Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Enjoy some "brain magic".

Friday, December 25, 2009

A.J. Jacobs: My Year of Living Biblically

This talk is more amusing than anything else, but he does make some good discoveries: such how changing your behavior, changes your mind; how giving thanks, changes your mood; the importance of reverence; and not stereotyping religious people. The only thing I find missing is the differentiation between the Law of Moses and the New Testament teachings that came from Christ. He did touch on it some, but seemed to miss the significance of the Sermon on the Mount.

Anyway, I'm sure most of you will enjoy it and everyone will take something different away from it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Interesting math history facts

According to Wikipedia...

1) The oldest known mathematical object is the Lebombo bone, discovered in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland and dated to approximately 35,000 BC.[10] It consists of 29 distinct notches deliberately cut into a baboon's fibula.[11] There is evidence that women used counting to keep track of their menstrual cycles; 28 to 30 scratches on bone or stone, followed by a distinctive marker.[12]

2) The majority of recovered clay tablets date from 1800 to 1600 BC, and cover topics which include fractions, algebra, quadratic and cubic equations, and the calculation of regular reciprocal pairs (see Plimpton 322).[20] The tablets also include multiplication tables and methods for solving linear and quadratic equations. The Babylonian tablet YBC 7289 gives an approximation to √2 accurate to five decimal places.

3) The Babylonians had a true place-value system, where digits written in the left column represented larger values, much as in the decimal system. They lacked, however, an equivalent of the decimal point, and so the place value of a symbol often had to be inferred from the context.

4) The oldest mathematical text discovered so far is the Moscow papyrus, which is an Egyptian Middle Kingdom papyrus dated c. 2000–1800 BC.[citation needed] Like many ancient mathematical texts, it consists of what are today called word problems or story problems, which were apparently intended as entertainment.

5) In China, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (Shi Huang-ti) commanded in 212 BC that all books in Qin Empire other than officially sanctioned ones should be burned. This decree was not universally obeyed, but as a consequence of this order little is known about ancient Chinese mathematics. From the Western Zhou Dynasty (from 1046 BC), the oldest mathematical work to survive the book burning is the I Ching, which uses the 8 binary 3-tuples (trigrams) and 64 binary 6-tuples (hexagrams) for philosophical, mathematical, and mystical purposes. The binary tuples are composed of broken and solid lines, called yin (female) and yang (male), respectively (see King Wen sequence).

6) The earliest civilization on the Indian subcontinent is the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BC in the Indus river basin. Their cities were laid out with geometric regularity, but no known mathematical documents survive from this civilization.[27]

7) The Surya Siddhanta (c. 400) introduced the trigonometric functions of sine, cosine, and inverse sine, and laid down rules to determine the true motions of the luminaries, which conforms to their actual positions in the sky. The cosmological time cycles explained in the text, which was copied from an earlier work, correspond to an average sidereal year of 365.2563627 days, which is only 1.4 seconds longer than the modern value of 365.25636305 days. This work was translated into to Arabic and Latin during the Middle Ages.

8) In the 12th century, Bhaskara first conceived differential calculus, along with the concepts of the derivative, differential coefficient, and differentiation. He also stated Rolle's theorem (a special case of the mean value theorem), studied Pell's equation, and investigated the derivative of the sine function. From the 14th century, Madhava and other Kerala School mathematicians further developed his ideas. They developed the concepts of mathematical analysis and floating point numbers, and concepts fundamental to the overall development of calculus, including the mean value theorem, term by term integration, the relationship of an area under a curve and its antiderivative or integral, the integral test for convergence, iterative methods for solutions to non-linear equations, and a number of infinite series, power series, Taylor series, and trigonometric series. In the 16th century, Jyeshtadeva consolidated many of the Kerala School's developments and theorems in the Yuktibhasa, the world's first differential calculus text, which also introduced concepts of integral calculus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


© Universal Press Syndicate

In his TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how current education "stripmines" the minds of our youth. While I wholeheartedly agree with him about the need to change this, I also think we need to find ways to reclaim those older minds who have gone through this system and are now stuck in a changing world, in dire need of those skills that were not developed earlier. For both scenarios, I recommend the following:

Teaching for the Two-sided Mind by Linda Verlee Williams

It's an excellent book for the teacher and the adult learner. Instead of trying to divide people into left and right brain thinkers (which really doesn't have much validity according to neurological studies), Williams comes from the angle that we are ALL left and right brain thinkers. Not only can this book help you refine how you learn information and analyze problems, it also invites you to try other ways of learning. You will be surprised at how much you actually do use both sides of your brain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Have you Google yourself lately?

