Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Default Setting for Anything is Fail.


50% of all businesses fail in the first year, 95% fail within the first five.  Genetic mutations more than often end in debilitation or death.  Scientists spend years failing before they can make a drug to cure a disease.  How any models were built before the Model T?  How many rockets blew up before someone made it go where they wanted it to?

The default setting for anything is failure.  It takes a significant amount of energy to get that setting to success.

Take the simple light bulb.  Its default setting is off, not producing light.  It takes energy to produce that light.  But think about it deeper.  How many different iterations did someone go through before they got a working light?  How many different types of filaments, gases, and coverings did that person have to go through before succeeding?  How much energy was put into that simple creation?

The electricity is the same way.  How many different ways did people go threw to produce it?  How many different storage and transportation methods were tested and rejected?  Look at the debate over AC vs. DC power to the home.  DC technically succeeded; there were towns powered by DC, but despite the advantages that DC brought, it failed to take hold.  Alternating current succeeded where direct current failed.

Most TV shows fail before they even get a pilot.  Most movies are rejected in the script stage.  Most books don't even get to the publisher.  It takes serious effort to make something that will survive to even be shown let alone succeed.

A continuation of this thought says that even things with the correct amount of energy/effort will fail unless the energy is put in the exact right place.

The TV show Firefly had all the effort required put into it to make it an amazing show.  The problem came when it was aired.  The effort was put into getting Fox to make it.  If the effort was put in to another channel, the show may still be airing.

The war on piracy has had enough effort put into it to end world hunger.  Why has it continuously failed?  The effort is being put into the wrong place.  If the effort was put into working around piracy, or even working with piracy, it would have succeeded by now.

Effort also requires the right time.

Fox may have been a perfect place for Firefly a few years before or a few years from now, but it wasn't then.

If the original Star Trek was created today, it would have failed miserably.  It's time was exactly when it was released.  And I'd qualify Star Trek as a success even though it only survived three seasons.

As much as I like Start Trek Enterprise, I think it's a failure.  It was a show after it's time.  If it was aired after the original series but before The Next Generation, it might have succeeded.  It was a good combination between TOS's "monster of the week" and "alien of the week" style and DS9's and Voyager's storytelling and character development.  It was a transitional series that aired after the transition was already made.

So what's the point of all this outside of a defense for Star Trek Enterprise?  Not much.  This is something everyone knew already.  "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."  "Right place at the right time."  I just don't think anyone has connected them this way before.

If you take anything from this I hope it's "when doing anything, hope to succeed but prepare to fail."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read the Manual (RTFM)

There is a stereotype around that men will not read the manual.  We see it on TV all the time.  A guy gets something from IKEA, he looks at the manual, and chucks it.  It's a TV stand, how hard could it be?  The next scene is inevitably the guy sitting his TV on the now built stand and everything collapsing.

I may get yelled at for this story, but here it goes.  My step dad got a new TV, a large LCD 1080p TV.  He has permanent gray bars on the sides making everything look like it's 4x9 instead of the 16x9 it should be.  I went down there a while ago and casually said "you've just got to check the manual and you can take care of that problem."  Several weeks latter I went back down and the bars were still there.  From what my mother tells me, not reading the manual is a common thing for him.

This kind of thinking can be seen elsewhere.  How many of you know someone who refuses to ask for directions?  This comes from an innate fear of showing weakness.  If you have to ask for help by asking directions or reading the manual then you show that you lack in some way.  This probably comes from way back in the day when man was fighting the tigers for dinner.  If you hesitated or showed weakness, you were probably dead.

In the modern times, this way of thinking needs to end.  Yes, asking for help will show that you are lacking somewhere, but if you ask for help it shows that you are also willing to improve yourself.  If you ask for and get directions, suddenly you're not lacking in that area any more.  If you read the manual, you now know more then you did before.  And that is where the human strength lies; not in our muscles, but our minds.  Anything we can do to improve our minds increases our strength.

There are advantages to reading manuals.  Even if you know exactly how to use the new item you just picked up, reading the manual can teach you the little things you may not have learned just by poking at it.  Look at something like Adobe Premature, an insanely complex program, but you could learn it just by poking at it.  However, if you read the manual you learn the little things that can't be found just by poking, and you're better for it.

There are also disadvantages to reading manuals.  Sometimes they're wrong.  I got a riding mower a little while ago.  The first thing I did, even before I got it home, was read the manual.  There wasn't anything in there I wouldn't have learned just by poking at it, but in the long run it was much faster.  The problem came when I tried to turn the engine over for the first time.  The manual said to make sure the throttle was set to turtle, the accessory transmission was disengaged, and turn the key.  I did that and nothing happened.  Turns out the throttle needed to be in the exact opposite position, up past the rabbit where the choke is.  It wasn't labeled, but I would have figured it out fairly quickly if I hadn't read the manual.  Luckily the nice lady from down the street, who knows more about that kind of thing then I do, happened to drive down the street at that moment and pointed out what I did wrong.

So don't be afraid to ask for help, don't be afraid to read the manual.  It'll make you a better person and possibly save your TV.

