Wednesday, July 23, 2014

iPad

I've wanted an iPad since the 80s, when I saw them on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Theirs are called PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices).


So when Steve Jobs held this up back in 2010, he was once again fulfilling a wish that I didn't even know I had. (He was good that way.)


My desire to own one was tempered in that the original iPad, and several of the subsequent generations, didn't have all of the features I wanted. However, eventually the newer ones did have those features, and especially recently seeing everybody in my ward council meetings using them has just increased my appetite for them. Even the missionaries have them! (Back in my day, we didn't have cell phones on our missions, let alone iPads. We also walked uphill in the snow to church. Both ways.) 

Well, yesterday we finally got an iPad. It's been a while in coming, since I had to earn the money in ways other than the traditional salary approach. So between winning at my family's monthly exercise competition, selling my body for plasma donations, doing various odd jobs, making deals with family members to keep them honest and productive (like my deal for this year), a few birthday gifts that were monetary in nature, and the fact that it's cheaper for me since I'm a student, as well as the $50 Apple Store Gift Card, I finally got enough to buy the iPad that I wanted (the cheapest model with retina display). Actually, I'm $24.50 short, but Susan was kind enough to say that was good enough. I'll probably win the exercise competition this month again, which means it'll be down to $14.50, and I'm sure I'll scrounge up the last bit somehow soon. 

Susan and I got it engraved with our names and the reference of D&C 88:118-120, which we felt was fitting for what it will be used for (organizing our lives and reading out of the "best books," which we've expanded to include news apps and PDFs, of course). We memorized the scripture on Monday for FHE in preparation for the joyous day that was then soon-to-come. 

Anyway, here I am with my new toy! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Elysium, Isolationism, War, and Matthew 22:39

I finally got around to watching Elysium. I rather enjoyed Neil Blomkamp's District 9, and looked forward to any future projects he did in science fiction. I found the movie to be good, but not as subtle as District 9 in its exploration of themes. 

One of the themes it explored is class difference, and the different opportunities that arise from the circumstances of one's birth. In this dystopian future, much of humanity lives in space on an orbiting habitat, Elysium, where they have all their cares and needs met, including medical bays that can instantly cure any disease, leading to lifespans that stretch into the hundreds of years. Of course, on the ground back on overcrowded, stripped, spoiled earth, is the rest of humanity, in the science fiction equivalent of a slum. (Or more obviously the U.S.-Mexican border. Again, it's not a very subtle movie.) Of course we're to side with the desperate earthlings over the arrogant Elysium citizens.

Something else that's also been going through my mind is that this planet is terrible. Passenger planes getting shot down (probably by Russia or at least by someone trained and probably tacitly condoned by Russia-more on that as it develops), Israel and Hamas going after each other (again!), of course women have serious problems everywhere, and those are just the items that stuck out to me in the news articles I read just today, in the one hour I have allotted to internet. (Yes, that's a verb now.)

Somedays, when I wish I was the president (or dictator-for-life, whatever) of America, I have fantasies of basically saying, "you know what, we're going to take the trillions of dollars we've spent on the military, and stop spending it on the military. Mothball all of it. We should have a smallish navy, and a smallish air force, and a smallish army, and that's it. Let's see if Canada or Mexico invades us?" I'd like to see the world in which we took that trillions of dollars and put it into education, infrastructure (because who wouldn't want Solar Freaking Roadways everywhere?), and most importantly, NASA, because SPACE!! Basically, there's some decently large part of me that wishes that we could just be isolationist and tell the world they were largely on their own, and that we're not going to police you all anymore. It's not like we're going to solve the middle-east problem.

But the problem is, that precise attitude is exactly what leads to an Elysium-like dystopian future. If we Americans were to do what I've outlined above, then maybe in a few hundred years we would have our own space station and little machines that fixed all our illnesses and diseases. But where would that leave the rest of the world? Maybe we would be boldly going with our Alcubierre warp drives where no man has gone before. But what about the people who, through no fault of their own, were not born in America? Heck, once we can create holodecks and replicators, then it's all over, man! But then what about those with no access to even clean water?

