Toyota Eats GM

Now, normally when I begin a blog post with {something} eats {something else}, the reader can expect something of a serious rant ahead. Not this time. For once, I’m glad {something} is eating {something else}.

The issue is this: I hate GM. I absolutely despise them. I think they may very well be the second most evil automaker on the planet (the first is Ford, number one purveyor of climate-demolishing SUVs and heavy trucks). I’m sure most environmentally-conscious people who have seen the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, as I have, will agree with me.

Back in the late 1990s, California decided that it wanted to have a quota of at least a certain number of vehicles that produced zero emissions. None. Not one gram of carbon and nitrogen pollutants. And such vehicles existed, most noticeably in the guise of the EV-1.

The EV-1 is the only automobile that I will admit ever drooling over (after its demise, since I didn’t learn about it until I saw the movie in 2006). It was stylish, it was fast, it was modern, and most importantly, it was electric. Plug it into the wall at night, unplug it when you wanted to drive. Three hundred miles on a single charge-up. It was fast, too, easily outpacing the gas-guzzling monsters we’re now used to.

Well, to all those who were fond of them, GM said: “Too bad.” Under pressure from oil companies, auto-manufacturers (who depend on replacement parts for revenue, which they would have lost on the EV-1, since its drivetrain was so simple), the bastards folded. Since they had only provided EV-1s for lease, they could recall them any time they wanted. And they did. They towed them away, crushed them, and ground them into little shreds in an industrial Cuisinart. They did the same with some other electric cars, and even with a few gasoline-powered economy cars.

Which brings us to the main point of my story, namely, the reason I’m happy Toyota is now moving to overtake GM in sales. The reason is simple: I loathe and despise GM for taking the car of my dreams off the market before I got my chance at one. Well, thank goodness they’ve got some competition. And their competition is one of the few automakers on this planet that can legitimately claim to be moderately less destructive than most.

Of course, it’s not all good. Even if Toyota eats all the other automakers in America, we’ll still have the problem of gasoline dependence. Hybrids are not enough. Ethanol is certainly not enough. Hydrogen? Decades down the road, probably. Even if it isn’t, there are still the safety concerns. Until we can perfect super-clean fuels, electric was probably the best substitute for gasoline. But Big Oil would never allow that…

Well, it looks like it turned into a rant anyway. Oh well. Here, have a link: more information about the EV-1. It is Wikipedia, but at least the pictures have some chance of being accurate…

Green and Dopamine: The Money-Pleasure Connection

A few months ago, I was reading Read Montague’s Why Choose This Book (about how human beings make decisions, and not a bad read, as far as popular neuroscience goes), and I cam to quite a fascinating realization: People like money because money foreshadows pleasure.  I’ll try to keep things as straightforward as possible, but here goes:

In the brain, pleasure, reward, and the significance of events are all linked to levels of dopamine, which is one of the brain’s chemical transmitters. Dopamine levels increase in order to “cement” memories of pleasurable things, which is why we seek out such things so actively. Dopamine is also used, however, to predict pleasurable stimuli. For example, say you take a dog, and ring a bell. You then present it with food, or some other form of treat. Repeat this many times. After a while, the pleasure sensations that the dog got from the treat will be transferred to the event of hearing the bell. In other words, an event that reliably predicts reward will become a reward.  And if you insert another event in there, say, flashing a red light, then the pleasure will be transferred to the new stimulus, and so on.

And that brings us back to money. From an early age, humans learn that every time they spend money, they will get something they desire. The pleasure of getting that thing is then transferred to the spending of money. Then, this pleasure response is transferred to getting money. Which is, in my mind, anyway, a fairly good explanation of why people are so damned greedy and possessive with money. It might also explain things like compulsive gambling and compulsive shopping: the pleasure signal gets linked to going to the casino or the mall, and human beings have a reliable habit of seeking out pleasure.

And, to extend this idea further, consider addiction. When someone consumes an addicting drug, dopamine levels rise (cocaine is especially bad in this regard, since it directly raises dopamine levels, by keeping the body from re-absorbing it and recycling it). After a while, as in the dog example or the money example above, the pleasure of the drug itself is transferred to buying the drug, getting the drug, et cetera. And from this, it can be fairly reasonably assumed that compulsive gambling and other such compulsive behaviors are true addictions, a concept which has been in doubt in the past.

