The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Economics/Business ... Science ... Technology ...

The cover story in the December, 2014 issue of Scientific American was about “World Changing Ideas, 10 Transformative Technologies”. I usually take articles like this, which predict the next big techno revolution, with a grain of salt (or less than a grain, since I’m trying to keep a low-sodium diet). Science magazines are good at tracking the latest interesting ideas coming out of the research labs and theoretical papers, but they aren’t all that sharp regarding market economics. And they often do not appreciate the engineering challenges and the skills that are needed to bridge the gap between an interesting new technology and the means to design, produce and successfully market a new gizmo (or gizmo system).

So, you see all sorts of interesting possibilities in magazines like Popular Science and SciAm (although really, SciAm should go back to its former focus on “pure science” and leave the inaccurate predictions about the impact of emerging discoveries in the real world to mags like Popular Science). But very seldom do you look actually look back 3 or 4 years later and say “hey, they were right about those thingies, which they said would soon be in use”.

One of the big-ten technologies that SciAm thinks will be a game changer is “wireless charging with sound waves”. The subtitle to the article sums it up: “An efficient way to beam electricity through the air”. In a nutshell, a young woman named Meredith Perry got interested  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:50 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Religion ... Zen ...

This is going to be one of those schizophrenic essays, where it is time to speak of many things: ships, shoes and sealing wax, walruses, etc. But actually, I want to start out with something about brain activity during meditation, and then talk about why I finally understand atheists (a little better, anyway). Just in time for the holidays! (Well, a little late for Hanukkah, admittedly . . . )

So, first off – meditation. There was an interesting article in the November 2014 issue of Scientific American about “The Mind of the Meditator”. The article was something of a puff-job about the many psycho-physical benefits of meditation. It cites all sorts of positive effects in the brain and with behavior; but despite the alleged focus of SciAm on hard science, the authors forgot to ponder which way the lines of causation were running here.

I.e., were these benefits the RESULT of the meditation practice, or did they help allow the meditator to meditate? The unsaid presumption behind the article seems to be that anyone can practice meditation and everyone should. But life is usually more complicated than  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:27 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

Here’s a quick “current affairs” P.S. to my reflections on Interstellar (posted 10 minutes ago). Speaking of movies, North Korea has turned a “middling” political comedy film into a potential blockbuster for Sony, its producer. Yes, I’m taking about “The Interview“. As you know, the film plot involves a fictional US CIA attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by recruiting two unwitting journalists who arranged an interview with him. The film was supposed to be released on Christmas Day in theaters nationwide, but got pulled after government or military agents from North Korea hacked Sony’s computer system in retaliation for the movie’s “insult to the dignity of the great leader”.

I have no sympathy for Kim or his stooges. However, what does bother me about all this is that Sony and the theater industry picked Christmas as the release date. According one of the mini-reviews, this film “follows the hysterically violent misadventures of idiotic talk-show host Dave Skylark and his underachieving producer, Aaron”. Another review notes that the film contains “crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence”. Is that where our nation is right now? A violent film about a political assassination is considered to be a “Christmas film”? I mean, couldn’t they have waited until New Years in order to respect a major religion’s celebration of the birth of its “prince of peace”? Would Sony be so insensitive as to release a comedy about political violence in Saudi Arabia or Egypt at the start of Ramadan?

So, thanks Kim Jong-un and his hacking squad. I darn well know that they weren’t defending the sanctity of the Christ-child’s birth by taking down part of the Sony network, but you never know when an evil force might remind us that we are not entirely free from evil either.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Art & Entertainment ... Outer Space ... Science ...

I’ve read a lot lately about the movie “Interstellar”. I haven’t seen it, and I probably won’t see it anytime soon. But it sounds pretty interesting given that it uses some very heavy ideas from modern physics and cosmology to cobble a science-fiction / outer-space / dark-future story together. I’ve read that the producers enlisted a world-class physicist, Kip Thorne, to help them “keep it real”. But in the end, Hollywood is Hollywood and entertainment comes before accuracy. From what I’ve read, the whole thing turns into a hot scientific mess, with the hero-astronaut falling down into a black hole past the event-horizon “point of no return”, and yet somehow getting out intact.

This is where the filmmakers obviously told Kip to stay away. (Although, Dr. Thorne is known for some pretty wacky ideas, including the very unlikely idea of using a portable wormhole as an escape hatch from the gravity time dilation effect, thus allowing a person subject to relativistic time slow-down to live in both his or her past, and in his or her present!) Under the laws of physics as we know them, you can’t venture past an event horizon and get out. There are various theories as to how the information about you or anything else that would fall through an event horizon can get out (although you wouldn’t know how to reconstruct and interpret it), and how eventually over many billions of years, perhaps everything in a black hole gets out via some sort of quantum evaporation process. But you can’t send a probe down get any sort of an immediate and usable signal back from it, not even a “gravity wave” signal (which currently cannot be detected anyway for being so faint).

And then there’s the spaghetti-ification factor, the fact that as you approach the core of the black hole, tidal gravitational forces would stretch you into a thin string of matter. Oh, and as if that’s not enough, now there’s the firewall paradox, the possibility that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:02 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Psychology ...

Here’s a quick blog thought for when you’re feeling blue — perhaps the December blues, when “the holiday season” is getting on your nerves and the cold and early darkness is starting to bring you down.

Or let’s say that your life seems disappointing, because the great dreams and promises of your youth just didn’t come to pass . . . There’s an article in this months Atlantic about the “U” shaped curve of life satisfaction. According to various studies and interpretations of those studies, we are generally pretty happy with our lives as children and in our early adulthood, then things go downhill until bottoming out in our mid to late 40s. We hit bottom, but things start seeming better to us in our 50s and better still in our 60s and 70s.

