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Take Your Camera To The Bank

Bank vault 470Let’s have some fun with privacy.  But first of all, let’s be reasonable. We don’t expect privacy when we take a walk down town or drive into the city. That’s important, because a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is often the basis for judicial decisions on privacy.

But do reasonable people expect to be followed continuously by a policeman?  That’s what happens whether you’re a pedestrian on the sidewalk or a driver in a car. Police departments have access to municipal cameras posted all over town and they can follow a person or a vehicle quite nicely. And don’t think you’ll escape surveillance because they’ll fall asleep from boredom. They have excellent software that takes the drudgery out of finding and trailing you.  Furthermore, they can make arrangements to be connected to commercially owned cameras positioned in stores or outside or in parking lots.They have you covered.

But the invasion of privacy is all in one direction. Have you noticed? Your government and the commercial enterprises that surround you, such as your bank,  are permitted take your photograph and invade your privacy, but you’re not supposed to  invade theirs in return.

The next time you go to the bank, take a camera with you and photograph the employees and the interior of the bank. After all, the bank is run by reasonable people who don’t expect their customers to be blind and not able to see their surrounding. So take a camera along and start taking photographs. If you take photos with your smartphone, you’ll be able to upload them! Work fast.

The Case of Jorge Medieros

You never know what you’ll find on these pages. This time it’s a quick bit of quirky short fiction. “The Case of Jorge Medeiros” is by Francesca Forrest, an editor who is also a writer of young adult novels and short stories which deal in the fantastic. We came across  her tale of a man and his book of random numbers at askiyume.livejournal.com. And we found it a welcome relief from some of the grimly serious news coming from all directions these days.  No need to be rational all the time. In fact, it’s good to   enjoy the irrational now and then.


The Case of Jorge Mederios

A texting driver made a widower of Jorge Medeiros, and perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to say that it was the association of text—words—with death that pushed him in the direction of faith in numbers.

In any case, left with the care of his two elementary-school-aged children, Jorge’s indispensible aid became a book of random numbers, a souvenir from the middle of the last century that his wife had picked up at a yard sale as a curiosity.

He started out using it for household tasks: How long should he run the dryer for? Its serial number was 4214289, so he opened the book at random and ran his finger down the columns until he came to a number that began with 421. The next two digits were seven and six. Seventy-six minutes? Seventy-six seconds? Seven point six minutes? The dryer dial said “Max Dry” next to the 70, so he decided on seventy-six minutes. The clothes were very dry.

He used the number book to determine what temperature to set the oven to keep the pizza warm, how many rolls of wrapping paper to buy for the school’s fundraiser, and how much was an appropriate amount to spend when the kids were invited to birthday parties. The results were varyingly successful and disastrous: 512 (degrees Fahrenheit) resulted in thick black smoke, a visit from the fire department, and no pizza for dinner; 96 (rolls of wrapping paper) delighted the PTO at Linsey Elementary School.

He even used the book of random numbers for the kids’ bedtime stories, at first just reading off the numbers, only to be pressed by the boys to explain the what, who, where, when, and why. Four thousand fifteen whats? Grains of sand. Twenty who? Fishermen. Three hundred fifty where? Miles off the coast of New Bedford. Eighty-eight when? Years ago.

But why?

“Thirteen,” their father said, and then, by way of further explanation, “The twenty fishermen carried the 4,015 grains of sand divided between their—” (here he consulted the book) “—five boats to ward off the bad luck of the number thirteen, when they had to go out fishing on the thirteenth day of the month. It’s a bit of the shore with them in the boat, see? So they’ll never drown. They’ll always make it home.”

And so on.

This his sons have accepted as natural. Three months ago, for their father’s thirty-fifth birthday, they pooled their funds and bought him Pi to Five Million Places. He told me the gift brought tears to his eyes.

Since then, he’s abandoned his original book of random numbers and now relies entirely on pi for his number consultations, taking smaller or larger doses of it as needed, mining it from its never-ending, nonrepeating decimal tail.

“It’s a continuous stream, see? Go on, open to any page.” I opened to page 147 (of 588), and sure enough, nothing but row upon row of uninterrupted digits, zero through nine.

“Just like life . . . and irrational, too, just like life.”



Live Long And Prosper…

A few days ago,  Republicans in the House voted to kill Obamacare by taking its money away. If you think this is stale news, you’re right. And also wrong. Stale and not stale, because although House Republicans voted to get rid of Obamacare just this month, this most recent vote was the 37th time they’ve tried.

