Sunday, January 31, 2010


I really like what Peter is doing with the blog. If there ever would be a theme to the blog, it could not be better than games. In this vein I was inspired to look up some of my old games. This one I developed as a project to learn Java, but we don't need the computer version to play. I call it "Betwixt." The rules are simple, just pick the item that is betwixt (in between) the others. There are three main headings: History, Measurement, and the ever fun Potpourri. I'll start off with one from each. You're on your honor not to look up answers until you have made your guess.

Category: American rebellions
a. Whiskey Rebellion
b. Shay's Rebellion
c. Bacon's Rebellion

Category: People killed in natural disasters
a. Johnstown flood of 1889
b. Great Chicago fire of 1871
c. San Francisco earthquake of 1906

Category: Portraits on U.S. currency denominations
a. Grover Cleveland
b. William McKinley
c. Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Screenings - The King of Comedy

Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Director: Martin Scorcese
Genre: Comedy Drama (1983)

This screening goes back a few years, but is perhaps more poignant now than when released. I recently saw "The King of Comedy" for the first time and was captivated. A very young Robert DeNiro is a very persistent, bordering on psychopathic, but friendly nobody, who wants to meet the reigning late night TV comedy host, Jerry Langford, played by an excellent Jerry Lewis (yes, I couldn't believe it either). This movie is very different—as in a very multi-layered drama subliminal to the comedy. It even pre-empts 'embarrassing comedy' which has become so fashionable today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everyone's Favorite Thing

I know Blog interest in the Quantum is about as large as a qubit, but I just wanted to offer this link to a decent article on Quantum Computing. Quantum Computing, using possible quantum states to analyze the problem simultaneously, is not one of those technologies that is (always) "5 years away" ™, but "50 years away." Still, simple (2 qubit) quantum computers exist, and Peter Shor, who gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon which I attended, is famous for Shor's algorithm, which allegedly can be used to break public-key cryptography using a quantum computer, if one was available.

The reason we have secure passwords is that software on classical computers cannot factor the products of large prime numbers fast enough. In 2010 (twenty ten, two thousand ten, or two oh one oh) a 232-digit number was factored using hundreds of (classical) computers over a span of 2 years. So someone breaking your password to your porn collection is probably (currently) not worth it. Anyway, enjoy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robertson -- a simple misunderstanding

Pat Robertson: Haiti?! I Thought They Said "Hades"
Televangelist Explains Misunderstanding

VIRGINIA BEACH (The Borowitz Report) - Just hours after saying that God was punishing Haiti for making a "pact with the Devil," televangelist Pat Robertson retracted the statement, telling TV viewers, "Haiti? I thought they said ‘Hades.'"

Rev. Robertson said that he had heard the report of the earthquake on the radio and had misinterpreted its location: "For the life of me, I thought God was punishing Hades, which does in fact have a pact with the Devil."

Apologizing for his "goof," the televangelist told his TV audience, "Golly - people must've thought I was being an insensitive asshole."


Obviously lots of organizations to donate to. Two that I personally know of and seem to do good work:
Partners in Progress, and FONKOZE.

Of course this all may be wasted effort according to Pat Robertson who blames troubles on Haitian revolutionary pact with Satan. (he also gets his Napoleon's mixed up).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When, Who, and What's My Line?

Welcome to "When, Who, and What's My Line" - the game where you guess the time, person and circumstances of the following line:

"From them appear how small are the real wants of human nature, which we Europeans have increased to an excess which would certainly appear incredible to these people could they be told it. Nor shall we cease to increase them as long as luxuries can be invented and riches found for the purchase of them; and how these luxuries degenerate into necessaries …."

All answers should contain one or more of the following:
1. Year when written
2. Person who wrote it (in this case the person is not well known so a short description of the person is acceptable)
3. Circumstances (what the line refers to, why it was written and/or any other historical context)

All winners will be judged on historical accuracy and/or imaginative thinking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why we are not Doomed

I could argue that there is no inherent good found in parallel thinking versus serial thinking because immoral choices could be made using both. However, the issue I have in Jim’s “Why we are doomed” post is mostly with tone. I disagree with following assertion that humanity’s lot hasn’t improved over time: “I was thinking about why we (mankind) haven't made all that much progress in human relations in the past millennium or so”.

