So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Ethnicity. that of my father and his father before him
Location Altadena, CA
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The Link To Zanzibar's Past
This is my page in the beloved art community that my sister got me into:
Extra points for people who know what Samarinda is.
The Phases of the Moon Module
The Tree and the Telephone Pole
I Do Not Know Their Names
Today I am Young
A Night Poem
Siren of the Sea
If I Were a Dragon
To the Dreamers Leave the Sky
The Honor of the Oyster
Return From San Diego
A Late Summer's Night
Of Dragons and Men
The Edge of the World
The Snake's Terror
Metaphysics and the Middaymoon
Of Adventures in Foreign Lands
The Rogue Wave: The Unedited Version
Adventures in the PRC
Voyage of Discovery
Drinking the Blood of Goats
Ticket for a Phantom Bus
Os peixes nadam o mar
Three Villages Far Away
The River Weser
Children I Should Have Kidnapped, Part I
Let's Get You Out of Those Clothes
If Underwear Could Speak
Croc Hunter/Combat Wombat
Only My Favorite Baseball Player EVER
Aw, Larry Walker, how I loved thee.
M: Science and Exploration
T: Cook a nice dinner
Th: Parties, movies, dinners
F: Picnics, the Louvre
S: Read books, go for walks, PARKOUR
Su: Philosophy, Religion
The Reading List
This list starts Summer 2006
A Crocodile on the Sandbank
Tales of the Alhambra (in progress)
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Lost Years of Merlin
Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (in progress)
Atlas Shrugged (in progress)
A Long Way Gone (story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone- met the author! w00t!)
The Eye of the World: Book One of the Wheel of Time
From Magma to Tephra (in progress)
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Harry Potter 7
The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency
Introduction to Planetary Volcanism
A Child Called "It"
Is Multi-Culturalism Bad for Women?
Americans in Southeast Asia: Roots of Commitment (in progress)
What's So Great About Christianity?
Aeolian Dust and Dust Deposits
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
When I was in Cuba, I was a German Shepard
The Golden Compass
Clan of the Cave Bear
The 9/11 Commission Report (2nd time through, graphic novel format this time, ip)
The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph
Animorphs #23: The Pretender
Animorphs #25: The Extreme
Animorphs #26: The Attack
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Sir, With Love
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Hunger Games
Shadows and Strongholds
The Jungle Book
Beatrice and Virgil
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
No One Ever Told Us We Were Defeated
The Name of the Wind
Tao Te Ching
What Paul Meant
Lao Tzu and Taoism
Sand and Sandstones
Lost Christianites: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
The Science of God
Great Contemporaries, by Winston Churchill
City of Bones
Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Old Man and the Sea
Flowers for Algernon
Au Bonheur des Ogres
The Road to Serfdom
De La Terre à la Lune (ip)
In the Light of What We Know
Devil in the White City
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
How to Be a Good Wife
A Mote in God's Eye
want to read: Last Hunger Games Book, Honeybee Democracy, The Bell Jar
We are Not Worthy, We are Not Worthy
Friday. 10.5.07 8:37 pm
The day couldn't have gone better.
I solved my FORTRAN problems. Oh yes, you know, the fortran problems that have been plaguing me pretty much the entire summer? Well I've been solving them, one by one, and after each one there would be another. Now I've solved them. ALL of them. I made a huge break through when I realized that my entire grid was transposed and upside down from the way I had been calling it. Then I fixed it. I invented this brilliant bit of code that solved all my other problems. Ta-DA! I went into the computer lab where Seth was and danced an irish jig. Then I ran around the building. Then I came back and reveled while sitting at my desk. Now I can stop throwing myself into janitor closets evertime I see my geophysics professor and instead have a meeting with him where I show him how awesome I am.
