Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jamal vindicated

This clip from Slumdog Millionaire was my favorite in the movie.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"like" is the new "um", and some probability.

Two days ago I was on the UW campus for the first time in quite a while. I was on my bike, and as I was riding past a young lady of about 20 years of age, I heard one word in her conversation via cell phone. The word was "like".

This got me to, like, thinking. I wondered what the probability was that "like" would be the one word I heard when riding past a twenty something young lady having a cell phone conversation.

This is fairly easy to calculate, given the proper information.

First of all we have to know the probability that she'll be talking, rather than, like, listening, for instance. Clearly she *won't* say "like" as I ride past if she isn't talking. This wouldn't really be, like, that hard to figure out. We could just do a nice sample of, like, 30 young woman, randomly picked out, who were on cell phones, and sort of like unobtrusively walk along behind them with like two stopwatches, one of which records the total time they're on the phone, and the other of which records the total time they're like actually talking. Add these figures up for all the women, then divide the total time talking by the total time they are on the phone, and we'd have like a rough estimate of what percentage of the time they are like actually talking while on the phone.

Then we would need to know what percentage of their total talking time is consumed by saying the word "like". This would be slightly more difficult. We'd have to like actually record the women as we followed them, with a little directional mike, and then like go through the recordings to figure out how much of their actual talking time was used saying "like". Divide the time spent saying "like" by the total talking time, and we have like a rough estimate of the percentage of their talking time they spend saying "like".

Now we just multiply the second percentage by the first percentage, and, voila, we have like a rough estimate of the probability that a young women walking along talking on her cell phone will be saying "like" just as we ride past her on our bicycle.

My hypothesis is that it's at least half a percent. Although at this moment I have like a rather bad feeling that I've seriously screwed up that whole calculation thing, and my stats professor would be like seriously disappointed.

"Like", in my opinion, has become the new "um". I wonder if toastmasters counts "like"s nowadays? When I attended toastmasters years ago, someone would be assigned as the wizard of "ah"s, and they would carefully tally the total number of times a speaker would say "ah", "um", and the like during their speech.

This can sometimes be a method for amusing oneself if the speaker is incredibly boring--just keeping count in your head of like how many times they say these types of words. If they almost never do, then you can always count some other word. Many speakers have at least one word that they tend to like over use.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Motorcycle accident

I've been riding a motorcycle for about 6 months now, and have put something on the order of 5,000 miles on my bike. It's a 1981 Honda Silverwing which has been well maintained and runs like a dream.

It all started late last summer when I met up with my sister Kat and her husband Jim down in Auburn one night really late at a casino. They had their motorcyles with them, and Kat took me for a ride on the back of hers, out on the freeway for a little while. It was the most exhilarating experience I'd had in ages, and I was instantly overwhelmed with desire to get a bike and use it rather than a car.

So I signed up for a 2 day introductory motorcycle rider's safety course, which was incredibly helpful since I'd never ridden before. I took to it like a duck to water, passed the test at the end with flying colors, thus got my motorcycle endorsement, and a month or so later I had purchased this lovely silverwing along with about $600 in safety gear including a full set of riding gear (jacket, overpants, gloves) and a nice full face helmet.

I find when I go somewhere on the bike, I feel amazingly happy when I arrive. And I feel pity for all the poor suckers who are driving along in their cars.

Today I was incredibly glad that I bought and wore all that safety gear, because I had a collision with a car at something like 25 or 30 miles per hour, and laid the bike down on it's side, and thwacked the back of my head *really* hard on the concrete road surface. I must have hit it hard because I have a couple of smallish memory losses surrounding the accident. This is extremely wierd for me because I generally have an excellent memory, and there are just these *gaps*!

Then I spent the next 6 hours or so at the emergency room of the local hospital--mostly just waiting. They did a CT scan, and cleaned out and bandaged a small puncture wound on my left leg. My leg is *incredibly* sore, and the whole left side of my body is incredibly sore. The doctor said I have a concussion, and to take it easy for at least a week.