Humanity today is far better off, on average, than it ever has been. Though progress is not necessarily inherently good (our ability to kill more efficiently, for instance), almost all progress is for the better. As Julian Simon says, “Our species is better off in just about every measurable material way…. The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards. "

Even as our ability to kill as grown exponentially, casualties of armed conflict has actually decreased. In Jim’s and my lifetime, we have experienced an era of peace that may only be rivaled by prehistory when the human population was so low, warfare didn’t exist. Over the past 60 years, worldwide deaths by warfare is approximately 800,000 per year (1 million deaths a year occur by car accidents). Compare this to the bloody Roman and Greek period, where 3.5-4 million a year were killed, or even compare it to the pre-state era (between 5,000-12,000 years ago) when 1 in 4 died from war illustrates this improvement.

The decrease in deaths as a result of warfare is not the only evidence of improvement. Worldwide literacy is at 82%, better than the zero percent a few thousand years ago. From the 1950s to today democracies have quadrupled (not arguing representative government is the best but they historically rarely fight each other and are more open to trading). Worldwide life expectancy has more than doubled when compared to a 100 years ago. Humanity has eradicated diseases, such as smallpox, which has killed more people in the 20th century than all wars in the 20th century combine. The world’s population has never been freer- slavery is at an all time low; minorities continually gain rights and freedoms across the globe.

Today’s world is a better place in every conceivable way compared to a 12,000, 1000, 100, even 50 years ago. The world’s population is safer, healthier, warmer, less hungry, wealthier, more educated and peaceful than ever before in the history of the human race.

That is not to say that the world is not a dangerous and terrible place for many, many people. There is, and always will be, huge room for improvement. But the historical evidence is promising: we have been progressing for the better ever since the day we climbed down from the jungle tree-tops and started walking around upright.

More specifically to Jim’s point- I agree quite a few antiquated evolutionary adaptations exist in the human brain, and that they need correcting (though not from serial to parallel thinking). Correcting genetic disposition for depression, or eliminating a jealous boyfriend’s desire to punch the guy his girlfriend is flirting with, would certainly be beneficial to the progress of mankind.

Into the Wild

This year at Prince Gallitzin.

3 cabins (6,6,8) Jan. 22-24. Bring your shovels.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why we are doomed

I was thinking about why we (mankind) haven't made all that much progress in human relations in the past millennium or so, and some of our discussions over the holidays. By 'human relations' I mean everything from law and government to talking with one another. We really are doomed to more or less waddle through our problems as we have been in the past. That is hardly a revelation, but I have come up with the reason: our brains. They are just not good enough.

I audited a course taught by Nobel Prize winner Herb Simon. Despite its fancy name the course was basically about our brains and how we think. He said that the brain was a serial machine, i.e. it can only process one piece of information at a time (as opposed to parallel processing). We were not allow to take notes in class since time spent writing would interrupt time spent listening. Others say this as well and, while I don't think that it is the last word, I think it is generally true. The popular 'multitasking' is actually switching very quickly from one thing to another.

And that's a shame. If I could hold two thoughts at the same time, I would be much better at discourse. I could hold two ideas at once—yours and mine—and really see how they fit together. I know…we can think about, compare, evaluate and synthesize ideas, but it seems that we continually think and talk in terms of THIS is how it is. If we could hold two somewhat contradictory ideas at once, I think the whole way of looking at the world would be different.

So until our brains evolve to parallel processing, we are doomed. (Well, unless, we can enlarge the 'compassionate' area of our brains.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the Desert by Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter – bitter", he answered,
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Screenings - Der Tunnel (The Tunnel)

Writer: Johannes W. Betz
Director: Roland Suso Richter
Genre: Thriller (2001)

Based on a true story of an attempt to bring friends and relatives from East to West Germany via a tunnel in Berlin, 1961. I hate it when they say 'based on a true story'; thankfully, this must be very loosely based. It is taut, engrossing, well paced—in the best Hollywood tradition—from Germany. Oh, you should also be well paced as it approaches 3 hours.