The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Society ...

Looks like Fegruson, MO might be back in the news shortly. A Grand Jury is soon expected to release its decision as to whether criminal charges should be filed against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9, 2014 shooting and killing of 18 year old Michael Brown by Darren. The Washington Post reports that the testimony of six local residents to the Saint Louis County Grand Jury who eyewitnessed the shooting, along with physical evidence collected at the scene, tend to confirm Wilson’s version of the story (i.e., that a physical struggle between Wilson and Brown ensued while Wilson was in his police vehicle, during a stop by Wilson to warn Brown and his companion not to walk in the middle of a busy street; Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun from him during the struggle; Wilson’s gun was discharged during the struggle, but did not hit anyone; Brown and his companion then ran from the vehicle while Wilson recovered his weapon and then got out and ordered them to stop; Brown stopped, but then starting moving towards Wilson without any sign of surrender — i.e., no “hands up”; and Wilson then raised his gun and discharged a volley of shots at the approaching Brown, hitting him at least 6 times including in the forehead, thus killing him).

If the Post report is true, then the likeihood of a “no-bill” (whereby the Grand Jury lets Wilson off) must be taken seriously. Local officials thus fear that there could be significant protests and possible disturbances once again in Ferguson as a result. There is no doubt that many in the African American community, including a majority of its leaders, will be upset if Wilson walks away without any sort of punishment. To repeat the obvious, many African Americans have had upsetting and arguably disrespectful interactions with police in their lives, and thus well remember the many incidents reported in the press over the past decade where unarmed black community members were killed by law enforcement (e.g., Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Wendell Allen, etc., with very many others not making the national news). The Ferguson situation is just another lightening rod for their angst and frustrations.

However, there does appear to be a valid argument that Officer Wilson was mostly doing what he should have been doing (other than perhaps the final barrage of close-range shots  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:51 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Food / Drink ... Practical Advice ...

I’ve become a fan of cold-brewed coffee. Not that I go around seeking local coffee shops or bakeries that serve it. I’m talking about producing my own home brew. Thus far I’ve make it in the simplest way possible; I get out an iced tea pitcher, dump in a few cups of ground coffee (decaf, please, I’m a bit oversensitive to caffeine), pour in about 3 to 4 cups of water for every cup of java, stir it up, and into the refrigerator overnight. (Albeit, I have experimented with keeping it at room temperature for 12 hours and then refrigerating it, as to boost up the flavor extraction process a bit; thus, I often go this route). I let the grounds settle and harden, and then just pour out the liquid on top, perhaps straining the final cup for excess sediment. The end result is really good coffee, in my book; a lot smoother and a touch sweeter than the hot-brew.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with coffee; I love the smell of a nice steaming cup of joe, but it usually becomes a different animal in the mouth, with all sorts of intertwining acids and bitter / sour notes competing for attention. Cold brewing seems to leave most of these “foreign” notes behind, and you get something a good bit closer to what the vapors once promised, the first time you ever got near that black potion of the gods. The main trade-off with cold-brewing, interestingly, is the wonderful vapors themselves; cold-brewing leaves behind many of the “voluables” that hot brewing brings out. So even if you heat up a cup of coffee that was produced cold, you won’t get the same wonderful fragrances. If you want the best of both worlds, then, make a cup of hot-brewed coffee and sniff it, then pour a cup of cold-brew for actual drinking!

Cold brewing seems like the better way to go, in my coffee book. However, there’s a problem with the way I’ve been doing it. Coffee has oily elements in it (i.e., “diterpenes”), and one of those is called cafestol. Most of the oil is ok, but cafestrol can raise a person’s harmful cholesterol levels (i.e., LDL’s and triglycerides) and possibly contribute to heart disease over time. If you don’t somehow filter your joe, you’re going to get a pretty good wallop of cafestol (and never even notice it, taste-wise). However, common methods of hot-brewing coffee  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:50 pm       Read Comments (6) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Science ...

A quick PS to an earlier post on dark matter and one of my favorite candidates to explain it (or at least a big part of it), i.e. the purported axion particles. My earlier post was entitled “The Dark Side: Have We Tripped Over Axions?“. Well, another study has come in indicating that perhaps we have. Some unexpected variations in the x-ray readings from space (coming specifically from the zone not too far from our planet, where the earth’s magnetic field has its presence) indicate that our sun may be spitting out axions. These particles would somehow be expected (by the theoretical physicists who understand all the math) to interact with the earth’s magnetic fields and cause a few more x-rays than otherwise expected.

Very cool. However, further tests need to be made to eliminate other possible causes. So, axions aren’t over the goal line yet, but they seem to be marching up the field. And I’m in the stands cheering for them!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:50 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Photo ... Zen ...

Many of us have done this more than we can remember, but every once in a really blue moon, I still enjoy getting up in the darkness and finding somewhere to watch the sun rise. So I did it yesterday morning (oh, and the moon wasn’t blue — it was in a crescent phase up in mid-sky as I drove over to Eagle Rock park in Montclair). Here’s a little taste of what I saw today as the sun came up over Manhattan on the far horizon. To paraphrase one of the Zen gathas, this is one less dawn that I’m going to see in this lifetime. Glad that I made the best I could of it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:06 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 17, 2014
Economics/Business ... History ...