So even though Elysium as a movie wasn't that entertaining, and too heavy-handed with its "free healthcare for all" and "open the borders" sentiments, when combined with the terrible news this week, it did get me to think. We're already getting to the point where one reason the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer is because of automation. And if that keeps happening, according to one NASA study, that would lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it.

So as much as I like to, in my culturally imperialistic way, look at the rest of the world and just say "you guys come back to us when you've figured out how to stop killing each other over stupid stuff" (because anything, valued against a human life, is stupid stuff), that's not actually a viable system. Nor is it, I think, an ethical one. Because to actually do so would be to give up on the rest of humanity. I think the Savior would take issue with that, as the 2nd great commandment is to love our neighbor, and I think he's pretty clear that everybody is our neighbor. So we cannot give up on them. We are all in this together.


A comment on reddit (where there are occasionally very good comments and discussions), said "We have two options: A Star Trek styled universe where all of humanity is equal and can spend their time creating art, exploring, researching, reading, gardening and raising their family; or Elysium, where the rich have their own space station that functions as an automated permanent resort while the impoverished who were left on Earth have to clean up the irradiated trash they left behind."

Of this false dichotomy, I would choose the former. Which means that all of our collective problems, messy as they are, should be dealt with. All of our collective solutions, which are sometimes even messier, should be entertained. All of humanity, together, needs to get its act together. I think that America has its act together pretty well in many ways. How to get those parts of its act to spread?

No idea.

But that's a discussion worth having. Because, in the end, "if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction."

So when I despair at the state of the world, I also think that the alternative-giving up on them, is actually the worse choice. Because I don't want to live in a world where this is the outcome.


Because in some ways, we're already well on our way. And that's not good.


Though, if we ever do invent replicators and holodecks, and can basically live wherever we want, I'm going to live in a place like this. 


Because hobbit-holes mean comfort. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alone With My Thoughts? Fine by Me!

A recent study demonstrated that most men (and a large, but less substantial portion of women) would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts, because they need stimulation and can't stand just sitting there and . . . thinking.

How utterly boring their thoughts must be. They should be more like Calvin.



Or more like me.

My nightly ritual to fall asleep involves me just sitting there with my thoughts. Sometimes it takes me hours to do so (there is no pattern to the times I will have insomnia, but I do get a pretty bad case once night every few months). And what do my thoughts involve when I'm trying to relax and let my mind wander (I do not focus on theology or scholarship because invariably I'll have a thought that I need to get up to write down)?




Also, lightsabers are cool.


Sometimes you can even mix and match, to great effect!



Because who wouldn't want to fantasize about being an immortal, rapid-healing warrior with adamantium claws who can only be killed by having your head chopped off by a lightsaber who roams the galaxy on an ancient spaceship with its own artificial intelligence having adventures on myriad planets with myriad cultures and varied levels of technology, even?

Not that I've ever had such fantasies, myself.

Yeah, I'm just fine being alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are friggin' awesome, probably because, in some ways, I've not grown up from the kid who sat on the soccer field and pretended he was flying. I hope that I never do grow up entirely.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

We Have a New Dr. Cranney in the Family

Many years ago, Grandfather Cranney was a handsome lad studying medicine at George Washington University here in DC. World War II broke out, and he joined the Navy.


Many years later he has several grandsons that have followed him into medicine. However, as of last week there was finally one from my branch of the family. My little brother N has been slaving away at medical school in Pennsylvania since 2010 while having two more kids. Last week he graduated, and was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army. 



He and his wife and their three kids are now living the dream in the suburbs during his 3 year residency. Doesn't this satellite picture just scream "suburbs?"


Also, apparently the state they are in is such a BIG DEAL that when you enter, there are random places near the border where you can just get your picture taken. Because why would you not? (You can guess the state yourself. It's pretty obvious.)


Congratulations, little brother! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

TV Review: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey with Neil deGrasse Tyson


I had high hopes for the reboot/continuation of Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Journey. When I watched it last year, it had a profound effect on me. I labeled that post "Almost Thou Persuadest Me to Be a Scientist" (with apologies to King Agrippa from Acts 28:28).* I genuinely feel that if I had watched it earlier in my life, it may very well have changed the course of my education. Neil deGrasse Tyson is indeed a worthy successor in many ways to Sagan, and the updates to science and discovery, as well as story-telling visual effects, made me intrigued.

