packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
Via kirabug, a proper description of the instinctive drowning response:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

Read the rest, and read the prequel about cold water survival.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
Hi! I'm going to talk to you about morality, because I'm arrogant and you're imperfect.

No, these facts have no relation. Everyone is imperfect - myself more than you, I wager - and I'd be arrogant even if the lot of you were plaster saints. But the second has interesting consequences which the first permits me to address.

(And as long as I'm blathering, let me make a quick clarification: morality is not law, and law is not morality. If you find yourself interchanging the two, you need to recheck your math. Moving on.)

The thing about morality I want to address today is not the content, but the form. Morality acts on three grammatical persons - the first, the second, and the third - and among most people it tends to be different for all three. (This is why Mormons come to your door - it's harder to be rude to a face than a phone.) This makes sense except for one important factor: a lot of people (though probably fewer than it seems) get the proportions backwards, and need correction. So let me break it down for you.

In the first person - in your morality for you - you ought to be strict but fair. As some wit commonly cited as "Yahl, J." is quoted: "Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated." Stick to the straight and narrow road, get it right the first time, and if you get it wrong, get it right the next time. Practice your morality with all the intensity, precision, and dedication that you were supposed to practice the piano when you were growing up.

In the second person, and still more in the third person - in your morality for your friends and for your strangers - be looser. If your personal code is the double-yellow line, give your friends the entire road and strangers two city blocks in both directions. If your personal code is the Geneva Conventions, let your friends have the Declaration of Independence and allow the rest the Golden Rule. Or, if you prefer: an it harm none, let everyone else do what they will.

Why this? Because you don't really know what's right and wrong, not to any sensible degree of accuracy. Oh, you're better off than the Hittite slave holder who, lacking our hard-won experience, never made the connection between the wretched condition of the slave and the moral repugnance of the institution, but "better off" is a long way from omniscient. And the hard part about morality is that it's chaotic - it depends on a tremendous array of details which you might (if you're lucky) know for your own situation but which you are more ignorant of the farther you look from your center of consciousness. While on the one side you want to do right, on the other you don't want to be - in fact, you shouldn't be - the one who beats people up when they haven't done anything wrong.

So how do you do this? You set an engineering margin of error - draw yourself a circumference small enough that you may be confident it (mostly) resides within the right and aim for that, while drawing for others a loop which (mostly) circumscribes the right and nudge what falls outside back in. In other words, you be the anti-hypocrite: you criticize in yourself what you let pass in others.

And that's the form to take, in the first, second, and third persons. Thank you for your patience.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

If you knew that a friend's significant other was cheating on him or her, would you tell your friend the truth or keep it to yourself?

View other answers

I would confront the S.O. before anything else (not the least because some people are in open relationships). Then I would talk to someone I trust, to make sure that I'm not being utterly stupid. But if I did that and still knew, I would tell my friend - it's what I'd want.

(See, that's the thing with lies - it's much easier to think lying is okay if you don't put yourself in the shoes of the lied-to. I know - I read it in a book!)

(But seriously - it's true, and it's a good book: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok. I recommend it.)
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
[ profile] coppervale, yesterday, wrote a bit On Becoming a Writer where he approvingly quotes a rule Harlan Ellison said to him: "You're not a writer until a writer tells you you're a writer."

[ profile] gregvaneekhout begged to differ, and suggests that "the designation 'writer' can only come from the act of doing it".

The question I am inclined to ask is: whence* comes the divide?

First: I claim that it truly is a divide, not merely a quibble of the sort which may be casually dismissed in a footnote. It tears along the same line dividing elitism and egalitarianism, distinction and description - either the former elevates Writer to a title or the latter reduces it to trivia, depending on which side of the line the reader falls, and there is a real sense of investment in the side. "How dare you claim we are not writers?" one might ask; or, inversely, one might ask, "If you are writers, where are your publications? Where are your awards? Where are your membership cards?"

Second: that's where it comes from. It comes from the split between the prototype of the writer and the etymology of the term - from the difference between definition by similarity and definition by function. Further, it gains its power from the conflict in the definition. To use an elitist frame, because we ascribe merit to the title, we wish to gain it (this drives the meaning towards the more general functional form), but because the merit of the title comes from the prototype, we wish to restrict the title to the deserving (this drives the meaning towards the prototypical). To use an egalitarian frame, because we pay attention to this behavior, we wish to employ our language to match the behavior as logically as possible (this drives the meaning towards the functional), but because we pay attention to this behavior, we want to make sure to be thrifty, to only pay to the truly exemplary examples (this drives the meaning towards the prototypical).

