Points to Ponder

Blogs that pose interesting conundrums

My Life as a Beach Ball

Sometimes, I feel as though my life is like a beach ball. I’m walking along the beach, between the crashing waves and the rocks, carrying my beach ball. Most of the time, I hold on the beach ball because I’m afraid of loosing it in the water.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll toss up my beach ball. The reasons vary. Sometimes out of frustration, sometimes to see what happens, sometimes because I want to. Whatever the reason, I really think I need to let go of my beach ball more often and trust that God (the prevailing Wind) keeps it out of the water. For the times that I do trust God, I’m usually pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

And for the times I’m not, fail with grace.


Thoughts on Proposition 8

The following is a short response for an in-class quiz we had today in Introduction to Law. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and so I was pretty excited to be able to take a stab at determining its validity. Since the following was an in-class quiz, it should not be considered as a thorough argument. I picked a response format similar to a Supreme Court Majority Opinion.

The facts being evaluated are two fold: A) Is Ms. Sykes sill married? and B) Is California’s Proposition 8 allowed under the United States Constitution.

In the matter of Ms. Sykes current marital status, several facts must first be established. We will assume that Ms. Sykes was legally married to another person of the same sex under California State law and such marriage was valid and recognized. Second, we shall assume that Proposition 8 is now a part of the California State Constitution and in full effect. Finally we shall assume that, for the purposes of this question only, Proposition 8 is constitutional.

Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution states, in part, that “No state shall…pass any…ex post factor law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.” The rule prohibiting ex post fact law is not applicable in this instance because the issue does not deal with anything criminal. That is to say, Proposition 8 does not make same sex relationships illegal, it just does not deem a marriage between people of the same sex as valid or recognized.

The second part of the quited Article 1, Section 10 address the obligation of contracts. Marriage is the joining of two people to become one. Taxes are filled jointly, property is owned jointly, and certain legals privileges exist between spouses because of their joint operation. In fact, for a marriage to be legal, both parties must sign documents that, for all intents and purposes, is a legally binding contract. To allow for the passing of a law which impairs the obligation of that contact is thus unconstitutional. Held: Under Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, Wanda Sykes is still married and her marriage is valid and recognized in the State of California.

In the matter of the constitutionality of Proposition 8, it would seem that the afore argued point would be significant cause to declare the proposition as unconstitutional as it is written. However, we shall endeavor to further prove this point. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in part, that “No state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protect of the laws.” This amendment and the subsequent Brown v. Board of Education (347 US 483, 1954) ruling lay the groundwork. It would seem self-evident that denying the marriage of two people because of their sex would be denying them equal protection under the law. It was not that long ago that a black person was not legally allowed to marry a white person or that black children and white children were to be educated in separate but “equal” schools. We fine this law to be no different in its meaning or intent: to disenfranchise a particular class of individual because one thinks lesser of them.


Some Religious Points I’ve Been Mulling

A couple of Christian-related things I’ve been mulling over recently:

First, Karl Barth, a twentieth-century theologian, said, “No harm must be done to the critical choice.” This is interpreted by Rev. Earl Palmer as, “No harm must be done to our freedom, and no harm must be done to God’s freedom.”

Second, Karl Barth talks about prayer, saying, “He is not deaf, he listens; more than that, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon his existence. That is what the word ‘answer’ means. … The fact that God yields to man’s petitions, changing his intentions in response to man’s prayer, is not a sign of weakness. He himself, in the glory of his majesty and power, has so willed it.”

Finally, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22:

19Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.

I stumbled upon this passage when we were going over Matthew 7:1-6. Matthew 7:1 reads:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

The footnote in my bible for 7:1 says:

The Christian is not to judge hypocritically or self-righteously, as can be seen from the context (v. 5). The same though is expressed in 23:13-39 (cf. Ro 2:1). To obey Christ’s commands in this chapter, we must first evaluate a person’s character – whether he is a “dog” (v. 6) or a false prophet (v. 15), or whether his life shows fruit (v. 16). Scripture repeatedly exhorts believers to evaluate carefully and choose between good and bad people and things (sexually immoral, 1Co 5:9; those who masquerade as angels of light, 2Co 11:14; dogs, Php 3:2; false prophets, 1Jn 4:1). The Christian is to “test everything” (1Th 5:21).

