Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Historical Dunning-Kruger effect

Another copy of the local paper has hit my doorstep and it too lacks a new article by Mr. Kline. I know, by visiting his website, that he has produced at least one new piece. Whether Mr. Kline’s newest writings have been shunned due to poor quality, or whether the local paper has bowed to censorship pressures, I do not know.

There was another letter strongly criticizing Mr. Kline. That brings the total to five against, zero in favor. I would write in but, even though I have been meaning to replace it with a outdoor CF bulb, I do not want my porchlight shot out. The latest letter came at a particularly interesting moment. I had just learned of the Dunning-Kruger effect (DKE) and the letter appeared to be a reasonable illustration of it.

Holly Pyne’s (of Tooele) letter was given a great title “Minority can’t rewrite history”. What was meant by this exactly? After reading the letter it became clear that rewriting history is the job of the purported majority and that the minority should stay home and be minor.

Holly asks: “why do we, as the majority, continue to close our eyes to this injustice.” ? What injustice? Apparently even mentioning the idea of keeping god out of anywhere, or as Holy Holly puts it: “Those who do not believe seem to think they have the right to dictate to the rest of us how, when and where we can worship God.”

When I read Kline’s piece, which is something I might have not done if not for these letters condemning it, I do not get the same message. Kline paints himself as a (at least) deist, not a non-believer. He does not mention worship, only schools and saying “god” in the pledge of allegiance. I wonder what kind of injustice the holy Ms. Pyne would feel if she suspected that people who were real reasoning atheists actually shopped at the same WalMart as her. People like me might interfere with the magic microwaves she receives from her invisible friend. She would probably have to break out the tinfoil hat.

What does this terrible injustice have to do with history? The purpose of the letter is to say who can rewrite history is it not? Ms. Holy seriously degrades the entertainment value of her letter by only mentioning actual historical events twice.

The first mention is my favorite. She rhetorically asks what the founding principle of the country was, and then answers this question with another rhetorical question: “Was it not based on the fact that those who were Christians came here so they could worship God freely?”. That is an actual Holly Pyne of Tooele quote, I did not make it up or add to it at all. Who’s religious intolerance does she believe the pilgrims were escaping…Buddhists? That the whole Christian vs Christian thing mixed with politics was an important motivator for the pilgrims appears to have been lost on her.

I can picture in my mind the idyllic scene that dominates Pyne’s take on American history. After being driven out of Europe by Atheist Satanists the pilgrims can finally relax beside the warmth of a fire made from books and witches. Maybe they can roast marshmallows? Smores?

The second is more pedestrian. Pyne asks (again with the rhetorical question, she likes this literary device a bit too much) “Was it not those same forefathers who also wrote the Pledge of Allegiance and put in it “one nation under God?”.” Well no, it was not the same folks Holly. The “One nation under god” was added in the 50s with support from tail-gunner Joe McCarthy commie hunters. Any surviving pilgrims would have been around 300 years old at the time.

Pyne caps her tirade off with a plea for perseverance “As long as there is a believer in any part of politics, God is there.”. Are we running out of believers in politics? I do not believe that ignorance is in danger of underrepresentation in American politics. With crusaders like Ms. Pyne I do not foresee a future where ignorance is in danger of eradication.

I ran across mention of the DKE in a blog I happened across. The idea was intriguing. The more ignorant or incompetent a person is the more competent or intelligent they see themselves. I was initially struck by the idea that the DKE explained my long winded - poorly edited writing style. After reading Ms. Pyne I believe the DKE is making history in the US.

I will most certainly be on the lookout for DKE in the future.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
-Charles Darwin

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The scarlet letter

I have been eying Richard Dawkins' OUT campaign for some time. The scarlet letter is a marvelous symbol with delicious literary allusions. I should wear it proudly, and I have decided to put it up on this blog.

I was initially hesitant for several reasons.

The first reason is the unfortunate verbiage. OUT campaign sounds like a gay rights group. I'm not sure why Dawkins chose this name. It was not a good choice. Mathew Shepard was killed a few months after I moved to this little town in Utah. The community he was tortured to death in was not too dissimilar from the little town that sits outside my door, quietly blanketed with holiday snow. Gay rights activists have fought a sometimes loosing battle for justice and understanding that deserves, at this point in history, to be made special from other (even worthy) causes.

The second reason was the fear of inadequacy.  The statement "Just because something can be written in a grammatically correct sentence does not mean it is true" may be worthy and true.  Coupling my reasoning with my lazy editing style may work out to prove the converse.

I also do not want to entirely reform my lexicon in one fell swoop to be more accurate in spiritual-like matters.  I wish to be more concerned with talking about things than talking about how I talk about things.  The terminology of life is linked culturally to the terminology of the spiritual. To take the statement that “the Zen Archer is the bow, the arrow and the target” literally is laughable. To ignore the statement's message about shortcuts in mapping perception to action is to ignore a hard-learned lesson in directing human action. The Zen archer statement is incorrect and useful. I will probably use similar shortcuts in my descriptions of activities.

The reasons I do want to put up the scarlet “A are numerous. I appreciate the collective reasoning of the new atheism. I want there to be a better future for my kids and the morality and thoughtfulness of the atheists I have read and spoken with appears the purest force for developing it. There are many other reasons that I will save expounding on for the future.

The reason I wanted to do it now are fairly pedestrian. On December 15th the local newspaper published a syndicated column by the editorialist Daniel B. Kline. I'm not a big fan of Mr. Kline. He probably writes far better than do I, but his opinions are often limp-wristed and apologetic. His Deist-centric piece on his preference for keeping religion out of public schools was in no way objectionable. He did spend an inordinate amount of wordspace on espousing now culturally normal belief in a god is. But he is the sort of writer that, when he espouses, usually does so about things he thinks are normal. A real modern Norman Rockwell opinionsmith. That's surely why they reprint him in the local newspaper.

On December 20th (it is a biweekly paper ), on the letters page, there were four letters roundly criticizing Mr. Klines piece. They went so far as to threaten ending subscriptions because the paper had printed Mr. Klines opinion. Mr. Klines latest article was NOT printed where it would have normally been.

