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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mars Curiosity Rover - Is It Worth the Price Tag?

An artist depicts the moment that NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface.Here's a short article I got started on back when the Curiosity Rover first landed, but then kind of forgot about and let linger. But, it's still relevant, so I've decided to finish it off and post it.

Whenever there's any type of science project in the news that doesn't seem to have immediate practical applications, some people inevitably ask why the research is being done. And when the price tag seems high, then even more people pose the question and lament the 'waste' of money.

I've written on this subject a couple times before. In this entry, Knowledge for Knowledge's Sake, I made two points defending science. First, as the title of that post suggested, that knowledge in and of itself is enough of a reason for some of us. "In the same way that some people may find beauty in a painting, others can find beauty in a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our universe." The other point was more pragmatic, that we don't always know where research will lead, and that there may actually be practical applications that we can't anticipate right now. Do you think that Albert Michelson and Edward Morley had any idea that their experiments looking for aether were one link in the chain that would eventually led to the GPS in my iPhone? My other entry on this subject, Why Study the Higgs Boson?, was mostly linking to other people making the same points, but more eloquently than I could. For example, I quoted Steven Weinberg, in reference to 19th century experiments on electricity, "If these physicists had limited themselves to work of obvious practical importance, they would have been studying the behavior of steam boilers."

So, those same points hold for the Curiosity Rover. But what about the price? The mission cost on the order of $2.5 billion (that's the American billion, or $2.5 thousand million for those of you using the long scale). That's a lot of money. Is knowledge for knowledge's sake really worth that much?

Let's look at some comparisons. The national budget proposed for 2011 was $3.69 trillion. The defense portion of that was $738 billion. Social Security was about the same. Medicare was $498 billion. So the Curiosity Rover was only .07% of the national budget, .3% of the defense budget (same for Social Security), or .5% of the Medicare budget. We're talking about a miniscule part of the budget.

Here's another comparison. Avatar (the movie) grossed $2.78 billion. That single movie grossed more than the cost of the rover. The next highest grossing movie, Titanic, was just about there with $2.19 billion. And several movies over the past two years have grossed over $1 billion. So the cost of the latest Mars rover would be covered by just one or two blockbuster films.

So yes, I think the Curiosity Rover was worthwhile. Whether or not the knowledge it yields will ever lead to practical applications, its overall cost is tiny compared to everything else the nation spends money on. And the cost seems especially reasonable when you consider that people were willing to pay more to watch a movie about visiting another planet than what it cost to actually send a robot to explore another planet.

For some reason, I had this link in the draft copy I'd saved of this entry. Maybe I had some profound point I was going to make, but that I've now forgotten. Or maybe I was using it as an example of why I think planetary exploration is important:
Interstellar Potatoes

Image Source: NASA

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Website Facelift Update

Face LiftBack in July of last year, I announced a Website Facelift. I'd decided that my static pages were looking a little old fashioned, and that a fresh look was in order. I said that the updates would be completed as time permits, and didn't make any promises on how soon it would all be done, but I got off to a lot slower start than I'd expected. Anyway, I'm now making some decent progress. There are 317 html files in my backup root folder of the website. Some of those may be copies or other files that aren't being used, but that's a decent estimate of the size of the static portion of the site. As of this post, I've updated 107 html files to the new format in the root directory. And a good chunk of those were my photo pages, which took more time to update because of the way I do it (I use a VB program I wrote to automatically generate code given an input list of pictures, but I changed the format of those pages fairly extensively, so I had to update the VB code and the picture lists. That code also generates an html page for each picture itself, so in reality I've updated 608 html files in addition to the ones in the root). I also made sure that each photo page had a slideshow, which not all of them had, before.

So, I'll continue with the updates until all the pages on the static portion of the site have been completed. I still make no promises on the time frame, but hopefully it'll all be done in less than a year.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Support Doctors Without Borders, Get an Autographed Book from Jerry Coyne

I should have announced this before, but better late than never.