In fact, I even went to the opening event with Susan and two other friends of mine.


And I have to say, though I am grateful that this reboot of the original PBS series has done great things to move scientific literacy forward and help the average watcher of TV more aware of what science has told us about our universe, this show did not move me the same way that Sagan's original did. I don't think this is an insult. I certainly don't intend it as one. Sagan is the kind of person who comes along once every few generations.

The mechanics of this TV series were about the same as its predecessor, namely, a bunch of fairly basic science, all of which I already knew and was familiar with. What was lacking, for me, was the sense of sheer awe and wonder. This is, I think, due to two reasons. First, the writers of this show simply took a slightly different approach. This show was more about proving science and its worth, whereas Sagan simply let the facts be known, and reveled in the wonder of them with us. In fact, the best moments of the show were moments when they parroted Sagan himself, either by stealing his words, of by using audio he left behind (notably, the "Pale Blue Dot" speech from the audiobook version of Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, used to good effect in the last episode).

Second, is that Neil deGrasse Tyson himself doesn't feel that wonder in the same way as Carl Sagan. Watching Sagan see the universe as revealed by science was like watching a priest perform Mass, standing before something he didn't quite understand, yet having great respect and humility before it. The original Cosmos at time felt more like a sacrament than a TV documentary precisely because of Sagan's wonder. When he watched something in the show, even with the visual effects that seemed juvenile in 2013 when I watched it, there was a wonder in his face that reminded me of a child seeing fireworks for the first time, a jaw-dropping, life-changing, awe-inducing moment that only comes a few times in a lifetime, if ever. However, when Neil deGrasse Tyson puts his shades on to watch the Big Bang, there's much more a sense of "this is so cool!" rather than "be still, and know that the universe is" (with apologies to the writer of Psalms 46:10).* The latter speaks to me more. It's also why you'll notice in the title of this blog post that I made the title "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey with Neil deGrasse Tyson," as opposed to "Carl Sagan's Cosmos." I felt Sagan had ownership of the original more than Tyson did of this continuation. Tyson is also on record as saying that he doesn't think we have time to ask deep philosophical questions. That's a shame.

I think some of the writing was inconsistent because of that. Better to stick with the strengths of your host than try to relive the glory days of his predecessor.

There were a few other nitpicky things I thought could have gone better. Mostly those revolved around some of the writing, and how it was more lecture-style than hands on, especially towards the later episodes. When it was just Tyson in his newly redone ship of the imagination talking about stuff, it was boring. I thought it was also a weakness of the show there was a decently clear axe to grind against science skeptics, whether they be religious, or in the service of big business, or whatever. Best to let science just tell its own story, rather than becoming reactionary. Control the conversation, don't just respond to the questions from the other side, especially when they're so scientifically ignorant in the first place. I will be using a line from the first episode, though. "Your God is too small!" That's a great one-liner for religious science skeptics. In short, you can still have a brilliant episode on global warming, like it's second to last episode "The World Set Free," without directly responding to the standard criticisms of climate change skeptics. You frame it in the scientific way that makes sense, not just as a series of responses to their questions. (Same goes with their episode on evolution.) I also think that if you're going to go after the science denialists . . . you ought to throw in an episode about doctors and medicine, because anti-vaccine morons are causing a resurgence in diseases that have no business being in the USA.

Things that I thought went very well are that, despite it not speaking to me as much, perhaps Tyson's "this is so cool" approach will work better for the up and coming generation and future viewers. I also like that they focused on people from all walks of life, different cultures and times, as well as making sure that women were well-represented. "Anybody can do science" is a message that I can get behind.  The visual effects of the new updated Ship of the Imagination were fantastic, though I was ambivalent about the use of animation to tell past stories.

Also, the music by Alan Silvestri was okay. But the original theme by Vangelis is just . . . better. Conveys more of the awe and magnificence of studying the universe.


Though I did not enjoy it as much as the original, I liked it quite a bit. I even got Susan to watch it with me. (We watched it on Sundays, since we try to watch something different on Sundays as one way of keeping the sabbath day holy as opposed to just watching another episode of "Castle" or whatever.) I will watch it with my kids someday, I'm sure, as a way of introducing them to some of these ideas. I'm, incidentally, very glad that all of the Bill Nye The Science Guy is now available, for free, on youtube.