A sampling of the opinions follows:

“I can’t watch the very few who agree with him whine their way to destroying the important truths that, since the beginning, have been the glue which holds this great country together. It sickens me to see the decline of moral values, increase in crime and destruction, and general loss of hope that is creeping into the hearts, minds, and actions of Americans. An argument could easily be made that as these trends began to rise, our belief in God began to decline.” Aaron Spilker, Stansbury Park

“If, as Kline states, most Americans believe in God, then why must the majority bow to the minority professing secular religious beliefs?” Catham Beer, Tooele

“I love your paper, but I’m sick of the politically correct crap prevailing from the immoral minority. Wake up before you print that kind of garbage again. God will some day bring us down like other powerful societies throughout history.” Dave Brunelle, Stansbury Park

“The word is called faith. Faith in God is what gives everyone hope and a sense of well being. Kids need that.” Jan Wishart, Grantsville

This is a sampling not just of opinion but of the force that would silence dissent and enforce conformity. Atheists may be a minority but we are one of the fastest growing most intelligent and potentially powerful minorities in the US. We live amongst you and we are wear the faces of those you know and trust. I will put up the scarlet letter "A"!

Also, since this is a mostly anonymous blog entitled Adult Onset Atheist there is really nothing more to fear by linking in. I love grand, mostly empty, gestures of defiance.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy April 6

Today, in Utah, much celebration called Christmas will take place. Interspersed among the pagan symbolism (Christmas trees etc) and materialistic indulgence (presents under said Christmas tree) are notions of the tortured god-made-man-made-god called Jesus. The ugly “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs will only be put out by the baptists, but most Mormons will tell you that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. Unless you ask them about April 6th.

Some Mormons may even say they do not know about April 6th. Some pretend that it is erroneous.

Since the interface between Mormon belief and observable reality is a constantly changing vapid morass of conjecture it is not surprising that something as concrete as a date becomes blurry. This is surprising as the April 6th date is established in Mormon scripture (as opposed to the generally used December 25th date which is kinda made up). The Mormon scriptures may be so ambiguously written as to throw even those to whom they were written into doubt, but the Mormons also have living prophets. Two living prophets (Lee and Kimball) spoke of April 6th as the birthday of Jesus. This means that, should you get confused by the scripture, god spoke directly through his prophets to tell you when his son's birthday was.

That should be pretty strong stuff, if you believe in the prophet-scripture-faith thing at all. That so many people who call themselves Mormons deny or avoid this seemingly concrete mapping of their revelation onto the calendar is interesting.

If the local WalMart could be convinced (Just like they have been convinced to have an LDS book section up near the registers) to promote Christmas in April I think it might catch on. Perhaps I could be more blunt and state that the unique perspective on Christmas, that when we celebrate it does not actually mean anything , is an opportunity to emphasize those things we truly believe. Those things being that we like a god who does stuff (like the pagan gods who make trees and seasons) and more than that we like the stuff that god makes (Particularly X-Box games).

Now I do not hold that the concrete specifics of a religion make it any more or less believable. The idea that everything could be the result of happenings in a galaxy long long ago and far far away is just as palatable as any more local myth.  I am always amazed at the problems associated with mapping things that supposedly shaped all everything with actual dates and times. For instance, if the world was created in a day, then what date was that exactly? I've been told it was a Tuesday in October. Shouldn't there be celebrations in October for this; “World start day” or “let their be light day”?

Even if it is not spring the days are getting longer in this northern hemisphere. This is reason enough to celebrate. I've been in favor of the idea of pushing Christmas back to the solstice so it could be centered in an observable phenomenon. However you look at it a celebration in the darkest of winter months is a good thing. One cannot blame the Mormons for re-arranging their worship calendar to get a holiday in winter. However, one can point and laugh. It is always good to have laughter at parties, even Official Holiday parties.

"Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!" - Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Frog eyeballs

The Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) have come in and are as interesting as I could have hoped.  I have created a recipe for Chia fresca, but the truth is that they are so simple to use that a recipe is a formality. 

Chia fresca is supposed to be another miracle drink.  The seeds are magic and are available as the direct result of re-discovering ancient ritualistic truths about mankind.  Presumably the truths were revealed by ancient Gods or astronauts.  I have trouble following these things but there is often a connection between aliens from outer space and colon health (and you wondered why the anal probes?).

I would not be surprised to see Chia patches and tonics marketed for all sorts of things in the not-too-distant future.  The seeds are readily available, very easy to grow, and currently a second-rate cash crop in parts of south America.

The nutrition information is somewhat impressive.  Lots of Omega 3s, antioxidants, calcium, other good stuff.  I'm not sure the seeds would work as a primary food source. The Tarahumara apparently use them as an energy drink on their very long (100 mile plus) runs. 

The cost of the Chia seeds is similar (slightly less) to that of other energy drink options.  I thought they would be worth a try.

The basic method I use for them is:
Put a 50ml scoop of them into a 1 liter water bottle.
then add enough powdered energy drink of choice to make 1/2 a liter of drink. 
then add 1 liter of water.
cap and shake.

It is important to shake the bottle for a while as the seeds can clump irreversibly when beginning to swell.  Usually I can shake the bottle for a couple of minutes, let it sit for 15 minutes, and shake it again to successfully prevent clumps.  The bottle is then left in the fridge overnight to get the best consistency.

The consistency is the coolest thing about these.  The seeds swell and produce a gelatinous sheath, kind-of like a capsule on a microorganism.  The effect is that the drink looks like it is full of the eggs of some kind of amphibian.  I like it.

I have tried to make drinks with a similare consistancy using basil seeds.  The Basil seeds I have gotten from local Asian markets did not work well.  Perhaps they were not fresh enough.  These Chia seeds have produced my first real success in making what I lake to call a "frog eyeball" drink.  I picture Macbeths witches slugging the stuff despite the fact that they clearly ask for "eye of newt and toe of frog".  Somehow "Newt eyeball drink" or "frog toe tonic" did not work for me.

I've tried to picture the final product for you bellow.  The picture on the right is un-augmented.  On the left I've stained the gelatinous sheaths with a black dye.  The scale and concentration of chia seeds are roughly the same.

The recipie:

4 TBSP Chia seeds
1 TSP Lime juice
2 TBSP Honey
1 Liter water

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zeno's paradox

Zeno's is a particularly unsatisfying paradox for me. By Zeno of Elea's paradox I describe a generalized version of his most popular two (the arrow, and Achilles and the tortoise)

Firstly it makes you work to get what it is about. The recursive paradoxes are much more inviting in this regard. Who cannot be sucked in by the “this statement is false” paradox. After thinking about this recursive paradox for a while you can at least be comfortable in the knowledge that the only time you have wasted is the time actually spent thinking about the paradox itself.

Secondly there are several apparent solutions to Zeno's paradox.

Zeno's paradox is traditionally told as some sort of question concerning a really fast Greek god racing a turtle or some great Greek warrior like Achiles running to someplace famous. The details are not important. My favorite explanation of it is embedded in a joke.

