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Thoughts

The last few days have been busy, stressful, and long. I’m working on writing something of a little more substance and importance, so expect that soon. The game reviews I had on the menu are temporarily on pause while I finish this up. My apologies.

I do want to draw attention to a very interesting article that addresses something I’ve struggled with for a long time.

I Don't Want to be Right

Why do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren’t True? – Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker

Anyone who talks with me on a semi-regular basis can attest that I love to argue. Anything. Part of this habit stems from my desire to learn more, refine what I know, and develop new ideas from the interesting opinions of others. The other part comes from the Emgee that was once a hopelessly optimistic idealist–the Emgee that believed he could change people’s minds.

I’ve since grown out of that delusion, but I still find myself obsessed with the notion of being a convincing person, capable of bringing those I meet to a point where they are capable of changing their own minds. My attempts to be influential by example are seldom successful; moreso than trying to change someone’s mind with wit and facts, but still needing work. I happened across this study, and was quite depressed by it.

I’d like to think that I’m quick to accept that I’m wrong, and I try to avoid holding onto information, beliefs, or habits that have been proven incorrect or antiquated. Most people, as this article so painfully points out, don’t hold these same ideals. I have high hopes for the future–hoverboards, exploration of the solar system and deep oceans, renewable energy becoming more possible, etc.–but knowing that the majority of humans don’t care, and don’t care not because they disagree, but just because they haven’t cared for so long, is vexing.

A question for any readers: How do you set about respectfully changing people’s minds?

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I’ve recently returned from a business trip to San Antonio, TX. I’m generally not very keen on traveling, but I’d like to think I had a great time. The trip was full of strange experiences, few of which I expected.

To start, I decided before the trip that I wanted to take advantage of this departure from the ordinary, and to make sure I didn’t retreat into some of my familiar habits. As such, I didn’t play any video games, and I even limited my nerd-out time to just a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica here and there.

On a side note, I’m pretty disappointed with myself for not having watched this show before. But I’ll get more into this another time.

Now, I’m an introvert; I can’t just decide not to spend time by myself, unless I want to implode in a giant ball of negativity and low self-esteem. So instead of games, I decided to bring some books I haven’t read in a while. To be honest, it had been too long. The Fellowship of the Ring helped sate my nerdy appetite, and helped me calm down after long days of social interaction. A good quote from the foreword gave me some fuel for rumination:

“But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

The primary reason for my excursion was to help build a home with my co-workers in San Antonio through Habitat for Humanity. I’ll freely admit that I’m not very coordinated with a hammer, and I honestly didn’t know that a chop-saw could be tilted along multiple axes before working on this house. That said, I had a great time (minus the 95° Texas sun) and was thoroughly enthused by the hard work and goodwill of the people around me.

I’ve never worked with Habitat for Humanity before, but I learned that the new homeowners participate in the building process by working for at least 300 hours on these homes. Not only that, but the time has to be spent not only building their own home, but also assisting in building other people’s homes.

The investment concept also astounded me. Groups that choose to donate to Habitat for Humanity are, essentially, creating a loan fund that continues to facilitate multiple house projects. The new homeowners do have to pay back the investment, but without the same kinds of interest. The money then continues towards additional houses.

If I’m anything, I’m a skeptic. I have a hard time hearing things like this and not giving someone ‘the hairy eyeball.’ I mean, this kind of philanthropy doesn’t seem to fit in with the cosmic background bad-attitude. Most people who want to feel good about having lots of money just throw it into a charity and that’s that. Habitat puts white-skinned nerds and CEOs on ladders with hammers and ‘nail aprons.’ Most seemingly benevolent organizations usually absorb enormous donations and forward a pittance to those actually in need. This one seemingly directs the influx of money into other projects and cases needing it.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, but I really enjoyed seeing people work hard to help people, even if they didn’t know what they were doing and were out of their element. Like myself.

During the week I was in San Antonio, I worked out of the local office of our company. I found later that this meant I was on the 9th floor of a busy office building, sitting in a far corner of a cubicle maze. My normal work conditions are quiet. I mean, very quiet. My voice is used for sound recording, and my desk area is inside, essentially, a sound-limiting cube. Working in an enormous room with hundreds of technicians talking loudly into phone all around me was, to say the least, uncomfortable.

I also had more than a fair helping of barbecue and Mexican food, visited Austin for a day (and saw a little of where Portland got ‘it’ from), cycled and walked the ‘riverwalk,’ and tried more than a few local beers.

