Archive for the ‘Math & Science’ Category

Now that spring has sprung and temperatures are rising, many homeowners are bound to have visits from less-than-welcome creatures. But there is a way to deal with these pesky visitors other than using poison. Consider these natural methods of pest control.

–*Try spraying a little alcohol.

–*Put garlic at any of the ants’ entrance points.

–*Try to reason with the ants using Cartesian logic.

–*Try setting the ants on fire. Everybody knows that fire is natural.

–*Set about 50 anteaters loose in  your home.

–*Play John Mayer constantly. The ants will know this is one party they do not want to go to.

–*Everybody knows ants hate chalk. Write “Fuck you, ants,” in chalk on the floor.

–*Make a ton of money and move into a house that’s better built.

–*Essential oils will repel ants but will likely attract Gwyneth Paltrow.

–*Ants communicate with pheromones. Disrupt their communication chain by trying to destroy all pheromones in your house, including your own.

–*Stick your hand into a fire ant pile and let them repeatedly sting you until they become bored with the practice and leave.

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Insight vs. Logic

I remember having this conversation with my Christian aunt a few years ago: The reason we tend to have progress is not only because we are logical, but because we have intuition and insight to reflect on that logic. A number of people have suggested that it’s one of the reasons robots will never be as advanced as humans, something I happen to believe. How do you, with a bunch of mathematical rules, create something that can reflect on itself reflecting?

So I was tickled when I saw this article on Yahoo! the other day about those who believe in God being more intuitive than reflective. According to the article, people who are more intuitive tend to believe in God. They also tend to screw up math and logic problems.

This doesn’t mean that only dummies believe god, of course, it just highlights philosophical problems going back to Immanuel Kant’s time. People who believe only in a mathematical/deductive reasoning approach to knowledge tend to completely miss the ideas that experience and intuition offer. Reasoning is indifferent to pain, and it’s our innate spirituality, the fact that we can imagine ourselves in somebody else’s head, that we tend to be more humane.

But intuition without logic is bad, because it can have you believing in fairies and wood sprites and … yes, even a benevolent deity who invented everything. Indeed, intuition almost always requires a human agency or a spirit whose hand operates the loom of the world, even though logic and science and millions of years of progress have taught us otherwise. Because humans have an innate ability to see through other people’s eyes, they always assume there are eyes out there. Sometimes there aren’t.

The problem is that knowledge and understanding require both things. Intuition without logic leaves you with bizarre religious beliefs (I know god is there because I FEEL him.) But logic without intuition leads to a world where pain and suffering are not comprehended, where the essence of things is not understood or even how the essence of something changes. Logic understands how to win an argument but doesn’t understand how the terms of the argument and the rules change.

I am an atheist, as my long-time readers might have figured out. But I think that man is a spiritual creature, and that this is mainly because of our brain’s ability to perceive things that cannot normally be understood through objective reasoning (though, unfortunately, it’s also why God will likely keep getting reinvented over and over, no matter how many times science kills him off). Despite my apostasy, I’ve always been a little biased toward intuitive types, mainly because I know lots of people who are extremely logical and can argue any point with perfectly manicured precision but who nonetheless lack basic wisdom about the world and themselves in it–and for that cause themselves and others pain for it.

There’s an appealing idea that sometimes a relatively dumb person can grasp things through his intuition that the smarties cannot. That meretricious proposal underlies a lot of our political rhetoric today, and gives people like Sarah Palin a populist appeal. She doesn’t need a degree. She’s got the common sense of the people. But to put faith in that kind of intuition is as good as flushing your whole brain down the toilet. To think to the best of your ability about things means trying to aspire to do both the due diligence of logic and reflect on its possible failures. Even if you’re not very good at one type of thinking or the other, you have to try to do both. If you’re a Christian, I would argue to you that common sense and willful ignorance do not sit well together side by side, and you cannot forever argue against ideas like evolution with faith alone. On the other hand, if you’re married to objectivism only, like the troll Ayn Rand, you will tend to see the world in either black and white, not knowing that sometimes the world can be both.