This week that my advisor has been gone has been one of the most productive weeks of the entire year. Not just for me, either! Joe made a major breakthough in his research and rekindled his dying love for the planet Mars. Caleb made the most amazing figure that any of us had EVER seen. We were all just totally flabbergasted. There's this place on Mars where an ancient river flowed across the land and deposited a bunch of different layers as it slowly changed course. Then it slowly changed back the other way, eventually making a sort of a Z when you look at it in cross-section. Anyway, somehow or the other (maybe by erosion, maybe by tectonic uplift or whatever) this whole sequence can be seen from above by the satellite, because it is lying on a hill with an approximately 20 degree slope. So he used photoshop to actually adjust the image to show you what it would look like if you were standing on the ground and looking straight at it. Now everyone who said that it wasn't an ancient river, but was actually lava or something, will be TOTALLY OWNED. Plus he looked at it with the spectrometer to get some information on the composition of the rocks: they're clays. It was amazing. He's so BRILLIANT!
He's going to use it in a talk he's giving at the next Mars Lander conference. He is supposed to suggest a landing site that he wants to go to on Mars and then support why it is that he wants to go there. With this figure on his side, there is no WAY they can even think of going anywhere else. The engineering part may be a bit of a challenge, but that's what engineers are for, right? Living up to ridiculous challenges?
When you read in the news in a couple of years that we're going to Mars and we're landing in this one crater with the delta-y-river-stuff going on, know that Caleb, a random 27-year-old grad student was the one who said we should go there. See? You don't have to be old to change the world.
So then I went shopPING! And I got all this cool stuff. And I ate mall chinese. Well, I only ate less than half of what they gave me because you can only have so much mall chinese. And with the extra $75 I made working at the museum last Saturday I bought myself the newest version of Dance Dance Revolution. What am I doing writing a blog? I'm going to play it right now! You can even dance to J. Timberlake (no how heavy is that?)
I think after the next time I work at the museum, I'll buy myself Guitar Hero. I just can't imagine actually making $25/hr in real life. I mean, 3 hrs, $75, wtf? I would be SO RICH!!! Every three hours I could buy myself almost two brand new video games! I would run out of things to buy! I've already run out of things to buy! If I had any money right now I would have to think for like a day to think of something that I needed or wanted. Well. Actually. I'd probably take a vacation in England. But ain't that the trouble. When you got the money you ain't got the time, and when you got the time you ain't got the money.
Tuesday. 10.2.07 12:06 am
Our interwebz are brokzorz. Luckily our internet provider is called Cox, so I get to complain using very satisfying figures of speech.
I, Arthur, King of the Feldspars!
Sunday. 9.30.07 9:25 pm
"What are you doing?" I asked. They were crowded around something yellow in the ground.
"This tent stake, it's broken, and it's stuck." responded Brendan, not looking up.
He was digging around the stake and trying to pull it up. Each person took a turn trying to pull up the stake, but it wouldn't budge. The large part was the part that had broken off, so it was hard to get a good hold.
"I bet it's been there for 100 years" someone said.
"Yeah, it's probably been there forever." agreed someone else.
"No one can pull it out?" I asked.
"Well," retorted Brendan, "You could try."
The crowd backed up a little bit to watch my attempt. I took hold of the tent stake and out it came, just as if it were staked into air. Brendan did not meet my eye.
The onlookers who weren't already on their knees fell to them. "ALL HAIL KING ARTHUR!" they said. I held the broken yellow stake in my hand. What did this mean? Why was I chosen?
"Oh, Brendan loosened it, I think." I said.
"ALL HAIL KING ARTHUR!" the crowd said. I threw the broken stake in the trash.
I don't need that kind of responsibility.
...but one does not always get to choose her own destiny....
The Problem with Evolutionary Theory
Saturday. 9.29.07 7:23 am
The Theory of Evolution is quite robust in the sense that natural selection is seen to take place on fairly short time scales among bacteria and slightly longer timescales among British moths and the like. However, when one ponders the implications of the theory of evolution, it is hard not to disagree with the opinions of the "Neodarwinists", who believe that all the variety in life today has been brought about by the process of natural selection alone. This is because natural selection is in itself a somewhat destructive process, weeding most mutants out of a population and leaving those who by random chance or Fate have developed a trait which makes them more fit. Organisms aren't, however, going to randomly develop a fully-formed wing. Such an appendage would require quite a lot of random mutations over a long period of time. So would a smaller but perhaps even more profound change such as a feather. However, the troubling thing about such an innovation is the fact that the wing itself would be of no evolutionary advantage to the creature until it enabled flight. You could imagine a stunted wing which allowed short hops from branch to branch as an evolutionary advantage, much like the skin flap of a flying squirrel, but still the advantages of a stunted wing which requires modification of a working foreleg structure would almost certainly be selected against.