There's currently a fundraising drive going on for Doctors Without Borders. It's a very worthwhile organization, and certainly deserving of your money. Jerry Coyne, writer of the website, Why Evolution is True, has come up with a promotion to give you extra incentive to donate. As detailed in this entry, What you missed (but it's not too late!), Dr. Coyne is offering an autographed copy of his book, also titled Why Evolution Is True, to anyone who donates over $100 as part of this drive. But the offer is only valid through this Wednesday, September 26th. Details are in Coyne's post.

I wrote a brief review of the book in Book Review - Why Evolution Is True. It's my favorite introduction to evolution - just the right balance of evidence and theory, with just a touch of refutations against creationism.

As an example of what to expect, here's the way he signed the book for us.

WEIT Signed by Dr. Coyne

What are you waiting for? Go donate before it's too late (well, it's never actually too late to donate to an organization as worthwhile as Doctors without Borders, so even if you missed Dr. Coyne's promotion, go donate, anyway).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Response to E-mail: Mitt Romney - Unlikeable?

Mitt RomneyI've received another e-mail forward that I couldn't resist responding to. I've done my usual format of indenting the original e-mail and interspersing my comments throughout. I may have gone a little far in playing Devil's advocate a few places replying to this e-mail, but it never hurts to see things from a different perspective. Plus, there were a few places where the writer made blatantly untrue statements.


Why Mitt Romney is Unlikable!

A lot is being said in the media about Mitt Romney not being "likable" or that he doesn't "relate well" to people. Frankly, we struggled to understand why. So after much research, we have come up with a Top Ten List to explain this "un-likabliity."

Nothing to respond to so far.

Top Ten Reasons To Dislike Mitt Romney:

1. Drop-dead, collar-ad handsome with gracious, statesmanlike aura. Looks like every central casting's #1 choice for Commander-in-Chief.

No argument, but also nothing too different from Obama.

2. Been married to ONE woman his entire life, and has been faithful to her, including through her bouts with breast cancer and MS.

No argument, but also nothing different from Obama (aside from breast cancer & MS).

3. No scandals or skeletons in his closet. (How boring is that?)

Really? Tax returns, dog on roof, Damon Corp, high school homophobic bully, etc.*

Or just go to this site:

In fairness, here's their page on Obama:

4. Can't speak in a fake, southern, "black preacher voice" when necessary.

Well, here's what an ex-Mormon had to say about Romney's speech at the Republican Convention (in a comment that seems to have been expunged from the original forum due to a ban on political arguments, but can still be found for the moment by Googling it).

"Mr. Romney's big speech, delivered in a treacly tone with a strange misty smile on his face suggesting he was always about to burst into tears, was of a piece with the rest of the convention."

Looks like Mitt was unleashing his "Fast and Testimony Meeting" persona. It often, in Mormon circles, involves actual bursting into tears, but Mitt probably thought that was a bridge too far for national television.

Note that that quote at the beginning was in reference to the New York Times editorial linked to below.

5. Highly intelligent. Graduated cum laude from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School...and by the way, his academic records are NOT sealed.

Actually, his academic records are sealed, as are pretty much everybody's. There's no precedent for presidential candidates to release their academic records. Unless something has changed since the article linked to below (and I couldn't find anything through Google), neither he nor Obama have released their academic records.

6. Doesn't smoke or drink alcohol, and has never done drugs, not even in the counter-culture age when he went to college. Too square for today's America?

No argument (not really a big mark for or against the man, either, when around half of Americans have tried pot at least once and the vast majority have tried alcohol).

7. Represents an America of "yesterday", where people believed in God, went to Church, didn't screw around, worked hard, and became a SUCCESS!

Many people have a rather skewed perception of religion in American history. Thomas Jefferson was a deist who cut out all the miracles from his Bible because he didn't believe them. George Washington refused to take Communion, and eventually just quit going to Church on Communion Sundays when his preacher said something about it. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli (unanimously approved by the Senate at the time), openly stated "As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion..."

