Journal Entries

Watching the election

On Monday night/Tuesday morning, I watched the Canadian Federal election, covered as it was non-stop on CBC Newsworld. I watched history unfold; how the NDP’s Jack Layton will occupy Stornaway as the leader of the opposition; how the Liberals are in third place, at about the level of Ed Broadbent in his mediocre days; or how the BQ is wiped off the map but for one candidate (which under our rules robs them of official party status, effectively wiping them off the map). As Chantal Hebert said on CBC, we are witnessing the “Social Creditization” of the Bloc Quebequois. All of this is historic (except for the part about the PC victory).

And, didn’t Osama bin Laden die earlier that Monday or something? Oh, whatever.

The “Orange wave” was impressive. I was listening to a CBC reporter take one NDP campaign organizer to task for the idea that the NDP split the vote. They did, too. In riding after riding, we were shown how the Conservatives won a riding where there was an even battle for second place between the NDP and Liberals.

The debate went in circles, and frankly, the organizer where to buy tramadol for dogs should have borrowed the line from Ralph Nader’s book: Screw the liberals. Igantieff’s loss is Igantieff’s fault. Ignatieff seemed to work with diligence to make absolutely sure to ignore every one of Harper’s gaffes, or to under-react to Harper’s attempts to subvert parliamentary protocol as he had done several times in the past 3 years; and to not react to attack ads attacking his ethnicity, all while Harper canvassed the “very ethnic” ridings of Toronto picking up Conservative converts in traditional Liberal ridings. It takes a disciplined mind to miss stuff like that. You really have to work very hard to not see the Republicn-style double dealing that is inherent in attacking ethnicity on the one hand and courting it with the other, whenever it suits you. You can’t blame the Conservative’s publicity machine for this; the fault lies squarely on Liberal turf.

It satisfies my pet political theory that the two best things to happen to the Conservatives are: Stephane Dion, and Michael Ignatieff after him. They helped Harper attain power for the longest-running minority government on record, followed by handing him a majority.

Keeping time

I found my watch, and thought I had lost it. At the time, after not finding the watch for several days, I bought what I knew was a cheap watch to get me by the next couple of weeks or so while I was looking for it, and settled for a el-cheapo watch (called Orlando, if I recall) that a faceless, nameless kiosk in Square One Mall was selling for 10 bucks. It was able to tell time, for that evening. After that, it would fail to tell time at unpredictable intervals. That wouldn’t be so bad, but when I attempted to reset it the next day, the crown came off in my hand, and I was thenceforth unable to set the time. It had a large face with three “play toy”, pretend little dials that I could tell the day I purchased it were pure decoration.

That next day, I went to Streetsville for a reason un-related to watches, but while I was there, I stopped at a Salvation Army store and picked up another ten-dollar watch. A Levi’s, with date and a stainless steel back, case, and strap.

Getting a battery in the Levi’s watch was also a story in Streetsville Jewellery store corporate culture. I first go to Alexander Jeweller’s, which has a chalkboard sign inside the front window saying “knock before entering”. There are people inside and the door is locked. I knock, I hear the key turn, a rather tall lady opens the door and lets me inside. I ask if they can put a battery in my watch. A bespectacled man behind a desk looks at the watch and says he doesn’t know how to open it, and I would have to leave it with him for three buy cheapest tramadol online days at a charge of fifteen bucks. This meant to me that he is incapable of using a pen knife to open the back (I guess he was afraid of cutting himself). He recommends some outfit in the Erin Mills Town Centre, miles away, and we part company.

I go to Starbucks, and I am able to google a place just down the street near the Streetsville library, called Miro’s Jewellers. I was faintly surprised as to why Alexander Jewellers didn’t recommend this person, unless they were new to Streetsville, and didn’t know their competition only blocks away. But anyway, I go there, and while the guy there was giving a recount of Polish history under Stalin, he was able to use a pen knife to flip off the back of my watch, put in a Maxell battery, and set the time for 8 bucks, in a space of 3 minutes. Service, albeit with an impromptu history lesson, but still service. The watch still works, and I am happy. I showed the Miro guy my Orlando watch, and he thought the watch was hilarious. He takes the back off out of curiosity and sees that while the watch had a 2-inch face, the guts inside measured about half a centimetre. I was glad I could make him laugh. I said he could keep that watch.

