Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Color-Based Meditation

I'm currently in a class about different methods of reducing stress, and today's topic was meditation. The color technique is easy to learn and carry out without several years of living in the Himalayas.

The idea is to, sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, imagine oneself to be surrounded by a red sphere. After thinking a while what that feels like, imagine an orange sphere, then yellow, and all the way around the color wheel.

It's no secret that we humans associate certain emotions and sensations with different colors, and going around the wheel can help give insight into how one's day is going emotionally. I felt particularly happy today when thinking about yellow.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Essay Writing Process

I've had a number of two-page essays to do the past several months, and I've developed a certain routine for completing them:

1. Format word document and gather information
2. Spend several minutes pondering first sentence
3. Write introductory paragraph, making sure that the last sentence of the paragraph states the thesis.
4. Take a short break
5. Write the rest of the paper, following the outline laid out in the first paragraph
6. Spend several minutes pondering last sentence
7. Save and go do something else
8. Proofread and print next morning

It's worked out reasonably well so far.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Version 1.4

I've been posting here for just over a year now (November 20), and with that as a motivator, I've added new ways of finding posts of a particular sort. The new categories are academics, food, games, rants, and the inherently pretentious writing about writing. My next mission is to change the background.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Don't Throw The Apple

As my many boxes of hot pockets can attest to, college living involves a lot of unsupervised choices. Being able to act healthily takes willpower, something that I think can be trained like many other skills.

After each meal at the cafeteria, I usually pick up an apple or pear on the way out to eat later. These fruits fit the hand well, like a baseball, and during the ten-minute walk back to my dorm, I repeatedly think, "I wonder if I could hit that tree with this apple," or, "Wouldn't it be fun to toss this apple in the air and catch it?" The urge to throw is great, and that's the point of the test-- I'm not allowed to toss the apple.

It's a pretty easy test - I've been hardwired to not be careless with food - but thinking about throwing the apple makes me consider the other decisions I have to make throughout the day. Do I get up early and get work done, or do I sleep in and turn in a lower-quality assignment? It's easy to decide to "work hard this semester," but the actual choice comes at a thousand different points. Not throwing the apple is a constant decision.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Niche Jokes With Benjamin: Taxonomy

Why did the botanist throw away the basket woven out of rushes?
Because it was a piece of Juncus.

What did the botanists do when they saw the large, perennial grass?
They began to Panicum.

Which island has the most papyrus?
Cyprus (Cyperus).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talking About Weather

The sudden drop in temperature here has provided a conversation starter for countless citizens: "Wow, it's cold, isn't it?"

It's an interesting thing to say, when you think about it. It can be assumed that everyone already knows that its cold, so commenting on it doesn't communicate information as much as it communicates a desire to connect, if just in a small way.

It's a way of reaffirming that we're in the same boat, if only because we're under the same sky. It's probably some sort of rule that conversations start with common ground, and weather is about as common as it gets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Contemporary Philosophy

I remember an annoying game I used to play where I would ask, "why?" after every statement made by whoever I was talking to. "Why do things fall to the ground?"
"Because of gravity."
"Yeah, but why does gravity work?"
"Because every time two pieces of matter exist, they attract each other."

I know I'm not the only person to have done this as a child, but such questions are also the focus of metaphysical philosophy. Many contemporary philosophers, building on the assumption that deductive logic is the only way to know truth (ironic), have followed this string of whys to the bitter end in a quest for absolute certainty.

A philosopher, born in 1967, called Quentin Meillassoux, has suggested the following:

"Our inability rationally to determine an absolute necessity or sufficient reason underlying things, properly understood, can be affirmed as a demonstration that there is in fact no such necessity or reason." (Hallward 132)

In other words, the argument is this:
1. Humans, being finite in understanding and knowledge, cannot prove that things must be the way they are (necessary). We have an idea, for example, that pushing a box causes it to move, but we cannot prove using deductive logic that it was the action of pushing the box that made it move.