I’m presently listening to a Teaching Company audio course on “Big History”, by Professor David Christian. At first I was a bit cynical about the whole “big history” concept, i.e. a sweeping review of all known major events from the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago) to the modern homo sapiens civilization now existing on planet Earth. I figured it would be a bit “fluffy” and insubstantial, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Professor Christian’s interesting insights and ability to draw relevant themes from “the really big picture”. Some of the major themes from his sweeping panorama approach regard the increase of complexity, the increasing density of information flows, and increasing concentrations of usable energy. But the good Professor also offers occasional comments regarding trends specific to our own little corner of the Universe, i.e. human history and modern civilization.

I’m getting near the end of Christian’s 48 lectures, where his focus zooms in on the world that we know or can remember (or at least have heard about, like World War 1 and 2 and the Great Depression). Professor Christian made a somewhat startling observation about capitalism, i.e. the modern economic system that we depend upon to maintain our present lifestyles here in the greater suburban precincts of America. I suppose that many of us “comfortable but concerned” citizens, those having any sort of liberal sympathy favoring social justice, maintain a love-hate relationship with capitalism. On the one hand, we revile it for all of the unfair economic consequences that it has for many people (e.g. the long-term unemployed, family farmers, inhuman working conditions in the eastern-world factories that produce most of our consumer goods . . . just to get started). Not to mention its lack of focus on long-term sustainability issues (with global warming presently being “exhibit # 1” in that regard).

But on the other hand, we usually don’t refrain from enjoying its fruits, such as convenient shopping opportunities on Amazon and other on-line retailers, affordable prices and wide variety at supercenter stores like WalMart and Home Depot, modern technical wonders from  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:25 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Public Policy ... Society ...

I’d like to discuss a small but somewhat interesting situation involving the side-effects laws and customs that attempt to make things better for some portion of the human community. A few years ago, my home state of New Jersey passed a law requiring motorists to jam on their brakes and stop anytime a pedestrian enters a roadway intending to cross it. You can get a ticket with points and fines if you don’t immediately stop, even if the speed limit is 40 and you’d have to make a panic stop and risk getting rear-ended because some pedestrian starts into the road just ahead of you.

Well, actually this rule applies at marked crosswalks and at street intersections, marked or not; it may not hold when people take their chances with “jaywalking” on an open road stretch. The obvious intent of this law is to prevent auto-pedestrian collisions and the terrible injury they cause. The unfortunate side effect, which is becoming very apparent in my current home town of Montclair, is that pedestrians are getting careless and stepping out into the road without any regard for whatever vehicles may be approaching. This is especially apparent with the younger generation; a lot of kids don’t even look for approaching traffic anymore, they just step zombie-like onto the crosswalk. However, older folk also seem to be getting sloppy and assuming that every motorist is going to grind to a stop on a main thoroughfare as soon as they arrive at the curb.

In some towns, the chances that you are going to get ticketed for a technical violation of this law, i.e. for not stopping when there is clearly no danger to the pedestrian because the road is wide and they are still 15 or 20 feet away from where your car will pass, are relatively low (although you never know when a cranky cop will go after you just for fun). This is especially true in the low-income urban  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:19 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Psychology ...

There was an article on Slate the other day about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” for success (i.e., Practice Does Not Make Perfect, by David Z. Hambrick, Fernanda Ferreira, and John M. Henderson). Well, actually the article started off about Gladwell and his notion that personal success is mostly an issue of drive and a willingness to put the energy into mastering something — anything, really. But after that, the three authors took an interesting look at recent research about the relationships between genetics, human abilities and ultimate achievements in life. They basically concluded that Gladwell was wrong in that success is much more dependent upon inborn abilities than upon desire and discipline. While practice and drive certainly are a necessary part of any achievement, the bottom line is that people who don’t have the right bodies and brains (and history and environment) just aren’t going to become concert pianists or NFL quarterbacks or theoretical physicists or jet fighter pilots.

It’s starting to look like “we either have it or we don’t” in terms of being able to get somewhere in life. The classic arguments on what drives our lives and who we are often come down to nature versus nurture. In regards to what we can or can’t accomplish in life, modern research seems to be putting more and more stock in “nature”, i.e. genetics.

So, someday (probably soon), you might take a swab test and have a lab determine what you would be good at; i.e. what fields or endeavors that you would be a “natural” for. Hmmm . . . is this really a good thing? In some ways yes — sure, it makes sense that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 3, 2014
Current Affairs ... Technology ...

I got into some drama the other day with the head monk of my Zen sangha. The head monk, who in real life is a successful local attorney and family man, another aging Baby Boomer like myself, asked what I thought about the new IPhone 6 craze. I was in a touchy mood that day, and his otherwise well-intentioned and generally innocent question set me off into a diatribe about the evils of smartphones.

My barrister-monk inquisitor was really just trying to make some friendly small talk, since I have become known to the group as the “science guy” and I’m generally pretty good with PC-level computer applications (e.g. I run the zendo’s web site). My semi-monkish inquisitor has been using smartphones for many years now, and as with most of the professional-class in the industrialized world, the smartphone has become an integral part of both his work life and his personal life. Since I can also be considered part of that “class” (I think), his assuming that smartphones are also a big part of my life was not unreasonable. Given my general technical interests, why shouldn’t he have assumed that I was a big fan of Apple and was intrigued by all the wonderful and amazing stuff that it and its Android competitors are packing into those bright little square things that you carry around all the time, so close to your body.

So he was taken aback a bit by my actual response. I started rambling on about not becoming overly dependent upon technology, how life is more than staring at a screen and pushing buttons, and how a Zen student should  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:15 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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