However, I'll be more excited to show them the original Cosmos than I will this one. That's no insult to this one, but Sagan is sorely missed.

Score: 85/100. This gets a B. Solid, but not mind-blowing in the ways that the original were. At least not for me.

* I can't even attempt to put into words the effect of the original Cosmos series without trying to parrot scripture. That's how profound of an effect it had on me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts on #yesallwomen

In response to the horribly misogynistic rant of a recent mass murderer (we American seem to have a lot of those, don't we?) the response from many men was basically to say "not all men are like that." The response was the ingenious hashtag #yesallwomen, which exploded over the weekend on twitter and other social media sites. In short, yes, not all men are like that, but enough of them all that all women must be constantly on their guard.

Reading through the accounts was horrifying for me. As a man, of course, I've never really had to deal with threats to myself. I can think of two times where I felt like I was in a situation that I couldn't genuinely not get out of. First, there have been a few times where I've been uncomfortable on the metro or the subway because I was severely outnumbered by a large group of rowdy kids that looked like they were slipping too far into a mob mentality and might descend into some craziness that could injure me and other passengers. There was also the time on my mission that one of the other missionaries in my apartment wanted to wrestle with me, and I didn't want to, so I locked myself in the bathroom and read until he gave up and wrestled his companion, as per their usual evening ritual. Both of these experiences were relatively terrifying for me. Reading the tweets made me wonder what I would be like if that happened to me all the time. Because those incidents are so rare in my life. Most of the time I feel I could do something about my situation.

I remember watching a video of a man being accosted on the Metro here in DC, at L'Enfant Plaza with Susan. Susan was terrified and we started talking about what we would do in such a situation. Susan had a bunch of things safely tucked away in her brain to do. Get out. Get help. Point at someone and ask them to call the police. Run to the station manager. etc. After reviewing the video and reading the article, and realizing that the major aggressor was a young girl, my response was "I think I'd just hit her back." Susan looked at me like I was had newly arrived from Mars. "You don't fight back! That's just not what you do!" I looked at her and said, "I'm a 32-year-old man, and she's a 12-year-old girl. I think fighting back is a legitimate option for me." A little light went on in Susan's eyes, realizing, that, for me, perhaps that was a legitimate option. (Even though it's a legitimate option, I'd probably actually run for the station manager's kiosk.)

Or the time it appeared that someone was following us in our car, and Susan wanted me to drive to the police station. I was like, "why? I'll just drive to a public place, like the gas station full of people, where, conveniently, I can fill up on gas." The truck drove away. I still wasn't scared.

So while Susan had a small glimpse of what it's like to be a man in that moment I talked about popping a 12-year-old girl in the face, reading the tweets and blog posts and other commentary over the weekend for me was a better glimpse for me into what it's like to be a woman in our society.

Swearing in some of these links, but worth looking at.

17 #yesallwomen Tweets Everyone Must See.

14 #yesallwomen Tweets That Everyone Needs to See.
Seeing this picture was the moment that I had a sea change in how I viewed the world.


The numbers are made up. It's likely higher. After all, even if we take the lower figure of 6% from this article, that's still 1 in 17 men that will admit to being rapists if you don't use the term "rape." How does a woman know you're not one of the other 16? She doesn't. To walk around knowing that 1 in 17 men you meet would even own up to that (and more would probably sexually assault you in other ways) would be terrifying! The fact that one of my female friends says that she should probably add "yet" to the sentence "luckily I haven't had to experience serious sexual assault" is just another indication of how unrelentingly misogynistic this world can be. 

So thanks to all those women who went out on dates with me, because going out on a date is a bad idea. 


And in case you think this kind of thing doesn't happen in churches, well, it does. Even in Mormonism. What was even more horrifying for me was seeing acronyms and usernames that I am 100% sure are friends of mine in those very comments. I was physically ill last night after realizing that I knew some of the women posting, anonymously, on that thread.

I conclude with a tweet from Neil Gaiman.
We can, and must, do better. So men, read the links here and educate yourselves. #allmencan be part of the solution.