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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Memory and me

Forgetfulness, as I think I may have said before, though I can’t quite remember where or when, is a greatly underestimated attribute.

We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. It is that second type that I see as well-directed forgetfulness. Just look at those poor people who appear on TV general knowledge contests and seem to know everything.

Their brains must be absolutely cluttered up with the stuff like names, dates, chemical elements, results of sporting encounters, kings, queens, Latin terms for flowering plants... the list is endless.

Yet the vast majority of such things can be looked up in seconds. Why fill your mind with it all and risk leaving no room for wisdom?

I have always been an advocate of FOM, the thinking person’s answer to a computer’s RAM, or random Access Memory. FOM is Forget Only Memory.

It’s a way of storing just a trace of anything that goes in one ear and out the other. Things you once knew, albeit briefly, and if pushed, you can work out where you saw them and find them again.

The brain is too important an organ to fill facts. Just put them away somewhere safe and keep a short mental note of where they are, leaving your mind free for higher things.

As far as I can see, this technique has only one disadvantage, which I discovered at the weekend. I forget where I was at the time or what I was doing, but I had to fill in details of something or other on a form and add the date at the bottom.

I must confess to feeling a degree of embarrassment when, after filling in the day and the month, I could not remember what year it was. I had a strong feeling it was 2010 or 2011, but was not sure which.

Fortunately, thanks to my writing skills, I knew that I was 22, and cannot forget when it began, so I added one to the other and came up with 2011 for the year, which turned out to be spot-on.

Thinking about this lapse, I suddenly realised why it had happened: plastic money. In the days before credit cards and debit cards, we had to write cheques for everything and cheques had to have a date on them.

By the end of the first week in January, we had written the year so many times, there was no forgetting it. Nowadays, it’s just the PIN and perhaps the three-digit doodah from the back of the card that anyone is interested in.

There are still many things that are worth remembering, such as the word for a point on a mammal’s back that it cannot reach to scratch. It’s ‘acnestis’ in case you have forgotten, and it’s very difficult to look up if you ever do forget it.

Having delegated so many of our memories, such as telephone numbers and passwords, to our mobiles and computes, there must be a danger that we are all losing the ability to remember the vital acnestes in life.

Personally I can be confident. I have written ‘2012’ on a piece of paper and put it securely in my top pocket.

I would strongly advise you all to do the same thing before it is too late or 2013, whichever comes sooner.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Time for more proverbs or can I say semi-pro verbs

  • Beggars can't be choosers. Besides, making good choices is probably not their forte.

  • Behind every great man is a great woman. Behind her is the guy's wife, and boy is she pissed.

  • The best defense is a good offense. And gun turrets.

  • Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Save the cursing for when the candle spills hot wax on you.

  • A penny saved is a penny earned, but if you're counting the pennies, you're screwed.

  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Just take the damn thing.

  • Where there's a will, there's a way to contest it.

  • Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

  • Good things come to those who wait tables.

  • Haste makes waste. Donuts make waist.

  • Honesty is the best policy, but the premiums are unaffordable.

  • If we were meant to fly, we'd have wings. If we were meant to be too fat to fly, we'd have wings with ranch sauce.

  • Love is blind. This explains why it feels like it keeps whacking you with its cane.

  • Misery loves company. Especially this one company I used to work for.

  • Nature abhors a vacuum. So does my house.

  • Time wounds all heels.

  • Forewarned is forearmed, but oblivious is elbowed in the gut.

  • If you can't beat them, join them to a chair with duct tape. Then beat them.

  • Money is the root of all evil. So money does grow on trees; you just have to dig for it.

  • Blood is thicker than water. But give it a good scrub and the cops will never know.

  • Charity begins at home. Or so my neighbour kids told me when they begged 5 bucks off me.

  • Cleanliness is next to godliness. But it's even closer to annoyingliness.

  • The early bird catches the worm. So sleep in, unless you like worms for breakfast.

  • Discretion is the better part of valor. But it's the most critical part of cowardice.

  • Don't punch a gift horse in the mouth.

  • It takes one to know one. But it doesn't take anything to know nothing at all.

  • Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and the world laughs at you.

  • A person is known by the company he keeps. Especially the CEO.

  • A picture paints a thousand words. But they're really tiny and hard to read.

  • A rising tide lifts all boats. Then it smashes them on the rocks.

  • Crime doesn't pay. But the perks are awesome.

