Tag Archives: philosophy

In theory, in reality

I had a dream about a year ago.  At the time, I was wholly enamored of the block-and-tackle; a system of pulleys which affords us an ease of lifting directly proportional to the amount of excess rope you are willing to pull.  In other words, it allows you to lift a 10 pound weight 1 foot by attaching a 5 pound weight at the other end which will be lowered 2 feet.  We attribute its invention to Archimedes.  I and others like to think of him as the father of engineering.

In my dream, I was pulling myself up a rock face.  My rigging, naturally, employed a block-and-tackle.  In addition, I had a spotter at the top who, on my command, would add another pulley to the system lessening my strain.  Of course, for every ounce of exertion I conserved, I had to exhaust an equally large length of rope to get me to the top.  Physics is so amusing.  Energy is always conserved.  There is no free lunch.   I don’t remember how many pulleys were involved in my ascent by the time I woke up but I know for sure I hadn’t yet reached the summit.  I had arrived however, at a conclusion that still makes me smile.

Phycisists, it seems, are fond of ignoring certain variables for the sake of exposing and isolating others.  In the case of the block-and-tackle, one would want to ignore the effects of the friction on the axle of the pulley.  In reality, it would take a little more than 5 lbs to lift the 10 lb weight because some energy would be lost to friction.  Or to put it another way, the 10 lb weight would rise a little less than 1 foot and the 5 lb weight would drop a little less than 2.

But I can still dream as the phycisist can pretend temporarily that friction doesn’t exist.  And so, upon waking, I imagined what it would mean to hoist yourself up with infinite, frictionless pulleys arranged as necessary.  Ha.  So your muscles would feel absolutely no fatigue but pulling an infinite length of rope would get you absolutely nowhere.  Slack forever.  So that’s how infinity and zero know eachother.

Now back to reality.  Time to get up and start the morning ritual.  Make some coffee before considering anything else.  Mmmmmm.  Tasty.  Now consider infinite pulleys subject to friction as per reality.  Ha.  So you could pull infinitely hard but wouldn’t be able to budge the rope a hair?  The opposite of slack.  That’s hysterical to me.

To sum up.  you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Even with a frictionless pulley, you’re still responsible for some energy if you intend to get anywhere.

A transcendental day


Last night I opened yet another transcendental Pandora’s box not realizing the irony of the fact that, being 2 o’clock  in the morning it was officially Pi day.   I have this rather unpractical habit you see of trying to resolve ancient mathematical paradoxes in a single evening.  It’s ambitious, while largely unproductive yet educational and entertaining all the same.

While driving home I thought it quite unsatisfactory that the year has a fractional number of days in it and so resolved to look at the numbers and see if anything could be done about dismissing leap years, normalizing the length of the months and things of this nature .  My apologies to Kepler, Galileo and the mathematical community in general for assuming this would be within my capabilities.

Half an hour after I got home I found myself entering data in the excel spreadsheet I’d created to compile all the many categories of numbers I found.  Our understanding of our position in the universe, of course, is a relative one and so even the question ‘How long is a year’ is a subjective one.  Furthermore, none of the lunar months or astronomical years I looked at were divisible by an integer number of days (or even seconds in many cases) and so I found myself once again in transcendental quicksand, with no foreseeable end to the quantity of significant digits that would suffice in pulling me out.

This afternoon I am patting myself on the head thinking ‘nice try killer’.  I will have to rank this excursion with the time I tried to calibrate integers such that Pi and Euler’s constant would be whole numbers or the time I tried to reinvent music by splitting the difference between Pythagorean tuning and Equal Temperament.  I concede for now.  1 is 1 and Pi is Pi.  Regarding musical temperament however,  I’ll get back to you.

Why Mind our Manners?

Apart from the joy in just witnessing my daughters growth from a 19 inch rather helpless infant to the 42 inch bright, beautiful and fully conversant five year old she is today, one of the great rewards of fatherhood for me has arisen from the constant need to revisit and call into question those principles which were ingrained in my own mind during those same formative years.  Recently, my daughter has been asking “Daddy, why are there so many rules and why are they always made by the grown-ups?”.  “Actually” I said, “There is only one rule: stay safe and healthy.  All the other rules are just to help you with this one and that is my job; to keep you safe and healthy.”  Once in awhile I am brilliant and I was pretty satisfied with this answer.  Still, I am constantly questioning the rules I make and the practices I try to encourage and It supports a lot of real thinking to explain why I think my daughter should do this or that at any given moment.  Much thanks to Popeye for setting such a fun example about why iron intake is so important, but for the rest of the billion why’s, it takes some reflection on things we, as parents, have merely assumed for a long long time.  Why do I have to clean my room?  Why can’t I finish my homework after I play?  And Why must I mind my manners.

To be honest, my daughters manners have been impeccable as of late, so pristine in fact that I’ve had to wonder why we regard them so important a tool as to spend all this time cultivating them.  My answer?  Manners are an advertisement.  Advertise-verb: to describe or draw attention to.  Manners describe and draw attention to the benefit one gets from knowing us in any capacity.  If you are applying for a job these days, you know a well crafted cover letter can be far more important than the contents of your resume.  You want the salutation, body, and signature of this letter to reflect not only your capabilities but your esteem for the company and the position you are applying for as well.  The details of your qualifications are to be found in your resume.  The province of respect however, it is the sole duty of the cover letter to address.