As with most everything I write, this should not be taken as proof of anything.  I just go with what I see and think up things from there.  I have no scientific evidence or background.  The reason why may not be 100% accurate, but the advice is still useful.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Get to the Source of the Problem.

I may have written some things in the past that should have been obvious to most people, and this one is going to be the biggest "No s**t Sherlock" post I hope to ever write.  But from what I see day in and day out, it needs to be written.  I ask that you go out of your way to let others know, not to get more views, but to get more people reading this (not so) common sense.

Let's say you have a car.  It's an older car, but you love it.  One day the battery dies.  You jump it and let the engine run for an hour like you should to recharge the battery, but the second you turn off the car, the battery can't turn the engine over again.  OK, so you go out to the store and buy a new one.  The car runs great again, for two days.  Suddenly the battery won't hold a charge again.  Well, maybe it was a dud battery, so you go out and buy another one.  The car runs great again, for two more days.  Now you have a choice, keep buying new batteries every two days, or get to the source of the problem.

Now, most normal people would look deeper into the problem after the second battery died, but there seems to be a small subset of people who would just keep buying batteries over and over again.

For example, New York just passed a law to ban larger sodas in restaurants.  The idea is that people will get smaller drinks, drink less and not get as fat.  Thus NY won't have the child obesity problem any more.

Now, I'm only going to say one thing on this obesity problem.  Next time you go out shopping, count the number of skinny people and then the number of obese people.  Not the people who could stand to lose 5lbs, or the people who you think might be fat, but the actual obese people.  While you're doing that, count the rest.  I did that once and came up with over 100 normal people and 5 obese.  Now, I know this is anecdotal evidence.  I don't have enough information to do things scientifically, so that is all I'm going to say on the matter.  Who knows, maybe I live in the one and only city of 2 million+ people who doesn't have an obesity problem.

Now, let's throw a few simple facts out there.  1) soda doesn't provide enough of anything to get someone fat on it's own.  2) caffeine is an appetite suppressant.  I know that if I drink a 20oz bottle of Mt Dew I won't be hungry for a while.  Even when I am hungry, I eat considerably less then I would without the drink.  I was confused about that so I asked a nurse, that's where I learned that caffeine will suppress your appetite.

So, assuming we do have an obesity problem, if soda isn't the problem, what is?  Well, if we look at something called the Twinkie diet we can see that it's not what you eat, but how much.  For those who don't want to click the link I'll sum it up.  A scientist was trying to lose weight and was failing with the traditional ways (weight watchers and the like).  He thought that it was due to the fact that he was eating more on the diets then before.  So he tried an experiment.  He focused not on what he was eating, but how much.  He lost 27lbs and went from overweight to normal.

So if it's not what we eat then the problem is how much.  How did that come to be?  One theory is the "Clean your plate" lesson you were taught as a child.  We learned from a young age that we must eat all the food that's put in front of us.  Another theory is that we simply allow ourselves and our children to eat that much.

So, I would like to introduce my new diet plan, it's called the Willpower Plan.  Just don't eat as much.  All it takes is willpower, something the human race has shown time and time again it has in abundance.  We have shown that threw shear force of will we can do some amazing and horrifying things.  You have the power within you, just do it.

Hay, there we go, we just solved two problems at once.  No more obesity problem and no more stupid laws that just waist tax payer money on non-solutions.

Note: While exercising and eating less will let you lose weight and become more healthy (Take a proper vitamin supplement so you don't have other problems), it cannot change your body type.  Odds are you will not be able to look like Schwarzenegger in his prime, but you will look and feel better.

On a (possibly paranoid) tangent: This law is a problem.  It doesn't do anything, it just costs money.  Is the law the source of the problem?  Is the goal to stop obesity the source of the problem?  Well, I would guess no.  Passing this law won't do anything and even the people who support this law know that.  The supporters of this law point out that you can just go to a grocery store and buy a two liter.  Well there's where the law fails.  It's not going to stop anything because there are too many other legal options.

So why does this law even exist if everyone knows it won't work?  It's a steppingstone law.  The next law will ban a little more, then a little more after that, and so on and so forth.  So is the source of the problem that is this law just incompetence, willful ignorance, or something much worse?

No matter what the source of the problem is, micro managing our lives will cause much bigger problems for everybody.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Opposite of Love is not Hate.

Many people believe that the opposite of love is hate, and it makes sense.  Love is basically wanting to be with someone forever, hoping they have a long and happy life (OK, it's a hell of a lot more complex then that, but I'm trying to keep it simple).  What could possibly be more opposite to that then wanting to see someone burn in a fire?  While it seems logical that hate is on the opposite side of the emotional scale then love, the logic wasn't taken far enough.

The exact opposite of love is indifference; not an emotion, but the lack of one.  Think about it, if you love someone and then they screw you over to the point you hate them, you're still thinking about them.  You're still taking up some of your time with them.  To be indifferent, you have to completely let them go, to just not have them in your life.  What could possibly be more opposite to love then that?

In situations where there is no chance for the love to come back, skipping hate and going to indifference has some noticeable advantages.  For example, you're moving on with your life, you have a chance for something better.  You're taking the moral high ground.  If they're incapable of going to indifference, you get the added bonus of pissing them off that much more.