The Levi’s watch is not my style, but it worked, and still works. Moral of the story: if you’re going to cheap out on a temporary watch, go to Salvation Army or Goodwill, since the money goes to a worthy cause, and the stuff has half a chance of actually working, in most cases.

I also found my old watch.

Food for thought during the Canadian Federal Election Campaign

I have been a big fan of Jello Biafra’s spoken word stuff. This time, he does his spoken word thing around some mannequins, and he’s discussing the Alberta Tar Sands, and how dirty the fuel is to refine, and how dependent the United States is on our oil.

To those who haven’t heard him before, he has strong views. But in the typical punk rock/anarchist tradition, you are encouraged not to take his word for it — why not search out the truth for yourself? Get it from the source, or as close to the source as you can. Jello is a Green Party member in the U. S., and is likely to be quite well-read on environmental issues.

One problem, although it is a minor point: While I distrust Stephen Harper as much as anyone, his religion is evangelical, but not fundamentalist as Jello suggested in his piece below. He may try to convert you 🙂 but he probably doesn’t believe that the Earth is 5000 years old or that the Bible is literally true. Nor would they agree with the idea of speaking in tongues. In fact, his church, The Christian and Missionary Alliance, has been a participant in a lot of human relief efforts worldwide. Just the same, who knows? Maybe Harper really does believe that Jesus will make a rainforest grow from the tailings of the refinery, and make the cancerous tumors of the Miskew Cree disappear. Check out this article for more info on the effects of the refinery tailings on the Athabasca River, downstream from the tar sands mine.

So overall, Jello’s speech kind of makes me want to go out and become a card-carrying Green Party member.

This is from an ongoing series on Jello’s blog, called “What would Jello do?“. You should check out the others.

Meanwhile, there is an election on May 2nd, and while cynics say that voting doesn’t change things much, the only thing worse than voting is not voting. Clicking on the graphic below the video leads you to Elections Canada, where you can get to know a few things about your local candidates. If you are a Canadian citizen of legal age, be sure you are registered to vote.

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[Audio] The Difficult Listening Moment: Doing Dylan worse than Dylan II

I have heard comments that hearing Dylan’s voice is “worse than cancer”. I believe such comments are un-necessarily harsh. Remember “Lay Lady Lay”? Didn’t that border on melodic? OK, I rest my case. He was terrible most of the time, not all of the time.

On the other hand, Willliam Shatner has no business deviating his acting day job. If God hands us only one great talent in our lives, be it singing, song writing, playing an instrument, acting, writing, and so on, we ought to make the most of it and count our blessings, since it is these limited talents alone that place us already above the crowd. It is rare that people are successful in more than one talent, and when it is usually attempted, the result is often, uh, humbling for the performer. And unintentionally amusing for the audience.

To illustrate the over-reaching kind of talent, here is William Shatner talking over “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man”.

Credit card Coca-Cola

Yes, I finally did it. I went in debt for a bottle of coke. I finally succumbed to the capitalist idea that nothing should ever come between my desires and whether I actually had the money to purchase what I desire. Where I work, I ate take-out Chinese food, but had no beverage, and not enough money for the Coke machine. I was thirsty, and usually use Diet Coke to wash down the food. I swiped a credit card on one of those Wi-Fi Coke machines, pushed Diet Coke, and out came what I “desired,” and soon my thirst was quenched.

I think in our culture, we are so mired in debt that we can’t really buy tramadol online without prior prescription afford to do any serious borrowing these days. Instead, we are encouraged, through much advertising, to put smaller and smaller purchases on credit. It wasn’t too long ago, if I had no money for Coke, I just did without until later, or drank water from the cooler. It doesn’t help that our water cooler is on the fritz, and hasn’t been maintained since this past summer.

I am still looking at this Coke I bought. I finally have to agree: we live in an age where some things are way too easy to get. It was too easy to get this Coke. I can’t undo it now. I guess I just have to drink up.

Fortune Cookies for Human Rights

You know, I was minding my own business in this classy Chinese restaurant, engorging myself on their copious buffet, had my fill, and was handed the bill with an accompanying fortune cookie.