  An engineer, a mathematician, and a theoretical physicist went to a dance. Shyly they positioned themselves against a wall where they had a good view of the dance.
  The mathematician sighed heavily and said “I wish I could go ask one of those people sitting at that table over there to dance with me, but it is impossible.”
  “Why is that?” asked the theoretical physicist.
  “If I go halfway over to the table, I will still have halfway to go” replied the Mathematician.
  “Yes” Said the engineer.
   “Then if I cover half the remaining distance I will still have a quarter of the way to go” Said the mathematician.
  “Yes” Replied the engineer.
  The mathematician continued “I can then cover half the remaining distance, but a 16th of the distance remains.”
  The theoretical physicist chimed in “Everytime you cover half the distance to the table a small but calculatable amount of distance remains.”
  “Right!” said the mathematician “So it impossible for me to go over there and ask for a dance”
  The physicist was about to commiserate with a “too bad for us” when the Engineer got up and walked over to the table.
  The physicist and the mathematician watched in amazement as the engineer asked a particularly attractive young lady to dance, proceeded to dance with her, gave her a lingering kiss, and then came back to their place on the wall.
  “How did you do that?” asked the physicist in awe.
  “Although you were correct I calculated that I would be able to get close enough for any purpose I could think of”.

I like the joke because it is one of the very few I can think of where the engineer gets the girl. Of course with competition like a theoretical physicist and a mathematician the odds are seriously stacked in his favor.

The crux of the paradox is that infinite division creates an infinite number of pieces. Any number can be used. Any situation where the finite measurable quantity could conceivably be infinitely divided can be used. The purpose this paradox is used for most often is to introduce the infinitesimal. A common place to hear it is in introductory calculus. The trouble is that as soon as some people hear it they are thinking in terms of solutions and not of the backdoor introduction to the elusive fluxion.

A couple of solutions are:
  1. The mapping solution. Suppose you tell Mr. X that he can find the special something against the far wall of a room, but instead you put it about three quarters of the way across the room. Mr. X dutifully covers half the distance to the far wall, knowing he will never reach it. He then covers half the remaining distance. Before he can move you run up to him telling him to reach down and pick up the special something.

    In this solution you know that Mr. X's proposed infinite path must cross through specific identifiable points (in this case I identified the three quarters point) along the way. You simply map the destination to one of these points so that Mr.X and the special something are coincidental.
  1. The multi-dimensional limit solution. This is the solution most desired by teachers of beginning calculus. In this one the engineer is pictured as traveling at a constant rate of speed. He travels half the distance across the room in one minute (it is a really big room). He then covers half the remaining distance in 30 seconds. Half the remaining distance in 15 seconds, half the remaining after that in 7.5 seconds. In this way as the chunks of distance get infinitesimal so to do the periods of time taken to traverse them. One can then show that if one adds up this infinite set of numbers it can take no longer than one minute to traverse the second half of the room.

    Here the number of parcels in one dimension are offset by the size of those parcels in another dimension. If I were teaching introductory calculus I would pause at this point and introduce several notational schemaes.
  1. The improbability solution. This solution may be my favorite because its heart it is fraught with complexity. What do we really know, and when do we know it? When the poor paradox-ed individual leaves from their starting point the questions of their existence are small with respect to the question at hand. We can identify a ratio of their size to the size of the distance traversed. For any reasonably sized distance that ratio is quickly stood on it's head. When the distance to be traversed is close to the size of the traverser then aspects of the traverser become important. How far have they really moved? If they breath in and their chest expands have they moved again? If they breath out are they moving backwards? Even if we shore up our paradox with some lame stipulation we do not keep trouble at bay for long. Due to the nature of geometric progressions we are soon at the size where surface irregularities rule. The border of a human, at the microscopic level, is not precise. Cells slough off, bacteria move around, strange growths blossom. Are the chunks of skin raining off the mover still part of them? The nature of the verbal tricks needed to maintain our paradox are week at this point, but more trouble awaits. Soon we are at the scale of the atom. Is the individual as large as the distance traveled by the furthest electron orbit associated with the atom closest to the destination? Since that orbit is well described as a probability cloud that extends around neighboring atoms (including those in air molecules) how do we draw a line? Are we to be cavalier and arbitrarily choose one? If we do this then aren't we arbitrarily creating a paradoxical structure. What does the paradox mean if we are to depend on arbitrary decisions in order to maintain it? We become subjective. To person B the traveler has passed into the sphere of the destination. Person C (who is more interesting than persons A or B) notes that there is a certain probability of calculatable physical interaction even before the traveler started across the room and could be said to have arrived even before leaving.

    Persons A and B often wonder why they ever invite person C to their parties.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Micah 1:8

Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.

I've always liked this bible quote because it sounds like something said at the start of a great party.   People asure me I take it out of context.  I've read it in context and do not remember anything particularly interesting about the context.  I submit therefore that I do not take it from context; that I liberate it willingly from the confines of context.  freed thusly it speaks more of the awesomeness of life.

 I ran along the beach last week and felt like my breath, labored and raw as running makes it, was the whistling of mythical beasts.  How I would like to hear them wail and howl at the sky.  Dogs cry the moon to earth and taunt the tuneless crooner in the same voice.

I ran into several things that would make great starts for a metephorical discusion. two of them:

1) I found a dead possum.  It was laid beside the road, half under a bush.  On top of it were laid some bunches of rough yellow flowers.  Each bunch was the size a child's hand could gather.

2)  I developed a blister on my insole while running.  In order to run the next day I put a "medicated" bandaid on the blister.  The medication fused with the raw blistered skin ripping it off and leaving a oozing sore when it was removed.

Two things happened that pleased me to the point of giggles.

1) Someone uploaded an old poem of mine into wikipedia and I found it quite by accident.

2) I moved some emotional detritus from a corner of my mind and found a dear friend.

Some people say that to be an atheist is to pull yourself from the flow.  Some would demand that feelings are logic-ed away in the same breath that dispels an awkward god.

We are made of the stuff of stars and we shine.  Our lives that create love are made of the stuff and we move like massless particles.

I looked for the green flash again.  I have yet to convincingly see it.  However, in looking, I have seen things like this:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes Santa there is no snow

Every-time I even think about southern California I get a feeling of crushing loneliness.

I don't have a good reason for this. 

My memories of the place are filled with all night conversations
and coffee jitters till dawn. 
Of uncompromising love
and a strange season-less beauty. 
Of salt and sand and sunburns and scents.