Just more food for thought…

(PS: Thanks to Read Montague; some of his book was tedious, but if nothing else, the money-dopamine connection was enlightening)

New Car, Continued

Well, I’ve visited a few dealerships in my area, and it looks like the car I’m most likely to end up with is the Toyota Yaris.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I hate all car commercials, and doubly-so the bizarre and completely nonsensical ads for the Yaris, but after looking at them and test-driving one, it seems that I’m hooked. It’s quite a fuel-efficient car, and I’ve heard many good things about it, and after the test-drive, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to sound like an advertiser, but it’s smooth and has plenty of get-up. What really sold me, though, is its compactness and its almost European hatchback look:

So, it appears that I’ll finally be able to cut back on my own contribution to the slow destruction of the planet. I’ll also finally be getting rid of all the odd looks people gave me when I drove up in my grandmotherly white station wagon. Maybe I’ll even be able to keep this car reasonably clean. (My Volvo got so dusty at one point that its color changed from blinding white to “eggshell.”)

My only concern is what will happen if I get into an accident with one of those horrid, massive SUV’s out there:

Investigator: What’s happened here?

Police Officer: A Hummer ran the red light and hit that little hatchback.

Investigator: Wow…looks like a pancake.

Police Officer: Yeah.

Investigator: What’s with that fuzzy soccer ball?

Police Officer: That’s the driver’s head.

(Side Note: Doesn’t the little antenna sticking out of the top make it look a bit like a remote-control car?)

New Car

Well, the automotive hospital has finally pulled the plug on my poor, dying car. Its mechanical organs will now be divvied up and transplanted into Volvos in serious need of parts. I guess that little red organ-donor heart on my driver’s license didn’t just apply to me…

And thus, the search begins for my new automotive consort. I will be journeying out into the desert of the Urban Sprawl in search of something less bulky, something more economical; something with more curves than my erstwhile Volvo. Perhaps a member of the race of fair Toyotas…

Well, that’s about as much metaphor as I can handle. The long and the short of it: I’m buying a new car. I’m looking at a Toyota, which means I’ll be driving a modern car for the first time in my life, as my ex-car was a 1998. I’m hoping for something that doesn’t have those damned hard-to-maintain leather seats.

So, soon, my new consort and I will be one, and I will once again drive horizon to horizon in an endless journey…sorry… couldn’t help it…

Just a slice of my life…

Pass or Fail

While I was reading the University newspaper a few days ago, I came across an interesting idea: the pass/fail grading system. This system is used in several nations, and seems to me that it would be quite a good idea to implement in the United States.

Here’s how it works: if your score on an assignment is greater than a certain value (usually fifty or sixty percent), then you get a mark of “pass.” Otherwise, you get a “fail.” Under this system, all the pressure of and concern about numerical grades is lifted.

Now, perhaps twenty-five or fifty years ago, this system would not have differed much in its social impact from the numerical grading system already in place. But we are living in the age of obsessiveness, and I’ve watched many of my personal friends go through torturous times thinking and obsessing about these numbers that “determined their futures.” I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea to pre-burn-out America’s students, and cause them to fear and despise grading periods. All that does is make our education issues even worse.

And people wonder why Americans are lagging academically. (More on this later).

Fermilab Makes a Comeback

As usual, Reality does its absolute best to make me look like a complete fool. Just a few days after I wrote my post after the coming obsolescence of Fermilab, it seems they’ve managed to pull off one last great find.

Some people know that there are six varieties of quark (two of these varieties make up the particles we’re used to, except the electron, which is actually a lepton, I think). We’ve managed to observe five of them conclusively, but the rather heavyset top quark has a particle-accelerator signature which looks similar to that of some other collision traces. Well, the folks at Fermilab think they’ve finally figured out how to conclusively produce one.

By exploiting the weak-force interactions between electrons and positrons (I think that’s what they were), the Fermilabians managed to create something that they’re fairly certain is a top quark. This brings us one step closer to the Higgs Particle, which is theorized to be the reason all particles have mass (that may be why they call it the God Particle, although when I think of godlike powers, conferring inertia is not exactly at the top of the list). Well, Fermilab, I wish you luck! They just might be able to beat CERN to this one.

Side Note: I don’t know why more young people don’t get interested in physics, especially particle physics. “Hey kids, why don’t you come work at our particle accelerator. You get to smash things together really hard, and get paid for it!”

Death by Insurance

Well, the worst possible outcome of my little accident last Wednesday has come true: my insurance agent has decided to total my car. Apparently there was some sort of frame damage that would hardly have made it worth fixing.

This has brought my attention to just how attached I was to my old car. It was the car I learned to drive in. It’s the only car that I’ve driven for any real amount of time. More than I realized, that car had become, for all intents and purposes, part of the family.

