This article of mine appeared in the journal Liberal Education, vol. 93, no. 4, Fall 2007, p. 52-56 and garnered a huge response in the educational community.
I like to think that I interact online the same way that I do face-to-face. It seems natural to me to be consistent. In fact, I once asked a good friend of mine who reads my blog whether I came across online as the same person that she knew personally and she said that I did. Of course, since we had the conversation face-to-face, she may have been being polite but I don’t think so because we are good enough friends that she could be honest. In addition, she is tactful enough to tell me the truth sensitively.
So it is a mystery to me that some people seem to adopt such different personas in the two spaces. Or are people who are so gratuitously rude on the internet that way in real life too and I am just fortunate in not knowing them personally?
When I moved to Monterey here from Cleveland nearly three years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the difference in butter sizes. A one pound pack of butter comes in four quarters but the length of each quarter was less and the girth greater for the Monterey butter than for the Cleveland butter. The butter dish I bought seemed designed for the Cleveland dimensions in that the sides of the sticks in Monterey just barely fit under the cover while there was plenty of space at the two long ends. The only exception I have found is when some manufacturers break the butter up into eight segments. When you put two of the smaller segments end to end, you get the size of the quarters I had been used to.
At first I was puzzled by this and wondered whether I had just bought a brand of butter that was idiosyncratic in the butter cutting machine it used. But no. All the brands seemed to be the same stubbier size. I put that down to one of the great mysteries of life but then came across this article that explains how this difference came about.
The pandemic with its virus mutations has rekindled my interest in the mathematics of evolution. Way back in 2007, I wrote a 20-part series of blog posts on evolution. This was way ‘out of my lane’, as the kids say these days, since I am a physicist and have zero formal training in biology, having taken my one and only course in that subject when I was in eighth grade. But I did this for the same reason I write about a lot of things, in order to force myself to learn about a topic that interests me and to sort out my ideas.
One of the things that had intrigued me is how a mutation that occurs in just one organism could become not just dominant in the population but end up being the only one. In some posts in the series, I discussed the mathematics of how this happens, which I have edited and reproduce here.
The mainstream US media loves war. It provides them the opportunity, especially in the early stages when things usually are going well militarily, to openly engage in forms of jingoism that it would not be able to do at other times. It is only when things go sour, as they usually do, that they start to tone down that rhetoric. You would think that given that the US has just painfully pulled out of its disastrous war in Afghanistan, the media would be more circumspect about beating the drums for a new war. But it is startling to me how quickly the US media seems to have decided that the US has reached a point of confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.
I am an omnivore with a guilty conscience. What I mean by that is that I think that vegetarians and vegans have convincing arguments based on moral, ethical, economic, and climate reasoning that that is the way to live. But I have simply not had the will power to take the leap and switch over to that diet. Instead, I have taken the minimal step of reducing my meat consumption.
I am aware that some arguments have been advanced to justify meat eating based largely on the fact that it is an easy way to get proteins and a few essential vitamins and on a more specious argument that since our evolutionary history reveals that we were meat eaters from a long time back, that means that eating meat must provide some evolutionary benefit.
Believing in an all-good and omnipotent god is no less difficult than believing in an omnipotent all-evil one. Philosopher Stephen Law points out the inconsistency of thinking that the former is more plausible than the latter.
For centuries, many Western theologians and philosophers have answered the ‘problem of evil’ – how a benevolent god could allow for pain and suffering – with the argument that, in order for humans to perform good deeds, they must be free to choose between good and evil. In this animation from the Centre for Inquiry UK, the British philosopher Stephen Law considers the inverse scenario: if there were a fully evil, omnipotent god, could we possibly imagine he would allow for good deeds to be performed in the name of freedom to choose evil?
I wrote a little while ago about the new thing called NFTs and my bafflement that anyone would buy one. But we are seeing them being hyped by celebrities and to my mind, it has all the hallmarks of a bubble, where something of little or no intrinsic value is talked up by famous people as a great new investment. Luke Savage points to a segment in which Paris Hilton and talk show host Jimmy Fallon give what seems like an informercial for NFTs, both having bought two slightly different versions of the same NFT featuring (I kid you not) a cartoon ape wearing dark glasses and a yachting cap.
Celebrities and social media influencers can’t shut up about them. From Serena Williams and Logan Paul to Matt Damon and William Shatner, the NFT craze quickly transcended generations and swept up an eclectic cavalcade of the rich and famous in its wake. (Jimmy Fallon, incidentally, spent more than $200,000 on the Bored Ape NFT that now graces his Twitter profile.) Beeple, name-dropped by Paris Hilton in her Fallon segment, fetched more than $3.5 million in an NFT auction.
When it comes to wearing masks during the pandemic, not all masks are equal in the protection they provide. From what I have read, cloth masks seem to provide the least protection, though they allow the wearer colorful options and the ability to make some kind of statement, though why some people feel the need to make statements through their attire is something that I find puzzling. The blue surgical masks appear to be better than cloth and the N95 masks are the best. But while the surgical masks are relatively cheap, the N95 masks are pricey (ranging from $1 to $3 each) and that raises the question of how long one can use them and whether they can be reused.
My father’s first name was Leo (short for Leonard). His three brothers were Reggie (Reginald), Benny (Benedict), and Archie (Archibald) which made them sound like they could be Bertie Wooster’s pals in the Drones Club. How did they come to have such typically English first names? It was because their father (my grandfather) was working as a civilian administrator for the British army in Burma (now Myanmar) at the time they were born. My grandfather was a great admirer of the British and as befitted such an Anglophile, giving all his children English first names (his only daughter was named Eta after an English nun, I believe) would have come naturally to him. He went further and Anglicized his last name from Nallasegarasingam (polysyllabic names are not uncommon in Sri Lanka) to just Singham, relegating the Nallasegara part to a middle initial. While he gave his children that middle name and initial, the subsequent generation (mine) dropped it altogether.