  • He who hesitates is lost. You can tell because he's looking at a map.

  • It's no use crying over spilled milk. Acid, however, is worth a complete breakdown.

  • Let sleeping dogs lie. But torture the cats for the truth.

  • Many hands make light work. But electricity makes lights work.

  • A friend in need is a friend in debt.

  • A good man is hard to fine.

  • A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So don't even start or you'll be walking for friggin' ever.

  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But not as dangerous as a little dynamite.

I think that's enough for today..... more to come soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Age-Old Logic

When my present research is over, there will be no more aging.

Obviously I am not proposing stopping people from growing old. We’ll always have older people around, driving slowly in the left lane with the blinker on, saying completely inappropriate things in loud voices, and telling the rest of us that we don’t call home often enough.

But what I can and will change is our age.

Time marches on, minute by minute, day by day, and year by year. Even when it seems like time is standing still, like when you’re in line at the bank counter or you’re sitting next to someone on the train that’s talking on a mobile phone in tedious detail about every one of her children.

Even then, time is racing by, pushing us further toward the cliff of our existence into the chasm of our not. And as the years roll by, they add to our age, one by one. Another birthday cake eaten, another year gone.

Some try to cheat the system by simply telling people the wrong number for their age. But everyone knows. And it's rather sad.

But there’s a better way. Why change the number when we can change the number system?

For millennia, humans have used the decimal system, in base 10.

I suppose this came from our having ten fingers available, but that makes it a cruel joke that we’re taught not to count on our fingers in school.

But haven’t we lived with that system long enough? Don’t you think we’ve gotten smarter in the last couple thousand years?

Did Plato have reality TV? No, he just had reality.

Did Copernicus have the internet? Of course not; he just had the galaxy.

Did Benjamin Franklin have glasses? Well, yes, but they probably looked a lot dumber than today’s designer glasses and certainly cost far less.

And he certainly didn’t have contact lenses that he could lose, tear, and have to replace every few days.

So isn’t it time that we had a shiny new number system, too?

In fact, we should have several to represent the fact that our society is complex, diverse, and horribly bad at math.

My research concludes that, our age can be kept artificially low by increasing the base that we count in.

For example, if you are about to enter your 40th year, then you might tell people, truthfully, that you are 37 (in base 11). Or if you are feeling particularly spritely, you can tell them that you’re having your 28th birthday (in base 16).

Or if you’re feeling young and completely nerdy, you can say that you’re 2A (in base 15).

The system also works in reverse. If you’re only 14 and you feel you really really need that six-pack of beer, then you can tell the clerk at the 'Modern Wines' that you’re 22 (in base 6).

No longer will people have to construct elaborate and pathetic lies about their age; they can simply tell the truth while using the power of Math.

Remember: It’s not how old you are, but how old you feel...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

hoping for the best is to realistically consider the worst..

Some doctors will predict the worst possible outcome for their patients.

Whenever I go to my doctor, I try to envision the worst-case scenario for my latest injury. For a neck issue, I went with paralysis.

For my shoulder, I opted for amputation. And I make a habit of telling my doctor that I’ll see her the next time my body falls apart, unless I’m dead.

My doctor seems to find these predictions alarming and rushes to assure me that the surgeon is not going to amputate, or that my cold is not lethal. But I find it comforting to know the worst that can happen and to verbalize it.

Sure, I probably just have a sore throat - but what if it's an early indicator of Bubonic Plague? Or what if that slight headache really is a brain tumor?

The optimist would say that you should look on the bright side. See the positive aspects of any situation and hope for the best. I do consider myself an optimist. To me, the glass is always half full. But I wouldn't drink it because it could be laced with cyanide.

My method of hoping for the best is to realistically consider the worst. Then things can only get better from there. And if things are as bad as I predict, I have the satisfaction of being right, which always feels good.

For example, maybe amputation is an extreme outcome for a sore shoulder. But what if the injury takes a long time to heal? Or what if it requires surgery, which can have risks and complications?

These would be unfortunate to one simply hoping for the best. But in my world, they’re not so bad compared to hauling out the bone saw and hacking off the limb.

With me, doctors will clearly outline the bleakest possibilities for patients. For example, doctor might say, “You appear to have a cough, Mr. Naik. This may just be the cold that is going around, but it could also be the beginning stages of any number of terminal diseases.

You should put your affairs in order just in case. See you next time, unless you’re dead.