All things considered, I’m glad I was able to, proverbially, ‘get away for a while,’ but I don’t think I’d like to again. I was away for a week and three days, which proved to be too long. Too long to stay in a hotel room, no matter how fancy. Too long to eat out and drink with people in social situations night after night. Too long to go without video games and my wife. Call me boring, but I’d prefer to stay home and be comfortable, if I have the choice. Too much adventure, too much excitement.

I sometimes wonder if I’m a hobbit.

This will surely not surprise those of you who already know me, but I have an awful habit. Odds are, if you tell me about something new, I’ll probably race off to research it once we finish speaking. With the surplus of information available, and the ease of access, I simply cannot understand why other people aren’t as fanatical as myself when it comes to learning.

Anywho! My friend RubyBastille kindly mentioned me in her recent Liebster Award post. As a matter of course, I subsequently started my research on the subject.

Liebster Award

It turns out that the Liebster isn’t an ‘award’ per se; frankly, it is much more like a chain-letter. The award serves to inherently draw attention and readers to blogs, and can only be ‘awarded’ to a blogger by another blogger. ‘Liebster’ has an assortment of nice definitions in German, which goes right along with its purpose of writers ‘paying it forward’ to their burgeoning compatriots.

Apparently, the rules of this blog-meme vary in each iteration. The important facets, from what I’ve gathered, are that only blogs with fewer than a certain number of readers are eligible, a nominated blog must link back to the nominator and answer his or her questions, and subsequently nominate and question a number of blogs in turn. As I’m a rather recent returner to the blogging scene, I simply don’t have that many blogs to Liebster-ize, but I’ll try.

  • God. Life. Games. – I love games. I love thinking critically. I love looking into things more than is probably necessary. This said, I stand in Tyler’s shadow when it comes to knowledge of gaming culture. He is one of the rare few that can make you feel good about being a gamer, and his arguments may even convince me that modern console gaming might not be a lost cause.
  • Ruby Bastille – Perhaps I’m breaking the rules by counter-nominating my own nominator, but Laura’s blog is great, and I recommend you read it. She will (inadvertently, I’m sure) make you feel guilty for not reading enough, not knowing enough about the tea you drink, and not advocating modern feminism as much as you should. And you should read more, drink more tea, and understand feminism.
  • Our 2 little Men – Though I’m not a fan of kids in general, Mark and Sean are probably my best examples of what children could and should be. Not only are these guys Star Wars and Lego nerds and absolutely hilarious, they are also some of the smartest little guys I’ve met. Kudos to the Bradley parents — I look forward to more adventures of Kid Bumblebee.
  • Dandelion Dreams Permaculture – I had to look up ‘Permaculture’ when linked to this blog. Nick and Julia’s blog makes the outdoors seem interesting (which I was almost certain wasn’t the case), and they provide great stories of practical and natural living.
  • The Gethsemane Blog – Travis and I disagree on a few things. He thinks we should colonize the oceans, when everyone else knows that we need to focus on space and terraforming instead. That said, we agree on almost everything else. He’s the best spokesman for non-violence I know, and he has a knack for explaining theological terms and concepts without using church-lingo or big words like ‘theological.’

Now for the questions!

  • It’s game night! What do you want to play?

Let’s play Smallworld! Too many people? How about Bang!?

  • What’s the best book you read in the last year?

Probably “The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess” by Andrew Soltis. I find most chess strategy books intimidating, but Soltis gets into advanced play using a system of clever aphorisms. For example, “Modern Chess is much too concerned with things like pawn structure. Forget it. Checkmate ends the game.”

  • The book you’re reading currently is terrible/boring/not what you expected. Do you quit reading, or do you force yourself through it?

I will try to find someone I know that has read it and talk to them about it. Did they ever get hung up while reading, and if so, when? What helped them pick it back up? Did they turn away from the book for something else, and if so, what was it?

  • You have the opportunity to do any extreme sport, whether or not you actually know how to do it, with very little risk of serious injury. What would you do?

Probably trick shooting. That or spelunking/ice caving.

  • What movie have you seen so many times that you basically have it memorized?

I’ll assume this question excludes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure I could narrate Napoleon Dynamite with the sound off, but not on account of watching it too many times. It was just incredibly memorable. Let’s go with Mystery Men.

  • What book or movie coming out in 2014 are you most looking forward to?

Hmm. Dumb and Dumber To, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Interstellar, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again all seem interesting. I’m probably most excited about the Hobbit, as even if it is a very different story and presentation than Tolkien’s original, I am still quite happy that his work continues to entertain even in later generations. Plus, who can say no to more Sherlock dragon?!

  • Do you like science fiction? (Hope so!) What’s your favorite book/TV show/movie?

Why, yes! “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Star Wars: Them Empire Strikes Back.”

  • Do you watch the news?

Absolutely not. I reddit. Is that close enough?