This isn't just for your love life, it can be used for much more.  For example (and the point of this post) if you don't like a company's actions (say they tried to force the government to pass SOPA), don't download their stuff, just don't deal with them.  Yes, I am advocating the complete destruction of digital piracy.  Don't download, don't buy, don't even talk about their stuff.  If it comes up in conversation, let people know exactly why you don't deal with them and then move on to the next topic.  (You can, and should oppose bills like SOPA, ACTA, TPP, and the like.  You're not indifferent to your representatives.)

We can get all three of the benefits of indifference in this situation.  Our time is no longer taken up by that thing, you now have the opportunity to find better things.  You get the moral high ground, you're not a "filthy, rotten, dirty, pirate freeloader" (and in this situation they're the assholes trying to remove your rights).  You also get to piss them off to no end.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing worse for a company then obscurity.

There's a reason why boycotts work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Accepting Reality - All of it.

A little while ago I posted about accepting reality.  For the most part, I stand beside that post.  We need to accept reality when it hits us in the face.  But, there's another part to it.  We can't just accept one peace of reality  we have to accept it all.

One of my commenters, Rose M. Welch, pointed out that she didn't want to be judged by how well she can walk in high heels.  Realistically speaking, walking in high heels means nothing.  Judging someone by something like that is pointless and ignores much of reality behind those heels.  I know little about Rose, just what I read in her posts, but she seems fairly intelligent.  Paying attention to just the heels ignores that fact.

The opposite can also be true.  Say someone (no longer talking about Rose here) is walking down the road and they're doing a damn good job of it in heels.  What if that person is a gold digger?  Oh, she'll hit on you, she'll say she loves you, but all she's just waiting around for you to die to get your money (possibly expediting the process).  I'm sure that's a reality most people would want to know about.

This is why judging someone on looks is pointless and often counterproductive.  Yes, they may have a different skin color, different hair color, different cloths, but what does that all mean?  Realistically speaking, not much, at least not much useful.

There are times when you can't get all of reality.  In those situations, you have to accept the reality that you don't know.  Say you're out driving and someone in front of you is driving really slowly.  We have two peaces of reality here; 1) they're in front of you and 2) they're slow.  But, we don't have the important peace of reality, we don't have the answer to the question Why.  Are they driving slowly because they're new to driving (probably a good thing to ease one's self into driving)?  Are they driving slowly due to an inability to drive properly (probably shouldn't be on the road)?  Are they driving slowly because they're trying to get a passenger to the hospital without shaking them to peaces?  You don't know, so you probably shouldn't judge.

Granted, in that last example, if they're a hazard on the road (you don't go 25 in a 65mph zone, that can cause more problems), then since you don't know you should probably not squeal tire around them, flip them off, and shout a string of obscenities that would make a sailor blush.

This concept is also why the system of law is suppose to be so slow.  It allows time for people to cool off and allow all of reality to come forth. "Do you solemnly state to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?"  There's a reason that middle part is there.  There is also a reason why one of our founding fathers said "I'd rather see 10 guilty men go free then one innocent man in jail."  They understood that we can't always see all of reality and that we should understand that and not punish someone for us not knowing.

So, next time you hear someone being arrested for some horrible crime, remember that you don't know all of the reality, nor does the court.  That is why there is a trial, an attempt to get all of the reality, all of the truth.  So don't judge them until they are convicted (even then, question it at least some).  You never know, they may have been framed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Mulit-World Theory

There is a theory in quantum physics that states for every possible outcome of a situation an alternate timeline is created with that outcome.  For example, say you're walking up to a banana peal.  In the fraction of a second you both step on the peal and step over the peal.  So, going into one situation, two realities exited.  Actually many more realities then two were created, but I'm just trying to keep it simple.

A common misconception of the Multi-World Theory is that an infinite number of realities comes out of any situation.  A common description is; you walk up to the banana peal and instead of stepping over the peal or slipping on it, you sprout a third arm.  This does not happen.  It is not physically possible for you to sprout a third arm so that reality is never split off.

So, following that logic, we can determine that there is a finite number of realities that can split from one situation.  Continuing that logic, if the Multi-World Theory is correct, there are a finite number of alternate realities.  While the number of realities would be astronomical, it would still be finite.

So that reality where you're a small, blue alien with antennae is probably not out there.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hype Can Kill

Everyone knows that when you release a new product, you want good first day sales.  You want to come out of the gate running and just keep going.  How do you do that?  Hype.  You see it all the time with movies and video games.  "Coming Soon" is common common place.

Too little hype and nothing happens, but what happens when you're on the other end of the scale?

Think of the game Duke Nukem Forever.   12 years this game was in development, 12 years people were talking about it.  We had pictures, game footage, trailers, Q&A from developers.  By the time the game was released, the Hype was outrageous.  The number one vaporware game was about to actually be released, holy crap.   But when it came out it met poor reviews and sales tanked.  No one liked the game.  How did this happen?

Well to tell that, we have to compare the game to it's predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D.  It was a vulgar with swearing, nudity, drug use, and violence.  People loved it, it's a classic.  DNF was just as good, if not better then DN3D.  It fit perfectly with the style.  DNF was exactly what you would expect if someone make a Duke game 12 years latter.  So how did it fail?