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My wife and I have been provisioning all day for the monstrous Hurricane Irene. How temperamental is she? She keeps changing her category! This storm is such a raging bitch that not only have 370,000 New Yorkers been ordered evacuated, but the New York Times has momentarily given away free storm stories on its Web site. This evil hurricane is already messing with our Web business models!

This has been a summer of firsts for me. Not only have I had my first baby, but three days ago I experienced my first earthquake, and this weekend, I’ll face down my first hurricane, and all at an age where you stop having firsts. It probably also bears mentioning that you shouldn’t be dealing with any of these things in New York City, perhaps even the baby part.

My wife and I are thankfully not in one of the flood zones, but we have big windows on a high floor and are wondering if we will have to be spending the weekend bodily shielding our baby Xander against flying tempered glass.  New York supposedly upgraded its building codes in 2008 to stiffen them against hurricane winds, but in a city where pragmatism must be mixed into politics like milk into chocolate, many existing buildings didn’t have to meet these codes. At the height my wife and I live, there’s a danger of glass, gravel, and other items flying off adjacent roofs (even those of shorter buildings) and creating a debris field. We hear different pieces of advice about how risky it is to stay where we are, but at this point, we have few choices. I’ll let you know if things start flying through our living room.

I’ve spent most of the day stocking up. It’s strange how people predicting the end of the world recently (Glenn Beck comes to mind) have been admonishing you to invest in gold. But after spending the day looking for larder items, I’d say the smarter money is on peanut butter. That and bread seem to be the two items my neighbors can’t live without, and every store I’ve been to today has been robbed of its creamy spreads and whole wheat breads. Where other nonperishable items like beans and soup and Chips Ahoy remained, peanut butter seems to be the rock star staple food of the nascent storm survivalist. How you gonna eat gold, after all, when the flood comes?

When you are provisioning, I’ve found it helps to be counter-intuitive. Most stores I went to had run out of flashlights and D batteries by 2 p.m. today. But if you were willing to walk into one of the tiny newsstands, you found lots of D batteries. And my wife said there were tons of flashlights at Gracious Home. I found it better to look for each prized survival item at the place where it was most novel. Water at the health and beauty store. Batteries at the bodega. Cereal at Bed, Bath & Beyond. If anything, however, today’s shopping lesson was a bog standard lesson in supply and demand. Items that are unremarkable one day become as valuable as silver the next.

Another lesson for you disaster watchers is to listen to the voices in the street for the stirrings of public skepticism. There are a few lone voices out there who insist Mike Bloomberg, our billionaire mayor, is fear mongering and exaggerating the threat of the storm. The city has launched New York’s first mandatory evacuation ever from the flood zones in all five boroughs and mass transit will shut down at noon on Saturday. In a mordant moment at a press conference Thursday, Bloomberg said that he’s asking residents of those areas to leave so as they do not, you know, die. But skepticism of his motives has already risen among those who feel he’s making up for a botched response to last winter’s Snowmageddon.There’s a lot of dismissive sneers by those who say we’re having our chains pulled. New York hasn’t seen a major hurricane in decades.

It makes you think briefly about politics. To doubt something that’s factual (indeed, to ignore myriad satellite pictures and weatherman showing you exactly how Hurricane Irene is going to hand your ass to you) is something damn near instinctual among us. Perhaps political parties grow from these abundant small disagreements more organically than we think. I wrote earlier this year after the Japan earthquake about the need to politicize acts of God, comparing the event to Hurricane Katrina. Is there something good about doubting people who would take you out of harm’s way? Does it help us to constantly question and be skeptical of things insight tells us are true, in hopes of constantly making insight better? Is it better to have a foil political party or group always saying “Nay,” no matter what the question? Is this what actually makes democracy work?

Perhaps we don’t choose the dialectic. Perhaps it chooses us.

