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On Technological Addiction: Active Noise Cancellation

July 5th, 2020 No comments

From a certain perspective, humanity has largely already become cyborgs: not only do we augment our flawed biological senses with corrective technological ones — for example, eyeglasses, hearing aids, pacemakers, and so on — but we also constantly carry with us so-called “smart” devices like watches, phones, and tablets, that allow us to easily stay connected to others and instantly access the entire breadth of human knowledge at our fingertips. In a way, these “smart” devices have become somewhat of an external secondary brain of sorts. (Reminiscent of the Ood of Doctor Who lore, though in a less drastic way.)

It’s easy to argue that we can, and have, become addicted to these technologies for our daily lives. For some — like corrective eyeglasses, hearing aids, and pacemakers — the addiction is clear: without constant use of these technologies, day-to-day life would be very difficult or perhaps impossible. But the addiction to phones and tablets and the rest is not always as visible, nor are the withdrawal effects from prolonged non-use of them. Moreover, there are other gadgets we use regularly whose addictive effects are not so obvious at all. For example, consider ANC (active noise cancellation).

I was working on a “1 Year Later”-style review draft of my Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphone 700 when I came upon an interesting conclusion: I find myself extremely more sensitive to background noise now than I ever used to be.

For instance, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the fireworks, sometimes loud music, and general noises of my neighborhood on a celebratory night like tonight. These were just things I lived with, simply as facts of life. Same with the hum of my refrigerator or the repetitive spinning noise of my bedroom’s fan: These were not sounds that were extraordinarily annoying; they simply existed near me as unremarkable background.

But now, after wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones for nearly several hours daily for the better part of three years, I find that I am incredibly sensitive to these noises, to the point where it often gives me a headache to let them remain heard for any extended periods of time.

Being able to quite literally switch off the world around me and choose not to hear all of these disruptions has been an amazing boon to my work, hobby projects, and games, and lets me relax so much more deeply when listening to podcasts while doing chores and whatnot. (Truthfully, I probably would have been a more diligent and productive student in college if I had these. But it would also have meant an entire week’s pay at that time…)

And now, I find that when I’m not wearing my Bose headphones, that same background noise of my neighborhood — when it happens — is extremely irksome and makes it difficult sometimes even to hear my own thoughts. It has come to such an extreme at times that in the pre-pandemic era, I would carry my Bose headphones with me to family gatherings and such because I knew just the intensity of so many conversations ongoing could be too raucous for me, and I would need to step away for a few minutes of silence.

I suppose in retrospect this conclusion should have been an obvious one, especially for a transhumanist like myself: Of course, my brain has probably adapted to that near-silence as a new “default” background noise level. In short, I’ve developed an addiction to the technology of ANC; and in the same vane, I experience a sort of technological withdrawal by not using it.

Does anyone else that regularly uses noise-cancelling/isolating headphones find themselves similarly addicted to their benefit?

Here We Are. #BlackLivesMatter

June 2nd, 2020 No comments

I speak to you, the chosen ones.
With all our strength, we stand aligned.
[…]
We’re breaking the walls from inside…
…so rise to the sound of Revolution.

Excerpt from “Revolution” by Kamelot, from their album “Haven” (2015).

I’ve been pondering what to say that hasn’t already been said about all the series of unfortunate events that seems to be the trend in the United States. I have neither the courage nor the logistics to be part of the protests in person; but staying quiet about them feels like tacit approval of the very system they are protesting against. And this, at least, I cannot do.

However, it is difficult to know exactly what to write here. I want to help, but I don’t want to mistakenly “help” in the wrong way: I want to incite change, not just more anger. I want to promote equality and education, not violence and vitriol.

These recent events are merely the culmination of many decades of injustice and intolerance; and the ideal solution would be change in the underlying systems which allow these to continue so pervasively. But in addition to these systemic failures of justice, there are lot of other aspects of our leadership structure and personnel that are detrimental also; and I’d like to mention those in this post too. I contend that no one issue here is more important than the other. Rather, all are individually important for their own reasons; and I am remarking on them grouped together here only for the sake of attempting to express my thoughts more completely.