The reason I am talking about this is because a famous scientist, Lynn Margulis, came to speak at our weekly geosciences talk the Thursday before last. She is famous mostly for being the one who suggested that various organelles of the cell (chloroplasts, mitochondria) were actually formerly independent organisms, and were incorporated into the cells of other organisms as a result of a close symbiosis, when two organisms work together closely for the benefit of both (when two organisms live and work closely together for the benefit of only one, this is called parasitism, and it's often to the detriment of the other). In keeping with this theory, Dr. Margulis also believes that most of what has driven evolution forward is the incorporation of other organisms' genomes (mostly viral and bacterial) into larger organisms, with the wholesale adoption of their characteristics. Naturally, this is a much easier way to make sudden changes than if all of the innovation necessary for a major change had to be created by a random series of mutations. Instead, an organism can in a sense "try out" a new set of genes while living in symbiosis with another. If there is a good fit and both benefit from the living arrangement, the larger organism can begin facilitating the reproduction of the smaller one (or the smaller one can just attach its reproduction process to that of the larger) and slowly over time they can become one organism.
Dr. Margulis explains this with a series of examples. First she shows a video of a bacterium that is motile because of a large number of cilia. Some are short, energetic cilia and others are long, whip-like cilia. She then reveals that each of these cilia is an organism by itself, with the short cilia being a part of one species and the long cilia a part of another. All of these organisms work together to make the larger cell motile. This is a clear example of the type of symbiosis that could eventually lead to a more complex organism. She goes on to describe a kind of fly that functions well with a certain type of bacteria to help it digest its food. The bacteria's genome is not part of the fly's genome, but it when it lays its eggs the fly secretes a juice over them at the same time which is concentrated in this bacteria. When the new flies emerge from the eggs, they ingest the slime and the bacteria colonize immediately. Thus the flies are never without the needed bacteria to properly digest their food. A more extreme example of this is when they were examining the chromosome of another organism and they discovered that what appeared to be the end of the chromosome was in fact a complete bacterial genome attached to the chromosome. Thus it appears as if the bacteria joined its genome to the end of its host's chromosome, and thus when the host replicated, the bacteria replicated as well, taking advantage of the host's infrastructure. This is similar to viruses who use host cell infrastructure as a factory for making new viruses, except in this case the replication process is non-invasive.
This theory could explain somewhat complex evolutionary leaps, like the evolution of eyes. While it seems far-fetched that an organism could randomly mutate in a way that would make one part of it sensitive to light, it is fairly reasonable that a small, light-sensitive bacterium could exist, which would provide an advantage to a larger organism should it work cooperatively with it.
This theory has been gaining some ground since the 1980s, when people began to find other complete bacterial genomes hidden within larger organism genomes, but the idea that this kind of process is what drives evolution is still largely rejected by the community as a whole. Curiously, the reason for some of their inertia may be tied to issues completely unrelated to science at all. That is, the community preceives itself to be under attack from various religious groups, who say that natural selection cannot sufficiently explain the variation in life today. Scientists have responded to these groups with what can only be described as a mix of disdain, exasperation, and more recently, rancor. Because of their intellectual disdain for the people who are asking the questions, and the agenda driving the questioners, the scientists have formed a united front against them which strives to discredit the questions instead of answering them.