The rest of that statement is just nostalgia. It reminds me of a quote from Franklin Pierce Adams, "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory." Let's not forget that the America of "yesterday" didn't let women vote, allowed people to own other human beings, and had incidents like the Ludlow Massacre against hardworking Americans.

8. Has a family of five great sons....and none of them have police records or are in drug rehab. But of course, they were raised by a stay-at-home mom, and that "choice" deserves America's scorn.

It's great that his family has turned out so well, but some people argue that having that many children is itself irresponsible:

And who, exactly, thinks women deserve scorn for staying at home. They may not get much respect, but scorn? Actually, I did find a statement by a politician arguing for welfare reform who wanted a work requirement, even for single mothers, "to have the dignity of work," because apparently, he didn't consider raising children to be work.

9. Oh yes.....he's a MORMON. We need to be very afraid of that very strange religion that teaches its members to be clean-living, patriotic, fiscally conservative, charitable, self-reliant, and honest.

No argument. It's just frustrating that religion is such a big part of politics. When every politician these days ends their speeches with 'God bless America,' can you even imagine a candidate getting elected who said, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own, " or "Priests...dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live," or "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter."

People are entitled to their religious beliefs, but government is a secular institution, and supposedly "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

10. And one more point.....pundits say because of his wealth, he can't relate to ordinary Americans. I guess that's because he made that money HIMSELF.....as opposed to marrying it or inheriting it from Dad. Apparently, he didn't understand that actually working at a job and earning your own money made you unrelatable to Americans.

This 'self made man' talk is one of the more irritating narratives about Romney. Yes, he's worked hard and made successful business decisions, but he was lucky enough to be born into a situation that gave him more opportunities than most. He came from a wealthy family with lots of connections. Andrew Sabl summed it up well when he wrote:

Look. I don't begrudge Romney's having had his college tuition and living expenses paid for with family money. Mine were too. My background, though not as fancy as Mitt or Ann Romney's, was privileged enough. But the guy should just come out and admit it: "I was a child of privilege and have my parents' wealth to thank for my education. That said, I worked very very hard in business, and the vast majority of my fortune I earned myself."

I would add to that, though, that Romney did have more freedom in taking the risk than many. If his business failed, he knew that he wouldn't be out on the streets looking through dumpsters for food. He knew that if it came to it, he'd have his parents to fall back on. That's great for him. I'm in a similar (though not nearly the same scale) situation myself. I would wish such good circumstances for everybody. But rather than have the hubris to call myself a self made man, I'm grateful for the opportunities my parents have provided me.

And just to add one more thing to this, back in April, in a speech to some college students, Romney suggested that they take the risk to start their own business, and to "borrow money if you have to from your parents". That's a perfect example of his family's wealth affecting his perception of most Americans. Most people don't have enough money to loan their children enough to start a business.

The Daily show has also done a humorous take on this:

* Why is being a Mormon considered a thing of concern, but being a muslum isn't? More weirdness! My goodness, it's a strange world, isn't it?

Is the writer of this still really suggesting that Obama is a secret Muslim?


Personal Information:

His full Name is: Willard Mitt Romney
He was Born: March 12, 1947 and is 65 years old.

His Father: George W. Romney, former Governor of the State of Michigan

He was raised in Bloomfield Hills , Michigan

He is Married to Ann Romney since 1969; they five children.

B.A. from Brigham Young University,

J.D. and M.B.A. from Harvard University

Mormon - The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints

Nothing controversial in that.

Working Background:

After high school, he spent 30 months in France as a Mormon missionary.

There is a bit of controversy in that in how it relates to the Vietnam War, but I'll get to that in a bit.

After going to both Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School simultaneously, he passed the Michigan bar exam, but never worked as an attorney.