The hype.  There was so much hype that it was physically impossible to live up to it.  No human could make a game that lived up to that kind of hype.

Same thing happened to Halo 3.  The commercials were amazing.  They told a story of humanity struggling to survive.  There was so much emotion, so much loss that you could almost think the world was actually on the brink.  But then the game came out and it was just a shoot-em-up.  Compared to Halo 1 or Halo 2, it was a great game.  Compared to the hype, it sucked.

Now, on to the point: Doctor Who?

Ever since the new Doctor Who started to air, the true name of the doctor was displayed as some kind of dark and scary thing.  Something that could change entire worlds at just the mere utterance.  "The question will be asked at the fall of the eleventh."  "Silence must fall when the question is asked."  "Do you want to know what the question is?  Doctor Who?"

I could keep going.  The Doctor himself explained to Martha Jones that names have power.  The director said that they intentionally made the name this mysterious and dangerous thing from the beginning of the ninth doctor.

There is so much mystery, so much emotion, so much hype around the name and what will happen when the question is asked; is it even physically possible for Matt Smith's reign as the Doctor to end on a high note?

Long story short: beware how much hype is in the market.  Too much and it will crush you.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

It's what's on the outside that counts

Everyone's heard the phrase "It's what's on the inside that counts".  I disagree.  If it was what's on the inside that counts, lots of people would be in different places then where they are now.  If the inside mattered that much, a lot of the 1%ers would probably be poor broke and homeless.  If the inside mattered, a lot of the people I see just walking down the street would be happier and better off then they are.

What matters is what's on the outside.  How you present yourself to the world reflects in how the world treats you.  Act nice to people and odds are people will act nice back.  Act shifty, evil, or just all around mean to others and others will probably just stay away from you (and solidarity, in general, is not good for a social animal like a human).

This doesn't just matter when it comes to reflecting a trait.  If you're the nice to people around you, but you don't take care of yourself, don't clean yourself, and don't follow social norms people probably still won't like you.

As much as I hate the concept of social norms and judging someone on external appearances, it's a reality that we have to face.  You will be judged by the cloths you wear or your hair style.  You will be judged by the things you say and do.  It's a fact and must be treated as such.

Basically, I'm trying to say do what you can to make your appearance better and it will help make your life better.  If you also try to help others make their lives better, it will help make your life even better.

Note: This is not to condone prejudice based on skin color or gender.  There's plenty of legitimate reasons to not like someone, we don't need to be making things up.  One good reason, in my opinion, is someone else basing their judgment on skin color or gender (That's a damn good reason not to like someone).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Accepting Reality

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to stop everything that they're doing, look at themselves, and accept that this is the reality that they have.  Some people know this as a mid-life crisis.

When you're done reading this sentence, stop, look at your life, look at all the little details, and accept the reality of it.  No, seriously, do that and then come back to reading this.  Are you fat, are you skinny?  Are you employed?  Is there a special someone in your life?  Now, take these facts, all of them, and accept them as reality.  Hiding from reality does no good.

Now, you have a choice.  Will you take these realities and make something of them, or will you go back into denial?

Are you fat?  Are you OK with it or do you feel bad about it?  If you're OK with it, then I'm happy for you, far too few people are happy with how they look.  If you feel bad about it, accept that you feel bad about it and do something about it.  But, doing this means you have to accept another reality.  You will never be supermodel skinny, never.  You were made that way by God or jeans or whatever, you are what you are.  You can be fit, you can be intimidating, but you will never be skin and bones.  Accept it and move on.

Are you employed?  Do you like your job?  No?  Chances are, you're stuck there.  You can quit and try to find a new job, but odds are you won't find one any better then your current one.  Accept the reality that your in and go with it.  If you can find a better job, go for it.  But if you can't, accept that you can't and make the best of it (or you'll be forced to try and find a better job).

Now, here's the point of this rant.  If you're a musician, if you make a TV show, if you make a movie, your stuff will be pirated.  It is a reality of our era.  It's a reality of all eras, we just seem to have forgotten it.  You can bitch and moan, you can threaten to stop making things until it's stopped, you can bitch to the President of the United States, you can even try to pass laws that remove the rights of others, but you will never stop this reality.  It is what it is, it's a fact, accept it and move along.

And that's all I really have to say.  Accept reality for what it is.  If you can change it, change it for the better.  If you can't, accept that reality and move along.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The theory of Evolution and why it does not conflict with the idea of God.

Before I begin I would like to make a few things clear.

One:  I believe in God, or at least a higher being that created us.  To me, it's the only logical answer.  I believe it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said "An infinite string of finite events cannot be started by a finite event."

Two: Evolution does not disprove the existence of God.  It never has, never will, and can't.  It only explains how, not who or why.

Three: The theory of evolution is a theory in the same way as the theory of gravity.  It's a scientific theory or "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment."

Now, on with the show.

When we think of evolution we think of that picture of a fish turning into an ape turning into man.  This picture, while accurate, is so incomplete that it tells you nothing about how evolution works.  Evolution, while simple, is insanely hard to understand.  It is the combination of random chance and inevitability.