Third: These very tensions make the divide impossible to resolve by any maneuvers. Nevertheless, I have an opinion.

My opinion is thus: the best strategy is to employ the word in the functional sense. This does tarnish the trademark, if you think of "writer" as a trademark, but to try to apply the elitist standard raises too many ridiculous confusions. (Check it out: Is Anne Frank a writer, by the elitist definiton? Samuel Pepys? William Topaz McGonagall?) But on the other hand, we should recognize that adjectives apply - professional versus amateur, good versus bad, original versus derivative - and we should recognize that people may (or may not!) take "Writer" as a part of their identity, and not to deny them their identity or ascribe too much moral or social value to their identity.

The same goes for a lot of other titles - "artist", "dancer", "fisher", "poet". These words are not states of being, they are states of doing. Best to recognize it and go from there.

* Linguistic aside: "from whence" is an equally valid form. I simply prefer the shorter version.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
(I heard this story in a first-year art class I took as an elective.)

Once there was a great painter, renown through the land for his art. One day, a warlord visited him; he told the painter that he wished to commission a picture of a carp, and he would pay such-and-such as a fee. The painter said, "It will be ready in three months."

The three months went by, and the warlord returned. The painter told him, "It is not quite ready - I shall have it in three more weeks." The warlord was angry at this delay, but he did not wish to offend the painter, so he went away.

The three weeks passed, and the warlord returned again. The painter told him, "It is almost complete - come back in three days, and I will have it for you." The warlord was still more angry at this. "Why not today?" he asked. "You have had nearly four months!" "It is not yet ready," replied the painter. And the warlord stormed out.

The next day, he returned with a hundred men to bang on his door. "Painter, I have no more patience," he exclaimed. "Give me my painting immediately!"

The painter bowed his head, and said, "Follow me." He led the warlord inside to his desk, where he pulled out his brush, his ink, and a single sheet of blank paper. As the warlord watched, he wet the brush and painted three strokes on the page - three strokes to create the most perfect carp the world had seen.

The warlord stood speechless for a moment, then darkened with anger. "Why could you not do that when I first came?" he asked.

The painter rose, and walked to a cabinet on one wall of the room. He opened the door, and a thousand pages flew out - every one, a painting of a carp.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
As a sociological relic, The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet is an interesting book.

As a book of advice, The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet is a superb book - but you may save a great deal of time by a simple method: turn immediately to Part Three and stop immediately upon reaching Part Four.

Some quotes:

1—About saving time.

Is there no time you can reclaim, not from your work, not from your exercise, not from your family or friends, but from pleasure that really does not give you much pleasure, from empty talk at the Club, from inferior plays, from doubtfully enjoyable week ends or not very profitable trips?


Do you know how to gather up fragments of time lest they perish? Do you realize the value of minutes? One of the Lamoignons had a wife who always kept him waiting a few minutes before dinner which in those days was in broad daylight, at three o'clock. After a time it occurred to him that eight or ten lines could be written during this interval, and he had paper and ink laid in a convenient place for that purpose. In time—for years are short but minutes are long—several volumes of spiritual meditations were the result. Mankind might be divided between the multitude who hate to be kept waiting because they get bored and the happy few who rather like it because it gives them time for thought. The latter lead the rest, of course.

There are in the daily press a number of writers, male and female, who make it a point to have an opinion about everything. Day after day, four or five hundred words from their pens appear in which they express their views on an immense variety of subjects, most of them interesting. An expert runs little risk of erring in estimating how much time these fellow-writers of his have devoted to each individual question. It can be counted in minutes rather than in hours. The authors have seldom referred to any literature, even to an encyclopædia, they have been satisfied with summing up their own flimsy knowledge of the data and their flimsier impression of them. Yet, this is so much better than nothing that we read the articles through.

Some people imagine they have to write a book as, at fifteen, they had to write an essay, whether they liked it or not. All the time they are at work on a chapter which ought to monopolise their attention, they are anxious over future chapters still unborn and even unconceived, and the anxiety throws its shadow over the page just being written. As long as an author does not take the habit of "only writing his book," as Joubert says, "when it is finished in his mind," or cannot honestly say, like Racine: "My tragedy is done, now I have only to write the verses," he will be a prey to the schoolboy's error. Nothing is as exciting as the hunt after thoughts or facts intended to elucidate a question we think vital to us, and the enjoyment of writing when the hunt has been successful is an unparalleled reward for intellectual honesty. Leave only the slavish necessity or the meretricious desire for producing a book and all the pleasure will be gone.