I suspect tomorrow I'll barely be able to walk. The soreness has gradually been increasing the whole afternoon and evening.

If I hadn't been wearing that big helmet, I suspect I'd be dead, or have serious brain injury, or something like that.

My poor bike is somewhat tweaked, which is very sad because it was a nice bike.

I'm hoping the insurance situation works out in such a way that someone else pays to have my bike fixed, but I'm not totally sure that's going to happen.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I seem to be okay so far, for which I'm very grateful.

If any readers of this blog ride a motorcycle, please if you're not already doing it please make sure you have a good helmet and good gear and *always* wear them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Maslow and beer, and a question.

Back in the 40's, round about the same time Einstein and co were developing the first atomic bomb, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow developed a thing now referred to as Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

In brief (and thus I'm probably going to get this totally wrong), the theory is that humans tend to want/need to meet the needs which are lower on the triangle before they want/need to meet the needs which are higher in the triangle.

This has or hasn't been useful as far as it goes, depending on who you read.  Some modern psychologists apparently think it's a bit too simple.

Recently, in light of the fact that currently our spending is greater than our income, I've been having to justify spending money on things which I previously did not have to justify spending money on.

So today I was thinking it would be nice to have a beer after dinner.  (Which, by the way, represents a radical departure from the teetotaling "all alcohol is evil" community in which i grew up.)  I can't really justify buying beer right now.  (One time I actually dumpstered a five pack of fairly nice beer, which had been thrown out because the sixth bottle in what was previously a six-pack had broken.  But I'm not really expecting that to happen again anytime soon.)  Which got me to thinking--and here's the question for you:

Where does beer fall in Maslow's hierarchy?  =)

New words learned recently

this week:

Seriatim:  One after another. in series.  As used in Annie Dillard's Essay "The Wreck of Time":
"What were you doing on April 30, 1991, when a series of waves drowned 138,000 people?  Where were you when you first heard the astounding, heart-breaking news?  Who told you?  What, seriatim, were your sensations?  Who did you tell?  Did you weep?  Did your anguish last days or weeks?"

Euonymus:  it refers to a certain type of plant.  From wikipedia: "The spindles, genus Euonymus, comprise about 170-180 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. They live mostly in East Asia, including the Himalayas,[1] and they also have a distribution in Europe, Asia, Australasia, North America and Madagascar."

As listed on today: "Healthy Euonymous shrub about 6' tall (plant on left in photo). Good for yard border or in combination with other shrubs. It has become too large for my small front yard. 
Easy root system to dig up and move."

Also learned recently--an acronym:  STFU.  As seen in a poster with these letters which came up in a google search for "What's the point?"  I'm not going to tell you what that one means, as it seem fairly self explanatory.

Probably people who do google searches like that have too much time on their hands.

More proof that casino executives are penny wise-pound foolish

  A lot of foofoorah hit the news this last week over a new iphone application which allows iphone and ipod touch users to "count cards" live while playing blackjack in a casino.

  Using an electronic device to keep track of anything, or in any other way help you play better in a casino, is a felony in most places, from what I understand. Let's face it--if you can use a computer to track cards in blackjack, then you can definitely beat the game, right?

  Wrong.  The popular story about blackjack being beatable, while technically true, is practically false.  In fact, this myth has led to blackjack being the most popular table game in casinos for years and years here in the United States.  Why do so many people play black jack?  Because it's relativley easy to learn, and there's this story out there that you can beat the casino.

  The real truth is that 99.99% of all the people who ever play blackjack are going to eventually (if not immediately) lose at it. Casinos operate thinking about the long term--just like banks.  In the long term, the casino is going to keep somewhere between 1 and 30 or 40 percent of every dollar 99.99% of players ever put down as a bet on the black jack table.

  It is true that that .01% are going to beat the casino, because they've taken the time to develop the skill of card counting AND they have enough discipline to follow a proper betting scheme in order to handle downswings due to variance.  