In the year 2020, we have at the forefront of sociopolitical power in our country and many others, people with very little competency and nearly as little accountability. And they are more often than not kept in their high offices by corporations and lobbyists who can effectively win any election just by throwing enough money at it, rather than by any merits of candidacy. Third-party candidates almost never succeed — even if they are exceedingly qualified and capable — solely because they are of a third party.

In the year 2020, during a global viral pandemic, we have a significant number of people who, despite such claims being thoroughly debunked by every reputable medical organization, are advocating against the safety and efficacy of vaccination, even though a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine would be — once properly developed — the only truly safe and effective way to return to some semblance of normalcy.

In the year 2020, when science has graced us with the capabilities of astronauts being able to live and research on the International Space Station long-term, collaborating between many nations to further humanity’s knowledge, and when we can video chat in real-time between these astronauts in orbit and people on both sides of the the planet simultaneously using pocket-sized always-connected devices that can also quite literally show us the breadth of all human knowledge…we have groups of people accepting outlandish conspiracy theories and protesting against the very existence of COVID-19, saying things like the world is flat, manmade climate change is not real, and that COVID-19 is somehow a hoax so that the governments can track their citizens better. (Of course it should not need to be said, but none of these are true. And, fun fact: if they wanted to track their citizens better, it would be far easier to do so using the always-on always-connected mobile phones that almost everyone has on their persons at all times. But hey, who am I to argue logic with those who refuse its clarity.)

In the year 2020, almost a century after the Civil Rights movement first began in earnest, there are still people who think that it is somehow okay to devalue other human beings simply because they are different: whether that is a difference of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, or because they are of a different socioeconomic group, or because they are of a different culture or race, or for any other aspect of them that differs from a prescribed societal norm. (To be clear: this is absolutely not okay.)

And more recently in the year 2020, echoing many prior instances such as the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and many others, we have police officers who, despite having sworn an oath “to never betray […] the public trust” and “to hold [themself] and others accountable for [their] actions” (source: IACP Oath of Honor), abuse their power to epitomize this intolerance through clear excessive force leading to outright murder — in this most recent case, the murder of George Floyd — and are often not held justly accountable for it.

And just a few days ago, after the United States alone reached over 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and still has almost 2 million confirmed infected (source: CDC), we had the chief executive officer of the United States announce that our country would be leaving the World Health Organization, in order to continue his racist trend of blaming China for this disease. (Fun fact: China itself holds about 19% of the world’s entire population. So, yes, it is going to be a significant focus for pandemic efforts, on the simple basis that it holds such a large proportion of the world population. That’s just how epidemiology works.)

Let me be perfectly clear: None of this is acceptable.

Respect should be the default in our interactions with other people, not some reward earned through commonality of class or culture. Respect should never have to be earned. It should always be given.

And yet, here we are.

We should not be so entrenched in a political system that so readily divides issues across bipartisan lines. Parties should be debating what the correct solutions are to our socioeconomic and welfare problems, not debating whether these problems even exist at all. We should not have to vote for the lesser of two evils simply because the qualified third candidate won’t win.

And yet, here we are.

We should not, in the midst of a viral pandemic, be separating ourselves from the primary worldwide organization whose current overarching goal is to end this pandemic with a minimum of life loss.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have groups of people afraid to simply live out their lives, due to the high likelihood of being attacked by those in power who should be protecting them, just because they look or act differently.

And yet, here we are.

#BlackLivesMatter should not need to be a hashtag.

And yet, here we are.

People should not need to be protesting in the midst of a viral pandemic, that their lives are in danger from the very people who should be protecting them, by endangering their own lives even further as part of a (hopefully peaceful) crowd.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have our police officers armed to the teeth and attacking the very people they are sworn to protect, while our medical personnel are struggling to make ends meet with not enough PPE and ventilator equipment to help keep people alive through this global pandemic.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have such intolerance so hardwired into the justice and political systems that even the people who hold arguably some of the highest offices in the world are willfully ignorant and continue to encourage prejudice over progress, and wealth over well-being.