When I landed for my week here it was raining.  The 405 and 101 were moving at about 15MPH and the trip to Oxnard took hours.  The world beyond my tunnel of vision and the taillights of the car in front of me was gone.  I was alone, surrounded by people in cars.  What better way to re-connect with the feelings of alone and unwanted and unloved and other un-ness.  It is easy to hate LA and its environs.  It gives a name and substance to the source of my feelings, however inaccurate the identification is. 

One thing about knowing the plans for the future is that I can make coincidental plans.  This time in soCal I was going to make things different.  This time I had a plan. 

Like many of my plans most of it fell through.  First I tried to contact old frineds from LB but those I could find had moved and others I could not find or could not meet me half way (it is a really long way from south Orange County to Ventura).  I also tried contacting a couple of friends who had moved to LA.  Of course contacting people you have not spoken to in 20+ years is more of an affront than a pleasant surprise. 

The next phase was to convert the landscape into a more personal terrain.  If you have ever driven in LA you know that the world changes when you leave the freeways.  Locally they call the non-freeway streets "surface streets" as if you are coming in from an extra-planetary orbit when you exit onto them.    My plan was not to just leave the freeways and tool around on planet LA but to come into intimate contact with the planet's surface.  I was going to do this by running, specifically a race, along the streets of an unfamiliar city. 

The race that co-incided with my schedule was the "Santa to the Sea" half marathon. 

To me, as an atheist, there is something intriguingly sublime about the Santa concept.  The concept is steeped in the terminology of belief.  People even sport "I believe" buttons at this time of year.  There are long-winded stories and movies and songs about believing in Santa.  But even the people who most fervently identify with the believe in Santa verbiage in no way actually believe in Santa.  I think this is cool.  I also think it is a subtle way that society exposes how people can express belief in something like a theist god without believing at all.

At the last minute I reconsidered running in the VFF and used my "regular" shoes.  The race went very well.  I finished in the top 90% and ran a PR.  This 68 year old man with a T-shirt that said "100 marathon club" passed me in the last mile.  I would STRONGLY recommend taking up running if you do not now, especially if you are significantly slower than I am.

The ultimate purpose, that of emotional grounding, was exceptionally well achieved.  There are elements of being human that can be manipulated to make life more enjoyable.  I have often looked at things and asked myself "what is really going on here (WIRGOH pronounced and sometimes spelled WeirGo or WierdGo)"?  Luckily I have not succumb to the engineering disease, but I do bear scars from it.

In the past few years I have more aggressively applied the WierdGo principal to life.  Many times this principle works better for life issues than for things.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Period three implies chaos

Today I went into AOD's school and did a short presentation on Chaos. I've always liked chaos as a concept.
Chaos passes through the times in life where the unstable mixture of frustration and confusion and rage have been ignited by a spark of love. The devastation left by this conflagration leaves tiny fragments of life, each of which bears a similarity to the whole. The deeper you look the greater the number of similar patterns emerge. As you zoom out to try and take in the whole the patterns fit together in a jumbled superpatern with familiar resemblance to each piece. Because the fragments fit together it is not as if the world has broken; more like a veil has been removed and detail beyond the powers of human resolution are revealed.
Of course in going in to talk to AOD's advanced Jr. high math-class I take a slightly less maudlin approach to the subject. I also wanted to avoid the use of complex numbers. So I found a really cool little program and rewrote it cludgily (word?) to run on Linux and printed up a giant multi-page Mandelbrot poster. I am too embarrassed of my own code to post it, but here is a link to the original coder. Perhaps I'll post a picture of the poster if I go back to school before it gets destroyed. Something about being in a Jr. High at all that makes my skin crawl. All I really know about Jr. High is how to engage in trouble so profound the very mental state of the delinquents is eroded. Often we must not teach from our own experiences, but instead from the things we read in books.
The Mandelbrot set is such an easy concept considering it is infinity complex. The way I presented it was by 1st going over the Koch curve, Menger sponge, a few nature fractals and then the logistic equation. I then presented the following equations:

Which I described as iterative functions. I presented the output generated by iterating from a couple of closely spaced points (carefully chosen so one of them was in the Mandelbrot set and the other was outside). The picture looked like this:

I explained that I would put a black dot where the starting point of the spiraling-in iterative path began. “This black dot” I said “is IN the Mandelbrot set”.
I had this projected on the wall, so instead of going into the Pythagorean distance formula to determine the deviation from the starting point I picked up a meter stick and began to measure the distances right on the wall. This created a dramatic pause, filled only with mad gesticulations by a middle aged man. Then I exhaled the statement “when these measurements exceed two we count the number of iterations it took to get here”. I turned to the audience and changed the slide to a spectral rainbow with a scale of integers beside it. “I then look up the number of iterations on this arbitrary color scale and color in the dot.”
I paused
I changed the slide.
“of filling in all the dots outside the Mandelbrot set on the Cartesian coordinate system is this”

“...and if we zoom in here”
I pointed to a small box on the slide
“we get this”
and I put up this slide.

“And if we zoom again we get this.”

“Again and this”

“and this”



I thought it went over OK. Perhaps I get a little to theatrical for a third period Jr. High math-class. Of course “period three implies chaos”.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cycling Tube Boob

Cycling should be boring to watch, and I'm sure for many folks it is. This is natural. The act of cycling is simply the act of pedaling over and over and over again. Sure there is much more amazing scenery in cycling than say basketball.But what goes on should be mind-numbingly dull. one guy pedals while other guys pedal until one goes a little

I can set up my rollers and pedal away for hours re-watching Fabian Cancellara win the 2006 Paris Roubaix, or Tom Boonen win the 2005 tour of Flanders, or my favorite...watching Floyd Landis win the 2006 Tour de France.

When I watch movies on my rollers I turn the speakers up loud so I can catch the dialog. With the cycling I am as likely to be listening to Jimi Hendix as Phil Liggett.

I'm not much of a fan of cycling. I kinda follow it. I was very pleased that Cadel Evans won the 2009 world road race, but I did not find out for a couple of days. Most sports writing bores me to tears. Yet I can watch what should be one of the world's most boring videotaped events with my attention glued to the tube.

Part of it is the exhaustion. Changes in body English or bike control as well tuned athletes are ground down by their own effort. The cyclists are not performing they are expending themselves. Little changes in position alter the amount of power they must generate to maintain speed.

I've watched a couple of marathons and they are not that intriguing to me. The runner tries so hard to conserve energy that the signs of exhaustion and effort are subtle. When the mobile cameras get in close to show what the runner's face looks like they always appear to me to have a “get that camera out of my face” type look. It is not just the exhaustion that makes cycling so interesting to me, as marathon runners also exhaust themselves fully in their discipline.