The United States — the greatest free-enterprise country on the planet — has tried to get along on private health insurance plans for half a century after national plans became common in Canada and the nations of Western Europe. The results haven’t been so good. In fact, the US spends more on health per person than most industrially advanced nations, and generally gets poorer results. Here below is a table by the World Health Organization.  It lists nations according to the life expectancy of their citizens. Longest life expectancy at the top of the list, a shorter life as you go down the list. See if you can find the United States.

Rank Country Overall life expectancy at birth Male life expectancy at birth Female life expectancy at birth
1  Japan 82.70 79.45 85.82
2  Switzerland 82.59 80.30 84.69
3  San Marino 82.56 81.98 83.28
4  Italy 82.38 79.83 84.74
5  Singapore 82.35 80.12 84.58
6  Iceland 82.30 80.30 84.00
7  Andorra 82.22 79.03 85.36
8  Australia 82.16 79.99 84.33
9  Spain 82.10 79.00 85.15
10  Qatar 82.08 81.31 83.27
11  Israel 82.05 80.19 83.76
12  Monaco 81.89 78.57 85.09
13  France 81.77 78.46 84.95
14  Sweden 81.74 79.79 83.62
15  Canada 81.54 79.50 83.50
16  Luxembourg 81.52 79.06 83.77
17  Cyprus 81.48 79.39 83.68
18  Norway 81.40 79.27 83.45
19  New Zealand 81.30 79.42 83.09
20 Netherlands 81.20 79.18 83.06
21  Austria 81.10 78.39 83.65
22  Greece 80.94 78.27 83.64
23  Ireland 80.73 78.64 82.78
24  South Korea 80.72 77.35 83.86
25  Finland 80.71 77.59 83.78
26  Germany 80.66 78.29 82.99
27  United Kingdom 80.49 78.50 82.40
28  Belgium 80.40 77.79 82.92
29  Malta 80.38 78.78 81.98
30  Slovenia 80.12 76.60 83.42
31  Portugal 80.08 76.96 83.10
32  Kuwait 79.86 79.54 80.37
33  Denmark 79.46 77.38 81.50
34  Chile 79.28 76.17 82.34
35  Costa Rica 79.14 77.02 81.34
36  Bahrain 78.72 77.67 80.09
37  United States 78.57 76.12 80.93
38  China 75.56 74.05 77.17
39  Brazil 74.33 70.97 77.75
40  Russia 68.85 62.97 74.82
41  India 65.46 63.81 67.30

Yes, the United States is 37th in life expectancy among the nations of the world. The CIA ranks us 33rd in its list based on UN member states.

Another way of looking at the health of a country is to look at its infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate is calculated simply by figuring the average number of infant deaths in every one thousand live births. The United Nations Population Division lists the United States as 34th.

Coffee Reduces Your Risk of Stroke

We drink a lot of coffee at Critical Pages. We admit it. We even glory in it. And today we learned from Dr. Yoshihiro Kokubo, MD, that a cup of coffee each day reduces the risk of stroke. Way to go, Kokubo!

The assiduous Dr. Kokubo and his team studied studied 82, 369 Japanese between ages forty-five and seventy-four. These were people who didn’t have any cardiovascular disease or cancer when the study began. They filled out questionnaires about their food frequency habits, most importantly about coffee and green tea, and they were followed for an average of thirteen years. In other words, it was a very large, long-term study.

The results were dramatic. People who drank at least one cup of coffee a day reduced their risk of stroke by 20 percent compared to people who rarely drank coffee. People who drank two to three cups of green tea every day reduced their risk of stroke 14 percent, and those who had at least four cups reduced their risk 20 percent, compared to those who rarely drank green tea.

So enjoy that cup of coffee. In fact, in these gray economic times, it’s good to recall that back in the Great Depression, when Herbert Hoover was President and things were going badly, Irving Berlin put it this way —

Just around the corner
There’s a rainbow in the sky
So let’s have another cup o’ coffee
And let’s have another piece o’ pie!

The video at the top of this post let’s you listen to the way it sounded back in the 1930s. The lyrics begin after the musical introduction and we think you’ll be amused, especially by the reference to President Hoover saying that now’s the time to buy — so let’s have another cup of coffee and let’s have another piece of pie!