The Christian is to “test everything”. I’m relishing 5:21. The footnote in my Bible for 5:21 reads:

Test everything. The approval of prophecy (v. 20) does not mean that anyone who claims to speak in the name of the Lord is to be accepted wihtout question. Paul does not say what specific tests are to be applied, but he is clear that every teaching must be tested – surely they must be in agreement with his gospel.

I wish that more people would be objective, in general.


Finally, An Answer

Several years ago, I posted a problem describing a plane on a massive conveyor belt:
From www.boingboing.net:

Imagine a plane is sitting on a massive conveyor belt, as wide and as long as a runway. The conveyer [sic] belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction. Can the plane take off?

Similar, but not exact, question was busted on Mythbusters:
From mythbustersresults.com:

An airplane cannot take off from a runway which is moving backwards (like a treadmill) at a speed equal to its normal ground speed during takeoff.

Every since that episode aired, I had serious doubts about the validity of the test; although I could never fully articulate those doubts, even to myself. The biggest issues I had was the speed at which the conveyor belt (or treadmill) was moving.

And that’s the rub. The first question posits that the “belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction,” while the second questions says “a speed equal to its normal ground speed“. These, my friends, are two entirely different questions.

I thought all hope had been lost, until Randall “xkcd” Munroe became my hero. He asks the version of question I originally posted a couple years ago. It’s actually almost the exact same wording, only he adds in a bit about it being a 747 and then provides an answer:

From blag.xkcd.com:

The practical answer is “yes”. A 747’s engines produce a quarter of a million pounds of thrust. That is, each engine is powerful enough to launch a brachiosaurus straight up (see diagram). With that kind of force, no matter what’s happening to the treadmill and wheels, the plane is going to move forward and take off.

But there’s a problem. Let’s take a look at the statement “The conveyor belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels”. What does that mean?

You think you have it all wrapped up in a nice little package, and then you get to the “But there’s a problem.” And you utter to yourself, “Crap.”

I’m not going to spoil Randal’s rather excellent explanation of the problem. However, he does do a pretty good job explaining it, and you really should read it.

I will, however, add a couple of footnotes:

  • A PID controller is a Proportional, Integral, Derivative controller, which is a type of feedback controller. For example, let’s say you’re running on a treadmill and you start running faster, a PID controller can measure the speed you’re running at and automatically increase the speed of the treadmill so that you don’t run off the end.
  • I’m not sure, but I believe the “‘JetBlue’ scenario” that Randall mentions may refer to the JetBlue Flight 292 incident of a few years ago.

If you also remember the discussion from last time, I think Chris Barnhart is the winner.

P.S. Mr. Munroe claims that xkcd doesn’t stand for anything. However, if you assign each letter a number (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc), X+K+C+D => 24+11+3+4 = 42. Check that out, you can’t make up that shit. And no, I didn’t figure that out all by myself.

Image Credit: Randall Munroe


Sudden Realization

I just had this realization (yes, at 3:20am) that the short video clips taken on cameras are this generations equivalent of 16mm home videos.

This makes me want to take more video clips now.


Prayers for Protection

The youth pastor at my home church has a son, Ben, who was diagnosed with a Neuroblastoma almost two months ago. He’s only two years old. It’s sometime been difficult to be so far away from them; not that I could do anything, but I still feel helpless.

Yesterday, Ben began his third round of chemotherapy treatment with a drug called Cisplatin(cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II)).

Ben’s Mom writes in their blog:

While this drug has proven in the past few years to be an extremely important drug in treating NB [Neuroblastoma], it will most likely damage his hearing. 3/4 of all NB kids will suffer hearing loss – the extent to which varies depending on the child. We have been told that the “best case scenario” would be just the loss of high frequency pitches but we won’t know for another six months (approximately) what the ultimate damage has been.

From en.wikipedia.org:

The ototoxicity of…cisplatin may be related to [its] ability to bind to melanin in the stria vascularis of the inner ear or the generation of reactive oxygen species.