This fortune cookie (the one to the left) really existed, and I never saw the like. I am used to fortune cookies containing old sayings, universal aphorisms, little smippets of wisdom, and sometimes a blandly optimistic prognostication of what the future holds.

I would never have expected one to wield a statement on human rights. But there it was, printed in blue and white, plain as day. The other side of the fortune cookie says “Learn Chinese”, and teaches the phrase “Excuse me”, followed by a list of six lucky numbers. Four of those numbers are too big to use in Lotto 6-49.

Here in the United States and Canada, our culture seems to take human rights for granted. The rights of stray dogs seem to get more attention than the free speech rights of protestors, worker’s rights and so on. We seem to feel more for an abandoned puppy than for an abandoned child these days. I am not sure how animal rights seem to have more cachet in a culture where I have heard about human rights offices and Public Interest Research Groups around North America being defunded or closing altogether, while animal shelters appear to have the status of five-star hotels. How do we get to a point where we have seemed to forgotten about all the struggles that gave rights to minorities, women, and aboriginals, just treating them as though they have always magically existed?

No-one in this world has rights without a struggle, nor lost them without taking their short-lived nature and fragility for granted. The fact that we now have to look outside of our culture to places like the Middle East for examples of human rights advocacy tells us of how far we’ve fallen, and of how dysfunctional our own culture has become.

A much more human-rights-friendly coverage of the Middle East protests appeared, ironically, in Pravda. They seem to quote Al Jazeera more openly, and more often. I know this is far from a human rights advocacy newspaper, and they have their own line of propaganda, but you have to look elsewhere in Pravda for more obvious examples.

[Audio] The Difficult Listening Moment: Doing Dylan worse than Dylan I

Welcome to the first episode of The Difficult Listening Moment. On today’s episode, we explore some music by Bob Dylan. Those who know the music of Bob Dylan knows that his songs had been made a whole  lot more popular by other acts such as The Byrds, The Band, Joan Baez.  In fact, nearly anyone who sung Dylan can do it better than Dylan does.

Nearly anyone. Yes, there are those in the minority, who make it into the dustbin of popular culture, who, when they attempt to sing a Dylan tune, actually sing it worse than Dylan himself, if such a thing is possible. When you think about the way Dylan sings — sort of like a cat being run over by a car that needs to be put out of its misery — you can appreciate that this is something of an achievement.

Here, then, for your perusal is the late Sebastian Cabot (1918-1977) reciting “It Ain’t Me, Babe”.

Moped Season

‘Tis moped season (and motorcycle season I suppose), and the weather has been fair enough that I used my moped for my personal transportation since mid-March (while covered in warm, dry gear of course). It was great. My moped started on the first kick, but I still sent it for a tune-up two weeks ago anyway.

Since I bought my moped used, I didn’t know that the handlebars had been previously replaced. When the throttle assembly was loose (almost falling off, in fact), it was because there was nowhere for the locking screw to go on the handlebar. That’s how I found out that it must not have been a factory handlebar. The repair folks had to remove the assembly, disconnect the cables leading to it, then drill a hole in the handlebar. That way, the locking screw was able to screw into something, and things have been great since.

The 1.1 gallon tank has a range of about 150 kilometers (93 miles), which seems a bit low. This means that my fuel economy is about 85 miles per gallon (it is advertised as 100 mi/gal). This converts to 2.78  L/100 km.  I am suspecting that, because the motorcycle shop recently changed the gearbox oil to something that might not have been to spec.  I used ATF (type F) oil before, and I think these people used something else, which was still OK for two-stroke. They’re a motorcycle shop, and probably have less experience with mopeds. The recommendation from the spec manual, according to Moped Army, is Type A, but I’ve had trouble finding it in Toronto.

9-11 Conspiracies

I wish to give my $0.02 on my take of the 9-11 tragedy. First of all, there are indeed a lot of questions regarding the tragedy, all legitimate. Such as: the buildings collapsing demolition-style on their foundations, a rare event, in fact an event which has never happened historically with any burning skyscraper. Unless it’s being deliberately demolished. Who would want to demolish the skyscrapers? Who would gain from such demolition? No one has a clear answer, although I feel that the buildings could not have burned in that way, and buildings 1, 2, and 7 all have coincidentally fallen in the same manner, falling straight down as they did on their foundations. It would seem to defy probability, as well as physics.