Let's start with something simple, the Biston Peppered Moth.  Now, this actually happened, we saw this happen.  The peppered moth is a light colored moth with the ability to blend into the light colored trees.  Standard camouflage, common in nature.  When the industrial revolution came around, pollution caused the trees to get dark splotches.  This caused the moths to stand out on the trees and start getting picked off by predators.  There were other moths of the same family but they were darker.  They blended into the dirty trees and thrived.

This is how evolution works on a small scale, or as it's commonly known "Survival of the Fittest".  One special trait gives one animal an advantage over another.  This could be species wide, a random mutation, or a combination of traits from the parents.  This animal ether survives where the other does not, or is determined a better mate then the other.  Thus that animal is allowed to mate and pass on it's advantage to it's children.

Now, don't get confused, this is not a directed path, there is no goal when this happens, there is not higher level we're going towards.  A bad trait can be passed on as well.  Sometimes it results in the death of the animal, thus the trait cannot be passed on.  Sometimes the trait survives, this is how we get the oddities we have in the human body.  Why do we have a gallbladder if all it seems to do is make us sick?  It's just a leftover, and now detrimental, trait from our past.

Now, take this "Survival of the Fittest" and extend it over millions of years.  It's completely logical that external appearances can change.  This is why humans come in different colors.  In an environment with lots of sun and heat, darker skin color helps people live.  Where there are lots of clouds, or it's cold so people are covered up a lot and not directly exposed to the sun, the darker skin wasn't required, thus they didn't get that advantage.

It's logical that one group of the same species could evolve in a completely different direction then another group of the same species due to different environments.  Given enough time they may not even be able to mate any more.  Think of the horse and the zebra.  Same kind of animal, they can mate, but their offspring are sterile.  It won't be long before they couldn't at all.

Now, I did hear a logical question come up just today.  It was followed up by an idiotic example, but the original question was logical.  How did they make the switch between asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction.  The example was a dog splitting in half to reproduce.  This is idiotic due to it being a hypothetical not in any way related to what is being hypothesized.  A being that complex would never split in half to reproduce asexually.  It would be done like some insects.  They can fertilize themselves and give birth to an exact genetic duplicate of themselves.  This is how asexual reproduction is done in complex life forms.

To answer the question, you have to look much further back in evolution.  Back when multi-celled organisms were really only multi-celled due to it being advantages to be in a group.  Strength in numbers.  While this change was not genetic, it was still a part of evolution.  Back then the organism could divide by splitting itself in half.  Just like a group of 20 people could go in two directions by having ten go one way and ten going another.  The cells were able to exist independently, they just liked hanging out together.

The concept of internal reproduction came around when cells started specializing.  Before, they were all the same and existed in such a simple form that it allowed all cells to touch the environment around them, the water.  This is how they gathered nutrients, directly from the water.  As these organisms started hanging out in bigger and bigger groups, this turned out not to be possible.  That's when cells started to specialize.  Some cells started passing nutrients onto the cells beside them, and thus was born a rudimentary digestive system.  Threw this same kind of specialization, internal reproduction was born (so to speak).

After that it became advantages to share experiences.  That multi-celled organism over there went threw different trials and grew stronger in a different way then this multi-celled organism.  Now, they couldn't just tell each other, they weren't sentient.  They could only do it by sharing genetic code.  And thus sexual reproduction was born.

Now, we've covered the basics (and by basics, I mean the absolute basics) of evolution.  There's a lot of chance going on here, lots of chance.  What really are the odds that something like this would happen?  Million to one, trillion to one, higher?  Think of this, space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is, so big that the introduction to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy doesn't come anywhere near close enough to describing it.  It's so big that mathematically speaking, just by random chance there's an exact clone of you walking around somewhere else in the universe.

There are so many stars in the sky, so many planets around those stars, the question shouldn't be "what are the odds this happened?", a better question would be "what are the odds this wouldn't happen?"

I would like to point out again that all this, all the real study of evolution by people way the hell smarter then me, only answers the question of how (in my opinion, the easiest question to answer).  This does not answer the question of who or why.  This is where religion comes in.

I know what you're saying, the Bible says God snapped his fingers and suddenly man existed.  Think of this, what do you tell your child when he or she asks where babies come from?  Do you explain to them the complex concept of sexual reproduction, cell division, and birth?  No, you tell them a stork drops it off.  The child doesn't have the mental capacity to understand a concept like reproduction.  Now think of this, we barely have the mental capacity to understand evolution, we don't have the mental capacity to understand life.  Would God waste his/her time explaining the complex path he took to create the universe, the stars, the planets, and cells to someone who just would never be able to understand it?  No, God would know better. He would just explain it simply, he snapped his fingers and it happened.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Six Questions of learning

We all know the six questions, we've heard them all our life: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.  Who did something, What that something was, Where that something was done, When that something was, Why that something happened, and How that something happened.  If you can answer all six of those questions, you know that something.

Since these questions are about learning something and the pinnacle of the desire to learn something was the Moon landing, let's apply those questions to that.