Perhaps it is the drugs. The riders' not mine. Is “doping” the same as “using”?

This season's marathon training coupled with my gym membership have robbed me of important bicycling DVD time. When I get back from CA the Kestral is going on the rollers and the covers are coming off the DVD's. I have this one of a guy called Alberto Contador (Stephen Colbert says his name means “douchebag” en Espanol) winning the 2007 TDF. I hear the "flying chicken" is in rare form that year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Star Wars Jesus

Just the other day I made contact with an old friend. Perhaps I would be better to say a friend of old as I had not communicated with them for a couple of decades. In the communication there were several allusions to things of a “spiritual” nature. For no particular reason this made me think of Star wars Jesus (SWJ)
If there was a Jesus that I could really like it would be SWJ. Bleeding cross Jesus and fatherly overlord Jesus actually make me a bit nauseous. The bible pounding poorly defined “you must repent Jesus” often causes me to imagine the late stages of tropical skin diseases.

I am so very pleased that SWJ has become so very popular these days. There are even some folks trying to codify SWJ. They have written a book.

The SWJ I am talking about is the Jesus that is everywhere and nowhere at all. You simply “have to believe” and have “moral thoughts” attributed to SWJ and you can go to heaven. Let the force be with you. A couple reasons why I like SWJ are these:
1) It requires a personal moral compass to exist. Right and wrong exist independent of SWJ and she simply augments this. I like it when people believe it is necessary to know the difference between right and wrong. I do not like it when people say believing in a mythology anoints them with “moral truth”.
2) It is so ephemeral that it can be mapped onto physical attributes of the universe like simply being or the interaction of mater and energy. It is almost the fabric of the universe itself and is therefore as undeniable as chanting OM.
3) It’s existence relies on a self referential positive thought device that is probably quite healthy (mentally speaking).
In fact the only reasons not to like SWJ is the terminology, and perhaps an unfortunate allusion to iron-age mythology. If an alien had no idea what the vestigial terms meant when they had SWJ described to them it would sound pretty cool. It might be a bit pedestrian, as theoretical constructs go. As a mental exercise it could rank up their with Yoga or TM.
I don't think SWJ is a new or compelling idea in and of itself. SWJ is more of a sign of a theological coming of age. The secularists did not have many new ideas when they ushered in a age of liberal theology but they opened a window in society that let people look out. I think SWJ is such a window for our age. I can only hope that SWJ matures from a vague set of notions to a firm religious doctrine taught and canonized. The major obstacle to this is that SWJ is by her very nature a vague set of notions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chaos from life

I really like the Logistic equation. It comes in a couple useful forms, the simplest is the iterative form that can be used to model a time discrete biological population.For instance if one has a population that produces new members at a rate “r” of the current population we can generate the new population by iterating the equation:

Where an+1 is the next years population, spawned from this years. “r” is obviously the fertility rate (or better the “fecundity” rate) . This equation just demonstrates an ever expanding population. Lets assume that there is an upper limit to the population given by some constant like “K”. Then one model of the population is given by the logistics equation:

In order to make it simpler I can define A=a/K or simply set K to 1 (which may appear weird, setting a population maximum to 1, but I can use units like “metric tones of wheat” or “boxcarloads of bunnies” so the maximum population of 1 represents more that one individual). This gives me the super simple equation:

This is the equation of a parabola. To show it is nothing special here is a plot of it. I choose a few different values for r to give a feel for what it does. It is no less elegant than any parabola.

We cannot get this equation to do interesting things until we begin using it iteratively.

What I mean by this is that we use the output of running the equation as the input of running the equation again. We do this over and over and see what happens. If we choose r-2.9 the iterations look like this:

If I clean off the first 500 iterations you can see that the oscillations shown in the fist graph have settled down to a single value. If I choose a value less than 2.d the iterations also settle down to a single number. With decreasing values for r this number decreases to 0 at r=0.

If I choose a value for r slightly higher than 3 this is what happens.

That’s right we get a stable oscillation between two values.

If I choose r=3.5 I get four values like in this graph:

If I choose an r=3.7 a bizarre thing happens here is the graph for the first 100 iterations:

It almost looks like there could be oscillations settling down to a pattern. If I just plot the iterations after say 100 you can see that they apparently do not.

This is cool. In fact there is an infinite level of complexity here. If I vary r from 0 to 4 and plot the values obtained for 100 iterations after iterating the function 1000 times I would get a picture like this.

I can stare at this picture for hours. Look at the areas where order appears to peek out of chaos. Is this a metaphor for life from the plot of an equation that rustically describes life? What about those apparent lines in chaos? I love to blow up the picture and look at the bits of it. The more it is enlarged the more complexity it reveals.

Part of the cool thing about this is that if people used the generally available computation methods available when I was born (slide rules!) then a person calculating this picture would only recently have finished. This is a pattern almost unknown to previous generations. Now one can buy a t-shirt with it printed on it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SLCM 2008

I signed up to run another marathon about a month back. I begin my two digit long runs in a few days and thought it would be good to remember what an actual marathon was like. I ran the Salt Lake City marathon in 2008 (it was my first marathon) and had written up a short report of it that I include bellow. (originally from 22 April 2008)

I ran the Salt Lake City Marathon this Saturday. It was my first marathon so my impressions are void of any comparisons between this and any other marathon. I’m writing this while my legs still feel the last bits of ache from the effort. I still remember the look in the eye of the volunteers who passed me half full cups of water as well as those who passed me cups that were half empty. I also wanted to write this out as an antidote to the ribbing and some heartfelt sympathy that I have gotten from people I know who do not think I finished. The timers of the Salt Lake City Marathon misfiled the results for the last 116 finishers (about 10% of the field) and have not replied to my numerous e-mails not only asking them to fix the problem but telling them how they could.

The race weather should have been perfect. Cloud cover, 50F, moderate humidity, not unlike a standard issue perfect Salt Lake City spring day. When the race started I felt a great leap of adrenaline up under the legacy bridge I could see heads begin to bob up and down. A couple of minutes later the crowd around me began to move. Then it stopped. Then it began to move again. We passed the speaker stack and the booming undifferentiated sound moved my viscera in ways indistinguishable from excitement. Still running slowly (The only speed I really run at) I passed my cheering family my oldest daughter began to run along side me on the outside of the barricades. By the time she stopped I was smiling with sense I had not achieved at any time on any training run.