I thought about this for a second, and I thought about how I might feel. Giving my son a drug which I know has a good chance of causing him to be disabled, causing him to miss out on parts of life.

Then I thought about the doctors who are researching cancer how hard they must fight everyday to try and develop better, less detrimental, drugs and treatments.

It almost makes me want to be one. Knowing that there is so much good that could be done, so much suffering that could be eliminated.

If I even get bored of engineering, I’d probably become a doctor.

However, I’m not a doctor. There is nothing I can do, save pray.

…we hope for a miracle – that for some reason outside of medical science his ears are protected. Or that whatever loss there may be, it will be minimal. So we ask you to please pray for him. Please.


If I Were To Play Deal or No Deal

…I would pick case #26. And then start eliminating the cases sequentially, starting with case #1.

Why? The money is distributed randomly to the cases. So pseudorandomly picking from a random set still provides a random set (right?).

[tags]Deal or No Deal, game theory[/tags]


For The Express Purpose of Pissing You Off

For as long as I can remember, corporations such as the NFL and MLB have always had very harshly worded copyright sanctions forbidding viewers for rebroadcasting games and such. The intent seems to be the result of some poor economists pet project gone horribly wrong. Take, for example, the latest round of NFL foolishness from the LA Times:

From www.latimes.com:

THE NATIONAL Football League is famously protective of its teams’ intellectual property, especially their lucrative television broadcasting rights.

Now the league is expanding its control beyond the gridiron. It’s limiting what news organizations can do on their websites with recordings made at team facilities between games. In exchange for credentials to cover the sport, newspapers, local TV stations and other media have to agree not to post more than 45 seconds of audio or video a day (or 90 seconds in markets with two pro teams). The snippets they offer online have to be removed within 24 hours, and they can’t combine the recordings with advertisements.

The NFL’s goal is to make midweek footage more valuable by making it scarce.

So it was pretty much music to my ears when I heard via the grapevine (i.e. BoingBoing) that The Computer and Communications Industry Association who is made of – get this – Microsoft, Red Hat, Google, Yahoo, et al “have filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that the copyright warnings in books, DVDs, movies, and sportscasts materially misrepresent the law, giving short shrift to fair use and other user rights in copyright” and are “…asking for an injunction banning rightsholders from using this kind of intimidating warning.”

To me, this is great. Some weight is finally getting thrown around the entire fair use thing. I think many people don’t actually realize the economic harm of locking down goods, both to themselves and to the world.

There was an article in Ars Technica a few weeks back that was reporting on the conclusions of Cambridge University PhD candidate Rufus Pollock’s research on optimum copyright length. Ready for the answer?

14 years. Just 14.

Pollock designed “a set of equations focused specifically on the length of copyright and uses as much empirical data as possible to crunch the numbers. The result? An optimal copyright term of 14 years, which is designed to encourage the best balance of incentive to create new work and social welfare that comes from having work enter the public domain (where it often inspires new creative acts).”

For works created in the United States post 1977, the length of the copyright (which is granted automatically by the way) is 70 years post mortem auctoris. That’s a fancy (and legal) way of saying, the copyright lasts for the life of the originator plus an additional 70 years.

What does that mean? That paper I wrote in 2nd grade (in 1993) could be copyrighted until 2136 (assuming I live to be 80).

Kind of scary when you really think about it.

via BoingBoing


Of Insanity and Pessimism

I was doing a bit of cross checking on a IMDB article when I came across this entry from the Aug. 13, 1979 edition of Time Magazine:

From www.time.com:

The pessimist’s short catechism–”It will get worse, it will get worse, it will get worse”–applies to tennis elbow, OPEC exactions, the seven ages of man, Skylab, the Middle East, airline food, the New Conservatism, college tuition, smog and the length and lack of substance of presidential campaigns.

It’s amazing to think that even 28 years later, nothing has really changed. We still face the same problems. Einstein (at least the quote is attributed to him) once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” [1]. Why are we 28 years in the future and still facing the same problems?

Is it me or are we insane?

[1] http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/26032.html