Who: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

What: well, Neil and Buzz landed on the Moon and Michael stayed in orbit until the other two returned.

Where: The Moon, or more specifically Tranquility Base.

When: July 20th 1969 at 20:17 UTC.

How: Lot's of paper, pencils, slide rules, and way more balls then I will ever have.  I don't know specifically how they did it, I know I'm not smart enough to understand the maths involved.

Why: Now here's the big question.  While I could easily look up the equations that sent people to the Moon, to truly understand why they went I would have to look much deeper then just what they did while they were there.  Why did they do those tests?  What was it that they wanted to learn that caused them to spend millions of dollars and many years to shoot three people in a tin can 238,900 miles away from home?

All of these questions would have to be answered dozens of times to fully understand the Moon landing, but if they could, the person who answered them would be an expert.  That person would truly understand the Moon landing.

What does this all have to do with learning?  We all go threw those questions when we learn.  Who is doing the thing: Mom.  What is she doing: walking.  Where: right in front of me.  When: Ever since I was born.  How: One foot in front of the other.  Why: it's faster then crawling.

While it takes a little while for a child to fully understand the how part, it's the why that's important.  What would be the point of walking if the why question could not be answered?

And that brings us to the point: The why question is the most important question in learning.  When we start understanding why things do what they do, we can start putting them together with other things in ways no one thought of before.  If we just understand the statistics, the (who what where when and how), we only know they work in ways that have already been done.

We know what E=MC² is.  Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, but why is it?  Why is the speed of light squared?  Why is the speed of light in there at all?  If you can understand the why, you can understand the equation.

Now, think back to when you were in school.  Several years ago, yesterday possibly.  How many times did you learn the why question?  How many times were you given the information and just told to accept it as is?

I can kinda think of a perfect example from my school days.  I don't remember the equation from my Algebra II class, but I remember asking why there was a 1 added into the equation.  I was told just to accept it as fact and move on.  Well, obviously I didn't learn the equation as I don't remember it now, but I do remember asking why.  So I would remember the equation today if my question was answered.

And that's where we need to start focusing education.  As it stands right now, teachers teach to the tests.  We are forced to memorize facts and statistics.  We have learned to cram for tests, to remember things long enough to pass and then move on.  If we started teaching to the why question, our students would learn more and retain it better.

Why is that?  The human mind cannot store massive amounts of facts, it just can't.  We were designed to focus on what is in front of us and then remember the general details of the thing.  Don't go over there, there's a tiger pride over there.  The details (the who, where, when, how) are lost and only the underlying reason is left.  The why question is the underlying reason, it's the information we are built to learn.

Always ask why.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The five steps of purchasing

When we go shopping we usually look at 5 traits of an item:

Manufacturer - Who made it?

Aesthetics - Does it look pretty?

Price - It costs how much?

Quality - Will it last the 5 years I plan on using it?

Compatibility - Will it do what I need it to do?

From what I understand, most people shop in that order.  When you go shopping for a bag, do you think "I need one with at least a dozen pockets", or do you think "I want a Giusy bag" (or whatever the fashion is today)?  When you need a pair of jeans, do you go to Goodwill because you just need something to cover your ass, or do you go to Old Navy?

The same can be said for other things as well.  If you need an MP3 player, well Apple's the obvious choice.  If you need a tablet, Apple again.  If you need a desktop, Windows.

But this is the wrong way of thinking.  The vary first question you should ask yourself when buying anything is "What do I want it to do for me?"  Do you need a computer that can play games, or does it need to do spreadsheets?  Do you just need one to surf the web?  Will a small screen work for you, or do you need a 67"?

Then you look at Quality.  Will those jeans last you a few years, or will you be forced to buy new ones in a month?  Will that computer run for a while, or will it catch on fire and burn your house down tomorrow?

Price is a big one.  We have say 25 items that are compatible with us and have the quality we need.  The price ranges from $200 netbook, to a $2,000 desktop.  In that event, the lower end of the spectrum is probably the way to go.

Then we can start thinking about what it looks like and what the name on the box says about us.  There is absolutely no point in buying a nice shiny, smooth Apple laptop if you're just going to be surfing the web.  Yes, an Apple laptop can, but if that's all you're going to do, why spend that much more money (unless the pretty is that much more important to you)?

The problem that comes up in those steps is with Quality.  Because we live in linear time, quality cannot be determined by looking at the item sitting on the store shelf.  It can only be guessed at by looking at the history of the model and manufacturer.  Have the people that had it before killed it inside a week?  Has the company been in the news because the BBB is investigating accusations of a shit product?

Yes, the steps can sometimes mix, but the most important part of shopping for anything is: Will it do what you want it to do.  Remember that when you're looking at the flashy ads for items you don't really need.



Note: this is just something I thought up a few minutes ago, it's not to be taken too seriously and definitively not as an insult to anyone for their shopping habits.  If you go shopping for a bag and all you care about is the name, then that is your compatibility.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the Long Dream: Chapter 3

 The Illusion of Control

I walked back to the cave with an extra bounce in my step.  The hunt was a success and my spoils of victory were several chunks of pork.  If I had tried to do this yesterday, I would have come back empty handed.  Defeating demons changes you.

