Saturday, May 23, 2015

Arguing with people who know they're right

I try not to be drawn into pointless Facebook arguments, and it is never a wise idea to argue with anyone about religion. 

Yet I have become enmeshed in an unfolding and probably never ending dialogue with people who are extremely faithful Christians. My role has become "doubting Thomas" but a worse version, more like "Don't you see that your faith keeps you trapped in a thoughtless vacuum bubble Thomas." 

For example, one of these people, whom I will not name, posted a photo of a surgical team in an unnamed hospital engaging in a prayer circle. Perhaps it was a stock photo or staged for some reason. 

I took the bait and posted that if I saw nurses and surgeons at a hospital in which I was a patient performing such a rite, I would drag myself to another hospital. And rhetorically, I posed the question, "If you were in a hospital in which the surgeons danced weirdly with a monkey skull before your surgery would you be as sanguine?"

The point being, a show of familiar faith is one thing; a show of an unfamiliar faith is something different, and perhaps disturbing. Ultimately the idea was, could you imagine yourself as a Christian in a foreign non-Christian nation, undergoing surgery, and how would you feel is a heathen rite was performed on your behalf?

The response was purposely (I assume) obtuse. Was I against freedom of prayer? Was I not aware that the group in the photo was praying to God, not a monkey skull.  No one addressed my questions but that should not have surprised me.

If you believe you know the truth based on a 2,000-year-old book, or a story passed down from 2,000 years ago that seems like many other myths, then no argument can sway you. 

These's something about that frame of mind that I find frightening. What's the difference between being certain of Christianity and being certain of Islam?  Or, for that matter, any other absolutist philosophy, including Nazism, or Communism?  

So I swore on a Facebook of electrons not to engage in any more useless arguments with these people, some of whom are sort of obnoxiously all-knowing in a restricted claustrophobic kind of way.

Freedom of speech, as I posted, also means freedom from speech, which is as easy as killing a Facebook account. And eliminating a Facebook account is about as easy as obtaining a tour of North Korea's nuclear weapons plant. 

So, there you have it. Would Jesus be on Facebook, assuming he ever existed?

Umm, like, you know, right?

I was listening to Connecticut Public Radio one recent morning, during the long process of waking up and I was very impressed -- negatively -- by what I heard.

The discussion was extremely interesting and, I think, important. But some participants kept saying "you know."

Those on the radio who were professional  broadcasters typically spoke in full sentences and hardly ever used filler phrases such as "you know," "like," and so on.

Other people on the program (Wheelhouse, I believe it was) were "ya know"ing so much it made my head hurt. I am not a public speaker nor do I ever speak on radio, which is good, because I umm and hmm and uh just like everyone else.

However, I do not think I say "you know" as an all-purpose noun, preposition, semi-colon, or whatever it's being used as. I'll admit to using "like" occasionally, but I'm usually saying it for rhetorical effect, as in, "So, like, then he says, why do you have horns? And I go, you know, I'm like the devil," etc.

I am not an overzealous grammarian or  a person who diagrams sentences
 and I am aware that English usage does change over time.  

How hard is it to change one's speech to avoid saying "you know" every fifth or sixth word? That's the question. If it were as difficult as learning Latin, then I would understand why people in the communication biz say "you know" with abandon.

Otherwise, why not train yourself to stop saying "you know" constantly? You would sound better and way less irritating, especially for people who are just waking up. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gift of Love

Either  society is in its last days, everyone is getting older, or both.

Try looking through the Carol Wright Gifts catalogue and you'll see what I mean.

 First off, as in virtually all catalogues and magazine ads, the products being advertised are advertised by people without the condition that the advertisement is for. 

I should rephrase that. An add for wrinkle cream has a model without even a slight hint of a wrinkle who is possibly in her early 20s.  The potential consumers, however, actually have wrinkles and are probably much older.

This has always been the case, but now that I am wrinkled, crinkled and sprinkled, it makes more of an impression. Genie Slim-leggings, for example, are modeled on a woman who has perfectly shaped legs, hips and so on. 

Embroidered dresses for $22, which are probably intended for single elderly women, are shown on what can only be described as beautiful young women.  Then there is the ad for a gizmo to remove facial hair. She has as much hair as a balloon.