And yet. Here. We. Are.

To you protesters, please stay safe. Stay vigilant. Stay peaceful. You are bold; you are brave; and I stand with you, albeit virtually.

The Cost of Introversion

June 25th, 2014 No comments

Ask any good psychologist or neuroscientist to explain the contrast between introversion and extroversion, and you’re likely to be told something akin to this: Introverts expend energy in social interaction and recharge by having solitary downtime, while extroverts recharge by being social and lose energy when left alone or with little to do.

But what is this “energy”? Sure, it’s easy enough to intuit. Clearly, extroverts are always so outgoing, very talkative, and need to be with other people. They excel at group situations and meeting new people, and become antsy and frustrated when left alone for any length of time. Introverts, on the other hand, function much better in one-on-one situations or with small groups of people they know, and tend to dislike smalltalk when it’s just to “network” with new people. In addition, introverts love having solitude for periods of time to recharge their internal batteries.

This analogy of charging/expending energy, while a bit oversimplified, is an accurate one. So then, why are large social situations so “costly” to an introvert? And why can they still “recharge” even when in large groups of close friends/family?

Let’s take a step back from this for a moment and look at how we interact in this society. We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show.

As an introvert myself, I’ve come to theory that this “energy” cost in social situations is merely the necessity to ourselves of maintaining these masks. As we wear the masks and keep our internal filters and censors active, we expend more and more of our mental energy.

At least for me, this is why I “recharge” by spending lots of times with my close friends: Even though I’m being very social and involving myself with other people, it is with friends to whom I’d trust unfalteringly. I don’t have to keep any of my internal filters going or some such. I can just be me. I don’t have to hide who or what I am.

My theory isn’t very good at explaining the other side of this analogy, though. If this is the case, then why do extroverts lose energy by being alone and recharge by being so social and active? This is already beyond my understanding, and something I’d be mildly interested in researching further…But that’s a topic for another day!

Categories: Life, Science, Uncategorized Tags:

LaTeX: Adding Your Own Paired Delimiters

October 5th, 2012 1 comment

I’ve come to use LaTeX extensively for typesetting my Mathematics homework. It just makes things so beautiful. And like the XHTML/CSS split, it really does encourage strong separation of content from presentation. One of the things I first hated about it though, is that I grew quickly tired of using \left and \right with brackets, parentheses, or anything that needed to be automatically be sized to its content.

And, as any good engineering student might, I sought to encourage my own laziness by finding a clever shortcut. After a few minutes of searching Google, I came across the DeclarePairedDelimiter command in the mathtools package. Its usage is fairly self-explanatory, as I’ll let the following demonstrate.

First, you need to load the mathtools package in your document header:

\usepackage{mathtools}

Then you can create your own paired delimiters with the DeclarePairedDelimiter command:

\DeclarePairedDelimiter{\abs}{\lvert}{\rvert}
\DeclarePairedDelimiter{\norm}{\lVert}{\rVert}
\DeclarePairedDelimiter{\innerproduct}{\langle}{\rangle}

Finally, you can use these new commands in math mode to more easily group your expression. (Append an asterisk to make LaTeX automatically insert the necessary \left and \right commands when you need the delimiters to resize according to their content.)

If \(a \lt 0\) and \(b \gt 0\), then \(\abs{a} = -a\),
and so \(\abs*{\frac{a}{b}} = -\frac{a}{b}\).
The norm of a vector \(v\), denoted \(\norm{v}\), is
defined by \(\norm{v} = \sqrt{\innerproduct{v,v}}\).

As a nice bonus, it increases readability of the LaTeX source tremendously, since it gives those grouped expressions some semantic name rather than just being a bunch of formatting. For instance with the above delimiters, \left\lvert \frac{a}{b} \right\rvert is more to type, and a lot less obviously an absolute value, than the simpler \abs*{\frac{a}{b}}.