In front of the cave was a sheep eating the burnt grass.  As I approached, it looked at me and bleated happily.

“Frank, is that you?  I figured you wouldn’t come back.”

The sheep bleated again and went back to eating grass.  I felt bad about scaring him off the way I did.  My fear had transformed a friend in my eyes to the embodiment of what I hated.  But now that there was no fear, he was a friend again.  He didn’t seem to be too upset about it though.

I walked into the cave and put the hunks of pork down on the wooden bench.  Now was the time to work on the problem that was bothering me the entire way back to the cave.  How was I going to store this?  I can’t just let raw pork sit out in the open, it’ll rot, or attract things I don’t want.

I could cook them, but that wouldn’t work for long.  I didn’t have any salt, so I couldn’t pack them.  I looked around the cave hoping for inspiration and my eyes came to rest on the holes still in the cave wall.  The cracks kinda looked like a stove.  That was it, I could smoke the meat.  I could make a stove out of what was left of the wall, there were few trees, but I could get enough wood.  I even have a vague idea how to do it.

I hammered out the wall and put together an improvised stove.  I grabbed a bunch of wood and soaked it in the river.  Before long I was watching the stove do it’s thing.

Not ten minutes latter I was outside the cave coughing my lungs out.  That’s something I hadn’t noticed with the small torches, there’s no ventilation in the cave. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In The Long Dream: Chapter 2

The Dreamer or the Dream

I woke to to a warm feeling under my head.  Some time in the night the sheep had curled up closer to me and I was using it as a pillow.  I wondered why this sheep was so relaxed around me.  It didn’t know me, it had no reason to trust me.  Hell, yesterday I was thinking about eating it.

Putting the thought aside, I sat up and stretched.  Several pops echoed in the small space.  I may be well rested for the first time in days, but sleeping on the hard floor is still bad for your back.

There was a lot of light in my little cave, but only darkness could be seen threw the window in the door.  Looking around for the source of the light, I saw that my torch, the one I had put up the day before, was still lit.  I stared at it for several minutes trying to wrap my head around how something so small could burn for so long.

There’s something definitely wrong about this place.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Windows 8 is Microsoft's somewhat anticipated, somewhat dreaded sequel to Windows 7.  There have been mixed reviews to the changes to match a more tablet friendly market, mostly the new Metro style start menu.  The Consumer Preview can be downloaded here for the USB install or here for the ISO.  From the looks of the URLs, it seems that Microsoft may be going away from the DVD format for the installer, favoring USB thumb drives.  Good, I don't think I've had a burnable DVD in this house for two years.

A little background:  I have been working with Windows since 3.1.  I have experience with personal installs up to large business networks.  I even have a Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory domain running at home.  I have been playing with the beta versions since I found out I could when my dad gave me Windows XP beta.  With all that, I guess I could be qualified as an expert.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In The Long Dream: Chapter 1

The fear of being awake.

I opened my eyes to a blue sky and white clouds. The wind rustled the leaves bringing with it the smell of apple trees. The sun was rising to my left warming my skin. I could feel the soft grass under my hands. It was a perfect day, one of those days that are usually only seen in movies and video games.

Something wasn't right.  Sitting up, I looked around.  This wasn’t my room, where was I?  Grass was all around with a few trees here and there.  A river bubbled quietly to my left and a small cave in a hill to my right.  I stood up and turned around.  Behind me was much the same, a flat prairie ending in hills about a mile away.

Climbing the nearby hill, I looked around to see if I could find any sign of civilization.  There was nothing around, no sign of anything man made at all.  The only sign of anything alive was a group of sheep gathered on the other side of the hill.  I looked into the sky, there were no planes, no trails, nothing.  I didn’t even see any birds.

“Hello” I screamed.  “Can anybody hear me?”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Following the Path (what I have so far)

“I’m late” Zuse said.  “I can’t believe I’m late again”

It was the same road that thousands drove down every day, except today it was half the size of normal.  The local Department of Transportation had been working hard to fix the roads throughout the city before fall.  For some reason, they decided to start on this road in the middle of rush hour traffic.  Now everyone within two miles was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.

Zuse knew that he wasn’t going to be in much trouble if he came in late; construction has been a vary large problem ever since that one bridge fell into the river.  The bridge hadn’t been used in over a decade, but some politician decided that all the bridges in the city needed to be checked and repaired.  While no one had a problem with the repairs themselves, they did have a big problem with being forced to take at least three detours just to get to work.

It took twenty minutes, but Zuse finally made the two blocks he needed to get out of the construction zone.  Fitting with the luck he was having, the light turned red just as he reached the intersection.

Looking at his watch, he saw that if he drove a little faster then he normally would, he could make it to work just in time.  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  It wasn’t the construction workers’ fault he was running behind, it wasn’t really anyone’s fault.

The light turned green and Zuse put his foot down pulling ahead of the cars around him.  Just at that moment, a red sports car ran the red light and hit Zues’ Jeep right on the driver side door.

Zuse floated in and out of conciseness.  One moment he saw a man in an EMT jacket, the world behind him was flashing red.  The next he was in a small room being jostled around while the man in the EMT jacket yelled words that he could not understand.  Zuse managed to pull himself into conciseness just long enough to see someone put a needle into his arm and he fell into blackness.