The fantastic nature of magazine ads and articles became clear to me several decades ago, when I was reading Men's Health. The people who write and otherwise produce it, suggest that its readers are young ambitious executive types who exercise like maniacs and have several opportunities with gorgeous women a few times a week.

It dawned on me that the magazine is a fantasy for paunchy old not-extremely successful guys who are married or who haven't had a date in the past 36 months. Coincidentally, like all of these magazines, the cover depends on lists, and these lists are always about sex, diet, and sex.

Ten ways to win her back; 8 things she cannot ignore; 11 ways to create bulging muscles, 9 ways to lose 8 pounds, 5 ways to make her understand you better, and so on.

A magazine editor actually confirmed all of this once in an unguarded moment. 

Anyway, we're leafing through the Gift catalogue, and we go from waist shapers for a woman who ways perhaps 110 pounds, to -- "maximum pleasure for him," a device once advertised in plain envelopes.  On the next page is "Men's Mood Pleaser."  To quote, "Get yourself in the mood with this soft, sensual stroker."  


Then a few more pages of knick knacks, cheap sheets, crew socks, and so forth, we get a double-truck spread (no pun there, really) on the amazing butterfly kiss, the maestro of strokers, pocket size pleasure kit (for her), and help strengthen your prostate (for him).  

Then it's back to therapeutic pillows, slipcovers, lanterns, mosquito killers, and armchair organizers.

Am I a naive prude? I don't think so.

 Nor do I think there's anything wrong with people over the age of 20 or 60 having sex, with or without a partner. I just did not expect to see these things so casually pitched in a catalogue for wrinkled, cheap,  bargain hunting overweight, self-conscious men and women. 

Live and learn, I guess. But if I had any young children, I would feel obligated to hide this catalogue, lest they learn about strokers, passion ribs, and other sex toys, from that dirty old lady, Carol Wright.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Slow down to avoid disaster

Decades from now the few who have the aptitude to read and the motivation to study history will be incredulous that people used to drive individual  un-linked vehicles.

"How could that possibly be true?" they will muse. 

By then light rail will handle most transportation and "automobiles" will no longer be autonomous. They will be sensibly guided by computers that will also record locations, trips, driving habits, and other personal information.

Meanwhile, drivers have lost any knowledge they ever had about the Newtonian physics that govern how wheeled vehicles operate on snow, ice, and other low-friction surfaces.  Think back to high school:  an object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest remains at rest; all of that stuff that your insane physics teacher directed at you without any context.

Sir Isaac Newton, a pretty unpleasant and strange character, and also a genius, created experimentally verifiable theories of gravity, motion, optics and even invented calculus. So independently did Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  Somehow mathematicians chose Leibniz's confusing notation.

Among Newton's accomplishments were his "laws" of mechanics, such as Force equals mass times acceleration; mass times velocity equals momentum, and the idea that potential energy was converted into kinetic energy at the rate of one-half of the product of mass and the square of velocity.

Newton also linked the dropping of apples (as the story goes) with why the moon orbits Earth, and correctly described the inverse square law of gravitational attraction and calculated the gravitational constant of Earth at 32 feet per second per second. 

These relatively simple laws were sufficient  to solve artillery firing solutions and guide Apollo to the moon and back. Albert Einstein's equally revolutionary theories of relativity supplanted Newton's laws, but many engineers and scientists continue to use Newton's far simpler formulae. Einsteins ideas take over at very high speeds and enormous masses.

Fortunately, cars cannot travel at even one millionth of a percent of the speed of light, because drivers apparently do not understand or appreciate that their vehicles must conform to the laws of physics. No, driving a 2-ton sports utility vehicle does not protect the driver from losing control on ice or allow him to stop any faster than a conventional car. 

The brakes of four-wheel drive vehicles are no more resistant to "slipperiness" than a two-wheel drive car. Moreover, even if they could, a vehicle that weighs double takes correspondingly higher forces to start and stop. 

Yet light trucks glide past you insouciantly on the interstate, spraying your windshield with sand, salt and slush. The sand is spread to increase friction between tires and road surface.

There are two types of friction: static (for example) would be pushing a heavy box down the driveway, and dynamic, the friction that rotating wheels experience. 