Happy hacking!

Categories: Science, Technology Tags: , ,

An Open Letter to Ken Ham (And: Thank You, Bill Nye)

September 4th, 2012 No comments

(I don’t normally post rants like this, but every so often I come upon something so frustrating to refrain from doing otherwise. Apologies for the tone.)

This is an open letter to Mr. Ken Ham, and a response to his YouTube video, “Ken Ham Responds to Bill Nye ‘The Humanist Guy’“, since comments are disabled there. Time indices with the quotations are approximate, and mark the end of that quotation in the aforementioned video.

Mr. Ham:

Before I even respond to the video content itself, I want to address one tiny issue: Comments are not enabled on your video. Why would this be? I believe that this is due to the fact that you KNOW in your heart that what you’re saying is neither sensible nor rational; and you simply want to prevent people from flaming you or posting any form of rebuttal to you as a reply. Well, thank goodness people like me have websites where we can post just about anything we want (within legal limits, of course). And here is my rebuttal to you, good sir: YOU ARE AN IMBECILE. Now, let’s examine the content of your video, and I’ll explain to you why I feel this way.

“In fact, Bill Nye doesn’t really understand science.” (0:57, 2:39, 2:42)

Things like this are stated multiple times throughout your video. And I must admit, I am a bit speechless. I don’t even know where to properly begin responding to that. Let me get this straight, then: Someone who doesn’t understand science could earn a Bachelor of Science degree (emphasis mine) from a private, well-reputed, and highly-accredited Ivy-League university? Someone who doesn’t understand science can develop a hydraulic pressure resonance supressor that’s still used in 747s today? Someone who doesn’t understand science can host his own TV show specifically teaching science to a young audience? Someone who doesn’t understand science can make a sundial that also helps with camera color calibration for the Mars probes? Look at Bill Nye’s record through academia and his professional career. OF COURSE that man understands science. He is a scientist. He lives it every day!

“I mean, Bill Nye himself actually is not a scientist. He studied mechanical engineering […]” (1:23)

Well, let’s see here. According to a Google Definition search, the word “scientist” means “A person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.” So, let’s see if this applies to Bill Nye…is mechanical engineering a natural or physical science? Well, in fact, yes. ME is in essence the science of physical processes and how to apply them for benefits in technology. And does he have expert knowledge of it? Well…he has a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell,  three Honorary Doctorate degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins, many years of hands-on experience working for Boeing and as an aeronautics consultant, multiple scientific patents,  and has one of his inventions on the Mars rovers and another in most 747s still in use today (Source). I’d say that qualifies him quite well as an expert. So yeah, he’s an expert in the physical sciences. So, he is a scientist, by your own words. You’re 0-for-2 so far Mr. Ham.

“Bill Nye has an agenda […] to teach them they are the result of evolutionary processes; that they came from slime over millions of years.” (0:53)

“You can divide science into historical science that’s talking about the past, or observational science. That’s the science that builds our technology.” (1:07)

All science is “observational science.” This whole “historical science” talk is nonsense. Bill Nye is a scientist; and science is inherently observational. Science tries to learn and impart knowledge of the truths of the universe; and how do we do this? Through the scientific method, with painstaking attention to detail in reasoning and evidence. We observe what happens in nature and try to understand every tiny piece of the how and the why. And with the multitude of evidence we have for it — fossils, genealogy, tracing disease patterns, microbial growth, etc. — the theory of evolution is quite a sound one. (If you want proper historical science, try a field like paleontology or archaeology.) You’re 0-for-4 so far…

“I mean, the word ‘science’ means ‘knowledge.'” (0:58)

And Mr. Ham scores a point! Oh good. So you are in fact able to produce some iota of reason from that hole in your face.

“He says if you deny evolution to children, they’re going to have problems, because we need engineers. Well wait a minute. Engineering…and evolution? What has evolution got to do with engineering?” (1:19)

I’ll see your irrationality and raise you a “lolwut?”