A fascinating book.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse)
Some good advice, acquired via the Battleship Puzzle-A-Day Desk Calendar: when you have made a list of possibilities and have eliminated all but one, try to eliminate that one too. If you find that you can, you will know you have made an error.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse)
From Making Light: A Japanese company, Genepax, has announced and demonstrated a new fuel cell system that runs on water..

Allow me to be careful for a moment. This is important enough - and I happen to be well-trained enough in the relevant field - to make strong statements about, and I do not want to leave a false impression.


It is impossible to make a fuel cell system that runs on water. Further, it is impossible to devise a process for separating water into hydrogen and oxygen that costs less useful energy than the fuel cell produces by recombining the two. Any person claiming to be capable of doing so is, to borrow a phrase, a lunatic, a liar, or Lord of the Cosmos.

I am not even joking. Of course, in this case, I'm betting it's (a) or (b), for a very simple reason: the machine described in these articles violates conservation of energy. To quote Sean Carroll's Alternative-Science Checklist:

Scientific claims — whether theoretical insights or experimental breakthroughs — don’t exist all by their lonesome. They are situated within a framework of pre-existing knowledge and expectations. If the claim you are making seems manifestly inconsistent with that framework, it’s your job to explain why anyone should nevertheless take you seriously. Whenever someone claims to build a perpetual-motion device, scientist solemnly reiterate that the law of conservation of energy is not to be trifled with lightly. Of course one must admit that it could be wrong — it’s only one law, after all. But when you actually build some machine that purportedly puts out more ergs than it consumes (in perpetuity), it does a lot more than violate the law of conservation of energy. That machine is made of atoms and electromagnetic fields, which obey the laws of atomic physics and Maxwell’s equations. And conservation of energy can be derived from those laws — so you’re violating those as well.

Genepax is pulling a scam, intentionally or not. The only possible way their device could work is by annihilating the entire modern structure of physics and chemistry simultaneously, and destroy them far more thoroughly than general relativity and quantum mechanics destroyed their respective predecessors. Do not even dream of betting against those kind of odds.

One final note, for those who may be curious: it was not any special wisdom of mine that allowed me to come so rapidly to the above conclusion. It was a simple three-step process:

1. Diagram the claimed process - where the fuel comes in, where the energy and known waste comes out. (You have to have waste come out - that's the second law of thermodynamics.)

                ________________________    _____________
water (fuel) -> | Genepax's MEA system | -> | Fuel Cell | -> water (waste)
                ------------------------    -------------
                                                      L----> energy

2. Add up the known outputs and subtract the inputs. (The inputs are always known. They're the things you have to pay for.) Compare to zero.

(energy + water) - water = energy > zero

3. If the answer is greater than zero, it's a scam. Q.E.D.

If any part of the above is unclear, I will gladly explain in the comments. Thank you for your time.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (one-quarter view)
So I was pounding away at the grading, and my mind started to drift, and, well...

Raise not hypocrisy to the stature of a Great Sin! To prove hypocrisy is to prove moral failing, but to prove moral failing is nothing if it is not done to correct, and to prove hypocrisy corrects nothing. Instead treat each hypocrite as herself, and ask: which of the three hypocrites is she?

The first hypocrite is she whose professions are righteous and acts are unrighteous. To you, I say: praise her! Hard is the road of righteousness, and many will stumble from it - praise her for her noble words, and commiserate with her when she falls short of them.

The second hypocrite is she whose professions are unrighteous and acts are righteous. To you, I say: praise her! Rare is the soul whose instincts are so pure, and that she has been confused in her thoughts is no fault. Praise her for her noble deeds, and teach her to praise and take pride in them herself.

The third hypocrite is she whose professions are unrighteous and acts are unrighteous. To you, I say: take pity, for what all of us fear and strive to avoid, she suffers from, and teach her as you teach all who have lost their way.

Does anybody else find themselves writing their own personal scriptures in their head?


Mar. 30th, 2008 08:57 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
My mom told me this story once. She was in an English class, Lit class, something like that - high school or college - and the teacher was talking about that "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" poem. Dreck, he said. Or didn't, probably; I don't remember Mom's words, and she might not remember his. Hers? I think his. Anyway, he went along describing in detail all the ways this poem was terrible, and finally said, Here, just listen to it! And opened the book and read it out loud.

(I'm going to invoke artistic license here, depart from my mother's account, and quote Sonnets from the Portugese: XLIII from RPO:)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And then he stopped.

Hey, that's actually pretty good, he said.

We may be tempted to laugh at the spectacle of the critic being overwhelmed by the work he tried to shred. But that is not the lesson here - he spoke his mind in the most laudable sense of the phrase, and that he had to - and did - reverse himself a moment later merely shows that he was honest.