I suppose that’s why it feels like I’ve had a death in the family. It is surprisingly depressing to realize that I will never drive that car again, that I will never sit in that seat, that I will never see that car in its original condition again.

Now, I’m aware of how strange it is to get torn up about losing a car. It’s true, nobody was hurt in the accident; it’s true, we’re getting a nice check from the insurance company that will probably make a good down payment on a new car, but that doesn’t really help. There was something about my old Volvo. I had a relationship with it. It was mine. There weren’t a whole lot of other Volvo station wagons on the road. Now, in all probability, I’ll be stuck with a damned generic Toyota, with no soul, and no identity. I’ll blend very well into the background. I’ll have to learn how to find it in a parking lot, something I never even had to consider before.

There are a few bright spots in all of this, though. For one, I’ll finally have a more fuel-efficient car that I don’t have to fill up so often. I’ll have a brand new car that doesn’t have all the arthritis-like age-related problems. This has also brought to light just how human our cars can seem sometimes. I actually feel like somebody I know has died, and it bothers me. After all, I’ve reacted rather stoically to every death in my family, but this actually got to me. It seems a bit strange, I know.

I suppose that confirms it, then: I’m a weirdo.

Posted in My Life. 1 Comment »

Global Warming: It’s Not A Lie if an Eight-Year-Old Can Feel It

Over the past few months, with the government grudgingly admitting that something probably ought to be done about the ecosystem-demolishing effects of human-initiated global warming, I have heard hands-over-the-ears rhetoric that actually tops some of the rhetoric of the current administration.

The problem is this: some politicians insist that global warming is a hoax, and that there is little or no evidence to support it. I’ll put aside the enormously sinister political ties between many of these politicians and the actual sources of global warming, and go straight to the ridiculousness of their claim.

Since I was a little boy, I’ve noticed that something is the matter with the world. When I was young, in the early nineties, winters got very cold, and summers got quite warm. It usually snowed every winter, and usually rained fairly often during the summer. But somewhere in the intervening decade, something’s gone peculiar. Now, the winters are warm, and the summers are deathly hot. The presence of snow in any given winter is something of a crapshoot. Rain is so rare in the summers that I’m surprised I don’t see more people jumping up and down in the streets, arms turned skyward, when it finally does rain. The part of the country in which I live has been under drought conditions for several years.

So I ask you, politicians, how on Earth can global warming possibly be denied? You can only blame El Niño for so long. Now, before I’m written of as some sort of partisan extremist, I do understand where the less prickly among them are coming from. For some time, it did indeed seem that some sort of unusual weather system, or a natural variation in the Earth’s climate, may have been to blame for the peculiar warming. And, there was a time when the scientific evidence wasn’t extraordinarily clear. Unfortunately, we are living in neither of those times. It has now become evident that we and we alone are to blame for the gradual death of our world.

And, as promised, allow me to address some of the issues which are causing this death:

  • SUV’s: I have never, ever seen the use of such vehicles. The only stories I have ever heard of them are of their rolling over, catching fire, and costing exorbitant amounts of money at the fuel pump. Who the hell needs so many cubic feet of cargo space? Soccer moms and soccer dads should stick to minivans, and the young people should stick to junkers that don’t hold up long enough for their fuel economy to be a problem.
  • Big Oil: I have the same problem with Big Oil that I have with Big Pharma: They are both corrupt, money-grubbing, evil, and sinister organizations. Big Oil encourages tax breaks for those who purchase Hummers. They close refineries to drive up their prices. They use their congressional sock puppets to keep fuel-economy standards the lowest in the gasoline-consuming world. They suppress efficient electric vehicles. They promote the use of ethanol and hydrogen fuels, the former of which they could take over when gasoline is no longer viable, and the latter of which promises decreased environmental impact without ever actually becoming practical. They encourage auto-makers to continue pushing fuel-wasting trucks and SUVs that are an embarrassment to the rest of the world. This hardly seems practical in a country that is sponsoring a contest to design a 100-mile-per-gallon vehicle.
  • Sock Puppets: I’m not talking about the children’s variety (which are quite fun, and good company if you’re lonely). I’m talking about the aforementioned congressional puppets, who have the hands of industry driven firmly into their posteriors (which is probably the invisible hand that Adam Smith was talking about; no wonder some of our congresspeople have such funny expressions on their faces all the time). They block environmentally-sound legislation, and practically scream “Na na na na na!!! I can’t hear you!!!” at all of those who oppose them.
  • The Citizens: That’s right, I’m not letting the people off the hook either. People buy SUVs and pickup trucks and Hummers. People buy outdated incandescent light bulbs which could be easily replaced by the more attractive and energy-efficient natural spectrum fluorescents. People believe that hydrogen cars are just another couple of years down the road, and that ethanol will somehow solve the carbon-emissions problem, despite being a carbon-based fuel itself. People listen to car advertisements, and believe that Mister Government and Big Oil have their best interests in mind. People buy into the rhetoric that eliminating polluting fuels will be bad for the economy. Well, you know what’s even worse for the economy? GLOBAL CROP DEATH, FAMINE, AND DISASTERS BROUGHT ON BY CHANGES IN THE CLIMATE.
  • The Term “Climate Change”: If ever there were a soft way for talking about a hard issue, this is it. Most people seem quite unsure what the climate actually is, and “change” could be beneficial. In fact, in our culture, change is often seen as a good thing. Let’s not deceive ourselves.