The course is mostly flat feeling with one impressive mile plus drop at about mile fourish. There are some ups and downs other than the big drop but the wind that began blowing hard after mile 6 smoothed out my impressions of the terrain. If the wind was at my back (a good portion of the way after mile 15) it was as good as downhill. If the wind was blowing grit and dust into my eyes I mostly noticed the cracks and texture of the pavement. The big drop at mile fourish allowed me to just kick my legs out and pick up speed. I was flying, passing people whose memories of tortured quads kept them from flight. I was no longer bound by earth. The view across the salt lake valley and the mountains felt endless. Within an hour most views of the valley would be obscured by blowing dust that clung to every direction like an evil fog.

At the bottom of the big drop the half marathoners split off and there was no more crowd. I was back to earth. I still felt great but the sudden loss of 90% of the world’s population made me feel suspicious. Happy fit people would occasionally pass me with words of gleeful encouragement. I somehow felt that they were lining up to get a good look at me so that later they could say “you know that fat guy who died at the SLC marathon; I spoke to him just before he died”.

Then the wind started in earnest. To tell the truth the wind played a game of peek-a-boo around buildings and between other obstacles. It only came out into the open in the intersections where is waved garbage at the runners. Just after mile 14 the course turned onto the Van Winkle Expressway. I pulled off my hat to wipe my forehead and it felt like 120 grit sandpaper.

The Van Winkle expressway is a several mile segment of a four-and-more divided highway nestled into a suburban neighborhood. The runners had the road from the center grass strip to the crumbling edge of the shoulder. I wanted to run in the middle of the road, to own it for the few moments I ran down this section of the race. I kept catching myself veering off to the shoulder and toeing a clear path just to the right of the fog line. This section was perhaps the ugliest of the run and the one of the places I had the most fun. There was a place in my mind that wouldn’t just go play in the street. Most of the other runners that I could see also tended to the shoulder.

Unfortunately the neuroma in my right foot began bothering me after I left the Van Winkle expressway behind. I tried ignoring it for a couple of miles but it finally reduced me to a limp that made my walking pace appear fast. Perhaps I was paying for that marvelous downhill flight. I had to stop. I took off my shoe and massaged the bottom of my foot. The neuroma was bigger than I ever remember it being. It felt like a little gel packet of pain. I literally pushed it between the bones of my foot and it felt surprisingly better. I put the shoe back on and began to walk, then I began to run.

Even though the sun was muted by the duststorm I think the real clouds must have burned off by the time I reached mile 20. I could feel the radiant energy of the sun trying to touch me. The suburban streets in the several miles leading up to liberty park have big old trees lining them. There was real patchy shade. The warm-cool-warm of running through the shadows the trees cast was hypnotic. Unfortunately the neuroma wanted more attention. I knew what to do this time. I quickly found a seat that an apparently sagging runner made so comfortable looking with his “I’m not running another step” look on his face. I stripped off the shoe and sock, palpated the gel pack of pain, and was back on my feet in no time. I walked then ran then I saw Liberty Park. A mile or so later I passed through the 5K start and knew that I could finish.

With one more, this time protracted, stop to attend to the neuroma I was out onto the wide streets of downtown Salt Lake City. I began running faster and faster past places where I had only walked before. My neuroma began asking for more attention to which a small irritating voice in my head replied “I gonna get surgery and shut you up for good”. I began passing people, admittedly they were the struggling wounded at the far end of the race, till I turned into the final chute and performed a slow motion sprint across the finish. My wife and two kids met me past the finish. Each gave me a kiss careful to touch a little of my grimy grit encrusted coating as possible.

I had finished my first marathon. I finished it well under the six hour time limit for the race. It was kinda a big deal to me.

Within hours I could not convince myself to walk a single step. I became interested in what my finishing time was. I checked on the internet and found that AA sports had already published results for the marathon. Unfortunately my name was not on there. What had happened? Had I been disqualified for repeatedly taking off my shoe?

Since I am passingly familiar with common screw-ups in webpage maintenance I did some searching of the results server. The linked-to results were in a aptly named file called slcm08.htm in a directory called results/2008/. I found another file called slcm08.htm in a directory called results/2007/. I looked at this file and along with my results I found the results of 116 other slow runners like myself. I though all of us would like our results properly linked to so I e-mailed everyone whose e-mail address I could find associated with either the Salt Lake City Marathon or the timing company.

The next morning I asked my wife to pick up the Salt Lake Tribune when she went to the store (Sundays are a great day to get ones grocery shopping done in Utah). Every year the Tribune publishes an alphabetical list of the marathon finishers with finishing times. This list like the finisher’s medal is one of the proofs that remind people, after the pain fades, that they really did it. My name, and the names of the last 116 people, were missing. I emailed again, telling whoever would respond that they only needed to copy the file to restore the finishing times of almost one in ten of the finishers. Since it was Sunday I expected, and got, no response. I began getting sympathetic e-mails from friends who knew how long I had been training, had looked up the finisher list, and who were now telling me that there was always next year. I may have sent more e-mails to the organizers and timing company at this time.

On Monday I began getting the sympathy of my co-workers. I sent more e-mails. The only response I have gotten so far is from Scott Kerr. Scott is the president of the Marathon’s organizing group and actually the last person I expected to reply. He says that he has forwarded my e-mails to the timing company. So if you were one of the brave 10% who finished last your results exist on the timing company’s server, they just have to read some of the many e-mails they have gotten on how to fix the problem and they can fix it in about 10 seconds. If you want to see your results now go to:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Atheists suck

My Awesome Oldest Daughter (AOD) came home from her middle school yesterday so distraught she assured me repeatedly that “NOTHING IS WRONG” and that she was “OK”. Apparently one of her BFF had been told by A BOY in her carpool that AOD was “not a member of the LDS church and therefore a satan worshiper” and added that BFF should have nothing more to do with AOD. I should mention that this BFF has been on AOD to “just come and try out” a mormon Sunday service. What sane middle school student wants to sit in a mormon church for three hours on a weekend afternoon. I half believe this is a manipulative conversion plot by the BFF since a Satan worshiper turns to dust on entering a church or something.

Which leads me to say that atheists SUCK. There is not one other atheist at her middle school that she can conspire with. In fact over 95% of the student body of her school is mormon. In 1996 the mormon prophet of god who speaks directly for god to the member of the church declared that "The new battle is one against atheism.". I guess that middle school children are the foot soldiers. Who is there to protect AOD? Should she convert to avoid continued harassment and to gain a measure of social acceptance. Those of you who do not remember middle school might think these things trivial. Those of you who remember realize that middle school children would sell their soul just to eliminate a few pimples.

With all the events and outreach programs and youth ministries and etc…. The world of fantasy and religion opens their arms to the emotional and, more importantly, social needs of middle school aged kids. What do atheists offer? As far as AOD is concerned just loving parents and other useless stuff.

