The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
History ... Society ...

Despite my interest in history, I’ve never learned all that much about the European conquest of the American continents between the 16th and 19th centuries. Pretty much all that I know came from suburban grammar school in the early 1960s. The flavor of it all was pretty much that there were some people occupying the region stretching from the Bering Strait and Newfoundland down to Cape Horn, and they had some interesting if rudimentary civilizations going for them. But the Spanish first arrived, followed later by English, Dutch, French and others, who brought forth better, more advanced arrangements than the natives could ever dream of. So, even though some of the tactics used by the Euro invaders weren’t very kind, the “Indians” weren’t making all that much out of the rich natural resources surrounding them. It was for the Europeans to come in and set the Americans on the path of progress, to set up some real civilizations that could make the most out of the mostly-untouched natural bounty available in the “New World”. The various Indian nations put up some resistance, in some cases tough and noble resistance, but in the end, the inevitable march of human progress could not be denied.

Of course, that point of view itself could not survive the “march of progress”. The Euro conquest of the American continents is now seen more honestly, basically as an invasion by one people eager to take away the riches that another people enjoyed. One reason why the Spanish and then French and English (and eventually the young American nation) were so successful against the natives was supposedly because the “Indians” were mostly backward. They were small, unorganized groups living in a fashion similar to what the Europeans experienced during the Dark Ages, a millennium before.

Or were they? Before the Europeans started arriving in mass after 1500, modern research shows that the native populations in both North and South American were much larger than  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Food / Drink ...

I came across a very informative article last week about an amateur baker’s search for the perfect cookie. This fellow, Kenji Lopez-Alt, took a scientific approach; he would vary the basic ingredients in his dough and repeatedly bake up different batches, and then recording the end results (in terms of taste, texture, mouth-feel, density, crunchiness, etc.) for comparison against the other batches. Mr. Lopez-Alt even photographed the resulting cookies for visual comparison. In the process, he gained an appreciation for what each of the classic elements of a cookie recipe does, i.e. how it interacts with the other ingredients to give certain characteristics to the baked cookie.

I have baked a lot of cookies in my life, but for the most part I have followed recipes or improvised based on instinct. I never sat down and thought about what the various ingredients do and how they interact, so as to allow me to mix and match ingredients and tweek the mixing and baking techniques in order to get the cookie characteristics that I am after. If Mr. Lopez-Alt is right, however, then perhaps there is a science to it; perhaps a cookie can be “designed” before it is mixed and baked, so as to actually turn out roughly the way that the baker intended.

Once again, I must admit that my own cookie baking experience to date has not been very scientific. For the most part, I take the a “seat-of-the-pants” approach; I get out my ingredients, mix them up, and then its bombs away, hoping for the best. I am always open to surprises. Most of the time the cookies have been edible, and some of the time they have been truly great. But as to capturing what separates the good from the great — that I have not yet been able to do.

It got even worse a few years ago when I decided to move my vegetarian status up to “near-vegan”; in other words,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:40 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Zen ...

There’s a nice article in The Atlantic about John Kerry’s term as Secretary of State. The former Senator is really out there trying to change the world. Even as a 70 year old, he can still stay up all night when in the thick of an important negotiation. He’s living a life all about big things.

Life for most of us, by comparison, is about little things. When young, I dreamed of being involved in big, momentous, world-shaking causes. Things that you read about or see in the movies – Lincoln, Obama, the great explorers, great scientists, great writers, great lovers, great artists, the people with passion and vision, people living with a drive and a goal. These are people who somehow found their way into some big cause (or were found by some big cause) that sucked up their day-to-day life, and in return amplified the feeling of being alive for them.

As to the rest of us – well, as to me, anyway — I never come across a big compelling mission or cause in life comparable to what Mr. Kerry now deals with. My life is mostly a case of making the best of little things, making the best of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 16, 2013
Photo ...

When I was a kid, one of my favorite winter activities was sledding. Yes, I had a classic Flexible Flyer. But today it’s getting harder and harder for kids to find good places to sleigh ride in the suburbs, due to overly-protective “nanny state” liberalism and overly aggressive tort lawyers and casualty insurance companies (which force municipalities to crack down on any activity that might remotely trigger a lawsuit). Perhaps somewhere in northern New Hampshire . . .

Still, it’s nice to see that suburban parents and kids can still find small bumps in the landscape where a piece of slippery plastic might still give a kid a quick thrill after a snowfall. So, here’s a modern suburban wintertime scene with a little boy enjoying his 5 or 6 second run down a micro-slope. (Even though it’s still late autumn, actually!).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:18 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Web Site/Blog ...