I’ll leave with that thought and hope Hurricane Irene does not choose me or my family this weekend. If you don’t hear much from me in the next couple of days (and hate seeing egregious spelling errors sitting uncorrected in the post) it’s because my power is likely down or because my son won’t let me type for two seconds. In fact, I’m amazed I wrote this much.

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On Tuesday, the United States’ East Coast was struck by a 5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia that sent tremors all the way up to New Hampshire and all the way down to South Carolina. It’s the worst earthquake the East Coast has seen in decades.

Is that an earthquake?
Or twenty secretaries
Coming back from lunch?

Thought I lived in the
New York City Area
Not San Francisco

I was in Red Bank.
My office mate thought I was
Kicking my desk hard

Is that an earthquake
Or do you always kick things
When you are thinking?

No dams have broken
But water sloshed in glasses
Says the New York Times

Buildings swoon, neighbors
hug; no wait, they are hugging
Cause the Dow Jones jumped

Day of infamy:
America mourns the loss
of prized knickknacks

If I die in Red
Bank, it won’t be the quakes but
crossing the damn street

FEMA probably
Stayed on vacation I guess.
What’s the point, really?

If you didn’t sleep
Through it, you are likely
Forever changed.

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Scientists are working rapidly to sequence a genome to confound the insidious disease.

The Centers For Disease Control in Washington issued a health bulletin Wednesday warning that so-called “Bieber Fever,” has turned deadly in the United States, killing scores of young teenagers, and is now reported in record numbers in adolescent and child populations.

The fever has resulted in at least 10 fatalities across the country, mostly among young people but also some adults. Newly infected patients should in the next few weeks expect to suffer from dysentery, widespread skin lesions, leprosy, anemia and markedly enlarged spleens.

“We’re dealing with a rare disease in which the host body becomes infected by metacyclic promastigotes during blood feasting,” says Dr. Richard Kohen director of communicable disease control at the CDC. “In the visceral stage, these parasites migrate to the vital organs and the body just starts to shut down from total Bieber consumption.”

The protozoan parasites of Bieber fever that overtake the host body have become increasingly drug resistant, said Kohen, who said past treatments of antimony-based drugs have so far proved ineffective to the horrific disease, one in which large large open sores, known as “Bieber bowls” criss-cross the face and shoulders offering weeks of agonizing torment to the patient.

The phlebotomine sandflies that carry the disease are normally found on petting zoo animals and other doe-eyed young mammals. There are currently no vaccines for Bieber fever, though scientists hope that by studying the robust Bieber viral DNA they can sequence the parasite’s genome and concoct a robust carbohydrate version of the vaccine that will save victims before they drown in their own bodily fluids, suffer organs exploding in supperating balls of pus or find their faces melting right off their skulls.

Beiber fever has been identified in at least 50 countries with a total population at risk of some 583 million. In other areas, the disease is known by some of its local folk names such as “Beiber leprosy,” “Spotted Beiber,” and “Chupa Mi Culo.” Many of these areas lack available resources of vaccine and treatment, mostly sodium stibogluconate therapy that hampers the parasite’s ability to absorb food from the surrounding host cells. But some strains of the disease, such as the dreaded “Diffuse Cutaneous Bieber Fever,” also known as “The Canadian Death Rattle,” have become resistant to drugs.

“This is a very smart parasite,” says Kohen. “It just kind of creeps up on you with its seemingly innocuous symptoms and warms your body up. Just when you are most susceptible and weak, that’s when it does the most harm and pretty soon it is turning your body against itself.”

Kohen advises teens to be wary of blood-feeding hematophagous animals and phlebotominae, especially those with the familiar Bieber bowl trademarks. Meanwhile, scientists are preparing with the help of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to find out how exactly Beiber fever has spread, what are its major gateways of transmission, and why people are so, so, so susceptible.