  • What talent or ability are you most proud of?

I’d like to think I’m a great world-builder. For some reason or another, when I’m imagining a fictitious scenario, details of all sorts seem to fall into place. I thoroughly enjoy discussing the intricacies of made-up universes, pantheons, physics models, maps and societies.

  • You get to use a time machine to go back in time and meet three different people and do only three things: punch someone, hug someone, and have a drink with someone. Who would you punch, who would you hug, and who would you have a drink with?

Must I punch? It would seriously clash with my choice to have a drink (tea, of course) with Gandhi if I had to know I warped through space-time to injure someone. Oh! I’d like to try to punch Bruce Lee, knowing he could make a funny noise, dodge it, then say something profound about water. As for a hug? I’d go to Alexandria and give Hypatia a hug while I apologized for the atrocities she’d have to weather in the name of science.

Alright; on to my questions for other bloggers.

  • Which do you think would win in a fight: a Siberian Tiger, or a Silverback Gorilla?
  • If you could have the power of Telepathy, Telekinesis, or Teleportation, which would you choose?
  • Who are your favorite and least favorite Star Wars characters? Briefly, why?
  • If I had twenty dollars for the two of us to get a meal anywhere you’ve been before, where would we eat?
  • If you were offered immortality, would you accept it?
  • If you had a time machine that could only travel forward in time, would you use it? If so, how far would you go, and who would you take with you? (Up to three others; you can pick up people along the way if you like.)
  • What would you consider the most interesting thing you have ever learned?
  • If you could have a telephone conversation with anyone who has ever existed, who would you call?
  • Have you ever been camping? Where is your favorite place to camp/be outdoors at night?
  • If you had to fight a horse-sized duck or ten duck-sized horses, which would you choose?

 

I have a hard time with creativity and art. Yes, I know writing is art, and that I’m creative with the goofy fictions and role-playing I write, but hear me out.

I’ve always wanted to be able to draw cartoons or comics. Those who knew me during high school and early college know that I tried making webcomics out of video game sprites; this was chiefly because I cannot draw at all. I wish I could adequately express my respect and jealousy towards my friends that can doodle skillfully.

RubyBastille, you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to make comics about my campaigns. Yours is fantastic.

Now, I realize that art takes many forms, and I frequently have to remind myself that even though I may not be creative in regard to sketching, I’m still able to create art using other media. Lately, I’ve learned to appreciate the art of explaining difficult or convoluted concepts in simple terms. Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, and others science popularizers display incredible craftsmanship by translating scientific literature and research into easily palatable concepts.

Coupled with my recent foray into the expansive universe of Reddit, I’ve found a new home in the “ELI5” community. Here, redditors attempt to answer difficult questions as they would to a five-year-old. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve read an ELI5 explanation of what happened to Gandalf the Grey after falling with the Balrog that resulted in him becoming Galdalf the White. Spoiler alert: You’ll see a lot of words like Gil-Galad, Ilúvatar, Celebrimbor and Maiar in the in-depth discussions that follow the surprisingly simple explanations given. Consider yourselves warned.

As of this morning, I have a working knowledge of how space and time are related, why we cannot travel at the speed of light, and the importance of light being massless. Let me know if this excites you as much as if does me.

Everything, by nature of simply existing, is “moving” at the speed of light (which really has nothing to do with light: more on that later). Yes, that does include you.

Our understanding of the universe is that the way that we perceive space and time as separate things is, to be frank, wrong. They aren’t separate: the universe is made of “spacetime,” all one word. A year and a lightyear describe different things in our day to day lives, but from a physicist’s point of view, they’re actually the exact same thing (depending on what kind of physics you’re doing).

In our day to day lives, we define motion as a distance traveled over some amount of time. However, if distances and intervals of time are the exact same thing, that suddenly becomes completely meaningless. “I traveled one foot for every foot that I traveled” is an absolutely absurd statement!

The way it works is that everything in the universe travels through spacetime at some speed which I’ll call “c” for the sake of brevity. Remember, motion in spacetime is meaningless, so it makes sense that nothing could be “faster” or “slower” through spacetime than anything else. Everybody and everything travels at one foot per foot, that’s just… how it works.

Obviously, though, things do seem to have different speeds. The reason that happens is that time and space are orthogonal, which is sort of a fancy term for “at right angles to each other.” North and east, for example, are orthogonal: you can travel as far as you want directly to the north, but it’s not going to affect where you are in terms of east/west at all.

Just like how you can travel north without traveling east, you can travel through time without it affecting where you are in space. Conversely, you can travel through space without it affecting where you are in time.