But was the Government in on it? Could any government seriously keep a secret on something involving thousands of emergency response personnel and many more in the armed forces? Not to mention the CIA (CIA personnel had offices in Building 7), and other branches of government? Anyone remember the conspiracy headed by Nixon into Watergate? How long was that a secret?

But if we simply look at what is obvious, we see things that ought to alarm us. Governments around the world, including the United States government and the Canadian government, have used the spectre of terrorism to scare us into having our rights taken away on many other things, not all having to do with terror. Our police forces which are equipped to fight crime, not terror, have been funded to the hilt and expanded at a time buy viagra over seas trusted international pharmacy when crime is at the lowest it has been in decades. Should we really be afraid that the next 7-11 bandit could be a terrorist as well?

I don’t think that the Bush government of the day had the skill or competence to pull off a 9-11. What we all must agree to, however, is that they knew how to exploit the opportunity to take away the rights of its citizens, and detain them without warrant or trial. This is a violation of  habeas corpus, a law which is as old as 13th century England. It is a law that protects a person from arbitrary detention by the state. Violate that law, and you have Gitmo in a nutshell.

Keep your eye on the ball, and let’s not get ourselves distracted with the niggly details of 9-11 physics and any associated conspiracy theory, no matter how much that keeps us up at night thinking. The taking away of your rights is more obvious than any falling building. In the end, your rights are what matter more than the event of almost 10 years ago.

In addition, I would also like to add that while we may easily dismiss the “government” conspiracy theory for 9-11, this does not allow us to say that “conspiracy theories” should always be suspect. For that matter, if we say we are against conspiracy theories, then we should be against saying that the “Al-Q’aeda did it”, since that is a conspiracy theory too.

What is old is new: RPN on the HP 35s Scientific Calculator

The print-edition of the HP 35s manual

For those of you lucky enough to purchase the calculator back in 2007, you more than likely had the full 200-page print edition of the user manual. HP discontinued the print edition, possibly later that same year. It has been replaced by a smaller 40-page mini manual whose only real useful purpose has been to help me review the main points of RPN. If you are a beginner, then you need to access the full manual which is now stored on CD. My CD, which I bought less than a week ago, appears to have been last updated in 2009. The same CD also has the same manual in 15 other languages.

You would have had the ability to review the book at your leisure, rather than on a laptop screen the way I have to view it. It is a bit of a deterrent and is tiring on my eyes, but I guess it beats having no book. I have discovered that you can purchase copies on E-Bay if you feel desparate enough for a print copy. You will probably shuck out your dollars for a print copy if you want to program, or if you want to have a more through mastery of its system of menus.

However, if you program, it must be stated quickly that much of the programming language is printed on the keyboard above the keys, and are active in program mode. It is definitely a caclulator that had its keyboard laid out with the programmer in mind, and with their needs as the higher priority. A look at the keypad shows a lot of programming commands rather than statistics, summations, or clearing the stack, all of which require menus. The “STO” function requires the blue shift key to be pressed first; and the functions for x2, log, ln all require a shift key to be pressed first. For whatever reason that perplexes me, there seemed to be a need to cram a good fraction of the interface of the calculator with various conversions: metric to imperial, fraction to floating point, degrees to radians, signed to absolute value. It takes up 10 of the 43 keys. Since none but grade-school calculators have these conversions, I am not sure of the motive. It is likely that it helps in the programming to save coding effort.

It seems to be all about the programming. Programming takes up 5 chapters or 100 pages of the 382-page booklet. Plenty to learn for the HP 35s programming enthusiast.

What is old is new: RPN on the HP 35s Scientific Calculator

I saw the 35s for the first time in a Staples store just this year, though the calculator has been around in University bookstores since 2007. I bought mine on sale, being listed at $99.00 full price. When it came out in 2007, I heard that it came with a zippered pouch to store the calculator in. Mine, supposedly the 2011 model, came with a vinyl pouch that was open, with rather stiff elasticized cloth bands on the sides, making the calculator difficult to actually place in its pouch, especially the first time it was used.  Once in the pouch, it was difficult to take back out of its pouch. The calculator feels light when held in one’s hand. I’m not sure why I noticed that. Somehow I thought it would feel more substantial, given all of the functions and programmability, and the 800 or so memories that it boasts of.