In 1984, he co-founded Bain Capital a private equity investment firm, one of the largest such firms in the United States.

In 1994, he ran for Senator of Massachusetts and lost to Ted Kennedy.

He was President and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

In 2002, he was elected Governor of the State of Massachusetts where he eliminated a 1.5 billion deficit.

There are some things to be said about some of those points, but I'll just provide a few links.

Some Interesting Facts about Romney:

Bain Capital, starting with one small office supply store in Massachusetts, turned it into Staples; now over
2,000 stores employing 90,000 people.

Bain Capital also worked to perform the same kinds of business miracles again and again, with companies like Domino's, Sealy, Brookstone, Weather Channel, Burger King, Warner Music Group, Dollarama, Home Depot Supply and many others.

I've been doing some reading about Bain Capital and have discovered some interesting things. Here's a pretty thorough article from Rolling Stone:

Here are a few excerpts:

The reality is that toward the middle of his career at Bain, Romney made a fateful strategic decision: He moved away from creating companies like Staples through venture capital schemes, and toward a business model that involved borrowing huge sums of money to take over existing firms, then extracting value from them by force. He decided, as he later put it, that "there's a lot greater risk in a startup than there is in acquiring an existing company." In the Eighties, when Romney made this move, this form of financial piracy became known as a leveraged buyout, and it achieved iconic status thanks to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Gekko's business strategy was essentially identical to the Romney-Bain model, only Gekko called himself a "liberator" of companies instead of a "helper."
Take a typical Bain transaction involving an Indiana-based company called American Pad and Paper. Bain bought Ampad in 1992 for just $5 million, financing the rest of the deal with borrowed cash. Within three years, Ampad was paying $60 million in annual debt payments, plus an additional $7 million in management fees. A year later, Bain led Ampad to go public, cashed out about $50 million in stock for itself and its investors, charged the firm $2 million for arranging the IPO and pocketed another $5 million in "management" fees. Ampad wound up going bankrupt, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs, but Bain and Romney weren't crying: They'd made more than $100 million on a $5 million investment.
The only ones who profited in a big way from all the job-killing debt that Romney leveraged were Mitt and his buddies at Bain, along with Wall Street firms like Goldman and Citigroup. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, says the criticisms of Bain about layoffs and meanness miss a more important point, which is that the firm's profit-producing record is absurdly mediocre, especially when set against all the trouble and pain its business model causes. "Bain's fundamental flaw, at least according to the math," Ritholtz writes, "is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as [stock] indexing."

Moving on...

He was an unpaid volunteer campaign worker for his dad's gubernatorial campaign 1 year.

He was an unpaid intern in his dad's governor's office for eight years.

He was an unpaid bishop and state president of his church for ten years.

He was an unpaid President of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for three years.

He took no salary and was the unpaid Governor of Massachusetts for four years.

This is one of the reasons that people say Romney is out of touch. He's so rich that he was able to do all those things without getting any salary in return. When income and wealth inequality are at all time highs, and when so many people are living from paycheck to paycheck, being able to spend four years of your life volunteering for public service is a luxury most people can't fathom.

He gave his entire inheritance from his father to charity.

Mitt Romney is one of the wealthiest self-made men in our country but has given more back to its citizens in terms of money, service and time than most men.

And in 2011 Mitt Romney gave over $4 million to charity, almost 19% of his income.... Just for comparison purposes, Obama gave 1% and Joe Biden gave $300 or .0013%.

Fairly commendable. However, it depends on what you want to call 'charity' vs. just a non-profit organization. It looks like the majority of his donations are going to the Mormon Church. Churches in general do not devote much of their budget to what most people would consider charity, and the Mormon Church seems to be particularly bad. According to the third link below, the Mormon Church contributed just $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008, averaging just 0.7% of its annual income. By comparison, Wal-mart donates around $1.75 billion in food aid to charities every year - 75% more in a single year than what the Mormon Church contributed in twenty. The Methodist Church tends to be one of the most charitable churches, giving about 29% of it's revenues to charitable causes. A true secular charity, The American Red Cross, spends just over 92% of its revenues on actually helping people.