Zuse felt the world pulling at him again, he could hear voices.  Soft mumbles at first, the voices seemed to be getting closer.  He opened his eyes and found his family looking back at him.  They had seen him stirring and gathered around.  His father was to his left, his sister right beside.  On the other side was his mother.  If she was here, he must have been out for a long time as she lives over two hours away.

Someone else walked into the room, it was his best friend, Sam.  He had run off to grab the doctor when they noticed Zuse was waking up.  Not far behind, the doctor walked in.  There was a frown on his face.

He addressed the family.  “He has massive internal bleeding, two dozen broken bones, and his kidneys are failing.  While he’s awake, you will want to say your goodbyes.  I’m sorry, but he will not live threw the night.”

Everyone was devastated by the news.  Zuse’s father fell back into the chair, his mother burst into tears, and his sister had to turn away.  Sam was the only one who managed to stay composed.

Zuse gestured to the doctor to come over and remove the breathing tube.  Knowing there was nothing that could be done, the doctor complied and called the nurse to help pull the tube.

Managing to breath on his own, he forced himself to speak.  “I’m... sorry...”

Before he could finish, he fell into blackness again.  Three hours latter, he was declared dead.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The War is Not Yet Over

I'm sure that everybody has heard the news that SOPA and PIPA have been delayed.  Well, you know what?  That's not good enough.  "Delayed" is a terrible word, I like "Canceled" better.  But how do we do that?  Vote out the idiots who supported it?  That's a good start, but it's just taking care of a symptom.  Want to make them go away for good?  Teach the source a lessen.

Where is the source?  Well, let's follow the money.  Two of the largest campaign contributors are the MPAA and the RIAA lobbying firms and they were big pushers of the bill.  Well, now that we know at least two of the sources, how do we stop them?  How does one man fight against that?  In the best way physically possible: doing nothing.

Don't do anything.  Don't buy from them, don't download from them, don't promote them.  Any artist that's under the MPAA or RIAA umbrella is now off limits.  They're so worried about losing money, then lets show them what it truly feels like.

What about the rest of the supporters?  Lets give them an example of what the Internet can do.

The war has begun and obscurity is our weapon of choice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Internet Goes on Strike!

I'm sure by now that you've seen the websites that have gone dark today, Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, WordPress, and many more (Yes, every letter is a different link).  Others are getting into the spirit in unique ways.  Google blocked out their logo on the US pages, 4chan (totally not safe for work) is censoring all text, Twitpic blacked out their logo, and Fark even went white in sarcastic support.

But why are they doing this?  Two little bills called Protect IP act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  These bills claim to stop foreign websites dedicated to copyright infringement online.  They do that not by attacking the foreign sites directly, but by forcing US based advertisement companies, payment processors, and search engines to black list the accused sites.  I say accused because there is not court involved, there is not trial, there is no innocent until proven guilty.  The accusing party only has to send a legal letter to the US companies, then the companies have two choices; ignore the letter and risk liability, or stop doing business with the accused site and get immunity from any potential lawsuit.

There's much more wrong with these bills, but that right there should stop them cold.  It's violating one of the founding principles of the United States; innocent until proven guilty.  That's not "a US citizen is innocent until proven guilty", that's "EVERYONE is innocent until proven guilty." 

Add on top of that the fact that the law is not meant to punish the "pirate" site, the site is left alone.  The burden is on US companies.  The Pirate Bay doesn't get affected (though it's not affected due to another idiotic part of the law), Google gets the burden of censoring the links, PayPal gets the burden of blacklisting the account.

This brings me to my two main rants.

1) The US Constitution doesn't actually apply to US citizens, it applies to the US government.  The First Amendment starts with "Congress shall make no law...", not "US Citizens have the right to free speech."  This means that the US government cannot infringe on anyone's free speech.  I think if we all realized this, the world would start to be a better place (Or the US would at least get their noses out of everyone's business).

2) If you were working with a company and they falsely sued you for breach of contract, would you ever work with them again?  I feel the same about any company that supports these kind of laws.  I will not buy, download, or even talk about anything these people sell.  Please, stop this bullshit.  I want to buy your stuff, I want to give you my money, but I won't as long as you're trying to remove my rights and destroy my Internet.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Setting up a host file.

I've been hearing this a lot recently; "Just type the IP address into your browser's address bar and it will take you right to the page."  This is not 100% true.  While it is possible to go to Http://74.125.133.104 and get Google, it is not possible to go to Http://209.166.161.50 and get Cracked.com.  This is due to a thing called "binding".

Warning: in an attempt to teach everyone no matter what level of tech knowledge they have, I will be using metaphors that aren't completely accurate.  This cannot be avoided since the Internet is so unlike anything we've had before.

An IP address is almost like an address to a house (not quiet, but for this tutorial, close enough).  When you want to go to a house, you look at a map and follow the path to the address.  The internet is kind of the same way.  You have an IP address and your computer follows the map to a specific server.  This map is provided by what are called routers and nodes; they're basically intersections and street signs on the information superhighway.