“This is an insidious, fiendish attack on human host cells,” said Kohen. “It doesn’t just make your spleen larger than your liver. It gets into your very heart and makes you shake, shake shake until your body just totally gives out.”

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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My mother’s dog Max doing his imitation of the Montauk Monster. Is it a man? Bear? Pit bull? Pig? Fish? We’ll never know.

Click here to see the original.

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Washington, D.C. (API) In a time of national turmoil, economic uncertainty and geopolitical anxiety, Americans have been seeking new ways to feel good again and it’s only natural that they’d look to a new diversion, not unlike the arrival of the Beatles or the invention of the television. And increasingly, say pundits, the trend that’s got all the teenyboppers screaming is bloody, cold-hearted revenge.

“Whether it’s public executions or watching Richard Heene get tossed in the slammer, people are out for blood,” said New York Times culture writer Mimi Heisenbaum. “Revenge feels good. It tastes great and you don’t put on weight. I myself have found that grudge is my color.”

Call it payback, retribution, vengeance, reprisal or redress, Americans want to see the pendulum swing, literally and figuratively, on all dopes, antagonists, bumpkins, trolls, blatherskites, psycho bitches, no-goodniks, malefactors, miscreants, reprobates and fuckwads, whether they be criminals or just somebody stupid on TV.

“When I heard that Keeping Up With the Kardashians beat out Mad Men‘s season finale in the ratings, I just wanted to shoot up a building,” said kindergarten teacher Rachel S. Warren. “But then I when I saw Khloe Kardashian get called fat in a recent episode, I’ve got to say, it brought out the color in my cheeks again. I’ve found myself watching all the Kardashian reruns now, just to enjoy the sublime feelings of watching that fat bitch hurt a little more every time.”

A new Gallup poll finds that 37% of Americans now enjoy the sight of watching somebody injure themselves in a violent fall on YouTube every week, up from 15% last spring. And a full 67% say that idee fixe revenge fantasies feel better than simple meditation by the fire on a winter evening while wrapped up with a book.

“My mother invited me to go to a knitting class with her last week,” said Brenda Champlain, a lawyer from Harrisburg, Pa. “She said it would calm my nerves and keep me from hating other people so much. But in the end, we decided to call the police on the guy next door when his car alarm went off for the 18th time.”

Indeed, Americans prefer revenge 10 to 1 over redemption and 5 to 1 over the concept of simple justice. However, 70% said they didn’t know the difference between revenge and justice, and 40% said they didn’t know that revenge was the subject of the proverb “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” A full 90% of Americans enjoy watching the YouTube video where the catwalk model falls through the floor.

When asked their opinions about capital punishment, most respondents gave a variety of qualitative answers ranging from “An eye for an eye,” to “Why not do it if it feels good at the time?”

“Revenge is shown to activate intense feeling in the reward centers of the brain,” said researchers at the University of Zurich. “Positron-emission technology scans show us that revenge excites certain areas of the basal ganglia, allowing the brain to deviate momentarily from rational thought. This serves an evolutionary impulse to punish those who have wronged us so that they don’t do it again. In layman’s terms, it means opening up a tasty, tasty can of whup-ass.”

Reality show hoaxer Richard Heene was asked if he was aware exactly how much people’s basal ganglia became excited when police placed him under arrest and prosecutors threatened him with years in jail and the loss of his family. He responded again that he was sorry he had misled so many people with his balloon stunt and begged Americans for clemency and mercy.

“Americans are angry at me,” he said. “I can smell it on them. They want my blood. That evolutionary need to destroy anybody, even a stranger, is very strong in the American spirit. It’s been in our heritage since the Puritan days. There’s no getting around it. They’re coming to destroy me. … You hear that? Blood, I tell you! They want my blood!”