That about sums up my worldview. But I leave you with this: when a vile and disgusting germ invades the human body and begins emitting a slew of toxic byproducts, the body’s response is to increase the temperature until it becomes inhospitable for the invaders. Think about it.

From Ganja to Adderal

It seems that every period of American history has had its own particular drug of choice. From the late eighteenth century to the mid-forties, it was nicotine. From the mid-forties to somewhere in the sixties, it was a disturbingly wide slew of depressants and psychotropics like cannabis and LSD. Cocaine and crack became popular from the seventies to the early nineties. And that brings us to the present, and to the really frightening new drug movement. We have now entered the age of ‘scrips.

Since I was in high school, I’ve noticed the enormous rise in the “off-label” use of pharmaceuticals. Xanax sold for over ten dollars a pill at times, and Adderal was the drug of choice when an exam drew near. Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Wellbutrin, Viagra, Xanax, Adderal, Ritalin, Benzedrine, all of them have become normal members of the drug scene. And the new “high-class” (emphasis on the quotation marks) drug, replacing cocaine, is the new-age morphine, the ridiculously powerful and ridiculously addictive Vicodin.

This may very well make me seem quite paranoid, but here goes: Big Pharma is behind this. Pfizer has been denying for months that they promote the recreational use of Viagra. I haven’t heard any such ruckus over Adderal and Xanax, but I’m sure that’s coming soon. But in all the media flourish, everybody seems to have missed the point: we have pharmaceutical companies essentially promoting dangerous addictions to their products. In no other nation will you see television advertisements for potentially addictive prescription drugs. Sleeping pills, erectile dysfunction treatments, antidepressants. I sense a very sinister pattern here. I leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Farewell, Youtube…

When the news first broke that Google was purchasing Youtube, I prophesized the downfall of Youtube’s free-content system. Of course, even I didn’t take me entirely seriously at the time. The unfortunate thing is that it appears I was right. Google’s gotten its corporate claws into Youtube, which has now degenerated into a morass of messages like this one:

Message from Viacom

It is what I alwyas feared: any little swath of e-democracy out there will eventually be sought out by a massive multibillion-dollar corporation and pounded into submission until it is perfectly corporation-friendly. That is, until it’s devoid of any mildly interesting content.

Now, I know this is going to sound exactly like a great deal of contemporary Internet rhetoric, but in this case, I think it happens to be true. Now, let me be precise here: I’m not saying that Google is crushing e-democracy intentionally, but merely as a horrifying, twisted side-effect of their quest for dollars. Here’s how it works:

Google: Gee, Youtube is getting a lot of hits. We could make a great deal of money from that. Hey, Youtube, would you like to be bought?

Youtube: Wow, money! Sure thing, Mister Google!

Google: Look at all the money we’re making off our new purchase! We’re happy.

The ALMIGHTY ©: Wait just a minute! Some of these videos belong to ME! Lawsuit! Lawsuit!

Google: Oh no, not a lawsuit! Quick, strip Youtube of its content!

Youtube: **Pitiful coughing and sputtering, prior to death**

The same thing happened to Napster. And just wait, before long, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Apple, and other computer manufacturers will be sneaking phrases like this into their End-User License Agreements:

The person who purchases and uses this machine (henceforth referred to as “the user”), by consenting to this license agreement, hereby grants all intellectual property rights for works created with or in conjunction with this machine to <COMPANY NAME> corporation.

And in that same vein, I’ve always been terrified of those EULAs that pop up when you’re installing software. After all, what is at the bottom of that boilerplate bullet list?

The user agrees to grant the provider his or her immortal soul.

As usual, just food for thought.

E-Vengeance

Well, it seems that every time I watch the news, I find yet another contemporary subject to rant about. The only difference is, this time, the rant has some justification.