The problem with denying children evolution is that in so doing, you’re denying them the very concepts of how to think critically. Of how to properly infer knowledge from some data. Of how to support that knowledge with further tests and experiments. Without these critical thinking skills, any attempt at studying engineering will fail before it can even begin. (Heck, I’d wager good money that most of the entire point of engineering is about finding clever solutions to problems in various related fields, like electronics, aerospace, fluid dynamics, architecture, etc.)

“I hope he did not apply any of his evolutionary principles to any of Boeing’s airplanes.” (1:32)

Well, in fact, he did. Not evolutionary processes. But sound technical and scientific principles. And with those he helped develop a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor for the 747, still in use today.

“I’ll tell you what is real abuse, what is inappropriate for children: When you take generations of kids and you teach them that they’re just animals; [that] there’s no God; you’re a result of millions of years of evolutionary processes.” (2:12)

Call it abuse if you want, but I’ll repeat what I wrote above: Science is about finding and teaching the truths of our universe. Nothing more.

So you then proceed to acknowledge that we can observe and measure radioactivity while at the same time mentioning that bones and fossils aren’t found with photos or timestamps, so we couldn’t know how old they are. But of course, that same radiation-based technology couldn’t, you know, tell us how old those fossils are! (Le’ *gasp*!)

“He doesn’t teach children how to think critically.” (3:06)

Do you actually believe this? Seriously? A scientist who devotes his LIFE to educating the future generations of scientists…doesn’t teach them to think clearly? Are you really this daft?

“If evolution is true, I mean, it’d be so obvious to the kids that it’s true; but it’s not.” (3:29)

Apparently you are that daft! So, let me get this straight…according to you, stuff that’s true is obvious to school children? Hmm…let’s try this. The square of the length of the hypotenuse of a triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides after subtracting twice the product of those two side lengths by the cosine of the acute angle between them. (This is the law of cosines, straight from trigonometry.) This is absolutely true; but is it obvious to children? Heck no. In fact, it’s barely clear to the math students when they first see it.

Okay, maybe you’re not so much a fan of mathematics so let’s try another one – this time from the realm of chemistry. The rate of diffusion or effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its molecular mass. This is Graham’s Law, straight from a high school or college chemistry course. Again, this has been experimentally shown to be true; but is it obvious to children? Minus a few child prodigies here and there, I’d say this is definitely not an obvious result to kids.

 “You have to do what Bill Nye the Humanist Guy wants. You have to protect them from hearing anything about creation. You totally indoctrinate them. You brainwash them. You don’t teach them to think critically at all.” (3:50)

Indoctrination. Brainwashing. Those are some pretty good terms for teaching creationism.

“Isn’t it interesting how Christians are not frightened to teach their children about evolution?” (4:10)

Apparently you’re trying to make them so. And if not, why even have this argument at all?

“[…] and see why you don’t want Bill Nye ‘the Humanist Guy'” teaching your children.” (4:36)

God-willing, I’d love to have Bill Nye teach my kids science. When I was a boy, he was one of a few who really helped inspire in me a deep appreciation for mathematics and sciences, and I would come home from school eager to see another episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS. (Even nowadays, I try to catch episodes of Bill Nye’s Solving for X when I can. Sure, they’re usually topics I already know quite well, but he covers them in such neat ways, and has very clever and humorous demonstrations to show them.)

So, in closing, I’d like to repeat my opening remark: Mr. Ken Ham, you are an imbecile. It’s people like you that are holding back our society. Holding back our scientific progress. Stop with your lies and stop spreading FUD about things of which you know seemingly so little. Please disconnect your computers entirely from the internet, and make it a better place in so doing.

I would also like to end this open letter by extending a personal debt of gratitude to Bill Nye. If you are reading this, Mr. Nye, thank you for all that you’ve done for science. And thank you for standing up to religious weirdos like Mr. Ham over here. *thumbs up*

Respectfully yours,

Peter Gordon

Categories: Science Tags: , ,