Mitt Romney is Trustworthy:

He will show us his birth certificate

He will show us his high school and college transcripts.

He will show us his social security card.

He will show us his law degree.

He will show us his draft notice.

He will show us his medical records.

Wow. I wasn't going to research all of those, but 'draft notice' caught my eye as a weird document to release, so I looked up 'mitt romney draft notice' just to fact check to see if he had actually shown it. What I found was pretty surprising. Romney demonstrated in support of the draft while he was at Stanford, while at the same time filing for and receiving draft deferments for himself. In fact, between his time at Stanford and his overseas mission to France, he received a total of four draft deferments. He was a draft dodger who demonstrated in support of having other young men drafted and sent off to war.

And as I noted above, he hasn't released his college transcripts. I haven't fact checked the other documents.

He will show us his income tax records.

He will show us he has nothing to hide.

This is one of the areas where Romney has broken from tradition. It's customary for candidates to release several year's worth of tax returns (Obama has). Romney has only released 2 years worth.

What makes this especially troubling is that he got caught lying about his taxes when running for governor of Massachusetts, after numerous attempts to stall at releasing those records, and eventually had to 'retroactively' pay taxes to Massachusetts just to be eligible to run for governor.

Mitt Romney's background, experience and trustworthiness show him to be a great leader and an excellent citizen for President of the United States.

You may think that Romney may not be the best representative the Republicans could have selected. At least I know what religion he is, and that he won't desecrate the flag, bow down to foreign powers, or practice fiscal irresponsibility.

Man, this writer really does think Obama is a closet Muslim. And when has Obama ever desecrated the flag?

Actually, I did find this, which is maybe what the writer was referring to:

That was a local group, Lake County Democratic Party headquarters, violating the Flag Code, by replacing the union with a picture of Obama. That would have angered me, too, had I seen them doing it, but I don't think Obama himself had anything to do with it.

On the other hand, I see the flag code ignored all the time. Here are dozens of examples on Amazon of violations of Section 176 of the code:

I know he has the ability to turn this financial debacle that the current regime has gotten us into. We won't like all the things necessary to recover from this debt, but someone with Romney's background can do it.

I know it's a refrain Obama's used so many times that it's almost comical, but the current administration did not get us into the financial situation that we're in. The current situation is the result of bi-partisan bungling from Clinton through Bush, largely from misregulation and odd tax loopholes.

But, on the minus side, he never was a "Community Organizer", never took drugs or smoked pot, never got drunk, did not associate with communists or terrorists, nor did he attend a church whose pastor called for God to damn the US. IF THIS ISN'T WORTH SENDING TO EVERYONE THEN I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS!!~!!

What's wrong with being a community organizer? Granted, cocaine is not a particularly good drug, but pot is one of the safest drugs around (safer than either alcohol or tobacco). I don't see abstinence on pot or alcohol as a virtue unless you have an addiction problem. If you can use those substances responsibly (like the vast majority of the population), what's the issue?

And I know I said above that religion shouldn't play a huge role in electing our politicians, but if this writer wants to drag Obama's religion into it, then so be it. Turn about is fair play. What about the Mormon Church's flagrant disregard for its non-profit status in contributing $180,000 to fighting Prop 8 in California and fraudulently reporting that amount until they were caught (for which they were laughably fined $6000), not to mention its horrible stance in wanting to fight against marriage equality in the first place? What about their practice of posthumous baptism (which doesn't particularly bother me, but which I would imagine would offend religious descendants of those people), and then hiding the practice once people noticed? Or go read that list link below. Its main subject is something different, but it has a good section on Mormonism as "the religious equivalent of rhythmic gymnastics".