There is a list that I have found great pleasure in. It is called “Hundreds of proofs of gods existence”. Yet it lacks so many that would only make sence to a middle school student:

“Argument from social calendar
1) Evolution supposedly took hundreds of millions of years and god made the earth in seven days.
2)It is seven days to the dance.
3) Therefore god exists.”


“Argument by crush
1) God started with just one man and one woman.
2) [Insert name here] is the only [boy/girl] that exists for me.
3) Therefore god exists”

Or (most depressing)

“Argument from teen angst
1) Mom/Dad do not really really understand me.
2) Someone who says they believe in god says they really really really understand me.
3)Therefore god exists.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The committe MP3

I downloaded the MP3 of the committee meeting and listened to it. When I was done listening to the 3ish hours of it I wanted to take a shower.

So (towards the middle of the recording) Roy gets up in front of the committee and speaks of “feedback loops”. Are they positive or negative? Generally, do they compensate for input or do they amplify input? These are truly fundamental questions and worthy of much study. Roy’s use of the term “feedback loops” as opposed to feedback loop suggests that there are multiple feedback processes involved.

Perhaps carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by a chemical feedback loop. I can envision one. In this loop the amount of carbon dioxide influences the rate of carbon dioxide removal. The more CO2 the faster it is removed so the actual quantities remain the same. I could easily believe that such a process would exist as CO2 fixation is CO2 concentration limited in most environments. If this process existed then CO2 levels would top out and start to decrease. Since my imaginary process is driven by living organisms it should be a relatively rapid response. The rate change should only take a year or so. The problem with my feedback process is in the data. CO2 levels continue to increase at rates roughly tied to the rate of fossil fuel consumption. Bad feedback model.

The above points out a feedback loop of exceeding importance. Ideas are cultured, then exposed to data, and then the ideas are refined or discarded. The nay-saying victim scientist who is shunned and forgotten despite his righteousness is a tragic myth. These poor souls do exist in Hollywood movies, nuthouses and “Intelligent Design” rallies. That we should court them in public policy hearing is absurd.

Roy goes on and on about feedback loops without describing any. Well… that’s not entirely true, he does describe one, kinda…

Roy tries to make a point about clouds. Not that they get in his eyes or coffee but that they are involved in the warming of the earth. Roy suggests that a key positive feedback loop goes like this; “When the earth is warm there are fewer clouds which allow the earth to warm up more (then fewer clouds, then more warming….)”. Roy tries then to put this into perspective by asking “How do they know that warming causes fewer clouds and it wasn’t fewer clouds that cause warming?”. Roy provided a dramatic pause of a couple of prime seconds after this bombshell. He then went on to state how he published a paper on this and the news media did not beat a path to his door. I have also have not yet read his paper perhaps it would be more insightful because it does not appear to be a very earth shattering revelation. In order for one to have a positive feedback loop Roy’s “discovery” would be an essential part of it. How can he state what is an essential truth as a refutation of that system it is an essential truth of? Perhaps he is spinning a logical web? Unfortunately he jumps into semi-paranoid conspiracy warnings rather than develop his science.

Roy comes back to state that feedbacks are only negative but he does not describe any more feedbacks specifically. Then he begins to blame politics for deceptions of the scientific community. “Little Ice age”, “medieval warming period”, “every century a warming period”… all discounted by politically motivated scientists. Good thing Roy is there to set us all straight. “The main culprit or candidate (for nature’s cause of global warming) is the pacific decadal oscillation (PDO)” says Roy. The PDO is a statistical feature of temperatures. It is like saying that the cause is the fact that we have seen something like this before. He then goes on to state that output of the sun and volcanoes and just about any physical cause mechanism is not strong enough to drive climate change like mankind’s input.

He concludes then by stating that apparently global climate change is caused by global climate change. His implication that strong evidence for a part of a feedback loop is evidence that the loop doesn’t exist lies undisturbed. His paranoid ramblings about committees and bribed scientists use up half his testimony; time that could have been used to illuminate his work if it were really important to him.

So what does the committee take home from these scientific testimonies? Well they pickup on the paranoid ramblings about political conspiracies.

“I hope the science can in some way reach a broader consensus before we invest our entire future on a science that may not be conclusive” said Rep. Lorie D. Fowlke who decried the polarization of the science.

In keeping with the emphasis on the political portion of Spencer’s testimony Rep. Roger E. Barrus quotes Vaclav Klaus at length and then states that a coordinated response to carbon emissions will cause “Mass redistribution of wealth that will change our freedom”.

Finally we get a glimpse as to why a committee in Utah reached all across the country to pull Roy out of his hole in Alabama. Rep. Michael E. Noel, House Chair stated “I’m still questioning whether the scientists are totally resolved on this issue”. What makes a consensus to him if 99% of all climate scientists is not good enough? He lays it out in the following quote: “if there is still a question out there like Dr spencer I’m not sure I want to subject my constituents to (a list of bad economic things)”. So as long as someone in willing to say they disagree with mankind’s effect on GCC there is not enough consensus.

But just in case Roy was not enough there is a surprise testimony by Bob Ferguson “debunking” the junk science involved in GCC. How did Ferguson end up in a Utah public utilities committee meeting when his office is in Washington DC (is it related to his BA from BYU?)? He goes on for almost as long as Roy. More paranoid political ramblings from Bob. More unfocused objections (sort of like the “gaps” in the fossil record ID objections) from Bob. Who paid Bob to come out?
I could listen to the MP3 of the meeting again. I cannot decide if it makes me sad or angry or just incredibly bored to listen to this.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gary and Roy

I started this blog to serve as a venue to almost anonymously vent anti-religious rants where they would not have to bee seen by anyone. Yet another blogosphere clot of rambling flotsam. Unfortunately it may have served as a pressure relief valve and I have had little to say about atheism, god, evolution, or stupidity since I began it.

Then yesterday I read about the glorious Gary Herbert (governor by appointment of Utah) and his Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee meeting’s agenda for today (Wed. 21 Oct 2009). Gov. GaryH has been widely quoted as stating he is “not convinced by the science” behind global climate change (GCC). Today’s meeting of his committee contains as a key element of its agenda a discussion of the science behind GCC. This discussion is seen as designed to discredit the previous governor’s blue ribbon advisory committee’s findings (which were generally that GCC is caused by man’s CO2 output and is bad for Utah). Now the most likely reason for Gov GaryH’s skepticism is not that he has searchingly examined the copious science on the subject and found it wanting. The reason probably sits nestled in one of Utah’s back road coal powered electrical plants that are busily churning out kilowatts for California. Admittedly, they also churn out Utah coal mining jobs and plant operator jobs, and more importantly electrical company sponsored political lobbyist jobs. It is no shocker that a politician who is looking to actually be elected would cater to important constituent groups. One might even call this a secular exercise in power. Aside from the underlying lack of church-state separation that is a banal fact of life in Utah what is the importance of this attack on science to atheism?