I was watching one of the primetime news channels (can’t remember which one), when a story came on about the coming rise of “E-justice,” or what I prefer to call WikiJustice. WikiJustice is simple: if the police can’t or won’t take on a case (they see it as “too minor”, or something of that nature), then you spread information about the case all over the Internet, until you build up a loyal network of supporters, who go after the people in question.

Well, this would certainly seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s like Communism: looks really good on paper, but in practice, it puts too much power in the hands of the wrong people. Because, as outgrowths of this WikiJustice, you have WikiVengeance. There are now entire sites devoted to publicly slandering your ex-partner. These bits of gossip are, as far as I can tell, not screened for truth in any fashion. There have been cases recently where people have been falsely accused of having STDs, and have been ruthlessly attacked and hacked away at by an unmerciful public.

As I sat and watched this report, I was reminded about something that we discussed in my Global Connections class a week or two ago. We were talking about just how much of Orwell’s 1984 came true later on. Now, it seems, yet another of the book’s dire prophecies has been realized: you can trust no one, because anybody could potentially accuse you of disloyalty to The Party, and what will follow is months or years of brutal torture in our own modern-day Ministry of Love — the Internet.

The report went on to yet further abuses of information: webcams to catch lousy tippers or cheating lovers. We are construcing the seeds of our own society’s doom: a vast network of nervous snitches who hurry to denounce someone else, lest they be denounced themselves.

Isn’t anybody else concerned about this?

And one final note in relation to 1984. I noticed a further parallel earlier, concerning the true mutability of information on the Internet. It brought to mind these words:

The past was erased, the erasure forgotten; the lie became truth.

George Orwell (1984)

Fermilab? That Old Piece of Junk?

It seems that the old particle accelerator at Fermilab is soon to be outdone again. After being surpassed by the Large Hadron Collider (which is supposed to come online late this year, I think), the dowdy old American accelerator will now be in competition with the International Linear Collider. Of course, poor old Fermilab may get lucky: it’s been chosen as one of the potential sites for the construction of the new machine. Actually, I’ve always been partial to CERN, which may or may not be one of the potential sites.

Well, since I’m on the subject of the LHC and CERN, I must express a bit of a concern I’ve been harboring ever since I heard about the LHC. First, some background is needed: the LHC is a segment of the CERN particle accelerator which is (CERN hopes) to be the most powerful particle collider on Earth. Powerful enough, in fact, that the designers expect that it will create a subatomic black hole. Therein lies my concern: I am perfectly aware that black holes evaporate and disappear by emitting Hawking radiation until they’re gone, but I would certainly hope that it will evaporate quickly. You see, if the little black hole lasts long enough, it could begin consuming particles in the chamber, drift out of the chamber, and begin consuming surface material. This would happen fairly quickly, and the gravitational effects would increase exponentially until most or all of the planet had ben consumed. So I certainly hope that they’ve calculated the evaporation time quite precisely. I also hope they finally learn something about the veracity of string theory.

What is the Sound of Relief?

Well, I get the feeling it sounds something like the sound I just made: Wheeeeeew… This, of course, begs the question: what caused me to make such a strange sound? The cause is simple: the week from hell is finally over. One final class, and I get the weekend (mostly) to myself. And boy, do I need it. When I finally got home yesterday, after making up the biology lab that I missed after wrecking my car, I felt as though I’d been beaten witha stick. I had enough time to have a shower, eat dinner, and go to sleep, in that order.

This probably sounds like the opening of yet another rant. It wasn’t actually supposed to be. I just felt like expressing my sheer delight that I’m finally getting things in order, and I’ll finally get a break for a little while. And, in the week to come, I’m finally going to get a chance to have an appointment with my linear algebra professor and get all that sorted out. So, all in all, barring some ridiculous catastrophe, things are starting to look up at last.

Oh, and I actually managed to do quite well on the calculus exam I had expected to fail. An 81 may not seem to be a stellar grade, but when you consider that most of the class did poorly enough that he’s offering a re-test, and using a 15-point grading scale instead of the usual 10-point one, I think I’m doing quite well!

Remember What the Front of My Car Looked Like…

This sordid tale needs a bit of backstory. Last night, I was hanging out in the living room after finishing my linear algebra homework, and I saw a commercial for Allstate insurance (which happens to be my insurance company; another strange coincidince, I just realized). The commercial showed a cinematic car crash, and then Allstate’s somber celebrity representative (who happens to play President Palmer on 24…not a coincidence, just one of life’s little oddities) said “Odds of being in a movie-style crash: one in a billion. Your odds of being in a crash: one in eight.” At that moment, I thought: “Yeah, right. Not me.”