When I began this blog over ten years ago (Nov 11, 2002), I had modest goals in mind. If I could reach 5 people a day and share with them the various things that I have learned in this “classroom of life”, it would be great. I called myself “an eternal student of life”; unlike all those eternal student sites out there written by anxious or narcissistic graduate students, my own ‘classroom of life’ truly does go on and on, despite the fact that I was through with formal schooling many decades ago. The “eternal” part reflects a spiritual longing (although not at all a ‘certainty’) that my living and growing conscious experience will not in fact be completely ended when my body dies. But hopefully, I can deal with that issue another day.

Back here in the earthly realm, it turned out that my blog at first attracted more like 5 people a week. But I carried on with it, even though it was quite certain that my thoughts were never going to go viral and become another Huffington or DailyKos or Hot Air. I still liked it, even if no one else did (except my friend Mary, shout out to her given that she stuck with it thru thick and mostly thin). After I moved over to Word Press in April 2010, things picked up a little. I actually did reach about 5 viewers (about 8 to 10 page hits) per day for most of the week. But seldom did I significantly exceed that amount.

Within the past year, I actually did have one post that “went viral”, relatively speaking. For me, any post getting over 10 total views a day is “viral”. My one big hit was published on May 17 of this year, and it was in regard to a certain Dr. Chauncey Crandall, a cardiologist who  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:40 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 9, 2013
Science ... Society ...

It seems like every month or two I discuss or at least mention an article in The Atlantic. Maybe I should give The New Yorker more attention, but The Atlantic tries pretty hard to keep up with some of the more interesting aspects of human civilization these days. Well, in my opinion anyway.

The latest article to get my attention is about Douglas Hofstadter, a scientist who caught fire and went viral back in the 1980’s with a book called “Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid“. He won a Pulitzer Prize for “GEB”, which is all about . . . well, it’s kind of hard to say (even though I read the book!). It’s about a lot of different things, but in a nutshell, it’s a lot of thinking about thinking, and how human consciousness emerges from our thinking. And thus, how computers, if they could be taught how to think like us, can and will eventually become conscious. One of his key concepts in GEB was the “strange loop”, an abstract notion which is sort of a pattern that feeds on itself in order to bootstrap its way into existence. Or emerge into something that sort-of has an effect on things, anyway.

Hofstadter tried to bottle lightening again in 2007 when he published “I Am A Strange Loop“. Hundreds of books had come out since the late 90’s trying to define and explicate what human consciousness  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 6, 2013
Science ...

Back in June, I wrote a post about axions, a candidate for the sub-atomic particle responsible for dark matter in the universe. Axions are a serious contender for the long-sought dark matter sub-particle, but take a back seat to the “weakly interactive massive particles” (WIMP’s) that are forecast under the theoretical supersymmetric extensions of the Standard Particle Model that are implied by superstring theory. Actually, the hypothetical supersymmetric particles are often called “sparticles”, so dark matter would really be made up of “weakly interacting massive sparticles” or WIMS. But people like “WIMP” better, even though I think that WIMS is more whimsical.

The top theoretical and experimental physicists hope that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Europe will finally nail down evidence for a good supersymetrical WIMP in 2015, once the big machine revs up to full power. That would make everyone feel better about superstring theory, which the scientific establishment has a lot invested in; much money, many people’s careers in the balance. Some are a little nervous given that the LHC was able to find the Higgs boson at half-power, but didn’t get too far with supersymmetry. But most are saying wait until next year (or the year thereafter), we’re confident that once LHC can put the pedal to the metal, the massive little bugger will finally show up somewhere amidst all the millions of high-energy particle collision scatter plots.

But some of us like the underdog, and are rooting for the lowly axion. Even though an axion discovery wouldn’t nail down the bona fides of superstring theory, they would close a gap in the Standard Particle Model regarding the strong nuclear force, as well as giving us an understanding of what  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:02 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 2, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

Another Christmas season is underway; the decorations and shopping rituals start so early these days! And at the same time, the shadows grow long and the days grow short as another autumn turns to winter.

This is just a pic to keep us all humble, a pic in synch with the real spirit of the season. To everything there is a season . . . and a truly joyful season will yet return. But for now, as joyful non-religious, quasi-Christmas music fills the land, it’s mostly a season of denial.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:34 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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