Sure, these consultations might be a bit of a shock at first. But imagine, after each illness recedes, how wonderful you’ll feel just to be alive.

Until the last one, of course. Your doctor will eventually be right about the worst case scenario, which will give them that satisfying "I told you so" feeling.

That'll be nice for them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Doomsday.... and am really excited..

Apparently, the world is coming to an end today.

And I’d just gotten used to the place. It seems worth spending a few minutes preparing ourselves.

I mean, the world only ends once.

Here are some tips for how to deal with "The End":

  • Brush your teeth. There’s nothing like starting on a long journey and realizing your breath stinks. And who knows when you’ll see a tube of Crest again?

  • Put a lot of food out for the dog. Hell, just open the rest of the bag out onto the floor. We’re going to be gone for a while.

  • Make sure the stove and coffee pot are turned off. Check them twice. Three times. You don’t want to worry about that for the rest of eternity.

  • Bring comfy shoes: We always want to look our best, but nobody looks good when they’re hobbling along for miles because of the blisters. And you don’t want to break a heel in all the kerfuffle.

  • Pack light: The holy book has never been clear on the baggage rules. Will we be able to check bags? Does the first bag cost $25? Is there enough room in the overhead, or do we have to take up precious leg room for our carry-ons? Better to pack light and avoid the hassle.

  • Leave the parka at home and bring a windbreaker instead.

  • Take those pills: We don’t know what the travel accommodations will be like, so if you’re at all prone to motion sickness, it’s best take your pills in the morning. Besides, they might help you sleep. It could be a long journey

  • Bring something to read. Long flights with no entertainment are so tedious; don’t risk it.

  • List your accomplishments: Just in case there’s an opportunity for an upgrade, you might want to list out all of the good things you’ve done in your life. Just for a reminder (they probably know already). If they do have a rewards program, these will probably be your points. And you don’t want to travel in coach if you don’t have to.

  • Get some good sleep the night before. It's always more fun to travel when you're well-rested.

  • Lock your door and sit on the curb. Like the stove, don’t wonder whether you remember to lock it. And go outside to sit on the curb and wait. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if they stopped by to get you and you didn’t hear them because you were in the bathroom? Don’t run that risk.

That's all I can think of.

I need to go check the stove and coffee pot.

See you tomorrow....

Friday, May 13, 2011

red wine makes a metal compound superconductive.... I knew it

Yoshihiko Takano (R), professor of Japan’s National Institute for Material Science and researcher Keita Deguchi (L) display a superconductive metal compound, which is seven times higher when dipped in red wine than for ethanol or water at his laboratory in Tsukuba city, suburban Tokyo on March 10, 2011. – AFP Photo

TSUKUBA: Japanese scientists at a boozy office party stumbled across a discovery they hope will help revolutionise efficient energy transmission one day: red wine makes a metal compound superconductive.

The researchers plan to showcase their surprise findings later this year, the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the phenomenon of superconductivity, the zero-loss flow of electricity through certain materials.

The “eureka” moment came when National Institute for Materials Science researchers found that an iron-based compound became superconductive after being soaked in alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine and sake.

Red wine was the hands-down winner in producing the desired physical effect, although no-one is quite clear yet on how exactly it worked, said researchers at the institute in Tsukuba, east of Tokyo.

The ratio at which compounds became superconductive was seven times higher when dipped in red wine than for ethanol or water. It was four times higher for white wine and three times higher for beer, sake and whisky.

“The better it tastes, the more effective it is,” the institute’s lead researcher Yoshihiko Takano said, while allowing that taste is subjective.

“There may be a connection between the substance we humans sense as a taste and the substance that induces superconductivity.”

“It is as if a detective was tracking down the culprit in a suspense story — the guy is in the glass, but we still don’t know if he is acting alone or conspiring with others.”

The team hopes the find will help in the quest to one day unleash the potential of superconductivity to build power infrastructure that reduces energy use and mankind’s reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

When an electric current passes through a conductor such as copper and silver, part of the charge is lost as heat, a loss that increases with the distance the charge travels.In superconductivity — first discovered in mercury in 1911 — electrical resistance suddenly drops to zero in some metals when they are cooled to near absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius, -459 Fahrenheit).

This also produces a strong magnetic field — an effect which has found applications, including in MRI body scanners.