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(Originally posted Friday, December 07, 2007)

Mathematical Paradoxes Discovered by Betrand Russell But Unpublished Until Now

–*A surprise party thrown for oneself is not a surprise party unless nobody shows up

–*A drunk cannot ever truly know he is a drunk until he his told by somebody, likely his wife, who he will then not believe

–*If a tree falls on an asshole in the forest, it is likely nobody will care

–*The existence of God can be proved ontologically by the idea that He is conceivable … or because your mother told you so.

–*None of the eight heads you stuffed in a duffel bag will fit the same way after you have successfully loaded them once.

–*Say we have a logical precept in set theory in which a woman says she only loves those men who are not in love her … yeah, that’s pretty much the way it works.

–*The Prisoner Paradox: A man set to be hanged at an uncertain point in the next five days will, because of logical deduction, in fact never be hanged … that is, not unless somebody with some guts takes the initiative.

–*Language is not something that is best understood by words themselves, which is evident to anyone who has listened to Roland Barthes go on and on and on.

–*Two groups working independently and achieving success will somehow see those successes turn to failure if the same two groups are combined. This is also known as democracy.

–*Infinity plus one is still equal to infinity, so fuck you and your “common sense.”

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(Originally posted Monday, October 15, 2007)

After the bridge collapse a few months ago in Minneapolis, the nation’s politicians, scientists, engineers and educators have been speaking out about how we are not spending enough money to protect our country’s infrastructure. Of course, repairing bridges has never been as sexy as building them, but that’s because we haven’t spent the time making it interesting for our children. As a former editor at a civil engineering magazine, I’ve been thinking of ways that we could make the study of the topic more interesting and hip and “Gen Y.” Thus, here are the stories I would be writing if I were an editor at such a magazine today:

1) Hey Loser! Cement May Be Your Santa Claus

A long look at how cement and concrete aren’t the same thing, with your hosts Marilyn Manson and his ex-girlfriend Rose McGowan.

2) Core Barreling: Don’t Come Too Fast

We go on a hunt through the long tunnels of Boston with the two Coreys chasing skirt and looking for structural deficiencies, corrosion and worn epoxy coatings in the rebar.

3) How Serious Are Civil Engineers About Grout? Would They Eat It?

In a civil engineering contest that is Fear Factor x100, we see if our engineers are up to the task of laying grout without air pockets. If our lovely hostess Dian falls through a sinkhole in their work, then some unlucky engineer is going to have wolf that grout down.

4) Unlined Pipe: Yeah, We’ve Got Your Unlined Pipe

We go bareback into some dark holes with your host Gene Simmons.

5) Sexual Harassment at the Concrete Canoe Races

Bet you didn’t know concrete could float. Even worse, bet you didn’t know that some pickup lines will sink straight to the bottom.

6) Why Civil Engineers Think Sandra Bullock is a BABE!

Sandra Bullock? Large gusset plate retrofitting? Need we say more?

7) Boston’s Sunken Tubes, by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Gen-X substance abuser, Prozac Nation writer, psycho-slut and respected author Wurtzel gets down and dirty in Beantown on a hunt for reverse-corrosion electrical anodes.

8 ) Violent Youth, Concrete Sewers

How street smart are you now when your streets are running with sewage? A tale of star-crossed love, run-off, and impervious cover.

9) Goth Kids In Black Learn How to Operate a Hydraulic Sluice

Hey Cure fans, come over here and help out before the dam breaks, you dolorous posers.

10) What if Civil Engineers Dug a Hole to Hell?

Of course it couldn’t happen. But COULD it?

11) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Treated Wood by Camille Paglia and pan-sexual friend “Shirley”

Of course, Camille Paglia hates Rousseau and all those “back to nature” types. Well that puts her perfectly in truck with civil engineers, who fondly remember a time when they were heroic tamers of nature. Sit down for talk with chatty Camille as she discusses the Vamps and Tramps of Geosynthetics, the sexual renegades of pre-stressed concrete bridge design, and the bitter stoic geniuses who make our retaining walls and embankments.

12) So, Your Girlfriend is a Slut…

Well, hey. Civil engineers have problems too.

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