2012 will be the 40th anniversary of the scientific calculator. HP made the world’s first scientific calculator in 1972, and it was an RPN calculator with no algebraic mode. Anyone who has tried to program in a serious way would appreciate that RPN is easier to program for (from the manufacturer’s point of view), because of its reliance on a memory model called “stacks”, which most computer science undergraduates know about, by second year at the latest. While the act of doing things algebraically might seem easier to us humans, programming a calculator to think in terms of human algebra is more difficult than you would think. It takes a computer many more steps, and thus it is much slower than RPN in terms of processor time. It was probably not until the early 1990s that calculators were capable of anything close to human-style algebra, and only recently have processors become so small and fast that the speed of the algorithm is not really as important as it used to be. But human speed might be. To those who take the time to understand how RPN works, and how the 35s implements stacks, RPN is still faster for humans to perform calculations.

Many of the features on the 35s are common on much cheaper calculators: statistics, regression, vectors, mixed fractions, complex numbers, numberical integration, numerical differentiation, a linear tramadol buy online usa solver, and there are much cheaper calculators that can solve single-variable polynomials up to order 3. I own a $5.00 calculator that can solve linear systems in up to 3 unknowns. Also, there are too many features on the “new” HP 35s that are tied up in menus, which is something that turned me off from using TI calculators. The only tangible attraction I can think of for this calculator is likely to be its programming mode. The 35s is among the very few non-graphical calculators around today that one can write programs in.

Playing with it a bit, I find that scientific notation seems to work up to 10500, meaning the computation of factorials can go to unheard-of extremes, even going beyond the capacity of an Excel spreadsheet. I was able to find, to several sig figs, the value of 253!, wheras Excel 2007 craps out past 125!. This means that this calculator is particularly powerful for performing permutations (nPr) and combinations (nCr).

I have lost my touch with the use of stacks from my programming days, but it looks like the calculator does a lot of pushing and popping, even in the middle of the stack. In addition, it only seems to perform calculations on the stack 2 at a time, even though the stack can accomodate 4 numbers. When you enter numbers, it’s like “pushing” numbers on to the bottom of the stack. You enter a number, and the stack moves up. If  you enter two numbers then add them, the stack moves down and the result of the addition is entered in the immediate register in the stack, called “x”.  The true implemtnation of this is that, for the registers t, z, y, and x, t gets its number copied to z, z copies to y, and y copies to x. This results in a duplication of t in the stack. If a “+” is pressed when a stack contains the numbers “1 2 3 4”, it adds only 3 and4, then the top 2 registers shift down and the result of adding 3 and 4 is placed in “x”: “1 1 2 7” becomes the resulting stack. The “1” and “2” shift down, but in reality, the memopry register values are just copied.

What is old is new: RPN on the HP 35s Scientific Calculator

When I comment on technology, I like to discuss the good and the bad about it. I don’t sell calculators, and I don’t get freebies to review. That gives me the freedom to freely comment.

Click on the graphic to go to a lengthy review on this calculator.

One has to admit that for HP to sell a $90 RPN calculator in this age of $20 textbook display calculators takes guts, especially if said $90 calculator does not have graphical capabilites. HP has been making RPN calculators since the 1970s. In the 80s, they had their heyday when their top-of-the line calculators not only had programmability, but even came with complex functions stored on cards on which was mounted a piece of magnetic tape on the small plastic card which one would swipe through a reader inside the calculator. Every key including the number key seemed to have at least 3 functions, and usually 4.  It was a great technology, but the calculators were quite pricey, but loved by statisticians, university professors and math nerds everywhere.  The common theme in all of these calculators was that their input was required to be in reverse Polish notation, or RPN.

In RPN, you enter buy tramadol cheap your two operands, and press the button for the operator last. This requires an “Enter” key; and since the calculation is over once you press the operator, there is no need for an equal sign. In fact, the keypads are noted for their lack of an equal sign.