Okay, like I said at the start of this entry, a few places I may have went a bit far in playing devil's advocate. But to tell the truth, I did have more respect for Romney before I started researching the claims of this e-mail. That Rolling Stone article paints a pretty damning picture of Bain Capital and Romney's role in the company. I also didn't know about his lying about his taxes and questionable eligibility for governor of Massachusetts, nor his hypocrisy in avoiding the draft himself while simultaneously trying to get others sent off to war. And then of course, there's the flip-flopping for which he's well known (which I even mentioned before regarding global warming), but that I didn't get into too much above.

A year and a half ago, when I didn't know much about Romney besides the positions he'd held as governor of Massachusetts, I thought he would have made a halfway decent president - much better than the other Republicans running, and honestly, not too different from Obama on many issues. But now that he's done an about face on so many issues to pander to the far right, and now that I've learned more about him, including his character and scruples (rather lacking, in my opinion), I would be very disappointed to see this man win the election.

*What timing. This happened after I received this e-mail, so of course the writer of the e-mail couldn't have known about it, but now there's the video from Romney's talk to a group of wealthy donors, where he didn't guard his language in how he spoke of Americans and other issues.

Here's a good take down of one of his statements that has gathered the most attention, that 47% of Americans are reliant on the government because they don't pay income taxes.

Updated 2012-09-24: Made a few slight revisions to typos or to make things more clear, particularly in the section on Romney's draft dodging, but nothing major.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Washington D.C. & Maryland Photos

Jefferson MemorialIn the course of putting my Hawaii 2012 Photos online, I found that I'd already sorted through all the photos from our D.C. trip from a few years ago, but had never followed through and put them online. So, I did now. The pictures can be found at:
Washington, D.C. & Maryland 2009 Photos

And of course, I added the appropriate link on the Photos Index page.

I lived inside the beltway for a few years, and within easy driving distance of D.C. practically my whole life before I moved to Texas, but before that trip, Irma had never been to D.C. except for a day trip. And I can't remember, but I don't think Alex had ever been to D.C. at all. My mother in law also went with us, and she'd never been to D.C. before, either. We got to tour the White House (no cameras allowed), which was something I'd never done the whole time I lived there. We were also lucky enough to have a friend working at the Smithsonian at the time, so we got a backstage tour of the Natural History Museum. He and his wife lived in Baltimore, so we spent some time there, as well. We also spent a little bit of time up near Frederick, Maryland, visiting my parents.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Musings on Existence

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismIn a previous essay, Further Musings on the Soul (blog version), I laid out a brief explanation of why I do not think people have souls. To give an even briefer summary, as we learn more through neuroscience, it becomes more and more apparent that our personalities and memories are controlled by the material processes of our brains. Given that, it calls into question the function of souls if they were to exist, but combined with the complete lack of evidence for souls, it just seems most parsimonious to assume that we are material beings, and that our brains define our sense of self.

But, consciousness, the sensation of experience, has to come from somewhere. To me, since I don't see anywhere else for it to come from, it seems most likely that it comes from the atoms that make up our brains. It's not a single coherent soul in the classical sense, but a bunch of small bits all contributing. As far as we can tell, it relies on a functioning brain to work. So when we eventually die, our consciousness will end, but those atoms will go back out into the ecosystem, and many will probably find their way into new organisms. So, the sensation of experience might come again. That's not really entirely comforting since it won't exactly be 'me' anymore, with all the memories and personality quirks that define me, but it is, in a way, a type of continued existence*. Looking backwards, it also means that the atoms currently making up me have already experienced countless lives. I can't know what those lives were like, but it is intriguing.

On a related note, I wonder just how arbitrary are the processes in our brain that define our subjective experiences. For example, dopamine is a well known neurotransmitter involved in a sense of reward**. Our brain releases it to make us feel happy. But why dopamine? Why that particular chemical? Was it just arbitrary, a chance product of evolution? Would any chemical have fit the bill, so long as other parts of the body evolved to react appropriately? Or is there something about the structure of dopamine that makes it a 'happy' molecule? If the actual structure of molecules does affect our subjective experience, then of course natural selection would have favored molecules that performed those roles better. It sounds obvious, but we like being happy, and we dislike being sad.

