Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speed blog

Ok, got to leave again really fast, here, so I'll type some quick things.

1) Think I got most of my two presentations for the ASA conference next week finished! Yessss!

2) Somehow, when I was making my ultra important list of previously-unmentioned-by-Ben blogs you should visit, I missed my own cousin's blog, which has some of the coolest pictures of China you will find around.

Add to that the fact that China blocks blogger, and yet... somehow he still manages. Could have something to do with his hacking skills.

3. I had a genius revelation this morning in the shower. Ok, so I'm flattering myself, but recently all my best thoughts have been coming to me in the shower. I don't know why (the other day, I suddenly realized how Delta-Sigma A/D converters worked, which had been a mystery to me for years). Today I was thinking about Taylor Series. No, wait, this is really cool -

So you know how you have functions, like "Sine" or "Cosine" or "e^x" or "x^2" etc...? And all of them curve and go up and down, etc. Point is, they are not straight lines. Well, if you zoom in close enough to any of these functions, at some point the function looks like a straight line. Pretty much most useful functions on the planet, for engineering math, can, if you zoom into any point on the function, be represented by a straight line. Some linear function of "x."

This is why, for example, you can say sin(x) = x, for small values of x. Because, the function sin(x) looks like the function y = x, for very small values.

If you zoom out a little farther, and you begin to see a little bit of curvature, you can represent the function by a square, some function of x^2, plus the original function. Zoom out farther, you can represent the function using your function of x, your function of x^2, and your function of x^3. This is called a "Taylor Series Expansion."

The reason this is so cool, is because the same principle can be applied to way more things than math. Almost everything, if you zoom in close enough, seems to look entirely different than if you zoom out. Newtonian physics seems to work for low speeds, but to get a more accurate picture, you need to zoom out and include a whole lot more speeds. Once you do that, relativity seems to surface. Zooming into the surface of the earth, everything looks flat.

I've heard a lot of people make arguments about science related things, based on "it's just so obvious" or "that's just so obviously wrong." I've heard this applied to the theory of relativity, evolution, big-bang, etc. Whether or not any of these are correct/true/whatever aside, an argument based on "this is so obviously true" or "this is so obviously false" is a very bad argument to make, when the scale of the subject is much larger than the observer. You can't include enough terms in your "Taylor series," so to speak. I.e. evolution involves a very long time. To get an accurate picture, you need to observe from a different vantage point. Same with relativity etc. That isn't to say it can't be done, but what is "obvious" in such cases is always only the first term in a series.

Ok, really got to go. Hope everyone had a really great Thanksgiving. Mine was good, though I wish I was at home for it, but I had a great time at Chad&Rachel's (from Penn State Christian Grad's) place, with a few other's from PSCG and around.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Well it's 4:50 AM here, guess there's no real point to going home and going to sleep now. Might as wells start analyzing the data from these calibrations

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blogg'n links

I'm ultra proud to announce I [sort of, partially] got on the "5 interesting blogs you should visit" list of someone with an actually cool blog, (aka Ben) and it is my duty now to point out to the rest of the world blogs that have not yet been mentioned but are worth your time. So, in no particular order but with a little bit of background:

1) Theologic 2
Uncle Ted has a thinking blog, but I like this one better because it's about his... uh... family and I like his family, and I think he does interesting things. But if you want to flex more brain cells, maybe hop over to Theoblogic.

2) Saki's blog
She's a Christian kindergarted teacher that I met in Hokkaido. She's really good at spotting God in the every day things.

3) Phil's Blog
You don't need to agree with everything someone says to enjoy or be mentally stimulated by what they have to say, and letting someone have a good wack at important parts of your belief system can be a very good thing! Phil was a good friend in college, and he's really really smart but comes at things from a very different angle than me. I'm not at his intellectual jousting level, but I know those who are, (possibly even some who may read this blog!) and watching them interact would be worth pulling out a bowl of popcorn for.

4) Colleen's blog
This is blog is a really cool picture what it's like being a Christian teacher in a muslim country. She's got some cool pictures and humerous stories, and it is definitely worth taking a look at her blog and reading some of the interesting stories she has to tell.

5) The... Laughery family room.
[sigh... may it rest in peace]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Japanese Lessons, compression, and maybe anime-ic angels are closer to reality than the fat little babies with wings

I've been discovering that one of the best ways to develop an ear for a language is to watch subtitled TV programs. Anime isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoy it (when it isn't about fluffy school girls with demonically @$$-kicking magic powers. Which, unfortunately is only about 25% of the time, but I digress). It's really great because I'm learning Japanese without hardly working. Of course the vocab I'm learning is stuff like:

"Masaka!" (It can't be!)
"Nigete!" (Run for it!)
"Baka!" (Idiot)
"Uruse!" (Shaddap)
"Odoroita" (Surprised)
"Sumane" (Sorry)

And, I can't actually use these in conversations, well not often at any rate. But it gives you a sense of the language, to listen to it a lot. It also exposes where Japanese textbooks fall flat on their face - introducing colloquial speech to students.

