children to the wonders of reading. There has never been a better time to do this than now, with kindles and other ereaders available to make book reading cool and in the case of the classics, free.

Perhaps one day we will again be a society that appreciates history and culture. Thanks for getting the ball rolling Ms. Rowling!