  But the thing is that of all the people in world who consider themselves to be "card counters", well over 90% of *those* people are going to lose, because they *haven't* taken the time to learn how to play properly, bet properly, etc.  They just don't have the discipline to do it.  

  The casinos should be encouraging card counting.  In fact, they should be encouraging people to use this new iphone app.  Because even *with* the app, the vast majority of people are going to lose.  And the app is going to create even *more* of a delusion, and bring *more* would be counters into the casino to lose their money at the black jack table.  If I were a casino executive, I would be inviting--begging--people to come into my casino with their iphone and this app, and licking my lips over the windfall I'd be reaping.  My blackjack tables would be full night and day of mostly naive people who think that they can now beat my blackjack games with their fancy new toy.  I'd be salivating just thinking about it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Confession of an ex-missionary

Wikipedia has, under "missionary",

A missionary is a member of a religion who works to convert those who do not share the missionary's faith; someone who proselytizes
 When I was officially a missionary, from late 1998 to 1ate 2000, I represented the worst elements of the breed. I was arrogant. Of course at the time I didn't realize this. But I was pretty much crap at listening to people. I had my story, about my god, and what he thought, and what he did. I thought that my god was better than other people's gods. I could sort of make the excuse that all this stuff--my arrogance, etc--was built into the whole structure of "missionary" as I understood it. Indeed it's somewhat probable that I couldn't have managed to even join the missions organization of which I was a part  without buying into that way-of-seeing-things to such a degree that my attitude and behavior were inevitable.

But that's not entirely true. I've always been a bit of one who ... is constantly trying to shrug off at least some of the idea-structures and ways-of-being-and-doing of institutions of which I am a part--constantly pulling at them like the itchy part of the fabric in a shirt I'm wearing. So I can't really get out of it that way. For the most part I didn't rebel much at all against the worst elements of the institution I was a part of. In fact I contributed to them.

I almost wish I could go back and do those two years over. Mostly I regret all the stories I missed out on, in my verbose and arrogant belief in the superiority of the story I was telling. I wish I had spent a lot more time asking all the people I met about their gods, and their stories, with the goal in mind of being amazed, moved to tears or horror or wonder, by the vast array of human experience made specific in the stories and gods of individual people. All those people had a name for god, I suspect, all wrapped up in, and through, and under, and around their stories, and I was so busy trying to tell them about my name for god that I rarely got to hear theirs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Binding with chords.

The lyrics in church music are just so weird. And at one level, that's probably ok, since they are meant to be art, and art is beautiful or not beautiful, ultimately, in the eyes or ears of the one experiencing it.

Maybe I'm just a poor appreciator.

For instance, the chorus to a song written in 2005 by Sandra McCracken, who by all appearances is a really nice person who's doing more to MTWABP than I am, goes

Rock of Ages, Rock of Ages
Bind your children 'til the kingdom comes
Rock of Ages
Your will be done.

One of the verses specifies that the cords are cords of love and grace

It reminds me of another old chorus by one Bob Gillman, written in 1977, when I was three years old, which some people still sing. It goes

Bind us together Lord, bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken
Bind us together Lord, bind us together
Bind us together with cords.

Back when I was on LOGOS II, I always used to replace "cords" with "chains" when I sang this song, because even back then it struck me funny.

Isn't is somehow seriously tweaking a metaphor to try to make binding with cords into a good thing? Where does this language come from? I mean I'm guessing Sarah got it from Bob. But where did Bob get it? Does anyone else have these troubles when they are in a church service and people are all singing these lyrics? I never see anybody else looking at all puzzled by these things.

I mean I suppose there is a certain group of fairly kinky situations which would still probably be reasonably "ok", even in a "Christian" paradigm, as long as the participants were married, where binding with cords could have a good connotation.

Is it a sort of strange takeoff on that verse from ecclesiastes about how two are better than one and a three braided rope is not easily broken?