So maybe you’re now 46 years old and don’t feel very optimistic, maybe you are fighting off a mid-life crisis. Or maybe you’re like me, having gotten thru my 40s,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Photo ...

Some Newark, NJ streetscapes up in the North Ward, on a cold December morning . . .  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Current Affairs ...

I decided to wait a bit until offering any comments on the Grand Jury decision not to criminally indict Ferguson, MO Police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown this past August 9. I’m not qualified to offer any grand observations about the current state of race relations in America, nor am I about to go into why the criminal justice system seems to unfairly treat so many African American people.

I am, however, impliedly saying this much: I do not think the “police problem” is reducible to one or two simple factors, such as the notion that the overall law enforcement system is controlled by “white America” (not sure if that means non-Latin Euro-Americans only, or also includes Asian Americans and Latinos having largely Euro and non-native blood) and is designed to keep “people of color” under their control. I’m not saying that this notion is entirely untrue; but it’s far from the whole story either, I suspect. However, at the moment, the whole story is beyond my ability to grasp and intelligently comment on.

I will offer comments on two more immediate issues, based on what I’ve read and seen on the news sites about the evidence that the Grand Jury considered (along with the background info on Michael Brown and Darren Wilson that the press has dug up over time). The first thing that strikes me is that both of these men had clean records. As far as I can tell from what the press has reported, you wouldn’t have suspected that either one of them  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:20 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... Society ... Technology ...

In updating my web site pages about the modern academic interest regarding the physics and metaphysics of human consciousness, I made reference more than once to a popular movie that had some interesting things to say about consciousness. i.e., the 1999 sci-fi classic “The Matrix”. I don’t believe that there are very many Americans out there who haven’t at least heard about, if not seen The Matrix . . . and many have seen it more than once, including the two sequels (Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, which like all sequels, just weren’t as brilliant as the original).

Well, obviously I am rather familiar with The Matrix . . . but let me admit it, I never sat down to watch it. Thus, I finally decided to get with it, 15 years later. I don’t pay for cable and I don’t have a good streaming connection, but you can pick up a used Matrix DVD for $3 or less these days on eBay, so I am finally “Matricized”.

How did I like it? Well, the acting was good and the characters were compelling. The cinema work was quite good, and the techno-creepy aspects to it were about on par with some of the wackier X-Files episodes. But as to the plot . . . well, the overall “big idea” that we are all living in world that’s not really real, that what lies beneath our conscious experiences is different  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Food / Drink ...

My brother and I recently tried a relatively new restaurant here in our corner of northern NJ, and I thought it was pretty good. In many ways, it was rather unique (at least to New Jersey; maybe it’s just another dive in Manhattan). So I thought I’d give it a plug here on my blog. I’m not a Yelper, so I’ll use some real estate on my own site. As to Yelp — some years ago I put up two reviews of local places on Yelp, and subsequently got banished and had my reviews removed. In both cases I conveyed a positive perspective; but it’s actually no surprise that I got canned for that, as I’ve read that Yelp uses an automated algorithm to ferret out possible “shill” reviewers. That’s the way the on-line world is today; if you’re not at least a little bitchy from the get-go, then its presumed that you must be a shill.

Anyway, the restaurant is called Lan Sheng, and is located in Wallington, NJ, right along Paterson Avenue along the border with East Rutherford (Carlton Hill, to us old-timers). Lan Sheng is not another take-out storefront Chinese joint; it’s a small but tastefully furnished restaurant with a full bar. Some Yelpers complained that the service at Lan Sheng isn’t so good (guess that Yelp won’t be removing them!). But for us, the service was just fine. The staff was actually rather friendly and personable. My brother ordered a glass of wine after we sat down, and he found it to be quite adequate. Adequate enough to get 3 refills – the staff knew how to keep his wine glass full. I nursed my usual beer, then managed to fulfill my Friday night ritual of sipping down an after-dinner cordial. This involved a little bit of negotiation about the proper pronunciation of Grand Marnier; but admittedly, a part of that confusion was my own fault (I am a serial name butcherer).

Now, as to the food — take a look at the menu (it’s rather large), and you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. There appear to be some very authentic Chinese dishes here — including tripe, sea cucumber, duck tongue, black fungus, frog, rabbit, eel, pigs feet, ox tail, and catfish. But there are also a wide variety of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:46 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Economics/Business ... Politics ... Society ... Technology ...

I’m going to discuss three “big thoughts” from three different thinkers, as to see if there’s a common thread in them (or at least a common question that lies at the heart of all of their concerns). We can start with this: on the surface level, they all relate to “the state of human civilization, and where its going”. As to how they might relate to today, the American celebration of Thanksgiving — I will leave that to the reader.

The first big thought is from a Teaching Company audio lecture course that I recently finished. The course is presented by Professor David Christian, and is called “Big History” (appropriately enough). At the end of Professor Christian’s sweeping review of the highlights from the 13.7 billion years of our Universe’s existence, he presents a dilemma regarding the future. A rather large one. And that dilemma is this: according to the U.N., the world’s human population is to peak around 9.2 billion in 2075, then slowly decline. If between now and the, all of those people were to adopt a modern western lifestyle, we would need around 3 or 4 Earths to provide sufficient resources to support such a global living standard. Unless something comes along that makes “the good life” a whole lot less energy and resource intensive, it seems quite clear that not everyone is going to get to enjoy the conveniences and comforts that most Americans take for granted. Perhaps less than half of the world will ever be able to achieve it.

Therefore, there will continue to be a division between the haves and the have nots. Probably an increasingly wide division, as the educational requirements of a high-tech world raise the bar for getting in on the good life. And that, according to Christian, is going to fuel  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:23 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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