On a normal calculator, entering “2 + 2” is a matter of entering the operands and opereator in the order you would write them down. For RPN, you enter “2 2 +”, hitting an “Enter” button after each “2”. The advantage of RPN, to those who have the patience to give themselves such a habit of thought for this, is that the overall effect is that you can do a reasonably complex calculation with fewer keystrokes, than on a conventional calculator. And while it promised efficiency, it was never a calculator for button monkeys. To take advantage of  RPN’s efficiency you always needed to think carefully about the calculation. But I must state that HP is ready for today’s generation: they do in fact, provide an “algebraic” mode where it uses the common algebraic syntax you would expect on most other calculators, but on my calculator, it was RPN that was the default.

Microphones Part 2: The war of silence

With the levels down so low, my test recording needed post-processing. I used Adobe Audition 1.5. In most of these audio-doctoring softwares, all you need to do is to normalize the levels, so that “0” is the highest your levels should go. Audition had a “Normalize” setting, and of course that also boosted the background and electronic noise, along with my voice.

Now I needed noise reduction. Adobe has a fancy dancy noise reduction interface which is useable for the brave of heart. The main idea is to highlight “silence” (a moment of pure background noise) somewhere on your waveform, in order for Adobe to get a snapshot of the frequencies that need to be attenuated with the noise reduction. When I tried it, the noise was virtually eliminated when there was only noise, especially at the start, but the noise seems to have a reverberation, since if the noise is at the end, it fades in a stepwise fashion. The noise in the middle is reduced substantially, but not enough to compare with other noise reduction that I know about, like Dolby or ANRS. DBX would have been good, if they could have licensed it.

Audacity won the war of silence, in making the background noise pretty much inaudible, with its noise reduction scheme, which had a far simpler interface. The noise reduction was equally effective in the silent bits and the parts with talking. I used the same strategy in giving it a sample of pure background noise to its noise reduction profile. I found that only the very lowest setting on their “Less/More” slider would not make me sound like I’m living in a tin can, or even disappear altogether.

To be fair, I was using Audition 1.5, against the latest version of Audacity. I hear that Audition is somewhere around version 3.0. But I am happy with Audacity, since Adobe charges a pretty penny for its sound editing software.

Microphones

I had decided to do my little contribution to society, and join LibriVox.org, and record a free audio file for them. My biggest problem so far has been microphones. I have an Optimus mike that was purchased 5 years ago, and had hardly been used. I had decided to use it for LibriVox, but my first problem was in finding an adaptor, since the Optimus uses a quarter inch plug, and my sound card has only eighth-inch jacks.

I went to The Source (which used to be Radio Shack), and got two adaptors, one mono and one stereo. The stereo adaptor I purchased fell apart inside the jack, and I almost took the front end of the computer off trying to dislodge it. First, the sheath came off, leaving the bare plug, stripped of its barrel with its bare contacts hanging in the air. With a pair of pliers, I managed to remove the rest of the plug. But when that happened, I noticed that one of the insulators on the plug was stripped off. I checked the package. Made in China. !@*#$ free trade agreements! @!#@$$#$@!! global economy!

I took a chance on the Chinese-made mono plug, and Buddha smiled on me for that one, for it seemed to work fine. Trouble was Windows didn’t know it was there, so I tried the back. That was fine, but the levels were too quiet, even with the Windows levels turned all the way up.

Kudos to the 1050 CHUM Memorial Blog

Recently, I’ve been hit (my website that is) by someone possibly checking his plethora of links from his/her website, and when I back-traced it, I find this cool blog which acts as a convincing historical shrine to the late great 1050 CHUM Radio in Toronto. I’ve written about it before, and had mourned the reduction of a once-powerful music station to nothing more than an on-air feed for an all-news cable TV station.

There are some bugs to iron out with this blog.  While the content is excellent, and is a great cross-section of its 50-year history, there is little need to cram everything on to one nearly interminable page. I would go for short pages. Many short pages. Dozens. Hundreds of short pages. Yes, we know its history is long and illustrious. It was the home of The Chum Charts, and, was the place where countless celebrities made their appearance. Even spending part of my childhood in rural Saskatchewan was not enough to escape the annual Top 100 countdown piped to a local station in town from that seminal station near Yonge St. and Eglinton and DJ’ed by people like Bob MacAdorey. And we know there is a lot to archive: 50 years of sound checks, CHUM charts, and paraphernalia can do that, to say nothing of links to other sites which have articles possibly written by other CHUM fans, making their own contribution.

