October 2005

Rosa Parks Has Died

Just got the message on my watch, from CNN:

Rosa Parks, who helped trigger the civil rights movement in the 1950s, died Monday, her longtime friends told CNN. She was 92.

Parks inspired the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955.

Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks and led to a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery.

Parks, facing regular threats and having lost her job, moved from Alabama to Michigan in 1957.

She joined the staff of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, in 1965, championing civil liberties. Parks later earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal.

Parks was the subject of the documentary “Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks,” which received a 2002 Oscar nomination for best documentary short.

In April, Parks and rap duo OutKast settled a lawsuit over the use of her name on a CD released in 1998.


More on BURL

As I said before, I’ve created BURL (Better URL). It’s really more of proof of concept based on an article at Lifehacker on Tiny URL Etiquette. The issue with TinyURL and just about any other site similar to it is that all context is lost. If I post a link to http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=fad44098-8b73-4e06-96d4-d1eb70eacb44&displaylang=en, you can take one glance at it and know that it has something to do with Microsoft. However, if I post a link to http://tinyurl.com/4gdju, you have nothing. There is zero context to what is being linked to and you have to trust the sender of the link to provide that context. What I tried to do is maintain some of the context of the original link. A BURL link looks like this: http://burl.fergcorp.com/microsoft/6e1c1. Yes, it is longer but you now have context. And the best part is, all you still have to do is enter just the URL in. BURL automatically takes the domain name and makes that the context word.

Now a few notes on the programming side. This is just a proof of concept. I wrote the code in just a few hours and while I’ve done quite a bit of testing, I’ve not done enough to consider it final. So, if you come across any bugs or glitches, just let me know. Otherwise, enjoy!


College Humor’s America’s Hottest College Girl

If you are somewhat frequent viewer of CH.com (usually stop by once a day or so), you should have no doubt seen the America’s Hottest College Girl 2005 Contest. It’s based on a bracket system, just like NCAA Basketball. So I was thinking, why not take picks to see which girl is going to win each match. I’ve made my picks:

Make your picks in the comments, I’ll see if I can make a sheet that you can print out.


Chemisty Class

This is absolute crap and I can’t believe I’m still taking it. Our chem Prof., Brad Herrick, is a brand new teacher to Mines. I think he just received his doctorate from UT @ Austin. And no he’s moved up here to terrorize us. A lot of what he does is online. For example, we can check our grades online, we submit our homework online (yes, we have required homework), and we download forms that need to be turned in from online. So what’s the problem. He doesn’t update the website. From the front page on his site “Scantron Data up tonight.” That from Friday and two days later it’s still not up! And it’s not like this has happened just once. This happens literally every single time.

In class, he says that it will be up.

On his website, he says it will be up.

Is it up? Not a chance. I think Katie is more frustrated than I am and I’m pretty frustrated. But if that’s not enough, there’s the exams. We have exams every other week, which is actually kind of nice. However, it doesn’t leave much time to study. And when you’re relying on material from the website to be up, and it’s not up until the day before the exam, it makes it kind of hard. And then there are the rules surrounding the test. For the first two tests, we were required to have a “cheat” sheet. For the third test, he provided us with a cheat sheet and for our fourth test, which we just had on Friday, it was open book/open note. 什么操!

Oh, and we don’t even have our grades from our third test!




It was cool. I learned the intricacies of such games as Beer Pong and King’s Cup. It was cool. I got some good pictures which will be up next month, when I get more bandwidth on Flickr. As I found out over the summer, I’m not a beer man, so I stuck to my Mike’s. We only had four bottles, so a run was made to King Supers to get more. Even though KS is open 24/7, apparently you can’t buy alcohol after midnight. So that was a bust. The guys next door have a hookah, so I tried that as it’s been on my to-do list since the summer. It was interesting and I learned how to blow smoke rings. I didn’t get home until 3, which gave me only about 6 hours of sleep until dad came to pick me up the next morning.

Update: Photos are up on Flickr!


Telemark Movie

The Telemark Ski Team held screening of TGP’s Total Telemark V: Sessions on Friday. It took a lot of work to get everything put together, but we had an awesome turnout and it was well worth it. I also talked with the Andy, who is basically the “Tough Guy” behind TGP, about filming internships and stuff. It may go somewhere, it may go nowhere. After the movie and giving away some really awesome prizes, we tore everything down and headed to Woody’s. After Woody’s we headed to Dave’s house where we….


What The Bleep Don’t You Know?

I started watching What the Bleep Do We Know!? and only got about half-way through it before I decided that this was utter crap and not worth watching anymore. My initial reaction was this, “Cool graphics and….nothing.” That was it. They had some cool graphics. My overall gripe with the movie is that they try to make Quantum Physics seem like an exact science when it really isn’t. Wikipedia has some great notes about the controversial nature of the movie:

The filmmakers assembled a panel favorable to their views to make their point (see below). Through creative editing, voice-overs, and special effects, points are raised, discussed, and illustrated in ways designed to inform as well as entertain. Critics have voiced concerns that the film is disingenuous and that it selectively presents information, while not presenting contradictory information.

The film presents scientific experts to support the film’s underlying philosophy, but, by and large, the scientists have previously been involved in promoting similar ideas. Arguably, their presence in the film represents the filmmaker’s efforts to find scientists sympathetic to the film’s ideas. Given the selection process, the scientists do not represent the general scientific community’s views.