As a first, I am actually sharing something I posted on Facebook on here, versus the other way around.

This isn't a "fun" meme or anything. This is a serious question from someone who has been around the 'net a few times.

I've noticed that several people are passing around this warning about FB security. I've tracked down the article and checked it's claims against my own profile. Strangely, my settings are exactly how I set them and how I refined them when FB asked me a few days ago to look over them. I noticed that several of my very computer literate friends are also not worried about this. However, I do understand how in the rush of life, we easily overlook annoying system messages that pop up on us.

So, here are some suggestions from someone who has actually been cyberstalked a time or two:

1) GOOGLE yourself. See what information is out there on you. Remember that not all information is bad. But also remember what is public so if someone you don't really know brings it up in conversation, you have a good idea where they got it from. If you google someone who you know hasn't gone through their FB security settings, as I have done, you will see that FB is not really sharing that much information about you. The only purpose is to help your friends find you.

2) Google your phone number. See if you come up in the phonebook list. Google in particular has an option to remove a phone number that brings up an address. Remember that the only difference between this and your normal white pages is that it's easier to access. If you are really serious about protecting this information, then you should either get an unlisted number or only use your first initial for your listing.

3) NEVER POST ANYTHING WITH YOUR SS#. This may seem to be a no-brainer, but I have actually had someone post images of a court document on a public post in my livejournal. I immediately deleted the information and gave her a message about protecting herself. The sad thing about it, the information she was sharing with me wasn't really saying what she thought it said - so she was risking her own safety to win an argument with someone who had already withdrawn from the original argument (I guess that why she had gone for my personal lj instead of the community one), and she still didn't prove her point.

4) Always check your security settings whenever you see a message from a site administrator on the subject. Especially when they ask you to.

5) Don't be fearful, be confident. If you know what information is on you and you keep aware, then there is no need to get up in arms when something like this occurs. This is VERY important, because some con-artists will stir up fears to get you to overact and then trick you into giving them access to things you shouldn't, because they are claiming to be protecting you from said threat. This is why Paypal and Amazon have policies on how they address their customers in the mail they send out. This is also why you should NEVER get virus protection from a pop-up message, even if it looks like Windows sent it. I usually install my virus protection on a cd-rom. If you do get it online, make sure you get it from a well-known and trusted vender's site.

Remember that your safety is your responsibility. The internet is not the only way people can get information on you. Even before it became public, it was possible for people to get information on you. Identity theft is not something new, no matter how the press tries to spin it. I moved around some when I was a kid, and because of that, I learned that large public libraries often keep phonebooks from most major cities on file - at least they did in the 1980s. Dumpster diving is still the number one way identity thieves get social security numbers and driver's license numbers of their marks.

And whenever a reporter reports something, check it out for yourself, if you can. It's been my personal experience that reporters are not always the most honest in their presentation of information. Their main job to get readers, after all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


For my 45th birthday, I'm going to take it easy and just post a fun talk. I'll try to rev the brain back up next week for more meaty posts.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Effects of Sound

Some of you might find it interesting that we can hear sound through our skin. I, personally, find it even freakier that we can hear it through our bones. As a brief break from my exploration of visual stimuli, I share with you this TED talk on sound.

Highlights of this talk

The four ways sound affects us:
1) physiologically
2) psychologically
3) cognitively
4) behaviorally

"You listen consciously, you can take control of the sound around you. It's good for your health. It's good for your productivity."