The Psychology Contrarian II: The Obsession with IQ

At best, these websites present these people as numbers first, people second. To what extent does saying that Marie Curie has an IQ of 190 or so add to or take away from her discovery of radioactivity or her other contributions to Chemistry and Physics to which she literally paid for with her life, all the while fleeing the Nazis? To what extent does Shakespeare’s assigned IQ of 210 add to or take away from his being the most quoted writer in the English Language? And finally, just who is this guy “William Sidis”, and who in the h-e-double-sticks gave him an IQ of 250 to 300?

William Sidis (1898-1944), was an American who had an undergraduate degree at MIT, and then a studied for a law degree at Harvard before he reached 18. By that time he had given occasional lectures to professors. He was portrayed as Will Hunting in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. But Will Hunting was portrayed more as a thug first, intellectual second (it was the reverse in real life). In real life, the psychologist he was to see was his father, Boris Sidis. Now, isn’t that a tad, shall we say, unethical? Exactly what was to be the outcome here? The only way you can be clinically objective about your own son is to not have feelings for your son at all, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of therapy in a rather deep and profound way? I guess one way to become screwed up is to have issues with your father; and one way to be really screwed up is to have that same father for your therapist. NOOOOOOOO!, I can hear him screaming. Ah, but I digress.

No one doubts that Sidis was a prodigy. But what of the number given to him: 250 – 300, which pretty much isolates him from the rest of humanity (even going back to the dawn of antiquity)  as an intellectual? Is this number even meaningful? Is it legitimate? An IQ like that would make him “smarter” than Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo. Even Albert Einstein had to give the world his special and general relativity theories while chugging along with his meagre 205 IQ.  On this scale, Isaac Newton was an also-ran; and Galileo could be arrogant to the Pope, but like John The Baptist, he should not feel himself fit to tie the sandals of someone on the scale of Good Will Sidis, apparently.

Will Sidis, as far as history can tell, is just known for being smart; he didn’t contribute anything, except for this “human thermodynamics/entropy reversal” stuff, which few have heard of. His contribution doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as Einstein or Michelangelo, so having the IQ score alone is nothing to be envious about. Nearly all of those slowpokes who meandered to their historical achievements had to do so while galumphing along with the humble 190-210 IQs that God gave them, if we are to believe the posthumous IQ scores given to them.

The Psychology Contrarian I: The obsession with IQ

When there are no serious researchers that would place any relevance on IQ and what it measures (indeed, what exactly is it measuring is itself a mystery: does intelligence even have a definition, or am I missing out on something?), I wonder why there are web sites which even go so far as to go back in history, centuries before there were IQ tests or even a field of psychology as we know it, and begin to assign IQs to people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Hypatia, Isaac Newton, and so on, as if we were handing passing out candies, albeit to dead people.

I think it IQ is the last bastion of that age where math was taken too seriously, and secret societies were formed out of assigning numbers to strange and abstruse things. The IQ, much like saying “chair = 5”, was and is the last of these to fall. The same care and attention given to assigning numbers to daffodils and planets is being given to historical figures who had never seen, heard of, or taken these tests. It forms an easy method by which we can feel we understand the world without having to go through all the bother of reading of people’s biographies or accomplishments, or knowing anything about them at all. Their entire intellectual and scholastic oeuvre can be summarized in a three-digit number, and that’s all that matters to those of us who are IQ-obsessed.

One such person who was IQ obsessed was Rick Rosner, whose first IQ test was about 150, but repeatedly took more tests such that his IQ was inflated to 170 to 190. He said in an interview that 150 was OK for being the smartest in your high school, but not OK for being the smartest person at a place like Harvard. A 150 IQ just sort of blends in.

Of course, this logic fails because it confuses IQ scores with achievement. There is more to life than smarts; of course we can all do with more of it. The main ingredient, and possibly the most important ingredient leading to achievement and success in life is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the ability to make manifest the goals you set. Self-efficacy takes focus, determination, and discipline. These are things well within the reach of any average person.