Which is an interesting topic in and of itself. Japanese is a very low compression language, and by that I mean "it is not Chinese", or rather, it is inefficient with syllables. There are tons and tons of unnecessary syllables in Japanese. Take the word for "hot":

Chinese: Re4
Japanese: Atatakai. ("i" is it's own syllable, btw).
score: (lower is better) English = 1, Chinese = 1, Japanese = 5

"It was hot"
Chinese: Re4
Japanese: Atatakakatta.
score: English = 3, Chinese = 1, Japanese = 6

"It was not hot"
Chinese: mei2Re4 (where mei, instead of bu, indicates past, if I'm doing it right).
Japanese: Atatakakunakatta
score: English = 4, Chinese = 2, Japanese = 8

- Final scores -
Chinese = 4
English = 8
Japanese = 19

This is skewed a bit, because in Chinese everything (as far as I can tell) regarding tense seems to be indicated by context, and the mysterious placement of particles, which no western mind can fully comprehend or ever get right. Making something past tense might mean the addition of another syllable or two. However, it is still a long ways ahead of English and Japanese.

Japanese, on the other hand, has syllables to burn. Unlike Chinese, where each syllable contributes to the meaning of the sentence and has its own character, Japanese has meaningless syllables to burn. In the script, one kanji may have 4 syllables (whereas in Chinese it always only has one), and no one knows how many ways to pronounce. Take for example the simple character . Depending on the word it is in, it could be pronounced:


And possibly more. But in Chinese, it is just "hong2." The point of all this? Not that Japanese is most certainly, positively the hardest language for an English speaker to learn ever. That would actually be Korean, because it is basically Japanese combined with impossible pronunciation. Rather, the point is that when people speak, we naturally want to cut corners and throw out unnecessary syllables. Because their language is so inefficient with syllables, they throw out stuff by the truckload in colloquial speech thus rendering the already impossible textbook and classroom Japanese useless on the street. While the textbook and dictionary may say that "Urusai" (4 syllables) means "noisy" (The Japanese version of "shut up"), on the sidewalk it's "Uze," spoken so fast that you aren't even sure what exactly it is you heard.

Listening to Anime helps unravel all this, but it would actually be much more helpful to have a book of colloquial Japanese speech.

Anyway, the Japanese show I am watching is called "Bleach." It's really cool. The idea is this:

When someone dies with incredible regret, their soul turns into something called a "Hollow." (The Japanese artists are very creative with their illustrations here). A Hollow is a starving soul with a giant hole where its stomach is, that tries to fill its cravings by eating other people's souls. They are invisible, but can harm/kill living people. Through some circumstances, the hero, a highschool boy named Ichigo becomes a "Shinigami" (death god) and can see the Hollows. He is commissioned by a group of spirits that are in charge of protecting people from Hollows, to take care of his city. It's a lot more complicated than that, but if you watch the first few episodes, you'll get the basics. Like most Anime it's a little formulaic (i.e. The exhausted hero delivers an attack (the name of which he always shouts before launching (i.e. "Death art 35: Portal to spirit chaos realm of doom!")) and you think the bad guy is dead, but then he cracks a smile, and starts chuckling, which crescendos into maniacal laughter, and then says "foolish human, I shall now show you my true form!" To which the hero responds 100% of the time "Masaka!" (See above for definition))

If you followed that last part, good job. At any rate, he's a highschool kid, but he is barely ever in school, he is always involved in this conflict: Hollows vs. Shinigamis. That makes sense, because if he was mostly in school the anime wouldn't be popular. Well... maybe I shouldn't say that, there is a ridiculous number of anime's that are based in highschools it seems. But these anime are mostly preoccupied more with miniskirts, and the before mentioned super powered fluffy girls.

But the point is, the hero knows that school, etc. is all secondary stuff. He does his homework, etc, but the real fights that take place are in the spiritual realm. That was one thing I really really enjoyed about being in Japan: I was around some missionaries who actually lived like this is the case. When I was around them, I had this incredible sense that the most real battle, the thing of most importance, were the souls of the people around them. Like, it was way more important than any work I was doing in the lab. Which was so true, and there was so much joy in their meetings. I did my work, etc, but it seemed... different. They spent a huge amount of time praying, and their prayers were like battles. And, they met and ate together, and reinforced each other like people in the trenches. They all had individually given up a lot to be where they were, too.

Another cool thing about this anime is that it's kind of... Old Testament style. There's all sorts of things going on around us that we can't see... like Elisha, his servant, and the burning chariots. And Daniel's messenger angel being detained by the prince of Persia, until he tag teams with Michael. And... the freaky things Ezekiel sees that are just too weird for a person to actually think up himself. The fat babies with wings, potpourri smell, and various shades of purple we think of when we hear the word "angel" are waaaay wide of the mark. I can't help but imagine and hope that Angels are things that are not just powerful, but unique and... cool. You wonder what an Angel fight is like. Well maybe I shouldn't wander off to far here, because of what Paul says and all that. But, is it too bad to hope that what's going on in the spiritual realm is actually... interesting?

At any rate, here's a pic I took at a campfire a couple weeks ago. That's not a dragon, really, it's just a burning marshmallow.