Civil disobedience in the high-tech age: the BART protests

I don’t like using terms such as “high-tech age” or, even worse, “age of technology.” What’s high-tech today will appear quaint in a decade or two (not so long ago, it was considered marvelous to have a computer that didn’t take up an entire room that required supercooling to keep the whole apparatus from fricaseeing itself). But every societal undertaking been affected by the trappings of the Internet, cell-phone service and skilled hackers — even potential confrontations between law enforcement and protesters.

For those of you who have never visited San Francisco or (egad) Oakland, the two cities are joined by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, which runs under San Francisco Bay via the 3.6-mile long Transbay Tube and extends south on the San Francisco side and in all directions on the Oakland side. It is a very pleasant commuter experience. The family of of Oscar Grant III would probably not agree, given that Mr. Grant was fatally shot in January 2009 by a BART police officer who was later convicted of murder (reduced to involuntary manslaughter on appeal). Ditto any associates of a homeless man named Charles Blair Hill, who was shot dead on July 8 by a transit cop. Hill came at officers with a vodka bottle and a knife, but Grant was unarmed and face-down on the ground when he was shot in the back. This shooting, which was caught on numerous video cameras, qualifies as an execution by any standard.

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The Big G

I kind of like the idea of a god with a dark sense of humor and a keen eye for irony. Like this: All the atheists and agnostics go to the afterlife and the big G says “You know, you guys never found any concrete evidence for the existence of all of this supernatural stuff and I can respect your search for the truth, even though you wound up wrong. For that, I’m going to tell you the secret of the universe and give you everlasting happiness”. To the true believers from whatever religion that wind up in the afterlife he says “You had absolutely no tangible proof whatsoever that any of this existed. You simply nodded your head and followed the other sheep, bleating about ‘faith’. As I gave you a functioning brain and expected you to use it, I simply cannot abide by that sort of mindlessness. Therefore, I will grant you everlasting happiness, but as you don’t seem to value a true search for evidence of the underlying nature of the universe, you don’t get to learn the secret of it all.”

Swimmers are immortal!

I always thought that the risk of dying for men and women across all income and educational levels was 100 percent, but apparently it’s only half of that for white, well-educated, higher-income males who swim, at least according to a University of South Carolina study funded in part by the National Swimming Pool Foundation:

New Study Reveals Swimming Can Cut Men’s Risk of Dying in Half
Research shows swimming may be the prescription for longevity Colorado Springs, Colo./February 2, 2009 A new study shows that swimming cuts men’s risk of dying by about 50% compared to runners, walkers and sedentary peers.

Okay, I am taking this out of context to some extent, but it still looks funny. Slightly more information can be found here.

Swimmers are immortal!

I always thought that the risk of dying for men and women across all income and educational levels was 100 percent, but apparently it’s only half of that for white, well-educated, higher-income males who swim, at least according to a University of South Carolina study funded in part by the National Swimming Pool Foundation:

New Study Reveals Swimming Can Cut Men’s Risk of Dying in Half
Research shows swimming may be the prescription for longevity Colorado Springs, Colo./February 2, 2009 A new study shows that swimming cuts men’s risk of dying by about 50% compared to runners, walkers and sedentary peers.

Okay, I am taking this out of context to some extent, but it still looks funny. Slightly more information can be found here.

An Unlikely Thank You

I always assumed that adults were always right. They knew more than kids did because they had been around a lot longer and had already gone through school. Teachers in particular were always right because, well, they’re teachers. My fourth grade teacher proved this line of reasoning was dead wrong.

This past weekend was high school graduation weekend for most of the schools in our area. At times like these, I sometimes hear folks waxing nostalgic about certain teachers who made an impact on them. I never had a chance to thank a couple of teachers who taught me extremely valuable lessons that served me well over the years, so here goes.
First, there was my fourth grade teacher. She introduced to me to an idea which has always stuck with me, and which has served me well in my many years as a college professor: Adults, and teachers in particular, can be wrong. Up until this time I had always assumed that adults were always right. They knew more than kids did because they had been around a lot longer and had already gone through school. Teachers in particular were always right because, well, they’re teachers.

Continue reading “An Unlikely Thank You”

An Unlikely Thank You

I always assumed that adults were always right. They knew more than kids did because they had been around a lot longer and had already gone through school. Teachers in particular were always right because, well, they’re teachers. My fourth grade teacher proved this line of reasoning was dead wrong.

This past weekend was high school graduation weekend for most of the schools in our area. At times like these, I sometimes hear folks waxing nostalgic about certain teachers who made an impact on them. I never had a chance to thank a couple of teachers who taught me extremely valuable lessons that served me well over the years, so here goes.
First, there was my fourth grade teacher. She introduced to me to an idea which has always stuck with me, and which has served me well in my many years as a college professor: Adults, and teachers in particular, can be wrong. Up until this time I had always assumed that adults were always right. They knew more than kids did because they had been around a lot longer and had already gone through school. Teachers in particular were always right because, well, they’re teachers.