Well, astute reader, I’m glad you asked.

The link comes in the type of logic Gov GaryH sought out to “clarify” the GCC debate into an acceptable level of opacity. Gov GaryH has elicited the help of Roy Spencer Intelligent design advocate and GCC sceptic.

Since there were no believable GCC skeptics to be found in Utah (even in provo!) Gov GaryH sent word to the University of Alabama at Huntsville where a bunch of them apparently hang out. UA sent one of their best. Roy Spencer is credentialed as an award winning climatologist who studied the effect of temperature differentials on wind patterns. Roy is not, in the strict sense, a GCC denier. His work and the data he helped produce are apparently undeniable proofs that GCC is occurring. Roy simply believes that man has nothing to do with it. Apparently god is doing it without man’s help. This is good news for Gov GaryH as he will not have to be mean to the power companies and by slipping a bit of cash to LDS sanctioned programs he can more directly affect GCC’s impact on Utah. It is a Win-Win.

The diluted lukewarm pseudo science that is “intelligent design” is more of an argument than a science. It raises shrill voices of discontent where reason speaks and attempts to drown it out. Has Utah’s Governor purchased discord of reason for his state to achieve short term political goals? I will look forward to reading the minutes (and perhaps listening to the proceedings if the link can be made to work).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vibram fivefingers

After reading “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall I immediately set about obtaining some Vibram Fivefinger (VFF) shoes. [I also set about getting a large amount of Chia seeds but they are still in the mail.] In McDougall’s book these minimalist shoes are championed by Barefoot Ted; a character with more energy than sense, who is neither the fastest nor most likable individual described in the book. Ted, however, resonates with many folks and I think I may be in one of the harmonic subgroups.

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The basic idea that I culled from the information about running in the VFF is that the lack of “support” forces a mid-foot strike. I have been trying to develop a better mid-foot strike after reading Danny Dreyer and Christopher Bergland. After running ten feet in the VFF I had an almost perfect mid-foot strike. I also experienced pleasurable feedback from the road surface. I found myself seeking out gravely areas to feel the massage like quality of the gravel underfoot. These have become my go-to training shoes.

Of course I have only run about 8.5 miles in the VFF and strange things could happen. Every once in a while I would run over a large (>1.5inch) rock sitting on the road surface and experience a somewhat painful jab. Perhaps some injury producing jab is in their not too distant future? I got the KSO VFF which do not afford much thermal protection. I purchased some Injinji socks to extend the VFF’s useful season but it will probably get too cold for using these shoes in the coming weeks.

The Train

My company provides a shower to it's workers. This comes in handy after a lunchtime ride or a run. The shower is in a locker room type setting. Yesterday, while I was showering after lunch a couple of other folks were horsing around with an air powered horn. These things are very loud inside. Picture how nice you sound to yourself when singing in the shower. You have a more powerful voice and may even be on key. Similar effects are lent to an air-horn when it is discharged in a shower room. Person A snuck in while person B was shampooing their hair and let loose with the air-horn. I did not notice person A until I was leaping out of my skin. Needless to say I peed myself, but since I was naked and in the shower no one noticed. Unfortunately for person A he happens to be in my van-pool.

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My commute is a long one, over 60 miles, and it crosses a set of railroad tracks about 2/3 of the way home. The route travels over a mountain pass with many twists and turns and most people choose sleeping over carsickness. Almost everyone besides the driver are lightly asleep when the railroad tracks are crossed. Sometimes people wake slightly at the bumpy track crossing. The people in my van-pool have been passing over the tracks twice a day for over a decade and there is a subconscious tensing that occurs as a programmed response to the approach of the tracks. Sleepers go from half asleep to a quarter asleep for the few minutes that precede the tracks. This period of vulnerability is unique and I would make good use of it.

Person B is also in my van-pool and made it clear that he would be a willing accomplice in my revenge.

As we approached the tracks I slowed down slightly and commented out loud “ why is everyone slowing down”? I then sped up as if I was passing some folks. Mr B took his que and stated “Aren't you going to stop?” while handing me the air-horn. I prepped the air-horn while murmuring “What are you talkin' about?”. Person B then yelled “TRAIN”. At this point person A's head whipped up as he was completely awake. After the millisecond needed for him to see that we were indeed at the train tracks I let loose with the air-horn. I believe he crapped his pants at this point. I had no idea that human eyes could open so wide. It is perhaps a vestigial adaptation related to our reptilian ancestors who like modern snakes could perhaps open their mouths to swallow prey many times their size.

I should include a note of warning. This sort of malarkey is dangerous while driving. For several minutes I was laughing so hard that tears partially obscured my driving. On the bright side I did not know that person A was so fluent in French.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The sickness from outer space

There have been studies that link high levels of exertion with lowered immune response. The longer the exertion the worse the compromised immunity. Aside from the sparse number of refereed articles attesting to the after event immune response there are a smattering of articles that describe a pre-race increase in sickness related potentially to tapering. Both of these phenomena are well known. I've heard “Push yourself too hard and you will get sick” from many people (many of whom would never push themselves too hard because they know better.). “I caught a cold just before my A race” is a unfortunate refrain that many athletes mutter in defeat. Somewhere not too far down the road is a place where anytime one sweats one is at increased risk for disease. I would like to rally stats to show that there is some sort of continual health benefit that in its accumulation outweighs the event specific immune difficulties. I would like to but I have been quite ill. I got ill a couple of days after the White Rim Trial ride.

It has been a good illness if you are partial to those things. I don't think I have been really sick for more than four days in a row for...I can't remember. Two days off work clutching my stomach. I think I read most of an entire novel while sitting on the toilet. Great fever symptoms too. I woke drenched with sweat on Wednesday. I had to peal the sheets off of me. On Thursday I experienced such intense bloating that I repeatedly found myself picturing the scene in Alien where the proto-creature sprouts from John Hurt's stomach.

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I think I was told about the connection between the ride and my illness more times than I was wished a speedy recovery. I like to make the connection between the fact that my eldest was sick when we drove to Moab and the illness is more a testimonial to koch's postulates than voodoo exercise physiology. This has become easier now that my SO has started in with the symptoms.

Maybe I will make popcorn and tea so we can have an after diner movie night and watch Alien together.