2. This ignorance and lack of understanding, according to Meillassoux, is absolute proof that no necessity exists anywhere in the universe. The idea that humans are not omniscient disproves the existence of natural laws and causality itself.

This philosophy, called speculative realism, has other bad arguments, arbitrarily setting up non-contradiction and mathematics as the only things in the universe that are necessary, despite earlier saying that nothing is necessary. However, focusing on point 2, I'd like to dwell on how appalling this view is both for those who think logic has value and those who don't care about proving things.

Logically, 2 does not follow from one. Deductive logic is only valid when, given the premise (1), the conclusion (2) is the only possible result. Given premise 1, any number of results outside of 2 can be conceived. It could, for example, be that there is something in the universe transcendent to humans (God is the most obvious, but even pi is transcendent).

When logic is thrown out the window, Meillassoux has nothing to offer the world. There is no practical application of the idea that things might be otherwise. However good is defined, there seems to be nothing good that can come of this philosophy.

As a person with relatively little education in philosophy, I recognize that there could be redeeming aspects of speculative realism that I don't understand, but as I currently see things, contemporary metaphysics, when it assumes that humans are the highest form of existence, is insane.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene is an English epic written by Edmund Spenser in the sixteenth century. We often think of Shakespearean language as archaic, but Spenser, living at the same time as Shakespeare, deliberately used an English (Chaucerian English) that was old at the time when writing The Fairie Queene.

The Faerie Queene is divided into books, each telling the story of one knight who exemplifies and learns about one virtue. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Book 1, the tale of the Redcrosse Knight and holiness:

"A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
     Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shield,
     Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
     The cruell markes of many a bloudy field;
     Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
     His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
     As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
     Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Science Facts: Stability vs Resilience

In ecology, the stability of a community is how much it will be affected by a disturbance. A stable community, for instance, would be less harmed by a drought than a relatively unstable community.

Resilience, on the other hand, is how quickly a community returns to its default state after being disturbed. In this way, a community can be very unstable, but due to resilience, still be able to survive and thrive through many disturbances.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yanning Dust

To look at your teacher with a straight face while cobbling together a pile of what's essentially nonsense in an effort to appear to have done work and understood-- this is what it is to yan dust. It's a lot like laying railroad tracks in front of a speeding train-- very difficult to do successfully but producing an amazing feeling if you pull it off. One could go so far as to say that yanning dust is like extreme sports for academically-minded people.

For example:*
Teacher: How did the Thirty Year's War change European politics?
Student: Well, of course, the European states were at that time mostly fragmented based on factors such as religion and the recent Reformation. These conflicts were brought into light by the Thirty Year's War as the various nations struggled in a competition not only for disputed land but for socio-political influence on a continental scale.

*this represents an unsuccessful yan

There is, of course, no substitute for actually learning things, but once in a while, on a busy day perhaps, it is a possible option to simply skim the philosophy reading, go to class, and yan like a champ.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Outdated Methods

I often find myself wondering if I should write something down, but then I think, "surely I'll remember this later." It seems to be the case that many botanists at Emory in the early 20th century had this same approach to labeling the plants they collected.

Missing dates and habitats on labels are among the many obstacles met when databasing old plants on such a large scale. Many plant names are written in pencil in cursive, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In the same way, specimen filing cabinets were lined with a mixture of mercury and cyanide to keep away bugs.. If the work of such scientists seems so haphazard today, what aspects of the current herbarium will seem crazy in the future?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Night For Walking

A night to calm the troubled mind to rest
The air doth clear as ice and cold surround
Hang shimmering the lamps in yellowness
As gentle water sprinkles grassy ground

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Origins of Down

'Down' apparently originates in the Old English phrase 'of dune,' which means 'off the hill'. This was shortened to 'adune' over time and gained the meaning we know and love today.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Metro 2033

Not many dare to brave the tunnels alone

Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter with strong story and horror elements. The setting is in the name; after a nuclear war flattens Moscow, the only people who survive are those who were in the underground metro tunnels at the time of the bombing. Metro 2033 is one of the most immersive games I've played recently-- the crowded tunnel-communities are full of details and people and stories going on outside of the player's influence. Setting the spoken language to Russian in the game options helps make the atmosphere even more believable.