Continue reading “An Unlikely Thank You”

Salary Survey Results: Electrical/Electronic Engineers

Electronic Engineering Times has released their annual salary survey. Among 1600 respondents, median income including benefits for electrical and electronic engineers in North American now sits at $108,800. That’s about 4% higher than last year. Two thirds declared themselves satisfied with both their career and employer. In sub-areas, the big winners are in engineering management and marketing at $133.9k and $123.9k. Component/chip design came in at $115.k, R&D at $111.1k, and Internet services at $110k. Further down, software design came in at $106.9k and system design at $100.9k.
According to respondents, the hot areas for the future include nanotechnology, system-on-chip, and embedded processors, with about 40 to 60% claiming they find them “promising”. The lower end of the scale includes embedded memories, Bluetooth, XML open scripting language, and formal verification, with about 10 to 15% finding them promising.
In spite of what appears to be a very financially successful and personally rewarding career, it seems that fewer and fewer US high school grads are choosing this path. At our college, the numbers of students in the science, engineering, and technology paths are down from prior decades and I hear the same from colleagues at other colleges. This is true in spite of the increasing use of technology in our day-to-day lives.

Shouldn’t I get a primary life first?

I don’t doubt that this sort of general joke is extremely common among users of an application called Second Life, but I wouldn’t know for sure as I was just introduced to the whole concept this past weekend.
I’m not into gaming, so it’s hard to describe just what this eight-million-member strong “metaverse” (virtual world) is, other than a potentially huge time sink. There’s no single objective and no way to “win” or “lose,” so it’s not a game by traditional standards, and those who get paid memberships can actualy make real money by selling virtual property, dabbling in porn, and so on. I’ve only gotten far enough to pick a name (they give you a finite choice of last names; my real one happened to be among them, so I went with “Umbilicus Beck”) and design a character.

While you wander around the virtual world, others may approach you on foot, on vehicles, or by literally flying in. They can get in your face and IM you; in return you can execute crisp dance maneuvers, ignore them, and probably do a host of other things I’m unaware of and will probably remain unaware of because my system and video card are far too slow for this kind of crap (I use my computer for word processing, surfing the Web, e-mail, and little else). Still, if anyone has any input go ahead and slap it in the comments.

Things You Learn Via a Radio Quiz

It’s amazing the things you can learn from a simple quiz on a morning radio show. But not the item that was intended, that is.

It’s amazing the things you can learn from a simple quiz on a morning radio show. But not the item that was intended, that is. A station that my wife listens to while getting ready for work often has one of those “Seventh caller who gets this question correct wins free tickets to the phone polishers convention” or some such crazy event. Usually, the questions are very easy. Things like “What color was the brick road that Dorothy followed in The Wizard of Oz”. Something you could answer in your sleep (which is probably appropriate as I’d venture that most listeners ARE half asleep at that point).

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Some sobering statistics

Is anyone surprised? This is what it’s come to in the U.S.:

  • Regular churchgoers (those who attand servces twice a month or more) earn an average of $6,896 per year less than non-regular attendees.
  • Married Americans who attend church more than twice a month are 58% more likely to be unfaithful to their spouses in any one-year period than those who attend one ofrfewer times a month.
  • Those who claim to be “very confident” that the god of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism exists and intervenes in human affairs score an average of 7.2 points lower on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-II) IQ test (SD +/- 1.9 points, CI 95%) than do those claiming to have “little confidence” or “zero confidence” in the existence of such a being.
  • Regular churchgoers are 26% more likely to be hospitalized for acute psychiatric conditions, including drug overdoses, than are those who describe themselves as non-religious.
  • Americans who profess a belief in God (i.e., who claim that they are either “fairly confident” or “very confident” God exists) are 47% more likely to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse with strangers than the population at large. They are also 1.4 times as likely to solicit sex from minors.
  • Non-religious people spend an average of 12.9 hours a year more in charitable or volunteer activities than do religious people (i.e., those who attend church twice a month or more often). They are also 45% more likely to donate blood and give an average of $187 more per year to charitable causes.

(Source)

There’s a lesson or two in this post somewhere.

Tell Me the Truth Al

The April 8th edition of ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopulous featured a blurb with Walter Isaacson who will be releasing a biography of Einstein shortly. In it, he pushes the idea that Einstein was a deeply spiritual man:

He said he was like a child walking into a library, and you see the books and you know somebody must have written them, and you see them ordered and you know somebody must have ordered them, and there’s a sense of awe that’s manifest in that, where you kind of understand that there’s an order underlying everything and the more you appreciate it, the more humble you become in the face of it, and the more you have a sense of what he called cosmic religion.”

This made my brain hurt. I could only imagine IDers flocking to this nugget.

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MOD: Belief in THE LORD is the default condition

Mondays seem to be a big day for ScienceBloggers who track their site stats closely, so I’m going to try to generate interest in an ongoing “open discussion” sort of thread to start the week, with topics to include the sequential vetting of idea x1, idea x2…idea xn, with n being an integer hopefully greater than 1.
A discussion at Pharyngula by way of Brian Flemming got me thinking about one of the many counterintuitive stances offered by religious adherents, that being the idea that the natural state of a new human being is to believe in God.
I’m not talking about the generalized wonder that ultimately catalyzed the onset of sky-fairy religions at some indistinct point in our ancestral past; that’s something neuroscience is busily working on, or not. I’m talking about the notion that in the absence of distinct programming, each of us is fully poised to accept THE LORD — or, if you happen to be born in a different culture, some other god — as our creator.

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