Zero

Once upon a time, around the year 525 during the reign of Pope John I, a monk named Dionysius invented the idea of Anno Domini by producing a calendar which marked the time since the birth of Christ. The numbering of the years was adopted for the Julian Calendar, a calendar created 600 years previous under the reign of Julius Caesar. The Julian Calendar allows for 12 months, 365 days per year, and 366 on leap year, once every 4 years. The numbering of the years would change with Anno Domini.

The calendar lost 11 minutes per solar year, then over time, 3 entire days out of every 400 years, so that by 1582 under Pope Gregory, a new calendar was issued that made that correction. Now, under what is known as the Gregorian Calendar, a leap year will happen every 4 years, and on years divisible by 400; but not on years divisible by 100. 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was.

But there was a bigger problem in the concept of Anno Domini. There was no year zero. A kid born on 1 BC would be 3 years old by 3 AD. But if you subtract, you get the wrong answer: 3 − (-1) = 4, and this is because there is no year zero in the calendar. For the Dionysian calendar, the counting is: -1, 1, 2, 3, rather than -1, 0, 1, 2, 3. The blame cannot be laid at the feet of Dionysius alone, however. Dionysius did not know of the number zero, because the number had not been known to the Romans, nor the Greeks, and not even the Church, for hundreds of years.

Well, it kind of did. The Arab world had known and used the number in their counting system since at least the days of the Greeks, and possibly before. Aristotle stated that there was no such a thing as a vacuum, and thus the very idea of zero, or of “nothing” as being countable, was anathema to Greek philosophy. Greek geometry, with all of its laws and proofs,  had to proceed without it. They were aware that zero was being used by the Babylonians, but the Greeks had a good thing going with their pursuit of philosophy and didn’t want it being messed up by the introduction of zero.

This meant that the Romans, who did not pursue philosophy so much, had no zero in their rather cumbersome number system. And the Catholic church, who embraced Aristotle, had no zero for hundreds of years, and didn’t even question Aristotle’s idea of a vacuum until the 13th century. While the Catholics liked a rational God, and pursued philosophy and mathematics in their monasteries during the so-called “Dark Ages”, and even started the university system some time after the 10th century, did not see until much later how zero could actually fit in with their theology regarding “the void” and “the infinite”.

In the meantime, a calendar had been produced that had no year zero. This meant that centuries so not begin at multiples of 100, they have to begin at 100 + 1. While everyone was euphoric over the year 1999 becoming the year 2000, really the 21st century didn’t begin until 2001.

After another crisis, we’re back on the air!

Things were popping in terms of hit counts in the past few weeks, but crapped out when I had to upgrade to a different WordPress version. It turns out I had a corrupt index.php file (2 megs, which is kind of large for a file that should be all of 400 bytes) (397 to be exact).

Then I directed the traffic from this blog to newsfeeds.foodsci.info, which might have been a pleasant break from all that “Web 2.0” hubbub on this buy tramadol online overnight website.

But things are back to normal. I would publically thank my sysadmin D’Arcy Cain for helping me out with an error message from his error log. But it could end up that the business that attracts might take him away from playing blues/jazz with his part-time band as he seems to enjoy doing.

FWIW, it would be a good time to plug for the guys that keep this party going, and that’s at vex.net here in Toronto.

A reluctant technophile disses cell phones

I like the latest technologies as much as anyone. As I type this, I am using a Bravia hooked up to a quad-core PC using an HDMI cable, and have it hooked up to the ‘net with a wi-fi connection. And I know that most of my equipment can’t be bought new anymore. I have always realised that it is hopeless to keep up with the latest developments, or even to keep up with the news of it.

I like to choose my technologies carefully, for things that really make my life easier, saving work, time, and money. For me, devices have to do more than just look flashy.  I never lock into long-term contracts with cell phones, and like the idea of “unlocked” how to buy viagra without seeing a doctor cell phones. I think control over a device that you paid for is a human right, and it is the only decent thing to do with a device that a user purportedly owns. A cell phone shouldn’t own you. Or “pwn” you, to be more precise. Most of these cell phones are made of delicate plastic, with large glass touch screens that could not survive a drop of 3 feet. You might drop your phone at least once in that time, meaning for part of the life of your 3-year contract, you’re stuck paying for a phone that is no longer useable, while you have to go pay for another one. If that isn’t financial enslavement for inferior-quality devices, nothing is.