I was wrong.

Coming out of linear algebra today (after another disastrous quiz), I became one in eight. I rear-ended some unfortunate girl’s car. Thank goodness, nobody was hurt, but I dented up her bumper and smashed the hell out of the front of my car, completely busting the radiator, both headlights, the grille, and the quarterpanels. It’s true what they say: it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a nightmare. You’re thinking “Ooooooohhh, no, that didn’t just happen. My hood isn’t really folded up. I’m dreaming.” Well, of course, I wasn’t. And from then to three or four hours later, when my tow truck finally showed up, everything is a blur.

But even an unfortunate, depressing, scary incident like this still manages to carry some of the oddity that accompanies me everywhere I go. To quote the tow truck driver: “Hey, I figured out what’s wrong: you’ve got a dent!” True story. Also a true story: When I hit her car, I managed to smash the tailpipe. Later on, I looked at the front bumper of my car, which is a fairly crappy plastic job, and saw a perfectly round section taken out of it, like a cookie cutter. Now clogging her bent tailpipe is the following: a circle of plastic bumper, a circle of styrofoam from behind the bumper, and a perfectly circular piece of my old “North Carolina Native” plate.

I do nothing normally.

The Return to Valium Housewives

Now, I don’t know how often housewives really took valium in the ’50s and ’60s, but that is of little consequence now, because it seems that we are about to see the return of that fad. Serves me right for watching the news, I suppose.

Here’s what happened: After I finished watching House, I was lounging around, and I saw an advertisement for the upcoming news broadcast (who the hell advertises news?) Something caught my eye: a seeming endorsement by the pharmaceutical community of the use of antidepressants in people not suffering from clinical depression. This brings to mind Pfizer’s claim that they don’t encourage Viagra’s recreational use: yet another ploy for Big Pharma to line their bursting pockets. Actually, they’re just lining the insides of their wads of cash, now.

Here’s how it goes: in their monetary brilliance, Big Pharma has produced two drugs, exactly identical, but with different labeling. One of them is indicated for clinical depression. The “other” one is indicated for the treatment of nicotine addiction. Insurance companies will usually pay for the one that treats depression, but not the other one (I’ll leave the justification of that to the reader; it seems like Big Insurance would want to help as many nicotine-addicted people quit as possible…wait a minute…they make money off of their…) The result? Paging Dr. Con: doctors are now prescribing the depression-indicated drug, listing the patient as being treated for depression, and sending them on their way. Anybody else see a problem here?

Don’t even get me started on Big Pharma’s ethics issues; I’m sure the one that insurance will pay for is the more expensive one (ka-ching!). Moving on to the human side of things: where does this end? Are we going to start prescribing Ritalin and Adderal for college kids who want to pull an all-nighter (actually, they might already do that; several of my classmates have come in wired on anti-ADD medications). What about viagra for bored teenagers (oops…already did that, too). Okay…maybe heart medications to improve athletes’ performance (hey, I think they already do that, too). Well…I don’t really have anything left…so I suppose the moral of this story is: swallow a fistful of pills. Everybody else is doing it.

Peculiar Spacetime Manifolds

Though I haven’t reached a point in my tensor-analysis self-study where I can describe them mathematically, unusual spacetime geometries and topologies have always fascinated me, and it’s always kind of annoyed me that they don’t get more mathematical press. No matter how improbable they might be, and now matter how insoluble the equations are, I’d really like to read a study of these odd spaces.

For example, what about a toroidal spacetime manifold? This is the only nonstandard spacetime that ever gets discussed. From what I’ve read, an observer in such a universe would see an “extra” image of whatever they could see at a distance (call it M), and another extra image at a distance of aM (where a is the ratio of the “tube” radius to the “toroidal” radius). The set of closed geodesics would be infinite in such a universe.

Or, what about some sort of fractal spactime? For example, begin with a “spherical” spacetime, and join up six more spherical spacetimes (smoothing the junctions, to avoid discontinuities), and then add four such spacetimes to each exterior sphere in the same way, ad infinitum. There would be infinite geodesics in the spacetime, even if the geodesic does not have both ends at infinity.

Or, consider an infinitely long “cylindrical” spacetime. There would be an infinite set of closed geodesics, but also an infinite number of open ones.

And finally, the mother of them all: non-orientable spacetimes! What about a Klein spacetime? Geometrically similar to the toroidal spacetime, but with some reversals along the way. Or a Möbius spacetime? Or one based on the projective plane? The possibilities are enormous!

OW!!!