Throughout the movie, they failed to show the credentials of any of the persons speaking. This was very troublesome to me and before I stopped watching, I skipped to the end to see if they would identify who was speaking. Fortunately they did. I laughed when they showed the credentials for Ramtha, Master Teacher – Ramtha School of Enlightenment, Channeled by JZ Knight. When I first saw Ramtha in the movie, something didn’t feel right (If you’ve read Blink: Talk about thin-slicing).

JZ Knight/Ramtha appears frequently in the film. In the film, she appears to be a scientist or spiritual teacher of some kind. By the end of the film, during the credits, she is identified as the spirit “Ramtha” who is being “channeled” by “JZ Knight.” The three people who wrote, directed, and produced the movie are students of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. Knight was born Judith Darlene Hampton in Roswell, N.M. The spirit, Ramtha, who she claims to channel, is “a 35,000 year-old warrior spirit from the lost continent of Atlantis and one of the Ascended Masters.” (Knight speaks with an accent because English is not Ramtha’s first language.)

Many of the persons in the movie don’t even have the proper credentials to speaking on Quantum Mechanics in the way that they do. They are like me, arm chair enthusiasts that would jump at the chance to express their views without any formal education. There were really only three or so people who had the proper background (at least in my mind) to give an accurate testament of Quantum Mechanics. And then I read about Dr. Albert:

Dr. David Albert, a philosopher of physics and professor at Columbia University, speaks frequently throughout the movie. While it may appear as though he supports the ideas that are presented in the movie, according to a Popular Science article, he is “outraged at the final product.” [4] The article states that Dr. Albert granted the filmmakers a near-four hour interview, which was then edited and incorporated into the film in such a way that misrepresented his views that quantum mechanics is not related to consciousness or spirituality. In the article, Dr. Albert also expresses his feelings of gullibility after having been “taken” by the filmmakers.

Wow. “But what about the studies?” you say. Wikipedia’s got that covered too:

Transcendental Meditation study

As described in the film, the study involved using 5,000 people in June and July of 1993 to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) to reduce violent crime in Washington, DC (which has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in the US). By counting the number of Homicides, Rapes, and Assaults (HRA), the study came to the conclusion TM reduced crime rates by 18%. Based on the numbers reported in their own study, the HRA crime rate was about 30% higher in 1993 than the average crime rate between 1988-1992. The HRA crime rate showed a decline around the middle of the two month period where TM was practiced and remained relatively low (by 1993 standards) for several months afterward, though the decline was small enough that the reduced HRA crime rate was still about 10-15% higher than average at that time of year. There was no reduction in the homicide rate during the period of the study. Whether this means that TM caused a drop in that year’s unusually high HRA rate, or whether the HRA rate naturally dropped closer to its more typical frequency is the issue.

Water Crystals

Masaru Emoto’s work (The Hidden Messages in Water) plays a prominent role in a scene set in a subway tunnel, where the main character happens upon a presentation of displays showing images of water crystals. In the movie, “before” and “after” photographs of water are presented as evidence that specific words written on pieces of paper and affixed to different containers of water have the power to transform the water into beautiful crystalline shapes. Examples include “You make me sick”, “Love and Gratitude”, and “Merci”. The procedure followed by Emoto can be found at this site. In the movie, it is claimed that “non-physical events” of “mental stimuli” are the cause of this transformation, but skeptics have pointed out that the “after” photographs are microscopic images of the water after being frozen (aka snowflakes) – a step not disclosed in the movie.

Additional problems arise when it becomes clear that Emoto’s work is more artistic than scientific. For example, Emoto never submitted his work for peer review, and he did not utilise double blind methodology. If this had been the case, the individual providing the specimen (i.e., the person who selected the water sample, poured it into the container, labeled the container with a message, and froze it) would need to be a different person than the individual who later received the ice for analysis and photography. This second individual would also need to be unaware of what each specimen had been labelled. If the same person performed all of these tasks, this individual could easily select sections of the frozen water that matched what they wanted to see, perhaps unconsciously (a phenomenon otherwise known as confirmation bias). In other words, if the individual wanted to demonstrate that happy words produced aesthetically pleasing shapes, they only needed to find a section of the ice which was aesthetically pleasing. Conversely, if they wanted to demonstrate that angry words created aesthetically displeasing crystals, they again just needed to search until they found a section that did not look as good. Emoto also claims that polluted water does not crystallize. Depending on the properties of the pollutant, heavily polluted water will still form crystals, though the crystals may contain more crystallographic defects than pure water would. These changes in the way the crystals form can be readily explained using basic chemistry and physics.

Emoto essentially appears to have arbitrarily decided what constitutes a “brilliant crystal” and an “incomplete crystal”, but in a movie claiming a scientific base grounded in quantum mechanics, a quantification of what defines such crystals is required.

So yea. Crap. Complete and utter crap. If you really want to learn about Quantum Mechanics I would check out Elegant Universe. It started as a book and then PBS made a mini-series based on it. Granted, it’s not perfect. But I think it does a hell of a better job that What the Bleep. I should also note that it’s actually more about String Theory than it is Quantum Mechanics. However, it does an excellent job of explaining Newtonian Law and Quantum Mechanics before it delves into String Theory. And you really do need to know about NL and QM before you can even begin to understand ST. I have a copy of the book if anyone cares to read it. I would also suggest reading A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking…perhaps the smartest person in the world.

I’m still fuming about how much utter crap the movie is. Hopefully what I’ve wrote makes some sense. I’ll try to add some more of my own notes later.