It just seems to suffer from serious metaphor breakdown. I mean what do you first think of when you imagine people bound with cords? (One of the first things that comes into my head is Dick Cheney, hopefully with handcuffs on, standing trial for all the deaths and torture he facilitated. But that's a whole nother subject. (Technically that should be "an whole other", rather than "a whole nother", but the latter is the more common usage.))

And then it's worse because it's "Bind your children ... with cords." which for anybody whose spent anytime looking in the Jewish story from which Christianity springs instantly brings to mind the story of how Abraham bound his son Isaac with cords in preparation to use him as a human sacrifice. Seriously. I'm not making this stuff up.

Of course there's a good connotation to being bound together. I mean sticking together, loyalty, the bonds of eternal friendship or love, communal bonds, and so forth. I just don't get where the cords come in. The cords and the children. It just doesn't work for me at all. Ah well ...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black skin, and clapping.

At the risk of being shockingly politically incorrect, I will share with you something I remembered today.

When LOGOS II was in West Africa, two young men, volunteers from a local church, came to work in the engine room with us during the time we were in port. At the end of their first day they gathered around the sink that was down in the engine room for that purpose and stripped off their shirts and cleaned the grease and oil off of their arms.

I remember being shocked at the shiny *black*ness of their skin. I wanted to stare, but I didn't want to be rude, so I kind of watched out of the corner of my eye. I'd never seen skin so black. Shiny black like ... like a really expensive black paint job on a souped up old muscle car. I felt envious, wishing my skin had anything approaching that brilliant color.

I remember watching a group of the volunteers in West Africa in the Aft Meeting Room, having a Bible study. Jonathan Cullum was leading it. He read a passage and asked some shockingly provocative question, and all the volunteers started standing up and answering it, back and forth, arguing this way and that over some issued that seemed very important to them--something about does God love us because we are good, or does he love us and *then* we are good (I'm guessing the answer is "yes".)

After the bible study, they sang, and they clapped. They could sing beautifully. And they would clap these amazingly complex syncopated rhythms, while they sang. I found if I concentrated *really* hard, I could just barely clap along with them. But I couldn't maintain it and sing at the same time.

Now when I hear white people in the U.S. clap to music, I generally wince, and think to myself "White people should just refrain from clapping. They are just obviously shitty at it."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Michael Phelps and Marijuana

I am once again completely stymied by the reaction to swimming superstar Michael Phelps' being caught (via photograph) smoking marijuana at a student party. So far Kellogg Cereal has dropped him from their sponsorship roles (which means you won't be seeing his face on boxes of Kellogg cereal anymore) and USA swimming has banned him from competition for three months and stopped paying him his $1700/month stipend.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, clearly this was an incredibly stupid thing for Phelps to do. It seems fairly obvious he either thought he wouldn't get caught, or he failed to foresee the consequences.

But what I don't get is ... *why* marijuana is illegal and *so* socially unacceptable, while nicotine and alcohol, both also psychoactive drugs aren't. Both of the former have *far* greater health risks associated with them than the latter (How many people died of marijuana use last year?). What if Phelps has been caught smoking a nicotine cigarette? Or having a beer? Would anyone have freaked out at this level? I seriously doubt it.

I just don't get the thing about marijuana. Don't get it don't get it don't get it. It's just *so* completely constructed out of absolutely nothing, and I can't understand *why*.

Why do people find Jesus satisfying, as a god?

Today we looked at John 5. Here's a few verses pulled out of the chapter

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.[b] 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"


Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.


the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Nobody else asked this question--it didn't come up: Is this chapter telling us a story about a person who *could* have healed *all* the people at that pool who were lame, blind, paralyzed, what have you, and chose not to?

What kind of a god is this? Or what is the point of such a god? He's no better than us. We certainly, for instance, have the resources available to make sure every one on the planet gets sufficient food and clean water every day. We choose not to. That's altogether human. One hopes that we can move in the direction of making a better choice. But why do people want to "be in relationship" with a god who makes just as crappy choices as we do?

Monday, February 02, 2009

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