The combat is quite good; every gun has a unique feel and fights are balanced to be harrowing and difficult, but not to the point of frustration. Ammunition is used as currency in the world of Metro 2033, which encourages players to shoot sparingly as they are literally firing money. In a subway system full of mutants and monsters, Metro 2033 is less about running around guns blazing and more about surviving to help the characters the player cares about.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Science Facts: Overcompensation

Predation - one organism eating another - is always bad for the organism being eaten because it implies the death of said organism. Herbivory - an organism eating a plant - is a bit more nuanced because plants don't necessarily die when parts of them are eaten.

There are some times when herbivory helps the plant, and this is called overcompensation. For the same reason that a well-trimmed rosebush will grow better roses, a correctly-munched plant can be better off in the long run. On a side note, the idea of overcompensation is a big blow to anti-vegetarian advocates. Herbivory just isn't the same as predation.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

That Culture

Some places in Atlanta have culture in a way that others don't, but whether it's the lightbulbs or the graffiti or the neon signs that do the trick is hard to discern. It could be argued that a place is 'cultural' in this way if it draws people in for no practical purpose.

There are, then, small things that attract people and contribute to 'culture'-- streetlights and wooden roofs and hearty food. The whole, though, is more than the sum of its parts in that a neighborhood is made up not just of objects and people, but of emotion, life, and, as the case may be, 'culture'.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Little About Herb

Herbs are plants that are used for medicine, food, and other such purposes, and about a quarter of all flowering plants are herbs. The name "Herb" is a shortening of Herbert, of German origin. The name Herb does not refer to plant herbs-- this should be made clear.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Enrollment Poem

A minute to seven;
The air is tense
As registration doth commence
Clicking swiftly o'er and o'er
The courses wished to enroll for

The hour strikes
The button's pressed
Loud ring the cries of those whose timing
Messed up all their schedule from the top
At least there still is add/drop/swap

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Fashion

There is much ado about fall fashion in many magazines, but this year, there's only one style I care about: the look and feel of holding a glove in a gloved hand while the other hand remains ungloved. I first noticed this when taking off a glove to use my keys, and since then, I can't get enough of walking around holding a glove while wearing a glove. There's a sense of purpose that comes from it; beyond that, the feeling is hard to describe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Deadlight

Good thing these people had their seatbelts buckled

Deadlight is a 2.5D platformer set in a zombie apocalypse. It's a great game to look at whether the player is being led through a series of narrow rooms and hallways or across an abandoned overpass. Both the player and the zombies are dark silhouettes against the bleakly colorful world. In more practical visual design, it's usually clear what can be jumped on and what can't, an important distinction to make in a a platformer.

Zombies are frightening in Deadlight because, while the player carries a large axe, a clever stamina system makes it difficult to fend off more than one or two zombies at once. It's thrilling to escape a room full of undead, leaping out a window to freedom at the last second.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Holiday Decorations

Halloween was, of course, on October 31st, and I was travelling through Decatur on Saturday, November 1st, and saw that every streetlight in downtown Decatur had a Christmas wreath around it. This kind of stuff just can't wait until Monday, much less after Thanksgiving.

The wreaths looked very nice, of course, but it makes one wonder: now that Halloween and Christmas are bumping elbows, which set of decorations wins out? I personally think its very difficult to make Halloween decorations look nice, but there certainly are infinite ways to make Christmas setups tacky as well.

In any case, if Christmas absorbs Halloween, there won't be any major holiday to combat it here earlier than the fourth of July.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cold Weather Poem

Alas for the days of the sunlight
The warm air and zephyrous breeze
Now enter the winter in cold night
The weather is thirty degrees

As truly as leaves fall from trees
It's likely that we will all freeze

But I'm sure it'll be all right