The odd properties of water further complicate winter driving. The melting point of frozen water drops under pressure. A car's mass, or weight, melts the surface of an ice patch, reducing the frictional coefficient of the ice.

Which is to state the obvious. Driving  safely on ice or snow simply requires a slower speed. That's all, basically. Simple. 

Problems can arise if the car's brakes lock, changing dynamic friction into static, and causing a skid. To avoid a skid, drive slowly and slow down before trying to stop. 

Ultimately, to avoid accidents, collisions, injury and so on, just drive slowly

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not that I'm bitter or anything


Brewing beer is fun and not terribly complicated. 

The mystery to me is why so many beers are almost too bitter to drink. 

Generally to home brew you need to like beer. Beer, however, encompasses hundreds of different ales, lagers, stouts, pilsners, wheat beers, Belgian beers, stouts, etc. 

Virtually all beers are made out of a handful of ingredients: malt of some type, yeast, water and hops. Spices, fruit, chocolate, and other odds and ends can also be added, if that's what you like.

Malting involves tricking barley (usually) into sprouting. The seed produces enzymes that break down starches (the seed's food supply) into simpler sugars that the growing plant will need. The brewer stops this processes after an enzyme in the barley breaks down the starches into maltose, fructose, glucose, and other mono- and disaccharides.

This is done so that the one-celled yeast fungi can consume the sugar and release carbon dioxide and ethanol as waste products. Make sense so far?


When beer was invented or discovered a long time ago, hops were unknown. The resulting drink probably would have tasted sweet and malty. In the 13th century, we are told, Europeans started to add hops, which to simplify, are flowers of the hops vine. 

Hops added bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt and acted as a preservative. Specifically hops contain acids which, when boiled, turn into bitter chemicals.

To summarize: you malt barley, boil it with hops, cool it down, add yeast, and in a few weeks you have beer.  If you have added a large amount of hops, you will have extremely bitter beer. That's pretty much what dominates are craft brewing industry(?) these days.

Why drink something that tastes like Paregoric? 

I cannot think of any other widely consumed food or beverage that is predominantly bitter. Bad coffee can be bitter. The human sense of taste has evolved to reject bitter flavors because bitter usually means "poison" or some other unpleasantness.

Bitterness in beer is measured in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. I'm not making this up. A beer like Coors could have about 10 IBU, give or take.  Below that and what you're drinking doesn't take a lot like beer.

At the other end of the brewing spectrum are concoctions like India Pale Ales, typically from the Northwest, that have IBU levels of 50, 60, 70 or even higher. Since the human sense of taste maxes out at about 50 or so IBUs, all of that extra bitterness is a marketing ploy.

Personally, I would not intentionally brew something that had 60 IBUs. My sense of taste is perhaps closer to 25 to 30, which in some circles would make me a beer wimp. So be it. 

If for some reason you crave bitterness, and assuming you've discussed this with your primary care provider, you simply need to buy some hops online steep them like tea, or maybe boil then, and there you are. No need for yeast, malt or any of that brewing stuff (Mash tuns, sparging, kegging, conditioning, and so on.)

I, on the other hand, like malt. So no "hop bombs" for me. The stuff that I brew barely contains any alcohol, and tastes kind of estery or fruity. 

But infinitely better than a 70-IBU slap in the tongue. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dead Man Networking

Linked In has its uses and many find it a powerful social tool.

However, it has a creepy side.

(I should say that not only a member of Linked In, I am a premiere member, meaning something or other).

A day or two ago, Linked In suggested that I congratulate a former colleague for a work anniversary. The problem: I was pretty sure the man was dead.

Why would Linked In suggest I communicate with a dead person? Maybe he's not dead. Perhaps I had misunderstood. So I sent him a congratulatory note. 

Then I called his listed phone number, half afraid that he would answer and I'd have to explain that I thought he had passed away but decided to call him anyway. After a few rings a woman answered and I apologized for my wrong number.

Then I Googled the guy. Sure enough, he was dead. He had succumbed to an autoimmune disease. However, his blog was still active and one of his final posts was a self-validating promise to fight and overcome the disease. I read it sadly.

How could Linked In sill consider him alive and well, and having a work anniversary? A buggy algorithm? Outdated information? He never informed Linked In that he had died. He probably had weightier matters on his mind. Besides, dead people cannot make Linked In entries. I assume.