Corporate Takeover of New Internet Names

Internet map

Map of the Internet - Global Nerve System

Now somebody wants to privatize internet addresses. We think that’s a lousy idea.

The internet is getting to be a crowded place and we need new top-level domain names. Frankly, it’s getting harder and harder for businesses and individuals to invent .com names that haven’t alrady been thought of and taken. So the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has come up with over a thousand new top-level domains – tags such as such as .book or .news or .art or .bank or .university or .beer so forth.

Unfortunately, there’s a movement afoot to allow the new domains to be managed by private, for profit corporations.

Change.org has a petition to stop the private take over.  As they say – “If companies like Amazon and others have their way, there will be no .MUSIC website names available for musicians and bands, No .SALON domain names for real salon owners, no .APP web addresses for app developers.” We at CriticalPages agree.  As we said, we think that’s a bad idea, a lousy idea, a really, really terrible idea.

Philosopher’s Dilema

Mind And Cosmost book cover imageThe philosopher Thomas Nagel has come out with an admirably  short and engaging book, Mind And Cosmos, with the subtitle Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Readers unfamiliar with Nagel might assume that his book is an attack on contemporary Darwinism by a person of faith arguing that biological evolution reveals the work of an intelligent designer — God himself. But the author, University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Law at New York University, removes any such misunderstanding at the start by declaring himself an atheist.

In Nagel’s view, Neo-Darwinism — biological evolution as we understand it today – is fundamentally incomplete, because it doesn’t explain how life originated and, says Nagel, it  won’t ever have the ability to explain the emergence of human consciousness. Nagel believes that a better way of thinking about nature, and specifically about biological evolution, would be to search out nature’s purpose and goal. For while insisting that he is not theistic – quite the contrary – he nonetheless believes that evolution is teleological. That is to say, it has a purpose and it intends to reach a specific goal.

Nagel’s book was recently reviewed — rebutted may be the better word — across three of those very large pages that make up the New York Review of Books. The reviewer, H. Allen Orr, is University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, an evolutionary geneticist. These two, the biologist and the philosopher, are well matched in intelligence, prizes and distinguished positions in the republic of the intellect. But you needn’t be either a biologist or a philosopher to read Mind And Cosmos. Although Nagel writes at the highest level of abstraction and rarely yields to the concrete example, he write with pristine clarity and is quite understandable. (more…)

Dress Goes Transparent If You’re Aroused

Intimacy 2.0

Intimacy 2.0

It’s here — a dress that becomes transparent when you’re in the mood.  (And you thought only Steve Jobs had cool ideas.)  Advanced tech artist Daan Roosegaarde and fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht produced the dress. It’s called Intimacy 2.0 — the name doesn’t sound like haute couture, but it does suggest the high degree of science and technology that went into the garment.

The dress is made of leather and — here’s the good part — conductive e-foils that become transparent when exposed to electricity. It’s possible to design a circuit that is activated by an accelerated heart beat or an increase in body heat. And the subsequent flow of electricity will cause the e-foils to become transparent.

According to Studio Roosegaarde’s web site, “Studio Roosegaarde creates interactive designs that explore the dynamic relation between space, people, and technology.” And “By creating interactive designs that instinctively respond to sound and movement, Roosegaarde explores the dawn of a new nature that is evolving from technological innovations.” (more…)

Far Away Planets Just Like Ours! Sort of… Maybe.

Planets in Milky WayMaybe you’ve seen the curious painting just above here. It was released on January 7, 2013, by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. According to the caption that usually accompanies the painting, it  shows the different types of planets in our Milky Way galaxy detected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. The caption also says that a new analysis of Kepler data found there are at least 17 billion planets the size of Earth in the Milky Way.

New stories about the Kepler data are happy to suggest there’s a possibility, a strong possibility — there must be !—-other worlds just like ours out there. I mean, out of 17 billion there must be at least one beautiful blue-and-white planet like our earth, right? Old TV viewers may remember Carl Sagan, the brilliant  Cornell astrophysicist and his award winning TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.  Sagan often spoke of the billions and billions of stars in the cosmos, and if there were “billions and billions” of stars, then there must be only a few billion fewer planets to orbit those suns, and if there are billions of planets then surely there’s one, probably many, like our own.

Popular commentary on the recent Kepler data relies on the same statistical hope that there must be some, surely a few,  certainly at least one, just like our own. And if it’s just like our own, then it must have life, like our Earth does, and — oh, hell, let’s go all the way — there must be somebody on some earth-like planet out there looking at a computer screen, reading a post just like you are now!