A bit of advice to any fellow math majors: do your homework immediately. Do your homework the moment you get back to the dorm. In fact, do your homework while you’re walking to your dorm. Actually, learn clairvoyance and do your homework the day before it’s assigned. Don’t do what I did and learn that the hard way. I somehow managed to bungle my time so badly that I left myself something like two hours to get through 86 questions of Calculus homework, and I am hardly confident about the grade. I have just this to say: Ugh!!!

My linear algebra class appears to be kicking my ass as well. Another class where you have to do your homework quite in advance. The actual arithmetic is quite simple, but apparently, I’m making a mistake somewhere along the way. It would seem from this and from my middle-school math experience, that I’m violently allergic to anything with “algebra” in the title.

The Complete Guide to Ultrafunctions

Okay, I promise, this is going to be the last post I write about ultrafunctions, but I just wanted to gather all the information on them in one place.

Definition 1: The ultrafunction u_n\left(f\left(x\right)\right) is defined as f\left(f\left(\dots f\(a\)\dots\) (applied b) times

Theorem 1: f’s range must be the same set as, or a subset of, its domain (that is, f:A\rightarrowA)

Proof: Consider f(f(a)). Since f is a function in a single argument a, it only makes sense to apply f to itself if f’s result is contained in its domain. This can naturally, and easily be extended to a larger chain of functions [such as f(f(f(a)))]. Q.E.D.

A Theory of Theories

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and I got thinking about scientific theories. I was maily considering the purported “theories of everything” (string theory, loop quantum gravity, twistor theory, etc.), and I began to wonder: has anyone developed or attempted to develop a “theory of theories of everything”? Would such an enterprise be fruitful or a waste of time?

Well, from this station, my train of thought kind of lost its brakes and went speeding down the hill…and I got wondering yet again: is it possible that no such theory of everything exists? Is it possible that humans will get caught in an unending series of revisions, each theory matching nature more and more closely, but each theory still having its own flaws and inaccuracies. But what about the multiverse? Even if there is no “theory of everything” in our universe, might there not be one in a different universe? What this question boils down to is this: Is it possible that the underlying mathematical and theoretical structure of a particular bit of the multiverse universal, or is it local? Might mathematics be more or less consistent (removing or worsening things like Russell’s paradox and Gödel’s incompleteness problem) in other universes?

Just some more food for thought…

Ultrafunctions and Transformations

I know I’ve written a whole ream of entries on this subject, but as I said before, it’s proved pretty darned fruitful.

Remember that the ultrafunction is defined thus:

u(f(a),b) = f(f(f(…f(a)…) (applied b times)

Now, consider the transformation t(g(a)) from the set of all functions into the set of all functions. Then, consider the ultrafunction of the transformation of the function:

u(t(f(a)),b) = t(f(t(f(t(f(…t(f(a))…) (as before, b repeats)

Would it be possible to “factor out” the transformation? Well, if that were possible, then we’d have:

t(f(f(f(…f(a)…) = t(f(t(f(t(f(…t(f(a))…)

But, since the transformations of two functions are equal only if they are taken of the same function, then:

f(f(f(…f(a)…) = f(t(f(t(f(t(…t(f(a))…)

Which will obviously only be true for a relatively small subset of the set of all functions.

Words I’d Like to See Expelled from the English Language

Yes, I know, another rant, but I think I’ll have the backing of a fairly sizeable segment of the populaton here.

And thus, my list of words that should be purged from informal English:

  • LOL (when actually pronounced, and to a lesser extent when spelled)
  • pwn, or any variation or extension there of
  • n00b, and all variants
  • Wow, Ooh, and all other common exclamations used in an overly sarcastic manner
  • pr0n (what a sad, sad means of denial)
  • Any, and I repeat ANY word that has an X in it when it should not.
  • Any word that has the first phoneme replaced with another for alliterative purposes
  • Headshot (Those of you who have experienced the same revulsion as I have with the Counter-Strike culture will know exactly what I mean)
  • WoW (In reference to World of Warcraft, which is not hard enough to pronounce to require an acronym)
  • fag (just what we need: friend-to-friend condescension and homophobia all rolled into one…)
  • hax0r (the glory days of the hackers ended as soon as hacking began to be taught in universities, and on the Internet)
  • w00t, and variations (the English language does not, and I repeat does not need any more exclamatory words)

I don’t know how these words managed to remain popular for as long as they have. It boggles the mind.

Yet More on the Ultrafunction

The ultrafunction really seems to be something of a mathematical gold mine (or at least a copper mine), and as I was thinking about it earlier, I’ve had some more ideas about it.