This is the purpose of our manners then.  To premise our actions with the promise of respect.  Let our consequent behavior define our integrity but let our manners at least start us out on the right foot and get us ‘in the door’.  It has been said that ‘ it doesn’t matter what people think of you’ but this statement is quite in need of modification.  Better to say I think, that it only matters what certain people think of you.  We are a collaborative society, humanity, and it is always to our benefit to cultivate the interest of those who promise to further our goals.  Manners then, are also the quintessential social networking resource that help us both identify  and make ourselves known to those we should associate with.

I consider myself a musician, a trumpet player, before anything else and I have absorbed several mantras from my teachers.  ‘Practice makes permanent’ I will cite for the purpose of this article ignoring others like K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) that are not so relevant.   It is to our benefit to be courteous on line at the grocery store, for example, if for no other reason than that it keeps us in shape to exhibit good manners when it matters most.  As a side note, you never know when it matters most and are continually making a first impression.  The guy on line behind you could be your future employer or the person who introduces you to your spouse.  Practice your manners every chance you get.  It is the only way to make them permanent fixtures.  I have cracked enough high notes to know this is true.

Give credit where credit is due.  It’s only polite.  Recently, a waitress (in her 40’s I presume) observed me pushing in my chair after dining at her table.  “Your mother raised you right.” she said.  Some weeks later, after I held a door open for an older woman she said “Thank you very much.”.  “Don’t thank me” I said overcome again by brilliance.  “Thank my mother.”  It made my day, the opportunity to say such a thing, as I like to think it made that woman’s day to hear it.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.

And so my dear daughter, I tell you this.  First of all, never start a sentence much less a paragraph with ‘and’ like I just did.  And always mind your manners.  Are they the key to success?  No, those would be oxygen, water and food in that order.  Somewhere along the line however, we find ourselves at liberty to act as we choose.  Say please and thank you every chance you get.  Say may I instead of can I; it will distinguish you.  At the very least, with minimal effort you’ll have offended no one.  At best, you’ll enjoy a more fullfilling life by noticing and being noticed by those that practice the simple discipline of manners.  Now will you please clean your room.  I am afraid that you will trip on one of your toys and hit your head on the bookcase.

Five fourths of Americans don’t understand fractions

Regarding my recent post, statistics on statistics, I need more votes. Granted the question is absurd, however I am planning a legitimate analysis of the data and there are, I believe, some potentially interesting conclusions to be drawn therein.  In the scientific world, statistics are regarded as mathematical facts; their purpose being the formulation and validation of assumptions that could not otherwise be ‘proven’ even by an inexhaustable amount of empirical data.  In the commercial world however, statistics play a  very different role and are interpreted with an equally distinct degree of rigor.  I don’t want to spoil the punch line but it promises to resemble something like what you see when you stand in between two mirrors.  So click on the link above and send some votes this way please.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property – legal rights over the creations of the mind.  This trend has great inertia and promises to accelerate at a feverish pace.  I have objected to it since I first noticed its evolution and, though I have been convinced to soften my stance a bit, I’d still like to call to attention some potentially negative effects.  All the laws on the books  today are forged with the well being of certain people in mind.  Often they injure others and in special cases, have adverse effects on those they were intended to serve.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Milton Friedman expressed this point far more clearly than I can in the interview I’ve attached to his name.

That we can grant intellectual property means that the state has approved and promises to enforce a more or less temporary monopoly on an artistic or commercial idea.   The intent I suppose is to allow the posessor of an idea a period in which he can recoup the expenses he endured in the design and execution of it.

In a conversation on the subject, a participant whom I respect introduced the example of the envelope with a window on it.  The patent perhaps is to be considered the original guise of intellectual property as it related to tangible designs; the many other types of property we now recognize did not exist a century ago. Continue reading

First of all

This is my first blog post ever and I have no specific topic in mind so I’ll just ramble off a few of my latest musings.

I’m currently unemployed so I have had plenty of time these last few weeks to catch up on some films I’ve not seen including 7 or 8 by Woody Allen followed by some Kubrick, Hitchcock and Fellini gems.

Making my fiimg_02271rst batch of Limoncello in preparation for spring.  Test sample at week 2 of the infusion process was not particularly inspiring.  Let’s hope time improves things.  Limecello and Clemencello to follow.  (Can I get the rights to the name Clemencello right now?)  That’s almost as good as when I made a Black and Tan with Guinness and Magic Hat #9 and called it ‘Black Magic’.

Seeking strong counter arguments to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  I have spent the last 10 years absorbing the principles and now have interest in becoming more familiar with the most distinct oppositions.  Who or what exactly are they?

Though I’m totally broke and unemployed, It costs nothing to mess around on travelocity.com and plan trips I will not be taking any time soon.  Top 2 destinations at present are:  (1) Mombasa, Kenya – It’s on the Indian Ocean and it borders the worlds largest tropical lake.  (2) Barcelona, Spain –  Just because it’s a great town.  Really I just want to stay there so I can take a train to Amsterdam and visit the museum where the largest collection of M.C. Escher’s work is displayed.

Statistics on statistics

Some people say 75% of statistics are made up on the spot.  Others say it’s closer to 90%.  Please help me quantify the general consensus by voting on the converse question ‘What percentage of statistics are accurate?’  I will be publishing the results along with my analysis once I have sufficient data.  Please share with your friends.  The more data I have the merrier I will be.