You’re (presumably) sitting in your chair right now, which means you’re not traveling through space at all. Since you have to travel through spacetime at c (speed of light), though, that means all of your motion is through time.

By the way, this is why time dilation happens: something that’s moving very fast relative to you is moving through space, but since they can only travel through spacetime at c, they have to be moving more slowly through time to compensate (from your point of view).

Light, on the other hand, doesn’t travel through time at all. The reason it doesn’t is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with the fact that it has no mass.

Something that isn’t moving that has mass can have energy: that’s what E = mc2 means. Light has no mass, but it does have energy. If we plug the mass of light into E=mc2, we get 0, which makes no sense because light has energy. Hence, light can never be stationary.

Not only that, but light can never be stationary from anybody’s perspective. Since, like everything else, it travels at c through spacetime, that means all of its “spacetime speed” mustbe through space, and none of it is through time.

So, light travels at c. Not at all by coincidence, you’ll often hear c referred to as the “speed of light in a vacuum.” Really, though, it’s the speed that everything travels at, and it happens to be the speed that light travels through space at because it has no mass.

– User corpuscle634, in response to “Why does light travel?” He also explains, “What is a hadron?” “The pay gap between men and women,” and “Why can’t I just reverse magnets to make a hoverboard?”

I can honestly say, I want to be more like “corpuscle634.”

One of my goals in life is to develop a reputation for being knowledgeable. I’m sure that most of the people I associate with probably tire of my constant stream of trivia, but to be honest, it means a lot to me. I have a deep desire to help people, and often my pursuit of knowledge stems from a hope that I can relay the information that I discover to someone that can use it or benefit from it. This said, I consider it a great kindness when my friends ask me questions or trade trivia.

I find it a simultaneously encouraging and cruel irony that some of the wisest and most brilliant individuals in history were confident in their own ignorance. People who are known for their incredible knowledge were confident that not only that they only understood a fraction of the world around them, but also that much of that world could be inherently un-knowable. I’m finding that comprehending the importance of this concept is fundamental to not losing one’s self in the roiling sea of information available today.

Here are a few quotes that have helped me to find comfort in my own ignorance, yet still inspire me to be an intelligent man.

“We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do no know.”   -Robert G. Ingersoll

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”   -Bill Nye

“As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” – Albert Einstein

As much as I want to be smart, I want much more to be humble.

So let’s try blogging again, eh?

A topic that has been on my mind more and more over the last couple years is that of permanence. I’d love to live forever (Cybernetics? Yes, please), but more importantly, I’d like to have an effect on the world around me after I’m gone. Particularly, I mean a direct, causal effect. I -do- believe that being kind to other people will influence them to be kind towards others, and that each person that recycles is subtly helping the environment, but these aren’t the type of effect I’m referring to.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering what types of influences a human can actually have beyond his natural lifespan. To start from the ground up, I think humanity has become more developed, and therefore better, through the increase of knowledge between generations. If a son learned how to plant crops, he would be that much better off than his father. These discoveries do not appear via complete spontaneity; the son had to know something about plants, time, and tools before the idea of agriculture could be born.

To me, this implies that educators have a direct causal effect on humanity as a whole, because education sows seeds of invention, which in turn leads towards the improvement of humanity. This truth is what originally spawned my desire to teach.

But other options exist to extend one’s influence beyond mortality. People who build resources for future generations have a lasting effect. Whether it be scientific tools, exploratory vehicles, cultural artifacts or ingenious writings, these creations serve to make life easier, better, and more interesting for those who come along later. Though I have utmost respect for those who can create with the future in mind, I don’t have much natural talent in this regard.

Lamentably, humans can also leave negative legacies for the future. Those who conquer, harm and kill have a direct and causal influence on later generations in a distressingly similar way to teachers. Destroyers of resources affect future humans exactly as creators do. Boiled down, anyone who masters the art of imposing his will over another human’s has already created a sense of permanence beyond himself.

The thing I find most disappointing about this type of influence is its easiness. Learning and creating take much more effort and discipline than taking from those who do. I would posit that this legacy is so simple–so convenient–that it can often occur unknowingly. I doubt some of history’s ‘worst’ tyrants, villains, and destroyers decided to be ‘bad guys.’ I’d wager that most people who ended up having a lasting negative effect on history actively desired to harm humanity. Ignorance and, frankly, laziness have surely affected our race more negatively than despots and evil-doers.

Herein I’ve found myself in a quandary. Obviously, I don’t want to have a negative impact on the future. But is ‘not having a bad influence’ equivalent to ‘having a good influence?’ Can I feel accomplished and meaningful by leaving the world the way I found it?

Nah. I think that’s pretty good, but I’d prefer to do a little better.

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