To achieve zero-loss power transmission now, cables encased in tubes can be cooled with liquid nitrogen to make them superconductive — but the complex and expensive technology has not been commercially used on a large scale. Power companies have run only small-scale and pilot projects.

The dream is, however, to one day find materials that can become superconductors at room temperature, which would allow zero-loss transmission of power over vast distances.

“This may sound like the stuff of dreams, but electricity generated by solar power in the Gobi desert (of China and Mongolia) could be transported to the other side of the globe,” said Takano.

“The sun is always shining somewhere on Earth, and the dream is for electricity to be transported to far-away places with no power loss.

“Imagine there is a ring of superconductive cables along the equator with solar cells attached at certain places. If there were branches, clean electricity could be dispatched to the remotest rural areas.” Mamoru Mohri, a former astronaut who heads the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, said advances in superconductivity could ring in “an era in which we don’t have to burn as much fossil fuel”.

Takano’s team made their discovery when they put tablets of an iron-based compound called Fe(Te,S) into alcoholic drinks at an office party a year ago.

The team found that after being soaked for 24 hours in red wine or other alcoholic beverages, the compound became superconductive when cooled to about minus 265 degrees Celcius (minus 445 Fahrenheit).

Takano plans to present his findings at a European conference in September in The Hague, near Leiden where Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity 100 years ago.

Reiji Ogino, power-industry analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, said the hunt for new electricity transmission methods has sped up as the world looks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a technical breakthrough,” Ogino said — but he cautioned that it remains unclear how much it would cost to replace existing transmission networks.

Tomoaki Fujii, who heads equity research at Morningstar Japan, said superconductivity is “a technology with high expectations”, but said that it is “a bit too early” to start buying related stocks just now.

“We haven’t seen superconductivity used for electricity transmission even 100 years after it was discovered,” he said. “And we would have to see how smoothly it could actually be utilised”.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The mystery of antioxidants...

A young lady just rang to ask if I was interested in antioxidants.

“Passionately,” I said, and she told me she was happy to hear it, because she
wanted to tell me about the antioxidants in Nescafé.

“We hear a lot about the benefits of antioxidants these days,” I ruminated, “but there is nobody speaking up for the oxidants. We would, after all, have no need for antioxidants if there were no oxidants, an indisputable fact for which I have always felt that oxidants never receive the credit they deserve.”

“Be that as it may,” she said, “most people do not realise the antioxidant
benefit of coffee in general and Nescafé in particular and...”

But before she could continue, I found myself interrupting somewhat ungallantly, with a thought that had suddenly occurred to me: “If coffee contains antioxidants, does instant coffee contain instant antioxidants?” I asked. “If it doesn’t, I fear it could lead to you making and drinking the coffee before the antioxidants arrive, leaving them turning up late when the cup is empty and being flushed away with the washing up.”

“I’m sure that doesn’t happen,” she said. “In fact, the benefits of the
antioxidants in Nescafé...”

But my mind was becoming absorbed with a topic I had introduced earlier. “It’s a bit like antibiotics and probiotics, I suppose,” I said.

“I remember a couple of years ago when several probiotic foods appeared on the market, the antibiotics were furious. ‘We are performing a valuable function fighting disease’, they said, ‘and our biotic opponents ought not to be allowed to call in a mercenary force of probiotics to support them.’

Outright war was only averted when a probiotic spokesorganism came up with
a peace plan involving the partition of the biotic empire into separate regions
of influence for the antibiotic and probiotic movements.

Of course, if the antioxidants were to join forces with the antibiotics, it could force the oxidants into an alliance with the probiotics, leading to a drastic increase in tension.”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” my caller replied, “but I am sure that drinking a cup of...”

“And where, we must ask ourselves,” I interrupted again, “do the antiperspirants fit into all this?

Given the potential power of the antibiotic and antioxidant alliance, they would find it hard not to sign up for a grand, anti-everything league, finally giving up the position of neutrality they have held for so long, thanks to there being nobody specifically marketing perspirants as such.

Come to think of it, with the antibiotic and antioxidant alliance calling themselves the AAA, as they surely will, this seems bound to drive the other AAA, the Amateur Athletic Association, into the arms of the probiotics and oxidants, and since athletics is a highly effective way of producing perspiration, that makes it even more likely the antiperspirants will join the other antis.

Very worrying. I think “I need a cup of coffee.”

“Antioxidant Nescafé?” she offered.

“No,” I said: “I hate instant coffee.” And we left it at that.