Monday, October 31, 2005

Intimidate My Cruise Control

So, i'm coming home down i75 on cruise control. I have it set for the highest speed that will take me home without changing it. One of the right lanes is closed for construction, but i know no one is working on it. So, through construction, i'm going the fastest, as the local who drives this all the time, and i'm in the left lane. At the end of the construction zone there's a whole pack of drivers, many i just passed, that now want to floor it. There are a couple miles to my exit, and i'd start merging right, but the pack has already caught up, and impatiently passes me on the right. Fine with me. One driver gets himself boxed in behind me, and decides to tailgate me. He's so close that i can't see his headlights. When trucks do that, their headlights are higher and illuminate my entire cabin. But this bozo has a car, and his lights just disappear. My cruise control is not intimidated. The rest of the pack passes me on the right, without giving me a chance to merge. Then, this bozo takes his turn. There's my exit.

My car is 17 years old. It has a manual transmission. A trailer hitch sticks out the back. If i so much as disengage the cruise, this bozo would smack into my rear end. The hitch would ensure that it would be ugly. It could be thousands of dollars in damage. But not to my car, since it isn't worth that much. And, pretty much no matter what i did, it would be his fault. Further, i could hit a pothole, and it wouldn't even have been my choice. Why would anyone behave that way?

Really, tailgating, and especially extreme tailgating, is not the right of every driver. What it is, mainly, is stupid.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Treasure Island

I recently pulled my old palm pilot from a drawer and started using it again. The display's digitizer is painfully broken, but can be calibrated and made to work for a little bit. I abandoned it two years ago. However, Weasel mostly doesn't need the digitizer, you get to the next screen of text by using a scroll down button. So, i downloaded Robert Louis Sevenson's Treasure Island and read it.

Unlike many of the classics, which are classics because they are early presentations of an idea, this was actually well written. Magnificent. So, go to Project Gutenberg, download it, and read it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

One Pound Bimonthly Diet

I started a diet last spring. Its not very good. It promises that once every two months, you'll loose a pound. It doesn't promise that you'll keep it off. And, you can only do it about once every other month. Oh, it can also leave you tired for an afternoon.

I started giving blood. My employer lets me sign up for it via company email, gives me time off to do it, donates office space where it can take place, and even suggests that its a good thing to do. I get juice and cookies for free, which may be why I don't loose any weight for long.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ender's Shadow

I'm always looking for entertainment for my commute to work. My local library completely revamped their audio section recently. Most of the tapes are gone, and a completely new inventory of books on CD replaced it. I scanned it for science fiction. I had listened to the Star Wars and Star Trek tapes in the old collection. The timing is interesting. The tape deck in my car died, and i replaced it with an mp3 capable CD player.

The new collection has two interesting items. The first of the Dune prequels: The Butlerian Jihad, and Ender's Shadow. It turns out that neither of these are acceptable for my eight year old for use during long trips. Yet both are quite interesting. I'll leave off talking about the Jihad for when i've finished the series. There are two more 25+ hour books.

Ender's Shadow is powerful, deep, and dense. The fact that the first five chapters has the principal character basically starving to death, while i was on a diet only added to the effect. It wasn't hard to identify with a starving boy while, uhm, starving. Method reading isn't a requirement for enjoyment, however. You might be put off by the introductory starving segment. The street kid segment is pretty extreme. Though the violence gets much worse later, its just war, which we've all come to accept pretty well. One on one violence is so much harder to take. Besides, when the kids are a little older, there's so much less innocence.

The book is deep. The characters have depth. Not just the heroes. The villains also have depth. Some of the villains aren't so villainous. There is nowhere any black and white characters.

The book is dense. New ideas come at you at high velocity. They just keep coming. You expect the author to run out of ideas, but it keeps not happening for the entire 15+ hours of reading. Amazing. Harry Potter is dense, but you may have to reread it to appreciate just how many ideas there are. The first reading of Ender's Shadow is clearly just full of them, back to back. They follow one after another. And yet, just a few of the ideas are telegraphed. Amazing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blood Letting

So, Intelligent Design (ID) is in the news. In the trial, ID is the defendant. The idea is to call ID science, and get it taught in schools. My knee jerk reaction is that ID isn't science - it's warmed over Creationism. My second take is that ID isn't even very good religion. But there's a new way to look at it. First things first.

ID isn't [very good] science. When one looks at the tenants of Intelligent Design, it says that Evolution doesn't explain every detail of how biology works. It complains that the theory of evolution can't explain everything. It suggests that current organisms are so complex that an Intelligent Designer is required to make it work. Unfortunately, it doesn't shed much light on the process that the Designer used, so it doesn't give us any insight into the way the Universe works. Scientists say that ID doesn't make any testable predictions, that it lacks independent verifiability. This is true enough. Another way to look at it is that, as science, ID isn't very good science. So, instead of saying that ID isn't science, perhaps a better attack is to demand some science content from ID.

ID isn't very good religion. ID attacks Evolution for what it does not currently address. For example, an old version of it said that eyes are so complex that they couldn't not have evolved by chance. Too much of the eye has to work for it to be any good. However, since then, the evolution of the eye has been worked out pretty well. One starts by evolving light sensitivity. This is valuable in its own right. There are bacteria that can sense light, where its coming from, and can swim to where it gets the amount of light it needs. For multiple celled creatures, this becomes a light patch. More sensitivity is achieved by having more area be sensitive. A communications network adds the results together to some advantage, and slightly more complex actions can be taken. Adding a lens over the patch increases sensitivity further. Additional neural networking allows better use of the information. And so on. So, ID claims that God, the Intelligent Designer, works in the gaps in Science. But, over the last hundred years or so, this particular gap has been closed. Further, there is evidence to suggest that other gaps may be closed as well. There is no evidence that suggests that any gaps will remain, in principal. So, eventually, ID, as a religion, is closed out completely. Its obsolete. Its also not very good religion for another reason. It doesn't have much to say. It doesn't inspire awe for the Designer, who has less and less to do as time moves on. It doesn't have much to say about ethics, our place in the Universe, etc. ID was built from the start as an attempt to get religion taught in public schools, but in science class.

A new way to look at Intelligent Design is this. Having teachers teach it in school will reduce the amount of time that teachers teach real science in school. Science is already taught at a minimal level or less here in the US. A few years ago, I got to tour a drug store in Philadelphia that had been closed in the 1950's. There was a 50's soda fountain, 50's furniture, and (empty) 50's drug bottles. There were all sorts of poisons - arsenic, hemlock, etc., and they weren't there as rat poison. Patients were expected to consume these things. It was shocking. Modern medicine isn't just a collection of toxins (though there are a few left). Modern medicine isn't perfect - its improving all the time. Its improving because there are people trained as scientists and engineers, using the scientific method to discover better processes. Clearly, if we train our next generation with ID, we'll end up going back to blood letting. Pretty scary.