Nor should we believe that we may not lambast any work of art. For example, Rescue from Gilligan's Island was a terrible, terrible movie (although not, fortunately, near-fatally so), and no amount of misplaced excoriation will change that.

Insead, we should say this: familiarity does not require contempt. The old "To be or not to be" soliloquy, High Noon with Gary Cooper, Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269 ("Spring" from the Four Seasons), Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, Melville's Moby Dick - these things are familiar because they are superb. Let never cynicism, misanthropy, the desire for originality, or the opinion of your companions stop you from recognizing that.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What piece of advice do you wish you could take?

View other answers

What advice do I wish I could take, but cannot?

Don't read this.

Stop browsing Livejournal. Stop getting that little burst of joy when you're see new LJ notification emails. Stop commenting on other people's posts and comments. Stop feeling like you're connecting when you fling your messages-in-bottles into the websurf and find others washed up on your shores.

Stop browsing other journals. Stop reading other comment threads. Stop replying in other comment threads. Stop looking for meaning in electrons.

Ditch the webcomics. Ditch the web serials. Ditch the forums. Ditch the Internet games. Ditch the e-books. Ditch the YouTube music videos. Get rid of the entertainments of your hours.

Throw away the computer. Live in the real world of hard work and rare pleasure.

Give in.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
When you're studying something, there will often be tedious bits. Sometimes those tedious bits are bits you need to learn. Sometimes they aren't. And when they aren't, if you have a legitimate means of avoiding them, you should take it.

Specific example: my variational methods class. The variational methods I am learning involve much algebra. I know algebra. In fact, I have been doing my own algebra from the time I was studying geometry at home through every single mathematics or engineering textbook I have ever worked through or class I have ever taken (excepting number theory and MATLAB, respectively). Furthermore, no-one cares about the algebra, including the teacher (who explicitly said so). The important parts are (a) identifying the type of problem, (b) setting up the integrals, and (c) analyzing the solutions.

So, self, just use your fancy little calculator for the grunt work and be happy about it. You're just wasting time else.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
You know those Gillette Mach 3® razors? You know how the blades get clogged with hairs sometimes, and it's hard to get them to come out? Today, I accidentally figured it out. If you have a few inches of water in the sink, and you swish the razor parallel to the head (in line with the blades), the hairs come right out. Darnedest thing.

...I wonder if that works with all razors.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
A late post – I'll be making this quick, since it's night and I'm leaving early to go hiking tomorrow.

A few days ago on IIDB, someone started a thread asking what it meant to respect another's beliefs. The consensus was mostly what I would have expected – don't mock the person, but feel free to argue against their beliefs – but I had some dissatisfaction with this answer. After all, it seemed to have less to do with respect and more to do with courtesy. I suppose the question started percolating back in my mind, because while I noodled around on Yahoo! Answers today, I think I figured it out.

The key: Most people believe what they do because they think it is true.

It's obvious, of course. After all, in the abstract, it's hard to imagine that any large group of people could make a habit of lying to themselves. I mean, would I lie to myself? Would you? It'd take pretty weird circumstances.

But when you start applying the idea to concrete examples, it's clear what a difference it makes.

That person, over there, does not believe what I believe. In fact, I know they're wrong, because I know the evidence I have for what I believe is very good. (Of course I could be wrong, but I don't believe that.) However, I also know – well, assume – that they believe what they do because they think it's true. They have evidence. They have logic. They have trusted authorities, and they considered all these and said, "Yes, this is the reasonable solution." And though I may want to correct them – after all, I don't think it's reasonable – I can't think of them as idiots. They just believe what they think is true.

So, like the IIDBers advised, I won't mock them, and I'll feel free to argue against their beliefs. But the 'why' is obvious; it's not out of a desire to avoid conflict or hurt feelings, it's because there's nothing to mock.

They just believe what they think is true. Just like me.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (RZ Ambigram)
From ^z – a sampling:

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.
6. (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.
8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.
9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.
13. Design is based on requirements. There's no justification for designing something one bit "better" than the requirements dictate.
16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.
19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you've screwed up.
25. (Bowden's Law) Following a testing failure, it's always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.

And my favorite:

26. (Montemerlo's Law) Don't do nuthin' dumb.

Here is the canonical list.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Half-Face)
Making Light is one of the best blogs out there, with excellent writing and a community of intelligent commenters. Today a post on hypothermia appeared. Very good advice, and well-written.

I, of course, linked it purely so I could quote this paragraph:
The buddy system isn’t just for Girl Scouts. If you go into the woods, take a friend. When his teeth start chattering, his lips turn blue, and he starts acting goofy, you’re hypothermic too.

Excellent reversal of expectations there, and probably more true than it looks.


packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

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