The truth is, natural selection the way we define it now is not a panacea for all the problems in evolutionary science. The way the scientific community blindly and pugnaciously defends their Neodarwinist canon is not so very different from the behavior of some of the religious groups they are arguing with. If the scientific community wants my respect, they must adhere to their own self-stated principles and remain an open, questioning group which is never satisfied to defend doctrines but strives always to test and reformulate them into something more correct. But to say "remain" suggests that they have ever been that way, which they never have been. Starting before Copernicus and encompassing Galileo, Keplar, Alfred Wegener and the Theory of Plate Tectonics, and almost every other great breakthrough in the history of science, the innovators have had to face down the immovability and intolerance of the scientific community. So maybe the neodarwinists aren't so new.
Dr. Margulis' theory may not be correct. The real answer may lie somewhere between that of the neodarwinists and the proponents of symbiosis-driven evolution, or it could be something different completely (I think the wing, for example, requires innovation in evolutionary thinking to explain). But to throw that statement out there and leave it like that is the biggest evasion of all. We must continue to challenge and test different ideas, continue to pursue end-member hypotheses until we discover exactly what it means to say that the real answer is "a combination of the two".
And until the scientific community starts doing that in earnest, they will continue to piss me off.
I yield the floor to Ranor.
Wednesday. 9.19.07 5:27 pm
I am a Fluid Element
Tuesday. 9.18.07 12:02 am
I sit in Fluid Mechanics.
We are learning about pressure. Pressure is a strange concept. It doesn't come from any specific direction. It comes from every direction at once, even if the force only comes from one direction, like gravity pressing layers of ocean down on you. You'd think that if you swam down under the ocean you'd feel the whole weight of the ocean on your head, but instead the weight of the overlying ocean presses in from all around you, because the fluid is trying to flow outwards and it is encountering your body and more fluid, which prevents its flowing.
The lecture is moving on, but I am still a fluid element, represented as a single point with out much loss in accuracy, surrounded by the deep, blue ocean. See the little fluid element... see how it feels pressure from all sides!
And as we learn next, when you are a fluid element, and you feel equal pressure from all sides, you are a statics problem. That's easier, you know. Statics problems are easier. But not quite as interesting, useful or rewarding as dynamics problems. In order to become a dynamics problem, you must feel a little bit of asymmetric pressure. A little gust of pressure has to sweep you out of your comfortable and easily calculated static state. After that, who knows what happens to you.
I mean, we could talk about what generally happens to the fluid, where the flow lines go, how roughly defined fluid boxes seem to interact... but you would need a supercomputer running for a week to see just a femtosecond into your future as a single particle. It doesn't matter to the student of fluid mechanics what becomes of the single particle. It only matters what generally takes place as the fluid flows by. There are strict boundaries on what area of flow he cares about. Fluid elements flow in and they flow out again on the other side. For this Observer, we are born when we flow in, and when we flow out we die. Once a fluid element leaves that imaginary dotted-lined box, he thinks not on it again.
But you can bet it probably matters to the single particle. It probably cares whether it is thrown into a vortex, whether it is funneled into a long, dark tunnel, whether it adheres to the wall of the container... whether it bears a brief and terrifying foray into dynamics before settling down (perhaps too soon?) into another boring statics problem.
I know pipes and guages and conduits are out there. Waterfalls and whirlpools and breaking waves and rain. They're all out there. But for now I'm floating at medium buoyancy several meters below the surface. I can see the aquamarine rays of the sun on my sickly white skin. I feel pressure from every side.
I remain a statics problem. As such, there is nothing for me to do but drown.
If Underwear Could Speak
Tuesday. 9.11.07 11:01 pm
She lay on the bed. Her right sock was hanging halfway off her foot. He seemed as worn out as she was.
"But none of you ever talked to me before" she finally said.
"That is very strange," said the undershirt slowly. "I've been considering that carefully. You see, I remember everything from our life before, back home, but it's like the memory is just worn into my fabric, rather than that I actually lived it."
"I feel the same!" chimed in the scarf. "It's like it only just occured to me in the marketplace that I could speak."
"I think all of you decided you could speak at the same time in the marketplace. Well, except for Left Sock." She blushed a little. "Well, and the underwear. Do underwear speak?" It seemed like such an absurd question for her mouth to form.