And while this discussion may seem trivial, I think we're approaching a point in the not too distant future where it might be a discussion worth having. We're getting closer and closer to creating artificial life, both biological (see Craig Venter) and mechanical (i.e. Artificial Intelligence). We're still a long ways off from creating anything sentient, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that some day we might. And as the creators of sentience, we would be responsible for the emotions that entity experienced. How cruel it would be to create a consciousness that experienced nothing but pain and distress, even if outwardly it smiled the whole time.

I know this might seem a bit more mystical than what I normally write about. But I am still an atheist and a materialist. I don't think there's anything magical going on here. It's just that consciousness happens to be a property of matter. It doesn't have a memory. Homeopathy is still rubbish. We can't relive past lives, because the memories were coded in the brain and disappeared when the brain decayed. But when we die, there may be more to it than simply becoming worm food. A part of us may actually become the worm, which may then become part of a bird, and then a cat, and on and on. I will lose my identity, but it's interesting to think of myself as a part of this great web of experience.

*This is also a selfish reason why I think it's best to strive to improve the world. Sometime down the road, the atoms currently making up me might feel the repercussions of my actions.

**Whenever I talk of dopamine, I'm reminded of an experience I had in middle school health class. It was during a lecture on drugs (and recall that this was during the era of 'Just say no'). Our teacher, Mr. Tinney, told us that dopamine was the chemical responsible for making us happy. He said that when somebody won the lottery, about a pin head's worth of dopamine was released into the brain. But when somebody took cocaine, drops and drops of dopamine were released, like taking a soaked sponge and wringing it out. When he explained it that way, it made cocaine positively tempting, to think that a drug could make you that happy. I don't think he really accomplished what he set out to do with that lecture. (For the record, I've never tried cocaine, though thanks to Mr. Tinney's lecture, I think I might try it if I'm ever terminally ill with no hope of recovery.)

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for August 2012

Top 10 ListThe end of August means that it's time for me to check the server logs and see how the site is doing. Nothing too spectacular this month. The top 9 were all pages that had made the list before, and all made it in spots that were fairly typical. There was one surprise, though. An old blog entry, Moral Absolutism vs. Relativism squeaked in at number 10, for its first time on the list. I'm not sure why it got a sudden surge in popularity after 5 years, but reading over it again, it's not bad.

Top 10 for August 2012

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  5. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  6. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  7. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  8. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  9. Programming
  10. Blog - Moral Absolutism vs. Relativism

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hawaii Photos & Video

Sea Turtle in HawaiiI've finally had a chance to sort through our vacation pictures & videos to put on the site. Go take a look at:
Hawaii 2012 Photos

Of course, I've also updated the Photos Index page to include a link to the Hawaii photos. While I was at it, I reorganized that page a bit. The previous order was kind of arbitrary, so I made it alphabetical. I also made a few slight formatting changes to that page to make it look a little better. I also had to modify my photo page generator software to accomodate my new site layout (sorry - the updates are only on my computer, I haven't yet updated that programming page). I figured that since I've switched over to a fixed width layout, there was no sense keeping the thumbnails in a format that would wrap as the user changed their window size. As part of my ongoing website facelift (now over a year old), I'll go back and update the old photo pages as I get a chance. For now, you can still go look at one of them to compare to the new Hawaii page.

I included more personal photos in this collection that I have previously for other trips. I figured that most of the traffic I get to these photo collections is from people I know personally, and they might actually want to see pictures of us. But I still tried to keep the majority of pictures those that would be interesting even to strangers, so there should be something for everyone to enjoy.

Anyway, go take a look. There are a bunch of good pictures, and even some video from our snorkeling.

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