This was all more than a little creepy, not to mention, pathetic. 

And what's up with Google and its blogging system? Doesn't Google know everything about us?

Didn't our virtual Big Brother notice that this particular person had stayed in the exact same spot for several years? That he had stopped using email, stopped shopping online, stopped purchasing books from Amazon, stopped bidding on eBay?

Should I look up "slow monkey brain virus" Google would hit me with ads for safaris. I would start receiving solicitations from Lumosity. You know how it all works.

How many other dead people are in Linked In, I wonder. How many messages have I sent to them? "Congratulations on working at self for 10 years!" (Should a member be self-employed Linked In terms them "working at 'self.'")

Will Linked In notice when I have hopped off this mortal coil? 

Perhaps when my payment for premium service runs into trouble at MasterCard. 

Because if MasterCard know anything, it's actuarial precision. If you pay the minimum amount on our debt at 30 percent APR, you will finish paying it back in 5,000 years at a cost of $ trillion.

What a bunch of sweethearts.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Can a Flat Bridge Be "Extradosed"?

The bridge over the Quinnipiac River may be more expensive  and less efficient than necessary.

This is certainly not my opinion because I am not an engineer or bridge designer.  This is the stated stand of the Structural Engineering Forum of India.

Before we get into that, what exactly is an "extradosed" bridge? Just because the state Department of Transportation calls the structure that in press releases, does not excuse publications that print the press releases from explaining.

To summarize, extradose is the outside measure of an arch. The inside curve is called, what else, the "intradose." Architecture is filled with esoteric names for things. Know what "ogee" means?

Architecturally, a Gothic arch with a peak is made out of two ogees. (right)

 "Ogive" describes the  shape of the nose of a rocket or a bullet. (below)


 There are dozens of words for different curves. The Sears-Hack Body, for instance, is a an aerodynamic shape that produces the least drag.

If you're sitting around with nothing to do, search "names of curves" on Google. 

Now, the bridge over the Quinnipiac does not seem to have much extradose, or extrados.

Extradose and iontradose
 In fact, it is a cable-stayed extradosed design. This looks superficially like a suspension bridge, but is fundamentally and physically different.

Suspension bridges use much larger towers to carry a thick "caternary" of cable. Smaller cables connected to the large one are connected to the bridge deck, holding it up. 

A cable-stayed bridge uses cables from shorter towers to connect directly to the bridge deck.  The cables also perform different work. Since they meet the deck at a low angle, they tend to add to the longitudinal strength of the bridge. 

Cable-stayed extradosed bridges have a box-girder bridge deck, but are thinner than  plain box-girder construction as typified by the old  Q bridge that is now being torn down.

The idea of cable-staying a bridge dates to the 19th century. Now cable-stayed exterdosed bridges are used because they require shorter towers, have less of a footprint than box-girder bridges, and they look kind of cool.

Lots of cable-stayed extradosed bridges have been built in Europe and Asia. Which brings us back to the Structural Engineering Forum of India. India has many of its own cable-stayed extradosed bridges.

Writing in October of 2012, Dr. Narayanan said:

Extradosed bridges are relatively expensive and material inefficient. Almost any span that could be bridged by an extradosed bridge could be spanned more inexpensively with a continuous girder, or more efficiently (but at even greater cost) with a cable-stayed. In most cases the spans are short enough that the use of cables at all is an aesthetic rather than engineering-necessitated choice. This does not imply that is a "bad" choice, since in some cases the difference in cost and efficiency is small, and the extradosed type is a very elegant form. 

This is one person's views, although Subramanian is the author of several books on the subjects of concrete, bridge design, and related topics. He probably knows as much as the people who designed and are carrying out the Quinnipiac project at glacial speed. 

So, there you have it.  Seems like whoever runs bridge construction in Connecticut could have saved money and perhaps decades, by building a new,  bigger  box-girder bridge than by selecting a nonsensically named "extradosed" design. 

Just food for thought as you negotiate the ever-changing lanes and soaring ramps of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.

 Let's hope it is finished while veterans of Pearl Harbor are still alive. 

Extrados(e) and intrados(e) turn up all over the place, including the design of airplane wings.