"Certainly NOT!" responded her jumper indignantly.
Her scarf giggled insanely and flung its loose end around her neck.
Once again, it was the undershirt who finally answered. "Underwear is alive, but they do not speak."
"But if underwear could speak," interjected the jumper in a dramatic voice, "oh what STORIES they would TELL!"
"Muteness is a fairly common trait in freshly woven cloth, especially certain kinds of cotton and silk, so they take care to make all of this fabric into underwear."
"SHEETS, on the other hand," supplied the jumper, "never shut up. They should have made sheets mute. I heard that the King here sleeps on furs. Furs are definitely dead. Well. They're dead now, anyway." It finished a little sheepishly.
It was fairly tragic, she thought, that mute cloth should be made into underwear. As if muteness wasn't enough tragedy for one life, they had to compound it with such a strange and humiliating station.
"It's not so bad for them," continued the undershirt, seeming to read her thoughts. "Underwear doesn't have to go through the wear and tear that the outside clothes have to go through. Most of them have a very timid demeanor anyway. Some of them aren't timid, though. They prefer to be worn on the head."
The jumper laughed in a hearty sing-song trill. "That's why some pairs always show no matter what you do!"
She lifted herself up on her elbows and looked down at her outfit. A few hours ago it had seemed so comfortable; now it made her feel very strange indeed. The movement made the scarf fall off her shoulder again. It gathered itself and swung back round her neck.
"What about the left sock?" she finally asked. "The left sock never speaks."
Her right sock pulled itself suddenly back onto her foot. "THAT is because she doesn't speak English." he said bluntly.
She was taken aback. She'd never considered the possibility that her sock didn't speak English, but she supposed that there was no good reason to think that a sock would necessarily speak English. "Doesn't speak English!" she exclaimed, "Why is that? I thought that you and she were the same sock!!"
"The same sock!" Right Sock answered very indignantly. "Right. The same sock? A pair?! You thought we were a pair? How can we be a pair! She's navy blue! I'm black!"
"Oh," she replied, looking down at her socks. "I was certain she was black. She looks black to me."
"'She looks black to me'" Right Sock mimicked mockingly. "She's definitely navy blue."
"No she isn't, she's definitely black."
"Go over there, look in the light."
She slid off the bed reluctantly and walked over to the window, where the sun was making its downward arc. The sock was clearly navy blue. She sighed and flopped back onto the bed.
"Fine," she conceded, "Navy blue."
"A pair. She thought we were a pair. She has no idea how to make a suitable outfit." Right Sock muttered to himself loudly.
Left Sock said nothing, though it sort of looked like she might be deep in thought.
When finally the sun set, she crawled beneath the covers. She was still wearing all of her same clothes -as she did not have any others- except her socks, which she had removed and placed several inches apart on the end table at the request of Right Sock, who didn't want to be too closely associated with his temporary mate. Her clothes seemed to be asleep by the way they hung loosely from her body and did not make any sound. Still, as she tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable in this strange bed, in this strange world, after this very strange day, she could not shake the feeling that every time she moved, the sheets were taking the opportunity to whisper amongst themselves.
The Department Picnic
Friday. 9.7.07 9:34 pm
We had been at the picnic for a little while, drinking Fanta, chatting with professors we hadn't seen for ages, wondering when we were going to get to eat already.
I looked up. There he was, one of my professors. The Geophysicist. Yes, I worship the ground he walks on. We have been working on a project together and I haven't been doing much for it since technically I'm supposed to be working on my actual research. I'm terrified that the time will come when he asks me for results. Maybe that he'll finally decide that I'm taking too long and he'll wrest away my project and give it to someone else. He came straight for me. What was he going to say? Was he going to say, "So... how are the analyses going? Did you finally figure out that code you were supposed to have done in May?" Terror! Fright! I am not worthy! I am not worthy!
"Hello," he said. "We're looking for a fourth to play horseshoes. Want to be on my team?"
I love playing horseshoes!
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