Recall that the ultrafunction is defined thus:

u(f(a),b) = f(f(f(…f(a)…) (repeated b times)

Are there any functions f_i(a) such that u(f_i(a),n) = f_i(a)? I shall refer to these as ultraidentity functions. Here are a few, defined on the set of real numbers:

f(x) = x

f(x) = c

There are also some semiultraidentity functions, which I’ll refer to as n-SI functions. The simplest example of a 2-SI function is:

f(x) = 1/x

Since 1/(1/x) = x, and then f(x) = 1/x, and so on ad infinitum.

f(x) = 1/(x^2), however, is not an ultraidentity function or an SI function, and in fact, taking the ultrafunction of 1/(x^2) repeatedly yields:

1/(1/x^2)^2 = x^4, 1/(x^4)^2 = 1/(x^8), etc.

Ranting About The Superbowl

Warning: To all you hardcore football fans, the following is a bit of an anti-football rant. I’m sorry, I’ve just never liked the sport.

Well, Superbowl XLI is upon us (XLI…that sounds like soemthing from a car advertisement…). And also upon us are the hordes of people who compensate for their junk-food hedonism by saying “I just watch it for the ads.” Give me a break. That’s like saying “I went to war just to get shot in the leg.” This comic pretty much sums up my opinion on that particular subject.

I’ve also discovered that, apparently, many churches have been, for some time, using the superbowl as a means to recruit new members. That strikes me as rather odd, and perhaps a bit too shady a tactic for religious people. Well, apparently the NFL is similar-minded (that’s a frightening thought; me thinking like the NFL), and have invoked the power of the ALMIGHTY ©, and decided that it was a violation of their copyright for anybody to publicly show the superbowl on a screen larger than 55 inches (how the hell do they pick a figure like that?). Okay…that might be logical in some way…except, they’ve furnished an exception to bars and other venues that “Regularly show NFL games to large audiences.” Wow, that’s awfully specific…kinda get the feeling they’re intentionally modifying their market just a bit?

Okay, for all you NFL fans, I’m finished with my yearly rant. You can uncover your childrens’ eyes now.

Windows of Lucidity

In some patients afflited with Alzheimer’s Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, age-related dementia, and some other neurodegenerative diseases, the patients, after having lost a significant amount of their memory and cognitive abilities, will “snap out of it” for brief periods, and temporarily regain some (or in rare cases, all) of their mental function. I’ve always wondered why this happens, but after reading the account of the man who was in a coma for 19 years, and then came out of it, I think I have some idea where these windows of lucidity come from.

I think, perhaps, that since memories and functions are stored “holographically” (that is, in a distributed fasion throughout the brain), and since the brain’s functions are remarkably plastic, that as the neurodegenerative disease progresses, the patient’s brain attempts to work around the spots damaged by the disease (much as it did in the 19-year coma patient who woke up and regained a great deal of function), and connnect to the areas that are still reasonably functional.

Just food for thought…

“If It Gets in the Way, Go Around It”

Normally, when I’m reading about international politics or hearing about it on the radio, I can’t help but giggle a little. It’s often just so damned funny: countires acting like squabbling kids on some playground. But when I was listening to NPR this morning, I heard a report about some international policies that fairly well blew me away.

You see, we Americans have a bit of a problem: our government doesn’t listen to us. In fact, sometimes, the current administration seems to be deliberately toying with us. When the voters say we don’t want to spend any more resources in our endless war on Iraq, the good old executive branch decides to send more resources. By now, fans of Orwell’s 1984 will be noticing a striking pattern. But recently, there arose a rare condition: somebody actually did something about the apparent deafness of our current administration.

The issue at hand is this: human beings have developed a surprising knack for destroying the planet. The American variety of human beings are especially good at it, with their ten-thousand-watt security lights hung on their houses like Christmas tree ornaments, and with their eight-ton Hummers that get about thirty miles to the tank. There are, of course some American-type human beings who are not particularly satisfied with this state of affairs, and wanted the government to perhaps consider doing something about it. But the dialogue went something like this:

Eco-Minded Americans: Mister Government, please do something about the people who are destroying all the good bits of the planet.

Mister Government: I am the decider, and I decide no!

Non-Eco-Minded Americans: Yeah! Continue tax breaks on expensive, lousy, polluting vehicles!

But, thank goodness, somebody realized that there was a problem here, and merry old England (or is it supposed to be called Britain? I never did figure that out) stepped in to help out its former colony. The result: British (English?) officials actually went around the government, and went directly to a handful of American states, in order to try to help get some reasonable “decider”-free environmental policies enacted. And I have just one thing to say about that: Finally!