The people who gather and present the Kepler data don’t make such claims.  As a matter of fact, a visit to the Kepler web site will be a cold shower for anyone hoping to discover there’s a world like ours out there.  In dull fact, the Kepler site counts 105 confirmed planets and 2740 candidates that might get confirmed someday.  Where did the news about 17 billion planets come from? It came from a press conference, January 7, 2013, at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Long Beach, California. The first two panelists at the press conference spoke about Kepler:

  • Planet Candidates Observed by Kepler: Two Years of Precision Photometry – Christopher Burke (SETI Institute)
  • At Least One in Six Stars Has an Earth-size Planet – Francois Fressin (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

And why now? Maybe — is it possible? — because there are going to be severe cuts to budgets in all sectors of the United States government and even NASA will be on the chopping block. People, tax payers in particular, aren’t especially interested in paying for a space program that scans a bit of the Milky Way looking for a transient dip in starlight, which dip might indicate a planet coming between us and that star, and that’s what Kepler does. But even tax payers are curious about extra terrestial life. So now is a good time to hold a press conference and let the media do the rest.

Curious George and the Electronic Book

Curious George book coverOur friend Ed Atkeson (best known as a graphic artist, puppeteer, hiker and iceboat racer) sent us a note recently. And that note sums up beautifully why an electronic cyber book , despite its many virtues,  cannot replace an actual paper book.

“I just saw an advertisement that showed a mother reading Curious George to her kid on a Kindle. I thought it was sad because for the kid, Curious George wouldn’t exist. I mean, exist as a book, where he could be found and chewed and written on, colored, puzzled over. Curious George wouldn’t exist as marks on paper, and so the whole idea of writing, bookmaking, story making and picture making, that having a printed book laying around the house naturally leads to, wouldn’t exist either. Yeah, sad.”

Another quality that children’s books have that cannot be translated into an electronic reader is difference in size and shape.  Kid’s books are often quite large compared to the relatively small printed page that appears behind the translucent surface of the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook. You can’t get down on the floor and spread open an electronic reader and let your imagination roam over two square feet of lavish color illustration. The same is true for adult novels as well, because behind the glassy window of the e-book reader all pages are the same in size, margin, texture and type face. It’s like landing on a planet where everybody has a unique history, but — GOOD GRIEF! — everyone looks exactly like everyone else.

Hug Your Warm Laundry

The end of November and the beginning of December is a time of Earths axis tilt off the vertrcalencroaching darkness. (Readers in the Southern Hemisphere can skip this until May of next year.)  For reasons we can only guess at, the earth’s axis is tilted 23.4 degrees in respect to the plane of its track around the sun.* These months we in the North are tilted away from the sun, which is why it’s  so low above the horizon — and, of course,  in that position the sun’s radiant energy strikes us at a shallow angle, giving us reduced heat.

So now is a good time to hug the clothes when you fetch them from the dryer. Simply reach in, gather the wonderful warmth of freshly dried towels and pajamas and socks and what have you, and clasp that heap of Laundry from dryerwarmth to your chest. Now hold them that way as you make your way to the sorting table. If your dryer is in the cellar and you have to climb stairs, hold the stair rail with one hand and the clothes with the other. Just keep going until you dump the still warm clothes on the bed and sort them there.   The important thing is to hug that warmth. There’s nothing like it.

Or, if you just came in from the cold and your hands are reddish-blue blocks of ice, wash a few of those dishes that are stacked jumble-wise in the sink. The warm soapy water will melt your digits and you’ll feel better all over. And for dinner, we suggest soup.

*John Milton, the great Puritan poet,  ascribed the tilting of the earth’s axis to Adam and Eve’s misbehavior in the Garden of Eden. In his Paradise Lost, the earth’s axis is vertical in relation to the ecliptic plane prior to their eating the Forbidden Fruit, so it’s summer all year round, but after the Fall of Man God tilts it awry. Some cosmologists have speculated that the newly formed earth was hit by a large asteroid that knocked the earth off the vertical and tore a chunk away that became our moon. These two explanations of axial tilt seem equally plausible. In any case, to calculate the diminished effect of the sun in winter, multiply the effect of the sun when directly overhead by the cosine of the sun’s  angle above the horizon in winter.


More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.