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Dark Sappy Space

Once upon a time there was a lovelorn teenager precisely in the middle of his puberty. He wore "husky" jeans and his nose had been chemically burned a beet red for the last few months after applying an overly optimistic coating of prescription acne medication.

He was currently following around a girl after church a step or so behind desperately asking questions he had prepared to make him sound so smart that she would be able to look past his unsightly crust of Foie gras and see him for the hyper-intelligent swan he was.

At the moment the girl was executing plans of her own, and was being highly successful at carrying on a conversation with some popular girls of her own peer group. Successful, save for the fact that a stinky nerd boy was trailing her spouting non-sequitors in the form of pregnant questions.

After several pointed attempts at ignoring didn't work and the blond eyebrows of her would-be friends could not get any higher, she snapped. She wheeled around and loudly asked the following rhetorical question "Why are you following me around?"

In his defense, the boy only now noticed the three girls whose favor his crush was courting, and he only saw them as a knee jerk reaction to looking around and recording exactly what magnitude of people had just observed him being called out for the evident loser he was.

He mentally noted to check for the presence of other people next time he tried this, and proceeded to slink off exactly like a kicked dog, looking for some place to hide under.

There were no porches or crawl spaces immediately apparent to him, so instead he walked to the edge of the parking lot, far from the throw of the lot's lights and chose the dark sky as his hiding place. Besides, it had the upshot of being vaguely visible from nearly everywhere, and maybe if she felt guilty about her outburst and looked down at him she'd see him staring into the sky thinking, presumably, very deep and meaningful thoughts.

The sky looked back, and asked the same rhetorical question it asks everybody who gazes upon it. Whether it is rhetorical due to the inflection of the asking or because nobody had thought of a very good answer seemed up for debate.

What the boy did know was that neither science or religion seemed to have a very good explanation for it.

Science valued data and observation, but the vast scale of space and speed of light seemed to have an unbreakable monopoly on almost all data about the universe. The amount even the most studious scientist could collect in a lifetime could easily be mistaken for zero when divided by the sum total of data streaming in all directions from every celestial body in the universe.

Religion seemed to barely give it an answer, other than the stuttering and inconsistent answers provided by Sunday school teachers. "He made it that big to give us perspective". Casting God as a spiteful overachiever who brings his own elaborate project from home despite the fact that the combined work of the group was probably already good enough for an A.

The fact that the early Church had shown such a mix of hatred and fear for astronomy certainly didn't help matters. Their current stance didn't seem any more refined than "We stopped killing people for doing calculus, what more do you want?"

In any case, the boy thanked the Universe with a wide grin. Its cool presence served as the balm he needed, in that it made him feel that everybody else in the world was precisely as small as he currently felt.


Patrick Rothfuss' Blog Which is Better than Mine had a really great update a few days ago about how he was going to celebrate his new book getting on the NYT Best Seller List. Hilarious stuff.

Rather than do a new blog post, I'm starting to read through my old ones to see if there are any that my older and wiser self have strong feelings about.

Here is an early gem about my first experiences with a computer game.

Uneven Breaks

I took the morning off and started reading a library copy of The Fractal Geometry of Nature. It is due tomorrow, and there is no way I'm going to finish it in time, but for more reasons than that it is a book I wish I had read "yesterday".

I'm only a few chapters in, his main thesis seems philosophical rather than mathematical.

He comes off as a man amongst nature, surrounded by branching trees and fractured mountains, while the rest of the mathematicians are reading books in a blocky asylum, too afraid to stare at the things outside. In my head Benoit is nearly taunting them "My math can explain nature, can yours?"

In school you are taught, perhaps not explicitly, that everything is simple. Atoms are billiard balls that knock against each other when they get warmer. It seems so tidy and knowable, with no room for the unknown.

I spent a lot of my life looking for places to hide from the specter of chemical determinism. For awhile I embraced quantum theory, but that is like trying to hide from a monster under the ghost of a blanket.

A mere dozen pages in Benoit points out a far simpler argument, in the form of a glass of water. The motion of molecules in a liquid (a.k.a. Brownian) as currently understood has no root into either Newtonian mechanics or Quantum Theory.

It is a rare warm feeling knowing that if a scientist cannot dissect the workings of a non-trivial amount of H20, how much more mysterious is my own personal sack of water?

Walking to work for lunch afterwards I noticed things differently. The rectangular blocks of concrete that make up the sidewalk, their edges interrupted by an uneven collection of nature's detritus. A simple reminder that very little is simple and defined. I am not a stack of solid spheres. I am a cloud of undefinable roiling empty space sailing through an indeterminate number of dimensions to pickup some Chinese takeout.

Incongruent Symmetry

Allow me, for the moment, to summarize what I perceive to be the two sides of what passes for discourse in our country regarding "gay rights".

One side believes that holding back the rights of two people of the same sex to wed is a pointless punitive measure forever denying happiness to those born with a certain biological predisposition, whereas the other believes that official recognition of those unions is a step towards recognizing such sexual behaviors as "normal", and that this will erode existing structures of marriage.

For as long as I have heard this argument I have had trouble empathizing with the latter argument. I just "don't get it".

My wife tells an interesting story about views of sexuality at the turn of the twentieth century in America. Essentially, back in the 1900's, it wasn't considered "effeminate" or "deviant behavior" if a man had sex with another man, as long as the man in the situation was, ahem, performing his ascribed male role. It was just something you did. Maybe not something they were proud of, but it didn't permanently label you anything.

What if both modern arguments above are actually right, but that they're just discussing two different types of motivating circumstances that lead men to engage in various forms of same sex sexual relationships?

The "I only prefer men" mind set, often associated with lower amounts of testosterone, and at the other end of the spectrum, the "I don't really care where I put it" possibly associated with greater amounts of testosterone.

This second group would very likely lead a very unhappy life under either of the current definitions imposed by both sides. Getting mixed signals not only about that they should be ashamed of one half of their thoughts, but that they should also find complete solace once they are given into...



Finally decided on my resolution for the year, and it is to "Not get into dramatic political arguments with my friends".

It used to be you'd exchange civilized political discourse with friends across a full belly and a table strewn with vittles, but Facebook has changed that, in a manner I'm guessing is similar to how it changed marriage.

The Internet is great at communicating data, and it is all too easy to forget the other components at work in face to face conversation other than the words being traded. We are evolved social beings capable of keeping in our minds the very complex web of social niceties, forces and expectations in our mind while we harvest loads of emotional data from the face and voice of the person we're talking to.

Voice. After watching Avatar it struck me how strange it was that they still needed voice actors. Animating gigantic blue people flying on dragons? Easy! Replicating a realistic voice actor? Currently impossible! Our brain feasts on the compressed meaning contained in the tone, intonation, timing and volume of a voice.

Politics has quickly become a televised war of people who are paid to say specific words and dodge or willfully misunderstand legitimate questions, that it becomes easy to tie one bland speaker spouting a position and assume that everyone who mentions something similar is equally acting in bad faith.

That said, I found this quote on slashdot yesterday surprisingly necessary in this day and age:

"If it turns out that the folks I voted for are scumbags, I'd like to know so they can be kicked out, taken to court, discredited, whatever. It's not "my team" and "their team", this is not about tribes or who's dad can beat up who else's dad, this is about the governance of of the USA."

A little more dramatic than I like, but the simple fact of stating "My support for a candidate is not axiomatic, and my opinion of them can be swayed by evidence," seems like it might help clear up a lot of misunderstandings.

In any case, that's my resolution. I think so far I'm doing pretty good.