Examples of the effects of sound

1) A means to help us spot electric cars better as well as other things:
"when there was a visual cue, respondents were significantly less accurate than with no cue. With an audio cue, they were significantly more accurate. And when both audio and visual cues were given, the difference from the no-cue condition wasn't significant (although it was significantly different from both the other conditions). So the audio cue, especially when not paired with a visual cue, made respondents more accurate than a visual cue. If anything, the visual cue seemed to make it more difficult for respondents to identify which circle was disappearing."

2) Affecting moods, like anxiety and depression.

3) To mark psychological boundaries. I've seen this from person experience. I've lived in some diverse socio-economics areas during my life--from upper middle class to what some people would consider "a 'hood". One thing I've noticed in general, the more stressful a neighborhood is, the noisier it is. I've also noticed that the more homogenious the neighborhood, the quieter it is. Over the years, I've developed the theory that many people use sound/music to isolate themselves from others. It's corolary is that groups of people use noise to stake psychological territory.

The last place I lived in became the noisiest and ugliest place after it became more diverse and the ethnic groups felt the need to "mark their territory". The fact that it was a high crime area made things worse. The place I live now is ethnically diverse, but slightly higher socio-economically. Because of that, while we occasionally get someone being loud, it doesn't last for long.

When a few men moved into our apartment building from a lower social bracket last spring, I could tell that they felt uncomfortable, because they gave furitive looks and then would talk "homie/gang-banger" when someone came near them. It wasn't long before I was awoken from my very needed nap by the sounds of one of them screaming profanities at a girl on his cell phone outside, with all the charm of a cat in heat. Finally he hung up, but the next time he started, the neighbors below me started to blare Tejanos music to drown them out. They turned the music down when the next phone call stopped.

Since we live near a lake, we also had the sounds of nature to compete with, which thankfully would drown both parties out from time to time. Within about six weeks, the sound wars ended and nature won.

Are there echoes in space?

One search term that seems to send people to this blog is the question of whether or not there are echoes in space? I figure I might as well go ahead and answer it: It depends on what types of echoes you are talking about.

Normal sound echoes
NO. Normal sound travels through the air (or water) through compression waves. Without a compressable medium, such as a gas or fluid, these waves cannot exist. Therefore, no echoes. Now it is possible to hear sound through touch, otherwise known as conduction. I did an experiment with conductive sound in one of my gerontology classes as an undergrad. Freaky stuff. However, I don't remember any echoes while doing it and I'm really not sure there can be echoes that way, since echoes are sound waves that bounce back from another point. Still, in space, you probably wouldn't be hearing conductive sound through all the insulation keeping you from either boiling or freezing to death.

Radio and other electromagnetic wave echoes
YES. Electro magnetic waves can travel through space and they can bounce off of things and create distortions that are also considered echoes. However, without the proper receiver, you're not going to hear a thing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Symmetry, Math, Life and Art

After watching this video a few times, I have decided that the Japanese had some good insight into the creative process with their Essays In Idleness:

"In everything . . . uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth..."

Following what was said in the video, I think this is another feature of art that engages the viewer in conversation.

I'm going to apologize here. I was going to go ahead and write up some of the things I read about humanity's need for balance and such, but I think I will save that for another post.

Delayed Gratification

I'm really worn out at the moment, so I'm going to post a couple of short entries. For the curious, I write rough drafts for these ahead of time and the flesh them out later.

Recent research has shown that children who learn how to delay gratification are more successful in life. The following video talks about the Marshmallow Experiment originally done at Stanford University, its follow up research, and its replication in other countries.

The little girl the video clip ended with scares me a little. Not because of the fact she tried to trick the researchers by eating the inside of the marshmallow, but because she had such an intense reaction to wanting it. For a moment I was wondering what they had laced that marshmallow with, because she was acting like a heroin addict.

Anyway, back to the concept of delayed gratification. You know Aesop's fable about the Tortoise and the Hare. When you really think about it, it wasn't as much as the tortoise being slow and steady that gave him the race, as it was the Rabbit not delaying his gratifying nap that did.

On the flip side, youth who fell unsafe have trouble delaying gratification. I suspect that may be true for adults too, but the study focused on youths. If you thought you might die soon, there is less incentive to wait for a reward. In fact, there is less reason to play it safe, period, because it wouldn't matter in the long run.